Pru has a secret, which she has no plans to reveal – ever. But after a woman is murdered and all clues point to her, she has no choice but to disclose her true identity. When her revelations help thwart the killer’s plan to frame Pru for the murder, the killer begins stalking her. With each note he sends, he gets closer. The police are stumped. Pru wants to run away. She really, really wants to run, but Ajax has found the woman of his dreams and he’s not letting her go anywhere. He can be patient. In the meantime, he’ll protect her with his life. Pru isn’t feeling very patient, and her friends, Mel and Terri, are definitely not willing to wait until the police discover who the stalker is. The three friends take matters into their own hands and jump headfirst into the investigation.
Will Pru and her friends uncover her stalker before he turns his violence on Pru?
“What the heck are you wearing?”
In response to Pru’s question, Mel stuck her hip out and struck a pose. “You like?” She strutted off a few paces and then twirled around before swaggering back as if she were at a fashion show. Only women at a fashion show normally didn’t wear dark blue men’s pants suits. And they certainly never showed off bulky, black oxford shoes.
“Um…” Pru could think of nothing nice to say.
Terri, who was giggling next to her, didn’t have the same problem. “Did you raid Owen’s closet?”
Mel ignored her and reached into her pocket and pulled out a pair of glasses.
“When did you start wearing glasses?”
Terri leaned over and whispered to Pru, “she doesn’t.”
“This is my detective look,” Mel explained.
“Because all detectives wear glasses?” Terri turned to Pru. “I have no idea where she gets these ideas.”
Pru shrugged. “Not from books. Detectives in novels never wear glasses.” There may be some modern-day detectives who wore glasses, but Sherlock certainly didn’t although Hercule Poirot did use a pince-nez for reading. “I thought you said they would talk to us because we aren’t detectives. And now you’re dressed up as an extra on Law & Order.”
Terri bumped her shoulder. “Mel will do almost anything to buy a new outfit.”
Mel ignored them and picked a briefcase up for the ground. Another item she’d acquired for her detective ‘look’. “Let’s go.” She didn’t wait for a reply before marching off to the entrance of the Daily Grind, the coffee shop where Kathy Greene had been killed. Pru and Terri stood in the parking lot staring after her.
“Aren’t we going to come up with some kind of plan before parading in there?” Pru asked Terri.
“I’d say Mel is going to wing it, but I’ve learned there’s a method to her madness.” With a shrug, Terri followed Mel.
“Please tell me this method won’t end up with us at the police station again.”
Terri shook her head. “Sorry, can’t do that.”
About the Author
I grew up reading everything I could get my grubby hands on, from my mom’s Harlequin romances to Nancy Drew, to Little Women. When I wasn’t flipping pages in a library book, I was penning horrendous poems, writing songs no one should ever sing, or drafting stories which have thankfully been destroyed. College and a stint in the U.S. Army came along, robbing me of free time to write and read, although on the odd occasion I did manage to sneak a book into my rucksack between rolled up socks, MRIs, t-shirts, and cold weather gear. After surviving the army experience, I went back to school and got my law degree. I jumped ship and joined the hubby in the Netherlands before the graduation ceremony could even begin. A few years into my legal career, I was exhausted, fed up, and just plain done. I quit my job and sat down to write a manuscript, which I promptly hid in the attic before returning to the law. But practicing law really wasn’t my thing, so I quit (again!) and went off to Germany to start a B&B. Turns out running a B&B wasn’t my thing either. I polished off that manuscript languishing in the attic before following the husband to Istanbul where I decided to give the whole writer-thing a go. But ten years was too many to stay away from my adopted home. I packed up again and moved to The Hague where, in between tennis matches and failing to save the world, I’m currently working on my next book. I hope I’ll always be working on my next book.
When attorney Cullen Molloy attends his fortieth high school reunion, he doesn’t expect to be defending childhood friends against charges of murder…
In a small town on the high plains of Eastern New Mexico, life and culture are shaped by the farm roads defining the 640-acre sections of land homesteaders claimed at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Cullen and Shelby Blaine explore first love along these section roads during the 1960s, forging a life-long emotional bond.
As junior high school band nerds, Cullen and Shelby fall under the protection of football player and a loner, Buddy Boyd. During their sophomore year of high school, Buddy is charged with killing a classmate and is confined to a youth correctional facility. When he returns to town facing the prospect of imprisonment as an adult, Cullen becomes Buddy’s protector.
The case haunts the three friends into adulthood, and it isn’t until their fortieth reunion, that they’re forced to revisit that horrible night. When a new killing takes place, Cullen, Shelby, and Buddy find themselves reliving the nightmare.
Murder is an easy thing to hide along old country section roads.
About the Author
Mike Murphey is a native of eastern New Mexico and spent almost thirty years as an award-winning newspaper journalist in the Southwest and Pacific Northwest. Following his retirement from the newspaper business, he and his wife Nancy entered in a seventeen-year partnership with the late Dave Henderson, all-star center fielder for the Oakland Athletics, Boston Red Sox, and Seattle Mariners. Their company produces the A’s and Mariners adult baseball Fantasy Camps. They also have a partnership with the Roy Hobbs adult baseball organization in Fort Myers, Florida. They love baseball, fiction, cats and sailing. They split their time between Spokane, Washington, and Phoenix, Arizona. Mike enjoys life as a writer and old-man baseball player.
