Happy Easter

I wish all of you a very happy Easter.

 

Easter Bunny Spreadshirt

Free photo 19105804 © Peachyphotodesign – Dreamstime.com

 

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Giveaway of These Divided States: High Price to Pay

See this #AmazonGiveaway for a chance to win: High Price to Pay (These Divided States Book 1) (Kindle Edition). https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/6bc13639b788199c NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Ends the earlier of Apr 25, 2019 11:59 PM PDT, or when all prizes are claimed. See Official Rules http://amzn.to/GArules.

High-Price-to-Pay-GenericChapter 7

Jane froze at the sight of Tyler Payne, her ex-lover, glowering from the doorway of her shop. Do something. Say something. Hit the panic button under the counter and get the Corporate Police here.

The deadbolt hit home like a shot. Muscle upon muscle rippled along Tyler’s arms, causing the tattoos of naked women to dance seductively around his brown Cain’s mark. Early morning sunlight filtered through the bullet-proof glass of her windows to glint on the throwing knives and stars on his belt.  His pecs twitched under his black wife-beater shirt. 

Christ, his breasts were bigger than hers. Jane punched the hysteria into submission. “I see you had time to work out while you were away.”

His dark eyes narrowed. “‘Roids kept me from being someone’s bitch.”

And they probably helped him find someone to take care of his needs. He’d always been flexible that way. And now he was back. She inhaled slowly, willed her heart not to gallop out of her chest. She was used to violence, knew it for the tool it was.

Tyler loved violence and terror for their own sake.

Setting her trembling hand on the countertop, she swept it over the cold marble. “So what can I do for you?”

“What can you do for me?” Running his hand over his bald head, he swaggered toward the counter. “Aren’t you all uppity?”

Memories swept through her like a tsunami. The bastard considered manners as a sign of weakness, something to exploit. Had serving a better class of addicts made her soft? No. Fuck no. Raising her chin, she stared him in the eyes. “What the fuck do you want, Ty?”

The obscene language tasted bitter; the anger stretched her skin nearly to the breaking point.

“You always did have a way with your mouth.” His attention dropped to her lips. “When I was in the Pen, I’d remember when you were so eager to please that you’d greet me at the door on your knees.”

She remembered she’d thought she’d loved him, remembered his whispers of love and promises to take care of her.

She remembered too damn much.

But knew only one thing—she could only depend upon herself. “You and your hand should appreciate the memories because that’s all you’re ever gonna have.”

“Eventually you’ll come begging for me to take you back.”

The hell she would. She’d hadn’t clawed her way out of a cesspit to fall back into a sewer. “Fuck you.”

His lips quirked. Tugging a throwing knife from his belt, he scraped under his clean fingernails. “Maybe later, Plain Janie. I’ve come to collect what you owe me.” He glanced around the shop. “And interest for using me.”

“Using you?” She flattened her palms on the counter. Faint white lines marred her forearms, souvenirs when he’d cut her to suck her blood when he was high. “You hacked my inventory to steal drugs, cut the cocaine with baby powder, and nearly ruined by business.”

When she’d reported the discrepancies to the DOA, they’d suspended her license for three months and shut her out of her business so they could investigate. Months she and Penny spent living on the streets. The gutter smelled just like her childhood, but Penny deserved better. 

And Jane vowed never to let love turn her stupid again. “State your business then get the hell out.”

He tossed the knife.

The motion stirred the air near her cheek. Glass shattered. Blue candies poured from the remains of the ginger jar and rained onto the floor. Feral cryptocurrency cards poked out of the wreckage. Her savings! She gulped air.

He tossed more stars. Shards of glass glittered in the rainbow of colored candies. White cards jutted like jagged teeth from the destruction. She mentally tabulated the value of the feral cards.

Christ, a half million feral credits, untraceable by any government, were exposed to the light. Had he noticed?

Tyler pinched her chin and pulled her face closer to his. “Think you can make me leave, Janie?” 

“No.” She forced the word out.

“That’s right, babe.” He slapped her across the face while his grip prevented her from moving to lessen the blow.

