“A Soul Defiled – A Bailey Crane Mystery” (Book 5) – EXCERPT

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“A Soul Defiled – A Bailey Crane Mystery” is the fifth and final book in the ‘Bailey Crane Mystery Series’ – a relatively short book written on the Sea of Cortez. As I lazily and leisurely lolled on my condo deck watching the sailboats, jet skis, yachts, and all the diversions upon the sea, I saw a Mexican beach hawker of lovely serapes walking toward the old port of Rocky Point. It was late in the afternoon, and the hawker seemed weary from his day’s labors along Sandy Beach. Walking all day up and down the long stretch of beach with a heavy load of serapes draped over his shoulder had taken its toll. My guess was that he was making his final trek toward home as the sun was closing on the western horizon. He would occasionally stop by a couple or a group sunbathing on the sand to present his wares, and, disappointed with no sale, wander wearily onward toward the port and home.

My mind would not let go the thoughts on this common daily scene along the lovely coastline, and the thoughts extended themselves into Book 5 of the Bailey Crane Series. Here then is an excerpt from “A Soul Defiled – A Bailey Crane Mystery.”

EXCERPT

Prologue

Along the coast of Pueblo del Mar the tide was out. Volcanic rock splotches of tide pools were visible between the beach, sand bars, and cobalt sea. Creeping wider up the distant horizon to meet the blue sky was a streak of soft mauve elegance, reaching west to east as far as the eye could see. The sun was setting out around the bend near Bahia del Pelicano. There were sea gulls at water’s edge, some standing in stoic poses, others airborne, diving for food just off the sand bars. Minus a rare storm day, it was a scene recorded each day on this majestic stretch of beach on The Sea of Cortez.

Along the shell strewn sandy beach a lone hawker was making his final stroll east toward the old port. There was weariness in his strides, his bronze lined face a sheen of sweat. The unsold colorful serapes were draped over his left shoulder and his downcast eyes only surveyed the short space in front of him. A dog barked and some children squealed in a predominantly American inhabited resort just seventy-five yards north of the hawker’s path, giving him a momentary pause in his steady gait. He thought of his grandchildren, about their play area in the cluttered space of dust, gravel, and junk behind his sheet metal shanty. They, like their fathers and mothers before them, would never know the resort life. In his brief thoughts it did not matter. His family led a simple and meager existence but they were happy. There was love and there was God. The daily routines had basic rituals and they found humble joy and pleasure in their sharing.

Only a few people now hovered over the tide pools to check out a hermit crab, a baby squid, or a dead sting ray, to collect sea glass and an occasional shell. These were people the hawker had already approached more than once, and he no longer cared so much about a possible sale. Dinero controlled much of his life lately, but the day had been long. He only wanted to be home, to share his meager earnings of the day with family and to sip a cerveza.

When he fell to the sand on his knees Fernando Cervantes thought for a brief moment he had gone down from a sharp chest cramp. His unsold serapes were involuntarily flung outward onto the beach. He felt liquid flowing through his fingers, saw the liquid when he pulled his hand from his left rib cage. He saw that it was his blood. As he collapsed on his side in the sand, his life presented itself to him in a few gasping breaths. As he slowly rolled onto his back, his half-closed eyes looked upward toward a diminishing blue sky. There was so much he wanted to tell Father Umberto, so much he yet wished to share with his family, but all he could weakly mutter in his last moment was, “Mi Dios, por favor me perdona para he pecado!

Clusters of sea gulls gathered near the lifeless body of Fernando Cervantes, indifferent, unimpeded in their ageless habits.

The colors of sunset cast an eerie surreal hue on the beach tableau.

 

Chapter One

“It’s so good to be back. Does it get any better than this?” in the fog of memory, I wondered how many times this question had been muttered by me.

“Well, Bailey-dear, guess we could be sitting and sipping on a veranda in Malibu. But it wouldn’t be the same, somehow … too phony, maybe, and too far outside our reality. No, my short answer, it does not get any better than this.” Wendy could always add a special dimension to one of my comments.

We smiled and watched some shrimp boats returning to the old port after a night of dip netting. It was another cloudless soft blue day, the sun deliciously warm. For ‘sun people’ Pueblo del Mar was near perfect. There was seldom a gray day, rarely any rain. Most of the time there was a prevailing breeze, and, at times, some strong winds. The magnificent quality of this particular morning was the norm for Pueblo del Mar, the quality that made the decision easy for us to buy our lovely condo here on the Sea of Cortez. Not an expert by any stretch, but the gorgeous weather must have something to do with the latitude and longitude of this area of Mexico.

My name is Bailey Crane, once a business owner and part-time ‘crime fighter’ with the Phoenix, Arizona, Police Department. The ‘crime fighter’ label is used in an attempt to bolster my aging ego. Still active, still feeling young and vital, the body has lost a few vital cells, but I’m still sweating out the toxins with daily workouts, still carry a six foot frame and weigh just south of two hundred pounds. There are some hitches in my ‘getiup,’ some sags here and there, but I’ve got my hair, my teeth, and my totally unbiased wife tells me I still have the good looks of that ‘Sound of Music’ guy, Christopher Plummer. Do I have a great support system, or what!

My activities have slowed considerably in semi-retirement. Wendy, my bride, a former police lady herself, decided — well, we decided — that it was time to ease back the throttle and smell some of those proverbial roses. A good choice! We’ve traveled, done cruises, and have thoroughly enjoyed life in the slow lane. Is my previous life missed? Truth is, it is missed, which might be quite natural, like, any vocational interest that gets in the blood. It is not missed enough to ever consider going back. Wendy and I have created a life style that is very comfortable. Having sold my business, with some IRA’s, and modest investments, we are able to live reasonably well.

Wendy still carries in body and soul all the beauty that drew me to her twenty odd years ago. There is still no gray in her tresses, and her face has no wrinkles … except for the slight lines at the corner of her eyes, which only adds to her Andie McDowell loveliness. And, guess what? I still sneak my peaks at her curves when she disrobes in the evening and dons her night gown or pajamas. Wendy came along when my personal life was in crisis, a gift from God. The one sure and unalterable truth is that our bond, our love, will last our lifetimes and, with faithful assurance, into eternity.

“Anything particular you want to do today, dear lady?” The question was asked dutifully and with her negative response hopefully anticipated. My desire was to stay clad in my red swim trunks, my exotic shirt, and thongs.

“Absolutely nothing,” Wendy dipped her head and gave me a smile. “You would pout all day if I had an agenda for you.” She paused, got up to clear the patio table. “You want more tea? More cereal, toast, anything?”

“I’m good. Let’s just sit and soak up this sea and sun for awhile. Maybe we’ll go poolside later or wander the beach … you can collect some sea glass and shells. Maybe we’ll find an old Spanish doubloon … as if!” Repositioning my swivel chair, placing my feet on the deck railing, I raised my empty cup. “On second thought, I’ll have another chamomile while you’re up.”

A few hours later, after a swim and beach walk, we were back on our deck. Wendy was reading while I dozed on the chaise lounge.

The kitchen telephone ringing through the screen door broke into my repose. Wendy marked her book and went inside to answer the call. “It’s Tom Horner, for you,” she yelled.

Tom Horner was a longtime friend and he was on the Board of our Mar y Sol Home Owners Association.

Dulled by the slumber time and the day’s laziness, I rose slowly and went inside.

“What’s up, Tom?” seating myself at the kitchen table.

“Hi, Bailey. When did you get in?” Tom’s voice had a deep resonant quality.

“Late yesterday afternoon.”

“Good trip down?”

“Traffic was light, smooth sailing.”

“Going to be here for awhile this visit?” Tom seemed to be dancing around the reason for his call.

“Wendy and I are here for a long stay. There is nothing on our calendar. Is there a problem, Tom?”

“Are you busy right now, Bailey?’”

“Just a little sweaty from the sun and beach. You want to visit?”

“Yes, if it’s good for you. Can you meet me at Tinker’s in fifteen minutes? I’ll buy you a beer, and you can come as you are.”

“Can’t we visit here?” Tinkers was a short walk of five minutes, but, still…

“We can, but it would be better if we talked off premises.”

Tom now had my interest. Something very newsworthy was in the air. “See you in fifteen!”

Changing from thongs to tennies I told Wendy of the short, cryptic phone conversation and left. Since Wendy had not been mentioned in the invitation, she was just as glad to have some time for chores in our neglected condo unit.

Tom Horner was an old friend and likely the biggest reason we had chosen Mar y Sol as our seaside retirement site. Tom and wife Gladys had moved to Pueblo del Mar five years ago and had been among the first residents in Mar y Sol. They had invited us down on several occasions, and we very quickly determined that this was where we wanted to be at some point in time. That point in time had come one year ago. Wendy and I were now considering full time residency. When the American developers had completed the condo project and all units were sold, an HOA board was established to represent the owners’ interests. Tom had been a unanimous choice for president.

The big burly guy was sitting at a small corner table when I arrived at Tinkers. Dressed a bit more formally, Tom wore pale blue Bermudas and a gold colored button-down shirt. His deeply tanned face and body was in sharp contrast with his recently groomed white hair. Although aging had brought a more rotund torso, he was still a handsome guy. He had always reminded me of Tom Selleck, one of my favorite actors.

Tom stood. We gave ‘buddy hugs,’ and sat. A frosty Corona was immediately placed in front of me.

Tinkers was a local ex-pat bar and eatery, owned and operated by Tinker Davidson, a former US auto racer of some notoriety. The restaurant and lounge sat between two high-rise condo developments about one hundred yards from the sea. The outside of the rectangular building was constructed of stone and stucco, with a thatched roof. No one could miss the place with its big vertical lettered sign just off the entrance. Inside, there was an understated ambiance, with a cozy corner mahogany bar with subdued lighting and comfortable seating, designed for the nostalgic, romantic souls. The back bar had a beautiful wall-length smoked mirror with gold edging, and the enticing area was pleasantly set apart from the spacious dining room with three large pots of exotic plants. Tinker had put a lot of thought in the design, and his place was one of the most popular in Pueblo del Mar for both the ex-pats and the locals.

“You’re looking fit, Tommy. How’s Gladys?” We were sitting next to one of those big potted plants.

