New Book: BELOW THE WHEEL – Behind the Scenes, Characters and Inspiration

After the success of my first work of fiction, Angel with a Broken Wing, I knew I wanted to do another book.

But, I wanted to do something different. I started writing the first draft for Below the Wheel. My first book was about a man running away from his life. He was miserable in his job and wanted to hit the road and be gone. I always loved the idea of writing a road story. I’ve driven across the United States so I understood the subject and the lay of the land.

Below the Wheel is a story about friends and relationships. Two guys who worked together for years and grew tired of the rat race. They open a detective agency in Camden, New Jersey, and the story goes from there.

I write from my heart and my gut. The first draft of Below the Wheel was a brutal piece of work. Laced with graphic sex and violence, and peppered with profanity. When I let an agent read it, she liked it but couldn’t take the violence and filth. It was just over the top. I learned from crafting Angel with a Broken Wing, that less is more. Rather than lay it all out there for the reader, I decided to take a different approach. Clean it up a bit. Let the reader picture what’s happening in the scene using their imagination. They’ll get it. You can say it without actually saying it or showing it. I’ve learned a lot from writing this book, but more from editing it.

Like Angel with a Broken Wing, I added a new chapter during the editing process. I always like to leave things a little open for the chance of a sequel. But, I felt like this book needed a little more resolution than I originally gave it. So, I added a nice twist to the story. It also fixed something I never felt completely satisfied with. I feel better about the story and the fate of the characters now. When you write you have to look after your characters. They belong to you. I’d like to someday write a follow-up to this book.

Where did the title come from? That’s a secret. If we meet in person I’ll reveal that to you.

The Admiral Wilson Boulevard.  You can read about it here:

It’s an interesting bit of history, but its portrayal in my book is accurate. In the 80s and 90s, it was a grey serpent littered with drug addicts, hookers, and vice. They only cleaned it up when the Democratic Convention came to town sometime after that. It’s all different now. Gone are the strip joints, short-stay- fleabag motels, and human detritus.

Alex Hunter: Like Christian Blackmore from Angel with a Broken Wing, they’re completely made up. I think writers sometimes base their main characters on themselves. I think that was the case here, but we always change things and add things that make them more interesting. I did quit smoking back in the 90s when my daughter was born. I didn’t want to be around my baby smelling like cigarettes. That sweet little head that smells like heaven. I just didn’t want to be the stinky smoky dad around her. I also thought of the health aspects that come from smoking cigarettes. I did use a nicotine patch to get me off the ciggies and it worked. It was rough going though. I’d get stressed back then or be fighting with my then-wife and really want a cigarette. So, I could relate to what Alex was going through in this story.

Alex also has a problem with alcohol. I like interesting characters with feet of clay. I always have. The underdog wants to do the right thing and save the world but struggles with himself. That’s why Batman is more popular than Superman. Batman’s parents were murdered right in front of him as a child. He’s got issues. But Superman was born Superman. He actually has to act like a wimp and a coward to fit in with us mortals. I like the imperfections in a character. It gives them life and relatability to the reader. Who wants to root for Joe Got-It-All? He’s probably a bore. I would much prefer to cheer for the underdog. The failure. The guy who has moments of greatness and yet somehow is undone by his own vices and devices. It just seems more real.

I hardly ever drink anymore. I just became bored with it. After so many years, it just didn’t make sense anymore. Why would I want to stand in a bar with a bunch of drunks? Why would I want to fry my liver and wreck my health? Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the occasional well-made Manhattan, but it’s just not interesting to me anymore. I certainly don’t need it to write like some authors. A clear mind will always prevail. But Alex still loves the bottle and struggles with it all the while trying to be a better person.

Scott Appel: He’s based on my real-life friend, Scott. I know most writers change the names of characters based on real people, but Scott’s my friend. We’ve been pals for over 20 years. When I told him the theme for this book he was enthusiastic about being in it with me. So we changed his last name and he came up with it himself. It didn’t mean much to me so I left it in. Why not write about what you know? It’ll make the characters more real. The banter back and forth between Alex and Scott is how we actually speak to each other. It’s all fun ribbing and slagging. That’s what friends do. Besides, Scott won’t sue me for using his name in my book. I’ve got too much dirt on him anyway!

Genevieve Bouchard: She’s the insurance agent with whom the boys share an office in Camden. This character is based on an actual girl I knew back in the 90s who sold insurance for a living. She was my agent for years. I didn’t know much about her, but she looked like the character in the book. Even though I was married back then, I always liked her. She just seemed like a cool, nice person who was down to Earth. She did have a common-law husband though. They never married and he did run a contracting business. But the Bruno Cartiglio character is completely made up. I never met her significant other. I just created him based on the biker types I’ve met in my life. He’s just a bad egg.

Dr. Ignatious Feeny: The coroner is based on a customer I knew back when I worked for First Union Bank back in the 90s. He looked like Iggy in real life. Right down to the teeth. He was an odd character. A little touched in the head. My father always taught me to treat everyone fairly. I had good customers and bad ones. But they all had money in my branch and deserved respect. This guy would always ask me if he could use the phone in my office. I let him because he told me his neighbors were listening in on his conversations. He was obviously nuts but a harmless person. Just because someone is different or weird doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect. You’d be surprised how well people respond with a little kindness. So he gets to be the brilliant but weird coroner in my book!

