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TSI: THE GABON VIRUS By PAUL McCUSKER & WALT LARIMORE, M.D.- FIRST CHAPTER

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 authors are:



and the book:

Howard Books (August 18, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHORs:






Paul McCusker is a Peabody Award-winning writer and director who has written novels, plays, audio dramas, and musicals for children and adults. He currently has over thirty books in print. He lives in Colorado Springs, CO.

Visit the author's website.





Walt Larimore, M.D., is a noted physician, award-winning writer, and medical journalist who hosted the cable television show on Fox’s Health Network, Ask the Family Physician. He lives in Monument, Colorado.

Visit the author's website.


Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (August 18, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416569715
ISBN-13: 978-1416569718

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Time Scene Investigators:

The Eyam Factor




Paul McCusker

And

Walt Larimore, M.D.





[Refer to P4P regarding inclusion of purpose statement.]

Our purpose at Howard Books is to:

Increase faith in the hearts of growing Christians
Inspire holiness in the lives of believers
Instill hope in the hearts of struggling people everywhere
Because He’s coming again!


[Howard Fiction Logo] Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

www.howardpublishing.com


The Eyam Factor © 2009 Paul McCusker and Walt Larimore, M.D.


All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Howard Subsidiary Rights Department, Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.


[Add agent line here, if applicable]


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data TK


ISBN-13: 9781416569718

ISBN-10: 1416569715



10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


HOWARD and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


Manufactured in TK


For information regarding special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact: Simon & Schuster Special Sales at 1-800-456-6798 or business@simonandschuster.com.


Edited by TK

Cover design by TK

Interior design by TK


This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or publisher.










DEDICATION


To Elizabeth, Tommy, and Ellie—for their love and patience.

To Barb— for her lifetime of love

.





PART ONE









[July 15, 1666]

REBEKAH SMYTHE LOOKED DOWN AT HER BROTHER’S LIFELESS BODY, his eyes staring vacantly toward the heaven he had hoped and prayed to inhabit. With a pale and trembling hand, she reached down and closed his eyelids.

She had done the same for her father and three of her sisters—all lying so still now in their shallow graves not far from their home; so silent after their days of suffering and anguish. She could not weep for them. Her tears were spent long ago.

She looked at the makeshift cots on which her mother and youngest sister slept fitfully. They had come down with the symptoms just two days earlier. She dared not hold out hope for their survival. In another day or two, if all went as it had for the rest of her family, they’d be gone and she’d be alone. Alone.

By the grace of God, she had resisted the illness. Yet, the outcome of her survival would be loneliness. In her darker moments, she wondered how far God’s grace could carry her.

Agnes Hull, who lived in the next cottage down, had also survived the plague and claimed that the warm bacon fat she drank was the reason. She left bottles of the wretched liquid at the doors of afflicted families, but unfortunately, it didn’t work for Rebekah’s family.

John Dicken, who worked in the local mines, was also a survivor. Believing himself to be immune, he had established himself as the village gravedigger. He would offer his services the instant he’d heard of another victim. After burying the body away from town, he would return to claim the burial fee—reportedly taking whatever he fancied. Most were too sick to stop him. Besides, what use was their money if they were dead? Few of the men were well enough to take the job from Dicken, and it wasn’t as if anyone new would arrive to challenge him. After all, the village was under a strict quarantine.

Rebekah sat on a stool, staring at the fire. The large black kettle bubbled and boiled. Using a pair of large tongs, she moved the kettle to a small table, pouring the steaming water into a pot. The tea leaves were old, but all she had. She didn’t think of pouring a cup for her mother and sister—they wouldn’t taste it anyway.

Pushing a lock of hair away from her face, she was overcome by a feeling of self-pity. How had it come to this? Who could have foreseen last September that something as unassuming as a box of cloth from London would start such an epidemic? Mr. George Viccars, a traveling tailor, certainly couldn’t have. As he opened the box—wet from a rainstorm—and laid the cloth out to dry, he could not have imagined what he was unleashing upon them all. Within a day, he developed the telltale symptoms of rose-colored spots on his skin and quickly died.

The Earl, the village’s patron, sent his personal physician from the castle to examine the tailor’s body. The doctor’s diagnosis was Black Plague. It had arrived in Eyam.

And so began a year of terror.

The village had rallied together. Catherine Mompesson, the vicar’s wife, bravely visited the sick families. Ignoring the risk to herself and her family, she had brought words of comfort and a bouquet of sweet-smelling posies, believing it would ward off the stench of disease.

As she sipped her tea, Rebekah thought about the rhyme sung by local children:

Ring a-ring o' roses,

A pocketful of posies.

a-tishoo! a-tishoo!

We all fall down.

The rhyme went through her mind again and again—

The knock on the door startled her. Few of the villagers would be out and about at this late hour. Perhaps it was the vicar’s wife or the gravedigger.

She stood and crossed the room to the door. Her hand was poised above the latch when it occurred to her who might be calling.

Him.

Despite the still warm air of the summer night, she felt a chill go down her spine.

The Monk.

He came to the families to aid the sick, comfort the dying, and offer peace to the grieving. The women of the village spoke of him as an angel of light. The men called him a demon, unnerved as they were by the mysterious way in which he appeared and disappeared into thin air. Worse was his appearance. Rebekah had not seen it for herself, but the village gossips claimed that beneath his monk’s cowl, he had skin the color of deep water. Blue, they said. The monk’s skin was blue. A curse, the men said.

She could not believe that a man of God, one so merciful and compassionate, could be cursed.

She lifted the latch and opened the door.









[August 10. The Present.]

THE BLACKHAWK HELICOPTER DESCENDED toward a small flat outcropping near the top of the icy cliff. It had no markings on its matte black paint, an exterior designed to absorb radar signals.

From inside the helicopter, Army Brigadier General Sam Mosley gazed at the frozen valley below—a vast expanse of ice that stretched between two distant mountain peaks. To the untrained eye, it was a wasteland, but the general knew better. What appeared to be a series of ripples in the valley’s floor were actually roofs and camouflage for a large, underground collection of buildings. “The Bunker,” they called it; the only inhabited facility for hundreds of miles.

Icy particles sprang up like a cloud of dust as the chopper nestled onto the snowy pad. This was the emergency landing site, a mile from the regular pad much closer to the facility. The pilot cut the whisper-soft engine.

Mosley swallowed, forcing back the acidic taste in his throat. Was it fear? No, this was the taste of grim determination—the bitter and offensive bile of a tragic duty to perform.

As the ice-cloud dispersed, the general looked across the endless white and remembered the champagne celebration they’d had on the day the scheme to build this laboratory was approved. It seemed like genius—or madness—at the time. Imagine building a lab in the middle of Greenland. Yet all the risk assessments told them the site had the highest probability of safety. Only Mark Carlson, the architect of the entire plan, had expressed doubts. “We’re arrogant,” he said in private, late night meetings. Often the argument took place over day-old Chinese meals. “Eventually we’ll create something that we can’t contain; something that’s too potent. Nature always finds a way of escape. It doesn’t matter how far in the ice we dig.”

Mosley turned to the cockpit. The pilot took off his helmet. “Well?”

“Okay to disembark, General.”

Sam nodded. “Thanks, Tom. Excellent job, as always.”

“We couldn’t have hoped for a better day,” the pilot said. “The weathermen at The Hague said the conditions would be perfect.”

“Glad they got it right for once.”

Nervous chitchat, Mosley thought. He looked out at the snow and ice and frowned and sighed.

“We don’t have much time, General,” the pilot said.

“No, we don’t.”

“Would you like me to come with you?” the pilot asked.

Sam shook his head. “Better that I do this alone.” He climbed out of his seat and moved to the rear of the cabin. He dressed quickly and quietly donning a bright orange suit designed to protect him to fifty degrees below zero.

He glanced at the second suit—the name Mark Carlson was stitched onto the left breast. The thought of Mark gave him pause. Mark should be here. But that would have been too much to ask. Four years of Mark’s life had gone into making this complex a reality. He’d lost a lot in the process: a wife and a child. Some believed he was now damaged goods as a result of those losses. Sam hadn’t wanted to believe it and continually gave Mark the benefit of the doubt. And yet, he hadn’t invited Mark to this occasion. Why risk pushing him over the edge?

The general put his head cover on last, to give added protection to his face and eyes. Certain he was thoroughly protected; Sam threw open door and stepped out.

A sledgehammer of frigid air hit him. He braced himself against the side of the helicopter, then reached up to the door, but the pilot was already there, sliding it closed. The two men exchanged glances and the Mosley noticed he was wearing a compact Glock 36 pistol holstered to his belt. A precaution. Just a precaution. He bowed to the elements and pressed ahead, ankle-deep in a powdery snow that sparkled like kindergarten craft glitter.

The wind made a mournful sound as he walked toward the edge of the cliff. Sam clenched his teeth—not against the cold—but out of a brutal resolve. He stopped and surveyed the scene once more. As a soldier, he hated these moments. As a general, he knew the responsibility was his. As a physician, this action went against everything he believed—against the oath he had sworn when he finished medical school. He searched for comfort in the sad thought that the people below were already dead.

He reached into his pocket and retrieved a small black cell phone. Opening the protective cover, he carefully punched in a sequence of numbers. When he came to the last number, he hesitated and glanced back at the helicopter. He saw the pilot through a slim open crack at the Blackhawk’s door and knew the pilot had orders to shoot him if he showed any hesitation or attempted to deviate from the plan in any way. The Glock only held six rounds, but one .45 caliber bullet was all that an expert shooter needed to kill him instantly.

Sam’s gloved thumb pressed the final digit and he cursed himself. This was their plan of last resort—the one the experts and the computer models had always said couldn’t happen—wouldn’t happen. They had insisted the lab was foolproof, A breach of its safeguards and a failure to contain its virus was unimaginable. Yet the unimaginable had happened—and now Sam had to do the very thing he’d assured Mark they’d never have to do. From the corner of his eye, he saw the Blackhawk’s door open wider. He was taking too long. The pilot was probably taking aim even now.

