20 March 2014

Excerpt Thursday: THE DAZZLING DARKNESS by Paula Cappa

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Paula Cappa with her latest novel, THE DAZZLING DARKNESS. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. The author will offer a free copy of The Dazzling Darkness to a lucky blog visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

A secret lies buried beneath the haunting statuary in Old Willow Cemetery. In Concord, Massachusetts, the surrounding woods are alive with the spirits of transcendentalists Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott. Elias Hatch, the cemetery keeper, is the last of modern-day transcendentalists. Does he know the secret power buried in Old Willow Cemetery? Would he reveal it?

Next door to this cemetery is a lovely gabled house. When the Brooke family moves in, the secret of Old Willow strikes. 

On a cold afternoon in March, five-year-old Henry Brooke does not arrive home from the school bus stop. Antonia Brooke is frantic her child is missing, or--the unspeakable--stolen. Adam Brooke spends a harrowing night searching the Concord woods, fear gripping him as hours pass with no leads. 

Finally, a police dog tracks Henry's scent inside Old Willow Cemetery. Detective Mike Balducci suspects that Elias Hatch knows the truth about what happened to Henry. Balducci knows Hatch's metaphysical beliefs. What Balducci discovers buried in the cemetery is beyond the grave, beyond apparitions or shadowy drifts rushing through the pine trees. 

There are the dazzled faces in the darkened air ... and their secret.


Old Willow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts    

Elias Hatch is an old soul who spends each day trusting the dead.
Midnight at his heels, Elias walks the paths through the gravestones in the deepening night of a moon-splashed cemetery. He stops and gazes straight up at the sky. The constellation of Perseus glimmers right next to Aries. Magnificent. Brooding autumn leaves sail down one by one with breathy sounds. A chill is present. At the gates of Old Willow Cemetery, the twisted vines choke the bald ironworks, their thorny cords crisscrossed into images of wrinkled faces and hoodwinked eyes. Trust. Be brave, old man.
Elias Hatch is the keeper of Old Willow Cemetery, a scientist who imitates the medieval art of alchemy transforming not metal into gold, but hidden reality into clear perception. At least that’s how he would tell it. These secrets.
 Inside the dark hollow of the surrounding woods, he lives like an old cat, prowling here and there for a patch of sunlight, pawing through books each day as if they were his only reliable friends. He does have one friend, a man from Italy, whom he calls loyal. Teenagers tease Elias, calling him Old Saturn, likening the grave keeper to a lion-headed dragon with his stringy mane of white hair, bearded face, and black-ice eyes that are constantly guarding the cemetery.
Twelve weeping willow trees stand outside this walled garden, their trunks bulky like wild muscular men ready to charge should anyone venture inside. The cypresses within the walls are like trees of light, sun trees and moon trees. And there is a blackthorn tree that sheds in autumn, leaving its bony branches to hook over a quarry stone.
Of the abundant trees hovering in this graveyard, there is one long-lived silver birch whose branches extend above a row of small headstones where three babies are buried. Elias, never having had children, sits by the babies’ graves, deep in thought. At the back of the yard, he has a favorite trembling lilac tree. A nervous sort, the tree likes to hug the obelisk carved with two hands raised in benediction. And sometimes, that old wild-hearted pine at the corner swipes at the satin moon as if to snatch it down. Nature growing conscious, Elias might say.
There are pieces of sculpture here among the headstones: the usual doves in flight, angels with curly feathers, a star of David. What cemetery doesn’t have some patron saints—St. Helena of the Cross, St. Agnes with hand over heart. And there is the unusual: a flat stone fresco of the birth of Venus, a kneeling woman draped in flowing veils as she hugs a cross. Elias enjoys petting her bowed head as he passes by.
Deep in the center of the cemetery, another statue draws the eye upward: a petal-thin woman beneath the drape of a thick cape. Her face is barely visible within the folds of the hood: her arms hang loose at her sides; fingers fall limp; a shy ankle peeks out from the hem and exposes delicately carved marble toes. As old stories have gone around the village through the years, the statue is said to weep human tears. Someone named her the Weeping Woman of Old Willow, and children still try to squeeze their faces between the gate irons to see if her tears are real or rain.
Elias Hatch, he knows her tears are not rain.

