Monday, November 30, 2015

Announcing Roxanne Bland's THE MOREVA OF ASTORETH BOOK BLAST


We're happy to be hosting Roxanne Bland's THE MOREVA OF ASTORETH Book Blast today!




Title: The Crumbling Page

Title: THE MOREVA OF ASTORETH
Author: Roxanne Bland
Publisher: Blackrose Press
Pages: 607
Genre: Science Fiction

Moreva Tehi, scientist, healer, priestess of the Goddess of Love and three-quarters god, is a bigot. She hates the hakoi who are the Temple’s slaves. When she misses an important ritual because the enslaved hakoi are participants, her grandmother, the Goddess Astoreth, punishes her by exiling her for a year from her beloved southern desert home to the far north village of Mjor in the Syren Perritory, (where the hakoi are free) to steward Astoreth’s landing beacon. But Astoreth forbids her from taking with her scientific research on red fever, a devastating scourge that afflicts the hakoi. She does so, anyway.

The first Mjoran she meets is Laerd Teger, the hakoi chief of the village, who appears to hate her. She also meets Hyme, the hakoi village healer, and much to Moreva Tehi’s surprise, they form a fast friendship. This friendship forces her to set upon a spiritual journey to confront her bigotry. While doing so, she falls in love with Laerd Teger, who returns her love. She eventually has a revelation about the meaning of love, and rids herself of her bigotry. And she develops a cure for red fever, and is the first healer to do so.

But there is a price for her love for Laerd Teger, and that is her certain execution by the Goddess Astoreth upon her return home because she has broken her sacred vows. But then, through Laerd Teger, she learns a terrible secret about her gods, that they are not gods at all, but aliens, and rather than being part god, she is part alien. Her world destroyed, she turns on Laerd Teger for showing her the truth. They eventually reconcile. But there is still the problem about her love for Laerd Teger. Astoreth will know what she has done and will execute her. She formulates a plan, involving the erasure of her memory, in which she will bargain for her life by giving Astoreth the formula for red fever. Astoreth agrees. For breaking her vows and disobeying a direct order not to take her red fever research to Mjor, Astoreth strips her of her morevic status and exiles her again to Mjor. Back in Mjor, she recovers her memory and sends the red fever formula to Astoreth. Now freed from the constraints of being a Moreva, Tehi and Teger embark on a new life together.

For More Information

  • The Moreva of Astoreth is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
Book Excerpt:
The airship landed on its pad. After the pilot, a Devi lesser god, gave the “all clear” I stepped out the machine onto the stone slab and walked away.
The trip to the Syren Perritory had been awful. I’d never flown in a Devi airship, and I was sick the entire time. Seeing my distress, the pilot took pity on me and handed me a bag. I promptly threw up into it. Then he turned in his seat and peered at my face. Reaching behind him, he handed me a stack of bags. I took one and vomited into that, too. Two bags later, I thought I’d finally be all right. Then we flew into something the pilot called turbulence. Despite its leviathan size, the airship was buffeted about, and I was sure we would die. I picked up another bag. I don’t know how many bags I used.
At long last, we reached our destination. Even during our descent, I could see the landing beacon. A colossus, the beacon sat on its tower of white kyrolite, its stationary dish resembling a silver flame in the twin sunslight. On the ground, I could see alongside the tower two late-model tanks. Dwarfed by the tower’s size, they looked insignificant.
After getting off the airship, I walked toward a large group of people standing in the distance. I took in the place where I would stay for the next year. All I saw was a wall of grayish-black stone, with two huge and closed stone doors set in its middle. At least eighty šīzu high, the wall was crenelated at the top with deep, narrow slits. A steep-pitched roof partially covered it. Two towers, much smaller and shorter than the beacon, anchored the wall at each end. A short, covered kyrolite bridge beneath its roof connected the top of the smaller tower on the right to the beacon. On the ground, the tower was connected to the beacon itself. I straightened my neck and looked directly ahead. Next to the fortress, the enormous beacon tower looked out of place.
I reached the first of three people standing out from all the rest. Morevi Eresh, the morev who’d been on duty for the past year, stood before the garrison. Eresh and I couldn’t have looked more different. His skin was three shades lighter than my medium-hued, blue-violet Devi coloring. He had long, tight curls like mine but whereas mine were white—like the Devi—his were black. He was tall and slender like all morevs, except me. I had the jutting breasts, small waist and flaring hips of the Devi, but instead of being statuesque like them, I was short.
I liked Eresh. He was funny and irreverent, unlike the rest of the morevs serving the Temple. He was my best friend. He was my only friend. I’d missed him terribly.
The forty-one person garrison stood at attention. Wearing a solemn expression, Eresh placed his hands together, palm to palm. I did the same. We gave each other a deep bow. “Moreva Tehi, may the Most Holy One turn Her face to you.”
“And to you, Morevi Eresh.”
Our formal greeting accomplished, Eresh smiled a little. “Welcome to the Syren Perritory and the Mjor village.” Then he turned to a blue-uniformed hakoi standing a step behind him. “This is your second in command, Kepten Yose.”
I nodded once. “Kepten.” Kepten Yose was short, too, but not as short as me.
“Moreva Tehi.” He inclined his head and clicked his heels, a proper military salute to a superior officer. “Garrison ready for inspection, Moreva.”
I looked sideways at Eresh, who gave me a nod. “Very well, Kepten. Lead the way.”
We walked along the ten orderly rows of four troops each. They looked straight ahead, their eyes never veering from whatever it was they were looking at. Craning my neck, I peered into their faces. They were blank, but there was something in the eyes I couldn’t place, a look the hakoi in Uruk didn’t have. I wondered about it for a moment, then dismissed it. It was probably my imagination. At least they didn’t smell.
Inspection completed, I turned to meet my host. My gaze, starting at his brown fur vest-covered midriff, slowly traveled up, and up some more. He was the biggest hakoi I’d ever seen. His muscular shoulders looked as broad as the mountains that surrounded us. His skin, deep bronze, wasn’t like that of the Kherah hakoi, who were pale. His long, thick golden hair, ruffled by the breeze, was the same shade as the third, summer sun. He had light-colored brows—almost white—and a short beard of the same color. But it was his eyes that intrigued me most. All the hakoi I’d ever known had brown eyes. His eyes were blue, like the stars, and just as cold.
I didn’t like him. Judging by his scowl, he didn’t like me, either.

About the Author


Roxanne Bland grew up in Washington, D.C., where she discovered strange and wonderful new worlds through her local public library and bookstores. These and other life experiences have convinced her that reality is highly overrated. Ms. Bland lives in Rosedale, Maryland with her Great Dane, Daisy Mae.

Her latest book is the science fiction novel, The Moreva of Astoreth.

For More Information

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Chapter Reveal: ‘Dolet,’ by Florence Byham Weinberg


