Saturday, September 17, 2016

Making Dinner With My Daughter

I love it when I do something in front of my children that they obviously find inexplicable and are baffled by... but they don't ask about. 

Things continue and I do the same thing over and over again... until they copy my behavior, assuming what I'm doing is just what should be done.

Tonight I made Rice-A-Roni for the first time with my daughter in the room. Every time, from her first seeing the packaging, that she would say Rice-A-Roni aloud I would immediately respond with "The San Francisco treat. Ding ding." in a singsong voice. 

The first few times were awkward. She looked at me strangely, even warily... but after about the tenth time she seemed to just accept it. After about twenty times of this happening my son walked into the kitchen to inquire as to what food was being prepared. I gestured toward the package on the counter top and he read aloud, "Rice-A-Roni?"

My daughter followed directly with "The San Francisco treat. Ding ding." without missing a beat. 

My son looked at her bewildered and walked out of the room.

My kids are going to have great stories of their childhood when they are older.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The expressive face of Randy Moss is speaking for me, Racists and Bigots on social media are not.

Taken from Facebook
OK, let me be honest here...I don't watch sports ball. 

In fact, I don't know much if anything about anything that goes on in the wide, wide world of sports ball. 

I made the mistake of clicking on the "Randy Moss" trending link on the side of my Facebook newsfeed this morning, though. I had no clue who Randy Moss was. I still don't know much outside of the fact that he was a player, and now much is being said about the expression on his face (pictured here).


What I do know, though, is that white people in the country are coming out of the woodwork... from every direction... left, right, and sideways... to make sure that all black Americans know they are racists and bigots, and to keyboard jockey their white pride like it was something remotely positive to lord over black people who have clearly had more than enough.

Hearts and minds aren't changed overnight. Black people may have (and I'm not one, so I'm sorry if my speaking for them on this matter is offensive) been more easily won over to forgiving the injustices visited upon them a hundred years ago... maybe even fifty years ago... but with comments like the one on the photo here... and the countless others like it I scrolled through... holy crap. How can anyone expect anything but righteous indignation? When they are disproportionately targeted by the police, by the laws, by those in power, and by those who control the flow of money?


To be black in America is to know, and to be told (seriously, read the comments made on this Randy Moss topic if you don't believe me) early and often that your happiness, your freedom, your livelihood, your equality, and even your life is less valuable and important than white entertainment, relaxation, comfort, and worst of all... superiority.



Even Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and they really don't come any whiter, said: "It took me a long time, and a number of people talking to me through the years, to get a sense of this: If you are a normal white American, the truth is you don't understand being black in America and you instinctively under-estimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk,"

I get the look on Randy Moss' face in the picture from that video clip. I find it heroic that he kept his seat after I listened to what was being said in the video that picture was taken from. The class, the strength, the self-control, and the raw power Randy Moss showed in that moment to not rise up... to raise his voice or his hands... that showed a greater stoic dignity than any of those on the opposite side of the Kaepernick discussion has in them to put forth.

We are nation built on the ideals of equality and freedom... and until all people, of all colors, of all faiths (or choice to have none), of all sexuality, and of both genders are all... each and every last one... truly equally treated under the law... and equally free... then none of us are, and we are living a lie.

Wake up, white America! Wake up and see fear and hate for what they are! Wake up and actually be the American people you already claim to be. These things were never acceptable, and the time is more than a century past that equal and free actual meet in practice and definition, in this country, and in the world. Please.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

'Distant Thunder' - Dark Urban Fantasy

Book Two in The Coming Storm trilogy.


You can take the dead girl out of the country...

Veronica Fischer, small-town bloodsucking madam, is an orphan or at least she finally feels that way. Jules, the one who made her, is gone and cleaning up after him isn't something she ever thought she'd have to do.

While her hometown seems to be turning against her, she’s forced to set off for the bright lights of the big city with a carload of her dysfunctional supernatural family, hoping not to have to face the Dragon of Chicago.

Now she has to rescue a sister she didn't know she had, keep Rachel—her adopted 8-year-old ghost—safe, and try to keep Pekin from unraveling under the onset of the coming storm.



Sex, violence, and cryptic undead 
prophecyall for fun and profit.



"Distant Thunder is gripping, raw, and relentless with incredibly drawn characters in life or (un)death situations. Sharpe hit the coffin nail on the head with this sequel." - Ashley Chappell, Author of the Dreams of Chaos series




Links to Distant Thunder, Book Two in the Coming Storm trilogy.

