Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Which state?

We're studying elements of writing good fiction together. My teens and I want to write stories that make an impact and so we read this example today regarding interior monologue:

Monroe settled into one of the plastic chairs outside the examining room and flipped through a magazine.

Who was he kidding? He knew he couldn't read anything in the state he was in. Still, better to look at the pictures in the ads than to stare at the other patients….

I turned to my young writers. "So do you see how the viewpoint switched from description to Monroe's thoughts?"
"I don't get why he couldn't read." That was Timothy, who was laying on the recliner with a puppy nestled against his neck.

"He couldn't read in the state he was in," I said.

"Well, what state was he in?"

"It's hard to tell. Maybe he's sick or maybe he's injured."

"OH!! I thought it meant a state like Colorado."

Then his sister jumped in. "Yeah, it's illegal to read in some states. Like California. 'No reading for you or you'll want a different system.'"

That was the end of our discussion on interior monologue for the day.


Friday, April 23, 2010


"We are challenged these days, but not changed; convicted, but not converted. We hear, but do not; and thereby we deceive ourselves."

-Vance Hafner

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books.  A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured.  The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between!  Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

For a leisurely, yet intriguing, stroll into medieval England, this book fills the book.  You'll feel like you're walking the streets with our hero, trying to sort through the clues of mysteries while meeting an assortment of interesting people.  I enjoyed this book.

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Monarch Books (February 19, 2010)
***Special thanks to Cat Hoort - Trade Marketing Manager - Kregel Publications for sending me a review copy.***


Melvin R. Starr has spent many years teaching history, and has studied medieval surgery and medieval English. He lives in Michigan.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Monarch Books (February 19, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1854249541
ISBN-13: 978-1854249548


  I awoke at dawn the ninth day of April, 1365.  Unlike French Malmsey, the day did not improve with age.

      There have been many days I awoke at dawn but remembered not the circumstances three weeks hence.   I remember this day not because of when I awoke, but why, and what I was compelled to do after.  Odd, is it not, how one extraordinary event will burn even the mundane surrounding it into a man’s memory.

     I have seen other memorable days in my twenty-five years.  I recall the day my brother Henry died of plague.  I was a child, but I remember well Father Aymer administering extreme unction.  Father Aymer wore a spice bag about his neck to protect him from the malady.  It did not, and he also succumbed within a fortnight.  I can see the pouch yet, in my mind’s eye, swinging from the priest’s neck on a hempen cord as he bent over my stricken brother.

     I remember clearly the day in 1361 when William of Garstang died.  William and I and two others shared a room on St. Michael’s Street, Oxford, while we studied at Baliol College.  I comforted William as the returning plague covered his body with erupting buboes.  For my small service he gave me, with his last breaths, his three books. One of these volumes was, Surgery, by Henry de Mondeville. How William came by this clumes I know not. But I see now in this gift the hand of God, for I read de Mondeville’s work and changed my vocation.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

     Was it then God’s will that William die a miserable death so that I might find God’s vision for my life?  This I cannot accept, for I saw William’s body covered with oozing pustules.  I will not believe such a death is God’s choice for any man.  Here I must admit a disagreement with Master Wyclif, who believes that all is foreordained.  But out of evil God may draw good, as I believe He did when he introduced me to the practice of surgery.  Perhaps the good I have done with my skills balances the torment William suffered in his death.  But not for William.

     I remember well the day I met Lord Gilbert Talbot.  I stitched him up after his leg was opened by a kick from a groom’s horse on Oxford High Street.  This needlework opened my life to service to Lord Gilbert and the townsmen of Bampton, and brought me also the post of bailiff on Lord Gilbert’s manor at Bampton.

     Other days return to my mind with less pleasure.  I will not soon forget Christmas Day, 1363, and the feast that day at Lord Gilbert’s Goodrich Castle hall.  I had traveled there from Bampton to attend Lord Gilbert’s sister, the Lady Joan.  The fair Joan had broken a wrist in a fall from a horse.  I was summoned to set the break.  It was foolish of me to think I might win this lady, but love has hoped more foolishness than that.  A few days before Christmas a guest, Sir Thomas de Burgh, arrived at Goodrich.  Lord Gilbert invited him knowing well he might be a thief.  Indeed, he stole Lady Joan’s heart.  Between the second and third removes of the Christmas feast he stood and for all in the hall to see offered Lady Joan a clove-studded pear. She took the fruit and with a smile delicately drew a clove from the pear with her teeth. They married in September, a few days before Michealmas, last year.                                                                                                                                   

    But I digress.  

      I awoke at dawn to thumping on my chamber door.  I blinked sleep from my eyes, crawled from my bed, and stumbled to the door.  I opened it as William the porter was about to rap on it again.

     “It’s Alan . . . . the beadle.  He’s found.”

     Alan had left his home to seek those who would violate curfew two days earlier.  He never returned.  His young wife came to me in alarm the morning of the next day.  I sent John Holcutt, the reeve, to gather a party of searchers, but they found no trace of the man.  John was not pleased to lose a day of work from six men.  Plowing of fallow fields was not yet finished.  Before I retired Wednesday evening John sought me out and begged not to resume the search next day.  I agreed.  If Alan could not be found with the entire town aware of his absence another day of poking into haymows and barns seemed likely also to be fruitless.  It was not necessary.

     “Has he come home?” I asked..

     “Nay.  An’ not likely to, but on a hurdle.”

     “He’s dead?”


     “Where was he found?”

     “Aside t’way near to St. Andrew’s Chapel.”

     It was no wonder the searchers had not found him.  St. Andrew’s Chapel was near half a mile to the east.  What, I wondered, drew him away from the town on his duties?

