Ad Hoc Repository of Revelations!

My thanks to all the folks who continue to add reported sites to my growing list of “safe houses” in Maine’s extraordinary Underground Railroad that helped fugitive slaves escape to Canada in the 1800s.

Feedback is never the same no matter where I speak on the topic of my novel, True North: Tice’s Story.

A full theater-seated room at Skidompha Library in Damariscotta revealed two new “safe houses” — one in  that town and another in Thomaston.

A packed house for the Joshua Chamberlain Roundtable at Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick included one lady whose Dad had taken her into Brunswick’s amazing mile-long escape tunnel when she was a child; a woman who confirmed earlier reports of a second safe house in Wiscasset besides Castle Tucker; and a gentleman who had a lead on another site on the west side of the Kennebec River in Augusta.

The Kennebec Historical Society seated a record crowd, including a gentleman who reported his home on Summer Street in Augusta had been a safe house. More on that when confirmed.

Together, we’re filling out the known way stations for those scores of frightened fugitives escaping slavery, many of whom were being chased by slave hunters.

The number of safe houses in Maine has mounted to more than 80 from Kittery to Ft. Fairfield and even up in Ft. Kent.

This was an important period in Maine and America’s history — a time forgotten in Maine history textbooks. And we should not forget history or… what? (We will be “condemned to repeat it.”)

It’s uplifting that so many men and women put their fortunes, and families, in danger to help others when they did not have to. They allowed their consciences to overcome their fears.

I hope we all contemplate the question: Would I do the same? Would I be prepared for perilous times that might come? Would I face dread consequences for helping a person in trouble?

Chamberlain 1

Some of the full house at the Joshua chamberlain Round table in Brunswick, Maine.

 

History Archaeologists

While archaeologists (like Dr. Kat Cardover in three of my contemporary novels) dig underground for clues of cultures past, as I speak around Maine about the Underground Railroad of the 1860s and the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, I’m finding a treasure troth above the ground: living, breathing people.

My “digs” are in libraries, historical societies, cultural centers, churches, homeschool conferences, and even a yacht club. And my “archaeological finds” are the attendees’ stories.

Sometimes the most fascinating history isn’t found in a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin (about American presidents), or Leo Tolstoy (the Napoleonic wars), or Robert Graves (I, Claudius).

Sometimes the source is our friends and neighbors and audiences.

History is locked in their heads, not buried in the earth. It is stories told by great-great-great-grandparents to their children and their children’s children down through the generations.

It’s a letter from a soldier to his wife, discovered in 2017 in a hidden room at their farm in Palermo, Maine. It’s an aged dissertation written by the son of a Southern plantation owner trying to affirm the righteousness of his now-lost cause.

Yes, while textbooks fail us, oral history seeps — unbidden but always welcome — out of the most wonderful, obscure hiding places.

The Underground Railroad and the KKK in Maine are ignored in history books for different reasons, I’d guess. In the 1860s people simply didn’t go public that they were “conductors” or operated “safe houses” on the Underground Railroad because they could be jailed and fined.

The KKK? Perhaps the reason for its absence from Maine history books is the same reason German schools basically whiffed for decades on teaching children about concentration camps. The Holocaust was appalling, reprehensible, shameful, and deadly for six million souls, and they didn’t want to think this way of their ancestors, or even acknowledge such a bleak, evil time in their own country.

Maine schools rarely if ever teach about the brave men and women who put their lives and fortunes in peril to help escaping slaves in the 1800s.

But now is a good time to do so and not simply because of my novel, True North: Tice’s Story. The Underground Railroad is ripe with fascinating, invigorating, uplifting tales.

For other reasons, schools never teach about the Ku Klux Klan’s amazing rise to social and political prominence in the 1920s in the Pine Tree State, where Catholics and Jews were its main targets.

Again, now’s the time to teach this bit of history, and not because of my novel, The Crossing.

Slowly, from our new “archaeologists,” my wife, Loy, and I are adding previously unknown “safe houses” to the amalgam of places along Maine’s trails to freedom in Canada.

Two weeks ago in Skowhegan we were told of safe houses in Norridgewock (to the southwest of Skowhegan) and Cornville (to the northwest), yet none in Skowhegan itself.

Last week in Springvale the news included safe houses in Sanford, Kittery Point, Acton and Shapleigh.

Speaking in Pittsfield, a lady in Newport fessed up that she had discovered her grandfather’s KKK robes in the attic and burned them in her backyard. A similar story was told in Biddeford.

Thank you, one in all, for unveiling your previously “buried” mysteries so that we can expand on Maine’s and the nation’s history.

Harland Eastman and me

Top Photo: I speak in Springvale, Maine, about the Underground Railroad to a crowd who added three new “safe houses” to our growing list.

Above Photo: Among the group was former U.S. Ambassador Harland Eastman, longtime president of the Springvale Historical Society.

An Interview with the False Prophet

So you, dear reader, are a reporter (Boo! Hiss!) and you’re interviewing the leader of Church Universal, which has been created by the One World Government to bring all religions together as one.

What would you ask His Excellency Howard Alphonse Bliss?

Here’s the setting for my End Times novel, Torn Asunder, I’m in the midst of writing:

Truth Publications feature writers Darek and Jillian Field and religion writer Ty Cole are in Jerusalem to interview Bliss, who proves a slippery subject when questioned on matters of theology.

Please give the scene a read and let me know how our three intrepid reporters did and if you have a good question or follow-up that they missed. (They’ll take the blame in my stead.) Here goes:

“So glad you came, Mr. and Mrs. Fields. Nice to see you again, Mr. Cole. Please have a seat. Ravi,” Bliss turned to his assistant, “would you have Owandu bring in a tray of coffee, tea and biscuits?”

Chettri bowed. “Yes, your Excellence,” and left the room.

“Well, this must be quite an assignment for me to get three of the world’s foremost reporters,” Bliss remarked, sitting down in one of a circle of overstuffed leather chairs.

Ty lowered himself into in a wide leather chair and Jillian took a seat with Darek in a leather love seat.

Jillian was impressed that Bliss did not take the place of authority behind his desk. She measured the man before them. Taller than Darek by about two inches—probably six-foot-two. Narrow-shouldered. Definitely not athletic. Piercing blue eyes. A narrow mouth with thin lips. Oozing with confidence.

Darek spoke first. “Jillian and I want to look at the cultural impact of Church Universal. Mr. Cole is here to get the religious perspective.”

“Fine. What can I tell you?” Bliss asked. “Fire away.” He sat back, looking comfortable and at ease. A snake in lamb’s clothing.

“Bottom line first,” Darek said, setting down a tape recorder on the table in front of Bliss and clicking it on. “Why create Church Universal in the first place?”

Bliss ran his fingers through his blond locks, then interlocked them in front of him, alternately raising his fingers (the old church steeple game, Jillian thought) and curling them.

“Centuries of disharmony,” Bliss said. “Millennia, actually. Enough is enough. A major barrier between religions is that each has thought, ‘I’m right. Everyone else is wrong.’ This is an old trick of Satan that we first read about in the Garden of Eden. And killing each other in the name of God and ‘what we think is right’ is absurd. I’m sure God would have none of it.

“And we found that there were a number of us—from all religions—who felt the same way. Peace is a universal word, a universal concept, and, we think, the basis for a universal religion.”

“But,” Ty said, “how do you get around the fact that these various religions have, for millennia, worshipped very different gods?”

“Whatever gods they’ve worshipped are enshrouded in myths, fairy tales, and stories written by men and, thus, with man’s errors,” Bliss said. “We feel we can’t truly know God, or the gods if there are more than one, because of our limited minds as compared to the great Mind that created the universe. And if we can’t know Him, how can we define Him? It’s best, we feel, to simply agree on the concept. There is a God, or gods, and He or they want peace for mankind.”

“How do you marry that concept with the Allah of the Muslims ordering the destruction of people of all other religions unless they relent and worship him?” Jillian asked.

“I don’t have to reconcile it,” Bliss said. “I don’t have to reconcile anything any of the religions lays claim to. Truly, I don’t care to debate any point of any religion. My belief—and, yes, my life—are based solely on the idea of peaceful co-existence. A loving God would want nothing less.”

“What of the remark by Jesus,” Jillian interjected, “that ‘no one can get to the Father except through him’?”

Bliss shook his head slowly. “As I said, I care not to debate any particular scripture of any particular religion. What we’ve created here is a universal religion, one that all mankind can believe in and follow without any of the trappings of existing belief systems.”

Ty leaned forward. “I’m reminded of the old saying, ‘If you stand for nothing you’ll fall for anything.’ The leaders of Church Universal are mere men. So how do you expect Christians and Jews to turn away from the teachings they believe came from the mouth of God—or Muslims, Hindus and others who believe in their gods?”

“Mere men, yes. But, we believe, men who are ordained and anointed by God to the task at hand,” Bliss said. “To your point, we believe in unity in cause even if there is not total unity in faith. Unity in cause is central to our duty as the Church Universal. And, again, that cause is peace. Ask any Christian if they want peace. Ask any Muslim.”

“The Muslim might answer ‘yes’ with their lips while firing a bullet into a Jew with the rifle in their hand,” Darek said.

That’s my man. Straight and to the point.

Darek continued, “Isn’t this ‘cause in unity’ too simple for such complex theological and political disagreements?”

Just then the door opened and a dark-skinned woman entered, carrying a tray complete with tea kettle, coffee carafe, and a plate of biscuits. Behind her, a blonde, blue-eyed Norwegian-looking young lady came in, carrying a tray with cups and saucers, cream and sugar. Jillian was startled by their stunning beauty. Setting down the trays, the two women poured what the four people requested.

“Thank you, Owandu, Kari,” Bliss said as they finished. Settling back with cup and saucer in hand, he turned toward Darek. “You mentioned the simplicity of our cause in these complex times, Darek. May I call you ‘Darek’?

Darek nodded assent.

“If it were too simple, would some of the great religious leaders of their time sign onto the concept as early on as 1996?”

“Like who?” Jillian asked, edging forward in the love seat, wondering if his response would confirm what she knew to be true.

Bliss did not lie. “From February through April 1996,” he said, “Episcopal Bishop William Swing traveled through Europe, India and the Middle East, hoping for a Church United—a sort of United Nations of Religion. He sought commitment from such leaders as the Dalai Lama, Islam’s Grand Mufti in Cairo, the Sankaracharya of Kancheepuram, Mother Theresa, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. He also sought pledges from people active in interfaith work, including those at a conference at the International Interfaith Centre in Oxford. In July and August 1996, the bishop visited with religious leaders in Japan and Korea.

“In the end, he enlisted the commitment of many of the world’s religions, and that of Mother Theresa.” Bliss looked triumphant, his chest swelling.

“Amazing,” was all Jillian could whisper.

“Do you have records of this trip?” Ty asked.

“Yes, and I’ll provide them to you,” Bliss said. He leaned behind him, pushed a button on his desk, and said into a speaker, “Ravi, please put together a packet of information on Bishop Swing’s 1996 travels enlisting collaboration for the Church United. We’ll need it before our friends leave.”

“Yes, your Excellence,” came the reply.

Bliss turned to Jillian, Darek and Ty and, looking each in the eye, continued, “In keeping with your question, Darek, the same God who made the hands of a Jew, made the feet of a Christian, the eyes of a Hindu, the heart of a Muslim, and the brain of a Buddhist.

“The Bible even says that, in God, there is no male or female, Jew or Gentile. We in Church Universal believe we’re all brothers and sisters in God, created by the same Father (or fathers, or even father and mother, if you prefer).”

Ty interjected, “The Koran declares God has no Son and Mohammed is his prophet, directly contradicting the New Testament.”

“As I said,” Bliss responded, “I will not get entangled in scriptural arguments of the different faiths. That’s not my calling. Peace and unity. Peace and unity. I’ll go on with this refrain until my dying day.”

Bliss’s piercing blue eyes zeroed in on Ty. “We have to love each other as brothers in God the Creator. You and I. Jews and Muslims. Christians and Hindus. Yes, and Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses who, I’m sure you think, are cultists.

“We’re all brothers and sisters in God just as two people born from the same parents are brothers and sisters. We all descend from Adam and Eve. Or, if one still believes in Darwinism—which I, personally, feel has been sufficiently debunked—we come from the parents of the first primate. Whatever we call ourselves today—Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahá’í—we share a common ancestry.”

Jillian began to ask a question, but Bliss held up a hand. “And I might add that whatever the name of ‘God’ may be in different languages—Yahweh, Allah, Dios, Dieu, Dio, Gott, Brahman—he is the same Being.”

“How on earth, Mr. Bliss, can you have a religion, Church Universal, without a specific theology?” Jillian asked.

“My answer, Jillian, is that I do have a personal theology that guides my own life. But Church Universal is just that: universal. We can’t take sides and nit-pick about the particulars, or the semantics, of any single religion. Because of that, though I may have a personal belief on all sorts of topics, I won’t get involved in debates on any of them.

“But I want to emphasize that religious tolerance is not religious indifference. Tolerance values the right of another person to hold beliefs you think are wrong. We are, above all else, tolerant.”

Jillian slumped back in the loveseat. Slippery as slime. This guy could have been a politician of the highest order.

“Well, okay,” Darek interjected. He sipped from his cup and set it down. “I’d like to ask you about the extra-religious activities of the Church Universal.”

“Please do,” Bliss said. He crossed his legs, at ease.

“You have the support of the One World Government and Sardis. How much do you intend to get involved in government affairs?” Darek asked.

“As we’ve stated in an early white paper, we cannot escape, and indeed should embrace, the task history has imposed on us,” Bliss said. Forming his hands as if holding a basketball in front of him, he added, “This is the duty of helping to shape a new world order in all its dimensions—spiritual, economic, political, social.”

“What of Paul’s admonition: ‘A good soldier does not get involved in civilian affairs’?” Ty asked.

“Obviously, I disagree,” Bliss replied flatly.

“What are some of the specifics you refer to when you mention ‘helping to shape spiritual, economic, political and social dimensions’?” Jillian asked.

“We’re establishing priorities right now,” Bliss said. “How do we wrestle with population problems? Can we mediate in conflict resolution between religious groups in regional hot spots? How can we spearhead efforts to eradicate poverty? And climate change? In what ways can we help single mothers with day care, or help young women making the choice for or against abortion, or entire neighborhoods facing extinction because of massive job losses? There is a plethora of issues, of challenges, that Church Universal must discuss and determine the parameters of our role.”

“So, at this point you have no specifics?” Jillian pushed.

“I’m afraid not. But those will come soon enough. You’ll notice a lot of empty space in this building,” Bliss said. “Before long those spaces will be filled—occupied by people handling these issues.”

“What happens,” asked Darek, “if Church Universal is at odds with One World Government on a particular issue?”

“Compromise,” Bliss said firmly. “It’s a wonderful word, a marvelous concept, and a fruitful way of doing business. You’re from America, a great country whose history is defined by compromise. Where would it be without compromise?”

“A whole lot better off, some would say,” Jillian responded.

“Well, I don’t believe it. The opposite of compromise is conflict, and the ultimate conflict is war. What has war ever proven?”

“Without America going to war, Hitler would have conquered the world and then you’d have no chance to compromise,” Jillian countered.

Bliss waved off her answer. “You may argue anecdotally, but compromise is the only answer to the great challenges facing mankind and Mother Earth today. Premier Sardis is a master of compromise; he has to be. I believe I’ve displayed that I’m also adept at conciliation. Working together, we’ll show the world what truly great leadership is.

“Premier Sardis and the One World Government leadership have relentlessly distanced themselves from prejudice, intolerance, discrimination, oppression and hate.” A pained expression filled Bliss’s face and he continued, “Those are five fruits that the world has, too often, witnessed in connection with the various long-time religions. Church Universal has and will continue to distance itself from these characteristics as well. These are fruits of bad religion and bad religious people.

“Yet, we’ve seen them among imams, pastors, rabbis, et cetera, et cetera, for thousands of years. God abhors hypocrites, and that, my friends, we intend never to be.”

With that, Bliss thumped his clenched fist on the glass coffee table before him.

Darek turned to Jillian, gave her a half-smile as if saying, “Watch this,” then faced Bliss. “Back to my question of what happens when Church Universal and One World Government are at odds. You say compromise, but will the two of you compromise on all issues? And, more fundamental to the question: What makes you think Church Universal should have any say at all in crucial matters facing the world?”

Bliss was unflustered. “The One World Government has the final say, of course. But we will be vocal. I have one example for you.”

“That is—?” Ty responded.

“Cloning. Cloning has come a long way in the last couple decades, but no man has, or can, create a human being—or even one small part of a human being—from scratch.

“Because cloning is unnatural, I oppose it. We’re playing God when we create clones to harvest their body parts. We’re playing God by simply attempting this process. But Premier Sardis and others have decided it is not in our realm to stop this science. So—”

“But compromise is not compromise when it’s one-sided.”

“I disagree.”

Jillian and the others waited for him to explain.

After several moments, clearly no explanation was coming.

Time for the leap.

Jillian pointed toward Bliss. “How do you respond to the people—Christians, I should say—who are declaring that Church Universal, and you in particular, are the embodiment of what was prophesied in Revelation? That Premier Sardis is Antichrist and you are his False Prophet?”

Bliss’s face, for the first time, noticeably reddened. His nostrils flared. An eyebrow jerked skyward. Jillian wondered if he would reach across and slap her and envisioned Darek breaking his arm.

But, no, he remained seated and drew in a deep breath. There was a deathly silence. Jillian, Darek and Ty took a collective breath, Jillian wondering about the answer and knowing they would be ushered out of the office when Bliss was finished with this question.

“I’ll give you a short and a long answer,” Bliss finally replied. “The short answer is, that is absurd. I can not speak to the intent of such people; I can only forgive them for defaming Premier Sardis and me.”

Sidestep number one, Jillian thought.

“The long answer is that these people should be looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, not trying to dredge up some sort of Antichrist or False Prophet. I, like these Christians, am looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. But I believe his coming is being hindered by such people as this.

“The Creator wants His great energies to flow to earth to produce the physical manifestation of the Messiah. But that flow can only happen when mankind raises its collective consciousness to be properly awakened receptors.”

New Age, anyone? Jillian shook her head.

Bliss noticed her response and raised the middle three fingers on his right hand. “I believe there are three types of people on earth: Those whose consciousness has been properly raised so they can readily accept the Messiah; those whose consciousness has been raised somewhat but not so high that they can readily and immediately accept him, but they might be able to accept him after further enlightenment; and those who will never accept him. These Christians, speak as they might about Jesus being their Savior, are deaf and dumb to what he said and stood for while living among us. He spoke of love, forgiveness, sanctification, and accountability.

“As for me, I’m at peace with who I am. And that is not the False Prophet, but the leader of a great movement to reconcile men—” he eyed Jillian, “and women to each other. And if you want proof of the goodness of Premier Sardis and myself, simply check with Owandu if you see her on your way out.

“That young lady had terminal cancer. She was weeks, perhaps days, from death. But we prayed over her, laid hands on her, and today, as you can plainly see, she’s healthy, restored, and happy. Would the Anti-Christ and the False Prophet actually heal someone?” He spit out the question. “I think not!”

With that, Bliss stood. The redness began to retreat from his face, his blue eyes sparkled, smile lines wrinkled alongside his eyes, and his right hand shot out to offer firm handshakes to his three visitors.

Have at it, dear reader.

The Most Important Meal

Micah with the Word.jpg

I’ve determined that the most important meal of the day is … the Word.

Second most important meal? Coffee.

By the way, Micah agrees with both determinations. (Note his coffee mug in the background.)

History for Homeschoolers

 

Underground Railroad Novel

Highlights Christians’ Involvement

 

Tice stood at the riverbank, spring runoff flowing swiftly past him. Certain death lay ahead. Certain torture lay behind. First, he couldn’t swim. And torture? That’s what they did with slaves who tried to escape.

Struggling to catch his breath, he thought, Lord, how’d Your boy get here? What on earth I done?

Homeschoolers need a good dose of history to pass Department of Education requirements, but where on earth can they find exciting, informative books that fulfill those guidelines and are told from a Christian perspective?

Let me introduce True North: Tice’s Story, my historical novel about the Underground Railroad that does not flinch from including God’s influence on the daring men and women who defied the risk of fines and jail time by breaking the law and helping slaves escape to “Freedom Land.”

Chosen by Publishers Weekly as a Featured Book for its Booklife magazine, True North: Tice’s Story carries readers along with 19-year-old slave Tice on his frightful flight to freedom. Pursued by his plantation’s menacing foreman, Morgan, who possesses an unnatural hatred of him, Tice is scurried along by courageous real-life heroes of the Underground Railroad in 1860.

Christian and Jewish families, even Henry David Thoreau, help Tice whom they find likeable, friendly and even funny despite his life of misery and who wears his love of God on his sleeve.

Indeed, on a late-night ride with Thoreau the 19-year-old Tice carries the day in an entertaining talk about God with the venerable author.

Publisher’s Weekly wrote that True North “vividly describes the plight of runaway slaves” and “Tice exhibits a deep religious confidence that will endear him to readers of inspirational literature. While the main plot is a work of fiction, the well-researched historical elements make it believable and even, at times, educational.”

Absorbing characters fill the pages with insight into the slavery debate; the runaways’ ever-present dread of being captured; and even humor from some of the Underground Railroad’s younger “conductors.”

Written for middle-schoolers and adults, True North: Tice’s Story is one of three Christian historical novels I’ve written that homeschoolers have embraced. The others are The Crossing, the previously veiled story of the Ku Klux Klan in Maine in the 1920s; and Midnight Rider for the Morningstar, the story of Francis Asbury, America’s first circuit-riding preacher, who sailed to America in 1771 and escaped ravenous wolves, deadly Indians, and dangerous highwaymen to carry the Word of God to the colonies and beyond. All are available on amazon.com.

 

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.

 

 

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!)