Tomorrow Comes Every Five Minutes

(Author’s Note: This read is less than five minutes, just in case…).

On Monday morning, while olive oil heated in her favorite skillet, Mary broke a white, pasture-raised egg into a glass bowl, picked up her whisk, and froze. She was hungry. Did she want two eggs? Deciding she did, she whacked the second on the edge of the bowl.

Her hand slipped.

The top half of the shell fell into the bowl with the first egg. The other half, the half with most of the egg, dropped onto the counter. The yolk broke and bled into the sticky whites which slowly dripped onto the floor.

She grabbed the bowl with one hand and held it under the dripping egg while she scooped the slimy whites, yolk, and shell into the bowl with the other. Then she grabbed a cloth and wiped the counter. 

“What a mess,” she thought.

She reached into the bowl to fish out the shells….

Mary stood in front of the stove with an empty skillet in her hand. She set it on a back burner and poured approximately one tablespoon of olive oil in the pan. Then she turned the gas under the burner on low, and went to the porch to retrieve the egg carton from her refrigerator.

While the olive oil in the skillet heated, she broke a pasture-raised white egg into the glass bowl, stared at it for a moment, then decided she wanted two eggs. She whacked the second on the edge of the bowl.

At that moment, her hand spasmed.

One-half of the shell fell into the bowl with the first egg. The other half dropped onto the counter. The yolk broke and bled into the sticky whites which slowly dripped onto the floor.

“Sheee-it,” she said.

She grabbed the bowl and with one hand, held it under the dripping egg….

Mary sipped at her coffee wondering what to cook for breakfast….

The coffee finished dripping. Mary reached for her favorite mug. It was in the sink with yesterday’s grounds. She squirted a drop of Dawn Antibacterial Apple Blossom scented soap into it. She did not wait for any hot water because the soap claimed to be antibacterial. She quickly scrubbed the mug, rinsed it, and dried the outside before she filled it with coffee.

She sipped her coffee as she walked to the refrigerator to grab a carton of eggs, which she set upon the counter before grabbing a small iron skillet. She set it on a back burner and poured approximately one tablespoon of olive oil in the pan. Then she turned the burner on low. While it heated, she cracked one egg into a small glass bowl. “Should I eat two eggs,” she said to absolutely no one….

Where had the days and nights gone? It was already Friday and Mary couldn’t remember a single event except the broken eggs on her counter. Oh. She was tired and hungry. 

She oozed out of bed, wondering why in the world she should be so exhausted. She slumped to the kitchen and filled the water kettle. She pushed the switch to heat the water, grabbed the small French press on the counter and measured exactly three precisely filled scoops of Peet’s French Italian dark roast into the small thermal press.

While she waited for the water to heat, she wondered if it would be fun to mix it up this particular morning. Maybe pancakes would be more fun than a couple of fried eggs would. She walked to the back porch hoping she still had a bag of Bob’s Redmill Gluten-free pancake mix.

She hunted both the cold box and the freezer units. There was no pancake mix, so she grabbed the carton of eggs, walked back into the kitchen and set it onto the counter.

The water pot clicked off, so she filled her press and set the timer for four minutes to brew the dark roast.

Grabbing her favorite skillet for frying eggs….

While Mary lay in bed, she thought about the weekend ahead of her and hoped….


Shaman’s Mirror is DONE!

Shaman’s MIrror is available for Pre-ordering

Synopsis of Shaman’s Mirror: ( See the end of this blog for information on preordering this novel. Thank you Readers. Your support means the world to me!)

“He isn’t really here…it is just a dream.” Sara Tyler, a divorced empty nester from Olympia, Washington, feels grateful that the man with the flashing, gold-flecked eyes is only a recurring character in her dreamscapes. Much younger than she, her own ageism raises its ugly head in the form of an old shaman who throws her and her dream lover into the belly of a mountain. The repetitive, haunting dream threatens to upend her mundane reality, and sense of personal worth.

In Tucson, Arizona, Dr. Jason E. Scott is troubled. Funding for a major project will end if he cannot give his trustees results. While drunk and hiding in the desert, Jason confronts a shaman resembling the one who haunts Sara Tyler’s dreams. The shaman magics him into the living room of a woman he does not know, but somehow recognizes.

During a trip to visit her best friend in Tucson, Sara cannot escape the shamanistic specter who ominously reminds her, “Now is the time.” A vision reminds her: the man with the gold-flecked eyes cannot be real; dreams are merely neurons firing during the night or heat-induced mirages.

Sara’s friend begs her to leave her old life and move into the cottage next door. The Anthropology department at the University posts an assistant job, wanting an expert in Paleolithic art, the job Sara has always wanted.

On her way to the interview, Sara hits Dr. Jason E. Scott’s car in the parking lot. The man with the gold-flecked eyes is real. Bull-headed and obnoxious, Jason attempts to discourage her acceptance. She takes the job. He creates impossible situations hoping to convince her that she cannot handle it. His fear for her teaches him that the Mirror has called her as well.

Backpacking, they look for the probable site. She and Jason fall into the belly of a mountain known as Old Granite Woman. In its heart, they are convinced that the only way out is to find the Mirror. While searching, they develop a camaraderie that begins to feel romantic. Their presence in the cavern awakens the magic that resides there. The shaman appears and thrusts them deeper into the belly of Mother Earth to face their pasts. Jason relives the loss of his best friend, whom he considered his true brother. Sara falls into the Mirror and disappears, deserting Jason to suffer his private hell.

Sara awakens as Saw-ra, a Homo erectus woman with a simpler outlook on life. She meets her mate, Jin, whom she instantly recognizes as Jason. She experiences simple day-to-day living until she meets a sea creature. There are no words for such an animal. Saw-ra, compelled to tell her story, draws it upon the cave wall. Her clan sees this as strong, dark magic. Terrified of the creature seemingly alive on the back wall of their home, the clan abandons the woman who put it there, Jin, and their desecrated cave.

While living without the protection of their clan family, Saw-ra and Jin witness fire for the first time and learn to use it. Their child is born with evolved traits inherited from Saw-ra.  A cruel and vengeful alpha male returns with the clan. Reactive and violent he kills Jin because of the magic of the drawings and the fire in the hearth. The clan stones Saw-ra, but they take her daughter when they leave the cave with its terrible magic. After death, Saw-ra awakens in the presence of the old shaman, who explains her journey.

Jason, trapped in the chamber during Sara’s long journey, cannot return to freedom without her nor does he want to. While waiting for her return, he searches for a way out. He discovers a chamber filled with wondrous paintings adjacent to the Mirror. His heart tells him he has found Sara.

The old Shaman returns Sara to Jason. They acknowledge and consummate their love. An Earthquake opens the cave, freeing them. With the evidence buried by the quake, they cannot share their historic find, but Sara now understands more about life, and discovers how worthy she is.   

You can preorder and e-book on the following links. A paperback version is scheduled to go live by the end of the month.


All other vendorshttps://books2read.com/u/bM72JB

Thank you.

A Big Hole


Plants are teachers. Their lessons are as subtle as their language; lesson that are easy to ignore if one isn’t mindful, and time moves so slowly for them, requests never seem urgent.

I felt the Liquid Ambers’ threats. Occasionally I would feel a slight shudder when I walked under them. I envisioned one or both crashing to the Earth. If that happened they would take out fences, smash windows, perhaps hurt animals, or gods-forbid – people. The Chinese Hackberry needed a trim, as did all the trees on this property, but I felt I had time. I made a decision. I would tend to this in January, after leaf fall. It was healthier for the trees.

The trees had another plan.

I was minding my own business when I received a call from a neighbor. “Have you eaten?” He often does this.

There have been times I forget about food. When he offers, I accept with deep gratitude because I am creative and become too caught up in whatever it is I do to deal with simple acts of three-dimensionality like eating.

That day I remembered. “I just ate,” I said.

“I’m bringing it over, anyway. You can reheat it later.”

I said, “Okay.”

Perhaps I should have refused him.

Since moving here less than two years ago, he has hated my trees. I am the crazy tree lady. For him, my yard is an eyesore. There are too many trees. When oxalis and three-corner leaks spread underneath the trees in the spring, the yard looks wild and unkempt. He hates the seedpods that the Ambers drop. Leaf fall upsets him. The trees obstruct his view of the corner above us. But, what he really hates is the shade in his yard. He worries it will kill his grass. There hasn’t been a single time that we have spoken across the fence that he hasn’t complained about my trees. Usually, it seems like banter, a conversation opener, a place to meet in the middle.