Effete alcoholic Tris Edgar finds a talking raccoon digging through his trash one evening. Tris tells a story of heartbreak, loss and self-defeat, and of his life as an instant celebrity in the internet age. At turns dark and whimsical, Doug Liberty Presents Bandit the Dancing Raccoon is a uncanny fable for the 21st century.
Praise for Doug Liberty Presents Bandit the Dancing Raccoon:
“Sheppard is a hugely imaginative writer, deftly balancing humor, pathos and lyricism.” -Self-Publishing Review
When I went to work the next night, Delores wasn’t there. She was supposed to be there. She left behind a note on the back of an order pad that said she was returning to Zanesville, Ohio, and that I shouldn’t follow her because nothing good could come from my following her to Zanesville. She’d double-underlined and capitalized Zanesville in each instance of its use in the note. She helpfully wrote down the address for what she said was her parents’ place in Zanesville at the bottom of the note.
This is how people get in trouble, you know. Not following directions.
It was an adventure. I took the note, left the restaurant, locked the doors and shoved my key under the front mat. I could have tried to drive my car to Zanesville, but it wouldn’t have made it.
I didn’t have much money. I’m not very good with money. This is a problem of mine going way back. All the way back. And all the way forward, too, to the present day. Ask the raccoon, if you can find him. He didn’t appreciate my situation.
I walked down to the Trailways bus station with the intention of buying a ticket to Zanesville, or maybe Cincinnati or Cleveland. I was unsure concerning the geography part of the adventure. Ohio was north. I knew that much.
At the bus station, a dude wearing a white, bellbottomed jumpsuit with “FATTU” spelled out in golden sequins sparkling on his back and sequined flames sewn into the seams from his armpits to his white ankle boots, hired me to ride shotgun with him from Florida to Ohio. I found him pacing around the bus station near the coin-operated TV sets. I’d been on my way to the ticket counter. I expected him to speak in an Elvis-inspired drawl, but he didn’t. His voice was Midwestern flat. There was no musicality to it whatsoever. He spoke quickly, too. “You want to go to Ohio? Let’s do this. Here’s two hundred dollars.” He handed me $300 in twenties. I counted it in front of him and tried to give back the extra hundred. “You keep it! You keep it! Good job! You’re trustworthy. We have a circle of trust going.”
I was wearing my work uniform. We were quite a pair walking out of the bus station to his waiting car, a mid-1970’s Camaro painted gold, like the car in the Rockford Files, glowing under a streetlight. Or was it a Pontiac Firebird? The engine was running. I could see blue smoke rising out of the tailpipe and up into the humid air. It was the rainy season. Everything was wet—ground, trees, people, air. I flung my straw boater onto a palmetto bush growing at the edge of the lot.
Where did I leave my car? Should I have sold my car? It wasn’t worth the effort to think about the car, so I didn’t.
He produced an glass amber bottle of black beauties. The bottle had been around since the 1970’s, like his car. Maybe he’d found it under the bucket seat. I popped a tablet, he popped four. He told me he was going to dictate his novel to me, and I was going to type it all down. He handed me an Olivetti in a brown leatherette zipped case and a roll of paper from a paper towel dispenser. “This is going to be my masterpiece. Type it all down! I’m the new Kerouac!” The speed made me feel like there were invisible live wires under my skin. I kept shouting, “Woop! Woop!” I typed the guy’s masterpiece while he drove. He had an organist’s keyboard built into the dash, and he played it. Bach fugues, mostly, to accompany his dictated writing. There were pipes in the doors. Every note vibrated through them.
“Her lips were pillows for my psionic mind.” I remember that line. I don’t remember a lot of the rest of it. Most of it was like that, though.
All the roadsigns that I’d read from my annual trips north were still there somehow (Stuckey’s, See Rock City, etc.).
I typed, and the paper kept getting stuck. The ribbon was on its last legs. The paper tore, so I ripped it and tossed it in the seat behind me. I looked back at some point and there were all these curls of typed-upon paper back there.
“Is it done?” he asked me, riffing on the keyboard. “Is it done? Is it done?”
“Yes,” I told him. “It’s done.”
“Cool,” he said, and drove us off the side of a low bridge in Kentucky, bounding over rocks ten feet down before sloshing nose first into the river below.
“I should have asked for more money,” I muttered as the car splashed down.
“What’s that?!” he shouted.
We somehow survived. I rolled down the window, climbed out of the car, swam ashore and looked back. The car was gone. So was the author.
About the Author
John L. Sheppard, a graduate of the MFA@FLA creative writing program at the University of Florida, is a native of Cleveland, Ohio. He lives in Illinois. He wrote a series of books about the adventures of Audrey Novak.
Mary Wulf, wife of baseball slugger Gary Wulf, has invited her four dearest friends to her Southern Connecticut home for a fun-filled late August weekend get-together. They’re coming from Maryland, Ohio, Colorado, and as near as next door. Sports Wives coming together with their unique personalities and emotional perspectives.
Being together for the very first time, the women reveal far more of themselves during the weekend than they ever expected. Indeed, the humor is continuous—while tenderness, poignancy, and sorority will also pull at your emotions. There is much on multiple levels to draw one into the lives of these women—who are in effect, wedded to sports as well as to their men.
