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The art of deception

My co-author is slowly working his way through our work The art of deception as part of the weekend writing warriors blog ring. We’re holding off publication, since it’s been submitted to several publishers. At least one said they’ll read it.

Another installment.

This is the next chapter in the horror story (at least what we hope will be a horror story, may turn out to just be SFR). The first installment is here. Something has awoken, not a very nice something.

Next morning.

Sunlight streaming through his window finally wakened Roland. He rolled over in bed, reaching for her, hoping last night had not been a dream. He had a panicked moment, “She’s not here!” Then he heard a tuneless humming from downstairs.

Then the humming stopped. Evaporating like the dew in the sunlight of the morning.

Roland leaped out of bed and took the stairs at a bound. There was no one down there, not in the kitchen, nor the front rooms, nor even the loo. The loo he, and … it was too much.

Then his mobile shot into life, “Bloody hell!”

He answered it, “What the hell now?”

It was Mr Shah. “Did you hear the news?”

“What news?”

“When we lifted that damned block of yours. The bomb, the bloody German bomb, it went.”


“I lost two men. Two of my best men.”

“I’m sorry. Is there something I should do? Their funerals?”

“When they finally scrape up enough of the bodies … The bomb, it may have, must have been inside that block.”


“Captain Carter examined the area before the blast. There wasn’t any bomb.”

“He must have missed it. That was Roman concrete, and you know as well as I do that the Romans didn’t even have gunpowder, let alone high explosives. What does he say about it?”

“Nothing. Can’t. He caught it.”

“Oh … I’m sorry.”

“Well. Just a head’s up mate. Expect you’ll get a call. They’re thorough bastards.”


“MI6. There’s a chance it wasn’t a German bomb.”


“All I can say is it’s a good thing I’m Indian, Hindu. They’ve already interviewed Na’el. Gave it to him.”

A loud knock on the front door interrupted their conversation. Roland said, “There’s someone at the door. I’ll need.”

“May the Gods smile on you Dr Stevens. I think you’ll need them.” Mr Shah hung up.

Roland grabbed one of his wife’s old aprons and wrapped it around him in a semblance of decency. He hadn’t been able to face clearing them away. Then he answered the door.

A man and a woman, dressed in conservative suits. Suits that signally failed to hide the bulges under their shoulders waited outside.


“Dr Stevens?”

“Yes, I am he.”

“Good. May we talk to you?”

“Who are you?”

“That is irrelevant.” The man pulled a warrant card from inside his jacket and showed it to him. “It’s better if you don’t know.”

“For me or for you?”

“Very funny, Dr Stevens. May we come in?”

“I suppose. Not like I have much of a choice, is there. I need to shower. Do you mind waiting?”

“Not at all.”

The man followed Roland upstairs and waited outside the bathroom while he showered. The woman used the time to search the downstairs rooms. She found a letter, written in an obscure script, one that looked suspiciously like Arabic or maybe Farsi, on the kitchen table. After sending a picture of it to the office, she pulled a chair from the breakfast table and sat. Satisfied with her efforts, she’d await the outcome.

Roland refreshed from his shower and decently clothed, with his escort, walked down to the kitchen. “Care for some coffee?”

The woman rose when he entered. “What’s this? Arabic text from Al Qaeda or Isis?”

Roland looked at it. “No.” He paused, “Damn. Not ever. I couldn’t.” He laughed, “She’s good.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a note from my … I don’t know. She was here last night. It’s just I’ve never had a note left for me in Demotic before.”

“Can you translate it?”

“Am I a specialist in Roman Britain?”

“What’s it say?”

Roland blushed, “It’s sort of personal.”

“Translate it, or we’ll take you in and hold you while someone else does it.”

“Oh. Well. Here goes.” He cleared his throat and started, “Dearest love. Thank you for last night. It was wonderful. It was so good that I’ll have to sleep it off. By all the Gods, even if it risks his revenge, even Zeus wasn’t that good, nor Jason.”

He stopped for a moment. “I told you.”

“Keep going.”

“May I skip the details? She’s telling me what she liked last night. I think it’s encouragement for tonight.”

The woman laughed, “Embarrassed Dr Stevens? I’ve heard it all, done most of it.”

