Aya Walksfar, Author

Hard hitting, in-the-news murder mysteries

BACKLASH, BK 4, COMING SOON!

BACKLASH!

Chapter 1

On the day that Ellen Delaney’s carefully constructed world shattered, she crossed December first off the desktop calendar, signed off her laptop and placed it in its black leather satchel. With the satchel set to one side, she removed the Gucci handbag from the deep drawer on the right side and pulled a small hand mirror and a tube of mauve lipstick out of the makeup tote.

Lipstick carefully applied, she dropped the tube back in the tote. The reflection staring back from the mirror showed dove gray eyes looking back from a heart-shaped face. For a woman staring at forty, she had aged well. A few light laugh lines at the corners of her eyes and a few silver strands threaded among the fall of midnight wavy hair. Her five-foot-five slender body moved with grace and style, whether clad in business suits, workout clothes or designer jeans.

A chill rain tapped lightly at the office window as she put the mirror away. A glance at the diamond-studded wrist watch had her slipping into the suit jacket hanging on the high back of the deep-red leather office chair. A quick look around assured her that everything was tidy.

The obsession with tidiness grew from the untidy things that had happened to her; the same things that had made her choose a career in Women’s Law. Such things happened to women all the time. The law could be used to tidy up a woman’s life; to make it easier; safer.

Purse and laptop satchel shouldered, her heels clicked a staccato beat across the high gloss floor. Keys jangled in one hand though a keycard worked the lock on the office suite. She strode across the carpeted reception area, stepped out of the beveled glass door. An alarm keypad hung unobtrusively on the wall to the left of the door. Code punched in, the green light flashed.

Redundant locks–the office suite, the elevator stop on the sixth floor, the exterior door to the building and the security guard at the gated garage entrance–enhanced a feeling of safety. During this past year, a sense of safety had become critical.

The law had a few drawbacks; some shortcomings. It could only function within a set parameter of evidence and argument. If only she could obtain incontrovertible proof….

The rustle of her suit and the tap of heels on the hall tiles echoed in the silence of the sixth floor at six p.m. This close to the Christmas holidays the occupants of the other offices in the ten-story Bell Town building had left earlier than normal.

The elevator hummed to a halt and its doors swished quietly open. She stepped inside the glass and chrome box and fed the keycard into the slot then hit P1 for the parking area.

Keys in hand, finger on the button of a canister of pepper spray, Ellen left the confines of the elevator and started across the well-lit parking garage. A couple of feet from her Cadillac ESL she thumbed the key fob. Headlights blinked signaling that the doors had unlocked. She swung open the driver’s door, set the laptop satchel and purse on the passenger seat, slid in quickly, clicked the seat belt and drove to the exit.

Since she owned the building, she’d set up the security routine. The high-risk occupants of the offices–wildly successful attorneys who landed on hardcore hate lists, a hard-hitting journalist whose name had made the drug cartels hit list and others whose careers increased their jeopardy–appreciated the extra layer of safety.

Simon Getting, retired Marine sergeant, walked around her car, shining a light in the back seat and peering in the front. Finally, he stepped to the driver’s side rear quarter panel and waited for the trunk lid to be opened. He inspected the trunk, slammed the lid and walked back to the security booth. “Have a nice evening, Ms. Delaney.”

She eased out of the gate and onto the street. Tonight a drive to Olympia and a late dinner at the Governor’s Mansion with Governor Andrea Marleton. A smile crossed her lips. Governor Marleton–she’d been so proud when Andrea took the Governor’s Mansion.

Andrea’s insistence on meeting tonight had impinged on other plans, but it had been for the best. What had she been thinking? It was dangerous enough that he knew about her friendship with the governor; that had been inevitable. At least, a circle of protection surrounded Andrea.

No one else’s life could be put in jeopardy. Dinner with Andrea to discuss the Notable Women in Law Award that she’d won made a good excuse to break the date with Celeste. Tomorrow the next step–dropping her gym membership.

At a time when she should be reveling in her achievements, planning future successes, she knew there would never be any future successes. Not unless she found a way to stop him.

Bittersweet that her greatest achievement had so enraged him. She’d never dreamed of winning such an prestigious award; a white trash girl from the wilds of Montana. No one would ever know that part, though. Those Libby, Montana roots had been deeply beneath stories of a head-on collision that allegedly–and conveniently–killed her parents right after she graduated high school.

They remained deceased to everyone, including herself, except for one day each year. One day that she drove hours to experience. What would happen if she failed to show this year? She forced the troubling thought away.

The mansion would be decorated for the holidays. She enjoyed that sort of thing, but had no desire to do it. For a moment, she wondered why Andrea had never married. Must not have found that special someone.

She’d given up on finding a special someone; accepted that one-night stands would fill the years. A short, bitter laugh burst out. Two years ago, everything she’d ever dreamed of had been within her grasp. Within months the dream had been shattered. She’d had a taste, though; enough to feel the ache of losing it.

Several times she’d come close to confiding in Andrea. Each time some hand of caution had clamped across her lips. Too bad that same caution hadn’t been there with Celeste. Determinedly, she locked away those melancholic thoughts. I will savor these hours with my best friend. I will not think sad thoughts.

Two point three miles from home while she hummed along with the haunting sound of Enya, a dark van shot out of Kelly Road, one lane of hard-packed dirt that served two houses back in the hill. It smashed into the back quarter panel of her car. Airbags deployed as the car spun. The steering wheel whipped in her hands as she fought it and the airbag. The front tires left the asphalt and bit into the soft side of the ditch, wrenching the wheel free from her white-knuckled grip. For a moment, her heart pounded with hope as the car teetered on the edge of the ditch. Then the wall of dirt gave way and the car slid sideways. It came to rest tilted nearly perpendicular to the roadway above. Groggy from being hit by the air bag and jerked this way and that way, she reached up and touched her forehead. She pulled her hand down in front of her eyes and stared blankly at the slick red on her fingertips. Her mind felt as sluggish as molasses on a bitter winter’s morning.

Blindly patting the passenger seat, she searched for her handbag and cell phone. The driver’s side window burst inward, sprayed her with rounded bits of shatterproof glass. An arm reached in and clamped a stinking rag across her face.


Ellen rolled to one side just in time to heave. Yellow bile spilled in a small puddle on the rough plank floor. Eyes cracked open a slit, the dull daylight caused her head to pound. She squinted her eyes and tried to scan her surroundings. None of it made sense.

She inventoried herself: black ski jacket, faded blue flannel shirt, no bra, black ski pants with a rip in the right knee where blue denim showed through. A faded black sleeping bag lay beneath her. She wiggled her toes. Felt like they were encased in wool socks within the heavy leather boots that had cracks across the toes. A little bit itchy, but she felt grateful to have the socks. Her breath clouded in front of her.

Then she saw the shackle. A dull steel chain anchored to the floor snaked across the sleeping bag and latched onto the dull steel cuff snapped around one leg just above the top of the boot. Where the hell am I?

Heart pounding, she forced herself to scan the space around her, though spears of pain shot through her head. A room. Not a very large room. Some kind of opaque white material over the only window. Light seeped through, but no way to see through it. No furniture. What the hell happened?

The last memory was… a truck of some kind roaring out of Kelly’s Road. Then… bile rose up the back of her throat. She swallowed hard. Black, someone all in black. Couldn’t see anything, except his light colored eyes. Oh, God! What kind of maniac has me?

Chamberlain, it had to be Chamberlain. Nothing else made sense. Why didn’t I see this coming? Should’ve known he’d pull something like this. There had been plenty of warnings. Why didn’t I pay more attention? Why didn’t I do something! For Christ’s sake, why didn’t I simply leave? I had the money to leave, to start over, but no, my stupid pride refused to let him chase me away from my home, my practice. Now look where I am.

Her stomach heaved again and she barely cleared the sleeping bag before the bitter bile spewed out. Flopped back on the sleeping bag, arm over her eyes, tears leaked down the sides of her face, leaving icy tracks.

None of it had mattered. None of her work had made any difference at all. She’d gone full circle. Back to what she had fled.

 

See all of the Special Crimes Team books at http://www.amazon.com/author/ayawalksfar

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4 Ways Journaling Heals

light in darkness

With the first anniversary of the Highway 530 Mudslide looming ever closer, emotions are intense.

Words are powerful and can help us deal with emotions. This is why keeping a journal can be a healing process. By writing down the feelings we are experiencing, we can begin to deal with them rather than allowing them to eat away at us on the inside.

This can be especially true of grief. In your journal:

  1. Write a story about the person you lost
  2. Describe a happy memory with that person
  3. Write a conversation you wish you could have with that person. Try to include what you think they would tell you
  4. Describe your feelings
  5. List two ways you can honor the memory of your loved one

No matter how dark

Another way journaling can help us heal is to reduce negative self-talk, increase positive self-talk and help us recognize achievements.

  1. Write down the negative self-talk. (ie: I’m not pretty enough, I’m not smart enough, and so on)
  2. Now write down five positive things about yourself ( ie: I’m a good person, I help others, I do my job well, Yesterday I phoned my parents because they like hearing from me, I like my hair (or whatever physical attribute you think is positive) and so on.
  3. Write down two ways you will use to improve yourself. Make these very specific and have a deadline for implementing or achieving. Do not use such things as I will lose ten pounds this month. Instead list it like this: I will make three healthy dinners this week. I will not eat bread for five days. I will read one book every month.
  4. On a clean page, at the end of the deadline, write down what you achieved, why you didn’t achieve the entire goal and how you intend to approach it now. BE SURE to INCLUDE ANY progress toward your goal, such as: I fixed two healthy dinners this week. I failed to schedule in enough time to fix the third dinner. This week I will write up my menu for three healthy dinners, go shopping for the ingredients at least the day before the dinner, and I will put the dinners on my daily schedule.

Memories capture moments in our hearts. By briefly recalling a memory, we can help heal ourselves.  When you journal, you can capture your impression of the moment. The way your heart lifted when you watched the sunset; the way the brownie your sister made melted on your tongue; the sweet chocolate taste that flooded your mouth; or the warmth you felt when your spouse embraced you. Life can be rough at times and being able to return to a journal, leaf through it and recall these moments in poignant detail has the ability to pull our souls up from the darkest times, if only for a moment. Just remember:

imagequote sunsets prepare for new day

Journaling helps in the healing process.

  1. We can capture a moment in time; how we saw and felt at that moment
  2. We can release negative emotions in a healthy manner and brainstorm better ways to handle situations
  3. We can increase positive emotions on a daily basis or whenever we need to
  4. We can accept our grief, validate our feeling of grief, and begin the process of healing.

One last word: I am NOT a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, medical doctor or other professional helper. This article is NOT medical advice or even professional advice. I am an author and have found ways to use writing to deal with emotion.

If you are feeling angry, depressed, unable to motivate, suicidal, or any strong negative emotion that lingers, PLEASE contact a professional. Depression is a common illness. It appears in many disguises such as a shortness of temper, a feeling of not wanting to get out of bed, a feeling that life isn’t worth it, not having an appetite, wanting to sleep a lot. It comes to all of us, just like the flu, at various times in our lives. It is a normal feeling, just like when a cold attacks you. However if it won’t go away, just like if that cold or flu lingers, you need professional help to rid yourself of the illness. DO NOT hesitate.

