That same debate played out between my parents for the next two years. Except for the summer months, when food was plentiful; then the arguments subsided. But for the rest of the year, especially during the winter, the same discussions about money continued on a daily basis, and they were often quite heated. I lost two younger siblings during those two years. One during my tenth winter and the other during my eleventh winter. Neither of the children was older than six months. I always suspected hunger as the primary cause of their deaths.
Just before my twelfth birthday, my father started taking me with him when he went to work. My closest living sibling was nearly six and not feeling well most of the time, and the family needed the money I could bring in by helping my father, who was bland and wishy-washy, particularly when selling fabrics. I had no idea what he was like before, but in my mind his lethargy explained why our family was barely making ends meet. Our lives had become much harder since Gerald left, and part of me blamed him. I'm going to thrash him if I ever see him again and teach him a lesson about family responsibility.
It took me less than a week to realize that the people my father was dealing with, as with those in Bristol, had no respect for him. They regularly talked down to him. Rather than asking the price, they regularly paid what they wanted to pay. And he took it without a quibble. And when he tried to curry favor, he would never get it. His customers looked upon him as a whipping board, at least that's how it seemed to me.
I remember when we got home in the dark after a long day of work in late November, and my mother started in on Dad.
"Well? Have you got the money for me to buy food tomorrow?"
"A little. Here." He fished a guinea from his pocket.
"A guinea? That's it? That won’t feed us for a day. You've got to start working harder. With what you earn and what I bring in sewing clothes, we can barely pay the rent, and there is nothing left over to heat this place. And it's going to get colder, Geoff."
"I know, Mildred, I know. I’m trying as hard as I can."
"You haven’t worked hard since Sir Walter Raleigh left favor. You can't wait for him forever."
"He'll get favor back. And when he does, I’ll be right there helping him. You’ll see, we’ll be fine again."
She groaned. I was aware that this was not the first time my mother had heard this from my father. It's great talk from a man trying to get ahead. But after several years of the same song, it loses its credibility. She had enjoyed respectability in the early days when my father grabbed the coattails of the then revered Sir Walter Raleigh, and it was hard not having this luxury now. She hadn’t planned to be satisfied with being a shopkeeper’s wife, and she wasn't even that, at present. She changed the subject, not her tone.
"I overheard the ladies gossiping on the street today. They were talking about seeing Gerald's likeness on a 'Wanted' poster. A 'Wanted' poster, Geoff. There’s a warrant out for our son’s arrest. What are we going to do? What can we do?"
My father stared at the wall. "Nothing. He's an adult. He'll have to work it out for himself."
I watched quietly as my mother cried herself to sleep, her head on my father's shoulder. No matter how bad things got, they loved each other and wanted their lives to be better, the way I was often told they were before my birth. Maybe this is why I wanted to get away from them as soon as I could.
I didn't usually watch my parents fall asleep. But, that night I did. And, after they were sound asleep, I left. I had no plans. I didn't know where I was going. I just left in middle of what was a dark, chilly night.
I could hear the dogs barking around me as I scurried along the roadside. It felt as if they were yelping at me and coming towards me. I began running, faster than I'd ever sprinted in my life, my speed assisted by my sense of fear. Every time I heard a dog, or an owl, or any other animal, or even my own heavy breathing, my pace increased until I was exhausted and had to stop. This continued throughout the night until the sky started to lighten and I found a grove of overhanging bushes and crawled inside for some sleep.
I scavenged for food during the day and swiped a few pieces of fruit from merchants along the way. This became my means of subsistence. I left a coin when I could, as I'd pick up an occasional odd job, but I was always out of money. I also tried begging, and while I did survive on the street, I found life difficult. Yet for nearly two years I stayed with this vagabond existence before deciding to make my way to the sea. Too bad my internal compass wasn’t any good. Turns out I was moving more to the west than to the south. But before long I was on the shores of Bristol. And my life changed forever.
Walter Crofter was born into Elizabethan England.
In a country and a time where favor and politics were both deadly, can an honest boy stay true to himself?
Especially given his family background?
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Genre - Historical Fiction/Romance
Rating – G
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The Legend Within
by Cheryl Carpinello
Arthurian stories are steeped in legend. While perceived as fiction, legends often contain elements of factual happenings. It is left up to readers to decide if they believe or not.
