During the past weeks, I’d lost five balloons to the heat and humidity. For a while, the stores stopped selling them, or didn’t sell as many. On July 22nd, I had my dental surgery. Since then, I’ve packed on five Mylar balloons. No, make that seven. Definitely seven. One was a present for a job well done. Another was a sleeper I bought at Giant. Three were hallway rescues, that is, lone balloons looking for a home. They’ll make great sleepers, too. Two others were drive-by balloon purchases. Drive-by, meaning I park the car near the store, run inside to buy one item, then back to the car. Except that something else accompanies me on the way to the car.
Every two weeks, I prepare meals for the Aid For Friends, but this time, I ran short on chicken patties. So I stopped by the Acme, realizing a buy-one-get-one-free sale. Trouble was, a horde of Mylar birds perched by the door. I had to get past them to get to my chicken. One of them flew after me and landed on my shoulder, singing “Bye Bye Birdie.”
I haven’t owned a Mylar bird in years. I do now.
Four days ago, I got a five dollar coupon for CVS. Thought I’d do a drive-by and get a pediatric toothbrush for my sensitive gums. I had trouble deciding which toothbrush to get, and my indecision cost me. I didn’t expect the corral of balloons to sit idle while I pussyfooted around the toothbrushes, did I?
Last Christmas, I did a drive-by to pick up refreshments for a party. Ditto balloon purchase.
Lately, these drive-by purchases have yielded more balloons than leisurely shopping with a big grocery list. Let’s say I’m on the road and thinking about getting a sandwich. Before I stop anywhere, I have to ask myself if the store sells balloons. If I don’t, something might accompany that sandwich. Tomorrow I’m heading to CVS to pick up Mike’s medicine. I’ve got a coupon, too. Oh, boy. I’d better look out.
I said I’d lost five balloons before I had the dental work. But I sure as heck found them!
A high-profile murder of a Wall Street executive in Westchester pits three people against the criminal underbelly of Manhattan nightlife. The key players are two ex-cops turned private investigators—Kevin Whitehouse, whose sharpest tool is his keen analytical mind, and David Allerton, a former Special Forces operative—and Margaret Alexander, Kevin’s lover. In their search for a killer, they are forced to travel to the edge of sanity and morality, while stumbling onto their own confusing secrets as well. The Cover of Darkness is a gritty noir saga that untangles a web of deceit in the course of tracking down a brutal murderer.
Barbara: What do you think you’re really bad at?
Gregory: I am absolutely horrible at social settings. I find human interaction harder and harder as I get older. I was a very jovial person at one time in my life but after the tragedy at 9/11 of which I was a part of, I developed a debilitating condition called Social Anxiety where I am most comfortable alone and in silence. My friends drag me out of my very comfortable and cocoon-like apartment to socialize with others, and this I fail at miserably. When they bring people around to introduce them to me I shut down, mutter replies, turn my attention elsewhere, and quickly ignore them because I can’t stand the scrutiny. I am undergoing treatment for my disorder, but until there’s some form of breakthrough, I am pretty confident in saying that I’m really bad at social situations.
Barbara: Is your life anything like it was two years ago?
Gregory: Absolutely not. Two years ago I was in the shelter system, being homeless for two years before that and living in the streets. But I struggled, got into the shelter system, worked my way to an apartment in the city and now I am self-sufficient and free to write my books. Hopefully this is a first step of many to move my life forward. I am a true believer in making one’s path better and brighter as best as one can. This can only be done with blood, sweat and tears. I’ve given up all three, and I still do on a daily basis. My live isn’t anything like it was two years ago, and if I can help it, it’ll be nothing like it is two years from now.
Barbara: Have you ever had an imaginary friend?
Gregory: Yes, although I don’t remember him well. My parents used to tell me this story of my invisible friend named Tom and how we used to play in the yard around a beaten up old washing machine, or chase each other around trees and fences. I have glimpses of these things, but I don’t really remember much about Tom or what he was like, his personality, his likes or dislikes, although what I do recollect is fun with him. He brought me joy.
