Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Emma Jameson knows exactly why you should read Blue Blooded

Blue Blooded on Amazon
I had the opportunity to sit down for chat with one of my favorite mystery writers, who's turned out to be one of my favorite people. Emma Jameson is the  New York Times Bestselling  author of the Lord & Lady Hetheridge series and the delightful Benjamin Bones series. Besides enjoying watching TV, drinking coffee, and herding cats, we're both comic and Sci-Fi nerds and suckers for all things British.  We'll talk about her fresh new mystery Blue Blooded and a potentially sinister reason that we're so much alike.



This may or may not be an actual image of me preparing to interview Emma.
If you don't know me yet, I'm Cyn Mackley, the soon-to-be bestselling author of the Goode-Grace Mysteries, Martha Garrett Mysteries, and Ballardville Mysteries.
Cyn: I'm just a little excited here. Normally, sentences that start with I met someone on the Internet don't turn out so well. But it's working for us.
Emma: You are legitimately one of the funniest people I know, on or off line.
Cyn: I want to talk about your new book Blue Blooded, which is a great book. I'm going to give you an exercise I used when teaching people to write promotions. Give me three words on what it's about and three words why I should read it. I'm willing to take a sentence since you're used to writing long-form.
Emma: I'm thinking...
Cyn: Surprise writing exercise!
Emma:  Thanks for complimenting my book. Readers who read the dedication will see your name. I value your input, and on this book, you were a lifesaver.  
What it's about: Hetheridge's toughest challenge
Why you should read it: Danger, wit, and romance
Cyn: Boom!  You're good at this. As you know, I'm a die-hard Anglophile but I had no idea that you weren't English when I read the first three books. And I usually have an eagle eye for that stuff.
Emma:  What got you started down that path?
Me: TV shows. Space 1999, Doctor Who, Brit comedies on PBS. Movies to some degree. But mostly TV shows. Later it was books. But TV was the start.
Emma: I am not sure what got me started. Various memories come back to me. I think perhaps I got the idea from certain favorite fairy tales and Disney movies, that everything interesting happened in England. Dr. Doolittle was English. Peter Pan had the kids flying past Big Ben. Robin Hood and King Arthur. 

Then when I was a little older, the Brit TV shows on PBS had a big impact. Shows like Butterflies and All Creatures Great and Small. And my favorite book, The Once and Future King, is the quintessential King Arthur retelling. (Unless you want to argue that it's The Mists of Avalon, which is in my top ten.)
Me: One particular Disney movie I remember is Thomasina. And Haley Mills movies.
Emma:  We really are one person, though. I loved Thomasina and Haley Mills movies in general.
Cyn:  You have to do so much research about every area of life. From what to call a bag of snacks to police procedure. It's like the books I set in the Midwest are running on a treadmill and you added a bunch of weight to the workout.
Emma: Yeah, it's a big challenge. But it also scratches that strange Anglophile itch by putting me smack in the place I love. Tony Hetheridge paid for my first two trips to England, and Dr. Bones covered the third. My detectives made my real-life dreams come true. Talk about something to be grateful for. When I really stop and think about it, I'm overwhelmed. I have to give a shout-out to indie publishing. Every legacy publisher, big and small, turned down ICE BLUE (Hetheridge #1) and it languished in a drawer for 4 years. Amazon Kindle and Nook come along (soon to be followed by iBooks, Kobo, and Google Play Books) and suddenly my book is going straight to the people, and they want more. This is the best time for emerging writers to reach for that brass ring.
I've ticked off readers by getting little English details wrong. I've been guilty of calling that carry-all ladies sling over their shoulder a "purse" instead of a handbag. And I referred to "tap pants," which apparently are just satin boy shorts.
I remember after I published MARRIAGE CAN BE MURDER, I mentioned a stoplight in Birdswing. A very nice English lady, frequent visitor to Cornwall, said that couldn't be right because they have so few stoplights NOW, much less in 1939.
Cyn:  I once said in a book that Ohio was east of Pennsylvania. And I live in Ohio.
Emma:  These days, what with software advances, it's easy for me to take these corrections on board and update the books for the next crop of readers. So by and large, the error flags are improving my books bit by bit. And I will never forget roundabouts, having lived them.
Cyn:  They are on this kick to add them to Ohio. They've put a bunch of them in here.
Emma: Lord, I don't know. I foresee a steep learning curve.
Cyn: Sometimes, the drivers look like people who can't get out of a revolving door. Speaking of driving problems --  Fun Fact:  We both wrote a book in which the main character gets mowed down in the first couple of pages. (Check out Emma's book MARRIAGE CAN BE MURDER.)
Emma: I know! I am embarking on that book. (KILLER CLOWNS FROM OUT OF STATE.) I love how you named the sheriff after Andy Taylor of Mayberry. The Andy Griffith Show is still one of my all-time favorites.

Cyn: Aunt Bea's pickles!  Best. TV. Episode. Ever.
Emma: Yes! I think you're right.
Cyn:  Again, we're the same person. We can't be separated at birth because I'm three years older. Do you think it was some kind of Boys from Brazil type experiment to create mystery writers?
Emma: I may be your clone. One of these days, you should write an English murder mystery and I'll write a Midwest (or perhaps Southern) small town mystery. And if the DNA holds, we'll both do well.
Cyn: Since you're probably feeling all happy and satisfied at completing Blue Blooded, let me remind you that there's always more to do by asking, "What's next?"  Besides a nap and Netflix.
Emma:  Well. Since you asked... I am in the planning stages of Bones #3, Friendship Can Be Fatal. But it seems like the Muse has something else she'd like me to attend to. I couldn't sleep last night for thinking about it. No details can be shared yet, but the title is BLUE CHRISTMAS.
Cyn --- well, I'm going to stop here because Emma and I got into a big long conversation where I tried to convince her that she needs to catch up on 55 years of Doctor Who for research purposes. Emma's off to watch Blue Blooded climb the mystery charts and I actually have to put in work on that Killer Clowns From Out of State sequel.
Links you need to know:
Emma Jameson's website -
Emma Jameson on Facebook -
Emma Jameson's books on Amazon -
Cyn Mackley's website -
Cyn Mackley on Facebook -
Cyn Mackley's books on Amazon -

Monday, February 26, 2018

The first line I ever wrote...

