Here it is, gang, the long awaited first chapter of The Navigators!
Today you get to have a sneak peek at the opening of what I hope will be a 4-book release year. THIS sci fi mystery will be followed by Poggibonsi, my hilarious romantic comedy, The Water Castle, a romance, and An Angel On Her Shoulder, a paranormal thriller.
But first things first.
You can now preorder The Navigators for 99 cents (on release day July 1 the price goes to $2.99 and we expect the final price to go to $5.99 within 30 days).
Preorder The Navigators HERE
Now, Chapter One.
“No way.” Roger shook his head and left the kitchen. “You fuckers are crazy.”
Barry jumped up from behind his desk. “Come on. A paleontology dig at a mine in central Florida is practically like going to the beach.”
“Only hotter.” I set my plate on the coffee table and leaned back, folding my arms.
Melissa carried her hamburger to the kitchen. “It’s smellier, too. Yuck.” She leaned on the counter, taking her free hand and sweeping her long brown locks behind her ear.
Riff sat in the far chair with his elbows on his knees. Even when relaxed, his massive arms looked like they were flexing. He twirled his car keys with his thick fingers. “A mine is a beach without a personality. Digging for fossils in a big open sand pit with a hot little spillway pond in the middle.” He faced me. “I’m not sure that’s where I want to spend my summer.”
I nodded. Barry seemed oblivious to the protests, though. He made his way toward Roger, whose long, athletic frame leaned against the wall by the window. Barry’s speech would be to the apartment walls, if necessary, but Barry would get his way. He always did. His grand oratory would end up persuading the four of us. “The mines are the best place to dig. Right, Roger?”
Roger continued to eat his burger while staring out the window.
“We all know they are.” Barry smiled as he looked around the room at us. “You’ve got the sand and the sun and the water… Bring a cooler and it’ll be like a picnic. We’ll play some tunes…”
I shook my head. “The mine is nothing like the beach. An open pit mine like you’re talking about is a massively wide hole in the ground. It can present, you know, huge amounts of paleo-treasures. We all get that. But this time of year it will be a nightmare of mud from the daily thunderstorms.” I glanced round the room, eyeing each of them. “The mine workers are scared of the shifting sands. And we should be, too, if we go.”
I stood and eyed Roger, who continued holding up the wall. “But… all that rain exposes amazing amounts of artifacts.” I sighed. “It’s a tremendous opportunity—if you are digging in the right place. But it’s definitely not the beach.” I looked over at Barry. “And it’s not a picnic.” Then I turned back to Roger, who had remained uncharacteristically quiet this entire time. “And there won’t be any pretty girls at the mine.”
“Hey.” Melissa swatted me from over the counter.
“Well, you know what I mean. Pretty girls that I don’t know… that I can ogle.”
“Why, Tomàs Pequant.” She turned her head in mock indignance. “You’re a married man.”
I shrugged. “Married, not dead.”
“You little Middle Eastern snake.” She wagged a finger at me, flashing her brilliant smile. “I’m going to have to keep my eye on you.”
Roger chuckled, finally pushing himself away from the wall. “Go ahead, it would balance things out.” He strode to the kitchen and set his plate in the sink. “Peeky can’t take his eyes off you, Missy.”
She shook her head. “I know better. Peeky’s a perfect gentleman.”
“Well, I don’t know about perfect.” I rested an elbow on the kitchen counter. “But… compared to the rest of you vermin, yes.” I leaned forward to Melissa. “And my beloved home country of India is not considered part of the Middle East.”
Riff sat up. “Peeky’s all talk.” He took a swig of his beer and set it back on the coffee table. “When we go to the beach, he can’t even look at girls he doesn’t know. Too shy.”
I pretended to bristle. “That is respect, my friend, not shyness.”
Melissa patted my shoulder. “That’s my boy.”
“But I’m working on it, so I can be just like Roger.”
“Can we get serious?” Barry moved to the middle of the room. “Let’s decide.”
Maybe we already had decided. I know I had. What better options were there? I was certain a life-changing opportunity waited for us, buried in the middle of nowhere, if only we had the nerve to go find it. But not everyone was convinced of that quite yet.
The only graduate students in the whole paleontology department doing summer session, we were talking about going big and working one of the larger mines. Everybody else was smart enough to avoid the heat and rains and search for artifacts in the fall when it is cooler—but potentially less productive.
Barry worked his magic. Under the pretense of a cookout, he lured us in. When the burgers had been eaten and the charcoal turned to ash out on the balcony, we sat in the living room and he laid out his grand plan. It was a good one.
“We’ll have the place to ourselves. The erosion from the daily afternoon rains will constantly expose a new surface layer and clues to—who knows what? Woolly mammoths and great white sharks. Maybe the largest ones ever. And they’ll be all ours.”
Roger got up and stormed back to the window. “I don’t want anything to do with digging at a mine during summer session. Not in our heat and humidity. It’s brutal here. A freaking sauna would need a drink of water if it visited at this time of year.” He glanced over at Barry. “Why’s this such a good idea all of a sudden? Because all these amazing finds are sitting there?”
“Yes, because they’re just sitting there.” Barry folded his arms over his chest and put a hand to his chin. “Until the next rain, and then they are gone again.”
“Which is the next day!” Riff looked at me. “Tomàs, it’s such a waste of time!”
Melissa placed her empty dish in the sink and leaned on the counter, awaiting my input. Maybe I was the deciding vote.
The bigger, older, more prestigious universities in Florida demanded that their little brother pull his weight. More than his weight, usually. Being a newer school, USF had to build its reputation in the shadow of its three larger and better known siblings, and they always grabbed the best things for themselves: prestigious grants, more desirable professors, you name it.
Those schools grew their annual budgets. Ours had to combine the paleontology department with the archaeology department to keep both alive. Whether a student hunted for plant and animal fossils or the arrowheads and clay pots from an ancient civilization, diggers were diggers to the budget analysts.
Barry went back to his desk and sat down in the big chair, slowly spinning around while he waited for my answer.
They were babies, this group, even though I was not so much older. But when I told them I had a wife and child back in India, I immediately gained years of perspective in their eyes.
Still, as the newest member of the group, I sometimes felt I had to tread carefully. I had only transferred to USF the prior fall, and this group—literally, the cream of the paleontology student crop—was kind enough to take me in. They were smart and ambitious, a good pairing for an exchange student from India with French roots and big dreams who could have just as easily been an outcast.
I took a deep breath. “It will be hot.”
“Hell yes it will!” Roger folded his arms and leaned on the wall. “Damn hot.”
“Brutally hot. And extremely humid.” I sighed. “Out there at the mine, by noon the air will hurt with each breath you take. The sun will zap your strength before you even reach the dig site. It’s a terrible burden, working like that. And risky. You lose focus.”
Barry seemed to weigh each word, listening for a hint at my answer.
“It is too dangerous…”
“Amen, brother!” Roger roared.
“… to not have all five of us along.”
Barry grinned. “You’ll do it?”
“Yeah.” I nodded. “I’m in.”
“Aha!” Barry jumped up. “This calls for a toast.” He grabbed Melissa’s arm and swung himself around, dancing. “Do we have any champagne? No? A Coke, then.”
Roger glared at me. “Why?”
I shrugged. “Why not? It seems worthwhile. Barry’s right. If we wait until the fall, like everybody else, we’ll be picking over the same minuscule finds. That’s how the department has been doing it for years. It works—but only if you want to find fossilized camel teeth and bits of whale bone.”
I turned to address the room. “If you want a real find, something significant, you have to do what nobody else is willing to do. Stake out the rough terrain when the rains will wash through and uncover the big stuff.”
Melissa pulled her hair over her shoulder and ran her fingers through it. “How is that different from any other time we dig there?”
“It’s tons different.” Roger walked over. “Fewer mine personnel nearby. Weaker phone signals. Flash floods. Mud slides. Lightning…”
“Sounds dangerous.” Riff got up from the couch.
Roger nodded. “It is.”
“Very dangerous,” Barry agreed.
Riff smiled. “Count me in.”
Melissa rolled her eyes. “You’re doing it for the wrong reasons, Riff.”
Riff cocked his head and glared at her. “What’s the reason you’re doing it, Missy?”
“Well…” She lowered her gaze. “I haven’t said I am doing it.”
The room fell silent. My calculations were off. We still weren’t decided. All eyes were now on Melissa. Barry was in. So was Riff. And me. Roger would protest, but he wouldn’t dare let us go without him, for fear that we would actually find something substantial out there in the middle of nowhere and he’d miss out. Melissa was often the lone voice of caution and reason in this male dominated clan.
She stared down at her manicure, a temporary luxury for a paleontology student.
I knew the reason somebody like Melissa hung out with these boys, though. She had become one of them. From my short time with the group, I saw she’d earned her way in through hard work. I’d seen her be a friend, co-worker, surrogate sister, and more, but she had earned their respect by getting dirty in the field. I couldn’t see this happening without her being a part of it.
She sighed. “Okay, I’m in.”
“Fuck!” Roger put his hand to his forehead. “What is wrong with you people?”
“We want to die rich and famous, man!” Barry lifted Melissa up in his arms and swung her around wildly. Her hair drifted into his face and he closed his eyes, inhaling. “Missy’s gonna help us find a tyrannosaur!”
“Put me down, you idiot.” She smacked him on the head. “I’m getting dizzy. And there weren’t any tyrannosaurs in Florida.”
He set her down, and they held onto each other, maybe to regain their balance. She took a breath and slid her hands down his arms, lingering for a moment. He grinned at her. Then he must have remembered where he was.
“No, no tyrannosaurs in Florida! Not until we find the first one!”
The celebration was nice, but premature. The safety protocols required a minimum of five, not four. We needed Roger. But it was not my place to ruin things, so instead of stating the fact, I asked a question. “Can we go with only four?”
The jubilant room quieted again as I focused on the scowling Roger. The most physically gifted among us and a natural athlete, he seemed unlikely to let his precious Melissa venture out there without him. They were no longer an item, but we all knew he felt that she—and the rest of us, really—wanted him along if we were going to come back safely, regardless of where we were digging. Too many things could go wrong without a full team.
So we waited for his answer.
Melissa cleared her throat. “You can say ‘no,’ Roger…”
“The hell I can. You morons will all get killed out there if I don’t go. You know that.”
Barry smiled. He held all the cards and he knew it, but he wanted a solid crew—team players who were committed.
“Aw, hell.” Roger shrugged. “If I’m going to be drafted, I might as well volunteer.”
Cheers went up from the rest of us. Melissa leaned in to him. “You weren’t being drafted, you know.”
Roger scoffed. “Wasn’t I?”
Barry found an old bottle of spiced rum in the back of the pantry. He poured it judiciously for his team. Normally, I wouldn’t drink, but today looked like a special day. One where the regular rules didn’t apply. The start of something big. Besides, traditions and rules are meant to be broken occasionally.
“A toast!” Barry held up the bottle.
We raised our assorted plastic mugs.
“To an eventful summer.” He touched his mug to the others. “One that we’ll never forget.”
We clinked our cups and drank, then set about making our grand plans to unearth the hidden treasures that awaited us.