On Tour: His Revenge by John W. Howell

Announcing His Revenge by John W. Howell – now available in paper and ebook  on Amazon.

His Revenge front final

The sequel to My GRL titled His Revenge is available and a new story continues where My GRL left off.

His Revenge is available in the US in Paper and Kindle editions

In Canada in Paper and Kindle editions

In the UK in Paper and Kindle editions

About His Revenge

America loves John Cannon, its newest hero, and the President wants to present him with the highest civilian medal for bravery for saving the Annapolis midshipman from a terrorist plot to destroy them. While in Washington for the award ceremony, John unwillingly becomes an accomplice in another plan by the same group to attack the credibility of the US President and the stability of the worldwide oil market. There is no way out as John either becomes a traitor to America or causes thousands of innocent people to die if he refuses.

The second John J Cannon Thriller moves from a barrier Island off the coast of Texas to Washington DC, then to Northern California, and finally to Ecuador. John is on the receiving end of an offer he cannot, refuse. His avowed enemy Matt Jacobs now wants John to help him shake the reputation of the US in the world political arena and disrupt confidence in the government at home. If John refuses, Matt plans to murder innocent Americans including John’s latest relationship. John’s only way out is to pretend to go along with the plan and hope for a miracle.

Excerpt from Chapter One

The water rushes over my head. I’m sinking and don’t know why. With my breath held, I have trouble stopping the air from escaping since the pressure drives the air up and out. I try to keep my mouth closed, but the water pressure pushes the air out more and more. Will I pass out? In the distance, the light is dim. To rise to the surface in time might not be possible─I need to breathe right now. Toward ending the pain in my chest, my rambling mind rationalizes taking a deep breath—even knowing it will end my life. In conflict with the irrational thought of ending it, my body won’t let me suck in the water, as it fights to retain the little bit of oxygen left to fuel my brain.

The despair is nearly overwhelming, and my mind considers other ways to battle the feeling. What more could I have done with my life? The pressure becomes more intense, and I’m about to lose it all, and I decide I’ve lived the way I wanted and have no regrets. I close my eyes and hear only the roar of the sea. 

I’m so tired. Exhausted. Sleep will fix everything, and I want to give in.

About the Author

Photo by Tim BurdickJohn’s main interests are reading and writing. He turned to writing as a full-time occupation after an extensive career in business. John writes fictional short stories and novels as well as a blog at http://www.johnwhowell.com. John lives on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of south Texas with his wife and spoiled rescue pets. He can be reached at his e-mail johnhowell.wave@gmail.com, Facebook https://www.facebook.com/john.howell.98229241 or Twitter at @HowellWave

 

My GRL_johnwhowell

His first novel, My GRL is available on Amazon and wherever e-books are sold

 

 

 

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Three Ghosts: Part One

While the Christmas decorations were put away this weekend (sniff), one small tidbit of Christmas remains: a short story serial I started, with the help of a text message, a good month before Christmas. Theater productions and plague stood between me and sharing it with the world, which in retrospect, was a good thing. That said, it’s written now, and for the next 4 Mondays, it is my pleasure to present the mystery/thriller short story, Three Ghosts.

Because the content does relate to recent and potentially-touchy political arguments, I’ll remind readers this is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the products of my imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Enjoy.

Three Ghosts: Marley

card“’The first Christmas card was sent in 1843, the same year A Christmas Carol was published,’ she says, trying not to let the baleful stare of her own unwritten cards haunt her.”

“Your tense is wrong.”

Dee – Deirdre O’Brien to those who hadn’t been her friend for twenty years – stopped gesturing with her eyebrows at the teetering tower of Christmas card boxes. She had not sent one to anyone on her list in at least three years, but that never stopped her from buying a new box or two every year. They always looked so pretty. It nearly broke her heart to pack them away with the rest of her things.

“It’s not about the tense, Cat – it’s about the grand Charles Dickens’ Christmas Conspiracy.”

Catherine Evans’ grey eyes just stared at her over the tops of her old-fashioned wire-rims. “Is this really your excuse this year?”

Leave it to Cat to bring sense to the nonsensical.

“I didn’t say that.”

A slow eyebrow arched above the glasses and Dee wondered how long her best friend could hold onto the schoolmarm look before one of them broke down into giggles.

“His story lamented greed and miserliness,” Dee insisted as she looked for the wrinkling around Cat’s eyes, which almost always preceded a smile. “Yet here we are, one hundred and eighty years later, celebrating a simple holiday for three months, munching popcorn while Kermit the Frog clings to Captain Picard–”

“And I’m pretty sure your cards can’t stare.”

“I’m not so sure,” Dee mused, fiddling with the lock of black hair that had escaped her pony tail. “See? The Christmas Fairy is looking a little feisty.”

