Sunday, December 2, 2018

2018 Books & Budz Holiday "Pop-Up" Bookshop

Do you have a special someone in your life who loves to read? Maybe you just want to collect a few more amazing novels for yourself. Well, here is your opportunity! #RRBC is currently hosting the Books and Budz Holiday "Pop-Up" Bookshop, a wonderful site where you can purchase books by genre or by price. There are free books to be grabbed as well! You can also watch videos of some of the authors reading excerpts from their books. Plus, there is an opportunity for you to win a $50 Amazon gift card. There are SO many reasons to check it out. I hope you join me there! :-)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Watch #RWISA Write - Day 9 - #RRBC #RRBCWRW


It's that time of year where we celebrate amazing authors through the "Watch RWISA Write" Showcase Tour.  Each day, I will share with you a different author who truly deserves your attention and support. Each author has written a new piece specifically to share with you, so enjoy! Today's author is:



“Shielded”
By
Suzanne Burke

I welcome the shield provided by darkness. Those sweet moments when I allow myself to sit in the velvet depth of silence and dwell only on what is to come.

For the past only exists to remind me of the challenges I failed to meet. The things I thought myself powerless to change. I know better now.

I have no room for failure here as I sit wrapped in the warm blanket of my darkness-inspired illusion of safety.

The soft glow of the clock now heralds your arrival. I feel my pulse jump in anticipation.

I check the window … again. No vehicle yet slows to a stop on the rain-drenched streets so many floors below.

I feel the twitch of the nerve in my jaw and suck in the air in an effort to still it.

I remind myself once more that external factors are likely responsible for your late arrival. I know you too well to ever believe that you would be late by choice. You are eternally predictable. That comforts me somewhat.

My neck muscles clench and I stand, stretching my arms and softly willing them to relax.

The clock rolls through another hour, and my calmness begins to falter.

I check through everything that I have prepared in anticipation of our meeting.

Grunting with approval at my readiness, I check the window one more time, and I gift myself a smile as your vehicle draws up and parks on the opposite side of the now quiet street.

The excitement begins to make itself felt and I shiver.

You will arrive soon, and all the waiting will end.

I lick my dry lips and take a deeply satisfied breath.

I hear the sound of the ping the lift makes as it stops on this floor. I hear your key turn in the lock.

I wait as you fumble for the light switch and flick it on. You swear in displeasure as the room remains dark. Now you search for your iPhone and seek out the torch app. The room in your immediate vicinity is caught within the boundary of its fractured light.

I smile.

My surprise still awaits your discovery.

You feel your way slowly along the wall and take a faltering stumbled step into the kitchen. The light switch disappoints you once more.

The language that follows that discovery explodes in the air. I hear you open the refrigerator to confirm to yourself that this lack of light has permeated the entire apartment. You shrug out of your coat and drop it to the floor, uncaring of the dirt and clutter it now lay amongst.

You find the bottle of scotch and slam cupboard doors seeking a glass. There are none. They lay in a disordered mess of unwashed utensils still awaiting attention on the food scrap cluttered kitchen bench.

I hear you curse as you stagger. The booze you’ve been consuming for hours rattles your movements and makes them disjointed.

You sit heavily in the easy chair uncaring of the scattered and dirty clothing that cushions your weight.

You unscrew the lid of the scotch bottle and take several satisfying gulps.

The anticipation makes me quiver now.

I have waited so long for this.

The cigarette lighter grants you a drag of the nicotine that is but one thing on your list of addictions.

The clock ticks over again and moves time relentlessly forward.

The bathroom awaits your imminent arrival and you curse again at your now shaking hands as you seek out your ever-present stash of heroin. You scream in rage and frustration when you finally acknowledge that there is none to be found.

I hear you slamming the walls with your now white-knuckled fists.

I reach across and flick off the power override switch. I illuminate the apartment.

It takes brief seconds for you to lurch back into view.

“Melody? Why the fuck didn’t you tell me you were here? What the hell! When did you get back?”

“I discharged myself from the hospital.”

“Oh. Good. This place is a mess. It needs cleaning.”

“Yes, Charles. Yes, it does.”

I watch you nod your head, pleased at my response.

