Browsing for Trouble paperback

Initially, I planned to release the latest Phee adventure only in ebook format. Due to popular demand (and protests from some of my avid readers who hate using a Kindle), I’m pleased to announce that the paperback version will be available later this week!  I’m reviewing the proof copy and once I give the thumbs up, it will be available for purchase.

The next book in the series, Cataloged Under Catastrophe, is slated for an early fall release. I can’t wait to see what happens at Juliet’s wedding and see if Lu changes her mind about including Anthony in her life!

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NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2017

It seems I’m destined to write horror for my challenges with NYC Midnight. My draw on this year’s challenge was horror, substitute teacher and surprise party. I think my short story successfully met each requirement. What do you think?

 

LITTLE GIRLS

“Daddy said Mommy’s head was broken like an egg,” Chelsea said to Amanda. “I tried to wake her up to fix me breakfast, but she just laid there. Now she’s gone, and I don’t have anyone to play with at home.”

“Chelsea. Amanda. It’s time to finish your lunch and put up your tray.”

“Yes, Miss Presley,” the girls said in singsong voices causing goosebumps to appear on my arms.

The two girls stood up and pushed in their chairs. Grabbing their trays, they marched together to dump the remains of their lunch. Their small, blonde heads leaned together as they shared secrets that only other seven-year-olds could know. Chelsea glanced over her shoulder at me and gave me a smile.

It was the end of my first week as a long-term substitute teacher at Mount Holy Cross Catholic School for Girls. Chelsea Pickerall had been my biggest challenge in the classroom. She was sneaky, and I knew she was the kid who had filled my pencil holder with glue. The first grade teacher, Roberta Newsome, told me that Chelsea’s mother had died the previous year, so I knew it was probably normal behavior. Chelsea was processing her mother’s death and acting out. I was a sub though, not a trained psychiatrist. Stuff like this was way above my substitute teacher’s pay grade.

I needed cash, so no matter how much grief these little girls gave me, I had to stick it out until I had enough money to move out of the basement room I rented. Gary, the guy who owned the house, didn’t understand the concept of boundaries and personal space. Two weeks ago, I had caught him rifling through my panty drawer. He had claimed he had spotted a mouse running into my room and was trying to catch it, but I had my doubts. I needed to move before I ended up down in a hole as Gary lowered lotion in a bucket to me.

When I got home that afternoon, Gary the Perv was still at work. I had a surprise party to attend that evening, so I kicked off my sensible shoes and shucked off my kid-friendly, boring brown pants and white blouse. I planned to meet my friend Angie for drinks at her apartment before heading to the party. I wanted to be long gone before my roomie came home.  I showered then slipped into a shimmery black dress. I paired it with some black strappy sandals with heels so high I could almost touch the angels.

I thought I was home-free as I closed my bedroom door behind me and started up the basement steps, but just like most of my life, I was the unluckiest girl in a town full of leprechauns and four-leaf clovers. Gary the Perv stood at the top of the steps, a huge grin on his face.

“You’re looking mighty fine tonight, Morgan. Hot date?” His gray, lizard-like tongue flicked across his chapped lips. His watery pale blue gaze crawled up my legs and took up residence at my cleavage.

“Something like that.” I tried to push past him, but his bulging belly blocked my passage to freedom.

“Stay and have a drink with me before you go. Surely, you can spare a few minutes. I’ve got some cold PBRs in the fridge. A cold beer might cool down some of your hotness.” He smoothed his thinning gray ponytail with his grease-covered hand and wiggled one eyebrow at me.

“Uh, no thanks. I’m running late. Maybe next time.” With a final push, I squeezed past his bulk and practically ran through the living room and out the front door.

“I could give you a night you’d never forget,” Gary called after me.

I slid into the front seat of my trusty old Volvo and fired up the engine. If I could have spun tires getting away from there, I would have, but I contented myself with a small backfire as I sped away.

“You could stay here with me,” Angie said as she poured me another glass of red wine as I related the latest bout with Gary.

“Nah. Your apartment’s so small you have to stick your leg out the bathroom window just to shave it. I value our friendship too much to make you share a space with me and my habits.” I took a sip of wine. “I’ve got to get a better job than substitute teaching. There’s the weirdest little girl in my class. I should feel sorry for her because her mom died, but she gives me the willies. Little girls are so creepy.”

