Posts Tagged ‘novel’

Here’s a little snippet from Jem of Skye for you good folks:

That night, Jem lay awake and listened to Kaetu breathe. No more than a foot of space separated them, but it may as well have been the distance between Janus and Cirrus, for all the good it did him. He could smell her wonderful hair, but he couldn’t touch her. So, with a small sigh he turned away from her in the darkness and let his mind wander.

Unbidden, images came to him. They were all images of writing, some from the old tab-books that his mother kept. There would be a pictures of her and father when they were young, and behind them would be a sign. He had never before associated the signs with any meaning, but there, on the edge of sleep, he could suddenly read them.

Jem read the words and sounded them aloud in mere whispers, and instantly their meaning came to him: “No admittance.” “Café Crepe.” “Telescope Open to Public.” “No Public Restroom.”

Jem sat up in bed.

He could read!

He dashed out of his bed, thumbed on his slippers and ran across the room, dodging beds from their location in his memory.

He ran through the chow hall and into the front hall, sprinted down the long first floor hallway and to the stairs. From there he ran the width of the second floor and to the other stairs and onto the third. After that it was down the half-mile long hallway to the rear of the complex and up the stairs to the library.

The door was open, so he flashed inside. He ran to the closest rack, grabbed a book from the shelf and riffled it open. He began reading.

The exact time and place of Plato’s birth are unknown, but it is certain that he belonged to an aristocratic and influential family.

He understood it! Jem flipped further.

The role of Apollo as god of plague is evident in the invocation of Apollo Smintheus (“mouse Apollo”) by Chryses, the Trojan priest of Apollo, with the purpose of sending a plague against the Greeks (the reasoning behind a god of the plague becoming a god of healing is of course apotropaic, meaning that the god responsible for bringing the plague must be appeased in order to remove the plague).

“Master Jem!” Goat’s voice shouted. “The library is closed. It is after hours.”

“I have to read something, Goat! I have to read right now!”

“It is not allowed.” The mec floated beside him, deftly removed the book from Jem’s hand and replaced it on the shelf without even glancing to see whether or not it was put back in the correct place. From this Jem inferred that Goat knew the location of every book in the library.

“I have to!” Jem cried.

“Aha! So, you admit it now.”

Jem’s shoulders sagged. “Yes. You were right all along. I must read.”

“Then there is only one thing to do. I have a book you can take back with you. It is the Book of Subjects. It is an index of the entire library.” The mec turned and floated across to the table next to the open doorway.

“I can take it?” Jem asked.

“Certainly. We have over a thousand copies of the Index in a closet. This one is yours.” Goat removed a large book and held out his arm to Jem.

Jem ran to Goat and took the book.

“Thanks, Goat! I’ll bring it back. I promise.”

“No need, Master Jem. No need at all. But I daresay that you will have difficulty reading it after lights out.”

“Oh, I’m not going to read it tonight,” Jem said. “I’m going to sleep with it.”

“Hmph.” Goat stated, and Jem was gone back out the door, disappearing into the darkness as if he’d never come. “Kids.”

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ONE

And then there was only Jem.

Of the others, Oldpa had gone first, then Oldma, followed by Ma and then Pa. Of them all, losing Ma had been the worst. Afterward the ceremony, and after Ma had made the drop, Jem’s father, who came home seldom, had heaped on Jem all of his frustrations, as if Jem were the cause of all of the death that surrounded him. Those six weeks of his father’s leave from service to mourn his wife had been the worst days of Jem’s twelve years of life.

When Jem had heard through the Chan that his father had gone down from the sky alongside the rest of his crew during an engagement with the navies of Horn, he had cried his eyes out for a few hours, but this was less from his loss than from the fact that he was all alone in the sky, even though in Cirrus he was surrounded by tens of thousands of Cirrans, though few of whom he actually knew.

Jem had turned thirteen shortly before his father, Olwen, died in a firefight with the murderous Horn. This he knew even though his birthday had come and gone uncelebrated the way Ma used to, with a small party and a special present. He knew his birthday had passed because the Bright Star had come directly above Cirrus in the night sky. The Bright Star, as his mother had always told him, was Jem’s star.

From school, Jem had learned that Cirrus was exactly fifty-two thousand feet above Land, no more and no less. It had always been that distance, and would forever remain so.

Jem waited at the entryway to his home near the southern, poorer edge of Cirrus for the wardens to come and take him away. He was never going back to school because with the death of Olwen the family had no money. It was a rather stupid fact that he was now a family of one, and that one—himself, Jem—was to be taken and integrated in with the Janus: the orphans of Cirrus. But his father had been a Janus, and so it all made sense to him now as he waited, his small pack of clothing beside him in a buoy rig: everything is always the same. Nothing changes.

He had expected a phalanx of wardens to come for him, but instead a lone warden drifted out from between two nearby dwellings, stopped, turned his head left and right, his polished helmet flashing in the fading sunlight, then focused in on Jem in the only open doorway along the street. The warden floated slowly toward him. Everything floated in Cirrus: the buildings, the people, the few scattered outside light sources, and with the exception of the trader ships coming in beneath the city or to the edge, everything in Cirrus floated slowly.

“Hey, kid,” the warden said. His visor was up, and the face was less young than Jem had expected. They warden, in fact, looked familiar. “Are you 355721? Are you Jem? Olwen’s son?”

Jem nodded to the man.

“Hmph. You probably don’t remember me. Your dad, Ollie, used to be in my outfit in Janus together. He ever tell you stories about him and Vic and some of the stunts we used to pull?”

Jem shook his head.

“That’s me. Vic.”

Jem nodded.

“Don’t say much, do you?”

Jem shook his head again.

“Just like your old man. Come on. Get your rig. I’m to take you to Janus and make sure your billeted in. The least I can do for Ollie.”

Jem reached over and tapped the tow button on the rig that contained all of his worldly possession, tapped the stud at the juncture of his breast bone, and floated out the door, the rig in tow behind him.

When he got even with Vic, the man put out his hand and stopped him.

“Look, it’s not so bad. There’s lots of kids where you’re going. And just think—no more school. Not a lot of rules like there are outside Janus. The only thing is you’ll have to learn to fight, to stick up for yourself, or they’ll kill you. You understand that, right? I mean, surely you’ve heard all about Janus.”

Jem looked up at the man. His face was broad and his cheeks were nearly outside of his helmet.