The general moved his thumb to the Send button and turned toward the complex. Critical life-saving work had gone on in that lab. Years of effort. Its potential had been so great, yet so unfulfilled, and now there’d be nothing but terrible loss.

With a defiant gesture, he pressed the button. At first nothing happened. Then, far below, the ground heaved in the center of the complex, rising as if a fist punched the underside of the ice, growing larger and higher until the white earth burst open with an explosive roar.

Mosley stepped back. The ice—and everything that had been the bunker—blew upward, followed by a massive fireball. The concussive blast hit him; a surprisingly strong wave nearly knocked him off his feet. He fought it, balancing forward.

In less than half a minute everything was calm again. The secret lab had been incinerated—along with its entire staff and an untold amount of data about all things viral.

Sam stood frozen, his gloved hands clenched. “It had to be done,” he said to no one. Turning on his heel, he walked toward the helicopter. He could only hope that the virus had been completely destroyed.

If even one viral particle had survived, it was possible that the world would not.





[August 11]

THE METAL CORRUGATED ROOF CAUGHT THE BLISTERING AFRICAN HEAT and pushed it downward, past the wobbling ceiling fans, to the meeting room below. The air was heavy with humidity. Even the gathering flies moved sluggishly, lazily, as if weighted by the muggy atmosphere.

David sat on a chair in the center of the small makeshift stage at the head of the room. From here, he could see it all: the flies and the horror before him. He scanned the room. No movement. He turned his head to look out of an open window, out to the compound.

For all intents and purposes, it looked like an average African village—a dirt road down the middle and pathways lined with wooden huts, metal shacks, and a few makeshift cottages. A gray cement maintenance shed sat in the center of the compound with donated equipment and supplies to provide them with running water and, at least for a few hours a day, electricity.

Beyond that shed were the schoolhouse and the cafeteria. The workhouse, with the many sewing machines the women used to make the clothing that helped subsidize their community, sat off to the side. A few yards from there, alone and away from the rest of the structures, was David’s single-room main office. Through the trees, he could see its flat roof and the small satellite dish mounted on a corner.

David’s hands hovered above the laptop resting on his lap. A small icon on the screen told him that he had a strong signal and full access to the Internet thanks to that satellite dish—a dish that he’d fought against installing. It was yet another connection to a corrupt and depraved world—a world he had struggled so hard to escape.

Why else would he create a commune in Gabon, of all places? Certainly not to replicate his life in America. This had been a chance for him, his family, and his congregation to break free. But his no-contact rule backfired when Hank Hillier came down with malaria earlier in the year. Malaria was a common malady and easily treated, but Hank’s had gone to his brain and he developed a near-fatal case of meningitis. Only by the grace of God were they able to contact a local missionary pilot and transport him 150 miles to a specialty hospital in Lambaréné. It was a close call that left him and his congregation nervous about their isolation.

With great reluctance David agreed to install the dish and hardware. Just in time, too. Not long afterward, Sarah McFerran was stricken with appendicitis and, with a single e-mail, they got her airlifted to the pediatric hospital in Libreville.

Both Hank and Sarah lay dead in the collection of bodies before him, and now David would use the satellite dish to send out his last words—not as a cry for help, but to ask for forgiveness.

He groaned and rubbed his tired eyes, squeezing them shut. How did it come to this? How did he get from being a very trendy atheist in college, proud of his intellect, relishing his militant cynicism against any and all believers in God, to the counter-cultural pastor of a Christian commune in the middle of a vast African jungle?

No doubt, when their bodies were finally discovered, the press would pore over the details of his life in a vain attempt to answer that question.

They would simplify the complexities of his faith and conviction; gloss over the corruptions and decadence of American culture that drove him to take his family and congregation to Gabon; and caricature them all as mindless cult members, rather than the thriving and rigorous group of disciples they truly were.

He ached to think of it, and he closed his eyes as he thought of his missteps, his misguided idealism and, in the end, his business naiveté that put the community on the edge of financial ruin and sent him into the arms of The Corporation for help.

The Corporation. They had seemed like an answer to his prayers. The representatives expressed genuine interest in David’s hope and vision, and they were persuasive, offering David a ludicrous amount of money in exchange for some help and cooperation. It had appeared so simple and safe. Only his wife Rachel expressed any deep concern. Something in her heart told her it was wrong. “It doesn’t feel right,” she had warned, but couldn’t explain why.

David looked at the bodies closest to the stage. Rachel was there—along with his two young, precious daughters and his teen-age son—the front edge of a sea of corpses.

The altar sat a few feet from David. It had been hand-carved from an ancient oak tree that had fallen outside David’s first church—such a long time ago. A wooden chalice beckoned him. A scrap of bread sat on the wooden plate next to the chalice. There was just enough left for him.

David looked down at the laptop computer. He blinked. His eyes burned. He began to type. This was his final confession. A last e-mail to his father—a man who never accepted or affirmed him, much less ever indicated he loved him. What a surprise it would be. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d spoken to his father. They were never close.

David began to type. He was determined not to write with sentimentality or melodrama. He recounted in the simplest terms his hopes and dreams with Rachel and how he believed, as a matter of faith, that their community was created to help save mankind, both spiritually and physically. Lofty goals, but attainable. Even now, David believed they could have succeeded if only he had been wiser and more discerning—if only he’d listened to Rachel—if only he hadn’t shaken hands with the Devil.

Now it was all undone. A failure of the greatest kind. A tragedy, just as Rachel had predicted. So now David concluded his e-mail by asking his father’s for forgiveness. It was the last thing he needed to do—the most important thing left to do.

A harsh squawk drew David’s attention to the back door. A vulture landed in the courtyard. Then another. They knew. They were gathering. Soon, there would be no stopping them. Soon, his compound would contain a congregation of scavengers.

David’s eyes filled with tears as he shook off the thought of what would happen to the dead bodies strewn across the meeting-room floor. What were they but empty vessels? God had secured their souls. His gaze fell again upon the men and women, boys and girls who’d put their trust in his leadership.

That morning they had each taken communion, knowing it would be their last. After praying together, they lay down, and went to sleep. David was happy they all went peacefully.

And now, it was his turn.

He finished the note to his father:

We were wrong, Dad. Now it’s cost me my dream, my family, my community, and my life.

It may be a very long time before we are found, since none of the local tribe members come to our compound unless we invite them. I am afraid there will be a cover-up if The Corporation finds us first. That is why I am writing to you. If you can do anything to prevent this evil from spreading, in the name of God, do it.

I love you, Dad. I pray that God will touch you—and you’ll accept Him—so we’ll be reunited in heaven. I’ll be waiting there for you.

Your son, David

He reread the e-mail, knowing there was so much more to say. He pressed the send button. A box popped up, confirming its passage. He leaned back and sighed.

With little energy, he turned off the computer, stood, and approached the altar. He was surprised at the sweet aroma. He looked at the flowers on the altar. I don’t remember the orchids smelling so wonderful. He inhaled the fragrance deeply, then dropped to his knees, his hands pressing against the smooth oak.

A prayer from his days as an altar boy welled up in his memory. “Father of mercies and God of all comfort, our help in time of need, we fly unto thee for succor in behalf of this thy servant . . .” He couldn’t remember the rest of this ancient prayer. So, he drank the last of the poison in the cup. God grant that, in this death, there may be true life eternal.

The poison would work quickly, so he rose and went to his family. Rachel’s arm was thrown over her face, as if she had decided not to watch what would unfold. The girls’ dead eyes stared at nothing—their expressions serene. Aaron was on the floor, his face turned away and pressed into the crook of his arm.

David kissed his wife, but couldn’t bring himself to do the same to his children. Taking his place next to her, he reached over and pulled her close, his eye-catching sight of the telltale red splotches on her arm. Then, as if he needed one last confirmation, he looked at his own arm.

Yes—they were there.

Perhaps he would be vindicated after all. Perhaps they had stopped the horror from spreading.

The numbing poison-induced sleep came over him like a soft blanket. He closed his eyes. Into Thy hands I commit my . . .

And then he heard a voice.

“Dad.”

It came as a whisper.

He opened his eyes. His son Aaron stood over him. David attempted a smile, remembering the stories of others who’d come this way before—of the long tunnel with the bright light—of family members returning to walk “over” with their loved one, and there to greet him was his boy looking as he had not an hour ago, with his sandy blond, buzz-cut hair, and his lean face which had only just lost its boyish roundness as the passage to manhood had begun. It was a passage that David had stolen from him.

David wanted to speak, but couldn’t frame the words. He blinked, trying to clear his eyes.

“I’m sorry, Dad. I’m so sorry,” his son said.

David’s eyes widened, horrified. His son wasn’t an angel. His son was still alive.

“Dad, I’m sorry. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t!” Aaron knelt over him, his eyes wide and wet.

David’s body lay helpless. His paralyzed vocal chords could make no sound; his arms could not reach up. Not even a tear could form. Why was his son alive? Didn’t he know what would happen? He’d been inoculated with the evil along with everyone else. The deadly virus was in his system. His death, inevitable and sure, would be awful.

With a final slow exhalation David knew he had failed—once again.

Darkness circled in his open eyes, moving to the center of his vision, obscuring everything to a single pinpoint as he lost consciousness. Dear God, forgive me.





BRIGADIER GENERAL SAM MOSLEY SETTLED INTO the large leather chair behind his cherrywood desk at The Hague. He swiveled away from the mounds of paperwork awaiting his attention and leaned his head back. He scrubbed his hands over his face, and let out a long breath. He was still weary from the flight back to Holland the previous afternoon.

Damage control. When did my job become nothing but damage control?

