Wednesday, June 11, 2014
I have been tagged by author Stephen Campbell in a blog hop. Stephen is a friend, and he’ll also be at the Mystery Writers Key West Fest this coming weekend. I am responding to some questions he sent and will tag three other writers to blog also.
I am currently finishing up the latest Mick Murphy Key West Mystery, “Nobody Wins.” It should be available in late July. The book takes Murphy and his friend, the ex-smuggler, to New Jersey and Dublin, Ireland, in search of Murphy’s cousin Cecil.
Lots of good action and visits to Irish pubs and a graveyard in Skerries, Ireland. The book begins and ends in Key West.
I think my writing differs from others who use Key West as the background of their stories because I use real places and names, mixing them with factious characters.
I write about this island because it’s an interesting and unique place. Key West is often called the American Caribbean Island. That’s the good part. The hard part is keeping the books mysteries, because crime, like the ones I write about, doesn’t happen here. I have to find a crime somewhere else and figure a way for it to come to Key West and involve Murphy.
I usually writer in the mornings, after my café con leches and continue until I’ve exhausted my story line and need to refresh. I have an general beginning, middle and end. I do not outline, as such. I think of something I want to use in the story and keep index cards with brief examples.
My characters usually take over the story line before I’m too long into writing and that would make outlining useless. I don’t know how writers follow their outlines. Some do. I can’t.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
People have asked me about the Mexican part of To Beat the Devil. I spent most summers in the ‘70s, ‘80s & early ‘90s in Tijuana, Mexico, with road trips to La Paz, at the end of the Baja peninsula. I witnessed the gradual change as the drug cartels began in-fighting and Tijuana, and Baja, became the battleground between these drug gangs.
I chose Tampico, Mexico as the location because of its location to the Gulf of Mexico and it is a major port, close to Texas and has a Mexican Navy base. The corruption throughout Mexican military and politicians is well known and documented. In most cases, the Mexican Navy Special Forces have captured or killed reputed cartel bosses. It appears to be working more closely with American intelligence and DEA in the battle to stop the cartels. The head of the Mexican task force fight the cartel, working out of the Mexican president’s office, was arrested for leaking information to the cartels.
While my fictitious battle by the lake outside the city limits was totally made up, attacks as I describe have happened many times in Mexico. The things Pauly reveals about his days with the cartel are documented as fact in news stories.
The Mexican drug cartels behead more victims than Muslim terrorists. Also, more journalists are killed in Mexico than in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a dangerous place. So dangerous that in 2009 when I was signing Chasin’ the Wind, my friends in Tijuana told me not to come. Even today, after the once powerful local cartel leaders in Baja have been jailed or killed, they have told me not to come. I spent almost 28 summers in Tijuana and La Paz with my twin daughters. The people are wonderful, the food is great and the countryside is beautiful.
The Los Angeles Times has been running a series for years on the Mexican drug war and after moving to Key West, I kept up with it. Google Mexico Under Siege or find the stories on the Times’ website, to see for yourself.
While I made up the battle, drug czars, and Mick Murphy’s escape, the background is taken from daily facts. It is happening, worse in some cases, today. So yes, it’s fiction, based on fact. It is a major concern of Homeland Security that the cartel may use, if it isn’t already, its drug smuggling routes into the USA to sneak in terrorists.
It is also well established in the intelligence community that Iran uses Muslin terrorists for its own purposes. Think of the bombing that was supposed to kill the Saudi Ambassador in D.C. The plotters were paid by the Iranians. It’s all in the daily news and I just collected the facts and put them all together to make an interesting story.
* * *
If you haven't checked out the Mystery Writers Key West Fest, scheduled for June 13 & 14, you should. www.mysterywriterskeywestfest.com
See you in Key West!
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Monday, March 3, 2014
All right, the overall premise of the book was done in my last blog. Now it’s time to deal with the opening of the book.
“To Beat the Devil” opens differently than my other books, because it’s told in Norm’s voice. I began in Murphy’s voice, but realized what happened in the end of “Stairway to the Bottom” would have left Murphy in bad shape, both physically and mentally. So, Norm, Murphy’s black-bag friend begins the story and it’s not in Key West. About 100 pages into the book, they arrive back in Key West, and I have Murphy telling the story.
So, the book opens with Norm explaining why Murphy is beating a Russian gangster with a rubber hose. There are some later torture scenes that I made up, but the practice is not fiction.
A lot of the story in the beginning deals with tracking Alexei, the person responsible for the violent ending of “Stairway to the Bottom.”
Without giving too much away, there’s a few chapters set in South Beach outside and inside a Russian “private club.” It’s true, the Russian Mafia brings over bar girls from the old Soviet Bloc and use them to entice wealthy men visiting Miami to come to the clubs, where they guys are usually fleeced with prices of up to a grand for drinks. Stories have appeared in the Miami Herald about these clubs and sometimes the owners are taken to court. But it takes a while.
