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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 (other choices were The Surgeon’s Shadow War, The Beating Heart Cadavers Among Us, and Inquisitors of the Heart.) Enjoy.

Short of Armageddon

Chapter One

Many a mighty maverick may one day look up and realize they’re speeding through life in the wrong lane and headed for an exit they didn’t intend to take. Dr. Claudia Vlakia was one such rebel who thought policies and procedures were tedious distractions, better left ignored.

The acclaimed transplant surgeon brandished her bad attitude like a badge of honor, not particularly worried it had once again landed her up shit creek with her hospital’s watchdog committee. Instead of having her hands immersed in someone’s chest cavity, this afternoon she was on her knees clawing through her apartment’s mailbox for the missing disciplinary letter.


The poky slot was crammed tighter than an intestinal tract bunged up on a year’s worth of junk mail. One deft jerk unraveled the wad of glossy flyers onto the worn lino. After bouncing some life into her creaky knees, she rose to find Bags already standing outside the lobby’s glass door. That was fast.

Dr. “Bags” Yardley was a research colleague determined to get Claudia’s groundbreaking artificial heart for infants approved for the marketplace. Of course she would miss the real thing, she once told a reporter. Nothing could compare with holding a human heart in one’s hands—the coppery aroma like coinage which Claudia had in the millions.

While the man’s invitation to attend her latest disciplinary action was a first, it was not inappropriate. In charge of research funding at the Thames Heart Institute, the man had single-handedly raised the millions which made Claudia’s bionic heart a reality.

He swept in with a whoosh, did a double-take at her sloppy dishwater-hued bathrobe and said, “Why can I never find parking around here?”

Claudia moaned into a backward stretch before the scattershot of paper. “The damn letter’s not here.”

The time-limited offers seemed to admonish her tardiness. She’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 to Claudia.

She scooped handfuls of the waste paper into the corner blue bin. “The letter’s probably nothing more than another whinging first year student.” Her bullying of medical students on clinical rotations was legendary. They warned each other not to be seduced by the surgeon’s fascinating words of welcome—Unique from all other organs the heart isn’t dependent on the brain to function. From here, they all said, was a descent into hell.

In the sterile landscape of her brilliant life, Claudia herself might say the opposite was also true: She was proof the head could function without one speck of input from the heart.

“I don’t think it’s a student,” Bags said. “It looks serious. They want a performance review this time.”

Thud. The last of the junk landed in the bin. “Those bastards. For what?”

“The letter doesn’t say but—.” He pressed the elevator’s button and swiveled. Bags wasn’t one to fret about the small stuff in life, but the lazer fear in his eyes laid bare the worst case scenario. She squared her shoulders. If the hospital was upset with her rogue implant into the Johnson baby, Bags would soon set them straight. Only fools shoot holes in the world’s first successful use of a prosthetic heart for infants.

“This can’t be about the Johnson baby. Who’d be daft enough to complain after I saved the kid’s life for God’s sake?”

“I know. I was there,” he whined in agreement. “But the prototype wasn’t approved for use yet.”

“The OR staff didn’t know that,” she shot back. Claudia searched her mind for who could have blown the whistle on them.

Bags raised his eyebrows to their limit, someone obviously already in mind.

Like bitter phlegm, the name of the culprit slowly congealed on the tip of Claudia’s tongue. “The parents?” she asked, incredulous. “Their daughter is alive. What else could they possibly want?”

“Money,” Bags said.

“If they want to sue me, then give them the damn money.” 

Bags shook his head. “Unfortunately, the problem won’t end there. If a court deems the implant illegal, my research institute won’t want their name attached to it. Our bionic heart could be mothballed before it gets to market.”

“No fucking way I’ll let that happen,” she said.

“Then we’ve got a lot to think about.” He was slowly nodding his head when the 1930s-era elevator cage shuddered to a stop.

Claudia poked his stomach as he thrust aside the accordion door and got in. “Lose the gut, Bags, before you become one of my patients. I’m taking the stairs. I need to blow off some nervous energy,” she called over her shoulder.

The chase was on against the sloth-like lift. Tall and lean as a thoroughbred, her legs churned up the stairs encircling it; her wispy black braid whipped the air. A grudging interest in trends meant Claudia’s braided hair brand alternated between the Singapore coolie topknot look and a disheveled French milkmaid.

Bags waved as the lift overtook her huffing and plodding up the final flight. They were now even. Two for two against the rattling machine and neither of them was getting any younger.

Still, racing an elevator was way more fun than racing the clock inside her OR. Claudia had no more than four hours to transport a donor heart and get it pumping inside her dying patient before it deteriorated into nothing but a rotten hunk of meat. That was why the world needed a silicone heart which would originate from the stylus of a 3D printer rather than the insides of a cadaver.

