Hemingway once said, “The first draft is always shit.” He included his own in that.

A lot of authors announce with great joy that their novel is now finished. That usually means the first draft of …well, if you’ve got a publishing deal then there will be about nine more edits before it goes to market. That’s why most books can take up to four years to get in bookstores.

Therefore, it is with great joy I announce my third novel is now written (draft number two). I’ve got the first couple of thousand words polished up and have shared it with you below. If you read the first two in the Paths Unknown series you’ll see that curmudgeonly Claudia is the star this time on an island off Malta. Remember, this is not ready for print so you’ll see grammar stuff etc. and it will likely be dramatically changed by a potential agent or publisher. Wild Rose will take it if no one else. But am hoping I might find an agent this time. It’s a long shot. Here it is with the latest title.

The Beating Heart Cadavers Among Us

The remote escarpment didn’t seem like the sort of place to perform my brand of miracle. It looked so puny on the postcard I’d bought at the harbor’s gift shop—not much more than a vertical slice of rock. Perfect for a happy colony of tap-dancing penguins sliding on their backsides into the frothy seas below. But an island with a hospital? No way.

Because I stood on a ferry docked in Malta, not Antarctica, my penguin theory blowed, even more than the wind whipping my hair’s topknot braid into a drunken frenzy. In the Mediterranean humidity it usually clung to the back of my head like a frayed string of wet rope.

The postcard described Inquisitor’s Island as: A far-flung promontory with a bloody past. Unloved and unclaimed by any nation, it lies in tortuous seas, dead center of the Mediterranean.” In Medieval script below was: “Tuitio fidei et obsequium pauperum.” 

The flip side of it had a sepia tone graphic over which one could scrawl a greeting like: Having a great time on Inquisitor’s Island. Wish you were here. That would be all fine and good if the skilfully rendered background wasn’t of someone being burnt at the stake. Lovely. I was on a puzzling journey to an even odder place.

All I knew was my best friend needed me—and fast. When you get to the Maltese harbor of  Birzebugga, the email stated, text Benny and we’ll send the island’s hydrofoil ferry to fetch you. Don’t try to phone. Can’t say anything else right now. Much love and gratitude. Paula, Benny and Maya.

The cryptic communication was not my friend’s usual warm style. Yet, of all my heart transplant patients only my four-year-old goddaughter, Maya, could force me away from my bed in London and onto an overnight flight bound for Malta.

If the child was rejecting her new heart, though, why not say so straight up in a phone call? Had Paula and Benny found yet another crack-pot holistic cure for their daughter’s heart disease? They had the millions to pay for anything. Or was this . . . Oh, stop it already. I’ll hear what it is soon enough as long as they can get this big-ass ferry in gear. Not the most patient person but neither was I about to turn down an adventure. So there.

It was the timing that sucked; I rooted around inside my briefcase for the wadded up ball of paper which needed my attention. Just as I got my fist around it, ominous rumbles seeped into the soles of my boots from the very patch of deck I stood on. A high-frequency vibration tore up my legs and cut a path through every molecule of liquid in my guts and head. If a monstrous boiler or gas tank was about to blow, I wanted to be inside the enclosed passenger lounge behind me. I side-stepped toward safety.

Not a word of warning was given. No T-minus countdown. Not even a friendly announcement from the captain—Hang onto your hats, folks—before a bone-crunching jolt launched the vessel forward and whiplashed me into submission against the lounge’s observation windows.

Unanchored in the fierce crosswinds my wool pea jacket split wide, its metal buttons pummeled the back of my head like mini-spikes. My braid convulsed atop my head, spastic as a tasered snake. A grudging nod to trends meant my Singapore look was slipping dangerously close to a disheveled French milkmaid brand.

“Bloo—dy hell.” A simple disclaimer near the gangway would have sufficed: All passengers bringing hairstyles on board do so at their own risk.

I had my briefcase battened down with one arm while also white-knuckling the all-important crumpled letter, but as I reached for the lounge’s doorknob my concentration wavered and up the paper flew. For a brief moment, the wad hovered like a fairy with a magic wand before zipping sideways and disappearing over the vessel’s railing.

Everyone knows that when the sea is calm and the sun is shining, the best view on passenger ferries is at the bow of the second deck. How was she to know that hydrofoils which ride above the waves on submerged water wings can reach a white-hot sixty miles per hour? This, according to the only other person onboard—the captain himself.

Too stunned to cry out, at forty-seven I was still as lean as a thoroughbred—my legs churned across the deck in time for me to see the tiny white ball riding the hydrofoil’s wake.

This was surely a blessing for the cursed letter which had had such a miserable start in life—birthed as it was less than a day earlier while I squatted in my dishwater-hued bathrobe in the lobby of my London apartment building. Instead of having her hands immersed in someone’s chest cavity, Claudia found herself on her haunches rifling through her mailbox for a missing letter. The scattershot of glossy flyers at my feet came out of a pathetically tiny mail slot crammed tighter than an intestinal tract bunged up on a year’s worth of junk mail.

Nothing but time-limited offers admonishing my tardiness. I’d missed the End Of Summer swimsuit blowout. Hadn’t worn one in fifteen years. And the Yuletide sales. Nothing to someone who spent every Christmas and New Year’s inside an OR. There was still time, however, to buy a two-fer Valentines dinner cruise on the Thames—surely the most useless promo of all for a single woman like me.

If anyone was to blame for this tragedy at sea it was “Bags,” a research colleague whom I’d nick-named for something other than puffy eyes. It all started around noon the previous day when a jangle plucked me from precious slumber. I glanced at the call display and lifted the handset from its cradle. “This better be important or you’re a dead man,” I told Bags. “I got home at 7 this morning from a 12-hour double transplant.”

“I take it you haven’t seen your latest disciplinary letter?” he asked from the soulless depths of a true medical administrator.

Bad attitude be damned. Dr. Claudia Vlakia saw herself championing a rebel’s cause. Policies and procedures were tedious distractions, better left ignored. Neither was the acclaimed heart surgeon particularly worried she was once again up shit creek with her hospital.  “You woke me up to say you’re worried about another whinging first year student?

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