In the Arthurian tales I write, I always add one or two of my own legends. Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend contains one of my favorites: The Legend of the Red Deer and the Unicorn. I’ve recited this story at readings and at Medieval Festivals where I have been the storyteller. Here it is:
The Legend of the Red Deer and the Unicorn
A long, long time ago when the forests were young, the unicorns roamed the land of what is now called England. They numbered in the thousands. One day a red deer washed up on a sandy shore during a violent storm. Not knowing the land, the red deer soon became lost, unable to find fresh water and enough grasses to eat. The unicorns found the deer near death from thirst and starvation. These kind creatures nudged and pushed the deer to fresh water and later showed it the best grazing grounds and the safest places in the forest to bed down.
Before long the unicorns adopted the deer, which, in turn, promised that all future generations of red deer would protect the unicorns. A few years later, another red deer washed up on the shore, was discovered and saved by the red deer and the unicorns. The two deer later mated and left the unicorn herds.
Hundreds of years passed and in those years, the red deer herds grew in number until there wasn’t a forest without the deer across the land. Sadly, the same could not be said for the unicorns. As men populated the island, a myth arose about the unicorn. It was believed that a unicorn’s horn held strong magic for man, and some even thought it could cure all of men’s ills. To that end, unicorns were hunted ruthlessly for the magical horn, their bodies left to rot once the horn was harvested.
The numbers of unicorns across the land dwindled to just a handful when the unicorns and the red deer met once more. The unicorns asked if the red deer remembered when the unicorns had saved them. The red deer remembered because the memories of the first red deer were passed on to each new deer. Filled with dismay at how few unicorns remained, the red deer kept their promise to protect the unicorns.
Today if you are lucky enough to come across a herd of red deer in England, you must be very quiet and patient. If you wait long enough and look hard enough, between the legs of the red deer, you may catch a glimpse of white. At the middle of each herd, the unicorns thrive and play.
Author Web Site: http://www.beyondtodayeducator.com
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/cheryl.carpinello1
Good Reads: http://www.goodreads.com/cherylcarpinello
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/143273704X
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/143273704X
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/guinevere-cheryl-carpinello/1100076414
In addition to be a writer, Cheryl is a retired high school English teacher. Still passionate about working with kids, she conducts writing workshops for kids in the elementary and middle schools. The kids outline their own medieval stories complete with knights, dragons, magicians, and usually princesses.
Cheryl loves to travel to college football games, to Las Vegas, to visit family, and to see new places. She and her husband recently spent two weeks visiting Egypt where they traveled by local train from one end of Egypt to the other.
Genre - Arthurian Legend
Rating – G
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20th day of Solis Moon, 1364
Derac choked. "What?"
"He came to speak with me while I was in the bath." The amber swirls in her eyes glowed bright and betrayed her panic, but her voice was calm.
His eyebrows shot into his hairline. "Did he force himself on you?" He swallowed the bile in his throat.
"No. He stared at me in a way that made me extremely uncomfortable and," she paused and held her lips between her teeth for a moment. "He kissed my neck. He didn't press any further than that, however."
Derac's breath rushed out of his lungs. He leaned back against the sofa and forced his muscles to relax. "What did he say?"
"He told me that he had great power, greater than just being the Mission Commander. He told me I should partner with him."
Derac's eyebrows shot up again. "What did you say to that?"
She spoke in hushed tones, but the words tumbled from her lips. "I told him no. I don't care for power. He said I could have my own power if I did partner with him. Then he told me to think about it. To wait until after the mission. He said that the events of the mission would help me to make up my mind. I have the awful feeling that this mission is going to go terribly wrong, and the Commander is behind it." She paused to her catch her breath. "Centurio, I know it sounds outlandish, but my feelings have never let me down before. We have no proof, but I think at the very least we should exercise caution around the Commander until we do find out the truth."
Derac rested his chin on the tips of his fingers. The elf thought he could barge in on the elfa's bath like he was supposed to be there? He tried to feel shocked at his Commander's possible betrayal and perverted actions, but he failed.
"What should we do?"
"I trust your judgment Kie. And you're right, we don't have proof. But I think I know of a way to get it." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "We tell the Commander our plan is to stay together. During the mission however, we split up. Get one group of faeries out of the cells and have two elite lead them back to the cabin. The other four will get the second group."
"Wait. Wouldn't that make the two vulnerable handling that many faeries on a six hour trip, on foot?"
