Sunday, April 16, 2023

FROM THE NOVELLA, 

TO LOVE AGAIN


A love story


by 


A. J. Kerns

 

Bend, Oregon—Late Spring

A stack of short stories lay on the left side of Alicia Redmond’s vintage oak desk. She’d found the antique desk a year ago at a local auction and bought it for a song. It had drawers on the right side, which in the first week she crammed to the brim with papers, notebooks, and writing paraphernalia.

As an assistant professor at the local community college, she had edited and made suggestions on nine of her student’s submissions. Eight to go and the class was tomorrow. Mike Monroe’s story sat on top of the pile. She debated placing it on the bottom, maybe to leave it for last so she could give it more attention later. 

Now, why was that?

Years back, in high school, when she was a freshman, and he was a senior and a star on the football team, she had carried a secret crush. However, the gap in their ages and the distance in circle of friends prevented any chance of friendship. Even making the cheerleading squad didn’t help a casual encounter with him. Then he graduated and went into the army. Why didn’t he go to college? She wondered. He was so smart.

She fingered the latest draft of the short story he had submitted and was still puzzled. A romance? A nostalgic looking back at a lost love. Was this the same man who wrote that grim war novel, full of violent energy? Oh well, she thought, we all have many sides, facets to our being.

Mike certainly was handsome; tall, with dark hair, blue eyes, and that curious smile of his. Rugged would be the descriptive characteristic she’d use if writing a story about him. Never married. No doubt he’d had a few love affairs and what about that fun glint in his eye and the way two of those women in class vied to sit next to him?

She leaned back and placed her pen marker on his story. Once again, the time back at that high school spring dance came to mind. Bright lights, loud music, and students laughing and dancing. She had stood alone, arms crossed, watching everyone having fun. Then she overheard the comment from her classmates aimed in her direction, “Look at little skinny over there.” Bad enough to be unaccepted in any of the groups, let alone having to put up with that. She had started for the door when then he was there, saying something like, “Hey, good-looking, you’re not leaving. Let’s dance before you go.” 

She hadn’t time to say no, and he took her onto the dance floor and twirled her around three times. The music changed to slow dance, and they were touching. In no time he drew her closer, awkwardly at first. The he told her dress was pretty and the rest of their dance she didn’t quite remember. Every spring when she smelled the orange blossoms, memories of the night returned. The evening was the high point of her social high school, even after returning home she’d found her grandmother’s locket was missing. 

The clock on the mantle chimed, three o’clock. No more time to work on Mike’s story. Time to pick up Zoe from junior high. She hoped her daughter’s day went well.

A single parent’s tasks never seemed to end. 



A J Kerns is a pen name for Arthur Kerns. Following his service as a U.S. Navy officer, Arthur Kerns joined the FBI with a career in counterintelligence and counterterrorism. On retirement, he became a consultant with the Director of Central Intelligence and the Department of State, which took him to over sixty-five countries. His short stories have appeared in several award-winning anthologies, recently in the Sisters in Crime, So West: Lady Killers. Diversion Books, Inc published his Hayden Stone thriller series, first, The Riviera Contract, and followed by The African Contract and The Yemen Contract. His latest thriller, Days of the Hunters, was published in March 2020. He has completed A Suitable Spy a WW II spy novel set in Latin America, that is with his agent. He is working on a whimsical FBI novel taking place in Hollywood.He is represented by Elizabeth Kracht of the Kimberley Cameron and Associates, Tiburon, California.

This excerpt from Three Dances was written with the Hallmark Channel in mind.

Website: www.arthurkerns.com

email: crick1938@aol.com  

Friday, April 14, 2023

FROM THE NOVEL A SUITABLE SPY.

THE FBI AGAINST THE NAZIS IN ARGENTINA

by


Arthur Kerns

 

On the Rio de la Plata off Buenos Aires—April 1941

Under a star-dotted, moonless sky the steel mass breached, pushing away the black water. The hum of diesel motors flushed the raucous sea gulls floating on the estuary. Hatches on the forward and aft decks of the U-boat popped open and dark-garbed seamen scrambled out onto the wet surface. They hurried to ready the two four-inch deck guns. Others manned the machine guns, balancing themselves as the submarine rolled in the gentle swells.

