It’s been a while since I’ve posted – that’s because I’ve been working to finish my new suspense novel, “In the Time It Takes to Blink”. It’s complete, and now available on Amazon. You can read a blurb below, and I’ve included the first chapter as well. Thank you for reading.
A grieving cop, living at the bottom of a bottle. A relentless serial killer, back to play the game after a ten-year retirement.
Frank Bruno is the cop, a former Santa Mariana, California, detective. The killer is the faceless murderer known only as “Deadly Sins”. Ten years ago, Bruno was closing in on Deadly Sins, when unimaginable, horrifically bloody tragedy struck at the very heart of his life. That day, he walked away from his home, his career, the job…
He spends his days fishing off a tidepool in the Pacific, across Highway 1 from the abandoned gas station where he lives. And he drinks. But the booze doesn’t make him forget what he saw, that last day on the job. Nothing will, except death.
Now, his former partner, and newly-anointed lieutenant, Rita “Sally” Salvanian, shows up at his door with a case file. In it are photographs of Deadly Sins’ first victim in a decade. Bruno wants nothing more to do with the cops, the law, or the case.
But Sally knows how to play Bruno, and she does. Before he knows it, Bruno is drawn back into the hunt for one of the most horrific killers Northern California has ever known.
With the help of a young friend who rescued Bruno four years before from certain arrest, and the devastated but resolute mother of Deadly Sins’ newest victim, Bruno may have a chance this time to put to rights his mistakes of a decade ago.
If Deadly Sins doesn’t get to him first.
Equal parts gory chills and irreverent humor, “In the Time It Takes to Blink” will leave you breathless as it races breakneck through twists and turns to its startling conclusion!
Jenny Woodrow was late.
She scurried around her cramped dorm room like a mouse snatching crumbs from an ill-kempt kitchen floor. Brushed her straight brown hair in the wall mirror that precisely straddled the shared room’s equator. Dashed on makeup from the pile of blushes, powders, and liners dumped from the plastic zipper bag onto her worn fiberboard desk. Grabbed the short charcoal woolen skirt from the closet she shared with her roommate, and stepped into it. She tripped on the hem, but caught herself before she pitched forward onto the floor.
“What have I forgotten?” she muttered, spinning in place. Her eyes lit on her black and white Converse All-Stars peeking from beneath her bed, then down at her bare feet. “Shoes!”
She clapped the canvas sneakers on her feet, grabbed her backpack, and flew out the door. Professor Rory was not kind to late students interrupting his seminars.
She bowled into her roommate, Tish Oughton, in the hall as she barreled from the room, almost knocking the taller girl into the doorframe.
“Watch it!” Tish shrilled, pushing Jenny back.
Jenny’s heavy backpack pulled her off-balance and she stumbled against the wall. The sticky rubber soles of her sneakers saved her from slipping and falling on the polished vinyl floor tiles.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Tish!” Jenny said, reaching towards her roommate for a hand. Tish just stared at her, so Jenny managed to get her feet under her and stand upright on her own.
Tish was tall, blond, and big-boobed—everything Jenny was not. Jenny felt like a schlub when Tish was around. More of a schlub.
Tish eyed her up and down, taking in the makeup job Jenny hoped she had done well, the short skirt, the freshly shaved legs with the still-oozing scrape on her left ankle. Jenny always felt like a germ on a microscope slide when Tish examined her like that. But Tish was occasionally nice to her, and Tish knew things, things about boys, that Jenny hoped desperately to learn before she died a virgin. At nineteen, it had gotten embarrassing.
“Hmph,” Tish said. She looked Jenny in the eye; of course Tish’s eyes were green. “Zack Kelton?”
Jenny blushed. “Umm…”
Tish nodded as if she had just cracked the genetic code of an alien race. “Though so.” She stepped forward and grabbed Jenny’s boobs.
“Tish!” Jenny turned red as the beets she’d eaten in her dinner salad, and darted a look down the hall to see if anyone was watching. She felt foolish; at this Northern California university, a girl handling another girl’s chest was not even worthy of a glance by the students passing by them.
“Oh, don’t be such a baby,” Tish murmured. “I’m just… there.” Tish stepped back, looking smug as a cat that had caught a goldfinch.
Jenny took a breath, which wasn’t easy, since Tish had shoved her small breasts nearly up to her chin inside her bra.
“I don’t know…”
“You want Zack to ask you out again?”
Tish nodded; the cat had just swallowed the finch. “Then go to class. And it wouldn’t hurt to wiggle your ass a little.” She wrinkled her nose. “What you have of it.”
