No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner, except for brief quotations included in a review of the book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
In the degree that we remember and retell our stories and create new ones
we become the authors, the authorities, of our own lives.
— Sam Keen
34-year-old Shirley Kidd, 29-year-old Nikki Rodriguez, and 37-year-old Hermoth Reeding sipped on their coffee in a booth in the far corner of their favorite Chicago cafe, Java Bistro. Nikki tapped her foot on the tile floor as she glanced at her watch.
“Has anyone seen or heard from Clara Bow? It’s not like her to turn up late and not let us know something,” she said, peering through one of the windows to scan the busy parking lot. Nikki Rodriguez had beautiful Latina brown skin, brown eyes, and shoulder-length brunette hair. She was a wife of six years and a mother of twin girls. As a stay-at-home mom, she had plenty of time to focus on her goal of becoming a bestselling author.
“Give her a few more minutes,” Hermoth said as she shuffled her religious fiction manuscript around. She brushed her bouncy black curls out of her dark brown, heart-shaped face. Although she had lived in the United States for nearly twenty years, she still hadn’t lost her Bahamian accent. “That unexpected downpour will set anyone behind schedule. The rain seems to be letting up though,” Hermoth continued.
“I sure wish she’d hurry because I can’t stay out as late as we did last week,” Shirley said swallowing the last of her cheese pastry. She signaled to a waitress for coffee refills. “You can just leave the coffee pot here, Tamron. We’ll be needing it this morning!” Her light brown eyes sparkled as she ran a hand through her jet black hair.
Tamron, who worked the weekday morning shift, was well acquainted with the four friends who met there every week to sip coffee and occasionally indulge in the fine pastries as they discussed each other’s manuscripts. “Okay,” Tamron said. “You know I enjoy hearing your conversation and laughter as I work.”
Shirley nodded, “We might have to drag you into another discussion soon if we can’t agree on something. You’re one of our most helpful critics.”
“So, why can’t you stay out as late?” Hermoth asked, turning her attention to Shirley.
“Oh, nothing serious. Doug’s been complaining lately that I stay out too much and don’t spend enough time with our kids. I know his job as a police officer can be stressful, but lately it seems he has been taking it out on me.”
“What do you mean?” Nikki asked.
“Well, he just clams up. It’s such a struggle to get him to communicate,” Shirley said.
“If he doesn’t want to talk why don’t you just leave him alone?” Hermoth asked, taking a sip of her coffee.
“We can’t have a marriage if we don’t communicate,” Shirley said. “I’ve heard of husbands and wives doing the silent treatment. I can’t live like that.”
“Mmm, I agree,” Nikki said.
Shirley nodded. “As a little girl, I dreamed of marrying a policeman.” She shrugged. “But Douglas just doesn’t want to talk most times. I’ve just about given up on any kind of romantic time together.”
“Let’s get started on our writing. I’ll try to get Clara Bow on my cell again,” Hermoth said.
“No need to. Here she comes,” Nikki said spotting her car as it entered the restaurant’s parking lot.
“Hey, everybody,” 26-year-old Clara Bow Wilson said sliding into the empty seat. Her normally perfect blonde hair was wet with rain, but her blue eyes brimmed with excitement. “You will not believe what happened to me. You know how I love to take pictures. Well, my tire went flat as I drove over here. On top of that, I forgot to charge my phone up. So here I am, by the side of the road, wondering what to do. This man in a red Volkswagen stops to help me. It looked like the Volkswagen had been painted with a paint brush. The paint job was so shoddy, I could still see the original blue paint underneath the red. But, since the man was real nice about it, I let him change my tire, but I kept thinking I’d seen him somewhere before.”
“Well, did you ask him his name or anything?” Nikki asked.
“No, he had already introduced himself as Mylo Easton. He would not look me in the eyes even though I tried to get him to.” Clara Bow poured herself a half cup of coffee and dumped several spoonfuls of sugar in it, then filled the cup with milk. “I did notice that half of his middle finger was missing.”
“So?” Hermoth said.
Clara Bow continued, “As I said, I felt sure I had seen him somewhere before. I had picked up two sets of pictures I had developed at the Photo Mart earlier. When I stopped at the light, I was going through them as I waited and guess what? The very same man was in one of my pictures!”
“So?” Hermoth asked again.
“He had on the same plaid green shirt, jeans, and brown boots.”
“And?” Hermoth said.
“And…as I looked at the picture, it seemed as though he were shoving someone into a blue Volkswagen.” Clara Bow pulled the blurry picture out of her notebook and set it on the table in front of her friends. She pointed to what looked like feet sticking out of the door of a blue Volkswagen in the upper right corner of the photograph. “Definitely a woman’s feet; the shoes are a giveaway. And they’re right next to an ATM machine.”
“Hmm. That’s interesting,” Nikki said picking up the picture to look at it closely. “Are you sure about this?”
“Of course, I’m sure,” Clara Bow said. “You know I work part-time at the newspaper. They ran an article under the missing persons section about a mother, Mayzie Dawkins, who has been missing for about a week. She just seems to have disappeared. I bet that’s her.”
“You may be on to something,” Nikki said
“What are you getting at?” Shirley asked.
“This Mylo Easton is wearing the same clothing as the man in the picture, and I could tell his red Volkswagen had once been blue.”
“Clara Bow, you speculate about things way too much,” Hermoth said.
“Well, I am studying journalism. It’s my job to question things and there is something very wrong with this picture,” Clara Bow said. She picked up the picture and looked at it again before placing it back in her notebook. “I’m trying to decide whether or not to take it to the police.”
“Well, while you think, we’re going to discuss our manuscripts. I hope you did some work on yours,” Nikki said.
“I think I’ll keep the novel I brought with me to myself and begin working on a new novel: The Mysterious Michelin Man. He did change your tire, didn’t he?” Shirley joked.
“Okay, Hermoth, what’s up with your character, Dr. Justin Middlebrooks?” Nikki asked. “When we last met, his wife had died of cancer and he was looking for another wife.”
“Yes,” Hermoth said. “He does want to get married again, but he is also being accused of fraud by the state medical board. He’s been scamming patients, forcing them to pay exorbitant prices and keeping the profits for himself,” Hermoth said.
“Is he going to get busted?” Shirley asked.
“Oh, he’s going to get busted alright when he least expects it — by the person he starts to trust the most,” Hermoth said.
“Let me guess,” Clara Bow said. “His new wife.”
“Correct,” Hermoth replied. “But she won’t be his wife yet. She’ll find out about this before they get married.”
“You’ll need some romance to keep the story lively,” Shirley suggested. “I’d do anything for some romance in my life.”
“Speaking of romance,” Nikki said to Shirley. “How is your new novel coming along?”
“I’m still slogging through what they call the murky middle,” Shirley said. She sighed. “I have my damsel in distress, but the man who is supposed to come rescue her is such a deadbeat right now. They don’t seem to be on the same page at all… Kind of like me and my husband.”
“I suggest you lose yourself in your story,” Clara Bow said. “Don’t think about your own marriage. Get in tune with your characters and let them go. If your characters are talking to you all the time, you won’t need anybody else talking to you most of the time.”
“And remember the most important thing we all can do when it comes to writing is when you’re stuck in a story, pray through it,” Nikki said.
“That’s good advice for life, too,” Hermoth said.
The women spent the next hour critiquing each other’s manuscripts, applauding progress made, and offering ideas and suggestions for each other’s novels.
“Guys, I’ve had a great time as usual, but I should head on home now,” Shirley said.
“Now? It’s only two o’clock,” Clara Bow said.
“Well, my husband is still insisting that I should be home more, even though the kids are back in school,” Shirley said. “You might not see much of me for a few weeks.”
“Oh, no, you can’t do that,” Nikki said. “Sister Soul Scribes would not be the same without you.”
“Well, thank you, Nikki,” Shirley said. “But I don’t want to rock the boat tonight.”
To be a person is to have a story to tell.
Shirley Kidd made it home to find her husband, Douglas, dressed in his police uniform, ready for work. He had been a part of the Chicago police force for eight years, and his goal was to eventually become chief of police. Shirley stepped into the living room where he was watching sports highlights on ESPN.
“Hi, Doug. Your haircut looks great,” she greeted her husband.
“Yeah. I decided to make a quick trip to the barber shop after you left,” he said. “I see you made it home earlier today. That lets me know you don’t have to stay out as late as you usually do.”
Shirley was disappointed at his tone, but she decided to let it go. “We wrapped things up earlier today. Do you want me to fix you something to eat before you go in?”
“Nah. I’m good. I grabbed something on the way back from the barber shop.”
Shirley glanced at her watch. It read 3:15. The children should be home any minute now. She picked up the briefcase she had set down on the floor preparing to take it up to her writing desk which was tucked away in her walk-in closet.
“Do you have to meet with your writing friends on Tuesday mornings?” Doug said. “Couldn’t you meet later in the day? Maybe after the children come home from school so you can take them with you?”
Shirley sighed. “Doug, we already went over this. We’ve been meeting at eleven on Tuesday mornings for the past six months because it works best for all four of us. Remember, we tried meeting in the evenings, but that didn’t work out. Nikki likes to be home in the evenings with her kids; Hermoth is too tired after putting in nine hours on her job each day; Clara Bow’s schedule is touch and go; and you said you wanted me home with the kids while you’re at work at night.” Shirley switched her briefcase to her left hand and propped her right hand on her hip. “And it’s not that we don’t want our children along, we just need that time to really focus on writing without any distractions. It’s going to be hard for them to sit still for almost four hours as we discuss our manuscripts.”
The blowing of the school bus horn interrupted their conversation. Both parents hurried out the door to meet their three children. Nine-year-old Brax was holding his six-year-old sister Cherry’s hand. Seven-year-old Rose skipped along beside them.
“Mommy! Daddy!” they shouted as they waved good bye to their friends. They hurried up the pathway to embrace their parents.
Doug checked the security system as he said goodbye to his wife and children. Shirley leaned in to kiss him, but he turned his face and her lips landed on his cheek. Why do I even bother? Shirley sighed as she locked the door behind him. I’d do anything for you to tell me what’s on your mind.
After spending time with Brax, Cherry, and Rose at the Putt-Putt Golf and Arcade, she gave the children dinner and put them to bed.
Four hours for me to get some writing done before Doug comes home. Shirley withdrew into the walk-in closet that she had transformed into a writing room. She knew most women would covet a closet like hers — and the clothes and shoes to fill it — but since her life-long dream was to be a published author, she had given all that up to use this space to reach her goals. The extra clothes and shoes could come later — after she signed her first book deal.
Shirley tapped the power button on her laptop and scrolled through the pages of what she had already typed. “Let’s see where I left off… Rhetta decides to work late to get caught up on her client’s files. The doors are locked and all the lights are off except for the one in her office. That’s when she hears scraping sounds at the door.”
“This is where I pick up,” Shirley said.
Rhetta sat up and strained to listen. There it was again — a scraping sound coming from the direction of the entrance. She got up slowly and quietly locked the door to her office. She looked out the window toward the security guard’s booth about fifty yards away at the entrance to the property.
The light in the booth was on and she thought she could see someone moving.
She heard the scraping noise again. Rhetta listened some more, wishing her heart beat would quiet down. She picked up the phone and dialed for security. No answer. Rhetta forced herself not to think the worst as she remembered the recent news reports about a burglar breaking into businesses in the area. Rhetta looked back out the window. Her heart nearly stopped as she watched the light flicker and then go out in the security guard’s booth.
Rhetta sat back down at her desk and dialed 9-1-1. After explaining the situation to the dispatcher she sat and waited, too nervous to get back to her work.
She decided to call her fiancé as well even though they were at odds with each other. “Come on, answer,” she said into the mouthpiece. When he failed to pick up after the fourth try, she left a message asking him to call her back and to come pick her up at work. Even if the police showed up, she didn’t want to walk out to the huge parking lot alone. Anyone could be lurking there.
As she pressed the ‘End’ button on her phone, she listened for the scraping noise again. It was gone.
In its place, she heard the squeak of shoes on the tiled floor of the lobby.
Shirley was now in a groove. “Lose yourself in your story,” Clara Bow had told them at their meeting earlier that day. “Get in tune with your characters and let them go.”
Nikki Rodriguez threw her hands up in despair. Her pen fell on the table and rolled onto the carpeted floor. She looked down at it grimly. Her brown hair was pulled away from her face and was high up on her head in a messy ponytail. The clock registered 6:27 A.M. Nikki had been up since 4:00. Two hours of writing each morning helped to jump-start her days. The quietness of the early morning was the perfect setting and greatly aided her creativity.
But this morning, nothing seemed to be working. Come on. Think. Unlock your mind. You can do better than this. She reached for her yellow legal notepad, tore the first two sheets off, stared at them, crumbled the sheets, and threw them in the waste basket.
“There’s no such thing as writer’s block,” she recalled reading in a copy of How to Write Great Fiction. “Apparently you have never had writer’s block,” she said out loud, “because I have it right now.”
“Just write as quickly as the thoughts come,” she said repeating another line she read in her fiction writing book. “Well, right now, the thoughts aren’t coming.”
After spending five years writing non-fiction, Nikki had decided to try her hand at fiction. She had written several pieces for the intercollegiate monthly magazine focused on U.S. college life for young Latino immigrants. She also wrote for various housekeeping magazines, the Home and Garden section of the city’s newspaper, and a few other publications.
Nikki’s husband, Raphael, was already up and had coffee brewing. Just what I need, she thought as she sniffed. The smell of freshly brewed coffee coupled with toasted cinnamon rolls enticed her taste buds. Raphael would be leaving for work within the next hour. He owned a taxi/limousine company and the business was flourishing. Nikki glanced at the clock. Any minute now, Raphael would knock softly on the door of her office in their three bedroom house. The spare bedroom served as a getaway spot for her to do her writing. Raphael would have two cups of coffee, and either slices of buttered toast, cinnamon rolls, raisin bagels, or some other breakfast delicacy. The minutes that followed made up their special time together each morning.
“Mmm. Delicious,” Nikki said after taking a couple sips of her coffee. “Thank you so much, honey.”
“You’re quite welcome.” Raphael pulled up the only other chair in the room and sat next to his wife. “So, how’s your writing coming along?” he asked glancing down at the blank legal pad on her desk. Apart from the women of the Sister Soul Scribes group, her husband was her greatest fan and critic.
“Not too good, I’m afraid,” Nikki admitted rubbing the nape of her neck.
“Let me do that for you,” Raphael said sliding his chair closer to his wife. He reached over and began massaging her neck and shoulders.
“I want to focus on family issues and on everyday conflicts families in general go through. It does not have to be over-dramatic, but dramatic enough to hold the readers’ interest.”
“Well, why don’t you write about us? How we met, got married, moved from Guatemala to America, struggled a bit, and then became stable financially. I believe we have a story to tell.”
“No offense, but I think that would bore our readers,” Nikki said. “For one thing, we really did not have any struggles because God had everything under control. He gave you the wisdom to invest and have your limousine company up and running before we moved here.”
