My first novel ‘A Cold Dish’ has been published by James Ward Kirk Fiction.
It is available in papearback or digital at Amazon.
A COLD DISH
Imagine if a nearly omnipotent villain was ruining your life. If every failed endeavor was caused by him. And not only your life, but the lives of your parents had been and the lives of your children would be warped by this evil influence. And then imagine becoming aware of this. How would you fight back?
In my mystery/suspense novel six victims of a generations-old revenge plot struggle to end their curse and save the next generation.
“Revenge is a dish best served cold”. This revenge is Antarctic. And Biblical. Of “Vengeance is Mine, saith the Lord” proportions. As described in the Second Commandment, from Exodus 20:5 – “for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” How would such a revenge play out on a human scale?
Six strangers, each on their own private mission, come to the small town of Eureka Springs, in the Arkansas Ozarks. An injured NFL quarterback desperate to heal a blown-out knee. An unpublished writer on her first assignment. A wounded vet just back from the Middle East haunted by the ghost of a fallen comrade. A budding out of control artist hiding out from the dangerous friends of the imprisoned ex-boyfriend she narc’d on. A financial advisor, who has illegally transferred money from one fund to another to cover personal losses, desperately seeking the big deal that will make everything right. And a minister attempting to avoid the personal disgrace that could defrock her. To learn they are not only connected in myriad ways they are unaware of, but also embroiled in a revenge plot stretching back generations. Perpetrated by Timothy Thomas Franklin, a man badly injured by their grandparents, who has been exacting revenge upon their parents and them ever since.
Why Eureka Springs? The numerous mineral springs there possess legendary healing qualities, venerated by local Native Americans for centuries, and more recently exploited by American settlers and their descendants. The water changes their lives, for better then worse. Four years later they assemble once again, this time at Medano Lake, in Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado, to once more partake of the magical water, for their sake and the sake of their children. Only this time they are aware of what they are getting into and will do it right. They think. Fifteen years later their children, the fourth generation, deal with the repercussions of that fateful immersion in Medano Lake.
Biblical revenge. Generational warfare. Mystical waters. Haunted Christmas cards. A boomer villain of mythic proportions. A spiritual transgender who serves an ancient pantheon of pagan gods. And six damaged people learning to love and hope, against all odds, and fighting to protect their children, the fourth and final generation.
This is “Lost” meets “The Iliad” by way of the Old Testament.
U.S. Review of Books:
by Mike Sherer
James Ward Kirk Publishing
Packed with suspense and mystery and a healthy dose of the inexplicable, this story gets its hooks into readers quickly, leading them on a search for answers. The plot revolving around a quest for vengeance and the moral grayness of the characters makes rooting for any one particular character challenging, as they all seem to have their own sinister motives. At the same time, this creates a deeper mystery about who can be trusted or who will survive, and that makes this book that much harder to put down. The supernatural aspects of the story makes anything possible, and just when one might think they know which direction things are headed, something happens that turns everything upside down. Readers looking for something a little heavier that will keep them enraptured for long periods of absorption will be compelled to keep turning the page.
A COLD DISH SAMPLE
SERVED COLD IN EUREKA SPRINGS
Huge Allen fits his nickname. He is a large man in his late twenties, six-foot-four and 220 pounds of muscle. He appears lithe and athletic even lounging in a leather recliner in his immense man cave. But his scarred face, cut and gouged, is impassive, and his eyes seem empty. He is dressed comfortably in cotton sweat pants and tee shirt bearing NFL logos and the team heraldry of the Kansas City Chiefs, and clad in athletic shoes that shimmer with energy. He eats an apple while watching a football game on a three-digit flat screen in his home theater – the Chiefs are playing the Pittsburgh Steelers. But he doesn’t seem engaged. In anything. Beyond the home theater his basement is furnished with exotic exercise equipment and an impressive sound system and other smaller flat screens and laptops. And football memorabilia – footballs, high school and college and NFL jerseys, trophies, awards, photos of him posing with pro and college and high school and pee wee teammates and coaches. But there is a neglected look to it all, as if everything has been dutifully earned, acquired, catalogued, then forgotten. Nothing looks polished, or even recently cleaned.