Her skin burned. Her tooth nicked her tongue; blood flooded her mouth. She couldn’t stop the bastard, not by herself. But she wasn’t alone. She had friends. Military surplus friends like Saco and Herstal. She slipped a hand under the counter and pushed the emergency button. A soft whirl indicated her security system had received her distress.

Tyler raised his hand.

She flinched and braced herself for another blow.

Chuckling, he pulled his signature machete from the scabbard on his back and set the blade against her cheek. “Cops won’t get here before I fuck you up good, babe.”

Blood poured like warm syrup down her face as he sliced open the skin.

“I haven’t called the cops.” Pain cleared her head. Her finger settled on the trigger of the old-fashioned joystick mounted to the shelf under the counter.

“That’s because you owe me.” Lowering the blade point to her breast, he licked the blood from her cheek.

“Yeah, I owe you.” Over his shoulder, she eyed the submachine guns that had dropped from their cubbies in the ceiling. She’d be in serious trouble if anyone found them, especially with the homemade silencers. 

As for actually shooting him… The Cain’s mark may mean no investigation, but her business would be shut down for days. She couldn’t afford the loss of profit. Not if she wanted out.

“I know just how you’ll repay me.” He cut the fabric over one breast, exposing her lace bra.

With a flick of her wrist, the machine gun targeted his back. “Picturing its all you’ll ever do, asshole.”

His eyes darkened, and he raised the machete.

“One more cut and I’ll be calling the cops to scrub pieces of your sorry ass outta my carpet.” She pointed to the gun.

Tyler turned, paled under his cinnamon skin. “Fucking bitch. Here I was gonna play nice for old times sake.”

She depressed the trigger. The chamber clicked empty.

He flinched then smiled. “You shoulda loaded the gun.”

“The first one is always empty. The next one explodes your skull.” She cocked an eyebrow. “Call my bluff. I dare you.”

He raised his hands and backed away from the counter. Crimson beaded along the length of his blade before he sheathed it. “My employer is offering you two hundred thousand credits for your dispensary license, less the sixty percent you owe me, and you could buy that piece of dirt you dream about.”

Two hundred thousand. Her business was worth ten times that. Not that she’d tell Tyler.

He must have been impressed by the number. “Do you still got that picture of your dream house under the counter, Janie? Dreaming of the day, you can pass as normal.”

Embarrassment heated her skin.

“Fuck you. And your offer.” She angled the joystick so the muzzle tracked him to the door. Tempting. So very tempting, but the money. She needed it, especially with a new product coming on the market tonight. “I’m not selling.”

His skin darkened. “I’ll give you a week, then the value goes down five hundred a week until the cops haul your ass out of here in a body bag.” 

“If I’m dead, my license goes to the next person on the waiting list. I seriously doubt that’s your employer.” No one with a record could be a dispenser. That was the law. They needed her alive if they wanted her license.

“You’ll sign before you die, slowly.” He fingered the knives at his belt. “Your right hand will be mutilation free. At least until you sign.”

Jane jerked on the trigger. A bullet streaked past his cheek, nicked his ear, and thunked into the bullet-proof glass. “Next time I won’t miss.”

“You’ll pay for that, bitch. You’ll fucking pay.” Holding his bloody ear, he staggered outside.

The door remained open.

Jane held her breath, forcing her heart to slow to normal. One second. Two. Her legs buckled. She staggered until she slammed into the wall but remained on her feet. The impact rocketed up her spine, clattered out her skull. She shoved her hands into her mouth to stop a scream from escaping. Gears ground as the machine guns returned to their hiding spaces in the ceiling. 

Ohgodohgod, what had she done?

Wounding Tyler was a mistake.

She should have killed him.

He was going to kill her.

Should she take the cards and run? Her gaze lowered to the shelf. Clear packing tape secured a news clipping to the space next to the machine guns’ joystick. Boards covered the house’s windows, the porch sagged, and the steps were missing from the stoop. A dead tree leaned over the house, and a frayed rope dangled from a skeletal branch. Her trembling hand swept over the tall grass as if to push it aside to find the tire that had fallen from the rope.

She traced the numbers under the photo. One million credits to buy a home and land. A place where she and Penny belonged, where no one could kick them out. Ever.

Her hand fisted over the paper. She just needed another year. Less if Penny’s new drug took off. She would be safe then. 