All right, let’s take stock. I am thirty-five years old. A reasonable, loving, and notoriously cautious woman. I am married to Gary Wulf, the current right fielder for the New York Mets. I am deeply in love with his agent. I have violated the Seventh Commandment. On several occasions. Other than that, I have no complications in my life.
Mary Wulf stood in her kitchen staring at her reflection in a bottle of tequila, wondering how much of the bottle would be consumed before the evening was out. She couldn’t contain her delight at the prospect. The weekend series was about to begin–only minutes away now from the first pitcher . . . of margaritas. Ha, ha.
Look, it’s late August, and the Mets are only seven games out of first. They could still win the division; it’s not too late. But I can’t say the same thing about my marriage, can I? Nor would I want to. At least the Mets have a chance not to finish in the Eastern Division cellar, the way Philadelphia ‘s playing. Yes, the cellar. If Gary only knew what I have hidden in mine. Figuratively, I mean. The poor Mets. This will be their sixth straight losing season. How many have I had in a row with my husband? About the same? More than that? Up in Boston they were for forever saying that this year could be the year they’d win The Series. The Curse of the Bambino once and for all exorcised. And they finally had their year–twice. Here it’s the curse of Mary Wulf. But this also could be the year. My year.
While Mary pondered her personal life in the context of Major League Baseball, she put the CD player in “Random” mode. For once the batting order of her Broadway CD mix would be shaken up, providing Mary some variety and surprise rather than disgorging once again the same tracks in the same familiar pattern—one long ago memorized. “Memory” from Cats was hitting second, instead of eighth as it usually did. Then again, this wasn’t the song to come so early in the lineup—it seemed highly out of place in that position. It spoke too deeply to its listener; it was too emotional, too relevant for it simply to waft through a room without adequate preparation, without at least some expectation, without any anticipation from the woman in the house, who played it whenever she attempted to communicate with her soul.
Hearing the opening bars of the song, Mary came quickly into the room from the kitchen, where she had begun filling bowls with high-calorie, indefensible, and long-denied tortilla chips, pouring two kinds of salsa into “authentic” Mexican serving bowls, after having pulled down from the shelves of the liquor cabinet the accompanying tequila and margarita mix. She felt a bit startled moving from the gaiety south of the border to the tragic and poignant setting of Griselda the Glamor Cat among the piles of unwanted junk. Mary disliked sudden shifts of mood, sudden news of any kind, sudden demands on her time and emotions. And now one of her favorite songs was causing her sudden anxiety.
Six weeks into their relationship, eight months before they were married, she had given herself to Gary Wulf only because the tune was playing in the living room of her small apartment. She thought earlier in the evening that in spite of her physical attraction to the young and ardently insistent ballplayer, it was really too early in their relationship for sex. She just had too many questions about him as a man and as a potential husband. But the tune had begun to play at the exact moment he touched the top of her thigh with unmistakable amorous purpose—and there was little she could do or wanted to do to make him cease. The song stimulated her pity and understanding, and she felt more vulnerable every time she heard it. She had loved the song long before she had fallen in love with Gary Wulf, having sung it as part of a musical revue at a local community theatre, and she had frequently fantasized about making love while it provided the most erotic musical accompaniment she could have imagined. She wondered if she wanted a sexual encounter to purge the pain the song featured—the loneliness and regret as one’s life sped off course to it’s inevitable end. Her doubts after that night about what she had allowed to happen with Gary had absolutely no effect on her love for the song. She knew now, however, that her feelings for Gary were never the same afterward. And still she had married him. When she was only twenty and a far distance from the aging Glamor Cat.
Mary turned off the disc, felt her tension immediately lessening, and replaced the compilation with the other CD sitting on top of the player—Carole King’s gift to the 1970’s, the album Tapestry. Mary felt it almost a duty to listen to the CD at least once a month—that is, a duty to her mother, who found almost every cut an anthem worthy of respect if not devotion. Carole King was the first singer Mary could recall from her childhood. Her mother had loved the album for almost ten years before Mary was born, and Mary felt unashamedly wistful recalling how her mother wore her hair in King’s curly mane as shown on the album cover and how from the ages of one and a half to seven she would dance to “Smackwater Jack” while her mother roared with delight, giving Mary a standing ovation after every performance. Mary put the CD in the player but this time did not want the “Random” mode dictating the lineup; no, what she needed now was familiarity and control. Of course she wanted to hear the album’s opening song—after all, her closest friends would arrive soon, and they would surely make the earth move if Carole King couldn’t. But more importantly, Mary wanted to know where that third cut on the album was. She wouldn’t listen to it. She hadn’t listened to it for months. She couldn’t, even though she knew it was too late for her and Gary.
Mary decided to stay in the room until the second song finished; then she could skip to cut four and go back in the kitchen and begin mixing the margaritas. She swished her lips from side to side—her familiar though unconventional gesture of approval—as she thought how well the renovations of this room had gone this past March. Her spring training, as it were, while Gary was doing his with the Mets in Port St. Lucie. The room was so much brighter—yellow and white—so perfect for listening to her music, contemplating the backyard through the French doors, and entertaining friends and guests. And how perfectly the room would serve the purposes of this special weekend. The inaugural meeting of “Sports Wives”—the name Mary came up with in the middle of the summer for her and her four closest friends, all married to men with intimate connections to sports. Why not invite them all to come to her place and meet each other? Why not have them all here in Connecticut to help shove her toward a decision about terminating her marriage? It seemed like such a brilliant idea.