“I understand.”

“Good. Let’s go.”

Jem had only ever twice before been to Centro, the Cirrus city central district. He and Vic moved along the Strofe, the main open thoroughfare, and passed hundreds of small shops and dozens of gargantuan, towering buildings. There were more people than Jem had ever seen before, and they all seemed to be going someplace.

There were parents with their children as well, but a glance told the tale. There were few poor children along the Strofe, if any—their clothes were stylish and clean, their float rigs were of the latest style. None of these kids had ever risked taking the drop because their rigs weren’t right. The drop, of course, being the end. The final and early death. A one-way ticket to the Land, fifty-two thousand feet below.

After maybe twenty minutes, Vic turned off the Strofe to the left and they passed through the industrial district.

The last vestige of day had retreated and night had fallen.

Jem looked up and the Bright Star was there, far off center. The factory walls, in fact, blotted out most of the star-filled night sky.

Another warden passed them by, his rig outlined in light, and Vic and the man exchanged nods.

One day, Jem knew, he would become a warden, and when he did, he would never push people around nor kill them the way he had witnessed so many times in the past. A warden had the power of life and death. He or she could shut off a float rig if they happened to have a Key, and there was nothing for it but to take the drop.

Upon thinking of the drop, Jem looked down and saw a massive trader moving beneath them, several hundred yards distant. If Jem flicked off his rig, he would likely fall down directly on it, and the ship might take his broken body off to one of the other Major Cities he had learned about it school. Perhaps Cloisteros, or Metros, or maybe even Garden or Citadel. Or possibly even Horn. Naval vessels, his father had once told him, never attacked a trader, unless the trader had turned pirate. Then, if a trader had done so, it was their duty to blast them out of the sky and send them down to the Land far below, where the savage demi-humans lived. It was thought that anyone surviving the drop was doomed anyway, because no one could live among the demi-humans. It just wasn’t possible.

They turned again and made their way around a large, drab-looking edifice, and across a yawning space of several hundred yards.

“That’s Janus.” Vic pointed to the large, ugly, multi-storied building set far apart from the rest of Cirrus.

“Don’t like it.”

“Of course you don’t. What’s to like?”

In school there had been pictures of a place called Alcatraz. Janus reminded him of that place. First of all, it was large and blocky, with numbers of seemingly separate buildings attached to the one, grim, main building. Second, there were few windows. Low down in front there was a wide, pillared porch with twin double-doors thrown open. There was, however, not a soul in sight.

“You’ll get along fine in Janus. You just have to watch yourself, Jem. I’ll come around from time to time and check up on you. I made a promise to your dad, you see. He made me swear that if anything ever happened to him, I was to keep watch on you. Make sure you made it to adulthood. I aim to keep that promise.”

Jem felt that the man was looking at him, awaiting a response, but as Jem turned to look at him, Vic, the only friend of his father’s of which he had ever been aware, looked away.

The came to the porch.

“Jem.”

Jem turned around to face the man.

“Your rig.”

“Huh?”

“You can’t have a rig in Janus. It wouldn’t do for anyone to be able to leave whenever they wanted to, now would it?”

“I—”

“I’ll make sure it comes back to you. Go ahead. Take it off now.”

Jem couldn’t recall ever being without a rig. Quite suddenly, he burst into hot tears.

“Now that’s enough of that, my boy-o. You can’t walk in there crying like that. It’d be like walking up to the Horn and turning yourself in for being a sub-Horn, which is the way they think of everybody. What I’m saying is, they’ll tear you to pieces, so it’s best to dry those eyes, square your shoulders and walk in there.”

Jem nodded and wiped his eyes with his sleeve.

“In fact, if I were you, I’d pick the meanest looking kid in the place, walk up to him and punch him right in the face and keep punching him to somebody pulls you off of him. It’s the only way you’ll earn any respect, and for damn sure, it’s the fastest way.”

Jem nodded and Vic touseled his cornsilk blonde hair.

“You look like your dad, Jem, and that’s saying a lot. You’ll do fine.”

Jem unhooked his rig and the harness came free. Before they both could lose it to the sky above, Vic punched the stud and it dropped into his arms.

The tow rig settled down to the steps behind Jem.

Vic floated in space in front of him, and then Jem could see it all quite clearly: the vast space between Janus and the other buildings on the edge of Cirrus made Janus an island unto itself, if one didn’t have a float-rig. Janus, for all intents and purposes, was Alcatraz.

And Jem hadn’t committed any crime, other than losing his parents.

It stung. Jem was trapped. The only direction for him lay through the doorway at his back.

Vic floated off several yards, turned, gave Jem a smile, then floated away across the impassable gulf of sky.

Get your copy here!

Hopping around in the book at the moment, trying to get it polished up and somewhere near finished. Here’s a little teaser scene on the bus (neither guts nor glory here):

“Ms. Althea,” I said, “We have to go back to Umstauzel.”
“Back to—?”
“The first winery.”
“Why do you want to go back there?”
Dickerson Linton, clearly three sheets to the wind, stuck his face in between ours and breathed out alcohol fumes such that it would have been dangerous to strike a match. “If Bill wants to go back to Oompahpah, I shay we…we…we leg him. And Godschpeeeed.”
“Thank you, Linton,” I said.
Ms. Althea looked over at Julie.
“Umstauzel,” she said.
“Mr. and Mrs. Parker chimed in next, in unison, “Oompahpah.”
Somewhat of a chant began at that point, “Oompahpah. Oompahpah. Oompahpah…” with a little more than half of them managing to mangle even the mangulation.
“My God, you are all the worst bunch of…nevermind. I guess it doesn’t matter to me. You all paid for this, and the other wineries are expecting us.”
“Maybe you can call whoever is next on the list and tell them there was a holdup.”
“Yeah, I can tell them the holdup was Bill Travis.”
I nodded. “You might do that.”
“Okay, people. At this point I don’t believe any of you would be able to tell one winery from the other. We’re going back to Oompahpah.”
“Umstauzel,” I corrected her.
“Whatever the hell.” She turned to go back to the front of the bus and called over her shoulder, “Mr. Travis, please give me a head count.”
I turned around to face everyone and began counting silently, stabbing the air with a finger.
Linton Dickerson started throwing random numbers at me to try to break my concentration. “Twenty-one, thirteen, forty-two…”
“Shut up, Linton,” I said.
He laughed. “This reminds me of a song.” He started singing:

Neither a borrower nor lender be
Do not forget, stay out of debt.
Think twice and take this good advice from me.
Keep watch on your sovereignteeee
There is one other thing…you ought to do.
To thine own self be true.