Right. And pigs had started their own aerial acrobatic school. 

Ty would find her.

Then kill her. Slowly.

Unless she killed him first.

He wouldn’t be her first cold-blooded murder. She wiped her damp hands on her jeans. Bile burned up the back of her throat at the thought of another tally mark on her body count. She swallowed the bitterness down. She was a survivor. He was an addict. A felon with a record. A suspect in two deaths of other ‘dicts. 

No one would miss Tyler Payne.

And she would be safe. Straightening, she stood, lit a vanilla candle to mask the scent of gunpowder. After locking up, she’d take a nap. She had five days to plan. Lifting the hinged portion of the counter, she stepped into the main body of her shop. A flash of red caught her eye. Damn, the candy had made it out here.

She’d have to clean up before going to bed.

She reached for the door to close it.

A quartet of men in suits, red power ties, and leather briefcases slapping their creased pant legs entered. They dismissed her with a glance to stare at the jars behind her. They pointed and considered what the colors meant.

Newbies. A real connoisseur would know candy from drugs. The skin at her nape itched. Damn, she hadn’t hidden her stash of feral cards. If she lost them… She wouldn’t. These men made their money by stealing it legally, and she’d take her share. She shut the door, wiped the blood from her cheek, then made sure the lock clicked before strolling behind the counter. “May I help you, gentlemen?”

Fire engine red flashed in her peripheral vision. A Ferrari nosed into a handicapped space in front of her shop. Both car doors opened at the same time. A dirty-blond haired man exited the passenger side. Rubbing his nose, he spoke to the driver in a black chauffeur’s uniform.

One of the businessmen broke free of the group and sidled closer to the counter. He stroked his goatee, glanced left then right before lowering his voice. “I heard I can buy Misty Seas here.”

God, one of those. If she’d known, she would have worn a trench coat. Too bad her encounter with Ty pile drove the James Cagney right out of her. “How many do you wish to buy?”

He blinked and frowned. “Six.”

Her gaze cut to the three stooges memorizing the poster of the Eiffel Tower. “The law prohibits you from sharing your stash with friends.”

“I know the law.” Goatee slapped the counter. “I’m a lawyer.”

God save her. At least, he wouldn’t haggle about the price. Jane lifted the inventory control tablet, merged the count with the new Certificate of Analysis before switching to the dispensary orders. “I’ll need to scan your Cain’s mark and, of course, your currency card.”

Removing an alligator-skin billfold from his breast pocket, he tugged a white card free then slapped it on the counter. A gold and sapphire cuff link plinked to the counter before he rolled up his sleeve. The skin remained pink around his new Cain’s mark.

Her hair stood on end. Many had tried to steal Penny’s designer drugs mix before. With the way this one dressed, he had money behind him. Would he succeed?

“Thank you.” Removing the interface wand, she covered the brand new Cain’s mark. Goatee’s real name popped up on the screen. So did his heart condition and his job as a lawyer with Stateside Pharmaceuticals. She entered his order and six life-threatening hazards popped up. The dude liked to live dangerously. He also patronized a Snobsdale dispensary on a regular basis.

Maybe not corporate spies. 

Maybe word was spreading on Mainlining about Penny’s designer trips. “Please read the warnings then acknowledge them by placing your palm on the reader.”

He rolled his eyes, ignored the possibilities of heart attack, stroke, seizures and three other obscure things and slapped his hand on the surface. “Now can I have my pills?”

Jerk. She ran his card. The wall behind her hummed when the charge cleared. The canister shot through the pneumatic tube under the counter and sighed to a stop. “Just approve the charges and you’re good to go.”

His eyes widened at the price but he dutifully pressed his thumb to the pad. “They better be worth it.”

“Like all drugs, your mileage may very.” Asstard. Removing the plastic baggie with a caricature of a surfer flashing the peace sign from the canister, she set the drugs on the counter.

Goatee Lawyer stared at the aquamarine capsules to the candy jars behind her. “Why don’t you store the stuff behind you?”

Because she didn’t have a death wish. “The designer stuff requires a constant temp to be stable. You do want a good trip for your money, don’t you?”

He grabbed the drugs, ripped open the sealed plastic and plopped one in his mouth. Glaring at her, he rolled it around his tongue before swallowing it down dry.

