Phyllis Entis

Award-winning mystery writer and food safety microbiologist


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The Birthday Girl – Guest Post

Hello everyone. My name is Shalom, and today is my fourth birthday.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am an Australian Cobberdog. My full name is “Rutland’s Shalom” and I live in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada with my Momsy (Phyllis) and my Popsy (Mike).

When I first got out of bed this morning, I wasn’t sure whether or not Momsy and Popsy had remembered my birthday. There were no special morning cuddles, other than those I get every morning, and I couldn’t smell anything new in the house that might be a special treat.

I was actually feeling a little down in the mouth.

Boy, was I wrong!

After breakfast, Popsy sneaked into Momsy’s office and removed a bag from the bottom drawer. I tried to follow him as he took the bag into the bedroom, but he closed the door on me. I stood patiently outside the bedroom door and waited for him to come out. He wasn’t going to pull any wool over this puppy’s eyes.

Sure enough, when he came back out of the bedroom, my patience was rewarded. Of course, I had to go through a song and dance act to earn my reward.

The first item Popsy pulled out of the bag was a soft, squeaky toy in the shape of a bone. On one side, it says, “Naughty”; on the other, it says, “Nice.” I think they’re trying to tell me something.

Popsy finally gave me the toy, and I spent the next little while getting to know it.

After I had spent several minutes making my new toy talk to me, Popsy pulled a SECOND toy out of the bag. Can you imagine? Two birthday presents! And I thought they had forgotten me.

Momsy told me this toy was for playing outside, as it is too heavy to throw inside the house.

Momsy and Popsy took me outside and threw the toy for me to fetch for a while. It’s great fun, as it squeaks when I run with it.

All I can say, is with these new toys, I’m sitting pretty.

Thank you, Momsy and Popsy for the birthday presents, and thanks also to Momsy for letting me hijack her blog today. I promise she’ll be back next week.


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Remembrance

Even though I was born more than three years after the end of World War II, I feel a personal connection to it, both as a Jew, and as the descendent of brave men who risked their lives, and steadfast men and women who kept the home fires burning and the factories churning.

My father, Louis Lutsky, served in the Canadian army’s Quartermaster Corps, driving supply trucks in Italy and in the Netherlands. When the mood was on him (which wasn’t often), he would tell the story of being part of a truck convoy that had to stop repeatedly and dig in (literally) to shelter from expected shell fire.

His younger brother, my Uncle Moe, lost both his feet during the battle for Hill 195 north of Falaise in August 1944. He was pulled from his burning tank by Sergeant John Andrews, who was awarded a Military Medal for his heroism.

Several other members of my family also served in the military. My mother’s brother, Joe Quint (army), my great-uncle Reuben Lapidus (army), and my cousin, Maurice Vineberg (navy) come immediately to mind.

For as many years as I can remember, I have worn a poppy on November 11th. 

When my husband and I moved from Canada to the USA in the fall of 1991, I saved that year’s poppy in my jewelry box, knowing that Remembrance Day is not marked with poppies in the United States.

Each year, in the days leading up to November 11th, I retrieved the poppy from its resting place and wore it to honour those who fought to keep us safe and free.

In May of this year, we moved back to Canada. Last week, for the first time in 28 years, I was able to drop a donation in the collection box at my local bank branch, and pin a new poppy on my coat.

I have retired the old poppy after its many years of service, but I have not discarded it. It will remain in its little nest inside my jewelry box, and will be joined by this year’s poppy. I am starting a new tradition. Henceforth, all of my poppies will live on together in remembrance of those who are no longer with us.


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New Release – The Blue Moon Caper

THE BLUE MOON CAPER. A Damien Dickens Mystery (Book 5)

Now available on Amazon for pre-order at US$3.99, with a release date of December 6, 2019

SET AND FORGET

If you are interested in reading about Damien and Millie’s latest caper as soon as it is released, place your order now and receive an automatic download to your Kindle reader or Kindle app on December 6th.

A TASTE OF THE ACTION

Here’s a snippet from Chapter Three to whet your interest.

We climbed up 12th Avenue, turned left onto Dolores, and set a brisk pace for the last block. Millie was winded by the time we reached the corner of 11th and Dolores, and I gave her a minute to catch her breath before opening the front gate to Casa Encantada.

Millie preceded me up the flagstone walk, climbed the four steps to the front door and pressed the doorbell. I could hear the four-note ‘Big Ben’ chimes ringing from somewhere inside. The sound of yapping dogs emanated from an upstairs window as we waited for our client to answer the door. 

After a minute or so, I reached past Millie and gave the doorbell an emphatic double hit, which triggered a second round of barking from the dogs, but nothing else. Millie and I looked at each other. “Now what?” I asked.

“Maybe she’s napping and didn’t hear the bell?” Millie offered.

