The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Chapter Six (Part 18)

Just starting? Be sure to check out The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Foreword and Disclaimer first, so you know what’s going on.

Somehow Joe managed to not see Marta at all until early Wednesday afternoon, about an hour before the workers were to arrive. He was standing outside trying to picture the completed castle in its place when she came up behind him. He heard her approaching.

“It’s going to be really busy the next few days,” he said, without turning.

She stood next to him and looked in the direction he was facing. “Yes. Yes, it will be.” When Joe didn’t add anything else, she observed, “We won’t see each other much while the castle is being built.”

Joe looked at her but still didn’t turn. Instead of responding, he put his arm around her shoulders.

  • Part 19 Coming Soon!

The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Chapter Six (Part 17)

Just starting? Be sure to check out The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Foreword and Disclaimer first, so you know what’s going on.

Joe spent most of Tuesday walking around the construction site with Karl, going over details and taking further instructions. “It’s necessary now for you to know more of what is happening here, because you will be in charge of the workers who arrive tomorrow.”

“What exactly do you mean by ‘in charge’?”

“Well, Mr. Stadtler, these will be Norwegian construction workers, so it is important that they not know that I am involved in this project. Instead, they will take their directions from you.”

“From me? But I don’t speak Norwegian, remember?”

“That is not a problem. Most, if not all, of the men we will hire will speak English. Norwegians are quite well educated, Mr. Stadtler.”

“And what am I supposed to tell them? They’re bound to wonder why we’re building something here, especially a castle.”

“You’ll find, Mr. Stadtler, that Norwegians are a lot less nosy than Americans. However, it is true that some of them may become curious, which brings us to an additional way I planned for you to be useful. If anyone asks questions, tell them that you work for an American firm that is building this castle for a wealthy American client. That will satisfy them. They understand Americans’ eccentricity.” Joe scoffed, but Karl continued, “Now, we have sixty men already recruited and waiting to be transported. Will that be enough?”

“That depends. . . will we have heavy equipment? Like a crane? Bulldozers? Backhoes?’

“You will not need bulldozers or backhoes. The foundation will be laid directly on the rough grade. If needed, certain areas can be prepared with shovels, but in general even that will be unnecessary.”

“What about the stone? I can’t put it in place without a crane, and I don’t know a thing about cutting it.”

“That is also not a problem. The stone has already been quarried, and you can hire a team of stonemasons to size it as it arrives here. We will bring a crane for placing the larger sections.”

“So, sixty men—not including stone cutters—ready to arrive tomorrow. I still don’t see how we can possibly be finished in two weeks without heavy equipment, even if we work eight-hour days with no breaks.”

“There is no need to limit yourself, Mr. Stadtler. You will get the most skilled and the strongest labourers we can find. They will have no problem working ten or twelve hours each day. In fact,” he added, after thinking a moment, “There is no reason you can’t divide the men to work around-the-clock, since we would like the project completed as soon as possible.”

“We can’t work in the dark.”

“Of course not,” Karl said, with emphasized patience. “You would not be expected to. We will bring in very high intensity lights to set around the site when it gets dark.”

“So, I’ll use two shifts of thirty men each working twelve hours at a time.”

“Sixty men—”

“Plus the stone cutters.”

“Sixty men, plus the stonemasons, will be here Wednesday afternoon or early evening. That’s tomorrow. Now, Mr Stadtler, you will also be in charge of paying the men’s wages. They will be paid cash; U.S. currency. This is to further the pretense that you are at the head of this project. At the end of each day, we will give you exactly enough money to cover that day’s wages. From there, you will be responsible for getting all of it to your ’employees.'”

“How much am I—are you, rather—paying them?”

“We are offering two thousand American dollars per day to each worker.”

“Where am I going to keep all that cash? I can’t just walk around with a couple hundred thousand dollars to pass out every day.”

“I suppose you are right. I will have a safe placed in your trailer tonight, and we will secure the money in it. It may be easiest to have the workers collect their wages from you there, rather than allow you to distribute the cash.”

Karl was thoughtful for several minutes and said nothing. Finally, he looked at Joe and said, “In order for that idea to work smoothly, you will need this.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out several keys. Selecting one, he held it out to Joe. “This is the key to your trailer.”

Joe reached out hesitantly for the key, but didn’t take it. “Are you serious?” he asked.

