Pay It Forward: Nonnie Jules

Yes, I’m a day early with my Sunday post but I wanted to share this with you. Nonnie’s books are definitely worth a look-see, & to follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook is to add a positive and dynamic force to your life.

See Bethany Blog

Tomorrow, Rave Reviews Book Club will be on the marquee. Today, it’s Nonnie Jules, the creator of RRBC. I want to very clearly separate the two, though I’ll admit that is sometimes a challenge. Not because Nonnie doesn’t have her own identity as an author, because she most certainly does. But she is always promoting others, always offering support, always coming up with new ways to strengthen the community which is Rave Reviews Book Club. And that is the primary reason that it was important to me that I pay it forward to Nonnie individually.

I recently read Nonnie’s SUGARCOATIN’ IS FOR CANDY & PACIFYIN’ IS FOR KIDS!: “Yes, I Said It!” and let me tell you…it was just what I needed at just the right time. In addition to SUGARCOATIN’ IS FOR CANDY…, Nonnie is the author of THE GOOD MOMMIES’ GUIDE TO RAISING (ALMOST) PERFECT…

View original post 142 more words

Advertisements

I went to the movies. :)

I’ve been to a few movies recently, so I thought that today I’d give you my reviews of them. This is basically just a few comments as to what I liked or disliked, and someone else may have a completely different opinion.  At any rate, these are my thoughts on the following films: The Duff, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Black Or White, Project Almanac, and Fifty Shades of Grey.

 The Duff – This is a cute little film about a girl who learns that she is in the Designated Ugly Fat Friend group at her high school. Once her eyes have been opened she sees her friends, her enemies, her crush, and even the boy next door in a new and enlightened way. It’s a fun film, and Mae Whitman positively shines in the title role. I’m happy to give this one 5*.

 Hot Tub Time Machine 2 – I expected much more from this one than I got. The first one was good, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. This one brought back most of the main characters and gave them a pretty solid plot line, (going into the future to hopefully prevent a murder), but sadly, the plot potential was lost somewhere in an overabundance of inane humor and penis jokes. This one gets 2*.

 Black Or White – What a pleasure this was to watch! The plot follows the battle between a white grandfather, (father of a deceased daughter), and a black grandmother, (mother to a drug addict son), who are both seeking custody of their granddaughter. Both parties genuinely want what is best for the little girl, and it’s clear that either grandparent would raise her in an atmosphere of love. The acting was top-notch, especially from young Jillian Estell. Octavia Spencer, who you might remember from The Help, gives another stellar performance here, and if Kevin Costner produces one or two more films as good as this one, he might finally be forgiven for Waterworld. An incredibly easy 5*.

 Project Almanac – This is another one that had great potential, and then fell flat. It centered on a boy who found a time machine that had been partially built by his deceased father. With the help of his friends, he finishes the machine and they take a few trips through time before triggering a butterfly effect. I guess it was okay, although I have no desire to ever see it again. I’m giving this one 3* because, even though it lacked excitement, it was a decent enough film and the acting wasn’t too bad.

 Fifty Shades Of Grey – I saved the best for last, right? If that’s what you think, you could NOT be more wrong! I bought the book a few years ago but could not get into it. I struggled through the first few chapters, but then gave up as I had much more important things to do with my time, like…shave my legs or clean my house. But because I figured that the movie had to be better than the book, I went to see it. Now, for those who just want a little peek into the world of sexual role-playing, this film will probably seem exotic, daring, and quite titillating. However, it is so far from legitimate dominance and submission play that the distance cannot be measured. Granted, BDSM is open to great individual interpretation BUT there are several “rules” that are followed without fail by serious players who place a high priority on the safety of the scene, as well as on their personal reputation. Many of these rules were ignored by Christian Grey, and if this film was intended to be an accurate depiction of that lifestyle, it failed miserably. Moving on to the actors: In my opinion, there was a distinct lack of chemistry between them, considering how deeply the characters felt for each other. Jamie Dorman is a competent actor, but Christian Grey is supposed to be irresistibly compelling, and Dorman’s performance was nothing that held our eyes to the screen. Dakota Johnson may have inherited her mother’s looks, but I saw none of Melanie Griffith’s acting ability in her. At least, not in this film. Fifty Shades is long, boring, and a complete waste of both time and money. I’m giving this film a -50*, and that’s being overly kind.     

My lighter side

There was a time when I wrote poetry, and some of it wasn’t too terribly bad. And this may come as a surprise to those of you who’ve read #Shadow, but nobody ever died in my poems. Lol So tonight I thought I’d share one of my favorites. This poem was included in the Rave Reviews Book Club’s anthology: Rave Soup for the Weiter’s Soul. It’s a fantastic collection of works by some incredibly talented authors, and if you haven’t read that yet, you need to put it at the top of your reading list. I hope you enjoy my little poem.

