Sunday, October 2, 2011

#SampleSunday Are they really vampires?

Since this is October, Halloween month, I decided to post a short sample of my children's book. Night Camp is for middle grade readers ages 9 to 12. 

About the book: A spooky graveyard. A creepy basement. A pair of coffins. Thirteen-year-old Shane Andrews hates summer camp. When his parents allow him to choose, Shane decides to pick the worst camp he can find. Night Camp must be terrible. For one thing, activities take place at night and campers sleep during the day. That can’t be good, Shane reasons. His parents will realize Night Camp is even worse than they thought and they’ll come back to get him. Then Shane’s plans for summer freedom fall apart. His cousin Brad, a boy with a huge collection of tabloid magazines, convinces Shane that two of the camp counselors are vampires. Shane enlists the help of Brad and a girl camper named Nicole. The three set out to save themselves and the other campers. Then Shane uncovers the secret of Night Camp… 

The setup: The campers are having a midnight picnic. Shane still doesn't believe the counselors are vampires. But Brad won't let up trying to convince him. Since the cousins ate at separate tables during breakfast, this is their first opportunity to compare notes. 

I bent my head closer to Brad's and, remembering to keep my voice down, described breakfast. "Just one thing, Brad. If they’re real vampires, how come Trevor and Colin ate tomatoes and drank tomato juice?"
                Brad snorted. "What do you expect? You figure they should call for a couple of volunteers?”
                I felt my face turn warm. "I didn't mean that. I meant, how can they survive on tomato juice?"
                "So who says it's tomatoes? And is it really tomato juice?" Brad's face seemed ten shades paler in the moonlight.
                My throat closed up as though someone squeezed it and I choked on my drink. Lemonade boiled up and squirted out of my nose and my mouth at the same time. Half the campers turned around to stare. I felt like crawling away when I saw that one of the curious campers was Nicole.
                "What did you have to say that for?" I asked when I finally managed to stop doing my lemonade fountain imitation. "And if you're looking for a volunteer to sneak some of their tomato juice for a taste test, don't count on me!" 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

#SampleSunday Do Blind Dates Mean Failure?

Charleston Harbor at Sunrise

About We Interrupt This Date: Since her divorce a year ago, Susan Caraway has gone through the motions of life. Now she is finally coming out of her shell. Just when she decides on a makeover and a new career, her family members decide she's crisis central. First there’s her sister DeLorean who has come back from California with a baby, a designer dog, and no prospects for child support or a job. As soon as DeLorean settles in at Susan’s home, Susan’s son Christian returns from college trailing what Susan’s mama refers to as “an androgynous little tart.” Then there’s Mama herself, a southern lady who wrote the book on bossy. A secret from Mama’s past threatens to unravel her own peace. But not before Mama hurts her ankle and has to move into Susan’s home with her babies—two Chihuahuas with attitude. Susan would like to start her new job as a ghost tour operator. She would like to renew her relationship with Jack Maxwell, a man from her past. But Jack isn’t going to stand in line behind her needy family. 

This excerpt is from Chapter Two where Susan has lunch with her friend Veronica and announces she's decided to start dating again. 

“It’s a blind date, isn’t it?” Veronica said this in tones she might use to announce that the earth was in the path of an asteroid the size of the sun.
My casual shoulder shrug and my sudden interest in watching a couple of restaurant patrons stroll by were admission enough. Veronica knew I hadn’t been anywhere lately except to yoga. It wasn’t like I was going to arrange a date with a stranger I crashed my cart into at the Publix grocery.
“Wait, don’t tell me. That New Age person you work with is the one who’s hooking you up. That can’t be good. I imagine her taste in men runs to long-haired, ascetic types with dark, soulful eyes. They all read tarot and teach meditation classes, go to Nepal on vacation, and wear necklaces made of healing crystals.” Veronica sighed from the bottom of her soul. “Susan, Susan, Susan.”
“It’s true that Patty got me the date with her boyfriend’s cousin,” I said reluctantly, “but he’s not a meditation teacher, he’s an insurance salesman.”
Patty and Veronica had only crossed paths once, months ago, when Veronica stopped by my office to leave off an invitation to her niece’s baby shower. Patty was wearing gold hoop earrings and was dressed in her usual style--floor-length crepe, rainbow-colored skirt and matching blouse. Her jet-black hair hung to her waist in ropy coils, so she looked like one of those carnival fortunetellers. She’d made the mistake of offering Veronica a half-priced tarot reading because she looked like she was “having man problems.”
“I suppose she consulted the pagan gods first. I’ve never had a blind date in my life and I certainly wouldn’t let someone like Patty arrange one for me.”
She’d told me once that needing to have someone fix you up was an admission of failure and God knew I didn’t need something else to make me feel like a loser. I love Veronica dearly, but even she admits she tends to view the world in black and white and she can be less than tolerant of viewpoints that differ from her own. Not for the first time I pondered the whimsy of fate that had brought me a best friend who had so much in common with my mother.
No, I’d chosen Veronica and fate had nothing to do with it. 

