Friday, July 25, 2008

Grits and Glory
By Ron and Janet Benrey

When Hurricane Gilda visited Glory, North Carolina, her winds tore the steeple off Glory Community Church. Everyone thought the town had narrowly escaped a major disaster until the body of the town's favorite resturant owner was found under the rubble. Was Gilda to blame ... or did someone else take advantage of Gilda to commit the perfect murder?

Chapter 1

"I am the administrator of Glory Community Church, gentlemen."
Ann Trask sat upright in her chair and spoke with determination. She hoped her rigid posture would make her look more formidable. "It is my responsibility to remain in the building in the event of an emergency-especially when Pastor Hartman is out of town."
One of the two big men standing in front of Ann's desk grinned at her. Rafe Neilson, Glory's Deputy Police Chief, was solidly in her corner. The other man scowled and made a disparaging gesture.
"We don't need false bravery today, Miss Trask. There's a major hurricane bearing down on our corner of North Carolina. Gilda is the proverbial `really big one,' a mid-September wind machine strong enough to be a killer. Her outer rain bands are flooding Glory's streets as we speak. You don't want to be here when the main storm arrives." He crossed his arms. "I say that as Glory's Director of Emergency Management."
Ann took a deep breath and prayed that neither man could hear her heart thumping. She knew to the depths of her queasy stomach that Phil Meade-a respected expert in disaster management-had spoken the truth. He even looked the part: late forties, tall, wide, florid-faced, gray at the temples, with a powerful basso voice that commanded respect. But right as Phil was, she couldn't run away. Not again. This time, she would take control of her fears.
"And, what do you think, Rafe?" Ann said, as evenly as she could. She noted that he had stopped grinning.
Please don't let Rafe side with Phil against me.
"Well, we all agree that Glory Community Church is one of the most solidly built structures in town. Moreover, it's located on the highest patch of ground we have. That's why we've designated it as an emergency shelter."
"Exactly..." Ann began, but Rafe kept talking.
"However, I feel uneasy that you'll remain when virtually everyone else has evacuated Glory."
"Dozens of people are staying," she protested.
Phil Meade jumped back in. "Correct! Police officers, firefighters, a few medical professionals, the mayor, me and my staff, and a handful of other essential personnel." He pointed at Ann. "We don't need a 24-year-old civilian making our work more difficult."
"I'm almost twenty-five, Mr. Meade. There are younger police officers patrolling Glory, and some of them have spouses and children to worry about. I'm single-free as the proverbial bird." Ann took a swift breath. "Someone has to be on duty in Glory's emergency shelter-I'm glad for the opportunity to be useful."
Phil turned to Rafe. "What do you think?"
"I'd have to put her in handcuffs to make her leave town."
"Pah! You deal with her. I have sensible people to worry about." Phil strode toward the door to Ann's office, and then spun around. "Miss Trask-make sure you give Rafe a phone number for your next of kin. Just in case."
Ann camouflaged the new jolt of anxiety she felt with a hollow laugh while she listened to Phil's boot-shod feet clomp down the church's hallway. He had said the perfect thing to push her panic button
Please don't make my mother deal with another visit from the police.
"Phil has a point," Rafe said. "This may not be the wisest decision you've made."
"Perhaps not..." Ann swallowed hard to clear the alarm from her voice. "But I have an important job to do."
And this time people are going to see me do it properly.
"Well-if your mind is made up..."
"Good!" Ann said quickly. "Now that that's settled, when will things get bad in Glory?"
Rafe's expression became grim. "Gilda's eye wall-and her strongest winds-will reach Glory at five o'clock this afternoon."
"So the worst of the hurricane should be over before nightfall, right?"
"I'm afraid not. Gilda's a massive storm. Her remnants could be with us until the wee hours of tomorrow morning."
"Do you think the lights will go out?"
Rafe nodded. "Everyone at the emergency command center expects the power to fail a few minutes after Gilda hits. We're prepared to spend Monday night in the dark." He smiled. "Correction! Most of us will. The church has an emergency generator that will switch on automatically. You'll be a beacon of light for the rest of Glory."
"That's part of every church's job description."
Rafe uttered a soft grunt of agreement then asked, "Are any volunteers still working in the church?"
"No," Ann said. "They're all gone. They hung the storm shutters early this morning and finished installing the plywood panels over our stained-glass windows about a half-hour ago." She made a vague gesture toward her own shuttered window. "It's as dark as a tomb inside the sanctuary."
"Tombs survive big hurricanes. Anyway, I'm glad the volunteers are finished."
"Me too," Ann said, although she'd been sorry to see the eight men go. They hadn't even taken time to say goodbye. Seconds after the hammering stopped, Ann heard eight engines rev. She understood completely. The volunteers had to protect their own homes from the approaching storm and then evacuate their families further inland.
"I see you're wearing the miniature tactical police radio I gave you," Rafe said.
Ann tugged at the lanyard around her neck. She felt the small lozenge-shaped gizmo bounce against her chest.
Rafe went on. "Our emergency command center is inside an addition to the back of Police Headquarters-less than three blocks from the church. Contact me if you need any help."
Ann bit her tongue. She wanted to say, You can count on it. Instead, she said, "I won't need any help. The church is fully battened down."
The building became astonishingly silent after Rafe made his goodbyes. "The church is one of the most solidly built structures in Glory," she reminded herself again. Gilda can huff, puff, and tear loose a few roof shingles, but the walls won't fall down.
You don't have anything to worry about... so stop worrying.

