When Tia is unwittingly forced into mediating a peace council by the Gods, she finds herself drawn to the Phoenix Warlord in ways she cannot understand.
Promised to another, Tia leads herself down a path of dead-ends and wrong turns. As the mistakes keep piling up, she discovers that in life, sometimes the right decision can ultimately be the wrong one.
Follow Tia as she tries to discover her path to destiny.
WARNING- this book contains ADULT CONTENT! NOT recommended for readers under the age of 18.
At some point over the course of our lives we—most of us anyway—are forced to glimpse the penalty of misfortune in someone else’s life. I am not speaking here of those hapless disparate factions of mentally ill who fall through the cracks in our system, populating the empty doorways and back alleys of every major city across the country. No—I speak here of that singular downtrodden human being stumbling along a busy street, wearing clothes that had once been fastidious but have now been slept in for so many nights that they seem vacuum-sealed against the flesh. You know, the one that sticks in your head for days after the encounter, leaving you dwelling on what might have happened to him or her to have ended up like that? Because on the face of it, he or she didn’t look all that different from you. What you can’t see, of course, is the event that turned that life upside down. Was it a thing beyond his or her control with consequences irrevocable, an event so devastating that if you could know the details it would cause you to pause, consider for a moment how something like that could be? Maybe you’d feel a shiver run up your spine and hear yourself whisper, “There but for the grace of God—”
Cliché? Sure. But, as George Orwell noted, the thing about clichés is—they are mostly true.
One-thirty a.m., August 20, 2009—1602 West Osborn Road, Phoenix, Arizona—Offices of Perfect Property Investments, LLC—Arizona Department of Public Safety Homicide Detective Bill Garcia and FBI Special Agent Clark Reynolds pushed out the front doors of the building into the gyrating aura of red and blue halogen lights flickering urgently across the parking lot. The backcloth was full of radio chatter and hot air blow-by whooshing out from under the front wheel-wells of the running diesel engines of fire trucks still on the scene.
“So what do you think?” Garcia asked without ceremony. The two officers had known each other a long time.
Reynolds shoved his hands into his pockets and looked off toward the street. Even without the added heat blowing out from the fire engines, it was still above one hundred degrees outside at that hour. He looked back toward the front of the office building. “Pure hatred,” he said. “Odds on … one attacker. Hated those two so bad he didn’t want them to die. Act of pure vengeance,” he went on. “Your vics did something to this guy. Or somebody he knows … family member … friend, maybe.” Reynolds shifted his weight, cocked his head and thrust his hands deeper into his pockets. “… You notice there was no sign of an altercation … no struggle?”
“I did notice that, Clark,” Garcia said. “Only things out of place in that entire office are the things that were on top of those two desks, because the perp needed the shit on them out of his way.”
“I agree,” Reynolds cut back in.
“Excuse me Detective.” The captain commanding the firefighters approached Garcia. “We’re gonna pull outta here. Your people have it now.”
“Thanks for the cover, Cap,” Garcia said.
The captain raised his hand, spun on his heel and headed to his command vehicle. The driver revved the engine and the behemoth eased around in a large arc heading back toward the street. There was nothing to do but watch the three giant engines pull away; the sound was the near equivalent of a space shuttle launch. The moment the ladder trucks pulled away, the absence of sound from clanging diesel engines was prominent.
Clark Reynolds turned back from the street. “… Exactly! Like I was saying … no sign of a struggle. One individual overpowers two relatively young, healthy men … seemingly without much of a struggle … ties them up and unleashes the fury of hell. Money says he drugged ‘em somehow. The hospital will confirm that. Ask them to do a tox-screen … see if we can determine what he used on them.
“But look, that’s the how of it. Let’s talk about the who of it,” Reynolds said, shifting gears. “This guy knew these two and I’m betting they knew him. Like I said, this was personal. The vics might be able to tell you who your perp is.
“I can tell you he’s above average intelligence. Middle-age or older, most likely. Probably has military training. Doesn’t place much value on his own life. Obviously quite cunning. Found a way to surprise ‘em, gain control over them.”
“Doesn’t leave me a lot to go on,” Garcia complained.
Reynolds went in another direction. “What about the vics?”
“Uniforms that answered the call had the EMTs recover their wallets,” Garcia said. “Guy by the name of Bud Pace … the second one’s name is Carl Taylor. They run some kind of real estate investment company.”
“Not doing too bad for themselves,” Reynolds observed casually, pointing to the Maybach in the lot.
“Registered to Taylor,” Garcia confirmed.
“What about the other guy’s vehicle?” the FBI agent wanted to know.
“The Maybach was the only vehicle here. Ran a DMV on Pace. He’s got three vehicles registered. No way of knowing which one he was driving until I can talk to his wife.”
“Well I’d get to that the minute you can,” Reynolds suggested. “Good chance your perp’s getting away in it right now.”
“Got APBs on all three plate numbers until I can confirm with the wife which one he was driving.”
“Good call,” Reynolds agreed. “We need to interview these guys the minute we can. They’re gonna know who this guy is.”
“We’re fucked there,” Garcia said looking down at his feet. “My lieutenant called from the hospital. Doctors say these two are in such bad shape they had no choice but to place them into medically induced comas for several days … said the trauma of learning what happened to them tonight would likely kill them. Gotta stabilize ’em first, and then let ‘em find out the situation.”
“Meanwhile, our perp has all the time he needs to cover what few clues he might have left us,” Clark Reynolds said, deadpan. “You gotta squeeze the wives, Bill.”
“They’re both being interviewed right now. I’ll keep you informed on anything we turn up,” Garcia promised. “Don’t see any reason to turn this over to the Bureau … you?”
Reynolds shook his head no. “Not for now, anyway. Get as much as you can. I’ll alert my team. We’ll support you the best we can.”
“You’ll work with me?”
“We don’t nail this guy in the next thirty-six hours … he’s gonna be tough to find and you might well have another night like this one on your hands.”
With that prediction, FBI Special Agent Clark Reynolds headed out to the street where his own vehicle was parked, glanced at his watch, 1:43 a.m., and said under his breath, “Better pray this madman isn’t pissed off at anybody else.”
RetirementDay—not that abstract goal that most of us strive to get to, but the actual day itself. That finite point in life that seems like it might never arrive. That ultimate moment in our lives when we can disengage—give ourselves permission to go and do and be all of those things we never could quite find the time to pursue over the course of our too-busy lives. Thatday had come to Wally and Poppy Stroud ten months before this story begins. They’d successfully sold their small company and invested the proceeds along with the rest of their life’s savings. They were in that first wave of Boomers making a giant whooshing sound as they began to leave the active workforce.
They’d just spent three years building their dream house along Baja California’s Pacific Coast. Wally was forced to spend too much time away from home in Phoenix overseeing construction during those final months. Poppy kept their business running. It was a burden on them, but they were committed to the goal. The tiny community where they had built their beachhouse was an easy twenty minute drive from Mexico’s famous Valle de Guadalupe. The sprawl of burgeoning vineyards reminded them of California’s Napa Valley.