You check your wallet, quickly counting the bills waiting inside. You confirm your decision, “I  need to go out. Fix me something to eat. I won’t be long.”

“Why do you need to go out again? It’s raining.”

I watch you glare at me for daring to question you. “I need a fix. I’m heading to see Freddy.”

“There’s no need. I stopped by and saw him on the way home. I wanted to give you a surprise.”

You smile for the first time. “Well, now. That’s fine. That’s good.”

“Do you want me to get it?”

You now wear your frustrated look. “Fuck yes. Of course. Hurry up.”

“Sorry. It’s a little hard to walk with my ribs strapped.”

“You’re always sorry. You’re pathetic!”

I access the bedroom and return with his fix, and watch as he draws it up and applies the tourniquet to his upper left arm.

“You broke my jaw again, and two ribs this time.”

You glare at me as I dare to disturb your concentration, “You shouldn’t aggravate me like you do. You know you asked for it.”

The smack hits you, and I watch as your pupils dilate. The sickly smile that you now wear is most unattractive.

I wait.

You look suddenly startled. I watch the confusion on your face turn to fear … and then a moment of understanding colors your now bulging eyes. “Fuck! Fuck, Melody! What did you d…………….”

I wait.

You make a gargled choking noise as you begin to foam at the mouth.

I wait for five minutes and then check for a heartbeat … I smile … there is none.

I need to be certain that reviving you is not possible. Fifteen minutes should do it.

I punch in a number on my iPhone.

“911. What is the nature of your emergency?”

“Oh, God … help me, please! Please! I’ve just found my husband. He’s not breathing. Please … I think he’s overdosed.”

The kind operator took my address, “Okay. Stay calm. I have paramedics on the way.”

“Hurry! Hurry, please, please hurry.”

I turn off the lights and sit within darkness’s velvet cloak. My iPhone torch casts a spotlight on your rapidly cooling body.

I smile.

The rigid look of fear on your now strictured face brings me comfort. “Did you like my little surprise, Charles?”

I hear the sirens approaching.

I laugh in delight as the heady rush of adrenaline-fuelled relief floods my system.

The dawn light is just filtering through the balcony windows. Soon now I’ll have no need to seek the comfort of darkness.

I wait now. I have finally regained control.

Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH "RWISA" WRITE Showcase Tour today!  We ask that if you have enjoyed this member's writing, please visit her Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of her writing, along with her contact and social media links, if she's turned you into a fan.

We ask that you also check out her books in the RWISA or RRBC catalogs.  Thanks, again for your support and we hope that you will follow each member along this amazing tour of talent!  Don't forget to click the link below to learn more about this author:

If you are a writer and would like to join this elite group of excellent writers, click here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Watch #RWISA Write - Day 8 - #RRBC #RRBCWRW


It's that time of year where we celebrate amazing authors through the "Watch RWISA Write" Showcase Tour.  Each day, I will share with you a different author who truly deserves your attention and support. Each author has written a new piece specifically to share with you, so enjoy! Today's author is:



Trouble by John W. Howell ©2018
I know it's morning, but I don’t want to open my eyes. I am starting to remember what went on last night and I don’t even want to imagine who might be sleeping next to me. Not that I think there is anyone there since I’m pretty sure I came home alone. I didn’t want to go back alone, and god knows I tried hard to prevent sleeping by myself. I do remember coming on to the beautiful woman in the bar. Wait a minute. I remember it because it was so early in the evening, I didn’t have a lot to drink then. I know I drink too much and lately, I have been having a hard time getting the events of the previous night together. Okay, so before I open my eyes, I will give a thought to what I believe the evening turned out to be.
First, I met David at the bar, and we had a drink. I ordered gin on the rocks and David had bourbon. So far so good. David and I were discussing something about workout shoes, then he left for the bathroom. The woman came in and asked if I would mind buying her a drink. She had some story about losing her purse and being pretty much stranded. I remember asking her if she had someone she could call. I think she told me, no, but I’m not sure. Anyway, we had a couple more drinks, and sometime in there, David came back. I introduced the woman to David. I think her name was Chloe or Carolyn. By this time, I am starting to feel pretty good. I ask her if she would like to stay over and I remember her telling me she was not that kind of girl. We had some more drinks and then decided to go to dinner. I asked the woman if she would like to join us and she was pretty definite about the decline. I chalked it up to my usual déclassé, and David and I left.
Now from there, it is a little fuzzy. I remember ordering dinner and a couple more drinks. I really don’t remember finishing the meal or leaving the place. This lack of memory is foretelling me that from experience the outcome will not be good. I’m sure David and I went out after dinner as we always do and so there are some blank places where mayhem could have occurred. I am now sweating quite hard, and it isn’t the heat either. The room must be fifty degrees if it is one. The sweat is as a result of the sinking, bottom of stomach pit nervousness coming from the fact I have no idea what I did after we left the restaurant. My head is also beginning to ache as a warning to my body the caffeine level in my system is getting dangerously low. I am afraid I have no alternative, but to get up and face whatever needs facing so I can get some coffee. I know I will also need some painkiller as well. I will try aspirin and know from previous headaches I will need to wash it down with about three fingers of vodka. No ice just the ice-cold vodka from the freezer in a glass with no ceremony. Get it into the system fast so the memory will come back, and these infernal shakes will slow down for the moment.
I steel myself and get ready to get out of the bed. I will need to move my body slowly, so I don’t cause a situation that inevitably leads to nausea and the arrival of the dreaded throw up that doesn’t have the decency to come when I’m numb and in the bag. I know my body would prefer if I did, in fact, throw up, but my mind still considers throwing up the sign of someone who can’t hold their liquor. God knows I can hold mine even if I can’t remember a damn thing about the night before. Now is the time to open the eyes and have a look around. I do the left one first since I think I am closer to the left side of the bed and I’m sure no one is there. When I open my eye, I can almost hear the tearing of the lids as they try to separate. Another joy of falling asleep drunk; the eyes feel glued shut. I look with my left eye and see nothing but the bedroom window looking reddish and covered in the gauzy curtains one of my past loves put up there. The red glow must be the bloodshot view my iris gets looking out of my eyeball.
I open the right and almost scream out loud. My worst nightmare has come true and is lying next to me. That beautiful Chloe or Caroline is sound asleep, and now I have to wonder why I didn’t feel the heat of her body before I opened my eyes. Immediately the old Coyote ugly joke comes to mind about chewing off an arm to get away, but this woman is not ugly and not on my arm. I begin to hyperventilate since no good can come from not remembering how this lovely creature ended up in my bed. I can see she doesn’t seem to have a shirt on either. I am not about to probe to understand about the pants and must try to get to my medications before I actually throw up right here in the bed. I roll to the left and swing my legs over the edge of the bed and sit up as gracefully as I can. I see I am completely naked and instead of feeling free, I believe I feel more like someone who has a clamp around the midsection. I rise off the bed very slowly.
“Morning darling,” she says.
“Uh good morning,” I say. “Would you like some coffee?”
“Ummm that sounds so good right now.”
“I’ll be right back. Don’t go away.”
“Oh, don’t worry I won’t.”
Son of a bitch. What the hell have I done now? I can feel my gag reflex starting to go into automatic drive, so I rush to the kitchen and open the freezer. The vodka is right there, and I am not even going to wait for the glass. I take three big swallows and hold my breath. My stomach gives a lurch like I just dropped an explosive down the hatch but retains the liquid in place. “God thank you,” I say out loud. It Looks like I can go to the coffee machine and brew some strong stuff. At times like these, I am so thankful I quit smoking. As bad as I feel, had I consumed a couple of packs of smokes, I would have wanted to kill myself about now. I hold on to the counter as the coffee begins its cycle.
“How do you feel?”
I wheel around and almost lose my precious vodka which is just starting to worm its way into my brain. “I feel like shit.”
“I am not surprised. When I ran into you again, you were pretty wasted.”
“Whoa, I sure was. Where is David?"
 “You and David got into a fight.”   
“A fight? What were we fighting about?”
“You wanted to take me home, and David didn’t want you to do so.”
“So, where is he?”
 “I really don’t know. We left him on the street.”
“What? Left him on the street? Why the hell did we do that?”
“As I said you were pretty wasted.”
“Yeah but leaving him passed out on the street.”
“Oh, he wasn’t passed out.”
“What was he?”
“You shot him. I believe David is dead.”
“Shot him? How is that possible. I don’t own a gun.”
“That didn’t stop you from finding one.”
“Finding one? Where did I find a gun?”
“I loaned you mine.”
“And I shot David with it?”
“Yup. Right in the back as he tried to walk away.”
“Oh my God. What on Earth made me do that? He’s my best friend.”
"Was. I wouldn’t say it was an Earthly persuasion. I do believe my work is done here.”
“Your work?  What do you mean?”
“Hear those sirens. They are coming for you. I called them. I would get some clothes on if I were you. Oh, and a piece of advice.”
“Advice?”
“Yeah. Think twice before you decide to mess with the devil. See you on the other side.” 

Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH "RWISA" WRITE Showcase Tour today!  We ask that if you have enjoyed this member's writing, please visit his Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of his writing, along with his contact and social media links, if he's turned you into a fan.


We ask that you also check out his books in the RWISA or RRBC catalogs.  Thanks, again for your support and we hope that you will follow each member along this amazing tour of talent!  Don't forget to click the link below to learn more about this author:

If you are a writer and would like to join this elite group of excellent writers, click here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Watch #RWISA Write - Day 7 - #RRBC #RRBCWRW


It's that time of year where we celebrate amazing authors through the "Watch RWISA Write" Showcase Tour.  Each day, I will share with you a different author who truly deserves your attention and support. Each author has written a new piece specifically to share with you, so enjoy! Today's author is:



The Cowgirls of Serratogha.
By Wendy Scott.
A companion scene to my fantasy WIP, ‘Rainmaker’.
My spirits lifted when I spied structures rising above the prairie. For the last three days, the landscape had consisted of uninterrupted cornflower skies above an endless sea of grassland. Occasionally, a wild cow had burst out of the greenery and trotted alongside the horses, before abandoning our company to munch on the juiciest shoots lining the roadside.
I grasped the seat as my boss snapped the reins, urging the horses to quicken their pace. The wooden wheels creaked, and the glass bottles in the back of the wagon chinked together, but Zachery didn’t ease up. Towns equalled business and Dr. Zachery Theopold Montgomery knew how to charm the purse strings open from even the most sceptical non-believers.
This place wasn’t like any of the other towns Zachery plied his lies. Most townships’ main thoroughfares consisted of churned sludge. A medley of mud and manure, with a few planks placed precariously over stagnant puddles. Dried splotches marked my breeches from where I’d previously stumbled into a knee-deep pothole filled with slush I hoped was only mud and water.
Up close, there were only a handful buildings, but a freshly painted signpost declared we’d entered the township of Serratogha. The horses’ hooves clip-clopped on a smooth expanse of cobblestones. Pastel pink paint coated the hotel, tubs overflowed with rainbow-hued pansies and white roses entwined the veranda posts. I breathed in the floral scents. It sure smelt sweeter than any of the other places we’d passed through.
Laughter tinkled from above, and a feminine voice purred, “Theo, you old snake charmer, about time you came back for a visit. Ya’ll make sure you mark my dance card.”
A lacy handkerchief dangled out of another upstairs window. “Forget dancing, come and play tie-ups.”  
Zachery straightened and pushed his shoulders back, but the brass buttons on his red jacket strained across his chest and stomach. “Gals, no need to fight over me. I plan on being here for a few days, so plenty of time for us all to get acquainted.”
A blonde head peeked out a third window. “Don’t be shy. Bring your good-looking friend.”
Zachery’s ginger eyebrows arched as he coaxed the horses around the corner. “Shame on you, ladies. Harper’s a mere lad of fourteen.”
“Not for long. We’d make a man out of him.”
My cheeks reddened, and I slunk down on the wagon seat.
Window boxes, bursting with sunflowers decorated the stables, and the same shade of pink paint glazed the boards. As soon as we pulled up, two teenage girls, garbed in tight legged chaps, pink and white checked shirts, and cowboy hats darted up to the side of the wagon. Zachery climbed down and tossed the reins at the tallest girl.
One leather-gloved hand caught them. “Jersey-Jayne said for you to go on up to the bathhouse first, as she wants to discuss business. Daisy and I will see to your horses, and we’ll secure your wagon out back.”
Zachery flicked a couple of brass coins toward the other girl. “Young ladies, I’m much obliged.”
He unbuttoned his coat, stuck his thumbs inside his suspenders, and whistled as he pranced towards a third pink-frosted building. I scrambled after him.
