A blog where Stephanie M. Belser test-drives her fictional stories.
Expect the occasional
"stall, spin, crash & burn".

Monday, February 1, 2016

Chapter 4 of "No Working Title Yet"

“Are you hungry,” Amy asked.

“I can eat,” I said.

“OK, then let’s get something,” she said. Still playing Sherpa, she towed my suitcase and laptop bag behind her, as I followed. By my watch, it was well after 2PM. ‘I can eat’ was an understatement.

The dining facility was a large cafeteria with several lines. It looked like something out of an upscale hospital. Amy said: “The base runs 24/7, so at any time, there are people getting up, who are in the middle of their day, or finishing work. Do you want breakfast, lunch or supper.”

“Supper’s fine.

Amy led the way to a serving line. I made up a small salad. In the entree section, there was some meat dish whose name began with a ‘K’ and was mostly made up of consonants. “What’s that, I asked.

The woman on the other side of the line answered: “I’d tell you, but I can’t pronounce it without spitting.”

“What’s it taste like?”

“Sort of like a cross between chicken and pork, but a little spicier.”

“I’ll take that. What’s good with it,” I asked.

“Green beans and mashed potatoes. “

”That too, please.” The worker served it up and I moved on. Because I might want to try sleeping soon, I skipped coffee for water. At the end of the line, I gave the cashier my script card, she rang it through. I didn’t offer to buy Amy’s meal for her.

We found a table, sat down and ate. The K-whatever-it-was turned out to be very good. We didn’t talk. We had nothing to talk about. I knew she wasn’t going to tell me anything about where I was or where I was going. I wasn’t going to tell her about anything I had done. There was no point in trying to catch up on old times, because I didn’t believe who she said she was and she was smart enough not to push it. And maybe, given that I had come frightening close to initiating a gunfight inside of a not-very-large room, she may have been a little scared of me. Which I realized didn’t bother me a bit.

When we finished, Amy said: “Leave your stuff on the table. Do you want to get a little rest?”

“I could do with a little down time and freshening up,” I admitted.

“All right,” she said. She led the way down a hallway to an elevator. “Hold your card up to the sensor--” indicating a little protrusion–“and then press the down button. I did so. The elevator came, we got on. There was a panel of floor buttons, three of which were circled with green LED. “The green lights indicate what destinations you’re cleared to go do. The guest rooms are here,” she said, pushing a button that said ‘1DF4’. The car moved a bit, then the door opened onto another corridor. It looked like a floor in a medium-grade hotel.

‘Which room,” I asked.

“Any one with a green light outside of it is unoccupied, so take your pick.”

I chose one a random. I looked inside, it seemed clean. A windowless Marriott. “Now, what,” I asked.

“Hold your card up to the panel next to the door.”

I did that. A yellow light blinked, then turned green.

“If you were to look outside of the room, there would be a yellow light indicating it’s occupied. The door will open from the outside for your card.” Amy went to the credenza, there were three sheets of paper on it. “These are maps of the floors you can access. There’s a little bar, a library, a gym and the dining facility. There’s no computer access, I’m afraid, but the TV gets about every channel there is. Questions?”

“No.”

“Fine. I’ll be here for you at 0300, if you want to eat before we leave.”

“My time,” I asked.

“Yes.”

“OK,” I said.

Amy nodded and left.

I turned on my phone. No signal. No wireless networks. I took out the charging cable and plugged it in. Then I took out a couple of gizmos and went to the door. One essentially overrides the latch, so the lock can’t be bypassed. The other was a little edge that went between the door and the sill. It wouldn’t keep the door shut, but if it was disturbed, the alarm would wake up Karen Quinlan.

I got undressed and took a shower. I washed my underthings and the wicking t-shirt that went under the armor. Then I picked up my phone and read a book for awhile. Books of paper are much better to read, but they’re harder to travel with. Then I sat on the bed, set the alarm on the phone, put my gun by it and switched off the light. I meditated for five or so minutes.

Then I went to sleep.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Chapter 3

I stayed late that evening, finishing up reports and clearing my desk.  Some things I wasn’t able to do, so I just sent them back to my supervisor with a note that he needed to pass them off.  I didn’t tell him anything about my assignment, for if he hadn’t been told by the brass, he didn’t have a need to know.  Compartmentalization is the rule in this game.

When I went home, I packed. Since the sheet had said “light industrial”, I packed a pair of steel-toe  flight deck boots from a job on an aircraft carrier.  Short and long sleeved work shirts, all cut with some extra room. Jeans and work pants.

