Thursday, April 16, 2015

O is for Oliver: Blogging the #atozchallenge

Oliver Eberstark is a larger than life character who is a central figure in all my Marienstadt stories. He is a big, rugged former forest ranger who now owns Opelt's Wood. I love Oliver for many reasons, not the least of which is that much of his character and woodsman's knowledge comes from my brother. Oliver--and his dog, Toots--started out in The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood, then The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall, then The Christmas Daughter, and he will be a main character in The Bucktail Cap in the Trunk.
This is not Oliver, this is the Steeler's huge #99 Brett Keisel
but in the story one of Oliver's friends comments that his
beard makes him look like Brett Keisel. Works for me.
from The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall:
The road evened out and Henry saw the hulking shape of Eberstark's Sawmill ahead. There was smoke drifting up from the chimney of the mill's workshop. He pulled up next to Oliver's Ram truck and got out of the cruiser. The rhythmic thunk-thunk-thunk of someone chopping wood echoed through the hollow. He walked across the snowy yard between the workshop and the back of the stone and timber house. The river sparkled in the sunshine and the air was fragrant with woodsmoke, pine, and the crispness of coming snow. A big, handsome black dog appeared and gave a soft woof at Henry. Oliver, dressed in jeans, a
flannel shirt and a down vest, was in mid swing bringing his axe down hard onto the trunk of a white birch tree that appeared recently felled.
He straightened up and turned. He was a big man, a couple inches taller than Henry and brawny, with wide shoulders and a barrel chest. He had dark hair and an impressive beard that gleamed red in the sunlight. His face was ruddy from the combination of cold and exertion.
“Henry,” he said. “What brings you down here?”
Henry had known Oliver since boyhood. Oliver was a few years behind him in school but Henry remembered watching Central Catholic's football games when Oliver was on the team. Everybody back then said he'd wind up in the pros. He had gone to Penn State on a football scholarship and pursued a career in forestry. After ten years working in the Susquehannock State Forest up in Potter County he moved back to the sawmill a few years back when his grandfather was dying.
“You're not going to believe it when I tell you,” Henry said. “How are you?” He stuck out his hand and watched it disappear into Oliver's huge one.
“I'm good. You?”
“Good. Did you just chop that down?”
“Yeah, it was starting to rot on the one side and it was too close to the house for comfort.” He swung the axe down and let it lodge into the wood.
“Most people would use a chainsaw.”
Oliver shrugged. “I need the exercise.”

from The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood:
The sunlight on the river glittered through the trees and, as she approached the bottom of the hill she spotted Oliver in his red and black plaid jacket, coming out of the workshop part of the sawmill carrying a bushel basket. Toots trotted along at his side.
She rolled down her window and called, “Hello.”
“Hi,” he said. The basket was filled with apples and looked heavy but he handled it with ease. “I'm just going to put these out for the deer. Wait here and I'll be back.”
She parked, got out of the car, and wandered over to the workshop where the door stood open. She had only been inside once with Dan many years ago but the fragrant scent of sawdust and wood shavings filled her head with memories. It was much as she remembered it. A pot-bellied stove showed flickering flames through the grate on its door and there were over a dozen clocks in various stages of completion along one wall. Stacks of lumber and tools were everywhere but all of them were neat and organized. One set of shelves held different types of clockworks and tiny figures suitable for cuckoo clocks. She picked up one of them, a little red bird with its beak open in a cuckoo.
“I should make you a cuckoo clock for your shop,” she heard him say.
“Are you making clocks again?” She turned and smiled. Annie was right, he was still pleasant to look at.
“I've been finishing up some that Grandpop started but he left enough stuff in here to make a whole lot more. All the ones I'm working on are already spoken for. Jim Loeffler at the antique store downtown said he was pretty sure he could sell anything I wanted to bring him.”
“That sounds like a good project for the winter.” She realized that this wasn't going to be as easy as it seemed when Annie talked about it. Oliver had a wall and it was very rare for him to let it down.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How Writers Have Fun

Writers are crazy people. We live with entire worlds floating around in our heads and have long conversations with people no one else can see. We stand at the kitchen sink washing dishes and wondering what our current imaginary friends had for dinner and sometimes we think we see them going into a shop or driving by in a car--or on a horse.

Sometimes we create characters who just won't leave us alone. This happens to me a lot. I am writing a story about one thing that requires minor characters but those minor characters stay with us. So, sometimes, even though we have no idea where we are going with something, we invite them to play with us to see what might happen. One of the side characters from one of my Marienstadt stories just won't leave me alone. I don't know if this will evolve into anything but I had fun writing this part anyway:

