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  • Excerpt from Deceitful Acts

    Consider the shame you will encounter. You are the founder and C.E.O. of a major financial organization, a pillar of society, a God-fearing man, and a potential political figure. If you ignore my demands and warnings, you will face my wrath.
    Goodbye, for now........

    Order Deceitful Acts Now in e-print at

    Or the paperback at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1793016011
    Deceitful Acts - Kindle edition by Neal, Vivienne Diane. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazo…
    Deceitful Acts - Kindle edition by Neal, Vivienne Diane. Download it once and read it on your Kindle device, PC, phones or tablets. Use features like…
  • Bishop Myriel: In His Own Wordsw
    Chapter the First
    The Beauty of Goodness

    [Myriel’s sister, Mademoiselle Baptistine] had never been pretty; her whole life, which had been a succession of pious works, had produced upon her a kind of transparent whiteness, and in growing old she had acquired what may be called the beauty of goodness.
    Fantine, Book the First, Chapter I, M. Myriel: An Upright Man

    I am compelled by grace to explore a phenomenon I have observed with awe over the course of my lifetime. We Frenchmen are obsessed with beauty. The ancient Greeks were as appearance-consumed as upper-class culture is today. Yet, they had the insight to peg the root of beauty to the word, ὥρα (in Koine, their common dialect). It meant “being one’s hour,” an interesting linkage to be sure. Beauty, then, knows “what time it is” or better perhaps “knowing who I am and who I am not.” My personal mandate as a human, then, is to know my true relationship with every person I encounter, at each stage of my journey and all the individual days that comprise that journey.
    I offer my dear sister Baptistine as a living model of virtuous living. The call to recognize the “beauty of goodness,” however, applies not only to those having a lifelong resume of virtue. I have witnessed beauty’s goodness at life’s earliest stages. A toddler knows no other way of being than “in the moment,” even as the child grows and changes from week to week. A mother holding her child in her arms, searches beyond that moment for hints of the emerging man or woman in their maturity. I suspect that, within every parent there resides an unspoken awareness that they may not live to see their children fulfill their God-given destiny.
    I have witnessed the beauty of goodness in teenage years, when it easily suffers displacement along the meandering path to maturity. I pay attention when I hear of any child, teenager, or young adult taken too soon by illness or tragedy. Also, when I hear of young soldiers sacrificing their precious lives on the desecrated altars of their elders’ self-serving wars. Parents and friends remark, “He was such a fine young man, always ready to assist someone,” or “He was too good for this world.” My heart cries, “No! The world needs such young, idealistic men to stay alive, to make their mark upon our shattered society!” Some of us live our way into beauty. Others suffer their way to it. I think of patients I have known in our neighboring hospital whose clear eyes glow with inner light.
    The beauty of goodness is like that hidden treasure Jesus spoke of in Matthew 13:44:

    The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, hidden in a field. The one who finds it, buries it again; and so happy is he, that he goes and sells everything he has, in order to buy that field.

    When I discover goodness, be it for a moment or longer, I rejoice in its native beauty and bask in its bright light. So inspired, I take quill pen in hand. I lay no claim, on earth or before God, to poetic aptitude. At those times when I hear the call—I should say “challenge”—of the muse, I dare to express my heart in the fewest possible syllables. In doing so, I take comfort in knowing that no other eyes will see—and, God forbid, judge—my verse.

    The Beauty of Goodness
    i see goodness
    in a mother’s smile
    a helping hand
    a loving heart

    i find goodness
    in a kind word
    a silent shrine
    a sunrise glow

    chancing upon the
    beauty of goodness
    i catch my breath
    stand in awe

    Bishop Myriel: In His Own Words (Wisdom of Les Miserables Book 2) - Kindle edition by Garrotto, Alf…
    Bishop Myriel: In His Own Words (Wisdom of Les Miserables Book 2) - Kindle edition by Garrotto, Alfred. Download it once and read it on your Kindle d…
  • Excerpt from "The Pirates of Sufiro" by David Lee Summers: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08CBHGM49/

    The Smoldering Ember

    Bright, almost fluorescent, orange blood together with darkening red blood was splattered along the alien freighter's walls and deck. Humans made their way through the triangular corridor toward the battered airlock of their own ship, the Legacy. They hefted crates containing hominid/computer interface cards over flaccid, tentacled Alpha Centauran corpses.

    One man stood to the side. Sweat-matted, long, red hair clung to his forehead. He stroked his mustache, pleased to note few casualties among his crew. Captain Ellison Firebrandt began to relax. As he did, he realized he still gripped his high-energy pulsed ray pistol. The captain holstered the hepler, but allowed his fingers to rest on the grip.

    Juan de Largo slipped on an orange blood puddle and dropped onto a soft, gray corpse while interface cards clattered across the deck. Out of reflex, Firebrandt yanked the hepler from its holster and aimed at the sound. When he realized the sound was not an enemy ambush, he holstered the pistol and helped the cursing de Largo to his feet.

    Firebrandt's lieutenant, Carter Roberts, ran forward and gathered the cards back into the box. "Give me a hand."

    Firebrandt nodded to de Largo. "Let's get to work. We don't have much time."

    "You are correct, Firebrandt," growled a voice at the other end of the deck. "In fact, you have no time at all." Firebrandt stood, then whirled to face a nine-foot, tentacled Alpha Centauran who'd appeared in the doorway. Firebrandt's hand returned to the hepler grip as he identified the creature to be the ship's captain. The Alpha Centauran leveled a weapon at Roberts and de Largo. "This weapon fires a projectile. Once it's in the body, it blossoms, ripping and tearing its way through your internal organs." The Alpha Centauran grinned at Firebrandt. "It's no less than you and your crew of pirates deserve."

    "Allow me a last request." Firebrandt lifted his hand from the hepler and pulled back his coat. With care, he retrieved a pipe and match from his trousers pocket. The Alpha Centauran captain narrowed his gaze at the wooden contrivances as though deciding whether or not they could be harmful.

    The Alpha Centauran looked from Firebrandt to Roberts. "Do I kill you Firebrandt, or shall I let you watch as your friends writhe in unspeakable agony?" The Alpha Centauran stood silent for a moment. Firebrandt betrayed no concern for either his crewmembers or himself.

    He raised the pipe to his mouth as the Alpha Centauran pointed his weapon at the captain. Roberts recognized the signal and hurried de Largo through the airlock.

    "Ever since wooden ships sailed Earth's seas, sailors have taken care to minimize the risks associated with fire. After all, fire can be deadly, especially in enclosed spaces." The captain struck the match on his boot sole and raised it to the pipe. The Alpha Centauran stared in wonder as Firebrandt exhaled smoke. "Too bad Alpha Centauran blood is so combustible." The captain tossed the flaming match into a pool of orange blood, then turned and sprinted for the airlock as flame erupted all through the corridor. Automatic fire suppression kicked in, filling the corridor with chemical rain.

    Blind shots pierced the veil behind Firebrandt as he leapt through the airlock. Roberts slammed his fist on the control, shutting the heavy doors.

    * * *

    Later in the afternoon, Captain Firebrandt entered his quarters. He eased into a large, soft chair and raised a familiar, battered pipe to his lips. He watched as smoke swirled upward. Fire on a ship could be deadly. He grinned to himself. If not for the drug, Dairtox, the fire burning in the pipe could well represent an early death. The smoke comforted him and he melted into the chair's contours.

    Fine wood paneling covered the cabin walls. Stained glass overlaid the windows. A brass lantern hung from a chain over the table. The captain sighed contentment. He'd never had a better home and he couldn't imagine a place he'd rather be.

    A voice sounded on the intercom. "Sorry to interrupt, sir. This is Roberts, at the helm."

    The captain stood, hating the creaking of his bones. He placed the pipe on the table next to the chair, walked to the far wall, and touched a glowing sensor pad. "This is the captain, go ahead."

    "Computer's picked up a ship at long range," said Roberts. "She's large. A freighter I'd say, sir."

    A knock sounded at the door. Firebrandt didn't answer, but the door opened anyway. Suki Mori peered in.

    The captain gestured her inside. "A freighter," he said to the intercom. "Are you sure? What's Computer say?"

    Roberts hesitated. "She's still a long way off, sir. If you want, we can take a closer look."

    Firebrandt thought for a moment. "Don't approach any closer than you have to. If she's a warship, I want time to put some distance between us."

