Free Book: Love Gone to the Dogs

It’s the dog days of summer. So what’s an author with a book featuring neighbors and their battle over their dogs supposed to do? Give away e-copies for the month of August, of course! Don’t miss out on your last few days to download Love Gone to the Dogs. So you’ll have something fun to read on Labor Day after you finish your grilled chicken, corn on the cob and watermelon. Sounds yummy, doesn’t it? This book is too.

Love Gone to the Dogs (Second Chances Book 1)

Author: Margaret Daleymargaretdaley

E-Book: 166 pages

Publisher: Amazon Digital (July 4, 2012)


Single mom, Leah Taylor, has her hands full with a grandfather, an inventor, who lives a bit risky when it comes to his job and two sons, one a rambunctious genius. But it is her free spirited beagle who gets her into trouble with her new neighbor, Dr. Shane O’Grady, when her dog makes a move on his champion bichon that he wants to breed.

Leah and Shane clash over their dogs that clearly like each other. Leah is determined to ignore her neighbor, but when her youngest son who tries to defy gravity and fly ends up hurt, it is her neighbor, the doctor, who takes care of her son. Can Leah and Shane find love or has love gone to the dogs?

Read an excerpt here.


If you’re looking for a light-hearted romance you can enjoy on a hot summer afternoon, Love Gone to the Dogs is it. It’s a classic romance novel boy meets girl, obstacle, obstacle, obstacle and finally, success. The humorous family in this book will make you smile. Actually, it’s the story of three unlikely romances: Leah and Shane, Albert and Princess (their dogs) and a third one I don’t want to spoil for you.

Amulet: Escape from Lucien

Amulet #6: Escape from Lucien

Amulet Seriesamulet

Author: Kazu Kibuishi

Paperback: 256 pages (also available in e-formats)

Publisher: Graphix (August 26, 2014)


Navin and his classmates journey to Lucien, a city ravaged by war and plagued by mysterious creatures, where they search for a beacon essential to their fight against the Elf King. Meanwhile, Emily heads back into the Void with Max, one of the Elf King’s loyal followers, where she learns his darkest secrets. The stakes, for both Emily and Navin, are higher than ever.


Let me start out by saying I’m not a big reader of sci-fi/fantasy or graphic novels. Sure I know Star Wars but that’s pretty much the extent of it for me. That said, this is an action-packed book that I’m sure young readers will enjoy. I actually got a Star Wars vibe from it…two battling sides, communities on desolate planets, space ships. The illustrations are fantastic, they just pop off the page.

It took me a while to sort everyone out since this is Book 6 in the series. So, if your young reader wants to start a new series, please start with Book 1 so they can understand everyone’s backstory, where their loyalties lie and important events that happened in past books. But if you have a fantasy lover in your house I’m betting Amulet will be a big hit.

5Ws with Paige Strickland

Akin to the Truth: A Memoir of Adoption and Identity

Author: Paige Stricklandakin

Paperback: 256 pages (also available in e-formats)

Publisher: Idealized Apps (September 23, 2013)


In 1961 Paige was put up for adoption, a more taboo and secretive topic than it is today. Paige’s adoptive family chose not to focus on the adoption, but instead function as a regular family with natural children. However, being adopted made her feel vulnerable and unreal. She longed to know more about her true self. In Akin to the Truth: A Memoir of Adoption and Identity, Paige tells stories from the perspective of a child and adolescent, growing up with a closely guarded secret. Through vignettes, Paige relates feelings about her adoption to forming and maintaining relationships, caring for pets, moving to new houses and neighborhoods, losing loved ones and entering young adulthood. Her need for acceptance is juxtaposed with her adoptive father’s increasingly erratic behavior. This is a tale of family joys and hardships, friendships, falling in love and the need to belong. It is set in the era of free love, social unrest and unexpected change during the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

5Ws with Paige Strickland:

Who is your hero?

In real life, my two grandmas were my biggest heroes. I hope I represented them as such in Akin to the Truth. They handled situations with grace and finesse. They had solutions for everything and were very resourceful, independent widowed ladies.

What was the most difficult thing about writing Akin to the Truth?

