Thursday, December 17, 2009

Still another writing sample

Bridget made me do it! :)


Casimir trudged up the gravel road leading to the cabin, smelling the strong scent of Norwegian pines in the air. It was late in the afternoon, and even in the early autumn, darkness descends early at these latitudes. He could see lamps burning through the windows, and a few wisps of smoke from the chimney, and imagined that the cabin would be warm and comfortable inside, a welcome respite from the chill autumn air. As he approached, he could begin to make out girlish laughter, alternated with giggling and shrieking, the sounds of a young woman, being teased, toyed with.

Casimir pulled out his 9mm automatic and switched off the safety, as a precaution. He had no reason to expect to need it, but it had been a long time since he had done any fieldwork, and decided that he would be best if he erred on the side of caution. Pausing at the front door of the cabin, he gathered his courage, and quietly pushed the unlatched door open. Stepping inside, he saw no one in the living room, but clearly heard the sounds of a playful tussle coming from a room in back, which he guessed was the bedroom.
Suddenly, a tall, thin young girl with dazzlingly pale blonde hair appeared, laughing and running out of the bedroom, stark naked except for a pair of black lace panties, carrying what might have been a sweatshirt. She turned and saw Casimir, glanced at the weapon in his hand, and let out a shrill scream, freezing in her tracks. Casimir moved quickly to the doorway, just in time to see Alex, clad only in a pair of boxer shorts, trying to reach into a drawer at the nightstand, as the girl continued to scream, with gasping ragged breaths in between.
Casimir clicked back the hammer of the automatic, and quickly shouted "There will be no need for that, my dear nephew. I'd advise you to leave it alone."

