Things That Won’t Make Me Popular: #1 – My 2016 Election Conspiracy Theory

election-2016It’s not a secret that I’m not a fan of voting. I deliberately did not register to vote when I moved back to Colorado in 2012, I advocate against it, and encourage people, instead, to go give blood. (You will save up to three lives with one blood donation, whereas if you vote, it will mean nothing, because the system is a big setup to pacify the masses and make them think they’re making a difference.) But I’ve had this new theory since before Trump won the primaries, and the people with whom I’ve shared it have grudgingly admitted that it might hold water.

It begins in the ’90s. Remember Whitewater? The land-fraud scandal that rocked the (Bill) Clinton administration? People had begun mysteriously dying around D.C., including James McDougal, who had been in jail suffering the brunt of the heat from something that also implicated the Clintons. But before he could testify, James suffered a fatal heart attack. There were widespread rumors that James’s wife, Susan, had had an affair with and was still in love with Bill. The Monica Lewinsky-thing was also happening at the same time. Bill’s presidency was going down in flames. And then there was Vince Foster – remember him? He was a D.C. insider who reportedly knew some dirt on Bill, and he was also allegedly Hillary’s lover. Then he suddenly turned up dead, under “mysterious circumstances.” [This part is all true, or else was rumored to be true at the time. I didn’t make any of that up. This next bit is where I start to fill in the blanks with my theory:]

So anyway, people are dropping like flies to cover up Bill’s illegal crap, but there are a few people Bill can’t kill. Like his own wife. That would’ve been way too obvious. However, Hillary was pissed: why did all of Bill’s lovers get to live – even Susan McDougal, who knew as much about Whitewater as her husband had – but Hillary’s one dalliance had to be among the “offed”? She threatens to divorce Bill, which would mean she could then be forced to testify against him. So Bill makes a deal: he’ll get Hillary the one thing she really wants. Power, of the Oval Office-type. Using his leverage and popularity, he first helps her score the Senate seat. But when they go for the Big Cheese, in 2008, they get blocked by Obama. So they change tactics. They call in a favor from their good friend Donald Trump. [It’s widely accepted that Trump was good friends with the Clintons, and that he’d even donated money to Hillary’s campaign in the past.] Trump’s job is to divide the Republican party, thus blocking any “real” contender from swimming to the top. He does this, successfully, by making a complete clown-show of the race. (Anyone disagree?) He manages to divide the party enough to win the nomination, and has now proceeded to say the most outrageous things – always at a time when Hillary seems to be getting negative press. But Trump is a straw candidate, so that’s his job: to make Hillary look good. Or at least like the lesser of two evils.

This is not a true election – not with only one actual candidate. It’s a game for Trump – a bored billionaire, who is helping his friends, whom he wants to win. It’s a joke, orchestrated for years, at the highest level. Even Trump has now started shouting about the system “being rigged.” Is he saying this to deter us from what we all already suspect is true? Well, he would know. If Trump wins this election, it will prove my theory wrong. If Hillary wins…. well, I won’t be surprised.



I’m not usually given to poetry, but sometimes the story just wants what it wants. This is how it came out today. Let me know what you think.


Shots pop from all around
Exploding chunks of turf near where I stand
Bullet casings that turn to mortar shells

I dodge and take cover from where I think the enemy is positioned

But then, a grenade to the gut
Bounced off my shelter from somewhere behind
Stunned, I whirl
And blink

Et tu, Brute? Et tu?

Were you the lone sniper all along?

No, it seems there are others
Just as hidden as you
They blast away, even as your grenade shreds my insides,
Rocking the earth with violent spasms

Until my feet have no ground to hold

You had drawn the enemy lines long ago
It seems
And I was on the other side
But did not know it

Mea culpa.
But why?

Now, as I fall
Limp and useless
In agony
Into the void
You despise me for bleeding
And crying

It is strange to see so clearly now

White hot pain
Blinding, searing
Destroying utterly

What was is no more

Fiction Relay – Part 23

Fiction Relay – Part 22.

