A Dangerous Affair: Chapter 61

Leslie sat inside her car beneath a tower of parking lot lights and a pole-mounted surveillance camera outside a Wal-Mart entrance. Without specific knowledge of who to look for, everyone in the retail circus appeared suspicious, including the RV driver who cut across the open lot in a faded Winnebago with Arizona plates.

She’d waited hours for an FBI agent to show without any communication from George, who seemed more interested in his own career advancement than helping her bring a bad cop to justice. Nothing in her life made sense any more. The justice system she trusted had come apart at the seams and no one gave a crap. Manny Morallen was dead, and the man who killed him would stop at nothing to bury the truth about the murder of his own deputy. Now her future teetered on the outcome of a midnight rendezvous with a federal agent she’d never met. An agent who George assured her would make contact and bring her to safety.

You’re losing it, she told herself as a tall, heavyset man in a hooded sweatshirt headed in her direction with his hands in his pockets. She watched the stranger advance across the parking lot without a cart or a shopping bag or anything on his person to suggest he came to shop. The closer he got, the more facial details she discerned within the drawstring hood. Caucasian. Late thirties to early forties. Dark hair. Clean shaven.

It wasn’t Blanchart. And it wasn’t anyone else she recognized either.

Tired of the waiting game, Leslie put the Lexus in reverse and backed away from the tree-lined median as the undercover agent gave chase.

She mashed her foot on the gas pedal and plowed through a convoy of empty shopping carts behind her. She slammed the transmission in drive without stopping and cut the wheel to peel out of the parking lot toward the main thoroughfare. If the feds wouldn’t come to her, she’d bring her case to them and drop a crooked cop in their lap.

She replayed the notes in her head, rehashing everything she suspected about Blanchart’s involvement in the murder of Deputy Carter and Manny Morallen. As certain as the sun would rise, she knew Blanchart killed Morallen and then tried to kill her. In every situation, Blanchart had the means, the motive, and the opportunity to commit the crimes. George’s friend or not, Blanchart was a worm inside the apple.

She took the interstate out of town and checked the destination route on her Blackberry. She’d spent her life defending a system that turned its back on the one client she knew for certain was innocent. And the one witness she’d hoped to leverage against the sheriff in court.

Despite the mounting evidence against him, Blanchart always found a way to counter her attack. But like all tyrants, she knew eventually his reign would end. Whatever power Blanchart held in his own private universe would dissolve when the feds slapped the cuffs on him.

The minute the FBI had Blanchart in custody, she’d tender her resignation with the public defender’s office and start a new career with a private law firm. The same crazy hours, but much better pay—and eventually a more manageable schedule to afford her the kind of life she’d always dreamed about. A life with more time for fun and less time for stress.

Her Blackberry signaled an incoming call.

She laid into George. “This better be good! Your guy never showed!”

She flashed her high beams at the construction zone up ahead.

The connection remained silent.

“Did you hear what I said? I waited in the parking lot alone for three hours!”

“I heard you the first time,” said Blanchart on the other end.

Leslie straightened in her seat. Her initial fear morphed into anger. “How did you get this number?”

“That’s not important.”

Leslie slowed her car and followed closely along the staggered concrete barrier. A section of unpaved blacktop rumbled under her tires. “You murdered Simon Carter and Manny Morallen, and I have the evidence to prove it.”

“If you live long enough.”

“Don’t threaten me you sick bastard. I’m not afraid of you.”

“Maybe you should be.”

“I have enough to put you away for life,” Leslie spoke loudly, her confidence building as her final destination drew closer.

“You have nothing,” said Blanchart, his voice calm and resonant.

Leslie changed lanes to pass a slower moving car. “I think my friends at the FBI will disagree.”

Blanchart took his time with the highly intelligent and elusive adversary more inventive—and lucky—than most enemies he pursued. “I admire your tenacity, Ms. Dancroft, especially coming from a public defender with an average track record and a law school rank at the bottom of her class. You failed the bar the first two times you took it. You never married because no self-respecting man would share his bed with you. Not even me. You spend all your time chasing fairytales, and yet you still don’t get it. Now you’re running from something you can’t reconcile. And that’s always been the case, hasn’t it? Running is what you know. It’s the only way for you to cope with the fear.”