We Interrupt This Date

Saturday, September 17, 2011

#SampleSunday The Witness Wore Blood Bay

The Witness Wore Blood Bay is the second in my Leigh McRae horse mystery series.

In this excerpt, Leigh goes undercover to help her cousin Sammi find out who's poisoning the neighborhood dogs. Leigh pretends to be a former resident of the home occupied by suspect Eloise Barker.

“Hi, I’m Sarah Goddard.” I smiled so big my mouth hurt.
Sammi had used her usual stunning logic to select my faux name. She thought Sarah sounded sweet and Goddard reminded her of God. And “no one would ever suspect God of lying and tricking people, would they, babe?”

“Is there something I can help you with?” Her narrowed eyes showed her total suspicion.

Okay, Sammi had warned me the Barkers weren’t the most sociable of people. If I were lucky, Mrs. Barker would be too cautious to fall for my story and I could leave. I was already regretting my part in Sammi’s scheme to get into the Barker home. The theory had sounded a lot better than the actuality.

“Goodness, I hope I don’t sound silly or anything.” All unbidden my voice had morphed into the squeaky, overly-optimistic tones of a junior high cheerleader. “My family used to live here years ago when I was a child. I wondered if you’d mind terribly showing me the house. You know how it is, you can’t help but get nostalgic about old times.”

“Do you live here in Del Canto?” Her expression would have done credit to a stone.

“No, ma’am. I mean, not yet, we’re just visiting, but we might relocate from Georgia. We’re thinking of moving over there.” I waved my hand to include the whole western side of town, which would include the harbor and yacht basin as well as a number of quaint shoppes.

“Goddard, you said your name is? Is that your married name, because I don’t recall seeing that name on any of the paperwork for the house. There were two owners before us.” By now her eyes were so narrowed down they looked like coin slits in a piggy bank.

“Married name. Yes, I’m a Goddard now.” I hid my ringless left hand in a fold of my dress and grinned like I was auditioning for a teeth-whitening commercial. I hoped like mad she wouldn’t ask my maiden name because I did not know either of the previous two owners.

“And your maiden name was...”

Damn it. What a suspicious b–I mean, woman.

“Harper,” I blurted. Dummy. Why did I choose Brenda’s name?

Eloise’s mouth twisted sideways. “I don’t recognize the name Harper.”

“I was raised by relatives and my last name was different from theirs.” I was tempted to pile on details, maybe claim my parents had been lost at sea or sent to prison for grand theft auto. Sammi had told me once she read in a psychology book that people would be more likely to believe lies if the liar added lots of realistic-sounding detail to their tall tales. But I didn’t think the bit about the parents was all that realistic, so I stifled the impulse and tried to look honest, yet somewhat traumatized by my difficult childhood. “I understand if it’s not convenient for me have a look inside.” I took a step backward and almost fell off the porch. “I’m so sorry I bothered you.”

Saturday, September 10, 2011

#SampleSunday How do you survive a Jobless Recovery?

Of course, there's no such thing as a jobless recovery because if you're jobless, there is no recovery. Try telling that to the people who run our government. Or talk to former FBI agent Joe Tremaine, one of the main characters in my novel, Jobless Recovery. In this excerpt from Chapter Five, Joe tries to make ends meet by doing odd jobs. As he works on repairing a deck, he contemplates other ways to earn money. These other ways might not be legal, but they sure would bring in money a lot faster.

