May 26

Sophie, Sophie, Sophie

Sophie's Coming BackI’ve decided to continue to release a pages from my next Sophie book, a few more every Wednesday and Friday until I’ve actually finished the manuscript. My reasoning is:

  1. My readers have waited too long for this book. I owe you at least this much

  2. It will motivate me to work my ass off to get this book finished because honestly, I don’t want to give this whole thing away for free 😅

I will also create a new page on this site that will have the Sophie pages I’ve released all together in one cohesive format.

I’m going to be offline for the day as I prepare for and celebrate my only son’s high school graduation this afternoon (Oh my God, where did the time go???) But while I’m gone, enjoy!

 

CHAPTER 2

When you hear hoofbeats it’s usually horses. Occasionally it’s zebras. But every once in a while it’s some terrifying, previously unknown creature that will completely change the way you think about hoofbeats.

–Dying to Laugh

 

 

I sat next to our guest, Aaron London, as Anatoly examined him from behind our desk. Mr. London was polite but jittery and had already requested to see our Drivers’ licenses to prove our identities. But when we handed them over he seemed to have a tough time reading the words, holding them up this way and that in order to bring them into focus. My eyes kept wandering to his lips which were chapped and scaly. A drop of blood rested behind a flap of dry skin near the corner of his mouth.

I offered him my water along with an encouraging smile. He accepted both, taking a long drink before placing the bottle on the floor by his feet. I held my pen over the notepad waiting for him to begin. “I’m sorry I’m so early,” he said for about the fifth time.

“It’s not a problem,” Anatoly said, perceptibly irritated by being forced to repeat the reassurance.

“I believe it might throw them off if I don’t show up where I’m expected, when I’m expected.”

“Who exactly are you trying to throw off?” Anatoly asked.

“The people tracking me,” he replied after an uncomfortably long pause. “There are people trying to kill me.”

Anatoly nodded as if being the target of a planned homicide was a normal and easily solvable inconvenience. “I assume you think the two are one and the same? The people who put the tracking device on your car are the ones who want you dead?”

“Of course they’re the same!” London sputtered. I made a quick note: homicidal tracking experts (bad guys).

“Tell me about them,” Anatoly requested. “Why are they going to such extreme measures?”

He shook his head, a few strands of his hair moved with him, but it was too thin to really be whipped around. “I know things,” he explained. “Things I’m not supposed to know.” His eyes locked on me again and this time the anxiety there was so intense I found myself pulling back as if it might be contagious. Yes, I sought a degree of turmoil, but there was something off about this man. “What do you know about the pharmaceutical industry?” he asked.

I looked over at Anatoly who rewarded me with a barely perceptible shrug. “It’s safe to assume neither one of us are experts,” I admitted.

“I used to be in pharmaceuticals,” London rubbed his hands against his wrinkled pants. “I know things about the way the business is run. It’s not good, not good at all.”

“I’m not sure I’m following,” Anatoly said as I wrote pharmaceutical industry: bad!

“The amount of money spent on developing a drug, you have no idea. And when you spend all that money only to discover that your drug can have dangerous side effects, well the companies don’t want to cop to that. They want to get their product to market even if it kills. And they want to kill me because I know that.”

“What pharmaceutical company are we talking about, specifically?” I asked as I furiously scribbled away.

“Nolan-Jennings is the worst of the wrong-doers, but it could be that they’ve enlisted other companies in this as well. There’s a lot of collusion with these organizations. Anti-trust laws are being broken right and left. We just keep seeing the same story play out over and over again. Rispedal prescribed off label! Thalidone! Doctors on the take! The whole medical establishment is in on it!”

“The whole medical establishment?” I asked, giving him the opportunity to pull back on the hyperbole. I would ask what the hell he was talking about in regards to the rest of it in a moment.

But rather than correct himself he nodded sagely and leaned forward, and urgently whispered. “The government is in on it too.”

I looked down at my notepad and considered writing government: Bad! But these days that went without saying.

“They want me dead too! Our own government!” London continued.

Anatoly shifted his head toward the window as a siren briefly disrupted the more benign background noises of the streets. “I find that unlikely, Mr. London.”

“Do you?” London retorted, sarcastically. “Why is that? You think our government doesn’t kill its own citizens? The death penalty! Covert operations! How many do you think they drove to suicide while testing LSD on unsuspecting Americans? What about eugenics? Where do you think the Nazis got that idea, huh?”

Following London’s train of thought was getting harder by the second. My notes had become a jumbled mash up of conspiracy theory catch phrases. I was seeking turmoil, not incoherence. “Maybe we can put the drugs and Nazis aside for a moment and focus on what’s going on with you in the here and now?”

