Travel Thursday Encore: It’s Not Stalkerish, It’s Training part 2

Almost an hour later Tigre exited the sports club. Seeing me still on my perch, and being suspicious by nature, he stopped to see what I was doing. Getting a sufficiently realistic growl in my voice, and trying not to giggle at having to play actor, I muttered, “My little bitch seems to have stood me up. If she ever gets here, she’s gonna pay.”
Tigre grinned, of course. “If you need some help. . . or if you’re not man enough to handle her, I’d be glad to take her off your hands.” The grin was predatory, matching his nickname.
I let the smile that’d been fighting to come out emerge, since it fit the moment. “I’m sure that gal who hugged you would love to hear all about it and have a good cry in the arms of a real man.”
Damn, I impressed myself with that one.
But Tigre’s grin only grew wider, as expected. After all, it wasn’t uncommon for men in Latin countries to spar in such a fashion, even amongst strangers. “You don’t see me having troubles. She would never leave me.”
A part of me very much wanted to remind him that she wasn’t his to leave, but of course I wasn’t quite stupid enough to tip my hand for the sake of oneupsmanship. So I got up and slung my bag onto my back while sweetly mentioning, “You’re welcome to her, if you think you can do a better job. In the meantime, I’m on my way to a sure thing.”
As I jumped into the first taxi, I saw the familiar face across the street, hoping he wouldn’t be so obvious when he tailed Tigre. Still, I got a bad feeling about it.
Incredibly tired–otherwise I would have walked the relatively short distance–I lurched out the taxi and through the door that had been opened by the man in the funny suit outside the Maria Isabel Sheraton. Assuring the man I was not drunk while passing on a tip, I wearily climbed the ramp and went into the hotel, where I made my way to the front desk and asked if I had any messages. The desk clerk knew me and had obviously never seen me like this. “Would you like me to call a masseuse for you?”
Just the thought of that almost put me to sleep on my feet. . .
The next day came with all the grace and speed of a man dragging himself across the desert. Ten AM found me sitting on a stone bench with a local agent-in-training named Lily on Paseo de la Reforma, somewhere between the statue of Diana and the Anthro museum. There was a huge crowd of people walking around the streets, most of them going to Chapultepec Park across the street, but more importantly there was a large number of couples sitting and walking in our vicinity, so we did not look out of place at all.
“Check in. No contact yet. Next check in half an hour.”
“Copy that, Tony. Over and out.”
Lily found herself giggling, making me give her a look of reproach. “It’s funny,” she insisted. “You guys are talking like they do in every spy movie I’ve seen.”
I didn’t answer, not wanting any such conversation to be overheard. Instead I kissed her, not very passionately according to most standards but much more steamy than any of the other couples around us. As a matter of fact, we were attracting stares, so I had to tone it down a bit; no need to get her horny, I grinned to myself.
Lily knew she was only there for camouflage, but that did not mean she couldn’t enjoy herself in the meantime. Like any woman, she fancied herself a good actress, and she didn’t mind playing the lover role at all. She also knew I would not be in town much longer, and she was sure when the target was spotted I would leave in a hurry; she giggled at the thought that some man would try to comfort her on seeing her lover abandon her in such a matter, thinking that wasn’t a bad way at all to snare a guy.
She giggled again. Here she was, kissing one man and thinking of the next. . .
I knew this would probably be the last shot at nailing the suspect, so I was torn between letting Lily come with me when the blonde mounted the bus, to provide further camouflage, or leave her here so she could be out of danger. Having no idea where the bus would take us, there might not be a chance to let her get out of harm’s way. She’d make excellent hostage bait as well.
My thoughts were silenced when my earwig activated. I was pretty sure it wasn’t a half-hour yet, so this was probably it.
“Target spotted, wearing a bright yellow windbreaker and tight jeans. Very very tight jeans. . .”
“Keep it businesslike, Tony.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You’ve got the best duty in town, sitting there and kissing that luscious–”
“That luscious can hear your every word, and knows English better than you do. I’m also taping this for your sister.”
I could almost hear the blush on the other side of the transmission, could definitely hear Lily’s ever-present giggle in my other ear. But whatever worked. . .