“For tonight, forget about Gary and scary kids and just focus on fun. The house where this party is being held is a mansion. The guy that owns it does something with stocks. I’m not really sure, and I don’t really care. I plan to eat, drink and pick up a handsome man and let him have his way with me,” Angie said. She clinked her wine glass against mine. “You in?”

“Most definitely.” I gulped down the remains of my wine. “Let’s get this party started. Whoop whoop!”

An hour later, the taxi was pulling up to the biggest old house I’d ever seen outside of the movies. There were two cars parked out front, but the house didn’t look like it was lit up for a party. “Who did you say this surprise party was for?” I asked Angie.

“Oh, some friend of a friend. Who cares? We’re here to get our drink on and have some fun. Life is too short to sweat the details, Morgan. You really do need to lighten up and live a little. Come on!” She climbed out of the back of the taxi and handed the driver a twenty. “Keep the change.”

I followed behind her as she sashayed her way up the steps to the front door. Angie and I had only been friends for the past few months, but we’d clicked when we met at the nail salon where she worked. She was the ultimate party girl and exactly what I needed after my last relationship crashed and burned so badly I had to leave town and move here to Lawrenceville. Angie opened the front door of the house.

“Ang! Shouldn’t you knock?” I asked.

“It’s a party. Quit being such a stick.” She walked in and left me standing outside on the steps. I hesitated. My mother would have killed me walking into someone’s home unannounced. Mama wasn’t here though. She had died three years ago leaving me with a mountain of debt as my only inheritance. Shaking my head at Angie’s boldness, I walked up the steps. As I stepped into the house, the door slammed shut behind me. Startled, I jumped. A breeze had been stirring the leaves in the trees outside. It had probably caught the door and slammed it shut.

I looked around the entry hall. A few candles set on a long table flickered and cast shadows that danced across the pale walls. A center staircase led to a darkened upstairs floor. Where in the hell was Angie?

“Hello? Where is everyone?” My voice echoed. Maybe they were in a room somewhere else in the house and couldn’t hear me. I walked towards the first closed doorway. Opening it, I peered inside. Bookshelves lined the walls from floor to ceiling. In the center of the floor was a zebra skin rug with what looked to be a stone altar in the center of it. I moved into the room to get a closer look. I laid my hands on the cool grey stone. It hummed beneath my touch. I snatched my hands back.  Peering at the shelves, I noticed that the titles were mostly in Latin or Greek. I wished I’d paid more attention to the nuns as a child. I pulled one of the books off the shelf. It was bound in pale leather. The title, Oera Linda, was embossed in a dark reddish-brown font across the front. The hairs at the nape of my neck stood on end as my fingertips traced the title. I heard a sound behind me and quickly shoved the book back onto the shelf.

“Hi, Miss Presley,” a small voice said behind me.

Turning, I saw Chelsea standing in the doorway. “Why hello, Chelsea. Is this your house?”

“Uh huh. Me and my Daddy’s.” Her wide blue eyes stared at me, unblinking. “What are you doing here, Miss Presley? Did you come to play with me?”

“Um. Not tonight. My friend brought me here for a party. Do you know where everyone is?” I wanted to get out of this room and away from Chelsea. The last thing I wanted to do was spend more time with her after the hell week I endured with her in my classroom.

“Yeah, but I’m not going to tell you.” Chelsea gave me an odd little smile. “If you come to my room and have a tea party with me, then I might tell you where they are.”

Screw this! I thought. I’ve had enough of this kid. I walked up to Chelsea and grabbed her arm. “Where is everybody?” I barked.

Chelsea leaned down and bit my hand. Startled, I released her arm and stepped back in shock. A perfect ring of tooth marks marred my hand “What the–?”

“Miss Presley, come play with me. If you don’t, I’ll tell Daddy that you touched me. He’ll get very angry like he did with Mommy.” She turned and started to leave the room. She looked over her shoulder and smiled. “Come play with me.”

Fuck my life, I thought. Angie will come rescue me from this little terror, and then I’m out of here.  I followed Chelsea as she led me out of the library and up the dark stairs to the second floor. I could barely see to walk. If not for the candles flickering in wall sconces and reflecting off Chelsea’s pale hair, I would have gotten lost. The house was huge. The twists and turns down the dark hallway and up another flight of stairs made it seem labyrinthian.  Finally, Chelsea opened a door at the top of a final flight of stairs and as she did, light cascaded down. I practically dashed up the last few steps in my eagerness to leave the darkness behind me. The room Chelsea brought me to was wallpapered in a dusty pink flowered pattern with white stripes. A small canopy bed occupied the center of the room, and numerous dolls and stuffed animals littered the floor. I practically collapsed in relief at the normalcy of the scene in front of me.