However, that day when he brought over the food, he very cautiously informed me that he had called a tree specialist to get a diagnosis for my Chinese Hackberry. It was very sick and needed to come down before it killed somebody.

I was puzzled and said, “My arborist didn’t notice that. Why wouldn’t he tell me that?”

I then explained to him my worry about the Liquid Ambers. They are fragile trees and have grown quite tall, but arborists don’t like to trim them because it makes them weaker. “I plan to deal with them in January.”

“Well that front tree is very sick. It has ants.”

Around here, all trees have ants. “I think my arborist would have told me if there was a problem,” I said.

“I knew you would be like this. You are so irresponsible.”


“Why do you have to be such an immature baby about this?”

Ego raised one eyebrow.

It suddenly occurred to me that this had been a plan before he bought the house next to mine. He intended to get rid of the tall, offensively shading trees next door. Wow! Was it possible he shared food with me so that he could wear me down? Was he thinking I now owed him? Did he expect I would cut my trees for him because he had fed me so often?

Ego insisted, “Give the food back. Right now!”

I tried. It was sad letting go of Nori sprinkled rice with pickled plums, but I pushed the dish toward him.

He backed away. “Just take it,” he shouted. “Take it.”

My mistake occurred when I said, “Oh, I see now. This was a plan. Well it works for you, doesn’t it? You have wanted this since you moved in.”

The instant the words left my mouth, I felt my mistake.

He retorted, “My house isn’t made of cardboard. It will be expensive to rebuild, and I will be suing for it.” As an afterthought he added, “It will be way more money than you have.”

Ego snapped. An avenging tree angel took over my voice. I have no idea what it said, but I know it called him out.  

“I knew it,” he said as he stormed back toward his house. “You are crazy. God-damned fucking crazy.”

I felt crazy.   

Shaking and dazed, I called my tree specialist. He came that evening.

“This is probably the healthiest Hackberry I have ever seen,” he said.

I knew this but…, “I need proof. Something in writing from an expert that says my tree is healthy.”

“Who are you doing this for?” he asked.

“My neighbor wants to sue me.”

He shook his head, but he called in another specialist who came later that night who confirmed what we all knew. My tree was healthy. If I wanted to trim it, I didn’t have to wait until leaf fall. He understood my misgivings about the Ambers. He said they could wait until leaf fall, or come down right now. Either way, I was right, Ambers in general weren’t suited for this climate or in such close proximity to houses.

Would my neighbor approach the City with a complaint about my trees while I waited for leaf fall? Would I have to take them all down? Would the unprecedented heat of California cause some unforeseen disaster? “Will you write a report? I need to protect myself,” I said.

He had to drive to the Bay Area that night, but he promised to write and send it when he arrived.

I received it that night.

Two weeks later, my Ambers felled and Hackberry severely trimmed, acts that bring pain and tears even today, the neighbor had the nerve to write me a thank you letter for fixing my trees for him.

Ego awakened again and said, “Shit.”

How does one shut up inner dialog when every step onto the front porch reminds my poor little Ego that it no longer has the protection of three loyal trees? How can I stop anger when I see my burned roses, and dead blackberry vines no longer sheltered from the brutal sun? How can I stop the tears as I watch my generous fig tree that has lived its life as understory burn away in the heat?

A few nights after that tragedy, I went to my weekly meeting with the Women Writers of the Well. Driving there, I promised myself I wouldn’t write about this event. It was time to let go.

Who was I kidding? I couldn’t find equilibrium. I didn’t know who I had turned into that day. What kind of person blindly lashes out after downloading information that should have remained a hidden knowing? I wish I could have quelled his fears instead of adding to the insanity of his accusations.

Then, one of the writers shared this prompt: a big hole.

A door opened. My pen flew across the page.

I picked up Ego, along with Anger and threw them into a big hole. I watched them fall, until darkness sucked them up.

Like all things, Valarie, they didn’t stay in that deep oblivion. As I turned, Anger grabbed me.

“Fix this,” it growled.

“No,” I said, fully prepared to kick whatever crawled out of that hole back into its depths.

“Where is this going?” Ego pleaded.

“Back into the hole, with you,” I shouted, pointing an angry finger.

Shaking my head, I stormed off. Sometimes it’s best to turn your back on a thing. 

As if reading my mind, it shouted, “Not true. I’ve always been there for you. You need someone to protect you, guard against that world out there that doesn’t understand.”

I flashed a middle finger at it. “I can protect myself. I make good decisions. I don’t need anybody telling me how to run my life. I have rights, you know. I deserve to be free of the likes of you.”

“You’re ungrateful.”

“Oooh. And you’re gone,” I said, shoving at it, hard enough to knock it back into the big hole.

It wouldn’t stay there. I knew better than to expect that, but I didn’t want to listen anymore.

“You need me,” I heard it shout from a deep, deep place. It wasn’t going to leave me alone until I grappled with it.

“Dammit!” I hate when Ego whines like that.

Sometimes it is hard to see a train wreck coming. Sometimes we can’t step out of the way. So, here I stand in front of the computer, grappling with the story I started during a writer’s meeting a few weeks ago; writing and rewriting, wondering if it will ever be smooth enough for a blog. Time will tell.

In the meantime, does anyone have a shovel I can borrow?

When I Find It



Bristol board, white as white can get for paper.

I can’t do this. I don’t have the talent. It has dripped off my fingers to sully the floor instead of inking this paper.

Dang, it’s dusty in here. Where’s the broom?

I forgot to wash the dishes.

I need to wash clothes for tomorrow…

…I don’t have the time to do this right now.

Time. What else do I have? I live alone with no one to attend but myself, I retired from twenty-four years of teaching one year ago precisely to make more time for projects like this…I have time.

I need another excuse to avoid this impenitent white.

I’ve accomplished a lot this year avoiding this project: published a novel, finished another. I maintain a blog site, I have created two book covers for projects not mine, taught art lessons, voice lessons, drawn 36 portraits. I have done all kinds of things that have ousted the premier project I promised to do, a project of the heart, a project for and with a writer whom I love, my son.


I ask my body, listening to the senses given to navigate this dimension. What does it have to say when I think about this project? I imagine the heroine, Colenso, and all the people with whom she connects. I start to feel hollow, constricted…saddened.

Tears start flowing from my eyes.

Aaaugh. There is so much pain here.

She is beautiful. She is brave. She is creative. She has the energy of a younger woman desperate to follow her purpose on Earth. Where will it take her?

Abandoned by parents, raised by a grandmother who committed suicide to escape untenable lower class working conditions, and burdened by magical gifts that drive her to right impossible wrongs…I…I feel…I feel trapped by her. I do not know how to express a grief that closely matches the vibrational magnitude of my own pain, the pain of a single mother raising two fatherless children, another layer of generational abandonment heaped upon generations behind us, so much suffering.

Will Colenso find peace before she ages and becomes inexorably tired? Will the monsters that hunt her catch up before the Old Ones bring her to her proper place?

Only if I can forget that I am the old, tired one.

There must be a way to reclaim my youthful strength, an ability to put myself in her shoes, to jump ship and put myself in the shoes of the other characters, to face the evil with her, and not flinch from my ego who warns me of my own reflections, “Don’t go there.”

I will go there…when I find the strength…when the dishes and floor are clean and I find enough self-love for both of us. I will go there. I will.

I will go there….

Tiny Balls of Light


I am delighted to share my blog space again, with another writer from Women Writers at the Well, Dianne Chapman McCleery. She is a talented essayist, and her fiction always explores the depths of relationship no matter the era. Usually, her stories have a western theme, such as her novelette, Seeking Solace, about a woman who lost her significant other, her trusted horse, and her peace of mind all at once. I will post a link to this book at the bottom of this offering. 

Lately she has been shining as a flash fiction writer. Flash fiction stories are the same as any story be it in short story form, novel, or any designation in between. The difference is they are typically only 100 to 1000 words long.  This story is 183 words, yet it is perfectly delightful and paints a full picture. You will not be able to forget it after you read it because it will have touched your heart, which most of her stories do. 

This was prompted by our opening meditation on April 12, 2021. I was so enchanted I wrote to her afterward (we are still meeting on Zoom) and asked, “Please, please, please, may I share this?” Immediately, she responded, “Yes.” Thank you, Dianne!

She presents to you:

Tiny Balls of Light – Dianne Chapman McCleery

For as long as she could remember, they were there, tiny balls of light, sometimes so many she couldn’t count them, but at least one kept her company at all times.

