Monday, December 31, 2012

What I Read in 2012

I didn't read many books this year. In fact, I may have only written five reviews.

*hangs head in shame*

I think I was sidetracked with Shotgun Honey most of the time and when I wasn't... I was being bothered by life.  Oh well. If there is one thing I can be thankful for it's that there really isn't a book on my list that was bad. Well, Lover Unleashed by JR Ward pretty much sucked. But then, honestly, there's only so many ways to write erotica when you're on book number ten in the series. Or was that nine? *yawn*

Regardless, 2012 found me in LA more than once for spectacular Noir at the Bar activities; in Cleveland for Bouchercon, roaches, cupcakes with Erin Mitchell, hugs from Lee Child, and a sleep over with Neliza Drew; reading and editing hundreds of stories for Shotgun Honey and publishing an anthology alongside my friends Kent Gowran, Chad Rohrbacher, and Ron Phillips; and being the recipient of some incredible kindness brought on by the Feeding Kate anthology put together by some wonderful women (Laura K. Curtis, Laura Benedict, Neliza Drew, and Clare Toohey), with stories from amazing writers that I'm thankful to call friends.

So what are my plans for next year? Well, I'm hoping 2013 allows me more time to read all the books in my TBR pile, finish a short story I started in 2010, and write a few more than five reviews.

What did you read this year? What are your plans for next year?  Whatever they may be, I'm wishing you the best this coming year.

Much love to you all-

Kate

  1. IF FRIED CHICKEN COULD FLY by Paige Shelton
  2. ALREADY GONE by John Rector
  3. BLUE BLOODBATH  by Katrina Von Kessel
  4. CITY OF THE LOST by Stephen Blackmoore
  5. LOST IN MANHATTAN by Moreen Littrell
  6. BLOOD OF THE WICKED by Karina Cooper
  7. LURE OF THE WICKED by Karina Cooper
  8. THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT by Robert Crais
  9. DEAD HARVEST by Chris F. Holm
  10. THE LOST CHILDREN edited by Fiona Johnson, Ron Earl Phillips, and Thomas Pluck
  11. OLD SCHOOL by Daniel B. O'Shea
  12. BLEED by Ed Kurtz
  13. MR. GLAMOUR by Richard Godwin
  14. PEACEMAKER: The Xander Pursuit by Adam Hamilton*
  15. BEAT TO A PULP: HARDBOILED edited by David Cranmer and Scott D. Parker
  16. BLACKBIRDS by Chuck Wendig
  17. THE ADJUSTMENT by Scott Phillips
  18. ABIDE WITH ME by Ian Ayris
  19. HILL COUNTRY by R. Thomas Brown
  20. BURIED BY DEBT by Cathryn Grant
  21. THE PROFESSIONALS by Owen Laukkanen
  22. A BAD DAY FOR VOODOO by Jeff Strand
  23. LAST CALL FOR THE LIVING by Peter Farris
  24. ONLY ONE LIFE by Sara Blaedel
  25. THIS DARK EARTH by John Hornor Jacobs
  26. MORE HARM THAN GOOD by Andrew Grant 
  27. THE END OF EVERYTHING by Megan Abbott
  28. GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn
  29. MURDER FOR CHOIR by Joelle Charbonneau
  30. DARE ME by Megan Abbott
  31. MOCKINGBIRD by Chuck Wendig
  32. EVERY LAST SECRET by Linda Rodriguez
  33. LOVER UNLEASHED by JR Ward
  34. CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS by Laura Benedict
  35. SHOTGUN HONEY PRESENTS: BOTH BARRELS by Kent Gowran, Sabrina Ogden, Ron Earl Phillips, and Chad Rohrbacher
  36. THE WRONG GOODBYE by Chris F. Holm

Monday, October 15, 2012

My First Literary Love by Linda Rodriguez

It’s a Far, Far Better Thing I Do

When I was seven or eight, I read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and fell madly in love. The French Revolution, resurrectionists, Madame DeFarge’s vengeful knitters, sweet golden-haired Lucy, handsome French aristocrat Charles—all of these made it a book to dive into and lose myself within. But it was a sloppy, drunken, failed lawyer, Sydney Carton, with whom I fell In love.

Imagine! At that young age, already lusting for the bad boy.

And such a perfect bad boy! Sydney is a worthless drunk. He allowed his lack of discipline and his love of liquor and loose women to derail his once-promising career. Now, he shambles around in dirty, wrinkled clothes and rents out his still-brilliant legal mind to a lawyer who hasn’t half the brains Sydney does, but who’s retained the appearance of a respectable gentleman. Sydney wryly spits on respectable. What a guy!

Of course, behind the sloppy clothes, uncombed hair, and bad habits, Sydney is not only gifted intellectually and witty in conversation, but when his hair is combed and he wears a clean cravat, he’s the spitting image of Charles, much-loved aristocrat, even saving Charles from arrest through this perfect resemblance. Isn’t that enough to make the little girl inside you fall hard? (And if you’re a guy, too bad.) It gets better. Sydney hides within his snarky exterior an ardent but pure love for golden Lucy.

Oh! She could save him from himself! But that’s not to be. Lucy’s in love with shallow, dull Charles, and she marries him and has a golden-haired tot. Sydney hangs around and smolders. (Rather like a later bad boy, Spike, hangs around Buffy’s house in the shadows of the night, keeping watch—Joss Whedon as our modern-day Dickens?)

My heart ached for Sydney’s unrequited love. Then, Dickens broke it right in two. Charles is arrested in France and sentenced to the guillotine. Lucy and tot are desperate to rescue him but nothing works. Sydney sneaks off to the prison and with bribery manages to sneak Charles out as himself. But for this to work, Sydney has to stay in the prison as Charles and go to Charles’ death for the sake of the woman and child he loves.

But Dickens was never one to stop when he’d reduced you to a sodden mass of tears. On the way to the guillotine, Sydney Carton befriends a frightened, young girl, also condemned, who recognizes that he is not the real Charles. He tells her when she asks why he’s sacrificing himself—“It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.” Probably singlehandedly through the centuries imprinting millions of young girls with a predilection for unkempt, snarky bad boys.

Linda Rodriguez’s novel, Every Last Secret (Minotaur Books), won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. She reads and writes everything, even award-winning books of poetry and a cookbook, and she spends too much time on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda. She blogs about writers, writing, and the absurdities of everyday life at http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

I Went to Cleveland to Play

My goal was to write a post each night after retiring to my room so that all of my thoughts could be fresh and fun and full of coolness. Yeah, whatever. Obviously, that didn't happen. I think I managed one photo... and a post about some activities I was planning to attend while in Cleveland. So I'll just share some photos and touch on a few things.

