American Nonsensical

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Carlos Crosses the Line (Historical Fiction, Book Award 2023)
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A detective tale in the era of Trump – conspiracy theories, missing persons, charlatan holy healers, humor, romance, and a body or two down a well…
First 10 Pages

Chapter 1


June 2001, Naomi, Nebraska

Jeff was going nuts; no doubt about it. Still, he had to perform. He owed it to his mom, to the people who were coming to see him, and to Jesus. His mom cherished him. She’d given him life and taught him so much, initiated their holy mission and made him a star. She’d given him Ruby! If he made it through tonight, he’d have a few days to rest. He could do this!

The gathering turned out to be puny, not much over 100, under a circus tent in an open field. Rain beat down on the canvas overhead. Soothing. Hypnotic. Ominous.

A recording blared over the speakers, When the Saints Go Marching In. —Pretty freakin’ funny.

Jeff wore his white suit, white tie, pale blue shirt; clothes to inspire wonder. His mom floated ahead of him, up the stairs, radiant in her blond hair and flowing white gown. The spotlight lit her up. Fans blasted streams of air, sending her gown billowing.

Jeff forced a smile and stepped onstage. He and his mom raised their gloved hands over their heads. The crowd applauded. He reached for the microphone stand and tilted it toward him.

“Good evening, I’m Jeff Lamb, and this is my momma, Sarah.” He hated calling her momma, but she insisted. It fits our image, son.

The crowd bellowed their approval. Jeff stepped aside, and his mother took over. “My son and I, we come to share a glorious story.”

She always began that way. The story would commence with Jesus, and move on to the gift the Lord had bestowed on Jeff. His mother’s phony, buoyant voice disgusted him tonight. Not the first time. Jeff tuned it out and scanned the audience; women in long, flowered dresses, men in their best shirts, some wearing bolo ties.

As always, there were the few by the front with canes or crutches; rounded up by their program organizer, Bob Smithfield; waiting to be healed. Smithfield’s helpers would be out among the crowd now, collecting for God’s work. Jeff recognized a couple of the invalids, who’d been healed at one of their previous revivals, maybe last week in Kansas City. They’d switched maladies. The wheelchair guy from last time was on crutches tonight, and he wore a fake beard. The lame woman, newly blind, wore dark glasses and carried a white cane.

Front and center in the audience, a blond girl. Jeff’s heartbeat kicked up until he saw that it wasn’t Suzi.

Once he’d felt superior to these people. He thought they’d all come to worship him. But how many came just to gawk at a freak of nature?

His mother was clever or evil. Jeff was superior or even holy, as she’d told him, or just another charlatan. “It doesn’t matter how we convince them,” she’d said. “We bring them to the Lord, and He saves them.”

He didn’t feel clever or holy tonight. He felt vile as fresh cow plop.

If he could have slept last night, if those nagging doubts had let him slumber any night the past week, this would feel so different. If he could truly heal one doubting sinner, his faith could carry him through. Maybe tonight.

It was hot onstage. Faces in the audience grew blurry. The not-Suzi was pretty. She zeroed in on him. Did this one think he could impregnate her with a tear drop?

Buzzing filled his ears. His hands trembled. Sweat ran down his face and soaked the back of his shirt. This happened sometimes. Nothing to worry about. Nerves. All part of the act, except it wasn’t; it was part of Jeff melting down. He could fight it like always. He could!

“I know what you want to see,” his mother intoned. “You want to see the miracle hands of Christ.”

Jeff looked at his hands, one and then the other, half expecting to see crimson splotches staining the palms of his white cotton gloves.

“For God has given us the miracle of Jeff’s healing hands,” she said. “The Lord never lets us down.”

The people below stared at him, waiting.

“Behold,” she said. “The holy spirit enters our presence.” He knew she was directing the audience to him with outstretched arms, but the buzzing ground away Jeff’s will. He was supposed to rise up on his toes, hands stretching toward heaven. He was supposed to imbue his features with heavenly joy and reach out to the audience as the spotlight narrowed on his angelic face. He was supposed to take the microphone and announce that those he touched would be saved.

The spotlight illuminated only his doubts. The people stared, wanting the carnival act that was Jeff Lamb, the magnificent, the Messiah’s chosen.

Too shaken to face the spotlight, too paralyzed to produce a beatific smile, too feeble to raise his hands and bless those poor sinners, Jeff glanced down at the people, looking from face to face, casting about for anything that might energize him.