Fiction Relay Homepage.

Fiction Relay Summary.


Ephraim sped to the back entrance to the old distillery, shifting Suzi in his arms as he fumbled with the lock. Inside, he made his way to the kitchen, where he attempted to pry her arms from around his neck. “Meghan? Meghan, it’s okay. We’re back at the cabin. You’re safe now.”

Suzi’s breathing calmed. She loosened her hold on Ephraim, unwrapped her legs from around his waist, and tested her feet on the floor. Her knees gave out. Ephraim caught her. He grabbed a blanket from the back of the sofa, wrapped it around her, pulled out a dining chair, and sat her down. Her eyes were glazed. She was in shock. He stepped back into the kitchen, returned with a tumbler filled with ice and a liberal amount of bourbon, and held it to her lips. She took a tentative sip, then grabbed the glass around his hands, and guzzled. The blanket slid off her shoulders, puddling around her waist. “Easy!” He pulled the glass back. Suzi swallowed, gasped, and blinked.

“Where…?” She looked around the room. Then she glanced down at her naked, blood-stained torso. Her gaze flew up to meet Ephraim’s. In her eyes he saw the traces of Meghan recede to the background. “How did I get here?”

“I brought you after you ported into my arms. Had you been in the cave?”

Suzi nodded. “Melissa was going to…!” She choked on the last word and reached for the bourbon. The ice clinked against the sides of the glass as she brought her shaking hand up and took a sip.

“Melissa was there? Is that her blood?”

Suzi shook her head and set down the glass. “Raj’s,” she whispered. “He strapped me to one of the tables, like… before….” Ephraim nodded, feeling Suzi’s dread. He remembered all too well what it felt like to be strapped to those tables. “But then he was going to… to….” Her eyes widened with fear, and she clutched the blanket back up around her nakedness. Ephraim suddenly understood that part of his vision: the lust in Raj’s mad eyes, the smirk on his face. Ephraim’s hands curled into fists. Anger simmered in his core. He didn’t know if he could handle hearing what Raj had done next, but he had to know whatever details Suzi could give him. Years of training in law enforcement kicked in. He kept his voice steady.

“Go on.”

“Then Melissa came,” Suzi said. “She killed him.”

Melissa killed Raj?” Ephraim repeated. “But Melissa loved….” No, that part of his vision made sense, too. He’d felt the overwhelming jealousy and rage. It must have come from Melissa. But Melissa also hated Suzi. “Did she free you from the straps?” he asked suspiciously. There was no way Suzi would have been able to port out of those special-made bindings.

“No. I did it myself. I didn’t think I’d be able to… and she had the knife raised, and I thought I’d be dead… and then suddenly I was able to draw energy from… from….” Her jaw dropped and she gasped. Her gaze became distant, deep in thought.

“You drew energy from where?” he prompted.

“I remember,” she breathed.

“What do you remember?”

“Everything!” Her eyes locked on Ephraim. “I have a daughter! Daniel and I have a daughter!”

Now it was Ephraim’s turn to be shocked. Suzi kept talking, explaining.

“Early-on, I’d figured out how to port out of the rooms.”

Ephraim nodded. Meghan could have escaped the orphanage long before she actually did. But she wouldn’t leave any of them behind. Instead, she’d stayed and would sneak out to comfort whoever had received the worst of that week’s “experiments.” That is, unless the victim-du-jour had been Meghan. They all knew that those times she’d had to suffer alone. Sometimes he could still hear the echoes of her heartbreaking sobs in his mind. He, Daniel, and Raj had all loved her for it. But over the years, while it had solidified his friendship with her, he’d always known there was something deeper, more powerful between her and Daniel. It had driven Raj insane. Raj had turned his attentions to Melissa.

But Ephraim had had no idea that Meghan and Daniel had created life.

“Do you remember the night we escaped?” Suzi asked.

