Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch – Chapter Two!

Rand Hart began life in the late 20th century as a real estate agent turned professional gambler who wins an Atlantic-class yacht in a poker game and takes to traveling the world on his new acquisition. Rand’s predecessor also did the occasional “odd job” for extra cash when Lady Luck didn’t seem to be by his side and his considerable skill couldn’t make up for her abandonment.

However, that character sits in a drawer. The novel is half completed. Someday, since my other great love (aside from airships) is the sailing ship, I may pull out that uncompleted manuscript and give Rand’s predecessor life. After all who doesn’t like a good sea yarn? Just think of Moby Dick without all those ghastly chapters on whales. I love whales, but really — all that biology in a novel?

My wonderful sea yarn is around 30 years old. Well, the half of it I actually wrote. One day, I was thinking of that unfinished manuscript and said to myself, Why not set the whole thing in the ‘30s with airships and make it dieselpunk? Why not, indeed? And thus Rand Hart was born.

Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch is now available for pre-order purchase at Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and through the Tolino (Germany’s answer to the Kindle) network.

Let’s take another look at that wonderful cover and let’s sample chapter two. Aye, there be flamingoes here!

Rand Hart 1 web version

Chapter 2: Milly

Friday, 6 May 1938
Coconut Grove
Miami, Florida

When Hart checked at the ticket counter in Miami, he discovered the Pan Am flight he wanted didn’t take off until eight the next morning. He bought a ticket for one of the five remaining seats and then left the terminal to find a cab. Two were waiting. The drivers standing on the curb by their vehicles. A big, white General sedan and a brand new, elegant, if old-fashioned, Checker. Hart picked the Checker.

“Where to, Pal?”

“The hotel closest to the Pan Am seaplane terminal.”

“Can do.”

The cabbie took Hart’s suitcase and put it in the trunk, while Hart got in the back seat. The fellow then got behind the wheel and the cab was rolling.

Within minutes, Hart found himself, suitcase in hand, standing before the entrance to The Mango House Hotel. The place was a three story stucco building painted a hideous shade of pink. Hart thought a moment and decided he’d never seen a mango that color and wondered why the owners hadn’t called the place the Flamingo Palace. Oh, well. As long as the bed was comfortable and the water hot, it probably didn’t matter what the name or the color was.

He walked in and requested a room. The clerk told him they had one and, after Hart signed for it, gave him the key. Room 305.

“Any place close by I can get a meal and something to drink?” Hart asked.

“The Highball, three doors down is a decent bar and at the corner,” the clerk pointed in the opposite direction, “Jimmy’s is a good place to get a meal.”

“Thanks,” Hart replied and took the stairs to his room. He wasn’t overly fond of elevators.

The stairwell opened onto a hall with eight rooms, four rooms on either side, and a bathroom at the end of the hall.

“Ten dollars a night and no private bath,” he muttered while walking down the hall looking for his room. He found it two doors from the bathroom on his right. After unlocking and opening the door, he set his suitcase inside, walked down to the bathroom and took a look around. “Clean enough,” he said. Then returned to his room, which was more or less your standard hotel room. A double bed, chest of drawers, pitcher and wash basin, wardrobe, chair, and lamp. Nothing fancy. Ten bucks. He shook his head.

A look at his watch told him the lunch crowd would probably be at the diner in another hour. He felt tired. Two nights of little sleep were explanation enough.  And even though the Curtiss had sleeper berths, Hart had mostly tossed and turned on his flight to Miami, via Atlanta. He wanted nothing more than to take a long nap, but he had too much money on him and needed to go to the bank. He also needed to pick up Brazilian currency.

He left his room, locked the door, and went back downstairs to the lobby. He asked the clerk to telephone for a cab and then took a seat and waited. The chair was comfy and he began to doze off, when the clerk woke him.

“Your taxi has arrived, sir.”

“Thanks.”

Hart made his way out to the curb, told the cabbie what he wanted, and got in when the fellow told him he could take him to any bank he wanted.

An hour later, Hart was back in his room. He untied his shoes and took them off. He slipped out of his suit and lay on the bed. A nap and a bath afterwards, then he’d get a bite of supper.

He woke with a start. The room was dark. What time was it? He groped for the lamp, found the switch, and turned it on. He looked at his watch. Half-past seven. He sat on the edge of the bed. Yeah, he thought, a bath, something to eat, and a drink. Come back here, get some sleep, and then the flight. He reached for his suit coat. From one of the pockets, he took out the Briggs mixture and a pack of cigarette papers. He rolled four cigarettes. Three he put on the dresser, the fourth in his mouth and lit it.