"Yes. But, even if the faeries are weak, they could offer some help. There are hundreds of them down there according to the report." He winced. "Then again, you may have a point. What if the intel is wrong, yet again?"
"Didn't I see a report about sentry rotations at night?" Her eyes roamed over the table.
"Yes. It's here." He handed her the paper.
Her amber pools scanned the list. "Let's assume this is incorrect. According to this, they cut the guards in half at night. What if they had less? That would mean less to worry about. And, two of us could easily handle a few sentries."
"What do we do if they actually double the guards at night?"
Her lips pressed into a thin line. "Good point."
He pinched the bridge of his nose. "We can't even rely on our intel. Even if it ended that Palto was not involved, we could still be walking into an ambush. How would we know for sure it was his doing or just bad intel?"
She put her hands behind her head and glanced up at the ceiling. "I don't know. I have no skill with strategy."
He snorted. "You read battle strategies for fun."
"Exactly. I'm trying to learn. Doesn't mean I can make up new ones."
"All right. Let's go over all our options again. We can enter through the front or through the secret tunnel. With any of those options, we can stay together, split in half, or split four to two. Is there any other way to get into the mines?"
She shook her head. "I've heard rumors at the very top of the mountain is a shaft that runs all the way down to the lower levels of the mine. But, I don't know for certain and the mountain side is treacherous. We could injure ourselves more just trying to gain entry."
Derac held his head in his hands and tried to predict the outcome of their mission. Kie mirrored his position as her eyes scanned the intel scattered across the table. Her spine jerked and she sat up straight.
"What if we split up into three groups of two? Two to lead the first group out like you said before, two to provide protection, the last two get the second group. Done fast enough, all six of us and all the faeries would leave right after each other, or at least within moments of each other."
"And you say you have no skill with strategy."
She chuckled. "It's still risky though."
"What part of any mission isn't?" He sucked in air and held it a few moments before he exhaled. "Again, I don't like the plan, but it'll work."
They finalized their strategy and detailed every second of their mission. Confidence filled Derac that their idea would work and he ordered Kie to sleep.
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Genre – Fantasy / Military
Rating – PG13
What genre do you like writing most? I only write fiction now but I don’t write just one type of genre – my novels are very diverse and I think they reflect my life in general. I’ve lived all over the world so I’ve immersed myself in different cultures, values and ways of life. I’ve also had many “lives” – as a bus conductor, soldier, computer programmer, racing car driver, pilot, screenwriter, sailboat captain, father and author. I’m insatiably curious and never tire of trying new things.
And so I think the way I write is the way I live life – I love to delve into different genre, and use each genre to explore life and ideas from many different perspectives. So for example, An Unquiet American is provocative political thriller; The Orange Moon Affair the first of a new suspense series; The Book of Baker series are satires which allow me to use humor to say things I could never get away with normally; Dry Tortugas is about the drama and fragility of family relationships; and the “horror” book Collisions explores PTSD and a mind becoming unhinged. Yet what they all have in common is that they draw on my own experience and emanate from my intense curiosity about and desire to make sense of the world around me.
For me, great books entertain, inspire, inform and expand my sense of possibility. They take me on a wild ride or wonderful journey of imagination – and so if I can achieve just some of that for my own readers then I’m very happy and deeply grateful to them for letting me into their lives.
What’s your greatest strength as a writer? I think my greatest strength is my ability to have a general idea of where I want to go with my stories but allowing them and the characters to write themselves. Rather than forcing a fixed idea, my books and characters take on a life of their own taking me where they want to go as much as the other way around. It takes a leap of faith and great trust to do this and probably a little insanity. But I’ve never been able to outline a book in detail on paper and then write to that – it doesn’t work for me even though it does for many other writers. When I write to a plan, that story doesn’t breathe and expand and contract the way life does.
What inspired you to write The Orange Moon Affair? It was an opportunity to draw on my father’s life as an MI6 operative, what I knew about the intelligence community, my own experiences of special forces and being in the army, and my intense interest in how power can corrupt even those we would least expect. I got the idea for the book many years ago from scandalous events surrounding the Delorean Car Company and dealings between America and the British government. My editor at the time thought my story too fantastical for it to be believable and had to eat his words when the scandal broke and was all over the news. He admitted he should have trusted my writer instincts and published it. It’s taken me many years to get back to it but I finally rewrote it recently and I know it’s so much better than it was back then as I have grown so much as a writer with 6 other books under my belt before this one.