    The captain chewed his lower lip for a moment before he hit the touch pad and turned off the intercom.

    "Trouble?" Suki sat on the cabin's couch, then narrowed her gaze.

    "Maybe." Firebrandt sat down beside the woman he was growing to love. He brushed a strand of black hair from her cheek, then kissed her full, red lips.

    She inched closer to him. "Is it a warship?"

    The captain shook his head. "Probably a freighter."

    "Another raid? So soon?" She looked down at her hands.

    "I do it for us. I do it for the crew. They need me."

    She stood and ran her hands along the cabin's wood paneling. She grabbed a book from the bookshelf and thumbed through it. "Do you really need all this? Or do you just love the power that comes with being a captain of a pirate ship." She closed the book.

    Firebrandt stood, collected the book, and put it back on the shelf. He reached out and gently turned her face toward his. "Easy, Suki. This is no pirate ship. This is a legally licensed privateer. I fight for Earth. You know that."

    "I know, but it doesn't make much difference if you get caught." She turned away from him and crossed to the desk.

    Firebrandt looked down at the floor then shook his head. "It's all I know how to do."

    "You could get a smaller ship … just you and me…"

    The captain shrugged. "I ran the numbers. Private trade on a small ship just doesn't pay well. At that rate, I would do as well returning to the home system to be a miner, like my father."

    She nodded. "We need to keep investigating choices." She turned, walked back to him, and embraced him. Her warmth radiated through his shirt. "I just want you to think about us. I want you to consider the good you've done and maybe you've earned a real rest. It may be time for us to settle down." She shook her head. "Sometimes I wonder why you're so driven."

    "It's a passion, like a smoldering ember. This ship is the only place I know in the galaxy where I can be free." The captain looked into Suki's eyes. "We're both free here."

    She looked away as a tear ran down her cheek. "What would you do if you were captured?"

    He looked back to the chair and table. The embers in the pipe faded. "I'll burn the bastards. Fire is deadly, you know."

    She smiled back at him. "Fire can also be very warm." She ran fingers through his long, red hair.

    He stroked her hair and smiled, happy to be free. Firebrandt embraced Suki as her long, delicate fingers explored his back.

    * * *

    The captain dreamed a near-memory from childhood. He ran away from home, through an asteroid mine's dark tunnels. He hid behind a robotic cart. His mother—tall, broad and imposing—reached around and grabbed him. If his dream had followed his memories, he would have remembered her pulling him close, telling him his father waited and worried with dinner. She might have even said she loved him, but he couldn't remember that part for certain.

    In the dream, she shoved him back under an overhead lamp's sharp glare. She drew her hepler and aimed. Just as she squeezed the trigger he gasped and sprang awake, the image so vivid, it seemed more real than faded memories.

    He shook his head and rubbed sleep from his eyes. He stood, wavered a moment, then padded over to a wall unit where a coffee carafe waited. He poured some in a cup, sipped it, and sighed.

    His thoughts returned to his mother. He knew little about her other than his father's stories. She left them when he was quite young. He did remember she carried a hepler pistol, but he never understood why. The recollection made him shudder.

    His mother—Barbara was her name—had left Earth to join the navy of Alpha Coma Berenices. Alpha Coma and Earth had long been rivals, but this personal connection enhanced his desire to give the Alpha Comans trouble by raiding their ships.

    In space, battles played out like chess tournaments. All moves were made with calculated precision. Firebrandt could never decide whether he was a pawn or a knight. All he knew for certain was that Earth's admiralty controlled the moves.

    The intercom chimed. The captain continued to sip his coffee as he padded over to the wall. He pushed the touch pad. "This is the captain."

    "Computer's got a positive identification on that ship as well as distance and bearing." Roberts sounded annoyed, as though he'd been trying to raise the captain for some time. The captain glanced over to Suki among his bed's rumpled sheets. Had it been the dream or the intercom chime that had awakened him?

    "Well, since we aren't running, I presume it's not a warship."

    "She's a large freighter. Computer says she's from Alpha Coma Berenices."

    "Really?" The captain shuddered. It wasn't completely unexpected news given the region of the galaxy they were in, but it unnerved him given his dream. Still, a large freighter from Alpha Coma could mean a big payoff in cash as well as giving him personal satisfaction. "Alert the crew. I'll come up."

    Firebrandt bent over Suki's sleeping form and kissed her gently. She snuggled further into the sheets. He reached over the bed and retrieved a clean, white tunic. From his chair, he grabbed a pair of crisp black trousers. The captain fastened a wide belt around his tunic, pulled on a pair of boots and strode from the cabin.

    He arrived on the Legacy's command deck a moment later. Sloping metallic walls bordered the deck. Wooden handrails ran the length of the walls. Two gunner's consoles stood near the door at the stern. Nicole Lowry and Edwin Neal worked through the weapons' checklist.

    Instead of a forward wall, the deck continued into a breathtaking hologram of space. The captain's footsteps resounded on the metal grating. Lights blinked as the ship's network relayed data about fuel consumption, speed, course, and other information throughout the vessel. The helmsman, Kheir el-Din, stood at the deck's center in front of the ship's "wheel"—in fact, a console with controls to steer the ship. A pale man, with hair grown long to cover a scar in the middle of his forehead where a computer chip had been implanted, sat against the starboard wall, ice-blue eyes roving the deck. The man called Computer was the anti-embodiment of the crystalline matrix pulsing with light beneath the captain's feet. The ship's network was a massive thing, interacting intimately with all the ship's systems. Computer was a frail thing, passing along the captain's orders and repeating answers from the ship's network.

    The captain looked around el-Din at the glowing status indicators on the wheel console. Pleased with the ship's condition, he turned his attention to the hologram and tried, in vain, to find the freighter among the stars.

    "Computer," said the captain, "show me the freighter." A three-dimensional grid appeared within the hologram. A red dot sprang to life in the center. A few words typed out in space above the ship detailing the freighter's size, crew compliment and armaments. Roberts leaned against the starboard wall just ahead of Computer and nodded.

    Firebrandt folded his arms. "I think the Alliance would be most pleased to see Alpha Coma lose some riches. What do you think, Roberts?"

    Bald with gaunt features, Roberts grinned, making him resemble a death's-head. "I think they would be most pleased indeed, sir." Roberts approached the captain.

    "Now, for the problem," mused Firebrandt. "Getting to her. How far away is she?"

    "Twenty light-hours," responded Computer in a monotone.

    "On her course, how far is the nearest jump point for Alpha Coma?" asked the captain.

    "Three light-hours," responded Computer.

    "That's it, then," grumbled Roberts. "She has all the time in the world to fire up her EQ engines and jump out of range before we even get close."

    Firebrandt sighed. Legacy had a way to deal with this situation, but he'd used it more than he had wanted over the last several months. It had already brought him undue attention and it was expensive to use.

    In the late twenty-first century, a scientist named Thomas Quinn had discovered time-traveling particles that could inject three-dimensional vessels into fourth dimensional reality, which had made apparent faster-than-light travel possible. Ships had to jump between gravitational nodal points. For most ships, only stars possessed sufficiently strong gravitational fields to be the focus of those nodal points. However, Firebrandt had acquired a generator that created nodal points anywhere in space. Suki had adapted it to the ship's systems.

    The captain concluded they needed to use the nodal point generator. "Have Ms. Mori get to her post. We need to jump to a position one kilometer off the Coma ship's stern." Firebrandt sighed as he grabbed a handrail along the wall.

    Two minutes later, Suki arrived on the command deck, shirt untucked and several strands of hair trying to escape a hastily formed ponytail.

    "Intrasystem jump is calculated and coordinates are sent to Miss Mori's station," reported Computer.

    Suki sat down at the engineering console and activated the nodal point generator. She adjusted the settings and confirmed Computer's calculations. After a moment, she nodded to the captain. "We're ready."

    "Jump!" ordered the captain as he closed his eyes. Within a few seconds, he felt as though someone struck him repeatedly in the face. In a dream-like state he imagined the tentacles of an Alpha Centauran encircling his neck to strangle him. As he fought to hold onto the railing, he realized the ship had already jumped. He struggled to look at the hologram image. A hepler pulse fired from the Coma ship's stern.

    A moment later, Legacy shuddered. Firebrandt lost his grip and dropped to the deck.

    Roberts ran to the stern. "Return fire!"

    Neal and Lowry entered firing sequences and unleashed hepler beams from the turret guns.