“The Christmas fairy is looking a little tarty. Were you really planning on sending those to your mother?”

“Oh no – she gets these.

Dee plucked a battered, half-empty box covered with an assortment of beatific mothers, sighing angels and cherubic infants. That she sent one of these cards every year while the others collected dust was an irony that had not escaped her.

“And just in case you were wondering, Deirdre O’Brien, your Dickens’ Christmas Conspiracy is about as logical as your need to buy Christmas cards you’re not going to send.”

“Yeah, but it entertained you for a second – besides, I might this year.”

Cat snorted. “Not bloody likely. Explain to me again why you’re moving across the globe three days before your most favorite holiday in all of ever?”

“Because seeing London all lit up for the holidays is probably the best Christmas gift in all of ever? Besides – didn’t I offer to spring for you and Henry to join me?”

“Dee.”

“I know, I know, your soon-to-be mother-In-law would have kittens.”

“It’s not just that – it’s just . . . well, you moving to London—”

“It’s temporary.”

“Right, I know – but it wasn’t too long ago that you were cursing the name of every person in Parliament—”

“Yeah, well, everyone in the UK does that, Cat.” Dee shrugged and ignored the skepticism in her friend’s eyes, and the flush creeping up her own neck. “Things change – the war is over. Besides, Doctor Who makes friends of us all – and now I get to watch it for free!”

Cat’s lips twitched. Dee almost had her, and damned if she wasn’t going to get Cat to smile. It was important – ridiculous, yes, but also important. If she could get Cat to smile instead of scold, then perhaps the next three days would be . . . .

She shook her head. Never mind the next three days.

She let a sly grin shade her features as she abandoned the table strewn with the detritus of her life and stepped into the loft’s tiny kitchen. “Besides, you know I’ll be back for the wedding. Planning from afar is what I do – your bachelorette party is going to be spectacular. I’ve already hired the stripper.”

“Dee!”

There – that did it. The twitch broke into a full-fledged – albeit shocked – smile and Dee answered it with one of her own. “Leave the cards and the packing, Cat, and have a glass of wine.”

“Just one – I have to drive, and you really have to pack. You won’t get anything done after two.”

Dee bit her lip to stop it trembling. “Yeah, just one. Come on.”

* * *

“Well done, Ms. O’Brien.”

Dee put her stack of books down with a sigh. “Pardon me?”

“The little performance with Ms. Evans. I think you convinced her quite nicely.”

She rolled her eyes. It had not been a performance, and even if it had been, she would not have been able to convince Cat of anything. Dee wasn’t the terrible liar she claimed, but Cat saw through her little deceptions all the time. Of course, the suit didn’t need to know that.

“How do you figure?”

“It’s my job to know people, Ms. O’Brien.” The suit – a one Agent Marley – looked smug.

“You’ve tapped her phone then, I take it?”

Of course he did, she scolded herself. And it was her fault. She had made Cat – made every one of her family and friends – fair game just as she had made herself fair game over fifteen years ago. That they knew nothing – well, almost nothing – did not matter. Not to Agent Marley, and not to the people who talked in that little earpiece of his.

“Tapped?” Marley looked up from the pile of Christmas cards he had been restacking on the table. Her fingers itched to slap his hands away. “How very old fashioned of you, Ms. O’Brien. No, all we have to do is sort of listen in on the digital airwaves everyone makes so readily available. Tapped is what we did to you twenty years ago.”

“Got it – so, I was right all those times I teased Cat that you lot were listening in because we could hear the clicking?” She fought to keep her face bland under his raised eyebrow. She really did want to know, but she was not going to give Marley the benefit of her obvious curiosity.

“Indeed. You should be glad we keep tabs on these sorts of things. It’s what is going to keep you alive over there.”

“You really are a bundle of joy tonight, Mr. Bourne.” Damn. That had been a throw-away answer for a throw-away asset.

“That’s not—“

Dee rolled her eyes as Marley stopped himself from walking into her bad joke. Because his first name was Jason, and because he bore a faint resemblance to a certain actor, the name had stuck in her head – even though she was not certain Agent Jason Marley knew the right end of the gun from the wrong.

“Ms. Evans was right, you know.”

“About?”

“The cards. You won’t be able to send them.”

“I might—”

“No – sending them could alert the wrong people.” He swept the cards in question into the waiting box. Besides the last pile of books she’d unearthed from under the bed, the cards were the last to go, but they wouldn’t be joining her in London. Nothing but what she managed to stuff in her carry-on was coming with her. Everything – right down to that stack of three-year-old Christmas cards – would be put into storage for if – no, when – she got back.

The show of packing had been just that – a show for Cat.

She stopped Marley from putting the lid on the last box and reached for two cards that had fallen loose.

