Wednesday, October 31, 2012

One Blood by Qwantu Amaru

One Blood by Qwantu Amaru

New Orleans, LA
During the day, New Orleans’ most famous neighborhood was a tribute to architectural and cultural homogeneity. At night, the French Quarter’s multicultural legacy blurred into an unrecognizable labyrinth; especially in the eyes of the drunk and desperate.
At the moment, Joseph Lafitte was both.
Joseph careened down the dark alley and absentmindedly brushed at the dried blood beneath his nose with his free hand. His tailor-made shirt and pants were drenched with sweat and felt sizes smaller. He was overcome with the sensation that he was running in place, even though he was moving forward at a brisk pace. Until he tripped over a carton some careless individual had placed in his path.
Upon impact with the concrete his cheek flayed open, but he barely felt the sting as his priceless nickel and gold plated antique Colt Navy Revolver clattered away into the darkness, out of reach. Even now, breathing as harshly as he was, he could hear someone behind him. Somehow they managed to stay just out of the range of his sight, but within earshot. 
It was the ideal moment for them to pounce, but Joseph would not give in so easily. He pushed himself to his feet, sweeping the ground for his weapon. He located it near a dilapidated doorway. Clutching it once again, he felt his self-control returning. 
Then his dead wife called his name.
“Joseph? Joseph, where are you?”
That was all the motivation he needed. He broke into a full gallop but couldn’t outrun what he’d seen back at the hotel, or what he’d just heard. 
They are toying with me. Trying to make me doubt my own mind.
This was New Orleans after all. A place with a well-documented history of trickery and alchemic manipulation. He must have drank or eaten something laced with some devilish hallucinogen. For all he knew, his own son—Randy—had given it to him. 
Randy still blamed Joseph for the car wreck that took his mother’s life. Joseph had noted the murderous hue in Randy’s eyes after Rita’s funeral, and even though Joseph explained that it was an accident, he knew Randy would never forgive him.
Was this Randy trying to get some sort of revenge? 
It didn’t matter. Randy was weak—always had been and always would be. As an only child, he grew up to be softer than cotton—Rita’s doing by babying and spoiling the boy. 
Have I underestimated my son
This thought, along with his first glimpse of light in quite some time, simultaneously assaulted him. 
Where am I? And why haven’t they caught up to me yet?
Maybe they want me to go this way. 
Joseph glanced down at the revolver that had once been carried by the great Robert E. Lee. He’d show them who had the upper hand; if Randy was behind this, he would soon be joining his mother.
Rather than heading toward the light, Joseph turned left down another dark alleyway. The fa├žade of the building was damp to the touch. Other than his troubled footfalls, there was no sound. Who knew a city nearly bursting at the seams with music could be this eerily silent?   
Joseph used the quiet to collect his thoughts. 
He’d spent that afternoon as he spent most Saturdays, sipping bourbon and talking shop with other New Orleans power brokers inside the private room in Commander’s Palace. He knew something was wrong as soon as Randy appeared at the doorway, motioning to him.
“We have to leave New Orleans right now, Father,” Randy said in a hushed tone as Joseph entered the hallway.
“What are you talking about, Boy, and why are you whispering?” Joseph replied, a little louder than he needed to.
Randy jerked Joseph’s arm in the direction of the exit, his eyes pleading. “Something bad is going to happen if we don’t leave here right away.”
“No, Son,” Joseph said. “Something bad is going to happen if you don’t remove yourself from my sight this instant!”
And that had been the end of it. Randy left, looking back only once, as if to say, Don’t say I didn’t try to warn you.
Joseph returned to his drinks and colleagues. Afterward, he went downtown for a little afternoon rendezvous with a beautiful Creole whore. She came as a recommendation from his regular mistress, Claudette, who was on her cycle, and the girl certainly fit the bill.
He made it back to the hotel just as the sun set and settled down for a drink or three after taking a steaming hot shower. In the comfort of his armchair, in the privacy of his suite, his thoughts returned to Randy. It was Randy’s eighteenth birthday and the boy had been acting oddly ever since he’d arrived in New Orleans two days earlier. In truth, he’d been acting strangely much longer than that.
Joseph would never forget the revulsion he’d experienced when the maid in their Lake City mansion had shown him the pile of bloody rags at the bottom of Randy’s hamper. That disgust tripled once he found out the source of the blood. One night, Joseph waited until Randy exited the bath. The raw pink and black slashes across Randy’s forearms, thighs, chest, and abdomen were all the evidence he needed. Apparently Randy had taken to cutting himself in the wake of his mother’s death.
Randy was barely a teenager and there was only one thing Joseph could think to do to keep from locking the boy up in a sanitarium. He sent him away to a French boarding school and commissioned some distant relatives to keep an eye on him until he graduated. If he survived that long. 
This weekend was supposed to be a celebration of sorts. Randy had returned from France a distinguished young man, and Joseph was ready to bury the hatchet. 
But what if Randy doesn’t want it buried? What if he wants my entombment and has been patiently waiting all these years to get his revenge?   
Joseph grabbed hold of a lamppost to steady himself. A statue of a man on a horse loomed over him. His feet had brought him to Jackson Square. 
Surely, nothing bad can get me here, right? 
He’d believed the same to be true of his hotel room and that had definitely proven to be false. 
Joseph had been cleaning his prized revolver before sleep overtook him. The sound of the door opening brought him back to consciousness. Even though all the lights were still on, his bleary eyes could barely make out the two figures—a young black male and white female—standing in his doorway.
Joseph sat up in his seat. “Who are you? And what the hell are you doing in my room?” His hand quickly found the revolver on the table next to him.
The man and woman looked at each other and Joseph heard a deep male voice in his head say, “Don’t worry, Joseph. It will be ova’ soon.” 
He felt the voice’s vibrations in his teeth and jumped to his feet. The young woman reached out to him and he heard her voice in his mind as well. “Don’t fight us, Joseph. It is so much better if you don’t resist.”
Joseph felt wetness below his nose and when his hand came up blood red, he bolted around the woman, out of his room, and out of the hotel. 
Now he stood in the shadow of Andrew Jackson’s immortal statue, exhausted and nearing the end of rationality. A sudden thought occurred to him. 
Maybe this is all a nightmare. Maybe I’m still sitting in my chair snoring.
He latched onto the idea. Hadn’t he heard recently that the best way to wake from a nightmare was to kill yourself? 
Where did I hear that? 
Ah yes, now he remembered. The Creole whore had mentioned her grandmother’s secret to waking from a bad dream.
What an odd coincidence...
Joseph stared down at the revolver as if it were some magic talisman. If this were a dream, it was the most vivid of his life. He could feel the breeze from the Mississippi River, the cold bronze of the statue beneath his hand, his sweaty palm wrapped around the hilt of the gun. And he could hear footsteps nearing.
Rita’s voice rang out across the square. “Joseph, I’m here to bring you home.”
His mind showed him an image of what Rita must look like after six years underground. He hadn’t cried at her funeral, but petrified tears streaked down his face as he gritted his teeth. 
I have to wake from this dream!
The footsteps were getting louder and closer. He didn’t have much time. To offset his fear and still his shaking hand, he thought of how good it would feel to wake up from this nightmare. He put the gun in his mouth, tasting the salty metallic flavor of the barrel as his mouth filled with saliva. 
God, this feels real. 
But he knew it wasn’t. He attempted to gaze at the statue of Andrew Jackson riding high on his horse. The statue was gone. As was the rest of Jackson Square. It had been supplanted by that damnable live oak tree in front of his Lake City mansion. He should have chopped that thing down long ago.
Joseph let out an audible sigh of relief.
It is a dream after all.
“It’s time, Joseph,” Rita whispered in his ear.
Knowing what had to be done, Joseph squeezed the trigger.    

