Welcome to Ethan Jones Blog
You will find exclusive author interviews, book reviews, books excerpts, and the latest news about Ethan Jones's work. Ethan Jones is the author of two espionage thrillers, Arctic Wargame (available on Amazon.com) and Tripoli’s Target (out in fall 2012).
Happy Memorial Day to all my American readers.
April 10, 6:50 p.m.
“When’s Uncle Jim coming?” Olivier tugged at Justin’s jacket. “It’s so cold out here, and we’ll miss the game.”
“He’ll be here in any second.” Justin scanned the parking lot for Jim’s white Honda and stroked the little boy’s blonde hair. “We’ll see the whole hockey game. Don’t worry.”
They were pacing in front of the main entrance to Scotiabank Place, the home of the Ottawa Senators, as the hordes of joyful fans swarmed towards the gates. The Senators were going to battle the Anaheim Ducks that night. In the words of five-year-old Olivier, they were going to roast some duckwings, instead of ducklings. Jim, a university classmate of Justin who had taken a different career path––financial advisor in a big bank––was supposed to join them for the game.
“Is he even going to show up?”
“Of course, he will. When Jim says he’s going to do something, you can bet your life he’ll follow through with it.”
“Oookaaay.” Olivier sighed.
He ran to the backlit decorative post featuring one of the Senator players performing a wrist shot. Olivier imitated the player’s body positioning, as he flicked an imaginary hockey stick. The little boy wore the same red, black, white, and gold jersey as the Senators, a gift from Justin. The first time the Big Brothers Big Sisters local chapter introduced him to Olivier through their Mentoring Program, the gift-wrapped jersey immediately melted the ice, transforming Justin from a complete stranger to Olivier’s best friend. The only thing that mattered to the little boy was wearing the colors of his dream team. When Justin was growing up, his older brother never took him to a hockey game. Justin tried to take Olivier to a game as often as his schedule allowed him.
“There he is.” Justin pointed at Jim, who was jogging toward them.
“Yeaaaah, quick, hurry, hurry,” Olivier cheered him on, and Jim broke into a sprint.
“Uh, eh, sorry… sorry, I’m late,” Jim said, shaking Justin’s hand and trying to catch his breath.
“Don’t worry, Jim, this is Olivier. Olivier, this is Jim.”
“Nice to meet you. Can we go in now?”
“Sure,” Jim said.
They found their seats just as the teams were about to begin the game.
“I told you we wouldn’t miss a second,” Justin said. The little boy was to his left, Jim to his right.
“Ehe,” Olivier replied with a mouthful of popcorn. “Why are we so far from the rink tonight?”
“We’re not that far,” Justin replied. “It’s the center ice section, and we’re only a few rows away from the glass.”
“The kid’s a real handful, eh?” Jim whispered as Olivier stuffed his mouth with another scoop of popcorn.
“You’re right about that. He’s afraid he won’t see the puck.”
“Yes, I can’t see the puck,” Olivier mumbled.
The start of the match put an end Olivier’s to yawping, and he lost himself in the game.
* * *
Regardless of Olivier’s cheering and the spectators’ repetitive chants, encouraging the Senators to “charge,” the first period was not very memorable. The occasional fights among the players could not make up for the overall slow pace and the discouraging lack of goals.
“Do you need to use the washroom?” Justin asked Olivier, whose sulking lips and sinking eyes showed his complete disappointment. The intermission had just begun, giving the players and the crowds a much-needed break.
“Oookaaay,” Olivier replied.
“I’ll get you another thing of popcorn,” Justin said, but his words did not lighten up Olivier’s mood. “You’re coming, Jim?”
“Sure, I can’t stand these Zambonis and the silly music from the nineties.”
They struggled with the steady stream of people and made their way into the large halls. The fans had already begun to cluster around the concession stands.
“Do you need some help in there?” Justin asked Olivier when they came to the men’s washrooms.
“No, I can do this all by myself,” Olivier replied.
“I’m gonna grab a pop,” Jim said. “You want anything?”
“Water, get me a bottle of water. Thanks.” Justin waited a few steps away from the washrooms.
“You said there was something you wanted to tell me,” Jim said when he returned. He handed Justin a bottle of water.
“Actually, it’s a favor I need from you,” Justin replied and took a sip from the bottle.
“Man, I knew there’s no such thing as a free hockey ticket.”
“It’s a simple thing, Jim.”
“I can’t afford to run any credit checks, Justin, with or without a CIS order. One day, I’m gonna lose my job for pulling such tricks.”
“It’s nothing like that. I promised to go to Olivier’s game this Saturday, but I can’t make it.”
“Oh, and you want me to babysit him?” Jim’s voice suggested he would rather work through a stack of credit checks for a week.
“Only for the afternoon. His peewee league match takes place at 3:00 p.m. You pick him up, take him to the game, and then go out with him for supper at a burger joint.”
“Hmm, I think I already have plans for the weekend,” Jim said, the likely beginning of a made-up excuse.
“On the phone you said you had nothing going on because Susan is visiting her parents in Barrie.”
Jim frowned, silently cursing himself for making that stupid confession.