He looked at me blankly and then fell back in his chair as if exhausted from his own ranting. “Of course. I’m sorry,” he said hoarsely. “I know I sound crazed. I’ve been under such stress. It’s not just that they’re following me.” With a slow purposeful movement he ran his hand through his hair, then held up his flattened palm. It was covered with dozens of strands, apparently dislodged from his scalp with only the lightest touch. “I think they’re poisoning me too,” he whispered. “I’m not thinking straight. I’m weak and…” he looked down at the loose hairs, allowing the disturbing visual to complete his sentence. “I don’t know how it’s being done. How it’s transmitted…I’ve taken to washing my hands immediately before touching another person. There could be toxins in my sweat. I don’t know how they’ve gotten to me, but they have. Putin isn’t the only government leader who poisons those who cross him. It can happen anywhere, to any of us.”

“Maybe we can start with the evidence that you’re being followed,” Anatoly suggested. “Do you still have the tracking device they put on your car?”

I could tell by the way Anatoly said the word “they,” that he was dubious of the pronoun’s accuracy.

London looked up at Anatoly, surprised. “It’s still on my car.”

Anatoly’s stare chilled me and clearly shamed London who began fiddling with his glasses, pulling them down and then pushing them back up on the bridge of his nose. “Don’t you think it’s a good idea to take the device off?” Anatoly asked. “So they can’t follow you anymore?”

“Of course it is,” London conceded. “But I can’t find it. I’ve taken it to a mechanic but they said they’d have to take apart the whole car to locate it. I took it to the police and they couldn’t find it either and they weren’t even sure if they had the legal authority to arrest anyone even if they did find it. Our legal system hasn’t caught up with our technology! There are no laws against putting GPS tracking devices on anything. The politicians are just now figuring out how to use GPS on their own damn phones! They don’t understand all the horrible ways technology can be applied! There’s no regulation, no protections, no–”

“Evidence,” Anatoly interrupted. “There is no evidence that there ever was a tracking device on your car. Maybe that’s because there isn’t one.”

“No, no, it’s there! I’ll be driving around and no one will be on my tail. And then suddenly there’s a Zipcar!”

“A Zipcar,” Anatoly repeated.

“Yes! And it will follow me at a distance. Too much of a distance for me to make out the driver. Then if I do a u-turn or pull over the Zipcar will drive off, in the opposite direction of course, so I can’t see who’s in it! And then maybe an hour later, maybe two, the Zipcar will be back! Sometimes it’s the same one. Sometimes a different one. But it will come out of nowhere! I know it wasn’t following me all that time so how did it find me? It was tracking me! You see? It knows where I’m going to be! It shows up at the most unlikely places!”

“There are a lot of Zipcars in the city.” I was doing my level best to point out the obvious without sounding patronizing. “Maybe that’s the reason they keep popping up. Especially since you’re not always seeing the same car.”

“No, you see that’s not how it works!” London said, imploringly. “The driver must have a computer with them. A laptop maybe. And they bring it from Zipcar to Zipcar–” but he wasn’t able to finish due to a coughing fit. It was a wet, ugly cough and I found myself torn between wanting to pat him on the back and desperately searching my bag for my bottle of Purell.

“Have you gone to a doctor?” Anatoly asked. “To get tested for poison or…anything else?”

“Didn’t you hear me? The medical establishment can’t be trusted! Doctors are taking bribes from drug companies, preforming needless procedures on homeless people, these are not good people!” He broke into another short coughing fit but then managed to continue. “Did you know that right now, as we speak, people are forming a New World Order? Oligarchs and their bought and paid for politicians are going to try to take over everything!”

“Wait,” I asked, “are you talking about Super Pacs?”

“No! Or yes, but no! It’s going to get so much worse than it is now! We can’t trust anyone. No one has our interests at heart. Not the little guy, not blacks!” He jabbed his finger at me with an almost desperate zeal. “They don’t care about what happens to the blacks!”

“Fucking Zipcar driving racists,” I replied, managing to keep a straight face.

“Mr. London, I think maybe we have to start again,” Anatoly suggested. “Do you, or do you not, have the names of any individuals who might want to do you harm and do you have any concrete evidence that someone is actively trying to?”

“They’re poisoning me,” he said, weakly. “Look at me. Use your eyes and see me dying. You’re witnessing my murder.”

Anatoly studied him for a moment and I could see the cocktail of pity and disappointment pouring out of him. “I’m afraid I can’t take your case.”

“But I’ve nowhere else to go,” London whispered. “You’re the only P.I. of good repute who would agree to even see me.”

“I’m sure others would take a meeting.”

London blushed. The little bit of color actually made him seem less crazed and more, well, vulnerable. I felt shame creep down my throat, into my gut. I had been attracted to the idea of a nefarious stalker that could be tracked down and held accountable. I had loved this stranger for the turbulence I assumed surrounded him. But the turbulence was within him. The demons stalking him could never be caught. This wasn’t an adventure, it was a tragedy.

“All right it’s true,” London said after a long pause, “there are others. You’re the fourth detective I’ve met with.”

“I see,” Anatoly said, stiffly.

“I don’t know how to do this,” London pleaded. “Didn’t know where to start. But the others they…laughed at me. They kicked me out of their office before I was even able to settle into my seat. You’ve been the most attentive. You’ve listened. Now all you have to do is see.”

