The Magic Fault by Paul Mohrbacher

The Magic Fault unfolds in Turin, Italy, where the Catholic Church’s most revered relic has been stolen by a mysterious sect from the city’s cathedral. The theft occurs during the 2004 Salone del Gusto, Turin’s celebration of “good, clean, and fair food” sponsored by the international Slow Food Movement. Tom Ueland, an American Midwest college history professor and journalist who writes about magical thinking, is in Turin to vacation with a friend, Rachel Cohen, an exhibitor at the celebration. He’s also there at the invitation of the Turin archbishop, himself a student of magical thinking. Tom takes up the chase after the Shroud of Turin and is spun toward a resolution he never sees coming.

The Magic Fault will resonate with people who love the drama of European history, with those who follow religious debates, and with people passionate about where and how the world’s food is grown.  Mystery lovers will have fun trying to figure out the resolution before the protagonist does.  And the “magic” theme adds to the mystery.

Excerpt:

He never would have been in that church yesterday if not for one other person. A month earlier, he had received a letter from the archbishop of Turin, a priest named Michael Tucci. Tucci had read an article on magical thinking in the New York Times arts section. In the article, Tom had been quoted as an authority on the topic. He summarized the Historian Norman Cantor’s insights into medieval behavior during the Black Plague of the 14th Century: Christians blamed the Jews for the plague. “Scapegoating is magical thinking,” Tom wrote. “And it goes on today. We blame the ‘other’ for everything wrong in our lives. Religious extremists are often the worst offenders.”

The priest wrote that he was deeply fascinated by the topic and invited him to Turin. Tom wrote back he’d be there in a month. Yesterday was to be the day for the meeting. Tom had decided to check out the famed Shroud of Turin relic first.

Now it looked as though he might not get to see the priest. Next stop: The U.S. consulate in Turin, if there was one. And he needed a lawyer.

Another knock on the door; the big guy barged in and spoke actually using nouns and verbs. “The archbishop of Turin wants to see you.”

Tom looked at his watch — 7 a.m. The cop had brought him a shaving kit, a cappuccino and a bag of fresh bread and rolls. “Get dressed, please, and I will be back in thirty minutes.” “Please” meant something for sure — he was cleared.

 “It’s about time. Is it a trial, the inquisition, what the hell is going on?”

The big cop had undergone a personality change from the night before. He even looked smaller. “The archbishop will meet you in the Duomo. The scene of the crime. Then of course, if all goes well, you are free to go about your business in Torino.”

***

The Magic Fault is Paul Mohrbacher’s first venture into genre fiction. His writing career began as a playwright. His first script for the stage, The Chancellor’s Tale (The Dramatic Publishing Company), won first prize in the 1991 Julie Harris Playwright Award Competition and has received numerous productions and readings. Born in Duluth, Minnesota, he was a Catholic priest for 16 years. He lives with his wife, Ruth Murphy, in St. Paul, surrounded by grandchildren.

(Photo by Andrea Cole Photography)

See also:
Chapter One of The Magic Fault
Interview with Paul Mohrbacher
 

Click here to buy: The Magic Fault

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One Hot January by J. Conrad Guest

In One Hot January, Joe January, an emotionally aloof private investigator from the South Bronx, gets more than he bargains for when he uncovers this seemingly impossible plot of time travel and alternate realities by grudgingly agreeing to help a pretty young woman locate her missing father. Her father, a Professor of Archeology from Columbia College, must prevent the secret location of Hitler’s body, which lies in a cryogenic state awaiting a cure for cancer, from falling into the wrong hands. By the end of the novel, January is thrust one hundred years into the future, where he must survive on a century-old sagacity as he endeavors to find his way back to his own time and the woman he loves but lacked the courage to tell. The tale concludes in January’s Thaw, to be released later this year.

Excerpt:

I stood on the brake pedal. The front brakes bit harder than the rear brakes; a high-pitched squeal sounded as the tires fought against the car’s forward momentum. I heard Melissa’s quick inhalation of air and her single syllable exclamation “Oh! ” underscore Lance’s “Jee-sus, Joe, what are you doing?” as he braced himself against the dashboard.