Leslie put the Blackberry on speaker mode. She gripped the wheel and accelerated to ninety-five. Wind turbulence buffeted the hood. “Don’t underestimate me.”

“On the contrary, Ms. Dancroft, you underestimate yourself. You had such potential, yet you chose to squander it in public practice, defending indigent criminals on the taxpayers’ dime. You sacrificed your personal life for years with little gain. You have no husband. No children. No promise of a better future to look forward to.”

“I have your demise to look forward to,” said Leslie. “That’s all the promise I need in my life right now.”

Blanchart cleared his throat. “How far do you think you can take this?”

“Far enough to watch you get the needle.”

The connection went silent for several seconds.

“You’re in no position to threaten me,” said Blanchart.

“I’m five minutes from an FBI field office,” said Leslie with resounding confidence in her voice.

“Unfortunately for you, you’re not going to make it.”

“How do you know?”

“Because you just missed your exit.”

Leslie looked up to see a pair of blinding headlights hit her rearview mirror. She stabbed the accelerator, but the car behind her kept pace, gaining ground as the mile markers ticked by. She checked her speed and fumbled with her phone, rattled by the sudden shift in the balance of power.

A crushing impact to her rear bumper whipped her body forward and buried her shoulder belt in her chest.

She braked hard and then accelerated a split second later, maintaining control of the car with a mountain climber’s grip on the leather-wrapped steering wheel.

She hailed the FBI on speed dial and heard the call connect when a second impact forced the car sideways, causing her to swerve toward oncoming traffic.

She veered right, then overcorrected to the left, slamming a section of guard rail at high speed. The Lexus spun out of control like a Matchbox car on a broken track, its twisted wreckage tumbling at high velocity, hurling metal and glass debris in a thousand directions at once before the crumpled sedan lost momentum and skidded upside-down on the roof, grinding sparks along the pavement.

* * *

Leslie opened her eyes to see the panoramic whirl of distant traffic. Flashing strobe lights moved in slow motion, reflected in tiny pieces of shattered glass scattered on the ground in front of her.

Pinned in her seatbelt upside down, she inhaled the smell of gasoline fumes through her broken nose. A punctured lung made breathing difficult. A splintered femur brought unbearable pain.

“Who else have you talked to?” said Blanchart, aiming a flashlight at Leslie’s upside-down face.

Leslie gurgled on a lung filled with blood. Her body shivered from the cold enveloping her. “No one.”

“Who else?”

“Can’t breathe…”

Blanchart reached inside the empty passenger window and gathered the accordion file folders. “You’ve been in an accident. You’re in shock. You’ll die without immediate medical attention.” He opened the folders and inspected the contents. “I can’t help you unless you tell me what I need to know.” He tossed the papers back inside Leslie’s car and holstered his flashlight on his duty belt.

Leslie reached toward her hip and unfastened her seat belt to relieve the pressure on her chest and free her to move about. The transfer of weight sent shockwaves of pain through her leg. Transmission fluid dripped in her eye. The smell of death lingered like the Grim Reaper himself.

She reached for the digital recorder that spilled out of her purse in the crash and slid it away from the car.

Blanchart lit a cigarette and stooped to face Leslie eye-to-eye. “Who else has seen these files?”

Leslie curled a fist and sprung her middle finger. “Go to hell.”

Blanchart stood up and took a long drag on the filtered Marlboro. Red-hot tobacco burned and crackled at the tip before he flicked the ignition source at the trail of spilled gasoline and said, “Ladies first.”