Mary made a final check for neatness—and for anything that might cause discomfort or embarrassment. As the song concluded, she noticed something lying behind the plush chair against the wall. She headed toward the chair at the moment the piano intro to “So Far Away” began. Halting, Mary felt an immediate and depressing realization that she didn’t want to hear that selection either, so she walked to the CD player and turned it off. The silence in the room put its arms around her; it was what she needed–at least until her friends arrived. This silence did not chide her, as had her conscience the past several months.
Expelling a soft breath, she bent down and pulled from behind the chair a baseball bat and a vintage Brooklyn Dodger baseball cap—one of the many bits of sports memorabilia her husband just had to have but soon after discarded with indifference. Mary’s face registered no disdain or pleasure; she simply laid the bat on the sofa and brought the cap closer to her face. She traced the classic white “B” on the blue cap with her finger and once more accepted the fact that she ought to think of herself as one lucky girl. Oh, absolutely–one lucky girl. But . . . that’s what the “B” stood for at this moment—the contradictory tag “But . . .” After taking the bat and cap to her husband’s game room, she heard the steps on her patio, followed by the sound of a platter breaking on the flagstones, and then the expected “Oh, Mother of Shit!” Yes, of course. Miranda Peterson. The weekend could now formally begin.
“Mary, Mary, the song canary—my, how your garbage grows!” Miranda Peterson had branded her claim to Mary’s Wulf’s friendship with the habitual pun on familiar nursery rhymes when she was inclined to make a grand entrance. “There was a young woman who lived in I-talian shoes. / She spent so much on sandals, her husband had no money left to lose” was one Mary particularly loved, as her neighbor–one of America’s most successful authors of romance novels–didn’t have enough of an ear for poetry to get the number of syllables right. On the other hand, Mary was highly embarrassed by “Little Miss Wulfit sat on a toilet, touching her curls so gray,” because Miranda had thrice offered it while others were in the room. On the first two occasions, Mary protested with animation the unfair characterization; on the third, she merely smiled, recalling that she had in fact just celebrated the first anniversary of her touching-up the gray in her curls.
“Do you need a broom, Miranda?” Mary stuck her head out the French doors.
“I wouldn’t want to borrow your favorite mode of transportation, Mary. Let’s just leave it alone. Clams on the half-shell biodegrade, don’t they?” That face—that puckish pretty face. Not the same austere and intimidating one that graced a good number of dust jackets and that garish website of hers.
Mary headed for the kitchen. “The clams biodegrade perhaps–not sure about the half-shells.” Within thirty seconds she was out on the back patio helping Miranda dump the two-dozen clams with accompanying half-shells in a paper grocery bag. She complimented Miranda for at least having her heart in the right place.
“My heart may be, but unfortunately my heel got stuck between the flagstones on your patio. Right time, but wrong place.”
Mary’s face exploded like popcorn. “My God, Miranda. I just realized. You’re actually on time! How does it feel?”
“Not bad. I think the heel will stay on. Seriously, Mary, I told you that I wouldn’t be late for the first of what we hope will be many an annual meeting of ‘Sports Wives.’ I promised I’d be the first of the wives to check in, and–Voila!—here I am. Sans clams, sans shells, sans everything.” Miranda was bouncing her heads from side to side in childlike excitement. Mary thought she looked like a little leaguer entering Yankee Stadium for the first time.
“Right, Miranda. Anyway, you’re the first here, but not actually the first to check in.” Miranda’s face dropped and her lips bubbled forward in the classic pout that made her the darling of all her friends. “I am truly sorry, but Sherry McDuffie called me from New Rochelle, where she spent last night with a favorite cousin she hasn’t seen in nearly fifteen years. She has a rental car and is on the way.” Mary knew Sherry would be both the jaw dropper and the ultra sweetener the others would absolutely adore. She might also be the soft rod of stability Mary would require if she could conquer her fear and share her big news with the rest of the Sports Wives. But then again, the happily-married and traditional Sherry McDuffie would likely be the last one to sympathize. But then again. Yes, but then again. How tired Mary was of all the “Buts” and “But then agains” that more and more bedeviled her waking hours. For her part, Miranda lamented the fate of her best friend–the “poor, poor woman” who had to take that “horrific drive from parkway to parkway to parkway past golf course and golf course and another golf course until arriving at this little nineteenth hole” Mary called a home in Southeastern Connecticut.
When the two women entered the house, Mary headed for the kitchen with the bag of unusable clams and Miranda toward the CD player. As she dumped the clams in the trash container, Mary heard Miranda informing her that she forgotten to take the “Best Value” sticker from her Carole King CD–and then uttering some half-unintelligible remark about how impossible it was to open those “damned CD’s” the way they have them wrapped. “The ancient Egyptians should have been so good. Anyway, when are you going to upgrade to MP3?” Miranda flipped the case over and began going down the song list as Mary returned from the kitchen. “Tell you what, Mary, let’s put on ‘You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman’ and get naked on the couch when your friend Sherry comes in. What do you say?” Miranda began to unbutton her blouse. Again, one would not have imagined such behavior by looking at Miranda Peterson’s website.