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ancient Blood, A Novel of the Hegemony by Brian McKinley

Caroline and I were on the run.
Ancient Blood, A Novel of the Hegemony by Brian McKinley
We wiped down our place in Princeton as soon as the sun set that evening, loaded our few essentials into my hatchback, and headed down to Trenton so Caroline could meet up with this hacker guy she’d met online. She wanted to give him some insurance for safe keeping.
I grew up in Trenton, so I know the area well. The hacker lived on South Clinton, one of the residential streets that parallel Broad Street near the Whitehorse Circle. I remember it was a small, white duplex.
“All right, I’ll just be a minute,” Caroline said, grabbing her folder off the floor as I pulled to the curb. “Keep the engine running, but shut the lights off. Oh, and turn off the radio, scootch down in the seat a little in case—”
I reached over and brushed the back of her hand—she jumped like she’d forgotten I was there, her head snapping over to look at me. I remember being reminded of my old girlfriend, Michelle, whose previous boyfriend used to beat her. Michelle jumped like that when I touched her, too. This nervous, skittish Caroline wasn’t somebody I was familiar with; it scared me and pissed me off at the same time. Caroline was the rational one, the strong voice of reason who took the lead and always knew the best way to go about something.
“Hey, relax,” I told her, as gently as I could, and moved my fingers up to stroke the fine, downy hair at her temples.
She gave a half-hearted nod, so I leaned over and kissed her. I wanted that kiss to be solid, reassuring, and passionate; a kiss that would make her melt into my arms and forget our situation for a few blissful moments. Instead, she gave me one of those closed-lip pecks and pulled away.
I shut off the headlights, but kept the music on since I was only halfway through “Vampire Love.” I watched Caroline climb the steps to the second floor and knock. She glanced around the whole time. After a few seconds, somebody opened the door, and she went inside. I sat back and gazed around at the other houses and occasional passing car, singing along with The Misfits under my breath.
A cop car crossed the intersection in front of me, just as the song ended. As well as losing all body fat and gaining a significant increase in strength as a Vampyr, my senses had become more acute. So, I’m not sure if the cop crawled across the intersection or if I only perceived it that way. He was, however, looking around for something.
I’d parked behind another car, far enough back that I could still pull out, but it blocked most of his view of me. Now I was nervous, wishing Caroline would hurry up.
I even shut off the radio.
After another few impatient minutes, she came out. Even if there was a description of her out, we’d taken precautions. She wore loose-fitting sweats rather than her normal jeans and blouse, her blonde hair was down rather than back in her usual ponytail, and she was wearing her fake glasses. I wore blue jeans, a red flannel shirt, and a jean-jacket Caroline picked up at the Salvation Army. I looked like a complete tool.
“Hurry,” she said as she climbed in.
I nodded, turned the lights back on, and pulled away from the curb.
“Off they drove into the darkness of the night,” I began, trying to get a smile from her. “Two young lovers on a desperate odyssey—”
“Cut it out. Please.”
I’d almost made it to Whitehorse Avenue, where the street ended, when I caught something in my rearview mirror.
The same damn cop I’d seen a few minutes ago.
He was driving down another cross street, but turned as soon as he spotted us and started closing the distance. I sped up and took the right onto Whitehorse against the light. I raced up a block and made a sharp left onto a small side street that could take us to Broad Street. Cutting my lights, I tore down the single lane, hoping to get out of sight before the cop turned onto Whitehorse.
I saw headlights pass in my mirror, but couldn’t tell if it was the cop or not. The street dead-ended at a high school, and—even with my improved night vision—it was very dark without the headlights. The parked cars on either side made for a wonderful obstacle course; I just prayed no pedestrians were out.
I came to the cross street and took the turn before putting my lights back on. In the few seconds it took us to reach Broad Street, my mind filled with projections of the cop sitting there, having anticipated my move, patiently waiting for us to emerge…
He wasn’t. I guess he figured I’d made the right into the parking lot of the Chinese buffet on the corner and cut out onto Broad that way.
Or, as Caroline suggested later, maybe he wasn’t trying to catch us at all.
I decided to take I-195 to the Turnpike. From the Turnpike, we could get to anywhere we needed. If they were looking for my car, it would be better to be one among many on a road with no stop lights.
Once it seemed that our moment of desperate pursuit was over, the whole business took on the feel of an intense role-playing scenario. I also have to admit, it made me feel good to have Caroline depending on me for once.
It made me feel like I finally deserved her.
I tried to get a conversation going as we drove, mentioning people I knew in New York and Philly who might be able to help or give us a place to crash for the day, asking whether we should continue with our original plan.
After a few, long silent minutes Caroline said: “Go to Newark first. We’ve got to assume your car’s been linked to me somehow. We’ll drop it off in long term parking or maybe just leave it on the street with the keys in it and rent something different.” She wasn’t even looking at me; she was staring out the window at the sky.
“Whoa, back up a second. You want to let my car get stolen just because some cop spooked us a little? He might not have even been looking for us. Probably just chased us ‘cause I bolted—”
“No. The fact that we even saw that cop was either a very lucky accident or a deliberate prod to get us moving in the right direction. They won’t use cops to capture us, Avery; that would involve too many questions. If Ash and his people are out there, we won’t know it until we’re trapped.”
