Natural Decadence

The lingering moisture after the wettest winter since the late 1940s has kept me inside more days than out. The view from my window has been a slow-motion performance as the brittleness of winter gradually transformed into the various verdant shades of spring. My brain is always a season ahead, which means I’m thinking what needs to be done before the leaves fall and we’re left with skeletons for six months. At that point, I’ll ponder the spring, knowing now that I’ll not stop long enough to really appreciate it when it finally comes.

After the fog lifts, the misty mornings leave us with cool days right now. Forecasters insist that it will be unbearably hot in July and August, but we’ve had only a glimmer of heat in the past ten months. Establishing vegetables has been a challenge this year, but the natural foliage has been stunningly beautiful during our second full spring. There are ferns everywhere, the natives that people pay good money for in nurseries grow in abundance, and of course blackberry plagues my life, having become my greatest nemesis.

The cool wetness brings two things to the surface: slugs and mushrooms. My friend Ronald explained the most successful remedy for the slimy things is beer. These pests are not elitists or hipsters. They like cheap beer, which I place in shallow containers in the herb garden, the asparagus bed, and among the irises like portable pubs in these slug slums.

In the beginning, tiny slugs flock to the beer like fraternity members to a keg party. I come out in the mornings to find the containers filled with dead and bloated revelers. A few weeks later, I realize the beer is lasting longer and the remaining slugs are considerably larger. In a few cases, I’ve discovered sizeable creatures clinging to the outside of my traps, stretching down and audaciously enjoying sips of beer to satisfy their thirsts without ingesting enough to bloat them. Apparently slugs can learn.

According to the mushroom field guide, the most prevalent variety we have is the hallucinogenic, but I’m not willing to risk death to find out for certain. The caps and gills match up but they look very similar to something poisonous. They’re thriving in the manure used to fertilize the asparagus, and the field guide indicates these mushrooms are safe to eat. The same ones are also found along the shaded trails kept green by decomposition.

The rabbits live in those areas, and several times a day they make their way into the open just before dark and again before sunrise to feed and feed and feed. According to another field guide, these rabbits were brought to North America over a hundred years ago and made their way down from Canada. I would’ve been for a wall built to keep them out, but they crossed the border freely to do what rabbits do. We have an average of seven, but that number fluctuates in the warm months. We have hawks and owls in the forest row on the north and the west, which seem to control them unless some of these babies are growing up quickly and going off to Bunny College.

As the slugs grow in length and wisdom, the beer lasts longer. There have been mornings when I’ve tossed it out in order to put out fresh, thinking that the slugs have not only become wiser, they’ve become snobbish. This situation has clearly become a case of me working for them as I gather containers, rinse them out with the hose and replace them carefully before filling them with nice clean beer. Some of the traps are still drawing a crowd, but summer’s approach means fewer and fewer gastropods floating in the hops.

I noticed last week on the three warm days that there wasn’t a slug to be found, but the beer was completely gone in most cases. Even when the slugs taste it or die drinking it, there is always liquid remaining, but these containers were completely dry! I also noticed on the trails that the mushrooms had disappeared within a day. That many mushrooms wouldn’t disappear at once unless someone was gathering them to cook—or get high.

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The bunny in its altered state mellows out beneath the birdbath.

I’ve decided it’s the rabbits. No wonder the raptors are getting them. Their reflexes are slow and they’re on some wild psychedelic trip that hasn’t been experienced in 50 years. There’s a mellow bunny that nestles itself in the fern that surrounds the birdbath, which is in my line of sight as I type. Rabbits have high metabolisms, which require them to keep eating, but this creature digs in and sits there for long periods of time without moving. I wonder what he sees. He’s not been alive long enough to realize he’s in an altered state so whatever strangeness he encounters seems normal.

In spite of his pillaging, I almost don’t begrudge his presence. He deserves a few blissful days before the hawk swoops down and takes him flying. I can only imagine what he’ll think of when becoming airborne under the influence. “Man, what kind of crazy trip is this?!?” I hope he’s still anesthetized by the time they land.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

 

Maggie Lyon: Another Interesting Woman

Murdered Justice by Patrick Brown is available from W&B Publishers, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Murdered Justice has been out for over a month, and I’ve been enjoying the feedback from friends and readers who’ve reached out to me. Investigative journalist Maggie Lyon is the star of the show in spite of the fact that the murdered justice she’s investigating was the longest serving justice on the United States Supreme Court.

One of the things I seem to hear most is that “Maggie is so relatable.” While I might not be actually hearing this comment the most, it’s the one I remember above all others because I hoped people would like her in the same way you hope all your old friends like your new friend when they finally meet. Fingers crossed that everyone gets along.

Maggie is likable as well as relatable. She’s obviously ambitious and she possesses a certain amount of strength, but in the pages of Murdered Justice, she reveals her vulnerability. She wants to “get it right,” but her success doesn’t come without setbacks, putting her foot wrong and second-guessing her theories. She’s also a bit naïve while simultaneously cynical about other matters. Toward the end of the book, you’ll discover that she’s both fierce and resourceful when forced to come out fighting.