Greve, Italy   2005                                    

The man in a thin black suit strolled along the noisy Piazza Matteotti, searching for the associate. He threaded his way past open shops selling local produce and ceramics, the walls festooned with long salamis, cheeses, red peppers. At a crude street oven, a young woman chopped mounds of garlic and red-hot cherry peppers on a wooden board and slid them into a hot skillet of olive oil. A quick stir, then she added a handful of jumbo shrimp. The smoky fragrance stimulated his appetite as she tossed the seafood over a bowl of steaming linguine. She lifted her exotic eyes to him. He gave her a wink, and she returned a flirty smile.
Each time the man visited the associate in Greve, they would feast on the most astonishing cuisine. This Sunday in July, the man anticipated another delicious meal. In the distance, on a sunny café balcony, he spotted the associate sitting where a white tablecloth blew in the noonday breezes.
“We meet again, sir.” He greeted the associate in English and sat down.
The associate wore a tan fedora and a white gauzy shirt as wrinkled as his face. His beard was a scruffy grey. Thick tufts of chest hair showed at his neck where antique Roman medals hung on a gold chain. Completely absorbed, the associate ate a bowl of pasta with black olives and juicy tomatoes, pausing only to take a drink of a clear thick liquid.
The man removed the envelope from his jacket pocket, laid it ceremoniously on the table.
The associate half smiled. “Tell your boys in Rome I’m grateful.”
“That’s the full payment, in advance, for this last job.”
Excellente! Lola will like that.”
“Lola? Who’s that? What does she know?”
Nada. I’ve not come this far by being stupid.” His pale blue eyes shining, he flipped a small photograph to the man. “My new bride.”
The man held the photo. Lola was about twenty with streaming black hair and the bosom of a goddess.
  “I’ve ordered you the Fave con Pecorino. Very creamy. Cooked all night in a flask with olive oil. Vino?” He signaled the waiter.
L’aqua minerale. Do you have the location yet?”
 “Aaaaaah.” The associate made circles with his forefinger as if confused in the head. “Maybe America.”
“That’s unusual. Where?”
“Massachusetts, we think.” He lifted a small leather briefcase.
“What’s this?”
“Dossier. For you.”
“Me? What are you saying? You’re not going to complete this last job?”
Como si dice questoforse? Maybe. If not, you will do it.”
The man shook his head. “I don’t know the first thing about your business. I can’t do your work. You can’t expect—”
“ ‘By this sign, conquer.’ Constantine of Rome won his battles by such words. Have a little faith.”
“I’m just the messenger here, remember?” Then he whispered, “I don’t even know your name.”
“You’ll know when I’m dead. Doctors say by Christmas.” The associate swallowed another slug of the thick liquid.
“You keep drinking that grappa, you won’t make September. Tell me your name.”
He smacked his lips. “Emilio Perucca.”
“Don’t you want to know my name?”
“What for? You’re just the messenger.”
The waiter appeared, placed down a steaming dish of white beans, crisp pancetta, and thick shavings of Pecorino cheese. Intoxicated with the aroma, the man dived in with his spoon.
Perucca placed a small black velvet pouch on the table.
“What’s this, now?”
“What key? You mean—?”
Si. To the underground hatch.”
Sweat broke on his neck. “The hatch. I know nothing about that! This is your responsibility, isn’t it? I don’t even know where it is.” He pushed the pouch away.
Perucca snatched the pouch and placed it hard on the table. “Pass it on to Cavallo to keep safe. When the time comes, he will contact you through Cordone.” Perucca poured himself another glass of grappa, drank it in thirsty gulps. “We should agree on a place to meet. After it happens.”
The man calmed his nerves with a deep breath. “Where … do you think is best?”
Perucca took off his hat, exposing thin grey hair. “Cimitero.”
“In the cemetery?
Si, where else? On Via Cassia in the woods. Look for me on the banks of the Greve River.”
“How will I know … when?”
“Cavallo will call.”
The man’s hands began to shake. “I’ve not done this before.”
Perucca laughed, his pale blue eyes sparkling. “Ah, neither have I. Eat your beans.”

 Learn more about author Paula Cappa