Friday, 28 March 2014

""The Mango Season" by guest writer Susmita Bhattacharya

Our Guest writer this week is Susmita Bhattacharya. Originally from India, she resides in Plymouth,Wales. Sailing on her husband's oil tanker for three years has taken her all over the world. This story has appeared on Copyright is held by the author and is used with permission. Susmita's web site is listed below.
The Mango Season is a beautiful story
My great-grandmother died at the age of a hundred and two. She had been pickling mangoes on the terrace on a sluggish May afternoon.  We found her with a piece of mango in her mouth and a satisfied smile wrinkling one cheek. 
Boroma, was one hell of a woman. The terrace was a steep climb and she climbed it everyday. She had outlived her husband and her son by decades and yet she was so optimistic and yes, very famous for her razor-sharp tongue. After my grandfather died, we moved to the ancestral home, a cavernous house with surrounding gardens shaded with fruit trees. As a child, I loved to listen to her stories of the legends of each tree in the garden. They all seemed to have illustrious lives, most of all the mango trees, which had never failed to flower and bear fruit for as long as she could remember. 
My mother was relegated to being the kitchen helper, while Boroma cooked and fed the family. It was difficult at first, my mother not adjusting to playing second fiddle to an old woman, and my father having to listen to her moan all the time. But the situation was such, we couldn’t afford to live in our flat any more, and Boroma refused to sell the house. But I profited from the deal, as the house had so much history and hiding places and secrets, that it made up for most of my free time. 
After the last rites, I moved into her room. It faced the east, overlooking the temple towers and the pond. One could spend the whole day just looking out of that window, watching the bustle outside the temple gates and the placid gliding of the ducks and geese on the waters. I spent my childhood perched on this window, sketching figures and trees and animals. Eventually I studied art in college, which once more I could only thank Boroma for, arguing for my case with my parents who wanted me to become a doctor instead. 
“Let the child do as she pleases. Life is too short to compromise on what others want.” She had said to my father.
“But who will marry her?” My mother complained. “We’ll have to pay less dowry if she’s a doctor.”
Boroma clucked her tongue and pushed her thick glasses up her nose. “You didn’t have to pay a big dowry, did you? And you can’t even cook a hilsa fish right.”
 I think Boroma would have liked me to occupy her room. I was the rebel in the family. I was an artist and I followed my heart. Something I began to understand I had inherited from her. My parents never deviated from the norm, and even then they seemed to struggle with everyday problems. The room had been cleaned and sanctified and I felt robbed of her presence. It no longer smelled of coconut hair-oil and jasmine. I missed seeing her tiny body bent over her flower-laden gods and goddesses, her spider-web hands ringing the prayer-bell as she chanted her mantras. My mother had relegated Boroma’s idols to the back of the puja room, while hers were now basking in new found glory.
I lay down on the four-poster bed and spread my arms. How many times I had slept here beside her, while she stroked my hair and told me stories of the past: of life during the Raj, the struggle for freedom and the climax of independence. She had been a freedom fighter who had marched alongside her husband, shouting slogans, sewing clothes, attending to the wounded along with other brave women. She would show me scrap books of newspaper cuttings and other memorabilia she had collected. Many featured my great-grandfather with Gandhi at the Satyagraha marches, eminent freedom fighters who looked so unlike their god-like posters and portraits that we were familiar with. She would touch the faded newspapers and laugh. “See how carelessly I touch his face now,” she’d laugh mischievously. “When he was alive, I could only touch his feet.” 
But Boroma had been very western in her upbringing. Theirs had been an influential zamindar family, enough to make the British want to keep them happy. Her father entertained many of the British and made sure every member of his family could speak English. She had learned to play the piano and sing arias. She had a Scottish nurse who taught her to wear a corset and write poetry.
She married when she was thirteen. An old maid, she would cackle. Her sisters were married off when they were seven or eight. But she had retaliated. When it was her turn, she had played up an enormous ruckus. With the prospective groom’s family sitting in the front room, she had screamed and bitten her mother’s hand when her mother tried to drag her out of the cupboard.
“I will not go to the monster’s house,” she had screamed. 
Even when she told me this story a hundred times later, her eyes would still well up as she laughed at her memories. She was dragged down anyway and the groom’s father had held up her chin and smiled. He agreed to her demands and said that she would be betrothed to his son, and only after he returned from England would they get married.
Her husband eventually became a highly regarded barrister. They led a lavish lifestyle in this very house, which was then stocked up with the finest of things, until one day my great-grandfather crossed paths with Mahatma Gandhi and he was converted. He gave up all his English airs and joined the fight for independence.
I wondered often what Boroma had to say about this ideology: her meat-eating, ballroom-dancing husband suddenly becoming vegetarian, giving up his silks for linen and following the Mahatma through the countryside. She had resisted for some time, unable to sacrifice her piano and her Burns, but one day her husband came home to find a blaze of fire that he could see from miles away. She had set fire to her piano, her gowns and a library full of English literature. When he asked her why she had done this, she fell at his feet and asked for forgiveness: for loving the English more than her own kind. She then fought to oust them from her country.
I loved these stories. She told them as if they had happened just the other day. I’d make her describe her gowns and perfumes. I couldn’t believe my Boroma in such finery. She was always dressed in a white, coarse sari, the dress for widows. She would smile mischievously and say that she allowed a wayward dream where she’d be in her taffeta dress, playing the Moonlight Sonata. Why did she renounce them then? Surely she could have kept her piano? Boroma always smiled and said it was for the best. 
One night, as I slept on this bed, I felt her bony fingers caress my cheek. She was singing softly. It was one of her favourite Burns’ compositions.
Why, why tell thy lover
Bliss he never must enjoy?
Why, why undeceive him,
And give all his hopes the lie?
O why, while fancy, raptur'd slumbers,
Chloris, Chloris all the theme,
Why, why would'st thou, cruel-
Wake thy lover from his dream?
I waited till she finished her song. The temple lights were shining on her face and I saw tears.
“Why are you sad, Boroma?” I asked her.