Chapter Five

The deck repair job wouldn’t take more than half a day. Joe figured he’d clear maybe a hundred bucks for his trouble, not nearly enough to pay for his new prescription. There was too much competition out there from men who’d lost their jobs and were willing to take on any kind of handyman work.
The glass door in front of him slid open. Joe’s customer, a smug-faced man wearing plaid slacks and a lime colored golf shirt pulled tight over his gut, walked out and stood over him with his hands on his hips like a guard watching a chain gang bust rocks.
“I’ve got to leave to pick up a few things at Office Max. You going to drag the job out to take me for a few more dollars?”
Joe straightened up and put down his hammer. “Being that you’re paying me so God-awful much money, I’m going to finish by noon so I can still have time to get down to the bar and hoist a few with my low-life friends.”
The customer had deducted fifty bucks from his bid, knowing Joe would be forced to take the offer. He picked up another nail and touched it to the wood. “You’ve got nothing to worry about. We already agreed on a price.”
The man’s wife sashayed out of the house wearing a microscopic tube top, flesh-eating slacks, and gold-colored high heels. She tugged at her husband’s arm. “Herb, don’t be so rude. Mr. Tremaine’s got only a few more boards to nail on. You go to the store, and I’ll pay him when he’s done.”
Joe slid his glance sideways, letting his gaze roam from her face down to her hips and back up. She was a lot younger than her husband. Probably a second wife, or even a third. Let Herb think he was interested, maybe even give him cause to wonder if it was safe to leave his young wife alone with Joe. Serve him right. It was a shame, though, that he couldn’t let the idiot know who he was really dealing with.
A few minutes later Joe banged in the last nail. His thoughts raced through his mind seeking a way out for him and coming up against a million dead ends. More than once since he landed in poverty he’d thought about making money, a lot of money, by robbing banks or committing any of dozens of other kinds of crimes. He certainly knew enough about crime to be able to put a good plan together and he already had the knack of ignoring his conscience when it was convenient. He’d always thought he’d make a good con man. The main problem, though, and one he hadn’t yet been able to get past, was that he stood out like a giraffe in a pen full of cattle.
Any mark would be able to describe him to the police. “Yes, officer, the thief was six feet tall and he walked with a limp. Dark hair, going gray at the temples. Small scar on his face near his left eye. Big scar on the back of his head. Looked kind of desperate.” Most of the people in his neighborhood would shove each other out of the way to collect the reward money.
Before he left, he pulled his cigarettes out of the glovebox and smoked one while he flipped through his appointment book. It was blank for all the days after today, except for the phone number of a woman who wanted her porch repaired because of termite damage. He tossed the book down on the seat next to his binoculars, still lying where he’d left them after the last time he’d driven down to the river on surveillance.
His mouth twisted into a grimace. Surveillance--as if he was still worth a damn and still had a job to do. A million times he’d driven past the house and down as close as he could get to the river without trespassing or being seen. He’d hidden among the trees, watching Senator Drake, so motionless even the insects didn’t know he was there. Pathetic, that he had to pretend he was still in the FBI. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

#SampleSunday Jobless Recovery

Jobless Recovery is a term we've all come to know. We've read about it in the news, heard about it on TV, and a lot of us are experiencing the jobless recovery. Now here's Jobless Recovery, the novel. Here's a short scene where main character, Dave Griffin, a computer programmer, has just lost his job to cheaper imported labor. Ken is his supervisor, who doesn't know quite how to smooth things over.

From Chapter Three

Ken stopped at Dave’s cubicle shortly before lunch and dropped the envelope on his desk as if it were a bomb. Dave shot a rubber band across the cubicle and watched it bounce off a spare monitor he’d scavenged from the supply room and left in a corner in case he needed it one day.
“Come to give me the tragic news? Don’t like being the bad guy, huh? Guess it hurts your image of yourself as the ever-popular leader of Team B. Hey, don’t worry, you’ll still be my favorite bald-headed boss in plaid.” He lounged in his seat, pretending he wasn’t suffering internal panic.
Ken’s face went blotchy, spots of red fighting for space with pale beige. “They told me yesterday afternoon in the supervisor’s meeting. Who was riding the rocket and who wasn’t, I mean. I get to stay on and supervise.”
Ken lifted a Dollywood pencil sharpener off of Dave’s desk and turned it over and over in his hands until it popped open and shavings fell out all over the front of his shirt.
“You don’t have to feel guilty because you didn’t get fired, Ken.”
Ken’s expression remained glum, so Dave added, “I’m glad you still have a job.” Ken might be a pain to work for, but Dave didn’t wish bad luck on him and his family.
“Thanks. I can’t tell you how relieved I am that I’m not losing...look, don’t worry, Dave. You’re a great programmer and I’ll be glad to give you a recommendation. You’ll find something else.”
“In this economy, I’ll be lucky to get a ticket to ride a match, let alone a rocket.”
“Don’t take it like that. You do see, don’t you, that the company couldn’t afford to pass up this golden opportunity? These new people are sharp.” Ken snapped his fingers.
Dave jerked upright in his seat and banged his fist on his desk. “Shut up, Ken. I mean it, man, don’t insult me. It’s lies and you know it. They’re going to save a bundle of money on labor costs by shipping part of the work overseas and by bringing people here on work visas to undercut our wages. Ability has nothing to do with this whole rotten deal. It’s all about cheaper labor.”
“Try to see things from Markham-Hook’s point of view.” Ken couldn’t meet his eyes.
“Yeah, right. Markham-Hook just announced record profits and a pay raise for Harris that makes God look poor. Naturally they don’t have any spare change to spread among the workers who built this company to begin with. What about the eighty-hour weeks we put in to make deadlines and what about the error free conversions?”
“Dave, keep your voice down.”
“Keep my voice down? I just lost my job because some greedy CEO dumped me on the street like trash, so he can make a few million dollars more than the rest of the CEO’s in corporate America. I’m supposed to give him a high five?”
“Bitter, bitter.” Michael pressed into the cubicle. 
 Ken took the opportunity to slink past him into the hallway and scurry toward his office. Dave shot him a one-finger salute.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

#SampleSunday The Witness Wore Blood Bay

Here's an excerpt from Chapter Two in which Leigh McRae has just learned that a friend from the horse club was arrested for murder. Leigh and her cousin Sammi have gone over to the friend's house to bring so food for the woman's husband. But they've discovered he's not alone. The victim's wife is with him and it doesn't look like the pair have been playing chess. 