That title might be a bit misleading. But I spent a couple of decades in TV news, so I know that a headline is important. This isn't my first piece of writing. Or even the first mystery I started to write. It's the first one I finished. The one that happened when I sat down and wrote the damn book to the end.  I can remember finishing it late one Sunday night and running upstairs to wake my husband with the news. That was 20 years ago.  This book was only seen by a few devoted friends. They received it three pages at a time. Many of them still have a copy in a 3-ring binder.

I've been thinking about these books. I spent years writing the sequels. There are at least 25 of them. Lots of writing. Zero editing. Now I think they make interesting period pieces. The characters have started wandering into my other work. I think they want out.  So here's the beginning paragraphs of the first book I ever finished. This is the big bang of the universe that the characters in my current novels live in. It's the same world. 

Set in the year 2000, the main character is Thomas Nakamatsu, a college professor in Bowling Green, Ohio whose life is about to change drastically in the new millennium. Interestingly enough, Thomas had a side-hustle explaining technology to senior citizens and working in news. At the time I wrote this, neither of these thing were even on my radar. Shortly after writing the first five of these novels, I went to work in TV news. Then 12 or so years later, I got a job explaining tech to senior citizens. Now I run a website dedicated to making tech easier for everyone.  This is still my favorite opening line of a book ever.

 He shot me.  I can't believe the stupid bastard shot me. Right after he called me a redneck samurai. What does that even mean? Is it anything like a NASCAR Ninja? It was the very definition of adding insult to injury.  Okay, if I was thinking this, apparently I was still alive.  And it smelled like a hospital.  That awful combination of sickness and disinfectant. 

She was there, too.  I smelled Mom's perfume.  There was no mistaking that, and I heard the click of her heels.  I'd never heard another walk that sounded that way. Everything was going to be all right. When Mom showed up, it was all under control.   

"Thomas?"  I heard her say and I felt her take my hand.  "Thomas Michael Nakamatsu, do you hear me?"  My full name, usually only spoken when I was in serious trouble, I hoped I wasn't grounded.

I fought to open my eyes and tried to say "Mom", but I think it came out "Mommy," Which was weird, ‘cause I’d never called her Mommy.

“Happy New Year, Baby," she said.  I finally got my eyes open.  It took awhile to focus on her.  Impossibly tiny with the biggest, blondest hair in the world.

The titanium magnolia.  She had the forced smile of someone who didn't want me to know how bad off I was.  "You're okay, baby, you're gonna be okay."

"He shot me,"  I croaked.  It was kind of frightening how weak I sounded. The voice didn’t seem like my own. I hurt. I hurt like hell.

"I know."  She was trying not to cry.  "Don't that beat all."

I wanted to say more, but it was just too damn hard. 

She kissed my forehead.  "Your Daddy is just getting something to eat.  He'll be right back any second now.  Samantha went home to change clothes.  But she didn't leave till they said you were stable and she's coming right back."

"Where..." I managed to get out.

"Were you shot?"  Apparently she could tell that wasn't what I meant by my eyes, cause I swear I couldn't move anything else. "Where are you?  Medical College of Ohio in Toledo.  Everyone says it’s an excellent hospital.  You got to take a helicopter ride to the hospital and everything."  

I must have been waking up. I could feel needles and tubes and I was so damn thirsty and someone had shot me. And everything hurt. 

"Look who's awake," Mom said to someone.  Then Dad was standing there looking ten years older that he did when...  two days ago, three, a week?  I didn't know.  He looked so godawful afraid, so unlike himself. There was always a kind of cockiness about Dad, like he knew that he could kick the ass of whatever life tried to throw in his way. It was gone.

"I'm okay, Dad,"  my pathetic little voice said.

He put his hand over Mom's on mine and started to cry.  I hadn't seen him cry in 26 years or so. 

Everything had been going so well until the idiot shot me. I guess I should have seen it coming. It was just like on television. It’s always the least likely person whose name you can remember.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Love stories littered with corpses

My friend and fellow author, Emma Jameson, asked me the other day if I'd ever considered just writing a straight love story. 

I replied that all of my mysteries are love stories in their way, but love alone doesn't hold my interest, so I litter them with corpses. I'm all for love. I've been in love for 30 straight years, but there's other stuff going on like video games and watching tons of British detective shows together. (littered with corpses!) 

I don't have patience for too many romantic complications. I prefer couples who team up to figure out who killed the mysterious blackmailer or just what the hell is making that noise in the pipes. 

So let's discuss some of my favorite love stories littered with corpses. 

Robert B. Parker loved the hell out of his wife. They had a complicated relationship (they ended up living in a duplex so that they could be both together and have some space) anchored in love. The intense romantic love and respect they shared is reflected in the relationship between the tough and fiercely autonomous private investigator Spenser and his therapist girlfriend, Susan. Even when she only plays a small part in the actual mystery, her importance to both the character of Spenser and his creator is hard to miss. There's a line in one of the novels where Susan tell Spenser, "You look at the world with fewer illusions than anyone I've ever known. And yet you are as sentimental as you would be if the world were pretty-pretty.”

That's a fantastic summary of Parker's work. Hard-boiled and sentimental. There are 39 books in the series written by Parker. Another author picked it up after his passing, but I prefer to stop there.

Sayers wrote a lot of Lord Peter Wimsey books, but I'm only including Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, and Busman's Honeymoon in the love story category. Harriet Vane is a divisive character among fans of Sayers' stories of an English lord with a bad case of nerves solving mysteries in the 1920s and 30s. Sayers created a character that she fell madly in love with, so she wrote herself into the books. Like Sayers, the character of Harriet Vane is an educated mystery writer with a scandalous past.

