Friday, May 17, 2019

Murder Mystery-Short Story Friday



Hi all! It's Short Story Friday. Today's short story comes from Vicky Holt. Short, spooky and with a twist. Enjoy!

Detective Carpenter leaned over the dead body draped half-in, half-out of the kidney shaped pool.
He kept his hands in his pockets and stood still, letting forensics work their way around the scene without him trudging through it.
Green nudged him with his elbow. “Murder, right?” Green’s sniveling voice grated, but Carpenter’s lips remained in a thin line.
He squinted, noting the female’s pale skin everywhere except for dark purple bruising on her back where her kidney would be.
“I mean, she’s naked in a pool,” Green said. “She could have been skinny dipping. But that bruise! It’s as purple as grape jam.”
Carpenter squatted. He pulled out his pen and used it to lift the wet locks of black hair from her face. The thick hair coiled like a snake on her shoulder.
Her eyes were closed. A traditional pearl earring studded the one ear visible to him. Her lips appeared to be crusted with sugar. A jolt spasmed through his gut.
“Do you think she had sexual congress before she died?” Green said. “I mean, she’s a babe.”
Carpenter stood up and smashed his fist into Green’s face. “I don’t care what the agreement was. You’re never riding with me again.”
The forensics team yelled as Green stumbled around the scene. Carpenter stalked to his car and punched in Celia’s number. It went straight to voicemail, and Carpenter tasted sugar when he licked his lips.

Friday, May 10, 2019

A Couple on A Cruise- Short Story Friday


Short Story Friday!

Welcome back, all! Today we bring you a short story written by Elizabeth Lemons that is PERFECT for the beginning of summer.

Pour yourself a fruity libation, slip on your flip-flops, and enjoy this ocean-tale.

A COUPLE ON A CRUISE

a short story by Elizabeth Lemons

The tropical scent of plumeria clobbered my nostrils and I breathed it in headily while slowly rubbing some reef-safe Kokua sun care into my old man’s shoulders. He was starting to turn really red.  Vincent was a looker, even in his distinguished years, he was a killer with a knee-weakening smile and a penchant for rum. All women noticed him, even now, as he lay in the sun, his eyes hidden beneath dark sunglasses while lounging aboard this sea-bound vessel. No man should look this fine (at forty years shy of one hundred). Only I seemed to realize lately that his walk had slowed somewhat and he hesitated a bit longer before speaking these days.  His mentality remains smart as a tack and quick as a fox, though I can feel the quieter years of his life beginning to alter his aura. Even now, I still sometimes can’t believe that at night he always chooses to go home with me. Yes, he really is THAT fine.

I first met him at Bay Varascio, his family’s ancestral manse located on a secluded Australian beach overlooking turquoise clear blue waters. After a rather brief phone interview, I was hired sight unseen to come and live-in as his personal chef. Vincent Varascio lived alone. He hated preparing meals for himself and could easily afford to pay someone to keep him and his diet on track.   His entire family had died in a plane crash one winter’s night long ago after celebrating Christmas together at the villa.. The entire family had flown after Christmas Day in the family jet to New York, where their festive joy would continue as they together planned to share a holiday Broadway show. Regretfully, Vincent had needed to finish a business deal at home, and then his plan was that he would follow them to the Big Apple in his own private plane.  He had been a pilot since he was 16. His family’s jet never made it to New York.

Since that time, Vincent had assumed a very subdued lifestyle.  He had never married, never lived the life of a playboy, never been a flamboyant spender, though he had the ways and means for both.  He was quiet, reserved, and seemed to spend the majority of his lonely, countless hours reading in his library. Vincent was brutally handsome.  Oh, I already mentioned that?