Let's see... I hung out with some great people, hugged a few friends, ate lots of goodies, watched roaches drop from the ceiling during panel discussions, and even managed to carry a roach in my book bag to the airport. I also managed to get my face on TV.   My weekend was full of awesome... including hugs from Andrew Grant and Tasha Alexander, meeting Martyn Lewis from England... and a kiss on the cheek from Lee Child... a kiss on the cheek from Lee Child! I was all excited about him knowing my name without me introducing myself, but as I'm typing this I just realized something... NAME TAG! *rolls eyes* Regardless, Lee Child rolling my name off his tongue was everything a girl could dream of. Let's see...  I sold some books and passed out buttons, attended Noir at the Bar Cleveland, and met up with the new editors of Shotgun Honey. I had a secret cupcake eating outing with Kent Gowran, helped with a book signing, snagged some awesome books for a friend,  signed a few books, myself --- yep, I did,  and managed to drop $225 dollars at a jewelry counter in the bookroom. Yeah... you read that correctly. Some lady managed to get a jewelry table set up in the bookroom... she totally suckered me with her cute pins and necklaces and skull things and change purses. *sigh* Hey, on the bright side... Christmas... some of this stuff can be used for Christmas presents. Yay! Where was I?  Oh... I ran to the hotel in the middle of a rainstorm with John Kenyon trying to hide under my umbrella, did multiple Random Acts of Cupcaking with the lovely, Erin Mitchell, and met, hugged, and adored the adorable Sara Blaedel. I shared a bed with Neliza Drew, wore some cowboy boots, and ate cupcakes and chocolate cake for breakfast at the Horseshoe Casino. I went to a Scottish Hooters (The Tilted Kilt) two days in a row for lunch, sat next to John Kenyon at the 4th Street Diner, and I snagged the very last Big Maria novel by Johhny Shaw for 20 big ones! I also had my photo snapped with Christa Faust. I think she even nicknamed me... SparkleButt! How cute is that? I also finally put my arms around Laura K. Curtis and Linda Rodriguez, not to mention the oh-so-lovable, Ben LeRoy (I need more hugs).  Sadly, my camera stayed in my purse most of the weekend so I'm missing proof of all of the above goodness. But it happened... all of it. It really did.
 
When can we sign up for next year?
The Beauty of Cleveland - one photo only
The gang listening to the wisdom of Johnny Shaw (photo by Eric Beetner)
Dan O'Shea reading at Noir at the Bar in his lovely jacket
Josh Stallings using his loud voice at Noir at the Bar (photo by Eric Beetner)
cupcakes and chocolate cake for breakfast
Friends at the Stuart Neville book signing
I see Stuart!
Sitting with Neliza Drew, Drew Smith... Nancy?
Me with John Kenyon and Thomas (Goofball) Pluck
I think it's way past our bedtime in this photo
I think this is the True Grit panel. I see Josh Stallings.
Breakfast photos... we added a new person to the table every time the waitress
would leave. She hated us, me thinks.
My favorite photo of the trip... Chris F. Holm signing books for Elizabeth A. White

 Me with the beautiful Sara Blaedel
Christine McCann, Elyse aka Pop Culture Nerd, and Lauren O'Brien
Me with the lovely Laura K. Curtis
The new Shotgun Honey editors, Joe Myers and Jen Conley
I love this photo! The gorgeous Christa Faust

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bouchercon Photo of the Day

It's Me with Christa Faust... I love this woman!

Bouchercon Crazy 2012

So I headed out to Cleveland on Tuesday to hit some crazy crime fiction conference where weird people in strange jackets and sparkly pants get together to play, have fun, hang out at a bar, and eat chocolate...

I'll be here through Sunday, and starting tomorrow me and Kent Gowran - Kent and me - will be selling copies of Shotgun Honey Presents: BOTH BARRELS. We also have some fun buttons to give away! Woot! 
After sitting through some awesome panels on Friday I'll be headed over to Noir at the Bar Cleveland, featuring Snubnose Press authors... Not only will it be AWESOME, Eric Beetner will have some crazy cute buttons for the crowd. Heh, crazy cute buttons... not really crime fiction-y, is it? 
And.... the lovely Erin Mitchell and Sabrina Ogden (Oh, wait... that's me) will be participating in the Random Acts of Cupcaking Project, with cupcakes generously donated by a lovely author who has request to remain anonymous. I don't have a picture of the cupcakes, but I'm pretty sure they're tasty and will be a miniature version of this  ----->>>>>
So, if you're here in Cleveland... find me and purchase one of these...
And then make sure to come to this....
Lots of *smooches*

Sabrina O.

Monday, October 1, 2012

My First Literary Love by Nigel Bird

My first literary love.  Isn’t that a beautiful title?

When Sabrina asked me if I’d like to take part in this, I was very  excited.  My thoughts bubbled like a pan of boiling water.  I had so much to offer on this one.  Or so I imagined.

My first literary loves as a reader arrived when I left home for London to study at Middlesex Polytechnic. 

For those of you who don’t know, a Polytechnic was like a University for those who couldn’t make the grades.

I was at the college for 4 years.  In that time I made precisely no new friends.  The weekly conversation, unless I hooked up with one of my home-town buddies in the city, was with the ladies at the supermarket checkout (and they were always ladies, then).

I’m not sure exactly why I didn’t make friends, but I think there were 3 main reasons.  The first was shyness.  I was crippled by it. 

The second was that I thought I had enough mates already.  I didn’t feel the need to move on.  Like I said, I wasn’t bright enough for university.

The third.  By the age of 18, I’d already given up alcohol (I was to make up for it in a big way, but that’s who I was then). I had no way of overcoming my serious inhibitions. 

Oh, how I’d like to give that young man a shake.

I was lonely as hell for the first year.

After that, I loved things. London was full of opportunities to experience my passions – music, film and people-watching. 

It also meant I had lots of time to read books.

So, like I said, my mind was full of bubbles when Sabrina asked me, bubbles catching the light and painting rainbows in the sky.

And then I wondered what I would write.

 ‘To The Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf.  I loved it.  Can remember the joy of each page.  Sadly, that’s about all I do remember.  A lady in a long dress, a remote husband and a lighthouse.  Not enough to write a blog about there.

‘The Plague’ by Sartre, tense and gripping.  A man is surrounded by dying people, pustules under their armpits.  Not much I could share on that one.

‘The Outsider’, Camus.  I could talk about Camus being in the French Resistance or an international goalkeeper.  Or mention that the song by the Cure, ‘Killing An Arab’ finally made sense (though I’d loved it even before it made sense).

‘The Great Gatsby’ by F Scott Fitzgerald.  I could mention the desire with which I wanted to be there.  Wanted with a real hunger to change the decade of my birth and my social standing.  I wanted to be Gatsby. And cocktail drinking.

‘The Catcher In The Rye’.  I can tell you about that because unlike the others, I’ve reread it several times.  My memory hasn’t let me down quite so badly.  But that’s even more obvious than the others.

‘Metamorphosis’ by Kafka.  I loved the picture of Kafka on the back of my Collected Works.  He’s such a frail and odd looking man.  A real outsider.  A genius.  Made me feel better about my own isolation and the way I felt so outside of any loops.  Like he’d been there before.  Understood me.  Was me.  I woke up many times after that as a beetle.  Many times my legs kicked at air.  What struck me was the way he managed to get me to buy into him being metamorphosed simply by stating it as fact.  What also struck me about Kafka was the way everything he said created a real physical response in me.  How repulsive that beetle was to the human.