My personal gun selection was not huge.  If I need something specialized, I normally can draw it from the armory at work or in the field.  In a pocket under the laptop, I stowed a 4” .357 in a holster, along with 50 rounds of heavy magnum rounds, 50 rounds of 9mm hollowpoints, and 20 round of .38 wadcutters.  The 9mm ammo was for a Smith & Wesson Ladysmith, the wadcutters for a Smith & Wesson Airweight.  I dropped in two magazines for the 9mm, two speed loaders for the .357 and a couple of extra speed strips.  Then I packed pens, two small notebooks and a digital camera.

Monday, October 5, 2015

New Project, Ch. 2

I should have put this up months ago.  My apologies.
----------------------

Chapter 2

The following morning, I was at my desk, blue-penciling some reports.  Actually, I was using a red ink pen, but you get the idea.  The phone rang, I picked it up.

“This is Rebecca,” I said.

“This is Shirley.  The Boss wants to see you, forthwith.”

“On the way,” I said and hung up.  There is only one ‘Shirley’ in the company, and that’s the boss’s executive assistant.  Everyone other Shirley has to also use their last names.  ‘Forthwith’, a long time ago, was NYPD-speak for ‘right the fuck now’.   It had spread throughout the security industry.

I put on my office blazer and headed for the elevator bank.  The executive offices are on the eighth floor of the office building that THI, Inc. occupies.  I pushed the up button.  When the elevator came, I got on the car, held my fob next to the sensor, and pushed the button for the eighth floor.  Supposedly, if one doesn’t have a need to go to the 8th floor, the elevator won’t go there, but I’ve never tried that out.  They pay me well enough to make me not want to test the boundaries.

The eighth floor was nicer, of course.  The pictures on the wall were either limited-edition photographic prints or real paintings.  The carpeting was of higher grade and the lighting was friendlier.   They weren’t trying to imply that the company was made of low-rent private dicks out of a thirties’ noir flick.  THI was a serious player in the security industry, an industry that had grown dramatically with the influx of homeland-security money following the 9-11 attacks.  I’d been working for them for quite awhile, now.

I came around a corner to where the Boss’s office was.  His name was Samuel Hawkins.  He and his partner had formed the company twenty or so years back, when they combined their practices.  I’d never met the partner.

A secretary was sitting at a desk outside of the office.  I didn’t know her name, but she saw me and picked up her phone to announce me.  She listened, hung up, and told me to take a seat.  Which I did.

Five minutes later, she told me to go in. I did.  The Boss has a corner office, of course, with windows that overlooked the northern Virginia countryside.  There was a slight tint to them from a coating that was both reflective to the outside and shatter-resistant.  Mr. Hawkins stood up from his desk, came around and shook hands.

“Nice to see you, Becca.  You still take a little cream in your coffee,” he asked.

“Sure do, Boss.”

Mr. Hawkins was in his sixties, and, at six feet even, had probably shrunk an inch or two from his prime.  He kept himself in shape and he had a slim automatic pistol on his belt.  It looked like a pre-plastic Smith, but I didn’t ask.  He spun the phone on his desk around, pushed a button, and instructed his secretary to bring both he and I coffee.

“Come, sit,” he said, and motioned me to a corner of his office.  There were three overstuffed brown leather chairs around a low table.  A credenza was alongside the wall, with another phone.  I took a seat and noticed that there was a file folder on the table.

“How’s your hip these days,” he asked.

“OK, mostly,” I said.  “It does a pretty good job of forecasting the weather.”  I had been on a security detail when the escort car that I was riding had been t-boned by a truck to open the ball on an ambush/assassination attempt.  The assassination failed, no thanks to me, for the crash had damn near killed me.

The secretary came in, set up the coffee and, with a nod towards the door from Mr. Hawkins, she left.  I had heard that he, or his executive assistant, rotated his secretaries to prevent additional office politics.

“Would you mind going out for a little field work,” he asked.  “It would be investigative, not protection work.  And there would be travel, within CONUS.”

I sipped some of my coffee.  “Is this an order or an ask?”

“An ask.  Purely voluntary.  You’re medically off field status.”

“Did they say what I’d be investigating, Boss?”

“No.  They’ll fly you to a briefing and then they’ll make their pitch.  You’ll be paid for a week to go hear them out and decide.  Transportation each way.”  He opened the folder, took out a sheet of paper, and handed to me.

The sheet was what was known as the “deal sheet”.  The customer was ETGT&E Enterprises, a Nevada corporation.  They didn’t give the location, but they described it as “mainly indoors, light industrial and associated office, temperate climate.”  There was a notation for a contract bonus, termination fee, and a line that said “no weapons”.

 I glanced at Mr. Hawkins. “What’s this ‘contract bonus’ and ‘termination fee’ mean?”

“It means that they want the option to hire you and they’ll pay us a hefty fee if they do.”

“No guns, huh.”

The Boss smiled.  “You know the company line on that.”

