Tuesday, October 27, 2009

eye of the god - Prologue & Chapter 1

eye of the god

Abingdon Press (October 1, 2009)


Golconda, India, 1653
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier winced as the soldier chopped off the man’s hand. The thief shrieked and dropped to the ground, clutching the bloodied stump to his chest.

Tavernier turned aside with a grimace and ordered the litter bearers beneath him to move faster. Four slaves, dark from the sun, jostled between the crowded stalls of Golconda’s hectic bazaar and away from the public spectacle. The agonized screams faded as they pressed farther into the crowd. Dense heat settled over the marketplace, and Tavernier wiped sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. Pungent smells assaulted his senses: sweat and urine, spiced curry and sweet chutney, burning incense and rotting vegetables. His litter bumped and rocked through the hustle and bustle of shoppers and merchants haggling over prices. Red and gold bridal wear and precious gold glittered in the stalls. Elephants carried the elite through the narrow streets while dirty children chased each other with sticks.

Tavernier looked across the sea of dark-skinned faces toward an embroidered tent in the midst of the bazaar guarded by two soldiers wearing the white turban and golden sash of the sultan’s army. At his approach the guards stepped aside and pulled back the elaborate flaps.

Tavernier glanced at the heavy wooden chest near his feet and stepped from the litter. “Guard that with your life,” he ordered the soldiers as he entered the tent.

Large, colorful cushions and intricately woven Oriental rugs covered the dirt floor. Mir Jumla, Golconda’s prime minister, lounged on an orange and peacock-blue silk pillow. The heavy brow, black eyes, and prominent nose of the Persian-born general contradicted his Oriental adornment.

Mir stood and greeted Tavernier in the traditional Indian way, with palms together, hands raised in front of his face, and head bowed. “Vanakkam,” he said.

Tavernier lowered his head and returned the greeting.

Mir motioned for him to sit, and they settled onto the cushions.

“Good to see you, Prime Minister,” Tavernier said.

Mir grinned, “Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. Punctual as always.”

“You said it was important?”

Around Mir’s neck hung a buckskin pouch, which he untied and placed in Tavernier’s hand, “I could lose my head for this.”

“Come, come Mir, we both know the sultan would much prefer to chop off your hands and leave you to beg for food like a common slave.”

“My hands it will be then if the sultan ever learns that escaped his grasp.”

Tavernier opened the pouch and emptied the contents into his hand. His eyes widened and the corners of his mouth twitched as he suppressed a grin. In his palm rested the largest blue diamond he had ever seen. He turned it over, running his fingers along the irregular surface.

“This is a great deal more than ten carats. It was my understanding that any diamond over ten carats found in the Kollur mines went directly to the sultan.”

Mir Jumla nodded and pushed back into the cushions. In one hand he fingered a gold coin with his long fingers. “That is the edict. But I never said this stone came from the mines.”

“Since when did you start dealing in stolen gems?”

Mir Jumla thrust out his lower jaw. “You don’t want it then?”

“Of course I do. I am just curious why a man so loyal to the sultan is selling diamonds right out from under his nose.”

“Loyalty, like most things, has a price.” Mir grinned.

Tavernier smiled. “Indeed.” He held up the diamond, letting the light filter through. “Net et d’un beau violet,” he whispered in his native French.

Mir tilted his head to one side.

Tavernier repeated in Indian, “A clear and beautiful violet.”

“Yes. It is flawless.”

Tavernier balanced the stone in his hand for a moment. “One hundred carats, or close to it, I would wager.”

“One hundred twelve.”

“Excellent. And the price?”

“Two-hundred twenty-thousand livres.”

“A little steep.”

“We both know you will not find another such diamond for sale in Golconda. They all sit in the sultan’s treasury.”

“Fair enough.” Tavernier shrugged. “But you still have not told me how you came by this stone.”

Mir hesitated a moment as he studied the coin in his hand. “I would not give that much concern. The last person to own this was made of stone and sat in a Hindu temple on the banks of the Godavari River. A slave named Raj, starving and half-mad, brought it to me three weeks ago, claiming he had chiseled it from the forehead of an idol named Rama Sita.” Mir cast a sideways glance at Tavernier. “Cursed, Raj said. The idol cursed the diamond and all who would come to own it.”

“And where is this Raj now?”

“In the bazaar. I believe my soldiers just relieved him of a hand.”

“That was your doing?”

“I paid him a fair price for the stone three weeks ago, but he came back this morning for more. When I refused, he tried to steal this.” Mir held up the coin.

Tavernier laughed. “A convenient story, my friend.”

“You don’t believe me?”

“Weaving a tale of theft and vengeance is an old jeweler’s trick to induce interest in the buyer. One I have used myself, as a matter of fact.”

Mir gave a curt nod. “May it be on your head. I am glad to sell it and be done.”

“At such a price, I am sure you are. But as far as my head goes, I intend for it to stay in place.”

“The curse does not bother you?”

“I don’t believe in curses, Mir. Besides, we both know they increase the value of trinkets such as this.”

“Then we have only the matter of payment to attend.” Tavernier rose and fetched his treasure chest from the litter. Returning, he set it on the rug before Mir and opened the lock with a small golden key. When he pulled back the lid, hundreds of gold coins spilled onto the carpet before them. Tavernier counted the purchase price before the prime minister, who eyed the gold with hunger. Only a few dozen coins remained in the chest when he was done.

Tavernier slid the great blue diamond back inside the buckskin pouch and tied it around his neck. “Should you stumble across the other eye you will, of course, let me know?”