The Legend

Hunting season was not Lola Eckert’s favorite time of year. Though the dense forests of Elk County were a popular destination for hunters from all over the Eastern states, and a boon to the local economy, she was beginning to question her decision to open her strudel shop two hours early to accommodate men headed out into the woods. She glanced out the window and, though she knew it would be at least another hour until Henry Werner, Marienstadt’s Chief of Police, and Lola’s future husband, came on duty, she kept hoping he might come in early.
“Hey! Doll baby! Come on over here. I want to ask you a question.” The man speaking was clearly a hunter, most likely from Philadelphia or Baltimore from the look of his brand new camo-gear. He sat at a table close to the counter with three other men comparably dressed and, from the way they had stumbled into her coffee shop the minute she unlocked the door at five, Lola was pretty sure they had spent the night on Market Street. The bars that lined Market Street did a rip-snorting business every hunting season, all except for Fred Sarginger’s Snuff Box. Fred, the town’s former police chief, took a dim view of tourist hunters and had gained a reputation for kicking them out of his bar when they got rowdy and started hitting on any of his female customers.
“These ladies are my customers all year round,” Fred said, “and I won’t stand for them feeling like they have to stay away because of a few knuckleheads that are only here for a week.”
“Come on, princess,” another hunter at the same table called, holding up his coffee mug, “sweeten this up for me, will ya?”
Lola wished Henry—or Fred—were somewhere in the vicinity. The first glow of dawn crept up behind the tree-covered hills around the town and the snowy streets sparkled outside her window, but there weren’t many cars out. She knew she could call the police station which was only a few doors away in Town Hall but she hoped it wouldn’t be necessary.
“Where do these idiots come from?”
Lola stepped behind the cash register and took the check and cash that Gibby Stauffer held out to her. Gibby and his wife, Maxine took advantage of Lola’s early hours to have breakfast together since most of the year Gibby was at work before seven.
“You tell me, Gibby.” Lola handed back his change. “You’re the mayor—can’t you do something about them?”
Gibby flushed with embarrassment. Though he was in his third term as mayor, it was pretty widely known that he was mayor because no one else wanted to be and, other than showing up for unavoidable meetings, he was fairly disinterested in his duties. “Want me to go see if Henry is in yet?”
Lola shook her head. “I’ll be fine. Belva’s coming in to help out this morning so she should be here soon.”
“I heard Belva and Lucius bought a house,” Maxine said.
“Actually, they’re buying Henry’s house.” Now it was Lola’s turn to flush. “We’re getting married in the spring and since I own this building we decided to live upstairs. It’s so convenient for both of us. Henry wants to buy a cabin or cottage up by East Branch Dam for us to go to when we have days off.”
“Oh.” Maxine pressed her hands to her heart. “That’s so romantic! You’re so lucky, Lola. Henry is just about the most handsome man I’ve ever seen.”
Gibby looked down at his wife and cleared his throat.
“Next to you, of course, honey.” She wrapped her hands around his arm. Since Gibby bore a striking resemblance to an elongated scarecrow, Lola did her best not to smile.
“We’ll see you again soon.” Maxine glanced back at Lola with a wink and giggle as she accompanied her husband to the door.
With them gone Lola made note that, other than a solitary man seated at a table by the window, she was alone with the hunters.
“’Kissin don’t last, cookin’ do’,” one of the hunters read aloud from the napkin he held. The words were the slogan Lola used for her strudel shop. “Well, I tasted your cookin’, sugar lips. Why don’t you come over here and let me taste your kissin’.”
Lola turned her back to them trying to control her emotions. The bell over the door jingled and Belva Dearheart Wickett came in, stamping the snow off her boots.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” she said, shrugging out of her coat and hanging it on the rack inside the door. “Lucius isn’t here yet?”
“No.” Lola turned toward her. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“This town sure has a lot of curves in it, doesn’t it, fellas?” one of the hunters called.
Belva, a short, plump woman with long hair pulled back in a braid, glanced at them as she tied on an apron. “Who are the jerks?” she asked.
“Ignore them.” Lola stepped up on a stool to get the chalk board she wrote each day’s specials on.
“I don’t know about you guys,” another hunter added, “but the hell with hunting, I think I’m going to just stay here for the rest of the day.”
His friends laughed and made panting sounds.
“I think you fellas have had enough breakfast. Time to hit the road.”
Lola and Belva both turned at the sound of the new voice. The solitary diner stood next to the table full of hunters. He buttoned up a battered sheepskin-lined suede jacket and reached in his pocket for a pair of gloves.
“And just who the hell do you think you are?” The largest and loudest of the hunters stood up and turned to the man.
“Nobody special,” the man said, though his words seemed to contradict his behavior. “Just someone who thinks you guys have embarrassed yourselves enough for one day and need to sleep it off.” He picked up a brown outback hat from the table behind him.
The other hunters at the table grumbled but seemed a little bit stung by his words. They reached in their pockets, pulling out wallets, amid incoherently complaints, but the standing hunter stepped closer to the stranger.
“I think you and me are going to have a problem,” he snarled.
“Belva,” Lola said, “call the police.”
Belva reached for the phone but the stranger held up his hand. “These gentlemen are leaving.” He spoke with a faintly southern drawl. “No need to call the police.”
“I’ll get this,” one hunter said as the others shuffled toward the door. He placed five twenties on the counter. “That should cover it.”
“Let me get your change.” Lola reached to open the register.
“Forget it. Sorry if we were out of line.” He waved as he followed his friends out the door.
Lola looked up at the solitary diner who crossed the room toward her. He was a rugged looking man with the deeply lined face of someone who spent most of his time outside. His thick, steel gray hair was pulled back in a short ponytail, and he wore a neatly trimmed, gray beard.
“Thank you so much for stepping in,” Lola said.
“No problem.” He handed her his check and some cash.
“Please.” Lola held up a hand. “Your breakfast is on me. I appreciate what you did.”
“Maybe some other time,” he said, placing his money on the counter. “I’m glad I could help.” He put his hat on and stepped out into the cold.
“Who the heck is that?” Belva asked staring after him as he walked down the steps.
“I have no idea,” Lola said.
It was getting light out and, as they watched the man wait to cross the street, they saw Lucius get out of his Ridgeline and walk toward them. He looked up suddenly at the man in front of him and his scarred face split into an enormous grin. Lucius reached out with one hand and in a second the two men had their arms around each other, back-slapping, and laughing.
“It looks like your husband knows him.” Lola glanced at Belva who stared with her mouth slightly open.
“I’ve never seen Lucius that happy to see anyone.”
The men talked for another minute then, with more hand-shaking and back-slapping, parted company. Lucius ran up the steps to the shop, grinning like a mad man.
“Boy, what a way to start the day,” he said as he came through the door. “I never expected that. Hi, baby.” He leaned down and kissed Belva.
“Who is that?” Lola asked.
Lucius turned to her. “You didn’t recognize him?”
“No. Should I?”
“If I remember right you used to be friends with his sister.” Lucius turned to the window in time to see the man step up into a large truck and start the engine. “That, lovely ladies, is the legendary Kit Carson Wilde. Boy, is he a sight for sore eyes.”
“Boone’s brother?” Belva asked.
“One and the same. And Sister John Paul’s, too.”
“I don’t believe it,” Lola said, barely able to catch her breath.

