Monday, March 12, 2018

Welcome to Moonlight Harbor By Sheila Roberts

WELCOME TO MOONLIGHT HARBOR by Sheila Roberts, Women's Fiction, 400 pp., $7.99 (Paperback) $6.99 (Kindle edition)

Welcome to Moonlight Harbor
Author: Sheila Roberts
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Pages: 400
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Once-happily married Jenna Jones is about to turn forty, and this year for her birthday – lucky her – she’s getting a divorce. She’s barely able to support herself and her teenage daughter, but now her deadbeat artist ex is hitting her up for spousal support…and then spending it on his “other” woman.
Still, Jenna is determined follow her mother’s philosophy – every storm brings a rainbow. And when she gets a very unexpected gift from her great Aunt Edie, things seem to be taking a turn for the better. Aging aunt Edie is finding it difficult to keep up her business running The Driftwood Inn, so she invites Jenna to come live with her and run the place. It looks like Jenna’s financial problems are solved!

Or not. The town is a little more run-down than Jenna remembered, but that’s nothing compared to the ramshackle state of The Driftwood Inn. Aunt Edie is confident they can return it to its former glory, though Jenna feels like she’s jumped from the proverbial frying pan into the beach fire.
But who knows? With the help of her new friends and a couple of handsome citizens, perhaps that rainbow is on the horizon after all. Because, no matter what, life is always good at the beach.

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 Chapter 1
To Do:
Clean office
Dentist at noon
Drop Sabrina off at Mom’s
Meet everyone at Casa Roja at 6
Or just tell them I’ve got bubonic plague and cancel