“She would have to be dead not to have heard that racket,” I replied. 

As the words left my mouth, Millie turned away from the door. “Let’s check around back,” she said.

We followed the flagstone path that led along the north side of the house next to an ivy hedge that separated Durocher’s property from her nearest neighbor. As we dodged stray branches from the unpruned ivy, Millie stopped and sniffed the air. “I think I smell smoke,” she said, and broke into a jog.

I was right behind her as we reached an irregularly shaped stone patio. The smell of smoke was stronger here. I peered through the glass of the French door at the rear of the house. The door led directly into a large kitchen, which was filling with smoke. Turning my head to scan the room, I spotted the source. The oven of a large gas range had blown open, and was belching dark grey smoke. Through the haze, I could also see a skillet on top of the range, its contents on fire.

“Kitchen fire,” I called out to Millie.

“Any sign of Malvina?”

“Still looking,” I shifted my position to get a better look at the rest of the kitchen. The smoke wasn’t as dense away from the range. I saw a shoe lying toe-up, its sole pointed in my direction, then a second shoe next to it. 

“She’s in there,” I called out. “On the floor, probably out cold. I’m going in.”

“Wait, Dick.”

From the corner of my eye, I saw Millie remove a scarf from around her collar. She raced over to a hose bib protruding from the side of the house, drenched the scarf, and wrung out the excess water before handing it to me. “Get help,” I told her, as I tied the wet scarf over my nose and mouth, bandit style.

The door was locked. I looked around for something to smash the glass, and found a large rock in the back corner of the yard. The single-pane window broke easily, and I was able to reach through the opening and release the latch.

Taking a deep breath and holding it as long as I could, I raced inside the kitchen to where Malvina Durocher lay. She was half under the table with one arm draped over the seat of a chair, as though she had toppled over while seated. I skirted the table, bent over and, grabbing her under the armpits, I dragged her out from under the table.

Fighting the smoke and the urge to breathe deeply, I struggled with my burden until, coughing and drenched with sweat, I made it through the door and out onto the patio. Once clear of danger, I bent over, hands on my knees, gasping for breath. I saw Millie running toward me and motioned her to check on Malvina. “I’ll be okay,” I rasped between coughs. “How is she?”

Millie knelt beside the unconscious woman, pressed her fingers to Malvina’s neck, and put her ear to Malvina’s chest. “She’s alive! I can feel a pulse and she’s breathing.” 

OLD FRIENDS, NEW DANGERS

You’ll reconnect with some old friends in The Blue Moon Caper, including Bruno Caravaggio, everyone’s favourite sidekick, who gets himself into some serious trouble this time around. Gus is back, too, and a couple of characters from the The Green Pearl Caper make cameo appearances.

This isn’t “same old, same old” though. There are new villains for Damien and Millie to contend with. New challenges for them to overcome.

THE BLUE MOON CAPER. A Damien Dickens Mystery (Book 5)


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Fall Colours

It’s autumn, and my garden, so full of blooms in the summer, has transitioned to its fall colours. Most of the garden is a palette of green and brown.

The hydrangeas have lost their mop-heads.

The roses are no longer in flower, except for one heroic white bud that insists on trying to open.

There are still a few splashes of colour, though, which I thought I’d share.

 

Finally, one colourful character that is not of the plant kingdom

 

 


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The Train

An introductory word

As I try to make my (self-imposed) deadline for completing work on The Blue Moon Caper, I’ll be reviving a few of my favourite “oldies” to share with you.

I first posted this piece of flash fiction in two parts more than six years ago, on my old Prompt Prose blog.

Keith squirmed in his best clothes, the collar buttoned tight, a clip-on bowtie slightly askew. His new shoes were squeaky and mirror-finished – still too stiff to be comfortable. His hair was freshly cut and slicked down. This would be his first time traveling alone, and his first train ride. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, dancing with excitement tempered by apprehension. “Is the train coming yet, Mr. Simmons?” he asked the well-dressed man who was standing beside him, gripping his hand. “When will it get here?”

“Soon, kid,” Simmons replied, stealing a glance at his Rolex. “Soon, I hope. It should have pulled in ten minutes ago.”

“How will I know where to sit on the train?” Keith asked anxiously, his hand twisting in Simmons’ grip. “How will I know when to get off? Will the train stop long enough for me?”

“The conductor will take care of you, kid. Now stop squirming. You’re getting your new clothes mussed up. Don’t you want to look your best for your mother?”

Keith looked up at Simmons who, at 6’3”, towered over the lad. The man stood seemingly unmoved by Keith’s concerns, by the lateness of the train, or by the bustle and shuffle of porters and passengers. He wore his air of deliberate detachment like a well-tailored suit. He was making a simple delivery, Simmons told himself. Usually, he delivered legal briefs. Today, he was delivering a boy.