Anatoly had listened but with thinly veiled impatience. To be fair, that was the best this man could ever realistically hope for given the insanity of his story. And yet he had hoped for more.

Quietly I put the pad and pen on Anatoly’s desk. There was no longer a need for note taking.

“I can’t take your case,” Anatoly repeated, his voice kind but firm.

“What will I do?” London moaned.

“I strongly recommend you speak with a doctor,” Anatoly suggested and rose from his chair. “But that’s up to you. Regardless, we should wrap things up here. I don’t want to waste your time.”

“No,” London agreed. “After all, I may not have much left to waste.”

There was an awkward silence as we all remained in our places, Anatoly and I both waiting for London to get up. But London seemed to be unaware that this was the logical next step. Sullenly meditative, he picked idly at loose hairs on his pant leg. Most looked like they were his, but I noted that others were short and black.

“Maybe I could walk you to your car?” I offered.

He looked at me blankly for what seemed like an eternity.

“It wouldn’t be an inconvenience,” I added. “I have to head out to make a lunch thing anyway.”

Again nothing and then finally a nod. I mouthed call you later to Anatoly as London got to his feet. When he walked with me toward the door his movements seemed labored, like every step was a small challenge. Was he moving like that when he came into the office or was it just the mass of disillusionment that he was struggling under?

We left the office and took the stairs slowly. When he seemed to falter I linked my arm through his, offering him support but masking it in companionship to spare whatever remained of his pride. The gesture stopped him in his tracks.

“Aren’t you afraid?”

“Of what?” I asked.

“Of touching me. Even people who don’t believe me, they don’t want to touch me, or be close to me. They see something’s wrong with me and it scares them.”

My mind automatically traveled back to my childhood when everyone was afraid to so much as shake hands with all the people in this city who were diagnosed with AIDS. We isolated them, made them feel like pariahs doomed to die alone. “I’m not afraid,” I said, definitively.

I thought I saw the glimmer of a tear in his eye and I looked away, urging him forward. “Anatoly just moved into that office space today,” I said in an attempt to lighten the mood.

“It’s cute,” London replied, absently.

Right? I think there are apartments on the third floor. I’m sure they’re lovely but I don’t know if I’d want to live directly over a shopping district.”

“You live in Ashbury Heights,” he noted as I pushed open the heavy glass door that brought us to the street.

I turned and stared at him. “How?”

“Your drivers license.”

The cool air touched my face and I found myself smiling at London as the shoppers streamed around us. “You’re an observant man.”

“Observant, yes,” he started to lead me down the sidewalk, “but I’m beginning to question if I can still confidently call myself a man.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said, lightly. “You’re just going through a rough patch, that’s all.”

He went quiet for a few minutes as we continued to walk past a parallel-parked line-up of Prius’ and Teslas’. I was about to ask him exactly where he parked his car when he piped up again. “Have you ever convinced yourself of something? Something that was unlikely?”

I exhaled in relief. I’m not sure it’s such a horrible thing to occasionally be delusional but if your delusions are as dark as London’s it’s much better to come back to more mundane realities. “We all do that,” I assured him. “Human nature.”

“That’s true,” he agreed, thoughtfully. “After all, what is God but something we’ve convinced ourselves of with no evidence to support? What is the American dream but a fallacy to give the poor false hope? We’re all convinced that we’re going to be the exception to the rule.”

Okay, so not exactly the direction I was hoping for. “What unlikely thing have you convinced yourself of specifically?”

He sighed as we walked by San Francisco’s latest farm-to-table restaurant. “I convinced myself that you would help me.”

Now it was me who abruptly stopped walking, pulling him to a stop with me before removing my arm from his. “I want to,” I said, sincerely. “But I think the kind of help you need is different than the kind of help you think you need.”

“You mean–” but before he could finish he started coughing. He lurched forward as the spasms violently wrenched away his physical control, causing the tip of his shoe to catch on a piece of uneven pavement. As he fell, his hands found the sidewalk in time to keep him from cracking open his skull. People around us stopped, as I kneeled next to him, helpless as I watched his body shake and his face contort.

“Is he okay?” I heard a woman ask. Now on his hands and knees, London’s coughs were getting worse. His glasses slipped from his face and dropped uselessly to the ground. He couldn’t seem to stop. Whopping cough maybe?

“London? Should I call a doctor?” I asked. It was a stupid question. The man couldn’t even talk. He looked up at me, his eyes fearful and milky, the convulsions racking through his delicate frame. “Call 911!” I cried out to the gathering crowd. But before I could fully get the words out he had fallen into unconsciousness, his glasses cracking beneath him. The coughs were now just gasps for breath and the time between each gasp kept getting a little longer. I looked up to see about five people on their cell phones, all calling for help. I reached into the pockets of London’s jacket to see if there was anything useful there. An inhaler maybe? Could he have asthma? Maybe an EpiPen? But all I found was a crumpled up failed-payment notification from his car insurance provider and his phone in a camouflage patterned case. The phone was displaying one new text message from a number apparently not in his contacts.

