Read an Excerpt from Missy's Twitch

Take a peek at the fourth book in the Fossil Feuds series.

missy's twitch

Formerly a business columnist, Associate Business Editor and national writer at The Detroit News, Jon Pepper has set his sights on fiction. Taking his vast knowledge from corporate culture, Pepper has created the Crowe family and their business, Crowe Power Corporation.

We first meet the Crowe family in A Turn of Fortune, a sharp satire that follows the power struggle happening in Crowe Power's C-suite. In the upcoming novel, Missy's Twitch, the heiress to the family fortune built off fossil fuels has developed overwhelming anxiety about the climate crisis—she's literally twitching over it. A famed psychologist diagnoses her with "climatosis", and soon, people all over the world are experiencing the same symptoms.

Below, read an excerpt from Missy's Twitch.




Missy's Twitch

By Jon Pepper


It took only a moment for the psychologist known as Dr. Iz to diagnose the patient entering her office on New York City’s Upper West Side on a hot summer morning: Missy Mayburn Crowe had “opportunity” written all over her.

With a mess of brown tresses and a multitude of body piercings, the wealthy heiress to an oil and gas fortune wore her emotional distress on her sleeveless arms, one of which was covered with dull blots of incomprehensible ink. Were they statements of rebellion? Expressions of alienation? Cat pictures? Soon enough, Dr. Iz would find out all that had gotten under, into, and on top of Missy’s skin.

“Apologies for the heat in here,” Dr. Iz said, fanning herself with a spiral notebook. “The rolling brownout hit our neighborhood this morning, making our air conditioning useless. Best I could do was open the windows.”

“I’m totally cool with that,” Missy said, before checking herself. “Well, actually not cool, cool. I mean, I’m kinda sweaty, to tell the truth.”

Dr. Iz offered a bemused smile and directed Missy to an oversized easy chair covered in worn blue-and-white linen. “Please, Missy. Make yourself comfortable. Would you like some water? Organic coffee or tea?”

“Tea sounds good,” said Missy, flopping heavily into the chair, as if felled by the enormous emotional burdens she carried. “What do you have?”

“Well, let’s see,” Dr. Iz said, moving to a small pantry and scanning the shelves. “I have everything from Earl Grey to green tea to Poo Poo Pu-Erh.”

The exotic sound of that last offering caught Missy’s ear. As an enlightened graduate fresh from an ivy-covered American citadel of higher education, Missy didn’t go for just any old colonialist brew. “Poo Poo… what?” she called.

“Pu-Erh,” Dr. Iz replied. “Would you like to try it?” 

Missy scrunched her nose. “What is it?”

“It’s made from the droppings of insects that feed on tea leaves,” Dr. Iz explained. “I understand farmers in Taiwan use magnifying glasses and tweezers to harvest the teeny-tiny doo-doos. The tea is quite rare and very expensive. But it was a gift from a longtime patient, and I’m happy to share it with you.”

 “Are you having some?”

“I just might,” Dr. Iz replied.

Missy gulped. Pot, peyote, and psilocybin mushrooms hadn’t helped Missy’s gnawing anxiety, nor had they relieved the odd twitch in her arms that caused them to suddenly fly away from her body. To decline this poop juice would clearly make her sound like some dopey philistine from… wherever philistines come from. “Okay. I’ll give it a try,” Missy said.

The door to the microwave banged shut as Dr. Iz prepared the tea. Missy looked around the office, with its open casement windows overlooking the park, a large vase of sagging blue hydrangeas and white lilies, a few gnats swirling around a bowl of sweet cherries on the coffee table, and bookcases lined with dusty volumes on psychology, which prominently featured Dr. Iz’s best-sellers from her heyday. There was Get a Grip, Honey, her number one New York Times bestseller from twenty years earlier, offering blunt, common-sense advice to distressed women. That was followed by Got a Grip, then Lost the Grip, and, finally, Get Another Grip before she ran dry of gripping titles, fresh advice, and readers. The office had the feel of faded elegance, which made sense since it had been many years since Dr. Iz had been a boldface media star, ubiquitous with her books and her looks: oversized black horn-rimmed glasses and blunt-cut platinum gray hair. Once a fixture on bus placards, billboards, and taxi signs, Dr. Iz had largely disappeared from public view, but Missy remembered her seminal exhortation. Get a grip, honey. That’s exactly what Missy wanted to do.

Missy called out. “This is not a cultural appropriation, is it?”