“Of course,” said Mir with great satisfaction. “And thank you once again for your business.”

The men gave each other a polite nod, and Tavernier stepped from the tent. Within seconds his litter disappeared amidst the writhing mass of vendors, peasants, and hanging goods.

Chapter 1

Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil—Present Day
Abb y Mitchell stared through the window at the feverish display of dancing outside. She placed her palm on the warm plaster wall of the Chacara do Ceu Museum and felt the pounding Samba music pulse against her fingers. She observed the frenzied celebration from within the safety of the museum’s main gallery. An old mansion, turned resting place for some of the world’s most renowned art, the museum was a pleasant combination of low ceilings, cream-colored walls, and quiet elegance.

Her cell phone buzzed, and she took a deep breath before answering. “Good morning , Director Heaton.”

“It’s not all that good, Dr. Mitchell. We have a bit of an issue.” His voice was raspy, the ravages of age and cigarettes.

She cast a nervous glance over her shoulder. “What’s going on?”

“The Collectors. They’ve taken two Van Goghs.”

Abby closed her eyes and pressed her forehead against the window. “Where?”



“We’re not exactly sure. Investigators are baffled. The paintings just disappeared in the middle of the night.”



“Of course not. In ten years they’ve never left a print. Or a clue for that matter.”

“Abby,” his voice prodded on the other line. “You know what this means.”

She nodded, staring at her reflection in the window. “They can’t get their hands on the Dali. And we know they want it.”

“You know what you have to do.”

A weak smile spread across her face. “Let’s just hope I can.”

“Call me when you’re done,” he said, and then hung up the phone.

A handful of tourists wandered the gallery, trying to study the timeless wonders on its plaster walls, but distracted by Carnival just a few feet away.

Lost in her thoughts, Abby paid no attention to the approaching footsteps until she felt a polite tap on her shoulder. She turned to find a woman, in her late fifties, wearing a white linen suit and a gracious smile.

“Dr. Mitchell, I presume?” she said with a distinct Brazilian accent.

Abby held out her hand. “Indeed. And you must be Director Santos?”

“Please, call me Ana.” Though aging quite gracefully, it was obvious Ana Santos had been a sight to behold in her prime.

“Sorry to keep you,” she smiled. “With all the tourists in town, I have been running behind all week. But things should calm down now that Carnival is almost underway.”

“No trouble at all. I’ve been enjoying your remarkable collection.”

Ana stretched out an arm and motioned Abby to follow. They turned their backs to the window and made their way through the gallery toward a series of priceless surrealist paintings. One in particular caught Abby’s attention, and she leaned forward, appreciation evident on her face.

“Now, Dr. Mitchell, you said there was an urgent matter we needed to discuss. I assume more than Carnival brings you to Brazil?”

“I’m afraid so.” She ran a finger over the nameplate which read Two Balconies, Salvador Dali.
Ana beamed. “Fantastic, isn’t it?”

Abby nodded.

Two Balconies is the only Salvador Dali painting on display in Latin America. It is one of the Chacara do Ceu’s most prized exhibits.”

Abby tapped her lips in contemplation. “I don’t doubt that.”

“Beautiful ring,” Ana said, glancing at Abby’s finger.

“Thank you. It was a gift.”

She grinned mischievously. “He must love you very much.”

“You would think so.”

Ana smiled sadly and changed the subject. “So what is your concern?”

“I’m worried about this painting.”

Two Balconies? What do you mean? I thought you felt it would be a spectacular addition to your exhibit next year.”

“I do,” Abby assured her. “My concern is not with the painting itself, but with its safety. I have reason to believe it may be in danger of theft.”

Ana relaxed a little and laughed. “I can assure you, meu caro, we have strict security measures in place. All of our paintings are bolted to the wall and connected to hairtrigger alarms. If a painting is moved even a fraction of an inch, the alarm sets off our security system. In addition we have state-of-the-art video surveillance and round-the clock armed guards.”

“I wasn’t suggesting your security system is sub par, merely that we have gotten word there may be parties interested in this particular Salvador Dali painting.”

Ana flashed a charming smile. “Do you mind me asking your source?”

“I’ve received notice from the art theft division at Interpol. There are rumblings of an illicit interest in Dali and this painting in particular. I thought it prudent to warn you, considering your partnership with the Smithsonian.”

“Why is the International Criminal Police Organization interested in Two Balconies?”

“There has been a rash of thefts recently, and Interpol contacted me with a warning.”

“I appreciate your concern, Dr. Mitchell, but I feel confident we have taken the appropriate measures to protect our facility.”

Abby sighed. “All right. But know you have our full resources at your disposal should you need them.”

“Thank you, Dr. Mitchell. I will certainly take that into consideration.” Ana glanced back at the painting and asked, “I assume the Smithsonian is still planning to include Two Balconies in next year’s exhibit?”

“Absolutely. Preliminary preparations are underway for its transport and security.”

Ana beamed. “We would be delighted to accommodate you in any way. I will, of course, have to accompany the painting to Washington.”

“Of course.”

Both women turned back to the window as a loud burst of cheering and music erupted from the throng outside. Viktor Leite, the mayor, was barely audible over the din. Flanked on both sides by voluptuous women dressed in revealing Carnival garb, he screamed into the microphone so he could be heard over the pounding drums.

“Let the festivities begin!”

At his command the massive parade, seventy-thousand people strong, erupted in applause and began to snake through the streets.

“You will be staying for Carnival?” Ana asked.

“I’m afraid not. Duty calls me back to Washington.”

