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

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Reading Material!!

I wasn't 100% happy with the previous book, Orders of Battle. The first six books in the series were, basically, stand-alone books. Sure, it was all a continuing story arc, and each successive book built on its predecessors. But it wasn't a hard requirement to read the previous books, and each book told the complete story. The 7th wasn't. I'm hoping that this one wraps up that story.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Back At it?

I finished the first draft of a second Smirnova novel in 2013. I wasn't really satisfied with it, so, after printing it out, I set it aside.

Now, I'm getting back to it. This time around, I'll figure out how to fully format a Kindle book, with chapters and shit like that there.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Yet Another Project, Chapter 3

I didn’t return to the office. Rather, I drove to Georgetown University’s campus in northwest D.C. I wanted some information on the current staff of the Norwegian embassy. It might have been available at the local library, but it was an excuse to have lunch at the Au Bon Pain restaurant. It was kind of fun to see the contrast between the yuppies who went there and the panhandlers outside. And it was a change from the greasy-spoon grade diners that I tend to gravitate towards.

The school library had some reference works on the local diplomatic corps. I copied the photos of the top level players at the embassy. Hauger was listed as the Assistant Counselor for Fisheries. He evidently didn’t have enough pull to rate having his photo in the reference books, or maybe he didn’t want to.

The embassy itself was on 34th street, just off Massachusetts Avenue and pretty much across the street from the Naval Observatory. Not having a Mass. Ave. address probably meant that the embassy wasn’t officially on Embassy Row, if I cared about such things. At least the address on the invitation matched up to the embassy’s address.

I learned enough to be somewhat surprised. Norwegian Liberation Day was supposedly not that big a holiday; they folded the celebration into their Constitution Day, which was several days afterwards. But they were going to have this bash for some reason. Maybe the Ambassador was going to be out of town the following week, or there was some larger diplomatic function set for the same day. Didn’t matter to me.

When I returned to the office, I consulted my address book and then dialed a number in Kentucky.

“Special Agent in Charge’s Office,” a youngish woman’s voice announced.

“This is Sam Hawkins. Does SAC Yates have a minute to talk?”

“Hold on, sir.”

I listened to about two minutes’ worth of mindless instrumental music.

“This is Yates. Talk to me.”

“This is Hawkins. Some Norwegian spook named Jens Hauger wants me to check out some guy who works for them. Yaacov wants me to take the job. I just want to find out if that’s kosher with the Bureau.”

“How do you know Hauger’s a spy,” Yates asked.

“His business card said that he was the chief security officer, but the public profile for the embassy says that he’s a fisheries official,” I said.

“When do you need to know?’

“By the 8th. I’ve been invited to a function there that evening,” I said.

“I’ll be in touch.” Yates hung up.

* * *

Three nights later, I was sitting in my car, parked down the street from the embassy. A small but steady stream of people were going into the embassy. Yates had called me back that morning to let me know that the FBI had been aware that Hauger had been looking for a private detective and that they had no problem with my taking the case. I had mentally added “at this time” to Yates’s assurance. Things can change and when they do, the bureaucracies in this town have a memory hole that makes the one in 1984 look benign.

I started up my car and moved it to a legal parking place, then locked it up. I wasn’t terribly worried about it being stolen. First off, the car had a manual transmission. Second, this neighborhood was as well-patrolled as any in the city. You would see more cops pass by in a day her than a resident of Southeast DC. would see in a month. And let’s just say that more than the city cops kept an eye on things around and near embassies. It would not go over well if the attaché at a legation was mugged.

There were two men at the door. They smiled and were dressed well. But they were hard guys. Their suit coats were well-tailored and they did a very nice job of hiding their pistols. If I had to guess, I’d guess they were packing Glocks, which were the issue handgun of the Norwegian military. For once I had left the sidewalk, I left American soil.

One of them held a clipboard. “Good evening, sir, may I see your invitation and your photo ID,” he asked politely. I handed them to him. He checked the number of the invitation against the list and then my ID. He handed my license back to me and then nodded his head towards the door. “Enjoy the reception, Mr. Hawkins.”

“Thank you.” I went inside.

The party was inside of a room that was probably the formal dining room. It was larger than any home dining room, but probably quite a bit smaller than the State Dining Room in the White House. People were conversing in several languages, including Russian. That made sense, for the Red Army had liberated northern Norway. Even though Norway was now part of NATO, the Norwegians had never forgotten being freed from the Germans by the Russians. Most Americans didn’t know that. Hell, I didn’t until I had looked up this Norwegian holiday.

I suppose that the party was a nice one. I wasn’t there long enough to have a drink. A young woman intercepted me and showed me to a small conference room. On the table were some trays with finger foods. Next to the food were several bottles of liquor, wine, as well as ice and some bottles of water. The room itself was rather tastefully decorated. She told me to help myself and she left me alone.

