Friday, April 17, 2020

I Saw 2 Authentic Egyptian Mummies!

When I was researching Thousand Dollar Pharaoh, I came across an obscure reference to an authentic Egyptian mummy in a museum in the western United States. I live on the east coast, so I just shrugged and went on writing.

This holiday season, my husband and I got hooked on the Hallmark Channel movies. First the Christmas, then the Winter themes. They were so romantic. He surprised me at the beginning of March with train tickets to Denver, Colorado. We'd have our own little Hallmark winter romance. 48 hours in coach on Amtrak was not so lovey-dovey, but when we finally arrived, we bought Denver CityPASS tickets so we could go to the zoo, the aviation museum and aquarium.

Not having been to Denver, we had no idea how popular it was. We tried for two days and couldn't park within a 30 minute walk to the zoo. The Denver Museum of Nature & Science was nearby and had underground parking so we opted in. I can't tell you how surprised and delighted I was to serendipitously stumble into the mummy room!

I'm currently writing the 2nd book in my Inappropriate series and my heroine, Sandra, is tasked with obtaining an authentic Egyptian Mummy for her employer's party. The working title is Inexcusable. First Line: I hate shopping for dead bodies.

Well I have so much more knowledge, thanks to the Denver Zoo being overcrowded. Sandra might just be able to purchase that mummy after all.

I took a photo of everything!


































 
 






Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Deception Series By Sherry Morris


THE DECEPTION SERIES
By Sherry Morris

The Deception Series is all about counterfeit money, patriotism and family.  And how much of a mess lovely Secret Service Agent Chloe Lambert makes of it all.  Books 1 & 2 are set in 1945 and center around her career and the whirlwind adventures she faced.  Books 3 & 4 focus on Chloe and her adult children discovering decisions she made in the past create shock and awe at the turn of the century.

Try it today!


Excerpt from HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL
The Deception Series Book 1
by Sherry Morris

January 1945 in Washington, DC

January 1945 in Washington, DC

Miss Chloe Lambert stepped off the streetcar at the corner of Fourteenth and C Streets. Frigid air played tag with her breath and steam from underground. Strolling carefully on the slippery sidewalk, she watched as Sergeant Bill Blandings hoisted the loading dock door and stepped outside the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. He struck a match to light the cigarette dangling from his lip then ascended the ramp, locking his gaze onto hers. Heart pounding, Chloe paused to refresh her lipstick. Bill sucked the smoke deep into his lungs as he watched and waited. Finally exhaling, he blew five smoke rings. She stepped up to him and scattered the circles with her blue gloved hand.

He said, “You are one gorgeous dame tonight.”

Chloe gazed into his midnight blue eyes. Nobody has eyes like Bill. He has the devil in them. They are so darned…irresistible. She brushed him aside.

He threw down his cigarette and snuffed it out with one twist of his black steel-toed police boot. Powdery snow blew off the retaining walls as they walked down the salted ramp. Chloe and Bill entered the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. He lowered the door. It thumped against the concrete floor.

She led the way through the cavernous federal building. The scent of floor polish wafted up from the pristine terrazzo.

He confided, “We’re pretty much alone now. The bureaucrats departed hours ago. The charwomen came and went. Just the skeletal police detail is left. Me, Schwartz and Krankowski.”

Bill followed Chloe into the printing room. He balked. “Jeez, this place is a pigsty.” In her sweet southern drawl Chloe said, “Alcohol was the most popular guest at our office party today, resulting in a whole run of botched hundreds. They didn’t change the plates. The same image is printed on both sides of the notes.” She pointed to the sloppily bundled currency and a big ink stain on the floor. 

“They ought not to have bothered working at all. As the currency inspector, I have to file a report. I feel like a lousy snitch.”

Bill eyed her fur. “Hey, where’d ya get the coat from? It’s not from that weasel

Myron in personnel, is it?”

“Eww! No, Bill. It’s Mrs. Grogan’s. My landlady. She let me borrow it. I told her this was a special night.”

Bill grabbed her collar. They kissed hungrily.

Finally taking a much-needed breath, Chloe pulled away and smiled as she unbuttoned the full-length sable. She was wearing his favorite blue dancing shoes…and nothing else.

“Jeez, Chloe—lay off of them doughnuts.”

Before she could process the insult, Bill slipped his fingers under the fur. She shoved him away.

Her voice trembled, “I won’t be your dirty little secret anymore. Divorce Vera.”

There, I’ve said it.

Bill ran his fingers through Chloe’s soft red hair. He knew just the spot to touch. “Lovey, we’ve been all through this. You know I can’t possibly divorce her while he’s in office. How would it look if the President’s secretary all of a sudden up and got divorced? The Republicans would go wild! And it’d be rough on my little girls. Just wait a little bit longer. Lovey, I promise we’ll be together soon. He ain’t gonna be Prez for the rest of his life ya know.”

Chloe fought back tears. Whatever was I thinking? Momma was right. I should have stayed in the mountains. But eleven months ago, her country had called for good girls to fill the shoes of the boys at war. When I was still a good girl. I had no idea what I’d have to do for my country. It might as well have been eleven millennia ago. I can’t ever go back. Not now. She shoved her hands in the deep silk-lined pockets…where she felt the cold steel of a revolver.

Five shots exploded down from the supervisors’ catwalk. Chloe dove under a metal desk, pulling in an olive drab trash can for cover. Bill slumped face down into a carelessly heaped pile of hundreds.