I finished the count, called the total back to Ms. Althea, who grunted an acknowledgment. I said to Linton, “Thank you for that rousing chorus, Mr. Dickerson. You should go on the road with that.”
The bus lurched as Ms. Althea put us in gear.
“Looks like we’re already on the frackin’ road,” he exclaimed.
Elderly Mr. Parker suddenly stood and gave us all a moderately unsober yet poetic rendition of She Walks In Beauty Like The Night, at which not a few clapped and upon which Mr. Jameson remarked “Bo-ring!” Somehow, this prompted Linton Dickerson to stand and boisterously brutalize the theme song to Gilligan’s Island.
And so it went the five miles back to Umstauzel.

The first Chapter of Reveille In Red, Bill Travis #16, coming soon. I’m such a tease.
CHAPTER ONE 

 

The one good thing about getting older is that there are far many more opportunities to drink wine and relax—for other people. Things are a little too busy for me to attempt such a passtime. Julie, my wife, likes to have a little wine now and again, usually on a Saturday or a Sunday night, and while I have tasted the stuff, I couldn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered a serious wine-drinker. Or a drinker of any kind of alcohol in any appreciable quantity, for that matter. First of all, I have to have my wits about me at all times. Second, I never particularly liked the way it made me feel.
 So when I got invited on a tour of the Fredericksberg, Texas wine country through the Austin Chamber of Commerce—one of those “reciprocity” deals that is really little more than flagrant promotion—I didn’t exactly snap at the chance. But when I did finally give the nod and accept the invitation—and received two tickets for my troubles and for my modest donation—it was with an eye toward treating my wife to the kind of life she’d wanted to live all along, or at least it was in my estimation. Possibly, I couldn’t have been more wrong about everything.
 The worst disasters typically begin that way: good intention gone awry; an effort to kill two overly vociferous song birds with the same sling bullet, which in this instance included Constance Fielder and her pushy public relations methodology, and the realization during our little talk that it was perfectly true—I rarely treated my wife to anything except a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day, taking her car down to have it washed, waxed and detailed some time in the neighborhood of her birthday every year, and the obligatory Christmas and Anniversary presents. 
 “Bill,” Constance said while standing in front of my desk, as if she belonged there and had real business to conduct, “when was the last time you treated Julie to anything? I mean, aside from taking her to dinner?”
 “Well,” I began, and was fully ready to charge forward with the details of our last trip to South Texas, but then I remembered that Julie had spent most of her time in the hotel room while I was out running around trying to figure out who was killing people and turning their bodies into instant mummies. I thought of our most recent trip to the re-opening of a blues bar in Houston, but then, on the heels of that, came the realization that it had all been for my benefit.
 I regarded Constance’s serious face and steady eyes, then sighed and leaned back in my chair.
 “How much, Constance? How much is my conscience going to cost me?”
 “Three hundred dollars. It’s the best deal you’ll ever get for the sale of your thoroughly used and overly abused conscience.”
 I opened my desk drawer, withdrew my personal checkbook, opened it and started writing.
 “You won’t regret it,” Constance said.
 As I wrote, I realized that it was all my fault to begin with. Constance and Jack had divorced a couple of years back, and Constance had been sitting in my office, quietly sobbing while I went over what Jack had done to their portfolio in the months and years leading to their breakup. I did two things for her that day: I recommended one of the best divorce attorneys in Austin to her, and when she asked me, “What am I going to do with my life?” I told her about the opening that I’d heard about with the Chamber of Commerce. All by way of saying that it always comes home to roost. No good deed…and all that.
 I finished writing the check, tore it out of the book and handed it to her.
 She gave me an envelope in return.
 “What’s this?” I asked.
 “It’s your tickets. Two tickets to paradise.”
 “Paradise,” I said. Full blown in front of me a panorama came into view: Julie and me sitting outside under an awning with half-empty wine glasses in front of us, crickets chirping in the scrub brush nearby, a vast field of grape vines stretching out to the horizon and the sun going down behind the farthest hill. 
 Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the stark beauty of South Central Texas with its rolling hills, stubby trees, and its often dry, sun-baked earth. But I do have a problem with the passage of time, or specifically, with time wasted wherein something that could be accomplished is being frittered away like money flowing through the hands of a wastrel.
 Time. My life was all about time.
 And then Constance, a late middle-aged and diminutive woman given to flowery apparel and almost obnoxious optimism, did something funny with her face. She smiled, got a little giddy-looking, and reached across my desk and put her hand on top of mine and squeezed it. “Oh, I so envy you, Bill Travis. You with your beautiful wife and your wonderful family. And now you get to go romance her all over again.”
 “All it takes to romance her, Constance, is eggs for breakfast and banana pudding for dessert.”
 “Oh, poo,” she said. She turned around, sashayed across my office while doing a little happy dance, then turned and said, “This makes me feel young, Bill, so I’m not going to let you ruin anything for me.”
 “Goodbye, Constance,” I said, but she was already gone out the door—with my three hundred bucks.
 I sat in my chair and looked at the envelope in my hand. It was a plain, white envelope, with no address on it, all clean and pristine. It would be all too easy to pull up the address for one of my clients, write their address on the envelope Constance had handed me, slap a stamp on it and put it by the front door with the outgoing mail. But it felt a little more thick than just a couple of tickets.
 I opened the envelope, since it was unsealed.
 Inside, there was a brochure, and sure enough, it had a photo splash of a couple holding hands, looking out across a field of grapes. Inside the brochure there was a wine bottle posing next to a hogshead of cheese that no family of any size could possibly eat in one sitting, and below this was another, smaller photograph showing the wine label:
REVEILLE
 There was a small bugler inked into the background, forever blowing his bugle.
 This jogged a memory.
 It had been in the paper a few days back. I looked around my desk, but no newspaper.
 I got up, went out into the outer office, but Logan didn’t work on Friday afternoon. I poked my head in Penny’s office. “Hey, where’s my newspaper?”
 “What newspaper?” she asked.
 “I had a newspaper on my desk. Where’d it go?”
 “I have no idea. For what day?”
 “I think Tuesday. No, Wednesday.”
 “The housekeeper comes every Wednesday night. She probably threw it away.”
 “Oh.” Lost. So many things, irretrievably lost.
 “I think I have Wednesday,” Penny said.
 “You’re kidding.”
 “I never kid about the newspaper.” She pushed with her feet and her chair rolled backwards. She opened her buffet bureau and I saw a stack of newspapers there.
 She handed it to me.
 I opened it on her desk and turned the page to the Local and State section, and found it.
WINERY DEATH INVESTIGATION ONGOING
 “This is it!” I said.
 “What?” She got up and looked across her desk at the paper.
 “Hmm. Now why would you be interested in that?” she asked.
 “Oh, I don’t know. Two tickets for a tour of the wine country were just dropped in my lap, and the brochure has this!” I pointed at the picture to the side of the article.
 “A bottle of wine,” Penny said. “Very nice.”
 “No. If you look close, it’s the same name, same logo as on the brochure.”
 “So, you get to tour the winery where somebody died. That sounds…about right.”
 I suppose I had made a spectacle of myself, because I suddenly became self-conscious. It had something to do with the way Penny was looking at me, with her head slightly cocked, as if something had been confirmed. Or worse, as if she thought she understood me.
 “Never mind,” I said, and turned to go.
 “Bye,” she said.
*****
I went home.
 I live in a commune, or so it seems. The garage—converted into a spare bedroom several years back—was where my old friend and client lived. Hank’s old Ford pickup was parked out front, so I knew he was home. Inside, I had two little kids chasing each other around in the squashed circle of hallways and doorways that comprised the path through the kitchen, the front hallway, the living room and the dining room and back again to the kitchen. It was Michelle and Claudia. In the living room, Jessica sat on the couch, rocking the baby in her arms—my new youngest, Bill Jr. My oldest natural daughter, Jennifer, sat at the dining room table doing her homework in an effort to get it out of the way so that she could do anything she wanted with her weekend. Julie was in the kitchen, cooking. I came up behind her, put my arms around her, and kissed her on the cheek.
 “What did you do?” she asked.
 “What? Can’t a guy be affectionate to the love of his life?”
 “He can, if he has ulterior motives. Do you want to chop some onions?”
 “I’d rather walk on broken glass,” I said.
 “That can be arranged.”
 Michelle flew past me, followed quickly by a giggling Claudia.
 “In this house, nothing surprises me.”
 “So,” she said, and put the lid back on the pot she’d been stirring. Whatever it was, it smelled good. “What’d you do?”
 “Oh, nothing. Just, I got a couple of tickets for a tour for two of wine country.”
 “Napa Valley?” she asked, incredulous.
 “No. Not that wine country. Our wine country.”
 “What, exactly, is our wine country?”
 “Oh. Fredericksberg, Trantor’s Crossing, Center Point, Luckenbach.”
 “Hmph.”
 I held the envelope out in front of her, between her and the cook pot. She took it from my hands.
 “What’s the catch?”
 I thought about it. She turned around and kissed me, then looked deeply into my eyes.
 “Tell me,” she said.
 “I…there’s this thing.”
 “What thing?”
 “Somebody was killed—possibly it was murder—at one of the wineries we’ll be touring.”
 “And you have to go and poke around.”
 “I don’t have to do anything. I just thought—”
 “You thought you could do several things at once: one, keep me happy, and two, keep yourself happy by stirring up trouble.”
 “Something like that,” I admitted.
 “When do we go?” she asked.
 At that instant, Claudia slammed into the back of my knee head first. I very nearly went down to the floor, but Julie saved me in time.
 Claudia giggled, pulled herself up and resumed the chase.
 “Not soon enough,” I said.

