Friday, April 13, 2018

2 Minutes. Go!

Write whatever you want in the 'comments' section on this blog post. Play as many times as you like. #breaktheblog! You have two minutes (give or take a few seconds ... no pressure!). Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So, tell a friend. Then send 'em here to read your 'two' and encourage them to play.

They’re lying to you. Sugar sweet grin and dimpled chin – it’s a short con. You are being fleeced. But you don’t do anything about it. You are the glass bluebird on your Grandmother’s shelf in the room no one ever sat in. You are the echo of a silent scream. You are the insomniac’s dream. You feel me? Know what I mean? You are the crystal vase that your sister broke – the one you said you broke. You are the memory of that and more.

You are playing the game, but you don’t know the score. 

I once met a boy who loved chess. And I wanted to love chess because that seemed like the right thing to do. But I don’t love chess. And maybe I should have pretended. But I’m not good at pretending – never did like a happy ending. I am the flash of pain you feel in your chest when you realize that your tank is empty – you’ve got nothing left. 

I know I’m supposed to want it because they tell me I’m supposed to want it, but they say so many things. And most of those things are self-serving bullshit pucks shot directly at your teeth.

I killed Santa Claus, and all I got was this tacky aluminum wreath.

In the branches of the trees, there are birds that can astound you. There is so much to see if you just look around you. But there is also much to be seen from turning the lens back upon yourself. By dissecting and slicing through the layers of fatty tissue. Don’t have a scalpel? That’s not an issue. You have an internet connection and that thing will flay you eight ways from Sunday.

You better believe it.

And I’m just one more stupid monkey trying to tell you where to find meaning based on my own mental preening. Slandering. Meandering. Nothing is going to resolve itself any time soon. You just need to come to grips with that. And you should probably get on it soon. There I go again, being the clown who mocks the buffoon.

Picture this: there are freckles on her face, light and barely visible. They rest upon her nose and they’re beautiful, but she hates them. You could stare at them forever, but she’d scrub that shit with Comet if she thought it would work. And that’s everybody. That’s all of us.

Not seeing the freckles for the trees. I know you're searching answers, but you won't get them from me.

#2minutesgo Tweet it! Share it! Shout it from the top of the shack you live in! I will be out most of the day, but I'll be back...


  1. That paragraph about 'picture this: there are freckles'. Wow. The truth you drag screaming out of your keyboard!

    1. Yep, the freckles got me... and I can't stop thinking about how one person's answer isn't necessarily another's...

    2. Dan's a master of these prophetesque diatribes. And here he's as eloquent as he always is.

    3. Brother, I want to see you keep going with something like this while eschewing the rhyming. For me, that can sometimes distract, while I know there are truths here, fighting to be heard. You feel me?

    4. Oh, love this. "Not seeing the freckles for the trees." But what David commented intrigued me. Where would it go without the rhyming. Hmm.

  2. A short piece that I may expand into something longer. Part of me like it at the <300 word count as well. Tell me what you think...

    Lessons in Lessening

    I am less now than I was. I no longer recall how much less. She might know, if I knew where she was, or what name she uses now. She would tell me of my diminished state, that much I know. How brightly her hatred flared for me, like the chariot of the sun blazing in her eyes.

    Yet, I think she loved me once. I prefer to think that it was love, rather than fear, that caused her to lash out at my many bastards instead of me. To seek vengeance upon the objects of my dalliances. How they paid the price for my indiscretions. Their names and faces are lost in fog now, swirled into the mists of time.

    If I could remember them, I would feel regret, I think. I like to think that is who I am, who I was. Someone who would feel regret for wrongdoing.

    I am a wretch, unable to do anything except dwindle, and linger past redemption. I wonder if I am being punished. A goblet of ambrosia, curdled and foul, overrun with a ghastly carpet of mold. This is no fit punishment for a king.

    I treated my enemies with respect, I am sure of that. I locked them in a prison that recognized their puissance. I did not casually insult them by setting them free as weak spectres of themselves, below pity and contempt.

    My conquerors mock me with half-remembered legends, and bland arrogance pronouncing my non-existence.

    Humans have no true concept of forever. They speak of love, of civilizations, of legacies lasting forever. Nothing lasts forever. Not even me.

