1 (1) | 3 (1) | 7 (2) | A (46) | B (38) | C (17) | D (47) | E (10) | F (13) | G (12) | H (25) | I (19) | J (4) | K (7) | L (25) | M (35) | N (9) | O (10) | P (10) | R (11) | S (36) | T (137) | U (1) | V (2) | W (14) | Y (2)
Cover Title Sort descending
Sarah and Legion Sarah and Legion

“The guns lowered but the questions came quick and fast. Sarah told them everything. At first, she started with LA but then decided to back it up a bit to the plane and then further back to Australia. She recounted the tale as Shelley and Mackenzie took turns checking the monitors for any motion outside.

Sarah told the whole story. The pregnancy, the flight, the dream, LA, Santa-Fe, the drug run to Chicago, Brandon, and that she knew who they were both from Brandon and from God. “Fucking big-mouth Brandon” says Mackenzie. “That dumb fucker probably told these cock-suckers where to find us too. Maybe when this is done we will need to take a road-trip to Chicago to plug up this information leak before it gets out of control.” “Please, I beg you, don’t kill Brandon.” Said Sarah who suddenly regretted having mentioned him. “He is so scared of you both.” Sarah looks at Mackenzie “Especially you…” Mackenzie stopped. She didn’t know what had come over her. Going back seemed so easy. Right back to the way things used to be. Cold, hard, fast, clean, ruthless… just business. Mackenzie shuddered and remembered her mom and Jake. “Shit, Mom! Jake!” She said to Shelley.” “Quick, call them!” said Shelley. Mackenzie pulled out a typical looking phone but Shelley grabbed it away. “It could be traced, use your other phone!” Mackenzie pulled out an ancient and battered looking phone. She promptly plugged it in a charger in a wall and dialed quickly. “What can I tell them?” said Mackenzie. “Melissa knows about Blakguard. Tell her she needs to get her and Jake out of town now!” replied Shelley. Mackenzie spoke rapidly to Melissa on the phone. By the end of the conversation it was agreed that her and Jake would spend a week or two visiting the beaches down in Alabama. They would neglect to tell any of their neighbors where they were going and they were going to leave today. Mackenzie shuddered as she hanged up the phone. “Melissa’s scared bad Shelley. She actually asked me if she should call the police.” Shelley shook her head “No Mac, this one we’re definitely handling in house.”

“Did you not listen to a word of what I just said?” said Sarah looking incredulous at these two crazed assassins whom she had apparently entrusted for her care. “You are my guardians.” Said Sarah. Mackenzie leaned in close “Ok, there are three things wrong with this. One, there is no fucking God. I know, because I exist and no benevolent being would allow that. Two, for sake of argument if there was a God why would he send you here? Because three, most critically, I kill people, not protect them.” Shelley shook her head. “Mackenzie, it doesn’t add up. I can’t call the things I encountered this morning ‘people.’ If they are real then she must be too. Nothing else makes sense.” Mackenzie looked unimpressed and then concerned.

“Well, I know a simple way to at least figure out some of the basics of this tale.” Said Mackenzie. “If even half the shit you said was true it has to be all over the news by now.” Shelley pulled up a news-site on the computer. Sarah’s picture came up first at the top center of the site with the largest headlines right next to it. Sarah didn’t like that and she really didn’t like the headlines that appeared right beside it. The news media was loving Sarah right now in the most sadistic and twisted way that word can be applied. “Lone Survivor of Infamous Flight 333 Disappears Mysteriously from Hospital after Nurse Found Dead in Horrific Cannibal Attack: Sarah Wanted by Authorities for Questioning as a Witness towards Capture of Mysterious Red-Haired Woman” read the headline. Shelley clicked for more and they read the story. Sarah gasped and held her hand over her mouth. She liked Stephanie, well, she actually kind of like all the nurses. Sure they didn’t believe her but at least they were friendly and helped take care of her. Sarah saw pictures both of herself in an old smiling photo from long ago as well as in a more recent photo hooked up to IV’s and machines. There was also a photo which sent shivers through Sarah. It was a grainy surveillance camera screenshot showing Carol entering Sarah’s room where Stephanie’s mutilated body had been found.” 

Savage Bayou Savage Bayou

Hours later, Ophelia stood in front of her kitchen counter, cursing a blue streak. “Shit, fuck, son of a bitch! This fucking hurts like hell!”

Her front door slammed open, and suddenly she was in Daniel’s arms, sitting in his lap in the nearest chair, his hands running up and down her arms in jerking, frantic movements.

“Phia! Are you okay? Who hurt you? What’s wrong?”

Ophelia laughed weakly, but didn’t unwrap her right hand from her left. Instead, she took a chance and held both hands up—showing him the blood seeping out from between her fingers. Daniel gritted his teeth, but he made no move to attack, and Ophelia’s respect for him raised another notch. He pulled out a handkerchief from the pocket of his shirt and gently pried her hands apart, clucking his tongue over the two-inch-long cut that was still oozing blood.

“How in the world did you accomplish this, Phia?” he asked, his ministrations tender as he blotted the wound.

“I cut myself trying to cook,” Ophelia mumbled, “obviously not my most graceful moment.”

Daniel chuckled. “At least you didn’t sever a digit, so it’s not that bad.”

Ophelia sniffed, tears brimming. “Yeah, but it freaking hurts! It might even be deep enough for stitches, and I really don’t like needles.”

Daniel pressed a kiss to her cheek. “I may have a solution, if you’d trust me.”

“Does it involve your fangs?”

He shook his head. “No–” his eyes gleamed mischievously– “but it does mean I’d get to taste you.”

Ophelia wiggled in her seat, and Daniel groaned. “On second thought,” he said with a wicked grin, “keep moving like that, and I’ll have a different way to distract you.”

Eyes wide, Ophelia jerked to a stop, but not before the damage had been done, and the physical proof of his desire poked the side of her leg. She flushed. “Uh...” She licked her lips. “the pain. What about...the pain?”

Daniel laughed and pressed a kiss just below her ear. He took the handkerchief away from her wound. She hissed in pain as it stuck. “I’m sorry,” he murmured as he pulled it free. “I really can help, but you might rather put a bandage on it and let me drive you to the clinic.”

Ophelia bit her lip. He looked so uncomfortable, and even though his remedy had to do with him being a vampire, she wasn’t nearly as put off by the notion as she would have been a few days prior. She looked into his eyes and shook her head.

“What do you need to do?”

He sighed with relief. “Vampire saliva can either stop bleeding, or make a person bleed more, depending on whether we’re drinking or ending the feeding. Unfortunately for you, to stop the bleeding and trigger the numbing agent that will help with your pain, the fangs must be triggered, which means a drink has to be taken. However, that doesn’t mean I need to bite you–” he paused and winked– “unless you want me to, of course.”
Ophelia swatted his shoulder with her good hand. “I thought your saliva is what makes a person a vampire?”

“It is, but it’s…complicated. Mortal blood is designed to fight the infection, so to speak. I would have to consciously force it into your bloodstream for a minute or more for there to be any chance of it taking hold. For this, and for any pleasure feeding–” he gave her a wicked grin that made her laugh– “my saliva merely interacts with the skin around the wound, preventing it from trying to close until I’m ready to stop. Are you okay with this?”

Ophelia bit her bottom lip. “You won’t bite me?”

He shook his head. “I won’t. My fangs will descend, but I won’t bite, I promise. I’ll only drink for a moment, and then close it.”

Taking a deep breath, Ophelia nodded, emitting a startled squeak when his eyes glowed bright blue and his fangs shot out. With his golden hair, and lightly stubbled jaw, he was sexy beyond belief, and the look on his face had her nearly giving in to the urge to tilt her head to the side and offer him everything. Taken aback by the direction her thoughts were headed, Ophelia blinked rapidly, and raised her hand.

He took her wrist in one of his, and her fingers in the other, turning her hand until the cut along the side was near his mouth. “Last chance to change your mind,” he whispered.

