Excerpt from Blood of the Moon

Chapter 14

Wakefield Park, Annandale, Virginia, July 15, 2016

Blood of the Moon Book Cover

David Rivers stood alone next to his red compact rental, the only car in the large, deserted parking lot. A gentle night breeze, hot and humid, licked his face under the dull amber glow of a few widely spaced streetlights, each inundated by swirling crowds of gnats. Somewhere nearby, an unseen water sprinkler hissed, punctuated by the rhythmic cadence of hundreds of chirping crickets patrolling the thick woods surrounding the playing fields. He scanned his surroundings, looking past the low brick building housing a closed snack bar to survey the handful of unlit softball fields arrayed below the parking lot. Meet an old friend at Field Four at eleven o’clock, the young messenger with blond dreadlocks had told him at his hotel before scurrying off without further explanation. Rivers glanced around for signs indicating which field was which. He saw none. How should he know which was Field Four?

Movement caught his eye, and Rivers looked at the field to his right, squinting through a high wire backstop. At the far edge of the dim light thrown by the parking lot streetlamps, a lone figure, tall and thin, walked slowly toward third base, kicking up small eddies of dust. The figure’s hands were buried deep in the pockets of an ankle-length, dark, unbuttoned coat that fluttered behind it in the breeze as it rounded third with head bowed, approaching home plate with deliberate, unhurried steps.

Rivers walked down a shallow grass embankment, arriving at the backstop as the dark figure’s foot touched home plate. Without stopping as it turned and walked toward first base, the figure looked up at Rivers. It was an old man, his balding pate glowing a soft, ethereal orange in the artificial light. It took a moment, and though he hadn’t seen him in person since he was a boy, Rivers recognized the old man.

“Mr. Page?” Rivers’ tone reflected equal parts surprise and confusion.

“My brother and I used to play baseball all the time, when we were kids. I was better at it than he was.” Bill Page nodded at first base. “Join me, David.” Page lowered his head again and ambled down the baseline.

Rivers found his way into the first base dugout and maneuvered through it, meeting Page as he rounded first base and turned his long, slow stride toward second. The two walked together a few moments without speaking, serenaded by the rise and fall of the crickets’ incessant song.

Rivers looked at Page, scrutinizing the old man’s deeply wrinkled features for some hint why he had been summoned without explanation to an empty ball field fifteen miles from Washington in the middle of the night by a man he hadn’t seen in decades. Questions flowed through his mind, one galloping after another. Rather than ask any of them, Rivers said, “I’m very sorry about your brother, Mr. Page.”

Shoulder to shoulder, the men rounded second base, changing their direction together toward third. Page kept his head down. His shiny black shoes knocked up red dust on the base path. “That’s something we have in common, David. Dead brothers. The difference between us is, we know why Bradley died. The Wars. We don’t know why Donald died.”

Rivers swallowed and said softly, “I understand your brother was killed by gunshot during a burglary at his home, Mr. Page. And I’m so sorry for...”

Page stopped and turned to Rivers, anger pulsing in his pale, watery eyes. “He was shot through the forehead, at point-blank range. He lived off his skimpy government pension and D-list appearance fees and what little money I could beg or cajole my wife to send him every Christmas. He owned nothing worth stealing. My brother was assassinated.”

Rivers stared at Page, trying vainly to mask his incredulity, and regretting his decision to come. “Why would anyone want to kill your brother?”

Page resumed walking toward third base. Rivers watched the old man move a few yards away, then hurried to catch him. “Why?” Rivers repeated.

“Eva doesn’t believe me,” Page said. “She thinks I’m just a senile old man drowning in idle time. ‘Just stand next to me and smile, look dignified, and whatever you do don’t talk,’ she says, ‘and I’ll do the thinking for both of us.’ She doesn’t know I’m here now. She wouldn’t approve. But she’s at another fundraiser tonight trading promises and favors, so I slipped away.” Page wheezed a long sigh as his shiny shoe clipped the corner of third base and he turned left toward home plate again. “There’s no cuckold more pathetic than a politician’s husband.”

Rivers wasn’t sure Eva Page miscalculated her husband’s mental state. Maybe the man was getting senile. Rivers remembered how his father had begun to slip in fits and starts into dementia after Bradley and his mother died, alternating unpredictably between sharp lucidity one day and delusional paranoia the next, trumpeting the former to obscure the latter. He took a deep breath and asked again in the same gentle tone he used to coax his father, “Mr. Page, please tell me why you think your brother was murdered. That’s why you asked me to come here, isn’t it? Because for some reason you want me to know.”

Page stopped again, halfway between third base and home plate. “Yes, David. I want you to know. You, of all people, should know.” He pulled his hands from his coat pockets and rubbed his face. “My brother never cared about money or stuff money could buy. The only things of any real value Don had were in here.” Page tapped his craggy forehead with a long, bent finger. “His stories, his memories of being on the moon. That’s why strangers would pay a few dollars to pose with him for photos or to get his autograph.” Page shoved his thin white hands deeper in his coat pockets. “About two years ago Eva gave me a couple of tickets to the Ohio State football game at Annapolis. Hot tickets Eva got from some K Street outfit looking for a little sleight of hand in a war appropriations bill. Don went to Navy, so I invited him to the game, flew him up from Texas because he couldn’t afford the airfare. That was the last time I saw him.” Page resumed walking the base path, but backward in small, careful steps while keeping his gaze fixed on Rivers.

Rivers didn’t move. Struggling to keep his growing exasperation from his voice, he called out to Page, “I don’t see what...”

“Don told me something at the game. Something he’d never told me before, never told anyone before, he said. Something your father said to him after splashdown when they were together on the Ticonderoga. I thought it sounded crazy when he told me. I remember laughing about it. But now Don’s been assassinated, and it wasn’t for some worthless trinkets in his apartment. It had to be for some other reason. Something he knew.”

Rivers trotted down the baseline, catching up with Page just as the old man’s heel scuffed across the face of home plate. “What did your brother know? What did my father tell him?”

Page stopped, his feet close together on the middle of the white rubber base. He peered up at the quarter moon shimmering in the night sky. “He said your father told him he found gold.” Page raised a hand and extended a crooked finger at the moon. “Up there.”

“A stunning debut. Well-researched, tightly plotted, and teeming with vividly-drawn characters. Gazala has a great voice, as well as a clear gift for breakneck pacing and narrative drive. A rich and rewarding read.” Raymond Khoury,
NYT Bestselling Author of The Sign

Get Blood of the Moon Today

Kindle Edition Nook Edition Barnes & Noble Books-A-Million

Richard's Author Page

Read more at Book Daily!