Tuesday, November 11, 2008

FIRST Wild Card Tour-Plain Perfect by Beth Wiseman

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Plain Perfect

Thomas Nelson (September 9, 2008)


Writing has always been a part of Beth Wiseman’s life. When she was introduced to the Amish, she gained an appreciation for their simpler way of life and began writing novels featuring this endearing group. Her first novel was Plain Perfect. She and her family live in Texas.

As a newspaper reporter, Beth has been honored by her peers with eleven journalism awards in the past four years - most recently, first place news writing for The Texas Press Association. She has been a humor columnist for The 1960 Sun in Houston and published articles in various publications. However, writing novels is where her heart is. Following completion of five manuscripts, Wiseman's inspirational fiction series set in Pennsylvania Dutch Country is where she found her voice.

"It took me a while," she says. "But I knew right away that Plain Perfect was the one. Writing about the Amish lifestyle within a fictional love story has been a wonderful experience. The Amish and Mennonite contacts I have established in Lancaster County help me to keep the books authentic. These very private people might dress differently, avoid the use of electricity and modern conveniences, but they are just like everyone else. They love, hurt, have daily challenges and struggles, and strive to be the best they can be. An often misunderstood sect of people, it has been a privilege to learn about their ways."

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 14.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (September 9, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1595546308
ISBN-13: 978-1595546302


LILLIAN PEELED BACK THE DRAPES AT THE FRONT WINDOW and squinted against the sun’s glare. She’d called the taxi almost an hour ago. If her ride didn’t show up soon, she would have to forego her plan and spend another night with Rickie. Biting her lip, she worried if she would have enough cash to change her flight if she didn’t make it to the airport on time.

She lowered the drape and paced the living room in Rickie’s house, silently blasting herself for ever moving in with him in the first place. Her stomach writhed at the thought of one more day under the same roof with him. And yet her window of time for her departure was closing, she realized, glancing at her watch.

She tugged at the drapes again. Relief fell over her when she saw the yellow cab pull into the driveway. Snatching her red suitcase and purse, she bolted for the door, shuffling toward the driver as he opened the trunk.

“Please hurry,” she said to the driver, handing him her suitcase.

The driver stowed her luggage without comment and was climbing into the driver’s seat when she saw Rickie’s black Lexus rounding the corner and heading up the street. Her heart sank.

“Where to?” the driver asked.

“Intercontinental Airport,” she answered. “Hurry, please.”

As the driver made his way down Harper Avenue, Lillian watched out the rearview window. Rickie’s car slowly neared the house.

The cab driver turned at the corner. She’d made it. A clean getaway.

Irma Rose Miller couldn’t help but notice the bounce in her husband’s steps. The cancer kept him down and out on most days, but not today. Today Lilly was coming, and his anticipation and joy were evident.

“Danki,” Jonas said as Irma Rose poured him another cup of coffee.

“You’re welcome.”

Her tall husband, once muscular and strong as an ox, sat hunched over the wooden table between them. His healthy load of gray locks and full beard were now thinning and brittle. Dark circles under his eyes and sunken features revealed the many sleepless nights of pain he had endured over the past few months. God had given her husband of forty-eight years a challenging road to travel, and he was making the trip with dignity and grace.

“Our Lilly will be here this afternoon.” Jonas smiled and raised the cup to his mouth. His hands trembled, but his eyes twinkled with a merriment Irma Rose hadn’t seen since the first mention of their granddaughter coming to stay with them. She hoped he wouldn’t be disappointed. They hadn’t seen the girl in seventeen years, since she was ten years old.

Irma Rose stood to retrieve some donuts from a pan atop the wooden stove.

“It will be wunderbaar gut to have her here.”

Irma Rose placed two donuts on her husband’s plate. “Ya, that it will. But, Jonas, you must keep in mind how different our ways are. We will seem like foreigners to our Englisch granddaughter.”

“These donuts are appeditlich,” Jonas said.

“Danki. But, Jonas, you need to prepare yourself. Sarah Jane raised Lilly in the outside world. We don’t know her. As a matter of fact, we don’t know exactly how Sarah Jane raised her.”

The thought twisted Irma Rose’s stomach in familiar knots. It had been hard enough when her daughter chose to leave the Old Order Amish community at the age of eighteen, but even more difficult when she wrote to tell them she was in a family way soon thereafter . . . with no husband.

“She was a glorious child,” Jonas said. “Remember how quickly she learned to ice skate? What a joy she was. What a gut Christmas holiday we all had.”

Irma Rose shook her head at her husband’s ignorance of the obvious. Lilly wasn’t a child any more. She was a grown woman. Jonas had talked about that last Christmas together until the next season came and went. When Sarah Jane and Lilly didn’t show up the following year, he merely shrugged and said, “Maybe they will visit next year.” And each Christmas thereafter Jonas anticipated a visit that never happened.

Jonas never uttered a negative word about Sarah Jane’s choices. But she’d seen the sadness in his eyes when their daughter left home, and she knew the pain dwelled in his heart over the years. But he only said it was impossible to always understand God’s direction for His children—their child. Their only child. The good Lord had only seen fit to bless them with one. A beautiful daughter who had chosen a life rife with hardship.

Irma Rose had prayed hard over the years to cleanse herself of any discontentment with her daughter. Sarah Jane’s choice to leave the Amish faith was prior to her baptism and church membership. Therefore her daughter was never shunned by the community. She had chosen to avoid visits with her parents. From the little Irma Rose gathered over the years, Sarah Jane and Lilly had lived with friends and moved around a lot.

An occasional letter arrived from her daughter, to which Irma Rose always responded right away. More times than not, the letters were returned unopened. It was less painful to assume Sarah Jane had moved on and the letters were returned by the postal service. Although sometimes it cut Irma Rose to the bone when she recognized her daughter’s penmanship: Return to sender.

She was thankful her last letter to Sarah Jane had not been returned. She couldn’t help but wonder if the news about Jonas’s cancer had prompted her granddaughter’s visit. When Lillian’s letter arrived over a month ago, Irma Rose had followed her instructions not to return a letter but to call her on the telephone if at all possible. She wasted no time going to the nearby shanty to phone her granddaughter. The conversation was strained and the child seemed frantic to come for a visit.

“I’m a teacher and when school is out in May, I’d like to come for a visit,” her granddaughter had said on the phone. “Maybe stay for the summer. Or maybe even longer?” There was a sense of urgency in the girl’s tone.

Irma Rose feared her faith had not been as strong as her husband’s and that a tinge of resentment and hurt still loitered in her heart where Sarah Jane was concerned. She didn’t want any of those feelings to spill over with her granddaughter. She would need to pray harder.