            The four women seated at a corner booth in the Mexican restaurant were getting increasingly noisier with each new round of drinks. Cinco de Mayo had come and gone, but these ladies still had something to celebrate, as they were all dressed in slinky tops over skinny jeans and body-con dresses, killer shoes, and wearing boas. There were four of them, all pretty, all still in their thirties. Except the guest of honor, who was wearing a black dress, a sombrero and a frown. She was turning forty.
            It was going to take a while for her to get as jovial as the others (like about a million years) considering what she’d just gotten for her birthday. A divorce.
            “Here’s to being free of rotten scum-sucking, cheating husbands,” toasted Celeste, sister of the guest of honor. She was thirty-five, single, and always in a party mood.
            The birthday girl, Jenna Jones, formerly Jenna Petit, took another sip of her mojito. She could get completely sloshed if she wanted. She wasn’t driving and she didn’t have to worry about setting a good example for her daughter, Sabrina, who was spending the night with Grandma. Later, if they could still work their cell phones, the gang would be calling Uber and getting driven home and poured into their houses or, in the case of sister Celeste, apartments, so there was no need to worry about driving drunk. But Jenna wasn’t a big drinker, even when she was in a party mood, and tonight she was as far from that as a woman could get.
            What was there to party about when you were getting divorced and turning (ick!) forty? Still, that mojito was going down pretty easily. And she was inhaling the chips and salsa. At the rate she was going she’d be getting five extra pounds for her birthday as well as a divorce.
            “Just think, you can make a whole new start,” said her best friend Brittany. Brittany was happily married with three kids. What did she know about new starts? Still, she was trying to put a positive spin on things.
            “And who knows? Maybe the second time around you’ll meet a business tycoon” said Jenna’s other bestie, Vanita.
            “Or someone who works at Amazon and owns lots of stock,” put in Celeste.
            “I’d take the stock in a heartbeat,” Jenna said, “but I’m so over men.” She’d given up on love. Maybe, judging from the chewed fingernails and grown-out highlights in her hair, she’d given up on herself, too. She felt shipwrecked. What was the point of building a rescue fire? The next ship to come along would probably also flounder.
            “No, you’re over man,” Brittany corrected. “You can’t give up on the whole species because of one loser. You don’t want to go through the rest of your life celibate.” She shuddered as if celibacy was akin to leprosy.
            “Anyway, there’s some good ones out there somewhere,” said Vanita, who, at thirty-six, was still single and looking. “They’re just hiding,” she added with a guffaw, and took another drink of her Margarita.
            “That’s for sure,” Celeste agreed, who was also looking now that This-is-it Relationship Number Three had died. With her green eyes, platinum hair, pouty lips and perfect body, it probably wouldn’t take her long to find a replacement. “Men. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t ...” Her brows furrowed. “Live with ‘em.”
            Jenna hadn’t been able to live with hers, that was for sure, not once she learned Mr. Sensitive Artist had another muse on the side - a redhead who painted murals and was equally sensitive. And had big boobs. That had nothing to do with why they were together, Damien had insisted. They were soul mates.
            Funny, he’d said the same thing to Jenna once. It looked like some souls could have as many mates as they wanted.
            Damien Petit, handsome, charming... rat. When they first got together Jenna had thought he was brilliant. They’d met at a club in the U District. He’d been the darling of the University of Washington Art Department. He’d looked like a work of art, himself, with brooding eyes and the perfectly chiseled features of a marble statue. She’d been going to school to become a massage therapist. She, who had never gotten beyond painting tiles and decorating cakes, had been in awe. A real artist. His medium was un-recyclable detritus. Junk.
            Too bad she hadn’t seen the symbolism in that back when they first got together. All she’d seen was his creativity.
            She was seeing that in full bloom now. Damien had certainly found a creative way to support himself and his new woman - on spousal support from Jenna.
            Seriously? She’d barely be able to support herself and Sabrina once the dust settled.
            Nonetheless, the court had deemed that she had been the main support of the family and poor, struggling artist Damien needed transitional help while he readied himself to get out there in the big, bad world and earn money on his own. Her reward for being the responsible one in the marriage was to support the irresponsible one. So now, he was living in the basement of his parent’s house, cozy as a cockroach with the new woman, and Jenna was footing the bill for their art supplies. Was this fair? Was this right? Was this any way to start off her fortieth year?
            Her sister nudged her. “Hey, smile. We’re having fun here.”
            Jenna forced a smile. “Fun.”
            “You can’t keep brooding about the junk jerk.”
            “I’m not,” Jenna lied.
            “Yeah, you are. I can see it in your eyes.”
            “I know it’s not fair you have to pay him money,” put in Brittany, “but that’s how things work today. You know, women’s rights and all. If men can pay us spousal support we can pay them, too.”
            “Since when does women’s rights give your ex the right to skip off like a fifteen-year old with his new bimbo and you pay for the fun?” Jenna demanded.
            It was sick and wrong. She’d carried him for years, working as a massage therapist while he dabbled away, selling a piece of art here and there. They’d lived on her salary supplemented by an annual check at Christmas from his folks, who wanted to encourage him to pursue his dream of artistic success, and grocery care packages from her mom, who worked as a checker at the local Safeway. And the grandparents, God bless them, had always given her a nice, fat check for her birthday. Shocking how quickly those fat checks always shrank. Damien drank up money like a thirsty plant, investing it in his art ... and certain substances to help him with his creative process.
            Maybe everyone shouldn’t have helped them so much. Maybe they should have let Damien become a starving artist, literally. Then he might have grown up and manned up and gotten a job.
            They’d had more than one discussion about that. “And when,” he’d demanded, “am I supposed to do my art?” 
            “Evenings? Weekends?”
            He’d looked heavenward and shaken his head. “As if you can just turn on creativity like a faucet.”
            One of Jenna’s clients was an aspiring writer with a family, who worked thirty hours a week. She managed to turn on the faucet every Saturday morning.
There was obviously something wrong with Damien’s pipes. “I need time to think, time for things to come together.”
            Something had come together all right. With Aurora Ansel, whose mother had obviously watched one too many Disney movies.
            Jenna probably should have packed it in long before Aurora came slinking along, admitted what she’d known after only a couple of years into the marriage that it had been a mistake. But after she’d gotten pregnant she’d wanted desperately to make things work, so she’d kept her head down and kept ploughing forward through rough waters.
Now she and Damien were through and it still didn’t look like clear sailing ahead. Sigh.
            “Game time,” Celeste announced. We are going to see who can wish the worst fate on the scum-sucking cheater. I have a prize for the winner.” She dug in her capacious Michael Kors purse and pulled out a Seattle Chocolates chocolate bar and everyone, including the birthday girl let out an “ooh.”
            “Okay, I’ll go first,” Brittany said. “May he fall in a dumpster looking for junk and not be able to climb out.”
            “I’ll drink to that,” Jenna said, and did.
            “Oh, that’s lame,” scoffed Vanita.
            “So, you think you can do better?” Brittany challenged.
            “Absolutely,” she said, flipping her long, black hair. “May he wind up in the Museum of Bad Art.”
            “There is such a thing?” Jenna asked.
            “Oh, yeah.” Vanita grinned.
            “Ha!” Celeste crowed. “That would serve him right.”
            Jenna shook her head. “That will never be happen. To be fair, he is good.”
            “Good at being a cheating scum sucker,” Celeste said and took a drink.
            Vanita tried again. “Okay, then, how about this one? May a thousand camels spit on his work.”
            “Or a thousand first-graders,” added Celeste, who taught first grade.
            “How about this one? May the ghost of Van Gogh haunt him and cut off his ear,” Brittany offered.
            Vanita made a face and set down the chip she was about to bite into. “Eeew.”
“Eew is right,” Jenna agreed. “But I’m feeling bloodthirsty tonight so I’ll drink to that. I think that one’s your winner,” she said to her sister.
Celeste shook her head. “Oh, no. I can do better than that.”
            “Go for it,” urged Brittany.
            Celeste’s smile turned wicked. “May his ‘paint brush’ shrivel and fall off.”
            “And to think you teach children,” Jenna said, rolling her eyes.
            Nonetheless, the double entendre had them all laughing uproariously.
            “Okay, I win the chocolate,” Celeste said.
            “You haven’t given Jenna a chance,” pointed out Brittany.
            “Go ahead, try and beat that,” Celeste said, waving the chocolate bar in front of Jenna.
            “I can’t. It’s yours.”
            Their waiter, a cute twenty-something Latino, came over. “Are you ladies ready for another drink?”
            “We’d better eat,” Jenna said. Her mojito was going to her head.
            Celeste overrode her. “We’ve got plenty of night left. Bring us more drinks,” she told the waiter. “And more chips.” She held up the empty bowl.
            “Anything you ladies want,” he said, and smiled at Jenna.
            Celeste nudged her as he walked away. “Did you hear that? Anything you want.”
            “Not in the market,” Jenna said firmly, shaking her head and making the sombrero wobble. Tonight she hated men.
            But, she decided, she did like mojitos, and her second one went down just fine.
            So did the third. Olé.