“Come try some of my special honey tea,” Chelsea commanded. She sat primly at a small pink and white table, a doll clutched tightly to her chest.

“Okay,” I said. Anything to stay in this light-filled room and out of the dark recesses of the rest of the house. Surely Angie would come looking for me soon. After all, it was her idea to get me to come to this party.  I folded my adult frame into the child-sized chair and watched Chelsea pour tea from a petite teapot painted with dancing bunnies. When she was done pouring, I picked up the teacup and pretended to take a sip.

“That’s cheating, Miss Presley. You have to really drink the tea, or I won’t tell you where the party is.”

I rolled my eyes at this mini-dictator holding a doll and drank the entire cup of tea down in one gulp. It was surprisingly good. “Yummy,” I said in a saccharine sweet voice. “Where is everyone, Chelsea? A deal’s a deal.”

“You suck,” Chelsea pouted. “I want someone to play with me. I’m lonely since Mommy left. You need to stay here with me forever.” She slammed the teapot down on the table causing brown liquid to splash out of the spout.

My head started to pound. I tried to stand up and leave, but my legs suddenly felt like two sacks filled with concrete. I looked at Chelsea. Her petite features seemed to melt together into a pale blur. Her small, gray tongue flicked out across her chapped pink lips. “Don’t you want some more tea to cool down some of that hotness, Miss Presley?” Her tiny voice echoed Gary the Perv’s earlier words. She giggled.

I grabbed the small table and hauled my body up from the tiny chair. My lids felt too large and heavy for my eyes, and I struggled to hold them open. “Where’s Angie? Where’s my friend? What did you do, Chelsea?” My tongue thickened and tripped over the words as they left my mouth.

“She’s right behind you, Miss Presley. Angie’s my daddy’s new friend, but she doesn’t like to play with me.” Chelsea pointed behind me. “Daddy said I need to have my own friends.”

I slowly turned my head to see Angie standing behind me, her body wrapped tightly around a dark-haired man. One breast hung out of her dress as his large hand pinched the nipple. She arched her back in pleasure, then she moved her face close to mine. “Surprise!” Angie trilled. Her teeth were large and sharp in her red mouth as she laughed.

“What are you–”

“What am I doing?” Angie finished. “Poor Morgie Porgie. You really are a sad sack, aren’t you? It’s simple. You don’t appreciate the life you have. Whine, whine, whine. Your job sucks. Your place sucks. Face it, Morgan. Your life is one big suck festival. Chelsea needs a new playmate. Ding ding ding! You won playmate of the year. Sorry it’s not the kind that gets you a cool car and bunny ears.”

“She’s a little girl, she doesn’t–”

The room filled with laughter, the sound booming in my ears so loudly my skull seemed to crack from the sheer volume of it. I couldn’t hold my eyes open much longer. I stumbled away from Angie. My heel caught on one of the dolls, and I slammed to the floor. Before I sank into darkness, I saw Chelsea creep slowly towards my leg as her mouth widened and her tongue licked my ankle.

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NYC Midnight 2016 Screenplay challenge

NYC Midnight assigns the genre, subject and character and you have 7 days and 12 pages to write a screenplay.  I was assigned ghost story, horoscope and kidnapper.  You have to make sure all three are used in the story.   Forewarning: R-rated language for those faint of heart!

(Link opens PDF file.)

Speak

 

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Character profile: Clint Mason

A reader asked me about my character, Clint, and why he didn’t want a commitment. In my mind, Clint is a character who carries the burden of his youth and his past on his shoulders. It colors how he sees the world and views relationships. His parents had an unhealthy marriage which has now skewed Clint’s view on all romantic relationships. Phee’s flaw is that she thinks she can fix him. She has the rose-colored idea that if she loves him enough, it will fix what’s broken inside of him. I think this is a reflection on many real-life relationships, so I wanted to show it in my characters. The question that I, as the writer, must decide is should Clint change as a character or should Phee change how she views him and love him anyway? Decisions, decisions. We’ll reveal more of Phee and Clint in my next book –

Couple hand by hand at Sunset.