            The Italian U-boat captain, Filippo Archinto, pulled himself out of the conning tower’s hatch and welcomed the fresh air. Two officers followed him. The three raised their binoculars and scanned the horizon. On the starboard horizon, the long thin line of Buenos Aires city lights provided a backdrop to spot any nearby watercraft.

            Pascal, Archinto’s first officer, pointed to a small boat with running lights two hundred yards away. “That fishing boat. Is that the one?”

            “Signal it.” 

            Using a red-lens flashlight, Pascal blinked the prearranged signal to the boat. They waited for a response. A few moments later, recognition flashes, two shorts, three long, came from the boat. Archinto listened to the boat’s motor throttle down as it approached the submarine.

            “Any sign of a trap, shoot!” Archinto yelled down to his men.

            In the darkness, the outline of the fishing boat came into view the closer it neared. The fishermen aboard threw fenders out to prevent the boat from banging the sides of the submarine. Arid fumes from the fishing boat’s aging diesel drifted across the deck of the submarine.

            “Have you met this German, Herr Lauser?” Pascal asked.

            Archinto sighed. “I haven’t, but I suspect he’s the typical arrogant Gestapo asshole.”

            “Why are we doing this? Taking one of that shit’s prisoners aboard to deliver to our supply ship?”

            “Orders, Pascal. Orders.” Archinto shouted to the fishing boat’s captain to extinguish his running lights.

            A German-accented voice shouted from the boat in Italian, “Have your crew help us carry this man aboard.” A stocky man in a long black leather trench coat threw a fascist salute and then lost his balance in the pitching boat.

            “And a Buona Sera to you,” Pascal yelled back. “Who are you?”

            “Hauptsturmfuhrer Bruno Lauser.”

            “Let’s climb down and get this over with,” Archinto moaned.

            The boarders dumped the bound captive on the deck. Archinto shone a light on the man’s face. His mouth was taped, and from his bloody face it was apparent they had tortured him. He was unconscious but breathing. When Archinto touched the man’s chest he cried out.

            “Captain Archinto, how soon will you meet up with your supply ship?” Lauser asked, now standing next to him.

            Lauser had a pasty face with a mole on his chin. He was short on formalities. Archinto matched the Nazi’s attitude. “Not for two weeks. This man requires medical attention. We don’t have a doctor aboard my U-boat.”

            “No matter if he lives. For our records, he was sent back to Berlin.”

            “What’s his name?” Archinto asked.

            “You need not know that.”

            Archinto wanted to push the Gestapo man off into the sea but held back. “For the record, I must have his name for the logbook. My superiors will expect it. Who is he? A Jew?”

            The bound captive body lying on the deck convulsed. 

            “A renegade priest. A dangerous enemy of the Reich.”

            Pascal grasped Archinto’s arm. “My God! A priest dying on our boat.”

            “Lauser,” spat Archinto. “How could a priest be of danger to your Reich?”

            “This priest, a German national refused to tell us where two Jewish scientists were. The Jews are needed back in the homeland. That’s all you need to know.”

            Options raced through Archinto’s mind. He could take the priest aboard, possibly heal him, and have his superiors release the man. Somehow, he knew that wouldn’t happen. They would acquiesce to the German demands.

            “Take this unfortunate man off my boat and leave,” Archinto ordered. “Now.”

            “You are not serious.”

            “I won’t have a priest dying on my U-boat. My crew is superstitious. We have enough problems. On this Utalian submarine, we bury ships, not priests.” 

            Lauser did not move. 

            Archinto turned and made for the conning tower. He called back, “We dive in two minutes. Get off, or you will get wet.”

 

Buenos Aires—The Next Morning

In the windowed office of the port police headquarters overlooking the Plata, Sergeant Facundo Alvarez studied the prices of the American stocks listed in El Pampero. He chewed on his breakfast of three tostadas smeared with peach jam. He took a sip of his hot café con leche. The listed prices of his shares of the American company General Motors were doing well.