“She’s good, Bailey. We’re both good. Back at you: you’re looking fit as well. Wendy sounded chipper on the phone. She okay?” My good friend had that aura about him. Something was eating at him big time.

“Yeah, she’s fine …” I downed some Corona. “Okay, Tom, enough of our soft shoe. What’s going on, big guy?”

“You heard anything about anything?” he asked.

“Just got here, buddy. I know nada. Give!”

There was some soft and soothing Spanish guitar music coming from a CD in the bar area. Tom glanced around the room. There were a few scattered patrons seated some distance away from us. They would not be able to hear our conversation. Tom could talk without worry. My interest was now at a high level.

“It’s a hell of a way to greet you back, pal, but I’ve got to talk to somebody outside the Mar y Sol inner circle. So, sorry about that.” Tom took a long draw from his own Corona bottle and continued. “Mar y Sol has some problems, Bailey. You know Mitchell Probst, our HOA treasurer?”

“Yeah, I know him. Not well, but I’ve seen him around. He’s got one of the beach villas.”

“Well, he’s a big part of our problem. He was found murdered in his beach villa this morning. The body of a serape hawker was found on the beach late yesterday afternoon, just a few yards from Mitchell’s villa …”

“Jesus! Wendy and I show up and strange karma tags along. You said, ‘a big part of our problem.’ There’s more? Don’t know if I’m ready for this my first day back to ‘Pueblo.’”

“I know, it’s a bummer … sorry, pal. We’ve got some issues on the HOA board. There are things not adding up. The accounting system is fouled up and there’s money we can’t locate, apparently some missing ledgers. Mitchell was not the most popular board member and he had been acting strange the last few days before his murder. Look, I know the economy is bad; our tourist business has fallen off; the media has been unfair to us. But, even with all that, there is something going on that is not right. And, Bailey, I’m telling you even if you wouldn’t ask: I have absolutely no idea what’s going on. Are we being embezzled? Is there corruption on the board? Was Mitchell stealing from us? Or, did he discover something that got him killed? Are the murders of Mitchell and the hawker connected? Did a stray bullet kill the hawker? Your police chief friend, Ernie, has been here with his investigators and is working the case. He has this information I’m giving you. Does he know you’re in town?”

“No, don’t believe so … I haven’t contacted him yet. He knew we were coming this week.”

Ernesto Villar was the police chief of Pueblo del Mar. We had become good friends years ago while working together on an Arizona/Mexico connected case. We had maintained an ongoing relationship, visiting while on our trips to ‘Pueblo,’ via quick phone calls just to say hello and chat, and via correspondence on police-related matters.

“It’s a question I’m reluctant to ask, Bailey, but can you help me out? Maybe, do a little low-key prowling and prying? I want no strain on our friendship, but I’m at a loss on who to trust and with whom to talk. If I’m asking too much just tell me and that’ll be the end of it. There is nothing that will ever impair our friendship.” His mellow voice carried with it sincerity and desperation.

How could I turn down such a lovable Selleck-type?

“Hey, you’re my buddy! Gotta help if I can. I’ll squeeze it in between the fun and sun, I’m a bit rusty, Tommy, but I’ll do what I can. You can fill me in on how the HOA works. It’s all ‘Greek’ to me. Maybe Ernie has some answers. I’ll talk to him right away. You’ll need to supply me with names, files, maybe, and other information as needed. Is there anything else more specific you can tell me? The other board members? Are they all here at the moment?”

Tom thought for a moment. “No, but they will all be here in two days. There’s a board meeting on Saturday. Jarrett Egan, Peter and Jan Simpson, and I are the only full-time board member residents. Mitchell was full-time. The other members get down usually on a monthly basis, or, even, less frequently. You know them all, but I’ll give you their vitae. Specifics? Just don’t have any specifics, Bailey. Guess I’ve been too lax, but, generally, other than tenants bitching and moaning about one thing or another, answering some general management questions, there’s just not a lot of my involvement. Mitchell carried most of the load, being the man who handled the money. We all monitored management and maintenance as much as possible, and we had confidence in our management. All seemed to be going smoothly. Our general manager, Jimmy Millard … you know him — is a really pleasant guy but he can be a bit rigid and pushy at times. The board has had no big problems with him. I’m basically clueless, Bailey, feeling somewhat idiotic about this whole thing.” Tom shrugged and downed more cerveza.

“Okay, I’ll get a running start at this tomorrow. For now, try to relax. We will have one more of these frosty goodies, go home to our ladies, and, we can come back here for dinner … if you and Gladys are free.”

Tom’s demeanor changed instantly. He sighed, smiled, and became the guy with whom I was accustomed. Had we been standing he would have grabbed me in a bear hug.
END OF EXCERPT. For further information on this title, additional books in the ‘Bailey Crane Mystery Series’ and other novels by this author, please go to his website/blog: http://www.billyraychitwood.weebly.com and scan the ‘Home’ page. For more author comments, please go to: http://about.me/brchitwood

 

“Murder In Pueblo Del Mar – A Bailey Crane Mystery” (Book 4) – Excerpt

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“Murder In Pueblo Del Mar – A Bailey Crane Mystery” (Book 4) is fiction inspired by a brutal murder some years ago of an Arizona mother and wife while on a family holiday in Rocky Point, Mexico. This story is important to me on two levels: the dynamic of the homicide itself with its salacious ingredients and all the publicity of the case; the other level of interest for me was my personal involvement with two protagonists in the story who owned a villa in Rocky Point. My wife and I visited them quite often, had our bridge weekends, our ATV junkets out on the desert dunes, our walks along the dusty roads, and thoroughly enjoyed our time together. Unfortunately, we watched alcohol destroy one of our friends and it gave me the sad opportunity to explore that dynamic along with the homicide — it was difficult to watch the self-destruction and the effects it had on a man and woman we loved.

Here is the ‘Prologue’ from “Murder In Pueblo Del Mar – A Bailey Crane Mystery” (Book 4 of the five-book series)…

 

PROLOGUE

February 20, 1991

The beach along the southern edge of Las Conchas is not an ideal area for sun worshipers. It is more a coast line for the shell seekers and those who fancy tide pool ecology. The long east-west sandy stretch is littered mostly with all manner of shells, large and small, but there are also half buried broken bottles, ugly clumps of sea anemone, and dead smelly fish. Despite the litter it is a lovely span of sand and shell.

It is a Mexican beach whose long southern rim helps to frame the Sea of Cortez, known also as The Gulf of California. The sea is a large body of water separating the Baja California Peninsula from the Mexican mainland. It is bordered by the states of Baja  California, Baja California Sur, Sonora, and Sinaloa. The sea funnels eventually into the Pacific Ocean to its south.

Las Conchas is a community of upscale real estate owned mostly by citizens of the United States and is part of the little fishing village of Pueblo Del Mar. More accurately, the real estate is uniquely owned by citizens of other countries in long-term renewable trusts, with generally the same rights and privileges as home owners in the United  States.

Pueblo Del Mar is a poor man’s Acapulco. Yet, few poor people own the beautiful white stucco and red clay roofed houses that comprise Las Conchas. The large, small, Mediterranean style Spanish villas, some posh and elegant, some modest and without frills, are set at water’s edge or atop the grainy desert bluffs. The speckled array of red clay roofs and white stucco present a dazzling pattern of lovely sameness and charm.

The dusty caliche roads twist and turn past the somnolent houses and offer glorious views of the deep turquoise waters of the sea. The white cap chop gives up brilliant splinters of silver light in the afternoon sun.

The remoteness of Las Conchas is part of its lure to the gringos who own the villas. Here, telephones do not ring and newspapers are not delivered to the front doors. Time and events are put on hold. The lazy day routine is broken with sounds of surf and the growling drones of off-road all terrain vehicles, spewing dust clouds behind them. There are the shouts of old Mexican men and women hawking their wares of fresh blue shrimp and serapes among the grand seaside villas. There are strains of plaintive Mexican ballads from a distant sound system. There are the sometime horn wails of shrimp boat clusters off shore some three or five miles. There are, too, the sounds of children at play.

Mostly, it is the stillness that brings magic to the moments in Las Conchas. It is the shared knowledge of its citizens that nothing, not commerce, not agendas or itineraries, can break the special spell that is Las Conchas. It is not so much a geographical place as it is a soulful sublimity. The sky and the sun join the land and the sea in a way that bring the senses to their keenest edge. The smell of the sea air, barbecues, re-fried beans and cooking fat, all join to make the uniqueness of Las Conchas.

*****

One man discovered the magic of Las Conchas when he was still young enough to declare it his own. Robert Geraint had spent much of his adult life in the sleepy fishing village of Pueblo Del Mar. He had first come as a young father and husband some fifty years ago. In some magical way the land, sea, and its people formed the special bonding that would last his lifetime. Though Phoenix, Arizona would be his domicile of citizenship, he adopted Pueblo Del Mar as his domicile of soul.

His love for Pueblo Del Mar became more than a weekend aberration from his accounting business. With the tragic, soul scarring, and untimely death of his daughter, Niki, the village became a refuge of sorts, a place that could not bring forgetfulness but could diminish the sharp edge of grief.

When the entrepreneurial efforts of a few people brought Las Conchas to reality, Bob Geraint built one of the first villas along the strand of sea that would be called the ‘first estuary.’ His villa was designed and built by a local Mexican architect of some celebrity and would be subtly copied by many who came later. The house would be copied to some extent but never duplicated.

The house Robert and his beloved Deena erected was to become a landmark in the community. Because of her love for butterflies and the lonesome peal of ship bells, Deena called the villa “La Casa de las Campanas y Mariposas,’ the house of Bells and Butterflies.

The lovely and distinctive villa was built with three connecting sections with tower-like centers. The main section in the middle of the dwelling was the great room. It was built around the focal point, the high round turret, heavy beamed, opening in the ceiling. The floors were of white octagonal shaped Mexican tile with blue bell patterns. The kitchen counters, back-splash, bath counters, and shower wall tiles were specially made of white high gloss tile pieces with randomly placed blue bells and butterflies. On the western end of the house was the master bedroom, on the same level as the great room, with another center tower in the roof. On the elevated eastern end were two guest bedrooms, again, with the tower projections in the roof. All rooms had beehives fireplaces surrounded by the white tile, blue bell, butterfly patterns.

