The Western Ohio Writers Association

If you are a writer in the Daytonish, Ohio area and are looking to interact with other writers, especially for the purpose of critique and honing your writing skills, you should consider checking out the Western Ohio Writers Association. They meet on the first Thursday of every month at the Fairborn Community Center. The meetings (granted I’ve attended but one) seem to be focused on genuine critique and feedback. I plan to attend the next meeting in February. You can also find the group on Facebook.

DLH

NaNoWriMo 2011 Day 26: Stalled for cause

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I have failed at NaNoWriMo 2011, yet as harsh as that might sound, I consider such a failure a great success. Why celebrate failure? Because sometimes we have to fail to learn to succeed.

For me, this year was an attempt to explore the process of writing rather than to write. What I discovered over the past 26 days is that I very much do have a process when it comes to writing, and when I follow that process, it’s magic. When I don’t, I’m destined to fail.

I won’t bore you with the details of what I’ve discovered about how I write simply because I believe that process is unique to every writer. But, now I know more about mine, and because I do, I have a greater chance at succeeding in the future.

The takeaway from this is that it is as important to know how we write as it is to know how to write. We can read a hundred books and go to a hundred workshops, but until we stop and understand what works for us as individuals, we cannot succeed.

So, find out about yourself. It’ll help you and it will definitely help your writing.

DLH

NaNoWriMo 2011 Day 16: Hump day after Halfway day

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Writing has to be one of the most agonizing undertakings anyone can set his mind to, especially since so many people do not consider it a “real” job. That real job question is important because it factors into the reason that so many talented writers find themselves writing in the wee hours of the morning or night, on their lunch breaks, or at other most inopportune times in between their efforts to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves.

I’m not saying that writers should be getting handouts, yet I cannot help but notice that the creative enterprise in the United States suffers from a clear lack of public support, even from people who know and condone what creative people are doing. Whether someone is building the next social media giant, useful technology, the next great work of art, or the great American novel, the public romance is of creative people living in creative slums clawing their way toward fantastic success by the sheer force of their own will.

A lot of great ideas die that way.

If I am not saying that creative people should be getting handouts, what am I saying? Well, frankly, I’m saying they should be getting support. For example, 15 days into NaNoWriMo, the Office of Letters and Light has only raised $431,982.51 of its $1.1 million goal to help writers young and old realize their creative gifts through events like NaNoWriMo and Script Frenzy. While the laudable organization Kickstarter has raised millions for start-up creative ideas, it should be raising billions.

Before the 20th century, it was a common thing for people to support the work of creative people–not just writers or artists, but engineers, inventors, and entrepreneurs of all kinds–in their efforts to create with things as simple as encouragement and as significant as room and board and financial support. We’ve lost that ideal as a society, both in the United States and in the West in general, and so creativity is dying a slow, painful death.

I am not telling anyone they have to do anything, but I am asking everyone to consider something. Think about the things you enjoy, your favorite television shows, movies, books, magazines, works of art, buildings, or whatever. Now, ask yourself how any of them could exist if you do not support their existence. Now, consider how your next favorite thing can possibly come into existence without some kind of support. Do you see a place for yourself in that consideration?

DLH

PS: You can be one of the people who makes a difference, and you’ll get a benefit out of it too. If you want to read the final product of my NaNoWriMo 2011 effort, you can help make that happen by donating to NaNoWriMo and the Office of Letters and Light through my fundraising page. If I reach $250, I will post what I wrote for NaNoWriMo on December 1st, and if I reach $500, I will also post an expanded version of my preview story January 1st.

NaNoWriMo 2011 Day 8: A week in

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A week has passed since National Novel Writing Month began, and so far, I’m behind and having to work really, really hard to make this story I’m writing work.

And that’s ok.

What I have discovered over the past week is that there is a lot more to writing and to my style of writing than I originally allowed for. I tend to develop my stories in layers, often from a central premise, so that the layers become wider and wider circles, one covering over the one previous.

Why does that matter? Because now I understand something I haven’t for years: why my stories always seem unfinished after my first attempt at them. That’s because they are.