Bells chimed on the door, announcing our entry. A placard on the wall listed the range of bathing services available at the ‘Squeaky Inn’. I wasn’t sure what they all meant, and the lowest price was more than I’d earn in a month. Back home, our mamma had insisted her seven children all bathe monthly. We had to share the tepid, murky water and I reckon sometimes I emerged filthier than before I took a dip in the tin tub.
Beaded curtains swished aside, discharging a fully grown woman. Under her pink cowboy hat, dark chocolate plaits swayed on either side of her doll face. Her checked shirt was unbuttoned, but hog-tied under her breasts, revealing a mountainous cleavage, and tanned midriff. Zachery licked his fingers and fussed with his ginger moustache, smoothing the ends until they resembled feline whiskers.  
She slipped her arm through his elbow. “Welcome to Serratogha. I’m Jersey-Jayne, Head Wrangler for the cowgirls. Come through, and let’s get you all cleaned up before we discuss business. My girls report that you specialize in elixirs that are beneficial for enhancing particular social activities.”
“You’re well informed, little lady.” He patted a bottle-shaped bulge in his jacket pocket. “Fortunately, I have brought some samples with me. May I be so bold to suggest we partake in a demonstration where we can mix business and pleasure?”
My face flamed, wishing I’d never agreed to be his assistant. I shouldn’t have left the family farm. Zachery turned to me and made shooing motions. “Harper, out back there’s facilities for the hired help. Go and wash up. I’ll see you at suppertime in the hotel.”
Outside I found tendrils of steam escaping from a trough of frothy water scented with lavender. I’d never had a bath all to myself before. No one was around, so I stripped off my stained clothes and slid into the water. Travel-weary muscles unwound, and I closed my eyes. Bliss.
“Is that a tattoo?”
A tidal wave sloshed over the side as I bolted awake. Daisy, the shorter stable girl, peered at the feather shape on my arm. I was thankful for the camouflaging layer of bubbles.
“No, it’s a birthmark.”
She pulled back her shirt sleeve and compared the tanned, but unblemished skin on her forearm against my cinnamon tones. “Are you from the Tribes?”
I shook my head. “I’ve never laid eyes on a native. Zachery mentioned he’d once taken one on as an assistant, but he didn’t last long as he was a drunkard. Reckons they’re all horse-thieving savages.”
Daisy shrugged. “I dunno about that. Anyways, I brought you some clean clothes and a towel.” She scooped up my discarded outfit. “If you want, when you’re done, I can show you around.”
I leapt out of the cooling water and scooted into the garments before she returned. They fit well and were of a better quality than the ones I’d been wearing. I wondered if I’d get to keep them. Zachery wasn’t fond of spending coins on anyone but himself.
Five minutes later, Daisy appeared. “Come on. Follow me, and I’ll show you the real Serratogha.”
A path, well trampled by many boots, cut through the tall grass and led away from the township. We threaded past corrals filled with cattle. Further afield, cowgirls on horseback steered herds of cattle in and out of the larger pastures. Ahead, smoke rose from several chimneys and mingled with the smell of manure. This settlement was much larger than the sugar-coated town we’d come from. There were over fifty dwellings, including a church, and trading post. Bright flags fluttered from posts, wind chimes swung in the breeze, and cow horns adorned gates.
Daisy grinned. “Most gentlemen visitors don’t know this place exists. They don’t tend to venture far from the bathhouse or the hotel.”
High-pitched giggles followed a horde of barefoot children who skipped around the houses. Their contrasting shades of hair and skin reminded me of my cavalcade of brothers and sisters. Annabel and Sue-Ellen, blue-eyed and fair, like our mother. Ginger curls and green eyes complimented Katie’s pale skin. The twins, Billie and Willie, sported light brown hair and hazel eyes. Jimbo was the spitting image of our Pa, with his darker shade of brown hair and grey eyes. And then there was me with my straight raven-hair and amber eyes.
One small boy with feathers threaded in his dark hair paused and stared at me. Amber eyes met amber eyes for a brief second before he raced off and joined his friends. The feather mark on my arm tingled.
“You sure you’re not part native?” asked Daisy.