Someone asked me how I thought her up, but I can’t seem to recall a specific date or moment when she emerged in my mind. I had been considering writing in the mystery genre, and I knew I’d need a sleuth. Women are much more interesting to write about, so I knew my “detective” wouldn’t be a man.

We hear about the limited roles for women onscreen, and if you’ve ever discussed the imbalances of stage time with female comics, which I have, you wonder why that’s the case because in my experience women are more interesting, more entertaining, and they’re certainly funnier.

I was raised on television and I love film. Looking through my personal list of favorites, there are way more women featured than men. When comparing male and female detectives, The Thin Man series comes to mind. Nick Charles portrays a day-drinking, funny detective who was written and directed as the hero, but it’s his wife Nora, portrayed by Myrna Loy, who has the best retorts, the wardrobe, the money, the emotional depth, and the best backstory. William Powell has some good moments throughout the series, but my attention always goes to Loy while left wondering, “How did HE manage to get HER?”

I’d rather see a verbal confrontation in those final scenes of The Women rather than explosions, special effects and physical brawls in action films. I much prefer Dame Maggie Smith putting someone down as the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey or Tracey Ullman imitating Maggie Smith to an action hero blowing up a building or a male comic discussing his bathroom habits.

Perhaps society still allows women more freedom of expression than men, which results in more interesting characters, but there should never be limited opportunities or roles for women. While I may never understand my personal preference for women on stage, on film and in books, I’m happy to have created Maggie Lyon, and I hope to bring more of her adventures to the readers who have discovered her and have decided they like her.

Watch the book trailer for Murdered Justice, which has been published by W&B Publishers, and is available through them, at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and independent booksellers everywhere.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

 

Murdered Justice: A sneak-peak

Murdered Justice has been released since my last post. I’ve been getting some wonderful messages from people telling me they’ve gotten the book and are enjoying it. For them, this post may seem like a rerun, but for everyone else, I’m hoping you’ll become as excited as I am about Maggie Lyon and her investigation into the death of United States Supreme Court Justice Vittorio Scarpia.

Maggie Lyon has been dying to uncover a national scandal, but she’s been typecast as a food writer longer than she would have liked. In Maggie’s words:

New restaurants live in fear of my visits, but those who’ve earned my praise roll out the red carpet when I sweep through. I admit it’s a glamorous life, and it beats covering hurricanes, floods and terrorism. I might have been doing my job with the nagging desire to uncover a sinister plot, but at least I was dining in fabulous restaurants all over the country on someone else’s dime.

Once my newspaper column became syndicated, I was getting calls for Chicago, New York, Seattle, Miami and California wine country. I was becoming a regular guest on travel shows, televised cooking competitions and Food Network episodes.

My agent Rina Akin informed me of an interesting opportunity having to do with a young British chef on the rise. She put me in touch with the person who identified himself as the American publicist, and the young chef was to be cooking in a private home in one of the exclusive Los Angeles neighborhoods. They were hoping for a profile piece, which would include descriptions of his food by someone with expertise to help launch his career over here. Would I be willing to join the party? It would mean staying the weekend in a seven-bedroom mansion in Fairmont Place, Los Angeles’s oldest gated community.

I agreed at once without considering the fee. I was familiar with the exteriors of homes in Radnor Square from research I’d done while writing about some of the restaurants on Larchmont Blvd. To have the opportunity to spend a weekend in a mansion where the food held some promise was particularly appealing. That I didn’t have to rent a car and only had to show up for meals while dressing the part was even better…

It was April, and the night was cool, so I had a light wrap, which the young man took from me as I walked west into a living room the size of a grand hotel lobby. There were sofas and occasional tables all around, a silent Steinway in the furthest corner, and a portable bar where another waiter was pouring Veuve Clicquot into coupe glasses for the guests who’d arrived before me…

There was no sign of a host or hostess for quite a while as I introduced myself to another guest and tried to break the awkward silence…

There was a bit of commotion in the foyer, and in a flash of color our Angeleno hosts materialized before us. Carlos Ortiz was a very handsome man, but short, and made to look even shorter when standing next to his domestic partner Rae Sartain, Miss Alabama 1990-something… I recognized Carlos, as I had lived in Texas long enough to know about the energy business…

While we waited on the final guest to arrive, Rae got our attention. “You gals come with me! We got some time and I wanna show you ’round since you’re gonna be stayin’ with us for a while.” We gals exchanged glances and followed her. “We’ll start with the cute little room down the hall with all the books!” She was either describing a library or a storage closet.

