Wednesday, December 30, 2015

NADIA Picture Tour, Stop 5

Carlos Villanueva stood at the edge of the parking lot and looked over Manassas Battlefield Park. Lifting the binoculars to his eyes, he examined the field below one more time. Joel Perry sat in jeans and a T-shirt in the grass at the edge of the meadow, looking at the ground and not moving a muscle. Not another soul in sight. “I don’t like it, Tab. He’s all alone, no one else to meet us. Daniels said he’d be out here, too.”

Sergeant Tabitha Grubka sat in the passenger’s seat of Carlos’ coupe, tightening the laces on a combat boot. “Joel’s probably being watched from the tree line. I bet Agent Daniels simply doesn’t trust us. After what they’ve been through, I’d be pretty careful, too.” Finally satisfied with the fit of her boot, she climbed out and closed the door. “Not that I’m complaining, but I’m way out of my element here. I’m a bit-chaser, not a rifleman.”

 Carlos turned around long enough to give her a good-natured smirk. “That’s why the rest of the team have weapons, and we don’t.” He glanced at his watch. “Well, five minutes past H-Hour. I assume Joel’s waited enough. Let’s go.”

They strode out of the parking lot, past the visitor’s center, and down the hill, Tabitha occasionally rearranging portions of her battle uniform. Carlos glanced over his shoulder. He could barely see Erick at the top of the hill, watching the western side of the park. Dave Gunderson would be watching the other side. Not that Carlos felt any safer. No weapons, no radios, he said. If I’m wrong, what’ll they tell Tab’s parents when they send her home in a coffin? His stomach did a couple extra flip-flops for good measure as he stole a glance at Tab. Besides squirming in her bulky uniform, her face looked as pale as his felt. Her eyes darted constantly, looking for some undefined threat from the trees.

When they drew within a few meters, Joel raised one hand over his head. With the other, he held out a radio.

When Carlos took it, a short squawk came from the speaker, followed by a familiar voice, one he’d only heard on the phone the day before. “Sergeant Villanueva, this is Agent Daniels.”

Okay, we play it this way. Carlos keyed the handheld. “Go ahead. This is Villanueva.”

“Tell Corporal Perry he can stand up, and thank him for his cooperation. You can go now.”

Carlos scanned the tree line at the edge of the field again. The late afternoon light made it impossible to pick out any details among the greenery. “I thought we were going to meet today, Jon.”

“Maybe another time.”

Carlos cursed under his breath. He wanted answers, not more questions. “What’s NADIA?”

“Something you don’t talk about on a radio.”

“Jon, you can tell me what I need to know, or I can keep digging until I find everything out, including where you’re hiding Bunny Kalinsky. He’s facing quite a suite of federal charges, you know. What’s it going to be?”

He unkeyed the radio and motioned to Joel to go back to the lot. Not taking his eyes from the trees, he whispered, “Meet Dave up there. I have a recorder in my car. Start talking. Everything you remember.”

Daniels’ voice crackled from the handheld again. “There’s a cannon fifty meters to your left, over toward the stone bridge. Look in the muzzle. Out.”

Carlos’ heart jumped. “No, wait a minute! Daniels, where are you?” Silence was his only answer.

Tab pointed. “There’s the cannon.”

“Hang on,” said Carlos. “I’ll go check it out. If it’s a trap, get back to the car. Round up the others, and zero in on Daniels and his crew. Comb the damned woods till you find them.”

“What then?”

Handing her the radio, he said, “Make ’em spill their guts.”

He approached the cannon slowly, looking for wires or hidden antennas and mumbling to himself. His hands shook; he stilled them by force of will. “This is ridiculous, they’re on our side.”

His inner voice answered. Oh, are they? What makes you so certain they’re friendlies, Jéfé?

He carried on the conversation with himself all the way to the cannon. “Because if they were working for the bad guys, they’d have popped me and Tab for even asking about NADIA.”

Or they would have put one of their antimatter bombs in this cannon, ready to take out the whole park, right? Reach in—I dare you.

“Shut up, Carlos, they’re the good guys like us.”

How do you know?

He was at the cannon. “’Cause I’m going to find out right now.” Shining a penlight down the muzzle, he saw a tangle of litter and several pop cans. “I hope there aren’t any spiders in there.” He took a deep breath and began to withdraw the trash one item at a time.

He unwadded the fourth candy wrapper to find a series of numbers scrawled in marker on the inside. After tossing the rest of the trash in the nearest can, he returned to Tab. “GPS coordinates.”

She hugged herself and shivered in spite of the heat. “Let’s just get out of here, Carlos. I get a bad feeling—”

--from Critical Mass

* * * *
Good day, fellow Castaways! Congratulations again, Lisa Reece, our winner of the Irving's Cabin contest!