I felt inspired to write a thriller series where I can develop the character of Thomas Gunn through many different situations and life events – it’s a huge challenge but one I relish. And I also just wanted to build a fascinating story with layers upon layers of intrigue that keeps readers enthralled and guessing to the very end!
How did you come up with the title? I have to be honest and say that titles of my books just come to me and I rarely change them once I decide on them – they determine the context within which I write and what flows onto the page. I guess I just have a weird mind that works in mysterious ways!
Can you tell us about your main character? Thomas Gunn is ex-British Special Forces who would like nothing more than to forget his past life and the person he had to become while serving in the army. But the murder of his billionaire father drags him back to his old life of international intrigue and danger and he knows that to solve the puzzle of his father’s death he has to become the very person he had hoped to leave behind. But that causes much conflict within him and it’s as if he searches for a new way of being in the world, integrating the past and present versions of himself and who he would imagine himself to be in the future. He is man who can kill without second thought and yet with a huge heart and deep love for his girlfriend Julie who ends up being his most loyal ally and who helps him through his most difficult times.
The Orange Moon Affair - by the bestselling author of CONTACT - is the first book of a compelling new thriller series, an action-packed conspiracy with a hero and heroine you hold your breath for. If you enjoy the action of Robert Ludlum, the intensity of Brad Thor and the international intrigue of Daniel Silva, then this book’s for you!
Ex-British Special Forces soldier Thomas Gunn is drawn back into his old life of international intrigue and danger following the murder of his billionaire father. The deeper he digs the more complicated the puzzle becomes until he finds himself working for MI5 uncovering a global conspiracy that puts the freedom of the western world at grave risk. His girlfriend Julie becomes his accomplice surprising him with her loyalty, strength of character and physical prowess.
While traversing the globe being shot at, shot down and losing loved ones – a haunting question tears at his soul – was his father really at the heart of this evil conspiracy? Or was he a pawn in a larger more insidious game that even he could not control?
Seeking the final answer could cost Thomas dearly, ripping from him all that he most loves and cherishes and leaving him questioning his past, his future and what kind of person he is or wants to become. The final outcome depends on him. Or does it?
As a former Captain of Britain’s elite Parachute Regiment and son of an MI6 operative the author brings his own unique and eye-opening experiences to the character and exploits of Thomas Gunn, as well as an unsettling blurring of the lines between fiction and reality when exploring the ruthless abuse of power and position for personal gain.
“… The Orange Moon Affair is timely, eye-opening, fast-paced … you will find you want to turn the next page, and the next page, and the next … the first of the Thomas Gunn series … you don’t want to miss them!” 5 Stars, Remy Benoit.
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Genre – Thriller
Rating – PG13
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I laid in bed that night, assuring myself that it would be the easiest money I'd ever made.
There was something about it, though--something cold sliding down into my gut. I had bitten that worm, and the hook was already working its way through me.
I smoothed over that feeling with the thought that I could be giving Haley a shot at the life she deserved--Winnie too. That's all I needed. I'd pay any price for that. Somehow that thought helped me get to sleep.
Around nine thirty-five, I began to drag myself out of unconsciousness like I was coming out of a coma. Slamming my hand down on my alarm, I stumbled through the living room to the red leather briefcase. An hour and a half later, I was in Philly, turning down a little side road called South Juniper Street. I had the brown paper package and a clipboard tucked under my arm.
About twenty-five steps from the corner was a small shop with a green awning and a candle lantern beside the entrance. The print on the window read McAfee’s Clockworks and Antiques. The curved brass handle on the door was cold. It was the kind of cold that hits your chest like a gong, then vibrates through the rest of you. The bell tinkled over my head as I pushed through the door and a small old man walked out from the back room. Wiping his hands with a dirty towel, he hobbled out from behind the counter.
"Can I help you, lad? Don't be afraid, there isn't anything an old goat like me can do ta hurt ya."
"I've got a package for Mr. Lyndon McAfee."
"Well, that would be me, wouldn't it?" He said with a smile. The man's face was tough, despite his age. He wasn't hobbling because he was old, he must have had some injury back in the day. I handed him the clipboard with the delivery sheet that Isaac had given me.
"This is quite unexpected," his voice had the same syrupy thickness of Isaac's. "There you go." He handed me back the board as I placed the package in his other hand.