Sayers has volumes to say about the position of women at the time, relationships between the sexes, independence, and the nature of love and honor. These books were written in the 1920s and 30s, so you're getting the straight scoop on how it was at the time, not filtered through the lens of today. These books are not sentimental, but the mysteries are solid and the relationship between these two extremely logical people trying to make sense of love is endearing though sometimes frustrating. As I said, these were written in the 1930s. While, in some ways, Sayers was forward-thinking, in others she is constrained by notions of class and the roles of men and women of her time. 

Sayers acknowledged her critics in the introduction to Busman's Honeymoon, saying that while the love story might seem like an intrusion on the mystery to some, to the character the mystery is an intrusion on the love story. 

The story of a heartbroken widower meeting up with a tough-talking state-trooper is a favorite of mine. Both characters are fish out of water in a small Connecticut seaside town. He's a New York film critic looking for a place to hide from sympathetic friends and she's a black woman in a sea of old-money Yankees. Do these two opposites attract? You betcha! Does the small town have a higher murder rate than a Colombian slum? Of course it does. I like these books because they explore the small New England village theme without getting too cutesy. I like the love story because it feels very adult (not in the bom chicka wow wow way). 

There are 11 books in the series.

Of course, my favorite corpse-littered love stories are the ones I write. Yes, shameless self-promotion is my specialty! I have awards for it!  

Monday, December 25, 2017

Why I don't want you to start watching Doctor Who

If you're among those who heard that after 50 plus years and a baker's dozen of Doctors, that the part was going to be played by a woman and said, "I'm going to start watching that show," I have a bit of advice for you.  Don't.  

Why? I'll be watching, but I've been watching for 30 plus years. If nothing you've heard about the show over the past few decades made it sound like something you'd like to watch, I don't think that anything about it's doing to appeal to you now. 

Doctor Who is Doctor Who. Doctors come and go, but at its heart it's still a story about a daft old man who stole a blue box and went on a joyride with his granddaughter. 

And despite some folks having a panic attack over the old gent taking a spin as a lady, I don't think the show is going to change very much. Time Lords and Ladies sometimes swap genders. From we've seen so far, it appears not to happen often, it seems to be one of those things like naturally conceiving triplets. It happens, but not often enough that the person it happens to wouldn't be a bit surprised.

Don't expect The Doctor to change too drastically because his/her appearance has. The Doctor's best frenemy The Master  swapped genders and stayed her same bat-shit crazy with twinges of self-awareness self. 

If time traveling police call boxes that are bigger on the inside and Daleks and Cybermen have never interested you before, I have grave doubts that this program, no matter the lead, will interest you now. If they do interest you, I'd suggest starting with the more recent series (the last decade or so) to get a foundation as to just what in Rassilon's name is going on here.

Strong women are nothing new to Doctor Who. Yes, everyone falls into step behind The Doctor, but that's because The Doctor is well... the Doctor.

I'd suggest watching an episode called Blink.  That's usually a good barometer of interest. Or even better,  start fifty-four years ago at the beginning. You don't have to watch them all, but you could catch some selected highlights.

My faves. Mind you this is my personal preference:

An Unearthly Child
Tomb of the Cybermen
Day of the Daleks
Genesis of the Daleks
The Talons of Weng Chiang
The Invasion of Time
City of Death
The Empty Child
The Doctor Dances
The Family of Blood
The Sound of Drums
Silence in the Library
The Stolen Earth
The Eleventh Hour
The Pandorica Opens
The Big Bang
A Good Man Goes to War
The Wedding of River Song
The Angels Take Manhattan
The Name of the Doctor
Deep Breath
The Magician's Apprentice
The Girl Who Died
The Woman Who Lived
The Husbands of River Song
The Pilot
The Doctor Falls

My point is, Star Trek is Star Trek, no matter who is sitting in the captain's chair. Star Wars is Star Wars, no matter who is holding the light saber. If it doesn't float your boat to hear an eccentric, bossy, male busybody should "run" as you flee angry robots, a eccentric bossy female busybody running from robots probably won't do it for you either.  If a TV show that requires a bit of homework doesn't sound good, this may not be the place for you. I mean you could just watch it without getting involved in the mythology... wait, no! You can't, dammit. That's just not how we Who at all.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The dog ate my novel and other excuses

Back in the day when I was a reader and aspiring novelist, I used to impatiently wait for the next book by my favorite authors. I couldn't understand why sometimes it took months, a year, or even several years between books in my favorite series (I'm talking to you R.A. Macavoy. Wikipedia claims it was three years, but I know it was more like forty.)

Then I became a serial novelist and I discovered something. Writing is hard! Especially writing fiction. I've worked for years writing promotions, news stories for the web, and tech advice. That's hard in a way, but since it's all based on facts (except when I told people that Til Death was the funniest comedy of the year.) and the facts are what they are. When you're making up the world and all the people in it, sometimes it takes longer than you'd hoped. 

I'd hoped to have a sequel to Killer Clowns from Out of State, the fourth book in the Goode-Grace series and even a sequel to The Girl of His Dreams out by now.  Well, since you're reading this and not any of those books, you may have noticed that I didn't. 

Why? Well, stuff happens to writers that throws them off. They lose loved ones (I did this year).They have health problems (knock on wood, not so far this year). They do goofy things like start their own tech website (guilty on that one). Your office cat dies. (RIP Krypto) That slows you down.

And sometimes, like me, you get 80% through the sequel to Killer Clowns and realize that it's not what it was supposed to be. The characters just stand there and look at you like you've lost your mind.  

Let me see if I can explain this in terms that relate to your life. Ever make a dish, taste it, and know something is plain wrong with it. Something is burnt, it's way too salty. You've apparently added cayenne instead of paprika to the goulash. It's bad. And if you want to fix it, you have to start all over again. You're building a garage and you realize the framing is off.  You're making a dress and realize you've cut the pattern wrong. The idea is good, but you need to go back to basics and fix it. 