Brandon Simmons didn’t like to remember his own experience as an eight-year old boy, trundled back and forth between his divorced parents like the shuttle of a loom as it passes from side to side through a perfectly defined path of threads. Now, he found himself an accomplice in the same tug-of-war that had ripped his childish soul to pieces.

It wasn’t by chance that Simmons steered his legal career far away from the shoals of divorce courts. But today he was doing a favor for the boy’s father – an old chum from law school – whose appointment calendar could not be superseded by the Amtrak schedule. And he was hating it. Even now, the scars left by his own broken family were still raw – the memories still too fresh.

Simmons looked down at the tow-headed boy standing beside him and squeezed his hand gently in sympathetic understanding. He was rewarded with a smile from Keith. “Thanks for waiting with me, Mr. Simmons,” the boy said, “I’m alright now.”

Solemnly, Keith shook hands with his companion and turned abruptly to hide the tears that were welling up in the corners of his eyes.

Simmons watched in admiration mingled with regret as the eight-year old boy followed the conductor down the length of the Grand Central Station platform. That boy – or one just like him – could have been his. He’d had his chance, but shied away. His own broken home had colored his attitude towards marriage and family. A life of career and bachelorhood was what he’d chosen.

His eyes continued to follow Keith as the boy clambered onto the train and turned back to wave at him. Simmons returned the wave, then spun on his heel and started for the exit. Fool, he told himself. You’re a fool.

Keith settled into his window seat in the first class car and stared out at the platform. He searched the forest of faces for a final glimpse of Mr. Simmons. The man had such an air of confidence and self-possession that his very presence was comforting. But Simmons had disappeared. Keith was on his own.

After a few minutes, Keith heard the sound of a whistle and felt a gentle jolt as the train started to glide along the platform. As he stared out the window, Keith saw his reflection in the glass and watched a tear slowly rolled down his cheek. All at once, he felt very alone – even more so than during those long days and nights when his dad left him with the maid in their Manhattan apartment. 

Suddenly, another face appeared beside his in the window glass. “Hello, Keith. Mind if I join you?” Keith whirled, to find Mr. Simmons sliding into the seat next to his. “I decided that I needed a couple of days off,” Simmons explained. “I haven’t visited Boston for a long time, and I thought I’d ride up with you. That is, if you don’t mind.”

Keith rewarded him with a delighted grin. The unlikely friends passed the hours chatting about baseball – Keith’s dad had taken him to a Yankee’s game – the Central Park Zoo, and the dinosaur exhibit at the Natural History museum. Simmons pointed out various landmarks as the train trundled through New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, and into Massachusetts. He made the history of Springfield, New Haven and Providence come alive for the boy as the train stopped in each city. 

They entered the Boston suburbs, and Simmons’ running commentary limped to a halt. “Are you feeling OK?” Keith asked him.

“Just a little tired.” Simmons closed his eyes, but not before the boy noticed a hint of moisture in them.

The train slowed as it entered Boston and wound its way through the rail yards into South Station. “We’re here, Mr. Simmons.” Keith tugged at Simmons’ sleeve. “Look! There’s my Mom on the platform. She’s the pretty lady in the green dress. Hi, Mom!” His mother’s worried face relaxed into a smile when she spotted her son waving at her from the train.

“C’mon, Mr. Simmons. Come and meet my mother.” The boy took Simmons by the hand, and pulled him into the aisle as the train came to a gentle stop.

The pair stepped onto the platform; Keith flung himself into his mother’s arms, then stepped back. “Mom,” he said. “I want you to meet my new friend, Mr. Simmons. He took me to the train and kept me company all the way here.”

“Mr. Simmons and I already have met, son.”

Betty Emerson held out her hand. “Hello, Brandon. It’s been a few years. Thank you for taking care of Keith.”

Simmons stared into her self-possessed blue eyes. “Twenty years.  It’s been twenty years.” He took a deep breath to steady his voice. “Can you forgive an old fool?”

“There’s nothing to forgive, Brandon.” Betty looked down at Keith and took his hand. “It’s time for us to go.” 

She hesitated for a heartbeat, then held out her other hand to Simmons. “Shall we?”


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Ding, dong, DONE!

Yesterday evening, I typed the words most beloved by most writers.

THE END

Yes, I have completed the first draft of The Blue Moon Caper, fifth installment in the Damien Dickens Mystery series.

A few weeks ago, I shared the opening paragraphs of the prologue to The Blue Moon Caper. Today, in celebration of yesterday’s milestone, I am revealing the entire prologue.

There is still a long way to go before The Blue Moon Caper is fit for readers’ eyes. I have many revisions ahead of me, and a cover to design (with the generous assistance of my talented and patient cousin, Hilary Quint).

Nevertheless, I expect The Blue Moon Caper to be ready for release before the end of this year.