He had debriefed his superiors at the Pentagon and the CIA by teleconference. “Mission accomplished,” he’d reported. They had commended him on a job well done. He chewed the inside of his lip and thought, Mission accomplished, yes—if the mission was to bury an unmitigated disaster beneath tons of ice. But what about the cause of the disaster? Whose mission was it to discover that? And whom would they make the scapegoat?

Not me, he decided. Sure, there’d be appearances before top-secret subcommittees to discern what had happened at the laboratory and how to keep it from happening again. And a disaster like this always had budgetary ramifications, but he wouldn’t let them lay the blame on his shoulders.

He groaned and wondered when he’d become such a heartless bureaucrat—thinking about debriefings, subcommittees, budgets, and avoiding blame when so many lives had been lost to the failed experiment.

He had known and worked with some of those scientists for over a decade. They had families who, even now, were receiving the terrible news about their loved ones. Not the full truth, of course. Only a handful of people knew that. But each employee had a detailed cover story. Their cause of death would be explained in noble and heroic terms, as if that would soothe the surviving wives, husbands, sons, and daughters. Hopefully the generous checks they would receive would buy them some comfort.

Sam tried to console himself with the knowledge that the team hadn’t died in vain. They had sacrificed their lives to save untold millions—those who might have died in the future to the fatal viruses with names few in the public sector even knew.

He squinted at a large computer screen on the opposite wall. It displayed a map of the world, with multiple colors indicating outbreaks of viruses and diseases anywhere they had been diagnosed in the past year. Some colors remained constant, others blinked to indicate a new report.

He squinted, tapping a key on the keyboard to highlight any outbreaks of Filoviridae, a family of viruses containing the dreaded Ebola and Marburg viruses. Red dots flickered in parts of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Each dot represented individuals who, even as he sat in the comfort of his office, were dealing with these aggressive and relentless viruses. There were far too many.

Filoviridae were a formidable and fearsome foe. He had seen its effects for himself, seen how the virus moved quickly, passing rapidly from person to person, even spreading through the air to infect those in the immediate vicinity. Unknown to most of the world, the mutations of these viruses were becoming far more dangerous. The chances of regional epidemics—even a worldwide pandemic—increased almost daily. It was only a matter of time before the big one, the Hiroshima of viral outbreaks, would hit some part of the world and begin its horrific spread. Once it began to metastasize, he doubted it could be stopped—unless his teams could find a treatment.

Sam looked away from the map and his eye caught a slip of paper by the phone. The message stated in his assistant’s immaculate handwriting that Mark Carlson had called from a medical symposium in Cairo to find out if there was a conclusion to the Greenland crisis. The message detailed where he could be found only in an emergency. His cell phone would not be working.

There’s a conclusion all right, and you won’t like it.

He held the slip of paper in his hand and dreaded how he would explain to Mark that the lab in Greenland had been compromised—and then been utterly destroyed. How was he expected to drop that into a conversation?

Standing again, he began to pace. What had gone wrong? How had the virus broken free in the lab? How had it killed so many so quickly?

Sam had considered sabotage—a betrayer in their midst. But who? The staff had been rigorously vetted at the highest levels—with extensive psychological testing. No suicide-saboteurs in that crew. More than likely a careless technician had sent the virus into the air where the other employees then picked it up, triggering the crisis.

By the time the first rosy death-mark had shown up on a technician’s chest or arms, the entire colony could have been infected. Excruciating death came quickly—so quickly, in fact, that headquarters had received only one phone call and two urgent e-mails from separate employees. Then silence.

Camera footage—sent over the security system’s satellite feed—showed the carnage. The scenes were abhorrent and repulsive. There was no choice but to incinerate the base in the hope that every mutant virus within would be destroyed.

He glanced at his watch. It was nearly time to debrief his executive team on all that had happened. His assistant came through the doorway, tapping on the door as he entered.

“Excuse me, General,” Colonel Kevin Maklin said in an apologetic tone.

“What is it, Kevin?”

“I’m sorry, but there’s an inspector from Interpol here to see you. Martin Duerr.”

“Am I scheduled to see him?”

“No. He said it’s urgent.”

“Urgent? How?”

“He wouldn’t tell me. He said he must speak with you personally.”

Mosley looked at his watch again. “All right. I’ll give him a few minutes.”

His assistant stepped out and a short man with a round face, round wire-framed glasses, and wild white hair came in. He wore a tan suit that on anyone else would have looked crisp and sharp. On him, it hung like bad curtains.

“General Mosley?” he inquired in a low voice that came as a rumble from somewhere deep inside of him. He had a French accent.

“If it’s about those parking fines . . .”

The man chuckled politely. “No, sir. That’s the police. Parking fines are not within our jurisdiction.” He handed Mosley his credentials: a picture I.D. and gold badge with the blue insignia of a sword and globe overlaid with the letters OIPC/ICPO—the French and English acronyms for the International Criminal Police Organization, the world’s largest international police organization. “I’m an Inspector for Interpol. I’ve been sent from our headquarters in Lyon.”

“Beautiful city. What can I do for you, Inspector Duerr?”

Duerr looked as if he wanted to sit down, but Sam didn’t offer him a seat. “Have you ever heard of the Return to Earth movement?”

Mosley thought about it. “No. Should I have?”

Duerr shrugged, then produced a notepad from his pocket. Without looking at it, he said, “The Return to Earth is an extremist group—a combination of fanatical environmentalists and animal rights activists who’ve joined forces.”

Mosley gazed at the inspector but didn’t react.

Duerr cleared his throat. “They believe that humankind has lost his right to govern the earth because of his abuse of the world and of animals. In essence, they believe that humans should be returned to the earth, as in dead and decomposing, so that the earth can return to its natural state, in harmony with the animals.”

“I see.”

Duerr closed the notepad. “To be blunt, General, they’re terrorists—suicide bombers for Mother Earth. They will do anything to take mankind out of the equation. Anything. They’ll target individuals, families, industrial plants, factories, polluters, pharmaceutical companies, biochemical research sites, cosmetic companies, and any other entity they deem worthy to put on their hit-list for testing on animals or hurting the earth.”

“Am I on their hit-list?” Mosley asked. “Is that why you’re here?”

“Not in the way you think. But your name did come up in one of their meetings.”

Mosley scowled. “What meeting?”

“A cell meeting in Switzerland. They have cells worldwide, a loose network that supports and encourages one another. But they maintain enough distance to keep us from effectively tracking them. The individuals often don’t know who the other members are. There might be two or more working on the same project and they won’t know it. So, when we grab one, the others disappear back into the woodwork.”

“If you can’t track them, then how do you know I was mentioned?”

“One of our agents has infiltrated a cell in Basel. This is a significant breakthrough for us, as you can imagine. We have access to some of their activities as never before. Our agent flagged your name—in connection with some top secret facility in Greenland.”

Sam felt a cold hand squeeze his heart. He pressed his lips together to keep from speaking.

The Interpol agent nodded. “Yes, I know. I do not have the clearance for you to confirm or deny the existence of any top-secret facilities, but I want you to know that they know about it—and my agent was led to believe that they were going to take some sort of action against it.”

“What sort of action?”

“We don’t know,” the inspector replied. “Their modus operandi is usually centered around destruction, sabotage, intimidation.”

“Hypothetically speaking, if we were to have any sort of facility or facilities, and of course, I’m not saying or even insinuating we do or would, why would they target us?”

“Any facility that experiments on animals is suitable for attack. Or perhaps you were doing something that posed a risk to the environment. Or you may have been working on something that would accelerate their efforts to erase mankind from the earth. Pick one.”

Pick one, or all three. Was it possible these fanatics knew what they were testing and believed they could unleash a pandemic by infiltrating and sabotaging the facility? He swallowed an unnerving feeling of fear.

“How strong are they?”

The inspector pursed his lips. “They’re, shall we say, resourceful. Not only do they seem to have endless funding, but their ability to find out what a government or company is doing and where they are doing it is astounding. They seem to have followers buried deep within the most guarded enterprises. They insulate themselves anywhere and everywhere. Some of their members are experts in various fields, working at the highest levels. Or they plant an employee with, say, an outside contractor for a security firm, the military, or a government on one or more highly secure sites. Or, perhaps an employee of a janitorial service works at a secret site. You get the idea.”

“What do you need from me?” asked Mosley.

“I want you to be aware, to warn your people in a discreet way, so as not to jeopardize our operation.” Duerr thought, then added, “I need access to you in case we need your help. And, of course, I will keep you informed as best as I can.”

Sam thought about Greenland. How different would things have turned out had he spoken to Duerr earlier? “All right, Inspector. I’ll help in any way I can.”

Duerr waited as if something else should be said, then bowed slightly. “Merci, General.”

Once the Inspector had left, Mosley called Macklin into the office.

“Sir?”

“Get the team in here. We’ve got a problem.”

“Yes, sir.”

Mosley sat down in his chair, his mind working on how he could alert their research facilities about Return to Earth without alerting the terrorists.

A gentle chime sounded behind him and he swiveled the chair around to face his computer screen. An e-mail alert. He clicked on the message box.

His body stiffened when he saw the sender’s name. The message loaded and the text appeared. As he read, his hands became sweaty and his mouth dry.

It began, “Dear Dad . . .

THE INFLUENZA BOMB - REVIEWED BY FRED STLAURENT


The Influenza Bomb
By Paul McCusker and Walt Larimore M.D.
Published by Howard Books
ISBN# 978-1416569756
448 Pages


Back Cover: Siberian hospitals are overrun with what looks like the Spanish Flu of 1918. When Dr. Susan Hutchinson arrives, she learns that the outbreak began when the missing Professor Weigel had a run-in with an ecoterrorist group called Return to Earth. In a race against time, can she stop them before they destroy all of mankind? .


REVIEW: We first met Mark Carlson and the TSI team (Time Scene Investigators) in the Gabon Virus. If you haven’t read this prequel to the Influenza Bomb, stop, step away from the Bomb book and click on the link below to order it. It is a fast paced thriller. That however is an entirely different review.