            Saturday morning, she woke up with gremlins sandblasting her brain and her mouth tasting like she’d feasted on cat litter instead of enchiladas. She rolled out of bed and staggered to the bathroom where she tried to silence the gremlins with aspirin and a huge glass of water. Then she made the mistake of looking in the mirror.
            Ugh. Who was that woman with the ratty, long, blond-gone hair? Her bloodshot eyes were more red than blue and the circles under them made her look a decade older than what she’d just turned. Well, she felt a decade older than what she’d just turned.
            A shower would help. Maybe.
            Or maybe not. She still didn’t look so hot, even after she’d blown out her hair and put on some make-up. But oh, well. At least the gremlins had taken a lunch break.
            She got in her ten-year-old Toyota (thank God they made those cars to run forever - this one would have to) and drove to her mother’s house to pick up her daughter. 
            She found her mother stretched out on the couch with a romance novel. Unlike her daughter, she looked rested, refreshed, and ready for a new day. In her early sixties, she was still an attractive woman, slender with a youthful face and the gray hairs well hidden under a sandy brown that was only slightly lighter than her original color.
“Hello, birthday girl,” Mom greeted her. “Did you have fun last night?”
            As the night wore on she’d been distracted from her misery. That probably counted as fun, so she said, “Yes.”
            “Looks like you could use some coffee,” Mom said, and led her into the kitchen.
“How’s my baby?” Jenna asked.
            “She’s good. She just got in the shower. We stayed up late last night.”
            Jenna settled at the kitchen table. “What did she think of your taste in movies?”
            “She was impressed, naturally. Every girl should have to watch Pretty in Pink and Jane Eyre.”
            “And?” Jenna prompted.
            “Okay, so I showed her Grease. It’s a classic.”
            “About hoods and ho’s.”
            “I don’t know how you can say that about an iconic movie,” Mom said. “Anyway, I explained a few things to her, so it came with a moral.”
            “What? You, too, can look like Olivia Newton John?”
            Mom shrugged. “Something like that. Now, tell me. What all did you girls do?”
            “Not much. We just went out for dinner.”
            “Dinner is nice,” Mom said, and set a cup of coffee in front of Jenna. She pulled a bottle of Jenna’s favorite caramel flavored creamer from the fridge and set it on the table and watched while Jenna poured in a generous slosh. “I know this is going to be the beginning of a wonderful new year for you.”
            “I have no way to go but up.”
            “That’s right. And you know...”
            “Every storm brings a rainbow,” Jenna finished with her.
            “I firmly believe that.”
            And Mom should know. She’d had her share of storms. “I don’t know how you did it,” Jenna said. “Surviving losing dad when we were so young, raising us single-handedly.”
            “Hardly single-handedly. I had Gram and Gramps and Grandma and Grandpa Jones, as well. Yes, we each have to fight our own fight, but God always puts someone in our corner to help us.”
            “I’m glad you’re in my corner,” Jenna said. “You’re my hero.”
            Jenna had been almost five and Celeste a baby when their father had been killed in a car accident. Sudden, no chance for her mom to say good-bye. There was little that Jenna remembered about her father beyond sitting on his shoulders when they milled with the crowd at the Puyallup Fair or stood watching the Seafair parade in downtown Seattle, that and the scrape of his five o’clock shadow when he kissed her goodnight.
            What stuck in her mind most was her mom, holding her on her lap, sitting at this very kitchen table and saying to Gram, “He was my everything.”
            That read well in books, but maybe in real life it wasn’t good to make a man your everything. Even the good ones left you.
            At least her dad hadn’t left voluntarily. Her mom had chosen a good man. So had Gram, whose husband was also gone now. Both women had picked wisely and knew what good looked like.
            Too bad Jenna hadn’t listened to them when they tried to warn her about Damien. “Honey, there’s no hurry,” Mom had said.
            Yes, there was. She’d wanted to be with him NOW.
            “Are you sure he’s what you really want?” Gram had asked. “He seems a little...”
            “What?” Jenna had prompted.
            “Egotistical,” Gram had ventured.
            “He’s confident,” Jenna had replied. “There’s a difference.”
            “Yes, there is,” Gram had said. “Are you sure you know what it is?” she’d added, making Jenna scowl.
            “I’m just not sure he’s the right man for you,” Mom had worried.
            “Of course, he is,” Jenna had insisted, because at twenty-three she knew it all. And Damien had been so glamorous, so exciting. Look how well their names went together - Damien and Jenna, Jenna and Damien. Oh, yes, perfect.
            And so it was for a time... until she began to see the flaws. Gram had been right, he was egotistical. Narcissistic. Irresponsible. Those flaws she could live with. Those she did live with. But then came the one flaw she couldn’t accept. Unfaithful.
            Not that he’d asked her to accept it. Not that he’d asked her to keep him. Or even to forgive him. “I can’t help how I feel,” he’d said.
            That was it. Harsh reality came in like a strong wind and blew away the last of the fantasy.
But, here was Mom, living proof that a woman could survive the loss of her love, could climb out of the rubble after all her dreams collapsed and rebuild. She’d worked hard at a job that kept her on her feet all day and had still managed to make PTA meetings. She’d hosted tea parties when her girls were little and sleepovers when they became teenagers. And, in between all that, she’d managed to make time for herself, starting a book club with some of the neighbors. That book club still met every month. And Mom still found time for sleepovers, now with her granddaughter.
Surely, if her mom could overcome the loss of her man, Jenna could overcome the loss of what she’d thought her man was.
            Mom smiled at her and slid a card-sized envelope across the table. “Happy birthday.”
            “You already gave me my birthday present,” Jenna said. Mom had given her a motivational book about new beginnings by Muriel Sterling with a fifty-dollar bill tucked inside. Jenna would read the book (once she was ready to face the fact that she did, indeed, have to make a new beginning) and she planned to hoard the fifty like a miser. You could buy a lot of lentils and beans with fifty bucks.
            “This isn’t from me. It’s from your Aunt Edie.”
            “Aunt Edie?”
            She hadn’t seen her great aunt in years, but she had fond memories of those childhood summer visits with her at Moonlight Harbor – beach combing for agates, baking cookies with Aunt Edie while her parrot Jolly Roger squawked all the silly things Uncle Ralph had taught him, listening to the waves crash as she lay in the old antique bed in the guest room at night with her sister. She remembered digging clams with Uncle Ralph, sitting next to her mother in front of a roaring beach fire, using her arm to shield her face from the heat of the flame as she roasted a hot dog. Those visits had been as golden as the sunsets.
            But after getting together with Damien, life had filled with drama and responsibilities, and, after one quick visit, the beach town on the Washington Coast had faded into a memory. Maybe she’d spend that birthday money Mom had given her and go see Aunt Edie.
            She pulled the card out of the envelope. All pastel flowers and birds, the outside read For a Lovely Niece. The inside had a sappy poem telling her she was special and wishing her joy in everything she did, and was signed, Love, Aunt Edie. No Uncle Ralph. He’d been gone for several years.
            Aunt Edie had stuffed a letter inside the card. The writing was small, like her aunt. But firm, in spite of her age.
            Dear Jenna,
            I know you’ve gone through some very hard times, but I also know that like all the women in our family, you are strong and you’ll come through just fine.
            Your grandmother told me you could use a new start and I would like to give it to you. I want you to come to Moonlight Harbor and help me revamp and run The Driftwood Inn. Like me, it’s getting old and it needs some help. I plan to bequeath it to you on my death. The will is already drawn up, signed and witnessed, so I hope you won’t refuse my offer.
            Of course, I know your cousin Winston would love to get his grubby mitts on it, but he won’t. The boy is useless. And besides, you know I’ve always had a soft spot for you in my heart. You’re a good girl who’s always been kind enough to send Christmas cards and homemade fudge for my birthday. Uncle Ralph loved you like a daughter. So do I, and since we never had children of our own you’re the closest thing I have to one. I know your mother and grandmother won’t mind sharing.
            Please say you’ll come.
            Love, Aunt Edie
            Jenna hardly knew what to say. “She wants to leave me the motel.” She had to be misreading.
            She checked again. No, there it was, in Aunt Edie’s tight little scrawl.
            Mom smiled. “I think this could be your rainbow.”
            Not just the rainbow, the pot of gold as well!