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One more excerpt before the book is released!

(Warning: Unedited excerpt so may contain errors.)

An hour and a half later, we pulled into the parking lot of the Lamplighter. I pulled out a compact from my purse and checked that my disguise was still in place.

“I feel ridiculous,” Juliet said. “This thing is making my face itch.”

“It’s only for a little bit longer. Remember it’s for Nellie.” I stepped out of the car and adjusted my wig. Operation Pole Dancer Recon was in play. “Remember my name is Ralph Hutchins, and you’re John Wiggins. We’re feed salesmen from Des Moines on our way back to Iowa from a big pig feed convention.”

“I hope I don’t have to pee,” Juliet complained. “I have no magic to pull that act out of my hat.”

“I’m glad I kept all the costumes from the Founder’s Day play. Who knew Ben Franklin could be pimped out to look modern. A little haircut on the wig, a ball cap, a denim shirt and jeans…Bam! Instant man.”

“I look ridiculous. This beard is over the top. I look like I’m Amish.”

“You look like a feed salesman from Iowa. It’s perfect. You only need to do one more thing to pull this disguise off.”

“What’s that?” Juliet asked.

“Lose the purse. It’s a dead giveaway.”

Juliet grabbed her keys out of her purse and tucked them into her jeans.  She wore an old shirt of our grandfather’s that had been tucked away in a box waiting for my next trip to Goodwill. I adjusted her baseball cap and decided it was now or never.

We stepped inside and I sidled up to where Bruce was tending bar again. In the deepest voice I could muster, I said, “Gimme whatever you got on tap.”

“Sure thing. How about your friend?”

“John? You wanna a beer?”

“Uh, sure, Ralph. That’d be awesome.” Juliet croaked.

I rolled my eyes at her. Feed salesmen didn’t say awesome. “Me and my pal here were just at a pig feed convention.”

“You don’t say,” Bruce said, bored. He slid two mugs of beer across to me. I dug around in my front pocket and pulled out some money to pay.

“Yep. Got some new product coming out this fall that’s going to make those hogs bacon-producing machines.” I made a show of looking at the stage. Fortune shined upon me because it was Dusty dancing. “That sure is a nice- looking filly on stage. What’s her name?”

“That’s Dusty Rose. You got lucky. It’s her last night here. She’s moving back to Louisiana this week. Why don’t you boys go and enjoy the show. Dusty will give you a private lap dance for the right price.”

“I think I’ll do that. Come on, John. Let’s cop a squat close to the stage so I can check out that prime filet.” I grabbed my beer and swaggered across the floor.

“You look and sound ridiculous,” Juliet hissed.

“At least I didn’t say that a beer would be awesome. Oh my god, are we Valley Girls?” I hissed back. I grabbed a chair next to the stage and sat down.

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Eyebrow Cyclops

(Unedited preview – may contain errors.)

A short excerpt from Permanently Deleted.  Phee has rescued a puppy named Fritz.

 

An hour later, I was at Paws n Claws Veterinary Clinic. My parents had been taking our Irish Setter, Hamlet, there for years and Dr. Vicki Betters had squeezed Fritz into her busy schedule.

Dr. Betters ran her hands over Fritz’s shaggy frame. She checked his ears and teeth and listened to his heart. “He appears to be about six months old. I’d guess he’s a mix between a Jack Russell and a long-haired Dachshund. He’s malnourished, but otherwise, he’s in good health. I’d definitely take him to a groomer to get these mats cut and for a good bath. Are you planning to keep him?”

“I think Ferdinand would never forgive me if I didn’t. He meowed up a storm until I went outside and found him.”

“He’s found his forever home,” Dr. Better said and smiled. “I’ll give him his first round of shots and a dewormer. You’ll need to bring him back in a few weeks for the second round of shots and a weight check, but I think he’ll be fine.”

Half an hour later, Fritz and I were back in Velma and heading downtown. He had a bone between his paws. The girls in the front office at the vet’s had insisted he needed a treat for being so brave when he got his shots. I pulled into a parking spot in front of Tinted Love Beauty Salon.  Kimmie and Kristin were the owners of the beauty salon slash dog grooming salon.  Since they were the only place in town that cut hair besides the barber shop, most people didn’t mind that they did dog’s hair in the back of the shop.