I grew up by the sea in a world very far away from Australia.  I hail from a tiny beach town in Alabama called Gulf Shores. My dad died when I was young, and my mother still spends her days rocking on a swing on her covered porch that overlooks the Gulf.  She very recently has shown some interest in a gentleman who is a rather famous mystery writer. I love watching them together, and enjoyed their company immensely for with them, there was always laughter. With nothing by my mother’s happiness in mind, I recently decided to venture out from the dockside restaurant where I nightly applied my talents.  Though I loved my small town life, I needed something new. A change of view.

My only true requirements in life were to have a great place and ingredients so I could cook, a secret plot of ground of my own to garden a bit, and quiet mornings where I could contemplate a little and perhaps write by the sea.  My cheating lying former fiance’ had rearranged my heart’s prerogatives, stolen a treasure trove of non-retrievable trust, and all of my girlhood hopes, so this (literally) out-of-the-blue offer was a total dream job for me, for the Master of the Villa ate very little.  This transcribed as a lot of time to do whatever the heck I wanted to do in the hours that were my own. He did, however, occasionally host parties, nothing too extravagant. Just tasteful coastal elegance, and usually even then the parties were for his sea-faring mates and rare business associates.   Vincent always felt he owed people he befriended the pleasure of enjoying his inherited luxurious surroundings as much as he himself enjoyed and partook of its history. Mornings he would stop into the well-appointed cosy kitchen for a quick cup of dark roast brew and small bite of whatever tantalizing pastry or baked good I had freshly concocted, rarely was he around for lunch, but evenings always found us both together as I served him a dinner that was usually fresh from the sea in the romantic courtyard, which always smelled of the yellow and white frangipani flowers that encompassed the hand-hon long rock table that grandly overlooked the sea.  He would sit, barely eat, sip on a cocktail, and with his graceful long fingers, beckon me to join him. He didn’t flirt, but his magnetic blue eyes held much water, Soon he and I had created a little private dinner game which promptly progressed into late afternoon contests of our taking turns to mix drinks we had never tried and make tantalizing, funny beach snacks to share. He even made friends with the huge grill and so that became his cooking “specialty”. Night after night, we together watched the sun set in vivid pinks and oranges and streaks of lavender color as it spilled over our still-as-glass bay while the sun headed off to bed. He was 35 then, and I was 25, or was it 26?  Didn’t matter, for over a few years, we had become saturated by the tides, aged by the scorching sun, and forever living life on our own solitary terms. Together.

Every breath we took became filled with our life’s together dream to preserve and rescue all things marine.  Even this day, our big cruise on this super luxury yacht (which had belonged to his father years ago) was embarked upon so that we could meet up with some friends willing to spend most of summer’s upcoming weeks beside us,  working to clean specific areas of floating plastic and tossed refuse that are detrimentally affecting the coral reefs along Australia’s coast. My husband’s old family money enables us to sponsor a team of others dedicated to doing all they can to try to save marine ecosystems that are being annihilated by careless humans.  I look at him, he looks silently at me, and we cannot speak. The harm that has been wrought upon the earth is beyond horrific and terrifying to both marine life and humans. So we don’t talk about it much. We are more the kind of people who are doers. Sure, Vincent writes checks to aid many charities and non-profits, and good comes from that, but today’s cruise is for the purpose of gathering some friends and all of us can organize, and we can clean and we can make some small difference.  Vincent and I can and want to physically get out there to help.

Enthusiastic younger folks admire Vincent, especially the teen-age girls. They can’t help it!   He is rugged, and he is gentle and is quite famous for rescuing dolphins, turtles and once, even a whale who found itself entangled in an abandoned fisherman’s net.  That grateful humpback whale now lives at the Australia Zoo because he was too injured to ever be released again into the wild. Known as Louis, this whale will always need help and supervision, but, he lived.    Vincent is a well-studied marine biologist. While we are at sea, I relinquish most of my cooking duties in order to help by recording data, sending texts and using my previous kitchen skills in organizing as we attempt to hold clean-up missions, promote smarter ways to take care of our earth and waters at rallies held on beaches, schools, and even town meetings.  Whatever it takes. And we do it together. We sail, and we meet up with friends at nearby 2 different ports. Then we make our last stop to pick up our friend, Jason.