“I thought this was a working vacation?”

“More work than vacation, I’m afraid.”

“Surely the Smithsonian wouldn’t object to you staying an extra day or two?”

Abby sighed. “My flight leaves at noon tomorrow.” Ana opened her mouth to argue her case but was jolted into stunned silence by the thunderous sound of a gunshot. Abby and Ana spun around to find two armed men standing at the museum entrance.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Fence My Father Built - Chapter 1

The Fence My Father Built

Abingdon Press (October 2009)

Joseph’s Journal
June 1977

Sprawled across the bed, you slept facedown, wearing that red cowgirl shirt and the velvet skirt you love. I stood by and watched your breathing. Your hair, so straight and black, reminded me of my people, our people, and I wondered what you dreamed. Years ago, the Nez Perce surrendered to broken treaties, broken dreams. I’m sorry, daughter, but I’m surrendering too.

You’re only five, Muri, but you learn fast. In this Oregon desert, the sun beats down hot, and today our tan faces shone with sweat. We walked across the sagebrush and you held the corn snake we found. You held it gently, without fear. I felt as proud as I ever have.

After sunset, we sat on the hill and looked up at the stars. When you got cold I draped my old coat around you and told you all about angels. On the way home, you didn’t ask for your mother, not once. It’s wrong, I know, but I was pleased.

I had big plans to be your daddy. I was going to read to you every day, teach you the names of all the Civil War battles. I’d teach you how to fish. You’d learn how to listen to the wind and how to skip a stone. Most of all, I’d teach you how to pray. None of that will happen now.

After your mom called, I broke down and cried, and I couldn’t stop. I’ve lost. Your mother doesn’t know our ways but she has the white man’s courts on her side. They call it full custody. I cry because I won’t see you on your first day of school or when you get your driver’s license. My ears won’t hear your laughter. You’ll learn to climb trees and hold snakes without me. I won’t even be able to tell you why I wasn’t there.

Maybe when you’re grown you’ll understand. Or maybe you won’t care about the secrets we could have shared, secrets of land and water, secrets of fixing refrigerators. I pray that God, who made all of this for us, will reach your heart in time.

Tonight, I hugged you close, but you held your nose and said, “Daddy, I hate smoking!” I can’t seem to get that cigarette smell out of my clothes. All I smelled right then was the pain of your mother’s victory.

Her car pulled into the driveway, and she leaned on the horn. I waved out the window. She could wait. I shrugged into my suede jacket.

Before I handed you over, I picked up the framed picture I like: the one where you’re standing on that wicker chair, holding your ragged blanket. I took the photo out of its frame, careful to hold it by the edges and slipped it into my wallet. When you got sleepy we hunted all over for that grimy blanket.

Your old man has the magic touch with broken appliances too. Just this week I fixed the neighbor lady’s old stove. The bottle? Now that’s a different story that I’ve tried to change a hundred times. If you only knew.

Standing by the bed, I watched you sleeping. I stroked your flushed cheek and whispered your name. I carried you to your mother’s car, and you opened your eyes and smiled. I saved my tears for later when I opened my wallet. I looked at your photo and weakness ambushed me.

There are days when I feel strong. Those times, nothing can stand between you and me. Most times, though, I’m broken. I’m nothing but an old sinner praying for another chance.

Someday, Muri, come looking for your old dad, will you? Maybe God will light a fire in you and our ancestors will fan the flames. I’ll put up a beacon so you’ll know where to look.

Chapter 1

My father left my mother and me when I was five, but back then I didn’t hate him for it. He was an angel because he showed me things, told me things, made me see things for the very first time. How to hold a flat stone in order to skip it. The feel of water slipping through my fingers. How to tell the moon’s phase.

The last night I saw him alive he took me to the top of a hill to look at the stars. Out where we lived, in Oregon’s high desert, there were more stars than black sky. He draped his worn suede coat over my shoulders, and I kept tripping on the bottom, that’s how little I was. We walked and walked, and once I fell over a sagebush. When I cried he said, “Sh, angels are watching.” Dad pointed to the Milky Way, which took my breath away, and then we shouted out with joy, singing right along with the whole heavenly host. That’s how I thought of my father then—as an angel—alive and real and always with a flask of whiskey inside that suede jacket.

Before Mother died she always said he was just an old holy roller. His idea of religion was speaking in tongues while reaching for the bottle. When I was young she mocked him every day.

“Why don’t you just take your baby girl on down to the bar with you?” Mother would say. Her words dripped with her special brand of sarcasm. In those days her bitterness only made me feel closer to this father who prayed and this God who loved a sorry man like Joseph Pond.

But by the time I grew up I had come to hate him. Mom did a good job of encouraging my disgust, but I admit that most of my bile came of my own free will. I carefully tended doubts about God the Father, too, and I routinely blamed my troubles on one or both of them. The day I drove to Murkee, where Joseph Pond had lived and died, I believed that angels didn’t exist, at least not on desert highways like this one. My ex-husband Chaz said he and I had simply “grown apart.” I tried to make it work for the kids’ sake, but after I caught him with that Victoria woman one time too many, I decided enough was enough. Anyway, Chaz admitted he wasn’t the daddy type. When he left, I let him go.

The kids and I were alone now, bound for the middle of nowhere. I wondered if angels took assignments out here on Mars.

Mars must be a lot like central Oregon, I decided. I didn’t see a drop of water anywhere, and the wind blew hard and constant. Gusts pressed down the grass, leaning it over like a wino who had fallen asleep. Sagebrush, the ugliest plant I’ve ever seen, was probably the only thing holding down the red dirt. With the way my life was headed, if I didn’t find something to hold onto soon, I might blow away too.