To be continued... or not...

N is for Nick--Father Nick: Blogging the #atozchallenge

Father Nicholas Bauer is one of the central character in The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall. He grew up in Marienstadt and he loves his home town. As a priest, he was thrilled to be assigned to be the pastor of St. Walburga's, his hometown parish.

from The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood:
Father Nicholas Bauer loved his hometown with a ferocity he thought should properly belong only to God. But he consoled himself that the Almighty approved of love, real love, wherever it occurred and would forgive him his devotion to his home town and its people. Ever since he was ordained it had been his dearest wish to be assigned to St. Walburga's, the parish he had grown up in, and when the chance came six years ago he had grabbed it. Returning to Marienstadt had been the happiest event of his life and being the pastor of St. Walburga's, as well as the chaplain for the local Benedictine convent, St. Joseph's, filled his days with purpose and satisfaction. There were fewer nuns now than there had been when he was a boy but a few of the older ones had been his teachers when he was a student. Now he pushed open the door of the ceramics shop where the sisters created handmade statues, rosaries, and nativity sets. Sister Hilda was seated with a group of local ladies painting glaze onto white bisque figures of angels.
“Good morning, Father,” she said. This was followed by a chorus of the same greeting from the ladies.
“Good morning.” He rubbed his hands together briskly then peeled off his mittens. “It certainly is a cold one this morning.”
“You came to see the new Belsnickels, didn't you?” Sister Hilda pushed back her chair and stood up. She was one of the older nuns and still wore the traditional Benedictine habit with a white wimple and long black veil. Over her habit she had tied a cotton bib apron with a pattern of flamboyant red and green poinsettias on it.
“How did they turn out?” He followed her across the room to the shelves by the windows. The entire room was lined with shelves crowded with statues in various stages of completion – the greenware clay still moist from the mold, the pale bisque forms that had been fired once and awaited glaze, and the hundreds of brightly painted figures ready to be sold in the convent's gift shop or in one of the downtown stores that carried the Sisters' ceramics.
Sister Hilda nodded. “They're cute. I found molds for six different designs so there are some interesting variations. Have a look.”
Each of the statues was between four and six inches tall and all of them depicted an old man with a long curling white beard, wearing a cape with a pointed hood and lots of fur trim. Some held little fir trees, others bags of toys, and one had a brier pipe in his mouth.
“Well, aren't they just the handsomest fellows,” he said, lifting one wearing a sparkling blue robe, carrying a tree in one hand and a lantern in the other. “These are wonderful.”
Sister Hilda nodded. “We've already got orders from shops all around the area. Sister John Paul came in and took pictures to put on the web site.”
“Excellent idea,” he said. The fact that the Sisters had a web site for their crafts work still delighted him. Sister John Paul was one of the younger nuns and had set it up complete with PayPal links for ordering. “I've been thinking, maybe next year we could expand Belsnickel to include a little festival. Instead of Belsnickel visiting the children in their homes we could have a party and maybe a dinner with locally made, good, old-fashioned food. Maybe a sauerkraut dinner with pork roast and potato dumplings. I was talking to Bob and Mandy Herzing out at the Sugar House about getting some Belsnickel candy molds and making sugar Belsnickels.”
Sister Hilda turned slightly and ducked her head so her veil could drift forward and hide her expression. Just what we need, she thought, another of Father Nick's bright ideas.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

M is for Maggie, Maksim, and Miranda: Blogging the #atozchallenge

Maggie Marceau from Each Angel Burns, Brother Maksim Gromyko from The Crazy Old Lady Unleashed, and Miranda Light from Sailor's Valentine (in Mardi Gras Was Over: Three Love Stories) all have a deeply spiritual and aesthetic aspects to their personalities. Maggie is a gifted sculptor who is renovating an old abbey. Brother Maksim is a defrocked monk because of his involvement in exorcisms. Miranda Light is a shop owner in a fishing town who is in love.

