Search

Gypsy Spy: The Cold War Files

In Cold War Europe, a young intelligence operative is making his presence known. Learn his dark secrets and hidden triumphs in this new spy thriller.

Category

Vignettes

How to Build a Book Trailer Indie Style

Writers write. That is our wheelhouse. If you are a writer, you know the burden of story. An idea grows into a narrative that drives the imagination and begs to be written down. We sit before the blank slate and pour out words to frame the sequence we’ve dreamed—or so we hope. The angst of the writing process is proverbial.

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.” George Orwell[1]

“Writing is easy. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” Walter Smith[2]

Wordsmiths to the bone, these men aptly described the labor pains of birthing a brain child. I was with my wife when she delivered all seven of our children. Orwell’s observation comes close to the experience.[3] Like new parents, writers become authors only to find that their work has just begun. This is especially true for indie authors who must directly tackle multiple aspects of the publishing industry.

Marketing—that dark art of separating people from their hard-earned cash—has to be mastered if we have any hope of the world appreciating our beautiful child. Enter the flood of ad copy designs, book blurbs, e-commerce considerations, social media manipulations, and SEO coding. It can be daunting, but take heart. The creative marketing tools may not be in the top tray of the writer’s toolbox, but they most certainly can be found in the deeper bottom well.  The familiar framing tools all reside there giving weight to the crafter’s panoply: vision, narrative, story arc, intrigue. All these are essential in producing your book trailer. You had all these when you wrote your story. Let’s think through how to bring people to it.

Decide what type of trailer you want to produce.

Trailers come in all flavors, from coming-soon announcements to vignettes. Think about what you want to present. Do you want to tell people how the idea came to you? Then do it. Check out indie author Aiden L. Bailey’s trailer “What Is the Benevolent Deception.” Aiden used a decent camera with a good microphone and tools housed on most PCs: MS PowerPoint and MS MovieMaker. I did my Coming Soon video using a GoPro camera and GoPro native software. Start with what you have.

Dream through your visuals.

Authors work in the world of the thousand words that build a picture’s worth. Have this picture in mind when you go mining for your graphics, still frames, and footage. There are a host of royalty free content sites offering stock sound effects, audio, pictures, and footage. Two of my favorites are 123rf and Pond5. Aside from selection and ease of use, their terms are straightforward. Subscriptions aren’t required. You can buy in bulk or by piece. Pond5 even allows you to dial in your price range in your searches as well as the length of music and footage.

Drop the elements into your work environment.

Outlining and storyboarding are very helpful at this point. Regardless of your production software, having a roadmap for your trailer on paper will save you loads of time in assembly. Whether you are working out your transitions in MS PowerPoint or Adobe Premier Pro, having most of the sequence worked out will lend to better production flow. Knowing where I was going kept me motivated when I ran in to my inevitable ignorance obstacles. YouTube is your friend here. For great cinematography tips and Premier Pro technique tutorials, I relied heavily on Peter McKinnon, Surfaced Studio, and chinfat. You can click on their names to check out their YouTube channels.

Audio plays a critical role at this point, particularly if you’ve decided to add voiceover. I recorded a rough track (and I do mean rough as I had a nasty cold when I did it) read through of the Prologue to Gypsy Spy as a timing guide for the needed length of visuals and the transition placements. Once the sequence was set (and my voice was better), I recorded the read through again using my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Studio USB audio interface. The interface with microphone and headphones came packaged with Cubase Elements 6 software, which is what I use for the primary sound editing. I used this set up because it is what I had. You can probably get what you need with a decent iPhone at half the hassle cost.

If you shoot the footage using a GoPro camera, GoPro Studio (the app is free and fun to use) offers some great video editing features and includes a selection of free music you can use. I built most of Gypsy Spy Trackdown using this app.

Edit, Export, and Upload

Editing is as important for your trailer as it is for your writing. But don’t get stuck in a perfectionist trap. In our world of Facebook Live, Periscope, Snapchat, Skype, and YouTube people are consuming amateur videos by the millions. A little effort and a slight polish can go a long way here. If you use titles, captions, or graphics make sure they are error free. Have several people watch it before you upload it to ensure that the sound is clear and the sequence works.

Once you are satisfied with your editing efforts, export the video into a format usable on YouTube. MP4 works well here. Watch the video several times once it has been exported before you upload it. Sometimes things get lost in translation and what might have looked great in your video editor previewer may appear less than good in its final MP4 version.

Though there are other video sharing sites, not uploading your trailer to YouTube would be like not listing your book on Amazon. Setting up a channel is fairly painless and worth the effort. Once your video is uploaded, you can share the link on your web site, blog, Facebook page, etc.

Enjoy the Payoff

Though I’ve encountered anecdotal evidence from other authors on how book trailers have helped them increase sales, I have no empirical data to share on this score. Regardless, I see no downside. Even if the trailers didn’t help me sell books (which they have), I would do them anyway because they stretch and exercise my creative muscles. And above my considerations and concerns about their marketing use and value, I build them as a gift of gratitude for those who have willingly invested their time to live in my fictional world for a while. A hearty thanks to all those who have traveled with the Gypsy Spy!