Dolet_medTitle: Dolet
Genre: Nonfiction Novel; Historical Fiction
Author: Florence Byham Weinberg
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
About the Book:
Dolet depicts the life and times of Etienne Dolet. Etienne, who told the bald truth to friend and foe alike, angered the city authorities in sixteenth-century Toulouse, fled to Lyon, and became a publisher of innovative works on language, history, and theology. His foes framed him; he was persecuted, imprisoned, and ultimately executed by the Inquisition for daring to publish the Bible in French translation.
Chapter One
The procession appeared from the opposite side of the Place de Salins, carrying banners emblazoned with holy images, a golden crucifix held high. The escort followed with the prisoner, Jean de Caturce, an iron collar around his neck attached to chains held by the men walking beside him. Hands tied behind his back, he wore a short, white chemise that exposed his calves and bare feet. His feet left bloody tracks on the cobblestones, but he was not limping. Perhaps the pain seemed trivial after worse torture.
The prisoner paused for a second as they crossed the square, staring at the place where he would be sacrificed, the heaped-up bundles of kindling and logs, a stake surrounded by a little wooden platform that poked through like a fist with accusing finger upraised. They gave him no time, jerking him forward, goading him up the rough steps onto the platform that stood almost directly below Etienne Dolet’s window.
Jean climbed doggedly, without hesitation, straining sidewise against the collar to see his way. He held his chin at a defiant angle as if he would have gone up to his death with no urging. The executioner followed him and lashed him to the stake, winding the rope around his body. Now Jean stood, looking around at the noisy crowd that swelled quickly as more witnesses trooped into the square. He was not allowed a chance to say a final word before the executioner stepped forward with the torch and touched it in several places to the fuel below. A wave of sound almost like a groan arose from the crowd as the first flames licked upward through the piled kindling. Silence as the flames spread eagerly, roaring when they caught the fat-soaked logs.
Etienne Dolet stood at his open window, unable to turn his eyes away. He knew Jean’s voice when it came, a strong tenor singing: “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it…” The singing broke off, and then, in a loud speaking voice, “Oh, God, my God, give me the strength to bear this… My God, help me!” The voice broke, the last syllables rising in volume and tone as if questioning the reality of God’s Providence before ending in a distorted cry.
Flames mounted to the base of the platform, leaping beyond it to touch the hem of the white chemise, which began to blacken as it caught. The crown of Jean’s tonsured head pressed back hard against the stake, his throat exposed to the heat. His face, clearly visible from the window, twisted beyond recognition, eyes staring and mouth wide open. His entire body writhed and convulsed, straining against the burning ropes that even now held him fast. Abruptly, he stopped moving and slumped against the pole. From then on, Etienne could no longer see him clearly, and for that, the young man gave silent thanks. Only an indistinct bundle remained among shimmering heat waves and the licking flames, a bulk that seemed ever blacker, appearing to shrink in upon itself, becoming more compact.
When the flames at last died away, workers, seeming indifferent to what had just happened, raked out the ashes and unburnt ends of logs, then loaded the debris onto carts and hauled it away. The ordeal had lasted over two hours, but Etienne still kept his vigil. He knew that Jean believed with great fervor in God, but had he believed in the end? What did he know when only the agony of the licking flames, not God, answered his cry for help? Or had He answered? Was Jean’s soul abruptly transported to heaven so he would not suffer so cruelly?
But the present moment forced itself upon his consciousness. Below, a friar in a white and black habit strolled across the Place de Salins, giving instructions to the crews who were sweeping up the remains of the execution. He stood below Etienne’s window. As he scanned the windows on that side of the square, his gaze paused, eyes riveted directly on Etienne. The young man instantly drew back into the shadows, his breathing quick and shallow, hoping that the waving ivy branch that grew halfway across the window had attracted the friar’s eye, not his own pale face.
In Toulouse, you were in danger at any moment for the slightest imaginary fault. He had been seen yesterday, passing by the statue of the Blessed Virgin without genuflecting. He slumped into a chair and buried his face in his hands, fighting nausea. Jean de Caturce’s execution would be forever imprinted upon his mind’s eye, the sequence of images that had unrolled down there in the Place de Salins, Jean’s final agony and the relief Etienne had felt despite himself when the writhing had ceased. He knew the man. Not well, but enough to respect him. Jean had been a popular young lecturer at the University of Toulouse where Etienne, a student of law, had heard him speak after that dinner on Twelfth Night.
He hadn’t been one of the invited guests, and had come in only at the end of the meal to deliver a message to another professor, Jean de Boyssoné. But of course, theyhad seen Etienne and noticed he hadn’t left before Caturce’s after-dinner remarks, as so many others had done. If only Jean had confined his speech to his own field of jurisprudence. But having read Martin Luther’s tracts-as who hadn’t by now?-Caturce was captivated; he’d also dared to study the Scriptures and insisted on speaking about both those writings, telling his guests about Luther and his reading of the Bible.
Etienne had left the dinner that night feeling he had heard something powerful, doubly so because of the danger. As was to be expected, one of the guests denounced Caturce, along with everyone who had stayed in the room, to the Inquisition. Of that, Etienne had no doubt. Why else would that Dominican brother single out his window among all the windows on this side of the square?
The inquisitors gave Jean the chance to save himself if he would recant. But he had told them he couldn’t deny the clear sense of the Word of God, a Word telling him that following the letter of their law would avail them nothing, would not prevent their damnation. Etienne had watched as they tore off Jean’s ecclesiastical robe of office, degrading him from the tonsure and stripping him of his rank as professor at the university. Then they turned him over to the secular arm, the authority in charge of public executions, where the judge pronounced the death sentence.
The solemn procession had wound through Toulouse on its way here, to the Place de Salins, where public executions had been carried out since 1235 or so, when the Albigensians were burned in that same blackened circle. They were the first to be ferreted out by the newly created Inquisition, an office entrusted to the Dominican Order by Pope Gregory IX, created to stamp out that dangerous heresy. By now, the Inquisition’s burnings in Toulouse had become a tradition “hallowed” by long and frequent exercise. And a new heresy had arisen, proclaiming that every baptized Christian was a priest before God and, as such, had a right to read the Scriptures for himself. But anyone who expressed such thoughts was in mortal danger.
Etienne had been warned to stay off the streets or risk immediate arrest. Some of his acquaintances were already taken. He’d made his way through winding back streets to his rooms overlooking the square, but he’d have been better off had he been arrested and imprisoned with his friends. At least, he’d not have to carry these images with him from now until his own death, for his imagination could never have substituted for the shock of experience. He stood again and approached the window, cautiously from the side so as not to be seen. But the square was swept clean and as empty as if nothing unusual had ever happened there.
* * *
Students spilled out of the room and into the hall outside. They clumped together in groups, arms across shoulders, some discussing a point of law or the latest books printed in Lyon or Geneva while others gossiped and laughed. The predominant colors were brown or gray-students could not afford colorful robes-and for Etienne the most interesting aspect of the scene was its constant movement. Students migrated from one group to another, shook hands or embraced, arms waved in the air as someone emphasized a weighty point of law or theology. Index fingers were raised on high or shaken under a neighbor’s nose.
He paused briefly in the doorway, scanning the group for his closest friends, Jacques Bording, Arnoul le Ferron, Claude Cotereau, Simon Finet, and Jean Voulté. They were the cream of the “French Nation,” a fraternity where elections would be held in a few minutes for the orator of the year. The chosen student would debate similarly elected orators of the other fraternities-the Gascon Nation, the Spanish, and the German-and the winner would gain great prestige among his fellows and perhaps win the patronage of some important jurist in the city. Etienne knew he was among the finalists and had dressed in his best: a white shirt, black doublet, and brown chausses with white silk stockings above his still-respectable black shoes. He’d added his brown student’s robe not as an afterthought but to indicate that he was humble, on a par with the others, but he left it unbuttoned so that his finery could be seen and appreciated.
This was a night when all the societies met in comitiis centuriatis, representative groups of one hundred that would make the final choice of the man who would speak for the Nation. Jacques, Claude, and Jean were Etienne’s rivals for the honored position. Etienne knew he was by far the best, but his sharp tongue might have lost him enough support to deny him the election. He knew his reputation as a razor-sharp wit, usually at the expense of the person standing nearest, and was both proud and constrained by it. He was proud because such wit implies superior intelligence, and he was pleased to have that reputation, but constrained because he must always be alert and ready-tongued, or that reputation would be called in question. A still more dominant constraint was his strict code of Christian moral standards. These often conflicted enough with his impulses to keep his witty remarks from actually wounding the target of his wit. Unless he considered that person an enemy.
“Sprezzatura” was a favorite word of his, an ideal touted by Baldassare Castiglione in his still-popular book The Courtier. Sprezzatura meant the mental agility and flexibility to turn any circumstance to one’s own advantage, to make a witty remark, to reveal a new aspect, unveil an unknown fact that would transform what had gone before, to entertain, amaze, and keep everyone else off balance. In short, to be master and director of any situation-all with apparent ease and spontaneity. He succeeded only in part, for he was too abrasive. When reactions were negative, he would mutter to himself or say aloud to his close friends,“Cretini!” for he believed at least half of humanity too slow-witted to appreciate him properly.
He approached his close friend, Claude Cotereau. “Claude, bonsoir. I see you’re here without your Lutheran mistress this evening. Perhaps I can introduce you to Madeleine Dupré; I hear she’s the Inquisitor’s niece. That would neutralize things for you, my friend, Luther on one arm, the Inquisition on the other.”
Claude’s face, marked by smallpox but still handsome, reflected exasperation, but then relaxed into a smile. “Always trying to shock and annoy, aren’t you, Etienne? Well, you won’t succeed in shocking me. Besides, you’d better keep a civil tongue if you intend to beat me and become our Nation’s orator. You’re late. We’re almost ready to vote.”
Etienne clutched the lapels of his doublet, his tone anxious. “Have you heard what’s become of Jean de Boyssoné?”
Boyssoné had been arrested along with Jean de Caturce, and was tried soon after Caturce’s condemnation. He was one of the most learned and popular of the professors of law, and one of the freest thinkers, a man who kept himself informed about all the literary and religious movements in Europe. Boyssoné had been convicted on ten counts of heresy: among others, the heretical notion that nothing should be held as a matter of faith but what was contained in or clearly implied by the Holy Scriptures, and that we are not justified by good works alone but mostly by faith in Jesus Christ. Both these opinions were declared to be irredeemably Lutheran. Unlike his unfortunate colleague Jean de Caturce, Boyssoné had chosen to abjure in a humiliating ceremony that was turned into a public circus.
“All his worldly goods were confiscated, weren’t they, Claude?”
“Yes. If you can imagine the injustice: his house, his books, everything. I suppose they were all sold and the wealth absorbed by the local church. I hear he fled to Italy, first to your former university in Padua, and he’s now in Venice. At least he’s safe there. Even though he paid a heavy price, he did the right thing and came out alive. I only wish Caturce had been that flexible.”
“He should have listened to his friend, François Rabelais, who said he’d hold to his opinions up to but excluding the stake.” Etienne grinned briefly, but shook his head at the enormity of it all.
At that moment, Georges Langlois, the president of the French Nation, called them to order. They were to vote by voice, and if there were any doubt as to outcome, there would be a count of hands.
“Our first candidate is Jacques Bording. All those in favor say aye.” Jacques shifted from foot to foot, giving Etienne and Claude a quick, apprehensive flash of brilliant green eyes that reminded Etienne of a cat.
There was a strong “aye” vote, but the “nays” audibly outweighed them. No need to count hands. Jean Voulté, short and slight, clutched the backrest of a chair with white-knuckled hands, his black eyes downcast. His vote garnered a large number of supporters, again outshouted by “nays.” Claude Cotereau’s “ayes” and “nays” were so close that a hand count was necessary. Standing next to Etienne, he,too, shifted from foot to foot as the votes were counted. Forty-eight votes in favor, fifty-two against.
“Good show, Claude!” Etienne squeezed his arm.
Then it was Etienne’s turn. He waited, sweating a little, trying to appear unconcerned. But the result came at once with an overwhelming voice vote that left no doubt in anyone’s mind. Claude, at his elbow, shook his hand with enthusiasm and a remarkable lack of envy.
“Congratulations, Etienne! I always knew you should represent us. Your Latin is impeccable, and you’ve practically memorized Cicero. You could give a ciceronian speech off the cuff that would take me a week to prepare.”
Etienne’s answering smile and handclasp expressed spontaneous gratitude for his friend’s generosity better than the most eloquent words. Jean Voulté made his way with sinuous ease through the crowd now gathering around Etienne. His black eyes sparkled as he gripped Etienne’s hand, clapping the winner on the back.
“Thank God I won’t have to sweat over Latin speeches in front of the other Nations, especially the Gascons. I’ll leave that ‘pleasure’ up to you. Truly, Etienne, I know you’ll make us proud; you’re a natural orator.”
He draped his arm over Etienne’s shoulders, and together they led Claude and Jacques, followed by Arnoul le Ferron and Simon Finet, through narrow, cobbled streets to the nearest tavern, the Chat Fourré. Soon joined by many other members of the French Nation, his comrades toasted Etienne. They were sure he, with his sharp tongue, would overwhelm any orator the Gascon Nation could produce.
Their two fraternities were the largest at the university and had been bitter rivals for some time, a rivalry that could break out in fights and the occasional riot. The Gascons now represented southwestern France, in earlier centuries a province called Gascony. They resented and scorned their northern rivals as “foreigners” and derided their inability to speak “la langue d’Oc.” In their southern language, “oc” meant “yes.” They were proud of their independent romance language, which, like northern French, descended from Latin. The Gascons also differed in their customs, cuisine, and view of the world. Their language and culture were under stress, however. They were no longer in favor ever since the royal house and retinue had decided to adopt Paris as the capital city. The northerners spoke “la langue d’Oui,” which, in itself, set them apart.
Etienne leaped on a heavy oaken table and raised his beaker of wine, careful not to collide with the iron chandelier and its eight lighted candles. An imposing figure over six feet tall, his presence and voice dominated the room.
He began in Latin to demonstrate they’d made the right choice. “I’ll do my best, my friends, to uphold the honor of our Nation, first of all to eulogize those of us who died during the past year, and then to review the most important events of the year just behind us. You may be certain that no person or organization that has slighted us, nay, not even the parliament and magistrates of this fair city who have recently questioned our right of assembly, will escape my notice. To the French Nation!”
He extended his arm and the beaker, threw back his head and drank his wine to thunderous applause and answering cries of “Hear! Hear! To the French Nation!”
Dolet Copyright © 2015. Florence Byham Weinberg. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How Paid Reviews Work for Indie Authors

