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CHAPTER 1

When I moved back to mid-coast Maine, my life seemed perfect. I’d slammed the door on my not-so-recent past and left my troubles behind. Or so I thought until my mechanic shattered that illusion with news about my Jeep’s hitch hiker. Apparently someone was tracking me with a global positioning device. Suddenly the strange things that had happened to me over the past few days—and that I’d dismissed as coincidence or just plain bad luck—didn’t seem so random.

The GPS was intentional and personal.

 

In retrospect I can say my current troubles started with a slashed tire. On the day in question, I was high on the sounds and smells of Casco Bay as I hiked along the nearly deserted bay loop of Wolf Neck Woods State Park. My little hound Sprite followed at my heels as I climbed down the wooden steps to the wet rocks below. We sat side-by-side on the bottom step.

I lost track of time, mesmerized by the bay’s rise and fall and the rhythm of water surging against the rocks. When I glanced at my watch, I saw it was 4 pm. Nightfall was looming. The towering white pines cast deepening shadows across the trail as I hurried back to my Jeep at the park entrance. I savored the last hint of sunlight.

When I was close enough to read my “GOT-MUD” license plate, I drew a sharp breath. I stopped short, almost jerking Sprite off her feet. The Jeep was skewed forward and to the right at a sharper angle than the down tilt of the sandy shoulder warranted. I squinted along the side of the vehicle. My right front tire was totally flat and resting on its rim. How could that be? It was fine just a short time ago.

I stared at the Jeep, momentarily frozen in place. Then I took one step backward. I stopped and listened. A branch snapped in the distance. I felt Sprite tense at my side. Was someone there? I looked around but saw no one.

I stood still for another second or two, listening, barely breathing. All I heard was the beating of my own pulse and the stuttering in-and-out of my breath. No more branches snapped. Satisfied that no one lurked in the shadows, I checked the left side of my Jeep with a quick glance. Nothing else seemed amiss.

Tears of frustration formed against my will and my throat constricted. My feelings of serenity and a larger connection with the universe were replaced with the reality that Sprite and I were alone at dusk in what now felt like the middle of nowhere. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. What would my students think if they could see me quaking over a flat tire and a snapping branch? I took one more calming breath and muttered, “Get a grip.”

I considered my situation. I’d changed tires before when I’d had to, and there was a usable spare in the Jeep’s hatch. However, the sandy shoulder was far from stable. Therefore, it would be foolish to try to change the tire by myself. I frowned at the idea of asking for help, but really what were my options?

I gritted my teeth, punched my speed dial for AAA, and connected with the emergency 24-hour towing service. The voice on the other end of the line estimated the wait to be thirty to forty-five minutes. I sighed, impatient with the anticipated wait. Then I reminded myself that being able to actually complete the call from the park was a stroke of good fortune and the wait was nothing more than a minor inconvenience.

Sprite followed me as I walked around to the front passenger door and opened it. I clicked my tongue. “Come on, girl.” She jumped up onto the seat. I hugged her and said, “Good girl.” I closed the door and walked around the front to the driver’s side. I couldn’t resist giving the offending tire a swift kick in passing.

I slid into the driver’s seat and rummaged in my clutch purse for a stick of sugar-free gum. I folded the stick into my mouth and relaxed into the first burst of spearmint. As a child I’d hated it when Mom chewed and snapped Wrigley’s gum while braiding my hair. How ironic that something so annoying about my mother was now a part of who I was as an adult.

I pulled out the James Patterson novel stashed in the glove compartment and settled in for the wait. I barely read a page before I heard an engine rev on the road behind me. I glanced up.

The driver’s face was a blur as he gunned by in a burst of speed, tick-tacking my Jeep with loose gravel in passing. I’d taken my glasses off to read, and I squinted to focus on what looked like a dark green insignia with some kind of gold design in the center of the black truck’s rear window.

Sprite raised her nose and rumbled, and I rested a hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay, girl. I guess we’re both kind of edgy today.” I appreciated Sprite’s thirty-five pounds of protective energy.