“And when you signed up as an Alternate Mentor, you agreed to help me. You remember that?”
“Yes, I do, but I thought it was just a formality, to help you do your volunteering.”
“It’s only a couple of hours or so. C’mon, it’s for the kid.”
“OK, I sit through his game and cheer for his team. But what do I talk about when we go for burgers and fries?”
“Talk about your job, your life, your family.”
“My job’s too complicated for five-year olds.”
“Not really. Say it’s like playing monopoly, just with real money of other people.”
“Exactly, that really covers it all. Very smart observation.”
“You know what I mean. Make it kid-friendly.”
“What did you tell him your work is like?”
“I told him it’s like playing Risk.”
“Ha. So, why can’t you do this?”
“I’m going to be out of town on business for a few days.” Justin took another sip from his water bottle. “I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
“And you didn’t know about this trip earlier?”
“No, I didn’t. It came up today in a meeting. Look, I’m not trying to dump this on you and go golfing somewhere.”
“Well, you kind of are dumping this on me, but… where are you going, if not golfing?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Who’s going with you? Can you tell me that much?”
“Carrie’s coming along. And a few other people.”
“Aha.” Jim’s eyes flashed a wicked grin. His nod meant he knew something was going on. “Rekindling the old flame, aren’t we?”
“It’s nothing like that. It’s been over a year since we broke up.”
“Yes, that may be true, but the two of you keep falling into each other’s arms.”
“No, not really.” Justin shook his head. “But we work at the same place, sometimes on the same tasks, and I can’t help it that we end up in the same mission. But work was what got in the way in the first place. So I doubt it will reunite us at the end.”
“You never know.” Jim looked around for a trash can. He was already done with his pop.
“This time I know for sure. I’ll never fall in love again with a co-worker.”
“Then you’ll remain single for life. Work is all you know.”
“Look who’s talking?”
“Hey, it took a while, but I married Susan. You need to go out more often and with a woman. Leave the national security to the old and grumpy kind of guys who can’t wait to get away from their families.”
“Dating Tips from the Love Guru. Volume One. Thank you.”
“More like Volume Ten Thousand, but you never listen to any of them. Do you want another drink?” Jim eyed the closest concession stand.
“No, I’m good, thanks,” Justin replied.
Jim disappeared into the crowd.
“So are you going to do me the favor?” Justin asked when Jim returned with another pop in his hand.
“What favor? Oh, that one about the kid? I thought you’d forgotten all about it. By the way, shouldn’t he be finished by now?”
“Give the kid his time. Yes or no?”
“All right, I’ll do it.” He sounded like he was agreeing to a capitulation treaty. “But, man, oh man, you owe me big this time.”
“Oh, I won’t bug you for credit checks over the next month. That will do it.”
“That doesn’t even come close.” Jim began coughing after taking a big gulp of his pop.
“Or I can give you a Heimlich so you’ll stop choking.”
“I’m fine.” Jim regained his composure. “It’s these kinds of favors that will kill me one of these days.”
Justin consulted his wristwatch. “We’ll have to get back soon to avoid the rush of people during the last minutes.”
As he turned around, Olivier appeared out of the washrooms.
“Hey, little buddy,” Justin said, “Uncle Jim will get you some popcorn while I use the little boy’s room.” He leaned toward Jim and whispered, “You two bond.” He winked at Olivier.
“What do you do, Uncle Jim?” Olivier asked.
“Hmm, I am a fin… do you like monopoly?”
Enjoy an exclusive excerpt from my short story, The Last Confession, now available on Amazon.com. If you like it, you can own it here. My other short story, Carved in Memory, and my spy thriller novel, Arctic Wargame, would also make for some great Memorial Day weekend reading.
Happy Memorial Day to all my American readers.
The Last Confession
The police officer shook his head at the reporter’s question. “Sorry, Brook. Don’t have that information. Besides, even if I knew who shot the bastard, I couldn’t tell you.”
Brook looked at the entrance to the Intensive Care Unit. The subject of her story, a New York mobster, lay somewhere behind the door guarded by two police officers. He was shot earlier that morning. With three bullets in his chest and life support a necessity, there was little hope he could beat death.
She pursed her lips and played with a slightly out of place blonde curl. “Tony, can you tell me something more than the chief’s press release?” Her voice turned softer and warmer as she stepped closer to him. “Leads on the shooter? Suspected motive? Something I can publish tomorrow.”
Her jasmine perfume was overpowering, but Tony shook his head again. “Look, I can lose my job over this. Check tomorrow with the chief and he may have something. Good day.”
Brook frowned. She turned and began walking away. “I thought you were my friend,” she shot over her shoulder.
“Friends don’t get friends fired.”
“Piece of work, eh?” Mikey, the other police officer, said. He pointed at Brook’s lean figure and her swinging hips. “Pretty, smart, and ballsy.”
“Yeah, she is. A word of advice, Mikey: never get involved with someone from the press. Ever.”
“Will do, Tony,” the young police officer replied, flipping his paper to the sports section. He was sitting in a chair by the entrance to the ICU, while Tony was standing.
“I’m gonna get me some coffee.” Tony gulped the last sip from his paper cup. “Want something?”