I opened the door of the shop and Fritz and I walked in.  Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach blared in the shop. Kimmie, the older sister, sat on a salon chair reading a gossip magazine. She hopped up when she saw me. Her short hair was shaved on one side and sported a bright shade of magenta on the remaining long lock that fell over her left eye.

“What’s up, Phee? Who’s this little guy?” Kimmie asked.

“This is Fritz. I rescued him. Dr. Betters checked him over, and she suggested I have a professional cut out all these mats. Can you fit him in on your schedule today?”

“Sure can, baby doll. Come here, Fritzie Witzie. Give Auntie Kimmie some sugar.” Kimmie took Fritz’s leash and picked him up. “I’ll have him looking like a GQ dog model in about thirty minutes. You want to wait? Kristin’s finishing up a manicure, so she can do something about those caterpillars you have growing over your eyeballs.”

My hand went to my eyebrows. “What’s wrong with my eyebrows?”

“Darling, Brooke Shields is so yesterday with the brows. You need some shaping and some thinning. Kristin will hook you up.”

“Papa, don’t preach! I’m in trouble deep! Papa, don’t preach…tra la I don’t know the rest of the words…la la la la la,” Kristin caterwauled. The woman whose nails she was polishing grimaced at the off key singing.

“Who’s that?” I asked Kimmie. I hadn’t seen the woman in town before, and she didn’t look like one of the protester.

“Her name is Elizabeth Shields and she is with the feds,” Kimmie hissed. “The FBI feds. She’s here helping investigate some kinds of financial hinky dinky going on with some business. I only know this because my cousin Grace works at the hotel where she’s staying. FYI, she knows your man, Clint. Rumor has it they were eating dinner together the other night. Everything alright between you two?”

“We’re fine. It was probably business.”

Kimmie gave me a doubtful look. Heck. The words didn’t even ring true to my own ears. Clint did say he didn’t want a commitment. Guess he was making sure I believed him. Kimmie gestured for me to take a seat and carried Fritz to the back of the salon.  A few minutes later, Kristin put the nail dryer over the agent’s hands and motioned me to a chair.

“What’s up, girl? Kimmie wasn’t kidding when she said those brows could use some love. Not tainted love either!” Kristin let out a loud guffaw of laughter at her own joke. Where her older sister was all eighties glam, Kristin was 1950s rockabilly. Both girls, however, loved karaoke and a good time and their vast array of song lyrics in their head never ceased to amaze me.

“I guess I haven’t been loving my brows. Who knew they were so needy?” I sat down and closed my eyes as she cleaned the area on my brow bone.

“How’s Clint? I bet he’s busy with this latest murder? I heard they were holding Nellie Jo as a suspect.” Kristin applied wax to one brow and seconds later, she ripped off the muslin causing me to jump out of my seat.

“Nellie had to be questioned since she’s his wife. Clint and I are good. Both of us have been busy with work and stuff,” I said nonchalantly.

Kristin applied wax to the other brow. A second later, I felt her arm jostle against me as she went to yank the second strip of muslin. “Oh crap! Oh crap!”

I opened my eyes. “What? What’s wrong?”

“I am so sorry,” Elizabeth Shields said. “I’m such a clumsy person.” She shrugged and gave me a sheepish smile.

“Phee, don’t look. I can fix it,” Kristin squeaked. “I can.” She pressed the muslin back against my brow and frantically patted it.

“Fix what?” I asked. I turned my chair to look into the mirror. I had a unibrow. As in, one eyebrow over one eye. No eyebrow over the other. “Oh my sweet pepper of paella! My eyebrow is gone!”

“It’s my fault. I was looking down at my nails and accidentally bumped Kristin. I really am sorry,” Elizabeth apologized again. If she was so sorry, why did she have a triumphant gleam to her eyes?

“It’s okay. I’m sure Kristin will fix it,” I said smoothly. No way was I going to let this polished, blonde federal agent know that inside my voice was screaming Eyebrow Cyclops!

“Your Clint’s friend, Phee, aren’t you? I’m Elizabeth Shields. He told me about you,” Elizabeth said. “I’ve got to run. I’ll buy you a cup of coffee next time I run into you to make up for this.” She strolled out the shop door.

“That little…!” Kristin fumed. “Phee, I swear she did it on purpose. There’s more than enough room for her to walk past me. I’ll fix it though.”

“How?” I said. “I look like a…a freak!” I wanted to cry, but I knew if I did, Kristin would fall apart. It wasn’t her fault.