Bowker’s most recent analysis of ISBN numbers revealed that 458,564 books were self-published in
2013, an increase of 17 percent over 2012. Occasionally an indie book breaks out of this crowded pack and achieves significant sales or acclaim, but this is still a rare occurrence, given the sheer number of titles, the variability of their quality, and the fact that the traditional sources for advising readers about which books to read are still largely geared toward traditionally published books.

As self-published books continue to proliferate, however, several companies have begun offering paid book reviews to indie authors to help them break out. Traditional review publications now sell reviews to self-published authors.

Publisher’s Weekly offers PW Select, which for $149 runs a photo of the book’s cover and a brief synopsis in PW and considers the books for a full review. Kirkus Indie offers “professional, unbiased book reviews for self-publishers” in 7 to 9 weeks for $425. Blue Ink Review specializes in reviews of self-published titles, offering reviews in the same time frame for $395.
Is purchasing such a review worth it? For one Wyoming-based author of three self-published works of fiction, Tamara Linse, the answer is yes.

Read the full article at MediaShift.

Monday, November 23, 2015

'Latina Authors and Their Muses' - Paperback available now for pre-order!

ed862-latinaauthors_med
As the Hispanic American population of the U.S. increases, with influences ranging from Mexico to Central America and the Caribbean, so does interest in literature inspired by those cultures.
Award-winning author Mayra Calvani has now edited a collection of interviews with 40 Latina authors living in the U.S. and writing in English. Latina Authors and Their Muses is an inspirational and informative book focusing on the craft of writing and the business of publishing, one that provides aspiring writers with the nuts and bolts of the business.
Purchase the ebook NOW on Amazon or B&N
Pre-order the paperback NOW on Amazon or B&N
Official paperback release date: December 15, 2015
ramses and I
About the Editor
Award-winning author Mayra Calvani has penned more than ten books for children and adults in genres ranging from picture books to nonfiction to paranormal fantasy novels. She’s had over 300 articles, short stories, interviews and reviews published in magazines such as The WriterWriter's Journal and Bloomsbury Review, among others. A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, she now resides in Brussels, Belgium