“Yes…?” he thought back. “Raj and Melissa had torched the orphanage and killed everyone else. Daniel and I were stuck in the cave. I had a vision, and Daniel could see my thoughts,  so we knew Raj and Melissa were headed for us. We didn’t think we could make it out of our straps in time. Then you rushed in. I remember thinking it was strange that you hadn’t ported in. We told you to go. But you wouldn’t leave until we were both freed. And even then you wouldn’t port away to safety.”

“First of all, you know I would never have left you,” she said. “But I couldn’t port then, and I knew I couldn’t, but I didn’t realize why until later. I was already pregnant.”

“You can’t port when you’re pregnant?”

“Apparently not. Meanwhile, after we’d escaped Kentucky, Raj and Melissa were still coming after us. You split off from us first, and later Daniel and I split up.”

Ephraim nodded. “Because we knew we’d be too easy to find as a group. And we agreed not to use our powers, because it would have made us that-much-easier for them to track.”

“Yes. I wound up having my daughter and raising her alone until she was eight. But by then, Raj had tracked me to Miami. So I did the only thing I could. I placed her for adoption. Then, at the last second, just before Raj captured me, I did a memory wipe.”

“On yourself?”

Suzi’s face contorted with pain. “Yes,” she breathed. Then she straightened her shoulders and set her jaw. “It was the only way I could protect her from Raj. He never knew of her existence. I’d forgotten about her… until tonight. There was something about that power I was able to draw-on… I wonder if — ?”

Ephraim interrupted with his own thought that had been bothering him. “What I never understood is why Raj and Melissa pursued us for so long.”

Suzi’s eyes dropped. “Because of the map. After I freed you two, I swiped it from the safe.”

You have the map? You have that map?”

Suzi nodded sheepishly.

“How did you get it out of the safe? That thing was locked! And why didn’t you tell me? Or Sam — does Sam know?”

“No. I didn’t want to compromise either of you. I’m the one who had to go back and take care of what the map leads to.”

“You don’t have to be so secretive. I know what it leads to, also. And you’re not doing it. I’ll take care of it.”

“No! I don’t want you getting hurt! You or Sam! Where is he, anyway?”

“He went to check on the cave, and — .”

“The cave? That’s where Melissa was! We have to go help him! He’s in danger!”

Ephraim exploded. “At this point, good! I can’t believe you’re sticking up for him, Suzi! You were always there for us. Always! I can’t believe Daniel left you, and then never came back. Especially in your condition! You should never have had to go through that alone! If I’d known you were pregnant, I’d have never left your side, even if it wasn’t my kid.”

“But he never did know,” she said quietly.

“Excuse me?”

“He never knew I was pregnant. Sam doesn’t know he’s a dad.”


Okay, Hasty, your turn!

For Honor

This is the fourth, and final, installment of Trig Denton’s story — with a twist. You are Trig Denton. This writing exercise was called “Imperative.”

Write a fragment of a story that is made up entirely of imperative commands: Do this; do that. This exercise will be a sort of second-person narration (you is implied in the imperative). 500 words max.

Yes, you read that correctly. 500 words. Max. Our group’s guru, Brenda Moffitt, even bolded the word-limit because writers have a sneaky tendency to go over…. (What? Who? Me?)

I was going to rewrite the fourth part of Trig’s story so that it was in third person, which is my preferred writing style. But upon rereading it, I think the second person POV, combined with all-imperative commands, helps to build the scene’s intensity. I hope you agree, and that you like this ending (of sorts…):



You approach the nine-foot, blast-proof steel door that looms in front of you. You swipe the card you took from T’ien Jing, the engineer who lies motionless in the shadows of the tunnel off to the side. When the door beeps green you turn the handle and check your watch. Keeping your pulse steady, as you’ve been trained, you see that you have less than five minutes until the paralytic you injected into T’ien Jing wears off.

You stride into the concrete cavern that is the aeronautical fabrication center—the rocket room—with the knowledge that the security of the entire country is at stake. Your orders ring in your head: Get a count, get proof, get out, but what you see vaults you over the impenetrable wall on which the orders are written, with only slight queasiness at the knowledge that you are about to disobey them. You resist gulping to quash the oh-shit sensation at the apocalyptic vision of thousands of TRUE LOVE smart bombs before you. Bombs that the Chinese are already developing right under New York City.

