A week after uncovering the secret of what really happened at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, history professor Matt Conroy was lying in a morgue with the back of his head blown off.
SFPD homicide inspector Tom McGuire, a long-time friend of Conroy’s, volunteers to assist the FBI in bringing the killer to justice. The FBI, however, is ordered to stand down for “national security” reasons.
They thought that would be the end of it. They were wrong.
Tom McGuire was not about to stand down. Not for anyone, not for any reason. That decision put him in the crosshairs of one of the world’s most secretive and dangerous organizations – an organization whose rich, powerful and ruthless members would stop at nothing to make sure their 140-year-old secret remained hidden.
Drawn into a labyrinth of conspiracies over a century old, Tom McGuire has just walked into his worst nightmare
"A first-rate thriller! Koller ratchets up the suspense in this fast-paced tale of history gone awry. Crisp writing and intricate plotting will keep you turning the pages."
The Martinez Gazette
"The Custer Conspiracy is a fast-paced crime novel, played against the backdrop of history, which races to its conclusion at a fever pitch. A must-read for fans of historical novels, with a conspiracy twist tossed in just for the fun of it."
Editor, Huron Plainsman
"Intriguing premise ..."
"Revealing a total mastery of the genre, author Dennis Koller has deftly crafted an inherently fascinating and original mystery that is a simply riveting read from cover to cover. While very highly recommended, especially for community library Mystery/Suspense collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of dedicated mystery buffs that "The Custer Conspiracy" is also available in a Kindle format ($6.99)."
Midwest Book Review
Other books in this genre:
14A Nobfiddler's Lane
Thursday, August 22nd 1889
Bill Sikes to Doctor J. Watson:
Hand-delivered by Urchin
Deer Docter Watsen
I am sure yule forgiv this intrushon inter your privat life, but I have come upon a situashon what you might be abel ter help with (or indeed, your pal Mister Holmes). As you knowe, I have lately been on the strayt and narrow after being a bit of a robber fer most of my lyfe, so have been involvd in doin some cleanin fer the gover ment. In fact, I have been cleanin the basement in the monument what is knowne as Big Ben. An while doin so I have come inter contact with a gentleman by the name of Mister Hannay.
Anyway, I will get to the point of this letter: Mister Hannay is a writer what is interested in writin crim books and books about villins an that, an he was arskin me what I thought about stuff. Well, whil we was talkin, he arsked how many steps there was up to the tower, so I said there were about four undred.
He was a bit upset at this and said 'So, not thirty-nine, then?'
'No,' said I.
'Bugger,' said he.
Anyway, then he said he would have ter go and I watched him goin off down the streete. Then I appened ter notice that two surly-lookin fellers was followin him, so I hurried on down and catched up with him and took him inter a nearby pub.
The long and the short and the tall of it, Docter, is that Mister Hannay needs your help. I have enclosed the address at where he is stayin and have told him to expect you shortly.
I ope this were alright.
Saturday, August 24th 1889
To Sherlock Holmes Esq. from Doctor Watson
As you appear to be ignoring my messages, I have taken it upon myself to investigate the matter I brought to your attention the other day. Since our old pal Bill Sikes is unwilling to inveigle himself any further in the affair, I sent a telegram to 'The Uphill Gardener' (a public house of dubious repute) arranging to meet with Mr Hannay and attempt some sort of intervention.
When I arrived at the aforementioned hostelry last evening, I alighted from my Hansom in a flurry of excitement. I hasten to say the excitement was not of my doing, but created by a group of young apprentices in the midst of a series of strange tasks: some bigwig by the name of Lord Shagger had demanded they ascertain the cost of performing an appendectomy on the cheap. Identifying me as a physician by my Gladstone bag, the rabble pinned me to the wall and fired a barrage of questions regarding surgical cuts etc. I whipped out my trusty revolver, prompting the youths to back off, at which point they spotted that old fiend Dr Knox across the road (still on the run concerning that body-snatching business), and set off after him.
Finally free of the fray, I scurried into the public house and located the property owner. He glanced around nervously and bade me make haste to an upstairs room where I found our client, Richard Hannay.
'Where's Sherlock Holmes?' said he, with what I deduced to be an unhelpful degree of resentment.
I explained how Mr Holmes was engaged on another matter, but that I would do all I could to help. At this, he crumpled in a heap on the fireside rug and began to sob loudly. Feeling somewhat embarrassed at this show of unmanliness, I determined to explore my feminine side and knelt down beside him. Slipping an arm around his shoulder I must admit I found the experience of human contact rather comforting (as you know, Mrs Watson has been somewhat distant lately, following her fling with that Italian ice cream seller).
It transpires that Hannay cannot return to his own flat as one of his admirers is tormenting him with threats of libel etc. (I use this term loosely, since his melodramatic plots are completely ridiculous and unlikely to provoke anything other than utter boredom). However, I persuaded him that it was foolish to stay away from his own home and we should go there at once to face whoever (or whatever) awaits us.