     “Hubert Shillside has been told.  He would have you accompany him to the place.”

     “Send word I will see him straightaway.”

     I suppose I was suspicious already that this death was not natural.  I believe it to be a character flaw if a man be too mistrustful.  But there are occasions in my professions – surgery and bailiff – when it is good to doubt a first impression.  Alan was not yet thirty years old.  He had a half-yardland of Lord Gilbert Talbot and was so well thought of that despite his youth Lord Gilbert’s tenants had at hallmote chosen him beadle these three years.  He worked diligently, and bragged all winter that his four acres of oats had brought him nearly five bushels for every bushel of seed.  A remarkable accomplishment, for his land was no better than any other surrounding Bampton.  This success brought also some envy, I think, and perhaps there were wives who contrasted his achievement to the work of their husbands.  But this, I thought, was no reason to kill a man.

     I suppose a man may have enemies which even his friends know not of.  I did consider Alan a friend, as did most others of the town.  On my walk from Bampton Castle to Hubert Shillside’s shop and house on Church View Street I persuaded myself that this must be a natural death.  Of course, when a corpse is found in open country, the hue and cry must be raised even if the body be stiff and cold.  So Hubert, the town coroner, and I, bailiff and surgeon, must do our work.

     Alan was found but a few minutes from the town.  Down Rosemary Lane to the High Street, then left on Bushey Row to the path to St. Andrew’s Chapel.  We saw – Hubert and I, and John Holcutt, who came also – where the body lay while we were yet far off. As we passed the last house on the lane east from Bampton to the chapel we saw a group of men standing in the track at a place where last year’s fallow was being plowed for spring planting. They saw us approach, and stepped back respectfully as we reached them.                                                                                                                                        

     A hedgerow had grown up among rocks between the lane and the field.  New leaves of pale green decorated stalks of nettles, thistles, and wild roses.  Had the foliage matured for another fortnight Alan might have gone undiscovered.  But two plowmen, getting an early start on their day’s labor, found the corpse as they turned the oxen at the end of their first furrow.  It had been barely light enough to see the white foot protruding from the hedgerow.  The plowman who goaded the team saw it as he prodded the lead beasts to turn them.

     Alan’s body was invisible from the road, but by pushing back nettles and thorns – carefully – we could see him curled as if asleep amongst the brambles.  I directed two onlookers to retrieve the body.  Rank has its privileges.  Better they be nettle-stung than we.  A few minutes later Alan the beadle lay stretched out on the path.

     Laying in the open, on the road, the beadle did not seem so at peace as in the hedgerow.  Deep scratches lacerated his face, hands, and forearms.  His clothes were torn, and a great wound bloodied his neck where flesh had been torn away.  The coroner bent to examine this injury more closely.

     “Some beast has done this, I think,” he muttered as he stood.  “See how his surcoat is torn at the arms, as if he tried to defend himself from fangs.                                                                                                                                                                                                 

     I knelt on the opposite side of the corpse to view in my turn the wound which took the life of Alan the beadle.  It seemed as Hubert Shillside said.  Puncture wounds spread across neck and arms, and rips on surcoat and flesh indicated where claws and fangs had made their mark.  I sent the reeve back to the Bampton Castle for a horse on which to transport Alan back to the town and to his wife.  The others who stood in the path began to drift away.  The plowmen who found him returned to their team.  Soon only the coroner and I remained to guard the corpse.  It needed guarding.  Already a vulture floated high above the path.

     I could not put my unease into words, so spoke nothing of my suspicion to Shillside.  But I was not satisfied that some wild beast had done this thing.  I believe the coroner was apprehensive of his explanation as well, for it was he who broke the silence.

     “There have been no wolves hereabouts in my lifetime,” he mused, “nor wild dogs, I think.”

     “I have heard,” I replied, “Lord Gilbert speak of wolves near Goodrich.   And Pembroke.  Those castles are near to the Forest of Dean and the Welsh mountains.  But even there in such wild country they are seldom seen.”

     Shillside was silent again as we studied the body at our feet.  My eyes wandered to the path where Alan lay.  When I did not find what I sought I walked a few paces toward the town, then reversed my path and inspected the track in the direction of St. Andrew’s Chapel.  My search was fruitless.

     Hubert watched my movements with growing interest.  “What do you seek?”  He finally asked.  It was clear to him I looked for something in the road.                                                                                                                                                                    

     “Tracks.  If an animal did this there should be some sign, I think.  The mud is soft.”

     “Perhaps,”  the coroner replied.  “But we and many others have stood about near an hour.  Any marks a beast might have made have surely been trampled underfoot.”

     I agreed that might be.  But another thought also troubled me.  “There should be much blood,” I said, “but I see little.”

     “Why so?” Shillside asked.

     “When a man’s neck is torn as Alan’s is there is much blood lost.  It is the cause of death.  Do you see much blood hereabouts?”

     “Perhaps the ground absorbed it?”

     “Perhaps . . . . let us look in the hedgerow, where we found him.”

     We did, carefully prying the nettles apart.  The foliage was depressed where Alan lay, but only a trace of blood could be seen on the occasional new leaf or rock or blade of grass.

     “There is blood here,” I announced, “but not much.  Not enough.”

     “Enough for what?” the coroner asked with furrowed brow.

     “Enough that the loss of blood would kill a man.”

     Shillside was silent for a moment.  “Your words trouble me,” he said finally.  “If this wound,” he looked to Alan’s neck, “did not kill him, what did?”

     “T’is a puzzle,” I agreed.