I love my readers more than my luggage, so I'm not going to stick you with burnt onion soup, a garage that lists to the right, or a dress with that doesn't fit right.

This is what happened with Vegas Vexation, the sequel to Killer Clowns. The basic idea is good. I even think it's great. But the book took place in the wrong place, a thousand miles away from Ballardville.  And a Ballardville mystery should take place in Ballardville, by golly.

So I started all over.  And with that reinvention I fleshed out some Ballardville residents you've already met and introduced a few new ones. Interestingly enough, many of these characters migrated over from some things I wrote in the 1990s. They just showed up and said, "I'm moving to town."

Welcome to Ballardville, Dr. Sam Lundy, Shane Ballard, Sarah Glaser, and most importantly Ginger and Peggy Fletcher. As I finish this book, I see you were all worth the wait. 

So, the dog did not eat my novel. Though, the cats have actually deleted portions of it. By way of apology I'm including a sample of Vegas Vexation. 

Let me know what you think:

Vegas Vexation: Ballardville Mysteries Book 2

Copyright 2016 by Cyn Mackley CCM Media, LLC.

Chapter 1

Chief of Police Andrea Taylor stepped out of the shower.

“Uh, Chief! Uh, help! It appears I have been restrained,” Dash Fletcher called from the bedroom. She looked out of the bathroom door. “It seems you have.”

Dash was lying in bed with one hand cuffed to the headboard.  It had been a good weekend. He was handsome as hell, with dark auburn hair and big brown eyes. He was a fun date, too.

The previous day they had gone to church followed by brunch with her parents and grandmother. They came back to his house for what promised to be a typically lazy Sunday afternoon and she had pulled out the cuffs with a wicked smile.

“You told me you were the kind of guy I could cuff to a bed on Saturday night, then to take to church and Sunday dinner at Grandma’s,” she had said. “This is a little backwards, but prove it.”

It was not an offer he could refuse.

“Good morning, you beautiful thing,” Dash said with a smile on his face.

Andie was still naked from the shower with dripping wet hair. She picked up the handcuff key where it lay on the nightstand beside the bed. “You could have reached it if you really tried.”

“It’s more fun if you do it,” he said. “Besides, you might need these cuffs for work.”

“Those aren’t my work cuffs.” She snorted. “Those aren’t even professional quality. You could probably get out if you put an effort into it.”

“Wasn’t trying to escape,” Dash said. “You have personal handcuffs?”

“I bought them just for you. FYI, last night -- that’s not how I actually search people when I arrest them.”

“No, because there would be a line around the block to confess to crimes.”

Andie unlocked the cuffs. There was a red mark on his wrist. She rubbed in with her thumb.

“Are you okay there? You really shouldn’t have left that on all night.”

“I was sort of passed out,” Dash said.

“Sorry,” she said. “I kinda got into character. I guess it’s dangerous when actors role play. I know you’re a professional and I’m an amateur. But I enjoy performance.”

“You are something else.” He laughed.

“What am I?”

“You’re just everything. That’s why I love you.”

There was an uncomfortably long pause. “I need to get my hair dry,” Andie said.

He flinched as if she had struck him. “Okay, I’ll grab a shower in the other bathroom since we’re running late. I’ll put on some coffee. You want to pretend those leftover cupcakes are breakfast?”

“That’d be great,” she said.

“Just great,” he said flatly. He grabbed a few items from the bathroom and left her to get ready.

Of course, it was the furthest thing from great. What the hell was wrong with her? The best she could come up with was dead silence? Dead silence in response to the man you wanted to spend the rest of your life with saying that he loved you?

“What in the hell is wrong with you?” she asked herself aloud.

It had been a rough couple of years for Andie. The last man she’d told that she loved had choked her unconscious when she discovered tens of thousands of dollars in charges that he’d made in her name without permission. Andie had been forced to shoot him in the leg to get out of the house safely. Not a great boost to your career as the chief of police. She’d bowed to pressure and agreed to her ex, Tony, copping a plea to simple assault. In his version of events, she’d shot him in anger over the credit card charges. He’d agreed not press charges as long as she didn’t pursue identity theft and credit fraud charges against him. It was humiliating.

The mountain of debt had forced her to move into a spare bedroom at her Aunt Maisie and Uncle Joe’s house. Nothing like being a city leader who couldn’t even afford an apartment.

 She’d shot Tony right here in Dash’s perfect little Craftsman bungalow. It was the same house she’d once shared with Tony. The house she’d poured her time, heart, and money into renovating. Dash’s visiting grandmother had picked it up cheap as a foreclosure and presented it to him as a gift to help him make a new start in a new town.  

Dash’s new start began when Andie mowed him down with a squad car a little over a year ago. It wasn’t her fault. He’d jumped out of a speeding car right into her path during a high-speed pursuit and ended up with a broken leg that required surgery to insert a metal rod. He’d been employed as a stage manager in the Circo de la Luna – a touring company that was a cross between a Broadway musical and a circus. Physically unable to work things had looked pretty bleak for Dash. Then, as she often did, Aunt Maisie, who was a nurse at Ballardville General, swooped in and offered Dash a place to stay in the bedroom next Andie’s. Maisie had also suggested that Dash apply for the position of director of the recently restored, historic Majestic Theater in downtown Ballardville.  Andie was a member of the board and had been part of the selection committee to choose the director.

Dash’s varied experience in theater doing everything from acting to stage managing to teaching drama had impressed the board. Now he had what he called his dream job: picking shows, booking talent, coordinating fundraising, supervising marketing and planning workshops. He’d told her time and again that the best part of his life was not his job or his house, but her. When he realized that the house his grandmother had purchased was the same house where Andie shot her boyfriend, he’d offered to give it up.