“Target proceeding south on Mariano Escobedo, almost to Paseo. You should be able to see her at any moment.”
“Copy. Keep up a running commentary, and keep it low.”
Lily was already ahead of me, taking my camera and long-range telephoto out. I set up quickly as she moved about ten yards down the street to pose. Keeping up a running dialogue, I told her how to pose as I clicked away, though my lens was actually focused down the street. A passerby might have found it suspicious for me to be using such a huge lens to shoot a gal so close, but obviously would come to the conclusion that I wanted an extreme close-up of her extraordinarily beautiful face. Besides, not that many people around here would be photography experts, even the tourists.
“I have her in my sights,” I told Tony, chuckling as I realized I would have said exactly the same thing if I were holding a rifle instead of the very similar-looking lens barrel. “She’s hopping into a bus. Get to your car and be ready for my next signal. Follow discreetly.”
While I said this I was already packing things as Lily hailed the minibus. There was no question of her going now, so we climbed in and found two seats together. I made sure not to look at the target as we passed her, but I was free to stare at her back all I wanted, telling Lily to be ready to get out quickly before returning to our previous roles of kissy-kissy.
It was obvious that Lily was attracting a lot of attention, so I made the decision to have her get off as if it were her stop, then join Tony in the car. Neither of them would be involved in the action; Tony was no expert in this stuff either. It would be a one-on-one.
Hopefully. . .
Much to my surprise, I soon found myself across the street from Sullivan Park.
If it were not for the fact that these buses ran on a strict route, I would have found it too good to be true. I knew some parts of the city well, and the rest not at all. The area from Sullivan Park down to Chapultepec and in the opposite direction to downtown I knew like the back of my hand, as the old saying went; I hadn’t studied that part of my anatomy in quite a while. No one had read the front of my hand lately either, but that wasn’t important right now.
This was apparently the end of the line for the bus, since everyone got off. I waited for everyone else to leave, wondering if the target had come here to see the art exhibitions only held on Sundays. It was the same line she’d taken on Friday, but it was possible that she usually got off at another stop. No way of knowing, other than to play it out, now.
Any doubt was erased as I saw her walk parallel to the park, making no attempt to enter it. She was heading east, past the park and toward the Monument to the Mother, so she might be going to Insurgentes, one block later, to catch another bus; I sent Tony and Lily to the gas station to tank up and wait for instructions.
But the target did not go that way. As I watched, musing how lucky it was that she liked wearing bright clothes, she turned north on Sadi Carnot. I followed her from across the street, using all the parked cars as a bit of camouflage. Being so close to Insurgentes, second biggest street after Paseo in the whole city, this area might be said to have middle-income housing, at least as American standards go, but it was pretty high class for Mexico City, excepting the areas like the Zona Rosa, Pedregal, and Bosques de Chapultepec, where mostly narco-rich lived.
The target went only halfway down the first block before entering one of the buildings. I was sure I couldn’t follow her so soon, and had no idea which room she would be going to anyway, so I found a good place to hide across the street and watched as she climbed the front stairs, barely catching glimpses of her through the windows in the staircase.
At the second floor from the top–I still got confused with the bottom floor is ground floor and second floor is first floor and all that stuff–I saw her pause at the window and look out. If she intended to see if she had been followed, she did her job poorly. As a matter of fact, as I saw her take out a key ring and search for one, she was giving her position away. That became even more apparent when she opened the door to the right of the window, in plain sight. It made me think: was she just innocent of the techniques, or was she leading her follower into a trap?