You see dozens of employees—maybe fifty—working on an assembly line, and behind them a wall of completed products. You veer left and grab a clipboard that you pretend to examine as you continue to study the room, cognizant of the fact that, despite the disguise, you still do not look Chinese. Scratching the back of your neck, you adjust your ear-cam to make sure it’s recording. You puzzle at cables that run from each bomb into a central hub until you note ten offices along the right wall. You realize that the bombs are wired to a network, which is separate from the network in the rest of the building–the network you’ve already disabled with a virus.

You weigh your options: leave now and report back to Langley, knowing that by the time anyone else gets back in it will be too late. Or stay, cripple their systems, and probably die in the process. You smile, since this is an easy choice for a former Marine, and also because the floor manager is walking toward you, frowning.

Reaching your hand in your pocket, you extract a five and a half inch cylinder, pull the pin, and toss it on the assembly floor. In the tear-gas confusion, which you’ve been trained to withstand, you bolt across the space and into the first office. You draw your G26, put a single bullet through the head of the engineer, and then fish a flash drive from your pocket. You shove the drive into the nearest USB port and begin uploading a virus to the network.

Leaving the flash drive in the computer, you dash out the door and down the side-tunnel. You pass T’ien Jing, who is coming-to, and you pause to shove C4 and a remote-timer into a large crack. Once you’ve passed the exit, you detonate the plastic explosive. You had hoped to demo the tunnel, but instead you see that you’ve unleashed the Hudson, which rushes to fill the underground facility. You bolt up four flights of stairs, across the lobby, and out into the afternoon sunshine.


I’d be interested to hear which of the POVs explored in this four-part series (first person, third person, third person omniscient, or second person) was your favorite. Through which viewpoint did you like Trig the most?

Oh, also, I don’t know whether you’re interested, but before I left Kentucky I did one more writing exercise with Trig. It picked up shortly after the TRUE LOVE assignment ended. But then it exploded in my mind, and that writing exercise is now the first chapter of a story I’m currently working on. It fleshes-out Trig’s backstory, as he is jarred by present-day events that change everything…. 😉

For War

Part three (of four) of CIA-agent Trig Denton’s story. This time, our writing exercise was the same: character/objective/obstacle (mine was Frank the painter/to find true love/that idiot from corporate), but to write it from the omniscient viewpoint. As before, I asked and was granted permission to continue my character’s story, rather than rewriting it. Enjoy! 🙂



Get a count, get proof, get out.

The orders sat front-and-center of Agent Trig Denton’s mind as he stood in the belly of the secret, underground manufacturing facility of the Bao-Dong Building in New York. Having obtained evidence that they had developed plans for a small, remote-controlled stealth rocket that ran on a near-perpetual battery—something the U.S. military called a Total-Range-Unceasingly-Energized-Land-Operated-Veiled-Explosive, or TRUE LOVE, the Holy Grail of smart bombs—, he now needed to discover how far they’d taken those plans. Maybe they’d already completed a prototype. His time-window was limited, due to the fact that he’d already sent a virus into the company’s private LAN. It would release in less than three hours, and the building would go into lockdown. He’d be trapped. There was no cell phone reception in this area of the building, and no way for him to call for backup from other CIA operatives. He was entirely on his own.

He’d made his way along the cracked walls of the long underground tunnel and was now ten feet from its intersection with what looked like a wide, empty corridor. The sound of a sniff made him freeze. Footfalls slapped in the distance. Someone was in the corridor, approaching. Trig flattened himself against the wall of the tunnel, his hand poised over the place where his gun was hidden in the fake belly of his painter-disguise.