"You have a nice day," I said and started to go.
"Can I get you anything before you go? Cup o' tea? A sandwich or something other?"
I turned back and forced a smile. "No thanks, sir. I'd really better be getting back to work," I said holding up my clipboard and giving it a shake.
"Very well, you have a good day."
"You too," I said as the bell tinkled overhead again. The door shut behind me. I rounded the corner feeling the sunlight on my face and crossed the street between the cars. When I stepped onto the sidewalk, I was already thinking about that money and just caught myself before I knocked a latte out of the hand of a blonde-haired businesswoman wearing a little too much perfume. Dodging her, I almost ran smack into a young guy with a black windbreaker and a camera. He stepped aside, and I caught his eye as he went past. I had time to notice he had short, dark hair, olive skin--Middle Eastern. A small scar cut down at the edge of his hairline. His eyes locked onto mine. That's when it hit.
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Genre – Thriller
Rating – R
We had a team of agricultural scientists that said it’s possible with our land and climate. Big Oil and greedy politicians had blocked the United States from doing it for years.
Our job was to convince the American People.
People are deathly afraid of change. Ideas have a life cycle. Early adopters jump on the bandwagon right away, eager to try the latest thing. Next, you have the show me types; they’re a little afraid to try anything new. They’re worried when they go to the pump there’ll be no gas. Third, there are the late adopters. After most people are convinced, then they’ll buy in. Last, you have the - that’ll never happen types. They’re quick to say it will never work. They wait until an idea is in common practice, then they go around telling everybody they thought of it years ago.
Bud liked to educate prospective big dollar supporters, “The first cars ran on bio fuel; back in 1880, cars were made to run on peanut oil. Hell, Henry Ford made the 1908 Model T to run on Corn Ethanol; he even had his own plant to produce it. This is nothing new, fellas. It’s been around for years! It’s easier than makin’ moonshine!”
Well what’s old is new again. Bio Energy had been hard to get across to the voters. Folks didn’t seem to get how it would create jobs. For this election, our message was honed to American Energy Works; we would link it with a new slogan - We Can.
Bio Energy sounds like something you flush.
I know people want a president, not a chemist. Focus group testing showed anything we tried sounds better after the words 'We Can'. I’d say the sexy stuff and leave the science to the talking heads.
America had done so well with corn technology, farmers had tripled the bushel yield per acre a decade ago. If American ingenuity could send a man to the moon, we could do the same for our homegrown fuel.
We’d all heard stories of guys working in their garages, who chanced upon a breakthrough technology, only to have it bought out by some oil company. Or worse - tales the inventor were quieted by the government in some conspiracy. That’s all science fiction.
We were holding a workable plan, the key feature being the planting of Jatropha, a hardy grass-like plant that grew in almost any soil. We would convince farmers to grow it and chemists would turn it into Bio Fuel. I preferred Jatropha to other feedstocks like soybeans because it couldn’t double as food.
I figured, why give people a reason to debate? Our experts laid the country out in a grid showing, by planting, just the available farmland of Kentucky; we could accomplish nearly half our national goal. Imagine what we could grow if we spread it around to all fifty states. The message had resonated so well in my home state, I’d won a third term.
Bud was telling donors, ‘It just makes good old-fashioned common sense!’
H. Bud Singer was in charge of the campaign and, in addition to fundraising, he was chiefly responsible for reshaping the message. I needed Bud because he could do and say things other men couldn’t or wouldn’t. Besides Bud, three other rising stars rounded out our core team, each in charge of a segment of the campaign.
Once we announced, we expected a flood of volunteers in addition to more paid staff. Our offices would be buzzing with enthusiasm and the aspirations of youth seeking a place to make their mark in the world. I had an uncanny knack for turning talented people into true believers.
Bud and I spent hours going over speech notes. Ideas didn’t come cheap; especially the kind that could lift us out of recession and pay our debt to China without going to war. We always ended believing the surest way to National Security and prosperity for America was to produce lots of cheap energy. Top economists calculated, for every one percent of energy produced on our soil, we would lower the import cost of oil by 3% and create a quarter million jobs. Our goal is to produce twenty percent of the energy we use and cause the price of world crude to plummet.
What’s scaring the Saudis is they knew it was possible; even their own scientists were telling them so. At least all the data we are continually sharing with them brought them to this conclusion. We have them so worried, the whole Middle East would be planted if they could grow anything in the desert. America has millions of acres of available farmland, a willing workforce, and people who can’t pay their oil bills nearly freezing to death in the Northeast. If ever there was a time for a message to resonate, this was it.