Like that made him a real man. She jerked her head toward the fridge in the corner with complimentary water. “They work faster with water.”

Tucking the rest in his pocket, he swaggered toward the fridge.

A shadow shifted in front of the door. The dirty-blond man from the Ferrari twitched in the entryway and tugged on his jug ears. Brad Zinkle had arrived. The most famous of her steady stream and her first legit regular client.

Jane buzzed him inside before turning her attention to the next man. “How may I help you?”

His attention flicked to her reddened cheek and cut before he averted his gaze. Right, if you didn’t notice it, nothing happened. He licked his oversized lips and picked at the pimple on his chin while staring over her shoulder. “Six Misty Seas, please.”

Definitely his first time. They’re the only ones who bothered with manners; the others thought she deserved the violence. “Cain’s mark and currency card, please.”

He fumbled with his wallet. A snapshot of a pretty blond woman landed next to his court id badge and card. 

Scratching his pale scalp under his short blond hair, Brad scuttled to the counter. His chewed nails drummed on the marble. “I need a fix, Jane. You’re the only one still in business that I trust.”

“Back of the line, buddy.” The suit behind pimple man snarled.

Brad twitched, scratched at the scabs stuck like dried rose petals to his avatar tattoos. “I have a deadline.”

“And we have somewhere to be.” Goatee man shoved a bottle of water into the suit’s gym-toned gut.

Brad tugged on his ear, pulling the protruding half-moon shape farther from his lean face. “Something to keep me going for another few hours.”

The suits rolled their shoulders.

Brad returned to drumming on the counter.

Jane scanned Pimple’s Cain’s mark. One of these days Brad was going to have the shit kicked out of him. He needed to get his head out of those video games he created and step into the real world. Pimple boy’s health history returned clean, so the warnings were generic.

Like anyone read or heeded them. People still smoked cigarettes, for Christ’s sake. She shoved the list at Pimples. “Read the warnings then place your palm on the pad.”

Pimple’s Adam’s apple shimmied in his scrawny throat as he scanned the list.

Brad’s tempo increase. “Jane.”

She removed an intoxication meter from under the counter and slid it toward Brad. The beige device looked like a digital thermometer on steroids. Of course, this one measured all the substances in a person’s saliva. To dispense to someone over the limit meant an automatic revocation of a license. “Suck on this while you wait.”

The suits sniggered.

Brad frowned. His mouth opened then closed.

Arching one eyebrow, Jane ran Pimple’s card. In the four years she’d known the game designer, she knew twitch and pick were his baseline not a symptom of a high. She also knew he was active online, and she had a new drug to bring to market.

Brad’s brow smoothed and he stuck the tip in his mouth. The machine beeped and a spinning top swept the readout.

The suits began to squirm.

Her WTF meter pinged. Why were they afraid of the addict meter? The law only required her to use it if a customer exhibited obvious signs of impairment. The lawyers acted sober. What were they up to? She worked through their identical orders without learning anything else.

They left en masse. The door lock engaged behind them.

Brad removed the meter and wiped his tongue on his sleeve. “You know they’re probably trying to steal the formula for the Misty Seas, don’t ya?”

“Probably.” Many had tried before. All had failed. She checked Brad’s results. Sober, not even alcohol this time. “But as Penny is always telling me, it’s the synthesis not the quantity that drives the drug.”

He jerked his chin at her check before tossing a crumpled fast food napkin on the counter. “They do that to you?”

She smiled at his whiplash conversation.

“Nah. That was an ex, wanting to reminisce.” She dabbed at the cut. Not much blood. She’d always been a fast healer.

Brad nodded and scratched the stubble on his chin before removing his card and baring his brown Cain’s mark. “You let me know if he comes back, right. Not because I’m, you know, but, well, you have the best drugs chef anywhere. ”

“Sure.” Not. She could clean up her own messes. Jane merged his intoxication results with the digital file on his Cain’s mark. “And no, I will not introduce you to my cook.”

“Why not? I’m rich, young, good-looking and am half in love with the woman.”

“You’re in love with her cocktails.” Jane ordered up one free sample of the new drug, Nirvana. “Besides, she’s sixty, has breasts down to her knees and liver spots.”