Paperback
Kindle

Listing on goodreads.com


Sample text:

The first chapter -






CHAPTER 1




JULES IS DEAD, and there wasn’t even so much as a funeral. There were no services or gatherings to mark his passing. I guess I should be used to things like that by now—rituals like those are left behind when we stop breathing—but it just doesn’t sit right with me. It just seems so weird. Clearly, I haven’t adjusted to that part of what I am yet, even after all these years. All I can focus on is that the man who made me is gone. He only exists in the memories of those who knew him. For me, his loss is still so jarringly abrupt.
    It’s taken Learner five weeks and my repeated requests to call a meeting of the Council to discuss the events surrounding Jules’s death. You’d think five weeks would be enough time for me to find some kind of acceptance of the fact that he had passed. He hadn’t been actively involved in my life in seventeen years. Here I am, though, still feeling like I’m in shock. I’m like a traumatized child who just lost her only parent. Believe me, I know what that’s like. I’d already been through it twice before Jules decided to make me, so I’m confident I can be fair in making the comparison.
    Beneath me, the worn-out bedsprings groan in protest as I sit up and slowly stretch. Even if I hadn’t had some strange woman keeping my dreams more unsettling than usual, my living conditions wouldn’t have let me sleep restfully—not that I can ever sleep for long. While I may have my complaints about it, I’m still the only one with my condition that I’ve ever even heard of who can actually sleep at all. It’s just another curse of the condition, something besides the avoiding sunlight and the blood drinking, to bring on the madness, maybe. Focus on the positive, right?
    At least the windows are bricked up in this room and not just tarped over like they are in the rest of the building. If I didn’t know better, I’d think this was a loft apartment somewhere in a larger city than the flyspeck that is Pekin, Kentucky. There’s a starving artist charm here, not the feel of an empty condemned building we’re squatters in.
    The place really could do with a good cleaning, though. It looks like everything might have been given a good scrub down when Garrett and Sunny moved in months ago, and no one has so much as swept since. It’s not like there are piles of garbage littering up every room. There’s just a dingy feel to it all. It’s noticeably organized but without any upkeep.
    Garrett’s a man built for Spartan living, one who doesn’t seem to notice little trifles like these. Sunny, as queen of this castle, can’t be bothered with something mundane like occasional light dusting. Garrett still treats her like the twelve-year-old she looks like and that only serves to keep her spoiled. She killed all the breathers who worked for them by throwing them at Paco and his Unquiet spirits at the funeral home, and now all she can do is constantly bitch about needing a maid.
    As a guest, I’m not sure how they’d take it if I just started tidying up. I don’t want to go all Martha Stewart on the place or anything, but I’m afraid I might ruffle feathers if I start moving things around to do something as simple as running a vacuum cleaner.
    The room service hasn’t been bad, though. As usual, there’s a glass of warm red liquid waiting for me on the table next to the bed when I wake up. Even though I rarely sleep more than half an hour a day, and never on a regular schedule, somehow, Garrett always seems to know when I fall asleep and makes sure I wake up feeling cared for. Bringing the glass to my lips induces an involuntary smile.
    “Mmmm…Fresh squeezed. Not from concentrate,” I mumble the words aloud. On some level, I expect to hear one of my girls laugh at my odd sense of humor. I miss having them around. I need to be back in my own house.
    Frank assures me this is the last day we’ll have to spend living on Garrett’s generosity at the old Masonic Lodge. The Jefferson House is supposed to be ready for us to move back into tonight and sleep in tomorrow.
    I could have gone back to the ranch house, but the memories there are a little too thick. I don’t even want to look at the clothes in the closets there. I’ve been living out of suitcases and bags for more than a month.
    Clothes have always been one of my eccentricities. They’re more important to me than they are to most people. Not only do they carry the memories of the places they’ve been and times they’ve seen, but they help set an emotional tone and showcase an attitude.
    Frank spoiled me long ago by taking over all of my clothes shopping. I was resistant to him doing it at first, but over time I came to trust that I wouldn’t be disappointed. Having them bought for me also came with an unexpected bonus—the excitement of getting presents regularly. Who doesn’t love presents? Even if they happen to be bought with your own money, they’re still presents.
    Since Frank’s now acquired my aversion to sunlight, I had to send someone else to L.A. to replace my whole wardrobe. Piper got saddled with the task, and she more than exceeded my expectations. While it’s true that I’ve always adored Frank’s taste in elegant formal wear and clubbing attire, Piper’s taste trends more toward the bitch end of the spectrum. I can appreciate that a lot, things being how they are these days, not to mention that a completely new wardrobe has done wonders for keeping forward momentum, emotionally anyway. Keep your mind on where you are and your eyes on where you’re going, right? Jesus, I sound like my shrink.
    The sound of rushing of water tells me Garrett has beaten me to the makeshift shower set up in the next room. It’s probably for the best. I should just wait and get cleaned up in my own bathroom later. Something tells me that after meeting with Learner and the Council, I’m going to need an extra-long relaxing shower for an hour or five.