Assuming now that you are up to speed and have invested a sleepless night blistering through the pages of the Gabon Virus, let me tell you about the next treat in store for you from the word processors of Paul McCusker and Walt Larimore M.D.

The TSI Team and the WHO (World Health Organization) still haven’t fully recovered from their wrenching battle with the diabolical Return to Earth terrorist organization, whose goal is to eliminate all human life on the planet, expect maybe them. You know.

Susan Hutchinson, with WHO is call to Siberia when another illness begins killing thousands, suddenly, by what is soon identified as another terrorist attack with global, pandemic repercussions.

Personally I loved this book as much as the first in the series, and couldn’t put it down for long. It is hard charging and suspense filled with characters that have depth that you care about. Obviously there is a Time Scene involved with the story, and in this case we get to travel back to WWI on through WWII, where the Nazi leaders were experimenting with and launching germ warfare attacks against the Allied Armies. The historic recreations are realistic. You find yourself running to the computer to look up aspects. It is a fascinating work of fiction that involves Nazi hideouts, dastardly villains and new technology taken to frightening levels of abuse. I loved it!

Review by Fred St Laurent
The Book Club Network
http://www.bookfun.org/profiles/blogs/freds-reviews-the-influenza

CHRISTY WINNERS ANNOUNCED LAST NIGHT


2010 Keynote Speaker
Author and entrepreneur Lisa Samson, a two-time Christy Award winner; seven-time nominee, presented the keynote address at the Christy's last night. The Christy Awards ceremony was held at the Renaissance St. Louis Grand Hotel Saturday, June 26, 2010, 7:30 p.m

2010 CHRISTY AWARD WINNERS!
And the winners are:

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Breach of Trust by DiAnn Mills (Tyndale House Publishers)

CONTEMPORARY SERIES, SEQUELS & NOVELLAS
Who Do I Talk To? by Neta Jackson (Thomas Nelson)

CONTEMPORARY STANDALONE
The Passion of Mary-Margaret by Lisa Samson (Thomas Nelson)

FIRST NOVEL
Fireflies in December by Jennifer Erin Valent (Tyndale House Publishers)

HISTORICAL
Though Waters Roar by Lynn Austin (Bethany House Publishers: a Division of Baker Publishing Group)

HISTORICAL ROMANCE
The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen (Bethany House Publishers: a Division of Baker Publishing Group)

SUSPENSE
Lost Mission by Athol Dickson (Howard Books: a Division of Simon & Schuster)

VISIONARY
By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson (Marcher Lord Press)

YOUNG ADULT
North! or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson (WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group)

CONGRATS TO ALL THE WINNERS! OH, WHAT A LIST OF NOMINEES AND WINNERS--There were so many great books to choose from. I'm glad I wasn't a judge! :D

"With each book I write, I become more and more convinced that the books have a life of their own, quite apart from me."
—MADELEINE L'ENGLE

THE HEALER by LINDA WINDSOR - FIRST CHAPTER

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:


Healer: A Novel (The Brides of Alba Series)

David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2010)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



With an estimated one million books in print, Linda Windsor is an award-winning author of fifteen mainstream historical novels and one contemporary romance. She has also written another thirteen books for CBA publishers, including nine romantic comedies, laced with suspense, and a Celtic Irish trilogy for Multnomah entitled the Fires of Gleannmara series. A former professional musician, Linda speaks often (and sometimes sings) for writing and/or faith seminars. She makes her home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and prays for courage and strength to meet the needs of today's readers with page-turning stories that entertain, teach, and inspire.


Visit the author's website.




Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434764788
ISBN-13: 978-1434764782

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Glenarden, Manau Gododdin, Britain


Although cold enough to frost one’s breath, the day was as fair as the general mood of the gathering at the keep of Glenarden. The only clouds were those breaking away, fat with snow from the shrouded mountains—and the ever-present one upon the face of the bent old man who stood on the rampart of the gate tower. No longer able to ride much distance, Tarlach O’Byrne watched the procession form beyond.


Clansmen and kin, farmers and craftsmen—all turned out for the annual hunt, but they were more excited over the festivities that awaited their return. In the yard about the keep, gleemen in outlandish

costumes practiced entertaining antics, delighting the children and teasing the kitchen servant or warrior who happened to pass too near. Great pits had been fired. On the spits over them were enough succulent shanks of venison, boar, and beef to feed the multitude of O’Byrnes and the guests from tribes in the kingdom under the old king’s protection.


Below the ramparts, Ronan O’Byrne adjusted the woolen folds of his brat over his shoulders. Woven with the silver, black, and scarlet threads of the clan, it would keep the prince warm on this brisk day. A fine dappled gray snorted in eagerness as Ronan took his reins in hand and started toward the gate. Beyond, the people he would govern upon his father’s death waited.


The youngest of the O’Byrne brothers rode through them, unable to contain his excitement any longer. “By father’s aching bones, Ronan, what matters of great import keep you now?”


Were the pest any other but his youngest brother, Ronan might have scowled, deepening the scar that marked the indent of his cheek—the physical reminder of this travesty that began years ago. Alyn was the pride and joy of Glenarden, and Ronan was no exception to those who admired and loved the precocious youth.


“Only a raid on the mill by our neighbors,” Ronan answered his youngest sibling.


His somber gaze belayed the lightness in his voice. The thieves had made off with Glenarden’s reserve grain stores and the miller’s quern. Ronan had already sent a replacement hand mill to the mistress. But now that the harvest was over and the excess had been sold, replacing the reserves would be harder. It galled Ronan to buy back his own produce at a higher price than he’d received from merchants in Carmelide. This was the hard lot he faced—this farce, or hunting down the scoundrels and taking back what was rightfully his.


Every year on the anniversary of the Gowrys slaughter, Tarlach insisted that the O’Byrne clan search the hills high and low for Llas and Joanna’s heir. But instead of going off on a madman’s goose chase after his imagined enemy—a mountain nymph who was rumored to shape-shift into a wolf at will—the O’Byrnes manpower spent their time ransacking and burning one of the Gowrys mountain settlements in retribution, for they were undoubtedly the culprits. It was the only reasoning the Gowrys thieves understood—burn their ramshackle hovels and take some of their meager stock in payment.


Even so, taking such actions only stalled their mischief for a little while. Then it was the same thing all over again. As it was, Ronan had sent trackers out to mark their escape route, lest the wrong camp be destroyed.


“Can I ride after them on the morrow with you?” Alyn’s deep blue eyes, inherited from their Pictish mother, were alight with the idea of fighting and possible bloodshed—only because he’d never tasted it firsthand. “After the Witch’s End?”


Disgust pulling at his mouth, Ronan mounted the broad and sturdy steed he’d acquired at last spring’s fair. Witch’s End. That’s what Tarlach O’Byrne had dubbed the celebration of the massacre that had made him an invalid and driven him to the brink of insanity. In the old chief ’s demented thought, he’d brought justice to those who had betrayed him and stopped an enchantress forever. Sometimes, as on this particular day, it pushed him beyond reason, for it was a reminder that there was one thing left undone. The heiress of Gowrys still lived to threaten Glenarden … at least in his mind.


“The mill raid is no different from any other raid and will be handled as such,” Ronan answered.


“So I can go?”


“Nay, return to your studies at the university.” The hunt for a nonexistent witch was one thing, but Gowrys were skilled fighters. “’Twould suit a Gowrys naught better than to send a son of Tarlach

earthways with an arrow through your sixteen-year-old heart.”


“So you and Caden will go after the brigands.”


Alyn’s dejection rivaled that of Tarlach’s, except the youth’s would be gone with the next change of the wind. The older O’Byrne’s would not leave until his last breath faded in the air.


Ronan opened his mouth to assuage the lad when a downpour of water, icy as a northern fjord, struck him, soaking him through. “Herth’s fire!” Startled, his gray gelding danced sideways, knocking into the door of the open gate. “Ho, Ballach,” Ronan soothed the beast. “Easy laddie.”


“Take that, you bandy-legged fodere!” a shrill voice sounded from above.


“Crom’s breath, Kella, look what you’ve done,” Alyn blustered, struggling to control his own spooked steed. “Called my brother a bandy-legged deceiver and soaked him through.”


Wiping his hair away from his brow, Ronan spotted the cherub faced perpetrator of the mischief peering over the battlement, eyes spitting fire. Lacking the ripeness of womanhood, Kella’s overall appearance was unremarkable, but she surely lived up to her name with that indomitable warrior spirit, bundled in the innocence of youth. It was an innocence Ronan had never known. The daughter of Glenarden’s champion, Kella O’Toole was like a breath of fresh air. For that Ronan could forgive her more impetuous moments.


“And for what, Milady Kella, do I deserve the title of a bandylegged fool, much less this chilling shower?”


Kella gaped in dismay, speechless, as she took in Ronan’s drenched state. But not for long. “Faith, ’twasn’t meant for you, sir, but for Alyn! ’Tis the likes of him that finds the company of a scullery maid more delicious than mine.”


Ronan cast an amused glance at his youngest brother, who had now turned as scarlet as the banners fluttering overhead.


“Ho, lad, what foolrede have ye been about?” Caden O’Byrne shouted from the midst of the mounted assembly in wait beyond the gate. Fair as the sun with a fiery temperament to match, the second of Tarlach’s sons gave the indignant maid on the rampart a devilish wink.


“’Tis no one’s business but my own,” Alyn protested. “And certainly not that of a demented child.”


“Child, is it?”


Ronan swerved his horse out of range as Kella slung the empty bucket at Alyn. Her aim was hindered by the other girls close at her elbows, and the missile struck the ground an arm’s length away from its intended target.


“I’ll have you know I’m a full thirteen years.”


“Then appeal to me a few years hence when, and if, your Godgiven sense returns,” the youngest O’Byrne replied.