 

Confusion hath now made his masterpiece

 

That was the whole text. No explanation, no laughing emoji to imply it was a joke. The damp wind must have been working its way through the cloth of my sweater because my skin suddenly felt cold.

I looked up at the street just as a Zipcar passed us by.

May 24

Sophie’s Coming Back (for reals)

As many of you know, I’ve been hard at work on the next Sophie book, CHAOS, DESIRE & A KICK-ASS CUPCAKE. I think I’ve been working on it for about a century, give or take or take a few years. Seriously though, there’s been a lot going on. Since I started working on this manuscript I’ve also wrote my first movie screenplay (an adaption of the amazing Julia Heaberlin’s BLACK EYED SUSANS). And I’ve been steeped in all the things that come with your child being in his senior year of high school and searching and choosing a college. I’ve been involved in various little ways in a few of my husband’s other Hollywood projects. And of course I’ve been ridiculously distracted and unnerved by the chaos that’s taking place in this country. But excuses aside, I am nearing the completion of this Sophie novel. And while I continue to work on it, I wanted to share the first few unedited pages of my manuscript with you. Just a tiny little something to hold you over. And until I actually finish this thing I will continue to post a little more each week. It’s the least I can do for making you wait so long. Hope you enjoy it and I really hope you forgive the typos you’ll find (and I feel fairly confident they’re there.

So without further ado, heeere’s Sophie!

Chapter 1

“I have a tendency to self-medicate. If I don’t I suffer from extended periods of debilitating sanity.”

–Dying To Laugh

 

 

“Well?” Anatoly asked, as I stood in the middle of his new office, absorbing the room.

I turned, lifting my chin, seeing a shadowy reflection of myself in his dark brown eyes. He hadn’t shaved that morning. There were strands of grey mixed in with the course black hair dotting his chin. It made him look more rugged than old. His arms were crossed against his black t-shirt and his legs crossed at the ankles as he leaned back against his new, but used, desk. Even when relaxed he looked a little dangerous. He served in both the Russian and Israeli army before moving here. I learned not long ago that he had also done some work for the Russian mafia during the years of his reckless youth, although he assured me he wasn’t truly part of the organization. More of a 1099 employee. He never killed for them which is not the same thing as saying he never killed.

You’d think that last part would be a problem for my family but my sister, Leah, thought someone as temperamental and incautious as me should be grateful to be able to hold onto any man and my mother was so happy I was finally sharing my bed with a fellow Jew she was willing to overlook a few unreported felonies. People are always surprised to hear of her biases since my African American father wasn’t Jewish, but then he did change his name from Christianson to Katz just to appeal to my mother’s sense of cultural identity. As nuns change their names when they take a vow to live a life of poverty, chastity and obedience my father changed his name when he vowed to live a life defined by matrimony, family and general insanity. He died eighteen years ago yet the wound still stings whenever I allow my mind to touch it.

The muffled sound of a honking horn from the street below brought me back to the moment. Anatoly was waiting for my response and as patient as he was, he didn’t actually like to wait.

The mass of an unopened bottle of Fiji water weighed down my hobo bag and I readjusted it on my shoulder. “Do you really want to hear this?” My fingers moved from my bag to my black and white eternity scarf.

His jaw tightened ever so slightly. “Stop the games,” he demanded, his Russian accent becoming a bit more pronounced.

I nodded and took a deep breath. “It’s…cute.”

The aggressiveness of the silence that followed was a little frightening.

“Cute,” he eventually repeated, drawing out the word, making it sound like the venomous insult he perceived it to be.

I hesitated a moment before blurting out, “Oh my God, Anatoly, it’s more than cute. It’s fucking adorable. You’re office is adorable.”

“It’s not adorable,” he snapped. “It’s conveniently located, it gets natural light, it has its own attached bathroom, it’s a sophisticated space–”

“Weeeellll,” I hedged as my eyes moved from the light yellow walls to the white painted trim of the paned windows. “It’s sophisticated in a Simply Hello Kitty kind of way. But I do like it. The way they integrated the seashells and daisies into the crown molding…it’s really…”

“Don’t say it.”

“It’s so cute!”

He slammed his hand down on the desk and turned his glare to the window. “I’m getting a new office.”

“You just signed a lease. Did it come with these furnishings?” I gestured to the only furniture in the room, a desk, a brown, tufted leather office chair and two cushioned, wicker armchairs. “They absolutely fit the space. Totally charming.”

“I’ll paint the walls black.”

“Then it’ll just be adorably goth.” I opened the door to what I assumed was a closet. It was a half bath with an old fashioned, pedestal sink that looked like it was plucked right out of a Victorian doll house. I got my smile in check before turning and walking over and perching myself on the edge of his desk, dangling my legs in his direction. “You know,” I said in my most soothing tone, “you can be a pretty intimidating guy.”