Ophelia gulped, her body tingling beneath his heated gaze. “Do it, Daniel, please.” The last word came out on a whisper as she subconsciously flipped her long hair behind her back, exposing the smooth column of her throat. Daniel’s eyes darkened, and keeping his eyes on hers, he pressed his hot mouth to her skin, sucking gently at the wound.
The tingling in her body intensified as he laved his tongue over the cut, raising his head a few seconds later. Ophelia’s breath came in short pants as moisture pooled between her legs. She’d never felt like this, and she wondered if it was part of the saliva interacting with her skin. Ever logical, she cleared her throat.

“Am I—uh—is this because of…?”

Daniel smiled, fangs flashing. “No, Phia. I would never use power on you like that.”

Ophelia sucked in a breath. It was because of him. /For heaven’s sake, take for once. Take without question. Love./ Her eyes widened at her own thoughts, and she made a split-second decision—he was her vampire, after all. Adjusting her position, she straddled him, the proof of his desire a hard spear aimed straight at her core. Cupping his face in her hands, she kissed him, relishing when his breath caught in shock. His hands gripped her hips, rocking her against him as she deepened the kiss, her tongue exploring his mouth, uncaring of the fangs he possessed.

With a moan, she nipped his bottom lip. “Do you want to bite me, Daniel?”

“Yes,” he groaned.

Ophelia pressed a hand to the back of his neck, pulling him forward until his mouth rested above the pulse at her throat. “Then do it.”

His lips grazed her heated skin, his fangs scraping lightly. “Are you sure?”
She moaned, the pleasure building as she continued to move against him. “Yes!” Without another word, he plunged his fangs deep, and she shattered, realizing the absolute truth:

She was in love with a vampire.
 

Scream for Me Scream for Me

There's trouble in Arizona.

Jenna Cieres is a struggling young college student on the verge of graduating. She hasn't had a social life since enrollment into law school, but she has her best friend and loyal dog, Benji, by her side. She's full of fight and has the potential to be a successful lawyer – if she lives long enough.

When Jenna begins to receive strange emails and frightening phone calls, she does the logical thing and informs the local police. Disheartened by their inability to help, the young woman tries to ignore the sensation that someone is watching everything she does.

Just as Jenna is reaching her breaking point, FBI agent Terry Miles becomes involved when he discovers a stark correlation between her case and a series of macabre murders strewn about the state. Even Terry feels the fear inflicted by the killer, who threatens everything he stands for.

When she no longer feels safe in her own home, Jenna turns to ex boyfriend, Will Thompson. He appears to be the perfect person to comfort her, but it seems as if Will has some secrets of his own – and uncovering them could lead to her death.

'Scream For Me' tangles lives and twists secrets around everyone involved in this dark thriller. Increasing troubles and dangerous passion will leave the reader wondering just how deeply everything is connected, and just how far obsession can stretch. Jenna's life is in the hands of a terrifying killer, unless she can use her quick wits to save herself.
 

Search for the Light Search for the Light

Daring to lift her eyes, she glanced around. The kinder amongst those twelve good men would describe her glance as furtive, the less kind would say shifty. Had she been asked she would have said fearful; but no one did enquire. The judge asked his question a second time; this time with impatience.
‘Have you anything to say on your behalf?’
What should she say to a judge? It was beyond her experience, so she replied with the only words she could conjure.
‘Please sir, I am a housemaid and my family don’t know where I am.’
She shivered uncontrollably, although the afternoon warmth made her stained, woollen dress stick damply to her skin. The huge courtroom overawed her. It was a room bigger and grander than she had ever seen or imagined was possible. The jury to her right stared intently at her, but she avoided their stare as she would avoid the look of any man. Instead, she hung her head and stared unseeing at her tight, entwined hands, making her look both sullen and guilty. It was of no consequence to them that she was young and pretty for she was just another girl down on her luck. There were a thousand others, no ten thousand, others like her. Something must be done about it.
Nora felt unrehearsed for these legal proceedings. She had no money for a lawyer and found this whole experience terrifying. The stern appearance of the judge, in his scarlet robes and long horsehair wig, made her want to crawl into a hole somewhere. But here in this large courtroom, there was nowhere to hide, nowhere to escape. She was the main exhibit.
The horrors of the morning still tormented her. Chained to other prisoners at the ankle, she shuffled from Millbank to the Old Bailey. The journey took a good hour, as they tried to avoid the rotting fruit thrown by ragamuffins, gleeful that there were some worse off than themselves. The shame of it sickened her. She felt tired and sore where the iron had bruised her ankle and. longing for home and her sisters to comfort her, Nora’s mind began to wander again.
But now the judge was speaking and she forced herself to try and take in what he was saying.
‘Eleanora Nolan, you have been found guilty of grand larceny and will be transported beyond the seas for the term of seven years. Next case.’
A smirk of triumph appeared on Mrs Pocket’s face, satisfaction on the constable’s and boredom on the judge’s. Nora listened to the judge but without understanding because the words made no sense to her.
‘Please sir’ she tried again ‘when may I go back to my family?’
‘Take her down,’ was the terse instruction and the court official hastened to comply.

Rebecca Reddell - Second Kingdom Second Kingdom

“The troops are here, Sire.” The butler held his head high and stood in the doorway, hands clasped behind his back. “They have armed themselves and are ready to leave at your command.”
“How many?” the king asked as he put on his uniform, his burgundy hair tucked behind his ears and ready for the helmet he would put on for protection. His blue-green eyes searched for any flaw in his armor.
Every piece shielded him from head to toe in a body vest made of the sturdiest laminated fibers and felt like a second skin upon his tall, muscular body. It would protect him from every form of combat, including fire.
The advancements in technology over the last 3,000 years would be of great benefit to him today. He didn’t just want the best technology science could create and money could buy. He wanted the power to do whatever he wanted. Just as the Second Kingdom had.
Since WWIII, the First Kingdom and Second Kingdom had created a contract to avoid future wars between their two countries. They had divided the remaining land and claimed truce. The remnants of the seven continents were now merged into two.
King Ezra was in charge of the well-being and progress of the First Kingdom. Queen Ada was in charge of the Second. However, news of the Second Kingdom’s advancements into sorcery and magical power made the King twitch for the same. He should be able to possess what they controlled. Otherwise, WWIV was inevitable.
“Approximately 25,000 men from all over the Kingdom, Your Highness. Every man eighteen and over has arrived and trained for what is to come. Are you certain you wish to do this, Sire?”
Blue-green eyes peered at the butler with darkening irises.
“Buford, do you dare question your king?” His voice was sweet and smooth like water steadily pouring over pebbles.
Buford's eyes blinked and moved to the floor. His face scrunched before he shook his head and said, “No, Your Highness.”
“Then kindly tell the men to get into formation and prepare to march. For today, we will defeat the Second Kingdom's power. We will conquer them and unite into one Kingdom.”
“Yes, Sire,” Buford responded, and then walked out into the hall with a shudder.
With head bowed and slow steps, Buford walked down the hallway praying the young king would change his mind. He wasn't the only one who knew the king was walking toward certain death.
Sighing, he opened the doors and motioned to the Secretary of War to step forward, “The king is ready to attack.”
His whispered words were sent with another shudder, and he looked into the dark eyes of the grizzled man before him, exchanging a silent nod and raised brows.
“He won’t be swayed? There has been peace for almost 3,000 years,” the secretary pleaded.
Buford shook his head. The secretary sighed before walking to the edge of the steps to announce the king's command.

Secret Mystic Island Secret Mystic Island

There was a powerful storm, and giant waves were crashing onto Mystic Island in the middle of the sea. A large ship was torn apart by the huge storm, and items from the ship started washing up on the beach of the magical island. Mystic the mermaid lived on the island along with three other mermaids. After the storm passed over, Mystic looked towards the sea and saw a crib floating. Then she heard crying coming from the crib! She swam out to the crib and found a little baby girl there. She swam back to the island holding the crib. All of the mermaids gathered around the baby. They thought the little baby was so sweet, and it was a miracle that she was alive.