Joe Castillo and God’s Love Story

After more than a year of waiting to see a live performance worthy of my time and attention, I finally struck gold with Joe Castillo on Friday, May 3, 2013 at the Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts in Melbourne. Brought to the forefront of public attention after his success on America’s Got Talent, Joe Castillo has become known as the “sand artist.” And for good reason. His ability to tell a story using sand on a lighted horizontal easel translated well to a live television audience during his run on American’s Got Talent, but to see Joe Castillo perform live, exemplified his unique artistic talents to a theater audience comprised of young and old.

Sponsored in part by the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church, the King Center’s evening with Joe Castillo featured God’s Love Story as told through the hands of a preeminent artist. Set to music the audience could identify with, Joe opened with several sand murals, created in real time behind a camera-mounted light table, which projected his sand art on a giant monitor. Viewable from every seat in the house, the images sprung to life as Joe channeled his imagination to transform the powered sand into original works of art. Landscapes, faces, and historic monuments emerged from a minced tapestry as if the image themselves had been fossilized beforehand and merely uncovered for all to see.

Between performances, Joe shared snippets of his life from his early studies at the Ringling School of Art, through his calling to the Florida Bible College, and finally, how he came to appear on live television. A man of humble beginnings, Joe reminded me of the late Bob Ross from the old PBS television show, The Joy of Painting. A man who spoke of his admiration for da Vinci and Michelangelo, Joe Castillo may one day find his name among those he reveres with his effortless ability to transform ordinary sand into something extraordinary. I found his performance inspirational and entertaining. In my book, that’s what great art is all about.

The Extraordinary Karla Bonoff


While the theory of time travel has been hypothesized by Einstein followers and science fiction authors alike, I’ve found great music can take you to places you’ve been and send you to places you never imagined you could go—all without traveling at the speed of light and having to contend with one hell of a bad hair day.


I’ve been a fan of Karla Bonoff since the late 90’s when a girlfriend introduced me to Karla’s New World CD on a small stereo in a quiet apartment aglow with soft lamplight. The heart-felt lyrics and soft melodies amplified the warmth and contentment I felt that night with songs unfamiliar to me yet engaging and memorable like a chance encounter with a long lost relative. Karla Bonoff’s music made a lasting impression on me, and when I learned about her recent concert in Melbourne, Florida, I seized a pair of tickets and marked my calendar for Thursday evening, January 26th.


Looking back on forty years of great memories, I can honestly say I carry few regrets—though waiting more than a decade and a half to see Karla Bonoff in concert is one of them. The instant she took the stage at the Henegar Center for the Arts, I was captivated by her voice, which sounded every bit as rich and soulful as the vocals on her CDs. From my center stage seat in the upper tier of the quaint community arts center, I enjoyed the perfect vantage point to watch this Southern California native perform in an intimate, community theater venue. Surrounded by fans who grew up with her music around the time the Carter administration took office, I could see the years had been kind to Karla, who projected a gracious stage presence. She sang on key from her first note to her last with a perfect pitch and a beautiful tone throughout both of her forty-five minute sets. In addition to her God-given voice, I admired Karla’s ability to seamlessly transition between acoustic guitar and grand piano, employing the diversity of both instruments to accentuate the melody and lyrics behind her music in the absence of background vocals, keyboards, percussion, or bass guitar.


That said, I give huge props to Karla’s guitarist, and only accompaniment, Nina Gerber, who played rhythm guitar with a few solo riffs to highlight her prowess on the electric six string. An exquisite musician in her own right, Nina owned her guitar like it was a natural extension of her body. Effortless. Inspiring. In a class all her own. Nina played guitar with the confidence and vision of a master potter sculpting warm clay, bending notes at will to achieve the perfect balance between playing the music as written and infusing her own interpretation. Her laid back style served a perfect complement to Karla’s style, accentuating the acoustic guitar and piano without ever overpowering the vocal performance. A demure instrumentalist, Nina spoke to the audience in eloquent chords played with the intensity and perfection of someone who’s devoted their life to their art. I felt her performance was worthy of a concert in itself. What I would give to take lessons from an artist of Nina’s caliber. If only talent like hers could be taught.