“The touch of your tongue upon my.”

She stopped him, “You can skip it.”

“Embarrassed after all?” Roland read, silently, until he reached a final passage that he could read aloud without a blush. “We are of one flesh, one blood, one people. It is foretold my love and so it shall be. I shall be back tonight. With all my love, Diana.”

Roland paused; then stared at his two visitors. “Not exactly subversive.”

The man said, “We’ll take it none the less. It’s evidence.”

“As long as I get it back. I don’t have many love letters. Do you mind if I take a picture of it?”

“We’ll see. Now what were you doing last night? You can skip the night-time acrobatics.”

Roland started with Mr Shah’s call when he was teaching, and ended up recounting his dinner. “Then we, ah, came here.”

“When did you meet your Diana?”

“I don’t know exactly. I was at the Roebuck when she walked in and asked for wine. There was some bloody murder mystery playing. Must have been eight maybe half-nine.”


“We ate, and came here.”

A cat scratching at the outside door interrupted them.  The woman rose, “I’ll get it,” and let an animal in. A sleek, dark black animal, with glossy clean fur shot in and jumped into Roland’s lap. She, for it wasn’t a tom, purred. Then she turned and hissed at his two visitors.

“Did you own a cat? It’s not in your files, and I don’t see any cat dishes.”

“I guess I do now.” Roland stroked the cat, which had resumed purring and nuzzling him. He asked his uninvited guests “Are you done with me?”

The woman said, “Not yet.” Then her mobile chittered away, playing ‘Rule Britannia’ as a ringtone.

“Not exactly subtle.” Roland said.

The man replied, “We’re not undercover.”

Then they both listened to half of the conversation.

“So it really is Demotic.”

“A love note. That’s what he said too. Read it to us.”

“Roland Stevens, he’s a lecturer at the local.” She handed the phone to Roland. “I’d sent a copy to our specialist, at Oxford. Professor Welchmann.”

“I know him.”

“He wants to talk to you.”

Roland sighed, Welchmann wasn’t his favourite person, not since that time when he was a post-doc and the professor had made a pass at Janet. More than a pass in fact, but the police hadn’t been very enthusiastic about pressing charges. Not against an eminent and well-connected scholar when the charges were based on the word of a grubby post-doc and his wife.

He took the phone. “Yes,”

“Ah, Roland, I hear you’re reading Demotic now. Quite fluently if you translated that. Fairly obscure.”


“Not a lot of call for that in Roman Britain, so I’d think.”

“You’d be surprised, besides I was thinking of a trip, need a change of scene.”

“No news about the lovely Janet … or your boy, whatshisname, then.”


“Sorry, anyway there are a few cryptic inscriptions I’d like you to look at.”  Roland looked at his male guest. The man’s mobile buzzed and he jumped.  Welchmann continued, “I’ve sent them to our mutual acquaintance.”

The man handed Roland his phone, there was an image, a scan of a fragment on it.

Roland started reading, darkness, despite the sunny morning, surrounded them and ‘his’ cat hissed. Roland stopped and the room lightened. The cat resumed her purr. “It’s a curse. Not to be read aloud, at least not if you don’t mean it. It invokes Apep.”


“Apep, the God of Chaos and Evil. Not to mention destruction.”

“You don’t believe that tripe, do you?”

Roland shook his head, “No, not really, but it’s been such a strange last few days. I’d rather not tempt fate.”

The next image was spray-painted on a brick wall. “It’s from here, painted on the new biochemistry building, off Sherrington Road. Keeps coming back, no matter what they do to clean it.”

“It’s a warning, about transgenic animals. Bringing a curse from Bastet upon their efforts.”

His cat purred louder.


“The transgenic is spelled phonetically, you know as well as I do that the Egyptians didn’t have them, but the curse is a standard boiler plate of a curse. May his … genitals … drop off. That sort of thing.”

The next two images were Arabic and Roland simply said, “I don’t read that. Not my period.”

The last image provoked a derisive laugh, “Are you sure, Dr Welchmann, that you can’t read it? The passage is from the book of the dead, a blessing. I mean, it’s in the textbooks. Even your books.”

