Dana Mentink

Summer Task List–Nailed it!

Let me preface by saying that I have only recently retired from teaching elementary school. Perhaps my former career explains my seasonal need to ACCOMPLISH THINGS before the arrival of fall! Summer time was always the precious few months where I attempted to complete all manner of important tasks that not were not addressed in the busier times when I was up to my ears in third graders. Though I am not teaching these days, I still feel the need to “get cracka lackin’” as my previous principal would say. To that end, I set myself some lofty goals for this past summer. As we launch into September, it’s time to give myself a report card. Take a look at how I did!

  1. Clean out the closet. I have this problem, you see. It’s called a walk-in closet. Unfortunately, my closet is also the location for my giant book collection. This encompasses books I cannot part with (childhood favorites like George and Martha, remember those hippos?) and also boxes of my own books which my publisher kindly sends me for distribution and giveaways and such. Amazing stuff, but this space is also supposed to hold my clothes and shoes and things. So I determined that by gum I was going to bring some order to this out of control space. Did I do that? No, but I did manage to add several amazing books to my personal collection. Reading more books? That’s a win for me that trumps the clean closet project.
  2. Spend more time with family. I was mega excited when the shelter in place orders were finallydropped here in Northern, California. I cautiously ventured out and tried to see everyone whom I had not visited since the virus that shall not be named descended on our world. Friends? Check. Family? As best we could. Even some former co-workers? You bet! I had many more plans in place when that variant that shall not be named landed on Planet Earth. Dad burn it! So that task was only partially accomplished, but I did manage to make an online family with a group of amazing authors who contributed to a novella collection. BOY have we spent a lot of time together! On screen, mind you, but it’s better than nothing, right?
  3. Learn something practical….like Spanish. I have always wanted to acquire some handy life skills. Since both my parents are Spanish speakers, why not try to actually progress beyond my dismal high school mastery? And online classes abound now, so what could be easier? Ummm, the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. I just couldn’t seem to make it happen. I did, however, manage to attend an online mystery conference. Practical life skills? Zero. Fun mystery talk with other authors? Check!

All in all, I failed to complete every one of my tasks, but I did manage to accomplish several things in spite of myself! How about you? What did you, or did you not, tackle this summer?


Jennifer Pierce

Excerpt from Deadly Connection

Reid Lucas looked at his text message again. SOS. SUNRISE AT SUNRISE.

Joe Lockhart had sent Reid an urgent message to meet and had even provided an address. Reid’s knee bounced under the table. He’d been sitting in the Sunrise Café since they opened at six. It’d been an hour, and Joe still hadn’t shown up. Or contacted him. Reid had sent a couple of texts and tried to call. No responses and straight to voice mail. He’d give Joe a few more minutes and then be on his way.

Good thing the diner that had been chosen employed a wide range of characters. He’d spent his time watching everyone. He cast another glance at the front door, hoping to see Joe. The only person he saw was the busboy, who was busy wiping down a table. His hands shook, and he kept wiping at his nose. He was displaying other jerky movements. What was his poison? Meth? Cocaine?

Whatever it was, it wasn’t bad enough for him to steal the tip that had been left. The lady manning the cash register watched him the entire time. She pulled a cup from under the counter and walked to the table as he finished up. She smiled sweetly, put the cup in his dish bin, and then swiped the tip with her other hand before flouncing back to the register.

Moments later, the waitress made a stop at the table and frowned when she didn’t see a tip. She was attractive—strawberry-blonde hair pulled into a ponytail at the base of her neck, green eyes that lit up every time she laughed, and full lips. She was also friendly and courteous to the customers, even the ones that didn’t deserve it.

The older man two booths in front of him had sent his breakfast back three times. Reid would have told him to go home and cook his own meal the second time. But not her. She took it back, smiling each time, ignoring the foul language he spewed.

After his meeting with Joe, Reid would be sure to leave a generous tip, making sure to hand it directly to her. She definitely deserved it. He checked his watch for the umpteenth time since he had gotten here and then drummed his fingers on the tabletop. It wasn’t unlike Joe to be late, but to be this late and without some sort of contact was definitely not like him.

