Bruce struggled to scoop ice into drinks using his free hand, two frozen
cubes escaped and bounced on the floor beneath the optics. They skittered
in a hollow dance across the tiles, much to the amusement of one of the
barmaids who kicked them to the far end of the bar. Bruce ignored her
noisy giggles and concentrated on the phone held in his other hand.
sorry, but it’s hard to hear you, Mr. Galliano. There’s a
lot of background noise here.’ He grimaced at the barmaid, laid
down the scoop and replaced the ice bucket lid. ‘All I really wanted
to know was the job title. I hoped your secretary could tell me without
troubling you, sir.’
no trouble, Mr. Kramer. She thought I explain better.’ The thick
accent confirmed Bruce’s suspicion his potential employer was almost
certainly Italian. ‘Sometimes we hire good people and then tailor
best possible job for them afterwards. I have many companies, you see.
Many possibilities. This way we can match person perfectly to role.’
Galliano paused for a moment. ‘After three-month trial to assess
their skills. During which time I like to stretch them a little. You think
this a good way, no?’
suppose it is,’ said Bruce. ‘It’s an interesting approach.’
find this work very well. I set them a little challenge. Maybe difficult
goal to achieve. Test their… mettle. Is that right, Mr. Kramer?
I am not very good at English, you see. I am Italian. Is right: mettle?’
not metal like iron or steel, I think.’ Galliano chuckled
briefly and then paused, perhaps to allow his message to sink in. ‘So,
can you rise to a challenge, Mr. Kramer? Does this thought put you off,
no, not at all. I like a challenge.’ Bruce grimaced to himself and
then edged through the door at the back of the bar to get out of the sight
of a gesticulating customer. This job opportunity sounded scary and promising
in equal measures, but his heart leapt at the chance of finally getting
proper employment. Perhaps he might now gain a sense of direction. Nothing
he’d done since graduating from Cambridge had really appealed so
far. He could hardly believe his luck that a general CV on an online recruitment
database had opened up such a promising job prospect right there in Bath.
Even better, this job now sounded lucrative. For who would take such an
unusual approach to recruiting and then pay peanuts? He now felt convinced
it was a senior position that would put bar work into its true perspective.
His only concern was the fact he’d concealed his present job by
making it look as if his previous position in finance was still ongoing.
But he would cross that bridge when he came to it. ‘I’m very
much looking forward to discussing this further next week, Mr. Galliano.’
too, Mr. Kramer. I am very interested in your background. I have a proposal
I think might excite you. So have a nice weekend in the meantime.’
looked up nervously when the booming voice of the bar manager assailed
him as he came through from the kitchen. ‘You know the rules, Bruce.
No calls on duty.’ The manager’s bony finger and cocked thumb
resembled a revolver; this gesture, combined with the other’s heavily-gelled
black hair and beady eyes, conjured up the mental picture of an assassin.
The manager then jerked both his head and thumb towards the bar.
on, move it, Bruce. There are customers waiting out there. No time for
covered the mouthpiece and wished he could call his manager a prat. ‘I’m
sorry, Jake. I’ll be right there.’ He spoke into the phone
again. ‘Thank you very much, Mr. Galliano. Sorry to have troubled
you. I’ll see you next week.’ He ended the call and slid the
mobile phone into his pocket. With the manager leering at him, and the
tantalising prospect of a more promising job in his heart, Bruce bit back
resignation from his lips and breezed into the bar. There he gathered
up the drinks he’d already prepared and delivered them to his impatient
customer with a flourish. ‘Your drinks, sir. Sorry about the delay.’
He put on what he hoped was a disarming smile. ‘I was looking for
more ice. I’m afraid we’re a bit short. But they’re
not too bad, are they? Have a nice day.’
hard not to laugh when Jake skidded several inches on an ice cube.
Aldo Galliano's pleasure is soon spoiled
by his Italian nephew
the challenge he had in mind for Bruce Kramer put a broad smile on Aldo
Galliano’s face after he replaced his handset. He was annoyed when
his reverie was interrupted a moment later by the phone buzzing and his
secretary informing him of an incoming call.
you, Daisy.’ Galliano sighed. ‘I suppose you’d better
put him through.’ A click then informed him the line was live. He
switched to Italian. ‘Enrico! Again? Why is it you suddenly need
to call me every day now you know I’m dying?’
unfair, Uncle.’ The caller sounded flustered. ‘I’m just
keeping you in the picture. I thought you’d like to know the latest.
I’ve secured that deal I told you about yesterday. We’re now
in full control of the newspaper.’
shrugged to himself. ‘Why do you think I suddenly need to know all
these things? It’s only a trade newspaper, Enrico. It’s your
company. And it’s in Italy, for heaven’s sake. Look, do you
think I’ve nothing else to occupy my mind over here? I don’t
need this. Can we please just operate the way we always have? We touch
base just once a month, right?’
was an awkward pause. ‘The truth is I just like to hear your voice,
practically spluttered in disbelief. He sipped from a glass of water and
paused for a moment to calm himself. ‘You expect me to believe that?
You’re really calling to check I’m still alive and kicking,
aren’t you? And to make sure I don’t forget about you. Talking
business is about as deep as we ever get. Isn’t that right, Enrico?
I really am concerned about you, Uncle. You know that. If there’s
anything I can do to help make things easier for you, just ask. I could
come to England.’
sighed. ‘Just stay where you are and do what you do best. You don’t
need to be concerned. I can manage perfectly well. I’m not running
a family business. I’ve got MDs and CEOs. I’ve got managers.
But I intend to remain hands-on, the way I always have. Just overseeing
things. Until they screw the lid down. I’ve already taken measures
to ensure smooth control when I can no longer deal with it. There is nothing
for you to worry about. Do you understand that, Enrico? Me dying will
just be a small blip for the group—and also for you. I suggest we
both carry on the way we always have. I’m happy with the way you
run your company, and I really don’t have time to talk about that
every day. Or, for that matter, any of the other companies which don’t
actually concern you. Is that clear?’
that’s the way you want it, Uncle.’ Enrico sounded deflated.
is the way I want it. Now, I have a meeting in a few moments, so I must
go. Goodbye, Enrico. And thank you for your concern.’ Galliano replaced
the handset with more force than usual, muttering and shaking his head
as he did so. ‘Concern? I don’t think so.’
moments later there was a knock on the large double-doors. One opened
and a svelte, dark-haired girl walked in. She smiled at him and placed
letters from the morning’s post on his desk. ‘That’s
the third call this week, sir,’ she observed, glancing pointedly
at the telephone.
Galliano reverted to his less fluent English. ‘Yes. Suddenly my
wayward nephew is so devoted. So communicative. Now, I wonder why?’
His secretary gave him a somewhat sceptical smile.
snorted. ‘Concern? Yes, maybe concern. But concern for himself,
no?’ He looked up at her and grimaced. ‘Now you see why I
don’t do families, Daisy.’
Bruce is apprehensive when he takes his
new girlfriend to meet his mother
Bruce jabbed the wobbly white button in the brass-mounted bell, but the
house was far too sturdy and self-assured to audibly reveal whether this
had any internal effect. Julia glanced round at a garden that was all
lawn apart from herbaceous borders to the stone pathway.
have a key, of course,’ explained Bruce, self-conscious waving his
key ring, ‘but Mother prefers me to ring.’
the maid can answer the door?’ Julia raised a sarcastic eyebrow.
laughed. ‘She did actually have a housekeeper a few years back.
The funds don’t stretch to that any more, but a gardener still comes
in from time to time. She couldn’t possibly manage all this on her
own. There’s a huge garden at the back.’
she’s lived here alone ever since you left home?’
Well, she was used to managing on her own. My Dad died when I was two,
you see, and she was here then. She moved to England from Germany the
year after I was born. My Dad had a job here.’
was opened by a pale, skeletal lady in a dark-green dress threaded with
gold. She was very upright and tall, like her son. She wore outdated,
round wire spectacles which gave her the enquiring appearance of a surprised
owl and made her look far older than her 62 years. A brief smile flitted
across her face when she saw Bruce.
Bruce. You said you’d come.’ There was a shrillness to her
voice and, although her English was now excellent, her speech was still
modulated by a German staccato. Each word was sharply enunciated.
smiled. ‘And here I am, Mother. I have come.’ Because his
mother was a little hard of hearing, he spoke slowly and clearly. Then
he gestured towards his girlfriend. ‘And this is Julia. She wanted
to meet you.’
the young lady from the flower shop.’ Ada Kramer looked across at
Julia and gave her a fleeting smile. It grew somewhat warmer when she
noticed the flowers Julia was holding out for her. ‘Pleased to meet
you, my dear.’ She took the flowers in her left hand and surveyed
them for a moment. ‘I always think dahlias are a modest but cheerful
flower, don’t you?’ Then she held out her right hand, slightly
dropped, as if to be kissed.
shook the limp hand with a look of discomfort. ‘I find dahlias very
popular in the shop. There are some wonderful varieties, Mrs. Kramer.’