    1. Dark and brooding... I'm struggling to get a context here... or maybe an era... still, by leaving it to the reader, it can be nearly timeless. And you used "puissance"!

    2. Such a powerful, thoughtful piece of writing. And enigmatic too. It rings a little like a Shakespearean soliloquy and that's a noble endeavour

    3. I like it short and mysterious. I really like the piece and I feel like if it was longer it would be more literal - I like the opening for metaphorical interpretations.

    4. Yes, I'm hearing an echo from the past, when kings and emperors had undeserved yet ultimate power, and this is the lament of a weak contemporary man who nevertheless prefers the cowardly soup of toxic masculinity to something that might help mend the world, or at least fix what men have done to women. Ha ha, but I might be wrong, lol.

    5. Definitely got that Shakespearean vibe as well. Lear, maybe Prospero

    6. Zeus will smite all of you for not knowing who he was. That is, he would smite you all if he remembered where his thunderbolts were ;) Thanks for all the comments!

  3. Part 1:

    The roofless cabin was not abandoned, though at first it appeared so. The red door swung in the breeze from only one hinge. I stepped inside.

    That shiver that runs down, not up, one's spine, that was what told me I was not alone. I ignored it.

    Though the roof was gone, the fixtures, simple as they were, remained intact. The bed with its thin mattress had been appropriated by packrats or rodents of some sort. I was glad I brought a sleeping bag.

    The stone fireplace and its chimney stood proudly against the ice blue sky. A rustic table and one chair stood in the corner, and a mug of uncertain vintage sat beside a plate filled with only dust.

    There was only one picture on the wall, painted in oil and covered by glass. Only one corner was spoiled by mold.

    A man and a dog looked adoringly at each other. I shivered, and I looked away. If I was going to spend the night here, I had work to do.

    I leaned my backpack against the table and removed the small hatchet. Firewood was the first priority. At this elevation, it would be bitterly cold though the calendar said May.

    I took only small dead branches. Many of them were so brittle I didn’t need the hatchet. The sound of snapping wood in the unbroken quiet of this clearing seemed somehow sacrilegious. Still, a man has to stay warm, has to have a fire to cook a simple supper. I carried two arm loads into the cabin.

    It was nearly dark. I saw the stars start to shine against the cornflower blue sky. Or were they planets? Was that Mars over there? It had a sort of reddish tint.

    Once I had the kindling lit, I added a few small branches, and watched the fire take hold. I looked to the top of the chimney and saw sparks reach toward the stars.

    I opened a can of barbecued beans with my Swiss army knife, stripped the label from the can, and placed it close to the fire. Dug in the side pocket of the backpack for a spoon.

    The light from the hearth made the timbers that made up the walls of this place look like they were moving, like they were alive.

    It was unusual; there were no night bird owl, no nighthawk.

    By the time the beans were warm enough to eat, the blue sky was black, with ancient light from distant stars flickering bravely. I could almost believe they were fireflies, or ghosts of fireflies from my youth.

    Grandpa would have been proud I could start a fire with only one match, that I could be in this lonely place without fear, that I remembered planets moved faster than stars, and that I remembered fireflies.

    I finished the can of beans without tasting them. My spoon hit the bottom of the tin can and brought me back to awareness by its metal-on-metal sound.

    There is a part of the nape of the neck that is an organ unnamed, unrecognized, by scientists. It somehow senses when one is being watched. It was this unnamed sense that spoke to me now, and I did not turn around.

    My eyes remained on the flames, ghostly faces, rivers, wind drawn in gold and red and blue. I let my eyes cross, and my vision doubled. When I refocused, the nape of my neck was silent again, and I dared turn around.


    The depth of my sigh surprised me. I unzipped the compartment of my backpack that held my sleeping bag. Best to get some sleep.

    I took off my boots and slipped into the bag. Once zipped in, a caterpillar in a cocoon, I stripped the rest of the way down. Keep your clothes inside the bag, Grandpa taught me. They’ll be warm in the morning, and little critters won’t gnaw holes in them.

    I closed my eyes and fell asleep almost immediately.