I cracked open the top of one of the bottles of Poland Springs. I was pretty sure that they didn’t drink that brand in Oslo, but it’s probably a pretty stupid idea to ship bottles of water across an ocean.

I heard a door open and turned around. Two men came into the room. One was Hauger. The other man was better dressed. I recognized him.

“Mr. Hawkins, I’d like to introduce our ambassador to your fine nation,” Hauger said.

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Hawkins,” the Ambassador said, sticking out his hand.

“The pleasure is mine, Your Excellency,” I said. The Ambassador had a good handshake. I blinked for a second as his accent registered with me. “You’re from Boston?”

The Ambassador smiled. “No. But I majored in economics at BU and then got a masters in international relations at Harvard. Which’s why my government has season tickets for the Red Sox and the Celtics.”

I grinned at that.

“Jens tells me that you may be able to help with a little problem that we might have,” he said.

“I presume that’s why I was invited,” I said.

“Good. Well, I’ll let the two of you talk for I need to get back to the reception. Nice to meet you, Mr. Hawkins.”

“Nice to meet you, sir,” I replied. We shook ands again and then the Ambassador left out the door that I had come through.

“Let’s go to my office, if you don’t mind,” Hauger said.

I made a “lead on, McDuff” gesture. Hauger took me through some hallways to an office. The office had an outer area with a secretarial desk that was not occupied. Hauger’s office was not tiny, he had a wooden desk and a small conference table. He gestured to a chair and I sat. He pulled up one on the adjacent side.

“Are you hungry,” he asked.

“I can eat,” I said.

“Do you have any preferences,” he asked.

“As long as it’s not alive,” I said.

He smiled at that. There was a multi-line telephone on the conference table. He picked up the handset and punched in a few numbers. When whoever answered, Hauger spoke rapidly in Norwegian and then hung up. Or I presumed it was Norwegian. I didn’t know.

“Before we get into it, I’m guessing that you’re the Station Chief or Resident or whatever the term is for the boss spy,” I said.

He smiled. “How do you know that I’m not the head security officer, as it said on my business card?”

I shrugged. “If you were, you’d have gotten someone from the State Department’s diplomatic protection folks, or maybe the Secret Service or the FBI to come by to visit me. But you got a CIA agent to pay me a call. I figure it was professional courtesy from one spook to another.” I paused. “Or maybe one of the game wardens, if you’re really the embassy’s fish czar.”

Hauger smiled. “Why do you wish to know?”

“I like to know whom I’m dealing with.”

Hauger was about to say something when there was a knock on the door. A young woman brought in a serving tray with two wrapped submarine sandwiches. She set a bottle of water in front of me and a bottle of beer before Hauger. She and Hauger had a brief exchange, again in Norwegian, then she left.

We each took one of the subs. I unwrapped it and then looked at Hauger.

“Philly cheese steak,” I asked.

“You expected a herring sandwich, perhaps?” He had a merry tone in his voice.

“Or lutefisk?”

Hauger shook his head. “I’d have to really dislike you to do that.” He took a bite of his sandwich and sighed. Contentment.

I took a bite from mine. It was good, the embassy cooks used good beef.

“Anyway, how about answering my question,” I asked.

Hauger had taken another mouthful. He finished chewing it and then washed it down with a sip of his beer. The beer probably was Norwegian, the writing on it was foreign and the name on the label was one that I’d never heard of.

“I can rely on your keeping this confidential,” he asked.

“You can’t make a living in my line of work by blabbing confidences, So, yes, you can,” I said.

“All right.” Hauger drank some more beer. “Without going into details that don’t matter, I work for my government’s version of MI6.”

“Not he Norwegian version of the CIA?”

“No,” he said. “Your CIA is nothing more than an oversized clone of MI6. The British refer to the CIA as their cousins.” He took a breath and then added: “And when the British refer to your CIA as ‘their cousins’, the word ‘retarded’ is implied.”

I had no answer to that. I concentrated on eating the sub.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Yet Another Project, Chapter 2

Two mornings later, a seriously unremarkable man came into my office. His last name was Yaacov. He worked for the CIA.

“Yaacov,” I said.

“Hawkins,” he said. “Buy you a cup of coffee down the street?”


I stood up. In one step, Yaacov had reached my set of hangers on the wall. He pulled my suit coat off one of the hangers and handed it to me. He wasn’t being polite, he was checking the weight of it to see if I had a tape recorders in the pockets.

“You’re carrying a revolver, now? I thought you were a 1911 man,” he said, referring to the Army Colt automatic pistol.

“I was.”

“Why’d you switch,” he asked.

I pulled on my suit coat. “Too many problems.” I came out from behind my desk,

Yaacov stepped through the doorway. “There are better functioning .45s,” he said.

“What, you’re moonlighting for Shooting Times, now,” I said.

Yaacov snorted. We went down the stairs and out to the street. There was an elevator in the building, but it was so slow that you could time the intervals between floors with a calendar.

As we walked, Yaacov reached into his suit coat and extracted an envelope. I glanced at it; it had the same coat of arms embossed on the outside as Hauger’s business card. I put it in my pocket, rather than try to open it while walking down a sidewalk.

“What’s this,” I asked.

“An invitation to a reception at the Norwegian embassy three days from now. It’s to commemorate the 48th anniversary of their country’s liberation from the Germans. Attire’s business dress, so wear a nicer suit, if you have one. Leave the gun, the embassy’s their soil and they don’t take kindly to people bringing guns into their embassy.”

We went into the coffee shop, ordered our coffee, and sat at a table to drink it.

“You want me to take the job,” I asked.

“We’d like you to consider it. There’re folks in The Company who would regard it kindly if you did.” Yaakov looked bored, as though whatever answer that I might give was of no concern to him.

”And the FBI,” I asked. I didn’t have to explain to Yaakov that the FBI has been known to be displeased when the CIA runs operations on American soil,

“They know about it,” he said.

I nodded. I didn’t have to tell Yaacov that I’d check that out. Yaacov was, after all, a CIA agent. When it came to lying, they made congressmen look like rank amateurs. He knew I’d make some calls.

Yaakov also didn’t ask me to let him know whether or not I decided to take the job. I took that to mean that he’d hear about it. Maybe from Hauger, maybe from another source. He just said: “See ya.” Yaakov stood up and walked out of the coffee shop, taking his coffee cup with him. He was a careful man.

I finished my coffee and then strolled back towards the office.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Yet Another Project; Ch.1

This is one that I've been working on for awhile:

Chapter 1

I was sitting at my desk in my cubbyhole of an office in Tyson’s Corner. There was a nice, hot cup of coffee on the desk. I had my feet up. I was reading the Washington Post. I try to pay attention to the local political shenanigans, not because I’m a political junkie, but out of professional interest. When there is a serious political feud going on, people get interested in digging up deeply buried scandals. They want to find the skeletons that are so far back in the closet that they’re in old garment bags. It helps if I keep abreast of who is gunning for whom.

Digging up dirt is part of what I do. I’m a private detective.

The receptionist buzzed me to let me know that I had a client. My cubbyhole is in the offices of another private detective. She, in turn, shares a receptionist with three other offices. Two of them are new lawyers who had recently hung out their shingles; the third is some guy who claims to be a “financial planner”, which is probably some new breed of confidence artist.

I swung my feet off the desk and told her to send the client in. He was tall, pale, and white, with semi-short hair that was trending from blond to grey. “Good morning, my name is Jens Hauger,” he said.

I stood up and shook his hand. Hauger was wearing what appeared to be a reasonably expensive suit which gave him a European air. If he was armed, he concealed it well and the suit would have had to have been custom-tailored for it.

“My card,” he said, and proffered it.

“Have a seat,” I said, as I did so, as well. I looked at the card. It was appropriately thick and embossed. It said that he was the Chief Security Officer for the Royal Norwegian Embassy. I guessed that was the Norwegian royal coat of arms on the card.
Hauger reached into his inside suit coat pocket. The right side top drawer of my desk was open, a Ruger Security Six .357 Magnum was in it. My hand drifted towards the drawer.

His eyes twinkled a little as his hand came out holding some folding money. He placed that on my desk and slid it over towards me.
“Consulting fee,” he said.

I picked it up, four $50 bills. I put them back down.

“How may I be of assistance,” I asked.

Hauger began to reach for his jacket pocket again. This time, he pulled out a photograph and two small sheets of paper. He handed them to me. The photograph was a copy of a consulate ID card for a Peter Haupmann, who was forty six years old. The papers had details about Haupmann.

“Who’s Haupmann,” I asked.

“He works in our financial affairs office. He’s essentially a liaison between my government, Norwegian and American banks and your banking industry regulators.

“Sounds like a German name,” I said.

Hauger nodded. “Correct, Mr. Hawkins. But to answer your unspoken question, the war was a long time ago.”

I was skeptical. The war was a long time ago for Americans, but Norway had been an occupied country. Children with bitter memories of the hard times, both during and after the war, would be Haupmann’s age, maybe a few of years older. Stories would be told and handed down from generation to generation- How the Germans Shot Uncle Jan Johansen, and so on. Europeans were far better at holding on to their history than Americans. There’d be no forgetting.

“How does a German end up working for the Norwegian Crown,” I asked.