Ezra Chambers: The Police Luitenant was completely made up. I just pictured Morgan Freeman in the role and he was born!

Otis Guth: I based him on this fat, slovenly guy I once worked with at a record store in the early 90s. He wasn’t like Otis Guth at all. But when I think of the character in my mind I see that guy. Just hard to look at and listen to. Otis’s history is all made up except for the bit about him pursuing the kids who stole the car. That happened to a police officer friend of mine.

Alyssa Ward: She’s completely from my imagination as well. But when I think about the character, I probably was inspired by the lovely Alycia Lane the former co-anchor at KYW-TV in Philadelphia. Google her, and you’ll see what Alyssa Ward looks like in my book. Quite the babe!

Robert Wick: He’s based on a manager I had when I worked at Security Financial Services in the mid-90s. He was a gruff hard-ass but I loved him. He was great at his job and a fair manager. I would put him in the top 3 of the best men I’ve ever worked with. He wasn’t as mean or as foul-mouthed as my character, but he had that same swaggering confidence. A brilliant guy.

Karen Moore: This poor thing was based on several drug-addled prostitutes and strippers I’ve met in my life.

Her daughter Luna, is completely made up. I just wanted to create a truly good and innocent person in this story. A victim of circumstances not of her own making. A good kid, who had great potential but had just been dealt a bad hand in the game of life. The only rose to grow in a garden filled with thorns and spent hypodermic needles.

Pastor Victor Dorath: I was once in love with a girl named Linda Bradley back in the 80s. She was from Philly and I lived in Wildwood at the time. I met her on the beach and was smitten. But I hardly ever saw her. She was a straight-A student and somewhat religious. I actually went to see a pastor in Cape May, NJ for counseling. I know it seems nuts now that I think back on it, but I just needed someone to talk to about my feelings. I based this character on that gentleman. He was really sweet and a kind ear at the time.

Darren Cain: He’s based on a manager I once worked for back in my Midlantic Bank days in the 80s. He had appeared one day from New York and seemed to have an evil streak to him. No one liked him because he was so intense. But he liked me, and I think he probably had a thing for me. (He was gay) When I think of Darren Cain I see Pete Rallo. A crazy, misunderstood guy that was drunk with power. Oh, he later died from AIDS.

Lisa Devlin: (A minor character but worth mentioning) She’s based on a girl I knew who actually did work at Gloucester County College. I was taking some night courses there back in the 90s when I was married. (Like Christian Blackmore in Angel with a Broken Wing!) My then-wife thought I should finish my education. (Her family was extremely collegiate) Lisa was this nice girl that helped me navigate my classes and credits. I ended up hanging out with her a few times at a bar called Rock Lobster that used to be on Deleware Avenue in Philly.

Did I leave anybody out? I think that’s it.

I hope you like reading Below the Wheel as much as I did writing it. I think my next book of fiction may be something different again. I was thinking maybe a music story about a kid who rises in the music business in early 80s Los Angeles.

I still would like to release a collection of stories from my youth in Philadelphia, and Wildwood, NJ. But we’ll see.

You can get it here on Kindle and Paperback:

This song is dedicated to my sister Jane.


Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here:

New Book Published: BELOW THE WHEEL – Now Available on Amazon!

After publishing Angel with a Broken Wing last Summer, my next thought was… what do I do now? Go to the beach?

After much rumination, I decided to write another book. I wanted to create a hard-boiled detective novel that took place near Philly. Is there a scarier city somewhere across the river? Should I try to make a story inspired by true events?


I also wanted to make it about a couple of guys that were friends who decided to go into business together. Using the classic Hitchcockian premise of the common man getting caught up in extraordinary circumstances. I wanted to explore some of the darker sides of life, but seen through the eyes of lighthearted, unique characters. I also wanted something with a shorter, tighter timeframe than my previous book.

Below the Wheel takes place over two weeks in the lives of the characters in Camden, New Jersey in the Summer of 1998.

Alex Hunter and Scott Appel are two ex-investment brokers turned private investigators. Burned out from the competitive sales environment of buying and selling stock, they open the Watchman Detective Agency in Camden New Jersey. They spend their days investigating disability claims for insurance companies and law firms. Occasionally, they perform surveillance on errant spouses and even solve a crime now and then. But Alex and Scott aren’t taken seriously by local law enforcement. Especially detectives, Lt. Ezra Chambers, and his belligerent assistant, Sgt. Otis Guth.

Alex is the obsessive, suit and tie-wearing overachiever, who drinks too much and lives dangerously. Lately, he’s been trying to tame some of his vices by quitting smoking and seeking advice by attending church, and getting spiritual guidance from a local pastor. His life at the agency is a bit mundane, but Alex dreams of one day solving a really high-profile case.

Five years ago, he invested the inheritance of an attractive local television newswoman, Alyssa Ward. He was immediately smitten with her. But the portfolio tanked, and she lost a small fortune. She blamed Alex for the loss and never spoke to him again. Recently, her younger sister Jennifer disappeared, and Alex has taken it upon himself to find her. Jennifer always had a wild streak, and Alex thinks she may have been recruited to work in an exclusive sex club somewhere in Camden. The only problem is, no one knows where the club is located, or if it even exists.

His partner Scott, is the laid-back one. He enjoys watching cartoons, listening to heavy metal, and smoking weed. He’d be happy to just work the cases they get referred, keep the agency in the black and leave the exciting stuff to the police.