            Corporeal Ciano sauntered in, asked if he could borrow a cigarette, and flopped in a chair across from Alvarez. He jiggled a single page report. “This morning we pulled a floating body out of the water,” he said, “out beyond the breakwater.” He helped himself to one of his boss’s cigarettes, lit it, adding to the smell of nicotine in the room.

            Sergeant Alvarez shrugged and kept reading the stock quotes. “Male or female?”

            “A man. He had a rope tied around his neck. Face badly beaten up. We found no identification on him until we took off his shoes. This fell out.” He slid a silver medallion across the desk.

            Alvarez sighed, laid down his paper, and examined the coin-like object. One side had a cross; the opposite had engraved the name Frederick Schuler, SJ. 

            “Shit.” The initials SJ meant he was a Jesuit.

            “Who should we notify?” Pascal asked. “The archbishop or the Jesuits?”

            Alvarez held up his hand. “We do this delicately.” He thought a moment. “Photograph the body and give me the photos. I will handle this through proper channels.”

            When the corporeal left, he swung back and forth in his chair, rolling the medallion in his fingers. Probably the priest’s mother gave it to him. He sighed. If he handled this correctly with the Jesuits, he might befriend a very influential cleric or two who, in the future, would owe him. 

            He thought for a moment. His brother who went to a Jesuit school would be the first person he’d call. He had the right connections.

            Alvarez folded the newspaper and set it aside, then thought of the American Mr. Jones. The man was a stockbroker who favored him with General Motors stock shares for providing him with information on the mineral shipments to Portugal that everyone knew ended up in Germany. This might interest him, as this American was curious about many things. Who knew? This tidbit might be worth some Ford Motor shares. Diversify, Jones kept telling him.

            What about the diplomat from the German embassy? Commander von der Molk reminded Alvarez of the American. His way of asking probing questions about the marine traffic going to and from Montevideo. How like the American in his thinking. He paid in Deutschmarks, which were easy to exchange. Perhaps he would pay in stock shares of the German firm, Bayer. 

            Both men struck him as cut from the same cloth. Spies.



Following his U.S. Navy service, Arthur Kerns joined the FBI with a career in counterintelligence and counterterrorism. On retirement, he became a consultant with the Director of Central Intelligence and the Department of State, which took him to o      ver sixty-five countries. His short stories have appeared in several award-winning anthologies, recently in the Sisters in Crime, So West: Lady Killers. Diversion Books, Inc published his Hayden Stone thriller series, first, The Riviera Contract, and followed by The African Contract and The Yemen Contract. His latest thriller, Days of the Hunters, was published in March 2020. He has completed a WW II spy novel set in Latin America, that is with his agent. He is working on a whimsical FBI novel taking place in Hollywood and a romantic novella.

Website: www.arthurkerns.com

email: crick1938@aol.com 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, March 7, 2022

Where Ideas Come to a Writer

By

Arthur Kerns

 

 

“Where do you come up with ideas for your books?” Writers get that question a lot. My usual response is they pop up while showering, shaving, or working out in the gym. Rarely do they come to me when sitting down and trying to come up with an idea. Most writers will recall attending a creative writing class and have the teacher hand out an assignment, like “Give me a one-page story on a boy falls off his bicycle.” At least then you had a start to a story idea and could go with it. 

The idea for my first published novel, The Riviera Contract, came from the Alfred Hitchcock film, To Catch a Thief. I’ve watched the film numerous times and still become entranced with the gorgeous scenery, the filming, and the dialogue of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. The film sparked the idea of writing a spy novel based on the French Riviera with a cast of beautiful, interesting, and nasty characters. Almost two years later Diversion Press published the novel.



The inspiration for the manuscript now with my agent, A Suitable Spy, came from coming across an old FBI file. When I was an agent assigned to FBI Headquarters doing analysis of old spy cases I found a non-classified history of FBI espionage activities in Latin America during WWII. The program was ordered by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who feared Nazi incursion in South America. Very few, including fellow agents, were aware such a program had existed. The idea popped in mind; what an interesting background for an old-fashioned espionage novel.

