Friday, February 04, 2011

Beneath the Night Tree; False Money

Beneath the Night Tree

By Nicole Baart

"Beneath the Night Tree is a poignant glimpse of a woman's past merging with her future. Filled with poetic symbolism and lush description, Baart's work vividly portrays an individual at a crossroads, faced with circumstances that force her to examine her deepest motivations...

Baart has the guts to examine what many won't contemplate -- convention and the social norm. Her work combines down-to-earth elements of daily living with abstract concepts meant to be considered on a broad scale. Nothing about this book is cliched and her characters may surprise those who think they know the outcome; for just as in real life, it's the unforeseen events that often bring unexpected results." ForeWord Magazine, 2010

A single mother to her son and younger brother, Julia DeSmit cherishes living with her beloved grandmother and is hoping to be engaged to Michael Vermeer—the man of her dreams—by year's end.

Then a cryptic e-mail from her son's father spins her world off axis. She hasn't heard from Parker since he left her in a college parking lot without a backward glance. But one look at her son—the spitting image of his father—is enough to convince her that, for better or worse, Parker is a part of their story.

Faced with this new reality and the potential unraveling of her unorthodox family, Julia begins a tightrope walk between what was, what is, and what she hopes will be.

Beneath the Night Tree

Nicole Baart

Chapter 1

Daniel hummed in his sleep. It was an unconscious song, a midnight lullaby, as familiar to me as the sigh of my own breath. I fell asleep at night listening to the cadence of his dreams, and when I woke in the morning, his quiet melody was a prelude to birdsong.

I opened my eyes in the darkness and strained to see an imprint of peach on the horizon beyond my open window. It was coming, but when I blinked at the black reflection in the glass, dawn was nothing more than a promise, and Daniel's every exhalation seemed tuned to charm it into being. I pictured him in his bed, arm flung over the pillow and palm opened toward the sky as if God had set an orchestra before his still- chubby fingers. As if God had chosen my son to coax light into our little house.

Maybe He had.

If there was one thing I had learned in five years of being a single mom, it was that the Lord did exactly that: He used the small, the inconsequential, the forgotten to shame the wise. He worked in contradictions, in the unexpected. And I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised if He hovered over my Daniel, drawing music from the curve of his parted lips with the gentle pull of divine fingers.

The thought made me smile, and for a moment I longed to tiptoe across the cool floorboards and be a part of it all, to slip into the tiny attic nook that was my son's bedroom. I wanted to feel my way through the shadows, stretch out beside him, and kiss the sugar-sweet little-boy mouth that puckered like a perfect bow.

But I didn't. Instead, I did what I did every day. I got up, grabbed the clothes that I had laid out the night before, and headed downstairs. If Daniel was singing, then I danced: avoiding the stair that creaked, twisting around the smooth-worn banister like a ballerina, waltzing to Simon's room, where I peeked through the crack of the mostly closed door.

My ten-year-old half brother was on his stomach, bare back exposed to the unseasonable cool of an August morning. We had all the windows flung open, and the house whispered with a light breeze. It wasn't cold, not really, but the sight of his skinmade me stifle a shiver. I floated into Simon's room, a part of his dreams, and laid a blanket across his shoulders like a blessing. Schoolboy shoulders, I noticed. Thin and angular, but broadening, hinting at the strong man he would soon become as if the clean line of his skin were bursting with promise. A tight bud about to unfurl. Sometimes I still couldn't believe that she had left him here to blossom.

I touched the mop of his dark hair with my fingertips and thanked God that the child below me slept in peace. That he loved me.

When I spun into the kitchen and switched on the coffeemaker, I couldn't stop the prayer that rose, a balloon lifting beneath the cage that held my heart. Thank You, I breathed in the silence. For Daniel, for Simon, for my grandmother, who still slipped from bed not long after I turned on the shower to whisk pancake batter or fold blueberries into muffins for breakfast. Thank You for the four corners of our family and the way that we folded into each other like one of my grandma's quilts. Edges coming together, softening.

Most of all, I was grateful for the stillness of the predawn hush, for the short reprieve when everything was dark and new, emerging. It was in these moments as the day was still lifting its head that I could believe everything was exactly as it should be instead of the way it was.

Not that life was horrible—far from it. But as the weeks and months circled on, I couldn't deny that our ramshackle family was often more off than on. The whole thing reminded me of Daniel's birthday present: a carved model train track. Though the sleek, red engine could pull a chain of cars around the twining loops for hours on end, there inevitably came a moment when a single wheel tripped off the track. Who knew what caused the quiet stumble? It was a magician's trick, a sleight of hand—everything bustling along one minute and struggling the next. But the train kept going; the engine pulled on. It just dragged the coal cars behind it, clacking unevenly all the way.

I felt just like that engine, hauling everything in my wake. Hauling everyone in my wake.

When I pulled back the shower curtain, it became obvious that the DeSmit family train was already well on its way to derailment. There were worms in the bathtub, a dozen or more squirming in a mound of dirt so rich and black it made me think of cake. Devil's food.

I had specifically told Daniel not to put worms in the bathtub and had even given him an ice cream bucket in which to store his newest collection. My son needed to have his hearing checked again, I decided. But it was an exercise in futility. I knew that what plagued Daniel wasn't a hearing problem; it was a listening problem.

As I deposited handfuls of squirming earthworms into the bucket I rescued from the front porch, I felt the momentary bliss of my morning slackening its fragile hold. Hot on the heels of the stark reminder that Daniel was an angel only when he slept came a familiar twinge of worry for Simon, the boy who earned his wings in a thousand different ways. By the time I finally stepped into the mud-streaked shower and turned it on full blast, I could feel concern overflow my fists like worry stones too heavy to hold.