Chloe peeked from behind the can. She watched a female silhouette blow smoke from the barrel and stroll back along the catwalk then out of sight. No! This can’t be happening. I’m in a bad movie. Bad dream. Bad world.

Shaking, Chloe crawled to Bill and rolled him over. A C-note covered his eyes. She yanked it off and screamed in horror.

Chloe ran through the building and slammed straight into the loading dock door. She struggled to hoist it high enough to crawl under. Rolling onto the ramp, she pushed herself up on hands and knees, then to full height. She put her hand on the revolver in her pocket and lit out running. As she looked back over her shoulder, she slipped on the icy sidewalks, battering her knees.

Back on her feet, she forced herself onward. A dry lump ached in the back of her mouth, forced open from heavy breathing. Frozen rain stung her face. As Chloe tumbled again she pulled her hand out of her pocket, not letting go of the pistol. The cobblestones abraded her wrists as she broke her fall.

As she scrambled up again, one blue heel snapped off in a snow-covered grate, propelling her face first into a police call box. Moaning in agony, tasting blood, Chloe looked over her shoulder. A lone car sped past. Forcing herself onward, she made it to the Fourteenth Street Bridge. Gasping for breath, Chloe leaned over the concrete railing and threw the revolver. It slid along the surface of the frozen Potomac River. “Damn it. I can’t even dispose of a gun properly. It doesn’t matter anyhow. It isn’t the murder weapon.” Murder weapon? “No!”

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The Deception Series Book 2
by Sherry Morris

August 1945 in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt

Moaning as she regained consciousness, Chloe raised her head and twisted it from side to side, struggling to understand. Where was she? A jolt of searing pain in her upper right arm brought her focus back to the job. When she had signed on to become a United States Secret Service Agent in the counterfeiting division, they had neglected to mention all of the occupational hazards. She had quickly learned the missions providing an adrenaline rush always seemed to be accompanied by physical pain.


As she cleared her mind, she realized it was sometime after midnight inside an ancient tomb. On the dusty earthen floor next to her, Grover Cleveland seemed to glare ominously from the bloody thousand dollar bill stuck to a mummy’s severed arm.



Grabbing the three-thousand year old limb for leverage, she struggled to stand as she allowed her eyes to adjust to the flicker from a stubby red candle on the floor of the burial chamber. Oh God, no. Who desecrated this mummy?



Chloe remembered tripping down some wooden stairs and grunting on a landing. As she clambered up, two men appeared at the top of the steps and chased after her. She scurried down, rounded three corners and squeezed into a small breech in an earthen wall. Did I lose them? No, they must’ve knocked me out cold. But my head doesn’t really hurt. Did they make their getaway or are they lurking, waiting to finish me off after they interrogate me?



What’s that smell? I know that smell. From where? She closed her eyes tight. Remembering a winter night. A white fur coat and Bill…Hundred Dollar Bill. The printing room at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington. The woman up on the catwalk. The flash. Six shots ringing out, the last one louder. The silhouette blowing smoke from the gun. The lithe shadow sashaying into blackness. Her lavender French perfume which commingled with hair lacquer and cigarette smoke. Bill’s assailant. . .his wife loomed there. Is here somewhere now.



Chloe you’re delusional. What would his American wife be doing in Egypt? Ha ha ha. Good one, Chloe girl.



She staggered over to the candle and grabbed it. A bead of hot wax dripped onto her ring finger. She drew in a short breath. Carefully cradling the mummy’s arm, realizing how sacred it was, she approached the three open stone coffins within the chamber. A female corpse had flowing red hair and a bent left arm. A black-haired male had his hands crossed at his groin. The third was a bald, one-armed female. Shivering at the sight, Chloe brooded over her mission and strategy. She gently replaced the arm on the mummy closest to her. Mummy! Yuk. It appeared to fit. Staring at the thousand dollar bill, her mind kicked into analytical gear.



Chloe examined the ancient corpse. Double ear piercings. Tight banding around the forehead where the headdress would have been. No trace of hair whatsoever. Bent right arm. Henna on the long fingernails. Fingers curled in, as if gripping a scepter, which some evil tomb robber had probably helped himself to. This mummy was a royal woman and was in bad shape. Her mouth and chest had been bashed in on the left side. Right arm ripped off. Hacked off. Chloe’s stomach contracted as the bile churned. What kind of people could do such a heinous deed? The bad guys could. But who were the bad guys? Two of them surprised me in the upper burial chamber. One or both no doubt responsible for. . .



She grabbed the wound in her right arm. Her fingers slipped in the coagulated blood. Pain shot up her arm, all the way to her teeth.



I’ve been shot!



Anger seethed through her. Great. I’m going to die. Alone in a creepy crypt. But wait. I’m not dying yet. I’m up and about. The bleeding seems to have stopped. So it’s either a flesh wound or else the bullet is lodged in my arm. Fine. Take it like a big girl, Chloe. You’re the one who volunteered to jump right on into the boots of one of our boys at war. You are an American and you will see this mission though. The fire of her resolve manifested itself in the nerve endings of her wound.



Chloe flinched and stumbled backward as a cat pounced from a stone ledge onto the mummy’s chest. Larger than most cats she’d ever seen. Tawny yellow-gray fur, a long tapering tail and striped markings. A Sand Cat. It kneaded and dug into the bandages before circling three times, nesting in the chest or what was left of it inside the shreds of black, tan and red burial wrappings.



