So you can read my books

Friday, February 26, 2010


Unless you're feeling suicidal, you should never ask a nauseated, pregnant co-worker, "What is romantic to you?"

So Nick, ever one to throw caution and self-preservation to the winds, asked our pregnant co-worker, Kelli, that very question. She fixed him with a look that Custer must have gotten very tired of at the end. "I don't know."

"Sure, you do. Everyone knows what's romantic to them."

Kelli gave him a look that should have left welts. "I don't."

It was too early for hurricane season so I interceded, hoping to fend off the coming storm, "Maybe Kelli feels towards the romantic as the Supreme Court feels towards the pornographic. It's hard to define, but you know it when you see it."

But that incident got me to thinking : what is romantic to me may not be romantic to you. So since this blog is about my novels, I started to think of the chapter in my novel, FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE, that my beta readers all assured me was both moving and romantic. Since, like Nick, I sometimes throw caution to the winds, I am submitting it to you blog readers. What do you think?
{FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE is a speculative Noir thriller. An alternate history, if you would, of what could have happened after Katrina but didn't -- in a plane of existence where the supernatural exists. And who is to say that it doesn't exist in this one?}



"I also want to encourage anybody who was affected
by Hurricane Corina to make sure their children are
in school."

First Lady Laura Bush, twice referring to
"Hurricane Corina" while speaking to
children and parents in South Haven, Miss.
{September 8, 2005}

I didn't get to sleep one day through, much less two weeks. Too much to do. Luckily, Gov. Blanco was so ineffectual, there was no need to visit her to get her to do anything. She would have mishandled anything I had gotten her to do anyway. I just let her preen in front of the cameras as she claimed to be handling the crisis with “great precision and effectiveness.”

After her saying that, Gov. Blanco was lucky that the Soyoko were still sleeping off their feasting in the Center. I might have asked R’lyeh to show the govenor in her bedroom what precision and effectiveness looked like in the last bloody seconds of her empty, shallow life.

The week that followed my visits to Bush and Nagin was a blur of too many demands and too few hands. But Renfield and I managed. Old Swartz came steamrolling in, busting heads and butts. He left me alone, and I wisely kept a low profile, keeping to the shadows, trying to make his work easier not harder. But considering the labors of Hercules he was attempting, he was finding the Big Easy anything but easy.

And I went about my work in the shadows.

But now, after a whole week, he had sent for me. He had picked an odd meeting place : the Tulane campus. It was a mess but relatively dry considering Katrina. Renfield insisted on going with me. He was worried that I was pressing myself too hard and my senses were dulled by fatigue. But in an odd way, it was the exact opposite. Weariness over-rode the unconscious filter I put on what Rind's blood showed me.

With the soft voice of twilight, ghost music sang in my memory. It was accompanied by the chorus of the whispers of the wind from the listening sky. I closed my eyes. New Orleans was timeless, especially to me with the blood of Death in my veins. My transformed eyes only told me the truth, and the truth was not what I wanted to see. So I closed my eyes, and for a moment the truth was what I wanted it to be.

Meilori was back in my arms, supple and vibrant, the peach velvet of her cheek nestled against mine. She pulled back to murmur "Beloved."

Slanted eyes looked up into mine, seeming like jade quarter moons waiting to rise. Her smile was a promise of wicked delights to come in the evening hours before us. And my heart quickened.

Her hand lightly squeezed my gloved one. Her head bent forward, and soft lips tickled my ear. And we were dancing, dancing as if our bodies were the wind given life. It had taken me a hundred years, mind you, but I had learned to be a damn fine dancer. The firm body in my arms had been ample incentive.

Some moments lose their way and grope their way blindly back from the past into the present. Such a moment swept me up now. Meilori and I were dancing across this very grass. I had paid a prince's ransom to pry King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band out of Tulane's old gymnasium to play out here under the stars. In my mind, I could hear young Louis Armstrong on cornet, see the pleased faces of the other dancers stepping lightly all around us, and hear Meilori's low laughter. How amused she had been at being flirted with on the front porches of Jelly Roll Morten, Buddy Bolden, and Papa Jack Laine earlier that day. Those same houses had somehow survived Katrina, though not without damage. I made myself a promise I would see those places repaired.

Renfield rasped beside me, "Sam, are you doing this?"


I opened my eyes and went very still. The speechless shades of a long-gone night whirled and wheeled all around us. That long-ago evening was replaying itself before our eyes. Renfield and Magda were laughing as they danced beside Meilori and me. Outraged dowagers bent heads together, their silent tongues wagging at the sight of a priest and nun openly dancing under the watching stars.