The rear tires lost traction amid blue smoke and the back end of the Ford started to pass me on the right. I allowed the car to come around ninety degrees before correcting into the skid. A moment later the Ford came to a halt in a position perpendicular to the flow of traffic.

Through the windshield I watched traffic in the southbound lane flow past. In the rearview mirror I saw Melissa’s surprised face. A ragged line of bright red streaked her right cheek; she had been applying lipstick when I’d locked the brakes. Beyond her face, through the rear window, I could see the Mapes Gates of Columbia College, and beyond them, University Hall. Grunting my amusement at the irony, I glanced at Lance, who looked somewhat shaken.

“What’s the matter, Lance?” I asked. “You look like you’re about to lose your breakfast.”

“Huh?”

Ignoring Lance’s question, I looked to my left to find the surprised face of the bespectacled driver of the Packard staring at me over the steering wheel he still clutched. Due to the Packard’s close proximity I was unable to open my door.

“Huh,” I grunted in contempt, suddenly aware of the many different uses of the three-letter interjection Lance had used but a moment ago. Had he intended interrogation, or had his response been simply reflex, an expression of surprise the result of shock?

“Hold this,” I said, handing my hat to Lance.

“Where are you going?” Lance asked dumbly, the color drained from his face.

“To make an acquaintance,” I said, hauling my bulk through the window frame.

I stepped one leg out, then the other, landing lightly on the Packard’s bumper. From there I bounded down onto the brick that was Broadway and made my way around to the driver’s side of the Packard. Flinging open its door, I reached in, grabbed the still startled driver by the lapels of his cheap tweed suit, and shook him violently several times. The last of the repetitions partially dislodged the pince-nez from the bridge of the nose it spanned. The blue eyes, now just inches from my own, swam beneath water that wasn’t tears. One eye, the left, focused its terror on me while the other, due to a weakness of its tendon an optometrist would diagnose as strabismus, seemed to focus furtively on some distant object behind and to my left. I resisted the urge to turn around to see what it was that held that other eye’s interest.

“Now that I have your attention,” I rasped, “maybe you’d like to tell me just what it is you’re doing tailing us.”

The great eyes blinked; yet the pools of water still threatened to spill over their levees.

“I haff no idea vat you are talking a-bout.” The man spoke, his high tenor surprising me, in a carefully metered pace that betrayed an uncertainty of the English language and I felt my stomach sink. We had yet to leave New York and already my worst fears were confirmed.

The man’s a Nazi! I concluded.

“Shit!” I said. An image of the man whose lapels I still firmly held dressed in the black of the German Gestapo flashed before my eyes.

And to think I was concerned over the likelihood that he was an agent of our own government. Dammit!

“You always make a point of enjoying a cup of coffee while reading The Wall Street in front of my office on 59th before following me uptown?”

“I haff no idea—”

“Yeah, yeah,” I broke in, giving him another violent shaking. The action provided a release for my slightly trembling hands, the result of my surging adrenaline. “I’ve already heard that.”

I snorted aloud and a new strategy began to take shape. I released my grip and fussed over the rumpled lapels.

“Obviously you’re a tourist,” I said, righting the glasses that still teetered precariously near the end of his nose.

“Ja, a tourist,” the German answered with a slow nod.

I watched the conspiratorial gaze that had been residing in the right eye make its way none too stealthily to the good eye. In the vacancy left behind, I thought I detected a certain nonchalance that surely was intended to disarm me.

“Ja,” I mimicked. “Well, being a local maybe I can help you find whatever landmark it is you’re looking for, Herr Tourist.”

“Land-mark?” the big German enunciated carefully. Neither eye looked like it comprehended what I was talking about.

“Ja,” I repeated. “You know ¼ sightseeing.” I watched the light come on in the cerulean of the left eye and the thin lips parted in a good-natured smile to reveal a good-sized gap between the two front teeth.