    I rub my eyes as I cross the room to the garment bag hanging on the dark red flannel sheet serving as a curtain that divides the room in half. Dividing the room was Garrett’s idea. He thought giving me more privacy would make me feel more at home. While I appreciate the sentiment, it honestly just serves to make this place look tackier.
    Pulling back the zipper, I go over each article of clothing, considering it carefully, even though I already know what I’m going to wear. Pulling out the slinky black number, I run my hand over the fabric and ponder what memories tonight will attach to this dress.
    Hanging the dress next to the garment bag, I take off my sweatshirt and fling it in my laundry basket. Walking around naked in seedy places is just one of the many natural talents that the life I’ve lived has fostered. Modesty is for sheltered young girls with fleeting lives. I have no use for it.
    Overall, Garrett’s done his best to be a sweetheart. He’s tried so hard to make Frank and me as comfortable as possible. I’ve had a hard time with the fact that he looks so much like Jules, but he’s done a million little things to try to comfort me. Julie, Leslie, and Piper are all convinced he’s in love with me or crushing really hard, at the very least. They don’t understand how different emotions seem when viewed through the prism of a dozen lifetimes.
    If age were a thing that was strictly measured in the years we’ve been alive on this rock, I’d be in my sixties, but I can tell from conversations we’ve had that Garrett’s likely got a century on me, minimum. Physically, he looks about ten years older than me and my literally Forever 21 body that stopped aging when Jules infected me. I want to believe Garrett cares about me, but a voice in my head that sounds suspiciously like Frank’s keeps telling me he has to be too old for love. Even if he isn’t, he’s probably old enough to be the grandfather of the man who built the cradle he would be robbing me from. That’s something that, despite how much I try not to think about, I can’t seem to keep completely out of my mind.
    I find my perfume in the overnight bag next to the bed and spritz myself. Two hundred dollars a bottle and worth every penny. I consider a thong for a moment and then look back at the unforgiving fabric of that dress. I’m not going to let panty lines ruin the particular brand of sexy man-eating monster look I’m going for.
    The knee-length sheath dress comes off the hanger and drops over my head before I notice Garrett standing by the bed. He’s looking at me smiling and shaking his head. An involuntary shiver spills over me. I must have forgotten to close the curtain…again.
    He’s already changed to meet with the Council, and he looks hot. His strategically messy short brown hair, precisely trimmed shadow of a beard, and deceptively expensive, slightly tight-fitting suit are impressive. There’s something about the way his perfectly toned, six-foot-three-inch body moves, though…no matter what he’s wearing. He’s just got something, a quality I can’t describe. My words could never do him justice. He’s masculine beautiful, not an easy thing to pull off.
    He exudes a chaotic blend of modern fashion and classic sophistication that would turn any girl with a heartbeat into a gushing, stuttering idiot. I look back into the mirror and begin to pull my dress down in place slowly, instinctively putting on a show for him. I blame it on too many years in a sexual career field. You can’t work in or run a brothel for as many years as I have without it having some lasting effects.
    As the fabric stretches down over me, gripping me like a glove, I being to worry that the seams will split. If it fit any tighter, I believe they would. Piper said she thinks skintight and black is what’s best for me right now. I don’t know if she thinks I should look like I’m in mourning, semiprofessional, or just slutty.
    Looking back toward the bed, I find Garrett digging through a leather bag filled with antique bobbles and trinkets. It’s a real shame dead men aren’t as impressed with tits and ass as living ones. Everything in my life would be so much simpler if they were.
    He walks up behind me and slips a diamond necklace over my head as I’m facing the mirror. It’s old. Older than me. I can tell just by looking. It’s more expensive than anything I’d normally wear to meet the vultures, but it’ll do just fine for tonight.
    I have to move Rachel’s new chapter books off of the shoe boxes in the corner to locate the right heels to complete my look. The books remind me how much I owe her as well. Having a daughter to raise has kept me from dwelling too much on death, even if she happens to be dead herself. She may be a ghost, but she’s still a precocious eight-year-old with a voracious need for time and attention.
    I’m really not thrilled with the idea of Rachel being exposed to Sunny any more than absolutely necessary, so Lucy has been looking after her during the day. At least that buys me more time to try to sleep, even if I do generally just spend the time working out elaborate plots for revenge on Paco or Learner. Besides, Sunny’s out-of-control addiction to pornography, her foul mouth, and her contempt for me are all good enough reasons to keep Rachel away from here as much as possible.
    Having Lucy for a best friend has certainly proved invaluable. There’s nothing quite like having a ghost sitter on call for my ghost daughter when I need her. Yeah, even for me, life has gotten a little strange.
    I strap on my heels and examine myself in the full-length mirror. Everything below the neck seems passable—hot, if I do say so myself. I look at Garrett, and he gives me a nod of approval. I’m not so much nervous about how things are going to go as I am just anxious to get it over with.
    “You gonna be ready to go in twenty?” Garrett asks, stopping in the doorway and looking back at me.
   “Give me thirty. My hair needs help, and I need to paint my face.”
    Tonight, I go to war.