“I have to send one.” She scribbled a quick note into one sporting an iridescent Mother and Child and signed her name with a flourish.

“I can’t allow—“

Her head snapped up and her cheeks flushed with sudden anger. “Damn what you can’t allow. I’m throwing myself at an organization you and your overseas friends insisted was dead – the least you can do is let me send a card to my mother.”

“Is that so? And who helped with that little subterfuge, Ms. O’Brien?”

“Little? You call faking Pearse Finnegan’s death little? Face it, you fell for it, and now I’m helping you fix it.”

It was an old argument, but she liked having it. They both knew her ‘fixing it’ had happened all too easily.

It had started two months ago, when research had brought her back to Europe after a nearly fifteen-year absence. The whole trip had been a gamble. Once, she had barely been able to escape Dublin, and there was no way she should have been allowed into Heathrow – at least, not without a lot of extra scrutiny.

Yet, the lads had been inactive for so long – hell, she’d been out of the game for so long – it was easy to pretend all the focus really was in the Middle East.

But then she’d seen her husband in London.

Her head of the War Council, supposedly dead husband.

Pearse hated London.

According to those in the know, the London Game was going to be the one that finally tipped the scales for unification and independence. Of course, that plan had been laid out before the Good Friday Agreement had brokered a fragile truce between the British Army, the Loyalists and the Provisionals – and before the Dail gave up its right to the six counties, otherwise known as Northern Ireland.

The war was over – had been over for fifteen years – and Irish unification was a distant dream or moldy memory, depending on who one asked.

And yet, if Pearce was in London, now, after all this time, then it meant he had found a way around the Agreement – or thought he had.

She’d snapped a quick, blurry-but-recognizable picture but ignored the itchy feeling along her scalp and shoulders when getting that hasty digital artistry to the appropriate people had been even easier than flying into London. There was no way Pearce’s miraculous recovery from death was a surprise to the security services, and apparently, neither was her hand in the proceedings.

Agent Marley refused to squirm under her glare. “And we are most grateful to your change of heart, Ms. O’Brien, believe me.”

He gave a slight bow and Dee allowed herself a small smile. Not for the first time she suspected Agent Marley’s blandness – and general bafflement at what he had once called her unruliness – was an act. Sure, he was an ass, and it terrified her to think she was his first field assignment – but there was also a twitch at the corner of his lips that spoke volumes for his overall intelligence – or at least, her preference for faintly dangerous men. In another life – but no, that was just it. That other life was not hers anymore. She had this one. The one she had chosen.

She shook her head. Nope. She was not going to think about it. It was done and here she was, making . . . amends. She gave Agent Marley a half-hearted shrug before flicking the signed card at him.

As he fumbled with the babe born in a manger, she slipped the Christmas Fairy into her bag.

“Send it to my mother,” she ordered. “If you don’t, she’ll know something is wrong.”

Agent Marley paused and searched her face. What he was looking for – and what he found – was a mystery, but after a few deafening heartbeats, he saluted her with the Christmas card.

“All right. It will go out tonight. We will begin routing your calls after takeoff. In the flurry of moving, you forgot to activate the international band on your phone.”

“That’s not going to keep anyone for long. They’ll start to worry.”

“Perhaps, but you don’t have very long. Our intel indicates he’ll strike Christmas Day, Ms. O’Brien.”

Agent Marley turned on his heel and headed towards the door. His footsteps echoed in the empty loft.

That’s right. Three days. That was all she had left.

Three days and three ghosts.

. . . to be continued . . .

Part 2 | Part 3

 

Heresy of Before: Spirit Keeper, Part 3

D: Are we there, yet?

A: What?

D: Are we there, yet?

A: Where is there?

D: You know where, A.

A: Um. . . Why do I have the feeling this could quickly devolve into a Who’s on First debacle?

D: Who’s on First?

A: Yes.

D: . . . . Are we there yet?

A:Fair play. No, we aren’t there, yet. We’re at Part 3.

D: (Sigh). And how many parts are there going to be?

A: Don’t know yet – might spoil it if you knew.

D: Spoil it? Whatever, woman, just so long as Jan gets to be in more of it – Jan is in more of it, isn’t she?

A: Well, I was rather thinking of having her eaten by wild dogs–

D: You wouldn’t!

A: (Snickering). Behave yourself, and we’ll see.

D: You are a very bad woman, A.

A: Yep. So is Jan, to a certain extent.

D: (Grin) I know.

A: And before that smile gets even more lewd, for your reading pleasure is Part 3 of Spirit Keeper, a Heresy of Before mystery.

 

Storm clouds gather over Protection as Ellie gets closer to the truth.

Storm clouds gather over Protection as Ellie gets closer to the truth.