    The dreams that came that night were vivid amplifications of the dream that brought me to this place. Grandpa smiling. His lips moved without speech in earlier versions of the dream, but that night I heard his words: "You have my blessing." He was surrounded by fireflies and stars, and their glow shimmered in time with his four simple words, and I heard a whimper behind him. It was not born of pain, or even annoyance, it was a whimper of loyalty.

    1. Part 2:

      And then I awoke. It was not yet light, and only the slightest of gray in the east told me that dawn was near. I struggled into my clothes, a race against my bladder, and by the time I was free of the sleeping bag and peeing off the porch, the sky turned red where it kissed the horizon.

      And I heard the whimper. I ran back in the cabin and threw my boots on, not slowing to tie them. Back outside, i tried to follow the sound, the same sound from the dream. Into the woods.

      There was wind this morning, and as it raced through the spaces between the trees, it sounded like sighs.

      The whimpering sound stopped moving, and I entered a small glade. No footprints in the dew damp grass. I listened and waited. When the sun finally shone through the trees, it lit a thousand prisms, tiny rainbows, drops of water on the grass.

      It also lit a stone in the center of the clearing. I walked toward it.

      There were rough-cut letters chiseled into it. Letters that looked almost Latin, all capitals, all simple strokes. It must have taken forever to carve.

      "Beneath this stone lie the bones of my best friend, but his spirit walks still with me."

      And somewhere deeper in the woods, I heard a bark and the laughter of my Grandpa.

    2. This was notably bare and stark, suitably so, given the atmosphere you were trying to create. Magnificent as always, Leland!

    3. I LOVE this one. The specific details. Removing the label from the can. It's so riveting. Not overplayed at all, but authentic. "That shiver that runs down, not up, one's spine" -this is fantastic. A less moral man would steal it. ;)

    4. Beautiful writing, Leland. Don't change a hair for me.

    5. Love the stark, deep-sky ache of this. So beautiful.

  4. As sometimes is the way in unhappy empires, the father was unseated by the son.

    The myths of democracy and elections that mattered were only whispered by the old and the feeble, in dark corners.

    The son was quiet. Slow, some said, but only in whispers. His mind worked faster than any of theirs. He connected dots, knew when words were lies, and read facial expressions like they were cartoons on the backs of cereal boxes.

    The emperor disdained thinking. He read people, too, and knew how to fan sparks of hate into firestorms. He kept power by ensuring the people fought with each other. When things got too quiet, he’d throw a bone to one side or the other, and they’d be back at each other's throats.

    Only the son saw how tired the father was getting. Only the son knew the right time to strike. The son was a computer genius, understood proxy servers, viruses, malware, and the like. He’d long ago hacked into the palace's security system and disgusted himself by watching the father’s dalliances with the courtesans.

    He assembled a blooper reel, of all the times the father's clumsy seductions went wrong. And he waited for the right time to release it.

    The state of the union address was that time. All citizens were required to watch the annual recounting of lies, so the audience would be maximized, and the infiltration of the communications network would be easy.

    He would, of course, be in the audience in person, so he had to determine an audio trigger for the playback. He knew exactly the word.

    "My fellow Americans," his royal corpulence began. "I have YUGE news..."

    And the screens of billions of viewers faded to black before the images began playing. The emperor had no clothes. And huge was the word furthest from the viewers' minds when they saw what the emperor was hiding.

    The emperor clutched his chest at the podium, and the son smiled inappropriately, accompanied by the laughter of a nation.

    1. Ha! Good 'satire' still the right word anymore? Fun read!

    2. A delicious fantasy indeed. And the third paragraph about the son is SO strong.

    3. LOL. "...his royal corpulence..."

  5. The woman’s back again.

    I first saw her an hour ago, sitting on my bed. I didn’t recognise her then but it’s certainly the same woman who’s come back. The same pale skin, dark hair and empty eyes I saw before; the same way of seeming as though she’s as much right to be here as me, even though I’d never seen her before. It’s enough to make me question who I am; what right I’ve got to be here, here and now.

    The corner of my bedroom has disappeared too. It’s that which makes me question where I am; as if this place I call home has become somewhere else. That would make me the stranger, the alien, the intruder into this place. I’m certain there’s a world I’d recognise beyond the door behind me – the closed door – but I also knew my bedroom had four corners. Four corners and a bed and no woman I don’t know. Only, now, there’s only the bed I can be sure of. The bed that I slept in last night. If I opened the door now, I could open it onto anything - my certainty isn’t as sure as it was since the woman reappeared, taking the corner of my bedroom away.