I did.  If the customer wanted us to come unarmed, we brought two guns.  I read further, the duration was up to one month.  That wasn’t a problem.  My bills all came to work.  The arrangement was that on a trip, they’d be paid by the company and then what was personal would be settled up afterwards.  My pay was direct-deposit, my condo fees, mortgage and utilities were on an autopay.

“It says ‘travel TBD’?”

He took out another sheet and handed it to me.  “You’re to be at Signature at Dulles at ten tomorrow.  Come in around eight and park your car here, I’ll have a driver run you out there.”

“So, to sum up: I don’t know how long I’ll be gone, where I’m going or what I’ll be doing when I get there,” I said.

“Pretty much.”

“Normal field rates,” I asked.

The Boss shook his head.  “No, they’re paying extra for giving us the mushroom treatment.  Quadruple the normal rate.”

My eyes probably widened at that.  “I’ll bring an extra gun and body armor.”

“Probably a good idea.” He moved to get out of the chair, and so did I.  “Good luck, Becca,” he said, sticking out his hand.

“Morituri te salutamus,” I said.

“Let’s hope not,” he said.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A New Project

Chapter 1

It was a normal morning. I was sitting at my desk, reading reports and making notes on what I needed to do for follow-ups. Some of the operatives whose reports I was reading are very good at their jobs, but not so good at writing them up. I’m sort of a boss and an editor, I guess. Age and experience had gotten me “promoted” to a desk job. A few on-the-job injuries didn’t hurt.

The receptionist buzzed me and informed me that a walk-in wanted a few minutes of my time. That’s unusual, for dealing with potential clients wasn’t part of my routine.

“Who wants to talk to me,” I asked.

“She says her name is Amy Glesius and that’s what her ID says. The ID checks out,” she said. There is a scanner/reader at the receptionist desk. She would take an ID, run it through, and in seconds, have a readout on the person the ID was linked to.

“Is there a comfy room available?”

“Interview C.” Some of our interview rooms have nice chairs, coffee and crullers. Others don’t.

“Please show her there and tell her that I’ll be out in a few,” I said, clicked off, and sat back in my chair. Amy Glesius. I knew her in college, at least before I dropped out and signed up with Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children. A tour with them, then police work, then going private led me, eventually, to where I am today. And before you ask, I did eventually get the sheepskin and a couple of others.

While I can’t say that we had a thing, Amy and I were friends, of a sort. We hung out with many of the same people. She was one of the few whom I didn’t immediately lose track of during my time in the Corps. But after a few years, we did. So I hadn’t heard from her in a very long time.

I closed out what I had on my computer, got out of my chair and went down to the interview room. I opened the door and walked in. Then I stopped. The woman who was standing at the sideboard, getting a cup of coffee looked like Amy, all right. But she wasn’t over thirty, maybe not over twenty-five. I had last seen Amy over three decades ago.

She turned as I came into the room. She smiled and said: “Hi, Becca. It’s been a long time.” She took a step as if to come shake my hand or give me a hug.

I took a step back and held up a hand. “Forgive my rudeness, but who are you?”

“It’s me, Becca. I’m Amy. Amy Glesius.”

I shook my head. “No. Well your name may be Amy Glesius and maybe you’re the daughter or niece or cousin of the Amy I knew, but she would be in her fifties. You ain’t her.”

She sighed. “Let’s sit down and I’ll explain.”

I waived my hand at the table. As she took a seat, I fixed myself a cup of coffee. I looked at the doughnuts, gave in, and took a chocolate cake one. What the hell, if I was going to be fed a line of shit, I might as well have something sweet.

I took a seat on the other side of the table. The big boss insists that, desk jockeys or no, all of us who have permits carry. I had a Smith 9mm on my right hip and I was glad I did. My internal alarms were going off like an Okie tornado siren.

“Let me do one thing,” Amy said, as she put her bag on the table and reached into it. I pulled my gun and held it on my lap. Amy pulled out two boxes, each the size of two packs of cigarettes. She put them on the table, then she picked up one and pushed a button and set it to the left of her and near the centerline of the table. Then she picked up the second one, pushed a button and put it to her right.

“What-“ I stared to say.

“Just wait a sec or two,” she said.

There were little LEDs on the side of each box. They glowed red, first steady, then started blinking. Then they switched to blinking yellow and, in a half a minute or so, they were blinking yellow, then blinking green. A handful of seconds after that, both boxes were showing a steady green indication.

“What are those things,” I asked.

“Scramblers. You have the room wired, but the mics and the cameras won’t pick up anything.”

I had never seen anything like that, and I’ve dealt with some very high-end gear. Hell, we build some of it for the Three Letter Agencies.

“I’m sure our tech guys would love to look at one of these,” I said.

