As he started to climb down, a twig snapped below them. They froze. Something’s being dragged through the underbrush.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Quirky Secondary Characters in the Pit & the Passion


At midnight, in the darkness of a deserted hotel, comes a scream and a splash. Eighty-five years later, workmen uncover a skeleton in an old elevator shaft. Who is it, and how did it get there? To find out, Charity Snow, ace reporter for the Longboat Key Planet, teams up with Rancor Bass, best-selling author. A college ring they find at the dig site may prove to be their best clue.

Although his arrogance nearly exceeds his talent, Charity soon discovers a warm heart beating under Rancor’s handsome exterior. While dealing with a drop-dead gorgeous editor who may or may not be a villain, a publisher with a dark secret, and an irascible forensic specialist, Charity and Rancor unearth an unexpected link to the most famous circus family in the world.



I love bringing the secondary characters in my stories alive. In The Mason’s Mark: Love & Death in the Tower, I have two old ladies who the heroine calls the Marples for their sleuthing skills. In Artful Dodging: the Torpedo Factory Murders, the heroine’s best friend is a wild-haired Russian artist who sculpts enormous metal objects. In The Pit & the Passion, the hero’s Aunt Gertrude is the quintessential Mainer—a rock.

Rancor comes from an old Maine family, and as families go, this one is quite colorful. Gertrude, Rancor’s aunt, is a remarkable person—custodian of the family records, compiler of family foibles and accomplishments, and stickler for proper form. Rancor calls on her to help with their search for the owner of the ring they found in the pit, and she comes through.
Strong Maine Women



Excerpt (G) Aunt Gertrude

“Is that you, my boy? Where are you? I can’t hear you.”
“I’m here in Florida, Auntie.”
“Florida? I don’t want you staying in that godforsaken place, Rancor. That’s where your grandfather met that hussy and abandoned his wife and family. Come back here to Camden where you belong. You hear me?”
“Yes, Auntie. I will soon, Auntie. Now, were you able to answer my question?”
“Question? Oh, yes. Now where did I put that note…” A loud clunk sounded, then a lot of rattling. “Hello? Hello? Rancor? Are you still there?”
“Yes, Auntie. I asked you if any men with the initials RB went to the University of Maine.”
“Yes, yes. You don’t have to ask me twice. I’m not deaf. Or feeble-minded.”
“I know that, Auntie.”
“Well, all right then,” she huffed. “I checked with the chancellor, who is an old friend of the family’s, although considering the circumstances, I don’t know how we remained on cordial terms.”
Charity squinted at Rancor.
“Excuse me?”
Gertrude went on with her monologue as though there’d been no interruption. “He was most gracious and looked up the student rolls from the 1930s. He found Basses, which doesn’t come as a surprise to me. I mean—”
“So Basses went to the University of Maine?”
“Of course. In fact, your great-great-grandfather Robert graduated in the very first class of the Maine College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts in 1873. He was a handsome man. I have a picture of him here. He’s standing next to his sister, and—”
“Auntie? Any others?”
“Of course. Basses were among the most celebrated graduates of the university—possibly because we donated masses of money to the endowment fund. Until your grandfather, that is…”
“What happened?”
“Well, Robert’s son, Robert Junior, finished in 1903 and his son, Robert the Third, three decades later. They both managed to avoid serving in the Great War, which was a real comfort to the women of the family, I can tell you. The Bass men have been singularly lucky—why, the last Bass to carry a gun was Robert T. back in the French and Indian War. Of course, he shot himself in the foot. Come to think of it, most of the Basses were not accepted into the armed forces for one reason or another. Gerald Bass—my cousin—had flat feet, and Elmer…well, let’s just say he was rather a dim bulb. Then there was—”
“Aunt Gertrude? What happened to my grandfather?”
“Robert the Third? You know what happened to him. He ran off with that tramp. It’s not something we’re proud of, but I don’t hold with keeping secrets in a family, so I made sure you children all heard the story, if only as a cautionary tale. At the time, my grandfather, Robert Junior, blamed it on the intemperate social life at the university, and he cut the school out of his will. That’s why Rupert didn’t go.”
“So the last Bass to attend the University of Maine was my grandfather Robert?”
“Yes. Now, I’ve got a list here of Bass women— we all proudly attended Vassar of course…that is, until that awful man forced us to go co-ed. I can’t tell you—”
“Oh, but you have, Aunt Gertrude. Many times.” Rancor paused. “Do you know the year of Robert Three’s graduation? Would it be 1931?” He looked through the door at Charity.
Mmm, let me see…1931? No, it was 1932.”
His eyes widened, and so did Charity’s. “Thank you very much, Aunt Gertrude. You’re a doll. Give my love to Uncle Orville.” He hung up over her loud protests. “Well.”

Related image
Camden Maine
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Saturday, October 6, 2018

A True Story that Inspired My Mason's Mark



The Mason's Mark: Love and Death in the Tower, arose in part out of a true story. Starting in the 1940s an Italian named Licio Gelli embarked on a lifetime of bizarre scams and crimes. Alternately linked to rightists and leftists, he bilked or used people from Italian politicians, to the Nazis, the Communists, the CIA, even to Juan Peron, dictator of Argentina. His exploits cross the globe and spanned four decades. At last check, he was still alive, in his nineties and writing poetry from prison. In 1996 he was even nominated for the Nobel prize in literature.