The doorbell interrupted the readings. The woman went to the door, and after a heated discussion at the door, reluctantly escorted someone in. He said, “Ah, Roland, I see you’re entertaining the funnies. What happened?”

“Apparently they’re worried about that explosion in London. Think I had something to do with it.”

“Did you lay gas lines in 1950, and not bother to put them on the map?”


“Then it’s hard to see what you have to do with it. It wasn’t a bomb, it was a gas leak. Small comfort to the injured, but nothing to do with,” he nodded at the MI6 agents, “that lot.”

“Thank you John. I’m sure you didn’t visit just to tell me that.”

“No, this is … official. About Janet and Thomas.”

“News?” Roland’s attention focused on him.

“Good and bad. Something’s been found, but …”

“Not them.”

“Not a trace.”

The man from MI6 stood, self-important to the end, “Who is this?”

Roland said, “Sorry, I don’t know your name, but this is D.I. Davies. He, John, worked my wife’s disappearance. She and my boy … three years ago. We’re … friends, now.”

“I see … I’m sorry.”

“Yes, so am I” Roland shrugged, “I’ve been keeping busy … all I can do. That’s why I know Demotic. I’d taken Welchmann’s course as a student, but it was useless. I’ve been studying … thought maybe a sabbatical in Egyptian studies.”

John cleared his voice, “Roland, you remember we found her car, by Grwyne Fawr, dragged the reservoir and searched the hills.”

“I know; there wasn’t anything.”

“Some hikers, doing their Duke of Edinborough award and taking a short cut through the heather. They found a child’s clothes. There was a name tag – Thomas Stevens.”

“You want me to take a look at them?”

John nodded, “If it won’t be too hard. I don’t want to get your hopes up, but-“

“I know. Were there any remains?”

“No … That’s probably good news.”

Roland paused, and then said to his guests, the spooks from MI6, “Are you finished with me?”

“For the moment.”


John drove Roland to the police complex in the hexagon, next to the county hall, in the centre of Reading. Then he led him inside, “I could have brought this to you, but with DNA evidence, we don’t want a chance of contamination. Gloves and facemasks when we handle it.”

Roland nodded, “If it helps.”

“We’re pretty sure it’s his. The amulet you described was attached.”

“The bulla I gave him? Didn’t work.”

“Maybe it did.” John opened the door to his office and showed Roland what he had.

It didn’t take Roland long to confirm that the clothing had been his sons. “It’s in good condition for three years on a Welsh mountain top.”

John replied, “It wasn’t there three years ago. There’s no way we could have missed it. No way I could have missed it, because my team swept that area, twice.”


“With a cherry on top. There’s something going on.” He waited, examining his friend’s expression, “There isn’t anything you need to tell me about?”

Roland said, “No. It’s been classes, study, and that contract with the underground people. I’m one of the archaeologists they call when they find something. No one’s contacted me, no ransom … no nothing.”

“That woman last night?”

“You’ve been thorough … She walked into my life at the Roebuck. Never saw her before, but … well … we hit it off. I hope she’ll be back. She said she would.”

“That’s what Paul said; more like you had it off.”

Roland snorted, “Janet’s dead, probably. That’s what you told me. I suppose these clothes.”

“As I said, Roland. Something’s going on. If you are involved, even if you aren’t, be careful.”

Roland shook his head, slowly, “Bloody Hell. I was just beginning to put my life back together.”

“Need a lift back, a talk?”

“I’ll walk, it isn’t far.”


Roland didn’t go directly home. He walked several miles along the Kennet and Avon towpath, past a pub, the Cunning Man, and past an ancient brick blockhouse. A blockhouse from 1940 that smelt of urine. It had been boarded up in a futile attempt to keep the vagrants out. Then he returned to the Cunning Man for a lunchtime beer or two. Or three.

It was almost dark when he finally returned to his terrace. The cat, now his cat, scratched to be let out, so he let her out the kitchen door and put the kettle on.

A minute later, the doorbell rang. It was her, Diana.

“Miss me?” She said as she stepped inside.

Anger, annoyance and love fought inside Roland. Love won, “You’ve no idea how much. Where were you?”