Finding adequate time to write between work during the day, (school), and caring for my kids, who were still young and less dependent, was the most challenging part of the writing process. I had to work, and could not compromise my job. My kids needed attentive parents, rides, help with schoolwork and other usual adult supervision, and I could not cut corners there. Therefore, time to write was at a premium.

Where do you do your writing? Since you’re a teacher, I picture you typing in an empty classroom, reading bits aloud to the empty desks.

I actually do very little writing at school, although it has happened some. Usually I’m home at my computer. Coffee shop places and bookstores also work well for me.

When did you begin writing? Do you write mostly memoir or do you delve into other genres?

I began writing Akin to the Truth in the summer of 2002. I wrote while my kids were in a three-week summer “drama camp” activity. Instead of going home, I hung out at coffee shops and one grocery that had café tables with a spiral notebook and kept writing. (No laptop computer yet). I’d just met my birth father’s family and was super-charged to lay the groundwork for the story. My kids were not totally clear on who was who in my family, so I wanted to write in a way that explained all of my family to them.

Why did you decide to share such an intensely personal story about adoption, especially when there are so many strong feelings both for and against adoption?

At first I wanted to share my story as a book for my kids. The project sort of grew bigger as I wrote more. I shared some vignettes with my local writers group and received great feedback. I was writing more than just an account of who was who; I was describing in great detail and relating stories that added up to form a big book, which had the running theme of being adopted and how that felt.

I knew that there were many adoptees, especially from my age bracket, who were still searching, found both wonderful and unsatisfying information or were simply seeking ways to relate to other adoptees. Every adoption story is unique, and I was also curious to read about others. I didn’t want to make a book that bashes adoption as an industry or adoptive parents. That wasn’t my focus. I just wanted to tell it as it was from my perspective.

I wrote it in such a way that people should draw their own conclusions as to whether adoption is a good or bad thing. I only know how it was during my era, which is probably quite different today. Now we see “baby-mamas and baby-daddys” on television, blended and diverse family units that never used to exist, and open adoptions. My book, then becomes a lesson in history for adoptive family members because the mystique and even shame of adoption isn’t there the way it used to be.

I want my book to provide understanding for what it’s like to be adopted, no matter which era you are from.

Understanding Creative Puberty

Understanding Creative Puberty

Anyone who wishes to be a creative writer- that is, a writer who produces fictional works- must go through a period in which their work is generally not very good. This is usually the starting point most authors have. No one, however talented as they may become, begins knowing how to write a bestselling novel, or a short story that is in great demand. If this were so, then the task of writing would be an easy one. Great stories would be a dime a dozen and therefore cheaply acquired. The necessary maturation process a writer goes through makes his own work valuable in the long run by reason of such work becoming ever more scarce the more he improves his craft. Thus, it may be said that improving one’s own writing is improving one’s own potential for profit.

This process is somewhat akin to that of a person’s matriculation during years of puberty. A human being, however advantaged or disadvantaged at birth, nevertheless begins life as little more than a wailing lump of flesh, incapable of looking after itself, prone to injury and accident, easily susceptible to sickness. Compare that condition with that of an adult: an adult, it may be presumed, is capable of looking after himself, has developed a strong enough immune system to ward off most diseases, can withstand shocks and perturbations, and in most cases need not rely upon the care of others.

To suppose that some people are “born to writers” or that only certain people can be writers while others cannot is the same as supposing that some babies are incapable of fully maturing into adults. It makes little matter that one process happens naturally without the permission of the person who experiences it, while the other is the result of practice, acquiring knowledge, patience and lots of hard work. The end is essentially the same: a writer starts off producing fiction not suitable for public consumption in the same manner that a person starts off being unable to form cohesive speech patterns.

As a result, it seems clear that statements to the effect of “not anyone can become a writer” are fallacious, if not absurd. Writing requires practice, as with anything else. No one who takes training courses on how to throw a baseball expects to become a major league baseball pitcher overnight. Nor should anyone who first takes up a pen, or opens a word processing program, expect to write a manuscript capable of earning them a comfortable living on their first try.

That people give up due to frustration, or an inability to overcome writer’s block, is not an indication that only some people can write. At best, it is only an indication that those individuals who did not succeed at becoming good writers were unable to do so. The potential may have lain within them, stifled by any number of factors, or kept hidden inside, never let free by means of self-education. A crucial step in a writer’s maturation process may have been missed, such as getting feedback from an editor, attending a writing seminar, or anything else.

