Friday, April 7, 2017

Friday's Film Adaptions: Fear Strikes Out: The Jim Piersall Story by Jim Piersall & Al Hirshberg


Summary:
A star of the 1950s Red Sox recounts his career and his battle with mental illnessWhen Jim Piersall first donned a Boston Red Sox uniform, he quickly distinguished himself as one of baseball’s most colorful figures. Prone to wild rages, he argued with umpires, managers, and his fellow teammates, showing off an unpredictable personality that fans and sportswriters ate up, but which infuriated his club. His behavior became more erratic until he suffered a violent breakdown that saw him institutionalized and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Cowritten with Boston sportswriter Al Hirshberg, this is the story of Piersall’s collapse and his subsequent attempt to return to the major leagues. A shattering confessional of mental hardship, Fear Strikes Out is an unforgettable look at the difficulties of playing sports at the highest level.



CHAPTER 1
Fear Strikes Out
I must have been quite a card when first I broke into baseball's big league as a Boston Red Sox rookie in 1952. That spring, besides playing good ball, I convulsed the fans with my antics. I was a funny man, a baseball clown, and wherever the Red Sox went, the fans flocked to see me. My repertoire of pantomime and slapstick made me a ripe subject for sports writers and columnists.

Almost everybody except the umpires and the Red Sox thought I was a riot. My wife knew I was sick, yet she was helpless to stop my mad rush towards a mental collapse. The Red Sox couldn't figure out how to handle me. I was a problem child. The umpires, whom I plagued with silly protests over routine decisions, thought I was a pain in the neck.

Lou Boudreau, the Red Sox manager, never knew whether to play me or to keep me on the bench. He liked the way I played ball but not the way I behaved. When he played me I clowned so outrageously that I threatened to make a travesty of the game. When he didn't, I badgered him to distraction. Sometimes I stormed and screamed if I couldn't play, and once I even cried in public like a baby. I mocked my teammates and fought with them and with opposing players. I had the whole club, and indeed, much of the American League, in an uproar. Finally the Red Sox sent me to their Southern Association farm club at Birmingham, Alabama, but I was worse there than I had been in Boston. Then I returned to Boston, where the roof suddenly fell in on me. I went berserk one day, and ended up in a mental institution.

I don't remember any of it. From the moment I walked into the lobby of the Sarasota-Terrace Hotel in Sarasota, Florida, to report to the Red Sox special training camp on the morning of January 15, 1952, until the moment I came to my senses in the violent room of the Westborough State Hospital in Massachusetts the following August, my mind is almost an absolute blank. I do have a clear recollection of the birth of my second daughter, Doreen, in March, but outside of that, there are only a few hazy impressions.

But I pulled out of it. Shock treatments, faith, a wonderful wife, a fine doctor and loyal friends pulled me out of it. I pulled out of it so well that I was sound and healthy by the spring of 1953. I pulled out of it so well that I was named the outstanding sophomore ballplayer in the American League. I now face the future with confidence, for I know that I have recovered completely, just as surely as if I had recovered completely from pneumonia or chickenpox or a broken leg instead of mental illness.

It is for that reason that I am telling my story, for I want the world to know that people like me who have returned from the half-world of mental oblivion are not forever contaminated. We have been sick. The best way to help us get well and stay well is to treat us like human beings—as I've been treated. We don't have to talk about our sickness in whispers or prowl about on the edge of society with our hands to our ears to block out the whispers of others. We have nothing to be ashamed of. All we want is to be understood by those who have never been where we have. There is no better therapy than understanding. I have received my share of that, for which I thank God every day of my life. But in order that I and others like me may be fully understood, I must tell my story from the beginning, for the source of my sickness goes far back beyond the day I blacked out in Sarasota.


I was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, on November 14, 1929. My parents were already well along in middle age. I had one brother, but, since he was nearly 20 years older than I, he belonged to another generation. He never was a factor in my life. He married while I was very young, and died a few years later. To all intents and purposes, I was brought up as an only child.

My dad was a house painter. When he worked, he made a good living, but he was idle much of the time. I don't remember his ever being very far ahead of the world financially. At the time I was born, the great depression of the thirties was about to begin, and Waterbury was terribly badly hit. There were few jobs for anyone in those days, and practically no demand whatever for house painters.

One of my first memories was of my dad coming into the house, setting a huge bundle on the kitchen table and saying, "Well, we can be thankful for one thing. At least, we can get the bag."

I didn't know it then, but I found out later that "the bag" was the only thing that stood between us and starvation. It was a handout of food, given to the unemployed by the city of Waterbury once a week. It consisted mostly of canned goods and dry groceries, a little meat and fish and a few vegetables. It was supposed to last a week, but my mom had to do a lot of stretching to make it go that far. I was too young to realize it, for I was only three or four then, but there were a lot of hours near the tag end of the week when I cried from sheer hunger.