One of my favorite actors was Robyn Williams. But, Robyn Williams was unable to seek help to get through a particularly rough spot in his life, and a bright light left our world with his suicide. Do not remove your bright light. Believe me, you DESERVE help, even if you don’t think so right now.

Are you depressed?

If you identify with several of the following signs and symptoms, and they just won’t go away, you may be suffering from clinical depression.

  • you can’t sleep or you sleep too much
  • you can’t concentrate or find that previously easy tasks are now difficult
  • you feel hopeless and helpless
  • you can’t control your negative thoughts, no matter how much you try
  • you have lost your appetite or you can’t stop eating
  • you are much more irritable, short-tempered, or aggressive than usual
  • you’re consuming more alcohol than normal or engaging in other reckless behavior
  • you have thoughts that life is not worth living (seek help immediately if this is the case)

To read more about depression:  http://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2014/aug/12/robin-williams-suicide-and-depression-are-not-selfish

 

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Through The Fires of Hell

Every story that I tell is rooted deep in my soul. I pull them from the years of growing up with the cramps of hunger and the queasy feeling of never knowing when the next meal or the next blow will come. I rip the scent of blood and the fingernails-on-chalkboard screams of pain from memories that no number of years can ever smother.

But story roots grow deeper than the darkness; deeper and wider than the despair. The smile of being able to share food scavenged from the railroad yards with neighbors who are hungry, too; the heart-wrenching sweetness of a guitar played late at night; the wonder of a wild flower pushing up through concrete and blooming in the shadows of crumbling brick buildings–these, too, are the roots of my stories.

These are not my stories, but the stories of many. I have the obligation to give voice to the voiceless; to hear and tell the stories not yet told.

And so it is with Hard Road Home. Though my coming of age novel is fiction, what Cas Redner goes through is real. It is that reality that nurtured this novel. It is a novel of loss, pain, betrayal of the worst kind; yet it is triumph and love of the highest degree.

Kahlil Gibran once wrote: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

In every story I write this is an underlying theme: the very things that cause great sorrow, also prepare us to face horrendous obstacles with courage. It is those obstacles that allow us to grow into our deepest selves.

It is through the fires of hell that we find our way to heaven.

Hard Road Home 2 14 Collage

http://www.amazon.com/Hard-Road-Home-Aya-Walksfar-ebook/dp/B00TLCRUFQ

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1 GREAT REASON TO #PROOFREAD

We’ve all been there. Settled into a comfy chair, hot cup of tea on the table next to you, #e-reader or novel on your lap just waiting for you to open it. You sigh, kick back and open the book. For the first ten pages, it’s great then there’s a misuse of the word “their” when it should have been “there”. You shine it on. No one is perfect. A few pages later, #commas are lacking where commas should be. You are forced to read the sentence three times to make sense of it.
At this point, you may put the book down and never pick up another book written by that author. The best reason to #proofread and #edit is it will increase your earnings.

I have read books that are as bad or worse than the following “interview.” Just for fun see how many mistakes you find in this short piece then leave a comment below.

THE INTERVIEW

Interviewer: As an author, do you have any pet peeves?

Author: No, but I have several dogs.

Interviewer:  Oookay. You said you were thinking of traveling. Are you going to book signings?

Author(shakes head and smiles): No, no. Its my councilor. He told me I needed to fly the coupe for a while. I asked him if I should go to the dessert for a few days, Sunday and Monday. He said, “No, the dessert is too hot. You would be dyeing of heat strokes.” I told him I wanted to insure that I didn’t get too overly hot, so I won’t go to the dessert. It is certainly a factoid that desserts can be very hot.

Interviewer: So where will you go?

Author: I decided I would go further away, up into the mountains. My councilor asked me what I would do all by myself up there, and I told him I wanted to write a nonfiction book about dragons. I figure I can flout my intensive knowledge on the subject. In my book I will explain about all the folderol assimilated with dragons. One piece of folderol that I will talk about is how a young dragon’s voice is in the fortissimo range, so high it actually hurts you’re ears. But, a dragon’s song can be historical, and sometimes, I laugh so hard I can’t hardly catch my breath!

Interviewer: Would you mind if I ask our readers to give us some feedback on your interview?

Author: Oh, I love feedback. I am always looking to improve my writing.

Author leaves. Interviewer shakes head.

According to Nikolas Baron at Grammarly.com they proofread over four hundred freelancer profiles from eight categories for grammar, spelling and punctuation errors. They only selected freelancers with four stars and above. At the end of that study, they could correlate earnings to how well a piece of writing had been proofread and edited.
grammarly jpg
Simply said: When your work is proofread and edited you make more money.
To read this entire article go to  http://www.grammarly.com/grammar-check

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Drop by my facebook profile to see some great videos. http://www.facebook.com/ayawalksfar

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4 Lessons From A Child

All too frequently those who are charged with keeping young girls, especially troubled young girls, safe, become the predators that damage them the most.

Hard Road Home Front Cover

A classic example is the foster father who rapes the young girl placed in his home because her home is not a safe place to live. Instead of finding acceptance, safety and an adult to help her understand and overcome her past experiences, she is faced with another rapist/child molester.

The young girl is already feeling as if she is somehow broken; that it is somehow her fault that her father/mother beat her or sexually molested her. Now, another adult is repeating the same crimes against her. This serves to confirm that whatever bad thing has happened, and is happening, to her is her own fault. She brought it upon herself because she acted provocatively; dressed provocatively; said the wrong thing; led him on; asked for it; and any number of incorrect beliefs.