I continued watching the windows of the apartment she had entered, seeing glimpses of two figures outlined from a light on the inside, which was very quickly turned off. Unless I could get up on this building behind me and use the telephoto, and unless they put the lights back on, I would have no idea what was going on inside, and I was certainly not going to risk being caught acting like the infamous Peeping Tom, or the local version of it. People inside dark rooms could see out much better than anyone could see in anyway, so I waited where I was, dying for a 7-up which would only be half a block away and signaling for my troops to be ready for the next order. “And leave Lily alone, Tony. You know how jealous I can get.”
One million years later, or maybe forty-five minutes, the target came out again, now clad in a flower-print dress that she was attempting to smooth down repeatedly. The timing was right for a couple of quickies, considering that the gal wasn’t all that bad-looking, and bad guys like this one. . .
Never mind.
I informed my backup that the woman was leaving, but send only one person–in case this was a ruse–to follow her; it was still more likely my target was right here. Then I said I was going in.
“Be careful, darling,” I heard Lily say.
“What a great idea,” I muttered as I used a large truck to cover my crossing, then made my way into the building and took the stairs quickly but silently. Hardly pausing once I saw the cheap lock, I kicked the door open, gun held ready, and immediately saw movement in front of me. Without waiting for an invitation, I dove behind an upholstered chair and held my gun in the direction of the movement. Quickly glancing around, I saw it was a small apartment; that, added to what I thought had been going on the last hour, led me to the opinion that there was no one else in the place, though of course that was by no means positive.
Peering by the left side of the chair–most would expect me to be right-handed and look out the other way–I could not see any more movement, but my sharp eyes were able to pick out the barrel of a gun in the murky darkness of the other room. Aiming carefully, I set off one shot at the gun, then followed it with another lower and to the right, where the person would be hiding behind that dresser. I was rewarded by the whine of metal being struck, but was disappointed to hear the other bullet smack wood. The next second I heard the ricochet of the first bullet hit a wall, followed by the clunk of a gun hitting the floor.
The next sound I heard was that of a window being opened; having seen no fire escape outside, it was still not impossible for my prey to have a plan, as he was justified in his paranoia. Having to be cautious, not taking a chance that the man didn’t have another gun, I carefully walked into the other room, my own weapon at ready. A quick glance around told me I was alone, so I dashed to the open window and looked down, seeing the top of a dark head climbing down a rope. Immediately I thought about pulling the rope up, but knew there was little chance of bringing the guy in, so I settled for the next best thing: I whipped my knife out and cut the rope.
Unfortunately Adams–the bad guy in this scenario–was already far enough down to fall the rest of the way safely; I watched him get to his feet and sprint in the direction of Sullivan Park. Half-cursing for letting him get away, but pleased that he had taken that direction, I dashed down the stairs, trying to save enough breath to call in. “Inform Duke to put his plan into effect immediately. Tell him he’s the luckiest Scotsman in the world!”
There was no response, but then I didn’t expect any; Tony had obviously switched channels to call Duke. I hit the floor running and burst into the street, hot in pursuit, just in time to see the suspect turn right on Avenue James Sullivan.
Duke–my MI6 counterpart for this training session–and I had come up with a back-up plan in case I could not apprehend Adams cleanly, but never had we expected it to work out so well. Of course we’d known the route of the bus line, so we’d drawn up several contingencies, but it was a stunner to realize we couldn’t have possibly planned it better.
Never one for running, I took it easy, just keeping the man in sight as he dashed between the paintings throughout the park. I did not want to pursue too closely, for fear of loose gunplay, and I only hoped Adams didn’t get the idea of hostages in mind. Still, the guy had to be shaken, not having expected me to be on to him so soon; he was rattled and only thinking of escape.
I could only give the painters a pitying look as I followed the swath of destruction Adams left in his wake; obviously not being much for art, the man had gone through the park without a care as to the articles on sale. I followed at a discreet distance, though not getting close enough to knock else over. As I went along, I saw one beautiful rendition of the Caracol observatory at Chichen Itza; not bothering to stop, I told the painter, a rather young man, to save it for me, I’d be back real soon.
