MY BOOK HAS BEEN RELEASED AND IS NOW FOR SALE! The links below will take you to my pages:
BookLocker – http://booklocker.com/books/7665.html
Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=thea+phipps+strange+caper&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Athea+phipps+strange+caper (The book is new so the image has not been posted yet.)
Barnes & Noble – http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/strange-caper-thea-phipps?keyword=strange+caper+thea+phipps&store=book
EBOOK COMING SOON! I will announce its release on this website.
NOW. . . ON TO THE BLOG! . . .
INTRODUCING THE MAIN CHARACTER IN MY LATEST BOOK, ‘STRANGE CAPER’ –
BELLA WILDEVE from Halfmoon, Cornwall
Hello, this is Bella again. On the last blog I had promised a preview, or introduction to our adventure in Greece, the one I’m calling STRANGE CAPER. Well, it’s not too terribly lengthy, but I had better begin.
But before I do, Thea told me that I had better give you an idea of what it was all about. The whole fiasco began with Liza Weebs’ evil scone of death.
Perhaps ‘caper’ is the appropriate word since what began as a simple holiday and a tainted scone ended with a clot of angry priests, more than one mysterious disappearance, and a couple of inept smugglers running for their lives on a crowded Greek beach. I am one of those inept smugglers. My friend Tamsin is the other.
It was supposed to be a holiday. Two idyllic weeks in the Greek sun, courtesy of Albert and Violet, retired field agents for MI6. But when the enigmatic Frenchman entered the picture, not to mention the Serbian acrobats, everything changed.
I was forced to flee for my life. But instead of finding safety, I found myself on the naturist’s paradise of Gavdos. I quickly became ensnared in kidnapping, smuggling, and in understanding the puzzling brass key that would save us all.
This is the beginning of my story . . .
At a hundred years of age, Liza Weebs is the oldest woman in Halfmoon, Cornwall. Her unclipped toenails resemble shards of rigatoni. They tap-tap-tap the cobblestones like a crocodile’s when she toddles to the pub barefoot, which is nearly all the time.
She has a passion for only three things – gin, baking football-sized scones, and my older brother Jude. Jude is only twenty-seven. The term ‘cougar’ just isn’t enough when you do the math. Even though her silhouette looks like a can of lager propped on two twigs, even though she is so short I can crown her head with my armpit, I am utterly intimidated by her, which was why Tamsin and I stupidly ate her scone.
She had given me the scone to give to Jude. He, in turn, gave it back to me in lieu of lunch. Tamsin and I were running last minute errands in preparation for our holiday with the Pengarths and didn’t have time to stop. We should have suspected something was amiss with the quick bread. Big enough to double as a wheel chock, it was studded with chewy pellets that looked like currants, but tasted like bacon. There was no rational explanation for that, yet we kept eating. And there is no rational explanation for that, either.
We’d actually finished half of the dense wedge before tossing the rest to the seagulls. And as easily as that, we’d poisoned ourselves, inadvertently changing the course of our lives in the process. No telling what we had done to the birds.
I was ill the morning of our departure from London to Athens, Greece. My pre-flight queasiness was worse than usual. I dislike flying, so at first I’d thought I was suffering from an exceptionally bad case of nerves. Especially when I’d rid myself of my breakfast while I was saying goodbye to my parents, five brothers, uncle, grandmother, and two great-aunts at the airport. But when Tamsin lost her food right before we’d boarded, we’d put it down to lack of sleep and too much excitement. It was my first holiday without family or relatives save my grandfather, Finghin Quinn, who was traveling partway with us.
Unfortunately, Tamsin and I didn’t realize what was actually happening to us until we were already strapped in and soaring over the Champagne region of France. We were finally forced to acknowledge our predicament when Tamsin had to summon a flight attendant for a second loo roll.
“Liza’s vile scone.” Tamsin crawled over my knees and collapsed in her seat. “It’s the only thing we both ate. Bella, we have food poisoning. I won’t swear to it, but I think I finally passed the pawn I’d swallowed when I was six.”
