Who Would You Invite?

Falstaff Said, then Reacher Replied

We probably all think about who we most want to meet in person, invite to dinner, delve the depths of religion, society, politics. But what about fictional characters?

The question occurred to me while watching the Woody Allen movie, Midnight in Paris, in which the lead character is taken back in time and meets Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, Cole Porter and Pablo Picasso among others — all living in Paris at that time.

So-o, which fictional characters would you find most intriguing to meet?

Here’s a challenge: Think it through and then write a scene with your characters — perhaps around the table that night, then around the billiard table afterward dinner. Or choose another place.

For instance:

  • Charles Dickens’s Scrooge. (Here’s a guy whose entire life, demeanor, and future turned on one night’s experience kind of like what happens to people when they’re saved by Christ.
  • Dantes, the Count of Monte Cristo, the creation of Alexandre Dumas. (Here’s a brave man, whose meddle is obvious even to the blind.)
  • Francine Rivers’s Hadassah in the Mark of the Lion series. (Here’s a young lady whose faith is transitional, inspiring, and transforms those around her.)
  • George MacDonald’s elderly cobbler who shares Christ with people who walk by his shop and, by the way, sets the young vicar theologically straight.
  • Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn. (Two buds on a raft in time, tripping down a river filled with adventure.)
  • Jane Austin’s Emma Woodhouse. (Flaws and all, this pretty, wealthy lady despite—or even because of—her evident flaws, matures from an often inconsiderate girl to a sincere and kind young woman.)
  • Lee Childs’s Jack Reacher. (Who else can travel the country carrying nothing but a folding toothbrush and a fistful of cash?)
  • Shakespeare’s Falstaff. (Hey, he appears in various forms in several of Will’s plays and always steals the show.)
  • Robinson Crusoe. (What Daniel Defoe’s hero lacked in aplomb he more than made up for with ingenuity.)
  • My own Dr. Katherine “Kat” Cardova. (An extraordinary archaeologist and red-headed beauty who has rocketed to fame with historic finds in Israel.)
  • Long John Silver. Thank you, Robert Louis Stevenson, for one of history’s grand bad guys, just for the sake of my narrative… which follows:

Long John Silver downed a shot of Jack Daniel’s and narrowed his eyes on the skinny, shoeless man dressed in rags. “Hey, Crusoe—Robbie, me laddy—I appreciate ye can start a fire rubbin’ two twigs to’gather, but do so somewhere else, not on me bar stool.”

Dantes, sitting with the dainty Miss Woodhouse, stiffened at Long John’s aggressive reproach, ready to protect his young companion if some clash should occur.

Then Flagstaff set down his stein full of frothing beer and stepped between Long John and Crusoe, one hand on a hip, one on the hilt of his sword. “My piece of the kingdom, good sir, to view such an admirable and uncommon a demonstration outside King Henry the Fifth’s court. Be it on your bar stool as well as anywhere.”

Coffee mug in hand, Jack Reacher eyed the sword sheathed at Falstaff’s side and wondered about the make of steel. Was it German, or Swiss, or British? Did it have nicks from carving up adversaries? Had it done battle at all?

He gauged that it was thirty-eight inches long, about the length of his own arms, and weighed a hefty three pounds. Maybe three-and-a-half. He’d hefted a claymore once and it was a good four or five pounds. Not a weapon for the weak.

 Whatever the weight, it would be easy enough to step inside a parry. If need be. A thumb to the fat man’s eye, another to his solar plexus and he’d be disabled in, say, eight-tenths of a second. Perhaps six-tenths. If need be, that is. If this Falstaff fellow pursued the issue. If he didn’t see his folly.

It was then that Scrooge entered the bar. Good ole Scrooge, God bless him, his dark past forgotten, his new demeanor bright as the sun, his pocketbook as open as his heart; Scrooge, his hat in hand, shrugging off his overcoat and hanging it by the door; Scrooge, the man once despised by all but now adored like a kindly and kingly legend; yes, ole Scrooge the peacekeeper who, if one person owed another and a brawl was about to begin over the coinage, be it a crown or half-pence, would pay the lapsed amount to avoid a scrap; Scrooge who, in fact, had just dropped shiny pounds sterling into the pockets of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, who were whitewashing the front of the building.

At the transformed man’s entrance was the moment transformed, its tension distilled.

“I’d like to see this demonstration myself, Long John,” Scrooge said, his smile broad and kindly, his eyes twinkling as stars. “And my friend, also.”

He waved a hand behind him. Through the door came the prettiest young lady this side of Turnbury. Not flashy but stunning, not prideful but self-confident, Kat Cardova was, yes, in the house.

Reacher gulped at her beauty. He’d seen her picture on magazine covers, but justice had not been done. And he was all about justice. Always. Justice and Reacher were tight friends.

 Long John drained another shot. He would have forgotten his name if asked. Beauty sometimes affected him thus — be it a full chest of bounty or a finely crafted lady.

 Crusoe straightened his back, then bowed toward Kat. “At your leisure, m’ lady.”

Your turn! And please do send it to me. The best scene (as chosen by a jury of one: me) gets a free, signed copy of True North: Tice’s Story, my tale about a young slave who escapes from Kentucky along the Underground Railroad, chased by a dastardly man who would be right at home on Long John Silver’s ship.

 

 

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Micah Unleashed

 

Forgive the Double-entendre above,

but Micah Writes Tuck’s Scenes

We’ve owned some brilliant dogs in our time, the smartest being Jamie (half border collie, half golden retriever). Close behind were purebred border collies Tess, Kate and Yancey and now border collie-Aussie Micah.

Micah is the least intelligent among this group — although he would strenuously argue the point — and yet he is the scribe, the one who chooses to write the scenes involving Tuck, the doggie star in my Thrill of the Hunt Series.

Tuck is the best pal and protector of Dr. Kat Cardova, our Yale University archaeologist.

It’s important to know that dogs are far smarter than most people realize. On average they can learn as many as 300 “people” words. Border collies can learn as many as 500 “people” words. My wife and I have had to continue coming up with synonyms or spelling our more commons words and expressions when around Jamie, Kate, Yancey, Micah and our other canines. (Use the word “pooch” around here and you’re in the real dog house.)

In our home “walk” becomes “stroll” becomes “hike” becomes “march” becomes “w-a-l-k” becomes “s-t-r-o-l-l.” “Car” becomes “vehicle” becomes “automobile” becomes “Escape” becomes “c-a-r.”

You get the idea.

So it was only natural that when I introduced the character Tuck into Chasing the Music, my first Thrill of the Hunt book, that Micah insisted on writing the Tuck scenes. Micah has no problem commandeering my chair — any chair, for that matter — and since he knows better how dogs think, hey, rock ‘n roll, bud.

Micah’s first attempt came early in Chasing the Music. Kat’s in Israel; Micah’s in America; and Kat calls her friend Alice, who is caring for Tuck. Our hero, black-ops veteran Max, hears Kat’s end of the conversation:

“Alice?”

“Yes, it’s Kat … I just wanted to see how Tuck is doing.”

“Yeah?”

“Really? To the kids’ school?”

She laughed.

“No. No, I don’t think he’s ever been a ‘show-and-tell’ before.”

“He did?”

“Well, I’m not surprised. I think he knows half of what I say. I have to spell some words and he’s figured them out, so I go to the Thesaurus and find another word to spell—”

“You, too? I should have mentioned.”

“Yes, you, Bill and the kids will figure it out.”

“Right.”

“Can I speak to him?

“Yes, Tuck.”

Kat looked at Max and said, “You remember that old TV show ‘Are You Smarter than a 5th-grader?’ Well, I think Tuck is.”

Max laughed. “Of course.”

Kat held up her hand for silence. “Tuck?”

No response.

“Tuck, it’s Mommy.”

A bark. Two barks.

“I’m sorry, but I’ll be gone longer than expected.”

Silence.

“I’ll bring you a gift.”

A low growl.

“You don’t want a gift?”

Another growl.

“Then I’ll just bring me.”

Bark-bark-bark.

Kat looked at Max. “That’s my boy.”

Max chuckled. “And a lucky boy at that.”

Kat slapped his arm.

“Tuck, I love you. Be a good boy.”

A bark.

“Bye-bye.”

Bark-bark.

 

Near the end of Chasing the Music it’s Kat’s birthday. Still in Israel, Max has a surprise.

Max dialed a number and when a woman answered, he asked, “Ready?”

“Ready.”

“What are you doing?” Kat asked.

Max pressed SPEAKER and handed her the phone, certain she had no clue who was on the end of the line.

“Hello?” Kat said.

Her answer came quickly with three barks.

Kat’s face lit up like a candle. “Tuck!”

Bark.

Kat looked at Max and whispered, “Thank you.”

Max smiled back at her, glad to read the delight in her face.

“Tuck, I miss you.”

Bark.

“I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to get home when I planned.”

A low growl.

Kat looked at Max and said, “He’s displeased.”

“I can hear it,” Max said, trying to suppress a chuckle.

“No, I mean it. He is not happy.”

Max wiped the smile from his face.

“Tucky, I love you.”

A reluctant bark.

“I will get home as soon as possible. Tell Auntie that, okay?”

Another growl, followed by two barks.

“I can see him wagging his tail,” Kat said to Max.

Back to the phone, she said: “What a wonderful birthday present. Thank you, Tuck. You’re the best boy in the whole wide world. Bye-bye.”

Three barks.

 

In the second Thrill of the Hunt book, The Three Sixes, Max is in the Beinecke Library at Yale University and has yet to meet Tuck. When I let that cat (sorry for that)… When I let that information out of the bag, Micah again took over the keyboard. Here’s the result:

Wearing plastic gloves from the reception desk, Max began leafing through the Hadith Qudsi’.

[That book title is the one place I had to help Micah; he is yet to learn Arabic.]

A short, low woof broke Max’s concentration and he looked to the source. Three feet from him stood a handsome, almost regal, black-and-white border collie. The dog barked again, a low-decibel statement. Max cocked his head. The dog cocked his head. Max extended his hand. The dog retreated a step and woofed again, then turned to leave. He took a step, looked back over his shoulder, and woofed a little louder, a bit higher-pitched, adding urgency. Or exaggeration? Border collies, after all, were no-nonsense, used to being in charge.

Max grinned. He lifted the book from the nook and followed the dog, who was moving along at a good clip—purpose in his step. A few yards along, the dog again looked over his shoulder, as if he were making sure Max was tailing along. Max could have sworn he read a smile on his muzzle.

A right turn, a left turn, and they approached a woman seated in a corner nook. The dog turned and sidled up to the woman [Kat], his shoulder touching her leg.

 

Notice how Micah described Tuck as “handsome, almost regal.”

That’s kind of how Micah feels about himself.

Oh, and that phrase “used to being in charge”? Micah is every bit that.

I left Tuck out of Operation Jeremiah’s Jar, the third Thrill of the Hunt book, which again takes place in Israel. Micah’s reaction?

Well, let’s just say my next Max-and-Kat adventure will indeed include the, the … “the intrepid, the awe-inspiring, the transcendent”… (See there how he again took over my computer!)

 

Duped United Nations Read My Plot

Again and again, the United Nations proves to be a group of duped fools and/or evil plotters — to the extent that a couple of my novels appear prophetic. By the UN’s actions a week ago, the plot of The Last Aliyah has moved from “possibility” to “probability.”

With China closing down churches and rounding up Christians by the thousands; Sudanese Arabs terrorizing Christians; Syria attacking its own people with chemical weapons — with all of this happening, the UN chose to respond as usual — by reprimanding Israel for responding to a barrage of bombs from Gaza into Jewish communities.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise everywhere — not just the Arab Middle East. And the overwhelming vote against Israel, with many countries abstaining, proves the point.

Well, The Last Aliyah begins with the United Nations approving Resolution No. 2019-666 which bans Jewish immigration into Israel. No more Jews are allowed to leave America, France, anywhere and move to the Jewish homeland.

The reasoning: because Arabs are allowed to vote in Israel and because of their explosive birth rate, they can eventually take control of the land by sheer population growth — a takeover speeded up if Jewish immigration is outlawed.

In the middle of the night before leaving Washington, DC, for summer vacation, the U.S. Senate bows to the anti-Semitic President’s will — and arm-twisting and political promises — and approves the Resolution.

Voila! A modern-day underground railroad rushes to help Jews escape America — either to emigrate directly to Israel or get to a country (Canada) that has not approved the Resolution.

Here’s the first scene of The Last Aliyah, written during President Barack Obama’s administration when such a scenario seemed more plausible. But, truly, could this happen today? Or under another President’s administration? Anti-Semitism is not only growing in Europe and England but here in America.

The call that changed Nobel laureate Omri Zohn’s life came at that hour whenthe most distasteful acts are perpetrated in Washington, D.C.—when Congressmen can board flights home before the news hits the airwaves.

Omri forced one eye open and squinted to see the phone’s caller ID. 202 area code. His friend, U.S. Senator Joseph Frank. His heart fluttered, or maybe even skipped a beat and he tried to calm a shaking hand as he reached for the phone.

“Omri! It’s Joseph.” The voice boiled with tension, urgency. Zohn sat up in his bed and struggled to open the other eye. He looked at his clock: 2:58 a.m.

“They’ve done it, Omri!” Frank’s hoarse utterance quaked between a rasp and a gasp. “The Senate just approved enforcing the United Nations Resolution.”

A crushing weight settled on his chest. “Oh, my Lord,” rushed in a hushed tone through his lips—more a moan than a statement.

“We Jews are now essentially prisoners in our own countries,” Frank said. “Not allowed to go to Israel or any country that defies the UN Resolution outlawing emigration to the Holy Land. Get your escape plan in motion, now, as I will mine.”

“You said ‘we,’ Joseph. Even youcan’t leave?”

The three-term senator from Florida grunted. “Even I. Beware of men in dark suits at your door. They’ll hold you here.”

Omri shook his head in the dark, then said, “My brother, Ariel, just called me yesterday. He’s got stage-four cancer.”

Joseph groaned.

“Are there no exceptions, Joseph?  Any chance at all that I can get permission to visit him?”

“’fraid not.”

Anguish!Omri gritted his teeth. “Joseph! You know that my son and his wife and child moved to Israel a year ago. You’re saying I can’t see them again, either?”

“Not a chance,” Joseph said, “unless Benjamin and his family come back to America. But if they did, then, of course, they couldn’t be allowed back out of the country. Not unless they’ve obtained their Israeli citizenship already,”

“Not yet.”

Omri flicked on the light of his nightstand and swung his legs off the bed. If the sky was falling, he had to move, get his plans in motion.

“Homeland Security had representatives in the chambers, sitting on the edge of their seats, waiting to give the ‘go’ signal to headquarters,” Frank said. “Making it more repulsive is that today is August second, the last day before the six-week summer recess. So my colleagues—the brave sort that they are—are about to vanish into the countryside and avoid any nasty questions.”

Omri chuckled ruefully. “No surprise there.”

A pause, then Frank added, “You realize this begins the curse on America.”

Omri knew the scripture: “I will bless those who bless My people, but those who curse them I shall curse.”

“God speed, my friend!” Joseph said. “Hopefully we’ll meet again in Israel. Shalom.”

The line clicked off.

Omri settled the landline phone in its cradle, like it was a grenade. He peered at his bedside clock. 3:01. Appropriate, he thought, recalling that Psalm 3 verse 1 reads: “O, Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!”

He spoke softly the seventh and eighth verses: “Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the Lord comes deliverance. May Your blessing be on Your people.”

 

You can grab a copy of The Last Aliyah through Amazon.com, elklakepublishinginc.com, barnesandnoble.com, or me personally. A Christmas present for a friend or yourself? Sure!

The Winner: When Crickets Cry

Thanks for your support, everyone who answered my request for their favorite “as-yet-Unknown author” by naming me. But I think I’d like to mention three other nominees in particular: Charles Martin, Lynn Austin and Assaf Gavron.

I must say, I love y’all’s taste.

AFA Journal Editor Randall Murphree, renowned for his insights into novels as well as news, suggested Martin, who has written The Dead Don’t Dance, Wrapped in Rain and When Crickets Cry among others. And with When Crickets Cry under my belt, I anticipate reading the others.

“I wish every fiction lover could discover Charles Martin,” Randall wrote and he made sure I did by mailing me his own copy of When Crickets Cry.

Writing When Crickets Cry in first-person point of view, Martin drills deep into the psyche of his protagonist and other characters and you feel what they feel — deeply. Their aspirations are yours, their challenges yours, their desperation yours.

One distinction of a good book is when you hope its characters return in a sequel. It’s apparently not happening here, but I expect Charles Martin meets, even exceeds, expectations in other offerings.

Thank you, Charles.

Jewish Jewels cofounder and president Neil Lash recommended Austin, whose historical biblical novels are “great writing and give real insights into the Bible and the people who are in it, like Isaiah and the kings of Israel,” Neil said.

The first one of Austin’s books I look forward to reading is Keepers of the Covenant, in which she “weaves together the struggles and stories of both Jews and Gentiles, creating a tapestry of faith and doubt, love and loss.”

After that will come Austin’s On This Foundation, following Nehemiah, the cupbearer to Persian king Artaxerxes who gives him permission to lead a rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall — never anticipating all the dangers that await him on his arrival.

MaryAnn Gilbert’s choice of well-known Israeli author (but who’s heard of him in America?) Assaf Gavron is intriguing.

Gavron’s The Hilltop, translated into English by Steven Cohen, is celebrated in Israel. It is a deeply true but fictional story of a hilltop settlement in the West Bank, otherwise known as Judea and Samaria.

Gavron invites readers into the homes, lives and faith of Israeli settlers who create, inhabit and defend their settlements while attempting to live in peace with Arab neighbors and the politics of Israel.

“We follow the reasoning and choices of those who stay, those who leave, visit elsewhere and return, and those who visit and leave for a place more suited to their comfort zone,” MaryAnn said.

She added, “It is a fascinating read for someone like me who has visited Israel so many times, followed its history since a child and wondered endlessly about this very thing — the ‘settlements’ which really are not that but either incipient cities or cities already.”

Sounds like fascinating reading!

Please take my recommendation, folks, and visit the works of these three authors… and, by the way, investigate authors not on the bestseller lists, won’t you?

 

Operation Jeremiah’s Jar Unleashed

So my editor, Judy Hagey, has crossed my t’s, dotted my i’s and unmixed my mixed-up prose; my publisher, Deb Haggerty, has woven her magic; Deb’s book designer, Derinda Babcock, has caught the novel’s action at its height.

And now Operation Jeremiah’s Jar, the newest action/thriller in my Thrill of the Hunt series, is available from Elk Lake Publishing, Amazon.com, and our friends at fine bookstores everywhere. (Hey, you can even get a signed copy from me if you’d like.)

Black-ops veteran Max Braxton and archeologist Kat Cardova are back and just as in Chasing the Music and The Three Sixes, danger trails them at every turn. Like a viper after a bird, like Lex Luther after Superman, like… (Okay, enough.)

But now Max has even more reason to protect the lady whom Palestinian jihadists would love to murder. He and Kat are married.

Here’s the scoop. The United Nations has long led a diplomatic jihad against Israel, even claiming Jews have no historic claim on Jerusalem. But 2,600-year-old proof of Jewish ownership exists and Kat has an idea where: the prophet Jeremiah’s jar which contains the property deed to land outside Jerusalem he purchased in 587 BC.

This deed would not only prove ownership of land in Israel but also fulfill a prophetic promise to Jeremiah and the nation today. And Kat has an inkling where it is.

Meanwhile, when the President decides to build a new American embassy in Jerusalem, jihadists explode in fury, targeting the heart of the Jewish nation.

Max is called in to protect the ambassador, but his first duty is to protect Kat at all costs.

Here’s a scene from Operation Jeremiah’s Jar:

Suddenly, automatic gunfire erupted behind Max. The driver-side rear-view mirror shattered. The fire was coming from a stairwell leading to the second floor. He was thankful the truck was a refrigerated unit and not an empty flatbed, which would have exposed him to the assault.

He slid to the passenger side of the front seat, opened the door, jumped down, and gripping his rifle in his hands, fell to the ground. Beneath the truck, he spotted two sets of military boots. Holding up his rifle, he slithered toward the middle of the truck, then took aim and opened fire.

Four legs flew up, and two bodies joined them on the floor, the men screaming oaths in pain. Max slid sideways and came out from under the driver’s side of the truck.

He stepped forward and rifle-butted each of them into unconsciousness. Doing you a favor, boys. Now you won’t feel the pain. Momentarily, all was quiet. He took a step toward the stairwell, toward the [mission’s target].

Then he heard the click of a magazine being pushed into place not far behind him. One of the soldiers behind the filing cabinet.

In that millisecond, knowing he would die, Maximus Braxton, American-born and bred, former bronco-riding teenager, SEAL- and Ranger-trained soldier, thought of the one thing he loved most and best in the world besides Jesus—Katherine Cardova Braxton. He saw her bright green eyes, her short, curly red hair, her quick smile, and the perfect ears he loved to nibble. He recalled their last “word”—a kiss. And he whispered goodbye.

 

What happens next? You’ll have to read Operation Jeremiah’s Jar to find out. When you’re finished, please drop a quick review at Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. I’d be grateful.

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Peoplepedia

History books, PhD theses, historical societies, Wikipedia, Google — they all fill in some of the blanks in your research.

But I’ve got to say my new favorite source of historical material is something I’ll call Peoplepedia — and if you have what you think is a better name, let me know.

Google? Duck-duck-go into the passenger cargo, buddy.

Wikipedia? So freewheeling, do I believe ya’?

Libraries and historical societies? If only your doors were always open.

History books and PhD theses? Even you can take a back seat.

Nearing the end of a two-month tour of library speeches, I’m putting Peoplepedia at the top of my best-of source list.

Catch it now or catch up later, people.

We had a great crowd at the Camden (Maine) Public Library, the Fire Code moving some of the 100-plus folks into an adjoining room.

Very satisfying. But the best reward? Two in the audience were able to tell me about two “safe houses” for escaping slaves in Wiscasset, Maine, of which I was not aware.

A week later, at a full house in the Winslow (Maine) Public Library, two more folks came up with two more “safe houses” to add to my list. One was a Fred Eames’ dairy farm where we bought our first border collie, the daughter of the Welsh National Champion.

Then came the Patten Free Library in Bath and we hit the mother load.

First, one elder citizen of the town told us she had worn her grandfather’s Ku Klux Klan robe, complete with Maine’s Invisible Empire patch, to school for Show and Tell.

Then an African-American gentleman informed the audience that Bath Iron Works, one of Maine’s largest employers to this day, had brought in black workers from the South to break a strike at the shipbuilding facility. The new residents were housed across the river in a segregated part of the city.

What our history books do not tell us, our fellow citizens sometimes do. True, you can’t always trust word of mouth. Can’t trust your own memory sometimes.

But I think just as often you discover hidden truths of the past — truths never revealed in written materials.

As Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, known for his philosophical-moral aphorisms, said: “You can close your eyes to reality but not to memories.”

Peoplepedia. Gotta love it!

Oh, and thanks to our new friends and wonderful library staffers in Camden, Winslow, Pittsfield, Boothbay Harbor, Belgrade Lakes and Bath.

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Memorable Characters on Four Legs

James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, Donald McCaig’s Nop’s Trials, W. Phillip Keller’s Lessons from a Sheepdog, John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, Steven King’s Cujo.

They all gave us memorable “characters,” ones we can cherish — well, all but Cujo. Bad dog. Bad dog!

So I decided to back through my novels and introduce you to my favorite four-legged characters: Kat Cardova’s border collie, Tuck; Francis Asbury’s favorite horse, Spark; and Max Braxton’s, well let’s just call him by his name, Thunder, a rodeo bull.

Then I want you to tell me of all the books you’ve read what is your favorite fictional creature?

Here are my own entries.

  • Thunder, an appropriate name for a bull bent on destroying any who would dare straddle his back. “Crusher” or “Gravedigger” would also be apropos. Here’s a scene from the upcoming Operation Jeremiah’s Jar:

Max decided to turn Bridges’s request [to walk the night streets in a dangerous Arab neighborhood] into a personal dare as well as a professional necessity. He remembered being tossed off a bull once when he’d competed in youth rodeo in Dallas-Ft. Worth. He’d landed hard on his right collarbone. His first thought had been whether he’d be able to shift the gear stick on his dad’s F-150. His second was of the bull—Thunder, they called him.

Later, his right arm in a sling, Max had walked to the barn where the bulls were penned. He’d found Thunder, stalked to his pen, and looked him in the eye. The encounter began as a stare down. The top rodeo bulls are the ones with red in their eyes, snarl in their mouths, and “kill” in their hearts. Thunder possessed all of these.

As Max peered at his foe, he realized Thunder had been provoked to anger since he was born. The bull knew nothing else. Indeed, rage was his reason to live.

  • The tenacious, brave and protective, forgiving and dedicated Tuck in these two scenes from the Thrill of the Hunt Series — the first from Chasing the Music and the second from The Three Sixes:

Suddenly, the face of her four-year-old border collie sprang to her mind and Kat blurted out, “I miss Tuck.”

“Tuck who?” Max asked.

“My dog. He’s the smartest and coolest dog in either Hemisphere. He usually serves the role as my protector.”

“So you want to send for him rather than me?” Max grinned.

Kat shrugged. “I just suddenly miss him. He’s always at my side—in the classroom, in my apartment, out and about everywhere.”

“But not here [Israel].”

“The quarantine period’s too long.”

“Of course.”

“He’s smarter than some people I know.”

Max smiled.

“I do not jest. He is,” she said.

“You’re saying Tuck could be a librarian?”

Kat reached over and smacked his hand. “Easily—and I miss him.”

“So, if he’s as smart as you say, phone him up.” Max chuckled. “Where is he?”

“He’s staying with a friend, Alice, back in the States.”

“So call Alice, find out how Tuck’s doing and ask to speak to him.”

He was joshing with her now and, darn it, she’d show him a thing or two about Tuck.

Kat checked her watch and dialed…

What Max heard was Kat’s end of the phone conversation.

“Alice?”

“Yes, it’s Kat.”

“Well, I’m fine, but my friend Danny Arens was shot yesterday morning and lies in the hospital unconscious and fighting for his life.”

“Yes, right at his dig site.”

“We’re pretty sure it was Islamic terrorists.”

“No, I’m okay. We weren’t there.”

“Oh—‘we’ because I’m with a new friend. Max.”

“Not sure, but we think because Danny stumbled onto something they don’t want known.”

“I’ll write you an e-mail filling you in. I just wanted to see how Tuck is doing.”

“Yeah?”

“Really? To their school?”

She laughed.

“No. No, I don’t think he’s ever been a ‘show-and-tell’ before.”

“He did?”

“Well, I’m not surprised. I think he knows half of what I say. I have to spell some words and he’s figured them out, so I go to the Thesaurus and find another word to spell—”

“You, too? I should have mentioned.”

“Yes, you, Bill and the kids will figure it out.”

“Right.”

“Can I speak to him?

“Yes, Tuck.”

Kat looked at Max and said, “You remember that old TV show ‘Are You Smarter than a 5th-grader?’ Well, I think Tuck is.”

Max laughed. “Of course.”

Kat held up her hand for silence. “Tuck?”

No response.

“Tuck, it’s Mommy.”

A bark. Two barks.

“I’m sorry, but I’ll be gone longer than expected.”

Silence.

“I’ll bring you a gift.”

A low growl.

“You don’t want a gift?”

Another growl.

“Then I’ll just bring me.”

Bark-bark-bark.

Kat looked at Max. “That’s my boy.”

Max chuckled. “And a lucky boy at that.”

Kat slapped his arm.

“Tuck, I love you. Be a good boy.”

A bark.

“Bye-bye.”

Bark-bark.

  • ••••

And from The Three Sixes:

Max looked [Tuck] over. Appropriate. A stunning dog for a stunning lady.

“Tuck,” Kat said, “meet Max, the man I’ve been telling you about.”

Max kneeled down and extended his hand. Tuck met it with his paw and they shook.

“Handsome boy,” he said.

Tuck smiled. The dog smiled!

“He’s better than good-looking,” Kat said. “He’s my protector, best friend—well, second-best—and he’s a bit smarter than some high-school graduates I’ve met.”

 

  • Spark, an Arabian stallion of whom Bishop Asbury said, “He’s been the altar at which I pray; the pulpit at which I preach; the pillow on which I lay my head at night. And, with God’s help, Spark has saved my life.” Indeed, Spark saved Francis out of trouble when chased by Indians, wolves and, in this case, highwaymen in the southern Maine woods:

Francis would need more than skill on his horse today. Even Spark couldn’t outrun a bullet.

He lifted a prayer toward the heavens. “Lord, quicken our step.”

The path was barely two yards wide, an old Indian trail not wide enough for a carriage or wagon to pass—a shortcut he had used before. Francis turned to look behind him. Dark silhouettes on horseback rode in chase, probably a hundred yards away, visible only in the shafts of light flickering between the shadows of the trees. Two, maybe three that he could see. No. There was a fourth, to his left—probably the one who had fired the shot.

Francis turned to look forward. A branch! He ducked just in time, and reached to catch hold of his hat as the limb nearly snapped it off his head. Spark, sure-footed through years of riding narrow trails in the dark of night, avoiding roots that stuck out of the ground, shouldered around a turn in the path as if he knew to tighten the turns to shorten the distance he must run.

Behind them, men were shouting directions to one another. Cursing. Other, muffled words he could not understand. Did these men know of a shortcut, through a field perhaps, to get in front of him?

“Lord, guide our path!” Francis called, thinking his creaking joints were too aged for a dash through the thick woods.

As he rode on, his senses heightened. He heard the sound of the leather saddle creaking beneath him, felt the lungs of his horse expand and contract, smelled the sweat that glistened on the great stallion’s neck. He looked for a landmark. He had been so absorbed in his reading that he hadn’t known precisely where he was. Somewhere approaching Scarborough—near the meeting hall at Massacre Pond, where most of the townspeople had been slaughtered by hostile Indians more than one hundred years before, back in the 1690s. The salt marshes and ocean would be somewhere, not far, eastward to his right.

Another shot rang out, and another, one bullet snapping through a branch just a yard or two to Francis’ right. A shiver of fright flew down his spine.

“Giddya!” he hollered, and Spark seemed to stretch out his stride and drop lower to the ground. Francis pulled his hat down to his ears. Yes, he knew this path! There was Dunstan’s Brook up ahead. Putting his right hand to Spark’s neck, he spoke into his ear, “Don’t slow down at the water, boy. Fire right through it!”

As if understanding every word, the horse leaped into the fifteen-yard-wide stream, causing Francis to hold on for dear life, and plowed fiercely through the quickly flowing water. Asbury prayed that they would get to the other side before the highwaymen reached it. If not, he was a dead man.

Another shot sounded and a bullet hit the water beside him with a muffled thud.

“Too many souls still to reach, Lord!” he called out. “Protect Your child!”

A verse from a Psalm flashed before him—“May the Lord fulfill your purpose”—and he called again to the heavens, “Lord, my purpose isn’t fulfilled yet!”

Suddenly, as if sprung from a jack-in-the-box, Spark and Francis bounded out of the stream. Springing to the top of the four-foot-high stream bank, Spark bent into a turn in the path, entering a thick grove of balsam fur trees. Francis knew he was only a quarter of a mile or so from the village at that point. He heard loud cursing behind him; the rogues must have reached the stream.

Then, from his right another gunshot rang out. This time the bullet crackled through branches overhead. The rifle sights must be off, Francis thought with a strained smile. He lay prostrate along Spark’s back and settled his head to the left of the horse’s grand neck.

Francis refrained from digging in his heels. He and his horse were of one mind. He was sure of that. Speed to safety. Speed. Safety. His senses now fully awakened, he didn’t feel his sixty-four years of age at all. He simply felt he had to hang on now. A moment later, they dashed out of the woods and into an open field that led into the village of Scarborough some two hundred yards away.

Still surging toward the town, he leaned down to Spark’s ear and cooed, “You’re the best, Spark. I’ve loved all my horses, but you’re the brightest and the best.” Thinking of the close call he had just escaped, he laughed and added aloud, “And the fastest.”

 

So, these are my own three favorites — keeping in mind that authors should be careful not to cross the line and make an animal human. Man alone is created in God’s image.

Tell me, what (make that “who”) are your favorite fictional animals?