The Golden Mask Dynasty Show was located at the OCT Theatre in Beijing’s Happy Valley.
The theatre was quite full and the seats we had were directly behind the VIP area; as our guide told us, we had the best seats in the house.
The play has 20 different dance scenes that depict war, royal banquets, and romance. There are eight chapters and over 200 actors, and throughout the performance we were entertained by dancers, acrobats, costumes, lighting, and acoustics.
It is of romantic legend and historical memories, the Golden Mask Queen leads her army in defeating the invading Blue Mask King’s army, and afterwards the lands return to a leisurely pastoral life until the Queen forges a ‘mysterious tree’. When the tree has grown, the Queen has a grand celebration, and releases the captured Blue soldiers, much to the admiration of the Blue Mask King. This is followed by monstrous floods, and to save her people, and on the advice from the ‘mysterious tree’, the Queen sacrifices herself to save her people. The Queen then turns into a golden sunbird flying in the sky blessing the people and that of the dynasty.
Billed as the best live show in China, described as a large scale dramatic musical, “The Golden Mask Dynasty” it lived up to its reputation and was thoroughly enjoyed by all.
It was not just singing dancing and acrobatics, it had a story and it was told so that language and cultural issues aside, it worked. There was a narration of the story running beside the stage, but it was hard to divide attention between what was happening, and what was being related.
Then came the peacock dance, with live peacocks
And this was followed by a waterfall, well, I don’t think anyone in that audience could believe what they were seeing.
I know I was both astonished and in awe of the performance.
What a way to finish off our first day in Beijing.
Oh, sorry, that high was dented slightly when we had to go back to our room.
In a day of going over old ground and making it new again, I have revisited Zoe’s residence in Paris at the time John called, and found it empty, except for some kid who was all ‘get lost or suffer the consequences.’
Who is he? We flesh that story out, and how it relates to Zoe and those early days in the story.
Similarly, I’m not happy still with how Worthington discovers Zoe, and this is going to need some more work, and definitely a rewrite.
In fact, I might have to revisit his whole appearance in the story and make it a little less bombastic and a little more subdued seething anger.
The whole Marseilles episode is good, it’s just the end and this discovery of who is behind Zoe’s abduction that needs a little work. This is where we sow the enigmatic sees of Romanov and his purpose for wanting Zoe if it is not revenge like it is assumed.
Similarly, that whole thing with the Russian Minister and Anton needs a lot more work because there appears to be a connection between him and Romanov, but there’s not. This is just Olga leaning on her connections to get a result.
Then Zoe takes off to find Romanov, or is it those seeking revenge, it’s not quite clear, and leaves John to contemplate his future. Perhaps a piece here between them that sets the tone for the relationship over the coming months would be good, and the trigger that sets John off on a quest to find her.
His excuses at the moment are wishy-washy at best.
Phew!!! Never knew self-criticism could be so harsh!
Today’s writing, with Zoe languishing in a dungeon waiting for a white knight, 0 words, for a total of 8,871.
One of the recurring memories I have of my childhood was the annual pilgrimage to Grand Marais, Minnesota, located on the North Shore of Lake Superior.
It was the place where my father grew up, along with three brothers and a sister, and where his parents had been born, lived, and eventually died.
The other memory, that his parents never came to visit us, we always had to go to them. That, and the fact my mother hated them, that animosity borne out of an event at their wedding that no one ever spoke about.
Not until a long, long time later, after my father had passed away.
We stopped going when I turned eighteen, though I don’t think that was the reason. Mt grandparents hadn’t died or gone anywhere, it was just the week before our pilgrimage was to begin, my father announced there would be no more visits.
You could see the relief on our mother’s face, much less ours because they were, to put it mildly, quirky. Steven, the youngest brother put it more succinctly, weird and creepy.
Perhaps it had been the house, a large sprawling two-story mansion that had been added to over the years, and reputed to have thirteen bedrooms. Thirteen.
They had a butler, a housekeeper, a chauffeur, and several housemaids. Odd, because I got the impression my grandfather didn’t work, and yet they were, reputedly, very wealthy. Equally odd, then, that wealth didn’t extend to my father.
Which, in the final analysis, was probably the reason why we stopped going. He had been cut out of the will.
Of course, none of this would have reached my consciousness if I had not received an email from one of the sones of my fathers, brother, and uncle who had never visited us, I’d seen probably three times in my life, and who had lived with his parents in the mansion.