This week, Once again, you've seen the picture behind the story, and now, you get the story behind the picture! Yay, hoo-rah, and other colorful interjections of a celebratory nature.

As indicated in the scene above, this shot was taken at the Manassas Battlefield Park at Manassas, Virginia.

The entire week I was in Virginia, the weather was cool and rainy. It never actually stopped, though sometimes it let up to a light mist. It lent a kind of haunting sadness to the place where, in July of 1861, nearly 5,000 men died in the first land battle of the American Civil war.

I arrived at the Visitor's Center and climbed out into the rain and wind. I made a mad dash to get inside the center just before the rain really cut loose, and browsed around inside for a while until the weather let up.

As soon as the clouds relented, I ran outside and pranced around like a total and complete fool. I don't think the staff quite understood why I was so excited about being there. Sure there was history all around me, and I was drinking that up like a sponge. But I also had to get the best shot I could before the rains busted loose again.

I ran up and down the line of cannons behind the Visitor's Center, taking shots here and there. I took the one I posted above, with the water droplets dangling from the bottom of the barrel, and the colors struck me. In the background, you can see a farmhouse that was rebuilt, as the original was blasted to matchsticks by artillery.

I didn't get a chance to wander the whole park. The battlefield plain is pretty big, after all. But it inspired in me a sense of loss, as well as commanding a quiet reverie for the significance of the drama that unfolded so long ago.

I intend to go back to see it all. I would encourage everyone to see it.

Next week, we'll post Stop 6. Till then, stay frosty.

Monday, December 21, 2015

NADIA Picture Tour, Stop 4. The Picture Behind the Story

A narrow footpath wound through the trees, shaded and cool in the late summer heat. A rabbit said hello by way of scurrying through the underbrush to parts unknown. A squirrel overhead chirred its irritation at an invading starling. Jon breathed in the woods all the way to the far end of the path where it emerged in front of Irving’s cabin.

Jimmy DeBartolo sat on the porch in a creaking rocker, whittling. In his gnarled fingers, the body of a bird was taking shape. Jon paused to admire the work, noting how steady Jimmy’s hands were, despite the outward ravages of age that had taken so many of Jimmy’s generation already. The devil knows he’s going to have a fight on his hands when he comes for Jimmy, so he’s just putting it off until the old coot’s softened a bit. Like that’s ever going to happen. Next to the old man, against the wooden siding under the shelter of the porch, leaned a worn but sturdy Garand combat rifle. He looked up as Jon approached, and his wrinkled face split into a huge, toothy grin. “Hey, Jon.”

“Morning, Jim. Another quiet day.” Jimmy’s flint-hard eyes scanned the woods as he answered, “Thank the good Lord for that.”

 “How’s Papa today?” Jimmy grinned wider.

“’Bout ready to kill Beth, I think.”

“I think I’ll say hi before I head downstairs.”

“Okay, if you really want to. I’m gonna take a walk around.” The old man rose and picked up the rifle before stepping past Jon and onto the packed earth in front of the porch. He shifted it to an easy grip in his gnarled hands and slunk off through the woods with an easy, well-practiced stride. Seconds after he reached the tree line, he disappeared as if he were only a ghost in John’s imagination. The only evidence of his presence was the half-formed wooden sculpture on the seat of the rocking chair.

Damn, I’m glad he’s one of ours. I’d hate to be on that old man’s bad side. Jon stepped through the screen door and into Irving Ratzinger’s living room. Irving’s easy chair, threadbare and sunken, hunched in its corner, empty. The comfortable clutter that defined the man’s life was neatly arranged around it, the photo of his beloved Hilda within easy reach. Hilda’s prize smallmouth bass leered from the wall above the old TV in the opposite corner. Irving’s collection of dog-eared paperback westerns loitered on their shelves, separated from his how-to books and his Foxfire Series. Everything here made this cabin a home in every sense of the word.

Everything except one. The smell of Irving’s latest culinary masterpiece was noticeably absent in the air. Even though it had been three months since the heart attack, Jon’s nostrils remembered the scent of Irving’s apple strudel, among other delicious creations from “Papa’s” kitchen. How many glazed rolls had he washed down with German roast coffee around that table over the years? Not nearly enough, came the answer from Jon’s stomach.

A woman’s voice came from down the hall, frustration tempered by a good humor. “Lay back down, you old fart, and let me get your meds in.”

Jon chuckled, imagining the struggle taking place as he made his way to Irving’s room. When he opened the door, Papa was struggling to get out of bed. Beth Nelson was trying to wrestle him back down. She looked over her shoulder at the creak of the door hinges, a tuft of curly brown hair dangling in her eyes. In spite of the effort she was exerting against the old man in the bed, she smiled.

“Can you help me out here? I have to give him his shot.”

Irving grabbed her wrists and sat up again. His German accent was thicker when he was this tired. “I said I was all right, young lady, and I want to get up.”