Anatoly made a noise that sounded like a halfhearted growl. He was nowhere near mollified.

“You can be,” I insisted. “You have a mean glare when you’re mad. You’re like a hot James Bond villain.” I sighed and shook my head. “It can be a problem.”

“What are you talking about?”

“When you hire a P.I. you have to share a few secrets with him,” I pointed out. “Open up the door to some of the more private areas of your life. It’s hard to do that with an intimidating, tough guy. You need to take it down a notch. And you know how you do that?”

“I think I know where you’re going with this.”

“You need a super cute office,” I continued with a nod. “When prospective clients come through that door they’ll say, okay, so he looks like he could kill me but those crown moldings of his are simply delightful!”

He let his chin drop to his chest, his neck bent from the burden of my indictment.

“Who’s the first client who gets to be enchanted by this place?” I asked.

“It’s a new one,” he grumbled. “He wants me to help him track down his stalker.”

“A stalker case? You haven’t had one of those in a while. Is the stalker a woman or a man?”

“He doesn’t actually know.” I tried not to giggle as I watched Anatoly’s eyes wander up to the crown moldings and then dart away in shame. “He says someone put a miniature tracking device on his car. A very high-tech piece.”

“Really?” Not many people would have the capability to do something like that. “Does he think the person who planted it is dangerous?”

“Very.”

I let that sink in as I pushed myself to my feet and walked over to the window. The office was on the second floor of a classic three story San Francisco Edwardian. It had been converted to accommodate ground floor boutiques fitting of the recently gentrified little shopping area. From where I stood I could see the pedestrians wandering in and out of an organic, twelve-dollar-a-drink juice bar, an art gallery selling $5000 sculptures made of recycled paint cans and a jewelry store that advertised conflict-free diamonds. Excess and apology all neatly wrapped up in one pretty little bow. Two years ago I had turned in a manuscript; Dying to Laugh, the final installment of my Alicia Bright murder mystery series, set on these very streets. My publisher packaged it, slapped a virtual bow on it and I sat back and watched as it ascended to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list. It was the sixth time an Alicia Bright mystery had reached the number one spot.

I had loved writing the series but it was time to move on. I needed to challenge myself, write new characters, prove to the world I could do more.

Except I hadn’t done that. I hadn’t written a word in seventeen months. There was something wrong with me.

From the corner of my eye I noted a figure standing a little too still, maybe looking up in my direction, but when I turned my head I saw that it was just a man in a black baseball cap, looking down at his phone, not up. He quickly turned and walked away, head still bent toward his device. Why were all these tech guys bothering to move to such a beautiful city if they were incapable of dragging their attention away from their screens?

“Does he have any idea who would want to stalk him?” I asked Anatoly, keeping us on a less depressing subject. “Or what they might hope to gain from it?”

“I think he does, but he didn’t want to talk about it on the phone.”

“Oh?” I ran my finger over the white painted wood that supported the squares of glass. “Because he thought someone might be listening in on the call?”

“That was the impression I got, yes.”

I turned back to Anatoly. “That’s a very interesting case.”

“Yes,” he said, finally breaking into a smile. “It’s been a while since I’ve had one of those.”

It had been. Over the last few years Anatoly has been offered an increasingly steady stream of cases dealing with insurance fraud, identity theft and wayward spouses. Well paying, low risk cases. There was nothing to complain about. He was doing great.

We were doing great too, despite my writer’s block (which I had purposely kept him in the dark about). From the moment we became a couple Anatoly and I had either been on the precipice of a breakup or basking in the postcoital glow of reconciliation. His flaws have always scratched against mine in just the right way, igniting the most beautiful firework displays our city had ever seen. It all sort of came to a head in a chaotic, messy weekend in Vegas about two and a half years ago. We almost killed each other on that trip. But then some cartel chick named Margarita tried to kill me. Then a grudge baring Russian dude named Alex Kinsky helped Anatoly save me from Margarita but also threatened to kill Anatoly and, well…it was just really complicated. After a rapid succession of near-death experiences Anatoly and I decided that peacefully loving each other was better than strangling one another.

Shortly after finding our way out of danger we reached this place in our relationship that was just…different. We’ve fallen into a routine. A good routine. One that involves a lot of classic movie nights, reading the morning paper over cappuccino, the occasional ride along the beach on his Harley, glorious home-cooked meals (prepared exclusively by him) and great sex…although the latter wasn’t happening as frequently as it used to and sometimes it seemed the intensity wasn’t quite as, well, intense…but that was probably my imagination and it was still better than anything I’d had with anyone else by a lot. For the first time in over a decade I had no deadlines hanging over my head, no conflicts, no drama, no chaos. This must be what all those fairytales were talking about when they said they lived happily ever after.

But then, maybe not. I was hardly an expert on fairytales. Only the dark ones interested me.

I smiled up at Anatoly and clasped my hands behind my back, the picture of innocence. “When’s he coming?”