The guys share the office space with an insurance agent named Genevieve Bouchard. She’s an independent, hard-working woman, but is trapped in a toxic relationship with her abusive common-law husband, Bruno Cartiglio. When Bruno’s not involved in some sort of sleazy activity, he’s working construction on one of the nearby bridges. Genevieve hates her life with Bruno but is afraid that if she leaves him, he’ll hurt her. Scott’s attracted to Genevieve, but she’s already involved in some dangerous extracurricular activities.

During an unbearable heatwave, the boys are caught up in a bizarre case. The Camden Strangler, as the media call him, has been murdering prostitutes in the area.

A teenage girl named Luna, whose mother was the latest victim, turns to Alex and Scott for help. Scott’s reluctant to take on a client who obviously can’t pay, but Alex sees it as an opportunity to be a hero and takes the case pro bono.

Alex enlists the help of coroner Ignatious Feeny, who gives him access to the morgue and autopsy information on the victims. Alex also picks the brain of the brilliant but cantankerous Robert Wick. He’s a professor of criminology at Rutgers University. Although he’s bound to a wheelchair, he’s a master of criminal profiling. He tells Alex that the only way to solve the case is to go where the killer goes and see what he sees. Subsequently, Alex is drawn into the dark and sleazy world of the skin trade.

The boys work the case, and it’s full of twists, turns, and red herrings. Will they ever figure out who is doing the killings in Camden? Will Alyssa’s sister ever be found?

You’ll have to read the book to find out.

First and foremost, I want to thank the incredibly talented artist, Kellie Stiles who designed and painted the cover for Below the Wheel. Without her tireless efforts, we’d have… well… a book without a cover!

Special thanks to my wunderkind daughter, Kathryn. You’ve always been my greatest inspiration. A brilliant artist and musician in your own right. I appreciate you listening to me complain endlessly about the process of creating new literature and writing in general!

Thanks to the amazing team at Amazon Kindle. Without you, I’d be lost in a sea of technology. I can write the words, but you guys help me turn them into books.

Thanks to everyone at Amazon. I became a member over 25 years ago when you were just a giant bookstore. After crawling on my hands and knees to agents and publishing houses for years, Amazon finally gave me the biggest platform on Earth to bring my literary work to the world.

A special thanks to everyone at WordPress. Without you, I couldn’t publish Phicklephilly every day for the last five years! Now we’re a dot-com and I’ve monetized the site with ads from companies I’ve acquired, and we’ve also added Google AdSense! You gave me a home to bring my work to everyone! Thank you!

Thanks to all the folks over at GoDaddy. You made the transition from just another blogger to a dot-com look easy. Thanks for always being there when I needed you. You’re the best!

And of course, I have to thank my agent, JR for keeping this rocking boat afloat, and getting me steady commercial writing work to put food on the table for me and my daughter!

And last, but certainly not least…

Thank you, dear readers and subscribers, (2300 strong!) for your support over all the last 5 years I’ve been writing this little blog. What started out as a hobby to write about all my crazy dates, relationships, and people in my life has grown exponentially! You all got me to a quarter of a million page views this year! I appreciate you all and try to respond to all of your comments.

Please buy my new book. I assure you, you won’t be disappointed. It’s quite a ride! You can read it on the beach this summer!

You can get it in paperback or kindle here:

We did it again in 2021!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here:

Angel with a Broken Wing – Chapter 3

My new book, Below the Wheel, drops on June 22. Here’s a little taste from last year’s novel, Angel with a Broken Wing.



The next morning, Christian stood in his kitchen looking out at the snow as he ground some beans for coffee. He dumped the grounds into the coffee machine and turned it on. He put on his jacket and went outside. The cold sun shone brightly in the winter sky and glistened on the ice that covered the trees in his yard. His boots crunched and squeaked in the snow that covered his property. He unlocked the garage and went inside. Sitting on the floor against the wall were the two suitcases and the briefcase. He picked up the case.

“I can use this.”

He placed it on the workbench and snapped it open. Inside it were papes and personal effects that belonged to his uncle John. He lifted out a stack of memos from Florida Electric. “He leaves me this thing and doesn’t even bother to clean it out.” He sifted through the pile and came across several old photographs. Pictures of his uncle with his mother and some with Christian as a kid. For the first time since his uncle’s death, he felt sad. He could feel the lump forming in his throat as he flipped through them. He wiped the tears from his eyes when he saw one of his uncle making sandcastles with him as a child on the beach. He carefully laid the photos to the side and continued to dig through the briefcase. He pulled out some letters and some old black and white photos. Most of them pictured people he didn’t know.

“Must have been long before my time.”

Christian looked at a faded, dog-eared photo of his uncle standing with another man. They were both wearing military uniforms. He flipped it over and written on the back were the following words:


It appeared to have been written by a woman. He put the photo with the others and reached for a book that lay in the flap inside the lid. Christian flipped through the small diary.

“It’s full of his poetry!”

Christian remembered when he was a kid, his uncle would send him a card on his birthday. It always contained a crisp five-dollar bill, and a little wry poem written by him for the occasion. 

He gently placed all of the items back into the briefcase and closed the lid. His interest piqued, he attempted to open one of the leather suitcases.


He tried the other one. It too was securely locked.

“Typical. I get all of the poetry and none of the keys. Story of my life!”