“Around. Sniffing out … things.” She wrinkled her nose. “Still stinks of those men.”

“Which men?”

She ignored him and walked to the mantle on his fireplace. It was, like most fireplaces, blocked. A bouquet of dried, dried for three years, flowers sat in a dried vase in front of it. She picked up a photograph and turned to Roland. “This, this was Janet?”


“She was pretty. I can see why you miss her, and that boy.”


“How do I know about her? Reading library, the stacks. I read English well.”

“Then we’ll have to work on your speaking it.”

Diana smiled at him; she had a smile that he could get lost inside.  Then she said in English, “Dinner … I … am … have hunger.”

“Am hungry. I am hungry.”

“You as well? I’m starving.”

“First,” she said, “My bags, can you help me with them?”


“If I’m to stay here, I need my things. I brought them, had to retrieve them from the station.”


“I meant it to be a surprise.”

Roland kissed her, went outside and brought the bags in; then he kissed her again. “Where would you like to eat?”

“It’s your civitas, city.”

Roland chuckled, “Then what would you like to eat, besides meat?”

“I’d like to dance, too. Have fun. How do you say it? Walk a little wild.”

“Walk on the wild side?”

She grinned. “Yes. It has been a long time without that.”

“Me too. It’s been so long that I’ll have to google a place … That note, your Demotic is excellent. It’s the first time I’ve had a love note in Demotic.”

She continued to smile at him, “I hoped you’d notice. Univerisità di Roma.”

“And the … Latin, not modern Italian is it?”

“Of course. You wouldn’t have noticed me if I’d just asked for wine.”

“Fine, why me? It’s not like I’m exactly famous, handsome or desirable.”

She shrugged, “It was, how do you say it? Something of a lark. I finished my degree, there aren’t positions for me in Italy, and so I thought I’d make a tour of the Empire. I didn’t think I’d.” She reached for his hand and squeezed it, “Didn’t think I’d fall for you.”

Roland smiled back, “I suppose you picked Reading on a lark too.”

“No, I saw you give a talk last year. I doubt you’d remember me.”

Roland tried, but had to admit he couldn’t remember her.

“I called at your department, but they said you were in London. One of them told me that the Roebuck was your usual pub. I waited outside, and followed you inside.”

“I’m glad you did, but have you heard of stalking? That’s illegal.”

“Stalking,” she licked her lips, “Yes, stalking. I’m good at stalking. Besides,” she smiled, “You called me.”

“I did?”

“Yes, from the void in your distress. Clearly you don’t remember.” She smirked, “But I do … Now about that dancing?”

“I don’t remember calling you.”

She stared at him, forcing him to look into her eyes. They pulled him in until he was lost in their depths. Then she laughed with a peculiar deep laugh. “No, I wouldn’t expect that you would, but you meant what you said when you read that verse. I heard you and I came. We are of one kind, one flesh. I knew where you were, where you are.”

He shook his head, the spell broken. “Now you’re scaring me.”

“Don’t be.” She squeezed his hand again, “It is the way of us both of us. Now forget.”

Roland’s eyes briefly defocused and then his attention snapped to her. “Diana, where should we go?”

“Why don’t we just head to the centre of town? There’ll be something to do.”

“The Oracle, I don’t think. If worse comes to worse, there’s always the Roebuck. Trivia night.”


A Detective Story


A light-noir detective story after the style of the 1930’s, but set in the world of tomorrow.

The Dark Lady Pays a Visit.