Just as there are conditions the human body can have which impair physical growth- such as osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition which prevents the growth human bones and thus the human body- does not render some people capable of becoming normal, fully-functioning adults, so too does not a lack of success from some writers prevent others from succeeding. Indeed, a condition such as the one described here may be cured at some point in the future. A statement declaring it impossible for physically disadvantaged people to overcome their disadvantages does not take into account the work that doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and all sorts of medical professionals do every day to add to the knowledge of their profession.

So too is it a fallacy to say that a struggling writer cannot overcome his disadvantages through the means of hard work by learning from the example of writers who have come before him, who offer their knowledge to the public. A pessimistic statement made against certain people to become writers is a statement against individual human will, which history has shown can overcome any number of difficulties. It is a statement which says that it is impossible for human beings to produce ever more stories of quality for ever lower prices even while that very process appears to be occurring: more stories are being produced than at any other time in human history, some at less cost than a fast food meal.

However, while I believe that anyone can become an writer, it is not a process that is easy, or at first profitable. Writing is a vocation which is often done on the margins of one’s life, a discipline taken off to one side, a consumption of an individual’s discretionary time away from the business of making money and accumulating wealth. There is no guaranteed path to success for a writer. Indeed, writers can toil in obscurity for years before being “discovered.” The famous authors of the world are by no means representative of the individual writer who must continually toil away at his craft, either by reason of his passion, or to meet his obligations.

The most common result for a writer is to be relatively unknown. This is a natural process which forces writers to increase the quality of their work in order to make more money from it. If this were not so, then anyone could be a writer spewing out any kind of drivel they please. The market for fiction has allowed the best writing to rise to the top, while the rest of it, howsoever good it may be, is less well-known, less famous.

There are, in fact, thousands upon thousands of unknown writers churning out words in the hopes of making a living with their craft. It is very likely that these people were told that their work was impractical, or that they weren’t any good at it. It is very likely that when they attempted to publish their works, they were greeted with rejection slips or, more commonly, outright silence. Some writers give up without an audience. Some press on, determined to make something of themselves, come what may. It is these writers who persevere through all difficulties that we generally recognize as being successful.

Yet, it must be said: if every writer would realize that they have the potential for greatness inside of them, would not they continue along the path they have chosen, regardless of whether people liked their work or not? Perhaps when people say that only certain individuals can become writers, it is this very statement which discourages writers from pursuing their dreams, leaving all future creative efforts unfinished, their dreams scattered to the wind.

I am here to tell you that anyone can become a writer. If you are willing to put in the work, if you are willing to weather the storms that will come your way as a writer, if you are willing make yourself as a person better suited to the task of writing, then you can do it. Just as each baby has the potential to become an adult, so too does every adult have the potential to become a writer. The talent already lies within you. It’s just a matter of finding it, honing it, and using it.

About the Author:
Winter Trabex is an author of four novels who lives in central Pennsylvania. Her first non-fiction book, How to Write Fiction: Wrangling With the Written Word was released in August 2014. She has been writing for fifteen years.

How to Write Fiction: Wrangling with the Written Word

Author: Winter Trabextrabrex

E-Book: 71 pages

Publisher: Amazon Digital (August 15, 2014)


Have you ever wondered how to write fiction, or how to write better fiction? Winter Trabex provides the answers in this book. In her 15 years experience as a writer, publisher and editor, she shares the secrets she has learned along the way.

These include:

-How to write with an extemporaneous style without the use of an outline.
-The role of the human brain in writing good fiction.
-How to make a story read well.
-How to describe characters and settings.
-How to manage English grammar for maximum effect.
-Choosing the correct environment to write.
-What kind of books to write that will sell in the market.

This book also includes a sample short story, “The Wolves at Night” in which the author provides a realistic sample of all the kind of fiction she believes work best.

Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front

Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Frontmaudlin

Author: Todd DePastino

Hardcover: 384 pages (also available in paperback and e-formats)

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company (May 11, 2009)


A self-described “desert rat” who rocketed to fame at the age of twenty-two, Bill Mauldin used flashing black brush lines and sardonic captions to capture the world of the American combat soldier in World War II. His cartoon dogfaces, Willie and Joe, appeared in Stars and Stripes and hundreds of newspapers back home, bearing grim witness to life in the foxhole. We’ve never viewed war in the same way since. This lushly illustrated biography draws on private papers, correspondence, and thousands of original drawings to render a full portrait of a complex and quintessentially American genius.

92 illustrations


Always interested in World War II history, I was already familiar with Willie and Joe, the sad eyed, scruffy bearded guys that showed the world the war through a GI’s eyes in cartoons for Stars and Stripes. But I wasn’t familiar with Bill Maudlin, the man who drew these classic cartoons. I appreciated Todd DePastino’s book because it didn’t just tell the story of the “wunderkid” who skyrocketed to fame during World War II. He also gave backstory about Maudlin as a kid before entering the service and didn’t hold back from revealing his warts, mistakes and failures. He effectively showed that Maudlin was more than just the hand that drew Willie and Joe. The delves into his relationships, his fears and told it all in a way that made a fascinating story. He also revealed in may cases the story behind the cartoons Mauldin drew…why he chose what he did to draw, the unseen meaning behind some of the cartoons, and how specific cartoons had a far greater effect on the world than just making military men laugh.

Although anyone interested in World War II or military history will love A Life Up Front, I feel it will appeal to a wider audience as it touches on the life during the Great Depression, the days of the Red Scare and even Vietnam. It follows life in the United States from the 1920s through the 1980s as told through the experiences of one World War II GI — one who recorded that time with his drawings.

Maxwell Street Blues

Maxwell Street BluesmaxwellStBlues

Author: Marc Krulewitch

E-book: 245 pages

Publisher: Alibi (August 5, 2014)


Chicago runs in Jules Landau’s veins. So does the blood of crooks. Now Jules is going legit as a private eye, stalking bail jumpers and cheating spouses—until he gets his first big case. Unfortunately, the client is his ex-con father, and the job is finding the killer of a man whom Jules loved like family. Why did someone put two bullets in the head of gentle bookkeeper Charles Snook? Jules is determined to find out, even if the search takes him to perilous places he never wanted to go.

Snooky, as he was affectionately known, had a knack for turning dirty dollars clean, with clients ranging from humble shop owners to sharp-dressed mobsters. As Jules retraces Snooky’s last days, he crosses paths with a way-too-eager detective, a gorgeous and perplexing tattoo artist, a silver-haired university administrator with a kinky side, and a crusading journalist. Exposing one dirty secret after another, the PI is on a dangerous learning curve. And, at the top of that curve, a killer readies to strike again.


Truthfully, Maxwell Street Blues started out a little slow and Jules Landau seemed as if he might not be up to the job (it’s seems like every other page the man has a new bruise). But hang in there, Jules eventually starts to come into his own. You can trace his growth as a private investigator from page one to his ultimate unravelling of the murder and many other crimes connected to it. And the excitement starts to rachet up!

Jules Landau is surrounded by some real characters: his dad, Frownie, some interesting (dirty?) cops and a wide variety of suspects and people connected to the murder of Jules’ childhood friend Snooky. Even though he died before page one you’ll find yourself fascinated by Snooky, even in death he remains interesting.

If you want a little Dashiel Hammet comes to 2014 give Maxwell Street Blues a try.

5Ws with Bethany Harar

Voices of the Sea

Author: Bethany HararBethanyCover

Paperback: 285 pages (also available in e-formats)

Publisher: WiDo Publishing (July 22, 2014)


The Sirens of Pacific Grove, California are being exterminated, and seventeen-year-old Loralei Reines is their next target. Lora may look like a normal teenager, but her voice has the power to enchant and hypnotize men. Like the other Sirens in her clan, however, she keeps her true identity a secret to protect their species.
Lora’s birthright as the next clan leader seems far off, until the Sons of Orpheus, a vicious cult determined to kill all Sirens on Earth, begin exterminating her people. When an unexpected tragedy occurs, Lora must take her place as Guardian of the Clan.