She smiled and waited for the other to release her hand, but Ada was still
surveying the flowers.
what a mixed bunch. Like us.’ Ada looked from one to the other of
them, released Julia’s hand and then fingered a pale delicate bloom
with interest. ‘That’s a lovely pink.’
called Princess Marie José,’ said Julia with a smile.
‘I love them. They’re more delicate than most, don’t
you think?’ Then she indicated a different bloom that had a brighter
flush to it. ‘And that’s called Fascination.’
shrieks by comparison.’ Ada eyed Julia with growing interest. ‘How
nice to be able to name them all.’ She took a step back. ‘Anyway,
do come in. We don’t want to stand around on the doorstep all day,
do we?’ She turned to go into the hallway but glanced back at Bruce
for a moment and muttered, ‘Pretty young thing.’
grinned at Julia as he stood aside to let her through, giving her a joyful
thumbs-up sign when he closed the door behind them. Julia smiled back,
clearly somewhat relieved at having cleared the first hurdle.
them through to a rear lounge overlooking a large expanse of garden. She
indicated a black leather sofa as their potential sitting place. It was
softened by age and partnered by two upright armchairs. Aged green drapes
framed the bay window and an ornate, gilded marble clock took pride of
place on a black marble fireplace. Ada excused herself for a moment to
take the flowers through to the kitchen.
sat next to Julia on the sofa. As usual, the gleam of woodwork and the
underlying smell of polish revealed his mother’s continued pride
for the house. He exchanged a wide-eyed glance with Julia, noting his
mother’s aura was already affecting her; she was unusually subdued.
The sound of a tap running in the kitchen and subsequent clinking noises
gave evidence of his mother preparing a vase for the flowers.
a minute or so later to sit in her usual armchair. She looked directly
at Julia. ‘I’ve put your flowers in water, my dear. I’ll
prepare the stems later.’
did do that for you, Mrs. Kramer.’
they could use freshening up. A nice clean cut is always good, I think.’
Ada smiled briefly and then transferred her gaze to her son. ‘And
to what do I owe the honour of this visit, Bruce? If I seem a bit sleepy
it’s because I’ve just had a power-nap. Isn’t that what
they call them now, my dear?’ She looked across at Julia who smiled
and nodded in confirmation. ‘Of course, everyone’s too busy
these days to admit to any time relaxing. I’ll get us a pot of tea
in a minute, by the way.’
I could do that for you, Mrs. Kramer, if you just show me the kitchen.’
Julia started to rise.
her down again with an impatient hand. ‘Nonsense, nonsense, no one
makes their own tea in my house. I’m perfectly fit. I’m not
old, you know, Julie.’
Mother,’ corrected Bruce.
Ada looked at him absently. ‘Yes, yes, Julia. As I said.’
She smiled across at Julia. ‘It’s nice to meet one of Bruce’s
only have young friends,’ observed Bruce.
at him. ‘Pedantic. You see?’ She looked at Julia. ‘He
is so pedantic. Don’t you find?’
gave a slight shrug. Bruce wondered if this signified agreement or uncertainty.
Ada then concentrated on her son. ‘So what brings you here, Bruce?’
know I’m always coming to see you, Mother.’
‘Yes, yes, every month, almost. So you are not here for a reason?’
do have a spot of news that might interest you, Mother.’
at Julia for a moment. ‘You see? He has a reason. I knew he would
have a reason.’
plunged in. ‘I have a job interview next Tuesday.’
job interview? Well, well. What might that be, Bruce? Another bar? Moving
up to a restaurant, perhaps? Nothing to do with the Church though, I daresay.’
sighed. ‘You know that’s not for me any longer, Mother. We’ve
been through all that.’ He turned to Julia. ‘Mother wants
to see me in a dog-collar. Just because I read theology.’
her running commentary for Julia’s benefit. ‘Just because
he read theology. Just! He got disillusioned at Cambridge, you see. Lost
his faith there. Too many beer-swilling students to permit him to continue
with something quite so staid.’
steady. You know I didn’t lose my faith, Mother. I just moved a
shade more towards agnosticism. I’m still quite open-minded. Anyway,
that aside, don’t you want to know more about my job interview?’
course I do, Bruce. Is it a serious job then? I take it you wouldn’t
bother coming to tell me if it wasn’t.’
There you have me, actually.’
glanced at Julia. ‘He applies for a job without knowing what it
is? Is there any hope for him, my dear?’
was beginning to look increasingly uncomfortable. She raised an eyebrow
and gave a token shrug.
back to her son. ‘Julie’s a quiet girl. Anyway, you’ve
applied for a job without knowing what it is? How could that be? Did they
advertise for an employee, title to be discussed?’
gave Julia a despairing look. ‘I put my details on an online database
and this company asked to see me. A big company, I gather. I googled it
and it has fingers in pies all over the world. Mainly in communications
and media. They’re interested in my background and want to discuss
possibilities with me.’
‘Online? Database? Googled? Why doesn’t anyone talk English
any more, Julia? And what is this company called, Bruce?’
I think. Galliano-Global Limited. Something like that.’
Ada sat bolt upright in her chair. ‘And you see them on Tuesday?’
grinned. ‘That’s right. Maybe they’ve got a nice little
pen-pusher’s job for me. Anything would be more respectable than
a pub. Am I right, mother?’
his sarcasm. ‘I think you should not take this job, Bruce. You should
definitely not work for this firm Galliano-Global.’ She held him
in an eagle-glare.
stared at her in amazement before glancing briefly across at Julia, who
was wide-eyed. ‘Should not work for this firm? But why, Mother?
Are you receiving some message from above? Why shouldn’t I work
for this firm?’ As often used to happen when he lived at home, Bruce
realised he was picking up his mother’s stilted speech.
have heard of this firm, Bruce, from a friend in the village. Her son
worked for this firm. They sacked him for no reason. No reason at all.
No redundancy. No holiday pay. No fairness. He said they are not a good
firm, this Galliano-Global. Shady dealings. You must not go for the interview,
Bruce.’ Ada then managed what was probably meant to be an endearing
smile. ‘I only want what’s best for you, Bruce. You know that.’
Her tone was momentarily wheedling. ‘For once, take heed of your
mother.’ After glaring at him for a moment, she stood and faced
Julia. A strange, artificial smile seemed to slide onto her face. ‘Now,
why don’t you let Bruce take you out into the garden while I make
some tea, my dear. You can sit by the canal. It would be a shame to waste
such a nice sunny day indoors.’
you very much, Mrs. Kramer.’
and Julia stood and then allowed Ada to hustle them quickly through the
kitchen and out into the garden. During this, Ada was strangely silent.
led Julia down the gravel path to a patio on the canal bank. There they
entwined themselves into a picnic table and quietly contemplated the scene
in silence. A couple with a dog and a little girl walked past on the far
side of the canal. He watched as Julia exchanged a cheery wave with the
girl and then as she turned to look at him intently, concern evident on
was all that about with your mother? Why doesn’t she want you to
go for that job interview?’
Bruce arrives for his job interview
had killed fifteen minutes in Bath Abbey and ten minutes admiring the
river from Grand Parade before he crossed Pulteney Bridge. It was a pleasant
walk on a fine sunny day and the tourists were out in force.
office of Galliano-Global was located mid-way along a Georgian terrace
in Great Pulteney Street. The brass plate beside the door was very coy
about the business. All it revealed was: “Registered Office of Galliano-Global
had timed his arrival to be five minutes ahead of his appointment at ten-thirty;
prompt, he thought, but not over-eager. He noted with interest the basement
housed a little coffee bar called Gallianos, a strange contrast
to the media emphasis he had discovered associated with the company during
an internet search. Customers reached it down wide stone steps. A small
coffee bar also seemed at odds with the big company image Galliano had
portrayed over the phone. If this really was a big business, why wasn’t
the coffee bar larger and in a busier part of Bath? For a moment his mother’s
words of misgiving echoed inside his head.
after he rang the bell the enormous door was opened by a pretty, dark-haired
young girl who greeted him a warm smile. Bruce gave his name and she introduced
herself as Daisy, the secretary he had spoken to over the phone. Bruce
followed her through a wide hallway leading to an elegantly curving staircase
upon which light splashed from a beautiful stained-glass window on its
turn. Large, white-panelled double doors set into an archway on the right
faced a matching open archway to the left. Daisy led him through it into
a bright and pleasant reception area.
the company had plenty of money if the depth of the red-pile carpet was
anything to go by. Daisy invited him to sit on a cream leather sofa by
the window and then offered him tea or an extensive choice of coffees.
