Friday, March 4, 2016

Gary Smith Presents The Willing - Travel to Italy for Intrigue and Murder!

By Petar Milošević - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://
commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38860057
It was 8:30 a.m. on Monday June 30th and I was leaving for school. It was warm and would be hot today with thunderstorms and it was beginning to rain...At the end of the street I could see the Cattedrale di Santa Maria. The sunlight was breaking through the clouds and shown upon Brunelleschi's Dome as if it were lit by a spotlight. It was stunning. All I could think of were Cimabue, Gaddo Gaddi, Giotto, and Brunelleschi who had walked these streets so long ago, and their influence on the Renaissance. Yes, it was the right decision to start the last chapter of my life here in the city of cultural rebirth. When I got to the Pianna de Duomo I took a right on Via dei Servi and the Florence School of Italian Language and Culture...












The class assembled on the fifth floor...We were asked to introduce ourselves and say a litle about where we were from, why we were taking Italian, etc. I realized I was the only American in the class. All others were from different parts of Eyrope and in their late teens to twenties. All I could think of was how out of place I was. At the end of introductions, the professor handed out a test for us to take so he could assess our level of Italian. It was then that she walked in. She was about 5ft 7in, wearing a light tan rain coat and a kind of silly blue knit cap. She gave a quick introduction and because my attention was on the test all I heard was that she was an American and a singer. My thought was At least I am not the only America. I was in deep thought trying to remember how to conjugate the verb avere in the imperffetto when the chair next to me pulled out.
"May I sit here?" she said in a voice reminiscent of Lauren Bacall...I looked up as she pulled off her cap. Her long auburn hair was falling down on her shoulders in a move that has been practiced by women for ten thousand years. "Absolutely," I said.
Her big brown eyes were like dark hooks of the soul, and when I looked into them I felt a connection like I have never felt. I was mentally gone off into dreamland...I'd never had an experience like that; it was as if I had been hit in the face with a baseball bat. After class ended, I stayed and asked the professor a question on our homework assignment, then headed out the class door into the hallway and down the stairs. I reached the bottom...I saw her on the sidewalk as if she were waiting for someone. I opened the door and and as I started through she looked toward me and smiled. "I think she has been waiting for me," I said to myself, and the argument started in my head. I think she made the same connection with me--don't be a fool; you are at least twenty-five years older than she is. I did not see a wedding ring.
~~~


The Willing

By Gary Smith





Warren Steelgrave had retired at 65, but had unexpectedly lost his wife of 30 years in an accident. Truth was, they had led separate lives for quite some time even if they loved each other...but maybe no longer in love... Warren was not the type to sit around or play golf until he died, but he was bored. His children were secure with their own families... Warren was looking for a little adventure in his life. Going to Italy and seeing if he could find any of his relatives came to mind first. Quickly making arrangements he signed up for school to improve his Italian as the first step. He never imaged that he would meet his soulmate on the first day of class!

Along with a whole lot of danger...

"What are you doing?" she asked
"What?" I replied
"With your hand," she said.
"Oh, this? I said, opening my hand to reveal
a 1922 silver dollar. "Whenever I am troubled
over something I rub it between my thumb
and finger. It has always given me a direction
to take."
"Always," I said. "It was given to me by the
father of a good friend, many years ago. We
were doing a project that was almost impossible
to do. You have heard the phrase bitten off
more than he could chew? Well, this was one
of the many times I had done that. I had
everything tied up in that project and if I
missed the completion date I would lose
it all...Mike's dad took me alongside and
gave me this coin. He said. "It is magical,
when you are in trouble or need an answer,
just rub it and it will give you the answer
you need..."If ever the giver of the coin
gets it back from the one he gave it to, it
means they are in too deep for the coin to
help...I would like to give it to you as a tie
between us."
She hesitated, then took it.
~~~
This is a love story--with no sex. Cindy O'Brian was married and Warren was an honorable, if saddened man, who nevertheless fell hard for Cindy. 