At the mention of God, Raphael stopped massaging with one hand and pressed his fingers to his forehead. Nikki continued, “And, two, we live a simple life; we’re an average family. Nothing dramatic ever happens. Thanks for the suggestion anyway.”
“Are you saying our family life is boring?” her husband asked. “I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want any other life.”
“Me neither,” Nikki sighed.
“Well, I’ll keep an eye on the twins,” Raphael said finishing off his coffee. “You go jogging around the block. That should help clear your mind and get you to thinking. I already went out and it looks like we’ll be having great weather today.”
Hermoth Reeding was the first to arrive for the next Sister Soul Scribes meeting. It’s unusual to see this many people here on a late Tuesday morning, she thought as she set her folder down on the table in their booth. Tamron, the waitress, had put up a ‘Reserved’ sign for her four writing customers whom she had come to befriend.
“Hi, Ms. Reeding,” Tamron said as she walked up to the table with a pot of freshly brewed coffee in one hand and eight apple turnovers on a plate in the other hand.
“Call me Hermoth,” Hermoth said with a smile as she set her manuscript to the side. She held her cup as Tamron filled it with coffee.
“Anything interesting happen to you lately?” Hermoth asked Tamron. “I’m looking for story ideas.”
“No. Nothing much,” Tamron said laughing. “At least not anything worth putting in a book.”
“You’d be surprised,” Hermoth said taking a sip of her coffee after overloading it with caramel creamer and honey. “Each of us has a story within us and a story we are living; we just have to know how and when to tell it.”
“I guess I have to live a little more for my story to develop,” Tamron said placing the pot of coffee in the center of the table. “Let me know if you need anything, and I’ll let you know when I have a story to tell.” She left to tend to her other customers.
Hermoth slid her manuscript in front of her. I did not get too far with Dr. Justin Middlebrooks’ story, she thought as she read the last two chapters of what she had written since the last time the group had met. After reading for a few minutes, her mind shifted from the last sentence of her manuscript to the telephone conversation she had just yesterday with her sister.
“Wow! Something intriguing must be happening to Dr. Middlebrooks,” Shirley said breaking into her thoughts. “I have never seen such concentration before. Have you, Nikki?”
“The stern expression on your face is telling me that Dr. Middlebrooks may be in trouble,” Nikki said. “And the plot thickens!”
Hermoth looked up surprised. “Hello there. When did you get here?” Hermoth asked. “I must have been a million miles away.”
“More like ten million miles away,” Nikki said. “Tell us what’s happening in your story.”
Hermoth laughed. “I must confess: my mind was not on my story. It was on my sister. She called yesterday to inform me that she would be flying in from the Bahamas with my father to permanently deposit him at my place.”
“And you’re not too happy about that?” Shirley said.
“You got it. It’s not that I don’t love my father. It’s the way she went about doing it.”
“The way who went about doing what?” Clara Bow said sliding into her seat and grabbing an apple turnover.
“Morning, Clara Bow,” Nikki greeted.
“The way my sister went about planning the rest of my life without my knowledge or my approval,” Hermoth answered. “She called me yesterday, then after about ten minutes of beating around the bush she finally tells me she will be flying in from the Bahamas on this Friday with my father.”
“What’s so bad about that?” Clara Bow asked.
“What’s so bad about that is … my father will be staying with me permanently.”
“So? From what you’ve shared with us about your family, he’s a good man,” Clara Bow said.
“He is … except he has Alzheimer’s. My sister would not tell me what stage he’s at. All she would say was he can still carry on a decent conversation and can still take care of his basic needs. So, there goes my quiet undisturbed writer’s life. I hate it when people try to control my life; my sister’s good at that. She’s been doing that since we were little girls—telling me what I’m going to do, how I’m going to do it, and when I’m going to do it.”
“So are you going to let him stay?”
“I have no choice. She only bought him a one-way ticket,” Hermoth said.
“It probably won’t be that bad. Plus, I’m sure he’ll be good company for you,” Shirley said.
“I’m sure he’ll be interesting company,” Hermoth said, “but after dealing with customers for nine hours, Monday thru Friday, I want the evenings to myself: to rest, relax, refocus. I want to be able to really write—you know—go into the world of imagination—the world of what if’s, and what could be, and what should be.”
Her friends nodded. They each understood and treasured quiet time away from distraction.
“See this as God’s will for your life right now,” Nikki said. “Isn’t doing God’s will your desire?”
“Of course, except that this seems more like my sister’s will right now,” Hermoth said.
“Who knows, you may get a life-changing story out of it. As you know, it’s the novels that we write based upon true life experiences that have the greatest impact,” Nikki continued.
“Well, enough of what’s going on with me; let’s get some work done,” Hermoth said.
“I’ll go first,” Clara Bow said. “I sent off three pictures with a story behind each to Time Magazine’s acquisitions editor. Pray that they’ll accept at least one of them if not all three.”
“Wow! Time Magazine. You’re moving on up,” Shirley said.
“Yes. I figured I should start reaching for those big prizes,” Clara Bow said. “Being a photographer for the Chicago Sun-Times has been great, but a byline in Time could do wonders.”
After bringing them up to speed on her story, Shirley asked, “I’m trying to decide if Rhetta’s fiance shows up or if he leaves her hanging because he’s still mad.”
“Only a cold-hearted man would leave a woman hanging in a situation like that,” Hermoth said. “Let him leave her hanging and she’ll realize he’s not the one.”
“Thanks for that suggestion,” Shirley said frowning. “But I’m really pulling for them to get it together this time.”
“I can’t imagine any man not coming to a woman’s aid if he can, no matter how mad he is,” Nikki said.
Clara Bow rolled her eyes. “Of course you would say that. We all know how sweet Raphael is. He’d come running if you pricked yourself with a safety pin.”
The four women laughed.
“But, really,” Nikki said. “This could be a turning point for them and he can realize how much he loves Rhetta despite their disagreement.“
“I’ll take that into consideration,” Shirley said as she jotted on her notepad.
“If only we could write our way out of our romantic troubles,” Hermoth sighed.
“I agree,” Shirley said. “My protagonist is leading a more exciting life than I am right now. At least something is about to happen—good or bad, it doesn’t matter—something is about to happen.”
We are all only one step away from losing the stories of our lives. I write to remember.
– anonymous –
“’A story really isn’t any good unless it successfully resists paraphrase, unless it hangs on and expands in the mind’ says Flannery O’Connor,” Nikki read from O’Connors excerpt in On Her Own Work: Insights Into A Good Man is Hard to Find.
“This is what she wrote as she discussed The Misfit,” Nikki said to her husband as they sipped their morning cup of coffee. “Listen to this: ‘But then a prophet gone wrong is almost always more interesting than your grandmother, and you have to let people take their pleasures where they find them.’ What do think about that, Raphael?”
“Very interesting and might I add, so true,” Raphael said. “So what you’re telling me is that readers would rather read about a good person gone bad as opposed to a good person who is always good and does nothing but good?”
“Exactly. But this good person gone bad has a chance to make a comeback,” Nikki said as she took a bite of her French toast. “Mmm, this is good.”
“So what good person gone bad are you thinking of writing about?” her husband asked.
“Still undecided,” Nikki said tapping her pen against her notepad. “Other people’s work keeps popping in my mind. I have to make sure I ‘successfully resist paraphrase’ because that’s a form of plagiarizing.”
“What exactly is plagiarizing again?” Raphael chuckled.
“Stealing other people’s work and claiming it as your own,” Nikki said rubbing the back of her neck.
“No, you don’t want to do that,” Raphael said. He stood up, stretched, then gave his wife a kiss. “Keep working at it; you can do it. By the way, what is A Good Man is Hard to Find about? Am I a good man?” he asked walking toward the door.
“Raphael!” Nikki exclaimed with a smile. “I just read that story to you last night. The one where the grandmother, her son and his wife, and their two children are taking a trip to Florida. On the way there, three escaped convicts confront and kill them. The grandmother engages in a rather eye opening conversation with the leader before he kills her. The conversation helps the convict get a better picture of who he is and why he acts the way he does. Not that that made a difference.”
“Oh, that’s the one I fell asleep on,” Raphael said ducking as Nikki threw a crumpled up sheet of paper at him.
“Get out of here,” she said laughing.
Nikki remained at her desk for a few minutes reflecting on the previous night’s prayer meeting and Bible study lesson. Thank You, Lord, for prayer and for Your Word.
Later that morning, after dropping the twins off at school, she gave Hermoth a call.
“Hey, Hermoth, I know you’re at work, but I was just thinking about you. How are things falling in place for your father’s arrival? He’s coming in tomorrow, right?”
“Yes, and I’m not happy about it. It’s just like my sister to drop things on me at the last minute. I’m still trying to find a two-bedroom apartment. I need to purchase at least a bed and a dresser for him,” Hermoth said. “I tell you, I don’t need this added stress on me right now. I’m in the middle of writing a bestseller. I tell you the truth.”
“I have a hide-away sofa bed that you can have,” Nikki said. “In fact, I may have a few things you can use.”
“Oh, I don’t want to inconvenience you at all,” Hermoth said. “I’ll just have to sleep on the sofa until I get him a bed.”
“It’s no problem at all. Besides, that’s what friends are for,” Nikki said. “Why don’t you come by on Saturday and see what I got.”
“Don’t you have to ask your husband first?”
“I’ll let him know; but he won’t mind,” Nikki said. “Have you been able to put pen to paper since our meeting on Tuesday?”
“This week has been so topsy-turvy I haven’t had time to do any serious writing,” Hermoth said. “I hate it when my routine gets interrupted. I waste so much time getting back in the writing flow—you know, gaining momentum and overcoming inertia.”
“That’s probably where I am,” Nikki said, “trying to find a story line to help me overcome inertia.”
“Sometimes if you just look at, listen to, and take note of people around you, you can get ideas. Other than that, the only other advice I can give you is to pray and ask God to give you what He would have you to write. I know that is how I get my ideas,” Hermoth said. “It will come to you.”
“Well, I’m going to let you go. And please stop by on Saturday—anytime,” Nikki said.
“I’ll be there. Let me know if you hear of any openings for a two-bedroom apartment,” Hermoth said.
Clara Bow was up early and ready to tackle the day on Thursday. Her first stop was at the university for her Creative Writing class.
“Today, I just want to remind you of a few things,” Professor Miller said. “Your final project is a fiction work, anywhere from fifteen thousand to twenty thousand words on any topic of your choice. Keep in mind all that you have been taught about effective writing. Make sure it sings, holds your readers’ interest from beginning to end, and that it teaches your readers something about themselves or about life in general.”
For the rest of the class time, the students merged into their previously assigned groups to toss ideas around, to critique each other’s previous work, and to offer suggestions for their upcoming projects.
“What are you going to write on?” Marla Aglaeca, a brown-haired student asked Clara Bow once they were seated.
“I’m not quite sure,” Clara Bow said. “I want to write on something different; something I’ll come away from having gained insight about how the human mind works and having a better understanding of myself.”
“How are your articles and essay pieces coming along? I overheard you saying something to Professor Miller about contacting Time Magazine a few weeks back.”
“Yes. I sent them something,” Clara Bow said. “I’m still waiting to hear from them.”
“Maybe I can send them something also. I have about ten articles sitting on my desk at home. I can’t decide where to send them.”
“Sure, go ahead and send them in. You won’t know how good they are until you get someone else’s opinion,” Clara Bow said.
“So, Clara Bow, what will you be writing on?” Mark, another member of her group asked. “And please do not say romance. You ladies kill me with all this romantic writing.”
Clara Bow laughed. “Tell me about it,” she said. “I’m seriously thinking of writing a mystery novel. I already have the storyline in mind.”
“That’s interesting. Do you think you’ll have enough material for twenty thousand words?” Mark asked. “And if you don’t mind my asking, what’s it going to be about?”
“I’m sure I will.” Clara Bow said. “It will be based on a missing mother. I might delve a little into the psychological workings of the mind of a kidnapper as I tell the story.”
“That should be interesting,” Marla said. “Is he going to be a serial kidnapper? Or, will this be his first time? Is he going to end up killing his victim, torturing the victim, maybe ask for ransom money in exchange for her release? Girl, you could go so many different ways with this one.”
“Thanks for giving me these ideas, Marla. That should set me going good,” Clara Bow said. “Any other suggestions?” she asked the members of her group.
The class session ended on a good note. Clara Bow drove off the school campus, excited about her new project.
Clara Bow beat everyone to the Java Bistro Cafe for their next Sister Soul Scribes meeting. She was excited as the others arrived one behind the other at exactly 10 AM and took their seats.
“You’re full of cheer this morning,” Shirley said. “Got some good news for us?”
“A lot of great things have happened since we last met. One, I had my last class on Thursday, so, graduation, here I come! You are all coming, right?”
“Of course, we’re coming. We wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Hermoth said.
“Two, I’m excited about finishing my book manuscript which is the last requirement for my degree program.” Clara Bow gave them a brief synopsis of the book.
“Well, good for you,” Nikki said. “I believe that it will be a success.”
“Three, … this is the biggest one of all. Hold on to your wigs, ladies…” Clara Bow pulled a letter out of her case.
“Speak, Clara Bow,” Hermoth said.
“Roll the drums,” Shirley giggled.
“I heard from Time Magazine’s acquisition editor. This letter came in with a check enclosed; they will be publishing one of the articles I sent in,” Clara Bow exclaimed. “It should be in the next issue.”
“You go, girl!” her friends cheered as they high-fived each other.
“This calls for an extra round of apple streusel,” Shirley said raising a hand to summon Tamron, the waitress. “This is on me.”
“Yours is on the house,” Tamron told Clara Bow after they shared with her the good news.
“Guess what?” Nikki said as she took a bite of her apple streusel cake. “I met Hermoth’s father and sister. “He’s a character. Very jovial. Her sister’s the same.”
“Are they settling in well?” Shirley asked.
“As a matter of fact, they have. My sister’s only staying for two weeks before returning to the Bahamas. She wants to stay longer, but I’ve had to remind her that she has a husband and two children to return to,” Hermoth said. “I think there was some selfishness on my part when I told her that.”
“What do you mean?” Clara Bow asked.
“My writer’s life has been disrupted,” Hermoth said feigning sadness. “I had plans to write my fingers off and to finish my manuscript this past weekend, but all I have to show for this past week is a blank sheet of paper. I doubt if I’ll produce anything serious for the next two weeks. My number one writing room, my living room, has now been transformed into a bedroom. My number two writing room, which is my bedroom, I’ve had to share with a sister who talks non-stop; she talks falling asleep, and she talks waking up. I didn’t know it would be this hard to find a two-bedroom apartment. So all three of us are stuck in my tiny one-bedroom apartment. No privacy for two whole weeks. Help! I need my space.”
Her friends chuckled. “That’s what makes life interesting: the unexpected bumps in the road of life,” Shirley said. “And might I add, these unexpected bumps are what make an interesting story.”
