Vamp 19: Mission Accomplished?


Dean Divers finishes the bad cup of coffee made in the small coffee maker in his motel room. He glances at the alarm clock next to the bed. The guy at the front desk said the mail usually arrives by eleven. It’s two minutes after eleven now. He’ll wait three more minutes to not seem overly anxious. Dean is confident the money will be there; Sam is very capable. Sam is more than capable he reminds himself, scrutinizing his face in the mirror. He needs hair dye and different clothes. He needs a rental car but he’s not going to get one — too risky, too easy to trace.

Dean walks into the front office of the motel. The clerk is not visible, but sounds from a small television can be heard coming from a back room. Dean sweeps his eyes across the counter and across the desk behind it. No sign of mail. The clerk appears.

“Morning. What can I do f’you?”

“Any mail come in this morning for me?”

“What’s the name?”

“William Hall.”

The clerk returns to the back room and Dean’s spirits leap to see a letter-sized brown mailer in his hand.

“Here you go. Will you be checking out today?”

“I’m staying through tomorrow.”

The clerk nods. “I’ll just need you to pay for the room then before twelve. Or we can charge it to your card.”

“I’ll pay you now.” With the envelope secured under his arm, Dean hands over the last of his cash to the clerk.

 ~

 Sam files paperwork as she focuses on the cell phone in her pocket, vigilant for its motion. It is set to vibrate because she doesn’t want Mary or Evan to be aware of incoming calls to her. Dean agreed to call her at this number from a pay phone when he had the money she sent to him. It’s mid-afternoon Wednesday and Sam is fairly certain he should have it by now. However, pay phones are hard to find nowadays and he doesn’t have a car.

Sam remains on edge from Joel Anderson’s appearance at BubbleTrendz on Monday. Except for Dean’s warning, the available evidence supports Joel’s assertion that Joel is now running the company. Joel has not reappeared at the office since Monday afternoon, only the red-haired guy with the stubbly beard, Rolf, returned yesterday and today. He is using Dean’s office, mostly with the door closed.

Sam suddenly hears an exasperated “Jeeesus!” emitted from Gil’s office and goes down the hall to see what’s up. Gil isn’t normally a shouter. She sees him at his desk, scowling at his screen banging at keys on his keyboard.

“Gil?”

“Another DoS at Star!” He nods slightly as a way to acknowledge her presence but continues scrutinizing the information in front of him on the monitor, his expression desperate, incredulous. Evan appears at the doorway and looks sharply at Gil.

“What are you doing, Gil?”

Gil glares at Evan. “Denial of service attack at Star. Again.” Seeing Evan’s accusatory eyes Gil adds, “You don’t know this?”

“Don’t touch another key.” Sam sees Evan’s icy expression and rapidly assesses what is unfolding.

What?” Gil’s eyes narrow in bewilderment.

“You need to leave your desk. Do it quietly and there won’t be a problem.” Evan is now standing over Gil, his arms folded, his body taut.

“You’re accusing me?” Sudden contempt floods over Gil’s face as he stares at Evan.

“Leave your desk. Leave the office now.”

Gil rises from his chair, still not believing his ears. “This is ridiculous! I’m the one trying to figure-”

“The game’s over, Gilbert. We’ve been tracking you. You’re fired. Security will escort you out. Your personal effects will be sent to you.”

Sam sees the security guard, Tom, from the main lobby desk of the building who has apparently been summoned. He looks somber, unhappy to be doing his duty at the moment. Sam turns to Evan.

“Surely there’s some mistake here! Of all people, Gil would never-”

“I wouldn’t interfere unless you consider yourself an accomplice to this cyber criminal and need to be fired, too,”  Evan tells her in a flat tone.

“You condescending toady!” Gil is flushed red, furious, breathing hard as he regards Evan.

“Let’s go, Gil,” Tom says softly, “I’m sorry, but you need to leave here.”

Gil walks with Tom but says with quiet determination, “You won’t get away with this, Evan. It’s a farce and you know that.”

Evan with equal determination rejoins, “I strongly advise against considering legal action. We’ve got you nailed, dude. So, if you leave quietly and never attempt to hack the website of Star Rock Financial Group again, Joel Anderson will not press charges against you. I wouldn’t press my luck if I were in your shoes.”

