"The more we realize our minuteness and our impotence in the face of cosmic forces, the more amazing becomes what human beings have achieved." - Bertrand Russell
" Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."- Proverbs 16:8
"If it works, don't fix it."
It was dark, so very dark. Everything was absence, absence of light, absence of life. It was a void of nothingness, empty, unforgiving, and cold like warmth did not exist. Like nothing truly existed. And perhaps it didn't. Somehow there was a man in that void...perhaps. A fleeting feeling of presence, for sure. Standing alone, invisible in the darkness, surrounded by the dark mess of the void. A pristine mess of emptiness. A place of nothingness. A paradox of nothingness and yet filled with something. Yet with it all, there were feelings radiating from somewhere. Want, frustration, anguish, desire, love, and hate. The location of those feelings seemed outside of the void. The overwhelming sense was one of impatient waiting. Waiting for the man? Waiting for…
"Who are you?" I asked my voice echoing, yet somehow filling the darkness.
"You will find out." came back like an echo of my own voice.
I shivered in the darkness, imagining a warm room, fire, whiskey, and a comfortable chair.
Home at Lumley Castle
The room was spacious, early 19th century. The chair was indeed quite comfortable as I sat before the raging fire, sipping from the bonded whiskey and watching the flames crackle around the two large logs in the stone fireplace. It appeared that I was in an old English castle. The chair was new leather, stuffed, luxurious and eased my poor cold bones, in this cold night of darkness that lurked outside my windows. It seemed as if I was in a study. I looked around, saw wall to wall bookshelves, filled with leather volumes. There was a large, cherry wood, stained, glass desk to my left and a ladder on wheels to my right. The desk had a high back black chair and faced two visitor chairs that did not look any too comfortable. Three large stuffed comfortable looking chairs were facing the delightful warm blaze of the fireplace.
I was surprised when she entered the room, interrupting my satisfaction of silence, crackling fire, and wonderment. Statuesque, she called to me from the door. Her voice was firm and clear, "Charlie, dinner is waiting. Our guests will arrive in an hour for the meeting. Did you find the documents we need to review?"
I turned and studied her. One hand against the door jam, auburn hair sleek and long, down her back. Blue eyes quizzical, eyebrows raised in an expectant question. Her blue eyes shining with depth and humor. She was well worth the study.
I nodded and smiled, "yes, dear. They are lying on my desk." I gestured towards the desk with my right hand and part of me was unsurprised to discover that there actually was a stack of papers lying on the desk, beside the computer. Another part of me asked who is she? Where did those come from? I continued to look at her, dressed in a designer gown that sparkled with sequins and perhaps jewels on a deep burgundy background of curves and lush places any guy worth his salt would love to explore.
"What's for dinner, love?"
"Frederick has outdone himself tonight," she smiled with a touch of satisfaction. We have roast duck l'orange and an amazing variety of sides. When I asked him about it, he blushed and said he had a glorious day of planning and playing in the kitchen..."
I laughed. A full, joyous sound, echoing her own satisfaction. "Good, I look forward to it. Would you please have Miriam call everyone together?"
"Sure, Is this going to be one of those nights?"
"Yes," I chuckled. "I suspect that it will indeed be one of those nights."
She turned from the door, and I turned from her to sit again. Part of me knew exactly where this was headed. Another part of me kept saying "what?" over and over again. Bemusement, wonders, and awe battled puzzlement to a standstill.
I strolled out of the den, turned right in the hall and stopped before the mirror and table. It was a gold gilt mirror at least five feet high, and three feet wide. I saw black serious eyes, a full beard and full head of hair that somehow surprised me. The roman family nose protruded above lips that quirked with humor. The Edwardian suit somehow fitted the 5'10" athletic frame. I judged myself to be in my early thirties. "Thirty-two," a voice quietly whispered in my ear. I looked around. Of course, no one was there. I set that puzzle aside for later. Perhaps with the brandy, I thought. I walked the stone patterned floor to the dining room. The long deeply grained oak table sat like a monolith awaiting worshippers. The damask tablecloth covering the table gleamed in sharp white. The ancient family place settings were neatly arranged for the 20 people who would be joining Sarah and I this evening. We only had an hour for dinner, then the stage would be set for the meeting, and what was to follow. The servants were bringing in platters of food and setting them on the huge buffet table to the right. It did indeed look like a scrumptious feed.