Two of the mermaids swam out to look for the ship and see if there were any people lost at sea. They could not find the ship because it had already sunk. They did not find any people in the sea. They swam back to the island.

When Mystic was on the island, her tail would split and turn into human legs! When this happened, she could walk like a human. Mystic was very beautiful and had long green hair. Her pretty green eyes would sparkle in the sun. When Mystic was swimming in the sea at night, her tail would glow green in the dark! All of the tails of the other mermaids would glow in the dark too! The mermaids could all walk when they were on land. Each mermaid looked different. One mermaid with dark red hair, green eyes and a green tail was named Mena. Another mermaid with blue hair, pretty blue eyes and a greenish blue tail was named Eva. The other mermaid had black hair, green eyes and a silver tail. Her name was Zanita. All of the mermaids were very beautiful.

Mystic named the little baby girl Ava. Mystic raised Ava on the island. She taught Ava how to swim when she was very young. All the fish and creatures of the sea that lived close to the island knew that Ava was Mystic's child. The sharks would not harm Ava when she swam in the sea as long as she was with her mother or another sea creature. Ava's mother had always told her to never swim alone. Ava had a favorite friend that she loved. He was a dolphin named Kissimmee. Kissimmee would pull Ava all around the island while she held on tight to his fin. Kissimmee would put shows on for Ava all the time. Kissimmee would jump up out of the water and then dive back down. He could swim super fast too! Kissimmee was very sweet and gentle.

Ava loved swimming in the sea. She had a lot of friends in the sea. Ava swam in the sea with her friends every single day. She became a very good swimmer.

At night, the sea would light up with all the different colors of the sea creatures that glowed in the dark! It was so beautiful! Some of their lights would even blink on and off. That was Ava's favorite time to swim in the sea because she loved watching the light show. She could not believe the different sizes, shapes and colors of all the jellyfish.

Sea Tiger the tiger shark and Kissimmee the dolphin would always try to protect Ava from any sea creatures that might come from far away. Ava thought that Sea Tiger's stripes were so pretty. There was a huge whale shark that Ava would always see swimming around the island. The whale shark had pretty white spots on it. The whale shark would let Ava pet it! Ava loved to watch two large killer whales that would come around every now and then. The killer whales were black and white, and Ava thought they were so beautiful.

One day, Ava snuck out by herself to go swimming on the other side of the island when she came upon a large group of jellyfish. One of the jellyfish stung her! She screamed and swam back to the island crying. Her mother rubbed some sand from the island on the wound. The wound stopped hurting her, and then it disappeared! The sand from the island was magical and had healed her! After that happened, she always swam with her mother or Sea Tiger and Kissimmee.

Book One of the Rune Trilogy Secrets

Juliet Adams is as normal as an Oregon thunderstorm, but working as a nurse allows her to live vicariously through the past adventures of her favorite patient, giving her hope for her future. However, when her fiancé dumps her six months before the wedding, that hope crumbles.

Brokenhearted and in dire need of support, Juliet gives into her sister’s request and agrees to spend a week on the coast. Unable to escape the reminders of her loneliness, she stumbles upon a mysteriously glowing cave and an equally mysterious man.

This chance encounter with the magnetic Marsh Darrow sends her on a whirlwind adventure, filled with myth, legend, and creatures beyond imagination. As her idea of normal falls apart, Juliet discovers an inner courage that shows her she is more than she ever dreamed— the prophetic key to a war that centers around centuries-old secrets.

Selena Selena

Everything starts with little girls.
This little girl was walking down a white dirt farm road one day in June 1954. Her slender shadow was just twice her height. And it crossed the road in a westerly direction, reaching out nearly to the irrigation ditch that ran alongside. A single thick braid was bouncing up and down on her back. The braid was stiff and damp, for the little girl had just been swimming at the big Vanducci house on the hill. Plomp, plomp, plomp went her bare brown feet in the warm soft dirt, little puffs of dust blowing up in her track to settle slowly in the windless air.
Cradled in her long skinny arms she had a big nervous fighting cock with beady eyes. She’d found him by the side of the road just a moment before. And she was very happy to have met him there, for she’d had no idea that he had escaped from his pen in her mama’s backyard. The cock was brown and gold and purple. His feathers shone in the sun. He turned his head all the time, fast and jerky from side to side. Her eyes were like the bird’s eyes, black and darting. She turned her head like him too, looking everywhere.
Her name was Selena Cruz.
Surrounding her were vast fields of alfalfa, tomatoes, and sugar beets, cut through with irrigation canals and county roads, sliced like adobe cakes into gigantic squares. The valley was green where it was planted, brown where it was fallow, and wide: fifty miles from the yellow Diablo Range, which rose up directly behind her, to the blue Sierras on the horizon. Lengthwise its dimensions were beyond her imagination: five hundred miles from Red Bluff in the north to Bakersfield in the south.

Shadow Stalker Shadow Stalker

Auren learns she is destined to enslave the people of her world, and Drevin, emperor of the Galvadi Empire is determined to end her life before it happens. Her foster father, Kado, has sworn to protect her and trains her as a shadow stalker. But her training is cut short, when their people are overrun by the Galvadi Empire. Now she has to find a way to help her people without succumbing to the prophecy.

The Hidden Truth (Episode 1)

A young shadow stalker is destined to enslave the people of the Serpent Isles, and the Galvadi Empire want this child of prophecy dead. Auren Trasks perfectly normal life is disrupted when the Galvadi invade, and she learns a startling secret about her past. A secret that will change her life forever.

The Delohi-Saqu’s Fate (Episode 2)

Auren is being targeted by the Council of Elders, and the only one who could put an end to their corruption is her father. But leaving the Dark Isle would turn Kado against her.

Shadows’ Betrayal (Episode 3)

After seeing the monster she will become, Auren swears not to leave the Dark Isle. Despite that, the elders are conspiring against her. To escape their scheming, she and Kado decide to explore the Dark Isle. But worse things await them in the forests.

Forbidden Love (Episode 4)

Kado and Auren survive a deadly storm, but when Auren is forbidden from pursuing love with another young shadow stalker, will it be enough to drive a wedge between her and her foster father?

Destiny Reconciled Part 1 (Episode 5)

Auren and Kado accept that they may not be able to avoid her leaving the Dark Isle. Now they have to prepare for that eventuality. Will the training be more than Auren can handle?

Destiny Reconciled Part 2 (Episode 6)

Cathnor has been arrested and is facing a death sentence. The Dark Isle is out of control, and Kado is the only one who can help his people. So he prepares Auren for the possibility that she may have to leave the Dark Isle without him and face her destiny alone, but can she leave him and do what must be done?