Pa’s leaving words flooded my thoughts. Is this what he’d been hinting at? Could it be that he wasn’t my real father? And if he wasn’t, who was?

Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH "RWISA" WRITE Showcase Tour today!  We ask that if you have enjoyed this member's writing, please visit her Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of her writing, along with her contact and social media links, if she's turned you into a fan.

We ask that you also check out her books in the RWISA or RRBC catalogs.  Thanks, again for your support and we hope that you will follow each member along this amazing tour of talent!  Don't forget to click the link below to learn more about this author:

If you are a writer and would like to join this elite group of excellent writers, click here.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Watch #RWISA Write - Day 6 - #RRBC #RRBCWRW


It's that time of year where we celebrate amazing authors through the "Watch RWISA Write" Showcase Tour.  Each day, I will share with you a different author who truly deserves your attention and support. Each author has written a new piece specifically to share with you, so enjoy! Today's author is:



OUT TO PASTURE
Musings of an Erstwhile Asia Hand
by Ron Yates, 
RRBC 2017 KCT Int'l Literary Award Grand Prize Winner


He watched the hawk circling high in an infinite Southern California sky, far above the shaggy brown hills that loomed behind acres of avocado and orange trees. Every so often the hawk would dip as though preparing to dive on its unsuspecting prey, but then it would pull up abruptly, unsatisfied with the approach to its target, waiting perhaps for a better opportunity.

He knew this hawk. He had seen it before. There were two patches of vermilion feathers on the underside of its broad chestnut wings that reminded him of the red circles that adorned the wingtips of the Japanese fighter planes he used to see in the Pacific during World War II.

He closed his eyes, allowing the warm sun to wash over him. The only sound other than the crisp dry wind that blew up the long pass from La Jolla, was the dull whine of the automatic pool cleaner as it made its programmed passages back and forth in the pool next to the patio. For a moment he could feel himself being pulled back to a time when the heavy coughs of old propeller-driven fighters ripped through the dense, fragrant tropical air like a dull knife through perfumed silk.

For a brief moment, he pictured himself sitting at his old black Underwood, pounding out another story of some long-forgotten battle in World War II, or Korea, or Vietnam that he had covered. He could almost see the white typing paper rolled half-way out of the typewriter and he could see his By-Line typed neatly just above the first sentence of the story:

"By Cooper McGrath
 Global News Service."

He sighed and shifted his body in the pool-side lounge chair, allowing his growing potbelly to slide slowly to the other side of his frame. “Typewriters,” he thought. “Nobody even knows what they are today.”

Then he reached for his binoculars so he could get a better view of the hawk.

"Look at old Zero-sen up there. He's going in for the kill."

"Zero-sen?" Ellen was still puttering around the patio, watering potted plants and trees.

"Yeah, the hawk. That's what I call him. Look at those red spots on his wings. He looks like one of those old Japanese Zeros."

Ellen squinted up at the sky and frowned. "You have a lively imagination, Cooper."

The hawk continued to circle, but it was moving further away. Finally, it dipped below a small rise and disappeared. When it reappeared, it was carrying something in its talons. Cooper exhaled and at the same time pounded his ample belly, the sound of which reverberated across the patio like a hollow drum. Then he pulled himself upright in the recliner.

"I always did, you know."

"Did what?" Ellen asked, only half paying attention to what her brother was saying.

"Have a lively imagination."

"Oh, that." She was on her knees pushing sticks of fertilizer into her potted plants. "And as I recall, it always got you in trouble."

"Is it time for lunch?" he asked, rising slowly to his feet. "God," he groaned. "I'm stiff as a dead tree." He looked at his watch. It was already one-thirty in the afternoon—way past his usual lunchtime and his stomach was growling.

"You don't get enough exercise, Cooper. I keep telling you, you should enroll in that aerobics class they're offering down at the clubhouse."

She stood looking at him for a few moments, hands on hips, white, wide-brimmed gardening hat shading her beige face from the hot sun. She loved her brother mightily, but it saddened her to see him in such physical and mental decline. Why had the Global News Service pushed him into retirement? He had given his life to that ungrateful news agency.

