thinplaces

Told from two points of views, Thin Places is the saga of an ex-con and the daughter of an executed man. Finn Tully is clean, sober and on the downside of a prison term when he reluctantly makes a promise to a soon-to-be executed man. He agrees to find the man’s daughter and prove his innocence to her. The daughter, Chloe, a tough, no-nonsense charter fishing boat captain in Washington state, needs money, strikes a deal with the very man who framed her father and begins smuggling liquor from Washington to Canada. Tully and his mother travel to Washington, find Chloe, and realize she is in danger. The three of them enlist the Coast Guard to trap the man responsible for Chloe’s father’s death. In a dangerous face-off, they uncover the truth behind the murder of a virtuous man and encounter the deadly efforts of two bikers to conceal it.

Thin Places

Chapter One

Polunsky Unit, Huntsville, Texas

 

The way I see it, it’s the people you least expect, the people the rest of the world walk right by, maybe even turn away from, who know about the meaning of life, and by that I mean the world beyond this one and all those strings that connect us to it. I know now that Calvery was one of those people.

I was an addict and a liar, but Calvery entrusted me with his dying wish. Me. A guy so lost a bloodhound couldn’t find me. At the time, I thought he was nuts. Now, I think maybe the Divine did have something to do with it.

While doing time for one too many parole violations, all drug offenses, I mopped floors all over Polunsky, including death row. Each time I headed over there, good ol’ Spud, the Boss responsible for setting me up with my job as porter, gave me a cursory pat down. I could have packed a blade in my sock, green money in my shoe and a cell phone in my boxers, but we both knew I wasn’t that kind of convict. What I did was mule sugar.

Calvery lived on the row, and we’d become friends. For the past year, I had slipped him a pound of sugar every couple of weeks. It took eight cups to make a gallon of wine. In return, he always gifted me some of his homemade brew. This ended up a little risky for me, but in his situation, I figured he deserved a little hooch to wash down his bread and beans. He bought his fruit juice in the commissary just like the rest of us, but he needed sugar to ferment the juice into wine. To get sugar, you needed to know someone who worked in the kitchen. Being a porter, I had connections. It was easy enough for me to do him the favor of dropping a pound of sugar in his bean slot every now and then.

When I reached Calvery’s cell, his house as we called it, I pushed my trashcan up close. He dropped a plastic Sunkist bottle full of his wine into the trash. I covered it with the Houston Chronicle and started to slide some sugar through the slot. Talking to death row inmates was forbidden, smuggling sugar, even more serious, so even though Spud seemed to like me, I kept everything on the down low. First and foremost, I wanted to get out of this place.

“I won’t be needing that,” Calvery said. He stood behind the braided wires of his tiny window. I never got to see his face in plain view, but no matter when I saw him, his eyes beamed at me beneath raised eyebrows. In short, he always seemed lit. He lifted a cup to the window and said, “I got plenty to last me.”

This struck me as a strange thing to say given our arrangement. “You attending AA meetings?”

But Calvery only smiled and said, “This is it.”

“What’re you talking about?”

“Tomorrow’s my last day.”

I knew this was inevitable, but we never talked about it. Why couldn’t this happen after my release? I looked stunned, I suspect. Shouldn’t I have felt something? But with the deadly heat of summer stuck to my skin and my teeth clamped tight, I felt empty as a well in August. “I can’t believe it.”

“It’s true,” he said. “How would you say it? I’m starting my descent.” After his comment, he paused waiting for his audience of one to laugh. Calvery had always liked my sayings and tried them on whenever he had a chance. When I just stood there mute and tight-lipped, Calvery added, “I’m in my final approach.”

“Stop.” I raised my voice. What do you say; what could I say?

“I can see the runway.”

“Stop it, I said.” I glared at him, and if a three-inch, steel-reinforced door hadn’t separated us, my hands would have been on his shoulders, shaking him, telling him to shut up. “It’s not funny.”

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thinplaces

Redesigning Emma

Redesigning Emma transports us to the turn of the last century, when Five Points gang leader Paul Kelly held sway with the criminal element, Emily Post hosted the absurdly wealthy, and the mentally ill were shuttled into archaic asylums. Most vividly it shows us the world of one visionary milliner on Manhattan’s Ladies’ Mile—a spunky, generous-hearted young woman who is torn between her desire for success, her involvement with the 1899 newsboys’ strike and two very intriguing men.