A wide sweeping tiled veranda ran the entire back length of the house, with stairs leading down at the center to a built-in barbeque and on, ultimately, down to the sea. Off the eastern side of the veranda, there were stairs leading up to a separate private terrace area for the guest bedrooms. All around the house in the sandy soil Deena had planted and nurtured her ice plants and sundry hedge and flowers, creating a profusion of rich green and vivid colors

It was a showcase home and it immediately became a point of delineation in giving directions to visitors of the area: A common directive was, ‘It’s near the house of Bells and Butterflies.’

Robert Geraint had seen through the years the first estuary section developed to its predicted and permitted numbers until the second and third estuary sections had opened to satisfy the continuing hot demands for housing. Still, with all the growth, Las Conchas maintained its distinctive aura, its special ‘sublimity.’

Robert and Deena Geraint had recently retired full time to ‘La Casa de las Campanas y Mariposas’ and had become active members in the Las Conchas Homeowners Association. A manned security gate into the community was approved and started up the same year Robert and Deena arrived as full time residents. Assessments rose steadily to keep up with the varied needs and growing necessities. Property values continued upward and Las Conchas thrived and prospered.

Robert Geraint became the man to whom the citizens of the community turned when there were problems and when advice was sought on any conceivable matter. His was the quiet and thoughtful mind that people trusted in counsel. His was the strength of body and hard muscle when someone needed a hand in moving something big, like, a car stuck in the desert sand. His was the humble personality and genuine demeanor that drew people to him, that brought him the unsought praise and reputation that embarrassed him. Robert knew his community, its good and its bad elements. Like all communities there were plenty of both.

In the early evening on Friday a terrible series of screams filled the peaceful landscape of Las Conchas. Bob Geraint was at the barbeque turning his steaks when the first scream broke his placid mood, broke the musical spell of a Placido Domingo aria coming from the tape system in the great room. Scurry, Bob’s faithful golden retriever, rose from his spot near the barbecue and looked anxiously at his master. The dog’s tail was tucked between his legs, and a soft whine turned into a low growl.

There was something about the scream that tore into Bob’s consciousness. It was like a door slamming shut from a harsh gust of wind. The scream was a reverberant and dissonant acknowledgment of some awful event, not so much a startled response as it was a total black acquiescence to something evil and ordained. It was a scream unlike many others Bob Geraint had heard in all his years, a scream that would remain forever in his memory.

Then, there came a second and third scream, startling successions of the first, horribly quaking things, tinged with a demonic terror, a madness, that conveyed hideous truths.

Deena appeared at the screen of the great room door. “What was that?” she asked incredulously.

“Don’t know,” Bob answered with a worried brow.

Without saying more they stood and listened.

Moments later the quietness returned to Las Conchas. A dog barked somewhere down the dusty road. Scurry returned the bark with one of his own. A soft zephyr caressed the wild brush out on the expansive sand beyond the barbeque. The bright orange sun lay low on the Sea of Cortez over towards Baja California Norte. Placido Domingo still sang a plaintive song in the great room of ‘Bells and Butterflies,’ muted by distance but still evocative and vaguely compelling.

Bob Geraint stood unsettled and wary by the barbeque, steak tongs hanging loosely from his right hand. He looked eastward toward the area from whence the screams had come. His faithful Scurry brushed nervously against his master’s leg, waiting. A few moments had passed since the last scream. There came a sound of a car engine, revving, moving. Bob placed the tongs on the tile sidebar of the barbeque and moved tentatively toward the road in front of his villa.

“Where are you going?” Deena asked, the question necessitated by a vague fear.

“Gotta take a look. Sounded like someone in trouble. Scurry, you stay here with mom.”

The dog whined but obeyed.

“Bob! Be careful!” Deena yelled after him.

Bob walked north along the eastern side of the villa, Deena’s beautiful bougainvillea and ice plant lining the entire stretch of white stucco. At the ATV shed off the front of the house Bob turned and walked east down the road. He walked slowly, scanning carefully both sides of the road. He passed other villas along the road but he detected no movements or lights. He thought idly that his neighbors were perhaps not coming down from Phoenix this weekend. The road was now in the final pale phase of sunlight and further east, some five hundred feet, Bob could see the small sand dune park area where kids raced their ATVs around a use-worn track. The area now looked remotely eerie in its mauve and dark contrast from the dissipating sun. The brush was wind-blown bare, and the sand dunes looked like soft smooth scoops of chocolate ice cream.

At a bend the road turned easily north and east again. Here, on the northern edge of the road, there were large and small villas that were mostly furnished rentals, villas trust-owned by absentee landlords in Phoenix and Tucson. Bob now walked anxiously and warily along this row of villas. He suspected that this had been the area of the screams. No lights shone in any of the houses and no cars were parked out front.

Bob remembered the car noise minutes before and now looked off to the north, east, and south, to see if there were any vehicles traveling the dirt lanes leading into and out of Las Conchas. He saw no movement on the roads but he did see a dust flow along the road back to the west, toward the marine museum and the old whale bone skeleton near its entrance.

Then Bob noticed that a front door was ajar at one of the smaller villas along the north side of the road. It was the villa being rented as a vacation house by the Blalocks. He stopped, cocked his ears in a concentrated effort to hear sounds, debated within himself his next course of action, and cautiously moved left from the road down a stone edged walkway toward the open door.

Bob was a big man with a ruggedly handsome, angular, face. He was deeply tanned by the Sonoran sun and his grayish white hair lay in tight distinguished neatness. He was six foot two, two hundred thirty pounds, with huge arms and hands. One of those hard and calloused hands now reached uncertainly toward the open door of the quiet villa.

Before touching the door knob, he called out, “Is anyone here? Hello! Anybody home?”

Then, louder, “Hello! Hello! Anybody home?”

He held the knob of the front door with his left hand and banged its center with his right fist.

After several raps and more calling out, he pushed the front door inward and warily entered, his body coiled and ready for any sudden surprises.

The flooring of the inside entry area was a high polished rust-red Mexican tile. The tile extended left into a living room area that was small and at the moment cluttered with overturned furniture.

The overturned furniture caused him pause. Again, he called out, “Anybody here? Hello! Hello!”

There was no response.

He tentatively passed through a small kitchen where cabinet doors were opened and broken dishes littered the floor. He moved slowly, on down a dark hallway, hesitated at a doorway, flicked a switch, and peered into a bathroom. He sensed the aroma of soap on the air and noticed a damp limpid towel on a wall hook. Water beads lay on the tiled floor of the shower and in the beige basin bowl below a mirrored medicine cabinet.

Growing more wary he turned off the bathroom light and moved further down the hallway. He called out again but there was no response.

Two doors on the right of the hallway opened onto small guest bedrooms. In both bedrooms Bob found the beds in disarray and some children clothing hung on round wooden poles in open closet niches. More clothes were strewn along the floor, and opened luggage sat before each of the open closets. Drawers had been pulled from the small bed tables and lay upended in the corner of the room.

The door on the left side of the hallway led to the master bedroom. Like the front entry, this door also stood ajar.

Again, he called out. There was no response.

Bob listened for a moment at the partially opened door. Then he thought he heard the low meowing sound of a cat coming from the room, muffled but distinguishable.

Then, an odor he had only peripherally noticed upon entering now settled pungently upon the air. It was a familiar smell and he knew that it was coming from the room before him.

His mind began to play out possible scenarios. He thought he recognized the odor. He had smelled before its somber septic essence. A truth suddenly hit him, a truth as inexorable as any truth he had ever known.

Mentally alert, not touching the door handle with his fingers, Bob reached for the upper center of the wood and pushed inwardly with his knuckles. As the door opened the odor became nauseatingly strong. He covered his mouth and nose with his large left hand and walked all the way into the room.

Although he had an ominous expectation of what he would find, he could not have prepared himself for the scene in front of him, six feet from the door.

Bob Geraint tightly closed his eyes but he could still see the woman sprawled sideways across the king size bed, deep bloody indentations along her hairline, her right hand palm upward as though pitifully pleading for a mercy denied her. The left arm and hand, at an odd limp angle, rested on a naked breast. The chest was punctured savagely, oozing the dark red viscid juices that had been her life.

Bob opened his eyes and forced himself to view more specifics of the scene.

The woman’s right temple had a deep puncture slit, blood still flowing slowly from its opening. The throat was slashed and laid open by numerous thrusts from something keenly edged and maniacally wielded. Her mouth was a sad gaping rictus, and the white of her eyes were visible through partially closed lids. The terrycloth bathrobe she had been wearing was open at the front, soaked in blood, splayed out in wild angles all around her mutilated body. Blood splatters were on the ivory semi-gloss wall at the head of the bed, over the tiled floor, and as far away as the glass sliding doors leading to a small outside patio.

Bob Geraint gagged, fought back a wave of nausea, and tightened the grip of his hand over his nose and mouth. For a long moment he could not blink or close his eyes. They remained wide and fixed on the dead woman in front of him.

Finally he lowered his head and saw that he was standing near several globules of bright red blood.

He noticed a sudden movement to his left. In a low, slow moving crouch, a lovely slate blue cat moved from beneath the big bed. At the door, the cat swiftly disappeared down the dark hallway.

Bob Geraint hurried, too, from the death scene and from the dark house. Outside he retched and hungrily sought the cool air from the now dark Sea of Cortez. He saw through the thin beginning veil of night Deena and Scurry approaching. When Deena saw him bent over by the roadside she rushed to his side.

After a time they walked home, got in their car and drove quickly to the security gate some three miles away. Bob informed Antonio Aguilar of the grisly discovery. Antonio called the police. Bob took Deena and Scurry home and returned to meet Antonio at the Blalock house.

As Antonio and Bob stood talking out front, awaiting the police, Al Blalock and his three children pulled up in the family car. The man and his kids wore worried expressions, and Antonio tried to prevent them from entering the house. Al Blalock pulled from Antonio’s grasp and dashed into the house, the kids running after him.

Then, there came more screams, sad and pitiful from the children, mixed with astonished anguish and involuntary gasps for breath. Blalock and the kids soon emerged from the death house and huddled alongside Bob and Antonio.

The siren sounds came loudly, announcing the arrival of the police. There were questions of Bob and Antonio, of Al Blalock, and the police finally entered the house to examine the murder scene.