Adams finally came out of the park and crossed Villalongin at the movie theater, then hit River Marie; apparently he’d realized he had made a mistake earlier and should have aimed for the big crowds along Insurgentes, and was attempting to correct that now. When he reached Rio Lerma he crossed the street so he could get to the correct side of the next street, Rio Neva. One block away was Paseo de la Reforma, which would be even better than Insurgentes in the amount of people he could lose himself in.
A few steps before Adams hit Rio Neva, I shouted into the mic for #3 to start his run; when Adams turned the corner, he saw a man with a gun running toward him. A quick glance behind showed me still on his heels, and in the other direction of Rio Neva, another agent was coming. His only recourse was to continue on Rio Lerma.
The next cross street was Rio Guidiana, I knew, which was named after a place I was very familiar with up north. More importantly, it closed before reaching Paseo de la Reforma, so there was no need to put a man there. Adams saw this and continued on, hoping that his pursuers were not fast enough to close down either Rio Amazonas or the larger Rio Rhine {by now you should have figured out the streets in this colony were named after rivers, if you bothered to think about it.}
Both proved inaccessible to him, having more men running at him. There were even cars that burned rubber as soon as they saw him on the four-lane Rio Rhine, so he knew he had to continue on, braving the red light and barely avoiding a few other screeching cars.
Commencing to feel fatigued, but not about to give up, Adams searched for alternatives. This area of Mexico City was populated with large old mansions, which probably had guards that would help in the chase. However, if he could get into one without being spotted by either pursuers or guards, he was sure he could find a place to hide, thinking we wouldn’t have the jurisdiction or clout to force rich landowners to open their houses for a search.
To his amazement, he saw one of large mansions with the gate open, and no guards anywhere in the vicinity. As if to help him make his decision, he saw another man running toward him now, this one from the direction he was heading, pretty much cutting off his last route of escape.
It was not a hard decision to make; scooping up a fallen branch, which probably would shatter without much damage if bopped on someone’s head, he figured he could always pretend it was a gun in someone’s back.
He felt as if it was taking him forever to reach the front doors of the mansion as he now stumbled along the tree-lined cement path. Seeing that the door was made of cheap wood, he switched to overdrive and lunged his body at the door, fully expecting to go crashing in and disrupt someone’s elegant lunch.
Instead he was very surprised when the door opened and he flew through the air to land hard on the tiled floor.
“So nice o’ ye ta drop in,” he heard a Scottish burr say. “We’ve bin waitin’ for ye to stop by.” He found himself lying on the floor with a knee in his back, handcuffs quickly applied to his wrists as his arms were shoved behind his back. Then he was lifted up and turned around to face a man he knew very well: Alexander Southwood, known to some as Duke, newest graduate to the British Secret Service.
The door had been left open, and in came. . . lil’ ol’ me. Adams bared his teeth and struggled to get free, finally realizing he’d been snookered. Duke and I exchanged a high-five, though Scots weren’t all that coordinated for that kind of stuff. Then, ignoring the captive, I said, “Like taking candy from a baby.”
Adams sneered, he wasn’t about to go down without a fight. “You know you can’t hold me. You have no jurisdiction here.”
It was not often one heard the dour Scotsman laugh, but that just made this time all the more special as Duke purred, “Ya were apparently runnin’ so fast ya neglected to see the sign out front. This is the British Embassy ya were herded into. . .”
Adams collapsed like a balloon freshly punctured; it was a beautiful sight. . .
I was back in Sullivan Park, buying that painting, when I heard a voice behind me. “I think I deserve leniency. After all, I led you right to him.”
I didn’t have to turn around to realize it was the actress playing Adams’ gal. “I did think it was a bit too easy. But I don’t see why you have to be dragged into this. Go on with your life and maybe you’ll become a good lawyer, if there is such a thing.”
She didn’t question as to how I knew about her studies. “I hope you didn’t shoot up my apartment too much.”
Trying to look sheepish, but grinning too hard, I admitted there was a good possibility there was a bullet hole in her wall. “But we can look for something here that’ll cover it up. . . and then I can help you hang it. . .”