Early in October they’d sent their first load of furniture from Arizona to Mexico then followed it down. That October marked their first month in their new home. It had been predictably busy. Once the furniture arrived, they’d spent the next weeks opening boxes, putting dishes and linens away and setting up bedrooms and bathrooms. Furniture had to be located and relocated until the scheme satisfied them just so. They were engaged in the kinds of pleasant labor that culminated each day with a bottle of wine and passionate deliberation over what they’d done with each room and an ardent keenness of attention to the very instant of sunset, which in perfect conditions heralded the illusive green flash of sailor’s lore out across the horizon.
November had crept in almost imperceptibly except for the incessant political ads that made it impossible to watch anything on television. Wally and Poppy had accepted a dinner invitation to watch election returns with their neighbors, Dan and Fortunada Dolan who lived a mere hundred yards down the lane from them.
Early exit polls from the east coast had begun to roll in. Tom Brokaw was on air with Brian Williams and David Gregory was at a desk somewhere in the bowels of the NBC News organism scribbling rapidly on a white oil-board doing his best to imitate the deeply missed Tim Russert.
Wally stood in front of the wall-mounted flat screen TV in the den of the Dolan home holding a glass of red wine. “Please don’t let us get stuck with another four years of Bush,” he pleaded to no one in particular.
“I second that,” Poppy Stroud mumbled.
By seven o’clock PST it was clear that a third term of Bush’s failed politics would not occur in the incarnation of John McCain and Sarah Palin. West coast polls would remain open, however, to ensure that every American had the opportunity to participate in the revolt against the ultra-right-wing-neo-con-pricks who had done everything they could over the last eight years to turn American society into the Christian extremist equivalent of the Islamic terrorists from whom they claimed to be protecting the nation. Equally significant was the election of the first African-American president.
“Now, if we could just charter a ship and load Cheney, Rove, Rummy, Wolfowitz … the whole friggin’ lot of ‘em—” Wally was saying.
“Pul … eeze!” Fortunada Dolan shouted from the kitchen, cutting him off mid-sentence, “don’t leave out the Limbpublicans; Rush, Hannity … God, that sick fuck, Glenn Beck!” she shouted, grunting those last few syllables as she conveyed a large casserole dish from out of the oven to the island countertop.
Fortunada Dolan was a shortish, robust, cherub-faced woman with red hair, fiery blue eyes and a grandmotherly gentleness that belied her political activism during the late sixties. She believed in God, loved her family and was not loath to express her deep disapproval over the right-wing extremist movement in America.
“We’ll save a spot in the hold for ‘em, Fo,” Wally shouted, then added laughing, “where they can sling shit, which is what they do best anyway!”
“That would be funny if they weren’t inciting so much intolerance around the country,” Poppy added.
“You gotta be a dumbass to listen to those jerks,” Dan Dolan claimed, then sipped some red wine. He turned his trim frame away from the TV and wandered toward the kitchen. “Smells good,” he said.
“Lot of dumbasses out there,” Fortunada argued. “Prop 8 was defeated in California.”
“Where you gonna send ‘em?” Dan wondered.
“Good point,” Wally agreed. “The hell of it for a guy like me,” he went on, “is that I’m a former Republican myself … still a fiscal conservative. Party just went too far with this Puritan based bullshit philosophy they try to beat us over the head with. And it isn’t just their thinking. Every time we turn around we’re hearing how God is on our side and the rest of the world doesn’t exist.” Wally paused, stared into his wineglass as though it were a reflecting pool. “Just can’t abide that kind of parochial isolationist horseshit any more. It’s as if there isn’t anyone left in the party who made it out of middle school.”
While Wally admitted to being a social moderate, he didn’t believe in a free handout for anyone. But he couldn’t see what was so wrong with providing a solid education to poor kids as well as rich ones and supporting scientific endeavor. Nor could he get his arms around the objection to what gay people called their relationships. It seemed to him that the ‘Limbbags’ suffered under the asinine notion that if gays were allowed to say they were married, being gay might somehow become contagious. Wally humorously described himself as a heathen-moderate-apolitical-non-homophobe fiscal conservative that neither party would want to claim.
Dan Dolan seconded that assessment and took a long pull from a bottle of Pacifico.
And so that November fourth evening in 2008 had come and gone with lighthearted banter among new friends—some deeper philosophical exchanges celebrating the victory of hope over fear, intellect over religious dogma, social conscientiousness over political ideology—maybe? They’re all politicians in the end, they’d all agreed on that.
Wally Stroud, just shy of six feet tall, had thinning gray hair, which he wore cropped neatly but full over his ears down to the collar in the back. He made no effort to cover up the creeping inevitability of the bald spot that was evident on the crown of his skull. He was routinely judged younger than his actual age, which was sixty-five. That owed mostly to the fact that he jogged regularly, worked out a little and drank copious amounts of red wine.
Wally had a geometric symmetry to his face that matched, on most days, his convivial personality. You might have called him good looking but not overly striking. He had dark brown eyes with moderately full eyebrows hooding a Greek nose that had been broken twice, complemented by full lips that parted mischievously when he smiled, revealing straight white teeth; the entirety set affably between a pair of Selleckesque dimples.
To say that Wally’s adolescence was frugal would be the equivalent of calling the welfare state the lower income level instead of poverty. And while excuses are nothing more than just that, that history of depravation, rather the fear of returning to that condition, was the reason he would give for not returning to finish his last year of college after being released from military service.
Two years of junior college, then the part-time classes he’d added at the state college level to get him through his third year came with a struggle. And it was a struggle he confronted without the benefit of a support system that appreciated the value of a liberal arts education, instead of applying himself to learn some useful job skill from which he could earn a good living.
A two-year break from the discipline to attend classes in subjects to which he already had trouble connecting any practical relevance had changed his focus—that and the ignorance of youth. Even during his military duty Wally’d had a brief glimpse of what it felt like to subsist above the socioeconomic class in which he’d spent his childhood. The absence of enough money was a powerful motivator, or excuse, to seek employment instead of continuing his education. Money, Wally would learn, ahead of religion or even sex is the controlling influence that nearly always leads us to the wrong decisions.
To compensate for what he felt was a personal failing in not having finished his college education, he drove himself to work harder than his peers. “Show me a job somebody won’t do and I’ll show you an opportunity,” was his credo. He read extensively and travelled when he could. The residue of his efforts yielded what he thought of as a happy, productive life. But when Poppy Zinsser came into his world, a kind of contentment settled over him. Privately he felt at peace and he felt a new-found confidence. Poppy offered balance in a life that up to then had been dedicated primarily to one focal point. Wally was a grinder. What he lacked in credentials, he made up for in obdurate determination. With Poppy at his side Wally was a happier, more complete human being.