“Whoa, Tigress. Sherry wouldn’t quite approve.” Mary was therefore reminded of the single most glaring difference between the two of them. Miranda had seemingly never met that distasteful brood called The Inhibitions, whereas Mary had given them room and board for her entire life. Miranda would often brag to anyone who listened that she was one of the leaders of the short-lived “Streaking” craze in the early 70’s. And even when Mary reminded her that she only five or six years old at the time, Miranda grinned and added, “Want me to show you?” Mary wondered whether her neighbor’s effusive influence had finally begun to make inroads when she considered the changes she herself was making in her wardrobe since the spring. What made her uncomfortable about her new outfits and shoes, however, was any assumption that she was dressing to please Gary. She had claimed to friends on more than a few occasions that she was refitting herself to please herself and no one else. But she knew that to be a lie. There was most certainly someone else.
Miranda offered her characteristic mock horror at the possibility that Sherry McDuffie was a prude and would therefore ruin the entire weekend.
Mary countered, “No, she’s not a prude, Miranda. She’s a lot of fun. A lot of fun. She’s just a bit more conservative than you are when it comes to the matter of . . . you know.” Miranda raised her eyes in a way any hard-working imp would have envied. “Then again, Miranda, the far left is more conservative than you are.”
Miranda flung herself onto the sofa. “Now this fun-loving prude is just like me, right.” Mary spent the next six seconds shaking her head back and forth. “No, no, Mary. I mean she’s never met three of the five Sports Wives, right?” “Right. She knows only me. You know only me. The other two know me and each other.” Having noticed Miranda’s expanding and examining eyes, Mary was now unhappy with the color of her blouse. Miranda thanked her for the clarification and asked if Sherry was married to the college football coach “Alan” McDuffie. Mary knew light blue, not the black she was wearing, would be the right color, especially since Miranda was wearing silver and black. “Alex McDuffie, Miranda. And he’s the defensive coordinator for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats.”
Miranda now lay completely stretched out on the sofa, appearing more fit for an interment or necrophiliac sex with Poe’s Roderick Usher than a fun weekend with Mary’s other friends. “Hmm. She should tell old Alan that he’d get a lot more coordinating done if he weren’t so defensive. Do you have an apple, Mary?” Miranda lifted her left leg straight up—for a reason known only to her.
Perhaps red would be better, Mary thought. She ignored the apple request and informed her best friend that she’d get the chips and margaritas percolating just as soon as the others arrived.
“Wonder what it would be like to be married to a football coach. Think, old Alvin . . .”
“. . . makes Sherry bend over and . . .”
“Miranda, don’t start with the lewd jokes now. You have no audience here for . . .”
“. . . hand him his eggs and bacon . . .”
“. . . through her legs like one of those centers?”
Yet, Miranda Peterson’s brand of vulgarity was always sanitized by her infectious and playful spirit. She never wrote in a vulgar way—although her novels were surely far more than mildly stimulating—but her mouth was clearly sprightlier than her pen. At this moment, Mary couldn’t help visualizing Gary Wulf, like Alex McDuffie, as a coach or manager when his playing days were over. And at thirty-seven, his days were surely numbered. The thought frightened her but only because she also saw herself standing next to him, older than she was now. Next to him. Having lost her chance at something to revitalize her spirits. She just couldn’t tolerate the thought.
“Will you love me tomorrow?”
Miranda’s intrusion startled Mary, but it at least swept away her disturbing vision of a lifeless future. “No, Miranda. I’m just in it for the quick and cheap thrill. What are you talking about?”
“One of the songs on the Carole King album.” Miranda lurched off the sofa and walked again to the CD player. Yes, Mary concluded. Red was the right color. She informed Miranda that she was going to change her blouse and to “hold the fort.” Miranda saluted and as soon as Mary walked out of the room, Miranda commenced a thorough search for any trace evidence of Mary’s husband in the room. She wasn’t quite sure, but it seemed to her that, recently, every time she came over to Mary’s something new was in the room and something Gary was removed.
The various tokens of Gary Wulf’s career in Major League Baseball, though certainly impossible to coordinate with the décor, still had been conspicuous only eight months before, but after the Christmas Holidays, Miranda began to sense that an object here or an object there was no longer in the room. By the end of April, she was certain something was up. By June she knew pretty much what it was. Now it was late August and she wasn’t yet sure what it would end up being.
“Okay, what do you think, Miranda?” Somewhere along the way, another color had lain in ambush.
“As I’ve always said, green’s your color, Mary. Goes really well with your red shoes. Christmas come early this year—or are you auditioning to be a traffic light?” Yes, Mary thought, how perfect for her emotions–the green and red of “Go” and “Stop.” She found grim humor in the realization that she had out of character ignored the yellow caution light. First when she was beginning her relationship with Gary and especially more recently when she had given herself to . . . well, she didn’t want to think about that now.
“Damn. Be right back.” Mary returned to her bedroom and Miranda finished her general sweep of the room, turning her attention to the CDs for any sign of Gary Wulf music. Admittedly, she had made frequent humor out of Mary’s love of classical music, opera, and Broadway tunes and Gary’s refusal to listen to, let alone understand, any of them. Gary preferred the hits of his youth and the videos that garnished them throughout the later 1980’s and early 90’s. He reached his teens in January of 1991 and, on the very last day of the 1995, he received yet one more recognition of his incredible athletic prowess with the offer to sign with Cincinnati Reds following his high school graduation.