If the girl is “groomed” by the predator–this is often done by pretending to love the victim, giving small gifts, seduction rather than use of force–she may come to believe that no one else will ever understand her the way “he does” and when she is no longer of interest to the predator, she will become depressed and feel heart broken. Some of these young women commit suicide. At the very least, she will never be able to truly realize that she was a victim, rather than a participant, and her chance to heal will suffer.

Unfortunately, in either case–groomed to be a sexual object or raped forcibly–she will then subconsciously act in ways that mark her as a victim. And the cycle repeats itself, over and over.

Even after she ages out of the social services system, these beliefs continue to impact her for the rest of her life. She becomes unable to value herself and so she often fails or drops out of school. Unable to support herself becomes one more pressure that forces her into unhealthy relationships and makes it nearly impossible for her to leave them; she frequently becomes addicted to alcohol and drugs in order to numb her feelings of inadequacy and in the end confirms her own worthlessness; she will sometimes enter the sex trades because she doesn’t believe she has any other value and she doesn’t believe she is intelligent enough for any other type of work. She is the woman who inevitably seeks out domestically violent partners who further degrade her.

She lives what she has been taught over and over by authority figures: her value lies in sexually pleasing and being sexually available. If a person is not sexually interested in her, she believes they would not want to be around her; to be her friend. Her internal motto is: if he/she doesn’t want me sexually, why would he/she want me at all? She is unable to form healthy friendships with either gender as she doesn’t have the self-esteem necessary. Without those healthy relationships, she has no place to learn that she has value that is unrelated to her sexuality.

Many girls die trapped in this cycle of never-ending abuse.

In Hard Road Home I explore the dynamics that place young girls in such an untenable life. If I stopped at that point, it would be a heartbreaking story, although well worth the time to read and understand it. But I go farther and explore how a young girl might find the strength to refuse her victimhood and how that might play out in her future.

It is my hope that when people read Casanita Redner’s story four things will remain with my readers:

  1. This story is based upon facts, though I have fictionalized the account to be able to concentrate on clarifying the message. There are young women who have found the strength to fight free of childhood sexual abuse.
  2. There are ways that adults can help lay a foundation that will allow such a young girl to fight free of her victimhood. In fact, Cas is blessed by these building blocks given to her by her grandfather, her grandmother and other healthy adults that appear in her life.
  3. It is each adult’s responsibility to become aware of this type of victimization and to work in whatever capacity that they can to see that it ends. As an author, writing is the tool I use to assume my part of this responsibility.
  4. If you have been a child victim, know that you are not responsible for the crimes against you; you are worthy of true friendships and healthy relationships; you can break free and build a good life for yourself. Believe in yourself! You are worth it!

To read about recent cases:

http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Lawsuit-State-failed-sexually-abused-girl-at-3-5393881.php

“…..The two foster fathers caught abusing the girl received suspended prison sentences – at least initially – after Pierce County judges opted to use a sentencing scheme available to sex offenders who abuse children they’re close to.

Had she not been living with the men, both would have faced years behind bars; instead, they were able to avoid prison time entirely through Washington’s Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative law.

http://www.courts.wa.gov/content/manuals/SexualOffense/chapter8.pdf

……She was first placed with Jose Miranda and his wife, Juanita. Jose Miranda would later become infamous for the sexual abuse he perpetrated on children during the nine years he was a foster father.The Mirandas were licensed as foster parents even though Juanita Miranda’s own children had been taken from her while she was living in California. Having been convicted of crimes in Washington, Oregon and California, Juanita Miranda also tested positive for opiates while she was pregnant six years before the girl was placed with the couple.

According to the lawsuit, Juanita Miranda was under Department of Corrections supervision for a felony theft when she and her husband were approved as foster parents. Both lied to DSHS on questionnaires meant to prevent convicts, addicts and people too sick to care for children from becoming foster parents….” All material bracketed by these quote marks was taken directly from the Seattle PI article, link above.

Another case, this one in Oregon:

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/12/portland_jury_awards_biggest_s.html

 

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5 REASONS TO NOT ‘#BE #YOURSELF’

somewhere dif Good Intentions

We hear a lot of advice to ‘just be yourself’. As an author, I am frequently admonished to ‘be yourself’ on social media; ‘be yourself’ in your writing; ‘be yourself’ when you meet fans.

That is terrible advice, and here’s why:

  1. Like most vague advice, no one bothers to define ‘be yourself’.
  2. ‘Be yourself’ seems to indicate that you don’t need to improve. Whatever you are, is good enough. What if I don’t want to be just ‘good enough’?
  3. ‘Be yourself’ can lead to stagnation. To what stage/phase of my life does ‘be yourself’ pertain? Should I be the growing up ‘self’? That ‘self’ exuded violence in a violent world. What about the ‘self’ that lived on the road, angry and disillusioned? Throughout a person’s life we have many ‘selves’, many phases of growth.
  4. ‘Be yourself’ can lead to a position of no compromise. If I cling to being myself, I may not be willing to compromise with others when being myself may clash with them being themselves.
  5. ‘Be yourself’ may be great advice when you know who you are, but life is about discovery–the discovery of who I was, who I am and who I am becoming.

People say what they mean by ‘be yourself’ is ‘don’t try to be someone you’re not.’ To me, it is important to ‘try on’ different ways of being. I will always try to be someone I am not because I will always try to grow into someone whom I admire; I will always try to reach out and learn and grow. I can’t ‘be myself’ because I am simply too busy becoming the best that I can be.