Wally and Poppy Stroud had traversed the landscape of thirty-three years of life together, and when scored by the universal measurement of achievement in American Society—money—they were about middle of the pack among their peers. They’d worked hard, saved, and planned well.
Poppy Zinsser-Stroud was five feet, six inches tall with a ballerina body that was only then beginning to soften around her middle. She wore her saddle brown hair cut into a short bob. It was flecked with accents of golden honey hues that matched the iridescence of majestic canyon walls bathed in an Indian summer sunset in mid December; a woman of patrician elegance, even as she drew near sixty years of age. It still took Wally’s breath away to watch how gracefully she moved after all their years together.
Poppy’s peridot eyes twinkled like fireworks on a fourth of July night. Her skin was soft and smooth, but not artificially so, and when she laughed, which she did not seem to do often enough these days, it made Wally feel that all was right with his world. For in Wally’s mind, Poppy Stroud was the world—or at least the part of it that mattered to him. At times he would swear he could see a golden aura of light surrounding her when she smiled at him.
Until the last three years, Poppy Stroud had met each new morning of her life awakening with a smile on her face and a resilience of spirit that sent Wally forward into his day with lightness in his heart. It made facing the rigors that the day-to-day grind a lifetime of hard work can morph into palatable. But Poppy Stroud was an exceptional woman who had begun to fight demons that Wally did not see, nor would he have understood had he the insight to have detected the depth of Poppy’s troubles. In his eyes, she existed in an exalted state; erudite, kind, compassionate—loyal—one-of-her-kind. Not another woman was the equal of Poppy if you were asking Wally. Watching the two of them strolling arm-in-arm, one felt a sense of a beautifully matched pair of special human beings, the kind of couple who inspire love stories.
To her credit, Poppy Stroud did not define herself by the measurement of things possessed, but the fact that she and Wally could possess nearly anything they wanted—within reason, of course, had elevated Poppy’s sense of self image—and, perhaps, self-worth to a dubious pinnacle. She was certainly not inflicted by the despair of wanting for things. But come on, Wally’d argue—if you can’t indulge the love of your life with the things she wants once she’s secure with everything she needs, what kind of man does that make you? He would quickly point out that Poppy had always worked side-by-side with him all of their married life. She was entitled to anything she wanted that they could afford. That’s how Wally rationalized it, anyway.
The accumulation of money can become a game; one to which Poppy Stroud found herself a certified convert—to an extent that Wally did not understand. For while it was true that Poppy did not despair of wanting, it was also true that her ego was fed, to a great extent, by the fiction of having. That is to say that Poppy Stroud had come to suffer unease, restlessness, boredom, anxiety and dissatisfaction as a result of unfulfilled wanting; a thing of which even she was unaware. Add to that the associated hormonal anomalies resulting from menopause, with which she was struggling, and one begins to glimpse that Poppy Stroud was a conflicted woman.
Had Wally understood the implications of seventy-five pairs of shoes sitting in his wife’s closet, many having only been worn once, and her telling him about the cutest pair of Manolos she just saw at Nordstrom’s that she was dying to have, things might have turned out differently. But he did not understand the deeper implications of what Poppy’s incessant need for more told him. All he believed was that if she wanted it, it was his responsibility to get it for her—whatever it was.
Four days before Thanksgiving, Wally and Poppy waved goodbye to their friends Dan and Fortunada. Wally pointed his pickup north, up Mexico’s scenic Highway 1, which runs along the Pacific Ocean to San Diego where he would eventually be able to connect with I-8 East, headed to Phoenix. It was damp and foggy as they drove away that day.
They arrived in Phoenix around 6:30 p.m. that Monday evening before Thanksgiving. The house looked fine except for the runaway growth of Cat’s Claw that hung over the front edge of the garage and the climbing fig that covered the front of the house which was now, quite literally, growing between, under, over and through the joints around the doors and windows.
“Looks like a couple hard days of gardening,” Wally grumbled pointing to the overgrowth.
“I’ll help,” Poppy offered. “It won’t take us long.”
They unloaded the truck and made the rounds opening the house.
Wally uncorked a bottle of Chardonnay for Poppy and a Pinot Noir for himself before calling out for pizza. Spinato’s Pizzeria said it would take about thirty minutes. By the time they’d finished a glass of wine it had arrived.
The next couple of days were a blur of activity cleaning up the yard, collecting the required ingredients for everyone’s favorite on Thanksgiving Day—general preparations; the same sort of activities most families were engaged in.
There was a mountain of mail on Wally’s desk and the thought of going through it was even less appealing than getting the front patio and yard back in shape, but it had to be tended to.
The morning before Thanksgiving Wally decided he couldn’t put the mail task off any longer so he grabbed a cup of tea and retired to his office where he spent most of the morning reading offers from banks and the premium renewal notice for the car insurance. Just before lunch he noticed an envelope from Perfect Property Investments, LLC; the company that now managed their retirement savings.
Two years earlier Wally had contacted Todd Davidson, his longtime Wealth Management Consultant and told him he wanted out of the stock market. Davidson didn’t like the move. He was about to lose a lot of commission. Wally was adamant that he no longer wanted to fight the wild up and down swings of the market through his retirement years. There was also his concern over the sustainability of an economy that was already showing signs of collapse under the elitist policies espoused by the republican administration. (Now, just over two years later, it would only be a few weeks before the Wall Street giant, Goldman-Sachs, would fail, initiating the most profound economic collapse since the Great Depression.) Davidson’s task had been to find Wally and Poppy a solid, steady income-producing investment scenario that would generate a regular monthly cash flow that they could plan and budget against. Between the savings in their stock portfolio and the cash they received from the sale of their business, they had a sizable nest egg to invest. “Not a fortune,” Wally admitted, “but a tidy sum to supplement my Social Security. And if we can get a modest return, we can live on that.”
Some weeks went by before he received the call that led to the presentation by PPI. The business model seemed sound. The company had a twenty year track record, and Davidson-Timmons Wealth Managers claimed they were solid as a rock and that they themselves were invested with PPI. They did not, however, disclose the hefty commission they would receive for the referral.
It seemed to Wally and Poppy that PPI might be just what they’d been hoping for. And it was a business model with a social conscience. It worked like this: A suitable property in the inner-city would be found that would lend itself to being rehabilitated and subdivided so that it could be resold as a co-op or condo-style housing to first-time home buyers.
Based on the rate of interest being paid, Wally and Poppy would receive a handsome income from interest alone. Wally’s Social Security would add to that. And if interest rates dropped they were guaranteed a minimum rate. Then, as the project sold out, they would also share in a percentage of the capital growth over the lifecycle of the project.
“Who couldn’t live with that?” Wally asked himself.