Travel Thursday Encore: Cold War, Cold Weather, Cold Everything, Part 2

Mürren, Switzerland

The fun part of the cold war: how to have a secret rendezvous with a babe from the “other side.”

Feeling satisfied with things, and hoping the storm forecasted by the local weather pundits wouldn’t arrive till tomorrow, I backtracked my steps until I found my bike and shoved back down the road. Not long after that I found myself in the town of Lauterbrunnen, the Valley of Loud Waters. . . sounds more mysterious in English. I’d read in the promotional stuff that morning that the Lauterbrunnen Valley was the visual inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s sketches and watercolors of Rivendell, and of the river itself, but since I’d never been able to get through that book, it didn’t mean anything to me. Cool landscapes, though.
Anyhoo, good enough place as any for lunch, with plenty of time to finish my ride and get to where I needed to be. Problem was, after having schnitzel for breakfast, what to do for an encore?
Well, there was always more schnitzel. . .
I sighed as I looked out at the pedestrians, mostly tourists, probably searching for a place to eat as well, but there was no easier way to spoil a meal than to think of business during it, so there. At least I didn’t have to worry about getting back uphill to Mürren, not on my own power, anyway.
About an hour later, after a rich dessert and some easy downhill pedaling, interspersed with many more photos, I made it to the particular funicular I’d need to get back, which turned out to be an ugly long gray plastic-looking box, not at all like the colorfully painted ones of countries to the east. As I paid the toll and let the guy place the bike in the back rack, I took a glance uphill and realized I’d never been on a train this steep. “Sixty-one percent incline,” the driver told me cheerily once inside. “But no accidents in over a hundred years.”
I was about to ask if that meant there’d never been an accident on the line, or if there’d been an accident over a hundred years ago, but once the jolt that signified we were on our way occurred, I decided I really didn’t want to know. As I stomped to the rear to take some more photos, the funicular did its job quickly and safely, so I gave the driver a tip–with orders to spend it on his wife or kids–and went back to biking downhill for a while longer, realizing the day had been kinda fun and photographically worth it, and that was besides getting the mission going.

{This section is written from conversations we had when we met again}
Of all the things she’d heard about Switzerland, the one she most wanted to see, yet least expected to, were the cows with the giant bells. And there they were, mooing and bawling but mostly just chewing the cud without moving; perhaps they were tired of hearing the bells under their snouts too.
Feeling like she’d walked halfway up the mountain by now, Nikki was relieved to reach the pond she’d been told about, where she waved back to the little kid running around with her dog. She could see what all the hilarity was about, since the geese in the pond were amusing themselves by swimming slowly so that they stayed just out of the dog’s mouth-snapping range. Even from here you could sense the dog’s frustration, which was kinda sad but still funny, especially to a kid.
Turning back to look in the direction away from the pond, she once again noticed the bell around the cow’s neck and wondered if she was pining for matching earrings.
The cow, not her.
Feeling hot and sweaty, she pondered just how cold the pond water must be. Probably glacial, though she’d managed to survive that polar-bear swim thing in the past. But no, she’d rather take a shower when she got to the place, if the place had one. Come to think of it, she had no idea what it was: a lean-to, a rustic cabin, a chalet? The guy had only told her to walk a certain path for so far. Well, he was probably looking for her out the window, and she was pretty sure she wouldn’t walk past it without seeing it. . .
For some reason the thought of becoming a mummy in one of these snowy canyons made her laugh. Then she wondered about the last time she’d laughed back home. . . then wondered if she’d have to work on that, lest the people in her office think she was hiding something. But no, it was a dour place, full of dull people with no imagination and no curiosity. As long as she pretended to be one, the security service would have no reason to suspect a thing.
Still, she was just realizing what a huge step this was. Not that she hadn’t before, but suddenly it didn’t seem so simple. Or maybe, since there was no going back after she met with the guy from the other side. . . the immediacy of the whole thing was now pressing onto the back of her brain.
There, that had to be the place. Just in time, too, with her legs protesting. She’d thought she was in shape, but there weren’t many mountains back home. . .