I just kept driving, doing my best to stay in the center lanes.
“Avery, it’s only a car,” she said after another second. “We can replace it once we get—”
“Yeah, I know. I get it.” I drove a dark red, 1986 Plymouth Duster that I’d bought with some of the money my mom left me in her will. Sure, it was a jalopy, but it was my jalopy.
After another few moments, I felt her fingers caress behind my ear, playing with the hair back there and raising pleasant goose-bumps on the tender skin. “I like the way your hair feels, so nice and soft,” she said. “I love being able to run my fingers through it.”
I smiled. “Weren’t you the one who always complained that it made me look scruffy and unkempt?”
She laid her head against my shoulder. “Yes, and it does. Can I help it if my eyes like one thing and my hands like another?”
I love how she sounds when she lets her voice get playful. She sounds like Eva Marie Saint trading silky banter with Cary Grant in North By Northwest.
I was about to make some Grantishly witty reply when she sat forward, trying to see as far above us as the windshield would allow. “Avery, I think that helicopter is following us.”
I craned my neck to try to see what she was talking about, conscious that the cars ahead of me kept slowing down. “I don’t see anything.”
“It’s there. I caught a glimpse of it back when we were still on one-ninety-five.”
“But how could they find us? And don’t say hidden tracking devices.”
Author Brian McKinley
She sighed. “Their helicopters are equipped with night vision, thermal imaging, and telescopic lenses. They can read your license plate and body temperature from half a mile by match light.” Her mention of body temperature was a reference to the fact that, far from being the undead corpses of fiction and folklore, Vampyrs have a faster metabolism and higher body temperature than humans.
Did I mention that Caroline and I are both Vampyrs?
And, no, I’m not being pretentious with the spelling. Vampyrs are a particular species of vampire which Caroline and other scientific types call Homo Sapiens Sanguivarus. There are others, which I’ll get into later, but the main thing is that we’re still living, breathing people who have been transformed at the genetic level to be able to live on human blood alone. Caroline’s been researching ways to improve that condition.
We were approaching Exit 8-A, and up ahead, the Turnpike splits into separate bus/truck and car only lanes. Usually, this helped cut down on congestion, but the overpass signs said that the truck lanes were closed for construction.
“They’re funneling us,” Caroline said. “Farther along, they’ll announce some accident that’s closed all the car lanes, too. Then we’ll be detoured off, and while we’re hemmed in by cars on all sides, they’ll arrive as FBI agents and discreetly take us into custody.”
“Fuck that,” I said. “They can’t close the New Jersey Turnpike just to get us. What about all the news choppers that’ll come out to cover the supposed accident? They gonna fake that, too? Jackknife a semi full of oil and kill thirty people just to make it look convincing?”
“Avery,” Caroline said, invoking her ability to sound like my tenth grade math teacher. “This isn’t some local Reeve, this is Sebastian. He could shut down every airport in North America and keep the mainstream media from acknowledging it!”
I didn’t bother trying to argue. Caroline’s written a book on The Order (which I read as part of Vampyr 101), but the idea of a single group being able to control everything still seemed absurd.
Meanwhile, I’d seen the cars and trucks merging left. Traffic cones appeared in the farthest right lane and angled out to cut off the entrance to the truck lanes. Thick steel poles also hung across the lanes with “closed” signs on them, suspended with cables from an overhead rigging. Then, to make absolutely sure you got the point, a NJ State Trooper stood ready beside his patrol car, lights flashing.
I had an idea that, as they say in the movies, might just be crazy enough to work.
Fighting the left-bound flow of traffic, I moved into the right lane and considered the optimum place to break through the traffic cones. I’d only have a few seconds before the cop pulled his pistol and shot us. Being Vampyrs, we could survive gunshots, but it would still hurt like hell. I decided that the smartest maneuver was to veer where we paralleled the trooper, running fast and straight at him for the shortest possible distance. This point also coincided with a gap between two of the poles and the edge of the trooper’s front bumper.
The moment arrived. I swerved and gunned the gas.
“What are you doing?”
“Taking the road less traveled.”
The trooper dodged around behind his vehicle as I clipped his bumper, ripped up my hood, and spider-webbed both sides of my windshield crashing through the poles.
In retrospect, it’s probably the most ballsy, cinematic thing I’ve ever done, but when I was doing it, I just felt blind terror. Caroline screamed. Now I was driving a smashed up Duster on a deserted two-lane highway with visibility only at the center of the windshield. Maybe I thought I’d jump off at the first exit, ditch the car once we were out of sight, and steal another. Maybe I just thought we’d end up on World’s Wildest Police Chases.
My first hint that my brainstorm had been a mistake came when the trooper showed no sign of pursuing us.
The second was when I heard Caroline’s helicopter overhead.
The third and final one was the solid line of construction vehicles that blocked the road about a half-mile up. Silly me, with my head full of Caroline’s conspiracy warnings, it never even occurred to me they could be telling the truth about the road construction.
Yup. Crazy like a fox.
As I screeched to a halt, I could see the helicopter landing behind us in my rearview mirror: a big black sucker with no markings.
“Get out and run!” I shouted over the noise, popping my seat belt. “Head for those trees, I’ll try to keep them busy!”
I heard her scream my name, but I was already gone…