“But all was not wasted,” Hermoth said. “I researched Alzheimer’s and found some interesting reads. Time to Let Go, by Christopher Fischer, and Stuck in the Middle, by Virginia Smith are two engaging novels of how families handled their relative with Alzheimer’s. That’s not all.” Hermoth took a couple sips of her coffee. She reached into her case and pulled out an article she had printed from the New York Times dated May 7, 2001, and began to read out loud.
“This article is titled ‘Nuns Offer Clues to Alzheimer’s and Aging,’ by Pam Belluck. It basically says–”
“Drop the word ‘basically’ in writing and in speaking,” Shirley kindly said. “Either it is or it isn’t.”
“Why, thank you, Professor Shirley,” Hermoth said with a chuckle. “As I was saying, the article says, Alzheimer’s victims lose speech, mobility, and much of their memory. They tend to repeat certain actions. It’s a degenerative disease that creeps up on you. But the study concluded that spirituality and community living help greatly.”
“I don’t know why they call it a disease,” Nikki said. “You’re just getting old and your body organs, namely your brain, does not work to its max.”
Laying the article on the table, Hermoth said with an air of defeat, “I’m afraid of what I may be up against. I stopped by the nursing home and spoke with the director and she gave me the full scoop. I feel like I’m getting ready to slowly but surely kiss my writer’s life good bye.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be that bad,” Shirley said. “Let’s get on with your manuscript and try to complete it. Where are you with Dr. Justin Middlebrooks?”
Show me a character without anxieties, and I will show you a boring book.
Shirley Kidd adjusted the pillows behind her back as she held the ten pages of writing she had just completed at arm’s length before her. I deserve a late night bowl of ice cream for this, she thought as she glanced at the clock. Doug should be home any minute now. I’ll just wait until he comes in. She read over her work inserting and crossing things out, making notations here and there.
Hearing the familiar sound of her husband’s car engine running in the driveway, she started putting away her manuscript. She heard the soft rattling of the garage door as it opened up for him to park his car. She heard its closing. She heard the car door slam shut, followed by the jingling of keys as he unlocked the door leading from the garage into the hallway.
Shirley smiled as she listened to her husband making his nightly rounds around the house which ended in their bedroom. He rattled the door knobs to the front door and the back door before making sure the alarm was turned on. He checked in on the children. He then pushed their bedroom door open.
“Hi, Doug. How was your night?” Shirley greeted her husband.
“The usual,” Doug said removing his gun from its holster and placing it under lock and key in the safety box he kept on the shelf in their closet.
The usual. That’s all it’s been for the past couple of months, Shirley thought. “Anything interesting happen?”
“No.” Doug proceeded to undress, grabbed his robe, and headed for the bathroom.
Tossing the covers aside, Shirley said, “Do you want me to fix you something to eat? The children and I had chicken and dumplings with vegetables.” Shirley swung her legs over the edge of the bed and slipped her feet into her slippers.
“Warm milk and honey will do,” Doug replied. “Let me take a quick shower first.”
Shirley knew a “quick shower” meant he’d be up for a few more hours; it also meant more than “the usual” had taken place.
Shirley met her husband on the way back to the bedroom with two tall glasses of warm milk.
“I’ll take it in the den,” he said. “I need to unwind for a few minutes before going to sleep. You should go on to bed and get some rest.”
“I’m pretty pumped myself. I finished ten pages on my story. Want me to read it to you?”
“Not right now. Just let me relax some,” Doug said.
Shirley joined her husband on the couch as he turned the television to the news channel.
“Doug,” Shirley said as the first commercial break came on, “is everything alright? You’ve been kind of withdrawn these past few weeks. You’ve been kind of cold.”
Doug shook his head.
“Come on. Talk to me,” Shirley said.
Doug sighed deeply as he gulped down the last of his milk. “I didn’t say anything because I did not want you to be afraid. But Chief Bartlett received a letter about a month ago. The sender threatened to come after the families of the policemen who answered the call during that tragic shooting last Christmas. I don’t know if you remember it. We’re assuming it’s the husband—the only survivor.”
“Yes. I remember that,” Shirley said after thinking for a while. “That’s the one where the husband returned from jogging on Christmas Day to find his wife and two daughters dead and some of the gifts packed in a big sack. The killer was rummaging upstairs and heard the husband call 9-1-1. The husband heard the movements upstairs and proceeded to check things out. It seemed the killer was on purpose making noise to draw the husband upstairs. The killer then made a run for it, tackling the husband and knocking him out. He escaped before the police arrived. Right?”
Doug nodded. “That’s the one. It’s been five months, and we still have not found the person responsible,” Doug said.
Shirley slid closer to her husband and placed his arm around her shoulder. “What exactly did the letter say, and how would he know which police officers were there?”
“The letter said we did not do our job; we should have gotten to the house sooner; we should have caught the killer by now; we were a sorry excuse for a police force, et cetera, et cetera.” Doug leaned his head on the back of the couch. “He named my name, my partner’s name, and two other officer’s names. He must have gotten our names off our badges. The sender said he would contact the media when he makes his move. Chief Bartlett told us to keep quiet about it.”
Shirley shuddered as the thought of losing her entire family in such a tragic way crossed her mind. “I still can’t imagine who would do such a senseless act.”
Doug tightened his arm around her. “I’m thinking of sending you and the children to my parents or your parents or some other relative until it blows over.”
“No, Doug. We’re staying with you,” Shirley said.
Clara Bow stopped at the public library to do some work on her final college project. I think I’ll call it Missing Moms. Still curious as to the disappearance of Mayzie Dawkins, she decided to pay the family a visit. After securing the address, she stopped by the Dawkins’ residence introducing herself as a reporter from the Sun Times.
“I’m doing a follow-up report on your wife,” Clara Bow said. “Have you heard anything new about her disappearance?”
“The police have not been able to give us any new information,” Paul Dawkins, Mayzie’s husband, said.
From the information she gathered from him, Clara Bow produced a headline article for the Sun Times titled: “How Does a Family Continue After a Loved One’s Disappearance?”
“The article you wrote on Mayzie Dawkins touched my heart,” Shirley said after she and her three writing friends had taken their seats for another Sister Soul Scribes meeting at the Java Bistro Cafe. Shirley thought of the disturbing news her husband had shared with her. “I can’t even imagine being in her husband’s position. What if Doug just disappears? Not knowing whether he is dead or alive would eat away at me. Worse yet, what if one of my children were to disappear?”
“I know that feeling,” Nikki said. “It brought tears to my eyes when I read the section where you interviewed the four children. They’re so young. They wake up everyday wondering: Is this the day Mommy’s coming home? No Mommy to nurse their wounds; no Mommy to fix them a homemade smoothie; no Mommy to bake them cookies.”
“Why don’t we bake some cookies and take it to them this Saturday,” Hermoth suggested.
“I’m with you,” Clara Bow said.
“Me, too,” the others said.
“We’re so proud of you, Clara Bow,” Hermoth said. “God’s going to bless you for trying to help this family.”
“Well, thank you. I couldn’t do what I do without your words of encouragement,” Clara Bow said. “Anyway, enough of that; I’m about ready to shed some tears.”
The ladies quietly sipped on their coffee and orange juice and ate some danishes, each occupied with her own thoughts.
“You know what?” Hermoth said after a few minutes , “As I think about it, this whole Mayzie Dawkins thing could be turned into a mystery novel. You could approach it in one of two ways. You could begin with the incident at the ATM machine to whet the readers’ appetite. Introduce her as a loving wife and a caring, doting mother of four. That will touch the readers’ hearts. Go ahead and have a man who changes her tires to be the culprit; just don’t tell that yet. The police could mention that this was the third woman who had gone missing in two months; the first two were last seen at an ATM machine and they suspect the perpetrator in each may be the same. Weave the truth of Mayzie’s story into your fiction story.”
“Rather than have the victims be killed, perhaps he can just keep them hostage somewhere,” Shirley said. “You figure that out, because I cannot for the life of me understand a criminal’s mind.”
“I know. Sin,” Nikki said.
“That’s the truth,” Hermoth said, “but people probably don’t want to read that. You might want to look at a couple of books on the criminal mind.”
“Thanks a lot,” Clara Bow said.
“You can approach it from Mayzie Dawkins’ point-of-view, from the kidnapper’s point-of-view, or from the chief of police’s point-of-view,” Hermoth suggested.
“Thanks for your input,” Clara Bow said. “But where are you all at on your stories?”
“My main character, Rhetta, is still trapped in her office building. She’s afraid to walk out because she thinks someone’s in the building,” Shirley said. “The police have not arrived yet, and neither has she heard from her fiance—that two-timer.”
“Two-timer?” Hermoth said.
“Yes. He’s a cheat,” Shirley said. “But he does not know that the girl he is cheating with is only using him to get back at her ex.”
“That sounds like it’s going to be one big mess to me,” Hermoth said taking a bite from her pastry. “Please relieve our suspense. Read on.”
Rhetta held her breath as the softly echoing footsteps drew closer and closer. They came to an abrupt stop in front of her office door. Her heart almost stopped as she saw the doorknob slowly turn back and forth. She glanced at her cell phone.
Ring. Please ring. Stanley, please call, she thought.
“Rhetta,” a raspy voice whispered her name. “Rhetta.”
Rhetta’s eyes flew wide open. She shifted her stare from the doorknob to the crack underneath the door. There was a faint shadow coming from underneath—a pair of shoes partially blocking the light.
“Rhetta. Rhetta Droxley,” the raspy voice said softly. “I know that you are in there. Open up so we can talk.”
How? … Who? … What? Rhetta thought nervously backing away from her desk. She quickly glanced out the window at the security guards’ station. No movement and no light.
“Rhetta,” the haunting voice said again. “Come on. Let’s talk.”
The next sound Rhetta heard were footsteps softly fading … but light was no longer streaming under the door. With shaky hands, she dialed the security guard’s station. “Thank God,” she said out loud as someone picked up.”Someone’s in the building. I’m trapped in my office.”
Rhetta’s mouth gaped open but no sound came out as the raspy voice answered her. “I know you’re in the building, Rhetta. I was just in there but you would not open up so we could talk. Now you’re wondering who I am. I had a little gift for you.”
Rhetta heard tapping—rhythmic, calculated tapping. She forced herself to look out the window. The light in the guard’s station blinked on and off for a few seconds.
“Your form looks lovely through the window.”
Rhetta snapped the drapes shut.
“I’ve been watching you for some time now–”
Lights. The lights, Rhetta thought frantically as she turned the lights off in her office.
“I can still see you.”
Rhetta stared at the phone. It was as if it was glued to her hands—as if she was being forced to listen to the voice.
“You’ve been working here for about seven years now, and you’re moving on up the corporate ladder. Congratulations.”
“No more,” Shirley said putting her manuscript down.
“Aw, shucks!” Nikki said. “I was just getting into it. Keep reading. Who’s this mysterious person?”
“I don’t know, yet,” Shirley confessed slumping her shoulders. “I broke into the story to give the readers a background history of her fiance, Stanley—where he was, what he was up to, where he was born, how they met, how he received her message but chose to ignore it.”
“How many pages did that take?” Hermoth asked
“Mmm, about two pages,” Shirley said.
“Two pages!” Hermoth exclaimed. “Shirley, you just killed the story. You just lost your readers. Don’t cut the suspense you have going on at the office to give mundane stuff about Stanley. As of right now, the readers want to know what is going to happen to Rhetta. Who cares a flip about Stanley at this time! We want to know who this raspy-voiced person is, and whether or not he succeeds in whatever he’s going to do to Rhetta. Cut the backstory,” Hermoth said drawing her fingers across her throat.
“Any suggestions?” Shirley asked.
“It could be her own boyfriend stalking her,” Clara Bow suggested.
“Picture this,” Hermoth said holding both of her hands in mid-air. “See … what’s his name? … Yeah, Stanley. Stanley thinks she’s seeing someone else because she’s had to put in too many late nights, in his opinion. He’s seen her walk out the building a few times with a co-worker. Of course, nothing’s happening between them; they’re only discussing office work, but Stanley does not know that, and rather than ask, he just assumes things.”
“Or,” Nikki interjected, “it could be one of her male workers who’s been trying to get her attention, but he’s upset because she keeps snubbing him. See, Rhetta’s a one-man woman. She’s had good upbringing; she visits the church house pretty regularly — ”
“Or,” Clara Bow interrupted, “it could be the stalker who’s running loose in the area—you know—the one who’s been breaking into the offices; you’ve already mentioned that. Anyway, he’s seen her coming and leaving the office by herself; somehow he got a hold of personal information on her; now he has her on his radar.”
“Three people to choose from,” Shirley sighed.
“Whichever one you choose, remember what Alfred Hitchcock said: ‘drama is life with the dull stuff left out.’ Cut the two pages on Stanley,” Hermoth said with a grin.
The friends laughed as they wrapped up their meeting.
If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story.
– Terry Pratchett
Clara Bow made herself comfortable in the middle of her bed. She lifted the cover of her laptop and started to type. She titled her page, “Missing Moms.” She then copied the article she submitted to the Sun Times from the interview she conducted with Paul Dawkins into that file. She typed in all the ideas her writing friends had suggested as she did more brainstorming.
I must remember to modify this to flow right into my storyline, she reminded herself as she flagged that page. I will show the picture to Mr. Dawkins, but not right now because he’s going to insist that I take it to the police. He may even begin to label me as the suspect.
Clara Bow scanned in the picture and placed it in the “Missing Moms” file. Now, I’ll do a search on Mylo Easton. Clara Bow paused as she thought about the mystery before her. Hmm, I’m surprised the security camera at the ATM machine did not pick this up… unless… Clara Bow typed her thoughts and speculations into her manuscript file.
This accounts for 4 explanations:
- He may have somehow figured out where the security camera is and blocked it. If that’s the case, he’s probably an experienced crook or he has worked at a bank and is familiar with its security cameras.
- Someone at the bank’s security office or whoever was monitoring the cameras that evening was not doing his job; he failed to report what he saw—if he saw anything.
- There was a malfunction in the camera.
- He is in cahoots with someone in security.
I could choose any of these and run with it. More than likely number one. Number two could work; this would come up during the court case as the lawyer would ask for security tapes for the date she went missing.
Number three could work, but I can’t use that; I’ll need the cameras working as evidence in court.
Number four is lame. If he’s in cahoots with someone in security, just have that other person to steal the money … unless money may not have been the main motive for the kidnapping. I’ll have to think on this some more.
“Time for a snack,” Clara Bow said to herself.
She went down to the kitchen and got sliced bananas, chocolate spread and a glass of fruit punch which she took back to her bedroom where she resumed her work.
“I have to establish a reason for Mylo Easton kidnapping Mayzie Dawkins,” Clara Bow said to herself. She picked up her cell phone and pressed a button. “Hey, Nikki, Clara Bow here. Just one question: Off the top of your head, what would lead a man to kidnap a woman, run off with her car, and take what little money she had on her?”
“He’s probably in need of cash and a car and saw her as easy prey,” Nikki said.
