Excerpt From “January’s Thaw” by J. Conrad Guest

A man approached me in 1992 to tell his story — his name was Joe January, and he was a private investigator from the South Bronx circa 1940. A twenty-first century Philip Marlowe, January can best be described as an indignant Humphrey Bogart. That encounter resulted in January’s Paradigm. One Hot January and January’s Thaw conclude the January saga. Combined, they paint a profile of a man out of place out of time. Set against the backdrop of an alternate reality in which we are living in a timeline created by time travelers from the future, January’s tale is compelling, and I couldn’t be more pleased he chose me to tell it. I think I’ve managed to remain true to his story as well as his voice. —J. Conrad Guest

Fellow Michigan writer Rachael Perry and author of How to Fly writes of January’s Thaw, “Great books strive to entertain, enrich and do nothing less than change the world. In January’s Thaw, J. Conrad Guest gives us an unforgettable adventure seen through the cracked lens of our broken present and an all-too-possible, what-if past. Full of intrigue, romance and scathing social commentary, it is both an ambitious novel and an exciting, page-turning imaginative quest for that which is beautiful and true.”

EXCERPT:

Weary from consternation as well as the day’s events, which included a six-hour bout with airsickness, I climbed the stairs to my third story office and was surprised to find the door unlocked; a light shown through the frosted glass that identified the tenant as Joe January, Private Investigator.

Inside, Lindy was finishing the Chinese she’d ordered from around the corner.

“Lindy …”

When I didn’t go on, she said, “You said yesterday you hoped to be back in New York today.”

“I should’ve called you when we landed at Teterboro.”

“When I didn’t hear from you, I figured either you were okay and you thought it unnecessary to call, or something had come up and I should make myself available.”

The formality of this discussion was beginning to annoy me. I’d been gone for only a day and a half, but somehow it seemed much longer, and Lindy, despite the accusatory tone in her voice, was a sight for sore eyes. What I said was, “It’s good to be home.”

I hung my hat from the coat tree by the door and took a step, takeout in hand, toward the couch.

“Joe …” she said tentatively, her voice suddenly warmer, and I stopped. When I didn’t come to her rescue she went on.

“You look tired. You probably don’t want to drive home. That couch can’t be comfortable. Why don’t you stay at my place? I’ll drive and you can eat on the way.”

On the ride to Lindy’s place I filled her in on the high-lights of the day, primarily of our flight from the hotel to the track, leaving out the details—I was convinced she wouldn’t have believed me anyway. When she asked about Melissa’s brother, I told her that he had been a victim of mistaken identity but didn’t add that I thought it likely he was dead. I explained that I’d hoped the case was closed but thought it unlikely, and that I expected yet to hear from the MacIntyres, probably in the next day or two. That was the clinical part of our reunion.

Later, I undressed her slowly, gently touching her in those places I knew would bring, for both Lindy and me, the desired response.

I made love to her then, slowly, gently, but more passionately than I ever had before. Being an emotional coward, it was perhaps the best I could do in terms of an apology.

Maybe it’s because of the many years since that long ago night that today I surmise some part of me at some level knew I was about to lose Lindy.

“Lindy,” I said afterward, needing to come clean. “About the other night … Ginger—”

“Shhh,” she said, and covered my mouth with her hand.

I wanted to be angry at Lindy for not allowing me to make this confession—perhaps she feared it was a preface to my breaking it off with her—yet angry at myself for taking so long to admit to myself what she’d come to mean to me, and angry at her again for being so forgiving of my transgressions against her. I heard, and not for the first time, Melissa’s accusation: She sees in you what I see.

But Lindy was laughing softly in that melodious way that was hers and hers alone. Resting on my right elbow, I watched with fascination as her bare breasts, their nipples still erect, shook with her laughter.

“What?” I asked, surprised that my mention of Ginger had elicited laughter instead of tears or anger.

“I didn’t tell you this,” she said, her preface wresting my attention.

She was looking up at me in that way that was hers alone. Where my eyes once rested I now placed a hand; Lindy sighed softly and closed her eyes. Her tongue, moist and rough, darted out to wet her lips and I thought she would forgo the story she had not quite begun; but I was mistaken: the evening was yet young and the night long. She took a breath and continued, even as I felt her nipple stiffen between my thumb and forefinger.