‘Germinal’.  Emile Zola.  This was the first of a number of Zola novels.  He’s a master (I remember that much).  I read this at the time of the miners’ strike in the UK in what felt like a war between capitalism and the working class.  How beautifully Zola told the tale of the mines and the miners and the owners and managers.  How he made everyone human. Sticking in my mind, the reflection of the manager’s jealously at the free love-making of the working class, free from hang-ups and middle-class guilt – as you can imagine, having no mates meant having no girlfriends either, so I guess the weight of such ideas struck a chord.  Powerful in every way.

‘Junky’.  Oh the lengths a user will go to for a fix. And what romance associated with self-destruction when I read back then.

‘Crime And Punishment’.  Guilt.  More guilt. 

‘The Man Who Watched Trains Go By’.  Simenon’s Maigret is brilliant.  This is an entirely darker flavour.

‘The Grapes Of Wrath’.  How poor could people get?  And how much better could writing get?
‘Hard Times’.

Raymond Carver.  Richard Ford. Pushkin.  Jack Kerouac.  Hemingway.  Brautigan. Vonnegut.  A male dominated list indeed. 

‘New York Trilogy’.  Paul Auster.  This one made me sit up and take notice.  It was a contemporary novel. Imagine reading work by someone who still lived.  My brother got me into Paul Auster.  Many of my journeys I owe thanks to him and to my friends – not because they told me what I should be, just because they set such fine models to try and follow.  Geoff was studying literature.  He’d moved on to do a Masters. Wrote to Paul Auster and asked for an interview.  Paul Auster said yes.  So, when we went to see him in a Hampstead Waterstones, it was with full hearts. He was so broodingly handsome and with such a deep, alluring voice.  Dark hair, black clothes, pure literature. When he was done, and having utterly fallen in love with the man (not a sexual love, I’ll add for clarity), we hung around till the end.  I had my book signed and sat and waited.  While Geoff chatted and I fizzed with admiration and jealousy, I started to read the Auster’s next.  To my eternal shame, I slipped it under my funeral coat.  Kept it there until we left and got ready to sprint away in case the enormous loops at the door filled the air with screams when I went by.  It was the first and only book I stole (I think).  Waterstones, if you need me to, I’ll happily send you some cash now I’m grown up. Paypal? Which might be when I knew for sure that I wanted more than anything else to be a writer. And here I am, a man who writes.  No Paul Auster, but there can only one of those.  There can only be one of each.

My memory has let me down. 25 years is a very long time and the truth is that I couldn’t do much better with books I read 5 years ago. 

It means I can’t share detail, but not that I can’t remember the path.

My first literary love?  Was with literature itself.  The words.  The authors.  The lives and times.  The way they allowed me to grow without leaving my bedsit. The way they were my friends in parks, on buses, whilst drawing out cups of coffee to way beyond cold.  We may not be in touch the way I’d like to be, but they’re in my thoughts and always on my Christmas Card list.

Bio – Nigel Bird would like to have been so many of the authors mentioned above.  Instead, he has come up with his own ideas.  You can find them in his collection Dirty Old Town (And Other Stories) or his soon to be re-released novella Smoke.  He is also very proud to be able to call himself a novelist since the release of ‘In Loco Parentis’. You can learn more about Nigel at his website at http://nigelpbird.blogspot.com/.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Ante Mortem by Ellie Anderson

Chapter Seventeen

2012

The air was crisp with the promise of autumn and the setting sun cast a purple-orange hue across the headstones.  Della closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. 

“Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust,” she whispered to herself, remembering the words of the minister as he dedicated the grave on that dim and rainy day.

Her friends had been supportive, but she could tell there was confusion, and possibly some resentment, over why she hadn’t shared her secret relationship with them.  She still hadn’t told them much.  To talk about it felt like she was betraying him.   Of course, there was no hiding it once the details of the event had become public. 

Della looked down and wondered, was he was facing east?  Or west?  Was the marker actually placed at his head or over the center of his body?  Could it be at his feet? 

On the day of the funeral, while she stood amongst the crowd of people who had gathered to honor Steve, she was busy making mental notes to herself to remember which side the head of the casket was on.   He would have wanted to know.  She completely missed some of the comforting murmurs because she was busy familiarizing herself with the cemetery landmarks in relation to the position of the casket.  She wasn’t there when they finally placed his marker and when she went to see it, she found that the details that she had so desperately tried to carve into her memory had become fuzzy and she couldn’t tell where his head was.  The details that had been so important had been replaced with fuzzy flashbacks of shock and pain. 

She could see the older portion of the cemetery in the distance and recognized the little lamb on the top of Ivy’s grave marker.  Della remembered standing at the Anders’ family plot with Steve. The fullness of that memory made her emptiness all the deeper.

Della kissed her fingertips and pressed them gently against the top of Steve’s headstone.  “I’ll be back next week,” she told him.  She paused and felt an uncomfortable tingle in her jaw as she fought back her tears.  “I’ve been waiting…don’t forget your promise.”

She walked towards her car and was momentarily distracted by her shoes sinking into the drying lawn with each step.  She knew there would be dirt and blades of grass stuck in the gap of the heel protector and she hoped the leather would not be ruined.  Cleaning them could wait until she got home.  Della sunk into the driver’s seat and swung her legs in.  This would’ve made him crazy, she thought. 

A shadow passed to her right.  Della looked up momentarily and quickly brushed it off as dancing leaves in the dying light. 

She turned the keys in the ignition.  Wisps of blue exhaust ballooned into the air as the muted figure of a man with a suit coat carefully folded back and draped over his arm, stepped from behind a nearby tree.  He smiled wistfully as the car disappeared into the purple haze of evening. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ante Mortem by Ellie Anderson

Chapter Sixteen

2012

“So what happens now?” Della resignedly asked.  She sat on the side of the bed and watched as Steve carefully folded the shoulders of his coat inwards and draped it across the overstuffed chair in the corner.

“The charge was dismissed without prejudice, so maybe we’ll be able to refile the case or maybe we’ll end up filing against someone else, but basically, it’s back to square one.  The judge ruled to not bind the case over for trial because she felt that the evidence was insufficient to meet the probable cause standard.”

“So that’s it?  He just gets off?”

“Well, no…not necessarily.  Everything needs to be gone over with a fine tooth comb.  We’ve got to go back to the beginning, reevaluate the evidence, reinterview the witnesses.”

“Are you going to maybe look at the mom?  Talk to her co-workers?  Recreate the drive from her work to her house and time it?  I still think she could have had time to leave work, go home, kill Bea and get back to work.  I could help you recreate everyone’s post mortem activities.”

“You watch too much TV.  And I think you mean ante mortem.  Post mortem is after the death.”

“I knew that,”  Della laughed, tucked her head into her shoulders like a turtle and looked up at Steve with a twinkle in her eye.