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Chapter reveal: The Cavalier Spy, by S.W. O’Connelly


thecavalierspy_medTitle: The Cavalier Spy
Genre: Historical
Author: S. W. O’Connell
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
About the Book:
1776: His army clinging to New York by a thread, a desperate General George Washington sends Lieutenant Jeremiah Creed behind British lines once more. But even the audacity of Creed and his band of spies cannot stop the British juggernaut from driving the Americans from New York, and chasing them across New Jersey in a blitzkrieg fashion. Realizing the imminent loss of one of the new nation’s most important states to the enemy, Washington sends Creed into the war-torn Hackensack Valley. His mission: recruit and train a gang of rogues to work behind British lines.
However, his mission takes a strange twist when the British high command plots to kidnap a senior American officer and a mysterious young woman comes between Creed and his plans. The British drive Washington’s army across the Delaware. The new nation faces its darkest moment. But Washington plans a surprise return led by young Creed, who must strike into hostile land so that Washington can rally his army for an audacious gamble that could win, or lose, the war.
“More than a great spy story… it is about leadership and courage in the face of adversity…The Cavalier Spy is the story of America’s first army and the few… those officers and soldiers who gave their all to a cause that was seemingly lost…”
~ Les Brownlee, former Acting Secretary of the Army and retired Army Colonel
“Secret meetings, skirmishes and scorching battles… The Cavalier Spytakes the reader through America’s darkest times and greatest triumphs thanks to its powerful array of fictional and historical characters… this book shows that courage, leadership and audacity are the key elements in war…”
~ F. William Smullen, Director of National Security Studies at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School and Author of Ways and Means for Managing UP

