I sleep hard and well, and, if I do dream, they’re usually pleasant, especially if Olivia Olson makes an appearance. I used to dream about my dead family I buried back in Georgia. Sadly, those dreams are fewer and farther apart and less vivid. And so it goes.
I get up, step around The World’s Best Bulldog, Gotcha, who is asleep on her tuffet on the floor at the foot of my bed. She is usually snoring with her tongue hanging out. She opens one skeptical eye and watches me leave. She does not get up. Depending on the season, I dress for my morning run through the Iowa countryside. This is typically 3-5 miles. I run alone; a good time to clear my head, think about nothing but the beauty of the place, and sprint the last few yards to my home, seven miles outside of Rockbluff, Iowa, a charming village of 5,000 people in the northeast Iowa hill country.
After I run, I let Gotcha out, let her in, medicate her with pills hidden in a tablespoonful of peanut butter, and feed her. After eating, she rests up from her night’s sleep and morning duties by hopping into a recliner, pushing it back, and splaying herself out on her belly so she can prepare for lunch. I set to work on a big breakfast, the most important meal of the day, tied with lunch and dinner. What’s for breakfast? A big Harley Davidson mug half filled with strong coffee and topped off with Bailey’s Irish Creme, a necessary nutritional additive. I consume that cup while I’m fixing my breakfast which is usually prepared from among the following ingredients: hash browns, sausage (patties and links), scrambled eggs made with lots of butter and cheese sometimes, natural peanut butter on a spoon dipped into a jar of Iowa honey, cashews, Pop Tarts, and several gluts of whole milk front he container. A second cup of cafe au Bailey’s is usually consumed while I eat.
I shower, shave sometimes, and get dressed. I watch ESPN to catch up on the Red Sox, read the Iowa newspapers on line to keep up with the Hawkeyes, and attend to emails. Sometimes I actually get one, but only from my friend and former pastor, Ernie Timmons, back in Belue, Georgia, who monitors my behavior by reading the same Iowa papers I read. Sometimes I stumble into trouble and newsworthy activities take place and a reporter shows up and I’m in the news.
I usually take my Bible out on the deck that overlooks two river valleys, the Whitetail River and, beyond that, the Mississippi. I am easily distracted from my reading, I confess.
By late morning, my stomach’s growling, so I leave my house, climb into my mega-engine Ford 150 4-door midnight blue pickup and drive into town to interact with the usual suspects. If I pass Arvid Pendergast’s and he’s playing dead where I can see him, I honk the horn. He does not respond. Arvid sells a lot of life insurance, and he spontaneously collapses as if he’s been struck dead. People who see his “performance art” as he calls it, are reminded of their own mortality. Then they buy Lutheran Brotherhood Insurance. From Arvid.
My usual destination is The Grain o’ Truth Bar & Grill run by my friend, Lunatic Mooning, an Ojibwe Indian. He have deep discussions on life, especially women. I might see Liv Olson if I’m lucky, or Sheriff Harmon Payne. I drive Sheriff Payne crazy because I have developed a habit of solving crimes in the community before he does. Of course, I am not restricted by policies and procedures. Still, we’re friends. My lunch usually consists of one or two Loony Burgers, the specialty of the house, and or two Three Philosophers Belgian Ale to clean my palate. After lunch, I have been known to take a side trip to Shlop’s Roadhouse, a seedy establishment that caters to rednecks, bikers, and aging thugs, so I fit right in. The main attraction there is Bunza Steele, a barmaid who “rassles” on the side and plans to finance her future career as a brain surgeon through monies earned in the squared circle.
If I don’t go by Shlop’s, it’s because I stopped by Christ the King Church to chat with Carl Heisler, a friend and pastor there who helped me out with some key information a while back – information that helped solve a murder and the messy situations that fanned out from that crime. Or I might swing by Whistling Birch Golf & Country Club to seek out Jurgen Clontz, an obsessive acquirer of land who dislikes me. I dislike him, but he can be a good source of information.
Afternoons usually find me at The Earth Vessel Barbell Club & Video Rental, run by Mike Mulehoff, history teacher at Dubuque Senior High School and powerlifter of some repute. I need to stay in shape because people try to beat me up or kill me, so I have a regular routine at the gym with free weights and some machines. Plus, I like the workouts, and after my caloric intake in a typical day, I need to change some of that food into muscle, or just burn it up.
And it seems I always have to keep alert to the inevitable presence of Suzanne Highsmith, former news reporter and now a best-selling author, who constantly bugs me for information (she wants my story on what happens when I nudge up against trouble, and I’m not telling) and romantic attention. Suzanne is beautiful, smart, and sexy. Why do I resist?
The answer to that is Olivia “Liv” Olson, English Teacher at Rockbluff High School and a woman after my own heart. Our relationship has been erratic, I could say. She saved my life once. We ended up together in her bed one night a while ago. But she gets mad at me sometimes just because I am not always truthful with her (for her own protection) and also because trouble seems attracted to me (true). Oh, and I got her shot once. Still, there’s just something there . . .
Inevitably, sooner or later, Liv’s concerns ring true. Somehow, acting innocently and without malice or violence in my heart, I stumble onto problems. I am a curious person, and so I snoop around. I have plenty of money, nothing to do now that my family has been ripped away from me, and I enjoy certain skills from my nebulous past shadowed by SEALS training (although I was never a SEAL) and private securilty missions before I met Karen, married her, and settled down into a beautiful life that was destroyed by a drunken driver in an 18-wheeler south of Atlanta as my girls were returning from Christmas shopping.
I really don’t have much to lose, having lost my family. So, maybe I can be a bit of a smart-ass, maybe I can be edgy in physical confrontations. So what?
Life can be a struggle when you’re Thomas O’Shea. Struggles with my trust in God, struggles with alcohol (I do enjoy a sip now and then), and struggles with a tendency to enjoy violence against bad guys when they start it. It’s a good thing I’m polite and cute, otherwise I’d be in really big trouble.
Would you like to know more? You can read more about Thomas in A Far Gone Night, the second book in the “Thomas O’Shea” mystery series, published by Neverland Publishing Company. The first book in the series is Signs of Struggle.
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 6 p.m. eastern on November 4 for the chance to win a copy of A FAR GONE NIGHT. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.
Meet the author
John Carenen, a native of Clinton, Iowa, graduated with an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing from the prestigious University of Iowa Writers Workshop and has been writing ever since. His work has appeared numerous times in Reader’s Digest (including a First Person Award), McCall’s, Dynamic Years, and other periodicals. He has been a featured columnist in newspapers in Morganton, North Carolina and Clinton, South Carolina. His fiction has appeared in regional literary magazines. A novel, Son-up, Son-down, was published by the National Institute of Mental Health.
He is happily married to (long-suffering) Elisabeth, and they have two grown daughters, Caitlin and Rowe. When he isn’t writing, he thinks about getting in shape, cheers for the Iowa Hawkeyes and Boston Red Sox, and takes frequent naps. He has traveled extensively, having visited 43 states and 23 countries. He is a USAF veteran, having served in the Philippines and Massachusetts.
Currently an English professor at Newberry College in Newberry, South Carolina, he is hard at work on another novel.