Death Among the Stars


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One more piece. Or seven.

The young man took a sip of Malbec and fitted the puzzle piece shaped like a fish into the larger work that created a sitting fox. A fox with a strange, knowing grin on his face. It was a long time since he’d done a jigsaw puzzle. The rental cabin had a stack of them, all wooden, with shaped pieces. This one was close to complete.

Rise was grateful to his manager for renting this Adirondack cabin. He’d flown across country from Los Angeles three days early, to rest, re-center and dismiss any jet lag. In Los Angeles there was a pile of scripts on his desk—he’d only brought the three most promising along to read—constant calls and texts, a demanding personal trainer, and, oh yeah, four stalkers, two of whom required restraining orders.

Ah, the life of a star.

Except he wasn’t a star, only a guy who’d grown up on television in three different series. Enough folks were so comfortable with him in their living rooms they figured they should be married. To him. And became violent when he didn’t agree.

It had been a wonderful couple of days. His assistant, Con Allred, had laid in supplies, his favorite food, and he’d been able to cook for himself. Con had then gone ahead to join Rise’s agent, manager and publicity crew to lay the groundwork for the premiere of his new feature film.

A car would be sent for Rise in the morning, his hiatus over.

The tall actor ran a hand through his golden blonde hair, snapped another piece into the puzzle and groaned. Two pieces were missing. Why would you rent a cabin and offer your guests puzzles with missing pieces?

He took another large sip of wine. The fire was burning down, a bed of orange embers lined the fireplace floor. Add another log, or let it go out?

If he wanted to be fresh and rested for the film festival, he should probably take some melatonin and read awhile, then get some sleep.

Rise drained the wine glass, washed it out and put it to dry by the sink. The cabin was made of wood with antlers everywhere. He stepped outside onto the small porch, then sat in a dark-green Adirondack chair. Rushing water of the nearby Ausable River spoke of recent rain; the piquant, calming scent of pine melded with the loam of the earth. He breathed deeply.

Back in Los Angeles, his house was a fortress, alarms everywhere. Even so, one enterprising woman, a teacher for god’s sake, had left a note on his bed when he was away filming. His agent had gotten a letter from another of his stalkers, a psychologist, explaining they were uniquely psychologically suited for each other. Therefore, if she couldn’t have Rise, she’d have to hurt him. A young man had stopped his mother in the grocery store and introduced himself as Rise’s fiancé. Someone had followed and confronted his mom. His mom!

Rise hated being on guard all the time. Which was why he was sorry to leave the solitude of the cabin to rejoin the world in the morning. It was rented under his manager’s brother’s secretary’s son’s name. No one knew he was here.

The actor stood and stretched, then went back inside, and locked the door. He headed into the bedroom where he pulled on pajama pants and a t-shirt. He scrubbed his face in the master bath and popped two melatonin gummies.

The queen-sized bed had a quilt with an Adirondack design featuring bears dancing around a campfire. Rise picked up a script from the bedside table at random, put on his glasses, and began to read. Within ten minutes, he couldn’t keep his eyes open.

It was all he could do to turn off the light before falling into a dreamless sleep.

His phone rang at seven the next morning.

“The car’s on its way. It’ll be outside in twenty,” said Isobel, his agent. “See you at the hotel for breakfast.”

“Roger. Wilco,” said Rise.

He wiped sleep from his eyes and went to shower and dress. He was already packed. It wasn’t long before the crunch of tires arrived outside the cabin. A glance out the bathroom window showed it to be a Range Rover driven by Castor, Isobel’s favorite driver. Rise was grateful she hadn’t sent the stretch.

Castor knocked on the door and Rise came through the room, pulling his suitcase. The shorter, stockier man gave Rise a friendly nod and took the bag. Rise walked around the living room, doing one last visual check. The puzzle. Should he rebox?

He stood in front of the table. And stared.

Castor was saying something, but Rise didn’t hear him.

The puzzle was complete. All the pieces were locked in. None missing.

The paper towel next to the puzzle, which had a small rim of Malbec from Rise’s glass the night before on it, now also had a tiny heart, drawn by pen. Filled in with lipstick.

Castor came and stood next to him, looking at the puzzle and the paper towel. A knowing smile crossed his face. “Fun night?” he asked. “Come on, we’ve got to go, or Isobel will have our heads.”

Rise grabbed the paper towel and stuffed it into the pocket of his jeans.

It was only when he got into the car that he began to tremble.


Tranquility, New York, held a new spark of energy. I felt it as I walked the nearly-empty sidewalks at 11:30 p.m. on that clear September Tuesday evening. A brisk chill seasoned the air around old-fashioned streetlights whose bulbs flickered merrily as if the lamplighter had recently come by. The shops of Main Street also spoke of an earlier day. They were brick or clapboard, one story or two, although the Adirondack Adventure Hotel had dared climb to four floors, the village’s version of a skyscraper.

The Tranquility Film Festival was opening that weekend and I was looking forward to it. First, because I had friends whose documentary was certain to create a stir. Second, with the first festival screening on Thursday, actors, directors, publicists, and journalists were beginning to descend in their limos and fancy rental cars. Their imminent arrival excited the locals, even those who claimed disinterest, and the crowd at the pub I manage and bartend was buzzing with anticipation. Food, drinks, and high spirits flowed freely all evening.

MacTavish’s, the Scottish-style inn that housed that pub—formally named That Ship Has Sailed, but universally called the Battened Hatch—was on the south end of Main, while my cottage was nestled in a hidden glade called Mill Pond off the northern end. I’d decided to walk to work that afternoon, in the late-summer heat with the teasing hint of autumn leaves. Tonight, the mountains that rimmed town loomed as a backdrop, purple and protective. We’d closed the bar at 11. My barback, Marta, and I took some extra time swapping out the next day’s drink specials in the holders on each table. Marta then hurried off on her bike, and I headed home, savoring the pre-festival calm by strolling the walkways of my adopted home.

Most businesses, including restaurants, were closed, their nighttime illumination offering a soft glow over wares displayed in shop windows. There was one notable exception: the Orpheum Theater, where the festival was soon to begin. Outdoor lights shone and the marquee was aglow.

I paused to study the listing of films with the dates and times of their screenings. Salty Sally and Pepper: Truth Be Told, the documentary featuring as yet unknown stories about two screen idols of Hollywood’s Golden Age who’d lived in Tranquility, would show on Saturday afternoon, a prime slot.

Glancing inside the hall that led to the lobby, I saw posters for the festival’s other films lining the walls. It was kind of odd that the lobby doors were still open. Surely the night’s final screenings of regular movies were done by now? As I entered to study a poster for an independent feature, Kyle, the lanky teenager who ran concessions during the week and usually closed up, walked into the lobby. He saw me and waved. I waved back.

“Just perusing,” I said, signaling my willingness to leave.

He joined me in the outer hall. “You work around here, right?”

“Yes, I’m Avalon. Nash. I bartend at the Battened Hatch. In MacTavish’s.”

“Could you help me for a minute?” He looked nervous.

“What is it?”

“The last movie’s over. I need to close up. But some girl fell asleep in the theater.”

“You can’t wake her up?”

“I tried saying, ‘wake up,’ but it didn’t work.”

“If she slept through an action movie, I’m not surprised. Did you try shaking her shoulder?”

Kyle looked uncomfortable. “I don’t want to touch her or anything. We’ve had harassment training.”

“Okay.” How could I not help such a well-meaning kid?

The Orpheum was a grand movie palace back in the day. Now it was carved into three theaters, the largest of which was downstairs, in the footprint of the original. The once-commanding balcony was split in half to create two smaller screening spaces, but each remained large and raked with the original stairs going down each outside wall.

The sleeper was in theater three, upstairs. I trotted up the carpeted steps behind Kyle, who was obviously eager to get on with things.

All the theater lights were on, including the harsh work lights, which took away any golden veneer of the magic of storytelling. I headed down to where the young woman was seated, fifth row center, and walked across row four to be squarely in front of her.

The movie-goer was petite, perhaps in her mid-twenties, with the carefree good looks of youth, wearing a form-fitting white cashmere sweater that showed off her flawless tan skin, and jeggings. Her small popcorn was settled into the seat beside her. She hadn’t enjoyed much of it before dozing off.

“Excuse me,” I said. No reply.

“Miss?” I put my knee onto the folded seat bottom in front of me and leaned forward, reaching out and shaking the young woman’s leg. I shook harder. Her naturally curly brown hair jostled, but she didn’t move. “Hello?”

I glanced up at Kyle, who shrugged, see what I mean?

Willing myself not to think the worst, or even the second-worst, I walked back a row and across it. I put a hand firmly on the girl’s shoulder and shook her. “The movie’s over.”

She fell forward.

Her popcorn spilled over her seat and onto the floor.

That’s when I thought the worst.



Fresh whole orange (peeled and pulled apart, save peel)

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric 

2 oz honey (preferably local)

2 cups of water

1 1/2 oz Bourbon/Whiskey of your choice 


In medium saucepan add water, turmeric, one large piece of orange peel and honey.  Let simmer for about 10 minutes and stir occasionally.  In large mug add Bourbon or Whiskey and then add a ladle or two of hot toddy mixture.  

Relax, sip and enjoy going into dreamland.

Click here to download and keep reading!

Click here to support independent bookstores and order from Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid!

Explore the Bartender’s Guide to Murder website for fun recipes!

Sharon Linnéa is the bestselling author of the Eden Thrillers (Chasing Eden, Beyond Eden, Treasure of Eden & Plagues of Eden) with co-author B.K. Sherer, following the adventures of Army chaplain Jaime Richards. She is also the author of the Movie Murder Mystery These Violent Delights, and the YA spy thriller Domino 29 (as Axel Avian). Sharon wrote the Carter Woodson Award-winning biography, Princess Ka’iulani: Hope of a Nation, Heart of a People, and Raoul Wallenberg: The Man Who Stopped Death. She began working on The Bartender’s Guide to Murder mysteries after a catastrophic house fire made her decide to do something a bit more fun for a while. She enjoys visiting book clubs virtually and in person.

Visit Her Author Website

In medium saucepan add water, turmeric, one large piece of orange peel and honey.  Let simmer for about 10 minutes and stir occasionally.  In large mug add Bourbon or Whiskey and then add a ladle or two of hot toddy mixture.  

Relax, sip and enjoy going into dreamland.

Death by Gravity


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Seven-year-old Davy Edison awoke alone in the dark. He had a moment of frightened confusion before he was able to orient himself. He was in a tent that he and his older sister, Misty, had concocted out of sheets and chairs downstairs in the television room.

Davy loved it when their parents went out and Misty babysat. They always thought of fun trouble to get into—like building a fort out of blankets, eating barbecue wings, and watching shows of which their parents didn’t approve.

However, the television was now off and the sleeping bag next to
him was empty. Misty must have gone up to bed. Davy briefly considered going back to sleep, but he had to pee, and his real bed was more comfortable, anyway. He used the downstairs bathroom and walked through silent halls to the staircase in the bedroom wing. To his right at the first landing, the door to the staircase that led to his parents’ floor was closed, which meant they’d come home.

He padded down the long hall toward his room. When he passed Misty’s room, he was surprised to find the door slightly ajar. He pushed against it silently and opened it a few inches to see if she was still awake.

Her bed hadn’t been slept in. One of the French doors to her balcony was open.

“Mist?” he whispered, as he stepped into the room.

The sheer curtain by the outside deck fluttered, and he stopped. He could see shapes outside. More than one. This threw him enough that he didn’t hear the person who stepped up behind him until the man grabbed him firmly with one hand and planted his other hand over Davy’s mouth. Davy heard him kick the hall door closed behind them.

“What the hell are you doing here?” asked an angry whisper.

Davy did the first thing he thought of: he chomped down on the
top of the hand over his mouth.

“Where’s my sister?” he hissed.

“You are in so much trouble, you little freak. You’ve got two choices. You shut up, now, right now, and you stay silent, silent, till morning, or your sister and your parents all die. We have your sister already. I can shoot your parents before they even wake up!”

Davy was thinking fast. He’d heard about kids who were kidnapped and their siblings keeping quiet way too long because they were scared. That wasn’t him. He had to pretend to go along. He nodded his head. When the man took his hand away a few millimeters, he said, “Okay. Okay! I’ll be quiet. Just don’t hurt her! Put me down. Let me go to my room!”

“Fat chance, idiot kid,” said the voice. It sounded rusty, like it had to bounce over lots of nails to get from the voice box to the air.

“Put me down,” he said, with a bravado he didn’t feel.

The man put him down, but awkwardly, so he landed on the dude’s shoe and lost his balance. The kidnapper was suddenly furious. His other hand grabbed something, and suddenly there was steel against the boy’s throat.

“No!” Davy cried.

“First you, then her,” came the raspy reply.

And everything went black.

Davy woke up in Misty’s bed while it was still dark outside. Her balcony door was closed. She was gone. He knew he had to sound the alarm as soon as possible, no matter what the kidnapper had threatened, but his arms were bound behind him and he had duct tape over his mouth. It hurt to have his arms pulled back that way. His shoulders were burning, but there was nothing he could do. The tape over his mouth was sticky, and it smelled like oil. He couldn’t move his lips or open his mouth or swallow his saliva properly.

Worst was that he couldn’t get anyone’s attention. He couldn’t save Misty.

Warm tears traced his cheeks and moistened Misty’s pillow.

By morning, when his parents finally found him, she was long gone.


It was the first Saturday night in June. Tranquility, New York, is far enough north that the warm evening breezes over the lake still felt new and intoxicating. Why folks needed further intoxication I do not know, but the Battened Hatch was hopping. Everyone was in high spirits.

Shortly after 8 p.m., Brent Davis and his wife, Susan, took seats at the beautifully carved wooden bar. “Hey, Avalon,” Brent said. He was of British heritage and wore a long-sleeved button-down shirt, sleeves rolled up, the quintessential newspaper editor. His beard was trimmed and comfortably
salt-and-pepper, his glasses wire-rimmed. “Throw me a Stella and a white wine for the wife.”

I smiled at Susan. “Chardonnay?” I asked.

“Perfect.” She nodded.

“When did you get back from LA?” I queried Brent as I poured. “How’s the film shaping up?”

“Got home a few hours ago,” he responded, a spark behind his eyes. He was producing a documentary on the town’s golden-era movie stars, Pepper Porter and Sally Allison, which had some unexpected new plot twists, due to a recent murder investigation. It now looked to be a humdinger, as Pepper might have said. “It’ll be a challenge to finish it in time for the Tranquility Film Festival in August.”

“Can’t wait to see it!” I responded truthfully. Sally Allison was one of my favorite movie stars of all time. Not to mention, my current landlord.

“Thanks for your help,” Brent added, lifting his glass.

“Hope there are no upcoming giant news stories to split your attention.”
Brent was also the editor-in-chief of the local newspaper.

“It’s Tranquility. I think we’re safe,” he said.

The ding of new drink orders came to the bar from the POS on the restaurant floor. I exchanged an eyeroll with Marta, my teal-haired bartender-in-waiting, as the paper continued to scroll. Our new waiter, Davros, shrugged at us from the mid-floor machine.

Olympic medalist Brian Eddings was holding court tonight, and the liquor was flowing. Brian wasn’t the only Olympian who frequented the Battened Hatch. Gillian Petrakov, a former bronze medalist in figure skating, sat at the bar even now, her blonde hair in a bun, fitted pink sweater set embracing her still-taut figure, next to her partner, Callie (non-skater, brown hair, ran a nonprofit).

“Brian is torturing the Newbies again.” Gillian smiled.