Dr. Iz responded without looking back. “What isn’t, dear?”

“Me having this tea? It’s, like, Chinese, right?”

“From that neighborhood, yes.”

“I’m not Chinese.”

“You may have noticed,” Dr. Iz replied. “Neither am I.” She turned away from the pantry carrying a tray with two teacups and approached Missy. “What if we just keep this our little secret?”

Missy lifted the delicate porcelain cup and inhaled deeply, then recoiled with a shudder. She held the cup and cocked her head, studying the tea. She couldn’t see any insect droppings, but then again, if they were in there… so what? Wasn’t that, like, totally natural? Everything in nature was good and benevolent, except for volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, category five hurricanes, arsenic, sharknados, and stuff like that. She held her breath and sipped carefully, then pulled back in dismay. Eww…

“Too hot?” Dr. Iz asked.

Hot? Too hot? Oh no! Suddenly, triggered by the strange gremlin that had recently taken hold of her psyche, Missy’s arm twitched involuntarily and swung out swiftly, sending her teacup flying out of her hand, sailing through the air, and out the open window. A clatter could be heard below as the cup smashed on the sidewalk, and a man’s voice called up, “Hey! Whattaya doin’ up there?”

“Oh my God!” Missy exclaimed. She leapt from her chair and ran to the window.

Dr. Iz trailed close behind. “Apparently that was not your cup of tea.”

“Sadly, it was,” Missy said.

Down below, a uniformed doorman glared up at Missy and Dr. Iz with his hands on hips. “Sorry!” Dr. Iz called. The man waved her off with two hands and a look of disgust.

“I am sooo sorry,” Missy said, putting both hands to her face. “I don’t know what to say. It wasn’t the tea at all. I mean, that was totally fine. Weird, yeah, but fine. I just never know when this bizarre twitch is going to hit me. It comes out of nowhere.”

Dr. Iz nodded, then put a hand gently on Missy’s back to guide her to the seating area. “It comes from somewhere, Missy. Let’s find out where exactly.” Dr. Iz perched herself on a large white leather chair opposite Missy and picked up her notebook and pen. She cocked her head and regarded the most promising paddler to come rolling down her income stream in some time. 

Dr. Iz’s practice had suffered for decades since she had slapped a whining guest on her TV show and told her to “suck it up, buttercup.” Unfortunately, the poor woman did suck it up—hoovering forty sleeping pills, which ended her anxiety once and for all. The public uproar, followed by lawsuits from the dead victim’s family, lost media contracts, and a sudden exclusion from polite company, nearly put her out of business, but she hung on to her shingle by softening her tough-love approach and catering to an affluent clientele with garden-variety rich people problems. Feelings of inadequacy. Too much booze. Too little sex. It was as predictable as a movie on the Hallmark Channel, but it paid the ever-increasing rent. Missy, however, presented the possibility of an entirely new line of business: A patient with a famous name and a bizarre affliction. Who knows where this could go? “Why don’t we start with what just happened,” Dr. Iz said, her voice dropping to a suitably grave octave. “How long have you had this twitch?”

Missy rubbed her forehead. “Oh, God. I don’t know. Early June, I guess. It started right after I began my new job and the weather started getting really warm.”

“I see,“ Dr. Iz said. “Did your PCP help?”

Missy dismissed the question with a wave of her hand. “I stopped doing that my junior year. Once I found out it was a horse tranquilizer, I was done-zo.”

“I mean your primary care physician,” Dr. Iz persisted. “Did you see a medical doctor?”

“Oh, right,” Missy said, with a blush. “He sent me to a clinic on the Upper East Side. They hooked me up to all kinds of wires and electrodes. Stuck me with needles. Banged my knees and elbows with this weird little hammer. They said there was, like, nothing physically wrong with me—no epilepsy, or Parkinson’s or anything like that—but maybe I should see a shrink.” Then, afraid she’d used offensive slang, said, “Sorry.”

 “It’s okay,” Dr. Iz assured her. “Why did you select me?”

“My father suggested it. I guess, maybe, he used to see you on TV, or something? Of course, I already knew who you were. Your books were in our home when I was growing up. I remember Get a Grip, Honey. That was the big one, right?”

“Indeed. That kicked off the whole Gripping series,” Dr. Iz said with a sigh. “Those books were quite popular. Glad to know someone in your home found them useful.”

Missy sighed. “Well… I don’t know if my mother actually read them,” she said. “I think she used Get a Grip, Honey as a coaster.”