“When I was talking to Ginger about Lance, she asked me how many medals he had.” Her eyes fluttered open and she laughed again, but not before I noted her quickened heartbeat. “It was the first time I could recall Ginger ever asking about someone else’s jewelry.”

“Lance would be offended,” I said. “In the service they refer to medals as decorations.”

“I know that, Joe. But a woman’s jewelry amounts to pretty much the same thing, doesn’t it—decoration?”

I laughed, and a moment later Lindy joined me. I rolled onto my back and after our laughter subsided Lindy covered my mouth again, but this time she covered it with her mouth.

***

I spent that night with Lindy, a rarity for me, as I preferred instead the distance that spending the night alone provides. I’m glad now that I stayed, no matter that my initial reason was one of convenience.

In the morning, after our shared shower, we made love to the sound of softly falling rain outside the bedroom window. In the afterglow neither of us told the other that we loved them.

I doubt that Lindy couldn’t have known how I felt about her. Perhaps in knowing, she didn’t need my reassurance; still, I regret not telling her, if not for her sake then for my own—to hear myself say the words, especially now, after discovering these many years later that she carried my child.

***

Click here for an interview with: J. Conrad Guest, Author of “January’s Thaw”

 

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Excerpt From “Exchange” by Dale Cozort

Exchange, by Dale R. Cozort is an outstanding new science fiction adventure.  A series of Exchanges swaps town-sized realities with dangerous places and other times. Such  Exchanges have become ‘routine catastrophes,’  creating a new frontier — a wild, dangerous place that people can go to start a new life if they’re brave enough and/or crazy enough. Sharon Mack wants no part this frontier, but when her anarchist ex-husband takes their seven-year-old daughter into the alternate reality she has no choice but to follow, fighting her way through threatening animals, a brutal street gang, escaped convicts, and the “Church of the Second Chance” to rescue her daughter before the Exchange ends.

Excerpt:

Sharon stood at the top of a knoll. She stared across the EZ into Bear Country. Wind stirred a vast grassy sea marked with islands of trees. There was no sign of human impact to the landscape except for ruts ripped in the soil by trucks; ugly, alien slashes through thick savanna grass.

I shouldn’t have stopped.

Tracking the convoy kept her mind and body distanced from the pain and despair that threatened to overwhelm her. Stopping gave a foothold to the pain of her bruised jaw and rope-burned wrists and ankles. Pain she could deal with, but Anthony or maybe Sister West’s collection of loonies had Bethany.

Bethany, her fixed smile hiding what? Terror? Bewilderment?

A flicker in her peripheral vision startled her. She reached for the gun on her belt—Elroy’s heavy .45, retrieved from her car. A grasshopper-sized green and yellow bat hopped from a grass stem and fluttered away.

Nothing.

As she studied the horizon, details jumped into focus. In the distance, hairy, elephant-like mastodons tested the breeze with questing trunks while green monkeys scrambled between their bulky forms. Nearer, a prairie dog, big as a raccoon, stood at attention next to its burrow—watching her with suspicion. June’s hot late-afternoon sun made her squint through her sunglasses.

“You have to keep moving if you don’t want someone sneaking up behind you.”

The calm but unfamiliar voice was close. Reflex sent her hand streaking toward her belt, but he was quicker—he smoothly plucked her gun from its holster. Spinning, she turned toward the voice, acutely aware of her empty hand.

The man was tall, well over six feet, and husky. He had deeply tanned skin; his head was topped with blond hair mussed by the wind. His khaki pants and polo shirt were unwrinkled and clean, and he appeared cool in spite of the heat of the day. He smiled sheepishly—showing white, even teeth set in a square jaw.

“Childish of me to sneak up on you and take your gun. However, you looked like you were out to kill someone. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t me.”

Sharon blinked to see if he’d vanish as suddenly as he’d appeared. She moved back a step, then her anger boiled.

“I’m extremely tired of people sneaking up behind me,” she said. “If you’re real, I’m probably going to kill you.”

The man stepped toward her.