Now that is just wrong.



“Here kitty. Nice kitty.” She held her fingers to its nose. The cat sniffed and turned away. Not even a lick. Chloe petted and stroked the shaggy soft fur.



“Come on kitty. Come on girl. Come out of the coffin. Out you go.” Gently tugging on the cat near the back of its neck, it wouldn’t budge.



Dates. I have some dates left. Where is my bag? Chloe spun around until she spied it near the hole in the wall where she’d penetrated the chamber. The cat kept an eye on Chloe as she shoved her arm into the tapestry carpet bag and fished out a date. “Here you go kitty.” Chloe offered the sticky sweet fruit. Allowing the cat one lick before pulling the date away, “No, no, no girl. I guess you’re a girl. Let’s play fetch.” Chloe tossed the date on top of her bag. The cat leapt after it, with a piece of currency stuck to its tail.



Chloe petted the feline as it licked the date and even gave her one scratchy lick of thanks on her hand. Swishing back and forth, the tail betokened gratitude.



Hmm. . . A U.S. thousand dollar bill. She removed it from the tail. These haven’t been minted since 1936. Well, isn’t that a coincidence. That’s just the date on here.



Trying hard to examine the bill for authenticity in the dim candle light, it appeared real enough. She rubbed her fingers over a tacky patch. What was making the bills sticky? Taking the candle back to the stone coffin, Chloe shoved her left arm inside, cringing, feeling around. The brittle bandages crinkled. Or was that the currency?



Peering inside, she found a stash of thousand dollar bills. Chloe dashed over and coaxed the cat off of her bag, more or less yanking it out from underneath the animal. She stuffed it with the cash, filling it one third full. Feeling around the bottom of the sarcophagus, her ring bumped something metallic and clanked. Her wedding ring. She smiled and remembered the National Cathedral where Momma had walked her down the aisle. It still seemed like a dream. Did it really happen?



Chloe sighed. Her whirlwind action-adventure romance had culminated in marriage to fellow agent, Mike Taurus. In the picture dictionary of life under the listing for man was his photograph. Perfect in every way, except when he opened his mouth and said something completely inappropriate. What a mouth. Firm lips. Slightly crooked two front teeth. Hot probing tongue. The world’s best kisser. Oh Mike. I wish you were here on this mission with me.



The cat meowed three times. Chloe turned to see the fur standing up along its spine. It must sense danger. Chloe spun around, but saw nothing. She returned her attention to the coffin and dug deep, running her fingers over the metal. They had to be plates. Plates to print currency. Shazam. Holding the dwindling candle between the mummy’s legs, she verified her deduction. Her stomach settled and she smiled.



Chloe gasped and nearly dropped the candle as the cat pounced on the mummy’s face. Hissing and with fur bristled up on its arched back, the agitated creature leapt across the three sarcophaguses, onto her carpet bag and then circled back to retrace her route. Conspiring voices from elsewhere in the tomb loomed in the distance. Speaking English.



Relieved she didn’t set the mummy on fire, her pulse raced while she scanned the chamber for a weapon. She hurriedly dug through her bag and extracted her revolver.



Now what? Think Chloe, think. “All mighty God, forgive me and be with me.” She reached into the next gritty stone coffin, grabbed the mummy’s straight right arm, closed her eyes and yanked. Oh did that hurt. Then pain in her arm shot both ways, up to her brain and stinging into her fingertips.



She focused on her disgusting task. Eww. . .just like trying to carve the leg off of an over-baked dried out chicken. Like the one she’d ruined for Uncle Edmund’s wake. That incident was why Daddy had insisted she get her degree in Home Economics.



Chloe waved her hands in the air, shaking off the disgusting creepy task she was performing. Her injured arm screamed in pain. Tears of agony ran down her face as she likened it to the pain this mummy might be feeling in the afterlife, having his arm ripped off. Inhaling the stale air, she looked up at the low stone ceiling and prayed, “And all mighty God of the sun and whoever else these poor old people believed in, whom so ever is guarding this tomb, please, please, please, forgive me.”



She tugged and twisted until the limb finally snapped off. Opening her eyes, she blinked and sneezed as dust flew. Dust and dead bugs and mummified flesh. Shoot! She had to unwind the bandages to get the arm loose. Eww! Ancient flesh and bones. Stop looking at me! Why did they have to perform an eye and mouth opening ceremony after they’d prepared the mummies? They’re all watching me do these horrible things to them. Tears trickled down her dusty face. She shuddered. Good grief, she was desecrating a pharaoh.



Somehow, she had to focus on this task and convince herself she wasn’t actually tomb robbing, abusing a corpse and touching a dead person. This was just another day at the office…out in the field. Just doing her routine job in a routine way. Concealing the identity of this royal mummy, in order to protect her. What was left of her. And in the process, desecrating the mummy’s boyfriend here next to her. Great, just great. Now two spirits can’t rest in peace and enjoy the afterlife.



Shaking off the spine-chilling assignment, literally by shaking her head, Chloe positioned the straight arm on the mummy with the bashed in face and the sarcophagus full of dough. If her research and hunches happened to be correct, these were the remains of a very important royal mummy. A pharaoh. A lady pharaoh. How divine. Wow. Chloe felt humbled in her presence. And more determined to protect the mummy and see that the counterfeiters were prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.



