Deceptions and Failures to Communicate
Welcome to the first edition of 2023. Deception. False promises. Deluded expectations.
We have an eclectic mix. In three cases, the stories are connected to prior things posted here. We have Louise Sorensen’s diary entries that take place some time after her December entry about the sudden diversion of a canoe. Marian again has us visit the world she created in her Empire series, including in last month’s Survival. And Joe Garland goes back in time in his book A Studio on Bleecker Street to an incident that happened years before his last entry, in London.
We have four other stories. Those by David Simon and Renée Gendron are a bit lighter in tone than the forgoing, though not necessarily in result. And Nicole Wells’s excerpt just might be describing the beginning of a long friendship, one that’ll be tested over time. And a final offering from Markus Faraday, set in ancient Greece, with a bit of a twist.
The A Muse Bouche Review Team
Feature: The Ex (Renée Gendron) Fiction
I’ll Be Honest with You, Sprite (Nicole Wells) Fiction
Journal Entry (Louise Sorensen) Fiction
Unwanted Things (Marian L Thorpe) Fiction
The Coyote and The Hitchhiker (David M. Simon) Fiction
Agamemnon’s Mask (Markus Faraday) Fiction
A Summer Afternoon in Piccadilly, 1872 (Joseph P. Garland) Fiction
Renee Gendron (@ReneeGendron)
This is an excerpt from The Officer’s Gamble
GABRIELLE. IT HAD to be her.
Sylvie opened her mouth to speak, but Manny beat her to it. “We’re done, Gabby. The condo’s yours and without a mortgage. It’s been over a year. There’s nothing left to say.” He angled his shoulder away from the brunette approaching him.
Gabby. It sounds so intimate. Her name was so familiar on his lips but so vile to Sylvie’s ears.
“You’ve gotten fat,” Gabrielle said to Manny. “From all the times you’ve taken her out, but you were too busy for me out in Montréal?”
“I worked full time and took night school four nights a week to pass my French equivalency exam.”
“I run my company and still made time for you.”
“You mean you dragged me out from one of your parties to another, forcing me to work on four hours’ sleep.”
“You never complained.”
“I did. All the time. I said I couldn’t keep that pace. It’s a hazard to operate heavy equipment when you’re exhausted. I almost lost a limb twice.”
Gabrielle raked her judgemental gaze over Sylvie. “How’d you two meet?”
Sylvie refused to shrink, refused to fold in on herself and disappear. She lifted her chin to meet Gabby’s gaze, and damn if it didn’t take all her courage. “We met.”
Gabrielle arched a perfect salon-waxed eyebrow. “Hmm.”
“It’s time to leave.” Manny’s voice had an edge to it, the same kind of edge a police officer used to command someone out of the vehicle and put their hands on the hood.
Two male servers appeared, one lustful, the other ready to knock the first out. They jostled to bring an empty chair to Gabrielle.
“Thank you.” Gabrielle winked and lowered her four-times-a-week-hot-yoga derrière onto the chair.
One server had an aww-shucks look, and the other had a porno look plastered on his face. The hey-baby-I’m-game-for-doing-it-on-the-table-in-full-view-of-everyone look.
“Tell me.” Gabrielle crossed her legs, one slender thigh-gapped thigh over the other. “Has he taken you to the best place in Kingston?”
Sylvie plastered her best lawyer face on, the one sculpted into her since her first mock trial in law school.
Manny stood and dropped his napkin on the table. “Gabrielle, you need to leave.”
“The first time you said to leave, you came back to me. You tried someone else but never clicked like we clicked.” Gabrielle traced the edges of a cloth napkin with the tip of her manicured fingertip.
“It was a mistake,” Manny said.
“Really? You stayed five years.”
Upset, Sylvie sank a little deeper in her chair. Manny and Gabrielle were like magnets, something might pull them apart, but they always ended up together.
It was happening again. Sylvie was on the verge of rebuilding her life and finding happiness, and something outside her control threatened to destroy it.
Manny’s expression hardened like he was on the verge of making an arrest. “I ended our relationship over a year ago.”
“Hmm.” Gabrielle tipped her head one direction, then the other, her discerning gaze framed by inch-long eyelashes never leaving Sylvie.
“You had a little taste of someone else for two months but came back to me after that.” She purred the words, a sensuous, teasing purr. “That’s when we signed the mortgage on the condo in Montréal.”
“The worst mistake of my life.” Manny scowled, fierce and angry and on the verge of losing control. “We’re not compatible. Never were. Now leave us be.”
“You think I can’t change?”
“We’re done.” He growled over the din of the restaurant, louder than he thought.
Utensils clanked against plates. The quiet chatter from the restaurant patrons fell silent. Servers stood motionless, gawking.
Sylvie’s cheeks flushed with embarrassment and awkwardness.
Gabrielle flashed a bored smile, the kind of smile one had to greet a stranger on the bus. “We’re never done because I changed. I’ve taken survival training—”
Manny half-choked, half-snorted. “You do that in Guccis?”
“Lora Piana’s, but that’s beside the point. I know how to make an insulated shelter, start fires with and without a Ferro rod, make plastic bottle fish traps and gut fish.”
“You gutted a fish?” Manny asked.
Sylvie dropped even deeper into her chair, wishing she could crawl under the table and bury her face in her hands. Mist formed around the edges of her vision.
She would not cry.
Not in public, not over Gabrielle, not over Manny.
Nicole Wells (@NWellsWrites)
This is an excerpt from TwinFlames, an Urban Fantasy/Science Fantasy Romance
“I’LL BE HONEST WITH you, Sprite.”
She narrows her eyes without commenting on the nickname, just flicks her raven hair back.