Christian grabbed a screwdriver from his toolbox and popped the lock on the first suitcase. Inside was his uncle’s army uniform, assorted medals, a small travel kit with a razor, and a pair of glasses inside. Beneath all of that was an assortment of clothes.

“Why is all of this stuff still in here? Was he planning a trip before he died? What am I supposed to do with all of this stuff?”

Christian checked each of the three pockets that lined the inside of the suitcase.

The pockets contained the following items, a tie clip with the Yankee Clipper on it, three quarters, a pair of old cufflinks… and a loaded .44 caliber pistol.

“Jeez, Louise!”

 He held the heavy weapon in his trembling hand.

He took the gun into the house and gently laid it on the kitchen counter. He poured himself a cup of coffee and lit a cigarette. Taking a sip, he gazed at the powerful firearm. A chill ran up his spine as he looked upon it. He blew a large cloud of smoke towards the ceiling as he stared at the firearm that now lay on his kitchen counter. It seemed so out of place in his neatly appointed house. The cold metal object silently screamed danger.

“I never owned a gun. I hate guns. It must have been my uncle’s service revolver during his tour of duty in Europe during World War II. Where have I seen a gun like this before?”

He focused his memory on the gun. He knew he’d heard of this kind of gun once in his past. But where?

His thoughts were interrupted by the phone ringing. He placed the gun in a drawer and picked up the phone.

“Hello, Sheryl! How’s it going? Yea… I got back yesterday. You’d be surprised. No. No money! Just some stuff of his. Are you coming over? Cool. I got something to show you. Yeah…ok. No, it’s nothing bad. Alright. See you soon.”

Christian hung up the receiver, picked up his coffee mug, and went into the living room. He sat on the couch and stared at the fireplace. The flames lapped upward, dancing before him and warming the room. He took a sip from the cup of french vanilla and thought about Sheryl. He had met her in one of his psychology courses. He remembered how she almost looked like she didn’t belong in that class. While everyone else wore t-shirts and jeans, she was always dressed nicely. She sat dead center in the room, about three desks from the front. She probably came to class straight from her job at the mental health facility. 

Sheryl Lee Stanton was twenty-two. She had ice blue eyes and blonde hair, the color of sunshine on a warm afternoon. Her figure was voluptuous, and her skin was really creamy and fresh, like a child’s. She was very outgoing and liked to contribute her views whenever she was in class – which seemed like all of the time to Christian. But the most endearing aspect of Sheryl was that she loved to laugh. She also had a great wisecracking sense of humor.

Christian always sat at the front left corner desk in class. He would turn his desk on an angle so that he was pointed right at the professor, but still able to see the rest of the class. He was really impressed with Sheryl. She seemed to be the only one who genuinely enjoyed being there.

Christian got up and tossed another log on the fire, and got another cup of coffee. He thought about the first time he and Sheryl had ever gone out for drinks after class. They sat and talked for hours. He never imagined they would, but they really hit it off. After weeks of checking her out in class and wondering what she was like, he was a little surprised to find she was as sweet as he had imagined. She laughed a lot that night he thought, as he propped his feet up on the coffee table and leaned back on the sofa. He remembered how he watched her as she told some story, she’d speak very quickly and wiggle her cigarette between her fingers. He really had to pay attention! Half the time he would focus on her full lips. That pout had struck a chord in his heart. All of those times he would sit in class and look at her, he would always zero in on those plump lips.

Christian smiled and was taking another sip of coffee when there was a knock on his front door.

“It’s open, Sher!”

The door opened and the outer screen door banged shut as she quickly entered his home. 

“Hoo! It’s cold out there!”

“You look like a snow bunny fresh off the slopes of Telluride, dear.”

“Why can’t I be in Florida right now?” She removed her sunglasses.

“Just came from there. Really warm. It’s nice down there. I just wish it were under better circumstances.”

“Yea… I’m sorry.” She removed her heavy winter coat and hung it in on the rack in the corner.

“Well, he’s at peace now, right?”

“I guess.” She looked out the window at the snow-covered yard that led up to the adjacent golf course. 

The room fell silent. The kind of moment that if they hadn’t been such good friends, it would have been awkward.

“Nice fire and music! What are you listening to?”

“Windham Hill. I think they call it, New Age music.”

“Cool. What’s the song playing now?”

“It’s called Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter.”

“Nice. Very sweet.”

“Yea… good for a cold winter morning.”

“So… what’s happening?” She flopped on the couch across from him.

“Well, back from the funeral. My uncle left me some stuff.”

“Anything good?”


“So what’d you get?”

“A briefcase, some old luggage, and a car.”

“A car! Wow! What kind?”

Christian mumbled.

“I’m sorry Chris, I didn’t hear you.”

“I said, a Ford.”

“A Ford? A Taurus? A Thunderbird? What?”

“Go look for yourself.”

Sheryl pushed the back door open and went outside. She yanked the side door to the garage and went inside. Christian let the moment steam, as he envisioned her seeing the auto for the first time. He heard the sudden burst of laughter come from the garage, and then the sound of boots coming across the back porch. The door burst open. He sat motionless, staring at the fireplace. Sheryl stomped the snow from her boots on the mat by the door and joined him on the couch. She said nothing. After a few moments, he looked at her.


“Well, what?”

“Aren’t you going to say something?”

“About what?” Her pale eyes shone brightly.

“What about when you laughed?”

Sheryl began to smile. Her full lips parting to show Hollywood perfect teeth.

