Mine is a writer’s life: Balancing book and manuscript to-dos with vacation time!

People have asked: Since you self-published Eagle Bay through your imprint, is that what you’ll do with all your books in the future? That is the plan with The Emerald Cross this winter, but my long-term goal is still to find an agent who is enthused by my work and interested in partnering long-term. In the meantime, I will just keep writing, editing, writing, editing. Too many days this past week were spent preparing to transition my 2018 memoir, Stand Up: a memoir of disease, family, faith & hope, to my Glendoveer Press imprint.

My wife and I are driving to California to visit family and meet up with our adorable granddaughter – can’t wait! That will put the kibosh on my writing during that time; it’s just too difficult for me to use speech-to-text while I’m on the road – damn that poor dexterity! That is a slice of my artist wife’s art studio in the photo, where she creates incredible pure abstracts and abstract landscapes! Her view out those windows is stunning! http://www.karencruickshankart.com She paints, and I write!

Thank you to the readers of Eagle Bay! https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0C17XWN4Y The novel will always have a special place in my heart – my first published work of fiction! Thriller #2, The Emerald Cross, is right around the corner. The first three (not yet edited) chapters of another novel I’m really enjoying writing are posted below. The working title is Doheny Drive. Have a read!

Cheers from the Sonoran Desert, where it is almost literally hot as hell!

Ken Cruickshank

#thrillers #psychologicalthrillers #domesticthrillers #crimethrillers #murdermysteries #goodreads #novel #bibliophile #bookstagrams #ms #chronicillness #booklife #readersfavorite #Kindle #BarnesandNoble #fiction #novel #historicalfiction #nonfiction #bibliophile #bookstragram #books

Doheny Drive

Part I

Chapter 1

There were eleven residences on half-acre lots lining Doheny Drive, a dead-end street with a large cul-de-sac. Eucalyptus trees towered above many of the rambling single-story homes, and the waving of feathery fronds atop palm trees evoked a sense of the laid-back lifestyle California was renowned for. Majestic oaks and sweet-smelling pine trees with four-inch needles added dimension and identity to the neighborhood. Flowering lantanas, birds of paradise, bougainvillea, and rose gardens presented colors and distinct fragrances that mixed with indigenous species from the surrounding hills, soothing the senses in special ways. The adults realized they were blessed to live in a uniquely picturesque part of the country, but most youngsters lived obliviously and focused on more important matters.

At twelve years old, Peter Birch could pee further from a standing position than any boy in the neighborhood, regardless of age. He told his friends he was blessed with quick-twitch stomach and johnson muscles that were stronger than every guy living on Doheny Drive. He also claimed that he had perfected the unbeatable technique, which included pinching the end of his unit with a thumb and finger, pulling his hips far back before thrusting them forward aggressively, and then letting it all go at just the right moment and precisely at 60°. No one could argue with him because he was undefeated. The high schoolers that he’d regularly beaten nicknamed him Pistol Pete.

But was the champion really sharing all his secrets of success?

“I’m doing everything you said to do, Peter. It just doesn’t work, and there’s no way your pee muscles are stronger than mine,” said Andy Crenshaw. “I can throw an orange further, beat you in every Ice Cream Social race, and kick your butt at any other competition. None of your muscles are stronger than mine, so you must be holding something back.”

“Geez, don’t get mad at me. It’s always like this after I beat you. You insist I’m not telling you every step, but I am!” argued Peter. “You need to chill, man. You sound like you’re super pissed off.”

“Pissed off!” laughed Tommy Kawasaki. “Andy’s pissed because Pistol Pete dwizzed further than him once again! That’s funny as hell.”

“Shut your pie hole, Tommy,” said Andy. “It’s true. Anything Peter can do, I can do better. Everyone knows that. You know that.”

Tommy laughed so hard it was hard to breathe. He struggled to release what he knew would be an inciting volley. “Sorry, but I don’t know that! Peter can pee eleven feet, four inches! You barely reached seven feet. Not even close!”

“Moron!” said Andy. “If you don’t stop laughing, Tommy, I’ll drench you in my special urine cocktail!”

Tommy laughed even harder while grabbing his stomach, which spasmed tightly and was in pain. He rolled onto the ground, barely able to speak, caking himself in dirt and on the verge of wetting his Levi’s. “No problem, I’ll just make sure I’m seven feet one inch away!”