Beth twisted her arms free and pressed on Papa’s chest again. He began to sweat with exertion. She was just plump enough to give her a weight advantage, especially with Irving’s weakened condition, and the strain began to show.

When Jon decided enough was enough, he stepped in and touched Beth’s shoulder. She let go of Irving and stood. “Papa,” he said, “you know the shot makes you sleepy. So take it and get some more rest. Beth can handle lunch when you wake up.”

The old man lay back, pouting. “The way she cooks? I’d rather eat my left shoe!”

Beth’s eyes popped; her mouth gaped. She snapped back in mock indignation. “I’ll have you know, sir, my meals are perfectly well-balanced examples of excellent nutrition—”

“That taste like old tires!” Despite the rough tone of Irving’s voice, the twinkle in his eye told Jon he was just being difficult for the sake of mischief.

Jon said, “We can’t all be gourmet chefs, Papa. You’ve had a rough time the last couple of months. It’s not going to kill you to let someone else take care of you for a while. Besides, Beth’s been a nurse for…” He shrugged, looking at her. “At least a month. When was it you took that correspondence course again?”

Beth threw a half-hearted punch at Jon’s midsection, easily dodged with a laugh. “Thanks a bunch, you jerk. I’ll have you know I got my RN from Stanford ten years ago.” She turned back to Irving. “Please, Papa, I have to give you this shot. Donna says a couple more weeks and you should be as good as new. Or at least as good as before your heart attack.”

Irving paused while he mulled it over. “Can I have it in my chair?”

“If Jon can move your monitor into the living room, I don’t see why not.” She gave Jon a coy smile and blinked her eyes.

“Gee, how can I say no to that,” said Jon with a grin and a wink to Irving. “Let’s go, then.”

* * * *

Okay, this one has a double-sided story. First, mine, and next, our contest winner's.

As you all know, recently I was in Virginia for a company road trip, and found some awesome settings to punctuate the most critical scenes of my award-winning series The NADIA Project. Unfortunately, I could not locate the perfect shot for Papa Irving's cabin, and so I posted a contest. I have to say, the final voting was close. It came down to the difference of one vote (Tell me your vote doesn't count!). And we have our winner, Lisa Reese of Nort udda Border, eh? Congratulations, Lisa!

Okay, so as you've seen, this week's post is a couple days late. I had to get hold of Lisa and get the story behind the photo from her. Now, granted, the shot isn't from Virginia. She covers it in her story. But if Hollywood can relocate a house for their own purposes, so can I. My apologies to Virginia. I'm sure there is a cabin somewhere in that wonderful state that would fit the bill. I just didn't have time to find it, which works out well for Lisa. So without further ado, here's Lisa's story behind the picture behind the story:

"Every year my family and I go camping with friends in Jasper Alberta. We love combining three things while we’re there: hiking, geocaching and photography. The day I took this picture was no exception.

Lac Beauvert is known for being beautiful to photograph, and there are some very iconic shots that can be taken of the mountains in behind the Jasper Park Golf Course, and my husband had just given me a brand new camera that I wanted to try out. But instead of just taking the iconic shots we followed a walking trail along the lakes edge to the left. After you get well past the main parking and tourist areas you can see this little cabin across the lake, just poking through the trees.

I don’t normally photograph buildings but I really liked this one, and it’s seemingly secluded location—I say seemingly because it is one of several cabins you can rent through the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge—despite that, it struck me as the sort of place I’d want to live if I could, so I took one photo. I remember I could only take one, and had to hope it would turn out as my family hadn’t noticed that I'd stopped and were well out of sight. This would have been fine if there wasn't a bear in the area, so we had to stick together.

Thankfully the photo turned out, and I loved that picture so when I heard about the contest for Irving's Cabin, I couldn’t think of a more welcoming little cabin than that one, nestled in the trees in Jasper."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

And The Winner Is...To Be Announced!

Greetings, fellow Castaways!

The entries have been received, and the time has come to select a winner for our Irving's Cabin contest!

I know who took the pictures, but only two of you know. Because I've weeded the entries down to the top two, and guess what: YOU, dear readers and fans, get to pick the entry who will win one signed print book from my already published selection!

Irving Ratzinger is the character we are finding a home for. He's already got a house, but I need to know which one you all see him in. He's a survivor in the truest sense, a God-loving Jew, a gourmet-trained chef, and a combat veteran, now settled down and living in the woods of the Shenandoah River Valley. His abode in the little clearing whispers comfort and peace to all who enter, and the aromas from his kitchen promise no guest will ever walk away hungry.

What I NEED all of you to do, is vote by COMMENT!!! That's right, send me a comment right here on THIS blog! Comments will not be published, so no one will know who voted for what cabin best represents "Papa" Irving's lifestyle of quiet comfort and peaceful living.

Now, I'm going to do something that looks odd, but I have a reason: First, a picture to conceal the first picture when I post it on Facebook and whatnot:

And to business!

First up, we have Cabin 2, because that's what I wanted to do:

Once again, I know which person entered this shot, but you don't. Now, look at Entry Number 1:

Both beautiful shots. Thanks to all who entered. The only way we're going to have a winner is if you vote, right here, by sending me your comment on which is the cabin that fits Papa best. The winner will be notified by me and announced on Facebook, and the next stop on the NADIA picture tour will feature that picture, plus an excerpt featuring Papa's Cabin.

Let's go, folks. And...VOTE!!!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

NADIA Picture Tour, Stop 3

"Jimmy listened on his Bluetooth while he crouched behind a car across the street, holding the combat shotgun steady on the reflective glass of the office front window. He knew exactly where to aim, to make sure he was sighted in on Jenny’s phone. He assumed from his visit that the women were held in the conference room. From where he was set up, they should be out of the way. As soon as he knew who picked up, he was going to send another message. He’d keep talking until the phone was answered. “Come on, punk. It’s time we had a chat.”

The line clicked, and a man’s voice came back through his earpiece. “You need to watch your mouth, old man—”

Jimmy squeezed the trigger and held it. Three rounds of 12-gauge buckshot splintered the window and Jenny’s desk. Bruce’s chest collapsed as a fist of lead pellets punched him like a truck, and he fell in a bloodied heap against the back wall of the office. Jimmy kept the shotgun level as the view through the storefront opened up. With the glass gone, he could see into the office area, covering the entire front of the office.

Another figure moved, diving behind the remains of Jenny’s desk, and a head popped up, looking for him. But where Jimmy was set up, he still maintained the element of surprise. He popped off the last two rounds in the shotgun and grabbed his AK-47 as the head dropped back behind Jenny’s desk. He wasn’t sure if he hit the man, but he could fix that easily enough. He sent three rounds of .30-caliber, copper-jacketed lead through the wood of the desk, saw someone jump, and heard a man’s agonized scream.

The smell of cordite in Jimmy’s nostrils, and the sight of the rifle’s barrel in his vision, brought back memories of other times and places he’d wanted to forget so badly, but they never let him go. Thirty years in the Army, including two wars and countless covert operations across the globe, would never let him forget. He could still see the blood, hear the cries of wounded and dying men. In his dreams, he still walked fields and paddies strewn with bloated corpses, mutilated and rancid in the tropical heat, or frozen solid and snow-covered. He’d taken part in that butchery, had trained others how to kill, had lain in wait for blood so long and so often, that it had made him in its own image. He was no longer the plumber’s kid from Oklahoma, no more
the retired insurance agent from Platteville, Oregon. Plain and simple, Jimmy DeBartolo was a warrior, and destined for a warrior’s fate.


* * * *

Hello, it's me...

What you're looking at this week is a photo I took in downtown Front Royal, Virginia. I saw this awesome little storefront and knew it had to be the offices of Genetek!

Front Royal is a very "Alive" little town nestled in the Shenandoah River Valley, and in the foothills of the Appalachians. In fact, I drove under a pedestrian walkway not far from this site that was labeled as part of the Appalachia Trail.

Now, back to Front Royal: It was everything I hoped it would be, and they have some awesome food there, I can tell you. Make sure you stop at the Mill Cafe and have a bite to eat, because it's rock awesome.

I was really excited to come into this town and find it was everything I wrote and then some. The setting couldn't have been more perfect if I'd visited there myself before writing the NADIA Project.

A steady drizzle tried to dampen my spirits and totally failed as I ran up and down the streets, finding corners for this scene, and stores for that scene, and before the sun went down I was totally lost, had no idea where my rental car was, and I'm pretty sure some folks probably thought I was bonkers for even being there. Okay, more than sure. Some folks I met and shared my story with, actually told me "You're bonkers for writing this town into a story like that."

But you know what? It was perfect for the location, it was perfect in the reality of the scenes and settings. It was perfect in its history (some major battles took place in the Civil War around that area, and some buildings in that town look like they could have been there then), and it was perrfect even with the weather being just a mite waterlogged.

And this is only the beginning. I have some more awesome shots to share from Front Royal.

BUT HERE IS A REMINDER: I have an active contest going on. I need the best picture of Irving Ratzinger's cabin. The finalists will be picked by yours truly based on truth to theme, composition, and appeal, and you all are going to vote for the best one, to receive a signed print copy of the winner's choice from my books (see the "my books" tab at the top of the page to peruse your choices). I still need a couple more entries to make it a good contest.

So send your submissions to me at cyrus DOT keith AT yahoo DOT com or to my page at Facebook in a private message, and put CABIN CONTEST in the subject line. You don't have to be the photographer, but I don't want any copyright conflicts. Help me find Papa Irving's Cabin, and YOU could win!