Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Message from C.C. Crescent

Dear Readers,

It has been a year since the first episode of Pine Lake Stories was posted. After fifty-two episodes, it is time for a little hiatus. The plan is that the story line will pick up again in January of 2013. During the break, if any of you would like to post "guest" episodes, please contact me by clicking on the comments  button at the bottom of the post.

In the meantime, here are some story lines to ponder:

  • Has Blake sealed his fate with Jeni?
  • Will Jack and Whitney be happy in their new house?
  • What will it cost Selena and Biff to return to Pine Lake?
  • Will Donati find happiness with Genevra. . . or Priscilla. . . or April?
Who knows what the future holds for Pine Lake Stories?

Until January, best wishes to you all and thank you for reading PLS.

C.C. Crescent

P.S.   Coming soon--my e-book, Turning Points

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Episode 52 Fireworks

John Donati had been on a roll. Work was quiet, which meant if there were any criminal activities in Pine Lake, he didn't know about them. His son, Jack, and daughter-in-law, Whitney, were settled in their new home with a child on the way, and John was feeling way too young to be a grandfather. In the past few weeks, he'd been enjoying the kind of no-strings-attached love affair with Genevra Adams that he'd thought he'd never see again at this stage of his life. Genevra had proved to be an excellent companion mentally and physically. Life was good. It worried him when everything was going so well; something was bound to happen to upset the status quo.

For old times' sake, he would occasionally cruise past the house of his ex-wife, April. She'd moved to San Francisco in the spring, but so far hadn't made any attempt to put the house up for sale. The cop in John reminded him that an empty house was a trouble magnet; therefore, he felt it was his duty to keep tabs on the place. Donati wondered why she hadn't sold; secretly, he hoped she would eventually return. For the grandchild.

This afternoon, drifting by her house, he saw a car in the driveway and a woman standing at the front door. For a moment, his heart leapt. But soon enough, he realized the woman wasn't April. He rolled up to the curb, put the police cruiser in park, and got out of the car.

"Something I can help you with, ma'am?" he asked. The woman turned around. She smiled as he approached, and right away he figured that she wasn't casing the joint or up to no good; criminals didn't offer smiles like that to uniforms.

"Officer, do you know if April Donati still lives here? Well, at least I think her name is still Donati. The last time I heard from her, she was considering a, um, change. I actually haven't seen her for years, but she's an old friend of mine from college. We were in Florence together, studying art. "

"May I ask who you are?" Donati knew April kept up with some of her friends from college, and she had gone to Florence her senior year.

"I'm Priscilla Rossini."

Donati recognized the name. April had told him several stories about this woman. In the midst of his recollection, he realized that Ms. Rossini had the most beautiful brown eyes he'd ever seen. Her skin was smooth and luminous, and the touch of gray in her thick dark hair only accentuated the elegance of her appearance.

She held out her hand, which he took. That was the precise moment John Donati fell irretrievably in love.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Episode 51 An Awakening

Blake could feel his blood pressure rising. It was bad enough that Jeni was being as loud and obnoxious as a fishwife; she was also wearing the most outrageous outfit he'd ever seen--what kind of woman wore fishnet stockings and a skin-tight leopard print mini-dress that left none of her ample, obviously pregnant figure to the imagination? Her navel, protruding from the distortion of her belly, was  definitely not a turn on. How could she be so crass? He knew she reveled in attention, but although everyone in the restaurant was staring at her, it was not in a good way. At least he'd been able to talk her into going to the city for dinner. Had they been at Taverna, the humiliation would have been unbearable.

When the waitress came to their table, Jeni didn't hesitate with her order. "I'll take the surf and turf special. And a gin martini with an olive."

"A martini, ma'am?" the waitress asked, glancing briefly at Jeni's bulging midriff.

"Yeah, a martini. You gotta problem with that?"

The waitress looked at Blake, who merely shrugged. He'd had this argument with Jeni before.
"I'm not letting this kid run my life," she'd said. "If I want a drink, I'll damn well have one. Or two. Or four."

After the waitress departed, he sat staring at his well-manicured hands, wondering what demons had possessed him that he was now stuck with this horrible woman. In his darker moments, when he thought about how he had ruined his life, those demons came back and taunted him. "The only way you'll ever be free is if you kill her," they would chant. He was beginning to agree with them.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Episode 50 L.A. Goodbye?

Selena stood before the mirror and took a moment to savor contentment, perhaps even her first sense of joy that her recovery was complete. From this distance and angle, she looked good. The red silk dress was a perfect fit and a stunning contrast with her black hair. The make-up gal had done a great job of accenting her dark eyes, and the scar was barely visible. Amazing what a good Hollywood plastic surgeon could do.

"Hey, babe, you about ready to wrap here?" Biff sauntered up beside her.

"Yeah, we're done. Right, Micky?" she asked the fashion photographer with whom had spent the last three hours.

"It's all good, hon," he replied, packing up his gear. "This was the easiest shoot I've had in a year. I hope we'll work together again soon."

Selena turned to Biff. "It went really well. Mick's a genius. We might even make the cover this time. Not bad for an old scar-face, eh?"

A flicker of something--annoyance, jealousy, pity, maybe even frustration--passed over Biff's face before he answered. "You're beautiful. Now go get changed so we can get out of here."

Biff didn't like hanging around other photographers' shoots. He said it made him antsy, like he should be working harder. Selena didn't understand why he would feel that way. If anyone was going to be uncomfortable, it would be the other guy. How intimidating would it be to have the country's hottest celeb photographer dropping by to pick up his girlfriend?

In the months that they'd been in L.A., Biff Monroe had struck it lucky and established himself as the portrait photographer of choice for Hollywood's elite. He'd made a pile of dough, spoiled Selena rotten, and could pretty much write his own ticket. She knew for a fact that he had enough work lined up to keep them in an upper tax bracket for years to come.

An hour later, Selena and Biff were sitting at a table on the patio at Yabu in West Hollywood. She could tell something was bothering him. He had been too quiet and now he was studying his water glass like he'd never seen the stuff before.

"What's going on?" she asked in a tone that she hoped let him know whatever the trouble was, she would help him work through it.

He met her gaze. "We need to go back."

"To Pine Lake? Are you serious?"

"I'm totally serious."

"But why? We've got it great here. There's nothing for us in Pine Lake." So much for helping work through this one, she thought. The last place on earth she wanted to go was anywhere near her father. She was done with him. And with Pine Lake.

"There's family."

"Yeah. Exactly. How can you forget what happened?"

"Your father can't hurt us. Not now. And that's not the family I was talking about. I need to find out what's going on with my mother that she would run off to Vegas and marry Matt Wilson. What the hell was she thinking?"

"I agree that's kind of a shocker, but he always seemed okay." Selena paused for a minute before adding, "And what about our work? I'm just getting started again."

 Biff shrugged. "That's what airplanes are for. We can travel when we want to work, but I want us to live in Pine Lake."


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Episode 49 Homecoming

On the drive back to Pine Lake from the airport, Claire was very quiet.

"You okay?" Matt asked.

She smiled at him, but the smile didn't quite reach her eyes. "Yes, but it's been an intense couple of days."

"Vegas tends to be that way. And we sure made the most of it."

"You know people are going to talk."

"Really?" His voice rang with sarcasm. He glanced briefly at her, then returned his eyes to the highway. "Sweetheart, the good folks of Pine Lake always talk. They've had plenty to say about me since I moved to town, and Lord knows they've always had plenty to say about you. We should both be used to it. The only thing that's going to change now is that they will talk about us together. And I'm okay with that."

"It might get ugly."

"Not for us." Taking one hand off the steering wheel, he caressed her cheek lightly and said, "Not as long as we're together."

Claire held up the sparkling new wedding rings on her left hand. "I do believe we just made promises to stay together forever."