Hart opened his suitcase, found a fresh shirt, and taking his clothes and shaving kit with him, padded down to the bathroom. The little box was still in the inside suit coat pocket and he wanted it to stay there. He didn’t like the thought of someone coming to collect his thirty thousand deutsche marks should he not make the delivery. Then again, they’d have to find him. But if von Osler had truly been watching him, they’d probably find him.

His cigarette smoked out, he flipped the butt into the toilet, and turned on the faucets for the tub. The water was nice and hot. Might make the place worth ten bucks after all, he thought.

When the tub was half full, he got in, took a minute to enjoy the water, and then washed. When done, he rinsed and toweled off. After shaving, he dressed, and returned to his room. He put the three cigarettes into his suit coat pocket, looked out the window at a row of palm trees, illuminated by a matching row of lights, and left his room, locking the door behind him.

Down the stairs, across the lobby, and out the front door. On the sidewalk, he looked up and down the street and set off for Jimmy’s. He patted the suit coat, felt the box, and relaxed.

The diner occupied the corner, making it L-shaped, and had large glass windows. Hart supposed the idea was so passersby could see inside and decide to satisfy the rumblings in their stomachs there instead of somewhere else. The place didn’t look busy and it didn’t look any different than a hundred others up and down the east coast. He entered. There were plenty of seats at the counter and he took one.

A tired looking waitress came over to him.

“Long day?” he asked.

“Yeah. What would ya like?”

“What’s good?”

She looked at him. Her eyes taking in everything visible above the counter. “The chili ain’t bad and the hamburger’s decent.”

“Okay. A bowl of chili and a hamburger.”

“Want cheese on the burger?”

Hart thought a moment. “Sure. Cost extra?”

“Yeah, a nickel.”

“Sure. What the hell? Only live once.”

She smiled. A pretty smile. And when she walked away she put a little swing in her porch.

Not bad looking, he thought. Probably thirty-something, he guessed. She wore her chestnut hair in a Lupe Velez cut: a short curly mop, bangs covering one side of her face. Hart thought she looked attractive with her hair like that. Add some lipstick and she’d look pretty good on a guy’s arm.

In a moment, she returned with a glass of water. “Want coffee, Mister?”

“Maybe later. Have any pie?”

“The peach is okay. Owner’s wife cans the peaches herself.”

He nodded. “Maybe later.”

“Sure.” She walked away. The porch was still swinging.

Hart looked around. Down at the one end of the counter were two older men. Three booths were occupied. One by a woman, two by couples. Otherwise, the place was empty.

The waitress was back with his chili. “Your cheeseburger will be ready in a few minutes.”

“Thanks.”

She lingered. Hart took a spoonful of chili and conveyed it to his mouth.

“What d’ya think?”

He nodded. “Good.”

“Thought ya’d like it. Ya from around here?”

“No.”

“Kinda thought so. Never seen ya before.”

“Never been here before.”

“Miami?”

“No. Here. This place.”

“I’m Milly and I’m glad you came in tonight.”

He smiled and she smiled back.

“Someone wants some more coffee. I’ll be back…” She waited.

“Rand.”

“I’ll be back, Rand.”

Her voice was pleasant. Mellow with a touch of cane syrup.

He spooned chili and in a bit she was back with the burger.

“I gave ya an extra pickle. On me.”

“Thanks, Milly.”

Hart took a bite of the cheeseburger and nodded.

“They’re pretty good,” Milly said. “So what are ya doing in town, Rand?”

“Catching a flight to Rio.”

“Oh, gosh. That’s exciting. I’ve never been anywhere. What’s in Rio?”

“A job.”

“A job. In Rio.” Milly sighed.

Hart shrugged. “Sounds exciting. Doesn’t mean it is.”

“Maybe. At this point, I think Cleveland sounds exciting.”

Hart laughed. “Maybe it is. Never been there.”

One of Milly’s fingers touched his hand. “Maybe we could go there and see. Ya know. When ya get back from Rio.”

Hart looked at her and their eyes met. “Yeah,” he said. “Maybe. When I get back from Rio.”

“Say, I get off at ten. Wanna go somewhere?”

“Sure, Milly. I’d like that.” Hart looked at his watch. “Just might be done with my pie and coffee by then.”

She smiled. Yep, Hart thought, that was one hell of a pretty smile.

***

At ten, Milly and Hart left the diner, arm in arm, and walked down the street to the Highball. They got a table far enough away from the swing band so they could hear each other talk and yet enjoy the music. Hart went to the bar and ordered a gin rickey for himself and a Bee’s Knees for Milly. He brought the drinks back to the table.

“Bee’s Knees. That’s an old Prohibition drink to cover the taste of bad booze,” Hart said.