She continued to stroke my face. “You have his eyes, my lovely. Definitely his eyes. He had such beautiful eyes.” She whispered, and stared out into the night. 
It was true. My grandfather, her only son, had had beautiful eyes: like the colour of the sea after sunset – a deep grey with diluted hints of gold that shone as the waves ebbed and flowed. Only if you looked deep into his eyes, could you see the golden sheen behind the grey. 
He died when I was eight. His death affected Boroma very severely. She would sit in her room and stare at his photographs for hours: pictures of him as a child, sitting erect on her lap in a khadi kurta and as a young man, in his air-force uniform. He was tall, well-built and with a good sense of humour. He was treated differently by everyone, as if he was someone regal. His colouring, his stature, his demeanour were fit for a king, everyone said. My father did not inherit his stature or his looks and that was a disappointment for Boroma. “Gone towards his mother’s side of the family,” she’d mutter, clicking her tongue.
Now I had those eyes. I was her only great-grand-child and had inherited her son’s looks. My eyes, she told me, were an artist’s delight and sorrow. The artist would delight in the challenge to paint such beauty and then break down in defeat. He would never be able to capture the essence and the magic held in them.
My parents decided to sell the house and so they started to sell the furniture. One by one, the mahogany and rosewood pieces disappeared from around the house. Eventually it was the turn for my Boroma’s bed. It was dismantled and stacked on the floor. I looked at it guiltily. It had stayed in this room for eighty-nine years. My great-grandparents’ marital bed. The mahogany still gleamed. I ran my fingers along the silk-like finish. I felt the textures of the carvings. Smooth. So finely chiselled, my fingers glided across intricate rose patterns. As I caressed the wood, I felt something wedged between the wooden slats. Carefully, I prised it out.
It was an ivory-coloured leather glove. It looked frail and discoloured with age. The golden trim was moth eaten. I felt around the slats and found its pair. They looked like they had been cherished, not forgotten in the depths of this cavernous bed. Did they belong to my Boroma? Were these the only Western possessions that she had saved from the fire? Something she held close to her and reminded her of the glorious days of being a ‘memsahib’? I read the label inside. Made in England. The gloves felt soft and powdery like butterfly wings. They crackled in my hands, and I discovered some bits of paper folded inside them.
I removed them to see if these gloves would fit me. The papers were thick and glossy. Unusual to stuff gloves with, I thought. I unfolded one, and just as I had expected, it was not stuffing at all. It was a thick letter-paper. The words were in neat copperplate, black ink that had faded to a purplish-brown tint.
You were an angel descending from heaven, when you walked down the stairs last night. I could only hold my breath and watch…and my lips held a prayer in your name. You are not real, my love, because I cannot touch you. I cannot feel the gossamer of your skin. You are a vision to me. Gliding in front of my eyes, but when I reach out to touch you, you flit away. My chest hurts in disappointment, and my arms hunger for a stolen embrace. How I burn when he takes you in his arms and whirls you around the room. But when I look in your eyes, I feel assurance. They are empty. They search the room frantically… and then they stop when they find me. That is all I want from you.
I stared at the note and wondered who it was addressed to. Why it was hidden in a glove in my great-grandmother’s bed, I had no idea.
I pulled out another piece of paper.
It is mango season again. I delight in the first bite of its sweet flesh. The fragrance stays with me all the time. Its juices burst into my mouth and tease my tongue so. The mango taunts me: of flavours forbidden to me. And you? Do you think a bottle of your pickle can satisfy my longing? Why must you punish me, and leave me to hunger for you in my mind? Come away with me. I’ll give you my life.
The raw sexuality of this letter washed over me, and my skin prickled in response. Erotic visuals danced inside my head as I wondered who the dancers in this dreamscape were. John, an Englishman and …? 
I searched for other letters in the bed, but couldn’t find any more. My attention went back to the gloves. They looked so fragile and vulnerable on the smooth, hard wood. I held them close. They smelled musty and faintly of the mahogany bed. I pulled out all the bits of paper tightly rolled into each finger of the gloves. There were ten in all. I flattened them out and read them. I read and re-read them. The words made love to the paper. I surrendered myself to them.
By now I was beginning to see. This love-dance was being danced by my Boroma and John.
My dearest,
I know that you will not go against your husband, or your religion, or your country. The stars are against our union, but what is done is done, and no one can undo it now.
I prayed for you to come away with me. I am returning home to Devon next month. My passage has been confirmed on the S.S. Duchess. My time here is done, but yours is just beginning.
Everyone has left our cantonment and the district commissioner has said there is no more future for us here. There will be bloodshed, my beloved. My heart aches to think what lies ahead. It is a terrible thing that the people of this land must die in order to regain their freedom. And you, dear heart, I can see you marching alongside your brave husband… towards your freedom.
But my heart also rejoices in the freedom. You will have your identity and pride restored to its full glory. You will know happier times, my dear. I promise you. Accept my parting gift with love.  And perhaps in another lifetime, we will be reunited again. In a different land, in happier times…
I will love you forever
Captain John Everett
I read every word until I could see the naked truth between the lines. The proof of what the letter seemed to suggest. Did Boroma burn her Englishness to mourn the loss of her true love or did she do it to remind herself of her reality? She had deceived my great-grandfather. She had marched with him, fighting for their freedom, fully knowing that she loved an Englishman.  I found that I was shaking… but I had no name for my emotions.
I thought of my beloved Boroma.  A fiery, outspoken woman. Her never-say-die attitude. Of course she would have had an affair with ‘the enemy’, if her heart led her to it. There was more to her than just taffeta gowns and ballroom waltzes. Or linen saris and hunger strikes. All the time, there was one secret burning inside her. Ninety odd years of secrecy. Of remembering and hurting. Yes, I was sure of that. That was her punishment. The price she paid for her secret. How I wished she had kept one of her letters. I wanted to know her feelings, I wanted to see her handwriting.
I realised then, that night, when she had cried and stroked my face, she had been looking into my eyes and remembering. She had said I also had those eyes… those deep grey eyes flecked with gold – the eyes of her English lover, who had been lost to her forever.
The End.

