The Practical Navigator by Chris Crowley: An Excerpt

Membership in the Great Arcadia, an exclusive East Coast yacht club, is pretty much limited to the rich and powerful in 1980s business, finance, and politics. But the sexually charged murder of Greek billionaire George Minot during their annual regatta off the coast of Maine opens a door into a secret world of addictive sexuality and excess beneath the starched sheets of the East Coast establishment.

Tim Bigelow is looking forward to spending a week at sea with the magical Cassie Sears, who has suddenly appeared in his life. He’s also there to celebrate his older brother, Harry-the retiring commodore of the Great Arcadia who’s on course for a major role in the White House. That prospect slips away when Minot is murdered and details start to come out, including the alarming fact that Minot saw himself as a latter-day embodiment of the Minotaur-the half-man, half-bull creature who lurked in the Labyrinth beneath the ancient city of Knossos in one of the oldest myths in the Western canon.

From the decks of the world’s finest yachts to the beds and boardrooms of some of the most powerful people in America to an electrifying courtroom trial in a dying coastal town, The Practical Navigator steers a course through its own labyrinth . . . a whirlpool of obsessive sexuality, murder, and despair.

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AN EXCERPT: THE PRACTICAL NAVIGATOR

PROLOGUE


July 1988, Broken Harbor
Harry’s death was utterly like him: orderly, decisive, and oddly considerate. He sailed to Maine without telling a soul—left a note saying he was going on a business trip but of course he wasn’t. He picked up his boat in Marion and sailed overnight to Broken Island, seven miles off the coast of Maine, near the Canadian border. It’s a big boat, over fifty feet, but it has all kinds of gadgets so it wasn’t hard for someone like Harry to do it alone. Actually, he wasn’t entirely alone. He had stopped at the New York apartment and picked up Gus, the big black Newfoundland, to keep him company on this . . . this journey, I guess.


He got there late in the afternoon, furled the sails, and set the anchor with his usual care. Then he fed the dog and had something himself, down below. Put the dishes in the sink and opened a bottle of wine, which he took up into the cockpit. A very good bottle of wine, but he only had the one glass. It was a sacrament, I imagine; he didn’t really drink.

xiv CHRIS CROWLEY
No one was there so I can’t tell, but it looks as if Harry sat there for quite a while, with Gus at his side. I see them with great clarity: there is Gus, with his huge head on Harry’s lap and Harry calmly looking around, his hands working the thick black fur around Gus’s neck and ears. Or I see them both, sit- ting up now, looking at the beach and that remarkable shore- line, the sun going down over the Cut. It is the loveliest place. Then he shuts Gus down below.


One imagines the intimate business of getting Gus down the steps. Harry stands at the bottom of the companionway, and gets his arms around him (a face full of fur, legs every which way; Gus’s great face is interested but relaxed: they’ve done this a hundred times). Then he picks him up, all hundred pounds of him, and gently sets him down on the cabin sole. Sets out some water. Harry put him below because he didn’t want him to see. Or more likely, he was afraid the dog would jump in and try to save him, as Newfies are bred to do.


Then, after he had lowered the guardrail on the starboard side, he got the Camden marine operator to call the sheriff, Bud Wilkerson, over in Hanson, and told him what he was about to do. Hung up before Bud could say anything, but wanted him to know so he’d come out and get the dog. Then he put on his commodore’s cap—an old-fashioned hat with a small, shiny visor and a narrow crown, the kind worn in the Navy in World War I. Do you remember the photos of Admiral Sims? Like that. That was one of a number of affectations at the Great Arcadia Yacht Club of New York, Boston, and Mount Desert, of which Harry had recently been commodore. That and the pips, the four raised brass-and-enamel symbols of his rank on each epaulet. Then Harry sat down on the gunwale with his back to the water. And blew his brains out.
Here’s an interesting thing. Just before he did it, he tied a float to his leg. When he shot himself, his body went over the side, as he intended. Not a drop of blood in the boat. But it

THE PRACTICAL NAVIGATOR xv


floated. So my friend Bud wouldn’t have to dive for it when he got there. Imagine thinking of that, in the closing moments of your life.
Well, Harry—my brother, Harry—had a weakness for order. More than a weakness, a passion. He was a subtle man, entirely capable of making his way in a dark and uncertain world. But his great passion was for order. That was the real business of his life: not making an astonishing fortune as a very young man or becoming a cabinet officer, but preserving order. Against the sweet, dark pull of the Labyrinth, as it spins away, under the city, under our lives.