“Get me a large one too.”
“Sure thing. Hope Brook doesn’t come back.”
“No worries. I won’t let her or anyone else get in.”
“That’s my boy.”
Tony turned his large body around and headed for the elevator. He passed a group of men in shiny suits and greasy hair. They were the mobster’s associates, waiting for their friend to wake up.
Mikey was halfway through the baseball scores when he heard approaching footsteps. He glanced at a man neatly dressed in a black suit. A briefcase hung from his left hand. He could be a banker or a lawyer. Mikey suspected a banker wouldn’t be meeting a dying mobster. Definitely a lawyer then.
“I’m here to see my—” the lawyer said.
“No visitors allowed,” replied Mikey without looking up.
“He’s my client, and I’m his lawyer, appointed by the Mancini famiglia, so I nee—”
“You deaf or something? I said no visitors allowed.”
“You can’t stop me. It’s within his rights to see a lawyer.”
Mikey put his paper away. “No, it’s not,” he spoke softly and slowly, as if talking to a two-year-old child. “Silvio Mancini is not under arrest. He’s under doctors’ care. Their orders are for the patient not to be disturbed by people like you. Or anyone else for that matter.”
The lawyer smirked at Mikey. “Huh, people like me, huh? And doctors need the police to keep lawyers away from Mr. Mancini?”
“We’re here to keep away the killers who didn’t finish their job in South Bronx. No one sees the patient without a doctor’s order and a DA’s authorization. Period.”
The lawyer raised his voice. “I can’t believe this. You want me to see the district attorney just to have a word with my client? Unbelievable!” He waved his arms. The contents of his briefcase rattled.
“You got something illegal in there?” Mikey arched one of his eyebrows, trying to hide his grin.
The lawyer snorted. “This ain’t over.” He stormed away.
“Have a nice day, counselor.” Mikey returned to his paper.
A couple of minutes later, Tony arrived with two large paper cups and a brown paper bag. He was chewing on a chocolate glazed donut. “Want some?” he asked, handing Mikey his coffee.
“No. Those things are gonna kill you, man.” Mikey took his coffee and nodded toward Tony’s large belly.
“Uh-huh. Stress is gonna kill me,” Tony replied between big bites. He washed them down with coffee. “Anything happening here while I was away?”
“Some jerkface of a lawyer wanted to see the mobster. I told him to take a hike.”
“Slimy weasels,” Tony groaned. He finished his donut. “Guess who I saw downstairs at the cafeteria?”
Mikey looked up at Tony, who was still standing. “Who?”
“Don Francesco Moretti? What’s he doing here?” Mikey didn’t hide the confusion in his voice.
“He was talking to some of the mobster’s associates. The Mancini family attends his church.”
“Yes, I’ve seen them a few times, the bastards.” Mikey shook his head.
“When? You haven’t been there in a few months. I go every Sunday.”
“I know, but ever since Stacy got pregnant, she doesn’t feel well in the morning. And then these Mafiosi coming and going as if they own the church. They really think they’re religious and their sins can be forgiven?”
“You’ll have to ask Father Moretti about that.”
“He’s gonna come upstairs?”
“I’m sure he’s here to see the mobster. He’s a large contributor to the church.”
“You know… Father Moretti has this strange sixth sense. He can sense death.”
Tony frowned. “What do you mean?”
“If Father Moretti is here, that means Mancini’s hours are numbered.”
Tony shrugged. “The man has three holes in his lungs. It didn’t take much to assume he might die at any moment. And Father Moretti likes to do the last rites in plenty of time. That’s what I’ve heard.”
“It could be true, but I wouldn’t be so sure about him dying. When you were at the washroom, I overheard one of the doctors talking to a nurse. He was saying Mancini’s breathing better and he’s stable.”
“So what’s Father Moretti doing here then?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t we ask him?” Mikey pointed at the approaching figure.
Father Moretti wore black pants and a black shirt. A small white square rested under his chin, and a small well-worn Bible was in his left hand. He carried his fifty years with an aura of solemnity and grace.
“How are you, my sons?” he asked the police officers.
“Great, we’re doing great, Father,” Tony said.
“How are you doing, Father?” Mikey said. He rose in respect.
“Well, very well. Visiting the sick and the afflicted. How’s Stacy doing?”
Mikey avoided Father Moretti’s piercing eyes. “She’s… she’s doing well. Sick in the mornings and weak during the day. That’s why we haven’t been around much. But we’ll come back soon.”
“We have a special mass this Sunday for new couples. And I’m looking forward to the baptism when the baby is born.”
“Oh, of course, we’ll bring the baby for baptism, for sure.”
“That’s very good, my son. And how’s your family, Tony?”
“Mama’s not doing that well, Father. It’s difficult for her to walk and sometimes even stand up. The rest of the family is doing great.”
Father Moretti nodded. “Tell Mama she’s in my prayers. May God’s hand rest upon her.”
“Thank you, Father.”
“I learned Silvio Mancini is not doing very well, is he?”
Tony shrugged. “We… we don’t know. He got popped really bad in the South Bronx.”