    And so, I’d rather not open the door. At least not for a while.

    I prefer my realities to be pure, not mixed.

    1. Nice trip into the twilight zone

    2. Beautifully told tale of the paralysis we encounter when we have to choose the comfortably known vs. the scary unknown that may have wonderful or terrible things waiting for us.

    3. I've been party to trips very much like this one. You wrote it really well.

  6. She was one of the first to die. I still look for her at night – I do in the daytime too, but I notice her more when it’s dark – often seeing her out of the corner of my eye; watching me in that way she does. She’ll have one arm reaching across her chest and the other held low, with a cigarette in one hand and the other one clutching her elbow, the smoke lazily reaching up to make her face more indistinct.

    She’ll be wearing sunglasses, of course. She always did that; saying it was the best way to hide how tired she looked, the dark semicircles beneath her eyes testimony to the sleeplessness and the tears she kept to herself. She never seemed to do anything but watch; her face pale and her hair dark, her mouth pulled tight into a line that was never more than a seam that occasionally split open to admit her current choice of smoke. I can remember when it used to be those black Turkish cigarettes; the ones her brother smuggled in, the tobacco laced with some foul stringent shit you’d never dare ask her about. It was a means to an end, she said then, keeping them to herself; either wary of what they might do to someone not used to them or careful not to let them out of her sight, knowing they might be used as evidence, the Customs and Excise department the least of her worries. She used to take the deepest pulls on them and then close her eyes, her mouth curving a little as she let the drugs do their thing. Then, she’d float out the smoke a breath at a time, husbanding it until it was all gone and then start over. Another long, steady drag, a lengthy hold and then repeat. And then again.

    When she spoke to people, her voice was coarse, dark and fluid, each syllable weighty and shared with reluctance. She may have always been stoned, of course, but she had an authority to her; each word filled with an intent and a sense of the knowledges she kept to herself. You never knew when she’d speak – the sunglasses made it impossible to gauge her moods – but you knew it would always be worth your listening to her; her secrets more obscure and filled with a greater significance than the ones you’d hear anywhere else. You could call her a sorceress, a shaman or a charlatan, but you’d never know which she was, in truth; so, most people played the percentages and just took note of all she said. There was safety in doing that; forewarned is fore-armed, they say.

    And then she died. There were those who were glad. They were the ones who believed she was a faker; taking advantage of the reputation she’d gathered about her. There are fewer of them now. You can believe what you like about her, but most of the disbelievers from before are now beginning to change their minds. It’s due prudence, I’d say, giving her the benefit of my legal background. The ones who gave her due respect back then are even more careful now; not questioning her memory or her motives, but just choosing to remain silent and hoping she’ll forget them, wherever she is.

    And me? I’m still watching out for her, knowing she’ll miss nothing I do. And maybe I’m a little afraid.

    1. spooky! You created a great character with her, and the implications of what else happened, or is happening are tantalizing