If she were sad, many showed up, tickling her so the sadness couldn’t stay. If she were happy, usually three would circle around her, joining in her joy.

As she grew old enough to go to school, they hid in her backpack, snuck into her desk, and at recess hid under her hair.

For some reason, she knew never to mention them to others. Somehow, she knew that not everyone, maybe no one, had balls of light as friends.

She grew older, wiser, and surprisingly, happier. Eventually, her thoughts and her gaze turned to boys. She held herself apart, never really knowing how to interact with other girls, much less boys. Then one day in English class, sitting behind Brian, Brian of the blue eyes and friendly smile, she saw a tiny ball of light peek over his collar and disappear again. She realized that finally she  might have found a friend.



A petite, tow-headed, ten-year-old girl slumped in the last pew in the dark corner at the back of the old Methodist Church. Her feet didn’t touch the ground, so she curled against the bench as a shield against the physical discomfort of having to sit there quietly. Today’s sermon had already lost meaning for her. Instead of sitting inside a building listening to old words that in her mind had little relevance, she had to leave, to find solace under the sky, to sit under an oak tree by the creek that meandered through town. Making herself as quiet and as invisible as possible, she slipped out of the pew. She could feel the Pastor’s scowl with the entire left side of her face and body, though she steadfastly ignored it as she walked out the door, down the steps, and into the light of freedom.  

It didn’t take long to get to the creek. She sat on the bank near a deep pool watching water warmed by the summer’s sun bubble past rocks. Her mind wandered and she closed her eyes. Sound, scent, sensation washed over her. Usually, her inner eye opened onto a similar scene, one from a past that felt like hers alone, though she had recently discovered that it was an ancestral place of prayer. This place was nestled in a wilder valley, its creek shadowed with heavy vegetation. There she listened to colder water burble over rocks, listened to different animals than the ones in her town rustling the foliage on the far bank, watched birds flutter from branch to branch. She found comfort when  a sharper wind brushed past her, making her fine hair float around her head. Sunlight played against nature’s surfaces with a soothing exchange of color. This mental place was where she felt close to her concept of God. This is what she thought: Just sitting, listening to nature was more informative than stale words written by humans. 

But today, when she closed her eyes to slip into the subtle world of her inner mind, she was on the top of a hill like the ones that surrounded the little town in which she lived. The hill was steep and the sky above was big. She found a stump to sit upon and looked up at the blue expanse above her. A flock of starlings danced in the air. They twirled in and out of fantastical, amorphous shapes like a gigantic organism responding to stimuli that pushed them one direction, then another.  

She heard someone approach and looked to her left. 

A youthful-looking, dark skinned man, dressed in a dusty, white tunic, tramped up the sharp incline toward her. His appearance was exotic, like he was from somewhere on the other side of the world. When he reached her position, he smiled and sat next to her, crossing his legs in front of him. He arranged his tunic and smoothed it with his graceful hands. He didn’t look directly at her. Instead, he watched the birds and their aerial display. She immediately felt  a kinship.

Intellectually, she knew she should be alarmed, but she wasn’t. His energy was calm and focused. He smelled like sweet, wood smoke, and for some reason that soothed her.   

He said, “Hi,”while watching the dance in the sky. His low voice seemed to rumble in his chest. 

Alert, she replied timidly, “Hi.”

One of his eyebrows rose up as if he was surprised. “You don’t remember me?”

Something about him seemed familiar. 

He sighed. Then, he bumped shoulders with her. “I want to tell you something,” he whispered.

She thought, Don’t tell me to go back to church. She turned to him with more than a little defiance and said, “What?” 

He chuckled and said, “Not that. You are here to develop Self. That is why you came to this planet, in this Now. Do you know what that means?”

Of course she knew what he meant, she was smart for a ten-year-old. It was just that she was expecting admonishment for ditching. Furthermore, she was already a Self, like everybody else, wasn’t she? She spent a lot of energy trying to change that. Why would she want to develop it?  

Intelligence had made her a target, so she was learning to hide it. Where she lived, smart kids were looked down upon. It was fine to be pretty, but not if you were smart. She worked to fit in: pretended she didn’t know answers in school, pretended to find humor in the antics of other children her age, pretended she was at least entitled to hover at the edge of the “it” crowd. Compliance was important for acceptance. Unfortunately, in her heart, she was as far from compliant as a person could get. All anyone had to do was ask her parents. Her entire Self didn’t fit in, and she didn’t like it. Why develop something one didn’t like?

Though she had not uttered a single word, he said, “I can’t say I disagree with your assessment, but that’s the problem, isn’t it? I would really like to see you develop who you are. That’s why you are here, to explore and grow your individuality, your Self.” 

It suddenly occurred to her who she might be sitting with. “Have I died?” she asked. 

He laughed and then he looked at her and said, “No.” 

His smile was so warm, and his laugh so inviting, she decided that if she had died, she would want to go with him wherever he ended up going. 

He shook his head and bumped her shoulder again. Still reading her thoughts, he said, “You won’t always feel so all alone. Developing your individual Self is what this World needs. I want you to do that, whatever it takes.” He shook his head, sadly. “Most people just stumble through life, never finding out who they are, what makes them happy, sad, scared, angry, ashamed. What makes them, THEM. 

“What do you like, what do you dislike? Where do you want to be? Who do you want to be with? What do you like to do? When do you like to do it? What makes you happy? What makes you sad? What makes you, YOU?”

She crossed her arms in defense. He was asking a lot of a ten-year-old.

“I’m not asking, I’m telling,” he replied to her unspoken retort. He pushed the spot between her eyes with his forefinger. “That is your job. Develop Self. Individuality is everything.” He seemed like an authority on the subject. He patted her head and looked straight into her eyes. “I love you.”

She could see that love. She mumbled, “Okay.” It suddenly seemed like a logical thing for a child to do anyway, to develop who they were as a person. Who was she to question him?

He stood, brushed dried grass off his tunic, and sauntered down the hill. She watched as he disappeared into a beam of light and immediately missed him. Her soul felt deep longing for the first time. Her heart squeezed as if it was struggling to hold its shape, to beat the next beat, to keep her here on Earth. 

She quietly woke up, sneezed, and sat up under the oak tree next to the creek that ran through town. She didn’t question what had happened. She believed it had happened. Now she just had to figure out what Self was and how to develop it.

Self is elusive. Finding It is still a struggle. This is what I think I know so far: It is not the same as Me. Self is something one holds inside as a pillar of assuredness and strength. It allows one to reach out to others without concern for Me. Me is the opposite. Me is wanting, Me has needs, Me is lacking, and it worries about what others think of it. 

It seems Self is a journey, not a destination. It’s a practice: mindful, deliberate attention paid to as many moments as one can, a gathering of sensation, feeling, desire, and pleasure, with the understanding that even adversity is part of life and therefore a treasure to be experienced and gathered. It is not knowing, yet having deep knowledge at the same time. It is an act of generosity and a road to compassion. It is holding gratitude as a precept for life. Self comes in moments of clarity, flashes of perception that disappear as soon as one becomes aware of the ah-ha that comes with them because one has to live Self, not be Self. Self is weird. 

However, as Self, life is FUN, especially on Earth. Earth is a playground, NOT a battleground. Filled with wondrous life, diversity has no boundaries. Surrounded by such breathtaking beauty and Light, it is sometimes  achingly difficult to assimilate all the colors, sounds, and sensations. 

When I, as Self,  think about the diversity this planet offers, I feel joy, the bubbly, roly-poly joy of a playful puppy, ecstatically happy to see its person. I want to feel that all the time, but then Self disappears because I want to hang on to joy. Joy shatters my patience for a quest for Self. So each moment and whatever it offers, I refocus, attempt mindfulness, and open to the practice of awareness. Practice  never ends. There is too much to learn. 

Occasionally, like today, I remember the meeting on that hill and feel grateful that He caught me at a time when my questioning was clear enough to turn into Quest. This Quest has given me a compass with which to navigate life and a reason to share Story about that life.    

Think about your quest for Self. Collect your joys, your troubles, your Story. Collect it all. There is Story unfolding right this very second. A story that becomes your Self. 

I love that. 

I love you.

May Peace find you today.


Put Them Together


(Author’s Note: This is my last blog entry of 2020 and the last chapter of BROKEN. I am honored you have followed this story. Thank you, Dear Readers.)