If the story is accepted by a publisher, one of the first things they’ll ask, have you a sequel? I thought about it for a while. The time frame would be in early 1942, the United States is at war, and my spy protagonist is sent from Argentina to Europe. However, where in Europe and under what conditions? Then I saw a photo on Instagram of an actor I know. Autumn Reeser recently was filming in Bulgaria and was relaxing after hours at a sidewalk café. The picture was intriguing. A mysterious aura about it.

 




She wore a man’s tweed jacket, obviously lent to her to ward off the night chill. 

She wore red lipstick, red nail polish, and was drinking red wine.

She wore an enigmatic smile that could be interpreted as, I want to know you better, or I want your secrets. Maybe both. Either way, the young American spy sitting across from her was in trouble. The beginnings of a sequel, A Seasoned Spy.



Following his U.S. Navy service, Arthur Kerns joined the FBI with a career in counterintelligence and counterterrorism. On retirement, he became a consultant with the Director of Central Intelligence and the Department of State, which took him to o      ver sixty-five countries. His short stories have appeared in several award-winning anthologies, recently in the Sisters in Crime, So West: Lady Killers. Diversion Books, Inc published his Hayden Stone thriller series, first, The Riviera Contract, and followed by The African Contract and The Yemen Contract. His latest thriller, Days of the Hunters, was published in March 2020. His WW II spy novel "A Suitable Spy" set in Latin America is with his agent. .

Website: www.arthurkerns.com

email: crick1938@aol.com

 

 

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Lost Excerpts from The Yemen Contract


Arthur Kerns

All writers lament how publishers cut sections and scenes from their manuscript, prose you are positive was just fantastic. Ah, those lost darlings. In The Yemen Contract, a spy thriller featuring CIA operative Hayden Stone and his friend Contessa Lucinda, I wrote a few scenes describing the country of Eritrea, a fascinating country on the Red Sea across from Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It is not on everyone’s vacation bucket list so I wanted to let my reader know I saw and experienced. My editor did not think these scenes moved the story and were cut. So here they are out of the dustbin. 

Contessa Lucinda and Hayden Stone ambled along the tidy streets of the capitol city, Asmara, stopping now and then to look into shops to examine the foods, clothes, jewelry, and curios. Lucinda’s bodyguard, Marcello, maintained a discreet distance. One shop along Liberty Avenue sold crude ivory carvings, which so soured Stone he barged out and stood on the sidewalk, watching the people pass by, most offering polite smiles. A few minutes later, Lucinda came out and leaned against him.
 He fumed. “I get pissed when I see ivory taken from a butchered elephant only to end up a piece of crap in a tourist shop.” 
 “What’s really wrong with you?”
 “The stitches in my leg are bothering me. Maybe we can take a car.”
 Lucinda patted him on the arm and then went over to Marcello. When she returned, she said she told Marcello they were taking a cab. He could follow if he thought it necessary. “Meanwhile, my dear, I will assume the role of architectural guide.”
  Stone arranged with the driver for an hour's ride around the city, which Stone had come to admire. An old Africa hand, this was one country where he needn’t keep his guard up. The people here were neat, looked you in the eye with dignity, and weren’t reluctant to offer a handshake. 
 Lucinda impressed him with her knowledge of the architectural schools of Art Deco, Cubist, and Futurist. “Rationalism was Mussolini’s favorite,” she said. “A group of architects led it in the thirties from Milan called Gruppo Seven. One of my cousins belonged to it.”
 Stone touched her arm. “Let’s see if we can get out of this bird watching trip up country tomorrow. Maybe hang around Asmara until I go back to Yemen.”
 “Patience told me that Ambassador Bunting wants to get you alone and discuss some things.” She smiled. “Besides, it will be fun. We will see something new . . . and learn a few things.”



The road became winding and rough. They passed scatterings of tidy villages with one-story house fronts painted in pale blues, others in aquamarine. Some were painted beige and had doors and shutters a dark shade of blue. Here and there were remnants of the war with Ethiopia, burned-out tanks, and rusting trucks.
 They reached the top of an escarpment and the embassy driver pulled to the side of the road. The fertile landscape below was a marked change from the arid country they had left behind. The deep canyon was terraced along both sides. Farmland lay on the floor of the gorge. 