“Chris, that is the sorriest-looking car on the face of the Earth. I’m sorry, but it is. What the hell is that thing?”

“It’s a 1974 Ford Pinto. I don’t even know why my uncle left me that piece of junk. It doesn’t even run well.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve heard of that car. Maybe so you’d be ready for the next gas crisis?”

“No, really, Sher.”

“I don’t know, Chris. It’s an eyesore, though. What’s with the Phoenix?

“What Phoenix?”

“I saw the word,’ Phoenix’ etched into the back window.”

“I hadn’t noticed.”

“Come on, I’ll show you.”

Minutes later they were both heading out to the garage to inspect the car.

“It really stinks of kerosene in here, Chris.”

“It’s the heater. Keeps the place warm when I’m out here working or playing my guitar.”

“Look here, Chris. Her dainty finger pointed to the back window of the vehicle.

Etched in the glass was a small picture of a flaming bird and underneath it was the word, Phoenix. 

“That’s weird. Come on, I’ll show you the rest of the stuff.” He sifted through the briefcase and the photos.

“Can I check out the car?”

“Be my guest.” He watched as Sheryl climbed into the car and slammed the door.

“This car sucks!” She played with the gearshift and cranked the wheel like a child.

“You’ve made that fact abundantly clear, dear. I’ll tell you what… You can have the damn thing, okay?”

“Really? This old thing might be an antique, mister!”

“Oh boy, I’m rich. Do you want to look through these suitcases or not? I still haven’t checked out the contents of this other one yet.”

“Alright. Can you at least open the garage door so I don’t pass out from that kerosene smell? It’s giving me a headache.”

“I never realized what an incredible pain in the ass you are, Sher.”

“I know. But you love me anyway.” She gave him one over her electric smiles.

“Yes, of course.” He lifted the latch and lifted the big garage door.

Sheryl got out of the car and walked over to the workbench where the suitcases lay. An icy wind blew through the garage.

“Now I’m going to freeze my ass off!”

“No, you’re not. Help me get this stuff inside. Grab that screwdriver for the other case. You know…I don’t even know why you called me, Sher. Had I known it was you I would never have answered the phone.”

“Oh, settle down, Chris. Let’s go.”

They hauled the suitcases inside and dropped them on the floor. They both stood by the fireplace to warm themselves.

“I can’t wait until Spring.” He tossed another log on the crackling hearth. He was about to sit down on the rug in front of the fire when Sheryl quipped.

“Would you be a dear and make me a cup of hot cocoa?”

Christian exhaled loudly and headed for the kitchen to boil some water. Sheryl took the screwdriver and jammed it behind the clasp on the other suitcase. She popped open the lock and looked inside.

“Hey, this one’s empty, Chris.”

“Really?” He pulled the packet of cocoa from the box on the shelf.

“There’s just a bunch of clothes and stuff in the other one.”

“Yea… except for this.”

Christian swaggered into the living room brandishing the .44 pistol.

“Go ahead… make my day.”

“Cool! Is it real?”

“Oh yes, my flaxen-haired friend.”

“Can I hold it?”


“You’re a jerk, Christian. What kind of gun is it?”

“I’m glad you asked that, my dear. I was trying to remember where I had heard of this gun before you came over today, and it just struck me. This is one badass gun. Strictly manufactured for close-range anti-personnel. It was created to kill people, Sher. No wounding your adversary with this weapon. When fired the bullet begins to tumble end over end. So by the time it reaches its target, it blows a hole the size of a grapefruit in it. Very messy. I remember hearing about it for the first time back in August of 1977.

“Okay… I was seven years old, grandpa.”

“I was in Wildwood, New Jersey. I had just turned fifteen years old. I was walking a girl home I had met at the motel where I worked as a pool boy.”

“That’s cute. Did she pull a gun on you?”

“I was bringing her back from seeing the film, Star Wars. Seems like a long time ago now.”

“In a galaxy far, far away, right?”

“Shut up, Sher. I’m trying to tell a story here. Anyway, her name was Ann. Her last name sounded like ‘playback’ but it escapes me. She was from New York City. She had honey blonde hair and brown eyes. She was wearing white shorts, and a blue and white striped tube top. We used to call them boob tubes!”

“You’ve got quite a memory for the details, don’t you, Mr. Blackmore? Did she have a rich, deep tan, one can only achieve in the late August sun?”

“I think you’re jealous, Sher. But we can address that later. I can remember standing with her on the corner of 8th street and Ocean Avenue. I kissed her. She told me she was a little scared to go home to New York the next day. When I asked her why, she said, ‘because they haven’t caught the Son of Sam yet.’ The .44 caliber killer. Ann left the shore with her family the next morning. That evening the NYPD apprehended David Berkowitz. Ann was safe.”

“That’s a beautiful little story, Chris. You as the teenage rogue. Ann as the damsel in distress. Berkowitz as the serial killer. Sounds like some kind of twisted love triangle!”

“Why couldn’t my uncle have left me a Walther PK? That’s James Bond’s gun! No… I have to get the same kind of gun that some wacko used to shoot all of those couples in their cars in 1977! I hate guns!”

“Then put it away before you hurt yourself.”

“You’re right, Sher.” He returned to the kitchen.

“So we’ve got one suitcase full of old clothes and stuff, and the other one’s empty. They both look exactly alike except the empty one has the gold monogrammed letters on the front.”

“What monogram?”