“In less than forty minutes and I believe you have a hair appointment in an hour. So if you’re done insulting my office–” He gallantly gestured to the door.

“That’s tomorrow.” I self consciously pulled at my hair. The fact that Anatoly remembered I had a salon appointment at all was an indication of how out of control my hair had gotten since my last one. “Today’s my lunch with Dena.”

“Great, say hello for me.”

“Can I help?”

He hesitated, his jaw tightening ever so slightly. “Help with what?”

“Can I sit in on your meeting? You could say I’m your secretary. I could take notes.”

His sigh was almost heavy enough to squash my hopes. Almost. “You’re not my secretary, so no.”

“Oh come on, I’ll keep everything confidential. And maybe I’ll have some good insights that can help you. I mean, I do have some experience with this kind of thing.”

“Experience?” He shook his head and stuck his thumbs in the pockets of his jeans. “Stumbling upon a few crime scenes doesn’t make you an investigator. It makes you unlucky and accident prone.”

I sat down in the chair behind his desk, swiveling it back and forth as I kept my eyes firmly on his. “I solved those crimes that I stumbled upon. I might just be a black Veronica Mars in the making.”

“Yes, except you haven’t solved a crime since that show was canceled. And wasn’t Veronica Mars supposed to be eighteen?”

“So I’m a little older than that,” I said, coolly.

“Yes, by almost twenty ye–”

“Don’t.” I snapped. I rested my elbows on his desk and my chin in my hands. “Come on, let me be your secretary, just for the length of one meeting. Or even your assistant! It would be fun! Every Sherlock needs a Watson.”

“You’re not my Watson. And you have other plans this afternoon.”

“I’ll text Dena and tell her I’m going to be late. Come on, it’ll be like old times.”

“Sophie–”

“Please, Anatoly.” But my tone had changed against my wishes. I had wanted to sound teasing but persuasive. I hadn’t meant for that note of desperation to sneak in there.

Anatoly heard it. I could tell by the way he shifted his weight back on his heels and tilted his head half an inch to the side. He was going to ask me one of those horribly generic questions that people ask their lovers like: What’s going on with you? Or Is everything okay?

I didn’t know what was going on with me even though I felt the weight of it. I couldn’t explain and I really, really didn’t want to try.

And then, like a reprieve from God, there was a knock on the door. A giant grin spread slowly across my face. “Think our client’s early?” Before Anatoly could respond I was out of my seat, across the room and flinging open the door.

Before me stood a fifty-something man only three inches taller than me. His blond, white streaked hair was unkempt and hung limp around his hollowed cheeked face. Everything he was wearing from his slightly-too-big Brooks Brothers chinos to his Tom Ford horned rimmed glasses implied a certain degree of wealth even as the missing shirt button and coffee stains that decorated the slightly frayed designer fabric projected something very different.

“I’m looking for Anatoly Darinsky?” He said, somewhat uncertainly.

“That would be the guy behind me. I’m Sophie Katz, his assistant.” I caught a glimpse of Anatoly’s expression over my shoulder and quickly amended. “Administrative assistant. Kind of like the Google assistant on Android? I keep track of things, take notes, make sure we get all the information we need to help you out. Please come in!”

“I’m early.” He stepped forward, hesitantly. Anatoly offered him his hand but he refused it.

“My hands are sweaty,” he said, his voice shaking slightly. “Is there somewhere I can wash them?”

“Right through here,” Anatoly opened the door to the bathroom for him and the man excused himself briefly. We both listened while the water ran. I went over to Anatoly’s desk and found a notepad and pen. Anatoly shot me a look a mouthed You’re unbelievable. To which I responded by mouthing, I know. Although to be fair, this was the first time in, like, a year that I had done anything that was even remotely unbelievable.

But this wraith of a man in Anatoly’s new, cutesy bathroom had me feeling oddly hopeful. Like I was perversely elevated by the promise of sharing in another’s turmoil. I smiled broadly at Anatoly as he frowned, knowing I was pressing his buttons. Hoping that maybe, just maybe, this would be the first step to becoming truly unbelievable again.

Apr 28

On A Totally Personal Note…My Son’s Going To College!

When I tell my friends the names of some of the colleges my son was recently accepted into the response is often, “Wow, he got in there?!

And when I tell them he got into Allegheny College their response is often, “What’s that?”

Similarly, when my son came to me in late December, informing me, after all his other applications were in, that he now wanted to apply to Allegheny I looked at him and said something along the lines of, “What’s that?”

Fortunately my son was able to jog my memory, reminding me the school was featured in a book we had both read a while back, Colleges That Change Lives. It’s known as an academically rigorous college that requires its students to either double major or major and minor in completely different disciplines (say Chemistry and English) and then take a few classes in a third (like Music). So I could see why my son, who has a passion for art, biology and history, might be attracted to the place.