I grin. “I came to see this kid that’s got everyone buzzing. Instead, I find a scrap of a girl ready to lash out at the breeze for disturbing her hair.”
“I did not ‘lash out’ at the wind because of my hair!” Angrier air quotes have never been expressed. She swings the strands back this time with a snap of her neck. “I lashed out at a punk who thought he owned the parking lot. An arrogant hulk of a man, just like his bulky bike.” She huffs. “Obvious overcompensation.” There’s spark in her eye; she’s enjoying our back-and-forth too.
“It was a figure of speech.” My smile curls higher. Something about this girl makes talking easy. She’s the farthest thing from innocence, yet I feel an openness in our banter, bringing out a version of me that’s been kept under wraps. I thought I would be doing her a favor, helping her out. Instead, she’s helping me feel the most alive I have since my parents died.
“I sure hope ‘Sprite’ was too, for your sake,” she grumbles.
“Oh no, that one’s a gem I’m very proud of. It would take a lot for me to give that up.”
“Gem indeed. It’s all sparkles and magic. It’s the opposite of Rage.” She squints at me but there’s a ghost of a smile in that oval face.
“Try having a name like Angel.”
“Why do they call you that, anyway?”
“Gabe. Short for Gabriel, like the angel. Nice to meet you.” I thrust my hand toward her and she stiffens. Not a fighter’s wariness. A woman’s fear. The frown on her face matches the vulnerability in her eyes. I know she’s at a crossroads. I keep my nonchalance, my voice unchanged.
“Maia,” she says after a pause, the word coming out soft but sure. It’s not a stage name. I don’t know why or how I’ve earned her trust but I don’t mean to lose it.
Her warm hand fits smoothly into mine; the clasp brief and firm. Her hand retreats yet the impression lingers, a burn that’s awakened me from a long slumber.
“Maia,” I repeat in like tone. “I just want to help you. I came out of seclusion because I wanted to see you fight. Then I saw your fire. The world has enough destruction and disaster and I’ve trained enough fighters who wasted their chance. You’ve got a chance for something better, and it’d be a shame to waste it.”
The light in her eyes goes out.
“You don’t know sh*t about me.” She gets up to leave and I reach out to grab her arm without thinking. She jerks and twists, breaking my grip. Her arm flings across the edge of the table, knocking over her mug and spilling her coffee. She doesn’t yell or curse, though. She just holds stock still, hands clenched, coffee dripping onto her leg and foot.
I reach down to right the mug and use a napkin to mop up some of the mess. The ceramic isn’t broken, but it’s clear to me this woman is.
“I know you’re hurting, Maia, and I know the fighting is just a Band-Aid you’ll have to rip off sooner or later.” I choose my words carefully while my eyes stay downcast, my wipes steady. “And I know I’m just a stranger who doesn’t know you, but I promise…” I take a deep breath. How do I say this without sounding dishonest or psychotic? “I want to help. You want more than just a Band-Aid, don’t you?”
I risk a glance at her. She looks beautiful, frozen in her struggle, and it wrenches my heart. She hasn’t moved except to unclench her hands. I ease back into my seat.
God, I hope honesty was the right way to go and won’t send her running.
“I know it’s hard to believe, but I care,” I try again. “I want to help.”
Mahogany eyes dart to mine, wary but connected.
“It gives my life meaning to help, Maia, something the fights and money never have. I gave up on mentoring but nothing ever replaced that need. I couldn’t handle seeing my students waste their potential. I couldn’t watch them lose themselves. For some it was gambling, drug or alcohol addictions. For others it was the violence. There’s more to life than that. There’s more to life than hiding or running.” I return the damp napkin to the table and spread both my hands before me, encompassing both of us. We’re in this together—we both need saving.
With a slight shake of her head, I lose my connection. She brings her eyes down and tucks her chin. The hair that has escaped the confines of her braid sweeps her shoulders like the weeping arms of a willow tree. Willows look weak because they bend, but that’s exactly what makes them strong.
Her voice comes out a soft croak, the sound of stifled rage. “All chance for something better died with my nephew. You wanna help? Help me find the motherf*cking rapist who left my twin pregnant with twins.”
“As if that wasn’t enough, the first nephew died within minutes of being born and the grief nearly killed her. The remaining twin is the only thing she’s living for.”
She angrily swipes at a lone tear. Eyes shoot daggers as they slice me open with the pain I see there. “In the end, his life wasn’t enough. She—my twin—tried to kill herself. She’s like a zombie now.”
The words come out like bullets, sharp and piercing. “They call it postpartum depression, but I call it like I see it and that motherf*cker stole away her light.”
The breath steals out of my lungs.
Her pain is practically a physical entity clawing at her, raw grief emblazoned like a scar across her face. “You think you can save me? I only want revenge. There’s no saving to do here except to save your own breath.”
A secret camp in the woods. A revolution in the making. And a fighter that will change what it means to be human. Maia is hell-bent on revenge until a tattooed menace literally stands in her way. Gabe is a legendary fighter with a soft heart that snags on the wounded woman before him. Together, they discover much more than they bargained for. When the world is ending, someone’s gotta step up and do the saving, and two MMA fighters might just fit the bill.
The Wood Element is being activated, and with it, a war.
Louise Sorensen (@louise3anne)
DECEMBER THE WHAT? 2152? I don’t know. I’m too confused. Upset.
I don’t know where to start … I really don’t. I feel like my world has been turned upside down and I’m all adrift.
So start at the beginning, Kerrie.
Don’t start in the spring, when you’d watch our old Angus-Watusi bull, Ferdinand, swanker off to pasture to be with his harem, or when you’d see that black stallion, what was his name? Diab, close his eyes and think of someone else when he was servicing a mare in the spring.