    2. Wow. I'm REALLY digging this one. What a visual and sensory explosion this piece is. Really brilliantly played.

    3. Loved it ! The whole concept of getting even scarier after death.

    4. Agreed! She is powerful and mysterious, and you tell us so much about her by what you don't say... I really like it!

  7. I’m an undiagnosed psychological disorder, a bonafide riot of the mind. I’m Mercury busting out of retrograde and won’t be left behind.
    I’m a pulchritude of platitudes, a steroid Wiccan goddess, staring blankly at the molten universe, and wondering where it got us.
    All the effort, all the struggle and OCD. All the greed and love and craving raving, the meditation medication. All the booze and acid tripping. And all that freaking weed.
    I’m clean and I am sober, just punch drunk with the times, still looking for my fairy tale, scratching out a rhyme
    I’m an ageing Cinderella, a princess in a tower, spinning straw into gold like they still do in China
    And sometimes on HGTV.
    I’m a refabbed rehabber, a fix and flip queen, with a shitload of ambition and a million dollar dream.
    I’m a beach house on a mountain, with a fine Parisian suite. A back packing Vagabond roaming homeless on the street.
    I’m a photo spread in Architectural Digest, lovely to look at and nobody home.
    I’m escape and I’m belonging, I’m art and sex and threat
    I’m Revolution, evolution and you ain’t seen me yet.
    I’m the past that’s always going, the future yet to come
    I’m the change that’s always growing, the old and young.
    A woman’s intuition, full of magic and manure, breathing fire up your ass.
    Undiagnosed and unredeemed, I reach without and go within
    I ain’t no professional patient
    More like original sin, Infatuation, sweet temptation, I’ll turn you inside out and in.
    I am your sister, your daughter your mother, reaching out to take your hand
    I am the disorder, undiagnosed and I am the medicine.
    I am the writer and I am the poet; I am the witch and I am the whore.
    I am the joke and the yoke and invisible. I don’t matter anymore.
    Except for the time when you close your eyes, weary of all you see and hear,
    Disease and weakness, the emptiness of glory, all the doubt and all the fear.
    I am the healer; the joke’s on you, falling in love with that blah,blah,blah.
    Listen for just a moment. I’lI reveal the truth of your healing.
    I may make you laugh, and I may make you cry, singing something stupid, like

    1. I love this so very, very much! You chose such lovely, specific analogies -- like the beach house on a mountain with a fine Parisian suite. I adore how you swing along on the rhythmic parts and then turn the tables with a little discord or syncope.

    2. So much I love in here:

      I am the writer and I am the poet; I am the witch and I am the whore.
      I am the joke and the yoke and invisible. I don’t matter anymore.

      The HGTV made me laugh. The original sin bit is brilliant.

      Really brilliant stuff. And I hear you. Like HEAR you hear you.

    3. So much to laugh with, and to cry with, too... I kinda wanna here this put to music... really strong!

    4. Thanks so kindly. Needs some tweaks, but I was kinda liking it myself!

  8. It wasn't the cold that woke me. It was the wind howling across the top of the chimney pipe and the tsk, tsk, tsk of sleet on the window. Sometime during the night the fire had gone out. The only warmth in the room was the singular space occupied by a curled up 5'6" of me in bed under a mountain of quilts. And the cat.

    Or had I eaten the cat? I can't remember. The wood and water ran out yesterday, the food weeks ago. With two badly broken legs there wasn't much I could do about anything but lie there and think. And I wanted to thank happy thoughts. I didn't want to die cold, in pain, cursing my stupidity.

    It all seemed so simple. Buy a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Move your cat, yourself, and a few comforts there and boom, you're off the grid. I could hunt and fish to feed us. Grow a vegetable garden. Get back to nature since humankind was just pissy all the time now.

    Spring, Summer, and Fall passed in haze of lazy dreaminess. It was paradise. Then Winter brought its bitter chill. Snow upon snow upon snow. The stream that watered both the garden and cabin denizens froze over. OK, I can boil snow.

    Then an ice dam formed on the roof. The heat from the stove caused water to leak inside. Something had to be done. I should have stayed on the ladder and just broken the dam but I wasn't sure that was the cure. So I climbed on the roof with a shovel to knock off some snow. The roof pitch combined with slippery ice and snow to send me falling, falling. As they say in gymnastics, I didn't stick the landing.

    So I lie here, snuggling the cat that no longer exists, dreaming of how happy I was when I came here.

    1. And ironically, you do stick the landing!

    2. Spot on. One of my most sincere reasons for not being a complete nature freak is the very real possibility of events like this.

    3. I 100% agree with the above statements. :)

    4. This feels reminiscent of Jack London... whose writing I love... and it hits close to home for me... you have to be careful when you live alone in the middle of nowhere... and it's a reason my roofs don't have steep pitches, because at least once a year, I have to go up there to clean the chimney, and to do an inventory of the roof, to make sure it's all okay! I really like this!

  9. "The beauty of the world which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder." — Virginia Woolf

    This is a story with many edges. You are a tiny camera grafted onto a fly. You live in a sad room. Wherever the fly decides to fly you have no choice but to tag along.

    So much comic potential.

    Skeeter is your guy. He also lives in this sad room: a greasy kitchen and a tragic living space. Soiled papers stuffed in crevices. He shares a bathroom with other tenants you only hear but never see.