As she placed the bent right arm in her carpet bag, the cat somersaulted into it. Fine. Come along. Together they squeezed through the two foot breech in the earthen wall and into main chamber of the tomb. The air wasn’t as dusty, but it sure was muggy and hot. Who’s great idea was it to traipse off on a counterfeiting caper in the Egyptian dessert in August? Orpha’s. Well, yeah, Orpha had volunteered for this mission, but Chloe had been drafted because the brass knew she had minored in Egyptology.



Breathless, Chloe scurried up the wooden stairs in the tight passage way, pushing the wall with her left hand, painfully hugging the carpet bag handles and candle with her right. Zigzagging through the ancient passages, she suspected the eyes on the hieroglyphics loomed judging her. As she briefly read the simple curses, she realized they were dooming her to be eaten by a crocodile, hippopotamus and then a rhinoceros. Yet some of the characters bespoke to urge her onward, as if history depended on her to complete this chapter. If circumstances had been different, Chloe would have loved to have lingered and examined the hieroglyphics. Maybe even buy an animal symbol necklace thingy at the gift shop. What do they call those? Take photographs with her Brownie camera. Mug and pose and what a fun honeymoon this would be. Mike. . .



Chloe forged onward and upward as fast as she could. When the main entrance of the tomb spit her into the black Egyptian night, she extinguished the flame. Climbing the steep steps, she gasped for breath before making a sharp right at the top. She huffed her way through the sand hurrying toward the thunder of approaching hooves. Chloe stifled a scream as a camel rounded the next corner in her path.


Excerpt from Million Dollar Momma
The Deception Series Book 3
by Sherry Morris

Reston, Virginia 2005

On a gusty July Thursday, my telephone reverberated to the tune of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”. I shuddered because I knew who was calling. I had set that distinctive ring tone to my father’s number. I was screening his calls because he always had something vile to say about my mother and I had listened to too many of his outrageous lies. My stomach churned while I waited for him to hang up after the fourth ring like he always did when the automatic answering machine kicked on. I held my breath, hearing with relief the click of the machine.

The robotic voice said, “Hello, no one is able to come to the phone. Please leave your message after the tone.”

When I heard the beep, I swallowed the big wad that clogged my throat.

“Oh-Donna, she’s trying to kill me!”

I ran to the portable handset and punched the talk button. “Dad! Daddy! Who’s trying to kill you?”

In a strained breathless whisper, he said, “Your mother.”

“What? When?”

“Right now!” he whimpered.

I overheard Momma’s voice in the background. “Nobody’s going to care about you. You damned old fool!”

After a dull thud, the line went dead.

Oh my God. I detected my breath echoing out in audible pants. I couldn’t believe this. What was I supposed to do? Call the police on my own mother? Not an option. No way! I shook my head. This was just too bizarre to wrap my mind around. Momma was a good girl through and through. She might get furious with Daddy once in a while but she’d never ever hurt him. But what if she was really trying to kill him? Lord knows, he’d manipulated, stifled and belittled her for decades. Had he finally done something so dastardly to drive her across the line of sanity? Or perhaps he’d just pulled another one of his everyday mind games and Momma just reached her breaking point? What if she really was trying to kill him? Think, Donna, think! The Meddlesteins! Yes! I would call the Meddlesteins.

Pressing the end button on my phone, I automatically plucked the number of Gloria and Roderick Meddlestein from the cobwebs of my childhood. They’d been my parents’ across-the-street neighbors for more than thirty years. When I was little, I could always count on them to help me when I was home alone and needed an adult to relight the furnace or check out a strange noise that had me frightened. They were such good people. I prayed they hadn’t changed their number. I felt a flush of heat rise up and envelop my body as I dialed with trembling fingers, agonizing in the seemingly slow motion.

Gloria Meddlestein answered on the second ring. “Hello?”

“Mrs. Meddlestein?” My voice sounded unnaturally shrill.

“Yes.”

“This is Donna Payne. You know, I used to live across the street from you?”

She cheerfully said, “Yes, of course. Hello, Donna, how are you, dear?”

“Listen, I just received a phone call from my father. He said my mother was trying to kill him.” I faked a laugh. “Will you please go over and check on him?”

Without much of a pause, she said, “I’ll send Roddy over. You want to give me your number so I can call you back?”

“Thank you so much, Mrs. Meddlestein.”

I gave my phone number and ended the call.

My mind was racing. Tammy works close by, she can zip over and talk some sense into those two. She is their favorite kid and has them wrapped around her pretty little finger. What is the name of that gym where she works? I frantically punched in the numbers of the telephone directory. A prerecorded voice told me to state the party’s name and city.

“Rocky’s Gym, Washington, DC.”

I waited and waited.

Finally a live person came on the line. “Ma’am, we only retrieve Virginia numbers. You have to hang up and dial one, two–oh–two, five–five–five, one–two–one–two.”

Shoot! I ended the call and tried again. Tears streamed down my face. Big almond-sized drops. This time a computer-generated voice revealed the phone number for the gym.

The surly employee who had answered the phone at Rocky’s Gym had deserted me in the purgatory of hold. Five minutes passed as I waited on the telephone line for my forty-three-year-old adopted sister Tammy, personal trainer to the Capitol Hill pork barrels, all those congressmen, senators, lawyers and lobbyists who thought they ruled the universe. Come on, come on already. Tammy, you’re three minutes from their house. It might be a matter of life or—

I wouldn’t let myself think the last word. My stomach churned and I tasted a burning sourness in my throat. This was taking too long. I punched the button to end the call and then pushed redial. Wedging the house phone in between my right ear and shoulder, I picked up my cell phone and dialed the Meddlesteins. The tiny blue phone on my left ear just rang and rang.