Night shadowed the small party of investigators by the river. Storm clouds wrestled, throwing spears of lightning. A cold rain was set to dump on Detroit and the surrounding area. Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson stood over the shallow grave of a teenager as the ME and her team exhumed him.

Lordy, she needed a vacation. For the third time, in less than two weeks, she stood by the river staring at another dumped soul that had found him or herself in the deadly aftermath of a criminal act. Three bodies, three cases strung together by the mishaps of a single boy. It hardly seemed believable. 

Cadaver dogs had pinpointed this grave using information provided by Jack’s runaway son. Jon and the undercover agent known as Rat Snatcher had done what they could in a grotesquely out-of-control situation. They buried young Lincoln in a beautiful spot overlooking this goddamned river. What was it about this pair of rival gangs that used the river as their dumping ground?

The department could not arrest the men responsible for the death of Lincoln. Charlie Marchesi was an ex mob boss in Witness Protection. They could not arrest him, or his son, Evan Fischer, for child endangerment or murder. Nor could they arrest Rat Snatcher, who also worked for Marchesi, though he was an undercover agent for the FBI. The FBI had jurisdiction and had taken over those cases. Detroit PD couldn’t seek justice from Allessandro Santorini, Marchesi’s right hand man, even though he had organized Lincoln’s rape. Santorini was lying in their morgue, shot by rival gang members. She guessed they would soon find out if Santorini had brutality killed Lincoln, or if he had died of a heart problem, as Snatcher explained to Jon.

Maureen ran Lincoln’s name through missing persons’ records but could not find him. It probably wasn’t his name. She suspected most of the teens embroiled in the dark world of sex trafficking and illegal fight clubs used aliases. Jonathan did. Why wouldn’t Lincoln? Now that she would have a chance to run fingerprints there was a greater chance they would identify him. She would keep looking, for Jonathan’s sake, but she knew in her gut that Lincoln had died anonymously and would remain so.

A sharp breeze blew the hem of her coat. She looked at the darkened sky. Her team needed to hustle before the storm hit them. “Let’s get Lincoln out of bed,” she said. So much had happened to bring them to this place.

As the ME pulled Lincoln’s body from the shallow trench and carefully set him upon the tarp, she thought about the young Taiwanese man left to rot by the river’s waters. This fiasco had started that night. Though she had no proof, Evan Fischer, or someone associated with him, shanked the boy from Taiwan in a dirty fight and dumped him. Like Lincoln, he would remain anonymous, but his journey had been different. He had most likely been lured by the promise of a glorious fighting career, taken from his home in Taiwan to the city of Detroit. Now he would be forgotten. She was still piecing together possible stories about him. Either he had been sent by the infamous Morelli brothers, suspected of human trafficking but slippery as eels, or had volunteered for increased status within their organization to punish Evan Fischer for impregnating their sister, Sobrina.

The same night Maureen stood over the young Taiwanese man’s body, Evan’s grandmother reported him missing. Was it coincidence that she called Jack Tyler to take the missing person’s call on the same night Jack’s son, Jonathan Tyler, had stepped off a bus and walked into the unfolding drama between the missing and the dead. You couldn’t make this shit up. No one would believe it.

Jon huddled against his father where they stood nestled under a tree about twenty-five yards from the burial site. Jack didn’t want his son to see or smell the gruesomeness that was sure to follow as they exhumed his friend’s body. Maureen would just as soon they leave, but Jon was adamant. Something inside him needed to see it through, to see his friend taken care of correctly. She hoped it would give him some closure for this nightmare.

The ME guessed that death had occurred at least six days ago. She collected insect evidence and soil samples to help confirm her guess. It was illegal to bury a body this way, but Maureen didn’t plan to process Jonathan for this one. She suspected that in some twisted way, Agent Phillip Morris, aka Rat Snatcher, was trying to protect Jon by not reporting Lincoln’s demise to his superiors, though she didn’t see how any of this could have reflected upon Jon. Maybe there just hadn’t been the time, but obviously, Snatcher had not told the FBI, or they would have found traces but not Lincoln’s body. People did weird shit when they were desperate. She’d probably never understand all that had happened.

Jon had recognized the man who beat him up in a line of purported Morelli henchmen. The guy had stupidly worn a plaid shirt to the lineup, and that caught Jon’s attention. The tip offs were the boots that Jon had memorized as the man hauled him to the garbage bin, and a large ring he wore on his finger. Maureen had photo evidence of an imprint the ring made above Jon’s eye.

Because he identified Emilio Morelli as the man who ordered the hit, a troop of uniformed cops were currently approaching his reported residence. She expected to hear from them any moment now.

The ME approached her. “We are ready to move him.”

“Good. Let’s do it.” She walked over to Jack and his son. “The next stop for Lincoln is the morgue. The ME will perform an autopsy. He’ll be cleaned up and held until we can identify his true identity.”

“You will look for his family?” said Jon.

“Yes. I will personally let you know if we find them. You two should get home before the storm lands on top of us.”

“Thank you, Maureen,” said Jack.

Social Services had decided it was in Jon’s best interest to stay out of the system until the courts determined the outcomes of his charges. Meghan lost it when they awarded Jack temporary custody. She had conveniently packed their divorce papers and pulled it out so they could see the custody agreement. She threatened to take Jack and Social Services, if necessary, to court. The caseworker would not back down. Evidently, a hotel room situation was not as secure as Jack’s apartment situation, and Jack was a valued citizen of Detroit and therefore trusted.

Meghan tried to use Jack’s OCD against him, but Social Services didn’t buy it. Her son had run away from home three times, a dilemma that they couldn’t reconcile without more research.

“I want to see your so-called apartment,” she had demanded. What did she expect? That he lived in squalor?

Jack invited her and Phillip to join him for lunch. Jon wouldn’t be released until that evening. It gave him plenty of time to quell her fears.

Meghan sashayed in with an air of disdain. She slowly walked from room to room. She opened the refrigerator. She opened every cupboard and closet. She finally sat on the couch and ran her hands across the fabric on the arm. “I guess this place is okay.”

“Be fair, Meg. This is a nice apartment,” said Phillip as he sat in the easy chair to the left of her. “And it is secure with a twenty-four hour concierge service.”

“I’m going to order lunch and have it delivered,” said Jack. “What would you like?”

They settled on Thai food.

“He was bullied at school,” Jack said.

“Oh, bullied. He was picked on. The kid’s too sensitive,” scoffed Meghan.

Phillip didn’t disagree, but he had set up mixed martial arts lessons for Jon and had encouraged him to join a club at school.

Meghan said, “Phil set up a practice floor in the garage. We tried to toughen him up.”

Jack sighed. Would he have done the same if he had remained in Jon’s life? “The bullying was worse than he led you to believe. I don’t think he told Rick how bad it was. I don’t believe Hank knew either,” said Jack.

It saddened him that Jon had not felt comfortable enough to tell anyone how bad it was. From Meghan and Phillip’s comments, he was not sure they would have listened. He would be happy if Jon didn’t return to California.

“What’s next?” said Phillip.

Meghan was quick to explain. “His case will be adjudicated in a special court because he has been charged as a minor. He’ll most likely be placed in a safe house, here in Michigan.”

Worst case scenario was that he would be assigned to a Detention Center. The thought made Jack sick. The possibility of his son being placed in a safe house when he could stay with an actual parent wasn’t much better.

Meghan and Phillip went to the hospital to say goodbye to Jon as he was released into Jack’s custody. Jack was pleased that Meghan held herself together. Jon didn’t whine, he didn’t gaze sadly as they drove away, he seemed content, perhaps because at that point, he was resigned to his fate, but he had a smile on his face when Jack drove him to the apartment. Jon seemed settled as he curled up on Jack’s couch and watched TiVo after dinner.   

That night, after Jon went to sleep, Jack sat at the end of the bed and watched him breathe, so grateful that he was alive. Many homeless children didn’t live through the experience. Rick, Jon’s older brother, was right to worry about him becoming a statistic. He was broken to be sure, but not another number on a death list.

He stood and straightened the blanket around his son’s shoulders and padded to the living room.

He picked up his phone and punched in Tom’s number.

Tom picked up on the third ring. “Hey.”

“Were you asleep?”

“Dozing. There isn’t much else to do when one is confined as a convalescent.”

“Just a few more days.”

“Three. Three more days, if physical therapy goes well. How is the kiddo?”

“Sleeping. Social Services trusted me enough to let him stay here until his case comes up.”