Previously . . .

Nearly twenty people had raised their hands or nodded in commiseration at the last Debate – a silent acknowledgement that their tokens of the old world too were missing. Trading that silence for words was a delicate dance … If ever anyone wanted information, all they had to do was trade Jan some handiwork or a bit of jewelry for her sheep’s wool and cheese, and they’d have all the information they wanted… And it brought me to wondering: What if she was the thief?

“Jan? Jan, are you in?”

“Ellie, what in heaven’s name – it’s barely sunup!”

The sun had been up for several hours, but considering Jan’s shop didn’t open until after midday, I supposed early was relative. Except—

“Did the sheep have a lie-in, then?”

“The boys take care of the sheep, Ellie.” Jan’s voice managed to be petulant and arch at the same time. She only ever used that tone on us that were born in Protection, and only in private.

I opened my mouth to ask just which boys were those when the lady of the house appeared in the curtained entryway to her private quarters. Her hair was brushed to a golden shine and her green eyes outlined with the faintest hint of kohl, but it was the carefully arranged wrapper, which revealed nearly as much as it concealed, that told me my knock on Jan’s door was not what had roused her this day.

I leaned against the wattle-and-daub wall that made up the quaint outer room of her storefront and cocked an eyebrow at Jannat Rappaport, sheep farmer, handcraft businesswoman and all-around gossip-monger. She grinned at me and pulled the silk wrapper tighter across her chest. She had been expecting someone – and not a female someone who pried into other people’s lives and went by the name Ellie. It was none of my business who it was, but since she was out of bed, perhaps some of my business could intrude on hers.

“And what boys would those be, Jan?”

“Good morning to you, too, Ellie Macfie. Can I get you anything? Tea, perhaps? I haven’t any of that horrible chicory you insist on swallowing every morning.” She paused in her tirade and gave me a slight curtsey. “And the boys are my hired hands. I’d have to split myself in threes if I wanted to take care of the sheep, the cheese-making and the handcrafts. So, how about some tea?”

Ah, those boys. I forced my face to relax into a smile.

“No need, Jan – I don’t mean to intrude on your morning routine.”

An unladylike snort was Jan’s only answer to that particular half-truth. Without further word, she turned on her heel and sauntered back into her private quarters. If I hadn’t known the woman, I would have stood in her storefront, awkwardness crippling my tongue and my legs. As it was, I knew I was free to enter Jan’s home.

Of course, she would have barred the door with a shotgun in hand if it had been otherwise.

“So you’re here about the thefts, then?”

My relief at her directness – straight-talk was not one of Jan’s strengths, especially when dealing in information and other people’s business – was shaded with a thread of apprehension. Those words were said to the wall in front of her, not to me.

“Papa Henry sent me – said you might be able to help.”

“Help.”

Even as her voice flattened, I was entertaining images of a thief ring, run by Madame Jan and carried out by her hooligans – sophisticated despite their perhaps grubby or mean appearance.

“You know, help me loosen the town’s collective tongue.” I tried to keep my tone light. Everyone knew I wasn’t exactly loquacious – I watched, and listened. Usually, that sufficed.

Jan took her time in turning to face me, and I tried to appreciate my surroundings instead of giving in to my more natural inclination: annoyance. Her private quarters were surprisingly bright and airy. The mid-morning sun glittered off her trinkets and ornaments – even gave her red silk robe a cheery, rather than opulent, appearance.

My gaze lingered too long and Jan caught me admiring her wrapper. She stroked a sleeve – where had she gotten that, I wondered – and pursed lips that never needed rouge.

“You know, if you attempted to wear prettier things,” the look she gave my undyed linen tunic was eloquent, “you might go about settling the eye of Mathias instead of just catching it.”

Blood rushed to my face and I bit back the first thing that came to mind – that at least I could settle on just one, if I needed to. It was neither fair, nor relevant. At the same time, I was no longer the least bit sorry l let my imagination run wild with the idea that Jan, and her boys, were responsible for the thefts.

I blame the pulp novels Ethel loaned me. ‘Dime store atrocities’ Papa Henry called them. Regardless, his wife had a trunk full of the little books, and their torrid adventures were a welcome respite some days. Where she picked them up, no one knows. The way Ethel told it, she had found them, somewhere out in the desert. Whenever anyone pressed – usually just newcomers – she would just wave a distracted hand to some place ‘else’ far off in the distance. Her eyes would follow and get this lost look to them. At that point, Papa Henry would always take her hand and bring her back. Invariably, that that was also the last time a newcomer ever said anything stressful, or even remotely inquiring, to Ethel.

“I’ll take that into consideration, Jan – and as much as your fashion sense intrigues me, I’d rather talk about the thefts, if you don’t mind.”