Tranquility is one of two places in the United States where athletes can train for winter sports year-round. Brian lived locally. I met him when he turned up here at the Scottish tavern shortly after I came to town. You knew when he was in the room—as did everyone in town, apparently—and they started arriving in groups to join his instant party.

“The Newbies?” I asked.

“Bobsledding is a unique sport,” Gillian said. “Take figure skating—you have to train for decades. But bobsledders—all you have to be is strong, fast, and able to jump. Every year, Olympic scouts head for colleges to entice track stars and even shot-putters to come and try out for Olympic bobsled team.”

“Really?” I asked, wiping down the bar. “Does it ever work out?”

“Yep, there have been times when a college kid shows up in June and has competed in the next Winter Olympics!”

As she said that, a tall man walked into the bar from the door to MacTavish’s Seaside Cottage, the hotel that housed us. It was a sprawling, hundred-year-old establishment that was not seaside (though lakeside) and had no cottages. There was, however, a MacTavish.

The newcomer was European-American, maybe six feet, short brown hair, trim, and wearing a gray polo tucked into gray slacks. His eyes scanned the place and he smiled, as if entertaining memories from his past. I turned, ready to ask if he wanted to be seated, when he saw the group at the back of the room. His smile vanished. He turned on his heel and walked out.

Alrighty, then. I turned my attention back to Gillian. “So how does Brian torture them?”

“He’s not their coach, obviously. He competed in luge. But he can’t resist so many freaked-out, naïve athletes. They’ve been living like monks in Olympic housing for the past three weeks. As soon as they’re allowed out, he brings them here and buys them beer. They—and their coaches—won’t be happy tomorrow morning.”

“So why do they keep letting him do it?”

“Good question.” Gillian sipped her drink. “The truth is monks don’t make very good bobsledders, but the coaches can’t be seen to be condoning this behavior. But—whew—the kids gotta get this energy out somehow! Brian’s like a father figure… but father figures aren’t always the best influences!”

“Tell me about it.”

A huge whoop went up. I looked up—to find the previously full tables suddenly emptied of athletes and their adult beverages.

“What the… ?”

The door to the smoker’s porch was open. Another group cry went up, followed by a loud splash.

Marta followed me to the open door. And there, on the smoker’s porch, Brian Eddings had built himself a luge. He’d put two square tables together with another four-top on it. He’d added a sturdy wooden chair with arms on top of that table. He’d appropriated all my tablecloth clips to attach a long tablecloth to the wooden chair, again to the lower table, and then to the front of the lower level to jerry-rig a mini-luge run. Seriously.

One prospective Olympian stood on the top table, holding the chair solid while two others held the cloth taut lower down. Two young men had already careened down and off into the lake. Another was climbing the rickety contraption even now, holding a bussing tray to ride on his journey.
“Baron McNulty for the win!” crowed the young man, throwing
himself onto the slanted tablecloth, sliding off the porch and into
the lake.

“Dear God, Brian, what are you doing?” I asked. “MacTavish’s insurance does not cover reckless porch slides!”

“Aw, lassie,” he said, in an affected voice purposely reminiscent of Glenn, the owner of MacTavish’s.

The next young man at the top of the climb pushed off, and hurled down into the lake.

“Back inside! Everyone!” I instructed. “Free buffalo wings. On the house.”

That did it. A different kind of whoop and the portion of young men who had little interest in killing themselves jumping off metal chairs headed back in.

Marta and I dismantled the furniture sculpture and stood for a moment. I have no doubt she was joining me to silently pay respects to my predecessor who had died on this very porch.

The rest of the night slid past quickly, as busy pub nights do. At midnight, a minibus pulled up to return Olympic hopefuls to their apartments at the training facility. Shortly thereafter, a trio of young women left, helping their friend walk between them. They’d each had one drink, and I wondered if their affected friend had an intolerance or allergy. Or if she’d simply downed all three drinks herself.

Brian Eddings stayed to help Manuela, the bus-person, clear, as his group’s tables were in shambles. Brian’s face and chin were square, with an indent in the bulb of his nose, as if someone has pressed a fingerprint to it. His hair was blond and close-cropped, although Olympic photos of him showed it longer and unruly. His eyes were alert, brimming with intelligence and mischief. Living in Tranquility, you hear pretty quickly that life after being an Olympian—medalist or not—is rough going for many athletes. I appreciated that Brian was willing to be a bit wild but truly thoughtful at the same time.

I closed out the POS and came back as Manuela and Brian finished separating the now-cleaned tables.

“Thanks, Manuela,” I said.

“Good night,” she replied and headed out.

“Sorry if we made more work,” said Brian, eyes flashing. “But it’s a rip.”

“A rip?”

“Rip-roaring time!”

He was so pleased as he said it, I couldn’t help but laugh. At least no one had broken their neck on his jerry-rigged luge. As we worked together, I noticed that he wasn’t inebriated in the least. He said he didn’t drink, and he stuck to it.

“Good night,” he said. As he passed, he crushed a bill into my hand. “For the extra trouble,” he said. “And the wings.”

I’d comped the wings, figuring they’d be cheaper for MacTavish’s than the bad publicity of a future Olympian breaking his neck luging off the smoker’s porch.

“Night,” I replied, following, turning out the lights. As I locked the door behind him, I glanced at the tip. It was a one-hundred-dollar bill.

That was, allegedly, the last time anyone saw Brian Eddings alive.

Sour mix
Add 2 ounces of sour mix to a glass with ice.
Top with seltzer.
Add lime for garnish.
Sip all night and be proud of yourself in the morning.

Click here to download and keep reading!

Click here to support The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid and order a signed copy of the trade paperback!

Explore the Bartender’s Guide to Murder website for fun recipes!

Sharon Linnéa is the bestselling author of the Eden Thrillers (Chasing Eden, Beyond Eden, Treasure of Eden & Plagues of Eden) with co-author B.K. Sherer, following the adventures of Army chaplain Jaime Richards. She is also the author of the Movie Murder Mystery These Violent Delights, and the YA spy thriller Domino 29 (as Axel Avian). Sharon wrote the Carter Woodson Award-winning biography, Princess Ka’iulani: Hope of a Nation, Heart of a People, and Raoul Wallenberg: The Man Who Stopped Death. She began working on The Bartender’s Guide to Murder mysteries after a catastrophic house fire made her decide to do something a bit more fun for a while. She enjoys visiting book clubs virtually and in person.

Visit Her Author Website

LAST CALL by Cathi Stoler



New Year’s Eve

Times Square was packed. Nearly half a million revelers were squeezed in
as tight as the cork in a champagne bottle, ringed by barricades in an area
forty blocks square. Many had been there since that morning, waiting in
the cold for the glittering Waterford Crystal ball to drop.
Security was tight. It was the dawn of a new millennium which brought fears of a Y2K disaster bringing down computers and creating havoc amongst
anything electronic.

Over five thousand police officers were on hand to make sure nothing
went horribly wrong—although the crowd was well-behaved, many of them
wearing oversize glasses and waving banners as they cheered and yelled into the cameras.

No one was having a better time than the four young tourists from
Denmark who had arrived in the city the day before. Worming their way
through the crowd, the two men and two women pushed in as close as they
could to have a close-up view of the ball drop and watch the entertainment,
a popular band playing their latest hit.

One member of the group, Lukas Janssen, decided to step away from his
friends for a few moments to buy a souvenir for his younger sister. “I think
she would like one of those T-shirts,” he told his girlfriend, Isa Mulder, and
pointed to a man a few yards away selling shirts with a millennium logo on
the front. At six feet four inches, Lukas stood well above the crowd around
him and had no trouble plotting a path to the vendor.

“Hurry back, Lukas,” Isa told him, giving him a quick hug. “The new year
will be here in just a few minutes and I’ll want to give you a special kiss.”
She smiled as he walked away and turned back to her friends, Elias and
Sara, who were waving small Danish flags at a TV camera that scanned the

At ten seconds to midnight, the ball began its descent and Lukas was still
not back. Isa thought he may have gotten turned around in the mass of
people, and gave her attention over to the cheers and chaos that erupted at
the stroke of twelve, sure he would join them shortly.

The crowd dispersed soon after, but Lukas was nowhere to be found. His
three friends looked up above the sea of people leaving the area, searching
for the tall blond man in a red ski jacket. Isa’s eyes widened with worry. “I
don’t see him. Where did he go?” Tears began to spill from her eyes as she
fought her way through the remaining crowd, calling his name.

“Maybe he stopped for a beer,” Elias ventured.

“Not without us,” Isa told him. “He’d never leave us here wondering where
he is.”

She shook her head. “Something has happened to him. I know it.”
Three days later, Lukas Janssen’s body was discovered in Tompkins Square
Park on the east side of Manhattan. No one knew how or why he wound
up there. The young man had been stabbed through the heart and died
instantly—the first victim of the person who would become known as the New Year’s Killer.

Chapter One
New Year’s Eve

The ball was about to drop, and everyone’s eyes were fixed on the TV
over the bar. I guess it had been a good idea to follow my landlord
Sully’s advice and lug the flat screen down from my apartment for
the night. The Corner Lounge wasn’t the kind of bar where five TVs were
tuned to whatever sports games were being played, but being New Year’s
Eve, I relented from my prohibition of television in the restaurant, and it
seemed to be paying off. I just didn’t want to hear any “I told you so’s.” from
Mr. Smart Mouth.

“Three…two…one…Happy New Year!” The glittering Swarovski crystal
ball ended its descent, and the crowd in Times Square went wild, roaring
their good wishes into the faces of the numerous TV cameras that swept the

It was a bit more subdued at The Lounge, if only because the number
of people present was just slightly fewer than the crowd at the country’s
hottest New Year’s Eve venue—although the noise level seemed just as loud
as everyone shouted “Happy New Year!” before kissing the person closest to
them and lifting their glasses in a toast.

Dean, my head bartender, and I had been busy popping open champagne
bottles and filling flutes for the customers who numbered three deep at the
bar. I grabbed three glasses and moved down to where my boyfriend, Eric,
and Sully were seated. Handing one to each of them, I leaned over and gave
Eric a big kiss on his lips, then planted one on Sully’s cheek. “Happy New
Year, boys!” I clinked my glass against each of theirs. “Let’s hope it’s a good

Eric gave me another long, lingering kiss and nuzzling my ear, whispered,
“It will be, Jude. I promise.” Then one of his pals from work called out to
him and he went off for bro hugs and good wishes with his buddies who’d
joined him for the evening.

Sully nodded, knowing there was more to my words than their simple
meaning. The last year had been pretty tough on all of us, and it was definitely time to move on to something better.

“A good year? I’ll drink to that.” Sully downed his champagne in a few
gulps then held out the flute for a refill.

“Philistine.” I shook my head and poured him more of the bubbly. “Sip
this one.”

“Hey,” Art Bevins, one of my regular customers, called to me, “don’t forget
us.” He pointed to his spot in front of the bar.
“I’d never do that.” I smiled and handed over a glass to Art and one to the
young man with him.

“Jude, meet my brother, Michael. Michael, Jude. She owns the place.” Art
made a loose gesture with his hand that encompassed the dining room and
bar. “Mikey just got in and we came down to celebrate. I didn’t even give
him time to unpack. He’s staying with me over the holiday break.” Art was
smiling so wide I could practically see his tonsils.

I shook my head at Art and held out my hand to his brother. “Nice to meet
you, Michael.” He was tall, blond, and handsome in a hipster kind of way,
scruffy stubble on his face, plaid shirt with a black T-shirt under it, jeans and sneakers—a uniform—just like the black jeans and black turtleneck that I wore to work every day. Art had told me all about his younger brother, who was a senior at the University of Maryland, majoring in medical research.

“I think Art’s mentioned you once or twice.”

He laughed, assuming his brother spoke about him way too much. “You,
too. I’ve heard all about you from this guy.”

Art hooked an arm around his brother’s shoulders. Or tried to. He was a
several inches shorter and a few drinks ahead, and his aim was a little off,
his arm landing somewhere around Michael’s shoulder blades. Art’s dark
eyes shone with pride and you could see how much he loved his brother.
“Mikey here is the real brains in the family. A science wiz. Going to find a
cure for everything that ails you.”

“Starting with over-imbibing, no doubt,” piped in Tony Napoli, another
regular customer and one of the “10th Street Irregulars,” as I called them. He was with Oscar Lupe and Jim Deems, two more from the group, who’d come in just after midnight and finally managed to elbow their way to the bar.

I leaned over and gave each of the three men a peck on the cheek.

“Champagne?” I didn’t have to ask twice.

All three nodded like bobbleheads. I placed their drinks in front of them
and moved down the bar to see to my other customers as Art introduced
Michael around.

A little while later, Michael shrugged into his jacket and leaned over the
bar. “Nice to meet you, Jude. I’m heading out to another party downtown.”
He looked over his shoulder at Art and pointed up to the ceiling. “Make sure
my brother gets home safe,” he added before he went back toward the group.

After a while, when I glanced up at the Irregulars, Sully, Art, Oscar, and
Tony were laughing at something one of them had said and Mikey was gone.

I didn’t have time to dwell on it. Busy didn’t describe the scene at The
Lounge. Hey, not that I was complaining. I was in business to make money.
So was my partner, Pete, the chef and soul of the kitchen, who popped out
from his station at his huge 8-burner Garland stove to swoop me up for a
New Year’s kiss and grab a bottle of champagne for the kitchen staff.

Well, so far—an hour in—things looked good for the year to come. I hoped
it would last. But somewhere, deep inside, a little voice said, Good luck with
that, Jude.

I ignored it. How I wished I hadn’t.

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Cathi Stoler

Cathi Stoler’s Murder On The Rocks Series features The Corner Lounge owner, Jude Dillane and includes, BAR NONE, LAST CALL and STRAIGHT UP published by Level Best Books. She’s also written the suspense novels, NICK OF TIME and OUT OF TIME and the Laurel and Helen New York Mysteries. She is a board member of Sisters in Crime New York/Tri-State, MWA and ITW. You can reach her at
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The Bartender’s Guide to Murder book 1 DEATH IN TRANQUILITY by Sharon Linnea


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Chapter 1

Death in the Afternoon

 “Whenever you see the bartender, I’d like another drink,” I said, lifting my empty martini glass and tipping it to Marta, the waitress with teal hair.

“Everyone wants another drink,” she said, “but Joseph’s missing. I can’t find him. Anywhere.”

“How long has he been gone?” I asked.

“About ten minutes. It’s not like him. Joseph would never just go off without telling me.”

That’s when I should have done it. I should have put down forty bucks to cover my drink and my meal and left that magical, moody, dark-wood paneled Scottish bar and sauntered back across the street to the train station to continue on my way.

If I had, everything would be different.

Instead I nodded, grateful for a reason to stand up. A glance at my watch told me over half an hour remained until my connecting train chugged in across the street. I could do Marta a solid by finding the bartender and telling him drink orders were stacking up.

Travelling from Los Angeles to New York City by rail, I had taken the northern route, which required me to change trains in the storied village of Tranquility, New York. Once detrained, the posted schedule had informed me should I decide to bolt and head north for Montreal, I could leave within the hour. The train heading south for New York City, however, would not be along until 4 p.m.

Sometimes in life you think it’s about where you’re going, but it turns out to be about where you change trains.

It was an April afternoon; the colors on the trees and bushes were still painting from the watery palate of spring. Here and there, forsythia unfurled in insistent bursts of golden glory.

I needed a drink.

Tranquility has been famous for a long time. Best known for hosting the Winter Olympics back in 19-whatever, it was an eclectic blend of small village, arts community, ski mecca, gigantic hotels and Olympic facilities. Certainly there was somewhere a person could get lunch.