The bell over the door chimed, and he looked up, hoping it was Joe. Instead, a boy, maybe six years old with an unruly mop of red hair, raced to the counter and plopped down on one of the stools, throwing his backpack on the floor beside him. The waitress reached across the counter, trying to tame the boy’s hair.

“Mooooom,” he yelped in embarrassment.

She took her hand away and filled a glass with orange juice before placing it in front of him.

Reid’s phone vibrated on the tabletop. He didn’t recognize the number. He contemplated ignoring it but decided against it. He swiped the screen and put it to his ear. “Reid.”

“Are you at the meet?” Joe’s voice boomed from the other side.

“Where are you? I’ve been waiting over an hour.” Reid let his annoyance be evident in his voice.

“I’m not coming.” The answer was clipped.

“You had me sit in this hole-in-the-wall for an hour and didn’t even bother to call and tell me you weren’t going to make it?” Annoyance turned to anger as he clenched his fist.

“Do you see the waitress behind the counter and the little red-haired boy that just ran in? Quinn Matthews and her son, JJ.”

Joe must be close by and watching if he knew the boy had just shown up.

“Yes, I see them. Along with the druggie busboy, thieving cashier, and ogling cook. What about them?”

“You have five minutes to get them out of there before men come in and try to kidnap them.”

“Five minutes! What is this? What’s going on, Joe?” His pulse pounded as adrenaline coursed through his veins. Joe couldn’t have called to have him get her out sooner. Now, the window of time was dwindling.

“There’s no time to explain. They’re here now. I’ll stall them as long as I can. Get those two out now!” The line went dead.

Great. Just great. He had mere minutes to convince that woman to grab her son and leave with him—a complete stranger. He wasn’t sure his rusty powers of persuasion would work this time, but he’d give it a shot. Joe had saved him several times, and he’d returned the favor on occasion. This was serious business, and Joe trusted him. Reid wouldn’t let him down.

Reid gulped his coffee, burning his mouth and throat, stood, and took the cup to the waitress, who was studying her son as he shoveled eggs into his mouth by the spoonful. A commotion outside the door caught her attention. A black SUV with dark tinted windows was parked in front of the diner. Two large, intimidating men stepped from it. Joe stepped in front of them and wildly waved his arms.

Reid’s chest tightened as urgency propelled him to step between her and the activity outside. He held his empty cup out. “Excuse me?”

“Oh no. I let your cup get empty. Let me grab the coffeepot.” Her cheeks tinged pink.

“It’s not that,” he said, trying to look as embarrassed as she did. “I made a mess with my coffee.”

“That’s okay. Let me grab a towel, and I’ll be right there to clean it up.”

He turned his attention to JJ, who had just crammed an entire slice of toast into his mouth. “Hey there, champ.”

“Hemffo.” The boy tried to speak around the soggy bread.

“JJ, what have I told you about talking with food in your mouth?”

He shrugged and took a swig of his juice to wash it down. “Sorry, Momma.”

“That’s quite all right, ma’am.” Reid turned his attention to JJ. “You look like you could fit under one of those booths. When I knocked my coffee over, I dropped my cell phone under the table. Now, I can’t find it, and I’m too big to crawl under there. Do you think you could look for it while your mom helps me clean up my mess?”

“Yes, sir.” Not only was he willing to help a stranger; he was polite, too.

Reid let Quinn lead the way, JJ followed her, and he brought up the rear, keeping himself as a shield. She got within sight of the booth and spun, then stepped between him and JJ. “Look. I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, but we won’t be a part of it. Now, you need to pay your tab and leave.”

He lowered his voice, hoping she wouldn’t bring attention to them. “It’s no game. I had to get you and the boy away from the front door.”

She started inching backward. JJ tried to peek around her, but she shoved him behind her. She looked over her shoulder at the small supply closet by the bathroom. Thanks to his hour wait and observation skills, he knew there was a door that would lead to the alley. That’s how he planned to get them out.

He could see the fear in her eyes, so he raised his hands in front of him in a gesture of surrender. “I’m not going to hurt you. My name is Reid Lucas. I’m a private investigator, and I have credible information that you’re in danger. Someone is going to walk through that door and try to kidnap you and your son.”

“No offense, but I don’t believe you.” She jutted her chin.

The bell over the entrance rang, and she leaned around Reid. “Welcome to Sunrise Café. How may I help you?”