In the end, I only managed to convince the man after showing him my trusty weapon. His eyes lit up on seeing it, and he begged me to let him touch it. I agreed to this, since I didn't see any harm in letting him feel its solid shaft and hair trigger, so long as the damn thing didn't go off in his hand!
Thus empowered, he became considerably animated and minutes later, we hailed a cab and set off for his apartment. Had I known what lurked in the shadows of that deadly spot, I might have taken more notice of Hannay's concerns.
To be continued
Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Flat 14, Windemere Mansions
Later the same day...
It was dark when Hannay and I arrived at his apartment. My companion’s initial enthusiasm (spurred by the knowledge of the gun in my pocket), had by this time dissipated somewhat. He began to display signs of anxiety; sweating profusely from every pore, an inability to get his key in the lock, visibly starting at the click of the light switch etc. I made myself useful by making a pot of tea while he hurried to the window and drew the curtains.
I busied myself in the kitchen and was a little disappointed to discover there were no Custard Creams. When I returned, Hannay had not moved from his position by the window.
'Here we are, old bean,' I said, handing him a mug of Darjeeling. 'This’ll perk you up.'
Holding the edge of the curtain open, he took the cup and stared at me for a moment, then his gaze moved back to the street outside. 'They’re back again, see?' He turned to me, a look of utter fright in his eyes. 'What the devil can they want?'
I shrugged and peered over his shoulder. In the street below, two rather iffy-looking men were standing by a telephone box, gazing up at the flat. I determined to put a brave face on it: 'Looks perfectly innocent to me – just a couple of chaps having a quiet smoke.'
Hannay shook his head. 'No, they’re after my plot.'
I blinked. 'Your what?'
'My plot,' said he. 'They want to steal The 39 Steps.'
I considered this for a long moment, debating the consequences of such a proposition. 'Sorry, what?'
He uttered a low moaning sound that hinted at his current mental state. 'Watson! Don’t you get it? It’s all about my book – The 39 Steps. They want to steal the plot.'
I began to experience a growing sensation of annoyance. 'What, you mean this isn’t about some international spy ring?'
'Spy ring? God no, it’s much, much worse.'
My blood ran cold. 'You mean - they’re writers?'
'Of course they’re bloody writers, damn it. Ever since I came up with a cracking good idea for my new novel, everyone’s been after it.'
I sighed. 'You’re an idiot. Sorry Hannay, but I’m going home.' I began to put on my socks and string vest. However, a knock at the door startled us both. 'Who the fuck’s that?'
'It’s them!' screamed Hannay, 'they’re going to kill me.'
I pulled on my trousers. 'Don’t be ridiculous. It’s probably just someone who’s lost their way and seeking directions.' I hastened to the door and pulled it open.
Standing before us was a moustachioed man wearing a frock coat. He leaned forward slightly and muttered, 'Ostovich.'
'What?' I said. But our visitor spake no more. He pitched forward and fell in a heap on the floor. And that’s when I noticed the knife in his back.
There was little need to check the man’s vital signs, but I went through the motions nevertheless. Given my companion’s somewhat heightened sense of terror, I decided to break the news to him as gently as possible:
'He’s snuffed it.'
'My God! I’m next!' Hannay’s hands flew to his face, cupping those rosy cheeks in a girlish manner that put me in mind of my own dear wife and the ‘swooning maiden’ act she sometimes adopts whenever I ask her to iron my longjohns.
'We must fetch Sherlock Holmes,' he cried, tugging at my lapel. 'Only he can save us.'
I brushed him aside. 'Don’t be such a nancy-boy, Hannay. Pull yourself together.' I checked through the dead man’s pockets and found two items: a picture postcard of some obscure Scottish village and a small white card displaying a silhouette of a man and the slogan ‘Scudder’s Marital Aids’. Slipping both articles into my pocket, I stood up. 'His name’s Scudder and judging from his business card I don’t believe him to be involved in creative writing. Now, Hannay, this is very important – the word he uttered before he fell…'
Hannay clenched his hands. 'I thought he was asking for the Post Office.'
I shook my head. 'No, that’s meaningless. I'm certain the word was ‘Ostovich’, which is obviously Russian. This man is a secret agent.'
'But what’s that got to do with me?'
I walked over to the window and retrieved my cup of tea. 'I think this has something to do with your writing, Hannay, but it’s also got something to do with spies.'
'But I don’t know anything about spying,' he wailed.
'Ah,' said I. 'And yet, in your recent novel ‘The Forger and the Gin-Juggler' you went into great detail about the process of creating false passports.'
'Oh, you read my books?' His manner changed abruptly and he began pawing at my chest like a lovesick pig.
'Indeed,' I muttered. I turned my face away lest he perceive my lying eyes. 'I didn’t like to say so before, but I’m rather fond of a good story and the depth of research that goes into your work might easily prompt a less intelligent casual reader to think you were involved in spying yourself.'