Lora is determined to gain control of her skills to help her clan, but they are developing too slowly, until she meets Ryan, a human boy. When Ryan is near, Lora’s abilities strengthen. She knows she shouldn’t be with a human. Yet, she can’t resist her attraction to him, or the surge in power she feels whenever they’re together.

And the Sirens are running out of time. If Lora can’t unlock the secret to defeat the Sons of Orpheus, she, along with everyone she loves, will be annihilated.

5Ws with Bethany Harar

Why did you decide to write about mythical creatures living as humans?

other beth picI think my secret dream is to be more than I am – to have powers and abilities at my disposal – and so that is what I write about. In this case, the Sirens came to mind because I was teaching The Odyssey, and had thought more than once that they really deserved more “time” in the epic poem. I mean, Odysseus passes them unscathed, and they are just left there. But how did they get there? What do they really want? What is it like to be able to seduce men in that way? All of those questions nagged at me, and I had to tackle them. But I wanted them here, in our time, so that teenagers could relate to them. Hence, the human “thing”.

What mythical creature would you be if you had a choice?

Can I be a goddess? Of course I can! Yes, a goddess who is strong, brave and beautiful. And of course I would like the ability to fly, change shape and live forever. A unicorn wouldn’t be bad, either, because they are beautiful, shimmery and magical. And of course, if I could be a Siren from my book, I would choose that as well.

I cheated and chose three. But as a goddess, I can do that. ?

Where is your favorite place to write?

At my kitchen table, with my family occupied in other areas of the house. I prefer it quiet, with maybe music in the background.

Who inspired you to be a writer?

I’ve read voraciously my entire life, and have always appreciated the craft of writing, but worried my ideas might be overdone. One year, at the DC Book Festival, I heard Neil Gaiman speak. He said that someone once asked him if he was worried the novel he was working on was just another telling of The Jungle Book.He said that he was not worried at all, because he hadn’t told his version of The Jungle Book yet. And now, we have The Graveyard Book as a result. That gave me the confidence I needed to go ahead and start writing.

But the reality is that every author I’ve ever read has inspired me to be a writer. The way they craft their words, and create their stories has been an inspiration.

When will we be reading another one of your books? Will you be exploring more fantasy elements or going into more realism for your next book?

I’m working on my next novel, but it is in the beginning stages. I’m sticking with the fantastical, of course, but going the paranormal route this time. My main character experiences a life-changing event, and is sent to a school for troubled teens. Let’s just say the rehabilitation doesn’t go well. I hope to be finished within the year, and will of course start querying after I’ve polished it!

Remains of Innocence

Remains of Innocence

by J.A. Jance

on Tour August 2014

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery/Detective

Published by: William Morrow

Publication Date: July 22nd 2014

Number of Pages: 400

ISBN: 0062134701 (ISBN13: 9780062134707)

Purchase Links:


Sheriff Joanna Brady must solve two perplexing cases that may be tied together in New York Times bestselling author J. A. Jance’s thrilling tale of suspense that brings to life Arizona’s Cochise County and the desert Southwest in all its beauty and mystery.

An old woman, a hoarder, is dying of emphysema in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. In cleaning out her house, her daughter, Liza Machett, discovers a fortune in hundred dollar bills hidden in the tall stacks of books and magazines that crowd every corner.

Tracing the money’s origins will take Liza on a journey that will end in Cochise County, where Sheriff Joanna Brady is embroiled in a personal mystery of her own. A man she considers a family friend is found dead at the bottom of a hole in a limestone cavern near Bisbee. And now there is the mystery of Liza and the money. Are the two disparate cases connected? It’s up to Joanna to find out.

Author Bio:

A voracious reader, J. A. Jance knew she wanted to be a writer from the moment she read her first Wizard of Oz book in second grade. Always drawn to mysteries, from Nancy Drew right through John D. McDonald’s Travis Magee series, it was only natural that when she tried her hand at writing her first book, it would be a mystery as well.

J. A. Jance went on to become the New York Times bestselling author of the J. P. Beaumont series, the Joanna Brady series, three interrelated thrillers featuring the Walker family, and Edge of Evil. Born in South Dakota and brought up in Bisbee, Arizona, Jance lives with her husband in Seattle, Washington, and Tucson, Arizona.

