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Author Steve Piacente

Guest Post by Steve Piacente

Isabel took the paper and stared at the name for long seconds. I knew what she must be thinking. Marcus Ravoli, barely out of college. A scared kid who tossed a grenade at the enemy and killed my husband. “I gotta’ go,” said Bart Jefferson. “Please don’t try to contact me.”

“Hold on.” I read back through my notes. “What about this Sgt. Falk? What’s he about? Where is he now?”

“Falk’s still in-country, somewhere near Kabul, I think. He’s a lifer – never married, served in the first Gulf War, a hard-ass, but loves his Army.”

We stood and shook hands like businessmen. “Something might come up where I need to get to you, Bart.” I gave him my cell number and he said he’d get in touch in a week. Isabel stayed seated, her eyes wet, the paper still in her hand. “Good luck, Mrs. Moss,” he said, gently squeezing her shoulder. “I loved your husband. We all did.”

When he was gone, I said, “Quit crying on the paper; you’ll smudge the address.”

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She laughed and turned into me. She hugged me hard, arms slung around my neck, and I brought her closer and she started crying again, big, heaving sobs, and my damned shoulder started getting soggy and then we were drawing attention, so I whispered we should leave. She kissed me quick as we pulled apart and her lips were sad and sweet and I thought, how staggering that so much life would, could, start, end and begin again between the two kisses I received from such different girls at Mel’s Diner. I wondered whatever happened to Tanya Rodriguez. When I tried to tell Isabel what I was thinking and how small and inconsequential it all made me feel, I found she was amazingly composed. She pressed two fingers to my lips and said, “Shh. Wait. See what happens.”

Martha Note: Steve Piacente self-published Bella, and in 2011 was named one of “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” by The Authors Show. Steve is now deputy communications director at a federal agency in Washington, D.C., and teaches journalism classes at American University. Contact Steve at steve@getbella.com. Buy Bella now and read on!

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Author Steve Piacente

Guest Post by Steve Piacente

“And you’re saying a drone caught what happened to Hank, and that a tape of it exists.”

“That’s what I was told, sir.”

I slid forward. “Told? What are you saying? Either you know or you don’t. Have you seen it or not?” He hesitated.

“Bart?” Isabel said.

“I was told they have it. I haven’t seen it myself. I’m sure it exists, that it shows conclusively that — ”

“— You think you’re sure. Are you kidding?” I took his wrist, not realizing that under the hairy cover, it was the size of an average man’s ankle. He looked at my hand. Both of us knew he could crumble my five fingers like almond biscotti before I uttered another syllable.

I was too far in to stop. “You’re sure someone told you it exists, but you haven’t seen the tape. Therefore you’re not sure about anything. Unless you have a copy, that is. Do you have a copy of this alleged tape?”

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He brushed away my hand. “No,” he said. “I didn’t see the tape and I don’t have a copy. What I have is this — a name and an address.” He passed me a torn square of loose leaf paper. I looked at the name, written in a precise, steady hand with a black, fine-point. It meant nothing. The address was in Charleston, South Carolina.

“That’s the guy who threw the grenade. Marcus Ravoli. Went to the military college in Charleston.” Bart closed his eyes and moved a fork from thumb to pinky the way a cheerleader transfers a baton across her fingers. “Ravioli. We called him Ravioli. They cut him loose. Honorable discharge. Find him and he might tell you the truth. Do it fast; I hear Marcus’ not doing so great. None of us who were there are doing so great. That much I’m sure about, Mr. Patragno.”

Martha Note: Steve Piacente self-published Bella, and in 2011 was named one of “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” by The Authors Show. Steve is now deputy communications director at a federal agency in Washington, D.C., and teaches journalism classes at American University. Contact Steve at steve@getbella.com. Buy Bella now and read on!

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Author Steve Piacente

Guest Post by Steve Piacente

Isabel hadn’t said a word since we’d sat down in the booth opposite Bart Jefferson. She wore jeans and a pale orange polo that looked nice against her black hair. She’d spent the last few minutes with both hands wrapped tightly around her coffee cup. Now she looked directly at Bart. “Hank told me about drones once. UAV, for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.”

“Yes, ma’am. High-altitude, long-endurance. They give our field commanders near-real time streaming video of the theatre.”

“Good quality?”

“Yes sir, very high resolution.” So the video — the embodiment of modern warfare, more precise and conclusive than DNA — would clearly show Hank and the events leading to his death. “How big are these drones, like a kid’s radio-controlled plane?”

Bart looked at Isabel to see if I was kidding. She rolled her eyes, he chuckled, and the tension eased.

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“I know the specs,” he said. “I’m studying integrated and unmanned systems. Top to bottom, it’s about 14-and-a-half feet; wingspan, 116 feet; length, about 45 feet. Gross weight at take off: 26,000 pounds; maximum altitude, 65,000 feet or so. Not a kid’s toy, sir.”

“How long can they stay in the air?”

“About 35 hours.”

“So what we have is like a guy robbing a convenience store getting caught by the surveillance camera.”

Again his eyes went to Isabel. “Something like that, sir. Like I said, our drones fly at up to 65,000 feet. They send surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance info to our commanders on an area that measures 40,000 square miles. That’s a little bigger than your average 7-11. And it’s not a static camera.” Isabel smiled. “But you’re right,” he added quickly, “drones don’t pick and choose what they record. Everything that goes in gets sent back to command for analysis.”

Martha Note: Steve Piacente self-published Bella, and in 2011 was named one of “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” by The Authors Show. Steve is now deputy communications director at a federal agency in Washington, D.C., and teaches journalism classes at American University. Contact Steve at steve@getbella.com. Buy Bella now and read on!

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Author Steve Piacente

Guest Post by Steve Piacente

I counted four witnesses: Bart, his teammate Sanchez, who was still overseas, the soldier who threw the grenade, and Marlin Falk. When Bart Jefferson said Hank Moss was the most selfless man he’d met in the Army, that he wouldn’t ask his men to do anything he wouldn’t do, and that he spoke all the time about his wife and little girl, I reached for Isabel’s hand under the table. She pulled away and stared at the kid from outside Chicago until he began looking uncomfortable. I caught his eye. “Bart, I know it’s a longshot, but I thought there might be satellite imagery showing what happened that night.”

“Satellite photos. No sir, no way.”

“I know. They don’t zoom in that close, plus it was raining, and what would the odds be of — ”

“ — There is a tape, though.”

“A tape.” Bart scanned the diner, looking jumpy for the first time. His burger sat untouched. I could see a small patch of grease spreading on the plate. I’d probably eaten 200 of Mel’s burgers waiting for rides home when I was a kid or taking breaks when I helped out at our store. I took a wide angle look out the window and saw that Jim Dandy Cleaners was no more. The real estate company I’d sold it to when the folks died turned it into a cell phone store. Business was good; we never had a line of customers out the door, not even on Saturday mornings. Bart leaned toward us and said softly, “Streaming video shot by a drone.”

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A drone. I thought of Star Wars and tried to remember if the drone was the tall, chatty gold android or the squat, dome-topped thing with camera eyes and arms that reached to the ground. Military drone. I imagined a rolling, whistling, whirring, silver-plated robot with camera eyes in Army fatigues.

Martha Note: Steve Piacente self-published Bella, and in 2011 was named one of “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” by The Authors Show. Steve is now deputy communications director at a federal agency in Washington, D.C., and teaches journalism classes at American University. Contact Steve at steve@getbella.com. Buy Bella now and read on!

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Author Steve Piacente

Guest Post by Steve Piacente

He was Hollywood’s vision of a fighting man — a square-jawed, 5-10, 190-pounder from outside Chicago accustomed to addressing everyone as sir or ma’am. Private Bart Jefferson was 23, with close-cropped black hair and a chin that looked like it needed two shaves a day.

The three of us drew little attention at Mel’s. Tampa was home to MacDill Air Force Base, a command of 6,000 airmen and civilians that, as Congressman Dwoark intoned over and over as he trolled for votes every two years among active-duty service members and veterans, pumped over $6 billion a year into the local economy.

Bart Jefferson, in Tampa on a stop-over, was hardly the unknown soldier I’d imagined. For all he’d seen and been part of in Afghanistan, for all his muscle and military bearing, he was pretty much a scared kid without a hint of hype or mystery. He’d witnessed a tragedy, joined the conspiracy by keeping silent, and now needed things set straight so he could sleep nights. He told us that he’d been part of Hank’s three-man team the night of the accident. On Hank’s order, he and another soldier, Oscar (Osky) Sanchez of Laredo, Texas, had ducked behind a corner seconds before the grenade exploded. Afterwards, they raced to Hank. There was simply no one to help, not even much of a body to send home and bury.

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Two other soldiers arrived moments later from the north. One began sobbing when he saw the first team and learned he’d killed another American. The second soldier, Sgt. Marlin Falk, ordered everyone to resume their patrols. Falk said he’d handle the paperwork. He made sure that everyone understood Hank Moss was a hostile casualty, killed in action by enemy fire. He stood before all three men — Bart, Osky Sanchez, and the soldier who threw the grenade — and repeated, We clear on this, soldier? Each barked back a yessir.

Martha Note: Steve Piacente self-published Bella, and in 2011 was named one of “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” by The Authors Show. Steve is now deputy communications director at a federal agency in Washington, D.C., and teaches journalism classes at American University. Contact Steve at steve@getbella.com. Buy Bella now and read on!

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Laura Reese

Martha Note – This week’s short thriller comes to you from Laura Reese – Laura is married and a stay-at-home mom of two fabulous boys. She lives near the Florida Gulf Coast where she blogs, writes, and reads books on her Kindle every chance she gets! Her novel, Center of Gravity, is a work in progress.

Center of Gravity – Conclusion!

My head pounds with every step. More storm clouds brew in the distance. The rain falls harder as I reach the door of Mitchell’s place, a blessing, and a curse. My socks are soaked through; they squish water as I pound my shoes up the steps.

Lighting flashes and shines a temporary spotlight on the slick-wet parking lot. Mitchell’s truck is gone. For now. A single bulb glows dimly in the window.

As I cut the corner too closely, my arm rakes across the bricks and draws blood. My skin starts to burn. I ignore the pain and take the cement steps two at a time.

Like a fighter in the ring, I face the door and begin to knock. The noise can’t compete with the gale-force wind. Tree branches snap off and smash the ground. Leaves catch in my hair and ripple across my legs.

I listen for a sound, a word, anything.

My fist pounds harder.

“Jack,” I call out, my cheek pressed to the metal frame. “Can you hear me? Open up!”

With my palm open wide, I slap at the barrier between my children and me. In the darkness, I feel for the bell. Do I have the wrong apartment?

Against my better judgment, I creep around the corner, try to peer inside. Mitchell’s tie and sport coat lie across the sofa. I shade my eyes and see Sam’s blocks and his pretend radio. Jack’s comic books. I rap against the glass. “Jack?” Are you there, babe?”

Through the fogged-up glass, I think I see a figure crouched on the floor in the kitchen. Too small to be Mitchell.

My fingertips wipe at the window, trying to see better. It has to be Jack. I tap again and wave, trying to get his attention.

“Jack, please.” I whisper. The wind carries my plea down the street, out of sight.

Finally, the person moves. A leg, then an arm. He gets up.

I race back to the front. A click, a slide, the doorknob turns. Jack falls into my arms, buries his face.

“Oh, thank God,” I gasp and clutch him to me. “Jack, are you okay? I’m so worried about you both. Is your brother okay?” We’re both shaking.

“Yes,” he answers and begins to sob. “Mom, I’m sorry I didn’t believe you.”

He called me Mom.

Arm around his shoulders, we step out of the weather. The air conditioner blasts a chill through my skin. I shiver and hold Jack close.

“No need to be sorry, honey,” I squeeze his hand. “I’m here.”

Jack snuffles. “But he’s taking us away. We’re leaving.” He glances at the clock, wipes his eyes. “He’s supposed to be back by now. I don’t know where he is.”

I know – at least I pray I do.

He continues. “I called Grandpa a little while ago. He answered but I hung up. I would have called you on the cell phone, but Dad—” He gestures wildly to the open suitcase, chin trembling. “He took it. And then I couldn’t remember your number. He knew you gave the phone to me. He was really, really mad. And—”

Finger to my lips, I shake my head. “We’ll have time to talk later. I don’t want you to worry about it. But, we need to get your brother and get out of here now. Is he in bed?”

Jack nods and points to the back bedroom.

Hurry up Graham. You should be here by now. I calculate the logistics. One motorcycle. Two adults, one kid, and a baby. The rain. Anything else?

The floorboard creaks. “It’s about time—” I spin around, ready to scold Graham.

But, it’s Mitchell.

“Time to go where?” My husband smiles and locks the door behind him.

{ 1 comment }

Laura Reese

Martha Note – This week’s short thriller comes to you from Laura Reese – Laura is married and a stay-at-home mom of two fabulous boys. She lives near the Florida Gulf Coast where she blogs, writes, and reads books on her Kindle every chance she gets! Her novel, Center of Gravity, is a work in progress.

Center of Gravity – Part Four

We’re standing outside Graham’s office, arguing.

“Dammit, Ava. You’re not coming.”

“Graham—”

“What if he’s still there at the apartment?”

“But I need to get the kids.”

We frown at each other, breathing hard. Red-faced.

“You can’t barge over there. It’s called trespassing. Plus, there’s the restraining order.” Graham puts both hands on my shoulders. “Stay here. Do not leave. I will call you.”

“Listen—”

“Ava, Dr. Olson knows what’s going on. But she’s not picking up. So I need to make sure she’s okay first. And then I will figure out a way to get the kids. I promise.”

He’s right. “You win.”

Graham leaves me on his doorstep.

I let myself into his office, flop down in his desk chair. The clock’s second hand ticks in my head. Help-less. Help-less. I don’t want to stay here. There’s got to be something…

My hands tremble. I find my cell, punch in Mitchell’s number, and pray. The battery is dangerously low. Enough to eke out a few minutes? I hit send. The sharp ring jars my heart.

“Dr. Carson,” he snaps.

I force my lips into a smile. Soften my voice. “Mitchell. It’s me. Ava.”

Nothing.

“Do you have a moment or two?”

I can hear the breath expel from his lungs in a deep gust. Music plays in the background. Shopping carts rattle by. A loudspeaker announcement blares.

He’s out somewhere. Where are the boys?

“I’m pretty busy,” he coughs, clearly distracted by the bleep-bleep of a checkout scanner.

“How are the children? They with you?”

Mitchell clears his throat. “Fine, fine. Home with Isabel.”

Isabel? She’s at Friday night Bingo. Unless the kids are sick. But I just saw them. They’re fine.

I picture them in the apartment. It strikes me then. They’re alone.

“Great!” I squeak, trying not to sound desperately chipper. “Then you could stop by. So, I can just, you know, share some things with you. I need to tell you…um, I want to say this …in person. Apologize.”

He’s intrigued. “It’s a little late. I don’t know if it’s going to change anything.” Gruff. Stubborn. Typical Mitchell. But appealing to his sense of control definitely seems to be working.

“I know,” I gush a little. “It’s probably just to make me feel better. But I need to see you in person. It would be a huge favor to me. I’d owe you.”

This gets him.

“I’ll leave the door open. The lights are all on. Just come over when you get done.”

“Give me ten minutes.”

I hang up the phone, scramble for keys, and bolt for Graham’s Audi. Behind the wheel, I fumble with the ignition. The car won’t start. I slap my head. I knew this.

But the plan’s already in motion.

I calculate the distance to Mitchell’s apartment. If I sprint, I’ll beat him there. Even on foot. I have to. Once he realizes I’ve tricked him, it’s all over.

{ 0 comments }

Laura Reese

Martha Note – This week’s short thriller comes to you from Laura Reese – Laura is married and a stay-at-home mom of two fabulous boys. She lives near the Florida Gulf Coast where she blogs, writes, and reads books on her Kindle every chance she gets! Her novel, Center of Gravity, is a work in progress.

Center of Gravity – Part Three

I need my children. I need my life back. And a job. But right now, other than discovering I have super powers or winning the Tennessee Powerball, I have a better chance of seeing a freak blizzard in July.

Proclaiming my innocence at the top of my lungs hasn’t worked.

Pleading with my ex-husband hasn’t worked.

And most of Mama’s extensive advice – her unwritten rules for women on keeping a husband and family happy – have fallen flat with Mitchell.

Now, Jack’s furious.

My marriage is well-beyond repair.

Plain and simple, I’ve been outfoxed, outmaneuvered, and outdone. My choices now include:  pity party or figure a way out of this mess.

I tamp down the urge to drive back to Nashville, but convince myself that more detective work now may be counterproductive. In fact, running off and trying to gather more might not only confuse matters, it may make people upset.

Pieces of the puzzle swirl around me like random debris in a dark funnel cloud. My scribbled notes, Karen’s trip itinerary, Mitchell’s father, Will Harris. Jack’s weird behavior, Mitchell’s escalating antics. Embellishment about taking Jack to cub scouts and peewee soccer. Dr. Olson. Karen’s accident. The school.

I pull out a blank notebook, use my calendar, and sketch out a timeline.

Each scrap of paper I can find goes into a pile.

I jot down every single snippet of anything Will Harris told me, then move on to Mitchell’s father. The story about his mother. Her suicide. Him running away.

My breath catches and holds in my throat.

What if …

What if Mitchell runs? With the kids.

I ransack the house, room after room, looking for my cell phone. Pat down my pockets. Dig through my bag; pull out pens, lip-gloss, my wallet. No phone. I think harder. The garage? There are toys everywhere, overturned, toppled, upside down.

One by one, I pick them up, turn them over, put them back in place. Jack’s bike. The wagon. A stroller. Low and behold, underneath the Big Wheel, sits my cell phone, blinking red with a message.

Ten minutes ago. From Graham, my lawyer. Who sounds like road kill, if road kill could talk.

His message is simple:

Sorry, this is my first chance to call. Spent the night in jail. Yep. You heard me. Explain later. Be over at the house as soon as they spring me. I’ll bring dinner.

{ 0 comments }

Laura Reese

Martha Note – This week’s short thriller comes to you from Laura Reese – Laura is married and a stay-at-home mom of two fabulous boys. She lives near the Florida Gulf Coast where she blogs, writes, and reads books on her Kindle every chance she gets! Her novel, Center of Gravity, is a work in progress.

Center of Gravity – Part Two

As I travel further north, the streets go from paved to pot-holed. The houses change from well cared for to forgotten. Dry brush, brown scrub trees, and battered for sale signs line the streets. The occasional jet screams overhead, leaving contrail wisps in the painted-blue sky.

This part of the downtown Clarksville neighborhood boasts one-story bare-wood homes, front porches decorated with sagging flowered sofas, broken bicycles, and empty soda cans. An occasional resident of the community stares, sleepy-eyed, suspicious. Mangy dogs glare at empty water bowls; skeleton-thin, skittish cats hide in tall grass. I double-check my map and turn right.

The house sits close to the road. The roof appears relatively new, the yard is cut short, and an American Flag flutters in a gust of warm air. While not pristine, the home is obviously in better shape than the rest on the street. This alone makes me feel slightly better, though I wish for the twentieth time for a canister of mace or a hand-held taser.

The mailbox, dented silver, bears no markings, no name. A late-model turquoise Buick spans the entire driveway. Long and sleek, fins, whitewall tires.

I smile. Probably quite the looker in her day.

Stop procrastinating. Get out. You won’t find anything sitting inside the Jeep.

I silence the lecture in my head and step out into a blanket of humidity. Rusted hinges protest with a loud squawk as I push open the gate. Next door, a barely bath robed woman in pink curlers blows gray puffs of cigarette smoke. No doubt, I’m providing the morning entertainment. I wave, but she sits, her dark arm moving to her full lips, then away, watching.

Fine.

I knock twice with my knuckles, firm.

Nothing.

Again, harder. I peer through the glass, but it’s covered with curtains.

Is it so you don’t have to see out, or so others can’t see in?

“Mr. Carson,” I finally call out, my mouth inches from the door jam.

A rough voice answers. “I don’t want any. Go away or I’ll call the cops.”

Okay. At least I’ve got the right place.

“Mr. Carson, please. I’m not selling anything.” A trickle of sweat runs down the small of my back. April’s not supposed to be this hot. If I stand here much longer, I’ll faint or melt away, and he won’t have to face me. Maybe that’s his plan.

“Don’t you understand English? Get out of here.” A gruff command. A soldier’s order.

“Sir, I just need a moment.” I rack my brain, rub at the beads of perspiration on my neck.

Silence.

“It’s about Jack,” I finally say. “And your son, Mitchell.”

{ 0 comments }

Laura Reese

Martha Note – This week’s short thriller comes to you from Laura Reese – Laura is married and a stay-at-home mom of two fabulous boys. She lives near the Florida Gulf Coast where she blogs, writes, and reads books on her Kindle every chance she gets! Her novel, Center of Gravity, is a work in progress.

Center of Gravity – Part One

Behind closed doors, my brave resolve fades. Without Sam and Jack the house echoes like a mausoleum in a Hitchcock film. Dark, everything exactly in its place, books perfectly aligned, and toys untouched. I run a finger over the rooftop of Jack’s Lego Fire Station, pick up Sam’s favorite red airplane with the neon yellow propeller and press the plastic to my chest.

Back in the kitchen, I slip the pink Valentine heart from my purse, secure it to the fridge with a magnet. It looks forlorn, edges wrinkled. Alone.

I want to find a stray Nerf football in the hallway, trip over a stuffed giraffe. See dirt-covered tennis shoes left by the doorway. Smell the eraser shavings and pencil lead left over after Jack tackles an extra-tough math set. Or inhale the scent of soap bubbles and baby powder after Sam’s bath.

Until now, I haven’t allowed the emptiness to touch me. The boys’ rooms, beds unmade, covers rumpled, tricks me into thinking they’ll be back in an instant, a minute, an hour.

Now, it just confirms they are gone.

A hysterical sob unleashes in the empty abyss of my living room. On the walls, family photos, carefully framed, bounce back the guttural sound coming from my throat.

I spin and dissolve in my own grief, sugar crystals poured into hot tea. I let myself cry it out. My tear ducts scream for relief.

A voice in my head speaks. Ava Carson, get a hold of yourself.

I take a ragged breath and exhale the air from my lungs.

My husband hasn’t told me everything. Not even close.

It’s obvious I didn’t examine what lay behind Mitchell’s shiny-clean exterior.

And now, I may end up paying an extraordinarily high price.

{ 3 comments }