Well Folks, as promised, today I'm spotlighting Billie Williams and her book Small Town Secrets!
Blurb: Fires rage across the tiny town of Nettlesville. Someone is bent on burning it down to the ground one building at a time. Can Chaneeta and Olga bury their rivalry long enough to stop the arsonist before the town is nothing but ashes, or will Chaneeta’s secret past destroy her and possible the town first?
Excerpt : The scene at the Barker place lit up the night sky as brilliant orange and yellow flames reached skyward. Sparks danced like the Fourth of July as pieces of wood fell, or windows shattered with the heat of the blaze. The building was totally engulfed. Chaneeta’s heart felt choked, as though the acrid smoke that filled her nostrils had tendrils that reached down to her heart and squeezed. “The children, the Barker’s?” she questioned without wanting to ask the real question that tugged at her knotted stomach. “Did everyone get out safely?” she said scanning the area, looking for Bill, his wife Chen Lei or the four children. She knew there would be no hope of rescuing anyone from that building now if they weren’t already out. The men targeted the hose on the roof and the building collapsed in on itself as they did. Sparks flew in all directions sending the onlookers clamoring to remove themselves from danger as they scuttled back farther.
“Too, late to save anything,” Stewart Lewis, Fire Chief for Nettlesville’s all volunteer fire department said as she approached his side. “All we can do now is keep her contained.
“The Barkers?” Chaneeta questioned hoping they hadn’t been inside. She scoured the surroundings again searching hopefully for the faces of the four Barker children, Bill or Chen Lei.
“Neighbors said they’re gone up north to visit relatives in Wausau. They’re the ones who called it in. Seems Emma got up to go to the bathroom and saw the blaze from her kitchen window.”
“Thank God,” the words squeezed out of her like a prayer of thanksgiving.”
The Tewsday twins, Twice and Taaktu, hurried across the street waving at Chaneeta from where they had parked their car.
“Dusty won’t believe another fire,” Taaktu’s said. Taaktu being the younger of the twins by half an hour she was actually born a day later than Twice. She was the impetuous one, always on the go with nervous energy as though trying to make up for lost time. Dusty Rhodes, the current Constable for Nettlesville, had appointed Taaktu his deputy before he left on a month long vacation. She took her job dead serious and Chaneeta was glad to have her in that position.
They stood watching the house collapse in on itself. No one spoke for a long time.
“How could it have gotten this bad before someone saw it?” Twice said and then raised her hands surrender style as she wrapped her bathrobe tighter against the chill of the early spring night air. She looked at Chaneeta fully dressed, “Were you still up?”
“I was working on the St. Patrick’s Day decorations at the café.”
“Why didn’t you wait for morning? We’d gladly do that for you,” Taaktu said.
“Yeah! You shouldn’t be doing that. Your hired help should be,” Twice chimed in.
"I enjoy doing it. Besides, I couldn’t sleep. These fires are driving me to distraction.”
Chief Lewis nodded. “You aren’t the only one. You would think the guy would slip up somewhere. Maybe we need a more sophisticated investigator to try to figure this out before some one gets killed.”
Chaneeta didn’t get a chance to answer before shouts from the approaching Olga Corn, editor in chief of The Daily Nettle let her vehemence be heard. No wonder the town’s people dubbed The Daily Nettle the Stinging Nettle, Chaneeta thought. Her usual diatribe was to cut people to ribbons, and spit them out like chewing tobacco. She was marching across the boulevard like a mean mama in combat boots dragging her poor little reporter, photographer Bobbie Bjork with her. “What do you have to say for yourself now, Chaneeta Morgan, Town Chair Woman? How long do you expect the town to put up with your incompetence?”
For two cents Chaneeta thought she would deck the woman and worry about the consequences later, against her better judgment of course. Chief Lewis stepped between them. “Wait just a minute Ms Corn, it sure ain’t Miss Morgan’s fault that the Barker place caught fire. We don’t know what caused it yet. So you hold your accusations for a bit until the Fire Marshal gets here and investigates it.”
“Don’t need no Fire Marshal to tell me this is like the other three – Don’t need no Fire Marshal to tell me that Chaneeta Morgan is no more a town chairwoman than I am the Princess Diana.”
Chaneeta stood her ground and glared at the fire and brimstone broiling from the angry Olga Corn. “I’m doing what I can Olga. The Marinette County Police Department, the State Fire Marshall they are all investigating. They have not found one single clue to use to pin this on anyone.”
“And you let that useless Town Constable, Dusty Rhodes, take a month long vacation in the middle of this,” she said pointing an accusing finger in Chaneeta’s face.
“He had a vacation coming. He had made plans and I saw no reason to detain him. He had done his preliminary investigation.”
Taaktu stepped in, “I’m in charge now. If you have a gripe talk to the hand,” she said raising her hand between Chaneeta and Olga.