“Whatever.  You’re a dork.  But yeah, you’re going to get your way.  We’ll check out mom and neighbors and family members; anybody that might have had access to Bea and try to develop a new and improved theory.   Maybe we’ll even time the drive from her work to home.”

Della wanted to be reassuring.  “Don’t be discouraged.  What does that judge know anyway?  She’s probably corrupt or…”

“Can we talk about something else?”

“Okay.Who’s going to do the footwork?”

“Moira’s pulled one of our investigators from the violent felony team to help Franks and Ashram."

“Seriously?  That’s an awful lot of redundant work.”

“Ya think?  That’s what happens when you give in to pressure and file a case prematurely.  It serves us right.  The crappy part is that it reflects on me and makes me look like an ass.  Moira doesn’t get any of the recoil from the mistake…I get to be her human shield against the media…and she’s the one that forced me to make the call, despite my protests.  But no one will ever know but us.  I’ll take all the flack from the media and the public and professional humiliation.”

“It’s Moira, now, huh?  Is there something you need to tell me about?  Are you cheating on me with our boss?”  Della was teasing but Steve was straight-faced.  She wanted him to be happy; to relax for the weekend.  “Seriously…it sucks to be you.  But I guess that’s why they pay you the big bucks.”

“Hmpf.  I’m just happy to be of service to the citizens of this fine county.”  He saluted and dropped his hand sharply to his side.

Della giggled and the two smiled gently at each other.  He took her hand and led her to the living room, where they settled in on the couch; Della grabbed Mary’s journal from the end table and Steve picked the newspaper off the floor to search for the section that contained the day’s crossword puzzle.  They sat silently and Della opened the pages of the journal but was too preoccupied to read.  She was nearing the end of the entries and it had been extremely difficult for her to refrain from going straight to the end.

If she had been in possession of the journal just five years ago, she wouldn’t have been able to resist the temptation.  It used to be that every time she read a book and reached the meat of the story, or the part with all the action, she jumped ahead and read the ending. The stress of wondering if the good guy made it through alive or if the young lovers reunited was just too much for her.  She knew what they say about old habits but she eventually retrained herself from spoiling it…to relish the story and enjoy the suspense until the sweet sensation when the book is closed for the last time.

***

Della awoke and found Steve asleep with his head laid back on the couch, the folded newspaper still in his hand.  She shook him by the shoulder.  “Hey, let’s go to bed.”

Steve grumbled, rolled his eyes open and ran a hand through his hair.  “K.”

Della passed the filing cabinet on the way into the bedroom and momentarily thought of its contents.  She walked into the room and trailed her hand across Steve’s suit coat on the back of the chair.

“God, I’m glad it’s Friday.  I’m so tired I could sleep for a week.”

“Hmmm,” Della absentmindedly responded as she changed into her nightgown.

Steve removed his pants and uncharacteristically dropped them on the floor where he stood and left them there.  He sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed his face with both hands.  “CJ’s been awful quiet tonight.  What’s up with that?”

“He’s at Max’s for the night, remember?”

“Hmmm.”  It was Steve’s turn to be absentminded.  “Maybe we can all go to breakfast in the morning.”

Della laughed out loud, “He’s at Max’s, silly.”  The words fell on deaf ears as Steve collapsed and fell asleep as soon his head hit the downy softness below.

***

Della stood in the doorway between the two rooms and strained in the dappled darkness to make sense of the muffled conversation she could have sworn she heard coming from CJ’s room.  She braced her hand against the exposed core of the two walls and found herself  being annoyed for not getting the doorway covered with drywall yet.  She looked back to see that Steve was still sound asleep.  The red lines of the digital clock on the nightstand read 1:11 AM.

She walked back through her bedroom and into the kitchen.  The glass panes of the back door were cool against her cheek as she placed her ear over the sliver of space between the door and the frame to see if she could hear talking from next door.  All was silent.  She journeyed through the living room, the laundry room and the bathroom.  Nothing unusual was going on outside.  No crazy kids running amok.  No traffic.  No backyard party conversation traveling over the breeze.  The doors were all locked.  Windows secured.

Having convinced herself that she must have just imagined it, Della padded back to bed, crawled in and settled in a fetal position.  She let her mind wander from Steve to CJ to drywall to Baby Bea and back to Steve.  Delicious waves of slumber began to dull her mind and she gently dozed off, still thinking of Steve.

“Oh, my God!”  Della gasped and propped herself up on her arm.  The murmuring of voices had again risen from the darkness.  The speech was muffled, but the intonations were distinctly feminine and they were coming from CJ’s room. 

Steve was softly snoring.  The dogs were still.  Surely they would have heard the voices, too.  They tended to rouse if a stray cat came anywhere within 20 feet of the house.  How could she hear it and no one else, she wondered?

Della sat up and hesitantly walked to the doorway of her son’s room.   She rubbed her eyes and realized that her vision was not blurred…the room was misty.  The muted light from the moon fell not on CJ’s bed, but a crib.  The figure of a woman in a long skirt was bent over the railing and Della surmised, from the movement of the woman’s arms, that she was tending to a baby…Ivy. 

Della’s mind raced.   Oh, sweet Lord!  This woman…Mary…wasn’t tending to Ivy, she was getting ready to kill her.  Della was puzzled…had she traveled back in time?   Was this an echo of the past?  Had two realms of existence intersected?  Would she be able to intervene and change the outcome?  Could she save Ivy and change the course of events?

As she stepped into the room, a wave of coolness like the spray from a waterfall entered her body from behind and she heard what was now the non-existent door close behind her.  As the sensation spread through her, she experienced the same wave of knowing that she had felt when Bruce and the paranormal team had been there.  For the moment of passing, just for that brief instant, she was Mary again.  She knew Mary’s mind, she sensed her feeling of confusion.  She felt Mary exit her body and saw her step toward the figure over the crib.  Della was terribly confused.  How could there be two Marys?  Both standing in front of her at the same time?  Had three different dimensions collided?

“What are you doing?  What’s going on here?”  The passing Mary asked the Mary standing at the crib.

The Mary at the crib withdrew her hands and spun to face her counterpart.

“Mother Anders!”  Mary cried.

Della could see Ivy wriggling in the crib behind Cy’s mother’s skirt.

“Stay away, girl!”  She spread her arms out to the side.

“But I don’t understand.  What are you doing here?”

“Keep your voice down.  I don’t want Cy to wake up.”

“That is not an explanation.  What are you doing?”

“I’m taking care of what should have been taken care of a long time ago.  Cy must never know.”

“Know what?”  Mary stretched to look past Mother Anders into the crib.  “Oh, my God!  She’s struggling…she can’t breath.  What have you done?”  Mary was frantic.

“You have ruined my family…my son.  He thinks he’s leaving for Denver, because of you and this child, mind you, but I’ll not let that happen.  It was bad enough when he married you.  I knew he wasn’t happy, but at least your marriage kept him here close to me.  When this child came along, I thought he might have a chance at happiness…I thought that it would anchor him to Midvalley, not drive him away.  I tried to make you become a better mother; to mold you both into a family that would make him want to come home instead of go away.”