“That so? Taste’s pretty good, if ya ask me. Here.”

Hart took the glass, turned it, and drank from where Milly had taken a sip. She smiled at the gesture.

“Not bad,” Hart said. “Not bad at all.”

“Told ya. So, Rand, what d’ya do for a livin’?”

“Gamble.”

“Are ya serious?”

Hart nodded and took a sip of his drink.

“I never met a gambler before.”

“Sure you have. You look at one every time you look in the mirror.”

“What d’ya mean? I’m a waitress.”

“Life’s a gamble. It’s one great big crapshoot. Makes everyone of us who eats and breathes a gambler.”

“Oh. Ya go to college or somethin’?”

“Something.”

“So tell me, Mr Gambler, who went to somethin’, what’s it like in Rio?”

Hart spent the next hour telling her about Rio, the Riviera, Italy, Germany, France, and Britain. Then he asked her to tell him about her life.

“I’ve done nothin’ and been nowhere,” Milly replied.

“Tell me about waitressing. I’ve never waited tables. What’s it like?”

“Well, if ya really wanna know…”

Hart nodded.

Milly told him. Whereas Hart had told her of the world at large, she told him about her customers, her neighbors, her best friend, Mary, the grocery store owner, and her mother. Hart learned of the everyday world that wasn’t much different than the neighborhood world he grew up in. A world where having five pennies to spend on candy was a very big deal. Her stories made him homesick.

At last she asked him, “Where ya stayin’, Rand?”

He looked at her. She was not beautiful. She was, though, easy on the eyes. “I can’t stay.”

“I know.” Her eyes told him she, too, was lonely.

“The Mango House.”

“I don’t have to go home just yet.”

“Okay.” He stood, put a ten on the table, and held out his hand. Milly took it and, holding hands, they left the bar.

Once on the street, she let go of his hand, and slipped her arm around his waist. He put his arm around her and pulled her close to him. He leaned down and she lifted her face to receive his kiss.

They entered the hotel. The night clerk only gave them the briefest of glances. They crossed the lobby and, making an exception, Hart guided Milly to the elevator. When the doors closed, he kissed her and she kissed him back.

Hart thought of spending some time in Miami once he got back from Rio. Maybe go to Cleveland with Milly. The elevator doors opened. Their arms around each other, they slowly walked down the hall, kissing the entire way. When they reached Rand’s room, they stopped kissing and let go of each other so he could get his key and unlock the door. He turned the knob, pushed the door open, and turned on the light. His room looked as though a bomb had gone off in it.

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Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch – Cover and Sample Chapter!

Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch is now available for pre-order purchase at Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and through the Tolino (Germany’s answer to the Kindle) network.

I’ve already revealed the cover, but I think it so neat I’m going to post it here and following the cover is chapter one. Just to wet your appetite. Enjoy!

Rand Hart 1 web version

Chapter 1: The Job

Thursday, 5 May 1938
On the Hindenburg
Over the Atlantic

Rand Hart looked at four jacks. He couldn’t imagine what the German’s hand was. Certainly the possibility existed the fellow had something better, although the odds were slim. Very slim.

The last round of betting saw the other American fold, some joe from Philadelphia’s high society. Now only Helmut von Osler, the well-known German industrialist, and he remained at the table. The chips in the center represented over five thousand dollars. Hart ran through the probability tables in his mind. He looked at the German. His black suit, blond crewcut, the gold ring on his finger, and the stack of chips in front of him. Hart looked at his own chips.

“I think it’s time, Mr von Osler, we see who’s bluffing.” Hart pushed all of his chips into the pile in the middle of the table. “That’s nine thousand dollars. And I call.”

The German counted his chips. “It seems, Herr Hart, I’m short two thousand. Perhaps I might write a check?”

“That gold ring on your finger. I’ll settle for that.”

The German touched the ring. Was that a pained expression which flitted across his face? He looked at Hart, looked at the cards in his hand, shrugged, pushed his chips into the center of the table, and took the ring off his finger. He held it for a moment, turned it in the light and seemed to be reading what was perhaps an inscription, then placed it amongst the chips.

Von Osler flipped his cards over. “Four eights, mein Herr.”

Hart turned his cards over and said, “Four jacks.”

“Mein Gott im Himmel. You are a very lucky man, Herr Hart.”

“Sometimes, Mr von Osler. Sometimes.”

The German shook his head. “I am done. I have lost enough for one night. Treasure the ring, Herr Hart. It was a gift from the Führer.” The German got up from the table and left.

A steward came and collected the chips. “I’ll take these to the purser, sir.”

“I’d like the money in American dollars.”

“Yes, sir.” The steward left.