       Sammi beat me to the car and yanked open the passenger side door. She turned to glare in the direction of the house. “I have half a mind to take back what’s left of my chocolate cake. Okay, so they’re both in shock, and from what little we know it looks like Candy did off Richard. But they don’t have to be so blatant about their relationship while the poor woman rots in jail.”
            “Samantha Hollister, I’m perplexed by your attitude. Aren’t you the one who’s always telling people to read self-help books and stop judging others?”
            “Cut it out. You thought the same thing I did.” She tossed her purse on the floor of the car and made a growling sound deep in her throat.
            “Yeah, I did,” I admitted. I paused with my hand on my car door and stared in the direction of the stable. My mental machinery hummed, telling me there was more than one way to help the Lowells.
            “As far as I’m concerned, babe, the only self-help book those two need is something called Cooling Off, For Dummies. And Francine could benefit from a course in how to tame her inner bitch. Let’s get going. I’m hot, tired, and I still have to pick up Jeeves at Maggie’s.” Jeeves was Sammi’s Old English Sheepdog. Sammi took him to Maggie’s for regular grooming sessions to keep his coat under control.
            “In a minute.” I felt my brow furrow and knew I was risking the permanent wrinkles all the face cream ads warned me about. “Mark doesn’t know much about horses. It wouldn’t be neighborly of me to race off into the sunset without checking to see that Candy’s mare is okay. After all, the poor horse did witness a murder today.”
            Sammi put her hands to her head and pretended to rip clumps of her hair out of her scalp. “You are too much. So now you’re using the mare’s supposed trauma as an excuse to scope out the murder scene.”
            “I’m just saying.”
            “I’ll bet you are. But what’s the rule about you getting involved in murder cases? Tell me, babe, what’s the rule?”
            “It’s not exactly a rule, it’s more of a helpful guideline. Besides, seeing to a traumatized horse is not the same as getting involved.” I shot her a smile meant to convince her I was simply looking out for the mare. My initial reluctance to drive over to the Lowell place had turned into a wicked case of curious.
            “I ought to hog tie you and throw you in the trunk. Unfortunately, I know you won’t shut up until I give in. But you owe me one.” 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

#SampleSunday In Which Susan Finally Confronts Philip

Pier at Charleston's Folly Beach

     The door opened wider, enough for me to fit myself in the narrow space between the frame and the door edge. I slid inside and watched as he pushed the door shut, redid the lock and poked the chain into its slot. I glanced around, glad it wasn’t me living at the budget motel. The room smelled of mildew and old food wrappers. The rug was so worn I couldn’t be sure there was actually a rug or if I was just looking at random fibers glued to the concrete. The bedspread—ragged, mouse colored, stained—hung crookedly off the side of the bed. Motel issue lamp, phone, and nightstand completed the decor. No sign of a TV, though there was a broken piece of plastic that might have once been part of a TV stand bolted to the floor.
     Philip held out his hand like a kid expecting me to slap a chocolate bar onto his palm on Halloween Night. “What are you waiting for?”
     I scowled. “You’re not going to get money from my mother or from anyone else in my family.” My voice trembled ever so slightly. Not what I’d hoped for, but I was doing okay, already feeling an adrenaline rush. “I know all about wife number—whatever. Could be twenty for all I know. The new one in a hotel across the river. I’m sure she’d love to teach you a lesson. I’m sure she’d love to know you’re already married to Lurlene, who is no doubt sharpening her knife back in Arkansas at this very moment. In fact, I’m sure Lurlene is wondering when you’re coming home. I have her number and I will call her right now if you don’t stop harassing my mother. What I really ought to do is call the police, but out of respect for Mama’s feelings, I’m going to hold off on that.”
Patty would have been proud of me. The voice tremble had melted away to be replaced by the authoritative tone of someone in charge of a situation--a police officer or even a judge.
    Philip’s face twisted into a reptilian sneer. I wanted to slap some respect into him.
“I’m not afraid of a bunch of stupid women. I happen to know that Regina, the stupid cow, would jump off the nearest bridge before she’d let me tell her new sweetheart about her past. Her reputation means the world to her, and that’s as good as money in my pocket.”