Mary tried to reach past her mother-in-law to grab the crib but the woman took a step to the right and blocked her path.  “Don’t tell me you haven’t thought of it yourself.  I’ve seen the disdain in your eyes when you look at her.  I’ve seen the way you neglect the child.  It’s no wonder she cries all the time.  Don’t try now to pretend like you are a doting mother!  You don’t even bother to feed her.  You’re just a selfish girl who wants all of Cy’s attention.  Ivy will be gone and you’ll go to jail.  I’m killing two birds with one stone.   When his burden is lifted, Cy will stay.  He’s my son.  I love him.  I need him.”

Ivy’s curled left hand lifted from the mattress one last time and came to rest.

“You’re crazy!”

“No, child, you’re the one who’s crazy.  Everyone will think that you’ve done this.  Do you think that others haven’t noticed how you ignore the child?  Everyone in town talks about how you isolate yourself and don’t care for your family.  Ivy’s the skinniest and most underfed baby they’ve ever seen.  You don’t go to the junction anymore when your husband comes home.  You’re the topic of gossip on everybody’s lips.  You will go to jail and I will have my son back.  No one will believe you if you try to say that I did it.  I’ve been here my whole life.  This town knows me and respects me.  They’ll blame the crazy, lazy mother.”

“This can’t be happening.”  Mary wiped away a tear.

Mother Anders slapped Mary across the face.  Hard.  With the back of her hand.  Mary fell to the floor and scrambled to right herself and crawl to her knees.

“Please don’t do this.”  Mary pleaded as she sat back on her feet and dropped her head into her cupped hands.  Mother Anders turned sharply and left the house; her skirts rustling with each solid step. 

Della stood, transfixed, as she watched Mary sob quietly.  A dark and angry breeze brushed Della’s cheek and she gasped.  Mother Anders’ plan had backfired.  The town had blamed Cy, not Mary.  It was all clear to her now.  His mother had been blind to the flaws that others saw in him.  She thought he was perfect.  She never even dreamed that they would point the finger at anyone other than Mary.

The young Mary took a deep breath, wiped the tears from her eyes and sat staring ahead for what seemed much longer than it actually was.  She eventually stood and paused, open-mouthed, and stepped up to the crib and the breathless body inside.  She leaned over, reached in with two fingers and loosened a remnant of fabric from the child’s mouth. 

***

The dark and angry breeze brushed Della’s cheek again and grew and stretched as it swirled throughout the room, filling every corner, every nook and crack.  Mary crumbled again to the floor as the rushing heat passed by her and she turned back and looked up to meet Della’s eyes.

A figure appeared in front of Mary.  She turned back and looked up.

Oh, my God, Della whispered.   Cy.   He reached his hand down to Mary and pulled her to her feet.  Their gaze remained steadfast as the heat in the room intensified and they melted into the swirling darkness.

“Della!  Della!  What are you doing?  Get out of there…NOW!!!”

Della blinked her eyes and realized that the room was filled with heavy smoke and she could hear the crackling pops of fire, hidden, but nearby, somewhere in the house.

Steve threw his suit coat over Della’s head and pushed her to the floor.  “Crawl!  Fast!  As fast as you can!  I’ll be right behind you!”

Della lifted the coat above her eyes and could see that the dogs had made their way to the front door in an effort to escape.  They were clawing at the door.  She had to get to them quickly.  Her lungs were burning…theirs must be ready to explode.  She reached up and turned the door handle.  Nothing.  She stretched to her knees to flip the deadbolt.  This time the door opened and Spike and Maxine ran out…straight into the arms of neighbors who had begun to assemble.

She stumbled and felt hands grabbing her from every direction; pulling Steve’s coat off of her, wrapping a blanket around her, trying to comfort her.

“Oh, my God!  Steve!”  she screamed and turned back towards the house just as the fire truck and EMT’s arrived.  The sirens were deafening.  The people were screaming.

Steve stood in the doorway and shouted to her. She couldn’t make out what he was saying and the hands of her neighbors held her back as she tried to make a run towards him.  “Steve!  Get out of there!  What the hell are you doing?  Get out here!  NOW!!!”  She struggled desperately to break free.

“I’m going back in for CJ!”  I’ll be right back!”  He turned and disappeared into the blackness.

“No!  No!  No!  He’s not here!  He’s not here!  Come back!  He’s at Max’s!  I told you he was there!  Come back!”

***
 
To Be Continued

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

SHOTGUN HONEY PRESENTS


 
That's one heck of a list of authors! I'm super thankful to have been a part of this, and even more thankful for the readers of Shotgun Honey, the contributors, and all the wonderful writers that submitted stories for this anthology. The cover was created by the most awesome Ray Dillon... truly amazing work! And super big thanks to Kent, Ron, and Chad... my brothers in crime, for letting me be a part of something so incredibly cool!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Ante Mortem by Ellie Anderson

Chapter 15

2012

“Oh, my God!”  Della gasped and startled Steve.

They’d been on the couch in silence for about 45 minutes.  Steve looked up from his crossword puzzle that was lying across the desk she had so lovingly created with her feet on his lap as she lounged and read.

Della sat up and pulled her feet in towards herself and nearly dropped the handful of papers in her hand as she leaned in towards Steve to show him what she’d found.

“I can’t believe this.”

“Well… spill it.”

“These papers.  The ones that Mr. Rondel sent over from the Midvalley Museum.  Look at this article.”

Steve took the paper from her and began to read.

Midvalley Times

July 23, 1917

The community of Midvalley has suffered yet another tragedy surrounding the Jansen family. 

Cy Jansen  was viciously attacked and killed by an angry mob earlier this week while in the custody and care of Sheriff Colburn.

Sheriff Colburn reports that mayhem and chaos ensued when his office suddenly  flooded with people demanding justice for Ivy and Mary (Mr. Jansen’s’ child and wife, who had recently passed and it was for Ivy’s death that he was being held, awaiting trial).  Sheriff Colburn was caught unawares by a blow to the head and when he came to, found himself on the floor facing  the open door and he spotted Mr. Jansen’s  body in the street,  broken and bloody.

This most unfortunate circumstance may finally bring an end to the controversy surrounding the unexplained death of Ivy and the dreadful passing of his wife, Mary, who apparently saw fit to take her life in the aftermath of the child’s death.

Mr. Jansen is survived by his parents, who, shortly after burying their son next to their daughter-in-law and granddaughter, began making arrangements to relocate to a neighboring state where they will remain for a time with family members.

Charges are not expected at this time as the identity of the mob members remains unknown.

“Well, what do you make of this?”

“I think that journalism has come a long way since 1917.”

“Oh, stop.  I’m serious.”

“I don’t know.  Back up the truck.  Beep.  Beep.”  Steve made an ‘exits-are-to-the-back-of-the-plane’ hand gesture and sighed.  “I’m still processing your whole experience with the ghost hunters and I’m having a hard time discerning what is fact and what is fiction.”

