Tuesday, June 10, 2014

FIRE ANGELS ~ Joseph Richardson

Image of Joseph RichardsonFire Angels   by Joseph Richardson tells the story of David Cooper and his friends and family in Walako, Florida. The novel follows them during the decade between 1915 and 1925. Town mysteries, strange deaths, the appearance of conspiracies, and a web of lies drive the plot. Through the novel, there is a strong undercurrent of ethnic and racial tension. At nearly 400 pages, "Fire Angels" appears intimidating; however, the pages just breeze by. Richardson's writing is fluid and superb. He crafts an engaging story, well-developed characters, and immersive environment. The reader becomes so absorbed in the story that they are hesitant to put the book down, and this is a testament to the quality of Richardson's writing.
"Fire Angels" is a well-crafted and well-honed story. It is a fantastic first novel for author Richardson and a surprising gem for the reader. -- Bookreviews.com

Visit the author on AMAZON 

          David Cooper sat on the back steps of the small Florida farmhouse as the sky slowly faded from gold and red to purple. He had been there ever since the sheriff and his deputies finished their work and took away the body. Minutes? Hours? He wasn't sure. He kept retracing the day in his mind, a bright, quiet Sunday that evolved into an afternoon of confrontation, horror and death. He stared at the dark stain on the ground. It was the kind of stain that he saw so many times when he was fighting in France in the big war--bright red that dried brown. The kind of stain he had hoped to never see again.
          As the daylight faded he slowly rose and stepped down into the yard, broke a branch from a shrub, and used it to sweep sand over the spot.
          The coal oil lamp cast a soft glow through the window and the screen door into the kitchen. Sara Cooper appeared as a silhouette at the door.
          "David," she called softly, "please come in for supper. You need to eat."
          As he walked into the kitchen with its familiar look and aromas, he thought back over the years that brought the Cooper family to this day.

Chapter 1


January, 1917



          The wind had started with a nervous whisper from the northeast in the early afternoon, bringing with it a patina of ash gray cloud that stayed until evening while the winds built to a constant keen that sliced through cracks in the clapboard siding and rattled windows on the windward side of the small Florida farmhouse.  Sheets had been hung over bedroom windows in a feeble attempt to shield from the cold the young woman whose cries of childbirth seemed to echo the shrieks that buffeted the cottage.  The bed was piled high with homemade patchwork quilts of myriad faded colors and the door to the front room was propped open to admit some warmth from the crackling fire in the stone fireplace.

          David Cooper stabbed at the fire with a length of iron rod, placed the rod quietly on the hearth, pulled his watch from the bib pocket of his overalls and pressed the catch to release the tarnished gold-toned cover. He held it tilted so that the fire would light its face. Only seven minutes from the last time he had checked, 1:36 a.m.  He wiped his face and smoothed his red hair with a rough, work-stained hand and rested his head against his forearms braced against the mantle.  How much longer could it be? The baby was coming two weeks earlier than the date Doctor Wallis had calculated, and with little warning.  It seemed that Sara was fine one minute and doubled with pain the next. That had been nearly five hours ago.

          The doctor had told David and Sara about false labor, but they both knew after a few minutes that the wracking pains heralded the

imminent birth of their first child. When Sara's water broke David made her as comfortable and as warm as possible, banked the fire in the fireplace, and ran more than a mile to the Harris's small farm to fetch Cora who served as midwife for any family needing her help--black or white.

          David paced in front of the fireplace, stepping lightly,

conscious of the noise his heavy work shoes could make on the bare

wooden floor, not wanting to do anything that might disturb his young wife, then realized that his heavy tread would not likely be heard over the howl of the wind and the sounds of Sara's suffering.  He slumped onto the worn horsehair sofa and stared into the flames rising from the pieces of oak charring in the fireplace. 

          Something stirred David--a sound.  A sound different from the sounds of the wind or the cries of Sara. Again. Stronger.

          He took out his watch and clicked open the cover. The flames had done their seductive, hypnotic dance and lulled David's mind for nearly fifteen minutes--2:12 a.m. Sara was quiet, and the wind seemed to have lowered its voice. 

          "Mister Cooper, you got yourself a fine redheaded boy," Cora announced in a strong voice from the bedroom. "You be patient now an' you can come see him an' Miz Sara in jes' a few minutes. There some things I got to do first."

          David waited, hardly patient, checking his watch twice in the long ten minutes before Cora called to him again. "Mister Cooper, you can come in now."


          David adjusted the wick to brighten the glow given off by the coal oil lamp flickering on the bedside table. "Are you all right, Sara? How do you feel? I heard...I guess you felt a lot of pain."

          "I'm all right. I'm tired and I hurt, but I'm all right. How does the baby look?  There's nothing wrong with him, is there?" 

          "He's a big one, isn't he?"

          "Yessir, Mister Cooper, he sure nuff is a big boy.'Bout eight pounds, I'd say. Maybe a bit more," Cora said.  Her dark  skin and the black cloth coat she wore against the chill blended into the darkness of the corner near the head of the bed opposite David. "He sure ain't fussed much. Mos' of the time big boys like him squall an' carry on like they want the whole world to know they here." She turned to her patient. "Yessum, Miz Sara, he's fine. He's got two ears, two eyes, a nose, ten fingers an' ten toes an' everthin' else that s'posed to stick out on a little boy." Her china white teeth and glint-of-gold smile seemed to add a touch more light to the room as she tucked the quilts closer about Sara's shoulders.

          Sara looked down at the baby cradled between her breast and her arm. "Do you want to hold him?" she asked, looking up at her young husband.

          "Can I? I...I think so. I've never held a little bitty baby before. I don't want to hurt him or anything."

          Cora laughed. "Mister Cooper, they don' break easy. You jus' get your hands under him from one end to the other. Don't want his head to wobble 'roun' too much. You better get used to holdin' him, cause you goin' to be a good daddy, an' good daddies, they pick up their kids an' hold them an' play with them a lot."

          David fumbled with the blanket that swaddled his son, lifted him, and held him close to his body. "You sure are red and wrinkled," he whispered. He gently bounced the baby in his arms for several minutes. More comfortable after that short time, he shifted the bundle and, with a finger, pushed the blanket away from the baby's face.

          "He doesn't have much hair yet," Sara said, "but what he does have looks like it’s going to red. I think he's going to look just like you."

          David leaned closer to the lamp. "Hard to tell in this light, but I think you're right. Looks kinda red. Poor kid, if he looks like me he'll have a million freckles and a bunch of nicknames like 'Red', an' 'Freck,' an' 'Speck.' Lot's of people won't ever know his real name."

          Sara frowned. "He doesn't have a name, yet. Since he has red hair like you, do you want to call him David Arnold Cooper, Junior?"

          "No. Every kid I ever knew that was a junior ended up being called 'Junior' all the time. He needs a name people will remember."  He held the child up at arms length and studied him for a while. "I want to call him Noble Adrian Cooper. Adrian was my granddaddy’s name. I was only eight when he died, but he was really special to me.  Granddaddy said nobody should ever name a boy Adrian, but if it's his middle name nobody will ever call him Adrian anyway."

          "Was someone in your family called Noble?" Sara asked.

          "Noble was my best friend in school. Noble Strow. He was big, smart, and strong. I can still remember what he would say if some boys ever started to tease him about his name. He would tell them that the dictionary said that noble meant lofty and exalted in character, and grand, stately, and magnificent in appearance. The way he would stand with his knuckles on his hip bones and look down at them and smile, those other boys would be pretty quick to agree that Noble was a good name that suited him just fine. By the looks of this big boy, Noble should fit him just fine, too."

          "Noble Strow," Sara repeated. "I knew the Strows had a son, but I didn't know he was a friend of yours."

          "I 'member when he drown." Cora said.

          David laid the baby on the bed beside Sara and pushed the quilts close around it. He pulled a straight back chair close to the bed, sat down, and took Sara's hand in his. "The weather was hot and our school room was even hotter. I talked Noble into skipping and going to Diamond Springs. There were a couple of other boys at the springs and we decided we should see who could swim the farthest underwater. When it was Noble's turn he stayed under a long time. At first we thought he had come up for air in some bushes or behind a tree. Finally, we decided we should look for him. It took almost an hour to find him. One of the nigger men that row those boats with the glass pane in the bottom saw his foot sticking out of the grass."

          Sara closed her eyes, touched a hand to her lips, and shook her head. Then she looked at David, her eyes welled with tears. "I think Noble Strow would be proud of his namesake."

          Noble Adrian Cooper's blue eyes blinked against the dim light of his new world.

The author, Joseph Richardson, is a native Floridian born and raised on a farm outside a small Florida town quite similar to fictional town of Walako in Fire Angels. Richardson graduated from St. Petersburg, FL High School and earned a B.S.from the University of Alabama. He retired from NASA, Kennedy Space Center after more than thirty-five years  government service. “Joe” is an  army  veteran of the  Korean War. He  has two grown sons  and lives  in Titusville, FL  with  Joan, his wife of fifty-five years, and their five “rescued” pets. He is a member of American MENSA.
Richardson has received several awards for his work in short story contests and has had a number of articles published including his internet article, “Windover Pond,” about the Windover Archaeological Site outside Titusville, Florida.  Fire Angels is his first novel.