Prologue

Despite its narrow defeat at the battle of Harlem Heights on September 16th, 1776, Lord William Howe’s army of British and German professionals consolidated its stranglehold on General George Washington’s Continental Army, now firmly entrenched on the high ground at the northern extreme of the Island of New York (Manhattan). As soon as the wind and tide at the treacherous Hellegat (Hell Gate) channel provided an opportunity, Howe, the British general commanding in North America, launched a series of amphibious landings along the coast of the Bronx. His goal was to threaten the American line of supply from Westchester to New England. An initial thrust at The Frog’s (Throg’s) Neck on October 12th was stopped by a few regiments of expertly positioned American riflemen. This forced the British re-embark and land farther north, at a place called Pell’s Point.
Washington maneuvered his forces a few miles north to block Howe. However, Howe’s maneuver forced Washington to withdraw. He moved his army north along the Bronx River positioning it in the central Westchester hills to protect his line of supply to New England and New Jersey.
On the 28th of October, Howe launched a surprise attack on the Americans, whom he caught before they could properly position themselves near the village of White Plains. Despite the small tactical victory achieved against the Americans, Howe once again failed to exploit his success. Instead, he turned south and moved to invest Fort Washington, a powerful defensive position at the northern end of the Island of New York, otherwise known as Manhattan.
Washington realized that he would have to abandon the Island of New York before the British could trap the American defenders there. However, his most capable officer, Brigadier General Nathaniel Greene, convinced him that Fort Washington could still be defended with a few thousand men, allowing the rebels to maintain a foothold on the island. Although conflicted, Washington finally acceded to Greene’s suggestion. He left the small garrison to fend for itself and moved the remainder of the army across the North River to the highlands of New Jersey.
Howe now had the initiative and all the advantages of eighteenth century warfare: interior lines; control of the waters; and overwhelming force. Washington’s strategy now was to avoid defeat, keep his army intact, and continue to threaten the British while maintaining communications between New England and the Middle Atlantic states. The erstwhile “war of posts” had also become a war of waiting… but waiting for what?
Chapter 1 
Harlem Heights, New York, September 1776
Lieutenant Jeremiah Creed slept fitfully. It was that sleep which comes when one is far past being overtired, and one’s best efforts result in a certain numbness of both mind and body. The young officer’s bed was a makeshift pile of pine needles with a piece of canvas tenting spread across them. The canopy of orange and red leaves from a tall oak tree provided protection from the heat of the morning sun, this being a particularly warm Indian summer. Creed rested his head on his saddle, which, covered by a worn gray woolen blanket, formed his pillow. Not far away, his horse, a light brown gelding named Finn, nibbled at the sweet autumn grass on the gentle hillside. While Creed slept, Privates Jonathan Beall and Elias Parker, Creed’s companions and members of his very small command, had cooked a batch of dough balls in a small pan of used bacon grease. To them, the smell and crackle of the meager repast had the makings of a great feast. For the last three days, they had nothing to eat but hard tack biscuits and deer jerky purchased from one of the many suttlers that supplemented the Continental Army’s woeful commissariat. During that time, Creed and his men had been constantly on patrol or in combat. Their ordeal ended with the burial of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knowlton, leader of the elite ranger unit to which they had been attached during the battle for Harlem Heights.
After Knowlton’s simple burial, a saddened Creed had a confrontation with Colonel Robert Fitzgerald, the commander-in-chief’s intelligence advisor. Officially just another of Washington’s many staff officers, Fitzgerald assisted Washington in one of the most critical of matters facing the army: figuring out what the British would do while also cloaking American actions from the British. This was no easy feat, as there was no American intelligence service to speak of. Washington took a personal interest in such things, both for reasons of security and practicality. However, the commander-in-chief had many other issues facing him and relied on his advisor to attend to all but the most sensitive matters. Fitzgerald worked tirelessly to establish a system of intelligence and counterintelligence that was less dependent on leadership from the headquarters. But when young Lieutenant Jeremiah Creed asked to return to normal service with his regiment, the First Maryland Continental Line, the outcome was never in doubt. Fitzgerald, over a strange combination of whiskey and chess, convinced Creed to become the first official intelligence officer in the Continental Army.
“So, Elias, do we have any salt left? We should really try to add some flavor,” Jonathan Beall spoke sarcastically.
Meager and humble as the concoction was, the smell of the dough balls crackling in the bacon fat was driving him wild.
“I added the last crumbs of burnt bacon to the mix so there will be flavor enough for the likes of you, but I will gladly take your portion if it is too bland for your mountain boy’s taste!” Elias Parker laughingly replied.
After weeks of campaigning and more than a few life and death experiences, the two were closer than brothers. But like brothers, they chided each other mercilessly when not covering each other’s back. Both men were in their mid-twenties and sturdily built. Beall came from a small farm town in the Maryland piedmont, a place called Frederick, situated at the edge of the verdant Catoctin Mountains. Parker, partly of Indian extraction, was a waterman from fishing stock in Maryland’s tidewater region.
“Should we wake Lieutenant Creed yet?” Beall asked, although he already knew the answer.
“Seeing as every time we wake him it leads to a patrol or some other comfortless duty I would say no,” Parker retorted, only half joking.
Unlike Beall, Parker was not an original member of Creed’s former unit, the Light Company, First Maryland Continental Line. During the Battle for Long Island, First Maryland’s acting commander, Major Mordecai Gist, transferred Parker from a line unit along with several other stalwart Marylanders. Since that day in August 1776, his life became one of constant fatigue and danger. During the ensuing weeks of patrolling and skirmishing, most of the original command of more than thirty men had been killed or wounded. Parker and Beall were the only active members left and now they were permanently reassigned from the First Maryland to the commander-in-chief’s Escort, also called his Life Guard.
“Wonder when we’ll get a chance to escort His Excellency now that we are escorts,” Beall said.
Parker suspected their future would not involve much escort work. “I don’t care where we serve, or what we do, so long as it helps end the war. I want to get home to my family. I miss my wife Marie and our newborn, little Meg.” Parker held a small charcoal sketch his sister had drawn. “Have you seen anyone more beautiful?”
Marie, like Parker, was part Indian and little Meg showed it, as well.
“Must take after her mama,” Beall said.
Parker smiled. “Sure does. My Marie has the same copper skin. And just look at that head of shiny dark hair. Hoped to have a miniature of them made before I departed with the regiment, but there was no time. Thank God this charcoal sketch came with my last letter before the fight on Long Island.”
Despite the longing for home, Parker was proud to be working with Creed and to be on “the Escort,” as they sometimes referred to it. And he was proud to be serving His Excellency. This was heady stuff for a humble sailor and fisherman from the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.
When Creed had returned from his last meeting with Colonel Robert Fitzgerald, he seemed a changed man. There had been a new intensity added to his normal Irish good humor. And there was something odd in his comment to them before turning in to sleep.
“Well boys, Colonel Fitzgerald has convinced me that the only way to checkmate a king is to keep him in check until he has no options. And the best tool for that is the knight—in this case a ‘White Knight.’ Ah, but we shall talk of all that later.”
The bacon grease sizzled and a piece of burned bacon rind and dough splattered and seared Beall’s wrist in one of those intense but fleeting burns. “Damn! Damnation!”
Beall had taken to swearing since he joined the army back in the spring. His exposure to toughs from the backwoods, Chesapeake watermen, Baltimore laborers and Annapolis stevedores provided exposure to a wide assortment of expression and habits—some good, but most bad. He had promised himself he would break this one habit before he returned home.
The sounds of the sizzling fat and Beall’s loud expletive stirred Creed. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. The pain in his head and the rawness on his tongue were not strangers, but a just few cups of whisky never had this effect before. Creed reckoned he was getting old. He was barely twenty-two.
“Cannot let a man sleep in peace for long, can ye? Just as well, but you will now pay the price and share those victuals with your victim.”
Creed grinned despite the stiffness he felt in every joint and the dull pain in his head. He stood up, pulled on his boots, and excused himself to perform his morning ablutions. Creed’s routine, whenever possible, included a plunge into the closest body of water and a shave. In this case, he took advantage of a nearby well in the garden of the Morris Mansion, General Washington’s headquarters. The garden, once a picturesque combination of flowers and fruit trees, was now part of the commander-in-chief’s headquarters, replete with the tents and equipment of his personal Life Guard, aides de camp, couriers and an array of cooks, servants, and transient officers. He returned fifteen minutes later and dug into his share of the repast: a half dozen of the “belly sinkers,” a mug of black coffee, and a couple of large, freshly plucked pears.
“Quite good stuff, lads.”
“How is the coffee, sir?” Beall asked
Creed replied. “As you well know, I favor tea, but I have accustomed myself to the American and Dutch penchant for the Arabica bean. It often proves more bracing, if not more refreshing than tea.”
Parker snickered. “Even after a third time boiling! I swear we live lower than field hands.”
Creed smiled and nodded. “Too true, but often a necessity in this army of ever dwindling supplies.”
He finished eating and helped himself to a second tin full of the bitter black brew. “Now, in a bit, lads, I shall have to meet again with the good Colonel. Before I do, we must talk. When I am finished I will ask you to either join with me or return to the First Maryland and forget our discussion and everything we have done in the past several weeks. Fair enough?”
Beall and Parker both nodded, almost mindlessly. Neither could tell whether Creed’s comments were a form of trust, distrust, or humor, but since neither of them had any intention of leaving his command after all they had been through with him, they heard him out patiently.
Creed looked intently at them as he spoke, his eyes narrowed and his voice lowered both for security and for effect. He needed for them to understand the gravity of the situation.
“My discussions last evening with the good Colonel were sobering, although they took place with no insignificant amount of whisky.”
Beall thought he saw the mildest trace of the Creed smile form for a fleeting second, then disappear as his eyes narrowed again. “We played a game of chess. Somewhere in my kit I have a set. Does either of you lads play? Well, never mind that now. The point is this: both he and I are agreed that this war will be long and difficult. We face a brutal and stubborn monarch who commands the greatest forces in the world and commands its commerce through a powerful navy. This king can march or sail his army at will, at least wherever there is sufficient water.”