from Each Angel Burns
The clouds were low and golden. The sky, between them and the lights along the distant shore, was deep coral and shimmering. Lightning, Maggie thought. It wouldn’t be long until it reached her but she lingered on the rock outcrop listening to the waves thunder as the incoming tide rushed into the flume below. The day was a scorcher, rain would be welcome. She decided on one more swim before climbing the stone stairs to the abbey. Here in the cove the water was always warmer than farther up the shore where the Gulf of Maine could go the entire summer without becoming bearable. Sliding down into the deep blue she let the water caress her skin as she stroked lazily out to where she could see the top of the lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula. It was one of the old stone lighthouses, the kind she loved, built from native granite—the same native granite that she carved into weeping maidens.
Above the thunder of the flume there was a deeper rumbling as she stroked back to the rocks. She thought about staying in the water until the rain reached her but the tide here was unpredictable. Even on calm days she had drifted with her eyes closed for what seemed like minutes only to discover herself swept well away from land and floating toward Owl’s Head. When Peter was able to get away for a visit she ventured out farther but alone she wasn’t as adventurous. Peter was a formidable swimmer but she lacked both his physical strength and his courage.
Stretching out on the rocks she let the day’s heat permeate her skin. A sea breeze announced the coming rain. She could see the ripple across the ocean’s surface moving toward her, then over her, chilling her skin, and pinching her nipples into tiny hard knots. A few more minutes, she thought, a few more minutes and she would put her clothes back on and climb the steps winding through banks of beach roses. She lay back with an arm across her eyes and wondered if the nuns who once occupied the abbey ever snuck down those steps to bathe in the cove. She wondered if they swam naked, too. A naked nun, she thought. Interesting idea for a statue.

from The Crazy Old Lady Unleashed
Maksim Gromyko could not remember when the spirits did not speak to him. He was born in the Carpathian Mountains on the border between Romania and Ukraine. The town he lived in was simple and remote; the people nervous and superstitious. There had been a time when people in that part of the world lived in fear of vampires and werewolves but when Maksim was a child there were worse monsters—there was the government. There were soldiers who came without warning, took what they wanted, and left ruin behind. Maksim's father was a mechanic with a small repair shop and his mother was a sweet and gentle woman who had given birth every year of her married life, though only one in three of her children lived past their second birthday. Maksim, the oldest, was eleven when his father was taken away by the soldiers. His mother cried and pleaded and begged but that meant nothing. It broke his heart to see her kneeling in the street, weeping into her apron, trying to understand the words “crimes against the state.” Maksim did not know what they meant either.
Without an income life was impossible. The neighbors helped where they could but they were scared, too. Helping the wife and children of an enemy of the state might endanger their own well-being. For a year Maksim worked whatever jobs he could find; at twelve he was already the size of a man. That winter was a brutal one and, when he could get through the snow, he hunted for rabbits and squirrels but that was not enough. When the two middle children died, he carried their bodies, wrapped in old blankets, to the shed behind his father's shop where they would stay frozen until spring. He knew then what was inevitable—it was only a matter of time. When the morning came that he awoke in an empty house, he followed tracks through the snow until he found his mother's body, clutching the baby in her arms, almost entirely buried in whiteness. He wrapped them up, put them with the others, and made his preparations. With tools from his father's shop, and everything from the house that might be useful, he made a pack that he could carry on his back. He left his village and the bodies of his family behind.
It was mid summer when he came down out of the mountains and well into autumn when he crossed into Hungary. When people asked how he survived such a journey he said that his mother walked with him every step of the way. He said that his grandparents accompanied him, sending him rabbits and game birds when he needed them. He said that he knew his father was dead, too, when one day he appeared and guided a wild goose into Maksim's trap. He said that he was never lonely for a moment because those that walked with him made sure he knew he was guided and loved. 

from Sailor's Valentine
In Port St. Magnus the fishermen noticed a curious thing after Tristan Hancock died, Minerva Light seemed to become unaccountably beautiful. Everyone liked Minerva. When she moved to Port St. M and opened her shop on the Neck she was a little past thirty, recently divorced, or so the rumors went, and nice looking. That's what the lobstermen who docked their boats at wharves at the end of the Neck said, nice looking. Not beautiful but nice looking. She was slightly taller than average and had a round figure. Some of the local gals, ever on their guard for dangerous competition, said she was fat but the men chuckled and said, “Maybe so... but in all the right places.”
It was the way she dressed that caught your eye. Long slim skirts in soft fabrics, lacy camisoles that looked like they had come from someone's grandmother's attic trunks --- if you happened to have a wealthy grandmother who could afford to have her undergarments made in France by patient nuns. But it was her jackets that everyone remarked on --- she had quite a collection cut like kimonos in remarkable combinations of color and texture. Some beaded, some hand-embroidered or trimmed with lace. When people asked she said she had run an antique clothing store in New York while she was married and had collected them then. The Local Lovelies, a not-entirely facetious name given to the towns single girls on the prowl, were given to skin-tight jeans and spandex tube tops. They found Minerva's taste comical and a definite signal that she was not interested in sex. The married women who, relieved of the necessity of attracting a man, had settled comfortably into sweatpants and teeshirts said she was putting on airs. The men didn't say much but they thought plenty.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

L is for Layla, Lola, and Lucius: Blogging the #atozchallenge

Layla from Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter and Lola from The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall have a lot in common--both of them are beautiful women who put up with a lot in their marriages. Lucius from The Christmas Daughter is a tough guy with a beautiful heart and he would cheerfully beat the crap out of any guy who mistreated a woman.

from Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter

They're getting the Ferris wheel ready for winter today. I've been standing by the sink watching out the window as a gang of men with enormous arms unbolt the carriages and stack them on the flatbed of a truck to take away for storage. The wheel itself will stay in place until Spring looking like a giant skeleton against the gray sky.
“We're running low on gin and bourbon,” Joel calls from behind the bar.
He pushes through the swinging doors and frowns at me. “Gin and bourbon, put them on your list and I'll make a run to Stateline Liquor for more. What are you looking at?”
I nod toward the window. “They're taking all the seats off the Ferris wheel. It looks naked.”
He peers over my shoulder as two roustabouts with biceps the size of Sunday dinner hams hoist another carriage onto the truck.
“They have to,” Joel says, “if they leave them up and we get a bad storm they could do a lot of damage.”
“I know.” I lower my eyes and continue unloading beer mugs, Pilsner glasses, rock glasses—all kinds of glasses—from the dishwasher. They are scorching hot and my fingers burn as I touch them.
“How are we ever going to get through this?”
Joel takes a deep breath. “Come on, Layla. How many times have we discussed this?
It's only for a few months so I can work on my book. You hated living at St. Basil's. I thought you'd like being somewhere quiet and ...”
He pauses but I know what he is thinking. He is thinking “someplace like what you're used to”—meaning in a bar among people who are the polar opposite of the faculty and their spouses at St. Basil's Preparatory Academy where Joel teaches literature and composition. When I met Joel he was a horny egghead just past thirty and pathetically ignorant of women like me. I wasn't far from thirty myself but I looked lots younger, which was a good thing. Working in a casino can take its toll on a woman. I knew my looks were getting harder and harder to maintain. The only reason a guy like Joel was even in a place like Mohegan Sun, where I waitressed, was because his cousin was getting married and all the guys had taken him out for a final fling before tying the knot.
“... low key,” he concludes. He puts his arms around me and turns me to face him. “Stop worrying, Layla, it'll be fun. Just the two of us. No faculty parties. No high teas. No volunteer projects that drive you crazy.” He nuzzles my neck. “Just the two of us and the Geezers, what could be more romantic?”
The Geezers are a bunch of local guys who hang out at the pub that we—mostly I—will keep open all winter. 

from The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall
The judge was settling into one of the booths with their high wooden backs and enamel topped tables.
“Chief Werner. Have a seat. I just came in for coffee, want to join me?”
“Sure.” Henry slid into the seat across from him and held up two fingers to Lola who nodded.
“I wonder what amazing creation Lola has for us today,” the judge said. He was a portly man with a perfectly trimmed gray mustache, and an enormous hooked nose on which a pair of wire-rimmed glasses perched. “I don't know how she keeps coming up with so many new confections.”
As he said it Lola, in a ruffled white pinafore apron, appeared with their coffees. “The strudel of the day is cherry-plum. I also have lemon, cheese and apple. Plus I have hot apple dumplings with a glaze made from the Herzing's maple syrup and rhubarb tarts.”
The judge rolled his eyes. “You're cruel, Lola, you're a cruel, evil woman. How's a man
supposed to decide. What are you having, Henry?”
“Just coffee.” Henry said. Lola echoed his words at the same time. He looked at her and laughed. “You know me too well.”
The judge groaned and then looked at Lola. “Well, I'm not about to insult you by abstaining from your amazing artistry. I'll have the apple dumpling.”
“With whipped cream or warmed cream?” Lola winked at Henry.
The judge groaned again. “Warm. No whipped... no, better make it warmed.”
“Good enough.” She started to walk away.
“Lola,” Henry said.
She turned and raised an eyebrow.
“Bring me a rhubarb tart... no cream though.”
She flashed a very pretty smile. “Sure thing.”
The judge watched her walk away. “If I wasn't married...” He trailed off then turned to Henry. “Wasn't her husband killed in a hunting accident?”
Henry took a swallow of coffee then nodded. “That was a long time ago.”
“Well, if it led to her opening this place it was a lucky accident – for the town anyway.” He raised an eyebrow. “You could do worse than that one, Henry,” he said. “She might not be a kid but she's a wonderful cook and has an exceptionally lovely posterior.”
Henry smiled. “I agree.”
“Always puts me in mind of Miss Dolly Parton.”