“Because he’s not German. His mother was Norwegian. She came to the States after the war. She later married an American banker. Haupmann went to Yale University and the Harvard School of Business.”

“So he’s an American?”

“Dual citizenship,” Hauger said. “Norwegian citizenship is conveyed at birth through the mother. His mother raised him to speak Norwegian as well as English. He spent a year of high school in Norway on an exchange program.”

“If you don’t mind my getting down to it: What’s the job?”

Hauger sighed. “I fear that something is wrong in his personal life. It may be something serious, something that could pose a security threat to my embassy or my country. But I have no indication that he is corrupt or has been turned by another nation.”

“You have a feeling?”

Hauger paused for a second. “Yes, a feeling. Haupmann is a valuable staffer. If I open a formal investigation, even if nothing is found, there will be a stain on his reputation in my country’s diplomatic service. It will damage his career and we might lose him to a banking house.”

“Where he would make a lot more money?”
“Yes, very much so.”

I mulled it over. “I would have trouble getting into his finances, you know.”

Hauger shook his head slightly. “I can get you signed releases from Haupmann.”

He looked at me. I looked back at him. Hauger was patient. No surprise, for he was either a policeman or a spy. Maybe both. Those trades teach patience.

“No,” I said.

“ ‘No?’ Why not,” Hauger sat back in the chair, looking slightly puzzled.

“I don’t doubt that Haupmann’s who you say he is. But I don’t know who you are.”

“I have my passport and embassy ID,” he offered.

I shook my head. “Passports can be fixed, business cards can be made by any print shop and I wouldn’t know what a genuine Norwegian Embassy ID looked like.” I picked up the money he had dropped on my desk. I took a fifty and tossed the rest back across the desk.

Hauger looked at the bills and made no move to pick them up. “I have already accounted for the expenditure,” he said, as if to himself. He looked thoughtful, probably thinking over what he might say to persuade me to change my mind.

He stood up. “Good day, Mr. Hawkins.”

“Good day, Mr. Hauger,” I replied.

Hauger nodded his head once and left my office. He had left the rest of the money on my desk.

Sunday, April 28, 2019


Not this, by the way:

Being older than dirt, I remember when "brands" were names such as Hershey's, Levi's, Proctor & Gamble, Maytag and so on. But now, a "brand" is everything. The esteemed law firm of Boyd, Dewey, Cheatham & Howe is a brand. And so, it seems, am I.

The "experts" say that a brand should post frequently. I didn't post anything at all in 2018 and this is #3 for 2019.

So I guess I get an "F" for self-promotion. Which, in a way, suits me. I'm from both a time and an area of the country where self-promotion was deemed to be beneath an honest person. Self-promotion was the domain of used-car dealers and storefront loan joints.

Of all the things in life I'm not good at, I can take this one.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Chapter Seven of "The Jamokan Affair"

That's the title that I have settled on, for now.
I followed Sheila Ellis out of Holmes’s office. Ellis was maybe 5’6” and appeared to be Asian. I don’t know the differences between the different nations of East Asia to be able to tell where she or her people were from. Didn’t much care.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Medical,” she said.

And Medical was where we went. They had a nearly-complete copy of my medical record already. I was inspected, injected, detected, infected and made to drink some pretty vile stuff. They ran me through some sort of whole-body scanner. Then it was off to dental, where they fixed two nascent cavities. The tech said that my teeth were discolored enough for the outer worlds, which didn’t sound like a compliment.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Writing Fiction; Social Responsibility or Self-Censorship?

I like to write fiction. For various reasons (health, family, other projects), I haven't been doing a lot of it recently. But I keep thinking of story ideas.

Here's the issue: What if I come up with a great idea, a method of doing X, with "X" being a crime of some nature, that, as far as I know, has not been written about, much less attempted. What if, as I envision it, X all hangs together? It would not be a perfect crime, as in either undetectable or one where the perps cannot be proven to have done the crime.

But it might work, as in the perps would be able to pull it off. Do I write it up and publish it somewhere. Do I have a moral responsibility if somebody takes that idea and tries to use it, not for a story, but for a crime?

I kind of, sort of, think that I do. Which is why I have ideas for stories that will never be hammered out on a keyboard. I might commit them to paper, but in the traditional "ink on paper" sense, not in the "type into a word-processing program" sense. But you, Gentle Reader, will never see them. At least, not from me.

For those are the times that we live in.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


I've got two novels underway. Recently, all I've managed to do is reread and revise what I've done. I'm not making any real headway on either.

On the other hand, it's not as though I've been making any serious money at this.

Anyway, Happy Holidays. And follow the Bangor Rules.

Friday, June 30, 2017

More SF

Points of Impact, the sixth book in the series, can now be pre-ordered.

It's due out in January, so if you haven't read #1 through #5, you have time.