CHAPTER 1


GOD’S LAUGHTER


The seeds of that passion were planted when he was a kid, in our chaotic shingle-pile house by the sea, and they were nur- tured secretly, urgently, by Harry in hostile ground. Hostile because our parents were not orderly people. Charming and loving, when at all sober, but not orderly. He shaped his character against a background of drunks making speeches, playful grown-ups falling down at croquet. Lovely manners punctuated with the occasional slap, somewhere upstairs. And screams. Real, flat-out crazy-person screams.


We were a handsome family in decline. We lived in a grand house on Peaches Point in Marblehead, which was in trust so it could not be sold. But there was lawn furniture in the living room, and the gardens running down to the water had gone to jungle. The television was on in the afternoon and there was drinking all day long.


Our mother, Sarah, was very beautiful and had great charm, great style. But she was not useful. As a mother, she

2 CHRIS CROWLEY


was not as useful as the five Newfoundland dogs that ran more or less wild around our house. And they were not useful at all, until Harry took them in hand when he was nine or ten. Housebroke them and made them mind. By the time he was fifteen, he was taking care of all of us, the dogs and me, any- way. He must have had remarkable gifts because we were all pretty well behaved and happy. He tried to take care of our mother, too. Had been trying, desperately, since he was a little boy. But that had not gone so well.


Harry finally gave it up as a bad job when he was sixteen. Suddenly lost patience, I had always supposed, and simply ran away. He told me, much later, that he talked to me about it for a long time the night he left. Explained to me why he had to go and why he couldn’t take me with him. It was obvious: he was sixteen and I was six. He promised to come back and get me when he could. Which he did.


When I was sixteen and she was forty-four, our mother died of her excesses. From having been very popular, in a raff- ish, untidy way, our parents’ lives had suddenly gone toxic, after Harry left. They became the kind of people whom one no longer saw. Solitary drinkers, alone and separate in that big house. Some people were surprised that a woman that young and attractive should drink herself to death. I was not surprised. I thought that’s exactly what she had in mind. Our father died a year later, in similar circumstances. I don’t know what he had in mind. He had been a heavy-drinking absence in our lives for a long, long time.


As a result, neither Harry nor I really knew him. So we were both astonished when, at his interment, there appeared, unannounced, an honor guard of Navy-enlisted men and an officer, in dress blues, with rifles and an American flag. He had won the Navy Cross, among other medals, during the war and the Navy never forgets that one. So, at the end of the service, the officer stepped forward and read the citation describing

THE PRACTICAL NAVIGATOR 3


what our father had done—an act of truly extraordinary brav- ery and competence. The enlisted men fired their rifles, care- fully folded the flag, and gave it to Harry and me. Then they disappeared as mysteriously as they had come. We knew our father had flown a fighter off carriers during the war, but this? What was one to make of this? I was merely surprised. Harry wept. Harry! That was astonishing.
Harry had been loaned a big sailboat the summer our mother died, and we sailed Down East for a fortnight. To Broken Harbor, actually, among other places. I felt as if I were coming home, not running away, and so it turned out. Those weeks and the months that followed were among the happiest of my life.


In the fall, he sent me away to boarding school. As if he were my father, not my brother. Visited every other weekend. Urged me to row, to write, to work hard. He was very popular with my friends, who thought him wildly romantic. He was more than romantic to me. He was a Hero and a Rescuer. I simply adored him all my life.


I was a bright kid—bright enough for those days, anyway— and Harry sent me to Harvard (where he had gone) and then Harvard Law School. Not the Business School: he saw I would make a lawyer, not a businessman. He was right about that, as so much else. I actually made the Law Review, vindicating his instinct. Once I started to practice, Harry and I were more like brothers again. I did a stint in the US Attorney’s Office, then joined a big firm. I worked like a lunatic and made partner pretty fast. We assumed, after that, that we would lead orderly lives. We would marry and have children and all that, but we would always be together. And we would never hear another grown-up scream as long as we lived.

4 CHRIS CROWLEY


Harry and I were almost unnaturally close, like in The Corsican Brothers, the Dumas novel about brothers who can feel each other’s pain, even when they’re hundreds of miles apart. But we were very different, too. He was a Hero and a Rescuer, as I say. I was not. He saw a God-created world, lit with bright colors and certainty. I . . . well, I was a lawyer. The law is not a field for absolutists. It is not a matter of finding the Way, the Truth, and the Light. It is a matter of getting from over here, someplace, to a spot over there . . . lit only by your own intelligence and your adherence to a set of rickety, man-made rules. I confess that I think it a high calling, and I believe in those rickety rules with all my heart. Because I think that’s all there is.