     “And see how we found him amongst the nettles.  Perhaps he dragged himself there to escape the beasts, if more than one set upon him.”                                                                                                                                               

    “Or perhaps the animal dragged him there,” I added.  But I did not believe this for reasons I could not explain.

     It was the coroner’s turn to cast his eyes about.  “His staff,”  Shillside mused, “I wonder where it might be?”

     I remembered the staff.  Whenever the beadle went out of an evening to watch and warn he carried with him a yew pole taller than himself and thick as a man’s forearm.  I spoke to him of this weapon once.  A whack from it, he said, would convince the most unruly drunk to leave the streets and seek his bed.

     “He was proud of that cudgel,” Hubert remarked as we combed the hedgerow in search of it.  “He carved an ‘A’ on it so all would know t’was his.”

     “I didn’t know he could write.”

     “Oh . . . . he could not,” Shillside explained.  “Father Thomas showed him the mark and Alan inscribed it.  Right proud of it, he was.”

     We found the staff far off the path, where some waste land verged on to a wood just behind St. Andrew’s Chapel.  It lay thirty paces or more from the place where Alan’s body had lain in the hedgerow.

     “How did it come to be here?” Shillside asked.  As if I would know.  He examined the club; “there is his mark . . . . see.” He pointed to the “A” inscribed with some artistry into the tough wood.

     As the coroner held the staff before me I inspected it closely and was troubled.  Shillside saw my frown.

     “What perplexes you, Hugh?”

     “The staff is unmarked.  Were I carrying such a weapon and a wolf set upon me I would flail it about to defend myself; perhaps hold it before me so the beast caught it in his teeth rather than my arm.”

     Shillside peered at the pole and turned it to view all sides.  Its surface was smooth and unmarred.  “Perhaps,” he said thoughtfully, “Alan swung it at the beast and lost his grip.  See how polished smooth it is . . . . and it flew from his grasp to land here.”

     “That might be how it was,” I agreed, for I had no better explanation.

     As we returned to the path we saw the reeve approach with Bruce, the old horse who saw me about the countryside when I found it necessary to travel.  He would be a calm and dignified platform on which to transport a corpse.

     We bent to lift Alan to Bruce’s back, John at the feet and Shillside and me at the shoulders.  As we swung him up Alan’s head fell back.  So much of his neck was shredded that it provided little support.  I reached out a hand to steady the head and felt a thing which made my hackles rise.

     “Wait,”  I said, rather sharply, for my companions started and gazed in wonder at me.  “Set him back on the road.”

     I turned the beadle’s head and felt the place on the skull which had startled me.  There was a soft lump on the skull, just behind Alan’s right ear.  This swelling was invisible for the thick shock of hair which covered it.  I spread the thatch and inspected Alan’s scalp, then showed my discovery to reeve and coroner.

     John Holcutt was silent, but Shillside, after running his fingers across the swelling looked at me and asked, “How could a wolf do this?”

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Remember when


"Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed."Samuel Johnson, prolific writer and lecturer, wrote that over 300 years ago. It's still true.


You see the same idea throughout the Bible as well. In the Old Testament, the feasts and festivals came about to remind the people of pivotal events in their history. Patriarchs built altars so that others would ask and the tales repeated.


Why? People forget.


Moses, in his final speech to the people of Israel before they entered the Promised Land, reminded them to care for those who couldn't care for themselves. Why? "The Lord your God redeemed you."


Although the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt, unable to care for themselves, God had set them free. God wanted them to give as they had been given. They had been given a free gift but they tended to forget.


And we do, too.


Peter wrote that "I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have." (2 Peter 1:12)


What we know, we still forget. We need remembrances. And they can be found in the simplest places: church services, fellowship with believers, Bible studies, conferences, retreats. I knew a woman once who cut her hair to celebrate God's hand in her life. Another planted a tree.


All to remember. What will you do today to remember?






Monday, April 12, 2010

The Secret Holocaust Diaries

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

This is a valuable and interesting addition to the historical reports about the Holocaust.  The editors did a nice job explaining without changing Nonna Bannister's report.  If you're interesting in this time period - and about the Holocaust  (and we cannot forget the lessons learned there) - this is an important resource.

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Tyndale House Publishers (March 4, 2010)
***Special thanks to Vicky Lynch of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. for sending me a review copy.***


Nonna Bannister was a young girl when World War II broke into her happy life. She went from an idyllic early-twentieth-century Russian childhood, full of love and comforts, to the life of a prisoner working in labor camps—though she was not a Jew—eventually bereft of her entire family. But she survived the war armed with the faith in God her grandmother taught her and a readiness to start a new life. She immigrated to America, married, and started a family, keeping her past secret from everyone. Though she had carried from Germany the scraps of a diary and various photographs and other memorabilia, she kept it all hidden and would only take it out, years later, to translate and expand her writings. After decades of marriage, Nonna finally shared her secret with her husband . . . and now he is sharing it with the world. Nonna died on August 15, 2004.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (March 4, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414325479
ISBN-13: 978-1414325477


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Start Here by Alex and Brett Harris

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books.  A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured.  The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between!  Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

With two teenagers in my house, I am always looking for fresh resources to encourage them in their walk. The Harris brothers provide youthful encouragement to go beyond for the Lord. This book is a practical companion to their first and I recommend this resource. Teamed with Do Hard Things this book is a valuable tool as we disciple our young people.

Today's Wild Card authors are:

and the book:

Multnomah Books; 1 edition (March 16, 2010)
***Special thanks to Staci Carmichael of WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group  for sending me a review copy.***


Alex and Brett Harris are the coauthors of the best-selling book Do Hard Things, which they wrote when they were eighteen. Today, the twins speak regularly to audiences of thousands on The Rebelution Tour, maintain a large online community through their blog, TheRebelution.com, and have been featured on CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and in the New York Times. Raised in Portland, Oregon, the brothers currently attend Patrick Henry College in Virginia.