    The two cylindrical ships careened through space, EQ generators glowing blue at the stern. The nearby star bathed the black, erdonium hulls in orange light. Legacy unleashed a second hepler salvo which tore into the Coma vessel's thruster pack. One shot ripped through the hull plating near the Coma ship's bow where its bridge would be. Roberts whirled on Lowry. "Careful! Engines only!"

    "Damn you, I know that," she responded.

    Roberts looked as though he would fire back a retort, but a glance from Firebrandt stopped him. This was not the time to argue.

    The Coma ship returned fire. This time the captain maintained his grip on the handrail.

    "Our starboard thrusters are destroyed and we've taken damage to the starboard gangway port," reported Computer.

    The Legacy fired again. This time they scored a hit on the EQ generator and its glow diminished. The bulky freighter fired several more shots, clipping the privateer's hull.

    Sparks sputtered from Neal's station. The gunner screamed when the panel burst into flames. Roberts grabbed him and pulled him to safety.

    "Get the extinguisher," snarled Lowry, giving the panicked man something to focus on.

    The captain ordered fire crews onto the command deck while Lowry maintained the barrage on the enemy vessel.

    "Computer," called Firebrandt. "Assume control of starboard weapons and maintain assault!" Computer's brow creased as he took control of the guns. Computer might not be as good a shot as Neal, but the captain preferred it to losing half of Legacy's fire power.

    A firefighting team stormed onto the command deck and helped Neal extinguish the flames at his station. Acrid smoke issued from the console.

    "Second direct hit on enemy's EQ generator, sir!" shouted Computer over the firefighters' din.

    "Another shot should do it," observed the captain.

    The freighter started to turn. Firebrandt gulped. He suspected their adversary brought a large bow gun to bear. "Evasive!" shouted the captain. Behind him, the fire crew gaped at the holo-viewer.

    "Clear the bridge!" called Roberts. The fire crew scurried off the deck and Neal dropped back into the foam-covered seat and secured his harness.

    "We're hardly moving, Captain," reported el-Din.

    "Ship's performance down twenty percent," reported Computer.

    Roberts pounded the wall. He looked at the captain as a thought came to him. "The starboard gangway port!"

    The captain turned to Computer. "Seal off deck two, section two. Open the starboard port!"

    "Inadvisable, Captain. Opening the port will damage it further."

    "I know. Open the port," ordered the captain as he waved smoke out of his face.

    Computer nodded. When the port opened, air rushed out and swung the ship out of the hepler gun's range. Roberts pointed to the holo and Lowry fired, destroying the gun.

    The freighter shuddered as it resumed course. "Let's shut the rest of those thrusters down." Firebrandt nodded to Lowry.

    Roberts coughed. "Get those fans on in here!" he called to the helmsman. Fans buzzed to life and the acrid electrical smoke began to lift. Two red energy pulses struck the freighter's thruster pack. It exploded in a silent shower of sparks and shrapnel. Inertia carried the freighter forward on an altered trajectory at lower speed.

    "Catch up with the Coma ship," ordered the captain. He lit his pipe and studied the enemy vessel. "We knocked out her main gun," he mused. "She'll have others to fend off an approaching ship." He sucked the pipe stem. "Computer, using other Coma ships on record as a norm, what would be the range of the guns we have not destroyed?"

    "Standard range for close proximity weapons is one kilometer." Computer considered for a moment. "I should also point out, sir, that the large gun we destroyed is not standard for Coma merchant ships."

    "That was military hardware," said Roberts as he walked up to the captain.

    Firebrandt turned to the helmsman. "Bring us out to five kilometers distance. Fly us in a spiral pattern until we're two kilometers away from the Coma ship." He turned to face Lowry. "I want all of her short-range armaments knocked out. Keep an eye out for surprises."

    "Aye aye, sir," said the gunner.

    Stars moved in the hologram. The captain turned his attention to the other gunner, sitting dazed in dried foam. "Mr. Neal, you panicked while at your station."

    "Yes, sir." He lowered his head.

    "Have you settled down enough to perform your duty?"

    "Yes, sir," responded Neal, hope glimmering in his eyes.

    "Then get your station back on line as soon as possible." The captain contemplated the pipe for a moment. "Do you understand, Mr. Neal?"

    "Yes sir, I understand, sir."

    Firebrandt walked over to Suki. "Get a toolkit and give him a hand. Let me know if he needs a break from duty."

    She nodded. "Shouldn't you give him one anyway?"

    The captain considered that. "I want his confidence restored. If he takes a break now, he'll be questioning himself."

    Suki gave him a curt nod and strode over to a storage locker.

    The captain watched the holographic viewer. Lowry picked off the remaining guns on the freighter's hull. Legacy maneuvered far too sluggishly with the starboard thrusters out of action. Even so, by the time el-Din reported that they'd reached the target position, two kilometers from the ship, all armaments had been disabled.

    "Helmsman, you may proceed with docking," ordered the captain.

    "Aye aye, sir." Kheir el-Din entered the maneuver, then stroked the beads weaved into his beard.

    "Preparing bow grappling ring," reported Computer.

    "Mr. Roberts, assemble the boarding crew and meet me at the airlock." The captain tamped out his pipe and strode off the command deck.

    * * *

    Twenty crewmembers raring for a fight waited with Roberts near the bow airlock when the captain arrived. He looked them over. They had all been on raids with him before and had proven themselves to be brave, sturdy souls. Wordless, the captain strode to the airlock. He turned and faced the crew with a confident grin. His confidence was a ruse, but their eyes and chins lifted, alert and ready just as he wanted. Alpha Coma was a human colony. There would be no terrible aliens on the other side of the airlock. Firebrandt needed a crew who would fight without doubting themselves.

    The captain drew his sword and held it high. The crew let out a fierce battle yell. Firebrandt nodded, satisfied. The boarding party fell silent as they waited. Firebrandt drew a hepler pistol. At this signal, the crew drew their own weapons. Legacy bumped into the freighter. Hands tensed.

    Roberts moved to the captain's side. Air whooshed as the airlock doors opened. The captain and Roberts blasted through the freighter's airlock. Armored defenders waited on the other side. The boarding party charged headlong into the pulsed high-energy weapon's fire.

    Swords cut into armor designed to defend against pulsed rays. Bladed weapons may be anachronistic, but they still served a purpose and inspired a terror that no other weapon could. Heplers fired, flesh burned, and screams came from all sides. Blood splattered the freighter's deck.

    The captain stood, breathless, and took in the battle's aftermath. His white tunic had been torn and stained red. Sweat dripped from his forehead as he looked around. All the defenders had fallen. Firebrandt counted himself, Roberts, and two of Legacy's crew still standing—Lowry and de Largo.

    "These were professional soldiers," noted Lowry.

    The captain turned to give instructions to Roberts. Just then, a hepler pulse crackled through the air. The first mate crumpled to the deck and stared in horror at the cauterized stump where his right hand once had been. Firebrandt and his people dropped to their knees, scanning the passageways to see where the shot had come from. Lowry and de Largo covered the corridor while the captain moved to Roberts' side. Firebrandt helped Roberts to sit up against a wall, then stood, hepler drawn, to face his new adversary.

    A gray-haired woman wearing a Lord High Admiral's uniform emerged from the shadows at the far end of the deck. A scar ran from the edge of her mouth to her chin. In one hand, she held a sword. In the other, she held a hepler pistol. Behind her stood a young man and a young woman, both in Alpha Coma military regalia—the admiral's flag lieutenants. "Order your people to drop their weapons!" shouted the admiral, her voice hoarse as though she had been shouting orders for the past hour.

    "Looks like a stand-off to me," noted Firebrandt.

    The male flag lieutenant fired his hepler. Juan de Largo fell to the deck with a gaping hole in his chest. "Not anymore," said the admiral.

    Firebrandt put his hand on Lowry's shoulder. Her hepler clattered to the deck.

    "Now, why do I find pirates attacking a military vessel?" demanded the admiral, stepping to Firebrandt.

    He sneered. "Transponder records indicated this was a freighter. Disguising a military vessel as a civilian vessel is entrapment and a treaty violation."

    "Piracy brings the death penalty on Alpha Coma Berenices," the admiral answered.

    "We are privateers operating under a letter of marque. We are not subject to Coma's jurisdiction," growled Firebrandt.

    The admiral looked into his eyes. "No?" She looked to the deck and the walls. "Look's like you're in Coma's jurisdiction to me."