I’d not seen, or heard of any children of any of the other brothers, or sisters, so this was a first, and aroused my curiosity. I had thought that our part of the family had been exorcised from all their collective memories.
And, that curiosity would soon go into overdrive because with the email came an invitation to come and stay, and meet the other members of the family.
I had a sister, Molly, and called her once I got the email, and she said she had one too.
Was she going? Hell yes. It, for her, was going to be the unearthing of all the secrets.
What secrets, I asked, knowing full well there had been a few, but she had simply said I’d have to wait and see.
The drive brought back a lot of memories, and unconsciously I found myself listening to the same songs we did when Dad droves us.
Molly had come to my place, and we drove there together. In itself, it was a good reason for us to reunite after so long being apart. It was even more profound considering we did not live all that far apart, it was just life and family that got in the way.
She, like myself, found herself reliving the annual pilgrimages, her memories being hazier than mine, but that was because she was a lot younger.
She had been the one to leave home first, finding our restrictive parents unbearable. My departure took longer because my mother had implored me to stay, and not leave her with ‘that unbearable man’.
That final few miles from the outskirts of town, past the waterline, then inland was hushed with anticipation. I last remembered the house, although forbidding, as impeccably maintained, with gardens, I was sure, that featured in ‘Architectural Digest’.
This vision as we approached was so different than the last, in the last vestiges of the evening, a dark forbidding place still, only a lot more sinister. The gardens had been abandoned long ago, and everything was overgrown.
The fountain out front, the centerpiece of the gardens, was buried and gone.
The house had also fallen into disrepair, and I was surprised the local authorities hadn’t condemned it.
I parked the car in the driveway, and we sat there, staring at it.
“That motel back down the road is looking good,” Molly said.
The invitation also included staying in one of the thirteen rooms.
“Depends on how many ghosts there are.”
“The motel or here?”
I shrugged. “I guess we’d better get to the front door before it’s dark, just in case.”
Closer to the stairs leading up to a veranda, I could see the different shades of timber when rotten planks had been replaced. We made it to the front door, Molly hanging on to me just in case.
I pulled a ring dangling from a chain and heard a gong go off inside the house. A minute passed, two, then the door creaked open, and an old man in a dinner suit was standing there. “Mr. Garry, and Miss Molly, I presume.
He stood to one side before we answered, and we went in.
The inside was utterly different from the outside, having been renovated recently, much brighter than I remembered from the endless wood paneling. The old man ushered us into a large lounge room, on one side a huge log fire was burning, and around the walls, where there wasn’t a bookshelf full of books were family paintings.
“It’s like a mausoleum,” Molly said.
I recognized a lot of those faces in the paintings, including one of our father and mother together, probably not long after they were married. The men of that family all looked the same, except when it came to me, I looked more like my mother.
“Much better than it used to be.”
“I don’t remember much.”
To one side there was a large staircase that you could go up one side and down the other, and as children, we used to run up and down, and generally be annoying. Sliding down the banister was strictly forbidden, until after everyone went to bed.
I was half expecting to see the old man come from the depths of the house, but instead, a man that I could easily mistake as my father came through from the rear, where, I remembered, there was a room before the kitchens.
“Garry, I presume. And Molly. My God, it’s been too long.”
A shake of the hand for me, and a hug for Molly.
“David, or Jerry?”
“David. You remember. We used to run amok in this place.” He grinned.
He was the wild one, and all I did was follow. There were about seven of us, in the end, before we stopped coming.
“The others will be here tomorrow, and they’re dying to meet you. My dad was the last man standing, and he left the place to me, not that it was much by that time. I’ve spent years doing it up, but there’s a long way to go before it returns to its former glory. By the way, there are no ghosts in the bedrooms, and they are modernized with their own bathroom. I saw you out in the car before, looking horrified. Just a word to the wise, that motel does have ghosts. The jury is out on whether grandfather still roams the hallways, but I guess that’s something you’ll find out tonight. He was a horrid man by all accounts. Sorry, my wife says I babble when I’m nervous.”
“He does.” A woman, a few years older than Molly came out from the back.”
“You remember me.” She smiled.
I remembered her, had for a long time because back then, she was the first girl I thought I was madly in love with. The fact she was a cousin didn’t seem to matter. She just ignored me anyway.
And her beauty had not diminished over the years. “How could anyone forget you?”