Catch Up With the Author:

Tour Participants:

Blessed Are the Meek

Blessed are the Meek

by Kristi Belcamino

on Tour August 2014

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense

Published by: Witness

Publication Date: July 29, 2014

Number of Pages:

ISBN: 0062338927

Purchase Links:


A rash of high-profile murders all point to reporter Gabriella Giovanni’s boyfriend, Detective Sean Donovan, when investigators uncover a single link in the deaths: Annalisa Cruz. A decade ago, Cruz seduced Donovan away from a life as a monk, and though their relationship soured long ago … her passion for him has not.

As the investigation continues, it becomes increasingly clear that any man who gets involved with Cruz soon ends up dead, including a dot-com millionaire, the mayor of San Francisco, and a police officer. Donovan, the only man to have dated Cruz and survived, is arrested for the murders and dubbed a jealous ex, leaving Gabriella scrambling to find the real killer without ending up as the next body headed for the morgue.

Gabriella’s search ultimately unearths a dark secret that Donovan had intended to take to the grave. Faced with the knowledge of this terrible truth, Gabriella must tie the past and present together to clear Donovan’s name.

Author Bio:

Kristi Belcamino is a writer, photographer, and artist who also bakes a tasty biscotti. In her former life, as an award-winning crime reporter at newspapers in California, she flew over Big Sur in an FA-18 jet with the Blue Angels, raced a Dodge Viper at Laguna Seca, watched autopsies, and conversed with serial killers. During her decade covering crime, Belcamino wrote and reported about many high-profile cases including the Laci Peterson murder and Chandra Levy disappearance. She has appeared on Inside Edition and local television shows. She now writes fiction and works part-time as a reporter covering the police beat for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Her work has appeared in such prominent publications as Salon, the Miami Herald, San Jose Mercury News, and Chicago Tribune.


Let’s be honest, sometimes the first book is WOW and the second book…meh. So not true in this case! Blessed Are the Meek, like Blessed Are the Dead is a mix of Gabriella’s past and her present. While in Blessed Are the Dead she was involved in an investigation that points to a tragedy in her past, in Blessed Are the Meek she is forced to choose between her obsession with the past and her present love. Nice twist.

Reading Blessed Are the Meek is like riding Space Mountain — since you’re in the dark you don’t know where you’re headed next and even the smallest twist turn leaves you totally confused. And like Space Mountain, as soon as you’re finished you want more. So Kristi I hope you’re busy writing!

Secrets, secrets, secrets. Everyone has them and author Kristi Belcamino is revealing them one character (and book) at a time. I’m enjoyed the delving into the other characters. We sure learned more about Donovan this time around but the character I really enjoyed was Lopez, the photographer. Kristi, if you’re taking requests I would love a book tied to his mysterious past. And you will love the whiplash ending!

If you missed my review of Blessed Are the Dead, you can catch up here.

Catch Up With the Author:

Tour Participants:


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The Jones Men

The Jones Men: 40th Anniversary Edition

by Vern E. Smith

Book Blast on August 4th, 2014

Book Details:

Genre: Crime

Published by: Rosarium Publishing

Publication Date: May 2014

Number of Pages: 264

ISBN: 978-0989141185

Purchase Links:



To become the King, you have to take the crown. It won’t be given up lightly. Heroin kingpin, Willis McDaniel, has been wearing that particular piece of jewelry for far too long, and youngblood, Lennie Jack, thinks it would look really good on his head. When a junkie tells Jack about a big delivery, the young Vietnam vet makes his move. Feeling his empire crumble, McDaniel puts the word out to find whoever’s responsible. The hunt is on, the battle is engaged, and the streets of Detroit run red with blood.

In 1974 Vern E. Smith took the crime fiction world by storm with his debut novel, The Jones Men. Heralded as “a large accomplishment in the art of fiction” by the New York Times, The Jones Men went on to be nominated for an Edgar Award and became a New York Times Notable Book. The art of crime fiction has never been the same since.

Read an excerpt:

For Bennie Lee Sims’ wake, Lennie Jack chose the sky-blue Fleetwood with the chromed-up bumpers and the bar-line running from the trunk to the dash, dispensing six different liquors with chaser.

Joe Red brought the car to a halt in front of Fraser’s Funeral Parlor on Madison Boulevard. He backed it in between a red El Dorado with a diamond-shaped rear window and a pink Lincoln with a leopard-skin roof.

