In a word: Stern

It’s what I’d always expected of my teachers, having to stand up the front of the classroom and look like they were in control.

These days, not so much, but back in my day, teachers, and particularly the men, were to be feared, and stern expressions were the least of the features of an effective teacher.

So, in this context, it means a hardness or severity of manner.

Whilst in a sense that was frightening to us kids, another form of the word also can be used to express a forbidding or gloomy appearance.

Grandfathers also have that stern look, but it’s more forbidding, more authoritarian, more severe, more austere, well, you get the picture.  A six-year-old would be trembling in his or her boots.

There again, in facing up to either possibility above, you could stand firm with a stern resolve not to buckle under the pressure.

Of course, not a good idea if you’re facing a tank (with a stern-looking tank master)

Then…

If you’re standing at the end of the boat, not the front, but the rear, you would be standing at the stern of the boat, or ship.

Oddly, when issuing instructions to go in reverse, not something you would say if you were on the bridge, you would instead say, or possibly yell, full speed astern, because you’re about to hit an iceberg.

Or some idiot in a jet ski who likes to think he or she can beat the bullet (or 65,000 tonnes of a ship that has very little mobility).

Back to those ‘old days’ again

I started out by saying I didn’t want to be a lone voice in the wilderness.

Apparently I am, still.

Well, that might be a little harsh in the circumstances, but the monkey on my shoulder is telling me I should start writing something that someone might want to read.

I guess the trials and tribulations of a writer who basically is a lone voice in the wilderness is as boring as everyday life.

I mean, who wants to read about someone’s miserable, or, on rare occasions, good, day.

Yet, if I was to pick up any book written in the 18th and 19th century, all it seems to be about is everyday life, but what makes it interesting is the fact we never lived it, nor realized how hard it was for some, and how good it could be for others.

Best not to be born poor.

So, I was wondering, in 200 years time when someone sits down to read about the vicissitudes of my life, will it be interesting to know what it was like back in the ‘old days’ that is really today for me?

Interesting how a change in time frame makes something interesting, and ‘classic’ literature.

But one difference between then and now is the fact we, today, can write about science fiction, spies and all manner of events that come out of recent inventions.  Odd too, that people are still the same, those that tell the truth, those that are pure of heart, those who are as evil as the devil himself.

Some things never change.

Just the when, where, and how.

NaNoWriMo 2019, I’ve just put up my novel for this year

Nanowrimo graphic

As I have for the past few years, once again I’m going to try and put out 50,000 words.

The title of the novel will be “Betrayal”, though that might change as the novel progresses.  Sometimes a better title comes to me later on in the writing.

It’s another spy thriller, though with a slightly different angle this time, and I’ve spent the last few days working on an outline which is, to say the least, very general at the moment.

I know how it will start.

I know how it will end, or at least I think I do.  Having an end in mind is quite new for me because I tend to write and see where it goes, like being in the reader’s seat and not knowing what will happen next.

Over the next few days I will refine the cast of characters and then work on some of the introductory plot points.

Right now, as I’m writing this, I can see a rather dank prison cell somewhere in Moscow, where one of the main characters is languishing.

The other, in rather different circumstances, has just got through the throes of a semi amicable divorce and is considering how the next chapter of his life is going to be written.

That, of course, could change in the next twelve hours, after I’ve slept on it.

It’s now 2am here and time to get some sleep (or either pleasant or unpleasant dreams, depending on the character whose shoes I want to step into).

 

Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 21

I’m back home and this story has been sitting on a back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.

The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritising.

But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.

An unlikely ally?

 

“Wait.”

It seemed that I had managed to scare her.  Either that, or she had decided to be a little more forthcoming.  I stopped and waited until she caught up.  I was nearly at the top of the stairs.

“Look, I have to go back to my people, and I’ll get them to look into those two people you don’t seem to trust, who were they, Nobbin and Severin?”

“I don’t think you want to do that.  You start making waves, your people will send out feelers and they’ll get to hear about it, and they will know exactly where it came from, and it’ll come back and bite you.  For your own peace of mind, I’d let the sleeping dogs lie.”