*    *    *

“You’re dead.” Marcus Learner’s voice booms with as much satisfaction as anger. He runs his hand over his head, a nervous habit, smoothing down his thick bramble of salt-and-pepper hair. “All those you care for are dead. Everyone who calls you friend or ally is dead. The Council will follow the procedures laid out to try you and prove your guilt, but Jacobi’s blood is on your hands. Trying to kill the investigator gathering evidence against you won’t go unnoticed by this Council either.”
    Sitting in the center of the horseshoe-shaped table on a chair that’s a good foot shorter than everyone else’s, I am surrounded by pallid faces, drawn and emotionless—all, that is, save one. Next to Learner’s right hand on the table rests a silver mallet. I would give anything for that mallet to rest by the side of anyone but him. The air still hangs thick with his accusations. I’m seriously feeling that the point of this meeting—the very reason I asked that it be called together—is being overlooked.
    I expect nothing less from Learner. We have a history. There is no love lost between us. He’s a spoiled, self-serving prick who only has power because of who he’s related to. He’s one generation removed from inbred, illiterate, racist trash. Rather than trying to better himself, he simply tries to cover up inadequacies with expensive clothes and by showering himself with luxuries. Somehow, that is supposed to make others revere and respect him. Right.
    His uncle, Adrian Jacobi, was our eldest. He was an aberration in his family. He was a good man. His uncle is dead. Now Learner sits at the head of the Council’s table clutching and grasping to hold onto the power and position his uncle held. The fear wafting off him is almost as thick and fragrant as the humans we drink from.
    “Paco is far from an investigator. He’s the one who actually killed Jacobi! That putrid cadaver’s plans to kill us all failed, but it’s only a matter of time before he regains strength. We’ve got to act quickly! We have to kill him now!” My voice is shrill and far too loud. I could almost kick myself. I let him get to me. I provided him with the latitude he needs to try to turn the Council against me. The almost imperceptible smirk on his face makes me nauseous.
    “My uncle afforded you a voice in this room. He showed you kindness despite the fact that you’re nothing more than an orphan whore. You don’t belong among our kind. Now you stand here peddling your lies and expect us to stomach your impudence. Is it not enough that you’ve killed your creator and likely our eldest as well, but do you have to parade it in front of us and…and…try to have us believe that my personal agent, the agent of our family mind you, is somehow to blame for your…”
    “Marcus!” I’m almost as shocked as Learner is that I’d raise my voice to him at this table. Fuck it, I think. I have to make them see the truth, even if they won’t ever accept it. “The repulsive creature that actually killed your uncle is wounded but still on the loose. He has to be put down once and for all! I’m begging you.” My eyes dart from face to face around the room. “All of you! That thing killed Jules as well. I don’t have the power to destroy it by myself. Not without your help!”
    I look to Serena for aid. She met with Jules the night we went to battle that rotting fiend. With her silver blonde hair and prudish white on white suit, she could just as easily pass for a fifties schoolmarm as a member of this Council. She remains completely silent and withdrawn, careful to reveal nothing. Big shock.
    “Just how stupid do you think we are? Paco knew about your involvement in Jacobi’s disappearance. I told you he was going to bring us proof.” Learner raises an eyebrow and looks around the room for grandiose effect thinking he’s somehow just proven my guilt. “You summoned your creator and had him help you attempt to slay my agent before he could give us the evidence of your guilt. This misdirection will not save you.” Learner’s glowing with glee as he speaks, knowing that my outburst has cost me dearly with the Council. He looks back into my eyes, and I can feel his delight. I hate that he’s loving this.