“Pssht. I guess you better take time off. Don’t let him out of your sight.”

“I don’t think he is going to be running again anytime soon.”

“How are you doing, Jack?”

“I don’t know. Exhausted, I guess. I still haven’t recovered from our last case.”

“I know. We need a vacation after this.”

“You’ve had a vacation.”

“This is not a vacation. It’s hard getting well.”

Jack laughed, but it really was no laughing matter. It was hard recovering from injuries as serious as Tomi’s were. Jack then said, “I’m going to apply for custody.”

Tom was quiet.

“Are you there?”

“Just listening.”

“I can’t stand the thought of him being in a detention center.”

“He’s only fifteen. They’ll put him in a safe house with people trained to help him.”

“My OCD will factor into their decision. I want to claim you as my second.”

“You’ve thought a lot about this.”

“He thought I left because I didn’t love him. I left because I did love him.”

“So think about that, Jack. Love him and think about what is best for the both of you.”

Tears filled Jack’s eyes. He let them fall.

“If I was with you, I would wipe those damn tears off your face,” said Tom.

“How did you know?”

“No worries. I’m not getting your psychic shit. I can hear it in your voice.”

Jack chuckled. “I don’t know if I can visit tomorrow.”

“I’m fine. My niece and nephew have worn me out. I’m pretty sure they plan to come tomorrow again.”

“If I can, I will, too. I’ll bring Jon if he is up to it.”

“Don’t force him. We don’t even know what we are, yet.”

Jack sighed.

“Good night, Jack.”

“Good night, Tom.”

 Tom was right. Nobody knew what tomorrow would bring. There was time to think about this decision. He did know one thing: He loved Jonathan and would do anything he had to, to protect him.

Jack checked the doors and shut off the lights. He checked Jon one more time. He settled into a sleeping bag at the base of his bedroom door so he would wake easily if his son needed him. He hadn’t been a father for most of Jon’s life, but he could start now by standing guard every night for as long as necessary.

His runaway days were over.

The End

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Pick Up Pieces

( Author’s Note: For a few weeks now, I have been asking those of you who read my newsletter or my Facebook posts, who read my blog, to find what makes your heart sing. What did you find?

One of my friends told me her heart sings whenever she reads the words of poetry her significant other writes. I could tell it felt like a profound gift. I know her heart sings when she sits outside on her patio surrounded by the natural world. She shared that with me too. I felt honored. Nature was glorious, and my heart sang while I sat there enjoying her company. I will always be able to picture it, and my heart will always sing when I think on it.

For myself, it is the connections I have made with others: family, friends (human, animal, and plant), all both near and far; connections made with colleagues and students in the teaching, art, writing, and music communities, past and present, near and far. My heart is full of songful memories and present experiences. I found my voice again, literally, and sing myself into bliss, a quiet zone of deep meditation, regeneration, and connection.

So, what makes your heart sing? Gather it up. I am inviting you to join me on a short journey, and you will need to take it with you.

The 2020 election is upon us. No matter the outcome of it, a tidal wave of emotion is heading toward us with breathtaking height and speed. My advice: Pick up all that makes your heart sing and come with me to the metaphorical high ground. Go to the mountaintop where you will sit and watch the influx and efflux of rushing emotion below you, because our course of action – manifesting compassion, equality, unity – has not changed. We are still heading for that which we seek. We will find the path when the tidal waters recede, and we will continue building.

When I come off the mountain, I will find that the fear I have been hanging onto these past four years will be gone, because I plan to leave it here where the deluge can roll over it and wash it away. My joy and optimism, all that makes my heart sing, I will take with me.

Come with?

Grab what makes your heart sing and join me on the mountain. We will wait out the tidal wave TOGETHER, and I promise you: We will survive this no matter who wins the election. Our journey toward tomorrow is just beginning. Keep reading to enjoy the second to last chapter of BROKEN.) 

Pick Up Pieces

Marcus Balmario returned with steamed, hot chocolate for Jonathan Tyler. As the boy sipped, he found strength to knit himself together. Marcus clicked on the recorder so Jon could continue witnessing his experience. Marcus had to remember to use less technical, less forceful words. Jon wasn’t a hardened street kid. He was the product of professional parents. He had stepped into a world that had punched him in the face, literally.

“Jon, do you know for sure that Evan Fischer was the father of the baby?” Marcus could barely believe Jon had been tasked with the horrendous job of taking a dead baby from a tumultuous birth to presumably dispose of it.

“I assumed he was, since Sobrina Morelli was his girl. Did Sobrina die?”

“What?” said Balmario.

Chief Maureen Thompson, who was attending Jon’s interview, leaned forward to hear his answer clearly.

“I heard one of the Morellis say his sister was dead. They had guns. Evan was on the ground with Charlie. They were looking for me.”

“The Morellis were looking for you?”


“How do you know this?” said Maureen.

“When Rat and I got back from burying Lincoln, there was a confronta – .”

“Stop. I want to hear about that,” said Maureen. “You buried Lincoln. The kid you met at the MMA meet?”

Jon was shaking so badly, his hands bounced against the table. “I think I need to eat something,” he said.

Balmario said, “Finish your chocolate. Tell us about Lincoln.”

Jon slurped the foamy concoction and set the cup on the table. “I was following Rat’s orders.”

Marcus Balmario shook his head. He tamped down the frustration that was boiling in a spot between his shoulder blades. “Back up. What happened after you left the baby in the alcove?”

“I ran back to Marchesi’s and heard men shouting from a garage behind it. When I went to investigate, some of Marchesi’s men were cheering because Alles had forced Lincoln to the ground. I tried to break in, to get him out of there, but they grabbed me. Then Rat saved me. He pulled me out of the building, but I knew they were gang raping him. I’ve seen a pack of ramped up testosterone more than once. I was jumped by a pack at school. They stopped short of rape, but they sure made a show of it. That’s when Phillip enrolled me in an MMA club.”

Jackson Tyler, his parent in attendance, said, “You fight?”

Balmario didn’t want to get into a side conversation between estranged father and son, so he said, “Continue, “ though being disciplined in an MMA organization was probably why Jon was sitting in front of them today, instead of rotting at a dump site after being beaten and thrown away as garbage.

“Rat pulled me away, and then we got into a fight. I tried to use moves I learned in my MMA club, but I was no match for him. Rat whipped me.” Jon was clearly ashamed about that.

He said, “Rat told me he knew about the baby, so the Morellis did, too. I was wrecking his plans. I don’t know what plans those were. We went back to Marchesi’s, and I gave Charlie the hundred dollars. Told him I got it doing a blow job.”

Jack looked away and shook his head.

Jon looked at his father and said, “I didn’t do one, Dad.”

Jack said, “I know.”

“Continue,” said Balmario.

“After that, Charlie ordered Rat out to the garage and told him to take me with him. Rat was so sad. So was Hawg. I think they knew.”

“Knew what?”

“That Lincoln was dead. We took him to a wooded place by the river and buried him.”

“Let me recap. You left the baby in the alcove.”

Jon’s shaking intensified.

Marcus leaned across the table to look directly into Jon’s eyes. “I am just going to state it as fact. We need to do this.” Dammit, Jon’s eyes were so big and sad. “You ran to Marchesi’s, saw a gang rape.”

“I didn’t see it. I heard him screaming.”

“Okay. You witnessed the boy Lincoln on the ground.”

“Then Rat Snatcher pulled me away from that. We fought.”

“Then you went back to the Bar and Grill where Charlie told you and Rat Snatcher to take care of Lincoln.”


“Do you think you can show me where you took him on a map?” 


The intercom clicked on, and Captain Jamison said, “Map is on the way. Assembling a team to verify.”

Jon jumped. “Is someone else listening?” he said.

Jack petted Jon’s hair on the back of his neck. “Yeah. They are right behind that darkened window.”

“Huh,” said Jon. He stared at it a minute and then leaned into his father. “Have they been listening the whole time?”


Jon spoke in a whisper. “They saw me blubbering.”

Jack whispered, “They understand. Nobody is going to worry about that. You shouldn’t either.”

“I’m sorry I am such a big baby,” said Jon.

“I don’t see a big baby in this room,” said Jack. “I just see my beautiful, brave son, who has battled the streets of Detroit.”

“Are they going to find Lincoln?”

Jack caught Marcus’s glance. Would they find anything? The FBI had most likely cleaned up after them. It wouldn’t hurt to try for Jon’s sake.

“With your help. Yes,” said Marcus.