“If they tried to open it, the resulting crater would be about twenty yards wide,” Amy said.

I dropped the subject. “What do you want, Ms. Glesius?” I took a bite out of the doughnut and washed it down with some coffee. It was good coffee. A few of the big chiefs in the company were ex-squids and one thing the Navy was famous for was good coffee.

“Is there anything I can tell you that’ll persuade you that I am who I say I am,” she asked.

I shook my head. “You could have had one hell of a briefing, for all I know. So, what do you want?”

“My company needs a good detective. They want to hire you.”

I shrugged. “I don’t do much in the way of field work these days. And I work for a company. I don’t freelance. You’ll have to ask the front office, and if it’s something that the company might be interested in, they’ll ask me if I want to do it.” I saw her frown, a little, and I added: “I’m past the point where I say ‘yes, boss’ and go where I’m told.”

“You want to at least know what the job is about?”

“No.” I was going to say that I had no reason to believe anything that she might say, but I decided not to go there.

“All right, then,” she said. Amy picked up each of the boxes and pushed the same button on each one. The LED lights went out and she stowed them back in her bag. She slid her chair back to stand up.

I began to slide my chair back and, as I did so, I slid my gun back into its holster. I stood up and went to the door. Amy followed me, I showed her out to the reception area.

“We’ll be in touch. And it was good to see you again, Becca,” she said.

“Until later,” I said.

She nodded and walked out into the lobby.

I turned and saw that the receptionist was looking at me. I rolled my eyes, shook my head slightly and went back to my office.

It takes all kinds.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Project the Next: "The Ghost"

I have it done. I uploaded a draft to Amazon, so that I could then download it onto my Kindle for a final review.

Good thing, I'm 40% through it and found two mistakes.

It came in at 18,000 words.

I don't do outlines. I just start on a story and then the arc of the story and my imagination takes it where it goes.

It should be live in a few days.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Oops"- a Very Short Story

“Drop the gun.  Now,” I said.

The man opened his hand.  The automatic fell to the floor.  He kept his hands up.

“Kick it to me.”

He did.

I looked at him.  “What are you looking for?”

“Man, I’m not saying shit.  I want a lawyer.”

I looked at him.  I opened the cylinder of my Smith & Wesson and dumped all six cartridges into my left hand.  I put one back in and closed the cylinder.  I dropped the other cartridges into my jacket pocket.

“What were you doing here,” I asked.

“Fuck you,” he sneered.

I held the revolver somewhat sideways and pulled the hammer back about half-way with my thumb.  I spun the cylinder with my left hand, the gun made a rapid clicking noise.  Then I quickly pointed it at the man and snapped the trigger.  The trigger fell with a loud metallic clank.

“Hey, what the fuck!”

“What were you doing here?

“Man, you’re nuts!”

I repeated the process, spinning the cylinder and then pointing the gun at him and pulling the trigger.

“Jesus fucking God, man!”

“What are you doing here?”

“Christ, I’m going to sue you for every fucking--”

I repeated the process again.  This time, the gun went off.  The burglar fell back against the wall and then slid down to the floor.  He looked at me, coughed once, and then the light went out of his eyes.  He fell over sideways.

I kicked his gun back over to him.  I loaded my revolver with the other cartridges, taking care that the fired cartridge was under the hammer when I closed it back up.  Then I went over to the telephone on the desk and called 9-1-1.  I gave them my name, address, told them that I had shot an intruder in my office and that they needed to send an ambulance right now.  Then I hung up.

I squatted down and looked at the dead guy again.  His eyes were still open.  I felt for a pulse, knowing that he probably had none.  He didn’t surprise me.

I stood up and looked down at him.

“Oops,” I said.

Friday, January 24, 2014

More Kvetching about Kindle

I've been trying to figure out how to put an intent into the first line of paragraphs for Kindle. If I use a tab, then in some paragraphs, when Amazon reformats it, they put in two tabs. Or a tab and a space.

But if I try doing it with five spaces, then when Amazon reformats it, the process jerks out the spaces so the line is all the way to the left.

So, why not put in a double carriage-return between paragraphs, you might ask? Sort of like what you see here?

Ah, but then what happens is that most of the paragraphs will have double-carriage return, but some of them won't. And there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to when that happens.

I think I need to drink more. But then I've downloaded a few professional-grade books and even they have formatting errors.

Definitely need to drink more.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Kindle and Formatting

I'm trying to get smarter on formatting stuff for the Kindle. My test vehicle is Aluminum Rain.

But it's not much fun. I used to play with HTML a very long time ago, but it's far more complicated than it was back in the day. "Self-publishing", at least electronically, seems to be also a matter of book-binding and all of that.

No complaints, at least some folks have read them.