Sunday, August 7, 2011

#SampleSunday I predicted this economic mess in Jobless Recovery

In the year 2000 I first noticed the trend in the United States to outsource jobs overseas. It was all about cheaper labor and lax labor laws. In 2001 I realized that greedy corporations had started to misuse work visas to import cheaper labor to replace working Americans. These are the same corporations that expect Americans to fight and die in the U.S. military to protect their interests here and abroad.

I wrote a novel, Jobless Recovery, and published in 2005. By 201009 many of the things I wrote about in the book had come true. I updated the book and republished in 2010. It doesn't take a psychic to predict an economic collapse in a country run by politicians who have sold their people out to corporate sponsors. I just didn't expect it to happen this fast.

Excerpt from the book. Dave Griffin has just lost his computer programming job to cheaper imported labor and has decided to call Washington and complain:

All the staffers responded as if reading from the same script and they spouted the same meaningless phrases, "education is the answer" and "trade creates jobs."
The pigeons had gone away disappointed, and Dave’s jaw had clamped into an unhealthy tightness by the time he got around to calling the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“What education? How exactly does trade create jobs when all the trade is only flowing one way?” He realized his voice did not sound like the calm, cool, Dave-in-command he’d wanted to project and instead had grown whiny and maybe a little desperate.
“The cash for clunkers program and the economic stimulus will create jobs,” said another phone voice in soothing tones.
“But I don’t have a clunker and the corporations getting all the stimulus money aren’t hiring. They aren’t even loaning money to people. I don’t want a handout, I want a job.”
“You simply don’t understand how the system works.” A disdainful snort sounded over the line. “Since workers have their retirement money in the stock market, anything companies do to increase profits is good for workers even if they lose their jobs.”
“What did you just say?” His voice cracked like that of a teenager. “That’s insane.”
“Sir-er,” the nasal voice said, making sir into a two-syllable word, “contact your local Employment Security Commission.”
Dave sighed. He’d exhausted all his options. If there was a book called The New Economy for the Completely Clueless, he hadn’t read it. But all evidence indicated no one in Washington had either.
He felt as if he’d been smacked in the teeth by robots spouting government double-talk. He tried to imagine a scenario where the fast-talking salesman who’d sold him the Behemoth had tried to woo him with statements such as, "Celebrate diversity and wage compression in your vehicle. Let no car be left behind in the race to global sourcing. The new free trade in vehicles—and clunkers--will spur economic growth through increased auto production and new low interest rates to stimulate consumer confidence. So don’t worry about downsizing, rightsizing, and offshoring of your current model. Education is the key to safe driving. Just call this toll-free number for training and the free health care plan for your car."
He’d have peeled out of the Spectrum Motors lot like a scalded cat. Why, then, had he not reacted when his own government dealt the equivalent of that speech to the American people, not once, but many times over? As long as the trucks kept bringing goods to stock the shelves of the discount marts and the Foodarama, like everyone else, he’d allowed himself to become practically comatose.
As an afterthought, he dialed the toll-free training number given him by U.S. Department of Labor Comment Line. The number connected him to a recruiting office for the United States Army.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

#SampleSunday My Planet or Yours

   This week I'm giving readers a sneak preview of my new chick lit/sci fi romance book, My Planet or Yours. This excerpt is from Chapter One. Space traveler Triskam is from the planet Darvanius. He's just crash landed his pod on planet Earth.         

            Damn. Who would have thought an ordinary space traveler would end up flat on his back staring up at the sky of a world millions of light years from his own? With no way of returning, he might add.
            The crew on the Sheloni would monitor transmissions and finally conclude the pod had crashed, but for now they were keeping on the other side of this planet called, he remembered now, Earth. They wouldn’t know he'd managed to safely land. There were those among them, primarily Garrick, the ship's second officer, who’d consider him a coward for pushing that stabilizer button. Technically he hadn’t pushed it. One of his limbs had hit the thing while he’d tumbled about the pod’s cabin. But, he admitted to himself, he'd made the decision to survive and would certainly have stabilized the craft and deployed the landing system on purpose if he could have.
         Eventually he pulled himself to a sitting position. He had no serious injuries, though he was banged up from the wild tumbling about in the pod. He pulled his Personal Pilot out of the pouch strapped around his waist and ran his fingers over its smooth, silver-colored surface. It appeared unharmed, thank goodness.           
            He flipped it open. "Pilot, what is my whereabouts?"
            "Earth, Commander."
            "I have told you before. I am not a Commander. My rank is Lieutenant."
            A brief hesitation and then the pilot's voice replied. "You are my commander, sir."
            "Right." Pointless to argue with a machine. He wasn't the one who'd programmed the thing. "Why are you speaking in an Earth language? It is permissable to speak Darvanian. There are only the two of us here."
            The pilot had understood what he'd said in Darvanian, but it had replied in English. Triskam had studied that language and, being that he was his ship's language specialist, had more or less mastered spoken English. His people had been monitoring this planet’s transmissions for as long as the planet had the technology to transmit.
            "One of my circuits was damaged when you crushed me with your posterior region against a panel of the pod before stabilization. I cannot reach my other language boards."
            Triskam blew his breath out sharply. Not good. He hoped the pilot was otherwise undamaged. He'd need it to survive.
            "Sorry. The crushing with my posterior region was unintentional. Where on Earth have we landed?"
            "United States. Arizona. Mostly an area of uninhabited desert. Why have you landed, the craft, Commander? Landing is a clear violation of Space Service directives. You have committed a grave crime."
            "We will discuss that later. Right now I have to think."
            "Violations of Space Service directives are very serious and should be discussed now."
            Triskam rolled his eyes. "What are you, my nanny? Get busy performing diagnostics on yourself." He snapped the pilot shut and returned it to his pouch. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