from The Christmas Daughter
Once outside he opened the rear doors of his van with the words Ritter Plumbing & Heating painted on the side. He put away his tools trying not to think about his irritation with Ethel Hauber. She was regarded as a crank by nearly everyone in town but, even knowing that, she still managed to get on his nerves every time he did work for her. As he reached to close the doors a pair of beady black eyes just a couple feet away startled him. Mike jumped back. The eyes, and the face they belonged to, crinkled into laughter.
“Good grief!” Mike pressed his hand to the center of his chest. “You scared the crap out of me.” He stared at a thin man with a long, sharp face dominated by an enormous, beak-like nose over a substantial mustache. One of his eyes drooped under a scar that cut straight through a bushy eyebrow, and a slow, devilish grin split his face. “Lucius!” Mike said. “I don't believe it. Lucius Wickett.”
“In the flesh.” Lucius wrapped his arms around Mike in a back-slapping hug. “How the hell are you, Plumber Ritter?”
“Where did you come from?” Mike stepped back to study his old friend.
Lucius nodded toward the house behind him. “My brother Juney lives there.” Juney Wickett was a well-known chainsaw carver. His entire lawn was filled with wooden sculptures of bears, dragons, partially-clothed beauties, and other exotic creations. “He spotted your van and told me you were respectable now. I couldn't believe it.”
“It's great to see you.” Mike grinned. “I heard Boone Wilde was back in town but I haven't seen him yet. I didn't know you were here, too.”
“I just got here yesterday. Boone came back a little over a month ago. Look, do you feel like getting a beer? My brother's teaching a carving class at four and I wouldn't mind getting out of here for awhile.” Lucius stuffed his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket. Except for a few gray hairs and a few more lines on his face he looked much the same as he had the day he roared out of Marienstadt on his Harley.
Thanks for reading.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

K is for Kunigunda and Kit: : Blogging the #atozchallenge

Kunigunda Wolfe from The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall, and Kit Wilde from The Christmas Daughter both have relatively small parts in their stories but they are beloved characters all the same. Kuni is the mother of three of the characters ("a beer distributor, a pig farmer, and a nun" as her son Mulligan says) and is also an incredible cook, especially famous for her keuchels. Kit Wilde is Boone's older brother and the founder of The Pilgrims Motorcycle Club. He now runs a horse farm in Kentucky and may make an appearance in future stories:

from The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall:
The discussion about categories progressed. Even Sister John-Paul put in her preference for cookies, but after an appropriate amount of deliberation, they settled on breads, soups, main courses, pickles and relishes, jellies and preserves, desserts, specialty meats, vegetables, and cookies and candies.
“That's nine categories,” Mulligan said. “We need one more.”
“Well,” Bertie Weis said in a tone of voice that prohibited opposition, “I think it should be fairly obvious. After all, what could be more appropriate than...” She paused for effect glancing around at all of them. “...dumplings.”
“Dumplings?” Gretchen repeated sitting back in her seat.
“Well, of course,” said Bertie. “Think about it. What do we serve more of than dumplings?”
“I don't know,” Father Nick said frowning. “I love liver dumplings but how would you compare a liver dumpling to an apple dumpling?”
Lola giggled.
Bertie fixed him with an incredulous stare. “Not those kinds of dumplings. I mean regular dumplings. Knadles, niflies, spaetzles. Who doesn't love a good dumpling?”
Mulligan raised an eyebrow. “She has a point.”
Bertie bestowed a smile. “Thank you, Franklin. I'm sure that most of your wonderful sauerkraut finds itself served festooned with lovely knadles frugally made from yesterday's leftover bread in memory of our thrifty ancestors.”
“'Yesterday's leftover bread?'” Kuni said, the shock in her voice drawing everyone's
attention. “Knadles aren't made with leftover bread. That's ridiculous. Knadles are made with eggs and milk and flour. Maybe a touch of salt.”
Bertie turned slowly in her direction, her entire body straightening up. “Excuse me? I think you are confused. You are obviously thinking of niflies. Knadles are made with good, honest, day old bread crumbs.”
Kuni stared at her with a look that clearly conveyed her disgust. “You,” she said, “are thinking of Semmelknödels. Semmelknödels are made with breadcrumbs. Knadles are made with milk, eggs, and flour. Niflies are made with eggs, water and flour. You're obviously confused.”  
Gretchen glanced at Sister John-Paul, who was trying to hide her smile by lifting her beer mug to her mouth. Father Nick and Lola were staring in obvious confusion and Ruthie had her face buried in her hands.
“I will have you know.” Bertie drew herself up even straighter if that was possible. “That I supervised the Sunday afternoon pork and sauerkraut dinners at the Knights of Columbus Hall for over twenty years. In that time we served thousands...” She took a deep breath. “Thousands of knadles and they were always made with bread crumbs.”
Kuni shrugged with a gesture that stated the futility of trying to argue with someone so ill-informed. “Well,” she said, “you can call them knadles if you want but what you served thousands of was Semmelknödels.”
An arctic chill settled over the room and Father Nick looked back and forth between the two older women, whose competitive righteous indignation was escalating.

From The Christmas Daughter:
It was on a hot August night in Melvin's Place, when someone mentioned forming a motorcycle club. Kit and Boone, along with Lucius Wickett, Mike Ritter, and their girlfriends, were packed into a circular booth. Peeper Baumgratz, who was tending bar, bellowed, “Last call!”

“Yeah,” Kit said, “bring us a case of greenies.”
Peeper nodded and, within minutes, an ice cold case of beer appeared on their table.
“We have to do it,” Lucius said, reaching for a bottle. “Come on. Why not? Elk County can handle it.”
“I don't know,” Boone said. “Chief Sarginger isn't crazy about us as it is. He'll shit if his town has a motorcycle gang, too.”
“Not a gang,” Lucius said, “a club. We're respectable.” He grinned and guzzled beer. “We'll behave ourselves.”
“What do you think, Kit?” Mike asked.
“Huh?” Kit was turned sideways, his eyes glued to a television over the bar, oblivious to the girl who sat on his lap nibbling on his ear. Music blared from the jukebox drowning out the sound but Kit watched anyway.
“About a motorcycle club?” Mike said. “What do you think we should call ourselves?”
Kit's attention returned to the screen.
“What the hell are you watching that's so interesting?” Lucius said. “How can you follow it with all this noise?”