{The rest of this story has been redacted by seven intelligence agencies. . .}


Travel Thursday Encore: Cold War, Cold Weather, Cold Everything, Part 1

Mürren, Switzerland

The fun part of the cold war: how to have a secret rendezvous with a babe from the “other side.”

I couldn’t remember if I’d been to Mürren before, since all these quaint little mountain villages look alike, unless you memorize which mountain went where. Even then, except for the Matterhorn, mountains weren’t all that easy to tell apart, even the Eiger, which I knew was one of those around me. . . somewhere. I didn’t bother looking at the map right now.
Savoring the schnitzel, as well as the alliteration, for as long as I humanly could, I soon realized it was time to get going. Looking very much like a tourist, something to be glad for this once, I made my way to the cable car. I didn’t like to go on any kind of transportation after eating, considering there were times I got motion sickness out of the blue, but I figured this was a short enough ride, and really, I had no choice.
I certainly didn’t remember ever taking a bike ride around a place like this. I’d been on plenty of funiculars, but again, one looked like every other, and as for waterfalls, I was pretty sure I’d never visited an interior one, not counting the restroom at the Madonna Inn, so odds were this was a new place for me, and I would treat it as such. I also knew I’d never been to that revolving restaurant that played such a big part in an old James Bond movie, but since it was bound to be tremendously overpriced because of that, I wouldn’t have gone anyway. I didn’t know if I could take photos while on the bike, even cruising downhill instead of pedaling, but I’d find out soon, even without kneepads. I just hoped I wouldn’t be going downhill when I saw a spectacular view that simply had to be photographed, and have to trudge back uphill. . .
But no use crying over milk not spilled yet, or bridges not burned. {Why yes, I do love to mix metaphors.} After only ten minutes I turned to see if I could spy the town down there between the hills and all the twists and turns of the road. Knowing how strict everyone was in this country, I’d made sure I had the right road by checking that the signs had little “bikes allowed here” stick-figures-poppin’-wheelies next to the street names, and now I saw one that also included a “viewpoint” sign, so I dumped the bike there and got the camera ready. Not that the town was all that great a shot, as mentioned earlier, but at least the mountains cast some interesting shadows. Which made me realize it was a pretty warm day, all things considered. Sure it was spring, but it was spring in the Swiss Alps, and all those mountains were white, and stayed that way year-round. Which meant that the waterfall later on would be icy, and the temp would no doubt drop rapidly at nightfall, or even if it got cloudy. So yeah, right now I was sweating in my t-shirt, but the backpack had a sweater and heavy jacket just in case. Of course the backpack itself was helping me sweat, but that couldn’t be avoided.
After about an hour of cycling–downhill–and shooting, I finally reached my destination, Trümmelbach Falls, at the base of the Jungfrau. . . sorta. The waterfall was actually inside the mountain, and with a name that basically translated to “Stream that sounds like a drum,” it wasn’t hard to figure what my ears would be subjected to in the near future. Still, it was one of those things you had to check out once in your life, and it couldn’t be as loud as backstage at a Rush concert. . . right?
I left my bike in the assigned area, checked my watch one more time, and made my way to the elevator, which I personally thought shoulda been on the outside, with glass walls, to take in the views, but that was just me. I took another glance at the clock function on my pedometer as I made my way through the caverns, saw I was right on time, and suddenly found myself outside, kinda; not a total outside, but rather a vertical tunnel hollowed out by millennia of water runoff, with the roof collapsed and letting in the sunshine, which was kinda weird in this setting but sure helped to make a lot of pretty rainbows in the spray. Since I was supposed to be a tourist, I took as many photos as I could, trying not to show up the others but still coming up with angles and possibilities that never came to the minds of the non-professionals in the cavern.
Protecting the camera from the spray, I leaned over to look down the twisting narrow channel, almost like a flue, but didn’t get very far before I was warned not to; not like I’d been planning to take a shower, but okay, whatever. Too bad I didn’t have a video camera, because neither words nor photos could do justice to the power and speed of the water rushing down through the mountain.
Okay, time to get to bizness. And there she was, wearing jeans and a tight t-shirt, her blonde hair gathered in back with a blue ribbon; the overall impression was one of cuteness rather than all out beauty, but I hadn’t seen her face yet, at least not beyond her photos. Not that it mattered, of course, but even less so this time, especially inside a damp thundering cavern. Still, it never hurt, in fact would probably help her cover. But more on that later. . .
At first I thought the recognition signal was silly, but the more I put my brain to it, the more I knew it would work, if everyone could keep from giggling. After all, who carried only one rollerblade?
So that was her, but how to let her know I was the guy she had come to meet? I could picture tons of guys coming up to her and asking what the deal was with only one rollerblade, as an opening line. Well, in that case, don’t ask the question, assume the answer. But not something stupid, like, “Did you lose the other one?” Of course, she might reply with “No, I found this one,” but not likely. Play it safe. . .
“Let me guess,” I shouted over the roar. “You’re taking it to be repaired.”
She’d startled a little to find a guy right beside her, but she figured that was due to the roar in front of her. So she dimpled at me and told me, “You’re very smart. About the blade, and to talk to me in English.”
“You prefer German?”
“Not at all! Do I sound like I know German?”
Not knowing what that would sound like, or not sound like, and not wanting to waste my vocal chords on inconsequentials, and trying not to wonder why she spoke English so perfectly, I pointed to a certain part of the waterfall while yelling directions in her ear. When someone walked by too close, I shouted that the water falling past us was going at four thousand gallons per second. Her laugh told me she thought I’d made that up, but I’d actually read that in the brochure. Not that I wasted time assuring her of it, of course.
I could sense the adrenaline running through her like she could barely keep from screaming. . . not that anyone would hear her, or blame her for finding out if she could go louder than the water, but it still might make people look over and maybe get a good look at her meeting partner, which would be a very bad thing. . .
It was over quickly; any observer would assume I’d been coming on to her and got shot down. . . which made me struggle not to grin.