"You know that's going to be enough to keep tongues wagging for six months. Hey, maybe Genevra Adams will do a feature story on us for 'Pine Heart'. After all, we are probably Pine Lake's one and only couple to be married by an Elvis impersonator."

The idea of Genevra even considering such a story made Claire laugh aloud. She glanced at her new husband and felt a rush of love and contentment that she'd never known before. Matt Wilson had come into her life like the proverbial knight in shining armor. He was right--the gossip was nothing new, and this time she had nothing to hide, nothing to fear.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Episode 48 Another Long Night

Genevra Adams and John Donati? There was hardly a less likely pair, thought Helen Kallias as she watched the two of them leave Taverna together. They'd been at the bar for an hour, then moved to a cozy two-top at the back of the dining room where they'd sat drinking, sharing a plate of fried calamari, and chattering away like old chums until midnight.

Helen had approached their table a couple of times, discreetly, hoping to hear something of their conversation, but there was nothing they discussed that she hadn't known already: John was upset that his ex-wife had moved to San Francisco; Genevra was disgusted with her husband and children.

Genevra's kids weren't so bad--except maybe for Billy, who was just pitiable--but Helen could sure understand why Blake Adams was on Genevra's shit list. The guy was an idiot. Everyone in town knew he was screwing around with that trashy Jeni DuMont.

What was it about these men--Helen's husband, Nick, as well as Blake--that made them behave so badly? They strutted around, treated their wives like hired help, did a lousy job of parenting, then when the shit hit the fan, they acted like the messes in their lives were everyone else's fault.

Again tonight, Nick had left the restaurant before ten. Mr. Big Shot didn't have the stamina to make it though an entire day any more. It would have made Helen sad if she weren't so profoundly angry with him. The image of Selena's face, the crimson scar running from her left eye to her chin, dispelled any feelings of pity Helen might have had for her husband. He'd brought on misery when he'd tried to outsmart Fate.

The last of the diners headed to the door. The busboys swarmed in to clear up and re-set tables for the next day. Gus closed out the bar, and Helen went to her office.

Long after everyone else had left, she locked up and headed home in the calming blue light before dawn.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Episode 47 At the Bar

"Well, well. If the Chief of Police is at the bar, who's keeping the streets of Pine Lake safe?"

Genevra Adams slid onto the barstool next to John Donati. He glared at her. "Slumming tonight, Genevra?"

"Don't be snide." She turned to the bartender, a dark-eyed young man standing in for Taverna's regular barman. "Jameson. On the rocks. The good stuff, not the crap."

Lost in his own thoughts, Donati ignored the woman next to him. They each nursed their respective libations until she broke the silence. "So why isn't Jack behind the bar tonight?"

"He's busy." Donati answered without taking his eyes off his drink. He could feel her staring at him, but he refused to meet her gaze.

"What's the matter, Ossifer? You're looking a little sorry for yourself. People might start to talk."

"Huh?" He turned his head, squinting at her.

"You look like someone just drowned your cat. And slightly blotto to boot."

"Don't have a cat." Donati went back to contemplating the melted ice in the bottom of his glass.

"Right. Sorry."

The police chief knew he was being a jerk. He couldn't quite bring himself to apologize for his rude behavior, but he could at least be civil. "What brings the lovely Mrs. Adams here tonight, all on her own?"

"It's a long, ugly story." She drained the amber liquid in her glass.

Donati was pretty sure he knew most of the story, but mostly to ease his own misery, he said, "How 'bout I buy you another drink and you can tell me all about it?"

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Episode 46 A Difficult Situation

 "What's this?" Blake looked at the brochures scattered across the coffee table and knew full well that they advertised travel packages.

"That's our honeymoon," Jeni replied. "I thought we could start in Paris, then go through Italy and finish up with a week or two on a Greek Island."

The two of them were in Jeni's living room sitting awkwardly side by side on the very sofa where it was likely their child had been conceived. The notion made Blake fidget--he hadn't planned on being a father again at this stage of his life. And given the state of his three adult children, he was pretty sure he sucked at parenting.

"Aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself?" Blake asked. "After all, I haven't asked you to marry me yet. And in case you've forgotten, I'm still legally married to Genevra."

"Details," Jeni said, offering him her dazzling and determined smile. She leaned into his shoulder, gazing up at him with eyes that were more calculating than adoring. "We're going to have such a wonderful time."

Adrenaline surged through Blake's system. Fight or flight.

"I don't know," he said. "I think we need to re-think the situation. We've had a nice little . . . thing going, but I'm too old to be starting another family."

Jeni's expression hardened. "So, you're saying you don't want to marry me?"

Blake winced. She made him sound so heartless. "I'm only saying we have options. We need to think things through." He hesitated, then blurted out what was really on his mind. "Are you sure you want this baby?"

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Episode 45 Jack's Dream

It was a beautiful blue-sky day, and Jack Donati was on top of the world. Everything was going his way. Last month, he'd finished his EMT basics, last week, he'd aced the National Registry EMT-B exam, and now he was driving home from city hall where he'd just been offered a job as Pine Lake's newest EMT. He'd married the love of his life, and their first child was on its way. Life was good.

The only annoyance was his wife's mother. Genevra Adams was a pain in the ass. Whitney had told Jack from day one that there was no pleasing her mother and, so far, Jack had to agree. He couldn't understand how someone like Genevra--rich, beautiful, smart--could be so miserable. Whitney's father, Blake, had finally had enough. He'd moved out of the Adams' mansion to a duplex near Hunter Ridge.

Jack and Blake got on well enough. Blake had even given his daughter and new son-in-law a sizable check as a wedding gift (probably without Genevra's knowledge). Before today, Jack had been thinking it would be nice to use the money to buy a house, but on his bartender's salary, it was still too much of a stretch. Now, with the new job, he was more optimistic.

Since it was such a nice day, Jack decided that instead of going straight back to the apartment, he'd drive around a bit on the older side of town where the modest real estate might be in their price range. His favorite dream of late was for Whitney and him to be in their own place before the baby came.

On Spring Street, he spotted what he'd been hoping to find: a small house with a large side yard, obviously in need of repair, and obviously vacant. Jack parked the car across the street and sat daydreaming for a few minutes. He was pretty certain that the money Blake had given them would cover a down payment with enough left over for fixing up the basics.  He envisioned working on the place over the years, painting and renovating bit by bit until they'd turned it into a little gem. White paint with green trim, window boxes spilling red, white and blue flowers, and a big swing set filled with laughing children in that side yard. He snapped a quick photo with his phone and hurried home to tell Whitney all about it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Episode 44 Claire and Matt

"I still think we shouldn't have come here," Claire Monroe said, glancing around Taverna. She and Matt Wilson had a table in the corner, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.

"It'll be fine," Matt replied. "Besides, this is the only good restaurant in Pine Lake."

"And unfortunately, it's owned by the parents of the girl my son ran away with," Claire added.

Matt smiled, "From what I gather, she was only too happy to go."

Out of the corner of her eye, Claire saw Helen Kallias at the back of the restaurant. Helen had seen her, too, but Claire couldn't quite read the expression on her face. "Oh, God, there's Helen. What if she comes over here?"

"What if she does?" Matt answered. "Even if she is upset, which I seriously doubt, she's not going to yell at you and make a scene in her own restaurant."

"She might kick us out."

Matt shrugged. "We'll order a pizza."

Claire felt herself relax just a bit. Matt had that effect on her. She had grown very fond of this man who was so easy-going. Nothing rattled him, and as far as she could tell, it took a lot to make him angry. It had been a a long time since she had felt this way about a man. Taking her cue from him, she decided not to worry about Helen and give her full attention to Matt. "You're right, I need to let it go. It's not my fault that Biff and Selena left town." She took a healthy sip of her chardonnay. "Now, tell me, what is this surprise you've been talking about?"