“I see,” Father Moretti said with a frown. “His family asked me to administer the Anointing of the Sick. Mr. Mancini needs to confess his sins so he is ready for eternal life.”
Mikey shook his head. “Father, we’re not supposed to allo—”
“Of course, Father,” Tony said. He moved out of the way and gestured toward the door.
“Thank you,” said Father Moretti. “This is not going to take long,” he said to Mikey.
“OK,” Mikey said.
Father Moretti opened the door and entered the ICU. Tony closed it silently behind him.
“I don’t know if that was such a good idea,” Mikey said.
“What if he tells Father Moretti a secret? Something he wants him to give to his associates? Information, an order.”
I continue my blog tour with a stop at Marie’s Blog. Enjoy my interview on this great website.
Carved in Memory and The Last Confession have also gotten their first five-star reviews, and a few sales have taken place in the US and the UK.
In case you are wondering, you can read Kindle books on your computer by downloading the Kindle for PC application here. Alternatively, you can read all your Kindle books by using Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader. You books are stored in Amazon’s servers.
The first three reviews of Arctic Wargame are in and they are wonderful.
Two readers gave four stars on Amazon. Their reviews can be found here.
One reader’s assessment is that “Ethan develops each of his characters well. He develops the plot of the book well. He has his technical material down pat.”
Another great review is found on http://randall120.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/arctic-wargame-ethan-jones/ The reader notes that “the author writes a mean thriller and I quite enjoyed this one. Recommended for lovers of good thrillers.”
Today, I start my blog tour with my guest blog post on http://afstewartblog.blogspot.ca/2012/05/adventures-in-self-publishing-guest.html Learn about my adventures in self-publishing, what I like and what I struggled with as I wrote my debut spy thriller.
The big day is here. Arctic Wargame is released on Amazon.
Check out the coolest Canadian spy thriller of the summer by clicking here.
My guest today is Camilla Ceder, author of Frozen Moment, a Swedish psychological thriller coming to North America in May 2012.
Who is Camilla Ceder?
Camilla Ceder made her debut in 2008 with Frozen Moment, introducing the weary yet charming Police Inspector Christian Tell. This unusual crime novel, which exposes the bleak Swedish countryside as utterly atmospheric, distinguished Ceder from the pack of contemporary Swedish crime writers. With a background in social work and psychotherapy, Ceder brings new perspectives to the Swedish crime genre. She empathizes with her characters more than the crimes that they commit (or investigate), and the social and mental mechanisms of the southwestern countryside have become her turf.
Babylon (Wahlström & Widstrand 2010), the follow-up to Frozen Moment, was praised for its psychological depth. Camilla Ceder is currently working on her third crime novel featuring Police Inspector Christian Tell.
10 Questions with Camilla Ceder
Ms. Ceder, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Your debut thriller, Frozen Moment, comes to North America in May 2012. Tell us a bit more about this work.
Frozen Moment was my debut novel. I wanted the story to deal with what we do of our past, about what might happen if we remain unprepared and unwilling to remember when the past catches up with us. To some extent I wanted to return to my childhood village, the small community that during the past twenty years since I moved has expanded beyond all recognition. Instead of going back and doing practical research I wanted to capture a feeling that I have been carrying (my writing process always begins with a feeling or a certain mood), the fading memory of a world that no longer exists. That perhaps never existed, because when I write I add and subtract and fabricate. I often think that the author’s main purpose is to dream.
Police Inspector Christian Tell is the main character of Frozen Moment and Babylon, its follow-up. How did you go about creating Tell’s personality?
Most of the characters I create are a concoction of people I have encountered in various situations, traits that I find interesting to examine further or develop. Gradually, the people I write about become increasingly clear to me and they get a life of their own within the text. Sometimes, I write a paragraph and am then forced to change it because I realize that Christian Tell would never do that! One method I use to create a new character is that I give him or her a background, a life story to relate to the present-day. That facilitates the creation of a credible personality.
How is Tell different from other Swedish inspectors? Other police inspectors in general?
I don’t know exactly how he differs from other police detectives in the genre; I’ve been focusing more on the person behind the profession. My novels have a more pronounced focus on the personality of the characters and the relationships between them than the police work. But to describe him as a person with only a few words I’d say that he is pretty stuck in his routines, a little square, but with a sensitivity (and a open-mindedness) that is not always as quick as his spontaneous reactions to change. In general, I hope that Christian Tell comes across as a multi-faceted individual, and as complex as people are in real life.
In your work, you take the reader inside the mind of your characters, by showing them not just their actions, but also their motives. How do you accomplish that?
It’s simply a subject I am interested in. I write about the aspects of life that I’m curious about, things that I would like to read about myself. I’ve always been interested in people, human relationships and interactions, and the reasons behind how we choose to live our lives. I worked with social services and studied psychology because of this curiosity and I reflect a lot upon people’s stories and their ‘life solutions’. When I write, I organize these thoughts. It is important to me not to render a black and white world. I want to give my characters individual voices, to let them be explicable in their sometimes-inexplicable actions. I truly believe that those nuances are what make us interesting to one another.
How did it happen that you became a writer?