Sheila Roberts lives on the water in the Pacific Northwest. Her books have been printed in several different languages and have been chosen for book clubs such as Doubleday as well as for Readers Digest Condensed books. Her best-selling novel ON STRIKE FOR CHRISTMAS was made into a movie and appeared on the Lifetime Movie Network, and her novel THE NINE LIVES OF CHRISTMAS was made into a movie for the Hallmark Channel.

When she’s not making public appearances or playing with her friends, she can be found writing about those things near and dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate.




Monday, March 5, 2018

Last Puffs by Harley Mazuk @fswiver

LAST PUFFS by Harley Mazuk, Mystery/Crime, 293 pp., $14.95 (Paperback) $4.99 (Kindle edition)

Author: Harley Mazuk
Publisher: New Pulp Press
Pages: 293
Genre: Mystery/Crime/Private Eye

Frank Swiver and his college pal, Max Rabinowitz, both fall in love with Amanda Zingaro, courageous Republican guerilla, in the Spanish civil war. But the local fascists murder her and her father.

Eleven years later in San Francisco in 1949, Frank, traumatized by the violence in Spain, has become a pacifist and makes a marginal living as a private eye. Max who lost an eye in Spain but owes his life to Frank, has pledged Frank eternal loyalty. He’s a loyal communist party member and successful criminal attorney.

Frank takes on a case for Joan Spring, half-Chinese wife of a wealthy banker. Joan seduces Frank to ensure his loyalty. But Frank busts up a prostitution/white slavery ring at the Lotus House a brothel in Chinatown, where Joan was keeping refugees from Nanking prisoners.

Then Max sees a woman working in a Fresno cigar factory, who is a dead ringer for Amanda, and brings in Frank, who learns it is Amanda. She has tracked the fascists who killed her father and left her for dead from her village in Spain to California. Amanda wants Frank to help her take revenge. And by the way, she says the ten-year-old boy with her is Frank’s son.

Joan Spring turns out to be a Red Chinese secret agent, and she’s drawn a line through Max’s name with a pencil. Can Frank save Max again? Can he help Amanda avenge her father when he’s sworn off violence? Can he protect her from her target’s daughter, the sadistic Veronica Rios-Ortega? Join Frank Swiver in the swift-moving story, Last Puffs.


.5 out of 5 stars Wonderful Read – Easy and Fun
February 10, 2018
Format: Kindle Edition| Verified Purchase
Frank Swiver is a detective. Murder investigations are his specialty. He likes wine, loose women and fast cars. Not necessarily in that order. Swiver inhabits an earlier world that is archaic and, without doubt, politically incorrect by today’s standards. Harley Mazuk recreates in Swiver a character from another era whose story is fun and entertaining. Mazuk has an impressive knowledge of wines and cars which permeate his narrative. As to his knowledge of women, I am not competent to judge. I do know that the geography and time period portrayed is well researched. There are many twists and turns to the plot as well as an injection of espionage that keeps the reader guessing. Fans of old fashion detective novels will enjoy this book. I know, I did.
— Amazon Reviewer