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Coming soon! Here’s the Author’s Note:

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE

I’m a bit of a tea-todler these days. That is to say, actually, that I am now a tea-todler. There was once a time—way back in the way back—when I was a professional drinker. I was never an alcoholic, I just really liked to drink—and it didn’t matter what it was, so much: beer, whiskey, wine, kahlua…anything alcoholic was my favorite drink. Then, one day in my late thirties, I was done with it, having grown abjectly bored with the whole thing. Since that time, I have learned to appreciate fine drinks in very small quantities, because, like our friend Bill—not the other Bill, not the AA Bill—I prefer to have my wits about me at all times.

I simply wanted to dispense with all that from the get-go—I’m no stranger to strong drink, and in quantity. My friends of very long standing can attest to that fact. That, for “drinking.”

Which brings us now to wine. More books have been written about wines and grapes, about the “wine country” (of various nations), about wine and food, about the history of wine, etc, than perhaps any other subject. I mean, wine has been with us since forever. Ancient Egypt, Chaldea, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, Norway, China, and even the Americas all had their wines. All you have do is conduct an online search on the subject and a wealth of information springs forth at your fingertips. But no, I’ve not been interested in any of those things, those elements incidental to the subject of wine and drinking. Instead, I’m fascinated with the culture of wine, or possibly the sub-culture. And no matter your persuasion—pro or con, wine-drinker or not—you have to admit, there is indeed a culture of wine. It’s out there, brothers and sisters. All you have to do is get some books on the subject and litter your coffee table with them, then start appearing at private and semi-public events and bring along a bottle or two (with a cork, as opposed to a twist-off cap) and share it all liberally, and sooner or later you will find yourself in deep in conversation with an adherent. And wine afficionados are adherents, by any definition of the term. I kid you not.

Factually, I was first introduced to wine and wine-drinkers this lifetime at a fairly formative age, when my father took me wild grape-picking with him. My father knew a lot of people in the countryside around our tiny and insular little town, and he would quickly figure out who had wild grapes growing on their place that they couldn’t bother with. Normally he’d strike a deal with them: he would pick a bushel or two of grapes—and I would help him—and give them half or a third of them, whatever the bargain was, or he would take them home and make wine and jelly with them, and give them a portion of the harvest afterwards. What a wonderful trade! Therefore, we had homemade wine at our house, and we had neighbors and “friends” who liked to drink it and get plumb dang sloshed. And that, to these young eyes, was something to behold. Adults, no less, acting like little children. Consequently, I know exactly how to make homemade wine. I don’t have to consult a recipe book. I was rooted to the spot, watching the whole ritual unfold in the deft hands of my father, who while possibly wasn’t a High Priest, he was nonetheless an adherent of a different ilk: he liked to make wine to share with other people. I rarely witnessed him drinking his own vintage.