Matt grinned and reached across the table for her hand. "I have a great idea," he began. "I think we should ---"

"Claire!" Helen had managed to come around the corner behind their table so that neither Claire no Matt had been aware of her approach. To Claire's amazement, the woman was beaming as she said, "Claire, your son is my new hero." Helen bent down and planted kisses beside both Claire's cheeks. "He risked his life to come back here and rescue my Selena, for which I can never, ever thank you enough."

Helen reached up and snapped her fingers in the air, signalling a waiter who stepped over to the table with a bottle of Dom Perignon. "Your dinner tonight is on the house, as is this bottle of champagne. Enjoy!" She turned and left.

Astonished, Claire and Matt sat speechless as the waiter filled two flutes with golden bubbles and set the bottle in a cooler next to Matt.

"Did I just imagine that?" Claire asked.

"I don't think so, but if you did, you've got a great imagination, baby."

They clinked glasses and took a sip. Matt put his glass down carefully. "Now as I was saying . . .I think you and I deserve some fun. How does an all-expenses paid week in Vegas sound?"

For the second time in 15 minutes, Claire was rendered speechless.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Episode 43 Angering the gods

Nick had screwed up. Totally. He sat in the shadows of his empty restaurant feeling like a broken man, wishing he could turn back the clock and undo his mischief. It was 7 a.m.; he'd been in the same chair since he'd wandered into the building in the wee hours. At home, he'd been unable to sleep, so he'd come to Taverna, but there was no peace here, either.

Nick had angered the gods by trying to manipulate Fate, and they'd responded by bringing his entire world crashing down. His heart attack had been their opening volley. Recovered but weak, he'd had to suffer worse pain and anguish when his daughter, Selena, nearly died in a car accident, her beautiful face now permanently scarred. That was his fault, too. If he hadn't tried to outsmart the gods, she never would have been on the road, distraught and distracted.

His wife, Helen, would never forgive him. She'd said as much last night. The two of them had been standing alone in their living room just after Selena and Biff announced that they were leaving Pine Lake. Immediately. Forever.

When they'd gone, Helen glared at him, white with rage. "Why on earth would you threaten to send murdering thugs after Biff?" She'd asked.

"I just wanted him to leave town. I wanted him to leave Selena alone," Nick replied. "It was all lies; I made up all that stuff about knowing who to call to make him disappear. How was I supposed to know he'd been an undercover drug agent and there really were people who'd come after him?"

"You're a fool," she'd said, walking away.

He was a fool. A pathetic old man whose family despised him. A line from The Odyssey floated into his head: "This time you are the derelict the Powers bring" (Book XIV, line 451).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Episode 42

Billy Adams loved it when his mother went on a rant, and tonight she had outdone herself. In fact, she'd been on a pretty good streak of tantrums and hissy fits ever since Whitney's wedding. The first thing to set her off was the wedding itself--she hated the groom. Never mind everyone else in town thought he was a decent fellow. Then, she'd really gone nuts when the wedding had to be moved ahead because Whitney had gotten herself preggers. But all that was nothing compared to what happened at the wedding.

Genevra Adams' little fantasy world had blown apart when she saw her older son, David, kissing his boyfriend right in front of everyone at the wedding. Hah, Billy thought, served her right. He'd always wondered how she'd stayed so clueless about David. But then, she was clueless about all three of her kids. And her husband.

The night after the wedding, the 'rents had gone at it tooth and nail. Yelling, smashing china and glassware, throwing shit at each other. It was good. Even scared the crap out of Gaston, Billy's caregiver, who wasn't used to such displays.

Things were quieter now that Billy's dad, Blake, had left. The old man had called her bluff on that one. He'd packed up and stormed out a couple of hours ago.  Billy and Gaston were in the games room, playing 8-ball. Gaston was winning, which was annoying.

"Billy? Billy! Where are you?" Genevra was coming down the hallway, her high heels cracking like little gunshots.

Billy glanced at Gaston. "Don't say a word."

"Dude, she's your mom. I gotta let her know where you are." Gaston turned. "In here, Mrs. Adams."

Genevra marched into the room. "It's after ten o'clock. Billy, you should be in bed. The doctors still want you to rest."

"Mom, I'm not five years old." Billy leaned over the pool table to take his next shot.

Genevra ignored him. "Gaston, please see to it that my son is settled for the night. Now."

"Mom . . ."

His mother reached over and picked up the cue ball. "As long as you are in my house, you will do as I say."

Billy glared at her. "Go to hell." He stalked across the room, turning at the door. "I'll be eighteen in six weeks. No stopping me then, Mommy dear."

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Episode 41 A Wedding, A Kiss

Genevra allowed herself a moment of self-congratulation. In spite of less than ideal circumstances, her daughter's wedding was perfection. The sunny June afternoon had become a beautiful evening, gorgeous flowers and fairy lights ornamented the most elaborate reception Pine Lake Country Club could provide, and the bride was absolutely stunning.

All the arrangements had been rushed, but Whitney's off-the-rack Vera Wang dress fit as if it had been made for her, revealing no sign of her baby bump. The caterer had outdone himself, producing hors d'ouvres of smoked salmon, stuffed mushrooms, and petite quiches, followed by filet mignon, roast asparagus, and fingerling potatoes. A four-tier cake stood waiting for the bride and groom.

As far as Genevra was concerned, the only fly in the ointment was the groom. Whitney could have done so much better for herself, but she had insisted on marrying Jack Donati, which doomed her to being stuck in Pine Lake for the rest of her life, raising his brats. It made Genevra want to cry.

Blake offered a toast to his daughter and new son-in-law that was blessedly short. (He looked like hell; Genevra knew for a fact he hadn't been sleeping.) He and Whitney danced to "Isn't She Lovely," and then Jack and his mother, April, got up and rocked to "Twist and Shout," which Genevra thought wholly inappropriate. The band was much too loud, nevertheless played a wide variety of songs, and most people were dancing. Blake had taken a turn with each of Whitney's three bridesmaids after handing his daughter over to Jack. In the crowd, Genevra saw Claire Monroe dancing with Matt Wilson.  Billy (who had been allowed to come as long as he was accompanied by his handler) was  out on the floor with a girl Genevra had never seen before. Jack's father, John, stared wistfully at his ex-wife as she moved around the dance floor with various partners. Genevra's eldest child, David, came into view laughing and joking with his friend, Michael. She'd met him last night at the rehearsal dinner and thought him witty, but a bit odd.

The newlyweds cut their cake and the band played a medley of pop tunes that seemed to go on forever. It annoyed Genevra that everyone was dancing in a large group, rather than specific couples, which made it impossible to tell who was with whom. She would have enjoyed a dance or two, but Blake had disappeared and she was not about to just get up by herself and go flailing around like some teenager.

Finally, midnight came around and Whitney stood on the landing of the Club staircase to throw her bouquet. The guest filled the foyer below her, waiting, then chanting as she raised the flowers overhead, "ONE. . . TWO. . .THREE!"

The bouquet sailed in a perfect arc over the outstretched arms of the bridesmaids, past Claire Monroe and April Donati, straight to David's friend, Michael, who caught it with one hand. He held the flowers aloft, and as Genevra watched, he and David threw their arms around one another. The crowd cheered and clapped. To her horror, the joyful embrace continued, and as the band began to play, became a kiss and a lovers' dance.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Episode 40 Blake's Very Bad Day

"I'm running over to the office for some paperwork," Blake said to his wife.

"What, now?" Genvra Adams looked at her watch. "It's almost nine o'clock and we have things to discuss."

"It will have to wait. I have a 7 a.m. conference call tomorrow, and I need to review some numbers." He grabbed his keys and went out the door.