“He may get a thrill out of taking advantage of women. You know—a psychopath,” Shirley answered when Clara Bow asked her the same question.
“Oh, he’s just a maniac. His elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top,” Hermoth said. “Are you working on your mystery novel?”
“Undercover,” Clara Bow said.
“Ooh! I can’t wait to read it,” Hermoth said.
“Thanks a lot,” Clara Bow said.
The picture, Clara Bow typed in, that’s incriminating evidence to unlocking this mystery of the missing mom. We can either get it secretly to the police with a letter of explanation. Or, we can have it mysteriously delivered to Paul Dawkins. Now should this be revealed in the middle or towards the end of the novel?
“Writing is definitely not for the lazy person,” Clara Bow said repeating her professor’s words as she closed out her file. “You have to actively engage your mind.” She drank some of her fruit punch. One more thing before I end this project for the night. Clara Bow did a search on the name Mylo Easton. Just as I thought. Only one listing. She picked up her cellphone.
“Hello, Mylo Easton.”
Nikki and her daughters returned home from church on Wednesday night to find Raphael in the kitchen putting the finishing touch on one of his favorite snacks: pan dulce.
“Thank you, Daddy,” Nikita and Makita both said as they took their seats around the dinner table.
“Thank you, dear,” Nikki said as she took her seat across the table from her husband.
“What took you all so long? The pastor must have been praying up a storm,” Raphael said as he placed the snack on each plate. “Did you ask him to pray for me?”
Nikki smiled as she bit into her snack.
“No, Daddy. Philip stopped Mommy and was talking to her,” Nikita said looking at her sister. They both giggled.
“What’s so funny about Philip talking to Mom after church?” Raphael asked glancing at his wife.
“Oh, nothing. He just tries to pluck our dimples off our cheeks,” Makita said giggling some more.
“Is that so?” Raphael said. He glanced at his wife again. “This Philip must be an interesting person. What does he look like?”
“He speaks like you and he kind of looks like you,” Nikita said. “Except he’s not as tall as you.”
“Is that so?” Raphael said again. “And how long has Philip been talking with Mommy?”
“It’s not every time,” Makita said. “He never used to talk with her until a little while back.”
“O.K. You girls finish off your snack so you can go to bed,” Raphael said. “Early to bed, early to rise.”
“After you both finish off your homework,” their mother reminded.
“Yeah. I almost forgot. Ms. DeSilva wants us to write a poem or copy one for tomorrow,” Makita said as she swallowed her last bit of food. “I hate poems. Daddy can you help us find two? Ms. DeSilva says we cannot bring the same one.”
“Sure. How about this one by Ogden Nash: Timothy Winters comes to school / With eyes as wide as a football pool / Ears like bombs and teeth like splinters / A blitz of a boy is Timothy Winters.”
Raphael stood up and moved his hands rhythmically. “Come on. Follow me.”
“I’ll take that one,” Nikita said joining her father.
“How about this one entitled The Wind,” Raphael said. “The wind stood up, and gave a shout,” Raphael shouted. “He whistled on his fingers, and kicked the withered leaves about,” Raphael said with a kick. “And thumped the branches with his hand,” Raphael said punching his right palm with his left fist. “And said, he’d kill, and kill, and kill; And so he will! And so he will!”
Raphael looked at his wife with a determined expression as he said the last line. Nikki stared back at him with raised eyebrows trying to smother her laugh.
“Who wrote that one, Daddy?” Makita asked as she held a pen and notepad.
“None other than James Stephens,” her father said with a bow. “Come on. I’ll pull both poems up on the computer while you get ready for bed, then you can copy them off. Mommy and I will be in to say good night.”
“Daddy, where did you learn such funny poems?” Nikita asked as she skipped out the room with their father.
“In school. Once you learn them, you never forget them—especially the funny ones.”
When Raphael returned to the kitchen, Nikki had the dishes all cleaned and was sitting at the table looking over the notes she had jotted down from the Bible study. Maybe I can choose a character from the Bible who encounters one trouble after another and finds his outlet through prayer, she thought as she tossed up story ideas in her head.
“Care to explain who this Philip is?” Raphael said after getting a glass of water.
“He attends the church. I never knew he existed until a few weeks back. And, yes, we’ve been talking after church,” Nikki said.
“And?” Raphael said taking a seat at the table.
“Look, Raphael, I know what you are thinking, but it’s nothing like that. I am not the least bit interested in Philip. I just see him as another one of the church members.”
“But you’re getting comfortable talking with him,” Raphael said. “And you’ve never mentioned him to me before.”
“That’s because there is nothing going on between us,” Nikki said. “And if your next question is, what have we talked about, I’ll answer before you even ask. We talk about Bible things. And he’s somehow found out that I write for the Intercollegiate Magazine, so he’s been asking about that.”
“Is that all?”
“And he asks about you as well,” Nikki added. “He probably feels a kindred spirit, a cultural bond. He, myself, and another family are the only ones of Hispanic descent attending the church. As you already know it’s a good size church; you could easily feel alienated in there.”
“He’s a man; he should know how to handle his feelings of alienation,” Raphael said. He then chuckled, “He’s not a softy, is he?”
Nikki laughed. “You be the judge of that. But on a serious note though, I’ve been asking you to just come to the church with me and the girls; it’s only two times each week. I’d be satisfied if you just came on Sundays. I believe you already know I have no desire for any relationship with another man, but your presence would ward off any interest any man may have in me and that would eliminate any possible problems from turning up. When I turn up by myself, they may see me as a single mother or a woman who’s not getting along with her husband.”
Raphael thought on his wife’s words.
“I’m sure the twins would love to have you come along as well,” Nikki added.
“So you want me to come rescue my damsels in distress.”
“You could say that,” Nikki replied. “So, are you coming with us on Sunday?”
“I’ll think about it,” he said pulling her up from her seat. “Let’s go say goodnight to the girls and go to bed ourselves.”
“We have a new dessert,” Tamron greeted her writing friends as she poured coffee into their cups. “It’s called fruit gizzada. You can have it sweetened or unsweetened. Want to try it?”
“What’s in it?” Shirley asked.
“It’s like a personal pie filled with fruit, and nuts and topped with coconut flakes.”
“Hey, that sounds familiar. It sounds like something my mother used to make when I was a little girl,” Hermoth said. “The only difference is, our filling is brown sugar and coconut flakes. Oh, man, I miss it. Bring me two of them—sweetened.”
“We’ll take one, too,” her friends said.
“Coming right up,” Tamron said as she refilled the bowl on the table with packets of sugar, Splenda, vanilla and caramel creamers, and coffee stirrers.
“Hey, everyone, I got some good news,” Nikki said as they pulled out their notepads and flipped their laptops open. “Raphael came to church with us.”
“Really? Thank God,” Hermoth said. “It seems like God has finally answered our prayers.”
Nikki related to them what led to Raphael coming to church with her and her daughters.
“God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform,” Shirley said.
“The first thing he asked was to meet Philip, who was man enough to still come say hello,” Nikki said.
Hermoth laughed. “I’m so happy for you. Talking about church, my church is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary next Sunday. I invite you all to be my special guests along with your entire family.”
“We’ll be there,” her friends assured her.
“Will we get to meet your sister before she returns to the Bahamas?” Clara Bow asked.
“She’ll be gone before then, but you’ll meet my father. Why don’t you all stop by on Saturday after we stop by the Dawkins’ place and meet her and my father.” Hermoth said. “I can’t wait to get Talkaton on that plane and get back on schedule with my writing. By the looks on your faces I can tell you’re wondering who Talkaton is. That’s the pet name I gave my sister. Boy, can she talk up a storm,” Hermoth said with a laugh. “Anyway, talking about writing, we’d better get some work done. Have you written anything yet, Nikki?”
“Nope. I’m still struggling.”
“You could use the change in Raphael and build a story around it. It could be a family novel dealing with issues that husbands and wives go through,” Shirley suggested. “In this case, marital problems; some other man showing her more attention. Take it to the extreme. Make it a romance novel.”
“I love reading romance novels, but I just can’t bring myself to write about it,” Nikki said. She slumped her shoulders.
“You’d be amazed at what you can come up with if you dig deeply into the recesses of your mind,” Clara Bow said. “You could take one of your non-fiction articles on how immigrants adjust to living in a foreign country and dialogue it out.”
“Think about how you and your husband felt emotionally and socially,” Shirley said. “I’m sure you did not always feel comfortable. Ask Hermoth; She’s from the Bahamas. I’m sure she felt some strangeness when she first moved to America.”
“Yes, girl, I could tell you some stories. Come on, pick up your pen and begin writing,” Hermoth said. After sharing some incidents with them, Hermoth added, “To make it more dramatic, you could use someone from, say, China or India; her parents are very strict in their cultural beliefs and they insist on her wearing their country’s native dress and sticking to their religion; peer pressure gets to be too much for her. Some of her new friends try to Americanize her. You can even add a Christian element to it where she becomes a Christian and she hides it from her parents. Do you see where I’m going with this?”
“Yes. Absolutely,” Nikki replied. “Her parents find out and all hell breaks loose,” Nikki said writing as fast as she could. “She’s normally a good child but she begins to rebel against her parents false religion.”
“I believe you got it,” Hermoth said. “Run with that now, and have something for us next week. If you need any help, we’re only a phone call away.”
“That looks delicious,” Clara Bow said as Tamron placed their order before them.
“Here’s some cinnamon to sprinkle on top,” Tamron said as the friends bit into their new dessert.
“Mmm. Mmm. This brings back good memories,” Hermoth said.
“This is absolutely delicious,” the others agreed. “Thank you, Tamron.”
“You’re quite welcome. How are your new books coming along?” Tamron asked.
“Just great. Do I have your permission to mention you in my next book?” Clara Bow asked.
Tamron laughed. “I’d be honored. Let me know if you need anything.”
When I read a good book … I wish that life were three thousand years long.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I know you’re working on a secret project, so what’s new?” Shirley asked Clara Bow when they next met up at the Cafe.
“My college project is coming along quite nicely. I’m just about done with jotting down notes and creating a outline.”
“You’re referring to the Missing Moms manuscript, right?” Shirley asked.
Clara Bow nodded. “I’ve decided to focus on that book and make that my book to submit for publishing.”
“I think it’s great that you’re taking something as tragic as that and making it into a work of fiction to help those who may read it,” Nikki said. “What do you hope to accomplish by writing about missing moms?”
“Well,” Clara Bow said after thinking for some time, “I want to bring awareness to the families of mothers and wives who have gone missing. And also that life keeps going on even though a family member may no longer be present. I’m sure other things will come to my mind as I work on completing the book.”
“You know you have a lot of people saying, ‘I want to write a book,’ but they never actually start writing anything. I don’t know how many wanna-be writers have taken a great book idea with them to their graves because they were too lazy to go through the painful task of writing,” Shirley said. “I tell you, writing is definitely not for the lazy person.”
“You said that right,” Hermoth said.
“Oops!” Nikki said. “I had better get off my do-nothing and get to writing then. I’m afraid my main character, Kanitra, is in sinking waters. I have not written much. In all the books I’ve attempted to write, I just don’t feel my main characters yet.”
“Just keep plodding away,” Hermoth said. “Sometimes you just have to begin writing: first one word, then two words, then three words. Before you know it you have one sentence, then two sentences, then a whole paragraph, then a full page. Just get the flow going and keep it going, girl!”
“Do you know what I haven’t been able to figure out?” Clara Bow asked. “What would lead one writer to take another writer’s work and present it as her own.”
“Someone with deep psychological issues,” Hermoth said.
“Someone who lacks confidence in herself,” Nikki said.
“Someone who’s seeking friends and the approval of others,” Shirley said.
“Someone who wants the easy way out,” Clara Bow said.
“As far as my book goes,” Clara Bow continued, “I’ll be sending you copies to proof once I get it done. I want to keep the details of it quiet until I am done with it.”
“Must be something exciting,” Nikki said. “I can’t wait to read it. Your turn, Shirley. Is Rhetta still in the building?”
“I hope you cut the two pages on Stanley,” Hermoth quickly said.
Shirley pulled her manuscript out and started reading:
Rhetta’s hand seemed glued to her phone. With the lights off, she inched her way across the room back to the window when she heard voices coming from her phone which was still on. Slightly opening the drapes she peeked out to see the flashing lights of a police car.
“Whew! Thank God they’re here,” she said.
Rhetta strained to hear the exchange between the police officers and who she assumed was the security guard. She almost dropped her phone when she heard the security guard say, “Yes, Officer. She called me here, but I had stepped away to do my rounds. She’s safely home now. We got her out.”
“Whose car is parked over there?” the officer asked nodding his head in the direction of Rhetta’s parked car.
“Oh, sometimes the employees carpool and leave their vehicles parked here overnight. They notify us of that.”
“Liar!” Rhetta shouted into the phone.
“I’m still in the building! He’s lying. Please double check.” She banged on the thick window pane. Her panic increased as she saw the police officer enter his car and drive away. She leaned against the wall still peering out the window. Her cellphone rang. Thinking it was her fiance, she answered. “Hello, Stanley. Thank God–”
“You shouldn’t have done that,” the raspy voice said.
“Wait a minute,” Hermoth said. “I don’t think you’ve told us who the raspy voice belongs to yet; but if he’s the one who’s been attacking people in the area, wouldn’t the police recognize him? Don’t they have a mug shot out on him?”
“They don’t know who he is yet,” Shirley said.
“Okay. I’m glad you kept her in the building a bit longer,” Hermoth said. “Keep the suspense going, but don’t let her overstay.” Glancing at her watch she said, “Sorry to end this fun time, but I’m going to be really late for work. Plus, I have to check on my father to make sure he’s still in one piece. When I woke up this morning, he was just sitting in the dark staring at the wall. I got scared. He seemed his normal self when I left, but I can’t take any chances.”
“Don’t forget we meet here on Saturday, say around one, to visit the Dawkins family,” Clara Bow said. “I’ll give you a call on Friday to remind you.”
The writers gathered their laptops and other writing instruments.
“One thing before we disband,” Shirley said. “I didn’t want to bother you with this because I did not want you to worry yourselves, but I really need some prayers going up for me and my family. But, you have to keep this quiet.” Shirley shared with her friends what her husband shared with her. “Please pray for our safety as well as for the safety of the whole police force. And please do not discuss this with anyone.”
“Let me pray for you right now,” Clara Bow said.
“We’ll definitely be praying for you and your family,” Nikki said as they headed out the cafe to their cars.
Clara Bow met with Mylo Easton for a late lunch later that week.
“Thank you so much for accepting my invitation to lunch,” Clara Bow said as they sat down in the restaurant. “I just wanted to show my appreciation to you for changing my tire in the rain.”
“You are more than welcome. But like I said, no thanks needed. It was the neighborly thing to do,” Mylo said. “I hate seeing a lady stranded on the highway, especially when it is raining.”
He held a stare that locked Clara Bow’s eyes with his. Nothing flirtatious. It was a stare that commanded she look at him, and one that left her feeling uncomfortable. But I am determined to get some answers, she thought.
“Are you married, Mr. Easton?” Clara Bow asked. “I’d love to meet your family.”
“Please, call me Mylo. And, no, I am not married. Never have been and never will be.”
“May I ask, why?”
“I’ve had too many bad experiences with women; plus, I’m not the marrying type,” Mylo said.
Clara Bow tried not to show alarm of any kind as she remembered Hermoth’s answer when she had asked her why a man would abduct a woman: “Maybe he has unresolved issues with his mother, a sister, or an old girlfriend and takes it out on women.”
“You seem to be a nice person. What woman would not like you?” Clara Bow asked.
“There are women out there who are not so nice,” Mylo said. “However, you seem nice enough.”
“I try to be,” Clara Bow said.
“I wish more women would try to be nice,” Mylo said. “I’ve had a few girls to stand me up over the years for no reason at all. Well, they could not give me a reason. What gets to me is when I say ‘hello’ to some in passing and they don’t even acknowledge me. I mean, who do they think they are?”
Clara Bow chuckled more out of nervousness.
“I knew the minute I changed your tire that you were a woman of a different cut; you’re more likeable.”
“Thank you,” Clara Bow said. “Where do you work?”
“At the auto shop here in town. You know, some of our worst customers are women; they nit-pick at everything,” Mylo said.
“Maybe that’s because we don’t have a knack for such things. To be frank with you, I’m not interested in how to change a tire or how a car works. I just want it to get me from point A to point B,” Clara Bow said.
Mylo laughed. After the laughter died down, Clara Bow looked him directly in the eyes and said, “On a serious note, while we are on the subject of women, I wonder if women being mean-spirited has anything to do with them being abducted.” Clara Bow thought she saw a sign of surprised disapproval, but she continued speaking. “I could never figure that out. Like this Mayzie Dawkins lady. She comes to mind because she’s the latest one reported missing. From the news report she was a loving wife, mother, and friend. Who would want to hurt her? The police believe she was grabbed while at an ATM machine.”
Mylo Easton’s eyebrows quivered. “Do you work for the police?” he asked.
“Oh, no,” Clara Bow said. “I like to read mystery novels and I love to watch re-runs of CSI, Hill Street Blues, and Hawaii Five-0. But I would never work for the police department. I am not going to put my life on the line like they have to.”
Mylo looked at her askance. Then he chuckled. “I love a good detective show myself. It never ceases to amaze me how the police figure out the minds of their suspects.”
“That amazes me also,” Clara Bow said. “I just love to see the suspense build up as the suspect pulls one over on the police and then just when he thinks he’s gotten over on them…Bam!…they catch him.” Sobering up, Clara Bow said, “I just don’t like to see the innocent get hurt though.”
Clara Bow did not like the look Mylo Easton gave her.
As they were wrapping up their meal, Mylo said, “We ought to do this again. Let me have your number so I can give you a call to set up a dinner date.”
“I think it would be best if I gave you a call. I have a really weird schedule. Besides,” Clara Bow said with a laugh, “I thought you expressed dissatisfaction with women earlier.”
“Like I said, you’re of a different cut,” Mylo said.
“Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”
As soon as they finished their meal, Clara Bow hurried home after making some detours to throw Mylo off lest he decided to follow her. Once home, she made sure her door was locked and wedged a chair under the lock for added protection. Pulling her computer out, and opening it to her Missing Moms file, she typed furiously her conversation with Mylo Easton, describing his reactions, especially when she mentioned her speculation about Mayzie Dawkins’ disappearance. Clara Bow ended her chapter with these words: “No one knows whether or not she was abducted from an ATM machine. The police did not even put that in their report. Mylo’s reaction told on him.
“He had guilt written all over his face,” Clara Bow told her friends on Saturday in the parking lot of the Java Bistro Cafe after their visit to the Dawkins’ residence en-route to Hermoth’s apartment to meet her sister and father.
“When I mentioned Mayzie Dawkins and then threw in that she disappeared while at an ATM machine, he almost choked on his own saliva. He asked me again did I work for the police,” Clara Bow said.
“Clara Bow, how could you have done such a stupid thing like that?” Hermoth asked. “Do you know he could have hauled you off somewhere and killed you? Then you would be the next missing person.”
“Clara Bow, we told you to leave it alone,” Nikki said. “You were going on mere speculation.”
“Speculation? Mylo Easton had on the same clothes as the man in the picture,” Clara Bow said. “I had to find out for myself. And –”
“You could have let the police find out for you,” Hermoth said. “And?”
“And, I am convinced it’s the same person,” Clara Bow said. “His reaction gave him away. I wish I had a camera on him.”
“Why didn’t you at least let us know what you were up to? We could have sat at another table in the restaurant and keep an eye on you both,” Shirley said. “Thank God you did not eat at this restaurant. He may come looking for you here.”
“Young and naïve,” Hermoth said. “Don’t you ever do that again. You could be dead instead of standing here with us today talking. Let’s go meet my sister and my father before I change my mind about you stopping by.”
Clara Bow grinned.
As soon as Clara Bow sat in her seat at the Java Bistro Cafe for their next meeting the following Tuesday, Hermoth, with an outstretched arm, blurted out, “Clara Bow, let me have the picture.”
“What picture?” Shirley asked.
“I called her last night and asked her to bring that picture of Mylo Easton and Mayzie Dawkins at the ATM machine,” Hermoth said as Clara Bow handed her the picture, which she placed in her briefcase. “This is what we are going to do: We are going to spend three hours discussing our books, then we will all spend the last hour at the police station. We are going to turn this picture over to them and tell them everything we know before Clara Bow acts crazy again.”
“Yes. I thought about that, too,” Shirley said. “I became concerned and shared the whole thing with Doug. He said you need to let the police in on it and then leave it alone as you may be bringing trouble upon your life.”
“You’d better do as he says,” Nikki said to Clara Bow.
Clara Bow smiled. “Oh, man! The info I gained from just talking with Mylo has added valuable information to the Missing Moms mystery book I’m writing. He could provide valuable insight into the mind of an abductor.”
“He could also provide insight into what happens to a young naive woman who provokes a killer,” Hermoth said. “Just leave it be and use your imagination to complete the book. Think of an ending you want and fill in the gaps. Nothing hard about that.”
“Hermoth, he may reveal info that leads to who his next victim may be,” Clara Bow said.
“Didn’t he ask to go out with you again? You may just be his next victim,” Hermoth said.
“But I want the police reports and the work they’ll do to land him in jail to add to my book,” Clara Bow said.
“You’ve watched enough re-runs of Hill Street Blues to figure that out,” Hermoth said.
“You could tell the police chief that you’re writing a fiction book as a dedication to Mayzie Dawkins and to all missing moms, and they could help you by providing information as to their part in carrying out investigations on finding out what happens to these women and also on how they arrested Mylo Easton,” Nikki said.
“Won’t that work?” Hermoth said peering at Clara Bow over the rim of her gold framed reading glasses. “Now stop being so stubborn and let the police take over and do their job. You should have joined the police force if you wanted to do detective work. Now, where are you on your novel?”
“About three-quarters of the way,” Clara Bow said.
“Good,” Hermoth said. “We’ll wait for the finished product seeing that we know what the story is about, and you want to keep it a mystery.”
“Where are you on yours?” Clara Bow asked. “We haven’t heard from Dr. Justin Middlebrooks in a while.”
“I read what I had already written to my sister and my father,” Hermoth said. “My sister gave me some valuable insight as we talked about fiction writing in general. She said one of the things that turned her off from Christian fiction was how the authors tried to make the characters perfect. They portray them as though they cannot sin, they will not sin, and they do not sin. She said that’s not realistic. I agree with her.”
“She has a point there,” Nikki said.
“She went on to say that Christians sin too and we need to weave that into our story, and show forgiveness, redemption and God’s saving grace and mercy,” Hermoth said.
“As I think about what you just shared with us,” Shirley said, “I believe we can probably reach many unsaved people if we stop trying to portray Christians as perfect. I know God is sick and tired of Christians presenting themselves as perfect when we are capable of doing some of the most wicked things known to mankind.”
“Tell me about it,” Nikki said. “Like my pastor says every now and then: ‘Some Christians are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good.’ ”
“Remember Dr. Justin Middlebrooks is accused of fraud by the medical board. He is over-charging his patients. He keeps the profits for himself. Now that his wife’s dead, he wastes no time in getting him a young hot mama, Vashti, twenty-five years younger then he. She knows how to stroke his ego, make him feel good, make him feel like a king. She idolizes him and makes him think he’s her everything.”
“Drama, drama, drama,” Shirley said. “That will keep your readers’ attention.”
Fiction is art, and all art carries a message of some sort.
–Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy
Hermoth glanced at her watch. She closed her laptop. “Okay, everyone. It’s time to stop by the police station. We’ll ride together, and I’m driving,” she said rising from her seat. Looking at Clara Bow she said with a grin, “You thought I had forgotten, didn’t you?”
“Aw, shucks! I was hoping you would have forgotten,” Clara Bow said laughing. “Can we please stop by the Dawkins’ residence first? I’d love to be the one to show Mr. Dawkins the picture and break the mystery.”
“We’ll see,” Hermoth said. “But he may be at work.”
“I think we should let the police handle everything,” Shirley said.
“Tell you what,” Hermoth said. “We’ll swing by the Dawkins’ residence to calm Clara Bow’s anxious mind.”
“More like appease her stubbornness,” Nikki said with a laugh.
Paul Dawkins answered the door when they rang the doorbell.
“Where did you get this? That’s my wife’s car. That looks like her—the shoes at least,” Paul said after they showed him the picture.
“As I shared with you when I interviewed you some time back, I work as a journalist and photographer for the Sun Times,” Clara Bow said. “I was randomly taking pictures and snapped that one. The gentleman in the picture changed my tire one day when it went flat on me on the highway. I was looking at the picture, and it clicked that this was the same person. Anyway, we know where he is.”
“We are headed down to the police station if you want to come with us as we turn the picture over to them and tell them what we know,” Shirley said.
“I don’t know how to thank you ladies,” Paul Dawkins said. “I thought I would go crazy not knowing whether or not she’s alive. I hope this picture will give me some answers. And thank you so much for the cookies. My children thoroughly enjoyed them.”
“You’re more than welcome,” the friends said.
“I hope your mind is at rest now,” Hermoth said to Clara Bow as she drove them to their parked cars in the Java Bistro Cafe parking lot after stopping by the police station. “Now promise us you’ll leave Mylo Easton alone.”
“I will,” Clara Bow said.
“And don’t you hesitate to call us and the police if he begins to stalk you before they arrest him,” her friends said to her.
Once she got home from work later that evening, Clara Bow worked on her book until early the next morning.
She stopped by the administration office to finalize things for her graduation when she ran into Marla Aglaeca.
“Are you ready for graduation?” Marla asked.
“I sure am,” Clara Bow said. “I just turned in my manuscript. Have you completed yours yet?”
“You know me. I turn in my work at the last minute,” Marla said.
“I’m having a little get-together at my place on Friday. I’d love for you to come. I’ll be calling our other classmates to invite them along also. It will be at 6:30.”
“I’d love to come,” Marla said. “What are your plans after graduation?”
“I’m not sure. Of course, I’ll still keep my job at the Sun Times. I’m thinking of going for my Masters in Journalism. As you know, I like photography, so I may pursue that as well,” Clara Bow said.
“Apart from the class manuscript, have you been working on anything else?” Marla asked.
“Nothing but various articles. I have another book in mind, but I’m still thinking on that.”
“How do you manage to work on two books at a time, plus submit so many articles to the various places? I can only handle one thing at a time, and that’s overwhelming enough,” Marla said.
“Maybe you can join my writer’s group. It’s only four of us so far. We get together every Tuesday morning at ten for about four hours. We offer suggestions as we read and critique each other’s work. You’re welcome to join us,” Clara Bow said.
“I’ll think about it because I need a lot of help. I’ll call you if I decide to join y’all,” Marla said. “Wish me luck.”
“I wish you lots of luck in your career as a writer,” Clara Bow said.
Clara Bow and the ten members of her creative writing class met at her apartment to celebrate their successful completion of the course.
While the party was in full swing, Clara Bow and one of her classmates, Ariel, went to the kitchen to replenish the bowl of chips and the tray of ham and cheese sandwiches. Marla noticed a stack of papers lying on the couch. She picked it up. A cover letter written to a publisher was stapled to the front page. Marla scanned through the pages. She has something going on here, Marla thought as she glanced around the room to see where Clara Bow was.
“I can’t believe you took work with you,” Ennis, another one of their classmates said sitting down beside Marla.
“Hey, Ennis,” Marla said as she quickly flipped the manuscript over. “Just something I wanted Clara Bow to glance over for me.” She slipped the manuscript into her purse. “So, how have things been going?”
Later that evening, after the party was over, and everyone had left, Clara Bow sat down to look over her manuscript.
“I know I left it right here on the couch,” she said to herself as she searched around for it. “That copy had the suggested changes from our meeting on Tuesday. I have not even placed them in the final manuscript yet. Whatever could have happened to it?”
Sunday morning found the friends worshipping at the Coming Messiah Church with Hermoth for her church’s 30th anniversary. They were encouraged.
“I have news for you,” Nikki said to Hermoth after the services. “One of Raphael’s employees, Carlos, will be getting married. He is living in a 2-bedroom house that he built. In fact, he has several houses which he owns, most of which he built himself; working as a chauffeur is just a thing he does on the side for fun. Anyway, he’ll be moving into another of his houses after he gets married within the next month, so his house will be up for sale or rent. He’s willing to negotiate if you’re interested. Raphael can fill you in on the details.”
Raphael got Carlos on the phone to set up a time for Hermoth to stop by to see the house the following day.
“God is good,” Hermoth said to her friends as they sat down in their booth at the Java Bistro Cafe. “I can’t believe I’ve been paying $900 per month for a 1-bedroom apartment, and here I am getting ready to move into a 2-bedroom house for $675.00 per month. God is not just good. He is great!”
“Praise the Lord!” her friends said.
“Now, I’ll be able to focus on my writing undisturbed,” Hermoth said. “I’m also thinking about sharing with my pastor the idea of writing a book on the history of the Coming Messiah Church and its mission and work in the community. It has a very interesting history.”
“I can tell,” Shirley said. “ I enjoyed the anniversary services tremendously. Doug was even talking about visiting again.”
“You all are welcome anytime,” Hermoth said. “We have a black pastor, and we are mostly a black congregation, but as you could tell we have a good mixture of races.”
“That’s what I love to see,” Nikki said. “We all claim to love the same God, so why can’t we fellowship and worship together every now and then without any drama? But that’s a topic for another time.”
“And possibly another book in the making,” Hermoth said. “Why don’t you pursue that one?”
“Mmm. That’s worth thinking about,” Nikki said.
“I want to thank you all for your feedback on my Missing Moms book. I somehow misplaced the hard copy. I was getting ready to finish putting in the final suggestions you all gave me, now I can’t even find it. It’s the one that I had scribbled your suggestions on off to the side. If you can remember them, I’ll need your help. Anyway, I’ll be submitting it to several publishers,” Clara Bow said, “and probably some family magazines for possible serial publication.”
“What’s serial publication?” Nikki asked.
“It’s a form of publishing that is seeing a revival today. Charles Dickens and others used to write in this manner years ago,” Clara Bow said. “It’s when you have a book that’s not fully completed, or it could be fully completed, but you want to get it out before the public, and you have it printed several chapters at a time—weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly—in a magazine or newspaper, or some other publication.”
“That’s interesting,” Nikki said.
“I heard something about that, but I haven’t had the time to read up on it yet,” Shirley said.
“It has its advantages,” Clara Bow said. “One, it’s a great way to advertise your full book. Two, readers can provide feedback on each episode as it is being printed so you can edit and rewrite as you go along. Three, you don’t have to rush to write the whole book all at once. Four, it teaches you discipline as you have to meet publication deadlines.”
“Maybe that’s the route I need to go with Kanitra,” Nikki said.
“Speaking of Kanitra, do you have anything written that you want to share with us?” Shirley asked.
Nikki meekly opened up her writing pad and began reading.
Kanitra woke up at 7:30 A.M. in the morning. She opened her eyes. She looked around her room. She stretched then climbed out of bed. She yawned a couple times, no three times. She then put her robe on and went to the bathroom where she flossed and brushed her teeth, washed her face, brushed her hair. She stepped into the tub for a shower. She then took her big and fluffy red towel and dried herself. When she went back in her room, she put her native Indian dress on real slow as she did not want to wear those things any more. To her they were ugly, cheap, and outdated. “I hate these clothes,” she said.
“How’s that so far?” Nikki asked.
“We’ll help you fix it up,” Shirley said.
“It’s that bad, huh?” Nikki said.
“We have something to work with,” Hermoth said. “Let’s see.” She took the writing pad and silently read two more pages, then passed it to Shirley and Clara Bow.
“One, don’t begin your story with the mundane everyday things; if you do, don’t detail it and tell every little action. You have to grab your reader’s attention from the get-go,” Hermoth said.
“And the readers don’t care how many times Kanitra yawns,” Shirley said. “And everyone, generally speaking, performs similar morning rituals when they wake up. You don’t need to detail that. It’s called insulting the reader’s intelligence. If you do that, they’ll toss the book aside never to pick it up again. And they’ll remember your name and never purchase another book that you write.”
“Create a more solid setting; something the readers can picture in their minds,” Clara Bow said.
“Let’s begin by cutting the excess,” Hermoth said. “How about: Sixteen-year-old Kanitra woke up at exactly 7:30. She looked around her near empty bedroom. Except for her bed and a dresser with the left knob missing from the top drawer, the only other things were statues of the Hindu gods. Kanitra was a native of India. After showering, she pulled one of her native dresses out of the closet. “I hate these ugly things,” she said, “and these stupid shoes. That’s about half the words you originally used. Make it short and spicy,”
“Thanks,” Nikki said. “I’ll work on it some more.”
“Before we go any further, let’s pull up Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White on our laptops and refresh our memories,” Shirley said.
“That’s a good idea,” her friends said.
After two solid hours of work, and before calling it a day, Hermoth said to Clara Bow as they gathered their things, “I know this may set your mailing date behind, but before you submit your manuscript for publishing, I think you should wait until your professor has looked it over. I’m sure he’ll provide some valuable suggestions that you could incorporate to make it an even better read.”
“I never thought about that. Thanks for the advice, Hermoth. I certainly will,” Clara Bow said. “I’ll run it by you all again once I receive the manuscript back from him.”
After a full day’s work on the job, Hermoth returned home to find a weird arrangement on her dinner table. All twelve of her drinking glasses were arranged in a neat row in the center of the table. There was a single panel of paper towels neatly folded in the shape of a triangle sticking out of each glass. In front of them, also arranged in a neat row, were all twenty of her coffee cups. Taking a second look, Hermoth noticed half the coffee cup handles were turned to the left and the other half were turned to the right. Weird, Hermoth thought.
“Papa, I’m home!” she called out.
Receiving no answer, she immediately went to her father’s bedroom. He was sitting against the headboard with both knees up under his chin. He looked up at Hermoth with a satisfied smile on his face.
“Oh, no!” Hermoth said as she looked around. Her three hundred page manuscript of Dr. Justin Middlebrooks was neatly spread out across the floor and on his bed. Greatly restraining herself from yelling at her father, she calmly responded, “You did a great job, Papa. I can tell you’ve had a busy day. Stay right where you are. I’ll pick everything up.”
I just hope everything is in order. I’m glad I numbered the pages. Wow! What other surprises are in store for me?
Hermoth conversed with her father as she quickly picked up the sheets of papers. “No! No. Please don’t touch that,” she said as her father started to pick up the manuscript pages that were laying on the bed. “I’ll get it. Just don’t touch it.”
Hermoth did not let his disappointed look sway her. She escorted him into the kitchen once she got done and sat him down at the kitchen table where she could keep an eye on him as she prepared the evening meal. “Let me put these glasses and coffee cups away. I wish I had a camera so we could take a picture of your wonderful artwork. I wish we could keep them there, but we need the table for other things.” She turned the television up so she could catch snatches of the news while she prepared the meal.
“Papa, you hardly touched your lunch,” Hermoth said as she noticed his lunch still sitting on the counter next to the microwave where she had left it earlier. She pretended not to notice him taking the napkins out of the napkin holder and laying them in neat rows covering the entire tabletop. He then looked at her with a satisfied smile as if awaiting her approval.
“That’s very neat. You did a great job,” Hermoth said. She made a mental note to give her sister a call later that night.
“How’s Papa doing?” her sister, Pamela, asked when she got on the phone.
Hermoth related to her sister their father’s strange behaviors.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you, he’s obsessed with paper products,” Pamela said. “Don’t be surprised if you come home one evening and your rooms have been redecorated with toilet paper and paper towels.”
“I guess I better get to hiding them then,” Hermoth said dryly.
“Another thing,” her sister said, “he loves to look at sports magazines. He’ll sit all day and look through the same magazine over and over. So stack up on those.”
“Another thing,” Hermoth said, “sometimes he won’t eat. He’ll sit and rearrange the food on the plate without spilling any of it. I’m worried. If it gets worse he’ll waste away.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that yet,” Pamela said. “When he gets hungry enough, he’ll eat. How’s Dr. Justin Middlebrooks coming along? Is he alive or dead?”
“Oh, he died of a heart attack while he was in jail. Vashti is now a millionaire, but she cannot enjoy all that money because she is faced with making the decision as to whether or not to help Pierre out by giving some of it to the inmate Pierre hired to kill Dr. Middlebrooks.”
“I thought Middlebrooks died of heart complications,” Pamela said.
“He did. The inmate who was supposed to kill him with the promise of being set free found him dead the night he went to kill him. He lied and told Pierre that he killed Middlebrooks. Pierre was unable to talk the judge into setting the inmate free. Now the inmate has Pierre on the run for his life as one of his cronies on the outside is stalking Pierre and sending him threatening mail. They want the inmate set free as well as $250,000 cash. Pierre is now hounding Vashti for the money.”
“Did Pierre and Vashti get married?”
“Vashti has it on hold after finding out Pierre’s conniving scheme to kill Middlebrooks; she feels caught in the middle,” Hermoth said.
“I can’t wait to get my copy,” Pamela said. “And, Hermoth, I know I give you a hard time, but you’re a great big sister. Take care of Papa. I hope to see you soon.”
“Bye, Pamela. I love you,” Hermoth said.
Every good poem begins as the poet’s but ends as the reader’s.
– Miller Williams –
Shirley and her friends were watching the news channel on her laptop. As she was about to turn the live feed off, a breaking news alert flashed on the screen. Shirley turned the volume up. They all fell silent as they listened to the reporter give the update: Our station manager received a disturbing phone call from a man who identified himself as Hal Kemp. Hal Kemp left a message and I quote: “You people want some real news, well, I have some real news for you. Meet me at 302 Rosy Lane, 27 Dixie St., 49 Cumbersome Rd, and 1421 Stonehurst Rd. I’ll have some real news for you. Don’t even contact the police as they are a sorry excuse for a department.” End of quote. Whether this is a hoax or not, stay tuned to find out.
“Oh, my goodness!” Shirley exclaimed. “Forty-nine Cumbersome Rd. That’s our address! Let me call Doug.” Thirty seconds later, she was off the phone again. “He says to stay put,” Shirley said after she hung up the phone. “They have not heard anything else from Hal Kemp. He’s going to call Chief Bartlett and call me right back.”
The ladies turned their eyes back to their writing pads but kept their ears on the news and waited anxiously for another update. Within five minutes, the same reporter came on again.
A lone gunman, whom we assume is Hal Kemp, has opened fire at 27 Dixie St. The house’s front windows have been shattered. Kemp entered the house randomly firing his gun. Thank God no one was home. Based on the disturbing phone call our station manager received earlier, our crew was already at this address. The police have been notified; they are on their way. We have dispatched other news reporters to the other three locations. To which one he’s headed next, we can only guess. Stay tuned.
Shirley’s phone rang. “Shirley, are you still at the cafe?” her husband asked.
“You and the children stay there. Chief Bartlett just received a phone call from Hal Kemp. He’s headed towards one of the other residences. He just fired rounds of bullets through Boise’s house. Thank God his family was already out of the house. Chief Bartlett has sent officers out to the other locations. Bye. Got to go. I have to go in early as the department can use all the help they can get at this time. Love you now.”
“Doug, be careful. Love you,” Shirley said.
The ladies turned their full attention to the news. Hal Kemp was successful in his attack on Stonehurst Rd. He shattered all the front windows of the house and did great damage to the family van parked in the driveway.
By the time the deranged gunman left his second stop en route to his third destination—Cumbersome Road—police officers, including Doug, were already in place there. Other officers were already at the Rosy Lane location.
Police cars were parked as road blocks on either side of Shirley and Doug’s house on Cumbersome Road. “We want to take him alive,” Chief Bartlett said. “Only fire if your life is in danger. The neighbors have already been alerted and they are out of harm’s way.”
Hal Kemp careened his black SUV up the street at full speed and slammed into the police cars blocking his path. He backed up, then slammed into the cars again and again. Making a quick left turn, he drove on to the neighbor’s lawn, knocking the mailbox down in the process. Parking his SUV before the front door of the house, he rolled his window down and started shooting.
Doug and his fellow officers hid behind the other parked cars with guns in hand. Chief Bartlett spoke over the bullhorn ordering Hal Kemp to put his weapon down but to no avail. Doug and another officer shot holes in the tires of his SUV. Hal Kemp jumped out of the SUV and ran into the house having blown the lock off the front door. Positioning himself by one of the upstairs windows he fired round after round of bullets at the police officers and the police cars.
“We’ll wait him out,” Chief Bartlett said to his men. “Hold your fire.”
The stand-off lasted an hour. They heard shots fired at random inside the house as Hal Kemp moved from room to room.
Shirley and the others watched as another reporter brought the incident to them live.
It has been revealed that Hal Kemp is the husband, father, and only survivor of the family that underwent that horrendous Christmas Day shooting last year. It seems he is still angry and has decided to take matters into his own hands. Stay tuned.
“There’s Doug,” Hermoth said pointing to the screen as the cameraman zeroed in on the officers crouching behind the police cars.
“Thank God he’s safe,” Shirley said.
A physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted Hal Kemp, having used up all his bullets, stumbled out the front door holding his head in his hands, bawling. “I lost them! I lost the only people I ever loved! There’s no need for me to live any longer.” With slumped shoulders, he allowed two of the officers to place handcuffs on him and quietly lead him into one of their vehicles.
Shirley and her friends said a quiet prayer for him before disbanding.
Nikki and Clara Bow met up at Shirley’s house the following evening to help her clean up the damage. Hermoth joined them later in the evening.
“Thank God all this can be replaced,” Shirley said as she picked up a shattered picture of the family that had been shot down from the wall. “It’s the memories that count.”
“The most important things were saved — you, Doug, and the children,” Nikki said. “That’s all that matters.”
“I can understand Hal Kemp’s anger; he only wants justice. And I guess we are all like that to some degree,” Hermoth said. “We want righted what has been wronged against us.”
“But to take it out on the police who answered your 9-1-1 call, placing themselves in danger to protect you — I cannot understand that,” Clara Bow said. “Have they even caught the murderer yet?”
“No, not yet,” Shirley said shaking her head. “By the way, how’s your father doing, Hermoth?”
Hermoth let out a long sigh. “He’s getting worse and rapidly. I hate to do this, but I’m left with no other choice: I’m going to have to either hire someone to keep an eye on him during the hours I can’t be with him, or place him in the Covenant Place senior community center across town. I’m leaning more toward the latter.”
“I’ve seen the Covenant Place ad run on television,” Nikki said. “It seems like a great place to spend one’s last years.”
“I’ve read some good reviews about it online,” Hermoth said. “I stopped by there a while back and they offer a choice of apartments including full bath with kitchenettes, plus trained staff 24-hours a day, licensed vocational nurses, individualized care plans, recreational activities planned by an activity director, weekly housekeeping, and laundry services, transportation, and a bunch of other things. The plus for me is, he’ll have someone to interact with during the daytime and at nights as well.”
“That sounds like a winner,” Shirley said.
“From an article I read, researchers concluded that Alzheimer’s patients need to be around other people. Right now, he’s home by himself all day. After he wandered off, I got scared as to what he’ll do next. Of course, I’ll continue taking him to all church activities including Sunday services and other social events around town,” Hermoth said.
“We’ll certainly be praying that all works out well,” Clara Bow said.
The friends met again the following Tuesday for their weekly get-together. It was a memorable time as each put the finishing touches on their manuscript and discussed future plans.
“Have you sent off your manuscript yet, Clara Bow?” Nikki asked.
“I sure did, but come to find out, both publishing companies I sent it to were going out of business. I was surprised being that I had just spoken with one of the editors less than a month ago, so I’m still seeking out new places to submit it to,” Clara Bow said.
“Some of these companies cannot keep up with the fast pace at which the publishing world is moving,” Hermoth said. “Print-on-demand has taken over; now we have ebooks that are becoming more and more popular.”
“You’re right,” Shirley said. “Who would want to tote around three or four printed books when they can read it off their electronic device that weighs less than half a pound. Thousands of books are on that little device, and I can tap into any book I want—fiction or nonfiction—at the press of a few buttons.”
“Even better, what writer would want hundreds of his book just sitting in a warehouse somewhere waiting for his books to sell when he can have his book printed as it is ordered?” Hermoth said. “The internet age is putting a lot of bookstores, libraries, and printing companies out of business. I’ve been thinking and praying about this: what do you all think of the four of us starting our own publishing company? We already have a name: Sister Soul Scribes. I’ve been reading up on it and looking into some things. I would think all we’d need is a few interior design programs and a graphic design program. Clara Bow, you’re good at that.”
“That’s right down my alley,” Clara Bow said. “Keep on talking. I’m already seeing the vision. We can begin with my Missing Moms book.”
“How will we get physical books printed?” Nikki asked. “That kind of equipment must cost a lot of money.”
“I’ve been looking into all that,” Hermoth said. “Once we’re satisfied with our proof-reading and editing, and have the book sized down and type-set to specification, we send it off to a print-on-demand company; they’ll take care of that aspect for us.”
“What about shipping the books out?” Shirley asked.
“They’ll take care of that for us. We’ll get a printer that’s hooked up with Amazon. I’m still looking into how it all works,” Hermoth said.
“How much money are we talking here?” Shirley asked. “Those printers are not going to do all that work for free.”
“That’s right,” Hermoth said. “We will pay them a low cost per book to get the books printed as well as the shipping and handling cost.”
Hermoth tapped a few keys to bring up a publishing website. They scanned the pages. “Proofreading, editing, typesetting, cover design. Printing and shipping charges are separate. I don’t see how they can stay in business; look at how much they are charging. We lower our prices and we will be in business. Do you see where I’m going?” Shirley, Nikki, and Clara Bow nodded their heads as they read along with Hermoth. “We still have a lot of reading and research to do on this new venture, but I believe it will be an exciting one. If it takes off, I’ll quit my job. So, are you three with me on this?”
“Count me in,” Clara Bow said.
“Me, too,” Shirley said.
“This is going to be so exciting. I can’t wait to share it with Raphael,” Nikki said.
“That’s a vanity press,” Hermoth said to Shirley after Shirley asked her about a particular publisher at their next meeting. “All they do is charge you a lot of money to publish your book, and then they leave you to do the rest. You have to promote it yourself. Look at that.” Hermoth pointed to a number on the screen. “They won’t print less than 300 books. And look how much they are charging: $3500.00. That’s a rip-off. Stay away from them or you’ll end up with books stacked up on your bedroom floor.”
“If Clara Bow hasn’t gotten a publisher yet with as many hooks she’s placed out there, who’s to say I’ll get one anytime soon?” Shirley said. “Where is she anyway?”
“Beats me,” Nikki said. “Whenever she turns up late, she normally has great news to share with us. Let me give her a call.”
“Shirley, we’re going to bypass the middle man, the agent, and submit our books directly to the publisher. I have a Christian publishing company in mind. I ran across them a couple days back. Their prices are up there with the rest, but they offer you a choice of three payment plans. They are hooked up with Amazon and once you get into their system, they print your book as customers order it. They also offer you so much more: free ads, two cover designs to choose from, five free books, plus, you keep the copyright to your book.” Hermoth pulled up the website for them to look at.
“What’s up with Clara Bow?” Shirley asked after Nikki got off the phone.
“She is mad. Said something about a classmate stealing her book. She couldn’t talk, but she’ll be on her way as soon as she wraps up her meeting with her professor,” Nikki said.
“Okay, we’ll just wait until she gets here then,” Hermoth said. Turning her attention back to the website, she said, “I’m looking at payment plan C for myself.”
“That seems the less stressful one for me to handle financially, especially with the repairs still being done on the house,” Shirley said. “Let me talk with Doug first to see which one we can comfortably afford.”
“Say, Nikki, we haven’t heard anything about Lanitra, the immigrant girl from India,” Shirley said.
“I’ve been working on another book,” Nikki said with a smile. “I want to surprise you all with it. That’s why I have not said anything. Give me a couple more weeks.”
“Okay. I can’t wait to read it,” Shirley and Hermoth said.
“I’ve read what I have already written to Raphael, and he believes I have something that will be worth reading.”
“Here you go,” Raphael said handing Nikki a hot cup of coffee. “How’s your new book coming along? Lanitra is it?”
“Thank you,” Nikki said taking her cup of coffee and taking a few sips. “The new book is coming along fine, but it’s not Lanitra.”
“Oh, shucks! I got attached to Lanitra. What happened to her?”
“I sent her back to India. She’s having a hard time blending into the American school system,” Nikki said with a giggle.
“Oh, man. I was hoping she would make it. I thought for sure the twins would have a friend for life as you write other books about Lanitra,” Raphael said. With a laugh, he added, “You’re the only writer I know who gets rid of her characters before they get to chapter ten.”
“I’m the only writer—well, aspiring writer—that you know,” she said hitting him on the shoulder with her notepad. “I may raise some of those characters from the dead in the future. Right now I have some new characters—four of them—who I think you and my readers are going to love.”
“Introduce them to me,” Raphael said taking a couple sips of his coffee as he stretched his legs out in front of him.
“See, these four ladies, whose paths crossed in an unusual way, developed a friendship that lasted for their entire lives. They know each other’s weaknesses and strengths; they shed tears with and for each other; they laugh with and at each other; they share a bond that could not be broken; all four share the same passion and that’s what drew them together.”
“Go on,” Raphael said as Nikki paused. She had a contemplative look on her face.
“I’ll tell you more about it later; I’m about to shed some tears,” Nikki said.
Raphael placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder giving it an affectionate squeeze. “I can’t wait to read it; I believe you have something that will be worth reading,” he said. “Do you want me to wait around and drop the girls off at school this morning so you can keep on writing?”
“Thanks for the offer, but you go on ahead; I’ll take care of the girls,” Nikki said giving her husband a hug.
“I can’t wait to read it,” Hermoth said. “We knew you could do it.”
“Here comes Clara Bow,” Shirley said. “She looks mad as a bull.”
A classic is classic . . . because of a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness.
– Ezra Pound –
The friends watched Clara Bow as she approached their table.
“Good morning, Clara Bow,” they said as she pulled her chair out and sat down.
“There is absolutely nothing good about this morning,” Clara Bow said. “And after I tell you what has taken place, I think all of you will agree with me.”
Shirley poured Clara Bow some coffee. They waited while Clara Bow added milk and sugar and drank the entire cup of coffee down all at once. She reached into her laptop carry-bag and pulled out a book, which she slammed down on the table.
“This is what I am so mad about,” she said.
“The Missing Mother, by Marla Aglaeca,” Nikki read. “That’s the book I was telling you about. What’s so upsetting about this book?”
“The ‘author’,” —here Clara Bow made air quotes— “Marla Aglaeca, was one of the students in my creative writing class. She is lazy, lacks self-confidence, always turns in her work late; frankly, she’s a wanna-be writer. She stole my manuscript and had it printed and then had the audacity to put her name on the cover as its author,” Clara Bow said.
“And that’s not all. She had the gall to sign a copy with a note that says … read it for me, Nikki. I do not even want to read it again. It’s right on the introduction page.”
“Thanks for everything. You’ve been a great friend,” Nikki read.
“Thanks for everything. You’ve been a great friend,” Clara Bow repeated sarcastically. “Thanks for leaving your manuscript out so I could steal it is what she really should have written. You’ve been a great friend. No, I’ve been too great a friend.”
“How could she steal it?” Nikki asked.
“Remember when I had the little get-together at my place the last day of class when I invited all my classmates? I left my Missing Moms manuscript with the cover letter to the publishers on the side table next to the couch. I was doing a final reading after incorporating the suggestions you all had given me including comments made by the police chief. After everyone left, I could not find it. I did not think for one second that any of them stole it. But one of them did: Marla. Now I know why she left so suddenly.”
“How did you get a signed copy?”
“When I came home yesterday it was lying between my front door and the screen door—hot off the press. The one I pre-ordered has not arrived yet. This just makes me so angry!” Clara Bow said.
Hermoth flipped to the acknowledgements page and started reading. “Listen to this, Clara Bow: ‘A special thank you to my very best friend Clara Bow Wilson.’ She misspelled friend. ‘Thank you for making the printing of this book a reality.’”
“I know she didn’t!” Clara Bow said taking the book and reading it for herself. “She did! I did not even read this page. Hermoth, she kicked your name off and replaced it with someone else’s. She left Shirley’s and Nikki’s and some others. She kicked off a few more.”
Taking the book back, Hermoth read the introduction. “Seems like she rewrote the introduction. This does not sound like your writing, Clara Bow. You have a certain way with your words. On top of that,” Hermoth said, “run-on sentences, comma splices. Did she take English before taking your class?”
“She was in too much of a rush to retype the whole book and get it printed before I discovered it was missing, she probably didn’t have time to proofread it. The book is full of misspellings and other grammatical errors,” Clara Bow said.
“Did she make any other changes?” Shirley asked.
“Yes. I stayed up all night reading the book and blowing steam at the turn of every page. She changed the names of all the characters and reworded a sentence here and there. I originally had twenty-four chapters; she split the chapters and now it is forty-eight chapters. She changed the description of some of the characters but was not consistent with it throughout. Look at page twenty-four. This Donna, which is Mayzie Dawkins, has freckles. Now look at page sixty-seven; Mayzie Dawkins has a blemish-free face. And there’s a bunch more. She’s mutilated my book, and she’s going to pay—severely,” Clara Bow said.
“What are you going to do?” Nikki asked.
“I’m going to take her through the ringer for all she’s worth; I’m going to sue her.”
“Sue her?” her friends exclaimed.
“Sue who?” Tamron said walking up with a fresh pot of coffee.
“Hi, Tamron,” the friends greeted their waitress.
“Whatever it is, I didn’t do it,” Tamron said with a smile.
“A classmate stole Clara Bow’s new book, had it printed, and then placed her name on it as the author,” Hermoth said showing the book to Tamron.
Putting the coffee pot down, Tamron flipped through the pages of the book. “I remember you all discussing this book. I didn’t even know you could steal an entire book. Whoever did this ought to be put in jail and whatever money she received from it ought to go to you,” Tamron said.
“You got that right,” Clara Bow said. “I even had you in the book playing a major part.”
“Sue her then,” Tamron said.
“Yes. I’m going to sue the pants or the dress off her whatever the case may be. All that hard work I put into it, even endangering my life to add some real life suspense to it. I’m not going to let her get off easily. What she did is the height of plagiarism.”
“How are you going to prove this was your original work?” Tamron asked.
“All four of you will be my witnesses. You all heard me talk about the book; you all read it and gave suggestions; you saw the picture; you know about the dinner date I had with Mylo Easton to prove my theory. My next set of witnesses will be the police chief and a couple others on the force. Plus, I have the original on my computer. You all will be my witnesses in court, won’t you?” Clara Bow said looking from one face to the next. She was answered with slowly nodding heads.
“I was late getting here because I took the book to my professor … oh, he’s another witness for sure. Anyway, he could not believe it when I showed him. But,” Clara Bow said with a laugh, “he showed me her end of the year book project that she turned in; it was a mess. Red ink was all over the pages. He said she really deserved a fifty and below, but because she completed the course, he gave her a sixty-nine—and he was being generous.”
“I’m curious, how did she get it printed so fast? I thought it took several months to get a book printed,” Tamron asked.
“She probably used what they call a vanity press. Today there are so many options to get a book printed that it’s not even funny. They can be expensive, and you have to print a certain number of books. I heard that most times you get stuck with a lot of those books laying on your living room floor,” Hermoth said.
“Have you spoken with Marla at all?” Nikki asked.
“I tried calling her all morning, but I kept getting her voice mail. She probably recognized my number and refused to answer,” Clara Bow said. A smile crossed her lips. “Can one of you please lend me your phone?”
“You can use mine,” Nikki said.
“If you ladies will excuse me,” Tamron said, “I have customers to tend to. Let me know how everything turns out.”
Just as Clara Bow suspected, Marla picked up on the first ring. “Hello, Marla. This is Clara Bow. Please don’t hang up. I’ve been trying to reach you all morning. Anyway, I did get the book you dropped off. Now you know that is not your book. That’s my book. You know what you did and when you did it. You stole my manuscript the evening I had the class over. I could not find it after that . . . Yes, I read the introduction that you rewrote . . . You did rewrite it because it does not even fit the storyline! I can prove it is my book because in the acknowledgements you left the names of two of my friends who proofread the book and they do not even know you; they have never met you. I’m going to take you to court for this. Marla? Marla? She hung up,” Clara Bow said as she handed the phone back to Nikki.
Her friends remained quiet.
“You know,” Nikki said, “I think you ought to just let it go.”
“Let it go! No, I can’t just let it go,” Clara Bow said. “I put my heart into that story! That book could sell in the millions. I would hate to think she’s spending my millions.”
Her friends laughed.
“Well, you don’t want to act rashly,” Hermoth said. “Pull up the printer; Lagoon is the name. Just as I thought. Look how expensive they are. You have to print at least 500 books. Marla probably paid them her last dollars to get 500 books printed. Her house is probably covered with the 500 books that she has no idea how she’s going to sell. It says right here that customers are responsible for their own promotional work. By the way, that’s an ugly cover.”
“Let that be punishment enough for her,” Nikki said. “I’m sure she’s feeling guilty as it is.”
“You know the Bible does talk of heaping coals of fire on somebody’s head. That means you do good to someone who does you wrong. That will convict them more than you trying to get back at them,” Shirley said.
“Mmm. I don’t know about all that. You know how much work I put into it,” Clara Bow said.
“You’re a Christian now, Clara Bow. Do it for Jesus,” Hermoth said handing her her phone. “Ask yourself, What would Jesus do?”
“Okay,” Clara Bow said reluctantly taking Hermoth’s phone. She dialed Marla’s number.
“Marla, please do not hang up. I’m sorry for speaking to you so harshly. I wish you all the best in your writing endeavors . . . Yes, Marla. Thanks for recognizing me in the acknowledgements. Good bye, Marla. Have a great day.”
“Now, don’t you feel better?” Hermoth said.
Clara Bow shrugged.
“Don’t worry about a thing. God will open up many doors for you because you did the right thing,” Nikki said.
Wanting to change the subject, Clara Bow said, “I believe we have enough time to find out what happened to your character, Shirley.”
“Rhetta’s night is filled with terror as she tries to anticipate her stalker’s next move,” Shirley said. “She tried calling her fiance again, but ended up leaving another message.”
“Stanley, I’m trapped in the building. Someone’s stalking me. I know we’re at odds with each other, but this is no hoax. I’ve been locked up in my office for the past three hours. It’s now 8.54. I beg you, please come by with the police. They came before but the stalker posed as the security guard and told them I had already left. My car is still parked in the parking lot. Oh, no! I hear footsteps.”
Rhetta’s hand trembled as she clicked the ‘off’ button. She barely breathed as she heard the footsteps getting closer. The light was still out in the hallway.
Think, Rhetta. Think. Kicking her shoes off, she picked up her desk lamp and hid behind the door, poised with lamp held above her head.
“Rhetta, I’m coming in,” the raspy voice said.
She heard jiggling of the lock followed by a click. Her eyes widened as the door slowly swung open. The intruder stepped just inside the door. “Rhetta, I’m inside,” he said. Using all her might, Rhetta came down as forcibly as she could with the butt of the lamp on his head as he took a single step into the room. The lamp grazed the side of his head and slammed down on his shoulder.
“Aagh!” the intruder said as he fell to the floor.
Rhetta seized that opportunity to run through the opened door and slamming the door shut behind her, she ran as fast as she could down the familiar hallway. A few of the offices that still had their lights on helped light the hallway.
The elevator; I must get to the elevator!
As she turned left, she glanced quickly over her shoulder to see the stalker coming down the hallway.
“Oh, no!” she uttered as she jumped into an open elevator. She pushed the ‘close door’ button. Nothing. Just as I thought; he jammed the door. Rhetta made a mad dash for the stairs thinking as she descended. At the third floor, she opened the door and made it slam shut to throw her stalker off. She continued her flight down to the second floor then to the first floor.
“Rhetta!” She shuddered as her name echoed down the stairway.
Stepping through the door onto the first floor, Rhetta dashed through the dark lobby past the receptionist’s desk and to the front door. She pushed on the bar across the glass front door.
“Oh, no!” It was locked.
Looking through the door, Rhetta saw two police cars with flashing lights and what looked like her fiance’s car driving across the parking lot. Their headlights cast their beams over the front door. Rhetta waved frantically. She heard hurried footsteps slowing down and the raspy voice call her name. Rhetta hurried behind the receptionist’s desk and crawled underneath pulling the swivel chair up close to her. The lights from the police cars flooded the lobby area.
“Rhetta, you should not have done that.”
Rhetta listened. She heard car doors slamming and within seconds she heard banging on the door and voices shouting out her name. Apparently the police had seen her waving through the glass door. She was afraid to move. Peering through the arms of the chair, she noticed the stalker hurrying off into the semi-darkness. She remained quiet, unsure of what to do. She jumped as shattered glass broke the silence.
“Rhetta! Rhetta! It’s the police. Shout if you can hear us.”
Rhetta pushed the swivel chair out of the way and rushed towards the officers who had already climbed through the door. They helped her through the broken glass door.
“Stanley!” Rhetta flew into her fiance’s arms.
Shirley closed up her manuscript.
“What are you doing?” they asked. “We want to know what happened to Rhetta an d her fiance. And we want to know who the stalker is.”
“That you will have to find out for yourself as I will be emailing you the completed manuscript to do a final proofreading for me before I submit it,” Shirley said. “By the way, I’ve decided to title it, Nightmare in Office 404. Is that alright?”
If one waits for the right time to come before writing, the right time never comes.
– James Russell Lowell –
“Doug and the children are still talking about the great time they had when you and your father came over for dinner on Saturday,” Shirley said to Hermoth.
“He enjoyed himself tremendously. I enjoyed myself as well,” Hermoth said.
“Hermoth’s father is a character,” Shirley said to Nikki and Clara Bow. “He had us laughing the entire time they were there. You could not tell he’s suffering from Alzheimer’s.”
“That was one of his sane days,” Hermoth said. “That’s one thing I’ll always remember him for. He has always been a jovial person. I’m having second thoughts about putting him in the senior community center at the Covenant Place across town, but I have no other option. I’m going to miss having him around. That’s one reason I’m seriously looking into starting this publishing company and quitting my job so I can keep him at home.”
“Well, at least you’ll be able to visit him whenever you want to,” Shirley said. “When was the last time you heard from your sister?”
“Last week. She’s been calling me more often since Papa came to live with me. One good thing that’s come out of his having Alzheimer’s is it’s drawing us closer together as a family. I believe she misses him,” Hermoth said. After a brief pause, Hermoth added, “It’s like he’s dying a slow death. I guess we’re kind of preparing for it; but can one ever prepare for death?”
“It’s one of those inevitabilities in life that you know is coming. You try to prepare for it, but when it comes, it still shocks you,” Nikki said.
“I thank God the blood of Jesus took care of death. ‘O death where is thy sting?’” Hermoth said. “Paul tells us in his letter of comfort to the Thessalonians, ‘But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.’”
“Amen,” Nikki and Shirley said in unison.
“Clara Bow, when the Bible speaks of sleep it is referring to death,” Shirley explained.
“I thank God that Papa is saved, so I look forward to meeting him in Heaven when the Lord does take him,” Hermoth said.
“Speaking of death, how has Vashti been faring since the death of your character, Dr. Justin Middlebrooks?” Clara Bow asked.
“She was shaken up when she heard of his death, especially since she’s feeling guilty knowing that she had married him for the wrong reason. She was beginning to grow fond of him. Anyway, Pierre is hounding her for money to pay off the murderer who’s hounding him.”
“Pierre, you got yourself into this mess. You went behind my back and tried to have Justin murdered. How could you break my trust like that?” Vashti said.
“That was all a part of the plan, wasn’t it? We had to get rid of him so you could have access to all the insurance money. That’s taken care of. Now we’re faced with a more important issue,” Pierre said. “The hitman is hounding me for money; he claims he killed Justin. He’s threatening to bring me before the judge if I don’t pay him something. He’ll tell the judge I planned the whole thing with the promise to pay him to carry out the murder as well as to get him out of jail.”
“You got yourself into that mess. I told you Justin was on his death bed and that he was on all kinds of medications and that he would die soon enough. Now I’m caught in the middle,” Vashti said.
“Look, Vashti, my career as a lawyer is on the line. If news gets out that I tried to bribe someone already in jail to murder Dr. Middlebrooks, I’ll end up in jail myself, then what kind of future will we have?” Pierre asked.
“We?” Vashti said. “I was willing to marry you before I knew you would orchestrate such a treacherous thing just to have some dollars in your pocket. Now I don’t know if you’re worth marrying.”
“Don’t you act all holy now. You were all for marrying Middlebrooks after his wife died. And remember you were his mistress while his wife was still alive. You don’t want me to bring that up again, do you? This time I may just say that you may have had something to do with Middlebrooks’ death,” Pierre said.
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“You can call it what you like,” Pierre said. “All I need from you is $50,000; that’s like asking for a dime compared to the one million dollars you received from his life insurance policy.”
An uncomfortable silence settled between them.
Since we’re engaged to be married the money will be mine as well, Pierre thought. I think we should have a courthouse marriage to expedite things. I wonder if Middlebrooks’ partner found the youth formula yet. If I could somehow prove that he was in on this scam with Middlebrooks and threaten him with a lump sum payment in exchange for my silence . . . .
I think I’ll call this wedding off before I get further entangled in this sticky web. Pierre is getting so money hungry I smell trouble up ahead. I’ll just change my identity: color my hair, plastic surgery, new wardrobe, move to Paris. I have the money to do all that now, Vashti thought.
An incoming phone call interrupted their thoughts. They looked at each other.
“I’m waiting to hear from my agent,” Hermoth said breaking into her reading.
“There’s an interesting piece of mail on the table for you,” Doug said to Shirley when she returned home after the meeting with her friends.
Shirley tore the envelope open after she saw the return address. “Oh, my goodness! It’s from Bethesda Publishers! They will be publishing my book. I can’t believe it.”
“This calls for a celebration,” Doug said giving her a tight hug. “Where would you like to go?”
“I’ll let you choose. You and the children have been very patient with me while I worked on Nightmare in Office 404,” Shirley said. “You even gave me the title. I have to call Nikki and the others now! I can’t wait until Tuesday,” Shirley said picking up her cell phone.
Shirley and her friends were so excited as they chatted.
“Congratulations!” Nikki said. “I’m so happy for you.”
“I knew you could do it,” Clara Bow said.
“Amen and amen again!” Hermoth said. “All that hard work has paid off.”
“It was worth it all. You ladies will be the first to get a signed copy,” Shirley told her friends.
* * * * *
Hermoth pulled up in her driveway. She leaned her head back against the car seat. It had been a rough day on the job. I wonder what surprise Papa has for me this evening, she thought as she closed her eyes to unwind for a few minutes.
“Lord, You know I would much rather keep him with me, but I do not know what to expect from one day to the next. He seems to be deteriorating faster than I anticipated. I have three weeks of vacation time saved up. I think I am going to put in for it and spend it with him before taking him to the Covenant Place. Those three weeks will allow me time to observe him more closely and to begin work on my next book, The Sun Sets Slowly: Living With a Relative Who Has Alzheimer’s.”
Hermoth opened her eyes at the sound of the slamming of the front door. It was her father. He walked across the lawn oblivious to her parked car. Hermoth observed him as he crossed the road then walked across the neighbor’s lawn. He rang the neighbor’s door bell, waved at her when she answered the door, then retraced his steps and went back into the house.
What in the world is he doing? Hermoth thought as she opened her car door. Before she could get out the car, he repeated the same actions.
Interesting, Hermoth thought as she rang her neighbor’s doorbell. “Hi, Mrs. Spencer. Has my father been bothering you again? I just came in from work and was sitting in my car when I saw him walk over and ring your doorbell twice.”
“Oh, no, he hasn’t been bothering us at all. He did it earlier this morning and then just now. I thought at first that maybe something was wrong so I checked on him, but all seemed well. But, no, he hasn’t been a bother at all.”
“I apologize for him disturbing you–”
“No need to apologize. I’m just glad he’s safe,” Mrs. Spencer said.
Hermoth said goodbye. She picked up her mail from her mailbox before entering the house. After locking the door, she turned around to see her father with his cap on his head and his jacket on.
Whew! I made it home just in time, she thought as she greeted her father. “Papa, you’re all dressed up. Do you have a date?” She took her father by the arm and led him into the kitchen where she could keep an eye on him.
“I just spoke with Mrs. Spencer. Seems you’ve had a busy day visiting,” Hermoth said.
Her father allowed her to lead him to the chair where he sat staring at her as she prepared the evening meal.
“Who are you?” he eventually asked. “You’re in the wrong house. That’s okay. You don’t have a place. You can stand there.” He smiled as though waiting for a response.
Hermoth tried to carry on a decent conversation with her father. While the food simmered, she joined him at the table where she flipped through the pieces of mail. One envelope immediately stood out to her. She quickly tore it open and read it aloud:
Thank you for sending me your updated manuscript. I sent it to another publisher—Cross Publishing Company. They are ready to begin the print work on your book. Congratulations!
Please send me your fully revised copy as you mentioned in your last correspondence. Looking forward to completing this project with you.
P.S. I am interested in your next book, The Sun Sets Slowly: Living With a Relative Who Has Alzheimer’s.
“Did you hear that, Papa? Cross Publishing will be publishing my book.” Hermoth gave her father a hug.
The four sister authors met on Saturday for a late lunch where they celebrated Shirley’s and Hermoth’s success and discussed upcoming projects.
“I’m serious about writing a novel based on the Christmas Day shooting,” Clara Bow said. “Do you think Doug would be willing to fill me in on the details?” she asked Shirley.
“He’d count it an honor,” Shirley replied.
“I was glancing through the book review section this past week,” Nikki said. “Your ‘friend’, Marla, her book has some bad reviews.”
“Oh, really,” Clara Bow said.
“Both reviews cited bad grammar, misspellings, and inconsistencies. It was terrible,” Nikki said. “I don’t think it’s going to do well at all.”
Clara Bow smiled. “I know I shouldn’t smile, but I gave her a call on Thursday and she did not want to talk. Now I know why. I called her to encourage her and to let her know I had no hard feelings towards her. I asked her how her book was selling and she evaded that question.”
“’Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ God says, and when He repays, He repays good,” Shirley said. “I can picture Marla sitting in the middle of her bedroom floor with a puzzled look on her face surrounded by books she has no idea how she’s going to get sold.”
The sisters giggled.
Tuesday morning found them at their regular meeting place at the Java Bistro Cafe.
“What are you so happy about?” Hermoth asked Clara Bow.
“This.” Clara Bow took an envelope out of her laptop case and after unfolding it she laid it on the table before her friends. Nikki read:
Clara Bow Wilson,
Congratulations! Welcome to the Time Magazine staff. Enclosed you will find a one year contract for freelance writing with our organization. If you accept the terms and conditions of this contract, please sign, date, and return it to us.
Clara Bow flashed the four-page contract before her friends. “This came in yesterday. I’ve already read the contract, and now . . . drum roll please . . . hold on to your hats, ladies . . . while I, Clara Bow Wilson, sign the contract before my three faithful witnesses: Shirley Kidd, Hermoth Reeding, and Nikki Rodriguez.”
“Four faithful witnesses,” Tamron said as she walked up with a small pitcher of milk and a fresh pot of coffee. “What’s the occasion?”
Tamron set the coffee pot on the table as Clara Bow shared with her the reason for the celebration.
“Congratulations!” Tamron said.
“And,” Clara Bow added, “Shirley and Hermoth will both be getting their books published.”
“Triple congratulations! This calls for an extra serving of apple turn-overs on me,” Tamron said. Turning to Nikki, Tamron asked, “How’s your book coming along?”
“I think I got it this time. Do you have time to listen to the first chapter. It’s the first draft so it might not read too smoothly.”
“Aw, don’t worry about that. Let me pull up a chair and you get to reading,” Tamron said.
Nikki cleared her throat and began reading:
It was miraculous how those four friends met and how their relationship blossomed over the years. One interest strengthened the sisterhood bond among them as they laughed with and at each other, cried with and for each other, offered encouragement in the midst of correcting each other, and walked with each other through the various vicissitudes of life. Nothing held them together stronger than the writer’s pen.
Nikki paused and looked up at her friends and each of them were trying to fight back tears of joy.
Meet Hannah Rexol, Sayra Knight, Carie Wilcox, and Nadine Rowland. After taking a sneak peek into their lives, you will agree that a four-fold cord is not easily broken—if it can ever be broken at all.
As Nikki laid her first sheet down, her friends erupted in applause.
“You got me hooked, keep reading,” Tamron said. “I’m curious, what’s the title?”
“The Writer’s Life,” Nikki said with a smile.
If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, please read the following:
1. Accept the fact that you are a sinner, and that you have broken God’s law. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 7:20: “For there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good, and sinneth not.” Romans 3:23 reads: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
2. Accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible states in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…”
3. Accept the fact that you are on the road to hell. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:28: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The Bible says in Revelation 21:8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”
4. Accept the fact that you cannot do anything to save yourself! The Bible states in Ephesians 2: 8, 9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
5. Accept the fact that God loves you more than you love yourself, and that He wants to save you from hell. Jesus Christ said in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
6. With these facts in mind, please repent of your sins, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and pray and ask Him to come into your heart and save you this very moment. The Bible states in the book of Romans 10:9, 13: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Dear friend, if you are willing to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, please pray with me this simple prayer: Heavenly Father, I realize that I am a sinner and that I have done some bad things in my life. For Jesus Christ sake, please forgive me of my sins. I now believe with all of my heart that Jesus Christ died for me, was buried, and rose again. Lord Jesus, please come into my heart and save my soul and change my life today. Amen.
If you believed in your heart that Jesus Christ died on the cross, was buried, and rose again, congratulations on doing the most important thing in life and that is accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour! For more information to help you grow in your newfound faith in Christ, go to GospelLightSociety.com and read “What To Do After You Enter Through the Door”. Jesus Christ said in John 10:9, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner, except for brief quotations included in a review of the book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.