Amber Naralim - Shed some Light Shed some Light

Ellie folded her arms over her chest. She watched Charlie grab a long, fat vial from her med kit. Charlie held it up, turning it this way and that. Staring at the clear, slightly viscose liquid inside, she flicked it. Edward padded into the kitchen on bare feet. His shoulder length, blond hair was stringy. He’d simply pulled it back into a messy ponytail at the nape of his neck. Long wisps of bangs fell loose curving over his square jaw. It had been a few days since he saw a shower. He was dressed in the same gray sweatpants he’d been wearing since the day Ellie and her boys got there last week. The stubble on his chin was getting thick. He sat down on the stool in front of the massive kitchen island and batted exotic blue eyes at her.
Science shouldn’t try to play with magic. That didn’t stop them from trying, though. A ring of violet ringed Edward’s irises. It gradated to a softer shade with spikes of a blue so pale it almost looked white ringing his pupils like the rays of the sun. Ellie missed his human eyes. She missed rather a lot from when her brother was human. Ellie tried flashing him a smile. It was weak. She was more than just a little worried about him. It was like he’d just given up. This wasn’t her Edward.
Charlie drew out thirty lines into the syringe. Edward held his arm out, pumping his fist. Charlie flashed him a small, reassuring smile, and handed him a solid piece of plastic. Edward lifted it to his teeth and bit down on the thing. Charlie slid the needle slowly into the vein at the crux of his arm, pressing the plunger down.
Edward’s jaw tightened. His entire body went rigid with the pain it caused. Like broken glass swimming through his bloodstream, it tore him in half. He shuddered. His screams were wretched. Ellie reached up quickly to wipe at the tear that fell down her cheek. She took in a shuddering breath. Ellie decided in that moment that bitch Bennet's death wasn’t nearly as bloody as it should have been. Charlie pulled the needle free and went about cleaning up the small mess she’d made.
Ellie threw her arms around her big brother from behind. Her hands wrapped around his muscular arms. “I’m sorry, Eddy,” Ellie whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
“For what?” he said through gritted teeth. Edward couldn’t stop the shudders, couldn’t quiet the agony that roared through him. It took an eternity for the fire to begin to die down. Edward forced himself to relax against her. He concentrated hard on her embrace.
“That you have to go through this.” Ellie touched the side of his face, smoothed the hair back from his sweat-drenched forehead. “That I didn’t get there in time to save you.”
“You came, little Lottey.” Edward breathed in slow, just to blow it free. “I’ve had worse.”
Ellie sniffed and laid a kiss on his bristly cheek. “Liar,” she said with a pouting lip. She worked hard to give him a smile. “I love you, Edward.”
Edward sat up, leaning back far enough to put his arm around his kid sister’s back. He pulled her into his lap without any effort and ruffled her silky hair. “You going to stay a while this time, Squirt?” Ellie had a hard time ignoring the lilt of hope in his voice.
Her eyebrows drew together and her mouth dropped open. Ellie had a lead on another one of Bennet’s crazies. But after watching that, she couldn’t bear to tell him no. “A little while.” Ellie nodded and sniffed.
Charlie zipped her small med-kit closed and slipped it into the cupboard on the end. She walked back to the dining room table. Her fussing caught Ellie’s attention. Charlie closed down a program on her laptop. Ellie stared at the small black rectangle Charlie had jacked into one of the USB ports. The external hard-drive had all of Susan Bennet’s research on it.
“How’s the science going?” The moment the words left her lips, Ellie regretted asking in front of Edward.
Charlie turned to them. Her hazel eyes first met Edward’s pleading gaze, and then bashfully, she looked at Ellie. “I’m doing my best to make something of it.” Charlie hated lying. She’d developed a skill for it married to her EX husband. And she needed every ounce of it to get past the searching stare of Ellie. Charlie didn’t get the need for this secret. But it wasn’t exactly hers to tell.
“That’s all I can ask,” Ellie said with a nod. She wiped at her nose and slipped her arms around her brother’s neck. “Can you make a list of some of the stuff you’ll need?”
Charlie’s mouth dropped open to answer but Edward beat her to it. “What for, Squirt? How exactly do you plan on getting any of it?”
“We’ll steal it,” Ellie answered simply.
Edward frowned. He hated the idea that Ellie happily embraced being an outlaw only a tiny bit more than she did being a murderer. Ellie could tell by the look on his face there was a fight on the horizon. She just couldn’t deal with it. She loved Edward more than life itself. But living with him was proving harder every day. Ellie leaned in and kissed him between the eyes. Cupping his face between her tiny hands, she smirked.
“I’m going to make you better, Edward.”
He let the love shining in her pretty green eyes draw a smile across his mouth. “Never had a doubt in my mind, Squirt.” Edward tried hard to keep his face neutral. His vision blurred with stinging tears.
Ellie took in a deep breath and laid her head against the side of his. Her eyes cast to the floor. She was lost here. Ellie was the first to admit this life took some getting used to. But Edward just couldn’t handle it, and it was getting harder to ignore. Ellie spent her whole life thinking nothing could come between them. Now, she worried she was wrong. The only thought in her head for the longest time was of him. Now that he was free, Ellie just couldn’t shake the feeling he was spinning away from her.

Shillelagh Law Shillelagh Law

My Favorite Christmas Tree
Originally appeared in Ellipsis: An Anthology of Humorous Short Stories, August 2016
The names in this story are true.
Only the facts have been changed.
None are innocent.

We called ourselves the Scurvy Bastards. To us, drinking was science; the weekend our laboratory; our bodies, test tubes; and our minds, the experiment.
Every Friday and Saturday, each of us would absorb three to four times the lethal dose of alcohol, and have others report back on our actions. Needless to say, this was fascinating research.

One night, whilst sitting on the Scurvy Benches, as was our wont, the Electrician (a man permanently wired) had just dismissed the whole of Kant’s epistemology with the words, “That faggot didn’t even drink.”

The air was crisp as lettuce and miniature fogs arose whenever someone used the Pissing Tree. The Electrician’s irrefutable logic set Feeney thinking. Feeney did a great deal of thinking. He had to. No one could be that disturbed or disturbing without having put a great deal of thought into it. He was something of an enigma wrapped in legend. None knew from whence he came; he would appear like some mythical being, gym bag filled with books, Jameson, and Stout, dressed like Sherlock Holmes. He had a great red beard, and spoke in parables. One night he passed out and we found the only identification he bore was a membership card to the Dudley Do-Right fan club in the name of Little Bobby Feeney.

At present, Feeney was engaged in what he termed, “The Great Experiment.” The premise was as simple as it was ingenious: How long can a human being subsist on Guinness Stout and Cheese Doodles?

Shrimpn Gold Shrimpin' Gold

Chapter 1
October 1631

Admiral Manuel Serrano and his Spanish treasure fleet sailed from Vera Cruz, Mexico, bound for a stop in Havana. The Cuban port was to be the last stop before departing on the treacherous passage to Spain. Nineteen ships gathered for the voyage, all heavily loaded with Chinese silk, cochineal, indigo, cocoa and over 3.6 million pesos in silver and gold.
Shortly after leaving port, a hurricane engulfed and destroyed the fleet.
The Nuestra Señora del Juncal sank eight leagues north of Bajo de las Areas. The Spanish never located the wreck.
The San Antonio, a large sailing vessel, with a high forecastle and poop, know as carrack, wrecked one league windward of the port of Tabasco. Two other merchant ships wrecked on the coast of Campeche. The king lost his ships and his gold.
Fourteen other ships traveling with this fleet vanished in the storm. They likely sunk at sea without survivors. One carrack, precariously sailing far forward of the fleet, made the turn north through the Florida Straights and dashed full speed ahead running from the deathly grip of the storm.