Impressed, Bruce chose latte. He was not the only visitor and he felt
quite pleased for the delay, for it enabled him to discreetly enjoy the
endless tanned legs of the stunning girl sitting on a matching sofa just
around the coffee table from him. She almost made the air crackle with
electricity; her presence was undeniable. He grabbed a copy of Country
Life from the table and tried to be more circumspect behind the meagre
cover this afforded; he even tried to read it, but his eyes were continually
drawn from the page.
in question were emphasized by her extremely short pin-striped skirt.
Long, blonde hair fell in huge ringlets way below her shoulders, stray
tendrils infiltrating ample décolletage revealed by a strategic
number of open buttons in her snowy-white blouse; bright red lipstick
adorned prominent lips; blue eyes with sparkly blue-grey eye-shadow peeped
from beneath long, curling lashes; gleaming, pointy black leather shoes
shouted class: these were the delicious attributes he assessed while trying
not to lick his lips. Even her perfume was intoxicating. Surely this vision
didn’t work for a living? He imagined she might be French. A tiny
coffee cup on the table near to her suggested her taste was somewhat more
sophisticated than his.
was really quite taken with it all until a horrible thought struck him.
Was she competing for his job? Taking quick stock of himself he realised
his cheap leather jacket, white shirt, dark brown trousers and tan brogues
really did not cut the same dash. Then he considered the fact Galliano
was Italian and likely to notice such things. So, would an elegant Italian
prefer his academic approach and casual look to the mini-skirted bombshell
sitting opposite? Damn! If only he’d known what the job was he might
have at least prepared a verbal assault.
a while Daisy returned and triumphantly delivered a professional-looking
latte in a tall glass; he guessed it must have come from the coffee bar
below: a cheat—but still a nice gesture. She confirmed Mr. Galliano
would be ready to see him before long and then returned to her desk at
the rear of the room.
sipped his excellent coffee and resumed his ponderings. Who would go in
first? If it was him, and he really shone, the decision might be made
before she set her sweet little foot through the door. But what if she
went in first? Or maybe she’d already been in ahead of him; she
did look rather pleased with herself: much too relaxed and confident for
someone awaiting their initial interview. Of course she might always be
that confident. He could well imagine that.
aware of his now less-guarded gaze and marginally sagging jaw, the blonde
looked up from her magazine—it looked like Hello—and
smiled across at him. ‘You’re here to see Mr. Galliano as
well, I gather.’ It was a smooth and rather sultry tone, with just
a hint of huskiness; she sounded cultured, used a certain “through
the eye-lashes” look, but the hint of a foreign accent did not sound
French. Maybe Spanish? Surely not Italian? Please not Italian.
realized she would present a formidable challenge. But not to the eye.
‘Yes. Job interview. You as well?’ He flashed his widest smile,
nervously brushing wayward hair back from his forehead. Inwardly he pleaded.
Please say no. Please say you’re just here to interview him for
a financial newspaper or something.
a way, I suppose.’ She crossed her legs the opposite way, a slow
elaborate process that moved from perfect sloping alignment to the right
to perfect sloping alignment to the left. And what legs. What a manoeuvre.
Bruce tried to quell an inward shudder of excitement. If it wasn’t
for his recent commitment to Julia he’d be tempted to find out what
she was doing that evening. He pondered on what she had said. “In
a way?” It seemed an odd reply. She was either there for a job or
not. Then he considered his own case, which was vague enough. What job
was he applying for, anyway? ‘Maybe we’re rivals, then?’
laughed, a rippling waterfall of a laugh, a gently tinkling exuberance
that indicated such a prospect held no fears for her; this was confirmed
by the firm smile she gave him: in its way, he supposed, quite deadly.
stomach churned. He really wanted this job—if he could do it, whatever
it might be—but if she was his competition, he might as well walk
out and catch an early lunch: preferably liquid. This, for sure, was no
dumb blonde. She also looked rich. Somehow she oozed money. The quality
of her clothes confirmed it. Why did she even need a job? Surely she had
noticed Daisy look up from her computer screen and frown somewhat disapprovingly
in their direction. Perhaps she thought it was inappropriate for the enemy
to fraternize in this way. Then her phone buzzed and she diverted her
attention to this. ‘Right away, sir,’ he heard faintly. She
replaced the handset and then came over to him. ‘Mr. Galliano will
see you now, Mr. Kramer.’
Bruce mentally punched the air. Thank you, God! He found he still had
faith for certain things. Perhaps he was first to see Galliano. He must
assume this and really go for it. He liked the thought of a plush, red-carpeted
future. He smiled across at his rival—who seemed not the least disconcerted—deposited
his half-empty latte glass on the low table and then rose and followed
Daisy through the archway to the white double doors opposite. After a
light knock, she opened one of the doors, stepped through to introduce
him and then stood aside to allow him to enter. The carpet—still
red—became even thicker and richer. The office looked like a film-set
for a top executive—which, Bruce guessed, he must be, judging by
the expensive trappings that now caught his eye. Was he seeing the top
man? This was the registered office of the holding company, after all.
A big future could be on the line here. Galliano’s secretary departed
with what he took to be a knowing smile.
Bruce felt very scruffy and out of his depth. What was he doing there?
Quickly, deliberately, he took in the scene with a single, panning glance.
The office extended from front to back of the building. Through the rear
window he glimpsed tall trees in what he assumed was Henrietta Park. The
room was furnished with impressive antique furniture, very ornate and
highly polished, possibly French, including a tall, elegant, glass-fronted
bookcase with intricate carvings in front of the glass. Two cream leather
armchairs matching those in the reception area offered a relaxed seating
area by the rear window. The focal point of the room was a central, green-leather-topped
desk, with the executive’s obligatory green banker’s lamp.
On the desk were a number of files, an open laptop, a half-filled glass
with a carafe of water, and a large blotter on which lay a small sheaf
of papers. Behind it sat Mr. Galliano. The laptop immediately suggested
this was a hands-on executive, despite him being much older than Bruce
had anticipated. A growing suspicion nagged at Bruce that wires had got
crossed; judging by his surroundings, all this was way out of his league.
this building was little more than an administrative centre for it was
only a single house within a Georgian parade and it clearly had limited
office space. After his mother’s dire warnings, he’d checked
the company out and confirmed it had links with communications and media
companies right across Europe. There must be many other offices, for it
had interests in publishing, retail, property, oil and finance. Maybe
the person his mother had heard about just had a bad deal from one of
their associate companies? This certainly didn’t look like the “fly-by-night”
image his mother’s concerns had conjured up. He decided to forget
all that. A future with a company like this promised to be as rosy as
the carpet. Maybe he could have similar trappings in his own office.
was a substantial, elderly man, completely bald-headed, very pale, with
a set of whiter-than-white teeth that flashed a Hollywood smile at him
as he rose from his chair and extended a podgy hand. From their earlier
telephone conversation, Bruce had already decided he seemed pleasant enough;
his smile confirmed this. Yet all the talk of setting challenges made
Mr. Kramer. So nice to meet you at last.’ Galliano gestured to one
of a pair of leather chairs in front of his desk. ‘Please to take
a seat. Make yourself comfortable. My secretary has taken good care of
you, no? You have had coffee, I trust? You would like more, perhaps?’
thank you. I’ve had a very nice latte, already. I’m fine.’
There is nothing like good coffee.’ Galliano sat down again, but
then began to wheeze, looking a little distressed. ‘Excuse me, please.’
While Bruce worried if he was about to expire, the other produced an inhaler
which he used noisily; he sounded like a child slurping a depleted drink
through a straw. ‘I am so sorry. I have health problems, you see.’
He paused for a moment and then carried on as if nothing had happened.
‘So we can get straight to business. Firstly, I introduce myself
properly. I am Aldo Galliano, managing director of Galliano-Global. I
am driving force behind Galliano-Global. I personally registered the company
here, in Bath, many years ago.’ He stopped for a brief wheeze and
then continued. ‘And I hire people I think will add value to the
company—or to sister companies.’ Galliano then fingered a
sheet of paper and glanced at it briefly. ‘I was very interested
in your CV, Mr. Kramer.’ He looked up. ‘Or maybe I can call
do,’ Bruce said with a smile, never doubting he’d still be
calling the other “Mr. Galliano”.
In a second interview, Bruce is surprised
to find himself alongside Sofia
Galliano invited Sofia into his office first, leaving Bruce to check
out what she’d been reading in Hello Magazine. His mind
was so preoccupied the celebrity houses and weddings passed him by without
even registering; they were just mannequins living in picture-perfect
surroundings. After fifteen minutes of boredom Daisy’s phone rang,
she answered it, and he was finally ushered into Galliano’s office.
It was a surprise to find he was joining both Galliano and Sofia on the
sofas near the rear window. Sofia smiled up at him, laughter in her eyes.
Bruce began to wonder if he’d been set-up over lunch.
stood to shake his hand and then smilingly gestured to space on the sofa
next to Sofia. Bruce sat and made himself comfortable while Sofia smoothed
down her skirt—insomuch as its short constraints allowed. Galliano
then went across to use the phone on his desk to ask his secretary to
bring some tea—while Bruce amused himself imagining reaching out
to gently caress the tanned leg so tantalisingly close to his own.
returned to sit on the sofa opposite them. ‘Sometimes I like your
English tea, Bruce. Is very nice in afternoon.’ He paused for a
moment. ‘I gather you two young people have already met? Have got—what
you say?—chummy over lunch?’ He grinned when Bruce
exchanged an amused glance with Sofia. ‘Which puts an interesting
slant on what I now have to say to you both.’ He paused. ‘Maybe
you think I ask you to work together, no?’
shook her head firmly. ‘No, I don’t think that, Aldo. I am
not here to work for you, like Bruce.’
leaned across and briefly tapped Bruce’s knee. ‘By the way,
please to also call me Aldo, Bruce.’ He sat back. ‘But there
is common ground. As I explained, Sofia, I would like you to undertake
a little task in return for my backing. As they say, there is no such
thing as free lunch.’ He smiled. ‘So I propose identical task
for you both. If you complete this task with success, for you, Sofia,
I can assure you of a role that will not disappoint in major film.’
He watched her smile grow and her eyes widen and then he focused on Bruce.
‘And for you, Bruce, a well-paid executive job afterwards.’
Bruce felt a grin attach itself to his own lips.
first I tell you a little of myself, no? I not work hard at school. I
leave with few qualification and work in café in Sorrento. There
I learn the challenge of achieving perfection in food, coffee, presentation,
and it interest me. I like achieving perfection. I learn how to make the
perfect cappuccino and latte. And I learn good latte art.’ He looked
at them enquiringly. ‘You know, making the pictures on a latte?
It is skill that comes from practice and pouring the milk by shaking the
jug from the wrist. Like so.’ He waggled his hand and then smiled.
‘I was good. Beautiful flowers; hearts for the ladies. Latte art.
I impress people. I discover so many things go toward perfection. You
not only need good coffee bean, you need good burr grinder, not blade.
You need to fill and tamp coffee basket just the right way. You need to
calibrate espresso machine with pressure just right to deliver one fluid
ounce in twenty-three seconds precisely.’
opened his hands and smiled from one to the other of them. ‘So many
things I learn, you wouldn’t believe. Later I work up to manager,
owner, then several cafés in Sorrento, then Lake Garda, then elsewhere.
Now all over Europe. You may have noticed one in basement here. All are
all called Gallianos. This one very small, but is only way to
make sure I get good coffee in office. So long as it pay the staff. My
little extravagance.’ He laughed. ‘I not try to give Starbucks
a hard time. Gallianos are more intimate. People like that. I
like to see Gallianos in cities. They are haven for rest and
then began with other businesses. New challenges. But always I want things
perfect.’ He shrugged. ‘Well, I like perfection. I try to
make all my businesses perfect. They are, I know, not all perfect, but
they are good. And I need good people to make it so. And now we come to
you two young people.
first, there is challenge. If I give people special help, I sometimes
need their special help in return. And to you young people, I throw down
my gauntlet. I call it “Galliano’s Gauntlet”. I ask
you both to do some research and write a little report over six month
period. I give you three hundred thousand pounds each for your budget
to do this.’ He looked from one to the other of them, apparently
enjoying their astonishment. Then he concentrated on Sofia. ‘Not
bad, eh? But maybe you need some extra help, I think. To pay people, maybe?
Six months is not so long and task is hard. If you succeed you keep remainder
of your budget plus, maybe, a one million pound prize.
He sat back and smiled at their astonished faces with delight. ‘You
hear me right. One million pounds for the best effort. Plus your film,
Sofia, or your job, Bruce.’ He paused for a moment to let this sink
in. ‘If you do not succeed, but still produce worthy attempt, you
keep the remainder of your budget.’ He smiled between them. ‘So,
some encouragement for good work and efficiency, no?’ A brief spasm
hit him again and, after fumbling in his pocket, he quickly took a gasp
from an inhaler.
and Sofia exchanged bewildered glances.
I am not good at writing, Aldo,’ said Sofia, looking back at him.
‘It is not what I do best.’
at her. ‘But you can pay someone to write, Sofia. That is why I
give you so much money. You can manage my little project, surely? Prove
your abilities? Your initiative? You do not think this worth some effort?
Remember the film is part of this deal.’
shook her head uncertainly. ‘What is this report about, Aldo? And
why do both of us have to do it? I don’t understand. You mean we
must work together?’
moment the tea arrived, Daisy poured cups for each of them at Galliano’s
request and then she departed and they sat back while Galliano explained
it will not have escaped your notice I am not well man. I have very advanced
septicaemia and I am told is spreading. But is my fault. I smoke fat Havana
cigars. Now I pay.’ He shrugged. ‘I have to accept this is
my killer, not work. I have best treatment, of course, but twelve months
would be good news. Nine maybe. Six, if things go bad. I don’t know,
but I try to live as long as I can, no?’ He gave them a forced smile.
‘I plan for nine-plus, I still have many things to do. Of course,
I am not young. I am seventy-one. But not too old, either, I think.’
Aldo.’ Sofia crossed to sit on the sofa next to him. She put a hand
on his arm. ‘You poor darling. I can’t believe it. And you
are still interested in work?’ She rolled her eyes. ‘I think
I would be in the Caribbean, Aldo, not Bath.’
smiled. ‘You are right, my dear. I should.’ He leaned forward
and patted her knee, his hand lingering perhaps a little longer than a
casual—even continental—gesture should allow. He then leaned
back again, addressing them both. ‘Through my companies I have great
wealth. Many millions. But money is no longer my focus. Life is my focus:
whether I can gain any more than I should reasonably expect. But can money—or
worry—add an extra hour to your life?’ He looked at Bruce.
‘Recognize this saying, Bruce, from the Bible?’
of you by worrying can add one hour to his life?’ quoted Bruce.
He knew this was from Luke.
said Galliano, beaming at him. ‘Although cryonics might just do
that. Eventually. You know of this, Bruce?’
right. Or just freezing the head or brain in what they call "neuropreservation".
Is easier and saves preserving my old body parts.’
shivered. ‘Why ever freeze yourself, Aldo? And why just a head?’
She looked aghast. ‘Why not just have a nice peaceful burial?’
turned to explain. ‘Only freeze after death, my dear. When legally
dead, no heartbeat, but biologically still alive. Deep-freeze body or
organs. Very low temperatures to preserve. Severed-head, maybe. Get my
old brain restored in a nice new body some time in the future.’
He chuckled at Sofia’s expression. ‘Or my body brought back
to life when medical science is more clever and I can be cured. Maybe
I get new younger body through cloning? Who knows?’ He tapped the
side of his head. ‘But with this brain, you see. This brain. And
all will be well so long as they don’t put it into a cow or sheep,
eh?’ He chuckled at their wide-eyed expressions. ‘If they
do this, I haunt them for sure. I think I maybe put in special clause
to prevent mad experiment. But who knows what method they use to restore
me with their future technology? They do not even know this yet.’
then focussed on Bruce. ‘Imagine if there is a heaven, Bruce. What
if there is eternal life? What happens if I go to heaven and then, later,
some scientist brings my body back to life? I might be snatched out of
a delightful heaven, with a beautiful woman, to go back into imperfect
earthly body, eh?’ He grimaced at them both. ‘If there is
a God and heaven, this is not good scenario, I think. So what is it to
be for me?’ He shrugged. ‘And what if there is reincarnation?
Does karma affect that? Can I live in two bodies at once if they brought
me back to life with cryonics?’ He shook his head and smiled. ‘Not
that I much believe in reincarnation. But you see my problem? Maybe there
is no God. Maybe mankind just like to think there must be a God. So which
way do I go? Survival or salvation? Sofia? Bruce? Cryonics or prayer?
If there is nothing after death then I not worry. It make no difference.’
Then he smiled from one to the other of them. ‘But good manager
think of all possibilities and plan for all contingencies, eh? I want
best chance not to party with the devil. But, if there is nothing after
death, I need not worry in my last months. Worry will not help me live
longer, I think. If I do not worry, maybe I live much longer than doctors
think anyway.’ He gave a wide, continental-style shrug. ‘Is
shook her head in despair. ‘Life is complicated enough, Aldo. But
I thought death was straightforward until today. Now you even make death
complicated. Business men.’ She flapped her hands in frustration.
rocked with laughter. ‘Good managers foresee all complications,
Sofia. And when I look at the beauties of this world,’ and here
he indicated the park beyond the window, followed by gesturing towards
Sofia herself, ‘I sometimes think it must take a very good manager
to handle all this. Any big organisation without good management soon
gets into big mess. Yet look at that.’ He waved dramatically towards
Our universe. Not a mess—except where we meddle. Could all that
blunder along by chance and still be so beautiful and successful? But,
I do not know. Maybe is so. Especially if intelligent life only on this
planet. It could all be going wrong right now. There’s global warming.
