October 19, 2019

Blog Tour: COLLATERAL DAMAGE by Frederick Lee Brooke

Today I’m happy to help promote Collateral Damage, the new release by my bestselling author pal, Frederick Lee Brooke. Fred has engineered a clever marketing campaign that involves providing 26 chapters of Collateral Damage to 26 different blogs, and offering a wonderful giveaway in the process. Please read Chapter 3 below, and make sure to pick up copies of all of Fred’s books on Amazon: Doing Max Vinyl, Zombie Candy, and Collateral Damage.

Here are the giveaway details:

Win a $25 Amazon gift card AND a signed paperback edition of any book by Frederick Lee Brooke!

To win, all you have to do is visit every blog on the 26-day Collateral Damage Excerpt Tour and leave a comment showing that you read the excerpt. That’s it! See the blog list and join the tour…

Monday, June 24          Shannon Mayer (Ch. 1)

Tuesday, June 25          Scott Bury  (Ch. 2)

Wednesday, June 26    Raine Thomas (Ch. 3)

Thursday, June 27        Emily Walker (Ch. 4)

Friday, June 28             Simon Jenner (Ch. 5)

Saturday, June 29        Amberr Meadows (Ch. 6)

Sunday, June 30          Anne Chaconas (Ch. 7)

Monday, July 1             BestsellingReads Ch. 8

Tuesday, July 2            Tyler-Rose Neath (Ch. 9)

Wednesday, July 3      Naomi Leadbeater (Ch. 10)

Thursday, July 4          Mohana Rajakumar (Ch. 11)

Friday, July 5                Helen Hanson (Ch. 12)

Saturday, July 6           Marilou George (Ch. 13)

Sunday, July 7              J.C. Martin (Ch. 14)

Monday, July 8            Corinne O’Flynn (Ch. 15)

Tuesday, July 9            Tawdra Kandle (Ch. 16)

Wednesday, July 10    Martha Bourke (Ch. 17)

Thursday, July 11        Connie M. Chyle (Ch. 18)

Friday, July 12             Cyndi (Ch. 19)

Saturday, July 13         Kenneth Hoss (Ch. 20)

Sunday, July 14            Andrea Kurian (Ch. 21)

Monday, July 15           Andy Holloman (Ch. 22)

Tuesday, July 16           Marilyn Diekman (Ch. 23)

Wednesday, July 17     Christine Nolfi (Ch. 24)

Thursday, July 18        Patricia Sands (Ch. 25)

Friday, July 19              Fred Brooke (Ch. 26)

Frederick Lee Brooke is the author of the widely-acclaimed Annie Ogden mystery series, which includes Doing Max Vinyl, Zombie Candy, and Collateral Damage. The books do not have to be read in order.

Having lived in Switzerland for the past two decades, Brooke has taught English, run a business and learned French, German and Italian. You can find him online at www.FrederickLeeBrooke.com. Sign up for his newsletter and read all about his travels, recipes, and upcoming works!

Follow Fred on Twitter ~ Facebook

 

 

Collateral Damage Chapter 3—Annie

I lay there that night with my eyes closed, in the safety of my bed, Salvatore snoring lightly. We’d spent the day celebrating our six months together. Waiting for sleep, I relived once more the shock of the man’s arm striking the back of my neck, seeing stars. Different images jumbled together in my mind. That garish Mitt Romney mask…the sparkle as my ring caught the sunshine … Salvatore saying, “I’m ready.” In my mind, the images moved in and out of focus and resolved into shapes revolving around each other in wide orbits, moving in unpredictable ways.

When a new day starts, you have no idea if it will be an ordinary day, like every other day, or one that will change your life forever. These things are not written anywhere.

How could I know that tomorrow would bring even more far-reaching events? How could I know that a person I once loved would come back? I had no inkling of the murder that would take place. I did not know how my own obsession and the obsessions of others would spiral out of control and alter our lives.

Sleep wasn’t coming.

An orange glow from the Chicago streetlights filtered through the roll-down shade. Salvatore’s three-day beard turned me on. I wanted to run my fingers over the bristles, feel that roughness. Thousands of razor-sharp points, they followed the curve of his lips, his jaw, his chin, with the whiskers tapering to fine hairs on the ridge below his lower lip. The logic of those genetic patterns fascinated me. You could write an equation for those patterns.

Except for the white. Here and there a blotch of white had invaded an area of black, much more on the left side of his face than the right, random as wildflowers taking over a meadow. Even Poincaré wouldn’t have managed an equation for that.