As if reading her mind, Jonas said, “Irma Rose, everything will be fine. You just wait and see.”

It wasn’t until the plane was high above the Houston skyline that the realization of what she’d done hit Lillian. After landing in Philadelphia, she caught a train to Lancaster City and hopped a bus to Paradise, which landed her only a few miles from her grandparents’ farm. She was glad there was a bit of a walk to their property; she wanted to wind down and freshen up before she reacquainted herself with her relatives. Plus, she’d had enough time on the plane to wonder if this whole thing was a huge mistake. Her mom hadn’t wanted to be here, so why think it would be any better for her?

Not that she had much choice at this point. She had no money, no home, no job, and she was more than a little irritated with her mother. When her mom had begged Lillian to loan her the money she’d painstakingly saved to get away from Rickie and start fresh, Lillian reluctantly agreed, with the stipulation she got her money back as soon as possible. But her mom had never repaid a loan before. Lillian didn’t know why she thought it would be any different this time. When the promised repayment never came, Lillian quit her job and made a decision to distance herself from her mother and Rickie by coming to a place where she knew neither of them would follow: Lancaster County.

Lillian shook her head, wondering if she was making a bigger mistake by coming here. She didn’t know if she’d ever understand what ultimately drove her mother from the Plain lifestyle. From what she read, it rarely happened—Amish children fleeing from all they’d ever known. The circumstances must have been severe to drive her mother away.

Although . . . it didn’t look so bad from Lillian’s point of view, now that she was there. Aside from having a dreadful wardrobe, she thought the Amish men and women strolling by looked quite content. They seemed oblivious to the touristy stares. The women wore simple, dark-colored dresses with little white coverings on their heads. The men were in cotton shirts, dark pants with suspenders, and straw hats with a wide brim. Box-shaped, horse-drawn buggies were abundant.

Ironically, it all seemed quite normal.

She took a seat on a bench outside the Quik Mart at the corner of Lincoln Highway and Black Horse Road and watched the passersby. Clearly, Paradise was a tourist town, like most of Lancaster County, with everyone wanting to have a look at the Amish people.

Watching them now, she wondered if the Amish were all as peaceful as they appeared. Despite her initial thoughts, she decided they couldn’t be. Everyone had stress. Everyone had problems. Surely the Plain People of Lancaster County were not an exception.

But they could have fooled Lillian.

Samuel Stoltzfus gave hasty good-byes to Levina Esh and Sadie Fisher and flicked his horse into action, hiding a smile as his buggy inched forward. The competitiveness of those two widow women! First Levina had presented him with her prize-winning shoofly pie. Not to be outdone, Sadie quickly offered up her own prize-winning version. Stalemate. The two of them had stood there glaring at each other while he tried to think of ways to escape unhurt . . . and unattached.

He might have to rethink his shopping day. Both women knew he went to the farmer’s market on Thursdays . . . Once he cleared town, he picked up the pace. The road to his farm near the town of Paradise was less traveled, and he was particularly glad of that on this day. It was a glorious sunny afternoon, perfect for a buggy ride through the countryside.

Pleased he had chosen his spring buggy instead of his covered one, he relished the warmth of the late afternoon sun. Rachel had loved this time of year, when spring gave way to summertime and all the world felt full of promise.

God’s soil was tilled, and corn, alfalfa, and grain had been planted. Life would be busy as he awaited the bountiful rewards of spring’s labor. There was the garden, with peas to pick. The strawberries would be ready. Lots of canning and freezing. Much time went into preparing a garden for harvest.

And Rachel’s garden had always been lush and plentiful. Gardening was work for the womenfolk, but Samuel had done the best he could the past two years. He was thankful his sisters took care of most of the canning and freezing.

He closed his eyes, his shoulders lifting with his sigh. He missed Rachel the most this time of year.

Lillian felt like a fool. Didn’t “down yonder a spell” mean right down the road? The friendly Amish boy had pointed down Black Horse Road and uttered those exact words when she’d asked for directions to her grandparents’ farm. She’d thought the walk would do her good—help her shed some of the calories she ingested while sitting at the Quik Mart with a large cinnamon roll and cola.

Evidently, she’d mistranslated “down yonder a spell.” There wasn’t a farmhouse in sight.

She really should have considered the strappy sandals she was wearing before opting to venture down the road to nowhere. Her capri blue jeans and short-sleeved pink-cotton shirt were good choices, however. The clement sun mixing with a soft breeze made for a perfect day. An excellent day for a walk . . . if only she’d had better shoes.

Setting her red suitcase on the grassy shoulder of the paved road, she plopped down on top of it and scanned the farmland surrounding her. It was so quiet. Peaceful. She could only hope that some of the peacefulness the Amish were known for would rub off on her during her stay. She needed it. Life had not been easy to her the past few years.

Her mom’s idea of parenting had left much to be desired— jumping from one man to the next looking for something she never seemed to find. All the while she’d toted Lillian along. Lillian had grown up changing schools, saying good-bye to friends, and continually hoping Mom’s next boyfriend would be better than the last. At the first chance, Lillian had bailed on the situation, telling herself she could do better.

Despite her good intentions, she’d ended up close to following in her mother’s footsteps. After putting herself through college while living with three other girls in a small apartment, she’d landed a teaching job. There had been boyfriends, and she’d definitely made her own share of mistakes.

But always, something had whispered to her that there was another way to live. Sometimes she’d listened, sometimes not. But she never felt comfortable enough to ask herself just where that voice was coming from—she just didn’t know enough to form an opinion. She didn’t listen to the voice when it cautioned her not to move in with Rickie. But when the voice became too strong to ignore, she knew it was time to get out of that situation.

Despite the complete lack of religious upbringing, she always suspected there might be a God looking down on her. But in light of her mom’s thoughts on church, she couldn’t ask her about it. Her mother seemed angry at religion. While she heartily encouraged Lillian to attend various churches with her friends when she was a child, she herself would have no part of it. It was a huge contradiction in parenting, and Lillian didn’t understand it to this day.

Now, knowing the Amish to be solid in their faith, Lillian decided it might be best to keep her suspicions about a possible God to herself around her grandparents.

“Guess I better get moving and find out how far ‘down yonder a spell’ really is.” She jumped off the suitcase, gave it a heave-hoe, and started back down the paved road, gazing to either side where the acreage stretched as far she could see. The sun pressing down on the horizon left her a tad worried about how much further the farm was.

“Whoa, boy!” Samuel yelled to his horse. The animal slowed his pace to a gentle trot, bringing the buggy alongside an Englisch woman cumbersomely toting a bright-red suitcase. She was minus a shoe . . . if you called a flat-bottom sole with two small straps a shoe. Certainly not a good walking instrument.