“These.” Sheryl pointed to the letters. Who’s initials are, H.A.?”

“The only person that comes to mind is my uncle’s friend from his time in the military, Harold Ashen.”

“So, I guess this belonged to him. Then what was your uncle doing with his luggage?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he gave it to him.”

“Or, your uncle ripped him off!”

“I doubt it.” Christian stared at the monogrammed case. “Wait a second. H.A…. H.A. Ha, Ha! That’s it! That’s what my uncle meant! It wasn’t laughter in his Will. It was the initials on the suitcase!”

“What are you talking about, Chris?”

“I’ll explain it to you in a minute.” He returned to the kitchen and poured the contents of the packet of cocoa into the coffee mug.

“This is weird.” Sheryl began to fiddle with the raised monogrammed letters as she felt around inside of the empty suitcase.

“I know, right?” The water began to boil in the kettle and it wailed softly like the wind, and then grew louder and more shrill. 

“Maybe these buttons do something.”

“What buttons?” He hollered back from the kitchen as he reached for the screaming kettle.

Just as he switched off the burner, he heard a loud explosion. It was as if a bomb had gone off across the street. The concussion rattled the windows and he could hear car alarms going off out front on the street.

He ran from the kitchen and into the living room. Sheryl was getting to her feet.

“Sheryl… What the…?”

“Chris… I…”

He bolted out the back door and ran out into the driveway. Sheryl was right behind him carrying the suitcase. He looked down the sloping driveway and across the street. His eyes felt as though they were frozen open.

There across the street, smashed into a tree was the little Pinto. Flames gushed from its core and black smoke spiraled upward into the clear winter sky.

“Wow! They really do blow up!”

“Oh my God, Chris… It must have slipped out of gear and rolled down the driveway! I’m so sorry!”

“Jeezus!” He watched as the ruined Ford was devoured by fire.

Christian’s neighbors began to come out of their homes as he went to the garage and grabbed the phone on the wall to call the fire department.

“Damn! I can’t believe this!”


“Man!” He turned his attention back to the raging inferno across the street.


“Even the tires are melting, Sher! Look at that!”


“I don’t… What is it, Sher?” He turned to her, annoyed.

“This.” She thrust the suitcase at him.

“Sher, we can examine this later.”

“Chris, the monogram. The gold letters. They turn. Turn the letters upside down.”

“What are you…?”

“Chris… Do it!” She slammed the suitcase down on the workbench in the garage. 

He grasped the gold letters and rotated them. They clicked and squeaked as he inverted the H and the A. What appeared to be some sort of false bottom inside the case, popped up revealing what could only be described as a secret compartment.

“What the…?”

“Yea… Go ahead. Lift it up.”

Christian carefully lifted the raised panel. 

His mouth fell open like a broken door on the front of a mailbox. There, stacked in neat little plastic-wrapped bundles, were more one hundred dollar bills than Christian had ever seen.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”

“Yea… and Franklin, too!”

“Oh my God!” His eyes drank in the sight of so much old currency.

“You said it, Chris.”

The foul chemical stench that poured from the burning car filled his nostrils. It brought him back to reality long enough for him to take his eyes off the money, and look down the driveway.

“Somebody’s coming, Chris. Better close it up.”

He looked at Sheryl and slowly closed the lid. She stared back at him, her steel-blue eyes trying to read his thoughts. It seemed like for a single moment they were like two little kids who somehow were in trouble, but held a wonderful secret between them.

In the distance, the sirens began to wail and became louder as they approached.

“Not a word.” He said softly.

“Pinky swear.” She smiled back at him.

A neighbor from across the street approached them and walked up the driveway. “You call the fire department?”

Christian and Sheryl turned suddenly towards the man. “Uh, yes.” He forced a tight smile at his neighbor from next door. “I called them alright.”

“That thing is really burning. I hope you got insurance.”

“Yes… burning.” He no longer cared about the car across the street being consumed by fire. He was still in shock about Sheryl’s little discovery.

“I saw the whole thing, Chris. The damn thing rolled right out of your garage, cruised right across the street, and exploded when it hit the tree! I was out front splitting logs for my fireplace when that thing just blew up like a bomb! Thank God, you or your little girlfriend weren’t in it!”

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Man, that thing is burning!”

“Yea… burning,” Christian replied, as if in a trance.

“Alright, man. Glad you’re okay. I’ll talk to you later. Come by for a beer.”

“Yea… later.”

Christian took Sheryl’s hand as he watched the man walk back down the driveway. He placed his other hand on the suitcase. They both stood there silently as the fire department went to work on what was left of the burning automobile.

“Chris… This is too weird.”

“Yes…” He watched the activity across the street.

“Chris. The Phoenix. The Phoenix!”

“What? What about it?”

“It’s happening.”

“What’s happening?”

“Chris, do you know what the Phoenix is?”

“A city in Arizona?”

“No. Chris.” Sheryl shook her head. “In Phoenician legend, the Phoenix is the spirit bird that burns itself to death in a great fire, only to rise from the ashes of its own destruction to live anew more beautiful than before.”

He stared into her unflinching blue eyes. She smiled. He looked back at what remained of the old Pinto. Smoke rose into the sky and through the trees. Like a spirit escaping its old vessel. 

Now he understood.

Or, so he thought.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here:

Angel with a Broken Wing – Chapter 2

My new book, Below the Wheel, drops on June 22. Here’s a little taste from last year’s novel, Angel with a Broken Wing.



