As promised, here are the first 10 pages of my novel. If you would like to help me by being a guinea pig reader, or if you simply want to read the rest of the story sign up to the mailing list.

 

 

Titan

A.P. Hiver

 

  1. Climbing the Pyramid

 

Dark suit, pressed white shirt and red power tie. As the digits on the screen count down the floors passing by, the young man stares at his reflection in the golden elevator door. His light brown hair is neatly cut and parted and green brown eyes confidently peer back at what could be considered a handsome young face.

He grins confidently. That interview had gone well. Fresh out of university with a multitude of excellent references he had interviewed with all the big investment banks and expected to be offered his dream job within the next week.

A serious expression returns to his face as the elevator comes to a stop on the ground floor. When the golden doors slide open, the young man purposefully strides through a bustling crowd in the lobby towards the front desk and hands over his visitor badge.

Barely acknowledging him, the security guard shuffles through a large stack of ID cards and after a fleeting glance finally picks one out. “Charles Black?”

The young man confirms the guard’s guess with a firm nod.

Already distracted by some other matter the guard mumbles half-heartedly. “Have a nice day Mr. Black.”

Charlie thanks the man and unbuttoning his jacket heads out of the lobby into the even busier street outside. He wondered how his friends from uni would be doing on their own job search.

A few steps later Charlie manages to slide into the next available cab. As he relaxes into the soft seat the cab driver gets a good look at Charlie in his rear view mirror.

“Where to my friend?”

Charlie absentmindedly gives him the name of his hotel before turning his attention to the outside scenery passing by. He had a few hours left now before dinner with his mother. What part of New York City did he want to see?

“Had a successful morning then sir?” The cab driver interrupts his train of thought.

Not interested in pointless small talk Charlie answers curtly. “Yup”

The driver seems to get the message and turns radio volume up.

“Thanks for joining us today Johanna”

“Not at all, thanks so much for having me.”

Charlie sighs quietly. He didn’t want to listen to a pointless radio interview either, but he says nothing. As he stares out of the window in silence trying to figure out his plan for the rest of the day he notices the driver occasionally peeking at Charlie in the rear view mirror. Charlie suppresses another sigh of annoyance.

“Let’s get right into it then Johanna. You are about to turn 25 and you just landed a big role in Hollywood. For many of our listeners that will be the first they see of you…” Charlie watches the bustle of stressed office workers and loitering tourists on the pavement outside.

“…Hollywood is a tough, tough business and takes a lot of hard work, good contacts and of course a bit of luck. Of course it’s best not to put all your eggs in one basket, so while I pursue my dream of acting I also decided to work on my academic career.”

The cabbie looks at Charlie again: “Sounds like a good piece of advice doesn’t it?”

Charlie turns to stare at the eyes in the rear view mirror. He hadn’t been paying attention. “Sure.”

He studies the cab driver. The man is middle-aged, looks healthy and content. From his looks and slight accent Charlie guesses him to be a Middle Eastern immigrant. He almost smiles cynically. What would a cab driver possibly know about being successful?

As the interview drones on Charlie’s gaze drifts to the cabbies ID. Khalil Sukur it reads, born in 1979. Continuing to lure Charlie into a conversation the cab driver turns down the radio volume. “So where are you heading in life my friend? From your dress and guessing from where I picked you up I would say you are a young and upcoming banker?”

A flicker of annoyance at the continued conversation rears itself in Charlie, but only briefly as the cab driver’s assumption does give him a sense of satisfaction. “Yup. If everything goes as planned I will be working in NYC shortly.”

The cabbie manoeuvres his cab through the bustling traffic with an unusual relaxed ease.

“Ah, so you are just starting out. What made you decide to go the corporate route?”

Charlie studies the man again, wondering whether he should really encourage the conversation. But something about this man was intriguing. He was dressed more like a classy tourist than a taxi driver and his good looks and intelligent eyes accentuated the oddity of him working as what Charlie considered to be a lowly profession.