The police were still in the house gathering what evidence might be available to them long after Bob walked back to ‘Bells and Butterflies.’ Outside his front arched entrance, Bob decided he needed more walking.

He slowly strolled along the dry dusty lanes for a time, trying to rid his mind of the thoughts churning there. At some point he thought of Deena. She would be worried, and, as he considered this thought, he found himself again at his arched entry way. He was momentarily stunned with the simple fact that he had returned to ‘Bells and Butterflies’ and did not recall the routes he had taken or the duration of his walk.

Inside the house, he and Deena nibbled at some food, made small talk, but could not talk about the screams and the brutal murder just a few doors away. They tried to watch a movie tape but could not stay interested. Finally, with a tacit acknowledgment, they went to bed.

In bed, thoughts came that he most feared. There had been another death many years ago, the death of his daughter, Niki. A mindless drunk driver had smashed into the family car and into every succeeding day and night of his life. Bob had been the one driving the family car, on an errand that could have waited. Niki had gone along for the ride, to be with her daddy.

His was an accountant’s mind, but he could not post on his ledgers the brutal reality of what he had just seen, the screams he had heard earlier. He could not turn off the many emotions he was feeling, of the Blalock woman — of Niki and her brief terrified scream just before the drunk driver would end her life and change her father’s life forever.

Deep into the night, Bob Geraint lay sleepless next to Deena on his king size waterbed, afraid of sleep, more afraid of thought. Neither could he void the horrible screams of the Blalock woman, nor could he divorce those from his own child’s last soulful wail before death took her from him.

The brutal death of Kathleen Blalock, all the blood, had brought back the memories, memories he wanted not to face.

Bob Geraint lay there in a sleepless, suffocating void, familiar tears falling down his timeworn and craggy face. Familiar inner demons were at their work.

Scurry lay on the floor next to the bed, a soft whine emanating from deep within his throat, feeling the agony that griped his master’s soul.

 END OF EXCERPT. For more information on this book, go to the author’s website/blog: http://www.billyraychitwood.weebly.com – Scan the ‘Home’ page for synopses of other books by Billy Ray Chitwood and ordering sites for kindle, print, and other e-book formats.

“The Brutus Gate – A Bailey Crane Mystery” (Book 3) – AN EXCERPT

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Here’s an excerpt from the third book in the Bailey Crane Mystery Series. Hope you enjoy it.

BrutusGate Nook Size

CHAPTER ONE

Just when you think you’ve got all systems going in harmonious sync, that’s the time old Chicken Little’s doomsday utterance settles a might too snugly into the conscience: The sky is falling!

Well, my sky was falling, literally, inexorably, and with undue haste! Not to mix metaphors, but the falling sky was becoming a raging hell!

The very large warehouse roof was collapsing bit by fiery bit, and the bad guys were winning.

The bad guys were also getting away.

“What a way to go,“ said to myself and to anyone around to listen. “Dumb! Stupid! XO#*!!!”

And I had not even done my Christmas shopping.

It was Thursday, December 24, mid-afternoon. The temperature outside the Old Guthrie Warehouse was seventy degrees. It was a cloudless, real charming Chamber of Commerce day in Phoenix, Arizona. Inside the warehouse, in my little corner, the temperature was rising and the smoke was a dark, dense, viscid blanket which seriously threatened my breathing.

Having some vague recall from my firefighting boot camp training, courtesy of the United States Navy, my body was flat on the floor where the air was less heavy and thick. My vision was impaired by the smoke but could see orange diffusion all around me, could hear frantic cracking sounds of bursting embers and swirling fire fury, and could feel the heat, stinging, becoming a palpable furnace against my face and hands.

The large pneumatic door by which I had entered this ill-fated building was not far away. Could reach it except for one minor, make it, major, problem. A huge piece of timber frame had me wedged face down between some old metal file cabinets and a huge, heavy wooden desk. It was a corner office in the aged warehouse, and, at my arrival some twenty minutes ago, it had seemed so incongruous in it setting. It didn’t matter a whole lot now. The fire would equalize all parts of the structure soon enough into a smoldering pile of ashes.

My boss, my buddy, Ross Milburn, had said it would be a simple matter, this visit to the Old Guthrie Warehouse. Just wanted to ask some questions, get some answers, about some nefarious shipments in the dark of night, and about some sort of big crime event about to happen. No big deal, he had said. One day, I would need to talk to Ross about his rather trivial disregard for my bones and his utter failure as a soothsayer.

Not so simple, it had turned out. A big deal, it had turned out. Someone, some evil SOB, someone or some ones, had set us up big time. Certainly, being the most seriously and immediately aggrieved, about to be consumed by uncaring flames, it appeared that some amount of complaining and whimpering was in order.

‘Oh, just stop with the whining and figure a way to get us out of this mess.’

My alter ego tried persistently to keep my thinking straight. And, of course, he was always spot on. Didn’t really matter at this point that we had been set up. Just, figure a way out. The only thing was, my strength was not sufficient to move the timber frame or my wedged body. My efforts were hopeless.

Earlier, when we arrived in our unmarked vehicle, the warehouse had a dark and abandoned look. Ross had gone to one end of the huge building to check a hazy light and what he thought were voices. I had gone straight to the warehouse office where, upon entering, had gotten blindsided by a two by four. At least, it felt like a two by four. On my hands and knees, head hanging loosely and all systems swaying surrealistically, heard loud, cursing, anxious voices retreating from the room.

Shortly after the bad people left the office, my befogged mind registered some gunshots and it appeared that Ross was calling to me from far away. Then, there came a thunderous, reverberating roar, slamming me roughly into the corner where that piece of timber frame nailed me helplessly to the floor. Soon, there was the sound of crackling fire, smoke, heat — and old Chicken Little.

The permutations of my Cherokee mind astounded me. Here in this conflagrant environment, I started thinking about Christmas presents and Jingle Bells. ‘Hey, beam up, Bailey Boy! You’re about to fry. Like, get some kind of desperate.’

Don’t get me wrong, knew that I was in trouble, but my brain was no doubt altered by the two by four whammy. All it wanted to do in those split seconds was vacillate wildly, acknowledging my impending death and wandering off into the past to revisit old memories, old loves, old dreams. The gray matter meandered those old trails until the intense heat got it back to the present and to thoughts of Janice and Bobby.

That’s when I felt the first really urgent pinpricks of fear and desperation. My first subliminal thought had been that this fire business was likely a temporary inconvenience, that Ross and his Arizona Rangers would be bursting in to get me out any minute. The harsh reality of that not happening was now becoming much more evident. The mind could spin crazily fast and illogically in moments of impending peril.

Strained all muscles in my body to the max and could not budge for any appreciable leverage. The panic that should have been there much sooner now came fully empowered with Satan’s rage.

This was it! The moment most people only obliquely confronted when the twilight years were upon them. The moment that fascinated the philosophers and the poets. The moment of no more options or delusive dithering. The moment of utter, stark, finality.

Death! Its black unctuous veil, heavy, gagging, suffocating, consuming and final, its heat a furious rhapsodic resonance. Death! My own death was now here, coming on the neuronal tap dancing tremors that was now my body.

So much for soliloquies. Here was heap big trouble for this southern white man with the Cherokee blood, heap big trouble right here, right now.

Struggled mightily, gagged, coughed, frantically reached maniacally within myself for air. Thoughts were trying to convey themselves to me, thoughts of sorrow, deeds undone, loves unfulfilled, all the roads untraveled; the body, the mind, a frenzied duo fighting out of sync in blind attempts to right themselves, both so near some great effulgence of truth, the ultimate enigma, the greatest mystery of a lifetime. … death. Would I know? After it was over, would I know? On some level, would I know? Would I know what death was about? Would I know and be alone in the knowledge? Would it matter? Would I go to a Hell? To a Heaven? Life’s lore had followed me to the great gate of the hereafter.

“I long for death, death longs for me. But it is dark to die, and, oh! I fear that I still wish to be!”

The lines came to me unbidden from a book by an old friend: Hell’s Music. The book was about two soldiers in a foxhole during the Korean War, seeking some ultimate clarity of their lives..

No more soliloquies for the moment.

Among gritty, dirty perspiration and the awesome heat, I could distinguish my own tears flowing down my cheeks. Then a smile, mildly sardonic and wistful, came to my face. “It’s okay to cry, Bailey Boy,” whispered to myself. The urgency to live, to struggle with the Grim Reaper, was leaving me. The incredible flush and quake to my body was like a wild, pulsing, out of control roller coaster about to plummet from its highest arc. My breathing was short, hot, gasps of sucking, bringing enormous thermal pressure to my lungs. My heart seemed to inflate within me, and I felt like a bloated Salvadore Dali figure on some primordial pastel plain.

Death had come for me. Could it truly be?

On some unclear periphery of consciousness came soft sounds of a great ripping and tearing, of things falling; feet, hands, moving to a kind of melodic, slow motion, far away squeal. My name was being spoken over and over in low guttural, foghorn slowness, like the languid flow of dream sequences portrayed in old forgotten movies. Hands reached for the timber frame beam amid grunts and groans; feet scraped on a raspy floor. All motion was torpid; faces in punctuated and sustained grimaces and worry. Sweeping, lazy sprays of water fell all about me. The black smoke began to dissipate. Patches of blue sky came sporadically through the thinning mist. Air became breathable.

There on the edge I saw Ross Milburn’s black shiny face, contorted with an etched fear, almost purplish in its sheen from the light play and the scattering smoke. Such a beautiful face! The face of my friend. Ross was sitting on some green and yellow contraption with two thick metal prongs sticking out of it. There were chunks of charred wood and wallboard hanging from the prongs. In my fevered brain it came to me that Ross had driven that alien metal monster into the outer wall of the warehouse office. He looked comical and out of place, his white shirt smudged with black soot and his tie loosened and thrown over his shoulder. He was beautiful. I thought about laughing but gagging and coughing stopped me.

The people lifting the wooden beam from my body were now recognizable. The men of the blue cloth, my comrades at the Phoenix Police Department, ‘The Arizona Rangers,’ had come to the rescue after all. A siren announced the arrival of fire engine and crew.