I’ve been writing since I was a child, in different forms (stories, poetry, letters, journals…). Writing has always come naturally and has had various functions: The function of organizing my thoughts, as mentioned. A way to process and communicate – I always thought it was easier to write than to talk. Writing has always been like a playroom to me, a place where I feel free and unlimited. My work on Frozen Moment started just like that. I was on maternity leave and set aside a moment every day to work on an idea that I had, which turned out to be this suspense novel. I wanted to test if what I believed was true, that the genre made for an accommodating climate for exploring the fringes of the human psyche. I wanted to see if I could manage to go the whole nine yards in terms of full-bodied character and relationship descriptions.
Your work was translated into English by Marlaine Delargy. Did you collaborate with the translator in this project? Do you think some of the original feel of your work may not come across exactly in English as in Swedish?
Marlaine and I had occasional contact regarding certain expressions etc. that I clarified to her, and other than that I’ve trusted Marlaine and her job with the translation.
What other books are you working on at the moment?
I am working on a third installment featuring Christian Tell and Seja Lundberg, alongside another project that is based on a different genre. While Babylon was placed in a more international setting, this third novel “retreats” to rural Sweden where Frozen Moment was set.
When is Babylon coming to North America?
It will be published in the UK in August this year. I’m not sure when it’ll be coming to North America.
A word of advice for new thriller writers?
In my opinion the most important thing, whatever you write, is to think about what you are personally interested in. What kind of book do you want to write? The crime genre can be formulaic and one can experience pressure to be commercial, to stick to the guidelines of what a crime novel “should” look like. To follow someone else’s agenda takes the fun out of writing and it’s impossible to satisfy everyone’s taste regardless. That’s why it’s essential to stick to your own expression, to what you think is important and interesting.
What can readers expect to find in Frozen Moment?
Frozen Moment is a suspense novel in which the suspense largely lies in the tension between the characters in the book.
Carved in Memory
When Justin Hall, a Canadian Intelligence Service agent, is captured by terrorists in Libya during a rescue operation, he is left with only his mind tricks to escape his enemies.
I opened my eyes. Water dripped from them. My world had turned upside down. It took me a moment to realize I was hanging by my feet and tied to a large hook fastened to the dungeon’s ceiling. My hands were cuffed behind my back, and I was stripped of most of my clothes.
“The infidel’s waking up,” a guard shouted in Arabic, a language the guards didn’t realize I knew.
He got up from his chair and left, slamming the iron door behind him.
It was strange for him to leave. Earlier, after throwing a bucket of cold water on my head to bring me back to my senses, the guards continued to interrogate me, punching me in between questions. Not this time.
I looked around the dungeon. A dim lamp on a small desk lit the area. The smell of urine and vomit overwhelmed my nose, summoning swelling nausea in my stomach. Pools of brownish liquid stained the floor. Whom did they torture here before me? How long had I been there? I remembered when they dragged me to this place, after the rescue operation to free the Canadian hostages went wrong. Was that last night? Two nights ago?
The door creaked. A small man walked in, followed by two large guards. He helped his limping leg by leaning on a walking stick. A metallic briefcase glinted in the hand of one of the guards, ominous. I remembered the pain he caused me with his knife and I clenched my teeth. And I remembered the guard’s name too. Tarek.
“Hello, Mister Unbreakable. Nice to meet you,” the small man said in English. “My name’s Ali.”
“The pleasure’s all yours; the pain’s all mine,” I managed to say between winces.
I hadn’t told them my name, Justin Hall, or that I worked for the Canadian Intelligence Service. I hadn’t given them anything. That’s why this man, Ali, was here.
I stared at his face, but in the dark cell I couldn’t discern any features. He stepped closer to the light, and Tarek placed Ali’s briefcase on the table. Ali’s hook nose became visible, along with his steep brow and thick, gray moustache. He looked older than in the photo in our office files. Ali Akbar Hassani, the leader of the Armed Islamic Front, an Algerian terrorist group, sat in the chair with a small sigh.
“How are they treating you here?” he asked.
I grinned. Ali was playing the good interrogator. The one that “cared” about you and wanted to gain your trust. His dogs told him torturing me was going nowhere. Still, I didn’t think they played the good cop, bad cop routine in Libya. In Afghanistan and Iran, two places where I had seen the inside of a jail cell, there were only torturers. And they were not bad; they were evil.
“Pull him down,” Ali barked at the guards. “Gently.”
They untied the rope and dropped me to the floor. My face stood inches from the brown stain. Blood. My own blood.
Four large hands lifted me up and placed me in a chair across from Ali.
“That’s better, isn’t it?” Ali asked.
“Na’am, shukran.” A “yes” and a “thank you” in Arabic. “Sheikh Hassani,” I added. It was the coveted title Ali had been seeking for years.
Ali’s eyebrows arched. His jaw dropped. They weren’t expecting me to speak Arabic, and Ali didn’t think I would recognize him. Always know your enemy.
“You’ve done your homework,” Ali said with a nod, his face as still as a corpse. His eyes peered through me, staring at my bloody chest, where Tarek had carved his initial with a sharp knife. “What’s your name?”