SHIPS AHOY!  OH, BOY!

Captain’s Log:  June 7 Mid-mission, tonight, we are surrounded on board with our usual 8 or so environmental mates and (despite my cautious warning to my husband), have unwittingly just allowed a few unknown seamen aboard our boat, based on recommendation from one our own crew members.  This will prove to be detrimental.


Jason was one of our family.  The son of one of Vincent’s best mates, Jason literally had been helping us on every clean-up or rescue mission for the past 8 years.  Working sometimes as a bartender, sometimes as a musician, Jason’s youthful, partying ways were always of the parrot-headed, “let’s-share-a-beer” friendly sort, enabling him to being able to make himself at home with anyone he ever crosses paths with.  Today, his recent bar buddies consisted of a rather scraggly-looking tri-team of treasure hunters who had just this week had some bad luck when their own boat sank to the depths of the Indian Ocean. Their story was that someone had meant to toss a cigarette butt overboard, maybe. Or maybe it blew back on board bringing flame ignition. Maybe.  None of the 3 young men seemed sure of how their boat burst into flames. At least, this non-specific bantering is all they can think of at the moment, and before one could sing “By the Sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea”, their treasure ship went up in smoke and these 20-something “Lost Boys” were floating around in the salty water like crackers crumbled over hot soup.

“They just need a lift, aaaaaaaand, they are willing to clean, sort through plastic debris, bag it, haul it,  whatever you want them to do, they will do it, for their passage to Rottnest Island.  They are just a bit low on funds, cause, (he laughs) we had a REALLY great time back at the Pelican.   These guys are short on buying a ticket for the ferry back home cause they lost a bet to me and had to buy the bar a final round.”  “ Aw, come on, it’s just a 30-45 minute ride to Rottnest, not even out of our way.”

When I heard this, I shivered a bit, and looked immediately at Vincent, who fell for it all, hook, line and sinker. He was always so happy when people would offer on their own to step in to help him fight the polluted, and devastated waters.  He could only see smiles and strong capable arms. My ears focused on the words “Rottnest”. My womanly intuition kicked into high gear, and I could feel T-R-O-U-B-L-E. I wondered if these guys ever even had a boat, much less one that went up in flames,

“Alright, Jason, I trust you, man”, I heard Vincent say as he waved the newbies aboard. Their luggage consisted of beer cans, one held in each of their hands.   “No problem, we’ll just buzz by your island, drop you guys off. I thank you for your help.”

“No worries, mate”, the “leader” passenger, known secretly in my mind as “Toothless”, of the nefarious tri-pack of dudes nodded in agreement, and so, they all climbed up the stairwell.  And, with nothing more than that being said, three complete strangers entered our safe water haven. The mean one, and his two pets. Clearly, the two clueless men followed the bolder one into less-than-above-board heists and tricks. There was no light in their eyes.  I truly hate to say this, but when he was young, my husband would never have allowed anyone he didn’t know to climb aboard, especially black hearts such as these. It seemed that with age comes a lack of judgment and I was sad to see this. Vincent had always had a great handle on sniffing out insincere people who excelled at taking advantage.  Nonetheless, we continued to sail towards night as the setting sun shimmied downward into the now darkening waters. Our naturalist friends, our only TRUE traveling companions, were occupied with taking showers before dinner or attempting to Skype home, or focusing on tomorrow’s clean-water strategy plans at a long table by the stern’s rail. Dinner would transpire in about an hour here on the bow and everyone would gather back together then. Thoughtfully, Vincent had hired a ship chef to keep us fed while we all worked, allowing me some time to relax and enjoy being with him as we sailed.