Perched on a hill across the street from the station sat a shiny, modern hotel of the upscale chain variety. Just down the road, father south, was a large, meandering, one-of-a-kind establishment called MacTavish’s Seaside Cottage. It looked nothing like a cottage, and, as we were inland, there were no seas. I doubted the existence of a MacTavish.

I headed over at once.

The place evoked a lost inn in Brigadoon. A square main building of a single story sent wings jutting off at various angles into the rolling hills beyond. Floor-to-ceiling windows made the lobby bright and airy. A full suit of armor stood guard over the check-in counter, while a sculpture of two downhill skiers whooshed under a skylight in the middle of the room.

Behind the statue was the Breezy, a sleek restaurant overlooking Lake Serenity (Lake Tranquility was in the next town over, go figure). The restaurant’s outdoor deck was packed with tourists on this balmy day, eating and holding tight to their napkins, lest they be lost to the murky depths.

Off to the right—huddled in the vast common area’s only dark corner—was a small door with a carved, hand-painted wooden sign which featured a large seagoing vessel plowing through tumultuous waves. That Ship Has Sailed, it read. A tavern name if I ever heard one.

Beyond the heavy door, down a short dark-wood hallway, in a tall room lined with chestnut paneling, I paused to let my eyes adjust to the change in light, atmosphere, and, possibly, century.

The bar was at a right angle as you entered, running the length of the wall. It was hand-carved and matched the back bar, which held 200 bottles, easily.

A bartender’s dream, or her undoing.

Two of the booths against the far wall were occupied, as were two of the center tables.

I sat at the bar.

Only one other person claimed a seat there during this low time between meal services. He was a tall gentleman with a square face, weathered skin, and dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. I felt his cold stare as I perused the menu trying to keep to myself. I finally gave up and stared back.

“Flying Crow,” he said. “Mohawk Clan.”

“Avalon,” I said. “Train changer.”

I went back to my menu, surprised to find oysters were a featured dish.

“Avalon?” he finally said. “That’s—”

“An odd name,” I answered. “I know. Flying Crow? You’re in a Scottish pub.”

“Ask him what Oswego means.”  This was from the bartender, a lanky man with salt-and-pepper hair. “Oh, but place your order first.”

“Are the oysters good?” I asked.

“Oddly, yes. One of the best things on the menu. Us being seaside, and all.”

“All right, then. Oysters it is. And a really dry vodka martini, olives.”

“Pimento, jalapeño, or bleu cheese?”

“Ooh, bleu cheese, please.” I turned to Flying Crow. “So what does Oswego mean?”

“It means, ‘Nothing Here, Give It to the Crazy White Folks.’ Owego, on the other hand means, ‘Nothing Here Either.’”

“How about Otego? And Otsego and Otisco?”

His eyebrow raised. He was impressed by my knowledge of obscure town names in New York State. “They all mean, ‘We’re Just Messing with You Now.’”

“Hey,” I said, raising my newly delivered martini. “Thanks for coming clean.”

He raised his own glass of firewater in return.

“Coming clean?” asked the bartender, and he chuckled, then dropped his voice. “If he’s coming clean, his name is Lesley.”

“And you are?” I asked. He wasn’t wearing a name tag.


“Skål,” I said, raising my glass. “Glad I found That Ship Has Sailed.”

“That’s too much of a mouthful,” he said, flipping over the menu. “Everyone calls it the Battened Hatch.”

“But the Battened Hatch isn’t shorter. Still four syllables.”

“Troublemaker,” muttered Lesley good-naturedly. “I warned you.”

“Fewer words,” said Joseph with a smile that included crinkles by his eyes. “Fewer capital letters over which to trip.”

As he spoke, the leaded door banged open and two men in chinos and shirtsleeves arrived, talking loudly to each other. The door swung again, just behind them, admitting a stream of ten more folks—both women and men, all clad in business casual. Some were more casual than others. One man with silvering hair actually wore a suit and tie; another, a white artist’s shirt, his blonde hair shoulder-length. The women’s garments, too, ran the gamut from tailored to flowing. One, of medium height, even wore a white blouse, navy blue skirt and jacket, finished with hose and pumps. And a priest’s collar.

“Conventioneers?” I asked Joseph. Even as I asked, I knew it didn’t make sense. No specific corporate culture was in evidence.

He laughed. “Nah. Conference people eat at the Blowy. Er, Breezy. Tranquility’s Chamber of Commerce meeting just let out.” His grey eyes danced. “They can never agree on anything, but their entertainment quotient is fairly high. And they drive each other to drink.”

Flying Crow Lesley shook his head.

Most of the new arrivals found tables in the center of the room. Seven of them scooted smaller tables together, others continued their conversations or arguments in pairs.

“Marta!” Joseph called, leaning through a door in the back wall beside the bar.

The curvy girl with the teal hair, nose and eyebrow rings and mega eye shadow clumped through. Her eyes widened when she saw the influx of patrons.

Joseph slid the grilled oysters with fennel butter in front of me. “Want anything else before the rush?” He indicated the well-stocked back bar.

“I’d better hold off. Just in case there’s a disaster and I end up having to drive the train.”

He nodded knowingly. “Good luck with that.”

I took out my phone, then re-pocketed it. I wanted a few more uncomplicated hours before re-entering the real world. Turning to my right, I found that Flying Crow had vanished. In his stead, several barstools down, sat a Scotsman in full regalia: kilt, Bonnie Prince Charlie jacket and a fly plaid. It was predominantly red with blue stripes.

Wow. Mohawk clan members, Scotsmen, and women priests in pantyhose. This was quite a town.

Joseph was looking at an order screen, and five drinks in different glasses were already lined up ready for Marta to deliver.

My phone buzzed. I checked caller i.d. Fought with myself. Answered.

Was grabbed by tentacles of the past.

When I looked up, filled with emotions I didn’t care to have, I decided I did need another drink; forget driving the train.

The line of waiting drink glasses was gone, as were Marta and Joseph.

I checked the time. I’d been in Underland for fifteen minutes, twenty at the most. It was just past three. I had maybe forty-five minutes before I should move on.

That was when Marta swung through the kitchen door, her head down to stave off the multiple calls from the center tables. She stood in front of me, punching information into the point of sale station, employing the NECTM—No Eye Contact Tactical Maneuver.

That’s when she told me Joseph was missing.

“Could he be in the restroom?”

“I asked Arthur when he came out, but he said there was nobody else.”

I nodded at Marta and started by going out through the front hall, to see if perhaps he’d met someone in the lobby. As I did a lap, I overheard a man at check-in ask, “Is it true the inn is haunted?”

“Do you want it to be?” asked the clerk, nonplussed.

But no sign of the bartender.

I swung back through into the woodsy-smelling darkness of the Battened Hatch, shook my head at the troubled waitress, then walked to the circular window in the door. The industrial kitchen was white and well-lit, and as large as it was, I could see straight through the shared kitchen to the Breezy. No sign of Joseph. I turned my attention back to the bar.

Beyond the bar, there was a hallway to the restrooms, and another wooden door that led outside. I looked back at Marta and nodded to the door.

“It doesn’t go anywhere,” she said. “It’s only a little smoker’s deck.”

I wondered if Joseph smoked, tobacco or otherwise. Certainly the arrival of most of a Chamber of Commerce would suggest it to me. I pushed on the wooden door. It seemed locked. I gave it one more try, and, though it didn’t open, it did budge a little bit.

This time I went at it with my full shoulder. There was a thud, and it wedged open enough that I could slip through.

It could hardly be called a deck. You couldn’t put a table—or even a lounge chair—out there.

Especially with the body taking up so much of the space.

It was Joseph. I knelt quickly and felt for a pulse at his neck, but it was clear he was inanimate. He was sitting up, although my pushing the door open had made him lean at an angle. I couldn’t tell if the look on his face was one of pain or surprise. There was some vomit beside him on the deck, and a rivulet down his chin. I felt embarrassed to be seeing him this way.

Crap. He was always nice to me. Well, during the half an hour I’d known him, he had been nice to me.

What was it with me discovering corpses? It was certainly a habit of which I had to break myself.

Meanwhile, what to do? Should I call in the priest? But she was within a group, and it would certainly start a panic. Call 911?

Yes, that would be good. That way they could decide to call the hospital or the police or both.

My phone was back in my purse.

And, you know what? I didn’t want the call to come from me. I was just passing through.

I pulled the door back open and walked to Marta behind the bar. “Call 911,” I said softly. “I found Joseph.”

It took the ambulance and the police five minutes to arrive. The paramedics went through first, then brought a gurney around outside so as to not freak out everyone in the hotel. They loaded Joseph on and sped off, in case there was anything to be done.

I knew there wasn’t.

The police, on the other hand, worked at securing the place which might become a crime scene. They blocked all the doorways and announced no one could leave.

I was still behind the bar with Marta. She was shaking.

“Give me another Scotch,” said the Scotsman seated there.

I looked at the bottles and was pleasantly surprised by the selection. “I think this calls for Black Maple Hill,” I said, only mildly surprised at my reflexive tendency to upsell. The Hill was a rich pour but not the absolute priciest.

He nodded. I poured.

I’m not sure if it was Marta’s tears, or the fact we weren’t allowed to leave, but local bigwigs had realized something was amiss.

“Excuse me,” the man in the suit came to the bar. “Someone said Joseph is dead.”

“Yes,” I said. “He does seem to be.”

Marta swung out of the kitchen, her eyeliner half down her face. “Art, these are your oysters,” she said to the man. He took them.

“So,” he continued, and I wondered what meaningful words he’d have to utter. “You’re pouring drinks?”

It took only a moment to realize that, were I the owner of this establishment, I’d find this a great opportunity.

“Seems so,” I said.

“What goes with oysters?” he asked.

That was a no-brainer. I’d spied the green bottle of absinthe while having my own meal. I poured about three tablespoons into the glass. I then opened a bottle of Prosecco, poured it, and waited for the milky cloud to form.

He took a sip, looked at me, and raised the glass. “If I want another of these, what do I ask for?”

As he asked, I realized I’d dispensed one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite libations. “Death in the Afternoon,” I replied.

He nodded and went back to his table.

It was then I realized I wasn’t going to make my train.

* *

Ernest Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon


3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) absinthe

1/2 to 3/4 cup (4 to 6 ounces) cold Champagne or sparkling wine


Hemmingway’s advice, circa 1935: “Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”

Chapter 2     No Known Address 

Since I found the body, I got to talk to the lead investigator.

He was in his mid-thirties, just under six feet, walnut skin, black hair cut short. He would have benefitted from a beard. He looked ripped; the king of ripped you got from taking out your frustrations in the gym. His demeanor was no-nonsense.

            “Investigator Spaulding,” he said, and he pulled out a notebook. “State Police.”

             “State Police? Isn’t that the same as State Troopers? Don’t you manage highways?”

He stopped writing in his small, leather-covered notebook and looked up.

             “Common misconception. The local P.D. is small—only 9 on staff. When something big happens, they ask for assistance.”

            “They ask?”

            “It’s a dance.”

            I wasn’t a suspect (yet), so he didn’t need to write down my stats, but I could read upside down as he made notes. He asked my name, and began guessing at the rest. Nash, Avalon. Female. Caucasian. Blonde hair. 5’7 was his guess at my height. The next thing he wrote down could go seriously south, so I said, “healthy weight.”

            He looked up.

“5’7” and at a healthy weight,” I supplied. “If I’m charged with something, we’ll get more specific.”


            Did he really need to know all of this? “Twenties,” I said, waiting to see if he’d have the gall to object. He didn’t.      

“Best way to reach you?”

            I gave him my cell number.

            “Permanent address?”

            “I don’t have one.”

            He looked up.

            “I’m in the process of moving from California to New York. I’m only in town to change trains. I don’t have a New York address yet.”

            “A relative’s address?”

            I held up my phone.  “This is your golden ticket,” I said. “If you want to reach me, this is it.”

            I saw him write ‘no known address.’ Yep, that pretty much summed it up. I glanced at my watch. Seven minutes until my train pulled into—and, soon after, departed from—the station.

            “Um, Detective,” I started.

           “Investigator Spaulding,” he corrected.

           “Investigator Spaulding, my train is about to arrive. I don’t know anything except what I’ve told you. I came in for a drink and helped Marta find the bartender, whom I hope died of a massive heart attack—well, of natural causes. You know what I mean.”

            At that point, his phone buzzed and he gave me a just-a-minute finger. He answered, listened for a while, and started to write. Then he hung up, flipped his notebook shut and said, “I can’t let you leave. He was murdered.”

            “Great,” I said, the tone somewhere between rueful and intrigued, as I headed back toward Marta, then I turned back toward Investigator Spaulding. “Can I continue to pour drinks?”

            He considered less than a moment. “By all means, serve truth serum to anyone who will imbibe.”

            Then he turned and walked toward the other officers.

            I went to stand with Marta behind the bar. In my imagination, I heard the train chug in across the street.

            Investigator Spaulding cleared his throat, and the room went silent. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “This is now a homicide investigation.” He had to pause as everyone shuffled or gasped, or cried out. “Please do not leave until we have taken your statement.”

            A woman in her fifties came and sat down in front of me at the bar. Her hair was in a no-fuss bob, she wore a free-flowing skirt with a linen jacket, both of which were in style twenty years ago, but they worked on her. “Got anything stronger than those Death things?” she asked. “I’m not big on Champagne.”

            “Sure.” I said. I sized her up. “Layers in a martini glass work for you?”

            “Honey, it’s the strength, not the glass.” She looked shaken and sad. I went for the rums and found Malibu Black, the stronger brother of the original. What a bartender Joseph must have been! I decided to try something new. Malibu Black, mango pineapple vodka, and pineapple juice. I mixed it over ice, shook, and poured. I sank some Chambord and topped it with Jägermeister Spice.

            “See if this does it,” I said.

            Her hand shook slightly as she held up the glass, appreciated the layers, and then took a sip. The jury was out. She took another. She nodded and smiled.

            It occurred to me that everyone in the room knew Joseph. They’d lost one of their own.

            Another woman in skinny white pants and a white shell with a fancy pink sports jacket came and sat next to her. They were about the same age, if I had to guess, but the new woman was thin as a rail, muscular, and with her blonde hair in a ponytail. I was guessing she colored her hair not from a darker shade, but to cover the white. The two women embraced. “Suzanne,” said the new arrival.

            “Gillian,” said no-fuss-bob Suzanne. Then, “Can’t believe it.”

            “I can’t, either,” replied hard-bodied Gillian. She had the remains of an Eastern European accent. They sat a respectful moment. “What are you drinking?”

            Suzanne looked at me. “No Known Address,” I said.

            “Okay,” Gillian said. “I’ll have one.” She then turned and I was dismissed to my task.

“I can’t believe it. One of the only straight, available guys between forty and crotchety, and he’s gone!” said Suzanne.

            “There’s Mike,” Gillian said, tilting her head toward the state police investigator. “And I’m not sure Joseph was available.”

            “First, really? Maybe if he worked out. Second, you or I crook our little fingers and get a guy away from Sophie.” They both looked back, shooting daggers toward one of the three women in the center wall booth. I knew which must be Sophie, as one of them was crying copiously while the other two petted her solicitously.

“And do we have a suspect?” asked pink jacket Gillian.

            This time, they looked at a younger woman who sat at a table with two newly arrived Chamber men. She was gorgeous—skin the color of chai latte and hair as dark as a sky at new moon. She was staring off into space.

            I almost said, “You know I can hear you.”  But maids, taxi drivers, and bartenders… well, we’re invisible, which is partly how we get the good gossip.