A paltry crew racked with scurvy and pox struggled to keep the sails full and properly trimmed. They had just escaped one hurricane and now battled the hounding winds flung out by a second hurricane as it rushed across the Atlantic with an insatiable urge to consume all in its path.
The frail captain could barely stand. His muscles were weak, and his joints ached. He gripped the rail and looked down at the puss oozing from encrusted sores that covered his arms and legs. He sucked a gulp of the heavy salt air into his congested lungs and coughed violently. He spat, wheezed, and then checked the ship’s position one more time.
With his sick and decrepit crew, the captain pressed ahead using his canvas to capture the heavy winds and push northward up the coast of Florida. He worked his crew to near death as they labored to outrun the ferocious gales that could rip his sails and the high seas that would break his hull.
The Spanish carrack rode the powerful currents of the Atlantic Gulf Stream forty miles off the coast of St. Augustine. The Captain thought they might make it; they might outrun the storm, but would this crew survive the remaining voyage home? Would he survive? At the ship’s current speed, the turn to move northeast and away from the danger of the storm was less than an hour away.
For weeks, they had sat idle floating on still waters and suffering the stifling heat off the shores of Central America. While they had waited with the Spanish fleet for their cargo, the virus, crud, and pox had festered aboard his ship. From wherever his men had contracted their diseases, the contagious crew had spread their ills to each other in quick order.
There was no time or sympathy for the sick crew. The fleet could not spare his ship, it was filled with precious cargo, and the King would not wait. After months at sea, every ship in the fleet reported a sparse crew, and no sailors could be allocated from other ships. He would be expected to deal with his own problems. Medical attention might be available for his crew in Spain, but only after the gold was delivered.
With his ship’s condition in dire straits, the fleet’s Admiral had granted a final concession. It was a risky decision, but the days were clearly numbered for the Captain and crew of this ship. They had been allowed to sail first, unguarded by the incontestable power of the fleet’s warships. The other captains held their ships well back for fear of contracting the pox and the curse that had been cast upon this vessel.
His ship was a powerful one when properly manned with a healthy crew. The carrack had an impressive battery of cannons and an acceptable quota of marines to fire from the rails and upper yards. But now, he was alone and weak on an agitated sea, a wounded fish and perfect prey for the shark-like pirates that cruised these waters.
They had to move fast. He had ordered all sails full but was worried that the increasing wind would rip one to shreds, or crack a mast. His order was dangerous, but it might be more dangerous to slow their speed. He had no choice but to gamble that his ship would serve him as she had always done.
The stays that tamed the sails were tight as bowstrings and singing a cautionary tune in the wind. Every sail bulged full reaching outward to the seas as if yearning to break its bonds. This ship seemed alive; she was tuned and trimmed for maximum headway, responding to commands that only her old familiar captain knew how to orchestrate. Every mast, spar, and plank of the ship protested with low frequency, reverberant creaks and clatters. Guttural groans emerged from the beams deep in the hull. The sounds were melodic, repetitive, almost comforting to the crew that knew the sea and the sounds of a good sailing ship.
The sky was yellow and green with low-hanging, swirling, gray clouds that threatened more rain. Waves crashed over the bow with each rise and fall of the ship. Bubbling froths of salty foam flew through the air. The blue water tossed about in chaotic uneven peaks that sporadically collided casting horizontal sprays into the wind. White water fizzled in the remnant mix.
A rope snapped, and the topsail on the mizzenmast flailed erratically, whipping, popping, out of control. Aloft went the last man with strength capable of climbing the rigging. To tame a large sail was a dangerous task in any wind, but in a wind like this, the mission was almost suicide. It must be done, the sail had to be controlled, or they were all surely doomed.
The weather had deteriorated and a dark night was approaching fast. As the rain fell in sheets, visibility dropped and made the going more perilous. A fog bank loomed in the distant.
The Captain strained to monitor his man aloft. Out of the oncoming fog, he saw a flash off the port bow. A fiery cannon ball whistled through the air on an accurate arc and shattered rigging on the foremast. As the ship’s crew scrambled to react to the attack, a second ball streaked to its mark and exploded amidships splintering wood, and shredding sailors in its path.
In the turmoil, the seasoned crew made the cannons ready and opened the gun ports. Marines trudged to their positions along the rails. Men laden with muskets and shot climbed rope ladders to the upper riggings. Many were weak and close to death. The violent lurching of the ship caused two men to lose their grip, fall through the shrouds and ratlines, bounce off the gunwale, and disappear into the sea.
Disease had an uncertain morbid grip on this crew, but death would be certain if they didn’t fight now. The remaining men held tight and continued the climb to their battle positions.
“Ready!” the captain yelled, and coughed harshly. The crew tugged heavy ropes through the blocks and heaved the cannons forward. “Aim.” Gunners adjusted the cannons for close range. “Fire.” Two volleys answered in quick succession, but the counter attack was too little, too late.
A third volley from the attacking ship sent a ball through the mizzenmast rigging, and another exploded against the rudder, destroying the ship’s steering. The attacking ship maneuvered into position and sent two more volleys at point blank range. The barrage blasted away the carrack’s portside gun ports, killing or wounding all that crewed the cannons.
A mighty swell rolled his ship and put his starboard side to the wind. Lead peppered the rigging and the deck. Pirates stormed over the sides of the damaged ship with smoking, sparkling fuses in their hair and blood in their eyes. In their blackened garb, they appeared as demons. Their leader raged and howled as the devil himself. The horde swarmed with an intense fury, savagely attacking with pistols, swords, pikes, and axes.
As the large devil-man led the pirate charge, a Spanish sailor stepped forward and thrust a long pike at his face. The sharp spear sliced across his cheek and cut out his eye. He fired a pistol shot into the forehead of the pike-wielding man and plunged a sword into the throat of the next man on the rail. The violent attack opened the first gap in the Spanish line of defense. With the break in the line, other sick sailors on the defensive front scattered, terrorized by the sight and tenacity of this maniacal beast.
Undaunted by his injury, adrenaline surged and the pirate slashed and cut his way to the ship’s captain. The attacking horde gave no quarter and the sickly crew that remained died a brutal, bloody death. Those who lay wounded, begging for help, were tossed overboard. The sharks would quickly take the unlucky men who survived the turmoil of the stormy sea.
The bloodied, one-eyed pirate leader, Captain Oxnard Bennett, stood at the helm, raised his hands, and roared to his men. They responded with barbaric shouts and screams in celebration of another victory and the capture of a fine prize. Lightning struck, sparked and ricocheted across the sky.
“Fast to it you laggards. Load the gold aboard our ship. We don’t have much time afore the storm takes us all.”
The pirate captain carried an English Crown letter of marque, but he was in Spanish territory. The Spanish king was not cordial to those who took his gold and damaged his ships. If caught, Bennett and his crew would be skinned alive. Their carcasses would be staked to crosses and made visible in the busiest ports as an example to any thief who had aspirations of stealing Spanish treasure. The captain was well aware of the risks. He was anxious to take his gold and move north to the more friendly seas of the Crown.
The captain was a big, strong, mean bastard, and the master of his sea. With this crew, he had defeated many well-manned ships, and none had yet proved his equal. He desired no prisoners from the prizes he took. No one survived to tell of his exploits. His ship was not known, and the unbridled surge of fury brought when he attacked was rarely anticipated. He liked it that way.
For the most part, the men of his crew were criminals. They were fiercely loyal to their Captain Ox. He had gathered them from over-crowded prisons at busy ports. They were debtors, thieves, rapists and murderers. He gave them a choice for life, freedom, and riches, and he helped the Crown reduce her prisons’ populations. These men had the credentials to join his crew for it was a hard and dangerous life. He needed hard and dangerous men.
In recent months, the admiralty court had proven corrupt and unappreciative of his efforts in support of His Majesty. He found they tended to keep most of the captured wealth for themselves. His cut seemed to grow smaller with each prize, so he had decided the time had come to keep the best. What the Crown didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. His crew was happy to fall in line because the Captain shared generously with those lucky enough to survive.
Captain Ox searched through the Spanish Captain’s quarters and discovered the Captain’s purse and the ship’s logs. The purse was a fine prize, but the navigational charts showing coastal depths and favored shipping lanes were like buckets of gold to his plans for future exploits. As he walked out the door, a sparkle caught his eye. On the dresser lay a golden disk with a large emerald embedded at its center. He snatched the jeweled pin and attached it to his lapel.
“Captain, three large chests of gold doubloons are in our ship’s hold, and we be hauling over the last of the three small boxes of silver,” his first mate, Bart, reported.
The captain placed a cloth patch across his empty eye socket, secured it with a leather strap tied diagonally around his head. He wiped blood from his sword, thrust it into is scabbard, and growled, “Load them quick, and scuttle this pestilent ship before another comes along to claim her.”
“Aye, Captain.”
Fires were set fore, and aft, and the pirates scrambled back to their ship. They let the sails fly and set their trims. The ship rode the swells on a course plotted north to the Carolina coast. They watched the Spanish carrack sink by the stern. As flames whipped with the canvas in the wind, the bow rose high, then slowly sank, and finally disappeared in the peak of a swell. A puff of smoke signaled its demise.
As they sailed away, Bart reported the after-battle status. “We’re taking on water, Captain.”
“What’s the damage?” the Captain asked as he scanned the horizon.
“We took two cannon balls at the water line. We’ve draped, and secured canvas on the outside and the men are working to plug the holes, but the extra weight of the gold and the water rushing in are causing problems worse than Satin himself.”
“Put more men on the pumps and make sure we’ve full sails with the wind to our backs.”
The pirate ship plowed north-by-northwest as the crew pumped the rising water with every hand they could muster. By the next evening, the ship was plodding along two miles off the mouth of the Edisto River. Their position lay at a dubious point just a few miles north of the last Spanish settlement at Port Royal and a few miles south of Charleston in a sea claimed by many, but owned by none. The ship had slowed with the water line just below the deck. The captain judged one more breaking swell would sink them for sure.
“A sounding!” the captain shouted for a new measurement of the sea’s depth as they searched for the river channel.
“By the mark! Six fathoms, Sir.” The response came as the leadsman in the chains sighted his mark on the line. He retrieved the lead plummet and readied for another cast.
The captain sought to push them further up the river before they sank. The shallows would make the recovery of the gold a bit easier after the storm. He sought four fathoms or less as the perfect spot. The winds were fierce; the men were anxious. Captain Ox didn’t want to risk it all, but if his ship sank here, he would still have a chance to recover the gold.
He stowed the small boxes of silver into the long boat and called for two men to quietly lower the boat over the side. As the men turned upward from their task, he cut their throats with two quick swipes of his knife. The storm muffled the sounds as he pushed them off the stern.
With the rest of the crew focused on the rigging and the pumps, Captain Ox slipped overboard, set the small sail, and zipped away. He looked back as a huge wave rolled over the ship. He was amazed at the site with only the masts showing above the water line. The sails were still full, and it continued to move forward with the storm surge and the wind.
Bart had climbed the main mast to the crow’s-nest to get a bearing on the land and river passages they knew were near. He saw the small sloop streaking away. He yelled to his captain, and then was violently tossed forward as the ship ran aground. The ship bucked and lurched forward again on the next swell. The mizzenmast cracked with the stress of the unrelenting wind. The water surged and the keel scraped along the submerged sandbar.
The first mate recovered his footing and looked forward to Captain Ox as a large swell ran onto the shoal and curled high. The sloop with the captain flipped and disappeared under the giant wave. He searched the frothy water, but both were gone. The next swell turned the pirate ship, St. Barbara, on her side and she began to break apart. And the storm kept coming with its wind and its wrath.