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Aragón, Spain, March 1938
There’d been a dusting of fresh snow in the high ground during the night, and the captain wanted our squad, which was nine men, to relieve an outpost on the crest of a hill, just up above the tree line. Max Rabinowitz took point, and I followed, climbing steadily. It was a cold, quiet morning, and we talked between ourselves about the ’38 baseball season, and whether we’d be back in the States to see any games.
“I would like to see Hank Greenberg and the Tigers play DiMaggio and the Yanks,” said Max. Max was dark-haired and rangy, and I always thought he looked a bit like Cary Grant, though now after a year in the field, there was nothing suave nor dapper in his appearance.
“How about Ted Williams?” I said. “We’ve already seen DiMaggio play in San Francisco with the Seals.”
“We saw Williams play with the Padres. Besides, he isn’t in the big leagues yet,” said Max.
“Yeah, but the Red Sox signed him.” I walked along just off Max’s shoulder. I was about the same height as Max, six feet, six-one, a little thinner, and looked at least as scruffy that morning. I wore a burgundy scarf around my head and ears, under a dirty and battered grey fedora. I scanned the virgin snow ahead of us with heavy-lidded eyes. The wind was faint, just enough to pick up a feathery wisp of snow in spots and spin it around. 
“He’s only about 19. I think they’ll keep him down on the farm for ’38.”
“I would like to see Bob Feller pitch to your boy Greenberg,” I told Max.
Smitty came up between us. “Feller throws 100 miles an hour, and he strikes out more than one per inning.”
“They say,” said Max, “he walks almost one an inning,”
“Keeps ‘em loose up there,” said Smitty, who was from Cleveland. “Hundred mile an hour heat and nobody knows where it’s going.”
As the three of us stepped out of the cover of the tree line, Smitty kind of hopped up on one leg and threw his arms out. I wondered what sort of a weird little dance that was; then I heard the automatic weapons fire coming down at us off the hill. It was a mechanical chatter, rather than gunpowder explosions, and the wind had blown the sound around the hills so that the bullets cut Smitty down before it had reached us. Branches near us started to snap off and tumble earthwards. Max hit the snow on his belly and rolled downhill to his right to get to cover behind a rock. I motioned for the others to get back into the trees, and dove into a low spot in the ground.
When we could look up, we saw that the fascists had overrun the outpost we’d been climbing up to the ridge to relieve, and the firing was coming from there. We returned fire. I heard cries in Spanish from behind me, a curse in a low voice, then a high-pitched prayer.
A potato-masher grenade came flipping end-over-end down the hill toward me. It seemed like slow motion. It hit a rock and bounced up. I could say a Hail Mary in about four seconds flat in those days, and I said one then. The grenade sailed over my head; I heard it explode, and felt a shower of dirt on my back. In front of me, Max was popping up and firing one round with his Springfield, then dropping behind the rock. I popped up and fired when he dropped down. I thought we were doing pretty well taking turns, but grenades kept arcing over our heads and bullets pinged into Max’s rock and raked the dirt beside me. Max tried lobbing one of his grenades towards the machine gun, but his throw was uphill, and he didn’t have an arm like DiMaggio.
After a few minutes of this, I tried to aim and squeeze the trigger instead of popping off quick shots. Then I didn’t hear anyone behind us firing anymore. I looked around and saw Rocco and Pete sprawled in the grass. I called to a couple of the others.
“Comrades…anyone…sound off.” Nada.
“Frank, this is bad,” Max yelled to me.
“I’d rather be facing Feller’s fastballs,” I told him. “Maybe it’s time for us to dust.” Then we heard an airplane motor. It grew louder, and the first plane, a Heinkel, zoomed over the ridge seconds later. Max had risen to his feet and was scrambling down the slope. He looked back over his shoulder at the plane just as a cannon shot from the aircraft hit the rock he’d been behind. The explosion flipped Max in mid-air and tossed him towards me. The ground under him ripped up and clods of dirt flew towards us.
The scene faded to black, but for how long, I don’t know. When I opened my eyes, I was facing the sky but I smelled the forest floor, earth and leaves. Truffles, perhaps? Max was on top of me, limp, and it was quiet. No planes, no shooting. “Max,” I said, “we gotta get up. Get off me.” I felt my voice in my head, but couldn’t hear it in my ears. Max didn’t get up. I rolled him over next to me, and saw that his hat was gone.  The top of his head and the right side of his face were a collage of blood and dirt. I shook him, and he gasped for breath, earth falling out of his nostrils. He was still alive.
“Frank, Frank. I can’t see. I can’t see.” It didn’t sound like Max, but there was no one else there.
“Easy, Max.” I tried to rinse some of the dirt, debris and blood off Max’s head with my canteen, then I ripped open a compress from my pack and put it over his forehead and eyes. I wrapped more dressing around his head to keep the bandage in place “Hold this on your face, man. Don’t try to open your eyes.” I was afraid his right eyeball was going to fall out. “Hold it tight.” Using the slope, I maneuvered him across my shoulder, head down in front of me, and struggled to my feet. I took off at a trot along the tree line.
Our lines were behind us to the east but it looked like the whole damned fascist army was charging down from the outpost, headed that way, so I ran south. It was downhill and my momentum carried us. The going was easy, but I felt panic building in my gut so I tried to slow down. I slid on the snow, fell on my butt, and slammed into a tree and dropped Max.
“Frank, where are you? Am I dyin’?”
“I got you, Max. You caught some shrapnel in the head from that plane. Say an act of contrition or something.”
“I’m a Jew, you idiot.”
“Say it anyway.” I lifted the gauze off his forehead and looked under it. His wound didn’t appear to be deep, but the right eye was very bad, all blood and pulp, and the bone around it may have been shattered. “Press on this, Max.” I pressed the bandage back against his face and put his hand on it. 
I hoisted him over my shoulder again, and stepped off, forcing myself to keep my pace steady and not too fast. We went on till the sun was high in the sky. I didn’t fall again, but my ankles were burning, and my toes were pinched in my boots from going downhill. I stopped twice, and opened our bota. I washed my mouth out with the wine, a rustic red from Calatayud, then I cradled Max’s head and opened his mouth. I squirted the wine in, squeezing the leather skin, the way I’d squeezed the trigger of my rifle. Max coughed. He seemed only half-conscious.
I carried Max down the hill and to the south, parallel to our lines, until we were deep in some woods. I was scared and it wasn’t easy, but I would have done anything for Max. We had been roommates and run around together at Berkeley. We fell out of touch when he went to law school, and I started drinking, trying to forget Cicilia. When Max re-connected with me in ’36, he tried to help me sober up and get back on my feet. I’d come around for a while, but always, I’d slip back into the abyss.
Max was a red, even back in our student days. I hadn’t been serious about my politics then. One evening to keep me from drowning my demons, Max took me to a meeting about the Spanish Civil War and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Before the night was over, we’d signed up to fight in Spain. Max didn’t have to. I think he did it to save me. Now I was going to save him.
When the sun dropped behind the hills, the woods quickly grew dark. There was a smell of pines, and the footing was better—no snow or ice on the ground, which was hard and covered with dry pine needles. Under the background din of war, the roar of artillery and airplanes, I heard water down to my left. I turned towards it and a few minutes later, came to a stream, probably flowing south to the Ebro. It wasn’t night yet, but it was so dark under the tall trees, I would have walked into the stream without seeing it if not for the sound of the water rushing over the rocks. I put Max down on his back, head and shoulders downhill toward the stream. The blood had dried; the gauze was stuck to his head. I scooped up water with my hat and poured it on his face. The icy cold shocked him into consciousness—and panic and pain.
“Morphine, Frank,” he moaned. “Gimme the morphine.” But I had used our morphine one night weeks ago on guard duty on a cold hillside. We did have a flask of Cardenal Mendoza Spanish Brandy, and I gave him some, then I drank. I rinsed his wound good and put a new bandage on it using Max’s kit this time. My legs felt weak and started to shake with cold or exhaustion. I don’t know if I could have stood up then if the Generalissimo had come down the hill waving his pistoles. We were down low, and there were some bare shrubs and young trees sheltering us on the uphill slope. I fought my exhaustion and tried to keep watch as long as I could. I had another swallow of brandy and pulled close to Max. My eyes closed, and I fell asleep.