Hart looked at the ring. There was a bit of fancy scrollwork and a couple small gems. No inscription. He tried it on several fingers before he found it fit the middle finger of his right hand. He walked to the promenade and looked out the window of the Hindenburg. In a couple hours, the sun would be up. Down below, on the Atlantic, Hart saw the lights of a ship. Otherwise, there were only the stars.

Yes, Hart thought, sometimes he was lucky. This past winter, for example. His time on the Riviera had been profitable. He’d been lucky more often than not. And a good amount of that luck he himself had made. It wasn’t all in the hand one was dealt or the roll of the dice. One also had to know what to do with it. Chemin de fer and backgammon. Those had been his main sources of income. They required thoughtful play. He never visited the roulette table. Luck wasn’t a lady often enough for Hart’s liking. And luck was all there was. Now he was looking forward to going home.

He chuckled at the thought of home. The sound, though, lacked mirth. He had no home. There was just the United States. That was home. And after the years away it would be good to spend a little time among his fellow Americans. Maybe he’d rent a room in a small town and do nothing more than have a beer in the local bar and chat about the weather or the crops. Maybe sit in the village park and feed the birds. He had enough money he could do nothing for a long time. A very long time.

But he knew himself better than that. No sense spending all his money. Maybe enjoy the summer in Ohio. Get a beach house on Lake Erie. Catawba Island or Put-In-Bay. Then, if Archie would have him, spend the winter in California. Come spring, take the train to Miami and pickup where he’d left off. The Brazilian Clipper to Rio, the Graf Zeppelin to Europe, and the Hindenburg back to America. The same as he’d done for the past few years.

The best gambling was in Europe. He could also get in a decent game or two on the Hindenburg or Graf. Like the one he’d just won. Always helps when several wealthy industrialists want to lose a little money. Little to them, that is. Of course, one wonders when they cheat. Hart shrugged. People are people and even wealthy industrialists are, at the end of the day, people. You just have to get a little more creative than they are.

He walked over to the stairs and went down to B deck. His cabin was on the lower deck, but he decided to stop in at the bar and smoking lounge instead. He went through the pressurized airlock. Four other passengers were in the lounge having a smoke. Hart took a seat by himself and set on the table a cigarette paper and a package of Briggs Pipe Mixture. He put tobacco in the paper and rolled a cigarette. When finished, he put it between his lips and lit it.

Yes, he thought, it would be good to get home. Be good to enjoy his winnings. Enjoy some time doing nothing. Nothing in particular.

***

Hart was roused from sleep by someone knocking on his cabin door. He got out of bed, went to the door, and called out, “Yes? What is it?”

“A message for you, sir.”

Hart slipped on a robe over his pajamas and opened the door. The steward handed him an envelope.

“Just a minute.” Hart rummaged through a drawer and gave the man a dollar.

“Thank you, sir.”

“You’re welcome.” Hart closed the door, sat on his bed, and opened the envelope. The note inside, written in a large hand with a double-broad nib, read:

Dear Herr Hart,

Please do me the honor of meeting with me at your earliest convenience in the dining area promenade.

Respectfully yours,

von Osler

Hart tossed the note and envelope into the wastebasket. “Wonder what the hell he wants?” he said to the mirror and then gazed at the ring on his right hand.

With a perturbed look on his face, Hart gathered his clothes and shaving kit and went to the shower. A man was just coming out. Hart nodded his head in greeting. The man did likewise. Hart entered what amounted to a little closet. He turned on the water. The temperature was good. The pressure, abysmal. He lathered up and rinsed off, singing “Amor ti vieta” from the opera Fedora by Giordano.

When done, Hart toweled himself dry, shaved, and dressed. The only downside to flying on the Hindenburg was the low water pressure of the shower. Then again, it did have a shower.

Dressed in a navy suit, white shirt, repp tie, Hart made his way to the promenade by the dining area. Breakfast was over and the dining tables themselves were empty. A few people were sitting on the seats by the windows. Most were probably over on the starboard promenade and in the lounge. Or the bar and smoking room.

He spied the German sitting in the far corner on one of the window seats and walked towards him. Von Osler stood and smiled. The smile seemed genuine enough. Perhaps the guy just wanted company. Upon reaching the industrialist, Hart shook hands with him, and the German indicated they should take a table in the dining area. They walked the short distance to the entrance through the low wall. Von Osler, in the lead, headed towards a table in the far corner. Hart frowned. He had the feeling this was not going to be a casual talk and he hadn’t even had a cigarette yet this morning. Standing at the table, von Osler indicated Hart should sit and he did so. The German took the seat opposite.

“I am pleased, Herr Hart, you decided to meet with me.”