The Footprints in the Jell-O

 

The footprints in the Jell-O were discovered yesterday.

But as to who imprinted them, well…nobody could say.

The pudding also bore the marks of someone’s tiny toes.

I wonder who was walking there – perhaps I’ll never know.

 

I searched the fridge from side to side, from top to bottom rack.

But I found neither hide nor hair of he who made the track.

And so last night I lay in wait, to see who came to play.

I hoped to spot my mystery guest before the light of day.

 

But though I sat so quietly and did not move my chair,

I heard no sound within the fridge that said someone was there.

The footprints in the Jell-O were there again today.

The only sign that someone came, and quickly slipped away.

 

Di Nowak’s Sarcoidosis Journey – Conclusion

Sarcoidosis is a disease that causes abnormal collections of cells to form as nodules. These nodules are commonly found in the lungs, but any organ can be affected. It is estimated that there are between 1 and 40 cases per 100,000 people ub the United States, and I am priveledged to bring you one person’s story. Please join me for he next couple of Wednesdays to read about Di’s journey with Sarcoidosis. 

Conclusion

  Next is the follow up with my regular pulmonologist.  We discuss the fact that the tapering off of steroids did not work as I had planned.  In fact, rather than getting better, some of the symptoms had gotten worse.  I asked if we could start increasing them again, she indicated that she would send a prescription that would allow me to go up by another 2.5mg, but that I could increase up to 10mg a day without contacting her.  She indicated that the results of the C-PET indicated that my heart was what had given out first, so she agrees with the doctor at the UW and is concerned that I had Sarcoid in my heart as well.  She will send the request to my insurance regarding the heart MRI.  This takes us to the beginning of November, 2014.

Never a dull moment, the weekend before Thanksgiving I am trying to get all the air out of an inflatable air mattress that we have for company to use when they visit.  I needed to send it back to the company I purchased it from since it had developed a leak and they would replace it basically free of charge.  While trying to get the air out so I could package it up for shipping back I heard and felt a pop again, this time on my right side.  Again, the agreement was that if I wasn’t better in a week I would contact my doctor.  By Wednesday I was getting stabbing pains every time I took a breath in so I sent her a message letting know what had occurred.  She sent me a message back letting me know that she had ordered X-rays and that I could go get them taken the Friday after Thanksgiving.  Went and had them taken but didn’t expect to hear anything back before the following Monday, only to get a message from my doctor that I had broken 2 ribs this time.

As most people that have to deal with health insurance know it is a matter of jumping through hoops and getting the right forms with the “i’s dotted and the t’s crossed” in the right areas.  It took me numerous calls to my pulmonologist’s office and then finally calling my insurance company myself before I got an answer that they had approved it.  Now the push was one to get it scheduled.  The only location that did it in the Tacoma area called me to schedule.  During the conversation I questioned whether or not they would be using contrast and how viable the test would be if they had to do it without contrast.  The scheduler didn’t have the answers but promised that a technician would call me back that afternoon.  The called and told me that they had already spoken to their doctor and it was agreed that if they could not do contrast that they test wouldn’t give my doctor’s what they were looking for.  We discussed what to do and they said they wanted me to drink more fluids than I normally would in the hopes that we could get my GFR up high enough that they could give me the contrast.   That once I get there they will do a STAT GFR to see what my numbers are and go from there.  I get there and get checked in.  They take me back and do the test and the number is high enough that they can do the contrast.

So here we are, at the end of 2014.  We don’t have answers on heart involvement since I don’t have a follow up scheduled until 2015 with the doctor at UW, however, we are way beyond where we were at the start of this year.

For me, a mixed bag of emotions, I am glad that I know what is causing the problems even though I am not necessarily happy with the changes in my body.  Do I know what the future holds, no more than what I know today.  I can project what the future holds depending on what we find out with the MRI.  Will I be ok with those answers, yes, I will be.  For me, the one unwavering thing throughout this journey is my faith.  Perhaps I should have addressed that or written this from that perspective but until now it didn’t occur to me.  So I will stand by what is written and be confident in that as much as I am confident in anything that it was exactly what it was supposed to be.

Thank you for stopping by the last couple of weeks to read Di’s story. I hope that you found it as interesting nd informative as I did. My most heartfelt thanks go to Di, for graciously providing the material for these posts. Please join me on Sunday for…I have no clue. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what sounds fun. 

 

Readers Meet Authors and Bloggers

I reblogged this today in hopes that you might find this idea, this blog, interesting and worth your time to follow & support. I’m also hoping that one or two of you might be willing to step in as the moderators she’s looking for.