Huge sets the apple core down, nearly dropping it. Several fingers on his right hand are crooked and don’t work right. He clumsily picks up the remote, then jabs the TV off and ejects the disc from the DVD player. He sets the remote down and rises awkwardly. Conscious of his malfunctioning fingers, he carefully removes the DVD from the carriage. Written on the generic disc is a game and a date: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, last year. He puts it in a jewel case and sets it down by the TV, then jabs the DVD player off.
Huge moves across the basement toward the stairs with a serious limp. He pauses to pull up the right leg of his sweat pants, revealing a massive knee brace. He makes some adjustments to it, then pulls the pants leg back down. He continues, limping the same as before despite the adjustment. He hauls himself up the stairs.
Huge limps through a large mansion. It is well-furnished and professionally decorated, but sterile. There are no personal touches. All the possessions that mean anything to him have been gathered in the basement. Upstairs, this house could belong to anyone. No one else is present, and there are no signs of anyone else ever being present.
A small suitcase sits by the door to the garage. Huge picks it up and walks out into a three-car garage. In one bay is a silver Cadillac Escalade. In another is a black Mercedes S-Class sedan. In the other is a red Jaguar. Huge slaps one of three buttons with his free hand, and the door behind the Jag rises. He tosses the suitcase into the back seat, then folds his large stiff frame into the driver seat, carefully positioning his right leg. The car purrs to life, and the stereo comes on in mid-song – a young female singer performing the Bob Dylan song ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’, backed by a rock band. Huge backs out of the garage.
As he continues to back down the long driveway, his house and grounds come into view. The estate is sprawling and immense, set in a neighborhood of similar properties. He drives away, and several neighbors wave enthusiastically. He waves in acknowledgement, smiles (or it could be a grimace). Then glances down at the flier in the passenger seat. The banner reads ‘Eureka Springs Crescent Resort and Spa’, with a photo of a grand eighteenth century hotel, set high on a wooded hilltop.
+ + + + +
A ragged filthy banged-up twelve-year old rust-bucket of a sub-compact drives below the speed limit in the right lane of the Interstate. The engine sounds like it can’t do much more. Traffic is moderate as the highway passes through ubiquitous suburban sprawl. The driver, Millicent Monroe, is the sole occupant. Twenty-eight, slight, ghostly pale complexion framed in carelessly chopped-off soupy brown hair and punctuated with dim eyes behind serious-framed glasses. She wears white shorts and white tee shirt, with white socks inside cheap white tennis shoes. Everything seems scattered about her – clothes, hair, expression, focus. The grimace on her face registers her as accurately as the dashboard (with several warning lights on) does her car. She drives as unsurely and self-consciously as she does everything else. Warm air whips in through open windows to agitate her. The interior of the car is as ragged and dirty as its exterior. Grime on the floor, streaks across the windshield. Food wrappers. Tracks through the dust on the cracked and faded dash. Dark stains of various magnitudes. Innocuous pop music crackles through fuzzy speakers.
Millicent reaches for a super-sized take-out coffee, slops some. Holding it carefully so not to spill any on her whites, her car drifts off onto the ruffles on the shoulder. The raucous thumping causes her to jerk back off the shoulder. Slopping more coffee, this time onto her white tee shirt. “Damn.” Her car goes through erratic maneuvers as she glances down at the damage, gulps coffee, sets the cup down, pulls the tee shirt out to get a better look at the dark stain. I can’t take me anywhere. Taking a deep calming breath, she places both hands on the wheel and concentrates on driving.
Briefly. She glances at the digital recorder on the front passenger seat. Time to get to work. She punches off the stereo, then reaches over to click on the recorder. Swerving only slightly this time. She clears her throat, annunciating loudly above the inrushing torrent of air. “On the road to Eureka Springs. Where hope springs eternal.” She frowns. Too corny, by an ear and a half. She clears her throat again. “I’m driving to Eureka Springs this pleasant spring morning.”
A car horn blares! Behind her! Millicent jerks upright, glancing into her rearview mirror. An expensively small sports car has latched onto her rear bumper, flashing its lights. Then moves into the left lane and pulls up alongside. Huge Allen glares darkly at her. Millicent returns the look with a baffled, “What?” He speeds ahead. Millicent watches as he quickly precedes her into infinity. “Rich jerk. I’ll occupy your ass.”
She takes another deep calming breath. Then reaches for her coffee. Hitting a pot hole causes more spillage. This time there’s not even a curse as she gulps, then sets the cup back down. She wipes the coffee off the back of her hand onto her bare leg, swerving only a little this time.