Gelli with Masonic symbols from his renegade lodge
Gelli is most famous for founding a Masonic lodge called Propaganda Due, a renegade group that was first dissolved, then reinstated, then erased by the Grand Orient de Italia. He had ensnared many prominent Italians into P2, which ultimately led to several huge scandals.  He is the model for the shadowy puppetmaster in my new romantic suspense novel The Mason's Mark: Love and Death in the Tower (an Old Town Romance).

The Mason’s Mark: Love & Death in the Tower

In both the best and worst first day at work ever, docent Claire Wilding meets the man of her dreams, but her carefully rehearsed guided tour of the George Washington National Masonic Memorial collapses when she discovers a body and is drawn into a dark world of black ops and Italian renegade masons, of secret cabals and hidden treasure. Also cloaked in mystery is handsome Gideon Bliss, a George Washington expert who haunts the Memorial, his manner evasive. What is his secret? Claire fears she'll fall in love with him only to learn he's a thief or even a murderer. Juggling two eccentric mothers, an inquisitive sister, and an increasingly smitten detective, Claire must find answers to a complex web of intrigue, including who to trust and who to love.

Wild Rose Press, May 6, 2016 (Crimson Rose imprint)
Mystery/Cozy Mystery, Romantic suspense
ebook 79,000 words; print 322 pp.
M/F;  3 flames


Where Gideon & Claire meet


Excerpt (PG):  First Meeting
“Next we’ll be visiting a museum devoted to George Washington. The Masonic Memorial houses an impressive collection of artifacts, some of which were donated by the Washington family and some rescued from the fire in 1871 that destroyed the first lodge. Please be sure to check out Dr. Elisha Cullen Dick’s pocket watch. He was George Washington’s close friend and presided over his death bed.”
As they filed out on the fourth floor and automatically turned right as all human flocks do, Claire surveyed the room. The black and white parquet floor sparkled. Around three sides ran a balcony, filled with small alcoves and paintings. The light from a porthole window flooded the room. As she headed toward a bust of George Washington, a shadow moved behind a column. She took a step toward it, but Mrs. Malloy’s voice stopped her. “Frank, Luther—you be good, hear? I’m gonna sit down for a bit.”
Claire watched, horror-struck, as the woman plunked down on the Chippendale chair Washington had used as Worshipful Master of the Lodge. The yellow tape meant to prevent access to it lay in tatters on the floor. She had lunged forward, one hand stretched out to grab the transgressor, when the shadow flitted across her vision again. Feeling like a spectator at a tennis match, she spun around. There. Shaking a finger at the woman and barking “No!” in her most imperious voice, she rounded a pillar. Sure enough, a man stood there by a small bookcase built into the wall.
During Claire’s training, Mr. Quinn had ground into her the absolute prohibition against unauthorized individuals wandering around in the Tower. Oh God, I hope I don’t have to call for backup. “Sir? Can I help you?”
The man jumped and turned to her, his eyes wide, giving Claire the opportunity to admire two very large orbs tinted a luminous tourmaline green. His mobile face sported a Roman nose of reasonable proportion, a strong chin only slightly marred by a salt-and-pepper stubble, and the high cheekbones of an Aztec chief. His tan was not so deep as to seem artificial. Claire had raised her eyes to behold a head of wavy, chocolate brown hair when he began to speak. His sonorous baritone—a cross between Dean Martin and Elvis Presley—captivated her and she found herself humming “That’s Amore” under her breath.
“No, thank you…er…” He peered at her chest. Her hand went protectively to the bosom that drew most eligible bachelors’ attention until she realized he was trying to read her name badge.
“Um…Claire. Claire Wilding. I’m the docent here.” She indicated her troops, at least two of whom were attempting to wreak irreparable damage on each other with a wooden staff carved in the likeness of John the Baptist. “Who are you?”
He smiled suddenly, revealing brilliant white teeth. His whole face lit up, and Claire swallowed hard. “I’m Gideon Bliss. And in case you’re wondering whether I’m here lawfully, the answer is yes.” He stuck out a large hand, calluses prominent on his trigger finger. They reminded Claire of her father’s hands. “David—Mr. Comfrey—gave me permission to visit the museum.” His eyes glinted with little flecks of gold and humor.
Claire found herself at a loss for words and not just because he’d invoked the name of the Worshipful Master of the Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge. She sank into the depths of his verdant eyes, while the mellifluous voice rolled over her. Just before she nodded off, he stopped speaking. She shook herself. “Oh, I see. Well, I’ll leave you to it.” Sheesh, Claire, are you shooting for the most pitiful female in Washington award?
Bliss hadn’t moved. “You say you’re the docent here? Could you help me find something?”
Claire dropped her eyes and mumbled, “Uh…”
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“Um…this is my first day. I…I doubt if I can help you.”
He chuckled. “So you didn’t actually mean anything by your first question.”
“My first…Oh, well, you know, that was sort of…rhetorical. I mean, no one is supposed to be here. Other than me. And of course them.” She waved at the group, who had now begun to congregate by the elevator doors. All except for the two boys, who were nowhere to be seen, and their mother, who continued to sprawl blithely on the President’s priceless antique chair.
Her abrupt answer seemed to annoy Bliss. “I see.” He turned back to the bookcase and pulled a large, dusty leather tome off the shelf. Claire spent a painful second staring at his rigid back and finally tore herself away, visions of emerald eyes filled with admiration at her beauty quickly evaporating.

A Mason's mark penny

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