No one could accuse Marcella Hollister’s family of being normal. Her gorgeous Native American husband, Quinn, has a compulsive cleaning problem – which works for her, since she gets a pass on housework. Her mother, who insists on being called Thelma, loves picking on Quinn. And then there’s Ruby. Sometimes Marcella isn’t sure who Quinn loves more, his wife or his prized parakeet.
While mourning the death of her stepfather, Marcella and family head for the Adirondack National Bird Show for a much-needed vacation. But when Thelma falls into a hotel pool with Ruby dragging twinkling lights behind her, plans change. Electricity zaps through the water, creating a bizarre psychic link between woman and bird.
When Thelma is kidnapped from her hospital bed, the FBI shows up asking questions about Thelma’s inheritance, which may be linked to the largest unsolved robbery in U.S. history.
Through mountains, rivers, and across the rugged Adirondack Park landscape, a brutal scenario evolves, where the good guys aren’t what they seem, and only Ruby’s newly acquired “Thelma-vision” gives hope for survival.
The remote Adirondack dirt road twisted and turned into the wilderness, drawing us farther into the boonies. Blue mountains crested the distant horizon, and tall pines hugged the road on both sides. We’d seen no houses, no gas stations, and no people. Our hotel was nowhere in sight, and we’d been on the hilly dirt road for over an hour.
I turned to my husband. “Check the map again, will you, hon?”
The road dipped into a dangerously steep gully. Quinn grabbed his armrest, and I maneuvered the van through the trench at the bottom, hoping no one was coming in the other direction. No way could two cars make it through this stretch.
He unfolded the coffee-stained map. “It’s supposed to be right ahead.”
When we’d started our journey, my beautiful husband had reminded me of an Indian brave on the cusp of a great adventure. This was mostly thanks to his Seneca mother, who bequeathed her dark skin and strong Native American features to her only son. He’d worn the hand-sewn turquoise bolo tie I’d given him for Christmas over an unbuttoned crisp white linen shirt, his favorite old jeans, and comfortable moccasins. His clear turquoise eyes had darted with purpose, excited about our adventure. It was those same spectacular eyes that matched the stone in the bolo—and they were the only part of his appearance that came courtesy of his long dead English playwright father.
But now he sat rumpled and sweaty, and I was sure he was ready to kill me for not agreeing to buy that GPS yesterday. I’d pushed for the free Road-Mapper directions.
Instead, he neatly refolded the map to its original condition. I’d never figured out how he could do that. My map folding skills always resulted in a fat bunched up wad of crinkled paper.
I wondered if I would actually escape the reminder that I’d been a penny-pinching idiot.
No dice. He said it under his breath, but I heard it. “Maybe we should’ve bought that GPS.” He blotted his forehead with his sleeve and cranked up the air conditioning.
I didn’t dare tell him it wouldn’t do any good. The guys at Monroe Muffler told me the system needed to be recharged. I’d decided against that outlay of cash, too, trying to save a few pennies.
I swung the van around the next crater and was about to congratulate myself for my expert driving skills when a series of washboard ruts nearly popped the fillings out of my teeth.
Quinn braced himself on the dash. “Want me to take over?”
We reached level ground again and I glanced at his strained expression. “You hate it when I drive.”
His mouth tightened. He knew it was true. He nagged me about my speed, about traveling in the passing lane, and about my tailgating.
“No. Really. I’m just thinking about you, babe. Aren’t you tired?”
Another giant pothole threw me against the side window, cracking my head against the glass. A slew of nasty words almost came out, but I held them in, gripping the wheel with my sweaty hands. If I swore in front of my mother, I’d never hear the end of it.
I glanced in the rearview mirror to check on her. In spite of the jolts, she was still asleep in the captain’s chair. For a panicky second, I wondered if she’d died in her sleep. She quickly dispelled the notion by trumpeting several ungodly snorts.
I lost focus when I looked back at my mother and reacted too late to avoid the next pothole. The shocks ricocheted and bounced me out of my seat. My seatbelt snapped and I held my breath, half-expecting the airbags to inflate.
“Whoa! Watch it, babe. Don’t blow a tire.”
I jerked the car around a big depression and drove onto the bumpy grass on the side of the road, hoping we wouldn’t sink in and get stuck in the middle of no man’s land.
The partially functioning air conditioner was getting worse. I squirmed on the sticky vinyl seat and repositioned my death grip on the wheel. My dress was riding up, my underarms were soaked, and my head throbbed. I badly wanted a cool swim and a cold Mohito, but especially didn’t want to admit to Quinn that we’d probably never see civilization again.
Our hotel should have been just around the bend—a half hour ago—but the absence of traffic confirmed my fears. We’d never get off this God-forsaken road.
The van chugged along the shoulder like a tortoise mired in molasses. An occasional pristine lake glimmered behind the trees, and I was half-tempted to stop the car, abandon my husband and mother in the van, strip naked, and plunge into the water. I’d swim away from it all. From the dusty road. From my grumpy mood. And from the pain I still felt after the death of my stepfather three months earlier.
Instead, I fumed in my seat and kept driving. After ten minutes of avoiding pits and crevices, I spied a Grand Canyon-sized pothole up ahead where the road had washed out.
Quinn’s eyes widened when he saw it. He pulled back a long strand of his glossy black hair and tucked it behind his ear, trying to look unruffled. “Babe? How about it? Wanna switch?”
I really should have let him take over an hour ago, but if you haven’t noticed already, I’m stubborn. And I always need to prove I can DO it, even if I can’t do it.
I stuck out my tongue and pulled over. “You know you’re a control freak.”
Quinn gave me a good-natured smile. “That’s me.”
Damn him. Always so sweet.
A billowing gray cloud followed us. We’d been kicking up the dust for the past half hour, and I pitied the poor slobs who’d been traveling in our wake. I glanced in the side mirror to check again for the annoying white truck that had been following us off and on since Utica. They disappeared a few minutes ago, but my mother, who insisted I call her Thelma since I was three years old, had been obsessing over the evil intentions of the truck before she finally took a Xanax and fell asleep.
I slid the lever into park and shut off the engine. Grumbling, I unbuckled my seatbelt and caught my reflection in the mirror. I looked like a snarling gargoyle. In a flash, a realization hit me.
Quinn’s not the control freak.
Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The award-winning and bestselling Kindle author of three addictive mystery series, Aaron enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his website at http://www.legardemysteries.com and watch for his upcoming Twilight Times Books releases, ESSENTIALLY YOURS (MAR 2012), TERROR COMES KNOCKING (FEB 2011), FOR KEEPS (MAY 2012), DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU (APRIL 2012), and the author’s preferred editions of DOUBLE FORTÉ (FEB 2012) and UPSTAGED (JUNE 2012).
Click here for a character interview with: Ruby, Hero of “For the Birds” by Aaron Paul Lazar
Click here for a character interview with: Oscar Stone, family friend of Gus LeGarde, of the Gus LeGarde Mystery series
Click here for a character interview with: Siegfried Marggrander, close friend and brother-in-law of Gus LeGarde, of the LeGarde Mystery series, written by Aaron Lazar.
Click here for a discussion about: Writing Columns and Branding — Interview with Author Aaron Paul Lazar