“Yes, I had that effect on boys, didn’t I? It’s good to see you again.”
We both scored a hug, and yes, being close to her again did increase my heart rate just a little.
“Come,” David said, “sit and we’ll have a drink. Have you eaten?”
“Not for a while.”
“Then we were about to have a bite, I’m sure there’s plenty for everyone. Sit, and we’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“No wife, husband?”
“Yes on both accounts, but we would never bring them here. This family is difficult enough for us let alone outsiders. The rest of the group, well, you’ll see, are just plain quirky relatives. If you ever saw the Addams Family, TV series or movies, well, they’d fit right in here. But you’ll see. More on that soon.”
He and Angelina disappeared outback and silence fell over the room.
“Why do I get the feeling we might be murdered in our beds tonight?”
It was beginning to look like that was a possibility.
When David returned with the old man, Angelina, and what looked to be a maid with food and drinks, we sat down again, turning our fears of being murdered into a severe frightening of ghosts.
The old man was enough to think ghosts were alive in the house. It couldn’t possibly be the butler from the last time I saw him because he would have to be about 120 years old.
When all of us were settled, David began.
“There is another reason why I asked both of you here, along with all the others, by the way, there are around ten of us. Your father never told you the truth, or perhaps anything, of the situation when he stopped coming to visit his parents, did he?”
“He just said it was a difference of opinion, that his father would never see reason, didn’t like my mother or her family and gave up trying to be civil.”
“It was worse than that, he told him that if he didn’t give up your mother, he would cut him off from the family fortune, which eventually he did. It’s probably why you found life a little tougher for a few years.”
That was one way of putting it, we were taken out of our private schools and had just about all our leisure activities curtailed, and the worst, no more holidays. Mother even had to get a job, which disappointed her family, but they were not as rich as my father’s family was, so couldn’t help us financially.
“It was difficult.”
“Well, the good news is, your grandmother, our grandmother, was not as quirky or pedantic as her husband and never forgot the service your father did for her when he could. In that regard, she has left a bequest to both you and your sister, Molly. It’s been a long, hard battle to get it through the system, but it’s finally sorted.”
“I liked grandmother more than grandfather,” Molly said.
“Most of us did. He was a rebel himself, going against his family, a very interesting bunch themselves. Our quirkiness probably came from them, the last of the relatively unknown banking and railroad tycoons more famous in the 19th century than today where we are relatively forgotten. It is of course a blessing in disguise. But you ask, what is that quirkiness worth?”
“Not much I would imagine, after all this time. Our father taught us the value of money, so it’ll be nice to have some extra.”
“Some extra.” He smiled. “It’s about 125 million dollars, each. Enough I would say that you can now afford some quirks of your own.”
Every time I close my eyes, I see something different.
I’d like to think the cinema of my dreams is playing a double feature but it’s a bit like a comedy cartoon night on Fox.
But these dreams are nothing to laugh about.
Once again there’s a new instalment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.
Was this going to be the very definition of dining with the devil?
Or was my curiosity going to be the death of me?
It was just one of a dozen questions I asked myself on that trip back to Nadia’s room. One reason I was going there was not in the expectation of a romantic interlude. No, this was something else. I kept reminding myself that Nadia was, first and foremost, a Cossatino, and the Cossatino’s were not people you wanted to be friends with.
When we arrived, she asked for a few minutes so she could change, so I stayed out on the balcony. It was a coolish night, a clear sky, and just a hint of salt in the air. We were not far from the ocean, and it reminded me of another lifetime, one where I was young enough not to have to worry about all that grown-up stuff.
I heard the door open behind me.
“Thanks for waiting.”
I turned, not sure what I was expecting. Certainly not a statuesque woman in training gear. She looked to me ready to go for a training run.
I walked past her into the room, faintly smelling of some perfume, and sat in one of the two chairs in the room. I watched her close the door, go over to the mini bar, get two bottles of beer out, and hand one to me.
It was an odd thought, being in a hotel room with Nadia, the last thing I’d ever be doing with her, let alone any other woman. My choices had always been limited, or so I had thought.
“I had this thought,” she said, leaning against the desk on the opposite side of the room, “that we should try and beat Vince at his own game.”
An interesting thought, was Nadia thinking of joining in Boggs’s treasure hunt, take it over, or was this a ruse, and had she been working with Vince all this time, and using us to get to the prize by another route. Or was it a rivalry with Vince that she wanted to win? Wasn’t it Boggs’s call who joined the expedition?