There’s a few altercations with the Russians that leads Murphy to Mexico and drug gangs fighting each other. Remember, Murphy’s friend Pauly is an ex-drug smuggler and knows his way around Tampico, Mexico. Thanks to Pauly’s connections, during a Mexican Navy attack to the drug compound from a drug dealer who wants to escape the attack, Murphy finds out about a possible terrorist attack about to happen in Key West.
These chapters are built around Iranians, Russians and Mexican drug cartels. Is it real? Can it happen? When I brought the chapters to my intelligence expert, he said I was right on, especially about the Iranians. To find out what I was right on about, you’ll need to read the book. But, I can assure you, the chapters concerning the Russians and their cohorts are plausible and what I have them involved in may scare you as much as it did me. Sometimes in writing fiction, the truth behind the story may be more titillating.
Next blog, why the refusal by authorities to believe an attack is coming.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
I’ve had a few discussions with people, some friends and others that showed up at the Smokin’ Tuna Saloon on Friday for happy hour because they read my books and know I’ll be there. The discussions are about To Beat the Devil, my latest book.
The discussions and questions didn’t happen in order of how the book unfolds, but someone I met last week thought I should talk about the questions that have been asked and follow the book. For the next few blogs here, I will do just that. If you’ve read the book and have a question about how I came up with something or if it’s possible or true, write and I’ll try to answer you.
The most often observation is that throughout the book there are two sets of bad guys. The terrorists and all their cohorts, and people in government that should know better but it would seem that they want the terrorist act to happen.
I wrote the book and made a few government officials bad guys. Men and women that shouldn’t be. Hard to believe, people have told me. If you haven’t heard about the Whitey Bulger case in Boston and the corrupt FBI agents that allowed Whitey to get away with murder because his other activities helped advance their careers, go to Google. A badge, a gun and an acronym for an employer doesn’t guarantee someone is a good guy.
How many American agents have gone to jail for spying for the enemy? How many cops have gone to jail for stealing or even for dealing? Is Snowdon a hero for exposing NSA snooping on unsuspecting American citizen and world leaders, or is he a trader? It may be a personal decision, but it’s fodder for mystery writers.
So, in To Beat the Devil, my protagonists, Mick Murphy, and his ragtag group of miscreant friends, have to seek justice because those in positions to do it won’t. In all my books, it’s about people seeking justice when the system is broke or for other reasons, the system doesn’t work.
I make up the situations in my books, but the background is there for anyone to see. All you need to do is look for it. With the fall of Communism, writers like me needed to find another enemy and we didn’t have to look far! Corruption is in all our backyards. Read the papers, that’s where I get ideas, or watch the local and network news.
To Beat the Devil is based on a scary premise of what if . . . what if the terrorists were trained in Mexico, crossed the border to attack us, using drug smugglers and what if officials in our intelligence agencies new this but turned a blind eye.
I learned things in my research that concerned me. Are we as safe as the government says? Are government agencies acting as if they are at war with each other when it comes to garnishing federal budget dollars? Would intelligence agency officials lie all the way to the White House to protect themselves? Would they let innocent people die to advance their careers or their agency?
We’ll see, in the coming weeks, what I learned and it might scare you too.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Michael Haskins was kind enough to ask me to put together an article for his blog, suggesting as a subject how my series character Noah Milano was allowed to grow and all problems that come with it.
It is a common problem for series characters to be outdated with the passing of time. Spenser should be an old fart by now, having fought in Korea. His creator (Robert B Parker) chose to more or less ignore this fact. Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch seems to age in real time, which had his creator retire his hero for a book or two until he got lucky and the retirement age for cops was extended. The Punisher (from Marvel Comics) used to be a Vietnam veteran that lost his family to the mob. In his first movie they made him a cop because he’d just had to be too old. Similarly, in the movie version of the A-team they updated the characters into soldiers of the war in Iraq instead of Vietnam.
With all of that in mind I made sure my main character, Noah Milano, was pretty young in his first story (http://www.thrillingdetective.com/fiction/00_06_2.html) and novel (http://www.amazon.com/Knight-Syndrome-Milano-Mystery-ebook/dp/B006N0MBI0/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1331714278&sr=1-2) so he could go years without becoming too old to kick some serious ass or bed all the hot girls. Of course, that wasn’t the only reason I made him in his twenties in his first story. When I wrote that one I was the same age, and although I loved guys like Matt Scudder, Spenser and Amos Walker I also couldn’t quite relate to their divorces, or love for jazz. So, Noah liked metal, hadn’t had any meaningful relationships. Instead, he was a young guy who just left home and was trying to find himself through a new job. That I could relate to.
