Home About Six: Part Nineteen

This is the nineteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1065 words.

When the silver car pulled up at the corner of the street, Anita handed Ian the door keys. “I closed the front door behind me, and the windows are all locked. Whoever it is should still be in there”. Ian was smiling, obviously enjoying the situation. “Leave it to me. You get in my car and lock the doors. Don’t open them for anyone except me. If I am not back in five minutes, drive to the police station and ask for Jane”.

She took the car key from him, and sat in the driver’s seat.

He was back a lot quicker than she expected, and beckoned her to get out of the car and follow him back to the house. “The place is empty, Mrs Hollis. The window lock on one of the bedroom windows has been forced. It still closes, but the lock will have to be replaced at some stage. My best guess is that they jumped down into the garden, then away over the back fence. No point me searching around, they will be long gone, and I have no idea who I am looking for”.

Inside, the house looked completely normal. Nothing was obviously disturbed, no drawers or cupboard doors open, and no sign of anything missing. Anita was puzzled. “What do you think they…”. Ian’s finger was over her lips, and he was shaking his head. He made a zip motion across his own mouth, and went back outside to his car. Moments later, he returned with something that looked like a portable radio with an extending aerial. Still motioning for her to be silent, he waved the aerial around for a few moments until a red light came on when he was close to the house phone. Reaching under the side table, he produced a small button-like device. It reminded her of the expensive hearing aid Mike’s Dad had bought a couple of years ago.

After sweeping the device around the living room and kitchen, Ian went upstairs. Shortly after, he returned, showing her three more identical devices in the palm of his hand. Unlocking the doors to the garden, he walked over to the stone bird-bath, and dropped all four into the murky water.

“One in the bedroom, under the phone extension. One in the room Mike used as an office, under the desk, and one in the toilet, behind the cistern. Whoever was in here wasn’t looking to take anything. They were planting listening devices”. Anita shook her head in amazement. “Why would they want to listen to me using the toilet?” That made Ian, chuckle, and Anita noticed that he looked very handsome when he was laughing. “When people think they might be bugged, and being overheard, they often go into the toilet and run taps or the shower, to muffle their voices. It’s not a place they ever expect to find a listening device, so it has become quite common for those in the know to start leaving one in there”.

Anita sat down on the sofa. She was still recovering from the trembling that had affected her when she heard the floor creaking. She indicated that Ian should sit. “Ian, won’t they realise that they have been found now? Surely dumping them in the bird-bath will make them stop working?” He nodded. “I want them to know. Besides, it would have made life very difficult for you, knowing someone was listening in. Your conversation wouldn’t have sounded natural, believe me”. Anita could see that he knew what he was talking about. “Won’t they just break in again though, put them somewhere else? And who do you think it was?” He was very certain of his answer. “No, once they realise that they were rumbled, there would be no point. As for who it was, it could be the Secret Service, or it might be the other interested group. They all want to try to find out where Mike is, and I’m betting that they think you know”.

Before she could ask any more questions, he nodded at the pile of papers that were still on the sofa and coffee table. “I hope some of that made sense to you?” Anita stood up. “I have no idea what it means. I will make us some tea, and you can tell me”.

By the time they had drunk their tea and Ian had finished talking, Anita had a headache. It was starting to make some sense though.

He had laid it all out for her, and although it was still mainly a theory needing to be proved, it was a good theory.

Some time ago, Mike’s company had come up with a new formula for an industrial glue. Thicker and longer lasting than even Super Glue, it was discovered to be able to bond anything together. Metals of all weights, plastics of any description, and one to the other if necessary. It also worked on wood, and even stone. More importantly, it could withstand extreme stress, and any temperatures, hot or cold. It was taken up by all the aircraft manufacturers, as they could save weight by replacing metal parts with glue. Then the military here and in the US became interested too.

Although it was bought by many companies and governments, the news of the invention was never made public. Nobody wanted to fly in a plane that they imagined might be glued together, even if it wasn’t used on huge areas like the wings and fuselage. However, they did use it in areas like landing wheels, crucial control levers, and some internal structures. Ian was adamant that all this was fact.

