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Stairway to the Bottom by Michael Haskins

In Chapter One of Stairway to the Bottom, the fifth in the Mick Murphy Key West Mystery series by Michaek Haskins, we see the beginning of Mick’s dilemma. At the moment, he isn’t even aware he is at the crossroads of his life.

Chapter One

If I hadn’t gone to watch the comedy showcase at the Key West Fringe Theater, I wouldn’t have silenced my cell phone. If I hadn’t silenced my cell, I would have answered Dick Walsh’s first call at 1:10 A.M., and then things might not have gone so badly. If is a damn big word for only having two letters.

I unplugged the cell from its charger in the morning and the lighted screen reminded me it was on silent mode and that I had five messages.

Each of Dick’s messages was more frantic and pleading than the last. He needed help, but didn’t say for what. By the third message, he was cussing but still wanted me to call and that was at 3:15. He didn’t sound drunk, like most three-in-the-morning callers do. He sounded scared.

The fifth and final message came at 5:36. He had calmed down, asked me to come by his house as soon as possible and gave me the address. His composed voice assured me I would understand the problem after I arrived and he would be in touch later.

“Mick, I need you to believe me, it isn’t what it looks like. Please help me,” his message ended with a quiet plea.

I dressed quickly in last night’s clothing and swallowed cold water from a bottle out of the cooler. Before I got into my Jeep and drove to Dick’s house on Von Phister Street, I called his cell but it went to voice mail and I left a message. We were playing phone tag.

Von Phister is a narrow, tree-lined street in a quiet neighborhood of old and new houses. Dick’s was an old two-story house with a large gumbo-limbo tree in front and two more in back. He actually had a decent-size backyard, something that is at a premium in Key West.

The house was dark. It was almost six-thirty, about an hour since his last call. The sky was a light gray with a reddish-purple sunrise pushing the dawn westward. Only a large yellow tomcat crossed my path on the empty street.

I parked in front and noticed Dick’s scooter was gone. I went up the steps to the wraparound porch, rang the bell, and then knocked. Nothing. I looked into the living room window. Nothing. I knocked again and when no one answered, I tried the door. It was unlocked so I went in.

The stench that greeted me in the hallway was familiar. The smell of death was strong and that told me somewhere in the house, death was very recent. Death, if left alone long enough cloaks all other odors, especially in the tropics – violent death even more so.

I called Dick’s name but no one answered. I walked into the living room and it looked lived in – a big screen TV, stereo with CDs stacked next to it, a sectional sofa set. A hallway led to a kitchen, small dining room, and bathroom. The stairway on the right went upstairs to the bedrooms.

Dick used the dining room as his office – medium-sized desk that was too big for the room, a computer, a printer, and a two-drawer file. I walked through into the kitchen. There was a table for two off to the side, dirty dishes in the sink and a woman’s body on the floor.

She lay face down and a large part of her head was gone. Pieces of shattered skull, along with parts of her brain and blood, tarnished the otherwise clean kitchen wall.

Blood and human waste soaked the tile floor and stained her clothing.

The stench of death filled the kitchen. I didn’t bother looking for a pulse.

An automatic with a silencer attached lay on the floor, her arm stretched out toward it as if reaching for the gun that had a small stream of brownish blood curled up next to it.

I ran upstairs to check the two bedrooms, calling Dick’s name. Both rooms were neat and the beds made. Nothing broken or seemingly out of place. Dick’s closet looked full with only a couple of empty hangers in the mix. The guestroom closet was empty.

Dick shot this woman, I thought as I looked down at her body. Whose gun was it on the floor? I didn’t touch anything, though I wanted to. My curiosity was getting the best of me.

I’m Liam Murphy, a semi-retired journalist and fulltime sail bum, some say. Key West has been my home for almost eighteen years. Before that, I lived in Southern California and reported on Central American civil wars and when they ended I covered the drug wars for a weekly newsmagazine so a dead body wasn’t something that frightened me, it intrigued me.

In Key West, I’ve made friends with all kinds of characters, including the chief of police, Richard Dowley. We have a two-sided relationship. One side is Richard the cop, the other is Richard the friend. He considers me a friend but always thinks of me as a journalist. He says I only have one side. I called him on my cell, sure of catching him at home, and knew I’d be talking to his cop side.

I told him where I was and what I’d found.

“What are you doing at that nut’s house?” I could hear him banging around in the kitchen.

When I explained about the messages and Dick’s plea, he sighed loudly enough

 for me to hear on the phone.

“Don’t touch anything and I’ll call it in,” he said. “Best thing is go outside and wait for the first unit, and I’ll make it there too.”

“Okay, Richard, but tell the ambulance it doesn’t have to hurry,” I said and he hung up without replying.

Outside, I sat and waited, thinking of Dick’s last message telling me it wasn’t what it looked like. It looked like murder.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Haskins has lived in Key West for more than 15 years. He came to the island as the daily newspaper’s business editor/writer and after five years left to take the newly created city position as public information officer. He’s written seven Mick Murphy Mysteries and had three Mick Murphy short stories published as well. Two in the series have appeared in the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and one in the Saturday Evening Post

Michael’s Mick Murphy Key West Mysteries are popular with locals and with the many visitors to the island, who often write after reading a book and comment on how it helped them remember the good times they had in Key West.  

To find out more about the author and sample his published writing, go to www.michaelhaskins.net

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Running with Chaos by Elicia Clegg

Elicia Clegg’s suspenseful novel “Running with Chaos delivers an unsettling rendition of a pivotal moment when three characters stand at the crossroads of destiny and freewill.The following excerpt features one of the three main characters. Sam is at a crossroads of epic ramifications. She has been warned. She either allows eight-year-old Raven Clayton to die, or allows for a stranger to take her place. As you will read, Sam will go against everything she has been taught to break the chain fate has already forged. 

. . . . .

Sam stood outside of Animus’s house for nearly five hours. She warned her several times of the ramification of what was to happen, yet Sam’s mind was made up.  Sam finally started walking toward the elementary school, wishing it would hail in order for the Earth to suffer as she now did. Each step she took brought her further and further from her circle of friends. She felt trapped in this new reality, no longer rational, running off pure emotion. Something wasn’t right, but this didn’t matter. She loved Raven, she couldn’t explain why, but when she heard her laugh it was the first time she had felt alive. She liked this sensation. To her, killing him equated saving her. Even if time had to stop, she would complete this.

The night air was not cold, yet it chilled her all the same. Unaware of what her heart demanded, Sam walked on with raw intent. She paused as she reached the school. Time had frozen and somehow shifted backwards.  She didn’t know how, but her group and Erin were suspended during this shift. She half surmised they were all shifted to another dimension, but this, this could not be, so her mind accepted time was bent, and a handful of people were the only ones to know.

A life for a life.

The words Animus had said; her intent not an evil one, although the outcome would remain the same. They could not create a paradox. A child was killed. It changed the community, and it changed the life of the murderer. Too many had been touched; another child would have to take Raven’s place. his was equality, this was Sam’s job.

“This is not right, it couldn’t be right.”

“You are not the judge of right or wrong,” Animus’s words stung and endured in her mind.

“Then who is?”

She stepped on the same curb she would be stepping on in approximately eleven hours. She would shield herself from the pain, walk away, and let an unknown person take Raven’s place. The morning wind picked up; the smell of death swirled all around. She had to close her eyes. Concentration built in her mind; she could see and feel everything as though time did not exist. And then she heard the new mother’s tears mixed with the fathers; their shallow breathing, a pain so agonizingly real that even now Sam could feel it.

No, no, no. Her mind screamed. She clutched at her chest. She couldn’t do this; something had forever changed inside of her. She could no longer live like this, she was no longer levelheaded, and no longer did she understand the delicate balance she herself had pledged to keep.

She waited, catching his murderous scent. The vengeance which had seared through her soul the day she killed Chuck now boiled up again, frothing and foaming out, covering her with the hatred of wickedness. She was the hunter and her prey’s disgusting lust lingered in the air making his location easy to find. She walked quickly, never hesitated as she navigated down the streets. At first walking until he was closer and then she ran. Her speed that of a trained sprinter. He was so near, she wanted to weep from the strong emotions flowing in and out of her.

“You are not the judge of right or wrong,” Animus’s words stung again. 

“I am this morning!”  Sam yelled into the vast emptiness of the morning hour as though someone, anyone could hear.

Her body stopped. She didn’t need to catch her breath, just take hold of her wild thoughts and keep them in check. She felt him, her body turning toward a small house. The trim was neat, painted yellow, baiting salesmen to come. The front door was red, commanding power. Even if he lacked it, he would not let the world know he was nothing more than a poltroon. The yard, green and cut to an enviable length, dawned tiny yellow flowers, most appropriate for a man who envied all those around him. 

She wanted to vomit, perfection, order, no chaos, just order. She could not put the scale in check, for inside, in his mind, chaos ran free, equality, order, utter disorder… she could not go against her nature, against her job, but then again, she hadn’t been feeling like herself lately, and she felt, maybe she could twist herself inside enough to change everything. Her dramatic mood of disgust was conspicuous to her, clearing out her mind, clearing out the ability to follow orders blindly. She would and could do this. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elicia Clegg, who was born in the small town of Spanish Fork, Utah, affectionately known as happy-valley, moved at age four to Ogden, Utah; a town riddled with a dark past of opium dens, brothels and businesses with underground tunnels constructed for criminals’ and prostitutes to escape police raids. Not only was Elicia’s environment surrounded in historical intrigue, her family has long whispered about a Curse as many have died in strange events. To name but a few: her grandfather was thrown off a building in New York City, her great-grandfather “fell” off the historic Radisson in Ogden, her father was shot in the head, her brother died in a work explosion, her great-uncle had a truck load of lumber crush him to death, her maternal great-grandfather was hit by car and died, a cousin who served two tours in Vietnam died on route home from his heart bursting, her maternal great-great-grandfather disappeared without a trace, and her grandmother, while volunteering, was stabbed to death at the State Mental Health Institute. 

It is no wonder she grew up with an overactive imagination and soon began to write many psychologically-thrilling suspense novels including Vexation, Castigate My Sins, and Running with Chaos.

 

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FICTION BLOG ALLIANCE

Best selling novelist VICKI HINZE created the Fiction Blog Alliance as a way to connect readers and authors through their blogs. Many of the topics explored in these blogs qualify for our “crossroads” criteria for they cover everything from writing to history, to surgery, to politics, to war, religion and romance. There is no subject that escapes our criteria for the crossroads of humanity. Everything depends on the eye of the beholder, whether from our characters’ points of view or from our own, and ultimately how we act stems from what we believe.

 

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The Consummate Traitor by Bonnie Toews

 At the  Crossroads of Humanity, two women discover how treason can destroy the world, not just them. What can they do to stop a nuclear Holocaust? How can one person make a difference?

ON KINDLE for $2.99 

PAPERBACK AND KINDLE EDITION at AMAZON.COM 

PAPERBACK IN CANADA AVAILABLE HERE.

The Consummate Traitor trailer

 

 

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