We lived in the back part of a wooden building at 683 East Main Street, in the heart of a working-class district. My parents still live there, and whenever I go to visit them I feel a pang of nostalgia, for, whether I liked it or not, it was home to me for nearly twenty years. I knew poverty, unhappiness, fear, even terror there, but there were good times, too, times when I knew real contentment and enjoyed good companionship and was the object of deep affection. When I walk into my old room on the second floor—that's my dad's room now—I can stifle the bad and lose myself in happy recollections of the good. There on the walls are the pictures of sports teams I played on while I was growing up. I never tire of looking at them, picking out old teammates and thinking of them as they are today. There, all about the room, are some of the things I made in school—the two flower-pot holders, the sewing basket I made for Mom, the two nightstands, the little bookcase, the smoking stand I made for my dad. In spite of everything, my modern home, my loyal wife, my wonderful family, my success in baseball, my strides toward financial security, my complete happiness in the life I now lead, the little wave of homesickness stops me for a minute or two each time I visit the apartment in Waterbury.

It had a good back yard and enough room for us all, but it wasn't much otherwise. Two brothers who owned the building lived in the front part. One was a tailor, the other a barber. Their shops were side by side, facing East Main Street. The entrance to our apartment was on one side. We had the entire rear of the building. The sitting room was downstairs, along with the kitchen and the bathroom. We had a coal stove, an icebox, two set tubs, a table and some chairs in the kitchen. There was a divan in the sitting room, along with a dining-room set, consisting of a table and four chairs, although we rarely ate there. Upstairs were two bedrooms and a big storage closet. In winter, my room was always ice cold, but I didn't mind. I slept well, and never suffered from anything in the way of colds more serious than occasional sniffles. To this day, I sleep with my bedroom windows wide open, regardless of the temperature outside.

We had no running hot water. When I took a bath, my mom would heat water on the stove and pour it into the tub for me. I never had a hot-water shower until I was old enough to take one at the school gymnasium. I have never lost my appreciation for one either. When I take a hot shower today, I stand under it as long as possible, enjoying every drop as it pours down over my body. A shower was the height of luxury for so many years that, to my dying day, I'll never take one for granted.

The back yard, which ran the width of the house, was fairly deep, and enclosed by a wooden fence. There were trees along one side and a tool shed on the other. Behind the shed, we kept three or four trash cans. In spite of these obstacles, there was enough room back there for my father and me to play catch. He was rolling a ball at me while I was still an infant, and tossing one at me when I was old enough to stand on my feet. One of my earliest memories—I couldn't have been more than four years old—was standing in the yard behind the house, catching a rubber ball and lobbing it back to my dad. I learned how to catch and throw a ball before I learned the alphabet.

I loved to catch a ball. It gave me a big thrill to snag it out of the air, especially when I had to stretch or reach around one of the back-yard obstacles. I used to ask my father to throw the ball high and to every corner of the yard, and if he didn't happen to be home, I'd do it for myself. When he wasn't around, I even practiced catching a ball behind my back, although I didn't dare let him catch me at it. It was only a stunt, and he would say that stunts like that would serve no good purpose during a real baseball game.

Once, when I was in the first grade, after I had made a particularly hard catch in the back yard, I laughed and said to my dad, "This is fun!"

"Of course it's fun," he agreed.

"But catching a ball," I said. "That's real fun."

He stopped and looked at me for a moment. Then he said, slowly, "I don't want you thinking about fun. When you grow up, I want you to become a slugger like Jimmy Foxx. That's where the money is."

Jimmy Foxx was baseball's leading home-run hitter at the time. He was my father's favorite ballplayer, particularly since he had just been traded by the Philadelphia Athletics to the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox were my father's favorite team.

There were times when I loved my father and times when whatever emotion I felt for him was anything but love. I respected him, as I do today, but I was afraid of him. Not a big man, he was stocky, with broad shoulders and a flat stomach, and he had the strength of a bull. When he was nice to me, he was as wonderful as any father could be. He joked with me and bought me ice cream and put his arm around me and sometimes even kissed me. When he was like that, I felt very close to him.

But when he was angry, he terrified me. He used to wear heavy shoes that tapered towards a point at the toe. When I was a little slow getting ready to run an errand, he would turn me around, let me go, then reach out with one foot and shove it in my direction, accompanying the gesture with a roaring, "Come on—get out!" If I didn't dodge fast enough, that sharp toe would land on my rump and I wouldn't be able to sit down for a week. When my dad was really angry, his sharp eyes would bore through me, his face and his gleaming bald head would redden and he would bellow at me in a voice that made the windows rattle and the pantry dishes jump. His voice was deep and raucous, and sometimes I could hear it in my sleep. I would do anything to avoid his anger. He set down my rules, and I tried hard not to disobey them, for I lived in fear of his wrath. I had to be home at five in the afternoon for supper and at seven-thirty in the evening for bed. When he wanted me, he whistled in a long, low, moaning whine. I got to dread that whistle, for it meant that time was short, and I rushed home the moment I heard it. There was a strapping waiting for me in case I was late.

My mom was gentle, sweet-faced and quiet. She had a soft, even voice, and when she was well she never raised it. When my father found fault with anything around the house, she let him roar himself out and then went about her business. At first, I used to think that his frequent outbursts of anger rolled off her back without leaving any effect, but later I learned better.

Whenever I got into trouble or did anything wrong, I went to my mother and told her everything.