As the weight of the beam was hoisted above and away from my body, my breathing became more relaxed. It was indeed a most marvelous thing, this breathing. The now languid body no longer trembled with hysteria, but there was incipient soreness that beckoned for attention. My upper thighs and my kidneys were aching, but it was a subdued aching. Tentatively, I wriggled my toes within my shoes, then my feet and legs. My miraculous body seemed battered, bruised, otherwise nastily mistreated, but unbroken.

Managed a silly smile and a thumb’s up for the beautiful and glistening face of Ross Milburn. He smiled inanely back until he seemed to become aware of some fundamental Keystone Kop element in the quaint montage. Then he lifted himself from the seat of the strange machine and jumped to the ground. Ross stood with one foot inside the warehouse office and one foot on the asphalt outside the crumbled wall.

While trying to stand, a pain akin to electric shock shot through my pelvic area. Awkwardly, I fell back to the floor among all the broken wood, glass and plaster.

“Stay where you are, Bailey!” yelled Ross, noticing my efforts to rise and my subsequent discomfort. “You might have something broken or torn inside.” He came toward me, dodging the debris.

“Think I’m okay, Ross-man, just tried to get up a little too fast. Probably a misplaced hillbilly gene or hormone getting realigned.”

Hey, it was a small and weak attempt at humor. I was alive. A few minutes ago, I was … Okay, enough already on that death business. Later, maybe, all of this could be revisited.

“Here,” I said to Ross when he was standing over me, “give me your hands and pull me up gently.”

“Bailey, we should wait until …”

“C’mon, pull. Gently, as you go.”

Ross shook his head in feigned disgust and gave me his big handsome hams. With utmost care, his eyes watching mine, he lifted me to my feet. Shifting weight from foot to foot, tentatively, I put my hands on my love handles and turned my upper body slowly to one side, then to the other. My first step brought no elaborate pain so I took another. Then, another. Ross stayed by my side, his hands and arms out like he was ready to start shaping some clay statue.

“Hey, everything works, Ross-man. I’m okay. You okay? I heard gun shots. Right?”

“Yeah, you heard right. We winged two of them. We got ’em in a cruiser, bleeding all over the seats, waiting for the EMT to take ’em to St. Joe’s, then on to lock-up. The other two got away in an old blue Lincoln Town Car. Trent put out an APB on ’em. They won’t get too far.” Trent Casals was another buddy, one of my partners at the PPD. “You sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, I’m sure. A little sore but nothing’s broken. That was something else, Ross. It’s never been quite that way before. Thought maybe this could be the time for my big trip beyond. The mind behaves strangely when … Hey, you’ve been there. You don’t need to hear it from me. Let’s get out of this rubble.”

We walked some distance from the smoldering heap, away from the people and the noise. I sat in the PPD unmarked Chevy as Ross talked to Trent outside the cruiser holding the two bad guys. Trent broke away just long enough to come over and check me out.

Trent, a tall, lanky, double-jointed ex-basketball player, ugly and beautiful all in one, looked like a ‘Jack Palance’ or like an imagined ‘Ichabod Crane.’ He cared but he did not make a show of caring. He stayed for a few minutes, muttered some inanities, patted, gripped my shoulder, and walked back to the cruiser.

Sitting there, windows up in the car, watching the near noiseless activity around the warehouse rubble, a strange soporific calm engulfed me. Quiet, sensory messages of great meaning were being transmitted from somewhere deep in my soul, just out of my cranial grasp, the import of which was not as important as the knowledge of knowing they were being sent. The nonsensical aberration brought a smile to my face and I dropped my chin, closed my eyes, and shook my head gently in silent acknowledgment to the miracle of life and God’s inscrutable stage-fare.

The car door opened and slammed closed. Ross got behind the steering wheel and stared at my stupid face, the inane smile still in place.

“What, BC? What? The look? What transpires inside that looney bin scalp?”

“Just being me, Ross-man. You don’t want to know. Believe me, it’s better kept very far from you, very far from anyone. It’s a mind trip.” I stared back at Ross and saw the helpless expression come to his face, saw his eyes get all squint-like. “Hey, I’m okay,” I said quickly. “What’s with our two criminolos? They talking or what?”

Ross finally broke his stare. He put the key in the ignition and started the engine. “Yeah, they’re talking, but they’re talking pig Latin or some other derivative language I don’t know. You know them, I think. Art DeFilo and Eddie Briscoe?”

Nodded in the affirmative. Yes, the worthless goons were known to me.

Ross put the gear in reverse, carefully backed circuitously around three police cruisers with red lights and blue lights still flashing. “Art DeFilo, the short, squat one?” He glanced over at me for an up and down head shake. “He said one thing that baffles me. I mean, I got his words. I just don’t know what they necessarily mean …”

Ross drove forward, dodging people and debris, crossed the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks and headed toward Van Buren Avenue.

“Well, what did DeFilo say, big guy? Don’t keep me in the dark.”

The western sun felt hot against my nape, but not hot like the just recently known hot. This was enjoyable hot.

“He was a little sappy. Guess the bullet that passed through his shoulder had him swooning. He was mumbling a lot. But he said something peculiar, then got all red and sweaty after he said it, like he couldn’t believe he had said it …” Ross turned east onto Van Buren.

“Said WHAT? Crimminy, Rosser, you’re infuriating. What did the short, squat, Artie DeFilo say?”

He glanced quickly in my direction, then back at the road. With a serious and stern expression, and a lot of pseudo drama, Ross spoke: “He said an odd thing, especially weird for a small time hood. You know we’ve been expecting something big from Fistucci and his group. Well, what this creep said might just be tied in with that big event, whatever the hay it is.” He paused, glanced my way with a wrinkled brow expression.

“What, dip-hole? Tell me what he said or I’ll choke you right here on Van Buren.”

He chuckled for a moment, then put his serious face back on. “Okay, okay. What he said was, he said, and this it really way out, man, I kid you not …” He saw me about to erupt. “He said, ‘Beware the Brutus Gate.’”

Didn’t know whether to hit him or jump out of the car.

‘Beware the Brutus Gate.’

Cute. Very cute.

END OF EXCERPT – Please visit these links for information on ordering and/or synopses of other books in the Bailey Crane Mystery Series. Also check out the author’s other books: “Mama’s Madness” – “Butterflies And Jellybeans – A Love Story” – “The Cracked Mirror – Reflections Of An Appalachian Son” – “What Happens Next? – A Life’s True Tale”

Here are the links:

http://www.billyraychitwood.weebly.com and http://www.goo.gl/fuxUA and http://www.about.me/brchitwood  and amazon.com (US – UK – Europe)

“Satan’s Song – A Bailey Crane Mystery” (Book 2) – AN EXCERPT

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“Satan’s Song – A Bailey Crane Mystery” (Book 2) is part of the five-book ‘Bailey Crane Mystery Series’. The book was inspired by a horrific murder in Phoenix, Arizona some years ago. The details in the newspapers of the day stunned me, and my imagination came up with all sorts of scenarios for the gruesome homicide. So far as I know, the murder was never solved… Here is the ‘Prologue’ to the book.

Satan's Song Nook Size

PROLOGUE

‘Sunday Morning Coming Down!’

The line from the song stayed with her long after the radio was turned off. The words conveyed the mood that held her captive.

‘Sunday Morning Coming Down!’

All of her Sunday was ‘coming down.’ She had talked long distance to her mom in Ohio, had feigned good cheer, and had felt even more desperate when they disconnected. She had read the comics section of the paper, usually an uplifting experience. Not today. She had exercised on the carpet, doing push-ups and deep knee bends. She was energized for only a few minutes, and it hit again.

A heavy depression consumed her Sunday in large chunks, a visceral displacement, much like that long ago summer camp experience … No! She must not dwell on that bittersweet summer camp.

She was lonely, sad, locked within a body and mind that would not push away the black oppression. The blue sky and sun that came to her through the big window in the living room added little relief.

So the day had gone. Sunday had gone.

It had been a mistake to stay in Phoenix. The city was too big, too unfriendly. She missed her family and friends in Steubenville, the familiar and the rote activities she had once seen as shackles.

The irony of the thought brought an obscure smile, and the wonderful memories flashed before her: barbecues in the expansive back yard, leaves on the big trees rustling in the wind; Saturday movie matinees, sitting, giggling, in the middle rows, throwing popcorn kernels at unsuspecting boys; the overnight stay-overs, pajama parties, pillow fights; long gossipy talks about boys long into the early morning; cheer leading at the basketball and football games, flirting with players on the sideline benches; homemade ice cream, cold watermelons, sweet and juicy, on summer Sundays …

On and on the memories flashed, and her black mood deepened, lingered like a soggy wet blanket that clung, would not be loosened and discarded. She was here in Phoenix, in a desert city swirling with an ugly gray smog, indifference, crime. She was in an urban sprawl of people from every conceivable cultural, ethnic, and racial mix. She was in a city that frightened her, a city that spawned a subliminal despair at her core of being. She did not like what she was becoming. This darkness of mood did not fit her personality. She was never one to mope around, to engage in self-pity. She tried always to avoid people like that. She was beginning to turn inward, to dislike herself.

Perhaps Phoenix was only the symptom and not the cause of this recent gloom. Perhaps there were other more subtle stirrings which she could not identify.

Strange, now, in remembering how the city had first excited her. Phoenix had been so different from anything she had known in Steubenville, like visiting one of those desert oases she had read about in school. She had found the southwest lore intriguing Sand entertaining. It had been like living out all the old fantasies from western movies she had seen with her family and friends.

There had been a visit to the Superstition Mountains where she had wanted to search for the legendary Lost Dutchman’s gold.

There had been the trip to Picacho Peak and to old Tucson where so many of the cowboy movies were made.

There had been old Mexico where she had been shocked by the poverty and the primitive conditions, but had somehow been drawn to its quaint and sleepy culture.

She had seen the spectacular Grand Canyon, stood above the majestic shadows and golden hues of its vertical walls, looked in awe across the vast space as the gentle winds touched her face.

She had decided to stay in Phoenix. There was so much to see, so much to do, in this lovely state. Her commitment to stay was nonetheless not quite one hundred per cent.

She had gotten a job and moved into her boyfriend’s apartment at Canyon Way. The Canyon Way Apartment complex was near the lovely Encanto Park, where she quickly made it a daily ritual to bike ride through its lush and placid grounds. Biking had become a therapy for her. It made her muscles relax and made her mind more malleable to positive thinking.