My focus was on snapping twigs, flat tires, and revving motors now. It was useless to try reading, so I returned my book to the glove compartment. I put my glasses back on and stared out into the gathering gloom, shivering. I started the engine and blasted the heater to chase the cold. But still I felt chilled.

 

It was nearing full dark when the tow truck arrived. The driver did a U-turn at the park entrance and pulled up in front of the Jeep. I walked over to greet him and discovered that he was a she in the form of a tall, lean woman with spiked black hair and a right ear jazzed up with a string of studs and hoops.

I flipped my wallet open to show Ms. Mechanic a.k.a. Barb Beribeau my auto club membership card.

Barb handed me a work sheet on a clip board to sign. Then she knelt down beside my right front bumper and inspected the flat tire. She shook her head and stood back up. “This tire isn’t just flat. It’s slashed.”

I stared at her. “What? You think someone did this?”

“That’s right.” Arms akimbo, Barb looked at the tire for a moment longer before saying, “Well, let’s getcha outta here.” She winched the Jeep’s front end onto her flatbed.

I boosted Sprite up into the passenger seat of the truck cab and slid in beside her. Barb and I covered the usual civilities before she ventured to say, “Y’know, when you’re talking about a slashed tire, you really outta fill out a police report.”

I squinted at her. “I appreciate your concern, but it’s just one slashed tire. I’m sure the police have bigger crimes to pursue.”

“At the very least, the police would have a report on file in case something else happens.” Barb hesitated for a moment before adding, “This kind of deliberate act is usually personal.”

I frowned. “Well that’s a scary thought.” That’s not what I wanted to hear, and I dismissed the idea without further consideration. “I think it more likely some kids were just driving around looking for trouble and saw my Jeep as an easy mark.”

We were quiet on the rest of the drive through Castle Cove. When we pulled up behind Pluard’s garage, Barb said, “It may seem like I’m overreacting to you. However, you coulda been in a bad spot if you hadn’t found a tow.”

I realized I may have hurt her feelings, and I was eager to make amends. After all, she was just trying to be helpful. “You’re right. I’m not sure what I’d have done if you hadn’t responded to my call. I appreciate your help and your advice.”

“I’ll bet,” Barb said half jokingly. She opened her door.

I reached over and put my hand on her arm. “No, really, I do appreciate it. I apologize for being argumentative. I sincerely do mean ‘thank you’.”

As she climbed out of the truck, Barb said, “In that case, I sincerely mean ‘you’re welcome’.” She unlocked the side garage door and turned on the lights. She rubbed her hands together. “Brr-rr-rr. It’s a mite chilly in here.” She said she’d check for loaner vehicle availability as she sat down at her desk and logged onto her computer. “Will a ’94 Ford Ranger do?”

I smiled, eager to seem cooperative at this point. “Perfect.”

Barb drew up the contract. When she finished, she said, “Our daytime mechanic will check for signs of other possible tamperin’ the first thing tomorrow. You should be able to pick up your Jeep by lunchtime.”

“Thank you, Barb … for everything.”

Barb hit me with the classic guilt trip as I opened the front door of the office to leave. She said, “P’raps this was a random act. However if you ignore it, whoever did it might strike again. Maybe you could save someone else from this kinda grief.”

 

Later that evening, I started to type an email to my friend Alice Curtis to tell her about the slashed tire. Alice was a minister, but I never had a sense of being judged by her. And she usually nudged me back into a reasonable perspective regardless of my issue.

We had been friends since grade school, and like an old married couple, we pretty much knew everything about each other. She was the one person with whom I could be totally—well, almost totally—forthright. Wasn’t everybody entitled to a secret or two?

I decided against using email for the slashed tire message. Alice would read too much into it, and it would only make her worry. I’d tell her about it in person when we met for our weekly walk.