I always felt sorry for Diab. Related perfectly. He wanted someone else, was always hanging around that chestnut gelding, Traveller, obviously in love.
Like Diab, I have never been interested in the fairer sex. And like him, I’m a great strapping fellow. Look like I’m made for the ladies.
Aside from some youthful experiences and many crushes, which have never born any fruit … ironic that is, because now I find out that our yearly health examinations, where we have to produce a sample of our ‘essence’ for a health checkup, so the story went, have probably resulted in me fathering a number of offspring. Me, who has no interest in women at all. Who has a super crush on my friend and partner in crime, in good times and bad, Aedyn. Although he has an eye for the ladies, no interest in me, and a girlfriend named Gracelyn. Who’s recently developed a baby bump and I think it’s his. In fact I’m sure it’s his.
When we came back from a run to the next compound down the river a few months ago, we took a wrong turn somehow and ended up in a winter land. So unlike our hot fury weather here that I almost thought we’d escaped to a different world for a few hours. There was actual ice and snow! In October!
Aedyn was in the back of the canoe, and I didn’t notice he had stopped paddling and was being attacked by something until he almost died. In fact, from the looks of him, he might really have died. He was in pretty rough shape. But I got him out of there and back home and he recovered. We never speak of it, though I showed him the giant tooth I found embedded in my paddle.
I even took the tooth to our compound historian, Jordan, to try to identify it. Jordan opined that it was the tooth of an ancient shark, showed me some pictures in some of his ancient books, and it sure looked the same. Megalodon, I think he said the name was. I shudder to think that a fish like that has come to life again. Or evolved again because of the heat and our ever-changing planet. Jordan said they were ancient creatures, known only from fossils, stone formations that captured them in rock when they died. We learned about them in his classes, but I never dreamed I’d see the like in real life. In the last hundred years or so, a lot of weird animals have shown up, many of them howling at the moon outside our compound at night, and Jordan has faithfully made records of all of them.
But I’m avoiding the subject.
Sure I’ve noticed a few red-haired babies born here who look much like me, but mostly mother and child move on to another compound. Or if the mother has no interest in taking care of the child, she moves on and the child stays here and is fostered, like I was.
Both my mom and dad moved on, or so I was told, my dad being a hifalutin doctor of some kind, and my mom his nurse.
But I was shocked out of my mind this morning when Jordan, being the compound historian and all, casually mentioned to me that my line was very productive and that I was the father of many healthy offspring. Like I was some kind of stallion or bull.
We don’t practice a lot of romantic love here. Everything has its use, every animal has its purpose. And I understand that mother and baby mortality rates are high, and everyone has to pull their weight and procreate, but I didn’t realize it started so soon, for the fellows at least. Our ‘donations’ are used to make babies when we are barely beyond the baby stage ourselves.
Jordan saw the look on my face and we had a talk. He called it The Talk. Desperate times he said.
Thank goodness the ladies aren’t forced to get pregnant. It’s all voluntary. And if they’re not thrilled with being a mother, there are plenty of women and even men who are, and will take up the babe and raise it as their own. So that’s not a weight on my mind.
But the betrayal of trust!
Why was I not told of this earlier? Why wait until my twentieth birthday? Were they afraid the shock would kill me? Surely they know my feelings on the matter. I haven’t hidden how I feel about Aedyn.
The news certainly made me feel like I was going to die at first. But where did I think babies came from?
I never heard of such a thing as artificial insemination. All the livestock do live cover. And if the stallion has to close his eyes and think of someone else, well that’s his job. He understands that and he’s good at it.
I had no idea what was going on, even though our place is like a maternity home. Most of the women pregnant, kids all over the place, people out every day taking care of livestock or hunting down food, or going out on a bug hunt to protect our crops, animals, and ourselves from the monsters that live on the outskirts of our little civilization.
I’m a father of I don’t know how many children and I’ve probably met only a handful. Mind you the few redheads running around the place are as beautiful as fawns and their mothers take great care of them. If I were inclined to make love to a woman, a child would be a great reward.
Come to think of it, every Winter Festival, the women have surrounded me, and shown me their children. I’ve dandled many a little fire-hair on my knee as we waited for the roast beast to be cooked. They are cute. And I’d give my life for each and every one.
But that’s no more than anyone in the compound would do. United we stand, divided we fall.
And then there’s Aedyn. So happy with his Gracelyn and her growing baby bump.
Now’s the time when everyone is safe with the babies small in the womb, but in late spring, when all the beasts are birthing, and our women start birthing too, is a time of great stress. Their lives are at risk and it’s their great stubbornness and bravery that keep our little colonies going. And all those replacement children for the adults that we lose.
Life is precious here, because it is so fragile. Fleeting. Here today. Sick tonight. Gone tomorrow. Even the kids.
And now I know that some of those lost kids were probably mine. Not probably, definitely.
I don’t know what to feel. What to think.
I find out I’m a father in the morning, then figure out I’ve not only sired, but also lost children in the afternoon.
It’s a soul touching revelation.
But now I know I’m part of a big family. That’s a huge comfort. No matter what happens, no matter how awkward I feel, how out of place and sometimes lonely, desperately lonely, I have children I’m related to, people who love me, and of course my partner in crime, Aedyn. Even if it never becomes anything more. He and I work well together. And I can tell him anything. Well practically anything. I’m sure he knows I hold him in highest esteem. But he never gives me any grief about it. Just goes home to his Gracelyn every night, no matter how tough our adventures of the day have been.
He’s pulled my neck out of the fire so many times. And I his.
Maybe someday I’ll find my Gracelyn. But he’ll be more a Harry or a Joe.