Harley Mazuk was born in Cleveland, the last year that the Indians won the World Series. He majored in English literature at Hiram College in Ohio, and Elphinstone College, Bombay, India. Harley worked as a record salesman (vinyl) and later served the U.S. Government in Information Technology and in communications, where he honed his writing style as an editor and content provider for official web sites.

Retired now, he likes to write pulp fiction, mostly private eye stories, several of which have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. His first full length novel, White with Fish, Red with Murder, was released in 2017, and his newest, Last Puffs, just came out in January 2018.

Harley’s other passions are his wife Anastasia, their two children, reading, running, Italian cars, California wine and peace.




Cat Tails: Heart-Warming Stories About the Cats and Kittens of RESQCATS by Jeffyne Telson

CAT TAILS: HEART-WARMING STORIES ABOUT THE CATS AND KITTENS OF RESQCATS by Jeffyne Telson, 332 pp., Animals/Cat Rescue, $27.95 (Hardcover)

Author: Jeffyne Telson
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 332
Genre: Animals/Cat Rescue

In 1997, Jeffyne Telson founded RESQCATS, Inc, as a non-profit organization dedicated to the rescue, care and adoption of stray and abandoned cats and kittens.

In the ensuing 20 years, with the help of a small group of dedicated volunteers, Jeffyne has grown RESQCATS well beyond her dreams, into a highly respected rescue organization that has placed more than 2800 cats and kittens with qualified families and individuals.

And now, she has written a book about her journey of creating a cat rescue, the challenges and opportunities she has faced, and most important of all, the valuable life lessons the cats and kittens have taught her.

Order Your Copy!

Tattoo, My First Cat

            As a little girl, I grew up with outdoor cats that were never allowed in the house. Perhaps that was what most people did with their animals back then or maybe my mother just did not want pets in the house. It was not until I moved out that Mother allowed our family cats to be indoors. I have no idea what changed her mind about having the cats come inside. Maybe she suffered empty nest syndrome and needed the presence of another living being besides my father in the house. Or perhaps by the time I left for college, people were becoming more educated about the dangers to pets left outdoors. Since then, our cats have been indoor cats.
            My parents worked hard at making sure that I got an education. Their goal was to make me fully prepared for life and that meant I would attend college and obtain a degree.
            My father paid his way through college, working three jobs while raising a family. My mother never went to college. When given the choice of having a shiny new car or going to a university, Mother chose the car. It was a decision that she regretted throughout her life. She attended business school and was employed as a part-time secretary. Her main priority was motherhood. Working reduced hours meant that she had to go to work after I left for school, complete the job and arrive home before I returned in the afternoon. Mother and Daddy worked diligently to ensure that my brother and I had everything we needed and almost all we desired. However, as with many middle-class families, money was always tight. They felt that a college education would insure that my financial future would not be as difficult as theirs had been.
            I graduated from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas in 1979 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Graphic Design. When I chose my college major, my parents were baffled. While both had always been supportive of my artistic talents, they did not quite understand what a graphic designer was or what one did with such a degree. So they encouraged me to get a teaching certificate in art. My mother felt that a teaching certificate always gives a woman something to fall back on after she has raised her family and needed to return to work.
            In my best interest, my folks had my future mapped out in full detail. The plan was to get a college degree, find a good job, stay with the same company for years and climb the corporate ladder.
            It was a great plan until I got married, bought a house with a white picket fence and had children. Staying true to the course meant mandatory time off to raise my kids. Once the children were old enough, I had the option of returning to work if needed. At this point, the teaching certificate came into play.
            Maybe this was how it was for women back in the 1950s. Perhaps that is what my mother could have done if she had gone to college instead of opting for that shiny new car. Regardless, their predetermined plan was not my plan!