The driver eased them down the switchbacks onto the valley below. Eventually, they saw their destination. In the distance, on a rise above cultivated fields, a collection of white buildings sat among tall trees. The settlement turned out to be not an active monastery, but a state-owned farm, built in the nineteen-thirties by an Italian settler. 
 The farm had a church with a tall steeple, holding a bronzed-colored bell. “I guess that’s where someone got the idea this was a monastery,” Stone said.
 “I have a feeling it was at one time,” Lucinda said. “The government probably wants to avoid controversy by not admitting they took over a religious building.”
 When the two were shown their rooms, Stone laughed, “Now I believe you. This was definitely a religious building. This room reminds me of a monk’s cell.”
 The accommodations were spotless and very ascetic: pale green walls, two single iron-framed beds with thin grey blankets. The shower in the corner comprised a showerhead and a hole in the floor. No curtain. 
 Stone stared at the two small beds. “How many nights are we staying here, dear?”
 “Hayden, consider this a religious experience.”
 After a dinner of pasta noodles floating in a watery acidic tomato sauce, yougurt, and a leaf salad no one touched, the four walked the grounds. They met few people, only birds singing at dusk. 
 Stone remarked, “I wonder how the facility can be kept in such good condition with so few people. Look, they prune the citrus trees, the bougainvillea trimmed, the grass is cut.”
 “They probably do the work during the week and have weekends off,” Ambassador Bunting said. “Then again, many of the young men are off at the Ethiopian front.”
 “It is so peaceful here,” Patience said. “Hard to imagine war could erupt at any moment.”
 Stone thought about the ruined Russian T-34 tanks, along with other damaged military vehicles they’d seen on the road on their way to the farm. “These interludes of peace are a blessing.” He thought about the day’s birding in the valley. “Good that we had a guide today to steer us away from the minefields.” 
 At Stone’s words the others became quiet. Lucinda gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek.


 The next morning being Sunday, Stone asked at breakfast if mass would be held in the church. The kitchen staff, while offering only fresh bread and an orange drink called Fanta, informed him that they held church services only on Christmas and Easter. 
 Afterward, he and Lucinda found the church door open and entered, going into the bright white painted interior decorated with Coptic images and carvings.
 “My father would have felt at home here,” Lucinda mused. “He was Egyptian and a practicing Copt before he married my Italian mother.”
 Stone went to the votive candle stand and lit two candles. One for his family; the other for his ancestors.
 “Hayden, I never saw you do that before.” She took the burning wick from Stone and with her delicate hand lit two of her own candles. As they walked back to their room to pack for the return to Asmara, she put her arm through his and held on tight. “You continually surprise me. You are a very complicated man.”

Arthur Kerns joined the FBI with a career in counterintelligence and counterterrorism. On retirement, he became a consultant with the Intelligence Community and the Department of State, which took him to over sixty-five countries. His short stories have appeared in a number of award-winning anthologies, recently in the Sisters in Crime, So West: Lady Killers. Diversion Books, Inc published his Hayden Stone thriller series, first, The Riviera Contract, and followed by The African Contract and The Yemen Contract. Early next year his new thriller, Days of the HuntersMurder, Mystery, and Romance in Tuscany will be published.
Website: www.arthurkerns.com



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

CONAKRY BUSINESS TIPS 101

by

Arthur Kerns

This is an excerpt from my West African travel journal, early June 2000.