As if to underscore Evan’s point, red-haired Rolf has approached the group, quietly speaking into his cell phone about what seems to be an important matter. He’s letting Evan handle the situation, just endorsing it with his presence. Sam turns to see that Sandor and Rina are standing in the hall with shocked concern on their faces. Sam catches Sandor’s eye  and narrows her pupils rapidly. He’s young, but he understands this classic warning signal that vampires communicate to each other when silence is required.

Evan turns to his team. “Okay, everyone, let’s get back to work!”

Sullenly, Sandor and Rina return to their office.

Back at her own desk, Sam ponders what to tell her cousin — and when. If Sam is to help Dean she needs to learn what Joel Anderson is up to, and she’s going to need the help of at least Sandor, but probably Gil, too. And maybe Rina. As Sam weighs the options of alerting her co-workers to the fact that Dean is now in danger, there’s a sudden vibration in the back pocket of her jeans.

~

 Joel Anderson paces across the expansive floor of his New York office at a slow, deliberate gait. He glances casually at his wristwatch — a sporty, luxurious European chronograph of rose gold. Then he looks at Kurt, the blond guy whose rest pulse Sam had speculated about in the BubbleTrendz conference room.

“This isn’t like him. He’s prompt.” Joel raises an eyebrow at Kurt, inviting a response to his observation.

“Two days. Not like him at all. Shall I call him?”

“Give him another half an hour. I don’t like to micromanage my people.” Joel scans the city skyline, contemplating the dark waters of the East River flowing far below. His cell phone rings. Joel answers and smiles at the familiar voice.

“So, Bernard. What do you have for us? Good news I hope?”

Kurt watches the face of his boss with well-trained acumen. He knows Joel is the master of cool, but that the tiny nuances of his facial expressions must be read accurately or at one’s peril. Joel’s smile remains on his lips, but has moved on from his eyes. He inhales slowly, deliberately before speaking into the phone. “I don’t understand why we’re talking probabilities here. The answer should be 100 percent, right?  100 percent.  But you’re telling me 98 percent. That’s a sloppy number, Bernard. If you can’t tell me it’s 100 percent, you can’t tell me it’s 98 percent. It could be 50 percent.”

Joel is pacing across the room and there’s an iron quality to his body language, a ruthless purpose that Kurt has seen many times. Joel listens and then continues, shaking his head. “I need 100 percent, Bernard. Call me back when you have figured this out and have a clean number to report. Okay then!”

Joel pockets the phone and looks Kurt in the eyes. Kurt knows to state the conclusion so his boss won’t have to. “Bernard screwed it up. Wow. This surprises me.”

“He doesn’t work for the Department of Surprises. Playing the odds are for gamblers, not winners. I’m afraid you’ll have to take care of it now, Kurt.”

Kurt nods in acknowledgment and receives a smile in return. Kurt knows it’s as close to a gesture of camaraderie as Joel bestows on anyone.

— to be continued —

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Word Purge


There is an online post at the British newspaper Guardian reporting on words to be excluded from new editions of dictionaries. The post invites readers to list their own choices for words they’d like removed from the English language.

My immediate reaction as a linguist to this proposal was “Delete a word from the English language? Never!  Words, words, beautiful words — obscure words, rare words, archaic words, and obsolete words! Keep them all.”  Then I began to rummage through my mental lexicon.  Here’s my list:  🙂

  • edutainment   – surely a choice for the ugliest word to pronounce in all of English?
  • infomercial – a cheesy, rather manipulative concept
  • beige – I just don’t like it. Boring beige. Alternates: fawn, sand, dun, tan, wheat
  • awesomeness – don’t purge it, just place it in cryonic suspension for a generation (along with its cousin awesome). Let it regain the semantic power of its original root awe.  Awesomeness mostly signals a brain on autopilot nowadays.

So let’s hear your candidates.

Hat tip: BBear

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VAMP 18: Delayed Pastries


The morning air is bracing as Sam dashes across the street where Lila’s Bakery is. She walks past the shop and down the block and turns into the branch office of a local bank.