    Firebrandt raised the hepler. Something pierced his arm. Pain seared through every nerve in his body and he crumpled to the deck. The female flag lieutenant holstered a mini dart gun. The admiral and her lieutenants stepped into Legacy as he blacked out.

    * * *

    A sick pain throbbed throughout Firebrandt's body and he groaned. He managed to look around. Roberts and Lowry had vanished, but bodies still littered the deck. The captain decided he could not have been unconscious for long. He tried to stand, his head still swimming from the Alpha Coman dart. He staggered on the slippery metal deck. After a second try, he managed to cross back to the Legacy.

    The privateer vessel appeared undamaged. Firebrandt stumbled through the corridors to the command deck. Roberts sat at his station, weak and pale, his arm bandaged. No one else occupied the command deck. Even Computer was gone.

    "What's happened?" asked Firebrandt. "Where is everyone? Where's Computer?"

    "Those who didn't fall in action are my prisoners," came a gruff voice from the stern door.

    Firebrandt looked around to see the admiral. As he moved toward her, the female flag lieutenant led Suki onto the command deck. He stopped. "If you've harmed her…" The captain aimed his finger at the admiral.

    "Harming her is the last thing on my mind." The admiral flashed a queer smile. "For some reason, she seems to love you."

    "That's none of your business," Suki said.

    "Humph," muttered the admiral. "What do you say, Firebrandt?"

    "How do you know my name?" demanded the captain, even as he realized she seemed strangely familiar.

    The admiral narrowed her gaze. "Don't play those games with me." She looked at Suki, then to Roberts. The captain began to fume. "And don't blame them. They're loyal to you. Damn it, everyone on this ship was loyal to you." The admiral snorted. "They're all misguided fools!" She walked up to Firebrandt and looked him up and down. "I don't understand why, but both Suki and Roberts are especially loyal to you."

    "So, what are you going to do with us?" asked Firebrandt.

    "Ellison Firebrandt is known throughout this sector of the galaxy. I'm within my rights to have you executed." The admiral pursed her lips as she studied the captain. He was defeated and she knew it. "However, I have no desire to destroy you. I will let you go."

    "What about my crew?" Firebrandt asked, numb.

    "They are good fighters. I may have use for some of them."

    "And for those you can't … use?"

    "Fair trial. If your letter of marque is genuine, they'll be returned to Earth."

    Firebrandt looked at his feet. "What about us?"

    "Well, I've stripped your ship of parts necessary to get mine operating again, which is allowed by treaty. Legacy will still fly. I've disarmed your weapons. I want you out of this sector. With Roberts and Suki, you'll be able to manage the ship."

    "That's far from certain," complained Roberts, looking down at his bandaged arm, now missing a hand.

    "I think you'll manage," said the admiral. "I want you to find a world—a world to make your own. I do this under one condition—that I never hear about new raids by the dread pirate Firebrandt." She took a couple steps away and turned. "If I see you in my jurisdiction again, I will not hesitate to execute you as war criminals."

    Firebrandt nodded. "I understand."

    The admiral turned to leave. Firebrandt rushed forward and grabbed her arm. "Wait a moment," he said. "Who exactly are you?"

    "I'm sad to say, it's been far too long and the years have no doubt changed me." She laughed at his perplexed expression. "I'm pleased to meet you." She held out her hand. "I'm Lord Admiral Barbara Firebrandt."
    Amazon.com: The Pirates of Sufiro (Space Pirates' Legacy Book 2) eBook: Summers, David Lee: Kindle…
    The Pirates of Sufiro (Space Pirates' Legacy Book 2) - Kindle edition by Summers, David Lee. Download it once and read it on your Kindle device, PC,…
  • Excerpt from 'Partners in Time' by Stevie Turner: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07NWY4ZMQ
    PART 1
    FEBRUARY 1867


    There’s ice on the inside of the windows again. Peggy needs to re-light the fires; it’s six thirty and she should have been up by now.
    Emily Cuthbertson drew the ribbon of her nightshirt a little tighter around her neck and burrowed underneath the counterpane, sighing with relief when she heard the welcome light tap on the door.
    “Come in!”
    Peggy, more red-faced and flustered than usual, carried a full scuttle of coal and kindling, and headed straight for a mound of white ash in the fireplace, scraping out the grate with practised ease. Kindling in place, she struck a Lucifer match and turned to Emily.
    “Sorry I’m a bit late, Miss Emily.”
    It had been her father, the formidable Reverend Cuthbertson, who had always dealt with recalcitrant servants. But the reverend was no more, and with her mother still prostrate in her room next door with grief, Emily sat up and realised it would probably always now fall to her to keep the staff on their toes.
    “Don’t let it happen again, Peggy.”
    “No, Miss. I’ll just go and get your hot water.”
    Emily waited until Peggy had left the room, and then sank back on the pillows. Her life was not panning out exactly as she had hoped. She was twenty five, and as far as she was concerned, although the youngest in the family she was already quite the old maid. One by one her seven siblings had married and moved away or abroad, ensuring they were not the last one left at home and thereby duty bound to provide companionship to their ailing mother. Emily felt a frisson of discontent; the chance to marry and have children of her own was passing her by. Her 64 year old mother could live for another ten or twenty years at least, by then her own youthful bloom would have all but evaporated in the ravages of time.
    A knock on her door signalled the arrival of the hot water jug. Another miserable day’s existence loomed, and she could do nothing about it.
    “How can I eat breakfast, Emily?” Delia Cuthbertson, pale and wan, sat propped up against a mountain of pillows and pushed away her tray. “Your father is dead.”
    Emily gently nudged it back towards the widow.
    “It’s been three months now. Papa wouldn’t have wanted you to stop eating.”
    “I want to join him.” Delia’s eyes filled with tears. “There’s no point in going on.”
    With one uncharacteristic angry sweep of Delia’s arm, a plate of hot porridge sailed through the air and landed on the floor, accompanied by uncontrollable weeping. Emily sighed as she looked at the glutinous mess on the rug.
    “I’ll go and find Peggy.”
    The maid was busy sweeping dust from the entrance hall floor out into the garden. Emily enjoyed a brief flashback as she recalled stepping carefully in each diamond-shaped tile as a child to avoid the cracks. When she emerged from her reverie she noticed a man clothed in strange attire, looking over his shoulder at her as he walked out of the front door into the snow.
    “Porridge has been spilled onto the rug in Mrs Delia’s room.”
    “I’ll see to it straight away, Miss.” Peggy put her broom to one side. “Shall I take the tray away?”
    Emily nodded and took a glimpse outside.
    “Yes, I think so. Peggy…who is that person you’ve been speaking to? Is he a tradesman?”
    She turned back towards the hallway when she received no reply, but Peggy had already disappeared upstairs. Emily, puzzled as to the man’s identity, walked out onto the lawn, but the man had seemingly vanished into thin air.
    Her mother’s sobbing had reached a zenith in front of a captive audience by the time Emily returned. Peggy stoically scrubbed the rag rug but remained silent while Emily decided to pour some tea into a cup and place it in Delia’s shaking hand.
    “Drink this. It’ll make you feel better.”
    Platitudes that she was certain would fall on deaf ears, but she needed to say something to try and lighten the atmosphere. The spinning vortex of misery threatening to devour them all needed to be stopped in its tracks. Delia took a sip and gazed sightlessly at her daughter, her mind in a state of turmoil.
    “I’m so alone!”
    “Nonsense.” Emily plumped up the pillows behind her mother’s back. “You have eight grown up children. How can you be alone?”
    “But I only see you.”
    Emily was tired of the same conversation going around and around but reaching no satisfactory conclusion.
    “Because you won’t get out of bed and visit them! They all have busy lives. Mama, you read Lionel’s letter last week - he’ll be moving back soon to take over father’s duties, so at least you’ll see him every day.”
    There was no reply from her mother. Emily sighed, and for the thousandth time wished her father was still around.


