Treasure Island: Keep Writing or Can it

I’ve been toying with an idea of a writing project that introduces interesting aspects of Taiwan’s recent and distant past in a pulp fiction esque treasure hunt populated by characters from forumosa and local Taiwan celebrities.

The problem is with three kids, a school and my editing business (don’t laugh) I rarely have enough time to eat let alone my hobbies.

Anyway here is an extract. Have a read you could be in it. Then tell me should I can it or keep it.

It’s not the first chapter.

© Fox

You can’t flush your memory with booze, but you can try. I tried and I tried and I tried but one thing kept coming back to me; the sound of Corey’s decapitated head hitting the bitumen. That thick dull thud and liquid crack. I purposely smashed all manner of fruit and veggies to somehow recapture that sound and take control of it. I wanted to have some power over it before it consumed me wholly. What I learnt was that Corey’s skull must have had the consistency of a champagne melon and that if I was smashin’ fruit to get a grip then Corey’s wasn’t the only melon that was cracked.

I’d had the box from Corey’s car locked in the garage of my parent’s place in Brighton for 13 years. It was stored in the rafters in a place where my father used to hide my grandfather’s WW II Lee-Enfield rifle. It was a safe place to store a deadly weapon and keep it away from the prying eyes and fingers of a child but no place for state secrets, or personal commitments.

Avoidance is to fear as shit is to mushrooms. Bury your fears and you might as well take a shovel to your soul. It’s in the dark, in the rafters, in the places we no longer look nor care to remember that fear finds fertile soil. Drinking on the milk of our guilt, it thrives and then surfaces adding all manner of new dimensions to our personalities. It lurks, rises and then grabs at the levers. The only thing it abhors is acknowledgement and action. Not one, not the other, but both and in equal measure.

I spent the best part of those 13 years working as a local reporter for a village newspaper. I think it was Orwell who said that early in his life he noticed that no event was ever correctly reported in a newspaper. I’m pleased to report I never let you down George. It’s not that I fully engaged in deceit; it’s just that every story, no matter how banal, needs an angle or spin. As my editor used to say, “We’re building a community not tearing one down.”

Facts are little shreds of light that can reveal the truth’s hiding place, but it is still possible to have a head full of facts and know nothing of the truth. What is important is not the facts themselves but what you can do with them. Concepts are stronger than facts. That is the truth. The concept of community in Brighton was way more important than all the facts pointing to police corruption, and local council malfeasance. What seemed to really count were the truly little things: neighborhood watch programs, smoking in public places, jay walking, and speeding.

The small fears we carry around every day were to be exaggerated out of all proportion; all for the purposes of building a strong righteous local community. Forget about the facts. The minute chance of dying of cancer from some guy lighting up next to you in a bar seemed to be far more news worthy than the local drug squad moving more blow than George Jung. Or easier at least to investigate and report on. After years of this kind of crap and knowing full well how fear can help bury knowledge of a crime and how avoiding reality can crush a man’s soul until nothing remains but the bouncing from one fear to the next drink, I decided I could sink no further and I reached up and grabbed for Corey’s box of secrets like a drowning man grabbing for a lifeline. My soul needed peace no matter the price.

Until that day I hadn’t once looked in that box. The very thought of it loosened my bowels. Even thirteen years hence and in the full knowledge that no one could possibly be watching it still ruffled me to open it. Unlike Pandora’s Box, however, on opening it I didn’t find all of mankind’s sins of greed, vanity, slander, envy, and pining escaping with only hope remaining inside. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I found hope and saw all those vices neatly filed and appositely addressed by a man who had an astute eye for detail and a hankering for the truth.

That hope wasn’t evident in the files upon files of technical specs for nuclear power stations, weapons systems, financial records, character profiles, accounts of conversations, maps, and newspaper clippings, but in Corey’s personal writings: seven black-leather- bound Moleskine journals. Here Corey’s voice was strongest; it was like having my old mate bottled in a jar.

For six months, I did little more than rifle through those journals cross referencing installments with other files looking for a clue as to who or why someone would want Corey dead. His life read like 60 Minutes on steroids. Of all the tales of deceit and intrigue, there were two particular installments that seemed to ring true with Corey’s last words. In particular, that there was an organization within the CIA or in someway related that could tacitly sanction Corey’s murder and protect Colonel Chang. At the time I had little idea I was tugging on a thread that would unravel a tapestry of travesty and leave the six-thirty news describing me as a professional thief working for buyers in the Far East.

The first clue came in an installment in 1981 and the other not until two years later.

September 11, 1981
Click goes my brain, I’m insane again. If the Taiwan Garrison Command had a clue as to what was good for it, it would lay off the murder incorporated shenanigans; if only for self-preservation.

Last night, I got a call from Sandy James at Associated Press to try and get one of its journalists, Tina Chou, off the hook for mentioning the word ‘autopsy’ in a press report and spoiling the Government Information Office’s cover story for the Garrison’s obvious murder of Professor Chen Wen-chen. Chen’s body was found dumped on Taiwan University’s campus. He was, to the witnesses who found the body, beaten lifeless. The Garrison had picked him up on reentry at the airport less than 24 hours earlier. The intention was to send a clear message to all those planning on studying in the States not to get involved in independence movement politics. Chen was a small time political activist on his campus at Carnegie Mellon in the US.

Taiwan’s nascent independence movement has taken root in the US. It’s the only place they can find a platform to share their grievances. It scares the Bejesus out of the Nationalists; they’ve got nowhere else to go. And it has put the wind up enough people in Washington for them to start monitoring the movement.

That monitoring is happening on two levels; both are illegal and both officially sanctioned. The first approach is run by the KMT and involves planting of “professional students” on campuses. These guys are usually on scholarships; they make reports on their fellow students and heavy anyone critical of the Nationalists. This is all done with the tacit approval of our security agencies.

Then there is the dark side of the flipside, me or people like me. There are those on my side whose sole aim is manipulation by intimidation. We’re fighting the Cold War in a pressure cooker. In order to keep the pressure down we’ve got to let off a little steam now and then. There’s no telling who’ll get burnt in the process which is too bad for the likes of Professor Chen.

They say in my line of work you have to stay focused on the big picture, because the detail is painted in blood. Every now and then, however, you get splattered in that paint and it leaves a stain. Professor Chen did nothing more than be on the wrong side of the Cold War ledger. I conveyed the dirt on him. The source, I was told, the Western Goals Foundation, a group of right wing nut jobs.

The Western Goals Foundation is the intelligence gathering arm of the John Birch Society. They provide blacklists on domestic communists in the States to corporations, politicians and agencies like the CIA, who can’t spy domestically. If you think Joe McCarthy is dead, think again; he’s conducting his witch hunts from the grave. Ronald Reagan used these blacklists to vet all his aids.

The difficulty for the independence movement is in drawing a distinction between itself and the communists. The KMT is keen to brand both as communists and refuses to acknowledge publicly that such a seditious movement even exists. If anything, however, they’re harder on independence activists than communists and why shouldn’t they be. The communists will never be holding the KMT to account, but the independence crowd, on the other hand, will have a very dull axe to grind. Personally, I advise for localization, if not full independence. This puts me in conflict with US current policy which is to bolster anticommunist regimes at all costs. Selling out Professor Chen probably would have burned Paul Revere but principle stands little chance against the raging inferno that is political expediency.

Still, knowing I was just doing my job was cold comfort. I lost a part of myself in this fiasco and I was keen to help out Sandy James from AP. I made some calls and got a promise that Ms. Chou’s journalists’ credentials would be reinstated, but she’d have to take an overseas posting.

September 3rd, 1983
11 Days ago I was asked to participate in what I thought was a routine disinformation exercise. I traveled to New Delhi and met with a known double agent. My message to him was that some Korean Airline planes had been equipped with RC 135-intelligence craft surveillance equipment and were spying on Russia’s North Pacific coastline. Along with this information I gave him the name of the pilot, Captain Byung-In Chun, upon whose flights the missions would be conducted.

Yesterday, KAL Flight 007 was shot down over Sakhalin in the North Pacific with all 269 people onboard killed. Clearly, I wasn’t involved in a disinformation exercise but rather a provocation exercise. In this job, we work everything on a need to know basis; they say it is to protect sources, but it also shields all and sundry from responsibility.

Why a provocation exercise? Readiness. Nuclear war depends on first strike capability. Provocation exercises keep everyone on their toes. The most likely scenario for a nuclear confrontation is in the North Pacific; and there is no point in having a nuclear arsenal without a hair trigger and the safety off. You only get one chance at being right.

There seems to be more going on here, though, than a provocation exercise. Larry McDonald, Chairman of the John Birch Society and founder of the Western Goals Foundation, was on that flight. The timing of my going to New Delhi and Larry McDonald being on that flight can only mean one thing, an assassination.

If, after the first twenty minutes, you don’t know who the sucker at the poker table is, then it’s you. I’m beginning to get that same feeling about McDonald’s death. If I wasn’t in on the plot, but I was a bit player in his murder then there’s going to be people out there who know I know he was assassinated, and they must be wondering what I plan to do about it. That’s what you call a loose end. Right now, I’m vulnerable to manipulation or worse. I need to confide in somebody as a form of protection, and quickly.

The only person I can think of is Lord Lucan.

It didn’t take me long to track down Lord Lucan. He wasn’t, of course, a real Lord, though his father was. He was the equivalent of a modern day comprador working to facilitate Western companies doing business in Taiwan. He was the fat that greased the wheels. He used his father’s title to help him open hearts, doors, and legs. In short, he was a scoundrel of the first order. Why Corey would seek him out in an hour of need, I wasn’t fully certain, as I was yet to meet him, though we’d talked on the phone. He said he would meet me in Taiwan and talk, but for a price; 60 Chinese seals that I’d have to lift from the Irish National Museum and deliver to him personally. As he put it, “compromising me would guarantee my commitment.”

I like it.
It’s got some nice rhythm.
Mind you, some whittledown for computer viewage might be an idea. I say this as I prefer to read hard copy. That said, it is very readable as is. I myself would probably enjoy it in me hands whilst reading. Old fashioned, I know.

Illustrations might enhance things as well…

Just some vague suggestions…

Thanks TheGingerMan.

That’s a good comment. I had already given come consideration to the length. I think people’s ability to read anything for more than a couple of minutes on the computer is pretty limited, especially entertainments.

My original idea was to have short pieces that you could simultaneously reseach on the web in a kind of a treasure hunt to get the next instalment. So for example this piece would have a clue and the reader would be asked to do research online. For example what was the big deal about Tina Chou using the word “Autopsy” in her news report and why was she, a local Taiwanese, expelled from Taiwan? It is an easy question to research and a fascinating one.

Not really.

I like.

Not really.

I like.[/quote]
Reading that gimped quote of mine of itself generates a few rude & crusty images.
Maybe the book is actually on a coffee table.
Anais Nin, here I come…

Fox: I would also suggest you keep plugging away at it.

Intriguing. Yet how difficult would that be to set up?
It sounds like quite a project.
I’m one of those lazy writing chaps who really kant set up more than a few series of vignettes. Any of you long-haul chaps have got my full support & admiration if you can see the whole thing thru. :thumbsup:

Here is the first chapter for those who read the latter chapter.

The clue for this chapter was going to be how did the Taiwanese extract the plutonium from the reactor without the Americans knowing.

Treasure Island
© Fox


Slumped in a chair is how I remember him in the hinterland between sleep and waking, badly injured. Tense. Night was closing in fast as it does close to the tropics. A time of day I otherwise enjoy, but not now, not in the fall. At this time of year it fills me with melancholy and longing. I have the hunger of unsatisfied dreams.

He stirs, not for the first time but close to the last.

“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much and today it kicked my ass.”

“Jesus, is that Marlow speaking?” I thought aloud.

“Marlow? You smart-ass. You haven’t a clue who he was or what he saw. And if I could, I’d beat myself off one last time right in front of you just to fuck with your sensibilities about what is truly decent. But let me tell you this about the road to hell, it’s paved with good intentions so before I take my last breath I’ll give you the heads up. They’ll come looking for me here before the sunrises tomorrow on this shit hole, and you, my friend, will be all the richer if you keep your mouth shut about what I’m about to tell, ‘cause it’s the last paving stone I’m gonna lay. And it’s a rich brick.”

“Come on Corey. You’ll be fine. Let me get you down to the hospital,” I offered meekly.

“The hospital. You think the doctors have a cure for what I’ve got. I’m givin’ off more x-rays than Hiroshima.”

“What the hell are you talking about? You’ve got a broken collar bone at worst.”

“Shut the fuck up and listen. They’ll take one snap of me and it’ll comeback as if they’d taken a shot of the sun. Do you have any red wine in this dump?”

“I don’t understand. Red wine? Of course, but you’re kidding, right?”

“To hell I’m kidding. It slows the process.”

“What process?”

“Radiation poisoning. You get me that wine and maybe I’ll be around long enough to line your limey pockets with more dough than Dunkin’s have squirreled away.”

“OK Corey. Slow down. I’ll get you a drink. You’re not making any sense.”

“You’d better bring a few bottles.”

I slipped into the kitchenette. He was right my place was a dump. It was tiny, dirty and rundown. I don’t know how I’d let it get like this; a perpetual launching pad but to where and for God only knows what purpose. It had utility but stuff all else and no love.

I’d known Corey for years. He had a job at AIT as a functions’ organizer but I suspected there was a lot more to this bloke than making sure the marquee was straight and the booze arrived on time. He spent forty percent of his year traveling abroad to Eastern Europe, the Middle East, even the friggin’ Horn of Africa. Who the hell needed his functions’ expertise in Nairobi? But he knew everybody and spoke to everyone. It went with the territory. No one is going to ask questions about why you’re speaking to the functions’ organizer. Everyone’s got a reason to talk to him. On the odd occasion, when he would invite me to one of these do’s, I’d skulk behind my drink and watch him work the room. He dressed like 007 and as incongruous as it seems to the reality of spying, I believe he was pulling it off. I walked back into the living area with a couple of bottles of Jacob’s Creek.

“You got that wine yet?”


He took the bottle and necked it.

“What away to go. God. Two weeks ago I was on the beach in Bali and now I’ll be lucky to see this week out.” He took another enormous swig from the bottle. He didn’t hand it over; it was clearly for medicinal purposes.

“Hell. I’m sorry Corey. What happened to you, man?”

“Listen Paul. I’m gonna give you the rundown here because basically I like you and I’ll be dead within a week or two. I don’t want you freaking out on me now ‘cause what I’m going to tell you, you probably don’t want to know but if I don’t tell somebody my life has been worth shit.”

“What is it mate?” I grabbed the bottle from his hand. “It’s cheap but effective.”

“If only that were true,” he managed a laugh at his own expense. “For 10 years, I’ve been working as contact case officer for Colonel Chang Hsein-Yi. We recruited him in the 60’s as a military cadet and have nurtured his development ever since. Ever heard of him?”


“I’m not surprised, neither has the rest of the world, but they will have by press time tomorrow. He’s gonna go down in the annals of intelligence history as our greatest coup ever and I’m not gonna be a footnote. Que Será, I suppose.”

“Go on. I’m listening.”

“Last week, the Colonel came to me and told me he wanted out. He’s risen through the ranks to deputy director of Taiwan’s nuclear research institute. If he wants out it can only be one of two reasons either he’s been compromised or his mission is complete.”

“What do you mean by his mission is complete?”

“Since the Chinese tested their first nuclear weapon in ’64, Taiwan has been angling for their own bomb. They’ve been successful at it too. Throughout the 70’s they developed all the technology they needed and before we quashed their ambitions at that time, they were within only a few years of building the bomb. China has always threatened that should Taiwan get the bomb they would implement their first strike capability. The reality is nuclear capability is virtually useless for Taiwan. If Taiwan launched first, they simply lack the places to hide from a retaliatory attack. There’s no room for maneuvering so it has no strategic value, but they’ve persevered and now they’re with in months of developing it.”


“Months. Chang keeps an office at the Chungsan Institute. It’s a military set up right next to their nuclear energy research facility. That’s where I’ve been tonight. I went to collect him. Our plan was simple, because of his position as deputy director he was simply to fly to the States to give a regular briefing and then turn over all the documents he could collect on the program. He’s a cool one our Colonel Chang. Until I arrived there tonight, I thought he was leaving because we considered his mission complete, but it wasn’t exactly the case. He’d been compromised. He needed out and a little house keeping with it. When I got there he took me on a tour of the facility. This is a highly secure location and the Taiwanese wouldn’t let just anybody waltz around it, but my CIA cover is so transparent that they consider it an inspection. We’ve had cameras through out the whole facility for over a decade and known about their enrichment and plutonium extraction for almost as long, but we thought we’d put a stop to it.”

“So what happened to you? I mean, how did you get sick?”

“Suffice it to say he had me tickle the dragon’s tail”

“Jesus Corey. Don’t speak in riddles.”

“It’s an expression. During the Manhattan Project, a physicist conducted a risky experiment using two hemispheres separated by only a screwdriver blade. The experiment was known as “tickling the dragon’s tail” ’cause the dragon could turn around and burn you, I guess.”

“And did it?” I asked incredulously.

“It did for him and me this afternoon.”

“I don’t get it. What’s that got to do with you?”

“There was a story that Chung Ching Kuo had ordered two sets of lian dan-chi balls to be lathed for the director and deputy director of the nuclear research institute.”

“Lian dan-chi balls?” I asked.

“You know. Sometimes they are called health or massage balls. They’re those two kinda heavy balls you see old guys fiddling with in the park,” he smiled.

I felt pangs of admiration for Corey. He was obviously doing poorly, but he could still manage a little humor in his demise.

“Oh yeah. I know the ones,” I laughed emptily and then regretted it.

“Well, apparently Chung Ching Kuo had them made from plutonium for the directors as an ironic reminder of their responsibility. Nobody, I know ever believed it. It just seemed mad. He gave them to me as a gift when I saw him off at the airport.”

‘Wasn’t he afraid of the radiation?” I asked amazed at such cavalier handling of the most dangerous substance known to man.

“Huh. Plutonium by itself isn’t nearly as dangerous as people think. The radium we use in medicine releases much more radiation than plutonium. He had it in a beautiful thin-lead lined box, easily enough to absorb the radiation. Anyway what you’ve got to understand about these people who are about radioactivity all their lives is that they become blasé about it, even negligent. Perhaps that’s why Chung Ching Kuo had the health balls made. He’s no idiot.”

I could see Corey was struggling with the reality that he’d been fatally duped.

“Give me another tug on that wine buddy. I don’t know what’s making me feel worse the radiation, or my own stupidity. The first thing I did when I got back to my car was open the case. And you know somewhere in the back of my mind I knew when I opened that case I was done for, but it hadn’t all registered yet. I picked up those balls, they were slightly warm, and as I twirled them in my palm they touched and fuck.”

There were tears in Corey’s eyes now. I reached out and touched his arm. He instinctively repelled then yelled in agony as he felt the break in his collar bone.

‘Sorry Corey. Sorry mate.” How do you comfort a guy like this?

“When those balls touched there was a flash of blue light and it threw my arm back with such force it broke my fucking collar bone. That light is a sign of a chain reaction. A criticality accident they call it but this was no accident. Chang knew what he was doing. Thankfully, I hadn’t done it in the airport, you know? What a prick. What a frigging prick. Anyway so I’m done for, for sure. Stuffed.”

“And what happened to the balls?” My mind was now racing out of control. “Where did you put them?”

“They flew apart and just dropped onto the floor of the car. I picked them up and put them back in the box.”


“They’re in the boot of my car.”

I stood up and instinctively started pacing the floor rubbing my hands over my face and eyes and through my hair trying to wake myself to the reality of Corey’s woes which I could sense were quickly becoming my own. I felt like asking him what the hell he was doing here landing me with all of this, but decency, curiosity and a sense of august at the frightening notion of Einstein not knowing what weapons would be used to fight World War III, but knowing for certain World War IV would be fought with sticks and stones, kept my tongue at bay and I forced myself to sit, listen, drink and think.

“So why do you think Colonel Chang would want to kill you? You must have known each other well enough.” I asked.

“That’s the 64 thousand dollar question. And more than that why does the CIA want me out of the picture? This ain’t the kind of stunt you can pull and hope to get away with unless you’ve got guarantees.”

“You think the CIA wants to kill you? Why?”

“You can’t just knock off your handler and then walk into the CIA offices, not without some kind of serious, serious cover. It can’t be anything officially sanctioned; it’s a rogue action, but it must be taking place within the CIA or he’d be walking into his own funeral.”

“It has to do with what you know about the plutonium production,” I ventured.

“Perhaps, but there’s more to it than that; there simply must be. I’ve got the highest weapons’ clearance available. Nobody is going to sweat what I know about plutonium production here. That’s my mission. It must be something they think I know.”

“Or something you know, but don’t know you know it?”

“You ought to get a job as a Defense Secretary; but, you’re right and whatever it is, it’s worth more than my knowledge about plutonium production- to somebody at least.”

“And that probably means it’s got a dollar and cent value.”

“That’s what I’m guessing too. If it were a military interest, I’d only be an asset so there’d be no call for killing me. The US government doesn’t care enough about money to have me killed over it, they can just siphon that off the masses, but they do care about power and an individual or a group of individuals would care about both, money and power.”

“So there’s money and power out there up for grabs, what’s knew about that?”

“Nothing, but for the fact that I must be awfully close to it; too close for their comfort and whatever it is, it’s attainable by an individual or I wouldn’t be a threat,” Corey gave an ironic smile. “I’ll be no threat to them now so they succeeded there, but you’re another story Paul. In the boot of my car, there’s a box of reports Chang and I put together over the past 10 years some of it’s in a kind of code, we were spies after all, and it might be a bit confusing but the answer’s there; it’s a complete record of my time with that asshole. I want you to get it and go. It’ll be a few days before the Chinese wake up to Chang.”

“But you said they’ll be coming tonight?”

“The Americans buddy or whoever the hell they are.”

“I can’t just leave you here Corey,” I said. “It’s just…”

“I’m dead already,” he smiled. Then “a blackout” not so unusual in Taiwan back in those days, but given the circumstances a power cut felt suddenly sinister.

“Look out the window. The powers on in every other building but ours. They’re here,” Corey whispered. “Down on the floor.” I went down on my haunches feeling slightly ridiculous.

“Is this for real, Corey?” He threw me his car keys as an answer. “Lane 391, Alley 8; as close as I could park.”

I scurried on all fours, trying to keep the lid on a rising panic, to my bedroom where I kept an earthquake bag with a change of clothes, passport, cash and departure ticket. It was a kit that had made me the butt of many jokes, who’d of thought?

“I’m going down to meet them,” said Corey. I lived in a fourth floor flat with no lift. “You gotta get out through the roof buddy.” All these old apartment buildings had roof access at the top of the stairs.

I slipped my kit over my shoulder pocketed Corey’s keys then on all fours we crawled to the door. I felt a little like Butch Cassidy and Sundance except when we stepped through that door I’d be heading away from the action and Corey straight into it. He was cool perhaps it was training or resignation I don’t know but he was cool and it injected me with confidence. My legs had been shaking when I stood, but they felt stronger now.

“Wait a minute! You didn’t see Lafors out there did you?” asked Corey his blue eyes blazing through the darkness. He’d read my mind; straight from Butch Cassidy.
“Lafors? No, why?” I played along.
“Thank God for that. For a moment there I thought we were in trouble.”

Then straight through the door. I bounded up the stairs and Corey started yelling in Chinese. “Wo zai zebien. Nimen zhao wo ma? Nimen zhao wo? I’m right here. Are you looking for me? Are you looking for me?” All with a “you fucker attitude” that was loud and brave and covered my sounds brilliantly as it echoed through the stair well. “Nimen yingai shang lai. You’d better climb the stairs. You lazy fuckers.” Corey kept raining abuse down the stairs until all the neighbors started coming out of their flats in an assortment of pajamas, underpants and wifebeaters, the Chinese home fashion show of the eighties. The whole scene cut a sordid picture as candlelight flicked on distressed faces, the grime on the walls and broken dusty window panes of the stair well. The road to hell.

“Corey-san. Kite kudasai. Boku wa peresento ga anata ni agiteiru.”

“Japs?” yelled Corey before he started bounding down the stairs yelling wildly and incomprehensibly in Japanese. I’d made it by this time to the roof and peered over to see Corey spin out onto the alley and straight into a pair of numchukers before being kicked to his knees. The numchuckers had abruptly silenced Corey’s ravings; a silence that was punctuated by the drawing of a Japanese saber. Corey wouldn’t have seen it coming but he would have heard it and probably welcomed it. He definitely raised his head; proud and defiant.

Excellent! I’m glad you resurrected this. I didn’t have time to read the first one. I’m printing both off for reading this weekend.


“Corey” wouldn’t say something was in the ‘boot’ of my car. He’d say ‘trunk.’
Good pace. Good read, so far.

Good observation TC.

Have you placed the characters yet? It’s worth researching a little to find out how they got the plutonium out. It’s also worth considering where it is now.

I hope you like it HG.

This chapter tells the incredible story of some Chinese chops found in Ireland and one of Cicero’s favourite tales.

Chinese Treasure Stolen
Gavin Phipps
Friday November 7, 2002
A thief, or thieves, snatched precious Chinese artifacts from a cabinet at the Irish National Museum last night and coolly walked past the security guards posted at the entrance to the Hall of Chinese Antiquities.

The robber smashed the cabinet that displayed the artifacts and took a number of jewelry items including a hair-pin, ear rings, finger nail guards and Chinese seals. A spokeswoman for the museum said, “We don’t put financial values on our pieces, but these are obviously items of historical value.”

The origin of the Chinese chops is a compelling mystery. The chops, dating back to the 16th century, were found all over Ireland. The first seal was discovered in 1780 in a moor in Mountrath buried in peat, the second in a cave in Cork in 1805, and the third unearthed in an orchard later in the 19th century in county Down. Such discoveries continued until by 1868 more than 60 such seals had been discovered. Why and how the seals came to Ireland and were distributed in such an unusual manner has been the source of much speculation, from a magician’s failed prank to some kind of signal.

Detectives believe the items were likely stolen to order by a group of professional thieves.

“Though we don’t like to speculate, this crime comes on the back of similar robberies at the British, Victoria and Albert museums. We suspect this spate of robberies is linked to a professional gang working to order for buyers in the Far East,” said Detective Tom Hill, assigned to investigate this robbery.

The market for Chinese antiquities is booming with sales in the Far East attracting strong interest; particularly from Chinese keen to buy back some of their history…

Rose put down the paper, picked up her coffee and watched the Dublin foot traffic, over the brim of her cup, bustle in the morning rush. The sun glistened in the granite cobble stones as steam rose out of the gutter’s gully traps and then vanished in the crisp autumn air. She glimpsed at the lipstick mark on the cup’s brim, blood red on porcelain white. It reminded her of the ink she’d seen on those very chops just a day earlier as she’d conducted her tour through the museum.

“Another cuppa for ya, Rosey?”

“No, that’ll be all thanks Dan; I must be getting’ along. We had a robbery at the museum yesterday.”

“I’ve just been readin’ about it myself, I have. A damn shame to see those fine little Chinese chops go missing. I’d all but forgotten about ‘em. Aye, now there’s a mystery, to be sure. Do you know, Rosey, they say those chops were bought here by Sinbad the Sailor himself?”

“Well, I kinda doubt it Dan, but I’ve heard the stories,” smiled Rose as she drained her coffee and made for the door. She could feel Dan’s eyes scanning her beautiful svelte body like a machine. He’s not called O’Leary for nothing she thought to herself and gave him a treat as she took her coat from the stand, turned, bowed and smiled.

Normally Rose was in no great hurry to get to the museum, the tour guiding was beginning to bore her. She loved the museum, but the daily grind of trying to energize her tired spiel was beginning to take its toll. Today, however, she could barely stop herself from running to work. The robbery had at once saddened and excited her. She had been hired for her language skills in Chinese, which she learned virtue of her Taiwanese mother, and Japanese, which she had majored in at the National University of Ireland as an undergraduate before doing her master’s in archeology. Recently, she had started to wonder what the point of all that study had been. She had received fine marks in both degrees but the demand for students of archeology specializing in finds in the Far East was thin in Ireland. The museum gave her a comfortable enough existence but she had a hankering for some adventure.

No sooner had she passed through the grand arch of the museum’s front entrance when she heard the duty guard call her name.

“Top of the mornin’ to ya there, Rosey. The governor would be lookin’ for ya. He’s waitin’ for ya in his chamber.”

“Good mornin’, Mick. I’ll be right a long. Any news on the robbery?” asked Rose smiling as she reined in the wild curls of her long coppery brown hair in a vain attempt to tie it back.

“I suspect you’ll soon know more than me, Rose. Detective Hill is with him.”

Rose didn’t bother with her normal morning routine, in the light of her summons to the curator’s office that all suddenly seemed remote. Her instincts were telling her that she was on the brink of change. She had no idea of its direction. She didn’t know if she was about to be accused of complicity and fired or be called upon for her knowledge of the Far East. She suspected the latter, but prepared herself for the former.

It was her nature.

As she stood at the curator’s door reading his shingle, “Dr. Ulten Ryan”, she once again made an attempt at her hair and brushed down her white blouse slightly regretting how see-through it was. She knew it fell way outside the dress-code that specifically forbade revealing or otherwise inappropriate attire.

“Why do I have these thoughts?” she mused and then gave three even knocks on the door.

“Come in,” came Dr. Ryan’s brogue through the door. “Oh, Rose it’s you.”

“Good mornin’ Dr. Ryan. They said you wanted to see me.”

“That’s right Rose. Come in, please.”

Rose entered Dr. Ryan’s cavernous office. It was a museum in its own right. Its Irish bluestone walls were adorned with an eclectic mix of modern and ancient art works, and Dr. Ryan’s degrees and dedications. There were tapestries and coats of arms on the walls, a thick mahogany bookcase dedicated to first editions of the Irish greats, and even a sword hanging no more than eight feet off the floor above one of three wide-arm espresso brown leather club chairs. These had been arranged around a large gray slate coffee table in front of the curator’s desk. The center piece of which was aTang Dynasty horse that splashed vibrant ochre, jade and turquoise against the grey of the table. The room exuded power and tradition, a place where the truly important decisions are made at leisure with tea and erstwhile discussion.

Sitting cross-legged in one of the arm chairs was a bespectacled man of athletic build dressed in designer jeans and a black sport’s jacket over a gray turtle neck sweater. He hadn’t intended on rising to meet their guest until he received immediate instructions from his eyes to drop his asshole cop-shop routine; where upon he fumbled his way to his feet checking his fly whilst running a hand through his youthful straight blond feathery police cut.

“Rose Tilley, I’d like you to meet Detective Tom Hill,” said Dr. Ryan gesticulating between the two of them.

Rose took the long way around the chairs to shake Detective Hill’s hand.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Detective Hill,” offered Rose taking his hand.

“And you too Ms. Tilley, or do you mind if I call you Rose?” replied Detective Hill as he shook Rose’s hand holding it a little longer than convention required.

“I’m sure this one will smell just as sweet no matter what you call her Detective Hill. Now, would you like to take a seat Rose?” asked Dr. Ryan motioning toward the club chairs. “The good detective here has a few things he’d like to discuss with us about yesterday’s unfortunate events.”

“Aye, you take me for a Romeo then do you Dr. Ryan?” remarked Detective Hill good-naturedly. “I suspect you didn’t believe a humble servant of the law would know his Shakespeare,” continued the Detective smiling and winking at Rose as he lowered himself back into his leather club chair.

“Actually, it was Juliet,” said Rose as she took her own seat under the sword. “Not, Romeo who says those lines in Romeo and Juliet. But I’m not trying to show off. It’s just that with a name like Rose.”

“Not at all Rose,” said Detective Hill. “I’ll just resume my ignorant humble servant of the law status again.”

“A mantle richly deserved,” laughed Dr. Ryan easing the tension as he took the third of the arm-chairs.

Detective Hill flashed Dr. Ryan a curious look. One Rose interpreted as there is power and then there is the law; the world’s oldest enemies and best of acquaintances.
It seemed, today at least, they were on good terms.

“So how can I help?” asked Rose.

“Well Rose, firstly I have to ask you some questions about yesterday and the preceding weeks. Please don’t be offended by the nature of the questions. They are just to help us determine how the robbery occurred.”

Rose looked tentatively at Dr. Ryan who nodded gravely.

“Well of course Detective Hill. However I can help.”

“Can you tell me Rose if you noticed anything unusual in the past few weeks?”

“What do you mean?”

“People spending more time than usual lingering around the exhibit asking questions about security that kind of thing. Recent frequent visitors. Asians. No offence I know your mother is Chinese.”

“Taiwanese,” corrected Rose.

“Taiwanese,” the Detective allowed. “You know Rose often it is the most unremarkable detail that is the clue to solving the greatest mysteries.”

“I understand,” said Rose, “but people do all those things frequently and for the most innocuous of reasons. School teachers love to ask about security; it gives their students a buzz. There are bus loads of Asians coming through every day. I’m sure I’m not employed for my background in archeology as much as I am for my language skills,” said Rose looking at Dr. Ryan.

“To be sure Rose. And what of yourself and your friends? Do you have a boyfriend or people you talk to about your work?”

“Excuse me,” Rose felt affronted by the long arm of the law.

“Sorry Rose,” said Dr. Ryan. “I had all the same questions myself.”

“Did you tell him you had a boyfriend?” Rose got a guffaw of laughter out of the detective and a rather more sheepish smile from Dr. Ryan.

“They’re just routine questions,” persisted Detective Hill still smiling. “In fact, when they’re finished, we both have a big favor to ask of you.”

“I have a boyfriend. And I sometimes talk to him about work but he never has much interest in it, and then there are my parents who were very interested in my work for about the first six months and who haven’t asked a question about it in the last year and a half.”

“Were you in the museum yesterday at the time of the robbery?” asked the detective sobriety returning to his face.

Rose sat back in the comfortable leather chair and instinctively looked up placing a pianist’s index finger delicately under the fine line of her chin as she searched her memory. In an overly routine life, every day melts into the other. Starring into the sharp end of the sword that hung menacingly above her chair she answered, “No. I didn’t have any tours to conduct so I took the afternoon off.”

“Grand Rose. That’s all the questions I have for the time being. However, Dr. Ryan has something he’d like to ask of you on our behalf.”

The sword had drained all the comfort from the club chair.

‘Do you mind if I stand?” asked Rose.

“It’s the sword Rose; I take it,” said Dr. Ryan.

“Of course,” said Rose. “I feel like Damocles.”

‘That’s the point my girl,” instructed Dr. Ryan indicating to Rose she was welcome to stand.

She didn’t.

“OK. Now who is Damocles?” asked Detective Hill. “I was wondering about that sword myself. I’m certain it wouldn’t be allowable down at the station. Should I be arresting this Damocles?”

“Not unless you have a time machine. He’s a character from Greek legend. Damocles was a courtier, in the court of Dionysius II of Syracuse, who wished to be King. He was well liked by the Dionysius and often teased the King that his life was one of luxury and privilege. The old tyrant offered to trade places with Damocles for a day so he could taste first hand how fortunate he was. Of course, Damocles agreed. Dionysius ordered that Damocles be draped in the finest robes and set a feast fit for a king. Servant boys of outstanding beauty were chosen to serve his every whim. In the middle of this luxury Dionysius commanded a sword be hung by a single horse’s hair and lowered from the ceiling to the nape of Damocles’ neck. Damocles, on noticing the sword, lost all appetite for the food and boys. He begged the tyrant to release him from his good fortune. Dionysius did not let him go without a lecture on the significance of the sword: ‘Every decision a man of power makes,’ he explained, ‘is ripe with possibilities including his demise.’”

“So the sword is a reminder, not just some macabre decoration,” said Rose.

“Exactly Rose,” continued Dr. Ryan. “This office plays host to all your high falutin types. Just last week I had Prime Minister Bertie O’Hern sitting in that very chair. Let me tell you Rose he hates it. He calls it the chair of pending doom. But he appreciates the joke. He told me, ‘You know Ulten that Dionysius played Damocles for a real sucker, he did.’ ‘Why’s that?’ I asked. “Well Ulten, Dionysius was a tyrant and like any good tyrant he’s not playing by the rules. He’s already made sure his sword isn’t hanging by a horse’s hair. He’s done all in his power to ensure it’s hanging by the same eight gage chain you’re using for this mock up. And what’s more he’s working on convincing his people that he’s turning all these metaphorical swords into plough sheers so they have nothing left to fret about, although what he’s really doing is jamming them up their collective backsides through taxes and fighting for peace.’”

They shared a laugh at O’Hern’s turn of phrase before Dr. Ryan continued, “Rose, there is something Detective Hill and I would like to ask of you. We’d like to know if you’d be prepared to join Detective Hill’s investigation.”

“We could use the help,” interjected Detective Hill. “We’ve discussed it and think someone of your qualifications and language skills would be invaluable in tracking down those responsible in this case. Our belief is that whoever the thief or thieves are they are well organized and likely stealing for the Asian market. We’d like to offer you a role as a consultant on the case.”

“I’m not a suspect then?” asked Rose.

“No more than the next person,” said Detective Hill.

Sitting on the edge of her chair, Rose craned her head back to momentarily take in the sword before returning a level gaze to Detective Hill. “Absolutely. I’d be willing to help in any way that I can.”

You haven’t found your voice so your writing comes out stilted and trite. You’ve got to shit and bleed and vomit all over the page these days to get anyone’s attention and convince readers that they’re really connecting with a real human being and not just engaging in intellectual needlepoint.

I can’t do it. Maybe you’ll be able to figure out how to really put a piece of yourself on paper because that’s what readers really want – a piece of you.

I agree. I don’t like the last chapter so much. It’s not as good as the other two. It needs a rewrite or maybe dumping. I like the newspaper article, but there is definitely something wrong with the rest of it. It’s the meter more than anything.

Good call.

Although I have to admit I haven’t yet read it properly - skimmed as time has been scarce, it is a work in progress and that takes guts. I came in here to advise you to change the thread title to Treasure Island: A work in progress. Seriously! Binning it isn’t an option. Please!

Hold firm, dear Fox!


Thanks to spook’s keen eye and the encouragement of you other guys, I think we’re back on track.

I kept the newspaper article, so you can just skip through that, if you are interested in reading more.

Chinese Treasure Stolen
Gavin Phipps
Friday November 7, 2002

[i]A thief, or thieves, snatched precious Chinese artifacts from a cabinet at the Irish National Museum last night and coolly walked past the security guards posted at the entrance to the Hall of Chinese Antiquities.

The robber smashed the cabinet that displayed the artifacts and took a number of jewelry items including a hair-pin, ear rings, fingernail guards, and Chinese seals. A spokeswoman for the museum said, “We don’t put financial values on our pieces, but these are obviously items of historical value.”

The origin of the Chinese chops is a compelling mystery. The chops, dating back to the 16th century, were found all over Ireland. The first seal was discovered in 1780 in a moor in Mountrath buried in peat, the second in a cave in Cork in 1805, and the third unearthed in an orchard later in the 19th century in county Down. Such discoveries continued until by 1868 more than 60 such seals had been discovered. Why and how the seals came to Ireland and were distributed in such an unusual manner has been the source of much speculation, from a magician’s failed prank to some kind of signal.

Detectives believe the items were likely stolen to order by a group of professional thieves.

“Though we don’t like to speculate, this crime comes on the back of similar robberies at the British, Victoria and Albert museums. We suspect this spate of robberies is linked to a professional gang working to order for buyers in the Far East,” said Detective Tom Hill, assigned to investigate this robbery.

The market for Chinese antiquities is booming with sales in the Far East attracting strong interest; particularly from Chinese keen to buy back some of their history…[/i]

“Fabulous!” Lord Lucan bellowed slapping a folded edition of the Taipei Times on his desk. “That’ll put a rocket up the price’s arse. Nothing adds more value to worthless junk in these parts than having it pilfered. I’ll have those chops under spots on display behind a wall of glass in some Shanghai skyscraper with the inscription: ‘…formerly of the National Irish Museum’ by the weekend.”

Almost everything Lord Lucan said made you laugh. He was an audacious and bombastic prick to many, but those that really got him delighted in him. Perhaps because besides his many foibles he was a great listener and whilst he lacked a moral compass of his own, his ability to navigate the words of others to find a path to the antipodes of their minds and reveal to them their needs and hidden desires made him the Long John Silver of the mental sea; and like Silver a terrific salesman and careful compromiser who was endlessly ruthless, yet a man of his word.

“So you were a mate of Corey’s.”

It was more a statement than a question as if ‘mate of Corey’s’ were a reading on a barometer that only he could interpret.

“No one mentions the poor bastard any more. There was a time when you heard nothing else. You get your head chopped off in LiuChungli and people are gonna talk, especially the foreigners. Memories fade though, which, I imagine, is why you suddenly found the courage to pop up on the scene and start digging around.”

How do you respond to stuff like that? If you answer, “Yes,” then you’re a man without courage; if you answer, “No,” you’re a lying prick. So you laugh it off and say, “Not exactly,” and that’s how it goes and almost without noticing it you’re laughing along to Lucan’s banter as he pokes and prods every aspect of your manhood leaving you giggling at your own idiosyncrasies, and rolling in laughter at his.

“You had me rob a museum.”

“Oh, well. Behind every great fortune, there’s a crime. You know that much, don’t you? And besides, most men’ll brag a bit if they find their grandfather was a pirate.”

“That’s your answer.”

“What do you want me to say? I don’t trust you. So where’s the booty? Let’s have it.”

“Why did Corey come to see you after the Korean Airline’s crash?”

“It’s gonna be you show me yours, I’ll show you mine, is it? Well, get your sword out.”

He went for his fly; the crazy bastard.

“What else did you expect?” I said.

“Hadn’t thought it that far through really. Corey and I were mates. We shared information; him for his country me for my business. The mixing of espionage and trade has a long history in these parts and the world over for that matter.”

“What I don’t understand is why Corey would come to you when he was at his most vulnerable?”

“Ah! Well! Now that’s what’s going to cost you. The price has been set. So let’s see what you’ve got for me. You can keep the hair-pins and fingernail guards unless you’d like me to trade them for you; for a commission of course.”

I opened the satchel I was carrying and revealed the tiny seals to Lucan. He picked them up one by one with a gentleness that belied the stubbiness of his fingers and held them under the light on his desk.

“Not much to look at, are they? Some interesting detail in the motifs. They say they date back to 1200AD about the time of Sin Bad and the early Ming Dynasty. There isn’t much value in their artistic merit, but plenty in their history. Time is such a torrid and merciless bitch to the living, yet she lovingly caresses all manner of inanimate junk we leave behind. The question now is should I sell them as a collection or as individual pieces?”

“You’d consider breaking up the collection?”

“For a price, we’re all Visigoths. So that’s your part of the deal completed, now I guess you’d like to hear from the oracle.”

“The problem is I’m not exactly sure of the questions. Like I said, I’ve essentially got all of Corey’s old files and his personal journals; but, it’s like handing Captain Cook’s charts to an Outback Aborigine. He was brave that night. He really sucked it up. The only thing I’ve been able to figure out is that when he was most under the hammer, he came to you.”


“And that’s it.”

“Impossible!” he scoffed. “You rob a museum, travel half way around the world, turn up back here in Taiwan after fleeing a scene where your mate had his head chopped off by a bunch of Jap Yakuza to ask, ‘Why’ questions. I might be a Visigoth, but I’m not a moron. You’re onto something.”

Just like that Lucan cut to the heart of the matter.

You need more description of the chops to draw the reader in. You could define Lord Lucan more by describing his office.

It reads well, there is a good sense of mystery, and you want to find out more. Foe me it needs more description and the pace needs to slow down. But what the hell do I know?

Thanks for your feedback TomHill,

Actually, I pretty much give all that is known about the chops in the newspaper article.

You’re right about the level of description, but I don’t want to get too bogged down in detail.

I feel it’s back on song.

[quote=“Fox”]Thanks for your feedback TomHill,

Actually, I pretty much give all that is known about the chops in the newspaper article.

You’re right about the level of description, but I don’t want to get too bogged down in detail.

I feel it’s back on song.[/quote]

I mean that the layman may not know what a chop is at all. And when you then refer to them as seals, it may get even more confusing? “Someone stole some seal chops? Wouldn’t they smell by now?”
You get my meaning?

Spook is right. The prose is clunky.

A rewrite, for your consideration:

You can’t flush your memory with booze. No matter how many times I’ve tried, I can’t forget the sound of Corey’s dismembered head striking the bitumen with a dull thud. Since then, I’ve smashed all manner of fruit and vegetables in an effort to recreate that sound, thinking that if I can recreate it, I might be able to stop it from recurring in my head over and over again. Of course, I am painfully aware of the fact that smashing fruit in an effort to regain mental health is a sure sign of insanity.

If it were me, I’d do another revision a week or two after the first one.

Here’s what I think you have going for you:
-Your thoughts are mature and your voice is unique. You can’t write well if you don’t know how to think, and you haven’t figured out anything to say, but you have (something to say).
-You show a strong imagination.

Best of luck.


Nice try. :laughing:

Believe me when I say I don’t want to write like that. It’s hard trying to rephrase another’s words but it’s not a business letter.

Thanks for the input all the same.

Fair enough. I would never suggest that there’s any one style that is going to fit every writer.

Good luck with the writing.