Alex heard the click from the gun, froze, breathing hard, and dropped the revolver he was trying to retrieve, realizing he was simply too late. The young girl was no longer screaming, but was now whimpering, holding the sweatshirt up to her breasts, crouching and shivering, tears streaming from her eyes.
"Relax, nephew. I'm your Uncle Jonas. You were expecting me, were you not?"
Alex nodded slowly, realizing whom the intruder was. "It's all right, Bibi. Everything is OK. It's only my uncle. He's harmless, really." Alex managed to produce a short convulsive laugh, more to calm the girl than for any other reason. The young girl quieted just a bit, but her chest was heaving, eyes wide open, frightened. Alex walked over to the girl, pulling her behind him, trying to shield her nakedness from his visitor.
"Bibi, you'd better get dressed and go, for now. I need to speak with my uncle. Meet me at the boat later, around 7 PM, we'll have more privacy there."
The girl nodded, snatching the rest of her clothes from the floor, and disappearing into the bathroom. Alex turned to Casimir and said angrily, "That's a hell of a way to greet me. If I was any quicker, one of us would be bleeding out on the floor right now."
Casimir breathed hard, laboring, feeling the pulse of his heartbeat resonating through his body. He released the hammer of the automatic, carefully allowing it to drop back to the rest position, and switched the safety back on. "I'm sorry, nephew. I don't ordinarily get out like this, and as you probably already know, I'm a cautious man."
Alex was already pulling on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, as Bibi reappeared, fully dressed now, but still obviously shaken from the experience. Alex turned to her and said, "Don't forget. Meet me at 7 PM, down at the boat. Will you be there?" The girl slowly nodded, never taking her eyes off of Casimir, and disappeared out the front door.
Casimir holstered his gun, pulled off his overcoat, and sat down in a club chair in the living room. In a corner of the room, he spotted a desk with two large computer screens, each doing a slow dance with a geometric screensaver, incongruous among the rustic furnishings of the cabin. Alex crossed over to a cabinet near the fireplace, pulling out a bottle of clear liquid and two glasses. Handing one to Casimir, he poured out several fingers of aquavit, then poured for himself before replacing the bottle. Alex flopped down onto the nearby couch, still breathing a bit hard from the experience.
"Thanks, for coming, uncle. I've always wanted to meet you face to face. The Director himself. The main man in our little theatrical exercise," Alex said with a sly smile.
"There had better be a damned good reason for dragging me out here, my young friend," Casimir sternly replied, wanting to maintain something of a posture over this young fool.
"Ah, but there is, uncle, a very good reason. But first, don't you want to inquire as to my health and comfort?" Alex was cynically teasing now.
"It looks as if you're quite comfortable, and judging from the company you've been keeping, quite healthy. She's a bit young, wouldn't you say? Is she legal here in Norway?" Casimir sneered.
Alex laughed. "Beautiful, isn't she? Classic Norwegian beauty. Delectable. Barely legal. Of course, you interrupted what was promising to be a very satisfying afternoon at home. No matter, I'll see her later. Or someone else. There are many like her, here in Norway, one of the reasons I chose this place for my initial retirement. Speaking of which, I suppose I have you to thank for securing my retirement with that small deposit you made to the Banque Du Lucerne?
Casimir took a sip of the surprisingly fiery liquor and nodded, "Indeed, you do, although I'd hardly call it a small deposit, dear nephew."
"I don't wish to appear to be ungrateful, uncle. But the figure I was thinking of was substantially larger, say, five times as large," Alex ventured, watching Casimir to gauge his reaction.
Casimir reddened. "I love you like any uncle would love a nephew," Casimir spat out sarcastically, "but don't think for a moment that our 'family relationship' would prevent me from applying some rather severe discipline to such an insubordinate youngster. I'm sure you know how severe the discipline could be." Casimir was fighting the urge to pull out his nine-millimeter automatic and simply end this exasperating charade, with a well-placed shot between the eyes.
"Relax, uncle, I didn't drag you out here to merely put the bite on you. I'm not stupid. I know precisely what discipline you're referring to. No, I asked you to come here because I have information for you. Information you'll be grateful to receive. And I would hope that your gratitude would be expressed in substantive ways," Alex said.
"I've been known to be grateful in the past, nephew," Casimir responded. "Depending, of course, on the value of your information." Casimir was piqued now, interested to learn what Shirovsky had to tell him.
"I suspect, uncle, that the information would be worth the figure I proposed to you a moment ago. Worth even more than that, but I'm not greedy. It's just that I'm easily bored. I want to travel. Spend a bit of time in other places. Spend a bit of time with the women in other places. My present funds don't quite allow me that flexibility," Alex explained.
"I see," Casimir said, resignedly. "Planting your wild oats in every country of the world? Is that what you had in mind?"
"Something like that, Uncle. Oh, yes, I need one other small favor from you. A Swiss passport. I'm afraid these Argentinean documents you provided are something less than convincing. I barely managed to escape the suspicions of the Norwegian immigration officers. A Swiss passport might make my retirement travel a bit easier."
Casimir nodded. "Those sorts of documents are hard to come by. But it might be arranged. Depending upon just what you're going to deliver, nephew," Casimir replied.
"For some reason, I trust you," Alex volunteered. "And I'm not normally a trusting soul. Which is why I insured my retirement, and my safety, by planting little deposits in hundreds of computers worldwide. Guarantees, so to speak. Just making sure that my loving uncle wouldn't turn on me in my retirement. But, as I said, uncle, I trust you." Casimir became very uncomfortable, wondering just what this brilliant and egotistic computer expert might have done.