At times the kids dozed against the windows, their relaxed mouths jerking shut each time I hit a pothole. They must have been so tired to sleep through all the jouncing. We’d been on the road at least six hours, thanks to my lousy sense of direction and countless sibling quarrels. Nova started complaining as soon as we crossed the Cascade Mountains.

“We’re doomed,” Nova moaned. Then she argued with Truman over our bottled water supply and how many Milky Ways were left.

“What are you looking at?” I heard Tru yell at his sister. She was probably drilling him with the ultimate weapon—her famous stare. I could see her smoldering gaze in the rearview mirror.

“Everything looks dead.” Nova pointed out the window. “Water’s probably poison. Acid rain or something.” She snapped her gum then, knowing I’d thrown many a student out of the high school library for that very infraction.

“Maybe that’s why Grandpa died,” Truman volunteered. At nine, Tru, named after my favorite president, was still cheerful most of the time. His sister just groaned and made a face at Tru, then put her earbuds back in place.

I swear she didn’t hate everything and everyone last week. Her dyed orange hair, only two inches long on top this week, had been stiffened with Elmer’s glue and stood in small peaks.

“Woolly worms,” I told her. “Your hair reminds me of fuzzy caterpillars.” She attributed her dark mood to my observations and said it was my fault that everything, including the landscape, had died. Sometimes she could be a stereotype of herself.

Maybe stereotypes were all anyone was, including my father. After years of thinking about how I could connect with my roots, Tru had found him on the Internet. He was doing a report for school about Oregon ranchers and accidentally bumped into his own grandfather’s name in an article about ongoing feuds over water rights in the desert lands. An address popped up almost instantly, and decades of searching condensed into a few lines on a computer screen.

I’d written to the address that same day, only to learn that Joseph Pond had recently died. His sister, Lutie Pearl, wrote back, “Your daddy was only fifty-five, but liver disease doesn’t care who it kills off.” He owned a piece of property that was now mine, she said, and coincidentally, the neighbor was threatening to sue their socks off. “Muri,” she wrote, “it would bless me if you could come here to clear things up.”

Bless her? I wasn’t sure I could balance my checkbook, much less clear up a lawsuit. But I wanted more than anything to know my roots, and truth be told, we were temporarily homeless.

As we chugged closer to my father’s land, the dust hid deep ruts in the road that could have rolled our VW bus over on its back like a turtle. The kids had named it Homer because it was a camper inside, complete with a miniature stove and a roll of paper towels that came unwound unless held together with rubber bands. Tru kept saying we looked like the Beverly Hillbillies.

That might have been funny if I hadn’t piled all our belongings on the roof rack, including a couple of twin mattresses that anchored an assortment of mismatched luggage and cardboard boxes, mostly containing kitchen appliances and old books.

The thought of driving to nowhere looking like characters from The Grapes of Wrath made my eye twitch. As if that wasn’t enough, Nova was so embarrassed she threatened to bail out of the van and walk all the way back to Portland. My daughter, who was sixteen and therefore knew everything, added, “Your dad’s already dead, so what’s the point?”

Tru stared at her, with that serious expression he gets. He opened his mouth to say something but closed it again and went back to playing his handheld video game.

I’d told them we were here to settle my father’s affairs, but that was only half true and they knew it. Once the school district eliminated my library position, Chaz knew he could pressure me to unload the house. I couldn’t stand to live under the neighbors’ stares, so I went along with the sale. As soon as the house sold, my ex-husband took his half of the money and ran straight to Victoria. He left his children unable to understand why he wasn’t interested in them.

They didn’t completely grasp the fact that we had nowhere else to go, and that’s why we were driving into the Oregon desert. It was as simple as that. My half of the home proceeds would go for living expenses until I could land another job. I tried to explain that I saw this trip as a means to get my act together and figure out what we should do next. They didn’t get it, and I confess, half the time I didn’t either. My arms felt numb from gripping the steering wheel; I was a blob of weariness that began behind my eyes and permeated to my fingertips.

“Turn around and find a hotel,” my daughter moaned above the chatter of the engine.

“There’s not even a Motel 6 out here, Nova,” I said.

She sarcastically reminded me that at least motels have swimming pools. I was thinking of letting her test her desert survival skills when we pulled into Murkee and parked in front of the Mucky-Muck Café. The place was as dried up as the rest of the landscape except for a scrub lilac bush straining for shade next to the building.

If we thought this looked like Mars, out here we were the strange ones. At least that’s the way the waitress in the café acted. She took one look at Nova’s pierced eyebrow (the one I’d forbidden), shook her head slowly, and asked for our order. “Today’s special is the double cheeseburger basket,” the waitress said, pointing her pencil at a hand-lettered sign that leaned against a water glass full of cut lilacs, no doubt from the bush outside. She was dressed in one of those oldfashioned uniforms with a Peter Pan collar and a suffocating polyester bodice. A printed name tag said, Dove, and underneath, Welcome to the Mucky-Muck Café. The sign on the front door read, Mucky-Muck is Chinook for Good Food.

“You have GardenBurgers?” Nova wanted to know. She’d declared herself a vegetarian last week. “And a double-skinny hazelnut latte.” My daughter had forgotten that we were now on a different planet, one without a Starbucks.

Dove looked at me to translate.

“Pick something,” I growled, handing Nova one of those menus where someone had typed in the selections and slipped them inside a thick plastic sleeve.