And that was the final word. Andy furrowed his brows and wrinkled his forehead, glaring intensely at Tommy, his face flushed, but he couldn’t sustain the scowl. His expression morphed from anger to disapproval before, finally, amusement and reflection of their special camaraderie. Then he howled like the others while buckling over. “I can’t believe we just argued over who could pee furthest!”

“You can’t? It happens every few months,” said Peter. “It’s the only thing I can beat you at, Andy. You’re the best athlete on the street by far. Maybe the best in Orange County. My dad says he’s never seen a twelve-year-old jock as good as you.” After pulling out a stick of Wrigley’s Spearmint using his teeth, he added, “I’d much rather be able to throw a baseball a million miles an hour than pee a solid stream eleven feet.”

“And four inches,” Tommy added gleefully, a comment triggering another bout of pain-inducing laughter. After things settled, he asked Peter, “Can I have a stick of your gum?”

“Me too?” said Andy. “Hey, I wasn’t really going to drench you with my special urine cocktail. I don’t know why I said that, but it is a stellar threat.”

“I’ll never forget it,” replied Peter as he extended his Wrigley’s. “Andy, the funniest part is you’re so competitive you can’t handle the fact that I can pee further than you. Dude, you don’t like to lose at anything, and you hardly ever do. Just let me be Pistol Pete the pissing king for a while because I know you’ll eventually figure out how to beat me at this, too.” A large grasshopper helicoptered around them, landing in the weeds a few feet away. Peter shot spearmint-flavored saliva at him, missing a target that promptly flew away.

They agreed it was time to relieve themselves yet again, so they stood facing a six-foot-tall fence and drained their A&W root beer and lemonade onto redwood panels. Tommy said, “Hey, the stains on the fence remind me of the cover of the Who’s Next album.” Andy agreed, then placed an arm over Peter and Tommy’s shoulders and said, “Cheers, young American blokes, my name is Roger Daltrey, and I piss on English countryside monuments with my bandmates.” They chuckled and stepped from the corner of Andy’s backyard. After hearing the high-pitched squealing of school bus brakes, they raced to the sideyard that provided a camouflaged view of the bus and the incredible creature sitting aboard it. Their hearts raced in ways they thought might only be appropriate for adults.

Due to band practice, the special passenger took the later bus home this time of year. As she stepped off the big yellow and black vehicle that spewed a cloud of putrid exhaust, they watched her shrug her backpack for comfort, and then they considered their good fortune of living on Doheny Drive, the only street in Orange County graced by Laurie Penrose, the prettiest, nicest, and most incredible girl who ever lived. Thick yellow-golden hair that fell to her waist. Green eyes that one had to see to believe. A fellow twelve-year-old who dominated their psyches most days and every night.

“Hi, Peter, Andy, and Tommy. Isn’t this a beautiful day? I counted nineteen large butterflies on the way home. Eleven monarchs and eight Western tiger swallowtails.” She ambled slowly toward her home but kept speaking. “Do you boys like butterflies?”

Andy whispered to his buddies, “Sure, I like to feed the small ones to praying mantises. They eat the heads first.” Tommy punched him in the ribs, and Peter flashed the intense stare of an assassin. Andy glared back at them.

“I’m sorry, Andy, I couldn’t hear you.” Laurie stopped and turned to face them, and the strands of her long locks shifted gently amid a slight breeze. Even her elongated shadow was beautiful. They remained mesmerized, but someone needed to respond.

Peter spoke haltingly, “Butterflies are some of the most incredible creatures on earth. I think God put them here to remind us of the beauty surrounding us every day and to be thankful for it. There is nothing more gorgeous than a butterfly,” Peter said before turning to each of his friends and nodding with a big smile, impressed by his impromptu skills at answering a tricky question from the most amazing girl on earth.

In a low monotone voice, Andy muttered, “Gorgeous? Who the heck says gorgeous?”

Tommy then stepped forward purposefully. “Except you, Laurie. You are even more beautiful and prettier and gorgeouser than butterflies. And nicer than butterflies, too.” He was suddenly filled with dread; had he actually spoken those words, some of which were incredibly lame and would probably lead to a lifetime of ridicule and isolation? He stuttered loudly, “I mean. I mean. . .”

“Why, Tommy Kawasaki, I don’t think I’ll ever forget you saying something so kind to me. And you too, Peter. Lovely words. I need to get home. My dad doesn’t like it when I’m even a little bit late. Have a wonderful rest of your day.”