Meanwhile, I invite you to read the prologue in full.

Prologue

Colin Hewitt wrestled his 1976 Ford pick-up off Route 99 and onto Avenue 24. The truck’s power steering was anemic, the tires almost bald. The transmission grated, the brakes squealed, and the suspension was shot. Nevertheless, he counted himself lucky. The pick-up had only cost him $500.

He pulled over to the side of the road and consulted his map. Luna Azul was about 5 miles ahead. He put the Ford into Drive, muttering an oath as the gears ground, then caught. With the suspension bottoming out at every bump and rut in the poorly maintained pavement, Colin drove the rest of the way to his destination.

Luna Azul wasn’t a town. It didn’t even qualify as a village. A tiny speck on the map, it lay some 40 miles northwest of Fresno and consisted of no more than a dozen weatherbeaten one- and two-storey buildings clustered around the intersection of Avenue 24 and Santa Fe Drive. Crossing the intersection, Colin drove slowly past a series of vineyards punctuated by cattle feedlots. After a couple of miles, he spotted his turnoff, and swung the truck into a short dirt lane. At the end of the lane, he parked the Ford between a faded yellow panel truck and a refrigerated trailer bearing the name “Rancho Luna Azul”.

Colin stepped out of the pick-up, adjusted his imitation aviator sunglasses, and donned an Oakland Raiders cap to go with his faded blue jeans, white t-shirt and scuffed biker boots. His heart was racing. He needed to get this right. He needed to land this job. Everything – his wife, his child, his entire future – depended on it. 

He walked up to the aluminum door on the double-wide trailer that was parked on blocks at the end of the driveway, and rapped twice. He heard a scuffle of feet, then a voice. “Who’s there?”

“My name is Colin Hewitt.” The air was desert-dry and his voice caught. He cleared his throat and added. “Leroy sent me.”

He heard the click of a latch, and the door squealed open. Colin stepped across the threshold, removed his sunglasses, and hung them from the neck of his t-shirt. He stood blinking as his eyes acclimated to the dim interior. Looking around the room, he took in the pair of battered desks, a wood filing cabinet, and a small kitchen area. Two doors led out of the room. One was ajar, revealing a bathroom. The other one was shut.

The man facing him was taller than Colin – probably 6’5”, he judged. His short, straight hair was black, though flecked with gray. His eyes were brown, his pencil-thin mustache matching the color of his hair. His complexion was brown, with tell-tale red highlights that spoke of outdoor activities. “So Leroy sent you,” he said, his Spanish accent barely perceptible. “Why?”

“I shared a cell with him at FCI Mendota for a few days. Before he was released,” Colin said, “he told me to come here when I made parole. That there’d be a job waiting for me.” Colin paused to gauge the stranger’s reaction. “I didn’t catch your name, by the way.”

“I didn’t pitch it. What kind of job did you talk about with Leroy?”

Colin shrugged. “I told him I’d take just about anything. I have a wife and kid to support and a parole officer to satisfy.”

“Your family with you?”

Colin shook his head. “Nah, they’re staying with my sister over in Carmel until I get on my feet. Told the wife I’d send for her when I was ready.”

“Can you drive one of those?” He gestured with his thumb at the truck parked outside.

“If it has wheels, I can drive it. I spent a few months doing long-haul back east,” Colin said. “Like riding a bicycle. Once you learn how, you don’t forget. I don’t have a commercial license, though.”

“We’ll take care of that for you. Mind working nights?”

“I can work whenever you want. Days, nights. Doesn’t matter to me. What’s the pay?”

“Seven-fifty an hour to start with. Cash,” he added with a wink as Colin opened his mouth to protest. “You’re an independent contractor.”

Colin thought a moment. “Works for me,” he said.

“Good. You’ll start today. My name’s Paul, by the way.”

“I’ll need to find a place to stay.”

Paul hooked his thumb over his shoulder, indicating the closed door. “You’ll stay here,” he said. “We have a spare bed.”


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Red Alert

Red maple leafThe red-breasted robin has always been my harbinger of spring.

So, too, the first fallen red maple leaf is my autumn early warning system.

Two days ago, Shalom and I found a perfect red maple leaf – first one of the season for us – on our early morning walk. As I don’t bring either a camera or my iPad on when I’m walking Shalom, I picked up the leaf and carried it home.

Shalom, of course was curious about this piece of vegetation that we had brought indoors with us.

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Though she isn’t much of a vegetable lover, this looked like it might be good enough to eat.

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“What do you mean, it’s just for looking at,” she asked?

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Nevertheless, she sat patiently while I photographed our forerunner of fall.

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For me, this is a reminder that I’ll soon be preparing my flower beds for the coming cold season. It will be a learning experience this year. I still can’t tell the difference between some of the flowering weeds and the ornamental plants.