Like most couples on a cruise, we sipped on some Sangria while enjoying some mango salsa. It had just the right “zang” from added slivered jalapenos. The Lost Boys sat at another close-by round table and they immediately made themselves at home, each of them drinking cold beers while they rumbled on about starvation and how hungry they were as they shoved chips and salsa into their faces and dripped messily onto their table.  Raucous laughter and a loud burp ensued, they were downright uncouth, when suddenly, they lowered their voices and began to talking rather quietly amongst themselves, and I couldn’t help but try to get a reading on them from Vincent, who seemed more concerned with some documents he had lain across our table. I kept looking for his eyes to meet mine, (‘look at me, Vincent’, I silently commanded) but, alas, he just kept searching for something that seemed to be tragically missing as he flipped back and forth between pages.

“Shall I go fetch your reading glasses, darling?” I offered.  Vincent hated to wear them in public, but the sexy old man was blind as a bat!

“Umm, no, that’s alright.  I am just trying to understand why this contract doesn’t seem to clarify the parameters of how this detrimentally hazardous ancient floating palace is to be re-purposed, I want it removed from out of the water, and I need to be sure each condition I have specified is completed before I finalize this sale of the Mother O  ----WHOMP!

One of the Lost Boys had silently stood, then walked over behind Vincent, and used a weighty copper lantern he had picked up off another table to knock out my dear Vincent before I even realized he was beside us.  Vincent slumped over the table, a tiny trickle of blood began to run down his face. I screamed as I simultaneously jumped out of my seat at the same time, looking for any thing I could use as a weapon. Vincent was face down in his paper work as I snatched a small but heavy, carved mermaid figurehead off the wall and tried to swing it towards the assailant.  With my first swing, I missed and the bastard just stood there and laughed at me as the weight of the mermaid caused me to fall onto the hard wooden deck. As I scrambled to get back up, he grabbed for the papers beneath Vincent’s face. “Rich sod with no brain,” he laughed heartily again with his deviant but dumb mates as skimmed over the printed papers. “Says here, “Deed of Sale...hmmm, and it’s for this monstrosity of a boat. Ain’t THAT convenient!”  Maniacal laughter pursued as the nasty, nosy man picked at his rotten teeth and he flipped to the back page. “Aw mates, get this..this dumb shit trusting bugger done gone and signed off on it. We’re rich! “, he said as he confidently turned towards his sitting-in-a-befuddled-daze crew to boast some more about what he actually believed was his newly acquired ship. By this time, two of our own shipmates had managed to run across the far side of the boat deck towards our table, in full-blown protection mode.  Jason was running with a speed I had never witnessed before.

The second swing of the mermaid had me sitting once again in the floor, but this time I used my whole body to whip that hunk of wood around and I walloped that vile man right in his pillaging-ass kneecap.  It snapped with a loud bone CRUNCH! As soon as “Toothless” wailed in excruciating pain, Jason arrived, looking a bit like Aqua man, brandishing his weighty muscles as his sexy long dark hair swung in the breeze.  He was holding both a pistol and a knife. And, he knew how to use them. But, he didn’t. Instead, he called the Australian Maritime Border Command (they were on their way). More members of our own original crew had come running at the sound of my scream and had now tied all three of these horrible men to the lower bar foot rails until help could haul them away.  Curse words cascaded and were as abundant as the worry for the ship’s captain. The sea air was solemn.

I rushed to rouse Vincent, poor sweet trusting now frail man, who was attempting to get his bearings and sit back up in the chair.  He was not succeeding. “I’m sorry, honey”, he stammered. “I should have known better. I am just an old man, I made a mistake. I should have never jeopardized this voyage or your safety, my darling.  It was to be our final cruise aboard the “Mother Ocean” for I had decided to get rid of this opulent water tub for a smaller more Eco-friendly boat that would enable us to work and dock more easily. Now it seems, my hesitation in selling what is obviously an unnecessary outdated luxury has, indeed, become our final cruise together.”  One single tear crept down my left cheek as I held Vincent’s dear face, and gently wiped away the blood from his temple.