Would not God intervene already, if he existed? Maybe there is no God.
Science thinks this, no? If you think they are right, is up to you to
convince me why. And to do that, you will need to consider why the Bible
and the Christian religion has lasted so long. I come from Catholic family
and would need some convincing. But over the years I’ve had growing
doubts about God. So if there is a God, I need to understand where science
is getting it wrong. If there is a God, how much he influence things,
leaned across towards Galliano. ‘Aldo, this is well out of my league.
Truly. Bruce has studied theology. I am just a model. An aspiring actress.
Why on earth do you think I could help you? You can pay experts to tell
you. What good is my opinion?’
smiled at her. ‘I have two experts working on this already, my dear.
One “for” and one “against” God. But I have talked
to them for many hours and they just confuse me more and more. So I tell
them to go away and write readable reports. Yet I already know I will
not understand their words. I now think is better to get opinions of ordinary
people who take the time to think about this. People without preconceptions.
My poor brain will soon burst from this. And I have good reason for choosing
someone like you, Sofia. I tell you more one day. Meanwhile, I have urgent
businesses to attend to and that will take all my time. I need your two
young unbiased brains to think about this for me.’ He smiled. ‘Your
unbiased brains, eh? I think is good investment. Sofia, you are from Catholic
parents but you don’t really believe in God. You say this before
lunch, sì? You are like a control in my little experiment.
And Bruce, you say you would like to believe in God. But you need time
to think it out. Better you judge from this than blinkered position.’
He sighed. ‘Both my experts are blinkered, you see. And you both
need to take time to get your minds around this, I know. So I pay for
your time. You both work for me on this project, eh? You both at right
place at right time, no?’ He grinned.
leaned towards him. ‘Yes, I’d like to be able to believe in
a God, Aldo, because my parents brought me up a Catholic. But it all seems
too mythical these days. If there is a master plan, why is it going so
wrong? Would a God allow us to destroy our planet? But that’s just
the way I feel right now. I admit, if I were dying I might feel very differently.
In view of what you ask, I might even change my mind.’ She then
gave him a sympathetic expression, smoothing out her skirt again and wriggling
to adjust her pose. This was followed by a coy look at Bruce, who reckoned
she was just trying to plant uncertainty into his mind about the direction
she might choose. He figured she had by now decided to accept the challenge.
After all, there were some very big carrots for them both.
you, Bruce,’ Galliano said, turning to him. ‘You say you would
like to get your head together about your belief. Like me. So this is
perfect chance. You will both accept my challenge, no? What I need is
for you to write a report that argues a logical case for there being a
God or there not being a God. I want the report to convince me, in simple
terms, one way or other. To have definite conclusion based on evidence
presented; this important. If there is a God, you need to explain the
doubts of science; to explain where the Bible fits in when it seems contrary
to science on evolution, et-cetera. There are many contradictions
and many mysteries. I have written many points down for you to consider.
You can do this?’ He looked hopefully at Bruce.
solve the meaning of life within six months, Aldo? That's after I’ve
decided whether I truly do believe in God myself? Is that all? Not much
of a challenge, then.’ Bruce gave him a comical expression which
caused Galliano to burst into laughter, shortly followed by wheezing into
a snowy-white handkerchief.
Bruce sounds out an unusual character
for his research team
Bertie Protheroe did seem a weird choice at first. It had to be admitted
he was a complete eccentric. His appearance caused most people to give
him a wide berth. He normally wore a battered straw hat and garishly-coloured
shirts with baggy combat trousers — extraordinary on his bony little
body. This, coupled with his hooked red nose, rosy cheeks and highly-wrinkled,
weather-worn face, gave him an almost clownish appearance; only the grease-paint
seemed missing. The thing about Bertie was he seemed to have been everywhere,
done everything, and while one might doubt all of it at first, prolonged
conversation with him across the bar had convinced Bruce he was quite
genuine: he truly had been everywhere, done everything, met everyone.
Occasional comments he’d made gave Bruce the feeling he even had
hidden spiritual depth.
Bertie had sheared sheep in the outback of Australia, worked in a casino
in Las Vegas, fished in the North Sea, studied under a yogi in India,
worked as a crop-sprayer in New Zealand—without a pilot’s
licence—driven a bus in Coventry and a taxi in Liverpool; the list
seemed endless. Whether it was all true seemed a little doubtful, but
certainly a great deal of it was for, when asked an in-depth question
about any of his exploits, Bertie was always forthcoming with the details;
it was difficult to judge whether he was completely genuine, an excellent
liar or complete fantasist. Bruce made up his mind to engage Bertie in
a telling conversation to find out more while he had the opportunity.
it was no good attempting to do this while on duty that evening, Bruce
headed for the bar at lunchtime. Apart from being there between 7 pm and
9 pm in the evenings, Bertie was reliably there between 1 pm and 2:30
pm in the afternoons. Whatever he did with his days, it was clearly planned
with military precision. He had, of course, once been in the army.
Bruce arrived he was pleased to see Bertie already propping up the end
of the bar, half-way through his first pint.
right, today, Bertie? Can I top you up?’
can line me up, if you like, Bruce,’ he winked. ‘A bird in
the hand. But aren’t you on the wrong side of the bar, old chap?’
went over to him, laughed and then ordered two pints from Cathy who was
amazed to see him there off-shift. ‘It’s nice to be this side
of the bar for a change, Bertie.’
can’t get enough of this place, can you, Bruce?’ said Cathy,
smiling at him as she pulled a pint. She had a strong Merseyside accent.
thought I’d try the view from this side of the bar,’ Bruce
grinned back. ‘It seems more peaceful here.’
because it is.’ Cathy already knew he had handed in his notice.
Bertie’s second pint was lined up next to his first, and Bruce had
taken a thankful draft of his own—it was a hot summer’s day
and he needed to cool down after his walk from home—Bruce waded
in. ‘I just wanted the chance of a decent chat with you, Bertie,’
he said. ‘It’s too frustrating talking to you from behind
the bar. Too many interruptions. You seem to have had a fascinating life.’
Bertie raised his new pint, took a sip and then returned for a sip from
his original glass. He winked. ‘Like a dog. Marking my possessions.
Oh yes. I have had a fascinating life, Bruce. Wouldn’t have lived
it any other way. No sir. And if I knew getting old was so interesting
I’d have done it years ago.’ He cackled at his own joke. ‘I
don’t even mind being old. It’s a badge of honour, the way
I see it.’ He pointed with a knobbly finger at his lined forehead.
‘Every furrow tells a story. Ploughed them all personally. But I’m
only a youngster at seventy-five. My father lived to ninety-two.’
I take it you’re retired now. What did you used to do?’
shook his head and gave him a toothy grin. There was a large gap right
in the front which tended to draw the eye. ‘How long have you got?’
he asked. ‘Telling you all I’d done would take all day. And
then some. And I might be retired by name, but I can still turn my hand
to more things than most youngsters have even heard of. Aye, that I can.’
He winked and took a long draft that almost emptied his original pint.
pretty much self-sufficient, I imagine,’ said Bruce, easing his
yes. Can survive anywhere, Bruce. I’ve survived without water in
the outback for three days. I’ve survived a shipwreck in the North
Sea. I’ve fallen from a hundred-foot cliff and just rolled to safety.
Been snapped at by a crocodile within an inch of my face in Australia.
Invincible, that’s me.’ He finished the beer, wiped his mouth
with the back of his hand and then pulled his new pint towards him.
you’ve no need for God, then, Bertie? To help you along when life
Bertie turned his head to look at him with interest. ‘You’re
a God-man, are you, Bruce?’
nodded. ‘I think there might be a power that controls our universe,
but I’m not too sure about a personality called God. There seem
too many troubles in the world today. And science has it all wrapped up,
doesn’t it? What do you say?’
that depends on what—or whom—you mean by God.’
raised an eyebrow. ‘There’s only one God, with a capital “G”,
so far as I’m aware. I’d leave the pagan gods to history.
You only allow for one God, don’t you, Bertie?’
pulled a barstool towards him and heaved himself up onto it. Bruce did
likewise, for experience told him Bertie might be launching into a long
Bruce's research team are talking about
said Bruce, ‘the Genesis authors made some schoolboy bloomers about
the universe—as has science over the previous millennium I might
add, so we can certainly excuse the original scribes; but it’s clear
they were inspired because they faultlessly stated the correct evolutionary
sequence. No so-called logical assumptions led them to tamper with that.’
interesting observations and conclusions,’ nodded Carla, grudgingly.