[1] http://orwell.ru/library/essays/wiw/english/e_wiw, accessed on July 30, 2017.
[2] Often incorrectly attributed to Ernest Hemingway, the phrase is best ascribed to sports writer Walter Smith. See http://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/09/14/writing-bleed/, accessed on July 30, 2017.
[3] I say “close” because neither my wife nor I ever considered the process horrible.

Featured post

Covering Tracks

Skills, though hard-won, can still surprise in the full light of day. An idealized scene of father-son bonding time on a lake shore skipping stones seemed a bit schmaltzy for a spy novel. But sooner or later, don’t all fathers and sons enjoy a bit rock throwing together? This vignette comes from Chapter 5 of Gypsy Spy, “Lost in the Storm”. Covering one’s tracks in an urban jungle should be in every operative’s tool bag.

For the next thirty minutes, they rode in silence. The events of the day washed over Carlos’s mind in a whirlwind too fast for comprehension. Why had his father been there? What would they do with him once he was caught? Did Jane really love him as a son? His father made an abrupt turn into a dead end alley and parked the car. He told Carlos to get his duffel bag and step out of the vehicle. Once outside, Shane produced a boxed-end wrench from his pants pocket and removed the license plates from the car.

“Gather some stones, Carlos,” he said over his shoulder while he performed his task. Carlos did as he was told. Shane stood up and stepped away from the car. Once he felt Carlos had plenty of ammunition, he gave his instructions. “I want you to perform the tornado on the car,” he said.

“Why?” the boy asked.

“Do not question, perform,” Shane said sternly.

The tornado was the same as the cyclone with one differentiation. The cyclone was designed as a defensive and retaliatory maneuver. The tornado, on the other hand, was a totally offensive exercise. Carlos concentrated for a moment and then spun into action. The first things to go were the windows. Next, the lights and turn signal lenses shattered into countless shards. Then the side view mirrors were knocked off their moorings. Finally, the body of the car began to show damage. Within a few seconds, the car had the look of long abandonment and subsequent vandalism.

“I present to you two lessons, Carlos. First, remove your trail. Second, take a good look at the car. If you can inflict such damage on metal, then realize what your talent can do to flesh. If your wish is only to stun and not to maim or kill, then guide your missiles with a speed appropriate to your wishes. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” said Carlos, his eyes viewing the wreckage of the car, his mind seeing the blood on the school ground. “In control lies mastery,” he whispered, remembering the mantra.

“Exactly. Now, let’s go,” Shane said and started walking out of the alley.

“Where to?” his son asked behind him.

“We’ve a train to catch.”

This is the first book trailer video that I have produced. I used 123rf.com for the stock photos and Pond5.com for the music. Elements were created and assembled using the Adobe Creative Cloud (the learning curb has been steep!). Video production was done inside Adobe Premiere Pro. Some of the transitions didn’t translate into the mp4 format as well as I would have like (they looked better in my video previewer), but all in all I am very happy with the end result. I look forward to your feedback in the comments section.

Paperback and Kindle editions are available on Amazon.com.

Featured post

The Toothpick Tower

Assassins come in many flavors: the bitter poisoner, the earthy strangler, the smokey arsonist, the icy sniper, the hot bomber. Carlos de Leon, a.k.a. Rat-gêló, has the complex flavors of a magician. The slight of hand is sweet and sour, but the finish is usually sharp, sometimes spicy. His story begins as a child at play. As his journey continues, childish toys turn deadly. Enjoy this vignette from Chapter 14 of Gypsy Spy“Business”.

Alexandro Martelli eyed the hill wearily. Only three blocks to go, he thought. He pulled his handkerchief out and mopped his forehead. He couldn’t recall a February in Milan that had ever been this hot. He took a couple of deep breaths and began to tackle the hill. Martelli was not an old man, but the weight of the world and his corpulence made this daily ascent grueling. Penance he paid for his life’s pleasure, he thought.

That his was a blessed life, he had long believed. His parents weren’t poor when they married. But they were frugal. With a home full of love and all of life’s necessities, they had instilled in him a strong sense of stewardship, fairness, and levelheadedness. They supported him all the way through his scholastic career until he earned his degree in business.

After he finished graduate school, he went to work for his uncle, helping him manage his small restaurant. He was excited to be able to put into to practice what he had been taught. He was elated to see that his suggestions to his uncle improved the profitability of the business. It was while working in his uncle’s first restaurant that he found his two great passions in life: fire arms and Sofia Gilano.

One of his duties when he began working was making the bank deposits. As the business grew, so did the deposits. He felt uncomfortable carrying such large amounts of lira without protection. He purchased his first pistol, a .45 caliber which his cousin swore had belonged at one time to an American officer who had served in Italy during the Second World War. From the moment it was placed in his hand, he was hooked. For the first time ever, he was comfortable enough while making the deposit that he didn’t feel the need to constantly look over his shoulder. It made noticing the new teller all the much easier.

Sofia Gilano was wearing an emerald green, silk dress on that day. It clung to her willowy form as she moved about the bank in search of money wraps to better organize his sizable deposit. Her thick, brown hair fell freely off her back as she bent down to pick up one which had fallen. As he accepted the deposit slip, he lost his soul in her deep, gold colored eyes. He watched her full lips move as she said something which he could not hear. Going to the bank became a religion, Sofia his altar of worship.

He held few delusions of himself. He knew most people did not consider him physically attractive. He had a short neck and was not tall in stature. His eyes were large, almost bulging; his lips thin and nearly nonexistent. Even at that young age, he had been slightly overweight and balding. But he knew his heart, and his heart was good. He faithfully went to Mass, was devoted to his parents, honest in his business, kind to strangers, and charitable to the poor. He had a gentle humor and a deep intellect. He knew that the person he would want to spend his life with would be able to see all his qualities in spite of his personal appearance. After a year of deposits, Sofia saw. Within six months of her enlightenment, they married.

When his uncle opened the second restaurant, he gave Alexandro an increase in wages. His earnings were modest. Still, he was able to pay the bills, save a little of money, and have a bit left over for flowers for Sofia and once in a while, a new gun. Sofia never liked the guns. They were warring mistresses. She accused him of swaggering with them, like John Wayne. The idea of him trying to walk like John Wayne always put Alexandro into hysterics. His laughter seldom improved her argumentative moods. “They’ll be the end of you,” she used to say. But Sofia loved him, if not the guns. She suffered his indulgence.

Two years after their wedding, Sofia gave birth to Giovanni. Alexandro discovered quickly that his earnings were now meager. He confessed his concerns to a new found friend—a weapons wholesaler, as the man called himself. He offered Alexandro a part-time position. All he had to do was receive and inspect merchandise. After the first year, he was delivering it. After the second year, during which Benito was born, he was selling to men with whom his friend, Michel Jugaro, put him in contact. By the time Gorgio was born, Alexandro was fat, financially and physically.

He became a full partner with his uncle. They expanded the business into five restaurants: a full-fare family restaurant, two small pubs, a sidewalk cafe, and a singles bar. He managed both of his businesses well. He made wise investments. He began to forget his frugal youth and hungered for greater riches. He informed Jugaro that he wished to be able to move more inventory. Michel told him that there was only one way possible for that to happen; he had to be indoctrinated. What he had suspected, what he had feared to be true, was now dangerously close. But he pushed forward. Michel informed him who his real clients were.

At first, he felt he could handle it. After all, he wasn’t a communist insurgent like the Red Brigade. Neither was he an underworld criminal. What they did with the weapons he sold them was not his business. But it was. In his heart, he knew it. And he had lived too long listening to his heart to deceive it now. He began to die. The joy he had taken in supplying his family with the best things in life became empty. Their prosperity was watered with blood. His guilt was amplified by the excitement he felt in completing the very deals he believed to be morally wrong. He couldn’t continue. He didn’t dare stop. He was disgusted with his own weakness.

He entered his uncle’s restaurant, the original one, the one in which they served whole families. Its ambience always warmed his heart. Here was honest accomplishment. Here were the good old days. Within these walls, he would allow himself the luxury of forgetting the illegitimate side of his life. Pietro, his cousin and now head chef, stuck his head out of the kitchen to greet him. No need to place an order. Pietro knew what he would eat: ravioli with plenty of marinara sauce, a half loaf of garlic bread, and a salad to finish him off. The waiter brought him a bottle of his favorite red wine and a healthy glass. Alexandro always poured for himself.

He sipped his wine and took in the lunch crowd. Several of them nodded greetings to him. He gave them a smile. The atmosphere was that of a wholesome neighborhood. People here knew each other. People here cared for one another. He didn’t know the young man seated at the table in front of him. An out-of-town business man perhaps? he wondered. The stranger was dressed in a dark, two-piece, silk, pinstripe suit. His dark face was clean shaven. His black hair was slicked back and pulled tight. Alexandro suspected a pony tail. It was the fashion of the youth these days. A small, gold loop earring hung from his left ear lobe. No rings adorned his fingers, no watch his wrist.

With his white shirt starched stiff and his red tie pulled tight, he looked all business. Except, he was involved in a childish endeavor. Two boxes of toothpicks stood open before him. He would pull a toothpick out of each one, alternately, and stack them on the tower that was forming on the table. Alexandro became transfixed with the grace and speed of his placements. He remembered how, as a youth, he had passed the time on rainy days by building castles with flat toothpicks. He would glue them down with a paste his mother made with water and flour. But this man had no paste, and his toothpicks were round. Amazing.

Alexandro leaned forward to get a better look at the edifice taking shape on the table before him. The young man looked up and smiled. The smile entranced him. Near perfect, white teeth gleamed at him. The man’s beauty was painful. Alexandro looked into his ice blue eyes and knew they contained no mirth. It was retirement day. He could not fathom how he knew. But he knew.

The man flicked his fingers out in a fan. The tower disintegrated. Alexandro’s world went into slow motion. He sat frozen as he saw the toothpicks, each one in individual and extreme clarity, fly toward him. A relentless stinging began as they bit into the tender flesh of his neck and face. Involuntarily, his hands moved to the discomfort in his neck. In doing so, he dislodged the tiny projectiles embedded in his jugular veins and carotid arteries. His blood began to flow. That bright and beautiful smile loomed before him as he died. He was free of his guilt. He had been liberated from his love of riches.

Stories are for sharing! Thank you for liking this blog and sharing it with your friends!

The Flute Maker

Spies live in mortal danger of being discovered. Espionage thrillers are coiled around the tension of the cat-and-mouse chase. The protagonist frequently fills both roles at various stages of the story, at once the lethal predator and cheese connoisseur. We often see our hero being pursued by law enforcement and enemy agents. But how often have we seen spies chased by agents of the Holy Spirit? “The wind blows where it wishes,” Jesus told Nicodemus. “You hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from or where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The following scene comes from “Confrontations” – Chapter 37 of Gypsy Spy.

He stationed himself on the west side of the building. Here, the trees held their ground; a spot of wildness in the city. The grounds of the condominium were laid out like a pastoral park. Manicured lawns were laced with slate-paved walkways which led to wishing wells and park benches. Nineteenth century lampposts gave light to midnight strollers and atmosphere to romantics. But all this finery crumbled away at the edge of the forest. Manicured lawns gave way to tall grass and tall grass to tight thicket. Carlos hid himself a few yards in front of the tree line in a cluster of wild hollies. From his vantage point, he tried to catalog all the security activity on the side of the building he planned to attack.

Security rounds were performed every two hours on the hour by non-uniformed guards. First, they would walk around the entire building making sure that all was locked and that nothing was amiss. Then, usually in pairs, they would stroll through the park on the lookout for vagrants or misfits. It took them twenty minutes to complete their task. He figured that the best time to try to approach the building was right after their rounds were done. They would feel most secure then and less alert. The challenge lay in crossing the one hundred yards of open ground without being picked up on camera.

Two cameras were positioned on each face of the building between the first and second floor. On his third day of surveillance, after some much needed rest, he did nothing but pay particular attention to the motion of the cameras. On each side of the building, the pattern was the same. They would sweep in toward each other and then sweep out. Each full sweep took fifteen seconds to accomplish. Positioned as they were on either side of each corner of the building, this meant that a camera blind spot developed during a portion of the inward swing. Carlos estimated that the blind-time window was no greater than four seconds. Once the opposing camera swung in enough, the ground left uncovered by one would be in view of the other and vice versa. It was useful information, but it helped little. Even if he could line himself up perfectly with a corner of the building, he would have to run a hundred yard dash in four seconds not to show up on camera. Impossible.

Nestled once again in his hedge of hollies, he considered his dilemma. Once he got to the building, getting to the third floor was rudimentary work. Each floor had balconies which would serve him as steps to achieve his goal. And the security system was designed to keep undesirables from approaching the edifice. Once at the face of the building, he would be behind the sight-line of the cameras. But how to get to the building? The west face was still his best approach and he would have to maximize on the four second blind-spot on the southwest corner. One of the wishing wells was in that line of sight and he could use it to his advantage. The movement of branches caught his ear, distracting him from his investigation.

He looked over his shoulder and saw an old man heading toward him down a small trail that cut into the woods. If he keeps on his present course, he will come within feet of me, Carlos thought. The boy considered burrowing himself deeper into the thicket, but thought better of it. He was in a hollow space in the midst of the tightly knit hollies and felt sure that he was well concealed. Someone would have to be looking for him to find him. But just in case, he kept his eye on the old hiker. Clothed in heavy, black pants and a black dress jacket, he was dressed warmly for the hot summer weather. Carlos felt sure that the man must be sweltering. But his square face, framed by wild grey hair with a peppering of black, looked calm and cool.

As the man came closer, Carlos was able to make out more details. He had on a pair of well-worn military boots which hadn’t seen polish in decades. His hands clung to a book strap slung over his shoulder. A bleached white shirt shone past the black jacket like a beacon and showed no signs of sweat. The man seemed to glide over the path, glide straight to Carlos. He was prepared to bolt should the man take note of him. It would not do to have a witness get a good look at him. The closer the man came, the more apprehensive Carlos became. One rock, he told himself, one rock and the threat would be gone. He scratched around in the dirt and found a missile of adequate proportions. Come on, he said to himself, come a little closer, old man. He could hear his heart hammering in his ears. His pores opened up in a flush, drenching his body with sweat.

The man came on. Carlos held his breath. The vision of the man terrified him. Throw the rock, a voice inside his head said, get rid of him. By the time his wrist was cocked, the man had stopped at the edge of the holly bushes. “Be still, fear not,” the man said. His command had instantaneous effect. Carlos felt the rock fall out of his grasp. His body shook and his heart raced. Run, run, RUN! The voice cried out in his head. But his heart clung to the old man’s words. Fear not, fear not, fear not, he said to himself, making it a personal litany. “It’s a crying shame,” the man continued in French, “I used to play in these woods as a child. I hid in them, as you are doing today, during the Nazi occupation. Now, another building sits atop my memories. Cain built the first city, you know. I have yet to visit one that failed to have the heart of the Devil in it.”

Now is your chance, the voice told him, he’s not even looking at you. Get away now, he’s dangerous to us. “Be still, lad,” the man said. “Those cameras can see deeper than you suppose.” His comment distracted Carlos. He turned to look at the cameras he had been watching all day. When he turned back, the man was gone. Where? A rustle of branches and the old man broke into his sanctuary of thorns. He sat cross-legged under the low canopy of the bramble. Carlos kept his distance, unsure of why the man terrified him so. The old man slung the book strap off his shoulder and revealed a bundle of short bamboo stalks. He undid the buckle and the bundle rolled apart. Carlos watched in fascination as the man picked through them and selected the one he wanted. Carlos recognized the form of the handmade flutes now as the old man brought one up to his mouth.

He breathed into the flute through pursed lips and sweet music poured out of the bamboo. The watery sound captured Carlos’s mind. He rode on each bar like a sea gull on a stiff breeze. As the recital continued, he could scarcely keep a smile off his face. The world and its worries fell away. Nothing existed except the music. It needed no meaning. It was sufficient in itself. The joy of the song lifted his heart and watered his eyes. Then the breeze ended. The man placed the flute in his lap. Why did you stop? Carlos wanted to ask. But he found himself dumb. What was happening to him?

“You feel it, yes?” the man asked him. Carlos looked at him and was pierced by his eyes. I’m naked, he thought, I’m naked and this man knows it. “Music has power, child,” the man told him. “It always has. Everybody knows it. But no one cares to admit how deeply it can affect a person or an entire society. Wagner understood, as did Bach and Beethoven. But I doubt that their audiences understood the impact of their work. Tell me, have you ever heard of King Saul?” Carlos thought for a moment. Jane had exposed him to several anthologies of Bible stories. He recalled little about King Saul, but the name was familiar. He nodded yes. He didn’t dare utter a word; fearful that if he did, the man would melt away like his other apparitions.

“Good,” the man said. “You see, Saul was a good man and a fair general. But on one particular mission, he disregarded the orders of God Almighty. Not a wise undertaking for any mortal man. Because of his disobedience, God removed from him the anointing of the Holy Spirit and sent an evil spirit to torment him. This spirit would seize him with terror and his servants took note of it. They asked their king for permission to search out a man who was cunning with the harp to set the king’s heart at peace. He granted them permission and they in turn found David. And it came to pass that when the evil spirit afflicted Saul, David would play on his harp. David’s skillful playing was powerful enough to keep the evil spirit at bay. It set Saul’s heart at peace, as my music did you.” Carlos gave the man a quizzical look. He had missed an important point. What was the man trying to tell him?

“Spirits are most powerful inside people, my friend,” the man said. “Environments, music, and words can combine to make the thoughts which become the avenues for them to walk into your mind and do as they will. They bind you and drive you to do that which you would not. Then they tell you that it was your idea all along. My music is just a bandage, a pacifier. The cure lies in removing the cause. When you desire to be free, my son, call upon God. He will answer your prayer.” Carlos watched as the man gathered his up flutes. Bandage? For what? Even as he tried to recall the old man’s words, they were disappearing from his mind. How can I be free when the world has bound me to my course? he asked the man’s retreating back. Who are you? Where did you come from? he wanted to ask. But the old man was gone like a wind. Forget him, the voice said, you’ve got work to do.

A Wedding in Bilbao

Weddings are much anticipated, joyous occasions. These nuptials were that and much more. Propelled by love and political expediency, bride and groom hoped to bring peace to a troubled region. This vignette is your invitation to a front-row view of this momentous event, which comes from Chapter 12 of Gypsy Spy, “Dead or Alive?”

The cars rode in proud procession through the streets of Bilbao. Some of its citizens lined the streets out of respect. Others hid at home out of fear. A few looked on out of curiosity. Fewer still were planted strategically in the crowd to keep the peace. Members of the Herri Batasuna, the People’s Unity Party, filled the limousines. Today would mark a glorious triumph, a master stroke of political ceremony. One of their own, a colonel in the renowned Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuma, the ETA, was marrying a Borbón. A minor Borbón, to be sure, but royalty nonetheless. It would not give them independence. It would not bring them immediate peace. But it would offer them leverage where none had existed before. Their political force would be brought out into the open, more in the public eye.

The entourage arrived at the cathedral without incident. A local police contingency that was staunchly loyal to Madrid kept a respectful, but watchful, distance. Car doors snapped open. Soldiers of the Basque liberation poured out and stood guard in front of the church. Party members followed and entered the cathedral, forming a protective phalanx for Colonel Alvarez Colón Zamora; Basque patriot, separatist, warrior, terrorist, murderer, sheep herder. Their man of the hour. He stepped out of his limousine and walked slowly into the church, thankfully accepting his destiny. He was no longer a young man. He now had a chance at not only a second family with children of his own to rear, but also an opportunity to bring lasting justice to his people.

Not long after, a smaller cavalcade made its way to the church. Upon arrival, Spanish soldiers poured out of the sedans and took up positions similar to those occupied by the Basque guards. The bride, dressed in an elaborate white wedding gown with more layers of lace than solid material, and her family stepped up to the cathedral doors. The young woman looked at the ornately carved door through her white veil and breathed deeply. Her wedding may be unorthodox, but it offered her cousin, King Juan Carlos I, a hope for a united Spain. It also gave her a chance to consummate her love for a man she knew foremost as a gentle father and simple shepherd.

Her father pulled her back away from the doors and her bridesmaids filed past. She felt, rather than heard, the pipe organ kick into action. Its deep notes rumbled in her chest and did little to settle her heart. Her father offered his left elbow and she grabbed hold with her gloved hand, clinging to it for strength. On shaky legs, the girl of eighteen and her father began their walk down the aisle. She was surprised by the number of people in the church. The closer she got to Alvarez, the faster her heart pounded. He smiled at her, dimples appearing on his leathered cheeks. His stocky frame seemed to want to burst out of his tuxedo. She could almost smell his virility. Tonight will be a memorable one, she told herself.

He answered the priest’s questions by rote, his eyes never wavering from the face of a child he had grown to love. Her father used to bring her with him when he purchased sheep from Alvarez. At that time, even though his first wife was still alive, he had felt a strong attraction to the young teenager. Maria had been more than sympathetic toward him after his wife’s death. Their love had grown. Today it would be sanctioned by God and the King. Not that Alvarez had ever let their disapproval impede his endeavors. Their candle lighting finished, their vows complete, he lifted her veil and kissed her tender young lips. Neither of them could wait to get to their honeymoon cabin in the Pyrenees.

With the approving witnesses cheering them on, they walked out of the church. The sun was unbearably bright after the dimness of the cathedral. Just when Alvarez grew accustomed to the light, the rice began to fall. He blinked against the grainy onslaught and saw a face in the crowd. He looked harder and smiled, his heart bursting with joy. Then the rice began to sting unbearably. He kept his hand before his face in an attempt to protect it while keeping an eye on the figure he had spotted. But his hand, and then his arm, did not provide adequate protection. The rice continued to fall in a stinging barrage.

Maria felt a strong pull on her arm. She tried hard to keep her balance, but lost. Bride and groom tumbled down the last half of the stairway and landed in a heap on the sidewalk in front of their waiting limousine. Soldiers of the Basque liberation rushed forward. Policemen kept the groaning crowd back. By the time Alvarezes’ guards reached them, Maria was on her knees and screaming hysterically. They soon saw why. Alvarez’s face was swollen, disfigured beyond recognition. His eyes were bulged and rolled back with only the whites showing.

Three of his trusted brothers-in-arms tried to hold him down in an attempt to control his convulsions. One had the mind to scream for a doctor, but it was no use. Alvarez spasmed once more and lay still. One of the guards took off his jacket and laid it over the groom’s face.

Maria Elena Borbón y Castillo de Colón, member of the royal family, supreme optimist for peace, lover of a shepherd, married at eighteen, was now a widow five minutes after the ceremony. In her shock, all she could think of was that she looked awful in black. “Está muerto, está muerto,” someone in the crowd nearest to the scene began to cry. The police and Spanish soldiers, despite their feelings for a “known” terrorist, contained and detained the crowd. Cause of death and possibility of foul play had to be determined. None would be allowed to leave the church steps until some questions had been answered.

But some had already left without permission, taking with them a few wallets, purses, watches, bracelets, and rings that they hadn’t brought with them.

“Would you slow down?” Diego asked. They had already traveled twelve blocks at a fast trot. Carlos showed no signs of slowing his pace. Diego felt compelled to grab hold of the other boy. If they continued running, he thought, they were sure to be stopped. Carlos spun on him, fist raised, eyes panicked wide. Diego ducked the oncoming blow and pushed them both into a wall. “Javier, it’s me. We can’t keep running,” Diego said, holding the boy to the wall, waiting to see reason return to his friend’s face.

“We need to get out of the open,” Carlos said.

“Come on, follow me,” Diego turned them off the broad avenue and into the tight streets of an ancient neighborhood. He took them straight to a lot which a year before had contained a dilapidated building. The city developers had knocked down the hazard, but had not filled in the basement storage units. The boys clambered through the debris into the ground. They sat in the darkness, the sound of their breathing filling the air about them.

“Do you have a cigarette?” Carlos asked. Diego shook one out in the direction of the voice and felt the cigarette slide out of the pack. They both lit up. In the flash of light and the glow of the cigarette, Diego could see the tear tracks on Javier’s cheeks. But his eyes now looked vacant, the irises a cold steel.

“Did the man’s death frighten you?” Diego asked. Carlos’s cigarette burned brighter as he inhaled the smoke. He wouldn’t look Diego in the face.

“No,” Carlos said rubbing his eyes. Diego leaned forward to get a better look at him.

“Did you have something to do with that man’s death?” Diego asked.

“I had everything to do with his death.” Carlos could still hear the woman’s screaming, could still see Alvarez’s stare.

“You mean . . .”

“I killed him,” Carlos said, cutting him off. He tossed his cigarette on the floor and stomped it out, becoming a shadow in the dark. Diego took a long time to comment.

“Why?”

“I thought I had a good reason. I’m not sure now.”

“What was your reason?”

“In the apartment in Barcelona, I found my father’s files.”

“The suitcase?”

“Yes, the suitcase. I’ve been studying them for the past two weeks. Whoever killed my father took my life also. I want to find them. In order to find them, I must make them believe that my father is still alive.”

“And your father had planned on killing this man?”

“Yes.”

“Why?” The question hung in the air. Carlos searched deep for a moral answer. The man was a terrorist, a threat to Spain. Alvarez had killed plenty himself. His time was up. Justice had to be served. But the truth forced itself past his lips.

“For money,” he said.

“And you had a problem with begging,” Diego said. Carlos saw the boy’s smile. The world is an insane place, he thought as Diego’s grin caught on to his own face. “Can we go home now? My father will have our hides.”

“We’ve only been gone two days. Besides, we told him we were going on an excursion.”

“I know. But he fully expected us to stay in the area. Alfonso will be coming tomorrow.”

“That is what your father told me two weeks ago. Tomorrow never comes.”

“It comes,” Diego said. “But Gypsies get to determine when.”

 

Every Hero’s Sidekick

It takes two to tangle. Robin Hood had Will. Tom hung with Huck. Butch rode with Sundance. Don Quixote and Sancho, Ibn Fahdlan and Herger, Alatriste and Íñigo, Paul Atreides and Duncan Idaho – these friendships are epic. Carlos de Leon has Diego. Following are a couple vignettes of their growing friendship from Chapter 8, Among Family.

In the Park
Diego led them into the milling crowd. They made a circuit about the whole area before he chose his spot. Under the shade of a modest fountain, he knelt on the cobblestones. He extracted a rolled newspaper from his back pocket and laid it out before him. He then repositioned himself onto the newspaper. How it was accomplished, Carlos did not know. But kneeling on the cobblestones, Diego appeared to have been amputated just above the knees. His scene set, Diego began to beg. Carlos stayed close but tried to appear unconnected.

Diego remained in his spot for two hours. By that time, he had collected a hefty sum of pity plus change. Carlos observed that he was careful to gather all his money, scoot back off the newspaper, roll it up and then stand. He supposed, and rightly so, that it would not have appeared correct if an obviously healthy boy were to be seen gathering offerings off the paper.

“What do you think?” Diego asked him, shaking the strain out of his bound legs.

“How did you do it?”

“Practice,” Diego answered with a smile. “There are other ways to beg, though. Look pitiful enough and you won’t have to appear handicapped.”

“I’m not sure I follow,” Carlos said.

“You know, put on a sad face. Put on the mask of the destitute and extend your hand.”

“You mean, like this?” Carlos said, putting on what he considered his most pitiful face and extending his hand. Before he could retract his demonstration, someone dropped a coin into his hand.

“Yes, like that,” Diego said. Carlos was startled. He could never remember Jane giving money to beggars on any of their excursions. He could remember her telling him not to encourage their way of life by giving them what they asked for. “If they want money, they can work for it,” she had said. He had wondered then whether or not truly destitute people existed. And if they did, didn’t they deserve, if only because of human kindness, any handout they received? To beg when one could work was immoral, he reasoned. He dropped the change on the ground and informed Diego of his opinion.

“You wish to work for your money?” the other boy said as he picked the change off the ground. “You haven’t known work until you’ve begged all day.”

“I’m serious, Diego. You took the pity and hard-earned money of people by deceit. That money could have gone to someone who really needs it.”

“Believe me, I need it and my family needs it,” said Diego in a serious tone. “You simply do not understand our life. But if you insist on working for your money, follow me. I have a job for us.” With a straight back and the first purposeful stride Carlos had seen him exhibit, Diego led them out of the plaza and headed west…

…“Are you an orphan?”

“Yes,” Carlos answered softly.

“An orphan who cannot go to the authorities for help must survive by his own wits. Are you still convinced that our way is immoral?”

“I thought you brought me here to work for my money.”

“I did. I need you to distract someone while I pick his pockets.”

“This is your idea of work?”

“Believe me, it is no easy task.” Carlos considered Diego’s suggestion. He finally reasoned that he couldn’t get into any more trouble than he was already in. What was begging or picking pockets once you’ve killed someone?

“Do we have to go into the station?”

“No, we can do it from the park. We can wait behind the bushes you were standing near earlier. When a good mark comes along, I will point him out. When he gets into the park, put yourself in his path and beg. If he pays you no heed, then you become very obnoxious and demanding. While he is dealing with you, I’ll take what I can find. Sound good?”

“What if he pays me heed?”

“So much the better. We’ll get his money freely. Then we will pick another mark. What do you think?”

“Let’s get on with it,” said Carlos, feeling resigned to his fate of an outlaw.

“Travelers usually carry a fair amount of cash with them,” Diego explained as they sat on the ground, hidden from view of the station by the boxwoods. “Look at that one,” he exclaimed in a whisper.

“The lady with the big hat?” Carlos asked.

“No, behind her and to the left coming this way. The man in the brown suit,” Diego said, pointing. Carlos looked in the direction his friend had indicated. A short, stout man was crossing the street. His suit was a dark brown and appeared to be silk. The sun glinted off his highly polished, pointed brown boots. He was impeccably dressed and his hair seemed groomed by a salon. Not one black lock moved out of place as a breeze gently swayed the leaves in the trees above. It stayed combed back and flat on his round head. “See that briefcase? Snakeskin,” Diego breathed. “And look at the rings he is wearing. Looks like our mark.”

“Where do I go?” Carlos asked, getting excited in spite of himself.

“Wait until we see where he enters the park. We’ll follow him in for a little while. Then you can break off and get ahead.”

They waited, holding their breaths. The man came in on the sidewalk to their right. His stride was fast and full of purpose. Diego waited a few seconds and rose. The boys headed out after their quarry.

A quarter of the way into the park, Diego gave Carlos a little nudge. The boy headed off into the trees on the left and silently ran ahead. He came out onto the cobblestone walkway about a hundred yards ahead of the businessman. He put his back to a tree, stuck out his hand, and waited. The man walked within a foot of him and didn’t even spare him a glance. Carlos felt suddenly indignant. Once more, he ran ahead of the man, this time in the open. He planted himself in the businessman’s way.

“Please, sir, I am an orphan. Just a little money, please,” Carlos said, genuinely feeling his plight. The man sidestepped him. Carlos matched his pace, increased it, and got in front of the man once more. He almost walked over him when Carlos stopped. “Help a needy child,” Carlos pleaded.

“Get out of my way and get a job,” the man said contemptuously. Behind the man, Carlos could see Diego only two steps away and running. His mind screamed “No!” Diego came in low and made a snatch at the briefcase being held in the man’s left hand. Carlos was too startled by Diego’s bold action to act immediately. The move didn’t faze the businessman for a second. His right hand came out of his suit pocket and made a slash at Carlos’s left shoulder. Five inches of menacing steel passed under his eyes.

Even as his mind became a detached observer, his extensive training took control of his body. As the man made his back slash with the knife, Carlos caught the wrist with his right hand and twisted the arm. He stepped back, extending the man’s arm, and slammed his forearm into his opponent’s elbow and felt it give. He heard the switchblade clatter onto the cobblestone. He kept twisting on the arm while he pushed forward, grinding the joint.

Diego had failed in his attempted grasp. The man had pulled his arm back as Diego had grabbed it. Ignoring the pain in his right arm, he swung the heavy case in an arc over his back. He felt it collide with flesh. The blow caught Carlos in the head, making him let go of the man. He stood dazed for a second. His vision was blurred. He shook his head. The man was standing in front of him. His left foot, encased in a sharply pointed boot, was coming off the ground and heading for Carlos’s groin. Carlos blocked the kick with a downward swing of his right arm. Spinning on his right foot, Carlos swept the man’s remaining support with his left leg. As the man fell, Carlos delivered a backhand with his left fist to the bridge of his nose.

The man hit the cobblestone full force. His head bounced off the ground, then lay still. Diego grabbed the briefcase and ran. Carlos stared at the violence he had caused, transfixed. The man’s right arm was bent in an unnatural angle. His nose was flattened and oozed blood onto his pale face. He had accomplished this. It was his handiwork. He crouched over the man and felt a pulse in his neck. At least he is alive, Carlos thought thankfully. A whistling sound broke into his thoughts. He looked up and realized that he had a sizeable audience. Sensing his danger, he ran, plowing through two people who tried to stop him.

Within moments, he caught sight of Diego just as the boy darted into the trees. He increased his pace as best as he could on the small trail in an attempt to catch his friend. Diego broke out onto the street on the southern edge of the park. Carlos was close on his heels. Within a block, the boys were running side by side. Their young legs pumped for blocks. Carlos was beginning to feel light-headed. Sweat dripped from his brow into his eyes. He wiped his face with his left shoulder, but it did no good. His shirt was slick and wet. He shook his head to help clear his eyes. His legs were nonexistent. His lungs were on fire.

Diego dodged into an alley. Carlos followed suit. Halfway down, Diego stopped in front of a large, roll-up door. Diego bent down and managed to pull up the door high enough to allow then to crawl in. Squeezing in under the door, Carlos began to feel the pain in his left shoulder. He gritted his teeth in order not to cry out. Diego pushed the door down behind him and thus shut out all the light. The boys sat in the darkness and caught their breaths. “Come on,” Diego said a minute later.

A flash of light momentarily blinded Carlos. Its sudden appearance startled him. He closed his eyes loosely for a second and opened them again. The match flame was moving ahead of him. He rose and followed it tentatively. He noticed the downgrade of the pavement beneath him. He felt the presence of the concrete giants that were the supporting columns of the high-rise. Deeper under the earth they went. He caught up with Diego just as the other boy was making his way through a hole in the wall. Carlos followed him into the foundations of the next building.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