Good thing I brought the checkbook with me Sam reflects as she rummages in her bag, waiting in line for the next available bank clerk. Dean will need more than a thousand dollars and she won’t be able to withdraw enough from an ATM machine in one transaction.

A woman ahead of her is discussing some issue unhappily with one of the two bank clerks on duty. Sam watches the other clerk who finishes up with a customer but then walks away from the window.

A more senior bank officer is now at the window with the clerk who is tending to the unhappy woman, whose voice has grown more agitated. Sam fidgets impatiently and looks up at the clock, she’s been waiting in line for twelve minutes. The other clerk reappears at the window and beckons Sam over.

The bank clerk briefly studies the hastily written withdrawal slip and asks to see ID which Sam hands to her.

“How would you like this? In twenties?” the clerk asks Sam.

“Hundreds, please.”

~

When Sam returns to BubbleTrendz with a platter of Lila’s pastries, Mary is in the kitchen and gives Sam a mild glare.

“What took you so long?  I’ve already made the coffee. Just take that platter on in to the conference room.”

“I’m sorry. There was a line.” It’s a half truth, but Sam is not going to discuss her bank errand with Mary. Without taking off her jacket, Sam goes to the conference room and sets the pastry platter on a side table next to the coffee urn. The three visitors are standing by the window holding cups of coffee and talking in low voices.

“Good morning, gentlemen!” she says brightly, saluting the three men quickly with a perky smile.  They regard her as an attractive minion and say nothing, but wait for her to remove the wrapper covering the pastries. Joel Anderson immediately walks over and selects a brioche, bites into it and resumes his conversation with the other two men. Sam can smell his aggression, his power chemistry. A dangerous human to be avoided. But she needs information. She looks at Joel with feigned apology.

“I’m sorry that Dean is not here yet. He’s usually the first one in the office, but-”

“We’re not expecting Divers today,” Joel responds quietly, dismissively.

“Oh. Is he still in New York then? He was supposed to be back here last Friday and I was expecting faxes from him.”

Sam is aware that Joel is looking at her incredulously, at her presumption to enter into a conversation with him as equals. But, it’s obvious that he has now reassessed her status: she’s more than an office bimbo, she’s a potential obstacle to be dealt with swiftly.

With calculated measure she continues to look at him, eyes wide but unintimidated. Joel stares at her with unmasked annoyance.

“Sweetheart, make me a cup of tea. Earl Grey. Black.”

She shrugs and stays put. “I’m just a little concerned about my boss now,” she says with a touch of deference directed at Joel.

“Okay, doll. They don’t tell you much here, do they. I’m you’re boss now. Dean Divers sold me a controlling share of this firm on Friday. He reports to me now. That’s not too hard to understand, is it? Now, make me that tea. And make it strong.”

~

After serving Joel his tea, Sam takes a quick glance at Mary’s desk when the latter woman appears to be gone. There is paperwork from BubbleTrendz’ attorney and Joel Anderson’s name appears in several places on the top page. Is it a transfer of ownership contract?  Should she call the lawyer’s office and ask him whether he has heard from Dean since last Friday?

Sam’s thoughts race as she walks back to her desk. Is Dean just cracking up and concocting a crazy story after signing away sixty percent of his company? Seller’s remorse?

Sam reminds herself of Dean’s sudden treatment of her as his only confidante. He’d been a decent guy to work with, but his behavior toward her bordered on the aloof. Until these recent phone calls. But, she trusts her instincts. It’s why that envelope of money is stashed in her purse. She hears Mary’s voice and sees the three men following Mary down the hall. Time to look busy.

It seems Mary is taking the men on a brief tour of the place and they linger a bit at Evan’s office. Sam’s acute vampiric hearing picks up most of the conversation and it’s obvious Evan has worked with those guys before. She’ll discuss that in private with Gil when she gets the chance. Her office phone rings and she picks up the receiver with a pounding heart.

“Sam?”

“Yes. I have it for you.”

“Thank you! Were you able to get a thousand?”

Sam’s eyes scan the hallway as she half-whispers into the receiver, “Four thousand. Forty bills in an envelope. Where shall I send it?”

“I’m in New Jersey. I’ll be here for a couple of days, until the money gets here. Tell no one!” Dean sounds desperate as Sam scribbles down the address, a motel in some beach town outside Atlantic City.

“They’re still here,” she tells him in a hushed tone. “He says he’s running the company now, that you sold a controlling share to him. He didn’t reveal where he thinks you are.”

“He’s not what he appears to be.”

“What he appears to be is not exactly Prince Valiant.” Sam chuckles despite the situation.

“He’s a dangerous man, Sam.”

“Dean! What should I do here?”

“I don’t know yet. But sending the money is the first thing. How did you manage four thousand?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Sam! You didn’t–”

“It was absolutely no problem. And there’s more if you need it.” She realizes she’s sounding more like Zaira now than Sam.  She hears Dean let out a long breath over the phone line.

“Sam, you’re a great little office manager, but I had no idea what a gem of a human being you are. I underestimated you greatly. I’m sorry.”

“You trusted me. I’ll try not to let you down.”

“I know that.”

Sam sees the men leaving Evan’s office and immediately brings up a display of inventory on her computer, pretending to look it over while speaking into the phone. “I’m fine with printer cartridges for now. What was that number to reach you? Let me just repeat it back to you.”

In a quiet voice she relays her personal cell phone number to Dean as Joel Anderson walks past her desk.

— to be continued —

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We’re All Verbs Now


Maybe, maybe not. Are there any English speakers today who don’t accept text as a verb? It was an easy move to permit text as a verb, follownig the paradigm of other communication channel noun-verb pairs in English — the mail/I mailed, the phone/you phoned,  her email/she emailed,  the wire/they wired (older technology, but same idea).

What about transportation nouns?  We have plane and train and also deplaning and detraining which refer to the punctual (not ongoing) activity of exiting planes and trains. But, somehow the opposite punctual activity is not available as a plain verb:

*We plane the flight for Denver in an hour

*They’re announcing training at Gate 7 now.

A different verb board is required here. For some speakers, the plain verb forms do imply an ongoing activity:

We trained to Chicago instead of driving.

But what about

?? They’re planing to Stockholm next week.

And there is

Demonstrators were bussed to the march from outlying cities.

but not

*The tour group has just debussed at the Roman ruin.

*We decided to decar at the next rest stop on the Interstate.

We can bell a cat and towel ourselves off, but we cannot ring our finger (put on a ring) or scarf our hair, and although we can shoe a horse, we can’t sneaker, boot, heel or shoe ourselves (put on foot gear).

When did medal become a verb? It has restricted usage, implying victory in a competition, often the Olympics

They are hoping she will medal in all three of her events.

What about an event that is described as an acronym, e.g., IPO?  An example of using this acronym (Initial Public Offering) as a verb did jar the linguistic sensibilities of a tech-savvy geek.

*?? She will IPO someday.

Is the following any more acceptable?

?? Not many companies IPOed this year.

Are there other acronyms that work as verbs in English? Laser is a noun acronym: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. But, does laser appear as a verb? The following excerpts are from online stories.

He’s getting his eyes lasered.

The lasering of a large passenger plane was reported.

And of course a proper name, Google, is showing up all the time as a verb:

Just google it for the directions.

Is it just frequency of usage that is winning the day for some verbalizations? There is so much language output being generated every hour and every day by billions of language users. Does this output spread wavelike through the vast digital universe we now inhabit, or does it travel along specialized conduits, more like a circulatory system?  It would be interesting to get an accurate measure of the speed at which new word forms are entering a given language, and to define what ‘entering the language’ means in this modern era of instant digital communication.

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Linguistic Asymmetries


Have you ever noticed that, while some words which take a prefix seem to form nice pairings with opposite meaning polarity (tie/untie, compliance/noncompliance, tasteful/distasteful), other pairs don’t work this way?

For example, there is nonplussed, but not plussed, insipid, but not sipid. A short piece in the New Yorker magazine, How I Met My Wife (Jack Winter, The New Yorker, July 25, 1994) exploits these missing pair members very cleverly and humorously.

Consider the case of nonplussed.  The original sense from Latin non plus was ‘not more’, i.e., nothing further could be added. In modern English the meaning conveys a state of bewilderment, confusion to the point of not being able to react.  However, more recently in American colloquial usage, the meaning has flipped polarity and refers to a state of being unperturbed, unconcerned.  The prefix non appears to have realigned with the standard non prefix usage as in nonconformist, nonvolatile. But, will we start hearing and reading plussed (meaning confused, bewildered, flustered)?

?? I was so plussed at their reaction to his suggestion, but he was totally nonplussed.

Disgruntled is another curious case.  It is apparently descended from a Middle English dialect form for ‘little grunt’ coupled with an intensifier prefix dis- meaning ‘very’, conveying the modern meaning of  ‘angry, dissatisfied’.   Note the unusual sense of the prefix in this case, in contrast to the frequent use of dis-  to express a reversal, e.g., disenchanted, disarrayed, disinclined.  The more prevalent meaning of dis- probably contributed to the back-formation gruntled (satisfied, content) in the 1930s.  But the back-formation remains on the sidelines as a humorous construct.

More recently I’ve been seeing many references to old school, as in ‘I guess I’m just old school and prefer the movie Hackers to The Social Network.’  In fact the expression old school is showing up frequently on Twitter where people are expressing their outlook on specific new technologies.  But is anyone seeing the expression new school?  I’d love to find examples, if so.  It doesn’t seem to have formed a contrastive pair yet with old school.

There’s also nonstarter.  Nonstarter has a current widespread metaphoric use meaning ‘an unsuccessful person or effort’. However, the  potential partner starter does not yet convey the metaphoric sense of ‘a successful person or effort’. Starter requires a qualifier to convey such meaning, e.g., slow starter, self starter.

And what’s been going on with discombobulate? It means ‘to confuse or disconcert’.  No one is saying or writing combobulate as an alternative, but we are starting to see recombobulation area in airports — you know, that place the TSA deposits you with your bins of personal effects that you must then reassemble:  shoes, belts, laptops, keys, phone, liquids and the like.  It’s as though one couldn’t be in a neutral state of composure, i.e.,  combobulation, one can only get reassembled (unconfused) after being disrupted, unsettled. Yep. Seems to reflect the reality of going through airport security. 🙂

Finally, consider antibiotic, a word which came into major usage with the appearance of the modern wonder drugs such as penicillin. The word is from Greek biotikos (pertaining to life) with the prefix anti- (opposed, against).  In very recent years the term probiotic has taken off, people are taking probiotics for their health, which usually refers to the ingestion of microorganisms that are beneficial to digestion.  The pair antibiotic/probiotic forms a semantic symmetry at an abstract level where the former is targeting the destruction of certain life forms, and the latter is targeting the nurturing of certain life forms (gut bacteria).

What about other languages?  Got some modern pairs in the making or some funny back-formations?  Please share them!

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Blind Tasting: the Audiobook Edition


Blind Tasting is now available as an audiobook.  You can listen to sample chapters for free and you can also buy the entire, unabridged novel as a digital download.

Producing this edition in a recording studio — working with a voice talent and an audio engineer — was an amazing experience. It was daunting, frustrating, exhilarating and exhausting for all of us at various points during the process. And, yes, some decent wine was consumed during a few of the sessions, and dogs were allowed in the studio more than once. 🙂

The audiobook (MP3 format) is more than 10 hours of recording and more than 800 MB  (about 637 MB compressed downloadable zip file).  As digital content, it’s considerably heftier than the accompanying ebook edition.  But, for those of you who prefer listening to your stories than reading them, an audiobook is a nice alternative. Enjoy!

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Journey in Northern Light


Just a quick add-on to yesterday’s mention of the summer solstice. Check out this beautiful time-lapse sequence of  The Arctic Light by TSO Photography.  ‘The Arctic Light’ is the name given by the photographer to the time period about 2-4 weeks before the onset of the Midnight Sun.  It’s stunning and so is the music, and it took some heroic measures for the photographer to produce it. Enjoy!

(Note: You may need to turn off the HD option for smoother streaming.)

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