It’s a grand life if you don’t weaken.
Marian L Thorpe (@marianlthorpe)
This is an excerpt, slightly modified, from Chapter One of Empress & Soldier.
Warning: This passage refers to Infanticide
MY FATHER IS SEATED. His face is dark with displeasure, as dark as the clouds over the city. “Bring it to me,” he says.
I see my mother’s mouth twitch. She bites her lips, says nothing. Her steps up the stairs are slow. But even slower, down. In her arms is a small bundle.
She kneels at my father’s feet, pulls aside the wrap. The baby is tiny, and asleep. Her eyes are closed tight. Like a newborn kitten.
My father looks down at her. No expression. My mother raises her arms, offering him the child. He shakes his head.
“Salvius?” she whispers. Pleads. She does not plead, my mother. My gut tightens.
“No,” he says, his voice hard. “We have no need of another girl. Three are enough.” He has the right. The baby’s father is dead, lost in a storm at sea. Before he and Bernikë could marry, not that it matters.
“Druisius. Take it away.”
I stare at him. Take it away? Where? But I know what he means. I will not do this.
“No,” I say.
“You will,” he says. I shake my head. Bernikë is my sister.
He growls his displeasure at my defiance. “You asked to be treated as a man.”
“Druisius.” My mother. “Do it now, please. Bernikë is asleep. I have not let her hold the baby.” My mother has lost children. She knows. Better my sister wakes to the baby gone.
The wine I drank is sour in my stomach. My mother holds out the child. “Where?” How did I ask that? I take her. One small hand reaches up, the fingers unfurl. I see the pink of her palm before she curls the fingers again. Her eyes remain closed.
“The riverbank,” my father says. Anger rises in me. At my father. At myself. I cannot find other words to say. I hold the baby to my shoulder and descend the stairs.
Outside it is darker than it should be. But I know the way to the river, since I could walk.
The baby sleeps. I am glad of this. I reach the river, and the quays where the barges tie up. There is almost no one out now, evening, a storm threatening. Now where? I cannot just leave her in the open. There are dogs, and birds with strong beaks.
“Druisius?” I look up. One of the city guard approaches me. “What have—ah.” He stops beside us. “A girl.” I nod.
“Take her down to the bridge,” he says. He gestures with his chin. “Put her in the alcove by the first arch. Temple servants check there.”
Temple servants? “What will they do with her?”
He shrugs. “Make her one of them, if she lives. Or something. Does it matter?”
It doesn’t. I thank him. I can tell Bernikë what I did, secretly. The guard has continued on his patrol. I call to him. He turns. “Don’t tell my father.”
He nods. “I won’t.”
* * * *
I stop, look back. For the tenth time, maybe more. The alcove had been dry. Sheltered. I’d wrapped her tightly. She hadn’t cried. When do the servants come?
A drop of rain strikes my face, then another. She is inside the alcove, and the night is warm. I keep walking, my feet reluctant. Water soaks my tunic, streaks my cheeks. I am glad of it. It hides the tears.
At home I take off my wet sandals, wipe rain from my hair and limbs. Then I climb the stairs. My family, except Bernikë, are in the big room. Lamps are lit against the night. I go straight to the next set of stairs, up to where we sleep. “I’m wet,” I mutter, as I pass.
Bernikë is crying. I hear her from the room I share with Marius. I strip, find dry clothes, dress. Barefoot, quietly, I go to my sister.
One lamp burns. Her cheeks shine. I crouch beside her bed. Whispering, I tell her what I did with her baby. She sniffs, wipes her nose with the back of her hand.
“Really?” she whispers. I nod. “She will be safe?”
“The guard said so.”
“Did she cry?” I shake my head.
“Fausta,” she says. “I would have called her Fausta.” For her father. Fortune did not smile on him. Maybe on his daughter. I lean over her bed. Hug her awkwardly. She clings to me. It was to me she turned, when word came of Faustus’s death.
There is no talk of what I have done, when I go downstairs. Food is brought. I eat, but not much. Rain spatters against the shutters, hard, like thrown pebbles. Will temple servants be out in this? My mother brings me more wine, glances too at the window. “Rain will make it quicker,” she murmurs. I look away, sip the wine. It is not watered.
My sisters leave, the middle one to help my mother, the youngest to bed. The rain is relentless. I try to shut it out. She will be dry, I tell myself.
“What will happen to Bernikë now?” I ask. The words come from nowhere.
“I will find her a husband. Someone advantageous to us,” my father says. “She is proven fertile. It will not be difficult.”
She is a commodity to trade. All the girls are. My hands stretch, clench. Every muscle tightens. I cannot stay here. In the wet dark maybe I will find what I need.
I walk. Away from our house. Away from the river. Streets narrow. Houses grow taller, more crowded. The cobbles run with water. Washing away unwanted things. I am drenched to the skin. But where I am going it will not matter.
If I am a man, I can come here. Alone. At night. I pull a coin from my belt, hand it to the doorman. He gives me a hard look. I give one back. He nods.
Inside, plaster peels, gods and mortals flaking away. The air is thick, humid, smelling of smoke and men. Where to go? The pools? It is not the heat of water I want.
I go to the tables, strip, lie on the stone. Strong hands push at my back, fingers pressing in. It’s not enough. “Harder,” I say. His fists drum on my spine. “Harder. Hurt me.”
He stops. “Do as I say,” I command. “I am paying you.” He doesn’t respond. Rage surges, pushing me up. I raise a hand to hit.
He grabs my raised wrist, puts his other hand on my chest. He is older than me, muscled. Strong. In the heat, wearing only a cloth around his hips. I struggle to breathe, or move. His fingers tighten on my arm. A smile on his lips. “Not here,” he says.
Small rooms, on the back wall. No light but that from the corridor, seeping past the ill-fitting door. His hand is tight on my shoulder. Then turns me, roughly. He slaps my face, hard. I drive a fist into his chest. A low laugh, before he hits me again. Not a slap, this time. I pound his body with my clenched hands. One big arm pulls me to him. I bite, and he makes a sound that is not pain. He is hard against me, and I am too, and this hurts and yet doesn’t and I can forget, except one thing. I am a man.
David M. Simon (@writesdraws)
THE BOBCAT HAD BEEN hitchhiking for hours.
His last ride, a long haul trucker with a load of sheet metal, dropped him at the Ely turnoff. Not a single car had passed since then. Now the two-lane highway seemed to levitate from the waves of heat shimmering off the blacktop. The Nevada sun looked like a swollen blister ready to pop, an irritation in the cloudless western sky.
The bobcat’s paws left sweaty prints in the breakdown-lane gravel as he walked. He carried a scuffed nylon duffle bag that seemed to grow heavier with each step.
When a low hum infiltrated his consciousness, the bobcat glanced back. A plume of dust stained the sky. The hum became a throaty growl, the dust plume morphed into a low-slung red sports car chewing up asphalt. The bobcat held up one paw and tried his best to look friendly, non-threatening, and slightly pathetic all at once. The car thundered past, then the driver stood on the brakes, fishtailing onto the berm. He threw it into reverse, and after the tires found traction the car slid to a shuddering stop next to the bobcat.
The bobcat admired the car while the driver reached across the passenger seat to roll the window down. It was an absolutely cherry condition Plymouth Roadrunner, the engine shaking like it could barely be contained at idle. The bobcat leaned his head into the window, and the icy kiss of air from the interior made him swoon with pleasure.
“Where ya heading, friend?” The driver was a coyote, the silver hairs wreathing his snout betraying his age. He slouched in his seat like it was a chaise lounge, his left paw draped over the leather-wrapped steering wheel, Ray-Ban Wayfarers obscuring his eyes as he looked at the stranger.
“Well, hop in the front seat, son. This is your lucky day. That’s where I’m heading.” The bobcat had barely settled into the seat, duffel bag on his lap, when the force of the car’s sudden acceleration slammed him back. He quickly buckled his seat belt.
“Beautiful Roadrunner. Sixty-eight?” The bobcat smiled a toothy smile, reveling in the fact that his paws were no longer sweaty.
“You have a good eye. It’s a sixty-nine, with the 440 six-pack. I’m Stuart, by the way, but you can call me Stu. All my friends do.” The Roadrunner roared down the road like the wheels weren’t even touching the asphalt.
“I’m Bob. Yes, I know, I’ve heard all the jokes. My parents are real comedians.”
Stu laughed, a deep and genuine laugh. “Nice to meet you, Bob. If you don’t mind my asking, why Hollywood?”
“I don’t mind at all. I want to be an actor. No one in my family is happy about it, but it’s my dream so I’m taking my shot.” Bob squirmed in his seat, embarrassed he had confessed that to a stranger. As he did, he glanced into the back. There was a metal storage trunk sitting on the seat. An oversized padlock secured the lid to the trunk.
Stu slapped the steering wheel in apparent delight. “This really might be your lucky day, my new friend. I’ve lived and worked in L.A. a long time, and I have a lot of contacts in the business. I’d be happy to introduce you.”
“That would be amazing! Thank you so much.” Bob peeked at the trunk again, his eyes drawn to it. He looked away, not wanting to seem too curious. “So, Stu, if you live in L.A., where were you coming from when you picked me up?”
“New Orleans, my home town. I go back a couple times a year to recharge. You ever been?”
“No, I’m from a small town in Ohio. I haven’t traveled much.” Bob found it hard to concentrate. All he could think about was the storage trunk.
“Well, you should definitely visit when you get a chance. Besides, between you and me, you can’t get a decent beignet in California.”
Bob did not know what a beignet was, but he didn’t tell Stu that. He glanced at the trunk again. Finally he blurted out, “What’s in the trunk back there, Stu?”
Stu looked in Bob’s direction, his eyes hidden behind the Wayfarers. “You noticed that, huh? If I tell you, do you promise not to knock me over the head and steal it? Or tell anyone when we hit L.A.?”
“What? I would never do that. And I don’t know anyone to tell, anyway. I promise. ”
“Right, right. Well that, my friend, is filled with a fortune more valuable than gold. I have a contact in New Orleans who always takes care of me.”
“That…that’s great.” Bob’s brain raced faster than the Roadrunner’s 440 engine. His paws were sweating again despite the air conditioner. Stu could help him get a start in the acting business, but then again, a fortune more valuable than gold might give him an even better leg up.
At the end of the day, money in the bank beat contacts. Hollywood was not a place for the timid, or so he had heard.
Bob slashed with razor-sharp claws, tearing the coyote’s throat out. Stu’s paws flew to his neck, knocking off his sunglasses, but he could not stop the gush of blood that bibbed down his chest. His eyes rolled back in his head.
The steering wheel spun wildly. The Roadrunner bucked, swerved, bounced into the air and rolled end over end into the desert.
Bob woke to blinding pain. He hung upside down from the seatbelt. The sharp pangs deep in his chest told him he had cracked several ribs.
Stu’s head had gone through the windshield. It was nearly severed.
Bob released the seatbelt, crashed to the crumpled ceiling. He crawled out of the car through a shattered window. His body was crisscrossed with cuts and bruises, his fur matted with blood.