"Do you want your dad to know?" she would ask.

"Does he have to know?" I'd reply.

Then we would talk it over. If it was obvious that he would find out sooner or later, I would agree to tell him myself. If there was a chance that we could keep it from him, she would agree not to say anything. There was nothing that I did wrong that my mom didn't know about. I loved her and trusted her, and she, in turn, showered me with affection.

I saw my first real baseball game when I was in kindergarten. There was an amateur league in Waterbury which played its games on Sundays at Hamilton Park, about a mile from my home. Overlooking the park was a high hill, which was generally known as "the mountain." You could see a ball game from there without paying your way into the park. My dad would take me over there, and we'd sit on the mountain and see the game.

"Watch closely," he said. "That's the only way you'll learn."

If I got restless or squirmed around, he would snap, "Quiet down and watch the ball game." But there was no question I could ask about the game that he wouldn't answer. He was impatient about a good many things, but never about my curiosity over baseball.

"You must learn baseball backwards and forwards," he told me. "The more you know, the better ballplayer you'll be."

I could tell what a batter should do in a given situation before I could write my name. By the time I was in the first grade, I was an ardent Red Sox fan. I listened to their games on the radio when I wasn't out playing ball, and I knew the names of everyone on the team. I grew up a Red Sox fan. It never occurred to me to cheer for anyone else, even though in Waterbury we were within radio range of the Braves, who were then also in Boston, the two New York teams, the Giants and the Yankees, and the Brooklyn Dodgers. My dad was strictly a Red Sox man. So was I.

When I was five years old, my parents entered me in the kindergarten of the Sacred Heart School, a parochial school operated by the Sacred Heart Church, which was on East Main Street, almost next door to my house. My father is a Protestant, but my mother, a devout Catholic, wanted me to be brought up in the Church, and my father had no objections.

I did not dislike school, although in common with all the other kids, I could think of a lot of things I'd rather do than go there. The nuns at Sacred Heart were gentle and understanding, and I could relax when I was with them. One of them became almost a second mother to me. Her name was Sister Margaret. She was my first-grade teacher.

The first time I ever had any direct contact with Sister Margaret was just before recess on my first day in her class. We were walking towards the school yard when I stepped out of line. Before I knew what was happening, she had swooped down on me and, gently pulling me by the ear, put me back where I belonged.

Later, while we were outside, she came over to me and said, softly, "You're Jimmy Piersall, aren't you?"

"Yes, Sister," I mumbled.

"I'm glad to see you, Jimmy. Your mother is my very dear friend."

"Thank you, Sister."

"You're a nice boy. And after this, you will keep in line, won't you?"

"Yes, Sister."

After a while, she began referring to me as "my Jimmy." If anyone asked for me, she would say, "My Jimmy's outside playing ball. I can hear his voice." Or, if I got into trouble and she heard about it, it would be, "That's too bad. I guess I'll have to go and pull my Jimmy's ear."

At first, she pulled my ear only when she was really displeased about something I did, but she never hurt me. As I grew older and we became closer, she began pulling my ear in jest, until it finally got to be a game with us. She does it now as a greeting whenever we meet.

I could talk to Sister Margaret the way I talked to my own mother. She knew my mother so very well and felt so close to her that we had our affection for Mom in common. By the time I was in the second grade, Sister Margaret developed into more than just a dear friend. She became the one stabilizing influence in my life, the only person I knew to whom I could pour out my problems and with whom I could relax completely. I came to love her as I loved my own mother because, in effect, that was exactly what she had to be to me.

Film
Major League star Jimmy Piersall fights to save his sanity.

Release Date: March 20, 1957
Release Time: 100 minutes

Cast:
Anthony Perkins as Jim Piersall
Karl Malden as John Piersall
Norma Moore as Mary Piersall
Adam Williams as Dr. Brown
Perry Wilson as Mrs. Piersall
Peter J. Votrian as young Jim Piersall
Richard Bull as Reporter Slade (uncredited)
Bart Burns as Joe Cronin (uncredited)
Edd Byrnes as Boy in Car Assisting Jimmy Up Stairway (uncredited)
Art Gilmore as Broadcaster (voice, uncredited)
Brian G. Hutton as Bernie Serwill (uncredited)
Morgan Jones as Sandy Allen (uncredited)
Bing Russell as Ballplayer Holding Trophy (uncredited)
Gary Vinson as High School Ballplayer (uncredited)


Trailer

Clip

Author Bio:
Jim Piersall
Jim Piersall (b. 1929) began his baseball career with the Boston Red Sox, where he distinguished himself with his capable offense and strong defensive play. But he is best known for his strange sense of humor—he once came to bat in a Beatles wig—and for the battle with bipolar disorder that threatened to end his major league career before it began. His account of that struggle, Fear Strikes Out, was adapted for the screen in 1957. Once he recovered his mental health, Piersall went on to spend another fifteen years in the major leagues. He was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2010.

Al Hirshberg
Al Hirshberg (1909–1973) spent four decades as a preeminent Boston sportswriter. In addition to his newspaper work, he wrote several books about the Red Sox.


