Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Starting With a Question: Sample 2

So I did this post awhile back called Sample (Starting with a Question) which was about this story I had started that never really got off the ground.  It was an idea born of the question:  what if a school shooting wasn't what it appeared to be on the surface? 

Just for fun, I posted the first chapter of that story.  The first draft of the first chapter.  It got a pretty good response and continues to get a lot of pageviews, if not comments.  So since I am short on blog topics, I thought I'd go ahead and post the next chapter in that story.  If you're into it, great.  If not, come back another day when I hope to have a more interesting topic to you!  :) 

Before I get to that, I just want to apologize to my fellow bloggers for shirking my blog-reading/commenting duties lately.  I'm swamped both personally and professionally and it's been hard to keep up but I fully intend to catch up on everyone's blogs!

So here goes.

In the last installment you met Steven.  Today, you'll meet Lucy.  (Keep in mind, this too is a first draft although I did check for spelling and really egregious errors).

Lucy's phone rang at 1:13 p.m.  It was her day off.  She picked up the receiver and put it to her ear without speaking.  It was Gallo. 
            "We have a situation that requires your immediate attention.  Meet me at Scarvo's in ten."  He hung up.
            Lucy put the receiver down and threw her legs over the side of the bed.  She was already fully dressed, boots and everything.  She checked her watch.  She'd take a cab to Scarvo's.  It was the fastest means of getting there this time of day.  Scarvo's was code for a private airstrip used only by her, Gallo and Kane.  Lucy had only flown in and out of it en route to or from training exercises. 
            She pulled her brown leather bomber jacket out of the hall closet and put it on.  Concealed inside the lining of the jacket, secured by a holster she'd designed and sewn in herself, Lucy's Sig Sauer banged against her rib cage.  She checked herself in the mirror, turning to gaze over one shoulder.  The bomber jacket concealed the hunting knife clipped to her left hip.  Gallo hated the knife.  He said it was too big.  It drew attention.  If she had to carry it, she should have it strapped to her calf or holstered in one of her boots where it would be more easily concealed by her pant legs.
            The knife definitely wasn't regulation if one could argue that their operation HAD regulations.  But Lucy kept her Sig Sauer inside her jacket with an extra magazine strapped to her calf.  And the knife, no matter how large Gallo complained it was and no matter what lengths she had to go to in order to conceal it held special meaning for Lucy.  Over the years it had become like an appendage, an old friend—Kane would say a crutch—and she felt vulnerable and off-center without it.
            Lucy left a single lamp burning in her small apartment and took the stairs the seven floors down to the street.  The air was cool and crisp, a cold sun beating against the pavement.  The noises of the outside world came at her with the loudness of a sonic boom as they always did in the first few minutes of her emergence from a silent, almost meditative state.  By now she no longer had to concentrate on the muscles of her face to keep them from flinching at the auditory explosion.  She had trained herself to maintain a flat expression which showed nothing but a woman on her way somewhere, neither rushing nor dawdling.
            Lucy walked two blocks east of her apartment building and hailed a cab.  As she gave clipped instructions to the driver she fished her sunglasses out of her jacket pocket and put them on.  She didn't particularly need them but they were equipped with a rearview feature on the inner lenses which allowed her to monitor all activity behind her.  After that she discreetly tucked a small wireless receiver into her left ear and waited.
            The cab dropped her at the corner of two residential blocks.  She watched it move back into traffic before crossing the street and cutting through a backyard to a strip of dense forest.  She hopped the chain link fence in a single movement and continued walking purposefully to her destination. 
            She rounded the plane from the back, spotting Gallo's legs on the other side before he knew she was there.  She snuck up on him, felt the split second of tension in his upper body before he realized it was her but he said nothing.  Lately, Lucy had been besting him in these small ways.  It both thrilled and disturbed her.  Gallo had never struck her as the kind of man who could lose his edge.  Except for the gray she'd noticed edging his beard the last few months he appeared ageless.
            He was tall and thin with deeply set dark eyes, a nose that had been broken more than once and a strong jaw hidden beneath his beard.  His hair was chestnut brown, just a little long and perpetually unruly.  His hands were large and calloused, the skin over his knuckles always dry and cracked with dirt caked in his cuticles, almost like an auto mechanic. 
            He could pass for twenty-eight or forty-five with a little grooming or lack thereof.  Lucy didn't know Gallo's true age.  She didn't even know her own.  She had been born whole at the age of eighteen.  At least that's what Kane had told her when she woke up in windowless underground room vaguely resembling a hospital room—or a morgue—over ten years ago.  Lucy had had no memories.  She knew how to eat, shit, walk, read, speak and add.  She even knew a little U.S. history.  She knew things people knew without ever thinking about them.  It was as if Kane and Gallo had uploaded a standard operating system into her brain.  She just didn't know who she was until they told her.  She had worked for them—for K&G Industries—ever since.
            There was a beep in Lucy's left ear and then Kane's voice:  "Get on the plane, kids."
            Gallo waited for Lucy to board first.  Because she had no idea what the afternoon's summons was about, she took a seat in the common area which abutted the cockpit.  It was no more than four chairs surrounding a tabletop.  A television and computer screen were wired into the far wall but both lay dormant.
            Gallo didn't speak.  He powered up the aircraft and turned the computer on.  Lucy watched him move around, hunching slightly to accommodate his height.  His fingers worked quickly across the keyboard stowed beneath the tabletop.  She wondered if something was on his mind but realized that if it were, Gallo would never show it.
            Kane joined them moments later, the older man moving more slowly as he pulled the steps up and sealed the aircraft's door behind him.  The three of them sat at the table.  A remote control appeared in Kane's hand and he flipped on the television.
            MSNBC flickered on.  A thin, dark-haired woman with too much makeup on stood in front of a cluster of police vehicles.  Beneath her, on the screen, were the words: BREAKING NEWS PHILADELPHIA.  Lucy only caught part of what she said.  " . . . appears they've taken control of the entire school.  Most students managed to escape when gunfire erupted but there are people still inside."
            A male voice spoke.  "Simone, any word on how many people remain in the building and if this is a hostage situation?"
            A delay.
            "No, Ed.  We have no word yet.  As you can see police have responded in force, shutting down almost an entire city block, evacuating the neighboring buildings and cutting power to the school but at this time police are revealing no further details."
            "Thank you, Simone.  Once again for those viewers just tuning in at approximately 11:45 a.m. Eastern time today, armed gunmen stormed this small charter school in the heart of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, seizing control of the building and holding hostage those students and faculty members who did not escape in time.  Police say six students were wounded in the initial gunfire.  Two of those students were critically injured.  The others are in stable condition at this hour.  Police cannot confirm any fatalities at this point and there is no apparent motive for this senseless act of violence.  Stay with us as we bring you continuing coverage of breaking news out of Philadelphia."
            The newscast cut to commercial and Lucy looked across the table at the two men who had brought her here.  "We don't handle this type of work," Lucy said.
            Gallo did not meet her eyes.  One side of Kane's mouth dimpled as he muted the sound on the television.  He looked at Lucy, his steel-wool eyes clear and hard like polished stones.  "We handle the type of work that involves our rats," he said.
            Lucy looked at Gallo but his gaze was on the table.  She turned back to Kane.  "Sir, all of our rats are carefully monitored and accounted for."
            Even after ten years, Lucy had trouble referring to them as rats.  That was what Kane had always called the children that K&G Industries took in and “trained”—rats, as in lab rats.  Of course that was essentially what they were but Lucy had seen what some of those "rats" could do and thus found the term both insulting and wholly inaccurate. 
            Finally, Gallo spoke, lifting his chocolate brown eyes to Lucy's.  "Not all of them," he said.
            Lucy's scalp tingled as if someone were massaging it with ice cold fingertips.  Lucy stared at Gallo, waiting for an explanation but it was Kane who spoke.
            "Lucy, in the early years—when this project was first getting off the ground, there were some glitches."
            "Glitches?"  Lucy responded more loudly than she'd intended.
            Gallo cleared his throat and said, "We didn't have all the security measures in place that we do now."
            "There were incidents.  Three to be exact," Kane added.
            "Three?"  This time Lucy did not bother to curb her tone.  She tried to imagine three of Kane's "rats" out in the world unsupervised, uncontrolled, untrained.
            "We resolved two of them," Gallo said.  "But the third . . . "  he trailed off, his gaze drifting to the muted television where MSNBC had resumed coverage of the school shooting in Philadelphia.
            Lucy glanced at the screen without seeing it and said, "You fucked up."
            In spite of the situation, she noticed Kane fighting to keep the smile from his lips.
            Gallo continued, "There were mitigating circumstances."
            Lucy gripped the edge of the tabletop, wanting to push away from it and exit the plane.  She shot Gallo an acerbic look.  "Mitigating circumstances like you fucking up?  I want the file."
            She stared expectantly at the two men but no file was forthcoming.  The look they exchanged, which would have gone unnoticed by the untrained eye, started a deep  burn in the pit of Lucy's stomach.
            "We can't give you the file," Kane said.  "It's classified."
            Not for the first time in her tenure with the project, Lucy fought the impulse to backhand the older man.  Instead, she gestured to the television.  "You want me to walk into that shitstorm with what?  A gun and a fucking apology for Christ knows what?"
            Gallo leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table.  "We'll tell you exactly what you need to know to complete your task.  You'll be back in forty-eight hours and we'll take over from there.  All you have to do is retrieve the rat.  It’s a simple task.  It should be easy to get him to come with you."
            Lucy was silent, taking her time in evaluating the two men before her.  Men she had known her entire life which had only spanned twelve years.  There was an unspoken tension that lay on the table between them.  She wondered if the thing they weren't telling her would get her killed.
            She said, "Why me?"
            "For obvious reasons," Kane said, his term for her being a woman.  Gallo and Kane had told her from the beginning that a woman could go places that men could not.  For the purposes of their operation, Lucy had found the two men to be right time and again.
            Lucy knew there was more to it and she waited until Gallo broke and said, "Because in this particular instance we've been compromised."
            The admission was hard.  Lucy sensed Kane flinch though he showed nothing.
            Compromised was not a word Lucy heard often especially in connection with Gallo and Kane.  They were ghosts.  Their work was seamless.  She'd never known either of them to make a mistake, especially one with such serious ramifications.  No one was supposed to recognize them or associate them with the divisions or K&G Industries that technically did not exist.
            She swallowed.  Kane motioned for Gallo to begin the pre-flight checks.  He disappeared into the cockpit.  Lucy met Kane's granite eyes.
            The burning in her stomach increased but she nodded at the man anyway.
            He pulled a photograph from his jacket pocket and slid it across the table to her.  It was a candid shot of a teenaged boy with sandy brown hair and a wide smile standing beside some kind of science project.  “This is him.  Dane Young.  He’s seventeen years old.  All you have to do is get him out of the building.  We have a team in place on the ground already.  You’ll pose as EMTs.  We’re working on getting you into the building before the police take it back but either way, you’re to go in, retrieve the rat and turn him over to the team.”
            Lucy felt distinctly uncomfortable with the lack of information going into this mission.  She shifted in her seat and met Kane’s eyes once more.  “Is there anything else I need to know?”
            Kane held her gaze for a long moment.  For a fleeting second she thought he might tell her more but the plane lurched forward and the moment was gone.  Kane swallowed and looked away from her.  “No,” he said.  “There’s nothing else.”