She turned and walked toward her rambling classic West Coast ranch house in the cul-de-sac. The three best friends tracked every graceful step until she stepped over the curb onto her front yard.

Andy peered at Tommy. “You can’t be nicer than a butterfly. And gorgeouser is not a word. That was so stupid, I think I got dumber just hearing it. I hope my brain isn’t permanently messed up.”

Peter said, “Andy, no one cares if you do or don’t forget it. Laurie said they were ‘lovely words,’ and that’s the only thing that matters. Man, Tommy, you spoke so sincerely. It was like a movie. I might be jealous for the rest of my life. How’d you do that?”

“I don’t know,” said Tommy, slowly shaking his head in awe. “Something inside made me do it. And afterward, I couldn’t believe it. But I really said those things, didn’t I?”

Andy put his arm around Tommy’s shoulders. “Dude, you said Laurie is more beautiful and prettier and gorgeouser than a butterfly. And nicer, too. You were like Ryan O’Neal in Love Story. I lied about it being stupid; I’m super jealous, too.”

Peter spoke, and his gum shot out of his mouth onto the hot asphalt. He picked it up and popped it back in as if nothing had happened. “Andy, you were going to tell Laurie that you like to feed small butterflies to praying mantises who eat their heads first. You are so, so lucky she didn’t hear you. She probably would have cried.”

“Oh, come on, I’m not the only one who feeds butterflies to praying mantises. You guys have done that, right?”

Tommy said, “I didn’t even know praying mantises ate butterflies. I doubt they taste good.”

“Are you kidding me? Coyotes eat all the small animals in the neighborhooddo you think skunk or roadkill possum meat tastes good? Nature isn’t all about gourmet dining on Big Macs and Ding Dongs. Insects and animals just eat what’s available. So what if I hold butterflies close to hungry praying mantises so they can clutch and eat them? I know you’ve done it, too.”

“Eaten butterflies?” asked Peter.

Andy shook his head vigorously. “No, nimrod. I bet you guys have also fed other bugs to praying mantises. I’m not the only one doing it—no way.”

“Let’s talk about something else,” said Tommy. “What place are the Angels in?”

They walked down the street in their jeans, T-shirts, and Vans discussing Nolan Ryan’s fastball, tarantula hawk wasps, and what their moms might serve for dinner. But later, their private contemplations returned to the human being they each considered the most incredible person alive: Laurie Penrose.

Chapter 2

Peter, Andy, and Tommy were not obsessed with Laurie Penrose solely because of her beauty. Yes, it was exhilarating to even glance at her, but it was her ability to see good things in all people and to unflinchingly stand up for what she thought was right that set her apart from other twelve-year-olds. She would stop to have a friendly conversation with a grumpy old person, leaving them to wonder who the little beam of light was. She didn’t just enjoy the neighborhood animals, she appeared passionately connected to all of them. In third grade, she wrote a ten-page report about her goldfish and asked her teacher, Mrs. Butterfield, for permission to present it to the class, which she did with adoration for a fish named Goldilocks.

The Penroses moved to California from Ohio one year earlier. There were rumors that Laurie’s ex-policeman father, Hank, was fired by the Cleveland PD for mysterious reasons. Laurie’s mother, Dorothy, was a pleasant woman dedicated to her two daughters. Cindy Penrose was an eighteen-year-old freshman at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and when she visited her family, it was interesting to compare her and Laurie. Cindy was also attractive but loud, flirtatious, and a free spirit who preferred wearing extremely short skirts or tight blue jean bellbottoms paired with a midriff top. The sisters appeared to get along splendidly, and everyone sensed how protective Cindy was of her less rowdy younger sibling.

Twenty years earlier, Mrs. Penrose had earned a scholarship for collegiate studies at the Art Institute of Chicago. Today, her youngest daughter appeared similarly absorbed in everything related to the arts. Laurie was mentored by her mother and a respected local art instructor cherry-picked by Mrs. Penrose. She was particularly enthused with creating complex, thickly textured oil paintings. Laurie often told her parents she wanted to study art and spend her adulthood painting full time, comments that put a smile on Dorothy’s face, but that Hank found disconcerting. Laurie felt her father’s reaction was strange given his wife’s talents and passion. Like most twelve-year-old girls, she kept a diary chronicling her life, but her most prized possession was her collection of canvases. She envisioned herself as an old woman in her unknown future sitting down with young artists and sharing her paintings and lust for something she couldn’t imagine living without.

