Posts Tagged ‘adventure’

The Day I Was a Spy

on September 30, 2009 in Misc 9 Comments »

Several years ago the police chief in a small town in Bosnia accused me of being a spy.

I’m telling you this story because a couple nights ago a friend pointed out that I don’t have to become completely like Layla since in many ways (more than I myself can see) she believes I modeled Layla after me.  She’s probably right.  Certainly I’ve given Layla a couple of my personal adventures along with what was in me that got me through them.

The spy incident happened in the town of Olovo where I spent two hours in a dingy room on the second floor of the police station fighting to convince the police chief I was innocent.  A local teacher served as our translator.  His grim expression told me he was on the police chief’s side.  Beyond a window loomed a neighboring building, its walls pockmarked with shell and bullet holes.  The war in Bosnia had been over for some time, but the scars it had seared into its people and their country lived on.

The police chief couldn’t understand why I had flown into Belgrade in the neighboring enemy nation of Serbia instead of into the Bosnian city of Sarajevo.  He didn’t believe me when I said I was a writer and driving through both countries because I wished to see both of them.  No innocent traveler, he insisted, would rent a car in Belgrade.  How did I get into Bosnia?  Why didn’t my passport show my entry into his country?  Where was my visa?  He scoffed when I said no one in Belgrade would give me one.

Finally, after two painful hours during which I argued, pleaded, demanded and protested, I remembered a small scrap of paper in my wallet.  I pulled it out and handed it to him.


The police chief stared at it.  He sneered.  He shrugged and grumbled.  And a few minutes later, after I agreed to hand over the film in my camera, he let me go.

That scrap of paper saved me because it proved not only that I had crossed the Serbian/Bosnian border where I said I had, I had also bribed the Serb soldiers guarding it.  No visa! one of the soldiers had yelled at me after examining my passport.  I pulled out my wallet and said I’m so sorry — how much do they cost?  That’s when the soldiers turned friendly and happily charged me about four times a visa’s usual price.  Then in a shadow play that they were acting officially, one of them stamped a scrap of paper and gave it to me as a receipt.  If I had been a spy for the Serbs, those soldiers would have let me pass for free. The police chief knew this.

In my original manuscript of The Compass Master I gave my experience at the border and in the police station to Layla Daltry.  For the purpose of story development I had also added a rare medieval book that was hidden in the trunk of Layla’s car; she had been hired by its owner to retrieve it from an occupied town and return it to him.  I loved this scene, I really did.  But my agent correctly declared that it didn’t completely fit in with the rest of The Compass Master.  And so — and this hurt me — I cut it out and rewrote chapter four which was also set in Bosnia and moved it up to replace chapter two.

Anyway, I’ve kept a copy of the original scene and plan to use it in a future book about Layla.  Having lived through the story, I know it’s good enough to keep around.

The Plan

on July 7, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on The Plan

I’ve decided that the best way for me to start my plan is by asking two questions.  The first one is:  If I am to become like Layla  Daltry, am I using a realistic model?

As characters go Layla is pretty believable.  Certainly she’s no cartoon-like Lara Croft or Indiana Jones or James Bond.  It even seems that she’s evolved to become something more than fiction:  a creature woven from the bone shards of my own long buried desires and set-aside ambitions, a flesh-and-blood woman emerging from the better than average angels of my nature and my too infrequent adventures, a glamorous avatar who in her youth did almost everything right hence unlike me did not have to settle for a fallback life.

The second question is:  How do I compare to Layla Daltry right now?

The answer hurts.

Layla picks locks and gets into places she doesn’t belong, scampers across rooftops, climbs up and down buildings, and finds hidden and lost rare ancient manuscripts and other antiquities in exotic places — for a price.  I don’t.

Layla lives in a penthouse in Dublin, Ireland, worthy of Architectural Digest.  I live in Denver, Colorado and my place is nice but should not be photographed for any earthly reason.

Layla can get around in a couple modern languages and is fluent in Latin and ancient Greek.  My French has deteriorated into near non-existence and I’m struggling to teach myself basic Arabic.

Layla is a graduate of the University of Chicago and holds a master’s in the literature of early and medieval Christian history with an emphasis on archeology.  I only have a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Colorado that I pretty much never used.

She also once had a lover who was in the British SAS and taught her special forces skills that help her lead a danger-edged life.  Me?  I wish.

Now for the most glaring differences between us . . .

Layla Daltry is still relatively young — about thirty — while I’m well into middle age.  Damn.

She’s beautiful and I’m not.  Double damn.

Worse still, I’ve become aware of how over the years a part of me began to shrink into the confines of my resume, my job description, the petty demands of my daily life.

I mean, I’ve certainly done some exciting and even outrageous things.  Like Layla I’ve flung caution to the winds and gone on a few risky jaunts to different parts of the world (Pakistan, Bosnia, etc.).  But for some years now and without really being aware of what I was doing, I downsized myself and my life so that now even my perception of myself has diminished into a melancholy blur.

Layla would never, ever do that.  And now I must stop doing it.