“Can I offer you a ride?” He pulled back on the reins and came to a complete halt, as did the small-framed woman. When she turned, he was met by radiant green eyes in a delicate face.

Delicate, that is, until she grimaced and blew a tendril of hair out of her face.

Then she smiled, and her face transformed, lighting up like the morning sun. He was momentarily struck dumb.

It didn’t matter. The woman was focused on his horse. Deserting her suitcase on the side of the road, she stumbled over to Pete and reached out to stroke his nose without so much as a “May I?”

Thankfully, Pete was a gentle giant.

“He’s beautiful,” she said, glancing briefly in Samuel’s direction, eyes sparkling.

He cleared his throat. “Ya. And a fine work horse too.”

What an interesting woman this was. Unafraid. And beautiful, he had to admit. He watched as her long brown hair danced in the wind, framing her face in layers. She wore no makeup and seemed lacking in the traditional Englisch look, although her brightly colored blouse and calf-length breeches certainly gave her away. A tourist, most likely. But a tourist walking alone down Blackhorse Road?

The woman’s mouth curved upward in delight as she cooed over Pete. The horse gently snorted, nudged her, and she laughed heartily, her head thrown back. It was a thoroughly enchanting scene.

Suddenly uncomfortable at his thoughts, he straightened and coughed. It was enough to bring the woman’s attention back to him.

“I would love a ride!” With a final kiss on the old horse’s muzzle, she went back for her suitcase. “Where should I put this?”

“Ach, my manners.” Samuel jumped out of the buggy and made his way to the woman. “Let me.” He took the suitcase from her, quite surprised at how heavy the small bundle was. After stowing it behind the double seat, he offered his hand to assist her into the buggy.

“Thank you.” Now she was studying him . . . seemingly from head to toe. At her open glance, he felt a flush tint his cheeks.

“I’m Samuel Stoltzfus,” he said, extending his hand but avoiding her questioning eyes.

“I’m Lillian Miller.”

Her hands were certainly that of an Englisch woman, soft and void of a hard day’s work. The Plain women in Lancaster County tilled gardens, shelled peas, kneaded bread, and a host of other necessary chores uncommon to Englisch women from the city. City women’s hands were not only smooth and manicured, but pleasing to the touch.

Returning to his seat, he started up the buggy again. The woman was obviously tired and happy to be resting; with a slight groan she stretched her legs out. He found his eyes wandering her way and silently remonstrated himself.

“Where are you from, Lillian? Or, more important, where are you going?”

“I’m from Houston.”

“Ya, Texas,” he said, slightly surprised. They didn’t usually get Texans walking the roads out here. “Lots of farms in Texas. What brings you to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania?”

“I’m coming to stay with my grandparents for a while.” She smiled. “They’re Amish.”

Amish? He was once more at a loss for words. Not to worry— the Englisch woman wasn’t.

“Actually, I guess I’m Amish too,” she added.

Discreetly glancing at her Englisch clothes, he wondered how that could be so.

“My grandparents are Irma Rose and Jonas Miller. I’ll be staying with them for a while.” She looked his way as if waiting for a response that never came. “I’d like to adapt myself to the Amish ways. I need a peaceful, calm lifestyle away from the city. Anyway, I’ve decided to be Amish for a while.”

Samuel had been trying to connect this vivacious outsider with the staunch Irma Rose and Jonas he knew, but these words jostled him out of his musings. “You’d like to be Amish for a while?”

“Yes. Although I don’t plan to wear one of those dark-colored dresses or white caps like the women I saw strolling by earlier.”

In spite of himself, Samuel chuckled. “Do you even know what being Amish means?” He didn’t mean the remark as harshly as it sounded.

Lillian slanted her eyes in his direction, as if slightly offended.

Unexpectedly, the buggy wheel hit a rut. With an oomph, his new friend bounced in her seat. She was a tiny little thing. Luckily, she didn’t catapult right off the seat and onto the pavement.

“Yikes!” she said when her behind returned to the seat. And then she giggled. As Pete’s ears swiveled back to catch the commotion, Samuel couldn’t help but grin. The woman’s enthusiasm was contagious.

He decided to drop the subject. He knew Irma Rose and Jonas well enough to figure they’d set her right about being Amish and what it really meant. Samuel reckoned they’d have their hands full with their granddaughter.

As Samuel righted the buggy, he asked, “When is the last time you saw your grandparents?” He hadn’t even known Irma Rose and Jonas had a granddaughter.

“When I was ten. Seventeen years ago. It was the first time I saw snow. Real snow.” Her eyes twinkled from the memory.

“Anyway, I know things will be different from what I’m used to. But I can live without television. There’s too much bad news on TV anyway. And I know Amish women cook a lot. I’m a great cook.” She shrugged. “I’m a hard worker in general. I know Amish get up early and go to bed early. I know they work hard during the day. And if that’s what it takes to feel peaceful and calm . . . I’m in!”

Samuel found her enthusiasm charming, no matter how misdirected it was. “Lillian, I’m sure Irma Rose and Jonas will appreciate you helping with household duties, but it will take more than chores and giving up worldly things to provide you with the peacefulness you’re lookin’ for.”

“Well, it’s a start,” she said, sounding optimistic.

As for that . . . who was he to argue?

Lillian remembered the Christmas visit with her grandparents at their farm, especially the snow. Unlike the icy mix of sludge found rarely in her hometown state, snow in Lancaster County glistened with a tranquil purity. Almost two decades later, she could still recall the towering cedar trees blanketed in white and ice skating on the crystalline pond in her mother’s old ice skates.

The presents had been few. She remembered that. And while she recollected her grandparents as warm and loving, she also remembered the tension between them and her mother. Her grandfather had kept the mood festive, suggested the ice-skating, and seemed to make it his mission for Lillian to have a good time—even carting her to town and back in his gray, horsedrawn buggy. It had been the highlight of her trip.

“I remember liking the way my grandparents talked,” she recalled to Samuel. “I didn’t understand a lot of things they said. Things like ‘Outen the lights until sunrise when we’ll redd-up the house.’ And ‘It wonders me if it will make wet tomorrow.’ Mom translated those to mean ‘Turn out the lights until in the morning when we’ll clean up the house’ and ‘I wonder if it will rain tomorrow.’”

“That would be right,” Samuel said.

Grandma and Grandpa both spoke another language she’d later found out was Pennsylvania Deitsch. Lots of times they would commingle their language with English. “Danki, Sarah Jane, for bringing our little kinskind for a visit,” her grandfather told her mother that Christmas. To which Sarah Jane Miller forced a smile and nodded.

“Grandma, why are you and Grandpa wearing those costumes?”

Lillian recalled asking her grandparents.