Now, how does that help me? Well, for one, it is making me realize that I need to loosen up a whole lot more while working on my first drafts. I need to let the story flow more, let it take wrong turns, let characters grow, appear, and disappear as necessary until I finally have a workable draft. I also need to focus more on developing my idea before I start writing so that I have a better framework to hang the whole story on.

And why should you care? Because I want you to see that writing is not just about creativity, inspiration, and desire. It’s also about style and craft and technique. Successful writers have to have both if they are going to succeed, and learning how to develop all aspects of your writing cannot help but help you succeed.

DLH

PS: If you want to read the final product of my NaNoWriMo 2011 effort, you can help make that happen by donating to NaNoWriMo and the Office of Letters and Light through my fundraising page. If I reach $250, I will post my story December 1st, and if I reach $500, I will also post an expanded version of my preview story January 1st.

NaNoWriMo 2011 Day 3: All the King’s horses

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Sometimes, if you talk to enough writers, you’ll hear one of them say something about a story writing itself. In short, what they mean is that the idea they have appears to them–or they’ve worked it over enough–that it seems to spring onto the page fully formed like Athena springing from Zeus’s skull.

This idea of a story springing forth fully formed and landing on the page in its final form is so appealing that it has become a sort of mythology among writers, especially since the great Romantic era of the late 18th century. In fact, this idea has taken so much hold, along with the idea of the solitary genius, that most writers, even ones who should know better, continue to believe it is true.

I’m here to tell you that it’s hogwash.

Writing, like any other great undertaking, is a painful and difficult enterprise more akin to building a road through a traceless jungle or or intractable desert than to the birth of a fully-formed goddess. Yet, it is the nature of that enterprise that forms the appeal for those who stick writing out.

I have found that writing, at least for me, is a form of asceticism, a forming of the mind–and even the body–into something that it otherwise would not be. For me, and I suspect for most writers, this process and experience may be worth more than the finished product itself.

So, if you are trying to write and it is hard, my advice to you is not to worry about it. There will be times when the words come easy. There will be times when the words come hard. But either way, the process will shape you, and as it shapes you it will shape the words. When it is through, you will have a masterpiece, both in your work and in yourself.

DLH

PS: If you want to read the final product of my NaNoWriMo 2011 effort, you can help make that happen by donating to NaNoWriMo and the Office of Letters and Light through my fundraising page. If I reach $250, I will post my story December 1st, and if I reach $500, I will also post an expanded version of my preview story January 1st.

NaNoWriMo 2011 Day 1: Pulling teeth

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One of my goals in this year’s NaNoWriMo is to explore how I create. It sounds like a lofty goal, but what I want to do is technically analyze how I create a story, and in this case I am doing so under the gun of having to develop the entire story over the next 30 days.

Why do that? Because writing is more about hard work and determination than it is about inspiration when it comes to getting things finished and published. Understanding the guts of how that process works cannot help but make the hard work and determination easier.

On the other hand, it looks like this story is going to be like pulling teeth because I wasn’t prepared ahead of time. Over the next weeks, I hope to document that process for all of us. I hope you’ll follow along.

DLH

PS: If you want to read the final product of my NaNoWriMo 2011 effort, you can help make that happen by donating to NaNoWriMo and the Office of Letters and Light through my fundraising page. If I reach $250, I will post my story December 1st, and if I reach $500, I will also post an expanded version of my preview story January 1st.

NaNoWriMoPreVu 2011 #8: Out of the frying pan and into the fire

Here’s final installment in preparation for NaNoWriMo 2011, presented in its raw and unedited format for all to see.

If you like what you read here, there is a way for you to read even more. I have decided to raise money this year for NaNoWriMo and the Office of Letters and Light to support their efforts in encouraging writers both young and old. So, I am asking you, my readers, to sponsor my writing effort this year.

If you head over to my fundraising page at StayClassy and help me reach my goal of $250, I will post my NaNoWriMo effort on my website on 1 December 2011. Help me double my goal, and I will post the NaNoWriMo story plus a completed version of the story of which my preview vignettes will become a part on 1 January. If we go beyond even double, I will find something else cool to do for you.