Jim Piersall

Al Hirshberg
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Patience by Helena Stone

Title: Patience
Author: Helena Stone
Series: Dublin Virtues #1
Genre: M/M Romance
Release Date: March 28, 2017
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Summary:
Patience is a virtue. But what if you wait too long?

While Xander Ekman’s dream of becoming a successful artist has come true, his love life has gone from bad to worse. Sick of the endless string of one-night stands, he accepts the challenge when his best friend, Erik, bets him that he can’t be celibate for a month. Now all he needs is a reminder to keep his distance in the heat of the moment.

Troy Moriarty doesn’t have time for love. He’s too busy trying to keep his recently opened tattoo parlor afloat. Besides, ever since the man who was supposed to be his business partner abandoned him to run the shop on his own, he has a hard time trusting others.

When Xander turns to Troy for a tattoo that will remind him to be patient, the attraction is instant. But faced with Xander’s month of celibacy, Troy’s trust issues, and a nemesis lurking in the background, their relationship may be doomed before it has a chance to begin.


I'm going to jump right out of the gate and say what a lovely story Patience is, realistic and beautiful.  Now, as any one who is familiar with my reviews knows that I don't do spoilers.  Having said all that, Xander and Troy could have saved themselves quite a bit of time and stress had they been more upfront with each other from the get go.  Sometimes stories with misunderstandings, miscommunication, or lack thereof, make the reader just want to scream and shake their ereader but not Patience.  Let's face it, if there was no drama then you would be reading a 10 page leaflet instead of a full length novel and where is the fun in that?  But Patience is much more than just drama caused from miscommunication, there is a clear reason why both Xander and Troy haven't divulged everything to each other, but those reasons you'll have to discover for yourself.

Along with the budding romance between Xander and Troy, I loved the true bromances boy men have with their lifelong friends, Eric and Lorcan.  Helena Stone has created a journey that blends the title, the reasoning behind it, and interesting characters that will keep you hooked from the first page to the last.  You might actually even discover something about yourself as you ride along with Xander and Troy in their quest for a healthy future that all began with a little tattoo.

Helena Stone is a new author for me and after just one story I'm already looking forward to more, beginning with Equality, Dublin Virtues book 2 which follows Eric and Lorcan.  She is definitely an author I'll keep on my radar.

RATING: 

Author Bio:
Helena Stone can’t remember a life before words and reading. After growing up in a household where no holiday or festivity was complete without at least one new book, it’s hardly surprising she now owns more books than shelf space while her Kindle is about to explode.

The urge to write came as a surprise. The realisation that people might enjoy her words was a shock to say the least. Now that the writing bug has well and truly taken hold, Helena can no longer imagine not sharing the characters in her head and heart with the rest of the world.

Having left the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam for the peace and quiet of the Irish Country side she divides her time between reading, writing, long and often wet walks with the dog, her part-time job in a library, a grown-up daughter and her ever loving and patient husband.


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All Who Wander Are Lost by Bruce Blake

Title: All Who Wander Are Lost
Author: Bruce Blake
Series: Icarus Fell #2
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: April 2, 2017
Summary:
If we're good, we go to Heaven; if we're bad we go to Hell. No one wants to go to Hell.

Except one man who wishes people would just remember to call him Ric.

In the aftermath of a serial killer's murderous spree, souls who didn't deserve damnation went to Hell. The archangel Michael doesn't seem concerned, but Icarus Fell can't bear the guilt of knowing it's his fault they ended up there.

But how can he save them when the archangel forbids him from going and his guardian angel refuses to help?

The answer comes in the form of another beautiful, bewitching guardian angel who offers to be his guide. They travel to Hell to rescue the unjustly damned one by one, but salvation comes at a cost and the economy of Hell demands souls.

Is it a price Icarus is willing to pay?



Chapter One
When your guardian angel and her friend, the archangel Gabriel, tell you to stay put, it’s probably a good idea to listen.

I should have, but I have inexplicable difficulty with authority figures. It gets me in trouble. A lot.

An old Buick sat to the right of my motel room door looking like it hadn’t moved in a decade or so, and it certainly hadn’t budged since I checked in; a few other cars were parked in the motel’s lot but there were no people. I stepped across the threshold and closed the door behind me, the click of the lock firecracker-loud in the winter night.

I paused. Still no one around. I breathed deep and stepped away from the door, the first time I’d been outside the dingy, musty-smelling room in weeks.

A month ago, the police found a tranny prostitute named Dante Frank dead on a bed in a five-star hotel, hairy chest and hairless vagina exposed for the world to see along with the biblical references his killer carved in his flesh. Dante, whom I’d known as Danielle Francis, was the last victim of the serial killer dubbed the Revelations Reaper by the media. The police had a suspect in the string of killings: me.

I didn’t kill any of them but, if the truth be told, their deaths were on me.

Forget the angels telling me to stay indoors, the fact the local news had been flashing an unflattering picture of my face on the screen every night until a week ago should have kept me inside my seedy room. But you know what they say about common sense...it ain’t so common.

Icarus Fell: living proof.