Finally, she settles down behind the wheel, driving in a reasonably straight line. Clears her throat. “Eureka Springs. In the Arkansas Ozarks, right ventricle of the heartland.”
+ + + + +
Heavy metal rock ROARS from a Jeep Wrangler barreling down the Interstate in the left lane. It rumbles through open farmland and rolling hills. The exterior is seriously mud-splattered. But the interior is surprisingly clean and orderly, even with monsoon-winds tearing through it. The satellite navigation display shows it heading toward a destination named ‘Eureka Springs Gun and Hunt Club’. The driver and sole occupant, Gabby Pyle, is mid-thirties and a well-tanned medium – medium height, weight, expectations. His leathery face is squinched as if he has stared into the sun for years. His short hair has just begun growing out from a buzz cut. He wears new jeans and an old desert camouflage tee shirt. He has two sets of dog tags around his neck.
But what seizes the attention upon first seeing him is his left hand. Two fingers, the pinky and ring, are missing, gone from the first knuckle.
Gabby speeds up on Millicent Monroe’s car. He glances over as he whips by on the left. All he can see from his high vantage are her pale bare legs and coffee-stained white shorts. He snorts with displeasure, then leans over and bellows out the open passenger window, “Put a burqa on it!” Even though the remark is lost in the rush of the wind and the roar of the stereo, the car swerves in response. Another snort. “Saudis got that right. Don’t let them drive.” He accelerates and races down the road far ahead.
+ + + + +
A Greyhound bus creeps down the Interstate exit ramp onto a two-lane road. As it passes a gas station Sweet Marie stares out a window to see Gabby Pyle fuel his Jeep. Everything about this twenty-year old screams EXTREME! Chopped-off multi-color streaked hair, bleached skin, facial pins and rings, tie-dyed halter exposing a large tattoo of a male face on her stomach that disappears into low-cut shorts. She chortles, “Pay for it, guzzler.”
As the bus drives away from the Interstate it enters heavily-forested mountains. There is scant development along this designated scenic route. But a billboard catches her eye. In large bold print it proclaims, ‘Honor the Second Commandment’. Below in smaller print is ‘the Eureka Springs Whole Church’. “Oh wow. Bible belt. And suspenders. Red, white, and blue suspenders, I suspect.”
A laugh from behind snares her attention. She looks to see a pre-teen girl smiling at her. Seated beside an adult woman who glowers. Marie returns both with an open smile. “What is the Second Commandment? I know the Second Amendment. Everyone knows that. The right to blow each other away. But what’s the Second Commandment?” The girl shrugs her ignorance, while the woman’s glower darkens.
“You shall not make for yourself a graven image.” At this solemn male voice Marie swivels around to look forward. An elderly man has turned around in the seat in front of her. “Or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.”
“Oh wow. I bet you know all of them.” He nods that he does. “What does graven mean? Is it something to do with death? Like a grave?”
“A graven image is an idol. The Second Commandment forbids idolatry.”
Marie smiles blandly. “Thank you, sir. You are very knowledgeable. In the Biblical sense.” He nods once again, then turns back around.
Marie looks out the window at the passing scenery. The bus ascends a narrow mountain road winding through tall pines that closely line the shoulders, the rocky hillsides strewn with fallen rocks. Brightly-colored wildflowers adorn the newly-sprouted greenery, as a multitude of streams from recent spring rains cascade down.
But Marie quickly tires of this natural splendor. She digs in a bulging backpack next to the bedroll at her feet. A pistol is shoved aside. As is a sketch pad and a case of artist pencils. She pulls out an I-Pod. As she cuts it on and places the headphones Bob Dylan begins to whisper hoarsely. She also pulls out a wadded sheet of computer paper. As she unwads it is revealed to be a printed-out e-mail addressed to Sweet Marie that announces in creative colorful fonts, “WEEKEND RAVE AT THE HIPPIE HOLE, EUREKA SPRINGS, ARKANSAS”.
+ + + + +
“If you want to achieve greatness stop asking for permission. Good things come to people who wait, but better things come to those who go out and get them. If you do what you always did, you will get what you always got. Just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending, he turned into a butterfly.”