The acceptance letter for Allegheny appeared in our mailbox on the same day that the acceptance letter for one of the most competitive liberal arts school’s in the country came in. And I have to admit, I wasn’t as excited about the first as I was about the l17854759_10154561215089077_6671770095474596773_oatter. The fact that Allegheny is located in Meadville, a town we had never heard of in Pennsylvania, located an hour and a half away from the nearest airport, didn’t help. He had been accepted into schools in Portland, Memphis and Boston. We’re city people, Angelinos. Why would he choose to spend four years in a town with one hotel and no Starbucks? I couldn’t fathom it.

And yet for various reasons we decided to visit the campus. And the first thing I thought upon arrival is, this place is gorgeous. One of the other schools he had been accepted into was, according to the Princeton Review, the most beautiful campus in America. But after seeing Allegheny I found myself in disagreement with the Princeton Review. So many beautifully restored and maintained buildings from the early 19th century. It was awe inspiring. We also discovered that it’s a much bigger campus than what’s typical for a small liberal arts school. In fact it’s bigger than UCLA. They also have countless student activities and clubs for their residents to occupy themselves with.

I dropped my son off at Admissions where he was to meet his host for an overnight-stay in campus housing while I crashed at a nearby B&B. The next day he told me it had been the best college overnight he had had. The students were welcoming, they got his offbeat sense of humor, they took him to the game room where they played pinball and old-school style arcade games and to top it all off, his host lived in themed housing for students who had a passion for books (yes, really). He was also able to meet with one of the professors in the art department whom he really clicked with in the morning before he sat i17854753_10154561214729077_3109877072839729289_on on a class.

Oh, and about that class, the school had selected a poetry class for him to observe. While he had asked to observe an English class, he certainly hadn’t said poetry and I figured that in and of itself might end up being a strike against the school.

But my son, my comic-book-reading, Star Wars loving son, came out of that class truly excited about poetry. The professor had apparently been amazing as had the class discussion. So much so that he was still having that discussion with one of the students as they walked out of the English building.17834903_10154561217009077_3178792897514098764_o

Finally the two of us met up again for the campus tour in which we learned that Allegheny had one of the top 5 Environmental Sciences departments in the nation, that they have an observatory with an antique telescope that the Smithsonian is vying for (Allegheny won’t give it up. It still works and the Astronomy club still uses it…did I mention my son loves astronomy?) and that the alumni network is both strong and supportive. My son asked our student tour guide if there was a Hillel and he said, yes and that, in fact, his roommate was the president.

As we got closer and closer to Decision Day, we got more and more mailings from all the schools. There were letters bragging about the high entry level salary of one school’s graduates, another touting a school’s latest Fulbright and Rhodes Scholars, another from an alumni who was now attending Harvard Business school for his graduate degree and yet another from a alumni/titan of Wall Street.

Like these other schools, Allegheny has its fair share of Fulbright Scholars, famous and wealthy alumni, and alumni who went on to get graduate degrees at Ivy Leagues. But I only know that because of my own research. The mailing we got from Allegheny was a letter from our tour guide’s roommate who heard my son was interested in Hillel and wanted to tell him about it.

In other words, the student who was touring us, remembered my son’s interest in Hillel, told his friend about it and his friend reached out.

So my boy decided that his path is leading him to Allegheny, a school that, until a few months ago, I had never heard of.

17834251_10154561214874077_3013509032958565722_o

A school that appears to be absolutely perfect for him.

Now, as a mom, I just have to learn to let go.

Jan 05

Hey There, 2017!

Well it’s a new year and, as is my habit, I’ve rejected the idea of taking on a New Year’s resolution in favor of something a little different.  Every year I choose a word that I will periodically mediate on in regards to how it applies to my life, whatever it is I’m doing at that particular month, week or moment and use it to help me focus in my over-arching objective. In the past I’ve chosen words like Progress, Faith, Discipline and so on.

This year I’m choosing two words: Rebirth and Accomplish.

13124588_10154093530158917_7619544837694401199_nThis will be the year of the Rebirth of the Sophie series. I will be re-releasing a revamped version of VANITY, VENGEANCE AND A WEEKEND IN VEGAS for a temporary, heavily discounted price and I’ll quickly follow that with the release of the brand new Sophie book, CHAOS, DESIRE & A KICK-ASS CUPCAKE. Also, in addition to writing a Hollywood themed romance novel, I will make 2017 the rebirth of all my characters by putting out an anthology of holiday short-stories, one for each protagonist I’ve created in the past. That’s Sophie for the Sophie series, April from SO MUCH FOR MY HAPPY ENDING, Kasie from JUST ONE NIGHT, Bell from the PURE SIN SERIES and Mercy from JUST ONE LIE. Expect at least one of those characters to get engaged in those stories as well (and no, I will not give a hint in regards to who that person will be).