The practical navigator, Harry used to call me, with a blend of kidding and respect, because I was more practical and cau- tious than he. It’s from the name of a book by a Salem sea cap- tain named Nathaniel Bowditch. It was published in 1802 and instantly became the definitive work on ocean navigation. It stayed that way for the next 150 years. It was still used at the Naval Academy during World War II. Men who could navigate were said to “know their Bowditch.” I actually knew my Bowditch, which was an anachronism by the time I learned it, but I liked the idea. Liked the tie to my Salem roots and to a set of rules.
My devotion to the rules was partly a matter of personal taste, but it was also philosophical. I believe that life is mostly a game, which we make up, in the absence of Divine Guidance. If that’s right, the rules make all the difference, don’t they? No rules, no game. Once little kids start running from first base, over the pitcher’s mound to third, they’re going to lose interest pretty soon, and want to go home. Except for this: There is no God and there is no home, there is only the game. So we better not cheat.


I used to tease Harry about his worldview and especially about his God. “If your God created this relentlessly humorless world, Harry,” I once said, “I want no part of Him.”

THE PRACTICAL NAVIGATOR 5


“Humorless?” Harry perked up at that. He only half lis- tened to these rants.


“Yes, Harry. Humor is at the heart of the human condition. And your God has none! Or—if He does—it is so cruel and remote that He and I will never make each other laugh.” Pause for effect. “At least, not intentionally.”


Harry loved that line, laughed out loud. “You see Him gig- gling, do you, as He dangles us, spiders over the flame?”


“Of course. He’s a psychopath.” Harry nodded, considered it. But he still believed. At least until he popped that big black Sig Sauer in his mouth at the end. At that point, who knows?


I have that weapon on the desk beside me as I write, and I confess that a couple of times I have carefully put it in my mouth, to see what it was like. I didn’t care for it. And it did not make me think of God.
Bud called me as soon as Harry called him from Broken Harbor, and I set out for Maine at once. Not because there was any hope, just to be there. By the time I got to the little airport in Hanson, Bud was back from Broke, with a heartbroken Gus at his side, waiting by his pickup truck—with the bubble-gum light on the cab and guns in the rear window. He shook his head, unnecessarily. “He’s gone, Doc,” he said, his voice full of sorrow. We’d become close in the course of the Minot affair.


“Let’s go take a look,” I said, and we got in the truck.
There’s no coroner’s office in Hanson so a suicide would normally go to the local jail. But Bud said he couldn’t bear the idea of Harry going back in there again, so he just took him home. The way everyone was taken home, in the old days of “laying-out rooms” and “coffin corners.” When death was more familiar. Bud wasn’t a toucher, but—at the door to his house— he put his big arm around my shoulder, gave me a hug. “Awful damn sorry, Doc. Awful sad.”

6 CHRIS CROWLEY


Harry was lying faceup on Bud’s dining room table, with towels wadded around the back of his head, which was pretty bad. Gone, actually; the bullet had been a hollow point. The table was covered with towels, too, because his uniform was still soaking wet. Salt water never dries.


Harry left a note. There were two, in fact. One for his wife, Mimi, and one for me. Mine read:


My Dear Tim:


I love you very much, now as always. My
only doubts about this come from the fear that you will somehow blame yourself. Do not, I beg you. There is absolutely nothing more you could have done. You have been superb, through all of this. Through our whole life, in fact. I could not have had a better brother.
You will find that I have left most of my estate to you. Please do not give it away. Get married and have children, perhaps. Lead the best life you can, after all this. I hope you will marry Cassie. Or someone like her, if that doesn’t work.


I have more than taken care of Mimi and think she will be all right. But look after her. You need not marry her, as brothers sometimes do, but I care for her a great deal and hope you will keep track, at least until she remarries.


Would you be good enough to take Gus? He was never really Mimi’s dog and he will do better with you.
I love you so much. Harry

THE PRACTICAL NAVIGATOR 7


I had Harry cremated in his Arcadia uniform. He was no longer a member of the Great Arcadia, to say nothing of being its commodore. But that’s all right, he was entitled to that.


He was entitled not to go naked into the dark water, like the victim of a sex crime or a murder. Although he was both of those things, as well.
The undertakers didn’t like the uniform. They particu- larly didn’t like the half-inch, half-round pips on the epaulets. I think it is like metal in a microwave . . . bad for the oven. But the undertaker had his price and Harry was cremated in his uniform, pips and all. When I got the canister of ashes to pour into the sea out at Broke, there were some hard bits that rattled like stones. There are often bits of bone, I understand. But this was different. These were the pips.