He shrugged. 'Actually, I make it all up, but I suppose it’s possible…'
'Not only possible, but highly likely. You said yourself someone was trying to steal your new novel.' I rubbed my chin the way I’ve seen Holmes do in such situations. 'I believe that the men who've been following you are enemy agents. Scudder here was obviously involved – perhaps he was a double agent. A triple agent, even.' I peeked through the curtains and noted with a grim nod that the two men at the phone box were still there. 'We have to leave.'
'And go where?'
At that precise moment in time I had no idea, but then a thought occurred to me. Pulling the postcard out of my pocket I studied the picture closely – it depicted a traditional Scottish village and the slogan ‘Frae Bonnie Scotland’. 'We need time to consider our next move,' I said, waving the card. 'We’ll catch the next train to Edinburgh and head for Newton Stewart – no-one will think of looking for us there.'
For over half a century, NASA has delivered a continuous stream of innovative accomplishments that have inspired the world. Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, the space shuttle pioneering reusable space planes, Mars rovers exploring the red planet--the list goes on. We read the stories and watch the footage, and as impossible as these achievements seem, NASA makes them look easy.
The most innovative organization in history, NASA holds an otherworldly mystique for those of us who look on in awe. But behind every one of NASA's amazing innovations lie carefully managed operations, just like any other organization.
Innovation the NASA Way provides practical, proven lessons that will help you envision the future of your organization with clarity, meet every challenge with tenacity, and manage innovation with groundbreaking creativity.
NASA insider Rod Pyle has used the agency's unique methods for driving innovation to train leaders from eBay, the Federal Reserve, Michelin tires, Conoco/Phillips, and many other Fortune 100 and 500 companies. now, for the first time, NASA's cutting-edge strategies for nurturing and fostering innovation are revealed.
Innovation the NASA Way takes you on a tour through the programs that pushed the envelope on the agency's leadership and managerial capacity. It describes the seemingly impossible tasks NASA personnel faced, explains how each challenge was met with forward-looking management methods, and describes the extraordinary innovations that resulted.
Learn how NASA built the Lunar Module, the first true spaceship; created the Saturn V's F-1 rocket motor, the most powerful ever built; and how it creates partnerships with the new players in space–private entrepreneurs. These are just a few of the projects covered in the book.
Space exploration may be NASA's mission, but its innovative leadership practices are founded on solid, down-to-earth methods anyone can apply, anywhere.
PRAISE FOR INNOVATION THE NASA WAY:
"Pyle insightfully and skillfully draws out the methods and strategies naSa has employed to achieve its lofty goals. It innovates so far outside the box that the box disappears. Pyle suggests its touchstones are boldness, daring, and passion, and he suggests you can bring those traits into your business." -- DON CAMBOU, executive Producer of History Channel's Modern Marvels
"Pyle highlights NASA's key innovation lessons and leaves you with amazing stories you'll want to remember and use in your organization." -- STEVEN FENTRESS, Planetarium Director at Rochester Museum & Science Center
"From building rocket engines to exploring Mars and beyond, Rod Pyle has written a very readable and eminently practical volume that documents the challenges, solutions, and lessons learned from NASA's storied history. To read it is to be inspired to recreate in today's challenging world NASA's daring, boldness and passion." -- STEVEN J. DICK, Former NASA Chief historian
"Fuel your inspiration with this fascinating book explaining the key lessons of NASA's innovation and exploration of space. Pyle's meaingful insights will improve your business." -- LUKAS VIGLIETTI, President, Swissapollo, Swiss Space Association
PROJECT ORION: WE COME IN PEACE (WITH NUCLEAR BOMBS!)
[DECLASSIFIED IN 1979]
It could have been just like the movies. Specifically, the soppy sci-fi melodramas of the 1950s, those humorless, grim-faced sagas of men (always white Americans), square-jawed and broad of shoulder, who faced that Great Unknown, outer space (cue the reverb) with stoicism and Yankee guts. The troupe of six to twelve individuals were usually clad in faded blue jumpsuits (probably because they were all of military bent, possibly US Air Force)—no space suits or helmets for these guys; worrying about decompression is for sissies. These were steely-eyed, anvil-chinned rocket men. The heroes would walk up a ramp or climb a ladder into the great, gleaming, cigar-shaped silver rocketship (a long-lost term widely used in the early 1950s) without assistance or fanfare—in that sunny postwar era, it took only a handful of servicemen and a few elderly scientists to launch a manned rocket. Once inside, the crewmen would close a submarine-style hatch, strap themselves into great steel chairs, take one last look around their girder-festooned, capacious cabin (1950s rocketship flight decks were the size of your average New York bachelor pad and built like battleships), nod silently to the eldest of the bunch (usually wearing colonel's eagles), who would then push the button. This was inevitably a large red push button, marked in true military parlance with something like "IGNITE ROCKETS" or more simply "FIRE!" and off they would go into the Wild Blue Yonder, while on the ground (in a similarly military posture, perhaps within a Quonset hut in New Mexico), a few worried guys in white lab coats watched a twelve-inch radar screen with a huge white dot ascending. A handful of servicemen usually stood nearby, looking vacuously at meaningless blinking lights dancing on their consoles. A single computer, the size of a small RV, would click and whir nearby. This was Space Command (or some other imagined, militarized NASA precursor) after all.