“What’s on your mind, Mr von Osler?”

“I have a small job for you.”

Hart’s eyes narrowed. “What kind of job?”

“I want you to deliver a package.”

“What kind of package?”

The German took a small box out of his suit coat pocket, put it on the table, and said, “This.” It was about the size of a deck of cards, brown, wrapped with a brown ribbon, and appeared to be made of cardboard.

Hart reached for the box and was stopped by von Osler, who put his hand over it.

“I need this box in the hands of a certain person in Rio de Janeiro by noon on the eleventh of May. I will give you twenty-five thousand deutsche marks now and the person to whom you give this box — unopened — will give you another twenty-five thousand.”

Hart thought a moment. “That’s around twenty thousand dollars. Twenty Gs just to deliver a box?”

“Yes.”

“What’s in it?”

“It is best if you not know, Herr Hart.”

“Okay, then why me?”

“Because I like your luck.”

“Sometimes I’m lucky.”

The German paused, as if searching for the words to say, then spoke, “You are a very creative poker player. I like and reward creativity.”

Hart looked him in the eyes. “You’re not so bad in the creativity department yourself.”

Von Osler smiled. “You see, Herr Hart, we already have the start for a good working relationship. We understand creativity.”

“And why would I need to be creative?”

“You might not have the need. Then again…” Von Osler shrugged. “Luck. She is not always the lady. No?”

“True enough. So you’re telling me I might need to get a little creative in getting this box to the ‘certain person’.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. I would say the odds are in your favor this delivery will be quite routine.”

“Only if Luck decides to be a lady.”

“As you say, Herr Hart.”

“Deliver the box and get a total of fifty thousand deutsche marks.”

“Yes.”

“That’s a lot of money. Even for you, I bet. Why?”

“Because I don’t want you to turn down my offer.”

Hart looked out the window. The Hindenburg was a couple hours away from Lakehurst. The ocean was giving way to the New Jersey shoreline. These occasional odd jobs were nothing new. They helped for those times when even skill and creativity could not overcome one of Fortuna’s frowning spells. Most were very routine and this one sounded easy enough. There was a ship steaming west. Probably heading for the harbor in New York and maybe home.

“Must be something pretty big in that little box,” Hart said.

Von Osler picked it up and turned it over in his hand. A smile touched his lips. “Let us say history is inside.”

Hart looked at von Osler. “History, huh? I suppose I have to pay my own airfare.”

“You will agree to deliver my package?”

“Why don’t you just deliver it yourself? Or have some errand boy from your company drop it off?”

“It is best if my company is not involved in the transaction. Nor do we want the German government implicated in any direct involvement.”

Hart’s eyes bored into the German. “So this isn’t as innocuous as you make it sound.”

It was von Osler’s turn to look out the window. “Herr Hart, you are a simple man. Even, let us say, an invisible man. Yes?”

“I have no notoriety, if that is what you mean.”

Von Osler looked at Hart. “Precisely. That is what I mean. And you are skilled, creative, and lucky. You are exactly the person I was looking for. In point of fact, we’ve been watching you for some time. If this delivery goes well, we may have more work for you in the future.”

“Really? You’re turning me into one damn expensive delivery boy.”

Von Osler shrugged. “That is my business. So, Herr Hart, if the airfare is going to be an issue, I will add another three thousand deutsche marks to cover tickets and expenses. Will you accept my little delivery job?”

“If I don’t?”

“I have a person who will make the delivery. But…” Von Osler shrugged. “He is not as skilled, creative, or lucky as you are. With you…? Let us say it is like having four jacks instead of four eights.”

Hart turned his gaze towards the window and the ocean beyond. He’d been hoping to spend some time at home enjoying his money. And after last night, plus his winnings in Europe, he had quite a bit to enjoy. Now, however, fifty-three thousand deutsche marks were staring him in the face. And just to deliver a little box. By noon on the eleventh. He wouldn’t have much time. Probably have to catch a red eye out of La Guardia or Floyd Bennett tonight for Miami and then a three day flight on a Pan Am clipper. He pursed his lips. If he was lucky, he might be able to get in some poker or backgammon on the Miami to Rio flight and sweeten the job even more. There were usually at least a few high rollers making the trip. It wasn’t every day he got the chance to make this much money from a simple delivery. Once he got back to the States, there’d be plenty of time to enjoy his great big pile of cash.

Hart turned his attention back to the German. “Five thousand for tickets and expenses.”

Von Osler considered for a moment and then agreed. “Fifty-five thousand to ‘run my errand’ I believe you Americans say.”

“We say that.”

Hart looked out the window of the giant airship. The sky was blue with a big old cumulus cloud drifting along. The ocean was calm, placid even.