Ronan moved to the cover of the gatehouse and removed his drenched brat. Fortunately, the cloak had caught and shed the main of the attack. Already one of the servants approached with the plain blue one he wore about his business on the estate. Irritating as the mishap was, his lips quirked with humor as his aide helped him don the dry brat. It wasn’t as princely as the O’Byrne colors, but it was more suited to Ronan’s personal taste.


It was no secret that Egan O’Toole’s daughter was smitten with Alyn. With brown hair spun with threads of gold and snapping eyes almost the same incredible shade, she would indeed blossom into a beauty someday. Meanwhile, the champion of Glenarden would do well to pray for maturity to temper Kella’s bellicose manner, so that his daughter might win, rather than frighten, suitors.


Then there was Alyn, who hadn’t sense enough to see a prize in the making. Ronan shook his head. His brother was too involved in living the existence of the carefree youth Ronan had been robbed of the night of the Gowrys bloodfest.


“So, are you now high and dry, Brother?” Caden O’Byrne called to Ronan with impatience.


Ronan’s eyes narrowed. Always coveting what wasn’t his, Caden would like nothing better than to lead the hunt without Ronan. Would God that Ronan could hand over Glenarden and all its responsibilities. But Caden was too rash, a man driven more by passion than thought.


“Have a heart, Beloved,” a golden-haired beauty called down to him from the flock of twittering ladies on the rampart. Caden’s new bride spared Ronan a glance. “Ronan’s had much travail this morning already with the news of the Gowrys raid.”


“Had he as fair and gentle a wife as I, I daresay his humor would be much improved.” Ever the king of hearts, Caden signaled his horse to bow in Lady Rhianon’s direction and blew his wife a kiss.


“No doubt it would, Brother,” Ronan replied.


There was little merit in pointing out that the ambitious Lady Rhianon had first set her sights on him. No loss to Ronan, she seemed to make his more frivolous brother a happy man. The couple enjoyed the same revelry in dance and entertainment, not to mention the bower. Too often, its four walls failed to contain the merriment of their love play. Neither seemed to care that they were the talk of the keep. If anything, they gloried in the gossip and fed it all the more.


Battling down an annoying twinge of envy, Ronan made certain his cloak was fast, then swung up into the saddle again. Alyn’s problems were easier to consider, not to mention more amusing. “Is your wench disarmed, Alyn?” Ronan shouted in jest as he left the cover of the gate once again.


Beyond Lady Kella’s tempestuous reach for the moment, Alyn gave him a grudging nod.


Ronan brought his horse alongside his siblings, facing the gatehouse of the outer walls, where Tarlach O’Byrne would address the gathering. Like Alyn’s, Caden’s countenance was one of eagerness and excitement. How Ronan envied them both for their childhood. He longed to get away from the bitterness that festered within the walls of Glenarden. His had been an apprenticeship to a haunted madness.


Tarlach straightened as much as his gnarled and creaking joints would allow. “Remember the prophecy, shons of mine,” he charged them. He raised his withered left arm as high as it would go. It had never regained its former power since the night he’d tried to attack Lady Joanna of Gowrys. Nor had his speech recovered. He slurred his words from time to time, more so in fatigue.


“The Gowrys sheed shall divide your mighty house … shall divide your mighty housh and bring a peace beyond itch ken.”


Ronan knew the words by heart. They were as indelibly etched in his memory as the bloody travesty he’d witnessed through a six-yearold’s eyes. The quote was close, but whether Tarlach’s failing mind or his guilt was accountable for leaving out “peace beyond the ken of your wicked soul,” only God knew. If He cared … or even existed.


“Search every hill, every glen, every tree and shrub. Find the she-wolf and bring back her skin to hang as a trophy in the hall, and her heart to be devoured by the dogs. Take no nun-day repast. The future of Glenarden depends on the Gowrys whelp’s death.”


At the rousing cry of “O’Byrne!” rising from his fellow huntsmen and kin, Ronan turned the dapple gray with the group and cantered to the front, his rightful place as prince and heir. He didn’t believe the girl child had survived these last twenty years, much less that she’d turned into a she-wolf because of her mother’s sins. Nor did he wallow in hatred like his father.


A shudder ran through him, colder than the water that had drenched him earlier. Ronan looked to the west again, where thick clouds drifted away from the uplands. May he never become so obsessed with a female that his body and soul should waste away from within due to the gnawing of bitterness and fear. Superstitious fear.


On both sides of the winding, rutted road ahead lay rolling fields. Winter’s breath was turning the last vestiges of harvest color to browns and grays. Low, round huts of wattle and daub, limed white and domed with honey-dark thatching, were scattered here and there. Gray smoke circled toward the sky from their peaks. Fat milk cows and chickens made themselves at home, searching for food. Beyond lay the river, teeming with fish enough for all.


Glenarden’s prosperity was enough to satisfy Ronan. Nothing less would do for his clan. The tuath was already his in every manner save the last breath of Tarlach O’Byrne … though Ronan was in no hurry for that. Despite his troublesome tempers, Tarlach had been as good a father as he knew how, breaking the fosterage custom to rear his firstborn son under his own eye. A hard teacher, he’d been, yet fair—equal with praise as with criticism.


“You are the arm I lost, lad,” Tarlach told him again and again, especially when the drink had its way with him. “The hope and strength of Glenarden.”


~~~~~


Ronan humored the old man as much as followed his orders. At midday, instead of stopping as usual for the nun repast, he paused for neither rest nor food for his men. They ate on the move—the fresh bread and cheese in the sacks provided by the keep’s kitchen. The higher into the hills they went, the sharper the wind whipped through the narrow pass leading to the upper lakelands. Ronan was thankful that the former stronghold of the Gowrys wasn’t much farther.


“Faith, ’tis colder than witches’ milk,” Caden swore from the ranks behind Ronan.


“Witches’ milk?” the naive Alyn protested. “What would you know of such things?”


“A good deal more than a pup not yet dry behind the ears. ’Tis a fine drink on a hot summer day.”


“Or for the fever,” Egan O’Toole chimed in.


His poorly disguised snicker raised suspicion in the youth. “They play me false, don’t they, Ronan?”


“Aye, ask our elder brother, lad,” Caden remarked in a dry voice. “He has no sense of humor.”


Somber, Ronan turned in his saddle. “I have one, Brother, but my duties do not afford me much use of it. As for your question, lad,” he said to their younger brother, who rode next to Caden, “there’s no such thing as witches, so there can be no witches’ milk.”


“What about the Lady Joanna?” Alyn asked. “She was a witch.”


“Think, lad,” Ronan replied. “If she’d truly possessed magic, would she or her kin have died? It was love and jealousy that addled Father.”


“But love is magic, little brother,” Caden put in. “Make no mistake.”


“’Tis also loud enough to set tongues wagging all over the keep,” Alyn piped up. He grinned at the round of raucous laughter that rippled around them at Caden’s expense.


But Caden showed no shame. “That’s the rejoicing, lad.” He turned to the others. “Methinks our Lady Kella has little to fret over as yet.” With a loud laugh, he clapped their red-faced little brother on the back.


Rather than allow the banter to prick or lift an already sore humor, Ronan focused on the first few flakes of snow already whirling in and about the pass ahead of them and the nightmare that already had begun. Twenty years before, this very pass had been just as cold and inhospitable. With possible flurries blowing up, Ronan had no inclination to prolong the outing.


The crannog, or stockaded peninsula, was now little more than a pile of rubble rising out of the lake water’s edge. Cradled by overgrown fields and thick forest on three quarters of its periphery, the

lake itself was as gray as the winter sky. On the fourth was the jut of land upon which Llas of Gowrys had restored an ancient broch, bracing it against the rise of the steep crag at its back. With no regard for what had been, yellow spots of gorse had taken root here and there in the tumble of blackened stone.


Ronan could still smell the blaze, hear the shrieks of the dying.Ignoring the curdling in the pit of his stomach, a remnant of the fear and horror a six-year-old dared not show, Ronan dispersed the group. “Egan, you and Alyn take your men and search north of the lake. Caden, take the others and search the south. When I sound the horn, everyone should make haste back here. The sooner we return to warm hearths and full noggins of ale, the better.”


“I want to go with you,” Alyn declared, sidling his brown pony next to Ronan’s gray.


“I intend to stay here in the cover of yon ledge and build a fire,” Ronan informed him, “but you are welcome to join me.”


“I think not.”


Alyn’s expression of disdain almost made Ronan laugh.


“What if a raiding party of Gowrys happens upon you?” Caden spoke up. A rare concern knit his bushy golden brows.


“Then I shall invite them to the fire for a draught of witch’s milk.”


Caden laughed out loud. His square-jawed face, bristling with the golden shadow of his great mane of hair, was handsome by even a man’s standard. “I misjudged you, Brother. I stand corrected on the account of humor but would still hold that you act too old for your twenty-six years.”


“The Gowrys aren’t given to visiting the place where they were so soundly trounced … and I’m no more than a horn’s blow from help, should my sword not suffice,” Ronan pointed out.


He had no taste for this nonsense. What he craved most at the moment was the peace that followed after the others rode off, whooping and beating their shields lest the spirits of the slain accost them.

The hush of the falling snow and the still testimony of the ruins were at least a welcome change from the ribald and oft querulous babble of the hall. Time alone, without demand, was to be savored, even in this ungodly cold and desolate place. All he had to do was keep the memories at bay.


A movement from just above a hawthorn thicket near the base of the cliff caught Ronan’s eye, raising the hackles on the back of his neck. With feigned nonchalance, he brushed away the snow accumulating on his leather-clad thigh and scanned the gray slope of rock as it donned the thickening winter white veil. Nothing.


At least, he’d thought he’d seen something. A flash of white, with a tail—mayhaps a large dog. Beneath him, the gelding shivered. With a whinny, he sidestepped, tossing his black mane as if to confirm that he sensed danger as well. A wolf?


Drawing his sword in one hand, Ronan brought the horse under control with a steadying tone. “Easy, Ballach, easy.”


The speckled horse quieted, his muscles as tense as Ronan’s clenched jaw. The scene before him was still, like that of a tapestry. At his gentle nudge, the horse started around shore toward the high stone cliff. Dog, wolf, or man, Ronan was certain the steel of his blade was all the protection he’d need.

©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Healer by Linda Windsor. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.


VICTORY SONG by JERI DONER - FIRST CHAPTER

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:

Victory Song

Three Paths Publishing; 1st edition (May 7, 2007)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Jeri Doner was an active member of the North-South-Skirmish-Association for over twenty years. This sparked her interest in the 149th NYVI of the Civil War. She is the mother of four children and has seven grandchildren. She was an avid seamstress often making reproduction gowns and uniforms from the Civil War time period. Her love of writing and history led to the novel Victory Song.

Visit the publisher's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.95

Paperback: 284 pages

Publisher: Three Paths Publishing; 1st edition (May 7, 2007)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0978933737

ISBN-13: 978-0978933739

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



It was not a good time to be leaving that was certain. His mother said so often enough. She never missed a chance to remind him of the harvest, that it was a monumental task at best. It would be almost too much for one aging farmer and a sixteen-year-old boy. He half listened. There was always too much work, and that was not going to change. He knew his father was not getting any younger, and his brother, Peter, was not doing well in school. He knew that his mother’s work had increased since his big sister, Lydia, had married and moved to her husband’s home.


Andy had always been the bright one, the strong one, and the reliable one. He was tired of it. He had listened eagerly to the army recruiters, and read all the patriotic articles in the newspapers. They had promised much in the way of adventure, glory, and victory. They had called for the people to sacrifice for the good of the country. While the war might seem remote and irrelevant to the rest of the Richardson family, it was very real to Andy. He wanted a part in it. He had heard all the colorful words until they circled continually in his mind. Adventure. Glory. Victory. Sacrifice. He admitted only to himself that the most prominent and appealing word of all was none of those. It was the word that had become the theme of his existence, his prayer and constant desire. Escape.



He did not feel guilty about leaving the milking chores on this last day of boyhood. His father did not approve of his enlisting in the army, but he had given permission for him to have this time for himself. If they could get by without him tomorrow, they could just as easily begin managing today, the old man had said. It was his stern way of expressing that, though he disapproved, he was trying to understand.



Andy wandered along the windbreak at the edge of a field, enjoying for the last time the peacefulness of the land, which had been his lifelong home. He let the slope of the ground carry him down toward the brook where the cattle were watered. Many a summer day had been spent fishing in that stream. Through a tangle of brush, he located the well-worn path, which led to the swimming hole. A stout rope was still suspended from an overhanging branch. It had been the most important thing in his world the year he and his best friend, Eddie, had hung it there. The water was still now, for Eddie had moved away to distant Auburn, and Andy had grown up. Not many splashes were heard in the old swimming hole these days. This summer of 1862 had been an uncommonly dry one, and the water level was low.



Childhood was a thing of the past, Andy told himself. Only one day separated him from manhood and a life of his own. In the morning he was leaving for Syracuse to be mustered into the 149th New York Infantry Regiment, and the farm boy life would be over. For now he could afford to stop resenting the confines of the farm, the dullness of life here, and the everlasting chores. He could simply meander about enjoying his surroundings.



There were things to enjoy here. September in central New York was a brightly busy time. The heat of summer was, for the most part, past. Though there was still an occasional hot day or two, the air more often than not held a chill that warned of winter’s inevitable approach. The southwest breeze blew about industrious honeybees as they salvaged the last useful specks from brilliant goldenrod blossoms. Gray squirrels that had been summer-sleek were now fall-fluffy, romping with their abundance of hickory nuts and black walnuts. The stately maples had not yet reached their peak of color, but lacy sumac fairly blazed from every neglected hedgerow and patch of wasteland. Fruit trees were heavy with spring promises kept. Pale Queen-Anne’s lace and blue chicory cushioned the fall of ripening apples, pears, and plums. The hills lay in gentle folds, no longer green, but gold and brown awaiting the scythe.



Andy had circled back toward the house, and could see a horse saddled and hitched to the fence in the side yard. He felt a sudden excitement upon recognizing it as his Aunt Jen’s. She was one of the few people he would miss. As he neared the door, he mentally braced himself, anticipating that because of Aunt Jen’s presence he was about to walk into a roomful of tension.



“He’s leaving, Callie, and there’s nothing more to be done about it. You’ll have to face the fact.” The voice was raspy with age, edged with impatience.



Callie Richardson looked up from the pot of apple butter she had been stirring, and eyed her sister-in-law across the steamy summer kitchen. “I’m trying to make the most of this, Jen, and I don’t need you to tell me what I already know. I just can’t feel the way you do about it. I think he’s making a big mistake.”



“Don’t you read the papers, girl?” Jen asked. “There’s a war going on in this country. The worst kind of a war. Tearing the country apart. And your son is going for a soldier in Mr. Lincoln’s army. Can’t you be proud of him?”



“I am. In my own way. But he’s needed here at home. He never gave that a thought when he signed up.”



“Pete is sixteen. It’s time he did his share around here. Andy did at that age.”



“Pete is not Andy,” the mother replied. “He needs more time with his school work. He tries his best, but he can’t keep up like Andy did.”



“That’s not Andy’s fault,” Jen pointed out. “He’d be leaving home one of these days, no matter what. If it weren’t for the war it would be for something else. You know I’m right, Callie.”



Callie’s brow was moist, and so were her eyes. She wiped her face on her apron. “I know, Jen. But you really can’t understand. He’s not your son.”



“He’s my brother’s. And since I never had a family of my own, he’s as close to being mine as anyone can be. It’s not a secret Andy was always my favorite. I’ll miss him something awful, but I’d never try to keep him from going. He’s nineteen. He’s not a child.”



Callie decided the apple butter had cooked long enough, and lifted the heavy kettle from the stove. She moved to the wooden table in the middle of the room and set it down a little harder than necessary. “I suppose I wouldn’t mind so much if he just wasn’t going with that Henry Birch. That boy worries me.”



“Oh, they’ll be all right!” Jen tried to assure her. “I thought you liked Mrs. Birch. Don’t they go to your church?”



“They did years ago. They’ve been to all different churches since then. Never satisfied. I don’t see Henry’s mother any more. But hear plenty about him. He’s a wild one. I don’t like Andy with him.”



“It’s time you started trusting Andy. He’s a grown man, and your job of raising him is over. You’ve given him a proper Christian upbringing, and that’s all you can do. Besides, I hear that Captain Townsend that was recruiting in Elbridge was some kind of a preacher in civilian life. He was a chaplain in the cavalry before he resigned to raise a company for the Fourth Onondagas. That’s whose company they’ll be in, isn’t it?”



“Yes…that gives me some comfort,” Callie admitted. “But I still worry that he’ll turn out like that good-for-nothing Henry.”



“Or like me?” Jen asked.



Callie let the exasperation show on her face. Something was wrong here. She was a Godly woman, but it was Jen’s total honesty that made her the most uncomfortable. It was hard enough making polite conversation after all the differences they had suffered over the years. She did not know how to respond to this. Jen was the undisputed black sheep of the Richardson family, having rejected the strict moral standards of the rest of the clan. She was a painfully honest woman, and occasionally used some colorful language to tell her relatives what she thought of the way they pressured their children to conform. She was a true non-conformist, dressing as she pleased, coming and going bareheaded in the streets at all hours. She commonly hung laundry out on Sunday, read scandalous novels, and it was said she used alcohol to relieve a chronic cough. Callie wondered once or twice if the cough could have been the result of the use of tobacco, but that seemed rather outrageous, even for Jen. It was true she found it easy to disapprove of the old woman, and the more she gave voice to her disapproval, the more Andy seemed to admire his aunt. Perhaps he would turn out like her, a religious agnostic and a social outcast. There was nothing wrong with wanting more for him than that.



Before Callie had a chance to think of anything to say, the front door banged and loud footsteps came through the house toward the summer kitchen.



“What’s cooking?” Andy’s voice called. “It smells great in here!”



Both mother and aunt turned toward the doorway as he entered. His gray-green eyes blinked as he tried to hurry the adjustment from outdoor sunlight to the dimness of the room.



“Aunt Jen! Glad you came over,” he said, looking with satisfaction at the old woman sitting near the table. “I figured on coming over to your place tonight to say good-bye.”



“You’re a fine one!” Jen scolded playfully. “I come visiting and you’re off someplace!”



“I just went for a walk in the woods and down by the old swimming hole. Wanted to see it once more before I leave. Water sure is low this year.” Having discovered the apple butter, he cut a generous slice of bread from a loaf on the sideboard and sat down on the edge of the table to dip it into the steaming kettle.



“Get out of there!” Callie chided, swatting him on the thigh with a dishtowel to remove him from the table. “You know better than that!”



“How come you’re making this stuff when it’s so hot out?” He asked with his mouth full. “Apples ‘ll keep till cold weather.”



“Because it’s your favorite, and what I made last year is all gone,” the mother replied.



“Mom, you didn’t have to do that.” He tried to sound grateful, but suspected that she was too busy or too tired to notice.



“When you were gone so long I thought you walked into Canton to good-bye to somebody,” she said.



“I said all my farewells Sunday,” he told her. “And it’s Memphis, not Canton.”



It seemed he was forever correcting her about that. The nearest village was always called Canton, short for Canal Town, and that word best described the little settlement. A year ago, for some obscure reason, the name had been changed to Memphis. Andy had no trouble recalling the new name, and thought his parents should have been able to keep it in mind, too coming as it did from the Bible. He would never understand how older people could bring to mind lengthy passages from their favorite book, quoting chapter and verse without error, and not recall that they were members of the First Baptist Church of Memphis, not Canton. The inconsistency baffled him; if that was a characteristic of old age, he hoped never to reach it.



The door banged again, and a familiar voice called, “Mom, we’re finally here. Where do you want the pies?”



“I’ll take care of them,” Andy offered, bounding into the dining room where his sister Lydia was unpacking her contribution to dinner.



“Not a chance, little brother,” she said. “Somebody else might like a taste.”



It was a joke they shared, her calling him a little brother, for she said it looking up into his face as she had been doing for years. Not all Richardsons were tall; when it came to height, Lydia favored Callie, but Andy had inherited all his father’s considerable size and more. While many youngsters experienced a winter of illness sometime during their growing years resulting in a slowed growth rate, Andy had always enjoyed excellent health and an unimpaired appetite for the abundance of good food with which the family had always been blessed. Besides his long, muscular arms and legs, he received from his father a distinctive face, which was easily recognizable in the locality as belonging to a Richardson. The forehead was broad and high, the nose a bit longer than most would consider becoming. The cheekbones were prominent and deeply tanned from exposure to sun and wind. The mouth was the most distinctive feature of all, and the one Andy liked the least. It had a tendency to turn down at the corners, producing a look of immovable sternness on his father’s face. On Aunt Jen the look was one of impudence. On Lydia it was just plain pouty. Andy, when he thought of it, smiled a lot in hopes that the effort would make him look less like the rest of the family.



Callie came in from the summer kitchen to greet her only daughter. The oldest of the three children, Lydia had married the son of a neighboring farmer less than a year ago. She was still much in evidence about the homestead, and especially on important occasions like today.



“Where’s Don?” Callie asked, referring to Lydia’s husband.



“He went down to the barn to meet Daddy and Pete,” the girl explained. “I hope they finish milking soon. I’m starved. Too bad SOME people don’t see fit to help with the chores any more.” With that she nudged Andy in the ribs.



“Before you barged in I was trying to have a nice visit with Aunt Jen.” He said.



Lydia made a face at the mention of the aunt, but dutifully went to the doorway and called, “Hello, Aunt Jen. I hope you’re staying for supper.”



The old woman got to her feet and replied, “No, I got my own food at home. Just came over to see Andy before he goes off tomorrow. Now if you’ll walk me out to my horse, boy, I’ll be on my way and out from under foot.”



They all politely tried to convince her to stay, but she would not be persuaded. Callie and Lydia did not seem overly disappointed when she insisted upon leaving, but Andy was reluctant to walk out into the yard with her.



“I hoped I’d get to see you in your uniform,” Aunt Jen said when they were outside and the commotion left behind.



“We have to go to Syracuse to get all our stuff issued. I don’t know how quick the government can supply us. You’ll have to come to the camp at the fairgrounds to see us in uniform.”



“I ain’t traipsing all the way to Syracuse!” Aunt Jen informed him. “You send me a picture.”



“I’ll try. But I won’t be gone forever. I’ll be over to see you when I get back, and that’s a promise.”



She did not respond except to shake her head sadly. “It won’t be the same here with you gone.”



Andy nodded. “I can’t say I’ll miss everything here, but I sure will miss you, Aunt Jen.”



They had been close, and he thought he knew her as well as anyone alive, but he was surprised when she did something uncharacteristic. She stretched to hug and kiss him. When he lifted her onto her horse she did something else he did not expect. She wept.



“Aunt Jen, I only enlisted for three years. And if we get the Rebels licked before then, I can come back earlier. Please don’t act as if it’s the end of everything.”



She wiped her eyes and cleared her throat as if to speak, but said nothing. She had the unladylike habit of riding astride, and had designed her skirts to accommodate the man’s saddle she used. Once sure of her seat, she slapped the horse on the withers and cantered off down the road.



Andy watched for a while after the dust settled. After a few moments he looked out across the field to see his father, Pete, and Don leaving the barn. They were weary, but walked quickly toward the house, for supper would soon be ready. Andy thought of the same thing, but waited for them to catch up to him so that they could all enter together.



The sun was beginning to fade when he turned back to the old house. It was painted barn red, and looked dark in the shadows. It sat on a hillside, protected from the ferocity of the north wind, its front yard sloping down toward the road, which ran south of it. Light spilled from the kitchen window, along with mingled smells of roasting beef, fresh bread, and the apple butter. Behind the house the kitchen garden looked well used, offering the last of its beans and squash. The corn stalks were brown and dry, holding one another erect against the autumn winds. His eyes followed the road until it twisted out of sight among surrounding maples. It was edged by a split rail fence he had built with his father. Beyond that lay a field newly cultivated this year. Wrestling the stubborn sumac out of the ground had been an ordeal he would not soon forget. He came up to the house and pumped some fresh water up from the well he had helped to dig and keep clean. It was good water, and had proved sufficient for their needs. He took a last look around the place and sighed. While his parents took pride in the home and saw in it a testimony to achievement, Andy saw only backbreaking work—work that would never be done. It was not the sort of life he wanted for himself, and he was excited to think that his escape was only a day in the future.

CHASING SUPERWOMAN by SUSAN DiMICKELE - FIRST CHAPTER

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:

David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Susan DiMickele serves as partner in a large law firm and has practiced law for nearly fifteen years. She has won numerous professional honors, including being named Ohio Super Lawyer since 2004 and being selected for The Best Lawyers in America. She has written dozens of articles in her field and has served as a contributing author to several national publications. For the past seven years, her greatest accomplishment and challenge is raising her three children to know and love God. She is happily married to her husband of eighteen years, Doug, and they are the proud parents of Nicholas, Anna, and Abigail.


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434764621
ISBN-13: 978-1434764621

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


The Superwoman Within


In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out

your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.

Matthew 5:48 (MSG)


Most people hate lawyers. This is why so many lawyers marry other lawyers—no one else likes them. Fortunately, I met my husband, Doug, before I became a lawyer, and he still likes me. At least that’s what he tells me.


If I have to be honest, I really don’t like Lady Lawyer. She brings out the worst in me. Given the choice, I would much rather put on my mommy cape and play Devoted Mommy. But most days and more nights and weekends than I would care to admit, Devoted Mommy is busy playing Lady Lawyer. I didn’t set out to give Lady Lawyer this much power. It just sort of happened. I always insisted my career would take a back seat to the more important things in life—my family, my faith, my soul. I never thought Lady Lawyer would move in, take over, fire the staff, and change my identity. She’s known to get her way. Lady Lawyer is shrewd, self-sufficient, demanding, impatient, and arrogant. She gets right to the point and doesn’t waste your time. Why would any of her clients pay her exorbitant hourly rate in six-minute increments for anything less than the best? She doesn’t make mistakes, and if you work for Lady Lawyer you’d better not make any mistakes either. The standard is perfection. Who said anything about forgiveness? There are no second chances.


Devoted Mommy is quite the opposite. She’s warm and patient. She wastes lots of time picking up toys, reading books, and sitting on the floor playing patty cake. As much as she likes to be efficient, her children always want to help her, so everything takes twice as long, and she makes lots of mistakes and lots of messes. Devoted Mommy knows the important thing is to say you are sorry and ask and receive forgiveness. After all, no one is perfect.


Okay, maybe Devoted Mommy isn’t warm and patient all the time and maybe she would turn into Evil Mommy part of the time if she stayed at home with her kids all day, but you get the point. Lady Lawyer would make a terrible mother, which is why I have to keep her away from the children. Not to mention she has a terrible mouth on her. It’s not intentional. It’s just that most lawyers don’t understand plain English unless it is laced with heavy profanity.


If only I could play Devoted Mommy more often.


The Evils of Television


At least Lady Lawyer and Devoted Mommy actually have something in common. They both hate television. Lady Lawyer has better things to do. For her, TV is the ultimate waste of time and exercise in inefficiency. Simply put, TV is for idiots. It’s mind numbing, unenlightening, and unproductive. Why watch TV when you can bill hours instead? So Lady Lawyer watches TV only as a last resort, when she’s multitasking. Sometimes it’s faster to catch the local news and major world events on the tube. It becomes a necessary evil.


Devoted Mommy hates TV for different reasons. It’s not a necessary evil, it’s just plain evil. It’s like inviting the devil into your home and asking him to raise your children. “Gee, Satan, would you do me

a favor and watch the kids for a few hours, ‘cause I’m really busy right now and I’d prefer to have them hypnotized and brain dead so that I can get some work done.”


The other day while I was playing Weekend Mommy, Doug and seven-year-old Nick were watching The Bad News Bears. I was appalled. The language was filthy. These snotty-nosed kids and their recalcitrant coach had no respect for authority or each other, and Nick would soon be talking like a potty mouth if we continued to let this trash into our living room. Suddenly, Devoted Mommy transformed into Fundamentalist Mommy.


“I don’t want to hear that language in our house ever again, and I want that filthy show turned off.” Doug and Nick just looked at me. I continued, “TV is straight from the pit of hell and I can’t sit by and watch you fill your brain with this garbage.”


Doug may be incorrigible, but I still have to exercise some moral authority over my children.


I learned that from my own mother. We had knock-down, drag-out fights over Three’s Company and Charlie’s Angels. I would sneak downstairs and watch these shows with my older sisters over my mother’s deep disapproval. (Which was worse, Jack and Chrissy living in sin, or Farrah

Fawcett showing her cleavage? I never got an answer, I just knew they were both bad.) What kind of mother would I be if I let The Bad News Bears ruin Nick’s innocence and lead him down a path of destruction?


So later that night, after I put the girls to bed, I told Nick that we needed to talk. We sat in his bed before prayers, as we do every night, and I explained to him that some things on TV are wrong, and the

Bad News Bears really shouldn’t say bad words.


“Did you hear bad words in the movie today?”


Nick responded, “I’m not sure. I know stupid is a bad word.” Nick is a smart kid, so he saw this as an opportunity to ask me, point blank, what the other bad words were that had caused me so much

concern. Now I was stuck. Fundamentalist Mommy was going to have to feed her own son swear words. So we talked about how “hell” is a bad word, and why you wouldn’t want to tell someone to “go to

hell,” because that’s where Satan lives.


Nick asked, “Is it still okay to say ‘for heaven’s sake’?”


“Yes,” I said. “That’s still okay.”


I was thankful he still had some innocence left. And I didn’t have the heart to tell him the other bad words in the show. We’ll save that for another day. Fundamentalist Mommy can take a rest for now.


Sunday School


I don’t turn into Fundamentalist Mommy very often. But Devoted Mommy clearly needed to have more of a spiritual focus, especially with Lady Lawyer sucking her dry all those hours during the week. I actually prefer the term “Spiritual Mommy.” The Fundamentalist label has way too much baggage, even though I’m thankful for my roots.


So Spiritual Mommy decided to teach Sunday school. I could kill two birds with one stone and spend quality time with the kids on the weekend while exerting Spiritual Mommy’s much-needed moral

authority. Maybe I could even reverse some of the brain injury from all that TV.


Given my schedule during the week, Doug and most of my friends thought I was downright crazy for taking on another weekend responsibility. “Suz, just what you need, another thing to add to your schedule. Haven’t you ever heard of the word ‘no’?”


Actually, since I became a mother, ‘no’ has almost evaporated from my vocabulary. I reserve it for when I really need it—like being asked to make cupcakes for the bake sale, organize the parent phone tree, or volunteer to be the lunch monitor during lunch bunch. After all, I can’t do everything, right? But when it comes to the spiritual development of my children, Devoted Mommy reminds me that, unlike baking cookies or being a lunch monitor, I really can’t delegate that one very easily.


To my pleasant surprise, Sunday school became my favorite hour of the week. I wear casual clothes and comfortable shoes, sing silly songs, play duck-duck-goose, and sit on the floor with the children while teaching them that God is your friend, even when you can’t see Him.


I remember my own Sunday school days vividly like they were yesterday. I’ll never forget that poster in my classroom of Jesus knocking on the door to your heart. Of course there’s no door handle because the door can only be opened from the inside. It was during that Sunday school class that I asked Jesus to come in my heart. Some people say that young children can’t understand spiritual things, but I beg to differ. Life has become much too complicated. Sometimes I want to go back to the simple faith of my childhood, but I can’t. So I do the next best thing. I live vicariously through my children. I never realized until after I became a parent how entirely normal it is to live vicariously through your children. Every parent does it. That’s why so many of us spend inordinate amounts of money on Christmas gifts and Disney World. (Who said anything about the kids?) I barely remember going to Disney World with my parents, although they love to talk about it like it was yesterday. I hear the same stories over and over again: “Remember when Susan screamed and cried because she wanted to go on the rides with her older sisters, and then we had to ride ‘It’s a Small World’ over and over again.”


I used to think, “Don’t they get tired of telling these old stories? Do they really think anyone is listening?”


Now I understand why.


Lady Lawyer, of course, doesn’t have time during the week to prepare for Sunday school. It would cut into her billable hours. Yet sometimes Spiritual Mommy convinces her to help gather Sunday

school materials, particularly if it involves Internet shopping. I looked all over the Internet for that picture of Christ knocking and finally found one that is similar to my own childhood memories. I ordered it immediately—the shipping and handling cost more than the poster, but I willingly gave over my credit card number. It was worth every penny.


The Unveiling of the Mona Lisa


When the Jesus picture arrived, Nick and Anna were bursting with curiosity. How many of my online purchases arrive in a long tube the size of Texas? Lady Lawyer had outdone herself. A new toy? A treasure map? The possibilities were endless. Unfortunately, the kids always raid the mail before I get home from work. I should have had the picture sent to my office, like I do with Christmas gifts. Last Christmas I bought Doug a new office chair online and sent it straight to my office. The only problem I hadn’t considered was getting it home. The box was too heavy for me to carry from my office tower to the parking garage, so I had to beg a few guys in my office to help. That cost Lady Lawyer a few favors. But a poster? I could have carried that myself.


Nick and Anna desperately wanted to open it, but I told them they would have to wait for Sunday school. It was going to be like the unveiling of the Mona Lisa. I could hardly wait myself. At minimum, I needed a sneak preview. After all, what if they had sent the wrong picture? It might be a poster of Daniel in the lion’s den, the last temptation of Christ, or worse yet, what if they had mistakenly sent

some trash from a pornographic site? I couldn’t take that risk with the spiritual future of fifteen preschoolers resting on my shoulders. So after the kids went to bed, I pulled out the poster. I gazed at the

picture longingly, relieved to see Jesus knocking in the familiar scene. For the next fifteen minutes, I couldn’t stop staring. Could faith be this simple? Maybe when I was five years old, but not now. Not in

my world.


For most people, seeing is believing. “Show me the money.” “Do you have the goods?” “The proof is in the pudding.” I get tired of living by these rules all week. Preschoolers are different. Their hearts have not yet been hardened by the cold reality of the real world. Most of them haven’t been sued yet.


Maybe if I just brought the picture of Christ knocking and put it in my office, in place of my diploma, things at work would be more spiritual. I know that Jesus is there, even when I can’t see Him, but I frankly forget about Him when I step into my office. Spiritual Mommy thought it was an excellent idea to bring the poster to work. That way, when Lady Lawyer gets out of line, she can just look at Jesus knocking and be reminded of her deep faith. I’ve been told my office really needs to be redecorated.


Lady Lawyer quickly squashed that idea. People would think I had completely cracked. Besides, lots of people would be offended. What would happen if the six o’clock news came to get a headshot of me at my desk and the picture of Christ knocking was hanging in the background? The audience would think my law firm was some kind of religious cult, and I’d never hear the end of it.


So I left the picture of Christ knocking at home. One of these days when Lady Lawyer is shopping on the ‘net, I’m going to make her order a frame. We’ll hang the framed picture right next to the

TV. That way, when Doug and Nick are watching the Bad News Bears or some other trashy show and I’m not there to turn it off, Jesus will gently remind them that TV is evil.


Better yet, we’ll hang it in place of the TV.


One of the Sunday school parents asked me if I was a teacher. I laughed out loud. When I told her I was a lawyer, she looked surprised. Spiritual Mommy had successfully kept Lady Lawyer muzzled, which isn’t easy to do. I took her surprise as a compliment, and said thank you. I explained to her that the reason I enjoy teaching Sunday school so much was because it is so dramatically different from my everyday life. After dealing all week with grown-up problems, complex legal issues, and the politics of a large law firm, I welcome Silly Putty and puppet shows.


I’ve gotten good at checking my lawyer cape at the door when it comes to church. No suit, no high heels, not too much lipstick, no cell phone or BlackBerry, no dirty looks, no potty mouth, and lots of confession and forgiveness. I wear my hair down with comfortable shoes and suburban clothes, smiling pleasantly while I’m holding Abby in one arm and my Sunday school bag in the other. Let’s face it, most parents don’t have high expectations of a Sunday school teacher. They just want an hour of peace.


But teaching Sunday school has its low points too. Even Devoted Mommy gets tired of cutting out crafts late on Saturday nights and waking up early on Sunday mornings to get three kids out the door. Sometimes I wake up on Sunday morning and I’m sick and I can’t find a substitute, or my kids are sick and I want to stay home and take care of them, but I can’t. Sometimes my class is rambunctious, and I don’t have a helper and they all have to go to the bathroom at the same time, or one of the kids freaks out, or I just feel like being with my own kids instead of spreading myself so thin. Sometimes I think it’s not fair to leave Abby in the nursery for another hour and I miss her and wish she could join us in Sunday school, but the few times I have brought her I have been completely unable give the rest of the class any attention.


Sometimes the whole class is staring into space and I don’t think anyone is listening to the lesson, but I still know I am planting seeds.


My Sunday school class is filled with your typical upper-middleclass children, and while most of them are from loving homes, some of them are beginning to struggle with things that no one can adequately explain. Terminal illness of a loved one. Divorce. Even death. One little boy in my class, we’ll call him Charlie, lost his daddy last year. When I pulled out the picture of Jesus knocking, Charlie’s eyes locked

mine, and I knew that he needed to know that Jesus would always be there and would never leave him, so I looked into Charlie’s eyes and said, “Once Jesus comes into your heart, He will never leave.”


The next week, Charlie’s grandma stopped me after class and told me that Charlie had asked Jesus to come into his heart. I gave her a big hug and we both fought back the tears. Charlie doesn’t come to class as much as he used to, and I know it’s hard for his grandma to bring him on the weekends, but I still had the privilege of planting a few seeds.


I like planting seeds. It beats billable hours. Lady Lawyer can’t say, “Sorry I didn’t get the agreement done, but I planted a few seeds.” Or, “I know we lost the case, but I laid some groundwork for next time. Give it a few years and you’ll see some results.” Her clients would fire her.


Sunday school teachers don’t have to worry about getting fired. Why? Because we teach Sunday school for free. It’s not like there’s a long line of volunteers waiting to take over. If you pass the criminal background and reference check and like kids, you’re in.


The second we start paying Sunday school teachers, I’m done. Who wants the pressure of another billable hour? Not me. Some things money can’t buy. Besides, even Lady Lawyer needs to hang up her cape on the weekends. Can Superwoman really live in two worlds? What is really behind the cape, and am I ever going to figure out my true identity? And what does it mean to live out my “God-created identity”?3 I know there aren’t easy answers, but that still doesn’t stop me from asking the questions. Sometimes I wonder, Who am I really chasing anyway?


©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Chasing Superwoman by Susan DiMickele. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.



REVIEW:

I'm almost done with this book and will be posting my review soon. So far so good!!

Nora St.Laurent
The Book Club Network
http://www.bookfun.org/