“We as in you and me, or we as in Boggs and you, or…”
“You’re overthinking it Smidge.”
“A word of advice, Nadia, if you’re trying to appeal to my good side, you might consider dropping the nickname. Only the people I hate use it, and I’m sure you don’t want me to add you to the list.”
Not necessarily warranted, and in my younger days I’d never dare to speak to her like that, but I felt I had the upper hand, at least for a short time.
“OK. Note to self, call Smidge Sam. Old habits are hard to break.”
In more ways than one, I thought.
“Well, overthinking it or not, it’s not my call to make. I’m assuming you want to join in on Boggs’s treasure hunt?”
“That was the idea.”
“You’re assuming that Boggs actually has the real map, or, in fact, there is such a thing. You have to remember that his father created all those maps, and it wouldn’t be hard to make one look more authentic than another, just to get a better price. Everything to do with the treasure seems to me like it’s one big hoax.”
“If that was the case, why do you think Vince is so wound up about it? My point is, Vince is simply all muscle and no brains. He always has been, so you have to assume that my grandfather has decided there’s something in the rumours. Granted he may have been working in league with Boogs senior, but don’t you think that in order to create forgeries, there had to be some sort of map to work from.”
An interesting premise.
“If it led to treasure on an island in the Wast Indies, I’d be more likely to believe in it, but here, a million miles from any of the pirate trading routes, and having a deep abiding disbelieve in hidden treasure still not recovered in this day and age, what do you think?”
“Does Boggs’s know about your scepticism?”
“I’ve told him enough times, but he has this bee in his bonnet, and I’m his best friend, probably his only friend. I humour him. And I doubt seriously if he’ll ever go through with it, because he’s never finished anything in his life. He gave me a copy of the map, but I suspect that was a copy of the one he gave Vince in the end.
“So, you think it’s not a worthwhile exercise?”
“What I think doesn’t matter. But I’ve got a question for you. Why have you come back here?”
“What if I told you it’s possible that the treasure is real.”
“I’d say you’ve been indulging in the drugs your family pedals.”
“What if I said I had proof?”
OK, where is this going? Did that mean she had proof, or that the Cossatino’s had proof, and was she about to open a can of worms?
“That man that you found dead on Rico’s boat. His name was Jacob Stravinsky. He was an authority on pirates and their lost treasure, and had over the years, uncovered evidence that pirates had come here supposedly fleeing from the authorities, and that at least two of them could have hidden some of their treasure somewhere along this coastline. News of the discovery of several gold coins off the coast, not ten miles from here somehow caught Ales Benderby’s ear and he went to visit him.
“No one is sure what happened at that meeting, but I know Alex was there because that’s where I ran into him. And, the fool that he is, got drunk and told me, no bragged about how he was going to find the treasure and prove his worth to his father.”
“Then how did this Stravinsky end up dead on Rico’s boat.”
“Because Alex got what he wanted and made sure no one else found out.”
With my attention elsewhere, I walked into a man who was hurrying in the opposite direction. He was a big man with a scar running down the left side of his face from eye socket to mouth, and who was also wearing a black shirt with a red tie.
That was all I remembered as my heart almost stopped.
He apologized as he stepped to one side, the same way I stepped, as I also muttered an apology.
I kept my eyes down. He was not the sort of man I wanted to recognize later in a lineup. I stepped to the other side and so did he. It was one of those situations. Finally getting out of sync, he kept going in his direction, and I towards the bus, which was now pulling away from the curb.
Getting my breath back, I just stood riveted to the spot watching it join the traffic. I looked back over my shoulder, but the man I’d run into had gone. I shrugged and looked at my watch. It would be a few minutes before the next bus arrived.
Wait, or walk? I could also go by subway, but it was a long walk to the station. What the hell, I needed the exercise.
At the first intersection, the ‘Walk’ sign had just flashed to ‘Don’t Walk’. I thought I’d save a few minutes by not waiting for the next green light. As I stepped onto the road, I heard the screeching of tires.
A yellow car stopped inches from me.
It was a high powered sports car, perhaps a Lamborghini. I knew what they looked like because Marcus Bartleby owned one, as did every other junior executive in the city with a rich father.
Everyone stopped to look at me, then the car. It was that sort of car. I could see the driver through the windscreen shaking his fist, and I could see he was yelling too, but I couldn’t hear him. I stepped back onto the sidewalk, and he drove on. The moment had passed and everyone went back to their business.