“That wasn’t exactly my intent.”

“It was Mother’s. She used to throw back a lot of white wine in the morning when she watched TV,” Missy said. “I remember sitting with her when you were on Oprah and thinking, ‘Dang! That Dr. Iz is, like, so freaking smart.’ You knew the answer to everything.”

Dr. Iz shifted uneasily in her chair. “Let’s try to get some answers for you.”

Missy took a deep breath and braced herself for uncomfortable questioning.

“Have you been feeling any extra anxiety lately?” Dr. Iz asked.

Missy chuckled mirthlessly. “That’s all I feel. Anxiety. It’s, like, totally overwhelming.” Her right arm twitched again, but less violently, and Missy reflexively reached over with her left hand to hold her right shoulder. 

Dr. Iz idly doodled spirals on her pad. “What worries you most?”

“It’s everything coming at me all at once,” Missy said. “It’s kind of this… giant blob.”

Dr. Iz nodded. “Let’s identify one issue. What comes to mind first?”

“Well,” Missy said, glancing at the ceiling, “mostly I’m obsessing over the fact that our planet is dying.” 

“Is it?”

Missy shrugged. “Well, yeah. Everyone knows that. It’s all you hear. We’ve got, what, five years—maybe seven years, tops—before we hit this point of no return? Then it’s—” she made a downward spiral motion with her hand. “I mean, that’s terrible for everybody, but it’s even worse for me.”

“How so?”

Missy paused for effect. “Because it’s my fault.”

“My goodness,” Dr. Iz exclaimed, as she jotted narcissistic tendencies. “What exactly did you do?”

“My name is Crowe, right?” Missy said it in a tone that sounded both haughty and apologetic at the same time. “And you may know that my great-great-great grandfather was Homer Crowe, who started my family’s energy business, the Crowe Power Company? I’m sure you’ve heard of it.”

“Oh yes,” Dr. Iz said. “I write to them once a month.”


“I pay my electricity bill.”

“Ah, right,” Missy said, sounding puzzled. Why wouldn’t she just Venmo it? “Well, anyway… Homer Crowe was, like, one of the original gangstas on climate change. He built his whole business around energy from fossil fuels. And for the past century, all my family business has done is make the problem worse, spewing out more and more gigatons of carbon dioxide, choking the planet. Look at us now. The planet is gonna die.” Her arm twitched. “And I’ll be held responsible.”

“Not if everyone’s dead, dear,” Dr. Iz said before taking a dainty sip of her tea.

Missy’s brow furrowed.

“Sorry,” Dr. Iz said, squelching her impulse to be even more blunt. “Tell me how all this makes you feel. A bit hopeless, perhaps?”

“Yes. Exactly,” Missy said. “Hopeless.”

Dr. Iz nodded empathetically. “That’s understandable. We all feel that way from time to time when events seem beyond our control. But it’s important to realize that we’re never helpless. You can do something about your situation.”

“I do some things,” Missy said, defensively. “I mean, I sign petitions to boycott this company or that company.” She paused, thinking. “I go to marches to protest what these big corporations are doing to screw our planet. I even picketed outside Crowe Power headquarters last year.” She looked at Dr. Iz, waiting for an approving look. Finding no response, Missy searched her memory files for some other noble posture she had taken. Nah. Nothing… 

“It’s good you’re taking actions to address your anxiety, Missy,” Dr. Iz offered. “Even the smallest steps can help the cause.”

Smallest steps? Missy scrunched her face. She was a freaking climate warrior! A leader of her generation! Why didn’t Dr. Iz recognize that? “I do what I can,” Missy said with a sniff.

Dr. Iz considered feel-good measures Missy might take. What had she just read the other day from a magazine in her waiting room? “Climate change isn’t my area of expertise; I’m not that kind of scientist,” she explained. “But I understand there are steps each of us can take to lessen our impact. For instance, you could use cold water when you wash your clothes.”

Missy nodded sullenly. “That’s an idea. I could probably have them do that.”


“Whoever does my laundry.”

“Who is that?” Dr. Iz asked.

Missy’s expression went blank. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t?”

“Well, no,” Missy replied, annoyed. “Do you know who does your laundry?”

“Yes. As a matter of fact, I do,” Dr. Iz said. “Her name is Dr. Iz.”

Missy blinked hard. Whoa. That’s weird. “Yeah. Okay. I’ve heard some people do it themselves. All I know is that in my case, it gets done. Haven’t given a lot of thought about who or where.” She shrugged and cocked her head. Why was this even important?