He set his hand over the center of his chest and staggered back. “Stop. You’re turning me on.”

She shook her head. “Between the two of you, you have enough brainpower to overthrow a small island nation.”

He grinned, flashing even white teeth. “I was thinking we’d start with a small Latin American country and work our way north.”

They probably could, too. Thank God they liked people and wanted to help, not hurt, them. It made no sense, but there it was. Jane tugged the baggie with the red heart from the canister and set it on the counter. “It’s called Nirvana. It’ll perk you up, open your senses to the universe then tuck you in bed like your favorite mother.”

“Seriously?”

“That’s what the lady said.” Jane rested her elbows on the counter. A woman’s silhouette moved across the door then shifted away. “And it’s not all at once, but one after the other.”

Brad whistled low. “Three drugs in one. The lady is an artiste.”

“Yeah, well, it won’t come cheap. Sixty credits a pop.” Jane mentioned the price because she knew he’d pass the information along on Mainlining. His review would let customers know if it was worth the cost.

He tore the package and rolled the heart between his thumb and forefinger then sniffed it. “I’m sure it will be worth it.”

“Anything else?”

“Yeah, three Sunsets.” He mentioned Penny’s first concoction—a pill that mitigated the downward slide and allowed addicts to show up to work the next morning. “You know how amped up a new game makes me.”

“Just give Nirvana a clean slate first.” Jane presented him with the bill.

“I always do.” He pressed his thumb to the scanner. “By the way, keep December free. We’ll be having a launch party for the new game, and I’ll need you to provide the party favors.”

“You bet.” Her attention drifted to the bullet embedded in the bullet resistant glass. 

Tyler peered inside as he walked in front of her store.

A cold draft trailed down her spine. She needed a plan on how to survive Tyler’s next visit. Otherwise, she’d be dead in five days.

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For the birds

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, our stale and spotty bread gets thrown to the birds outside our house. We enjoy looking at the birds year round, so it is nice that they show up when our plants are just blooming and throwing out seeds.

I’ll admit, the birds have a preference for some types of bread over others. But eventually, it all gets eaten.

But apparently, not only by the birds.

It seems our dog has decided that since the food is just lying around, he can claim it, too.

So as he is casually acting like he’s sniffing around for potty purposes, he scoop a partial slice up and hold it in his mouth (the crunching would give him away). Then he waits until he’s inside before finding a spot and chowing down, splashing crumbs much like Cookie Monster.

We’ve managed to catch him a few times, thanks to the drool hanging from his mouth, but he is a clever puppy. And very determined.

Apparently, we are learning a new game. Who ever said old dogs can’t teach you a new trick?

Until next time!

 

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The smell of Easter

It’s odd how some traditions fall away when your children get older. And so it was weird when I was out walking the dog to get hit with a memory of Easter thanks to an overpowering scent of vineager. That’s because vineager is what helps those colored dyes stick to the eggs.

The very dye that stains fingers and furniture, no matter how much newspaper is put down.

 

dreamstimefree_2597513

Free photo 2597513 © Pkruger – Dreamstime.com

 

And while none of the eggs ever looked like the picture above, they all were works of art. Works that were hidden in the backyard, destroyed for breakfast and, later, turned into deviled eggs for dinner.

Until next time.

 

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These Divided States: High Price to Pay, Chapter 6

High-Price-to-Pay-GenericChapter 6

Ogden Fitzgerald glowered at the crime scene tech who held open the elevator doors. Ogden stepped inside, planted his hands on his hips, and cleared his throat.

The tech dropped his gaze to the floor then peeked at the reflective brass walls at Ogden. 

Silence thickened the air. Neither man pushed the button to the lobby of the hotel. 

The tech must be incredibly dense not to understand the unspoken conversation.

The elevator doors started to close. The tech shoved his hand in the narrowing space and mumbled. “Forgot something.” 

He stumbled into the carpeted hall, looked left then right before shambling down the corridor, away from the crime scene.

Wealth and power always came with bonuses. Ogden waited until the doors closed. Removing a key card from his vest pocket, he inserted the card into the discrete slot near the control panel and the car glided to the penthouse. The elevator chimed softly and eased to a stop. Ogden stepped free. 