            They stopped talking abruptly as two men approached. “Can we get some food?” asked the first. He was in a polo and navy blue slacks.

            I heard snuffling and saw that Marta was in the shadows, leaning back against the wall. “Hey,” I said, “would you ask the chef if we can continue to order food?”

            She nodded and swung through the kitchen door.

            Arthur, the man in the suit who had ordered earlier, accompanied the newcomer in the polo. Arthur addressed his companion in an audible hiss. “I’m telling you… we can’t let word of this get out. Tranquility has to be considered a safe haven. For everyone. For…the festival folks. It’s part of what lures them here. Change of pace.”

            “How do we not let the word get out? It’s a matter of record! And everyone in town knows about it—or will, within minutes.”

            From the furious pace of thumbs texting throughout the room, it was clear he was correct.

            “I mean, don’t print this as front-page news.”

            “It is front page news, Art. And, the film festival folks are already committed. They’ve submitted their films. They’ll come.”

            Marta returned with a positive nod. I slapped down two menus. “Marta will be out to take your order,” I said. As they turned, I added. “And if it’s a film festival, you don’t need to worry. Film people eat news like this for breakfast.”

            Arthur looked at me in surprise, but gave a raised-eyebrows look that inferred I could have a point.

            They left with the menus and I turned back to Marta, trying to help get her mind on something other than her boss’s death.  “Can you help me add these drinks to people’s tabs?” I nodded toward the POS.

            For the record, I hate point of sale machines. Each one hates humans in its own unique way. I pointed at people and she pulled up their tabs and showed me how to input the drinks I’d served.

            I only had the Scotsman’s tab left undone when the man in the artist’s shirt stopped right before me. He was likely late 40s and had a face that was long but not unattractive. His shoulders were unusually broad, and he exuded self-confidence and a self-trained impishness. His shirt had one too many buttons left undone.

            “Okay,” he said, “I wasn’t going to drink, but Joe…”

            “You weren’t going to drink because it’s late afternoon, or because you’ve been sober for seven months?” I had no interest in tipping someone off the wagon.

            He laughed. “I haven’t been drinking because this isn’t my favorite crowd,” he said. “And I don’t usually drink. But murder seems an excuse, if there ever was one.” He extended his hand. “Michael Michel,” he said, and smiled, waggling his eyebrows as if this should mean something to me.

            I took his hand and shook. It was apparent I didn’t recognize him.

            “The Painter Who Brings You Home,” he said, and the trademark practically bled from the words.

            “Right,” I said, trying to sound impressed. “Nice to meet you. I’m Avalon. What’ll ya have?”

            “Vodka tonic lime.”

            “Care which vodka?”

            He shook his head while saying, “Whatever you’ve got. Grey Goose.”

            Ah, a fellow who pretended not to drink, who knew exactly what he wanted.

            I poured and went for the garnish tray. The limes were gone. I looked at the back bar and found lemons and oranges. No limes, though clearly there had been some. I walked along the front bar and found, below patron eye level, a small cutting board with a lime on it. The lime was half-cut, some of them in rounds, a few in quarters. Some juice was dripping down onto the floor.

I reached for a wedge, and then I stopped short.

Joseph never would have left this on purpose. It was obviously what he’d been doing when he was interrupted by death—or someone who led him to his death. Or by symptoms that eventually spelled death.

I leaned down and sniffed.

It was lime-y. But there was something else, also.

I backed away.  I walked over to Marta and said, quietly, “Don’t let anyone near that end of the bar.”

Then I walked over to Investigator Spaulding, where he sat at a booth interviewing someone. “Investigator?” I said. “Sorry to interrupt, but this is important.”

He looked at me, squinting, then seemed surprised, since I’d made such a point of being Ms. Just-Passing-Through.       

He stood up and stepped away from the booth.
            “I believe I’ve found the murder weapon,” I said.

As we walked together, I realized that the door to the smoker’s porch sat open. It was crawling with half a dozen or so more crime scene people.

            Together we walked to the limes. I said, “Don’t touch them. If this is what Joseph was doing when he died, if they are poisoned, my guess is that the poison can be absorbed through the skin.”

            Investigator Spaulding looked at me like, Of course I knew that, but he stepped back. As another officer and two crime scene investigators came over, I backed away, removing myself as far as possible from the action.

            I returned to the Artist Shirt. “I think today we’re going with a lemon and a cherry,” I said. I smelled them before putting them in the drink.

            It struck me then that perhaps Joseph hadn’t been the intended target. Maybe there was someone who consistently ordered a drink garnished with lime, and the murderer had injected the poison into the lime, not realizing it could be absorbed as well as ingested.

            Like, for instance, the man before me, Mr. Vodka Tonic Lime.

            Still, this was a pretty non-specific way of poison delivery. The limes could have been served to half a dozen people before anyone realized they were toxic. Who would do something like that?

            The police were letting people go once they had been interviewed. I asked Investigator Spaulding if I could go. He nodded, adding, “Please stay in town until tomorrow morning, in case we have any further questions.”

As if I had a choice. All the trains had gone, except the 11 p.m. to Montreal.

            The bar had been sealed off with crime-scene tape, a welcome relief as I didn’t relish closing a dead man’s station on the night of his murder. Why would I even think that? I didn’t work here. But my need to leave a bar in pristine condition ran down to bone and marrow.

As I headed for my bag, which I’d left on my original stool, I saw I wouldn’t even be allowed to access the POS machine.

            The only patron whose drink I hadn’t input was the man in the kilt. I looked around the emptying room to find he’d moved to a pub table over to the side. “Sorry, sir,” I said. “I wasn’t able to enter your drinks into the machine. I guess you’re on the honor system to pay up another day.”

He gave a small smile. “Lass,” he said, “I’m Glenn MacTavish. Owner of this place. Seems I’m out a bartender and will be needing another. You have any interest?” he asked.  

I stopped and stared. “There’s really a MacTavish?” I asked.

            “Aye, and you’re looking at him.”

            “But… you don’t know anything about me.”

            “You keep a clear head and you know what you’re doin’. That’s all I really need to know. Besides, you don’t know anything about me, either.”

            “I, well—thank you for the offer. It’s a beautiful bar. Can I think on it overnight? I’ve been told not to leave town.”

            “Aye,” he said. “You can tell me in the mornin’ if you might be stayin.’ And while you’re decidin’, I could pay you for your services tonight with a room here at the hotel.”

             That seemed fair. The Hotel Tonight app was offering me a room at a local chain. Staying at MacTavish’s Seaside Cottage for free seemed infinitely more attractive.  “All right,” I said. “I should probably let you know they’re expecting me in New York City.”

            “All right,” he said. “I should probably let you know Joseph isn’t the first bartender to work here who’s been murdered.”

No Known Address


½ oz. Malibu black

 2 dashes Chambord 

½ oz. mango pineapple vodka

2 dashes Jägermeister Spice

1 oz. pineapple juice



Shake pineapple vodka, Malibu Black and pineapple juice over ice and strain evenly into martini glasses.

Sink a dash of Chambord into each flute by running it down the side of the glass.

Layer a dash of Jägermeister Spice in each glass.

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20 colorSharon Linnea is the bestselling author of the Eden Thrillers (Chasing Eden, Beyond Eden, Treasure of Eden & Plagues of Eden) with co-author B.K. Sherer, following the adventures of Army chaplain Jaime Richards. She is also the author of the Movie Murder Mystery These Violent Delights, and the YA spy thriller Domino 29 (as Axel Avian). Sharon wrote the Carter Woodson Award-winning biography, Princess Ka’iulani: Hope of a Nation, Heart of a People, and Raoul Wallenberg: The Man Who Stopped Death.  She enjoys visiting book clubs virtually and in person.

Visit Her Author Website


SO BEWARE by James Hockenberry


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SO BEWARE BOOK COVER_Final from TonyChapter 1   The Last Day

 The Western Front, Meuse-Argonne Sector, France: November 11, 1918

05:00: “Gil, wake up! Now!” Captain Gilbert Martin of Army Military Intelligence recognized the voice — Lieutenant Paul Keller, his longtime friend and assistant. Martin, alert and focused despite his all-night trek from Allied headquarters, lifted himself from his cot in the basement of an abandoned church. After eight months near the front, he was accustomed to crises, but he had not expected problems today.

“Paul, what’s wrong?” Martin grabbed his boots from under the bed. He trusted Keller with his life. “What in God’s name is it? The war’s almost over.” The armistice between Germany and the Allies was to take effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Six hours away.

“Not yet. The general’s sent the reserves up.” In General Donald Prescott’s part of the line, American troops had assembled in their forward positions. They were about to fight for ground the armistice would grant them for free a few hours later, a senseless waste of blood. “All hell’s about to break loose. We’re preparing to — ”

The deafening barrage of American artillery commenced. The explosions rattled Martin’s eardrums. “What did you say?” Martin hollered.

“Prescott has ordered an attack,” Keller yelled back.

“He’s not that stupid.”

“I was on forward watch. I saw the build-up.”

The artillery fire intensified. Martin cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled. “I have to stop him.” They rushed to their motorcycle outside the church. Keller, the fastest driver in the division, grabbed the handlebars and started it up. Martin hopped on the back, and Keller skidded away, kicking dirt behind him. They were at Prescott’s division headquarters in five minutes. General Pershing, the Commanding General of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), had assigned Martin and Keller to Prescott. Pershing said he trusted their judgment. Prescott called them Pershing’s spies.

Martin and Keller smoothed their uniforms. Prescott was adamant about neatness. Martin marched into the general’s tent with as much authority as he could muster. Keller followed. Prescott’s aides stood aside and let the intelligence officers through. Everyone liked and respected Martin, and they had witnessed Keller’s fearless aggression when provoked. The general, concentrating on his maps, did not look up.

Martin walked right up to the general and saluted. “Excuse me, General. May I have a word?”

Prescott glared at him. “How dare you barge in like this. Leave.”

Martin maintained his best parade-ground posture. “Permission to speak freely, General.” The request sounded like a demand.

“Denied.” Prescott looked back at his maps. He smelled like cigar smoke and expensive Parisian soap.

Keller stepped back and stood at attention with clenched teeth. Martin advanced one step and pointed to Prescott’s maps. “Listen, General.”

Prescott’s chief of staff backed away as if he expected an eruption.

The general’s bristly white hair stood at attention. His barrel chest puffed out. “Get out of my way.”

“General Prescott, this is slaughter,” Martin said grimly.

“Go to Hell. I don’t care who you report to. I’m going to give those Fritzes a final kick in the balls.”

Martin understood why Prescott’s staff called him Iron Head. “For Christ’s sake. Hasn’t there been enough killing? For what? A field we can walk across like it’s Central Park in a few hours.” Martin knew all too personally the value of human life. “Show some mercy.”

“You’re wrong, Captain. We’ve got these bastards on the ropes. I want to kill as many as I can. I’d march to Berlin if I could.”

“But we’ve won,” Keller said.

“Another word out of you, Lieutenant, and I’ll have you court-martialed.”

Prescott’s icy stare failed to intimidate Martin. “I’m calling AEF headquarters.” He turned and walked away.

“Stop,” Prescott yelled. “That’s an order. Sergeant, remove these officers. Keep them under guard until we finish the attack.” The sergeant and a burly corporal pulled their Colt .45 semi-automatic pistols and pointed them at Martin and Keller.

On their way out of the tent, Prescott’s chief of staff approached them. “Come with me.” As he escorted them away, he whispered to Martin, “Sorry.”

“Glory will be mine at last!” Prescott shouted behind them.

Once outside, Keller paced. Martin lit up a Camel and smoked it in seconds. His next one went just as fast. The chief of staff returned to the tent. The sergeant looked on apologetically. Minutes later, the barrage stopped and Martin heard distant whistles and yells from the front lines. The inevitable machine gun and rifle fire began to chatter.

“Shit.” Keller kicked the ground.

“I failed.” Martin shook with rage.

The wounded began to flow back from the front lines. Sick of the butchery, Martin prayed for these men with deep sorrow. The last American soldiers were dying in the war.

11:01: Shouts of joy erupted from both lines. Martin and Keller followed General Prescott and his senior officers and staff into no-man’s land. Half-way across, Prescott stepped into a mud hole. He ordered a staff officer to wipe off his boots while everyone waited.

This walk was unlike any other Martin had made across a battlefield. Except for the cries of the wounded, it was so quiet he could hear his timepiece tick. No machine guns, no shells bursting, no confused orders. But some things had not changed. A nine-inch rat ran across his feet with something in its mouth. Another chewed on the face of a soldier blown apart at the waist. Martin was not sure if the man was American or German. The smell of cordite, decaying flesh, and onions filled his nose. He wondered if this field would ever yield crops again.

Martin reached for another Camel. Smoking was his one solace. Since he had landed in France, he had smoked two packs a day. When the war had started, the army transferred Martin and Keller’s entire police unit, New York City’s elite Bomb Squad, into military intelligence. That was almost a year ago, an eternity. His lungs were still recovering from exposure to poison gas two summers ago, and his doctors had told him to stop smoking. Die now or die later — what difference would it make? Nothing at home to go back to. He had expected to be buried in France.

Martin surveyed the field. He estimated the attack had cost more than forty American casualties. Stretcher bearers continued to carry the wounded back to the field station. A soldier with a Red Cross band around his arm picked up human remains too small to be identifiable and dumped them into a sack. Martin had seen death up close as a New York policeman, but the killing in this war was beyond his comprehension. Industrial murder. He longed to go away. Someplace quiet. Someplace where he could forget.

They followed General Prescott to the German position. The Germans in their tattered gray uniforms stood weaponless. “Bavarians,” Keller said when he saw their uniform markings. Although defeated, they looked tough and proud. A one-armed German major stepped forward and saluted crisply. He offered Prescott his Luger. The general grabbed it and pushed him aside. “Where is your commanding officer?”

Keller translated. The German major replied. Keller turned to Prescott. “They’re all dead, General. Major von Ohlmann here was ordered here last week to take command of this sector.”

Prescott grumbled and shouted orders. Keller and von Ohlmann talked for a few minutes. Martin understood enough German to know that Keller had softened Prescott’s orders. Keller turned to Prescott. “These men are hungry, General. Can we bring some food over to their lines?”

“Don’t give these bastards a damned thing,” Prescott said.

“General, I apologize for saying this, but Major von Ohlmann is from a long line of Prussian officers,” Keller said. “He’s an honorable man and deserves respect.”

“He’s lucky I don’t shoot him.” Prescott looked around and seemed bored. “I’m done here. You so-called intelligence officers can do what you want. You will anyway, Lieutenant.” Prescott instructed his master sergeant to supervise the collection of German weapons. He told a corporal to remain with Martin and Keller and left with his staff.

After he was gone, von Ohlmann approached Keller. “Am I to understand you are intelligence officers?”

“Yes. We are part of General Pershing’s staff, not his.” Keller nodded his head toward Prescott.

Gut. Then, may I speak to you and your captain in private?” the major asked, looking suspiciously at the American corporal standing nearby.

“Of course. Where?”

Von Ohlmann pointed to his command bunker behind a series of communications trenches. The three men walked there in silence followed by the corporal. Three times von Ohlmann looked behind him. Martin followed his eyes to a German sergeant with a red arm band and a curious stare who never took his eyes off them.

