Today I’m excited to be a part of a fun blog tour to help promote my bestselling author friend, Frederick Lee Brooke’s new novel in his Annie Ogden series, COLLATERAL DAMAGE. Fred’s designed an interesting blog tour (with a contest for you!) that involves sharing 26 chapters of Collateral Damage across 26 days and 26 different blogs.
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He’s giving away signed copies of his three books, and some cash! I’ve got Chapter 15 below.
I took part in the fun release party for Fred’s 2nd book, ZOMBIE CANDY by writing a little poem that you can read here. You can pick up copies of all of Fred’s books on Amazon: Doing Max Vinyl, Zombie Candy, and Collateral Damage. Links for all three are at the bottom of this post.
Get in on the Giveaway: Win a $25 Amazon gift card AND a signed paperback edition of any book by Frederick Lee Brooke! To win, all you have to do is visit every blog on the 26-day Collateral Damage Excerpt Tour (note the dates so you can find that blog’s chapter!) and leave a comment showing that you read the excerpt. That’s it!
Frederick Lee Brooke is the author of the widely-acclaimed Annie Ogden mystery series, which includes Doing Max Vinyl, Zombie Candy, and Collateral Damage. The books do not have to be read in order.
Having lived in Switzerland for the past two decades, Brooke has taught English, run a business, and learned French, German, and Italian.
You can find him online at www.FrederickLeeBrooke.com. Sign up for his newsletter and read all about his travels, recipes, and upcoming works!
CONTEST: Be sure to go back to the links above to find Chapter 1 (and comment on each something that shows you’ve read that chapter) and read on from there!
The two men worked something out while I was in the ladies’ room. Michael was afraid there would be no place for me to rest in the small house he shared with Husker. People coming and going all day with supplies and friends arriving from all over would make the house chaotic.
That was how I ended up in Todd’s Mustang when we left the restaurant. My road trip with Michael was officially over. Todd drove us to a Motel 6 we had passed a few miles back. I hardly looked at him on the short trip. We got separate rooms, paid with separate credit cards, and I let myself into my room without saying good-bye.
I was so exhausted I went to sleep on top of my bed without undressing. I lay there for a while, the sun finding cracks in the curtains, the AC droning noisily, my head buzzing with worry. The specter of that lost ring had worked its way into the depths of my mind. I imagined Salvatore’s fury, his disappointment, his pity.
When I woke up, my phone said it was four in the afternoon. My brain was buzzing. My mouth tasted like salt. I went in the bathroom and rinsed, realizing I didn’t have toothpaste. My hair was a mess of tangles, my eyes puffy. Sticking my key card in my jeans pocket, I left the room and headed for the lobby.
The older gentleman behind the desk pointed me in the direction of a Wal-Mart across the road. The walk over revived me. The air was cool but the sun intense and by the time I entered the refrigerated Wal-Mart, I was sweating.
I threw items into my cart as I walked down the endless aisles. A new pair of shorts and a couple of tops, underwear and a bra, a pair of sandals, sunblock, a swimsuit, and a full complement of toiletries found their way into my cart. In my wallet, I had two credit cards, a couple hundred in cash, and two blank checks I kept for emergencies. Armed with my new wardrobe, I hiked back across the road to the Motel 6. A long shower and a hair wash later, I emerged feeling better.
My phone vibrated as I pulled the door closed. I could see Todd waiting at the end of the hall. A picture of Salvatore showed on my display.
“Hey, how’re you doing?” I offered.
“I’m good,” Salvatore said. “Missing you a little.”
“Just a little?”
“Well,” he said.
“I miss you too,” I said, filling the gap. “I just woke up. We drove all night, straight through, so I slept all day. Sorry I didn’t call this morning.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “So tonight’s the big party?”
“Yeah. Don’t even know who all I’m going to see. I really wish you were here with me.”
“Yeah,” I said. “They’re all going to be looking at me. I’m going to be saying, you know, I’m engaged to this guy, left him back home in Chicago. He thought he was a homosexual, but just for me he went straight again.”
“You’re a real comedian tonight,” Salvatore said.
“What’re you up to?”
“Probably going to watch a movie.” There was a little pause. It sounded like something he made up on the spur of the moment. I wasn’t going to put him on the spot and ask which movie. “Hey, have you talked to your sister? I talked to her yesterday. She was freaking out.”
“Why? I did see she left a few messages, but you know what?”
“Don’t tell me. You get tired of messages from Alison?”
“You guessed it. Why was she freaking out?”
“I don’t know. Something about Garcia entering without knocking. She seemed kind of bothered about that.”
“He always does crazy stuff,” I said.
“Well, you say hi to all your friends from me,” Salvatore said. “I’ll meet them some other time.”
“They’ll see your ring,” he said. “They’ll see you’re engaged. Tell ’em all about my abs, you know?”
His comment about the ring filled me with panic. I went from smiling to cringing, standing there in the motel corridor. Todd was walking toward me now, impatient to go.