 

NaNoWriMo 2011 Preview #8

Out of the frying pan and into the fire

By Dennis L Hitzeman

 

The National Network Defense Center was the heart of the United States government’s network defense infrastructure. For the past forty eight hours, it had been a hub of activity unprecedented in its history, a fact Lucas was sorry he missed.

In fact, he had been on a flight back from Moscow when the attack against the Core unleashed itself in all its fury. As he understood things, nearly every node inside the Core had been compromised at one point, and military options against supposed targets were being drafted even as he landed at Dulles.

And then it stopped. The attack vanished as suddenly as it appeared, leaving no other trace than the actions of the network defenders in trying to stop it. Nearly a day’s worth of searching found no trace of a trojan, nor was there any evidence that any information had been destroyed or compromised.

As Lucas watched, a host of hackers on the floor were linked up with government and contractor hackers from around the world trying to figure out what exactly had happened. Lucas doubted they would ever figure that out for the same reasons he had failed at his primary mission over the past few weeks.

A message chimed in his queue indicating that his interrogators were waiting on him. He was surprisingly relaxed considering that the questioning he was about to endure could cost him his career. Maybe it was because he realized now that there was a heck of a lot more to life than a government job.

Inside the secure conference room, a panel of three people waited, his immediate supervisor and two other supervisors from other divisions.

“Agent Cantril, please have a seat,” his supervisor said. “As you know, such interviews are standard procedure after the conclusion of any mission, but I suspect you also know how important this particular interview may be.

“First, I would like to congratulate you on behalf of the Domestic Intelligence Service and the Director of National Intelligence on your successful take down of Alexander Varisky and most of the hackers working for him. His capture alone was worth the effort, and several of those captured with him are wanted in several countries. The capture of Vladimir Pentrenko would have made it a perfect mission, but such things are seldom perfect.”

The pause told Lucas he was supposed to say something. “Sir, we are following up on leads as to Pentrenko’s whereabouts as well as looking into the possibility that he was tipped off prior to our raid.”

“Which, ironically, leads me to my second item,” his supervisor said, “and that is the curious question of what happened with Colonel Dean Whiteman, Colonel Larry Chestnut, and Mr. Ryan Alten.”

“Sir, could you be more specific as to what you are asking for?” Lucas said. “A lot of things happened involving those three over the past few weeks.”

His supervisor cast him a sharp look. “Well, let’s start with the fact that Alten’s whereabouts are still unknown.”

Lucas nodded. “Which is not unexpected since Colonels Whiteman and Chestnut had never heard of Alten before I brought him to their attention. I believe a detailed description of those facts are in my report.”

“Indeed they are,” his supervisor said, “yet you also point out that Alten made contact with those two at least twice after you made contact with Colonel Whiteman. Don’t you find that odd?”

“Not at all,” Lucas said. “I believe that was his intention all along.”

The room was quiet for a long time. Finally, his supervisor said, “I am not sure I follow what you are saying, Agent Cantril.”

“Sir, I did some checking into how exactly Colonel Whiteman became our first and most important lead in trying to track down Altent,” Lucas said, “and as it turns out, no one inside the DIS inserted that information into the case file. In fact, as far as I can tell, no one inserted that information.”

“Are you saying that Alten did so himself?” his supervisor said.

“The lack of evidence strongly supports that he did, sir,” Lucas said.

His supervisor glowered. “Now is not the time for sarcasm, Agent Cantril.”

“Sir, that was not sarcasm,” Lucas said. “On the contrary, the most telling calling card that Alten has done something seems to be that something was done and that there is no other trace of its occurrence than the event itself.”

He could see the realization of what he had just said sinking in to his supervisor and the other two. They gave each other quick glances before their attention returned to him.

“Do you believe there are other events that can be attributed to Alten as well by this method?” his supervisor said.

“I do,” Ryan said.

“Would you care to speculate as to what they might be?”

“Sir, I have those events are part of my investigation as I indicated in my report.”

“How would you characterize that portion of your investigation, then?” his supervisor said.

“Ongoing, sir,” Lucas said.