Susmita's short stories and poems have appeared in various magazines, journals and anthologies. Her debut novel, Crossing Borders, will be published by Parthian Books in 2014.Visit her website


Friday, 14 March 2014

I'm posting an excerpt from my novel Dark Side of a Promise. Drake Alexander has just received a phone call from his best firend, Williston Payne. The man they seek has been spotted.....


Drake pockets his phone and reluctantly turns his back on the rising sun. He retains faith that he will return to see it again. Williston’s call has given credence to Drake’s earlier unease and leaves him feeling restive. He senses he is on the precipice of something significant, something diabolical. It feels like a small insect crawling up the back of his neck, a small segmented creature called danger. It isn’t fear.

Drake makes his way across the deck, his bare feet against the warm darkly stained wood, and into the house, calling for his housekeeper, Jemina. The aroma of fresh baking tells him she is in the kitchen, where she is preparing breakfast.

Jemina and her husband, Luis, maintain this large house, giving Drake the freedom to come and go as he pleases. They and their three children have been in Canada for 22 years since Drake’s father, Jacob, rescued them from Peruvian poverty and sponsored them as immigrants from South America.

The Pisconte’s are indebted to the Alexanders, and reward them with undying loyalty and love. After Drake’s father died two years ago, the mantle of their continued employment and care had fallen to Drake, who accepted it graciously, knowing that his father would have expected it of him. Drake always reminded himself that this was Jacob’s way. Having toiled long hard hours over the years to become the success he was, he always took the time to help others.

Calling out to her, Jemina responds to Drake’s summons, hurrying into the great room that faces the bay, her tiny feet shuffling across the wide-board pine floor. “What do you need, Drake,” she casually asked, the language escaping melodically from her lips. Still pleasing to the eye at 46, her dark hair falls delicately to her shoulders, framing a shy sweet face. Her diminutive frame is clad in the linen blouse and pants she wears while attending to Drake’s needs, the bright hues of her attire redolent of her homeland. Although not much older than Drake, who is 38, she fusses over him like a second mother.