“I’ll give you bangs!” Kristin said. “Yeah! That’s what I’ll do. I’ll give you long bangs that you can wear swooped down over one eye to hide the missing eyebrow until it grows back.”

“Like Veronica Lake?” I said with a small hint of hope that I wouldn’t be a social pariah for the next six weeks.

“I don’t know who that is, but sure.” Kristin pulled out her scissors and began to cut on my hair.  A few minutes later, she twirled my chair around to show me my new hairdo. She had managed to get my unruly red hair to fall into a natural looking swoop over my left eye. Although it didn’t hide the missing eyebrow entirely, it did make it a little less noticeable.

“I can live with it,” I said. “Worse comes to worst, I’ll hide in a dark room for the next month.”

“I am so sorry, Phee. I swear she bumped me on purpose. You can use a pencil to try to draw an eyebrow on if you think it will help. ”

“I believe you. Somehow I think Miss Elizabeth Shields, federal agent, was trying to intimidate me. Well, Ophelia Jefferson is nobody’s doormat!”

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NYC Midnight Short Story Entry – The Burnt Man

Nicola Galliani reread the note instructing him where to go after he made it through L’Isola dell Lagrime. His orders were to meet Vanzetti in New York. The date of the revolution was set. If the people ever wanted to break the stranglehold that the crooks and hucksters of Wall Street maintained on them, he couldn’t fail. With a grim smile, he folded the paper into a small rectangle and tucked it inside the band of his hat. He slipped the hat onto his head and tilted it to hide the scarring. He needed to hurry if he wanted to make it to the ship. America waited.

Thomas Sullivan looked at the Norwegian woman in front of him. Her particulars were on a landing card pinned to her dress. He verified that the information on the manifest matched the card. After a minute inspection, he gave her a curt nod and moved on to the next immigrant. He repeated the process over a hundred times every day. It was a rare occasion for him to detain anyone. When the last person from the steamship passed his station, he tallied his marks and turned in his report to the head immigration inspector. Donning his hat, he left for home. First, he planned to stop at O’Malley’s for a pint to wash the stench of hundreds of unwashed bodies from his nostrils.

Two hours later, he climbed the stairs to the set of rooms he shared with his widowed sister, Irene. He could smell the warm, yeasty scent of his sister’s bread when he entered the flat. He hung his hat and coat on a nail by the door.

“Irene, the angels in heaven envy me,” Thomas said. He sat at the table and Irene put a bowl of stew in front of him. He grabbed a slice of the bread and dipped it into the stew.

“And why is that?” Irene asked. She blew a stray curl from her eyes.

“Because I’ve got a sister who bakes me the best bread in New York.”

“Did you kiss a piece of the Blarney Stone one of those young Irish girls brought with her?”

“This load was mostly Germans and Norwegians. Different faces and accents, but the same look of confused hope on the lot of them.” Thomas mopped up the last of the stew with his bread.

“I have news,” Irene announced. “The Granvilles invited a spiritualist to the house tomorrow evening. They’re hosting a séance.”

“A séance? Why talk to the dead? There’s enough problems with the living without inviting the dead into the mix.”

“Mr. Giles asked me to stay late and help the other girls clean up after the party. I’m going to see a spirit!” Irene said excitedly. “Maybe Daniel will send me a message if he knows I’m there. If you want to come listen, I’m sure Mrs. Hudson would let you stay in the kitchen. She’s still waiting for you to come calling on her daughter, Anne.”

Irene’s husband, Daniel, had died the previous year when he fell into machinery at the factory where he worked. They had only been married six months. Thomas worried his sister would never remarry despite her attractive face and excellent cooking skills. The last thing Irene needed was to think Daniel would come back to her as a spirit.

“I don’t believe in ghosts and such. It’s not natural. The dead go to heaven or hell. They don’t wait around for some grifter to help them speak,” Thomas said.

“Well, I’m excited,” Irene declared, “and I don’t care what you say, Thomas Sullivan. My Daniel will come. Just you wait and see!” She snatched his empty bowl from the table and stalked away.

Thomas sighed. He knew his sister. Once she had an idea in her head, nothing could shake it loose. Tired from his long day, he headed to bed.