    “No, idiot girl,” Learner continues, “We will not assist you in hunting and killing my servant. I have already sent for a reader. In one month’s time, we will hold Council specifically to sentence you for your crimes. You’re dead, you stupid twat. Ready your affairs for the end.”
    “Okay, I’ve heard enough of this bullshit!” The youthful passion and indignation in Sunny’s voice guarantees that no one here will take her seriously, though that does absolutely nothing to stop her, “Captain Douchebag here is trying to blame V for doing things that she—all of us in this corner, for that matter—tried to stop from happening. Have you all gone retarded? You’re not buying into what this assface is saying, are you? I mean, really?”
    For a moment, there is silence as all eyes look at Sunny in shock.
    “You will muzzle your bitch, or I’ll see to it she doesn’t live to disgrace you further!” Learner’s hate-filled eyes flash at Garrett, sitting next to Frank and Sunny by the door. “None of you have earned a voice in this room yet. Don’t forget your place.”
    “What about me?” Frank blurts out with contemptuous anger almost as childish and insolent as Sunny’s. “My family and friends are under attack here. I think that entitles me a right to speak, doesn’t it? Jules is dead. Paco killed him and your uncle, too. Why aren’t you listening? You said he was working for you? Does that mean that both their murders were your idea?”
    Outside on the street I know that I can always count on Frank’s level head. I just hadn’t considered how he’d behave here. This is really not going how I need it to.
    “You will leave now!” I bark at Frank, shocking both him and Learner. It’s far better that I reprimand him for his breach of protocol than let Learner kill him for it. “Until you learn how to conduct yourself in the presence of your elders and betters, you will not be permitted to approach this Council!”
    The silence in the room is deafening. Every eye is on me, and every face is as emotionless as chiseled stone. None of them know how far my abilities to read their minds actually go, but none of them are willing to give me anything I don’t already have. It’s likely they would be equally stoic if I weren’t here, not wanting to betray themselves to Learner either.
    Standing on display in front of these vacant faces is like the dream I used to have about being naked in public. I seriously doubt I get to wake up from this one though.
    Frank rises from his seat quietly. I can feel his eyes burning a hole in me. He shakes his head a little, swinging his long mane of auburn hair before turning to leave. He’s going to be a loud, prissy diva and horrible to deal with later, but at least he’ll be alive. Garrett keeps his poker face and Sunny squirms in her chair as Frank exits. Sunny’s clearly nervous, but she still glares at Learner with palpable loathing.
    From across the table, Gus Edelmann slides Learner a slip of paper. He’s clearly aware of it but holds his eyes fixed on Sunny’s. He makes a show of attempting to cow her down. The unabashed defiance on the face of the would-be twelve-year-old schoolgirl is lost on no one. Her dark red-black pigtails tremble from rage. I have been trained to show deference to how the system functions. It’s clear that Sunny has not.
    Learner finally looks down and retrieves the scrap, scanning it quickly. He looks from Gus to his own family, Preston, sitting to his right, before addressing us all again. “We’ll take a recess to discuss the issues at hand within our individual families and return to order in closed session, with only Ms. Fischer, in thirty minutes.”
    He smacks the silver mallet on its block dismissing us. I can’t help thinking how much I’d love to see how far down his throat I could force that symbol of his superiority.