When lunch arrived, Nova picked at hers and stared, catatonic, out the window. In the light I noticed again that my daughter had Chaz’s eyes, a light intense blue that could turn the color of the stormy Pacific when she was angry.

Although most of the time he was mature for his age, Tru made a touchdown by flicking his straw paper between the salt and pepper shakers. I had a sudden urge to hide beneath the table.

Instead, I asked Dove if she knew about the place out on Winchester Road, the estate of the late Joseph Pond.

“Sure, everybody knows the Ponds,” Dove said, but I wondered why she was whispering. She gathered up the little wads of paper where Tru missed the field goal. “So sad about his passing. His sister and her husband still live out there, though. Tiny comes in here and hauls off anything we don’t want.”

“We’ve been on the road since this morning,” I said. “I’ve gotten lost more times than I can count.” I fidgeted with my straw and tried to ignore Nova’s grimaces.

One guy at the counter turned around. He was about fifty, his cheeks creased and tanned with the marks of sun and wind. His clothes were standard rancher’s attire: plaid western shirt tucked into dark blue jeans and boots with pointed toes and a thick layer of dirt clinging to the heels. A real cowboy instead of the phony environmentalist types I’d put up with in the city. This cowboy sat hunched over the remains of a greasy lunch platter and hadn’t eaten the pickle garnish. He stood it straight up in the middle of a half-eaten sandwich and chuckled. He had sharp, deep-set eyes; I couldn’t see if they were brown or green. I looked away, hoping he hadn’t noticed me staring. Being a librarian, I also hoped he wasn’t the type who breaks the spine on a book.

The man stood up and strode over to our booth. “Welcome to Murkee,” he said and extended his hand. “Just passing through?”

“No, not exactly,” I said. “Nice to meet you. I’m Muri.” I shook his hand but felt myself recoil. “And these are my children, Nova and Truman.”

“Since the new highway went through we don’t get that many tourists,” he said. “You got to get off the beaten path to find us, right Dove?”

The waitress nodded. “Way off the path. You got that right, Linc. Unless you’re out hunting fossils, that is.”

He laughed. “Where are my manners? I meant to say I’m Lincoln Jackson. I know just about everything that goes on around here.”

Nova’s head popped up from her sulking. “Tell us how to get back to Portland.”

I gasped. “Nova! I’m sorry, Mr. Jackson. We’ve gotten lost a number of times today, and we’re a little road weary.” I hoped my eyes weren’t puffy.

He waved his hand. “Call me Linc, please. And I don’t blame—Nova, is it—for being wary of our little town. The sidewalks do roll up pretty early. Not much action here, I’m afraid.”

“Linc, then.” I nudged Nova under the table.

“Sorry,” she said.

Dove broke in. “It’s even worse when there’s a rodeo over in Prineville. Then we’re lucky to serve lunch to the rattlers and jackrabbits.” She chuckled at her small joke, and her uniform swished when she moved her arms.

Tru perked up. “Rattlers? Are there rattlesnakes out here?” He pushed up his glasses. Nova rolled her eyes.

Linc patted Tru’s arm. “Sure there’s snakes, little guy. You ever hold a snake?”

“No, but I want to.” Tru sat up taller.

Linc leaned on the back of our booth. “How about roping? You ever roped a steer?”

Tru shook his head. “Like a cowboy?”

Linc laughed. “Shore, pardner. I can teach you all you need to know.” Linc brought over his black Stetson and handed it to Tru. “Go ahead, son, try it on.”

Tru looked at me for approval, then plunked on the hat. It nearly swallowed his head. “How do I look?”

“Like a doofus,” Nova said. “Like this town. Who’d name a town Murkee, anyway?”

I sighed. “Nova, please.”

Tru returned the hat, and Linc smoothed the brim. “No offense taken, ma’am,” Linc said. “I don’t rightly understand it myself, young lady. But my Great-grandmother Ida had the idea. And she insisted on Murkee. She said it sounded like some Indian word.”

“So this whole area was settled by your family?” I didn’t want to sound nosy, but I was intrigued. I smiled, relieved that these rural folks were so friendly.

Apparently, Dove had been eavesdropping. She came over with our check and said, “Linc here owns just about everything in these parts. Everything but the church and a couple of parcels next to his place.”

Tru’s eyes got bigger again. “You mean you own the whole town?” He dribbled ketchup down the front of his t-shirt, but I resisted the urge to wipe it off.

Linc seemed to consider Tru’s question. “Well, son, I guess so. And when I get access to that creek I’ll be a lot happier.” Dove shot him a look and resumed scrubbing down tables.

“Why do you need a creek?” Tru looked puzzled. “Does it have lots of fish or something?” He stuffed the last of his french fries into his mouth.

“Tru, use your napkin,” I said. I grabbed my purse and dug out money for our lunch, plus a nice tip. “And don’t ask so many questions.” This was getting embarrassing.

“No problem, ma’am,” Linc said. “Let’s just say one of my neighbors has been difficult.” He sighed. “Then he up and died before we could see eye to eye.”

Tru practically shouted, “My grandpa died too! Last week! But I never met him. I just heard about him.”

“Sorry to hear that, son.” Linc’s expression changed, and suddenly, he seemed guarded.

The wind picked up outside, rattling the windows and door. Clouds sped past the restaurant like a stampede, as if they knew there was something wrong here. I shuddered at the thought of getting lost again before the sun set. Now I was anxious to get on with it. Even in death Joseph Pond would complicate my life.