I much prefer the advice to ‘be authentic’. Whether in my life or in my writing, I strive for authenticity–for being real. When I write of anger or love, hate or admiration, being hungry or feeling on top of the world, I am sharing an authentic part of myself with my readers.

What does ‘be yourself’ mean to you? Would love to hear!

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COPS: FACISTS OR HEROES?

#COPS: FACISTS OR HEROES?

In a climate of controversy about cops, I continue to write a series in which cops are quite human. Why?

The roots of my decision lie as far back as childhood in a poor neighborhood. Cops didn’t show up in our area with less than two, and usually more. When my grandfather was murdered, no serious investigation ensued. Since that time, I have been harassed, beaten, and when I reported an attempted rape–sneered at by cops.

It wasn’t until my early twenties that I actually had a civil conversation with a cop. I’d broken my leg up on the hill where I farmed. Unfortunately, my vehicle–an old Volkswagen–chose that period of time to break down. A friend drove me to the hospital which was roughly thirty miles away then took me and my unwieldy cast home.

If you’ve ever farmed, or just had animals, you know that minor things like broken legs doesn’t stop your responsibilities. Way too soon, my walking cast wore through and needed replacing. I hitched a ride with a neighbor to the hospital, but she couldn’t wait in town for me. I told her not to worry; I’d hitchhike home.

After two short lifts that spilled me out on a long stretch of hot road without a hint of shade, my leg ached and I felt exhausted from walking with a million tons of plaster on my leg. I wondered if I’d get home that night. At least it was summer. Back then cell phones still belonged to the future–yes, I’m that old–and even if they hadn’t, I would never have been able to afford one. Landlines up on the hill were nonexistent. No one could afford a phone even if the phone company would’ve put the line up!

I’d begun scoping out the fields along the road for a likely spot because I couldn’t drag that heavy cast another step and the sun was maybe an hour away from setting. When the cruiser pulled over a few feet ahead of me the predominant thought was: what the hell have I done now? As far as I knew there was no ordinance against hitchhiking.

The cop strode over, utility belt squeaking. I stood my ground, getting my most belligerent face on.

“Where you going?”

I wanted to tell him it was none of his business, but I didn’t want to wind up in jail for the night like a near neighbor had when she smart mouthed a local cop. I settled for a sullen, “Why?”

“Do you have some ID on you?” His voice didn’t betray any emotion at all.

“Yeah.”

He shuffled his feet. “How’d you break your leg?”

Tired and cranky, and thoroughly sick of the interrogation, I snapped, “If it’s any of your business, I was dancing on a hillside.”

He threw his head back and belted out a laugh. The laughter felt so free and genuine that I found myself chuckling along with him. Finally, he wiped his eyes and gave his head a shake. “I saw you hitchhiking in town a few hours ago. When my shift ended, I thought I’d see if you were still on the road.”

Feeling a bit less combative, I spread my arms. “Yep, here I am–backpack, cast and me.”

“I know a great burger place just up the road. Hungry?”

“I have some granola in my pack.” I certainly didn’t want to confess to being too strapped for cash to buy a hamburger. It felt too embarrassing; like being a kid again and eating mayonnaise sandwiches because we didn’t have the money for anything else.

“If you don’t mind keeping the granola for another meal, I’d like to buy you dinner.”

Eyes squinted, I stared up at him. “I don’t date cops.”

The smile that spread across his lips lit up his eyes. “I don’t date anyone. I’m married to a great woman. I do make friends occasionally, though. What do you say?”

My stomach chose that time to out me loud enough for him to hear. His smile widened. “A hamburger won’t make you one of the enemy.”

I lifted a brow.

“I know how the folks up on the hill view cops.” His smile fell away. “Sometimes, with good reason.” He sighed and looked me in the eye. “How about it? Want to eat dinner with the enemy? Might gather some good intel.”

That evening we became friends and I began the journey of discovering that cops were human. When I moved back east, I lost touch with the man, but never forgot the lesson.

Since that time, I have known both good and bad and mediocre cops. Some want nothing more than to put in their time and retire; some see the world as “us vs. them”. There are those, however, who truly believe that the motto “to serve and to protect” covers every person they meet, regardless of race, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age or any other artificial division.

These cops are still human; they still make mistakes and bad judgment calls sometimes–sometimes that judgment call is taking too long to pull a gun and they die. These cops work hard, learn constantly, and put their lives on the line every day. They believe in what they do. They try to do it better; to be there for those who need them. Isn’t that the best any of us can do?

So, you see, that is my motivation in writing a series about a team of cops. My characters, like the cops I’ve known as flesh and blood people, aren’t perfect. They struggle to understand themselves, the society they are called to protect and the people they meet every day.

Meet hot tempered Sergeant Nita Slowater in Sketch of a #Murder, Book 1, Special Crimes Team. See why she drives her superior, Lieutenant Michael Williams–a man known to bend the rules–crazy.

You can check out all the Special Crimes Team books.

Stop by and join the conversation on http://www.facebook.com/ayawalksfar

Want to meet some fabulous REAL cops? Check out https://www.facebook.com/CopsKindToCritters/timeline

Here’s a cop trying to do the right thing. It’s not easy. http://www.wtae.com/news/pittsburgh-police-chief-defends-antiracism-photo-on-twitter/30510986

http://www.buzzfeed.com/jobarrow/boy-and-cop-hug-at-ferguson-protest#.xs375Q2e9

http://www.amazon.com/Breaking-Rank-Expos%C3%A9-American-Policing/dp/1560258551

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9 Symbols of Christmas

A SEA OF XMAS LITES JULIA

9 Symbols of Christmas

Yule–now known as Christmas–once designated a specific period of time, about two months long, from December to January. This period was a time for important feasts, such as the Winter Solstice Festivals. Eventually Yule came to designate a pagan feast lasting twelve days in mid-winter around the time of the Winter Solstice.