Thus, my first introduction to the culture. And notice, if you please, the root of that word, culture.

So, wine.

That day, long ago, when I sat down to title out this series, I came up with the title Reveille In Red not having even the vaguest idea that it would be about wine. That’s the confession part of this little author’s note. No sir, it was just the title, the color red (at that time more like an elegant lady’s evening gown red than the color of wine) and a certain amount of tension in my guts.

Here’s another thing: I am probably the world’s “guiltiest” fellow. That is to say that I feel responsible for not only everything I’ve myself done, but everything that goes on around me. Truth be told, I feel somewhat responsible for what’s going on in Southeast Asia, in Washington D.C., and on some random back street in Brooklyn. I mean, after all, if something’s not right, then somebody should have or should be doing something about it. And if somebody else isn’t, then why didn’t I? So while it’s probably easy for the casual reader to pass off statements such as “a certain amount of tension in my guts,” let me tell you that I’ve never known a complete absence of that tension. I’ve never, this lifetime, felt “free and easy.” Oh yes, I’ve had plenty of moments of intense enjoyment, times of laughter, and I do, factually, sleep. But the tension, the irksome stick-poked sore spot in my belly, always returns. I learned to live with it long ago. I suppose it’s a part of me, so don’t worry none for me or my health on that score. The reason that I bring this up is that Bill’s readers are used to seeing the evidence of this in what he thinks, in how he reacts, in what he says and what he doesn’t say. I just wanted you to get the genus of that, straight from the horse’s mouth. It’s not the writer “being literary” and trying to “create tension.” Good God, no. I’d rather write about a peaceful journey through a mountain valley somewhere. No, this is my method of putting the demons at bay. For expiating some of my essential guilt. You see, I’m starting to see that Bill is the guy I should have been had I lived life the way I’ve always known that I “should,” not the way I have or even am. And this is also my way of turning something “bad” into something a little more healthy. On an even more personal level, I try to do that in most situations.

Yes, like Bill I’ve had my share of fist fights. Like Bill, I’ve had people screaming at me, people threatening me, people betraying me, and people running around trying fiercely to do me in one way or another. No matter how I handled each of those situations, I attempted at every turn to learn from them.

What’s the old saying? You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Sometimes you have to be the bad guy, or at least act it. Sometimes you have to disappoint people. You have to do the right thing, not the expected thing. I’m by no means a Solomon, to say the least. But there’s that guilty feeling again: why aren’t things going well everywhere around me, not just this minute, but every minute? What did I do that I shouldn’t have? Or worse, what the hell didn’t I do that I should? I think you see what I mean.

Just a little insight into old Bill, there. I hope you didn’t mind.

All right, so we’re coming down to the last of the planned titles, aren’t we? Let’s see, what’s up next? I see only two remaining titles in the original lineup, prior to the prequels. Those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook—and hey, if you aren’t, why aren’t you? Huh?—know that I have been slinging new titles around recently. So here’s the tentative lineup going into the future, starting from this one:

#16 Reveille In Red
#17 Bexar County Line
#18 The Long Goodnight
#19 Amarillo Waltz
#20 Double Ought Buck
#21 Murder On the Llano Estacado
#22 Wolf Country (prequel)
#23 Manhunt (prequel)
#24 Borderline (prequel)
#25 Leaving Extreme (short story anthology)

So, for right now, that’s pretty much it. It gives me a little more runway down there for this big, slow, lumbering airfoil to get off the ground. I always told myself that if I could complete this series, why, then I’d know something about writing. Here’s the last confession, then: I’m nowhere close to where I should be. And that, my friends, is all on me. Just like Southeast Asia and D.C. and Brooklyn.

As a final word, I want say something to you, personally. Not anyone else, just you. So you bought my book—either you downloaded it on a kindle or some other device, or you’ve bought a paperback copy somewhere, and now you’ve got it in your hands. That’s a one-way flow. It’s me outflowing to you. My words are going into your universe, like old radio skips coming in a clear night. It’s not a two-way flow (although I’ll never for a minute discount that fact that you’ve spent your hard-earned dough buying my book. No sirree, ma’am!) Apart from your initial downlay to purchase it, there’s little coming back. Now don’t worry, this is not a plea for a review, because frankly, I’ve never asked for those. In fact, I regularly admonish my writer friends when I find them doing so. This is, however, a request that you (you, personally) try, somehow, to balance that flow. My experiences are rich enough to write about for only one reason—I’ve met tens of thousands of people in my lifetime, and I consider almost all of those beneficial experiences. That is to say that what I’m missing in my life is you. So please, email me (email me at texaswier at gmail dot com) or friend me on Facebook (anyone can look at the George Wier–Author page without friending me, but it requires you requesting my friendship directly on my personal FB page. Before you do, message me and say, “Bill sent me.” I’ll understand). At the very least, if you have a membership, follow me on Twitter. And say something. I’m practically begging here. I happen to know for a fact that there are hundreds of you die-hard fans out there, if not thousands. It’s time for you to come in from the rain. The place is warm, the table is set, and there’s a chair, waiting for you.

Continuing this thought, and by way of illustration, in The Lone Star Express there’s this point where a funeral director is called out to open a casket and examine a body. Anybody remember his name? Maybe not, but I do. His name is Bob Thomas. Bob is, in fact, a real person. He’s the Funeral Director at Hammon’s Funeral Home in Littlefield, Texas. He’s a huge Bill Travis fan, and now he’s one of my best friends. He was thrilled that I name him in the book. Point of fact, I do know that most of you won’t want your name in one of my books. But a few of you? Ha ha! I can’t wait to put you here.

All this by way of saying that I do read your emails, I do respond. And I do want to hear from you. Some folks have trouble articulating what they want to say to someone like me, but let me assure you, once you get to know me you’ll find that I’m easy to be around. I’m, in fact, safe. You and I have something in common, and it’s not just Bill. It’s a way of looking at things. And that’s what’s important; important enough for me to remind you.

Okay, that’s pretty much it.

Y’all take care, now.

And all the best to you and yours.