“And what if I do mind?”

“Jan—“

“Good grief, woman! Is this how you plan on interrogating the town?”

“I hadn’t planned on interrogating the town. I—“

“Oh, so it’s just me, then.”

The face Jan turned on me was neither closed nor amused. There was something off about the woman – had been for days, if I was honest. Likely, she was no more the head of a crew of career criminals than I was. Even if she was responsible, she was also right; my ‘interrogation’ style needed work. I needed her – and her way with people.

“Look Jan, I’m sorry. I just. . . “

She frowned as I trailed off. It struck me then, why I had been searching her face, her person, studying the way she moved and the way she adorned herself. Something was missing.

“You just, what, Ellie?” Jan asked, her hard voice quavering a bit as I kept my silence.

“I just thought you might have insight.” The words came slowly – slow, even for me.

“Well, for starters, don’t walk up to people asking them point-blank what they know about these bloody thefts. They’ve been going on for months and no one has said a word.”

“Months – but—“

“You watch, and you listen, but you don’t like people enough to unearth the deeper issues. You keep the riff-raff out, those that would bring Big City down on us, but it’s always been Papa Henry taking care of the town, and the people in it.”

No, that couldn’t be right – well, she was right about the peace-keeping dynamic between Papa Henry and I, but that wasn’t it. Of the thefts I knew about, Mathias’ was the oldest. His father’s sextant had gone missing nearly five weeks ago. At first, he thought it was just something he’d misplaced after the last Shake tossed his things about, but even after everything was sorted, it was still missing. And then Ruth had spoken up at the last Debate. . .

“Months, you say?”

Jan's Great-Gran's watch

Jan’s Great-Gran’s watch

A quiet gasp was all it took. Something of Jan’s had been stolen. My eyes scoured her again. Her wrist. Elegant for all its bony strength, it was bare. Gone was the watch that had belonged to her great-grandmother. It was missing an onyx stone, right near the face that did not tell the time. The hands had stopped at twenty past ten – the time Jan said her Great-Gran had passed.

“The watch – how long has it been gone?”

Almost absently, Jan stroked the spot where the watch had always been.

“Nearly two months.”

“And you never said anything.”

“At first, I thought one of the boys took it, but they so rarely leave the hills, it hardly seemed likely.”

“They still could have, Jan.”

Green eyes flashed and she smirked at me. “I know. I checked their pallets and I asked around, just in case some unsavories had been scoping them out while they’re afield with the sheep – trying to undercut my trade.”

She was talking about a black market. So far, Papa Henry and I had kept that kind of thing out of Protection, and I hated to think of it threatening the peace we had here.

“And you didn’t find anything?”

There was a small shake of her head. Well, that was a small mercy, at least.

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

I didn’t remind her that it could have stopped more thefts, or that it could have helped other people open up about their own stories – she knew that better than I.

“I haven’t said anything about it because I don’t want people thinking . . .”

“Thinking what?”

“Just thinking, that’s all. Thinking I was a victim of whoever this is, running around, and stealing our memories.”

“What? That’s—no one thinks you’re a victim. Hells woman, we’re all nearly scared of you.”

“Lottie isn’t.”

I caught the groan before it managed to make it out of my throat. The rivalry between the two women had been dormant for nearly a year. The fact that there were nearly forty years between them made their spat almost laughable, if it had not been a dividing factor in the town for as long as Lottie had called Protection home.

“Lottie fought her way out of one of the Before burnings in Big City. She knew Caroline’s mother before she was taken by the Dreadnaughts. Lottie isn’t afraid of anyone.”

“She thinks she’s better than us.”

I rolled my eyes. There weren’t enough words I could say to fill Jan’s insecurities this morning, so I said the only thing that might convince her to help me.

“I’ll talk to Lottie, Jan – thank you for pointing her out.”

She didn’t say anything to this and with a small sigh, I turned to leave. Her baby-smooth hands – softened by years of handling sheep’s wool – reached to pluck at the linen of my sleeve.

“I’ll let people know you want to talk, Ellie. And I’ll have some cookies – and maybe a sweet-cake or two at your place around 4. That should give you – and everyone else – time to get used to the idea of talking.”

I thought I caught a glimpse of a smile before the faintly mocking coquette hardened the lines of Jan’s face. It was the only help she was going to give me, and considering I had nearly cast her in the role of grand master thief, it was almost more than I deserved.

“Cheers, Jan. I’d appreciate that.”

I waved farewell to Protection’s secret-keeper and let my feet take me where they willed. I had six—no, five–hours until Jan, and the rest of Protection, descended on my little hole in the wall. There were a few people I needed to talk to before that happened.