Now, more than 13 years later Noah has become a bit older as well, like I have. When he tells his friend (Minnie) in the novella I’m working on now that he isn’t much of an investigator (he specializes in security and body guarding) she tells him he solved way too many murders for that one still to fly. With those words I acknowledge the fact he’s slowly been changing and aging. Generally I don’t change the character too much though. He’s still single, he’s still trying to find redemption for the life he used to live as a fixer for his father (an LA mobster). That’s because every story can be the first one a reader gets in his hands and I don’t want to feel they’ve been left out. Lee Child really does a good job of that too, but of course Jack Reacher’s military past (and acknowledgment of his exact age) might harm his longevity.
In twenty years Noah will be about sixty years old. Will I have him age along with me until that time comes? I’m not sure. Hey, I’m not sure people will be reading about him to justify him being around that long. What I do know is that I’m happy I studied the masters enough to know the pitfalls of a series character and did my best to avoid them.
If you want to know how I did you can pick up the novelette for Scoundrel (http://www.amazon.com/Scoundrel-Noah-Milano-Novelette-ebook/dp/B009L5Q8Q0/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1371044451&sr=1-1&keywords=%27%27noah+milano%27%27) for free the next four days or check out some of his other stories ( http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=ntt_athr_dp_sr_1?_encoding=UTF8&field-author=Jochem%20Vandersteen&search-alias=books&sort=relevancerank#/ref=sr_nr_n_0?rh=n%3A283155%2Cn%3A10468%2Ck%3A%27%27noah+milano%27%27&keywords=%27%27noah+milano%27%27&ie=UTF8&qid=1371044435&rnid=1000 ).
Saturday, February 2, 2013
My friend, and fellow writer, Chester Campbell's book "The Poksu Conspiracy" is out and available, so I thought I offer you a little taste of this well-written story. Korea, both North & South, has been in the news recently and that only makes this story more relevant.
The Cold War has ended, but a reliable report reveals a plot that could throw the
Far East into
turmoil. Burke Hill, clandestine director for a Washington PR firm that’s a CIA
spinoff, is tasked to find the truth about a secret agreement for to help Israel
develop nuclear weapons. This follows the new South Korea government’s request that all Seoul troops be
withdrawn. Further complicating the situation, a bomb decimates the North
Korean leadership in U.S. .
As Hill soon discovers, a nuclear test is scheduled in a few months. He finds a
diligent Seoul Metropolitan Police detective investigating a series of murders
he believes are targeted at civilian leaders who favor close cooperation with Pyongyang . And
Captain Yun Yu-sop has identified a ruthless Korean assassin who targets anyone
who stands in the way, including himself and Burke Hill. America
Here is a brief synopsis: The Poksu Conspiracy
Now that I've got your interest, Chester has sent along two chapters for me to offer you. Here they are.
The Poksu Conspiracy
The Korean peninsula, by some quirk of geologic fate, was carved out of a triangle formed by the three major Far Eastern powers—China, Japan and Russia. During the latter part of the nineteenth century,
's larger, more populous and
more advanced neighbors successively battled each other for hegemony in the
region. By 1905, Korea
emerged the victor and with ruthless determination proceeded to subjugate the
seemingly misnamed "Land of the Morning Calm" until the final,
cataclysmic blasts of World War II. Japan
Despite Japanese attempts to obliterate their culture through such outrages as forbidding use of their native language, the Korean people showed remarkable resilience. They steadfastly refused to kowtow to the Emperor. In
1919, a group of patriots
banded together in a non-violent crusade for Korean independence, which became
known as the March First Movement. On that date, a declaration of independence
was read to the assembled crowd in 's
Seoul . Japanese police and troops
massacred scores of peaceful demonstrators. The movement's leadership was
virtually annihilated. Pagoda Park
One of them, an enterprising young merchant, escaped with his wife and went into hiding for a year until a determined Japanese police major flushed him out like a hapless quail from a friend's country home east of the capital. His death sentence was as inevitable as the snows on
The execution took place in April, exactly five months before the night his wife gave birth to a sturdy baby boy. Her pregnancy had likely saved her from an equally harsh fate. From the start he was a husky, healthy, bright-eyed youngster, and at an early age he came to realize that his friends possessed something vital that he lacked—a father.
The boy's mother believed her son should know the grisly truth. She chose a cold, wintry morning when the elements seemed as inhospitable as their foreign masters. As a blustery wind swept down out of
ruffling the frigid waters of the Yellow Sea
like an irritable Manchu spirit, she sat him down in her parents' small living room
and explained why and how his father had died.
The boy sat with legs crossed, hands clasped in front of him. The look on his face mirrored his confusion. "But if he did nothing wrong, why did the Japanese kill him?"