* * * * *

I’d love nothing more than to tell you how my newly-acquired Vampyr strength allowed me to mop the asphalt with the guys in the chopper, or even how I took a few down in a valiant struggle before falling under the weight of their numbers, allowing my beloved to make her getaway.
Didn’t happen.
I came roaring out of the car expecting Hugo Weaving or maybe even old Cancer Man from The X-Files, instead, six commandos in black jumpsuits and body armor poured out and jogged toward me in formation. I charged, feeling confident in my enhanced Vampyr body and roared a challenge to draw their attention as I closed the distance.
They dropped me with a stun gun before I made it halfway.
Not one of those silly looking pistols with the wires, this was a gun akin to a shotgun, and had I been able to look down, I would have seen a battery resembling a soda can attached to my chest with contacts sticking out from all sides.
What’s it feel like? Nothing.
I remember having no sense of touch, sight, sound, or taste. I think I remember smelling that ozone scent of rain, but that might have been my imagination.
It didn’t knock me out. They did that with the tranquilizer darts as I lay there twitching on the concrete. They rolled me onto my stomach and cuffed me, while I watched Caroline, also in handcuffs, being led to the chopper by a middle aged, leathery soldier who I would later learn was Ash. I remember thinking that Ash looked more like Humphrey Bogart with a crew cut than Hugo Weaving.
Then I blacked out.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Shades of Murder by Lauren Carr


Deep Creek Lake, Maryland - September 6, 2004

“—and in other news…On Friday, prosecutors wrapped up their side in the murder trial for Oliver Cartwright in
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.—”
While the radio announcer read off the morning report, David O’Callaghan poured his first cup of coffee. He dumped one spoonful of sugar into his oversized United States Marine Corps mug, a graduation gift from an old girlfriend, bestowed to him upon completing officers training.
The mug lasted longer than the girlfriend. 

Shades of Murder by Lauren Carr
Taking his first sip of coffee, he gazed out the kitchen window of his parent’s cozy lakeshore house to admire the leaves flapping on the birch trees lining the shore. When he squinted his eyes, he could see a hint of gold on the tips of the leaves.

Tomorrow would be his day off to celebrate Labor Day. While everyone else was celebrating it today proper, he would be trying to keep them from killing themselves, or each other, around Deep Creek Lake. 

The radio continued with the news at the top of the seven o’clock hour.

“—Lawyers for Cartwright will begin presenting their defense on Tuesday. Oliver Cartwright has confessed to raping and killing six women in and around the Pittsburgh area during the summer of 2003.”

Six? David brought the mug to his lips for another sip. I could have sworn Cartwright killed seven women. Where did I hear it was seven?

The ring of the phone broke through the chirping of the birds in the birch trees. David didn’t realize he was still half asleep until the hot drink splashed onto the breast of his white shirt. Cursing, he slammed down the mug to send more coffee spilling across the kitchen counter.

“Damn it!” He grabbed the dishtowel to mop up the coffee from his shirt. The phone was still calling out to him while he wiped off his silver police shield.

“Coming!” He grabbed the phone and braced it against his ear with his shoulder while wetting the dishtowel to continue the cleanup.

“Did I wake you?” Hearing the lilt of Archie Monday’s voice coming through the phone line transformed his morning into a good day. Forgetting about the coffee, David stood up straight. “No. You’re up early.”

“I wanted to catch you before you went to work. Robin wants to know if you’re coming over for steaks on the grill after you get off.” That’s a no-brainer.David stepped into the half-bath off the kitchen to check his reflection in the mirror. He ran his hand over his blond hair. She’s on the phone, you dummy. He went back to dabbing at the coffee on his shirt.

“Are you still there?” she asked him.


This isn’t going to work. After tossing the dishtowel into the sink, he proceeded to unbutton his shirt.
“Let me think.” David slammed open the bedroom door in his search of a clean shirt. “Thick juicy steaks hot off the grill at Spencer Manor with two of the loveliest ladies on Deep Creek Lake, or hot dogs zapped in the microwave and a can of beer? What do you think?”