I started to review some notes from my morning appointments with students, but I wasn’t productive. My thoughts kept wandering back to Barb’s warnings. I knew she was right, at least as far as the idea that I could have been in a bad spot if I hadn’t found a tow. And I certainly didn’t want anyone else to suffer the same grief. However, I still didn’t think the incident warranted a police report.

As I was logging off my computer, I could almost hear Dad saying, “Let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill now.” At that point Velcro jumped up on the desk and nudged my arm. I picked up the purring cat and hugged her close, holding onto the thought of Dad and his Down East philosophy.

My muscles were tense and I felt the onset of a headache. Perhaps a few minutes of meditation would help me relax. I sat on the bedroom carpet with my eyes closed, my back straight, and my legs crossed right over left. I shrugged my shoulders to loosen their tension. I consciously slowed my breathing and focused on the in-and-out sensation. Next I opened my eyes and shifted my attention to a picture of Reid State Park I’d hung on the wall as a prop. I imagined the sound of the surf, hoping to trigger feelings of harmony and tranquility.

I was physically relaxed when I climbed into bed, but sleep still did not come easily. I tossed and turned and toyed with troubling thoughts. Was the slashed tire merely a random act of meanness or was there more to it than that? Could it be personal?

At that point it seemed likely I’d simply been unlucky.

 

I awoke from a dream with a start. It was the middle of the night. My bedding was in a tangle. The room was pitch-black. The only sounds were Sprite’s soft snoring and the pounding in my ears. I sat up and turned on the bedside lamp. The light chased the shadows, but the voice from my dream lingered. It always did.

If you wake up in the middle of the night and you hear something that makes you jump, be afraid. Be very afraid.

 

Attached comments refer to Revised Chapter 1 of “Beware the Sleeping Dog”.

Apply attached comments to Revised hook for my “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie” manuscript.

 

Just before 11:30 A.M. today, Atlantis launched into the final odyssey of the shuttle program. It still boggles my mind 30 years after the first space shuttle mission that man can create an aerospace craft that can take off from earth, enter and operate in space, and return to an Earth landing. Its mission is not frivolous. It supports the continued operation of the International Space Station which provides information streams crucial to our modern life existence.

But is it front page news? Not in my paper. How about yours?

As an aside: A friend suggested that at the end of its use, Atlantis should be crashed into the ocean so mankind could then search for the “Lost Shuttle of Atlantis”.

When Democratic Congressman Jim Moran refused to answer a disabled veteran’s legitimate question Friday night, I wish the town meeting attendees had walked out in outrage. Our military personnel put their lives on the line, why must they also have their economic solvency put to risk? Far better ‘twould be for members of Congress—our public servants—to sacrifice their own pay for their lapse in consensus and appropriations.

The veteran asked Congressman Moran what our government would do to assure that our military personnel received their paychecks, even if Congress failed to pass a FY 2011 appropriations bill by the midnight deadline. Congressman Moran rudely refused to answer the question.

Is it not disgraceful that our nation’s leaders would put the pay of our servicemen and women on the cutting block without first sacrificing their own pay? Where is their sense of honor?

I’m appalled that some U.S. corporations still evade taxes through tax loopholes, but I’m delighted to see FOX–most notably Bill O’Reilly and Lou Dobbs–publicizing the travesty.

While researching for my “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie?” novel, I discovered that a long-enduring (more than 45 years!) U.S. tax deferral clause enables our multinational corporations to defer paying U.S. taxes until their overseas’ profits come home. Those transfers often do not happen for years, and in the meantime, companies bolstering the U.S. economy and our welfare are subject to a thirty-five percent—or more—corporate tax.

Also during my research, I found a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on the web that listed a multinational U.S. technology and services conglomerate that parked sixty-two billion dollars in undistributed earnings offshore; a U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant that boasted sixty billion dollars of tax-deferred earnings; and an industry leader in energy, oil, and gas that kept fifty-six billion dollars languishing in the loop-hole.

That certainly helps to explain why our U.S. jobs are going anywhere but here.