I met Bud Singer at Brown where I majored in economics. Bud was a Political Science undergrad, eventually getting a degree in law. He loved the strategy of politics and started working on congressional campaigns right out of law school. Later he headed a prestigious lobbying group, leaving it only to help me win the election to the senate. Bud was stocky and bald and stubborn, continuing to chain smoke even after having a couple of heart attacks.
Bud would say to big money donors – ‘We’ll have cheap energy like we had back in the 50’s and 60’s, so cheap the multi nationals fall all over themselves to bring production back to America.’ Privately he had a more ingenious plan. ‘We’ve got to make it economical to manufacture here again. Once we lure the Corporations back and get them hooked, we force them through taxes to keep the money and jobs here. Bud was right: politicians had made a crucial error rewarding American Corporations for sending jobs overseas, searching for cheap labor and short-term profits.’
Bud and I agreed that the richest Americans didn’t care where they made the money; they had quadrupled their wealth over the longest recession in history. Once we change the Energy Dynamic, the big players will all rush in for a piece of the action.
A trillion dollars worth of wealth would pour back into this country. We would appeal to their massive egos and call them patriotic - after all, they live here, anyway.
This time was nothing like our first presidential campaign, when our offices were housed makeshift in an old mattress store. One thing the first loss brought me was better positioning in the senate. In the most striking example of ‘it’s not what you know but who you know,’ greater name recognition had secured me a coveted position with the Armed Services Committee.
Our new headquarters were courtesy of our friends at TenStar, a Major Defense Contractor who wanted to get to know me better. They “rented” us the space, renovated to suit, and agreed to accept delayed payment over ten years.
Bud liked the idea, ‘That’s making the paper walk backwards, Jack!’
In addition to providing office space, TenStar would make the campaign an unsecured loan of five million dollars and provide the use of a corporate jet. Privately, the agreement was more complicated, involving several components. Provided Bud would sit on their Board and appear at Corporate Events, the lease debt would be considered settled. The caveat attached to the five million was after I left office I would speak at their annual meetings. Open-ended access was an assumed, but unspoken, part of the deal.
All in all, we considered that fair for us at this juncture, as we get closer, the arrangements will get better.
Sandy called on the speakerphone, “Brenner’s on the line. Can you take it, Jack?”
Joe Brenner, CEO of TenStar, personally arranged for the space. TenStar made major weapons systems including a prototype fighter - code name, Phantom, that could enter Earth’s Orbit and fire weapons from space. Sort of an X-35 meets the space shuttle. The problem was, Brenner and his counterparts were the guys who lobbied Congress to shut down the U.S. Shuttle Program.
I picked up the phone, “How the hell are you, Joe,” mirroring his usual style and tone.
Joe fired back, “I’m well, Jack, just calling to see how you boys are settling in.”
“We’re doing fine.”
“How’s the donor money flowing in?”
“Don’t worry, Joe, you got us cheap.”
He chuckled, “We’ll see, Jack. You’ve still got to do well in New Hampshire and you’re not that well-known in the Northeast.”
“Thanks for the heads up, you son of a bitch! If Bud ever decides to leave politics, I’ll know who to call.”
Joe laughed, “I don’t think I’m ready for that. I’ve got all I can handle right here, but Jack, you let me know if you need anything.”
“Thanks, Joe, we’ll have a drink together in the White House, and seriously, I appreciate your support. We’ll talk soon.”
I could count on that, since the Phantom’s projected price tag was estimated at eleven billion per copy.
“Hey, Jack, I heard you were headed out of the country. Anyone I know?”
Joe was always snooping.
I laughed, “If I told you I’d have to kill you, so you’re better off.”
Joe’s laugh sounded forced. We said goodbye.
Sandy tilted her head in, blonde hair hanging down to the doorknob.
Still smiling, I thought she mistook my grin for a reaction to the plunging sweater blouse she was wearing.
Girlishly, “Senior Staff is ready when you are, Jack.”
I figured I’d just go with it to make up for semi-ignoring her before.
“Hey step in here a second.”
“Why, Jack, you need something,” flirting.
“I didn’t get the chance to tell you before; you look fantastic! Is that a new outfit?”