“Okay, Mr von Osler. I’ll do it.”

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The Rocheport Saga

The Troubled City (The Rocheport Saga #4) is now LIVE!!! Check out My Novels page for the links to the vendors who carry it.

In addition to The Troubled City joining the ongoing saga of Bill Arthur and the Rocheport crew, I’m running a sale on the first three books of the series. Now is the time to get a copy if you haven’t previously.

The Morning Star (Book 1) is 99¢.

The Shining City (Book 2) is $1.99.

Love Is Little (Book 3) is $2.99.

The sale prices are good through October 4th. Check out My Novels page to see the vendors who carry the books.

If you want to know about the series, I blogged a bit about it in my September 22nd post.

I hope you enjoy reading the series as much as I did writing it!

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The Troubled City (The Rocheport Saga #4)

The Troubled City (The Rocheport Saga #4) is coming in a few days to an ebook vendor near you!

Below is the cover and first half-dozen pages to pique your interest.

The Rocheport Saga was the first “book” I wrote after learning about the “plotless” novel. That is important, because I can’t plot the story out before hand. Try as a I might, I just can’t do it. Plotting for me is not unlike the old woman who sang a folksong to a song collector back around the beginning of the Twentieth Century. When she was finished singing and he recording, she said the song was now dead. Plotting kills the story for me.

Hence The Rocheport Saga is a massive, sprawling manuscript (over 2200 handwritten pages) and has no real plot. It is the fictional autobiography of a man after the world as we know it has come to an end. There are story arcs, but no real plot per se. Just the plot we all live out every day of our lives over the course of our lives.

Each book in the Saga, is edited from the original manuscript. I clean up the text, sometimes add new elements from things I’ve learned since writing the original, and work the manuscript into a conveniently sized novel. I’m guessing there could be up to 10 books in the series.

I’m considering putting in a cast of characters, because if you pick up a volume other than the first and start reading you will probably not understand who is who and what is what for at least some of the book. Other parts will become obvious after some reading. That is one advantage of self-publishing, I can tweak things to make the book better whenever I want.

The novel is in the form of diary entries. In The Troubled City, we start with the hero, Bill Arthur, the leader of Rocheport, going on a month long exploration to see what is out to the west of the little town of Rocheport, Missouri. What becomes quickly apparent is that there are three factions: one opposed to Bill, one supporting Bill, and those in the middle. When Bill returns to the city, he finds it slowly sinking into chaos and discovers no matter what he tries he seems incapable of stopping Rocheport from imploding. That is until he finds help from a person who will dominate the central books of the series.

The cover art is done by my wife. Enjoy the sample and look for the novel later this week!

The Troubled City copy

The Third Year After That Day

March 23rd

From the diary of Melanie Hanks:

Dad and Mert said goodbye early in the morning (Merty even gave me a hug and a kiss) and rode out of town on their horses through the north gate, with Andy and Kayla. Most everyone was there to say their goodbyes. Mom, Helena, Ash, George, and I waved until they disappeared from view. That’s when the dogs started whining, especially Asta. Mermaid nuzzled Helena’s hand to get her to pet her.

Just two days ago we were all standing in the same place, saying our goodbyes, and waving until they disappeared from view. Only to have them all return yesterday with two dozen people from Boonville, who decided they wanted to move to Rocheport for a better life. Now, Dad, Mert, Andy, and Kayla have left us again and I have a feeling this time we won’t be seeing them so soon.

There were lots of tears, today. I think others were thinking the same thing. Mom and I wiped our eyes and cheeks. Rain and Raine were crying. Emma, too. Cassie tried to hide it, but I saw her wiping her eyes. Reverend Rhonda’s cheeks were wet. We might never see them again and that scares me. Dad tried to make light of that fact, but it is true. The world is a dangerous place. Merty has always been there and now he’s my only family. Well, my only real family. I love Bill and Sally and call them “Dad” and “Mom”, but they aren’t my real parents. If Bill and Mert don’t come back, I guess I’ll have to love Sally, Helena, Ash, and George all the more. They’ll be all I have.

Not everyone was sad. I noticed Billy-Rae Thornpot was smiling and Reverend Powers didn’t have that mean look on his face. Steven Crane was even laughing. I think Harry Wirtz is going to have his hands full.

Our friends made sure we knew they’re here for us. Rhonda, Harry, Jerry, Jocelyn, Ralph, Cheryl, James, and Mary are good people, as my real dad would have said. I think they really will be there, if we need the help.

The Wrodkowskis walked home with us and Mom said they could stay, if they wanted, we have plenty of room. Rain and Raine were very happy and accepted the offer.