 

 

Redesigning Emma

 

No accessory delights the eye or gladdens the heart like the appropriate hat, and Emma Ludwig had spent the morning in Staten Island proving just that to none other than Emily Post. As Manhattan hastened to the twentieth century, if clothes made the man, hats made the woman. To be a milliner in this fine time was a privilege and an honor. Emma was an artiste, a master, or should she say mistress, of her craft, and a business-woman.

Having completed Mrs. Post’s fitting, Emma left the finely-appointed drawing room delighted with their session. In the entry hall, she paused at the reflection of a tray wavering in a gilded mirror. Below the mirror, on a mahogany table, a silver server with an elaborate rimmed border held a pile of calling cards. Emma’s heart beat furiously as she stepped toward the tray. On top she saw a tempting array of yesterday’s visiting cards—a red-fringed design featuring swans on a mountain lake, a scalloped one embroidered with silky threads in hues of aquamarine, rose and violet, and an intriguing selection of fan-shaped styles capable of collapsing and expanding. Emma wanted so badly to hold just one, but the butler stood uncomfortably close; so close she thought she smelled a hint of sherry on his breath.

Moving out of view, the butler pulled the door open. “Good day, Miss Ludwig,” he said, waving his arm across the threshold.

Intent on the reflection in the mirror, Emma read the names on two of the calling cards—Mrs. Hamilton Twombling and Miss Cora Randolph. Incredibly, they were both members of the Four Hundred! Here she was beside them, so close that if she wished she might steal one. She dared not look toward the butler. Instead, she shifted her hat until its violet brim swooped dramatically from above one ear to below the other.

“Will there be anything else?” The butler’s question dripped with irritation.

Outside, two girls laughed as they chased hoops down the street. The butler turned his head and, for a moment, focused his pretentious attitude toward the innocent children. Emma watched his gaze as she inched her fingers toward the silver tray.

The plate of calling cards represented Manhattan’s finest women. If Emma could just add one of them to her clientele, it would make a huge difference for her business. It was not as if Mrs. Post would miss just one card. After all, surely she remembered who had called on her throughout the day. It wasn’t stealing exactly, wouldn’t Mrs. Post be more than glad to share the names with Emma? But what if the butler caught her? No matter. What could he do?

Her heart pounding, with one quick snap of her wrist, Emma snatched Miss Randolph’s card as if it were the tail of a runaway mouse. Just as Emma placed it into her palm, the butler cleared his throat. Emma stiffened. Pretending to straighten her gloves, she hid the card in her hand, raised her chin and acknowledged the butler with a nod of her head as she left the house.

As Emma walked to the ferry, the noonday sun beat down on the great houses of the island. Somehow this quiet street in Dongan Hills managed to sound and smell not of money, but of success and taste. On one side, she heard the snip of shears against a boxwood; on the other, a swarm of bees hummed over a trellis of intertwining yellow and coral honeysuckle.

The scent of baking bread wafted from the kitchen windows as the cooks busied themselves with lunch preparations—perhaps chicken fricassee for Number 22 and a filet of sole cooked in gruyere and sherry for 23. These dishes were created for the husbands, or in some cases, a Ladies’ Aid Society meeting. She wondered if it was a sign of prestige for the husband to dine at home for lunch. Or perhaps the wives felt it an unwelcome interruption to their otherwise carefree day. Emma thought she might prefer the ladies’ lunch of light dishes and idle chatter to the solemn company of a man fretting about stocks and hog bellies.

Perhaps she was on the verge of joining the ranks of the privileged herself. When she did, she would rescue her mother from the boarding house and her brother from his fanciful ways. They, too, would live well, eating terrapin and duck instead of boiled cabbage and potatoes. Maybe not the terrapin, she reconsidered, after all, if she wanted a turtle all she needed to do was march over to Washington Pond and snatch one out of the water.

No, when Emma moved to Fifth Avenue, she would not dine on reptiles. Instead, her guests would feast on Delmonico steak and Chicken à la King with Baked Alaska for dessert.