Her new life had been good for a few months. Then the city began to gnaw at her nerves. The transition had been a delicate and imprecise thing to analyze. There were murders, rapes, and robberies reported everyday on the television news. Crime seemed to be evenly distributed among Phoenix’s multicultural mix. There seemed to be anger everywhere, shown through simple senseless acts of vandalism, random mayhem, and overt discourtesies.

For a small Ohio town girl, the big city had created an inner turmoil. Where there had been a quiet pastoral peace, there was now a ‘salad bowl’ madness. It was getting to her, and she was getting to her boyfriend.

Vince had tried to lift the torpid mood he had seen developing over the past weeks but he had not been successful. Now he was getting impatient and cross with her. They had argued earlier in the morning and had settled into a silent separate space for sulking and guilt trips.

Around 7:00 on Sunday evening Della pulled her yellow Diamond Back mountain bike from its place on the small second floor apartment balcony, announced that she was going for a ride. It was a twenty-six inch man’s bike, but Della was a tall girl and preferred it to a woman’s bike.

Bad moods were rare for Della, but a bike ride through Encanto Park would help diminish her funk. The hard pumping on the pedals had a therapeutic effect on her. With the sweat of a strenuous bike ride would come a soothing calm. She needed something to break this ugly lethargy.

Della walked her bike down the metal and stone stairwell and out onto 19th Avenue. She turned south on 19th after leaving the apartment complex, still walking her bike. After a few blocks she left the sidewalk and entered Encanto Park. From a running start she got on her bike, pedaled vigorously southward and eastward, followed the outer edge of the Encanto Municipal Golf Course. She could hear water sounds from the lake and she felt the cool November wind on her face. She heard the insect noises of the night and thought again about her family and friends in Steubenville.

The night sky was unusually murky, and she wished the city would do something about the poor lighting along the bike path. There had been some talk from city officials that improvements were going to be made around the park but no action had been taken. Della had ridden her bike at night and she felt no sense of fear. The depth of darkness she encountered this night was simply an extension of her mood. She would ride it off.

She stood and pumped the pedals expending great effort, moving swiftly down the meandering path toward the main entrance to the park. When she reached the southernmost perimeter she turned and sped back north along the same path. The sweet smell of damp grass filled her nostrils, reminding her again of Steubenville and home.

She felt the sweat on her face and in the cleavage of her breasts. There was a rather pleasant chilling sensation throughout her body, and she was aware of a mood shift. Her mind was now clearing, and she thought of the wasteful negative stupor of the day. She was young and impatient. She must give her new life a chance. She had a whole world ahead of her. She must not get depressed and take it out on Vince. He really wanted her to be happy. She was eager to get back to the apartment and apologize.

It appeared she had the bike path all to herself. She relaxed. She sat and pedaled easily. Occasionally she just coasted. She was almost back to 19th Avenue. There was approximately one quarter mile left. She had covered nearly four miles in very fast time, and she was coming to the final turn before she hit a straightaway to 19th Avenue. She was just coming parallel on her right with a long row of eucalyptus trees. She heard again the sounds of the lake off to her left and the steady shriek of crickets.

She saw a black blur of movement about fifty yards ahead. Someone was standing next to a tall palm tree, or leaning against it. It appeared to be someone in bulky clothes, maybe someone wearing a large overcoat. That someone was stepping out onto the path in front of her …

There was a quick motion of arm and hand, and glittering particles, like fireflies, appeared in the darkness in front of her. There were flashing movements as the arms made arcing turns of bright, diamond-like specks of light.

Della instinctively steered the bike to the left side of the wide path, a nervous tingle spreading just below her skin. Serious adrenaline now raced through her and a fast rising fear gripped her. The fear lodged in her throat. The flashing movement was coming at her, and she could not turn the bike fast enough to avoid it. Like a video tape moving fast forward, it all happened so quickly. Her warm thoughts of making up with Vince had preoccupied her and slowed her reflexes. The fear and adrenaline gave way to frenzy, her mind splintering with delirious patterns. The panic coursed through her body like a hundred simultaneous bee stings, and the inner surge seized her in a near paralytic grip.

The first sweeping blow caught Della on the neck, lifting and holding her in midair suspension, presenting an odd spectral silhouette against the backdrop of night. Her bike rolled clumsily on and crashed a few feet ahead on the gravel border lining the path.

Incredibly, Della did not appear to die from the initial slash. With a sad reflexive tremble of body, she seemed to be fighting her attacker, like a weak, cumbersome puppet on a string. Her arms reached out to grab, to scratch, to hit, but it was only a slow grotesque enactment, born of an atavistic will to live. It was a primal instinct to survive, a mind-muscle-soul reaction to death.

The attacker was now above her, hovering like a dark cumulus cloud, a gray indefinite shape, spitting angry lightning bolts.

For Della Erlitz, death was most gruesome, but mercifully instantaneous.

The savagery on Della Erlitz body was not finished. Unmindful, uncaring, that death had already come, the killer continued to slash and to mutter incoherent obscenities. The maniacal perversion continued until the young woman’s head was totally severed. The killer then wrapped the head in a thin sheet of plastic and placed it in a tote bag. The body was further defiled by a monstrous craving the sane and civilized world could not hope to fathom.

Finally, the satanic craving was sated. The killer moved the body some seventy feet from the bike path in the direction of the eucalyptus trees. Della’s blood soaked clothes were cut away and piled next to the curled, stiff fingers of her left hand. The killer placed the tote bag over the handlebars of Della’s yellow bike and rode away.

The killer started north on the bike path, stopped to consider a thought, hesitated, then turned around and headed back south.

Passing near the headless body, the killer began to whistle a soft and strangely rhapsodic melody.

END OF EXCERPT.

Should you wish to read more of “Satan’s Song – A Bailey Crane Mystery” (Book 2), please visit my website/blog ‘Home Page’ and scroll down through my books. You will find ordering information after the book.

http://www.billyraychitwood.weebly.com (My main website – There is also a blog with all my posts, some book reviews, and bio info.)

Other links that might be of interest:

http://www.about.me/brchitwood (A brief bio sketch and further links.)

http://www.thefinalcurtain1.wordpress.com (A blog site where you can follow all my posts)

Http://www.goo.gl/fuxUA (My site at ‘Independent Author Network’ which previews my books and gives links.)

You can follow me on twitter.com

“An Arizona Tragedy – A Bailey Crane Mystery” (Book 1) – An excerpt

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Remembering that a picture is worth a thousand words, I offer this excerpt from Book 1 of ‘The Bailey Crane Series’. There are five books in the series:

Book 1: “An Arizona Tragedy – A Bailey Crane Mystery” (Book 1)

Book 2: “Satan’s Song – A Bailey Crane Mystery” (Book 2)

Book 3: “The Brutus Gate – A Bailey Crane Mystery” (Book 3)

Book 4: “Murder In Pueblo Del Mar ‘ A Bailey Crane Mystery” (Book 4)

Book 5: “A Soul Defiled – A Bailey Crane Mystery” (Book 5)

“An Arizona Tragedy – A Bailey Crane Mystery” (Book 1) is rather close to my heart as it was inspired by the brutal death of a personal friend. The book is fictional but some of the crime data was taken from newspaper accounts of the day… the two principal murders (one in Phoenix, AZ and the other in Washington, DC) actually happened. The story, my words and plot lines are from my imagination, are not intended to cast aspersions on anyone as to guilt, are simply my way of paying homage to a young mother and actress who was taken so horribly from her family and friends.

Here is the excerpt from “An Arizona Tragedy – A Bailey Crane Mystery” (Book 1):

Six

Monday, September 4

Roy Martin’s private office on the twentieth floor of Arizona Bank Building afforded a panoramic northern view of Phoenix, west to east. The great sweep of space beckoned the eye to see forever, awakening the senses.

Remembering the green lush mountains of my native Tennessee and its own special beauty, my mind made its comparative notes: the incredible mountain trails of the Great Smokies, the great gorges and verdant valleys of that hill country with this spacious land of sun and desolate desert. There had been in Tennessee those chronic cloudy days to dampen a mood and marvelous sunny days that brought a multitude of fun activities. Here in the desert, there was a consistent pattern of sunny days and that spatial quality that overwhelmed my senses … made me wonder what psychological messages might be hidden in my obsessive love affair with the desert.

It was time to put the comparative thoughts away, to concentrate on the work at hand.

Spread across Roy’s small conference table were several documents, some bills, a check book, and a cup of coffee. Roy wanted me to familiarize myself with the Cooper estate, pay the bills as they came in, and catch any seeming inconsistencies that might appear. The court had approved my executor role in the estate, and I was a bit nonplussed in the sense that, here I sat, with the ability to manage a deceased man’s assets, to have legal authority to write checks, even, made out to myself. It was all rather new for me, and, in some respects, a bit daunting.

At the moment I was scanning a limited partnership printout, a real estate transaction that involved some land west of Phoenix. My eyes stopped abruptly when they encountered the name of Steve Langford. He was listed on the document as a general partner. There was that annoying, tantalizing thought again. Just a coincidence perhaps, but one that sent a mild shock wave through me. All the thought given to Cathy’s murder and Steve Langford, and there in front of me is his name on the Cooper document. It had to be no big deal. No fateful nonsense. It was just a stupid coincidence.

The discovery had most definitely gotten my attention, and, because I knew nothing about the technical aspects of a real estate limited partnership, I made a note to ask Roy for an explanation. At the moment he was in Lenny’s private office. This could wait.

There were some bills which needed to be paid, so I wrote out the checks, signed them, and put them in the proper envelopes along with the billing. There were some sizable funds also to be deposited to the estate. The deposit slips were prepared. Then, I turned my attention to other papers relative to the estate. There was nothing unusual, nothing that appeared inconsistent to me. In fact, I was impressed with the wise scope of the Cooper portfolio, even envied the magnitude of the estate and the sound management that had been given.

This whole business made me do some wishful thinking. Maybe one day my own estate would be of such size and worth. There were now only a few bucks in savings, a little raw land, and an annuity. My spending was too spontaneous and reckless, too much devoted to living the good life. This Cooper guy knew what he was doing. He was big time wealthy. My financial situation was okay and would get better, but Mr. Cooper did impress me with his business acumen.