Lottie’s prized book had been taken, right from her bedside. I liked the woman, and it gave me little pleasure to think she might have claimed it stolen to deflect suspicion from herself. Yet, it was something I had been more than willing to think Jan capable of as well.

And if Lottie was a suspect, then so too could Ruth be, and Mathais. Hells, everyone in town was a suspect, now.

Five hours. It was going to be a hell of a day.

Lost? Read Part 1  and Part 2 

Enjoyed this little bit of a tale? Just you wait! Changelings: Into the Mist, a historical fantasy adventure set in Ireland, is on sale November 11, 2014!

What’s in the box?

A: I think, when I grow up, I want to be Therese McMurphy.

D: When you grow up? It’s a little late for that now, isn’t it, A?

A: I’m always in the process, D. I mean, when I’m old – I hope I have enough stories.

D: You talk to a time-travelling Pict in your head.

A: In other words, the asylum workers will be wholly entertained?

D: Yes.

A: It’s a start.

Fast times at Divine Savior Holy Angels High

 Or, A Box of Memories: the life and times of Beth Gregory, the exciting conclusion to McMurphy’s Little Box. For the Day 14 Challenge: Yearbook.

buy-broken-jewelry

Image Courtesy: Google Images

“Beth, I’m telling you, you have to take it.”

“Mrs. McMurphy—“

“Beth, how long have you known me?”

Beth looked up from the necklace in her hands – her red-knuckled hands that washed too many dishes. Hands that had smoothed brows and touched wrinkled cheeks. Hands that she barely recognized – hands swollen with arthritis, knuckles too big to remove the wedding ring her dead husband had slipped on twenty years before.

They’d been high school sweethearts – sort of. She went to the local girls’ school, Divine Savior Holy Angels, and he to the boys’ school, Marquette. Beth had gone to DS on a scholarship – none of the other girls would have work-worn hands like these, she mused. Then again, times weren’t easy. Perhaps they all had work-worn hands by now.

Roger Gregory – her husband, her love – had not gone to Marquette on a scholarship. But he hadn’t been as lucky in life as his trust fund had thought he would be. Maybe that’s why he had jumped to his death the day the Bear Sterns had collapsed. Regardless, the trust fund was dry and the life insurance was a joke.

Thank heavens for Therese McMurphy.

Beth had gone back into nursing when Roger had passed. Elder care was her specialty. She’d bid farewell to too many patients when Therese called in, looking for a ‘companion,’ as she put it. It was a charming, if old-fashioned notion. Beth agreed immediately.

The pay was good. The company was better. Therese regaled her with tales of her husband: a prospector, gambler, womanizer and spendthrift. She told Beth tales of his children – not hers, of course. She was the second wife. The first had disappeared. So had the gardener.

Beth looked up from the necklace in her hands. “Therese,” she amended, “I can’t take this. It’s their legacy. It’s –“

Therese cackled. Beth loved the sound – so free, so knowing.

“If they can’t figure out what I’ve done with the final piece, then those ungrateful wretches don’t deserve their father’s wealth. It’s not too hard to figure out. Of course, if they come to you for it. . . “

“I’d give it back in a heartbeat,” Beth assured her. “I don’t need anything—“

“Don’t tell them about the pin, Beth. I want you to have that. To remember me by.”

“And where are you going that I need to remember you?”

Therese sighed and moved fretfully in her bed. She hadn’t left it yet today. It had happened before, but Beth fought the rising fear that Therese was getting ready to leave them – leave the children to their machinations and leave the town to their talk.

Beth patted Therese’s hand and stood to leave. “I’ll put them both somewhere safe,” she said. She arranged the necklace in its case. It was Old Tom McMurphy’s first gold nugget. Therese smiled at the idea that a man could still be a prospector – could still strike gold in the jaded technological age. She slipped the case into her coat pocket.

Closing the door on the old manse, Beth Gregory put her hand to her trouser pocket and smiled. The gold nugget was a bit of fun, but the pin was a real prize. The pin she wanted to keep close. Beth wasn’t a religious woman, but the pearl-crusted gothic crucifix had been Therese’s own, gifted to her by her father upon entry into the nunnery, before Old Tom McMurphy had stolen Therese’s virtue and her god.

Beth laughed to herself. Those two had been quite a pair. The kids could have the gold; Beth had the stories, and that was all she wanted.

Her smile lasted all the way home. When the phone rang, she answered it with a grin in her voice.

“Is that you Little Miss Ballard? Tea? Why, of course! How does Saturday sound – not working yet, are you? Good. We’ll see you at the manse at 1. Say hi to your mother for me.”

Saved by the box

A: You’ve been saved, D.

D: Pray tell, how.

A: Well, I was just going to reblog my post from the Community Storyboard, from Day 10 of the Creative Writing Challenge.