I didn’t think that because they finally stopped plastering my face all over the six o’clock news they’d stopped looking for me. Every cop in the city likely still carried my picture like they were at war and I was their girl waiting for them back home, but after four weeks in my motel-room-prison, the prospect of remaining inside held as little appeal as being girlfriend to a bunch of cops.  I’d spent every moment of the last month thinking about my role in the deaths, wishing things were different. Another minute trapped alone with my guilt might prove one too many.

I slipped away from the motel and down a side street, disappearing in shadows and down alleys wherever I could. The taste of impending snow in the early December air fortified my lungs.

As I ranged farther from the motel, the garbage strewn on the streets and graffiti tags spray-painted on walls -- ‘Big Turk Wuz Hear’ and other poetic gems -- became less frequent until they disappeared completely. I’d made my way to a neighborhood where people cared, a fact which should have rang alarm bells in my head and made me more careful, but the lack of hookers and drug dealers lifted my spirits and my worry ebbed taking caution along with it.

Dumb ass.

I paused at the intersection, the lights of an approaching car reflecting on the frost-rimed pavement as I waited to be sure it would obey the stop sign. Without the fresh air loosening my wits, I’d have waved him through, but freedom made my head light in the way of a non-smoker after a few drags on a cigarette. The car’s brakes squeaked as it rolled to a halt. I stepped off the curb and raised a hand in thanks, squinting against the lights, but couldn’t see the driver. Hand replaced in pocket, I continued on my way, thinking nothing of it until I heard the hum and chatter of a power window in need of repair.

“Hey, you.”

The words weren’t spoken with the timbre of someone in need of directions. The caution and worry the beautiful night had leeched from me flooded back; I quickened my pace.

“Stop.”

I broke into a run before his engine roared and tires chirped. Cutting across a well-manicured lawn, I hopped a fence, ran through a back yard dominated by an inter-locking brick patio and an in-ground pool emptied for the winter, then vaulted another fence into a rear lane, cursing my stupidity with every step.

Despite a house between us, I heard the car’s engine rev and labor as the driver gave chase. I dove through a line of tall shrubs, their branches scratching my face, and into another yard, keeping my flight to places the car couldn’t go. Ten minutes of fence-jumping and shrub-diving later, I emerged on a sporadically lit street. Familiar graffiti scrolled across the side of a building; Big Turk and his poor spelling were back. Close to my motel. My lungs labored, the cold air hurting my chest instead of refreshing it as a stitch in my side dug in and grabbed hold. I stopped to catch my breath, bent at the waist, hands grasping knees like the world’s worst marathoner run out of steam, but rest didn’t last long. A siren wailed behind me and I forced my legs back into action.

I darted into an alley and the all-too-familiar stink of garbage and piss, depression and decay hit me immediately. I’d lost so many days and nights of my youth in alleys like this, sleeping off a bottle of vodka or poking a needle in my arm. I forced the thought from my mind. This was no time to self-analyze by way of shitty memories.

Tires screeched at the mouth of the alley. I didn’t look back, my attention taken by a figure stepping out of the shadows into my path. A Carrion, I assumed--a human-shaped demon sent to collect souls and make my life difficult--but I quickly realized the silhouette was smaller and more feminine, leaving two possible people. Angels, really. I halted a few paces beyond arm’s-reach in case I was wrong.

“Hey, mister. Long time, no see.”

I recognized the voice immediately. The angel stepped into the light and I saw her gingerbread hair, glimpsed the freckled skin of her cheek.

“Gabe.”

The Archangel Gabriel is the messenger. She brings scrolls with my assignments inscribed on them: who’s scheduled to pass, where, when, and where to take them when it’s done.

I couldn’t think of a worse time for her to show up.

“Did you miss me?”

Her pure voice echoed off the alley walls and a chorus of swallows which always accompanied her, but that I couldn’t see in the dark, chirped and chittered on a fire escape overhead.

“Don’t have time right now, Gabe,” I said breathlessly and glanced over my shoulder. The alley remained empty, but it wouldn’t for much longer.

“Here.”

She offered a scroll which hadn’t been in her hand a second before.

“Really, Gabe? I don’t--” I gestured toward the alley at my back, offered a pleading look. She shook the scroll at me and raised an eyebrow.

I’d learned the hard way that harvesting wasn’t the kind of job you could slack off at; the hard way seems to be how I learn pretty much everything. I gave in without any real fight.

My finger brushed hers as I grasped the rolled parchment and an electric charge prickled the hairs on my arm, bringing with it a longing to spend time with her, to be in her presence as long as possible. I nearly forgot the man chasing me.

“Gabe, I--”

She smiled and shrugged. “You don’t have time, remember?”

Swallow wings beat the air above my head as she walked away. I stared after her for a second before pulling myself from the angel-induced stupor to look at the scroll in my hand. This was my second assignment since everything went down: the deaths, the media frenzy, the explosion at the church. What happened to souls during my seclusion? Did they make other arrangements or were they okay with everyone going to Hell for a few weeks while I got my wits about me? Great vacation for me, but kind of sucked for everyone else.

Unrolling the scroll unnerved me. After being given one inscribed with my son’s name, I couldn’t help but hold my breath. Probably would every time I did it.

Shaun Williams.