“He was a nice guy, Dad.”

“Yeah. He was caught up in something that was too big for him. Just like you.” Jack continued to pet his hair.

“While they find a map and assemble a team, let’s finish the story, Jon. Then you can go to your father’s house and rest.”

“Are they letting me do that?” He looked toward the woman from Social Services.

“Temporarily, yes,” she said.

Maureen Thompson asked, “What happened after you buried Lincoln.”

“Rat and I went back to Marchesi’s. Rat was nervous about everything that day so he parked a few blocks away. I followed him and stayed quiet like he asked me to. He was afraid of something. He kept stopping to look around. Each time he did it, he was like a mother hen, hiding me behind him. When he got to the restaurant, we heard shouting behind the bar. We snuck around. That’s when I saw the gunmen. Alles had his hands tied behind him and was on his knees. They pulled Charlie and Evan down, too, and tied them up. I heard one of them ask for the other kid, the one that took the money to the curan…curan….”

“Curandera,” said Maureen. “Sobrina’s midwife.”

“Yes. That’s when the gunman said he wanted to thank me, too, for the death of his sister. Rat told me to run. I did. I ran. I heard guns, but I kept running. I didn’t stop. I found a sheltered alley to stay the night, but a homeless man chased me away. The cops chased me away from a small park fountain. I found another alley. It wasn’t as nice as the first, but I felt safe there. Morning came. I had the ten from Rat. I bought food. I wandered the rest of the day. I didn’t want to be seen. I was worried I would get shot because of the money I gave to the midwife.”

“Geezus,” said Jack.

Maureen urged Jon to continue. “Then what happened.”

“I wandered pretty far, I guess. It was late, the sun was setting. I was hungry. I saw people panhandling. I thought it looked pretty futile. Then people started giving me money. I was only sitting there. It was amazing. I had a little over thirty dollars and decided to go into the restaurant across the street. I got mugged. The mugger took my wallet and ran. I ran after him. He threw my wallet away. It landed in a dumpster. He took all my money and your letter, Dad. He left my ID, so I guess that’s something. I had to start over. I sat back down in the spot where people had given me money, but that didn’t happen again.”

Jon sighed. “I guess you’ll arrest me after I tell you what happened next.”

“Go on,” said Maureen.

“A car pulled up to the curb, and a guy offered me twenty dollars for a hand job. I took the money.”

Jack said. “Shit.”

“Oh, Lordy,” said Maureen. Jack had told her about the dream he had, how he hoped he’d been superimposing his attraction to Tomio over his worry about Jon.

Jon looked at him with a questioning look on his face.

Jack shook his head. “We’ll talk later. Continue the story.”

Balmario thought, thank god.

Jon said, “I didn’t get any more offers that night. And panhandling did not work the next day.”

“Why didn’t you just go to a soup kitchen?” said Maureen.

“I couldn’t. My face was plastered everywhere on those FBI posters.”

“Unbelievable,” said Jack.

Jon’s rushed his words together when he said, “Okay, I suspect this is really illegal, but I did it again. It doesn’t pay as well as I thought it would. You know you’d think if you gave of yourself, it would be worth more, but it isn’t. You have to keep giving and giving.”

“Okay, okay,” said Marcus Balmario. They were way beyond worrying about this kid implicating himself in prostitution. He had no clear plan. He was just a kid stupidly responding to each moment as it presented itself with a typical teenaged lack of logic. He was in over his head, like so many of them he pulled off the street. It was one of the reasons that so many states had adopted Safe Harbor Laws. He decided it would do Jon good to tell his story completely, no matter what implications it presented.

He recapped, “You were mugged and lost money you obtained while panhandling.”

“Yes. I had no money.”

“So you committed an act of prostitution.”

“And got money.”


Marcus Balmario wasn’t sure this child knew the exact definition of prostitution, but it didn’t matter at this point.

“I met these three people who reminded me of Lincoln. In fact they knew him. They took me in and showed me a good place to work. That’s where I met the guy who beat me up.”

“Where did you go after you escaped from the dumpster,” said Balmario.

“I sat under a tree for a while. Then I don’t remember much. I guess I am lucky you arrested me trying to solicit Rodney Heathe, huh?”

“You solicited him?”

“I heard he paid well.”

“Who told you that?”

Jon froze. The fire behind his eyes shut off. “I…I don’t remember. I heard it somewhere.”

“You climbed out of the dumpster, sat under a tree, and someone told you that Rodney Heathe paid well.”

“I don’t remember. Days and days passed. I was hungry, and I hurt all over. I was ready to do anything. I wanted to feel safe for a while.”

He approached a predator to keep him safe. Unbelievable. Marcus was disgusted. If he ever got his hands on the schmuck that told an obviously injured and scared boy about Rodney Heathe, he would kill him.

A knock on the door alerted the team. A clerk stepped in and handed a folded map to Marcus. He opened it and spread it on the table so that Jon could look at it. “Okay. Show us where you buried your friend.”

One tear fell from Jon’s eye, but he quickly wiped it away. He studied the map. “It’s not here, we left the city and drove toward a lake. There was a hiking trail.”

The person from Social Services spoke up. “I know what he’s talking about. There’s a nature preserve on the river.”

“Yes, we were following the river when Rat pulled off the road. He drove down a dirt lane for a while.”

The woman stood up and flipped over the map. Then she pointed. “Here it is.”

“Did you walk the trail?”

“No, we walked off trail so people couldn’t see us. Jon looked at the line of the river. He pointed to a small indentation. “I think it’s about here.”

“We’ll get a team to start investigating.”

Jon said, “I want to go.”

Maureen said, “You’re tired and hungry, Jon.”

“I want to help find Lincoln,” he said.

The entire team collectively sighed, but Jon’s expression was resolute. Marcus knew he would need this closure to battle demons later on.

Maureen said, “If I bring you a sandwich, can you give our artist a description of Lincoln?”

“Yes,” said Jon.



Author’s Note: Three chapters of BROKEN remain, including this one. Thank you so much for following this story. America’s presidential election cycle is upon us and I am wondering if anyone else feels like they are holding their breath, hoping to ride out the tidal wave no matter which way it turns? I wish my metaphorical cave was deeper.  I plan to take a short hiatus after posting the end of this book. I need to focus on a graphic novel I am working on, while writing my next novel which I am currently calling The Shaman’s Mirror. I will start blogging again after we usher in 2021. If you want to finish BROKEN quickly instead of reading weekly, follow the link at the end of this chapter.


A court could argue that everything that happened to Jonathan Tyler was because of a choice he made, but Inspector Marcus Balmario had worked vice too long. He had seen too many unaware teens fall into webs designed to trap them. Hell, adults fell into them. “When did you meet Charlie Marchesi?” he asked.

Jonathan said, “The night I arrived in Detroit. He offered me a place to stay. I couldn’t afford it, but he said I could work the morning shift at his Bar and Grill to pay for expenses.” The boy squirmed, uncomfortable in the cold, metal chair across from Marcus at the table in one of the 12th’s interrogation rooms. His injuries were far from healed, but he had been released from the hospital, and the sooner they conducted this interview, the sooner a decision could be made about his future.

“And did you accept his offer?”


“So you stayed the night and worked for him the next day. How long did you work for Charlie?”

“I worked that morning, a full shift. He paid me, and it covered my bill, but people don’t make very much here.”

“Just the facts,” said Balmario.

Jon took a deep breath. “The pay for all that work wouldn’t cover the cost of the room for another night. He offered me a job on the night shift.”

“Did he know you were fifteen?”

“No. I led him to believe I was an adult.”

All heads turned toward him. Today’s team consisted of Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler as Jon’s parent in attendance, Chief Maureen Thompson, a defense attorney, and a counselor from Social Services. They knew that Charlie Marchesi, as he was known by this boy, did not believe for one moment that Jon was anything other than a fifteen year old runaway that stepped into his trap. But Marchesi was in Witness Protection, and therefore any crimes committed were FBI business.

“So, he hired you for a night shift. Doing what?”

“Well, I expected to do the same, wait tables, clean, help in the kitchen.”

“But that is not what you did?” said Balmario. What Jon did, he assumed, was probably illegal.

Jon was clearly thinking how to proceed with the story. He had to hand it to the kid. He was quick on his feet. He would either make a good cop or a good criminal. Jon surely suspected that Charlie knew he was a minor, but he had probably used every trick he could to lead everyone around him to the belief that he was an adult. It was an important distinction. Guilty sweat beaded across Jon’s upper lip.