Jenny caught herself before she twisted to look at her narrow behind. Why oh why had the gods of the dorm thought to pair her with a gorgeous diva like Tish? Life at the University of California, Santa Mariana, was already intimidating enough to the girl from rural Iowa, without her having to wake up every morning across the room from a men’s magazine centerfold.
“I have to go, Tish,” she said. “I’m late!”
Tish smirked. “Well, go then. Don’t keep Zack the Sack waiting.”
Jenny blinked and scampered off down the hall to the elevator. Zack the Sack? Why did people keep calling him that? She went through her days feeling like everyone knew things she didn’t, things she never would know. Things the world didn’t want her to know.
Well, that was just pity thinking, she told herself. She heard her Mom’s words in her head: Now sweetheart, I know you are an adult woman now, and as much as I would like you to wait till you are married, I know you have to do what your heart tells you. I just want you to promise me you will be safe.
She took a breath as she pressed the elevator button half a dozen more times. Where was the blinking thing? Professor Rory was going to give her that look he always gave students when they strolled in late.
And if Zack had decided to put in an appearance to class for a change…
Oh! She felt her knees weaken a little as she thought of him. She had seen movies when she was younger, of big kids at college. The boys were always impossibly tall, blond, and chisel-jawed. Until she had actually gotten to UCSM, she’d thought that was just Hollywood; Zack could have been one of those movie boys.
And for some reason he’d sat next to her the first session of Professor Rory’s “Comparative Religious Studies” seminar.
For half the class she’d struggled not to break out in flop sweat, and prayed her Secret deodorant would hold out. After class he’d cornered her, and through the rushing in her ears she’d finally deciphered that he was asking her out for coffee at the student union. She’d gone, floating along in a dream, hoping it would not end.
After their coffee he had walked her back to her dorm, and like a perfect gentleman had bent and given her a soft kiss on her lips, but had not pressed her for more. In that moment, she wasn’t certain she could have handled more.
Then she had started to hear things about him, the “Zack the Sack” tag chief among them. Somehow everyone knew he was interested in her, and it was high school all over again. People who saw them together gave them smirks, like Tish had done just moments ago.
She leaned on the elevator button, and finally she heard the ancient mechanism clank to a stop, and the doors squealed open like rats caught in a trap. She darted inside and punched the button for the ground floor. After an eternity the doors thumped closed and the car began its descent.
She stared at herself in the smudged brass plating on the inside of the doors, wondered what a guy like Zack saw in a little mouse like her. And though she did not want to burst the bubble of the way she felt when she was with him, the truth was, the things she had heard people saying about him had begun to gnaw at the edges of her euphoria.
The next time she had him alone, she would have to ask him about this “Sack” nickname.
The elevator deposited her in the dorm’s lobby, and she raced out of the building and across the quad to Reynolds Hall. Her Fossil watch—a high school graduation gift from her parents—told her she was four minutes late. She pounded up the stairs to the second floor, her sneakers squeaking on the marble steps like she was sprinting down a basketball court. Reaching the old wooden panel door—it was closed, of course; Professor Rory was single-minded about starting class on time—she took a breath and looked through the pebbled privacy glass at the vague shapes seated around the table.
Might as well get it over with.
She opened the door and everyone turned in their seats to stare at her like she was naked. She crept in, trying to make herself smaller, unnoticed, even though she might as well have been center stage with a hot light on her.
Professor Alan Rory gave her his Look, the one that was equal parts stern teacher and disappointed father. It made her stomach turn over like she was tumbling in one of the big dryers in the dorm basement. And when Zack Kelton shone her that big white grin, his brilliant teeth flashing, she felt like crawling into a hole.
“I’m so sorry, Profess—” she started.
“Please take your seat, Miss Woodrow,” Professor Rory interrupted her, holding the Look on her five seconds longer.
She hunched her shoulders and shuffled to the one remaining empty chair, next to Zack. He patted the seat with one long-fingered hand. She gave him a weak smile and sat.
She had so wanted to do well in Professor Rory’s class; she had hopes of becoming a Lutheran minister someday, and thought she should know something of the major religions of the world before she was ordained. She had no patience for those who saw the world only through one color glass, and was determined to share her love of God with all who wished to join, no matter their homeland.
But now, after being late for the third time, she was sure Professor Rory saw her as a flighty young thing, useful for cooking and cleaning a man’s house, and certainly not worthy of leading a flock of the faithful. She wasn’t sure why she thought that of him; perhaps because he appeared to be in his fifties, had elegantly graying hair in a thick mane that almost reached his shoulders, an erect posture, and a patrician air, she felt he was of the old school of thought about women, like a lot of the fathers in her Iowa country town. Probably she was being too hard on him because she was embarrassed; he did wear a wedding ring, so at least one woman loved him, though he had never mentioned Mrs. Rory.