Instead of going to the office, however, Blake turned his car toward Jeni DuMont's house in Hunter Ridge. She'd texted him five times that afternoon asking--no, demanding--that he come to her this evening. Over the course of their months together Blake had learned that she was not a woman who took "no" for an answer. The trouble was, neither was Genevra. Blake would have to get home asap, especially since Genevra was in a particularly foul temper. That would be thanks to their daughter, Whitney, who had stopped by just before dinner to announce that she and her fiance, Jack, were pregnant, and all the wedding plans would have to be moved up six months.

Blake knew that the "things" Genevra wanted to discuss involved how much money they would need to donate to the church and country club in order to change the dates she'd already booked for the ceremony and reception. Genevra was insisting that Whitney's wedding have all the bells and whistles necessary to make it the social event of the decade in Pine Lake. It would be a grand display; never mind the kids didn't want a big wedding, and Genevra couldn't stand the groom. She'd be the mother-in-law from hell.

Just before nine, Blake pulled up in front of Jeni's  4-bedroom house in the brand new, upscale development on the edge of Pine Lake. He had enjoyed her company in every one of those four bedrooms, as well as the kitchen and family room. If they were fast, maybe the screened porch would be nice tonight . . .

Jenny was waiting at the door. "You're late," she said, offering her cheek for a kiss.

"Lots of stuff going on at home. I had a tough time getting out here at all."

She led him into the house. "I'll get you a drink."

In the kitchen, Blake tossed his keys on the granite countertop and watched Jeni pour a generous shot of whiskey in a crystal tumbler.

"Where's yours?" he asked, taking the glass from her.

She answered with a sly little smile. "That brings us right to what I wanted to tell you. I'm pregnant."

Blake nearly dropped the glass. "Oh, Christ, not you, too!"

Jeni's smile froze. "What the hell does that mean?"

Realizing how she'd misinterpreted his comment, Blake explained. "My daughter, Whitney. She just told us tonight that she and Jack are expecting."

"Well, isn't that nice for you. You'll have a child and a grandchild growing up together. They'll graduate in the same class at Pine Lake High."

Blake's first thought was that the way his life was going, he'd never live to see that day.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Episode 39 Graveyard

John Donati had never found much to like about Caroline Wilson, but he felt a certain sadness at her passing. She wasn't popular, even when they were kids, and she'd grown into a bitter, unpleasant woman, but still, they had that shared history, that common bond of growing up in Pine Lake. Now, after a brief graveside service which a surprisingly large number of people had attended, there was a crowd at Taverna, drinking and eating food donated by Matt Wilson's friends and neighbors.

"Look at all these people," Donati's ex-wife, April, said. "Caroline would have been stunned."

"Yeah. I think there were a bunch of folks not too sad to see her go," Donati replied, taking a swig of his Diet Coke. Technically, he was on duty, so no booze.

"That's awful. You shouldn't speak ill of the dead," April replied.

John glanced at his ex. She was still pretty, though in a softer way than when they had first met. Her auburn hair was lighter, threads of gray woven in here and there, and her face and figure were slightly fuller. Despite the divorce (her idea), he still loved her, though not with the blazing passion of their early years.

"Caroline wasn't a happy person. Not our fault," he said.

"No. I guess not." April sipped her white wine.

In the silence between them, John looked over the room. Nick Kallias was sitting at a table all alone. Pale and thin, he was a shadow of his former self. Donati had heard from Claire Monroe that Nick would be having triple bypass in a week or two, once Selena was better.

Helen Kallias was bustling around, keeping the restaurant functioning, but she, too, had aged ten years in the past two weeks. Something had gone down in that family even before Selena's accident; Donati didn't know what it was, but it had to be more than coincidence that Nick and his daughter were both perfectly healthy one minute, and in intensive care the next.

Across the room, Blake Adams was making a fool of himself over Jeni DuMont. It didn't take the Chief of Police to figure there was something hinky going on there, too. Blake had been behaving badly lately, trying to escape the pressures of his life by diving head-first into mid-life crisis mode.

"So, John-D, there's something I've been meaning to tell you," April said, referring to Donati by his childhood nickname.

Donati felt his breath catch; there was usually something dark beneath those words.

"Yeah? What?" He wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"I'm leaving."

"What do you mean 'leaving'?"

"Moving. I'm going to California."

The blood ran out of John's head. "What?"

"I've been offered a job in a gallery in San Francisco. It's a new start for me."

"You can't be serious."

"I'm very serious. I leave next week."

"But we have a son. You can't leave Jack."

April tilted her head to one side--a gesture that John had always loved. "Our son is twenty-five. He's getting married. I'll come back for the wedding, but he doesn't need his mommy to tuck him in at night."

"But he still needs you. And you can't leave Pine Lake."

"Oh, John."

"Don't 'oh, John' me. That's what you always do." He reached for her arm.

Anticipating his move, she put her hand out and grasped his wrist. "John. We're done. Finished.  We have been for years." She released her grasp, turned again, and walked away.

It wasn't true, John thought. They would never be finished.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Episode 38 Selena

It wasn't like she was floating above herself or any of that other out-of-body nonsense she'd read about, but it was weird.

Selena couldn't talk, or move, and her eyes weren't just closed, they were bandaged over. Yet, somehow, she could see everything that was going on around her. At first, she'd been terrified, trapped within herself, unable to communicate in any way, but the fear was forgotten because Biff had come back. He was here, beside her, and that made the world wonderful again.

She could feel his hand touch hers; she could hear his voice as he said, "I should never have left. I don't know what I was thinking."

As if the bandages didn't exist, she could see his eyes fill with tears, see the anxious glances he gave the monitors all around her, the wincing twitch of his cheek muscles when he looked at the IV snaking into her right arm.

You're here, so I'll be all right. We'll be all right. Everything will be all right.

"Selena, I'll never leave you again, I swear." She heard the catch in his voice and wished she could reach out to him, comfort him as he was comforting her.

"I have something for you," he said. "I've had it for a while now. Just didn't know when to give it to you. I guess I was waiting for the perfect time. There seemed to be so much time. . ." Again, his voice caught.

She heard the rustle of his jacket pocket as he pulled out a small black velvet box. In her mind, she could see every detail as he opened the box to reveal a tiny, perfect diamond, shining like a single star in the dark of night.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Episode 37

The week had dragged on forever. Biff Monroe was in New York, the last place he wanted to be, but it was easy to stay under the radar in the indifference of a big city.

He'd found a crappy hotel that wasn't too particular about a person's identity as long as they had cash to pay for the room in advance, and he'd spent the last few days holed up with his laptop, trying to figure out what to do next.

He had options: he could go back to the DEA and tell Jackson that Selena's father, Nick Kallias, had ratted him out to the Gonzales boys. But that meant getting involved again, and Biff wanted out. He'd had enough of playing footsie with sleaze balls and druggies to last a life time. Option two was running farther: Europe, Australia, maybe even South America. The bad guys probably wouldn't think to look for him in their own back yard.

But all the options he thought about were pointless without Selena. He had to find a way for her to be with him. Biff still didn't understand how the hell her father had figured out that he, Biff, was working undercover, or how he would have any contact with the very bad people on whom Biff was collecting indictment-worthy evidence.

With Selena and Pine Lake on his mind, he fired up his laptop and googled the town's community news page. He broke out in a cold sweat as he read:

Crash on Highway 10 Claims a Life

Two cars collided yesterday on Highway 10 near Pine Lake. Witnesses say a Ford Escort apparently lost control after being clipped by a Toyota Camry. The Ford spun and flipped twice before smashing into a bridge support. 52-year-old Caroline Wilson died shortly after being rushed to Pine Lake Hospital. The other car, driven by Selena Kallias,age 25, skidded into a light pole. Miss Kallias was also transported to the hospital, where she remains in critical condition. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Episode 36

"Pulse is thready; BP dropping." The EMT relayed information as the gurney clattered through the doors of Pine Lake Hospital ER.

Claire Monroe thought she was prepared--the ambulance had radioed ahead what was coming. Level I trauma. They just hadn't told her who was coming.