The time of Yule historically marked the sun’s rebirth when the longest night of the year (Winter Solstice) gave birth to the beginning of longer days. Norse people considered the sun a giant wheel of fire which rolled away from earth then at Winter Solstice the sun began rolling back closer to earth again. One of the traditions–originally a Nordic tradition–linked to this time period was the yule log.

The yule log symbolized the fire and the light of the sun.  Some people thought that the ashes of the yule log would make a home immune to evil spirits and lightning strikes. The logs could be decorated with evergreen–sacred to the Celts as the tree did not “die” and represented the Eternal aspect of the Divine; and dusted with flour to signify triumph, light and life.

–The yule log was actually an entire tree. The tree was chosen and brought into the house with ceremony. Tradition decreed that the log/tree must be harvested from the householder’s land or given as a gift.

–The large end was put in the fireplace with the rest of the tree sticking out into the house. Some people used a log instead of the entire tree. A bit of last year’s tree–having been carefully stored–was used to get the present yule log to burn.

–Different countries used different types of trees for the yule log.

England: oak                      Scotland: birch

France: cherry                   Devon and Somerset, UK: large bunch of Ash twigs instead of log

Some parts of Ireland: large candle instead of a log and it’s only lit on New Year’s Eve and Twelfth Night.

In present day: a yule log can be a chocolate sponge cake rolled and layered with cream; chocolate icing and sometimes decorated to look like a bark-covered log.

Or, a piece of log/wood that is planed flat on the bottom and has three holes drilled in it for three candles.

The Norse celebrate the return of the sun–a male deity–with the yule log. Other traditions, such as the Balts, celebrate the return of the sun–a female deity–with many traditions similar to the Norse and involving fire.

According to the Journal of Baltic Tradition, 1994, Winter Solstice celebrations marked the rebirth of the Great Goddess Saule (SOW-lay). Saule means the sun itself. The Great Goddess Saule was regarded as Queen of Heaven and Earth and the Matriarch of the Cosmos.

The Yule Log is not the only tradition to be handed down to modern Christians via pagan rituals.

–During Winter Solstice the Norse Goddess Freya sits at her spinning wheel weaving the fates. The Wheel of Fate symbolizes the cycle of the seasons, the continuity of life–birth, life, death, and rebirth. The wreath once symbolized the Wheel of Fate.

–Trees (now Christmas trees) were brought in to attract and honor tree spirits. The hope was that during the coming warm time the trees would thrive and produce food. Part of attracting these spirits was to sing as a group to guide them to the homes where various foods decorated the tree for them.

–Foods (now Christmas ornaments) decorating indoor trees also symbolized the abundance to come when the sun shed warmth again.  blue xmas ornament

–The five pointed star was put on the tree to symbolize the five elements: earth, air, water, fire, and spirit.

–Bells were rung to drive away the demons that surfaced during the dark and cold time of the year.

–Candles symbolized fire and the light of the sun.

candle in dark

–Evergreens held power over death and held the power to defeat winter demons and had enough tenacity to urge the coming of the sun.

xmas tree star

–Legend says the snowflake was formed from Demeter’s tears when Persephone descended to the Underworld. The flakes have six sides representing the months of her time in the Underworld. Six is also the numerological digit associated with affection. For pagans, snowflakes are the winter symbol for love.

Were you aware of the origins of some of these symbols of Christmas? Do you know any myths attributing different origins to these symbols of Christmas? (Please share!) Be sure to leave a comment.

Photo credits: all-free-downloads.com   Candle: geralt  Ornament: Hans  Tree with star: Paul Barrows    Sea of Christmas lights: Julia

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References:  Wikipedia    Blog.dictionary.com     Shootingforthemoon.com/yuletraditionsandsymbols

Dictionary.com       Journal of Baltic Tradition, issue #2, 1994

Whychristmas.com/customs/yulelog.shtml           Religionfacts.com/neopaganism

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THE GIFT (A #CHRISTMAS STORY)

old dog

THE GIFT

By Aya Walksfar

Sixty-eight-year old Marybelle Brown pushed the rattling grocery cart filled with plastic bags of aluminum cans through the square next to the #Seattle Aquarium. That summer vendors had hawked sparkling necklaces and handmade toys and flamboyant scarves. Now it lay beneath the full moon, deserted except for a few pigeons huddled on a low wall near the water. Moving slowly so she wouldn’t disturb their rest, she made her way over and leaned against the cold concrete. She’d always loved Puget Sound. The gentle lap of the waves soothed her.

After a few minutes, she turned her cart and headed across the empty space. In the center stood a twelve-foot tall #Christmas tree. Red and green lights twinkled amid the plastic ornaments and glittering tinsel. Marybelle gazed up at it, at the star blazing white on the top. At last, she sighed in contentment and moved on.

fuzzy xmas tree

Today had been a wonderful Christmas Eve. She’d found three partially eaten cheeseburgers in one of McDonald’s trashcans. They were stashed in the ragged canvas shoulder bag along with French fries from a dumpster and two, whole pieces of cod from Ivar’s trash. A smile sat lightly on her cracked and chapped lips. Tonight she would feast! She patted the side of the shoulder bag and felt the bottle of Starbucks mocha and the bottle of Arrowhead water that a kind man had given to her with a smile and a Merry Christmas. Yes, tonight she would feast.