*          *          *

 

My sister lived in one of those old art deco buildings scattered around Chicago. Living in a building that was itself a work of art enabled her to think of herself as refined, her art history major having proved worthless in the job market.

When I arrived the next morning, after a terrible night’s sleep, I paid no attention to the art deco stairway or the ceiling moldings. Alison stood in her second floor doorway waiting. I heard voices as I came up the stairs, before realizing it was her TV.

“You pathetic woman, why are you being so mysterious? Oh my God, I see what the good news is.” Alison pulled me in by my ring hand. She examined it up close. “Annie, he’s rich. Look at the size of it.”

“I don’t care how much money he’s got,” I said.

She hugged me. “You wouldn’t. I can’t believe my little sister is finally getting married.” I followed her to the couch.

“You know where you can put your ‘finally,’” I said.

The TV blared, making me think she was going deaf. I recognized the familiar shock of white hair of Manning Mathers, the Florida senator. He was making one of his constant pleas to shun sex, drugs, and alcohol. He appeared regularly on the Sunday morning shows, news clips, even late-night comedy. Senator Mathers had become morality spam. Now that she lived alone, Alison had developed a habit of leaving the TV on all the time, no matter what she was doing. I was surprised she listened to this garbage. I picked up the remote and zapped Senator Mathers back to the planet he came from.

Alison looked deep into my eyes, and I studied her back. A single white hair snaked in among the dark brown strands pulled back from her forehead. My sister had aged in the last few months. She had been through stuff no one should ever go through. As if reading my mind, she went on, “I hope you’re not having doubts just because of the Todd and Al situation.”

“Not because of you guys.”

“But you have doubts,” she said, parsing correctly. We were, after all, sisters. We didn’t quite finish each other’s sentences, but sometimes we read each other’s mind. “Doubt is normal, Annie. That’s why it’s a two-step thing. First, you get engaged, then married. You wouldn’t believe how everything changes the minute you’re engaged. Just wait. I’ve got sooooo much to tell you. But I don’t want to put you off. You’re such a scaredy-cat about commitments. Have you set a date?”

“He wants to do it in the summer.”

Alison stared at the ceiling, counting months. “As long as it’s the end of the summer, Mom and Dad won’t care when.”

“They don’t care how long the engagement is.”

“Mom cares about stuff like that,” Alison said. “Anyway, you’re thirty. You’re not taking orders from Mom. But that would make it half a year that you’ve lived together, right? Wasn’t that in August or September?”

“Right before—” I stopped just in time before mentioning one of Alison’s disasters. Her twin tower events. First, in the middle of August, her miscarriage. A horrendous pain, forty minutes in the bathroom, and the baby was gone. That’s how she described it to me, as if that was the end of it. But that wasn’t the end. Three weeks afterward, her bizarre husband Todd had abandoned her. With one day’s notice and not much of a speech, he’d packed his boxes and adios.

“I know what you were going to say. I’m tough. You moved in with Salvatore, and bang, Todd moved out. That’s life.”

Alison made a silly face, but she was faking it. I knew how much therapy had gone into this nonchalant attitude. Talk about rotten luck. I’d considered moving in last fall, but she wouldn’t hear of it, since I’d just gotten serious with Salvatore and since, as she always said, she was fine. Fine is a suburban code word for dreadful, most times.

“You ever hear from that loser?”

Alison shrugged. “We’re doing arbitration. It’s cheaper than lawyers, and when you both want out, it’s recommended. The problem is, he keeps blowing off the appointments. I haven’t seen him in six weeks.”

She was looking at my ring again.

“Salvatore’s really stuck on me,” I said. “It’s a nice feeling. He’s so considerate and everything.”

“You could do worse, Annie.” Then she got a serious look on her face. “You said there was bad news. Don’t tell me you’re pregnant?”

“I got attacked this morning.”

My sister’s face didn’t change. “I told you how everything changes when you get engaged, Annie. Before you’re engaged, it’s called passionate love. The day you’ve got your diamond, it becomes an attack.”

Humor is a typical escape mechanism, although neither my sister nor I was known for possessing much of it. Alison was more prone to cynical attacks. She could wear you down with her view of the world. She didn’t want to hear this kind of bad news any more than I wanted to tell her.

I included the part about the man in the leather jacket who projected his billboard fantasy on me. My sister and I had been the victim of a sexual predator as preteens, so events like this had special meaning. Alison’s face turned three shades paler, red splotches telegraphing her rage.