I couldn’t stand this inactivity. I had to do something. I furiously wiped imaginary crumbs off my pistol gray granite countertops. Stomping into the utility room, I threw the damp rag in the empty laundry basket on top of the dryer. As I grabbed the broom and glanced around, I realized there wasn’t anything to clean. I had sterilized the place last evening in preparation for my trip to the writers’ conference in New York today. I didn’t want to get killed in a plane crash and then be embarrassed at the mess I’d left. What impression would that leave behind? No, I was a good, clean girl. I shoved the broom back up into its holder and shut the door.

My neck and shoulder ached from squeezing the portable handset to my ear. Never realized how heavy my head was. I grabbed the house phone and erectly speed-walked into the hardwood foyer. I stumbled over my yellow backpack. Next to it, my pink overstuffed duffel bag leaned lopsidedly against the etched glass front door. A defiant beep pounded in my right ear. I ended the call to Tammy and slapped the phone down on the teacart, beside my purse and plane ticket to New York.

I closed the never-ending ringing of the Meddlesteins’ call on my cell phone. Thunder cracked outside. The rain commenced its devilish needle pricking on the cedar shake roof of my end-unit townhouse. I folded the cell phone and clipped it onto the canvas belt on my sleeveless khaki shirtdress.

I shuffled into the powder room and yanked tissues out of the box to blow my nose on. Looking in the mirror, I tried touching up the black rings around my powder blue eyes but the mascara kept running through the tears. Blue eyes. How come I was the only one in my family with blue eyes? Momma’s eyes were green. Daddy had brown eyes. Oh God, Daddy! What’s going on between you two? I knelt on the floor, grabbed my curly blond hair back and lost my breakfast. Momma used to hold my hair back when I threw up. I remember when Tammy had her tonsils removed and was so sick afterward. Momma made me hold my sister’s ebony black hair back. I thought it was so gross and mean at the time but now I knew she was teaching me compassion and nurturing. Eventually calming down, I cleaned myself up.

After strapping on the backpack, I slung my crocheted purse strap over my right shoulder, maneuvered the overstuffed duffel away from the front door and opened it. The wind gushed in. I flinched as I watched lightning strike the field behind the townhouses across from me on Spyglass Street. Heaving the bag over the threshold and onto my brown brick stoop, I propped it against my foot, shut the door and locked up.

I pressed the automatic key twice and listened to the doors unlock on my black Chevy Suburban. As soon as I stepped out from under the portico, I was drenched. Running to the vehicle, I opened the rear cargo door and heaved in the duffel. Struggling to free myself from the backpack, I pulled one of those unthought-of muscles in my side. Grimacing and wincing, I stowed the luggage, slammed the cargo door and raced to the driver’s side, climbing in as another bolt split the Bradford pear tree in my front yard. The little hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I really loved that pear tree.

I started the engine, shifted into overdrive and accelerated through the narrow winding, private streets of my planned community. After switching the front and rear wipers on, I fumbled in my purse to make sure that I’d remembered my ticket. A paper cut cinched that mystery. I sucked on the index finger of my right hand as I stopped at the red light. I spun the dial to defrost while trying to see through the fogged-up windshield. Soaked and shivering, I slid the temperature lever to high. I switched on the seat warmer as I floored it through the intersection on Route Seven.

Darn it, Daddy. Why do you always have to pull one of your stunts just when my life is going so well? Am I not constitutionally entitled to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”? And if Momma is trying to kill you, I can’t say she wasn’t provoked by all your years of manipulation. I don’t have time to run over and referee. I’m going to miss my flight.

As furious as I was at him, I knew there were shuttles leaving for New York every hour. I’d just have to pay a fee and stand by for a later flight. Damn it, Daddy, you’re costing me extra money and I’ll miss early registration. I hated attending conferences without a name badge identifying me as one of the group. If I was late today, I wouldn’t be able to get mine until tomorrow morning.

I tensed up even more as I approached the exit for the Dulles Toll Road. If I turned here, I might be able to make the next shuttle flight to New York. Or a few more miles down the road, I could squeeze onto the conveyer belt they called Route Sixty-Six, the road to the Nation’s Capital, Washington, and the misery of my parents’ house.

Before I had made up my mind, my cell phone rang out. I fumbled, unable to unhook it from my belt. I unlatched my seat belt and wrestled to get the phone loose.

Simultaneously, I heard a thud and then glass shattering. I shielded my face with my hands as a deer hurtled toward me. I felt the air bag inflating against me and the sharp stab of the antler piercing my right shoulder. I slammed on the brakes with both feet. The vehicle skidded to a lurching stop as the air bag deflated. Impaled on the deer, I was ejected out of the Chevy.

The buck and I bowled down a prickly embankment. The searing pain in my shoulder was alternately overwhelmed by the weight of the beast when he reigned on top. I felt the antler breaking loose from my shoulder just before my world somersaulted into darkness.

Hearing a thumping whir, I blinked my eyes open. I struggled, unable to move. Someone was holding me down. I focused on his thickly haired brown arms and then down to his blue latex-gloved hands.

“She’s coming to.”

I screamed. Screams of fright, frustration and burning agony. Screams that I couldn’t hear.

“Calm down, Miss. You’re gonna be all right. We’re flying you to Fairfax Hospital. We should be landing momentarily. What’s your name?” The man removed the oxygen mask from my face.