It was a library, but it was no longer as the original owners of the house had intended. The mahogany paneling had been tampered with unsuccessfully, and the leather-bound volumes of an earlier age had been replaced with best sellers, celebrity biographies and unsold copies of Rae’s book about beauty pageants. The area above the fireplace, which had surely held an expensive oil painting or a portrait at one time, was taken up by a wide-screen television, and if there had ever been leather club chairs left to develop a marvelous patina, the room was now filled with modern recliners from some orthopedic store…

“When you shut these doors, you can’t hear a thing. It makes the perfect room to take a moment away from all the hustle and bustle just to sit and read. I do it every time one of my magazines comes in the mail…”

With the library doors closed, we’d not heard the bell, so a nervous man in an ill-fitting suit appeared and informed us that the final guest had arrived and dinner was being served as soon as we could meet the gentlemen in the foyer…

Was that who I thought it was? …Justice Vittorio Scarpia of the United States Supreme Court took his seat across from Carlos. We were in august company. I don’t think my agent had any indication I’d be dining with someone so elite…

“Justice,” said Carlos. “I was telling the group before you arrived that I’ll be launching a new energy campaign in October. We have the summer to iron out the kinks, and we’ll be fine-tuning marketing strategies by Labor Day.”

Justice Scarpia had no interest in renewable energy. He’d already ruled in favor of oil companies and corporations, and he knew who’d placed him on the bench even if that old politician was long gone from Washington and younger party members had no memory of him. He nodded and took turns chewing and drinking wine.

“Justice,” said Carlos, “I’d like to get your opinion about the Abilene Controversy working its way through the courts.”

“Mr. Ortiz!” the Justice shouted. He then lowered his voice, but it remained strong. “Surely you did not extend your hospitality to me so that I might provide you with opinions on matters, which may or may not reach the highest court in the land and have some bearing on how you proceed with your business. I don’t give a damn about windmills and all this talk of harnessing the sun… I suggest you change the subject and stop dominating this table… Even the lawyers who argue before me stop for breath occasionally, and certainly more frequently than you have done tonight. It’s been a long day, and if we don’t talk about something other than you and your business, I’m afraid I’ll have to retire for the evening.”

To read more, Murdered Justice is published by W&B Publishers, and is available through them, at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and independent booksellers everywhere.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

Meet Justice Vittorio Scarpia

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“Murdered Justice” coming from W&B Publishers in March 2017

I’m delighted that Murdered Justice is being released while our eyes are drawn to the confirmation hearings of the high court’s latest nominee. I’m not letting the cat out of the bag by telling you that United States Supreme Court Justice Vittorio Scarpia falls prey to a murderer in the early part of my latest book, but the current hearings remind us how differently candidates are publicly scrutinized compared to the era when the fictional Scarpia was confirmed.

So little is known about the personal lives of SCOTUS justices, especially decades after their appointments and subsequent confirmations. At one time, we might have known something about Vittorio Scarpia’s five children and his wife Angela, but at his death, his family had been out of the public spotlight for over 30 years if they’d ever been in it in the first place.

Confirmation hearings in our politically contentious modern age require spouses and families to stand next to presidential nominees to the high court and appear wholesome and normal while their images are broadcast across all media. They must provide a picture of a loving, competent family that seems to have been transported from an earlier time while the candidate appears impartial and not too eager to sound off on issues that indicate activism in any particular direction on the political scale. Former students and clerks will emerge to accuse or defend prior statements and experiences, and previous rulings will be downplayed or highlighted by whichever senators feel strongly about a case’s subsequent effects.

Once they’re in place for life and a season or two passes into history, these robed scholars are dehumanized by that portion of American society, which categorizes SCOTUS rulings as Left or Right, as though they were filling in spreadsheets. Together, the justices are a ruling body, but separately no one considers that they eat, sleep and get dressed like everyone else.

Unless a justice dozes off during a State of the Union address and mentions having drunk too much wine at dinner, no one considers that such an esteemed person could be subject to human foibles. For a brief moment, we wonder if they have cell phones and take selfies with each other in chambers. On Monday mornings, do they chat about their weekends? Do they burst out laughing when the Chief Justice trips over a misplaced wastebasket when walking around his desk? Do they enjoy listening through the door as the Chief Justice berates the person who moved the wastebasket?

Our idea is that they are a humorless bunch of intellectuals unless we happen to see them on a news show when their latest book is profiled. A reporter might then be able to coax them into opening their refrigerator or telling us what book they’re reading “for fun,” and for a moment we find them relatable but never someone “you’d want to have a beer with.”

When the unexpected death of Justice Vittorio Scarpia is announced, we realize how much we never knew about the man. He wasn’t the type to let people into his private life. We are reminded that he was the longest serving member of the United States Supreme Court.

Appointed in 1979 at the age of forty-four, Scarpia was considered too young to serve. His nomination was controversial, not only because of his age, but due to the political climate of the times. Expected to make unbiased judgments, the opposition party believed the president was appointing an activist who would vote left of center on the issues of the day, but through a renewal with his commitment to the Catholic church and, some say, his devotion to secret societies within the Church, he surprised many court watchers over the next three-and-a-half decades with masterfully written dissents when his views differed from that of the majority. He was known for his quick wit, his legal acumen and his love of debate.

Murdered Justice is coming from W&B Publishers, and in its pages you’ll get a more personal look at Justice Scarpia and find out how he spent his last remaining hours.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1