“Money of course and the chance to one day run one of the big banks.” But Charlie finally finds his curiosity piqued and returns the question. “How about yourself, why do you drive cabs?” He realises his tone sounded more aggressive than he had intended but the cabbie smiles the tension away as if he had been waiting for that question. “I sure hope you find your future job fulfilling then. Myself, I have retired temporarily. Made enough money for a lifetime but don’t want to sit around just spending it. Driving cabs is a great way to have interesting conversations with interesting people.” The man’s smile broadens revealing immaculate teeth.

Despite his budding suspicions being confirmed Charlie struggles to keep the surprise from his face. He had never imagined somebody would drive taxis for fun.

The driver ignores the reaction and continues. “You had an interview today then I take it?”

Charlie nods. “Yeah”

They were nearing his hotel now. “And where is home then? Am I right in hearing a British accent there?”

Charlie nods again. “Right again, my mother lives here but my dad is back in the UK which I consider home still. I am flying over tomorrow to visit him before I probably move here.”

To his own surprise Charlie finds himself slowly taking a liking to the guy.

“And your father is a banker as well?”

Now Charlie laughs out loud. “No no, far from it. He is a professor in ancient history back in London. I guess that’s why I always wanted to go into business. I want to have an impact on the world now and in future rather than just study the past.”

The cab driver nods as they approach the hotel entrance. “Well, that’s a good enough reason. You will find your way I am certain. It takes courage to try something different from your parents. Just remember to keep an open mind.”

Charlie nods in appreciation but has to avert his eyes feeling somewhat ashamed for having judged the cabbie initially.

As the car comes to a standstill Charlie hands the driver the fare and a generous tip.

Khalil Sukur smiles his radiant smile and shakes his head. “No no, this one is on me. When you have made it here on Wallstreet and ride in my cab again you can tip me then.”

He winks and Charlie finds himself grinning in response. “Thanks!”

“All the best then and have a good trip home. See you again soon maybe.”

Charlie nods and alights with a smile still on his face. As he steps into the hotel lobby the cab takes off behind him and Charlie wishes he had asked more questions. What an interesting guy.

He tells himself not to be so quick to judge people in future, at least without talking to them first.

As the elevator doors close behind him Charlie finds himself looking at his reflection again. The smile from earlier had returned but this time it had a somewhat different quality.

 

  1. Fog of War

 

Worn and callused hands knock on dark and thick wood. After a moment’s silence they reach for the golden handle and push the heavy door open. The man would be considered tall in many parts of the world, but compared to the immense archway above him he seems puny. As he enters the dimly lit room a strong smell of flavoured tobacco hits his nostrils. The door falls shut behind him with a dull thud. A bed of glowing coals in the middle of the room radiates feeble light that barely reaches his eyes through the smoke and darkness.

He coughs gently to draw attention to himself.

Somewhere in the darkness beyond the faint circle of light his master awaits. He can feel his eyes watching, weighing him up and analysing, the way they did it every single time he entered the room. Even after decades, those eyes never stopped judging.

Through the complete silence of the room finally a sound wafts over to the man’s ears; a deep rumble that sounds like the murmuring of the earth, but it is his master’s voice. “Alfred.”

The wafting plumes of smoke obscuring the faint glow create dancing images in Alfred’s imagination.

“I have read your report.” The voice pauses as if to drink in the heavy smoke laden air. “You will temporarily hand over the everyday operations to Gregory until you have followed up with the scholar.”

Alfred nods. He knows that his every movement is visible, even though he himself could barely see the glowing coals a few feet away.

The rumble rolls over him again. “This matter will take priority. Is that understood?” Alfred nods again. “Yes my lord.” His own voice is gruff and deep from years of cigars and booze but it sounds like a boy’s croak compared to his master’s sonorous bass. “Then I expect you back shortly”.

With a final bow Alfred takes a step back and reaches for the door. Re-emerging into the bright daylight of the grand hallway he draws out a mobile phone from his suit pocket. As he dials a memorised number his brown eyes liven up slightly providing a contrast to the wrinkles of age. “Finally some action again!” He mutters under his breath as the phone rings at the other end. And his men will agree.

 

  1. Suits

 

The windowless room is set in a monotonous grey of concrete, industrial carpet and three metal desks. The figures sitting at the three desks meld into the drab scene perfectly with their vaporous stares directed at unchanging computer screens.

Apart from the occasional hollow click of a mouse the room is utterly still as if the two men and one woman were afraid of making any noise.

Suddenly the silence is interrupted by the plastic ring of a cheap phone. One of the men, a squat and not particularly clever looking man, almost jumps up in fright. He stares at the ringing apparatus for a few seconds apparently attempting to recollect his wits.

Eventually he picks up the receiver and brings it to his broad and asymmetrical face. “Yes, this is Agent McLaren”

He leans back in his badly cut suit. The chair squeaks uneasily.

“One moment please.” McLaren leans forward again to manipulate the phone’s keypad with his thick fingers.

Finally he turns to the only woman in the room who is sitting in the head position, facing both the door and her two subordinates.

McLaren speaks in a dull and disinterested tone. “Agent Reel, there is movement on the Regent front. Line two.”  Anybody perceptive enough would have noticed that he didn’t quite manage to hide the spark of excitement infusing his dark eyes but Agent Reel had other concerns for now. She answers her phone. “Yes? This is Reel”

Her professional tone matches her immaculately fitting suit and office attire. She listens to the voice at the other end while her other subordinate can’t quite hide his restlessness as he fidgets with a pen, waiting.

Finally Reel clears her throat and responds in a cool voice. “Thank you.” She hangs up, her intelligent blue eyes glancing at both men alternately. “You should both be receiving detailed information in your inbox shortly.”

She turns to her impatient second team member who is already refreshing his inbox.

“Andersen, make the necessary arrangements for our immediate departure.”

Agent Andersen gives her a handsome smile in acknowledgment, jumps to stand to his full height and smoothly buttons up his tailored suit. An air of importance settles on his face as he strolls across the empty space to McLaren’s desk. “Agent Mclaren, get all the paperwork ready. I’ll take care of the gear.” Andersen then readjusts his course towards the only door of the room.

Mclaren shows no reaction other than a silent huff while he continues to lean over his desk concentration on his emails.

Finally he peeks at Agent Reel, but she is already busy with some other task reaching for her phone.

McLaren allows himself a little smile. They were heading back to the United Kingdom.

With a renewed sense of energy he picks up his phone and gets to work.

 

  1. The Lottery of Life

 

The toddler keeps peering at Charlie from behind the row of seats but hides whenever he looks up. Charlie smiles at the shy kid simultaneously hoping that it wouldn’t be sitting near him on the flight.

He turns towards the desk and sees the flight attendants apparently preparing. Good, he was ready to head home for a well deserved rest. Charlie had spent the rest of the previous day with a stroll around central park and dinner with his mother. It had been nice, but primarily because his mother’s new boyfriend hadn’t been around. Charlie hated the pompous rich guy’s personality. Now, after a full week of interviews, he felt like he needed a rest and maybe a few pints with some of his mates. Maybe the life of a professor like his father’s was not so bad after all? Charlie laughs at himself as he shakes his head. No way, he liked the suits and he liked the feel of New York.

Finally the gate opens and the usual press of people jumps up to queue as if the plane would leave without them. The little kid is hoisted up by his father and disappears in among the crowd as well. Charlie gives it a little wave before it is gone and remains sitting watching the procession of varying travellers pass by.

Eventually the crowd thins out and Charlie is the final person to join the queue.

As he approaches the desk the flight attendant hesitates for a moment. She accepts his boarding pass wordlessly but seems distracted by something behind him. She hands his pass back without any further acknowledgement and addresses somebody behind him. Irritated by the apparent rudeness Charlie turns around to see what this was about.

The stewardess motions for a young brunette woman in sun glasses to approach and gushes. “I am such a fan of yours!”

Charlie freezes in consternation. The approaching woman is flanked by a muscle bound giant in a dark polo shirt and sun glasses. She somehow looked familiar despite wearing sunglasses… After a blank moment Charlie realises who it was.

What a coincidence! This was the actress who had been interviewed on the radio during the cab ride the day earlier.

Suddenly Charlie straightens up, realising that he had been staring. He turns away in embarrassment and hesitates for a moment, unsure whether he was allowed to enter the gang way already. But the stewardess continues to ignore him in her sycophancy so with a grimace of annoyance Charlie finally moves ahead. As he steps forward he can’t help but take another look at the very pretty actress.  Not even the large sun glasses were able to hide that fact.

With a jolt he realises that he was staring again… and the body guard was staring straight back at him. Trying to seem unimpressed Charlie turns to finally head to his seat in economy class.

As he comes to a standstill in the queue waiting to board the plane, he finds himself slightly annoyed at letting the status of celebrity affect him like that.

His heartbeat quickens again. She would probably be standing behind him in a few seconds. Disappointed at himself again, Charlie tries to erase the thoughts but he finds he can’t. His palms begin sweating and he finds himself becoming ridiculously self-conscious. Behind him her footsteps approach… Charlie’s mind races, trying to find something clever to say. But then the body guard’s heavy footsteps throw him off. Shaking his head faintly Charlie tells himself to stop being so childish. The woman was probably annoyed to death by unwanted attention.

And anyway he would look like a bungling idiot annoying a movie star for an autograph.  But, if the body guard weren’t there he would, he definitely would! – Charlie tries to justify himself.

The queue creeps forward.

Maybe in a few years, as a big banking executive it would be a different matter altogether, he could then maybe try and chat up a movie star. Yeah sure, that was it. He nods to himself, smiling at the stewardess waiting to direct him towards his seat.

When Charlie finally squeezes into his cramped seat a few moments later a niggling regret creeps up on him. He sighs.

A heavy set business man plumps down next to him and almost immediately tries to assert his dominance over the armrest. Charlie grits his teeth.

Maybe this was karma for not giving it a shot. At least he would have felt better about himself whether he failed or not. As he tries to brush away his annoyance suddenly his phone vibrates in his pocket and breaks his train of thought.

It was a text message from his father.

You are probably flying already Charlie. I hope the interview went well and you got the job. When you arrive please give me a ring and come by first thing! Thanks. Love, Dad

Charlie frowns, all annoyance and disappointment replaced with a confused and faint but quickly growing worry. Why did his father want him to come by straight away? But before Charlie can react the phone starts vibrating again, this time with an incoming call.

“Am I speaking to Charles Black?” A female voice sounds at the other end of the line. Charlie confirms before she introduces herself as one of the human resources staff of his prospective employer. His pulse quickens.

“I have good news for you Mr. Black. You have the qualities and experience that we are looking for and we would like to make you an offer.” Charlie’s heartbeat quickens again with the good news. He smiles. “Excellent! I’m delighted to hear that. Thank you for getting in touch so quickly. I’m very glad to hear but my flight back to the UK is just about to take off, so I am unable to really speak now.” He keeps his polite smile on as if he was facing the HR representative personally.

“Oh, of course Mr. Black. I will send you the details of our offer by email and hope to hear back from you with a final decision by tomorrow.”

“Absolutely. Thank you very much and I will revert to you by tomorrow, Good bye.”

Charlie’s grin remains, even as he sees the flight attendant from the boarding gate walking determinedly towards him with a disapproving expression on her face.

He smiles at her politely and indicates that he is turning off the phone before she can come any closer.

Finally he leans back with a sigh of mixed contentment, but the faint worry about his father remains. Then Charlie’s elbow encounters his neighbour’s arm on the arm rest. With a roll of his eyes he casually repositions himself to ensure that he gets a good foothold for his own elbow. So much for a relaxing flight back home…But buoyed by his recent success he inhales deeply and tells himself. “Let the battle begin!”