Alex returned to the cabinet, getting out the bottle to refresh their drinks. "First, I need to make an admission to you, uncle. I know a great deal more about the play than you think I do. It seems that your computer security isn't particularly good. At least it isn't adequate to keep a top rank hacker like me from getting through the firewalls. I know all about the scenes that were written out of the script on the 1960's and 1970's. I've read every one of those scenes. Does this surprise you, uncle?"
Casimir looked hard at the young man. "Yes, I am a bit surprised. You're better at your craft than I thought you were. Nonetheless, it worries me that you were able to read that material at all. Could others do it? Surely you're not the greatest 'hacker', as you say, in the western world.
"Relax, uncle," Alex reassured him. "I wouldn't have been able to get in without having some inside contacts. I don't think anyone on the outside could have gotten in."
Casimir didn't feel especially reassured, but he wanted the young man to continue. "All right, so you've read the scripts. What of it?"
Alex continued, "You recall a script from the 1960's called ‘The Egg Drop'?"
Casimir swallowed hard, and nodded. "We wrote it out of the play. On moral grounds. We'd never perform such a scene."
Alex snickered derisively. “On moral grounds? Now that’s a joke. Not that I care, mind you. I have no relatives or friends on the West Coast, and I frankly don't care about these things, as long as I'm nowhere nearby. But I wanted you to know that I know about it."
“All right, so you know about it. And now I know you know about it. Is there a reason I should care?" asked Casimir.
"I'll explain," Alex said. "As you can see, I have a good connection to the Internet, here in Norway," and he pointed to the desk in the corner, the computer screens still doing their mesmerizing dance of geometric patterns. "I've been keeping tabs on FBI telecommunications traffic back in the United States. I don't like surprises, and even though my retirement scene was carefully planned, I don't believe in taking chances. I want to be sure that the missing twenty five thousand dollars isn't traced to me here."
"You can tap into FBI computers?" asked Casimir, somewhat surprised.
"Not into their computers, per se. But I can tap into the communications that flows into their computers. Facsimiles and e-mail. I monitor as much of that traffic as I can, searching for any information that might warn me that I’ve been compromised. Thankfully, I haven’t seen anything with my name on it,” Alex assured him.
“I still don’t see where this is going, nephew. You’re trying my patience.” Casimir was exasperated.
“I’m getting to it, uncle. A few days ago, I happened across a facsimile sent from a police chief in southern California, to the FBI field office in Boston, Massachusetts. It seems that there was a murder. A dead man was found in the desert, shot in the head. He was lying next to a borehole. There were bolt cutters lying nearby, indicating that someone was trying to get into the borehole by breaking the lock on the cover. Oh, yes, the man was Palestinian, connected with Muslim fundamentalists.”
“Why was this facsimile going to the Boston FBI office?” asked Casimir.
Alex replied, “Because the dead man was a student at MIT, studying engineering. And he entered the country with a student visa claiming Pakistani citizenship, although he wasn’t Pakistani, he was Palestinian. One more thing, uncle, they found a police radar gun nearby, although it was apparently defective. One of the investigating officers tried it, and it didn’t work.”
Casimir nodded slowly, understanding why Shirovsky demanded to see him. “So, you think there’s a connection? Just because a man was found dead near a borehole... there are hundreds of boreholes in the western United States. Why do you think there’s a connection?
Alex shrugged, “I don’t know. There might be no connection whatsoever. But after reading the ‘Egg Drop’ scene, I’d say it would be something you’d want to know about. Critically important to you, don’t you think?”
“I can see your point, nephew,” Casimir replied. “Do you have a clue as to what the radar gun was all about?”
“Not really,” replied Alex, “although perhaps a radar gun could be used to check and see if the borehole was clear and usable. I don’t really know.”
Casimir took a long pull at his aquavit, grimacing as the fiery liquid slid down his throat. His head was spinning from pondering the possibilities and consequences of what might be occurring. “All right, nephew, I apologize for my impatience. You’re right; of course, it’s information that I’m grateful for. You did the right thing by summoning me,” Casimir assured him.
“Are you grateful enough to grant me the request I made at the outset?” asked Alex.
“All of this could be nothing, purely coincidental, “Casimir replied. “If it is, I’ll be the happiest person on the face of the earth. But until we find out what is going on here, none of us will be completely safe. Obviously you have certain skills, which surpass even our most experienced engineers and programmers. If you assist me in getting to the bottom of this, regardless of the outcome, I’ll grant your request for the higher level of funding.”
“And the Swiss passport?” Alex asked.
Casimir nodded. “Yes, the Swiss passport. You’ll be able to threaten the honor and virginity of every young girl in the entire world,” he said, snickering.
Alex beamed. “Uncle, I’ll never forget your generosity. And I’ll certainly assist you in your investigations; it will give me something interesting to do while I await my reward. Aside from chasing Bibi, that is.”
Casimir sighed, “All right, very well. I’m grateful I have no daughters to be threatened. Here’s what I want you to do, however. I want you to keep on monitoring, keep on looking for any references to this situation that you can find. But more importantly, I need you to identify someone.”
“Identify?” Alex asked quizzically. “What do you mean?”
“Chances are good that this incident has not escaped the notice of someone in the office in Langley, Virginia. My counterparts there probably have taken notice, especially because of the citizenship of the dead man. I want you to find out who, in Langley, is asking the questions. The case officer, if you can find the name.”
Alex furrowed his brow deeply. “A case officer in the NSA? The folks in Langley are much, much better at this game than those in Moscow, uncle. It won’t be easy, and it might not even be possible.”
Casimir nodded. “Well, accept it as a challenge, nephew. A challenge slightly harder than getting into the panties of the local young girls. You enjoy a challenge, don’t you?”
Alex smiled and nodded. “I’ll do what I can, uncle.”