There were fifteen L-shaped homes on Doheny Drive, built in an unincorporated area of Orange County abutting Ortega Canyon. Muscle cars, Ford Broncos, VW Bugs, and Jeep Wagoneers were a few of the local high schoolers’ preferred modes of transportation. Hank Penrose often expressed his displeasure with teenagers spinning brodies next to his property in the cul-de-sac, and one day he threw a heavy metal rake into the windshield of Peter’s older brother’s cherry red 1969 Mustang Mach 1 as it burned rubber round and round with reckless disregard. Danny Birch slammed on the brakes and hopped out of the driver’s seat with his palms and shoulders up, asking why Mr. Penrose damaged his car. The ex-cop lectured him about selfish carelessness and the dangers to neighborhood kids, namely his daughter Laurie. Cooler heads prevailed, but when Mr. Penrose informed Mr. Birch of his son’s folly, Danny’s father immediately sided with his ex-cop neighbor and took the keys from his son for a month.

Tommy’s mother, Lois Kawasaki, was 1972’s principal organizer of the annual Fourth of July neighborhood block party, one of the most anticipated events on Doheny Drive. Hot dogs and hamburgers, root beer floats, nut-covered drumsticks, and cotton candy from a rented machine were enthusiastically consumed. One of the neighbors’ relatives worked for Disney in film production, and he would premier pre-released movies like Snowball Express, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, or the much-anticipated World’s Greatest Athlete. Of course, a replay of the ageless classic Mary Poppins from a projector inside the Kawasakis’ great room was also greeted with enthusiasm, even if the three boys privately renounced the movie. Aromatic Jiffy Pop with butter could be heard snapping and expanding atop kitchen burners at whichever house served as that year’s neighborhood cinema.

The trio of twelve-year-old boys lived enamored with Laurie but worked hard not to acknowledge as much around the other two buddies. They just assumed—realized, actually—that everyone else who’d met her was similarly infatuated. Days before the Fourth of July party, they each strategized how to gain inordinate time with Laurie at the neighborhood celebration. Peter believed a great tactic might include introducing a topic he knew she favored, like flowers, butterflies, or art, after researching anything he could find to make him appear deep and intellectual. If he could get her to discuss such things while subsequently guiding her to the Kawasakis’ great room for movie time, he could then suggest they enjoy the show while sitting together. Ninety minutes next to the perfect human, affording him even the remotest possibility of nudging part of his shoulder or elbow gently against her body, was a thrilling prospect.

Another option was to follow her around like a puppy, working hard to capture her attention with clever comments and offers to fetch her hotdogs and soda. But there were so many people at these parties that it would be difficult to isolate her. All the neighborhood kids, and even parents, enjoyed speaking with the engaging girl.

After the Fourth of July party began, Peter believed he was giving Laurie just the right amount of attention, setting things up for his can’t-miss move—a discussion about monarch migration patterns and the California golden poppies that bloomed on Saddleback Mountain every springtime. While delivering his well-rehearsed words, he’d guide her toward the Kawasakis’ to watch Mary Poppins, the first of the afternoon’s two movies. A few days earlier, Tommy had mentioned to Andy that he’d seen Mary Poppins a nauseating seven times, insinuating he was now much too mature for such a thing. But he’d make an exception during the party if it meant sharing the afternoon with the one and only while watching the umbrella lady an eighth time.

Mr. Kawasaki announced that the movie would start in ten minutes, so Peter proposed to Laurie that they meander toward the theater-in-a-home. They crossed a neighbor’s lawn where high school boys with shoulder-length hair and sporting short-sleeved, buttoned paisley shirts were playing lawn darts. Peter heard the teenagers debating whether the heavy metal tips of the huge lawn darts would cause severe damage if they dropped on your head from a height of thirty feet. The high school girls appeared uninterested in the conversation about injuries and potential death; they instead chatted about Simon and Garfunkel and The Carpenters. No one younger than fifteen was allowed to hang out with the dart throwers and boss chicks because they considered the soon-to-be junior high schoolers, like the trio of inseparable boys, to be ignorant and annoying. Just as Peter and Laurie strolled past some neighbor’s orange Schwinn bike with a banana seat and high handlebars lying on the lawn, he made his move “Hey, Laurie, isn’t this a great party?”