Barbara: Do you have any phobias?
Gregory: Two. Fear of heights and fear of bugs. I feel uncomfortable before opened windows or on rooftops with low parapets. I don’t like being far off the ground, like in skyscrapers or planes, although I will do both if need be. Further, I find bugs distasteful and I dread looking at them. It takes a great deal of effort from me to kill one, especially a cockroach.
Barbara: Tell us about your latest release.
Gregory: My latest release chronicles the story of three people, Kevin Whitehouse, a man who is off the New York Police force because of suffering from a nervous breakdown after a terrific car accident. Through his psychiatrist he is paired with another officer that is off the force on disability, David Allerton, and together they decide to become private detectives. But they are relied upon by a police captain to solve a murder in Westchester that is a little too hot for the local police force. Kevin has a keen, analytical mind and can take apart clues and shine a light in dark areas. David is more of a field agent who takes Kevin’s hunches to the streets and ferrets out the guilty parties. Kevin also has a girlfriend, the third person in the triangle, Margaret Alexander who aids Kevin in his investigatory talent, giving him a sound board to bounce his ideas off of, and a different insight on matters. Between the three of them they delve into the murder of a Wall Street executive, entering the glitzy nightlife of the city, and its dark denizens to find the killer.
Gregory Delaurentis spent his adult life roaming from job to job, working for Lockheed in California, various law firms in New York, and financial firms on Wall Street. Throughout this period of time, he was writing—unceasingly—finally producing a large body of work, albeit unrecognized and unpublished . . . until now. Cover of Darkness is the first in a series of upcoming books that include Edge of Darkness, Pale of Darkness and Cries of Darkness. These novels follow the lives of three individuals who do battle bringing criminals to justice, while they struggle to understand the complex relationships that exist among themselves. This intriguing trio has absorbed the attention of Mr. Delaurentis for the past year and a half, so much so he decided to self-publish their stories to bring them to a wider audience. [AUTHOR’S DISCLAIMER: These are works of fiction. Name, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used factitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.]
The pool area was wide and reflected the sun on this hot summer day. It was edged with white marble so polished that it looked like pearl. Deck chairs lined the sides of the long pool, which was two lengths more than Olympic-sized. Outside the deck area was the carpeted lawn of the vast backyard, dappled with sun.
Hugh Osterman walked along the side of the pool wearing a heavy terry cloth robe and sandals. In his right hand, he held a martini glass. He ran his left hand through his sandy sun-streaked hair as he looked over his shoulder at the man following him.
“What’s going on? I don’t get it,” Osterman said, stopping at the end of the pool where the flotation chairs were kept.
“They said no,” the man replied. Considering the backdrop, he was incongruously dressed in a dark suit and tie.
“They said no . . . just like that?”
Osterman sat his drink down on the marble surface, and pushed a flotation chair into the deep end of the pool, sending it out and away. Then he peeled off the robe and dove smoothly into the water, emerging next to the floating chair.
“You go back and tell them that we aren’t pleased,” Osterman said sternly, pulling himself up and into the seat of the chair. “You tell them that Hugh Osterman wants to know what’s holding things up—what the problem is.”
The suit just stood at the edge of the pool, opening his jacket against the heat of the day. Osterman paddled to the side, and reached out and retrieved his martini glass. “I take it you have nothing to say about this?” he persisted, despite the other man’s silence.
The suit shook his head.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Osterman said as he tipped the glass up to his lips. Suddenly, the bottom of the stem shattered. Osterman gurgled as he dropped the glass, blood bubbling from his mouth, an open tear in his neck. He jolted upright in the chair as the suit closed the distance between them, his Colt .38 Super still trained on its victim, its silencer smoldering.
Osterman slowly sat back as the suit pumped more rounds into Osterman’s bare, well-defined chest—the hot shells of his pistol ejecting out and striking the surface of the water, settling to the bottom. His life ended as his body tumbled from the floating chair, his blood a widening crimson slick roughly in the area where his body slipped through.