Handsome as Simon was, and growing more mature by the day, he still wore loss like a chain around his neck, heavy and awkward, dragging his head down. He loved us, I knew that, but he missed her. And why shouldn't he? Janice was a terrible mother to me, and yet I missed her every single day. I felt her absence in the shadowed corners of my heart, where longing echoed. It was a sound track of hurt—soft, but always there.

And Janice had been a good mom to Simon. Or at least, as good as she could bring herself to be. No wonder he bore her ghost like an anchor.

Copyright: Nicole Baart (do not reproduce without permission)

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5th in the Abbot Agency series

By Veronica Heley

Bea Abbot does not `do' murder, but the disappearance of Tomi, star of an award-winning short film, is a different matter. Bea discovers that Tomi's circle contains a secret so deadly that they are dying one by one, even though none of them will go to the police. Which of them will talk to Bea, and if they do, will that no also put her at risk?

The extract:

Widowed Bea Abbot ran a domestic agency whose watchword was `discretion'. Every now and then people brought her problems which they couldn't or wouldn't take to the police. Occasionally this meant she dealt with murder.

Friday afternoon

Bea walked into her office and found a bouquet of flowers on her desk.

Was it a gift or a bribe?

The flowers wouldn't be from her live-in assistant. Maggie had green fingers and looked after their secluded back garden with energy and style, but Maggie did not care for cut flowers, so it wasn't she who had put the bouquet on Bea's desk.

Bea rarely bothered to buy cut flowers either, being content with one or two strategically placed pot plants which didn't object to central heating.

So, who had brought her flowers?

A name leaped into her mind.

She picked the bouquet up to make sure but there was no card with it. It wasn't an expensive bouquet. It was made up of carnations, chrysanthemums and one rose bundled into a cellophane wrapper, with a sachet of plant food taped to it. It looked as if it had been plucked from a bucket on the way out of a convenience store. Bea could see where an attempt had been made to rip off the price tag.

She weighed the bouquet in her hand, thinking about the one person who was always asking her to do things for him that she didn't want to do . . . and dropped it into the waste paper basket.

She liked flowers. What she didn't like was bribery and corruption, and she could smell that a mile off.

He'd be lurking in the vicinity, of course.

She threw her suit jacket over the back of her chair and stretched to ease her back. She was tired. She'd been out of the office all morning and this was the first moment she'd had to sit at her desk and boot up her computer. In a minute, her elderly and pensionable but refusing-to-retire personal assistant would knock on the door – which was entirely unnecessary, but the elderly Miss Brook liked to observe the formalities – and enter with the few items from the day's post that she felt her employer should see.

Meanwhile Bea accessed her emails.


Of course. He'd concealed himself behind the long curtains framing the French windows.

Bea set her teeth. `No. Whatever it is you want, the answer is "No".'

`You don't really mean it.' Chris slid into the chair before her desk. Nineteen years old, he had a narrow head under a mop of chestnut hair, was of medium height and well-made. He had startlingly blue eyes and charm enough to get his own way ninety nine times out of a hundred. He was out-of-this-world clever in some respects but, in Bea's opinion at least, made up for it by being totally lacking in common sense.

As Bea had expected, Miss Brook now tapped on the door and brought in the post. Chris jumped up and reached out to take the stack of letters from her, fumbled the job and let the papers fall to the floor.

Bea rolled her eyes at Miss Brook, who pinched in her lips and said, `I don't know how he got in.'

`Don't you bother to pick up those letters, Miss Brook. Chris knocked them down, and Chris can pick them up.'

Which indeed, he was scrabbling around on the floor to do.

`I should think so, too,' said Miss Brook, who was one of the few people impervious to Chris's charm. Miss Brook closed the door soundlessly behind her.

Chris dumped a messy pile of papers on her desk and opened his mouth to speak.

`No,' said Bea. `What ever it is that you want, the answer is "No". As I've said many times before, you may not move into the spare room. You may not bring your synthesizer in here to practice, and I am not taking you out in my car to give you a driving lesson.'

`That's not fair. I've passed my test.'

`At the eighteenth attempt?'

`Oh, come on! It was only my fourth try.'

`Is your driving instructor now on tranquillisers?' She held up her hand to stop him. `I'm delighted – though surprised – to hear that you've managed finally to pass your driving test but no, you may not borrow my car under any circumstances. Anyway, aren't you supposed to be out and about, making another of your amazing art-house films that will wow the critics? No!'

He opened his mouth to reply, but she got there first. `Don't tell me. Your next film's held up for some reason, your father's fed up with you hanging around the house, and you can't go back to university till next terms starts–'

`I'm not going back to university.'

`But you will, Chris. You will. In due course you'll see the sense of it. Whatever you decide to do in life, a university degree helps. What's more, it teaches you discipline, which is something you lack. So, the answer is "NO!".'

He grinned. `You haven't heard what it is I want yet.'

`I don't need to,' she said, returning to her computer and deleting some spam. Why did you always have to check your spam nowadays, to make sure nothing has dived into the wrong slot?

He put on his puppy-dog face. `My father suggested that–'

She lifted her eyes from her screen. His father was some sort of high-up civil servant, a grey man with influence. She liked CJ, and she rather thought he liked her – not in that way, of course. But she trusted him, which is more than she did his likeable but harum-scarum son.

`Honest. He did say I should ask you to help to find my library books–'

`WHAT! Get out of here before I lose my temper completely!'

`Oh, and the girl who lost them. She seems to have got lost, too.'


Veronica Heley

Available from Amazon and all good bookshops and libraries everywhere. Do not Reproduce without permission.

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