She seemed over-eager to get ahead using this as a steppingstone.  I’d seen the type, in the training ranks, and in former jobs.  She was clearly assigned this job because of her looks, and she might be a good agent too, but she hadn’t thought this through.

“Are you telling me to back off?”

“I’m trying to save your life.  If I have no idea who to trust, then I have to assume both of them are theoretically the enemy.  I’m still counting the blessings I’m still alive, but I suspect that will only last until the USB is found.  The rest of my team are dead.”

Now that put the right amount of fear into her.

“If they’re willing to kill everybody that’s come in contact with this information, I doubt they’d stop at killing the both of us if we got in their way.”

“Then you have a plan?”

“At the moment that plan consists of one line.  Stay alive and find the USB before they do.  After that, I’ll see what happens.”

I caught sight of an incident, two people almost colliding, and one, I noticed, was more intent on his phone which is what caused the clash.  And, a second later, I thought I recognised one of the two.

Maury.  Severin’s offsider, and more likely cleanup man.  My guess, he was the one searching O’Connell’s flat, and Jan’.”

I think it was safe to say she was compromised.

“Ok,” I said quietly, “we have a problem, well two problems.”  And if I was wrong about her, and she was one of Severin’s people, which, seeing Maury just turned a probable into a likely, I had three.

If she was, I hadn’t seen that coming. 

“What now?”

Time to test the water.

“One of Severin’s men is downstairs, mingling, which means he knows I’m here, and maybe you two.”

I did a quick check of my scan of O’Connell’s, thinking I might have picked up a bug.  It was the only explanation why Maury was here.  And, it was likely he was not alone.

Not me.  Jan?

“Did you take anything from O’Connell’s?”

“No.  Why?”

“Are you sure.  Think”

While scanning the lower floor of the station looking, no doubt, for Maury, and anyone that might present a problem, she looked like she was recounting her steps.

“Damn.  A pen.  I left it there the last time I saw him.”  She pulled it out of her bag and went to toss it in the bin.

I snatched it, and as someone brushed past me, I dropped it into their pocket.

A flash of annoyance, then, “Hey, that cost a lot of money.”

“Then be grateful it didn’t cost you your life.  Yet.”

We waited, keeping far enough back from the stairs, but with still a good view of the station.  I kept an eye on the man whom I gave the pen as he made his way across the floor towards one of the platforms.  Luckily it was at the furthest end, and as he approached it, I saw three figures, and Maury slowly make their way towards him forming a blockade so he couldn’t escape.

“Time to go.”

She had noticed the movement too.

We went down the stairs and headed towards the first available exit.  As we were going out the door, we heard a commotion, the team obviously apprehending the wrong man, who would be wondering why four burly men were accosting him on his way home.

We didn’t wait to find out what happened to him.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

Searching for locations: The Castello di Brolio, Gaiole in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy

The castle is located in the southern Chianti Classico countryside and has been there for over ten centuries, and owned by the Ricasoli family since 1141.

Like any good castle, it has strong defences, and I was looking for a moat and drawbridge, but it looks like the moat has become a lawn.

The very high walls in places no doubt were built to keep the enemy out

The castle has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the last 900 years.  It was part of the Florentine defences, and withstood, and succumbed to many battles with Siena, which is only 20 km away.  More recently, it still bears the scars of artillery fire and bombing in WW2.

The room at the top of this tower would have an excellent view of the countryside.

Here you can see the old and the new, the red brick part of the rebuilding in the 1800’s in the style of an English Manor

We did not get to see where that archway led.

Nor what was behind door number one at the top of these stairs.  Rest assured, many, many years ago someone wearing armour would have made the climb.   It would not pass current occupational health and safety these days with a number of stairs before a landing.

Cappella di San Jacopo.  Its foundations were laid in 1348.

Renovated in 1867-1869, it has a gabled façade preceded by a double stone staircase.  The interior, with a crypt where the members of the Ricasoli family are buried, has a nave divided into three spans with cross vaults.

The 1,200 hectares of the property include 240 hectares of vineyards and 26 of olive groves, in the commune of Gaiole.

I’ve always wanted to go on a Treasure Hunt – Part 30

Here’s the thing…

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?

“I’m listening.”

“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.”

 

© Charles Heath 2019