Boone looked up at the television then laughed. “He doesn't need to hear it. He's seen that movie so damn many times he has it memorized.”
“What is it?” Mike said.
A commercial came on and Kit turned back to them.
“What movie is that?” Mike repeated.
“Best movie ever made.” Kit twisted the lid off another beer. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. You can't tell me you never saw it.”
“Forget that,” Lucius said. “We need a name for our motorcycle club.”
Kit grinned, then, affecting a John Wayne drawl, said, “'You're a persistent cuss, pilgrim.'”
Boone groaned. “I knew it.”
That was the night the Pilgrim Motorcycle Club was born.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 10, 2015

J is for Juney and Joe: Blogging the #atozchallenge

Juney Wickett from The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Secrets of Marienstadt and The Christmas Daughter and Joe Quinn from The Crazy Old Lady's Revenge and The Crazy Old Lady's Secret could not be more different. Juney is a short, husky chainsaw artist from the highlands of Pennsylvania. Joe is a big, blond, gorgeous ex-cop from South Boston. But both of them have their own brand of charm.

Yes, this is Charlie Hunnam but if I could
pick anyone to play Joe Quinn
he would be it.
from The Crazy Old Lady's Revenge
Since returning from Cape Cod I'd been thinking about Mattie and Stan. Mattie made a good choice in Stan. He's not at all like the boys we grew up with and I started to think someone like Stan was what I needed. I've always been attracted to men like him – men with callused hands and easy smiles, who don't over-think things. Maybe that's why I noticed the big guy with the beard who appeared to be bench-pressing three hundred pounds while I watched. Normally, I'd never let a guy catch me watching him in the gym. That would just be too uncool. But there was something about this guy. He noticed me and grinned.
“I've seen you around here before,” he said. “You fight like an animal.” He pushed himself up from the bench and he was taller than me by half a head. “Name's Joe Quinn.” He wiped his hands on a towel and then held one out. I took it and was pleased when I felt calluses.
“Viv Lang,” I said. “You're pretty impressive yourself. You sound like a Southie.”
He laughed. “I guess none of us can hide that. I grew up on Gold Street near St. Peter's Academy. Me and all five of my brothers.”
I liked the way he laughed. His eyes all but disappeared under heavy blond eyebrows and he had deep dimples above the closely trimmed blond beard. He had a broad face with a lot of laugh lines and a neck that was nearly as thick as his head. I thought he looked like someone who worked hard outdoors.
“Five brothers.” I said. “That's hard to imagine.” I remembered that Mattie said Stan came from a big family.
“Yeah, Irish Catholics.” He laughed again.

Henry groaned but he made a trip out to see Juney's affronts to public decency. It was true that the figures of females in his collection were scantily clad but there was just enough drapery to conceal the most significant parts of their anatomy. In addition, Henry thought, they were actually quite good. There was one of a mermaid-like creature rising up out of graceful waves, her long hair just barely covering full breasts from which he had a hard time averting his eyes.
“She's a beauty, isn't she?” Juney said running his hand along her gleaming shoulder. “If you're interested I'll make you a good deal.”
Henry raised his eyebrows. “It's tempting,” he said. “Listen, she's going to keep calling me. Do you think you could move the ladies out of her line of sight? Maybe on the other side of those trees?”
Juney nodded though he was obviously less than thrilled. “Yeah, I suppose so. But the miserable old bat will just find something else to complain about.”
“I know.” Henry sighed.
“You know, she's no joy to have as a neighbor either.” Juney pushed his plastic goggles up on top of his bald head, folded his hands over his ample stomach, and frowned. “A couple weeks ago we had a little party in the yard out back, me and my wife. Sort of a house warming party. It was a nice night and some friends came over with beer and stuff. We were just sitting around talking, not making much noise. It was early, too, and the old bat opened up her windows and played her Lawrence Welk records as loud as she could. What a way to kill a party. 'Ana one, ana two...'”
Henry nearly doubled over laughing.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

I is for Ibarra, Sister Dolorosa: Blogging the ‪#‎atozchallenge

Sister Dolorosa Ibarra grew up in Spain and she is a very important part of The Christmas Daughter: A Marienstadt Story. Actually, I love all the nuns that populate my Marienstadt stories but Sister Dolorosa is special because without her Boone's daughter, Charity, would have had an even more bleak life than she had. Sister Dolorosa loves Charity and she loves Boone for changing this little girl's life.

from The Christmas Daughter
Sister Dolorosa Ibarra was born in a small town at the foot of the Pyrenees in Spain. As a girl she often accompanied her mother, who was devoutly religious, on pilgrimages to Lourdeas across the border in France. She knew it was her mother's dearest wish that her daughter enter the convent but Sister Dolorosa, whose name was Bernadette back then, had other plans. She and her best friend, Yolanda, spent every spare bit of money they could find on movies and movie magazines. They had a secret plan—they were going to cross the Atlantic Ocean to New York and become Rockettes. Bernadette and Yolanda knew they weren't beautiful like the girls they saw in the movies but they were quite convinced that they would become beautiful once they were grown. They spent hundreds of hours watching every movie they could find that featured a chorus line, studied and memorized dance moves, and practiced relentlessly in their bedrooms, kicking their feet up over their heads, laughing, and making plans.
It was the greatest disappointment of Bernadette's young life that Yolanda did something unforgivable. Both of them had worked in shops and restaurants hoarding every penny for their planned defection. But when Yolanda was seventeen she fell in love with a young man named
Cesar L'Cruz. She fell in love and within weeks she was pregnant. Her parents screamed and ranted and raved. The wedding took place with great haste and great shame. Bernadette, however, refused to let her dream die and a year later she packed her bags, left a note, and boarded a boat for America. By some miscommunication she found herself in Atlantic City instead of New York City, but the bright lights there were encouraging. She decided to stay.