A year had passed and the payments from PPI had been deposited to the Stroud’s checking account on the fourth day of every month like clockwork. Wally guessed the envelope now in front of him contained another performance review since they were coming up on the end of the year. But when he opened it and read the first sentence, a rush of chemicals went to his brain that obscured his vision and made it difficult to breath.
The letter read:
Dear Perfect Property Investor, Because of the catastrophic deterioration of real estate values in Arizona, and the recent withdrawal of mortgage financing from the market place, PPI is herewith forced to temporarily suspend interest payments to all investors—(The letter went on in broad, vague terms to explain the problems as identified by PPI.) Sincerely,Bud PaceCarl Taylor
There was no discussion of a reduction of interest payments as contractually promised. This was an appalling announcement that yesterday you had a solid income, today you have zero.
It was no secret that real estate markets were imploding nationwide and even more cruelly in Arizona. Phoenix was one of the cities across the country suffering property value deflation as profound as Las Vegas. But, as Wally had discussed several times throughout the year with the PPI property manager, Sonja Bienvenidos, this was one of the specific advantages of PPI’s business plan. PPI’s projects were not being affected by this crisis except to the extent of obtaining buyer financing. It was this specific circumstance from the very beginning, along with the glowing certification of the strength and track record of PPI that had led Wally and Poppy to choose PPI as opposed to an annuity program that, while safer, offered less than half of the return Todd Davidson asserted was perfectly safe to pursue under the PPI program.
They continued, Bienvenidos repeatedly assured Wally, to have more buyers than properties and if they could not secure financing for the buyers, then they would hold them as renters in the units until financing came back into the markets. The combination of that capability and the fact that PPI held such large cash reserves from investors insulated PPI investors from the typical crisis being faced in the real estate market in general.
That last conversation with PPI (Bienvenidos) took place just before Wally and Poppy drove to Baja in October and left them feeling that they had been fortunate to have the firm of Davidson-Timmons find such a sensible investment vehicle for them.
When his vision cleared, Wally read the letter again. It did say “temporarily suspend” payments. Maybe I’m overreacting, he thought. He took several deep breaths, but the dizziness would not go away. The sickening feeling of impending doom was powerful. He finally gave up and just sat there staring at the letter, reading it again periodically.
That’s where Poppy found him a couple of hours later when she returned from collecting the last of what she was going to need for Thanksgiving dinner.
“You still at that mail?” she puzzled, coming in carrying an armful of groceries.
Wally didn’t jump up to give her a hand as he normally did.
Poppy set the groceries on the counter and walked back into his office. “You okay, sweetie?” she asked more softly, sensing the aura of anguish surrounding Wally.
He felt incapable of speaking. He dropped his head forward onto his chest and held the letter up in his left hand.
Poppy stepped to his side and took it from him. She read in silence. After a few moments she placed her right hand on the base of his neck and said, “What are we going to do?”
He leaned back in his chair.
“I already tried to get someone on the phone,” he whispered hoarsely. “Got a recording … says they’ll be closed until Monday.”
Poppy didn’t say anything. She set the letter down in front of him and walked back to the kitchen.
Wally sat for several moments, then got up and followed her. “Let’s not panic, Popp. I’ll go over and have a look at the property Friday. You can come with me,” he said, pulling her to him and hugging her. “Let’s start there.”
“That’s our entire life savings, Wally,” she said into his ear. “We could lose everything we’ve worked for.” Poppy’s voice broke, and then her body trembled.
“Don’t jump to judgment, Popp.” But that was exactly what he had done himself.
“I have a bad feeling about this, Wally,” she whispered through quiet tears.
Wally didn’t reply. He had his own bad feelings but he would never put that on Poppy’s back. She was too fragile to handle both her fears and his.
“It’ll be okay, Popp,” he reassured her in a stronger voice. “Let’s wait until we can properly evaluate this thing before we get upset … anymore upset than we already are.”
It was hard for Wally to lie convincingly to Poppy. She could read him like a book, and he knew that she knew he was just as frightened as she was.
They managed to get through Thanksgiving Day without revealing what they were facing to the rest of their family. It would do no good for anyone, they’d agreed, to bring it up now before they could explain exactly what the situation was facing them.
Neither of them got much sleep Wednesday or Thursday night. At two in the morning that Friday Poppy asked softly out of the darkness, “You asleep?”
Wally’s response was instant. His voice was absent the edge of drowsiness sleep would have produced. “No,” he replied simply.
He reached out, took her hand and they lay, wide awake, side-by-side until around five thirty when, gratefully, the first gray streaks of dawn began to illuminate the darkness of their bedroom.
Wally could lie there no longer and climbed out to start the coffee and tea.
Poppy wallowed in the warmth of the sheets with a headache, feeling hung-over from sleep deprivation. She had always required several hours more sleep than Wally. Now she remained in bed feeling like her limbs were weighed down with lead.
Wally brought her two Advil, and a cup of hot coffee. He was the tea drinker.
He shaved and performed his morning toilet, flipped on the Today Show and listened mindlessly to the good natured banter between Meredith and Matt. By the time he’d finished another cup of tea Poppy was up and nearly dressed. He was impatient. “Let’s go,” he groused.
“Take it easy, Wally,” she ordered. “Sun’s just up.”
He grumbled a bit, but settled back with one more cup of tea. She generally had a better sense of tempo about things, he conceded. Finally she uttered her consent. “Let’s go find out what we’re up against.”
At the time Wally and Poppy’s company was sold, PPI was just launching a new development project. Sonoran Plaza, located on South 34th Lane in downtown Phoenix was a sixty-five unit co-op conversion project. The proposal presented an attractive pro forma anticipating 12 percent equity growth over the four year life of the project. When added to the interest payments they were offering investors it was an appealing consideration.
The original project the Strouds invested in with PPI had sold out the previous year. The entire experience had generated a great deal of confidence in PPI’s business model. Each investor had received an invitation to roll their profits into this new project. So it was that Wally and Poppy became one of the three largest investors in the Sonoran Plaza renovation project. The fact that a large New York trust fund was the single largest investor in the property went a long way toward providing the sense of confidence they needed to get involved. The bulk of their retirement savings went to fund their buy-in.
When they’d originally visited the property as part of their due diligence, they’d decided the project was worthy and that, once renovated, the condos would be quite desirable. Sonoran Plaza Condominiums was located close to downtown business centers and restaurants where jobs would be accessible without a commute.
As Wally pulled his pickup to a stop in the parking lot of the Sonoran Plaza, he and Poppy exchanged a puzzled glance. They had not visited the project since the due diligence process the previous year. A year’s worth of timely interest payments and glowing quarterly reports had lulled them into believing it unnecessary.
“What the hell?” Wally said, more to himself than to Poppy. “I don’t think they’ve even painted the place, have they?”
Poppy went numb. “Maybe they completed the insides and left the outside for last?” she speculated out loud.