T’ien Jing strolled down the corridor between the two halves of the underground manufacturing facility. Jing was an unregistered Chinese national who was, therefore, in the U.S. illegally. He had a PhD in mechanical engineering, and also bad allergies that made his nose run. He stopped at the vending machines by the neglected back-exit tunnel. Drip, drip, drip, echoed off the tunnel’s concrete walls. It was the Hudson’s attempt to expand its trickle-invasion through the cracks. A shiver ran down Jing’s spine. He always half-expected a jiaolong, the mythological, alligator-like flood dragon, to slither from that dank, poorly-lit place.

Jing plinked a quarter in the machine. A faint shushing sound came from the tunnel. Jing froze and listened. Nothing. It must have been his imagination. He dropped two more quarters in, and the shushing sound came again. Jing held his breath. Again, nothing.


Trig remained stationary. Every time he tried to go forward, tight against the wall, the coarse fibers of his slightly-better-than-paper coveralls brushed against the concrete. And every time he moved, the other guy seemed to pause. Trig stepped away from the wall and drew out his G26.


Jing’s reason kicked in: when he put the quarter in, he heard the shush. The sound must be coming from the vending machine. He dropped a fourth quarter in the slot and listened. No shush. Oh, well. The long hours they put in at the facility had taken a toll on everyone. Maybe it had been his imagination after all. He selected a bottle of mango-cherry juice. As the machine whined into action the shushing sound came again, this time louder. Jing spun around.


Damn coveralls! Trig dropped to a crouch and took aim.


A low, squat shadow loomed forward into the corridor from the dim light in the tunnel. As Jing watched, the shadow morphed, growing tall, into the shape of a man. Jing’s eyes bulged. The jiaolong had such powers! Ice gripped his heart.

Just then, the bottle of juice fell to the bottom of the vending machine. Thunk! Jing stopped breathing and fell over in a dead faint.


Trig eased into the corridor where Jing’s body lay slumped on its side.

Well, that was easy.

He quickly injected a paralytic into Jing’s neck in case the man came-to, and relieved him of the lanyard containing his ID badge and key-card. Then, after dragging the man’s body around the corner into the tunnel, he made a calculated decision.

Trig was larger than Jing, both in height and girth, but he figured he should still be able to fit into the man’s lab coat. If he got rid of his fake belly, that is. Slipping out of the coveralls, Trig unstrapped layers of padding from around his waist. The lab coat was snug around his chest and fell several inches shy of his knees, but it would do. He tossed the painter’s hat, ripped off the beard and mustache  but kept the brown contacts and the unruly mop of dark hair. His own spiky blonde buzz and grey eyes would draw too much attention. Returning to the corridor, Trig studied his reflection in the vending machine. It was enough not to get him noticed on the streets of New York. Hopefully enough to buy him the few minutes he needed in each half of the facility.

He knew from the blueprints that the chemical engineering lab, where they made the bombs, was to his left, and the aeronautical fabrication center, where they made the rockets, was to his right. He needed evidence from both places. Voices came from the right. Trig headed left.

A nine-foot, blast-proof steel door loomed in front of him. Trig swiped the key-card through the sensor and heard a click. He stepped into a lab. Tables containing vials, tubing, centrifuges, Bunsen burners, colorful liquids, and dark powders lined the far walls. Technicians hunched over various stations, deeply immersed in their work. A humongous steel-walled room took up the center of the lab. Trig recognized it from his Marine days: it was a blast-test room. He slipped on an ear-cam and walked purposefully around, taking in the entire radius, before he strode out the main, steel door, back into the corridor. The preoccupied techs had ignored him.

One down, one to go.

But even after he was done with both rooms, he’d only be halfway there: it wasn’t enough just to get the photographic evidence. He’d have to deliver it, too. And for that to happen, he would have to get out of the facility. Preferably without causing a disturbance.

He headed for the aeronautical fabrication center. The Rocket Room.