The sound of her laughter almost made him forget about his disgust over the dirty shirt. “What time should we expect you?”

“I get off at six.”

“Wonderful. Bring your swim trunks. We’ll go jet skiing,” she said.

Which means I’ll see you in your swimsuit.
David paused in his search for a clean shirt  to imagine Robin Spencer’s stunning assistant in a bathing suit. It was something he had been yearning for since meeting  Archie Monday. A stern tone in her voice brought him back down to earth. “I should warn you. Robin’s working on a plotline that involves Marine Special Forces. Be prepared for an interrogation.”

Pushing the vision of Archie in a bikini from his mind, David shifted the phone from one ear to the other while shrugging out of his shirt. “Ah, so she’s using me.”

“What can I say?” Her tone was cool. “She’s a woman. We all use men.”

“Won’t be the first time I’ve been used by a woman.” It sounded like she was about to hang up when David stopped her. “What can I bring tonight?”

“Just your handsome self.”

He stopped her again. “Dad tells me that you’re a wine expert.” 

He could hear the laughter in her voice when she replied, “I wouldn’t say I was an expert. Robin knows more about it than I do. But I’m learning. We’re working on expanding the Spencer Inn’s wine list. So we’ve been doing a lot of wine tasting lately. This week, we received a case from Burma. We’ll test it out tonight.”

“Now, I’m intimidated. I was going to offer to bring the wine tonight.”

“You can never miss with a good cabernet sauvignon.”

 Making a mental note to stop by the wine shop to pick up a good bottle of red wine—not the cheap stuff—You don’t serve the cheap stuff to one of the world’s most famous mystery writers and her beautiful assistant—David finished dressing for the second time that day. He strapped on his utility belt with his gun, radio, baton, and cell phone.

Before slipping on his mirrored sun glasses to block out the bright morning rays reflecting off the water, David O’Callaghan paused to admire the platinum blond streaks that the sun and lake water had added to his already light hair. With his face and body bronzed after a summer of working and playing on the water, he looked even blonder than usual.

After taking a quick glance around the house to make sure everything was secured and put away, he stepped outside onto the front porch and locked the door.

Leaving an empty house was not part of his usual routine. His mother was always home during the day, but today was different. His parents had left two days before for a vacation at the Grand Canyon.
That was something else that was out of the ordinary. In all of his twenty-four years, David didn’t recall his parents ever going away together, anywhere, for anything. Police Chief Patrick O’Callaghan would travel to conferences or training, or his mother would check in to the hospital when she’d get sick. Vacation? Together? What brought that on? Maybe Robin knows.

“Hey, kid!”

Author Lauren Carr
Startled, David dropped his keys in the driveway. Out on the road, Police Officer Art Bogart laughed from the front seat of his cruiser. On his way to the station, where he was acting as Spencer’s chief, he had pulled off the road to give David a good-natured hassling.

Bogie was the oldest, and most respected, member of Spencer’s small police force. With the size and condition of a body builder, he had been challenged more than once by a cocky rookie, only to put the youngster in his place by pinning him to a mat in less than thirty seconds. In contrast to his size and strength, a heart of gold beat behind his silver shield.

“You going to work or not? Your daddy’s away, so you decided to play around and be late?”
David knelt down to pick up the keys. “I’m coming. I had to make sure everything was locked up.”
“Well, get your butt in gear, son!” Bogie called out to him from across the driver’s compartment of his cruiser. “There was an accident last night. We have a car that hit a deer on Spencer Lane, rolled, and landed in the lake.”

“Any fatalities?” 

“So far we have a six-point buck. Miracle if the driver made it. No witnesses. A couple of runners found the car this morning.” He waved his arm at him. “Get a move on! Two-point-three miles down Spencer Lane toward Pelican Court. The divers should be there already.”

Bogie hit the gas pedal so hard that the tires spit gravel when he pulled out to speed down the road like he was trying to merge into rush hour traffic. On the shores of Deep Creek Lake, among the Shenandoah Mountains, he was only dealing with the rush minute.

David climbed into his police cruiser to head in the opposite direction, along the tree-lined shore road, to take him to the scene of the accident. 

On Labor Day, the seasonal residents along the lake were waking up to enjoy the last breath of summer before closing up their vacation homes for winter. Meanwhile, up at the top of the mountain overlooking the lake, behind the scenes, the Spencer Inn was gearing up for snow season to start in eight weeks.

Thoughts of Spencer Inn made David’s mind wonder to that of its owner, Robin Spencer, a good family friend, which brought his mind back to that of Archie Monday.

The green-eyed blond had come to work for Robin Spencer while he was serving in Afghanistan. They had only met briefly after he had returned from overseas, before going off to the police academy. Now that he was back home, he considered the possibilities. 

I wonder if Archie Monday likes men in uniform. Robin’ll certainly put in a good word for me. David made a mental note to call the restaurant manager at the Spencer Inn. He’ll know what wine would impress Archie.

Bogie’s voice burst from his radio to jar David back to reality. “Change of plans, kid! Go to the Hathaway Estate on Pelican Court instead. I’ll send Fletcher to take care of the car accident.”
David snatched the mike from the radio.
“What’s at Hathaway’s estate?”

“They got a DB, kid. Dead body.”

David flipped the switch for the lights and sirens and pressed his foot on the gas pedal.

* * * * *

Neal Hathaway’s summer home was the only residence on Pelican Court, a secluded lane that crossed a mountain stream to cut through some thick woods. A rarely used entrance to the state park marked the other end of Pelican Court. Anyone not curious enough to travel the lane would never notice the mansion hidden behind the thick grove of trees.  