Hey, I thought, that’s why they make ‘thirty-one flavors.’ Some people were successful as bankers, financiers, entrepreneurs, and workaholics. Some were like me: didn’t overdo the ‘work thing;’ left some time, lots of time, for fun and frivolity; worked just enough to make those ends meet. People like me did a considerable amount of procrastination, and we did a lot of daydreaming. Perhaps it was a phase people like me went through. One day, there would likely be some second guessing: why, oh, why didn’t I do this or that? Hopefully, not. Some of us have to smell those flowers.

There was always a price paid for what one did … someone very important must have said that. The corporate CEO works sixteen hours a day for twenty years to be on top of the heap, then discovers his kids are grown and he has an all of a sudden urge to do things that would have been better done twenty years ago. Perspective must not uniquely mean a mental view that fits all sizes. Perspective must be relative to a person’s time and place, the DNA, environment … oh, Bailey-boy, my alter ego speaks, please, stop with the philosophical digression, already!

The Cooper estate business had me thinking too much. Knowing myself, twenty years from now, I’ll still be full of my bible belt guilt, second guessing my choices, and still making a goodly share of goofs. Just what flavor is that? Vanilla? Strawberry? Pistachio? It is what it is!

The office door opened and closed. Roy sat next to me at the conference table and asked how I was doing.

“Doing fine. This is all just a little new to me … makes me think too much. Did have a little shock a moment ago when I saw Steve Langford’s name on one of these real estate limited partnership documents. Been doing so much thinking about Cathy and Steve, it was just a strange coincidence.”

“Well, that’s his business,” Roy responded. “He does land deals and other kinds of syndication. He’s really a wheeler dealer, an operator.”

Roy may not have intended it, but his last comment came across as disparaging. So, I asked: “Operator? As in scam, or, just a good honest hustling entrepreneur?”

Roy chuckled. “More, the latter. So far as I know, Steve’s all legal. But any guy who hustles as aggressively as Steve will sometimes be on the fringe of legality. It’s funny but I remember Cooper raising some questions about a particular land deal. He had heard something, just general, not specific, that led him to believe there could be some impropriety. I gave him my honest appraisal, told him these deals were being done in Arizona all the time and most were in step with current statutes. Of course, I told him that things like physical description of land, legal definitions as to numbers of partners and so on had to be within the purview of those statutes. There was some changes made to Cooper’s satisfaction and the deal went through.” Roy retrieved an ashtray from the desk and lit a cigarette.

“Well, I know precious little about these things It just gave me pause to see his name there. My problem, Roy, is that I don’t somehow trust that guy. He seems nice enough when I run into him during the business day, but when he’s had several drinks he changes. Hell, for that matter, I guess we all change when we’re drinking. It’s just that Pam remembers some bad occasions when she and Cathy lived together, and it got me to thinking and analyzing too much.” The coffee had gotten cold, and I declined a refill.

Roy said, “Cathy probably got very unlucky and was at the wrong place at the wrong time. There was probably some drug-crazed hippie-type hanging out around the school. Or, maybe someone from the apartment complex had been keeping an eye on her. Did you see Willis this morning?”

“No, heading there after leaving you.” It occurred to me that no one called Willis by his first name, Herman … on reflection, guess I would prefer Willis to Herman, as well.

“By now,” Roy went on, “Willis ought to have a thick file on Cathy’s murder. Maybe he’s got something solid by now. Seems to me Steve has too much smarts to kill someone, but who the hell knows, with the way things are these days? Hey, I’ve an appointment coming in. You pretty much through with Cooper’s stuff for now?”

“All done. I’m out of here. See you later.”

The way things are these days!

Going down in the elevator, I thought about that phrase. How were things these days? Much different than ten or twenty years ago? Much different than ten or twenty years from now? Did our lives really change all that much? Or, did we just get bigger and more visible? More visible because of technology? We can get from one end of the country to the other end so fast these days. People are moving more frequently, mixing up the ‘salad bowl’ ingredients with anxieties and frustrations. Mass media blasts are assaulting us. ‘Right’ and ‘wrong’ was still ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in any time, in any generation. The genes and chromosomes are still there. The mix! Was that the difference? If there was a difference.

Ugly and brutal murders happened in other areas. Richard Speck! Jack, the Ripper! Bluebeard! The mad Chicago doctor who had his own special torture chamber for his grisly meetings with young women!

“Whoa! Stop the thought machine,” yelling at myself as I drove out of the underground garage on my way to see Herman Willis. He was a fellow police officer and a friend for whom I had a great deal of respect. My tendency was to over think things … really! Moi?

END OF EXCERPT…   Go to http://www.billyraychitwood.weebly.com and scroll down the ‘Home’ page and preview my books. The buying spots are listed after a short preview of each book. Click on the blog section on the ‘Home’ page if you would like to read my recent posts.

Further links: http://www.about.me/brchitwood

http://www.thefinalcurtain1.wordpress.com

http://www.twitter.com/brchitwood

http://www.goodreads.com

For an author interview by author John Dolan, visit GALERICULATE at http://ow.ly/fVZIF

“What Happens Next? A Life’s True Tale” (An excerpt)

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Like a picture that is worth a thousand words, it’s my thinking that an excerpt from an author’s book can reveal enough pro and/or con for a reader to determine whether or not he/she wants to read further. So, here’s an excerpt from my newest book, “What Happens Next? A Life’s True Tale,” a non-fiction sketch of my life. It is a relatively short book which covers my Southern Baptist roots, the state of my faith, and some not so savory confessions of how I have lived my life. The book might very well be deserving of any label one wishes to put on it, but it is disgustingly honest and true.

Here is an excerpt from the Early Adult section of the book…

What Happens Next - A Life's True Tale

The couple resides in a second floor apartment on a lovely tree-lined street in Williamsport. It is Sunday afternoon, and Steven Ray is sleeping in his crib just off the living room. The wife is ironing. The husband is listening to classical music and day dreaming, idly chatting time to time with his wife. It is a soft afternoon somewhere between bliss and boredom.

Somehow, the conversation turns to the first month of their marriage when the wife left Washington, D. C. for Williamsport to await her husband’s Navy discharge. The wife is telling him about an affair she had with an old high school boyfriend during that month she was away. It is an attempt to purge herself of the guilt of that not so long ago tryst. The wife is wrought with the pain of the revelation but she must be done with her guilt.

The man’s world suddenly caves in on him and he is lost in the frenzied twittering quake of his neuronal wiring. The man is immobilized by the wife’s confession, hardly able to move and speak. He is mindful that the time frame of his wife’s unfaithfulness happens to coincide with the birth date of Steven Ray and this fact adds to the anxious frenzy within his mind.

Hardly able to breathe, the distressed man leaves the apartment and his sobbing wife. He wanders to houses of in-laws and leaves abruptly, leaving them to ponder his dazed, pained expressions. He moves mechanically as though willed to robotic, mindless action. He drives aimlessly and finally sits on a bench in a park, trying to get his brain to work, trying to figure out what he must do.

The thoughts tumble down to him: ‘Is he my son? Should there be a blood test? Do I leave? Do I stay? Where do I go? What do I do?’ He finds himself opening his memory pages to the feelings he has when his father beats his mother. It is that same kind of feeling of helplessness and hopelessness.

The man feels lost like that little boy of yesterday.

He returns to the second floor apartment. His wife’s eyes are red and swollen from her crying and she is so very sorry. For whatever reason, baby in the crib, the honesty of her confession, her sobbing wish for forgiveness, or the simple expediency of the moment, the man forgives his wife and stays. He simply finds it easier to capitulate, to be done with it, than to continue with the aberrations of his mind. It seems he is an emotional cripple, unable to handle the traumatic matters that enter his space. It is his wont to place the blame for his inability to handle stress on his mobile and uncertain past. Is it time for the shrink’s sofa? No, he will not give in to that.

Strangely, life is fairly good for the couple until a Sunday afternoon gathering at Lycoming Creek’s edge in Montoursville. It is a peaceful spot where families gather, pull their cars to the water’s edge for washing, allow their children to wade in the shallow waters, have their picnic lunches. It is a wide creek, and the mother-in-law’s cabin sets among the trees some hundred yards across from where the families, cars, and kids are gathered.

A beautiful day is about to get very ugly…

That dreadful ill fated Sunday afternoon begins with all the family oriented activities the man would want. He drinks beer with his men in-laws. The men are gathering, lounging outside on soft comfortable chairs, looking across the creek at the families on the other side of the river. He listens to the men tell of their different job experiences and participates with his occasional anecdote laced with humor.

The sun shines in a near cloudless sky, and the women bring their plates of goodies out and spread them on the picnic table for the men to prepare and eat at their leisure. It is the sort of day the man has always factored into his vision of family purpose and unity. He sits with baby Steven on his lap, alternating his adult talk with baby talk.

The man’s wife sees across the creek a family she knows, takes baby Steven from his lap, and walks through the shallow water to the other side. The man watches as the wife sweetly engages a young couple in conversation there at water’s edge. A peculiar sensation hits him and at once he somehow knows that his wife is talking to the man who could be the father of his son.

The man sits, his mind filling with accusatory, hateful thoughts. He is lost to all conversations around him. He is riveted to the moment and the building storm within him.

The wife and Steven shortly return, and there is a confrontation. He cannot deny his own disturbing thoughts and must know if he is correct in his presumptions. His wife tells him the truth. It is the old boyfriend with whom she had the previous January affair. She does not feel that her husband has a right to question her innocent move to say hello and show off her son. She does not give any priority to the husband’s own perception of yet another betrayal. She feels she has done nothing wrong in saying hello to an old boyfriend and his wife.

The words are cross, sharp, designed to hurt. There is no stifling anxiety now for the man, just red-hot anger. The husband abruptly and with little fanfare leaves the hillside retreat. He motors away from the family gathering. He is not sure where he is going but he knows he must be away. The harsh words between the couple and the quick revving engine of his car driving away are not lost on the in-law family gathering. Except for baby Steven crying, all is quiet on the hillside.

Clad in a white t-shirt, dungarees, and sock-less brown penny loafers, he goes to a military club recently joined. It is a private drinking and eating club for veterans situated in South Williamsport. There the sourly disposed man drinks away the afternoon, gets rowdy, surly, becomes obnoxious with some patrons, and is asked to leave. It is dusk. He is drunk. He is unsteady and sorely without the faculties he needs to drive his car.