Upon reaching space, the colonel would grasp an ice cream cone–sized microphone cabled to the control panel, and as he looked in awe at a receding Earth on the giant "televisor" screen, he'd announce in dour tones, "This is spaceship X-1. We are in outer space." It was all very dramatic and thematically colorless. If you don't believe me, check out the classic 1950s cinematic space extravaganzas The Conquest of Space or Destination Moon, staples of the genre. Be sure to watch closely during the launch scenes, as the actors' faces are distorted by the horrifying, and as yet little understood, g-forces of launch. Within moments the 737-sized, single-stage craft was in space—no dawdling in orbit—heading in a straight line for the moon or Mars. It's all very humbling and fun, in a deadly serious fashion.
To be fair to the pioneering producers of these epic motion picture dramas, little was known of spaceflight before the 1960s, and sci-fi movie budgets were puny. Few movie studios took the genre seriously, and it's amazing that these innovative moviemakers pulled off what they did, given the general lack of respect these drive-in, Saturday matinee potboilers gained for them.2 But as we now know, the dramatic scenario outlined above is not exactly how human spaceflight turned out.
But it could have been.
The Apollo lunar landing program, initiated shortly after these types of films were made, mandated a different approach. NASA's moon rocket, Wernher von Braun's masterpiece, would be a multistage affair, operating right at the edge of its weight-lifting capability. NASA's first plan was to ascend directly to the moon, land, then, after a suitable period of exploration, return to Earth, shedding stages at appropriate junctures. But this brute-force methodology would have required a truly massive rocket (it was to be called Nova, and was much larger than its successor, the Saturn V), well beyond the means at hand. A bit more planning and a lot of innovative thinking resulted in the moon program we all remember, with the still-massive 363-foot Saturn V rocket propelling a tiny capsule and lander to the moon, of which only the thirteen-foot-wide capsule returned. It took hundreds of thousands of people to build it, thousands to launch and operate it, and somewhere north of twenty billion 1960s dollars to finance it. Apollo was a far cry from the rocketships of the movies.
But there were alternative plans for a massive, battleship-sized single-stage spacecraft that could have flown to the moon and beyond. In its ultimate form, this behemoth would have dwarfed the motion picture versions. A hundred or more crewmen, leaning back in space-age versions of Barcaloungers, would have departed Earth with enough fuel, life support, and supplies to reach the moon, Mars, or even Jupiter and Saturn within months. Once in space the crew would have unbelted themselves and had far more room to drift, eat, work, and sleep than the International Space Station and even most modern submarines offer. It would have been like a well-appointed office complex in space, a true space liner—this majestic craft could have unlocked the entire solar system to exploration within the decade. And best of all? It was atomic.
The massive spaceship was called Project Orion (no relation to the modern shuttle-replacing spacecraft beyond the cool name), and it would have been a nuclear-powered behemoth. Orion was first formally conceptualized in a 1955 study by Stanislaw Ulam, a Polish American mathematician who was part of the Manhattan Project in WWII, and Cornelius Everett, working from notions that Ulam had first pondered soon after WWII. Besides working on the bombs dropped on Japan, Ulam was, along with Edward Teller, a prime mover on America's first hydrogen bomb project. Soon after completing his work on H-bombs, Ulam formalized his thoughts about nuclear rocket propulsion. Other work was being done on atomic rockets, but was less dramatic—these projects involved superheating a fuel mass, such as liquid hydrogen, inside a fission reactor to eject it at high speeds out of the rocket nozzle. While much more efficient than the chemical rockets being designed by von Braun and others, it was not the massive leap in propulsion that would take humanity to the stars. Ulam had a different idea—nuclear pulse propulsion, which was not fully declassified until 1979.3 From the abstract:
Repeated nuclear explosions outside the body of a projectile are considered as providing means to accelerate such objects to velocities of the order of 106 cm/sec.4
Yes, that's right. Rather than fiddling around with rapidly expanding heated gasses with a nuclear reactor, Ulam took the most direct path to high energy release: nuclear explosions. Ulam had been mulling this over for more than a decade, reasoning that chemical rockets were terribly constrained by both the mass of the fuels and the temperatures at which they could realistically operate. Other proposals to detonate tiny nukes inside combustion chambers (one proposal suggested a chamber diameter of 130 feet, or almost four times the diameter of the Saturn V), while an improvement over chemical rockets, were deemed impractical, and did not offer a large enough increase in performance to impress Ulam. But what if the combustion chamber could be eliminated altogether and a small nuke simply detonated in open space? A percentage of the energy released by a reasonably sized nuclear explosion—not specified in the paper, but probably on the order of a half to one kiloton (about 10 percent that of the Hiroshima bomb)—would nudge a nearby spacecraft with propulsive force that, while brief, would be enormous.
