GRAINS OF TRUTH, a novel of suspense
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GRAINS OF TRUTH
"Grains of Truth is a taut, well-written, action packed story -
an intelligent romantic thriller that never loses its focus as
a high entertainment story."
- Larry Myles, Red Inkworks
While sitting alone along San Francisco’s fabled waterfront, pacifist Julia Grant is startled by the greeting of a well-dressed stranger. Instantly her world is forever changed: Not only does he know her name, he knows where she’s been. From the quagmire of the Middle East conflict, an operative planted within the Muslim Brotherhood has led U.S. Intelligence to suspect a new terrorist plot. Enabled byThe Patriot Act, federal agents exploit Julia’s ill-fated relationship with a married Egyptologist to manipulate her into undertaking a “simple” mission to Cairo. Her misgivings about serving a government she fears are quickly justified when her contacts along the Nile are killed. As her involvement in clandestine affairs grows even deeper, so does her confusion about the direction her life should take if she survives this increasingly perilous “simple mission.”
GRAINS OF TRUTH
Mallawi, Egypt - Late at night.
Abeer Rashad darted into a dark, abandoned shack. The old wood creaked as she leaned against the wall, jerking away the scarf that covered her mouth, gulping air. Sweat trickled down between her breasts. She knew it came as much from fear as the hot, dry air. Black gloves and robemaking her all but invisiblestifled like a sauna but provided the anonymity urgently required. Without them, she would never have made it this far. The cramped quarters of a shared taxi from Cairo had put her in much too close proximity for maintaining her cover otherwise. For the last several hours she’d said little and tried to breathe out the open window to keep from gagging on the pervasive stench created by too many unwashed bodies packed into the rattling wreck.
Determination, aided by sheer luck, had allowed her to elbow her way through the crowded coffee shop to the counter and insert herself next to the Brother she followed. A strategic reach for the bowl of sugar in front of him brought her ear within inches of his mouth. Even over the din of the gurgling espresso machine, she clearly heard him mention Mallawi as his destination to the man behind the counter as he released a stream of steamy milk with a practiced hand. Abeer stooped over, feigning frailty, and, with mounting excitement, trailed him to the alley behind the shop. She kept her head down, eyes glued to his back, and watched him climb behind the wheel of a dusty van waiting there.
Now, she peered from the shack’s splintered doorway into a narrow, unpaved street. The van sat at the end of it, near a squalid house standing alone beside a ditch. Abeer knew Mallawi as a hellhole of a place, notorious as a perfect example of an Egyptian poverty-stricken nightmareand the place where President Anwar Sadat had been assassinated.
When the drum of her heart ceased to fill her ears, and she determined no one else prowled nearby, she slipped out to join the shadows, listening warily to the neighborhood settling down for the night. The only sounds audible through the walls of drying laundry hanging from every balcony were the fussy clucking of chickens and the occasional baby’s cry.
As she crept toward the parked van, other noises began to emerge, growing louder as she drew near: a scraping and thudding, punctuated by unmistakable human grunts. Intent on interpreting the puzzling sounds, she failed to see the goat tied next to a crumbling mudbrick wall until she stumbled over it. The offended animal bawled in protest and she crouched to clamp its jaw.
Stroking the improbably soft, smooth hair soothed them both. When it calmed, Abeer rose and continued, as quickly as she dared this time, down the road and around a corner of the house. A yellowish light spilled from a lantern hanging from a crude fence of uneven sticks enclosing a small area of dirt yard. Two men raised and lowered shovels alternately in a shallow rectangular hole. One of them grunted each time his foot came down on his tool to penetrate the hard, parched earth.
Careful. The crates are not buried deep. Trust meyou do not want to damage them.” The cool voice came from the darkness, unexpectedly cultured and serene.
Abeer's eyes narrowed as she puzzled at the scene, anxiety making her slow to comprehend. They widened as meaning dawned: These men were recovering something. Something possibly vital for accomplishing whatever despicableand no doubt deadlyscheme was underway. If she could reach her contact at once, maybe, just maybe, help could get here in time.
She took a cautious step back and turned to retreat. Talons of terror clutched her heart at the sight of the hideous face only inches from her own. Brutish hands shot up to close around her throat before she could make another move.
The scream of a seagull reverberated as it soared up into the Technicolor blue of a late Sunday afternoon sky. Julia Grant closed her eyes and inhaled deeply of the cool, salty sea air. Her lids lifted with the inevitable exhale, and a bittersweet feeling swept over her at the spectacular beauty of San Francisco Bay . People strolled along the Embarcadero, enjoying the picturesque scene flanked majestically by its two famous bridges. Sailboats skipped across white-capped waves beneath a welcome, warming sun; their sails billowed out, filled with the fresh breeze. This was surely as close as one could hope to come to paradise on earth, wasn’t it? So why couldn’t she find what she was looking for? Why couldn’t she decide?
“Just another great day in paradise.”
Sitting as she was, alone at the end of the quay, Julia flinched, startled by the proximity of the speaker as well as his apparent ability to read her mind. She turned to find a tall man in a dark suit looming behind her. As he came into clearer focus, she noted the sharp cut of his navy blue jacket and crisp white shirt, open at the collar. Sleek, impenetrable dark glasses added a note of inscrutability. He definitely was not, she knew at a glance, one of the sad, ubiquitous “lost souls” that inhabit San Francisco ’s public streets and parks.
Her mouth twitched at his cliché. Not wanting to encourage conversation, she murmured, “Yes, always,” and turned away. Although his silhouette continued to hover at the edge of her eye, she deliberately refocused on the bay.
The sight never failed to bring a sense of life-giving energy. It beckoned her to dive in and swim across to the quaint town of Sausalito , shimmering up the hillside in the distance. A dozen or so large, rowdy seagulls still bickered and fussed over the remnants of the fish scraps she’d thrown them earlier. Sporadically they would take flight up, up and away into the breathtaking sky. She yearned to spread wings and join them, free to float on the wind.
But Julia could not swim to Sausalito and she did not have wings and she was not free. Oh, sure, it was true enough that she was in the unusual position of being able to start life anewto re-create herself, in a way. But too much freedom, she had discovered, could be a prison of its own kind. She simply couldn’t seem to unshackle the memories and patterns of the past.
“This is a special place, isn’t it?” The stranger slid onto the bench. His left arm came up to rest along the back, with curved fingers inches from her shoulder. He casually crossed a long leg, causing his body to lean in toward hers, and looked into her eyes. At least she thought he did. The sunglasses, of an expensive and trendy make, concealed his eyes completely. And as she took a closer look, she couldn’t help but notice the stylish Italian leather shoes and smart tan socks adorned with little white whales. No, this was no lost soulat least not of the street variety.
Julia sighed. “Yes. A great place to think. Alone.” Irritated at the intrusion, she
considered getting up and walking away but, to be honest, she found him intriguing. And his presence no threat.
This was her first mistake.
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Los Otros, a novel of suspense by Lydia Crichton
Motionless, with fingers poised to lower a window against the chilly late-night Napa Valley air, Julia Grant watches two circles of yellowish light float through milky fog down a nearby wooded hill. Other images flash through her mind: A shadowy figure glimpsed in the barn. Coming across what could be a religious icon beside an isolated shed on that very same hill. Considered separately, these curious incidents mean little. Together, they arouse a prickly sense of unease.
When Sarah Littlefield, her closest friend and fellow antiwar activist, invited
Julia to make use of her recently inherited house and vineyard, Julia jumped at the chance to spend time with her new husband in the romantic California Wine Country. But from the start, something isn’t quite right. Her discovery of the body of an illegal immigrant ignites Julia’s suspicion that her friend has inherited much more than an estate.
Troubled, yet not wanting to worry her over-protective and ultra-conservative husband, Julia reluctantly reconnects with Brad Caldwell, a secret service agent who had, the year before, manipulated her into the murky world of Egyptian espionage. It doesn’t take long for facts to fall into place that suggest she has stumbled onto something that may be a lot bigger than the death of one luckless Latino…a whole lot bigger.
Once again, Caldwell connives to convince Julia to take on a “simple assignment” for her country. And, once again, Julia finds her staunchly held pacifist convictions put to the test not to mention her life at risk as she treads the treacherous line between questionable means and a worthy end.
Julia Grant, Protagonist
Julia Grant has been known to say that her life over the past few years has been complicated. This was—in the opinion of those who know her well—an understatement of paramount proportion.
As a child of the San Francisco Sixties, Julia matured to adulthood with a deeply ingrained liberal bent. An earlier, and even deeper, commitment to the Rule of Law ensured that she would spend her life in a perpetual state of conflict. And in diving headlong into situations where “angels fear to tread.”
In recent years, particularly after surviving a mysterious and life-threatening illness, Julia came to feel that she’d been born in the wrong century. She traveled a great deal, through time in a way, searching for a time or a place where people lived a kinder, more gentle way of life. This fascination, she realized, was a clear indication of her growing dissatisfaction with the present.
Also blessed with a healthy sense of humor and irony, our heroine can at least still laugh at herself for her inability at times to separate fact from fiction, ancient history from current events, or reality from romance. This precarious state of affairs has inevitably brought Julia to a crossroad. Catapulted by impulse and circumstance, she finds herself at a dangerous precipice, where she must come to terms with her inner demons … or at least tame them a little.