A gleaming well-cared for late-model four-door sedan drives down a two-lane road from out of a forest into the outskirts of a small town. A sign is passed – Welcome To Eureka Springs. The one-street town is nestled in a narrow valley, surrounded by tall mountains. Sitting atop the highest one overlooking the town is an imposing Victorian estate. Sitting atop a high peak opposite this is a huge seven-story white statue of Christ with arms outstretched, gazing out over the valley.
“The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do. Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument. The meaning of life is to find your gift; the purpose of life is to give it away.”
The driver and lone occupant of the sedan, Walter Street, is a bland pale clean-shaven thirty, short, skinny, prematurely receding hair (with a bad cut that emphasizes this), wearing expensive dress slacks and short-sleeve shirt and tie, all badly wrinkled. And expensive badly-scuffed shoes. A soft male voice emanates from the stereo speakers, reciting motivational gems. Such as, “Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting.” And, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” The back seat is neatly arranged with folders, a briefcase, a laptop. Atop all this is a cheap paperback titled, ‘Native Americans of Arkansas’.
Walter’s sharp eyes dart all about as he cruises slowly, taking in every detail. Gift shops and restaurants, the latest encrustations upon century-old brownstones, line both sides of the main road. Also, a gas station where Huge Allen fills his sports car. Walter nods approvingly, “Nice.” And the Humongous, a run-down hotel in an old three-story brick building where Sweet Marie, carrying a bulky backpack and bedroll, disembarks from the greyhound bus parked before it. This draws a sneer. “Punk”.
“You have arrived at your destination,” his GPS device informs him. He is approaching the Eureka Springs Visitor Center. Walter parks in front of it. The audio book dies along with the engine. He climbs out, stretches, looks around. A fair crowd of pedestrians meander up and down the sidewalks in and out of stores on a pleasant sunny spring day.
He walks up to the entrance to the visitor center. The door is locked. He pulls out his phone and checks the time – 1:15 pm. He checks the hours of operation posted on the door. 10 am to 5 pm. He tries the door again. Still locked. He cups his hands to the glass and peers inside. No one in sight, no lights on, no activity at all. With a sigh, he leans back. “One horse town.”
+ + + + +
A full-size white cargo van, emblazoned with NEW HOPE EVANGELICAL COMMUNITY CHURCH, passes by the visitor center Walter Street stands in front of. It is driven by Maggie Rose. Early thirties, stunningly beautiful, with a clear clean baby face bordered by thick blond hair reaching half-way down her back. There are ample hints of a knock-out figure safely muffled within an extremely conservative baggy ankle-length dress. Contemporary Christian music plays softly on the stereo. She parks in the lot beside a small church.
Maggie climbs out. Her soft face is creased with concerns that seem to have become permanent features. She walks up to the sign in front of the church – Saint Timothy Catholic Church. A frown, as she studies it, softly mouthing the name, “Saint Timothy.”
Maggie Rose, as a five-year old in pajamas, stands in a dark room before a tiny rickety table-top Christmas tree staring at a Christmas card with a Biblical scene having nothing to do with Christmas. Saint Timothy being stoned by a mob of heathens. It is signed, ‘Saint Timothy’.
“Maggie, Maggie May, Maggie May I.” The young Maggie turns toward a woman in her early twenties. She appears frazzled, with wild butchered hair and pallid skin, yet with a curvaceous body overflowing the tee shirt and skimpy panties she wears. She wields a whiskey bottle as if it were an appendage. “It’s three in the morning.”
A young man emerges from the shadows behind her in his undershorts, slipping his arms around her and pulling her close. “It’s two. Here. It’s three in Cincinnati. Where we played last night.”
The young woman raises the whiskey bottle to his lips, to silence him. He gulps. “Why are you up?”
“Who is Saint Timothy, mommy?”
Maggie returns to the present, staring at the sign in front of the church. Saint Timothy. She walks into the church. It is dimly lit, scant light entering through the stained glass of the windows. She looks around. There is only one other person present, an elderly custodian. He looks up from his cleaning as she approaches. “Excuse me. I’m looking for the Eureka Springs Whole Church.”
“Can’t miss it.”
“But I did.”
“See the big Christ?” Maggie shakes her head no. “You’re kidding. You didn’t see the seven-story Christ? On the hilltop? Overlooking the town?”
“I don’t look around while I’m driving.”
“You’re not driving now. Go out and look up.”
Maggie walks outside and looks up. The huge white statue of Christ with arms outstretched towers above the trees in the hills, bearing down upon the small town.
images from A Cold Dish