The owner and CEO of Hathaway Industries lived behind a brick wall and iron gates with a brass “H” marking them. The estate’s driveway snaked down a landscaped hill to the stone house that had one of the best views on the lake.

David O’Callaghan had encountered more than his share of exposure to murder investigations. With his father being chief of police, and working with the military police in the Marines, he had been called to more than one crime scene that involved a homicide. 

Such scenes had an atmosphere of somberness. Everyone, including the investigating officers, would speak in soft tones with an air of respect for those who had passed on. This, however, was the first time that David had been called to the scene of a dead body at a multi-millionaire’s estate. 

During the short time it took him to drive around the lake to the Hathaway Estate, David tried to recall what he knew about Neal Hathaway. Self-made millionaire. Always wanted to be an astronaut. Was also a science geek. When he failed to become an astronaut, he used his talent for science and rocketry to build what was now a Forbe’s Top 100 company. Hathaway Industries was one of the government’s biggest contractors for launching and maintaining defense satellites. They were also in the race to become the first  to offer private flights into outer space.

Neal Hathaway was indeed a real live rocket scientist. Other than that, David was unsure about anything else. Guess I’m going to find out now.

David drove through the gates and pulled his cruiser around to a multi-car garage with a black SUV parked in front of it. The lights and the sirens failed to break up the fight taking place next to the vehicle. 

Two women were rolling on the ground with their hands in each other’s hair. Judging from the disheveled condition of their clothes and the exhausted grunts they uttered between their high-pitched curses, David surmised the fight had been going on for a while.

With a head full of curly platinum blond hair that looked like a mop, one of the women appeared to be on the losing end of the fight. The shoulder strap of the blonde’s white dress had been ripped off to expose her voluptuous breast. The rest of her garment wasn’t in a much better condition. The side seam had been ripped wide open to show a white girdle.

Even though she was winning, the blond’s opponent wasn’t in much better shape. During the course of the battle, her bright purple mini skirt had been pulled all the way up her hips to reveal that her underwear consisted of a black thong. 

Several feet away, a woman dressed in a housekeeper’s uniform, was pleading for them to stop. When David brought his car to a stop, she yelled over the siren in a thick European accent. “Help, please! They’re going to kill each other.”

Turning off the lights and siren, David threw open the car door. “Okay, that’s enough. Break it up.”
Not seeming to notice him, they continued wrestling with their fingers entwined in each other’s hair.



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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Her Sister's Keeper by Sydell Voeller

Her Sister's Keeper by Sydell Voeller
          What next? Logan Corbett wondered as the elevator doors swooshed closed behind her. How can I possibly face another day?

She stepped into the blue carpeted lobby then turned left down the long corridor that led to the rehabilitation wing at Children’s Hospital. Fatigue and worry weighted her feet.

Nearly every day since Kimberly had been admitted to the unit, there seemed to always be another piece of discouraging news. Kimberly was despondent when the pediatrician tried to question her. Kimberly refused to cooperate that morning in physical therapy. Kimberly had barely eaten for the past three weeks.

Logan forced back a lump in her throat as she passed a gray-clad custodian, then gave him a polite nod. "Good morning, Henry."

"Mornin', Ms Corbett. Man on TV says the temperature's supposed to break the all-time record today." He shook his head, pausing to reach into his hip pocket and wipe the perspiration from his brow. "Few weeks it'll be August. Dog days. I'll be glad when it finally starts raining again come September."

"Yes," she said with a nod. "We Washingtonians certainly aren't used to this heat." Hurrying on, she sniffed the usual odor of pine disinfectant mingled with the scent of the warm Sausage McMuffin inside the white paper bag she was carrying. She'd stopped by McDonalds on the way to the hospital in hopes of tempting Kimberly with one of her favorite fast foods.

 A honey-smooth voice on the intercom paged a physician, the thud of the dumb-waiter sounded as it announced the delivery of breakfast trays behind a sliding metal door. Without a doubt, Kim would have rejected the usual morning fare of orange juice, toast, and a soft boiled egg, Logan decided.

Logan quickened her pace. Lucky thing Kimberly's physician had agreed to transfer her here to the pediatric hospital in the sprawling city of Westland, Washington, where Logan worked as a registered nurse. It would make life a little easier now to have Kim close at hand.

Normally Logan loved everything about her job at the hospital. The daily routine of medicines, treatments, baths, and meals. The bright airy therapy rooms. The staff conferences. The visits from the clowns and magicians who came to entertain. And most of all, she loved the children. How she'd longed to begin her own family—back before her marriage to Matthew Austin, a renowned heart surgeon, had ended bitterly two years earlier. Yet now, ironically, after her entire world had been turned inside out, she did have a child to care for. Kimberly. Her ten-year-old sister.

"Miss Corbett? Logan? May I have a word with you?" A familiar voice sliced through her blue funk.

She looked up. "Yes, Dr. Dellinger?"

He motioned toward a small office across the hall. "Let's talk in there."

"Uh. . .sure."

He waited for her to enter first and as she did their shoulders brushed. He'd been standing so close in that doorway. Too close.

"So what is it?" she asked after she'd seated herself in a chair across from his desk. She took in his piercing blue eyes, high cheek bones, the errant lock of dark brown hair falling carelessly across his high forehead. Zachary Dellinger, M.D. At least half the nurses at Children’s had been captivated by his stunning good looks. So had she. But if he needed to discuss an order for one of his patients, perhaps remind her of an upcoming staff conference, why couldn't he have done that back in the nurses’ station like he usually did?

"Dr. Mosely called me in on consultation yesterday regarding your sister, Kimberly. There are some matters we need to discuss."