Grandpa had just laughed and said, “It is our faith, my kinskind. We wear these plain clothes to encourage humility and separation from the world.”

At ten, Lillian had little understanding of what that signified. Except somewhere in the translation she knew it meant they couldn’t have a television or a phone. Several times after their one and only trip, Lillian had asked her mother if she could call her grandparents. Mom reminded her no phones were allowed at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

“Evidently, my grandparents came to Houston a couple of times before our visit at Christmas, but I don’t remember,” she told Samuel. “That Christmas was my last trip to Lancaster County and the last time I saw my grandparents. Until now.”

“I reckon Irma Rose and Jonas are really looking forward to seeing you.”

“I hope so.”

Lillian tried to keep her gaze focused on the road in front of her. But her eyes kept involuntarily trailing to her left. Samuel Stoltzfus was as handsome a man as she had ever seen in the city. His plain clothes did little to mask his solid build and appealing smile each time she glanced in his direction. But it was his piercing blue eyes Lillian couldn’t seem to draw away from.

“So, how long have you been married?” Nosey, nosey. The astonished look on his face confirmed her worry. She was crossing the line. “I’m sorry. I just noticed that you have the customary beard following marriage.” She’d done her research before arriving here. “And . . . I was just . . . curious.” And curious why? He’s Amish, for heaven’s sake.

“I’m not married. I’m widowed.”

“Oh,” she said softly, thinking how young his wife must have been when she died. “ I’m so sorry. When did your wife die?”

“Mei fraa, Rachel, passed almost two years ago,” he answered without looking her way.

“Again, I’m so sorry.”

Samuel continued to stare at the road ahead. “It was God’s will.”

There was no sadness or regret in his tone. Just fact. Lillian knew she should leave it alone, but . . . “I’m sure you miss her very much.”

He didn’t glance her way. “There’s Irma Rose and Jonas’s farm,” he said, pointing to their right. “I better take you right up to the house.” He coaxed Pete down a long dirt drive leading from the road to the white farmhouse.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that. I can walk.” She wondered if Samuel Stoltzfus was ready to be rid of her. His eyebrows edged upward beneath his dark bangs and he glanced at her shoeless foot.

Point taken. “A ride to the house would be great.”

As Pete trotted down the dirt driveway toward the farmhouse, reality sank in. This would be her new home for the summer—or however long it took to accomplish her goal. At first glance, everything seemed lovely. The prodigious fields on either side of the lane were neatly mowed, and the white fencing in good repair. But unlike the farms she passed on the way, there were no signs of new life planted. It wasn’t until they drew closer to the farmhouse that she spotted a small garden off to her left enclosed by a wire-mesh fence. Parallel rows of greenery indicated vegetables would be forthcoming.

Also off to her left was a large barn, the paint weathered and chipping. Another smaller barn to her right also was in need of a fresh paint job. She recalled the barns they had passed on her journey down Black Horse Road. Most were a bright crimson color.

The white farmhouse appeared freshly painted, but with flowerbeds absent of flowers or shrubs. They must have been beautiful at one time. But now they—and the rest of the yard—lent an air of neglect to the farm.

A wraparound porch with two rockers looked inviting. But while the idea of curling up with a good book in one of the rockers was appealing, Lillian knew it was the inside of the house and its inhabitants she feared most. Her grandma had seemed pleasant enough on the phone, but what if she and her grandfather were too set in their ways to make room for her? And what if she couldn’t adjust to their ways? No electricity meant no hairdryer, curling iron, or other modern convenience she considered a necessity. How would she charge her cell phone? And she couldn’t imagine a summer without air conditioning.

Grimacing as the thoughts rattled around her head, she reminded herself why she’d come. She’d had a month to consider all of these factors. She thought she had. But as her fantasy of leaving everything behind for this became absolute, her tummy twirled with uncertainty.

She was still attempting to envision her new way of life when Samuel brought Pete up next to a gray buggy parked on one side of the house. Samuel moved quickly to get her suitcase from behind the seat and extended his hand to help her out of the buggy. Towering over her, he promptly released her fingers.

“Thank you for the ride. Maybe I will see you again.” She could only hope. But his lack of response as he quickly jumped back in the carriage left her wondering.

Lillian waved good-bye and watched until horse, buggy, and man were back on the paved road. She knew she was stalling. Her grandparents would be strangers to her, and she would be a stranger to them. Yet they had encouraged her to come and stay with them. “For as long as you like,” her grandmother had said.

Striving to cast her worries aside, she turned around, picked up her suitcase, and headed up the walk toward what would be her new home . . . for a while.

Monday, November 10, 2008

FIRST Wild Card Tour-Charting the Course by Bruce Howard

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Charting the Course

Authentic (April 1, 2008)


Dr. Bruce Howard joined the faculty of Wheaton College in 1980 and currently serves as professor of Business and Economics. He holds a PhD in economics and a masters of administration in accountancy. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. He has also has worked with Tyndale House Publishers since 1980 and currently serves as a member of the board of directors. Prior to his academic career, Dr. Howard worked in the banking and health care industries.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 12.99
Paperback: 168 pages
Publisher: Authentic (April 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1934068357
ISBN-13: 978-1934068359


I once nearly killed my father-in-law. I didn’t mean to, of course. I actually love the man and have a deep and abiding respect for him. In the thirty-eight years that I have known him we have never exchanged a cross word, so you can understand that there is no way I would wish to see anything bad happen to him. But it almost did.

My family had just moved into our new home, and Dad was helping us get things situated. He’s a handy kind of guy and good with virtually any home project. In short, he’s the perfect father-in-law for me. We had a new coach light to install outside by the front door. Coach lights involve electricity, and that, of course, meant that I called my father-in-law.

No problem! After a quick survey of the situation, he decided on the course of action. My job was to turn off the electricity while he pulled the old lamp off the wall. There was a switch inside the house that controlled this light, so I dutifully turned the switch off. If you understand the workings of electricity better than I do, you already know what’s coming. Don’t ask me to explain it—but although turning the switch off might have extinguished the light, it did not kill the current to all of the wiring. A few moments later I heard this nasty “pop” and saw my father-in-law flying off the ladder with a smoking screwdriver in his hand! The noise was so loud that even my neighbor from down the street heard it and came running to see what had happened!

The word shocked is used in many contexts, but it really should be reserved for moments like this. Dad was shocked, a bit dazed, and sore from the fall, but otherwise OK. The only lasting result was a little spot on his ring where a bit of the metal had melted.

I don’t think there is a person on earth today who believes electricity is a bad thing. On the contrary, electricity is a wonderful form of energy that does us a tremendous amount of good. But make no mistake, electricity can also hurt you physically—and do a great deal of damage to property as well. If you’re going to work with any force, be it electricity, natural gas, coal, or nuclear energy, it is critical to understand that force and to maintain a healthy respect for what can go wrong.