  1. Okay, Norm, at this point, I have several questions, but first let me say this is awesome. Like I’ve mentioned, I don’t usually go for the espionage stuff, but I’m finding this all very fascinating. Your writing is smooth and easily followed. I love how you set up the backdrop early on with just the right amount of detail—and nicely executed detail at that. I never loose the sense of where they are or the atmosphere you have created.

    I love the tense interaction between Casimir and Alex. At first I though the ‘Uncle’ ‘Nephew’ references were along the lines of the ‘Play’ ‘Scene’, but it seems they are in fact related. Even more drama. Nice.
    What is a borehole? Something for detonations or is it for hiding?

    Here’s a big question: In my opinion—and understand that I consider myself more of a novice—you write very well. When I started reading your excerpts, I tried to approach them from a ‘where is he in the line-up of writing skills’ but quickly found myself so immersed in the story that I was no longer noticing if you tense, POV, etc. were consistent. A really good sign. Did you take writing courses in college, have you been involved with writer’s groups, just read a lot, or does all this come natural to you? Did you spend hours in revisions and edits? I guess what I’m asking is, what’s you background, writing-wise? Did you have the whole plot worked out in an outline in advance? Did your characters take the story in slightly different directions—as they often do—as you wrote? How long did it take you to write this novel?

  2. Bridget, thanks for the kind words and encouragement!

    No, I don't have any background as a writer, other than having written perhaps a dozen articles for technical journals in the earlier part of my career. I havn't written much of anything else, in terms of fiction... I don't participate in writer's groups or workshops... I never took a writing course...and to tell you the truth, I don't even read fiction! The reason: if the book is bad, I feel like I've cheated myself out of valuable time. Instead, I read non-fiction, voraciously... my Kindle is in daily use.

    This novel came about in 2000, when, caught between consulting contracts, with no work, I figured that I needed to fill the time with something, while waiting for the phone to ring. I had written the first three chapters, and then lost interest temporarily... along with the file. A few months later, I had to use an OCR scanner, with my lone paper copy, to get those three chapters back into my computer. The rest was written over a 5 month period... maybe a chapter every day or two, not all that much revision. The basics of the plot had been worked out in my head, but I found that I needed to flesh it all out with additional characters and their background, which is a bit of a fault. I had already decided that Casimir would be a heroic figure, and liked the notion of an aging cold warrior taking on that role.