    Days followed the same routine in that she would draw and paint as a means of escape, but also try to be the good companion that her mother needed her to be. With the arrival of her clergyman brother Lionel bringing an end to the interregnum and with Emily’s cajoling and encouragement, her mother Delia had started to raise herself out of bed. With life on a more even keel, Emily decided the time was right to offer a suggestion as she brushed her mother’s long silver hair one spring morning in March.
    “It would be nice if Beatrice and Alfred could stay for a weekend with the baby. I think I’ll write to them. I know you miss Beattie as much as I do.”
    She took some pins from her mother’s hand and twirled a long ringlet around her finger before affixing it next to the others. When the reply came, a small wave of excitement coursed through her body.
    “That would be a good idea, I think. Little Amelia must be nearly two years old now.”
    Emily could hardly wait to get to the task. When Delia was suitably dressed and engrossed in The Times, she opened her father’s bureau and selected some notepaper and a matching envelope. As she wrote she imagined with envy her eldest sister ensconced in marital bliss in Lamburn, only six miles from Southcombe as the crow flew, but now a busy mother and wife to Lamburn’s only watch and clockmaker.
    With the letter written, she buttoned her boots and fastened her cape securely. It was time to enjoy some fresh air and take a walk to post the invitation. Across the green she spied Lionel, who waved to her as he pinned a notice in the entrance to the church. Miss Routledge cycled towards the schoolroom, where several children were already chasing each other in the playground. Emily walked briskly past the school she had attended for 9 years and came to a halt outside the post office. A bell above the door tinkled softly as she entered. She smiled at the postmistress and inhaled the familiar sweet aroma of her favourite crystallised fruits and aniseed balls.
    “Good morning, Mrs Edgecombe.”
    Lucy Edgecombe, large and motherly, returned the smile with one of her own.
    “It’s a fine morning, Miss Emily.”
    Emily placed her addressed envelope on the counter.
    “Indeed it is. I need a stamp please, if you would be so kind.”
    She handed over a penny as the postmistress scrutinised the envelope.
    “I haven’t seen Miss Beatrice for some years.”
    Emily ignored a stab of irritation and decided to be as affable and charming as Lionel.
    “Mama would like them all to pay a visit.”
    “I hope she comes to see me if she does.” Lucy took the penny and affixed a stamp to the envelope. I’ll pop this in the sack for you.”
    “Thank you.” Emily gave a little nod. “Good day for now.”
    She wanted her burst of freedom to last a while longer. It had been quite some time since she had been inside a church, and Lionel had always been her favourite brother.
    There was a cool essence of musk or suchlike as she opened the church’s heavy oak door. A serene stillness had settled over the pews, their ends still draped in cream organza ribbons from a recent wedding. Emily walked slowly up the aisle, wondering whether one day she might undertake the same walk as a radiant bride. Lionel was seated in the vestry, scribbling frantically in a notebook.
    “Emily! How good it is to see you here!” He stood up. “I was just finishing Sunday’s sermon.”
    She shrugged.
    “I don’t know why I came in really. Perhaps I’m getting religious after all these years.”
    “Each in his own time.” Lionel smiled. “I’ve always had hope that you’d turn to God eventually.”
    Emily shook her head.
    “Don’t bet on it. God doesn’t seem to like me much, I think. Perhaps it’s because I don’t go to church every Sunday?”
    She wanted to hug her brother. He was so earnest and sure that somewhere just out of sight his God was beaming down benignly.
    “God loves you, Emily. He has a plan for you. You just have to find Him when you’re ready.”
    “Yes, my plan is obviously to listen to Mama complaining for the rest of my life.” Emily laughed, but inside she felt like crying. “Like I said, your God doesn’t seem to be doing me many favours.”
    She did not turn away as Lionel took her hand in his.
    “Your chance will come when you least expect it. You know my friend Wilkie – I’ve told him about your paintings. He’s writing a book that needs some illustrations.”
    Affecting a shrill laugh, Emily let go of her brother’s hand and walked towards the vestry door.
    “Don’t get carried away with your God and be late for dinner. It’ll make Mama cross.”
    “Look for Him.” Lionel gave her a small wave. “And you will find Him.”
    She thought of his words that night as she donned her nightshirt and got into bed. As she closed her eyes, she wondered where Lionel’s supposed God of Love was hiding.

    Amazon.com: Partners in Time eBook: Turner, Stevie: Kindle Store
    Amazon.com: Partners in Time eBook: Turner, Stevie: Kindle Store
  • Excerpt from 'Finding David', by Stevie Turner: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07RLZF1JW

    She risked a sneaky peep around the curtain; every seat in Croydon’s grandly named Athaneum was taken. Desperate for a miracle, rows of overweight middle aged women waited impatiently. A cacophony of chatter filled the air. Women laughed nervously or threw a few words to the odd unsmiling husband sitting in stolid disbelief with arms crossed as if to ward off evil spirits.
    The usual high-pitched buzz of anticipation echoed off the walls. Rae Cordelle patted her black bobbed hair into place, stepped back into the wings, and took a deep breath.
    “There’s a good crowd tonight.”
    Medicine Horse, six foot seven inches of calm serenity in loincloth and full Apache feathered headdress, emitted a comforting presence as he stood in quiet contemplation by her side.
    “I am here to guide you, as always.”
    Rae gave a nod of approval.
    “Many thanks. May God be with us tonight.”
    Peter Jones, Spiritualist Preacher, raised a water jug towards her in salutation as he slipped through the curtain. All at once Rae heard silence from the discordant hell of many raised voices.
    “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a remarkable and gifted clairvoyant medium here with us tonight. I want you to give a big hand to … Rae Cordelle!”
    The stagehand pulled back the curtains. Rae, already desperate for the soothing balm of water, walked towards the table to polite applause as the preacher ceased his theatrical posturing and sat down beside her.
    “Thank you Peter.” She filled a glass and took a refreshing sip. “It’s lovely to be here.”
    Arms folded and his features inscrutable, Medicine Horse stood sentinel at the back of the hall. Rae felt the burning stares of at least two hundred pairs of eyes.
    “Has anybody seen me work before?”
    A couple of hands shot up while a gabble of deceased spirits jostled for first position in a queue behind Medicine Horse.
    “Well, for the others here that haven’t attended a demonstration of clairvoyance before, don’t worry. If you see anything scary I’ll be the first one out of the door, ahead of you all!”
    Rae felt the tense atmosphere lighten a fraction, as a titter erupted amongst the cauliflower heads and bald pates. She took another sip of water, and carried on.
    “And if your relative was a miserable old bugger in this world, you can bet your bottom dollar he’ll be just as miserable in the next!”
    Rae perched on the edge of the table until the laughter had ceased.
    “I’m clairvoyant. That means I can see Spirit.” She paused to let the effect of her words sink in. “I first became aware of this gift when I was eight years old. My grandmother came into my room in the middle of the night and woke me up. I thought it strange at the time, because I’d been told she was in hospital over a hundred miles away. She told me she had died, and to let my mother know that she was quite happy and no longer in pain.”
    Rae looked around the room. Every pair of eyes were fixed upon her.
    “I raced into my parents’ room shouting out what my grandmother had said. Mum sat up in bed just as the phone rang. It was the night staff at the hospital telling her that her mother had died ten minutes before.”
    There were a couple of audible gasps. Rae, warmed up, took off her jacket and paced up and down the hall, keeping eye contact with the audience. Heads swung back and forth like a Centre Court crowd at Wimbledon.
    “Mother was terrified and wanted to take me to a psychiatrist. Dad told her to let me be. Neither of them ever spoke of it again, but after that incident I saw my grandmother again many times. Other people came to me too – people I’d never seen before.”
    She had their full attention. Rae nodded at the first one in the queue, then pointed towards an orange aura at the end of the fifth row.
    “Can I come to the lady with the blue jacket on please? All you have to do when I come to you is say yes or no.”
    The reply was barely audible. Rae smiled at the woman and tried to ease her nervousness, which was not helped by the fact that several in the audience had turned in their seats to look.
    “I have a lady here – quite tall and willowy, with a hair in some kind of French pleat. She tells you not to worry about your hospital appointment, and that you’ll be fine. She’s your mother?”
    The woman’s eyes were filling up. Rae decided to change the subject.
    “You have an orange aura. I sense you can be a bit hot-headed, but don’t hold any grudges, but that you tend to rush into relationships a too quickly.”
    The woman nodded and wiped her eyes.
    “Your mother sends much love, and tells you that a new man will come into your life next year. You must come back and tell me if he does!”
    “Yes.” The woman clutched her friend for support. “I will.”
    “Thank you.” Rae mentally beckoned the next one forward. “God be with you.”
    The woman relaxed into her seat.
    “And with you.”
    Rae smiled, glad of her first success of the evening. She then became aware of a young man aged about 24 or 25, who stood before her, solid and well-built.
    “My mum is the lady at the end of the back row with the ginger hair. The man with her is my step-father. I was left for dead when I was nine years old, and my step-father got away with it.”
    Caught off guard, Rae glanced at Medicine Horse in alarm. The old Indian’s healing thoughts immediately permeated her brain.
    Say nothing to cause fear. Encourage her to see you after the demonstration ends. The man speaks much truth.
    The young man had a slight tic; a twitch of his mouth coupled with frequent sniffs added to an overall feeling of nervousness. Rae noticed a dark grey aura around the stepfather, whose eyes followed her every move.
    “Can I come to the lady at the back with the ginger hair?” She walked towards the back of the hall, purposely avoiding any eye contact with the woman’s partner. “The lady at the end of the row please.”
    The woman’s son and Medicine Horse stood in close proximity. Rae recited a quick prayer under her breath.
    “There’s a young man here with me – blond hair and quite handsome. He seems a bit anxious. Do you know who he is?”
    Rae noticed a faint smile of recognition.
    “Could it be my son David? He was only a child when he went missing though, not a man.”
    “They grow in the spirit world.” Rae replied gently. “Just as our children do here, but they can also present as the child they were if you prefer it.”
    The woman’s features relaxed.
    “It’s been fifteen years since he went, and I’ve come to terms with it. I realised a long time ago that he must have died.”
    The woman’s partner shifted slightly in his seat, and Rae ignored the sting of his gaze. The young spirit stood behind his mother and put his arms around her neck and rested his head on her shoulder.
    “David is cuddling you.” Rae smiled. “He loves you very much.”
    Rae could hear some of the women sobbing behind her, but the object of her attention remained stoic, lifting up one hand towards her shoulder as if to ruffle her dead son’s hair.
    “Thank you for your kind words. They mean a lot to me.”
    “Do take one of my business cards after the demonstration.” Rae indicated towards the table at the front of the hall. “I can’t spend a lot of time with each person tonight, but if you’d like to call me we could talk some more.”
    The woman nodded. The next person in the queue made her presence felt, and Rae saw David fade back into the ether.

