The Big P.R Question

Semyon had a lot to say about the Underground. “Why have they got fabric seats? I am not sitting, what happens if drunk has pissed himself. It is very dirty, do you not clean this place? Could we not get a taxi?”

“No,” Cass said firmly, “This is quicker or we could walk?”

“Okay, we walk,” they got off at Bank. Cass took him through Pater Nostra Square, “Our cathedral to capitalism,” she quipped as she pointed out the Stock Exchange, “And our cathedral to God, the two go hand in hand in this city.” As she pointed out St Paul’s shadowing it.

“That is very similar to Moscow!” laughed Semyon. “What do you think about Pussy Riot?”

“I think that they should do a show at St Paul’s, it is less likely they will get locked up.”

“You wouldn’t understand, “ Semyon said darkly.

“Try me?” Cass was suddenly interested.

“Lots of people, ordinary people, paid a lot of money to rebuild Christ the Savior. It had been torn down during Communism. Communism took away their religion, made it illegal. You take away religion, you take away hope. “

“I don’t agree, but go on,” Cass said.

“You can tell you come from a wealthy country,” he laughed.

Cass took the criticism on the chin and felt ashamed of her arrogance. Atheism always came with wealth and development. If you had a dying baby, no medicine, no food, no electricity, no water, there was only one hope, even if it was an imaginary friend.

“Anyway, these people held onto their religion, through it all, even if they could be sent to Gulag. It gave them strength and freedom. It gave them hope systems could change.”

“Then you have to see the hypocrisy in the people sending Pussy Riot to prison for freedom of expression,” Cass retorted.

“Of course and they should not have been sent to prison. You have to understand Pussy Riot pissed on everything that day, these people, fighters for freedom of expression, who allowed Pussy Riot to be a feminist punk band and mock Putin.   No one gave a fuck when they did it outside the Kremlin. Once they did the Christ the Savior performance, they gave the authorities an excuse to shut them down.”

“Are you saying they wanted to be arrested?”

“ Did you know about an obscure Russian feminist punk band called Pussy Riot before?”

Cass stopped looked at him, and decided that the sisterhood and logic was more important than his cynicism being right,” They should not have gone to prison for singing a song.”

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Cultural Exchange

Semyon scanned Cass’ little flat, “We have the same problem in Moscow. I like your map. Is that your boyfriend?”

Cass ignored the final question. Semyon did not need to know and she wanted to get this meeting over as soon as possible.

He looked more like an exchange student today. Younger in nondescript jeans, t shirt, mac, trainers and to top it off, a rucksack. It always confused Cass when she saw colleagues in casual clothes. It always felt like it was a little too intimate. A realization moment, “That is what you are really like.”

She made him coffee and they settled down to go through Julian’s mess. It did not take long. Semyon threw down the papers, “Such a hypocrite. Mister nice guy. My mother’s money to pay whores.”

“What?” Cass had no idea that this was a personal mission.

“He befriended my mother and convinced her about financial structure. To him it is pocket money. Just £100,000.00 but I have disabled sister.”

“I am sorry,” Cass said sympathetically.

“English are very sympathetic,” he said smiling mirthlessly. “Her condition is quite shameful in Russia. Like her disability was mother’s fault. She wanted to make sure the money was in a safe place for my sister. ” Suddenly this Russian giant had his head in his hands.

Cass instinctively put a comforting arm around his shoulders, “It will be alright. It will get sorted.” Internally she was wondering why she was saying these platitudes, “ Just something to fill the void of despair.”

He composed himself and he embarrassedly shook off Cass’ arm, “I must inform Zubov.”

Semyon went out onto Cass’ balcony, she watched him, his mobile in one hand, gesticulating with a cigarette in the other. As he exhaled, he looked like an image from Hades.

The demon transformed into an angel as he walked back through the door. He shuffled up the papers and put them into his rucksack. “Come, it is done. I will take you to dinner. I want to see London.”

“What is done?” Cass suddenly felt her reality shift again.

“I have told Zubov,” he said simply, then laughed. “You think Julian will be killed? Cass, he is worth more to us this way. It has turned into a debt now. He will be more useful. In Russia it is when people owe you money, you should be worried.”

Cass had made up her mind not to have anything more to do with it. She did not like the sound of being “useful” to something she did not understand, “I will hand in my notice. This is getting too much.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” Semyon smiled assuredly. “Wait for further instructions.” Cass tried hard to remain impassive though her very fabric was screaming at her to run. She had not asked for this and now she was being told however kindly, there was no escape.

Cass excused herself. In the bathroom she felt a wave of nausea hit her. She tried to be sick silently but she heard a concerned, “Are you okay?” through the door.

“Fine, fine. Nerves. It has been a difficult week.”

“You will get used to it. Come, you need to eat something. This is your city, show me where to go!” Semyon chimed positively through the locked door.

As she exited the bathroom and got on her shoes, she stated flatly, “Julian will not stop, you know that. Just because we have found him out, he will find someone else to fleece.”

“Fleece? What have sheep to do with this?”

“Pull the wool over their eyes? Deceive. There will be other mother’s money taken. The only logical reason why he did it, is because he enjoyed it. He did not need to do it.”

“ True but that is not my concern,” Semyon said frankly as he put on his shoes. “We have you to keep an eye on him.”

Cass ignored his final comment but continued her musing, ”It is not even that clever. He just needed the gall to take the money and do some convincing lying. People in the office talks about him like he has some sort of magic skill and never asked why or how he did these things.”

“No one ever asks questions things going well. When something looks clever, people never want to ask too many questions just in case they look stupid,” Semyon said sagely as she locked her front door, “Everyone made it easy for him.”

Rehab

Around 13.30 the next day, Cass had come to a decision. She could not live with herself. She needed to confess and her confessor would be Julian. She had made her excuses to leave the office early, collected her car and drove to the clinic. She had to do this in person. He had always treated her fairly and he deserved a chance to change things.

The clinic was a red brick neo gothic Victorian pile. The nurses resembled five star health spa staff rather than a serious mental health facility. The enormous entrance hall was full of subtle plinky plink of meditation music and expensive vapours of frangipane. The relaxing atmosphere grated on Cass. She was finally received by one of the therapists, “We have consulted with Mr. Bauer and though he should not of agreed to see you, we have also asked Mrs. Bauer and we are willing to let him see you. I will have to search you and your bag.”

“Of course,” Cass agreed. “ I should not be too long.”

“You are permitted half an hour,” the nurse commanded.

“I won’t need that long. How is he?” Cass asked apprehensively.

“We are not permitted to discuss patients but he is improving,” the nurse said officiously.

“Good,” Cass said. The nurse escorted Cass to the “Relaxation Room.” It was a spa. Julian received Cass in a hot tub.

“Cass! Don’t I look improved!” Julian shouted over the bubbles. “Give me a moment and I will be with you.” His skinny frame got out of the tub and wrapped himself in a large fluffy dressing gown. Cass thought it strange he was so thin. She thought alcohol made you fat. She did not realise vodka was Julian’s only calorific intake. Eating hurt him now and it added bulk to the vomit. So in his mind it was a pointless exercise.

“The anti depressants are kicking in now, so I am allowed to see people. Amazing really, I don’t even feel like a drink,” Julian said. Cass cringed as it was obviously for the nurse’s benefit, who smiled and left them to talk.

“Have you brought me anything?” Julian asked furtively.

“No,” Cass looked at the floor suddenly ashamed.

“Don’t worry, one of the gardeners gets me a supply. Expensive though,” Julian smiled boyishly. “Don’t tell, he gets paid nothing and this helps him out.”

Cass was not going to tell. The gardener was just another one of Julian’s victims. Julian had probably convinced him that Rebecca was a neurotic worrier and he was just in here to keep her quiet. Julian would have waved enough money at this poor guy, until the risk seemed worth it. Julian thought everyone could be bought.

“For fucksake Julian!” Cass was angry. Julian seemed hell bent on hitting the self-destruct button good and hard. The realization she was going to make his choice easier for him, made her feel sick. He was not going to sort this situation. He did not care. It was a game for him, but in his mind every time he lost, he felt like a winner. He was pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes and enjoying the hoodwink. He sat there smiling at her and basking in his perverse sense of victory.

“I know what you have done Julian. I was asked by Ivana’s associate to find out and I have to tell this person.”

“No you don’t, you could just help me sort it out,” Julian seemed unfazed. “All I need is a little time and some help from someone like you. Anyway it is all mine after all.”

Cass was talking to a mad man. He did not seem to think that he had done anything particularly wrong. Cass had seen from the accounts that this charade had gone on for years. The money was so mixed up that there was not telling to whom it belonged.

“No one is going to come after me. They don’t want questions. If they were to come after me, it would have been years ago. Cass, stop looking so shocked, you don’t understand business. This amount is nothing to them.”

“Do you know how much you have borrowed?” Cass could not hide the sarcasm in her voice as she tried to pull him back to reality.

“A few thousand, a hundred at the most,” he said nonchalantly.

“How about £50 million?” Cass asked.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Julian laughed.

“Julian, you burnt through 10 grand before leaving for Moscow. The week before that it was 5 and the week before that it was 20. You know it isn’t just a 100k!” hissed Cass. “What about the houses?”

“London house prices always increase. It is only a small discrepancy. They will make it up and the client will never know,” Julian’s eyes glinted with the thought of the bet.

“I don’t call £1,500,000.00 a small discrepancy. And that was just one deal! What happens when the client wants to sell? How are you going to explain the loss? What if they visit? These people are not idiots,” said Cass. “What it they go to another firm and find out that you haven’t even bought the property, they instructed you to buy!”

Then it dawned on Cass, this was exactly what he thought of everyone. He thought they were all idiots. People were there to be manipulated. Golems, simply there to do his bidding. It never occurred to him that he would get caught. He had used smoke and mirrors for so long he began to believe his own illusion. She had a chilling sensation, she was sat with a true psychopath. He was not homicidal. He just had a compulsion to control with charm and destroy with deception.

All the damaged people he kept in his entourage, were just there to make him feel normal. He felt less broken with them around and he liked them to feel indebted. It helped him with his god complex. His employees were like obedient dogs, wagging their tails at any praise or treat.

Cass stiffened her resolved trying not to hate him, “I have to tell Ivana’s associate. I have no choice. I am sorry. I wanted to give you a chance, but I can see this has gone too far.”

“You always have a choice,” Julian seemed completely insouciant.

“I don’t, not this time Julian,” Cass got up to leave. “They have threatened my family.”

He grabbed her wrist, shakily, “You don’t know, who I know. You underestimate who I am.”

Cass shook off his hand, lent towards him and whispered in Russian,” And you don’t know, who I know.”

He shouted behind her, “Cass don’t leave like this. Come back, we can talk about this.”

Midsummer

Hello to you lovely people – I have decided to put this as the very beginning of my book rather than towards the end, what do you think? Sorry to use you as unpaid editors but your thoughts really do matter to me.

“The sea air hit Cass first as she got out of her car. The salty smell of childhood hit her. She was transported for a moment back to camping trips, laughter and cremated sausages. Cass gasped back the tears.

The midsummer night’s air was buffeting her as she walked closer to the edge of the cliff.   She took off her heels and let the wild grasses scratch at her ankles.

The cliff’s edge was illuminated by moonlight. She could not see the waves below but their roar reassured Cass the tide was in.

She let the open bottle of vodka slip out of her fingers to the floor, spilling its contents onto sea bleached earth. She sat down next to the alcoholic puddle. She let the contents of her bag scatter out as she rummaged through them. She instinctively pushed the empty packets of Valium back into the bag. Lighting her last cigarette, she wondered if she would miss this old friend. As Cass finished, she flicked the still light butt over the edge and watched it fall. She wondered if it had got to the waves before it extinguished.

She sprang to her feet. Catapulting her heels into the depths, Cass disrobed. All the trappings of her life flew off on the sea breeze like gulls. She did not care where they went. Briefly Cassandra Janus stood there in the moonlight like a Pre- Raphaelite goddess and then she was gone.”

Professional Secrets

Julian called Cass in the afternoon. She had assured him that things were under control and she had worked out the notebook.   He became slightly defensive but after going through the balances, he seemed happier. There were long silences, a lot of confusion from him and then he rang off suddenly.

Cass worked into the night, ignoring Dolores meaningful jealous looks from the doorway when she came to say goodbye at 21.30. Dolores ruminated over what Cass had that she didn’t. Why did Julian give Cass more responsibility over her. Dolores hadn’t eaten since she had found out that he was put into the facility. She had been to the therapy sessions Julian had bought her, but the stress had left her destructive. He had got her the best help. All it had managed to do was get her better at hiding her affliction.

Padding out clothes when she got too thin; mastering hiding food at professional lunches or staving before them so that she could make a show of her eating.

She stopped off at the nearest convenience store and bought all the crappy junk food she could find. It would numb her loneliness, panic and pain. Through her tears and vomit, she blamed him more, “Why couldn’t Julian stop, couldn’t he see what he was doing.”

Cass did not go home until after midnight. Her notes were in her spidery scrawl, crossing outs showing that it was not as simple as the original flow chart given to her by Zubov. She had a stack of printouts of accounts. The money had gone. Not been hidden, just spent. She had worked out Julian’s depravity. Several wifelets, living the same way as his actual wife. He had burnt through £10,000.00 in a couple of hours before leaving to go to Moscow. It went to three women in various countries and one very large payment surprisingly to Caroline. Cass had to go back into the records, but the account was held in trust for Caroline. Cass muttered, “Hypocritical slut.”

His emails were a string of begging emails, threats and illegal Viagra orders. He was now using Cass’ work to bolster the missing funds. She discovered that what the clients were actually purchasing did not match what they thought they had acquired. A house for £2,000,000.00 was actually only a flat for £500,000.00 . He pocketed the difference, placing it into the other client’s accounts when they asked to see their funds.   He also made sure that he got use out of these price differences. There were negotiations for him to buy a second yacht, he wanted to call it Rebecca.

There was an angry email from the person who had won the Tuscany house in the office raffle.   The house had no planning and was to be pulled down in a matter of weeks. Julian had just off loaded the problem in the most extravagant way possible.

He had recently bought himself a title, and was placing bids on antique auctions.

In his desk she discovered a brochure for Moscow sex tourism, approximately fifty credit cards and two convincing but fake passports. She was sure that he could not pass for a Juan Carlos. She opened another cupboard to find several bottles separately slipped into Prada cashmere socks. She realised that the milk he drank every morning was probably masking a large White Russian to get him going in the morning.

It was a mess.  The whole house of cards was tumbling around Julian and he did not know how to stop. Cass realised his arrogance stopped him from asking for help. She was not too sure if he had a sense of shame, after she opened the last desk draw and found a strap on dildo.

He had to keep the Julian Show on the road, keep up the adoration and the facade. If only he could admit he was not all powerful then there could have been a way out months ago.  Instead he had pushed the self destruct button good and hard.

It was 0200 and Cass had seen enough and needed to get out of this place, to get away from everything.

 

 

The Return

Dolores greeted Cass coldly on her return.

“Rebecca is waiting for you in Julian’s office,” Dolores instructed her.   Cass noticed Dolores normal sulk had returned.

“Why?” Cass had only met Rebecca once before in unfortunate circumstances.

“She has locked up Julian.”

“What?”

“She has forced him into rehab. Like the other ones worked before,” muttered Dolores. “You should have looked after him.”

“I did. He was lucky he was not arrested. Last time I heard, rehab is a lot nicer than Russian Remand,” Cass barked sarcastically. Cass stomped down the corridor, ruminating on how unfair Dolores was being. She would not have dealt with the Julian situation half as well. Cass wondered whether she knew about the missing money. Is that why she was so desperate to take care of him? Was she benefiting?

Cass knocked on the large oak door of Julian’s room. A tired feminine voice, summoned her into the room.

Rebecca was in one of the armchairs, looking at her portrait behind her desk, tears in her eyes, “ Time is cruel. He is killing himself, Cass. I had not choice.”

Cass was not prepared for the rehearsed melodrama but worked with it, “He is in the best place. Moscow is not a good place for him.”

“Julian insisted that I give you this,” she passed Cass a moleskin notebook and a key.

“What is it?”

“I think he will be ringing you in the next day or two to explain. I know the key is to his desk. I don’t understand the notebook. He just said to get it to you, as you can handle things while he is away. He says that he trusts you to get things done.”

Rebecca read Cass’ wince as embarrassment rather than shame. Cass did not know why he trusted her. She had planned to go back to Zubov and say that she did not know anything and could not find out. She liked Julian. She knew from flicking through the notebook that these were internet banking codes, with IBANS and SWIFT codes for international payments. There were passwords next to various different bank names, some of which she had never heard.   There were company names linked to the bank accounts.   Julian had just handed her the information she needed.

“How long is he going to be at the clinic,” Cass asked with as much tact as possible.

“He is being treated for four weeks, initially, if he shows improvement then he will be allowed to return home under supervision,” Rebecca finally lost all composure. “I just want him back. You did not know him before. He was kind and sweet. Booze has ruined him.”

“How do you cope?” Cass asked. She was quite in awe of Rebecca. How calm she remained and why she stayed with Julian.

“Why haven’t I left him, you mean?”

“Well, yes.”

“I don’t know. I am hoping to get him back. I can’t give up on him. All these people you work with, he could have given up on them. He could have given up on me, but he didn’t. “

“What do you mean “Given up on””

“You must have noticed?” Rebecca said. “You are in a room with Dolores for goodness sake.”

Cass nodded. Everyone in this department was a little eccentric, a little quirky, a little damaged,   “He likes to mend broken toys?”

“Something like that. He likes to care for people. Give them second, sometimes third chances. Why do you think Usman is still here?”

Cass thought darkly, vanity, he has created a monster in his own image. Cass said, “Julian is a kind man.”

“I have to go now, I have an appointment with a Reiki practitioner,” Rebecca got up, hugged Cass goodbye. “Thank you for helping.”

Cass called Semyon in her lunch break, “I miss you.”

“Already?” he laughed, “I will see you this weekend.”

“No, I have something to do.”

“What is more important than seeing me.”

“Don’t push it.”

“Next weekend,” he said firmly. “I am sure we will have a great time together.”

She used his perverse code sign to call off, “I love you.”

“I love you too. I can’t wait to see you.”

She got back to the office feeling like a prized shit to be confronted by Caroline, sitting in Julian’s office.

“I don’t know why he has let you have access to all this?” Caroline sneered. “You must provide extra special services.”

“I really don’t know what you are talking about,” Cass purposefully ignored her as she settled down into Julian’s chair.

“I used to be like you, don’t kid a kidder Cassandra.” Caroline’s venom was building. “But I never got the confidence of his wife. What are you up to?”

“I am trying to do some work,” Cass turned on Julian’s computer. “ I need to call him, so if you don’t mind.”

“I can’t believe that stupid bitch put him in there again. She has never understood him. She is such a greedy cow. And so stupid. She can’t see she is part of the problem. “

Cass could not stand this woman, and for the first time she just could not be bothered to hold back, “That greedy cow would be a lot better off if she had divorced him years ago. She is with him because she loves him. A sensation you have only ever had for your fucking dog, and that is because he can’t answer you back. I don’t have time for this and I certainly don’t have time for you , so please can you just leave. ”

Caroline looked like she had been mauled by a rabid rabbit. Her mouth made fishy motions, and tears welled up in her eyes. Cass went in for the knock out punch, “Why don’t you go and sack some one prettier and younger than you, it always makes you feel better.”

Cass felt weird satisfaction as Caroline ran out of the door in tears. She should be more cautious, but she knew she would not be around for much longer.

How to Write Natural Dialogue

A Writer's Path

Phone

by Victor Salinas

Dialogue. It’s the lifeblood of any work of fiction. It’s how we get to know the characters of a story. It’s the way the characters speak to us.

And it’s also a trap for many writers.

It’s one thing to write dialogue. It’s another thing entirely to make it convincing.

So often, dialogue comes out as forced. Stilted. Not sounding like real people speak. Dialogue can sound like the author is having a conversation with themselves… which is exactly what’s happening!

So how can this be avoided? How can you stick to writing natural dialogue?

I have a few techniques I’d like to share with you.

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Gallery

Imperial weekend

Life at Her Brightest

When you think you’ve seen it all – visit Saint Petersburg and fall in love. It’s a city of many secrets, built with enthusiasm and passion (Window to Europe). It’s the capital of White Nights (from May to July) and elegant bridges (342+) inspired by the architecture of Venice, Amsterdam and Versailles (c’est vrai!). Its historical center has lived through the Romanovs, the Revolution, Bolsheviks, Stalin’s terror, a second world war seige and the fall of the USSR. But! Strolling down the Nevsky you could barely tell, St.Petersburg is as Imperial as ever.

There is more. While a trip to St. Petersburg will appeal to your heart and soul, it’s also a bargain. With the local currency (ruble) at its lowest rate for years, dinner at a posh restaurant feels like a family meal at a diner. Sounds awesome, right? Note these 5 important safety rules prior to traveling  (I tried and tested them…

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