Sounding like a spoiled twenty, “Yes, do you suddenly like it? I didn’t think you noticed me, running through the building to look at your stupid car.”
“Well, I’m noticing now. You look gorgeous. Wow, Honey!”
“Well, better late than never, I guess…Thanks, Jack.”
Her look and the way she practically bounced out of the room told me she was happier.
I was sitting at my desk when Bud arrived, taking his usual seat on one of the sofas.
My office was shaped like an L. Our gathering area consisted of two black leather couches, a couple of wing back chairs, and my desk, all in a tight-knit square.
Bud asked, “How’s everything going today?”
Looking over my reading glasses, “Good, have you finalized the distribution points for the large donations?”
Bud answered, “Everything is set to go. The pump is primed, all we need is the cash.”
“You’re the wizard, Bud, great work.”
Bud had been working for months setting up Super Pac’s that would be controlled by us. The Committees could spend as they wished and collect vast contributions without burdensome regulations. Advertising on television is expensive, even on the local level. Regardless of cost, it’s critical to catch voters in that semiconscious state.
TV helps instill a positive and familiar ‘I know that guy’ kinda feeling. I don’t believe an election could be won without it. To be ingrained, our message has to be playing over and over. I still remember ads I haven’t seen since I was a kid.
The bottom line is - in order for us to make the financial commitments necessary to influence the election we have to set up these channels. I was confident Bud would handle our finances in a way that would still allow us to accept Federal Matching Funds. The people he placed in charge of the Super Pacs would be handsomely rewarded with opportunities, either in the White House, or with corporations that supported us. The system’s crazy; we had no choice but to work the gray areas if we want to win.
Next into the office was Robert “Tip” Thornton, after him, my best buddy, Bill Mitchell, and finally Lisa Pennington. The hit squad, we liked to call it.
This group, along with Sandy, was our inner circle.
We had an understanding of total candor - no subject was off-limits. We liked thinking out loud, knowing everything would stay with us. Secondary staff was on a need to know basis.
Bill was first to speak, holding up his thumb and fore finger an inch apart, “I’m this close to finalizing the trip to see the Saudis.”
We were priming the Crown Prince to be a keystone contributor. We would need a quarter billion to win this thing and we were banking on him to give us a big piece of that.
I said to the group, “If I can get twenty from them, we could get some of the others to pony up. Everybody likes to follow the big dog.”
Bill said, "They’re going to want some heavy assurances that you’ll stall the home still, Jack. Are you prepared to lie to these guys?”
“The truth would be really quaint right now, Bill. Listen, they’ve been selling us high-priced tar for years, sucking the life out of our economy. I don’t care what I have to say at this point! If we’re gonna do this thing and bring America back, we’ve got to hold our noses and do it. If any of you have a problem with this, try focusing on the ordinary Americans who are suffering. We need to tip the scales back in their favor!”
Bud added, “If any of you think there’s any other way to win, speak up now, because it’s now or never. Once we go over there, we’re in it up to our eyeballs!”
Lisa piped back, “I agree with Jack, I’m sick of seeing Americans losing their homes! This is our chance to finally have the power to do something about it.”
“Power isn’t given, it must be seized,” I asserted, “We’ve got to pull the rug out from under these guys, before they catch a whiff of what’s coming.”
Tip was a man of few words and had one quirk: he refused to ever repeat himself. When he spoke, we all piped down for fear of missing even a single word. It was always interesting. An ex-Navy Seal, he was in charge of security for the campaign. I trusted him with my life. Decorated for Valor in Iraq, he was recruited with a sub-agency of the NSA. Tip and company had been dropped into hotspots all over Afghanistan to hunt for snipers. The agency believes ‘it takes one to hunt one’ and chose candidates based on natural ability, recruiting secretly out of the military. His group eliminated targets considered security threats to the United States. Nicknamed King Cobra, Tip commanded an elite squad outfitted with sophisticated survival gear, capable of encampment behind enemy lines for days at a time. Tip saved lives by surgically removing the enemy’s instruments of death. The existence of the team was never made public.
Genre – Political Thriller
Rating – PG
CHAPTER 3 - Jillian
Before I opened my eyes, I was struck by two things: the scratchy fabric underneath my cheek did not feel like my pillow and my head was throbbing like hell. Neither one of those realizations was boding well for me. I didn’t recall being drunk, but that didn’t mean much.