“As you can tell from the documents, Mrs Hollis, failure of the glue over time caused some terrible air crashes. At first, nobody associated it with the glue failing, but people at Mike’s company started to suspect it, as they knew who had bought it. When it was hushed up by the governments in various countries, Mike took it upon himself to become a whistle-blower and contacted some of the victims, as well as leaving a message for the reporter in India”. Still trying to take it all in, Anita was wondering where they would go from there. “So what do we do now, Ian? What’s our next step?” He smiled.

“We have to find Mike. And I think I know where he is”.

Friday On My Mind

It only dawned on me a few hours ago that today is Friday.

Are you old enough to remember this song from 1966?

No? What about this one, from 1992?

Both songs are celebrating ‘Friday’. That last day of the working week for most people. The day when school is finished until Monday, and the weekend begins in earnest.

Until I started working shifts in 1979, Friday was always something to look forward to. When I was young, I was allowed to stay up a bit later, as there was no school on Saturday. Then when I was old enough to have a regular girlfriend, it was the night to go for a drink with friends, getting a jump on the weekend activities to come.

Once I was older, and married, it was often the night we would go out to eat. A Friday night Indian meal, or perhaps a Chinese. Something spicy and different, after a week of home-cooked food. Alternatively, it might be a trip to the Cinema, on a night when it wasn’t as busy as it would be on the Saturday.

Whatever we did, it always came with that ‘Friday Feeling’, knowing we had two clear days ahead to do what we wanted, even if we didn’t actually do anything with them.

By the time I was just 26, I was working three out of four Fridays, and the same with Saturdays too. It didn’t take long for Friday to start to feel like any other day for me. But I didn’t forget that good feeling from before, and 42 years later, I can still recall the excitement of a Friday night.

I hope you all have (or already have had) a wonderful Friday!

Home About Six: Part Eighteen

This is the eighteenth part of a fiction serial, in 985 words.

Jill didn’t ring that night, and Anita was pleased. Her sister was probably drinking heavily again, and she wasn’t in the mood to have a argument with her about Mum’s wedding. She checked her online banking on the i-pad, and was pleased to see that Mike’s money had been transferred as promised. After eating a decent meal, she was still hungry, so decided to have some rice pudding before bed.

As she was brushing her teeth the phone rang, and she answered it on the bedroom extension. It was Ian Hope. “Sorry it’s so late, Mrs Hollis. I have had some interesting communication about Shaily, the Indian reporter. And the same contact has found out something worth knowing about Mick Steeden too. But he needs five hundred dollars to pay an informant. Are you prepared to pay that? I cannot guarantee it will help find Mike, but it might expand a few leads”. Anita hesitated. Could Ian be trying to get money out of her? Did he know about the financial arrangements that were now in place?

“I was led to believe that Mike had paid you for your services in advance, Ian. How do I know that the money will go to your contact, let alone this mysterious informant?” He was honest with her. “You don’t know that, and neither do I. But if no real information is forthcoming, my contact knows me well enough to be aware that he will regret crossing me. As for the money Mike gave me in advance, that was for my time and expenses. I had no idea then that I might be having to pay for information as to his whereabouts”. That seemed reasonable.

“Very well, text me your account details, and I will transfer the money online tonight. It will be the British equivalent of the five hundred dollars though. I don’t want to mess around buying dollars to transfer”. Ian thanked her, and hung up.

It was the phone ringing that woke her up the next morning. Expecting it to be Jill, her hand hovered over the handset, reluctant to answer. When she did, it was Ian, sounding excited. “The time difference paid off, Mrs Hollis. I was able to speak to my contact a few times during the night, and have some really good stuff to tell you. But I am not going into details over the phone. I will come and see you later, same time as yesterday”. When she put the phone down, it suddenly occurred to Anita how her life had started to so heavily revolve around the time of six pm.

The next call was later. Jill was on her lunch break, and making apologies for not ringing last night. When she tried to get onto the subject of Mum’s wedding, Anita cut her dead. Jill tried another tactic. “Look, I will pick you up. Just come for the service, so it looks like she has some family there. Then you can say you don’t feel well, something with the baby or whatever. I will bring you back, and that way we both get out of having to wear fake smiles at the after-party”. There was no shifting Anita.

“Forget it, Jill. I’m not going, and that’s that”.

During the afternoon, Anita had to do some shopping, and also popped into the chemist to get some indigestion tablets. Eating so late at night wasn’t a good idea, it seemed. Even a short trip around town had made her back ache badly. Walking across to her car, she rubbed her back with her free hand, and smiled. It was such a cliché, a pregnant woman with backache. On the drive home, she was sure she spotted that silver Ford car. It was reassuring to think that Ian was watching out for her.

There was something inside, snagging as she tried to push the front door open. Anita was thinking that there must be a lot of post today. But it was just one large envelope, one of those long padded bags designed to just fit through a letter-box. After putting her shopping away, she sat on the sofa and looked at the package. Her name was written on the front, but there was no postage mark, and no address. It made her nervous, as it was so thick. Turning it over slowly, she was relieved to see a message on the back. ‘From Ian Hope’. She opened it by pulling the tab, and tipped the contents onto the coffee table.

As well as page after page of printouts, there were also photos. Most of it was taken from newspapers all around the world, but there were also some documents that looked very official. Anita went to get some fruit juice from the fridge, and then sat down to read. Forty-five minutes later she had some of the papers laid out in date order. The oldest one went back six years, and the latest was just over six months ago. She picked that one up again, then started to go back over the rest.

‘Tragic plane crash in India claims 240 lives’.
‘Three fatal airline crashes in 9 months cause concern in India’.
‘Emirates Airline grounds 43 aircraft after technical faults discovered’.
‘US Air Force denies fatal crash was pilot error’.
‘Second RAF air disaster in 3 months. MOD to investigate’.
‘Boeing denies responsibility after 8 fatal air crashes in one year’.
‘Kazakhstan air disaster blamed on technical fault. 108 killed’.
‘Air Canada crash. Survivors and relatives of victims to sue in class action’.

A creak from above made her drop the papers onto the sofa. Listening carefully, she heard it again. Anita grabbed her phone and walked hurriedly to the front door. Once outside, she walked away from the house, dialling Ian’s number on her mobile. He answered after three rings.

“Ian, can you come quickly please? There is someone in my house”.

A Very Short Moan Concerning Weather

Just after 5 pm last night, it started to rain in Beetley. Not torrential, but enough to be heard on the windows and roof. Enough to wet the grass, and the paths around the house. Nothing unusual there, and as we had enjoyed three days with no rain at all, I wasn’t that depressed about it.

Just before dinner, I watched the local news on TV. At the end of that, a lady weather forecaster came on to give the weather news for this part of Britain.
“A cloudy night, with a minimum temperature of 2 C in rural areas. At least it will be dry, with no chance of any rain”.

As you might imagine, it enraged me to watch such a totally inaccurate forecast, when I could still see the rain hitting the windows, and hear it too.

Much later, I went to bed, and checked my Tablet before going to sleep. Before closing it, I looked at the BBC Weather App, whilst listening to the rain hitting the roof.

Beetley, Norfolk.

Cloudy

3C

0 chance of precipitation

Those people must be cracking up with laughter at what fools they think we are.

Home About Six: Part Seventeen

This is the seventeenth part of a fiction serial, in 985 words.

Watching him as he set up, Anita couldn’t fail to be impressed by his ease of movement, and obvious confidence. Although he was perhaps fifteen years older than her, he had a presence that was undeniably attractive. In another life, she would definitely have fancied him, and wanted to get to know him. He had even brought a whiteboard. Just a small one, but still. That was unexpected. He had photos and documents too, paper printouts from websites or emails, by the look of them. Spreading those out on the coffee table, he started to write on the board with a marker pen.

“The names the sergeant gave me were interesting, Mrs Hollis. Let me show you what I have found out”. As he wrote each name, he turned and spoke about it. Anita felt as if she was in a company meeting, or back at school.

“Okay, Judith Harley. She comes up as someone important in SIS, but I have discovered that she quit her job almost nine months ago. She now works for a company called International Security Systems, based in Dublin. That’s merely a front though, and the company is almost certainly dabbling in something dark and secret.” He wrote another name.

“Pete Springer. He is recently retired from the US Air Force. He writes a blog about travelling, and flying his private plane. That’s irrelevant though, and almost certainly a diversion. I doubt he has actually retired from the Air Force. What is interesting to me is that he was a senior Colonel in charge of a base of Stealth bombers, new ones in development and testing. So new, they haven’t been made public yet”. He changed the colour of the marker from red to blue, and wrote a name on the right hand side of the board.

“Audrey Driscoll. She is a housewife in Canada. Her only claim to fame in this incident is that she is currently taking Air Canada to court over the loss of a relative in a plane crash four years ago. Then there is Lorraine Lewis. I narrowed that down to a definite connection, as she was on that same Air Canada flight, and survived the crash with life-changing injuries. Someone is trying to find out for me if they have had any email exchanges, but Mike obviously knew both of them”. He changed back to the red pen.

“Shaily Agrawal. The Indian reporter that has gone missing. My contact has found out that nobody is actually looking for her. There is no current police report active in India, and as far as we can tell, she has no relatives. The only person remotely worried about her is the editor of the New Delhi Times, and he’s not that concerned, as he suspects she is working undercover on a story”. After he had written the next name below Shaily’s, he turned with a wide smile on his face.

“This is definitely a lead worth following. Susan Judd works for the Ministry of Defence. She served in the Royal Air Force Police, then worked for the Counter Terrorism Command in the Metropolitan Police in London. For the last few years, she has been some sort of investigator with the MOD, working from the office of what is called Air Command”.

Anita sat back against the big cushion on the sofa. “You have really found out a lot, Ian. But none of it makes any sense to me. Other than the phone call I answered from that Indian reporter, I have never heard any of those names mentioned until Mike went missing. How did you manage to discover all this in such a short time?”

Sitting down opposite her, Ian looked serious. “Before I left the Army and went into business for myself, I made sure to build a network of contacts. I had served in pretty much every part of the world, either on missions, or on training exercises. I guessed it was going to be crucial to my new job to keep in touch with all of them. So far, I haven’t needed to call on many of them, but this case has proved my hunch right, as they have all delivered”.

Rubbing her face, Anita raised her legs onto the sofa. They felt heavy, and she was still tired from that earlier nap.

“Are you going to tell Jane about all this? And I am wondering why you never let me know that you were following me, keeping an eye on me. I was quite scared when I saw that blue van”. Ian shook his head.

“For now, I don’t want Jane to know much more than she already does. She is sure to write it all up on the case notes, and all sorts of people can access those. It will have to be between us, and I’m sorry if that adds more pressure to a difficult situation. As for not contacting you openly, Mike insisted that I didn’t do that. He said he didn’t want you to know that I was around. I presume that he had hoped to come back, and for you to be none the wiser about what had gone on. To be honest, I never thought you would make that connection with my van, but I see now that was a huge error on my part. Anyway, you are obviously tired, so I will make a move. I will be sure to let you know what else I find out”.

As she saw him to the door, Anita had one more question. “Tell me the truth, Ian. Do you have any idea where he is, or what has happened to him?”
He nodded, which surprised her.

“I do have one theory, but I am not going to say what that is until I have spoken to some more people”.

Guest Post: Daniel Scott White

Today I bring you a post from the American writer, Daniel White. He is a published author and blogger as well as owning the magazines shown in the links, and the Thinkerbeat Reader website. If you have ever wondered why your stories might have been rejected in the past, or if anyone will ever publish them, this article will be very helpful.

Daniel’s bio and extensive experience.

Experience

The Thinkerbeat Reader
CEO
Dates Employed Sep 2012 – Present

Longshot Press
Publisher
Dates Employed Aug 2015 – Present

Location: Eugene, Oregon
Today’s modern reader is a globalized reader. Art is becoming a global phenomenon. People want to read stories from all over the world. Longshot Press brings you stories for the modern reader. The global reader.

For fantasy: http://unrealmag.com

For science fiction: http://unfitmag.com

For networking: https://thinkerbeat.com

Representative authors include: Martha Wells, David Brin, Orson Scott Card, Philip K. Dick, Robert Silverberg, Cat Rambo, Yoon Ha Lee, Jerry Oltion, Emily Devenport, Eric Del Carlo, David R. Grigg, and more.

Education
National Taiwan University
Degree Name MBA
Dates attended or expected graduation 2010 – 2012

I graduated with a GMBA degree in June of 2012. The Global MBA program focused on international business.

Columbia College Chicago
Dates attended 1988 – 1990

Columbia provides a unique combination of training in both the business and artistic fields. I studied record company management, contract negotiations, record production and studio recording techniques. Upon graduation, I was hired to work as an engineer in Chicago’s Acme Recording under the ownership of Jim Rasfeld. I received credits on 6 nationally released records and was eligible to become a voting member of the Grammy awards. My most memorable time was working on a record for Bob Dylan, produced by David Bromberg for Columbia Records.

Here is his unedited article.

Blind Copy
By Daniel Scott White

Here’s a typical example of the stories I get. I’ve remove the author and title to protect the innocent.

Scene 1: People meet at a bar. Description, conversations, numbers exchanged, various couples go home together.

Scene 2: A car accident. The same people. Coincidence (unbelievable!). Proposed meeting at a restaurant later in the week.

Scene 3: People meet at the restaurant. More description. More conversation. Character development. But no sign of a plot yet.

Scene 4: The main couple goes for a walk on the beach. Hints of a deeper conversation. There’s a troubling conundrum in someone’s life. He needs some advice. Finally, the first plot point.

We’re now 3000 words into the story. The whole story is 8000 words long. So far, the writing is good from a technical perspective. Great paragraphing, which I like. Even the descriptive writing isn’t bad. But we have no idea why we are reading this story. What is relevant about it?

Why not start with the first plot point and build from there? Yes, in the very first scene, give me your first plot point. Start with the conversation on the beach!

About another 3000 words in, you start to guess the end, where someone will die. I don’t usually like stories where someone has to die for it to end. It’s the cheap way out. “And then he died.” is just a short skip away from “It was all a dream.”

At the end of 8000 words, you’re thinking you’d never buy this one. What are the options?

Should you ask the writer to trim the first 3000 words? I understand it’s important to set the story up, to build suspense. But get to the point of the story sooner than later. One publisher I am fond of says: don’t even try to describe the characters until later on, and then, only if you need to. If you don’t need to know the color of their eyes or how they dress, don’t tell me that. It doesn’t drive the story forward.

In this example story I’m talking about, the writer even understands the idea of an immediate scene. If you don’t know what that is, go look it up. That tip alone will earn you a ton of money. You can pay me for my advice later.

The writer also knows how to ‘block’ out a scene. What I mean is each scene is very clear cut. One scene moves smoothly to the next. There’s no ambiguity there. You’re never left wondering how we got from A to C with no B in the middle (although the coincidental car accident was too much of a stretch for my taste.) The outline is simple. Bar. Accident. Restaurant. Beach. First plot point.

And this particular writer sells a lot of stories to mid-level markets. Nothing much at the pro level, though. I’ve read his work several times before in previous submissions and in general, liked it, but never bought any of it.

Should I take the time to teach him how to do it? Well, no. I’m not here to teach you how to write. There are plenty of places for that. I want the finished story, ready to go.

What this writer is missing is balance.

I think what a lot of people don’t understand is that the short story market is different from the novel market in that you have to be more specific, more concise. It doesn’t have to be a rollercoaster ride from page one, but you have to get to the point and then build on that. Introduce the concept right away, then spend 8000 words expanding on it. A lot of people are in ‘novel writing mode’ when they put together a short story. You’ve got to mentally switch gears if you’re going to do both, write short stories and novels. Writing short stories keeps you sharp and will go a long way to strengthening your novels.

Nowadays, I have a hard time reading novels, because I’m so used to looking for padding in stories that drives the word count up. Time is money, and in this case, words are money, so make them count. I feel like most novels are just padded short stories. They spend pages and even chapters explaining some footnote to the whole thing.

So what I’m talking about is the balance within the story. That’s where most budding authors drop the ball. How much time do you spend expanding each scene, each detail? Somewhere in the editing stage, writers should be thinking: trim this, add in more of that, make it all significant, all relevant to the story, and in so doing, relevant to the reader. Don’t waste words.

The hook shouldn’t be: I wonder what’s happening in this story? Why am I reading this? Does the author even know? Oh, I wonder what happens…first? When will we find out? 3000 words later? WTF?? (That’s a kind of negative suspense building.)

The suspense should be: How does this particular plot unfold and eventually resolve?

There. I said it. A short story needs to have a hook. Sounds simple enough. But why wait 3000 words? If it’s about the money, forget it.

This is a link to his blog, where you can read a lot more. Daniel pays for stories he uses, and if you think you have what it takes to get published, you can contact him on his site.

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