#SampleSunday We Interrupt This Date

Charleston's Folly Beach
Here's an excerpt from Chapter Six of We Interrupt This Date. Main character Susan tells Mama she's going to operate a ghost tour business.

Excerpt: Mama considered herself a gracious southern lady, a member of the club made up of women with accents that sounded as if the words were dipped in honey and stretched out into extra syllables. Like all of them, Mama was tough as old leather. She was a strong woman who’d survived widowhood—my father. And desertion—my sister’s father. She’d managed a career as an accountant’s secretary, raised two girls, and retired comfortably with her dignity intact.
I’d win the argument, though. Of course, me winning meant that Mama would finally throw up her hands in defeat and blink her eyes at warp speed, leading me to believe she wanted to frown, but didn’t dare risk the wrinkles. Then she’d say in that low, melodious voice of hers, “You mark my words, Susan Nicole Caraway, you are making a large mistake, bless your heart. A very large mistake.”
She’d gather the Chihuahuas and dump them into the straw basket—woven by a Gullah woman—that she called her purse. Then she’d stagger out to her Cadillac leaning sideways from the weight of the little dogs.
I thought of this now as I changed from business casual into a pair of jeans and a tee shirt sporting the logo from some metal band Christian pretends to like. Mama never really gets angry, doesn’t raise her voice. Voice-raising isn’t ladylike. Even when she reminds me she said to mark her words—such as when the minivan I’d bought against her advice developed a problem with the radio—she is always ready to pitch in and help pick up the pieces. Mama is fond of saying, “There is no love greater than a mother’s love for her offspring.”
I’ve given up trying to get her to say children instead of offspring. Offspring always makes me think of a science experiment involving genetics and multiple generations of albino lab rats that specialize in running mazes.
I ran my fingers through my hair and padded barefoot down the hall into the kitchen. I discovered that Mama had already fixed salad and garlic bread to go with the vegetarian lasagna she’d baked earlier.
The table was set and Mama had brought white carnations for a centerpiece. She’d arranged them in a bowl so they sat low between the salad and a pitcher of iced tea, all the better for her to see me from the opposite end of the table. A gracious lady always has flowers in the house, I’ve been told a million times, and plastic flowers don’t count.
Somehow I’ve never managed to become a gracious lady. Mama has to keep reminding me I’ve fallen short and my sister hasn’t even made the effort, and Mama doesn’t know why she keeps trying with two daughters who are simply doing their best to torment her into an early grave.
I waited until she locked the Chihuahuas on the back porch with a bowl of tiny kibble, a food recommended by Mama’s best friend, Lydia Freeman. Lydia is a Chihuahua breeder active with the local dog rescue organization. She has a Cadillac identical to Mama’s, except for a bumper sticker that reads, “If you don’t rescue, don’t breed.” Before I knew she raised dogs, I had no clue what the bumper sticker meant—I thought Lydia was simply anti-sex.
Mama carried the food to the table. We ate, chatting about the new gift shop near Calhoun Street, and how Ruthie Ames’ daughter Cindy, who was as flaky as her Aunt Lou’s pie crust, had dropped out of the College of Charleston to “go find herself in Idaho.”
“Can you imagine?” Mama said, dabbing her lips with her cloth napkin. “If she can’t figure out where she is right here in the city where she was born and raised, then there is no hope in Idaho where all the people are roughnecks. No hope at all.”
I knew Mama was thinking of my younger sister DeLorean as much as she was thinking about Cindy Ames. DeLorean had gone to LA a couple of years ago, not to find herself, but to let LA find her. So far, all she’d managed to do was move in with a stuck up movie producer and have a baby. There seemed slim chance of her ever being discovered, if that’s what she really expected. I doubted if even DeLorean knew what she wanted out of life.
But then, I was one to talk. Married for nineteen years, divorced for one and I was finally getting around to figuring out I didn’t want to be stuck in a loan office answering phones and soothing the feelings of entitlement-minded customers. I wasn’t sure that running ghost tours was what I wanted to do either, but I’d been forced into the situation and maybe that was what Patty’s Universe had had in store for me all along.
“Mama?” I got up and started filling the dishwasher. “I hope you’re not still upset about my phone call last night.”
“Your phone call?” She made phone into two-syllables. “You mean that nonsense about selling the house to live in a bed and breakfast and going off to hunt for ghosts like some common street person with pagan beliefs? I’ve raised you better, the good Lord knows I have, and by now you’ve surely to God realized you simply can’t do such a thing. I mean, people will think you’ve been mentally unhinged by the divorce, positively gone around the bend and that you need help before you ruin your life entirely. Though no one could blame you after T. Chandler dumped you for that gold digging home wrecker with the huge bosoms. I’m sure they were fake; pure silicon—or is it carbon they’re made of? What was her name?”
“Crystal,” I said. “Crystal Rose.” I gritted my teeth and hunted under the sink for the dishwashing powder. A year later and Mama still brought up the incident like it had happened an hour ago and, of course, it was my own fault and she wasn’t going to let me forget.