*    *    *

Garrett tries to ride down with me, but I tell him it would be better if he stays with Sunny. He considers it for a moment before agreeing with me. I just have to get outside and light a cigarette. I don’t need the nicotine, but the relaxing routine of the habit might help calm my nerves.
    I’m shaking as I step out of the elevator into the glass-walled lobby. It’s all I can do to hold my composure for another fifteen paces. I know there are cameras on me, and I will not give Learner the satisfaction of seeing me lose control again.
    Two security guards open the doors for me while four more watch my every move. Each of them has a hand on their side arm as though bullets would do something other than annoy me if I decided to attack them. They fear me, and I must admit I like that. It doesn’t make up for the way things are going, but it does afford me a slight smile.
    Once I’m outside, it becomes painfully clear that Frank didn’t just leave the room like I told him to. He left the premises. That’s going to be so much fun to deal with later. Likely, it will be even more fun than I’d originally thought. Great.
    I pace up and down on the sidewalk several times before noticing that Serena Carlson is standing in the shadows of an alley off to the side of the building. I didn’t even see her come outside. She discreetly gestures for me to join her. Despite my better judgment, I step out of the streetlights’ glow and into the darkness beside her.
    “I thought you…,” I start to ask, but she cuts me off.
    “I know you weren’t involved in Jacobi’s death.” She hisses the words at me trying to sound forceful and quiet at once.
    “Wait, what?”
    “Paco killed him as you say he did. I know that.”
    “If you know that, and excuse me for being impertinent here, then why the hell didn’t you open your mouth when I was being roasted by Learner in front of the assembled Council?”
    “Timing,” she says, staring blankly at me. We stand in silence for a moment, and I’m almost convinced that she’s telling a joke I don’t get.
    “Learner’s family is our concern here. They control Nashville and St. Louis, and they’re powerful. None of us have any desire to deal with the consequences that simply ridding ourselves of him would bring. We let him ‘take charge’ of the Council for now. He’s contacted his family to bring in a reader who will investigate and find the truth of the matter. He’s destroying himself for us. It’s the only way to truly be rid of him. You suffered a little, and you’ll suffer more before it’s done. That doesn’t matter. What matters is the end result. Learner will have killed himself, his family will have nothing to say to protect him, and I will take his seat. Hold your tongue for now and abide his slings and arrows. That might make me more affable toward orphans and their kin in the future.”
    It takes every precious ounce of self-control I have left to seem unfazed by the thought of Serena running the Council. With a moron like Learner in charge, I know that I’ll never have a problem outwitting his attempts on my life even if they are annoying. Serena, however, is devious, calculating, and unabashedly evil. This development is truly disturbing and not at all what I want to think about right now.

*    *    *

The silver mallet strikes the block officially bringing us back to order. Learner stands at the head of the table and slowly looks from face to face, ham-fistedly attempting to reassert his dominance over the Council. I can feel how smug he is from here, and it’s far too much for my taste. While we’ve been in recess, he’s undoubtedly met in private with those whose opinions he feels are the most important and made sure he had their support. Now emboldened, this vainglorious dick shows no sign of letting me speak again. At this point, I’m only here for show, to be ridiculed publicly for his amusement. It comes as no surprise when I’m ordered to stand and face the Council.
    “We’ve reached the point now where decisions must be made. This Council can no longer sit idly by and entertain wild accusations or misleading calls to action. As I said before recess, I have called for a reader to investigate this orphan and prove her guilt beyond question. We will plan to reconvene on that matter in one month’s time. Any objections?” He looks around the room pretending the issue is still open to discussion.
    “None?” With no voice raised in dissent, he nods his head. “Excellent!”
    He taps the block gleefully with his little hammer again, giving his most repugnant smile. This would almost be funny, if it weren’t such a blatant mockery of even the horribly draconian system of justice we’re supposed to operate under.
    “In the interim, this Garrett will be required to stay in Pekin and make himself available to our reader. After that, he may remain here on a temporary basis only, provided he keeps his yipping dog restrained and their feeding is only done within guidelines arranged by Preston Warner. Objections?”
    Again, the room drowns in silence until the hammer falls.
    “Excellent. Now, on to other matters. Veronica’s newest little loudmouthed orphan friend. I believe you said his name was…Frank?” His voice is almost dripping.
    “His name is Frank, yes.” I have managed to focus my hate into a calming force and my voice remains even.
    “You, Ms. Fischer, will keep this Frank with you. He will also be made available to the reader if necessary—not that I believe we’ll need to investigate that deeply to prove your guilt. It’s better for our region, I believe, that we try to keep these two unfortunate orphans housed together for now. What say you all? Objections?”
    I am so overcome with rage that I don’t really hear anything else. I sit and simmer until I see the hammer in his hand rise and fall again bringing this torture to an end for the evening. I walk out of the room with my eyes on the floor as those around me begin to engage in pleasantries. I cannot wait to be on the elevator and out of this building.
    I don’t know where Garrett and Sunny have gone. They were waiting by the elevator when the meeting came back from recess. I don’t see them now, but I’m certainly not going to take the time to look for them. I can only focus on leaving before I do something else I’ll regret.
    I am joined for the ride down by Gus Edelmann and his cousin Carson Dwight. I expect that this will be the disavowal conversation from them—the end of our on-again, off-again working relationship.
    I am stunned when Gus’s gnarled and wrinkled hand pushes a note into mine. Neither of them looks at me, so I close my hand around the paper until I’m out of the lobby and almost to my car. Now I’m even more confused. It simply says, “Meet us at the riverfront.”