The next evening, Christian relaxed on the couch watching the news on television. He glanced at his watch.

“Six-thirty? Whoa! I got class tonight.”

He leaped off the sofa, grabbed his textbook off the kitchen table, and headed out the door. He had some difficulty getting the Pinto started, but after several tries, the engine of the old ‘Gas Crisis Classic’ finally turned over.

“Going to work all day and then school at night is brutal. I should have done this right out of high school when I had the time. “I’ll be thirty-five this summer. It’ll take me forever to get my degree.”

The Pinto hesitated and bucked as he pulled into the parking lot of Gloucester County Community College. 

“This car’s a piece of junk! Didn’t they used to say that if you got hit from behind in a Pinto, the thing blew up?”

“The Flinto!”

He parked the car and began the long walk to the main building. He shivered as the frigid February wind whipped across the parking lot. It seemed to go right through his jacket and rattle his bones. 

He got to the door and a blast of warm air poured forth as he opened it, and dashed inside.

The hallway was filled with the sound of students chattering and running to class. It felt like high school to Christian. High school without the lockers.

He suddenly felt old as he trudged past the groups of twenty-year-olds that congregated outside the classrooms. He couldn’t help but notice the abundance of baggy pants, bad haircuts, tattoos, and body piercings.

“What the hell has happened to our culture?”

Christian finally arrived at his classroom and tried the door. 

Locked. He then noticed a note taped to the inside of the window on the door.


“Yea… Join the club, man. This sucks.”

He turned and headed back down the brightly lit corridor. The walls were lined with bulletin boards displaying upcoming student activities. Activities Christian would never attend. He was nearly to the door when a particular sign caught his eye. It was covered with brightly colored advertisements regarding travel. He stopped for a moment to read the board.


“Is it really that good? It can’t be as nice as the pictures. I suppose it’s good for the kids to get involved in something positive.”

“I wish I could go away…”

He continued to read the notes and signs on the board.






“Need a ride?”

It was a small 3×5 card tacked to the corner of the board. Christian pulled it free from the thumbtacks that held it to the corkboard and read it carefully.



He read the card again, turning it over in his hand. He glanced up and down the hallway, and not seeing anyone, stuffed the card in his pocket. He walked towards the nearest exit. He stood in the warm vestibule and lit a cigarette before stepping back out into the bitter cold.

“What am I doing?” He made his way along the tree-lined promenade that led to the parking lot. “I should just put the damn thing back. I’m not going anywhere. Maybe I’m just jealous that this free spirit is going somewhere and I’m not. I don’t have the time, or the money to go anywhere. I’ve met so many people that would love to win the lottery and just fly away. This Jerop guy… he’s probably twenty years old, not a care in the world, nothing to tie him down. He just wants to see the country and cruise to the golden coast this summer. Must be nice. I gotta find some way to change my life. Jeezus it’s friggin’ cold out!”

Light snow began to fall as Christian got into the Pinto and drove home.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here:

Angel with a Broken Wing – Chapter 1

My new book, Below the Wheel, drops on June 22. Here’s a little taste over the next 3 days from last year’s novel, Angel with a Broken Wing.



Christian Blackmore sat quietly in the law office of Timmons and Weiss in Miami, Florida. He looked around the room at his mother and three sisters as the executor read the Will for his uncle’s estate.

He ran his fingers through his blonde hair and rubbed his eyes. He still felt hungover from last night after the funeral, but the dark cloud of alcohol was beginning to lift from his head.

“And to my dear nephew, Christian, I leave the following possessions… my entire record collection, because I know how much he loves music. My 1974 Ford Pinto, because I want him to have quality transportation. All of my custom luggage, because I know how much he loves to travel. Finally, my favorite briefcase, so that when he goes off to work, he’ll always think of me! HA, HA.”

“Excuse me, sir… But what’s so funny?”

“I’m not laughing, Christian.”

Mrs. Blackmore interjected. “Mrs. Weiss, I just buried my favorite brother. I think it’s nice that he thought enough of my son to leave him some of his personal belongings. I don’t think your attempt at levity is appropriate.”

“But I didn’t laugh, Ma’am.”

“We all heard you, Weiss. It’s the part about the Pinto, isn’t it?”

“Christian, Please. You don’t understand. It says here: ‘and my favorite briefcase so that he can always think of me when he goes off to work. HA, HA.’ That’s what’s written in the will, the words ‘HA, HA.’ See for yourself.”

Christian snatched the document from the old lawyer’s hand and read it closely.

“It does say that, Mom.”

“I told you…”

Mom… is this some kind of joke?”

Her eyes narrowed. “I don’t know, Christian. I just don’t know.”

The next morning, Christian loaded the Pinto and headed back to his home in Woodbury, New Jersey.  The old ‘gas crisis classic’ held up rather well over the two days it took him to get home. As he drove he had some time to reflect on his life.

“Five years.”

For five years he had worked for Midland Bank. It was a pretty good gig working down at the seashore. Though it was very busy during the summer season, it was dead during the winter months. He had had enough of the resort/retirement community and needed something more. Something that was at least consistent twelve months a year. He had tried to get a transfer within the company to the Philadelphia area. He figured at least there’d be more opportunity and exposure in a more populated area. After months of trying he finally resigned from his position with the bank.

He took a job with a finance company in Turnersville, New Jersey. It was in Gloucester County, a few miles outside Philly on the Jersey side of the Delaware River.