I touched my abdomen where trolls were trying to burrow their way out with pickaxes. At least it kept my mind off the fact that we were hurtling through oxygen-deprived air hundreds of meters above earth.
I glanced at our traveling companions, Albert and Violet Pengarth, and at my grandfather, Finghin. My Irish father’s Irish father. Grandfather was going to Antalya, Turkey, to see a man about a horse.
Throughout history, the phrase “to see a man about a horse” has meant three different things – visiting a woman, urinating, or going out to the pub for a drink. All three are basically related activities as far as I was concerned, with one leading to the other. But when it came to my grandfather, the phrase was meant literally.
Grandfather owned a stable in Halfmoon, Cornwall, just minutes from my parents’ inn, the Iron Rose. The stable was small and select, offering training, boarding, and stud services.
While Tamsin, the Pengarths, and I planned on taking a flight from London to Athens, and from there a shuttle flight to the water-bound Prefecture of Achaea to begin our tour, Grandfather planned to go only as far as Athens with us. Once there we would part ways, and he would continue his journey to Turkey where he was going to arrange for a vial of champion-grade horse seed to be transported back home. I wasn’t sure what that entailed except an obstacle course of paperwork and an uncomfortable amount of money.
Grandfather caught my glance. “How’s the form, lass? Still plankin’ it?”
“I’m fine.” I didn’t want to go into details lest he felt obliged to snatch me from my Grecian idyll before it even began. “I think I’m getting better.”
Even though I am no longer a child, I am absurdly uncomfortable around him. Uncomfortable with an inconvenient smidgen of terrified thrown in. It wasn’t that we didn’t have some kind of relationship as grandfather and granddaughter; it was just that we synchronized as well as a mastiff and a pink poodle on the same leash.
Grandfather is a tall, solid, seventy-one-year-old ex-lothario horse whisperer. He is intimidating and impatient, with long silver hair that he keeps in a ponytail, fierce black eyes, and a lean face that’s a cross between a hero’s and a Parisian gargoyle’s.
I am usually irreverent, laughter being my first reaction to most things, and because of that I am usually underestimated. And adding insult to injury in my grandfather’s eyes, as far as I was concerned, horses were far more interesting with cowboys on their backs.
My grandmother claimed that my grandfather was hiding his true personality. According to her, under all that smoldering brusqueness he is amusing and charming in that way only the Irish have. However, if he’s hiding his charm, he’s hiding it well and he’s been hiding it all of my life. But then again, it explained my father who shares his genes as my grandfather’s oldest son. My mother said that my father can charm statues off their pedestals. Perhaps when my eighteen-year-old grandfather sired my father he had inadvertently passed his charm on like a relay runner passing a baton.
Our plane suddenly dipped, hitting a pocket of turbulence. Dribbles of sweat rolled down my forehead, contradicting my claim to be fine. Hurriedly shifting my gaze before Grandfather could comment with another crude Gaelic idiom, I studied Albert Pengarth with pretended interest.
Albert is tall, wiry, and as handsome as a seventy-something man can be. His snowy hair is still plentiful, and his blue eyes have a wise squint that makes him look as if he’s about to utter something witty or urbane. To be candid, his dry squint makes him look like a superannuated James Bond.
Oddly enough, that’s exactly what he used to be.
In their younger years, he and his wife Violet worked for the British government as field agents for MI6. They had met while on assignment in Afghanistan doing I don’t know what. Possibly blowing up Goldfinger. I had never asked even though I’d wanted to.
Violet is small, unflaggingly energetic, consistently cheerful, and shrewdly practical. She dresses in plain, simple clothes, but wears unusual hats. She wore her favorite, a red fez with a black tassel. The fringe was pinned to the side with a brooch so it wouldn’t flop into her eye.
Another wave of scone-induced nausea assaulted me.
Albert leaned past my grandfather and grinned at me from across the aisle. “You girls doing fine? Still looking forward to all those Greek men?”
