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

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Stephen Hawking Begins Training

Steve found his room in a building several blocks away from the cafeteria. The room was on the fifth floor of a building that looked functional. The door outside of the room had his name embossed on it. He opened the door and went inside.

To call the room “spartan” would be overstating it. There was a single bed, a desk and a chair. He tested the bed and was not surprised to find that it felt heavenly. The desk had a lamp. In the single drawer was a few sheets of paper and a stylus. He tried the stylus, it made a black line on the paper. He thought about a different color ink and drew a red line. He put down the stylus.

The view out of the single window was of another building. Navy-blue blackout curtains could be pulled across the window. There was a flush lighting fixture in the ceiling, controlled by a switch by the door.

Then Steve noticed what wasn’t there. No mirror, no sink, no bathroom, no outlets, no telephone and no lock on the door. The last made sense, what was there to steal and who would steal it?

He heard a slight ding and turned to look. There was another piece of paper on the desk. It read “Report to Intake Training, Room 348.”

OK, he thought. Now to find it. He went down the stairs, still marveling that he could do that unaided. Across the street there was a sign that indicated he should go to the right to find the Intake Training Center. At each corner, there was a sign.

Steve walked along. The streets were not very wide, he had not seen a single vehicle of any kind. There were people walking along it, a goodly number, but he had no idea what was the population density of Heaven. It was quiet, almost too quiet. There was no mechanical sounds whatsoever. No animal sounds. It was like walking in the biggest church ever. He looked up. There were no clouds. The sky was sort of a diffused bluish. He turned his gaze back towards the ground. There were no shadows. It really felt otherworldly. Or afterworldly.

He found the Intake Training Center. Clearly, nobody here gave a thought to aesthetics. It was the most boring building he’d ever seen. It had all of the charm of a packing crate. Room 348 was on the third floor as the French figure it. For Steve, it was the fourth floor. The room was small. In it was a chair and a waiting angel. “Be seated,” the angel said.

Steve did so. “This is individual training,” he asked.

The angel laughed. “Not hardly. Look around you.” The side and real walls vanished, Steve saw rows and rows of people sitting in chairs, people of all descriptions, all wearing simple white robes. The walls then reappeared. “I’m talking to everyone, but as far as you’ll perceive, I am talking to you. Heavenly multitasking. If you have a question, ask.”

“How long are the sessions?”

“As long as you can take it. I’ll know when to stop. I’ll also know what you want to ask, but at this point in your existence here, the convention is to wait for you to ask it. Unless I see the need otherwise. Ready?”

Steve nodded.

“First off, let’s discuss lying. That’s a human trait. Everybody on Earth lies to some extent. Don’t do it here. Your fellow residents, for want of a better word, may be fooled, but management isn’t. We keep track. Do enough bad things and you get sent down for a time to reflect. Maybe you’re allowed back, Maybe not. You’ll find that most of the other sins and Commandment violations aren’t possible here. Lying and taking The Boss’s name in vain are possible. They’re not looked upon kindly.

“Now, miracles. There will be things that seem miraculous to you, at first. They’re the way things work here. So, they’re not considered miracles to us. In the universe you left, there are perceived and unperceived miracles. Unperceived miracles are when we need to correct or modify reality. Perceived miracles are to remind people of the Majesty of The Boss. We don’t do as many of them as we did during the Wars with the Old Gods.”

“They were real? Odin, Zeus, Apollo, Neptune? They existed?”

“Yes, but not in the way that you think. Human society was too primitive to deal with the concept of just one god. You needed a lot of gods to explain how the world worked. But as human society matured, the old gods became redundant. Zeus wasn’t throwing thunderbolts, Aries wasn’t fomenting wars. But the beings who played those roles didn’t like losing power, even if all power came from The Boss. People needed convincing.”

“The fifty plagues, the Parting of the Red Sea were really miracles?”

“Indeed. We had some debate about the Slaying of the First-Born, but The Boss thought it was necessary and Thy Will Be Done.”

That brought another point to Steve’s mind: “Is The Boss male?”

The angel shrugged. “The Boss is above such distinctions. The Boss appears to people as they believed in life. Your society believed in Him as a man, so that is how He would appear to you. If you had sincerely believed that The Boss was a woman, that is how She would appear. If you were Hindi, The Boss would appear as a man with four arms and blue skin. If anyone sincerely was a Lovecraftian, It would appear as a giant creature with a head like an octopus.”

“What are ‘unperceived miracles’?

“Things that we need to do in order to maintain a rational Universe. You’ll learn a lot of them later on. A good example is neutrinos. Everything would have worked fine without them, but humans theorized about them and the Review Committee agreed that it was easier to have them, so we created them.