She bent her head back and gazed upward. Stars flung across the black heavens. Some people likened the stars to diamonds on black velvet, but she knew better. The stars were all the souls who had gone ahead, smiling down on those they’d left behind. Someday when it was time for her to leave this bent and painful body, she’d fly up there and be with them. Her momma and granny would be waiting. She wondered if the critters she had nursed would be there. Of course, they would! Her granny had told her that the souls of animals always went to the Bright Place because they lived as God intended.

She shuffled along. Time to get to her spot under the viaduct. Thick blackberry bushes hid the hole she’d dug out up against where the concrete met the earth. It had taken her a long time to make a roomy depression in that hard ground with a broken shovel. Hidden at the far back of the hole were all of her most precious belongings, safe from discovery by others, safe from the rain.

She crossed the quiet street and the cart jarred over the trolley tracks. Where cars parked during the day was mostly deserted now and filled with deeper shadows. The fat round concrete pillars that held up the overhead roadway too often hid bad things. She veered away, cornering her eye so she could keep watch while she passed.

As Marybelle came abreast of one spot of darkness a darker shadow moved within it. Her heart leaped into her throat. Her chest constricted with panic and squeezed the breath from her lungs. There! Who’s there? Her feet froze as her mind shouted, “Run!”

Just as her feet started to move, a whimper floated out of that darkness. The loneliness in that small sound dragged at her heart. “Leave, Marybelle. You can’t help whoever it is.”

In spite of herself, her hands left the cart and her feet shuffled toward the darkness. Her heart galloped like a crazed horse. “ Oh, Lord, I feel like my heart’s gonna bust.”

As she drew closer, a stray beam of moonlight shone against the pillar. Crumpled at the base of that cylinder of concrete lay a black dog. It lifted forlorn eyes to her face. The very tip of its tail tapped the ground twice then stopped like that was all the energy the poor thing had.

In her mind the years fell away and she once again saw her momma open the door of their tiny apartment. “Oh, Marybelle, you can’t help every critter you see,” her momma’s gentle hands tending to Marybelle’s latest rescue belied her words. Momma and granny had always tried to save the animals she dragged home–starved and beaten and broken.

She edged closer and the dog cringed, trying to melt into the ground. She knew the feeling. Carefully, she lowered herself to her achy knees. Never looking directly at the dog, she held out a hand. “It’s alright. I know just how you feel.” The dog’s body relaxed and it stretched its black nose toward her hand. “That’s it, little one. Come on over to Marybelle.”

She slid her shoulder bag to the ground then dug around until her hand touched the wrapping of one of the half-eaten burgers. Eyes still averted, she held a small bite on the palm of her outstretched hand. The dog sniffed the air and gave an anxious whine. “I know. It’s scary, but honestly, this is for you.”

The cold seeped through the three pairs of thin pants and chilled her arthritic knees. Still, she knelt there, hand out in offering. The dog stretched its neck toward the food. It crept one step, two steps. Now Marybelle could see the ribs jutting out under the patchy hide.

“Poor thing,” she crooned.

The dog trembled as it came close enough to snatch the food. It took the rest of the burger for the poor thing to creep close enough for Marybelle to put her arms around it. The dog was big, bigger than her German Shepherd had been. She felt the resistance of its stiff body, but kept humming and stroking one hand down its thin side. At last, the tension drained from it and it nestled against her chest.

After a while, she gave its sharp nose a kiss. “Gotta git up, little girl. My knees don’t like this kneeling.” She pulled a ragged wool scarf from around her neck and made the dog a soft collar and leash.

At her hideaway, Marybelle laid out the sleeping bag that a young, white girl had given her that past fall. She never carried this precious gift for fear of it being taken from her. But every night since early fall she’d blessed that child, and wished her well as she fell asleep. The dog immediately curled up on one side, the shivers wracking its body subsiding.

She sat next to the dog and lit the stub of a candle she’d found and saved for a special occasion. This surely was a most special occasion. “We’re safe here, Dog. With all the blackberry bushes around us and being way up under here, no one wants to crawl this far back.” She draped the two blankets she had scrounged from a Goodwill donation box around her shoulders and over Dog’s back.

From her handbag, she took the food and set it on the sleeping bag in front of them. She filled her dented quart pot with the bottled water and set it in front of Dog. She raised her head and drank deeply as Marybelle opened the bottle of Starbucks Mocha Coffee drink. She tapped the bottle against the pot rim. “Here’s to our friendship, Dog.”

Carefully, she divided the hamburgers, the fries, the fish: half for her, half for dog. Dog quickly ate her half, but sat politely, not begging for Marybelle’s food. She took all but one piece of the fish and laid it in front of the gray muzzle. “Merry Christmas, Dog.”

Dog cocked her head and fixed her clouded eyes on the old woman. “Go on, Dog. An old woman like me don’t need so much food. Probably would make me sick to eat all of that. This piece of fish’ll do me just fine.”

Feast over she stuffed the trash in the paper bag and set it to one side. She lay down and Dog cuddled against her chest. With the blankets spread over the two of them and the sleeping bag zipped she draped a sleep heavy arm over the old dog’s side. “This has been a lovely Christmas Eve, Dog. Thank you.”

Singing woke Marybelle. Beautiful singing that called to her. She opened her eyes and got to her feet. Dog leaned her head against Marybelle’s leg. A bridge lay before them. Dog looked up with cataract whitened eyes and whined. She took a step toward the bridge and twisted her gray muzzle over her shoulder as if to say, “Come on.”

The bridge shone like a golden light lit it from within. Marybelle shivered. Fear rose up and wrapped chains around her legs. Dog padded back to her side. She pushed her cold black nose against the palm of Marybelle’s hand and gazed up at her. “Oh, Dog, I know you wanna go that way, but I…I can’t.”