“Whatever. Sounds like a made up name to me, like she’s one of those low women who take off their clothes in bars and fit themselves into all kinds of suggestive positions around metal poles. But didn’t I say to mark my words? I said, I don’t know how many times, I said, ‘Susan, when a man claims a best friend who’s a woman, and that woman isn’t his wife, then there’s trouble brewing.’ As sure as peach blossoms turn into peaches you can expect trouble.” 
“Yeah, Mama, you did all but spell it out. I still walked around oblivious, cooking and cleaning and taking care of my home while T. Chandler worked himself into a lather over a pair of size 40D faux breasts and an enhanced butt. Dumb me. No surprise when I eventually found myself in divorce court.” I made my voice deep and ominous when I said “divorce court” as if I were talking about the deepest pit of hell.
I should have been able to figure things out for myself without Mama’s warning—which I’d ignored. What forty-two-year-old man has a bubble-brained flirt for a best pal? To be fair, though, my sin was apathy more than cluelessness.
“Don’t be flippant, dear. The point is, I believe, we were going to discuss this horrible plan of yours so I could advise you.”
I sighed. I was positive I hadn’t asked for either a discussion or her advice. And equally positive that no force on earth could prevent her from butting in.
“There’s nothing to discuss. I’ve already told Veronica I’ll do it.” I would not tell her Odell had fired me and Veronica’s offer was the only one on the table.
“I must say, I am shocked.” Mama pulled a lavender spray bottle out of her purse and spritzed the air around her for about a three-foot radius. She sniffed delicately and sat back in her chair. I knew she was counting on the lavender aromatherapy to help her get over her shock while she thought up ways to influence me. Naturally she wanted me to continue to sit around and grow bitter, yet remain a true southern lady who holds her chin up and keeps a prominent display of her best wedding photos—with the lying skunk cut out of them—on the mantle.
“It’s a done deal and I am not changing my mind.”
“I hope she hasn’t spent any money yet. Because it’s just a matter of a few days before you realize what a fatal mistake you’ll be making.” Mama shivered. I half expected her to reach for the lavender again, but a yelp from the direction of the porch caused her to swivel to face the door. “That Tiny, he thinks he’s a Great Dane. Always beating up poor Sweetpea.” Sighing, she started to rise.
I waved her back down. “I’ll get them.” I marched out to the porch where a growling Tiny, his dark marble eyes bulging from his skull with the effort, stood over the cowering Sweetpea. He’d placed one nickel-sized paw on Sweetpea’s black and tan chest.
“Stop that right now, you little beast,” I snarled. “If the Dog Whisperer didn’t live clear across the country, I’d haul you in for rehab.”
When my warning did no good, I squatted and cupped my hands around Tiny’s body. He sank his needle teeth into my wrist, but they hardly made a dent. I carried him back into the kitchen and dumped him on Mama’s lap, leaving the other dog on the porch.
“Mama, I’ve made up my mind about the new job. I mean, look at me. For the first time in I don’t know how long—at least a year—I actually feel enthusiastic about something.” Sort of true. “I’m looking forward to living at the Seaside View. It’s beautiful, it’s close to the harbor. I’ll be able to walk all over the historic district enjoying the sights and the fresh air of one of the most beautiful cities in the country. I won’t have this huge house to work me to death. It’s a new beginning.”
“Four bedrooms isn’t exactly huge.” Mama sniffed and looked around as if she could peer through walls and see the rest of the house, mentally measuring the dimensions. “And you don’t look anywhere near death.”
“That isn’t the point,” I ground out. “I’m ready to do something for me. Maybe I’ll like conducting ghost tours and maybe I won’t, but at least I’ll know I tried. I can always look for something else if it doesn’t work out.”
“Yes, but you’ll be without a home, and you know you love this place and you love working in your garden. And you’ll have no job. Lack of a paycheck is the first step toward winding up in the streets.”
“I promise I’ll stay out of the streets. And I wouldn’t quit the ghost tours until I found something else.”
“Yes, no doubt you’ll end up at the reins of one of those poor horses that pull those overloaded carts—carts simply full to bursting with sightseers.” She grabbed Tiny’s rhinestone encrusted collar and pulled him back into her lap before he could climb on the table.
“The carts aren’t that full,” I said in clipped tones.
“And you’d have to empty those horse diaper things. I can just imagine the condition of your poor fingernails. I can almost smell the manure.”
So could I. I rolled my eyes. The phone rang and I started to say I’d let the machine answer, but Mama threw up her hands in her patented “I give up” gesture that really meant “I’ll keep hounding you until you admit I was right, because you are going to land on your face.”
“You will crash and burn, Susan. Mark my words, you will wish you never lowered yourself to being a ghost walker.”
“Ghost tour operator.”
“Call it what you will. I won’t be able to hold my head up in church when my friends spot you parading around Charleston leading tourists looking for wisps of fog.” She sucked in air like she was taking her last breath, dropped Tiny into the purse, and went out on the porch to gather the other dog. I spared a moment of pity for Sweetpea who’d be forced to ride home in a confined space with the ferocious Tiny.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Witness Wore Blood Bay