The suit popped his clip, slipped in a new one, and headed for the sprawling house.
One randomly chosen commenter will win a $50 Amazon/BN gift card.
Recently I tried to shave my grocery bill by buying store brand cereals and other items. With cereals, I didn’t notice any difference in the consistency or taste. The store brand ice cream had a flat taste, however, so I continued to pony up the money for name brand. Most store brands are no-frills. You get the same quality and ingredients, but you lose the pretty packaging and designs, especially with paper products. As for tissues…well, my nose didn’t notice any difference. I was able to get manila envelopes at the dollar store for a fifth of what I’d pay in a stationary store. For medications, I’ve stayed with the name brand Allegra because there’s something reassuring about the orange color of the pill. Otherwise, the generic medicines work just as well.
Sometimes, when the store’s offering a great sale and a coupon, I find it cheaper to stick with name brands. At the Giant last week, I bought a box of Eggo Waffles for seventy-five cents. Because I had a decent coupon, I got two Venus disposable razor packs for the price of one. Allegra’s always on sale, and with a generous coupon, too. Today, I found HP paper on clearance, and got two packs for $5.00 each. I recommend sticking with HP or other name brand computer paper and ink because the wrong paper / ink can damage or jam your printer.
Why do I go through all this trouble to save money? Because I have Walter Mitty dreams of getting my bedroom redone. Perhaps I want to save the money for jewelry or a trip. Maybe I saw a Coach purse with my name on it. So the question is, did I succeed in saving money at the supermarket? So far, no.
This past shopping expedition was a case of best laid plans floating away…literally. When I walked into the Giant, a glittery Mylar balloon with bows blocked my passage. I tried running the other way and bumped into a Mylar planter. Going sideways, I headed straight into a Mylar heart with butterflies – all Mother’s Day balloons and pricey ones at that.
“Why?” I gazed at the balloons helplessly. “I’m not a mother. I don’t have any children.”
“Of course, you do.” The balloons smiled at me. “You’ve got 68 balloons and you’ve been a great mother to them.”
So the glittery balloon with the bows went home with me. Cost: nine dollars. What’s more, I drove home with the AC on because I didn’t want the balloon to overheat. I remember shaking my head, thinking I was the first person on this planet to use air conditioning for a balloon’s comfort. But this one is a real beauty and well worth it.
I couldn’t resist tempting Barbara!
This got me to contemplating my character Alexis of Steel Rose and her buying habits. If Alexis could jump out of the pages, she’d brain me for spending nine dollars on a balloon. She and I make the same salary, but she takes a plethora of expensive medicines that insurance doesn’t cover well. She’s got to stick with store brand items so she can pay for her treatment, although in a weak moment, she might indulge in a CD. In the sequel, When Blood Reigns, things are getting ugly fast. Because of the zombie invasions, traditional mail and FedEx have ceased services to Philadelphia.
Because of this a zombie invasion may preclude balloon offerings at any supermarket. Fewer stores would remain open, if any, and soldiers would police the aisles for walking dead. In Alexis’ world, I’d buy whatever brands I could get and thank God I made it to the store alive. I’d hope I had plenty of food at home because shopping might mean a longer drive. The balloon with the bows might be available through the black market, so I’d better prepare to spend twenty dollars.
This is assuming I can get to the supermarket and back unharmed.
Zombies aren’t choosy where they feed, especially if they’re hungry. A bunch of them might gang up on my car while I’m heading to the store. My option? Shop at a local deli or learn to use a gun. I tried picturing myself shooting zombies so I could get to a supermarket. Yeah, it could happen. You always find a way when you want something badly. An image formed in my mind of me staring at the gun, and thinking, good grief, I’m the first person in creation who shot zombies so she could buy a balloon.