Hope you’re enjoying this! Tune in next week for the final installment in Trig’s first adventure. 😉

For Country

Here is the second installment of the story that I posted last week. It was the ensuing assignment for my writers’ group, but this time we were supposed to take our same character-goal-obstacle (in my case: Frank the painter, whose goal is to find true love, after overcoming that idiot from corporate), and write the same story from a third-person viewpoint. I emailed the group’s writing-guru leader, Brenda Moffitt, and begged permission to write a continuation instead, since I’d left my character in-hiding, in the middle of a life-or-death assignment. She graciously agreed, as long as I used third person POV. Without further ado:



The door closed. Hu Sing’s footsteps faded away down the corridor on his way to a phony errand to meet Han Li. Beneath the chairman’s massive, cherry desk Trig Denton exhaled, but his attention immediately re-focused on the flash drive in the CPU next to him. He uncoiled his taut muscles, automatically adjusting the “Frank Panetti” paunch and paint-splattered coveralls as he stood, and leaned over the monitor.

“Come on, baby. You’re almost there.”

The plans and technology for TRUE LOVE—the Chinese’s modifications for a Total-Range, Unceasingly Energized, Land-Operated, Veiled Explosive—something they’d stolen from the U.S. in Los Alamos, was confined to a set of reasonably-sized .pdfs. The blueprints for the Bao-Dong tower, however, were larger.

The words “Download complete” and “Upload complete” appeared on the screen. A grin curled Trig’s lips. As he’d downloaded the plans and blueprints, he’d also uploaded a virus. He tugged out the flash drive, pocketed it, and turned off the chairman’s computer. Time for phase two.

He exited the room, took the elevator down to the commissary, and pulled out his cell phone. Calling the closed-loop transfer feed devices he’d clipped onto the room’s hidden cameras, he stopped their cycle. The cameras would go back to showing a live feed. Then he ordered a Diet Coke and a tuna sandwich and sat down at one of the café tables. Taking a sip of soda, he plugged the flash drive into his phone. While eating, he uploaded the TRUE LOVE files through his encrypted line, to his New York office, and to Langley. When it finished, he dialed another number.

“Hey, sugar, what are you wearing today?” he cooed into the line.

“Stop it, Agent Denton,” Cheryl’s voice growled. Trig chuckled, picturing the field-agent-liaison’s cheeks turning bright pink beneath her silver-gray curls. “And yes,” she continued, “your files came through. Parrish is looking at them now… oh, wait. He wants to talk to you.”

“Good work, Denton,” Parrish boomed on the line. “Now finish up and get out.”

Trig frowned. It was obvious the Chinese were farther along in the development of this weapon than the CIA had previously thought, and they had two choices. Either they let him see how far he could get right now, or they removed him, analyzed the data, and planned another chance to get somebody else inside. This second alternative is was what Parrish was telling him to do. It would be the safer, more conservative route. But there were two major problems: the virus he’d just sent into the Bao-Dong systems would put the Chinese on high-alert after today, and it would take too long to get the next agent in as deep as Denton already was.

Trig glanced at the business crowd around him, eating their lunches. “I got some hot tickets for tonight’s game,” he said to Parrish, covertly indicating his desire to move forward with the task.

“Negative. Too dangerous.”

“Oh, honey, I’d love to, but I think I’m coming down with something,” Trig said, reminding Parrish about the virus.

There was a pause on the other end. Trig mentally weighed the options, the same ones Parrish would go through: the accomplishment of the smaller task at the expense of the larger one. The safety of the agent, versus the security of the nation. They’d known going in it could come to this. It really wasn’t much of a choice. Trig was more than ready.

“Fine,” Parrish grunted. “Good luck.”

“Thanks, sugar.” Trig disconnected.

He tossed his soda can and sandwich wrapper in the trash and flipped through his phone until he came to the blueprints for the Bao-Dong tower. Navigating to an emergency stairwell in the building’s south corner, he descended four flights until he came to the end at a dimly-lit landing. A large, steel door loomed in front of him. It was marked “Mechanical Room” in both English and Mandarin. According to the plans, the lone, back exit to the weapons facility was hidden in this room. Unfortunately, once past the door, his cell phone wouldn’t get an outside signal. He’d be entirely on his own.

A single, mortise lock stared out at him from the handle. Frowning, Trig picked the pin-tumble mechanism. The handle turned without effort. Trig’s senses were instantly on high-alert.