“Ja, sight-seeing,” the stranger acknowledged with a nod, and his smile broadened.

“Ja,” I repeated a third time with a nod of my own. “What would you like to see?” The smile inverted itself. Neither eye met my penetrating gaze. “The Statue of Liberty?”

Silence.

I nodded. “I see. Been there already. Well how about the Empire State Building, then?” Like all native New Yorkers, I slurred into one syllable the second and third words of the proper name that identifies New York’s most famous landmark. The stranger brought one eye to bear on me while the other stared off into the distance. I wondered if any object it might focus on would register an image for the German. “No? Well what about Columbia College? You seen that yet, Herr Pal?”

“Co-lum-bia Col-lege?” The German enunciated each syllable carefully, uncertainly.

“Great!” I said, allowing my own manufactured smile to break out. “I know just where Columbia College is. Why don’t you slide on over and I’ll have you there in no time.”

“Nein. I do not vish to ¼ trouble you. I vill find land-mark.”

“Oh, it’s no trouble at all,” I said with finality. “Now scootch.”

I stared hard at the one blue eye and saw it consider several alternatives, discarding each of them in turn. With a nod, the German, resigned to his one and only option, the one that had been forced upon him, relinquished his place behind the wheel of the Packard, and I hauled myself in beside him.

Firing the ignition, I stuck my head out the window and called to Lance, “Go ahead and park the car, Lance. We’ll be back in a few minutes.”

“But, where are you …?” I heard Lance call back as I brought my head back inside the Packard, just in time to see my unwilling passenger fumbling with the catch on the glove compartment. With catlike quickness I grabbed the German by his wrist.

“I don’t believe you’ll be needing that tour guidebook for this one,” I said.

With that, I dropped the Packard’s automatic transmission into reverse, glanced over my right shoulder, and backed up the few feet I needed to steer clear of the Ford. A moment later, with the Packard in drive, I slowly accelerated past my own car, giving a wave to Lance and Melissa, and on up Broadway.

“You know,” I said as the automatic transmission smoothly shifted from first to second gear, “you rubbernecks would get around our city a whole lot easier if you just kept in mind that the Avenues”—I glanced over at the German’s profile, a mask of contrived sincerity on my face— “you know avenues—Park Avenue, 5th Avenue. Avenues?”

“Ja, avenues.”

“Right, avenues. The Avenues in New York all run north and south, along the length of the island. Now the Streets,” I continued patiently. “The Streets all run east-west. Now if more of you tourists understood that concept—that the Avenues run north-south while the Streets run east-west ¼ well, you’d all have a helluva lot easier time finding landmarks and such and you wouldn’t have to pester us locals. You understand what I’m saying, Herr Rubberneck?”

“Ja.”

“Ja.” I noted our speed had crept up to thirty miles per hour.

“Now take Broadway for instance—the street we’re on now? It’s not a Street, so it doesn’t run east-west. It runs north-south—like an Avenue. But it’s not really an Avenue, I mean like Park Avenue, see? But avenue is another name for a broad roadway. Which is where Broadway derives its name.”

Our speed had risen to thirty-five miles per hour by now, well above the limit for the city. I kept a close lookout for any police cars that might be patrolling.

“So you see, Broadway really is an avenue, which is why it traverses the island in a more or less north-south direction. Just a little something for you to keep in mind while touring the sights here in our fair city, ja?”

“Ja.”

Even from his profile I could tell the German was more than a little edgy.

The speedometer now registered forty miles per hour. The traffic light at West 135th Street was red. I sailed right on through it—as I had the red at 125th Street.

“Oh, what am I thinking?” I said, pressing the palm of my right hand against my forehead. “You know I got so carried away with my advice, I didn’t realize we just passed Columbia College twenty or so blocks back.”