It took Bob more than an hour to lever the storage trunk out of the back seat. The trunk had held together through the crash, the padlock still intact. Bob found a large rock and attacked the lock. He banged it over and over, crying out in frustration. He had to know the fortune inside was worth the carnage he had caused.
The padlock popped. Bob threw back the lid.
Inside the trunk, still tightly stacked despite the tumbling it had endured, was a six month supply of Cafe Du Monde beignet mix.
Zeus, the most powerful of all the gods, promised to remain neutral. However as the war dragged on to the tenth year Zeus noticed a new energy in his clever daughter Athena, and he ascertained she had stumbled upon an idea that meant a win for the Greeks. Zeus feared dark days were headed for the Trojans.Another who saw the soon to be terror in visions and dreams was Cassandra, the priestess and seer for the Trojans.
Zeus had a revelation himself and it involved Helen, the wife of the Greek King Menelaus.
Helen of Troy was given in marriage shortly before the war began in the hope the marriage would cement an alliance between the Trojans and the Greeks, but the Greeks launched their “war to end all wars” despite the marriage.
Zeus could no longer ignore the pleas and prayers of his most faithful follower, the Trojan leader, King Priam.
“No Hera! No!” Penelope cried as she bolted out of sleep, for Hera often came to her in her dreams.
Telemachus ran to his mother in her bedroom. “Mother, what’s wrong?”
“Oh it was just a bad dream my boy,” Penelope told her son. “Not anything to worry about. How are you feeling about Argos?”
“Argos was my best friend and I miss him,” Telemachus cried out.
“Argos was a good and old faithful dog, and he waited for Odysseus as long as he could, as we all have,” Penelope said as she stroked her son’s hand.
“Is there any news from the war?” Telemachus asked. “Is there anyone who might know, who could tell us something of what is happening and perhaps knows something about father?”
“All the families of soldiers are wondering the same thing,” Penelope said. “Telemachus, if I should have to marry again, how…how would you feel?”
“Father’s not dead. You would tell me if he was.”
“Those men who keep coming to the house. They all want to marry you?”
“Yes. That is the reason. Telemachus, it has been ten years since your father left. I am afraid I will have to make a decision, and you can help me,” she said.
“No, I can’t believe my father is dead. I will never believe he left us to die in a war,” Telemachus said through tears.
“Ares you take the corridor on the left and take down the guards,” Apollo said. “I will search the rooms on the right and find Helen. Meet me back here.”
Ares managed to stealthily kill the first four guards he encountered, but the fifth guard yelled out for help and more guards came.
“Ares, I have her. Let’s go!” Apollo yelled holding Helen’s hand, and ran out to where their horses were waiting. Ares broke off from the engagement and rushed after Apollo.
They and their fast mounts set off until at last they lost their pursuers, and made plans to bring Helen back to her family.
The women—Hecuba, the wife of King Priam; Andromache, the wife of Hector; and Cassandra the Priestess—filed in as ordered by King Priam.
“Your Highness, you have a visitor,” the King’s Chamberlain announced.
“Helen!” King Priam shouted in joy.
“Oh thank the gods I am freed,” Helen said. “I’ve had no news these past ten years. Is Paris still among the living?”
Paris, standing in the doorway behind Helen answered, “Yes, darling, I am still here.”
It had been ten long war-torn years since they’d seen each other. The two ran into each other’s arms and kissed.
“When did you two get to know one another?” Andromache asked.
Helen looked at her. “We grew up together as children.”
“Once I remember I made her believe she was riding a pony when really she was riding a donkey,” Paris said with a chuckle. “Oh how I laughed for days.”
Helen looked at him fondly. “I remember when we went sailing together once and a storm suddenly rose up and lightning was striking the water and you were so scared I had to pilot the boat back to shore.”
“I was just testing you to see if you could do it,” Paris said.
Just then King Priam’s eldest son, Hector, entered the throne room, interrupting the reunion. “Father, Achilles is standing before our gates. He is alone and appears armed. Do you think he wishes to sue for peace?” Hector said it sarcastically, and his father laughed.
King Priam followed his son Hector to a balcony at a slow pace because of his age, overlooking the main gate, where guards were posted, and took a look for himself.
“Let’s see what Achilles has to say,” he said.
They were soon joined on the balcony by Paris, Hector’s younger brother.
“King Priam, I ask for single combat, just Hector and I. I’m tired, King Priam. I want to go home. I want to see my family. If I kill Hector or Hector kills me, anyway this is the end of the road for me,” Achilles said as he looked up at the three figures on the balcony.
“Losing Achilles would be a great blow to the Greeks. He is their best fighter,” Hector said quietly to his father.
“You Hector,” said King Priam, “are our greatest fighter and losing you would be a great blow to us and to me personally.”
“Well King, what is your answer?” Achilles shouted impatiently.
“The King accepts your challenge Achilles,” said Hector. “I will be down presently!”
“Oh Zeus!” King Priam said, “Hector, you must give your goodbyes to your mother, wife and son!”
“I will, father,” Hector said, as he hugged his father and his brother before departing.
“Father, I have something I remember that I need to do. Excuse me,” Paris said as he left in haste.
“Single combat!” Paris huffed. “I’ll show Achilles how single combat works!” Paris slung his bow and quiver of arrows over his shoulder. He readied himself on a precipice, took one arrow out, and fired it.
“Zeus, you are to blame for my son Achilles death,” Thetis said in a vicious snarl usually reserved for feral dogs. Zeus, seated in his throne, frowned at her.
“Really younger brother, you have broken your vow to remain neutral in this war,” said Poseidon standing beside Thetis.
“I have no older siblings,” Zeus bellowed. “What siblings I have, were born of our father Cronos’s vomit. I alone was born of a mother. I have not broken my vow. I had nothing to do with Achilles’s death.