My first thought had been to douse Harry’s sailboat, Silver Girl, with kerosene, put him aboard, and touch her off . . . a Viking funeral. Bud had patted me on the back and said to calm down, we weren’t doing that.


So we all went out to Broke in the Betsy B, Bud’s big lobster boat—Bud, Mimi, and I. And two friends, Frank Butler and Cassie Sears, the “Cassie” Harry referred to in the note. I asked Mimi if she wanted to do it, wanted to put him over the side. But she said, “No,” in that little Jackie Kennedy voice of hers, “I can’t.” So I took her hand in one of mine and, with the other, poured Harry into the sea. The bottom there is sandy, as I well knew, so Harry will turn to sand pretty quick.
But the pips, all melted down and looking like spent bul- lets, the pips will last a long time. The pips, man. A comic thread in this sad story. A line to make God laugh.

Scribecount: Numbers for Your Words with Philippa Werner #SPF 273

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Interview with Tammy Euliano, MD – Author of Fatal Intent

Author of Fatal Intent

End-of-life care—or assisted death

When her elderly patients start dying at home days after minor surgery, anesthesiologist Dr. Kate Downey wants to know why. The surgeon, not so much. “Old people die, that’s what they do,” is his response. When Kate presses, surgeon Charles Ricken places the blame squarely on her shoulders. Kate is currently on probation, and the chief of staff sides with the surgeon, leaving Kate to prove her innocence and save her own career. With her husband in a prolonged coma, it’s all she has left.

Aided by her eccentric Great Aunt Irm, a precocious medical student, and the lawyer son of a victim, Kate launches her own unorthodox investigation of these unexpected deaths. As she comes closer to exposing the culprit’s identity, she faces professional intimidation, threats to her life, a home invasion, and, tragically, the suspicious death of someone close to her. The stakes escalate to the breaking point when Kate, under violent duress, is forced to choose which of her loved ones to save—and which must be sacrificed.

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Perfect for fans of Kathy Reichs and Tess Gerritsen

Interview with Tammy Euliano, MD

Author of Fatal Intent

Tammy Euliano, MD, is a practicing anesthesiologist and tenured professor of anesthesiology at the University of Florida. In addition to a prolific list of academic publications, YouTube teaching videos, and numerous teaching awards, she has also written award-winning short fiction. Fatal Intent is her debut novel. Tammy lives in Gainesville, FL, with her husband. For more information, please visit https://teuliano.com and follow the author of Facebook.

  1. I love the premise for Fatal Intent. Did the inspiration for this book take place over a long period?

It did. The idea of managing the end-of-life has fascinated me since way before any kid should think about such things. We had a debate in my 5th grade class about the fate of Karen Ann Quinlan, a young woman in a persistent vegetative state whose parents wanted her ventilator disconnected, while the State of New Jersey disagreed. I don’t recall what side my 10-year-old-self argued, but the question never left me. Medical technology and the ability to keep the body alive has far out-paced our ethical ability to deal with the implications.

In medical school and residency, the question resurfaced repeatedly, while watching families’ extended mourning in the ICU, and anesthetizing patients for innumerable procedures despite little to no hope of a meaningful recovery. Meanwhile, the absurd cost of medical care in the US frequently made the news, especially expenditures in the last few months of life and final hospitalization.

 

  1. You’ve written award-winning short stories. What was your experience writing a full length novel vs shorter fiction?

I started the novel first, and only moved to short fiction when I realized (1) I needed to work on craft and (2) getting published wasn’t a linear path. I learned that having writing credits might help me find an agent. The jury’s still out on that part, but it definitely taught me to write efficiently. It’s great practice for completing character and plot arcs, all in a single day instead of months (or years).

 

  1. How long have you been writing fiction?

Do stories about lady bugs and lions written in first grade count? I dabbled a bit, but didn’t really start writing until around 2014 when I resigned my administrative duties at work and purposely made time to write.

 

  1. What kind of person is the character Dr. Kate Downey?

She is caring, compassionate, loyal, intelligent and skilled, but also plagued by guilt and maybe a little imposter syndrome. She is tenacious but confrontation-averse and much too willing to accept blame, even erroneously assigning it to herself. I think she’d be a great friend to have, but maybe a little slow to warm up.

 

  1. I love what you’ve done with the story and the dialogue leaps off the page. What is your creative process for creating characters?