Jo Robinson

I started a Google+ community a while ago called Readers Meet Authors and Bloggers. The aim was to promote interaction between bloggers (who aren’t always authors), and readers who had other passions to promote (photography, art, cooking, knitting, animals, personal healing, funnies – you name it), but still loved to read. Probably due to my own fault – I’ve had a whacky and seriously stressful couple of years – I’ve neglected it, and community moderators have lost interest and stopped going there. My fault, but still a viable community.

These days it’s become pretty much an “Oy Buy My Book” spammy kind of place. I still believe that it has potential though, and with three thousand, five hundred odd members, I think that it has the potential to be a good place to market as well as interact with other writers in the future. Rules need to be put…

View original post 405 more words

Di Nowak’s Sarcoidosis Journey – Part 2

   Sarcoidosis is a disease that causes abnormal collections of cells to form as nodules. These nodules are commonly found in the lungs, but any organ can be affected. It is estimated that there are between 1 and 40 cases per 100,000 people ub the United States, and I am priveledged to bring you one person’s story. Please join me for he next couple of Wednesdays to read about Di’s journey with Sarcoidosis. 

Part 2

During the end of 2013 I was also faced with the news that my primary care physician was going to be relocating their practice.  So, I was faced with trying to find a new doctor.  I met with one, and actually had decent feelings about them being a good choice.  However, as time progressed, I realized that they really weren’t meeting my need as someone who could bring all the various specialists together and map out a plan of treatment.  Everyone was operating separately, and that wasn’t doing much for continuity of care, left hand did not know what the right hand was doing.   I was getting more and more frustrated with paying max dollars to a bunch of doctors (specialists) who I didn’t feel were helping me, told me nothing had changed and I needed to schedule a yearly follow up.

There are advantages to having a wife in health care, one being that she knows a lot of doctors.  Since the new primary care doctor wasn’t really working out as hoped, she suggested a doctor that also happened to be a pulmonologist.  She described this doctor to be “like a dog with a bone” she won’t give up until she has answers.  The initial meet and greet appointment made, we discussed everything from soup to nuts.  She asked if I was willing to give up my current pulmonologist, since she didn’t want conflict of care, I told her I was.  She asked if my previous pulmonologist had ever shown me the CT of the nodules he was following, we told her no.  She took us to her office and brought up the CT, we were amazed when we saw all the nodules since the previous pulmonologist had said a few when in actuality there were ~ 30.  She told us that she wanted to have a radiologist that she strongly trusted look at the chest CT and get their findings.  She advised that I no longer see my cardiologist since I wasn’t being treated for anything, even though it was noted that I had diastolic dysfunction.  She asked if I had sleep apnea, or problems with sleep.  My answer, nope, my head hits the pillow and within 5 minutes I’m out.  She asked whether I woke up feeling like I had a good night sleep or woke up tired, I told her I woke up tired all the time.  She said she wanted to schedule a sleep study that she wanted to do another breathing test, and to have another echocardiogram done, follow up after those were done.  All testing done, we walk into the follow up anticipating good news, we weren’t so fortunate.  Apparently my sleep study was terrible while I might fall asleep I didn’t reach REM until 167 minutes into the test, was in it very briefly and then went into the final stages of sleep until I woke up.  The doctor that read the sleep study test had asked if I worked and when he was told yes he said I don’t know how she possibly does it.  I told her, I have to work to keep my medical benefits and to be able to pay my bills.  She also told us that she believed that I had Sarcoid.  At last something; even though neither of us know what that meant, at least it was the first time that someone actually was saying that there was something causing the symptoms.  She told us that she wanted to re-run the sleep study so that they could determine what kind of sleep apnea machine I needed and that she wanted to schedule me for lung biopsies to confirm the diagnosis of Sarcoid since my labs didn’t indicate it, she still felt that was what we were dealing with.

My daughter had come up to be here for the biopsies.  That night while we were sitting around watching TV both my daughter and wife brought up what they thought were neurological issues as well and indicated that they thought I should see a neurologist.  We scheduled an appointment with my PCP to discuss things and she agreed based on symptoms that I should have a head MRI done first.  I get to where I am supposed to have my MRI done and in the discussion with the technician that will be doing the test we determine that they are not going to be able to do the contrast because of the kidney disease and low GFR.  I offer to sign a waiver releasing them of all liability but they still won’t do it.  So we do the MRI without contract.  I hear from my PCP that even though the MRI doesn’t necessarily indicate any issues, due to symptoms, she feels that I should be a neurologist.

We are at the follow up appointment with my pulmonologist to discuss the biopsy results as well as the second sleep apnea test.  She comes in and starts with the sleep apnea.  Apparently, they could not regulate me with C pap, so I would have to go on Bi pap instead.  The moment of truth, she had biopsied roughly 16 locations and had sent them off for reading and they did indeed show that I had Sarcoid in my lungs.  Treatment, steroids, and while some people with Sarcoid can be on them for a short period of time and then come off, I was not going to be that fortunate.  Her concerns, my diabetes would go out of whack or I would gain weight because I would want to eat everything in sight.  We finally had some explanation for the shortness of breath.