“What I experienced is not fiction!”  Della was impatient and began talking. “Mary killed Ivy; Cy got blamed.   Mary killed Mary; Cy got blamed.  He went to his grave with everybody thinking he killed his child.    His parents were ostracized and they left.”

“Sounds like a plausible theory.”

“Oh, stop being such a prosecutor.  Let loose.  Let’s have some fun.  I know… let’s go to the cemetery and see if we can find their graves!”

“Right now?”  Steve’s eyes were popping out of his head.

“Yes, right now.  Come on, it’ll be fun.”

“It’s called trespassing, State Code 76-6-206.  It’s called illegal.

“Oh, come on… it’s a cemetery with a puny little two-foot tall brick wall around it.  How can it be illegal when it’s so easy to get into?  And I’ve never seen any “no trespassing” signs.  And besides, it’s owned by the county and we pay taxes here in this fine county… "They both chuckled at the inside joke.  More often than not when Della asked how his day was going, he would respond by saying that he was “living the American dream, serving the citizens of this fine county, getting paid more than he deserves."

“…so don’t we kind of own it?  You can’t trespass on your own property.  Come on, come on!  I’ve got your back!  I’ve got connections!  I know people.”  She playfully poked him in the ribs.

"Just because you got away with it last Halloween when you took CJ and his friends up there to try to scare them, doesn’t mean you’ll get away with it this time.  Besides, it’s almost midnight."

“Sometimes it’s just fun to do things that are kinda naughty.  And since you won’t ever go toilet papering with me, you can make it up to me by taking me to the cemetery.”

“Young lady…you will be the death of me.”  He exhaled with a smile on his face, grabbed her shoulders and kissed her on the mouth.

“Bring your camera.”

“It’s already in the car.”

“I’ll grab a flashlight.  Whoo-hoo!  Let’s go, my leetle partner een crime.”

“Really?  A French accent?  It ruins the mystery.”

“How ‘bout a southern belle?"

“That’ll do.”

They were both grinning like kids as they hurried out the front door.

***

“Over here.  These are the older ones.”  Della weaved in and out of the headstones and was able to quickly read some of the inscriptions by the moonlight.  She turned on her flashlight to look more closely as she neared the area where she suspected she would find the Jansen family.

“How do you know that?”

“I spend a lot of time here.  At least I used to.  I came here a lot during college to read.  I think it’s peaceful and beautiful… the mixture of nature and the architecture of the stones.  It amazes me and I love to imagine what the people’s lives were like.  You know, a lot of historians use cemetery information to re-create history.  They can draw conclusions about disasters or epidemics or whatnot, based on the information on the headstones.  Maybe we’ll learn more about the Jansens when we find their markers.”

“Are headstones really at people’s heads or are they placed over the center of the casket or at the foot?”

“I don’t know.”

“When my grandma died, I swear they put her headstone where her feet were.  I’m just going by memory, but it didn’t seem like it was placed at her head.  Why are they always facing east?”

“I don’t know.  Actually, they’re not always that way.  Over at the Winder cemetery, some of the graves face southwest.”

“I’m not even going to ask…not going there, little miss.”  He grabbed her hand and they walked from marker to marker, stopping only for Steve to take pictures when he jokingly announced that he felt “something.”  The only “something” he was feeling was his urge to poke fun at her and try to make her to laugh.

Steve was an  accomplished amateur photographer and his new digital camera was bigger than Della thought a digital camera could ever be and it was loaded with features.  After fiddling with some of the gadgets, they reviewed some of the photos as they moved closer to the center of the cemetery and Steve pointed out some odd things in a couple of shots.

Mary playfully scoffed, “Oh, those are just orbs, or sometimes bugs.  I don’t give much merit to those.  It’s usually just the reflection off of moisture or wings or dust or something.”  Della sounded very sure of herself.

“Where’d you hear that?  Ghost U?”

“Ghost Hunters.  Duh.”

They continued in silence, the dry grass crunching under their feet.  It had been weeks since it had rained and apparently, the sprinkler systems weren’t enough this year to keep the lawns lush and green.

“Oh, dear Lord!   Here it is.”  Della stumbled over the tip of her own foot and when she’d caught her balance, she shone the light on the tiny, worn headstone with the baby lamb carved across the top.  The inscription had eroded and was barely legible.

Ivy L. Jansen
b. 1916
d.1917
Beloved daughter of Cyrus and Mary

 “Can you take a picture of this?”

“Yeah.”

Mary was to the right of Ivy and Cy was to the left.

“It doesn’t seem right that Cy should be buried so close to them.  It’s so weird to think that almost a hundred years ago, people stood at this very site and attended their funerals.  People probably never imagined that all these years later, someone would be standing here thinking about them and imagining them.  Do you think they had all this grass back then?”  Steve was finally getting into the spirit of the night.

“Well, well, well, my leetle friend… I do believe you are becoming a convert and no, I don’t think they had grass back then.  I think when the county bought the adjoining property for more space, they upgraded and landscaped the whole thing.”

“Seriously, how do you know that?  Maybe you need a hobby.  Actually, I’m getting a little creeped out and I want to get out of here before we get caught.  I can just see the headlines now… ‘Deputy District Attorney and paralegal Arrested in Cemetery:  Body Snatching Plan Thwarted.’  Imagine the scandal -gasp- not to mention our secret would be out.”

“Would that really be so bad?”  Della unexpectedly burped and didn’t have much chance to cover it up.

“That was attractive.”

“Thanks.  I’ve always been known for my genteel and delicate nature.” 

“Let me get a couple more shots and then let’s get out of here.”

They leaned their heads together to look at the screen as they walked back towards the car.

“Wait.  Go back one.  No, one more.”

Steve complied and Della slipped her arm through his.

“What’s that?  Right there.”

“Don’t touch the screen with your finger.”

Della tapped on the screen to zoom in and drag the photo to the right.

“Right here.  Tell me that’s not a person.”

“It’s not a person.  It’s a shadow.  Probably from a tree.”

“No, look here.”  She dragged her finger on the screen and outlined the “shadow.”

Steve cringed and decided to not say anything.

“Here’s a bonnet, and a shoulder and a bent elbow and the outline of a skirt… like a woman’s trying to hide behind that tree.  She’s even glowing a bit.”

“I don’t see it and you just want to see it.  It might be the moonlight shining through some of the trees.  We’ll put it on the computer when we get back home and we’ll be able to see it better.”  He paused and Della remained intent on the screen.  “And the answer is no.”

“Look closer.  Right here.”  She paused and looked into his face.  “What do you mean, no?”

“The answer.  To your question.”

A spotlight from the opposite side of the cemetery appeared behind them and pierced its way through the trees, the bushes and the headstones.  Della saw the light shining on Steve’s shirt sleeve.

They both drew in a sharp breath at exactly the same time.  Their eyes opened wide and Steve whisper-screamed, “RUN!  It’s the cops!”