Beall thought he saw Creed’s eyes lighten for a fleeting moment.
“So, ye see, the initiative belongs to ‘His Majesty.’ General Washington cannot likely hope for a great victory to end this conflict quickly and to our advantage. So his strategy has got to be one of avoiding defeat. Nibble away at the British until they are worn down and are forced to concede our freedom and independence. However, to do this the Continental Army needs to survive and it must present a threat to the British until… well…”
“Until what, sir?” Beall interrupted like a school boy.
Creed glanced left and right. “Well, there is considerable speculation that Congress can perhaps gain us allies to force the British hand. This is as much a political fight as a military one. In that sense we have some advantages.”
“Now what might those be, Lieutenant?” Parker asked skeptically. Parker was a simple fisherman and seaman but a shrewd and practical man in his own right. He for one could find no advantages in the army’s, or the nation’s, situation.
“Well, the cause itself, of course. And the people as well. Certainly, there are many Americans who are loyal Tories, but most are not. Many are still undecided. However, so long as there remains a General Washington and a Continental Army there remains hope. Where the British Army does not occupy, the patriot cause, the American cause, lives. We are closer to our people and to their sentiments. And where we are not, strong measures need be taken. We know the land and can draw people and sustenance from it. Many in England, Scotland, and Ireland are favorably disposed to the colonies and their grievances, so perhaps we shall have a political solution over the objections of King George. But there is one ingredient essential to the successful outcome of this enterprise.”
“Good food and dry powder!” Parker said sarcastically.
“Yes, indeed!” Creed answered reflexively. “No, what I meant was information. That is, intelligence. This war will turn on that to a great deal. Colonel Fitzgerald has asked me to take part in that aspect of the enterprise. With no small amount of reluctance, I have agreed. I am not yet fully sure what that means, but gather he wants to form a unit to collect information on the British and Loyalists, to assist General Washington.”
“Are we to be spies?” Beall asked.
“In a manner of speaking, yes. And we must detect spies, too. The way the good Colonel and His Excellency see it, failure to collect intelligence could lose a battle, but failure to detect a spy could lose the war, and thus the nation. So, if you follow me, when, not if, we are caught it shall be a swift journey to the gallows… if we are lucky. Do ye lads understand what I am saying?”
Beall and Parker looked at each other. They did not fully grasp everything Creed had said.
“Not everything, sir. But it makes no matter to us. You are our leader and we trust your judgment.” As Parker spoke the words a sickening feeling told him he would not see his family again.
After a pause, Beall spoke. “Sir, I joined the regiment to support the cause and to be with Simon. If he were here, he would stand with you sir, so now I fight for two!”
Creed fought to hold back the tears welling in his eyes. “Good lads! You are most honorable. I am proud to be among you.”
* * *
Creed arrived at Fitzgerald’s office in the Morris Mansion. It was a clean, bright room, not large. But it contained a nice bed and had a large desk covered with Fitzgerald’s many papers and a map. In the corner there stood a small chest of drawers. On it sat a small wash basin of elegant but not elaborate white porcelain. For the first time, Creed noticed the room was decorated with fine wallpaper instead of paint. This must have been a lady’s room, he thought, perhaps a daughter.
Fitzgerald offered Creed a glass of port. Creed declined as he still felt some of the effects of the previous night. Fitzgerald pushed away stray strands of his hair, which he had tied back in a queue and strangely enough, powdered white.
“Well, Jeremiah, His Excellency has need of your services once more. Your task is both complex and dangerous.”
“Not unlike previous engagements, sir.” Creed smirked.
Fitzgerald ignored the witticism. “Worse, I am afraid. He would like you to find our lost spy.”
“Beg your pardon, sir?” Creed thought he had misunderstood him.
“Find our lost spy. As you know, we sent a young captain of the unfortunate Colonel Knowlton’s battalion to spy behind British lines on Long Island. But now he may well be in New York. His name, I can finally reveal, is Nathan Hale. From Connecticut. A place called Coventry, I believe. Seems so many of our bravest lads come from Connecticut.”
As a Marylander, Creed bristled at the remark but Fitzgerald went on. “Hale was to advance across Long Island and find the rear of the British Army. To obtain information on unit strength from patriots and unsuspecting Tories. Also to report on their morale, supply, and if possible, British plans.”
Creed winced. “Perhaps you should have asked him to capture Lord Howe to boot.”
Fitzgerald nodded. “I know. It seems foolish now and it was, urumph, is. Truth be told, I advised against it. Nor am I in favor of sending you after him. But His Excellency insists we try. However, I am adding to your woes with a secondary mission, although between us it is, in actuality, your primary mission.”
Creed cocked his head slightly and placed his index finger against his cheek. “My God, sir, just two missions behind British lines? Hardly worth the trip, should I say?
Creed’s feigned English accent had the desired effect of annoying Fitzgerald.
“Please refrain from sarcasm, my dear boy. These are desperate times. The curtain is closing on the city of New York, and perhaps the entire island. We may not have another opportunity to infiltrate someone there for many months. Once the British consolidate their gains and establish forces loyal to them, access to the city may well be hopeless, and it most certainly will be dangerous. What I want is for you to contact one of the men given up to our late departed British spy, Jan Braaf.”
Jan Braaf, a lawyer and active Whig politico in Brooklyn, had spied for the British and betrayed the American army, helping cause its defeat on Long Island. He died from a wound received while trying to get to New York under Creed’s protection. Dying, he had confessed his treason to Creed and Fitzgerald, who obtained the valise provided by his British spymaster, Major Sandy Drummond. The valise contained “spy paraphernalia” which included codes, special chemicals for secret writing, and the names of contacts, one of whom had access to a bank account for Braaf. Posing as the escaped murderer of British soldiers, Braaf was supposed to obtain a civilian post near or with the rebel army, and report on its activity.
“We were fortunate Braaf took a bullet on that boat ride with you, Jeremiah. And a British bullet at that.”
“I daresay, sir, we were more fortunate that he had some semblance of a conscience and confessed his sin before he died.”
“I believe it was more from good questioning and his eternal connivance. I believe he wanted to keep his family out of future trouble. Well, it worked to our advantage, but now we must follow up.”
Creed frowned. “What do you mean, sir?”
Fitzgerald swirled the remaining port in his glass. Its ruby color reflected the sunlight that radiated through the open window. They were on the second floor so nobody could eavesdrop, at least not very easily.
“I mean, the ‘spy Braaf’ must try to contact the British of course. Since you deftly hid his body there is no corpus delecti, so we can assume they do not suspect his demise. But they must surely expect contact from him.”
“So soon?”
“Of course, young man, we are at war. But the contact will be perfunctory. Just enough so they know he is active and has successfully placed himself near the American camp. By doing so I hope to buy us some time until I decide how best to pursue this case. And in any event, we may delay them sending another in his place.”
“And I suppose I should find this Captain Hale while I am at it?”
Fitzgerald grinned complacently. “That is correct. His Excellency would be most pleased with the return of his spy. Captain Hale by all accounts seemed a very decent and honorable officer, not really spy material at all.”
Creed once again ignored the barb. With a coy wink, Fitzgerald downed the last drop of port and smacked the glass on the desk. He then removed some papers from the “treasure trove” of codes and contacts taken from Braaf. It provided the name of two men established by the British as Braaf’s contacts in the city.
The older officer pulled another wisp of his white hair away from his pale Irish face and looked intently at Creed. “Now here is what I propose…”
* * *
When Creed returned from his meeting with Colonel Fitzgerald the concern on his face was obvious. He removed his tri-cornered hat and ran his fingers through his dark hair. He then took a deep breath and sat under one of the pines.
“Why so glum, sir?” Beall asked.
“Not glum, Jonathan, concerned. We have a hard task ahead… get through British lines, find a lost spy, and convince the British that our friend Braaf is alive and well. Oh yes, and return alive of course.”
Creed went over the plan in detail. When he finished, his men questioned him. “Do we rehearse this one, Lieutenant?” Parker asked.
Creed shook his head. “Not this time, much as it disturbs me to say. We have no time. We depart immediately.”
“Right now?” Beall asked.
Creed nodded. “We must gain entry to the city before the British restore order and tighten security.”
Parker looked incredulous. “You mean they haven’t, sir?”
Creed replied, “Not fully. I hope to exploit the chaos that always ensues when one army supplants another in an area of occupation. Many Whigs and Patriots have already fled the Island of New York.”
“So most of the Americans who stayed in New York will be hostile to the patriot cause,” Beall said.
Creed nodded. “Or neutral and indifferent. We shall have to rely on our guile and the occupation’s initial confusion to get through.”
Beall knew there was something else. “Sir, we have done more than this before. You seem disturbed by something. Something more than this.
Creed lowered his head. “Our orders, the part that disturbs me, are stark. Should one of Braaf’s contacts become suspicious, I am to kill him.”
Beall’s eyes widened. “Just like that?”
Creed nodded. “His Excellency was staking much on deceiving the British, and Fitzgerald wants nothing to frustrate the effort. We are also authorized to reveal the existence of the other spy, Hale, to help establish Braaf’s credibility, proof of his validity as an agent.”
Parker interjected, “Now let me get this straight, sir. We are to save this spy, Captain… Hale? While using knowledge of his existence to convince the British that Braaf operates in the American camp. Makes no sense at all, sir!”
“Precisely my initial thought.” Creed grinned and scratched himself on the lobe of his ear.
“However, after some reflection, I realized there is a devilish madness to this. General Washington wants his man back, but he also wants to use Braaf against the British. He sees this war now as an intelligence struggle as much as a military struggle. And he may well be correct. Our forces need time to bring themselves to where they can face the British on equal terms. That day will come, he is convinced, but until then he must preserve the army and keep the British off balance. Intelligence will be indispensable to the success of this strategy. We are merely pawns in all this.”
Beall corrected him. “You mean knights, sir, do you not? White Knights, to be exact.”
Creed laughed and grabbed Beall firmly by the shoulder. “Yes indeed, Private Beall. Thank-you so much for remembering that for me; tis the White Knights we are now.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Amazon’s Ingenious Scheme to Undermine Black Friday