Dead men tell no tales.

Chapter 2
March 6, 1980

On Harlin Dodd’s tenth birthday his dad gave him his very own pair of white rubber boots; boots like all the real professional shrimpers wore. He prized the footwear and viewed the gift as a Mason candidate might consider a First Degree of Apprenticeship ceremony. The boots came up to his skinny knees and were a bit too big, but he didn’t care. He would grow into them as he learned to be a shrimper and follow the path of his dad and his granddad.
He had dreamed of a day he would be allowed to go out on the boat and then return home the hero with the bounty caught at sea. He received no Masonic-like ceremony for his entrance into this life, but he felt the blessing of the passage that was not so much a ceremony as plain hard work. No words, just action. Being a shrimper was all he had ever wanted to do.
That summer, after his tenth birthday, was his first shrimping season to work on the family’s boat. On his initial trip, the catch had weighed in at one thousand pounds, a half ton of shrimp from one night’s work. He was proud, beaming from ear to ear as he helped fill large plastic baskets, hook them to a line off the boom, and hoist them up, one by one, off the boat to a wheeled pallet on the dock.
Two dockhands and a handful of early-morning fishermen watched two men and a boy unload the respectable haul. The fishermen drank their coffee and loaded their boats with tackle and bait. Activity on the dock was picking up as the eastern sky turned gray with the first hint of sunrise.
“Got some good shrimps there, Captain.” An old local hollered to the men over the hum of the diesel engines that still pounded their rhythmic pump deep in the hull of the sixty-five foot Vada Belle. “Looks like they running good this year.”
“Sure do, Bubba. Captain put us on ‘em good. Gonna be a good supper tonight,” Joe offered a reply as he filled another basket.
Joe Ladson was a strong, sinewy, twenty-five-year-old man. He had worked as the first mate on the Vada Belle for ten years. Before Joe became a shrimper, his granddaddy had been the mate on the Dodd’s boat until he was too old to haul the massive nets over the gunwale. Like Harlin, Joe was a third generation shrimper. His dad had been a shrimper, too but got drafted into the Army, went to Vietnam, and never returned. A visit from an officer and a priest with a letter declaring him MIA was not a satisfying substitute, but it was all they got.
The Dodd family, together with the Ladson family, had been shrimping the waters off Charleston, and the Carolinas, for as long as anyone could recollect. They piloted their shrimp boats out of Shem Creek, a scenic coastal treasure that flowed with the tides in and out of a Mount Pleasant marsh, and into the Charleston Harbor.
“Let’s get with it, boys. Them shrimp ain’t getting no bigger sitting in that ice, and we ain’t going home till this boat here is spic and span,” shouted Harlin’s dad, Drayton Dodd.
Drayton was the Captain of the Vada Belle. He was a legend among Carolina shrimpers. A tough, steely-eyed Irishman with a love of the ocean and the salt marshes. He always drove a hard bargain, but he was fair to all especially his loyal crew. He and his dad had built the thriving Dodd Shrimping Company from nothing but hard work, a little luck, and the graces of the tides and the weather.
“Harlin, start hauling the fish. Throw em’ in the blue baskets,” Drayton ordered.
“Yes, sir, Captain,” came a hearty reply. Harlin had learned always to call his dad Captain while on the boat. It was the way, and he was learning the ways of a shrimper.
Harlin sorted and tossed the fish from the lower ice hold, filling basket after basket. The by-product catch was abundant as well; flounder, crabs, whiting, squid, a few black sea bass, and a variety of other species that brought a little extra money to the shrimp bounty.
“Let’s go, son, toss those baskets up here to Joe. I’m ready to go home. Your momma’s waiting,” the Captain shouted. He was in a good mood today. Shrimping was good, and the market was paying a premium for all they could catch.
He took off his weathered cap and wiped his brow. His thin white hair flipped about in the breeze. He looked down proudly at his boy working hard. He would not hand out any verbal encouragement, or a pat on the back today, not yet. The boy had a lot to learn before he reached status as a regular deckhand. He pushed his calloused fingers through his hair, put his cap back on, and went back to his work.
Carolina white shrimp and the big sweet browns were a prized catch to deliver to the U.S. seafood market. With growing skill and improved technology, they were now catching enough shrimp to sell into the wholesale market. During the season, their catch filled a refrigerated truck almost every day, and the demand continued to grow. Even at his young age, Harlin could foresee a prosperous future working the local waters in the family’s majestic shrimp boat.
For almost a eighty years over three generations, his family had bought their land and built their houses when the shrimp ran thick through the creeks, and on the sandy bottoms outside the harbor. They had sought shelter for their boats, survived, and rebuilt after each destructive storm hit the coast. They had lived off odd jobs, and mortgaged their boats during the bad seasons when the shrimp were hard to find in the creeks.
The family business had been good. They owned a well-respected operation that had grown up through the 1900’s from poor local fishermen to a multi-state enterprise. They sold to wholesalers who hauled their shrimp north, and west to states who did not enjoy the good fortune of fresh caught shrimp.
In Charleston, lucky locals could buy the sea’s harvest straight off the boat. Some fishermen and shrimpers who lived along the creeks and rivers would even cook it for you in a shack next to their dock. The seafood was good, cheap, and plentiful. The Dodd family was riding the wave of new technology and bountiful seas, and life was good.
Two women were popping heads off the portion of the catch held back to be sold over-the-counter at the Shem Creek Dock and to numerous restaurants that bought their product that way. Walk-in customers had a choice – heads on, or heads off. The Dodd Shrimp Company didn’t mind although they made more money per pound without heads.
These women wearing cloth aprons and straw hats could head a hundred pounds of shrimp in an hour, but they were going to need help with this day’s catch. In Joe’s community of Six Mile, there were women anxious to come into work for a little extra grocery money, and a few pounds of fresh caught shrimp. This catch required their services.
The Captain inspected the nets, the booms, winches, chains, and lines that would all need to be ready for the next trip. Joe climbed down into the hot engine compartment to check belts, oil levels, hoses, and the all-important bilge pumps. The boat was only five years old, a new twin-diesel beauty that was purchased to replace a much smaller, low-profile, single-engine boat Harlin’s daddy and granddaddy had struggled to keep running.
When she was new, Vada Belle was the talk of the fishing village around Mount Pleasant. Her sixty-five-foot length and fourteen-foot beam made her the envy and the pride of the Charleston shrimping fleet. For the last five years, Vada Belle had led the boat parade for the Blessing of the Fleet. The whole Dodd family assembled on deck to wave at the crowd gathered at Alhambra Hall on the banks of the Charleston Harbor. Captain Dodd’s grandma sat proudly at the bow of the trawler that bore her name.
“How’s your granddaddy doing, Joe?” Captain Dodd asked as they walked away from the dock. “You ain’t said a word ‘bout him the whole trip.”
“Well, sir, I was busy hauling in all that shrimp we caught last night,” Joe said with a smile. “But to tell you the truth, he ain’t lookin’ so good lately. He don’t complain none, but I know he ain’t his best.”
“We’re all getting old, Joe. None of us are our best ‘cept maybe you.”
“Ah, no, sir, I guess we ain’t. This here shrimp money gonna help. I’ll take him up to the doctor, see if we can get him something for the pain.”
“You do that. There’s a little extra bonus on top of your share today.”
“Well thank you, sir, I sure do appreciate that.”
“You earned it, Joe. I know my boy was more hindrance than he was help, but they got to learn sometime,” the Captain looked back at his boat. “As long as the ole Vada Belle can plow the waves, the Dodds can earn a good living, and so can you.”
“Yes, sir, you right ‘bout that.”
A swarming flock of seagulls swooped in as Harlin tossed a bucket of fish and shrimp parts into the creek. He picked up two red fish fingerlings, and tossed them, one at a time, to the two pelicans that sat waiting patiently on a dock railing. Each bird caught its treat with an expertise expected of successful bait predators. In a synchronous rhythm, each one dipped his head, and then tilted his long beak to the sky, and gulped the fish. They returned their attention to the boat’s bounty and waited for the next easy meal.
Harlin washed the last of the fish scales, slime, and ice slush through the gunwale ports and over the side. Crabs, small fish, and other creek scavengers circled the wash and took their share. Soapy water and thick bristled brushes scrubbed the dried scum and shrimp water from the decks.
Finally, the long night of shrimping and the weighing and sorting on the dock was almost over. Their muscles ached as they finished shoveling ice onto the catch. The concrete floor was slick with a mix of water from melting ice and slime off the shrimp. The smell of fish and shrimp permeated the processing area and the people who worked there.