"What he did wrong," she said with the passion of a Buddhist priest instructing a postulant, "was insist that
should be free again, that
our people should be able to live as they please, not as dictated by
"That is what I will do," said the boy, determination in his eyes. "I will tell them to go back to
and leave us alone." Japan
She fixed him with a stern gaze, but with pride in her heart. "No, my son. Not now. Perhaps one of these days, when you are older and understand more of the Japanese ways. Maybe then you can join with others as your father did and help rid
of these usurpers. For now you must keep silent. To do otherwise could endanger
our whole family." Korea
The youngster kept his silence, but he frequently brooded over his father's death and nurtured a deep hatred for the Japanese. When
launched its war against Japan in 1937,
the occupation authorities pressured young Koreans to volunteer for duty in the
Japanese army. The boy heard a different drum beat and marched down a path of
resistance. At the end of the summer when he was barely seventeen, he left a
note of explanation for his mother and joined a friend named Ahn Wi-jong on the
journey north to the China , where they crossed
River Manchuria. To their surprise, they
discovered many areas of the mountainous countryside more Korean than Chinese.
They had little difficulty in linking up with other expatriates who had joined
the Chinese to form the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army.
The camp was located along a broad stream in an almost inaccessible ravine of the rugged Changbaik mountains, a range with peaks that towered up to
9,000 feet along the
Korean border. The ragtag band comprised half of a division, although they
numbered no more than a hundred men. When the young recruits arrived, they were
assigned to the Third Detachment, led by a grizzled veteran named Yi Ki-baik.
Yi was a short, wiry man with narrowed eyes that held the distracted, faraway
look of a warrior not yet finished with yesterday's battles but already at work
on tomorrow's. Yi gave them captured Japanese Arisaka rifles and ammunition
belts and began their instruction in the not-so-gentle ways of Taekwondo, the
Korean martial art.
The fall weather was crisp and cold in the mountains, the gathering gray clouds a harbinger of an early snowfall. Relaxing around the warmth of a campfire at the close of that first day, Yi briefed his young charges in the ways of partisan warfare.
"We don't fight like soldiers," he said, tilting his peaked cap back at a jaunty angle, eyes appearing as narrow slits in the flickering firelight. "We fight like tigers. Stealth is our weapon. We track our enemy silently. When the time is right, we strike with sudden fury." He pounded the edge of one hand against the open palm of the other. "Then we withdraw just as quickly."
"What do you do if he sees you?" a wide-eyed Ahn asked. Ahn was smaller than his friend, and a bit less self-assured. But he'd had the guts to run away from a life in a Buddhist monastery that his parents had chosen for him.
Yi shrugged. "If he does, and his numbers are superior to ours, we disappear." He threw his arms up suddenly. "Poof! Like shadows. We wait for another day. The Japanese have us vastly outnumbered. So we must fight only on our own terms."
"What if they should find this camp?" inquired the martyr's son, a strapping youth who was rapidly maturing into a tall, muscular young man.
Yi laughed. "Don't worry, they will. Soon. Then we move on. That's probably why we're called the First Route Army. We're always en route to some place else." He studied the lanky teenager, eyes almost closed. "You say you come from a well-to-do family in
"Then we must give you a new name. That way, if the Japanese learn about you, they won't be able to retaliate against your family. Many of our men have changed their names. Our division commander was born near
as Kim Song-ju. Now he is known as
Kim Il-sung. Since most of our countrymen are named Han, Lee or Park, which
would you prefer?" Pyongyang
The youth grinned. "Lee," he said promptly. He had no particular reason but was always quick with a reply.
"Very well, you shall be Lee Horangi-chelmun."
Young Tiger Lee.
As it soon developed, the name fit him like a glove. Horangi-chelmun proved to be a ferocious fighter. Whether the weapon was firearms or fists and feet, he learned quickly and used his knowledge with deadly accuracy. By the time he was nineteen, he had been given command of his own detachment. He was a tightly wound spring, a bundle of pent-up energy, a grenade ready to explode. Despite the bitter cold of the snow-blanketed winters, shortages of food and ammunition, even clothing, he led his marauding partisans through southern and southeastern
Manchuria, creating havoc for the Japanese army and
police forces. Their official records came to include more than a few
references to fierce encounters with one Lee Horangi-chelmun.
Early in his service with the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army, Lee learned that it had been organized and was directed by Chinese and Korean communists. Each Route Army had its political commissar, and the major unit commanders were as dedicated to communism as to harrassing the Japanese. As for Lee, he had come from a merchant class background and found calls for workers to arise about as useful as telling oxen to climb trees. His only interest was in fighting the Japanese invaders. As the campaign moved into the forties, he became ever more restless, anxious to battle the hated enemy on his own turf rather than here in
In March of 1940, Kim Il-sung's harried guerrillas ambushed and wiped out a Japanese Special Police force that had been tracking them. It enraged Major General Nozoe Shotoku. He singled out Kim's division for a redoubled effort, and as summer faded into fall, their plight took on the rapidly deteriorating look of oak leaves that had flashed in glorious splendor only to turn a dusty brown and drop from the trees. An increasing number of defectors surrendered, and it soon resembled a game show, with cash prizes doled out to those who answered questions that divulged their fellow partisans' hiding places.