Dr. Crawford paced the marble foyer, medical bag thumping against his thigh. “They’re all here.”

“Where else would they be?” Ogden didn’t slow as he approached his friend and lover. Their course was set. Their options nonexistent. “The Heralds of the Pyramid’s Eye look forward to their quarterly meeting more than the first bedding of their latest mistresses.”

Crawford swallowed a bark of laughter. “Especially today.”

“Especially today.” Ogden nodded. 

After months of planning, the opening act had begun. Ogden’s long strides ate up the distance to the clean lines of the living room. Chrome accentuated the sleek black leather furniture.  Two members, as young as Ogden, had been exiled to the margins of the circular seating arrangement. The sculptural marble and glass tables between them and the older members were practically insurmountable. 

Bottles of expensive alcohol glittered on the waterfall island of the open kitchen. Almost as an afterthought, platters of stuffed lobster, modest piles of caviar, and assorted delicacies laid siege to one corner. 

These were the men who controlled the strings of their corporate and political puppets. The faces designed to remain free of American anger.

Drinks in hand, men clustered in knots in the great room. Some puffed on fat cigars. The four men in ten thousand dollar casual wear controlled big pharma. The transportation kings gestured with manicured hands, sloshing their hundred dollar a sip single malt and destroying regional businesses as they quibbled over territory. Religious leaders flashed expensive watches while checking the fall of their two thousand dollar haircuts in polished surfaces. Political royalty made the rounds, fumbling with the awkward task of serving themselves food while looking to fill regulatory needs before selecting the candidates the American people would elect into office. 

Twenty-two of the twenty-six men present had passed middle age a decade ago.

The passing years only made them more determined not feeble.

And the ticking clock gave them a deadline.

Death would remove some from membership.  Even then, the seat passed only to family members… provided the other members hadn’t bankrupted the fortune.

Ogden paused.

Power hung thicker than the acrid smoke. The amount residing in this room would make a conspiracy theorist ejaculate in his pants. Ogden’s skin prickled. His gut tightened.

Twenty-five men, chosen by birth, crowned by money, who ruled the United States.

Ogden’s people. Many he’d called uncle and other relations according to a twisted family tree.

August Van derMiller, the spitting image of a marble Julius Caesar right down to the tamed curly hair, turned his back on the transportation kings and stalked toward Ogden. 

Eyes followed his movements. Avarice, jealousy, and fear painted the fiscally inbred features of those present. 

Van derMiller thrust out his hand. His smile never reached the calculating eyes underneath trimmed white eyebrows.  “Oggie, my boy, it is good to see you.”

Crawford choked on his laugh then thumped his chest as if he’d coughed. The doctor would laugh at the detested nickname. His family had already been financially ruined by one of the men here.

“Thank you for inviting me.” Ogden would be damned if he allowed anything to tarnish the Fitzgerald name. Flashing his best artificial smile, he waded hip-deep into the slime of manipulation.  

 Van derMiller’s grip tightened. Golf calluses created ridges on the older man’s palm. “With your poor father gone, we needed a Fitzgerald to fill the ranks.” He leaned closer, impregnating the small space between them with his eye-burning cologne. “I nominated you.”

Ogden nodded once. He was certain his collection of financial documents on Van derMiller had helped. “Thank you, sir.” 

“No thanks necessary, my boy.” Van derMiller dropped Ogden’s hand. “We’re all in this together, aren’t we?”

 “Not all of us.” Emery Wingate, second only to Van derMiller in the Pyramid’s Eye, glided over like an oil slick on water. Gray tinged his dyed coal black hair. Botox rendered the wrinkles on his forehead and eyes immobile. Carefully preserved thanks to his ownership of Stateside Pharmaceuticals, the septuagenarian’s blue eyes gleamed like a five-year-old’s. “Your father will never see us finally accomplish what so many of our ancestors only dreamed about.”

“No. He won’t.” Ogden nodded once. His father had been against the plan. And the men in this room had him murdered. Ogden had glimpses of the truth in the shards of evidence, but nothing concrete, nothing actionable. Just like the implied threat in Wingate’s words.