I set my captive breath free. Didn’t know him. The address scrawled on the yellowed parchment wasn’t familiar either, but I knew the city well enough to recognize it was close. I read the time of death, then checked my watch.

Two minutes from now.

The sound of shoes hammering pavement reverberated off the alley’s brick walls. I got my legs moving again and took a corner, feet tangling in a pile of garbage bags and spilling me to the pavement. My shoulder hit hard and I skidded a couple of feet along the damp ground, filth snow-plowing onto my jacket. I scrambled to my feet, glanced ahead and behind as the footsteps grew louder, and realized the futility of my flight. Facing my pursuer seemed the only option. Maybe I could talk my way out of it before my appointment came and went.

Damn it.

Bad things happen to good people when I miss appointments. And to bad people; also, the Swiss.

I backed down the alley and didn’t have to wait long for the man chasing me. He rounded the corner, avoided the garbage bags which had tripped me, and skidded to a halt in a pool of light cast by a security light mounted high overhead. The dress pants he wore looked a year or so beyond their best-before date; a long wool coat covered a rumpled dress shirt which may never have made a dry cleaner’s acquaintance. I might have noticed more but the gun in his hand distracted me.

“Mr. Fell,” he said between panted breaths. “If that’s really your name.”

“It’s the name the bastard gave me,” I muttered glancing from gun to a face I’d met a few times and seen many more on the news. The muscles in my jaw clenched and released as I silently counted the passing seconds in my head. “We seem to meet under awkward circumstances, don’t we, Detective?”

“Sometimes happens between serial killers and cops.”

“I didn’t kill anyone.”

“Right.” He leveled the gun, his eternally tired eyes unwavering. “And I’m Serena Williams. Put your hands behind your head.”

A little firework went off in my brain, interrupting my mental countdown. He obviously wasn’t Serena Williams -- wrong sex, wrong skin color, and he didn’t look like much of a tennis player -- so why pick her out of a thousand possible celebrities to use sarcastically? I chanced pissing him off and stole a peek at my watch: t-minus one minute. My gut wrenched one twist to the right.

If I don’t get out of here quick--

The thought cut off half-formed, bullied aside by another. The detective was the lead investigator in the Revelations Reaper case, the guy the newscasts interviewed no matter how uncomfortable he looked on camera, so I’d seen his face a hundred times on TV. And every time they showed him offering his oft-quoted ‘no comment’, they emblazoned his name on the screen in white letters.

How did I miss it?

Detective Shaun Williams.

I raised an eyebrow. “Detective Williams?”

“Yeah, that’s right. Now that we’ve been properly introduced, put your fucking hands behind your head before I shoot you.”

I peered past him, then to both sides. With his name on the scroll in my back pocket, there had to be someone waiting to ambush this man scheduled to die in about forty-five seconds.

“You need to get out of here,” I said, eyes still searching the shadows. “You’re in danger.”

“Me?” He stretched his arm toward me, pushing the barrel closer. “If you don’t get your hands up right now, you’ll never walk again.”

The seconds ticked off in my head, echoing down the hallways of my mind. I gritted my teeth, fought the compulsion to try and save him.

Not my job.

They sent me to retrieve his soul after his death, not prevent it. But so many already died because of me and my poor choices. Maybe this was an opportunity to make amends--with myself, if no one else. My eyes found his and held his gaze for a second; I didn’t have much more than that.

“You’ll thank me for this later,” I murmured and darted toward him, moving faster than he expected an out-of-shape-almost-forty guy like me could.

He squeezed the trigger but I was on him before he got the shot off. The gunshot nearly deafened me, the explosion echoing through my head, ringing in my ears. My arms encircled him, pinning his at his sides, and inertia carried me forward, driving him to the ground. Breath whooshed out of his lungs when we hit, but I didn’t let go.

“This is for your own good,” I said into his ear. His body jerked but my grip held. The last few seconds counted down in my head.

Five...four...three...two...one.

When I reached zero, I held on a few seconds longer in case my timing was off or my watch was slow. Nothing happened. No gunshot, no one jumping from the shadows; a grand piano didn’t drop from a balcony. Nothing.

I leaned back, a hand on his gun arm to prevent him from shooting me. Some thanks that would be for saving his life. I gripped his wrist expecting him to squirm away, but he didn’t. His lack of movement should have tipped me something was wrong, but I was too concerned with making sure we weren’t about to be attacked to notice. Nothing moved in the shadows, no one approached down the alley.

Could the scroll have been wrong?

Unlikely, but it happened before, when other forces manipulated events. How did I know the same wasn’t the case this time?

I didn’t.

A small movement caught my eye and I looked left to see a figure standing five yards away. Fear forced bitter, electric saliva into my mouth like I’d bitten down on a piece of aluminum foil, and I snatched the gun from Detective Williams’ hand, jerked it toward the silhouette. The man didn’t react, but simply stood watching. His presence made a knot form in my stomach which worked its way quickly into the back of my throat. The figure stepped forward into the light and the muscles in my forearm tensed, my finger brushed the trigger. It only took a second to realize he wasn’t as opaque as he should be.

This wasn’t a man, but a dislodged soul.