June in the West African country of Guinea means rain, especially along the coast. The rain comes like a wall of water, with wind and black clouds that horizontally bend palm trees and snap the hardwoods. These storms are sudden, cling to the ground, and last longer than storms I’ve experienced in the United States. The streets flood and anyone not in a high riding four-wheel drive is at risk. It’s best to stay put and sit out the gale. Unfortunately, this may take a whole day. However, that doesn’t really matter; there’s not much to do here, even on a nice day.
I’m staying at the Hotel Camayenne in the capital city of Conakry. I asked a number of people, Americans and locals, what Camayenne means. I receive mixtures of puzzlement: why would I ask such a question, gee I would not have ever thought of asking that, but I’ll ask around and get back to you with the answer. Since Sabena Air owns the hotel, my Guinean friend suggested that it was the name of the corporate director’s wife. Later, I learned that it is name of the peninsula where we’re located.
The hotel is an island of civilization, very small, very vulnerable. Outside is the real Guinea. Across the street impoverished tradesmen, refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia meander back and forth; hawking singsong fashion tribal masks, statues, and assorted gewgaws. There is an especially decrepit three-story apartment house across from the hotel that I must get a picture of. It encapsulates the town’s atmosphere: mold on the unpainted façade, rusty railings, clothes hanging from broken windows, trash all about the balconies and grounds.



Last night, after a rain, my Guinean friend and I were smoking cigars by the hotel pool overlooking the steel gray ocean. The tide was high and there was a full pale lifeless moon. A moist salty breeze came in from the sea.
A young, thin man approached our table and I assumed he was taking drink orders. He wasn’t. He was a merchant, a trader in tribal masks, a refugee from Sierra Leone, who had conducted business with my friend a few days before. He had a mask in a bag that he selling; the same mask he tried to sell the day before to my friend, unsuccessfully. He was making another pitch in his Leonean English, not Guinean French.

My friend told him, no, he was still not going to purchase the mask. It was too large. It would not fit on his wall with the other masks. It was too expensive. He had inquired of other Sierra Leoneans, creoles, who knew masks who said that the price was too expensive for the quality. The young man countered, but it was his only mask, the only one in his personal inventory. He worked at a stall across from the hotel. This was to be a private deal, between the two of them. 
He continued, “It’s a good price.” He looked into the bag. I could not see the mask. My friend said, “It’s not a good price. It’s not a good quality mask. I don’t want it.”
The young man stared. “You will not give me the money?”
My friend shook his head. “No. We’re talking business now. You do not have a good mask.”

The young man was a soft-spoken fellow, with fine facial features. He had the sad eyes of a recent refugee from a bad place. “Why do you not give me the money,” he asked again. He was barely audible.

My friend sighed, and then proceeded to give him some business advice. The mask is not thin enough. The wood must be thin for a mask to be of value. The wood must be hard, hard wood that was dry before carving. The young man reached into the black bag and felt the unseen mask. He stared at a space in the air between my friend and me. 
“Do you remember the other day, when I was looking at your masks? I was feeling them. Running my hands, my fingers along the sides, feeling the carves, how deep they were, if the carved lines ended into points. None of the masks I felt were of good quality. I know good quality Sierra Leonean masks. I lived in Sierra Leone. I know. Your mask there,” he pointed to the bag, “is of lower quality.” 

The young man squirmed in the chair and spoke quickly and quietly, “This is a good quality.” 
“No, it’s not.”

A long pause. My cigar was good and burning even and cool. The damp breeze, now with the fetid smell of the tropics, made my shirt limp.

“Look,” my friend said. “You want to make a lot of money on this one mask. You want to sell it for 100K guineas, when it is worth only 25, maybe 30. It cost you how much?” 

No answer, except for some shoulder and arm movements. 

“It cost you 10K, right?” 

A big smile, “No. No.” 

“10K or maybe 15K guineas,” my friend continued. “So make a profit of 10K for this one, the sell five more masks, at this good price to the tourists. Sell more at less profit. That adds up. Don’t wait for one big sale that may never come. Sell a lot for a little profit for each one.” 

A long silence. He was staring in the air again. “You will give me the money, yes?” 

“No. I told you, I’m not giving you any money. This is business.”

As my cigar burned down, the exchange continued. The same words, the same business lesson offered, the same resistance. I never saw the mask that was never sold.



We were joined, uninvited, by the young man’s boss, the proprietor of the stall across the street. The new guy had energy, while the young man just sank back into his chair, holding the bag with the mask nobody wanted at any price.

The new guy starts with the buzzwords. “Knowledge is power. Power is life.” 