“There’s a lot of houses in Ballardville. There’s only one you.”

What the hell did she want from him? Where the hell had that confidence that enabled her to be a police chief by the age of 32 gone?

Victims of domestic violence often said that people made them feel as if it were all their fault. Andie had never understood until Tony choked the very breath out of her and she’d chosen to defend herself. They questioned whether she needed to use force against him. Maybe she should have just run really fast. They questioned why she had dated him in the first place.  As if she was somehow supposed to have sensed that a man with no criminal record who had rarely even raised his voice to her was going to suddenly lock her into a chokehold and start squeezing until she slipped into blackness.  When it came to light that he’d been involved in a fraudulent scheme involving the misuse of federal money intended to help low-income homeowners weatherproof their homes, people questioned why she didn’t know and even hinted that she must have been involved. No one questioned the members of Ballardville City Council who had chosen Tony’s company for the job. Well, no one but Dash. He’d done a little research in his spare time and discovered links between Tony and several power players in Ballardville. He’d even effectively blackmailed Andie’s arch-nemesis, Councilwoman Angela Jenkins, into submission.  Again, What the hell more did she want from him?

“I don’t want to be publicly humiliated,” she said to her reflection in the bathroom mirror. “I don’t want to be wrong. I don’t have the strength left to make another mistake.” The woman in the mirror looked so sad and pathetic that Andie said, “Get a grip!”

There were two travel mugs sitting on the kitchen counter. Dash was putting a homemade vanilla bean cupcakes with cream cheese frosting that had been the hit of Sunday family dinner into a small paper bag. Andie had baked the cupcakes and Dash contributed a frosting so delicious, he’d had to make a second batch because she ate most of the first.  He was going for a casual professional look for Monday in a dark green shirt with the collar open, tweed jacket, and jeans. The man was yummier than cupcakes.

“Actions speak louder than words, don’t you think?” she asked.

He kissed her on the cheek. “Of course they do. But words are important, too. They mean things.”

“I had the best weekend,” Andie said a little sadly.

“They all are,” Dash said. “The weekdays are pretty good, too. Don’t look so down. It can’t be that bad to have me professing my love.”

“I’d like to point out that you are the only man I’ve ever handcuffed that I was sexually attracted to,” she said.

“Thank you,” Dash said. “Can you eat lunch with me today at my office? I’ve got plenty of that stew left.”

“Unless something comes up, sure.”

“Great,” Dash said. “I’ll bring more cupcakes, too.”

It was too damn quiet in the kitchen, but Andie could think of nothing to say that wouldn’t make everything worse.

She felt better when she walked into the police station. She seldom made mistakes at work, so she was unlikely to make a fool of herself there.

Andie felt better walking into the police station. She was unlikely to make a fool of herself at work. She seldom made mistakes there. The morning schedule was full. There was a meeting with her command officers to review the previous week and look ahead to anything special in the upcoming one. Followed a recently instituted Monday-morning sit-down with prosecutor Deb Connor where they made sure that everyone was on the same page.

 Andie had despised Deb after she offered a plea bargain to Tony Brady for strangling her. Now she accepted that Deb was under pressure not to drag things out and to avoid embarrassing the city and also that a lengthy trial could have put Andie’s career in jeopardy. Andie may not have completely forgiven the woman, but letting it go had cleared the way for a professionally productive friendship. Deb was full of regret for not prosecuting Tony to the full extent of the law and that worked to Andie’s advantage.

After the meeting, she turned her attention an over-flowing inbox. Dash smiled up at her from a framed photo on her desk while she answered e-mails. The photo had taken the night the Majestic Theater reopened in all of its full-restored glory. The first show was free to the public and featured performances by church and school choirs, local dance troupes and even a magic act with city and county officials. Dash talked her into accompanying his accordion playing with her ukulele, a talent she had not displayed since high school. They were joined on stage by a dance troupe of developmentally disabled children, pretty much ensuring a positive audience reaction. She had not missed a single note and applause was just as intoxicating as it was back when she was doing theater in college.

 It also served as a public announcement of their relationship, complete with meeting his parents and getting their photo in the paper together.  Dash was pretty much the ideal guy for a woman in her position.  Clean criminal record, and an important position in the community with no connection to local government. The Majestic was funded by a private endowment. Dash was well-qualified for his job and excellent in the position. Excellent in about any position. Damn handsome besides, even though she didn’t usually find redheads that attractive. Auburn hair, a ruddy complexion and a rugged face worked together for a pleasing effect. It was obvious what she saw in Dash. It had taken a bit of therapy to figure out what she saw in Tony. There was nothing obviously wrong with the guy at first. He was sometimes less than pleasant and not the most supportive person on the planet. But her heart did not stop every single time he walked in a room.  Yet she had convinced herself this was the man for her. Most likely because after years of female problems, her doctor told her that she didn’t have a whole lot of time left to conceive a child. Even going so far as to suggest she might want to freeze some embryos.  Surely, she would not make that same mistake again. Surely, she would not make Dash pay for her bad judgment in the past. She felt like a ridiculous cliché. A woman pulled together in her professional life and a mess in her personal life. 

At lunch time, as she made the short walk in the cold air across the street to theater, she reminded herself that her personal life was not a mess. She was in a supportive, happy relationship with a man who just wanted to hear her say that she loved him back. And since she loved him, how was that a problem?

Dash came downstairs to let Andie into the theater and they went up to his office for what had gradually become their usual lunch break. He put the leftover stew that bubbled in the crock pot on Saturday while they spent the afternoon in bed into the microwave. Dash said that having a small fridge and microwave behind the desk made him feel successful.

She sat down on the loveseat.

“Busy Monday?” he asked.

“Very. But just meetings and things. Nothing major. It was a fairly quiet weekend on the streets of Ballardville. Wait until everything thaws out.”

“I didn’t mean to ruin your day,” Dash said.

“You didn’t. I think I ruined yours.”