“The best.”

He told himself to focus on his rehearsed lines, then cleared his throat. “Did you know that many of the monarch butterflies in California travel from the Rocky Mountains? And that a portion of them fly south to Mexico for the winter? I’ve always thought that was super interesting.” He just needed her to believe he was similarly enamored with the colorful insects.

“Yes, I did know that. Most people our age are unaware, so I’m pleasantly surprised, Peter.”

This is off to a great start. I’ll skip the California golden poppies bit and stick to butterflies. Remembering she had also counted tiger swallowtails on her way home from school, he grew bold, assuming their habits mimicked the monarchs. “I also read that the Western tiger swallowtails follow the monarchs to Mexico until they come back to California as one big group.” Come on, universe, score me some more points for my terrific follow-up.

“I didn’t know that, Peter. And I’m a bit surprised because adult swallowtails only live for a couple of weeks, and I’ve never seen photos of them overwintering with monarchs in Mexico. Where did you read that? Did you see pictures?”

He wondered if he’d completely blown it and told himself to think creatively and brilliantly, like Einstein. “Uh, National Geographic. My parents have a subscription, and a new copy arrives every month, filled with really cool stuff.” Don’t dig too deep a hole, or this might not end well, he thought. Are you also going to tell her you actually spend time staring at the photos of bare-breasted African women on the pages? She’s probably going to look through her parents’ National Geographics for insights into Western swallowtail migratory patterns. But what she’ll find are the boobs you’re obsessed with, Peter Birch, and that will be the end of any chance of a future with Laurie Penrose.

“Peter, this really interests me. Maybe after the movie you can show me the article. We could flip through the pages together.” She smiled her incredible smile, and Peter wondered if he should just bolt and run away, like, forever. How was he going to undo this web of deceit?

Peter said, “Why don’t we head inside to watch the movie? I’ve never seen Mary Poppins.” He smiled but couldn’t think straight and was certain she was unaware that he’d seen it seven times; it was a movie for girls, not cool dudes like him. As they entered the great room, Mr. Kawasaki asked Peter for help moving chairs, which he considered a welcome diversion that might give him time to devise a way out of his lying about researching tiger swallowtails predicament. He excused himself to help Tommy’s dad, wondering if his eagerness to assist an adult might somehow impress Laurie.

When he returned, he found Tommy and Laurie sitting beside each other just as the film began weaving and clicking its way through the projector. Laurie smiled and patted the other open seat next to her, but just as Peter made a move in that direction, Andy appeared out of nowhere and sat down with a big smile and a wink in his friend’s direction. Then came the words that surely tarnished his reputation forever. “No big deal, Peter, you’ve watched Mary Poppins seven times.”

Laurie peered up at him with an expression of surprise, but she formed her trademark beam to alleviate his embarrassment. After taking a seat on the edge of the back row, he considered his National Geographic blunder and wondered if, from that day forward, every time he heard someone talking about Western tiger swallowtails or the migratory patterns of monarch butterflies, his first guilt-induced thoughts might be recollections of the breasts of African tribeswomen.

Chapter 3

One of the first things young people on Doheny Drive told you about Tommy Kawasaki was that he enjoyed lighting fuses and making things go boom, which was strange because he was not someone you’d pick out of a police lineup for excessively dabbling in pyrotechnic sciences. But by age twelve, he had developed robust skills at transforming “safe and sane” fireworks into sophisticated explosive devices. One of his favorite creations was the appropriately named Buzz Bomb, which involved affixing wings to a more powerful Mexican version of the Piccolo Pete and pinching the cylinder in just the right spot so that, after it began spinning and became airborne, the altered contraption would blow up after reaching elevations Tommy estimated to be seventeen to twenty feet.

Sitting next to Laurie during the movie—he swore she smelled like strawberries and fresh-cut roses—Tommy wasn’t just thinking about his good fortune in claiming an open seat next to the coolest girl in California; he was rehearsing the steps for rigging and igniting his greatest airborne incendiary device ever created: The Flying Line of Buzz Bombs. Essentially, three of his modified Mexican Piccolo Pete Buzz Bombs with wings were laid on pavement and strung together with fishing line. Their fuses were cut in lengths that ensured that the two outer Buzz Bombs would take flight just before the second before the center cylinder, or fuselage, as Tommy preferred to call his emitting tubes. It was a mind-bogglingly sophisticated flying firework to create, which gave him a great sense of pride. He was convinced no other soon-to-be seventh grader on the planet had the skills to design such a device.