"I don't understand. Dr. Mosely's been Kim's pediatrician for years, practically since the day she was born. He knows her better than any of the doctors here."

"True enough. But there have's been some big changes in Kimberly's life. I imagine yours, too," he added.

That familiar pang settled in the pit of her stomach, but she squared her shoulders and met his gaze. "Yes, there have. Please understand. It's only been four months since the plane accident. Four months since my sister—who was the best little gymnast in the entire state of Washington—suddenly found herself partially paralyzed from the waist down."

He reached out to briefly touch her arm in a gesture of sympathy. "I heard. I'm sorry." Then he paused, as if considering. "Kimberly and your mother were the only members of your family involved in the accident?"

"Yes." She swallowed hard, dismissing the thought of how his touch had caused waves of pleasure to course through her. "Our father died of a heart attack when Kim was only two. Besides Kim and me, there're no other children. Mom and Kim were flying to Idaho where Kim was to attend a regional gymnastics competition. The original plan was for me to fly with her instead of my mother. . .but. . .but something came up rather unexpectedly and I had to back out." She wrestled with a new stab of pain, wondering why she was telling him this. No one, absolutely no one could understand her gnawing guilt about backing out at the last minute—all because she'd had the chance to attend a Shakespearean Festival in a neighboring city with her best friend, Dorothy, to see a couple of plays. If anyone should have lost her life in that airplane, it should have been she herself, not Mom.


"And well, the rest is obvious. Our mother's gone, Kimberly's partially paralyzed and all we have anymore is each other." She hesitated. "This is Kim's third hospitalization."

"Will you have to give up your job here to care for her at home?"

"No. I have an excellent nanny on stand-by. Then this fall, Kim'll attend a special education program in the school where she's already enrolled. . .if she's ready."

He sat with his hands folded, studying her for a long moment. "Dr. Mosely told me Kimberly's been uncooperative in treatment and that's why he's called me in. Apparently the physical and occupational therapists feel she's given up completely. Lost all incentives to walk again."

"Yes. . .I'm afraid that might be true. Though Kim has her ups and downs, most of the time it's very difficult to get through to her." She paused to toy with a button on her uniform, then asked, "But then, can you blame her?"

"Of course not. Depression is normal after a traumatic injury. It's even worse when the child involved has also lost her parent. But I may have a solution."


"Perhaps you already know about the summer camp sponsored by the hospital. It's a camp for kids with special needs—kids much like Kimberly."

"Yes, I'm familiar with it." Several of Logan's coworkers volunteered each summer to help out at the camp, though Logan had never joined them. Dust and mosquitoes—not to mention the lack of modern conveniences—had never been her idea of a good time.

"Earlier this morning, I met with the camp selection committee and we determined that Kimberly would be an ideal candidate to attend this summer's last session. She'll be awarded a full scholarship. You won't have to worry about coming up with a single penny." He leaned back in his chair, lacing his hands behind his head as he waited for her response.

"Kim? My little sister? Why Kim?"

"Camp Rippling Waters might be just what she needs. Not only will a month outdoors in the crisp mountain air put some color back into her cheeks, but the activities there might prove more beneficial than the more traditional modes of therapy."

"But her injury's so new! Kim's not ready for this! She's still grieving for Mom. . .just like I am. She hasn't had time to work through this. She still has terrible nightmares. . .wakes up screaming. As often as I can manage, I sleep on a cot in her hospital room so I can be there to comfort her." Tears welled up in her eyes. "No, I don't think so, Dr. Dellinger. Maybe next summer."

He sat forward again, his eyes earnest. "I think you're making a big mistake. I think you should reconsider."

"Have you ever worked at the camp? Do you know firsthand what dangers could—?" She stopped talking, bit her lip, remembering Zack Dellinger's track record there. He'd been a faithful volunteer at Camp Rippling Waters for several summers, not only while he'd completed his fellowship at Children’s Hospital, but also after he'd stayed on to set up his practice.

"Yes. This is my fifth summer. Logan. . .Miss Corbett. . .believe me, I understand what it takes to motivate kids like your little sister. I've been in their shoes. I was once a kid with physical problems, too."

"You? You were handicapped like Kimberly?" She shuddered at the very sound of her words. Last year at this time, she would've never dreamed she'd be saying that about her little sister.

"Yes. At the age of four I was diagnosed as having a degenerative hip disease that required a full body cast for several months. After rather disappointing results, I underwent several surgeries over the next ten year period. That's why, as you may have noticed, I walk with a slight limp."

"Oh!" Her hand flew to her mouth. "Yes. I'm sorry. I. . .I didn't mean to sound so crass." The news had taken her totally by surprise. The sight of Dr. Dellinger's tall, athletic build, complemented by his firmly sculpted muscles, gave him the aura of physical perfection. No wonder people paid little, if any, attention to the way he walked.

"Not a problem. I'm more than willing to talk about it, especially with the kids. I understand what it's like to feel different. What it's like to think you can never run and play and do all those things so-called normal kids can do. But I also want to help empower them. To let them know they can rise above their problems. And one of the best places to do that is in a camp setting."

She had to admit, he did sound convincing. Part of her yearned to say yes, while the other part continued to hold back. She owed it to her mother to protect Kimberly. Shelter her from any further trauma. Kimberly simply wasn't ready to be hurtled into the great out-of-doors.

"I've another idea." His voice broke through her confused thoughts. "Let's talk to Kimberly together about this."

"What good will it do? You've already pointed out how uncooperative she's been. You really expect her to listen to you?"