The others began to trickle in. My secretary, Avram, was first, glancing at me with a grin of expectation, receiving a nod in return. Sarah's personal secretary, Miriam followed closely, with a mischievous quirk to her lips. George, Fred, Urik, Nigel, François, Mindy, Jenna, Jade, and the bubbly Jadzia quickly followed.
The cooking staff, a multi-task group, if ever there was one, continued to bring in the food. There was pretty little Linda carrying that huge bowl of mashed potatoes, Argus, the second cook, was bringing in the forth duck. Wing-ho was hauling in the salad niçoise, Rupert the two trays of hors d'oeuvre. Derek, the steaming, buttered vegetables I so dearly loved. My mouth was watering.
As we sat down, I noticed that Abdul was missing. I asked Jadzia to go get him. "Tell Abdul to put the system on surveillance and get his butt down here." Jadzia grinned and bounced out the door. François came in and sat down with an expression of sublime satisfaction.
Abdul followed Jadzia into the room. At 6'7", Abdul was an enormous man. He weighed 350 pounds, was fit and yet somehow, a computer geek. I wondered, as usual, how did he keep fit! Then I realized, also as usual, he might be brainy, but he was head of security and with a past littered with quasi-legal experiences. He looked grumpy, as he eyed me.
"Surveillance is set, and our five guards should be enough, but I really hate to take the time." He glowered at me. "If anything happens…"
"I understand," I laughed." You will certainly not be blamed, if anything happens. I reassured him as best I could. I mused over that one again for the umpteenth time, how anyone so smart and so able could have so many self-protective needs.
Abdul sat down, my wife and I looked at each other, she nodded and I said grace for us all. They proceeded to serve themselves and we all ate with gusto. It was indeed a glorious feast. The compliments to the cook and his helper rolled trippingly off the tongues of all those present, often with the incomprehensible garbled noise of those speaking with their mouths full. François and Argus both responded to the praise with glowing looks of congratulations to each other. I smiled behind my linen dinner napkin as I wiped off some over zealous mashed potatoes, watching closely the various exchanges around the table.
After dinner-our time was sadly short, but it only took 30 minutes to greedily gobble down the meal-we got down to the serious business. Although we had reviewed and practiced quite a bit, last minute changes do happen. We ran through the checklist one last time. Everything seemed right. Then Jadzia interjected one of her patented "what ifs…" and we discussed it for a few minutes. The potential gaff, and it was a big one, was disposed of neatly, and we moved to stage one. As planned everyone was at his or her appropriate position within three minutes.
I found myself sitting in front of the fire once again, seated in the study in that comfortable chair, smoking my pipe. I smoke a pipe? The thought drifted through my mind as the smoke lazily wandered towards the ceiling. The checklist was in my mind, clear as if someone else wanted me to focus. I reached for the brandy…
Suddenly, I found myself adrift in blackness and a stern voice was telling me "FOCUS!" I mumbled an Ok, and found myself seated once again before the fire trying to comprehend what had just happened. It was clear that an adventure was in the making. What kind, I wondered. The voice had sounded like my own, only a bit stronger than I ever speak. I am by nature, a quiet, gentle spoken man who avoids confrontations, well most times, if I must be strictly honest. As I puffed semi-contentedly on my pipe, enjoying the mixed odors of apple and cherry, I clinically reviewed the checklist one last time before our adventure began. I laughed as I thought about the short-term effects and the long-term gains that could accrue, if things went anywhere close to the plan. I shuddered as those deep negative thoughts sliding like slimy worms into my mind occurred to me. Ah those "what ifs…." So many things could go wrong, so many things… I braced myself with the thought that nothing is ever easy. Knowing that this was a battle of wills and planning did not seem to ease my thoughts as much as it should. My confidence level just was not at anything like a peak. However my performance had to be. No doubts could be allowed. Fortunately, I tend to rise to the occasion, and indeed, this was an occasion! The brandy remained untouched.