The three supervisors conferred for a few moments, exchanging hurried whispers, while Lucas could see the traces of message traffic to and from them on the net. The reality of what he was saying was sinking in, but he wondered what their next question might be. It could define everything that happened thereafter.

“Agent Cantril, do you have any speculation as to what Alten’s motives might be?” his supervisor asked.

Lucas looked from one supervisor to another, then finally returned his gaze to his own. “Sir, Alten’s motives are central to this investigation, and I believe, once they are unearthed, the case will be solved.”

“But you do have an idea, I think,” his supervisor said.

It was showtime, Lucas realized. “I believe Alten is trying to prevent something, sir.”

“Prevent something? By attacking the government?” his supervisor said.

Lucas steeled himself. “Sir, you asked me to speculate, so I will. It is my belief, based on my investigation to date, that the enemy is within the government and that Alten is a sympathetic force.”

His supervisor’s look was grim, but to Lucas’s surprise, he nodded. “I believe, given the circumstances, that you should continue with your work, Agent Cantril. Given the nature of the situation, I will expect regular status reports. Thank you for your hard work, Lucas. Your nation owes you a debt of gratitude.”

And with that he was dismissed. And Lucas had no doubt he had just leaped out of the frying pan and into the fire.

 

NaNoWriMoPreVu 2011 #7: By the skin of their teeth

Here’s my seventh of eight installments in preparation for NaNoWriMo 2011, presented in its raw and unedited format for all to see.

Also, I have decided to raise money this year for NaNoWriMo and the Office of Letters and Light to support their efforts in encouraging writers both young and old. So, I am asking you, my readers, to sponsor my writing effort this year.

If you head over to my fundraising page at StayClassy and help me reach my goal of $250, I will post my NaNoWriMo effort on my website on 1 December 2011. Help me double my goal, and I will post the NaNoWriMo story plus a completed version of the story of which my preview vignettes will become a part on 1 January. If we go beyond even double, I will find something else cool to do for you.

 

NaNoWriMo Preview #7

By the skin of their teeth

By Dennis L Hitzeman

 

Alexi stood there holding Vladimir, who had drifted into a stupor of exhaustion pressed against her leg. She didn’t even wait to contact Ryan. She sensed there was not much time, though she could not say why. She left a message in the usual place, and was startled when the chat connection came almost immediately.

“What have you found out? Ryan said.

She told him and was surprised to hear him laugh.

“That figures,” he said. “But I had to be sure. Thank you for your help, Alexi, and now I will help you. Leave where you are now as quickly as you can if you want to save yourself and Vladimir. Don’t worry about Alexander. Don’t worry about Vladimir’s people. Just get out and disappear.”

“I can’t just walk out…” she said.

“You can if you want to live,” he said. Then the line went dead.

She looked down at Vladimir and wondered if this was all worth it. She knew it was, but it would be just as easy for her to walk away as to take Vladimir with her. He’d been good to her, but his life of crime had to end.

She shook his shoulder. “Come on, now, Vladi, we need to take a trip.”
He muttered, “A trip? I have work to do.”

“Not until we get you cleaned up,” she said. “It won’t take long, I don’t think.”

She helped him to his feet and they made her way to the door where she left him leaning against the wall for a second. She made her way back into the scrum of catatonic hackers, found Anatoly and kicked him in the side.

He stirred and swore. “What? Oh, it’s you.”

She whispered, “If you want to live, come with me.”

He regarded her with bloodshot eyes, then struggled to his feet. “It’s come to that, then? What about the others?”
“What do you think,” she said, heading for the door.

“Leave them,” he said.

“Help me with Vladimir,” she said.

 

Lucas thought the helicopters were overkill, but the agent from the consulate and the officer from the Russian Special Intelligence Service assured him it was standard operating procedure.

They swooped through the mountain pass, coming upon the town and the scattering of dachas up the mountain side head on. They banked behind the target house, the choppers touching down just long enough to disgorge the twenty four response team members, Lucas, the consular agent, and the SIS officer.

The team moved with clockwork precision, surrounding the building and breaking in from several points at the same time. There was a lot of shouting, a couple of shots, and then the team began dragging out flex-cuffed and hooded suspects. Two came out in body bags.