Thank you for that. Honestly, the characters seem to just appear in my mind. For the sequel, I’m having a little trouble with one of the new characters who can’t decide whether he or she is a good guy in a tough spot or a bad guy faking it. To figure the character out I’m having them write a diary post about their motivations. When that doesn’t work, I use a massive white board and create a mind map of their life and interactions. It’s one of the funnest parts of writing for me, except when they won’t cooperate, like now!

 

  1. Dr. Kate Downey has a lot situations going against her. What motivates her to keep going and clear her name?

With her husband on death’s door, her career is all she has. If she isn’t working crazy hours, she has time to think, and wallow. Furthermore, being a physician is all she’s ever wanted to be, if she isn’t a doctor, who is she? And she wants to stay in her current hospital because Greg once worked there. Her colleagues knew him. In a way, he still exists as long as she’s there.

 

  1. Will this be a stand alone or develop into a series?

It began as a stand alone, but I really liked Kate and her crew and wondered if I could keep writing them. Realistically though, what are the odds an academic anesthesiologist would stumble across more than one murder mystery in her career. But then, there is Murder, She Wrote and Miss Marple and any number of other series with an amateur sleuth, often cozies but I thought it might be possible. When Oceanview bought Fatal Intent, it was a two-book deal, so that sealed it. But in the meantime, the reviews I’m receiving frequently mention a desire to see Kate again, hence the sequel with the uncooperative character.

 

  1. What’s next for you?

The sequel to Fatal Intent in which Kate Downey, Aunt Irm and Christian face another series of challenging circumstances is due asap. I’m also working on another series. Pre-covid I wrote about a bioengineered virus that destroyed the fertility of humans and other primates. Sort of Children of Men-ish, minus the soul-crushing fate of mankind that PD James described. Anyway, I LOVE the themes, the characters and the challenging topics raised, but have yet to interest an agent or publisher.



By day, Tammy Euliano, MD is a Professor of Anesthesiology and Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Florida where she cares for obstetric patients, teaches medical students and residents, performs research, and invents cool stuff. She’s been honored with numerous teaching awards, more than 100,000 views of her YouTube teaching videos, and was featured in a calendar of women inventors (copies available wherever you buy your out-of-date planners).

By night, she plays games with her family (now remotely), cuddles her dogs, reads, and writes medical thrillers.

Vacations are for exploring our amazing world. She has dragged her family of five to all the major US national parks, Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, the Galapagos, the Mediterranean, Europe and New Zealand. Trips are spent soaking up the history and culture while also experiencing nature, often in extreme fashion.

From Supermax Prison to Self-Publishing With Mark Dawson & Jeffrey P. Frye

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From Fighting Fires to Writing Romance With Lolo Paige & Mark Dawson

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How to Make a Living Writing Book Club Fiction With Boo Walker & Mark Dawson

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How to Print Your Book All Over the World With Jason Miletsky & Mark Dawson

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Crooked: Honest Criminality by Bronwen John @toydog16r @matadorbooks @lovebooksgroup #lovebookstours

Ashia ‘Ash’ Cox isn’t your average teenager. She’s a sixteen-year-old con artist headed for greatness – until celebrity criminal Harry Holmes destroys the family and life she loves.

Taking matters into her own hands, Ash links up with Esther Crook – a legendary con who has her own motivations against Holmes and his associates. After a little persuasion, Esther puts together a new crew using Ash as ‘the insider’. The crew feel the heat of the criminals on one side and the encroaching crime agencies on the other, but as the heist unfurls, who is really doing the conning and who is pulling the strings?

With plot twists aplenty, Crooked raises the stakes in crime fiction as the plot equally surprises – and cons – the reader.

 

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I had a good impression while reading Crooked Honest Criminality.  The whole realm and art of “the con” is very fascinating. It provides a good insight into the criminal enterprise of the con artist. The characters kind of remind of the classic movie, Oliver, who also was an estranged orphan. Full of action, adventure, and dialogue, Crooked  will keep you turning the pages until the very end. You’ll have to read it to find out what happens next! 

AUTHOR BIO


Bronwen John is a Civil Servant with a Creative Writing degree from the University of Wales. She has previously published four poetry anthologies which include; The Kardomah Kid (2011), Mind The Gap (2013), The Lotus Blossom and The Kardomah Kid (2017), as well as a children’s book, The Mystery of Smugglers Drift (2017). She lives in a tiny village in Dyffryn Cellwen, Wales.