Lennie Jack wore a medium-length Afro and had thick wide sideburns that grew neatly into the ends of a bushy moustache drooping over his top lip. He got out of the passenger seat in a manner that favored his left shoulder. He had on a cream-colored suede coat that stopped just below the knee, and a .38 in his waistband.

Joe Red was shorter and thinner and younger than Lennie Jack. He got his nickname for an extremely light complexion and a thick curly bush of reddish brown hair; it spilled from under the wide-brimmed black hat cocked low over his right ear. He had on the black leather midi with the red-stitched cape; he had a .45 automatic in his waistband.

They came briskly down the sidewalk and went up the six concrete steps to the entrance of Fraser’s.

An attendant in a somber gray suit and dark tie greeted them at the door.

“We’re here for Bennie Sims,” Joe Red said.

“Come this way,” the attendant said.

He guided them down a narrow hallway past a knot of elderly black women waiting to file into one of the viewing rooms flanking the hall on either side. The hallway reeked of death; the women wept.

They passed three more doors before the attendant led them left at the end of the hall and down a short flight of stairs. A single 60-watt bulb illuminated the lower level. The attendant went past the row of ebony- and silver-colored caskets stacked near the staircase and stopped at a door in the back of the room.

“They’re in there,” he said. He turned and headed back up the stairs. Lennie Jack rapped softly at the door. They stood a few feet back from the doorway to be recognizable in the dim light.

The door cracked.

“This Bennie Lee?” Lennie Jack said.

“Yeah, this it,” said a voice behind the crack.

A man with wavy black hair in a white mink jacket and red knicker boots let them in. He relocked the door.

The room smelled of cigarette smoke. A row of silver metal chairs had been stacked in a neat line on one side, but most of the people come to pay their respects were scattered in the back in tight little clusters, talking and laughing.

At the front of the long room, near a small table of champagne bottles, Bennie Lee Sims’ tuxedo-dad body lay in a silver-colored coffin with a bright satin lining.

His face was dusty with a fine white powder.

Lennie Jack walked over to the coffin. He dipped his fingers in the silver tray of cocaine on top and sprinkled it over Bennie Lee.

Joe Red stepped up behind him and tried to find a spot that wasn’t covered. He finally decided on the lips and scattered a handful of the fine white crystalline powder around Bennie Lee’s mouth and chin.

They moved through the crowd, shaking hands and greeting people. Almost everybody had come to see Bennie Lee off.

The Ware brothers were there: Willie, the oldest at twenty-four; Simmy, who was twenty; and June, who often swaggered as if he were the elder of the clan but still had the baby-smooth face and look of wide- eyed adolescence. He was seventeen.

Pretty Boy Sam was standing in one corner with his right foot resting on one of the metal chairs. He had smooth brown skin and almost girlish features, topped off by a pointed Van Dyke beard. His good looks masked a violent temper.

Pretty Boy Sam had worn his full-length brown mink and brought his woman to pay his respects to Bennie Lee Sims, who had two neat bullet holes right between the eyes and underneath all the cocaine on his face.

Slim Williams was there with his woman. He was a tall, thin dark-skinned man whose left eye had been destroyed by an errant shotgun blast. He now wore a variety of gaily colored eye patches the way he had heard Sammy Davis did when he lost his eye. He had on a patch of bright green and red plaid and stood conversing on one side of the room with Hooker, Woody Woods, and Mack Lee.

Willis McDaniel was not there, but then, he never came. He had probably never considered it, but it was a source of irritation to the others.

Joe Red said, “Hey Jack, he the man. He don’t hafta come see nobody off if he don’t wanta come. Ain’t none of these people thinkin’ bout makin’ him come. Who gon make him come?”

“Why he can’t come like the rest of the people?” Lennie Jack said. “Has anybody ever thought of that, you reckon? He too big now to bring his ass out here to see a dude off? He probably had him ripped anyway. I don’t understand how these chumps let an old man like that just get in there and rule.”

“Now we both know how he got it,” Joe Red said. “He took it. He say, ‘Look, I’m gon be the man on this side of town cause I got my thing together and I got plenty big shit behind me. Now what you motherfuckers say?’ Everybody say, ‘You the man, Mister McDaniel.’ That’s the way he did it.”