I smiled in spite of my discomfort. It was a standing joke between us. Even though I am 21, six months younger than Tamsin, we are both unattached.
There were two reasons for my lack of sophistication. The first is that I had yet to go on a proper date. Wooing hearts isn’t a recreational sport to me, like arm wrestling or canal jumping. If someone won my heart, I wanted them to keep it. The second reason is that I am the only girl in a herd of five overly protective brothers, four of them older. I had yet to meet the man courageous enough to forge past them and past my father to get to me.
Tamsin, however, had a different tale to tell. At eighteen, she had lost her heart to a young man she had grown up with in Wales. He didn’t return her affections, so in an effort to refocus her life, she moved to Halfmoon in her nineteenth year.
She rented an attic flat in a boardinghouse. I still lived at home with my family. But in spite of the differences in our lifestyle, we became fast friends, both doing the same volunteer work in the village, often accompanying each other on our various missions and assignments. Not only did we share in disaster relief work, traveling to other parts of England with my brothers, but we also shared in projects closer to home. One of the things we did in the village was to engage in a free educational program. Tamsin, the Pengarths, and I taught people who had never had formal schooling how to read. We also taught the interested or curious anything they wanted to know about the Bible. About the Bible, but not about religion. Religion was something utterly different.
“Pooh, Albert. Leave her be.” Violet, sitting on the other side of Tamsin, leaned over my friend’s lap to prod my arm. “You take your time. There are plenty of lovely young men out there.”
“I don’t mind,” I said truthfully, swiping the sweat from my forehead.
Violet gave me a look of concern. “Oh, dear, you really are ill. Maybe you both should lean your seats back a little. Should I summon an attendant? She might have something that will take the edge off.”
I had my doubts that anything short of euthanasia would take the edge off, so I shook my head. “I’ll be fine. It should pass.”
Tamsin snorted at my unfortunate choice of words.
“If you’re certain,” Violet said uneasily. “You girls will tell me if you feel worse?”
“Don’t worry about us. Really,” Tamsin assured her. “I’m going to try to sleep.” She closed her eyes. “Maybe if I ignore it, the pain will stop.”
Too miserable to rest, I gave her a dubious look then turned to my own random thoughts. Trying to distract my attention from my stomach, I studied my fellow passengers. The plane had its usual cross section of humanity, from working businessmen, to vacationing families, to us, but there was one person my gaze kept returning to like iron filings to a magnet. I couldn’t figure out why since I could see only the back of his head.
He sat five rows ahead of me, just across the aisle. Even when I leaned out to stare, all I could see were a set of broad shoulders and a solid looking knee clad in a dark suit. I stood up, pretending to stretch, and stepped closer, trying to see more before going back to my seat. I wasn’t able to glimpse his face from my brief vantage point, but I could make out the chiseled angle of his jaw and cheekbone. From what I could tell, he looked youngish, absurdly well built, and prosperous if the Italian silk was anything to go by.
As soon as I reclaimed my seat I leaned into the aisle again, studying his ebony hair. He could have been Greek, though he seemed too tall for a Greek. He could have been Spanish. He could have even been Portuguese or American. Middle Eastern? Italian? I caught a glimpse of a silver watch and restless fingers beating a tattoo on his knee. He was definitely dark skinned, but I couldn’t tell whether he was naturally dark, or it was merely a suntan.
I couldn’t think of an excuse to make my way up front to get a better look, trying and rejecting several scenarios, each one more ridiculous than the last. So I sat, staring, watching the back of his head, my discomfort nearly forgotten in my speculations.
Then, while we were somewhere over Greece, he turned suddenly and smoothly as if I had summoned him, and looked right at me. My heart jumped at being caught out, and I felt myself gawking.
Well, that’s as far as I’m going to go. Tamsin tells me that it’s more than enough.
A reader in Montana – that’s in America, isn’t it? – A reader in Montana has asked a question of Liza Weebs – she of the bare feet and gin. I had already spoken to Liza, asking her the question, and I have dictated our brief conversation which I will post on the next blog.
Until then . . .