“I’m sorry if I talk one way and act another.” he said. “I don’t mean to be impatient. But as much as I adore you, sometimes I feel like I’m getting mixed signals.”

The microwave beeped. He checked the temperature of the stew and decided it needed another couple of minutes.

“Go on,” Andie said. “It seems like it’s been on your mind.”

“I don’t want to rock the boat. Everything between us is just so great. But one minute, I’m holding your hand at the doctor’s office discussing fertility problems and I get the impression that you’d like me to father your children. And then when I say that I love you, you just stare at me. I would assume if you want me to father your children, that you love me.”

“I don’t blame you for feeling that way.” she said.

“Maybe I’m just such a wonderful male specimen that you think I’m the man for the job even if you don’t love me. You talk like we have this future. You clean my house. I’ve never let a girlfriend clean my house before. It’s too damn domestic. But I let you because you helped make it the beautiful home it is and I think you’re going to live there someday. I don’t ask you to move in because it freaks you out when I say I love you.”

“You’re right.”


“You are absolutely right,” Andie repeated.

“Don’t just cave to shut me up.” He checked the microwave again and dished the lamb stew flavored with curry into bowls.

“I think you honestly told me what was bugging you. And I’ve done that ever since we met. I have an apology but no excuse. I think that I am this bold, happy woman with no fear. But sometimes this fear gets hold of my heart. The same fear I felt when he choked me into the darkness I thought was dead. I don’t know why it’s still there. I don’t know why it flares up around you. Makes you believe there is such a thing a PTSD. You don’t deserve it and I’m thankful you put up with it.”

“I feel like a jackass.” Dash said.

“You aren’t.”

“You made me cupcakes and cuffed me to a bed and I’ve made you sad,” he said. 

“The infuriating thing is that I made me sad,” Andie said. “You rock my world, Ginger boy.”

“On a related note,” Dash said. “Are you sore everywhere? I am.”

“I am.”

“Thank goodness. I don’t want to be the weak one. Too bad you didn’t know me in college. I lived off caffeine; they could have made Viagra from my blood.”

“My grades would have slipped.”

“I’m an excellent study buddy,” Dash insisted. “In fact, I…” His cell phone rang on his desk and he picked it up and looked at the screen. “Hmmm, I do not recognize the number. It’s from Las Vegas.”

“An adventure. Take it,” Andie said, hoping something would come along and replace the serious conversation.

Dash loved to play with telemarketers and tech support scammers. He would often adopt the persona of a confused senior citizen and pretend to attempt to give his credit card information, always failing to make out the last few numbers on the card.

He tapped the screen to put the phone on speaker. “Dash Fletcher.”

“Hey,” a man said on the other end, “uh, you don’t know me. But, uhm… I have your kids.”

“Sorry buddy, you got the wrong guy,” Dash said. “I don’t have any of those.”

“Dash Fletcher, right?” the man asked.

“Yes. But I’m not the person you’re looking for.”

“Amber Albright says you are,” the man said. “She gave me your number.”

The look on his face told Andie that he recognized the woman’s name.

 “I knew Amber Albright back in Vegas a few years ago, but she never said anything—“

“Well she’s got twin girls that are just about to turn three,” the man said impatiently. “And she says they’re yours.”

Andie could see Dash making mental calculations. He did not look happy when we came up with the product.

“Can I talk to her?” he asked.

“No!” the man yelled.

A woman in the background said, “Rick! Don’t yell at the guy.”

The man sighed deeply.  “I’m sorry. That’s the problem. She dumped these kids off on my great aunt two and half years ago. Now my great aunt is dead and I’m stuck with them. I tracked her down and told her to come take these poor kids and she says to see if you want them.”

“This is a lot to take in,” Dash said.

“Sorry man, I bet it is. But if somebody doesn’t come get these kids, I’m gonna have to just turn them over to social services. I’m sorry, but we can’t handle them on top of our own problems.”

“Can I please have your name, Sir?” Dash fumbled for a piece of paper on his desk. “Where are you?”

“Sorry, dude,” he said. “I’m Rick Sanchez and I am in Las Vegas. Amber said you’re in the circus or something?”

“Not anymore,” Dash said. “I’m in Kansas.”

“I’m really sorry, man,” Rick said. “This whole situation is ridiculous.”

“Do you have her number?’ Dash asked.

“No, we tracked her down in a bar. Not happy to see us, you know like we were bothering her.”

Andie went to the desk, took the pen from Dash’s hand and wrote “Pictures???” on the paper next to Rick’s name on the paper.

“Do you have pictures of these children?” Dash asked.

“My wife has some on her phone,” he said.

“I can show them to him on a video call!” the woman in the background called out.

“My number,” Andie mouthed silently.

“Call this number, please.” Dash read out Andie’s number.

A moment later her phone vibrated. “Hi, I’m Andie, a friend of Dash’s.”

“Hi,” the woman said. “I’m Alicia. Ready to lay your eyes on the two cutest little girls you’ve ever seen?”

She turned the phone’s camera on two tiny girls with long red hair. Kids that age sometimes looked like toddlers, but these girls looked like the smallest of children.

Dash gasped.

“Say hello!” Alicia said.

“No,” one of the girls said. Her voice was deep for a child, especially a girl. Deep and resonating just like Dash’s. The child thought for a moment and added. “No, thank you.”

“Can I call you back in a few minutes?  Maybe fifteen minutes?” Dash said. “I’m having a little trouble thinking straight.”

“Sure,” Rick Sanchez said. “All I ask is that you be straight with me. If you don’t want to get involved, I’ll move on to looking for help elsewhere.”

“But,” Alicia Sanchez added. “We will tell the state who Amber says the father is.”

“Honey…” Rick said.

“He’s not blowing you off,” Andie said. “We’ll call you back.”