About that time, the police bus rumbled up, and they brought the last man, whom Lucas recognized from the pictures as Alexander Varisky, notorious Russian crime facilitator, and more than a little confused as to what was going on.

He didn’t see three faces among the suspects, and that made him grimace. It appeared they had gotten away or had been tipped off. It didn’t matter, though. His government had gotten its take down.

He formed a private channel to the handler at the safehouse. “Go,” was all he said.

 

Alexi and Anatoly watched the take down of the dacha from the old pass above the town. Vladimir was long asleep by then.

“You knew they were coming,” Anatoly said.

She shrugged. “I knew something was coming.”
“Why save me?” he said.

“Your Vladimir’s best friend, Anatoly, even if you do think I’m going to get you all killed.”

He blushed. “I don’t believe that’s all there is, Alexi. You’re too cold hearted for that.”

“You and Vlad are a team, Anatoly, and were way before I knew you. That’s something I would like to preserve, for his sake if nothing else,” she said.

“I will not forget that,” Anatoly said, looking down as they loaded his onetime comrades into the police bus.

 

Natalia walked through the concourse of JFK feeling almost high she was so happy. She added a little extra sway because she liked the attention it brought her. She also liked that her presence in that airport meant that she had won at a very dangerous game. The feeling was exhilarating.

She made her way to the exit, thinking to take a cab to her hotel, but was surprised to see a man holding a sign with her name on it. Her real name. In an instant, her exhilaration turned to fear. She had been warned.

The man holding the sign came up to her and took her suitcase as if it was the most normal thing in the world. “Don’t make a scene, Miss Karova. You’re a professional, and now would be a really good time to act like it.”

“Of course,” she said, trying to control the quaver in her voice. “This just was not the reception I was expecting.”

“It’s a lot better than the one they had planned,” the man said.

She shot him a startled glance and he gestured her toward a waiting car.

 

Ryan sat back in his chair and extended the private channel. It was a few moments before his contact answered, and when he did, Ryan could feel the agitation the man exuded through the connection.

“What have you done with her,” his contact said.

“I’m surprised you care so much given that both you and the government planned to make sure her next stop was a morgue,” Ryan said.

“Do you really understand who you are dealing with?” the contact said.

Ryan laughed. These guys were like the bad guys from the old movies. “If you’ll recall, I used to work for you, watched you and the government murder several of my colleagues, and prevented you from following through on your plan. So, yes, I understand exactly who I am dealing with.”

“What do you want?” the contact said.

“Only to make sure you understand that I know what you were trying to do and that I have, at least for the time being, ensured that you will not be able to succeed.”

Then he keyed a sequence of letters and numbers and sent them to the man’s connection by a side channel.

“What?..” the contact said, but Ryan cut the channel before he could finish.

 

Kevin was astonished by his change in fortunes. Just two weeks before, he had been a cut rate scam artist with a knack for stealing people’s identities for fun and profit. Now, he sat in the data center of Larry Chestnut, one of the most renown and talented archivists the world had ever known. And all because he managed not to get rezzed when someone took down his employer’s hacking network.

And so it was that he found himself in the prime position to watch as one of the greatest hacks ever unleashed by anyone anywhere at any time began against the United States Government’s core network and several of its biggest defense contractors began.

Kevin accepted Larry’s private channel.

“Are you watching this?” Larry said. He sounded giddy.

“I am. What the heck is going on?” Kevin said.

“I think, as they say, the crap has hit the fan.”

“How do we record all of this?” Kevin said.

“Well, let’s get as much as we can live,” Larry said, “then we can go back and gather as many traces as we can later.”

Kevin laughed out loud with the excitement of it.

 

Natalia found herself in a comfortable but austere room, completely cut off from the outside world except for an intercom at the door and a rapid serve that kept her from being too hungry or bored.

She hadn’t spoken to anyone since her escort first dropped her off there what she thought was three days before. She’d spent the time running through theories of what might have gone wrong and how she might be able to get out of whatever trouble she found herself in.