    Amazon.com: Finding David: A Paranormal Short Story eBook: Turner, Stevie: Kindle Store
    Amazon.com: Finding David: A Paranormal Short Story eBook: Turner, Stevie: Kindle Store
  • Excerpt from Dead to Life – Sara Mason Mysteries Book Three - http://mybook.to/deadtolife

    Below is another action-packed chapter from Dead to Life. Sara Mason is secretly examining an old boarded-up house for clues that could lead to finding Emma Ellis, the reason she and Huxley are in Hawaii. Just as Sara looks into one of the rooms and is shocked by what she sees, someone wallops her on the back of her head.

    Chapter 39

    Sara began to regain consciousness, though she didn’t move. Her thoughts were distorted. One hand was twisted under her. Her fingertips told what she lay on. A concrete floor? A weak stream of light filtered into the room from somewhere up high. She was thankful the light didn’t fall directly on her. Someone close by was rummaging through stuff, moving items, shoving things. Sara played dead.

    Someone in a long dress stepped over her, the hem of the dress brushing over her face. The fabric carried a foul-smelling body odor. She almost gagged, held her breath, and felt her face heating up from want of fresh air.

    “We should have brought a flashlight.” The woman’s voice was just above a whisper. “Where is it?”

    “Just leave it!” It was a man’s gruff whisper. “Let’s get out of here.”

    “Where are her shoes?”

    “Oh, here.”

    “Throw them. Let’s go!”

    Something glanced off Sara’s hip and shoulder and landed on the floor in opposite directions as she lay sprawled. More conscious, her first impulse was to curl into a knot to protect herself, but she was coherent enough to know not to move or make a sound.

    Impatient sighs were followed by shuffling footsteps, like climbing of stairs, footsteps of two people wearing flip-flops.

    “Hurry up!” the male voice urged.

    “Hey! Don’t take your gloves off.” The woman’s voice was gruff, demanding.

    “What difference does it make? We used to live here.”

    “Yeah, but our prints are old. We don’t want our fresh prints mixed in if they bring another shipment through.”

    “Our old prints should be covered by now.” The man kept his voice low. It sounded like he was gloating.

    “There’ll be no trace of us. Lock this door. By the time anyone find her bones, a lot of people will have been run through this house.”

    “Maybe you should give her another whack, make sure she’s taken care of.” He chuckled but kept his voice quiet.

    Sara went on full alert. If she heard anyone moving toward her, she would jump up and fight. She dared open her eyes, barely enough so any eyelid movement couldn’t be detected in the near darkness if someone watched her.

    “No, once is enough.” The woman sounded like she was in charge. “If anyone finds her, it’ll look like she got locked in here by accident and then fell in the dark and hit her head.”

    “Good thinking.”

    The beam of dim light from high above disappeared. The door closed. A lock clicked into place. Sara struggled to open her eyes... to nothing but pitch black.

    “Damned!” Sara kept her voice low too.

    She tried to roll over to get herself up on all fours. She moved too quickly and slammed her temple against something hard. She collapsed and passed out again.

    When Sara began to regain consciousness a second time, she was aware something horrible had happened to her. Old memories lurked. The sound of the lock clicking brought back jumbled mental images of the Sacramento Valley serial killer’s ability to get into her home. But there were no completely dark rooms in her home and the serial killer was in prison.

    Adrenaline kicked in. Through the blur of her mind, she knew she was locked inside a darkened room, but why? She lay still, trying to remember what happened. No more light shown anywhere. The cold concrete beneath her was unforgiving. Traces of that foul odor she smelled earlier, mixed with that strong body odor caused another bout of gagging. She’d have vomited but had skipped breakfast. She had nothing in her stomach but couldn’t stop the dry-heaves and convulsing.

    She needed help but wasn’t sure how bad her injuries were. She felt at her waist for her hip pack. It was still there but the pocket that carried her cell phone hung open and empty.

    As her thoughts began to clear, she remembered the last shocking thing she saw before being walloped. Somehow, she had to get word to Huxley and Keo.

    She had to get out of that house.

    Then she remembered the people, that man and woman’s voice.

    Her sandals!

    She carefully sat up and reached for whatever she could find. Her hands bumped into objects and startled her. She couldn’t find the footwear, but she didn’t need to waste time looking. She needed to get out of there.

    She felt the concrete beneath her, vaguely remembered the layout of the house. She wasn’t laying prone on creaky floorboards. She was locked inside the basement and the basement had no exterior doorway!

    Her head hurt. She touched the sore spot and it was sticky... with blood, the smell of her blood on her fingers. She remembered the smell of her blood when she was forced off the road, her car rolling and rolling, and her head gushing blood as she hung upside-down. At least this time blood was not spurting out, but she already had a goose egg. Maybe at her age she wasn’t cut out for this type of work. Or maybe she hadn’t yet learned how to protect herself. She dispelled the thought. Some people need to be caught and she’d always be looking.

    Dizziness laid her prone again. When at last she was able to remain upright, she again reached out through the darkness. Her hands banged against too many things. She slowly grasped at them.

    Wood. Cushions. Furniture? She rose to her knees and felt further. The least they could have done way lay her on a couch.

    “Okay, so I’m in the basement storage with furniture.” She listened suddenly. Maybe those two were still here and would hear her. But maybe not. They wouldn’t hang around. What did they say? By the time anyone finds her bones....

    “Oh, dear God! They’ve left me here to die.” Sara sat back again on the cold concrete, clearing her thoughts, trying to retain what she had heard and felt. “Not on your life, you two. I’m not dying here. I have more lives than a cat!”

    Sara had no idea how long she had been unconscious. She grabbed hold of the wooden arm of the couch, wobbled, and finally stood. Her head reeled. She knew the feeling too well. Like after her accident on Kauai, she most likely had another concussion. She managed to sit on the couch till the vertigo passed. The soft cushions were a blessing, but they smelled moldy, musty. How long had stuff been locked away in this basement and simply forgotten?

    Something skittered across her bare foot. “Oh, shit!” She quickly drew her legs up to a fetal position and wrapped her arms around them.


    She stood again, beginning to feel her way around in the totally dark room. Her toes banged into something hard. “Crap!” She lifted her foot and shook it till the pain eased. “Just crap!”

    She had to get out. The basement could be crawling with rats, or geckoes. Maybe even a centipede or two. She worried that her bare feet or ankles could be bitten by a centipede. Worse yet, a rat could bite or scratch her. What sickness do rats carry? A centipede bite, though painful, would fade over time. Anything passed from a rat could be a life sentence. She had to get out! She hissed and clicked and shook furniture when she could make it move just to scare away any pests.