Graphic Book Reviews: Dolls, Unicorns, and Bond Buddies

How to Be Perfectly Unhappy
This book argues—for a surprising amount of pages—that there’s a whole spectrum of emotion between happy and unhappy. Fair enough, but it’s a lot of pontificating on what’s really a simple theme. And yet it’s oddly captivating, especially the comparisons made to Pluto and an alien having fun making colorful walls.
“Stay-in-the-same-placers.” I do love new words.
It argues that “meaningful” and “compelling” don’t make for happiness, but it’s what some of us like to do anyway. He uses running, reading books, working as examples of things that don’t make him happy but he enjoys doing. (I’ll go along with reading.) “I’m not unhappy. I’m just busy. I’m interested.”
Some of the artwork is cute, but it doesn’t add much. . . except for the colorful wall. That was pretty awesome.

Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy: Disco Fever
In this story, talking animals play superhero in a universe where chickadees are more evil than wolves, and eagles are afraid of spiders. That, along with fish landing on the windshield, is why the super pair are avalanched by a cargo of disco balls.
Running is always plan B, but yeah, it should be plan A.
“Sorry, Frank.” Yeah, keep your lasers to yourself.
Squirrel claws to the ass will defeat all superheroes.
“You’re really cheesy, but you’re right.” Howz that for a moral?
At the end the good wolf explains why dancing is good for you. . . and then Rabbit teaches disco, with moves even I haven’t heard of.
With a disco ball giant robot, nothing is too ridiculous here. Incredibly silly, but all the better for it.

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story
As always, I love it when the title hits it right on the spot.
I thought the cover showed some kind of sea monster, until I saw the girl peeking out from under the blanket.
In a strip-like storytelling, a young woman in college goes through everyday stuff from an introvert’s point of view. Being an introvert myself, I understand a lot of these. On the other hand, some go a little too far. The total lacking in self-confidence would be a different thing than simple introversion, wouldn’t it?
She has the best boyfriend an introvert could possibly have, who then turns into a husband. After finishing her dissertation and the stressful wedding comes the first real job. . . not exactly what you’d expect from someone who just got an advanced degree.
Oddly enough, she’s such a sweet person I wish I could get to know her better, all the while knowing she wouldn’t want to.
She apologizes to boxes. . . empty boxes.
Some genuinely funny moments, others quite touching. I don’t know if it’ll make extroverts more understanding, but it’s worth a try.