I held him close, and must have been rocking him back and forth, even as the evil Lost Boys were being taken away.  I wailed. I kept sobbing and crying “No! Come back. Come back, Vincent! You are NOT an old man! You are NOT an old man”, I kept saying it, over, and over and over, even as Jason peeled me away from my beloved’s limp body.

SWEET DREAMS ARE MADE OF THESE

Later, I lay on my back, encompassed cozily beneath soft cotton sheets, with my head deeply pressed into a lush pillow.  My eyes opened as I heard Vincent’s sweet voice, “ Ashe, Ashe!...Wake up, now, Ashera!” (pronounced Ugh sheer ugh).  “Darling, we have arrived at our first port and Megan and Toshi await!”  He took my hand, pulled me close to his chest and kissed my hair and neck.  “What a dream you must have had, come back to me, Ashe!,” he softly said to me as I made my way back to now. He kissed away my tears. I blinked, then opened my eyes once more.

Oh, God, there he was again.  What a gorgeous man! My blue eyes sparkled from my sleepy tears where I had been holding so tightly to my older, fallen love, but now, I found I held nothing but complete adoration for the sea god who sat beside me on the bed.  But, what? How could this be? I shook my head back and forth. Vincent looked to be 35 years old. He was young again, just a few years older than when we first met! No grey, no wrinkles, no decades of times past shared together.  This was just my husband. And we were just a happy couple, on a cruise.

Captain’s Log:   After this day, there will be no more Bacardi 151 for me
while shipboard lounging out in the hot, hot sun...
while cruising with my baby...





THE END


Come back next Friday for a new short story, and as always, leave a comment!

Friday, May 3, 2019

A Lunch Date Gone Wrong - Short Story Friday

Short story Friday!

Hey all! Today's short story is written by--- Me! Set in the Binding Universe, in the time when Sybella Rose was still human, I give you:


A Lunch Date Gone Wrong
By: Victoria Clapton
2019

The bright orange glow from tonight’s full moon glowed over the mostly empty benches on Jackson Square. It was a cool, autumn evening in the French Quarter. Most of the tourists and artisans headed home over an hour ago and were now missing the magical ambience that situated on the old cobblestones.

“Are you ready, Sybella Rose?” I shivered as Demien’s hand came to rest in the small of my back, reassuring me that this idea of a date, a date with a vampire, wasn’t crazy.

I held up a heavy picnic basket my friend Aloysius had filled and smiled. “Sure.”

Like me, Demien loved to go down to the river at night, to watch the waters of the Mississippi roll by in rippling shimmers, so I didn't even ask him where we were heading for our lunch date at 2:00 a.m. Over the levee, towards the moonwalk, we had a spot.

He made no sound as he moved, guiding through shadows. Only his long dark hair, ruffled lightly in the breeze. The sweet, citrusy scent of bergamot assaulted my senses with every step he took, and I fought the irrational urge to reach out for him, to pull him into a kiss that he may not even want.

Recently, I’ve made a career at throwing myself at the almost five hundred year old vampire walking gracefully beside me. I physically could not stop myself. I needed to touch him, to consume him, to be consumed by him.

As he showed no signs of insatiable attraction, I can only assume he is not afflicted by the malady, a curse known as The  Binding, as I was. This, too, his ability to ignore the urges pressed upon us, drove me even more insane.

Someone listened to Trombone Shorty in one of the cars that pass by on Decatur Street. This town, my beloved New Orleans, embraced its culture like no other place.

“Where are your thoughts?”

I hadn’t realized that Demien had paused at the crosswalk, waiting for the signal to cross over Decatur, and now scrutinized my temporary silence.

“I was just thinking about New Orleans and its artists. Such a special place.”

The walk light flickered, and we crossed the street. I did not even bother with why a vampire cares about crosswalk procedures at two in the morning. Demien was filled with so many conundrums, keeping up with them was impossible.

“That’s why we locals fight so hard to keep outsiders from ruining it.”