The next evening, Thomas made his way to Banker’s Row and the Granvilles’ stately home. He knocked at the rear door by the kitchen. Mrs. Hudson’s exasperated face relaxed when she saw Thomas. “Thomas! Irene told me you might come by this evening. Anne’s in the dining room, but she’ll be done soon. Would you like a bit of supper while you wait?”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson. A bite to eat would be most welcome after today.” Thomas settled onto a wooden chair. “Irene said there was a séance this evening. Have they started?”

“So much foolishness. Folks with too much money and time on their hands and not enough sense. Madame Valentina, as she calls herself, is here. She’s waiting for her men to finish setting up the room.” Mrs. Hudson placed a plate with a generous slice of roast and vegetables in front of him.

“Irene believes Daniel is somehow going to speak to her tonight,” Thomas said. “I tried to tell her it’s all fakery, but she wouldn’t listen.”

“Anne tried to tell her the same thing,” Mrs. Hudson said. She pulled a pie from the cupboard and sliced a generous portion. She slid it onto his plate.

The door between the kitchen and hallway swung open. Anne and Irene rushed into the kitchen giggling. The dishes they carried threatened to topple to the ground. Thomas jumped up and relieved Anne of several plates.

“Thank you, Thomas.” Anne blushed. A plump blonde girl, Anne Hudson always had a smile on her face.

“You’re most welcome,” Thomas said and carried the plates to the sink. “Have the shenanigans started?”

“Thomas!” Irene scolded. “If you met Madame Valentina, you would be a believer, too. I can sense the spirits hovering around her.”

There was a rattle of pots and a loud harrumph from Mrs. Hudson. Thomas decided to keep his own counsel and not add his thoughts on the mysterious Madame Valentina. “I’ll wait here in the kitchen until you’re done for the night.”

Irene and Anne rushed out of the kitchen to finish their chores. Thomas sat back at the table. Mrs. Hudson poured them both a cup of coffee. She heaved a tired sigh as she settled her ample frame opposite of him. “Give her time. She’s young, and it’s only been a year since Daniel passed.”

Thomas sipped his coffee. He was opening his mouth to ask Mrs. Hudson if he could call on Anne when Irene burst into the kitchen.

“Thomas! Madame Valentina says she has a message for you! Come quick!”

“What in the world…” Thomas started to protest, but Irene had already darted back down the hall. Thomas quickly followed her down the hallway to the sitting room. A dark-haired woman with a lace shawl draped over her head sat at a round table. Anne and Irene were the only other people in the room.

“Come here, Thomas Sullivan,” the woman said in a heavy Italian accent. “I don’t have much time.”

Thomas stepped hesitantly towards her. “No disrespect, ma’am, but I don’t believe in spirits.”

“It doesn’t matter!” Madame Valentina rapped her hand down on the table. “What I have to tell you is urgent and a matter of life or death! Stop the burnt man. If you don’t, hundreds will die. Now go before they return!”

Thomas stumbled out of the room and rushed back to the kitchen. He shivered despite the warmth of the room.

The next day, Thomas yawned his way through his shift at Ellis Island. Irene and he hadn’t arrived home until close to midnight. Irene had chattered about the séance nonstop. Daniel hadn’t spoken to Irene, but she thought maybe he had sent the warning to Thomas.

“Do you know a burnt man?” Irene had asked.

“No, I don’t. Nor do I need to stop anyone based on a psychic’s warning. It’s all fakery. Madame Valentina was warming up for her upcoming performance,” Thomas had replied.

He struggled to focus on the man in front of him. Mr. Manning had warned all the inspectors of a credible threat.

“We’ve received word that a group of anarchists are making their way to America from Italy and Poland,” Mr. Manning warned the immigration inspectors earlier. “You check, then double check, every man’s credentials over the coming days and weeks. You are the first line of defense against these blasted revolutionaries.”

Thomas eyed the man in front of him. An immigrant from Greece, his information appeared to be in order. He nodded, and the man moved forward. He was the last passenger.

Thomas tallied up the day’s count and handed his sheet to his boss. “I’ll see you on Monday, Mr. Manning.”

When Thomas opened the door to his home, the familiar scents and sounds that usually greeted him were absent. He found Irene sitting at the table crying.

Alarmed, Thomas asked, “What’s wrong? What happened?”

“Madame Valentina is dead.” Irene sobbed. “Murdered last night after she left the Granvilles.”

Thomas was shocked. Madame Valentina had said she didn’t have much time. Did she have a vision that she was going to die? He shook his head. What a silly thought. She had probably meant that she had to hurry because it was time for the séance. Her murder was a coincidence.