“Not a very smart idea if you ask me,” Wally said. “Let’s go see,” he went on, stepping out of the truck. He moved around to the passenger side of the vehicle and opened the door. “Office is over there,” he said, pointing toward the main building.
Wally pushed the door open and they went inside. They were immediately greeted by an attractive young Hispanic woman who identified herself as, Olivia, the manager. Wally pulled his first question up short and glanced at Poppy.
He told Olivia they were snow-birds looking for a place to rent for the winter. Olivia explained that she had only one small unit currently vacant, but one of the larger three bedroom units would be available just after the first of the coming month.
They masked another perplexed glance before Wally pursued the question. “Are you generally this full?” he asked.
“Oh, jes,” Olivia answered, her accent thick, “we no hab many bacancy here.”
“Are the condos refurbished?” he quizzed.
“Oh, jes, we cleaning demebery time somebody moving out,” Olivia assured him.
“No,” Wally clarified. “I mean are the condos rebuilt inside? Are they like new?”
“They nice,” Olivia continued, “but is no like is new. Come on, I cho you de one I habrigh now.”
Olivia, in her early twenties, Wally guessed, could not have been more pleasant. She walked them across a quadrangle with a huge gated swimming pool in the center that he and Poppy observed was clean, and looked to be in excellent condition. But the landscaping and the exterior of the buildings offered no curb appeal at all.
When Olivia swung the door open to the available unit, their hearts sank.
There was dry cereal, corn flakes of some kind, scattered over the shabby, chocolate-colored carpet. The walls were dingy and marked by a child’s hapless scribbling in a rainbow of Crayola. A cupboard door was hanging by one hinge in the kitchen and neither Wally nor Poppy could fathom storing food in the refrigerator. On top of the way the place was trashed, it exuded a nasty combination of odors that ranged between stale urine and rotting food.
“Are all the units like this?” Poppy wanted to know.
“Only when dey moving out,” Olivia confessed. “But we gonna fix all you see. Dey clean de carpets good and fix de door. We gonna paint dis one, too,” she promised, walking over and pointing to the wall with the crayon all over it. “En we got really good cleaning staff. Dey gonna make that refreehador an estufa good like new,” she announced proudly. “No more it gonna smelling bad.”
Wally’d seen all he could stand. Now he wanted an explanation, but that would not likely happen before Monday morning.
He and Poppy thanked Olivia for her time. They promised to let her know their decision soon. They walked slowly back to their pickup continuing to notice the deferred maintenance around the grounds and exterior of the four buildings that comprised the complex. They didn’t speak to each other again until they were nearly home.
“What do you think’s going on?” Poppy ventured.
“I don’t have a clue, Popp,” Wally admitted honestly. He turned to look over his right shoulder checking the traffic approaching from behind. “But I can tell you it isn’t the economy that prevented PPI from renovating those units. Hell, they haven’t even painted the place.”
“What do you think it means?”
“It means they still have three million dollars from investors they haven’t expended on that property,” he said.
There was a long pause.
“I should have been checking up on these bastards,” he mumbled, clenching his teeth so tightly that Poppy could see the muscles in his jaw straining.
Poppy didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to.
He pulled the truck into their driveway and killed the engine. They sat in contemplative silence staring straight ahead, stunned and confused by what they’d just seen.
“The place is fully rented,” Poppy finally said, reciting an obvious truth. “But PPI hasn’t spent a dime to upgrade the property. They’re holding three million dollars in reserves. They have to have good cash flow from rents … why’d we get that letter, Wally? What’s going on here that we can’t see?”
“I’ll try to get someone on the phone,” he said on his way out the driver’s door. As with his attempt to reach someone on Wednesday, there was no answer. He hadn’t expected one. It was merely an exercise that had to be performed in view of the gravity of it all.
The balance of Friday and the entire weekend were lost. They couldn’t focus on anything but the looming crisis. They attempted to start projects around the house, but neither could concentrate on anything except that when they’d climbed out of bed last Wednesday morning they’d had a substantial monthly income to be retired on. And today, thirty hours later, they were trying to figure out how they could live on the paltry amount of Wally’s Social Security check. But that wouldn’t even cover the cost of utilities, let alone allow them to survive. The implications were abysmal.
Wally’d had chest pains twice on Saturday, but had said nothing to Poppy.
At nine-fifteen Monday morning they were in the parking lot of PPI’s offices at 1602 West Osborn Road in downtown Phoenix waiting for someone to unlock the front door. It looked like the whole company, employers and employees had barricaded themselves inside. At nine-thirty a youngish female employee walked out of the building and got into a parked car. At that moment four couples got out of their vehicles and marched solemn-faced into the lobby. Each couple understood why the others were there.
Wally didn’t ask to see Sonja Bienvenidos, the portfolio manager on Sonoran Plaza. Instead he demanded to see Bud Pace, one of the two principals of the company. To his surprise, Pace stepped out within a few moments and invited them to join him in his office.
Pace looked to be in his late fifties and stood around five-ten with smartly clipped sandy colored hair that might have actually been some shade of blond in his youth but was now turning whitish-gray at the temples. He was all smiles and overly pleasant, offering them coffee or bottled water. He crossed the spacious suite and sat down at a round glass-top table in the corner of his office instead of behind his desk, folded his hands together and adopted a cocksure, condescending demeanor. He wore an expensive blue suit with a smart yellow tie and looked the picture of success. They declined his attempted diversion with the bottle of water.
“I wish you were here under different circumstances,” Pace began.
“What circumstances would that be?” Wally countered.
Pace hesitated. His cherub-cheeks reddened slightly, exaggerating the pasty pallor of his complexion. The man was not accustomed to being challenged. “I presumed you were here about the letters we mailed out.” His voice was high-pitched, afflicted with too much treble.
“We are,” Wally affirmed, not an affable nuance in his manner. “So what are the circumstances?”
“Well, as the letter explained,” Pace went on, the swagger beginning to leach out of him, “the dreadful decline in property values has caused financing to dry up and we just cannot meet obligations to our inves—”
Poppy cut him off. “What do declining property values or credit and financing have to do with anything?” she demanded in a tone that said, don’t bullshit me. “We … we and a lot of other investors,” she went on, “gave you people three million dollars in reserves to perform renovations to Sonoran Plaza that you haven’t done, and we,” she continued, indicating she and Wally, “know for a fact that the property is fully rented, so cash flows can’t be bad.”
Wally let her go. There were few events more deflating than receiving a full-out rebuke from his wife. She was a smart, competent business woman with the ability to affect a certain air, noblesse oblige that all but dared one to lie to her. Pace was no exception. “You bragged that you didn’t need banks for your business model to work,” she reminded him. “You haven’t touched that property. Where’s our money?” She demanded coldly, coming to the edge of her seat.
She engaged Pace’s vapid, watery gaze and held it. His confident stare slowly shriveled, his gaze falling to focus somewhere near his shoes. His face began to redden, but before he could manufacture a response, Wally pounced on him.