Depending upon your outlook, Black Friday is either a time-honored US shopping holiday or the miserable nadir of American consumer culture. Whichever lens you choose to view it through, there’s no denying that Black Friday is huge. Adobe’s Digital Index shows that last year’s Black Friday holiday set a record, with consumers spending $2.4 billion online, a 24 percent increase from 2013. This year, according to estimates, that trend line is still going up: eMarketer projects a 5.7 percent gain in retail sales, with e-commerce continuing to grow in the double digits, as it’s done for several years.

Of all the retailers hoping to capitalize on this trend, Amazon is by far the most well-positioned. This week, on the heels of launching a Black Friday online store well ahead of the actual day, the company said that its holiday deals would start rolling out as early as tomorrow—a full week ahead of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving here in the US.

Read full article at WIRED.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Chapter reveal: Adrenaline, by John Benedict


adrenalineTitle: ADRENALINE
Genre: THRILLER
Author: JOHN BENEDICT
Purchase on Amazon
About the Book: A sensational, skillful and highly suspenseful tale, Adrenaline introduces anesthesiologist protagonist Doug Landry. About Adrenaline: When patients start dying unexpectedly in the O.R. at Mercy Hospital, Doug Landry finds himself the focus of the blame. Is he really incompetent or is there something more sinister going on? As Doug struggles to clear his name and untangle the secrets surrounding these mysterious deaths, it becomes exceedingly clear that someone is serious—dead serious—about keeping the devastating truth from ever seeing the light of day. As he launches a pulse-quickening race against time to prevent more deaths, Doug soon finds that the lives of his patients aren’t the only lives at stake.  Seems that someone will stop at nothing to keep Doug from revealing the truth. Could it be that murder is the ultimate rush?
CHAPTER ONE
“Shit!  Don’t give me any bullshit!” said Dr. Mike Carlucci under his breath, as his gaze locked on the unusual rhythm displayed on the EKG monitor.  His warning was meant mostly for his patient, Mr. Rakovic, who was scheduled to undergo an arthroscopy of his right knee.  Mike’s plea was also directed at God, just in case he was listening, and at the monitor itself to cover all bases.  Mike didn’t expect a reply from any of them.  Mr. Rakovic was deeply unconscious with an endotracheal tube sprouting from his mouth.  Mike had just induced general anesthesia and was preparing to fill out his chart when the trouble began.
Mike stared grimly at the potentially lethal dysrhythmia known as ventricular tachycardia, or V-tach, and felt the first raw edge of fear scrape lightly across his nerves.  It occurred to him that he had never actually seen V-tach during a routine induction in his six years at Mercy Hospital, or during any induction for that matter.  It was something that happened in the case reports, not in real life.  He wondered if Doug Landry, his best friend and colleague, had ever seen it.
His first instinct was to doubt the EKG.  Frequently movement of the patient or electrical interference caused the EKG to register falsely.  He rapidly scanned his array of other monitors.  Modern anesthetic workstations had upwards of ten sophisticated computer-driven monitors.  Substantial redundancy of these instruments allowed him to check one machine’s errors against another.  The pulse oximeter, a small finger-clip sensor, beeped at a heart rate exactly the same as the EKG.  This unfortunately ruled out the possibility of EKG artifact; there was no false reading this time.
Mike absently fingered the gold crucifix dangling from his neck.  Grandma Carlucci had brought it back from Lourdes, and had given it to him when he had graduated from med school.  The medallion always comforted him.  He punched his Dinamap, the automatic blood pressure machine, for a stat reading.  The mass spectrometer system, which continually monitored the gasses going in and out of Mr. Rakovic’s lungs via the endotracheal tube, registered normal carbon dioxide levels.  Mike breathed a sigh of relief; it meant the breathing tube was properly positioned in his patient’s trachea and not in the esophagus.  He quickly checked breath sounds with his stethoscope to ensure both lungs were being ventilated normally.  They were.  The pulse oximeter showed a ninety-eight percent oxygen saturation level, confirming beyond doubt that his patient was being adequately oxygenated.  Again good.  However, nothing to explain the sudden appearance of V-tach.
The blood pressure reading would be key for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, Mike knew he must treat the offending rhythm; its cause was of secondary importance at the moment.  A normal blood pressure reading would mean Mr. Rakovic would still have adequate blood flow to his vital organs—brain most importantly—in spite of the rhythm disturbance.  Mike knew that as V-tach accelerates, the heart can beat so fast it doesn’t have time to fill and fails as a reliable pump.  The blood pressure can fall drastically or disappear altogether.
“C’mon you piece of shit!  Read, damn it!”  Mike hissed under his breath to his Dinamap.  Fifteen seconds never seemed so long.  While waiting for the blood pressure, he opened the top drawer of his anesthesia cart and pulled out two boxes of premixed Lidocaine, a first-line emergency antidysrhythmic drug.  He ripped open the boxes and assembled the syringes.  He glanced up at Diane, the circulating nurse.  She was busily filling out her paperwork, oblivious to any problem.
“Diane,” Mike called out, “I got trouble here.  Get the crash cart!”
“Jesus, Mike!  Are you kidding?” asked Diane, eyes bugging wide, pen frozen in mid-task.
“Serious badness,” Mike said, trying to keep the dread he felt out of his voice.  “Looks like V-tach.”  His voice sounded a little higher than he had intended.
“Oh shit!” she said as she hurried out of the room, almost tripping over the trash bucket.  Mike was thankful that Dr. Sanders, the orthopedic surgeon, was still out of the room scrubbing his hands.  No time to tell him just yet; he wouldn’t take it well.  If the blood pressure were unacceptably low, Mike would need to shock the patient back into a normal rhythm.  He injected one of the syringes of Lidocaine into the intravenous line and simultaneously felt Mr. Rakovic’s carotid pulse.  It was bounding, arguing against a low blood pressure.
250/120!  “Holy shit!  Where’d that come from?”  Mike asked the leering LED face of the Dinamap.  Accusatory alarms screeched from the Dinamap in response.  Mike truly had not expected such a high blood pressure and was momentarily confused.  The temperature in the OR seemed to have jumped twenty degrees, and he felt rivulets of sweat coursing down his arms.  The fear was back and not so easily dismissed this time.  Think, damn it, think!  What would Doug do?
He quickly reviewed what he knew of Mr. Rakovic’s medical history and his own induction sequence.  Mr. Rakovic was a sixty-two-year-old hypertensive with a history of coronary disease and a prior heart attack.  But, his hypertension was well controlled on his current regimen of beta and calcium-channel blockers.  Mike knew his patient had a bad heart, and had taken care to do a smooth induction along with all the usual precautions to avoid stressing the heart.  A blood pressure of 250/120 and V-tach at 160 beats-per-minute were about the worst stresses any heart could undergo.  Mike knew this, but was still baffled.  Be cool, Mike.  Be cool.
He had been stumped before; medicine was by no means an exact science, and anesthesia was one of the frontiers.  Mike also knew better than to waste precious time pondering this.  As long as he had reviewed it sufficiently to make sure he hadn’t overlooked something, it was time to move on to the immediate treatment.  He could replay the case to search for subtle clues when Mr. Rakovic was safely tucked in the recovery room.
What lurked in the back of Mike’s mind during these first few minutes, prodding him along, was the specter of ventricular fibrillation or V-fib.  V-tach was reversible with rapid proper treatment.  V-fib, on the other hand, was often refractory to treatment, leading to death.   The problem was that V-tach had a nasty habit of degenerating into the dreaded V-fib without warning.  The longer V-tach hung around, the more likely V-fib would appear.  So Mike knew time was of the essence.
“Gotta bring that pressure down,” Mike mumbled to himself.  He reached back into his drawer for Esmolol, a rapidly acting, short duration beta-blocker designed to lower blood pressure.  He drew up 30 mg and pumped it into the IV port.  He also punched in the second syringe of Lidocaine.  Mike tried hard not to take his eyes off the EKG monitor for long as he drew up and administered the drugs.  He wanted to see if the V-tach broke into a normal rhythm or converted into V-fib.  Irrationally, he felt that if he continued to watch the rhythm it wouldn’t convert to V-fib; if he took his eyes off it for too long, the demon might appear.
His Dinamap on STAT mode continued to pour forth BP readings every 45 seconds.  290/140.
“What the hell!”  Mike said.  Alarms were now singing wildly in the background, adding to the confusion.
Just then, Dr. Sanders charged into the room demanding answers.  “What’s going on here, Carlucci?” roared Sanders.
Mike didn’t have time to deal with the irate surgeon.  A wave of nausea swept over him as he felt events slipping out of control.  Things were moving so goddamned fast.  Fear threatened to engulf him.  “Hypertensive crisis!” he managed to blurt out while he grabbed for some Nipride, his strongest antihypertensive.  Unfortunately, it had to be mixed and given as an intravenous infusion rather than straight from the ampule.  This would take a minute Mike and his patient could ill-afford.  Diane returned with the crash cart and several other nurses.  She looked at Mike and said, “Do you need help?”  It certainly sounded like she thought he did.
“Get Landry in here stat!” Mike yelled in response.  He took his eyes off the monitor as he worked on the Nipride drip.  Just as he got the Nipride plugged into the IV port, he heard an ominous silence.
