Posts Tagged ‘spy’

She Told Him Only That She Loved Him

Posted: October 13, 2014 by writingsprint in Drama, Fun Stuff
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cold man

Post #4 of the “She told him that she loved him” series. So what didn’t she tell him? Is she pregnant? Is there someone else? Nah… time to have fun with it.

The same green Volvo was parked outside her house today. Gabby got ready. She moaned as she took the groceries out of her trunk. “I hate these heels,” she said as she came up the front walk. She reached the front door, but couldn’t open it with her arms full of groceries. “Damn it!”

Gabby put one of the bags down and dug her keys out of her purse. She opened the door, put her keys back in the purse, then picked the groceries back up. A quick scan through the crack showed that the living room was clear. Probably inside the bathroom. No more than four.

She pushed the front door open with her foot, walked in, then closed it with her butt. “I’m late, I’m late, I’m so fucking late, Chuck is going to kill me…” She hurried through the living room. The bathroom door was half closed and the kitchen had darker shadows than it would normally have at this hour.

When she passed the bathroom someone lunged out and grabbed her hair from behind. Gabby screamed. She fought every instinct she had and grabbed for his hands. The man shoved her against the near wall. She dropped her gaze down—sneakers. He wrapped one arm around her waist, then she heard a click. A knife pressed against her cheek. “Don’t move, honey. Don’t move.”

Flat blade. Serrated at the bottom, edged at the top. A military switchblade.

She nodded. “Please… please…” She spoke faster. “Just take anything you want. I-I-I-have jewelry, money, take my car—”

“Shut up!” He turned her around.

Another blonde-haired man stood behind the fridge. He smiled at her fear. A third walked out of the bedroom. The others had swagger, but this one had an economy in the way he walked. Coldly aloof.

Gabby imagined horrors, evil monsters in the room, to make her eyes widen even more. She trembled. She breathed shallow, chilly breaths. It made her a little dizzy but it put on a good show.

“I won’t hurt you if I don’t have to, young lady, but we don’t have time. Where is your friend Charles?”

On his way to their dinner reservations, with two gigs of classified data in his phone that he didn’t know he had.

“Wh… what… what are you going to do to him?”

The cold man didn’t waste any time. He walked over slapped her with a hand in a rubber glove. Gabby cried out. As her hair covered her face, she bit down on her tongue to make some tears.

She gasped. Gabby curled her lips down into a mask of terror. He had fast hands. Good to know. Was he a sadist, or were the gloves there for theater?

“That depends on you.”

“Will he still love you if I cut the skin off your face?” the man holding her asked.

“No… no… please don’t hurt me.” If he made a mark she would cut parts of him off for sure. She needed this cover.

“Where is he?”

“He could be at the office. Or at the gym. He works late, odd hours, I never know until I hear from him.”

“Cut her,” the cold man said.

“I can call him! Let me call him!” She forced a horrible smile, with her chin quivering. “I can sound sweet for him. Just like this. See? Just… you won’t hurt him?”

The cold man nodded to the blonde. The blonde took the phone off the cradle. “It’s—”

“We know.”

The blonde man hit the memory dial for Charles’ cell phone. He held the phone awkwardly toward her face. He stepped forward with his left foot. Leftie. The thug moved the knife away. The blonde man pressed the send button.

Gabby stomped on the thug’s foot with one of her work heels, shattering his second and third metatarsals. She punched the blonde in the throat with her left, then dropped as the cold man lunged. He was the real threat. His eyes widened as he overextended with Gabby underneath him. He stabbed the thug in the ribs – Gabby heard the tearing meat. Gabby punched the cold man in the groin, then heaved him over and dropped him to the ground.

Gabby bell-clapped the thug. He fell, still holding the knife in his belly.

Gabby picked up the phone. She stood on the cold man’s neck, deliberately positioning her heel over his jugular vein, then put her finger over his lips to be quiet. Charles finally picked up. “Hello?”

“Hey Chuck! We still on for dinner tonight?”

“Absolutely. Am I picking you up at your place?”

“No, it’s a mess. I have to call the cleaners.” She winked at the cold man. “Why don’t I meet you there?”

“Perfect. See you soon.”

“All right. Love you.”

“Love you!”

Gabby hung up. She smiled sweetly at the cold man. “I love him. You don’t need to know anything else.”

Photo credit: “Kyk noir” by Kyknoord at Flickr
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Respect for Research

Posted: August 31, 2014 by writingsprint in Essay, Writing
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Citroen Traction Avant

Yesterday I finished the book By Royal Command of the Young James Bond book series. I don’t generally read teen fiction, but this one came highly recommended, and I’ll tell you straight-up that it was a damned good read. Charlie Higson paints a believable young man who could have grown into the world’s greatest spy: hardened by the loss of his parents, self-reliant, resourceful, stubborn, bitterly opposed to injustice.

Higson crafts a world from almost eighty years ago as if he lived in it for eight of his own, and took notes the entire time. Whether it’s the back streets of Lisbon, the campus of Eton College, or a train station in France, you never question whether Higson has been there before. You know he has—if only in the world he created, based on the exhaustive research that he’s done.

I had a glimpse of what this was like when I wrote a large-scale battle scene a few months ago. At first I thought I would wing it and let my creativity sweep me away. After doing the writing equivalent of walking into walls inside a darkened house, I mapped out the battlefield, then the combatants… which led to the invasion before the battle, which led to the political situation surrounding the battle. Then as the battle began, I realized the plan of attack wouldn’t work. I had to find a weakness. Then I had to find an infiltration plan. Which needed a diversion. Which had to escape once the world came down on top of it.

This was one scene. Higson weaves in detail after meaty, tangible detail in every line. For the exercise, I read the first few pages of the story so that I could pick out how much research I would have needed to do to write it myself, starting from a blank sheet of paper.

The story starts off in 1936 or thereabouts. We meet Irina Sedova, a Soviet intelligence officer.

  1. What rank would the “head of section” for an intelligence agency hold? Colonel. Based on this, she would be middle-aged or slightly older.
  2. What is her background? Based on her age – which will be dictated by her rank, unless she’s some kind of prodigy – what world events has she experienced? Colonel Sedova has survived famine and the Russian revolution. She grew up in a world where people ate rats and shoe leather to survive, and she’s survived more than one assassination attempt. She was born on a farm in the Ukraine. She still remembers calling her country “Russia,” as opposed to the title it now wears, “Soviet Union.”
  3. We need to put her in a hotbed of young, European radicalism in the early to mid-1930s, where the Soviets would have a spy cell. Our story begins in Lisbon, Portugal.
  4. What would a Soviet intelligence officer’s alibi be to travel around the world – in 1936? At the time, Soviets sold tractors on the international market. They were symbol of pride and innovation, revolutionizing farming the way that Lenin had revolutionized Russia. Colonel Sedova’s cover is that she part of a group of Soviet businesspersons showing and selling tractors all over Europe. Sedova wanted to leave her life on the farm behind and never look back, so she finds being stuck with tractors galling.
  5. Some details on Russian tractors may come in handy, to make the story feel more real. Sedova’s tractors were built in Chelyabinsk. Tractors symbolized the future. When a tractor arrived in a village, it was at the head of a long procession, followed by people of all ages waving flags and singing patriotic songs.
  6. They need a car. What kind do they drive? She and her secretary are driving a Citroen Traction Avant. It’s a luxury car, so Higson immerses us in the rich textures and scents of the car’s interior, since Sedova, as a military officer with poor roots, has never lived in luxury. Higson would have had to do some digging on luxury cars that were popular in Europe in 1936. My guess is that he read newspapers from the era, either on microfilm, microfiche, or scanned copies.
  7. Where are they going? “ ‘To the Alfama district,’ she grunted.” Higson has looked at a map of 1936 Lisbon or done research on the city, and picked out where the colonel’s spy cell is located. Was the Alfama district where young communists gathered? The district is located in the “old part of town,” which may have been the deciding factor. The newer district may be where the wealthier people live. Spies tend to be those who have nothing to lose. Or maybe he chose it because the old part of town would have more charm in the reader’s mind.

We’re at the bottom of the third page. I’m in awe. This is the standard to which I want to lift up my own writing. That means slowing down the writing process, but if it means I’ll have a denser, more believable, more cool story when I type the words “the end,” then let it be.

Photo credit: “Citroen Traction Avant” by FotoSleuth at Flickr
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Finding Sanctuary

Posted: May 5, 2014 by writingsprint in Drama
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churchThe men pounded the doors of the church with the butts of their pistols. “Open up! Open the door! We know they’re in there.”

Sister Karina took a deep breath. She opened the door. A weathered man of about forty faced her. The sun had wrinkled his face to make it look more like sixty. His eyes were dark brown, and cold. He didn’t barge in like she thought he would.

“Sister, we need to search your church,” he said.

“Of course. We have nothing to hide.” She stood aside and opened the door wide.

The group behind the weathered man looked surprised not to have a fight. One snickered and walked close to Sister Karina. The weathered man said, “Billy, you take one more step and I’ll off one of your toes.” Billy froze instantly. The weathered man continued, “Go check the bell tower.”

Billy gave Sister Karina a look like a defiant six-year-old. He didn’t dare look at the weathered man. Then he went up the bell tower.

Sister Karina looked at the weathered man. “Will you be long?”

“Not unless we find what we’re looking for. Then we’ll burn down the church.”

“With me in it, I expect.”


Sister Karina trembled. It was one thing to think it, another to know it as a certainty.

Sister Karina unlocked the sacristy and three closets for them. They found nothing. The men were oddly polite. One actually wore a cross and remembered to lower his head to the altar. She thought the others were afraid of their leader, like Billy.

The weathered man wrote down a phone number on a piece of paper. “If you see two Americans—one wounded—call this number,” he said.

“I understand,” she said. She didn’t say she would do it. She looked at the paper. “There’s no name.”

“No one else uses that phone.”

She nodded.

The men left. Sister Karina locked the door again. She went up to the bell tower and watched them go between the old slats of wood. Once they were out of sight and their dust clouds were gone, she went down to the cellar.

She dragged one of the storage shelves off to the side. In the alcove behind it, she lifted up the trap door in the floor. Two Americans, one wounded, both CIA, looked back at her.

“They’re gone. Let’s get you out of here,” she said.

Tomorrow night I’m meeting with our local writers group. We had an exercise to write a piece on “finding God,” or whatever we chose. Naturally, I had to put a spin on what we normally think of when we hear that phrase. The two spies are certainly feeling like their prayers have been answered right about now.

Other than the Star Wars fanfic, the back story of Sister Karina is the one that’s been calling to me the most. She’s loosely based on the idea of Shepherd Book from the TV series Firefly — a man of God with a dark past.

Photo credit: “Mappleton All Saints Church” by Simon Collinson at Flickr
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Want a Beer… Comrade?

Posted: March 13, 2014 by writingsprint in Fun Stuff, Writing
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car chaseThis morning I was thinking about how I need to work on my plot development. I’m working on details, and I’m shaking off the rust with getting inside characters’ heads and emotions. Where I still struggle, really struggle, is plot development. I can go from point A to point B with the best of them, but weaving together a sequence of events that’s short, sweet, and makes good fictional sense is hard for me. A to B to C is reality. A problem B crisis C resolution D aftermath E is a story. And it all has to be driven by the deepest desires of a character, preferably with some growth or change along the way.

I remembered when one of my classmates back in college had trouble coming up with an ending for his story. In reality, he didn’t really have a story at that point. He had five quirky characters stuck in a car driving through the Carolinas on their way to Spring Break. He eventually abandoned that story and went with another one. Hmm. I wonder what he could have done with that idea…

Teacher: Okay. They’re going to Spring Break. So what’s their problem?

Student: They can’t get to Spring Break.

Teacher: Right. Turn up the volume. Why? It can’t be a problem that’s easy to solve.

Student: Their car breaks down.

Teacher: Not bad. What about rentals?

Student: It happens at night. They don’t want to wait until morning.

Teacher: They’re assholes! I love it! Then what?

Student: They steal a car!

Teacher: (claps his hands) Perfect! All right. So now you’ve got them off and running. Give them a real problem. Something that makes them, and the audience, think that they’ll never make it to Florida.

Student: The car they stole belongs to a CIA agent. It has secrets in the trunk.

Teacher: (laughing) Glorious! Oh my God! If you write this, I’m giving you an A. Now solve the problem.

Student: They drop off the secrets in Florida themselves. The story ends with them laying on the beach in Fort Lauderdale. A girl walks up to the driver and says, “Want a beer… comrade?”

I may have to write this one.

Someone Talked

Posted: March 5, 2014 by writingsprint in Science fiction
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fireCartog fired the detonator. The fuel tanks at the spaceport went up. The explosion took two free traders outright. Chunks of plasteel and duralon ripped through walls. Secondary explosions went off as refueling ships exploded like miniature bombs. One rolled into the main landing pattern, knocking out the only way for ships to land that wasn’t a street or an empty field. He couldn’t have asked for better.

“Someone just had a bad day,” Walker said.

Cartog was already packing up. “Come on. They’ll be looking for us.” They backed out of position and headed into the jungle, stealth fields on.

Something was up. A speeder passed them overhead on a search pattern. That wasn’t a problem, but then another one came up less than ten minutes later. Cartog wanted to call the rest of the team and see how they were doing, but they were on strict radio silence until they were near the extraction point.

Car looked at Walker. With the filters inside his visor, Walker probably had an idea what the expression on Car’s face looked like. “You thinking what I’m thinking?” Car asked.

“That somebody talked? Yeah.”

“Nothing to do about it now.”

They were lucky for the jungle cover, plus their stealth harnesses were standard issue rather than the junk they’d been using for the past three years.

Speeders flew over them two more times. Cartog and Walker changed their path to the extraction site and didn’t seem them again. He could hear them echoing in one of the nearby valleys.

It was four a.m. local time when they reached the extraction point. Y’sanne and Trin were already there. They sat back with their backs up against a tree, Y’sanne facing north, Trin facing south, both with their blasters in their laps. Jungle bugs crawled all over them. Since Car and Walker were moving, it hadn’t been so bad. Cartog shined his green UV laser at Y’sanne. Y’sanne lowered her blaster and waved them over.

They shook hands and pat each other on the back. “Good job with the charges,” Trin said.

“The space port was sloppy. Some collateral damage but nothing to lose sleep over,” Cartog said.

“Any word from the exfil ship?” Walker asked.

“Still quiet. They’re not due for thirty more minutes,” Y’sanne said.

“You guys have any trouble getting here? Local surveillance?”

Trin and Y’sanne both nodded. Trin said, “They were on us as soon as we left the space port. I thought they had us a couple times. We had to swim through a river to get here.”

“For locals they seemed to know what they were doing,” Y’sanne said.

Walker nodded. “Yeah. We thought the same thing.”

Rebecca Cantrell "The World Beneath"We’ve all taken the subway before, but what if you could never leave? Three, four or more levels down, a hundred miles of tunnels with split-offs and old rooms that even the police and transit system have lost track of, it becomes a strange world with its own day and night. Even if you had a cozy, elegant home, what would your life become? Now imagine that Alfred Hitchcock answered that question, and you have some idea of what you’re in for with The World Beneath.

New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Cantrell moves from the sinister world of World War II Germany (the Hannah Vogel series) to a quirky, claustrophobic, more quietly dangerous world beneath New York City. Joe Tesla — a distant descendant of the eccentric genius Nikola Tesla — is a software millionaire with severe agoraphobia. He and his therapy dog Edison haven’t stood outdoors in months. Joe is trying to cope as best he can, but soon he’s being hunted by a cold-blooded killer, the police, and the CIA, while a deadly contagion threatens all of them.

The World Beneath is a page-turner, whether it’s from the action or characters who are so real that you can’t stop watching them. The story opens with a jaw-dropping series of events that leads us into the underground world before we even meet Joe. We meet the characters, even the villains, with the intimacy reserved for close friends. Cantrell has a talent for spotting the subtle details that bring characters to life, whether it’s a nickname, a habit, an affliction, or some other aspect that we usually take for granted. Subways breathe. We get to know during during a poignant scene where he’s taking Edison for a walk, and we take a walk through his past and his life. His thoughtful detail isn’t reserved for Joe, however. One villain has a friendly nickname. Another cares about his brother. The setting and every character have quirks that make them real enough to touch.

The action serves the characters — a rare thing among most thrill writers — and, rarer still, they all have moments of sympathy, which makes hating some of them a twisted treat for the reader. Add the suspense, which grabs you by the shirt and forces you to watch it, and you have book that’s a winner.

Cantrell’s novels have won the Bruce Alexander and the Macavity awards, and been nominated for the Barry, Mary Higgins Clark, APPY, RT Reviewers Choice, and Shriekfest Film Festival awards. She is the author of the Hannah Vogel World War II mystery series and co-author of the Order of the Sanguines vampire thriller series with James Rollins.

Scary Like a Rubber Snake

Posted: March 24, 2012 by writingsprint in Writing
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Forbidden KnowledgeHave you ever wanted to know how to be a mafia boss? Break bricks with your hands? Crack a safe? Do all the things that spies and movie criminals do? Forbidden Knowledge is a fun little read by humor author Michael Powell that provides tips and advice on 101 things that not everyone should know how to do.

Each topic gets its own section, ranging from the mundane (“Throw a Punch,” #19) to the supernatural (“Perform an Exorcism,” #69); from prepubescent humor (“Light a Fart on Fire, #37) to adult mayhem (“Start a Riot,” #86). Some topics offer step by step instructions on how to perform an activity, while others are just a few key points about a subject. Some are illustrated, while others have pictures just for the atmosphere.

The book isn’t what I was hoping for: a funny collection of topics about the underground world with grains of truth that I could use to get me started when I wanted to do research on spies and criminals. You do get some insights into real street culture here and there, but some of the subjects are just dumb – spotting a zombie and surviving an alien abduction – and others actually qualify as information that everyone should know, like how to complain and get results, and how to present yourself well in court.

Forbidden Knowledge is a nifty little page turner that makes good reading if you have a long flight, as part of the bathroom library, or for the little shelf underneath your coffee table if you live in a guy’s apartment. It also isn’t a bad source of random ideas for imaginative writers; not a bad source, but not a great one, either. For a real glimpse inside the lives of the dark and secret worlds of criminals and spies, move along.

Bob did as he was told. He dropped everything and took the EL train to Adrienne’s, outside of the city. Bob trembled as he did, all the way from the building to the EL platform, and then on the ride there. The strange part was that his mind felt peaceful. It must have been the adrenaline. Bob felt like his whole body was vibrating, like pebbles were dropping in his brain and waves rippled through his body like water.

The El was empty at this hour, just him and the driver. The other few night owls on the train platform tuned him out. Bob pictured Adrienne and tried to imagine what she was thinking, or doing, or where she was. He’d never tried it from this far away, or while he was worried about her life, and nothing happened. There wasn’t as much clutter from the night owls or the driver as he was used to hearing, though. Bob felt like he was living and breathing in another gear.

No one was following him, yet. Bob zeroed in on whoever had spoken at the building as he left. The man, mid 30’s, physically fit, carrying a gun, with a mind focused like a mathematician’s, watched him leave the building and told someone else through a secure version of a cell phone that he was heading for the El stop. Bob had never touched a mind so free of distractions in his life. It was frightening. Given something so much deeper and troubling to chew on, it felt like his mind finally found something worth sinking its teeth into.

There were eyes on him as he walked up the last block toward Adrienne’s house. It wasn’t a good neighborhood, but Bob had gotten good at picking out who meant harm, who was just looking, and who didn’t mean any harm at all. All of Adrienne’s neighbors were asleep, but there were three people watching Bob, from outside the house, and two inside. Who do they think he was, James Bond? Bob looked directly at where one was hiding inside a parked car. It was a girl, age 30. She quickly reported that she’d been “compromised” to the others. He felt a rise of panic in all three of them. What was more chilling, though, was that Bob realized there were two others, inside Adrienne’s house, and they were calm as ice water. They didn’t care if Adrienne, Bob, or their own teammates lived or died. Bob had never felt anything like this before.