Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Rules of Engagement

In December 2011 I started something called Writers' Rules of Engagement, aka WRoE. I set up a personal challenge to write according to a series of rules I created and posted them on a Facebook group page. I invited any writer friend who wanted to try it to tag along. 

A few joined but soon, folks were wanting to change the rules to suit themselves. It wasn't designed for that. I did pretty good at sticking with it for the first six months in 2012. But the challenge to the group fell apart and I  lost sight of my own goals. The group continued meeting online and while I found I was talking about writing a lot, I wasn't writing a lot. 

In November 2012 my NaNo novel took a nose dive because I simply had no interest in the story but I recognized that some of my inertia was because I had stopped writing and the desire to write had waned. That scared me.

I got very sick in February 2013. It took me six months to recover enough to think straight. During that time I realized I was wasting time talking about writing. This was not acceptable. 

Lesson 1. Talking about writing isn't writing. Reading about writing isn't writing.

With that thought in mind I virtually smacked my head and went looking for my guidelines. Yes, I'd actually written guidelines. I couldn't find them anywhere. The Facebook site was long gone and they'd been posted there. The new group site, well, I hadn't bothered because no one was actually interested.  So, I'd abandoned them. 

Lesson 2. Never abandon your ideas just because others don't share you vision.

A couple of times in the following year I searched for a copy of the guidelines. As November approached, I forgot about them in the hectic time that is NaNoWriMo. After NaNo was over, my friend, Doug and I were chatting.  We both won NaNo this year and amid our congratulations, we commiserated over our inability to be more productive at other times of the year. Doug is a talented guy but his writing life is filled with challenges: a job and a family with four teenagers. I think he has some hobbies in there, too. We discussed ways we could improve our writing the rest of the year. We decided to start a plan to hold each other accountable. 

As we talked I knew it was going to be hard for both of us. We decided to set a goal and then meet online once a month to check in and we'd give an account of how the past month had gone. We would discuss problems and how to resolve them. We'd try and limit the discussion to one hour.

When I I finished NaNo four days early I'd begun to revise an old novel. It was amazing how writing actually made me want to write. It was far more effective than talking about writing. It energized me. A month of NaNo had pumped up my desire to actually write.

Tonight WRoE came to mind again. As I looked again for my guidelines, I had this light go off. I Googled my email and there it was, attached to an email I'd sent to someone. Probably someone else who didn't like them. 

I pulled down the guidelines and reread them. I was surprised to find that I still liked them. However, over the course of the last two years I've learned somethings about myself and my writing. I recognized the need to revise. So, I set to it. 

Lesson 3. Always review your writing and revise as needed.

I realized what the biggest problem is with WRoE. It is hard to do because it requires real commitment. That wasn't going to change. Still I revised. While the core of the plan remains the same, the excessive wordiness has been trimmed down. I reordered the rules to flow better. I suspect I'll cut some more of the chaff eventually but for now, I'm satisfied with my restructured plan. It is still hard and not for the faint of heart.

Still, I'm ready. I'm going to start over. I've got my guidelines in hand and I'm doing it. I'm setting goals and scheduling time to write. I'm going to work on a single project and make every attempt to finish it in 2014. 

Lesson 4: Challenges are by nature hard. If they weren't, they wouldn't be a challenge.

*********************************************
Oh... you want to read them?



Thursday, September 26, 2013

Giving Your Stories Away

I've been contemplating different kinds of publishing options simply because one is expected to if one writes. I don't know when or if I'll be officially published. I remember how excited I was when I got my first blog. Even though no one actually read it much, I was just tickled about it. So, these days my thoughts run to more official publishing... or creating another blog, or revamping an old one.

I ran across an article I found interesting on one of the blogs on my list, The Blood Red Pencil. The link is in the title. The author discusses e-publishing, in particular, giving away copies of your novel for a week. For her it appears to have been a good idea. So, I'll file it away for future consideration... should I need it.

In a post following the above post, Sense of an Ending the author discuses different types of endings. It is a short article but again, it was informative and I think I'll file it away for reference.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Running Out of Time

Today my small writer's group met at the mall. At our meeting last month I provided three photos for everyone to look at and  then asked them to choose one and write about it for 20 minutes. We had a good time doing it. This month, one of the other members brought several photos for us to use to do a writing exercise. We didn't see the photos until we drew one. You could exchange it if you felt you couldn't write about it.