My heart rate hadn’t come down from the last encounter. Now it was approaching cardiac arrest, so I took a few minutes and several sets of lights to regain composure.
At the next intersection, I waited for the green light, and then a few seconds more, just to be sure. I was no longer in a hurry.
At the next, I heard what sounded like a gunshot. A few people looked around, worried expressions on their faces, but when it happened again, I saw it was an old car backfiring. I also saw another yellow car, much the same as the one before, stopped on the side of the road. I thought nothing of it, other than it was the second yellow car I’d seen.
At the next intersection, I realized I was subconsciously heading towards Harry’s new bar. It was somewhere on 6th Avenue, so I continued walking in what I thought was the right direction.
I don’t know why I looked behind me at the next intersection, but I did. There was another yellow car on the side of the road, not far from me. It, too, looked the same as the original Lamborghini, and I was starting to think it was not a coincidence.
Moments after crossing the road, I heard the roar of a sports car engine and saw the yellow car accelerate past me. As it passed by, I saw there were two people in it, and the blurry image of the passenger; a large man with a red tie.
Now my imagination was playing tricks.
It could not be the same man. He was going in a different direction.
In the few minutes I’d been standing on the pavement, it had started to snow; early for this time of year, and marking the start of what could be a long cold winter. I shuddered, and it was not necessarily because of the temperature.
I looked up and saw a neon light advertising a bar, coincidentally the one Harry had ‘found’ and, looking once in the direction of the departing yellow car, I decided to go in. I would have a few drinks and then leave by the back door if it had one.
After several years of bad management, the company had decided to make a clean sweep and change upper management. Of course, that sort of change was driven by the volatility of the company’s share price and dividends, and shareholders’ discontent. Productivity was down because of low employee morale driven by what was labelled a ‘toxic work environment’. This led to production problems, quality control issues, and falling sales.
Something had to be done.
The new broom, as it was come to be known as, had made several far sweeping changes, one of which, to counter the discontent of its employees, was to institute the anonymous complaint. Any employee could make a complaint without fear of reprisals. In the past, those that had were vilified, demoted, or sacked. Now, the new broom had decided that employee input would improve the workplace, improve productivity, and provide the way back to the halcyon days.
Or so we thought.
Two phones, each on a bedside table, both chimed to indicate an incoming message.
I’d been staring at the roof, contemplating the start of a new week in a place where I had decided was not where I wanted to be. Beside me, still asleep, was the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, but she was not sure about making a commitment. She’d been down that road before, and it failed miserably and was taking it slow.
I told her slow was my middle name.
I leaned over and picked up the phone, more out of curiosity than anything else, but fascinated that both phones could go off at the same time.
“In the light of a host of complaints about the catering division, it has been decided that the staff cafeteria will cease operations at the end of the month. It has for a number of years been the subject of employee dissatisfaction and the result of an extensive investigation to the feasibility of keeping it going, given the economic climate and fiscal position of the company the only viable decision is to cease operations. Staff currently working in the catering department will be transferred to other positions within the company.”
How could this be possible? I had seen the feasibility study relating to the cafeteria, and it was ‘feasible’ to keep it going. They were right though, there had been a host of complaints, but that was because the catering manager had no idea how to run a large-scale cafeteria that churned out upwards of 5,000 meals a day. Even Olga, who was right here with me now, had said that it was the most poorly managed operation she had ever worked in.
I tossed the phone back on the bedside table and got back under the covers. Too early and too cold to get out of bed.
It woke Olga.
“Trouble in paradise?”
Paradise was her euphemism for work. She had become increasingly desponded as I about working there. In her case, as q waitress in the cafeteria, it was a job she could take or leave. For me, loitering on the fringes of middle management, not so much. Not if I wanted to keep the flash apartment and upscale car.
“They have dumped the cafeteria.”
I had expected her to leap up in indignation. It barely registered on the Richter scale. “And what did you expect?” She raised her head off the pillow. “They were never going to implement your suggestions, it would make Commissar Bland look like a fool, like the fool above him.”
Her analogy transposing our fearless leaders with those back in the old Soviet Union were always an insight to what she had experienced back home before she emigrated with her parents. Commissar Bland was a dictator, and not a man to cross. She cared little about him, and treated him, like the others did, as a joke.
“So much for the new broom,” I muttered.