“This happened on Belmont? Seven in the morning?”

“Right near Starbucks. Probably ten people watching out the window.”

“Where are the frigging cops when you need them?” Alison looked away in disgust. “Manpower out the gazoo for parking tickets, but when a woman is fighting someone off, they’re stuffing donuts in their faces.”

“It happened so fast. He probably scoped the area before he did it. It was over in thirty seconds, and he was across the street before I could get my head together and chase him.”

“People are idiots. A woman could be lying dead in the street, people would walk right past checking their Facebook feed.”

“What got me was the mask. Why would anyone wear a creepy mask like that?”

She shrugged. “Obviously didn’t want to be recognized. What about you, Annie? How were you afterwards? These things are upsetting. You would’ve had to take me away in a straightjacket, babbling nonsense.”

“I gave him a knuckle sandwich. That was the army talking. I don’t think he was expecting that.”

“And a kick in the knee, you said,” my sister said. “Was he hurt?”

“We’ll never know.”

She picked up an envelope from the coffee table. “But we will know who’s sending you mail. Here, open this.”

“For me?”

“Found it in my mailbox.”

Alison went on talking about how it must have been dropped off, not mailed, but I wasn’t listening. It took only a glance, just one glance, and I knew that handwriting. I knew whose it was, but I didn’t understand how I could be seeing it here, in Chicago, in Alison’s mailbox. My name was written on the front in a spidery cursive that no one else ever used. Handwriting burned onto my brain like no other.

It was his.

Yet how could it be?

I turned the envelope over. Sealed, nothing on the back. No stamp. No return address. Just annie on the front, all small letters, a message in itself. I only knew one man who wrote in small letters. I only knew one man with this handwriting.

“Annie, you’re all red. Are you okay?”

I dropped the envelope on the table, emotion engulfing me. It took me back to Iraq, so many other envelopes, other letters. This handwriting…but what did it mean? People didn’t come back from the dead. I knew it was exactly five hundred twenty-three days since we’d broken up. The first three months of the year always have exactly ninety days, except in a leap year, while the second quarter always has ninety-one. Chunking a few sums is easy. Anyone can do it. I could compute data like that in my head, but I couldn’t make sense of this handwriting in front of me here, now. I didn’t trust myself to speak.

“Who’s it from? Aren’t you going to open it?”

“Junk mail. Throw it in the garbage.”

Alison’s face twisted in annoyance. “It’s not junk. I’ve never seen you like this. What’s this letter doing in my mailbox? It’s got your name on it, Annie. Either you open it, or I’m going to do it for you.”

“Wait.”

Alison was poised to slit it open. This presented me with a brand new problem. A problem I’d never expected to have, for the simple reason I’d never expected Michael Garcia to contact me again.

“Who wrote it, Annie? I have a right to know, since it came to my apartment.”

“She’s right, you know.”

Hearing his voice, for me, was like a bomb going off. It came from behind me. I wouldn’t have trusted my ears if not for Alison’s reaction. I would have assumed it was some auditory memory, a weird distortion in my brain brought on by the sight of his handwriting. But my sister’s face contorted into a look of pure horror. I saw her sucking in breath, and then her scream filled the room.

I spun around. Where had he even come from? My heart literally stopped beating at the sight of him, then started racing. My throat filled up. Stringy uncombed hair hung down almost to his shoulders. I had known him with a buzz cut. He looked as if he hadn’t cut it since he got out of the army. At least the mustache and beard were trimmed. He looked skinny. The one thing that hadn’t changed: those large, blazing brown eyes.

Alison screamed, pointing as if this were some knife-wielding home invader. Michael smiled, palms up, nonthreatening. She only stopped screaming when I got up and went to him. I stood in front of him, looking into his eyes, taking in that smirk. I felt a swirling chaos of feelings. It was as if someone took all my unending loneliness and pain of recent years, and uncorked the bottle it had wallowed in.

I wound up and landed my right fist on his cheekbone. All my strength went into the blow. He didn’t even put a hand up. I hit him so hard he staggered backwards and fell, tripping over his own feet. My knuckles hurt like hell. Michael landed on the carpet and bumped his head against the wall. For a few seconds he rubbed his face where I’d hit him.

“Shit, Annie, what’d you do that for?”

I turned back to my sister, still sitting on the couch, where she gaped in silence. I felt my whole body trembling.

“Alison, this is Michael Garcia, my old boyfriend from Iraq. Michael, meet my sister.”