There are economic forces as well. And just like the forces of energy, they have the power to do us either good or harm. In the everyday course of life, it is easy to take these forces for granted. I’d like us to consider for a moment the power of market forces to bring us goods and services by thinking through some of the daily events of our lives.


What did this day look like for you? Did you begin by taking a shower? At a moment’s notice, clear, clean, hot and cold H2O came rushing to your beck and call. Did you happen to take a moment to reflect and ask, Where does all this water come from? How about the soap and shampoo? Did you use a towel made in Indonesia and blow-dry your hair with a hair dryer made in Taiwan?

Did you have cereal for breakfast made with grain grown in North Dakota or Argentina? Coffee from Colombia? Sugar from Honduras? Orange juice from Florida? Did you put on clothes made from cotton grown in Texas but sewn in Thailand? Or were they made from synthetic fibers engineered and produced by an international chemical giant with production facilities in Germany?

On your way to work, did you read a newspaper using paper made from pulp shipped from the Northwest, ink produced in the Midwest, and printed on presses made in the Northeast? Maybe you pulled out a laptop computer assembled in Malaysia with computer chips manufactured in California and ran a piece of software designed and written by programmers in Calcutta. If you drove to work, you may well have chosen to listen to the radio. You may have selected one or even half-a-dozen stations to listen to, depending on the traffic and the ease with which you could surf the airwaves looking for just the right melody or message to suit the moment. A cell phone, of course, would have opened a completely new vista of options for what you could have done during your commute.

Think just a bit about that car you may have been driving. Did it use gasoline refined in Houston but made from crude oil imported from somewhere in the Middle East and then transported on ships built in Japan? Where was the car made? The most difficult part of that question is figuring out where all the component parts came from. Of course, the car was probably assembled in and shipped from one place. But even so, I have been in auto assembly plants both in the United States and in Europe and have noted that much of the highly automated process involves sophisticated robotics and other machines that are themselves manufactured in other places in the world. So trying to figure out the real source of all value-adding activity that goes into assembling an automobile these days is an exceedingly complex task.

At the risk of belaboring a point, think for a moment about all of the things you can possibly purchase at a moderate-sized grocery store, and then ask yourself, Where does all this stuff come from? Pick up any packaged product, and you will find a list of ingredients on the label; ask the question again: Where did all those ingredients come from?

I can’t possibly tell you where all of these things came from, but I can tell you how they got there. They got there through the power of the marketplace. Embodied in our use of the goods and services we take for granted every day are the acts of literally thousands of economic agents (people doing a job) engaged in millions of acts and making millions of little decisions that collectively all add up to the stuff of our lives. It is the power of markets that brings to us the things we want—when and where we want them.

Markets are simply unparalleled for serving our material needs and wants. Each and every day, in hundreds of ways, markets mysteriously work in the far reaches of the world, as well as just down the street, to orchestrate our own personal concert of consumption. It is virtually impossible to comprehend the full magnitude of all the global activity that occurs each day in order to fulfill our sophisticated, individualistic, and highly nuanced set of needs and desires.

One of the most amazing aspects of all of this is that we don’t personally have to ask for any of it. Through the power of markets, the vast majority of things we use every single day come to us without our asking. The only thing that is required of us in return is a willingness to part with some of our money in exchange for the stuff of life.

The Meaning of Marketing

Marketing is a word that is mostly misunderstood. People generally associate it with sales and advertising. Marketing is treated like a noun, but it is better understood as a verb, an action—the action of making markets. Marketing is the process of looking outward in order to discern the needs and wants of society. It also includes looking inward at the resources and skill set of the producer to see how they can be used to meet these identified needs and wants of society. The marketing process includes everything that has to happen in order to first generate an idea and then implement that idea in economically sustainable ways to meet the needs of the targeted segment of society.

This is a big job, and it operates on a 24/7 basis. Right now literally millions of people are thinking about you and me and what they can do to meet some unfulfilled need or want we might have. People are thinking about ways to cure our cancers, treat our diabetes or heart disease. They are also thinking about new gadgets to help us chop onions, carve a turkey, or secure our homes and automobiles. A host of people work hours on end trying to figure out new ways to entertain us and otherwise help us enjoy our leisure hours. They are also thinking about ways to improve the many products and services we already use. It might be a better-tasting toothpaste. Maybe it’s a new form of packaging that is easier to open and reseal. Maybe we would prefer a smaller—or larger—package of a particular product. How many times have you heard the phrase “new and improved”? Next time you do, you can pinch yourself and say, Ah, that is the result of marketing!

The most powerful component of the marketing force is this channeling of the creative capabilities of all of humanity toward the goal of serving the material needs and wants of humanity.

The world is moving at an accelerated pace to embrace markets as the system for organizing economic activity. Many are pleased with this trend, and many are not. But like it or not, it is a force that began thousands of years ago and is growing exponentially as fast as people around the world can connect. When one more person or firm enters the world of markets, it is much like adding another fax machine to the global inventory of fax machines. If there are already a billion fax machines operating in the world, then adding one more machine increases the world’s faxing potential by a factor of not just one, but one times the other billion fax machines with which it can connect. So it is when one more player enters the market arena. The potential for additional market transactions increases by one times the billions of already existing participants.

People throughout the world are connecting like never before. Iron curtains that previously shut people in have melted away, and countries that were once closed have opened their doors to market forces. These same market forces are working to unite Europe and increase the connectivity of people throughout the continent by allowing the free flow of people, goods, and services between borders and by adopting a common currency and set of economic rules.

I recently traveled down a rather remote, single-lane road in the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands of the Czech Republic where we stopped outside an old stone building that looked like a converted barn. All around were potato fields. Chickens roamed freely about the grounds. But something remarkable was going on inside this building. No matter what it looks like on the outside, inside a global business is providing employment for twenty people from the local community. This crystal-cutting factory crafts beautiful glassware that is sold primarily to customers in China and Japan. These customers use the Internet to find this company and then to place their orders. Products are shipped worldwide via UPS and DHL. I went away scratching my head and trying to figure out whether this is a high-tech or low-tech business. Either way, it is certainly a global business.

When the world was much less connected, people only had the small number of residents in their villages or communities available to think about, create, and deliver the goods and services they enjoyed. But today there are vast numbers of people on the other side of the world thinking about us and our needs and desires and how they can marshal their particular set of resources to fulfilling those needs and desires.

As you can probably tell by now, I am very impressed with the power of markets to produce goods and services and raise the material standards of living for people throughout the world. In my life roles as a consumer, an auditor, a banker, an accountant, and a professor of business and economics, I have had my share of exposure to markets. We all have. In my primary vocational role of teaching business and economics, I have plenty of opportunities to share my enthusiasm about this powerful force.