Unfortunately, she kept coming back to the same conclusion. She had no idea what was happening, and that meant she was the prisoner of an actor she didn’t even know was in the play. The lack of knowledge made the panic rise in her chest again, and not for the first time she wanted to pound the walls and scream for help.

The comm chirped and showed someone standing outside; the same man who had deposited here there days before.

“May I come in?” he said.

“I don’t see how I can stop you,” she said.

The man came in, bearing a laptop—she hadn’t seen its like in a long time—and deposited himself on one of the chairs like he owned the place. For that matter, he probably did.

“You’ve been out of the loop for a few days, so I’ll catch you up,” he said. “Someone launched a second attack against the Core and several defense contractors, specifically Bione. They caused some major mischief, but no one knows what the attack was supposed to accomplish. The Russians have your man Alexander in custody along with a bunch of hackers, and the media is reporting that he’s being charged with placing a trojan inside the Core during his first attack. Oh, and they’re looking for you as an accomplice.”

Natalia’s fear changed to terror, but she fought it down. It was only reasonable that rat Alexander had given her up once he realized how much trouble he was in. Of course, her trip to the States was supposed to solve all that. But there was a bigger problem.

“I’m working for Bione,” she said.

The man shrugged, “I know, but no one is going to believe that after what’s happened over the past couple of days. The scuttlebutt is that you and Alexander were working for a consortium of crime syndicates trying to steal classified network technology from the American government. That’s high treason in several countries these days by any standard.”

“But, but… the syndicate was Bione… Them and a few other contractors,” she said. “I’ve been working for them for years now.”

The man smiled. He was good looking for his age. “But you’re a privateer, right? What’s your loyalty to them now?”

She bowed her head. “They said they would set me up. I want out.”

The man regarded her thoughtfully for a long while. “There still us a way out, I think, Miss Karova, but you’ve still got a little further to travel before you can get there.”

Her head shot up despite herself. She knew she was being played, but the glimmer of hope was more than she could resist.

“How so?”
“Well, it seems that you are the most dangerous asset in play for all the parties involved,” the man said, “Especially since, shall we say, your loyalties are questionable. It turns out I understand where your loyalties lie, and I can help you, I think, as long as you are willing to help me in return.”

She knew the man was right. Besides, what was the point in maintaining the pretense of loyalty when she had already betrayed so many? This was her end game one way or another, she supposed.

“I’m listening.”

 

NaNoWriMoPreVu 2011 #6: A web of lies

Here’s my sixth of eight installments in preparation for NaNoWriMo 2011, presented in its raw and unedited format for all to see.

Also, I have decided to raise money this year for NaNoWriMo and the Office of Letters and Light to support their efforts in encouraging writers both young and old. So, I am asking you, my readers, to sponsor my writing effort this year.

If you head over to my fundraising page at StayClassy and help me reach my goal of $250, I will post my NaNoWriMo effort on my website on 1 December 2011. Help me double my goal, and I will post the NaNoWriMo story plus a completed version of the story of which my preview vignettes will become a part on 1 January. If we go beyond even double, I will find something else cool to do for you.

 

NaNoWriMo Preview #6

A web of lies

By Dennis L Hitzeman

 

Lucas Cantril never suspected that his quest to protect his nation’s vital interests would find him in a seedy adult club in Moscow. Frankly, Lucas never believed he would travel all that much when he took his first job with the Network Defense division of the Domestic Intelligence Service, but his latest assignment had kept him moving in ways he never would have expected.

Now, he had everything on the line. It had taken two meetings with superiors and calling in favors to convince them to let him fly to Moscow to begin with. Everything depended on whether Colonel Whiteman was telling even part of the truth and whether his supposed contact actually showed. If neither proved to be true, it would probably cost him his career.

He jumped slightly when a slight woman took the seat next to him, but he tried to cover his nervousness by taking another drink.

“Are federal agents always so jumpy?” the woman said.

Lucus’s heart thundered in his throat. He was supposed to be a business contact looking for hackers.

“Don’t be surprised, Special Agent Cantril,” she said. “Your government has never been particularly good at keeping secrets, especially those of their employees. Nevertheless, we are both here. Perhaps we could find a better place to talk?”