We and the Wrodkowskis went to Reverend Rhonda’s church service and afterwards, at the community dinner, that’s when the crap hit the fan. Reverend Powers found out there are a bunch of Catholics in the Boonville group and even a priest. He like totally lost it. Even Rachel, his wife, had a tough time getting him to calm down. And Steven Crane had to be right there all totally psyched out. It was Billy-Rae Thornpot who finally got them quieted down.

I felt so embarrassed. I mean like what are all these new people going to think? We’re all a bunch of psychos? Sometimes adults act so dumb.

After dinner, everyone helped the people from Boonville get settled. Billy-Rae even got Reverend Powers to help. He didn’t help the Catholics, though. Just the Baptists. I heard Harry Wirtz grumbling about “selective treatment”. “People are people,” he said. Apparently Reverend Powers doesn’t think so.

Most of the new people are older. There are a couple kids and three teens. There’s Zibby. Kinda hard to forget a name like that! She’s tall, like five-ten, and pretty too. She has long, kinda frizzy red hair and a few freckles. She acts like she totally knows what she’s doing. Her full name is Zibby Pandora White. She’s eighteen. Grace and Blair are the other teens. Grace is nineteen, about my height, with brown hair and eyes. Blair is eighteen. He’s kinda cute. Tall and broad shouldered. Blond hair and blue eyes. I’d like to get to know him.

From the diary of Bill Arthur:

We rode west and instead of going to Boonville, turned north to New Franklin. There are somewhere between twenty and thirty people living there. Mostly along the river. They greeted us warily and we decided it would be best if we moved on.

North of New Franklin is Fayette. Home of Central Methodist University and Morrison Observatory. The town itself is pretty much abandoned. The survivors having moved to the east shore of Rogers Lake and built a small village of shacks and tents surrounded by a palisade. There are around eighty survivors: fifty former students, the remaining being townsfolk.

They were quite friendly and eager to learn about the world beyond their doorstep. We ended up sleeping in the city park because things are very crowded within the palisade.

The people of Fayette seemed to be a harmonious group. At least they didn’t admit to any infighting and I didn’t sense any. They were growing their own food, hunting, and fishing. It’s nice to know there are people who can get along.

What I found disheartening was that while the former students might have been on their way to being prepared for life in the world before That Day, they were totally unprepared for life in the world after That Day. The ones enabling the community to survive are the older folks. The ones who grew up in the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. The ones who have some idea of how things work. Practical knowledge learned on the job or from their parents.

I suggested they glean what they can out of the college library. Preserve any books which tell how things work. They are the key to the future. The leaders of Fayette appreciated the suggestion.

March 24th

From the diary of Bill Arthur:

In the morning we bid farewell to the people of Fayette and rode west to Glasgow, a small town on the Missouri River. We found the people very friendly and eager to learn any news we had to share. They use bicycles to get around and have a couple horses which they use for farming.

Thirty-one people call Glasgow home and appear to be doing okay for themselves. Unlike us, they seem to have avoided large scale turmoil and strife. Makes me wonder how effective a leader I am. The people of both Fayette and Glasgow working together for everyone’s mutual benefit, while we are constantly fighting and bickering.

The surrounding countryside was farmland which is now reverting to grassland and forest. What was once covered in crops, is now giving birth to stands of saplings. We’ve seen no one in the open countryside. My guess is the solitaries have either died, been killed, or joined with some group.

We’re two and a half years into our new age and the survivors are clustering together, forming new communities out of the old. Doesn’t mean renegades and bandits aren’t about. There’ve always been Vandals, Huns, Vikings, you name them — the ones who’d rather take the fruits others have planted instead of planting their own. Today is no different. Mostly because people are people. That Day didn’t change who we are.

March 25th

From the diary of Melanie Hanks:

At the town hall meeting tonight, Reverend Powers, as usual, was a pain. We sang our anthem and even sang “Love is Little”, but when the time for new business came up Reverend Powers stood and demanded to know why the community wasn’t consulted concerning the Boonville people.

Harry Wirtz, who’s the leader while Dad is gone, looked really mad, although you couldn’t tell it from his voice. “Bill made the decision based on what he saw and what those people needed.”

Powers didn’t give up. “He should have discussed their situation with the community first.”

“Well, he didn’t. And since Bill isn’t here, we’re going to sit on this until he gets back,” Harry said.

Steven Crane jumped up. “What if he doesn’t come back?”

“We’ll deal with the issue then,” Harry answered.

From the look on their faces, Reverend Powers and Steven Crane didn’t like Harry’s answer but they didn’t say anymore about it. Good thing the Boonville people weren’t at the meeting.

March 26th

From the diary of Melanie Hanks:

At breakfast this morning, the Wood family and four others were sitting with Reverend Powers’ group. That doesn’t look good. The last thing we need is for more people to join Reverend Powers.

Zibby asked if she could sit with me. I said sure.

“I hear your dad is Bill Arthur, the guy who invited us to come here.”

“Yes. He’s my adopted dad.”

“Oh, sure. Lucky for you. No one took me in. I’m by myself. Some of the people back in Boonville helped me. Mostly, I just help myself.”

“I’m sorry. I mean not having anyone and all.”

“Thanks, but I’m okay. Your dad’s the one in charge, right?”

“He’s the leader.”

“Cool. I like you, Mel. We’re going to do alright.”

We talked about stuff and then went to school.

At dinner, Zibby, Blair Novak, and Grace Parchette sat with our family and the Wrodkowskis. The four of us were at one end of the table. I found out Zibby and Grace are Catholic, although Zibby doesn’t really believe it anymore.

Zibby said, “Blair, Grace, and Michael — he’s over there — and I kinda hung out together back in Boonville. We got a house together here.”

“You all live together?” I asked.

“Yeah, now we’re going to,” Zibby said.

Grace added, “We aren’t boyfriend or girlfriend. Just friends. No sex.”

“Oh, I see,” I said.

Zibby laughed. “I hear you guys have some crazy arrangements over here. At least that’s what John Wood said. He got it from that Reverend dude. The nutso.”

I practically snorted my milk at Zibby’s description. “Yeah. Powers is a pain in the butt. Doesn’t like anything. He and Dad don’t agree on much and if Powers doesn’t agree with you, look out.”

Zibby didn’t say anything. The look on her face suggested she was filing the information away. Grace and Blair just shook their heads and said it sounded like their group in a lot of ways.

We went on talking. What I didn’t like was how Zibby kept wanting to get into family stuff. Like she was prying. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t have a family? I don’t know. I just didn’t like it. When dinner was over, Blair said he was glad he made the move and was looking forward to getting to know everyone. He made me feel kinda mushy inside.

From the diary of Bill Arthur:

Glasgow is thirty-six miles away. I think it a bit much to hope for regular trade and communication with them. The travel time has to be measured in days now and there is so much to do. To spare three or four people for several days is something of a luxury and yet I don’t want to not follow up on our contact. At some point we are going to have to reach out and begin trading with other communities and sharing information and technology.

Of course we don’t have to be limited to horses. We could start making steam-powered automobiles and trucks. Or expand Jerry’s still and make more alcohol. The alcohol could be directly used in modified gasoline engines; combined with soybean or sunflower oil, maybe even corn oil, to produce biodiesel; or used in external combustion engines to produce steam. Because we have plenty of solid fuel, I’m inclined towards building steam-powered vehicles fired by solid fuel, rather than liquid. To produce liquid fuel from grains, seeds, and beans requires a lot of work. That is why we didn’t have it in the old world. It wasn’t overly cost effective. But we do have plenty of internal combustion engines around and we don’t have to fuel all of them. So it is an idea. This could be a community project. The Costigan’s Needle for Rocheport.

That science fiction novel keeps sticking in my mind. Those people stranded in another dimension, stopped their infighting by focusing on building the machine that could get them back home. We can’t go back, just as it turned out they couldn’t go back. But we can focus on the future. I want cars, not horses and buggies. Maybe building our own cars and trucks could be what pulls us together.

One valuable piece of information we got from the folks in Glasgow was confirmation as to the location of two salt licks. Eleven miles south of Glasgow is the famous Boone’s Lick site and across the river is Saline County, which was so named for the numerous salt licks that were once very actively used. The only ones that are easily identifiable are those in the Blue Lick Conservation Area, south of Marshall. Although the Glasgowites thought there were a couple others not too far to the west of them. They were not aware of anyone currently processing salt.

We bade them farewell, wished them luck, and rode west. The first town we came to was Gilliam and it was abandoned. Rusting cars. Houses slowly falling into ruin. The surrounding farmland was like all the other farmland we’ve seen. Slowly returning to forest.

Riding farther west we came to Slater and like the people in Fayette the Slater survivors had relocated to the shore of Slater Lake. Forty-some people form the community. They’ve built two dozen huts and have four tents surrounded by a wall of cars and logs. Hunting, fishing, and some extensive gardens are enabling them to get by. They invited us to stay and eat with them, which we did. Afterwards, they let us pitch our tents within the compound. We exchanged news about our respective areas. They’ve had turf wars with the people in Marshall over hunting and scavenging areas. Their own community has been pretty stable. Some leadership issues early on, but they were able to get them resolved.

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