“Ohhh…”

“I’m so sorry, sweetheart. You’re really beat up. Can you tell me your name?”

“Ohhh…Donna.”

“Donna? Good. Do you know what today is?”

Teardrops spilled. I didn’t know. The rhythmic whoop of the helicopter distracted me.

“It’s okay, sweetheart. You’ll be just fine. The trauma team will take good care of you.” He replaced the oxygen mask and wiped my tears with gauze.

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Excerpt from Billion Dollar Baby
The Deception Series Book 4
by Sherry Morris
Reston, Virginia 2005

Tammy pounded on the front door of her sister Donna’s Virginia townhouse. Her pink manicure reflected back from the clean etched glass. A hulking monster of a dog placed two paws on the other side of the door. Tammy stumbled backwards and grabbed the wrought iron railing. The canine emitted only a pitiful whimper.

Maybe Oh-Donna’s in the shower. The sky began to spit on Tammy. She descended the twelve brown brick steps and marched around the matching path to the rear of her sister’s end unit townhouse. She opened the gate on the six foot tall privacy fence. The first five feet of it was board on board, the top foot was lattice. After latching the gate, she dashed under the deck.

Tammy tried the French doors in the basement. They were unlocked. She stomped in and slammed the door behind her. Immediately turning her nose up at the overdone red walls and carpet, she hurried across a room filled with guitars, a piano, harmonicas, violins and recording equipment. Tammy took the stairs two at a time. Reaching the top, she flung open a white steel door and was greeted by Scooby Doo-ette. “Hi girl, remember me? How are you, Sugar?”

Something wasn’t right.

The dog was nearly emaciated. Her ribs were showing and she wasn’t her boisterous self.

“Eew! What’s that smell?” The kitchen reeked of urine and there were three piles of poop on the hardwood floor.

“You poor thing! Oh-Donna went away and forgot about you.” Tammy unlocked the French Doors in the kitchen. The dog bolted out onto the deck. She filled her water bowl and then scooped three cups of kibbles into the chrome food dish. The whimpering dog slumped on the pressure treated wood deck, surrounded by terra cotta pots of wilted flowers. Tammy let her back in. The Great Dane immediately chomped down the food and lapped up the water.

The stench in the kitchen gagged her. Tammy opened the cabinet under the kitchen sink and dug out a trash bag, disinfectant and yellow rubber gloves. Yanking seven paper towels off the roll on the pistol-gray granite counter, Tammy went to work cleaning the mess, all the while mumbling, “Oh-Donna you good for nothing bitch. How could you do this to a poor defenseless doggie?” Tammy breathed through her mouth, trying desperately not to inhale. “And how could you be so cruel as to cut me off from Daddy’s money?” A tear rolled down her cheek. “How could you? You’ll pay for this little sister of mine.”

Tammy placed the smelly bag out on the deck and then shoved the cleaning supplies back under the sink.

The air conditioning kicked on. A cold shiver raced up her spine. “Where is the thermostat Scooby Doo-ette? Hunh girl?” The dog brushed up against her silk-stockinged leg and licked her throat. She petted the Great Dane. The pair headed down the hallway, in search of the thermostat.

Tammy stopped in front of the living room, where she glimpsed her sister lying on the sofa.

Lifeless.

Tammy screamed.

The dog cried and licked Tammy’s hand.

“Ohmagod, she’s dead!” Hey, wait a minute, if Oh-Donna is dead, then that means she can’t be executrix of Daddy’s will and so I can get put back on the dole and hey, wait a minute. She’s an old spinster, so I logically will inherit her estate as well...

Tammy sighed. Oh, I’ll probably have to split it with Perry. But at least I’ll get a nice chunk of change.

She looked the corpse over. Her sister lay in the fetal position, with a smile curling the corner of her pale lips. What an angelic porcelain face. Even now, a twinge of jealousy swirled. Oh-Donna was blessed with naturally wavy blonde hair and flawless Caucasian skin. Tammy never did feel like they were real sisters. Even though the Payne’s adopted Tammy as a baby, she never warmed up to their natural daughter, Oh-Donna. But Tammy did feel an allegiance to their son Perry. They were more alike.

Tammy stepped closer, stumbling over the clumsy dog. Oh for the love of Prada, her tummy is moving up and down with her breathing. There goes my plan. “Wake up Oh-Donna.”
She didn’t move. Tammy shook her arm. “Wake up! Now! Get up Oh-Donna.”

No reaction.

Tammy remembered Farts (their late father’s proctologist friend) telling her and Perry that Oh-Donna had a brain disorder which caused her to fall asleep at weird times. She recollected discovering her sleeping in the walk-in closet under the stairs at their parents’ house and then she’d fainted in front of her moments later.

Tammy hugged her chilled arms, wishing the damned air conditioner would shut off. “Wake up Oh-Donna. Wake the frick up, you brain damaged witch. Wake up sissy-girl.”

Her sister didn’t respond. It was as though she was in a coma...

“Ohmagod. Oh-Donna is in a coma! I’m so sorry sweetie! You poor thing. That’s why the dog was starved and crapped in the house. How long have you been like this?”

Tammy snatched the cordless phone from the end table and punched in her brother’s cell phone number.

“Judge Payne here.”

“Perry! Oh-Donna’s in a coma! And the dog pooped all over the house and she’s gonna die and that bitch cut me off, I’ve been evicted—”

“What? Slow down. Oh-Donna’s in a coma? Where are you?”