“You are so naive Petr, but like home, change means no change, just different faces and words that all mean the same thing.”
Petr was her pet name for me, named after an old mentor of hers.
“Aren’t you the one losing your job. Doesn’t it bother you?”
“I will become best factory worker. We are very adaptable. You should try not to lose any sleep.”
She lay down again and snuggled closer.
I left her at the fourth floor where my office was located, and she would continue up to the next, the location of the cafeteria.
If I remember correctly, the current CEO when the factory manager, had always wanted to reclaim the cafeteria space for a new modernised production line, but the old guard had seen the benefit of keeping it despite the cost, as a means of keeping its workforce. Even twenty years ago, it would not have made a discussion topic, even in jest.
But times change.
Herman, another of the middle management fringe dwellers, and had also seen the need to have something to ‘bribe’ the workforce. We’d only been talking about it with others on our level the other day when all manner of rumours were drifting through our building.
He was loitering in the passage, obviously waiting for me.
“You’ve seen the message?”
“Hell of a way to kill an institution?”
I walked into my cubicle and dumped my bag on the floor. As a first act, the new broom removed all the offices, and put everyone into an open plan, where it was easier to communicate with others and removed the barriers walls and doors presented. The jury was still out on whether it worked, I could still never get to see the people I needed to.
He followed me in and sat in a chair in the corner. I sat on the desk, it was not a large cubicle.
“It was a drain on profits. The world has moved on from pandering to workforces. It seems dividends are more important. I’m sure this will not be the only change.”
“Like managers losing their cars and credit cards, except for the upper echelon. I don’t think you’ll see them close the executive dining room.”
Yes, it was only a matter of time before that morsel would raise its head under the banner of hypocrisy.
“Probably not. But remember, we used to build cars once, and it was good advertising to hand them out to all and sundry. Now, trying to do the right thing costs too much.”
My phone on the desk rang and startled me. It was still quiet, the bulk of the cubicle population hadn’t arrived yet. My guess they were gathering in coffee shops discussing the news.
I picked up receiver mid ring, then said, “Yes?” I refused to follow the official answering sequence advised by the new broom.
Hesitation, then, “O’Hara from Administration. Can you come and see me, nine a.m.?”
Why? There was no way anyone could know I sent that memo, and I wasn’t on management’s radar, it had been O’Hara himself who told me to keep up the good work, the coded message that said I was not on the latest promotion list.
“I’ll see you then.” I was not going to say ‘yes, sir’ like other management hopefuls. O’Hara was not someone who could be buttered up, a fact only I seemed to be aware of.
“Who was that?”
“Then your days are numbered. He never calls except to say you have a promotion or you’re fired. You aren’t on the promotion list.”
“How can you be sure?”
No one was supposed to know who was on that list for sure, it was a closely guarded secret. Herman said he knew someone who knew someone who knew Herman’s PA, and had been told who was on the list. So far, in the last two lists, he had been right about us two.
Perhaps he was right. I was going to get fired.
“Have I ever been wrong?”
Technically, no. But I never got any other names of those who were on the list. Maybe it was better to wait, and be disappointed then.
“Well, we’ll soon find out.”
It took twenty minutes to walk from the old administration building to the new, built recently on the outskirts of the company site, on what was once the carpark. The carpark had been relocated under the new administration building, and it gave management the perfect excuse to charge us to park our cars.
A Lot of employees had switched from car to the train, less than the weekly cost of the carpark. Another new broom initiative; getting people out of cars and onto public transport, their contribution to easing global warming.
None of us, other than those in the new administration building had passes, so we had to sign in as visitors on the ground floor, even though we spent a lot of time travelling back and forth, and visiting other members of our departments who had been moved from the old building.
No, not a new broom initiative, just the result of an obtuse security chief.
Getting the pass made me five minutes late, and O’Hara didn’t like tardy people.
A glare followed me from the door of his office to the seat in front of his desk where he motioned me to sit. The offices were better here and were offices not cubicles. Everyone else wanted to be transferred to the new office. I didn’t. Too far away from Olga.
“I called you over to discuss the ten-point plan to save the cafeteria.”
“What ten-point plan?” Perhaps they did know who wrote the memo.
“I had every written complaint checked to see whose writing it was. Next time, write it on the computer and print it out.”
I shrugged. “I did it for a laugh. Nothing’s going to change in this place.”
“You sound like you don’t like working here?”