Launching a Children’s Book Without Breaking the Bank

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Primal Calling by Barry Eisenberg – An Excerpt

While rummaging through the attic, high school senior, Jack Davies, is surprised to find his never-before-seen birth certificate, revealing a startling bit of information that changes his life. The story his mother told about his birth, he discovers, is revealed to be a lie, shattering long-held beliefs and the trust he had for her. Jack becomes obsessed with discovering the truth, leading him down a dangerous path. Faced with unanswered questions and confounding obstacles at every turn, Jack finds himself deeply enmeshed in an intricate world of national security and international intrigue. Relationships are tested as his every move is tracked by a group of mysterious people. Who are they? Whose side are they on? Who can he trust? And, most importantly, who will he ultimately become?

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An excerpt from Primal Calling by Barry Eisenberg

 

Jack walked toward the student parking lot. It was late in the day for a final exam, and he didn’t encounter any acquaintances on the five-minute walk to the parking lot. The driver of the Taurus spotted Jack entering the parking lot and turned on the ignition. Jack got into his car and backed out of the spot. His mother was expecting him home before dinner. He became preoccupied with thoughts of the important phone call he was scheduled to get the following morning. 

 

The Taurus followed the Accord, the driver carefully staying sufficiently back to avoid arousing suspicion. After exiting the college, the Accord turned right onto Rockaway Avenue, a main thoroughfare that cut through several suburban towns. Rockaway Avenue had an eclectic mix of old shops and newer, trendy stores. A health foods store sat adjacent to a shop that sold antique toys. When Jack was a boy, he had loved to watch the Lionel train set displayed in the window. The sturdiness of the train cars and the authenticity of their appearance mesmerized him, as did the fantasy of hopping on board and being whisked beyond the confines of his community. 

 

Jack turned onto Valley Mill Turnpike, a single-lane road that ran through a stretch of woodland. Jack was about seven miles from his home. About two miles onto Valley Mill Turnpike, Jack noticed that the Taurus behind him was getting much closer. That guy is in a big-time rush, Jack thought. The Taurus, gaining ground, was now about a car length behind. Jack gently tapped the brake to slow the car, hoping the Taurus would pass. 

 

After a few seconds, the Taurus began to pass. Jack glanced into the Taurus as it pulled alongside. He noticed three people in the car, all of whom were staring directly back at him. It struck Jack as a look of scrutiny, as though to confirm their find. The female passenger, sitting in the front passenger seat, had a piercing, frightening gaze. She waved to Jack to stop. 

 

Jack’s mind was racing. His fear that this group would seek him out had materialized. But he knew he must try to avoid them, lest he expose Cathy to danger. He believed he had no choice but to dodge them and call her. He also knew he should not use his cell phone. 

 

Jack hit the accelerator and his car lurched forward, pulling in front of the Taurus. The Taurus regained speed and, again, came up just behind the Accord. The driver was clearly skilled at this activity and, at once, was able to maneuver his car beside Jack’s. Another wave by the woman to slow down. Jack needed to get away. As he fixed his gaze on the road in front, the driver of the Taurus, in anticipation of Jack’s plan to try to race ahead, pulled his car in front. 

Jack was now behind the Taurus. Both cars were moving at sixty miles per hour. Jack knew that a string of about ten stores, including a gas station, was just two miles up the road. Just then, the Taurus started to slow down. Suddenly, the deceleration became abrupt, and Jack couldn’t help but get too close for comfort. He slammed on his brakes. Panic! 

 

Jack tried to steer around the Taurus, but it shifted to the left, a deliberate attempt to prevent Jack from passing. The Taurus was slowing to a complete halt, and Jack was unable to steer past it. His only choice was to put the car in reverse and try to back out of the area. Jack took a deep breath and threw the car into reverse. The Taurus, now also in reverse, followed closely. Jack desperately wanted to turn the car around, and thought he had an opening. He spun the wheel and the car veered toward the shoulder. But Jack was no match for the driver of the Taurus. Before Jack could put the car in drive, the Taurus lunged back, tires screeching, until it was positioned directly in front of Jack. 

 

Trapped! 

 

Jack slammed the gear shift into park and bolted from the car, leaving it running, and darted directly into the wooded area behind him. The lanky man from the back seat and the woman scrambled from the car in pursuit. In the meantime, the driver of the Taurus repositioned both cars to the shoulder of the road. 

 

Jack had no choice but to use his phone now. His hands trembled as he fidgeted for it, and the uneven terrain made it impossible to maneuver through his pockets. Then he realized his phone was on the passenger seat of his car. 

 

The man shouted to Jack to stop. The woman, not far behind, screamed, “We’re not going to hurt you.” In the face of this madness, Jack found her tone oddly believable. Fearing no possibility for escape, Jack was left with no choice but to confront them. 

 

He wheeled around, screaming, “What do you want from me? Who are you?” 