My first job out of college was at Neiman Marcus in Dallas, Texas. The job description included fashion layout for newspapers nationwide and direct mail design. I also did freelance package design for Neiman’s epicure shop to make extra money. Designing cookie tins, labels for thirty-five different flavors of expensive gourmet popcorn and packaging for a variety of other epicurean delights was most enjoyable. The freelance projects and the creativity they inspired were more pleasurable than my salaried job. Specifying type and fitting fashion drawings into newspaper layouts for advertising was not what I envisioned myself doing forever. I desired a career that would be more graphic design oriented. So I set out to find another job.
            After two interviews, Susan Crane, a company that designed gift wrap for national department stores, hired me. The job seemed more suited to my talents and the salary was even better.
            I left Neiman Marcus on good terms. The art director assured me that there would be opportunities to continue to do freelance package design for them. I was happy to continue having that creative avenue available.
            My folks did not understand why I would leave a job after only a year. It was obvious to all of us that I had already found flaws in their plan. Our conversations were dominated by the fact that I did not have a teaching certificate on which to fall back.
            Within a year of leaving college, I began my second job. My father felt this quick jump did not represent a good reputation in the working world. As my parents, they had always realized my free-spirited nature. Now I was proof in the making.
            My second interview at Susan Crane was generally an introduction to the other employees. It was then that the new boss introduced me to the designer I was to replace. The proposed schedule was for me to start in two weeks, allowing me to give the proper notice to Neiman Marcus.
            The exiting designer was pleasant and incredibly excited about his upcoming job opportunity with a large advertising agency in New York City.        However, he had a major dilemma. Her name was Tattoo. She was his cat. I do not recall why Tattoo could not go to New York with him. All I remember is that he begged me to take her.
            So not only did I have a new job, I got a cat, too!
Tattoo was two years old when we began our life together. She was an average-sized cat with short, white fur decorated with a multitude of various-sized gray spots. The name, Tattoo, seemed perfectly suited for my new spotted girl, so I kept it. Glistening yellow-green peridot gems best describe her gorgeous eyes. Tattoo was friendly and affectionate, as well as curious and confident; it took less than a day for her to adjust to my apartment.   At this point, I had been on my own for a year. I was single with my career ahead of me and entirely capable of taking care of myself financially. I owned my own car and rented a cozy, one-bedroom apartment. But it was lonely sometimes and Tattoo was great company when I was home.
            Our weekday morning routine was always the same. Tattoo perched herself on the bathroom counter as I got ready for work. Watching me put on make-up was her favorite early morning activity. She gazed with curiosity as I applied blush and eye shadow followed by liner and mascara. After all, this was Dallas! And Dallas women wore make-up and dressed in the latest high fashion.
            On an occasional morning, just for fun, I put blush on Tattoo’s cheeks and eye shadow above her lids. When my mother visited, she teased me, “Looks like Tattoo has been in the blush and blue eye shadow again.” Yes, admittedly, that was back in the days when blue eye shadow was in style!
 Tattoo’s favorite toys were the small make-up brushes. The last thing I did before leaving for work was to safely tuck them into the drawer, ensuring there was no chance that she could swallow them while I was away.
Tattoo must have missed me during my long days at work. Travelling time in the morning and evening was an hour each way…if traffic flowed well. Theoretically, I left at seven a.m. for an eight o’clock start time. The job was from eight to five, so I could be home by six p.m.
            That rarely happened, however. After all, I was single! So after five o’clock, my responsibilities were purely social. There were aerobic classes to attend and guys to scope out at the fitness center, although I can tell you my experiences with any jocks at the gym were nothing to get excited about. The athletes were more about themselves, how much weight they could hoist above their heads and how many females they could conquer.
             I remember a good-looking guy I met while running on the track. He was quite flirtatious, but seemed nice, so I accepted his offer of a date.
            Our rendezvous turned out to be disastrous, at least in my view. Unexpectedly, from the moment I got into his car, he came onto me much too quickly. His uninvited advances continued throughout the entire evening and intensified upon our return to my apartment. At that point, throwing him out was my best move and that is exactly what I did!
            He called the next day to apologize for moving so “fast” while vaguely admitting that he sensed my displeasure. I explained, without mincing any words, that I do not move that rapidly, especially on a first date. And you know what he said? “Well, I move fast because I'm a sprinter!” I replied, “Well, I’m a slow, long distance runner.” Then I hung up the phone. Needless to say, that was our one and only date!
            Other nights were all about “happy hour.” Many times, “happy” lasted more than just an hour. I often went with coworkers or met friends after work and cruised the most popular bars for singles. Half-price drinks and free snacks were more than enough for dinner. When the disco music started, we danced the night away…the whole night! I still wonder how I managed to leave the bars at two in the morning and be at work by eight a.m. (Of course, there were times I did not make it exactly at eight!)
            Sweet Tattoo met me at the apartment door every evening, regardless of what time I got home. Upon hearing the turn of the key in the lock, she would make it to the door by the time I crossed the threshold. I developed the habit of inserting my foot just beyond the cracked door to gently force her back inside and entered carefully.
            The evening, or whatever was left of it, was spent with Tattoo under my feet or by my side.

            I should have realized that the days were lonely for her. Many times, boredom motivated Tattoo to unroll the toilet paper and decorate the entire apartment. Sometimes the delicate lace pillows on the bed appeared to have been tackled and kicked like a football into the living room and kitchen. More than once, she had discovered the loose lid on the Q-tips container and the swabs inside had mysteriously disappeared. I often wondered what she did with all of them. Years later, when I moved, I found at least a hundred under my couch!
            Tattoo was always there to greet me and I could count on her to welcome me home with open paws…that is, all but once!
            I left work, stopped by the deli to pick up dinner and got to my apartment around six p.m. The plan was for a quiet evening on the couch with my cat and a good movie.
            However, that night was different. When I opened the door to enter my apartment, I inserted my foot as customary, but there was no Tattoo to block. The apartment was eerily quiet. There was not a mew or a sign of life. I began a hysterical search. I looked under the bed, which always seems to be the first place people look for missing cats! Why is that?
            The wardrobe closet was closed, but I inspected inside anyway. The bathroom shower was empty and so were the adjacent cabinets.
            I hurried into the kitchen, running towards the pantry. Upon opening the cupboard, Tattoo’s gigantic, yellow-green eyes stared back at me through the dark.
            “Tattoo,” I shrieked! “Have you been in there all day?!" I think she nodded. I felt horrible, "Oh no, I’m so sorry!”
            My poor kitty had been locked in the pantry for eleven hours! What could she have done in there all that time?
            I will tell you what she did. Tattoo managed to open the Crisco shortening and break a bottle of garlic salt. Thank goodness she was not hurt. Broken glass from the container covered the floor, but there was no sign of any blood. All four paws, however, were coated in Crisco and garlic salt. Her feet were a mess.
            She jumped out and quickly trotted across the floor to her litter box. She left a trail of gooey shortening and stinky garlic along the way. My idea of a quiet night, dinner and movie were replaced with cleaning the pads of her feet, between her toes…and my carpet!
            I felt so guilty about the incident. After all, it was my fault! The only comfort was in the fact that it had been a day when I returned home directly from work. I cannot imagine what the pantry would have looked like if I had gone dancing all night!