“You can call me ‘the Canadian,’“ I said in a soft voice. “And I have some intel for you.”
A self-righteous smile spread across Ali’s face. He looked at the guards to emphasize it was him getting the intelligence out of me. Perhaps he thought his presence had broken me. It hadn’t. I was willing to talk to stall the terrorists and give the rescue team time. The information I planned to give to Ali would cause no harm to my agency or any other intelligence agency. The intel might even do some good if Ali chose to act upon it.
“Go on,” he said. He gave the guards a smile and nodded at me.
“The intel’s very sensitive. For your ears only.”
“I trust my men completely.” Ali’s voice rose to a shout.
“I have no doubts you do. But you need to hear this first.”
Ali glanced at his walking stick, then at the guards.
“I’m handcuffed,” I said. “I can’t go anywhere.”
He snapped open his briefcase. It contained the tools of his trade and resembled a field surgeon’s case: scalpels, knives, pliers, and scissors. Instruments of pain. Ali picked up a knife with a long, serrated blade and held it tight in his hand. He pointed it at me, then barked at the guards, “Outside.”
I waited until the door was shut before saying, “Thank you, Sheik.”
“What are the Canadians going to do?”
I shook my head. “Honestly, I don’t know. I hope they’ll send a rescue mission. But I’m here, and I can’t be sure.”
Ali raised his knife an inch and leaned forward. “So, what is it you have to tell me? Will the Canadians negotiate the hostages’ release?”
“I wouldn’t count on it. We sent in a rescue team, which failed. The second one will not.”
“This isn’t real intelligence and is not worth my time.” He shook his head.
“I’m not finished. I want to tell you about Farook Abazza.”
Ali fell back in his seat. “How do you know that dog?”
Abazza was a powerful Algerian terrorist mastermind and Ali’s archenemy.
“I know about him. And I know what happened.” I pointed at Ali’s useless leg.
“What do you know?”
“How it happened and more importantly, who did it.”
“You’re going to tell me it’s that dog who ambushed me?”
“I’m gonna prove to you it was Abazza who organized it.”
“Your convoy was coming from Dellys to Algiers, when a bomb blew up the lead car. Your Mercedes wasn’t far enough away, so your leg was crushed. What you don’t know is that the bomb was placed under the car when the driver filled up at a gas station in Dellys. One of the men at the station worked for Abazza.”
“You want me to believe this?”
“No, not yet. I want you to check it first. The name of the station worker is Rafet. He’s Turkish. You’ll find him at one of Abazza’s safe houses in the suburbs of Algiers. The one with the swimming pool. He’ll tell you the exact same story, after a bit of persuasion.” I nodded toward his briefcase.
“OK. I’ll check it out,” Ali said. He didn’t sound very convinced.
“One more thing. Your new bodyguards, the Syrians. I would double-check their references. You’ll find out they worked for Abazza less than a year ago.”
“If this is true, how would you know all this about me and my enemies?”
“As you said earlier, I do my homework,” I said, keeping a patronizing tone out of my voice. “You deal in pain; I deal in intel.”
Ali nodded. “Guards,” he called.
The two guards barged in, ready for action. Tarek placed his large hand on my shoulder. I winced, so that Ali could see the distortion of my face, although I felt no new pain.
“No one lays a hand on him until I come back,” Ali ordered the guards as he climbed to his feet.
Tarek withdrew his hand and nodded with some reluctance. The other guard picked up Ali’s briefcase.
Ali nodded. “Clean him up, move him to a nicer cell, and get him some water.”
I smiled. Information is power. I thanked God for the files we received from our men in Algiers.
“He won’t protect you forever,” Tarek muttered as he closed the cell door.
* * *
The next time I saw Ali, he was in a bad mood. A very bad mood.
As soon as they entered my new cell, he shouted at the guards, “Tie him up.”
One of the guards punched me in the jaw. My head slammed against the wall and I fell into darkness.
* * *
My world was upside down when I came back to my senses. I was in the dungeon, but this time blood dripped from my nose. Tarek stood in front of me, his fists and chest blood-stained.
“What the hell happened?” I shouted. “Ali, what the hell—”
“You lied to me.” Ali’s voice came from behind me, as a razor sharp pain pierced my side.
“Aaaah,” I screamed. A blade cut through my flesh. “Aaaaaaah.”
I tried to think why Ali might be furious, but my mind went blank. I had told him the truth and gave him no reason for this reaction.
Ali circled me, howling in my face like a rabid beast. “You said there was no rescue mission. Now I hear that your partner, a crazy witch, is tearing up Tripoli, looking for you and the hostages.” He wiped the blade on my face, right under my cheekbone, slicing my skin. Blood oozed down, blinding my right eye.
“I… we didn’t talk about that. I said—”
Tarek interrupted me with a quick blow to my stomach. Blood bubbled in my throat, and the room began to spin around.
“Throw him face down on the table,” Ali shouted at the guards. “I’ll cut him up like a lamb.”
I struggled, but the guards overpowered me. I closed my eyes, wishing I could turn off the pain and shut down my body just as easily as my mind. But there was no escape. A flurry of blows came from both guards.