“My wife and I visited that property. You people haven’t touched those buildings.” Wally watched Pace’s hands as he fidgeted with a pen. “You’ve had control of this property for more than a year. So what’s going on?”
Pace’s reaction time and body language were too tentative. Every word the prick uttered was a lie; of that Wally was certain. He knew before Pace opened his mouth to speak again that they, he and Poppy, along with a lot of other people, were in serious trouble. The Madoff Ponzi scheme flashed into his head, followed by a hopeless internal plea that it not be so.
“I’m sure we made mistakes along the way,” Pace argued, “but this situation is not our fault … we’re victims just like all of you,” he whined.
“Where’s our money?” Poppy demanded once more, her voice rising.
“There is no money, Mr. and Mrs. Stroud.”
“What the hell do you mean … there is no money?” Wally hissed. “Where are the reserves and the rents you’ve been collecting?” That was the moment the sledgehammer hit Wally in the solar plexus.
Pace, perspiration beading on his forehead and upper lip, began to spin the story he and his business partner, Taylor had decided on. “Look, we thought we were doing the right thing for all of you,” he said in a near whisper. “We used the reserves to prop up other projects that were in trouble. And we had to use some of the money to cover our overhead … keep our office doors open and manage your investments properly. Things would have fallen into chaos long ago if we hadn’t done the right thing and used the money to maintain a stable environment on allof the projects.”
Before he could take a breath Wally went at him, “You’re sitting there telling us that you took the money invested by all of us on Sonoran Plaza, more than seven million dollars total, with three million dollars of that as advance reserves, and used it to pay other investors on other projects … and what, pay your own salaries and your operational overhead with our money?” Wally’s voice had become hoarse and visceral. The darkness in his eyes served as a warning to the man in front of him that he’d better choose his words carefully in the next few moments.
Pace slid back in his chair and spread his hands in a gesture of capitulation … as if to say, what else was there to do? “We did what we thought was in the best interest of the majority of our investors, Mr. Stroud.”
Wally Stroud’s face was white with rage. He stood and looked down at Pace, who flinched as Wally got out of his chair. Pace slid his chair backward, getting out of Wally’s reach. “You fucking fraud!” Wally growled. “How the hell is it in anybody’s best interest but your own to use our money to pay obligations that you have to other investors, all the while paying yourself a salary?”
“Listen, I understand that you’re upset,” Pace said, wincing at Wally’s attack. “I can appreciate that you’re angry. But if you will just not panic … we’re going to do everything we can to fix this.” Bud Pace looked up into Wally Stroud’s threatening face. “We can’t make this go away overnight, Mr. Stroud, but if you can just stick this out with us for a year or two—”
Poppy cut him off. “You’ve taken our life savings. We sold our business and entrusted our retirement savings with your firm. We have no place to turn. We can’t go get jobs …” Poppy stopped and stared hard at the man. “When our emergency savings are gone in the next few months we won’t have any way of making our mortgage payments or paying the cost to maintain our existence. How in hell do you think we are going to be able to ‘just hang in there for a year or two?’Each word coming now was spat into Pace’s grimacing face. “How do we eat? How do we pay for our medications? How do we keep the electricity on in our homes? Are you thinking about that while you casually tell us that you misused our life savings and now you see yourselves as victims like us … all we have to do is, hang in there with you for another couple of years and you’re going to be our salvation from all of this?”
Poppy was in a near frenzy now. Pace leaned forward in his chair with his elbows on the table, bowed his head and stared down at his clasped hands.
There was silence for several seconds.
Wally forced himself to pursue the truth. “This situation didn’t just happen. How long have you been pilfering money from the Sonoran Plaza reserves?” he demanded in a level tone.
“I know you’re angry, Mr. Stroud, but—”
“I’m not angry,” Wally mocked, jutting his contorted face toward Pace. “I’m pissed off!” The crusted spittle in the corners of his mouth and the gray pallor of his skin was enough to cause Pace to squirm in his chair.
“What do you want me to say?” Pace pleaded.
“I want you to tell me you’re going to return our money.”
“I can’t tell you that, Mr. Stroud. The money is gone.”
The room went coldly silent once more.
“Then you’d better start by providing us with a detailed account of where it went and when it went there,” Wally said, a threatening edge in his voice.
“Let me see what I can do for you,” Pace lied. “That’s all I can do. I’ve got your address. Let me see what our accounting department can put together for you,” he said, standing. “It could take a week or two.”
“We’ll be waiting,” Wally threatened, continuing to stare Pace down. He knew there was never going to be any accounting. Someone … or several some ones had looted the investor reserves that included his and Poppy’s life savings. Wally felt certain of that. But who, besides Pace, was in on it? What were the chances of getting it back? How much time did he have to recover his money before these thieves had buried it so deep he’d never be able to find it? Those were the issues on which he knew he needed to concentrate now.
Poppy stood and Pace slid out from behind the table. He made a puny demonstration of trying to thank them for coming in to let him explain and promised to get back to them as soon as he possibly could. In the doorway of his office he proffered his hand. Wally glared at him. It was all he could do to control the urge to bust the weasel in the nose right then and there. Pace looked down at his shoes nervously, sensing the danger in the moment and said, “I’m sorry.”
There was, by then, a lobby full of older faces all wearing the same mask of despair and fear. They looked from one to the other, weary, frightened eyes searching for some one of them to have an answer or a solution that would undo the devastation they had all now learned had been delivered unto them. But there was no such person or revelation, and one by one they trudged, in a hopeless fog, out to their cars, not one among them having the slightest idea of what to do next.
Wally and Poppy sat quietly together in the cab of their pickup truck in the parking lot. People were now coming and going in and out the front door of PPI. The silence was oppressive. Poppy broke down and wept. It was not necessary to give voice to the terror that was gripping her.
Wally was still gray-faced with a sense of impending doom—and rage. “I won’t let them get away with this, Popp,” he swore gently, patting her knee. “They won’t get away with this!”
Two weeks came and went. Wally’d gone first to the Arizona State Attorney General’s office where the first bucket of cold water was poured over him. They made little effort to hide their general lack of interest in his complaint and passed if off to the Securities and Exchange Commission. They were even more aloof and offered no input or feedback as to the possibility of investigating or any other action. The reasons were pretty clear to Wally by then; they had no intention of pursuing the matter. The FBI said they’d look into it and let him know if they decided they could do anything to help. The State Board of Realtors said they’d review any ethics or license violations … a nice way of saying “get lost, fella.”
He tried every agency that he thought might help him. He did everything asked of him and more; spent hours documenting what took place; where and when and who was present. He provided hundreds of pages of documentation substantiating his claims. Copies of the documents for each separate agency ran into the hundreds of dollars but there was little hope if he didn’t try. When he was called in by the FBI to be deposed, Wally believed someone was finally listening to him. There were three agents present during the questioning. Alternately each jumped in with questions that seemed to promise action. But weeks had passed without further word from any of them.