“Oh yes, before you ask. The Review Committee examines sentient theology and science and decides whether or not to make those ideas and concepts reality. For example, the Big Bang. A steady-state Universe would have been too hard to maintain once human instruments got better. And it was kind of in line with the Creation Myth, so it was put into effect by Divine Edict when Creation was begun.”

“And how will the Universe end? Will it keep expanding forever or will there be a Big Crunch?”

The angel shrugged. “It hasn’t been decided.”

“What are dark matter and dark energy?”

At this, the angel looked embarrassed. “We didn’t make enough stuff for the Universe to work the way it does. As of now, they are essentially an ongoing miracle, or, if you prefer, a Divine fudge-factor. We’re working on it, but whatever it will be, it has to be consistent with what came before.”

What about ‘the standard model of physics’?”

“That’ll work until it doesn’t. You physicists examine smaller and smaller particles by a childish method of smashing them up to see what they’re made of. It’d be like trying to discover how an engine works by hitting it with bigger and bigger hammers. What they find has to make rational sense. The Universe worked well when the various elements were the smallest things that existed. But if we can’t sustain the standard model, then we have to be ready to replace it with something that works better.

“It’s the same for cosmology. As humans make more powerful telescopes, some of the theories begin to fall apart. We’re working on what will be revealed when really powerful telescopes are deployed on the far side of theMoon.

“All right. Now, everyone up here has a job. Everyone’s job is important to the functioning of Heaven and of Creation. You’ll be assigned to a position that the staff feels is best suited to your abilities and your record on Earth. If somebody has a spotty record, as your friend Al, they have to prove their reliability. When you’ve finished here, however long it takes, you’ll receive your assignment. With me so far?”

“I do have a question. What eventually happens to us, to souls?”

“Everyone wants to know that,” the angel said. “Some move on to work as angels. Not many, our ranks were pretty full before humans began walking the African savannah.”

“Wait a second. The savannah, not the Garden of Eden?”

The angel smiled. “You know better. We needed a story, a legend. Something that would be understandable to primitive pastoralists, a few generations away from being hunter-gatherers, people with no written language, with no concept of evolution.

“The operating principle is nothing is forever, other than The Boss and maybe his counterpart down below. It’s like your concept of black holes. Eventually, souls fade away. Or evaporate. You won’t find too many souls from homo erectus. Generally, a few millenia or so, and souls get tired. They go when they’re ready and the Boss knows when.”

The angel looked at Steve. “You’re tired, so go rest. Come back when you’re ready,” he said.

Steve nodded. He got up, left the room and went back to his quarters. When he walked into his room, it appeared to be dark out, even though it was light as he walked down the street. He was too tired to even remark on that.

His head was asleep when his head hit the pillow.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Stephen Hawking Wakes Up

Steve Wakes Up

Steve opened his eyes. The first think that he noticed was he wasn’t wearing glasses. He appeared to be lying on his left side in a meadow. He could smell the grass. It felt warm. The sun was shining, but it wasn’t hot.

Then he noticed that it was quiet. He couldn’t hear a ventilator, the sound of which had been his constant companion for a very long time. He was breathing on his own. He tried taking a deep breath and was able to. Then he tried holding his breath for a few seconds. His body was responding to his commands.

Steve laid there for a time. He didn’t feel hungry, tired or thirsty. He felt peaceful. There was nobody bothering him or around him; no attendants or family. He was alone. But he didn’t feel lonely.

After a time, he felt a twitch in his right index finger. He tried to move it and it felt as though it did. He moved all of the fingers on his hand, then rotated his wrist. It felt as though it was working. He raised his arm and moved his hand into his field of view. He moved his fingers, clenched and unclenched his fist. It all worked.

Then he turned his attention to his feet. They felt the way that they did when he was a child, before he got sick, decades ago. He put his hand on the ground and pushed himself up to a sitting position. His toes wriggled as he moved them. He brought his hands together and then clapped them. He didn’t know what sort of dream that he was having, but it was the best one, ever.

It was only now that he became aware that he wasn’t wearing any clothing. Not a stitch. He had not a single scar from any of the medical procedures that he had had during his life.

Dare he? He took a breath, pursed his lips and blew out through them. Then he cleared his throat and said: “Hello? Is anyone there? Is this real?”

From behind him, he heard a voice. “It’s real enough. Get up on your feet, Bub.”

Steve pushed himself to his feet. He hadn’t stood up, under his own power, in over half a century. But he was standing. He hopped a couple of times, then took a short jump. If there was music, he might have tried to dance. He slumped his shoulders and then threw them back into a military posture. Everything worked.

Then he turned around and staggered at what he saw. Before him stood what appeared to be a man, dressed in all white. Shimmering white, actually. It was almost so white as to hurt his eyes. The man wasn’t overly tall or short, average height, average build. Then Steve noticed that there was a shimmering circled of gold hovering about six inches over the man’s head. At the man’s waist was what appeared to be the hilt of a sword, but there was no blade.

“Are you an angel,” Steve asked.

“Yes, and before you ask, yes, you are dead.”

“ Am I in Heaven?”

The angel shrugged. “No, and you’re not in Hell. This is Collection.” He pointed towards a line of hills in the distance. “Walk that way. You’ll come to a road. Go to the left and follow it to Processing. You’ll find out what’s what when you get there.”


“Start walking, Bub,” the angel said. He turned and moved away. He wasn’t exactly walking, more like floating a few millimeters above the ground.

Steve started walking.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Stephen Hawking Has His First Lunch in Heaven

Steve Has Lunch

The first thing that Steve saw was a series of cafeterias, all of which indicated that they served different national cuisines. He went into one at random and similarly selected some food. He had no doubt that it would be nothing short of excellent.

Of course, there was no cashiers. Money didn’t exist in Heaven. As he left the line, he was hailed by a gray-haired man at a table.

“No, it can’t be,” Steve thought. But he went over anyway.

The man stood up and indicated that Steve should take a seat. As Steve put his tray down, the man said: “Hello, Steve, I’m Al” and he stuck out his hand.

Steve shook it and said: “I thought you might be. Nice to meet you.” As though he needed an introduction to the man who was the most famous physicist of the 20th Century. He noted that while he himself was wearing a plain white robe, Al’s robe had orange sleeves.

“It’s nice to see another physicist. I just got here a few days ago, myself,” Al said.

“A few days ago,” Steve echoed. “I thought you died sixty years ago.”

Al shrugged. “I did. But I was in a holding area. You might call it ‘purgatory’, but it was basically a processing center.”

“I didn’t know anything about any of this. How does that work,” asked Steve.

“They call it ‘Holding’. That’s where they put souls whose final disposition is in doubt. They stay there until The Powers That Be make a decision. And they aren’t in any rush. I met a Sumerian there.”

“What happens there?”

“They decide what to do with you, really. Was your life righteous enough to get into Heaven, evil enough to send you to the place that we call ‘Hell’, should you get another chance, or should you just stay there and reflect on your life’s work. And I should mention that being absolved by some religious figure for your sins counts for nothing. In point of fact, religious piety while perpetrating evil deeds gets you sent to Hell even faster.”

“I’m trying to take this all in. I didn’t believe in any of this,” Steve said. “God, Heaven, an afterlife, none of it.”

Al nodded. “By the way, we don’t use that name for Him. We refer to Him as ‘The Boss’. I understand your reaction. I didn’t believe in The Boss as a celestial judge or architect, so it was a bit of a shock to find myself in Holding.”

“Why where you there,” Steve asked.

“It was that whole atomic bomb thing. The support I lent to the Manhattan Project and that letter I sent to the President. The pursuit of knowledge is a noble thing. What one does with it is quite another.”

“And your fellow physicists on the project? What happened to them?”

“Bobbie Oppenheimer is still in Holding, what happened to him and what he did after they tested the Gadget counted for something. Ed Teller, well, he got sent down. Some others got another chance.”

Steve pondered that. “What is this ‘other chance’ that you mentioned?”

Al ate a little and then said: “You might call it reincarnation. Your soul gets wiped of all knowledge of your past and then you get to try again. Your native gifts, such as intelligence, don’t get wiped. But sometimes your past leaks through. That’s where the ‘past lives’ stuff comes from.”

It was a lot to take it. Steve hadn’t believed in a lot of what he was hearing. “But you got through.”

Al didn’t look pleased. “Not entirely. These orange stripes mean I’m on a tight probation. I do whatever they want me to do, with a smile. And there is no faking anything here. They know what’s in your mind, in your heart. You can’t fake sincerity.”

Steve looked puzzled. “You said you’ve been here for a few days. How have you learned all of this?”

“In Holding. They’re nothing if not forthright with the challenges one faces. Souls who come here directly don’t get all that information. They don’t need it. They get cured of all infirmities, all physical disabilities, they’re basically reset to their prime for mental abilities. Nothing is added, in that regard. You get a job commensurate with your abilities. If you’re a good soul, you do what you can. If not, that eventually reveals itself and down you go.”

Steve gestured towards his meal. “And this? Do we really need to eat?”

Al laughed. “No, it’s mostly for the new souls, to help them become accustomed to being here. You’ll find out that you don’t urinate or defecate, the waste products just...disappear. It’s sort of a minor miracle, I guess. It’s a tradeoff for not having to install sewage systems.”

Steve laughed. “I can’t imagine what heavenly poop would be like.”

“Me either. Anyway, go. You should find your room and then check in at your job.”

“And my tray and dishes? Where do I take them?”

Al pulled them across. “Leave them to me. It’s part of my job.”

Steve stood up and offered his hand. “It was nice to meet you.”

Al shook it. “You, too. Be good.”

“I shall.”

Steve left to find his quarters.

Stephen Hawking in Heaven

So I had this idea: What if Stephen Hawking went to Heaven. What would happen? What would he do?

This is a part of that tale. This is when he reports to his new job:

Steve at Work

Steve found a note in his new room that informed him that he was assigned to the “FCB” and that he was to report there forthwith. The note had a map on the back of it. He followed the map to a very large building. He had never seen a structure so vast. There was a sign across the front door that read “Firmament Control Bureau”.

This should be interesting, he thought. He went inside, where there as a sign directing new workers to Room 12. There, he found an angel sitting at a desk. “Hi, Steve,” the angel said. “Take a seat. Call me Fred.”

Steve did and observed the angel’s desk. It was covered with paper and scrolls. The angel made a gesture and they all disappeared.

“I suppose you’re wondering what we do here,” Fred said. “We build and maintain the firmament. The stuff that humans see when they look up. The majesty of His creation.”

Steve was struck by that he could hear the capitalization of the pronoun referring to the Almighty. But then he was staggered by a thought. “You mean that the night skies are a decoration? Heavenly wallpaper?”

Fred sighed. “Yes, and it was my idea. I convinced The Boss that it would remind humans of the wonder of Him and also keep them aware of their place in the Universe. That they were insignificant specks living on a pale blue dot in the heavens. He liked the idea and He put me in charge of it.

“It was easy, at first. Some planets, some distant stars, some nebulas. Once we got it all built, it didn’t take much of a staff to maintain it. We’d send a few comets by, some shooting stars, blow up a few distant stars now and then for a show. Easy enough.

“But then you humans got curious. You built instruments. We had to make the firmament more detailed, more mysterious. The nebula became galaxies and those had to be maintained. The comets had to come from someplace, so we built the Oort Cloud. You hypothesized the existence of black holes, so we built them. We didn’t make enough stuff for it to all work by your calculations, so we had to throw in dark matter and dark energy.

“So what we do here is stay ahead of the curve. We take top people to do that. It was Jimmy Maxwell who figured out that the act of creation, which you call ‘the Big Bang’, would leave a microwave signature, so we created that, knowing that somebody would eventually look for it. Look behind you.”

Steve turned around. The wall behind him vanished. He could see row after row of desks, so many that they disappeared in the distance, all occupied by people in robes.

Fred said: “There are six levels. We’re going to add more. And this is where you’re going to work.” The wall reappeared, Steve turned back around.

“What am I going to do, here?”

“You’re going to work in the Multiverse Prevention Office.”

“I don’t...”

Fred slammed his hand on his desk. It made a sound like a thunderclap, Steve jumped at the sound.

“Do you have any idea how much work we’ll have to do if there are other universes? The amount of work involved will make the FCB as it exists now look like a construction trailer at a building project on Earth. Even now, we’re expanding because we can’t have the Universe as it is without life in it. You humans keep making better instruments and we have to ensure that what those instruments detect is consistent with the Laws of Nature that He has established. There will be other inhabited star systems with intelligent life, which mean we’re going to have branch offices running them.”

Fred sighed. “You know, we could have avoided all this. There were once just a few colonies of humans living in caves on the African coast. Some of us told The Boss that He could just delete them and start over. But others said that humans would be manageable, so here we are.

“Anyway, Joan is your section head. She’ll show you where you’ll work and introduce you to your team.” Fred gestured, Steve turned around and beheld a somewhat sour looking woman in a white robe. She didn’t have a halo, but her robe was nicer than Steve’s.

“Get to work.” The papers reappeared on Fred’s desk. He unrolled part of a scroll and picked up a stylus.

Steve had been dismissed.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Editing Sucks

I'm editing the secone Lena Smirnova book, "Blood on the Range." I wrote the first draft ten years ago. I had it printed out and "comb bound". Over a lot of years, I've marked up the draft.

And now I'm editing it into a digital version. Once I do that, I should figure out how to take that and make it Kindle-friendly, with a chapter index. Or I just may say "fuck that noise" and put it up as a single mass of text.

At my current pace, I should be done next year. Maybe.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

The Jamokan Affair

I've ripped up about a third of the draft, going back to when Baker first arrives on Jamoka. I didn't like where the story was going. It may end up there, anyway. Sometimes, it seems that the story controls and, like a tree being felled, it goes where it wants despite how you cut the base.

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.