With a glance into the rearview mirror, I slammed the gear selector into reverse. The Packard came to a stop in a hurry and filled up with smoke, as much from the tires as from the transmission. Reverse was stripped out but that was no problem; I had allowed the Packard to do a tight one-hundred-eighty-degree spin in the middle of Broadway so we’d be facing south. Pale as a ghost and staring straight ahead, the German clutched the dashboard as I crossed into the southbound lane and drove back down Broadway.

“Well here we are, Mac, none the worse for wear,” I said once I’d finished parking the Packard in front of Columbia, just a few yards from where we’d started our little jaunt.

Nose-to-tail with the car in front, the German would effectively be dead in the water. With no reverse, he would have no choice but to wait until the car in front was moved before he could continue his pursuit, and by then we’d be miles away.

“Sorry about all the confusion,” I said. “I guess I’m just not used to driving one of these new automatic transmissions. Although,” I added as an afterthought, “I’ve got a buddy who tells me they’re turning them out like hotcakes in Detroit.” 

***

J. Conrad Guest’s writing credentials include January’s Paradigm, first published in 1998 by Minerva Press, London, England. Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings,  available from Second Wind Publishing, was adopted by the Illinois Institute of Technology as required reading for their spring 2011 course Baseball: America’s Literary Pastime. Several of Guest’s short stories and non-fiction pieces have appeared on Internet publications, including Cezanne’s Carrot, Saucy Vox, River Walk Journal, 63 Channels, The Writers Post Journal and Redbridge Review. Blood and Thunder: Musings on the Art of Medicine published in November 2005 Mother’s Day: Coming to Terms with the Cruelty of Parkinson’s, a memoir chronicling his mother’s battle against Parkinson’s. 

See also:
Interview with J. Conrad Guest, author of One Hot January
Interview with Joe January, hero of One Hot January by J. Conrad Guest
Chapter One – One Hot January by J. Conrad Guest

Click here to buy: One Hot January

Carpet Ride by Norm Brown

Near the end of their honeymoon trip across Oregon, Sam Stanley, his new wife Lynn, and her one-year-old son Andy, traverse a steep mountain road in a rented RV. In the middle of a blind curve they run over a long roll of carpeting angled across the road. Sam barely manages to avoid crashing the huge vehicle down the mountainside. When he walks back up the road to move the obstacle—it’s gone. Upon returning home to Austin, Sam learns that the crushed body of a business executive from Boulder, Colorado has been found at the site of their reported accident. There is no roll of carpet.

Excerpt:

“Lightning maybe?”

“Could’ve been, I guess. But the storm clouds are gone. I can see stars now.”

They both watched the tree top and sky for a moment.

“We need to keep moving.”

Lynn nodded and started forward.

They walked on down the trail, passing through alternating patches of moonlight and shadow. The low hum from up ahead was becoming more like a rumble. There was an ominous sense of power in the sound that made Sam’s stomach want to roll.

Then he saw the light.

A large white spot flashed across the brush to his left. He stopped and watched. The light became brighter, more focused. First one tree trunk and then the next lit up briefly as the beam of light swung through the woods.

“He’s back,” Lynn cried out behind him.

The light sank lower on the tree trunks and then vanished completely. The approaching vehicle must have dropped into a dip in the trail behind them. It was hard to guess how far behind.

“How can he be coming from that direction, Sam? From behind us.”

“That fork in the trail, back near the cabin. That must be another way in here.”

Sam bounced Andy higher on his hip to get a better grip and then turned back in the direction they had been going.

“Let’s get around this next curve, find a place to hide.”

He walked fast, with long strides. In spite of her limp Lynn kept up fairly well as they followed the ruts around a gentle curve. After about fifty feet, the trail straightened and started down a slight incline. Sam slowed and squinted into the patchy moonlight, trying to make sense of what he saw ahead of them. The white gravel tire ruts they had been following appeared to go straight for a short distance and then disappear into an expanse of open moonlight. It looked to Sam like the world ended a few yards ahead. The rumbling sound was coming from beyond the edge.