‘And some food for thought. Thanks, Bruce. I see you’ve had
your thinking cap on.’
thinking chair, actually,’ grinned Bruce. ‘At home. But it
has the same effect.’
moved on. ‘Okay, but what about the second account of creation in
Genesis 2? The one you call Version Two in your chart?’
more of a problem. I need a bit more time in the thinking chair for that
turned to Bertie. ‘You’ve been unusually quiet, Bertie. No
input from you on this one? No Eastern Promise?’
grinned. ‘I believe in creation, or a time when our world suddenly
came into being. Yes, the Big Bang, Carla. But why should I be concerned
whether it was six thousand or many millions of years ago? The point is
that it certainly took a creative force to think-up this Big Bang. Am
I not right, Mrs. Science, that quantum mechanics breaks down at the zero
point of energy, at the instant of the Big Bang?’
looked impressed. ‘Well said, Bertie. Fancy you being into quantum
mechanics. You’re a dark horse.’
better believe it, dear lady. Sometimes I whinny.’ Bertie flickered
his eyebrows at her. ‘But I’m better at bicycle mechanics.’
ignored this. ‘General relativity can’t deal with the sharpness
of zero, either,’ she admitted. ‘In a black hole, space and
time are meaningless.’
you’re in a black hole too,’ grinned Emma.
entirely,’ replied Carla. ‘String Theory can handle it better.’
do you rule out a creator, Carla?’ asked Bruce. ‘You just
think the Big Bang sprang into being in the middle of nothingness? For
no better reason than spontaneity?’
I think you know from our earlier days at Cambridge, Bruce, I might be
sympathetic to the notion of some kind of “intelligent design”—if
it made logical sense. But, as a scientist, I can sympathise with scientific
arguments that the evolution of our universe, and life upon it, has been
random.’ She paused for a moment of uncertainty. ‘On the other
hand, again, I have some sympathy with the observation it seems jolly
well too organized and beautiful for chance. Most things end up in a mess
when left to chance. That our world could evolve life as a collection
of efficient machine-like beings of such diversity seems a bit unlikely
to me. But my work makes it quite clear evolution explains the ascent
of man. So, while I find too many holes in the Bible to take it onboard
without screaming and shouting, I do look forward to any enlightenment
that might come out of this project to support intelligent design.’
She looked at Bruce. ‘How’s that for open and honest, Brucie?’
more like,’ muttered Bertie.
him, Bruce winked and smiled at Carla. ‘That’s it. Keep open
minded, Carla. That’s all I ask. I’ve been trying to remember
why I chose you as our science representative.’
Sofia, Bruce's principal rival, is having
trouble keeping things on track"
Sofia was in a rush when the phone rang in her apartment. In a further
twenty minutes a car would be picking her up for a photo-shoot on the
other side of Rome. She was surprised to hear it was Victor Freed on the
can I do for you, Victor?’
just wanted to run an idea past you, Miss Mancini.’
I’m about to go out, so it must be very quick. Two minutes and the
stage is yours.’
Victor sounded a little panicked by this. ‘I’m bothered the
Old Testament describes aliens in lots of places. And talking of lots,
there is just that: “Lot”. Remember? I told you about the
guy whose wife was turned into a pillar of salt? The visitors who talked
to him sound like aliens. They were shocked by the sexual perversions
in Sodom and wanted to take Lot and his wife away. Then burning sulphur
rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah; that was some sort of bomb they set
off, of course. Well, my angle is based on Kathleen’s theory these
people were missionaries who came to make mankind better on this planet.
But more than that, they were preparing for an invasion. Control over
mankind? Perhaps they wanted to emigrate to earth. Something like that.
I haven’t figured it all out yet.’ He paused. ‘How do
you like the sound of this, Miss Mancini? It all helps show you cannot
take the Bible seriously about angels. They were no more angels than you
or me.’ He paused. ‘Do you like this new angle?’
sighed. ‘I admit I’m no angel,’ she said. ‘But
do I like this aliens idea? No, I do not. I read about Lot after you mentioned
it. Genesis describes his visitors as men as well as angels. Human beings.
So if you want your money, stick to the brief, Victor. No crazy theories
about aliens. Okay? And there’s the time travel issue. We agreed
Ezekiel’s visitors were human missionaries with advanced flying
technology who probably came from another continent. That their craft
might connect with vimanas mentioned in that Indian epic?’ Sofia
gave another loud sigh. ‘Did we not agree on all this, Victor?’
guess so. But I might be onto something important here—’.
buts, Victor. No buts. Now I must go. Stick to the brief. And do have
a nice day.’
Who is Bruce chatting with? Could it possibly
Bruce could see a golden sphere of light shimmering through the swirling
mist ahead. He walked towards the light but that in itself proved to be
a strange sensation. He felt almost weightless, like a spaceman walking
on the moon. When he looked down, he could not see his body, despite the
dim light. Worse, when he tried, he found he couldn’t even feel
it. It was weird. Spooky.
closer, walking as if on sponge, the presence of the light seemed strangely
reassuring. He stopped, afraid to draw any closer. A palpable peace seemed
to descend on him, like the peace he often sensed in old churches—due,
he once fervently believed, because they were “tanked-up”
with worship. Then he heard a voice coming from the direction of the sphere.
Bruce.’ The voice had a booming quality even though it was not loud:
a deep richness that sounded friendly and reassuring. Yet how could it
echo in the mist?
wondered if he might be dead. Had Nailer’s pill killed him? Then
it struck him. Could this golden light be God? He didn’t feel dead,
and this surely couldn’t be a dream since he was distinguishing
what had happened in the real world—which, in his experience, never
happened in dreams. Maybe it happened in Nailer’s dreams, though.
Yet the voice couldn’t really be God’s because God couldn’t
possibly be encapsulated in a ball of light. It was like a fireball, yet
it didn’t radiate heat, it just looked like pure, shimmering light.
are you?’ asked Bruce nervously.
was a deep laugh. ‘Who do you think I am, Bruce?’
hesitated. ‘I don’t know. Am I in the collective unconscious?’
Even as he said it he was aware how ridiculous it sounded—like asking
which store department he had stumbled into from a lift.
laugh was repeated, but this time with more hilarity. ‘If I said
I was God you wouldn’t believe me. So what am I to say?’
was incongruous. ‘So you’re saying you are God?’
saying you wouldn’t believe me if I said I was God. And I want you
to believe all I have to say, Bruce, I really do, so I’d better
not start by saying the one thing you will never believe, had I? Even
if I am God.’
felt his head throbbing—even though he didn’t seem to have
a head. ‘I don’t like riddles,’ he snapped. ‘My
head hurts. Please just tell me who you are. And if you’re God,
please make my head stop hurting.’
you believe I can do that?’
believe you can do that if you really are God.’
was a gentle laugh this time—and suddenly his head did stop hurting.
‘Well, you might tell me I’m wrong,’ said the voice,
‘but I believe I’m God. I have every faith I’m God.
Do you have faith, Bruce?’
thought about this for a while, looked around at the near-blackness, realised
he had no explanation for where he was, who he was talking to, whether
it was even human. Was he still on the earth or was he in a dream? Or
was he actually dead? He remembered he’d taken a pill. Was this
a con? Was he, perhaps, talking to Albert Nailer while in a trance? But
then he remembered Carla was there to check on that. And if it was all
a dream, nothing really mattered anyway, so no worries. He must stop worrying.
All would become clear in the end. There seemed little choice but to go
along with the voice for now: albeit in a dream or trance. Yet, if that
were so, would he be able to think about it like this? Could he ever remember
reasoning in a dream before? Didn’t you just do and feel in a dream?
you were God, why would you bother to talk to me since I’ve doubted
you?’ Bruce thought this was a good line to start with and he was
pleased with it.
if you met a stranger in a pub and he said his name was Jimmy Green, would
you believe him or not?’
have no reason to doubt him.’
why do you have reason to doubt me if I tell you I really am God? Are
you more likely to meet Jimmy Green here?’
let out a long disbelieving breath; strange, considering he had no apparent
body; perhaps it was just metaphorical breath. ‘Let’s just
suppose I go along with that for now,’ he conceded. ‘But if
that is so, where am I? And why are you speaking to me now?’
just say you’re in limbo, Bruce. Stop worrying about not having
a body for the moment. It doesn’t bother me, not having a body.
Make the most of this conversation, Bruce. You’re too preoccupied
said Bruce, somewhat uncertainly.
Bruce. Do you remember taking that pill?’
I took Albert Nailer’s pill.’
that’s how you got here. You said you’d like to have a chat
with God, didn’t you? To Julia? And to Emma?’
I did,’ agreed Bruce.
that’s the reason you’re here for a while, Bruce. For as long
as that pill allows your physical brain to access higher intelligence.
And you chose me. Thank you for choosing me, Bruce. I believe you have
some questions. So ask away. All I ask of you is that you truly always
believe in me if you believe what I’m about to tell you. Doesn’t
that sound a reasonable request? This is a unique opportunity for you,
find it difficult to believe in a God I can just talk to like this.’
mean you find it easier to believe in one you can’t talk to?’
I mean you might just be a voice in my head. Or in my dream.’
in everyone’s head to some degree, Bruce. Lots of people worry about
my judgement, but I’m just a little bit concerned about yours. So
why not postpone deciding whether I’m God or just a voice in your
head until you’ve heard what I have to say? Let me ask you this.
Could your head answer your most difficult questions, Bruce? Is it likely
your average dream could?’
ask them, Bruce. Don’t waste valuable time when you’ve got
what you asked for. Ask the real corkers, if you like. Ask your most difficult
questions and then believe. I’m all ears, Bruce, and I can answer
took another metaphorical breath. ‘Right. The big stuff then. Let’s
start with wars. If you’re God, why do you allow wars to take place?’
was a low chuckle. ‘You really meant it when you said big stuff,
didn’t you? Right. Wars. So many people seem to focus on wars: and
to blame me for wars when human-beings start them all. These days wars
are all down to human-beings, Bruce. Why wouldn’t there be wars
resulting from big disagreements?’
people get killed needlessly. Pointlessly. Innocent people. How can you
allow that? I might have a complete faith if I could get my head around
a few things like that. How can you justify such things? You even invoked
some wars Israel got involved in, according to the Old Testament. Why?’
To kill off idol worshippers who were spreading evil and contaminating
my people. It’s all there in the Bible, Bruce.’
what about the wars taking place today? Why don’t you get involved
and stop them?’
Who makes those wars, Bruce?’
felt cross. ‘Look, why are you asking me questions? Please! Can’t
you just answer them?’
get impatient, Bruce, we have all the time in the world, if necessary.
I can stop it, you see, if I wish. Time, that is. But be patient, because
by answering my questions, you will learn. Your inner-self will begin
to understand. You need to think in order to understand anything in creation.
Why do you think Jesus spoke in parables?’
the stories would be easily remembered and handed down intact?’
that’s actually true, but it was also to make the right people think.’
was puzzled by this. ‘The right people?’
The people who matter. The ones who want to believe. The ones prepared
to think for themselves. There’s a reason man has a sophisticated
mind. It is to be used for thinking. Only believers can fathom certain
mysteries.’ He paused for a moment. ‘Now, back to wars. I
ask you again, Bruce. Who makes these wars?’
Not me. So why blame me?’
you control the way things pan out, right? Is it preordained we have wars?’
is preordained, Bruce.’
surely you give people talents to use in your work? So, if that’s
right, it is preordained they go the particular ways you planned. Right?
Me, even? And, if that’s right, the paths of men who make wars is
to some degree preordained; therefore the wars are preordained. Cause
laughed. ‘My, you put up a good argument, Bruce, even though you
don’t really believe that in your heart. You’re as earnest
as Job to get at the truth, aren’t you? Understand this. All human-beings
have absolute freedom about what they do in life. Chance plays a part,
but the greater part is due to their own inclinations, good or bad. And
bad inclinations in powerful people can lead to war.’
you could intervene. You could end wars if you’re all powerful.’
would interfere with the plan. The rules.’
plan? What rules?’
hard to clearly explain any individual question you might have, Bruce,
because you need to understand the bigger picture of the nature of creation
in order to appreciate any particular part of it. But we can get there,
if you’re patient. You’re capable of understanding so much,
and I know you’re interested. When I thought of the whole concept
of creation I had a general thought. Some people might call it a plan,
but that is rather misleading; over-ambitious. “Concept” would
be nearer the truth: the concept of creation.’
you mean inventing the Laws of Nature was the concept?’
yes. You’re beginning to get the right idea, Bruce, but I don’t
like to call it “inventing”. What people call the “Laws
of Nature” are just part of the creation concept. The laws are merely
effects, really; the maths behind it, if you like. For example, you can
model how the weather will change, but the fact there are algorithms to
predict that does not mean anyone had to do those calculations in order
for the weather to change. It just happens. Do you see? The maths just
creates a model to help man predict the effects. It does not relate to
the cause or contribute to the effect. Laws. Rules. Forget them. Or if
you must consider them, within the constraints these set, there is chance
and freedom. For man, it means he can make his own decisions, go his own
way, but that doesn’t mean I don’t give individuals particular
talents or, if you prefer, the concept allows individuals to develop particular
talents which, ideally, are used for the common good but which, in some
cases, get wrongly used for evil. Like you can have a good or a bad dream.
I had a concept, then, when it was realised, it became what we might term
a manifestation. The physical world became manifest.’
if you want things to be used for the common good, why allow evil?’
laughed. ‘Come, Bruce, I’ve even heard you expound on this
one. As you have said yourself, there will always be a lowest degree of
good. Ultimately the concept, the plan, will allow good to overcome evil;
there is always a good bias, and most people are inherently good. You
could say good is programmed into the collective unconscious if you wish
to pursue that model. So good will win out—but good only stands
out as good in contrast to evil.’
I don’t see how you can have a good plan that allows so many to
die in wars. Innocent people die.’
where you need to better understand the scope of creation, Bruce. If you
believe life ceases when people die then it may well seem terrible to
you, but if you knew that these people—the good people—live
on for eternity in a place much more pleasant—in heaven—then
you might look at death very differently. Death is not a terrible thing,
you see, it is merely the transition to a new life: an enjoyable new life,
much better than the old. So dying in war is a blessed release from massacre.’
began to sense the immensity of what they were talking about and how blinkered
normal human viewpoints were. But he wanted to get one thing clear. ‘So
nothing is preordained?’
is preordained, or beyond change, up to the point where events happen.’
is more than a bit complicated. How did you think it up?’
laugher followed. ‘Think about your own dreams, Bruce. I know you
already have thought along these lines. But consider. How real do those
seem to you?’
responded very quickly to this. ‘Very real.’
what if something fantastic occurs in them? Ever have anything like that?
And did that fantastic thing seem real at the time?’
Flying. I once dreamt I could fly. And yes, that seemed real enough. I
just flew through the air without any effort.’
see, Bruce, your dream world was as real to you during your dream as your
real world seems to you when you are awake. Do you agree?’
how much design and pre-planning did it take for you to create that dream
world, Bruce? Lots of work? Did you firstly have to invent laws and do
the maths on how that world would behave? Was it difficult to create that
dream world, or did it just come naturally?’
Bruce laughed, despite himself. He was beginning to enjoy the repartee.
‘Of course there was no planning. It just came, and it all seemed
very real and natural at the time.’
your conscious mind was not nagging at you that it couldn’t be true.
Like it is now, questioning this very conversation with me. Like it nags
at you that I couldn’t be true, that there couldn’t be a God
talking directly to you. Isn’t that right?’
Bruce felt guilty.
feel guilty, Bruce. Your conscious mind is a slave to the pull of what
you call the physical world, for it responds most directly to that world.
Your mind automatically sets up the constraints of that dream world. Your
real world is like that to me, Bruce. Can you see it now? You can day-dream
and whip-up an imaginary world, or you can dream of one during your sleep
which is every bit as real as your consciously-aware world. All of them—everything
in your so-called real world—is all a matter of pure concept, pure
ideas within the mind. Mind moulds what you consider to be reality. But
that’s my mind, in reality.’
pondered on this for a while. At a superficial level it sounded like a
riddle, but he did get it. ‘You’re saying the real world is
no more real than a dream world? And that it’s all in your mind?
You sound like Bertie.’
chuckled. ‘Or Bertie sounds like me. It’s true, though. I
dreamt up everything in your world. And everything in your consciousness—subconscious
included. In a way you could say I’m dreaming this conversation.