“That is the way to take it from him, too.” Lennie Jack said. “We gon get lucky pretty soon. I think he can be had and I know just the way to do it. I got some people working on it. The first thing they teach you in the war is to fight fire with fire, you know?”

He took the tiny gold spoon on the chain around his neck and scooped a pinch of cocaine off the tray Joe Red handed him. He brought the spoon up to his right nostril and sniffed deeply.

The crowd was beginning to drift to the corner of the room where Slim Williams was holding court. Slim was thirty-seven, and much older than most of his audience. Lennie Jack was twenty-six, and Joe Red had just turned twenty-one three days ago.

Slim Williams had diamond rings on three fingers of his left hand, and he was waving them around in a dazzling display and talking about Joe the Grind.

“Joe used to walk into a bar with his dudes with him–he always carried these two dudes with him everywhere he went. He’d walk into a place fulla people and say, ‘I’m Joe the Grind, set up the bar! All pimps and players step up to the bar and bring your whores with you.’”

Slim Williams chuckled. “Then Joe would talk about ‘em. He used to say, ‘You ain’t no pimp, nigger. What you doin’ up here? I ain’t buying no drinks for you. Sit down!’”

Slim Williams laughed; so did everybody else.

“Joe used to rayfield a chump bag dude too,” Slim Williams said. “He used to tell ‘em ‘Just cause you got eight or nine hundred dollars worth of business don’t mean you somebody.’ Then Joe would throw a roll down that’d choke a Goddamn mule and tell the chump: ‘Looka here boy, I just had my man sell forty-two thousand dollars worth of heh-rawn, and I got twenty more joints to hear from fore midnight. Gon sit down somewhere, you don’t belong up here with no big dope men.”

They laughed again and somebody passed the coke tray.

June Ware took his pinch and squared his toes in the eighty-dollar calfskin boots from Australia, via Perrin’s Men’s Shoppe on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

“What happened to Joe, Slim?” June Ware said.

“Oh, somebody shot ‘im in the head in an after-hours joint,” Slim Williams said. “And lemme tell you, youall shoulda been there to see Joe’s wake. It put this thing to shame. Compared to Joe’s, this thing ain’t nothing. This light-weight. They say there was coke in the block wrapped in foil and pure heh-rawn set out on silver trays with diamonds in the sides.

“So they partied all night till twelve the next day, then they all went to Joe’s funeral. After the funeral was over, everybody got on the plane with his woman and went to Jamaica for two days.”

“Say what?” June Ware said.

“Yeah, that’s the truth,” Slim Williams said. “And you shoulda seen that funeral too. They say a broad came over from Chicago in a white-on-white El Dorado, and she was dressed in all white with a bad-ass mink round her shoulders. Then when she came out of the hotel the next day for Joe’s funeral, they say she was in all black. She went to the graveyard and threw one hundred roses on Joe. Then she got in her ride and split. Don’t nobody know who she was. When they had Joe’s funeral march, there was one hundred fifty big pieces lined up for blocks down Madison Boulevard. They pulled a brand new Brough-ham behind the hearse, and when the march was over they took the car out to the trash yard and crushed it.”

“Goddamn Slim!” June Ware said.

Mack Lee, who was twenty-two years old and decked out from the top of his big apple hat to the tip of his leather platforms in bright lavender, came their way with his woman on his arm.

The woman looked about nineteen; she wore diamond-studded earrings and a matching bracelet. She carried a tray of glasses and an unopened bottle of champagne.

“We oughta drink a toast to Bennie Lee,” Mack Lee said, “and ask the Lord how come he made him so stupid.”

The laughter rippled through the room; Mack Lee popped the cork in the champagne bottle and poured the rounds.


Author Bio:

A native of Natchez, Miss., Smith is a graduate of San Francisco State University, and the Summer Program for Minority Journalists at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He began his journalism career as a reporter for the Long Beach, Calif. Independent Press-Telegram.

From 1979 until 2002, Smith served as the Atlanta Bureau Chief and as a national correspondent for Newsweek.

Vern Smith’s work as a journalist, author and screenwriter spans four decades.

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