“Easy, easy,” Ali said. “I want him to be awake for this. I want him to feel every second of this pain.”
His knife pierced the skin under my shoulder blade. I bit the table, trying to kill the pain and my screams. Ali’s trained hands followed the curve of my shoulders, the blade travelling down my spine, carving a long strip of skin and flesh.
“Ah…” I muffled my scream and writhed in agony.
“Ask me,” Ali whispered in my ear. “Ask me to kill you and end your misery.”
“F… fuck you,” I spat out.
Tarek’s fist landed on my head and punched me back into a world of darkness.
* * *
I had no idea how long I’d been out cold. It was dark, and I was lying on my stomach on a cold floor. I tried to turn to my side, but jolts of pain stopped me. My feet were free, but my hands were cuffed to the front. I limped to my knees, and then to my feet. Where was I? The same cell? Another cell?
My back touched a wall and a scream left my lips. My back sizzled with pain, and the torture scene came back to my mind. I tried to focus on the reason for Ali’s outburst and his actions. Why was he so enraged? Was he talking about Carrie? It had to be. She’d never allow a rescue team to go without her.
The thought of my trusted CIS partner gave me hope. If Ali was furious because of Carrie’s rescue team, that meant she was close. Very close. And maybe there was hope for the Canadian doctors held hostage as well.
I took a few steps around the cell. My feet were weak, but I could walk. I decided to save my energy and rest. I tried to sit on the floor, but as my skin stretched, I felt three snakes of pain crawling through my back. The wounds Ali inflicted on me began seeping. Soon enough, I could feel my entire back covered in blood.
I cursed Ali and the guards and ignored the aches coming through my back. The wounds felt superficial. If no ligaments and muscles were severed, I would be as good as new in a few weeks. There would be some scars, but the wounds would heal. The grave marks carved in memory would take much longer to heal. Some might never heal.
I kept pacing. I needed an escape plan, in case Carrie’s team couldn’t make it. But what could I trade with Ali? What could buy me some time?
Who is David Freed?
David Freed is a screenwriter, novelist and former award-winning investigative journalist for The Los Angeles Times, where he was an individual finalist for the Pulitzer Prize’s Gold Medal for Public Service, the highest award in American journalism, and later shared in a Pulitzer Prize for the newspaper’s coverage of the 1992 Rodney King riots. His 8,600-word exposé in The Atlantic, detailing how the FBI pursued the wrong suspect in a string of anthrax murders following 9/11, was short-listed as a 2011 finalist in Feature Writing by the American Society of Magazine Editors.
10 Questions with David Freed
Mr. Freed, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Your debut thriller, Flat Spin, comes out today. Tell us a bit more about this work.
Thanks, Ethan, for your interest. Flat Spin, first and foremost, is intended as a fun read. While certainly the macabre and horrific can be relevant to a mystery-thriller, I’ve seen enough of the dark side as a journalist to realize early on that I had little interest soaking the pages of my first novel in blood. I’d much rather make readers laugh than wince.
Where did the inspiration come from Cordell Logan, the main character of Flat Spin? What is he like?
Logan is a sardonic, some would say smart-ass, former US Air Force fighter pilot-turned-military assassin, not to mention an aspiring Buddhist. He greased many bad guys as a member of a covert team known as Alpha, and is somewhat regretful about that—but not nearly as much as he regrets having lost Savannah Carlisle, the only woman he ever truly loved. So when Savannah comes traipsing back into his life and asks him to help the LAPD investigate the murder of her second husband, Logan is more than a little tormented. Especially since the departed was none other than Arlo Echevarria, a fellow former Alpha member and the man for whom Savannah dumped Logan. As to the inspiration that compelled me to sire him, I guess you could attribute Logan to my creatively good fortune at counting among my friends a fair number of interesting guys who, like Logan, have led their lives, shall we say, in the shadows. They are as a rule smart-asses with wonderful rapier senses of humor. Logan embodies the best of them.
How much did your long career in investigative journalism help you pen a thriller?
A bunch, actually. Reporters earn their meager paychecks being otherwise amply rewarded by getting to question virtually anyone, from cops to crooks, while witnessing amazing things that most people never will. Virtually all of it becomes grist for the proverbial mill, affording the journalist-turned-novelist not only abundant material but, hopefully, more than a patina of authenticity when writing fiction. Getting paid to seek the truth. I can’t think of a better training ground for making stuff up.
You’ve been a licensed pilot for many years. What has been your most interesting trip?