I panicked for a moment, right in the middle of the road, when it occurred to me I no longer held the heavy picnic basket. Demien urged me along, shaking the picnic basket he must have grabbed from me at some point as he guided me towards our lunch destination.

Nerves assaulted me. No matter how long this went on, I continued to find myself baffled at the way Demien’s presence both calmed me and shot my nerves to frazzled. I could never predict what he would do next. His actions caught me off guard.

So, I stood there on a grassy patch near the moonwalk and the river, watching him spread out a checkered picnic blanket for me to sit upon while we dined...well, while I dined.

His movements held my attention as he carefully unloaded the basket--a bowl of fruit salad, a po' boy dressed, a few bottles of Abita Amber. The snacks kept coming, more food than I could eat.

My mouth draped open as Demien opened each item of food, arranging it beautifully before me, and then held his hand out to help me sit in the Victorian skirt I had chosen to wear tonight.

This man, this vampire, was ruthless. Terrifying. I had seen him kill. I’d felt his violent rage against me, and I could not reconcile the horror with his heart.

“How was your day?” He motioned for me to begin eating as he stretched out his impossibly long legs and leaned back on his hands.

“You’re beautiful.” I murmured, then cursed. I hated this curse. I took a breath, then I answered his original question like a normal person. “JoJo taught me how to draw a few veves today, but I had to promise not to catch anything else in the shoppe on fire.”

“Again?” There was a smile in his tone. I could not control the magick inside of me, everyone knew it. Asking me to not let my emotions take over, to not magickly ignite the voodoo shoppe or anything else into roaring flames was almost a joke.

“Look, Mr. Vampy-Pants, this is your fault.” I was teasing, but his dead body lost whatever semblance of pretend mortality he acted out as it froze into complete stillness and his gaze settled onto the water.

He had slipped back into the dark place where he resided, and I had to do something before my stupid comment ruined our lunch date.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way, you know. Believe it or not, even though you are a huge pain in my ass...I enjoy your company.”

“You’re not eating.”
“Jerk!” I whispered under my breath but picked up the po' boy and took a huge bite.

He scoffed but relaxes somewhat, and I focused on my food to keep from crawling into his lap and begging him to take me right there in public.

The moment between us was peaceful, enjoyable even, until a whirring sound and a warning yell pulled me from my happy place.

“Watch out!”

Demien scooped me up in a blur, and the eruption of thuds and thwacks in the place where we’d just been sitting took me by surprise.

“What the bloody hell?” I declared, though I’m less concerned with what interrupted our moment than the loss of Demien’s arms when he released me.

I took in the tenseness in Demien’s shoulders, the way he ever-so-slightly crouched, and looked beyond him to see that some punk had been out on the Moonwalk in the middle of the night in roller skates and had lost control, careening through the grass straight on top of our picnic.

Demien’s anger froze the kid into place. Having let his guard down with me, he’d slipped straight into predator mode at the first hint of me being in danger.

I stepped around my solid hunk of vampire and offered a hand to the kid who’d plummeted upon our lunch. “Here, let me help you up.  Are you hurt?”

He stuttered and stammered, “N...no. I’m fine. I’m so-sorry.”

“Okay,” I said calmly. “You should go.”

Like any rational person, I thought that if anyone should get bitten here, it damned well better be me, but I kept my thoughts to myself and aided the kid to his feet.

“Sorry, again. I didn’t mean to…” The kid’s preservation instinct kicked in and he took off into the night.

I took a deep breath and began picking up the remnants of our lunch date gone wrong, and then pulled on the bond between us. “Demien, come to me.”

I didn’t know if he’d succumb to my request. He was just as likely to disappear into the night. I packed everything away except the blanket, which I flipped over.

“Demien, come and sit.”

He didn’t look at me. Deep down, I knew he couldn’t. He was fighting the demon inside of him, the predator that had wanted to kill, that still wanted to kill. But he once more found a place on the blanket.