Some key findings on this issue according to the website listed at the end of this blog:

• “The United States is the only large economy that taxes corporate income worldwide with a tax rate exceeding 30 percent.
• During 2009, both Great Britain and Japan enacted territorial systems, giving their multinationals a major tax advantage over U.S.-based firms that are saddled with a worldwide system. Over 80 percent of developed nations now have territorial systems.
• Whether the U.S. moves to strengthen its worldwide system by repealing deferral or follows the international trend by adopting a territorial system, there will be unfortunate incentives created. In both cases, though, lowering our corporate tax rate will mitigate them.
• A reasonable upper-bound target might be a combined federal-state rate of roughly 25 percent, implying a federal corporate tax rate of roughly 20 percent.”

I think one of my characters in “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie?” expresses a consensus on this issue:

“Speaking of the tax deferral loop-hole, it encourages corporate leaders to move manufacturing and other businesses offshore. It breeds contempt for the average U.S. citizen. It’s shameful the way U.S. corporate leaders jump at the opportunity to dodge paying U.S. taxes. Do they care about our economy? Our people? Do they consider the ethics of stomping on others to gain more and more for themselves?”

References:
http://www.taxfoundation.org/publications/show/25842.html

A New Era in Publishing

This morning I read a dialogue between Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath at http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/03/ebooks-and-self-publishing-dialog.html. It offers a strong argument for choosing the self-publishing and e-book path over legacy publishing and paper. It’s titled “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing”, and it is an excellent read.

I’m still opting for the standard route of submitting to literary agents. But it feels good to have a viable back-up plan.

What does it mean to self-publish? In the words of Barry Eisner: You become your own “editor, line editor, copyeditor, proofreader, jacket copy writer, bio writer, cover art designer, and digital formatter”. And you assume “various marketing and sales elements, too”.

Quite daunting, but perhaps, most rewarding–from a profit perspective and as a model for success.

I’ve read conflicting reports about whether or not our government will be cutting veteran benefits. I don’t recall reading anything about it being a done deal.

However, when I took my 77-year-old widowed neighbor grocery shopping on Friday, she gave me the facts. The annuity amount that she receives for her deceased husband’s military service has been cut by $24.20 a month effective March 1st. The explanation is that new tax laws and new tax tables require additional federal income tax payments from her.

Now that may not seem like much of a cut. However, it’s less than what it was. And now that small monthly check no longer covers her grocery costs.

That just doesn’t seem right to me. In fact, it seems underhanded. And I ask, have our legislatures experienced a decrease in their monthly take-home pay? If not, why?

Do our public servants consider themselves more privileged than the people who have personally sacrificed for our freedom? More privileged than we, the people, who voted them in to ethically represent out best interests?

I read in “Politico” that the Senate Republican Conference passed a two-year moratorium on earmarks. I say “good job” with that, but then I ask why only a moratorium?

Why not simply ban FOREVER a practice which allows U.S. Congressional members to secure hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for pet projects hidden from the scrutiny and oversight of the general public?

Why should our elected public SERVANTS ever be allowed to secretly buy votes in return for federal funding?

Some argue that earmarks constitute a mere 2% of the federal budget. I find any percentage unacceptable when public trust and our hard-earned money are being abused.

We humans have finally found a match for our wits. Actually, we have been surpassed by IBM’s Watson. Not only does the whiz kid computer interpret questions, but ‘he’ also learns and adjusts ‘his’ responses accordingly. ‘He’ proved this by outperforming against Jeopardy’s two all-time champions in three consecutive airings of the show.

This is beyond sci-fi. Mind-boggling.

For more information, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watson_%28artificial_intelligence_software%29
and http://www.youtube.com/user/ibm/#p/u/19/rya9qaUJfeY

I read in USA Today that 20,000 veterans, active duty troops and reservists lost their homes during the past twelve months. And their military mortgages were backed by our government. Is this how we reward the sacrifice of our patriots?

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