    Looks like a place you'd see in crime scene shots.

    Once, your fly settled by Skeeter's open laptop and you saw his actual name: Alphonso. You don't know if that's his whole name or just part of it, but you suspect the latter. But you also read an email he sent to an old friend, and you figured he was named after the mosquito because he is terrified of them, that someone played a mean joke on him.

    It's the whine. The loneliness of an early galaxy. That awful high-strung sound. As if dopplers stretch well beyond the sleeping ear.

    The skeeter and the fly. Funny, in a drab cartoonish way.

    Wyatt is Skeeter's cat, a plain neutered tabby, full name Wyatt Derp. His eyes aren't right. Wyatt's, not Skeeter's, although there are times when they nearly match. Misaligned high beams shuddering on a gravel road.

    No roads and no gravel in a sad, sad room.

    Skeeter swats at you. At the fly hosting you, that is. Wyatt tracks your spiralling flight path, probably seeing two of you. You realize how easily you could wink out of existence and how quickly you must plan a counteroffensive.

    Wait. Just as you are not this fly, Skeeter is not his—or her—genitals. Remember that when events behoove you to. Skeeter remembers almost nothing at any given time.

    Nature condemned him. He sports abundant freckles on pale skin the shade of a cadaver, and dirty orange hair like winter roots unintentionally unearthed. His watery eyes are only a couple degrees straighter than his cat's, and less dry. He is thin as gruel. His teeth are inconsistent. His illegible genitals are a withered parsnip in a patch of dead switchgrass.

    But when Skeeter smiles, he means it. By far his best feature, even with the gaps. Consider: Stonehenge would have so much less allure if all the stones were in place.

    1. Wow.... the texture, the sentence structure... perfect. Small, like a small insect would think, would be. And the device you used to set up the point of view is ingenious and yet not intrusive... I dig it!

    2. I already talked to you about this last night, but I can't remember what I said. :) It was probably something to the effect of how much I loved it. As always, technically, it's so on point. This is a cool new direction, though. Really intriguing. Needs more rhymes though. ;)

    3. Ha ha!

      (And thanks, Leland and Dan. This is like the world's greatest sandpit, where words are the toys.)

    4. Holy cats, I love this. And what they said.

  10. I closed my eyes and tasted a blackness so sweet. Deep in the calcified wreck of longing - I wept for you; you shunned me. We danced. Music became irrelevant in the twirl and spin and it just became one long moan. And we danced through it.

    Texas damn. Roadside wandering.

    You leaned on my shoulder and I leaned on yours. And we looked at them. And we thought, man, we ain't never gonna be like those guys. And we're not. We're not exactly titans of industry, but we came out in one piece - or a bunch of pieces.

    We're not dead yet.

    You just need to dodge the lie, and I know it's not easy because they're coming at you from all angles. While you sit in your living room, there are a gazillion electromagnetic waves pulsing around you. Who the fuck knows what they're doing to you?

    Cell phone towers fucking up your gonads.

    Ain't it a shame? Don't we got it bad, son? Did you hear me screaming when Dad was on top of me? You did, didn't you. And you kept dusting and washing dishes and pretending it wasn't happening. Smile plastered to your pale white face, jaw clenched.

    Mine was too.

    Here's an image. It's the one I used. Pretend there is a place so black that you can't see your hand in front of your heart. The cold kills everything inside you. It's like a blackout drunk with no repercussions. Heroin with no seduction. It's peace and it's waiting for you. And you can just go there and forget it ever happened. All of it, from the moment you were torn from your mother's bloody thighs until the moment you got your heart broken for the first time and a flock of starlings cried with you on a backcountry wind.

    Retract into yourself and distract the nonbelievers. You need to listen to me. I will save you. Divest yourself of your worldly goods. Eat this bowl of lentils. There are clean robes in the closet.

    Me? I'll be feasting on aborted fetuses.

    (for antrobus - one rhyme)

    1. Oh, weird. I've been trying to write something tonight that is like an echo of this. Yours is so much better, my brother. Yours the blare of statement, mine the quieter reply. To me, it's stunning you can pull this mostly intact from... what? Where? From what or where do we pull these strings of thought? From love and horror, basically.

      (Ha, and that one rhyme was perfect.)

    2. What you do with channeling rage is a beautiful thing... I can feel fists being clenched, blood vessels exploding, and rapid breathing... it's like an extended fight scene. Hannigan would be proud.

  11. The Cuban

    Carlos again glanced at his watch. He was due back at the Russian compound at 1700 for his shift in the general’s guard, and once he had completed his business in the agency’s underground bunker, he aimed to use his rank to rout the checkpoint soldiers from Pittsburgh to New York for whatever contraband would please the general and the ladies in his kitchen—a little goodwill went a long way, and he had his eye on the pastry chef. But the director, like the recruit he’d been instructing for the last forty-five minutes, had no sense of time. And Carlos would need at least a half-hour with the kid before he’d been properly briefed.

    He shook his head, remembering the last meeting he’d had with “El Suizo.” Lavoisier was brilliant at demolitions, spoke four languages like a native and was as stealthy as a jungle cat, not to mention that he’d probably saved Carlos’s life in Havana, but could he be trusted with this mission? A kid who couldn’t sit still or follow orders he didn’t agree with, set loose to blend into an encampment of Russian armed forces? With no backup, with no outside communication? Carlos huffed out a long exhale, examined the oily surface of the horrible coffee he’d been offered while the director was finishing his meeting. But nobody else in the agency fit the bill. And Carlos himself had been the one to recommend him. Thinking that with proper training and motivation, he could be a powerful asset in the field.

    Finally the door to the training room opened and the director exited, beckoning Carlos in with one age-spotted hand.

    Carlos bit the inside of his mouth to school his physical reaction to the sight of the kid, sitting in a lone chair in the middle of the room, the long curls he’d been so proud of hacked off into a Russian army buzz cut.

    “Say one word about the hair and next time I see someone try to plant explosives in your vehicle, I just might help him.”

    “At ease, soldat,” Carlos said in Russian, and Lavoisier answered with a creative Slavic curse befitting the background of the kid’s new identity.

    El Suizo, half jungle cat, half chameleon, might fit in better than he realized.

    “I assume you’re here to tell me what I’m to do once I get inside,” Lavoisier said.

    Carlos pulled one of the stray metal folding chairs closer and sat. “You’re to become one of them and gather intel and figure out how to get it back to us.”

    “Ah,” he said. “Therein lies the rub.”

    “Precisely.” He jerked his head toward the door. “The director told you we’ll be flying blind?”

    Lavoisier looked like he was restraining himself from rolling his eyes. “Every contact I’ve met with from Helsinki to this godforsaken place has told me that. Satellites down. No electronics. Random electricity. Fortunately, my fifth language is tradecraft.”

    “You think this is a joke, soldat?” Carlos said.

    “No. And hell no. I’m acutely aware of what’s at stake.”

    “Then I suggest you show it.”

    Lavoisier eyeballed him for a beat, then examined his fingernails. “Then maybe you should start my briefing. So you can get back in your jeep and go find something pretty for the pastry chef. Maybe she can help you take that stick out of your ass.”

    Carlos could only stare. And then he smiled. El Suizo was the perfect man for the job. He hoped.

    1. Yeah, you big tease. I'm digging this world. One thing. I didn't say anything last time because it seemed stupid, but it got me even more this time. In theory, I like the name, but in reality it makes me feel like I'm hearing orders called out at a taco truck. That may just be my left coast ears, but thought I'd mention it.

      Loving this.

    2. Amazing... and I already have strong feelings about both characters... and I'll spend an inordinate amount of time trying to guess their target and their motive... well done!

    3. sorry suiza. quesadilla suiza is a pretty popular dish

  12. Okay, Laurie. I'm hooked! I wanna know where this goes!

  13. Part 1

    Piotr hated working the night shift in this part of the Kremlin. The place was creepy as hell. The gothic architecture towered over him, laughing a frozen smile; the furnishings were heavy and dense and stank of mold and centuries of cigarette smoke and pain and death. He could never get the smell out of the carpets and the drapes, no matter how much Febreze he used, when he could even get it. The babushkas in the market shoved various potions into his hands when he asked, but those made everything smell even worse. God knows what they were concocted from. Lard or rotten fruit soaked in vodka?