“Mr. Jackson, we’re not in Murkee to stay,” I said. “But my father, Joseph Pond, passed away recently. We’ll be here long enough to set his affairs in order. Maybe you could direct me to his property?” I smoothed a stray hair.

Linc’s pleasant demeanor had vanished. His jaw now worked from side to side, and the light in his eyes had turned to sparks.

“Chief Joseph’s place isn’t hard to find,” Linc said. “First eyesore you come to, that’s the one.” He laughed, but it was a hard laugh. He went back to the counter and straddled the stool.

“Eyesore?” I said aloud. I wondered why he had called my father Chief.

Dove shook her head and gazed up at the ceiling. “Lord, here we go again,” she said. “There’s a lot of stuff in the yard: bicycle parts, old cars, and that ridiculous fence.”

Nova jabbed me with her elbow. “Mom,” she hissed. “Let’s just go.”

“No, I want to hear more,” I said. “What did you say about a fence?”

Linc interrupted. “She’s talking about that idiotic fence out there. It’s, well, you’ll have to see for yourself.”

The bells on the café door jingled, and another man walked in. He was the opposite of Linc in terms of first impressions. Instead of western attire, he wore a flannel shirt and baggy, worn jeans. A short graying ponytail trailed out the back of his ball cap. He sat at the counter, and I wondered what he was doing in the middle of nowhere.

“Hey Good-looking,” he said to Dove.

“Good-looking my foot, Doc. The usual?” Dove grinned when he nodded. She slid behind the counter, poured coffee, and set the cup and saucer in front of him. “It’ll be a few minutes for your order.”

The man called Doc smiled. “No problem.” He was Linc’s opposite. His tanned face was easy and relaxed. I liked that, but I quickly reminded myself how foolish I could be about men: giving in, saying yes, and stumbling in, when I ought to be running for my life.

Dove came over to the booth, slapped the check in front of me, and I snapped to attention with a small gasp. She was careful to keep her back to Linc.

“Honey,” she whispered to me. “Linc’s your next-door neighbor. And he can be a bear, if you get my drift.”

I stared at Linc, looking for bear-like signs. Doc wasn’t overly friendly with Linc, either, but he did nod his head. Doc’s cell phone rang, and he spoke into it in hushed tones, which I appreciated. I was trying to teach Nova a cell phone wasn’t the most important accessory on earth.

“Hold the sandwich,” Doc said. “Gotta run, Dove. Sorry.” He dug around in his jeans pocket.

Dove waved him off. “Get going, Doc. No charge for a measly cup of coffee.”

“Thanks, Good-looking.” He winked at Dove and rushed outside.

Dove went to the counter, removed Doc’s cup, and then turned back to me. “Head straight out to the first gravel road,” she said, tossing the dirty dishes into a rubber dishpan, “till you get to the yellow gas company sign.”

Linc nursed his coffee. “If you go past the creek, you’ve gone too far,” he called across the room, and Dove nodded. His gaze locked on me. I felt more and more uncomfortable, but I wasn’t about to let him intimidate me.

“So we’re neighbors.” I stood up and approached him. “I’m Joseph Pond’s biological daughter. I’m sure this is all a misunderstanding.”

Linc looked surprised, but then his eyes narrowed. “Biological, eh? What’s that supposed to mean?” He stood up. “You must be the big city girl Lutie’s been carrying on about, come to show the country bumpkins a thing or two.”

Dove clattered a stack of dishes into the plastic tub.

I stood up taller and cleared my throat. “I’m a librarian, not an attorney.”

He rose and reached into his jeans pocket, plunked down a dollar bill, and shook a toothpick from the container. “Well, Miss Librarian, if Lutie thinks I’ll back down all because some smart girl from Portland steps in, she’s got another think coming.”

“That’s not why I’m here,” I said. “I only want to get things straightened out for my aunt and uncle. That’s what my father wanted.”

Linc paused and turned to face me. “You think you know your old man?” His neck muscles were beginning to bulge, and he pointed at me with his index finger. “I reckon you’re about to find out more than you ever wanted to know.”

I couldn’t find an answer to that one. Nova and Tru kept giving me anxious looks. “We’ll talk soon, Mr. Jackson,” I said finally. “I’m sure we can work something out.”

“Yeah.” Linc threw another bill on the stack. “Here’s a little something extra, Dove.” He tossed the toothpick into the trash can and picked up his western hat.

Nova muttered, “Hick.” I elbowed her in the back.

“I’ll look for the sign then,” I said as cheerfully as I could. Linc Jackson yanked open the door of the café, and the cluster of little brass bells jingled frantically on the doorknob.

He threw his next remark over one shoulder. “Have a nice day.” The door whooshed shut, and a pungent sorrow swept me along with the aroma of lilacs and french fries.

On our way out the bells sounded again, whispering something I couldn’t quite hear.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Intervention - Chapter 1


Zondervan (September 22, 2009)

Chapter 1

The interventionist stood on the sidewalk at baggage claim, smoking a cigarette and chugging a Red Bull. What irony. The woman who’d promised to help rid Barbara’s daughter of her addictions clearly had a few of her own. Barbara considered driving past her, leaving her to get back on the plane and return to the rehab she ran. She could work this out herself — lock Emily in her room and take away her car keys, force her to stay sober. But hadn’t she already tried that? Despite Barbara’s best efforts to turn their home into a lockdown, Emily still managed to sneak out and get high.

How had this happened?