Dr. Johnson took the most critical patient; Dr. Ford had the second accident victim, also critical, but with better vitals.

Years of training and experience took control; Claire followed procedure, followed orders.

Cubicle 1                                                                                Cubicle 2

"Code Blue."                                                                   "She's stable for now," Dr. Ford said. A
"Defib."                                                                            minute later, "Get the morphine going; call
"Clear."                                                                            Butler; she'll need major reconstructive work.
"Again."                                                                           We'll need x-rays, but in addition to these
"Once more."                                                                   facial lacerations, I'm betting we've got a
"Okay, folks," said Dr. Johnson, "that's                          broken mandible, crushed left clavicle. She's
all she wrote here. We're done." He                                damn lucky her neck didn't snap." Ford caught
pulled off his gloves and tossed them in the bin.            the look on Claire's face. "Know her?"
On the gurney, Caroline Wilson looked, finally,             "Yes." Claire stopped short of adding, "My   
at peace.                                                                          son once told me he wanted to marry her."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Episode 35

Once years ago, Caroline Wilson's face was cute in a pixie-ish sort of way, but her hatred of the world, and Pine Lake in particular, had pinched her features so that she looked mean enough to drown kittens. Every day, she asked herself why she'd returned to Pine Lake. There were a million other little towns she and Mark could've landed in that wouldn't be any more aware than Pine Lake of that ugly business between her and Senator Martin in D.C.

What a prick that guy had been. Acting as if he wasn't stealing from the taxpayers. Caroline had been allowed to leave town because no one could prove the charges, and Mark the Moron had stuck with her like a burr. She woke up every morning pissed at everyone, especially him. As each day wore on, she added other bitches, idiots, and incompetents to her hate list.

She backed the car out of the garage, thinking that the incomps would top the list today. Her first task was running by the DMV to get her license renewed. Nothing like a bunch of small-time bureaucrats to really bring joy to the world, she thought. She gunned the engine and headed down Main Street.

Selena Kallias drove home in a state of shock, but by the time she'd packed a bag and stopped by the bank to clean out her savings account, she was in a blind fury. How dare her father try to run her life? She didn't care what happened to him, which is exactly what she yelled at her mother while the EMTs fussed over him and packed him off to the hospital. Bastard had probably faked the whole passing-out thing. How could he have a heart attack when he clearly didn't have a heart?
That reasoning kept her moving, kept her determined to leave town. She would find Biff. She had to find him. The airport was as good as any place to start looking.

Carline sped through town, keeping her eyes peeled for cops. She didn't need another ticket. Just before she turned onto the highway ramp, the engine alert light flicked on again. Crap. The thing had been going on and off for weeks, and Mark was supposed to have fixed it. Lazy, good-for-nothing S.O.B. The steering was feeling kind of mushy, too. When she got home, she'd give that moron an earful.

On Highway 10, and old man in a blue Ford was in front of Selena, putt-putting along way under the speed limit. She swerved around him and floored it up to 80 mph, leaving the Ford in the dust.  She watched the blue car recede in her rear view mirror. Too late, she turned her attention to the car in front of her, which had inexplicably slowed down. Selena hit the brakes, but not before clipping the other vehicle.


Caroline twisted the steering wheel, trying to compensate. The car spun left; the wheel jerked out of her hands.

Selena tried to stop, but the skid went on and on. . . .

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Episode 34

Blake rolled down the window of his Mercedes and took a deep breath. The night air was cool enough to sober him up a bit, but Christ on a bike, what a night.

He pulled onto the highway and drove as carefully as he could, which wasn't great, since his depth perception was definitely compromised. It was five miles from Jeni's house at the Hunter Ridge Estates to his place on the north side of Pine Lake, and the last thing he needed was a DUI. Especially since booze wasn't the only substance floating around in his system at the moment.

He had a lot to think about on the drive home.

At 2:30 in the morning, it was a safe bet Genevra would be fast asleep. He could shower in one of the spare bathrooms before getting in bed, otherwise she'd know. He reeked of booze, pot, and sex. Like a horny old dog, he loved being covered in the scent, but it would cost him his marriage if Genevra caught wind of this evening's amusements.

There was a part of him that didn't care. Tonight, even in his current state, he felt ten years younger than he had this morning. Make it twenty years. That Jeni DuMont was something else. Adorable little hussy. He laughed out loud in the car. Holy shit, she'd showed him a good time!

He decided he'd buy her a little present. Probably a diamond bracelet. All women loved diamonds, right? Just something to show his appreciation. And he'd be sure to let her know he'd be back for more.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Episode 33

Helen stormed into Nick's office at the restaurant.

"What did you say to Biff Monroe?" she demanded. She was glad he was seated so she could stand over him.

"What?" Nick looked up from his paperwork.

"Don't try to deny it," she said. "I saw the two of you outside the Rainbow yesterday, and now Selena says he's gone. He's left town."

"That's the best news I've heard in weeks," Nick replied.

"No, it isn't. Your daughter is absolutely frantic, and you should be ashamed of yourself. I don't know what you have against that boy, but I'd bet my share of this restaurant that you are behind his sudden departure."

Nick glowered at his wife. "Stay out of this. She'll get over it, and I haven't made any secret of the fact that I don't want Selena mixed up with that man. He's too old for her, for one thing."

"That's a load of crap. You're older than I am, and in case you haven't noticed, Selena is a grown woman and perfectly capable of deciding who she wants to spend time with. It's not up to you."

Nick ignored her, returning his attention to the papers on his desk.

"Why are you being like this?" she asked. "Is there something you're not telling me?"

He continued to ignore her, so she played the card she'd been holding back. "Okay, then. Maybe you can tell me why our savings account is down by $10,000 since yesterday."

Helen saw the color rise in Nick's face. She had his attention now.

"So what if I encouraged him to pursue his photography career someplace other than Pine Lake?"

"Mother of God, I can't believe you'd stoop so low as bribery to get him out of town." Helen narrowed her eyes. "Unless there's more to the story. Unless...."

"Unless what?" Selena asked, stepping into the office.

"Selena--what are you doing here?" Helen asked. Too late, she realized she'd left the office door open, and worse, she had no idea that Selena was in the building.

"How much did you hear?" Nick asked his daughter.

"More than enough, Daddy dear. But please, you two finish your conversation. I think you were just getting to the good part."

Nick stood. "This isn't the time or place--"

"Yes, it is," Helen said.

Nick tried to stare her down, but she didn't flinch. "If you won't answer my question, I know who can." She turned to her daughter. "Give me your cell phone."


"Just give me your damn phone."

Selena pulled the phone from her pocket and handed it to her mother. She couldn't recall ever in her life hearing her mother swear.

"Is Claire Monroe's phone number in here?" Helen asked.

Selena nodded. She noticed her father had grown a sickly pale and perspiration had broken out on his forehead.

Helen punched buttons on the phone, then held it to her ear. The volume was high enough that the voice of the woman who answered was audible to all.


"Claire? This is Helen Kallias. I think I know how to find Biff, but before I tell you, would you please answer one question? Is my hsuband Biff's father?"

There was a moment of stunned silence before Selena heard Claire say, "Good God, no."

Nick, who had also heard Claire's reply, clutched suddenly at his chest before falling face first onto his desk.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Episode 32

"Well, hello there, partner."

Blake was on his second beer after three shots of the best whiskey the Rainbow had to offer when Jeni DuMont sidled up to him at the bar.

"Jeni? What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?" Well on his way to getting totally shit-faced, Blake didn't care about cliches or ogling his newest business partner in a decidedly unprofessional manner. "Nice outfit," he said, letting his gaze linger on her breasts, which curved out provocatively from a low-cut, shiny purple top. Her white jeans looked as if they'd been spray-painted on, and he wanted to grab her ass so bad it hurt.

"Buy me a drink?" she asked.

"I'll buy you anything you want, doll."