Something’s wrong. Why isn’t there a scanner? Or a card reader? Or at least a keypad? Unless…?

The door opened into blackness. Loud whirs and ticks clamored through the air. He entered with cautious steps, his right hand on the Frank-belly. Trig had added a pocket at the front of the belly, where he’d concealed his Baby Glock. Not the favorite of his handguns, but the smallest. From his left pocket, Trig whipped out a set of night-vision goggles and affirmed his surroundings. Giant metal tanks squatted in long, neat rows. Several series of parallel pipes snaked up the walls and across the ceiling.

…unless it’s also a real mechanical room, for which a serious, high-tech lock would be too suspicious.

The door shut. Trig was alone in the dark room.

He pulled his phone back out and maneuvered around the perimeter until he reached a section of blank wall, inconspicuous except for the fact the pipes were separated just slightly farther away from each other, before they twisted back together for the adjacent run to the tower’s upper floors. Looking closer at the blank wall, Trig grinned. The nearest pipes twisted around and up, concealing the edges of a door, and in a narrow gap behind the pipes the wall held a palm scanner. Pulling on a pair of pre-imprinted gloves, Trig placed his palm on the pad. In the interview to get the painting job, Frank Panetti had shaken hands with Hu Sing’s superior, a man who had access to Bao-Dong’s inner sanctums. Click. The door opened.

He was in a long, cement tunnel. A strip of lights flickered sporadically along the ceiling. A rivulet of water trickled from a crack in an upper corner, down the wall, and along a lower corner where the wall met the floor. Trig removed his goggles and followed the flow downhill until the tunnel met a larger passageway. He was in the bowels of the manufacturing facility.


Trig’s story continues next week….

For Love

When I lived in Independence, Kentucky, I was part of a fiction writers’ group called the Independence Inklings. We met twice a month, shared and critiqued our WIPs, and did take-home writing exercises. For one, particular exercise, in November 2011, we had to draw from three separate piles: a name, a goal, and an obstacle. Using these three things, we had to write 1,000 words (a pitifully small number for a writer) using first-person POV. I drew “Frank the painter,” “to find true love,” and “that idiot from corporate.”

My mind saw the obvious chic-lit story that hung limply in the air. I cringed and mentally walked away, letting those three things germinate for a few days:

Frank the painter…, whose goal is to find true love…, but he must overcome that idiot from corporate.

The chic-lit fluttered in the breeze, slapping me like an annoying French glove. To get past it, I started focusing on me: What did I like to write? Who I was as a writer?

And it hit me.

The following is what I came up with for that writing exercise:



I was in. I knew it the minute he asked me if I spoke Chinese.

“Chinese? Sure, I speak Chinese,” I shrugged. “Learned it in middle school.”

The executive at the head of the sleek conference table remained silent, but he frowned. The shoulders of his thousand dollar suit crunched forward, as though beneath the table his fingers were gripping the padded armrests of his black leather chair. Hu Sing, the one interviewing me, raised his brows and shot a worried glance at his boss.

Nǐ​ de​ jiǎn​lì​ bìng​ méi​yǒu​ gào​su​ nǐ​ shuō​ Zhōng​wén​,” he stated. Your resume does not tell that you speak Chinese.

Of course it doesn’t. It also doesn’t say that I’m highly trained in eight different types of martial arts, that I’m an expert shot with the G26 concealed in my waistband, or that I can hack my way through a 128-bit encrypted firewall in fifteen minutes or less. What it does say is that I’m Frank Panetti, a well-referenced contract painter from Yonkers with a high school education. For the record, my name’s not Frank, and I’m usually clean-shaven. And the excess bulging my shirt over my pants isn’t mine, either, but it sells the look.

I gave Hu Seng a blank stare then shot a brow at the executive, as though waiting for him to speak. Finally I cocked my head to the side.

“That was a joke,” I explained. “The only Chinese I know is chow mein and moo goo gai pan. Is that a problem?”