Excerpt from a random chapter. Doug Reilly is moving into Leigh's guesthouse. As Leigh is helping Doug unload his car, Doug's ex girlfriend drives by. 

            “Dang. What’s that woman doing out this way?”
            “What woman?” I hefted a trash bag and decided it was light enough for me to carry to the guesthouse.
            “Rebecca. That was her car. I hope she ain’t following me.”
            I silently agreed with him. For some reason I really would rather she didn’t know Doug had moved out to my place, but I’d seen the driver turn and look directly at us, though I hadn’t been able to make out her features from that distance.            
            “I’m sure she wasn’t stalking you or anything, Doug. I was at Brenda’s earlier and she said Rebecca was coming by to get a puppy she was giving away, so that has to be why she’s out here. Except I got the puppy for myself.”
            “Yeah?” He frowned. “Hope Rebecca don’t hold it against you.”
            “Good lord, Doug, you sure are scared of her. For heavens sake, what could she possibly do?”
            “Anything.” He shot me a dark look and slung one of the trash bags over his shoulder.
            “You might be right.” I shivered. Rebecca was younger and stronger than I was and fully capable of inflicting plenty of damage if she wanted to. I’d seen that when she went after Doug, who had probably deserved a little roughing up given his track record with women--date ‘em and dump ‘em. But of course, Rebecca wouldn’t hurt me. Sane people don’t go around hurting other people simply because they lost out on a puppy. Or because that person tricked their way her parents’ house.
            Doug and I finished carrying bags to the guesthouse and came back to the car to wrestle a donated TV out of the trunk. I hoped he knew that cable didn’t come with the rent.
            “Got it?” I asked. From the way he was staring over my head, I figured he’d zoned out and was in danger of dropping the set on my feet. I took two steps back before I turned to follow the direction of his gaze. Damn. Rebecca was passing the house again, and this time her car was crawling along under the limit. When she got even with my driveway, she braked hard and flipped a bird at us before accelerating and disappearing around a curve in the road. 
            “Guess she ain’t too happy about you getting that puppy.” Doug hitched the TV higher and took a tighter grip.
            “Guess not.” I wished I hadn’t seen her drive by.
            About ten minutes later, Brenda stopped to drop off Lorne--I still hadn’t thought of a better name--right after Adam pulled up behind Doug’s car. I didn’t like owing Brenda. On the other hand, I really did want to protect the puppy from a woman with a violent temper.
            “Here you go.” She pushed the puppy into my arms and, seeing that Adam had walked up beside me, she handed him a sample bag of puppy food. “Francine has his health record, so you’ll have to pick it up from her. Thanks. ‘Bye.”
            She zoomed off as if she were afraid I’d not only change my mind, but I’d load the back of her pickup with more animals for her to feed. Poor Brenda. She was struggling to sell off excess animals and not having all that much luck.
            Adam held the dog food out in front of him and shook the bag, pretending to be shocked. “Another stray?”
            “Sort of. Brenda couldn’t keep him and I didn’t want Rebecca to get her hands on him. She’s evil.”
            “Evil? You’re starting to sound like Sammi. Who’s Rebecca?”
            “Doug’s ex girlfriend. Not Tina--the latest ex.”
            “Doug’s girlfriend situation is way too complicated for me.” He rolled his eyes. “Let’s go fix dinner. I brought steaks. Uhmm, you don’t have to feed Doug, do you?”