Oh, boy, this is going to be a cinch, Jenni thought. She rubbed against his leg accidentally-on-purpose as she hoisted herself on the bar stool.

"I'll have a rum and Coke," she told the bartender. Then she leaned over Blake, making sure her chest made contact with his arm. "Tell you what, cowboy, you buy this round and then let's head over to my place. I've got a real nice bar set up, and I can show you the plans for Spa-La-La."

The luxury day spa was Jeni's new business venture. She had plenty of capital, so she didn't need his money, but she had approached Blake to ask if he would help her formulate a business plan. Flattered that she would seek him out, he'd offered a few suggestions. They'd met a couple of times, first at the library, then at Starbucks, and he'd relished feeling appreciated for his business acumen. Jeni made him feel manly in a way Genevra hadn't for a long, long time.

Blake wasn't stupid, but he was bored, resentful, and restless. "That sounds like a fine idea, my dear."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Episode 31

"I can't believe you said 'yes' to that...that boy."

"Genevra, Jack Donati is a decent young man. It took some courage for him to come over here tonight. Besides, what did you expect me to do? Tell him to go to hell?"

"That would have been okay. And you could join him there." Genevra Adams glared at her husband. The man was a fool. She should never have married him. And she sure as hell didn't want her daughter going down the same road, marrying someone she would come to despise. "This is a complete disaster, and the blame is on your shoulders."

"Really? How would that be? You're the one who encouraged her to come back to Pine Lake."

"Not to work as a bartender." Genevra poured herself a generous portion of scotch, knocked back an unladylike amount, and continued her rant. "You need to stop this engagement. If Whitney is too obsessed with this ridiculous relationship to break it off herself, you have to step in. We've already got a terribly mess on our hands with Billy. Th doctors don't know if he'll ever be fully normal. We can't have Whitney ruin her life tied to some fortune-hunter. Maybe David can help you talk to her. Thank God we've got one child whose life isn't some soap opera."

Blake's brow creased. He rubbed his face with both hands. "I'm going out."

"Now? It's almost ten."

Without replying, Blake turned and left.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Episode 30

Jack Donati took a deep breath and rang the doorbell. Just coming up to the front door of the Adams' mansion made his palms sweat. The only way he was going to get through the next hour was by keeping Whitney first in his thoughts. He would do anything for her: slay dragons, crawl across burning coals, and--scariest of all--come here to ask her parents for permission to propose.

A maid came to the door, looking suspicious when he asked to see Mr. and Mrs. Adams.

"Are they expecting you?"

He glanced at his watch. "Yes, Ma'am. I'm Jack Donati. They said two o'clock, which it is exactly."

"Very well. This way." She turned, and he followed her inside and down a long marble hallway. His heart pounded as the maid opened beautiful wood-paneled doors and he saw Blake and Genevra Adams sitting across from one another in matching wing-backed chairs looking ridiculously formal.

"Mr. Donati has arrived," the maid announced.

"Well, I doubt that," Genevra said, "but show him in anyway."

Blake sent her an ominous glare before standing to shake Jack's hand. "Jack, it's good to see you," he said. "Have a seat and tell us what brings you here. You were rather cagey on the phone."

Jesus, I need more time, Jack's mind raced as he sat. "Nice to see you both, too." He tried to smile into the awkward silence that followed while he gathered his thoughts.

"Whitney and I had a really nice time last weekend with David and Michael. Michael made us this amazing brunch--omelets and homemade coffee cake. They are such a great couple--ah, I mean, omelets and coffee cake. Together. They're great."  
Oh, God, how stupid could he be? David's parents didn't know about Michael yet, didn't even know David was gay.
"You know, salty omelet, sweet coffee cake. Great combo." Jack cold feel the color rise in his face and Blake was staring at him like he'd just dropped trou and crapped on the fancy carpet.

"I'm sure you're not here to tell us about brunch menus," Genevra said. She crossed her arms in the classic body language of animosity.

"Uh, no, Ma'am."

Jack took the small black box from his jacket pocket, opened it and held it to the light so the tiny diamond would sparkle.

"I got this for Whitney. I'd like your permission to ask for her hand in marriage."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Episode 29

Lately, John Donati had the unaccustomed feeling of being the odd man out--every time he drove past the house of a woman he was interested in, he'd find some other guy lurking around. It didn't help that there were only two women he found interesting: Claire Monroe and his former wife, April.

Claire was a sweetheart, but he'd seen the way she and Matt Wilson looked at each other. John didn't approve, what with Matt being married, but his opinion wasn't going to change the way Claire felt, which was a damn shame.

April was another story. He'd been a fool to let her walk out the door, and it was totally his fault. He had put his job before his home life. She'd called him on it, but he figured she was bluffing when she gave him an ultimatum. Biggest mistake of his life, he thought as he walked up to her front door and rang the bell.

"John-D," she answered the door using the nickname he'd had since second grade when there had been four Johns in their class. "What's up? You're not in uniform, so this must not be official."

"Hey, April. Do you have a minute?"

She stepped to one side and opened the door, gesturing him into the house where she'd lived since their divorce eight years ago.

The living room was a wild jumble of half-finished canvases, tables littered with paint tubes and brushes, house plants, bright ceramics and an eclectic mix of found objects ranging from driftwood to an alligator skull.

"How've you been?" he asked.

"Okay. Excellent, really. Except for the fact that you were right about Paul Harrison. What a jerk. Thanks for the heads-up on that, although I'm not thrilled that you were spying on me."

"Not spying. Just keeping an eye on strangers in town. Not my fault if the guy has a bad reputation with his bank and his four ex-wives."

"Okay, don't rub it in. Apparently, I have lousy taste in men." She picked up several magazines that were strewn on the couch and casually tossed them on the floor. Her offhand housekeeping style, which had annoyed him when they were married, now seemed endearingly quirky to him. "So what's on your mind?"

"It's Jack. You know he's been seeing Whitney Adams?"

April laughed. "I believe he's doing a lot more than 'seeing' her."

"You know what I mean."

"No, actually, I don't."

John ignored her obvious attempt to bait him. "I'm worried about it. The Adams' have more money than God. Whitney's used to the best."

"Speaks well for our son, don't you think?"

"April, Jack wants to marry her."

His ex-wife gave him one of those looks he never did learn to interpret.

"John, get a grip," she said. "Jack is a grown man. He and a lovely young woman are in love. We should rejoice."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Episode 28

Whitney Adams and her brother, David, sat at his kitchen table. It was Sunday morning,a nd David's partner, Michael, was preparing brunch for the three of them.

"So Jack is sleeping in this morning?" David asked.

"He's so exhausted," Whitney replied. "The past few weeks have been crazy. He goes to classes at the community college in Mason three mornings a week, then works as many hours as he can get at Taverna. If he can stick it out, he'll be an EMT in another ten months."

"And then?"

"We'll see," Whitney replied with a sly smile.

"Should I buy a tux for the wedding?"

"Ooh, did I hear 'wedding'? I love weddings," Michael chimed in as he placed a picture perfect bacon and Swiss omelet on the table. He ran his hand affectionately along the back of David's shoulders before sitting down next to him. "Dig in, kids. There's enough here for all of us, and the coffee cake will be out of the oven in five minutes."

"So have you told the parents yet?"

"No." Whitney scowled. "I haven't had the courage."

"We hear you, sugar. Can you imagine what dear old Daddy will say when he finds out about us?" David said, winking at Michael.

"Point noted," Whitney replied. "Hey, speaking of the old man, yesterday I saw him coming out of the library of all places. He was talking to Jeni DuMont and they looked pretty friendly."

"Jeni DuMont? Is she that tarty woman who claims to be Lassiter's sister?" Michael asked.

"The very same."