*    *    *

The pristine old black Lincoln slides up next to my Charger, and both Carson and Gus get out. Unlike the rest of the pampered family elite that make up the Council, these two had both lived lives of hard work. Their family chose who, never more than one or two in a generation, was given the bite based on merit not by birth order like the other families. They had to actually earn their opulent new existence of excessive money and feeding off the blood of the living.
    Gus had been an auto mechanic when he still drew breath. It showed on his hands more than anything else, but his usually furrowed brow and the worry lines on his face showed the character of a man who cared about more than his own fickle pleasures. Even though I know I was born before him, the semicircle of grey hair around his bald head always gives me a grandfatherly vibe.
    Carson was just plain scary to me. He’d been a roofer until he died at the ripe old age of thirty. Because of his former lifestyle, his hair was perpetually bleached blond and his skin somewhat tanned and leathery even though sunlight was now off-limits. He was near seven feet tall, well-muscled, and covered in tattoos. I’d heard the stories of the men he’d killed before he’d been made immortal. Word is it was self-defense, but those guys must have been nuts to get in a fight with him in the first place.
    Rumors also abound that their family has more animalistic physical manifestations from the infection. I’ve never been bold enough to ask, but I don’t think I’d want to see Carson any more outwardly threatening than he already is.
    They were respectable normal people once, and because of that, I’ve always felt I could actually almost relate to them. We might not always see eye-to-eye on things, but I can usually understand where they’re coming from.
    We all stand looking at each other for a moment.
    “You gentlemen asked me to meet you here?” I’m not even trying to hide my confusion. “Am I missing something?”
    “I’m gonna try to locate Paco, now that I know what kinda threat he could be,” Carson says nonchalantly.
    “Are you saying you believe me then?”
    “I don’t know that you’re tellin’ the truth, but I’ve known Learner long enough to know that he’s almost as arrogant as he is stupid. We can’t afford not to look into your side of this story. If he’s wrong on this one, then we’re all at risk.”
    “Thank you.” I can feel a little weight lifting off of me as the words escape my lips. Carson is a pro at finding people and things that don’t want to be found. “You should be careful, though. He’s a whole different kind of evil than you’re likely prepared for.”
    Carson nods to me and then to Gus before walking off toward the floodwall. Turning back, he says, “If I find out that you’re telling the truth about him…Well, he’d best just hope he’s prepared for me.”
    Gus watches him leave and then looks around to make certain there’s no one but me to hear him, before he speaks in muted tones. “I suggest you get ahold Jules’s family. It’s likely that Learner or some of his kin already did. And you need to make sure they know what happened, or your tellin’ of it, and suss out if they plan to come after you.”
    “I hadn’t even thought…”
    “I’ll bet you didn’t,” Gus cuts me off. “But if you’re gonna keep livin’, you need to play the game a little smarter than Learner and a lot quicker.”
    “Thank you, Gus. It means a lot to me that you believe me.”
    “Never said I believed you. Just like you a hell of a lot more than I do him. That’s all.” He turns and opens his car door then looks back at me. “I think I might know somethin’ more about who that Garrett fella is, or who his family is anyways. Gonna do some lookin’. I’ll tell ya what I find. There’s somethin’ there. More’n he’s sharin’ anyway.”
    “You don’t trust him? Should I…”
    “Never said I didn’t trust him. Just believe in knowin’ what there is to know ’bout someone ’fore makin’ any judgments. Alls I’m sayin’ is be careful.”




Links to Blood & Spirits, Book One in the Coming Storm trilogy.

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