As he stretched his arms skyward Cooper's ever-expanding belly caused the bottom of his shirt to pull out of his shorts at the midriff, revealing a roll of untanned flesh the color of boiled pork. Finally, she shook her head and made one of those disapproving clucking sounds with her tongue.

"I'll call you when lunch is ready. Why not take a few laps in the pool, or even better, call the clubhouse about that senior’s aerobics class?"

Cooper mumbled some acquiescent reply as Ellen walked into the house. She was right of course. But at 70 he didn't feel any particular need to jog around a room with a bunch of other ill-proportioned old farts in tights. Hell, he was retired. Why did he have to do anything at all? Hadn't he worked his ass off all his life? Didn’t he risk his life reporting stories nobody cared about? Didn't he deserve some time off to do, well, to do nothing? Nothing at all? Hell yes, he did.

He sighed heavily, and a bit guiltily. He always did when he remembered the half-finished manuscript in his small office. It sat there day after day on the desk next to his laptop computer—unfinished, unedited and unsold. Sometimes he half expected it to finish itself, to somehow link up magically with his mind, download forty years of journalistic experience and then turn it all into some kind of marketable prose that a big time publisher would snap up without hesitation.

But it didn't work that way. He knew that. Oh, how he knew that. After years of meeting one deadline after another—thousands and thousands of them—if there was one thing Cooper McGrath knew it was that nothing got written until he sat down at his typewriter and began banging it out. Then, about five years ago, toward the end of his career as a foreign correspondent, he had reluctantly traded in his typewriter for a computer. The laptop had been sent over to Singapore by his editors. He would no longer roam the Asian continent as he had for most of his professional life. Instead, he would write a column every two weeks that focused on current events. And that's what he had done for the past few years. His job, he was told, was to insert his years of historical perspective into dispatches written by less knowledgeable, more youthful correspondents.

Cooper knew what was really going on, of course. He was being put out to pasture. Sure, the discipline was the same. You still had to sit down in front of a blank screen and create something worth reading. The difference was the burnout. He felt as burned out as an old war correspondent could feel—like the old iron kettle in which he cooked up his special chili. He had served up so many portions of his life that there just wasn't anything left to spoon out anymore. It was 1990, and the kettle was empty—empty and caked with rust.

Yet he knew he had things to say, stories to tell, history to recount. He was, after all, an eyewitness to some of the greatest history of the Twentieth Century. World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, not to mention more than a score or so revolutions and coups d'état. When he thought about it that way, he could feel the juices stirring and bubbling in the bottom of the kettle, and he would get excited enough to walk into his small office, turn on the laptop and type a few lines. But after a while, an inexplicable gust of arid self-doubt would blow through his mind, and he would feel the passion receding. Then it would be gone—as extinct as that old black Underwood he used to pound on day after day in places like Rangoon, Saigon, and Hong Kong.

"Nobody gives a damn," Cooper would say when Ellen asked him why he didn't finish his memoirs. "It's all ancient history. Hell, I'm ancient history."

Ellen knew he was feeling sorry for himself. But she couldn't bring herself to tell him that. Instead, she guilefully nudged and tugged his ego gently back to its perch above the bleak valley of his self-doubt.

"You've seen so much, and you have such a gift for describing what you've seen," Ellen would say. "You must write it all down, to preserve it for others. That is your gift to the world. It shouldn't be wasted."

Cooper knew Ellen was right—if not for the sake of history then for the sake of his own mental and physical health. He needed to be doing something. And he had to admit, when he was writing, he felt like he was contributing again. It gave him a sense of power and purpose.

But after Toshiko's death most of the power and purpose he still possessed deserted him. He retreated emotionally and physically from the world. He gave up the grand old house in Singapore where he and Toshiko had spent the last ten years of their married life. He just couldn't bear living in it anymore—not when everything in the place reminded him of Toshiko and their life together.

For the first few weeks after Toshiko had succumbed to the ravages of cancer, Cooper would sit on the verandah of their house built during the British-raj, drinking one vodka-tonic after another and wondering why Toshiko had to be the first to go. He always figured he would be the first. After all, he was the physical wreck, not Toshiko. She had taken care of herself. Her 5-foot 2-inch body was as lithe and slim as it was the day he met her in 1946 in Osaka.