Excerpted from:
Grits and Glory by Ron and Janet Benrey
Published by Steeple Hill
Copyright 2008 by Ron and Janet Benrey
ISBN-13: 978-0-373-44300-0

Grits and Glory is available through bookstores everywhere, on,, and

Try Darkness
by James Scott Bell
A Buchanan suspense novel from Center Street

Ty Buchanan is living on the peaceful grounds of St. Monica's, far away from the glamorous life he led as a rising trial lawyer for a big L.A. firm. Recovering from the death of his fiancee and a false accusation of murder, Buchanan has found his previous ambitions unrewarding. Now he prefers offering legal services to the poor and the under-represented, from his "office" at local coffee bar The Ultimate Sip. A mysterious woman with a six year old daughter comes to him for help. She's being illegally evicted from a downtown transient hotel, an interest represented by his old law firm and former best friend, Al Bradshaw. Buchanan won't back down. He's going to fight for the woman's rights.

But then she ends up dead, and the case moves from the courtroom to the streets. Determined to find the killer and protect the little girl, who has no last name and no other family, Buchanan finds he must depend on skills he never needed in the employ of a civil law firm.

Critical Acclaim for the Buchanan series:

Bell is very good at keeping secrets. Fans of thrillers with lawyers as their central characters-Lescroart and Margolin, especially-will welcome this new addition to their must-read lists. -- Booklist

For more information:

Chapter 1

The nun hit me in the mouth and said, "Get out of my house."
Jaw throbbing I said, "I can't believe you just did that."
"This is my house," she said. "You want more? Come on back in."
Sister Mary Veritas is a shade over five and a half feet. She was playing in gray sweats, of course. Most of the time she wears the full habit. Her pixie face is usually a picture of innocence. She has short chestnut hair and blue eyes. I had just discovered those eyes hid an animal ruthlessness.
It was the first Friday in April, and we were playing what I thought was some friendly one-on-one on the basketball court of St. Monica's, a Benedictine community in the Santa Susana mountains. The morning was bright, the sky clear. Should have meant peace like a river.
Not a nun like a mugger.
Backing into the key for a spin hook, I was surprised to find not just the basket, but a holy Catholic elbow waiting for my face. I'm six-three, so it took some effort for her to pop me.
"That's a foul," I said.
"So take it out," she said.
"I thought the Benedictines were known for their hospitality."
"For the hungry pilgrim," Sister Mary said. "Not for a guy looking for an easy bucket."
"What would the pope say to you?"
"Probably Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
"For a smash to the chops?"
"You're a pagan. It probably did you some good."
"A trash talking sister." I shook my head. "So this is organized religion in the twenty-first century."
Okay, she wanted my outside game? She'd get it. True, I hadn't played a whole lot of ball since college. A couple of stints on a lawyer league team. But I could still shoot. I was deadly from twenty feet in.
Not this morning. I clanked one from the free throw line and Sister Mary got the rebound.
Before becoming a nun she played high school ball in Oklahoma. On a championship team, no less. Knew her way around a court.
But I also had the size advantage and gave her a cushion on defense. She took it and shot over me from fifteen feet.
Pride is a sin, so Sister Mary tells me. But it's a good motivator when a little nun is schooling you. I kicked up the aggression factor a notch.
She tried a fadeaway next. I got a little bit of her wrist as she shot.
Air ball.
Sister Mary waited for me to call a foul.
"Nice try," I said.
"Where'd you learn to play," she said. "County jail?"
"You talking or playing?"
She got the animal look again. I hoped that wouldn't interfere with her morning prayers. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour we talk smack.
I took the ball to the top of the key. Did a beautiful cross-over dribble. Sister Mary swiped at the ball. Got my arm instead with a loud thwack. I stopped and threw up a jumper.
It hit the side of the rim and bounced left.
I thought I'd surprise her by hustling for the rebound.
She had the same idea.
We were side-by-side going for the ball. I could feel her body language. There was no way she was going to let me get it.
There was no way I was going to let her get it.
I was going to body a nun into the weeds.

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