 

They stood about twenty feet from Jack, separated by a small clearing in the thicket of trees. 

 

“We are not here to hurt you. We need you to come with us,” the woman repeated. 

 

Jack succumbed to a strange, paradoxical mix of panic and curiosity. He didn’t know these people, though he had been aware they might seek him out. But he could not reveal this awareness to them. And he didn’t know if he was in danger. “What if I don’t? You can’t do this to me.” His wobbly voice managed a trace of defiance. 

 

“Actually, we can,” the man declared. His tone was powerful and convincing. That was it. With those three words, the man’s authority — an unequivocal dominance over Jack — became deadly certain. 

 

Jack stood there, frozen, while the pair walked toward him. He suspected he wouldn’t be hurt, but he couldn’t be positive. He was at once consumed with energy and sapped of it. 

 

“Where are we going?” Jack asked, relinquishing himself to a fate over which he knew he had no control. 

 

“Back to the car,” the woman replied. “You need to come with us.” 

 

The woman led the way back to the highway. Jack followed, not wanting to provoke the man, whose presence loomed directly behind. Along the path lay rocks and tree branches. One of these might be used as a weapon, he thought. His mind raced; is there time to grab something? But other than a small tussle with a class bully in the third grade, Jack had not been especially schooled in the ways of physical confrontation. In fact, among the best of his social talents was conflict avoidance. No, he’d surely lose out in a physical struggle. 

 

Jack pressed the pair for information. “Who are you? What do you want from me? Take my car. Take my money. Just please let me go.” As Jack’s pleas faded, so did any semblance of his resistance, and the pair offered nothing. No hint of purpose. No gesture of reassurance. The remainder of the short walk to the car occurred in silence. 

 

As the group neared the car, the man told Jack to get into the back seat with him. The driver and the woman assumed their original positions in the front. She turned to Jack and instructed him, “You need to call your mother. Where’s your phone?” 

 

“It’s in my car,” he responded. 

 

The woman retrieved Jack’s phone from his car and handed it to him. Then she advised him on what to say: “Tell her that you were asked by Mr. Dwyer to help with a project at the department tonight.” Holy shit, she knew his computer instructor’s name. “If she asks what the project is, tell her the department is planning the installation of new hard drives on the school’s computer system during the summer, and you’ve been asked to help with preparation.” Jack felt a sense of terror — she knew about that too! “Tell her you’ll be home close to midnight, but she shouldn’t worry if you’re running late.” 

 

“Is all that clear?” the man in the back asked with stinging bluntness. 

 

Jack nodded.

The man’s stare was laser-like. “Be convincing,” he said, which sounded to Jack like a warning.

Jack hit the call button and stared at the woman as the phone rang. 

 

The driver, who had not turned around during the entire time Jack had been in the car, kept his sights on the road ahead. 

 

“I got her voicemail,” Jack informed the group. 

 

“Perfect,” said the woman. “Just leave the message and tell her you’ll be home late tonight.” 

Jack delivered the message as directed. The slight hesitancy in his voice was not enough to create concern for the group. 

 

“Unfortunately, we’re unable to answer any questions right now,” she confirmed. “But I assure you our aim is not to hurt you.” Then she exited the car, walked to Jack’s car, and got into the driver’s seat. Jack watched as his car made a U-turn. The Accord drove alongside the Taurus and stopped. The window rolled down, and the woman instructed the driver of the Taurus to follow her back to the college. 

 

The trip back to the college was made in silence. Despite her cool assertiveness, the woman’s presence eased Jack’s fear. There was a cold, menacing steeliness without her, and Jack believed there could be harsh consequences if he showed any sign of resistance. 

 

As they arrived at the college, Jack realized he had yet to hear the driver utter a single word. Jack watched as his Accord passed by the student parking lot and headed for the visitor lot. The majority of students at New Jersey Central College commuted to school, but about a fifth of the student body was from out of town. Parents and friends who visited were directed to park in the visitor lot. Jack knew that cars could be parked there for days without being ticketed by college security. Apparently, Jack’s abductors knew this as well. 

 

The woman parked the Accord and returned to the Taurus. Jack observed her placing his car keys into her purse, which had been on the front floor of the Taurus. The Taurus pulled out of the visitor lot, through one of the smaller gates of the college and then back onto Rockaway Avenue. 

 

As the Taurus left the immediate area, Jack, impelled by trepidation, dared to question his captors again. His tone was pleading. “Who are you? Why are you doing this?” 

 

“Everything will be made clear in due time,” the woman replied, icily. “Now, please, no more questions for now.” 