D: You mean that bit of writing I see at the bottom, here?

A: Uh huh.

D: And how have you saved me, really?

A: I was inspired.

D: No, I know you better than this. You haven’t written a word of my book. You are less than inspired, woman. You’re stalling.

A: Okay, busted. I am just stalling. But, watch this space, as the story below actually has an ending, thanks to Green Embers inquiring about the contents of the box.

D: Uh huh.

A: And I’ll get to your story D – we’re heading into the grand finale of Book 1. It’s tough stuff. You want me to do this well, right?

D: After 10 years, I’d settle for a hack job if it meant it was done.

A: The first go was a hack job, remember?

D: Hm. Fine, you’ve made your point. Get inspired. Have fun writing. Leave me to wither and die.

A: And on that note, enjoy “McMurphy’s Little Box!”

The Druid Tells the tale

Because obviously, A is to busy writing things that aren’t my book to do it.

A:  Chill pill, D.

D: Quiet, woman, I’m telling the tale! Stop by Ionia & the Readful Things for some sweet singing of praises–

A: I think that’s some twittering tweets, D.

D: I like my way better.

A: You always like your way better.

D: And . . . ? Ionia has a few tweets (happy, A?) for some fellow scribes and their work. Stop by, and sing like a bird!

For the writers out there, Writers in the Storm has come across tools that highlight how many times you use certain words or phrases. It’s a fascinating article and one I think A should read, with interest. Her overuse of the words ‘eyes’ alone is embarrassing.

A: Cheers, D. By the way, we found the blog (which is fabulous) and the article by way of Melissa Janda, the Buzz on Writing (who is also fabulous).

Finally, both D and I would like to thank the lovely Briana Vedsted, of When I Became an Author, for making us her Blogger Spotlight. Thank you, Briana – we are so pleased to have you as part of our world! You make it a brighter place.

A invites the audience’s participation

I have a confession to make: the story below was inspired, in part, by McMurphy’s Mansion, an old DOS game. It’s a bit of a sideways look, but I think I’m going to have fun with the conclusion. So, question for the crowd – ever play McMurphy’s Mansion, or have another DOS-based game that was your pride and joy?

McMurphy’s Little Box

o1v2rQcN2XENQ7tXvDsQHw“She touched the little box in her pocket and smiled, Mom, I know it.”

Megan waited for her mother to respond, but Jenny Ballard was too engrossed in her novel to do more than nod.

“Mom! Mom, you aren’t even listening to me!”

“Meghan darling, how do you know Mrs. Gregory even had a box in her pocket?” Her mother didn’t look up from the book.

“She wears tight pants, Mom. It was hard to miss.”

Jenny suppressed a sigh.

Meghan grinned. She knew that would get her mother’s attention. She tried not to grin too much as her mother slid a piece of paper between the pages of her book.

“Alright, so there’s a box. But how do you know she was smiling? And what were you doing spying on the neighbors, again?”

“I wasn’t spying! It’s not my fault that I happened to be washing the front windows while she happened to be leaving Mrs. McMurphy’s house!”

Her mother arched a single eyebrow in her direction. “And so the binoculars are. . . ?”

“Dad’s,” Meghan said, glib. “He’s taken up birding.”

Jenny rolled her eyes. “So Mrs. Gregory was with Mrs. McMurphy. She’s her caretaker, honey. I’m not sure how this translates into a tale of mystery and intrigue.”

“Well, she’s either robbing Mrs. McMurphy blind, or they’re setting it up so that the kids get nothing when the old broad dies.”

“Meghan Ballard! What in heaven’s name have you been reading?! You don’t go around calling Mrs. McMurphy an old broad?”

“Dad does.”

“Your father–“

“You know Mrs. McMurphy is wealthier than anyone in town. John Townsend says she has gold bricks hiding in that mansion of hers.”

Jenny sighed. “John Townsend doesn’t know anything about the McMurphys. That family is just sour grapes because they used to work for Old Mr. McMurphy.”

Meghan avoided her mother’s eyes. “So, Mrs. McMurphy isn’t giving all her jewels to Mrs. Gregory now so the kids won’t find ‘em, and Mrs. Gregory won’t have to pay the taxes on ‘em?”

Jenny laughed. “If that’s what she’s doing, then more power to her. Her children are a heartless lot. Mrs. Gregory is the only one who spends any time with her – tight pants or no, young lady.”

“I suppose. But Mom, my story was more fun.”

“Perhaps – perhaps not. Maybe you should ask Mrs. Gregory to invite you to tea with her and Mrs. McMurphy. I think the two of them have some stories of drama and intrigue that really happened. Those may be better than anything you can cook up.”

Meghan scowled. How had her gossip turned into a morality tale? There was no getting around it now, though.