    When it was done, I was pleased with the result, and shopped it to literary agents. 58 rejections, which I still have! But shortly thereafter, 9/11 happened, and I figured that the commercial value of the novel was completely gone. It sits on my computer, and as a bound review copy at home... but what the hell, maybe I'll enter it in the Amazon contest, since it's got no other value, at this point.

    I'd like to write more, but my start-up is working feverishly to release our product by late January, so it's going to have to wait. Getting banned from the WBF was actually a good thing... instead of trying to combat the ideologues, I can use the time more wisely. Maybe a short story? I never wrote one....

  3. Re: your writing history: Wow. And I mean WOW!

    I think I have at least 58 rejection for SfaS, but in hindsight, I queried way too soon, and under the wrong genre. I love my story, and think it’s rather unique—worth the effort to push it forward. I’ve learned a great deal about writing over the past year, and I must admit that non-fiction was previously the mainstay of my reading. I’ve never done a writer’s group—don’t do well in group settings. If I want to learn something, I love to read up on it, and it’s easier to put down when responsibilities call. With fiction, I get too involved that I just can’t leave it alone and life goes on hold. I hear over and over that to write well, one must read, read, read…I’m trying to do better. Right now, I’m reading Herreshoff’s The Complete Cruiser and loving it—it’s sort of a crossover between fiction and non-fiction.

    As for the WBF—does everyone over there get cranky this time of year? Seems like a lot of people are getting banned—but, of course, I have no context to put it in. The forum over at the ABNA gets pretty squirrely sometimes, too. I don’t remember people getting banned, though.
    I think you should enter your novel. What’s it titled?

  4. Is your novel complete, and if so, has anyone who is likely to be objective read it yet? I've done that with mine... my chapter 2 is weak; way too technical, I think. Chapter 3 redeems it (I posted the beginning part of chapter 3, where Vasily confronts Casimir with the blow-outs). Chapter 2 involves some 'geek', and it's already out of date.

    As for the WBF: there are often lots of harsh words there, usually between left and right wing advocates. I've never been banned before, but my banning has nothing to do with politicla arguments. One particular jerk, who is politically opposite to me, made a remark about me 'pretending' to be running a start-up... and I just boiled over. It was at the end of another 14 hour day... and I've been working 7 days a week for the last 6 months, without pay, to try to get our product to market. So, I let loose, and fully expected to be banned. I'm not proud of what I did, but I'm not sorry, either... and I think it did me a world of good. I was spending too much time in the bilge, as it was.

  5. Yes, it is complete so far as I’ve done as much serious revision as I’m likely to. I’ve had several other ‘aspiring’ novelists—ones I’ve met through blogging—read it, and currently have someone with way more boat knowledge than me read it for ‘technical support.’ I’m certain there’ll be revisions after that, but not to the overall plot. I’ve had good feedback, and I think I’m working with a good premise, but I still feel largely untried with a wider audience.
    The ‘how technical to get’ issue is one I’ve pondered a great deal. I guess it has more to do with knowing your target audience—are they likely to appreciate it, or will it provide a temptation to skim? With my story, I want it to sound authentic, but my target audience probably won’t be subscriber’s of WoodenBoat magazine (although Sam is an occasional contributor to the magazine [Carl Cramer said it would be okay to use them!])
    If you didn’t have so much on your plate right now, I’d love to have you read mine for added support on the boat/nautical stuff, and if you were interested in an average reader’s feedback on yours, I’d love to give it a read.

    I have found that anytime I get involved with a forum, it’s rather addictive, and that tendency seems to be a common trait amongst those who post/lurk regularly. I think it doesn’t always bring out the best—too easy to hit submit on a whim, or after a stressful string of days; and then it’s out there! I have to wonder also, how many comments are alcohol induced? I’m always reminded of my lawyer grandfather’s words: “Never put in writing what you can’t or don’t want to defend in a court of law.” That said, I’m sure there could be a whole psychological profile built around ‘us.’ Even blogging can be quite consuming, and I’m always trying to keep myself in check.