He took a couple more slow steps forward before the white beam of light suddenly reappeared, lighting up the woods to his left. It provided enough diffuse light down the trail for Sam to clearly see what lie ahead. From where he stood, the trail continued for a few feet and then abruptly ended. Or more correctly, he realized, it submerged. A dark churning mass of water flowed across from his right to his left. Sam could feel a cool mist on his face.

They had found the creek Sam remembered crossing on the way to Martin’s cabin. Only it was no longer a wide shallow creek, but a raging torrent. Although the heavy rains had ended, all that accumulated water still had to go somewhere. In this hilly terrain the floodwater sought lower ground with amazing speed and force.

Sam felt Andy’s arm tighten around his neck. Lynn came up beside him and squinted in the low light at a pile of white foam tumbling by a few feet away. All three seemed mesmerized by the surging rise and fall of the water. Then they were suddenly lit up from behind. Their long skinny shadows stretched out across the surface of the water, but never quite found the opposite shore of the swollen creek.

Sam and Lynn turned just as the source of the light came into view. Two incredibly bright headlights topped by small orange running lights. The body of the vehicle was not yet visible, but there was little doubt that it would prove to be the big white van.

***

Norm Brown was born and raised in Groves, a small town at the very southeastern corner of Texas. He earned a degree in physics from Lamar University, but a science career was not in the cards. Instead Norm got in on the ground floor of the rapid expansion of computers beginning in the 1970′s and has enjoyed a long, successful career in programming and analysis, living and working in Houston, Dallas, Kansas City, Wichita, Boulder, and finally Austin.

As an avid reader of mystery and suspense, however, Norm always had an unexpressed desire to see his own words in print and to entertain people with stories from his imagination. Carpet Ride is his first novel to be published.

Click here to buy: Carpet Ride

Images of Betrayal by Claire Collins

Abandoned by her family, Tysan works as a waitress in a cheap diner. One cold evening, a beguiling, rugged young man barges into her life. He possesses the remarkable ability to take photographs of events that have not yet happened. Ty narrowly avoids a harrowing death in a disastrous explosion, only to be drawn into a dizzying cascade of conflicts involving a new family that takes her in, Walker-her apparent savior, David-her new admirer and her own family. Kidnapping, betrayal, obsessive love and courageous lovers co-mingle in this romantic thriller.

Excerpt:

His eyes darted to the envelope on the table. He took a drink of coffee, swallowing too hard. When he turned back to me, his eyes were haunted. He reached out, grasped the envelope, and pulled out another picture. As he handed it to me, his words registered.

“You’re supposed to keep yourself safe.”

The photo I held was taken in the restaurant. I was standing behind the front counter, the picture taken from across the room. A man sat in front of me, only the back of his head visible in the picture. He was covered in soot and ashes. Pieces of his clothing were burned away and blackened. My skin was blistered and the remnants of my hair were singed. My uniform had burned to my body, sticking to me as I stood there, coffee pot in hand. The ceiling of the restaurant was behind me, or at least part of it. Grey, cloudy skies formed a backdrop where some of the ceiling and the wall to the kitchen used to be. The pieces of the restaurant in the picture were burnt; smoke still rising from the embers surrounding me.

The picture was dated two days from today.I dropped the picture like the paper itself was on fire. I didn’t want to touch it. In the photo, I stood there with a coffee pot in my hand, while everything around me and my clothes were in utter destruction. Walker snatched the picture from the table, dropping it back into the envelope.

“I’m sorry,” he said, taking my hand in his again. “Short of kidnapping you that day, I didn’t know any other way to tell you about this.”

***

Claire Collins resides in North Carolina and writes across many genres. She loves reading when she gets the time around her family and her work schedule. She currently has two novels available through Second Wind Publishing and is working on her third, Seeds of September. 

 

Click here to buy: Images of Betrayal

Fate and Destiny by Claire Collins

Discovering Destiny was the last thing Andrew Greer expected.

 Alone in a desolate cabin, Andrew Greer was perfectly content to wait out the blizzard with his adventurous dog, Shadow, as his only companion. Fate decided differently. When Shadow discovers the unconscious and injured woman, Andrew has no choice but to take her to the safety and warmth of his retreat.