Thetis looked at her friend the goddess Athena. “Athena, what happened?”
“Our plan was for me to pretend I would help Hector defeat Achilles,” Athena replied.
“However, Hector never had the chance. Achilles was felled before the fight began.”
“It was not Zeus who killed Achilles but me,” Apollo said emphatically. “I guided Paris’s arrow that killed Achilles.”
“No Apollo, it is Prometheus who is to blame,” Zeus said, pounding his fist on the arm of his throne chair.
“Zeus you will have no followers in the future,” Thetis cried. “I will see to it that nobody has a feast in your honor or a gathering in your honor. Zeus, you will be forgotten by men and women in the future.” Thetis wiped her tears and turned her back on Zeus.
“If you had not told us the secret of the Trojan Horse, and to not bring the horse within our walls, it would have been a disaster for us all,” Paris said, holding Helen’s hand.
“There, Hector has lit the Trojan Horse on fire!” Helen exclaimed and pointed a finger.
Paris and Helen kissed. They were on the beach, far enough away from the conflict that they were safe.
Inside the horse, Athenian soldiers waited. “I hear them talking but it’s hard to hear in here…” one of them said.
“Why have they not started pulling us inside the walls?”
“They will. A prize like this horse, you bet they will pull us inside their walls!” said another.
“Smoke!” shouted several voices at once inside the Trojan horse.
“Odysseus, fire!” the Greek soldiers yelled out.
“Let’s fight and die on the beaches like men!” Odysseus shouted. “May Hera herself welcome us home!” And he led his men in a charge out of the Trojan Horse.
Hector aimed his spear in anticipation. His focus was on the trap door of the belly of the horse, where the Greek adversaries would have to come out. As soon as he saw Odysseus drop down he threw his spear, which Odysseus parried with his gleaming golden shield.
Now all the Trojans surrounding the horse hurled javelins and spears and used their sling shots and bows to rain havoc on the Greek invaders.
“Form a phalanx!” ordered Odysseus, but his men panicked at the fire that now engulfed the horse and the hail of lethal projectiles coming at them in all directions.
“Odysseus has failed,” King Menelaus said to his commanders. They were on board the ship that was to follow up a breach in the Trojan walls had Odysseus and his men been successful. “I don’t think we can rescue Odysseus and his men either. Even if we could, we would be back to the same problem of breaching the Trojan walls. What do you think brother?”
“My feeling is that Zeus this night has made it very clear who his favorite was to win the war,” Agamemnon said. “Let’s go home.”
“Paris, let our father know the Greek fleet is sailing away and the beach is secured and that he may come down,” said Hector. “Also ask Cassandra to come as well to give us a blessing for the brave warriors who have died this night.”
Joseph P. Garland (@JPGarlandAuthor)
Last month’s issue told of our heroine Clara Bowman’s being stranded during a blizzard in Riverdale, New York, overlooking the Hudson. This month, we turn to a single incident, a single, brief afternoon liaison between Clara and Sir John Adams, presumptive Sixth Baron of Salisbury and the brother of Clara’s great new friend in England. It comes, as did the prior story, from A Studio on Bleecker Street, from the early days of that story.
AS MRS. BOWMAN HOPED, her daughter Clara slowly emerged from the grief that had sent her spiraling down after the deaths of her best friend Ashley Davis and of Ashley’s brother Thomas, the man all knew Clara would eventually marry. That was all back in New York, though, and the summer air of London and the serendipitous meeting in Regent’s Park with the young artist Felicity Adams did wonders for Clara’s recovery.
Then there was John Adams. Felicity’s brother and the heir to a title. She had met him when he came by Felicity’s flat one afternoon and again that night with Felicity and Mrs. Bowman for dinner.
For all her claims of being immune to his charms, Sir John was not unlike the Adams’s mansion in Piccadilly, of which Felicity gave the two Bowman women a tour the week before. How, for some reason Clara could not articulate, that house was superior to the grand ones with which she was familiar in New York.
Now (and at a deeper—or perhaps more superficial—level), there was something about Sir John that was a cut above the gentlemen she knew at home. His Saville Row suit was slightly better tailored. His laugh the slightest degree more amusing. And even his face and his moustache were the slightest degree handsomer than even the most well-regarded young man who attended the balls and operas that Clara enjoyed before that horrible day in May when the Davises were killed. And when he pretended not to be waiting for her so he could accompany her to her hotel from Felicity’s—claiming to “be passing by chance” his sister’s building when Clara happened to emerge from it—a white lie he owned up to when he understood she’d not be so easily fooled—and told her as they walked south how pleased he was to be in her company, she felt the pleasure was on balance more hers.
Meeting and then walking with Sir John just the once removed a veil over everything, one she did not realize she’d put in place with Thomas’s death. She suddenly felt deep inside herself the physical loss from that death. They had never had intimate contact, nothing beyond a brotherly kiss. But that was the point. They had never had physical contact. Now they never would.
An ocean from home and a charming, titled man. Clara dared to think about him as a man and herself as a woman. So, yes, she would keep that first stroll entre nous, as he asked at its end.
And from that point, she began to anticipate his appearance on the street when she prepared to leave Felicity’s flat over the next days. But he did not come and she walked back to her hotel alone and disappointed.
Then he did come.
It was quite a nice afternoon, and Felicity offered to accompany her guest to the Langham Hotel, but Clara declined. She did not say why. When she stepped onto the sidewalk, she was thrilled that she was alone. For there her brother stood, a smile plastered on his face.
The walk was much as it had been that first time; was it just a week earlier? Yet Clara felt the two strolls were worlds apart. She walked a hair closer to him and held his arm the least bit tighter and they did not speak quite so much. By the time they reached the Langham Hotel, she felt a desire to lie with him. She knew he was opportunistic. She knew he was shallow. She knew he was engaged.
She also knew that she would soon be gone. They’d never cross paths again. So when he suggested they share another, longer turn the next afternoon, when, he said, Felicity had an obligation with the family barrister to review and sign some papers, she agreed.
That next afternoon, Clara told her mother she wished to walk alone for a change after lunch. After a morning the Bowmans and Felicity Adams spent together, and lunch at the Langham, Mrs. Bowman went to their suite, and Clara accompanied Felicity to the street. When they parted, Clara told her new friend she would take her own stroll to Regent’s Park. Which she did.
It was where she met Sir John.
She quickly was lost to him. His modesty and kindness were so at odds with how he was with his sister. Felicity had warned Clara about him, yes, but she was perhaps jealous that Clara would spend time with him and not with her.
She lost track of the time, but it was warm and she was tired. John asked if she would like some refreshment, and when they left the park near its southern end, they were in Piccadilly, not far from the family house. They soon were in its foyer.
Jones appeared, and John directed that refreshments be brought to the drawing-room on the left, off the grand stairway. The butler brought lemonade and small sandwiches and left the couple to it. Clara was on the sofa, and John was beside her, his arm draped over the sofa’s back.
“You look awfully warm.” His hand reached for her neck, and she allowed his fingers to graze against her skin. Far from rejecting his touch, as she knew she should have, she embraced it with a moan. She inhaled his smell, a masculinity she had never before known, and it filled her like some strain of opium and fueled her excitement. He stood and reached out his hand and she followed him up each step of the single flight that brought the pair to his bedroom, ignoring the paintings of his notable ancestors.
His room was infinitely more masculine than his sister’s. The shades were lowered but not so much that the room was dark. The window was open and the slight sounds of the street drifted in. Even the air had a musky, manly smell.
Clara let him lower her gently to his bed and lift her lower dress and petticoat. Her moans had grown to panting, and she felt the sweat on his neck as she pulled him down for their—her—first lover’s kiss. Clara knew every moment what she was doing and she did it. She allowed him to make love to her. It was in some respects painful but in others glorious, until he was done. He stood and cleaned himself as well as he could before pulling up his trousers, leaving her unfulfilled and alone on his bed.
“I shall be waiting in the drawing-room when you are decent,” and Sir John was gone.
Her mother had spoken to her shortly before she came out about relations with men, and her friends had spoken in general and sometimes very specific terms about it. They shared pulp novels and at times circulated particular passages from scandalous books purloined from beneath a brother’s bed, and half-laughed at what they read. While there were times Clara was tempted to explore matters with Thomas, she never did, and he never insisted, much as she knew he wanted to. Now Thomas was gone and it was never done and it never would be done. She would not let that happen again. She had known what she was doing and insisted to herself that she did not regret it.
Until the moment she heard the door of Sir John’s bedroom close behind him. It took her some minutes to make herself outwardly presentable. She could do nothing about the bedsheets or the odor she felt covered her skin. She slowly went through the door and down the stairs to the drawing-room. She was able, with some difficulty, to compose herself.
He was at a window, looking out. He had a glass of lemonade in his right hand and a half-eaten sandwich in his left. He turned when he heard her.
“That was very pleasant. But I must get you back now.”
Without waiting, he put what he held on to a nearby tray and passed her on his way to the door, his steps then bounding down the stairs. When he saw her at the top of the broad stairway, he called out, “Thank you, Jones. We shall be off now. I shall be back to dress for dinner in an hour or so.”
He waited, and Jones appeared. When Clara’s foot hit the floor of the foyer, the door was opened for them, and she followed Sir John to the street where he hailed a cab to return her, alone, to the Langham, kissing her hand before she left.
When she was deposited at the hotel, she told her mother that she felt under the weather—“Perhaps it is something I had at lunch.” She undressed carefully and took a bath, alone. Mrs. Bowman let her be after they shared, wordlessly, some tea and sandwiches brought to their suite.
In the warmth of the summer evening in her room, Clara lay on her bed and stared at her ceiling until sleep reached her after she knew not how long. When she awoke, she could not recall what she’d dreamt but promised herself that no one would ever know what she had done.
New this month: Marian L Thorpe‘s newest installment in her wonderful Empire series, Empress & Soldier, has been released. (Empire’s Daughter is the first part.) She has numerous titles available; they can be found at her aptly-named website, MarianLThorpe.com. Her books are at Books2Read.
Joseph P. Garland began a blog. That and his books can be found at his DermodyHouse website.
David M. Simon has published The Wild Hunt: Novella 2 of The Wild Hearts and Hunts Duology (Part 1 is Renée Gedron’s Ninth Star) as well as Trapped in Lunch Lady Land, a middle-grade fantasy adventure.
The second book in Renée Gendron‘s Outdoorsmen series, The Officer’s Gamble, was published on October 18. Book 1 of the Outdoorsman Series is available as is her Ninth Star, Jaded Hearts, and Seven Points of Contact, Heads and Tales, a supernatural/mythological anthology. to which Renée Gendron contributed a historical, supernatural, romance. Shopkeeper & Spoon, Beneath The Twin Suns: An Anthology, Heartened by Crime, and In The Red Room: A crime anthology with heart, all edited by Renée Gendron, are also available now.
Nicole Wells‘s UpSpark; A Love Story, is available on Amazon. The Worst Story Ever Written is also available on Amazon (including for free on Kindle Unlimited). You can sample Chapter 1 here. Her other stories of various and mixed genres are at NicoleWellsWrites.com