“Who killed her?” Thomas asked his sister.

“They haven’t arrested anyone.” Irene sniffled. “The circumstances were strange. She left the Granvilles shortly after midnight. Mr. Giles said she was alive when she climbed into the carriage. By the time she arrived at her hotel, she was dead. Stabbed through the heart! The police questioned the driver. According to him, he never stopped between the Granvilles and the hotel. He had no blood on him, so the police believe him. This is awful.” She pressed a handkerchief to her mouth and tried to calm down.

Thomas gave his sister an awkward pat. Although the spiritualist’s death was shocking, the woman was a virtual stranger. “The police will figure it out. People like her often come into contact with rough characters.”

“She promised to try to channel Daniel for me. Now I’ll never have a chance to speak to him!” Irene wailed. She ran from kitchen and slammed her bedroom door shut behind her.

Thomas considered going after Irene but decided to let her be. The emotions of women baffled him at times. Clearly, dinner wouldn’t be appearing, so he put his hat back on and went in search of a corner pub and a cold pint.

On Monday, Thomas reported to work as usual. He and Irene had passed Sunday with nothing more said about the murder of Madame Valentina. They attended church a few blocks from their home and ate a cold supper before they retired to bed early.

The passengers disembarking today had left the port of Le Havre in Italy three weeks ago. All of the inspectors were alert to the possibility that one of these passengers could be planning an attack similar to the bombings throughout the city in the previous year. Ellis Island, or the Island of Tears as the immigrants called it, was the gateway, and Lady Liberty reigned as gatekeeper; however, it was the immigration inspectors who ensured those allowed through were worthy.

The majority of the passengers filing past Thomas were women and children. A few men had passed through his station earlier, but none of them had seemed suspicious. He gave the old woman in front of him a smile. Her daughter and son-in-law were already settled in Brooklyn. She was finally coming to join them and her new grandchild. He approved her entry, and she nodded her thanks. The next passenger stepped up to the station. He wore a gray cap pulled low.

“Take off your cap,” Thomas said in exasperation. Surely the translators had explained the inspection process to the man.

The man reached up and pulled off his hat. Thomas tried to hide his shock at the man’s appearance. Angry scars mottled the side of his face and twisted his mouth into a permanent grim smile.

“Fire. Burned my face,” the man said in broken English.

Thomas froze as Madame Valentina’s warning about the burnt man filled his thoughts. It had to be a coincidence. He scanned the manifest for the man’s name.

“Mi scusi. I pass?” The man gestured towards the gate.

“Um…no. Wait.” Thomas held up his hand to stop the man. He wondered if he was foolish to believe a scam artist’s warning about a burnt man. He could lose his job if he was wrong. Before he could decide, the man pushed past him and began to run.

“Stop him!” Thomas shouted. He ran after the fleeing man. The old Italian grandmother was still shuffling towards the exit. At his shout, she turned. Seeing the man running towards her, she screamed and dropped her small bag. The burnt man stumbled but quickly regained his footing. It was all Thomas needed. He leapt forward and tackled him.

Two weeks later, Thomas and Irene sat at their kitchen table. Irene listened as Thomas read the news article aloud.

“Immigration inspector, Thomas Sullivan, was instrumental in bringing Nicola Galliani to justice. A known revolutionary and avowed anarchist, Galliani refuses to speak; however, plans to bomb Wall Street were found hidden in his belongings. In a related story, Madame Valentina, spiritualist and psychic, was murdered by known associates of Galliani. The culprits worked for Mme. Valentina and used her travels throughout the city and into the many homes of our esteemed city leaders as cover for their work.” Thomas folded the paper and smiled at his sister. “The credit belongs to Madame Valentina. If not for her warning, I wouldn’t have stopped him. I have to wonder if she actually had a psychic vision or if she overheard her assistants planning an attack.”

“We’ll never know. You know what? I prefer to leave it that way,” Irene said. She stood up. “I’m off.”

“Where are you going?” Thomas asked. They usually spent their Sunday afternoons relaxing. If the weather was nice like today, they would walk to the park and feed the ducks.

“Mr. Giles asked if I would walk with him in the park today. I said yes.” Irene turned to grab her hat but not before Thomas saw the tinge of pink on her cheeks.

“I think that’s a fine idea,” Thomas said.

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