Dog sat next to Marybelle’s leg and sighed. She rubbed the old dog’s grizzled fur and knelt in front of her. Staring into the dog’s dimmed eyes, she cradled the gray muzzle between her knarled and arthritis twisted hands. “I know you want to go that way. And…and it’s probably a good place, Dog. But, I…” she inhaled a deep breath and let it ease from her. “I know it’s a good place, Dog. I can feel it; like I know you can, too. But, I don’t deserve to go there.”

Dog flicked out a warm wet tongue and licked the tears that traced the lines of Marybelle’s weathered face. She pressed her face against Dog’s then kissed her muzzle and stood up. She took a half step away from Dog.

Courage gathered like a tattered garment, she looked into Dog’s eyes. “I can’t go there, Dog. I haven’t been a good person. There’s things…” she glanced away and swallowed the lump in her throat. When she looked back, she blinked away the tears. “There’s things I’ve done; things I’ve said that were wrong. I’ve…I’ve hurt people. Over there,” she raised a thin arm and waved toward the shining bridge. “Over there is for good people, people like you, Dog. Go on. You deserve to be there.” She turned and moved away from the dog.

She’d only gone a few steps before she felt the cold nose against her dangling hand. She squatted next to the dog. “Oh, Dog.” She buried her face in the brittle black fur. When she lifted her face, she hugged the dog and stood. “Looks like you aren’t going to go, if I don’t.” Heart pounding, she gave a slight nod as if confirming her own decision. “I’ll go with you, Dog, because you deserve to be over there.”

Dog pressed tight against her leg as they walked onto the glowing bridge. The golden light enveloped them, warmed them.

Halfway across the bridge Marybelle stopped and gazed over the railing. Below, a broad, placid river flowed. As they drew nearer to the far side, a beautiful meadow ablaze with blue and yellow and orange flowers rolled out as far as she could see. Her eyes rounded.

When they reached the end of the bridge, a melodic voice spoke. “I see you’ve helped her to Cross, Dog. I knew you could. Well done.”

Marybelle raised her eyes and gazed into the milk chocolate face and dark chocolate eyes. “Momma?”

The woman spread her arms and Marybelle ran into them.

The End

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PHOTO CREDITS: Old dog–Anne Lowe    Christmas tree–Anna Langova  (all-free-download.com)

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COPS STEALING FROM MOTORISTS!

Gangs and criminals are no longer the biggest worry for innocent travelers. It’s the #cops.

During research for Backlash, Book 4, Special Crimes Team series I needed to find out under what conditions police could confiscate money from people. I discovered a series of investigative articles published September 2014 by The #WashingtonPost. Scary stuff!

In an effort to kept the integrity of the articles I will only quote small sections from them and provide links to the full articles.

(Washington Post Article) “Written by Michael Sallah, Robert O’Harrow Jr., Steven Rich

Published on September 6, 2014

After the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the government called on police to become the eyes and ears of homeland security on America’s highways.

Local officers, county deputies and state troopers were encouraged to act more aggressively in searching for suspicious people, drugs and other contraband. The departments of Homeland Security and Justice spent millions on police training.

The effort succeeded, but it had an impact that has been largely hidden from public view: the spread of an aggressive brand of policing that has spurred the seizure of hundreds of millions of dollars in cash from motorists and others not charged with crimes, a Washington Post investigation found. Thousands of people have been forced to fight legal battles that can last more than a year to get their money back.

Behind the rise in seizures is a little-known cottage industry of private police-training firms that teach the techniques of “highway interdiction” to departments across the country.”

(Aya) According to the investigation by the Washington Post, a private firm is currently running an intelligence network known as Black Asphalt Electronic Networking and Notification System. They are gathering data on Americans even though state and federal authorities have warned them that their actions could constitute violation of privacy and constitutional protections.

Stealing from motorists is such a good gig that some police are using it to raise funds. There  are also chat rooms where police compare how much money they have stolen from motorists.

Two unfortunate motorists are Mandrel Stuart, a restaurant owner, who had $17,550 confiscated without ever being charged with a crime; and, Matt Lee, a 31-year-old college graduate in Michigan who had $2400 his father gave him to help him travel to California for a job interview confiscated by police.

You can read Mandrel Stuart’s and Matt Lee’s stories printed by The Washington Post on September 8, 2014 and written by Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Michael Sallah at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2014/09/08/they-fought-the-law-who-won/ 

You can read how this literal highway robbery got started in an article written by Michael Sallah, Robert O’Harrow Sr. and Steven Rich on September 6, 2014 and printed in The Washington Post at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2014/09/06/stop-and-seize/

This is an overview of the subjects of this series of articles published by The Washington Post:

Stop and Seize: In recent years, thousands of people have had cash confiscated by police without being charged with crimes. The Post looks at the police culture behind the seizures and the people who were forced to fight the government to get their money back.
Part 1: After Sept. 11, 2001, a cottage industry of private police trainers emerged to teach aggressive techniques of highway interdiction to thousands of local and state police.
Part 2: One training firm started a private intelligence-sharing network and helped shape law enforcement nationwide.
Part 4: Police agencies nationwide routinely buy vehicles and weapons with money and property seized under federal civil forfeiture law from people who were not charged with a crime.
Part 5: Highway seizure in Iowa fuels debate about asset-forfeiture laws.
Part 6: D.C. police plan for future seizure proceeds years in advance in city budget documents.
Chat transcript​: The reporters behind “Stop and Seize” answered readers’ questions about the investigative series.

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