Why feel guilt all of a sudden? What just changed? “Jon, just spit it out.”

“They probably knew I was fifteen. Shit. Rat knew that. He called me on it. I don’t know how to continue.” he said.

Of course. Jon knew he would implicate himself. Balmario said, “Let’s start with the shift you worked in the morning.”

“It was hard work.”  

Balmario leaned forward. “We need to know exactly what you did at Marchesi’s Bar and Grill.”

“I worked the kitchen, slicing meat, making sandwiches, cleaning dishes. I set tables, took orders, served brunch. Then I swept so the next shift wouldn’t have to.”

“So you sliced meat.” It was an illegal job activity for someone Jon’s age. “Did you serve alcohol?”

“Not on that shift,” said Jon. “I did whatever I was told that day. The head cook, his name was Hawg, made sure I got breaks and had food to eat. Rat Snatcher took me under his wing.”

Balmario said, “Rat Snatcher, tell me about him.”

“Is he a suspect in one of your open cases?”


“It was weird. Dad?”

“Go on.” It was the first time Jack spoke up.

Jon said, “It was like he was sent there to watch over me. At the MMA meet that night, Charlie was serving food and drinks. Snatcher was a bouncer or something. Whenever Alles gave me trouble, Snatcher pulled me out of it.”

“Alles? Allessandro Santorini?” said Balmario.

“Yes. Rat sent me home that night because I spilled drinks on one of the patrons, and Alles was already on my case. He gave me a hundred dollars and told me to run back to the bar. I was supposed to wait for him there.”

“Who gave you a hundred dollars?”

“Rat Snatcher. He gave me ten more for food. He said the money was for Charlie. Then he told me to run back to the bar and made me follow the man whose suit I ruined with the drinks. I followed him out the door. He tried to pick me up for a ride, but I told him no and ran instead.”

“Let me ask you something,” said Balmario. “Did you know what the hundred was for?”

“I didn’t then, but I do now.” Jon paused.

“Go on.”

“I followed the man so that everyone would think I had picked up some work.”

“What kind of work?”

Jon gazed at his father. Balmario could see the wheels turning. What was he leaving out of his story because his father was sitting next to him? Then, Jon’s resolve kicked in, and his eyes lit with fire behind them.

“Rat wanted everyone to think I was going to have sex with that man.” Then his eyes filled with tears. Shit.

Balmario said, “Let me recap this. You worked two shifts for Marchesi that day. One at the Bar and Grill, the other at an MMA meet where Marchesi’s Bar and Grill provided food and drink. Part of the expectations were that you make yourself available for sex. Did you know that when you agreed to the second shift?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you know that sexual favors might be expected of you?”

“No, but Rat was weird about it.”

“He was weird about it?”

“Yes. He told me to keep my head down, and to avoid talking to the patrons.”

Balmario nodded. Maybe Rat Snatcher was trying to keep this kid safe. “What else did you do? Did you serve food? Drink?”

“I was serving drinks.”

“Was alcohol being offered?”


“Did you serve it?”

“Yes.” Jon wiped tears from his eyes.

“You spilled drinks on a man and then were expected to follow him and offer sexual services.”

“Yes, no. No. I was supposed to pretend to offer them.”

“If you had to pretend, I am assuming that if you left the meet for any other reason, you would have been in trouble?”

“I guess.” Jon shrugged.

“Were you bullied by these people?”

“I don’t know.”

Jack rolled his eyes, sat back into his chair, and crossed his arms.

If Balmario could throw darts with his eyes, he’d do it now. “Let me put it this way. Was your life in danger?”

“I don’t know.” Jon shrugged. “I didn’t want to be put into a cage.”

“A cage?”

“It’s a thing I saw.”

“I want to know more about these cages,” said Marcus Balmario.

“I saw men in cages, fighters. I was told not to look at them. I know Rat didn’t want to get thrown into one. He said if I was thrown into a cage, people would gladly pay to see me fight and die. Then, he told me to leave. I was supposed to run back to Marchesi’s, and to wait for him there. He gave me the money so I could pretend I had a reason to get out of there.”

Dammit. Balmario and the Vice team had been trying to break into one of these illegal MMA meets for months. They never met in the same place twice. He and his team were still unclear about the method of invitation to one of these things. If Rat Snatcher was part of the staff, the FBI had an in. Jon could have put their entire operation into jeopardy. He was sure that is why the Bureau pulled Snatcher, Evan Fischer, and Marchesi out from under their jurisdiction so quickly.

There was still the matter of under aged children working illegally. “Were there other children at the meet serving drinks and soliciting sex?”

“There were others. I don’t know if they were children.” Jon shuddered and he gasped as tears flooded his face

His father grabbed his hand. “Hey, hey.”

Balmario waited for it to pass.

Jon took his hand from his father’s and wiped his face on his sleeve. He took a couple of deep breaths. “There was another boy at the MMA meet. His name was Lincoln.” Jon hiccoughed. “Lincoln knew how to do the business. He flirted with the patrons. He told me I could make more money that way. He was surprised that Marchesi let me work the fight so quickly. Most of the others had to do grunt work first. That’s what Lincoln said.”

“Okay,” said Balmario.

Jack said, “But Rat didn’t want you participating in the secondary business of sex trafficking.”

“I figured that out the next day.”

Balmario said, “You stayed a second night at Marchesi’s?”

“Yes, uhm, no. My things did. I left my bag there, my letter jacket, but I was out all night. It took me a long time to run back to the bar from the warehouse. I was supposed to wait for Rat, but the boy upstairs called me up for a favor.”

Jon was shaking again. Balmario wondered how far he could push him before he broke down completely. Social Services was getting antsy, but the attorney was calm and attentive. Jack was a rock, and Maureen was madly making notes of her own. He said, “Let me recap this favor, because you have already told this story.”

Jon sniffed and nodded.

“Evan Fischer, purported son of Charlie Marchesi, aka Calogero Conti, had a liaison with Sobrina Morelli. She was pregnant and had asked for help with midwife fees. You were asked to run the money to the midwife. There you witnessed a birth. The baby was dead, at which point you took it, and ran away from the scene.”

Jon gasped. “She handed me the baby and told me to run. Someone was trying to break down her door.”

“You left the baby on the street.”

“In an alcove of a pharmacy. I left it somewhere safe, and it was dead.” Jon was clearly getting worked up.

Clearly hitting a touchy point, Balmario backed up. “This was during the meet, after the meet, on another day?”

“I ran from the meet, and Evan asked me as soon as I arrived back at Charlie’s. I ran to the midwife, and then I ran back towards the Bar and Grill. I got lost, I stopped. I put the baby down. I couldn’t pick it back up. It was dead. It was dead.”

Jon dissolved. Great, wracking sobs choked him. Balmario let the recorder run for ten more seconds, capturing his agony, and then clicked it off. “We’re going to take a ten minute break. Does he drink chocolate? I’m going to get him some.”

Maureen and Jack hovered over Jon as Balmario stepped out the door. Teen interviews were always messy, but this one was heartbreaking, not just because the boy was one of their own, but because in the short time he was in Detroit, his life view had been completely shattered. How was he still holding up his head? Poor kid had lived through enough traumas to be considered at risk for severe PTSD. He would spend a lifetime knitting broken pieces together.



(Author’s Note: This is the first of the last four chapters of BROKEN. Thank you so much for following this story. It was important for me to write it, and I am grateful to the characters for agreeing to take part in it, but also to all of you for following their story. I will be taking a short hiatus after the end, and will start the blog again after the new year of 2021 starts. If you want to finish BROKEN quickly instead of reading week to week, follow this link. The chapter starts right after it.)


Inspector Marcus Balmario reached for the door to Jonathan Tyler’s room when he saw his father, Inspector Jackson Tyler get off the elevator and walk toward him. He had invited Jack to sit in as Jon’s attending parent while he interviewed him.

“Balmario,” said Jack.

“Tyler.” Balmario nodded. “How’s the ex and her new hubby?”

Jack cocked his head. “He’s hardly new. I suspect she had him lined up in the wings before she divorced me,” he said, but there was not a trace of bitterness in his voice. “However, they are settling into the hotel. Are we ready?”

“Still waiting on Social Services,” said Balmario.

The Social Services Recorder stepped off the elevator.

“I guess your wish is his command,” said Jack.

Balmario said, “Let’s get this over with.”

While Jack explained the proceedings to his son, Marcus set up a small table for the Recorder near the bed. When he finished, he said, “Is everybody ready?”

“I’m ready, Sir,” said the Recorder.

“How about the two of you?” said Balmario, catching Jack’s attention.

“Jon?” said Jack.

Jon nodded.

“I’ll ask questions for clarity, but mostly I just want to hear your story,” said Balmario.

Jon said, “Okay.”

“For the record, please state your name and age.”

“Jonathan Tyler, fifteen.”

Marcus said, “Let it be known that the subject, Jonathan Tyler, aged fifteen is considered a minor and therefore accompanied by a parent, Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler of the 12th Precinct, Detroit PD. Jon has suffered a brutal attack and has agreed to answer questions. Please confirm this is correct.”

Jon nodded.

“Use words, Jon,” said Jack.

“Yes, that is correct.”

“Jon, do you understand you have been arrested for three crimes: truancy, shoplifting, and prostitution?”


“If, during the course of this interview, it is determined that you have broken laws, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. Do you understand?”

“I understand.”

“Who beat you, Jon and why?”

“I don’t know the name of the man.”

“Can you describe him?”

“He was tall, wore a plaid shirt. He wore boots. His face was angry.”

“Do you think you could describe him to an artist?”

“Maybe. I was scared.”

“How did you meet this man?”

“Uhm. He pulled up to the corner and grabbed me.”

“What corner was that, Jon?” said Balmario.

Jon shook his head.

“Words, Jon,” said his father.

“We were near the university. The guys I was with said – “

“There were others with you at the time you were beaten?”

“No, that’s not what I meant. I was working a corner with them, but they had left. That’s when the man drove up. He came after they left.”

Marcus paused a moment and regarded Jon. His gut told him that this kid was about to admit to a crime. Whether or not he was a teen and protected by Safe Harbor laws, there were still consequences, especially if he was there of his own free will. “Jon, it’s very important to be careful with details and the timeline. Do you understand?”

Jon avoided his eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “I don’t know.” 

If Balmario could have a penny for every teen that looked away while shrugging and saying ‘I don’t know’ to avoid answering a question that could possibly get them into trouble, he would be a rich man.

“Just tell me in your own words.”

He could always re-question Jon to clarify if necessary.

The Recorder said, “He pulled up to the corner and grabbed me. Start there.”

“He grabbed me. It hurt. He shoved me in his car and drove away.”

“Can you describe the car?”

“It was silver. I’m sure it was a CT6. My grandfather and I saw one at a show.”

“Let’s get back to what happened next.”

“I tried the doors, but they wouldn’t open. Neither would the windows. I was locked in. I told him I didn’t want to work for him, but he wouldn’t listen.”

Balmario glanced at Jack. It seemed that Jon was guilty of more than one prostitution charge.

Jack bowed his head.

Balmario said, “Go on.”

“He stopped at an auto body-shop.”

“Do you think you can identify it?”

“Maybe. I wasn’t thinking about it. It had lights across the ceiling. I saw them when we went inside. Another man came out of an office. I recognized him.”

“From where?”

“He was in an alley behind Marchesi’s Bar and Grill. The Morelli brothers had taken Alles, Charlie, and Evan as prisoners.”

“Please stop the recording.”

“Sir, I really can’t.”

“This interview may be over. Jon, sit tight a minute. Jack, and you,” he pointed to the Recorder, “hallway.”

Marcus shut the door behind them. “We should have counsel for this kid before we continue. If Morelli is involved in this, I want everything by the book.”

“Agreed,” said Jack.

“I don’t understand,” said the Recorder. “Isn’t this a simple child endangerment case?”

“Child endangerment, yes. Simple no,” said Balmario. “If the person that Jon claims was present, his testimony could be pertinent to at least two dozen open cases of human trafficking and homicide. At the very least, we should call Chief Thompson and Captain Jamison.”

Jack said, “Agreed.”

“The Recorder said, “I have another testimony to take in forty minutes.”

“We’ll have to get our own people in here to finish. Do you have some sort of paperwork I can sign that would exonerate you from derelict of duty and allow our tapes to be used for your purposes?”

“Sure. They’re in my briefcase.”

“Good. Jack, you get the papers, reassure your son. I’ll call Thompson and Jamison and the usual attorney that works for Vice. Maybe we can move a conference table in.” He pointed at Jon’s room.

The Recorder said, “I will have to notify the custodial parents.”

“Understood,” said Jack.

An hour and a half later, Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson said, “For the record, Jonathan Tyler, aged fifteen, is considered a minor and therefore accompanied by in situ parentis, Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler of the 12th Precinct, Detroit PD, and custodial parent, Meghan Bordeaux, Hartmann Law Firm, Stockton, California, and her husband, Mr. Phillip Bordeaux. In attendance are Inspector Marcus Balmario and Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson, both 12th Precinct, Detroit PD, and defense attorney, Mary Styfford.

“Jonathan is a victim of a brutal attack and has previously stated that he was grabbed from the corner of Forest Avenue and Mitchell by a man driving silver CT6. Said man was tall, wearing a plaid shirt and boots. Jonathan has given a description to the Precinct artist and a bolo has been issued. This man took Jon to an auto body shop, which Jon has yet to identify.

“Another man was at the body shop. Jon recognized him as a Morelli. Jonathan. Please verify that this is correct.”


“You have to say, ‘That is correct,’” said the attorney.

“That is correct,” said Jon.

“Jon. I want you to tell us what happened after the man you identified as Morelli stepped out of the office.”

“He hit me. Then he stole my money and found my ID card.”

“Jon. Is this the man who stole my letter?”

Jon’s face colored. “That was other money. I had money stolen two times. God, is it illegal if someone just gives you money when you are sitting on the street?”

Maureen knew she’d be talking to this boy again. “Jon let’s get back to this story. Morelli stole money and took your ID. Then what happened?”

“He told the man in the plaid shirt to teach me a lesson.”

“What lesson was that?”

“He said I couldn’t work one of his corners.”

“Then what,” said Maureen.

“Then Morelli told him to throw my body into the dumpster so the garbage men would take it away.” Jon burst into tears. “First it was Lincoln, now me? How is that fair?”

“Lincoln?” said Maureen.

“He was my friend. He made it seem like I could earn a lot of money working….” Jon shut his mouth and looked at his lap.

Meghan was horrified if the expression on her face was any indication. Jack wasn’t too far behind her. She caught the eyes of both of them. “Jon, before we open too many cans of worms, if I showed you some pictures, could you pick out Morelli?”

“Yes, I think so.” He sniffed and wiped his nose with his hand.

“I’m going to get some pictures sent over. Then I want to hear about all the things you did, all the people you met, all the places you went while you’ve been in Detroit. Do you think you can do that?”


“Balmario,” she said. 

“On it.” He quickly left the room.

Ten minutes later, he returned with a folder of mugshots which included any they had of Morelli brothers. He passed it to Maureen. She put it into Jon’s lap and said, “Take your time. Look at them one by one, and let me know if you recognize any of them.”

Jon looked at each of the five pictures one by one. He said, “No,” after the first two and turned them face down on the bed beside him. He stared at the third one for a long time and set it aside. He looked at a fourth and added it to the pile that was face down. He gasped when he saw the fifth. Emilio Morelli, the youngest brother in the Morelli triad. Then he picked the picture he’d placed to the side and said, I think he was at the confrontation behind Marchesi’s Bar and Grill, also.”

It was the oldest brother. “You know about that?”

“Yeah. Rat Snatcher and I were there, but Rat told me to run.”

“Why were you there?”

“We were going back to Charlie’s. We had just buried Lincoln.”

Meghan gasped, again. Jack reached for her.

“That sounds like something we want to talk about later. Right now, we are talking about the people who hurt you. Are you positive that this man…,” she held up the picture of Emilio Morelli, “was the one who ordered the lesson?”


“Okay. For the record, Jonathan, were you afraid for your life?”

With tears streaming down his face, he said, “Yes.”

“Jonathan Tyler has identified Emilio Morelli as the man who ordered a beat-down to teach Jon a lesson. Jon has indicated it was a death threat.” Maureen clicked off the recorder. “You, young man.” She poked the bed beside him when she said, “You and I are going to record your whole story tomorrow. You read me?”

“Yes,” said Jon. He looked relieved.

She hoped she could find some peace for him, and perhaps his telling of his story would exonerate him from some of his crimes. For now, she decided she had enough information for warrants. She hoped someone would find the man in the plaid shirt. She’d like to give him a beat-down.