Tommy’s epic contraption included one final surprise for those lucky enough to witness history during its public unveiling. After the three connected Buzz Bombs rose above the enraptured crowd, a trailing bright red cherry bomb dangled with its own fuse connected to The Flying Line of Buzz Bombs. Yes, yes, yes! he thought.

Laurie turned her head. “Yes what, Tommy?”

He was shocked back to the moment. “Yes, this is a great movie, isn’t it?”

“I’m enjoying it, but you appeared to be staring out that window when you mumbled yes, yes, yes.”

“Yeah, that was kind of freaky, man. Don’t do it again,” said Andy.

It was 3 p.m., and the second movie of the double matinee was Snowball Express. After Laurie stated one movie was enough for her, the boys heartily agreed, and the group moved outside. They assembled below a pepper tree with a thirty-foot canopy.

“Tommy disappeared,” Laurie said. “Is he hungry again? It seems like every time I see him, he’s munching on oatmeal cookies or Twinkies.”

Andy said, “You should add Hostess apple pies to that list. But I’ll bet he’s working on his latest firework invention, the Triple Buzzer, or something like that. The dude is addicted to gnarly things that fly, burn, or blow up.”

“That makes me nervous,” Laurie said. “Tommy needs to make sure my dad’s not around if he’s going to do something dangerous. As a policeman, he saw frightening things in Ohio every Fourth of July. Can you tell Tommy?”

Andy and Peter glanced at each other and nodded. “Yeah, sure. We’ll tell him.”

In a private corner of the Kawasakis’ backyard, Tommy was reading the checklist he’d jotted in his small spiral-bound notebook, where he kept all instructions for his extraordinary but definitely not safe and sane fireworks. High school and college kids preferred the massive rockets bought in Mexico that competed with Disneyland fireworks when they exploded, but the older teenagers would never let rising seventh graders attend their aerial celebrations. No problem. Tommy’s creations might not fly as high or make as much noise, but they were more sophisticated and required the steady hands of a genius to build and launch them.

After tugging on the fishing line connecting all three of the winged explosives, Tommy pulled out his tape measure and double-checked the distance between the supersized Mexican Piccolo Petes that he’d reconfigured into Buzz Bomb fuselages. Check. Finally, he inspected the fuse and lines connected to the dangling cherry bomb. Check. The mad scientist’s grand finale was sure to leave the masses in awe.

The late-day sunshine dimmed, and Tommy felt The Flying Line of Buzz Bombs was ready for prime time, so he bolted back to the cul-de-sac and devoured two more hot dogs and three Ding Dongs. He was tempted to strike a match to a package of Black Cat firecrackers wedged in his pocket as a preamble to his upcoming production, but the better part of him said to hang tight. He noticed Laurie was holding one of the neighbor’s toddlers, and he hoped his pyrotechnic display would impress her enough to prompt dreams of them getting married and producing their own babies. He shook his head and hoped she hadn’t telepathically intercepted his dimwit vision. But he still smiled at the thought.

Everyone could smell the Apollo Black Snakes set ablaze by impatient youngsters who watched the snakes’ black bodies burn, grow, and twist, bringing joy to the elementary crowd. As the skies darkened further, sparklers were pulled out from long, skinny boxes. Because some unlucky barefoot kid would inevitably step on a technically spent but still-hot metal sparkler every year, prompting certain parents to exclaim how dangerous all these fireworks were, anyone less than three feet tall was ordered to keep close to their parents. That just provided more space for the mature junior high crowd; most of the high schoolers and all the college kids had already bolted for beach fires and screaming Mexican rockets.

Red Devil showering cones officially kicked off the main event, including the Giant Bull’s Eye and Yankee Doodle Salute. Roman candles followed, and then spinning wheels of every size got nailed to trees and posts. Later, after all the legal fireworks were spent, families returned to their homes to watch episodes of The Streets of San Francisco or The Bob Newhart Show. With their parents gone and the annoying elementary school ordered indoors, it was time for the big stuff. The bitchen stuff. Like custom-made spinning, flying, and exploding devices created by people with the guts to launch them. Enter Tommy Kawasaki.

“You feeling good about this?” Andy asked.