I love to teach the introductory course in economics. My students are mostly college freshmen and sophomores. By the time I get them, they have studied lots of math, history, science, and language. They began studying these subjects in grade school and continued doing so right up through high school. But very few have ever taken a formal course in economics. Therefore, I have the opportunity to open the lid on this discipline and introduce my students to the world of economic reasoning. Even after teaching this course for over twenty years, I believe the subject is as fresh as it was the first time I taught it. Much has changed over the last twenty years, and it is interesting to talk and think about those many things. But it is equally interesting and even more important to reflect upon the things that have not changed. The operational principles of markets have not changed. They are an enduring force to be reckoned with.

Is There a Worm in Your Apple?

Over the years of teaching economics, however, I have discovered a real problem. Teaching about market economics is like offering my students an appealing, lush, ripe, juicy red apple. Here it is; take a bite. See for yourself just how sweet and delicious it is. Savor that taste for a while, and then enjoy another bite. With each additional bite, students get closer to the core of the apple. And as they do, they are very likely to discover that at the core of this apple there is an ugly, repugnant worm. A word of caution: Don’t eat the worm!

This book is the result of my own wrestling with the question of what I am supposed to do with this worm at the core. I began this journey eight years ago. Back then I wrote a manuscript in response to the problem that, by my own admission, was not a very good manuscript. Good writing is essentially about good thinking and having something worthwhile to say. At that point, I don’t believe my efforts reflected either quality. But during the past eight years I have thought a great deal about this issue. I have read and listened to many other voices along the way, all the while trying to process those voices in the context of my wormy problem. This book is my humble attempt to name it and then deal with it.

I am absolutely convinced that we need to name the worm and warn others that it is present, lurking at the core.

So, what is the worm?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

FIRST Wild Card Tour-Murder on the Ol' Bunions by S. Dionne Moore

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Murder On The 'Ol Bunions

Barbour Publishing, Inc (February 29, 2008)


S. Dionne Moore is a bunion-free supermom, able to leap piles of homework and loads of laundry in a single bound. Not only does she write, homeschool her daughter, and help her pastor-husband, she also plays piano, loves to garden, and encourages other writers.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 4.97

Mass Market Paperback: 256 pages

Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc (February 29, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 159789639X

ISBN-13: 978-1597896399


Something about the Out of Time antique store didn’t feel quite right that Tuesday afternoon. The rattle of that annoying bell Marion Peters insisted on hanging over the front door combined with the shock of cool air against my hot skin and managed to fry all my circuits and make me feel a little crazy. Kind of like the days when my kids each used to demand all my attention at once.

“Mercy, Marion,” I reached up to still the clattering noisemaker and called down the narrow building toward the soda fountain Marion used as a counter, at the back of the store. “When you goin’ to bless us all by removing this thing?”

No one answered. Strange, that. Silence is not one of Marion’s virtues. Come to think of it, her Virtue list is pretty short, if you get my meaning. And no one enters Marion’s store without her verbally pouncing on them with news of her latest purchase of quality merchandise or her daughter Valorie’s most recent show of academic brilliance.

My sweet husband, Hardy, set the bell to rattling all over again as he heaved his plaid pants a little higher and stepped inside the shop and out of the Colorado sunshine. He shot me a grin that sported his pride and joy—his lone front tooth, covered in gold. But the sight of his weathered black face and grizzled gray-black hair has filled my heart with contentment for going on thirty-eight years. ’Course, I don’t let him know that too often, or he’d be thinking he’s got me wrapped around his little finger.

Hardy shut the door and gazed up at the spastic bell. He reached to silence the thing, fingertips three inches shy of meeting their goal. His cocoa eyes rolled in my direction, waiting. You see, Hardy’s as short as I am tall.

I reached up to squelch the bell and patted him on the head, not bothering to hide my smile. “Where’d you disappear to? I looked all around the library for you, then gave up and came here.”

Hardy’s grin didn’t dim. “Went to Payton’s to talk music. He tried to sell me a book on playing the banjo.”

“You don’t play the banjo.”

“Yup. Where’s Marion?”

“How am I supposed to know? I just got here myself.” Reaching around Hardy’s slender form, I opened the door wide enough to set the bell to making noise and slammed it hard. We both cocked our ears toward the room for any sound to indicate Marion’s arrival.

Hardy guffawed. “Never thought I’d enter a place owned by Marion Peters and not hear her mouth flapping.”

I sailed past the old Broadwood concert grand piano that took up one side of the room and peered into one of the two boxes of books I’d purchased earlier in the day. Marion had grudgingly agreed to let me leave the boxes until I could fetch Hardy to haul them for me. “I suppose we can just take this box and go. Wonder where the other one is?” Where was that woman? “Marion!”

“Lot o’ wind in them lungs for an old woman.”

“You better shut your trap, Hardy Barnhart. Years of yelling after you has given me my lung capacity. Marion!”

Hardy’s eyes twinkled. “She’s giving you the silent treatment. I figure she’s still mad at you for—”

“You hush.”

“Marion can hold a powerful grudge.”

His words came to me through the filter of my own warring thoughts. Something wasn’t right. I could feel it. Marion never left the store without flipping the sign from OPEN to CLOSED. And forgetful she’s not. Ask anyone who has ever done her wrong. I glanced back at the door. The sign definitely said OPEN.

“You go ahead and load this box into the car, I’m gonna look for the other one.”

Hardy shuffled forward. “You paid for them?”

I sent him a healthy dose of the look I made legendary with my children. “Of course.”

He held his hands up, palms out. “Just askin’. If LaTisha Barnhart is thinking of starting a life of crime, I want to make sure I get cut in on the loot.”

This man. He makes me crazy. I glanced down the length of him and smirked. “Got your drawers hitched too high again, don’t you? I can always tell—you start spouting crazy things.”

“Yeah, like the day I said, ‘I do.’ ”

“That’s not what you said. You said, ‘Yes, ma’am.’ ”

I peeked into the box. The old books, covers frayed and worn, were neatly stacked, and definitely the ones I’d purchased. I motioned to Hardy and he lifted the box to his shoulder. I turned and mentally itemized the merchandise in the store. Having worked at Out of Time until my youngest left for college last fall, I knew exactly where everything should be. A few dustless outlines proved recent sales had helped boost Marion’s receipts, but other than that things looked normal. And why shouldn’t they be?

The store didn’t hold much. A huge oak bookcase, a mahogany secretary, and a cherry dining room set, took up most of the twenty-one-foot length. Thanks to her going-out-of-business sale, Marion’s overpriced stock now sported tags well within the price range of Maple Gap folk. The store’s impending closing had surprised many of the citizens. Everyone figured Marion’s elite clientele of wealthy collectors both here in tourist-laden Colorado and across the United States would keep Out of Time a thriving landmark for many years.

So much for that thought.

The scent of old books and dust hung heavy in the air. A draft of cold air raised shiver bumps on my arms. I stilled myself, turned, and studied everything again, forcing deep, calming breaths. Something was eluding me. Whatever stirred my senses to high alert seemed to be strongest at the counter. I returned there and sucked in another breath. And that’s when I caught it. A certain strange scent. What was that odor?

A mental image of my grown son at the age of eight bloomed. Tyrone had been helping Hardy build a shed and had sliced his finger a good one on the saw. Tyrone gave out a yelp. I went running. Hardy’s dark chocolate face took on a milk chocolate patina at the sight of the blood, so I took charge. As Hardy hit the ground in a faint, I barked instructions to my children on how to care for their father and hustled Tyrone to the car.

I directed our old Buick through town, one hand on the wheel, the other helping Tyrone maintain pressure on the wound. I tell you, blood seeped through that towel faster than I felt comfortable with, filling the air with its copper scent.

That was it! I inhaled the air in Marion’s shop, held my breath, and then released it slowly. My stomach clenched hard. Blood.

All my senses flared, spitting warnings, making my head spin. With a hand on the counter, I steadied myself for what I knew needed to be done. As if pulled by an unseen string, I gravitated toward the only corner of the room I hadn’t already examined. Some sixth sense screamed at me, telling me to hightail it out of there. But I ignored it, my feet leading the way, my brain screaming at my toes, telling them to cease all forward movement, turn tail, and run.

I focused on the things scattered along the counter, a white envelope, an old-fashioned cash register, brochures of the store, a small bell for service. The now identified scent of blood saturated the air. My throat clenched. My feet must have finally got the message because they wouldn’t move forward at all now, so I steeled myself and leaned forward over the counter.


Her head lay in a pool of blood.

Cold shivers tingled along my scalp. My heart skittered. I pressed both hands flat on the counter and squeezed my eyes shut to block the horrible image as shock carried me over the edge of rational thinking into one where every impulse had its way. I opened my mouth and gave vent.

Hardy came on the run, his steps banging along the wooden floor as he skidded to a halt beside me.

“What’s wrong? What happened?”

My tongue stuck to the roof of my dry mouth.

“You getting ready to drop over or something?”

Tears glazed my eyes and turned Hardy into a fuzzy, carnival-mirror image. I raised my hand and shooed him away. “Get back,” I finally croaked. “Go back outside. You don’t need to see her.”

Hardy’s eyes got wide. “What you talking about, woman? See who? You ain’t been sniffing glue again, have you?”

He sure knew how to get to me, but I wasn’t having any of it. “You know I only did that once on a dare. Now you get.” I waited for him to retreat, instead he stared. I flicked my hands at him, hoping he’d trust me on this one. “Hardy. . .” My glance at the place where Marion now rested gave everything away.

Hardy’s expression melted into a frown. “What’s back there?” He took a step closer.

“No! You’d better not stick your nose over that counter. I’m warning you. You’ll be sorry. Don’t look.”


“Hardy’s coming around, LaTisha,” the young doctor of Maple Gap stood in the doorway of Out of Time, divested of its annoying bell at long last by the chief of police himself.

“I think he’ll be just fine.” Dr. Troy Gordon motioned me to precede him back into the store. “It’s not every day one sees a dead body.”

I stepped over to the end of the counter, careful to keep my eyes off the form flanked by the police chief and another man I’d never seen before. I gazed down at Hardy’s waxy complexion. He needed a thorough chiding, so, being the good wife that I am, I warmed to the event like a microwave on high. “I told you not to look. You never do listen.”

The doctor knelt next to my man and patted Hardy’s shoulder as he tried to sit up. “You’d better lay back down, Mr. Barnhart. You’ve had quite a shock.”

“Naw,” he grated out. “She talks to me like that all the time. Ignoring her works best.”

My tongue poised to reply, but a wave of dizziness gripped me so hard I felt myself whirling. “I’m a-thinking I’m going to lay me down, too.”

Doctor Dr. Gordon’s wide-eyed face tilted up at me, and he jumped to his feet. Just as my knees gave way, a hand jerked me backward and my body folded onto a chair.

“Head down, LaTisha.” Doc’s hand pushed my head between my knees, or as far forward as it could reach over my stomach. Diet is a four letter word, after all.

Within seconds the dizziness began to release its grip. Something tickled down my belly. As my head cleared, I realized the sensation came from my pantyhose beginning a southern migration. Never could get a decent pair anymore.

“How do you feel?”

Doc Gordon’s voice penetrated my thoughts. I croaked a little hiccup and raised my head slowly. “I’ll be fine.” But I wanted air. Real bad. I nodded toward the door. Doc must have understood my silent plea because he gripped my arm and helped me get up. With his hand directing me, I broke out of that shop and back into the spring sunshine. He helped me get settled into one of the two Windsor chairs he’d dragged from Marion’s shop.

“I’ll bring Hardy out here, too. I daresay he’s had enough excitement in that store.”

Within minutes, Doc Gordon returned with a wan, shuffling Hardy.

“You don’t look so good,” I said as Hardy slumped down next to me and buried his face in his hands.

“Neither did she.”

I scootched my chair closer to him and squeezed his shoulders, drawing his head down to my chest. “You listen next time I tell you something. Thought you’d done gone and had a heart attack.”

I spread my hand on his slender back and wondered how, after thirty-eight years of my cooking, the man had yet to put on more than five pounds. He was too skinny. Of course, he always told me I’d gained enough for both of us.

Hardy’s voice came out muffled. “I wouldn’t leave you to have all the fun.”

The doctor reappeared. “Officer Simpson wants to talk to you, LaTisha. I told him you weren’t feeling well and to wait awhile. He’s pretty anxious to ask you some questions. Do you feel up to it?”

I twisted around in the chair and saw the young police officer standing in the doorway. I nodded at him, anxious to have the whole incident behind me. “Come on over here and get to your asking.”

Doc gave Hardy a pat on the shoulder. “I’ll be inside if you need me.”

Hardy straightened in his chair as the officer approached. I gave his complexion a good once-over before frowning at the policeman and jabbing a finger toward Hardy. “You can ask me what you need to until he’s feeling perky.”

“I just have a few questions, ma’am.”

“You new to town?”

The young officer swelled up a bit. “Yes, Mrs. Barnhart. I moved into town last week.”

I gave the newcomer a good scrub down with my eyes and wondered why I hadn’t heard of his arrival. No way was I anxious to have to go through the whole trauma of explaining how I found Marion’s body with this young fellow.

“Job doesn’t pay well,” I started out, making good and sure he knew I had the upper hand. “We just lost two men a month ago because the city council didn’t approve raises. One of them moved his family to Seattle, the other became an insurance salesman.”

“Uh, yes, ma’am.”

“I’m LaTisha Barnhart. And you?”

“I’m Officer Mac Simpson.”

“Not a bad looking boy. How old are you?”



Hardy’s voice held an edge that I recognized right away. I rolled my eyes his way. “I’m just trying to be neighborly.”

“Let the boy do his job.”

I huffed back into my chair and crossed my arms, considering. Doesn’t hurt to give the new guy a few warnings about small town living. Who knew? A murder right after a new person arrives in town. . . Suspicious if you ask me.

With Hardy getting uptight with me, I’d have to summarize my welcome speech. “You must have bought the Hartford’s place. Only house for sale that I know of. I’ll bring you some of my fried chicken. Don’t want newcomers to feel unwelcome here. I consider it my duty to make sure new people have at least one good square meal. Moving is hard work, and organizing a kitchen takes a woman’s touch. You got yourself a woman? Preferably a missus.” My eyes slid to his left hand. No ring. “We can take care of that for you, too, just give us a chance.”

Satisfied that I’d had my say, I waited for the man to begin with the questions. He blinked like a barn owl in the sunlight for a full thirty seconds.

“Hurry up and ask what you need to ask. I haven’t got all day.”

His Adam’s apple bobbed, and he cleared his throat. “I—” He glanced at the small notebook in his hand as if it contained the script he should follow. I knew the pages were blank. Noticed it right off. Not much escapes me. Ask any one of my seven children. They’ll tell you their momma not only has eyes in the back of her head, but she’s got ’em on the sides, too, and the high beams are always on.

Being that I had more education about these police things than he probably did, I decided to help him out. “You want to know what I was doing in the store and how I found Marion.”

His lips cracked a small smile. “That would be a good start. Yes.”

“The chief asked me all this already.”

“Yes, ma’am. He wanted me to ask again.”

Now if there’s one thing I don’t like to have to do is repeat myself. I tell you once. That’s it. You ask for a repeat and you might get it—slowly and with every vowel enunciated—but you ask again, and I’ll call the ear doctor and set up a fitting for you to get yourself a hearing aid.

I leaned forward, deciding I’d give this boy a second chance. This time. Since he was new and all. “I went into the store to pick up some things I bought earlier. Hardy came in after me. Something seemed funny when Marion didn’t start talking right off. That’s Marion for you. She never had any need for quiet. Anyways, I went around the counter and there she was.” I had to push hard at the sight of her that flashed in my brain. Forcing back my emotions, I went on. “Payton heard me—that’s the owner of the music store next door, don’t suppose you’ve met him yet—and he came over right after Hardy fainted. He’s the one who called you boys. That’s it.”

Officer Simpson scribbled in his book. “Did you see anything suspicious? Hear anything out of the ordinary?”

“I smelled blood.” And still did. I swallowed hard. “Took me awhile to figure out what that smell was, but I did. That’s when I thought to look behind the counter.”

Voices carried over from the doorway of the shop. The chief of police and a man I didn’t recognize talked for a minute before the stranger went back inside. Chief Chad Conrad caught my gaze and headed our way.

Simpson saw his boss coming. His expression became severe. “I must say you’re pretty calm for someone who just saw a dead body.”

I latched onto his eyeballs with mine. “Look here, I’ve had seven children, five of those are boys. Between bumps, scrapes, and breaks, there isn’t much more that’ll shock this momma. If one of them boys didn’t drop blood every day they’d thought they was girls. You feelin’ me?”

“Uh, I—” Officer Simpson’s face became a fiery red, and he gave his boss a mortified look. “Why, no, Mrs. Barnhart, I’d never—”

“That’s not to say I’m not sorry for Marion. She was a pillar in this community, but she’s also a woman who is well known for her high-handed ways and churlishness. I figure most folk wanted to give her a good push at some point or other, but that doesn’t mean I did it!”

Chief Conrad presented a slick authority figure beside his younger counterpart. He also maintained the honor of Maple Gap’s most eligible bachelor, though Officer Simpson’s hand, sans ring, might mean the chief’s days retaining that honor were numbered.

The chief leaned to whisper in Officer Simpson’s ear. Relief flooded the younger man’s face. He sent me one last, almost terrified glance and went back inside.

Conrad hooked his thumbs over the edge of his thick black belt. Squint creases on either side of his eyes, coupled with his thin lips and dark widow’s peak, gave him the look of a tough guy. “I should appoint you to the force, LaTisha. The way you intimidate people is amazing. You and I could do the good cop/bad cop routine quite well.”

Hardy snorted to life. “Yeah, but you’re a little too mean looking to be the nice guy, Chief.”

The two laughed themselves stupid at that. I crossed my arms and glared. But the idea of being a cop, an investigator, or an officer on the force. . .

“I’ve only got one more semester before I’ll have my degree in police science,” I offered, pointing a finger after the departing Officer Simpson. “Bet that boy doesn’t have one of those.”

“I can’t be too choosey at this point, LaTisha. The budget restraints are stretching us as it is.” His gaze shifted to the store, and I could almost hear his brain churning. He doesn’t know how he’s going to manage a murder investigation as short staffed as he is.

Conrad pulled his gaze from the store. “How are you two feeling?”

I glanced at Hardy, relieved to see the familiar sparkle in his eyes.

“We’ll survive.”

Couldn’t help but wince at Hardy’s choice of words. Chief just grinned.

My curiosity got the best of me. “How do you think it happened?”

“We won’t be sure for a while. State police are on their way with a mobile crime lab vehicle. Could be she just had a bad fall and slammed her head against that radiator.”

“She’d have to have fallen awful hard. It’s not like she weighs a lot.”

Conrad pursed his lips. “True. We’ll let the state men do their thing to find out. In the meantime, there are a few more things I need to ask you. Payton has offered us the use of his store while Nelson finishes taking pictures of the bo—”

I shook my head and ran a finger across my neck so he wouldn’t shake up Hardy again with reminders of Marion’s body.

“—uh, the details.”

“Does Hardy need to stay?” If Conrad insisted on talking bodies and blood, my man needed to leave or we’d be sweeping him up in a dustpan after he shattered.

“How about I talk to you first. While we’re talking, if Hardy could play us a tune. . . ?”

Hardy pushed to his feet. “Sure thing, as long as Payton doesn’t try to sell me anymore banjo books.” He laced his fingers together and stretched them, palm out in front of him, until his knuckles cracked. “I’m a piano man.”