George Wier
August 1, 2017

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Here’s the Author’s Note to Buffalo Bayou Blues. I reserve the right to change or add to it prior to publication, for which I’m staring May 1st dead in the face:

AUTHOR’S NOTE

When I was very young, my father took me on a tour of blues joints in the Houston area. You see, my father was one of the original Hellfighters. He worked directly under Red Adair, and Boots and Coots. Some of my earliest memories are of him going off for weeks at a time to fight oilwell fires in the Gulf. I would throw a wall-eyed fit whenever he’d go off like that. Later, while working for Brown & Root, he had his back broken on an oilwell platform during a hurricane, and thus had to “slow down” a bit. Therefore, he went from longshoreman to truck driver, and drove a rig for Skerlock Oil Company, headquartered out of Houston. And before all of this—I don’t remember any of it, because I was far too young—we lived down in La Marque, right on the Houston Ship Channel. So, I suppose it should be no surprise that my father would know Houston, and know it well. Maybe a little too well, if you take my meaning. If you’re an old-timer, and lived during those times—you would have to be in your eighties or nineties, but I’m sure there are a few of you still around—and were around the Houston area, chances are you met him, and if you met him, why, you knew him. His name was Nelson Wier, and he was a force of nature.

When I was no more than seven, my father took me to some of the back street dives, little more than juke joints, with clouds of blue cigarette smoke and loud “colored” music filling the air. My father loved those places. For my own part, I was instantly enthralled.

Since that time, I have loved The Blues.

From my point of view, it was a matter of course that I would be accepted by the many people I visited in those back street blues joints, even though, technically speaking, I’m whiter than an unbaked flour cracker. At that early age, I suppose I was already closing my eyes and moving my head to the backbeat, lost in the mood, ducking with the changes, and showing it all on my face—that other place, apart from my sleeve, where I wear my heart for all the world to see. Possibly, I looked ridiculous. But I felt the music. It was the most real thing I’d ever heard, and it literally moved me.

My father passed away on September 12, 2007. He never got to hold one of my published books in his hands. He never met nor got to hold his great-granddaughter. He never got to see me sign a book or speak before a crowd of fans. But all that’s okay. You see, he got to know me, and he instilled in me so many things that without him, there would be no Bill Travis. There would be no great love for Texas. Without him, life would have been dull, beyond belief. Instead, because of him and his influence, life has been indeed rich.

Far from a simple tribute to my late father, I wanted to convey, here in this little Author’s Note, a little something more than is evidenced by the foregoing story.

The blues isn’t simply music, or a genre of music. It is a way of life for many—and that path is not limited to people of color by any means.

Fast forward to about 2003, when I laid down the titles to no less than twenty-one Bill Travis adventures. When I got to Trinity Trio, the alliteration bug set in, and the next one had to be alliterative as well. My whole life was right there in front of me that day. I could pick and choose anything. But one thing came through at that exact moment. The blues. I had to write about the blues. Houston, of course, sprang into mind. Those old blues joints with their blue cigarette smoke and gently clicking billiard balls, and…that wonderful sound. You can’t think long about Houston without thinking about Buffalo Bayou, and thus the title sprang full-blown like Athena from my forehead. I wrote it down without batting an eye.

And guess what. Just the other day, I unearthed that original piece of paper with all those titles on it. The order may have changed, somewhat, and a few of those titles have changed a little, but they’re basically still there, and Buffalo Bayou Blues is written there, plain as day. Would anyone like to have that piece of paper? I’m thinking of either framing it or auctioning it off.

So what’s there to write about the blues? Well, for one thing, a good half a dozen mystery writers have made writing about the blues part and parcel of their career. Guys like Tim Bryant, whose Dutch Curridge character hails from Waco during the heyday of the blues era, specifically the later forties and early fifties. Then there’s Ricky Bush, whose books have ‘blues’ right in the titles, such as Howling Mountain Blues and The Devil’s Blues. And there are many more, but these two come to mind most readily. So, the blues have not only been done, they’ve been done well. And wouldn’t you just know it, the blues are rife with such sentiments as, ‘My woman done gone and done me wrong’ and ‘He kilt her right then and there.’ That is to say that lust and betrayal, heartbreak, suicide, murder and a host of the world’s other evils are inherent within the blues. The blues sing out with them. They tell the story of—well, Houston, and Texas, and everyone who has ever drawn a breath in either or both of the two. But mostly, the blues just sing.

I find it the easiest thing in the world to write about this topic. It’s sort of like breathing. It just flows on out there, and I don’t even have to think about it.

So, I hope you enjoyed this little excursion to a side of life that is seldom written about, seldom visited, and even rarer, brought up to the surface and exposed. Because, as Bill would likely tell you, there’s nothing done in the dark that won’t sooner or later be exposed to the light of day.

Okay, that’s about it.

For the die-hard among you—the faithful ones; those who keep coming back for more, and more, and still even more—this book was for you. It’s my privilege to know you and to write for you. Thank you for giving me every chance along the way to make good my word. You’ve been good to me, and you have my undying devotion.

Therefore, all my love to you and yours.

And as always, all the best!

George Wier
Austin, Texas

 

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Another little snippet from Neptune’s Forge:

The expedition party came off of the ice shelf and onto land with no fanfare. If anything, the way was more difficult, being mostly uphill, and the dogs slipped and the sleds had a tendency to slue and skid. Right away, Gleese could see the genius of Ned’s selections of the dogs, and particularly the leaders. At the front of Ned’s and Tomaroff’s own sled ran Anja and Freja, two of the largest dogs among the many, both females and of even temperament. Pulling his own sled, in the lead were Ole and Svend, two male black and white huskies. Behind them were Mads, Margreth, Lisbeth and Frans, all Danish names, selected by the only Dane in the party, Ned Kroones. In the final analysis, they were all Ned’s dogs, even though technically, Gleese was the owner. Beside Gleese rode the stoic American, Terry Rath. Behind them were Peter Bornik, another American from the deep south, and Parker Dunlevy, an Irishman, who spoke incessantly about nothing at all.

Gleese kept expecting trouble between Rath and Bornik, the two having come from opposing sides in the Civil War, but they seemed fine with one another’s presence.

Rath had been in the Drum & Bugle Corp attached to William Tecumseh Sherman’s XV Corp under U.S. Grant at Vicksburg. He had lived through the initial battle and was there for the long siege, though he had only been a lad of eight at the time. He loved and respected Grant very nearly as much as he loathed Sherman, whom he considered to be the only man he had ever met who was born without a heart.