“So you are in the mood to kill someone, which is why I grabbed your gun. I’ll give it back if you promise not to shoot me.”

“I’ll think about it. Who are you?”

“My name is Leo, and who are you?”

“Sharon. To sneak up on me, you must move like a ghost—except you leave a trail.”

“Sorry about that.”

“Sneaking up on me or leaving a trail?”

“A little of both.”

“What are you doing out here?”

Leo smiled. “Good question. Wandering about in another timeline? Risky. We could get eaten by a sabertooth or we could stay out too long and get stranded. They say Exchanges last two weeks, but who really knows? Sooner or later, the Exchange will reverse itself and Rockport will disappear. Like getting off on the wrong floor and having the elevator door shut behind you, except that the elevator never comes back. Just you and me. Well, not quite. You and me and whoever made the ruts.”

“Like Adam and Eve.” Sharon intended the comment to come out sarcastic, but she heard a wistfulness in her voice that made her cringe. She hastily added, “The elevator does come back. There have been a couple hundred Exchanges.”

“But they never happen twice in the same place and only rarely even close together.”

Leo slowly extended the grip of her pistol—she grabbed it. He hurried along the ruts Sharon had been following, speaking over his shoulder.

“I can’t help but think of the Exchange fifty miles west of here, the one where the prison came back, but the guards were murdered and the prisoners were missing.”

Sharon hesitated for a second and then followed him.

“You still haven’t told me what you’re doing out here.”

“That makes us even. What are you doing out here?”

“I started out in a jeep—swerved to miss a badger. Hit a stump and broke the radiator.”

“But you kept going,” Leo said. “Determined. Well, Sharon, I think you’re trying to catch someone who stole something important. Money? Jewelry? Heirloom? What’s important enough to risk your life for?”

“How do you—”

“What’s with the bruise on your cheek?”

“Whiskey bottle.”

“Ah. And you have rope marks on your wrists, plus shallow cut marks,” Leo said. “Someone clubbed you, tied you up and robbed you of something. But what could it be? Money’s worthless here and it’s too soon for food to be as valuable as gold. And you don’t seem the type to worry over jewelry.”

“My daughter. My seven-year-old daughter.”

Leo stopped abruptly and turned to face her.

“One of the people who made these ruts took her?”

“My ex-husband. Anthony.”

“Why?”

Sharon turned so that the tall man couldn’t see the tears on her cheeks.

“He wants to live out here. He thinks the cult will help him.”

“Cult? Sister West and her flock?”

Sharon nodded. “A bunch of them got arrested for kidnapping and murder a few years ago.”

“I heard about that.”

“Anthony was a member until they kicked him out. He says he still has friends there who’ll help him.”

“Friends in Sister West’s flock, huh?”

“I think Sister West plans to stay over here,” she said.

“That wouldn’t surprise me.”

“It should surprise you.” Sharon brushed a grasshopper-sized mosquito off her arm. “They couldn’t survive out here.”

“It would be a tough life if you weren’t prepared. What will you do if you catch up with them?”

Sharon sighed. “I don’t know. Grab my daughter and bring her back. If they’re guarding her too well, I’ll go back for help.”

Leo nodded. “Did you ask the Marines to help?”

“I didn’t bother,” Sharon said. “They have bigger problems on their plate.”

Leo nodded. “Their mission is to protect Rockport—enforce quarantine and get the city back to the world in one piece, if possible. I imagine chasing down a stray girl doesn’t weigh much on their scale. So, you’re out here alone. Brave. Stupid, but brave.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“Like you did when you went up against the whiskey bottle?”

“He won’t find me so easy to surprise next time,” she said. “I have a black belt.”

Leo stopped and smiled down at her. “A martial artist. How interesting. Going to use your black belt against a bear?”

He turned and walked quickly.

Sharon hurried to catch up. “The plan is to stay out of the way of bears. Or shoot them.”

“Well at least shooting one might make it mad. A karate chop wouldn’t even do that.”

“So what’s your plan to stop a bear?”

“Play dead and hope he’s not hungry.” Leo stopped and scanned the horizon. “Hold up. I hear something. Sounds like horses.”

“Are there any over here?”

“Yeah, a species of mustangs that died out at the end of the ice age back in the World. They’re close. Almost on top of us.”

He crouched in the grass and tugged her to join him. A dozen men on horseback abruptly appeared over a low hill. They wore the tattered remnants of orange jumpsuits.

“Convicts! So much for Adam and Eve.”

Leo frowned. “Two years without women. I’m sure they’d be happy to be Adam to your Eve. I hope you know how to use that gun.”

“If they try anything, they’ll find out.”

The convicts rode up, deploying in a semicircle.

A wiry man with a pockmarked face said, “What have we here? Strays from the flock?”

The man glanced at Leo, froze and stared. His face turned pale under the dirt. He talked quietly to his buddies. A short, balding convict shook his head.

Sharon heard a fragment of the reply, “…don’t care who he is. I haven’t had a woman in years.” She eased the pistol from her belt.

Not a man. Just a target.

The balding convict spurred his horse and approached at a gallop. He raised a stone-tipped spear. The others eyed Leo and stayed put. Sharon raised the pistol, thumbed the hammer back, and aimed at the center of the man’s chest.

“I’ll shoot.”

He grinned and kept coming. Sharon hesitated. The sight wavered.

No choice. Do it.

She fired. The pistol jerked against her hand and the bullet’s crack echoed in the still landscape. Above his paunchy stomach, a red stain blossomed on the man’s tattered shirt. The spear dropped at Sharon’s feet. The convict fell with one foot still in the stirrup, spooking his horse, and the animal ran off, dragging his unconscious rider. Sharon caught a glimpse of a rifle tattoo on the convict’s flailing forearm—AK. She shuddered when his head bounced off a rock outcropping and turned away, only to find the convicts’ semicircle had dissolved into chaos. Another convict fell off his bucking horse, which kicked him in the chest with both hind feet when he started to get up. The man flew backward and twitched in the grass.

When the remaining convicts got their horses under control, the man with the pockmarked face spoke to Leo.

“Don’t imagine you’d sell the bitch?”

“You can’t afford her,” Leo said.

Sharon stared at her companion. A strange, eager expression faded from his face as she watched.

“Let us just get what’s left of Joe and catch the horse that ran off. Then we’ll be on our way.”

“Good idea.”

While Sharon and Leo watched, the convicts hauled up the bodies and arranged them on horses. They rode off, several looking over shoulders to stare or gesture at Sharon and Leo.

Sharon kept her pistol pointed warily toward them until they disappeared over a hill.

“They didn’t seem like the kind of men to give up that easily,” she said. “He was an AK. I think they all were.”

“Aryan Kings? Probably. They’re in most prisons and a lot of cities in the Midwest.”

“Not people to run away from a fight.”

Leo grinned. “Maybe you scared them off. Only three of them had guns and who knows if those guns had ammunition. Could be a lot of things.”

“I don’t think so,” Sharon said. “I think you scared them.”

Leo smiled. “You had the gun.”

“I had the gun but they weren’t afraid of me. Who are you?”

“Leo.”

“That’s not enough.”

“No, it probably isn’t. You just shot a man. Are you okay?” Leo peered down at her.

“I haven’t had a chance to think about it yet.”

Sharon turned away, then felt nauseated. She fell to her knees

Leo rested a strong, callused hand on her shoulder. The touch felt right, desperately needed.

Don’t trust him! Don’t let him see you’re weak!

She stood up too soon and swayed, knees locked, dizzy but trying to look strong. It took a minute, but the sickness passed. While scanning the horizon for more trouble, she unconsciously replaced the spent cartridge in the pistol.

“Sorry,” she said.

“I understand. Taking a life is no trivial thing.”

“Anthony—”

“You won’t kill him. It won’t come to that,” Leo said. “Follow me.”

He veered off to the right of the ruts they’d been following. Sharon stopped. “Where are you going?”

“I think one of Sister West’s trucks broke down and they pushed it this way to hide it. If there’s nothing seriously wrong, maybe I can get it going.”

Sharon tried to spot a trail in the knee-high grass.

“I don’t see anything,” she said.

Leo nodded. “They hid the trail. I almost missed it myself.”

They trudged several hundred yards before Sharon spotted the truck hidden in a gully with branches piled over it. Leo opened the hood and poked around. He pulled open the driver’s side door and turned the key. The truck started.

He grinned at Sharon.

“Battery cable worked loose. They reinforced the suspension but didn’t tighten the battery cables. So, walk or ride, your choice.”

Sharon shook her head. “Good set of choices there.” She climbed in.

Leo drove back to the ruts they’d been following and swung onto the trail. Sharon looked out at the Bear Country prairie and forced her body to relax—pushing pain and worry to the back of her mind. She watched the little dramas of life around her. A tiny brown bat landed on the mirror outside her window. It glared at its reflection in the mirror, raised its wings, hissed, and flew away. A bird swooped on the bat. Sharon didn’t see if it got away. Half a dozen birds flew over the truck, darting and snapping at insects and small bats disturbed by their passage.

They drove for nearly an hour before the truck crested a hill and nearly hit a sabertooth cat feeding on a buffalo calf. The cat backed off, hissing and baring large blade-like teeth. It crouched, then charged the truck, but stopped before making contact. Leo slowed, but kept edging forward. Sharon took out her cell phone and took a picture as the sabertooth backed off. The cat came back once they were past. After growling disapproval, it went back to feeding.

“I’m glad we’re in this truck. I wouldn’t want to meet that beast on foot.”

He grinned. “I agree.”

His grin faded when Sharon pulled out her pistol and pointed it at his head.

“Too bad your ride ends now—before you drive me into Sister West’s compound to deliver me to them.”

Leo chuckled. “I knew finding the truck was too obvious, but I don’t want to be on foot out here at night. I didn’t think you bought it. Which is why I switched guns with you. The one you have is empty.”

Sharon frowned at the unfamiliar weapon. She shifted her aim a couple of inches from his head and pulled the trigger. The hammer clicked on an empty chamber. Sharon stared at the gun, then at Leo. All the anger, frustration, and pain of the day was in her voice.

“If the mind games don’t stop right now, I’ll tear off one of your arms and beat you to death with it. Let’s start with a full name; who are you?”

Leo laughed. “I have the gun and you’re making threats. I like that.”

He stopped the truck and shifted in his seat to face her. He held out a hand for a handshake.

“My name’s Leo West.”

***

Dale Cozort lives in a college town near Chicago with his wife, daughter, three cats and a lot of books. Dale is a computer programmer and teacher as well as a long-time science fiction fan. He has a huge and diverse range of interests, ranging from computers and history to martial arts. He loves animals and did a stint as a foster home for orphan Samoyeds. You can find Dale at his website: http://dalecozort.com/index.htm or at Stairway Press: http://www.stairwaypress.com/bookstore/exchange/

Click here for an interview with: Dale Cozort, Author of “Exchange

Click here to read a fascinating article: Three Things Television Tells Us About The Future of Writing by Dale Cozort


Excerpt From “January’s Thaw” by J. Conrad Guest

Many people obsess over their past, but no one more than I. Perchance it’s because, as a man out of time, I left behind so much of it unlived. If that makes little sense, consider that I’m a time traveler.

Although the backdrop for my story is time travel and alternate realities, the underlying theme is a more human one—of love lost, another love found only to be lost, and of a decision, the result of a single regret brought about by the realization that my self-professed courage to never risk my heart to love was instead cowardice, to rectify a wrong in a life filled with myriad regrets. You may judge me, as it is man’s nature to judge others, or discount my story as the ravings of a lunatic mind or simply the fiction of an overactive imagination—but before you do, I ask that you read the words that follow and then ask yourself if you would have acted any differently.

Excerpt:

I stooped to brush several grass clippings from the simple marble marker:

Lindy Parquette Roberts
Wife, Loving Mother
November 11, 1918-March 10, 1986

Beneath the sunshine of a late spring morning the moment seemed surreal. Only two days ago Lindy had been alive to me—beautiful, young, vibrant; now, beneath this close-cropped sod were her remains, ravaged by a disease that before yesterday I’d never even heard of. Dead at the age of sixty-eight.

I couldn’t begin to imagine what she must’ve looked like at the end, how she aged, after I disappeared. Was it arrogant of me to think she’d have been happier with me than John Roberts? Perhaps it was at that.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered to the marker, as if what lay beneath could hear me; the marble was cool to my touch despite the late morning sun, and I wondered if its chill might be representative of Lindy’s reaction to my presence, this clumsy attempt at apology. “I’m sorry I abandoned you as I did, but I’m most sorry for never having told you that I loved you.”

Wife, Loving Mother.

I felt the sting of tears, and I wondered what the marker might read, whether the lone adjective might be juxtaposed to a more prominent place had I not been suddenly thrust a century away from her.

“I’d like to think I could’ve made a difference,” I said, for Lindy’s benefit as well as my own. “But through hindsight we see ever so much more clearly.”

I sighed.

“Maybe it means nothing to you now, Lindy, but I promise that I will, somehow, make a difference.”

I touched fingers to my mouth, laid them on the marble, and told her again that I loved her.

A moment later I stood and made my way toward Ecstasy, who sat on the grass near the cemetery path. She offered her hand to me, an invitation to assist her to stand. I took it but instead sat down next to her. I listened a moment to the sounds of the city traffic that, moments ago, I hadn’t heard but now seemed to intrude upon our privacy.

“Thanks,” I said, “for giving me a moment alone.”

She gave my hand a gentle squeeze, perhaps uncertain how to respond.

No, I thought, she knows precisely how to respond; such simple acknowledgement says more than any number of words.

I was grateful for the tenderness of her simple gesture, as well as for the warmth that flowed from her touch. It was so like the warmth I’d gotten from Lindy two days ago—two days that had spanned a century; for me a lost opportunity of a lifetime, for her, perhaps a lifetime lost. Warmth I’d denied until it was too late.

“Strange,” I added, “but it’s difficult for me to reconcile the finality of that marker with the fact that she still lives in her own time.”

Ecstasy smiled, and I looked at her hair, spun gold that shone brilliantly in a variety of shades and textures that would surely drive mad an artist trying to duplicate them with the colors on his palette.

“In time that will be all that remains of all of us,” she said.

I nodded. “A name, three words and two dates.”

Ecstasy was too polite to ask so I told her: “‘Wife, Loving Mother.’” I sighed. “She even had her maiden name chiseled into the stone.”

And then, looking back toward Lindy’s grave: “I wonder where John Roberts lays.”

“Ah, Joe,” she said. “Don’t blame yourself for her un­happiness.”

“How can I not?”

“You can’t hold yourself accountable for the choices she made.”

“Choices she made subsequent to my abandonment of her, no doubt limited by the child with which I’d left her.”

“But your abandonment, as you call it, wasn’t your choice, and you can’t know how it would’ve turned out had you stayed.”

“That doesn’t assuage my guilt and regret.”

I looked at Ecstasy. A part of me despised her for the role she played in our tryst the other night, even as I detested myself for my weakness—and I wondered if I had reviled every woman I’d ever encountered over the years, and whether my hatred of my mother was why I’d treated them so callously.

But there was too much compassion in the blue of Ecstasy’s eyes and so I banished my resentment, sighed, looked away—a feeble attempt to create an illusion of dis­tance—and said:

“I’m not a hundred miles away from her, Ecstasy, or a thousand or ten thousand. Those distances I could surmount. But I’m a hundred years removed from her, helpless to find my way back to her, and now robbed of any chance to even repent.”

“One can always repent.”

“Little good that does her—now, then, and every moment in between.”

“Perhaps not, but you have a chance to live differently from this moment forward.”

“To give meaning to her unhappiness?”

“To do otherwise would be disrespectful to your memory of her.”

“Why doesn’t that make me feel better?”

“In time it will.”

I lay on my back, held up my left hand, watched it clench into a fist, let it drop to the ground beside me.

“I can’t even be sure she cares that I cared enough to visit.”

“She cares.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Why wouldn’t she?”

My fist relented, its fingers now lay splayed flat; the grass felt cool against my palm. I could say nothing to contest Ecstasy’s wisdom. I’d found little comfort in visiting Lindy’s grave. Not that I’d expected to; but I derived much from the notion Ecstasy might be right.

“Come on,” I said, getting to my feet. “It’s warm here, under the sun, and you wanted to get over to Connie’s apartment to pack her things.”

I extended my hand and Ecstasy took it. She stood, and I embraced her and thanked her again. She said nothing as she returned my embrace. I held on to her tightly, as if my life depended on her, as indeed it did. I couldn’t hope to survive in this twenty-first century New York without a job, without money, a place to stay. Without her. I wondered if she was truly aware of my predicament, if she as yet believed that I’d come, literally, from out of the past, whether she could em­pathize, put herself in my place.

A moment later I found the courage to let her go and we slowly made our way toward the cemetery gate.

Leaving the cemetery seemed, somehow, therapeutic for me, as if I were leaving something behind, closing the door on a hundred years of lost living, although I was certain I was in no way finished with my grieving. It would be a long time before I realized I would never be quite done with that.

***

In 1992, a man approached J. Conrad Guest to tell his story. His name was Joe January. A private investigator from the South Bronx, circa 1940, January can best be described as an indignant Humphrey Bogart. That encounter resulted in January’s Paradigm. Current Entertainment Monthly in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wrote of January’s Paradigm, “Personal identity—the slipperiness and the malleability of it—makes up the major theme of the story … (readers) will not be able to put it down.” One Hot January and January’s Thaw are companion novels to January’s Paradigm, although they need not be read sequentially. Combined, they paint a profile of a man out of place out of time.

J. Conrad Guest is the author of Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings, also available from Second Wind Publishing. For a peek into J. Conrad’s literary world, please visit www.jconradguest.com.

Click here to read Chapter 1 of: January’s Thaw by J. Conrad Guest

Click here for an interview with: J. Conrad Guest, Author of “January’s Thaw”

Light Bringer by Pat Bertram

Becka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? And what do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area?

“Brilliant!” —Suzanne Francis, author of the Song of the Arkafina series

“Pat Bertram has a marvelous ability to write the longest parables in all of literature. She unglues the world as it is perceived and rebuilds it in a wiser and more beautiful way.” —Lazarus Barnhill, author of The Medicine People and Lacey Took a Holiday

“Light Bringer is TYPICAL BERTRAM: plots within plots, multiple characters with multiple agendas, fast moving, more than enough mystery and intrigue for everyone, satisfying conclusion. Great book!” —Malcolm Campbell, author of The Sun Singer and Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire

Light Bringer is one of the most unique novels I have had the pleasure to read in a long time. Ms. Bertram’s fascinating characters and original subplots make this a page-turner I simply could not put down.” —Deborah J Ledford, author of Staccato and Snare

Excerpt:

No wonder she felt tired—it was still night. She was about to climb back into bed when she remembered what Luke had said about the setting moon illuminating the outlines of the houses where the white tribe had lived. Afraid of missing the phenomenon, she didn’t even take time to snatch a robe to throw over the long T-shirt she wore, but dashed to the front door, yanked it open, and stepped out onto the porch.

She gaped at the town. By outlines, she’d thought Luke meant a faint tracing on the ground where the foundations had been, but this . . . this was a complete village, each exquisite stone house solidly visible. Though the stones weren’t uniform, they fit together snugly, like a miniature version of the megalithic ruins she’d seen in pictures of Cuzco. The roofs seemed to be made of rough wooden shingles, and the windows were covered with what appeared to be mats woven of dried grasses.

Seeing the door of the nearest house open a crack, she froze.

The door opened wider, and a sleek, hairless white cat with outsize ears and large slanted eyes sneaked outside. It looked around as though proud of its accomplishment, then sat back on its haunches and washed its face.

A ghost cat?

Becka felt a giggle percolate to her throat. She tried to swallow her amusement, but a tiny gurgle escaped.

The cat swiveled its head in her direction and focused its luminescent eyes on her.

She gazed at the hairless creature, unable to look away. What is it they say about staring too long into the abyss? Make sure it isn’t staring back at you?

She shivered, but still couldn’t avert her eyes.

Suddenly, with one liquid motion, the cat sprang to its feet and streaked toward her.

Click here to read the first chapter of: Light Bringer

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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