“What--?” I began but the lump in my throat got the better of my voice.

My brain finally registered the detective’s lack of movement and I looked from the soul to the detective’s face. His tired eyes stared up at me blankly; a dark circle of fluid spread across the grungy pavement beneath his head.

“No, I--”

The sight of his glazed eyes hit me like a spinning kick to the gut, stealing my breath and energy. My gun arm sagged, the police-issue .38 resting against my thigh, forgotten. I resisted the urge to shake him by the lapel of his wool coat or slap him awake, call out his name. I already knew what the result would be. The overhead light reflected in the pool of liquid around his head making a grisly halo.

I was responsible for another death.

I shook my head in disbelief and looked back at the spirit. There were no black bags under its eyes or worry lines at the corners of its mouth, but there was no mistaking to whom the soul belonged: except for the felt fedora tilted over the soul’s left eye like he’d stepped out of a Mickey Spillane novel, the spirit wore the same clothes.

“I didn’t--”

My words stuck again. Or maybe I didn’t want to complete the sentence because it would make what happened real. No need to worry, the ghost took care of that piece of business for me.

“You killed me.”

On Unfaithful Wings #1
Summary:
To some, death is the end; to others, a beginning. To Icarus Fell, it should have been a relief from a life gone seriously awry.

But death had other plans.

Icarus doesn't believe that the man awaiting him when he wakes up in a cheap motel room is really the archangel Michael, or that God's right hand wants him to help souls on their way to Heaven. Icarus doesn't believe there's a Heaven, so why should they want his help?

But the man claiming to be the archangel tempts him with an offer he can't ignore--harvest enough souls and get back the life he wished he'd had.

It seems Icarus has nothing to lose, until he botches a harvest and the soul that went to Hell instead of Heaven comes back to make him pay by threatening to take away the life he hoped to win back.

To save the wife and son he already lost once, Icarus will have to become the man he never was. Somehow, he will have to learn to believe.

Author Bio:
Bruce Blake lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. When pressing issues like shovelling snow and building igloos don't take up his spare time, Bruce can be found taking the dog sled to the nearest coffee shop to work on his short stories and novels.

Actually, Victoria, B.C. is only a couple hours north of Seattle, Wash., where more rain is seen than snow. Since snow isn't really a pressing issue, Bruce spends more time trying to remember to leave the "u" out of words like "colour" and "neighbour" than he does shovelling (and watch out for those pesky double l's). The father of two, Bruce is also the trophy husband of a burlesque diva.


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All Who Wander Are Lost #2

On Unfaithful Wings #1

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Queen of Emeralds by Kelsey McKnight

Title: Queen of Emeralds
Author: Kelsey McKnight
Genre: Adult Romance, Historical
Release Date: April 4, 2017
Summary:
British heiress Charlotte Holloway never had any interest in marrying…

However, a woman in Victorian England spends her life in the control of men, making finding a husband necessary. Fearing his daughter losing everything when he dies, Charlotte’s father forces a match with an old friend, Richard Howard. But Richard is much more interested in an heir than a wife, and will do anything to continue his bloodline.

Beaten and battered, Charlotte sees no way out of the union…

Then the handsome Scottish laird Conner MacLeod crashes the social scene. He sets her body on fire with a mere touch, but he has a bad reputation of leaving a string of women in his wake. Nonetheless, when Conner offers his emerald queen sanctuary in his Highland castle, Charlotte flees with him into the night, escaping her marriage. But those who wish to trap her are never far behind.

The Highlands give her hope, but fill her life with new perils…

She and Conner begin growing closer, although the shadows of his former relationships haunt her. Still, the magnetic forces that pull them together are making it harder for her to stay away. And just as Charlotte is beginning to settle into her life, she learns someone wants her gone for good and will do so…by any means necessary.

When Charlotte escapes one marriage only to find herself on the cusp of another, will she ever be free?


When Penelope was whirled away for a dance by some lord’s youngest son, Charlotte took the opportunity to slip away from the crush and make a hasty exit out to a balcony door. Her head had begun to spin and she feared she might be sick from the drink if she couldn’t get out of the stifling crowd. The balcony was large and its stone railing wrapped around most of the lavish building her father owned. The new electric streetlights illuminated the foggy London streets with a dim yellow glow. The large glass doors that led inside did surprisingly much to mute the loud music and Charlotte was grateful for the cold winter breeze and bit of privacy the balcony offered.

She pulled off the long white gloves she wore and leaned against the railing, inhaling large gulps of fresh air. “How I wish this was all over,” she whispered to the empty streets.

“How can ye wish your own party to be done?” A deep voice asked from the most shadowed of corners.

Charlotte turned around, her light purple skirts flying with the quick motion. “Who’s there?”

A tall man stepped from the darkened place where he had sat on a stone bench. His loose blond hair brushed his shoulders and his blue eyes seemed to flash brightly in the dark. He wore a black military jacket and a sharp yellow and black kilt that looped about his shoulder and was fastened with a silver and emerald pin. Traditional high socks covered his strong legs. A short sword was fastened to his hip by a rugged leather belt and his hand lay casually on its silver hilt. “Conner MacLeod. Chief o’ the MacLeod clan.”