“I do. Most days. Today, though, is one reason to leave. That cafeteria has been here since the day the factory started. The employers, once, were involved in getting employees housing, even had their own estate, and assisted them to buy cars. It was a novel thought in an age where employers, well, some employers, considered their employees assets.”
“We still do.”
I shook my head. I guess if you wanted to be in management you had to believe and repeat the new mantra. I’d heard about the management team building conferences.
“So, we’re going back to our original values?”
“This is neither the time, nor do we have the fiscal viability. But it seems some of the board members consider your proposals need fleshing out into a plan with costings so they can make a more balanced judgement.”
“Unfortunately, you just uttered the two words that make that idea redundant, fiscal viability. There is no possible way in this current world we live in that a cafeteria would ever be viable, unless we charged five-star restaurant prices for the meals.”
“Humour me and do it anyway.”
“Not my department.”
“Fixed. You now are temporarily assigned to ‘rebuilding and restructuring’. You can add three others to your team. You have a week.”
“And if I say no.”
“It’s that or your resignation. You have been given an opportunity, take it.”
I shrugged. I’d heard about the new broom’s method of culling. Give them jobs that they can’t possibly find a solution to. Devious, but devastatingly effective. One last hurrah before being tossed on the executive scrap heap.
When I came out of his office, Herman was waiting in the outer office.
“You too,” I said.
“Nine of us. Sounds like there’s a new project in the wind.”
I didn’t burst his bubble. Ten more budding executives were getting the push. I sighed.
At least now Olga and I could go visit her family on the shores of the Black Sea. There was no excuse not to.
John Pennington’s life is in the doldrums. Looking for new opportunities, prevaricating about getting married, the only joy on the horizon was an upcoming visit to his grandmother in Sorrento, Italy.
Suddenly he is left at the check-in counter with a message on his phone telling him the marriage is off, and the relationship is over.
If only he hadn’t promised a friend he would do a favor for him in Rome.
At the first stop, Geneva, he has a chance encounter with Zoe, an intriguing woman who captures his imagination from the moment she boards the Savoire, and his life ventures into uncharted territory in more ways than one.
That ‘favor’ for his friend suddenly becomes a life-changing event, and when Zoe, the woman who he knows is too good to be true, reappears, danger and death follow.
Shot at, lied to, seduced, and drawn into a world where nothing is what it seems, John is dragged into an adrenaline-charged undertaking, where he may have been wiser to stay with the ‘devil you know’ rather than opt for the ‘devil you don’t’.
It is an amazing coincidence that both times we have flown into New York, it is the day after the worst snow storms.
The first time, we were delayed out of Los Angeles and waited for hours before the plane left. We had a free lunch and our first introduction to American hamburgers and chips. Wow!
I had thought we had left enough time with connections to make it in time for New Year’s Eve, like four to five hours before. As it turned out, we arrived in New York at 10:30, and thanks to continual updating with our limousine service, he was there to take us to the hotel.
The landing was rough, the plane swaying all over the place and many of the passengers were sick. Blankets were in short supply!
We made it to the hotel, despite snow, traffic, and the inevitable problems associated with NYE in New York, with enough time to throw our baggage in the room, put on our anti cold clothes, and get out onto the streets.
We could not go to Times Square but finished up at Central Park with thousands of others, in time to see the ball drop on a big screen, exchange new year’s greetings, and see the fireworks.
Then, as luck would have it, we were able to get an authentic New York hotdog, just before the police moved the vendor on, and our night was complete.
The second time we were the last plane out of Los Angeles to New York. After waiting and waiting, we boarded, and then started circling the airport waiting for takeoff permission. We stopped once to refuel, and then the pilot decided we were leaving.
This time we took our eldest granddaughter, who was 9 at the time, and she thought it was an adventure. It was.
When we landed, we were directed to an older part of the airport, a disused terminal. We were not the only plane to land, at about one in the morning, but one of about four. The terminal building filled very quickly, and we were all waiting for baggage. The baggage belts broke so there were a lot of porters bring the baggage in by hand.
One part of the terminal was just a sea of bags. To find ours our granddaughter, who, while waiting, sat on top of the cabin baggage playing her DSI until the announcement our bags were available, walked across the top of the bags till she found them. Thankfully no one was really looking in her direction.
Once again we kept our limousine service updated, and, once we knew what terminal we were at, he came to pick us up. This time we arrived some days before NYE, so there was not so much of a rush. We got to the hotel about 3:30 in the morning, checked in, and then went over the road to an all-night diner where we ordered hamburgers and chips.