His mother came and touched his arm, shouting to the crowd, “What a blessing tonight, ladies and gentlemen. God’s presence overwhelms Jeff. He will lift us up.”

Blood, pulsing in his ears, set her voice warbling, merged with the buzzing, now an octave higher. That had never happened before. Her voice distorted to an undulating whine. “Holy rapture be upon us all.”

Jeff Lamb was prime exhibit in this crazy deception his mother called, “Bringing Christ to the ignorant masses.” He had to fight the droning in his head, to raise his hands high, to speak to the crowd and then go down and touch the invalids. Instead, his legs gave way. He dropped to the stage. He let his mother down.

Chapter 2

Thirteen years earlier, summer 1988, rural Oklahoma

Jeff ran out of the house, screen door slamming behind him. His mother shouted, “Jeffrey Little, you get back here.”
She’d been explaining about Jesus again. He didn’t understand how this story could be so important that she repeated over and over. This was real his mother said, not like television cartoons. This story was holy. Cartoons had good guys and bad guys and talking rabbits.

Jesus came in a book, instead of on TV. He talked lots about being good.

Jeff headed toward the vegetable garden where he could hide among the corn stalks. He looked back over his shoulder as he ran. His mother held the screen door open with one hand, her book, the bible, in the other. She wouldn’t hit him with the book, it was sacred. She’d spank him with her open hand.

OHHHH. He tripped and went down, dirt smacking him in the face. A bolt of pain shot from his right hand. Something stuck out of the back of it. Jeff screamed and began bawling. It hurt awful, like nothing he’d ever felt.

Holy God—he’d landed on the little rake-thing his mother used to dig up dirt by the green beans. One of the four points

ran right through from the palm to the back of his hand. Blood seeping around it.

Tears ran down his face. He stood and held it up, with the rake-handle dangling, toward his momma. She came running and then stopped short. She set the bible gently on the ground. She was crying too, staring hard at him. “It’s okay. Hold still now.” She grabbed his wrist with one hand and the rake-thing with the other and yanked him loose.

He screamed again and almost went out. She sat him on the ground and took off her apron. Blood ran fast from the wound. She was going to yell at him, call him, “bad boy,” tell him God was punishing him for disobedience. He knew it. But her angry look disappeared. She smiled, as she squatted there, wrapping her apron tight around his hand, squeezing so it hurt even more.

She uncovered it again and examined it. “Good,” she said. “This is very, very good, Jeff.” She rewrapped it and tied her apron strings around.

Then she did something even stranger. She poked her finger into the blood that had fallen on the ground, raised her hand toward heaven and called out, “Thank you, Lord, for this blessing.”

She helped Jeff up and walked him toward the house. “Now you have something in common with Jesus. Our Lord’s hands and his feet were pierced by evil men. Come inside, and I’ll tell you all about it.”

JEFF’s woundEd right hand oozed blood and puss for days, but his mother said they didn’t need to go to the doctor. “God will heal you, if that’s what He thinks best.” Jeff didn’t know why God would care about one little boy’s hand, and what if He didn’t

think it best? Still, above all, Jeff trusted his momma to do the right thing.

His palm and the back of his hand itched like mad. When he scratched, clear fluid dripped from the palm. Sometimes it bled. After a while, the back of his hand began to scar up and the palm stopped oozing, but it still prickled something fierce. He gritted his teeth and fought the urge to gouge it with the jack knife he’d hidden in the garage.

Sometimes in the evening his momma handed him one of her knitting needles. “Poke it a little, honey. It’ll feel better.” He cried that first time, but he came to savor the feel—the persistent itch; the biting pain of the needle that somehow relieved it; the way the bleeding seemed to make her happy. She’d hug him then, whisper, “I love you,” in his ear, and give him ice cream; chocolate-almond with fudge and whipped cream on top.

Chapter 3


October 2020, outside Crownpoint, New Mexico

Northwest of Grants, New Mexico, uranium deposits stretch far and wide beneath the mesas and desolate countryside. Open pit mines there produced the bulk of America’s uranium

since the fifties. Core holes were drilled seeking new veins, shafts sunk, uranium extracted in quantities small or large. Nuclear disasters and near disasters tainted the industry. Demand dried up. Most mines were abandoned. Small operators walked away leaving a hazardous collection of open pits and mounds of toxic tailings. At the bottom of one of those pits, below a chalky-rock mesa, near Navajo land, lay the body. Like some ancient pharaoh, bound for the afterlife, artifacts surrounded it, including a well- thumbed bible.