Early in 1941, their plight became intolerable and Kim decided it was time to cut his losses. He called his detachment leaders together for a final pow-wow.
"Our mission here is finished," a sober-faced Kim acknowledged. "The deserters are killing us. If you suspect anyone of considering defection, shoot him. Bring the rest of your men and we'll make our way through Hunchun prefecture. We can cross into the
west of .
The Russians will help us reorganize and re-equip. Then we can plan what action
to take in the future." Vladivostok
The other leaders nodded their agreement, but Lee demurred.
"If that's your judgment, so be it," he said. "You can take most of my men with you. But I will pick a few to go with me back across the Yalu. I intend to raise some hell in our fatherland before I'm finished."
Kim eyed him critically. He was famous for detesting dissent. "The Japanese might capture you, force you to reveal our escape plans."
That brought a chuckle from Lee. "They would kill me on sight."
"But what about your men? One of them could talk."
"Forgive me, commander," said Lee, "but I intend to take only three. They will know nothing of your plans. With our small group, I can assure you the Japanese will never even see us."
Kim displayed a gloomy frown. Lee knew his action bordered on insubordination, and Kim was known to end such discussions with a bullet through the dissenter’s head. But Lee held his rifle at the ready. After a few tense moments, Kim dismissed him with a sweep of his hand, as though brushing off a troublesome insect. "Do as you wish. I intend to make my stand another day, in another way."
Lee went back to his detachment and picked his three best fighters, including Ahn Wi-jong. They were young men who had no interest in communism, only a deep commitment to make the Japanese pay for terrorizing their homeland. They took the name "Vengeance" and identified each other by number. Lee was known as Poksu-il—"Vengeance One."
During the next four years, they haunted the length and breadth of
like a ghostly band, faceless
demons who caused more than one high-ranking Japanese official to choose hara
kiri as the only solution to the ignominy of a glaring defeat at the hands of
these Korean "bandits." After one of the Emperor's besieged
emissaries took his life rather than surrender to a threatening Lee, the Young
Tiger brashly claimed the ceremonial short sword as a trophy. Korea
The group maintained absolute secrecy concerning their real identities. However, the hangul script for Poksu, drawn inside a square, appeared often enough at the scene of bombings and assassinations to create a legend around the Vengeance team.
Shortly before the end of the war, disaster struck. They had planned a simple assault on a postal facility at
about halfway between Taejon
and the southern Seoul . The intention
was to raise a small amount of cash for new ventures, but unknown to the team,
the Japanese were in the process of making a major shipment of funds at the
time. Extra police had been assigned to guard the facility. The result was an
unexpected shootout. Lee and his friend Ahn managed to escape, but their two
accomplices died in a hail of gunfire from the waiting police. port
After the Japanese surrender in
a few weeks later,
Lee turned up in Tokyo
using his real name for the first time in years. He told how he had joined the
Anti-Japanese Army in Seoul Manchuria but explained
that he had left it because of disagreement with its communist leadership. He
declined to talk about his combat experiences, taking pains to emphasize his
opposition to communism. The "temporary" partition of with
Soviet responsibility for the north and American occupation of the south
convinced him that a record of participation with the communist partisans would
not enhance his future in Korea .
Silently he thanked Yi Ki-baik, long since killed in battle, for giving him a
false identity when he had joined the guerrillas. But it wasn't until a few
years later, when the Russians announced their choice of Kim Il-sung as premier
of their puppet regime in the north, that he fully realized how correct his
assessment had been. Seoul
By the spring of 1950, he had graduated from college and become an officer in the
. He acquired an impressive
chest-full of decorations during the war with the North Koreans and the
Chinese, fighting at times alongside the Americans. After the uneasy truce was
established along the DMZ at the end of the active phase of the war, he
continued his climb to the rank of colonel in the ROK army, gaining respect as
an officer who showed a ruthless zeal for carrying out tough assignments. At
the same time, he gained a bit of notoriety for his uncompromising support of
efforts to modernize Republic of Korea Army 's economy. High-ranking military
officers dominated the government, and his views were actively solicited. He
was a man of immense confidence and pride, both in his own abilities and in the
future of this former " South
Korea ," which, by
the spring of 1963, was just beginning to flex its emerging economic muscles. Hermit
Over several months, a persistent line of thought had churned in the back of the Colonel’s mind, nebulous at first, gradually becoming more focused. His mother's recent death gave it more urgency, shaping it into something of a mission every bit as pivotal as the one he had pursued with his Poksu comrades. When he read a newspaper account about a young Korean-American boy whose mother was killed in a hideous incident ridiculously ruled as accidental, his thoughts were quickly fused into a flesh and blood crusade.
The boy was named Kim Vickers, the son of a World War II U.S. Army sergeant who had married a Korean girl during the early postwar occupation. The sergeant suffered from a malaria-like jungle fever that he had contracted in a Japanese prison camp where his captors had refused him treatment. Fortunately, the disease had soon gone into remission, but in later years it came back to plague him time and again, finally resulting in his death in the fall of 1962. His widow had brought her fifteen-year-old son home to
, where they lived with her
It was a chilling, gusty morning in late March when the Colonel approached Kim Vickers outside his grandparents' home in
the port city west of Inchon .
The boy was rather small, with almond-shaped hazel eyes and a typically Korean
oval face and high cheekbones. His only non-Eastern feature was the unruly
shock of light brown hair bequeathed by his father, which lent him something of
a caricaturish flair. Seoul
Since his mother's "accident," he had more or less withdrawn from the world. He was reduced to being little more than a statistic, an anonymous blip on the radar screen of lost souls. He should have been in school, of course, but his grandparents were unsure of how to cope with this virtually silent, brooding boy. They decided not to push him, hoping their patience and concern would one day soon coax him out of that impenetrable shell.
Approaching the youth outside his grandparents' home, the Colonel smiled and introduced himself.
"An-nyeng haseyo," Kim replied.
"You speak the language well," said the officer.
"My mother taught me."
"She was a school teacher?"
He shook his head sadly. "No, sir. But she wanted to be a teacher."
The colonel nodded. "And you, what do you want to be?"
The boy averted his eyes, looking down at his dusty sneakers. He offered no reply.
"Come now. You have grown up in
Surely you have some lofty ambition?" America
Kim had never seen this man before. How did he know where I grew up, he wondered?
And then it happened. Quite suddenly. As it had so many times since that fateful day. He tried to shut the distressing picture out of his mind, but, as always, failed. It flashed unbidden before his eyes, a scene as vivid as any on a movie screen. His mother standing beside him as they waited to cross the street outside the
the old railroad station that was one of the few major structures to survive
the devastation of war. They were in the city for a shopping trip. Out of the
corner of his eye, he saw the group of Japanese tourists stroll up. His mother
looked around at the stocky, bespectacled man in the stylish gray topcoat.
Then, without warning, she bristled, began to tremble. And as he watched,
transfixed, she stepped toward the man and began to pummel him with her fists,
screaming almost incoherently. The words had been seared into Kim's brain as
though inscribed by a torch. "It's you...you bastard! Monster!
What happened next was like watching freeze frames etched in horror. As Kim looked on, the man shoved his mother into the street. He saw the bus rushing toward the curb, heard her piercing scream and the screech of brakes, the brutal crunch of metal colliding with flesh and bone.
The Colonel saw the boy blinking, as though the wind had blown something into his eye. But when the soldier stooped down, he saw the tears welling up. He handed Kim a handkerchief.
"I'm sorry, son. I read in the newspapers what happened to your mother."
The story told how she had recognized the former Japanese soldier who had raped her in a secluded area of a
park back in the early days of World War II. She had stopped to gawk at the
flowers and became lost from her friends. The occupying authorities had
predictably dismissed her charge against the soldier. During the thirties, the
Japanese had rounded up Korean women to serve as prostitutes for their troops.
They threatened to send her off to the camps unless she kept her mouth shut and
stopped "fabricating" such inflammatory charges. Seoul
The ex-soldier was now a businessman in
making his first trip back since the war. Heavily into its first Five-Year
Economic Plan, the government of General Park Chung-hee had no desire for any
incidents that might impede its efforts at cultivating export markets. With a
little pressure from the executive mansion, known as the Blue House, the authorities
declined to charge the Japanese visitor with murder, ruling that his actions
had been provoked and were taken in self defense. It would have been easier to
raise the dead than to resurrect the rape charge from twenty years ago. Tokyo
Standing beside the cluttered, windswept back street in
his imposing frame towering over the slight teenager, the Colonel spoke in a
firm but persuasive voice. "You may have been born half-American, Kim
Vickers, but believe me you are going to grow up a one-hundred-percent proud
Korean. I have a mission for you to accomplish for us. But, first, we need to
get you into a good school." Inchon
September seemed an ideal time for Burke Hill to take his wife Lori on a long-delayed honeymoon trip to
When they were married the previous December, the demands of his new job made
leisure travel impossible. The visit to Hungary
would be a strange sort of homecoming for the former Lorelei Quinn. She'd vowed
to dig as deep as it took to uncover her hidden roots. Budapest
By now the summer sultriness had mellowed into warm days and cool nights, a pleasant interlude the imaginative Magyars referred to as "old women's summer." It was Lori's first trip back since a near disaster at the hands of the communist-era secret police a decade ago. And though the recent demise of the Cold War soon convinced her of a renewed sense of vibrancy among the people in this onetime "
of the East," an incident at the airport terminal seemed disturbingly
reminiscent of the bad old days. Paris
While she stood to one side waiting for Burke to claim their luggage, she noticed a man across the way watching him. He was swarthily handsome, with wavy black hair and a trim build. As he looked around, Lori averted her gaze to avoid any show of interest. When she looked back, his eyes were again locked on Burke. It took her back several years to her somewhat abbreviated career in the CIA, when that sort of surveillance presaged dire consequences.