At first I wondered what I'd do with the photo I got. It was so bizarre and unrelated to anything I had ever written or was likely to write. But I believe that challenging yourself in your writing is important. Write about something you don't normally write about, even if it is experimental. You never know what you'll come up with but every time you write something, you'll learn something about the process and about yourself. I was quite pleased with my little story.

Running Out of Time

Harold tried to hurry through the checkout line but the elderly lady ahead of him was certain that the clerk had made an error in her bill. She insisted that the girl go through the twenty items on the counter and check the totals. 

He shifted from one foot to the other, rolled his eyes, and gave a loud sigh, looking around at the growing line behind him. Other people were mimicking his behavior. At some point someone would likely say something but his need was much more urgent. He dare not be away more than an hour. Timing was everything and one minute over would be a disaster.

Finally, the lady nodded, handed over her money, one dollar at a time until she counted out thirty dollars and then a series of nickles that amounted to ninety-five cents. She toddled out of the store, pushing her cart ahead of  her.

A collective sigh rippled through the line and Harold gave the clerk a tight smile. She returned an easy smile.

“I'm so sorry for that, sir. We'll have you out of here in a tic.”

“Yes, please, do hurry. I have an appointment I'm late for, very important.”

She began to run his purchases through the checkout, tiny beeps sounding with each one until she reached the last, a 50 lb bag of bird seed. She looked up at him with raised brows and wide eyes.

“You must have a lot of birds. Or are you feeding all those pigeons in the park?”

With an unsteady chuckle, he nodded. “Not the park. I have a big family at home.”

“Must.” She grunted as she manhandled the sack into his cart. “I won't put it in a bag.”

“Yes, yes, yes.” His voice cracked.

He nearly threw the money at her and rushed away. “Keep the change.”

His cart bumped the door, causing a loud banging that drew everyone's attention. A quick check of his watch warned him the he was nearly out of time. Five minutes. Five minutes to get to the car, load the items, get in the car, drive five miles to his house and get unloaded. A tiny squeaking moan escaped him. Not enough. Not enough.

Without caution, he tossed everything into the trunk, slammed it and shoved the cart out of the way. It rolled into a Lexus on the opposite aisle. Immediately, the car alarm began to sound. He grabbed his ears with a squawk and jumped into his own car. With tired squealing and smoke flowing behind him, he flew out of the parking lot. He loosened his tie and blinked. Not enough time. He had to hurry.

He blew the first stop sigh and the second light. Cars honked and swerved to miss him. A truck slammed into the back of one as they stopped suddenly. He saw it in the rear view mirror. He looked at the steering wheel and sobbed. He was out of time. His foot moved to slam on the brakes and the car swerved and headed for the curb, slamming into the light pole. 

The police car pulled up behind him and the officer approached with gun drawn while a second stood on the other side of the car covering him. “Put your hands out the window and get out of the car!”

Harold didn't move. He couldn't. He was out of time. 

The officer opened the door, keeping the gun on him. He leaned down and gasped. “What the hell are you!”

Harold chirped an answer and the officer backed up. 

“Will... you gotta come see this. Damnedest thing I've ever seen.”

Will hurried around and skidded to a halt. 

Harold struggled to get out of the car and stand up. He looked first at one officer and then the other. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause an accident. I tired to get home before it was too late.”

Both policemen let their guns drop and stared at Harold.

What they saw....

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Harry & Maude

Today was my local writer's group meeting. We had a really good time I think. We had a writing exercise that worked out quite well. I brought three old photos that I found online and we had to choose one to write about. I chose two of them, which was cheating a bit. Everyone did very well with their story and hearing the different perspectives was really interesting. Everyone saw something different.



Visit the album where this photo is located.
Harry smiled across the table at Maude as she told him about her shopping trip the day before. He hated shopping but Maude loved it and he loved hearing her talk, about anything, the price of eggs, the spoiled milk in the baby's bottle, the weather.

“I tell you, Maude, you should not go into that market alone. I don't trust those men with the funny hats. They're bound to be up to no good.” Winnie moved a glass and brushed crumbs off the table. “Harry, you should go with her.”

“Nonsense, sweetheart. Maude can charm the birds from the trees. She's perfectly fine on her own. Besides, I had to take that paperwork down to the Judge. He's been out of town for weeks.”

Maude sat silent, smiling at Harry. Beneathe the table she stretched and rubbed his leg with her foot. He blushed and moved his leg. “I think I wouldn't have got much shopping done if Harry had been along, Mother. He's far too much of a distraction for me.”

“Hush child.” Harry chuckled and winked at her. 

Winnie got up and began to clear the table. “Well, I'm still not convinced a fellow who wears a turban and long skirts is to be trusted. They have most unpleasant faces and I'm sure they're just waiting to drag decent women into an alley.” 

“Mama, do be quiet.” Maude leaned forward and glared. “The servants will hear you.”

“Don't care if they do.” She picked up her tray and started for the kitchen. “Uncivilized heathens, gadding about in the streets. Makes me terribly uncomfortable.”

She left them and silence lay thick as the mist that had rolled in from the mountains. The sun slanted across the balcony, casting harsh shadows. Branches from a nearby tree shaded Harry's face and he frowned. “It can be dangerous, Maude. You should take someone out with you. I didn't know you intended to go on your own.”

Her laughter dance out onto the air and his heart seemed to speed up. “Darling, I am perfectly fine. No one is going to hurt me.”

“That woman three weeks ago...”

“Was in a terrible part of town, Harry. She should have known better than to go there. I'm sure she must have gotten lost.”

“It was bad, Maude. I spoke with the constable.”

She rose and moved around the table, leaned down to kiss his cheek. “I'm not going walking in the back alleys of the bazaar, Harry. I promise. Beside, who'd bother the wife of the ambassador's son?”

He watched her go into the house and then turned to stare out at the forest a dozen feet away. He didn't want to answer that.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Walk in the Snow


*This is a short story that was written when I was homeschooling my youngest son. I used his vocabulary words and wrote the story. I'm glad I found it in my files.

John did a slow circle and scanned the horizon with the binoculars, but he saw no sign of Hunter.  He had been gone for three hours, two hours longer than they had agreed upon.  And the temperature was dropping as darkness approached.


He could see the ocean from here, and a huge iceberg floating near the icy shore.  He had to localize his search to a five mile radius to save time.  To do more he would need help.  He pulled his hood more closely around his head, shouldered the rescue gear he hoped he wouldn’t need and set out toward the mountains.


Half an hour later, John paused and studied the mountain before him.  There was only one way through.  A  crevice in the rock face, just barely large enough for him to squeeze through.  He knew that on the other side was a great valley where the glacier began.  


Once through the crevice, John halted and studied the landscape in detail.  The snowy expanse of the glacier was blinding in the afternoon sun and could wreck havoc on a man’s vision.  He adjusted the visor he wore and was grateful for the polarizing ability of the expensive smoky glass.  Thank God their research grant had allowed them to buy the best equipment.


John planned his next move cautiously.  He knew he must walk carefully. One false step and he could be plunged into a crevasse and certain death.   After an hour of hard walking, he wanted to turn back.  But he was not one to give in easily. He was nothing if not tenacious.   He paused for a moment to again scan the snowy valley and the horizon with the binoculars.   Still nothing.  He marched off toward the north to continue searching for his friend.  


Suddenly, John went very still, listening. Had that been the wind or just wishful thinking on his part. He had only come about half a mile from the narrow pass through the mountain.  He looked behind to see if someone following had hailed him.  He and Hunter were the only researchers but there was a village about 10 miles to the south of their lodge.  However, there was no one in sight.


Then, the sound came again, a thin, high sound off to his left.  He moved in that direction but as carefully as if he were walking on eggs. Snow crunched beneath his feet.  It wouldn’t help anyone if he fell into one of the many crevasses that could be found in glaciers.


He came upon it suddenly.  The white expanse of snow served to exacerbate his ability to see.  A crevasse was dangerous because is was not always easy to see in these huge snow fields.  In fact, if it wasn’t very wide, a layer of snow could cover it and cause a walker to fall in unexpectedly.  One of the members of the previous research team had died from just such a fall.  


“Hunter!”  yelled John.


Again the sound came, and this time John knew it was someone calling for help.  He almost took off running but remembered in time the need for caution.  Sure enough, there it was a crack in the snow about 20 feet across.  He could even see where it looked as if the snow had recently been stirred.  


He removed his gear and dropping to his belly, John slowly crawled as close to the edge of the crevasse as he could get.  He managed to peek over the side and then wanted to shout for joy at the sight that met his eyes.


Hunter was perched on an fairly wide, icy ledge about 15 feet below the surface.  Below that the crack seemed to go on forever, into darkness.  


“Hunter,” John called softly, not wanting to cause any possible cave in of weighted snow.


Hunter started and looked up. “John! Man, am I glad to see you.  Can you toss me a line and get me out of here?”


“I got a line but I have to get it.  Wait there.”  John said.


“Yeah, like I have some place to go?”


John grinned and moved slowly back to where he left the rescue gear.  He pulled out the rope designed especially for mountain climbing and just such emergencies as this one.


Back at the edge of the crack, John looked down.  Hunter sat looking up with a hopeful look.  

“Look out, buddy, it’s on its way down.  I already set a loop for you.  Check it and once you get it secure, I am going to back down and get set.  No sense in both of us getting pulled in.”

John slowly lowered the rope and watched as Hunter caught it, slipped it over his head and beneath his arms and tightened the noose.  Then he caught hold of the rope in a tenacious grip and looked up.  He said, “O.K. Johnny Boy, haul away.”


John again moved back to where he had left his gear, laying the rope out as he went.  Once there he dropped to one knee, braced his other leg in the snow toward the crevasse.  He twined the rope around him so he could pull without it slipping.  


He called out.  “ I am going to start pulling now.”  


John began to pull and for several moment, took in only the slack of the rope.  Then the hard part began.  The rope became taut with Hunter’s weight and John felt the muscles in his back also became taut.  He strained against the weight that pulled at him, slowly pulling the rope toward him.  Each inch seemed to take forever.  Then, when John thought he could take no more, Hunter’s head popped up over the edge of the yawning chasm.  John paused a moment and then with one final tug, Hunter came up over the side and began to crawl as fast as he could away from the crevasse.  Only when he reached John did he allow himself to flop down in the snow, gasping for breath.  Laughing, John dropped down beside him, his own lungs gulping the cold air.  


“Hey Hunter,” John finally said.


“Yeah, pal?” 


“Next time you want to go exploring pick some place warmer.”


“Come on, John.  It was just a little walk in the snow.” Hunter said.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Creating a Character To Fear


At the first meeting of our new local writing group, we talked about creating characters briefly and will probably make that a topic at our first official meeting. I talked about a character I created for my story, The Dream Stealer. 

I, like everyone else, have trouble at times creating a believable character but in my opinion, Striker is the best one I've ever created. I struggle to keep the quality without over doing it. 

What I learned in creating Striker is that sometimes who they are is be described by things other than the color of their hair and eyes. What they do, how they react, what the feel and even what the see can define a character. Of course, that's just what I think. I'll let you tell me. 

Here's the first scenes involving Striker ever written. And yes, this is the way it went onto the paper. The scene had never under gone more than a cursory edit.   Don't tell anyone but Striker actually wrote this himself. I was too scared to write it.

The breeze floating in through the open window shifted the wind chime and sent tinkling notes onto the air to mingle with the smell of motor oil and the arroz seasoned with peppers and onions. A horn sounded very far away. 

    He watched the golden rods on the chimes sway in the air, the morning sun glinting off the surface. Through the window he could see the crystal blue of the Caribbean. It would be a beautiful day out there on the cruiser. 

    “I don't want to hurt you, senorita. Truly.” The voice was gruff, heavily accented and solicitous.

    Striker turned back to the room to watch. The woman's body tensed visibly but she didn't make a sound. A fine sheen of sweat covered her arms and chest above the scooped neck of her blouse and sweat ran down her neck, into the valley between her breast. There was an ugly bruise on her left cheek bone. The blindfold was tied so tightly around her head that it creased the skin at her temple and he marveled again at her resolve and her strength throughout the ordeal. 

    She was no weakling, this one. He hated to be the one to tell Julio but she wasn't going to be broken so easily. He turned back toward the window. It was a lovely day out there. He'd like to be sitting under an umbrella somewhere watching the water, drinking something cold and soothing. He sighed. 

    Julio jabbed her in the shoulder with the long wooden dowel he held. “You could be home tonight, querida. Wouldn't you like that? Making love to your man, or taking a nice bubble bath.”

    No response.

    A resounding smack echoed through the rafters of the warehouse as Julio slammed the dowel on the top of the desk near where the woman sat. Striker jerked and she jumped and for the first time a small whimper escaped her. Julio smiled. “Tell me where it is!”

    Striker knew what he was thinking. To men like Julio if you applied enough fear, pain, and aggression you could get anyone to talk. For the most part, Striker agreed but he didn't believe it in this case. He'd seen this kind of woman before. They were rare but they were not to be taken for granted. This one was smarter than Julio. Maybe smarter than him. She might be terrified but she wouldn't be cowed. At the end of the day, Julio would have to kill her. He'd toy with her first but he would kill her. She knew it and would act accordingly. At the first opportunity, she'd rip Julio's heart out. 

    He studied the object on the desk. The burnished finish glowed softly in the morning  light that fell across the desktop. It was a cube approximately six inches on each side, the corners rounded off and each surface intricately carved with flowers, butterflies, birds, and a maiden. It appeared to be solid but his information was that there was a key to open it and this woman knew the location of the key. 

    Julio stretched out a grubby hand and grabbed the long strawberry blond ponytail and yanked her head back. Had it not been for the blindfold she would have been forced to look into his face. Lowering his mouth to her ear he whispered something Striker could not hear but knew must have been horrible by her reaction. She tried to curl her body in on itself but because she was bound to the chair, hands behind her back and feet tied to the legs, she could do no more than cringe. Julio laughed. Striker made a face. Primitive. 

    The Latino turned and looked at Striker, his face angry. This wasn't working fast enough for him. He didn't understand patience. He didn't understand that for torture to be truly effective, one had to take one's time. Haste was a waste. It was inefficient, over quickly before the subject had time to realize what had happened. Typically, the subject died before revealing all that was needed.  

    It was why he had been called in. El jefe was not pleased with Julio's results thus far. He'd already killed two potential leads with his heavy handed manner. Striker was here today to prevent another such disaster. Julio probably suspected it but couldn't be sure. He would get his chance but he would not be allowed to go too far before Striker intervened. For the moment, Striker would stand quietly on the sidelines and the woman would remain unaware of his presence.  

    “Listen, puta,” he said, voice soft and caressing. “I'm not going to keep asking nicely. You tell me what I want and I let you go.” 
    
    He sat on the edge of the desk and reached out to stroke her cheek, her lips. He leaned forward and Striker saw her recoil from the breath in her face. He'd had a whiff of it himself. If Julio stayed there much longer she'd vomit in his face.

    “You and me, when this is over, we get us a drink in a nice little cantina I know. You know, no hard feelings. But you got to help me here.”

    Striker shook his head. The man was a fool. He'd slapped her, pinched, punched, threatened, and antagonized her. Now, he was trying to entice her with a date. No wonder they hadn't got what they wanted. This woman was no one's fool. None of this would work on her. 

    Still. He looked again at the cube. What was inside that was worth dying for?

    A cry of pain pulled his attention from the desk. Julio was getting heavy handed. He had jabbed the dowel into her stomach, hard. Striker sighed. Time's up. He strode over to the man and yanked the dowel from his hand, jabbing it into Julio's stomach and then, twisting it up and hitting him beneath the chin so hard it slammed his head back. He landed on his back, stunned. The Latino recovered quickly and fury boiled out of him. He regained his footing and charged Striker, roaring curses as spittle sprayed from his mouth. 

Like an matador, Striker stepped back, allowing the bull to stumble past him. He spun on his heel, preparing to face him. Julio turned to charge again. Striker was ready. He reached inside his jacket and pulled the Sig Sauer p220 from the shoulder holster and fired into Julio's face. Almost before Julio hit the floor, Striker had put the gun away and grabbed the cube, stuffing it into his pocket. He pulled a knife and slashed the rope that bound her hands and feet. 

    “Easy now. No, leave it on. You don't want to see just yet.” He caught her hand as it reached for the blindfold. “Let me get you out of here first. We have to hurry.” 

    She stood and he could feel her trembling so violently she could hardly stand. He lifted her into his arms and hurried to the door at the end of the room where he put her down. “Stand here and let me get the door opened.”

    “Who. . .who are you?” She turned her head, looking blindly toward him, reaching out with one hand. It was the first words he'd heard her say and he was shocked to realize she was an American. “Please, who are you?”

    “Doesn't matter. Someone who wants to help you.” Metal screamed as he pushed the large metal door up. There wasn't a chance that it wasn't heard if anyone was around to listen. He had tried to get rid of all the guards but it was possible he'd missed some. He had no idea how many there had been in Julio's band. He shielded her and looked around the frame. Sunlight glared off the cement drive that ran between the warehouses, sending waves of heat shimmering up into the air. He squinted before finally slipping on his sunglasses. Better. No guards in sight and his Lexus sat where he had left it. 

    “Come on.” He took her arm and lead her out. “Just walk with me. There is nothing in the way to trip you up. But try and walk fast.”

    “Can't I take this off?”

    “Best not yet. I don't know if there are any guards still around. It won't look suspicious if I have you in a blindfold.”

    “Oh.”

    They reached the car and helped her inside and quickly got in the driver's side. Reaching across her, he buckled her seat belt. Then, he slipped the blindfold off. She had green eyes.

    “Thank you. Whoever you are. Thank you.” She started to cry.

    He handed her a box of tissue from the back seat. Then, he drove off while she composed herself. After a few miles he glanced at her. “Better?”

    She nodded. “Will you take me home now?”

    He smiled. “Soon. Don't you want to go to the police first?”

    “The locals? I don't think so. I'd probably end up in jail myself. No, just home.”

    A few more miles and he pulled into the drive of a small house set back from the road and surrounded by trees. He got out and went around to help her out of the car. 

    “I don't know how to thank you.”

    “Let's get you inside and get those injuries taken care of. You have a nasty bruise on your face.”

    One hand went to the bruised cheek and she turned toward the house. She unlocked the door and stepped back to let him in. He saw the fear bloom in her eyes as she realized what had just happened. Pushing against the door, she tried to force him out but it was too late. He shoved against it, sending her crashing into the wall where she slid down onto the floor. She began to whimper.

    He reached down and pulled her gently to her feet, kicking the door shut behind him. “Now, darling. You're going to tell me everything. What did you do with it?”


*************************************************************************
It was just getting dark by the time he left the house. He closed the door and strolled down the walk, buttoning his coat as he went. As he drove away he saw in the rear view mirror that the porch light came on. Obviously on a timer.
She'd put up a valiant fight. He had expected no less from her. It was unfortunate that the information he sought was never in her possession. She had simply been an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire. A pity. She was very pretty. He'd particularly liked the strawberry blond hair. It was smooth as silk and smelled of coconut.
He glanced toward the west where the sky still showed a slender streak of peach just above the horizon. Too late to take the cruiser out and he had a plane to catch in the morning. Something about her had distracted him. He couldn't put his finger on it. Although she'd had no valuable information, she had revealed the names of three people who would need to be questioned.

***************************************************************************
Striker sat back in the overstuffed chair with his head resting against the cushion, drawing deeply on the small cigar. He blew three perfect smoke rings and sipped the Old Fashioned. Through nearly closed eyes, he studied the bronze cube on the coffee table before him. The gilt surface glowed warmly in the light from the lamps around the room, causing a halo to surround. 
    
It was heavily carved on all sides and it was some of the finest work he'd ever seen.   If you turned the box on an axis, the four consecutive sides showed a garden of trees, flowers and vines. On one panel a maiden stood near a fountain, her hand stretched toward the spray. The top side of the box was carved with foliage, like the canopy of a forest and was the only indication that it was the top. If the box was flipped over, the base showed a pit of writhing creatures with bulging eyes and sharp teeth. No doubt the underworld. There was no indication of a lock, hinges or even a line defining where the lid was or if there was a lid. It appeared to be old but whether it was made a month ago or a thousand years ago was impossible to tell, even with his expertise. No doubt the craftsman who'd created it had been exceptional. He wondered if he were still above ground. It would help if he were.
    
He blew another smoke ring. There were people he could take it to who could tell him but that would also create questions that required answers he couldn't give. He lifted his head and opened his eyes to study the room. 
    
The deep burgandy walls and walnut furnishing and woodwork gave the room warmth and reflected the light. Thick carpet on the floor muffled every step. Two walls were covered with floor to ceiling shelves, fronted with glass doors to prevent dust from settling on the art work. Behind the glass stood sculptures of ivory, bronze, brass, silver, and wood from all over the world. They represented years of searching in flea markets, bazaars, auctions, and estate sales. On the third wall around the doorway, were a dozen paintings, the majority more than a hundred years old. 
    
This was his sanctuary, the place where he came to refresh his mind and work on the more difficult problems of a case. Here he was surrounded by real beauty and a sense of continuity. Nothing was required of him but admiration. There were no emotions to define and suppress. He sighed and drew deeply of the Havana. He had them imported.
    
But nothing in this place compared to the small bronze cube before him. He sighed, sat his glass down and lifted the cube. It was heavy. Heavier than it should have been. The information he'd been given indicated it was a sealed box with something inside that needed to be retrieved. They didn't want to do an analysis that might damage the box or its contents. His job was to find a way in. That was what he usually did. However, the targets were usually living breathing beings whose emotions could be easily picked apart, examined and manipulated. Art was not so encumbered. 
    
Placing the box against his forehead he closed his eyes. It was cool. A small smile slid across his face. But it was silent, blessedly silent. He loved it.