“Of course,” I said. “Guess who else showed up, all the way from Chicago.”
“My sister’s no-good husband Todd,” I said. I said it especially loud and clear, although Todd was close enough to get every word. It didn’t diminish his smug look.
“Who’re you talking to?” Todd said.
“What’s he doing there?” Salvatore said.
“He claims to be working on a Tribune article,” I said. “Michael was dumb enough to invite him.”
I didn’t feel like continuing the conversation with Todd listening to every word, so I told Salvatore I would call him later. Todd looked like he’d had a rest and a shower as well.
“Michael gave me the address,” he said. “We might as well head over. It’s close to the restaurant where we had breakfast. Hey, Annie.”
I looked up. Todd was pointing at my hand as we walked through the motel lobby and out the door.
“Still no ring? What did Salvatore say?”
His tone was thick with sarcasm. He hadn’t reacted to my insults directly. Now he showed the form of his attack.
“Why are you always sticking your nose in other people’s business? Do you enjoy doing that?”
“Actually I do,” he said. “Hey, relax.”
He tried to hold the door, going out of the motel. I hung back and opened it for myself. It can get ugly when people tell me to relax. It was bad enough that I had to drive around with the man who had dumped my sister. As I got in his car, I felt my phone vibrating again. Fittingly, it was Alison.
“Hey Al,” I said.
“Finally you pick up. What’s the matter, girl? Are you avoiding me? Don’t you know I’ve been worried sick? Where are you?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
Todd smiled as he drove out of the motel parking lot. Alison’s voice probably carried right out the windows of the car to the orange-vested street workers waving us on. I was sure Todd heard every word. “You’re in Tampa, right? Did you get there okay with that maniac?”
“We drove straight through. I checked into a motel and slept all day. Now we’re on our way over to the party.”
“You and Michael? He was in the motel with you?”
“He’s back at the house.”
I looked at Todd. What the hell was I supposed to say? “I’m in your husband’s car right now, actually.”
“Todd? Todd is there?” The volume went up as Alison expressed her surprise. “What is that clown doing in Florida?”
“He thinks there’s a feature story to be had out of this party. Michael told him about it.”
“Why do I feel like I’m missing something?” Alison said. “Since when does the Tribune pay stringers to go on trips to Florida for a feature that’ll never see the light of day?”
“I’m not a stringer,” Todd said. “Bitch.”
Alison talked in such a shrill voice, Todd heard every word from the driver’s seat. “Exactly what I wondered. He followed us.”
“He followed you to Florida?”
“All night long.”
“He always was a kook,” my sister said. “Let me get this straight. You and Todd are driving to the party. So you’re staying in the same motel? Next thing you’re going to tell me, you’re sharing a room with my husband?”
“Right,” I said.
“What I would give,” Todd said.
“What did he say?” Alison said. I was just staring at him. I couldn’t believe he said what he just said.
“You don’t want to know,” I said. “Let’s just say he’s changed.”
“And not for the better,” Alison said. “That would’ve been too much to hope for. Well, I’m glad to know you got there in one piece.”
After we disconnected, I stared out the window on my side the rest of the way. I couldn’t believe Todd’s innuendo. He hadn’t even started drinking. She was my sister, for God’s sake. Did he have no propriety? No decency?
I covered my ears with my hands when Todd started talking. He wanted to say something but I refused to listen. He finally pulled over and demanded that I listen. Instead, I opened the door.
“I’ll get out and walk,” I said. “I’d really prefer it rather than listening to whatever garbage is coming out of your brain.”
Todd set his teeth. “Shut the door,” he said.
We drove the rest of the way in silence. When we got there I jumped out and ditched him. Cars were parked all up and down the street in front of Michael and Husker’s house. Todd took off, looking for a place to park the Mustang. Hopefully I wouldn’t see him again the whole night.
The house was quite a sight, all lit up with a splatter movie of leftover Christmas displays that instantly made your eyes ache. Eight brilliantly lit reindeer pranced around on the roof, attached to Santa’s sleigh, with Santa in the back. Happy Holidays was spelled out in one place, Merry Christmas in another, everything blinking. My brain made calculations as I looked at all the bulbs. Say fifty lights per animal and another 250 for Santa, the sleigh, and the reins, you were looking at 650 bulbs for this part alone.
Christmas trees decorated with additional lights dotted the roof, along with green-suited elves and a gingerbread house. No spot remained undecorated. They were sucking more power for this display than the rest of the neighborhood put together.
As I traversed the front yard, I saw what looked to be an AGM 45A Shrike air-to-surface missile hanging in midair about ten feet over Santa’s sleigh. You can tell a Shrike by the prominent stabilizing fins halfway along the narrow ten-foot shaft. It pointed downward at an angle. It looked like the whole Christmas display as well as the house underneath was about to be obliterated. I saw, attached to the roof, a supporting structure of thin pipes leading up to the missile. A painted banner stretched all the way across the front of the house, covering part of the sleigh. The words painted in red and blue read: