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Weekly Review #39
Here are two short reviews on good reads.
Shirley Slaughter in “WHO’S ON THE SHELF WITH NONNIE JULES?”
When there is time to spare this is a place where, you might wander toward
Excerpt from The South Hills Conspiracy
“I got a job offer.”
Vera having brokered the deal, Andrew found himself making nice in a fancy restaurant for the obligatory dinner celebrating Jesse’s culmination. He’d been introduced to and seated across from Jesse’s date, Angela. He was contemplating her neon red miniskirt with matching tube top, one inch nails and lip gloss, as she sat beside Jesse, who was looking at Vera, but very much speaking to Andrew.
“I didn’t realize that you had interviewed,” Andrew said, nor applied he thought. “Tell us about it.”
“The California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement wants me as a Special Agent.” Jesse glared at Andrew.
“Impressive,” Andrew chose the diplomatic route, ignoring the invitation to confront his son or doubt his veracity. “That sounds quite unusual, a state investigation agency hiring directly from a local academy.” Andrew turned to Angela and tried to control the tension by including her in the exchange. “How is your pasta?”
“Delicious thank you. I just love shrimp.”
Seated in a mahogany booth behind red velvet drapes, the foursome was elevated above the main dining room. Andrew loved the privacy afforded by the layout almost as much as the food at Hamilton’s, which featured steak. As the odor of garlic emanating from her plate made his eyes begin to water, Andrew’s doubts about Angela grew with each passing minute.
“I guess it would,” Jesse continued, ignoring the culinary review. “You know how LAPD runs that undercover program in the L.A. Unified School District?”
“I did when I worked there,” Andrew replied modestly, having once supervised it and personally run the training program for field officers.
“Well it has done so well they want to do something like it at State College.”
“Who are they?”
“The Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Team. It’s a task force,” he added, presumably for the women at the table.
Andrew let out a slow whistle. Vera smiled at first, then her face went blank when Andrew did’t speak. Andrew realized that being at State College, the largest public university, as well as the closest to South Hills, a private institution, meant that Jesse would be nearby. He wondered if he was the only one capable of understanding the danger involved.
“Let me be clear, Jesse. You are going undercover as a NARC on a campus with over 40,000 students, within walking distance from South Hills?”
“Is there a problem?”
“South Hills, where you just finished the police academy, where you went to high school, where Angela and God knows how many people know you…”
“Hey, hold up.”
“…Where any number of them know who I am.”
“What’s that have to do with me?”
“Andrew,” Vera tried, putting a hand on his arm.
“Jesse,” she added, looking very flustered.
“So I guess you didn’t calculate the likelihood that your cover could be blown with such a high probability of being recognized?”
Jesse looked at Vera, then Angela. He could only have seen what looked like obvious concern from both. He turned toward Andrew but his eyes were cast down at the table.
“So what are you saying, I can’t take the job?”
“No. I’m not telling you what you can or cannot do. What I will say is that I wonder how careful you can be, under the circumstances, when you bring the whole covert operation up, in casual conversation, at a restaurant.”
Jesse stood, set his napkin down and walked from the room. Angela swallowed some shrimp and scampered after him, touching Vera on the shoulder with one hand, as the other clawed the hemline of her skirt in a futile attempt at modesty. Vera turned and looked at Andrew with her mouth open.
“What?” He raised both hands, like a suspect being held at gunpoint, and waited.
The Loss of Innocence
Things have changed since I was younger, in a way which I am unhappy about. I want it to be like it was in the ‘old days’. What do I mean by ‘old days’? I mean the days when some things were better than they are now some places. I want it to be like it was when we left our front doors unlocked, and NEVER gave it any thought. I want to look outside and see lots of little children selling homemade lemonade, BY THEMSELVES. I want popcorn balls, fresh baked cookies and cupcakes, even fruit handed out as a Halloween treat that’s safe to eat. I want back some of the innocence we’ve lost. Why did it happen? Did it have to happen? I miss it. Do you miss it too?
If you are younger than I am and you do not get what I am talking about, I apologize. I am sorry that you’ll never get the chance to experience what I’ve been describing so you can decide for yourself whether or not you agree with me. I’m sorry that the choice has been denied to you. Do you have somethings that I didn’t when I was your age? If so, is it a fair exchange? I don’t believe so. What would you trade for the loss of innocence? Is there anything left to lose? Is there anything more to gain?
Excerpt from The South Hills Conspiracy
“He needs us to sign, Cassandra.” Andrew looked over at his wife. Her cafe au lait skin and narrow cheek bones highlighted the large round eyes that completed a look Andrew thought of as Egyptian regal. At that precise moment she turned from the vanity mirror and stared back at him. A challenge he refused to back down from.
“He’s seventeen. The Army requires parental consent before age eighteen.”
“I know how old he is. Don’t sit there and tell me what I know. I also know this country has been at war less than five months, a war I oppose in every way, Stone. People are being killed, being blown up every day. Don’t tell me you want me to give my baby permission to get involved in that. No.”
When she turned back to the mirror to do her eye lashes Andrew saw her watching for his reaction in the reflection.
“That would be five years from now, if ever. Jesse has four years at the academy to complete first, which begins a year from now assuming he gets accepted. And that’s only half of it. He also has to garner a congressional nomination, an even harder requirement. Only a handful is awarded each year. But just think about it, Cass. Do you realize what could happen in five years? That’s an eternity in terms of armed combat. It could long be over before then. Signing for him to go to the academy is not volunteering him to fight in Iraq.” Andrew stood and walked past her into the bathroom. He ran cold water in the sink and scooped his palms underneath, splashing his face with it. Looking up in the mirror he didn’t see a highly regarded fifty something police chief. Instead, he saw a tired looking, gray haired, middle aged man, who had failed to convince his wife that one agreement over a family matter was so vitally important.
Determined that the outcome of this conflict would serve as a referendum on their relationship, Andrew closed the faucet and went back to Cassandra, dripping water as he pressed a cream colored towel hard against his forehead.
“This isn’t just the Army. It’s West Point. The-”
“I know what the hell it is. Can you stop for one minute trying to tell me what I know? God help me.”
Andrew paused, his hands dropping beside him, the towel falling to the floor. It wasn’t only that his authority in the family was being questioned. Those attacks had begun long ago. This was also about respect. Cassandra had proven herself to be every bit his equal as an investigator, perhaps his superior. His wife was the head of the fraud unit for a major insurance company, which garnered a substantial six figure income that dwarfed his. Why should she listen to him? His argument had to not only be persuasive but also on the right side, if there was one.
“I apologize. But I have to tell you why you should sign.”
“Go ahead then, tell me, please. I gotta here this.” She put her brush down, swiveled the stool around, and crossed her arms, waiting. Andrew sat back on the bed, bending down to retrieve the towel as he did so.
“Your position is based on emotion, which may not be the best way to inform your decisions. Because of that you are missing the main focus of what this is about.”
“Uh huh, right. Why does this feel like another lecture?”
“What I’m trying to say is that it’s not about you, yet you’re acting as if it is. As a mother your instincts are to protect your child. And while I admire that I see Jesse for who he really is.”
“And I don’t?”
“No, I’m afraid you don’t, not in this case. He is seventeen. Your child but not a child. You act as if eighteen is a magic number and you get to make all the choices right up until his birthday but that’s just not the reality. He is already grown up. A man making difficult decisions about his own life. If you presume to do this for him you aim to take away the very thing he has earned a right to. It is his future Cass, not yours, can you see that? Can’t you also see that if by refusing to sign and preventing him from his dream, you won’t be on his side? Aren’t we supposed to be on his side? Instead you will forever be on the wrong side.”
“For the rest of Jesse’s life and that will be a very long time.”
“It had better be, Andrew.”