“Besides,” her mother picked up the book and looked at her over the edge. She was smiling. “Now I want to know what was in the little box, too!”

Bring out your dead

“. . . Good evening to you,” Maureen began, her voice ringing out in the stone church, cool and authoritative. Grania had taught her well. “I trust you are well. Was that you in the graveyard?”

It took a few seconds for the newcomer – his dim outline all that they could see of him – to change tact and acknowledge Maureen’s question.

“That depends on who you are, and why you want to know.”

“I’ll take that as a yes, then,” Maureen countered. Together, she and Sean moved from behind the altar and gained the ground between the pews and its raised dais. 

“It isn’t that we care, particularly,” Sean put in, intuiting the direction of Maureen’s challenge. “It’s just that as you are likely not supposed to be out there, and we are obviously not supposed to be here, it would seem that your question is a bit presumptuous. Unless, of course, you want the authorities involved.”

The young man chuckled and started towards them. Sean stepped in front of Maureen, wary.

“I like how you think, but how do you know that I’m not one of these authorities you mention?”

Maureen snorted lightly. “Because you would have begun with that, Master Gravedigger . . .”

D: Master Gravedigger? Really, A?

A: What? She just came from the 16th century.

D: It’s not that, I like the name; I’m picking on your use of a gravedigger in general.

A: D, he’s a Fenian, and he’s digging up the guns he hid in the cemetery – which Sean and Maureen will discover soon enough.

D: Digging up guns in a cemetery – that’s macabre, even for you, A.

A: It’s not macabre, D, it’s sensible. Little-used cemetery = perfect hiding spot for decrepit guns that are just as likely to kill their wielder as the person said wielder is aiming at.

D: Sensible, huh?

A: Hey, I didn’t sink the Aud! I’m just telling a story, D.

D: I know, but it just seems to me that the female pirate was better equipped than these boys.

A: She was. But, despite that she defied the Crown by aiding a number of rebellions, she didn’t have annual parades held in her honor. Grania sparked imaginations, D, but these boys lit the fire – or rather, their deaths lit the fire. I understand they weren’t too popular during the Rising.

D: Causes are dangerous, A.

A: Depends on who is following and why, D. You of all people should know that. What cause were you fighting when–

D: Now, A – that was 1300 years ago.

A: And yet, we’re still finding reasons to kill each other.

D: With decrepit guns hid in a cemetery.

A: Exactly, D.

“. . . Runaways? Again, Sean?” Maureen ground out between her teeth. He shrugged. It was a useful lie.

“Enough,” she muttered under her breath. Sighing with a mix of exhaustion and frustration, Maureen stepped up to the young man.

“Seeing as none of us should be here, perhaps we should make this a bit more congenial. I’m Maureen O’Malley and this is Sean McAndrew. And you, Master Gravedigger, you are?”

“I’m Eoghan Ballard. Pleased to meet you, Miss Maureen, Sean.”

Maureen’s heart sank. She knew that name. . . .

The lurker

“. . . What do you think, Dubhal, will he live?”

“His head will hurt for a good while” a man replied from the shadows behind Sean, his voice a gruff rumble. “Here, chew on this.” He reached around and shoved something into Sean’s open palm.

Hearing the voice, Sean realized the man – Dubhal – was the warrior with the claymore. Sean moved to turn around, to question him, but Dubhal evaded him, bowed over a large chest, its contents clinking as he rummaged through it. . . .

D: You’ve been watching too many vampire shows.
A: What? I don’t watch—
D: He can’t see my face, ever.
A: He’s not—
D: All I do is lurk.
A: But—
D: I’m a lurker.
A: . . .
D: Seriously.
A: Okay, but if Sean saw your face, he’d know who you are . . . were . . . what. . . you know what I mean. And I don’t watch vampire—
D: Oh yes, you do. You know what I’m talking about.
A: . . . Well, you can get a little pensive.
D: There’s nothing wrong—
A: And you are both Irish.
D: Excuse me; I’m Pictish and Frankish by birth—
A: And Irish.
D: Only on my mother’s side, and that’s half Scots anyway.
A: . . .
D: . . .
A: Lurker.

. . . Sean watched as Grania injected purpose back into her ship and crew. Activity followed the sound of her voice, her cohorts eager to restore the fleet’s routine. Sean turned to address Dubhal, to thank him directly. The man had slipped back into his cloak and his face was once again in shadow.

“You’re welcome,” Dubhal said quietly, not waiting for Sean to speak. “I have my own reasons, but I will do what I can to see Maureen returned to us.”

Then he was gone, melting into the activity trailing Grania. Sean shook himself and looked at Owen, puzzled and unable to pinpoint why. Owen shrugged and jerked his shoulder towards the hatch. There was work to do. . .