Renfield sighed, "I'd forgotten how your face looked happy."

I looked at my ghostly double, envying him the sheer delight in his eyes. "I'd forgotten how it felt."

The sound of my words settled an old score with truth, and the evening shades slowly faded from sight. I shivered. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Renfield look wistfully at the disappearing Magda in his own double's arms. I sighed. Some truths were best seen only by starlight.

Renfield shook his head. "Remember the last dance of the night, Sam?"

I nodded. "Yeah, I remember. Don't understand it. But I remember it."

"Why did Meilori shush you off like that to dance by herself -- as if someone invisible was dancing with her?"

I sighed. "Haven't a clue. But it was a sight. She was so graceful, so full of sad love."
Renfield frowned, then nodded. "Sad love? Bloody Hell, you're right. I could never pin down the expression on her face until now. But sad love says it all."

"All. And nothing. I still don't understand the why of it. Just that she was so hauntingly beautiful as she danced."

Renfield made a face. "She could have been washing clothes on a rock, and you would have found her beautiful."

"I may have many sorrows, Padre, but the memory of Meilori is not one of them."

Renfield was about to say something, then looked off to our left. I followed the path of his eyes. I smiled. Swartz. Not that I called him that to his face, mind you.

He was a career soldier, full of discipline and respect for tradition and position. He was striding purposedly and brisk towards us, holding a plastic jug of some sort in his right hand. I smiled broader. It was a water jug of all things.

He stopped abruptly right in front of us. I smiled even wider at his clothes. No insignia or rank on his uniform of desert combat khaki, but it was starched and pressed as if just out of the cleaner's. I nodded to his clothing.

"Well, General, trying to bring on a dry spell with that?"

"Very funny, McCord. Though I am technically with FEMA, not the Army, the victory in Desert Storm is recalled whenever anyone sees me in this uniform. And I will use every asset at my disposal to get the job here done."

I smiled easy. "You'd have made a hell of a Texas Ranger given the chance."

He smiled very slightly. "I hear the same thing of you."

The smile dropped off his face as if too heavy for the moment. "Next time, McCord, you see me about to be killed, let me die. I do not want to go through something like this ever again. Dealing with bureaucrats is like being nibbled to death by ducks."

I sighed. "I couldn't think of anyone better for the job, General."

He studied me. "How did you persuade the President to select me anyway?"

"Who told you I persuaded him?"

"He did. He told me your voice was key in selecting me as the new head of FEMA."

Renfield smiled crooked. "You could put it that way."

Schwartzkoph frowned, but I waved away his protest before it could get out. "I neither blackmailed nor coerced the leader of this country."

His steely blue eyes narrowed. "You phrased that rather oddly."

"Let's just say he's not the man his father was."

He nodded sadly. "Which of us is?"

I shook my own head. "Certainly not me."

Renfield pointed to the water jug. "Sure, General, but don't be telling me you've been reduced to moonshining?"

Schwartzkoph pointedly ignored the smirking priest and looked at me. "A mutual Apache friend of ours requested that I ask you to meet me here where there are no mirrors or reflective surfaces to tell you that he is an Indian giver."

Crap. My world had just gotten deadlier. In that repeated message, Elu was telling me several things. All of them bad. First, he was in trouble. Second, there were ears that might overhear Swartzkopf and could use mirrors as Elu did. Third, the second fact meant that others from the mirror world were here in New Orleans. Add the three up, and you got the unstated message : "Give me back my knife now!"
With Renfield frowning, I bent quickly, pulling Elu's knife from the top of my right boot. I gouged a small pit in the dirt with the black blade. I looked up at Schwartzkoph. He didn't have to be the engineer he was to know what he was to do with the water. He popped open the jug and hurriedly splashed the water into the small hole.

"Bloody Hell!," sputtered Renfield, as Elu's bloodied fingers shot up from the reflective surface of the hastily made puddle.

I swept my hand behind me, pulling from the small-of-the-back holster the .50 caliber Desert Eagle I had taken from one of the Russian mobsters. I tossed it beside Elu's bleeding fingers. His other hand shot out from the water, grasping it. I heard him whoop his war cry as both blade and automatic were wrenched under the water too shallow for them to logically disappear as they both had. Then, the water erupted upwards like a blowing volcano. As I waved the boiling clouds of steam away, I saw the small hole was empty and dry.

"Stone the crows!," muttered Renfield. "What was that all about?"

My face felt stiff. "Like this planet, the mirror world can be a deadly place."

I rubbed a weary hand across my face. "Maybe deadlier than I thought. Elu just let us know that the mirror world has ... agents here on this planet. Maybe that is where DayStar comes from."