After he crosses the bridge into Williamsport and turns onto the street where he lives, he drives into some parked cars along the curb, damaging three. He is less than a block from home. He is still inebriated but stunned back to some semblance of awareness.

He sits at the curb as police come and a crowd gathers. He fights with a policeman when the latter tries to put him in a cruiser and take him to jail. He is clubbed by the cop just above the right eye. Now, his t-shirt and pants are covered with the dirt and blood of the scuffle.

He finds himself for the first time in his life in a jail cell, and as his sobriety slowly returns to him it might just as well be hell. His mind begins with the scenarios. Some are woefully unclear in the focusing. He sits on the hard cot in the small enclosure, his head throbbing with pain and uncertainty. With his head bowed, he relives the hours of the Sunday afternoon, the act by his wife he perceives as betrayal, the military club drinking as plain stupid, and the ramming of the parked cars, the cop fight, as priceless in ‘Keystone Comic’ hilarity. He is not laughing, however. He is in a particular black abyss of his own making.

The man mentally shovels on his guilt, plays the pity games, and self-decrees that his life is over. He stands at the bars of his cell and weakly yells at the jailer on night duty, pleads to be let out of his claustrophobic nightmare. The jailer is kind to the man, tells him that morning will come soon, that everything will eventually work out…

This ends the excerpt from “What Happens Next? A Life’s True Tale.” Should you care to read the entire book, please visit amazon.com (US and UK) and/or my website/blog and scroll down the ‘Home’ page to my books. There you will find the links for purchasing the book — paperback, kindle and/or other e-book formats. Here is the link to my Website/Blog: http://billyraychitwood.weebly.com

The Coveted ‘Liebster’ Award

liebsterawardI’ve been nominated by John Dolan for the coveted (maybe) ‘LIEBSTER Award’. You can find out about this trivial pursuit (but, GREAT!) at http://goo.gl/xk16q , a wonderful blog site by John Dolan called ‘Galericulate’ (a word meaning, ‘covered, as with a hat or cap’). If you are not familiar with this British ‘chap’ of wisdom and wit, you have just got to become familiar. SO, please visit his site, read his posts, some book reviews, some outrageous author interviews, and I’m betting you will thank me. In fact, I’ve reviewed his book, “Everyone Burns,” on this site and will do likewise when the much expected sequel is out. I have also interviewed him on this site — view in the archives.

Now, back to the business at hand. Here are the rules for acceptance of the ‘LIEBSTER Award.’ These are important because? At the end of my little mission here, I will be nominating eleven blogs for this coveted award.  Okay, the rules: 1) When you receive the award you must post eleven random facts about yourself; 2) you must answer eleven questions posed by the person who nominated you; 3) you pass the award on to the blogger friends you are nominating, making sure that you have notified them of their nominations; 4) you write up eleven new questions for the bloggers you are nominating (and you cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you); 5) finally, you paste the award picture into your blog.

Eleven Random Facts About Billy Ray Chitwood:

1) Kerosene lamps were the ‘in thing’ during my rural youth.

2) You would never know I taught ‘Advanced Writing’ when you read my books.

3) Skipped school occasionally to play ‘nine ball’ at the pool hall.

4) Spent many Saturdays sitting on the front row of the movie house watching Hopalong Cassidy, an early cowboy hero of mine — how would you know him?

5) Worked up the nerve in high school to ask a majorette beauty for a movie date — then, stood her up because of my shyness (go figure!)

6) Spent a tour of duty in the US Navy at an outpost in the Aleution Islands called Adak (A-yuck!).

7) The English ‘Romantic Poets’ were my beacon lights in college — also gave me a big assist on dates! (My etchings, so to speak.)

8) I’ve chased ‘windmills’ all my life — and still chasing!

9) Love is not only a great golfer but an emotion that ends up being my number one priority in life.

10) Along with the waste accumulated in my life there has been a lot of joy.

11) I’ve been a ‘President’ — of a Homeowners Association.

Eleven Questions From John Dolan for me to answer:

1) What is the worst present you ever received? I’m tempted but won’t go there! The worst present was Christmas undershorts two sizes too large from my loving Mom — she gave them every year until she passed on. (I just never had the heart to tell her.)

2) If you were going to throw someone our of an aeroplane who would it be? An ‘aeroplane?’ Really, John, get on board! I’m too lovable to even consider such an awful act…

3) What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever worn? A yellow polka dot bikini! (Please, John, try harder with the questions.)

4) If you could have been the writer of any song, which song would it be? Toss-up between “My Way” and “God Bless America.”

5) If you weren’t doing what you are doing, what would you be doing? Writing a song…

6) How long can you hold your breath for? John, John! Ending with a preposition? Really? One hour, thirty-three seconds!

7) If you had to have a tattoo what would it be and where would it be on your body? ‘Liebster’ Award, lower right cheek!

8) Apple or Microsoft? Finally a short question! Apple has a certain acid that bothers my stomach. Microsoft when I’m not hungry.

9) If you could remove one country from the planet which one would it be? Right this minute or later on when I’m more rational! Besides, I don’t wish to offend North Korea…

10) Which extinct animal would you like to see not-extinct? A dinosaur cause I’m lonely!

11) Which movie is most likely to make you blub?  ‘Blub’ as in blubber? Out on a limb here but I go with “Somewhere In Time.”

Here are my eleven easy questions for my nominees:

1) Your favorite Actor and Actress?

2) Your least liked chore?

3) Your favorite book genre?

4) Your favorite type of music?

5) Your favorite movie?

6) Your least favorite movie?

7) Mayonnaise or Salad Dressing?

8) Favorite beverage?

9) Favorite meat?

10) Favorite vegetable?

11) Your favorite author of all time?

We’re all serious about the business of writing and the events that shape our world. Some levity and fun is allowed. Who knows! While doubtful, this ‘Liebster’ Award could go viral! It took me some time to do mine, but all of you are younger and more digitally savvy…should knock the chore off in thirty minutes. My very best to all, and, don’t hate me, please! Just get even. You can hate John Dolan!

Here are my nominees for the ‘Liebster’ Award:

Rich Weatherly – (@richweatherly43) – http://richweatherly.wordpress.com

Christine Warner – (@ChristinesWords) – http://christine-warner.com

Jhobell Kristyl – (@JhobellKristyl) – http://bookmavenpicks.wordpress.com 

Chris Martin – (@TheChris_Martin) – http://chrismartinwrites.com  

Jack Durish – (@jackdrsm) – http://www.jackdurish.com

Caleb Pirtle – (@CalebPirtle) – http://venturegalleries.com

Babette James – (@BabetteJames) – http://www.babettejames.com  

Dianne Gray – (@Zigotide) – http://diannegray.au.comhttp://diannegray.wordpress.com

Ella Medler – (@EllaMedler) – http://www.ellamedler.com http://ellamedler.wordpress.com

Rick Mallery – (@RickMallery) – http://rickmallery.wordpress.com

Judith Victoria Douglas – http://booksbyjudithvictoriadouglas.wordpress.com  

Where Did Christmas Go?

Okay, Christmas has not gone anywhere. It is still the birthday of Jesus, a great man, and, for many, a Savior. Jesus gave birth to the philosophy of Christianity and he gave us many golden rules by which to live our lives. He was a simple man with a richness of heart, mind, and soul who sought to provide all of us, the poor, the rich, the disabled, with a vision beyond ourselves and beyond our problems. From the teachings of Jesus came many branches of religion to satisfy the soul-needs of many.

For some among us, Jesus has little or no meaning beyond His mere existence. For some there is no religion that has meaning. For some there is only this life that we shall live. For some, death brings down the final curtain…an eternal darkness. These people among us have this right to their secular non-belief in God, in Christianity, in all that is Holy. The Christian and the secular can walk side by side, be friends and neighbors, be tolerant of each other’s views.

For me, I say Happy Birthday, Jesus! I say, Merry Christmas to all and a Happy New Year. I say, enjoy the lighting of your Christmas Tree and the presents you place beneath it. It is the Yuletide season. It is a holiday season. Christmas is a federal holiday. Our Constitution was formed by those of Judeo-Christian values. We allow for a separation of Church and State in our federal and state business. Why is this not enough?

From the polls we get the information that ninety per cent of us Americans still want a Christmas holiday, a Christmas tree, presents under the tree. We ninety per cent see this time of year as a time to spread love, peace, and good will. Is that really so bad? Why is it that some want to make such a big deal about calling a Christmas Tree a Holiday Tree? Why is it that a Nativity Scene is no longer allowed in certain venues? Why is it that the majority does not seem to govern our affairs because of the ‘suffering’ minority?

When does this madness end? When do the encroaching seculars finally take over our country? When does the politically correct get to rule every aspect of our lives? Where did Christmas go? Have we not given in enough to the minority groups? Can we still keep in place some vestige of our heritage as a nation? I know changes must come as we outgrow some primitive laws on the books. Some of our language must change when it is so obviously insulting to some. Some things just need changing. The difference between conservative and liberal does not escape me, not does ‘far right’ and ‘far left,’ nor does ‘moderate,’ ‘progressive,’ ‘extreme.’ Neither of these groups will ever win all the political and social battles, but could we just call ‘Time Out’ for this beautiful season that is now here. Most of us will, but could the zealots call ‘Time Out’ as well. And, yes, I know the liberals want to blame the conservatives, the ‘talk show’ fringe, certain news channels, and it likely doesn’t really matter to most of us. It just seems to come up each year, this issue of ‘Christmas Tree’ versus ‘Holiday Tree,’ the issue of ‘Nativity Scene Displays,’ the issue of ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy Holidays.’ Guess we can say both, ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy Holidays.’ It just bothers me when some retailers warn their workers only to say ‘Happy Holidays’ because ‘Merry Christmas’ might offend someone. So many of us have become hesitant in uttering something so naturally spoken over the years.

Christmas will never be for me the way it was so many years ago. I’ve aged and the season in upon me and past me before I know it. I overheard an argument about all this ‘Christmas Tree’ and ‘Political Correctness’ stuff and it just bothered me. Guess it’s kind of natural for an anachronism like me to be bothered.

Guess it’s kind of natural for an ‘old dog’ like me to wonder, ‘Where Did Christmas Go?’