This maternal instinct kicks in as she notices Drake’s countenance; she’d seen this before when he left unexpectedly and for reasons unexplained, often for months on end. She rationalizes in her mind that over the two decades she’s known him, he has always lived life as if he were on a perpetual dare. She, however, is constantly worried. All she can do is see him off with whatever care he allows her to give, but she never lets him go easily.

“I’m leaving to join Williston for a bit and I’ll need you to pack about a week’s worth of clothes, please. Some light cottons, several work pants and black tees, raincoat, a light fleece and my usual boots and shoes. Oh, and some deck shoes.

We’ll be on the Drifter and you know how fussy Williston can be,” he tells her, trying to act as if an impulsive but casual excursion is in the offing. He figures Jemina is probably on to him, but he doesn’t want to cause her concern. If she knew where he’d been and what he’d done over the years, no matter how justified he felt his actions to be, she would probably have him tied up and sedated for the rest of his life to protect him. 

“I don’t like it when you and Williston get together sometimes, I think you both like trouble too much. You always come back with too many cuts and bruises and sometimes with broken bones,” exclaimed Jemina. Looking at him more directly, she places her hand on his arm as if for reassurance and continues, “You always defending somebody, Drake.” Fear breaks up her usual faultless diction.

Drake dislikes lying, and the worry he causes her. “You fret too much, Jemina. I’m meeting Williston on his boat and we’re going to cruise the Caribbean for a week or two. Eric Clapton is playing in Antigua to raise funds for the Crossroads Centre next week, so we’re going to check that out. It’s at an intimate venue and by invitation only. Williston is quite the socialite these days. Money and benevolence get him on just about any invitation list he likes. It should be fun. I’ll mind my business this time, okay?”

“You are not fooling me, Drake. You be careful. What else do you need?”

Grabbing his shirt from the back of the recliner he proceeds to an antique writing desk. Opening the top drawer he withdraws his passport. Passing it to Jemina, he said, “Please put this with my things for now. I’m taking the Zodiac over to the Island later to get the plane ready and I’ll need some help. Do you know where Luis and Alvaro are?”

“Luis left 20 minutes ago to meet with the contractor who’s adding the addition to your garage,” Jemina replies, leading him toward the kitchen. “Seriously, what are you going to do with all those vehicles you keep buying?” she asks rhetorically, knowing that Drake enjoys his toys. And besides, it keeps Alvaro, her youngest son, busy. “Alvaro will be at the shop in about an hour to start on that engine you wanted changed. Not everyone is an early riser like us, Drake.”  She points to Drake’s usual place at the breakfast nook, with the local newspaper folded neatly on the table, and begins preparing his morning repast. Never having enough food for her or her family many years ago makes Jemina a frugal and practical housekeeper, but she never skimps on anyone with an appetite and she knows that Drake loves to eat.

“After breakfast I’m going to Beth’s for a couple of hours and I’d like Luis and Alvaro to get the Skywagon ready, do the pre-flight check, top up the tanks, ,” Drake said, seating himself where Jemina has carefully laid out a setting, “I’d like to be away around noon or one o’clock.”

“I’ll tell them both. Now read your paper and I’ll get this ready for you. I’ll pack your things when I’m done here.”

Both Jemina and Drake fall into a pensive mood. Jemina wondering what Drake is really up to but too polite to ask when he isn’t forthcoming with details. She busies herself, a bright red and yellow blur gyrating around the kitchen with efficient silence. Drake watches Jemina fuss reminding him of a humming bird, always busy, always with a purpose. He muses with great affection about how much she and her family mean to him.

The breakfast nook is an annex to the main kitchen area. The nook was architecturally planned to take advantage of the enticing seaside surroundings. Tall glass windows with the lightest, transparent curtains face the water at an angle to the great room they had just come from. Dark brown marble tiles with a rusty colored hue cover the floor. Wood from Italian olive trees with striking burls throughout, lightly stained a matching rust, formed extensive cupboards set against a taupe background. Olive trees were only cut after the tree reached such maturity that it did not bear fruit any longer. While alive, the trees were always trimmed short so that the fruit was easy to reach. Long and wide pieces were rare, making the cabinets markedly impressive and very expensive. Stainless steel and black enhancements frame all the appliances. Jemina, with her effervescent presence, would never blend in. The early sun, more yellow now, streams in casting a mellow ambiance.  Photos, mementos, keepsakes are tastefully placed about, making the room personal.

Jemina presents Drake with his favourite breakfast, a mouth-watering blend of South American and Western cuisine: bacon, cheesy corn cakes called arepas de queso, toasted honey quinoa bread and a boiled egg. Neither of them speak, Jemina is contemplative, Drake aflame.

Jemina hastily tidies up, leaving the rest of the kitchen details for later. Pouring Drake another cup of St. Helena coffee, she hesitates at his side. Her lingering quietude stirs Drake to look up and into her direct gaze. Jemina laments, “I don’t know where you go at times, Drake, and I don’t know what you do, but you remember that I love you like you’re part of my family. The many days and months when you are around fill us with delight, and there will never be too many. You come home safe and as soon as you can.”