Renfield's face grew dark. "You know where DayStar comes from, Sam."

I shook my head. "You think you know. But the jury is still out for me."

Swartzkoph shook his own head. "You know, McCord, before I met you, my world used to make sense."

"I envy you, General."

"Envy me? What on earth for?"

"At least your world made sense once. Mine never has."

He reached out and squeezed my shoulder firm. "We all have times when the soul inside us rattles in the dark. You just adapt, make do. Like you will have to make do without me come the end of next week."


"Bush may be my commander-in-chief, but his ideas for this city run counter to what I believe best. I will not be a figurehead while helpless people are left to needlessly suffer."

I nodded. “I knew he’d pull back as soon as he could. What surprises me is that you accomplished more in one week than I thought you could do in two.”

His jaw firmed. “I will do even more in this next week. After that, the charade begins.”

I shook my head. “By then, private corporations I’ve contacted will start pitching in. In another two weeks, my club will be up and running.”

Swartzkoph raised an eyebrow. “Hardly a priority, McCord, with all the hurting people in this city.”

“You misunderstand, General. I’ll be able to start my pay-per-view internet concert of the jazz greats. The profits from that non-stop concert will funnel into a Katrina Relief Fund.”

Swartzkoph seemed doubtful. “I don’t know how much money that will pull in.”

I smiled wide. “Worldwide? Quite a bit. When you factor in that most of the jazz greats playing will be dead ones.”

I called upon Elu’s and Rind’s blood within me and misty shapes began to form all around us. Young Louis Armstrong, cornet under his arm, slapped my shoulder.

“Be glad to be there, Sam.”

Dizzy Gillespie shimmered beside him, his trumpet sparkling in the starlight, his beret set at a rakish angle. Jelly Roll Morten, his eyes dancing with “Spanish Tinge,” laughed at Swartzkoph’s startled jump. Charlie “Bird” Parker winked at me, holding his saxophone tight.

Cigarette hanging from his lips, Duke Ellington drawled, “You provide the piano. I’ll provide this old body. New Orleans is our mother. And we aim to be good sons.”

Swartzkoph looked a haunted question at me. He wanted to know who these spectral visitors were. And the hell of it was that I didn’t rightly know. Just because I had summoned them, didn’t mean I knew. Were they my friends drawn from my heart’s memory when they were young, or could I reach out into the night and bring them to a remembrance of shadows? Think you know the shape of death? I did once. I was wrong.

I thought it a dark tunnel at the end of life, whose end was blazing light. I found it to be a cloud that filled the horizon with flickers of black light and scarlet winds. Thickly it spills over ocean and land, sweeping up all in its billowing path. And even that glimpse is misty, flawed with things my mind cannot contain.

I spoke softly to them. “Give me two weeks, and we’ll put on a show like none has ever seen before.”

Louis swiped at his forehead with a white handkerchief. “Time ain’t what you think, Sam. Nor is the reason we’re here. You open those doors. We be there. Now, you owe someone a last dance.”

He turned to the others. “Boys, we’ve got us an empress to play for.”

There was a movement of shadows to my left, and my heart hollowed out as Renfield breathed, “Dear Lord above.”

Meilori’s shade danced open-armed in front of me.

What does love look like? What is its color? A white flash of fright. A billowing wave of warmth, its reach beyond the microscope and further than the length of hope. Is it a jewel sparkling in the night? Or a whisper murmuring within the corridors of the heart?

Once more Meilori danced across the velvet grass, her empty arms beckoning to me. Her soft voice carried like a specter in the dark. Her words brushed by me and into my soul.

“Beloved, one last dance.”

And I finally understood her dancing empty-armed that magic evening so long ago. She had seen me, as now I saw her. Perhaps she thought me the ghost of a future me, dead and searching for her. And not understanding completely, still she took me in her arms.

As I, not understanding completely, now took her in mine. She smiled, brushing soft lips against mine. And my jazz friends began to play in a heart-clasp of sound.
Love is not a shy beast to be caught but a rare moment to be treasured. It burns within each cell, a living seed of hope. Its rays invisible to most, seen only by the searching heart.

Meilori was in my arms, and her love was a sheath that kept me whole. She lightly kissed me. I almost felt it. We danced through the embrace of shadows. And for a very short moment, I was home. Home.
Currently, I am listening to "Begin the Beguine" by Tony Martin. No, I'm not that ancient. But I am a fan of CASABLANCA. Here's looking at you, kid.

P.S. I have just entered the "Dear Lucky Agent" contest given by the website Wish me luck.

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