The pulse oximeter had become quiet.  Usually the pulse ox signaled trouble, such as a falling oxygen saturation, by a gradual lowering of the pitch, not an abrupt silence.  Mike could think of only three possible causes, and two of them were disasters—V-fib or cardiac standstill.  The third reason could be as simple as the probe slipping off the finger.  Although this third possibility was enormously more likely, Mike doubted it.  As he turned his head toward the EKG monitor, he knew with eerie prescience what awaited him.
V-fib greeted him from the monitor.  He had failed to get the blood pressure down fast enough.  The V-tach had degenerated into V-fib as the strain on the heart had become too much.  His Nipride was now useless; in fact, it was harmful.  He immediately shut it off.  Mike knew that in V-fib, the heart muscle doesn’t contract at all; it just sits there and quivers like a bowl full of jello.  No blood was being pumped.  High blood pressure had ceased to become a problem; now there was no blood pressure.  Brain damage would ensue in two minutes, death in four to five minutes.
Doug Landry, the anesthesiologist on call that day, burst through the OR door.  “What d’ya got Mike?” he asked, slightly out of breath.  Doug glanced at the EKG monitor and said, “Oh shit!  Fib!”
“Paddles!” shouted Mike, comforted by Doug’s presence.  “He went into V-tach, then shortly into fib,” said Mike, nodding at the monitor.
“Yeah, I see,” Doug said.  His large sinewy frame looked like it was coiled for action.  Diane handed Mike the defibrillator paddles.
“400 joules, asynchronous!”  Mike barked.
Diane stabbed some buttons on the defib unit and it emitted some hi-pitched electronic whines.  “Set,” Diane said shrilly.
“Clear!”  Mike shouted.
Mike fired the paddles, and a burst of high-energy electricity pulsed through Mr. Rakovic’s heart and body.  The EKG monitor first showed electrical interference from the high dose of electricity, then quickly coalesced into more V-fib.
“Shit!”  Mike said.  “No good.”  He had never appreciated how ugly those little spiky waves of V-fib were.
“Hit em again, Mike,” Doug said.
“OK.  Recharge paddles.”  The paddles took several seconds for the high amperage capacitors to charge between countershocks.  “Better start CPR,” Mike said as he began pumping on Mr. Rakovic’s chest.  His hands soon became slimed from the electrolyte gel left by the paddles on Mr. Rakovic’s chest.  God, he hated chest compressions.
“Paddles are ready, Doctor!” said Diane.  Her eyes were wider than before, and her mask ballooned in and out, as she gulped air.
‘Boom’ went the paddles again, and Mr. Rakovic’s body convulsed a second time.  Mike stared at Mr. Rakovic’s face as it contorted, reminding him of a medieval exorcism.  Mike held his breath and waited for the monitor to clear, pleading with it to show him some good news.
“Still fib!”  Mike growled.  He resumed chest compressions as he nodded to the circulator to recharge the paddles yet again.
“Epinephrine?  Bicarb?” asked Doug.
“Doug, I don’t think he needs epi,” Mike replied quickly.  Mike wondered if Doug was also feeling the pressure.  His voice was too damn even, though.  “His pressure went through the roof on induction.  I don’t know why, but I just can’t believe he needs epi.”
“Okay,” Doug said.  “The paddles are ready.”  Doug’s forehead creased momentarily, then he added, “V-fib in an elective case.  Unusual.  Any history, Mike?”
Mike stopped compressions long enough to fire the paddles a third time.  He smelled the ozone coming off the arcing paddles.  The V-fib continued.  Gimme a break, Mr. Rakovic!
“Shit!  Charge the paddles again,” Mike said to Diane.  He turned to Doug.  “Yeah, prior MI, stable angina, hypertension.  Doug, I think we better try Breytillium.  I already gave him two doses of Lidocaine.”  Sweat was now soaking through his scrub top, pants and surgical cap, and running down his face.
“Yeah, sounds like a good idea,” said Doug.  “I’ll take care of it.”
Mike glanced over at Doug and cursed his calm efficiency.  He knew ‘the Iceman’ was a veteran of the OR wars.  Doug had worked at Mercy for twelve years.  He had been on the front lines before and had always performed well.  Doug reminded Mike of his mentor in residency days, Dr. Hawkins.  Mike thought he could hear Dr. Hawkins now: “Retaining control and being cool are critical in these situations.  Split second decisions need to be made.  Panic is a luxury you can’t afford.”  The advice sounded hollow.
“Any allergies, Mike?” Doug asked.  “Malignant hyperthermia?  Breytillium’s ready.”
“No allergies.”  Mike was breathing hard now and had to space his words with short gasps.  “Doesn’t look like MH—no temp.  Hurry Doug.  Run that shit.  He’s been in fib for a while.  We’re running out of time.  He may never come out.”
“I’m bolusing now,” Doug said as he injected a large quantity, “and here goes the drip.”
Mike clung to Doug’s steady voice like a lifeline.  Mike realized that he was in danger of losing control.  He could see it in the trembling of his own hands and hear it in the huskiness of his own voice.  He wondered if Doug noticed.  Deal with it, Mike.  Deal with it. 
Hawkin’s words floated back to him again.  “It’s just like being in combat.  Soldiers can train and drill all they want, but they never really knew how they’ll react until the bullets are real and start to shriek by their heads.  Will they turn tail and run, or fight back?”  Leave me alone, Hawkins!
Mike looked around the room.  He felt they were all staring at him; he could read the expressions in their eyes:  “It’s your fault!  You screwed up!”
“Try it now, Mike,” Doug said, jolting him back to reality.
Mike grasped the paddles tightly to prevent them from slipping from his slick hands and applied them to Mr. Rakovic’s hairy chest for the fourth time.  He pushed the red trigger buttons on each paddle simultaneously to release the pent-up electricity.  All 280 pounds of Mr. Rakovic’s body heaved off the OR table again and crashed down, sending ripples through the fat of his protuberant abdomen.  Mike now smelled an acrid, ammoniacal odor and realized it was coming from the singed hairs on Mr. Rakovic’s chest.  He frantically wiped the burning sweat out of his eyes so he could see the monitor.  The V-fib continued stubbornly and had begun to degrade into fine fibrillations.  “Damn you!”  Mike yelled at the monitor.
“I’ll give you some bicarb,” Doug said.  Out of the corner of his eye, Mike thought he could see Doug shaking his head slightly.
The next fifteen minutes were a blur to Mike.  More chest compressions, more emergency last line drugs, many more countershocks were tried.  Nothing worked.  Mr. Rakovic continued to deteriorate, his pupils widening until at last they became fixed and dilated.  His skin was a gruesome, dusky purple-gray.  He was dead.  Doug finally called the code after fifty-three minutes and gently persuaded Mike to stop chest compressions.  Dr. Sanders walked out of the room without saying a word.
Mike was numb as he stared at the corpse in front of him.  One portion of his brain, however, continued to function all too well.  It kept replaying his initial encounter with Mr. Rakovic in the holding area.  He could see Mr. Rakovic in vivid color and hear him plainly, as the rest of the OR faded to silent gray.  They had joked about the Phillies’ pitching staff.  They wondered whether Barry Bonds would break Big Mac’s homerun record.  God, he wanted this to stop, to get his laughing, living face out of his mind.  But he couldn’t.  His mind was a demonic film projector playing it over and over.  He felt very sick to his stomach and had an overwhelming need to get out of the room and get out of the hospital with all its stinking smells.  Just go, anywhere but here.
God, this was what he hated about anesthesia.  One minute you’re having a casual conversation with a living, breathing, laughing, for God’s sakes, human being and the next you’re pumping on his chest.  He becomes subhuman before your eyes as his face turns all purple and mottled.  He cursed his decision to ever become an anesthesiologist.  What in God’s name was I thinking?  Frail human beings were not meant to hold someone’s life in their hands.  The responsibility was just too awesome.
“Mike.  Hey, Mike.  You OK?”  Doug put his hand on Mike’s slumped shoulders.  Mike came out of his trance enough to nod his head.  Several tears rolled down his cheeks.  “Mike, there’s nothing else you could’ve done,” Doug continued.  “We were all here too.  He must’ve had a massive MI on induction.  Not your fault.  Some of those guys just don’t turn around no matter what you do.  Don’t blame yourself.  We tried everything.”
“Yeah, I know Doug.  But I just can’t get his face out of my mind.  We were talking, joking just an hour ago.  Now he’s dead.”
“C’mon, let’s get out of here.”  Doug led Mike out of OR#2.  “I know you might not be up to this, but Mike, you’ve got to talk to the family.  Did he have any relatives here with him?”
Mike didn’t answer immediately.  As the adrenaline haze faded, he struggled to regain control.  He felt completely drained with an enormous sense of loss, but coaxed sanity back into place.  “Yeah, he came in with his wife.  Nice lady.”  Mike paused, feeling his vision blur again, this time with tears.  “What do you say, Doug?”
“Listen, I’ll go with you.  Just tell her what happened.  Everything was going fine.  He went to sleep and then bam, out of the blue, he had a massive heart attack.  Nothing in the world was going to save him.  We worked on him for almost an hour and tried everything.  Tell her we’re really sorry.”
“OK.  Help me, Doug.”  He would’ve rather stuck nails in his eyes than face Mrs. Rakovic at that moment.
The two men walked through the electronic entrance doors toward the OR waiting room.  Mike swallowed hard and entered the small windowless room.  Doug was right beside him.  Mike searched the faces until he found Mrs. Rakovic.  It wasn’t hard.  As soon as she saw him, she immediately leapt out of the chair with a quickness that belied her bulk.  Her frantic gestures revealed the depth of her hysteria.  Mike walked over and she collapsed into his arms.  “Tell me is not so!” she wailed in her thick, Slavic accent.  “Tell me Doctor Sanders made mistake.  Not my Joey!”  She cried convulsively.
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Rakovic,” Mike said, blinking fast.  “He had a massive heart attack.  We tried everything.”  He felt her tears burn into his shoulder and then felt his own tears stream down his face.  “I’m sorry.”  Her wracking sobs shook them both.