Bornik, for his part, had been one of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalrymen after Forrest was stripped of his hardened veterans by General Braxton Bragg in 1862. Forrest had been forced to sign up two thousand new recruits, and had hand-picked the rail-thin will-o-the-wisp from the southern Louisiana canebrakes. Not that he could afford to be choosy about it. Bornik served alongside the brash and fiery-tempered Southern Cavalry Major from then up to that fateful day in 1865 when the then Major General Forrest bade farewell to his troops after the CSA’s surrender by General Lee in the drawing room of Wilmer McClean at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. During those three years he had been wounded twice and had three mounts shot out from under him. There had been no replacement horses, however, in the final days of the war, and so he was forced to make his way back to Houma, Louisiana, with his bare feet, his carbine and his cavalry saber, and the clothes on his back. Peter Bornik looked almost ancient, even though he was no more than forty. The years had been unkind to him. His skin was as red as an Indian’s, and it seemed that every inch of him bore one kind of scar or another. It was a wonder he was sound in his mind and members. There were few who had seen more action who were not missing a digit, or a whole hand, leg or arm. After the war, Bornik had spent most of the intervening years as a shrimp fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, one fine summer day, he decided he’d had enough of the blazing tropical sun and came north. Gleese had found the man on the New London docks, looking for work, took one look at his ropy frame and hired him on the spot.

It was Rath, though, who spoke first concerning the disposition of Mateo. “You left it to those Island men to mete out justice?”

Gleese turned to look back toward the last sled to see old Mateo straining to catch up with it. The Argentinians had put him afoot. They would not trust him in their midst.

“He’ll not last long, I suspect,” Gleese stated. It was a true answer to the question, but then again, he didn’t care to answer the query. “And they’re not Island men. They’re Portuguese, from Argentina.”

“What were they doing on the island, then?” Rath asked.

“Looking for work. Whaling and sealing, I’d say, mostly.”

Rath shook his head slowly, and lapsed into silence. It didn’t last long, because after a minute, he said, “You had to pay them handsomely, didn’t you?”

“Mr. Rath, your wages are between you and me. The matter of their wages is between them and me.”

“I’m only trying to figure why they would come, is all.”

“Some men will walk through the gates of hell for money.”

Terry Rath then remembered his fellow Union soldiers who had accepted payment for another man’s conscription, and shivered.

“You’re from Maine, aren’t you?” Gleese asked him.

“I am,” Rath replied.

“It makes sense.”

“What makes sense?”

“I have never met anyone from Maine that wasn’t attempting to puzzle something out.”

“I’m not sure how to take that,” Rath said.

Gleese nodded, and let it go.

By the time they topped a rise and saw the distant Trans-Antarctic Range, Mateo was nowhere to be seen anywhere behind them.

Sometimes the most fun writing these things is the dialogue. Here’s a little snippet from the forthcoming The Lone Star Express:

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Apparently anything can go wrong.

The train was slowing. Not majorly slowing, but the vibration and the rocking seemed less, and the lights passing in the night seemed to go by more slowly. I had swept most of the broken glass—all that wasn’t beneath Frank—into the corner where I had gotten the blankets, and Frank was trying to get to his feet.

“You want to help me up?” he asked. He had his left arm braced on a bar, trying to lever himself to his feet.

“I want you to lay there,” I said.

He faltered for a moment and lay back down. “I’m gonna try again in a minute. By the way, you make a terrible nurse.”

“I do.”

“Bill? Over!” The voice over the radio JoJo’s.

I picked up the radio and keyed the mic. “Yeah? Over.”

“Get up here. I need an extra hand. Only came with two of them. Charlie’s coming back there to spell you because he can’t…”

I waited. “Can’t what? Over.”

“Never mind that. Can you come on over?” Then, uncertainly, “Over.”

“Come over where? Over.”

“Come forward until you find me. Over.”

“Can we stop saying ‘over’? It’s getting old. Over.”

“Sure. Over.”

“Okay. I’m coming…uh, over.”

There was a beat of a pause, then, “So when are you going to stop saying ‘over?’ Over.”

“Right now,” I said, and released the mic. I waited, then keyed the mic again. “I’m also leaving off the ‘out’.”

“Uh huh.”

With that done, I looked back down at Frank. “You gonna be okay there for a few minutes? Charlie’s coming back here.”

“I heard.”

I turned to go, but then heard him whisper, “Amateurs.”

“What was that?” I asked.

“Nothing. Just go.”

I opened the door onto the narrow brim beneath my feet, and for a moment began to doubt where I was going anywhere. The problem was the blackness of the night outside the caboose. The dim lighting from inside cast my shadow onto the rear of the refrigeration car in front of me. When I stepped a little to the side, I could see the brim of the car three feet in front of me and the faintly illuminated rungs of the later, but the problem was that when I stepped back in order to prepare myself to lunge forward, the ladder vanished into the darkness.

JoJo saved me with a squawk over the radio: “Bill, there’s a light switch by the door.”

I flipped it, but at that instant it decided to burn out. The flare was brief, and I knew if from all the times I had turned on my closet light or my back porch light and the tiny filaments in the bulb of glass decided to take the opportunity to check out.

I keyed the mic. “Just burned out. Here goes nothing.”

“It’s a piece of cake,” she said, and silence ensued.

“I now officially miss ‘over’,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“Will you two can the chatter?” Corky’s voice came over the radio. “We’re losing pressure fast.”

“I know. I know,” JoJo said. “Give us a minute.”

“Or five,” I said.

“You’ve got about four, and then this thing is coming to a stop and we’ll have to bank the fire.”

“What’s that mean?” I asked.

“Starve it of oxygen,” Leo’s voice stated.

“Just aim and jump,” JoJo said.

“Okay,” I said. “Everybody shut up. Here I come.”

I turned the radio off, put it in my pocket, stepped to the side to let the dim light through.

Behind me, Frank shouted, “Just jump!”

“All right, already. Everybody’s a critic.”

I studied the rung I was going to grasp, and where I would have to put my feet. I counted from ten to one, then decided to start all over.

It came unbidden into my mind at that moment. One time Jessica and I were playing one-on-one basketball in the driveway and she was standing her ground from well past the free-throw line, and I couldn’t get past her. I dribbled, held the ball, dribbled and stepped, held it again, and then a feeling came over me. It was a sense of rightness. Why was I trying to get closer to the basket when all I needed was that feeling? I had height on Jessica, and I knew there was really nothing she could do. I dribbled once more, made as if I were going to step again, but instead leapt straight up and threw. The ball sailed up in a beautiful slow motion arc, as if what I had done was the laziest thing in the world, then went through the net without touching the hoop. It was game point. Jessica’s shoulders slumped and she said, “How am I supposed to defend against that?” to which I replied, “You don’t. There’s no defense against that.” “What do you call that?” “It’s a thing wonderful and rare. It’s called a sense of rightness.” The next morning I was awakened by the sound of a basketball banging off of the backboard. I looked out the window, and there was Jessica, practicing from past the freethrow line. She would jump straight up and throw, miss, try again and miss. Finally, as I watched, she got it. Then she stood there and I watched as the implication sunk in. And that was my gift that day to her.

I stood there in the night and waited. When it came, I recognized it and didn’t hesitate. I jump forward and my overly large shadow in front of me shrank. The rung of the ladder came into my hands at the same moment that my feet came down exactly where they were supposed to land. I started up without a second thought. There’s something to be said for rightness.

It’s coming down the embankment at you with a full head of steam! Here’s a taste:

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Our reverie was interrupted by a blast from the horn.

“Do you think…?” I began.

“Probably just coming to a crossing and he’s giving it the horn. Have to do that by law.”

The horn blasted again, was cut short, and then once more.

“Crap!” Corky said, and was suddenly in motion. “Something’s wrong.”

I dropped Perry’s baseball on the nearest seat, tucked the note in my shirt pocket and followed.

We went hurriedly through the next car—an even more dilapidated passenger car—through a door and across to the engine. I followed Corky up a small flight of steps. At that moment the brakes began to engage.

Out the front window, about two hundred yards away, was a truck sitting across the track. The single headlamp from the train speared it and light reflected back at us off the driver’s window, the hubcaps and the front bumper.

“I’m not sure I can stop in time without…really stopping.” Charlie said, and there was fright in his voice.

However sharp Charlie’s eyes were—and they had to have been terribly sharp to pick up the truck from more than half a mile back—my vision has always been excellent, particularly my night vision.

Several other vehicles were stopped off to the side of the tracks, a little closer to us than the truck that was blocking our path. I noted two figures closing in toward the tracks ahead of us, and then a third running up. They had rifles or shotguns in their hands.

“Don’t,” I said.

“Don’t?” Charlie asked. “Don’t what?”

“Don’t stop. The truck won’t hurt this train, will it?”

“It might scratch the paint, but that’s about it.”

“Then don’t stop. We won’t even feel it, will we?” I asked.

“No, we won’t,” Charlie said. “Why not stop?”

“Because, it’s a trap. They put the truck there to scare us into stopping. And those guys are gonna start shooting the minute they realize we’re not. Stopping, that is. But if we stop, then they’ve got us for sure.”

“Damn.” Corky said. “Up, Charlie. Let me do this. Ya’ll get down.”

The side window was open, and the second Corky hit the driver’s seat, he stuck his head out the window and squinted.

“Yeah, they’re gonna shoot,” he said.

Then he poured on the juice. I had to reach a hand out to check myself from tumbling back into Charlie.

The first shot was a pang off of steel somewhere on the exterior. Charlie and I ducked and Corky hunkered down in the driver’s seat. The front glass picked up a spray of buckshot, but it merely chipped the glass. Then there were many such sounds, like someone setting off a string of firecrackers.

“We’re gonna hit it!” Corky shouted, the excitement in his voice both fearful and amused in the same instant. Then he stuck his arm out the window and shouted: “Go to hell you sonsabitches!”

His arm came back inside and there was the sound of something crumpling, not unlike someone clapping a paper bag full of air between their hands, followed by the spectacle of a large object coming up over the windows and onto the roof above us. The truck tumbled across the steel roof like a giant eating its way through a stack of steel fifty-five gallon drums. An instant later there was a loud, shrill scrape as what was left of it fell off to the side. Which side, I wasn’t sure. I realized then that Corky must have given them his middle finger in conjunction with his words.

I stood up, went back down the steps to the deck and went through the doors of the first passenger compartment. I was met by JoJo.

“What the hell was that all about?” she asked.

“You okay?”

“Yep.”

“Someone tried to stop us. The put a truck in our path, we ran over it, and they started shooting at us.”

JoJo laughed. “They tried to attack a train? With a pickup truck and some guns?”

“Yeah.”

“Idiots,” she said.

“Yeah. Only, I’m wondering who the hell those guys are, and what they want?”

“Hmph.”

We exchanged nods and passed each other.

A bit more on the Antarctic mystery:

No fires were to be lit upon the ice. This was well understood by Gleese, by Tomaroff, and Kroones, but a few of the Argentinians started a fire and this nearly unhinged Kroones, who cursed them and made a show of stamping it out. The language barrier was thus overcome by example.

From the story that Gleese had, Kroones was missing two of his toes to frostbite. He was on one of the early Arctic exploration teams with Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, who had found the northeast passage during the Vega expedition of 1878, and after a falling out with Palander of the Swedish Navy, had become an explorer in his own right, albeit a penniless one.

Gleese liked the Dane. He was a hard-bitten soul of few words, preferring the company of dogs to men, and could abide no ignorance or foolhardiness in any man other than himself. Gleese had found him alone —but for a small pack of dogs—in a room above a tavern in the extreme northeastern Greenland village of Qaanaaq, that launching point for many of the early Arctic expeditions, including the trips to Prince Patrick Island where the fabled graveyard of the whales was believed to lie. He had put the question to Kroones by way of a local Inuit interpreter: was Kroones searching for the valley of the whales, the place where the great behemoths went to die? Gleese could not get a verbal answer out of the man, so he’d removed his necklace and showed him a small golden locket. Upon opening it, the scent of ambergris filled the room and the dogs began to howl. Kroones’s eyes grew wide in wonder.

Gleese assuredly had been looking for the mother lode of ambergris, and hired Kroones on the spot.

They found no ambergris—the strange, cancerous growth found in the guts of sperm whales which was the base of all perfumes, more valuable than gold or diamonds. Instead they had found death and all but bankruptcy. But that was seven years before.

Antarctica, Gleese believed, was made for men like Kroones. If there was any man alive who could see to it that he made it to the pole and returned, it would be the strange Dane.