James Bond: Felix Leiter
A post-shark-encounter Leiter is in Tokyo, working for the Japanese to identify an old enemy/colleague/lover who’s off the grid. There’s a flashback with Bond, and then we find out why Tiger didn’t keep his end of the bargain in helping to catch his gorgeous adversary.
“You had me at ‘Not the French.’”
About halfway there’s a major plot twist that, quite frankly, was easy enough to guess. Though the story doesn’t actually end in a cliffhanger, there’s enough left unresolved that you’d certainly expect a sequel, especially when there’s a character like Alena to write about.
Tight hands and sphincters are a necessity when you’re pretending to be James Bond.
Too bad the writer made what was a proud character such an idiot, as he admits plenty of times. Then there’s the serious inferiority complex. It’s one thing to make the protagonist complicated, quite another to make him seem like a butt monkey.
Brightly painted poppy fields are a sharp contrast from Tokyo, which has a Blade Runner vibe. . . or maybe it’s all the rain. Florida is also brightly lit, but Helsinki looks like an impressionist painting.
There a whopping 35 pages of extras! Variant covers, author interview, and what looks to be the entire script of the first chapter.

Dollface V.2
The first volume wasn’t written all that well, but I remember enough funny moments from it to give the series another try. This time the three take a portal to El Lay and land just a few blocks from a witch. . . but not just any witch. This one’s a baby-eater. Dollface flattens the clinic she’s in, thereby killing a lot of innocent people.
At Venice Beach she lifts weights, joins a drum circle, plays volleyball, and makes other women jealous. But of course the bad guys aren’t dead yet. And even more of course, the innocent character gets killed.
“You killed my family! Prepare to die!” Why does that sound familiar?
The giant fight scene was so difficult to follow. The artwork is so angular, much like Dollface herself.
Despite some early fun, it turned into as much of a gorefest as the first one. At some point it just stopped being fun and felt more like work. Emily’s reaction was strange as well.
The artwork is brighter than most.

Be a Unicorn & Live Life on the Bright Side
As always, I love a title that tells you everything you can expect from the book.
There’s not much more to say about it. Everything is positivity, puppies and rainbows. “Eat the cake, but also eat the kale” kinda stuff. All pretty simplistic, but I imagine people often forget.
“Unicorn loves to feel the rain on his cheeks.” No, not those. . . okay, those too. And there’s an obligatory Trump joke, though a mild one. Some jokes are literal, like looking at the bigger picture. Then you get what you’d never thought you’d see, a unicorn on a stripper pole.
The artwork, especially the unicorn, is pretty rudimentary, though he does have the multi-colored horn.


Book Review: Death of a Spy

This thriller by Dan Maynard, from what I gather, is the fourth in a series, but not having read the previous ones didn’t really get in the way.

It amuses me that this author’s views toward Baku and Bishkek are exactly opposite of mine. He loves Baku and hates Bishkek, whereas I seriously loathe Baku and, while not exactly loving Bishkek, the countryside around it is spectacular, a million times better than the ecological devastation that takes up large swaths of Azerbaijan.

From that you might assume his places are very authentic, and you’d be right; not that I recognize most of them, but I can see them in my mind, fitting in with the city in question. The thing about tea in Azerbaijan is so true as well.

The spycraft is also excellent. The politics are current, with mention of Russia taking over the Crimea. Did not get a good sense of the geography in the final battle, though; would have liked better descriptions of the areas, both inside the hotel and out with the tanks.

There were some moments where the writing failed to engage me, seemed a bit amateurish, but those were few and far between. My only wish was for more of the wife; there’s little of her after he takes the case, but enough for me to want to read the previous stories, to see Action Girl. . . in action.

A solid 4/5