By the time they reached the car and sped away, they were laughing heartily and their gleeful naughtiness could not be denied, not even in Steve.

***

A figure in a bonnet and a long skirt stepped behind a tree and disappeared as Detective Ashram shone his spotlight around one last time; certain now that there were no rabble- rousers running around. 

He shifted his car into reverse and refocused his attention from the cemetery to the train station where a pedestrian had just been killed by a commuter train.  He drew the short straw for being on call that night but the good news was this would be his first case as lead investigator, so he wasn’t going to complain. 

Damn.  A cup of coffee sounded good.  If he hurried, he could pick one up at the corner convenience store and still reach the scene before the crime scene techs. 

The figure in the bonnet peeked out from behind the tree as he left and slowly evaporated into the night.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Ante Mortem by Ellie Anderson

Chapter 14

1917

“Sweet mother of God, child!  Say something!”  Cy’s mother slapped Mary then clasped her hands together.  

“You haven’t spoken for days!”   Her aged jowls trembled and there was no mistaking the panic in her eyes.

Mary held tightly to the bar of the holding cell and shifted her gaze from Cy towards Mother Anders.  She lifted her free hand to cover her cheek and calm the stinging.

The sheriff had stepped out of the building when the Anders family arrived.  He assured them that he’d be right outside and they would be safe.  Cy’s father was planted on a chair by the furthest wall.  His elbows were on his knees and he held his head in his hands.  Mary could see only the top of his head and she fleetingly wondered what he might be thinking.

It was no secret that the town was restless and on every corner and every front porch and every stool in the town tavern, there was talk of people taking the law into their own hands.

“Son, I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but we’ll get this sorted out.”  Mother Anders pressed her face into the space between the bars and closed her eyes.  “I know you didn’t do anything and your father knows you are innocent and if this silly wife of yours would speak up, everyone would know that you had nothing to do with this.”  She turned her attention back towards Mary and dropped her hands from the bars.

“This is all your fault!”  A tiny droplet of saliva landed on Mary’s chin and she wiped it away with the back of her hand.

“If you had managed your family properly, girl, then Cy wouldn’t have gotten a wild hair for Denver and he wouldn’t have been making plans to go away and he wouldn’t be stuck in this hell hole while you sit in that rocker all day and do nothing to help him!  This is my son!  My baby!  You stupid girl!  Say something!  I can’t lose my baby!”  She started to weep, turned her attention back to Cy, grabbed the bars and nestled her face back into the steel cradle.

“Mary?  Please…for God’s sake talk to me.  They’re going to kill me unless you do something, unless you tell them I didn’t do it,” Cy pleaded.

“It’s no use, Cy.  This girl is useless.  She’s always been useless.  Never done you a lick of good and never will.  Your father will take care of this and you can come home with us.  There’ll be no more talk of killing or Denver or anything else.  You will soon be home with us and everything will be just fine."

Mary gazed gently at Cy and held back tears as she thought of her home and all the dreams that she’d lost over the years.  Things would not be fine.  Not ever.  How had it all come to this?  There would be no escape from this nightmare.  Not in this town or the next town or the town after that.  She would never have the husband or the family she dreamed of.

Mary turned to leave.  Cy and his mother paused and shifted their attention from each other to Mary as they watched her shuffle across the room towards the front door. 

“Where are you going?”

Mary stopped and turned around to smile softly at Cy.

“Why… I’m going home.”

“Don’t mind her, Cy.  Let her go.  We are a family and we can handle this as a family.  She’s not part of this family.  Especially now that she’s turned her back on you and won’t lift a finger to right this wrong.  I never liked her.  Remember, Cy?  Remember how I told you she’d never be any good for you?  She’s the one that should be inside this cell, not you and I will die making sure that she pays for taking you away from me!”

“Ma, shut up!”

“Don’t talk to me like that!  I’m your mother and I’m the only one you got now.  There ain’t no love in the world like a mama’s love and that love, not hers, is going to save you and keep you here in Midvalley.

Mary heard the arguing muffle as she closed the door behind her.  She looked back through the glass as Cy’s father, who was still planted on the chair, turned his head to the side just long enough for his eyes to meet Mary’s as she walked past the window of the sheriff’s office towards home.

***

Mary rocked in the chair by the parlor stove until it was dark and thought about Cy.  She didn’t much care what happened to him but she was angry enough to let her mind wander and fantasize, almost gleefully, about what people would say about him when she was gone.  Oh, the chaos would be sweet.  Would they say he drove her to madness?  Surely they would become even more enraged towards him when they learned how despondent his wife was over the loss of their child…when they learned that she had stopped speaking altogether and didn’t seem quite right in the head any longer.  She could almost taste the wild stories that would spread about him.  Serve him right, she thought.

She stood up and propped one of her feet up on the seat of the rocking chair.

Mary would be the perfectly distraught mother and no one would ever know what really happened as long as she kept her pretty little mouth shut.

She grabbed the back of the rocking chair and brought her other foot up to the seat.  There was an awkward moment as she caught her balance and stretched upwards toward the ceiling beam.

She could see the headlines.  Desperate mother.  Monster father.  It was the perfect way to get back at him and make him pay for the love and affection he had robbed her of.

One single tear caught in the inner corner of her eye let loose and fell as she slipped the rope around her neck and stepped off the chair.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ante Mortem by Ellie Anderson

Chapter 13

2012

“Della can coordinate the paperwork and she’ll call you as soon as the warrant’s ready,” Steve promised Detectives Franks and Ashram.

Della had been quiet during the meeting as the three men discussed the medical examiner’s final report and decided the fate of Baby Bea’s killer.

“Cause of death, asphyxiation.  Manner of death, homicide.  Time of death during the time that Dad, excuse me, I mean boyfriend, is the only one at home with the kid.  All our ducks are finally in a row.”  Franks leaned back in the chair and straightened his tie as it slipped to the side of his belly.  The hours of interviews and forensics review that he had put in on this case had taken their toll.  Franks was ready to retire and he expected this case to be his swan song.  The relief showed on his face that this arrest warrant was finally going to be issued.

The most interesting fact of the case had been discovering that the dad wasn’t really Bea’s dad but Mom’s boyfriend.   The general thought (joke) around the office when a child died suspiciously, that it was always the boyfriend that did it.  In fact, the joke had become so pervasive that it spilled over into all sorts of crimes.  Forgery?  The boyfriend did it.  Vehicle theft?  The boyfriend did it. 

Even in this day and age, there was a general, though mistaken, belief that mothers couldn’t kill their kids.  It happened occasionally and even the “old schoolers” of the bunch had a hard time believing it even when the evidence was overwhelming.

The scenario was usually the same, time after time.  Single working mom.  No support system.  She hooks up with loser boyfriend who volunteers to watch the kid while the mom goes off and slaves away to make a living.  A living that starts to support his drug, alcohol  or gaming habit.  Eventually… usually sooner than later… the guy gets frustrated with the inevitable fussiness that comes with all children and boyfriend offs the kid because he can’t stand the crying (or it’s interfering with the newest version of his Cop Killer III  video game).