Ulam characterized the spacecraft as an unmanned thirty-three-foot diameter, disk-shaped ship, with a mass of twelve to twenty tons. It would experience an acceleration of up to 10,000 g (the Apollo astronauts, riding atop the Saturn V, maxed out at just under 5 g, though the rocket was capable of more)—hence the unmanned nature of the design. Human occupants would have been turned into puddles of red jelly within moments. This robotic probe would carry dozens to hundreds of bombs, to be released at roughly one-second intervals (accompanied by a disk of plastic or container of water that would vaporize when the nuke ignited, to enhance the effect), and the resulting force of these continual explosions would propel the craft forward—right now.
Ulam was concerned about the heat impinging on the base of the craft, and suggested that a magnetic field might help to shield the spacecraft from the high-energy, one-millisecond flashes.
This was about as far as he got—it was a short study, but an intriguing one, and did not go unnoticed. In 1955 a new company called General Atomics was founded. It was a subdivision of General Dynamics, a huge defense contractor and builder of military submarines. General Atomics would specialize in efforts to harness the recently liberated power of the atom—in effect, their mission would be to find profit in nondestructive uses of atomic fission. The company became involved in a number of ventures, including a commercial nuclear reactor power generator, which was widely deployed. They also became interested in Ulam's classified paper (to which the chiefs of the company were apparently privy), and decided to pursue a serious study of the completely theoretical ideas within. Thus was born Project Orion, the nuclear pulse spaceship.
When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in South Africa’s brutal Robben Prison, he tirelessly turned to the poem Invicitus. The inspirational verse was by the Victorian William Ernest Henley, penned on the occasion of the amputation of his leg. Still I Rise takes its title from a work by Maya Angelou and it resonates with the same spirit of an unconquerable soul, a woman who is captain of her fate. Just as Invicitus brought solace to generations so does the contemporary classic. It embodies the strength of character of the women profiled. Each chapter will outline the fall and rise of great ladies who smashed all obstacles, rather than let all obstacles smash them. The book offers hope to those undergoing their own Sisyphean struggles. The intrepid women are the antithesis of the traditional damsels in distress; rather than waiting for the prince they took salvation into their own hands.
Women celebrated in the book include Madame C. J. Walker-first female American millionaire, Aung San Suu Kyi-Burma’s first lady of freedom, Betty Shabazz-civil rights activist, Nellie Sachs-Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize recipient, Selma Lagerlof-first woman Nobel Laureate, Fannie Lou Hamer-American voting rights activist, Bessie Coleman-first African-American female pilot, Wilma Randolph-first woman to win three gold medals, Sonia Sotomayor-first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, Wangari Maathai-Nobel Prize winner, Winnifred Mandela-freedom fighter, Lois Wilson-founder of Al-Anon, Roxanne Quimby-co-founder of Burt’s Bees.
From the Book:
"Still I Rise
Maya Angelou, 1928 - 2014
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Alex and Oliver live in worlds, poles apart; new worlds shaped by a terrible world war and the emerging freedoms of the Sixties. A killer stalks, and five people are drawn into the intrigue surrounding a serial murderer; a series of events set in the Seventies, influenced by the past… a string of events—a daisy chain.
Daisy Chain; an erotic thriller from the masterly pen of Mark Montgomery.
She asked the driver to turn around. Her cabbie could not drive fast enough to suit her. When she walked through the lobby of the Cinema 18, everyone was buzzing. She ran toward the crime scene but authorities had closed the hallway where she had been attacked. Her superhero had vanished.
Too late. Now what? Brandi’s hands were still shaking. Her palm felt cold against her forehead. Then, deep in thought, she was startled to hear a raspy male voice behind her.
“Brandi? Hi, my name’s Cody.”
She turned around. Her stomach, still in knots, leaped into her throat. His chiseled face was handsome in a home-on-the-range sort of way. His sculpted cheeks were partially masked by a rough-hewn beard — the obvious cover-up for scars visible through his whiskers. His nose had been broken at least once. This guy had been in some fights.
The Pirates cap he had worn earlier was now in his back pocket and his sandy blond hair wet around the sides. Did he know that his shirt had turned pink on the front? The blood spatters had faded together, partially washed off by heavy rains.
Was she face-to-face with a superhero? He was not as tall as she remembered. His fiery eyes that could have intimidated Lucifer earlier were now softer, like quiet blue waters. He offered his hand, but his shallow, forced smile told her he was not certain how she would respond. Was his shyness just an act?
Whew! His extended hand was attached to a massive forearm. His neck was wide and muscular, his body built to last, rough-cut from head to toe — a description that would make good print in her eyewitness report for the Gazette.