Bernadette had been right, of course; she wasn't pretty and she couldn't dance. She could clean hotel rooms and that's what she did, finally moving a little farther down the coast to Ocean City where she could live more cheaply. Humbled by her failure to achieve the dream she'd cherished all her life, she wrote home to Yolanda regaling her with tales of the glamorous life she led as a dancer in fabulous nightclubs. Her deception might have gone on indefinitely had not Cesar L'Cruz proved to be such a terrible driver.
Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

H is for Henry: Blogging the ‪#‎atozchallenge

Yes, this is an old picture of Iain Glenn
but he sure would have made a great Henry back then.
I have a confession to make: I'm in love with Henry. Chief of Police Henry Werner is the central figure in most of my Marienstadt stories in both The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall and The Christmas Daughter. He is a big, blond, handsome man whose rakish behavior hides a broken heart. Henry is essentially a good man but he's not above breaking the law to protect the people he loves. I swear I keep writing Marienstadt stories just so I can spend more time with Henry.

from The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall (April Special--Get all 11 stories for $1.99)
Henry Werner knew that being the Chief of Police in Marienstadt, Pennsylvania, was an easy job but any day that started out with a visit from Sister Adelaide, the Prioress of St. Joseph's Convent, and which was followed by a call from the State Police, was off to an unpromising start. Despite the fact that he was close to forty and had been a policeman ever since he left the Marines, one withering stare from Sister Adelaide could reduce him to a
single throbbing nerve. The worst part was, she knew it.
“Henry,” she said, looking at him over the top of the half-moon glasses perched on her long, patrician nose, “is it really necessary to ticket the convent's automobiles at every single opportunity? I understand that the sisters need to be more mindful of making sure there is adequate money in the parking meters but, honestly, the time had barely run out when Patrolman Ginther wrote this out.” She waved the bright orange ticket in front of him.
“Give it to me, Sister,” he said. “I'll take care of it.” He knew that by 'taking care of it' he meant that he would pay for it himself but he preferred that she not know that.
“No.” She jerked the ticket back and tucked it into the pocket of the impeccably tailored black wool coat she wore. “We do not expect favors but we would like a small amount of ...” She paused, raised her eyebrows, cleared her throat, and then said, “a small amount of courtesy, shall we say?”

“I'll have a word with Dean, I'm sure he'll be reasonable.” Actually he was quite sure that Dean Ginther would be anything but reasonable. 

from The Christmas Daughter
 “Good morning, Boone.” The door opened and Henry came in, the bright sunlight making his hair glow.
“Hey, good morning. I'd shake hands but...” Boone lifted his, with coffee in one and strudel in the other. “Help yourself. I think we're going to have leftovers today.”
“No thanks.” Henry leaned against the counter. “I got a disturbing call this morning from Grant Caruso at the State Police barracks and I thought I'd better come by and have a word with you before the State Police show up.”
“Yeah?” Boone sat down behind his desk and bit into the strudel. “What did we do now?”
“Well, I'm sure you didn't do anything but it seems one of your guests might have been distributing child pornography from one of your rooms.”
Boone put the strudel down on a napkin and stared at him. “You're kidding?”
“I'm not kidding. It seems Mr. Vickery got himself in some trouble last night.”
“What kind of trouble?” Boone took another bite of strudel.
“Well, that's the thing, nobody knows exactly how it happened but the state police got a call this morning from a truck driver who reported a man tied up in an old green Bonneville that was parked at the Roadside Rest out off Windfall.”
“Tied up?” Boone laughed. “Tied up in his own car.”
“Not just tied up but stripped naked, pretty badly beaten, and wrapped up like a Christmas package with duct tape.” Henry looked at his cousin and suddenly felt an odd but familiar shiver. “His hands were taped to the steering wheel; his mouth was taped shut; and the duct tape was wrapped around his chest, arms, and the back of the seat.”
“Sounds like he pissed someone off,” Boone said.
As they were talking, Lucius came through the door from the tavern, nodded to Henry, and drew himself a cup of coffee.
“Uh-huh.” Henry continued. “On the passenger's seat were a couple computers and an old digital camera with a slide show of naked kids.”
Lucius walked over and perched on the desk. “Sounds like one sick puppy to me.”
“No kidding,” Boone agreed. “Do they have any suspects?”
Henry looked back and forth between them. “Geez, Lucius,” he said. “What happened to your hand? You've got some nasty bruises.”
Lucius examined his knuckles and shrugged. “I whacked it while I was changing out the beer kegs in the bar. I'm not the tough guy I used to be.”
Henry closed his eyes for a second and decided he needed to get going—the sooner the better.

Thanks for reading.

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