“I’m at her house. I can’t wake her up.”

“Hang up and call nine-one-one.”

Tammy breathlessly squealed, “I don’t have time to look up the number for nine-one-one. What if she dies?” Sweet Jesus forgive me for my earlier thoughts. I didn’t mean them. Honest I didn’t. Her stomach churned. I’m gonna go to Hell for my thoughts. Tears deposited mascara in her eyes. She closed them tightly.

Perry barked, “Call an ambulance. The number for nine-one-one is nine-one-one Goddamit! I’ll be over as soon as I can. Call me and tell me what hospital they’re taking her to.” He hung up.

Tammy conjured up the last time her sister fainted, she’d thrown a glass of water in her face and she woke up. “Water!” She sprinted to the kitchen and picked up the dog’s water bowl. She filled it and jogged down the hallway, sloshing a trail behind her. The Great Dane lapped it off the hardwood floor. In the foyer, Tammy tripped on the edge of a sisal area rug and emptied the bowl onto her designer suit. “Darn you Oh-Donna!” Her scream pierced so loudly the dog skedaddled upstairs.

“Oh...” Her sister groaned.

Tammy dropped the chrome bowl and scrambled to her side. She picked up her arm, pumping it up and down, slapping her hand. “Oh-Donna, wake up Oh-Donna!”

Her sister murmured, “No...! No...! Not the Donna song...” Her smile morphed into a scowl.

Tammy slapped her sister’s face with both hands. “Wake up Oh-Donna. Now!”

“No. No. Go back. Ash...ley...”

~*~ 

The damned Donna song. Why did Ritchie Valens have to write a song with my name in it? Oh-Donna. That’s my miserable nickname. They always use it to pull me outta my happily ever after. I hate belonging to the Payne family. Ashley, promise you’ll be waiting for me when I come back? Don’t forget to send some music to pull me back to you. Keep Make Believe Island just for us, will ya lover boy?

My stomach burned with sourness rising up into indigestion. When I breathed in Bellissimo, Tammy’s perfume, I quoted a famous bear, “Oh bother!” and opened my eyes. There she was.

Tammy screeched, “Good! You’re back with us. Don’t do that to me again Oh-Donna. You scared me to death.”

I focused on my stereo system across the room. The amber clock blinked and winked. My song wasn’t playing. I’d set Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away” on repeat and was pulled into the best dream ever. Ashley and I had been consummating our love. That secret agent man freed my soul and beckoned me to the passageway of erotic delight.

Darn it. What had happened to the music that transported me to him this time? I groaned, “Did the power go out?”

The pitter-patter of four enormous paws announced the dog’s eminent return.

Tammy replied, “What? No. Well, I dunno, maybe. How long have you been sleeping? You ought to be ashamed of yourself. I shoveled out wall to wall poop in the kitchen. And scrubbed the nasty dried pee residue. Look at your poor dog. She’s starving.”

I felt her thick tongue licking my bare feet. Plenty of slobber. “Norma Jean” I said, weakly. I swung my legs off the sofa and thumped onto the floor, hitting my head on the glass topped coffee table. “Oww!”

I pushed myself up, shaky on my hands and knees. I tried to stand again.

Tammy gently helped me to my feet. “I’m sorry, Sis. You really are sick. I’ll make you some food. Sit back down.”

“No. Bathroom. Quick.”

Tammy got me there, just in time. She even helped me onto the seat and then she closed the door. That was scary. Tammy helping me.

“I’ll be right outside if you need me, Sis.”

I did what needed to be done and washed my hands. Oh did I look horrible in the oval mirror. I ran a brush through my tangled hair and washed my face with some liquid hand soap. When I flung open the door, my sister helped me stumble to the kitchen. I plopped down in a chair.

The grinder moaned as she dispensed crushed ice and then some water into a glass. She handed it to me.

I gulped it down and wiped my cracked lips with the back of my trembling hand. She refilled the cup. I shivered.

Tammy asked, “Where’s the thermostat?”

“Hunh?”

“The thermostat. I feel like Lucy Ricardo in the meat locker. It’s cold and raining outside. The air conditioner shouldn’t be set so low.”

“By the front door. Push the warmer button. Until you hit seventy-two.”

Tammy wiggled off on her mission.

Norma Jean laid on my feet. Her warm bony body felt comforting. I stroked her head with the tips of my fingers. “Oh poor girl. I’m so sorry you didn’t get to eat for...Tammy what’s today?”

My sister returned. “Monday.”

“Wait a minute. I paid the bills this morning. She couldn’t have pooped that much and lost weight in a few hours.” My head hurt. “Hey, you and Perry were leaving to go look for Momma today. I saw you.”

“You did not. And that was last Monday.”

We both gasped.

Tammy flipped a grilled cheese sandwich she was melting in a small skillet. She served it on one of my palm tree motif plates, with a dill pickle.

“I’m on a low carb diet. I can’t eat the bread.”

“Oh-Donna, you haven’t eaten in a week. And you’re not fat. Eat!”

“Cut it in half for me. Diagonally?” I gazed up at her pitifully.

She grabbed a steak knife from the block near the stove and slit the gooey sandwich.

I took a bite, huffing on the hotness, rolling it around on my tongue.

Norma Jean hurtled to the door, barking. The door bell chimed “Aura Lee”. I didn’t want any more company. Tammy sashayed down the hallway. I could see her open the door.