That familiar knot burned in Barbara’s stomach as she pulled to the curb and waved at the woman. It had to be her — the long red skirt, the white peasant blouse, just as she’d said. The outfit made her look more like a college student than someone who could escort a determined addict across the country. What if Emily put up a fight? How would this petite thing handle her?

Barbara stopped along the curb and pulled the lever under the dashboard, popping her trunk. Forcing a welcoming smile, she got out of the car. “Hi, are you Trish?”

“Sure am.” The woman dropped her cigarette on the concrete and stomped it out with a sandaled foot, then thrust a hand out to Barbara. “Trish Massey.”

“I’m Barbara Covington.”

Barbara glanced at the small bag at the woman’s feet. “Is this all you have?”

“Yeah, I won’t be here long.”

She picked up Trish’s bag and set it on the backseat as Trish got into the car. Barbara slipped back into the driver’s seat. The car that she’d freshened with Febreze suddenly smelled of smoke. “How was your trip?”

“Uneventful, which is always a good thing.” Trish was all smiles. “So where did you tell Emily you were going?”

“To an Al-Anon meeting.”

“And that’s okay with her?”

Barbara breathed a laugh. “Oh, yeah. She likes it when I’m working on her problem. She would love it if everybody she knew were going to meetings and wringing their hands. She loves to keep us playing the What-To-Do-About-Emily game.”

There she went again, letting her bitterness spill out to a stranger.

“Meetings are good,” Trish said. “Have you really been to any?”

Barbara slipped the car into Drive and pulled away from baggage claim, heading to the loop that would take them out of the airport and into Jefferson City. “Plenty. I’ve done the workbooks and gone through the twelve steps, like I’m the one with the problem. I’ve done everything they’ve told me to do. But she’s still using.”

“Al-Anon meetings are to help you cope, not to give you some secret code to sober up your loved one.”

Barbara knew that now. She’d gone to a few meetings, hoping to learn what would work with Emily. When she didn’t get those answers, she’d lost interest. Her own sanity would return when her daughter was sane.

Strange, that a woman who couldn’t be more than thirty would be counseling Barbara now. And who was Trish to counsel an eighteen-year-old? Emily would take one look at her and declare her dominance.

What was she doing? Maybe this was all wrong.

“You’re doing the right thing,” Trish said, as though she’d read Barbara’s mind.

Barbara didn’t want to cry in front of the stranger. For a moment she drove silently, staring at the taillights of the car in front of her. Finally, she spoke again. “When Emily was going into preschool, I personally visited fourteen schools. I interviewed teachers. I even spent a day with her at the one I liked, to see how she fit in.”

“I don’t blame you. I’d probably do the same thing if I had children.”

“It’s no easy thing, sending her to a place like this, halfway across the country. But I had to act quickly. There wasn’t time for a careful, deliberate search. I should have been more prepared when things escalated.”

“You mentioned on the phone that she’d stolen money?”

“Yes. Not the first time, but this was the most she’d taken. Four hundred dollars, right out of my account. She got my debit card out of my purse. Spent every penny on drugs.”

“How do you know?”

Barbara’s fingers tightened over the steering wheel. “Because she didn’t come home for three days. I found her strung out at a friend’s house. I got her to come home, and while she was sleeping, I searched her things. Found some credit cards she’d taken out in her dad’s name. John, my husband, died four years ago.”

Barbara paused, expecting a gasp, but it didn’t come. She supposed Trish had heard it all before. “You had to intervene,” Trish said. “It sounds like her life has spun out of control.”

Barbara’s own life had spun out of control. First, John’s cancer had disrupted their idyllic lives. When he died, she swam through grief so deep it almost drowned her. Being a forty-year-old widow with two children was the next mire she slogged through. But now, Emily’s drug abuse was more than she could take.

“You won’t be disappointed in our program,” Trish said.

Barbara glanced at Trish. “She’ll be locked in, right? Because if she isn’t, she’ll leave. I’ve tried treatment two other times — one time, she ran away after only a week. The second time, she smuggled drugs in and got kicked out.”

“We don’t lock them in, but she’ll be monitored at all times. Don’t worry, we do this all the time. She’ll be very comfortable.”

Comfort wasn’t Barbara’s main concern, though she didn’t want Emily to be miserable. Barbara bit the inside of her cheek as she pulled onto the interstate, headed for the hotel she’d reserved for Trish. She was sinking thirty thousand dollars into Road Back Recovery Center, money that had come from a second mortgage on her house. But being expensive didn’t guarantee that it was good. Even the best rehabs had underwhelming success rates.

She wished Trish inspired more confidence. “You seem very young. How did you come to own Road Back?”

Trish flicked her hair behind her ear. “I’m a recovering addict myself. I got clean at Road Back, and when I graduated, I stayed and worked there. I’ve been doing interventions for them for five years. A -couple of years ago, the directors wanted to retire, so I decided to buy it. I couldn’t stand the thought of it not being there anymore. That’s how much I believe in the program.”

That made Barbara feel somewhat better. She wished she could go to the facility herself to make sure it was all they advertised. But once she’d made up her mind to do the intervention, there hadn’t been time to take a trip to check it out in person. Waiting could have resulted in Emily’s arrest.

And Barbara knew she couldn’t take Emily there herself. No, it would take a professional to convince Emily to go, and Trish had to be the one to escort her. Barbara was sending her daughter off to some unknown place with this woman she didn’t know. Emily would pass this new threshold all alone . . . and be there for ninety days.