 Destiny weaves a tale of kidnapping and murder. Is she the witness and victim to the crimes? Or is she really a conspirator getting away with murder? Andrew is determined to protect Destiny and find out the truth. Can he find the real killer before it’s too late? Or has he already found her? Only Fate knows for sure.

Excerpt:

A body lay crumpled against the boulder. Tennis shoes, a pair of jeans, a leather jacket, and a pale face. None of which belonged a few hundred yards from his cabin.

Andrew did not know this woman.

He reached out to pull the dog’s collar, trying to avoid looking at the face of the unfortunate soul before him. Morbid curiosity won. Feminine features and deathly white skin framed by hair pulled into a ponytail. Long lashes graced high cheekbones over the closed eyelids. A bright red slash trickled down from a gash just below the hairline and flowed into a darker, drying patch that was pooling near her ear.  A furrow marked the snow where the body rolled down the embankment.  The barks became loud whines as the dog sniffed around the body and began licking the face. Before he could jump up, back away, or even breathe, there was a slight movement over the woman’s face.

He focused his eyes just above the slightly open lips.

“Oh my God.” Andrew let out his own breath.

“She’s alive.”

***

Claire Collins resides in North Carolina and writes across many genres. She loves reading when she gets the time around her family and her work schedule. She currently has two novels available through Second Wind Publishing and is working on her third, Seeds of September. 

 

Click here to buy: Fate and Destiny

 

Introducing Four New Releases From Second Wind Publishing, LLC

Four new releases from Second Wind Publishing! Click on the cover of any of these novels to read the first chapter. 

front-sta-195x304Three world-class pianists.
Two possible killers.
One dead woman.
Who is her murderer?
Who will be next? 

When acclaimed pianist Nicholas Kalman discovers his lover’s dead body, he sets out alone to find her killer. During his journey, he meets an unwitting female accomplice who soon becomes determined to help Nicholas wield his retaliation. Following a parallel path for justice, Steven Hawk, the deputy of a sleepy Southern county, is assigned to the case. Pursuing the investigation, Hawk finds himself entangled in a world of vengeance, greed and manipulation.

Performed against the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, Staccato transports readers to a behind-the-scenes glimpse of professional musicians, the psychological twists and turns of its characters, and in the end, retribution that crashes in a crescendo of notes played at the literary pace of a maestro’s staccato. 

Staccato is the first novel of the Steven Hawk/Inola Walela thriller trilogy.
 

School of LiesWhen High School teacher Kendra Desola opens an anonymous email she expects to find a bitter complaint from a parent, or a snipe from one of her back-biting co-workers. Instead, a photoshopped attachment shows Kendra getting way too friendly with her male students. 

She intends to stop this lie before it circulates, but before she can locate the source, the suspicious death of a colleague brings the police on campus. Kendra now fears the email was a set up, to make it look like she had a motive for murder. What if the cops get wind of the email and buy the “evidence” that she’s a child molester, or a murderess, or both? Kendra plays off an unknown adversary as she desperately seeks to prove her innocence in a School of Lies.
 

Buried in Wolf LakeWhen a family’s Golden Retriever brings home the dismembered leg of a young woman, the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department launches an investigation unlike any other. Who does the leg belong to, and where is the rest of her body? Sergeant Corrine Aleckson and Detective Elton Dawes soon discover they are up against an unidentified psychopath who targets women with specific physical features. Are there other victims, and will they learn the killer’s identity in time to prevent another brutal murder? 

 

Loving LydiaLoving Lydia, is a sweet, inspirationally touched romance, set during the regency era. When Lady Lydia, a moral, naïve young woman enters society, she is confounded by Lord Alex, a known reprobate rumored to have a dark side.  Yet he captures her heart. When Lydia is sucked into his dark world, can he save her and their love?

 

 

Available from Second Wind Publishing:
Printed Books
Ebooks 

The books are also available from Amazon in both Kindle and Trade Paperback.