 

Jack knew the car had been heading north, but he was unfamiliar with the route the driver was taking. After what felt to Jack like a distance of about seven or eight miles, the car pulled onto a small side road. It was desolate, eerily so under the circumstances. The lanes were narrow, not much wider than the car itself, and the quick succession of twists and bends in the road made it impossible to see beyond a few yards. 

 

The car drove about five hundred feet up the road, then pulled off onto a dirt shoulder. The woman turned around and faced Jack. Jack’s fear — this terror produced by a sense of imminent doom — caused his mind to scramble, scanning everything, anything for any possibility of escape. But there was no way out, and the fear manifested in jolts to his system. He could feel his heart beating in his chest. A strange numbness gripped his hands and descended toward his wrists. The tips of his fingers tingled and were overwhelmed by a paralyzing weightiness. A stinging electricity coursed through him. 

 

“I can’t tell you where we are going or why. And I’m not free to answer any questions right now. I need you to wear these for the remainder of the trip, though,” the woman said, handing Jack what appeared to be a pair of sunglasses with shields that wrapped around the sides. 

 

Jack slowly extended his hand to take the glasses from the woman and asked why he should wear them. “Just put them on, please. It’s for your own protection.” Jack sensed impatience in her voice, but with a hint of sensitivity. She was a model of efficiency. There was nothing wasted about her. Her words were delivered methodically without a syllable to spare. Her hair, shoulder-length with just a hint of a wave, had fallen back neatly into place despite a run in the woods. Jack felt his heart pulsing. 

 

Jack discovered these were not ordinary sunglasses. They blackened out all traces of light. He had no idea where they were going. 

 

Travel resumed. Jack felt the car make several turns in quick succession. He believed this was a deliberate strategy to confuse him. Until they had stopped, he knew they were headed north, but this jarring sequence of turns was disorienting. He knew only that there was no stretch of extended highway driving. 

 

About twenty minutes later, the car slowed, pulling onto gravel. The front passenger door opened and the woman stepped out. The two men remained in the car. The woman opened the rear passenger door where Jack was seated. He made no move. The woman reached in and placed her hand under Jack’s elbow. “Please come with me,” she demanded, her tone firm but noticeably polite.

Jack slowly extended one foot out the door and felt a gravel incline beneath his feet. With the glasses still on, Jack was escorted by the woman for about twenty yards. He heard a door in front of him open and was told to go up one step and enter a house. The wooden floor felt like the floor in his kitchen at home. Its hard texture was offset by a suppleness that muffled the sound of shoes making contact with it. 

 

Jack was advised by the woman that he was heading to a room in the back of the house. She led him straight for a few feet and then made a turn to the left. He surmised that a kitchen was to his right from the faint hum of what sounded like a refrigerator motor. He was also aware of the presence of other people in the house, not from voices, but from the dampened creaking of the floor. Another turn, this one to the right, then up five steps. The steps were carpeted, as was the hallway they entered on this elevated floor. 

 

A door opened in front of Jack and he was asked to enter. The woman escorted Jack about five steps into the room, then guided him toward a folding wooden chair. Once seated, Jack heard the door to the room close. 

 

“You can remove the glasses now,” she said. 

 

Jack squinted as his eyes adjusted to the light. The room was almost bare and small, about ten by twelve feet. In front of Jack was a small wooden table made from lacquered pine, flimsy in its construction. A plastic pitcher of water and two plain drinking glasses sat on the table. A small puddle of condensate had accumulated at the base of the pitcher. Jack was in one of four wooden-slatted folding chairs. The room had no windows and nothing on its bleak, beige walls. The light was dim, emanating from four recessed low-wattage lights in the ceiling. 

 

“Would you like to use the restroom?” the woman asked, her tone softer than at any time earlier. 

 

“No.”

“Please help yourself to some water if you like,” she offered.

“I’m not thirsty.” Then, after a beat, “What am I doing here?”

The woman glanced quickly at the door. Her eyes were in a constant state of alert, radiating a confident vigilance. This woman has never known panic, Jack thought. She checked her watch, then fixed her gaze onto Jack. “We brought you here to meet your father.” 

Reprinted from Primal Calling with the permission of Pegasus Elliott MacKenzie Publishers. Copyright © 2020 by Barry Eisenberg. 



Barry Eisenberg is an associate professor of health care management in the School for Graduate Studies at the State University of New York Empire State College, a health care management consultant and a former hospital administrator. He and his wife, Amy, live in New Jersey. They have three grown children and one grandson. Primal Calling is his first novel.