Tommy nodded and pointed at his creation lying on the darkened portion of the side driveway where no one was assembled, and nothing would be discovered. “I’ve tested it eleven times. The last three times it worked perfectly, like a dream. You’re in for a huge surprise.”

“Does your sister know you still make these crazy things that fly and blow to pieces? I remember last year she almost tore your head off and swore to tell your parents if you didn’t stop.”

Tommy flashed an expression of irritation. “Valerie says that, but she doesn’t mean it. She digs that I’m brave enough to make this stuff. She thinks I’m smarter than most of the high schoolers on the street.”

“If you say so. But it didn’t look like she was digging it at all last year.”

“Andy’s right,” Peter said. “Valerie was pissed off last 4th.” He chuckled. “And, if she watches your Triple Bomb Job do something dangerous—”

“It’s called The Flying Line of Buzz Bombs!” Tommy said incredulously.

“Whatever—you change the name every few days. We can’t keep track. In a week it might be The Mangled Mess of Doheny Drive.”

“Very funny. Let’s see you build something like this.”

“No thanks. I’d probably blow my hands off. Where do you build these things?”

“In a corner of our backyard,” Tommy said. “And then I test them on the outdoor basketball courts at school, close to the tunnel so I can escape if some idiot—like you two—calls the cops.”

Andy chuckled. “Hey, it’s cool that you make these crazy things. I just hope you know what you’re doing.”

“Wow, I didn’t know you guys were such wussies. Everything’s going to work perfectly,” Tommy said. “I can’t wait to see the smiles on your faces. And maybe even on Laurie’s.” He grinned and flashed a thumbs-up.

“Oh crap,” Peter said. “I forgot. Laurie said to make sure her dad isn’t around if your invention is unsafe, and I’m pretty sure everyone on the street would say it’s unsafe. I think she really meant it.” Because she was currently absent, he added, “Oh, and smooth moves by you two grabbing seats next to her for the movie, but she really wanted me to sit next to her.”

“Yeah, right. I don’t think so.”

“Well, I know so. Did you work together to grab both seats?” Peter asked. “Or was it dumb luck?”

Tommy and Andy glanced at each other. “You’ll never know,” Andy said. “But she seemed very happy during the movie. And why do you care where she sat, Pistol Pete? Do you like her, Peter Birch? Are you in love with Laurie Penrose?” They all laughed like the immature gang they were, and when Andy laughed so hard that he farted—which seemed to happen frequently—it sent them further into delirium. Tommy asked, “I wonder if Laurie farts?”

Peter said, “Ew, gross. What a stupid question; of course she doesn’t. And I don’t love any girls,” he said in a suddenly deep monotone voice, staring off while appearing deep in thought. Moments passed. “Anyway, Tommy, Laurie seemed almost scared about you lighting any dangerous firework that might blow up somebody’s car or kill a neighbor. It’s safe enough, right?”

“Nobody’s going to die,” Tommy said. “No need to freak out. It’s made of three Mexican Piccolo Petes and a cherry bomb—nothing insanely powerful. Doheny Drive will be here in the morning.”

“Okay, cool,” Peter said. “Now that everything’s quiet out here and the parental units have split, is it time to test your Buzz Bug?”

He flashed annoyance at yet another incorrect moniker for his precious invention, and he left to pick up the final act. When he returned with a large brown paper bag holding his device, his expression had transformed into acute focus.

Laurie strolled up with two eighth-grade girls, the Johnson twins, who lived in a corner house across from the Crenshaws. It didn’t surprise the boys that she had been embraced by slightly older teens. In the year and a half that Laurie called California home, she’d earned the confidence and friendship of a wide swath of young people and adults. “I’m here to watch you launch the creation you’re so proud of, Tommy. I know it’s going to be amazing.” She smiled, and Tommy wanted to ask for her hand in marriage, to get a leg up on his two buddies who were obviously similarly lovestruck. “And my dad is nowhere around.” She flashed a thumbs-up.

Tommy instructed the small crowd to stand back at least twenty feet. He pulled The Flying Line of Buzz Bombs from the bag and positioned it in the middle of the street. He spent several minutes positioning each fuselage and was similarly careful about the placement of the dangling cherry bomb. Confident that everything was precisely configured, he lit the primary fuse that would then ignite the three fuselages and, eventually, the cherry bomb. He looked like Victor Frankenstein, watching his creation take flight from only a few feet away.

“Tommy, move back,” yelled Andy.

Tommy irritatingly waved his arm without taking his eyes off The Flying Line of Buzz Bombs. “Chill! It’s all good!”

Just then, the powerful Mexican knockoff Piccolo Pete fuselages sent the Flying Line of Buzz Bombs into a spinning mania. While they lifted off as expected, the connected cylinders of explosive propellant suddenly turned sideways toward Tommy and descended quickly, with sparks and flames emitting from various parts of the whirling apparatus. Onlookers and a frozen Tommy waited for it to turn back to the skies, but instead, it flew straight at him, like a living organism with spindly arms attacking its prey.

Hank Penrosehad just stepped from his home to call Laurie in. He immediately boltedfrom his courtyard while everyone’s concern turned to panic. The Flying Line of Buzz Bombs wrapped around Tommy’s body and burned his midsection and arms. The cherry bomb’s fishing line and fuse swung wildly before tightly binding itself to Tommy’s forearm, and the bombs were about to explode. Mr. Penrose ran and lifted the boy, rushed to the closest lawn, and rolled to extinguish the incendiary components.

Then it happened. The Buzz Bombs blew up, but because they were wrapped around his legs and the back of his thick Levi’s, Tommy yelled out, though no major damage was done. However, the cherry bomb that was wrapped around the meat of Tommy’s forearm exploded next, and blood gushed down his arm. It was bad, frighteningly bad, and Peter and Andy’s friend said nothing; he was consumed by shock.

Mr. Penrose pressed his bare palm into Tommy’s bleeding forearm. “Laurie!” he screamed. “Run inside and tell your mother to grab clean towels and one of my belts. Tell her to grab the keys to my car and to come to help me! Go, now!” Then the ex-cop looked at the other kids and screamed for them to get Tommy’s parents. “Tell them it’s an emergency!”

Lois Penrose rushed from her home and approached, stunned by the amount of blood on Hank and Tommy’s bodies. “Oh dear, Hank. He needs a doctor, and quickly.”

“I can’t let go of his wound!” Mr. Penrose yelled. He noticed his wife had smartly grabbed scissors before running outside. “Cut away all the tangled fishing line and smoldering shit from his body. Now start the Chevelle, Dorothy. I can’t let go of Tommy’s arm. You’re going to have to drive to the hospital like a bat out of hell.” It frightened Laurie to listen to her father talk so abruptly and with a tinge of what sounded like fear.

Dorothy Penrose ran over to her husband’s blue 1970 Chevelle COPA 427 and fired up the growling machine. Hank glanced again at the Kawasakis’ home, but though he’d seen a group of kids run in that direction, no adults were running back out. He carried Tommy to the Chevelle. Dorothy revved the engine as her husband approached. Hank was a muscular, imposing man with massive hands, exactly the type of physical attributes required to slow or stop the bleeding from damaged arteries. Before stepping into the passenger seat, he barked at Dorothy, “Let’s go!” Hank sat down with Tommy’s limp body draped over him, the boy’s damaged forearm squeezed tightly in his right hand.

Laurie watched the drama and was unable to speak. Rivulets poured from her eyes. She rushed forward and begged her parents to let her join them on the drive to the hospital, but her mother screamed “No!” She told Laurie to find Tommy’s parents, explain what happened, and instruct them to rush to the Trabuco Hills Hospital emergency room. Laurie composed herself and dashed down the street, but not before yelling to a weakened boy, “I love you, Tommy!”

Hank Penrose stared tenderly at Tommy as if he were his own child, hugging him tightly while speaking consoling words to a boy steeped in fear. Dorothy yelled at the kids in the cul-de-sac to run across the street, then she put the car in reverse, burned rubber out of their driveway, and sped down the street with sounds and smells the witnesses described as those made by The Snake and The Mongoose at the OCIR dragstrip. It was a screeching departure that made Dorothy and Hank Penrose legends of Doheny Drive.

2 thoughts on “Mine is a writer’s life: Balancing book and manuscript to-dos with vacation time!”

    1. Donnetta,
      I am so happy you enjoyed my debut novel! Some readers found it a bit dark, and I understand where they are coming from. But in the end, the way it’s written is the way I envisioned it – so I have to live with that! My writing, editing, and communications have been affected this past week due to life events in our broader family, but receiving your message brightens my day. Cheers from the Sonoran Desert, Ken

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