“I wanted to thank you,” Cody told her, “for savin’ my life earlier.”
She could hardly believe her ears. Was it a come-on? Was his voice naturally that raspy, or just a poor attempt to imitate Batman?
“You want to thank me? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?”
She extended her hand. It was cold and unsteady. Would he notice? His handshake was warm, ardent, but gentle — the same paw that had just mauled three professional tough guys. She tried to swallow her stomach back down into place but her mouth was too dry.
“Well, I would’ve been a sittin’ duck if you hadn’t deflected that guy’s arm. You showed presence of mind and courage.”
“Presence of mind and courage?” She snickered. “You mean for a girl?”
It was nearing dark, and the servants were lighting the torches while Godwine played chess with the King. They sat in Canute's favorite room—perfect for entertaining the early arrivals of the Yuletide celebration. Already, Earl Eric of Northumbria was present, tasting some of the breads at the sideboard. Tovi was in his usual place behind the King speaking quietly with two other Danes, and a musician was in the corner, plucking on a harp.
The door opened and Godwine, whose back was to the newcomer, concluded who it was from Canute's grimace. The sleek voice of Eadric Streona confirmed his guess. "Good even’, your grace. I hope you are well." All other voices in the room stopped.
Canute moved a piece, nodding an answer.
Two servants followed Eadric into the room, carrying a batch of firewood. For a moment, the sound of wood being stacked filled the silence. Then the servants left the room, bowing.
"And yourself, my Lord Eric?"
The Northumbrian Earl moved closer to the King, bending over the chess-board. "Considering the rare quiet within my earldom, I am content. And yourself, Eadric?"
Godwine heard the newcomer striding back and forth behind him. His concentration broken, the Saxon quickly turned around, watching Eadric rub his arms as though he needed more warmth. Godwine turned back to the board, but not before he noticed Eadric's mouth twitch.
"I could be better." Eadric’s tone brought Canute's head up questioningly. Godwine straightened in his seat but Canute caught his eye, nodding at the board. Eadric took a stick and poked the fire.
Taking a closer look at the Earl, Godwine noticed that his hair was unbrushed, his fingernails were cracked, his clothing wrinkled. He began pacing again, adjusting his belt.
“How is that Christmas pie?” Canute asked Eric, holding out a hand for a taste. The Dane cut a piece for him, holding it out on the edge of his knife. Taking a long time to sample it, Canute leaned back, evidently enjoying the taste. He licked all five fingers and wiped his hand on his tunic, then reached for another chess piece. Eadric stopped pacing and faced Canute, his arms crossed over his chest.
"And what might be the problem?" The King's voice sounded appropriately concerned.
"My earldom is restive,” he started slowly. "The populace has not yet recovered, the revenues are poor, and the people are hungry."
"That is a pity."
"More the pity that the King does not concern himself with their troubles."
"I see," said Canute, interested. "And what of the exemption I gave them from this year's taxes?"
Closing his eyes, the other gestured as if it were nothing.
"Eadric, this is not what is bothering you."
Stopping, the Earl glared at the King, unable to hide his antipathy. He came to the table, leaned over it. Godwine could smell alcohol on his breath.
"All right. I believe that I deserve better than this. You have given me the most devastated, the poorest earldom in the kingdom. You exclude me from your council. You treat me like a stranger. After all I have done for you."
"And what is it that you have done for me?"
Eadric straightened up, crossing his arms again. He took a deep breath. "You know damned well.”
Intrigued, Canute gave Eadric his full attention. "I know damned well,” he repeated softly.
The tension between them was so strong it felt as though there were only two people in the room. Everyone knew Canute was at his most dangerous when he was totally quiet. But Eadric seemed beyond caring.
“Ask Edmund Ironside, if you could."
Godwine gasped aloud, more in amazement at the man's blatant admission of the deed than its actuality. Even Canute had paled. Getting slowly to his feet, he faced Eadric so fiercely that the other stepped back.
"Then you shall get everything you deserve. You killed your own lord! My sworn brother! Your own mouth has pronounced you a traitor; let the blood be on your head.
"Eric, dispatch this man, lest he live to betray me as well."
The Earl of Northumbria was not loth to obey. Pulling an axe from his belt, the man moved purposefully toward his enemy, narrowed eyes reflecting his satisfaction with Canute's command.
For a moment, Eadric froze, unbelieving. Then his instinct for survival gained sway, and he pushed the table over, making a dash for the door.
But Godwine blocked the way—Godwine, this nonentity, who had barely rated his acknowledgment. The Saxon was standing with legs apart and drawn sword, opposing his exit.
Preferring to die under the blade of an equal, Eadric whirled, pulling his sword. But he was already too late. Eric's axe head was making its deadly arc, and Eadric's blade came up uncertainly, not even delaying the impact of the edge as it cleanly severed his head from his body.
Canute had been watching from the fireplace. "Throw the wretch's carcass from the window, into the Thames."