A few minutes later, Burke walked toward her pulling their two bags. She wanted to tell him about the watcher, but a tall redheaded man accompanied him.
"John Dahlgren, meet my wife, Lori," he said. "As you can see, she's great with child."
Lori grinned as she patted her rounded tummy. She was six months pregnant. "The ultrasound confirmed twins," she said. "This trip had to be taken now or delayed indefinitely. Dr. Bracken wasn't too happy about my traveling now, but I insisted."
"Nice to meet you," Dahlgren said with a slight bow of his head. "I was a twin myself. Some people say it's double trouble, but I'm sure yours will be a delight."
"John was on our flight," Burke said. "He's from
. He's also staying at the
Duna-Intercontinental, so I invited him to share a cab." New York
Lori looked back before they left the terminal, but the muscular man with the persistent stare had disappeared.
As soon as they reached their hotel room, she told Burke about the apparent surveillance.
He stared at her, hands on his hips. "Who the devil could it have been? This is strictly a pleasure trip. Nobody should suspect I'm anything but a public relations company official on vacation."
While Worldwide Communications Consultants, the firm he served as chief financial officer, was a legitimate international PR counselor, it had a black operations side that reported to the Central Intelligence Agency. Burke directed its activities in
Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Far East.
"I don't have any idea who he was," Lori said, "but he was sure giving you the once-over. I suggest we keep an eye out for any other signs of interest."
By the afternoon of their second day, despite constant vigilance, they had spotted nothing out of the ordinary. Lori sat quietly in the back seat of an aging Zsiguli taxi, one of countless relics that persisted as the city struggled with its bootstraps. It rumbled noisily through the cobbled streets. Seated beside her, Burke studied his wife's troubled frown. It marred an attractive face with dark eyes and long dark hair that normally wreathed an intriguingly mysterious smile. Now past fifty-five, he was twenty years her senior. He still marveled at his incredibly good fortune in managing to win the love of this bright, vivacious young woman. But, at the moment, he grappled with a growing concern over her dark mood.
He didn't need to be told the reason for it. "I hope you're prepared for disappointment in case things don't turn out the way you'd like," he said, a warning note in his voice. "There are plenty of reasons why people aren't always overjoyed at being confronted by a relative they never knew existed or hadn't seen in years."
Their first day had been spent mostly at the American Embassy and the Justice Ministry, where they searched records of the old AVO, the hated state security police, for clues to the fate of Istvan Szabo, a young economist who had taken up the cause of his students during the ill-fated 1956 revolution known as the "Hungarian uprising." The files had likely been tampered with. At the very least, they were incomplete. What they did manage to learn was the name and address of his mother, Margit Szabo. Now nearing ninety, she had been one of
loved actresses during her performing years. Hungary
"I have my fingers crossed," Lori said, managing a weak smile.
The cab crossed the glistening
Danube via the picturesque
Chain Bridge and soon turned onto Budakeszi
Avenue, once a quiet residential street in the
Buda hills. Now it was crowded with cars, trucks and buses. Where open green
spaces had formerly separated the genteel old homes, newer, unimaginative flats
dotted the landscape. It was one more indication of the internal struggle was undergoing
as it sought to be progressively modern and yet hold onto its Budapest Old
Lori took a firm grip on Burke's hand as the taxi turned in between two lofty chestnuts and stopped before an ancient iron gate. The driver got out and checked it, found it unlocked. He pushed the gate open, triggering a harsh metallic squeak, then drove onto a driveway that led back to a mercilessly weathered old garage. Beside it stood a large two-story house that seemed almost a living thing, cloaked as it was with a thick green coat of ivy.
Burke paid the driver, and they walked slowly up to the front door. They were met by a short, shapeless woman in a simple peasant dress. She had obviously been alerted by the protesting screech of the gate. She eyed them with caution.
"I'm Lorelei Hill and this is my husband, Burke," Lori said, unsure if the woman could understand her. They knew from the Hungarian clerk at the Embassy that Mrs. Szabo could speak English quite well, though with a pronounced accent, possibly the result of long disuse.
The small woman, obviously a housekeeper, said nothing, but motioned them inside. They followed her into a large room that seemed foreboding in its gloomy darkness. Although the sun shone brightly outside, little of its glow penetrated the heavy curtains that shrouded the windows. A polished wooden table bearing old photographs of an actress costumed for various roles, pictures of a man and two boys, and other memorabilia of times long past sat at one side of the room. The opposite wall was hung with faded tapestries.