It’s all in my mind. Your dream worlds can seem very similar to
the real world, can’t they? But do you ever think what happens around
the corner where you don’t get to go in your dream world, across
the sea you never cross, in the buildings you never enter? What do these
places look like if you’ve never seen them? Does your consciousness
dream those up although you never call upon those scenarios, or does it
improvise when you enter into those previously unknown areas? What do
you think, Bruce?’
laughed. ‘Boy, you’re asking me the corkers now. You know
I can’t answer them.’
yourself questions is how you really learn, Bruce. Everyone should try
it from time to time. It shows you what you need to give more thought
to. Everyone should think about the world they live in and how it got
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"Very good, and addresses a universal question in a much better way than Dan Brown in Angels and Demons, where the God vs science debate is just another sub-plot in yet another ciphering book. In Flying a Kite it's the main plot thread, convincingly dealt with and riveting." (Richard Pierce, author of Dead Men)
"Fluid, smooth and flows at a lovely pace. Really engaging from the start. Like The Shack, there is a niche for this kind of book." (Gillian McDade, author of The Standing Man)
"Tight writing… using dialogue to give just enough detail to hook us into the story, leaving the snippets of backstory until the reader is well and truly engrossed. Great stuff!" (Jo Carroll, author of Over The Hill And Far Away)
"Characters are direct and effective. I enjoyed the pace which allows the reader to think about the important concepts by himself." (Heikki Hietala, author of Tulagi Hotel)
"Fluent, graphic writing and excellent use of description... Characters alive with captivating dialogue." (Elijah Iwuji, author of Praying in the Will of God)
"I love the characters. Ada is superbly done." (Anne Lyken-Garner, author of Sunday's Child)
"Up there with some of the best published work around." (Walter Robson, author of Access to History: Medieval Britain)
The following non-fiction book partners Flying
a Kite at present only an eBook
"The most abstract of concepts are communicated in a clearly digestible form… There is a tremendous need for the genre represented here: arguments which transcend the physical world. For many, if not most, the task of adequately preparing oneself to respond to such questions is simply too daunting. I appreciate the scholarly professionalism and the extensive referencing… [The author] rises to the challenge of what most would consider an extremely difficult calling." (James Revoir - Authonomy)
"This is a very intriguing piece. I believe there is a significant demand for such discussions... I especially appreciate the inviting style, which will definitely be a plus for more skeptical readers." (Faith Rose - Authonomy)
"The survey of arguments both for and against the existence of God provides the reader with a way to better compare and contrast different viewpoints… Presenting the strengths and weaknesses of all of these different viewpoints was one of the things I liked most. I was really interested to read these chapters because, as a mathematician and a Christian, while there may be perceived conflicts between science and religion, I believe there are no conflicts between the structures and systems of the universe and God. This book also explains things very well… [and is] accessible without sacrificing scientific integrity… I think the book will be enjoyed by many and will encourage lively discussion." (David Bortress - Authonomy)
"Extremely well written, researched and set out. Every point is very clear. The analogies are extremely imaginative and very effective. The passion in this work is powerful and every paragraph is thought provoking. The arguments are well thought through and persuasive... I would suggest that everyone reads it and think very carefully about what you say." (Gareth Naylor - Authonomy)
"'Reality Check' is an interesting and accessible book... that sets up the basic argument well, an intriguing one at that: proof of God in brain and mind being two different things, mind existing beyond the time-space continuum. At this stage my interest was piqued. I haven’t come across an argument like this before so it appears original... I was entertained and informed along the way and feel richer for the debate. Anyone interested in these themes would do well to have a read of 'Reality Check'." (Ross Clark - Authonomy)
"This is one hell of a book, excuse the pun; and so well researched, and the thoughts are radical on this matter... [the] Albert Einstein line, very relevant to-day and very much relates to what you have written... I was totally intrigued... and found it to be very informative." (Tom Bye - Authonomy)
Also by the same author, his debut novel, a psychological
"Ian Kingsley has written a phenomenal mystery story that has all the elements of a murder mystery combined with the suspense of a thriller... I highly recommend this book to any fan of a good mystery or thriller. It really keeps the reader guessing with all the twists and turns." (Bookworm - Amazon.com)
"Sandman" is a modern thriller by Ian Kingsley that keeps the reader captured in the twists of a story with many underpinnings... This book is perfect for vacation reading, but will also definitely please everyone that is a fan of serious mystery books. (kratzy - Amazon.com)
"Sandman" by Ian Kingsley is a book that begs to be read. From page one, you are drawn into the story created and you won't want to put it down. The thrills and chills normally associated with mystery/thriller novels are all there in bright and shiny color just waiting for an idle afternoon needing a kick start. (GR - Amazon.com)
"An emotional thriller with just enough twists to keep the ending undistubed by the reader's attempts at guessing... perfect for that weekend escape to the beach, just don't let your imagination run away with you." (G. Reba - Amazon.com)
"Set in lovely scenery this book is really enjoyable and gripping. It's very hard to put down once you start reading it and will keep you guessing right to the end. Highly recommended." (Alison Cole - Amazon.co.uk)
"You've got a page turner on this one and it will not disappoint. Will the family rise about it or will it take its toll and tear everyone apart? ... This is one to give out to your friends and to keep on the shelf for that late rainy night." (M. Stanhope - Amazon.com)
"Readers can't help turning the pages compulsively as we are seduced with small details and quick punchy dialogue... nothing is as it seems... it made me think I was watching a movie focusing on several characters that are all subtly interwoven into the threads of each other's lives... a novel you may want to re-read, once for the sheer thrill of the story, and again to fully absorb its implications." (Norm Goldman - Amazon.com Top 500 Reviewer)
"I found this a gripping book that was hard to put down. The characterisations and dialogue are very realistic and good. All in all a very enjoyable read. I'll be keeping an eye out for any future Ian Kingsley fiction." (C. Thwaite - Amazon.co.uk)
"You are able to relate to the Vincent family and are able to sympathize with them as well. Although you may think you have this book all figured out, trust me you don't, wait until the end." (Michele Tater - The Couch Tater Review)
"A must read book. I didn't know how this book would end until the last few pages. There were lots of twists. Just couldn't put the book down and read it in 24 hours." (JJ - Amazon.co.uk)
"A very exciting gripping read. I loved this book. Couldn't put it down, very engrossing and kept you thinking right to the end. Would definitely recommend this book." (Mel H - Amazon.co.uk)
"This book kept me enthralled right to the end. In fact I couldn't put it down. It had lots of twists and turns and kept me guessing right to the end. I hope the author writes more psychological thrillers." (emmie - Amazon.co.uk)
"A real page-turner. Ian Kingsley provides very believable, well-developed characters, but nothing is as it seems. Every character has motive and each motive can be traced back to the murder; it's a perfect crime novel. It keeps readers guessing." (Book-lover - Amazon.com)
"This was an excellent read and very hard to put down. The book is extremely thought provoking with lots of twists and turns. Local interest is a good addition aiding imagination with the main characters being very real, making this book a pleasure to read. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it, especially to locals and visitors, who are familiar to the area." (Ray - Amazon.co.uk)
"Sandman touches our primary emotions: jealousy, love, fear, hatred, and grief. As a father, I related to Paul's unwavering commitment to keep his family safe... an intriguing mystery/psychological thriller with interesting, believable and well-developed characters, twists, turns, red herrings and a healthy dose of hair-raising fear and suspense to keep even the most fickle reader captivated. The dialogue is authentic, and, along with the scene-painting narrative, you'll feel like you're on the beach witnessing the unfolding action... you won't stop reading until the last page is savoured. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy a great mystery!" (William Potter - Reader's Choice Book Reviews)
"What starts out so right ends up so wrong on this vacation trip for the Vincent family. For appetizers, a murder and for entrees pick one, since there is enough to choose from as the tales unfold... The author, Ian Kingsley, strings you along until the end. What a great story! It is the memories of the characters that bring in half the fright and add tension." ( J. Cormier - Amazon.com)
"If you love a mystery that will keep you captivated from the very beginning... A psychological thriller, you travel along the journey that Kingsley masterfully unfolds and you never know what is awaiting you around the next turn... I totally enjoyed reading this book. The author skillfully portrayed the characters and they are beautifully interwoven. I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoys a mystery that will keep you turning the pages until the very end." (Theresa Hurley - Amazon.com)
"Sense of evil throughout, of things encroaching upon a family unit. There's the real threat of the creep on the sand dunes, but also the perceived one with Paul's jealousy... He clearly knows there's more going on under the surface with his wife than meets the eye... but what really drew me in was this almost unnerving sense of impending disaster over the family... It's gripping stuff, good pace, excellent scene-setting." (Pat Black)
It's time for a Saturday night curl up your toes and cuddle in the corner thriller chiller mystery. What starts out so right ends up so wrong on this vacation trip for the Vincent family... A murder occurs and who could have done it? ... The author, Ian Kingsley, strings you along until the end. What a great story! It is the memories of the characters that bring in half the fright and add the tension to the night... Then, when you are done, you can leave it on the bureau for an overnight guest. Then you will not have to worry about entertaining them... let the "Sandman" do it." (J. Cormier - Amazon.com)
"A gripping psycholgical read with characters that reach out and grab you. A real page-turner." (SOPHIE KING - bestselling author)
"An extraordinary thriller that tells the tale of a family's vacation turning into a nightmare... I highly recommend this book to any fan of a good mystery or thriller. It really keeps the reader guessing with all the twists and turns." (bookworm - Amazon.com reader review)