She pulled her laptop from her backpack as silently as she could, and began to take notes. Zack pretended to drop a pencil and leaned close to her.
“Don’t sweat it,” he whispered. “I have a surprise for you after class.”
“Mr. Kelton,” Professor Rory said.
“Sorry, Prof,” Zack replied, giving Jenny his secret smirk. And then he squeezed her thigh beneath the table.
She saw stars for a second, and had to remind herself to breathe. This Adonis had his hand on her leg—up high—and had that smile on his face that always made her feel like he knew everything about her. She looked at him sidelong, in his khaki trousers and blue-checked button-up shirt—untucked—that made the azure of his eyes pop.
What was the surprise?
She had trouble focusing the rest of the lecture, something about Hinduism in thirteenth-century China. At the halfway point of the session, Professor Rory called a break, and everyone helped themselves to the muffins that one of the other students—Sara Culpepper—had brought. Finally, the hour and a half class ended, and chair legs scraped a discordant note on the floor as everyone stood.
“What’s the surprise?” Jenny asked Zack as she shoved her laptop into her pack.
He just smiled and tilted back his head, nodding a little. The smug way he looked at her with all his handsomeness made her tummy tighten; obviously he was going to torture her for a while longer.
“You’re mean,” she said, poking his bicep, letting her hand linger on his muscle a moment.
“You’re right,” he said, grinning. “Didn’t you know?”
She opened her mouth to reply, when Professor Rory said, “Mr. Kelton, a moment of your time, if you would.”
Zack looked at the professor, the expression on their teacher’s face that of a man who had just discovered half a worm in the apple he had been eating. Zack turned to Jenny. “Uh-oh, looks like I’m about to go out behind the woodshed.”
Zack told Jenny, “Meet me over by Arthur Hall. I’ll make this fast with the old fucker.”
Jenny cringed at Zack’s language right in front of their professor, then chided herself for being a goody-two-shoes. She was in California now, just an hour north of San Francisco, and that’s the way people talked. One of the reasons she had chosen this school, out of the three universities that had accepted her application, was because it was in a liberal state, yet set among stunning redwoods; she had not been able to resist the semi-rural setting of the campus.
“Okay,” she said, shouldering her pack and heading for the door. She glanced over her shoulder; Professor Rory had wasted no time in admonishing Zack for the number of classes he had missed.
She hurried from the room, not wanting to be privy to that moment. She had never been good at confrontation, even if it wasn’t about her.
She went from Reynolds Hall into the cooling night air; fog was moving in, and the sky was aglow with the sherbet-orange lights of the nearby town of Santa Mariana reflecting off the cottony cloudbank. The cold mist on her face made her shiver. She still wasn’t used to how chilly it could get at night, and how fast, here on the Pacific North Coast.
She went down the steps of the Hall to the sidewalk. Out on the open walkway, the fog was really whipping in now. It had been hot every day up until today, and now the North Bay weather patterns had returned full force, the inland valley vacuuming like a Hoover the moisture rising off the Pacific and sucking it onshore. Despite the way the murk raised goosebumps on her bare upper arms and unsheathed legs—when would she remember to wear a jacket and tights for evening classes?—she loved how romantic the thick, obscuring mist made everything feel. Like some old noir movie, with hard-boiled detectives and the dames who loved them.
She shivered again, imagining Zack’s strong arm going around her shoulder and drawing her into him to keep her warm.
She headed for Arthur Hall as he had told her to do, passing by one of the Code Blue light poles that dotted the walkways of the huge campus. She barely glanced at the emergency call box—blue the color of Zack’s eyes—with the big red button set waist-high into it; this far north of the big city, she always felt safe.
The route she had chosen took her through a stand of giant redwoods, a tree she had never seen before coming to the Coast, and she took every opportunity to walk among them. She dawdled now, knowing Zack might be some time with Professor Rory, and she felt like curling up beneath the trees on their piles of soft, fallen leaves. The redwoods towered like silent sentinels, watching over her and making her feel protected. Some of their trunks were so wide, a car could be hidden behind them and she would never know, they were such massive creations of God. Their crowns disappeared in muted shadow in the fog flowing around them.
She glanced at the display on her watch, realized she had dithered among the red giants too long, and that Zack must be waiting for her by now. She hurried, passing from the hazy pool of one walkway light into darkness. Arthur Hall was just ahead. She was ten feet from another Code Blue emergency call pole.
Her last thought as the dark cloth bag went over her head, and the sharp, fruity smell of chloroform filled her senses was, What was Zack’s surprise?
“In the Time It Takes to Blink”, now on Amazon.
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