The executive’s frown twisted into a leer. His shoulders relaxed. He was fine with me as long as I was stupid. Not that I blamed him. The Bao-Dong Corporation in lower Manhattan doubled as a multi-billion dollar cover for a sophisticated, weapons-design facility, and they were hiring me to paint the chairman’s office while he was on vacation. I wouldn’t let someone like me get anywhere near a computer that had access to the entire company’s files.

Hu Sing took the cue from his boss and relaxed as well. “No, that is not a problem.” We hashed out the details. I left.

The following Friday I walked back through the doors, making sure to be five minutes late: just enough to make me an average, American slacker. Hu Sing waited in the lobby. He yelled at me about tardiness. The junior exec’s reputation was riding on this. He’s the one who’d “found” me. I feigned surprise and apologized. Nodding, he led me to the elevators and up to the top floor.

The bad thing about undercover work is that you actually have to do two jobs: your real job and the one you’re pretending to do. Fortunately, I’d spent three summers painting houses while I was at Baylor, and I’d learned all about getting something done right and done quick from my time in the Marines. Unfortunately, the office was huge with lots of tricky corners, and I only had today. Also, Hu Sing stopped by every fucking ten minutes to check on my progress. I had to get rid of this corporate idiot and buy myself some computer time.

While taping, I clipped a closed-loop transfer feed device onto each hidden camera I found. By noon I completed the cut-ins. The next time Hu Sing stopped by—which was in three, two, one, bingo!—I told him I was leaving for an hour to go to lunch. He panicked but had to let me go. I chuckled. You gotta love good old American workforce legislation.

As soon as he left I stood outside the door, pulled out my cell phone, and called the transfer-feed device. It taped the empty room for about thirty seconds then started the loop on the hidden cameras. It would look like the room was empty until I told the loop to stop.

Re-entering the room, I pulled on gloves and rolled up to the computer. Bao-Dong’s systems were on a closed server, accessible only from the company’s sixty-five story building. Any information they wanted to transfer between here and their Shanghai headquarters had to be done via an external device. Until now no one from the outside had been this close to their systems. I controlled my breathing.

The chairman’s passwords were easy to bypass. In seconds I found what I was looking for: Bao-Dong’s in-development plans for a small, remote-controlled stealth rocket that ran on a near-perpetual battery. Something the U.S. military referred to as Total-Range, Unceasingly Energized, Land-Operated, Veiled Explosive. TRUE LOVE. It was the Holy Grail of smart bombs. My lips curled the same way they would if I were about to bite into a seared, rare, twelve-ounce Angus sirloin.

TRUE LOVE’s genesis was one of the Los Alamos breaches back in the nineties. The intent was a surveillance plane operable from any location. At the time we hadn’t perfected the fuel cell. Since then we had, but, reading the plans in front of me, the Chinese had figured it out, too. Also, as we’d feared, they’d adapted the plane to carry a hot payload. From this building, for example, they could direct a precision-hit anywhere in the world.

I downloaded the plans onto a flash drive, simultaneously uploading a virus that would sit dormant for four hours—enough time for me to finish painting and get out. The doorknob clicked. Someone was entering the office!

The files weren’t complete. On a hunch, I grabbed my cell phone, clicked off the monitor, and dove under the desk. Dialing Hu Sing’s number, which he’d given me in the interview, I shot him a text in Mandarin: Meet Han Li in the conference room. Immediately! The text would come up as a private caller, untraceable.

The office door creaked open. A ringtone beeped. He was half in the hall, half in the room.

HánLì​ shì​ shéi?” Hu Sing’s voice asked. Who is Han Li? I had no idea, either.

The door closed. Hu Sing’s footsteps hurried down the hall.


Yes, I’ve left my character in limbo. And I’ve left you hanging. (Bad writer! But I only had 1,000 words to work with…?) Yeah, when I wrote it, I didn’t like being left hanging, either. If you check back next week, I’ll post the next writing exercise, in which I continued Trig Denton’s story. Until then, happy writing, everyone! 🙂