Relief rushed through me...then insanity. Without any hesitation, I maneuvered my body until I was sitting between his two legs with my back up against his chest. My bare neck waiting, beckoning just below his mouth.

“Sybella,” he growled in warning.

His fangs brushed against my skin.

“What? Didn’t we come here for lunch?”


Thanks for joining me, once again, for short story Friday. Stay tuned next week for a new story by Elizabeth Lemons.

In the meantime, for those of you who have not switched over yet, I’ve moved my Vermillion Cacaphonies private Facebook group and linked it to my author page. Click on the link and follow me there for all sorts of fun!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

XV ~ Lana Sky~ Cover Reveal

Hi everyone!

As most of you know, when I'm not writing up a storm, I am curled up somewhere reading. For quite some time now, I've been straight-up addicted to author Lana Sky and her edgy, dark writing. Some of you are aware. If you've been anywhere near me in the last year or so, you probably think that Lana's books and characters are real people. LOL.

I have been extremely fortunate to read advanced copies of some of her works and am super excited to not give you the cover real for XV, the first book in the War of Roses trilogy.

XV is a page-turner. I read it in one sitting when I was supposed to be working on my own novel. I just couldn't put it down. Like all of Lana's writings, XV will make your head spin.

So, without further ado, I give you the cover of XV. You may go ahead and pre-order a copy of XV. I'll add the link at the bottom.





WHEN HATE BECOMES OBSESSION…
Mistaken for her beautiful half-sister, Ellen Winthorp is taken captive by a madman who declares that she will be his "fifteen": the fifteenth victim of a vicious blood feud. Armed with only her instincts, Ellen must resist her captor for as long as she can—which is easier said than done the more she's exposed to the complex man beneath the beast.
Because Mischa Stepanov isn’t a mindless monster—he’s a wolf, and she’s the unwitting doe caught in his midst.
Unraveling the torment of his past may be her only hope of salvation...
Or the secrets uncovered may destroy them both.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Chasing The Enemy -Short Story Friday

It's that time again! Short story Friday!

This week's short story comes from author Anne Marie Andrus. If you have been following her Monsters and Angels books, you are really going to love this one. If you haven't checked them out yet, the links where you can find both Monsters and Angels and Raimond are down below. Enjoy!


Chasing The Enemy
by
Anne Marie Andrus

June 17, 1970
On the Eve of Graduation…

Thunderclouds raced east, leaving the Augusta air sparkling and ready for the biggest weekend of the year. Clear horizons sparked the campus bustle back to life as the noise of saws and hammers bounced off stately columns and rang past ancient oaks.
In a cluttered dormitory room a mile away, Stori shoved moving boxes around enough to find the corner of a mirror to check the hemline of her brightly flowered dress. Stellar.”
Too short.” A voice squawked from the corner.
Stori yanked the fabric lower. “It’s fine.”
Nope, nope. Too short.”
“Jett, zip your beak.” Stori waved him off. “Tomorrow will be all high heels and graduation gowns, but tonight is the senior class party.”
Bad weather.
“Shush, the storms are over.” She rummaged through a pile of paperwork on the nightstand. “I hope.”
Need coffee.” Jett flapped his bright blue wings. “Storytime!”
“I have to deliver this stuff to the office before they close. Are you going to be quiet?”
No, hell, no.”
Stori’s shoulders slumped. “Then get in the cage.” She opened a miniature bamboo door. “Now, bird.”
“Parakeet, please.
Stori held papers in her teeth and hauled Jett’s bulky cage to the car.
“I’m in jail.”
“You deserve it.” She wrestled the antique into the passenger seat and climbed in next to it. Ten minutes of majestic curves on gravels roads brought them to a rolling stop under the shade of a massive tree. “I wish you wouldn’t yell bonjour at every person you see.”
“Perfect manners.” Jett preened himself in the side view mirror. Junky car.”
“It was a gift from my uncle.”
“Stuffy in here.”
Quit complaining.” Stori gathered up her documents and jumped out. “I’ll be right back.”
“Storytime!”
“You little demon.” Stori pointed at Jett’s beak. “Who taught you to say that? Never mind.” She crossed her arms. “I’ll take it up with Uncle Steven tomorrow night. Why couldn’t he teach you to sing like all the other birds?”