“Charlotte Holloway, daughter of the Duke of Glenwood,” Charlotte answered, stunned by the strange dress and deep Scottish lilt. She wasn’t sure where he had come from, as he certainly would have stood out in the crowd of morning coats and ball gowns. She tried to advert her eyes from the bare swatch of leg that showed between his socks and kilt but could hardly bring herself to look away.

“I know who ye are, of course. This entire party is in your honor. But, I must ask…why do ye wish it over so soon?”

“I’m not much for balls.”

“A pretty lass like you? How can ye no’ be much for balls?” His lips curled in a mischievous smirk. “Do you not like the pomp and circumstance?”

Charlotte felt her cheeks grow warm and she wasn’t sure if it was from the drink or the way the Scotsman looked at her from under his dark lashes. All the same, she sensed in him a kindred spirits of sorts. “I’m not much for society at all. I’d rather be out riding or reading a good book than be stuffed in this dress meeting every eligible bachelor in the city.”

He laughed deeply. “I admire your honesty. Not many lasses are willin’ to admit when a party does no’ suit them.”

“I assume the party doesn’t suit you much either?”

“Not much. Us Scots have been tryin’ to be more respected in our own right. One o’ the ways to do that is to spend a bit o’ time with the English. Make them see we’re not all barbarians.”

“Ah, fraternizing with the enemy?” Charlotte could almost hear Penelope chastising her for speaking so familiarly to a man, and about politics at that!

“Ye could say that.” He brushed his hands through his hair and leaned against the railing beside her, looking over the side. “Ye aren’t cold out here in the night air?”

“No, I rather like being outside no matter what the weather is.” She took another deep breath. “Besides, I do think I drank a bit too much punch.”

“And danced with a few too many borin’ men, most like.”

She giggled, despite being told a hundred times by Abigail that it was very unladylike to do so without shielding your face with a fan. “I suppose that might have something to do with it. But, that’s the job of a duke’s daughter.”

Conner stepped toward her and extended his hand. “Well, since we are both trapped at this comin’ out party, we may as well have a bit o’ fun. Fancy a dance, Lady Glenwood?”

Charlotte took his rough, warm hand in her own. His palms were worn, much unlike those of English gentlemen with their silky smooth hands kept clean in powdered gloves. This man was obviously used to physical activity and hard work. She kept their hands together before remembering she had removed her gloves and left them on the railing. “Oh, I’m sorry!” She pulled away from his grasp before slipping her fingers inside her gloves once more.

“You ladies and your gloves. Scared o’ touchin’ anythin’ without a barrier o’ silk?” he teased.

“I hate them, personally. However, one must play the part at times.”

“And what part are ye playin’?”

“The part of a dutiful daughter.”

“Then it looks to me that you are doin’ a right fine job.” He offered his arm, which she gladly took. “Now, my lady, let’s go have us a dance.”
*****
The room hushed slightly as Charlotte entered on Chief Conner MacLeod’s arm. Penelope watched, wide-eyed, as the couple began a lively waltz with the other colorful pairs of dancing guests. Conner was an animated dancer and whirled Charlotte around the floor with surprising ease for someone as rugged as he. She was enjoying herself so greatly that she hardly notice the strange looks some of the guests gave them, nor the look of disapproval on Abigail’s tightly pinched face.

His hands clutched her closely, perhaps closer than was really appropriate. He grinned with the self-confidence that only good-looking men rightly had and gazed at Charlotte with true merriment in his sapphire eyes. Conner didn’t attempt the usual small talk that most men would try during a dance, but just let their mutual joy at having a fine partner fill in the silence between them.

“What a crowd,” Conner whispered into her ear as the music winded down and the dancing couples slowed to a halt. “Ye would think they’d never seen a pair o’ dancers before.”

Charlotte felt a chill go up her spine that she tried to ignore. “I suppose your appearance has caused quite the titter. I must say, we do not see very many Scottish Lords and it always is the surprise.”

“I suppose the man approachin’ us would agree with ye.”

“I am here to collect my dance.” Richard Howard’s monotone voice greeted Charlotte’s back.

Conner dipped a short bow and lightly kissed Charlotte’s hand. Even through the silk of her glove, she felt the heat of his mouth on her skin. “A pleasure, my lady.”

Charlotte blushed again and felt bold enough to ask, “If you stay longer, perhaps we might dance again?”

“Perhaps,” he answered smoothly as he backed away into the crowd. “Perhaps.”



Author Bio:
Kelsey McKnight is a university-educated historian from southern New Jersey. She has married her great loves of romance, history, and literature to create her newly finished works. Her first books, "The Scottish Stone Series", are coming in April of 2017 by Limitless Publishing. Book one is titled "Queen of Emeralds", and is available now. "The Scottish Stone Series" take readers on a journey through the bustling streets of Victorian London and into the lush hills of the Scottish Highlands. Her second book, a contemporary romance titled "The Non-Disclosure Agreement", will also be available in May of 2017 and feature a bad boy politician and the small town girl that could change his ways. When she’s not writing, Kelsey can be found reading, drinking too much coffee, spending time with her family, and working on two nonprofits.


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