At that very moment an errant beam of pure radiant sunlight reflects from the polished surface of the table causing a faint and delicate tear in the corner of her eye to twinkle.

Before he can reply, she turns away, returning the coffee pot to its nest and hastens from the room.

Drake reflects on the moment; then tosses his reluctance to answer aside. He needs to focus. He doesn’t need sentimentality clouding his senses. He’ll finish his breakfast and drop by Beth’s place to say goodbye, then meet Luis on the island, get his gear packed into the plane, file a flight plan and fly out to meet Williston and Uday.


Drake jumps into his Jeep Wrangler, the top already down and pulls onto Route 535 heading north to Beth’s parent’s place several miles down the road. Her parents, both doctors who had established a busy and productive practice, and made several shrewd investments, are more than adequately moneyed. They had recently sold their practice and now serve as volunteers with Doctors without Borders. Beth maintains their country estate in their absence – a rambling and century-old farm that had been neglected for many years before they bought it. With the aspiration to own a working farm, Beth’s parents had recreated the buildings in their original configuration and tenor with solicitous care. The modern, state-of-the-art facilities and equipment that made the farm functional are in some cases obvious, but most are cleverly disguised. It has a Rebecca of Donnybrook exterior with an ultra-modern interior.

Beth could certainly afford her own place, but she has spent most of her life enjoying both the natural landscape and the closeness of the sea just across the road. All four of her sisters have migrated to larger, more urban centres. Drake knows that she genuinely loves living here in rural New Brunswick, just as he also knows that she needs to be near him. They had met when his father had been building the house Drake lives in now. 

Drake was born in Massachusetts, near his mother’s home, but to a Canadian father who had grown up in this area and had purchased a plot of land shortly after he had inherited his father’s jewellery business in 1965. Dominic Alexander, Drake’s grandfather had immigrated to Canada from Scotland as a goldsmith apprentice in 1919, his earlier instruction interrupted by the Great War. A little luck, a little money and lots of charming honesty brought him respectful success throughout the ‘20s. Dominic never bought anything on credit, never sold anything on credit, stayed away from the stock market, banked his cash, invested in his own establishment and survived the crash of ’29 in much better shape than his peers. Many businesses failed. The rich still wanted their baubles so Dominic’s business on the other hand prospered. As a young man with an astute mind, Jacob joined his father’s establishment, and they turned a one-store operation into a thriving four-store family business prior to Dominic’s death.

Jacob was embedded in the m├ętier of jewellery, with little time for socializing. In 1950, however, he attended an extravagantly large trade show in New York City that introduces many of the world’s finest jewellery pieces and suppliers. There he met Mellissa Wilbraham. Wilbraham’s Fine Jewellery was an influential corporation that owned nine stores throughout New England as well as a small manufacturing facility outside of Boston. He wooed her, married her, and united the businesses by setting up offices in both the United States and Canada. They made a winter home in Plymouth, Massachusetts; summers were spent in New Brunswick at their cottage on the old homestead.

In 1965, Jacob purchased land in Cormierville that contained a section of wooded land on the west side of Route 535 with five fabulous cleared acres on the east side. Those five acres had over 900 feet of beach frontage that every day either frolicked or did battle with the waters of the Northumberland Strait. That’s where he built the grand and fashionable summer home. The one where Drake met Beth. Incredible summers, idyllic romances, crumbled hearts, sun-drenched afternoons, a few bruises – a small collection of the events making those days unforgettable.

Drake slows the Jeep as he approaches the driveway to Beth’s place. Turning into the rustic lane, Drake is assailed with the pleasant aroma of cut hay. The gathering season is well under way. As he continues toward the house, he notices the seasonal workers harvesting the bounty so generously produced from the earth. Huge round bales of fodder dot the fields. Drake imagines the generations of farmers before them who had worked the same fields, albeit with differing methods of cultivation, to meet the same demands of their livestock.

Beth must have seen him arriving because she is coming from the back entrance, waving to Drake as he approaches. Bringing his vehicle to a halt, he cut the ignition and jumps from the Jeep. He hollers out, “Glad to see you got that cute ass of yours out of bed so early. I didn’t call in because I like surprising you. ”

Beth hurries to his side to quickly embrace him with a hearty hug and a quick kiss on the cheek before replying, “Well I’m glad to see that cute ass of yours in my driveway. What brings you around today? I thought you and Alvaro were working on the old truck you bought.”