And then Lori saw her, the aging figure of Margit Szabo, once the darling of the
stage. She sat
in a large chair in one corner of the room. The housekeeper ushered them toward
her. Despite her years, she sat stifly erect. She was dressed all in black. A
large gold pendant hung from a chain draped around the spare flesh of her neck.
Her hair was white but carefully groomed. She had the look of a piece of fine
antique china, elegant features that could only have been fashioned by an
accomplished artist, ostensibly delicate, but possessed of an inner strength
that showed through the thin outer shell. Budapest
"Please have a seat," Margit Szabo said in a surprisingly strong voice, gesturing toward the sofa across from her chair. "My voice and my hearing have not failed me, though I can't say as much for these old eyes. Tell me what it is you wish to speak with me about. I did not fully understand from your embassy."
Lori knew the Embassy clerk had mentioned their visit concerned her son, Istvan Szabo. Since he had died in the failed revolution of November 1956, after Russian tanks poured into the streets of
just mentioning his name was bound to bring back agonizing memories. Budapest
"My name is Lorelei Hill," she began, then paused somewhat awkwardly, conscious that Mrs. Szabo was well aware of who she was. "What I mean is, that was the name my dad...uh, actually, my stepfather..."
It wasn't going at all as she had intended. She had gone over in her mind a hundred times what she wanted to say at this moment. But now her tongue was stumbling all over the words. She had planned to lead up gently to the key revelation, not wanting it to come as a sudden shock. Instead, it tumbled out in a heedless rush of words.
"What I'm trying to say, Mrs. Szabo, I believe I am your granddaughter."
Now that it was out, she felt a sudden wave of relief. Until the elderly woman spoke.
Margit Szabo delivered her lines with all the force and drama of a character from a Shakespearean tragedy. "You are not my granddaughter. My granddaughter died at birth, and her mother with her."
Lori took a sharp breath. It had hit her like a knife plunged deeply and twisted.
"But...but that was only a story made up to fool the AVO," she said in protest. "My dad, that is, my stepfather, Cameron Quinn, was with the Central Intelligence Agency. He had been in contact with your son, Istvan, to keep up with what was going on. To help if possible. Your son asked—"
"Yes, he helped," Mrs. Szabo broke in. "The police knew my son had been in contact with a CIA agent. They gave him a summary trial and executed him."
Lori's eyes widened. "How do you know—?"
"Istvan's brother," she said, her voice suddenly lowered, her eyes beginning to blink back the tears. "Gyorgy was with the AVO." For the first time, a crack had appeared in the old woman's hard shell. "Gyorgy told me. He was powerless to stop what happened. He was not a bad boy, Gyorgy. Only misguided."
Lori shook her head in despair, sensing the torment that must have plagued Margit Szabo, her grandmother. "I'm so sorry," she said.
One son a patriot who gave his life in the fight for freedom, the other son a communist collaborator whose secret police colleagues were responsible for his brother's death. Perhaps he had not been completely blameless himself, despite his mother's attempt to absolve him. It was a tragic dichotomy the aging actress had lived with all these years.
It might be, Lori thought, that she could find out more about her real father from his brother. "Where is Gyorgy now?" she asked.
Tears coursed down Mrs. Szabo's anguished face. She dabbed at them with a small kerchief. "Gyorgy is gone, too. My husband, all of my family are gone. What do you want of me? Why did you come here to torment me with these painful memories so long put to rest?"
Lori was suddenly on her knees at Margit Szabo's feet. She spoke in a pleading voice. "But I am your granddaughter. I must be. My stepfather told me what happened after my mother...my stepmother's death. She was in the same hospital as Istvan's wife, on the same floor for a hysterectomy. Istvan was afraid the AVO might take some action against his wife. He asked Cameron Quinn to look after the baby if anything happened. When they came for my real mother, he arranged with the doctor and a hospital official to switch the records to show that I had been born to Julia Quinn. They indicated my real mother had a stillborn. The AVO probably changed the records to say my mother died during childbirth. But she was alive when they took her from the hospital."
The old woman had closed her eyes as soon as Lori approached, as if, not seeing, she could safely deny something she was unprepared to accept. She shook her head. "I have no granddaughter," she said in a choking voice. "My family is all gone. I am alone. Please go and leave me with what memories I still possess."
Lori looked up, tears streaming down her cheeks. She could not get through to this tragic, aging figure. It had all been in vain, the trip over here, the day of digging through the AVO files, a fruitless search for a past that must remain forever buried in the graveyard of Margit Szabo's splintered dreams.
Then Mrs. Szabo's wrinkled lids cracked open, like an ancient turtle preparing to peer out of its shell. Lori saw the weary eyes stare down at her, as if really seeing her for the first time. A frail hand reached out, a shaky finger traced the line of her nose, touched her lips.
"You are a reincarnation of my son, Istvan," she murmured.
Lori buried her face in her grandmother's lap as the old woman leaned down and kissed her cheek.
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