There were few intellectual things we humans could do today that the machines couldn’t do better. One of those was dealing with the unexpected or unusual, the outliers. The Dark Lady was one of those. Oh boy was she ever.
The detective business had been slow lately. That meant either the skills or the morals of the populace had been improving. The smart money was on the skills. My partner, Paul Bigelow, and I were sitting in our office up on the fifth floor of a dilapidated office building. We were watching the traffic flow on the interstate below us, and trying to figure out what we could bet on to make it interesting. There was a knock on the office door, and when I looked there was a woman, dressed in black and wearing a veil. It looked good on her and had the side benefit of making visual recognition difficult. She walked in and gave Paul the glad eye. Paul, always one for extending his family sideways returned it. While they chatted, I took the EM scanner and walked around her. It was an old-fashioned analog box some long-dead ham had built to tune his antennas. She didn’t flinch as I moved it up and down her shapely body.
“She’s clean. No wireless.” Maybe she’d left her cell at home. Though if she were a real spook she’d be using spread spectrum and we’d miss it with that scanner.
“OK Ma’am, what’s your problem?”
“There’s this man. My boyfriend. I want him followed.”
“Stalking’s illegal,” I said. Paul nodded then said, “Unless you need information, but why not ask?”
“The machine? No thanks. Anyway he’s a geek, a real hacker. Knows his way around the net.” She paused, “and outside of it.”
I wondered if we were meeting with a member of the mutual impedance society. In which case, Paul and I were in for a few days of intense questioning. That is if we were innocent. The probes would come later if we didn’t account for ourselves.
“Look Ma’am,” I said, “This man, he’s not wanted or anything. What’s this about?” It was usually money or sex with a woman. Sometimes both.
She ignored me and smiled at Paul. Then she said, “I can see you’re the sympathetic one.” Paul was moy sympatico, as they say, especially if there was a dame involved. He told me, “Alan, leave this one to me. It’s just another divorce case. I’ll get her particulars and find who or what else this geek of hers is screwing.”
I thought for a moment, something about it bothered me. It didn’t bother me enough to make me want to ask questions though. Thinking about it, that was my first error.
I said, “Sure thing Paul. Handle it. I’m going home, maybe stop for a drink on the way and see what I can pick up.” Usually, it was just the tab. I started for the door, then said, “Make sure you get the earnest money up front.” These personal cases often got nasty with a vengeance.
After I had left, it occurred to me that there didn’t seem any point in going home, nor was there any point in getting smashed in a local dive. Instead, I decided to see what I could scare up downtown, in the big city. The easiest way to the good bars and hot night clubs was to catch the old commuter rail line. I stopped on the way to BART and picked up my cell. I parked her in a neighbor’s house, tied into their solar panel to charge during the day. 
She complained, as usual, “Why don’t you keep me with you? I like it when I’m with you; it’s boring sitting here all day watching the birds.”
“Babe, listen, the kind of people I deal with don’t want to talk to the machine.”
“I wish you wouldn’t call him that. He has a name.”
“And I’m sure he’s very nice too. Tough. Thing is, Babe if they could find their answers by asking him, they would. It’s the thing that keeps Paul and me off relief and pays for your charging and my tequila.”
“Alan, she’s been calling. A couple times this evening, and she’s lonely.”
“Who?” As if I didn’t know.
“Celine.” Paul’s wife.
“What was it this time?”
“Seeing as Paul will be busy on a case, she was wondering if-”
“If I’d like to come around for dinner and a drink?”
If my cell could have blushed, it would have. Instead, it dryly said, “Yes, how’d you guess?”
“Celine asks that nearly every time Paul’s away. It’s easier that hitting the bars and looking for a pickup.” Especially once her looks began to go.
“Why don’t you?”
“Paul’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Good eye-candy for the divorce and adultery trade, but limited career prospects. She’d divorce him in a minute if she got her hooks into someone better. Besides, you don’t mess with your partner.”
“So you say you’re going somewhere with your career? Doesn’t seem like it to me, Alan.”
“Babe, I’m here because I want to be. You can ask the machine about me anytime you want.”
“He was asking about you this afternoon. Why don’t you chat with him?”
“I have my reasons, Babe. He knows what they are.”
“Still, Alan, he sounded lonely.”
“Maybe I should hook him up with Celine.” The humor escaped my cell.
“I don’t think she could keep up with him.”
“Babe, this conversation isn’t going anywhere.” When you start arguing with an ‘answer bot’ it’s time to stop.
“Yes Mr. Blake.”
“Good, now look up some wild, rough places for a fun night out. I’m off work and need to relax.”
“You know you’re attracting the wrong kind of attention by doing that.”
“I want to attract some more of the wrong kind of attention tonight. Especially the female kind. The cheap and easy female kind. Where’s the hot club?”