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Giving Thanks for Awesome People

I am a little short on blog topics right now but in light of the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, I just wanted to say that I'm very grateful to be part of such an awesome online community of writers.  I had had my website up for several months with very little traffic when my friend, Nancy Thompson suggested I come over to Blogger.  Since that time I've met many, many incredibly talented and incredibly kind writers whose advice and work are making me a better writer as we speak.  Sometimes it feels like this writing thing is all in my head.  It's hard to talk about my writing with the non-writers in my life mostly because it bores them to tears but when I get online and hop around to my favorite writer blogs, the whole writing thing that I am secretly mulling over almost 24 hours a day comes alive.  Everyone else is blogging about and discussing the very things I'm interested in!  I get to commiserate and be inspired.  Having other writers to "talk to" even if it's just through blogging and email keeps me going and makes this whole writing dream feel real.  So thank you to all of you for being so brilliant and being so accessible to your fellow aspiring writers!

Speaking of brilliant writers, I'd like to say CONGRATS to the very talented Michael Infinito over at the Wizardry of Otin who just got an agent!  Actually he signed with my agent, Jeanie Pantelakis.  He had gone through the usual channels using the submission guidelines on the Sullivan Maxx website and Jeanie wisely offered him a contract.  So congrats, Mike.  Hope to see you in print soon!

On a different note, I would like to draw your attention again to the Hook for Your Book Finalists in the Fantasy genre.  As you know from my last post, there was some kind of miscommunication between Jeanie and I in terms of how many finalists would be picked.  I take full responsibility for this.  She has actually chosen TWO finalists instead of three.  I thought we had agreed on 3 but alas, looking back over our correspondence, she had said two.  Again, I apologize.  So Jeanie chose what she felt were the best two pitches and the winners are:

Nicole Zoltack for Elena's Pen
When thirteen-year-old Elena's magical pen writes of its own accord about a
mystical fantasy land being overrun by demons, she vows to save the land.
Unfortunately, it's not as simple as writing a happy ending - whenever Elena
uses the pen, someone turns into a demon, and she could be next.


S.M. Johnston for Sleeper
Pitch: Being brought back to life runs the risk of something from the other
side coming back over too. Even in a medically controlled death like
eighteen-year-old Mishca Richardson's. Since her heart transplant she's had
nightmares, hallucinations, increased speed and strength. But something else
has been inside her from the start.

Congrats to you ladies!!!  Thank you to everyone who entered.  Again, I apologize for the mix-up in terms of the number of finalists. I am truly sorry.
My daugher's glitter turkey (and a small rocket ship)

Finally, I hope everyone has a very good and very safe holiday!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bad News, Apologies, Congrats and Gratitude

I really, really, really regret to inform my readers and followers that the Hook for Your Book contests in the Romance and Historical Fiction genres are being canceled. 

Unfortunately, my agent, Jeanie is completely swamped and due to time constraints she can no longer commit to judging them.  I am really, very sorry.  I was really looking forward to reading the pitches and of course, the contests presented a great opportunity for unagented writers.  I feel terrible.  I feel so terrible that I'd at least like to offer a full-length manuscript critique to any writers who had planned to enter those two contests.  I know it's not the same as having an agent read your work but it's what I can offer.  Not to toot my own horn but I've been told I'm pretty thorough and timely and if you're interested, I'd love to read your work and try to help you make your book the very best that it can be!  Critiquing season would start in January.  You can send me what you've got then or six months from then--when you're ready, I'll be ready. 

You are, of course, always welcome to submit to any agent at Sullivan Maxx according to their submission guidelines which can be found here

I have one more apology and that's for the Fantasy Hook for Your Book contestants.  There was some kind of miscommunication between Jeanie and I in terms of how many finalists would be picked.  I take full responsibility for this.  She has actually chosen TWO finalists instead of three.  I thought we had agreed on 3 but alas, looking back over our correspondence, she had said two.  Again, I apologize.  So Jeanie chose what she felt were the best two pitches and the winners are:

Nicole Zoltack for Elena's Pen
When thirteen-year-old Elena's magical pen writes of its own accord about a
mystical fantasy land being overrun by demons, she vows to save the land.
Unfortunately, it's not as simple as writing a happy ending - whenever Elena
uses the pen, someone turns into a demon, and she could be next.

S.M. Johnston for Sleeper
Pitch: Being brought back to life runs the risk of something from the other
side coming back over too. Even in a medically controlled death like
eighteen-year-old Mishca Richardson's. Since her heart transplant she's had
nightmares, hallucinations, increased speed and strength. But something else
has been inside her from the start.

Congrats to you ladies!!!  I will be in touch.

Thank you to everyone who entered.  Again, I apologize for the mix-up in terms of the number of finalists. I am truly sorry.