            I spent many weekends creating freelance designs for Neiman’s. Today, graphic designers have computer programs that can generate and alter graphics with the push of a key. But back in my day, design work was created at the drawing board or, in my situation, on the kitchen table. Transparent vellum paper enabled me to perfect designs by using overlays. Color changes were not made by a right or left click on the keypad mouse. We used color pens! Thin-tipped markers were for fine outlines and wide tips shaded large areas. I will boast here that I owned a marker in every imaginable color!
            My little buddy was always there to help. Tattoo managed to find a spot on the kitchen table where I worked. She removed markers from their container and tossed them around like a soccer ball. Loose pen caps catapulted into the air with a quick flip of her paw. She watched them fall to the floor. Then she pounced! She chased and batted the caps throughout the apartment.
            Needless to say, several made their way under the couch with the lost Q-tips, a treasure that I found much later! The expensive markers that had lost their lids during her escapade could only be salvaged by wrapping them in plastic wrap. When Tattoo tired from hunting marker caps, she returned to the table to sprawl out on top of my carefully designed layout.
            I have no explanation for what came over me one day when working on a design for a butter cookie tin. Something possessed me to color Tattoo with the markers. Her pure white fur disappeared into a myriad of hues…red, hot pink, yellow-orange, turquoise, blue and purple. When the decoration was completed, she looked like a rainbow-colored cat. And she did not seem to mind. In fact, she liked the attention and we agreed that she looked absolutely beautiful. Grooming over the following days gradually turned the bright colors into a blend of soft pastels that resembled dyed Easter eggs.
Tattoo often joined me for dinner by placing herself in a semi-circle around my plate, as close as possible without actually touching it. Then, when she thought I was not looking, she swiftly swooped her paw across the plate and removed whatever she thought would suit her taste buds.
            Moving around the apartment took cautious maneuvering. Tattoo was like a third leg, constantly walking between my legs and under my feet. I am not complaining. My careful footfalls and high-steppin' were a small compensation for all of the time that she spent alone. She craved our time together.
            People who love cats are familiar with the phrase “lap cat.” Tattoo defined the term eloquently, without being particular about whose lap she chose. Any lap would do…mine, a friend, a date or a boyfriend. Of course, like most cats, she possessed a talent for picking the one person in a room that was not especially fond of cats. Given a choice, theirs was always the lap she chose!
            Bedtime was a ritual for both of us. She carefully found a favored spot and snuggled tightly into a small nook of my body. Other times, she wrapped herself around my head and we shared the pillow. There was never a night that we were not together. And any overnight guests, if you know what I mean, had to share the bed with her too!

            Asking the landlord for permission to have a cat was not something that ever crossed my mind. It took five years for the management to discover Tattoo.
            One day, a notice was posted on my door demanding that I contact the apartment manager immediately. The timing of the notice could not have come at a worse time. My fiancé had just ended our seven-year relationship, only eight weeks before our wedding date. This left me completely devastated.
            I suppose the manager took pity on my plight as I sat in her office, sobbing, telling the story of my broken engagement and sharing the fact that Tattoo was my only true comfort.
            The manager never asked me to leave or to find another home for Tattoo. I would have had an emotional breakdown if Tattoo had not been there for me. After that experience, it is easy to understand why I am so adamant in requiring RESQCATS adopters present landlord approval.
            Tattoo watched boyfriends come and go. She stayed by my side whether I was happy, sad, uncertain or with a clear vision. For the first time in my life, I truly understood what unconditional love was all about.
Tattoo welcomed Violet, a kitten I rescued off a busy highway, as easily as she accepted her new home with me. She and Violet made the cross-country trip from Texas to California in late 1985 so that I could marry the man of my dreams.

            At the age of twelve, Tattoo was diagnosed with hyperthyroid disease and was treated with a radioactive iodine treatment. Fortunately, the treatment was a success. I remember how difficult it was after her return home. The vet recommended limited cuddle time for two weeks due to the radioactivity that could be transferred from her body to mine. Somehow we got through it and she was back to herself. Once recovered, she acted like a kitten again.
            Two years later, however, Tattoo was diagnosed with bone cancer in her nose. Sadly, nothing could be done to save her.

            Tattoo was my very first cat. She was the first cat I ever loved. The first cat I ever had to euthanize. The first cat I ever lost. The first cat I ever grieved for.
            She was my first for a lot of things. So it is no wonder that Tattoo has first place in my heart!

Watch Jeffyne talk about RESQCATS!

Jeffyne Telson grew up in Dallas, Texas but has spent most of the last half of her life in California. Although she has Bachelor of Arts degree in graphic design from Texas Tech University, she has devoted the last two decades to the pursuit of her real life’s passion…caring for stray and abandoned cats and kittens.

In 1997, Jeffyne founded RESQCATS, Inc, as a non-profit organization dedicated to the rescue, care and adoption of stray and abandoned cats and kittens.

In the ensuing 20 years, with the help of a small group of dedicated volunteers, Jeffyne has grown RESQCATS well beyond her dreams, into a highly respected rescue organization that has placed more than 2700 cats and kittens with qualified families and individuals.

Today, in addition to being the President of RESQCATS, Jeffyne and her husband, Mitch, share their Santa Barbara, California home with 14 unadoptable cats, 9 collies and 15 giant African sulcata tortoises…all rescued of course!