Don’t Miss This Stop on the Prize-Packed ZOMBIE CANDY Tour!

Please enjoy this excerpt from Zombie Candy, a genre-bending mystery by Frederick Lee Brooke. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including $550 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, and 5 autographed copies of the book.

 

They sit at long tables under grape arbors. Heavy bunches of grapes hang from the vines. An eight-piece dance band in white tuxes and black bow ties plays tunes from every decade. Heavy silver dessert forks and coffee spoons rest untouched on the linen tablecloth. She can’t eat another bite. All the glasses, at least, she has used: white wine, red wine, water.

A light breeze comes up. It feels heavenly on her face. With nightfall, the heat has gone out of the air. The heat must be trapped in these old stone walls — the walls of the farmhouse, the walls surrounding the vineyard. The aroma of fresh herbs floats from a nearby garden, rosemary, and mint, she thinks as she watches people dancing. The bride, her beautiful white dress with the daring silk bodice; the groom’s parents, a man with close-cropped gray hair and a red rose in his lapel, and his wife in a shimmering blue dress that looks specially made by an Italian designer.

She keeps one eye on the young man in the navy suit with the green silk tie. He looks like something Michelangelo might have sculpted, then breathed life into. This young man knows everyone here, and has danced every dance for the last hour. But he’s dancing with both older and younger women, probably cousins, friends, the mothers of cousins and friends. She has no idea who he is.

She feels outclassed in her red silk dress from Bloomingdale’s. She had worn the same dress at a wedding in June in Chicago. No one here has ever seen it. If there are any more weddings this fall, she will just have to go shopping in Siena or even Florence, that’s all there is to it.

“May I have this dance?”

Like a vision, Michelangelo man stands beside her. Has somebody cast a magic spell here? How did he sneak up on her like that? She didn’t even notice the song had ended. Or that another one had started.

“I’m not much of a dancer.”

“We’ll see.” He tugs her hand.

“Really, you don’t have to.” He obviously feels a duty to make sure every woman in the place gets at least one dance.

“Of course I don’t have to. I’ve danced with all the women I was obligated to dance with. Now I want to dance with you.”

She doesn’t need more arm-twisting than this. He leads her to the dance floor. The band is playing a quiet song from the 1940s, she thinks, something familiar. Grape arbors surround the dance floor and fill the air with sweet perfume. He turns and puts one hand around her waist. “My name is Giancarlo,” he says, switching to Italian.

“Candace,” she says. “I’ve been here for three weeks. I can’t believe I’m at this beautiful wedding.”

“Your Italian is marvelous.”

Your lips are marvelous, she thinks. Your curly hair, the color of black coffee, and your handsome chiseled face are marvelous too. But you can’t say such things to a man you’ve never met before. Not in Tuscany. At least not before the end of the first dance. He glides around the floor, leading her with slight shifts in his weight, slight pressure with his hands. Her feet know where to go, just as her mouth knows how to form the words.

“We don’t have weddings like this in Chicago. The food … the music … the grapes.”

“My uncle’s house is nice,” Giancarlo agrees. “But I am sorry for Lucia. She has married a playboy. I do not think they will be happy.”

“They certainly look happy.”

Giancarlo makes a face. “I should not talk about the details. I know him. I’ve known him all my life, and he will never change. I tried to talk to my cousin, but she is in love and blind. What can we do?”

Giancarlo’s smile, Candace realizes, has a hypnotizing effect. Thank God a fast dance is starting, the Bee Gees. He makes no attempt to bring her back to the table, merely releases his hold on her waist.

“You are a beautiful dancer,” he says when the Bee Gees song ends. The band takes a break. Everyone is leaving the dance floor. Her heart sinks. Somehow she has managed to cling to him for two dances, something no woman before her had managed. Now he will bring her back to her table, his duty done. He will go back to his people.

“Thank you for the lovely dances.”

“Come, let’s get some fresh air. I’ll show you around,” Giancarlo says. And the really amazing thing is he doesn’t let go of her hand.
 

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About the book: Weaving elements of mystery, horror and romance in a hilarious romp that starts in Chicago and ends in a quaint medieval town in sun-drenched Tuscany, Zombie Candy is a genre-hopping knee-slapper of a novel. Get it on Amazon.

About the author: Frederick Lee Brooke has worked as an English teacher, language school manager and small business owner and has travelled extensively in Tuscany, the setting of part of Zombie Candy. Visit Fred on his website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.