“Guys, I know that I’m no detective and I’m no prosecutor… but I’m wondering if we spent enough time looking at the mom.”  Della could tell by the awkward atmosphere that no one was interested in what she had to say and she wished desperately that she hadn’t waited so long to say anything.  Not that she expected things to change, she just wanted to throw it out there and see what happened. 

“I like to think of my point of view as somewhere between the prosecutor and the jury.  Like maybe I can see some blind spots that someone working the eye of the storm might get blindsided with.   Maybe it’s because I’m a mom or maybe it’s because I’ve been on a jury before or because I’m not bogged down with all the attorney/detective aspects.”

Steve sighed and looked at the pencil he was tapping on the conference table.  “We need to press forward and at this point it’s out of our hands.  I’ve got my orders coming from higher up and we need to move on this.  There’s just too much pressure on the DA to get charges filed and get to trial.  Plus, she’s inexperienced and is going to cave to the slightest bit of pressure.  She’s more worried about votes than justice.”

“I understand but I’m just trying to put myself in the place of a juror or a judge and I’m trying to imagine what questions might linger with them that would raise reasonable doubt.”  She was thinking of Mary.

“Well, we’re moving forward.   Period.  And besides, it’s too early to speculate about the jury.  Let’s worry about that when we get closer to the trial phase.  We’ve got no evidence that it was anyone other than the boyfriend.”

“But what about the 20 minute period of time that no one can account for seeing her at work,”  Della blurted.

“Our theory makes sense and we’re moving forward.  Let’s get that paperwork done and over to the court ASAP.  It’s tough to find a signing judge around at this time of the day, especially on a Friday and we don’t want to miss our window of opportunity.  It will make our illustrious DA look bad if we wait any longer.”

***

Della’s car was in the shop and CJ was out of town for a camping trip with one of his friends and their family, so Steve had offered to drive her home.

“You gonna stay over tonight?  Della asked quietly.

“I don’t know.  I’m exhausted.”

“I’m sorry about the meeting.”  Della’s eyes teared up as she looked over at Steve.  “It’s just that sometimes, it seems like justice is more about who puts on a better show in court and the media than about real justice.”

“You’re absolutely right on that count and it’s frustrating for me, too.  It’s okay.  Really.  But for now, can we just talk about something else?”

“Yeah,” Della resigned with a sigh and looked out the window.

It started to sprinkle and Della leaned the side of her forehead against the glass.

“I have this new theory about life after death.  Want to hear it?”

“Sure.”

“Well, I’ve been thinking about people trying to send us messages from the other side.  Imagine this… and just bear with me.  Please.  I can’t explain things as gracefully as you and this is kind of a new theory, so my delivery’s going to be a little rough.”

Steve smile, looked sideways at her and grabbed Della’s hand as it rested on her left leg.

“Okay, shoot.”

Della felt a rush of warmth through her heart as they finally connected for the first time in days.

“So… they say that a baby, while still in the womb, can hear sounds from outside their environment.  There have even been studies that show that a newborn almost immediately recognizes and responds to the sound of its mother’s voice, sometimes even the dad’s.  Sorry, didn’t mean to leave the guys out of this equation.  Anyways… moving on.”

Steve rubbed Della’s thumb with his and she felt another surge of warm fuzzies.

“They recognize the voices because they’ve been hearing them come from an environment outside of the only one they know.  They don’t understand what lies beyond and they may not understand what the voices are saying, and sometimes they might be muffled, you know… because of all the fluid and the flesh that separate them from that environment, and sometimes they might be asleep and miss it, and sometimes it’s totally different from their mom or dad’s voice.  Say, it’s music, maybe.  They hear it, they don’t understand it.  But when it’s time to be born, they come through into this new world and are greeted by people who have always been with them, like Mom and Dad, and maybe some new people, like the doctors and nurses.  Or maybe it’s an EMT in an ambulance, or the next door neighbor who unexpectedly had to learn how to birth a baby.

“Okay, where’s this going?”

“Well, shift now to near-death experiences.  Which, by the way, shouldn’t even be called near-death experiences, especially if the people are dead.  They should be called death experiences.”

“You’ve got my attention.”

“I’ve always wondered why death experiences were so different for people.  I mean, wouldn’t you think that if God had been intervening in peoples’ transitions to the other side for such a long time that he’d have a routine down by now and we’d expect to hear the same stuff every time?  I mean, really… sometimes people are met by their family members.  Sometimes they’re met by spiritual beings that they don’t know.  Sometimes they’re by themselves.

Anyways, let me get back on track.  After we’re born physically, we’re here in this environment, think of it as a phase II uterus.”

Steve started to laugh and snorted.

“That was attractive.”

“Thanks,” he smiled boyishly.

“Back to the uterus.  We’re in this uterus world where all we understand is our immediate environment.  We don’t know what lies beyond but sometimes we hear things and catch glimpses of what it’s like.  And sometimes we get messages, just like an unborn baby gets messages that it’s loved, even before it pops out.  And when it’s our time to move on from our giant uterus world to the next world, to be “reborn”, if you will, we all come out in different circumstances, just like a baby would, based on whether it was born in an elevator, an operating room or a hot tub and that’s why everybody has different accounts when they come back from the dead.  Some of us pass prematurely and are met by beings that serve the needs of our premature “rebirth” or sometimes our family members aren’t there because they got caught up in whatever their next world equivalent of work or a traffic jam is.”  It’s got to be something we can’t even imagine, just like the newborn baby can’t understand until he’s come into the next uterine world, but he eventually comes to understand it.  But they’ve been talking to us, getting close to the belly of our environment and sometimes we hear what they say and understand it, but most of the time we don’t.  We’re too caught up in the warmth and comfort of our uterus.  But after we pass, we find them eventually, just like a newborn baby finds the people who love it eventually and all things become clear as he, or she, progresses.”

“Holy cow, you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this haven’t you?”

“Why yes, I have.  And I’d like to think, in fact I think I’m going to go so far as to say that if something happens to me, I will do everything in my power to get to you and tell you I’m okay and hopefully, I’ll be able to get a message through to you.”

“Okay. Then what do I do?”

“I don’t know.  You’re such a dork.”

“Thank you.”  They both laughed and Della’s heart was soft and loving.  “Well, don’t you want to say anything to me?”

“Like what?”

Della slapped him in the arm and he recoiled , still laughing.

“Don’t you want to give me the same benefit and tell me that if anything happens to you, you’ll do whatever it takes to get a message to me?”

“I don’t know.  Do I?”

She slapped his arm again and he feigned pain and shock.

“Okay, okay, okay.  I’ll come back and haunt you in your “World of Uteri” and send you messages and let you know I’m alright.”

“Is that all?”

“I’ll… send… stock… tips???” Steve hesitantly guessed.

They giggled together the rest of the way home about nothing in particular.  Della’s heart was light.  She felt like a kid again and it felt amazing.