The Pyramid’s Eye gathered in the light, but their actions occurred in the shadows. Truth was a commodity sold to the highest bidder.

And these men worked to outbid each other.

Thanks to his ownership of the law enforcement firms, Ogden knew which bits were a good investment and which were useless. “Is the update for you or all?”

Van derMiller cocked an eyebrow. The man didn’t like others usurping his control or a direct question. “For all, of course.”

Wingate smoothed his hair.

The men in the room broke away from their clusters to take their assigned seats at the table. Wingate dropped to the chair to Van derMiller’s right at the head.

Ogden counted chairs. Twenty-five. Anger roiled through him.

Crawford would be left standing. The Heralds did love to humiliate those they’d destroyed. The good doctor’s lips twitched in amusement. Turning, he winked so only Ogden could see.

Exactly. They were here for the same purpose. The end was all that mattered. Ogden took his seat opposite Van derMiller. 

The religious leaders flocked around him in expensive plumage that shouted their temporary status in the Pyramid’s Eye. These merchants would be driven from the Heralds as soon as they fulfilled their purpose.

Van derMiller clasped his hands together on the table. The meeting had begun. Malice resided in his smile. “Since you were expected an hour ago, I take it you didn’t quite know what to do with my little surprise.”

Ogden ground his teeth.  A timeline had never been discussed. “I believe it’s important that we at least attempt to look like we are doing the job.”

“Of course. Of course.” Wingate played the peacekeeper.

Ogden recognized the play. One was always approachable; the other a hardliner. But the two worked side by side to rule the Pyramid’s Eye with an iron fist.

As if he’d been cued his line, Van derMiller snorted. “We could have assigned any number of the people as DOA director and they would have had the job wrapped up by now.”

“That’s because you tell them what to think.” Ogden was his own man. And the Heralds knew it. They also had known they’d made him the target of American ire when they’d had him appointed to the office. Already, some citizens grumbled about injustice. What would they say if they knew the Pyramid’s Eye’s real goal?

Van derMiller’s knuckles flashed white, a sure sign of irritation. “Of course, I tell them what to think. You can’t expect sheeple to interpret things correctly. If they had the connections, the intelligence, or any aptitude, they would be rich like us.”

Ogden bit his tongue. The rationale should have been confined to fairy tales since the drug dispensary owners had slipped by the gatekeepers. He glanced around him. And if those around the table had the connections, intelligence, or aptitude, they might have foreseen the rise in wealth, power, and hero status of men like George Shoppe, drug dispenser.

Instead, they’d been content in their power—deciding which candidate would win before the American people cast their first ballot, doling out healthy food to reinforce the propaganda that the poor deserved their fate, and turning an idea into a mindset. Helped by the preaching of the wealthy’s divine right to rule. 

But the Addict’s Rights Movement threatened to undermine the Herald’s plans.

Hence the Pyramid’s Eye’s nuclear option.

Silence crackled around the table like lightning searching for the ground.

Crawford stepped into the breach. “I’ll admit, I’m a little surprised at such a high profile target. Senator Spellman’s daughter. Bold move.”

A few of members stiffened at the doctor’s breaking protocol by speaking. 

Van derMiller preened. “The Senator will think twice about encouraging the tyranny of the people over our dictates. Only we have the vision to save our great nation.”

Wingate set his glass of bourbon down so hard it splashed the tablecloth. “Our measure could have failed. He needs to know who is his real boss. Democracy is hard on the bottom line.”

Men nodded.

One raised his glass. “Freedom is not free. Soon the rabble will pay us for their rights.”

“Soon, they’ll be thanking us for relieving them of the burden of democracy.” Van derMiller corrected. “Once we return to a true Republic, all will be well again.”

Ogden waited a moment, timing his reply to grab their attention. “If the good senator is going rogue, I might have the right leverage to bring him in line.”

Several men blinked.

Van derMiller’s eyes narrowed.

“Thank God you’re on board. Your father said the man was untouchable.” Wingate downed his drink.

Ogden smiled. “No one is untouchable.”

A muscle ticked in Van derMiller’s jaw. “Colleen Spellman’s death is part of our plan. Now, ordinary American sheeple won’t feel safe. Are their precious children taking drugs or not? Does the age constraint matter? The drugs epidemic will invade their safe little homes and bring the threat of the looming drugs war right to their doorstep.”