Inside her apartment she shrugged the bathrobe onto the floor and padded barefoot into the galley kitchen. Bags handed her one of two steaming mugs he was carrying. He took a long slurp, eyeing her over the rim. “What happened to the black lace bodysuit?”

Claudia glanced down at her PAW Patrol flannel pajamas. “Oh geez. That was five years ago. You think women actually wear those on a daily basis?”

Stone-faced Bags seemed to be having one of his “curmudgeonly” days. She knew them well from her own; hence their weekend fling five years earlier went nowhere.

Like most of the men in Claudia’s life, they were better as colleagues. Except for Bags, men were either too intimidated by her ambition or were needing a woman who was occasionally around in the evenings to, as she chose to call it, “service” them.

She crossed into the living room to park her mug atop a low-slung weathered table of the sort that sits in the sun and rain all summer. She’d nabbed the red plastic thing from the curb during garbage day, thinking it a practical addition to her minimalist hovel ensemble, as was a deskless office chair she now pointed to.

“Sit over there and tell me what’s in that damn letter—.” Her voice withered as she flopped into the belly of a bean bag chair—the struts on her forty-seven-year-old body all but shot.

He stretched across the table, letter in hand, but she waved it off. “My eyes are shot. Got home at three a.m. from a thirteen-hour double transplant.”

“Donor heart held up on the tarmac again?” he asked.

“Yup. You’d think the customs authorities would speed it up when a kid’s life is in the balance.” She took a sip of coffee. “Roger’s still ticking.” Roger was the lab piglet which had been testing Claudia’s artificial heart the past year. “Another six months, Bags. The human trials should be approved. No more carting donor organs on and off planes. Just pull the prosthetic heart from the shelf.”

Using his free hand, he high-fived her across the plastic table then raised the letter to his eyes. “Okay. From the top. The hearing will convene the fifteenth day of February, 2017, inside the fifth-floor–”

“Bollocks,” she cut in. “The fifteenth. That’s only two days from now. I’m flying to Malta tomorrow. Paula has a medical emergency.”

“Paula. . .Paula.” Bags pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead and paused. “You did a heart transplant on her daughter. Like—a month ago. Is the girl’s body rejecting it?”

Oof. Didn’t say, but I don’t even want to think about that possibility right now. It’s a clinic on some island. Must be isolated because they’re sending a private boat.”

Bags frowned.“Is it a fertility clinic?” 

Claudia shrugged. 

“The FDA has been investigating an island near Malta for gene editing of embryos. Is she going for a designer baby?”

“God. I hope not. That shit is scary. And illegal.” She flicked her wrist at the letter in his hand. “Jump to the end and tell me who’s attending this hearing.”

Instead, he lay the letter aside and leaned forward in earnest. “Claudia. You need to delay this bizarre trip to Malta. You might be facing a malpractice suit. Going to a clinic creating designer babies is just adding fuel to that fire.”

“Don’t be so dramatic. I’ll reschedule the hearing. Anyway, you’re the only person who knows where I’m headed.”

Bags sighed and lowered his head into his hands. “Lawyers have a way of finding out these things if they think it will help them win.” He jumped to his feet and jabbed his index finger at her. “My company has hundreds of millions invested in this prosthetic heart. I’m not about to let you blow off this disciplinary hearing because your friend wants a designer baby.” 

Claudia closed her eyes and mind to her old friend’s agitated expression. “I’m sorry, Bags, but Paula’s daughter might be in trouble.”

“You’re telling me visiting one of your patients is more important than saving your entire medical career?”

“This particular one—yes. She’s my goddaughter. I’m going. Now sit down and tell me who’s attending this hearing that has you so twisted out of shape.”

Bags plopped down with a scowl, scooped up the paper and rattled it close to his face. “Fine. Okay. The committee and myself, of course.” He looked up and let his hands drop into his lap. “The General Medical Council.”

Ew,” she said. “That doesn’t sound good.” Breaking something-or-other subsection of the hospital’s useless manual was one thing. Surely the council wouldn’t have the balls to suspend her medical license. The news media wouldn’t stand for it. “Who else?”

“Um. . .I didn’t notice this before,” Bags said, “but there’s a note at the end. ‘In lieu of attendance, the chairman will read an affidavit from Mr. and Mrs. D. Johnson.’”

Their heads snapped up in tandem. “Those ungrateful weasels,” she said. So Bag’s hunch was right. Altruism be damned, the Johnsons were planning to get rich from Claudia’s last ditch effort to save their dying daughter.

It felt like they’d taken a cleaver to everything Claudia knew to be true about her future. She fell back into a sea of shifting beans and stared at the spider webs dotting her cracked plaster ceiling. “I think a vulture just flew off with my Nobel Prize for Medicine.”

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