Beth’s natural beauty always gave him pause. Her blondish locks are tied back in a classic ponytail, highlighting her pleasing face. Chocolate coloured eyes radiate her pleasure at seeing Drake. A square jaw complements her face, portraying an image of unabashed confidence and creating the perfect setting for her audacious and teasing smile. A strict disciplinarian with her habits, she works out daily keeping her body as lithe as a dancer. Clad in white knee-length denim shorts, a red sleeveless top and beige leather sandals she portrays a casual, yet intoxicating image. Drake always joked Beth would look great in a burlap bag.

Eager to share the recent revelation, Drake gets right to the point, “I spoke to Williston earlier.  He met with Uday, Sakeema’s father. You know him, don’t you?”

Beth catches the shift in Drake’s demeanour. The delight in their greeting changes to one of grim interest for both of them. She moves toward the cedar gazebo, beckoning Drake to follow and leads him inside. Moving to the compact refrigerator neatly tucked into a kitchenette, she remarks, “Yes, of course, I met him briefly at her funeral. I had an opportunity to talk to him and get to know him better at Williston’s birthday party last year when I visited Chrissie.” She points to a white wicker chair smothered in cushions, tosses Drake a box of juice then sits opposite him.

Chrissie Alexander, Drake’s cousin, is the managing partner of Williston’s Geneva law office. As a teenager she became an integral part of Williston’s “Gang of 7” – a clique that grew from kids caught between a world of adults and children. They found each other, grew with each other and defended each other. A lifelong trust developed. The girls in the group – Chrissie, Beth and Amber – experienced an affinity cemented by independence and mutual compassion.

Drake shifts in his seat and explains, “The scent of Sakeema and Amber’s assassin is strong! Uday has sent word that one of his business managers – also a close member of his family - befriended a local who mentioned Bartolommeo Rizzato’s name.” Leaning forward to give his words more emphasis, he continues, “It’s been almost two years since that slug slipped away from our last encounter.

He only emerges from under some plank when he needs something… Maybe he ran low on cash or maybe he just needs to satisfy his malevolent appetite to maim and ultimately destroy. Powerful people, capable of the same brutality, find him useful. Right now, it seems he’s committed to something in Bangladesh, Dhaka more significantly. It’s imperative that we hunt him down.”
To read the rest of this chapter, please visit and search for Dark Side of a Promise, and when you find it, there is a "look inside" icon available, click on that and you can read the rest of Chapter 1. Thank you for visiting.
Available as eBook and Hard copy will soon be available at this site
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Friday, 7 March 2014

Connie Cook's short stories have appeared on and Pacific Magazine of Australia. She lives in Port Credit Ontario with her two black cats. This is her fist novel and her second visit to the South Branch Scribbler .

Novel Blurb: The King of Swords

When her best friend, Deslyn, goes missing after a date with a guy she met on the internet, Jennifer is spurred into action. As a Registered Nurse in an Emergency Department, she is no stranger to critical thinking and action.

Similarities to a case in Massachusetts come into play with the arrival of Joe Moretti, homicide detective with Boston PD. Joe’s had three dead bodies pulled from Boston Harbor in the last month. The only connecting link is an online dating website.

The recent victim pulled from the Credit River in Ontario, seems to fit the profile and Joes computer guru, Lizzie, has found the link. Perhaps the killer has moved north to Canada and Joe’s here to follow up. Cross border cases are always complicated but, this latest victim is still alive. Sparks fly as Joe and Jen meet and they don’t get off to a great start. He thinks she’s in over her head, but then again he doesn’t know her ace in the hole.

After all, who needs a cop when your mother is the town witch and local psychic?

 Each chapter is titled after a card from the tarot deck that either depicts the character or explains an action or event that occurs in the chapter.


Chapter 1

The King of Swords: a man of ideas, action, intellectual powers, finely honed.

In death she floated.

 Not up to the sky or to heaven where she rightfully belonged. Instead her body was tossed like flotsam on a gray blue watery grave. One that carried her from the Charles River as it emptied into Boston Harbor. Sometimes she hovered, just below the surface. The sun cast brilliant rays upon sightless eyes.

Tour boats passed her in the harbor, freighters laden with goods ignored her, and the cold October winds left no comfort. Perhaps the current would drag her into the Atlantic Ocean where she would be lost, forever.  Or the tide could carry her back onto a nearby beach.

            Only time and the mercurial waters would decide. Waves lapped more frequently as they approached land, taking her with them.  As she eventually came to rest on the quiet shore of Deer Island, her spirit whispered. “Someone, please find me.”

Joe Moretti used his controlled, professional voice whenever he answered the phone. One never knew what the call would be about, and in his six years on the homicide desk at the Boston Police Department, he’d had plenty of odd calls. But this call wasn’t strange, just grim.   

“It’s Boston Police Harbor Unit, Swift here. We have another floater for you. Female victim, body just recovered near Deer Island. MO is similar to your other two cases.” 