Emily had once been a fan of Hello Kitty and Amelia Bedelia. Now she collected pictures of her hero, Amy Winehouse, the famous addict with the hit song about avoiding rehab. Barbara still loved Emily with a love so painful that it ached through her at night, keeping her from sleep, but she didn’t like this person who’d replaced her daughter. If only this rehab could exorcise the addiction within her, and return Emily home in her former condition . . .

It would be a miracle.

But what if this failed too? What if turmoil and madness were all the potential Emily would ever fulfill?

Blinking back tears, she took the exit near her home. The Hampton Inn sign loomed ahead. “I hope the room is okay. I went ahead and checked you in.” Barbara handed Trish the key card.

“It’ll be fine. You should see some of the places I’ve had to stay.” As Barbara pulled into the parking lot, Trish shifted in her seat to look at her. “So, did you write the letters?”

“Yes.” She parked and got the envelopes from her purse. “Here they are.”

Trish took them and turned on the overhead light. “And who is Lance?”

“My son. He’s fourteen. It’s just us.”

“Did Emily’s problems start when her father died?”

“Not right away. But losing John was hard on all of us. Over the next year she got in with the wrong crowd.” She paused and settled her gaze on Trish. “I want you to know, we’re not like this. There was never even alcohol in our home. I’ve taken her to church every Sunday of her life . . .” Her voice faded. Trish had probably heard this same song and dance from every parent she dealt with.

“It’s not your fault.”

Then whose fault is it? Pursing her lips, Barbara let Trish read.

Finally, Trish looked up. “Will anyone else be at the intervention? Grandparents?”

“They’re too far away, and not in good health. I’ve kept them in the dark about all this. It would kill them.”

“Friends? A boss? Teachers?”

“Emily dropped out of school several months ago. Her senior year, six months before graduating, so there aren’t teachers. Her friends are like her. They don’t want her sober. And she lost her job three weeks ago. Hasn’t been sober enough to get another one, so there’s not a boss who can get through to her.” Barbara glanced at Trish in the shadows of the car. “Is it a problem that it’s only my son and me?”

“No, we can work with that.” Trish handed the letters back. “You both did a good job with the letters. You told her what her addiction is doing to the family, how you see her destroying herself, and what you’re asking her to do. The main thing is that you stick to your guns about what will happen if she refuses to go. To bring about change in her, you have to be willing to throw her out with no resources.”

Barbara said nothing. She had grappled with that issue for months now, and lain awake for the past three nights, begging God to give her a way out. Why couldn’t he sweep down and deliver Emily, before Barbara had to send her away for help or throw her out on the street?

“Are you ready for that? Putting her out if she refuses to go?”

Barbara swallowed. “I don’t know. I know it’s what I should do, but it’s like giving up. She’ll die for sure.”

“Or she might hit bottom and decide to get help.”

Barbara wondered what hitting bottom really meant. The picture that always came to mind was of a body lying broken and bloody on the street after falling from a twenty-story building.

“I’ve tried tough love. The third time she got arrested for a DUI, they sentenced her to three weeks in the juvenile detention center. I didn’t bail her out. It was the hardest three weeks of my life.”

“But it still didn’t scare her straight.”

“No. She went back to drugs a week after she got out.”

“Did you really think it would change her?”

“I’d hoped. What good was all that suffering while she sat in jail, if she didn’t change?”

“Your suffering, or hers?”

Barbara looked at Trish. “Both.”

“Again, you’re doing the hard things because you expect them to change her. You need to shift your thinking. Tomorrow, if she refuses to go and you have to put her out, do it because you and your son refuse to keep participating in her destruction. Do it for the mental and emotional protection of you and Lance. And you have to convey that to her. Make her understand you’ve come to the end of your rope.”

Barbara leaned her head back on the seat. “She has to go with you. That’s all there is to it.”

Trish reached over the backseat and got her bag. “Sometimes they want treatment,” she said. “Sometimes they’re more fed up than you know with the endless cycle they’re caught in. Constantly trying to get enough money to score another hit, thinking about it every waking moment, and never able to get that high they’re looking for. Running on that horrible treadmill just to feel normal — or their version of normal. Do you think she’s there yet?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t. I was hoping you were here to convince her, even if she doesn’t want help.”

“I can only do so much.”

So what had this extra thirty-five-hundred-dollar fee paid for? A free vacation for this woman? “She has to go with you. If she doesn’t, she’ll wind up in jail.”

“Or dead.”

Dead. No, Barbara couldn’t survive burying anyone else. “I can’t let that happen. This has to work.”

“I’ll give it everything I’ve got. Maybe she’s sick of her disease.”

Barbara fought the urge to argue semantics. She hated the AA words like disease and relapse, like it was a virus Emily had caught somewhere. Yet she couldn’t deny that Emily was sick.

Trish opened her car door. “What time will you pick me up?”

Barbara tried to think. The flight she’d booked for Trish and Emily was at three p.m. tomorrow, and this thing could take hours. They had to start early. “Eight a.m. I’ll get her up while you’re there.”

“Tonight, you need to take her car to a friend’s house. Park it there and hide the keys. If it’s not in the driveway, she can’t talk you into giving her the keys. If she leaves, it’ll have to be without the car.”

That wouldn’t be hard. Emily could have one of her drug buddies there in minutes.

“Hopefully, her connection with you and her brother will be enough to make her go. And I’ll do my part to make her see the possibilities.” She got out her cigarettes, pulled one out. “It’ll be okay. Most of the interventions I do are successful.”

“But there’s no guarantee.”

“I’m afraid not.”

She’d have to pay her whether Emily agreed to go or not. It had to work. Her resources were running out.