Now at thirty-seven, Gary Wulf was playing for the Mets, at the end of what many felt was a sure Hall-of-Fame career, even though the last four years were many miles from Cooperstown. Mary had encouraged him to take the first steps toward the new period of his life by expanding his musical and recreational interests. But he would have none of it. He wasn’t a man to let go. Miranda recalled that those were the very words Mary had only recently quoted to her over several Long Island Ice Teas—“Gary’s not a man to let go.” Miranda had her share of friends and acquaintances whose marriages resulted in depression and a few of them in violence, but she had always been assured that the advice she freely offered was correct and appropriate. But with Mary, she found it difficult to come right out and ask the tough questions—and she wasn’t sure why it was so. Perhaps she had never cared for a friend or respected one as much as she did Mary Wulf. In many ways, she looked up to her, although again she wasn’t exactly sure why.
“Okay, how are these?” Mary displayed her green sandals.
“Hmm. Let’s see. It’s not yet Labor Day—but it’s after St. Patrick’s Day—so they’re perfect.” Miranda started sifting through several discs. “Carole King I always hear—that is, when I’m here. Diana Krall? Could be. Nora Jones? Love her. Charlotte Church? Cute but I don’t like mixing religion and surnames. Or perhaps some soprano arias by—how do you pronounce this? Really Mary, what gives with these opera singers’ names? Mary patiently informed her that the name was pronounced “Renée Fleming.”
“Here’s one you like ‘Vissi d’arte’ I know, I know.“ That’s from Wagner’s Tosca—right?
Almost. It’s by Puccini. But I’m impressed, Miranda. It wasn’t long ago that you thought a ‘Tosca’ was something new and tasty from ‘Taco Guaco.’”
“Hey. I was getting tired of burritos. So sue me.”
“You should have gone to see the opera with me at the Met when it played a couple of years ago. Quite fabulous.” Mary had gone to Lincoln Center by herself while Gary was on a road trip with the Mets. It was at that performance that she began contemplating the possibility of saying goodbye to a husband and a way of life. But there would be no bows, no eruption of cheers, no flowers thrown at her feet. She wouldn’t be surrounded by family and friends who would see the justice or inevitability of the split with Gary. His family and friends would of course view her as the villain. Gary wasn’t agitating for a separation; he hadn’t abused her in any way; he hadn’t had an affair–at least as far as she knew. The scouting report his side would have on her would be nothing short of devastating. She was the one who had the affair—and with Gary’s agent no less. The line behind Judas wasn’t very long, and she’d have a prime place in it.
After the comfortable and exciting life Gary Wulf had provided her, she could do such a thing to him—and then want to leave him? She wanted badly to be taken out of the game, relieved of the responsibility of being Mrs. Gary Wulf—the wife of one of the very few men good enough to make a successful career in Major League Baseball. She wanted to tell all the reporters in the locker room after the game was over that she couldn’t help it. She had given it her all, but time had taken away the edge. She had lost her curve ball, her power, her speed on the bases. She had to call it a day. But Mary knew these now so familiar metaphors were literally what her husband was beginning to say about the past few years of his career—about the literal erosion of his athletic skills—and she felt absolutely horrible for him.
“I know I should have gone to the Met with you, Mary. It’s just that I don’t like the kind of farewells you see at the end of operas. People dying and singing at the same time, with a knife sticking out of their throats. Ugghh. Too horrifying. That is, for a deeply sensitive soul like me.” Miranda’s eyes met Mary’s and each understood what the other was trying to say with them. She knew Mary was thinking of “Farewell” as some kind of grim literary personification, hovering over her and masking its intentions while it accelerated her anxiety. For a moment, Miranda didn’t know where to go, but, as always, sports provided a welcome signpost. “Speaking of the Met, Gary has been with them for how many years now?”
“This is his sixth. He also played two transitional years with Colorado after his nine years with the Reds, before we came to New York.” Mary recited these facts without blinking her eyes. She now touched her blouse—so happy that she had chosen green. She could have told Miranda more about her husband’s exploits, if her friend had the desire or capacity for remembering such specifics. She might then have reminded Miranda that when Gary was with the Reds he was an eight-time All-Star, twice National League Batting Champion. Just two home-runs shy in 2006 of winning the Triple Crown. That he made enough money to give his wife the kind of financial security very few women ever get. That he provided her with comfortable surroundings, money enough for her occasional desire for the lavish shopping spree, and time alone to pursue her needed diversions. Indeed, those needed diversions. Her friends, her occasional singing, and now another man.
“Mary, I should know all that. You’ve—my husband’s–told me plenty of times. I just don’t have the head for dates and statistics that you—my Tony has.” Miranda was back in random comic mode again, convinced she could reanimate her closest friend. “I swear if my husband could recall the location of my erogenous zones as well as he does the middle initials of the eight guys who played third base for the 1962 Chicago White Sox, I’d be one contented woman.” Miranda demanded that her friend enjoy the remark—and Mary complied. Mary appreciated just how essential Miranda Peterson was to her life. She was always there—with her puns, with her bawdiness, with her teasing, and with her loving encouragement.
Mary sat on the arm of the sofa. “I wonder that they’re saying about us about now?”
“Tonight, Mary, our boys are in San Diego.”