“Corporal Wasek, please stand guard outside,” Martin ordered. He, Keller, and the German major descended several steps into a 10 x 12 foot bunker. Three layers of stout timbers formed the roof, which was reinforced with layers of sandbags. Keller had to bend down to enter. It smelled of sweat, human waste, and turnips. Two sagging cots, a small table, and a chair were the only furniture. Rats moved unmolested. A dim light completed the bleakness. Von Ohlmann looked nervous but said in good English. “We can speak freely now.” His voice was dry. “You noticed that my men are Bavarian, did you not?” Von Ohlmann swallowed hard and stopped. He looked at the entrance to the bunker.

“Is something wrong?” Keller asked.

“Go on,” Martin said. “We’re alone.”

Obviously distraught, von Ohlmann looked toward the entrance again.

“We’re safe,” Martin said. “That corporal is a good soldier. I know him.”

Von Ohlmann breathed deeply and said in a low voice, “I love Germany, but these Bavarians, they are not German. They are traitors.” He squeezed his fist so hard his knuckles whitened. “You must tell General Pershing this. It is critical.”

“What?” Martin and Keller both said.

“The junior officers. They are planning a coup. They want to break Bavaria away from Germany and make it Communist. That would be a catastrophe. You must stop them!”

Martin heard a faint gasp outside, the sound of a man falling, and footsteps. A shot went off. Von Ohlmann grabbed his chest and slumped to the ground. Martin and Keller reached for their .45s and dived for cover. In the confined bunker, Martin looked up and saw the German sergeant with the red arm band in the entrance. He fired two more bullets from his Luger, but they missed. Martin’s return shot bored into his heart.

Keller examined the assassin, while Martin tended to von Ohlmann. His dying words were, “The German Revolution has begun.”

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DSC_4043James Hockenberry, a career financial executive, has redirected his life to suspense writing with his award winning “World War One Intrigue” trilogy. The change has allowed him to interweave three of his long-time passions: history, literature, and his German-American roots. Over Here, the first novel is set in 1915-1916 and dramatizes the little known but extensive German sabotage campaign in New York. The sequel, So Beware, is set in 1919, portrays the events and turmoil of the climatic Paris Peace talks and German revolutions. He is working on his third book, Send the Word (scheduled for publication in 2019), set in 1918 which will focus on the U.S. military experience in the Great War and the U.S. home front. His books are character-driven, page-turning thrillers, grounded in exacting research. Both Over Here and So Beware have won a silver award from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association (FAPA), and So Beware was a finalist in the Book Excellence Awards competition.

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BAR NONE by Cathi Stoler

bar noneChapter One

Somebody had to do it and that somebody was me. The Corner Lounge was my bar and cutting fruit was my job. Even the satisfying heft of the big steel blade slicing through soft skin and pliant flesh like a guillotine chopping off a head didn’t make a difference. Cutting fruit was a horrible job, and I hated it. I had bags of it to get through. Mounds of oranges, lemons and limes all needing the deft touch of my knife to turn them into a pile of colorful wedges and curls destined to garnish Margaritas, Cosmopolitans, Martinis and the like. All so they could finally disappear in the garbage with the toss of a wrist. Work that left me with nicked fingers still stinging hours later. Really, it was a lost cause. One that I got to repeat every day.

It was ironic when you thought about it, given that my name was Jude. I couldn’t imagine what my parents could have been thinking, well, my Catholic school-reared mom that was. Did she believe saddling her baby girl with the name of the saint people call on when all else fails, when they’re desperate, when they literally might not have a leg to stand on, would trick fate and keep me safely out of harm’s way?

I had to say it didn’t work out exactly according to plan. Not with life, so far, or for my bar and restaurant either. The Corner Lounge wasn’t a lost cause; it just seemed that way sometimes. Like when I tried to keep my partner happy, the tables full and my creditors at bay.

I loved the bar business, really I did, and I was pretty good at it. When I opened The Lounge, I had a vision of a comfortable, friendly spot where people could hang out at the bar, get a good meal and listen to some live music on the weekends. A vision? Okay, maybe a bit of that St. Jude vibe did rub off on me. After all, everyone needed a little help now and again, right? Especially when three o’clock rolled around and it was time to cut fruit. I usually had company while I performed this chore, my buddy Sully, who occupied his favorite bar stool while I got the place ready for business. Today he was a no-show. Now, where was St. Jude when I needed him?

After I finished my cutting chores and the fruits of my labor were stored in the covered containers at my station and at the service bar on the other end, I moved on to the rest of my daily pre-opening tasks. Next up was checking the bottles on the back bar and in the speed rack and replacing the empties while Jimmy, my barman, brought up ice and new kegs from the basement for our beers on tap.

When all of the booze was accounted for, it was time to wipe down my beautiful carved wood and brass bar extravagance. It held pride of place in The Lounge and I’d designed my décor around it.

The back bar was fashioned from a series of antique mirrors supporting glass shelves and lit with pin lights that showcased our premium brands of vodka, tequila, gin, rum, whisky and Scotch as well as the more trendy spirit offerings. I’d had the walls painted a soft, pearl gray with randomly placed hand-rubbed streaks of silver that cast a subtle shimmery glow over the space. The room was finished with a mix of plush gray, high-backed banquettes with sleek black tables and soft post-modern floor lamps and sconces that made The Lounge feel just different enough to be cool, yet comfortable enough to make my customers want to linger for a while.

Sully walked in just as I finished polishing the bar before the after-work crowd arrived for the five to seven Corner Lounge Social Hour.

“You’re late. My fruit and I missed you.” I tossed him an errant lemon that had escaped the block. Sully caught it and sat down on his stool—the corner one nearest the window—and I reached for the bottle of Jameson behind me. “What kept you?” I poured a good measure of the Irish into a rocks glass and placed it on a coaster in front of him.

“Had to stay late at Big City.” He was referring to his place of business, the Big City Food Coop. “One of the trucks conked out just as it pulled in after the late deliveries. I waited with the driver until the mechanic showed up. It’s always something.”

Sully was in charge of deploying the trucks and vans that transported the Food Coop’s largess from its base at the Hunt’s Point Terminal in the Bronx to points all across the city. It was a volunteer job, but he did it with a precision and perseverance that bore witness to his former days in the Marines. To hear him tell it, no needy, hungry person in the five boroughs would get fed without him. He drove his beat-up old Toyota up to the Bronx five days a week like clockwork. Sully’d been doing it for a few years now and, despite his grousing about the admin, obviously thrived on it.

As he picked up his drink and took a sip, his cell beeped. “Work. He pushed the button to answer it. “See what I mean.”

I moved down the bar to give him privacy while he spoke then returned a few minutes later when he clicked off and noticed the look of irritation on his face. “Trouble?” I tilted my head toward the now quiet phone.

“Could be. One of the guys in accounting, Ed Molina, asked if he could meet tonight to talk. Wants to discuss something important he discovered in the office.” Sully toyed with his glass. “Said he just missed me this afternoon and it’s important he see me.” He shook his head. “He sounded nervous, scared even. I tried to get him to tell me what’s on his mind, but he insisted we meet in person.” He checked his watch. “He’s driving down from the Bronx and coming to the apartment a little later. I need you to do me a favor.” Sully knocked back the rest of his drink. “I’ve got to go down to Saint Ann’s and see Aunt Mary tonight. It’s her ninety-second birthday.”

Sully’d been taking care of his mom’s sister for a while and tried to visit her whenever he could. St. Ann’s Home was downtown a little ways on the end of Grand Street.

“What do you need?”

“I told Ed to stop in here and you’d give him my key so he could let himself in if he gets here before I get back.” He took his key ring out of his pocket, removed his house key and handed it to me. “I should be home by eight, but if I’m not, he can wait upstairs.” He turned his glass upside down on the coaster and rapped his knuckles on the bar, signaling he was finished—something he’d done ever since I’d known him. “Ed sounded really antsy. So be nice, okay?”

“Sure, but do you trust this guy?” I studied Sully’s face for a sign. “He’s not just looking to make trouble?” Every business had its malcontents and maybe this Ed was one of them. If not, what could be going on at the Food Coop that could be so dire?

“Yeah, I do, which is why I’ve got to hear what he has to say.”

I nodded in sympathy and tried to keep my skepticism out of my voice. “Alright. Stop in after he leaves and let me know what’s going on. I’ll buy you a night cap.”

He walked away from the bar and a shiver passed through me like someone had just walked on my grave. Sully reached the door, turned around and looked straight at me, almost as if he felt it too.

CLICK HERE to buy the book and keep reading!

BAR NONE is available at Amazon, B&N and fine booksellers everywhere.

stoler authorCathi Stoler is an award-winning author. Her new Urban Thriller, BAR NONE, A Murder on the Rocks Mystery, featuring The Corner Lounge bar owner, Jude Dillane, will be published this October by Clay Stafford Books. A new series, with Blackjack player, Nick Donahue, includes the novel OUT OF TIME, and the novella, NICK OF TIME. Both will be published next year by Black Opal Books. She is also the author of the three volume Laurel & Helen New York Mystery series, which includes TELLING LIES, KEEPING SECRETS and THE HARD WAY, and a three time finalist, and winner of the 2015 Derringer for Best Short Story, “The Kaluki Kings of Queens”. Very involved in the crime writing world,  Cathi serves as Co-Vice President of Sisters in Crime New York/Tri-State, and is a member of Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers.
Connect with Cathi at:





Twitter: @cathistoler

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CHASING EDEN by Sharon Linnéa and B.K. Sherer


April 8, 2003, 4:05 a.m.    10 Kilometers south of Tallil, Southern Iraq

Adara Dunbar opened her eyes to find herself floating in a world gone brown. The air shimmered and folded in on itself in constantly moving circles. Nothing stayed solid. Where was she?

She clawed at thoughts to catch hold of them, but they, too, darted past her, spinning out of control. It was disconcerting, the effort needed to lay claim to some shred of her identity, of her surroundings.

Then she moved slightly and with the tearing pain in her abdomen came a shock of lucidity. She had been shot. She had been captured. She was on a cot, in a tent.

There had been a man in the black robes of the Fedayeen, Saddam Hussein’s trained assassins. He had a sharp nose and a black beard, shaved close. But his eyes were what she remembered. They were violet. In a woman, they might have been beautiful. In his face, they blazed hatred. He had asked her questions. He had delighted in causing her pain.

She stirred again, and the tent walls seemed to fall in on her. She closed her eyes quickly, but the world did not stop spinning. And her stomach lurched as well, vomit rising in her throat. Suddenly her nausea and confusion made sense.

She had been drugged. That was the only answer.

For the first time, she panicked.

What had she said?

Adara opened her eyes again to see where the guards were. She was alone in this tent with the cot, but she could see shadows against the walls of the larger tent adjoining hers. How many were there? Four? Six? She could hear low mutterings in Arabic.

“God help me,” she whisphered. “Give me wisdom. Give me strength.”

She was a messenger, delivering the most important information of her life. It concerned safeguarding the secret that had shaped mankind for millennia–and, most likely, the real reason for the war that had started days before.

How had these men found her? Where had their information come from? How had they gotten this close?

She reached under the black hijab, the head scarf that also covered her neck. With great relief, she felt the small silver chain still there, the pendant still intact.

There was no question, she had to deliver the message.

Her hand was sticky and as she held it up, she saw it dripping with blood. She tried to move to ascertain the extent of her injuries, but the pain of even a small shift caused a sharp intake of breath. She did not want to call attention to the fact that she was conscious. Why was no guard left here with her?

She forced herself up, pushed the wine-colored fabric of the robe from her right side–and she knew. She had been left for dead.

From outside, a new voice was heard, shockingly loud, striking nonchalant. “Muleskinner One Two, this is Rock Three November. Over.”

The American accent was dead-on. He repeated, “Muleskinner One Two, this is Rock Three November. Over.”

The response came over the crackle of a radio: “Rock Three November, this is Muleskinner One Two. Over.”

The new voice was female. It was familiar.

“I have been tasked to relay the following message from Muleskinner Six. Break. Be advised, a ROM site has been established along MSR Falcon. Break. Are you prepared to copy grids? Over.”

“Ready to copy.”

And with those three words, Adara knew. She had given them the name of her backup.

The man outside her tent continued. “Proceed along MSR Falcon to grid Papa Victor 17771667. How copy?”

“I copy Lima Charlie. Thanks for the relay. If you are in contact with Muleskinner Five, tell him we should arrive in about three zero mikes. Over.”

It was Jaime. The sound of her voice sent Adara reeling back into Dr. Hayden’s History of World Religions class. An unusually hot September day in Princeton, Professor Hayden’s hair flaring from his head like leaping sunspots. The two women sat next to each other. They had formed a bond the first day of class, the only students actually paying attention in what was obviously a beyond-boring required course for the majority of their classmates.

“Muleskinner One Two, Rock Three November. Wilco. Out.”

She had led them to Jaime Richards. She had as good as arranged the ambush; she had signed Jaime’s death certificate.

With an incredible act of will, Adara held up her right arm. It was bare; the bracelet was gone. Hot tears crowded her eyes.

Short of a miracle, her mission had failed completely.

If there was one thing she had learned in her short life, it was that there was little use in waiting for miracles. Sometimes you had to create them yourself.


April 8, 2003  4:22 a.m.    Highway 1 (Route Tornado)  12 kilometers south of Tallil, Southern Iraq

The first sign of trouble was a jolt to the Humvee. The vehicle continued another few paces, but it was slightly rocking, like a man with a limp. Chaplain (Major) Jaime Richards hit the brake and pushed the gear stick into park. “What now?” she muttered.

Before the question was completed, her chaplain assistant, Staff Sergeant Alejandro Ramon Benito Rodriguez, was on the ground, searching for the cause of the problem. The other five vehicles in their small convoy saw their predicament and rolled to a halt in the darkness of the barren landscape.

Jaime got out as Sergeant Moore, a tall black man–a good six feet to her five foot seven–climbed out of the lead vehicle and joined them. “What happened?”

“It looks like we ran over a small bale of concertina buried in the dust,” Rodriguez said as he grabbed a battery-powered work light from the back of the Humvee. Concertina was the Army’s improvised version of barbed wire. It was stronger, with razorlike barbs that could  easily slice through clothes–or flesh.

“Damn,” said Sergeant Moor, sighting the left rear tire. “That’s wound around that wheel tighter than a ball of yarn!”

Jaime pushed at the Kevlar helmet over her plaited blonde hair and stifled a sigh. So what else could go wrong? She was in the headquarters of the 57th Corps Support Group, whose mission it was to support units in the Fifth (V) Corps with essential supplies such as water, ammunition, and fuel. V Corps had entered Iraq frst and had already secured camps in Tallil and other towns that dotted the way to Baghdad.

Jaime was with the CSG Headquarters, which had headed out at noon yesterday, April 7.

Everything had gone well until one of the Humvees in her unit had broken down and the mechanics had tried to fix it so that it could move under its own power. All fine and good, but that meant they’d been stuck on the side of the road for hours. Once they’d started moving again, a sandstorm had kicked up, slowing their pace at times to a crawl.

The little six-vehicle convoy had no way of locating the rest of their unit until they received the radio message twenty minutes earlier. They must be within radio range, and that was good news.

It seemed they’d been out of the sandstorm and moving with purpose for an entire five minutes before they hit concertina. What else could go wrong?

Rodgriguez crawled under the Humvee on his back, switched on the work light, and started pushing against the wire with his boots. Moore shook his head. “You’ll never get that off by yourself.”

But the compact staff sergeant was absorbed in his task. Jaime could see in an instant that Moore was right. There was good reason the soldiers referred to concertina as barbed wire on steroids. It was thick and nasty and could easily have fallen off any passing truck. “We’ll need help,” she said. “Why don’t you continue to the ROM site with the rest of the convoy and see if they have a wrecker there? We’re only one klick from the turnoff point.”