I slowly rolled onto my back almost expecting my head to fall right the hell off. I blinked trying to get my eyes to adjust, but no matter how many times I blinked them, the scene in front of me still made no sense. There were a few possible explanations, but honestly, none of them were good.
The walls were purple. There was a small desk in the corner with a beat up old computer. A few CDs were stacked on the corner—Third Eye Blind, Korn, Lauryn Hill. The bookcase next to it was full of worn paperbacks. Memoirs of a Geisha sat on top. There was a messenger bag on the floor filled with textbooks. A few flyers were poking out from the inside. The alarm clock said it was midnight. I knew what station it would be set to.
This is so messed up.
I had to be dreaming and in this dream I was in my old bedroom back in Reynolds. Normally, I didn’t have ridiculously bad headaches in my dreams, but it was the only explanation I was willing to accept. As I rubbed my head, trying to alleviate the dull ache, everything came flooding back. The reunion. The skinny jeans. My lack of coordination. The black out.
I hit my head. Hard.
There were two other possible options: I could either be dead or in a coma. If I was dead and this was heaven, someone had a lot of explaining to do. My old bedroom in my parents’ house was not where I wanted to spend eternity. Suddenly I felt like I was in an episode of Lost because I didn’t even know when this was. I needed to find a calendar.
I moved very slowly to get out of bed not knowing what the rules were when you were dreaming/dead/in a coma and waking up back in your parents’ house. Maybe my legs wouldn’t work right. I wasn’t taking any chances.
On the corner of my desk was a calendar. It was one of those “Word of the Day” calendars and it was open to April 29, 1999. Less than a month to graduation. In June, I would be leaving for New York. The Word of the Day was ephemeral.
Ephemeral: 1. Beginning and ending in a day; existing only, or no longer than, a day; as, an ephemeral flower. 2. Short-lived; existing or continuing for a short time only.
It was clear to me that this was a message from my brilliant subconscious. I felt better instantly knowing that I was definitely dreaming. This visit was going to be short-lived, and I would wake up with a wicked headache tomorrow in my comfy little room back in Seattle.
Must remember to dig out that Korn CD, though. Forgot how good they were.
My curiosity got the better of me so I grabbed the messenger bag to inspect its contents. A number of vaguely familiar textbooks were inside: Spanish IV, trigonometry and chemistry. Someone should tell these kids that no one ever needs trig in real life. Proven fact. I’d vouch for it. One of the flyers fell to the ground.
Join the Senior Class on Thursday, May 20th for the Senior Prom and bid farewell to Reynolds High. Prom tickets on sale now in the cafeteria.
My mind suddenly flashed back to the prom posters littering the walls of Reynolds High. The prom committee chose Mariah Carey’s I Still Believe for a prom song which I felt was pretty cheesy especially since Brenda K. Starr sang it better. But the prom song didn’t really concern me. On prom night, I was not at the “I Still Believe” prom. I was at the dentist. Unfortunately, when you spend your entire high school career in the library or at home with your nose in a book, you don’t meet many members of the opposite sex. So instead of sitting at home sulking because I was missing my prom, I decided to try and distract myself….by getting my teeth cleaned. My prom date gave me a spit bib instead of a corsage.
Thank you, Dr. Grayson, D.D.S. It was a magical evening.
I suddenly felt very sad looking at the flyer. Was this my subconscious’ way of reminding me of how stupid I was in high school? Because I was pretty sure I knew this already.
While I was tempted to snoop around my room and visit with my seventeen-year-old self, I decided that I shouldn’t prolong this trip. I should get back in bed, pull the covers over my eyes, forget that I knew what four-hundred thread-count felt like and go to sleep. As I climbed in, I felt a familiar jab in my side. I was still wearing the skinny jeans that got me into this mess. Fishing into my back pocket, I found my good old buddy Joan. I gave her a quick shake and heard the wonderful sound of liquid sloshing around inside.
I slowly unscrewed the cap and took a sniff. Vodka. Normally I wouldn’t drink it straight and would mix it with something else, but desperate times called for desperate measures. I took a gulp and felt the burn on my tongue and down my throat.
The shot of vodka along with the trauma of waking up in my depressing seventeen-year-old life made me sleepy very quickly. I closed my eyes and bid farewell to that Jillian—the Jillian I left behind in Reynolds. Ephemeral. That’s what she was. And I was glad.
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Genre – Chick Lit
Rating – PG13