Karl nodded. “All of the workers will be housed in trailers, which will arrive tomorrow before noon, and they will have free access to come and go. It would be too difficult to explain why their alleged boss were restricted and confined to his own quarters. Besides, Mr. Stadtler, I think you already understand that it would be very foolish if you should decide to leave.” Joe took the key from Karl and put it into his pocket.

Joe wasn’t sure what to make of this gesture. He wouldn’t go so far as to consider it friendly, but he had to admit that it seemed out of character for Karl to show so much trust—first with the money, then with the key. “Thanks, Karl,” he said uncertainly.

“Do not forget that I am directing this project,” was Karl’s stern reply. “You’ll meet tomorrow a man named Peter Bruvik. He will be our liaison, communicating instructions from me and information from you while I stay out of sight. Though you will appear to lead everything, I will be constantly informed of your progress.”

“I just don’t get all the secrecy, Karl.”

“Mr. Stadtler, there is no way for you to understand the importance of the work we are doing here. Even if I thought you could understand, there is precious little that we can safely tell you about the larger nature of this project. To have too much information would not only jeopardize our work, it would jeopardize your life.”

He said it so casually that Joe couldn’t help joking, “What is this? Some sort of international espionage?”

With an ironic laugh, Karl replied, “No, Mr Stadtler, international espionage would be far less complicated.”

The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Chapter Five (Part 16)

Just starting? Be sure to check out The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Foreword and Disclaimer first, so you know what’s going on.

Joe was not surprised to find Karl back at the trailer. “I hope I didn’t keep you waiting, Karl.”

“Not at all, Mr. Stadtler. I have been here only a couple of minutes.” He smiled warmly, either missing or ignoring Joe’s sarcasm. Joe did not return the smile. “I’d like to discuss a few things about the construction, which should, by the way, begin no later than Thursday. Since today is Monday, that gives you three days.”

“Go ahead.”

“First, how is your progress with the drawings?”

“Fine. They’re on the table, if you want to look at them.”

Karl sat at the desk and leafed through the vellum. “I’m not an architect, Mr. Stadtler, but I do have some experience in the field. Your skills have been accurately praised; this is excellent work.” Joe offered no response. Karl turned back to Joe and continued. “In order to start in three days, we must have labourers here Wednesday—that’s the day after tomorrow. This means that your final draft of the plans must be complete by tomorrow morning. At that time, I will have additional details of your assignment to share with you.”

Karl rose from the stool and smiled. “That is all I had to discuss, Mr. Stadtler. Is there anything else you need right now?”

Joe thought for a few seconds. “No, not really. . . Wait, there is something. I assume I’ll need to make prints of the plans when I’m done with them. Do you have a printer or a copier for me to use? And some extra paper? I didn’t see any in here.”

“We can have it all here tomorrow morning,” said Karl.

“That’s it, then,” said Joe. Karl nodded and left.

After Karl went out of the trailer, Joe sat down at the table to work. He continued the rest of the morning, and didn’t stop when Marta brought lunch. He drew rapidly, and by four o’clock he was completely finished with all the plans. As he stacked them in order, he was surprised to find himself with nothing to do.

The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Chapter Five (Part 15)

Just starting? Be sure to check out The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Foreword and Disclaimer first, so you know what’s going on.

After working a while longer on the plans for the castle, Joe had gone to sleep on the cot. Karl Lund came to wake him in the morning. “Good morning, Mr. Stadtler. Breakfast is outside,” he said, and left without waiting.

Outside, Joe found the fare mostly the same as the previous morning. He watched for Marta as he stood eating, but didn’t see her anywhere. Finally, as he finished and was ready to go back to the trailer, he saw her coming toward him. She greeted him pleasantly.

“Hi, Joe. How are you this morning?”

“I feel great, thanks to you,” he said, rotating his shoulders. “Can I talk you into doing that again sometime?”

She laughed. “Of course. I’d love to.” Joe smiled, but said nothing further. After a couple of minutes of silence, Marta asked, “What’s on your mind, Joe?”

Joe looked at her thoughtfully, then asked slowly, “Did you lock me in last night?”

“Excuse me?”

“Last night, after you left, the door was locked. Did you lock the door to my trailer?”

“No. . .”

“Then who did?”

She answered without hesitation. “The doors to the trailers are set so that they lock automatically when they close, Joe. That’s why they gave us keys.”

“They didn’t give me a key.”

“I’m sure it was an oversight. You should ask Mr. Lund about it.”

Joe felt better. “I’ll do that.” Joe reminded himself that Marta knew as little as he did about the strange situation; it was a relief to think that she couldn’t be involved.

Marta smiled and moved to walk away. “I will see you later, Joe. I am supposed to meet with Mr. Lund.”

Joe watched her as she started off. “Hey, Marta?”

She stopped. “What is it?”

With as serious a tone as he could muster, Joe said, “Be careful.”

“What do you mean?” laughed Marta.

“I think there’s something more going on here than either one of us understands. Just be careful, okay?”

Marta’s smile became uncertain as she nodded. “Okay, Joe.” She then turned away, but looked back once as she walked off.

The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Chapter Four (Part 14)

Just starting? Be sure to check out The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Foreword and Disclaimer first, so you know what’s going on.

It was dark when Joe awoke. His head had been resting on his forearms. He was hunched forward on the drafting table, still sitting on the stool. Marta was gone, and so was her sandwich. Joe’s sandwich was on the floor where he had left it.

He sat up and rubbed his eyes. He wasn’t sure how long he had been asleep, but he didn’t really care because his shoulders felt wonderful. I’ll have to ask her to do that again, he told himself.

Joe stood and looked out the window. Seeing that there weren’t any people outside, he decided that now would be a good time to look around and do what exploring he could. Even if there were nothing to find, at least he’d know a little more about the site.

He checked one more time to make sure no one was watching, then reached to open the door. The handle wouldn’t budge. Joe swore softly as he realized that he was locked in again.

Joe stared at the doorknob. The inevitable questions came to his mind: Had Marta locked him in? If she had, was she just following directions, or was she in on all of this, too? How much did she really know? Joe refused to accept the possibility that Marta might have intentionally deceived him. Even with all the strange things that had happened, there had to be a logical explanation.

The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Chapter Four (Part 13)

Just starting? Be sure to check out The Legend of Slottsfjellet: Foreword and Disclaimer first, so you know what’s going on.

Joe was over halfway finished with the plans by evening—well ahead of the deadline Karl had set. He was pleased at his progress. Joe’s enjoyment of architecture almost made him forget how far he was from home.

Joe was able to work undistracted until Marta opened the door around six-thirty. She carried two plates, each with a large sandwich. “Hello, I am Marta, and I will be your waitress today,” she joked.

Joe was glad to see her, and not just because she was bringing food. “Thanks,” he smiled, as she handed him one of the sandwiches.

“It is my pleasure. I also have my meal; do you mind if I join you?”

“Of course not,” said Joe, “if you don’t mind sitting on the floor with me. I don’t want to get food on these papers.”

“Yes, I see. How are they coming along? The papers, I mean to say. May I look at them?” She set the plates on the floor, then came over behind him and rested her hands on his shoulders as he showed her the drawings. Marta seemed interested, so Joe began to explain the different details in the plans. As he talked, she began massaging his shoulders.

Joe let out a groan. “Ohhh. . . that feels good.”

“You certainly are tense, Mr. Stadtler,” observed Marta as she worked his muscles. “Relax.” Marta’s hands were strong, and Joe couldn’t help but do exactly what she said.

One Thousand Words – Attempt #2

I think it should be legal to count all the words I type throughout the day as part of my 1000 words. Last time I tried this—yesterday, you may recall—I barely made it to 500 words.

One of the things that I think is hardest about fiction is character names. On the one hand, you want your characters to have names that become familiar to your readers, names that both define your characters and embody the characters’ definition. On the other hand, picking a name for your character is like picking a name for your own child: it’s as important as it is difficult, and at some point, you’re stuck with the name you picked. When you have a story or a novel that contains multiple characters, the process is exponentially more challenging, because not only do you have to pick each name, but also make sure that the names work well with each other.

You know who is not good at making up names? John Grisham. Some people may disagree, but I think that some of his character names are so absurd that they actually distract from the plot of his novels.

For now, on to the exercise! Remember: single session, no breaks until we hit 1000 words. Go.

Tomek crouched behind the low counter and tried desperately to slow his breath. His hearbeat, deafening in his own ears, seemed sure to give him away, calling to the soldiers like jungle drums. He tried to remember how many he had seen: three? five? Certainly more than two, but beyond that he couldn’t be sure.

No, he scolded himself, I have to be sure. He forced himself to count each one in his mind, to remember each masked, shouting head that had barged into the Resteljica public school. Jedan—one—and dva: two had definitely come in together through the front door, past the school office where Tomek now hid. Tri, the man who came up the hallway from the other direction, herding teachers and students into the shared cafeteria/gymnasium at the center of the school—with fearsome commands that would have defied disobedience even without the menacing wave of his automatic rifle.

Chetiri… chetiri… had there been a fourth? Calm, deep breaths. Yes: there had been a fourth soldier, and even as he kicked himself for not paying better attention, Tomek knew why he had been harder to remember. Unlike the first three, who barked their orders and shook their gleaming guns in the faces of women and children, the last man had held back, gun lowered to his side, watching—surveying—from the doorway. As Tomek pictured the stern, fearless look on the man’s face—he realized suddenly that this was the only soldier not wearing a mask—and considered the mean saunter, the disregard for the chaos in front of him, he was certain that this was their leader: the commander of the group.

Where were the intruders now? Tomek closed his eyes and listened to the cries and shouts coming from the gymnasium and could make out two distinct male voices growling above the din. That meant at least two men in that large room with all the students and teachers. Down the main hallway, a door slammed open, followed after a brief pause by a shout of Nishta!, then another door, another pause, another shout. Someone was searching classrooms, and they were coming toward the school office.

Toward Tomek.

He had to move, he had to move soon, he had to move quietly—and, most importantly, he had to do it without being seen. Slowly Tomek eased himself down onto his stomach, being careful not to poke above the office counter, and also not to knock anything over. He inched forward until he could just peer around the corner of the counter toward the cafeteria. In the open double-doorway across the hall, with his back to Tomek, was the silent commander, the only one whose location was not betrayed by his shouting. He watched over the roomful of hostages without a word, nothing more than an occasional nod, never turning toward Tomek or giving any indication he suspected there might be someone behind him.

Another door slammed—much closer this time. Tomek quickly scanned the room for any escape. His eyes settled on the word Direktor, painted in large block letters on the frosted-glass window of the door at the other end of the room. Of course, he sighed with relief, the principal’s office!. The principal’s office had a window; Tomek could slip out the window into the schoolyard and run for help. The only problem was getting there: to reach the principal’s office door, he would have no choice but to come out from behind the counter, out in the open, and cross directly behind the guerilla across the hall. Tomek weighed his options: Do I crawl slowly and quietly, and risk being seen if commander turns around or another soldier comes into the room? Or do I run and risk making noise and knocking something over? And… what if the door is locked?

Slam! Pause. Nishta! There was no time for crawling. Tomek slipped off his shoes, hoping that the noise in the gymnasium would mask the sound of his stocking feet on the floor better than the clatter of hard rubber soles. Holding both shoes in one hand, he stood, took a deep breath, and sprinted for the other side of the room. In less than 10 steps, he was at the door. He grabbed the handle, reflexively muttered a prayer, and turned. The door opened easily.

Tomek resisted the urge to shout a hurrah as he flashed into the empty principal’s office. He locked the door behind him. Just for good measure, he grabbed the wooden chair that sat in front of the large and imposing desk and wedged it under the door handle. Finally allowing himself to feel a sense of hope that his escape plan might work, he spun around to the window, grabbed the frame with both hands, and lifted.

Tomek’s luck had run out. The window was locked.

He pushed harder, but it was no use. Tomek frantically scanned the office for keys, or even something to break the window. Throwing the director’s chair out of the way, Tomek jumped behind the desk, and yanked open the center drawer. Nothing. The top drawer on the left. Nothing. The next drawer down. Noth—wait. A glint of metal at the back of the drawer. Why does the principal keep a pistol in his desk? Tomek started to wonder, but the question was interrupted by the sound of a doorknob jiggling. Tomek grabbed the gun and held his breath, and tried to stand perfectly still.

After a moment, the person at the door seemed to give up—the jiggling stopped, and the shadow on the frosted glass moved away. Tomek looked at the gun in his hand. Perhaps he could shoot the window out. Just as he was deciding whether he could make it through the shards of glass before the soldiers responded to the noise, a silhouette reappeared at the office door—and this time, it was accompanied by keys. Jingling, fumbling, and then the sound of the right key sliding into the lock. The little wooden chair held up to the first, gentle push, but it was no match for the weight of the soldier behind a firm shoulder against the door. The chair slid to the floor with a crash, and the door swung open.

Tomek raised the pistol and pulled the trigger.