“Parakeet, pretty please.” Jett leaned back and screeched. “Ha, ha!”
Stori walked backward and held up two fingers in the shape of a V.
“No peace. Ha, ha!”
She spun, drew a cleansing breath and smoothed her skirt before stepping into the oldest building on campus.
The receptionist peered over her glasses and broke into a wide grin. “Miss Stori, is your ear-piercing bird in the parking lot?”
“Unfortunately,” She rubbed her forehead. “That’s Jett, howling like he’s escaped from an asylum.”
“With the door shut, I almost can’t hear him and I do believe congratulations are in order. I always knew you’d graduate…but at the top of your class?”
Sister Gilda, four years ago, you didn’t think I’d last a week.”
“Well, you were just so young even for a legacy student, but I didn’t mean…
“No, no.” Stori waved both hands in front of her face. “You were right. I was so young, wasn’t I?”
“We all were, once upon a time.” Gilda sighed and pointed to the papers. “Are those for me?”
“My name change.” Stori tried to flatten the documents and gave up. “All legal and finalized.
And you’re positive about giving up your father’s name?”
“I am. His side of the family is in asheshe started the fire.” Stori swiped a tear with the back of her hand. “But my mother and grandfather will be at the ceremony. They’re both Aldens and they’ll be thrilled, so I want to make sure it’s correct—”
Don’t you worry, dear. Tomorrow night, the Medical College of Georgia’s president will announce you as Doctor Stori B Alden.”
“And then I walk across the stage?”
“That’s how it works, dear. Give me a moment to put this in order.”
Stori pressed her trembling hands into her skirt and wandered to the soaring wall of pictures. She read the name of each honored alumni, from the most recent years on lowest row, all the way to the top. She tipped her head back to read the plaque below the highest centered photograph and waved at a familiar face in the ornate silver frame.
Wish I’d had the chance to meet him.”
Stori jumped and grabbed her chest. “I’m sorry, my nerves.”
I’ll say.” Gilda shook her head and pointed to the picture. “I just meant, a very distinguished gentleman.”
“He’s my legacy connection here. The B in my name is in his honor.”
“Wait.” Gilda craned her neck to look in Stori’s face. “You’re related to him…the legendary battlefield surgeon?”

Stori nodded. “Raimond Baniterre.”
Honestly, I don’t say this often. Or ever.” Gilda flopped on a bench in front of the pictures. “You’ve knocked me off my feet.”
Stori settled down next to her. “I’ve never said it out loud.”
“The secret is safe with me.” Gilda tapped her chin. “The residency you accepted? That’s the busiest Emergency Room in the country.”
“It’s New Orleans, so…probably destiny. This time next week, I’ll be in St. Louis Cathedral, lighting candles for the all the souls we’ve lost.”
That’s your dream job…Emergency Medicine?”
I’ll tell you another secret. My true passion has become defeating Alzheimer’s Disease. I won’t be a bystander while an invisible monster steals life and dignity from my patients.”
“Chasing the cruelest enemy.” Gilda smiled and stared at Dr. Banitierre’s picture. “You’ll make him and all of us proud.”
Minutes passed in heavy silence until Jett’s distant voice broke the trance.
“I hear bonjour and coffee.Gilda covered her mouth to hide a laugh. What else is he saying?”
“Storytime.” Stori tossed her hands up. “What am I going to do with that fool during graduation?”
“Drop him off in my office. He’ll be safe and far enough away that nobody will hear him
—much.”
“Thank you, for everything.”
Give the poor bird credit though, he’s got a stroke of genius.” Gilda squeezed her hand. “It’s Stori time.”
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