It was mid-afternoon and a half hour before her plane touched down when I arrived at the airport by water taxi. It was not a trip I made often, but that final run from the city across the open water was at times invigorating, sometimes quite pleasant.
Today the water had a chop, and the ride was less smooth than usual. The driver also seemed to be in a hurry, just about leaving the dock before I’d got off the boat. It was one of the more interesting ways of arriving at an airport.
It was a leisurely walk to the terminal building, and just as I passed the first of the arrival boards, I saw her plane had landed, about ten minutes early.
I headed to the gate where as I arrived the first of the passengers were coming through the door. She was not at the front of the plane, and it is a full flight, it might be a while before she appeared.
I checked to see if there was anyone who seemed out of place, expecting that Larry would not be that trusting to allow her any freedom, but there were no suspicious others, except if you counted me in that category, lurking within eyesight, but masked from the exiting passenger’s view.
It was several minutes before she appeared, casually dressed as a tourist might, in a bright coloured floral dress with a denim jacket, and travelling with a cabin bag she wheeled in front of her.
She looked different again than the photograph, not as gaunt in the face, as if she had recovered from a serious illness. I could not see the expression on her face, but one thing was clear, she was not happy.
Then I saw why.
A man came up to her just as she left the lounge area, appearing suddenly which meant he had been hidden from me, and she looked surprised, then angry, angry enough that airport security started walking towards them.
The man, seeing the police approaching said something to her, then quickly walked away. I took a photograph and looking at it realised it wouldn’t be difficult to remember him if I needed to.
Alfie would no doubt tell me who he was in due course. In the meantime, Juliet had waited for the police and then spoke to them briefly before heading towards the water taxi terminal.
I was closer to that exit and got there before her, checking to see if the man who had accosted her was waiting outside, as he had left in that direction, and had passed quite close to me. Most noticeable about him, the tattoo of a snake wrapped around his neck.
It gave him that fearsome look that he no doubt used in his profession.
I couldn’t see him, so I headed towards the terminal, this time with the intention of getting the public water bus otherwise known as a Vaporetto. She followed more casually, taking in the sights as if it was her first time in Venice.
It also gave rise to the thought again of how she was going to ‘run into me’ in a city full of alleyways and hidden passageways, making it easy for even the most experienced traveller to get lost at least once during their visit. The only possibility was in St marks square or the promenade along the Canal that led off the square from the Doges Palace.
Then I saw him, waiting by a water taxi, or perhaps a private motorboat. She saw him too and headed straight for the Vaporetto, boarding just before it departed, giving him no chance to catch her. It was an amusing charade, and an act of defiance she would probably pay for later.
It provided an opportunity to follow him, and when he left, I asked the driver of my water taxi to follow him, coming up with a suitable excuse why I would want to do so, but not sure the driver believed me. One thing was certain, with a captive passenger, he could charge a premium fare knowing I’d have to pay it.
Keeping a suitable distance between us, he followed the boat to Murano, the island of glass-blowing factories. He waited until the driver of the boat left the dock and then took his place for me to disembark, and then I gave him a head start before following discreetly, or as discretely as I could in the circumstances. There were not many visitors about, so I could hardly lose myself in the crowd.
We passed several glass showrooms on the way alongside the Canal until he reached a bridge and crossed it. On the other side, I could see a basilica, yet another of the many churches in the city, each as old and ornate as the next, and one of the many I’d visited over time and many visits to the city.
But this was not one I’d been to before.
On the other side of the bridge, not far from the church, he stopped and turned around. It was as if he knew he was being followed, and fortunately, just at that moment I was all but hidden behind the base of the bridge on the opposite side of the Canal.
A long hard stare at each of those he could see, including those crossing the bridge, then he shrugged and walked towards another man, similarly dressed, waiting outside the church.
I managed to get a better photograph of him and one of his new companions too, just before they met and walked into the church. I was not going to follow them in. I was hoping Alfie would find out who they were, and where to find them, though I had a feeling I was going to meet them again, but not in similar circumstances.
Another question popped into my head as I walked back to the Vaporetto station. Where was Larry right now? On his way to Venice? Or would he wait until Juliet made contact? I knew which hotel she was staying in, a rather small but interesting one I’d stayed at the first time I came to Venice, do I could find her any time I wanted to.