Reid turned and recognized the man as one of the men from the black SUV. His stomach tightened. Time was up.

Not bothering to remove his sunglasses, the man scanned the diner, and his gaze stopped on her. Then, he started walking toward them while reaching into his coat pocket. When he pulled his hand out, he held a dark, shiny gun. “You and the boy are coming with me.”


Kathleen J. Robison

Don’t run out of gas!

Do you remember running races as a kid? Eyes on the prize, heading for the finish line? Whether for fun or actual competition, parents often cheered us on. Do you remember wanting their approval?  Whether it’s sports, academics, music, drama, or anything else, I think we’ve all craved experiencing that puffed chest and shiny-faced grin endorsing our accomplishments. I did, and it was readily forthcoming as a child. But what about when we got older? Maybe we still seek it, even as adults, in our careers or homelife.

In Revived Hope, the prequel to previously released Shattered Guilt, Melanie Thompson is becoming an accomplished, goal-oriented businesswoman with the help of her parents, who mean the world to her. The problem is that she can’t seem to shake the remorse of her foolish choices in high school that resulted in estrangement from them. Although they’ve long since reconciled, Melanie still strives to win her parents’ approval and comes to realize that she’s had it all the time.

The character Melanie isn’t me, but her dad is loosely based on my father. I was fascinated with his life, and he inspired me with his dreams. Likewise, he was my biggest fan, and for me, it was in sports. In high school, I was on the swim team, and although neither of my parents made it to my meets, they’d wait patiently for my return in the evenings to see what ribbons or medals I brought home. Fortunately, Huntington Beach High School had a winning team, and I never returned home without a gold, silver, or bronze. Seeing Daddy and Mama’s faces when I walked in the door were all the accolades I needed. They were proud.

Melanie’s father in Revived Hope was also proud of her, and I had fun developing that theme. It took nine years to write Shattered Guilt, and I had so much backstory that I could have written another book. And I did. When my publisher asked for a short story for the Bay Town Series, it only made sense that I would write Melanie’s story. But the short story turned into a novella, and had I had more time, it probably could have been an entire novel. Still, you never know where all those deleted suspenseful themes and sub-plots might show up.

Although in Revived Hope, Melanie faces severe threats and unexpected trials, my favorite element is her relationship with her father, Rick. She seeks him for guidance and values his opinions. And yet holds back in areas that might not garner his approval or cause him distress, not realizing that she doesn’t have complete control over every situation. Still, she learns from him what it is to trust God in the darkest hour.

I have so many fond memories of my own dad. He did, in fact, make it to a swim meet once, my most extraordinary one that was held on a Saturday. We lived in Singapore at the time, and I was in the National School’s Swim Competition. Local, British, Australian, American (mine), and International Schools. There were three heats in the 50 Meter Freestyle event, and I finished high enough in mine to qualify for the final.

Singapore’s one Olympic swimmer was in that final. The joke was that she would finish her sprint and be out of the pool before the rest of us made it off the blocks. That was pretty accurate, and it was my only consolation for finishing dead last. Ironically, my kids got tired of me retelling that story this summer when we watched the Tokyo Olympics.

Following that race, I walked straight to my father, and he wore a smile, but it wasn’t a shiny-faced one. He chuckled and hugged me, all the same, but commented, “Kathy, you looked like you ran out of gas.”

Those words are quite different from the ones I hope to hear when I reach heaven one day, and I’m so thankful that God’s approval doesn’t depend on my own efforts. Knowing that He sees me through the eyes of Jesus is a huge relief. Whether I finish a race first or last, as long as I finish it for His glory, I can rest in that.

My parents inspired the virtues of Melanie’s mother and father. When I recall my father’s subtle lessons, I also remember his dreams and desires that bring sweet and sometimes bittersweet memories. They all helped shaped Rick in Revived Hope. But the thing I’d wished my father and I had shared was faith. Maybe that’s why I wrote the relationship between Melanie and her father, Rick, based heavily on their trust in God.

Although my father came to know Jesus in his old age as his Savior, he didn’t have the joy of knowing Jesus as Lord throughout his lifetime. But my father is now sharing in the glory of being a righteous child of God, in Christ Jesus. And that’s all that matters. Daddy finished the race, and he didn’t run out of gas!