Cooper knew the hours spent on his verandah were nothing more than a boozy ritual of self-pity. But he didn't care. It was the only way he knew to deal with abandonment. And that's what had happened. He had been abandoned; and cheated, and irreparably damaged. By dying, Toshiko had deserted him. These were the emotions that had churned in Cooper's sozzled brain with ever-increasing velocity until late afternoon when he was, as they say, “decks-awash and listing severely to starboard.” Then, with the sun descending past the tops of the traveler palms and tamarind trees that populated his front lawn, Cooper would stumble into the house and collapse on the small bed in the guestroom. Even drunk he couldn't bring himself to sleep in the bed he had shared with Toshiko.

The self-pity finally wore off in a couple of months and so did the appeal of Singapore. After minimal coaxing from Ellen, he left Asia and moved in with his only living relative. Ellen, his little sister, lived in the sunburnt craggy hills just north of Escondido. The house was one of those rambling Spanish-style places with a red tile roof and bleached stucco walls. It had been built by Ellen's husband just before his untimely death ten years before.

Moving in with Ellen wasn’t Cooper's idea, but he was thankful she had offered. One evening in Singapore during a fierce tropical storm that had forced Cooper to retreat from the Verandah, Ellen had called, and in the course of the conversation, she suggested he come to California and help out with her thirty acres of avocado and orange groves.

A month later, after selling off five decades of Asian bric-a-brac, several rooms of teak, rosewood and rattan furniture, half of his oriental carpets and various silk screens, wall hangings and jade statuary, Cooper returned to the U.S. It was the first time he had been back in almost 20 years. When he stepped off the plane in San Diego, he couldn't help observing how sterile, how ordered, how incredibly mind-numbing it all was.

"Where's the texture?" he asked as Ellen drove him north toward Escondido.

"What?" Ellen responded.

"You know, the texture. The dirt. The coarseness. The graininess that makes a place look lived in."

Ellen had dismissed Cooper's outburst as a sign of jet lag or crankiness.

In fact, Cooper was frustrated by how little the change in scenery had done for him. He had merely traded the verandah of his house in Singapore for the poolside patio of Ellen's mountainside villa. There was one huge difference, of course. There was no booze to be had anywhere in Ellen's house. Just lots of lemonade and cases of those flavored ice tea drinks that were so irritatingly trendy.

And so it had gone for the past six months that he had lived with his sister in the hills north of Escondido. He purged the booze from his system, but not the pain. He drank lots of ice tea and lemonade and every so often the two of them took day trips to places like the old missions at San Juan Capistrano or San Luis Rey, or the old stagecoach town of Temecula, or the posh resorts of La Jolla.

If nothing else, Cooper was getting to know his kid sister once again and Ellen was rediscovering her brother. Nevertheless, sometimes she thought he would have been better off staying in Singapore. But she was the only family Cooper had left and it distressed her to know he was alone and suffering in Asia.

Cooper watched Ellen as she reemerged from the house and moved across the patio with the water hose trained on the hanging plants. He closed his eyes and imagined Toshiko standing on the long wooden verandah of their Singapore house under slowly turning teakwood paddle fans fussing with the bougainvillea and orchids. It was too easy. All he had to do was will her into his consciousness and there she would be, just as she had always been. That was the problem. As much as he had loved Toshiko in life, he found himself consumed with an even stronger love for her in death. Sometimes he thought it was becoming his own personal cancer, and he had no doubt that it was killing him.

Cooper paced the length of the patio, spent a moment or two pushing himself up by the toes, then walked back to the lounge chair, eased himself onto its thick foam rubber cushions and closed his pale blue eyes under freckled eyelids.

"That’s enough exercise for today. I think I'll take a little nap."

Ellen looked over at him and shook her head. His tanned legs with their crepey skin extended from knee-length blue shorts and his meaty, liver-spotted hands rested on a half-buttoned red, yellow and blue Hawaiian shirt that threatened to burst open with each of his breaths.

"You really are a lazy old bear, Mr. McGrath."

Cooper, muttered an indistinct reply and watched Ellen as she pottered past him into the house. He closed his eyes, yawned, and began drifting away to another time in a vanished world where his personal cloistered refuge awaited.

“Tomorrow,” he mused. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll come in from the pasture.”


The End

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