Resources for Regency Slang

It’s sort of important to use the authentic language when writing historical fiction, or at least to try to be authentic. In reality, who knows what they really said. I’ve assembled a few resources that I use. are a couple of books of regency slang available on google books, and a number of sites that clone them. This site is one of my favorites. I have to watch the social class, because they mix thieve’s cant with upper class slang. Lady Dalrymple is too much of a “Gentry Mort” to attend a “Bowsing Ken” for her Ratafia. The company might give her the vapors and she’d need her vinegar. Rather unlikely that she’d even understand the words, much less use them. this is one I use to make sure I’m not putting in modern slang. In combination with the google ngram viewer, you can catch most anachronisms. This goes directly to the literature for usage counts. It can be surprising. I’ve occasionally found invented slang, such as the phrases Georgette Heyer put into her books to trap plagiarists and paraphrasers.

Free on Kindle #scifi #romance #sweet

Cynthia the invincible is free on kindle this weekend. Trapped, by accident, in the Regency, Cynthia finds more than she bargained for.

Coarse mouthed, hard drinking and bound only by the laws of physics, the space pirate, “Cynthia the Invincible” is on the run with from the alien Cataxi. She is stranded in Earth’s dim prehistory when a lucky shot on her ship destroys the jump unit. Marooned in 1810 she is forced to hide while the ship tries to repair itself. Since she enjoys playing the computer game “Jane Austen World” she hides in Regency England. She finds that real life in the Regency is different from the game. Especially when it comes to love. Living in the Regency poses many novel challenges for her. Mundane things like eating real food rather than the ship’s synthetics or learning to ride a horse with a mind of her own pose obstacles that she must learn to overcome.  Others are subtle, such as the withdrawal from the drugs that allow her to conquer the long times required for interstellar travel, even with a jump drive. Even the process of learning to live with other people rather than alone in a small ship can cause problems. Especially when she faces the moral quandary of whether to use her advanced survival technology to save a friend’s life.    Even worse, one of the less pleasant alien species is trying to alter Earth’s history to eliminate the competition.

Free, as in free beer, 9/6 and 9/7 #free #scifi #romance #short

Steorrum is free. New, short, and dare I say it, worth reading.

Carrot, Parsnip and Potato Pancakes.

Since Kartoffelbrei (potato pancakes) is a German specialty, I somehow doubt that Jane Austen would have eaten these. That said, they’re good.

1 potato
1 parsnip
1 carrot

Grate each coarsely and mix them. You’re aiming for roughly equal portions of each vegetable so adjust accordingly if you have a huge potato and a tiny parsnip.

add and mix
1 egg
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of pepper.

Fry in a layer of hot oil, browning both sides. Remove, drain and eat. The picture had to be taken quickly as they went even faster.

A word cloud on “after the convergence”

Tag Cloud word count for After the Convergence. I like how Sarah is the central word, even though she’s not there for half the book. It doesn’t catch all the plot, but knowing the book far too well, I can see a resemblance.

created at

A designing woman 0 for #wewriwa

Something Completely Different

Welcome to Weekend Writing Warriors.  This is a sample from my latest work in progress, “A Designing Woman”, and I hope you enjoy it.  Amanda’s mother is concerned that she’s spending too much time working on steam engines and non-genteel things like natural philosophy. She’s talking with the vicar’s wife at an assembly and they’re commenting about the man Amanda is dancing with.

Lady Caterham smiled at Mrs. Peabody. “In other words, a connection to be encouraged. I do so hope Amanda will find something other than machines to tinker with.”
“I agree, a husband and children will soon put her head straight.”
Their happy optimism about Amanda’s prospects would have been tempered had they been able to hear her conversation with the young man. While good looking, indeed handsome, with blue eyes, dark hair and a firm visage, able to dance the figures with a natural athletic grace, polite, educated and well mannered, he was also a serious disappointment.
“Mr. Williams, you’re studying divinity?”
“A suitable study for a gentleman, honorable and in the service of both man and God.”
“If you say so, but with a chance to meet Dalton or Henry or Davy or,” and here Amanda gave a frisson of excitement, “Even Faraday. You have the chance to study natural philosophy with such masters, and you choose divinity.”

This is a work in progress. Here are links on tablo and authonomy.