I’d have to say it wasn’t flying my airplane, but one of the government’s–a B-52. I was working on a feature story about the bombers—the Air Force calls them BUFF’s which, for the record, stands for “Big Ugly Fat Fellows” (although that second “F” usually refers to a more earthy term). Anyway, after being required by the Air Force to first go through egress training (learning how to bail out in case of an emergency), then spending a morning in an Air Force high altitude chamber, I flew to Rapid City, South Dakota, and made my way to Ellsworth Air Force Base. There I climbed aboard a B-52 before dawn for a 12-hour training mission in which the crew simulated dropping bombs all over the Western United States. A few hours into the mission, the aircraft’s commander, a young captain, offered to let me fly the plane! I was thrilled, and more than a little terrified as the co-pilot gave up his seat. Piloting a B-52, I soon discovered, is tantamount to flying an 18-wheel truck. “Unresponsive” doesn’t begin to describe it. You have to anticipate what the airplane will do about five seconds before it does it, and I sucked at it. Holding assigned heading and altitude was all but impossible. When I willingly surrendered control about 20 minutes later, the co-pilot had to wipe the yoke clean of my sweat. A few hours after that, the plane suffered a catastrophic hydraulic failure (not my fault, I swear), and we were forced to make an emergency landing back at Ellsworth. The sun had gone down by then. I can vividly remember, as I sat in a jump seat between the two pilots, watching the flashing red lights of rescue vehicles lining the runway as we orbited the field, burning off excess fuel. With functional brakes on just one side of the plane and only partial flaps, we managed to touch down and came to a lurching stop with about 300 feet of runway to spare. My only regret was that I didn’t think to bring along my pilot’s log book. That would’ve been quite a souvenir—actual logged time in a B-52!
How did it happen that you wanted to write a novel?
If there’s ever been a journalist who didn’t want to write a novel, I’ve yet to meet him or her. I suppose, deep down, that’s been my ambition all along as a scribbler of words—to write whatever I want to write without regard to the conventions of a screenplay or news report. Only in a novel or short story, really, is such freedom possible. Short stories can be wonderfully entertaining but, let’s face it, you could starve to death these days being a successful writer of short stories. You can just as easily starve as a novelist, of course, which is why most who attempt the genre, including me, are compelled to keep their day jobs to keep the lights on.
A word of advice for new thriller writers?
One word? Live. Spend as much time as you can experiencing life and death up close and personal. Keep good notes. Come up with a hero we’ve never seen before, formulate a solid fictional world for him/her in which to ping-pong around, construct a workable plot, then wall yourself off from the world and, most importantly, write. Don’t go to Starbucks and covertly ogle the local talent under the pretense of writing. Don’t attend one seminar or workshop after another where would-be writers merely talk about writing. Lock yourself in a room without distraction for as many hours a day as you can stand and/or afford, plant your butt in the chair, and write. And one other thing: show what you’ve written to no one until you’re finished your thriller and have made it as good as you possibly can. For me, anyway, there’s nothing more creatively paralyzing than sharing your work midway through with someone whose opinion you value. They’ll tell you how much they love it—then suggest “improvements” which can only cloud your thinking. Screw ‘em! It’s your book.
What is your typical writing day?
Much depends on the weather. If it’s a gorgeous morning, and they usually are where I live, I have to force myself not to drive to the airport, climb in my plane and fly somewhere. Short of that, I get up, read the newspaper with my wife while having coffee, exercise, and go hiking with my two Australian shepherds, typically in the hills overlooking the ocean. I’m usually at my computer by 9 or so, answering emails and trying not to reread and rewrite the horrid prose I’ve pounded out the day before. I’ll usually break for lunch around noon for about half-an-hour, then write until 6 or so, when my wife typically enters my study with a glass of red wine and demands that I knock off for the day. Often, in the middle of the night, when I am actively engaged in a writing project and the creative juices are flowing, I will awaken while the rest of my house is quiet and return to my computer, bleary-eyed, to capture those story-related thoughts that have dragged me from the land of nod. It’s all very obsessive-compulsive.
What other books are you working on at the moment?
The sequel to Flat Spin. If all goes well, it will be out in 2013.
What’s the story with you sharing in a Pulitzer Prize?
The Los Angeles Times, where I worked as a staff writer, was awarded a Pulitzer in spot news reporting for coverage of the second day of the Rodney King riots. I co-wrote what in journalistic parlance was the “off-lead” story that day, a front page piece that questioned why the police retreated as the riot raged out of control and the city erupted in flames. The year before that, I was honored as an individual finalist for the Pulitzer Gold Medal in Public Service for a series of stories I reported on the impact of high crime in Los Angeles.
What can readers expect to find in Flat Spin?
The absolute meaning of life! No? You don’t buy that? OK, how ‘bout a good time? One blogger generously described my book as, “A thinking person’s beach read.” I couldn’t ask for higher praise.
Cordell Logan used to be a member of Alpha, a top secret US government agency, the “go-to guys,” hunting terrorists all over the world. But Logan quit the Alpha after his wife dumped him for his boss, Arlo Echevarria. Now he runs almost broke flight training school, and his only valuable possession is a decrepit single-engine plane. His life is in a flat spin.
Then, Logan’s ex-wife, Savannah Carlisle, tells him that Echevarria has been murdered. Carlisle wants Logan to tell the police who Echevarria truly was, as she has discovered some pictures of Echevarria’s and Logan’s previous life that have made her suspicious.
Mr. Freed’s writing is clear, concise and entertaining. It mixes suspense and humor very smoothly. The characters come alive in their actions and their personalities. The storyline and the plot develop fast and convincingly.
After Logan goes to the police, someone tries to run him off the road. Are the same people who killed his former boss now turning their attention to Logan? Has he made the wrong choice getting involved in something from his past? How far will Logan go to help the only woman he truly loved?