Moretti easily recognized the gravelly voice. Swift, the Officer in Charge, had been present when the first two bodies were pulled from the harbor, and was well familiar with the case.  

Swift was always succinct, stuck to the facts and no extraneous conversation. “There’s evidence of wrist bruising, just like the other two.  The body was discovered about thirty minutes ago.  I have a call into the coroner’s office as well as forensics. Just thought you might like a look at the scene. Not much to see though, given she’s been in the water a while. But, you never know. The area’s been cordoned off.” 

“Thanks Swift. I’m on my way. Any chance you can have a boat meet me at the harbor?”

“Consider it done. Any luck on the first two victims?”

“Nothing solid, but a few leads we’re following up on. I’ll fill you in when I get there. It should be about 45 minutes. Thanks for the heads up on this one.”  

Joe was already standing and reaching for his coat as he hung up the phone. He knew much would depend on the actions of the officers on the scene, how quickly detectives responded as well as evidence technicians and the medical examiner. Unfortunately outdoor crime scenes were always more difficult. Mother Nature tended to raise havoc on potential pieces of evidence, especially when water was involved. He hoped there would be something viable they could learn from this latest victim. If the info Swift provided was accurate, and he had no reason to doubt otherwise, this would be the third murder victim pulled from the Harbor in the last month. 

Joe’s face was determined as he hurried to the car pool and grabbed the first available vehicle. He headed to the harbor with lights and sirens, already thinking ahead. Joe was no stranger to the sight and smell of death, but he’d learned to file them away, to look at the facts versus the emotions that took their toll on him internally. To an outsider he might have appeared calloused, but it was never easy to see a victim close up and that was why he needed to be at the scene. There was only one chance to see a crime scene and get first impressions. Those were the ones that left an imprint on his psyche, the ones’ that fuelled him in his search for the killer.  

As he glanced in the rearview mirror, a determined expression and steely gray eyes stared back at him. His dedication to the job took its’ toll. He was more faithful to his profession, than he could ever be to a woman and that being the case, it was better for him to stay unattached. Besides, who would ever put up with his shift work, understand the sights and scenarios that he dealt with on a daily basis. 

Joe knew he’d never be the kind of guy who could come home from work, and face a wife who asked, “How was your day honey?” It just wasn’t in the cards for him and it wouldn’t be fair to anyone he connected with. It sure as hell led to a lot of long, lonely nights, but for now it was his choice. 

He pushed his ruminating to the side, pulled into the parking lot, pleased to see the marina police launch waiting for him. Detective Swift was right on target with his promise. Joe hoped there would be something to glean from this latest case, something or anything that could move the investigation forward.

Twenty minutes later, Joe was relieved to get off the boat. Choppy water and a brisk Atlantic wind made him respect the Harbor Unit even more. These guys were called out in all kinds of weather conditions, including ice and snow. At least he had a warm office he could call home.

“Hey Moretti,” said Swift.  “Body’s this way. Found by an ocean kayaker, she’s still here if you want to speak with her.”

“If your guys have already debriefed and have contact info, tell her it’s okay to go. She’s probably traumatized enough. Just let her know I may call her later.”

“Will do,” He waited while Swift passed on the instructions. “I’ll have the marine guys take a look at currents and wind speeds. Maybe they can give us an idea of where she was originally put into the water. It could be hard to tell though, especially if she was dumped off a boat.”

“Good thinking,” Joe replied. As they ducked under the yellow crime scene taped off area, Joe got his first glimpse of the latest victim.  

Jane Doe lay on the pebbled beach. Her body bloated from being in the water. Long blonde hair straggled and tangled, framed what may once have been an attractive face, features now distorted.  Her skin blue and mottled, but there was no mistaking the bruises around her wrists. She was almost naked, except for a thin sleeveless white tank top and bikini underwear. Joe carefully crouched beside the body, mindful to not disturb any evidence. Filmed, hazy open eyes stared unseeing.  

He took the time to study her; taking in the physical scene, but also hoping she’d been unconscious before she’d been tossed into the water. Joe didn’t want to consider what the last few minutes of her life had been like. As accustomed as he was to death and bodies, it was a personal reaction that seemed new every time, especially when the victim appeared to be innocent of wrongdoing. These were the thought’s he held close to his chest, never shared with anyone, but the ones that kept him up at night. 

In death, there is no dignity.  Joe wanted to cover her with a blanket, keep her from the curious onlookers who gathered beyond the yellow taped scene, but knew it could interfere in collection of evidence. He was forced to let her be, ravaged by the elements of nature and the intrusive eyes of a gawking crowd. 

 In a heartbeat, he recognized the work of the same killer of the previous two victims. As much as he didn’t want to jump to conclusions, he couldn’t help himself. Two victims were one thing, but a third meant a serial killer was on the loose. Once the press got hold of this, the shit would hit the proverbial fan.  But what was this? 

Joe motioned to the crime scene photographer. “Get a picture of this. Looks like a crude knife imprint on her left forearm.”  It looked like letters had been carved into her flesh, but too hard to discern. Not something he’d found on the other two victims.  

“Got it,” replied the camera man. “There’s something else you may want to see here. Looks like a tattoo around her ankle.” 

Joe watched as the crime scene technician gently brushed away sand and debris to expose her right ankle. Although the skin was swollen, it was a tattoo; that of a scorpion dangling from a charm bracelet on her ankle. The scorpion was small but detailed, obviously the work of a pro. 

He shot a glance at the camera man’s ID. “Jeff,” he said. “Get some really good shots of this.  It may help identify her. If the tat guy is a true artist, he’ll remember it. Here’s the e-mail address I want them forwarded to.” 

Joe backed off and left the team to do their job. He wanted to get away from the smell of decomposing flesh, but even the stinging cold Atlantic salt air couldn’t clear the unmistakable odor of death from his nostrils. 

He remained haunted by the first two victims. Both had been identified. The first was a university student, stellar marks, well liked by her professors and peers, with no record of any kind.  The second was a free-lance photographer, again with no history of wrong doing. Joe and his team were still searching for a connection. They’d run phone numbers, financials and tried to work all the angles, but to date there were no links between the two.  

Joe’s heart went out to the parents of the two victims. No parent ever wants to outlive their children. They deserved justice and resolution because the death of a child is absolute. Joe intended to give it to them, no matter how long it took. It was the least he could do.  The families’ weekly calls for updates were constant reminders and he patiently answered and took the time to reassure them his team was doing everything they could. 

Swift’s voice interrupted his reverie. “Coroners almost finished. Anything else you need to see before they remove the body?” 

“No, I’m good. Have them take her away.” The cool detached tone of his voice annoyed even him, made him sound like a hard assed soul. But, he realized, that was the persona he projected. It was easier that way.  Besides Swift would be riding with him on the harbor boat back to the mainland.  Jane Doe however, would be in a body bag. Her last trip would be an undignified end, to a life she didn’t deserve. Joe and Swift would be on deck, still able to breathe. 

As the twin engines of the launch motor rumbled to life, Joe kicked into second gear. On the phone to a colleague at Boston PD, rattling off details of the scene and a plan of action. 

“Hey, Lizzie, here’s the deal. Check Missing Persons for a young female, age approximately 25 yrs, long blonde hair, about five foot two inches, weight about 135 lbs and here’s the kicker. She has a tattooed ankle bracelet with a dangling scorpion on her right ankle. The work is small and detailed. I’m sure the artist would remember it. Any idea how many tattoo parlors in Boston?” 

“Actually there are only two that I know of in the downtown core. I’d guesstimate perhaps a dozen in the greater Boston area. As soon as I get a photo, I’ll contact them.”

Joe stifled a chuckle. “Lizzie, the photos should be on their way as we speak. I’m not even going to ask how you know about tattoo parlors.” 

“Trust me Joe, you don’t want to know,” she calmly replied, easily switching gears.  “What about fingerprints and running them through the AFIS database?” 

“Good thought” said Moretti. “I reckon she’s been in the water too long. At best, they could peel the skin from her hands and fingers and try to recreate a print, but that’s up to forensics.

“Okay Joe, I’ll see you when you get back. In the meantime I’m all over it.” 

As Joe pressed the “end’ button, he thanked his lucky stars for Lizzie. She was young, gung ho, never complained about overtime hours, was willing to tackle any task given to her and was a real techno wizard when it came to computer hacking and internet details. But then again, she owed him. The fact she dressed like a Goth, never came into the picture. He’d come to her defense more than once related to dress code and appearance. But, bottom line, she was just damned good at her job, and he knew, she’d already have information for him upon his return. 

As he watched the harbor shoreline creep closer, his phone buzzed in his jacket pocket. He answered without checking caller ID. The familiar female voice on the other end brought a smile to his face, the first one today.  

“Hey there, just heard the news on TV about the girl pulled from Deer Island. I expect you’re in for an all-nighter. I’ll drop some food off for you at the station. Call me when you can and take care.” 

“Shall do, and thanks, Mom,” he replied to the already empty drone of the phone. Even hard-assed homicide cops had mothers. But so did the victim that was pulled from the water today.  

For now, Jane Doe was his priority and he had a job to do.
Thanks Connie for sharing the beginning to your novel. I'm looking forward to reading the rest when it becomes available. Connie can be found on Facebook as Connie Lynn. Her short stories can be viewed at
Next week drop by for a scary visit of Wasps. They can terrify you.
When Drake Alexander was a boy, he always knew he wanted to be a soldier. In Dark Side of a Promise he uses the skills he was taught to hunt for a desperate killer.