“San Francisco, actually. The first of three with the Giants.” Mary focused on the clock above the mantle of the fireplace. “It’s after 1:00 there. He’s . . . they’re probably through with lunch. How many road trips has your Tony taken this year with the Mets?” Mary again looked at the time and wondered how Sherry and the other two Sports Wives were doing in their life and death struggles with the traffic.
“This would be, I believe, only this third. Been more of a homeboy this season. He actually once went twelve straight days without taking a sports-related trip.” Now it was Mary’s turn to provide the mock horror. Miranda ignored it. “Though I must say, Mary, that Tony’s certainly had his share of epic sports travels over the past several months. Let’s see. In no particular order, this year he’s been to Churchill Downs for the Derby. Followed the Mets to St. Louis and Atlanta. He also went to Fenway Park for the intramural games the Mets played with the Yankees.” Mary reminded her that the proper term was “interleague.” “But I don’t count going to the Bronx as a real trip. Anyway. Umm, Augusta for the Masters. Somewhere in the South for Tennis—or was it for bowling? Can’t remember. Oh yes, in January up to Massachusetts for the KFC Championship game.” Mary asked if she meant “AFC.” Miranda said no. She was starving–that was why she said “KFC.” Again advising patience as a futile antidote to hunger, Mary felt once more buoyed by the familiar banter between them. Miranda continued. “And a few championship fights, some basketball, and who knows what else. Ah, the freedom of wealth. But I’m in love.”
“With the freedom, the wealth, or the man?”
“Mary, dearest one, you know the answer to that. Ménage à trois!” Mary’s smile seemed to Miranda only a bit qualified. Mary was laughing now at Tony’s miscellaneous sports caravans—very few on which Miranda ever ventured. And Miranda found a brief moment to think of the peculiar match she and her husband made. She knew of Tony’s pathological obsession with all things sports when she first met him eight years ago, at the time she turned thirty. After he learned she was a highly successful novelist—his library respectfully expansive but consisting of only one subject, of course–he demonstrated a gentlemanly regard for her career, restricting his inquiries to the way she worked as a writer, not to any feigned interest in her characters or plots. Miranda was especially pleased by his line of questioning, as no one had ever, at least socially, wished to know about the nuts and bolts of her craft. Tony had immediately made her feel comfortable, but more–appreciated and safe. Miranda knew she would never have to work to please him, as he was seemingly pleased just being around her. Pleased that she let him be him. Teasing him certainly, but more importantly indulging all of his sports-related activities and accoutrements without being part of them. Stepping over, around, and through a minefield of sports memorabilia filled her with neither frustration nor trepidation. Miranda appreciated what a good deal she had with Tony as a mate. Predictability and conservatism—two qualities that seemed like anathemas to her vivacious and daring personality—merged to form the very spine of her daily life.
“And you insist, Miranda, that Tony’s never shown any jealousy over your success?”
“Nor any reluctance to spend my money. Just kidding. No, Mary, to be fair–as a successful computer geek working out of the home, he makes enough to pay for all his trips. Of course, my money allows him to forego the bus and actually fly first-class all over the country—and actually stay in nice hotels—and actually eat decent meals.”
“As you have so often told me—but I ask again—no jealousy over the fact that his wife is Miranda Peterson, nationally . . .” Miranda interrupted with an “internationally.” “ . . . adored author of best-selling romance novels?”
“No, and I mean that. You know Tony. He’s never strays beyond the borders of his own little sports empire. Only drinks out of cups with team logos on them. You know, his Florida Marlin martinis? Wears little else but replica uniform jerseys.” Feeling her own stomach growl, Mary asked if he so bedecked himself on formal occasions. Miranda pointed to Mary’s stomach. “Heard that. No, on formal occasions it’s black tie and Cleveland Browns. More well-adjusted women might put on the latest hot number from Victoria’s Secret and prepare for a night to remember. But in my case, I don a jock strap, a pair of shoulder pads, and catcher’s mask–and my forty-five year old tiger is rarin’ to go. Ruff.”
“And I know he sings a devastating ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game.’” Mary often saw herself as an engineer shoveling coal into the witty and amusing locomotive that was Miranda Peterson.
“His ‘Star Spangled Banner’ needs a little work, though. You know how low his voice is. Well, he always begins it in a tenor’s key—or soprano’s—and that part ‘and the la-a-a-nd of the freeeee’ is so bad that we’ve had five cats pack their litter boxes and move out of the house in the last year alone. That’s why we finally had to get a dog. Maybe you should give Tony voice lessons, Mary.” Mary was reminded that since she had no children, she ought to spend more time teaching voice. She would love to do that—if she had more time. Yes. Time. More time. She wondered if there was still time or was it that now was the time? She wanted more time but she was running out of it. Miranda saw her friend’s fingers touch the bottom of her lower lip—the tell-tale sign that Mary Wulf was once more giving in to her fears.
“Mary, I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to this weekend.”
“You’re really going to like Sherry, Miranda.” Mary stared intently at Miranda’s left wrist. When she needed a brief moment alone with her feelings, she refused to look anyone in the eye.
“So . . . also soon to arrive are the pro football player’s wife and the PGA golfer’s bride.” Mary nodded and lowered her hand, providing her mouth the room to smile. The other two were coming together from La Guardia. They had called Mary earlier and she assumed they would arrive any moment as well. They might even beat Sherry.