Words like brilliant and inspired were bandied around the table.

Sycophants. Kissing ass wouldn’t save any of them if Van derMiller turned on them. Ogden waited for the self-congratulations to fade away.

Van derMiller’s attention drifted to the righteous Reverend Ashfork.

The televangelist smoothed the lapels of his tailored suit. The light caught the diamond cross on his gold pinky ring. “How is the latest recruit to the DOA?”

 “He’s asking questions.” Ogden lobbed the verbal bomb at Reverend Ashfork, knowing the preacher would take the blame when Callum French disturbed the plan. Ogden would leverage Agent French to his advantage.

“He’ll fall in line like a good little soldier.” Van derMiller rested his chin on his steepled fingers.

“And don’t forget his background.” Ashfork’s voice rose and fell in the cadence he used to mesmerize his congregation before harvesting their money. “His sister died because the doctor treating her was high. His best friend is head of Sinner’s Salvation. He spends most of his days there, volunteering.”

Van derMiller lowered his hands to the table.

At the leader’s command, Reverend Ashfork choked on the rest of his sermon.

Van derMiller waited until the coughing stopped. “If Agent French proves troublesome, we’ll donate to Sinner’s Salvation and bring a little pressure to bear.”

Wingate sloshed bourbon in his glass. “It’ll be cheaper than a freshman senator, and the spin will be good publicity.”

He slurred his last few words.

Van derMiller’s lip curled at the sign of weakness in his second. “We wouldn’t need publicity, good or otherwise if the plan works.”

“True.” Wingate lifted his full glass in salute then sipped it.

“Speaking of the plan…. I’m sure you’ll want this back.” Dr. Crawford opened his satchel and fished out the vial. “Agent French thought it was odd that any dealer would sell drugs to a young woman when the picture flashed an old man.”

Information Ogden erased before uploading the data he’d been issued. He accepted the Cain’s mark and held it up to the light. “Don’t worry. The target hasn’t changed. Jane Doe is still slated for erasure.”

A few members looked as if Ogden held the Holy Grail. Even Van derMiller and Wingate eyed the little red chip.

 “Judge O’Keefe is waiting to hear from you.” Van derMiller held out his hand.

Instead of handing the vial around so that all might hold the chip, Ogden handed it back to Crawford who delivered it personally.

Van derMiller eyed the Cain’s mark before tucking the vial into his pocket. “Jane Doe’s death should occur within twenty-four hours. Let’s us refine stage two of our plan. How do we leverage the loss to incite the drugs war, making sure civilian casualties are at an all-time high?”

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Stepping outside

April is the month of weather. Real honest to goodness weather. Most of the time, Phoenix’s temperatures are varying degrees of sunny and hot. The repetitiveness lasts pretty much year round. So it’s nice when things get changed up a bit.

At least for me. This morning while walking the dog, the wind was blowing. A nice stiff breeze and some hardy gusts. That put me in mind of one of my favorite Disney movies—Winnie the Pooh.

The wind is not quite Piglet flying weather but I hummed this song.

Until next time.

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Last Day for 99cents

High-Price-to-Pay-GenericTomorrow the price goes up. Pick up a copy today.

In 2037 America, all drugs are legal for recreational use. But the price of getting high costs more than money. Users must give up some constitutional freedoms, including the right to live.

They framed the wrong woman

Jane Doe deals drugs. Born an outcast and one of the throwaway poor, she’s hated by her clients and the zealots who liken her to the serpent in Eden. When a high profile murder victim is linked to her shop, she knows her days are numbered.

Agent Callum French joined the Drugs Oversight Agency to avenge his sister’s death at the hands of an addict. His first assignment—kill the dealer responsible for the death of a powerful Senator’s daughter.

No one counted on Jane having her all Constitutional rights.

Now Callum must investigate the murder. Each lead uncovers the black heart of corruption and media fear-mongering that turns good people into violent mobs. Will discovering the real killer ignite a territory war that spills blood in the streets or expose the rotten roots of power that threaten to topple American democracy?

Warning: this book contains graphic violence, vulgar language, and situations sure to offend nearly everyone.

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