Eric was glad to do so. He had hated the Earl, and saw this as a fitting end to a despicable career. Seizing one of the convulsing legs, he dragged the body across the floor, oblivious to the gushing blood. Stooping, he hoisted the corpse onto the sill and dumped it unceremoniously into the river.
Godwine stared at the disembodied face, as it gawked back at him. Then he grabbed the hair and came up behind Eric, flinging the head through the window and far out over the water.
As he listened for the inevitable splash, Godwine felt an eerie satisfaction; at least this once, he had done his part in wreaking revenge on the betrayer of Edmund Ironside, and possibly his own father way back in 1009.
Both bloodied Earls turned to Canute, who had observed the scene dispassionately. "Thank you. You have done me a great service."
Godwine controlled his trembling with an effort. "You drove him to it, didn't you?"
"You might say that. Although I was expecting his demands in a more rational form...and at a better time." He glanced at the horrified servants, who were huddled at the newly opened door. "Yes, come in, come in. As you can see, it is time we met the queen in the great hall and started our celebrations in earnest. Send for some water and buckets and take care of this mess.
"Oh, and come, my friends. Let me arrange for some clean tunics before you present yourselves."
June 15, 1865
Lily sat on her horse looking intently south, up the valley. The mountains blocking their path to the west, endless prairies as far as the eye could see behind them. They had joined a large wagon train at Fort Laramie and were into their second day on the Oregon Trail. The train was turning right, headed to the north, away from the valley and toward the mountain passes discovered by the mountain men decades before.
“What’s this valley called?” Lily asked the scout riding alongside.
“Doesn’t have a name I know of, ma’am. Maybe Chugwater? I’ve heard some call it that after Chugwater Creek way up the valley,” pointing to the south and east of where they sat.
“How far to Denver City from here?”
“Denver City’s about due south of here, ma’am. If you were a bird, you could fly there in a little less than two hundred miles.”
“Thanks. And the name’s Lily, not ma’am. Lily Smoot.”
She trotted over to the wagon. Gus was driving. John swaying up and down in a Cheyenne cradleboard on his back. Lincoln was riding alongside. As in the previous train, he had taken the job of getting children up and down the back of the wagon to ride with Auggy the bear.
“This is it, Gus,” she said.
“Look all around. This is the valley Iliff told us about. The greatest ranchland ever.”
The two men looked around at the gentle hills to the base of the mountains, the trees green in the few creek beds to the south of them. A sea of ravines hidden among the hills all the way to the looming mountains in the western distance.
“Must be quite a sight when it’s covered with buffalo,” Lincoln said.
“It’d be an even better sight covered with our cattle,” Gus said.
“Iliff told us we wouldn’t last a week up here,” Lincoln said. “The Cheyenne and Sioux aren't even crazy about the wagon trains headed west through here, but they’ve agreed to give them free passage as long as nobody stays.”
As if on cue, two of the scouts trotted over.
“Gus,” one of them said. “Craziest thing. There’s a group of Indians approached us from the west when we made the turn to the north. The scouts said they came in peace. They asked if we had a wagon with a big black bear on it.”
Lily looked out to the west. Toward the magnificence of the mountains. And Mount Laramie towering over all. On a hill above the pattern of threaded ravines, about two miles away, she could just make out a small group that looked to be two of the wagon train’s scouts with three Indians.
“What’d you tell them?” Gus asked.
“I said we’d go look and see.”
“You got anybody who’ll drive our wagon for a while?” Gus asked.
“Sure. You going out to see what they want.”
“We know what they want,” Lily said.
If Mark Wilkerson had to listen to any more of that morbid organ music, he was going to throw up. A migraine beat against his temples and tears rolled down his cheeks as he stood propped against his crutches, his dislocated shoulder aching. Through bleary eyes, he viewed the three closed coffins at the front of the viewing parlor. Gold glitter on white satin ribbons across the caskets read, “Devoted Father,” “Loving Mother,” and “Baby Sister – Sabrina.” She was only six.
Ornate floral arrangements surrounded the closed caskets, their florist shop fragrance adding to Mark’s migraine. He ran his hand across the smooth surface of his mother’s coffin; fingered the satin ribbon. She was in there, at least what was left of her, but he would never see her again. Never again would he feel the warm touch of her lips on his cheek when she kissed him good night.
His weepy eyes abruptly gushed with tears. What happened? He still wondered, shaking his head. Even though he’d somehow survived the accident, he still didn’t know anything about it. All he knew was what the County Sheriff’s deputy and the doctor at the hospital had told him; that he and his family had been in a tragic, fiery accident on the Carquinez Bridge on Christmas Eve.
The doctor also told him his memory would probably return, but it could take some time. He’d called it “dissociative amnesia," whatever that was. He said it was often caused by severe emotional trauma.
Mark’s grandmother, Emily Wilkerson, told him he’d performed with the family at a rest home earlier that night, but he couldn’t remember that either. He felt, more than remembered his father had been angry about something. Then there was Amanda Bonfili. What happened on their date? Or did they have a date? He just couldn’t remember.
Mark moved to his father’s casket. How could he live without him? His dad had been his greatest inspiration, his best friend. He looked down at the casket as his tears rolled. How could he live with the guilt of knowing their last words may have been spoken in anger? He’d never even had a chance to say I’m sorry, if he’d done something wrong or even good-bye. Somehow, he felt he might have been at least partly responsible for the accident. “Forgive me, dad.” His cries escaped his lips in a whisper, “for whatever I did. I’m sorry.” Tears stung his eyes and he wiped them on his sports jacket sleeve.
He wished he could see his family just one last time, but the undertaker had told him their bodies were too charred. The thought horrified him and Mark agreed it would be better to remember them as he’d last seen them alive.
At least his sister, Amy, was being spared the funeral ordeal. But she was still in a coma and her condition was serious. The doctors said she could have brain damage if she survived. That sounded worse than his amnesia.
The accident had only been three days ago and tomorrow, after the funeral, the coffins would be lowered into the cold ground. Is that all there is to life? Mark wondered, To live your life then be discarded like some trash. Hanging his head, he wished he could have died in their place, or at least with them. How Amy and he had survived was a mystery.
Moving to Sabrina’s casket, he laid his forehead against her tiny coffin. “Dear God! Please make this go away. Make them come back.” But even as he prayed, he knew God couldn’t make that happen, assuming He was even real. After all, why would an all-powerful, loving God take away the people he loved most; his parents and his six-year-old sister who had so much to live for, the family Amy and he needed?
Why? The question kept repeating over in his mind, as he wiped his eyes again. Why did his parents have to die and of all people little Sabrina?
SABRINA! Mark wanted to shout, as if it would bring her back.
He missed his baby sister every bit as much as he missed his mother and father.
“Sabrina,” he whispered.
He would never see her again. Tears rolled down his cheeks as Mark thought of her charred little body inside the tiny coffin and the pain she must have endured in the fire. She didn’t deserve to die.
Mark felt a warm hand on his shoulder. Straightening with his crutches, he leaned into his grandmother’s arms. “Go ahead and cry,” she said. “It’s good to let it out.”
Mark leaned down and laid his cheek in the hollow of her neck. He could smell her sweet, old ladies perfume. “Why?” he asked. “Why didn’t God protect them? Why did He let Sabrina die and not me? She didn’t even get a chance to live her life.” He turned away and tightened his fists on the crutch’s handgrip.
He felt his grandmother’s warm fingers turn his chin. “Mark, I know this is hard for you. It’s hard for me too and it will be hard on Amy when she comes home.” His grandmother choked on her words then blotted her eyes with her hankie, “if she does. Son, we don’t always understand why He allows things like this to happen, but my mother always told me, ‘what we see today as a tragedy, we may look back at tomorrow as a blessing.’” Emily hugged him tighter and stroked his hair.
“A blessing? How can losing almost my entire family ever be a blessing?” Mark huffed and pulled away. His head throbbed even more. Then looking back at his grandmother, he said, “If I ever find out who caused the accident, I swear… I’ll… I’ll kill him…. I promise that.”
“No, Mark. Don’t think like that. It was just that, an accident. You need to forgive them.”
“I can’t, Grandma. I just can’t.”
Missions to the Moon traces our quest to explore this final frontier, starting with the deadly development of German V1s and V2s in the Second World War, through the pioneering adventures of the Apollo moon-landing program, and culminating in the future of lunar exploration with the recent missions by China, Japan, and Europe.
Through 150 stunning photographs and 20 beautifully recreated rare facsimile documents that almost make you feel like part of the crew, we witness the lethal Apollo 1 fire; celebrate the success of Apollo 8, the first manned spacecraft to orbit a celestial body; marvel at Apollo 11 and the first man to land on the moon; and share the dangers endured by the astronauts aboard the ill-fated Apollo 13.
These are events the whole word watched in rapt attention. Now everyone can relive the experience or enjoy it for the first time.
The historic facsimile documents include:
• Werner von Braun’s 1964 design for a space station
• A 1969 issue of the USSR newspaper Pravda, celebrating the success of Soyuz 4 and 5
• The official NASA photograph of the Apollo 7 flight crew
• The mission report from Apollo 11, as well as the descent map
• The Apollo 13 flight log
• A memo outlining future plans for Apollos 18, 19, and 20 before they were cancelled
• And more!
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Welcome to this edition of Words For Thought , the blog on wordrefiner.com . Like many of the previous blogs we are looking at homophones.
https://www.gofundme.com/teamfistbump Note: All underlined words are links to the sites I am currently discussing. Team Fist Bump (#teamfistbump) is on a mission: These journals are
Periodically, ForeignCorrespondent participates in virtual book tours that allow authors to showcase their books to a broader audience. Today I am hosting fellow RRBC/RWISA author