As the only two Americans in their class, they naturally became friends and often had drinks or meals together. Cindy was traveling alone. But almost immediately Warren sensed that something was wrong and realizing how he felt, he gave her something to send to him if she ever needed help...
I went upstairs to my room, opened a window to let in the cool night air, and lay down on the bed. After a few minutes I got up, put on Miles Davis's album Kind of Blue, and turned off the lights and lay back down. Lying in the dark all I could think of was Cindy and whether she was safe. Would she be at the fountain on Sunday? My mind would not slow down, going through my thoughts of things we did together, worrying about what would happen to her if we did not pull this off, and not knowing what it was we were trying to pull off. Finally, I fell asleep...

Before the end of their class, she had sent the coin via a messenger...

Being a wealthy man who had made many contacts throughout his professional life, he soon called a friend who owned a security agency and asked him to begin searching her background...

What they discovered was that she and her husband were in a business that could very well be involved with money laundering. And it seemed that there may be an internal partner in Homeland Security!

Halfway to Milan I started to relax a little. I put on a pair of ear buds and started listening to John Coltrane and Jonny Hartman, a 1963 album. I sat back and drifted into thought. They must have known by now I was gone and that I'd had help. I wondered how long it would be before they would discover my new identity and be back on my trail.
I was confident that if Cindy made it to San Francisco, they would not be able to find her. But I was another story...I had to get to San Francisco and underground before they discovered my identity. I closed my eyes and visualized Cindy on the first day of class when she asked if she could sit next to me, her long hair over a shoulder and those eyes--oh, those eyes, so full of feeling and strength. I drifted off to sleep.
~~~

This story is exciting and, indeed, an adventure. Warren Steelgrave proves to be a brilliant strategist, able to think through options and choose the right paths. He had certainly earned Cindy's trust when he was able to plan, work out and arrange their escape from Italy, with her traveling alone as the first to leave...

But they almost didn't make it, when two men who had been after them, finally caught up pulling them somewhere where they could take them and finally get rid of them... Two bodies were left as Warren and Cindy escaped...

The writing by this new author is good, but not great. With his first novel, he has shown a need to work on his setting and story background. The feel of the opening writing for narrative and dialogue feels stilted and one of the issues I pinpointed was the lack of use of contractions, which we always use in daily dialogue. There are also some rough places due to lack of effective proofreading.

On the other hand, once the author was involved with the actual primary plot, there is a world of difference. He clearly knew his story and was able to present it fluently and in an exciting fashion. Balancing the two issues, I found that the novel was worth the minor disruption of writing for the reader, since it was not continuous throughout the entire book.

It was a rare treat to have a romantic suspense novel that did not include sex. I loved the gentlemanly courting from Warren with his final inability to not speak out that he was in love with her. But both soon accepted that with her marriage, nothing was possible...accepted it...and went on with their daring adventures through to getting back in America, placed in jail, and finally being freed... And what a perfect ending!

There was not too many scenes with Warren meeting his Italian relatives, but it was wonderful to see the joyous celebration...and later to have them help as Warren worked to free Cindy. In fact, there were quite a number of strangers that they had met who, when they saw them together, chose to help them escape... At one place where Warren stayed, the owner went into his room with him and explained how to initiate the use of three locks to keep him safe, only noting that it was Italy, after all... Hmmm, I figured it was just like every country...there are good Italians and then there are the bad ones... Right?

I enjoyed the book and urge you to consider the overall book in your consideration beyond a sample of the front. It is definitely a worthwhile book and I really enjoyed Warren Steelgrave and would love to see further books with this character. I enjoyed him as an older character who was still active and seeking adventure while, at the same time, was able to confront his feelings, and also proved that he was certainly able to act on the behalf of those in need. Maybe he can join his friend's security agency? What say you Gary Smith? Bring back Warren Steelgrave! You'll know why when you read about how he came to the decision to sometimes say, "I'm Willing..."


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Gary Smith was born in Hayward California. He is a retired Electrical Contractor, photographer and writer who has family in the United States and Italy.