Dr. Iz struggled to maintain a sympathetic posture. “Here’s another idea,” she said. “You could take public transit. The bus. The subway…”

Missy flashed impatience. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I did that.”

“You mean… once?”

“Believe me. It was enough,” Missy said. “It’s really sick down there. There are these gross puddles of… whatever on the floor. Crazy people talking gibberish. You wait around forever—like, five, ten minutes—for a train.” Sensing Dr. Iz’s disapproval, she said, “I mean, I’d love to do it all the time. But I have this driver? Harvey? Last thing I want to do is put him out of work, especially in an economy like this. He might have a family.”

“You don’t know?”

“I don’t know what?”

“Whether he has a family?” Dr. Iz asked.

“Well, no,” Missy replied. She squinted. “Is that bizarre?”

“How long has he worked for you?” Dr. Iz pressed.

“Off and on,” Missy said, thinking, “I guess about four years. He was my aunt’s driver before she died.”

“You’ve shared a car with Harvey for four years, but you don’t know if he has a wife, a partner, a kid, a hamster?”

“Dr. Iz, when I’m in the car, I’m on the phone or texting. I don’t want to give him the third degree.”

Dr. Iz leaned back in her chair and crossed one leg over another. “Missy, asking someone whether they have a family is not generally considered an affront, nor an interrogation. It’s just part of normal human intercourse. People do it every day.”

Missy shrugged. “I guess for some people, yeah. I could see that.” But, Missy thought, I’m not just some people. I’m a Crowe. We don’t get involved in the personal lives of the help.

Dr. Iz bit lightly on the end of her pen. She could go on with more suggestions, but what was the point? Missy lived in a bubble that floated high above, in the stratosphere accessible only to Chinese spy balloons and Sidewinder missiles. At Missy’s altitude, doing something about climate change required no personal sacrifices other than dutifully sending money to support the right causes, attending rallies and conferences, and heckling other people for failing to get with the program. But why did she bother, Dr. Iz wondered. Perhaps it was penance for her vast wealth and her family history. “Tell me about your job,” Dr. Iz said. “Your card says you’re an executive at Crowe Power.”

“I am. But definitely not the part that uses fossil fuels. I won’t work in that part—ever,” Missy declared. “I have certain principles, you know.”

“Understood,” Dr. Iz sighed.

Missy continued proudly, “I’m at the green subsidiary, CroFusion.”

“What a great starting point. Didn’t your company do a demonstration of fusion last year at the Statue of Liberty?”

“We did. My mother lit the torch with this little blip of electricity from fusion.”

“That’s wonderful,” Dr. Iz said. “It sounds like you’re in a position to make real change.”

Missy shrugged. “Maybe.”

“What’s your job?”

“I’m vice-president of strategy? I’m supposed to help us take fusion to the next step. It’s, like, the hottest area in green energy right now. The holy grail, they say.”

 “Very impressive,” Dr. Iz said.

“I guess,” Missy said sullenly. “I haven’t been going to work. I mean, I went one day, and I got this ID badge to get into the building. And I attended a management meeting and met a bunch of people, which was a very weird experience. As the daughter of the company chairperson, everyone looks at you like you’re some kind of freaky totem, or a business genius. Anyway… I haven’t been back since that first day.”

“You don’t go to the office at all?”

“Well, no,” Missy said. “Not with this—” she jerked her arm, “twitchy thing. How can I?”

“I see.”

“I mean, I could go knocking into people. Send papers flying off the desk. Break lamps. Who knows? It’s totally embarrassing. That’s why I need your help. I’ve got to get this fixed so I can go to work.”

Dr. Iz tapped her pen against her chin, thinking. “What triggers this twitch, do you think? Are there images you see, or words that are said, that make your arm fly up like that?”

Missy narrowed her eyes. “I think maybe it’s words. I mean, a little while ago, you asked if the tea was too hot. It wasn’t, as it turned out. It just kinda smelled bad.” She paused and squinted at Dr. Iz, who was sipping her tea. “Do you like it?”

“I’m drinking Earl Grey,” Dr. Iz said with a shrug. 

“Not Poo Poo Pu-Erh?”

Dr. Iz chuckled. I don’t drink that shit. “My tastes are not as refined as yours.”

Want to keep reading? Download Missy's Twitch now!

missy's twitch

Missy's Twitch

By Jon Pepper