Andie had seen that look on a person’s face many times in her career when she had to break bad news. It wasn’t anguish or horror or any of the emotions you saw in someone’s eyes when you had to tell them that a loved one was dead.  This was the shock you saw in the face of parents when you told them that their son had robbed grandma’s house for drug money or when you explained to a guy waking up in the drunk tank that he’d sideswiped three parked cars the night before. The “what the actual hell just happened to me?” look.

When the call was over, Dash opened a program on his phone and made a few taps to bring up a photo he’d posted online for his mother’s birthday. In the picture, three-year-old Stephanie Black Fletcher sat on her mother Ginger’s lap. She was the spitting image of the two little girls in Las Vegas. Or rather, they were the spitting image of her.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“We need to go to Vegas ASAP,” Andie said.

He nodded. “I know.”

“And we need a paternity test. Well, you need one. They sure as hell look like they issued forth from your loins, but we need to be sure. And that’s for your protection as well, so one can challenge you about paternity.”

“And we’ll need an attorney that specializes in family law. I may be able to help with the test and finding a lawyer. Is it okay if I handle that?”

“I don’t think I could organize a trip to the bathroom right this minute. I’d be grateful. You are amazing.”

“Don’t get too grateful or amazed. Because now it’s time for me to find out just who the hell Amber Albright is? I don’t recall hearing her before when you have too much to drink and start talking about your previous girlfriends.”

“I talk about how you’re better than my previous girlfriends.”

“I’m clearly better than her as I’ve never abandoned your children or, alternately, falsely pinned paternity on you.”

“I don’t know her very well,” Dash said. “She was a bartender at this place I liked to hang out. She broke up with some guy and we started messing around and then she said she decided to go back to him. And then she didn’t work there anymore. I think I knew her all of a month and saw her all of a week.”

“Only takes once,” Andie said.

“I was drinking a hell of a lot that week. She could really put it away. I had been in training for the Circo de la Luna job and I had a week off, so I was like what the hell? I don’t think I was so trashed I did it without using protection. I’m crazy careful about that.”

She snorted and rolled her eyes.

“Our relationship has been monogamous from the get-go,” Dash said, suddenly very defensive.

“I’m sorry. It was no time to be flip.”

“I have always in the past been extremely careful,” he said. “I’m not a promiscuous person. And you don’t seem to worry that much about…”

“You don’t need to defend yourself. I’m on your side. We just need to sit down and work out a plan of action.  Do you want to tell your parents?”

“Not unless I know for sure.”

“We won’t tell anybody. We will have a generic family emergency and take some time off.”

He nodded. “And then we have to go to Vegas.”

“I’ll find us flights, don’t even worry about it. I have a college friend who runs a lab in Las Vegas and I think she could help us on the paternity test front. I would have to explain the situation.”

“Those take forever to get back, don’t they?”

“They don’t take that long to run. Overnight max, it just takes that long to because there are so many to run.”

“Lots of idiots don’t know where their DNA has got to,” Dash said miserably. “And now I’m one of them.”

“Give me that paper and a pen,” she said. “I’m making a list.” There was a flight to book, a vehicle to rent. A minivan would probably be best. They would definitely need the appropriate safety seats for the children. “When you call him back find out if he has safety seats for them and if not, find out approximately how much they weigh so we can buy the appropriate ones.”

“I wouldn’t have thought of that,” Dash said.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of emergency removals of children.”

“Is this what this is?”

“In a way. We have no reason to believe they are in danger, only that this guy is pretty stressed out that someone left children at his house. It seems appropriate to wish that parents would to come get them.”

She would need to find a hotel that work with small children if necessary. They might be there awhile.

“I’m sorry,” Dash said.

“You don’t have to apologize to me. I have a few personal issues myself and you’ve been nothing but helpful to me. I have your back, too.”

“I can’t seem to think.” He said.

“I understand.” Andie said.  She knew exactly what it felt like to be in a mess of your own making. Finding those credit card bills in her name had been a horrible shock. She felt like a fool and cursed herself an idiot for not catching on sooner. She felt ashamed. All of that was so clearly visible in Dash’s face now. She was not a woman who would move in with an abuser, yet she had. He did not consider himself a man who fathered children and went on his merry way and yet, maybe he was that guy.

“You do, don’t you?”  

“The difference is, you have me right here and we can handle this no matter what.”

“Can we?”

“What is the very worst that could happen?” she asked. He didn’t answer, but she wanted him to really think that through. “Not a rhetorical question, Dash. What is the very worst that could happen?”

“I guess it turns out I have two children that I knew nothing about and their mother doesn’t seem to care anything about them from what this guy tells me.”

“Then what would happen?” she continued.

“I would bring them home with me. If they’re my kids, what else would I do?”

“So, the very worst thing is that you are a man with two little girls. A man with a job and a three-bedroom house in a nice neighborhood in a town with pretty good public schools. The worst thing is you are a single guy with kids. So is Carlos Desoto and Brad Barney and a dozen other people I can name off the top of my head. They do okay, don’t they? And you have me and we both know I’m wonderful.”

He smiled. “That you are.”

“Make arrangements to clear your schedule,” she said. “I will do the same and make a few phone calls. You call that fellow back and tell him we will probably be there by tomorrow night. If I remember right most of the flights leave in the late afternoon or early evening and get you there between eight and eleven p.m.  He can expect us the day after tomorrow.”


“Do you need a hug?”

“Desperately,” Dash said.

“I’ve got you.” She slipped her arms around him. “It’s going to be all right.”

“I can barely remember her. I can usually remember things about women. Odd bits and pieces about their lives. I can remember all of them. Great dates and bad dates, and a few hot hook ups with friends on the rebound. But it’s different with Amber.  I know that she tended bar at a place called Duchene’s . Not a high-class place, but not really a dive. It catered to locals instead of tourists.”

“What does she look like?” Andie asked.

“She had light-brown hair dyed black. You could see the roots. I can’t say she was pretty, she was too hard-looking for that. But she had nice features. Dark tan, probably too dark to be safe.