    Sara continued feeling her way by holding onto things to steady herself, trying to get to a wall to find a window. She was in the basement and those windows were boarded up from the inside. They were probably nailed closed, but she would rip the boards down with her bare hands if need be. If she couldn’t find something loose in the room that she could use to pry the boards, her hands were all she had.

    Her foot nudged something on the floor. She hoped it was her phone, maybe her sandals. She carefully stooped and gingerly felt around the concrete again, to no avail. Then she realized the sandals were what glanced off her body when she was barely conscious. They could have landed anywhere. She couldn’t find whatever her foot had touched.

    She continued moving, slower now, in the total darkness so she wouldn’t bang or break her toes. At least, the concrete floor was cool. She felt nothing but furniture. Then she snagged herself on something and fell forward, tangled in it. Something jammed hard against her ribs. She yelped. Something else scraped her leg, an arm. She fought to extricate herself from the mass of confusion. She ran her hands over the many parts as she pushed them away.

    “A bicycle?”

    Maybe she could work loose a metal piece to use as a tool. She ran fingertips over the parts looking for the nuts and bolts of the thing and located a few. What felt like rust flakes crumpled into her hands. Whatever parts she tried to work lose were rusted together and stuck tight. She couldn’t loosen anything at all.

    She wanted to scream again, but it wouldn’t help to lose her head at that moment, though it was throbbing, and she wished for a new one.

    Creeping slowly, her hand knocked against something upright. She felt a flat surface. Then her knuckles hit another upright. Then another flat surface.

    The stairs!

    Sara slowly climbed to the top of the stairs, taking care to hold to the handrail she found. She didn’t need to fall again, especially not from the top of the stairs.

    Reaching the top, she tried the doorknob. It was locked.

    Maybe all this door needs is a shove, like the back door.

    She rested to get her bearings and gather strength. Then she put a shoulder against the door and gave as strong a shove as she could manage. Her bare feet offered no traction on the wooden steps. The door didn’t budge. She had to hold tight to the knob in case she lost her balance. She gave it another shove. It didn’t budge. She made her way slowly down the stairs. The cold concrete floor told her she was at the bottom.

    Sara wasn’t about to waste time on that door. She knew to get out of there meant to find a boarded-up window. Get the board off to get some daylight in there and find her phone. Good grief! How would she explain her situation to Huxley when he was laying in the hospital taking care of his own injuries? How would she explain her predicament to Keo? He of all people needed to know what she had seen.

    She sighed heavily. She determined to break out the windows panes. Maybe, just maybe, she could ease her body through one of those small windows if it wasn’t too high up the wall; if she could stand on something to get up there. If she could get the boards loose.
  • From "In The Wind" a Sheriff Tom Myers thriller. This is the opening chapter. The other chapters are released each week(ish) as a serialized novella on Patreon. You can get the rest of the story at www.patreon.com/bobbynash Once the book is completed, it will be published by BEN Books (www.ben-books.com)

    Pete Messer hated his current assignment.

    It wasn’t a tough gig, but what it also wasn’t was very exciting. He had been tasked, along with two other U.S. Marshals like himself and an FBI Agent to baby sit a witness at a safe house out in the middle of nowhere.

    On paper, it sounded like a plum assignment.

    In reality, he was bored to death.

    Their witness was a mid-level scumbag who kept book for the Manelli crime family named Bates Hewell. Although the Manelli’s had been keeping a low profile in recent years, save for a slight altercation a year earlier that ended in a shootout. Instead, they had focused the investigation on their legitimate enterprises as opposed to their less than legal means of income, they hadn’t abandoned their criminal ways. They just learned how to keep those endeavors out of the limelight.

    What their witness knew would mean mass arrests and convictions. Once the word got out that Hewell had turned State’s evidence, if it hadn’t already, all hell was going to break loose. This guy’s life wouldn’t be worth a plugged nickel if the Manelli’s got a hold of him. For the past two months, Agent Messer and a revolving team of agents had been babysitting the witness, moving every few days to a new secure location in an effort to keep anyone looking for Hewell off balance. They had to keep him safe until his deposition later in the week. After that, they would repeat the process until the trial, which could take anywhere up to a year or more to begin. Longer no doubt, once Manelli’s high priced attorneys got in on the act.

    Messer hoped there was a plan to rotate him out of babysitting detail soon. He needed a break, not just from the monotony of the assignment, but from the annoying protectee in his charge. So far, he was the only Marshal on the detail to not be swapped out and he was starting to wonder if he was on someone’s shit list back home or if they had simply forgotten about him.

    “Ours is not to question why…” he muttered and dropped the cigarette on the driveway before grinding it out with his shoe. He had given up the cancer sticks once upon a time, but when on these seemingly never-ending protection details, he craved a smoke if for no other reason than to have something to do. Out of respect for his coworkers, he always took it outside when time to light up. Slipping on a sweater jacket and hoodie over his button up shirt and tie to keep up the illusion that it was a nice, normal family renting out the old Patterson place off Old Country Road 3 near the intersection of Highway 81.

    To his co-workers, he was walking the perimeter while grabbing a smoke.

    The safe house sat on a fairly secluded piece of land in a quiet northeast Georgia area just a few miles north of the middle of nowhere, a perfect place to hide out. The house they had rented under false, government created identities, was a ranch built in the 1980’s when the house had once been a farm house. There were several acres of fairly flat, overgrown with grass, terrain surrounding them, which meant they would see anyone coming their way long before they reached the house.

    From the outside, there was nothing extraordinary about the old Patterson place.

    The inside wasn’t much different, which made it the perfect safe house to keep their witness on ice until time for him to stand before the grand jury and spill his guts.

    The safe house was your typical ranch style house that was built in the 1980’s all over the southeastern United States. Three bedrooms, two of them tiny, two bathrooms, kitchen, den, living room, dining room, small fireplace, and two car garage that only fit two cars if you didn’t have to open the doors on either of them. The house sat on fourteen acres of flat farm land, which allowed them to keep an eye on all directions. It was a foreclosure that had been purchased under a dummy corporation’s name to keep it secure. On paper, it was a rental property.

    Only a handful of people knew its real purpose.

    Deputy U.S. Marshal Messer walked into the living room and yawned. The sun had set less than an hour earlier and since he had been on duty since midnight, he was ready to crash.

    “I’m beat,” he told the Parker and Cutler, who were playing what was probably their hundredth game of poker. One of them had brought cards and chips. Messer wasn’t sure if they were actually playing for real money or not.

    Messer, along with Deputy U.S. Marshal Simon Parker, Deputy U.S. Marshal Amy Street, FBI Agent Mike Cutler had spent the past week rotating shifts around their witness, an annoying man who rarely slept and watched a lot of TV when he wasn’t pacing nervously. He was an anxiety attack just waiting to happen.

    “Yeah, sack out, man,” Parker said as he folded and tossed his cards atop the pile of chips he had just forfeited. “You look tired.”

    “You’re a peach, Parker,” Messer said.

    “Knock first. Street’s in there.”

    Thanks. He knocked and there was no answer so he assumed she was asleep. Messer gave his colleagues a half-hearted salute before heading into the master bedroom and quietly closing the door behind him. In the dark, he couldn’t see Amy Street in either of the two beds that sat against opposite walls of the master bedroom, but he entered the room quietly anyway.

    Both beds were empty. Once the door was closed, he heard the shower running in the bathroom and saw light from beneath the door. It didn’t take a twelve-year law enforcement veteran to put two and two together.

    Messer kicked off his shoes and climbed into the bed farthest from the bathroom without bothering to change clothes, although he did loosen and pull off his tie and unbutton his shirt. He hung his shoulder holster on the bed post along with the tie then laid on his back and stared at the ceiling. He was tired, but sleep constantly eluded him, especially on the job. It was not a new problem. He couldn’t shut off his brain long enough to doze off. There were too many variables running through his head, schedules, check ins, perimeter searches, things like that. His mind was on the job twenty-four/seven. While that made him good at his job, it had killed more than a few relationships. Occupational hazard.