A Refuel on the Move site, or ROM, was the Army’s version of a mobile gas station. According to the transmission, they were less than one mile from the turnoff for the ROM established by their own soldiers.

“Yes, ma’am. But we should leave another vehicle here with you.” Sergeant Moore thought for a second. “Specialist Houghton has an automatic weapon, so I’ll leave his vehicle, Headquarters 15, here with you, and the rest of us will head for the refuel site.”

“Here. Take my GPS. I have the ROM site programmed in.” Jaime offered him her personal handheld global positioning system. It was the only one in their convoy.

Moore took it gratefully. “What about you?”

“You’re sending a vehicle back, right? We’ll be fine.”

“OK. Keep a guard posted at all times. There are still pockets of reistance in Tallil”

“Already done…look.” She pointed toward Private First Class Patterson, an 18-year-old white female from Kentucky, who had hitched a ride in their Humvee. She stood five meters from them, intently scanning the countryside, her weapon ready to fire.

Even as the chaplain pointed, she noticed that Patterson’s silhouette on the dark desert landscape was losing definition. Another sandstorm was kicking up. Just what they needed.

When will I learn? she chided herself. Never, but never, wonder what else can go wrong. You’ll invariably get the answer.

Seargent Moore was moving back up the line, instructing drivers as he went. Headquarters 15, Specialist Houghton’s vehicle, pulled out of the line and circled back toward them. The other four, three Humvees and an ambulance, roared forward on the road.

“Any luck?” Jaime asked, squatting down by Rodriguez. What he lacked in height he easily made up for in muscle and sheer determination. He didn’t answer but kept resolutely kicking at the encumbering wire. Jaime opened her door and found her work gloves. She squinted at the wire and gingerly tried to find a handhold from above. It wasn’t easy. Concertina would slice through ordinary work gloves like a steak knife through watermelon. But she continued to try. There was little chance they could actually free the wheel without a wrecker, but it was better to give an effort than just wait.

Rodriguez shifted back out from below the vehicle. “I think I saw some wire cutters,” he said and shifted his search to the back of the Humvee. He turned around with a small pair of cutters and a grin on his face.

They squatted together and he tried to come up under the concertina with the tool, but there was no way the small clamps could even make a dent. “I guess that’s what makes this stuff so effective,” he sighed.

Suddenly the sound of gunshots–small-arms fire–tore through the darkness. As they leapt to their feet, the sky erupted in light as flares exploded over a hill about two hundred meters away. Another round of shooting was answered, this time with something larger.

“Tallil?” asked Rodriguez.

“No, it’s too close for Tallil.”

Jaime strode to Private Patterson, also fully alert, watching the flares set off by the military to reveal the attackers in the distance. The young soldier held her rifle with a combination of enthusiasm and nerves.

“I’m ready, ma’am,” she said.

The chaplain turned and stalked toward their second vehicle. “Houghton?” she asked.

Specialist Randy Houghton was on the ground, his automatic weapon in position. “I see it, Chaplain. It doesn’t sound like they’re heading this way. Yet.”

“I hope you’re right.”

The next round of flares illuminated an ever-thicker swirl of sand. Jaime knew her immediate objective was to get out of any potential line of fire. As a non-combatant, she wasn’t even carrying a sidearm. She did, however, have her own security detail in the person of her chaplain assistant. She came behind the truck and was startled to find Rodriguez on his feet, looking off into the desert in the opposite direction.

“Chaplain?” he said.

She squinted, dismayed by the quickening intensity of the sandstorm. The whistle of the wind was picking up as well. What was he looking at? Why wasn’t his weapon drawn?

Then she saw it–a shape moving in the darkness. She turned to make certain that Rodriguez had his weapon ready and was shocked to find him moving off into the sand instead. She grabbed her night-vision goggles from the driver’s seat. Was it a person? The movement was not fluid–neither a walk nor a crawl. But it was advancing. It had to be a person. What was Rodriguez doing? It could be a trap. Damn! You don’t just go walking up to an unknown person in the dark!

“Patterson!” she called, and the young soldier turned, saw the situation, and used her weapon to cover the receding form of Rodriguez. They both watched, dumbstruck, as he fought his way over–and through–the sand to the figure. It collapsed into his arms. Jaime moved forward to meet him. It was slow going, each step hard-won. Finally she reached Rodriguez as he plowed forward, carrying the person in his arms.

“What…?” started Jaime, shouting to be heard.

“She’s injured!” answered the staff sergeant, not breaking his labored stride. He laid the form gently on the sand behind the truck. Chaplain Richards was still startled by his actions, but before she could respond, a female voice spoke.

“Jaime,” it said.

The chaplain dropped onto her knees in the sand. She moved the dark scarf from the woman’s face. Jaime had never been more shocked in her life. The features were familiar, but so out of context she couldn’t make the connection. They were streaked with mud, the head scarf unwound to reveal thick black hair plastered with sand and sweat.

And then Jaime’s mind found a circuitous route to recognition.

Princeton Seminary. Her year getting a master’s in world religions. The school library. The scent of wood. An open map of the possible dwelling places of Abraham, patriarch of three major faiths. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Ur of the Chaldeans. And Adara, studying with her. Now here they were, halfway around the world, in the middle of a sandstorm in Iraq, outside Tallil, a stone’s throw from Ur. They were here.

“Adara?” she said.

“Listen.” The younger woman’s voice was urgent through parched lips. “Message. So…important. you must deliver it.”

“What are you talking about? Message for whom? From who?”

“In four hours. 0800. 3057 4606.”

Out of habit, Jaime reached into the cargo pocket of her pants and pulled out a small green notebook she carried with her everywhere. She wrote down the numbers.”

“I don’t understand. 0800 is the time. But what are the other numbers?”

“The Fourth Sister,” Adara whispered. “You must find it!”

“Here,” she said, and she had to struggle for another breath. From beneath the folds of crimson material she withdrew a delicate chain. A finely crafted silver pendant, less than an inch long, hung from it. The pendant looked like a flattened cylinder–barely wide enough to contain something very small. “Must bring home the lost sword.”

“Adara! What are you telling me? I don’t understand. Are you hurt?”

“Yes,” she said. “Not important. Please, promise me. The message. Leave it there. 3057 4606. Where the Sister points.”

“The Fourth Sister.”

A faint nod.

This was all too baffling.

“Where are you hurt? We’re traveling with an ambulance–medics. As soon as we can free our wheel, we’ll catch up to them.”

“They’ve gone? No! The radio call…ambush. Don’t go.”

“It’s OK,” Jaime said. “It was one of our guys. Had to be–our transmissions change frequencies every second. No one who isn’t U.S. military can listen–let alone talk to us.”

Ambush, mouth Adara, and Jaime gingerly moved what remained of Adara’s tattered robe from her side. Even in the darkness, Jaime could see her friend was in serious trouble.

“Rodriguez,” Jaime called, and he appeared beside her.

“Look what they were carrying in Headquarters 15,” he said, brandishing a pair of bolt cutters.

The gunfire that split the night this time was heavier caliber. More gunfire, and an explosion. Jaime and Rodriguez scrambled to their feet. “That’s not the hill,” said Rodriguez. “That’s further up ahead up the road.”

“Ambush,” whispered Adara again, urgently.

Jaime’s assistant handed her the light, and she knelt to hold it by the tire, keeping it as hidden as possible. These wire cutters worked like a charm. Eight snips and Jaime was able to grab the concertina wire carefully with her gloved hands and peel it back.

Seargent Rodriguez already had Adara in his arms and was placing her carefully into the transport.

“Get her settled!” Jaime yelled at him. “I’ll tell Houghton we’re going to proceed. We’ve got to assist the rest of the convoy! They’re being ambushed! They don’t know it was a bogus call. They think we’ve got friendly forces just ahead!”

“Due respect, ma’am, but I’m not driving you into a known ambush!”

“OK, it’s noted you’ve argued the security crap. Let’s move!”

“But ma’am!”

She clearly saw the dilemma reflected in his eyes. His job was to keep her out of harm’s way. But they also needed to help the vehicles up ahead.

“Are you driving, or am I?” The question painted him into a corner. Since she had no weapon, the safest setup would put her in back, Rodriguez driving, Patterson riding shotgun. But Rodriguez couldn’t stop her from driving, or from heading straight into the ambush.

Richards and Rodriguez squared off, eyes blazing. “You don’t have a choice, Sergeant,” Jaime said, for once underscoring his rank. “Get Patterson.” And she ran to instruct Headquarters 15.

Click here to buy the book and keep reading!

JOIN BARB AND SHARON FOR A BOOK GROUP WITH THE AUTHORS, starting OCTOBER 12! BARB IS RETIRED, so as we read through the Eden Series, the secrets behind the books can be revealed at last! ALSO every month we’re giving away FREE SIGNED COPIES of the book we’re reading!

 B. K. SHERER holds a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a doctorate from Oklahoma State University . A Presbyterian minister, she served on active duty as a chaplain in the United States Army for 20 years. Her work has taken her to Argentina , Somalia, Korea , Costa Rica, Germany, Kuwait and Iraq.  She is now officially the Rev. Dr. Chaplain (COL) Retired.

Besides the Eden Thrillers, SHARON LINNÉA is the author of the mystery These Violent Delights. She has also written the biographies Raoul Wallenberg, The Man Who Stopped Death and Princess Ka’iulani: Hope of a Nation, Heart of a People, which won the prestigious Carter G. Woodson Award, as well as the nonfiction book Lost Civilizations. Sharon has been a staff writer for five national magazines and a ghostwriter for dozens of celebrities. She lives with her family outside of New York City. She also penned the YA spy novel COLT SHORE: Domino 29 with Axel Avian.

Now You Tell Me! 12 Actors Give the Best Advice They Never Got: Brian Stokes Mitchell


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12 actors coverBrian“Celebrate Being Human”



When you walk into an audition, the most important thing to know is that the people sitting behind the table are not your enemies or adversaries. As a matter of fact, they are dying for you to be the right person for the role. It makes their job easier and makes them look good–casting director, director, choreographer–everyone.

Working With Directors

I have found that the most difficult directors are not those at the top or at the bottom of their craft, but those in the middle. The same is true for actors. The bottom ones (in small community theaters, for example) are so happy to be working and those at the top are confident in their abilities. However, as with anything, there are grand exceptions on both ends of the scale. If the director is incompetent, I just nod my head and say, “Yes” to their advice, then do my own thing when it comes down to the performance. Of course my preference is to work in concert with a director and find the ways we can trust each other and be mutually supportive. I have had the good fortune to work with great directors for most of my career. How do you work with good directors? Listen and learn and trust.

The Best Actors

The best actors have taught me how to listen. How to prepare. How to treat others around you with kindness and respect. And to continually work on your craft and yourself.

On the other hand, there’s a lot you can learn from bad actors as well! For example, the deleterious effect of selfishness and not being prepared. That fear kills comedy (and tragedy, too, for that matter). Of course, you’d rather learn such things while on stage.

Your Craft

Acting is a living art that changes and deepens as you change and deepen. Never stop learning. Never lose your curiosity or love of life.

Stay in class, certainly, and study–but also read, go to museums, allow everything to inspire and fill you up. Be open to life and to new experiences and to new people and to change.

Short and Long Art Forms

When it comes to moving between film, television and stage, my motto is, “Go where I am wanted.” The more you can do, the more you work. Each medium has different subtleties in technique, although the basic technique remains the same: find the truth in your character. I call television and film “short form art” that favors those who are spontaneous and good at improvisation. Stage is “long form art” that favors those who are good at delving into the nooks and crannies of a piece and character over (hopefully) a long amount of time. In fact, when you’re in a long theatrical run, doing the same part again and again, keep exploring the nooks and crannies of the role. I like to say that art is in the spaces. A great artist continually explores those spaces.

And yes, no matter which form you’re working in, the mind-set is the same–do the best work you can at the time.

Habits of the Successful Actor

While I truly believe that the difference between a talented actor who makes it and one who doesn’t is luck, lucky actors, by and large, tend to be those who constantly work on their craft, trying to find new ways to explore their art. Tenanciousness helps. Big time.

When Is It Time to Pursue Something Else?

Give up acting as a career when you become bitter and frustrated and find yourself hating life and your career and yourself. I am a firm believer that it is a good idea to rewrite yourself every now and then.


Managing Money

It’s easy to manage your money when you have none! What is hard is when you have some. Never spend more than you have: if you can’t pay off your credit card completly every month, you are spending beyond your means and getting yourself into debt. As you make more, you can spend more.

My second rule is to be sure you always have some “F.U.” money set aside so you don’t have to take jobs you don’t want!

Which Jobs to Take

I have turned down a lot of jobs I didn’t think were going to lead me to where I wanted to go. I’ve never done soap operas, for instance. At one time I was offered more money than I had ever made to be on a soap. But personally, I don’t like them; consequently, I would have been very unhappy doing it. I also noted that soaps can be hard to break out of once you get on them or become pegged as a soap actor. That said, soap actors are some of the hardest working actors in show business. There are some very good ones, so this is no slam to them, just a personal choice.

I also would not want to portray someone who was insulting to a race or group of people without the piece’s having a greater purpose or working to a greater good.

There are also personal and family consequences to be weighed. Part of choosing the life of an artist means that you can’t always do what you want when you want. And sometimes a good career choice can be difficult for one’s personal life and vice versa. Those are decisions that each person must make for themselves.

In general, the criteria I hold for parts that I accept are: first, is it something in which I can excel? We don’t usually get the parts in which we can’t excel, anyway, so that is not a big worry. Second, I prefer parts that lift the human spirit or illuminate something about the human condition–if not the individual part, at least the piece as a whole.

I want to celebrate being human–in all our glory and pathos. It is my hope that when I leave this planet I will have done more good than harm.

Click HERE to continue reading advice from your favorite actors such as Eden Sher, Sam Waterston, David Oyelowo and others!

brianstokesmitchellDubbed “the Last Leading Man” by the New York Times, Brian Stokes Mitchell has enjoyed a rich and varied career on Broadway, television and film, along with appearances in the great American concert halls. His Broadway career includes Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha (Tony Nomination and Helen Hayes Award), Fred Graham/Petruchio in Kiss Me Kate (Tony, Drama Desk and Out Critics Circle Award), Coalhouse Walker Jr. in Ragtime (Tony Nomination) and many more. On television and film, he his recent apperances include The Path, Mr. Robot, Jumping the Broom and Glee.

Other actors who share their experiences and advice in the book are:

Sam Waterston, Brenda Strong, Eden Sher, Pauley Perrette, David Oyelowo, Michael O’Neill, Alexandra Neil, Julia Moytyka, Michael McKean, Joseph Kolinski, Charles Busch

and the last major interview by Lynn Redgrave

The book was compiled by Sheridan Scott, Chris Willmand and Todd Coleman


Hollywood HomicideONE

He stared at my résumé like it was an SAT question. One of the hard ones where you just bubbled in C and kept it moving. After a minute—I counted, since there was nothing else to do—he finally looked up and smiled. “So, Dayna Anderson … ”

He got my name right. The interview was off to a pretty good start. “So what in your previous experience would make you a good fit for this position?”

He smiled again, this time readjusting the Joey, Manager. Ask me about our large jugs! nameplate that was prominently placed on his uniform. Since I was sitting in the Twin Peaks coffee shop interviewing to be a bikini barista, said uniform happened to be a Speedo. I pegged him for twenty-two, tops. And it wasn’t just because he didn’t have a centimeter of hair anywhere on his body. I made a mental note to get the name of his waxer.

“I make a mean cup of coffee,” I said. “Not to brag or anything but it’s been compared to liquid crack.”

I smiled and he frowned. He was actually serious. Maybe a drug joke wasn’t the best opening line. I quickly attempted to rectify my mistake. “This position just seems tailored to my competencies. I’ve always been a people person.”

He nodded and glanced back at my résumé. It felt like it took him years to ask the next question. “So why do you want to work at Twin Peaks?”

Because I needed money and this was my first interview since the head Starbucks barista turned me down for being overqualified. “Because it just seems like a great place to work. I’ve known Richie since I moved to LA five years ago from Georgia.”

The Richie thing was the first true thing to come out my mouth. He’d opened the first Twin Peaks down the street from my first apartment. The coffee was good enough that I could overlook the whole “the person serving me basically has no clothes on, which cannot be sanitary” thing. I’d come in every morning after the a.m. rush and every morning Richie would offer me a job. At first, I’d dismissed it as harmless flirting but Richie was serious. He’d extol the virtues of working for him. Dental. Vision. Even tuition reimbursement because, like strippers, the majority of bikini baristas were apparently just doing it to pay for college.

I’d always turn him down. I didn’t care how great the 401(k) match may be, no way I’d ever reduce myself to being half naked for a paycheck. Being half naked for free? No problem at all. I did live for the beach, after all. But definitely not for a paycheck! Of course, after months of not receiving a paycheck totaling more than a couple hundred bucks from jobs that required you to be fully clothed, I’d suddenly seen the light.

Swallowing my pride, I texted Richie out of the blue to ask if the offer still stood. It did. He was opening a new downtown location and would be happy to set up an interview with the manager. Even though I was happy for the opportunity, I still had to give myself a ten-minute pep talk to walk in the door. Words like self-worth and college degree flew around in my head, but I banished them for the only two words that now mattered: steady and income.

Joey smiled again and this time it was actually genuine. Maybe this could actually work. “How much do you weigh?”

Or maybe not.

“Enough,” I said.

He gave me a once-over and apparently was not too impressed. “Our biggest uniform is a size six.”

“I’m a six.” If it was really, really, really, really, really stretchy.

I’d kinda, maybe, sorta put on a few pounds since Richie had last seen me, blossoming from a size four to a ten. Not considered big in any state known to vote Republican, but in LA, I might as well have been fused to a couch and needing a forklift to help me get up. “I’d be happy to try on the uniform,” I said.

Joey didn’t say anything. Just looked at me. And then something changed. I knew that look. It was coming. The question I dreaded most, even more than the tell-me-about-yourselfs. He was going to ask if we’d gone to high school together.

People always knew I looked familiar but just couldn’t figure out why. So they assumed they knew me from home. I’d been from places like Seattle, Omaha, and in one case Wasilla, Alaska. I’ve always said there is at least one black person everywhere. Folks all seem to think that lone integrationist is me.

“You look like someone I went to school with,” he finally said.

There it was.

“Oh?” I said. “She must be beautiful.”

I smiled, just so he’d know I was joking. He said nothing. Just stared some more. I waited.

It took a few seconds, but it finally hit him. “Don’t think so, boo! You’re the ‘Don’t think so, boo’ girl in those commercials.”

“Was,” I clarified. “I was the girl in those commercials.”

I had been considered famous once upon a time. But unlike Cinderella and Snow White, my fairy tale had not ended with happily ever after. Instead, it came crashing down a year and a half ago, and I had joined the rest of the mere mortals.

Having had fleeting fame, I was not recognizable as much as familiar. The familiarity was courtesy of the Chubby’s Chicken chain. For almost two years, I would somehow end every situation—and commercial—with the catch phrase “Don’t think so, boo.” If the scene called for me to be really upset, I’d even give a quick little finger jab, a long neck roll, and a sophisticated sucking of my teeth. Rosa Parks would be so proud.

Eighteen months ago, Chubby’s had abruptly ended my contract with the all-too-standard “we’re going in a new direction” spiel to my now-former agent. Silly me had been under the impression Chubby’s would be just the beginning, not the end. I knew there was more in my future than just chicken wings. I was wrong and now officially unofficially retired from acting.

“You gotta say it. Just once.” He looked at me, all goofy-like—a complete 180 from the wannabe-grownup of a few minutes before.

I shook my head. I hated that phrase even more than I hated my life at that moment.

“That was a lifetime ago.” A lifetime and an almost-repossessed Lexus. “I don’t act anymore.”

“Oh come on.” He was practically begging. “We love those commercials. ‘Don’t think so, boo.’ Just say it one time.”

I was tempted to tell him I’d say it every time I brewed a freaking XXXpresso if he would just give me the dang job already.

“Wait,” he said, as if I was actually about to do it. “Bobby needs to be here.” He turned in the direction of the counter and screamed at the top of his lungs, “Bobby get out here.” The bleached blonde at the register barely blinked.

Before I knew it, a tall redhead was in front of me, his uniform staring me smack-dab in the face. It was obvious he didn’t have a clue who I was, which was fine by me.

“Dude,” Joey said.

“Dude,” Bobby responded.


I could tell by the inflection that each dude had a different meaning, but it was a language I didn’t know or care to learn.

“Dude, it’s—”

“Don’t tell me!” Bobby said. “I wanna guess.”

I sat there while Bobby and Joey both stared. And stared. And stared. Like I was some kind of exotic tiger. At least they fed the animals at the zoo. All the Chubby’s Chicken talk was just reminding me I’d skipped breakfast. I needed out of there. Unfortunately, I could only think of one way to make my escape. “Don’t think so, boo.”

I even added a neck roll.

Joey really didn’t give me the job. Instead, he made some joke about how I obviously preferred my two-piece to be chicken orders, not bathing suits, and sent me on my merry little way. He was lucky I didn’t curse because he surely would have gotten a mouthful.

Twenty minutes later, I sat at a stoplight on Vermont Avenue staring longingly at an Original Tommy’s Hamburgers. At that moment, I wanted a chiliburger almost as much as I wanted world peace. It was almost lunchtime, after all. I went for my purse, hoping to scrounge up enough cash for at least some fries.

My retirement from acting had only been official for about six months. Each and every second of those six months had been used to make up for every meal I’d missed in the three years of my illustrious acting career, hence my aforementioned hypothetical size six status.

I checked my wallet. Three dollar bills. I was counting my change when the light turned green. It took the guy behind me all of .00013 seconds to honk. I hit the gas. Nothing happened. So I hit it again. Still nothing. I looked down. The gas gauge was past E.


The guy behind me pulled around me with one hand while still blowing his horn with the other. I casually gave him the finger. Like I said, I never cursed. Hand gestures, however, were fair game.

Putting on my hazards, I got the gas jug out the trunk. A station was a couple of lights up the road. I made it with no problem and just stood there. The cheap stuff was $4.89 a gallon. My new-to-me pale pink Infiniti was twelve years old, had a cracked windshield and a temperamental horn, and was nearing 200,000 miles. The gas was worth more than the car.

There went the French fry fund. Since I didn’t have my emergency credit card with me, I rooted around in my purse and found a stray nickel and a penny. That upped my disposable income to $3.56. I was about ten miles from home in Beverly Hills. Was it enough? I was attempting to do the math when curiosity got the best of the gas attendant. “Help you?”

“I ran out of gas,” I said, motioning down the street, where the Infiniti was causing quite the traffic backup. Eek. We walked over to an empty pump.

“Pretty car,” he said, then looked me over as I removed the nozzle. “Pretty girl.”

Not to sound too conceited or anything but I actually was pretty. Of course, this was Los Angeles. Everyone was so pretty—the men even more so than the women—that you had to resort to a sliding scale, on which I was closer to cute than beautiful.

My skin was what Maybelline dubbed Cocoa and L’Oreal deemed Nut Brown, while MAC had bypassed all food groups to call it NC50. I had straightened black hair that was just long enough to get caught in stuff. My nose had been on the receiving end of many a nose job recommendation. But I’d gotten my boobs done first and the pain was so bad I swore off any further surgery. When I was little, I was as bug-eyed as a Bratz doll. But now that I was grown and the rest of me had had a chance to catch up, my eyes were my pièce de résistance. I didn’t even own a pair of sunglasses.

I used them to look at the attendant.

“Smile,” he said. “It’s not that bad.”

And with that, he walked away. I wanted to scream after him that I’d just been turned down for what was probably my last chance at steady income—a bikini barista job at that. So yes, it was in fact that bad. I was ready to have a full-out meltdown in the parking lot of an Arco. I needed a distraction. Pronto.

I found it on a billboard. It was your typical high school graduation photo, complete with a hand awkwardly holding a graduation cap tight to the chest. The girl was blonde and young. On the pretty scale, she’d definitely be considered beautiful.

The copy was straight to the point. Wanted: Information on the hit-and-run murder of Haley Joseph. Tuesday, August 18th, 11:30 p.m., Vermont Ave near Hillside St. And across the bottom, right over her press-on French manicure, $15,000 reward.

I peered closer at the billboard, looking for a hint this was a brilliant marketing scheme for some new movie. I was tempted to call the number, sure I’d hear some prerecorded message letting me know what time and day it would be airing on Lifetime. But I realized this was real. The address was right up the block. They wouldn’t put the cross streets on there if it was for some silly movie. Haley Joseph had died.

I stared back at her, and then my eyes moved to the date. It was familiar. Too familiar. I realized why.

That was the last time I’d seen him.

Click HERE to buy the book and keep reading!

copyright 2017 Kellye Garrett

Kellye GarrettKellye Garrett writes the Detective by Day mysteries about a semi-famous, mega-broke black actress who takes on the deadliest role of her life: Homicide Detective.  The first, Hollywood Homicide, won the Agatha, Lefty, and Independent Publisher “IPPY” awards for best first novel and is nominated for Anthony, Macavity, and Barry awards. The second, Hollywood Ending, will be released on August 8, 2018 from Midnight Ink. Prior to writing novels, Kellye spent eight years working in Hollywood, including a stint writing for Cold Case. She now works for a leading media company and serves on the Board of Directors for Sisters in Crime as the organization’s Publicity Liaison. You can learn more at and


  • 2017 Agatha Award for Best First Novel
  • 2018 Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery Novel
  • 2018 Independent Publisher Book Award for Best First Book – Fiction
  • Anthony Award Nominee for Best First Novel
  • Barry Award Nominee for Best Paperback Original


  • Macavity Award Nominee for Best First Mystery Novel

Connect with Kellye at:

Multi-Author Blog:


Thursday's List - SmallChapter 1:  Graveyard

“People of the State of New York against Bernardo Rios. Step up!”

Rios didn’t budge, didn’t seem to hear. He’d fallen into a slump, head dangling from a loose neck, much like the five strangers surrounding him on the prisoners’ bench. At four in the morning, mid-graveyard, every player in the courtroom was blinking grit, battling the nod.

Tilted upright behind the prosecutor’s table, Dana Hargrove evaluated the case. Through sheer will and frequent sips from a tall coffee cup, she snubbed the empty chair and remained standing. In a stiff-armed lean, hands grasping the table edge, she scanned the papers laid out on the surface below. The faint print on tissue-thin paper was nearly illegible.

This had to get better. A new computer system was promised for the summer of 1988, a few months from now. Until then, the district attorney’s intake clerks still typed the criminal complaints on multiple-sheet carbon forms, replete with black strikeovers. The police reports usually weren’t any better. This one was handwritten.

Dana’s large, brown eyes were red-rimmed and burning. Squinting hard under the buzz of fluorescent light, she tried to make sense of the swimming text. Never enough information and never enough time to formulate a strategy. Graveyard shift in arraignment court was the worst, an assignment dumped on new hires and a rite of passage for every rookie. With it came the absurd responsibility of making crucial, split-second decisions on zero sleep—plea bargains and bail applications in cases as serious as murder and rape.

But this one? Incredulous, Dana confirmed what she’d seen at first glance. Farebeat. Why was a farebeat in the system at four in the morning?

“Bernardo Rios, step up!” barked the clerk. This time the defendant snapped alert, suddenly aware that the name, spoken with a New York clip, was meant to be his. Bleary eyes searched the room and fell upon the uniformed court officer striding into his face, coaxing him up with a twitching finger. Rios straightened his legs, uncertainly finding his balance. Nothing restrained him. Unlike some of the prisoners, he wasn’t considered dangerous enough to be handcuffed or shackled.

“We need the interpreter, Your Honor.” Seth Kaplan of the Legal Aid Society addressed the Honorable Morris Chomsky.

The judge scanned the courtroom, rolled his eyes and growled, “Get the Spanish interpreter.” Hadn’t she been here a minute ago? Inexplicably, she’d disappeared. “Second call!”

Chomsky didn’t appreciate obstacles to his relentless pace, which he maintained even on graveyard. His normal state of irritability grew with lack of sleep, along with his habit of blaming everyone in sight—particularly the defendants—for his inability to avoid a temporary assignment to night court.

Rios, already halfway to the defense table, stopped dead against Kaplan’s upheld hand. “Esperas un momento,” the attorney stuttered, whirling his hand in circles, miming a command to turn around.

“How do you spell that?” asked the droopy stenographer, hands poised over her machine.

“Don’t take that down,” Seth told her, then to Rios: “Esperas…vamos a…well…otra vez.” A light went on in the defendant’s eyes, and he turned toward the prisoners’ bench. The judge, behind his obelisk of gouged, dark wood, swiveled his chair to the side and beckoned the court clerk, who came up to receive an instruction.

“Very good,” Dana whispered to Seth out the side of her mouth, keeping her head bent over the papers. She was practiced in a level of voice just beneath Chomsky’s hearing, loud enough to reach her adversary a few yards away at the defense table while the judge was distracted.

“Not bad for one year of college Spanish,” he replied with a wink.

“Trying to avoid the bologna and cigarettes?”

Seth understood her meaning and grinned, pushing a friendly set of quote marks into his cheeks. Earlier, he’d been allowed a two-minute conference with each of his prospective clients in the close quarters of the lockup, a breeding ground of singular odors on the breath and bodies of arrestees. Anyone held in the pens longer than six hours was entitled to bologna and American cheese on white, followed by a smoke.

“Just bologna on that one,” he whispered, keeping an eye on Chomsky, who was giving a final directive to the clerk.

Seth was likeable, a pleasant distraction from Dana’s nocturnal hallucination. His grin and lively blue eyes always tugged out a response, and his regular features made a welcome contrast to the grim vision of endless unsavory characters in the night. Some Legal Aid attorneys—those blindly overzealous champions of the accused—could make Dana’s graveyard shift completely miserable, but with Seth in the opposing camp, she could count on a comrade against Chomsky’s unpredictable wrath.

The shuffle of hard-soled shoes and scrape of a wooden chair floated in the cavernous space. The judge, now turning to face them, ran a palm over the half-dozen gray hairs on his head and dropped the hand to his desk. His fingers drummed the wood, sending audible vibrations into the unacceptable emptiness. “Let’s go! Call the next one.”

Meanwhile, out the corner of her eye, Dana saw Rios hesitate before resuming his seat, as if he’d just noticed his bench companions for the first time. Street people, three prostitutes and two disheveled, grimy men. Rios was a small cut above them with his clean, discount store clothing and a decent haircut. A sense of neatness. She wondered at this. The transit police usually didn’t arrest people like Rios for jumping the subway turnstile. Instead, they issued a ticket directing the accused to appear in court on a future date to answer a charge of theft of services, a low-level misdemeanor. On the books, the maximum sentence was six months, but standard practice was to impose a fine.

“People against Velvet Desire,” called the clerk.

Two court officers stood ready to escort the red-wigged woman as she slithered upward, giving Rios the extra space he needed on the bench to maintain some distance from the others. “De-zir-ray,” she corrected the clerk, stumbling toward Kaplan on stiletto heels. The officers exchanged amused looks and took up positions behind her at the defense table to prevent the possibility of an escape through the empty audience section and out the door.

Assistant DA Hargrove had no need to examine the thick stack of carbon paper on this one. Ten years of pross convictions marred Velvet Desire’s past. A raid early yesterday morning had sent more than two dozen prostitutes through the system in the last few hours. Chomsky wasn’t fond of hookers and always offered them an impossible choice: five days for a guilty plea or an extortionate bail for a not guilty plea. Either way, the punishment was unprofitable for their pimps, who took it out on them when they returned to the street.

Chomsky’s tough stance was out of line. Most judges would offer time served, anywhere from twelve to thirty-six hours between arrest and arraignment. But Dana didn’t have a hope of changing the judge’s mind. Neither did the defendants. At about 7:30 a.m., any prostitutes left over from the raid would stir up a scene in the courtroom, hoping to delay their arraignment until the day judge came on the bench. For now, there was nothing Ms. “De-zir-ray” could do but take what was coming.

Dana listened with one ear while continuing to eye Rios’s papers, trying to unfurl the mystery of his arrest.

“Waive the reading of the rights and charges?” asked the clerk.

“So waived,” responded Kaplan in between low, fast talk with his client. Velvet wasn’t a stranger to Chomsky and knew the game well. Nevertheless, she shouted for effect: “Five days. Sheee-it!”

“Keep it closed,” rapped the judge. “An extra day for the next outburst. You have fifteen seconds to give me your plea.” He set a timer on his watch. “After that, another day for every fifteen.”

Dana flipped up the Rios complaint and examined his yellow sheet underneath. Here was the answer. The transit cops must have recognized him. Rios had a recent conviction for theft of services and another for petit larceny. He was a small-time thief. He also used different aliases for each arrest. No wonder he hadn’t responded immediately when his case was called. “Rios” might not be his name at all.

“That’s bullshit,” spat the large purple mouth. For all her legal experience, Velvet hadn’t wised up. Seth pumped his hands up and down and whispered hoarsely, hoping to stem the overflow.

“Okay. That’s six days. You don’t like it? Get out of the business.” Chomsky turned to ADA Hargrove. “Hear the People on bail.”

Dana looked up. The judge didn’t want a speech, and in fact, anything more than a few words would aggravate him further.

“The People recommend $250,” she said simply.

“Mr. Kaplan?”

“My client has community ties and isn’t a flight risk…”

The court officers snickered.

“Bail set at $1,500, cash or insurance company bond.” The judge lifted the gavel.

“One moment, Your Honor,” said Kaplan with an ear open to his rasping client. “Ms. Desire wishes to enter a plea of guilty to the charge.”

Stifling a grin, Judge Chomsky flew into the necessary litany to assure the legality of the plea. Dana shut her ears to the proceedings and concentrated on the Rios police report. In the box for “personal property,” the arresting officer had written “$3,300 cash, bank papers.” Dana reached the logical conclusion: poverty was no excuse for the defendant’s larcenous behavior.

With a crack of the gavel, Judge Chomsky imposed sentence.

“Seven days. That ain’t the deal!”

“Go back to school, Ms. Desire. Six plus one. The bail application took fifteen seconds.”

Velvet turned to her lawyer and screamed demands while Seth tried to convince her that the judge wouldn’t allow her to withdraw the guilty plea. The court officers stood at the ready.

“Let’s go,” demanded Chomsky, cracking the gavel again. He stood, and with a look of disgust, swiped the air with his hand to erase the sight. “Take her out. Court stands in recess. Ten minutes. Don’t go anywhere.” He descended from his fortress, shrinking into a surprisingly small, gray and ordinary man as he scurried toward the side door, on his way to chambers.

Court officers removed a kicking Velvet Desire while the defense and prosecution exchanged looks. With Velvet gone, a moment of dead silence fell. Dana looked down at the table, now a morass of disorganized papers. At the beginning of her shift, she’d fanned them out like a magician’s deck of cards, stretching the overlapping papers straight in a line with just the docket numbers and defendants’ names showing. Periodically, a clerk or paralegal from the district attorney’s office would enter the courtroom to deliver new papers and take away those already arraigned, challenging Dana’s neat organization.

Underneath the line, she’d placed an alphabetically organized row of notes from various assistant district attorneys concerning the most serious crimes or high-profile defendants. “Second call this case,” was a frequent message. “I want to appear on it.” The ADA’s office phone number or whereabouts would be noted. “I’m OT in 52,” for example, was code for “on trial” in the courtroom for Part 52 of the Supreme Court.

Of course, it was impossible to predict the exact moment when a particular defendant would be arraigned. There were too many variables. The assigned ADA couldn’t appear if the arraignment occurred on graveyard. So, every note included a backup set of specific instructions, including the amount of bail to request, the details of a plea offer, or a directive to refrain from plea bargaining—instructions intended to avert sure disaster committed by a rookie ADA like Hargrove, dizzy with fatigue and naïve with inexperience.

Eyeing the jumble, Dana smoothed her crown back down to the nape of her neck where a gold barrette neatly gathered her shoulder-length dark hair, shiny and thick as mink. She sat and quickly reorganized the papers, assuring herself in the process that nothing had been missed. Then she rose onto her low heels, the comfortable shoes she reserved for night court. Otherwise, her manner of dress was the same as daytime office wear—a gray, business skirt suit. She never wore a pantsuit, unlike some of the female Legal Aid attorneys she’d seen.

Dana pulled together the lapels of her jacket, buttoned it, and turned to go. There was just enough time to splash cold water on her face, among other things, in the ladies’ room.

“Wait.” Seth stopped her.

“I have to go.”

“Just a sec. What are you looking for in the Rios case?”

“The farebeat? He has to plead to the charge.”

“Yeah, but you’re recommending a fine, right? How much?”

Dana lowered her brow and peered at her adversary like he’d just landed from Mars. “Sure, I’ll recommend a fine. You know me, Seth. I just love to hear myself talk. I mean, where else can I be such an effective advocate?”

Seth grinned. “Don’t be so sure about the judge. Even Chomsky can see that Rios isn’t your common street punk.”

“If the judge is giving prostitutes five days, he’s giving time to a farebeat with a record.” Both attorneys turned, as if on cue, to regard the defendant, now reestablished on the bench in a cross-armed, sideways slump with his eyes closed.

“You know,” said Dana pensively, “if the judge wants to give your guy a few days, it’s all right with me.”

“Are you serious? He’s been locked up since noon. No farebeat should get more than a fine.”

“I don’t know…”

“Besides, not that you care, but he didn’t do it. Says he dropped his token, it was rolling away, and he had to jump the turnstile to get it.”

Dana raised her shapely eyebrows. “He told you all that, back in the pens? Without the interpreter? I’m impressed.”

“He was straight with me.”

“I mean, I’m impressed with your Spanish, not your client.”

“I understand a lot more than I speak.”

“So, he dropped his token. Very original.”

“I believe him.”

Seth’s earnest expression said it all. He didn’t often admit to a belief in his clients, so Dana took him at his word. He had spoken with Rios. She had not. And while intuition counted for a lot in this business, Dana’s intuition had been known to fail her at moments when she really needed it. In her nine months at the DA’s office, many people—witnesses, cops, defendants—had lied to her, and had lied well. Now she was more inclined to stick to the record and form her beliefs about an individual based on his past habits instead of the words out of his mouth.

“He has a record,” she declared. “He’s a thief and a liar. Why do you think he was arrested? The cops recognized him. Listen, I’ve got to go…” She picked up her purse and stepped away from the table.

“If the judge wants more than time served we’re taking it to trial.”

Dana halted and swung around to face him. A snappy retort would have been perfect just then, and her tongue might have found one if it weren’t for Judge Chomsky, who banged open the side door and strode up to the bench. “All rise,” intoned the clerk.

“Damn it, Seth,” she hissed under her breath. “Now I have to hold it in.”

“That weren’t no ten minutes,” he quipped with a shrug of apology and a parenthetical grin, almost making up for her lost break.

As the judge took his seat, a small, middle-aged woman entered the courtroom, scurried through the rows of empty pews and pushed through the swinging gate into the section reserved for the participants. Out of breath, she panted in a Spanish accent and glanced up at the judge but said nothing to explain her disappearance twenty minutes ago.

Judge Chomsky pointed to the court clerk. “Call that case with the interpreter.”

This time Rios jumped to his feet when the name was called. Before he could reach the defense table, Kaplan spoke. “May we approach, Your Honor?” He was angling for a private, off-the-record conference at the bench to learn the judge’s position on sentencing.

“Hold it,” snapped Chomsky, thrusting out a hand. “There’s nothing to talk about. Ten days, take it or leave it.”

Dana’s jaw dropped. Tough, even for Chomsky.

“Your Honor—” Seth began, in protest.

“The man got nothing for the other two raps. It’s time to do some time Mr. Rios, or whatever your name is. Clean up your act!” The color rose in the judge’s pallid cheeks as he geared up for a lecture. He always delivered one or two during his eight-hour shift, although Dana never knew when they were coming or which defendants would inspire them. Oddly, Chomsky more often unleashed his fury against the small-time thieves and street dealers than the kidnappers, rapists and murderers, for whom he clothed his tongue in solemnity. The serious criminals were beyond his help and therefore unworthy of his pearls of wisdom.

The Spanish interpreter rattled every word into Rios’s open ear. He stood mute behind black, emotionless eyes, protected by an invisible, impermeable wall against the judge’s harsh attention. His figure was so still, the air around him seemed to vibrate. Who was Bernardo Rios? Decidedly not a New Yorker. His past had trained his response, or lack of it, as he listened intently to the translation of Chomsky’s ranting with an unreadable expression. Behind that mask lay any number of possibilities within: acceptance, worry, fear, indifference, or seething rage.

“You’re a liar and a cheat, Rios. Two thefts this year. How many others did you get away with? Do a few days at Rikers and see how you feel then! Money in your pocket and still won’t buy a token. In this great city people who barely make it are still paying the fare. Nobody gets a free ride, Rios. Who needs you? Go back to Panama.” The judge held up and slapped the case papers with the back of his hand. “Or is it Peru or Colombia?” Dana looked at the defendant’s yellow sheet again, and sure enough, Rios had given the police a different native country each time he was arrested. “You’re a liar and a cheat. I don’t want you in my courtroom again. Do your time and learn a lesson and go home. We don’t put up with this kind of crap here!”

The judge paused for breath. The balls of his cheeks and rims of his ears were purple and a thin layer of white foam lined the inside corners of his mouth. “All right. Fifteen seconds. Give me your plea.”

Kaplan knew better than to comment on the judge’s lecture for fear of spurring a new tirade, aimed at him, not the client. He conferred briefly with Rios in hushed tones through the interpreter. Dana caught only a few words but grasped the understated outrage in Seth’s voice. A plea of not guilty could mean an impossibly high bail, enough to lock the door on Rios for the full ten days while awaiting trial. Still, Seth might be able to pressure Dana’s office into advancing the case. Almost any other judge would be more lenient. Rios could have his trial in the next day or two and win immediate release, even if convicted.

The trick was to finagle a short adjournment in a system jammed with cases. Dana decided she wouldn’t create an obstacle. After all, the outcome seemed fair. She would have recommended a sentence of a couple of days for this defendant—if Chomsky had asked for her opinion.

Rios looked at Kaplan while listening quietly to the interpreter. A smoldering passivity was palpable, a reluctant acquiescence to fate. Within the allotted fifteen seconds, Seth gave his response: “Your Honor, Mr. Rios wishes to enter a plea of not guilty and requests an immediate trial.”

Chomsky raised his eyebrows in boredom, his rage sated by his own recent outburst. He turned a blasé eye on ADA Hargrove. “People?”

The judge didn’t want to hear it, but Dana needed to make a record if the People were requesting bail in a farebeat case. A man with a larceny record who regularly lied to the police and now faced jail time was unlikely to return for trial, argued Dana—unless the court set a significant bail. Figures whirled on a roulette wheel in her head, the blurred numbers reflecting a world of differing opinions about the value of her words. The ball landed uncertainly in a slot. “The People recommend a bail of $1,000.”

Chomsky raised his eyebrows again, whether in disdain or surprise, Dana couldn’t be sure. He turned to her adversary. “Counselor?”

“That’s an outrageous amount!” spurted Kaplan, clenching his fists in midair. Dana took no personal offense at his keenly felt sense of injustice. While some defense attorneys put on a show for every defendant, Seth was choosy and therefore genuine. “Mr. Rios was falsely accused. He bought a token, it slipped out of his hand and rolled under the turnstile…”

“All right, all right,” Chomsky muttered, turning his head to the side and drumming his fingers.

“My client should be released on his own recognizance. He wants to return to court and testify…”

“Wants to tell his story, does he? A fine story indeed, but I don’t buy it. Bail is set at $1,500.”

“That’s unconscionable! It’s…”

“Watch it, counselor.”

“Your Honor, he can’t pay it. He’ll stay locked up before he’s found guilty of anything. At the very least, the court should order the DA to release my client’s funds. A sum of money was seized from him at his arrest.”

The judge turned to the prosecutor. “Your office will be forfeiting that cash, right Miss Hargrove?”

Dana was taken off guard. Forfeiture? She knew little about the law but assumed nothing could be forfeited unless related somehow to the defendant’s crime. Nothing in her papers suggested the $3,300 was related to any crime, much less farebeat. “Well, Your Honor, certainly I’ll discuss it with the attorneys in forfeiture. I’d request that the cash be held until then.”

“Listen to me, Miss ADA.” The judge turned a squinting eye on her. “You take this back to your forfeiture unit! The man here has $3,300 and won’t pay his fare. Deliberately won’t pay, even though he has enough for a ten-year supply of tokens. It proves his intent. It’s a forfeitable instrumentality of crime. Take that back to your office and thank me for doing your work.”

Dana had barely registered this far-fetched theory when the judge said, “Enough of this. Bail is set at $1,500.” He turned to the clerk. “Call the next case.”

“Judge,” interjected Kaplan. “We need a trial date. Later today or tomorrow at the latest…”

“May 18. Let’s go.”

“That’s a month from now.”

“Listen, Mr. Kaplan, I know your game, and don’t think I don’t. ‘Give me a trial, give me a trial.’ Come clean and tell us what you really want! Your guy here wants to wait until tomorrow to plead guilty, after you find a judge who gives fines, not jail sentences. I have news for you, Mr. Kaplan. I won’t be a party to your shopping expedition. If you really want a trial, you want motion practice—”

“Mr. Rios waives motions—”

“—if you’re serious about a trial that is. This case is adjourned for defendant’s motion papers, May 18th. You want it on earlier? Talk to the DA and see if you can get it advanced. May 18. Next case. Let’s go!”

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copyright 2017 by V.S. Kemanis

VSKemanisV.S. Kemanis has had an exciting and varied career in the law and the arts. As an attorney, she has been a criminal prosecutor for county and state agencies, argued criminal appeals for the prosecution and defense, conducted complex civil litigation, and worked for appellate judges and courts, most recently as a supervising editor of appellate decisions. Ms. Kemanis is also an accomplished dancer of classical ballet, modern jazz, and contemporary styles, and has performed, taught and choreographed in California, Colorado and New York. Short fiction by Ms. Kemanis has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery MagazineThe Crooked Road Volume 3, among others. She has published four collections of short fiction and four legal thrillers featuring prosecutor Dana Hargrove who, like the author, juggles the competing demands of family with a high-powered professional career in the law.

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