The doorbell rang. Its tinkling sound rising and falling with the preprogrammed notes of the fifth symphony by Beethoven, a rather nice-if plebeian touch, I thought.
Lumley Castle dates back to the 14th century; built in 1389 first as a manor house then in 1392 converted into a castle. In 1972 it was falling down, and then changed once again. This time it became a hotel. Magnificently restored this castle offered us an amazing blend of ancient history and modern convenience, subdued lighting and oh my, those fantastic hidden corridors, which enhanced and entranced, providing the specific, desired atmosphere that pervades our beloved castle.
We found Chester-le-Street, County Durham to be a rather wonderful locale too. Although it has proven to be a might nippy, come winter. This castle, we had actually purchased some years ago, resides amid the gently rolling hills of Durham in Northeastern England. A lovely property, Lumley castle, it is indeed. We bought it from the third group that had been running it as a hotel. In fact that is how we discovered it. We had some mining business in Ferryhill and in looking around for a nice place to stay, we happened on this fantastic site. We saw immediately what it could provide for us as the proper atmosphere and setting for any number of intrigues we had in the planning stages. With the features of a Norman Castle, over eight centuries old, with in excess of 60 sleeping rooms, banquet rooms, restaurants, meeting rooms, it was a delightful find.
George caught the door, with a classic British manner that I could see in my mind's eye as I listened to the mumbled exchanges, hearing the words scripted in that deep, lovely, sonorous voice. George had the sound of an old servant to royalty. There was just that gentle touch of formal disdain. Suggesting that no one could really be worthy to enter. The hint of frost and distance almost made me chuckle. Ah, I thought. The games afoot!
George came to the half-open den door and spoke melodiously, "The guests have arrived, sir." The voice carried the suggestion that he really wanted to show them the servant's exit and be done with this.
"Excellent George," I spoke carefully, "please show them into the formal meeting room, serve them as they desire and I will be with them in a few moments." I said this in a rather haughty tone. I carefully injected it with the underlying steel of one who simply will be obeyed in all respects. Incidentally, I spoke just loud enough so my guests could also hear my response.
I heard the guests shuffle towards the meeting room, accessible from the den by the door on the left, centered in the bookcase filled with the classics. I rose, rather reluctantly, and gathered up the necessary papers for this…meeting, sauntered over to the bookcase and gazed at titles for a few minutes. I was preparing for the entrance. Entrances and exits are very important to people like me. We need to convey just the right expectations, presentation, spark the senses, yet creating and maintaining the proper atmosphere as well as our dignity, of course. It was crafted ever so carefully.
I clicked a panel, punched a button and surveyed the screen. Yes. Everyone was in place. I saw the seven chairs arrayed around the fireplace in the meeting room. The fire was cheerful and hopefully a relaxing message to my guests. It appeared all had been served from the bar. None were drinking coffee, which resided in a silver coffeepot located beside the wet bar. Neither were there any tea drinkers. A shame. I opened the door and stepped through.
Here you have the first seven to eight edited pages of what I wrote in November, 2003. Do you like it? Would you care to send me a comment? Would you like to read more? Tell me your thoughts. I am looking for several readers to comment on the text, researchers who might have fun finding information for the novel. Should it get published, researchers And readers can hope for a modest note of appreciation. If the dream of making real money happens, research used stands in line to make a few dollars, as an unexpected benefit. Email me comments, thoughts and your interest in the project. -firstname.lastname@example.org