My friend knew him from the day before. “We’re talking business,” he says, then goes on to repeat the same theme given to the young man, who I doubt wanted to hear it again. After a few minutes, the new guy says, “You are a philosopher.” 

My friend says, “No, I talk business.” He then shifts the topic. “What are you wearing,” he asks the new guy. “Around your neck?” 

It is a large tooth-like brass pendant hanging from his neck on a brown leather string. The new guy says something about it being a totem from his village. My friend says, “Make those things, about five of them, to sell at about 10K a piece. Those Sabena airline flight attendants over there will buy them just like that.” He snaps his finger.

The new guy is speechless, and then mutters, “10K? We sell good masks for 100K.” 

“No,” my friend says, “You try to sell masks at 100K. You can sell many of those pendants to women and make a little on each one and make more money. Build a business.”

The new guy doesn’t like the drift of this conversation and heads back to pitching the masks. My friend, however, is unmovable. My cigar has gone out and I feel raindrops. It’s time to retire for the evening. My headache has come either from the malaria medicine or the conversation. I say goodnight to the three men, none who notice I’m leaving, and pass by the blonde Sabena hostesses. Those pendants would look good on them.
Back in my room with the screeching air-conditioner going full blast, I review the day’s events. Think I’ll leave out Guinean business practices in my daily report to Washington.


Arthur Kerns is a retired FBI supervisory special agent with a career in counterintelligence and counterterrorism. A past president of the Arizona chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, his award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. He is a book reviewer for the Washington Independent Review of Books. Diversion Books, Inc. NY, NY published his espionage thrillers, The Riviera Contract, The African Contract and The Yemen Contract.
See more in author’s website, www.arthurkerns.com

Saturday, October 22, 2016

BATS OVER BAMAKO

by Arthur Kerns


This is an excerpt from my West African travel journal and dated May 28, 2000. I had just learned that my flight to Timbuktu by bush plane was canceled because a foot-wide crack appeared on the runway. Even the ex-pat Russian pilots wouldn’t chance a landing.

In May it gets hot in Bamako, the capital city of Mali. A cool 105 degrees in the shade, but if we have a good rain, not only is the air refreshed, but also the temperature drops to a comfortable level. The scent of blossoms mixes with the dusty air to give a distinctive scent. The land is semi-arid, not quite like Arizona, more Southern California.

The people smile a lot and speak French with a pleasing accent. The women wear beautiful, bright flowing caftans with twirled turbans on their heads. Men and women balance baskets, boxes, and large bottles on their heads as they move along the streets with a fluid, easy grace. Even though there are city sidewalks, most locals prefer to walk along the edge of the streets, side-stepping the litter. Perhaps this practice is left over from their village days when they walked their country roads.

Outside the window of my French colonial hotel that has seen better days, the streets of Bamako are a mix between paved for the main thoroughfares and dirt for the side and minor streets. The rainy season makes travel a slog along the dirt streets.
Flowering trees provide a splash of color to this city. Buildings are salmon-colored and bright white minarets stand out against the green foliage. Small shops and stalls line the streets; with enthusiastic people selling all matter of goods. It seems that every block has a street lined with rows of stalls on both sides. The city of Bamako has been described as one big market.





Soirées in Bamako are interesting and telling of the living experience here. They are held on outdoor patios when possible. I suppose, just to accommodate the number of guests. When they are official functions, coats and ties are in order. I went to one without a jacket and felt out of place. The local guests appear more comfortable opting to add a splash of native attire. However, we all visibly perspired, from the combination of heat and alcohol.