Poppy’s state of mind continued to deteriorate. Wally could see in her eyes and hear in her voice the sense of hopelessness that was deepening within her. He did what he could to reassure her that he would find a solution. He’d get their money back somehow, he continued to promise her. But Poppy could see that his efforts were going nowhere. It was as if they were in a horrible car crash and the people who could help were standing by, doing nothing, while they slowly bled to death.
Wally was gradually putting the pieces together, but it was no small amount of work. He spent hundreds of hours tracing many PPI project activities, as far back as four years, through public records. They’d been failing all along. One convolution in uncovering the scams was the illusory way in which they used limited liability companies sequentially owning other limited liability companies, diverting the trail far away from PPI and Pace and Taylor. The technique had further served to isolate investors from each other.
They were brainy, Pace and Taylor. But once Wally detected the pattern it was only a matter of assiduous pursuit. He found more than two hundred shell companies that he could tie to either Pace or Taylor. A trail would emerge. If he followed it far enough he’d eventually find their names.
The people they had claimed were lined up and waiting to buy homes were a complete fabrication. There was no demand whatsoever for their inventory of properties. They’d created a shell game of sorts. They moved the same money into or out of projects, as required, to make it appear the project was tracking successfully.
When he went to Davidson-Timmons Wealth Managers for an explanation of why they had not discovered these irregularities, he was stonewalled. “Goddamnit, Todd,” Wally railed at Davidson. “You’ve managed our investment savings for years. How the hell could you let something like this happen to us?” Davidson sidestepped the accusation and quickly pointed out that they were victims as well with millions of dollars invested. He hurriedly produced the holdharmless document that all Davidson-Timmons clients were forced to sign and reminded Wally that he could not come to them now and claim that this was in any way their responsibility. It was clear to Wally by then; the company he’d relied on to guide his investment decisions had failed miserably to protect his interests.
He took the matter before the law firm he’d relied on for years. “This is pretty standard stuff, Wally,” Allen Cohen said, reading the copy of the hold harmless document Wally brought in with him. “Trouble with these damn things,” Cohen went on, flipping a page, “is that the burden for proof of malfeasance falls to you if we’re going to overcome its protection to Davidson-Timmons.” Cohen looked up at Wally, dropped the document onto his desk.
“So I rely on these guys to keep me safe from scams like this, they screw up and the only one who loses is me … right?”
Cohen leaned back in his chair, rested his elbows on the arm rests, held his hands out and arched his bushy eyebrows. His body language answered Wally’s question.
“We can overcome it, Wally. That isn’t the point. The point is they have deep pockets. They’ll keep us in court for years until you’re broke—”
“You mean more broke than I am now.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to be insensitive.” Allen Cohen took a deep breath and then went on to further explain. “That’s why they make investors sign these things; whether they dropped the ball or not, you have to prove it. Most people haven’t the resources or the will to pursue it. It’s all upstream against the system. They’re off the hook.”
“Is there anything you can do, Allen?”
“We can write them a letter. Threaten the suit. See if it moves them to offer you a settlement of some sort. But I wouldn’t count on it.”
Wally folded his hands together and sat silently for several moments across from his lawyer. Finally he said, “Thanks for your time, Allen.”
“This one’s on the house, Wally,” Cohen said, referring to his fee.
“I appreciate that.”
“You’ll get through this,” Allen Cohen predicted.
“Yeah,” Wally said, rhetorically, “I’ll get through it.”
The picture that was unfolding looked like this: Bud Pace along with Carl Taylor, his college roommate, and for many years now, business partner, had implemented a practice of selling investments in projects under their original business model (for sixteen years it had been successful, and honest)which called for raising twice the capital needed to purchase an investment property so as to avoid the need for construction loans or any kind of outside financing for marketing and managing the project. Instead of paying financial institutions interest for loans, they acquired advance reserves from investors who were paid interest against those reserves over the life of the project.
When things started to go bad for them in 2004, rather than go to their investors with the truth at that critical moment, Pace and Taylor made the decision to temporarily borrow from the advance reserve funds of more than forty different projects. That way they could meet their own operational expenses and gain the time needed to find new investors to infuse more cash so they could catch up and replace the borrowedmoney.
Reserves that had been established by investors that would have insulated them from the vagaries of the crash in the housing market had been systematically diverted from the stated purpose of paying for renovations and marketing, and instead had been used to pay Pace and Taylor seven figure salaries. Key managers were being paid six figure salaries with expensive country club perks in order to keep them motivated to continue harvesting capital from new investors ( a la Enron). Capital is the lifeblood of the Ponzi scheme PPI had become. They used the residue to cover obligations on the next project that was due to be sold out so that those investors would believe that the plan was working as advertised. Shareholders would continue to reinvest their capital into new projects making it unnecessary for Pace and Taylor to have to do more than show the funds on paper, though the money no longer existed inside the company. And why wouldn’t investors continue to invest with them? They believed they were receiving solid returns against a proven business model that was continuing to perform perfectly in an economic climate that was beginning to resemble the Great Depression of the thirties. Pace and Taylor utilized a page right out of the Madoff playbook by reporting steady, solid returns.
But Arizona’s anti-immigration laws had finally thrown a monkey wrench into the works because investors began pulling their money out of Arizona and new money was nowhere to be found. And the backlash was not just confined to Sunbelt states. Across the country major corporations and state governments began a systematic disengagement with Arizona businesses in protest over the draconian SB 1070 law that was being viciously enforced by America’s toughest Sheriff, Joe Arpaio. Right-wing xenophobes may have been placated, but when nearly five hundred thousand Hispanics moved out of the state in protest, Arizona’s economy collapsed. Pace and Taylor’s scheme ran aground abruptly; the house of cards was falling.
Knowing exactly what they were doing, the two had systematically bled off enough money to become disgustingly wealthy. Once they had stepped across the line, it seemed easier to continue than to go back. A plan to guarantee their financial security ultimately morphed into an orgy of pure greed. Pace and Taylor lost all sense of morality where money was concerned. They acquired fabulous homes; ownership embedded safely in trusts that would be virtually impossible to pierce. The idea was to remove any possibility that investors could later sue and expose their assets. When the two were satisfied that their essential needs would always be secure, they turned to stealing the cash reserves from projects like Sonoran Plaza Condominiums, simply because they could.
Wally managed to locate several ex-employees by networking from one to the next. Two of them believed it likely that there existed an offshore bank account in the Cayman Islands since Pace and Taylor made regular trips there, ostensibly to go scuba diving and fishing.