"Don't sell Kimberly so short. She might surprise you." He got to his feet, flashed her a disarming smile and motioned toward the door. "Come on. Let's find out."

A minute later as they strode together down the hallway towards Kimberly's room, Logan steeled herself against a flood of new emotions. Here she was walking side-by-side with the much sought-after Zachary Dellinger, but now it felt so different. Suddenly he was no longer merely a colleague, a professional acquaintance. He was a far-too-sexy male who had stepped into her life and offered to help her with her greatest dilemma—what to do about Kim.

 Yet there was no way she'd allow his magnetic appeal to break down her defenses. After her marriage to Matthew had ended, she'd sworn she'd never fall in love again with another doctor. Far too many nights she'd spent waiting up for Matthew when he never showed till the wee hours of the morning. An already too crowded schedule at the office with emergencies and other interruptions. Unexpected late night surgeries. After-hour consultations. The reasons had gone on and on.

But the bottom line was she'd learned an important lesson—no husband at all was far better than an absent one. There was no way one could build a solid family life with a doctor for a husband.

At the nurses' station, with its high white counters and revolving files filled with patients' charts, sat the night staff. Some were finishing their charting before the rest of the day shift came on duty at seven, a couple of others were preparing to dispense the early morning medications.

Outside Kimberly's room, Logan paused, then drew in a calming breath. "Be prepared for an onslaught of complaints," she warned him as she clutched the white bag perhaps a little more tightly than necessary. By now, she was sure the Sausage McMuffin had grown unappetizingly cold.

He smiled knowingly. "Fair enough. Lead the way."

Inside the room, Logan plastered on a smile she wasn't feeling and handed her sister the bag. "Hi, there, pumpkin. Surprise. Your favorite."

"Yuck," Kimberly balked, pushing it away without first looking inside. "I'm not hungry." She looked up from her wheelchair, her soulful blue eyes wide and questioning. Across her lap lay a pale pink blanket, nearly as pale as the color of her cheeks. "Who's the man?"

"This is Dr. Dellinger. He has something he wants to discuss with you."

 "Another doctor?" she complained. "Someone else to tell me I'm not trying hard enough? Someone who'll make me do all those horrible exercises—even though they hurt worse than anything's hurt me before?"

Dr. Dellinger sat on the edge of the bed across from her and took her hand in his. "I have some exciting news for you, young lady." Logan couldn't help but notice how protective and strong his hand appeared, how gentle his voice as he went on to explain about the summer camp. "So what do you think?" he finally asked. "Sound like a good way to spend the last part of your summer? The session begins next week."

"Oh, yes!" Kimberly exclaimed, her eyes bright with excitement. She turned to Logan. "May I go, Sissie? Would it be all right? Pleeeze?"

Logan's mouth dropped open. This was certainly the last thing she'd expected. "But next week is so soon," she stammered. "I mean, there's shopping to do. . .things to get ready. . .and all those name labels to sew on."

"I can do that!" Kimberly insisted. "I can write my name on the labels, maybe even sew them too." She giggled—her first indication of happiness Logan had witnessed in months. "Remember last summer—before the accident—how Mom promised me I could go to Girl Scout overnight camp when I was a year older! Well, now I am! Who cares if this is another kind of camp? It's probably more fun anyway. And besides. . .those labels aren't any big deal. Marcie told me last summer during one of our sleep-overs that before she went to Girl Scout camp, her mom glued them onto her clothes."

Despite her misgivings, Logan found herself joining in with Dr. Dellinger's laughter. She liked the way he laughed. Sort of deep and mellow with a nice warm ring.

"We'll talk about it, Kim," Logan said at last. "We'll talk about it later after we've had a little more time to think things over." She knew she was stalling, but she needed more time. Checking her watch, she added, "Now if you two will excuse me. It's nearly seven and time for report."

Turning to walk back out the door, she felt Dr. Dellinger's hand on her shoulder. This time his touch made her heart race. "So, you will get back to me?"

She tossed a glance over her shoulder, then swallowed hard. "Yes. Yes. . .I will. I'll have my answer in twenty-four hours."


* * *


Next morning at Logan's condo in the eastern suburb of Westland, she shrugged into her teal blue raincoat. It wouldn't be necessary to stop by MacDonald's on the way to the hospital, she decided hurriedly. In a few short hours Kim's appetite had improved remarkably. Could it be the anticipation of attending Camp Rippling Waters?

She flipped a comb one final time through her shoulder length black curls, then began rummaging through her purse for her car keys. She'd overslept by nearly a full hour, leaving herself not a moment to spare. All night long till the first light of dawn, she'd tossed and turned, trying to decide what to tell Dr. Dellinger. Finally, after piecing together a workable plan, she'd fallen into a fitful sleep.

The telephone rang. Hesitating for a split second—should she allow the recorder to take a message so she could be on her way?—she hurried to the extension in the hallway and answered it.

"Good morning. Your twenty-four hours is nearly up." Dr. Dellinger's mellow voice greeted her without preamble.

She pictured him smiling into the phone and had to gather her composure before answering. "Yes, I know. But I didn't expect you to take me so literally. I mean, I figured I'd see you sometime today on the wards."

"I made rounds early. I have to assist in surgery at nine. So what have you decided about camp? Will you accept the scholarship and allow Kimberly to go?"

"I. . .I. . ." She inhaled deeply. "Yes. . .But only under one condition."

"Oh? What's that?"

"On the condition that Florence Matland, the director of nurses, approves my request for a month's vacation leave starting next Monday. I should know later today."

The surprise in his voice carried across the wires. "You plan on taking a trip while your sister goes to camp?"