Lucas nodded and allowed himself to be lead out of the night club across the street to a nondescript cafe that served coffee and beer. The woman slipped the hostess a small wad of bills, and she showed them to a secluded booth in the back.

“So, now that we can dispense with the pretenses, what do you want?” she said after the waitress brought them their coffee.
“Miss Karova, someone needs to go down for what happened next week,” Lucas said, “and I have been lead to believe you might be able to help me in that regard.”

“Please, call me Natalia,” she said with the flash of a pretty smile. “Whether I can help you depends a lot on what might be in it for me.”

“Well, why don’t we start with what you might want,” Lucas said, trying to play it cool.”

“I doubt you would be here unless you already knew what I might want,” Natalia said. “I doubt the US government sends its agents out with blank checks too often these days.”

Lucas sighed. She obviously had the upper hand here. “Fair enough. It is my understanding that you want to leave the country without anyone knowing. I believe I can provide that capacity for you, so long as the information you provide leads my government to be able to take someone down.”

“What guarantee do I have that you will follow through, Agent Cantril?” Natalia said.

He reached into his jacked and pulled out a small envelope. “This is the information you need to get to a safe house. They will keep you there until my government has acted. Once the take down is complete, they will provide you with passage to the destination of your choice.”

She touched the envelop tentatively, as if thinking about something, then pulled a small slip of paper from her blouse. “The man you are looking for is called Alexander Varisky. He can be found at the address here.”

Lucas took the paper and she took the envelop, and without another word she departed. Lucas was having a hard time believing it would be that easy.

 

Outside, Natalia Korova, folded herself into the crowd making their way to the nightspots that dominated the street, congratulating herself on another job well done. She wasn’t called the “Black Widow” for nothing, she told herself, and soon her price would go up even more.

She was so lost in her thoughts that the private channel surprised her. It shouldn’t have. Her employers were very particular.

“Zdravstvujtye,” she said.

“Is it done,” her handler said.

“That and more,” she said. “I will be able to make it to the US undetected thanks to your own government.”

“Good,” her handler said. “Contact me at the usual place once you are in the States.”

“I will,” she said.

“Don’t get careless, Natalia. You are not safe yet,” her handler said, then the line went dead.

She was suddenly apprehensive, but chided herself. The rest of these players were children compared to her or her employers. What could go wrong?

 

Alexi almost gagged when she stepped into the dacha. The place reeked of unwashed bodies and stale beer. Vladimir’s crew were strewn about the main room in various states of stupor brought on by too many days without sleep and too much boost. She saw Alexander passed out on a chair, drunk beyond caring.

In one corner, Vladimir sat with a laptop perched on his knees, his eyes fluttering in that strange way they did when hackers were multi-tasking between hard machines an their own connections to the net. He had a five day growth of beard, and she was sure he hadn’t bathed in that long either.

She knew he knew she was there, so she just went straight to the room they shared and waited. If he was going to come, he would come soon enough, and if there was some way to get the information she needed, she would, especially given the state he was in.

It was only moments later when he staggered in reeking and weak from his marathon exertion.

“I thought you had left for good,” he slurred as he collapsed beside her.

She lay back next to him and caressed his cheek. “What are they doing to you, my dear, sweet Vladimir?”

He growled. “Your bastard lover Ryan has poisoned Alexander’s network, Alexi! We risk losing everything if we cannot fix what he has done.”

She slapped him, hard, and rocketed to her feet. “Never say anything like that to me again, you bastard. I have been true to you.”
She turned as if to go, and she heard him sob.

“Alexi, don’t go,” he said. “It will kill me if you go.”

“Why are you doing this?” she said. “Why not just walk away?”

“I can’t Alexi,” he said. “You don’t understand…”

“Then tell me,” she put her hand on the doorknob and her heart thundered.

He sat up and buried his head in his hands. “Just don’t go.”

“I want to help you, Vladimir,” she said, “but I can’t if you don’t tell me.”

He looked up at her with blood-shoot, tear-stained eyes. And like an avalanche on one of the snow-covered slopes below them, he told her everything.