A former comptroller of the company had resigned suddenly twenty-four months earlier. Wally located the man who was now working for a large restaurant chain in Southern California. Leon Herrera claimed to be under the restriction of a nondisclosure agreement he’d signed with Pace and Taylor. He reluctantly confessed to Wally about the many shenanigans he’d uncovered, that he’d personally told Pace and Taylor that they were running an illegal house of cards and it was very close to collapse. He said he couldn’t stomach what Pace and Taylor were doing to their investors, some of whom had been loyal investors with PPI over several years. Herrera also told Wally that unless he was subpoenaed and forced to testify to all of this that it was off the record, and he would continue to keep his mouth shut.
Wally documented every new revelation and piece of what he thought to be usable evidence; he amended the complaints he’d filed, sharing that information with each agency. In every instance the response was the same. “That may be the case, Mr. Stroud, but we will have to develop that evidence according to our rules and as part of our own investigative process.”
And there had begun a new, more subtle theme from those oversight agencies, the ones consumers believe they will be able to turn to when they’ve been wrongfully taken advantage of: Investors who had accepted the advice of management companies like Davidson-Timmons, one smug bureaucrat had said, who were being compensated by companies like PPI to recommend them to new investors, were guilty of not performing proper due diligence. Ms. Shontel, in her heavily accented drawl, inferred to Wally that what happened was his own fault. These investors were somehow deserving of what had happened to them.
Wally’s resentment was deepening with each failed effort to find help from any quarter. And to hear a bureaucrat who was supposed to be there to protect him actually suggest that this was somehow his own fault, that he and Poppy somehow deserved what was happening to them, had chiseled into his psyche the first of many harsh resentments that would ultimately lead him to a decision he would have never dreamed possible in his angriest of moments.
Follow Kainan and Arweyn’s quest as they weave a tale of revenge, love and a journey into adulthood. Their world is in peril, they must reclaim the Ardor Crystal and restore its magical powers before the evil Gorzars return through the portal and take their revenge upon the city of Malgar. There are twists and turns along the way and a neverending barrage of mythical creatures at every turn.
In one night Kainan’s life is destroyed; everyone and everything he has ever known gone. Tricked into stealing the magical Ardor Crystal, the life force of the world of Malgar he is then left to die by the evil Gorzars. Rescued by a young groundling female Kainan must now seek out the truth about his heritage and who he really is.
Embarking on an epic journey they find themselves torn apart by murder, lies and treachery as they battle against mythical creatures that they never knew even existed whilst discovering magic, power, friendship and love in their epic quest to return the Ardor Crystal to the world of Malgar, and stop the return of the Gorzar Empire.
Amara Borbala is certain she is the only living person in the sane world with intimate knowledge concerning the life and exploits of the Countess Elizabeth Bathory. After all, she was Elizabeth s companion and confidant since her eleventh year. In 1573, after the death of her mother, Amara is sent by her cousin to serve as a lady-in-waiting at the castles of Sarvar, Varanno, and Cachtice. Now it is years later, 1628, and Amara is aging, alone, and reduced to eavesdropping at her favorite cafe around the corner from her townhouse in Vienna. Befuddled by gossiping ladies, Amara determines perhaps it is time to finally put a stop to the rumors and once and for all, answer the question, Is it true? Did Elizabeth Bathory, a descendant of Vlad Tepes really commit the horrible acts of torture, bathe in the blood of slaughtered virgins, and dabble in the dark magic that she was accused of during her trial? One thing is certain, Amara knows the truth, but will it be enough to explain the habits of her friend? Dandelions In The Garden is book one in a two-part series that begins with the journey of Amara, an impressionable girl who follows the Blood Countess through all the horrid events that lead to her rise and secure her place in history.
It is 1628, Vienna, and the aging Lady Amara Borbala has collapsed before fulfilling her promise to complete the historical truth about her life long companion, the infamous Countess Elizabeth Bathory. In her last entry before her illness Amara writes, “It’d been nearly 130 years since Vlad Tepes arranged the secret agreement. Was it truly possible that the kin of an ancient advisor was still carrying out the contact, or would we be sadly disappointed by a ruined and forgotten plan? In book two, the journey of the rise and demise of one of history’s most intriguing noble female murderers continues. Come following Elizabeth and Amara through the canals of Venice and high into the Carpthaian Mountains to discover the inevitable. How the story of the Blood Countess ends!
Beyond the urban sprawl of a Pacific Northwest city lurks the peculiar little town of Providence and in it, an organic farmer named Joe Parker. Joe’s lurid story, or rather this particular piece of it, begins when Sheriff Caine fashions the big idea to grow jalapenos, albeit with questionable methods. The gritty scheme is plucked from the undercurrent of the sheriff’s self-righteous mind and carried out with the help of Joe’s skill, two local agents, and a coroner. Everything is progressing as planned. That is, until Vera Cruz, a prostitute and girlfriend of a drug dealer, is delivered late one night on Joe’s doorstep. The new houseguest suddenly complicates his routine. The woman bunking on the rear porch not only threatens to upset the jalapeno operation, but also Joe’s conviction about what is rightly just and intrinsically wrong. Will Vera save Joe or lure him further into depravity?
Sometimes being a geneticist isn’t enough to understand your family….
Joanna Lyon is the great-granddaughter of the legendary TwenCen musician Sean Lyon. Joanna may have inherited some of her ancestor’s musical talent, but her parents’ bitter divorce and her Uncle Jack’s attempts to remake her into another Sean have left her hostile toward her family and music. Her passion is for science, but since she has no access to the family funds, she struggles to earn enough credits for graduate school. Then her uncle sets up a business deal with her employer to make Joanna go on a mission for him: travel via the spaceship Sagan to an alternate TwenCen universe where Sean is still alive. Joanna must collect a DNA sample from Sean so her uncle can create a clone of him. She refuses at first, but finally agrees to go. Secretly, however, Joanna believes her uncle will exploit the clone, and she plans to sabotage the project to stop him. But when she falls in love with one of the scientists in the Sagan’s genetics lab, clashes with other time travelers who fear she’ll change how history develops on the alternative TwenCen Earth, and receives devastating personal news, Joanna will find herself pushed to her limit even before she comes face-to-face with her hated ancestor. Their encounter will leave her changed forever. Will she still be able to thwart her uncle’s plan, and what will she have to sacrifice to do so?
Jonur, a biology student at the University of Selath, doesn’t believe in demons or magic. He thinks there’s a rational explanation why almost nothing lives in the area around Lake Forsaken. As he and his partner collect samples from the area, they become sick themselves. Then Jonur encounters a foreign girl with a stranger book. She claims the area is poisoned and that Jonur and his partner are now affected. However, she plans to use her book to create an animal that can neutralize the poison. Who is this girl? Can she and Jonur work together to fulfill her plan, or will she let him die?
A short story about 5,000 words long, set in the world of the forthcoming Season Lords fantasy series. Also includes a bonus chapter from Lyon’s Legacy, Book One of the Catalyst Chronicles.