Now on to some big-time congratulations to the very awesome Mark Pryor over at DA Confidential  because he just signed a THREE BOOK DEAL with Seventh Street Books.  Woot, woot!  I'm very happy for him.  I love his blog--it combines my love of legal stuff with my love of writing.  He is also an incredibly nice person.  DA, I hope you are wildly successful! Can't wait to read them!

Finally, the very talented J.C. Martin featured me in her Wednesday Writer spotlight and I'd like to say thank you so much.  I am humbled!

Friday, November 4, 2011

"What if something amazing happens?"

So I've got this four year old and as much as I spouted off during my pregnancy about how my child wasn't going to be a big old TV-watcher, she loves TV.  Does she watch a gratuitous amount of television?  Probably.  But I'm not that worried because she's pretty darn smart and most of the time the television is merely background noise to the other fun stuff we happen to be doing together (like crudely fashioned nail art--hey, I'm a writer, not an artist).

Anyway, I've been subjected to some pretty annoying, mind-numbing, vacuous childrens' shows.  (By the way, my top five someone-should-be-in-prison-for-creating-this-and-subjecting-parents-to-these shows are Special Agent Oso, Strawberry Shortcake, Wonderpets, the Cartoon Network version of Scooby Doo and Special Agent Oso and yes, Oso made the top 5 twice for reasons I won't get into here).  A couple of weeks ago, my daughter discovered the Doodlebops which is apparently a Canadian children's show featuring three very colorful singing, dancing characters.  It's like a cross between Imagination Movers and Barney.  It's been on in our house almost once a day since she discovered it.  My fiance blames me but he was the one who accidentally put on channel 233 instead of 232 in a Saturday-morning-pre-coffee stupor and thus subjected us to our first ever episode of the Doodlebops. 

(Bear with me, this really does have something to do with writing).

So in the beginning of every Doodlebops episode, before the Doodlebops leave their Doodlebop home to go on their latest adventure, the character Moe has to pull on this rope hanging from the ceiling.  In every episode, the other DBs tell him not to pull it but he always does and he always gets a bucket of water dumped on him.  And in every episode he gives a different reason for pulling the rope like, "Ropes are made to be pulled" or "I can't NOT pull it" or some BS like that.  Anyway, yesterday we watched an episode where his reason for pulling the rope (in spite of knowing he would get water dumped on his head) was:

"What if something amazing happens?"


Lately I've had some discussions with other writers about how much the business end of writing (i.e. publishing as opposed to writing) blows.  I mean think about it.  You write this book.  This book that you spend months or years on.  It's like one of your kids.  You're passionate about it the way people are passionate about their first love.  You want to get it published.  So you write the hardest letter you've ever written (a query) and you send it to a couple hundred agents who take their sweet time responding to it.  Most of them reject it.  You keep querying.  You wait.  And wait.  And wait.  And wait.  And wait some more.  Oh and did I mention that you wait?  Yeah, you do.  You wait and then you wait some more.  And just when you think the waiting might be over, you wait just a little longer and a little bit longer after that.  You get the point.

If you do finally get an agent, chances are you'll have to make revisions.  You make revisions and you wait some more for your agent to approve them.  Then you go on submissions.  And you wait.  Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.  You wait until the non-writers around you think you're the victim of some kind of bizarre pyramid scheme or some other scam that somehow involves people taking your book, promising to do something with it and then never contacting you again (I mean are they using the pages of your manuscript for cheeseburger wrappers in some corner steak shop in the big city or have they just fashioned some kind of suspenseful, novelty toilet paper out of it?)  because for the love of all that is holy, NOTHING should take THIS long.  I mean really.  Then you wait a little longer.  And after that, you wait.

(I know, you're thinking what's this got to do with the Doodlebops?  Again, bear with me.)

So then if you're lucky enough to find an editor who loves your book and wants to publish it, they've got to convince a bunch of other editors that it's a good risk and worth publishing.  Then they've got to consult with the sales department and legal and probably a few other departments I don't even know about.  You know, it's a wonder that any book has ever been published, come to think of it. 

And of course, all this time, you're waiting.  You ask yourself, "Am I mentally ill?" and the jury is still out on that one.  Then you ask yourself, "Why am I doing this?  Why am I doing this to myself?  Why does my heart jump when my phone rings?  Why do I still secretly hope it's my agent calling about a possible book deal when I KNOW it's probably just my mom?"  or "Why do I keep querying?  Why do I check my email every five seconds?  Why do I hold my breath every time I open an agent's email when I KNOW it's probably just a rejection?"


What if you open that email and it's an agent offering you a contract?  What if your phone rings and it's NOT your mom?  What if it really is your agent and she tells you someone wants to buy your book?  It could happen.  It does happen.  We have bookstores (and Amazon) filled with books by people that these things actually happened to.  Something amazing happened to them. 

Because, like Doodlebop Moe, they kept pulling the rope.  Even though the odds were against them.  Even though they'd been doused with the bucket of water every single day for months or years (more likely years).  This is a hard concept to explain to non-writers sometimes.

Out of four years of watching television for children, that is possibly the coolest thing I've seen.  (Of course Yo Gabba Gabba's "Don't Bite Your Friends" and "Party in My Tummy" songs were immensely helpful).  So thank you Doodlebops for encouraging me to pull the rope a little longer and wait for that elusive book deal.

How about you guys?  Where do you stand on rope-pulling?  How much waiting have you done, if any?  What are your votes for worst kids' shows ever?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Awards and a Sample Chapter

*UPDATE*  I am still waiting to find out who Jeanie's picks are for the finalists in the Fantasy Hook for Your Book Contest.  I apologize for the delay.  She is quite swamped but the moment I know, you'll know!  THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE.

That said, I have had the honor of receiving two awards this past week.  The first was the Liebster Award, given to me by the fascinating Rebecca Kiel.  Please check out her blog.  Thank you Rebecca!

I really appreciate Rebecca thinking of me for this award.  I've been Liebsterized in the past so I'm going to refer people to that post as I believe my choices of bloggers to check out in that post are still pretty darn good picks!

In addition to the Liebster, I was nominated for the Versatile Blogger award by the lovely Cassie Mae at Reading, Writing and Lovin' It.

Thank you very much, Cassie!  I appreciate it!  So with this award I'm supposed to tell you 7 tidbits about myself and then pass this along to 15 people.  I'm going to change up the rules a little here since I've shared some personal tidbits about myself in previous posts which you can find here and here.  Instead of sharing more personal tidbits, I'm going to give you a writing sample which hopefully will be far more interesting than any additional personal items I can come up with!  Below I am posting the second draft of the first chapter in my WIP (did you follow that?).  Also, rather than passing this along to fellow bloggers, most of whom have already received it, I'm going to ask you to check out some writing by the following awesome writers/bloggers who have works available for purchase:

Libby Heily's Fourth Degree Freedom, a collection of short stories which you can find here

Basil Sands' thrillers which you can peruse and purchase here

Jennifer Hillier's fabulous Creep which you can check out and purchase here

J.C. Martin's The Doll which you can check out and purchase here

M.Pax's Semper Audacia which you can check out here

Perhaps you'll find something you enjoy!

And now . . . the sample chapter from my WIP which is titled:  Hold Still.  For now anyway.

Disclaimer:  although this is still a draft (I'm not done with it), it has been looked over by the fabulous Nancy Thompson, my alpha reader/critiquer and thanks to her and all of her brilliant suggestions, you'll get to read a more polished version than the mess I started out with! 

Here goes:

Secrets and lies. Even the most innocent of lives spring from secrets and lies.  Jocelyn Rush’s blood froze in her veins when three year old Olivia asked, “Mommy, do I have a daddy?”
            Jocelyn was grateful to be driving.  From the car seat in the back, Olivia couldn’t see her face.  She couldn’t see the pallor, the hollow look that came over Jocelyn’s features.  To buy time, Jocelyn said, “What did you say, baby?”
            She glanced in the rearview mirror.  Olivia’s gaze was turned toward the scenery passing by the windows.  Her eyelids were heavy, drifting closed and snapping back open every few seconds.  Jocelyn was surprised she wasn’t already asleep.  They’d spent the entire day at Smith Playground where the two of them had slid down the giant wooden slide so many times Jocelyn’s ass hurt.  Olivia called it “the whee” because Jocelyn yelled, “Whee!” every time they slid down. 
With its indoor playrooms and extensive outdoor playground for children of all ages, Smith was one of Olivia’s favorite places to go on Jocelyn’s days off.  Jocelyn liked it because it was free.  She worked full time as a detective for the Philadelphia Police Department but raising a child alone was costly.  She had to cut corners where she could.  Free was always good. 
            “Do I have a daddy?” Olivia said again.
            “Everyone has a daddy,” Jocelyn mumbled.
            From the day Jocelyn had taken Olivia in, she’d known there would be questions about Olivia’s parentage.  Why hadn’t Jocelyn’s sister, Camille been able to raise her own daughter?  Who was Olivia’s father?  Why couldn’t she meet him—ever?  Jocelyn hadn’t expected the questions to start so early.  She thought she’d have more time.  She had imagined a teenager—or a tween at least—demanding to know who her real parents were.  She had imagined a child old enough to understand violence and junkies.  Jocelyn was lucky that no one ever questioned whether or not she was Olivia’s mother.  Jocelyn and Camille both favored their mother, and Olivia, with her poker straight brown hair, wide chestnut eyes, and straight nose could pass for either one of their daughters.
            “Raquel has a daddy,” Olivia said.  “He’s a older.” 
            “A Soldier,” Jocelyn corrected.
            “Solder,” Olivia tried.
            “That’s right, Raquel’s daddy is far away.  In Afghanistan.”
            Jocelyn said the word a few more times, far better prepared to answer questions about war in a foreign country than Olivia’s father.  But Olivia’s attention had already waned, sleep finally claiming her.  Jocelyn felt the tightness in her throat ease as Olivia’s eyelids drooped. 
            Four-year-old Raquel was the daughter of Jocelyn’s best friend, Inez Graham who was also a police officer.  Inez worked patrol in the 35th district.  Inez’s husband, a Marine, had been in Afghanistan for a year.  Inez’ mother, Martina Rodriguez, provided daycare for Olivia and Raquel while both women worked.
            Skirting the edge of Fairmount Park, Jocelyn took 33rd Street to Ridge Avenue.  Three story brick rowhouses with mansard roofs and dormer windows sat opposite the park, many of which were burnt out or boarded up.  Some boasted sagging porches and trash-lined sidewalks.  The turrets and columns had long lost their aesthetic appeal.  The larger homes gave way to two-story rowhouses with bay windows most of which were painted in shades of brown and deep red.   She passed Mt. Vernon Cemetery and drove down West Hunting Park Avenue, home to a slew of mammoth industrial buildings long abandoned, the broken glass in their windows like fangs glinting at her as she passed.  The streets narrowed as she drove down Germantown Avenue but the houses and businesses looked no less desperate as she approached the Nicetown Tioga section of the city.  She was grateful that the rumble of cobblestones and old trolley tracks beneath her tires did not awaken Olivia.  Foliage closed in from both sides of the street as Jocelyn drew closer to the neighborhood where Inez’s mother lived. 
Jocelyn lived in the Roxborough section of the city, but she had to stop at Martina’s house to pick up the treasured blanket that Olivia had left there the day before.  They had only discovered it was missing last night.  Olivia had thrown the tantrum to end all tantrums before finally falling asleep in Jocelyn’s arms on a wave of hiccupping sobs.  There were a few tense moments when Jocelyn almost broke down and called Martina to see if she could pick up the blanket, but she stood her ground.  People forgot things, left them behind.  Olivia would have to learn that sooner or later.  A night without her blanky would not kill her—and it hadn’t.  Still, Jocelyn wasn’t about to go another night without it.  Raquel was spending the day with her paternal grandparents.  With no children to watch, Martina had gone to Atlantic City for the day but she had promised to leave Olivia’s blanky in a plastic bag between her screen and front doors.
            Chew Avenue was a busy street with wide single lanes of traffic in each direction and cars parallel parked bumper to bumper on either side.  As usual there wasn’t a parking spot within a three block radius.  Jocelyn pulled over and double parked with her hazard lights flashing.  Cars zipped around her vehicle without so much as a beep.  In Philadelphia, double parking was the norm.  The blinkers were an added courtesy.  Most double parkers didn’t even bother.
            Jocelyn glanced at the house.  She could see the screen door cracked just a little, a flash of a plastic, yellow Shop Rite bag peeking out.  She glanced back at Olivia and waited a long moment to see if Olivia would wake up now that the car had stopped moving.  The snoring continued unabated.  Jocelyn turned away from Olivia, catching her own smile in the rearview mirror.  Just looking at Olivia made her grin.  Most of the time she didn’t realize she was doing it.  It amazed her that this tiny person could be such a powerhouse of joy. 
            Unless she doesn’t have her blanket, Jocelyn thought wryly. 
            Jocelyn took a quick glance up and down the street, gauging how long it would take her to sprint to Martina’s door and back.  It shouldn’t take more than ten seconds.  As a rule, she never left Olivia alone in the car—not even when she was paying for gas—but the door was only twenty feet away.  It would be faster to run for it than to unfasten Olivia’s seat belt and carry her from the car to the door and back. 
            Jocelyn slipped her seat belt off and got out, closing the door softly behind her.  She sprinted up the steps and snatched the bag from between the doors.  As she turned back to her car, she saw the figure, just a blur in her periphery.  Then her Ford Explorer drove off down Chew Avenue, Olivia in the back seat.
Jocelyn leapt off the steps and ran into the street. 
            “Olivia!” she screamed.
            She had never run so fast, and was only vaguely aware of the other cars whizzing past, beeping and swerving to avoid her, expletives rolling out of the mouths of passing motorists.  The Explorer made the first right onto North 21st Street and Jocelyn followed, arms and legs pumping, feet slapping the pavement, her heartbeat thundering in her ears.  She reached for her gun but quickly remembered she didn’t have it.  It was her day off.
Jocelyn was quickly losing ground as the Explorer turned right onto Conlyn and out of her sight.
            She pushed her body, every muscle pumping, straining, screaming.  Her lungs burned.  She turned the corner and almost wept with relief.  The Explorer was stopped behind someone who had double-parked in the middle of the street.  There wasn’t enough room for the Explorer to pass.  The other car’s blinkers were on, the driver nowhere to be seen.  For once, Philadelphia’s narrow side streets were a blessing instead of a curse. 
            Breathing heavily, Jocelyn approached the Explorer from the drivers’ side and opened the door.  She didn’t look, just grabbed until she had a handful of clothing.  She pulled a skinny, punk kid—maybe nineteen or twenty—out of the car by his collar.
            His face was pimpled with a patchy five o’clock shadow.  His white-blond hair was greasy, a shock of it falling across his coal-dark eyes as he glared at her.  “Hey, what the fuck are you—“
             The whole world went silent.  Jocelyn knew the kid was speaking but she couldn’t hear anything.  Her field of vision narrowed to his face.  And when he met her eyes, for a brief, fleeting second, he looked afraid.  Then Jocelyn hit him.  She hit him again and again.  She knew he fought back.  His ineffectual punches glanced off her body, no match for her rage.  By the time she was done, she had a few bruises and her right wrist throbbed but she didn’t remember the particulars.  She only remembered hitting him until he lay at her feet, unmoving.  A few people had come out of their homes.  They stood on the pavement and on porches, staring open-mouthed.
            Jocelyn’s hearing returned slowly.  Her labored breath was deafening.  She left the kid on the ground and pulled open the back door of the Explorer.  There sat Olivia in her car seat, face flushed with sleep.  Her little round face was relaxed, her mouth open.  A strand of brown hair stuck to one of her cheeks.  She sighed softly in her sleep, one tiny hand clutching Lulu, the pink beanie bear that accompanied them everywhere.
            “Oh God,” Jocelyn gasped.  She sat in the back of the Explorer, weeping uncontrollably and dialed 911 on her cell phone.
            “911.  What’s your emergency?”
            “Miss?  What’s your emergency?”
            “I want to report a car jacking.”