    Messer could still hear the TV from the living room through the door, but it was a muffled roar. Their witness was obsessed with old TV shows. Thanks to the abundance of cable channels showing classic TV lineups these days and the witnesses inability to sleep for more than two or three hours at a time, each night he was able to watch one episode each of each Star Trek series, the A-Team, Quantum Leap, Magnum p.i., Nash Bridges, Night Court, Cheers, and Simon & Simon before passing out for a few hours when the house fell into blessed silence.

    The deputy marshal did not see the appeal, personally. He had seen many of those shows as a kid, but after seeing an episode once, he never felt the need to watch it again. He couldn’t understand people like his brother who collected box sets of old shows and watched them over and over again. It seemed weird.

    Messer had just started to doze off when the bathroom door opened and Street came into the room. In the short time he had known her, he came to realize that she never walked through a door so much as she burst through them.

    “Sorry,” Street said softly as soon as she realized she wasn’t alone. She flipped off the bathroom light and plunged the room into darkness. The only light came in under the door from the living room, the red numbers on the clock, and from around the edges of the closed blinds on the window.

    “Did I wake you?” Street asked as she tiptoed across the room on bare feet.

    “Nah. I just got in,” Messer mumbled. “You turning in or heading back to the final frontier out there?”

    “Nap time,” Street said. After securing her weapon in the nightstand, she climbed into the other bed. She was dressed more comfortably than he was, in sweats and a baggy T-shirt, her long, dark hair pulled up into a ponytail.

    He and Street got along pretty well, probably because he was the only man in the house that hadn’t tried to hit on her yet. He found her attractive, but she wasn’t really his type. He hadn’t been able to say the word gay out loud yet, despite John pressuring him to at least tell his parents about them moving in together. They both agreed that keeping it out of the workplace was probably smart, especially on these long babysitting gigs. Based on the way some of the guys acted around Street, he could only imagine the kind of bullshit he would have to put up with if they knew. He hated having to hide who he was, but there were some fights he found were easier to avoid than have. This was one of them.

    Messer said good night, then rolled over to face the wall, and eventually drifted off.

    He woke to an out of place sound.

    Marshal Messer’s eyes snapped open at the sound. Without sitting up, he glanced around the room. The clock showed that it was twenty minutes to four in the morning. He could still hear the TV playing in the other room, but the sound that woke him had not come from there.

    He sat up on the edge of the bed softly, quietly. He focused, carefully listening for another clue that he hadn’t dreamt the sound that woke him. He slipped his feet into his shoes, then stood and pulled the service weapon from his shoulder holster still dangling from the bed post.

    “Time to get up?” Street asked sleepily from her bunk.

    “Shhh…” he said. “I thought I heard…”

    That’s when the shooting started.

    Messer eased open the door for a look. The living room was empty so he opened the door all the way and stepped out.

    Amy Street was two steps behind him, gun also in hand. She was still barefoot, which seemed like a bad idea, but he wasn’t about to admonish her in the middle of a shootout. She moved toward the fireplace that jutted out from the wall off the master bedroom to divide the living room from the dining room. It provided good cover.

    Messer went wide, heading to the far wall so he could back her up.

    Street pointed two fingers at her eyes then pointed in the direction of the dining room and the kitchen beyond.

    He shook his head. He didn’t see anyone.

    He pointed toward the open door leading to the other bedrooms, bathroom, and stairwell to the attic that was on his side of the room.

    She shook her head. It was clear.

    Messer inched forward, ready to head toward the kitchen when he heard glass break.

    He turned into the hallway, gun leading the way. The bathroom was ahead. It was clear. So was the back bedroom.

    Where the hell is everybody?

    He heard glass shatter again and bolted for the front bedroom. He entered just in time to see their protected witness leap out of the broken window into the bushes below.

    He’s escaping! Where’s his detail?

    Hewell shouted as the prickly bushes bit into his flesh, cutting and scratching him as he freed himself from their grasp. Once free, Hewell ran for the field ahead, hoping to lose himself in the tall grass.

    “Stop!” Messer commanded.

    Hewell looked back, but kept running.

    For a second, the marshal considered shooting him, but couldn’t risk it. Hewell was a scumbag and a crook, but he was also under the protection of the U.S. Marshal’s Service. Shooting him would not be looked on favorably.

    He heard the sound of footsteps come up behind him. They were heavy. Boots. Not Street. She was barefoot, he recalled.

    He turned just in time to see a stranger enter the room.

    The man was armed and seemed just as surprised to see someone there as Messer was to see him.

    The man raised his gun.

    Messer pulled the trigger first, two slugs to the heart, dropping the man where he stood.

    He ran back into the living room.

    “Street! We’ve got a runner and shooters! Watch your…”

    That’s when he saw her.

    Street was leaning against the fireplace, a pool of blood beneath her. She had been shot, belly wound.

    “I got… got him,” she said through the pain.

    There was no time to question her. He had to get them both to safety and call in medics for Street. He decided he would catch up with Hewell after he was sure she was okay.

    “We got to get out of here,” he whispered into her ear as she helped her back to her feet. With one hand, she put pressure on the wound. She still held her gun in the other. They reached the front door without incident.

    Messer opened the door and stepped out onto the small concrete porch. It was barely large enough to hold a chair. There was one step between the ground and the porch. He took one step forward.

    He didn’t feel the blast until they were airborne.

    The house exploded in a giant blazing ball of fire and smoke. Walls were reduced to shrapnel that hammered Messer and Street like tiny missiles as they were propelled across the front lawn.

    They hit the ground hard as wood and plaster rained down all around them like a fiery thunderstorm. The grass ignited and spread quickly to the nearest tree.

    Street was lying face down in the grass.

    She wasn’t moving.

    Messer tried to get to her, but he couldn’t move either. He tried again and felt something tear in his side. It was the most unimaginable pain he had ever felt in his life.

    Before he passed out, Pete Messer caught a glimpse of Bates Hewell before he disappeared into the tall grass.

    Their star witness was in the wind.

    Continued at www.patreon.com/bobbynash
  • From "Tharon Ann": “I was very young when asked to replace Barbara Loden in After the Fall. Some days in rehearsal I’d look at Arthur Miller’s gaunt, lifeless face checking me out in the darkness of Lincoln Center during my first run through with the original cast of After the Fall, waiting to see if I’ll measure up. I’d sooner read The Lady’s Home Journal backwards than Death of a Salesman, that’s how morbid his writings are to me. Maybe I just don’t like him. What did Marilyn see in him? Like me, she lived her life with aloneness, always going for men she considered better than her. Perhaps that was her attraction to Arthur Miller. I’d sooner wrap my legs around a buffalo than crawl in bed with him. I admire and respect Elia Kazan more than any director I’ve ever worked with, but it seems to me this whole crowd is self-serving for want of a better term. Kazan sold out many of his friends by naming names during the McCarthy hearings in 1952. Many of my friends were blacklisted from working in Hollywood for years, their lives destroyed. Kazan didn’t believe in Communism, but more importantly he didn’t want to be blacklisted. This I understand, still this crowd sickens me every time I think of how they used and betrayed each other. Each time I make up my mind to audition for the Actor’s Studio, something stops me. I don’t know if it’s my insecurity performing in front of my peers or the mixed feelings I have about Lee Strasberg.”

    It all began when Kazan introduced an insecure and confused Marilyn to his intellectual crowd of friends, including several well known psychiatrists. This type therapy is designed to make the patient dredge up repressed, painful memories buried in the subconscious; to face them and be free to move forward rather than a lifelong victim. In Marilyn’s case, she willingly underwent this type therapy in order to understand and rid herself of negative personal issues. As an added bonus, she was convinced it would give her performances greater depth.

    This is what he’s trying to do to me. He’ll get the performance out of me regardless of how I feel. He thinks he’ll get what he wants by digging up my past. I leave rehearsal feeling drained and depressed.

    Just as Marilyn used others to advance her career, so was she used and dismissed by the rich and famous sperm donors of the day. On August 5, 1962, Norma Jean Mortenson, better known to her fans as “Marilyn,” died at the age of thirty six, a bottle of sleeping pills by her side. The actual circumstances of her death remain a mystery.

    It’s crazy burning myself at both ends like this. Performing the leading role in two plays week after week is a killer. Why do I always need a mountain to climb? My understudy picks up the slack at the Cherry Lane on the days I perform Maggie in “After the Fall” at Lincoln Center. Some days nothing seems right.”

    from Tharon Ann a memoir by Jennifer Brookins
  • The mayor will begin posting excerpts from this page tomorrow. The postings will continue until the end of the month.
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