Chapter 3
March 6, 2015

Thirty-five years later, the shrimping industry had changed. The Dodd Shrimping Company had survived, but barely. Like the old days, they had to pull oysters, and bottom fish in the off-season to make enough money to keep the lights on.
Captain Harlin Dodd eased the ailing Vada Belle against the dock, careful not to put more force than necessary on her decaying hull. Joe tossed a heavy line to a dockhand. Harlin reversed the gears, and the engines guided the stern to the dock. The side of the boat groaned, and the fiberglass hull crinkled and splintered in spots as her weight settled against the large weathered truck tires hanging as dock fenders.
Harlin winced. The Vada Belle had a cancer; the underlying wood structure was slowly rotting and giving way. They made spot repairs at the end of each season, but repairs only delayed the inevitable.
Traditionally, shrimp boats were built of wood, and although fiberglass was not a new technology, it was not used on trawlers until late in 1960. In the early years of use, boat builders wrapped wooden framing structures with glass-fiber cloth and sprayed the cloth with resin to produce a sleek modern look with greater strength, and a smooth outer surface.
When the boatyard first struck her keel, the Vada Belle was considered a technical marvel to Carolina shrimpers. After the boat was powered by twin diesel engines and fitted with new booms and rigging, well, there was no finer boat in the Carolina fleet.
But now, after almost forty years, the structural defects, and the miscalculations of those once innovative nautical designs were raising their ugly heads. The fiberglass surfaces had a tendency to develop tiny cracks that allowed salt water to seep through, and in her core, the wood rotted. The moisture was slowly eating away at the underlying hull, beams, and keel.
“Captain, got another piece of wood floating in the bilge. A big one this time, big as my hand,” Joe sadly reported as he tossed the water-soaked wood on the deck.
Harlin had not replaced or overhauled the engines because he knew his family’s boat was dying; that and he had barely enough money to buy fuel.
For the last five years, the shrimping seasons had been sporadic and unpredictable. Bad weather, too many shrimpers, and more development along the precious estuaries of creeks and marshes had caused declines in the shrimp population and Harlin’s business.
But the biggest threat came from cheap frozen shrimp supplied by foreign competitors. Farm-raised shrimp from Southeast Asia flooded the market. The low prices were intended to take over a large market share and seemed unfair. The strategy was working, and local shrimpers felt the sting of competition.
Restaurants, especially those inland that had to pay extra for transport, had changed their seafood suppliers, and now imported the shrimp. Discriminating shrimp connoisseurs considered the frozen imports to be an inferior product, but the masses ate the cheaper varieties that were disguised by batter and sauces. After the shrimp had been fried and covered with hot sauce, most didn’t seem to know the difference.
The foreign shrimp influx decimated the Dodd family’s wholesale business. Some local restaurants and stores still offered fresh local seafood, but it was more expensive than the imports and sales declined.
A recent marketing campaign to support ‘buy local’ had helped, but it was expensive, and contributions to the shrimper’s cooperative marketing fund had declined dramatically. Many people supported local shrimpers, but now most purchases were made at their small stores at the dock. Selling a ton of shrimp is difficult when you sell it two or three pounds at a time.
To add insult to the industry’s injury, the authorities had delayed this season’s opening by six weeks. The cold winter had killed or stymied the growth of adolescent shrimp. The fisheries commission had decided to give the shrimp a fighting chance, but the shrimpers weren’t so lucky. The commission didn’t have such an easy solution for them.
“Captain, can I get some advance money today?”
“That’ll be tough, Joe. How much you need?” Harlin wanted to help his first mate, but there just wasn’t much money to offer.
“I need ‘bout five hundred, but I know that hard right now. I’ll work the store, and head the shrimp today to help pay it back.” Joe was looking down at his white shrimping boots.
“I don’t know if I got that much, Joe. You know how things have been.”
“Yes, sir. Yes, sir. I sure do.”
“Will something less do for you?”
“Well sir, I reckon whatever you can do. Cora Lee, she done had to go to the doctor again. Doctor said she needs some test, but I got to pay first. At least, I got to pay that five hundred before they run them test.”
“Well, hell, Joe, why didn’t you tell me. You tell that doctor to send that bill to me. We’ll figure out a way to pay.”
“Well, sir, that doctor say he want cash. Said shrimper credit ain’t no good this year.”
“Get me that doctor’s name and number. I’ll tell him about shrimper credit. You go ahead, and get Cora Lee scheduled for those tests, and let me know what else she’s gonna need,” Harlin said with anger rising. “Shrimper can’t get no credit. Let a fellow get down one year, and they turn on a good customer like that. Hell, it ain’t American to act that way.”
“Yes, sir. Well that doctor say it been like this for three, four year now, and he ain’t seeing it gettin’ any better, so he want his money,” Joe said and shook his head. “That Cora Lee, she my life, Captain. I been married to that woman nigh on forty-two year now. She a good woman. I can’t let nothin’ happen to her, no, sir.”
“Joe, we aren’t going to let anything happen to her. I’ll call the doctor soon as I get home,” Harlin promised.
“Thank you, Captain. Now, what can I do to earn that money back? Cause I don’t want to be no charity case, no sir.”
“Well, I tell you what. Why don’t you head the shrimp today? Hell. We didn’t get but two hundred pounds. I’ll pay you the full rate per pound. You could do that in a couple of hours.”
Joe could pop the heads off of shrimp faster than anyone Harlin had ever seen, even the women that did it every day. Joe used both hands. It was magic to watch.
“Yes, sir, and I do it again tomorrow, and the next day till I pay you back, or till we catch our good share, and I get some free-up money.”
“Joe you know you don’t have to promise me nothing. All you got to do is ask, and I’ll share what I got. I can spare a little. Here’s forty bucks. When you’re done headin’ the shrimp, take twenty pounds with you, and see if you can sell ‘em on the side of the road. Bet you can get six or seven dollars a pound if you’re lucky.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
“Go on Joe, you’ve earned it. You let me take care of that doctor.”
Harlin wasn’t sure what he would tell the doctor, but Joe and Cora Lee were like family, and well, he would do what he had to do.
They cleaned the boat, checked the nets, lines, and winches, and hauled the small catch to the shack to pack in ice. There were no extra dockhands to help, or fishermen to admire the catch. The family of persistent pelicans squawked and flew off hungry.