Like most cocktail parties, it's hard to remember the names of all the people you meet. Even more so when you are dealing with foreign diplomats with unfamiliar names and accents. The conversation begins with something that you two can latch onto, like a sport, a hobby; the weather is always a good initial start but is dropped quickly for some other topic. The main goal is to act interested in what this person is saying. In turn, you must stay witty or touch on the profound while gathering the information you want. When the well runs dry you move on. Another very important thing is to keep track of the food that's being passed around on trays. On rare occasions, you can actually discover something that resembles what you find at home, or even tastes familiar. Still, one must be careful. The next day that interesting hors d'oeuvre may come back to visit you.
Here body odor is quite noticeable. Bathing for some people is lower on the lists of necessities: finding food or seeking safety being higher on the list of life’s concerns. Nevertheless, the odor is still there, surprising you as you walk out the door of your hotel room, or pass a table in a bar or restaurant. It lingers like perfume. You can leave your hotel room and walk down the hallway and suddenly; there it is, hanging invisibly in the air around you. The lasting presence of someone who passed ten, twenty minutes, perhaps a half-hour before. Sort of like passing by a bar stool where a Frenchman had smoked a Gauloises.
During the day I’d drop by my hotel room and realize that someone had recently been in the room. Not the cleaning staff, someone else. I advised the security officer at the embassy and she said, don’t worry, no one is trying to steal anything. You are a strange person from America and they find what you wear, read, and possess interesting. You are a curiosity.

The dominant flying creature in downtown Bamako is the Fruit Bat. This sucker is immense, with a wingspan of at least five feet. A few doves fly around, resembling the American white wing dove, but bats prevail. They swarm in groups mostly in the morning and evenings seemingly with no apparent destination. When they do land, they hang upside down from trees lining the streets, chirping like birds. They crawl from branch to branch, eating mangos. Some bats hang alone, but the majority gathers in tight, dark, furry pods consisting of three to eight bats.
They have light gray backs, black wings, and buff-yellow patches on the chest. Red tongues hang out between small pointed white teeth. A frightful presence even if you don’t have a hangover.
As I write, I hear a gunshot outside the window. Peering out, I see a group of ten or so youngsters standing in the middle of the street. One of the boys has fired a single-shot shotgun. A bat hits the street, flaps a moment, and then lies still. In the tree above, the bats scream and flap off in all directions. The boys run over and retrieve the dead animal and stuff it in a black sack. Bamako bush meat.

The Appaloosa Bar in Bamako is a main center of ex-pat social life, especially on Wednesday night. It is along an unpaved lane next to a series of other restaurants, one a popular Thai establishment, run by a pleasant Belgian and his Thai wife. The Appaloosa is clean, has a number of booths and tables and sports flags and other totems of national identification that patrons donated to the establishment. The music is American, seventies-on rock, played not too loudly and gives a visitor like me a mellow feeling. The beer is cold and good. There are a lot of Americans, but mostly French and other nationals who, if they don’t have some good stories to tell—they certainly look like they do—will make them up. A comfortable hangout for spies.

Arthur Kerns is a retired FBI supervisory special agent with a career in counterintelligence and counterterrorism. A past president of the Arizona chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) his award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. He is a book reviewer for the Washington Independent Review of Books. Diversion Books, Inc. NY published his espionage thrillers, The Riviera Contract, The African Contract and The Yemen Contract.
See more in author’s website, www.arthurkerns.com

Saturday, December 20, 2014

DOES THE UPCOMING HOLIDAY SEASON DISTURB THE WRITING PROCESS?


by 

Arthur Kerns



Before my knees gave out, I ran on a regular basis at a certain time of day. If I skipped my run, for the rest of the day I walked around having a nagging feeling that something was missing in life.
Same thing with writing. I have to write every day at a certain time or I get very antsy. When something or someone causes a change in my program, irritation sets in.

Now when the holidays arrive one is faced with all sorts of disruptions. Visitors, family, relatives arrive and demand attention—right when you’ve had a great breakthrough in that manuscript. Sure you need a break from the routine now and then to regroup and reboot, but aggravation still sets in.

Then there’s the situation when you go on an extended trip to celebrate the holidays. Frustration begins simmering under the surface. Should I take my computer, or notebook, or my rewrites? What will everyone think of me when I barge in with all my paraphernalia then look for a quiet place to work?

Now if you try to explain all this to a non-writer invariably you’ll be accused of selfishness, then thrown an incredulous look, or worse hear the expression, “Oh, you writers.”

Yes, there are times when situations during the holidays inspire a story, perhaps a comedy or a murder. However, does it become a great catalyst for the next story? Usually not for me, but then again there was that time when we traveled to New York City for Christmas and . . .