On a personal level, my son will be graduating high school this year and it seems as if my husband will be launching a new TV series, MONSTERS OF GOD (pictured below), for the first time in years, so those will be kinds of Rebirths too. It’s all a little overwhelming and extremely exciting. 15356612_10154799432324591_6446710015021825830_n

As for Accomplish…

I don’t want this to be a year focused primarily on planning or working up the courage or discipline to do something.This year isn’t about “the process.” It’s about shit done, period.  I’ve created a very ambitious writing/release schedule for the year, particularly when you take into account I’m co-writing a screenplay this year as well.  But while it will be hard, it’s also 100% doable, and so I’m simply going to do it.  Accomplish

If this year goes well, maybe next year’s word can be kick-ass.

Nov 09

Please Hear Me Out: Why This Election Hurts

Let me begin by saying I know this is an odd place for a post about the election. I also know that it will cost me some readers. I’ve made my peace with that. But I do hope that those who think both candidates were equally bad or don’t understand why so many of us are terrified by this Trump win read this with an open mind and, even if you disagree, try to understand where we’re coming from:

The day I fully understood that Trump’s candidacy was dangerously different from that of other Republican candidates was when my son drove down to Anaheim, CA to go to Disneyland with a friend during primary season. While he was on his way I turned on the news and heard about the KKK march that was taking place at that very moment in Anaheim. As I tried to reach my son I listened as the event descended into violent chaos, resulting in numerous injuries and one counter-protester being stabbed with a flagpole carrying the Confederate flag.

As Trump’s campaign continued, I watched as anti-Semitic posts on social media increased in both frequency and repulsiveness. I listened when Melania (Ms.-Anti-Online-Bullying) was asked about a reporter who, after writing a story about Melania, had been inundated with Tweets and emails with the reporter’s face super-imposed over Holocaust victims while Trump was cast as the happy SS officer ready to turn on the gas. Our soon-to-be First Lady’s response? “(The reporter) provoked them.” Melania did not condemn the anti-Semitism. She did not call for the attacks to stop. Neither did her husband.

Over the last year I’ve read the accounts of the basketball teams of mostly-Hispanic high schools who were greeted in the gymnasiums of their competitors with big pictures of Trump and calls to “Build a wall.” I’ve tried to absorb that hate crimes against Muslims are up 78% since Trump announced his candidacy.

And of course I’ve heard person after person laugh off Trump’s boasts of sexual assault.

Trump did not invent bigotry.  I am not naive enough to think that the KKK sprung up in Anaheim overnight. But this was the first time in many decades that they felt confident enough to march through those Southern Californian streets.

Individuals who have hate in their hearts but previously had enough shame to restrain themselves in public forums have been emboldened by the rhetoric of Trump’s campaign. The KKK made that much clear when they officially endorsed Trump in their newspaper. They never endorsed Romney, McCain, Bush, Dole or Bill Clinton and they sure as hell didn’t endorse Obama.

But now the man who has been endorsed by The KKK, David Duke and the head of the American Nazi party who helpfully pointed out, “Donald Trump’s campaign statements, if nothing else, have shown that our views are not so unpopular as the political correctness crowd have told everyone they are!” will be our next President. It’s patently absurd to think that having seen their candidate of choice succeed these hate groups are now going to dial it down a notch.

Yes, I fear what Trump will do in the Oval Office, but I fear what he has unleashed in others more. And the fact that this wasn’t a serious consideration for half the American voting public hurts. Worse yet, I now know that it WAS a consideration for a not insignificant number of Trump voters who either embraced the hate or decided they could live with it. That hurts more. If my dignity and safety as well as the safety and dignity of those who look like me, or belong to other minority groups, is valued as less important than punishing Clinton for her husband’s trade deals or for using the wrong email server how can I feel any degree of patriotism? Yes, I know many of Trump’s voters didn’t like what he was saying but rarely did they hold him accountable by insisting that he change his rhetoric if he wanted their vote.

When Trump won my first thought was, maybe my family needs to get out of this country. Clearly that was the first impulse of many people based on the crashing of Canada’s immigration website. The logistics of becoming an expatriate would be hard for my family, but not impossible. But what about all the marginalized Americans for whom moving would be impossible? Am I supposed to abandon them when they are at their most vulnerable?

I can’t do that. I have to stand with them. Speaking out against injustice and for other people’s civil liberties has never been as important as it is now that I know half the country either doesn’t see it, doesn’t care or, in some cases, hope to be the perpetrators of that injustice.

Please don’t be one of those people. Regardless of how you voted, please hear me. Stand with me, with my son, with the Americans who tried and failed to protect us against this abuse with their votes on November 8th, 2016. Please hold our next President accountable for his words, particularly if you did support him or if you didn’t vote at all. Because his words will translate into other people’s actions. It’s already happening. Please see it and help us stop it.

Oct 17

SALE ALERT!

Love cheap thrills?

JUST ONE LIE is on sale for $1.99* (reg. $7.99) for a limited time! It’s rebellious indie rocker, Mercy Raye’s story of passion, love, heartbreak & redemption.Slide1

 

Slide1Amazon: http://amzn.to/2ekv9h7
B&N: http://bit.ly/2emBdlo
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*ebook only. Trade paperback on sale for $4.48 from $15.99 at Barnesandnoble.com

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