On my subsequent follow up 30 days after starting Bi pap and Steroids, on paper my sleep apnea was resolved but if anything I felt more worn out, the water retention was terrible, as were the muscle cramps.  Well, the steroids didn’t have the effect that she anticipated, diabetes and weight in check, and they didn’t dramatically change my life, in fact I felt worse.  I asked if we could taper off the steroids since they weren’t working as she had hoped and that we could always go back on them.  She didn’t want to take me off of them completely because they were helping my kidney functions but she was willing to drop them down to 5mg a day.  She wanted to do additional testing, a C-PET test (cardio pulmonary exercise test) to see what gave out first, my heart or my lungs, as well as send my case up to the University of Washington to see if there was something she was missing or some other form of treatment we needed to explore.

I am blessed in the fact that while my mom is 86 years old and is on oxygen she is well enough to live on her own and spend the spring/summer months at her lake property.  Sandi and I go down on most of the weekends to spend time with her and tackle maintenance.  One weekend we were faced with the grass being too long to use the electric mower that we have, so we asked the neighbors if we could borrow their old push style (you push it and it makes the blade spin) mower to do the grass.  I decided that I would go up and give her a hand on the parking level.  I’d work for a while and then stop and catch my breath.  Had done this a couple of times and was in the process of doing some more cutting when I hit an exceptionally thick patch, the mower stopped and I didn’t.  I heard and felt a pop on the left side so set down to rest.  Sandi came over and asked what was wrong, I told her what had occurred, she asked if we needed to go get an X-ray.  I said no since I knew that there isn’t much they can do if you break a rib other than wrap them.  We agree that if I am not better in a week then I will contact my PCP.  Sure enough I am still having issues so we go see my primary and she wants to get an X-ray, sure enough, I broke a rib.  The brittle bones go back to the hypercalcemia and hyperparathyroidism and the months where my body was leeching calcium from my bones.  I ask whether or not we can get a bone density test done not only because of that, but because my mom suffers from osteoporosis.  She agrees that it would be a good idea.

I hear back from UW regarding my C-PET and in order to get it done so that I can have the results when I a next scheduled to see my pulmonologist it was scheduled for 2:00 in the afternoon.  We made arrangements to have a friend drop Sandi off at my work since they advised that you have someone drive you home afterwards.  I did my prep for the C-PET, the biggest was no caffeine the day of the test.  I argued that if they wanted accurate results then I shouldn’t hold back caffeine.  Sandi said that she understood that, but that it was what they required.  I did good until about noon the day for the test, then I got a headache that is beyond a migraine and probably one of the most intense pains I have ever experienced, on a scale of 1 to 10 this was 100.  I managed to make it down from my office to clock out and then out to my car.  I indicated to Sandi that she was going to need to drive and once I was in the car I told her to call UW and reschedule the test since there was no way that I could do it feeling the way I did.  Test rescheduled, and thank God, this time it was first thing in the morning so lack of caffeine shouldn’t be a big deal.  I also got a letter from the UW Interstitial Lung Disease department stating that they had received my case notes, that they were being reviewed and once that was complete they would assign me a doctor and contact me to set up an appointment.

For those who have never had a C-PET test, let me tell you that they aren’t the worst thing in the world, but the whole goal is to push you beyond the limits that you feel comfortable in.  That said, we arrive and get checked in and by that point I am already short of breath because we were late getting there due to traffic so it was a rush to get to where we needed to be.  Luckily, by the time that I was called back the shortness of breath had all but subsided.  The tech who was performing the test explained what would occur, basically they would hook me up on an EKG machine to monitor my heart and a pulse oximeter to monitor respiration, oxygen saturation and pulse rate, start me out on a tread mill walking slowly then gradually increase the speed, once I got to 3 MPH he would start to increase the incline.  He then did some base line testing, once that was done and all my leads were hooked up he went to get the doctor who would be present during the test.  The doctor came in, asked me some questions and again explained what they would be doing.  Both the tech and the doctor assured me that when I said I was done they would stop.  So, off to the races we went and as explained everything started out fine.  I hit the 3 MPH mark, and while that was a struggle I was keeping up but tiring.  We started the incline and that was where it really got hard.  I can’t tell you at what point I said I was done, however, I can tell you that both the tech and the doctor encouraged me to keep going, so I did.  Several minutes passed and probably at least one more incline occurred before I told them that I was done and this time they didn’t try to get me to go on.  So they slowly bring me to a stop and from there I move to a chair.  They explained the reason for encouraging me to go on was based on what they were seeing and neither my heart nor lungs were in distress at that time and they wanted to push me until they could get a clearer picture of what was occurring.  The residual side effect that lasted through the better part of the day was that my legs felt like lead.

The next thing scheduled was my meeting with the doctor at UW Interstitial Lung Disease department.  We get taken back to a room and are meeting with the nurse first.  We explain that we have been going through this for 5 years trying to get answers.  They make it clear that I am not to be pushing push mowers and that if I am around airborne irritants that I should be wearing a mask.  I am then seen by their Respiratory therapist who wants to walk me around with a pulse oximeter to check my oxygen saturation.  The doctor comes in and introduces herself and tells us that she has reviewed all my case notes and the reason that she was chosen as my doctor is that Sarcoid is her field of interest.  I am blessed in the fact that the majority of my doctors want the answers as much as I/we do.  We talk about everything that has been done and the results with the exception of the C-PET which she doesn’t have a report on.  She says that she wants to do a heart MRI because she is concerned that the Sarcoid has gone to me heart as well.  Depending on what that shows we will possibly follow up with a heart PETSCAN to determine the amount of involvement.  Depending on that, we will possibly have to discuss going on Immuno-suppressors.  I ask if I can have the MRI done locally (Lakewood/Tacoma area) rather than have to come back up to UW to do so.  She indicates that she is fine with that and she will send my visit notes as well as my request to have the heart MRI to my regular pulmonologist.

 Please join me next Wednesday for the next post in this series. Many thanks to my friend Di for giving us this very personal look at Sarcoidosis 

#Winter is coming

Better late than never. Lol I thought, now that #Winter is almost ready for final editing, that I’d give you a quick peek into Shadow of the Drill. This is a section of chapter one, and will introduce you to Decker in yet another shameless attempt to draw you into his world. I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

SHADOW OF THE DRILL 

CHAPTER ONE

 

   Donny hit the tavern’s faded facade, rebounding off and landing on the ground with a squeal of protest. “I didn’t do it, Decker! I swear on my mother’s grave, I didn’t do it!” He rubbed his nose with one shaking hand, smearing mixed blood and snot over his face. I’m gonna die! Oh god, I’m gonna die!

   Struggling to a sitting position with his back against the wall, he began to speak rapidly in his own defense. “Deck, please . . . ya gotta believe me! I’ve done a lot of stupid shit in my day, but I wouldn’t be dumb enough to fuck ya over! I swear to God, I wouldn’t -”

   His words ended in mid-sentence as the man in front of him took him by the throat and lifted him easily to his feet. He tried to pull away, but the fingers were a vise, and he only succeeded in cutting off his own air.

   Don’t kill me! Don’t fuckin’ kill me! The thought was loud in his mind, but even as the words formed, he knew that it was useless to think them. If Decker wanted him dead, then dead he would be. The big man was not known for a forgiving nature.

   At six feet and five inches, Decker towered over Donny’s slight five-nine frame while his exceptionally broad shoulders and massive arms spoke clearly of the immense strength that lurked beneath his skin. His oversized hand wrapped easily around his captive’s neck, constricting with carefully applied pressure. Donny’s face began to turn red from lack of oxygen, and he tried again to twist free, but he was unable to break the stronger man’s hold. If anything, the grip on his throat tightened.

   I can’t breathe! Help me, Jesus – I can’t breathe! His fuzzing brain formed his thoughts with increasing difficulty, and he shook his head vigorously, but it did not help. Talkin’s no good – gotta run! His feet shuffled against the sidewalk as his fingers clawed at the hand that squeezed off his air with steadily increasing pressure. Gotta . . . run . . .

   Decker adjusted his hold when Donny’s struggles slowed, being careful not to exert too much force. A slight smile rested on his lips as he allowed himself a brief moment of amusement at the expense of his prey.

   It was not until Donny’s eyes rolled back in his head and his body went limp that Decker loosened his hold, letting the disheveled man slump forward. Donny’s body tilted as he fell, but Decker caught him easily, making a casual check for a pulse as he did.

   Satisfied that one still remained, he carried Donny to the curb and tossed him carelessly into the back seat of the high-performance Dodge Charger that he kept for work. He normally transported his prisoners in the trunk but, in spite of everything, he liked Donny and wanted him to travel a bit more comfortably.

   As he key-locked Donny’s door, he took a quick check of the people in the surrounding area, breathing a soft sigh of relief when he found no cause for concern. Nobody’s payin’ more attention than they should. I love it when it’s this easy.

   There was a fair amount of traffic moving on the downtown strip, but the people in the cars stared straight ahead as they passed the assorted hookers, dealers, junkies, and johns who wandered up and down the sidewalk in search of action on a Friday night.

   As for the street denizens who loitered outside of the peep shows and low-rent hotels – they knew better than to get involved. The powerful enforcer known as the Drill had a well-deserved reputation for viciousness, which caused them to keep their eyes averted and their noses out of his business.

   The only exceptions were two young girls who were clearly out of their element on the gritty downtown streets. They chatted loudly as they sashayed toward him, their youthful beauty hidden beneath too much eye shadow and the wrong shade of lipstick. It was obvious that they were trying to look older than they actually were, but their push-up bras and provocative clothing would bring them nothing but trouble if they stayed too long on the strip.

   The taller of the two nudged her brunette friend, pointing at Decker while peals of girlish laughter filled the night air.

   Cheerleaders, he thought with a mental groan. Lord save us from the terminally perky!

   The girls were still giggling as they approached. Almost in unison, they slowed their steps – all the better to see and be seen. So far, the night had given them little by way of excitement,. but something about the tall stranger with the deliciously broad shoulders promised the kind of R-rated thrills that they had been looking for and they were not about to let the opportunity pass them by.

   “We’re lost,” the shorter girl said as they drew abreast. “Can you tell us how to get to the marina?”

   Decker leaned back against the side of the car, blocking the window even though nothing inside could be seen through the heavily tinted glass. Long legs crossed at the ankles, his body was deceptively relaxed while a disarming grin lifted the corners of his mouth.  

   The grin had the desired effect on the girls, as he had known that it would, for he was an expert at knowing exactly which expression was best suited to any given situation. And though he cared very little about the good looks that he had been given, he was not above using them to his advantage when it would best serve his purpose. The flash of a smile or the wink of an eye could often achieve the desired result with very little exertion on his part, especially when it came to charming the various women who crossed his path.

   Ruggedly handsome, Decker had inherited his coloring and thick shock of wavy black hair from his Italian father. His impressive height and chiseled features had come from his Norwegian mother’s side of the family, and she had also given him his most striking attribute: brilliant blue eyes of an unusual shade and intensity that glittered beneath his brows like soulless orbs of the purest ice.

   It was those eyes that coolly appraised the pair as he gave them the unneeded directions in a courteous but disinterested manner. He had no time for young girls seeking adventure, and he needed to move them along before Donny awoke and caused an annoying scene.

   It was the tall redhead who first tore her gaze away from the hard magnificence of his body and the rough beauty of his face to look into the frigid pools of his eyes. Decker gazed back with silent menace, his message clearly readable though his lips continued to smile.

   “We have to go.” The girl interrupted her friend in mid-sentence, gripping her wrist and tugging firmly. “We have curfew.”

   Her words were followed by an awkward silence, and then the short brunette was gone, skipping down the sidewalk after her friend who had yet to let go of her wrist.

   Decker chuckled as a few bits of high-pitched conversation floated back to him, the excited chattering telling him that the redhead had clearly seen past his apparent friendliness to the darkness that flowed beneath. Whether or not she understood what she had seen was immaterial. She knew enough to be afraid, and that was all that really mattered. The strip was routinely unsafe for tourists, and the girls might strut their way into real trouble if they delayed their departure for too long. 

   Better they run from me then from someone who might be harder to get away from. He knew that he would forever be known as the “creepy-ass bad guy” that they had so narrowly escaped from, but he accepted the title willingly. A little fear was a good thing, and it just might get the pair back to suburbia with their knockoff bags and their cherry-red virginity intact.

   The two figures hung a right at the corner, and Decker fished his keys from his pocket while placing the faces of the girls into the corner of his mind reserved for useless tidbits and casual passersby. Then, keys in hand, he walked to the driver’s side and unlocked the door, folding his long body gracefully behind the wheel.

   The car started easily, the high-performance engine purring like a contented kitten. The transmission slipped smoothly into first gear, and Decker pulled into traffic with a quick look at the rearview mirror to see how his passenger was doing. But if Donny was awake he gave no sign, and Decker did not bother to ask.

   Donny had regained consciousness, and he realized that his only hope was to escape while in transit. Once they reached their destination he was dead meat, and his casual friendship with Decker would not alter that fact in the least.

   He had to admit that it was his own fault. He had gambled stupidly, and now the time had come to pay the piper. But, unlike others that he had cheated during the course of his scheming life, this particular piper could crack a man’s skull between his palms without breaking a sweat.

   Mouth dry, pulse pounding, Donny reached cautiously for the door handle. When he touched it, however, a gentle voice came from the front of the car.  

   “It won’t open. But you knew that.”

   Donny threw his head back against the seat behind him with a grimace. He had known that the rear doors could only be unlocked or opened from the outside, just as he knew that the car’s body had been reinforced and that the tinted windows were made of bullet-resistant glass that could only be lowered by the driver. All of Decker’s “work” vehicles had been modified to provide maximum safety while eliminating options for anyone unlucky enough to be a passenger in the back. Still, even though he knew that there was no way out, he had to try.

   Rolling onto his back, he powered the soles of his feet against the window to his right three times in rapid succession. On the third strike, he felt something in his ankle give, and he cried out, more from dismay than from hurt.

   As he tried to rub the soreness from his foot, he felt tears of frustration welling, and he fought to control them. But the tears that he managed to prevent were present in his voice as he tried again to save his own life. “Deck, I didn’t do it! I wouldn’t fuck ya over! I don’t wanna die! For the love of God, please don’t kill me!”

   Decker watched in the mirror as Donny babbled on, his ice-blue eyes revealing nothing.

   “I did everything like ya told me – everything! I picked up the bag, then I took it to the bus station and put it in the locker like ya said. Then I took the key to the Box.”

   Decker switched on the blinker and pulled into the turn lane, his fingertips tapping against the steering wheel. Donny looked through the window, his voice rising as he realized where they were going. “I took it to the Box, just like ya told me. And the guy was there – the one I was ’sposed to look for. He was at the bar, like ya said, and he saw me come in.” Eyes wide, breath rasping in harsh gasps, Donny’s words came even faster as Decker’s destination neared.

   “He saw me come in and he waved to me. I went over and he asked if I wanted a beer. I said yeah, sure I wanted a beer, and then we talked until the bartender left. Then he said he wanted the key, so I gave it to him, and he left. Honest, Deck – that’s what happened! I did it just like ya said. I didn’t do nothin’ wrong!”

   Decker sighed, pulling the car to the side of the road and putting the transmission into park. Then he looked into the rearview and waited in silence until Donny’s eyes focused\ on his. “You might want to give some serious thought to changing that story.” He spoke in a completely neutral tone, letting his words make his point without added volume or inflection. “You know what I am, and you know what I do. Do you really want to experience it firsthand?”

   Donny’s response was to proclaim his innocence even louder and more hysterically than before. Decker’s hand tightened on the gearshift as the desire to stab the man where he sat rose, and he held on tightly until the urge had passed. “Okay,” he said with just the slightest touch of regret. “You’ve made your choice. Whatever happens from this point on, you can’t say I didn’t give you a chance.”

   The car moved forward again, bringing Donny ever closer to Decker’s private version of hell. As it turned onto a quiet street, where the houses were few and surrounded by double-lot yards, Decker pressed a button on a small box nestled against the visor and the tall gate in front of the property that they were approaching swung slowly inward. He pulled into the driveway while the gate clicked closed behind him and eased past the other cars that were parked near the house before bringing the Charger to a stop.

   Donny pressed himself into a corner of the seat when the engine died, his terror visibly increasing. “No . . . no . . . no . . .” He brought his hands to his bruised and bloodied face, covering it in a useless effort to protect himself. “Dear God, no!”

   The door to his left opened, and he felt Decker’s strong hands close around his ankle. He squealed loudly, kicking out with his other foot while trying to hold on to the handle on his right.

   Decker cursed as Donny’s heel pounded the side of his face and he switched hands, gripping Donny’s ankle with his left hand instead of his right. Unsnapping the sheath fastened to his belt, he slid the knife inside free with a practiced flip of his wrist. The blade had been honed to a razor like edge, cutting through the fabric of Donny’s jeans and into the skin beneath with no trouble at all.

   Donny’s squeals became shrieks of blind panic when the pain lanced through his leg. His hands went to the source of the hurt, pressing against his calf and slipping in the blood that quickly covered his skin.

   Decker gave one last pull and Donny was out of the car, still shrieking like an adolescent girl who watched a late-night slasher film alone with the lights off. Annoyed by the sound, Decker swung his foot so that the toe of his boot connected squarely with Donny’s throat.

   Donny’s screams ended with a squawk, tears flowing freely down his cheeks. He wondered vaguely how badly he was hurt, knowing that it did not really matter. He was going to die, no question about it. The only variable was when.

   Decker watched silently, waiting until Donny’s breathing had steadied before speaking softly. “Get your ass off the ground and come with me.” He walked toward the house without waiting for a reply, confident that his captive would follow.

   Donny tried to stand, but the hurt in his leg was too great. He fell against the car with a heartbreaking sob, unable to accept his fate with anything that remotely resembled dignity. After a short pause he tried to put weight on the injured leg but he stumbled again, unable to walk. Fuck!

   His last thoughts of escape disappeared with the realization that, in his condition, he could not possibly make it over the gate and back to the road before Decker caught up to him. He also knew that what waited for him in the big gray house was bad, but not nearly as bad as it would be if he tried to run.

   Resigned to his fate, Donny dropped to all fours and crawled the few feet to the house. Upon reaching the structure, he dragged himself up the short flight of stairs and through the side door to the kitchen.

   Decker stood by the stove, chatting with a younger man whose coloring, black hair, and warm brown eyes clearly indicated a Hispanic heritage. Donny recognized the man as Decker’s partner, Rudy Valdez, and knew instantly that he might be in for a very long night. He had seen Rudy in action more than once during his association with Decker, and he knew the man to be a vicious enforcer in his own right. As improbable as it seemed, things might have just gotten worse.

   The screen door swung closed behind him, and Decker glanced over with a nod to acknowledge his entrance while laughing at something that Rudy had said. Their camaraderie was obvious, and Donny found himself wishing that he could have somehow been a part of it. I shoulda stayed true, he thought miserably. Maybe things coulda been different.

   At the table, a well-groomed man in an expensive suit poured coffee from the pot on the warmer into a handcrafted cup that bore the word Davis beneath a pale golden glaze. It was the kind of thing that a child would make in arts and crafts, and the sight of it caused Donny to sob loudly for the wife and family that he would never have.

   Seated next to Davis was a slightly overweight woman with short auburn hair whom Donny had seen with Decker once or twice and who had been introduced to him as simply “Charlene.” He had never spoken to her, but something about her had suggested a gentleness of nature that he hoped might cause her to intervene on his behalf.

   She looked over at him as the door closed, her expression one of deepest sympathy. Help me, he begged silently as he lifted his eyes to meet hers. Please . . . help me . . . She looked away, unable to offer any comfort. She was fully aware of the horrors that waited for him, but she also knew that he had brought it on himself and that it was not her place to get involved.

   The small group fell silent as Donny inched his way to a corner and huddled his body into it. Rudy glanced at Donny then at the clock. His finely formed brows arched, and Decker waved him grandly toward the door.

   “Go back to the club and tend to your girls,” he said mildly. “I got this covered.”

   Rudy nodded once, his eyes twinkling merrily as he said his good-byes. Charlene reached for his hand as he passed behind her chair and he bent to give her a hug, wincing slightly as he squeezed her shoulders.

   “I saw that,” Decker remarked as his eyes narrowed. “What’s up?”

   “I pulled a muscle.” Rudy shrugged one shoulder, indifferent to the situation. “Which happens sometimes ’cuz, unlike you, I’m only human.” He chuckled when Decker muttered a sarcastic remark under his breath, then brushed a soft kiss against the top of Charlene’s head. “I’ll see you guys later. Deck, call if you need me.”

   “Game day tomorrow,” Charlene reminded him, her green eyes sparkling. “And you’re on pizza detail, so don’t be late.”

   “I won’t,” he assured her as he straightened up. “Did you want breadsticks too?”

   “Rudy, those things go straight to my hips!”

   “So that’s a yes?” His grin was contagious, and she could not prevent her own.

   “Fuck you,” she snapped teasingly, momentarily forgetting the teary-eyed man who bled onto the kitchen floor. “Get a double order.”

   “Consider it done,” Rudy said with a grin. He sobered as his eyes passed over the huddled lump that was Donny and then he was gone, his boots clicking as he descended the stairs to the sidewalk.          

   Decker left the room as soon when the door closed, switching his cell to silent mode as he moved down the hall. He flipped through his keys when he reached the basement door, humming softly to himself as he unlocked it. He did not need to look back to know that Donny was being brought along. His word was law in some circles, and his people were very obedient.

   When he switched on the overhead light and descended the stairs, he felt his cell vibrate but chose to let the call go to voice mail. He had other things to do.

   The basement was large and fully finished, with the tools of his trade concealed behind the doors of a large oak cabinet. Framed photographs adorned the coffee table and the matching end tables while a richly colored oil painting of a beautiful young woman dominated the wall directly opposite the door so that it was the first thing seen upon entering the room. The floor was not carpeted, but throw rugs added warmth and color as did a crocheted afghan which was draped over the back of a long sofa.

   The only thing that seemed out of place was a chair placed in the corner to the left of the door. It was a plain metal chair, one of a set of four that Decker had purchased at a yard sale one sunny July afternoon. He remembered that carefree day, as he did each time that his eyes touched upon the chairs, and he also remembered the girl. After sixteen years he could still hear her carefree laughter and smell the scent of her hair as it blew in the warm summer breeze.

   He had not brought the chair downstairs because it held any special significance. It was there because he had needed a chair, and the metal fold-up would do as well as any. But, at the same time, he could not help but wonder if having it there was not some kind of subconscious security blanket. An attempt to keep her close by surrounding himself with the things that she had touched.

   Then, as always, he dismissed the notion and set about the business at hand.