The two men looked at each other, then back at Whitney. Simultaneously, they said, "That can't be good."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Episode 27

"I'm sorry, sweetie. I don't know anymore than you do." Claire put a cup of coffee lightened with just a touch of milk in front of her guest. "One minute, everything was looking great; the next minute, he does this. Though I can't say it's the first time my son's done a runner."

Selena listened to Claire, who looked as devastated as Selena felt, with a sense of unreality. She stirred the coffee absentmindedly, then left it untouched. How could Biff do this to her? To his mother? She looked again at the note he'd left:

Got to leave. It's been grand.
             -- Biff 

The more she read it, the less sense it made. Why would he leave town with little more than the clothes on his back less than 24 hours after they'd talked about getting a place together?

"I just don't understand," Claire repeated. "He had a great job that he loved, and I know he adores you. For the first time in his life, he seemed settled and happy."

Selena picked up the hastily scrawled note. "You know what bothers me?" she said to herself as much as to Claire. "I don't get why he says he's "got" to leave."

"Well, no one ever told Biff what to do as far as I know."

"What if he was threatened?"

The two women stared at each other as the each considered that possibility. Claire thought about her son's wild side and the dangerous people with whom she suspected he'd come in contact.

Selena thought about her father.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Episode 26

The thrill of adrenaline, adventure, and pursuit surged in Jeni DuMont as she swung open the heavy door of the Pine Lake Library. The potent mix of emotions was better than drugs or alcohol, and the end result was a hell of a lot better than a hangover.

For Jeni, the scenario was familiar: get the mark to meet at a library--how innocent was that? No one ever figured out how complex and well-conceived her Plan was. The same Plan that had worked like a charm with both Peter and Jimmy was now going to work with Blake Adams.


Blake sat in one of the comfortable wing-backed chairs in the library's reading room. He relished the peace and quiet, something that was currently in short supply in his life.

His son, Billy, was in a psyche ward battling invisible demons. His daughter had thrown away all the wonderful opportunities he had provided to work as a bartender and shack up with a waiter. His wife either ignored him or berated him. Business was rocky; his recent investments had been disastrous. Only his oldest child, David, was acting like a reasonable human being. Blake had been thrilled when David agreed last year to join the family business. Of course, except for occasional encounters at the office, the two of them rarely spent any time together.

Yesterday, however, there had been a new development that piqued Blake curiousity. A young widow with a large amount of money to invest had telephoned him with an idea for a business venture that sounded intriguing. He thought it a bit odd that she insisted on meeting at the library, but it wouldn't be the first time he'd dealt with the quirky ways of the very wealthy.

"Mr. Adams?"

He turned at the sound of his name. "Mrs. DuMont. How nice to meet you."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Episode 25

"You can't be serious." Genevra Adams slammed down the file she was holding.

"Sorry. I wish I could give you more notice, but I can't," Biff Monroe said.

"Biff, whatever is going on with you--and I know this town has been hard on you and your mother--leaving isn't the answer. When you came back here last summer, you faced down all the naysayers and proved that you have talent and you work hard. Don't throw all that away."

Biff ran his hands through his thick brown hair. "Genevra, you have been super. You gave me a job when no one else would, and you've helped me more than you know, but I have to hit the road. Guess I'm just not meant to stay in one place."

Genevra locked eyes with him until all he could do was shrug, turn away, and get out the damn door as soon as possible. He had to leave quickly or he wouldn't leave at all. And he had to leave. Nick Kallias had seen to that.

Biff still couldn't understand why Kallias hated him so much, but the "why" didn't matter. What mattered was that Kallias had made him an offer he couldn't refuse: ten grand to get out of town, or stick around and wait for the Gonzales boys to get him.

What were his exact words? "I'll make sure your past catches up with you in ways that will make you wish you were dead."

Biff hadn't seen that coming and couldn't figure out how Kallias even knew about the Gonzales. It didn't matter, though. Even if Kallias was a bullheaded fool and had no idea what he was messing with, Biff couldn't take chances. Especially since it would mean the people he cared about would be in terrible danger.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Episode 24

"Where the hell have you been?"

Matt Wilson took one look at his wife's twisted, angry face and wanted to turn around and walk back out the door. Instead, he said, "I stopped at the store. Here."

He put a grocery bag containing fixings for sandwiches on the kitchen table. "How about ham and cheese tonight?"

Caroline Wilson peered into the bag. She lifted out a loaf of rye bread. "You bought the kind with caraway seeds. I hate caraway."

"Sorry, I forgot. I can go back to the store."

"And this is American cheese. Are you kidding? This stuff is horrible. I wouldn't feed it to a dog." She threw the offending packet of cheese on the floor. "You'd better get more mustard, too. We're almost out."

Matt was more than glad to go back to the crowded grocery store where not a single soul was as unpleasant as his wife. He took the long route, going almost a mile out of his way so he could drive past Claire's house.

He believed in hope, but his present situation was testing his fortitude. There wasn't a day that went by when he didn't wonder how he could extricate himself from Caroline so he could be with the woman he loved.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Episode 23

A cold winter wind blew directly off Pine Lake as Helen Kallias exited the post office. She walked down the block, preoccupied with a dozen different problems, mostly having to do with her two daughters. Engrossed in her thoughts, she didn't immediately register that the man coming out of Rainbow Bar was her husband, Nick.

Her first instinct was to call out to him, but a nano-second later, she wondered what he was up to. Why would he be at the Rainbow in the middle of the day, especially since he had made a point of telling her he was going straight to Taverna to work on the new menu with the chef?

Helen stopped in her tracks. Against the biting wind, she stepped close to the shelter of the nearest building, turned up the collar of her coat, and covered her head with her scarf.

To her further surprise, Biff Monroe also stepped out of the bar. Helen watched the two of them--one older, one younger--stand together, talking as if they were old friends. Something is definitely wrong with this picture, she thought. Nick had always gone out of his way to either ignore or bad-mouth Biff.

Maybe ten years ago, when Biff was a kid, he'd been wild, but as far as Helen was concerned, he seemed like a decent enough young man now. He was always very polite to her. Still, Nick had continued to be unreasonable about Biff. When their daughter, Selena, began dating the fellow, Nick carried on as though she would completely ruin her life if they so much as had dinner together.

Helen pulled her scarf more closely around her head. Of course, it wouldn't conceal her identity if Nick turned around. After nearly thirty years of marriage, he would recognize her in an instant. But for the moment, she preferred to see, rather than be seen.

For the first time in her married life, she wondered how well she really knew her husband. That Nick would have anything civil to say to Biff was too far out of the ordinary to be insignificant.

She flashed back to the afternoon a few weeks earlier when Nick had cut his hand. In the emergency room, she had sensed an unspoken communication between the ER nurse and her husband. That nurse was Claire Monroe. Claire, who was Biff's mother, had been shunned in the town of Pine Lake for raising her son by herself, refusing to reveal the identity of the boy's father.

Nick had known Claire since high school. It wasn't a giant leap for Helen to wonder now if her husband might possibly be Biff's father.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Episode 22

Chief Donati had just about pieced everything together. He'd spent half an hour on the phone with Special Agent Jackson, who corroborated Biff Monroe's story.

"Monroe came to us a couple of years ago," Jackson said. "He told us he had information about the Gonzales family, a sleaze-ball group of drug runners who specialize in marketing their wares to high school kids.
Monroe seemed to know what he was talking about. but we needed more hard evidence. That's when he volunteered to put together a photo-documentary for us. I gotta tell you, I don't know how he got some of those pictures and lived to tell the tale, but we have a file two feet thick. There's just about enough evidence to put the sweet boys away for a long, long time."

"So what's the status of the case now?" Donati asked.

"There was one last link--some guy named Lassiter. Monroe was supposedly in the final stage of nailing his ass. We were waiting for his okay before rounding up the lot of 'em. When you called, I figured that the bad guys got him. Glad to know he's all right."