Chapter 4

Marilyn had a fresh pot of decaf coffee ready when Harlin’s truck pulled up the gravel drive. They lived two blocks from Shem Creek in the Old Mount Pleasant Village. Their small white clapboard-sided house sat twenty-five feet above sea level on one of the highest points in town. Their land was an odd high ridge of sandy soil held firm by the roots of large live oaks that provided a complete canopy of shade. Ten-foot high azalea and gardenia bushes bordered the property on two sides of the house.
Before a developer bought the waterfront land on the east bank of Shem Creek and built giant four-story homes, the Dodd family could see their boat from the front porch.
Old southern-styled homes peppered the landscape of this quaint community on the north bank of Charleston’s harbor. The high ground on this side of the harbor was blessed with views of sunsets that painted the sky over the tip of the Charleston peninsula. The postcard view included the large historic homes that lined the city’s seawall, all sitting proudly at the convergence of the Ashley and Cooper rivers.
Many of the coveted old homes in the village were now renovated, and owned by a new breed of well-to-do families. These new residents were a mix of old Charlestonians and northern transplants who were all fortunate enough to acquire a piece of this unique southern experience.
Harlin could remember sitting on the porch swing with his grandma as they waited for the shrimp boats to come in. They were always anxious to see the catch, and welcome home their hardworking shrimpers. When the boats made the turn from the harbor channel into the creek entrance, the children, and their dogs would race to the docks.
The Dodd’s home needed painting, and the roof had a couple of leaks, but as the problems with the Vada Belle, they had little extra money for repairs. Painting would have to wait until next season if the meager nightly catch and their finances didn’t improve.
Marilyn kissed his shrimp-scented face as she grabbed her purse. “I’ve got the makings ready for a shrimp and mushroom omelet, but you’ll have to cook it. I’ve got to take Ashley to school before I go to work,” she said.
Long ago, she had grown accustomed to the shrimp smell. It was an aroma that she would miss if it were gone. Her father had been in the same business, and she was certain that all real workingmen smelled that way.
“Why do you have to take her to school? What’s wrong with the bus?” Harlin wasn’t pleased. “You don’t need that extra stress; you’ve got enough on your plate.” He opened the cupboard, grabbed a thick-rimmed mug, and poured himself a cup of coffee.
“Well, it really wasn’t her fault, this time, honey.” She looked down in the bottom of her purse as she fished for the car keys.
“What do you mean? She knows what she needs to do to make it to the bus,” Harlin said and looked up the stairs waiting for Ashley to come down. “She needs to have a little respect for others, she’s not a kid anymore, it’s time to step up.”
“You’re partially right about that. Don’t say anything.” She found the keys and looked up at Harlin. “She had her first period this morning, and it’s been pretty traumatic for her, and me too for that matter.” Marilyn glanced up the stairs, too. “Please don’t say anything when she comes down.”
“Holy crap! This can’t be happening, not my little girl.” Harlin turned back to the kitchen counter shaking his head.
“I know, right?” Marilyn whispered and hugged Harlin. “Parker teased her a little, and she bolted up the stairs crying.”
Harlin put his cup on the counter and stood upright. “Where’s the young man? I’ll straighten out his little smart-ass.”
“No, no. I made him apologize; he felt really bad afterward.”
“He knows better. It’s time for him to start growing up, too. I need to get him on the boat as soon as school gets out.” Harlin sipped his coffee and turned on the stove. “In fact, I could use some help this afternoon.”
“Did you forget? His baseball team has their final two games of the season today; a double-header, first game starts at three. It’ll last till almost ten or eleven tonight.”
“Damn. Can he get out of it? I need some help.”
“What about Joe?”
“Oh, that’s something we need to talk about. Cora Lee needs a couple of medical tests, and Joe can’t afford it. The doctor won’t extend him any credit, at least not the five hundred for the test.”
“Five hundred!” Marilyn frowned. “What’s he going to do?”
“I told him I’d call the doctor, and see what I could do. Hell, I don’t have it either.”
“What kind of test are they going to run?”
Harlin stopped and looked up at her. “He didn’t say, but he didn’t seem too concerned about it.”
“Well for that much money, it sounds pretty serious,” Marilyn said.
“He didn’t say, and I was so pissed about the doctor turning him down that I didn’t ask.” Harlin swirled some olive oil on the bottom of the hot pan and dumped in a handful of diced onions and mushrooms. He added a few shrimp to the mix. “I don’t have the money.”
“Geez, Harlin, this isn’t good. I’m stretching out all our payments where I can, and our credit cards are getting close to the limit.” She took off her glasses and looked at him as he completed an unsuccessful search for something in the refrigerator.
“Hell, I know it’s bad, but we’ve got to do something. I gave Joe a few pounds of shrimp to sell for a little extra cash, but when we’re only bringing back three or four hundred pounds a night, I can’t keep doing that. We need every penny.” Harlin sipped his coffee and poured the eggs in the pan. “So can’t Parker get out of the game tonight?”
“No, they’re playing Summerville High, he’s pitching one game, and this series will determine their ranking in the district tournament.”
“When’s that?”
“This weekend, and you know the college coaches are going to be watching. Coach said Clemson and Carolina were both sending scouts.”
“Yeah, yeah, the big show, it all sounds good, but nobody has stepped up with any offers yet, at least none I’ve heard. He’s got to start taking an interest in this shrimping business. Joe’s getting old, I’m getting old, and I’ve got to think about who’s gonna take it over.” Harlin slid the omelet from the pan and diced up a fresh tomato to top it off. He looked in the refrigerator again.
“Are we out of hot sauce?”
“Right in front of your nose.”
“Oh, okay.” Harlin pulled the bottle out of the side tray and sprinkled the sauce on top of his eggs. “I’m just a little frazzled. I need Parker’s help this summer.”
“Harlin, haven’t you been listening to him? He doesn’t want to shrimp.” She leaned back against the counter. “He wants to play baseball and study engineering at Clemson.”
“Yeah, well, I want to catch a ton of shrimp with every pull, and that don’t seem to be happening either.” He stuffed a fork full of the omelet in his mouth.
Ashley tiptoed down the steps and slipped to the back door with her head bent down. “I’m ready, Mom,” she whispered.
“Okay, honey, I’m coming.” She leaned over and gave Harlin another kiss on the forehead. “We’ll talk more tonight. I’ll come by the dock before you push off.”
Harlin rose and walked calmly to the door and gave Ashley a hug.
“I love you, baby. Have a good day.”
“Okay, I love you, too,” she mumbled.
Marilyn smiled at Harlin and followed Ashley to the car.