“Rand told me that her flight arrived on time and that she was waiting for Kip’s to land. I’m sure they had no trouble getting a rental.” Miranda wanted to twist her head around in a circle. Did she really hear Mary correctly? Rand and Kip? “Miranda, didn’t I ever tell you their names?” Miranda shook her head in that highly exaggerated manner that denoted incredulity. “Rand Connor was born with the name Randee Lynn Beaufort. But as you will soon see, Miranda, she’s not a Randee Lynn.”
“Okay. But what about Clip—or Crip?” Miranda and names. Natural enemies. Mary said that she would let Kip explain that one—but Miranda was certain she was a pretty young thing, to say the least. Miranda puckered her lips like an experienced crone. “Oh, good. Someone to hate.”
“No, Miranda. No hating. Just bonding. Sports Wives, remember?”
“First Annual Meeting. Got it. And good on the name too. Now refresh my memory. When did you meet the other three again?” Miranda sat down in one of the easy chairs, certain that she was weakening owing to starvation. She made a little finger gesture to Mary suggesting food going into mouth. She did a simply superb job of simulating a difficult death in an easy chair.
“I met Sherry in Cincinnati when Gary played for the Reds. And I met Rand and Kip at a party David threw four years ago for his new clients. Rand’s Jeff, Kip’s Chris, and my . . . husband.”
“Whoa, whoa, partner. Too many names—not enough chips. I’m not good with names even when I’m stuffed.” Mary had never been able to resolve this bizarre paradox. She asked how Miranda could have that much trouble with names considering all the characters she had created over the years. “Yes, but I write them down, remember?” Miranda knew better, but the opportunity defied all restraint. No time was going to be a good time. Therefore, why the hell not? Miranda didn’t even offer Mary a heads-up by clearing her throat. “And just how is that sports agent extraordinaire, Mr. David Rowe these days?”
Mary’s heart halted and then accelerated at the sound of his name from another pair of lips other than her own. “Miranda, not now.” Yet Mary’s voice belied the assertion. Miranda hesitated for a few seconds, and then rejected the impulse to pursue the matter at this time. Still, she was sure that Mary was simply dying to tell her everything about her relationship with her husband’s agent. Yes, Miranda was sure about that. She just wasn’t sure that Mary really understood that she was really dying to tell Miranda everything about that relationship.
“Okay, Mary. So you’ve got Sherry coming from Ohio and the other two from . . .?” Mary replied that Rand was flying in from Maryland and Kip from Chicago. Having spent several years in the Chicago area when she was in her twenties, Miranda was curious to know exactly where Kip lived. “She doesn’t live in Chicago, Miranda. She lives in Denver.” Mary thought it was interesting how her friend’s top lip vibrated whenever she was confused. “She’s flying in from Chicago.” No help to Miranda. “Where she visited her parents—who just moved there from San Diego.” Miranda nodded, implying cautiously at any rate that she was all straightened out now. “And you cruised in from next door.”
“I did? Gee, Mary, all of these women coming from all parts of the good old USA just to see you. What an ego trip. Should make you feel like singing.”
A lovely melody began playing in Mary’s mind, but in an instant it was obliterated by the blaring sound of a car horn in her driveway.
About the Author
During his career as Professor of English at the University of Georgia, John Vance was the author of six books and numerous articles devoted to literary biography and criticism. He also began indulging his love of theater as actor, director, and playwright, with thirty-five of his plays staged. Now he has turned exclusively to fiction, and is the author of fourteen novels, including the humorous memoir Setting Sail for Golden Harbor and the recently BookBub featured In Mind of the Vampire. He lives in Athens, Georgia with his wife Susan.
Knowledge, success, hope–this book will provide you with none of these things.
For those who are curious to check out the contents and “guidance” provided in this book, I would like to offer a brief, but important warning before you embark on your treacherous journey. I am this book’s editor. I have thoroughly handled, absorbed, and regurgitated the contents of this book over and over again, and while most of the content in this “self-help” book is, in my professional opinion, completely ridiculous and easily recognized as such, I fear that some of you who read this book may sadly find yourselves duped by Joel’s terrible advice.
Speaking modestly, Keys to Success from a Completely Unsuccessful Person represents is a collection of thoughts, ideas, and errant opinions from the delusional mind of a self-proclaimed self-help guru. Somehow, Joel has miraculously and single-handedly compiled more nonsense, utter gibberish, and complete lunacy into one book than any other author in all of human history that I am presently aware of.
Again, while I do believe that the majority of readers will find themselves deeply amused at the sheer idiocy in this anthology of stupidity, I fear that some poor souls may just get sucked into the author’s delusions. For that reason, I have provided this warning to please disregard Joel’s terrible advice. For most readers, I expect and hope that they will be amused by the book’s clear guidance on how not to find success and find humor in what the book attempts to instruct them to do.
Perhaps most importantly, I believe that although my hand was forced to publish this book of unrefined nonsense by Joel and my superiors, Joel will finally be exposed to the world for who he really is–a completely unsuccessful person.
About the Author
Born on the East Coast but raised in the Southwest, Joel Cunningham is co-founder of Parametric Studios in Scottsdale , Arizona., He has worked in marketing for the last fifteen years. He has acted in numerous commercial projects, produced and written for numerous TV and film projects, and is the current host of a film & television review podcast called The Reel Review Podcast. Keys to Success from a Completely Unsuccessful Person is his first book.