Dead, like the pharaoh? Or alive? That was the question. The ultimate answer seemed inevitable.

Chapter 4


October 2020, Manhattan Beach CA

Whatever Stan tells you, he and I have a great partnership. He’s the straight-arrow who plows ahead and gets things done. I think outside the box and find solutions. Stan’s the handsome one—black hair, strong features, blue eyes. Not quite the type to play a doctor on TV, but, maybe, if he didn’t shave compulsively. I’m the shorter, balding one, with a Celtic complexion. Our business is investigating fraud, a fancy way of saying we catch disability insurance cheats. Other types of cases when we can find the business. I shine at investigations. My skepticism is brilliant. When a guy’s mother says, “Haven’t seen him in months,” I’m dying to barge into the back room and catch the guy ogling porn on his computer. My garage is full of pandemic Lysol and toilet paper. Now that’s foresight.

I dig conspiracy theories, because not all theories are BS. Ask Einstein. By the way, I hear he’s still alive down in Bolivia having mai-tais with Elvis.

Did Oswald kill JFK by himself? Don’t know. Politicians cover things up. “In the interest of national security,” they say. “For the good of the people.” Yeah, sure.

Is there a Deep State? Absolutely.

As for Q-Anon, okay, some of it is wacko, but there’s plenty of truth that no one knows for sure. Was Obama born in Hawaii or maybe Kenya? Is the earth flat? Some folks still claim that. –Wackos. Anti-vaxxers? –Sorry; I take my flu shot every October.

All of this nonsensical jive has come to a head between Stan and me over our amazing president. Donald Trump is my guy. He may not be doing TV shows any more, but he’s the entertainer in chief. When he thinks something, he says it. A weird rumor; he passes it along. He launches little bits of his genius into the world along with some stuff that’s pretty fucked up. True or not, he acts like what he’s said is right, which makes him like lots of other schmucks in the world. That’s one of the things I like about Trump. We’re all schmucks in our own way, and our president isn’t ashamed to act the part.

Which brings me to our problem: Stan and I have a Donald Issue. My partner and I used to joke all the time. We’d talk sports, argue over which drive-thru to stop at for lunch, but mostly we’d dissect the nonsense in Washington and Sacramento. Since Trump took over, Stan has clammed up. Sore loser? — It runs deeper than that.

Stan may not want to hear this, but here it is: our president might not always tell the truth, but he’s strong, when most politicians are squishy as pig shit. He calls out the politically correct nonsense, like calling the illegals, undocumented. He stands up to our so-called allies and tells them to pay their share. A ball buster; that’s what we need in a president. And this I can guarantee: when push comes to shove, Trump will do the right thing for America.


Let me make one thing clear: I love Bud, but he is not my business partner. The name on the door is S. Stein Investigations. S. is for Stanley, not Buddly.

Second, Bud’s given name is Andy Randolph. Andy is a great name, but Bud rejects it.

Cheryl is my ex. When she and I divorced, she got the condo and half the investments. I received the rest of our holdings and the condo mortgage. To balance the scales, she passed on a priceless asset: Cheryl’s brother, Bud. He was my friend before I knew her. He’s a good guy, and he’d lost another job, so I hired him. But Bud can go off the deep end.

Bud and I disagree about lots of stuff. Take seatbelts. He wanted to disconnect the beeper in my Ford Escape so he could go strapless in peace. I stood up for safety and for avoiding a lawsuit that could bankrupt me after an accident. I believe in following the rules. Bud goes with, f- - - authority. That’s another issue: Bud swears too much.

Now there’s Covid-19. Bud thinks masks are for sissies, which are Democrats by default. The president of the US, whom Bud admires beyond reason, decided that masks were a joke. Bud followed suit. So did lots of our fellow Americans—some insane code of insolence. Deadly.

Back in our Army days, Bud and I joked about politics and about the Army brass. Politicians were our favorite whores—Bud’s word not mine. Take guns: if people in a congressman’s district wanted to do target practice on baby rabbits with AK47s, the local politico delivered righteous speeches about the Bill of Rights, no matter that it makes no sense. Funny or tragic? To remain sane sometimes you’ve got to laugh.

Now, Bud says I’ve lost my sense of humor. Maybe. I can joke about lots of stuff, but not Trump. When he mocks people who wear masks, it costs lives. When he pretends our elections are fixed, he denigrates our democracy. Bud and I tried to joke our way through it, but this is not funny. It threatens our friendship, and that breaks my heart.