Throughout the evening, Karla engaged her fans between songs, poking fun at ex boyfriends and reminiscing about a few significant events in her life that I’m sure in many ways helped shape the poignant spirit of her music. In one of my favorite moments of the evening, Karla warmed up on piano while she introduced one of her most successful singles, “New World.” During her brief monologue, she described the song as one she’d discovered after a fifteen year stretch of writer’s block. In her words, she simply plucked the song out of the air. I share a similar philosophy, where the perfect lyrics and melody preexist in some semblance of our creative minds, or perhaps woven in the fabric of our universe, waiting patiently for the right moment to be discovered and brought to life. For Karla Bonoff, fifteen years was certainly a long time to battle writer’s block. From my perspective, “New World” was worth the wait. Why I waited so long to hear Karla Bonoff sing in concert defies logic, given how I enjoyed every song she performed, including, “Tell Me Why,” “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” “Falling Star,” “Lose Again,” “Isn’t it Always Love,” and “All My Life.”


No doubt Karla’s voice has matured with age, but in a good way, molded by life experience to reflect the emotion in her lyrics. In my opinion, Karla’s ability to connect her music with her audience makes her one of the most talented singer/songwriters I’ve heard. Although perhaps not quite as well known as some of her peers, I consider Karla’s music on par with the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Olivia Newton-John, Carly Simon, and Mary Chapin Carpenter to name a few. Some believe Karla Bonoff is one of the more underrated singer/songwriters of her generation. I tend to agree but for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me. Her music carries mass market appeal, though interestingly enough, I thought her voice sounded even better live than it does on her recordings—a peculiar circumstance almost always oriented the other way around. In an industry often driven by fad, fame, and fortune, true talent is often obscured by gimmicky acts, talent-deaf music moguls, and greedy conglomerates who control the airwaves. Not to say Karla’s music hasn’t been successful, as she’s spent years behind the scenes writing hits for other artists while continuing to promote herself.


In all, I found Karla Bonoff’s performance at the Henegar Center captivating from the first note to the last. More than a talented singer you go to hear, Karla Bonoff is an artist you experience. For there is something familiar and comforting about her music, supple and timely like a favorite leather jacket, yet with an almost intangible quality to heighten your senses. I look forward to hearing Karla perform again as she ventures toward the true pinnacle of her career. Until then, I’ll slip my headphones on and enjoy a private Karla Bonoff concert. Maybe do a little time travel myself.

—Jason Melby




Goo Goo Dolls Live in Melbourne, FL

In the last twenty years or so, I’ve enjoyed a long list of great concert experiences, including Kiss, Bon Jovi, 38 Special, Boston, Fleetwood Mac, Gordon Lightfoot, Sugarland, and others. Now I’m thrilled to add the Goo Goo Dolls to my repertoire of live music memories. After last Saturday’s November 5th performance at the Maxwell King Center in Melbourne, Florida, I had to ask myself, “Why did I wait so long to see the Goo Goo Dolls live???”

The evening opened at 8:00 p.m. sharp with the edgy rock beat of Ryan Star, an American singer-songwriter from Long Island. Loud and energized, Ryan jumped into his first track, Brand New Day. And how appropriate, since it was great to hear a fresh rock voice emerge from the queue of rock star wannabes. Ryan’s act featured songs from his 2009 CD, Last Train Home, and his most recent effort, 11:59, which I’m inclined to acquire. His music got the King Center crowd fired up with a commanding stage presence and a megawatt show strong enough to power a small city. Despite Ryan’s unbounded energy, passionate vocals, and sizzling support from his lead guitar and keyboards, I felt his drummer stole the show. Amazing percussion! In my book, a superstar delivery on the drums, with a style reminiscent of a young Peter Criss from Kiss (sans the makeup of course).

Around 9:15, the house lights dimmed again, and the Goo Goo Dolls kicked off their Melbourne concert with Korel Tunador on the keyboards. The audience jumped to their feet, screaming, when founding members John Rzeznik (vocals, guitar), Robby Takac (bass guitar), and Mike Malinin (drums) took the stage. Joined by touring guitarist Brad Fernquist, the five man crew rocked the house from start to finish.

I’ve enjoyed the Goo Goo Dolls since high school, which seems like yesterday despite the reality of a two decade void. What had started from humble beginnings back in 1986 with John and Robby in Buffalo, New York, matured into a Grammy-nominated group with roughly nine million albums sold in the United States alone. Aside from their impressive credentials as a world-renowned band, what speaks to the heart of the Goo Goo Dolls is the unmistakable voice from the charismatic frontman, songwriter, lead guitarist, and vocalist premiere, John Rzeznik. Sincerity resonates with the lyrics from his music as if each song he’d crafted would be his last. For nearly two hours, the Goo Goo Dolls played hits from their various albums, including Let Love In, A Boy Named Goo, Dizzy Up the Girl (triple platinum!), and of course their latest effort, Something for the Rest of Us. As a fan who first caught their act years ago on a VH1 special, I found myself overcome with emotion during their concert when I heard Black Balloon, Broadway, Slide, Iris, Name, Let Love In, Dizzy, Naked, and my personal favorite, Stay With You.

The band’s masterful blend of introspective lyrics and brilliant melodies made me wish I’d experienced their live music sooner. Their gracious demeanor and thoughtful comments further added to their positive energy on stage. At times, John himself seemed caught off guard by his own emotion—reflecting, perhaps, on his own past experiences that helped foster some of his band’s greatest work. A poet at heart, I’m certain John will continue to write, record, and hopefully (fingers crossed big-time), tour Melbourne, Florida again.

Perhaps this concert felt extra special to me because it nursed an aging dream of performing live music in front of thousands. Or perhaps the night felt special because I’d brought my twin sons along to experience their first rock concert. In any case, it was a night to remember. And one I look forward to experiencing again.


Sugarland, October 20, 2011

Sugarland—how sweet it is. I pray there’s a Sugarland in heaven when I die because I could spend eternity listening to their music. Fortunately, I’m alive and well. I’m also thrilled to share a little bit from my first Sugarland concert experience at the Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida on October 20, 2011.

The night opened with the music of Sara Bareilles, an artist I’d never heard before, which was not surprising since I gave up on radio years ago. What a pleasant surprise. Sara hooked me with her first note. Nice voice. Solid lyrics. And overall great music from a young singer-songwriter and her talented band. Sara Bareilles is definitely an artist I would pay to see again. Her forty-five minute set included a variety of songs from her albums Careful Confessions, Little Voice, and Kaleidoscope Heart. Truthfully, I enjoyed her music so much, I could have listened to her play all night. Life is full of surprises. This one I’ll remember for a long time.

After a brief intermission to reset for the main event, the lovely Jennifer Nettles took the spotlight on stage with her partner Kristian Bush. This award-winning duo, who form the nucleus of Sugarland, rocked the Amway Arena packed with screaming fans of all ages. Sugarland’s supporting band members, who played flawlessly by the way, included Annie Clements on bass, Scott Patton and Thad Beaty on guitar, Brandon Bush on keyboard, and Travis McNabb on drums.

I love Sugarland as a country music band with a little pop and light rock twist. You don’t hear a lot of slide guitar, banjo, fiddle, or other staple country music instruments. Instead, you hear inspired lyrics brought to life by Jennifer Nettles’ amazing vocals. In this vein of excellence, I enjoyed the guitar work of Kristian Bush and his cadre of fellow artists on stage. Speaking of the stage, I liked the minimalist setup Sugarland employed in their concert. Void of wild pyrotechnics or a troop of scantily clad female backup dancers (not that there’s anything wrong with those), Sugarland’s presence stayed true to their humble beginnings and emphasized substance over silly antics. The chemistry from this super-talented group could be felt throughout the arena, where they played hits from their albums Twice the Speed of Life, Enjoy the Ride, Love on the Inside, and the Incredible Machine. Their setlist included “Stuck like Glue,” “Tonight,” “Little Miss,” “Settlin,” “Everyday America,” “Baby Girl,” “Something More,” “It Happens,” and “Incredible Machine.”

Half way through the concert, Kristian carried an autographed guitar off stage and personally delivered it to an audience member. I couldn’t see the lucky recipient from my outer-orbit seat near the back, but I could sense the palpable excitement broadcast on the big screen monitors. And while the acoustics in the Amway Arena weren’t stellar, Jennifer Nettles’ singing voice could reach the gates of heaven. Collectively, the band sounded every bit as good live as they do on their studio albums. A testament to their talent.

The concert seemed a little short to me, but when you’re having a great time, you never want it to end. Love was definitely the theme of the evening, and yet ironically, one of my favorite Sugarland songs—“Love”—was absent from the setlist, along with a few other memorable hits like “One Blue Sky” and “Happy Ending.” No worries. I’ll put in a request on their fan site. Maybe they can play at my birthday party next year. Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?

What an evening! Sugarland put forth one of the best concerts I’ve ever heard! I can’t wait to see them again. To Jennifer and Kristian: Keep writing. Keep singing. Keep doing what you love on stage. Your inspiring music touches millions of fans with heart-felt lyrics and positive energy that will capture and entertain generations to come.

An Evening with Gordon Lightfoot

Vinyl Record Cover

A few nights ago, I found my seat in row L at the Melbourne King Center for Performing Arts. Ray Michaels from WSBH 98.5 engaged the crowd and announced upcoming events.  Minutes later, the lights dimmed. My sense of heightened anticipation plateaued. The wait was over. The concert I’d been looking forward to was about to begin.

A cadre of talented musicians appeared, followed by the man himself: the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter /folk-rock crooner, Gordon Lightfoot. Or rather, the ghost of Gordon Lightfoot – a pasty, almost frail looking man in a white dress shirt, black vest, and jeans who took his place on center stage – his unearthly appearance in stark contrast to his flashbulb-era publicity photos.

Equipped with a twelve-string acoustic guitar and a microphone stand, Gordon started the show with a string of b-side tunes that catered to his diminished vocal range. The songs were foreign to me. The vocals a little flat on the higher notes and parched in the lower range.

At first, I felt duped. This wasn’t the Gordon Lightfoot I remembered from the old album covers or my favorite radio station playlist. But after awhile, the music sank in, comfortably, like my weary head resting on a down pillow.

The sharp, consistent percussion sounds from Barry Keane filled the theater. Mike Heffernan’s keyboards and the bass from Rick Haynes blended perfectly with Carter Lancaster – a masterful lead guitarist who played numerous and often intricate arrangements on a Breedlove six-string acoustic and a Gretsch Country Gentleman.

Halfway through the concert, I rediscovered my appreciation for Gordon Lightfoot’s music and found myself lured away from the stress of a crazier-than-normal week. Gordon’s age notwithstanding, (he was born before WW II), I started thoroughly enjoying the performance from someone who could teach today’s young “talent” a thing or two about consistency, endurance, and what it means to write, record, and perform great music. Unlike so many singer/songwriters whose tabloid careers boom and fizzle like a flash bang grenade, Gordon Lightfoot persists.

After a brief intermission, the concert continued with one of the greatest songs ever written – IMO –  “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” That tune kicked off the second half set that included “Carefree Highway,” “Rainy Day People,” and another personal favorite, “If You Could Read My Mind.”

And if I could have read Gordon Lightfoot’s mind that night, it would have been filled with the same love and admiration that his legions of loyal fans feel for him. Average, ordinary people who inspire Gordon Lightfoot to do what he does best – strap on a guitar and belt out his time-honored songs.

The reality of life is that it ends. But in Gordon’s case, his music – with its passionate lyrics and heart-felt melodies – will live on forever, drawing new fans and inspiring future singer-songwriters who dream of achieving the kind of immortal success measured not by fame and fortune, but by the positive influence they have on people’s lives. The kind of success achieved by Canada’s very own, Gordon Lightfoot.