Visit the authors' website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Multnomah Books; 1 edition (March 16, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601422709
ISBN-13: 978-1601422705



Opening the door to your own rebelution

Simple ideas and unbelievable dreams. First steps and great miracles. Ordinary teenagers and a God who still uses young people to accomplish His big plans.

      That’s what our first book, Do Hard Things, is all about. Do Hard Things shows how young people can take hold of a more exciting option for their teen years than what society suggests. We wrote the book to counter the Myth of Adolescence, which says the teen years are a time to goof off and have fun before “real life” starts. We invited our peers to choose to do hard things for the glory of God and, in the process, turn the world’s idea of what teens are capable of upside down.

      We were nineteen when we wrote Do Hard Things, twin brothers who wanted to follow God’s call and challenge our generation. We’re twenty-one now and sophomores in college. We still dream big dreams, still want to follow God completely, and still believe just as strongly that God wants to use our generation to change the world. (And, as you might have guessed, we’re still twin brothers.)

      Whether or not you’ve read Do Hard Things (we’d recommend it—but, of course, we’re a little biased), this companion book continues the Do Hard Things message and piles on stories, practical suggestions, and detailed how-tos. You can use it either on your own or in a group setting, depending on your situation.

      In other words, Do Hard Things marked the beginning of a movement. Start Here is your personal field guide to jumping in and getting involved.

The Rebelution Movement

The concept of doing hard things actually started as a blog we created when we were sixteen. We called it The Rebelution—a combination of rebellion and revolution to create a whole new word with a whole new meaning. We defined rebelution as “a teenage rebellion against low expectations.” (By the way, the blog still exists. Check it out at TheRebelution.com.)

      Since Do Hard Things came out, the Rebelution movement has exploded. In the past year, rebelutionary teens have raised tens of thousands of dollars to bring the gospel to and dig wells in Africa, won prestigious film festivals, fought human trafficking in the United States and around the world, and made it on the cover of ESPN The Magazine. Around the world, young people are moving out of their comfort zones—whether that means standing for Christ in a hostile classroom, raising money to build a dormitory for orphans in China, or mending relationships with parents or younger siblings.

      Maybe you’re part of the Rebelution already, or maybe you just want to find out more. Maybe you’re asking one of the questions we get most frequently from readers: “Where do I start?”

      This book is about taking the next step. It includes ideas from us and dozens of other young people on topics like:

      • How to stand up for what you believe

• Strategies for overcoming stage fright, fund-raising fright, and phone-calling fright (hint: it gets easier as you go!)

      • Ways to get going when you feel stuck and keep going when you feel discouraged

      • How to understand God’s will and glorify Him through your efforts

      • God-honoring ways to think, feel, and act after you’ve completed a big project

      In short, this is a handbook full of practical steps and real-life stories to encourage and equip you on your journey of doing hard things. We want you to feel as if you’re at one of our conferences, or in a small group of people talking about doing hard things—which you may be!

      All the questions in the pages that follow come from people just like you, collected on our website and through personal conversations. We’ll do our best to answer them with stories and insights from our own lives. We’re traveling alongside you in this adventure—and we want to share with you what God has been teaching us these past few years.

      But just like Do Hard Things, this book isn’t about us. It’s about the incredible, seemingly impossible things God is doing in our generation. That’s why in Start Here you’ll find dozens of true stories from rebelutionaries who are making a difference in their homes, at their schools, and around the world. We love sharing other young people’s stories because they challenge us as well—and remind us that we’re not alone. We also love the way real-life stories provide a glimpse of the diverse ways God wants to use each of us to do hard things for Him.

      Toward the end of the book, we’ll be sharing the stories of two rebelutionaries in particular: Ana Zimmerman and John Moore. As you’ll see, Ana and John took on very different hard things, each with the purpose of glorifying God and helping others.

      At the age of fifteen, Ana raised more than six thousand dollars and organized an event called Love the Least in her hometown. The event introduced her community to the work of Abort73, an organization that exists to show the injustice of abortion.

      With a group of fellow teens, John Moore wrote, produced, and directed his own feature film at the age of nineteen—and went on to win the $101,000 grand prize at the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival.

      John and Ana faced many of the same hurdles and questions you’re encountering. Their stories provide an in-depth look at the beginning, middle, and end of the “do hard things” process. We think you’ll be encouraged and inspired.

Pursuing Faithfulness, Not Success

As thousands of young people around the world are discovering, doing hard things is the most satisfying, thrilling way to live some of the best years of our lives.

      So where do you start? As you’ll find in the pages that follow, the answer is: right where you are. Being a rebelutionary means committing to doing even ordinary things extraordinarily well.

As each of us is faithful in that, God will be faithful to prepare us for whatever calling He has for us.

      For some of us, that calling will be big in the world’s eyes, and for some of us it will be small. Whether it is big or small, God will be glorified—and the world will be changed by a generation that gives up seeking worldly success to pursue a life of faithfulness.

      That’s when the ordinary becomes extraordinary. And that’s what this book is about.