“Humph! We’ll see about this.” Olga turned on her heel and stomped over to direct her anger at her photographer to snap the pictures she wanted.
Chaneeta knew she had to do something to try to calm Olga down. There had to be some way to reach her and get her to work with her instead of against her, but what?
Chief Lewis shook his head and made a sign that he suspected Olga was crazy. The Tewsday twins caught it and laughed uproariously, Chaneeta didn’t join in she was too busy trying to figure out why, who, what was the purpose of these fires and why did Olga blame her? She needed to have a serious talk with Olga Corn, but that would have to wait until another day. She walked to the perimeter of the fire and noticed words in spray paint on the small lawn and garden shed that sat towards the back of the property where Bobbie Bjork was working feverishly, snapping pictures. She motioned to Taaktu and Chief Lewis, and pointed where Bobbie Bjork was grabbing shots of the words with her camera.
“Don’t print that,” Taaktu said grabbing the camera away from Bobbie. “That will do exactly what the sick mind that set this fire wants it to do.” Bobbie stepped back afraid to try to fight for the camera.
Olga didn’t have that demeanor. She reached to grab the camera back from Taaktu. “You hand that over! It’s my property,” she growled glaring at Taaktu.
“Sure,” Taaktu opened the camera and pulled out the role of film, glad it wasn’t a digital camera yet. She pulled the film in a long dark string from its case – the blazing inferno beside them flickered bright candle-like teardrops of light dancing across the surface of the exposed red-brown film as it unraveled exposing the entire roll.
Olga turned to Chaneeta. “You will pay for this. You will. Mark my words.”
Chaneeta threw her hands up in the air. “Officer Tewsday calls the shots in this investigation. I have no control over that. It seems to me she did the right thing if this could spark trouble in the community. Neighbor against Neighbor. We don’t need that. We have enough trouble. I think it’s time we work together don’t you?” she turned the challenge back around to Olga. Olga went quiet. She took the camera and handed it back to Bobbie. “We’ll do this one without pictures,” she said. “The whole town is here anyway. There is nothing we need to add to this.” She waved her arm across the inferno the burning house had become and the graffiti spray painted on the side of the tiny building.
“Chief have one of your men get a picture of that and then cover it please,” Taaktu cupped the film she had torn from Bobbie’s camera and then stuffed it in her jacket pocket.
The racial slur on the garden shed dug deep into Chaneeta’s insides. The slur stung deeper than she dared let anyone know. It was years since she let herself feel the anguish and the guilt of those kind of thoughts; thoughts that could cut a heart to shreds in seconds screamed out of anger. Her father’s voice, her mother’s tears hovered over her like a storm cloud. Twenty years of burying those thoughts to be exact. She reached down and picked up the small doll. Half of it was black, charred from the fire, the other half stark white –it seemed metaphorical. Chaneeta’s heart beat irregular, stilted. She wondered if anyone could tell her daughter was a racial mix. What did she look like twenty years later? Where was she? A tear slid down Chaneeta’s cheek. She turned away from the small group, dashing a tissue from her pocket to her eye to catch the tattle tale tear. She caught Twice looking at her out of the corner of her eye. A quizzical expression crossed her face creating little wrinkles at the sides of her eyes. She reached out and touched Chaneeta’s shoulder.
“It, its okay, it must have been an ash in my eye,” she said swiping the tears away.
Twice slid her arm around her shoulders anyway and pulled her into her side. “I know. This is awful, just plain awful. What will Bill and Chen Lei do now?” Obviously Twice wasn’t accepting her explanation of the tears, but at least she conjured up meaning of her own that Chaneeta could live with.
Ten minutes before the fire she had been content, busy with decorating her life and the café. The glitter of the saran fringe, the promise of the pot of gold all lightened her existence and gave her hope for the future. Nettlesville is a good town, a safe place for families to grow and for people to retire. Chaneeta needed to see to it that it stayed that way. But suddenly all this peace and serenity exploded in her complacent face.
How could she ever think she could bring peace and justice to a town when she is as evil, as crooked, as the person who is preying on her constituents? She is criminal. She is part of a wrong as great as this. She hurt innocent people once by her actions she caused pain and suffering. For all she knew, the repercussions may still be reverberating where she left them. What about her little girl? She abandoned her to deal with racial injustice alone. Was she any better than the perpetrator setting these fires? The questions growled and clawed at her insides, suddenly she was in more pain than she had ever been in her life. She clutched her stomach and started to return to her car.
Small Town Secrets by Billie A Williams, available from http://www.wings-press.com in print or electronic formats. ISBN 978-1-59705-766-0 (print) 978-1-59705-283-2 (electronic)
Remember folks, Billie is giving away a ton of prizes (see my earlier post) so leave your comments!
Until later.....May the God of the Universe BLESS you and your's!
Pamela S Thibodeaux
"Inspirational with an Edge!"