So, do you find buying store brands have saved you money? How would a zombie invasion affect your hobbies and shopping habits? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
How would this monster affect Balloon Lady’s shopping habits?
I once asked a priest this question. As he put it, the universe is a vast place, and he would find it hard to believe that God would create the universe for just humans. So other questions came to mind: what are these people like? What color eyes? What color hair, if any? What about language, verbal and nonverbal? Do they possess telepathy, telekinesis, or any of the other powers with which our movies endow them? Are they gentle friendly beings or are they monsters that prey on weaker species?
I didn’t go into my other questions with this priest, but I searched Google and Yahoo to get others’ thoughts on aliens. I’m not referring to our neighboring planets where the environment isn’t hospitable to life as we know it. I’m considering the yet-to-be-discovered planets outside our solar system. If people live in these worlds and visit our own, their technology must surpass us by centuries to construct spaceships capable of traveling to Earth.
Some folks believe the aliens would treat us the way we do animals – capture, dissect, see what it’s all about, tag it, release it, and study it in its natural habitat. In some cases, we might steamroll over it, destroying the habitat and wiping out the species. At worst, they might eat us, enslave us, torture and attack us. In Steel Rose, Woehar and her evil renegades do just that – inject a chemical that turns their human prisoners into zombies. When she’s not torturing, she hunts humans for nourishment the way we might hunt a deer or pheasant.
However, I’d like to think that bad and good qualities exist in the extraterrestrials just as they do in humans. The bad ones like Woehar might regard us as subservient beings deemed for slavery or an entrée for the dinner table. The decent ones might work shoulder to shoulder with us at a job, use their knowledge to help find cures, and may try to understand what it means to be human. Yeron, a refugee alien, works at Jackson Hospital in a research laboratory, trying to develop cures for cancer and other killer diseases. He works closely with the human doctors in that laboratory and shields Alexis from the evil hospital administrator. Sometimes humans make the worst kind of monsters.
Even in best case scenarios, the aliens’ culture and beliefs will be radically different from ours. Their logical minds would preclude a belief in any god. Before his compound exploded, Yeron grew up doing experimental treatments on human prisoners and releasing them (into their natural habitat). In his mind, he was doing The Right Thing by treating their injuries and ailments. The people getting the treatments didn’t agree, and he had to hypnotize them into forgetting. Alexis and Yeron have a tough go at working together at first because of the cultural differences.
Talk about diversity training. Imagine working with a boss from Planet X or having lunch with a coworker from Planet Y. Most workplaces teach diversity, and alien coworkers would present new challenges for the instructor.
Someone on Yahoo asked what people would do if they saw extraterrestrials roaming the streets. I’d stay in the house and watch between the drapes before taking any action. How do the aliens treat humans? If any blood spilled, I’d lock my doors and windows and hide under my balloon tree. If however, the aliens and humans engaged in pleasant interaction, I might come outside and introduce myself. And if there was one alien, and people were shooting at him, I might invite him in my house and offer him shelter under my balloon tree. Above all, I hate seeing people bullied, human or alien.
Whether we anticipate it or not, we might have to prepare for a meeting with people from other worlds one day. The weather patterns have gotten more erratic with tornadoes, harsher blizzards during the winter, and droughts that result in fires, not to mention earthquakes such as the kind that leveled Haiti. It may not happen in my lifetime, but one day the severity of these patterns will make Earth incompatible with human life unless we build underground or dome-covered cities, or migrate to other planets. Will we find friendly neighbors and embrace diversity? Might their advanced technology afford cures for diseases like cancer? Or will we be fighting for the right to live?
When I hear the word “rollercoaster,” I think of a fairground with rides, balloons, and weenies. My rollercoaster has nothing to do with amusement parks. It involves my pericardial effusion. In layman’s terms, my heart is trying to beat inside a water-filled balloon, and having a tough time doing it. Sometimes I have delightful moments when I hardly know the effusion’s there. Other times it sets me back on my butt, with chest pain and poverty of breath. I wonder if I’ll ever be okay again during those times. I’m on a rollercoaster ride, you see.