Donati had been relieved that Biff was on the level. He liked the kid. Seemed like he was doing his best to turn his life around. With a reminder to stay out of trouble, Donati let Monroe go.

The only question that hadn't been answered was: who wrote the anonymous tip-off note? And why?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Episode 21

When Matt gave the coffee cup to Claire, their hands touched briefly. Claire tried hard not to look at his face, but she couldn't help herself. He was standing so close to her. Too close. He brushed her cheek with his finger tips.

The kiss that followed was not unexpected; she'd thought about it many times. When she'd found the single red rose in her mailbox yesterday, she'd allowed herself to hope that maybe her secret crush wasn't so silly after all. Who else would have left the flower but Matt?

"I'm sorry," he said, but he didn't move away from her.

Claire, still holding the empty cup, was the one to take a step back. "Don't apologize," she said. "It was nice." She saw the troubled expression on his face, and added, "But it can't happen again. You're a married man."

Matt turned away. "We both know I shouldn't have kissed you, but I'm glad I did. I can't believe I'm trapped with a woman who hates me, when I could--should--be with you."

"Caroline doesn't hate you."

"Yeah, she does. She hates everyone."

Claire made a production of rinsing out the coffee cup, drying it, setting it on the counter.

Matt continued, "I'm pretty sure she'd got some serious problems. She spends all day standing at the window, staring at the world through those damn binoculars, complaining about everything and everyone. I mean, literally, all day. That can't be normal."

"Why don't you see if you can get her some counseling?"

"Not going to happen." A moment later, he added, "But I can't go on like this. Something's got to give."

Claire moved to his side, put her hand on is arm. "I'm sure you'll work it out, and whatever happens, I'm glad that we're friends. Oh, by the way, thank you for the rose. That was sweet."

"What rose?"

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Episode 20

"So let me get this straight," Donati said, propping one foot up on the edge of his desk. "You say you've been doing a photo documentary of a bunch of Columbian drug dealers that just happen to end up here in Pine Lake?"

Biff Monroe leaned forward in his chair, his elbows resting on the tops of his thighs. "It's more complicated than that, but yeah, that's why I was on the Adams' property when Frankie Lassiter took a nose dive off the second-floor balcony."

"But you didn't help him over the edge?"

"No, sir. I don't know who would've sent you that note saying I pushed him, but they didn't have their facts straight. I can prove that with the photos."

Donati studied the face of the young man across the desk. Biff Monroe was no stranger to the police station. As a kid, he'd been wild as hell, skipping school, drinking, driving through town like a maniac. He'd been caught smashing windows at the junior high, and Donati suspected, but could never prove the kid was behind a rash of graffiti. Murder, however, was an entirely different class of crime. Monroe might have been a reckless kid, but in spite of the anonymous note claiming he'd pushed Lassiter off the balcony, Donati wanted to believe the guy.

"Got anyone who can corroborate your story?"

Biff grimaced and ran his hands through his hair. He took a full minute before answering. "Yes, sir. I do."

He pulled a cell phone from his pocket. "This is going to blow three years worth of undercover work, but you can talk to this guy."

Biff punched in a number and handed the phone to Donati. There was an answer after the second ring: "Jackson here. What's up?"

"Hello. This is Chief John Donati, Pine Lake Police."

"Ah, shit.," the man said. "If you're using this phone, it must mean the bastards got Monroe."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Episode 19

Jeni DuMont had learned years ago that money made life so much easier. It was a lesson she'd put to good use by marrying a very wealthy man forty-five years her senior. Other than his age, infirmities, and revolting physical appearance, Jim DuMont's biggest weakness was stupidity. not surprisingly, that was the trait that worked in Jeni's favor. Most men, especially the stupid ones, were easy prey for a hot-looking gal with the skills of a seasoned hooker.

Now, with poor old Jim's fortune (gleaned by selling Florida swamp water purportedly blessed by the Pope) transferred safely to her new account in Pine Lake, Jeni was ready to re-invent herself.

She stopped in at the Pine Lake Bank & Trust to discuss her financial options with a personal banker and, as always, Jeni had her eyes and ears open, scanning her surroundings for treasure. She sat quite still in the well-appointed waiting area, inhaling the scent of money, alert to everyone and everything.

So it was that she was instantly aware of an attractive, 50-somenthing man as he strode confidently through the bank lobby.

"Good morning, Mr. Adams," one of the receptionists cooed.

Jeni pinned her eyes on the gentleman, correctly assuming he must be the Blake Adams. He didn't look stupid, but appearances could be deceiving. Chief Donati had drive her past the Adams' house, and Jeni figured the guy's bank account was ten times old Jim's. That could make her happy for life.  Originally, she had planned to sue Adams for the wrongful death of her brother, Frankie, but having laid eyes on him, Jeni began to formulate more amusing ways of getting her hands on his money.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Episode 18

The Three Fates

The ancient Greeks were big on Fate, and being 100% Greek, Nick Kallias figured it was natural for him to agree with his ancestors that the Fates played games with mere mortals. Too many times in his nearly sixty years, the Fates had shown their powers.

He thought of this as Claire Monroe wrapped the bandage around his left hand.

"Stay out of the kitchen, Nick," Claire said, "and leave the sharp knives to your chef."

"Nah. I've taken pits from hundreds of avocados and never done this," he replied.

Claire met his eyes with one of her looks. "Really? You want to argue about it?"

Nick had been holding the avocado in his left hand when the heavy blade glanced off the slippery pit and sliced through the heel of his palm.

Claire secured the layers of gauze with adhesive tape. "Like the doctor said, you're lucky this wasn't a lot worse."

Nick ignored her. He turned to his wife, Helen, who was sitting quietly in one corner of the ER cubicle. "Helen, go get the car. These quacks are almost finished with me."

Helen had driven Nick to the hospital, where Fate had made certain Claire was the nurse on duty. Once Helen left, the atmosphere in the tiny cubicle changed. No longer buffered by Helen's presence, tension between nurse and patient intensified.  Claire wrote follow-up instructions in silence, all too aware of Nick watching her every move. She handed him several sheets of paper and recited the list of possible adverse symtoms.

"Tell your boy to stay the hell away from Selena," Nick said, grabbing at he papers she held out to him.

"Why should I?"

"Jesus, woman, why do you think?"

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Episode 17

Police Station
"Shit!" Biff's glance in the rear-view mirror, followed by the expletive, was the first hint Selena had of trouble. She turned and saw the flashing lights of a patrol car half a block behind them. 

"You aren't speeding. I bet he goes right past us."

Biff pulled the car tot he side of the road, and the cop slid in right behind them, stopping less than ten feet from the Mustang's bumper.

"But you didn't do anything wrong," Selena insisted.

"I did if the cop says so," Biff answered, already reaching for the driver's license in his wallet.

Chief Donati took his time getting out of the car before ambling over to tap on Biff's window. He bent down as the window opened, 'Been looking all over town for you, son."

"Yeah? Why's that?"

"Need to ask you a few questions."

"So ask."

"Down at the station."

"Am I under arrest?"


"What if I don't want to answer your questions?"

"Then you might be under arrest."

Selena didn't move while the two men glared at each other.

Biff was the first to break the silence. "I'll be at the station in fifteen minutes."

Donati leaned farther into the window. "Afternoon, Ms. Kallias."

Selena mumbled a response.

"Mr. Monroe is going to ride with me," Donati said. "I'd sure appreciate it if you'd be kind enough to drive his car over to the station."

Selena sat up straighter and looked Donati square in the face. "This doesn't sound right to me," she said. "Aren't you supposed to read him his rights, or something?"

"Not if he isn't under arrest, which he isn't."

"Selena, just meet us over there," Biff said. "Whatever this is about, it has nothing to do with me."

In the past several months, Selena and Biff Monroe had built a deep, intense relationship, the likes of which neither of them had ever experienced before. She knew him as well as anyone could, and now she was certain he was lying.