      Ready to start?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Deadly Disclosures by Julie Cave

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books.  A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured.  The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between!  Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

New Leaf Publishing Group/Master Books (February 15, 2010)
***Special thanks to Stacey Drake of New Leaf Press for sending me a review copy.***


Julie first heard a creation science speaker at her church when she was just 15, igniting her interest in creation science and sparking an enthusiasm for defending the Bible’s account of creation. She has obtained a degree in health science, and is currently completing a degree in law. Julie is married with one daughter and lives on the east coast of Australia.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: New Leaf Publishing Group/Master Books (February 15, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0890515840
ISBN-13: 978-0890515846


Thomas Whitfield climbed out of the Lincoln Towncar and stood in the snappy, early morning fall air, breathing deeply. The temperature had fallen a few more degrees overnight, signaling that winter was truly on its way.

   Thomas glanced up and down the wide street. There was nobody around at this early hour, and he took a moment to drink in the sights of his beloved city. The graceful willows, their branches arching over the street, were turning gold and red and, in the gentle yellow morning light, threw off highlights like burnished copper. This street was like many others in the center of DC — wide and tree-lined, with magnificent government buildings standing one after the other. That was another thing that Thomas found so delicious about this city — so much of it hinted at the enormous wealth and prosperity of the country, and yet only a few streets behind these world-famous landmarks, the seedier side of American poverty flourished. It was a city of contradictions, Thomas thought.

   His gaze fell finally to the building right in front of him — the main complex of the Smithsonian Institution. Enormous stone pillars flanked the entryway into a marble lobby, and behind that were laid out the evidence of mankind’s brilliance. Everything about the institution was testament to the scientific and anthropological advances of man over the pages of history — the inventions, the discoveries, the deductions, the sheer radiance of a human being’s intelligence at its finest.

   Thomas Whitfield had always been immensely proud of this place, and everything it showcased. He had boasted about it, defended it, nourished it, and protected it, the way a proud father would his prodigious child.

   He was the secretary of the Smithsonian, after all, and he felt a strange kind of paternal relationship with the buildings and their contents.

   He stood for a moment longer, a slender whippet of a man dressed immaculately, with highly polished shoes gleaming, thinning dark hair cut short, and a gray cashmere scarf to ward off the cold. Then he purposefully strode down the path and into the main building, scarf fluttering behind him.

   To the malevolent eyes watching him through high-powered binoculars down the street in a non-descript Chevy, he presented a painfully easy target.

   Thomas settled in his large office with the door shut, turned on the computer, and shut his eyes briefly as he contemplated what he would do next. The course of events he had planned for this day would change everything, and the impact would be felt right up to the president himself. Courage, Thomas, he told himself silently. What you are about to do is the right thing to do.

   He began to type, slowly and decisively, feeling within himself a great sense of conviction and purpose. He was so lost in concentration that he was startled by the door suddenly swinging open.

   “What are . . . ?” he exclaimed, almost jumping off his seat. Then he recognized his visitor and he glanced at his watch.

   “What are you doing here?” Thomas asked. “It’s a little early for you, isn’t it?”

   “I wanted to be sure I caught you,” his visitor replied, moving closer to the desk. “Without any interruptions.”

   “I see. What can I do for you then?” Thomas asked, trying to hide his irritation. He hadn’t wanted to be interrupted during this most important task.

   “What are you working on?” the unannounced guest asked, ignoring him and moving around the side of the desk and trying to look at Thomas’s computer screen.

   “Oh, it’s nothing,” Thomas answered with a falsely airy tone. “It’s just a family project. Nothing to do with work. Is there something I can help you with?”

   Thomas was suddenly aware that his visitor was standing close by him. He felt uncomfortable, and tried to roll his chair away to maintain some space.

   “You see,” his visitor said in a quiet voice, “there are people out there who don’t agree with you. They think the project you are working on could be very dangerous. In fact, I believe they have already tried to warn you about continuing with this project.”

   Thomas now felt distinctly uncomfortable and a little afraid. He decided to assert his authority. “Listen here,” he said, in a voice that betrayed his anxiety. “What I am working on is none of your business. The subject is certainly not up for discussion with somebody like you. I suggest you leave my office immediately.”

   The visitor managed to fuse sorrow and menace into his words as he said, “I’m afraid I can’t do that. You will have to come with me.”

   Thomas retorted, “I’m not going anywhere with you. In fact, I. . . .” He broke off abruptly as he saw the small handgun in the visitor’s hand, pointing directly at him. There was no sorrow or pity on his face — only menace.

   “Do I need to force you to come with me?” the visitor wondered, his tone like flint.

   Thomas leapt to his feet, his eyes darting about wildly. He needed to get out of here, to try to get away from this situation that had so rapidly gotten out of hand. A hand shot out and grabbed Thomas by the collar with surprising strength. Thomas was shocked as he strained to get away from the man, who was intently staring at the computer screen.

   “You traitor!” Thomas spat. “I should’ve known you were nothing more than a trained monkey!”

   The visitor chuckled heartily. “That’s ironic, Thomas.”

   The visitor, much younger and stronger than Thomas, began to drag him out of the room. Thomas was determined not to go down without a fight, and drove his heel backward into the visitor’s shin. There was a yelp of pain, but the unrelenting grip did not lessen around Thomas’s arm. Instead, a thick arm curled around Thomas’s throat and squeezed, applying pressure to the carotid artery. It took only a few seconds for Thomas to fall limply into the arms of his abductor as the blood supply to his brain was cut off.

   That was the last anyone saw of the secretary of the Smithsonian Institute.

• • • •

   Dinah Harris woke with a scream dying in her throat, the sheets twisted hopelessly around her legs. Her nightgown was damp with panicked sweat, her heart galloping like a runaway horse. She stared, blinking, at the pale dawn light streaming through the window, while the shadowy vestiges of her nightmare slithered from her memory.