My symptoms started January 24 with back pain. Lots of it. Back pain when bending, back pain radiating to the chest, difficulty taking a deep breath. I’ve had back pain before, so I headed to my doctor. After doing an EKG, he sent me to a chiropractor. After a manipulation, I’d feel okay for a day or two, then all the symptoms would return. My appetite went next. I soldiered on, making an appointment with the spine clinic.
Monday ushered in more pain, with a lot of trouble catching my breath. I was running errands to get a prescription for a CAT Scan and mail a package. On the way from the car to the post office, I found myself gasping. If I was thinking straight, and no one who is that sick does, I would’ve gone to the emergency room. Instead I headed to the doctor’s office, and asked if I could sit because of my breathing. The doctor took one look at me and sent me to the hospital. The rest is history.
I’ve told people about my bucket list: hot air balloon ride, wooden hangers, remodeling bedroom, and so forth. It’s funny how sickness changes the priorities. Here’s what’s at the top of my new bucket list:
1. Being able to walk without a skyrocketing heart rate or poverty of breath.
2. Being able to finish my sentences when I talk. At all times.
3. Having my choice of sleeping and sitting positions. At all times.
I’ve written about monsters in Steel Rose and my other books. It’s different when you’re fighting your own monster, and the monster’s lurking inside your body. Sometimes it’s downright scary. I study the images on my ultrasound and think of zombies. So far the docs believe that a virus caused all this, and that it would take time. But we’re still waiting on the final verdict.
I can still write. Blogging has been cathartic for me, and I’ve done a lot of it for my promo tour. So long as I can type this is good. Somewhere down the road, this pericardial effusion is gonna turn up in one of my books. I’ll look over my WIP after a nap.
My balloons are multiplying like rabbits, thanks to some good friends. I’ve got eight of them by my bed. My brother’s watching the house. Many of the Night to Dawn issues have gone out, and I’ll send the rest after I get discharged. My job right now is to get better and write.
Is anyone else out there dealing with a life-changing illness? How has it affected your writing? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
That’s a good question. After all, I can’t go into a supermarket without buying one. The balloons take on a life of their own when I arrive. My balloons have a way of creeping into all my blogs and seminars about respiratory care and writing. The characters in Alien Worlds and City of Brotherly Death have had a thing for balloons. Why not the denizens of Steel Rose?
Let me put it this way. Alexis doesn’t mind having balloons. She stockpiles them the way I do because she believes that the helium in them will protect her from Kryszka renegades. Yeron counts thirty balloons during his initial examination, and this doesn’t go over well at all. The helium in them is deadly toward his species. The balloons threaten Yeron, and an imaginary conversation plays through his mind:
Balloons: That’s right, Yeron, you don’t belong here.
Yeron: I do not like you either, so the feeling is mutual.
When Yeron contemplates his next approach to Alexis, the balloons grin at him. Is that so?You don’t know as much as you think you do, buddy.
On that last, Yeron hurries to his suite where he keeps his helium-proof mask. Initially, Alexis fears Yeron the way she does all men, and the balloons make an effective barrier. How then can Yeron and Alexis get romantic with all those balloons in the way? Well, folks, you have to read the story and find out.
Outside of protection, Alexis does not have a fixation on balloons, but she appreciates the sentiments written on them. She knows someone who has a thing for balloons. One of the other doctors has a wife who fancies balloons, and Alexis thinks it’s cute. Later on, the balloons will play an important role. They have to, just like Chekhov’s gun. You can’t introduce a loaded rifle into your story without using it, and the same goes for Mylar balloons. Much as I love my balloonies, I would not have put them in Steel Rose without a good reason.
In the sequel, the balloons will go bye-bye. Alexis will be too busy kicking zombie ass.
Steel Rose has just gone live, and you can read some excerpts here.
Book cover by Dawné Dominique; Promo by Cyrus Wraith Walker