We had the usual bartender/customer banter until she looked kind of down and I asked her why there was no smile that day. She said that she’d just broke up with her boyfriend and was tired of bad boys. I said that bad boys were overrated. She said that nice boys were hard to find. I pointed out that I was a nice boy.”

“Smooth,” Andie said.

“I thought so,” Dash said. “She was drinking shots at work. From my experience in bars and restaurants is not a good thing.  She also gave me shots for free, which is a terrible thing in a bartender.”

“I feel you weren’t too interested in her reliability as a bartender,” Andie said.

“Not at all,” he admitted. “After her shift, we ended up back at my crummy little studio apartment in bed. I took her out for dinner afterwards.”

“See, you are nice,” Andie said. “And you remember her.”

“She didn’t talk much, but I remember her saying, ‘I’m not from very nice people. You’d probably think we were trash.’ And I told her I worked in a circus and was basically a carnie. She said that it was an important show and I’d been to college. I pointed out that it wasn’t an indication of good character.”

 “I hate to break it to you, but you do kind of radiate goodness and light,” Andie said.

“We went to a movie once. I can’t remember for the life of me which movie. I think we had sex three or four times. After the last time, she sat up in bed and said, ‘I think maybe I was wrong about being done with my old man. He sent me a letter and I was thinking that maybe I’ll give him another chance.’  I told her it was her life, but I didn’t see how getting back with him was going to improve it. She said I was too good for her and that I needed a nice girl. That’s a sad way to think about yourself.”

“I agree,” Andie said.

“I took out for pizza and never saw her again. She wasn’t at the bar the next time I went in. One of the other bartenders told him she was suspected to pocketing money and stealing liquor. I guess it isn’t that I don’t remember her, I just don’t care to think about her. Maybe when I thought about how some women seem to like to be treated poorly.”

“That certainly isn’t me,” Andie said.

“Your response to poor treatment is to bust a cap in the creep’s ass. Or at least his leg. I like a woman who doesn’t put up with crap.”

“If you have daughters,” Andie said. “You will set the perfect example for them of how they should expect to be treated by a man.”  Although sometimes she thought he took way too much crap from her.

“But why the hell wouldn’t she at least tell me? I haven’t changed my phone number and she clearly still has it.”

“Do you still have hers? Andie asked.

Dash pulled Amber’s name up in his contacts and hit the call button. The number didn’t belong to Amber. Instead he got a guy that said he got calls and texts for her from time to time, but that he’d had this phone for over a year.

“Now what?” he asked.

There was a knock on the office door. “See who that is,” Andie said.

The visitor was Dr. Sam Lundy, who happened to be Andie’s new gynecologist. Like Dash, he was new to town, having taken over Dr. Melanie Merkle’s practice. Sam had grown up in a suburb of Chicago, but his family’s roots ran deep in Ballardville. His great-great-great grandfather Aaron Lundy has been one of the town’s founders as well as one of the first black doctors in the American West. When Dr. Merkle met him at a conference and learned that he dreamed of his own small private practice, she got the idea that he should take over hers and bring a Dr. Lundy back to Ballardville for the first time since the 1930s.  After learning that Sam had graduated with a bachelor’s in theater before turning his interest to a master’s in biology then finally to medical school, Melanie had asked Dash to help sell Sam on Ballardville when he came to check out her practice. Dash had joked about being the spokesmodel for Ballardville, but Andie thought his genuine enthusiasm about the community had made an impression on Sam.

   Sorry, I’m interrupting lunch,” Sam said.

“That’s all right,” Dash said.

“I just wanted to let you know that I took your advice,” Sam said. “I signed up to audition for Sherlock Holmes with the Ballardville Players. It’ll be my first play since Gwen and I had kids. Assuming I get a part, of course.”

“I know people,” Dash said.

“I do, too,” Sam said. “How do you think I got in here?”

“My money is on Phyllis Logan letting you in after she signed you up for an audition. She’s usually in the office on Mondays,” Dash said.

“Brilliant deduction,” Sam said.

“Elementary, Lundy. I spend a lot of time with a trained investigator,” Dash said.

“I really want to whip out my British accent,” Sam said. “Are you guys busy this weekend? Gwen wanted me to see if you’d like to come for dinner/”

“Not this weekend,” Dash said. “I’ve had a family thing come up. I’m actually going to be out of town for the next couple of days at least.”

“Definitely sometime soon,” Andie said.

“No problem,” Sam said. “I’ll let you two finish lunch. And I’ll see you in two weeks, Andie.”

“Wow!” she said. “A doctor that remembers appointments? That’s bizarre.”

“I was going over our patients with my new nurse practitioner, or rather my new partner.” He smiled. “Gotta watch that. She knows you. Sarah Glaser.”

“I graduated high school with Sarah,” Andie said.

“Melanie fixed us up. We’re 70/30 on the practice. Which is great.”

Andie chuckled. “If something is great, people usually don’t keep saying it’s great.”

Sam shrugged. “It really is great. She has a doctorate and she’s also a midwife.”

“She’s got a passel of kids, too,” Andie said. “Five?”

“Six,” Sam said. “Two sets of twins. So, she knows what she’s talking about.”

“Her husband died a couple of years ago,” Andie said to Dash. “Where was she living?”

“Topeka,” Sam said. “She’s moving home to be closer to her family. She mentioned you two used to sing together in glee club. Maybe we can all get together. If you guys don’t mind being around nine kids.”

“An alarming number of people at that gathering will have seen me with my pants off,” Andie said.

Sam chuckled. “You crack me up.”

“I’m a laugh riot,” Andie said.

After Sam left, Dash said, “Should I heat lunch back up? I don’t know if I can eat.”

“I’m really starving,” Andie said. “And you should eat anyway.”

Dash’s phone vibrated again. “Uknown caller,” he said. “I’m scared to answer.”

“Gee, I hope it’s a boy this time,” Andie said.

“Really?” Dash asked. “Really?”

“Too soon?” Andie said.