   As she lay in bed, joining the waking world from sleep, the familiar blanket of depression settled over her, dark and heavy as the Atlantic winter. The dread she felt at facing another day was almost palpable in the small bedroom. Dinah glanced across at her alarm clock, where the flashing numbers showed 6 a.m.

   She threw aside the sheets and stumbled into the tiny bathroom, where she purposefully avoided looking at herself in the mirror. She was only in her mid-thirties and had once been relatively attractive. Certainly not beautiful, but with what her first boyfriend had once told her — a pleasant face and athletic body. Now her eyes were always underscored by dark bags, her skin pale and paper-thin, and the weight fell off her in slow degrees without ceasing. She dressed in her trademark dark pants suit, pulled her black hair from her face in a severe ponytail, and washed her face.

   She made strong coffee and sat in the kitchen as she drank the bitter liquid. The dining alcove was still stacked with moving cartons, filled with books and music that she couldn’t face opening. The gray light of morning lent no color to the apartment, which suited Dinah just fine. Her world didn’t contain color anymore.

   Though traffic often seemed at a standstill in the mornings, Dinah always arrived early to the J. Edgar Hoover building. She turned directly to the teaching wing, avoiding the eye contact and morning greetings of many she knew in the building. She knew what they whispered about during after-work drinks and at the water cooler. Her fall from grace would go down as one of the most spectacular in FBI history.

   So she kept up the ice-cool veneer until she arrived at her desk, checking her e-mails and teaching schedule for the week.

   She didn’t look up as an imposing shadow fell across her desk.

   “Special Agent Harris, how are you?” boomed the voice of her former colleague, David Ferguson. He was a big man, six-four and two hundred pounds, with a loud, booming voice and a penchant for pork rinds. He stood above her, his hand resting easily on the holstered gun at his hip; the twin of a gun Dinah no longer wore but kept underneath her pillow.

   “Ferguson,” she replied. “Fine, how are you?”

   “Feel like a coffee?” he asked.

   “Don’t you have a killer to catch?” Dinah asked, dryly.

   He waved his hand dismissively. “Oh, they can wait. Come on.”

   He took her to a tiny Italian café a block away from the FBI headquarters. While they ordered, Dinah wondered at his ulterior motive for bringing her here. It certainly isn’t for my sparkling wit and charm, she thought. Rumor had it that the freshman criminology classes were afraid of her.

   “So I’m just wondering if I could get your opinion on something,” Ferguson began, tentatively testing the water.

   She scowled at him. “You know I don’t get involved in cases.”

   He held up his hands in mock surrender. “Okay, calm down, Harris. I just want your opinion. I know you’ve given up your real talents to teach some snotty freshmen.”

   His comment stung her, but she narrowed her eyes at him and pretended she hadn’t even noticed. “So get on with it already.”

   “I don’t remember you always being this prickly,” complained Ferguson, draining his macchiato. “Anyway. What would you say if I told you the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution had gone missing?”

   “Missing?” Dinah raised her eyebrows and slurped her latte. “In what context?”

   “As in, turned up for work at six this morning and disappeared off the face of the earth shortly thereafter.”

   “How do you know he turned up for work at six?” Dinah asked.

   “Security cameras have him arriving in the lobby and heading for his office. After that, who knows?”

   “So he’s an adult, maybe he took a trip to get away from work stress or his wife has been giving him grief or his kid is in trouble.” Dinah frowned. “Why are we even involved at this early stage?”

   Ferguson paused. “It’s due mostly to his rather prestigious position. It wouldn’t do for the secretary of the Smithsonian to simply disappear. Congress is rather anxious.”

   Dinah knew of political influence that ran high in this city but didn’t press the issue. “Is there evidence of homicide?”

   “Not really, although I haven’t been to his office yet.” Ferguson made it sound like a confession, and he looked at her sheepishly.

   Dinah stared at him. “What do you really want, Ferguson?”

   He gathered up his courage. “I need you to work this case with me, Harris.”

   Dinah opened her mouth to respond indignantly, but Ferguson held up his hand and continued with a rush. “You know I’m not good with sensitive cases. I. . . .”

   “Or complex ones,” interjected Dinah, bad-temperedly.

   “I’m operating on a hunch that this is a bad case, that it involves people in the White House.” Ferguson must have needed her very badly to allow her comment to go unheeded.

   “Well, I’m sorry, but I have a heavy teaching workload,” she said. “So I’ll have to limit my involvement to opinions only.”

   Ferguson didn’t say anything but looked even guiltier.

   “What have you done?” Dinah demanded.

   “I may have cleared your schedule so you could work with me.” Ferguson examined his fingernails with great concentration.

   Dinah waited for a beat. “I see. You’ve spoken to my superiors?”

   He nodded. “They’ve agreed to lend you to me for as long as the case takes.”

   Dinah stood abruptly. “Thanks for the coffee.” She walked angrily from the café.

   Ferguson stared at her as she walked off, then slapped down some crumpled notes and heaved his bulk out of the chair. “Where are you going?” Ferguson asked, struggling to keep up with her.

   She wheeled around and glared directly at him. “Who do you think you are? Do you think I’m lesser than you so you can sneak around behind my back?”

   “Dinah, we really need you back in the field. You were — are — brilliant.” Ferguson spoke softly, hoping to calm her down.

   “My field days are behind me, with very good reason,” snapped Dinah. I can’t see a dead body anymore. I can’t feel desire to catch the person who did it. I just want to lie down beside the body and feel the same endless peace of sleep.

   “Please, I’m begging you. I need you back,” Ferguson said. Then it hit her. Dinah realized that this situation was very serious. Ferguson was the last person on the planet to beg anybody.

   “I don’t really have a choice, do I?” she said dully. She knew that this case could break her.

   Ferguson didn’t reply, and his answer was in his silence.

• • • •

   The Smithsonian Institution was bustling with tourists and school kids as if nothing had gone wrong. Dinah and David strode into the main lobby, trying unsuccessfully to look casual. When they flashed their badges discreetly, they were allowed into the inner sanctum, where Thomas Whitfield’s personal assistant was fielding phone calls.

   The secretary was young and pretty, with thick, dark hair waving gracefully to her shoulders, startlingly blue eyes, and a creamy olive complexion. Her only downfall was the thick eye makeup, applied to make her eyes stand out but which had the effect of making her look like a scared raccoon. “I’m afraid Mr. Whitfield simply cannot be interrupted at present,” she snapped into the phone. “I’ll have him call you back if you’d leave a message.”

   She glanced up and saw the two agents standing at her desk. She gave them a wave to acknowledge their presence, repeated the details of the caller, scribbled furiously, and then hung up.

   “Good morning,” she said, jumping to her feet. “If you caught the end of that conversation, you’ll know that Mr. Whitfield is in an extremely important meeting and. . . .”

   “Save it,” interrupted Dinah, showing the secretary her badge. The young woman blushed. “We’re here to investigate the disappearance of Mr. Whitfield. What is your name?”

   The secretary sat down hard, looking relieved. “I’m Lara Southall. I’m so worried about Mr. Whitfield.”

   Ferguson flashed his partner a frown and took charge. “I’m Special Agent David Ferguson and this is Special Agent Dinah Harris. You’ll have to excuse her; she’s been out of the field for some time and has forgotten how to relate to people.”

   Dinah opened her mouth to reply with outrage, but Ferguson continued, “Can you tell us about this morning?”

   Lara Southall regarded Dinah with a mixture of amusement and fear, which Dinah filed away for future reference. “I got to work at eight o’clock as usual,” she replied. “Mr. Whitfield always arrives before me. I usually turn on my computer, get settled, and then get us both a coffee. When I opened his office door to give him the coffee, the room was empty.” As the girl spoke, she tapped perfectly manicured fingernails together absently. Dinah hated manicured fingernails: they reminded her of her distinctly unattractive, chewed-to-the-quick fingertips.

   “Mr. Whitfield was due to give a presentation at eleven o’clock,” Lara continued. “So I didn’t really start worrying until about ten-thirty. He hates to be late, and he had to come back to get his presentation and make it uptown in less than half an hour. At eleven, I started to make some calls.”

   “Has he ever been absent from the office before?” Ferguson asked.

   “Sure, he often has meetings or goes out into the museum to talk to visitors. The thing is, I always know what he’s doing. That’s part of my job. He never goes anywhere during the day without letting me know.”

   “So you started making calls at eleven. Who did you call?” Dinah asked impatiently.

   Lara ticked off her fingers as she remembered. “I called his cell phone, and I called the other museums. I thought maybe he’d just forgotten to tell me he had a meeting. Nobody had seen him and his cell just rang out. So I called his home. His wife told me he’d left for work at about five-thirty and she hadn’t seen him since. Then I called some of the senior executives. I thought they might’ve had an emergency. But nobody had seen him.”

   “Did the people you called — his wife, the executives — seem concerned about his whereabouts?” Ferguson asked.

   “Yes, they did. It’s so unusual for Mr. Whitfield to act this way that everyone I spoke to was concerned. I think his wife is actually here somewhere at the moment.”

   “So then you called the police?” Dinah said.

   “No, one of the directors came over to look at the security tapes. She specifically told me not to call anyone until she’d viewed the footage. I thought that Mr. Whitfield might’ve had an accident on the way to work. Mrs. Whitfield was calling the hospitals when Ms. Biscelli — the director — came back from security.”

   “What did the tapes show?” Dinah asked.

   “They showed him arriving at six-thirty or so. That’s all I know.”

   “Did any of the tapes show him leaving?”

   “Not as far as I know.”

   “Right. So what then?”

   “I called the police.”

   Ferguson nodded. “What did they tell you?”

   “Basically they won’t do anything until he’s been missing 24 hours.” Lara stopped clicking her nails together and started twisting her hair with one finger. “So I told Ms. Biscelli, and she wasn’t happy with that. I think she must’ve pulled some strings, because here you are.”

   Dinah and Ferguson both raised their eyebrows at her in confusion.

   “The FBI,” explained Lara. “You guys wouldn’t normally get involved, would you?” She may have been a very pretty secretary, but Lara Southall was an intelligent girl. She’d asked the very question Dinah had been mulling over all morning.

   “We’re going to look in his office,” Ferguson said, ignoring the question. He handed her his card. “Please call me if you think of anything else that might be helpful.”

   She nodded and picked up the ringing phone. “No,” she said, sounding very weary. “Mr. Whitfield is in a meeting at the moment and can’t be disturbed.”

• • • •

   Ferguson opened the door to the office while Dinah waited to get the log-on details for Thomas Whitfield’s computer. Dinah stood in the doorway, looking into the impressive room, and felt the thrill of the chase wash over her like a wave. It had been a long time since she had felt anything.

   The office was furnished with heavy cedar furniture that consisted of a large desk, a leather-bound chair, a couch, and two armchairs grouped around a glass-topped coffee table and one entire wall of built-in bookcases. The floor was covered with thick burgundy carpet, and the drapes at the picture window were also burgundy. The walls contained portraits of several great scientists and inventors — Dinah recognized Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, and the Wright Brothers — as well as photos of the secretary with the president, the queen of England, and other dignitaries. The room itself was clean and uncluttered, likely symbolic of the man himself, Dinah thought.

   Ferguson was moving around the room, muttering to himself, as was his habit. Dinah had forgotten how intensely annoying she found this habit. She preferred silence so that she could concentrate.

   Having received the log-on details from Lara, Dinah strode to the desk and pulled on her latex gloves. The top of the desk was shiny and would be a great medium to obtain fingerprints. She was careful not to allow herself to touch the desktop while she turned on the laptop.

   “By the way, Harris,” Ferguson said from the wall of bookcases, “I forgot to mention that if something has happened to Mr. Whitfield, the media scrutiny is likely to be intense.”

   Dinah scowled at the screen of the laptop. She hated the media, and it was a long-term grudge she held from the last case she’d been involved in. “You can handle it,” she said. “I want nothing to do with those vultures.”

   Ferguson glanced over at her. “Of course I’ll handle it. But I can’t guarantee that they’ll leave you alone.”

   Dinah tapped her foot against the leg of the desk impatiently as the laptop struggled to come to life. “Sticks and stones, Ferguson,” she said tightly. “Words can never hurt me.”

   She could see that Ferguson didn’t buy the lie, but he’d decided to let it go. He at least knew not to push too far.

   “This whole office is giving me a weird vibe,” he said after a moment. “It’s too . . . organized.”

   Dinah logged onto the laptop. “I’m listening.”

   “Look at the desk,” Ferguson mused. “No files or paperwork. Not even a pen or a Post-It note. No diary.”

   “Maybe he’s just really neat,” Dinah said, opening Outlook on the laptop.

   Ferguson went back to his muttering as he continued drifting around the room. Dinah frowned as she clicked through the folders in Outlook. Then she opened the other programs on the computer and looked through the folders there.

   “That’s odd,” she commented at last. Ferguson looked up and came over to her.

   She clicked through the inbox, sent items, and calendar of the e-mail program. There were no entries in any of them. “They’re completely clean,” she said. “The calendar is the strangest. You’d think the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution would have at least a couple of meetings a week.”

   “Maybe he uses a paper diary,” suggested Ferguson.

   “Certainly a possibility,” agreed Dinah. “But couple the empty calendar with the fact that he’s neither received nor sent an e-mail from this computer and something isn’t right.”

   Ferguson opened the desk drawers and started looking through them.

   “Also,” added Dinah, “there is not one single saved document in any other program — no letters, articles, presentations, anything. The entire computer is as if it’s never been used.”

   Ferguson sat back on his heels. “You think someone has wiped his computer?”

   “Well, the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question is: did Thomas Whitfield wipe his own computer before disappearing or did someone else wipe his computer before abducting him?” Dinah began to shut down the programs. “After all, there is no evidence to suggest that he has been abducted. There’s no sign of a struggle in here or blood stains, is there?”

   Ferguson shook his head. “No, there isn’t. But there is something off about this office. Nobody, least of all a man in his position, can get through a working day without sending an e-mail or doing paperwork of some kind.” He gestured at the desk drawers. “There’s absolutely nothing in them.”

   “I agree,” Dinah said. She closed the laptop and picked it up. “I’m going to have the lab look at the hard drive. What else?”

   “I’ll call in crime scene to lift some fingerprints and check for blood.” Ferguson paused, thinking. “I’d like to talk to Ms. Biscelli, and I’d like to talk to his wife.”

   Dinah nodded. “If Mr. Whitfield has been abducted, what do you suppose is the motive?”

   Ferguson considered. “I don’t know. Money? Fame? Half the time I think these loonies go around killing people just so they can get their name in the news.”

   Dinah stared at him. “Do you think Thomas Whitfield is dead?”

   He shrugged. “Right now, Harris, I know nine-tenths of absolutely nothing. Let’s talk to Ms. Biscelli. Maybe she’ll know what happened and we can solve this case before dinner time and I’ll get a decent night’s sleep.”

   Flippancy, Dinah remembered, was just Ferguson’s way of dealing with the intensity of this job and the horror they’d witnessed over the years.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Rain water

Outside my window, a farmer sliced open his field with plow and disk, preparing the ground for seed. This seems no place to grow crops. We average 12 inches of rain a year in this high desert of Colorado.

Yet, because of the magic of irrigation, corn and wheat abound. During the heat of July, the corn soaks in the sun's rays – necessary to produce rapid growth – while drinking in cool water flooding the field.

It reminds me a little of the situation in ancient Egypt, when the Israelites served as slaves for 400 years. As Moses reminded his people in Deuteronomy, the land of Egypt was watered by irrigation from the Nile River.

But, he cautioned, "the land that you are about to enter to occupy is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sow your seed and irrigate by foot like a vegetable garden" (Deut 11:1)

The new land wasn't that way. These people were used to doing what was needed to get their food. But in this new land, they would have to depend on rain from the sky.

Moses put it differently. They were going to "a land that the Lord your God looks after." (Deut 11:12a)

I've lived in areas where farmers depended on rain only for their crops. Now I live in a place where they can use irrigation.

It's easy to depend on lakes and canal systems and wells when you use irrigation. It's easy to depend on your own resources and inventiveness.

God took his people to a place where they were dependent on his hand.

The Israelites had learned the religion and ways of Egypt after living there for 400 years. Now, God was teaching them his ways. And what better way than taking them into a land where the harvest depended on rain from God?

Sometimes we, too, prefer the irrigation system because we depend on ourselves. But when God takes us to places where we are dependent on his hand, we walk into that land that God looks after.

"The eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year." (Deut 11:12)

Saturday, April 3, 2010