I chewed and swallowed. It tasted so good and creamy. It’d been so long since I’d eaten bread. Even this old stuff she’d found in the freezer tasted so buttery and comforting. And the gooey Swiss cheese was so yummy.

My stomach reeled taking in the residual doggy potty scent. The citrus disinfectant didn’t quite kill the odor. It stunk as if there was still a fresh pile. I leaned down and looked under the table. No wonder.

I overheard hushed whispers.

“We’ve got to do something about her. Have her institutionalized or something, Perry. You can sign a court order, like you did with Mom.”

“How bad is she? Crazy? Dying? Sick?”

“Yeah, yeah yeah. I feel sorry for her though. I mean, what a way to go, losing her mind and all. She was mumbling when I woke her up. It was as if she didn’t want to come back, she wanted to die.”
I sat up. The third bite of the sandwich did it. I was full. And angry. I light-headedly rushed down the hall, smack into my seven feet tall and seemingly seven feet wide fifty year old half-brother, with a shaved head. Perry was wearing his usual emergency visitation garb: his black judge’s robe. He was always such a show off, running around in it. Couldn’t he see how silly he looked out of the court room?

Perry steadied me. “How are you feeling Oh-Donna?”

“Like throwing the two of you out. How dare you come to my home, uninvited and unannounced and then talk about me like I’m retarded and can’t understand your evil hurtful words?” I cried.

Perry escorted me to my living room sofa. I didn’t have much of a choice but to comply, because of his size and my shaky state.

I said, “No! In the recliner.”

He obliged.

At least I’d be able to get myself up easier from the chair.

My half-brother squatted at my side. He brushed a stray curl from my eyes. “Oh-Donna. You have a brain injury. Remember when you collapsed at work and they rushed you to the hospital? The neurologist said it likely happened when you totaled your Suburban, after hitting the deer.
Remember?”

Oh yeah, I remembered. I was moments from leaving home, to catch a flight to New York for the writers’ conference. I was up for an award and I had been assigned an eight minute appointment with the acquisitions editor of Charlatan Press. But Daddy telephoned me and said Momma was trying to kill him. He was a pathological liar. I’d only figured this out two years ago. My whole life had been smoke and mirrors, all orchestrated by the great puppeteer, Dr. Nathan Payne.

But my conscience made me check it out. I was driving to my parents’ house when Daddy called again, on my cell phone. I knew it was him because the distinctive ring tone I’d set for him was “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” I couldn’t unhook it from my belt. I remember the deer smashing through the windshield and pinning my shoulder with his antler. Then I woke up in the hospital.

I shuddered. “Yeah, I remember.”

“They wanted to run more tests and keep you under observation. You ran off against medical advice.”

“So.”

“So your little narcoleptic-like incidents are getting worse. You need to get some medical help. Maybe a nice long rest away from all the stress you’ve been under, I know it was tough on you—” He cleared his throat, “When Dad died. You were his favorite and all.”

I was his favorite. Oh yeah, right. That’s why he named me executrix, but willed everything to you and Tammy. Greedy needy children that you are. That was in the will Perry produced. Roderick Meddlestein, Esquire, my parent’s across-the-street neighbor for thirty years, later revealed daddy had retained him to draw up a more recent will, leaving everything to Momma.

Perry stood up and said, “I’ll call Saint Christopher’s. They have a nice unit—”

I flipped him the bird. Poked him in his big floppy belly. “You sonofabitch, Perry Lucifer Payne! You’re trying to have me committed like you did Momma, so you can sell my house and things and split the money with Tammy and laugh all the way to Hell. That’s where you are both going. Go now! Get outta my house! You go to Hell! You couldn’t keep Momma in the nut house and you won’t stash me there either! I’ll go to Momma. You’ll never find us.”

Tammy said, “So you do know where Mom is. You sent us on that wild goose chase to Palm Springs on purpose, didn’t you?”

The phone rang. Tammy answered. She handed it to me. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I sniffled and said, “Hello.”

“Donna? This is Mike Taurus...your mother’s friend...”

Something in his voice didn’t sound right.

“Yes Mike. How are you?”

I cleared my throat as I listened to him exhale.

“You’re mother died in her sleep this morning.”

I threw my head back onto the firm gold recliner. “No.” I choked out. “Are you sure?” What a stupid question. If he weren’t sure, he wouldn’t have called me.

“Yes sweetheart. She’s in a better place now.”

I swallowed hard. “I’ll fly down right away. Give me directions to the island.”

“Just go to the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. Call me when you arrive and I’ll come and get you. Tell the concierge you’re my— You’re Chloe’s daughter. They’ll take care of you.”

The historic Fontainebleau. Where old Mike works as a bell hop. Love the place.

Mike coughed. “She wanted to be buried next to her babies. Is that all right with you?”
I closed my eyes. Remembering talking to Momma on the island, by the graves of her stillborn twins.

“Of course. Yes. Yes.”

“I’ll see you some time tonight or tomorrow then?”

“Yes.” I clicked the off button.

Tammy asked, “Just where do you think you’re going? Have a date with a Starbucks barista? Can he hop you up on caffeine long enough to stay awake during dinner and dancing?”

I closed my eyes tight and then broke into a breathless round of tears. Oh it hurt. My whole body hurt. My soul hurt. The little girl in me was dying.

I finally blurted out “Momma died. Momma is dead. I’m an orphan.”

Tammy and Perry shot looks at one another.