    He shuddered to even think about it.

    At least it was quiet, late at night. And mainly he was alone, no one to give him a hard time, and mainly he had the run of the building.

    Well, most of the building. Sergei, the day manager, warned him about going into certain rooms. “Don’t those get dirty, too?” Piotr asked, but Sergei just puffed out his chest, gave him a warning look, and said he’d take care of those rooms himself.

    At the time, Piotr shrugged and obeyed, but there was the oddest odor coming from one of those “forbidden” rooms, and by the day it had been getting worse. It smelled like the kitty litter box in his cousin’s apartment. Yes, he was not supposed to go in, but who would Sergei blame if the higher-ups discovered something horrible in one of their important rooms? Certainly Sergei would point his long, snooty finger at him. It was simply the way things worked around here. That’s how it had been in Russia for centuries. Shit rolled downhill. And Sergei was quite adept at stepping out of the way.

    But tonight, it was just getting to be too much. He tried to ignore it, but the aroma made his eyes water every time he came near. Finally he got his cart and rolled it over to the door and was reaching for his keys when a finger tapped his shoulder. He screeched like a little girl and must have jumped a foot.

    Hand on his heart, he turned. His eyes widened. He tried to get some kind of sound to come out of his mouth, but all that resulted was an impotent squeak.

    The man just smiled, a smile that reached impish eyes. Big joke, Piotr thought. Sneak up on the night guy. But then he realized who this man was, and he didn’t know what to say. He had never seen the president before. Of course he’d seen him on the television, and once in a while a glimpse as he swept out the door and into a waiting car, but never...this close. And never...while Piotr was on the brink of doing something terribly wrong.

    “It stinks,” Piotr blurted, then cursed to himself as his cheeks flamed red. “I... I only come to clean...”

    The president then set his hand on Piotr’s arm. Piotr could only look at it, imagining how he’d go home to his wife and say the president touched him. Actually touched him.

    “Don’t trouble yourself...what is your name?”

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  15. Part 2

    “Piotr,” he said, barely getting the syllables out.

    “Piotr,” the president repeated. “A fine name. A fine and bold name, one that should be shouted with the chest held high!”

    “Piotr,” he said again, shaping his lips around each sound.

    “Better!” the president said, raising a finger like a conductor. “Keep practicing. But maybe in the East Wing. I will take care of things here.”

    “Piotr,” he repeated, louder and bolder.

    “Marvelous,” the president said, giving his arm a small nudge.

    Piotr began walking away, pushing his cart before him. Saying his own name under his breath. But then he stopped. His wife... how she would nag him if he didn’t get a picture on his phone, she would again think he was lying!

    He stopped. Turned in time to see the back of the president as he eased open the door. In the sliver of light it revealed, he thought he saw a thatch of orange-blond hair. And more. Piotr’s cheeks flamed again; his eyes widened. Knowing he had seen someone and something he shouldn’t have. The American president on a bed with two girls, at least! No. This was bad. This was very bad. And it smelled very bad. He had to get away. He gripped the handle of the cart and began to push just as the president called his name.

    Piotr froze. “Y...yes, Mr. President?”

    “You were right, after all. We have a bit of a mess to clean up.” He pulled out a roll of cash, which he tucked into Piotr’s pocket. “Give it about ten minutes, and you’ll take care of this, yes, like a good man? And then maybe we’ll see about moving you to a better position.”

    A better position. Better than Sergei’s? His wife would be so pleased.

    “Can I... may I get a picture?”

    The man laughed. “A picture. Of course you can get a picture. The girls love to have their pictures taken. But only if you send me a copy and promise not to show it to anyone else.”

    Piotr stood up straighter. He’d meant of himself with the president, but... “I can do this thing for you.” Ha. Not only would his wife be proud, but how it would get Sergei’s goat pleased him, too.

    “Very good man. With a brave and wonderful name.” He pulled more money out, pressed it into Piotr’s palm, and sauntered away.

    1. WOW! Well told! Incredible suspense! and an amazing wrap! I'm only left with one question... was the money dollars or rubles? Thanks for taking me on this ride!

    2. Agreed. The ride did make me a little sick to my stomach, but it was worth it. Like the tilt a whirl. But more golden showery. ;)


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