He found that the differences between banks and finance companies were radical. He was asked by management to refer to the firm as financial services, not a finance company.

One day he asked his boss why, and he told Christian that the phrase finance company held a certain negative image.

Christian figured that the job wouldn’t be much different from the one he held at the bank. But he couldn’t have been more wrong. It was like comparing apples to oranges.

When he managed a branch for the bank his duties were, do your audit and compliance books, open checking and savings accounts, develop new business, oversee branch operations, and most of all, keep your tellers happy.

If you get the occasional customer who wants to borrow money, it’s a no-brainer. If he or she had even one delinquent account on their credit report, you simply denied the request. It was that easy. The bank has the lowest rates, so they only lend money to the best customers.

But what if you had a good reason for your late payments? What if you lost your job, or your child was sick in the hospital and medical bills were piling up?

The bank doesn’t care that bad things happen to good people. Sorry.

So what does this customer do to get a loan? Where can he go to get a loan to help meet the needs of his family?

He goes to a finance company. The customer needs money to buy Christmas presents for his kids, or his daughter needs braces, or maybe she needs tuition for school. Whatever the client needs…Christian is there.

As he navigated the old Pinto North on Interstate 95, He thought of the hundreds of customers he had served over the years at Midland Bank. He visualized the typical customer walking out of his chosen branch where he kept his money after being declined for a loan. The bank where he deposited his paycheck every week. The bank where he had his savings account. The place his wife made her weekly payments into their Christmas Club. The bank where his grandfather renewed his certificates of deposit every six months. This man walks out of his bank and comes across the street to see Christian. Christian Blackmore. Finance Company Man!

He thought about how the meeting would go. Turning it over in his mind. They were all just different players in the same game.

His game.

“Hey Joe, how’s it going?”

“Not good, Chris. My bank just turned me down for a loan. I’ve been banking there since the joint opened!”

“Well Joe, maybe we can help you here.”

“Really? That’d be great!”

“Why were you declined?”

“I got hurt on the job a year ago, and I got behind on some of my payments because I was out of work for a couple of months.”

“Are you current with everybody now?

“You mean up to date on all my bills?”



“How much do you need to borrow?”

“About $1,500 would do it I guess.”

“Okay, that’s going to be $63 a month for say…18 months?”

“Yea sounds good. Hey, what’s the payment on $2,000?”

“Well Joe… let me get some more info and we’ll see if we can get this done today.”

“Thanks, man!”

Christian took a sip from the paper cup filled with bitter black coffee. He turned up the radio to drown out the hammering of the old engine as it pushed the tiny old Ford through the night.

He continued to relive his daily life as he drove on. His loathing for his job helped keep him alert as he entered his sixteenth hour on the road. He thought about how that very same customer would enter his office the same afternoon to sign papers and receive his check for $2,000.

Pretty amazing, Christian thought as he lit a cigarette. Quick and easy. The client’s happy. He can send his little girl to summer camp or get his leaky roof fixed, or pay off his gambling debt to his bookie in Atlantic City.

Who cares. He’s only got to come up with $100 a month. What a super job. What a great guy Christian Blackmore is. What a satisfying vocation he has chosen. Guy had a need, and he satisfied it. The client had some delinquent payments in the past but he’s current now. Handed him a check the same day. The bank would have taken a week and charged him about 12% had they approved him.

But they didn’t.

But Christian did. He charged Joe what his boss told him to charge on every unsecured loan he made, no matter what the credit score looked like. He charges them all the State Maximum for the state of New Jersey.

That rate is 30%!

30%! That’s only 20% less than the loan sharks in South Philly charge.

Christian thought about his boss. That pig Andy. He could almost hear his voice now… “Don’t lose any business boys. If they balk at the rate, cut it back to 28%. Show ’em we’re flexible.”

“Oh yea, thanks, Andy. They’ll love that rate. Don’t people usually like to have their clothes off when they’re getting screwed?”

Christian knew he needed to get out of this job. He could feel the rage rising in him. He took a deep breath and exhaled so as to not drive faster due to his anger. He spoke out loud to himself in the car.

“They love that low payment I quote them. Yessiree! That low payment is packed with Life, Disability, and even Unemployment insurance. It’s sick! People pay so much in interest and insurance we pack into these loans. We make a fortune from their misfortune. ‘At least we get ’em the cash when they need it.’ Andy says.”

“Yea… but what a price they pay. Jeezus, what I do to these hard-working people every day is criminal. I should just go put on a mini skirt and a pair of fishnets and heels, and just grab a handful of credit applications, and go stand on the corner of Mickle Street and the Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Camden, and peddle my wares with the rest of the hookers!”

Christian maneuvered through the traffic around the beltway in Washington, DC. The little Pinto would sputter and buck whenever he would gun the accelerator. He thought about how a huge part of his job was collecting payments from slow-paying customers. That was the worst part of the job.

“I gotta find another job. As soon as I get back, I’m going to do it. I don’t know what I’m waiting for. Damn slow accounts. Calling those people every Tuesday and Thursday night to see if they’ll make a payment on the overpriced loan I made them.”

Christian pushed on for another three hours until he arrived home. He pulled into his driveway. He began unloading his ‘inheritance.’ He was too tired to carry all the junk into the house so he locked it all in the garage, went inside his house, and fell onto his bed to disappear into blissful sleep.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: