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Extracts from: Flying a Kite

Bruce is curious about his job application

As Bruce struggled to scoop ice into drinks using his free hand, two frozen cubes escaped and bounced on the floor beneath the optics. They skittered in a hollow dance across the tiles, much to the amusement of one of the barmaids who kicked them to the far end of the bar. Bruce ignored her noisy giggles and concentrated on the phone held in his other hand.
‘I’m sorry, but it’s hard to hear you, Mr. Galliano. There’s a lot of background noise here.’ He grimaced at the barmaid, laid down the scoop and replaced the ice bucket lid. ‘All I really wanted to know was the job title. I hoped your secretary could tell me without troubling you, sir.’
‘Is no trouble, Mr. Kramer. She thought I explain better.’ The thick accent confirmed Bruce’s suspicion his potential employer was almost certainly Italian. ‘Sometimes we hire good people and then tailor best possible job for them afterwards. I have many companies, you see. Many possibilities. This way we can match person perfectly to role.’ Galliano paused for a moment. ‘After three-month trial to assess their skills. During which time I like to stretch them a little. You think this a good way, no?’
‘I suppose it is,’ said Bruce. ‘It’s an interesting approach.’
‘I find this work very well. I set them a little challenge. Maybe difficult goal to achieve. Test their… mettle. Is that right, Mr. Kramer? I am not very good at English, you see. I am Italian. Is right: mettle?’
‘Yes, that’s right.’
‘But not metal like iron or steel, I think.’ Galliano chuckled briefly and then paused, perhaps to allow his message to sink in. ‘So, can you rise to a challenge, Mr. Kramer? Does this thought put you off, maybe?’
‘No, no, not at all. I like a challenge.’ Bruce grimaced to himself and then edged through the door at the back of the bar to get out of the sight of a gesticulating customer. This job opportunity sounded scary and promising in equal measures, but his heart leapt at the chance of finally getting proper employment. Perhaps he might now gain a sense of direction. Nothing he’d done since graduating from Cambridge had really appealed so far. He could hardly believe his luck that a general CV on an online recruitment database had opened up such a promising job prospect right there in Bath. Even better, this job now sounded lucrative. For who would take such an unusual approach to recruiting and then pay peanuts? He now felt convinced it was a senior position that would put bar work into its true perspective. His only concern was the fact he’d concealed his present job by making it look as if his previous position in finance was still ongoing. But he would cross that bridge when he came to it. ‘I’m very much looking forward to discussing this further next week, Mr. Galliano.’
‘I, too, Mr. Kramer. I am very interested in your background. I have a proposal I think might excite you. So have a nice weekend in the meantime.’
Bruce looked up nervously when the booming voice of the bar manager assailed him as he came through from the kitchen. ‘You know the rules, Bruce. No calls on duty.’ The manager’s bony finger and cocked thumb resembled a revolver; this gesture, combined with the other’s heavily-gelled black hair and beady eyes, conjured up the mental picture of an assassin. The manager then jerked both his head and thumb towards the bar.
‘Come on, move it, Bruce. There are customers waiting out there. No time for chit-chat.’
Bruce covered the mouthpiece and wished he could call his manager a prat. ‘I’m sorry, Jake. I’ll be right there.’ He spoke into the phone again. ‘Thank you very much, Mr. Galliano. Sorry to have troubled you. I’ll see you next week.’ He ended the call and slid the mobile phone into his pocket. With the manager leering at him, and the tantalising prospect of a more promising job in his heart, Bruce bit back resignation from his lips and breezed into the bar. There he gathered up the drinks he’d already prepared and delivered them to his impatient customer with a flourish. ‘Your drinks, sir. Sorry about the delay.’ He put on what he hoped was a disarming smile. ‘I was looking for more ice. I’m afraid we’re a bit short. But they’re not too bad, are they? Have a nice day.’
It was hard not to laugh when Jake skidded several inches on an ice cube.

Aldo Galliano's pleasure is soon spoiled by his Italian nephew

Contemplating the challenge he had in mind for Bruce Kramer put a broad smile on Aldo Galliano’s face after he replaced his handset. He was annoyed when his reverie was interrupted a moment later by the phone buzzing and his secretary informing him of an incoming call.
‘Thank you, Daisy.’ Galliano sighed. ‘I suppose you’d better put him through.’ A click then informed him the line was live. He switched to Italian. ‘Enrico! Again? Why is it you suddenly need to call me every day now you know I’m dying?’
‘That’s unfair, Uncle.’ The caller sounded flustered. ‘I’m just keeping you in the picture. I thought you’d like to know the latest. I’ve secured that deal I told you about yesterday. We’re now in full control of the newspaper.’
Galliano shrugged to himself. ‘Why do you think I suddenly need to know all these things? It’s only a trade newspaper, Enrico. It’s your company. And it’s in Italy, for heaven’s sake. Look, do you think I’ve nothing else to occupy my mind over here? I don’t need this. Can we please just operate the way we always have? We touch base just once a month, right?’
There was an awkward pause. ‘The truth is I just like to hear your voice, Uncle.’
Galliano practically spluttered in disbelief. He sipped from a glass of water and paused for a moment to calm himself. ‘You expect me to believe that? You’re really calling to check I’m still alive and kicking, aren’t you? And to make sure I don’t forget about you. Talking business is about as deep as we ever get. Isn’t that right, Enrico? Never family.’
‘Look, I really am concerned about you, Uncle. You know that. If there’s anything I can do to help make things easier for you, just ask. I could come to England.’
Galliano sighed. ‘Just stay where you are and do what you do best. You don’t need to be concerned. I can manage perfectly well. I’m not running a family business. I’ve got MDs and CEOs. I’ve got managers. But I intend to remain hands-on, the way I always have. Just overseeing things. Until they screw the lid down. I’ve already taken measures to ensure smooth control when I can no longer deal with it. There is nothing for you to worry about. Do you understand that, Enrico? Me dying will just be a small blip for the group—and also for you. I suggest we both carry on the way we always have. I’m happy with the way you run your company, and I really don’t have time to talk about that every day. Or, for that matter, any of the other companies which don’t actually concern you. Is that clear?’
‘If that’s the way you want it, Uncle.’ Enrico sounded deflated.
‘It is the way I want it. Now, I have a meeting in a few moments, so I must go. Goodbye, Enrico. And thank you for your concern.’ Galliano replaced the handset with more force than usual, muttering and shaking his head as he did so. ‘Concern? I don’t think so.’
A few moments later there was a knock on the large double-doors. One opened and a svelte, dark-haired girl walked in. She smiled at him and placed letters from the morning’s post on his desk. ‘That’s the third call this week, sir,’ she observed, glancing pointedly at the telephone.
Nodding, Galliano reverted to his less fluent English. ‘Yes. Suddenly my wayward nephew is so devoted. So communicative. Now, I wonder why?’
‘Concern?’ His secretary gave him a somewhat sceptical smile.
Galliano snorted. ‘Concern? Yes, maybe concern. But concern for himself, no?’ He looked up at her and grimaced. ‘Now you see why I don’t do families, Daisy.’

Bruce is apprehensive when he takes his new girlfriend to meet his mother

Bruce jabbed the wobbly white button in the brass-mounted bell, but the house was far too sturdy and self-assured to audibly reveal whether this had any internal effect. Julia glanced round at a garden that was all lawn apart from herbaceous borders to the stone pathway.
‘I have a key, of course,’ explained Bruce, self-conscious waving his key ring, ‘but Mother prefers me to ring.’
‘So the maid can answer the door?’ Julia raised a sarcastic eyebrow.
Bruce laughed. ‘She did actually have a housekeeper a few years back. The funds don’t stretch to that any more, but a gardener still comes in from time to time. She couldn’t possibly manage all this on her own. There’s a huge garden at the back.’
‘And she’s lived here alone ever since you left home?’
‘Yes. Well, she was used to managing on her own. My Dad died when I was two, you see, and she was here then. She moved to England from Germany the year after I was born. My Dad had a job here.’
The door was opened by a pale, skeletal lady in a dark-green dress threaded with gold. She was very upright and tall, like her son. She wore outdated, round wire spectacles which gave her the enquiring appearance of a surprised owl and made her look far older than her 62 years. A brief smile flitted across her face when she saw Bruce.
‘Ah, Bruce. You said you’d come.’ There was a shrillness to her voice and, although her English was now excellent, her speech was still modulated by a German staccato. Each word was sharply enunciated.
Bruce smiled. ‘And here I am, Mother. I have come.’ Because his mother was a little hard of hearing, he spoke slowly and clearly. Then he gestured towards his girlfriend. ‘And this is Julia. She wanted to meet you.’
‘Ah, the young lady from the flower shop.’ Ada Kramer looked across at Julia and gave her a fleeting smile. It grew somewhat warmer when she noticed the flowers Julia was holding out for her. ‘Pleased to meet you, my dear.’ She took the flowers in her left hand and surveyed them for a moment. ‘I always think dahlias are a modest but cheerful flower, don’t you?’ Then she held out her right hand, slightly dropped, as if to be kissed.
Julia shook the limp hand with a look of discomfort. ‘I find dahlias very popular in the shop. There are some wonderful varieties, Mrs. Kramer.’ She smiled and waited for the other to release her hand, but Ada was still surveying the flowers.
‘My, what a mixed bunch. Like us.’ Ada looked from one to the other of them, released Julia’s hand and then fingered a pale delicate bloom with interest. ‘That’s a lovely pink.’
‘Its called Princess Marie José,’ said Julia with a smile. ‘I love them. They’re more delicate than most, don’t you think?’ Then she indicated a different bloom that had a brighter flush to it. ‘And that’s called Fascination.’
‘Which shrieks by comparison.’ Ada eyed Julia with growing interest. ‘How nice to be able to name them all.’ She took a step back. ‘Anyway, do come in. We don’t want to stand around on the doorstep all day, do we?’ She turned to go into the hallway but glanced back at Bruce for a moment and muttered, ‘Pretty young thing.’
Bruce grinned at Julia as he stood aside to let her through, giving her a joyful thumbs-up sign when he closed the door behind them. Julia smiled back, clearly somewhat relieved at having cleared the first hurdle.
Ada took them through to a rear lounge overlooking a large expanse of garden. She indicated a black leather sofa as their potential sitting place. It was softened by age and partnered by two upright armchairs. Aged green drapes framed the bay window and an ornate, gilded marble clock took pride of place on a black marble fireplace. Ada excused herself for a moment to take the flowers through to the kitchen.
Bruce sat next to Julia on the sofa. As usual, the gleam of woodwork and the underlying smell of polish revealed his mother’s continued pride for the house. He exchanged a wide-eyed glance with Julia, noting his mother’s aura was already affecting her; she was unusually subdued. The sound of a tap running in the kitchen and subsequent clinking noises gave evidence of his mother preparing a vase for the flowers.
Ada returned a minute or so later to sit in her usual armchair. She looked directly at Julia. ‘I’ve put your flowers in water, my dear. I’ll prepare the stems later.’
‘I did do that for you, Mrs. Kramer.’
‘Never-the-less, they could use freshening up. A nice clean cut is always good, I think.’ Ada smiled briefly and then transferred her gaze to her son. ‘And to what do I owe the honour of this visit, Bruce? If I seem a bit sleepy it’s because I’ve just had a power-nap. Isn’t that what they call them now, my dear?’ She looked across at Julia who smiled and nodded in confirmation. ‘Of course, everyone’s too busy these days to admit to any time relaxing. I’ll get us a pot of tea in a minute, by the way.’
‘Oh, I could do that for you, Mrs. Kramer, if you just show me the kitchen.’ Julia started to rise.
Ada flapped her down again with an impatient hand. ‘Nonsense, nonsense, no one makes their own tea in my house. I’m perfectly fit. I’m not old, you know, Julie.’
‘Julia, Mother,’ corrected Bruce.
‘What?’ Ada looked at him absently. ‘Yes, yes, Julia. As I said.’ She smiled across at Julia. ‘It’s nice to meet one of Bruce’s young friends.’
‘I only have young friends,’ observed Bruce.
Ada frowned at him. ‘Pedantic. You see?’ She looked at Julia. ‘He is so pedantic. Don’t you find?’
Julia gave a slight shrug. Bruce wondered if this signified agreement or uncertainty.
Ada then concentrated on her son. ‘So what brings you here, Bruce?’
‘You know I’m always coming to see you, Mother.’
Ada nodded. ‘Yes, yes, every month, almost. So you are not here for a reason?’
‘I do have a spot of news that might interest you, Mother.’
Ada looked at Julia for a moment. ‘You see? He has a reason. I knew he would have a reason.’
Bruce plunged in. ‘I have a job interview next Tuesday.’
‘A job interview? Well, well. What might that be, Bruce? Another bar? Moving up to a restaurant, perhaps? Nothing to do with the Church though, I daresay.’
Bruce sighed. ‘You know that’s not for me any longer, Mother. We’ve been through all that.’ He turned to Julia. ‘Mother wants to see me in a dog-collar. Just because I read theology.’
Ada continued her running commentary for Julia’s benefit. ‘Just because he read theology. Just! He got disillusioned at Cambridge, you see. Lost his faith there. Too many beer-swilling students to permit him to continue with something quite so staid.’
‘Now, steady. You know I didn’t lose my faith, Mother. I just moved a shade more towards agnosticism. I’m still quite open-minded. Anyway, that aside, don’t you want to know more about my job interview?’
‘Of course I do, Bruce. Is it a serious job then? I take it you wouldn’t bother coming to tell me if it wasn’t.’
‘Ah! There you have me, actually.’
Mrs Kramer glanced at Julia. ‘He applies for a job without knowing what it is? Is there any hope for him, my dear?’
Julia was beginning to look increasingly uncomfortable. She raised an eyebrow and gave a token shrug.
Ada turned back to her son. ‘Julie’s a quiet girl. Anyway, you’ve applied for a job without knowing what it is? How could that be? Did they advertise for an employee, title to be discussed?’
Bruce gave Julia a despairing look. ‘I put my details on an online database and this company asked to see me. A big company, I gather. I googled it and it has fingers in pies all over the world. Mainly in communications and media. They’re interested in my background and want to discuss possibilities with me.’
Ada sighed. ‘Online? Database? Googled? Why doesn’t anyone talk English any more, Julia? And what is this company called, Bruce?’
‘Galliano, I think. Galliano-Global Limited. Something like that.’
‘Galliano-Global?’ Ada sat bolt upright in her chair. ‘And you see them on Tuesday?’
Bruce grinned. ‘That’s right. Maybe they’ve got a nice little pen-pusher’s job for me. Anything would be more respectable than a pub. Am I right, mother?’
Ada ignored his sarcasm. ‘I think you should not take this job, Bruce. You should definitely not work for this firm Galliano-Global.’ She held him in an eagle-glare.
Bruce stared at her in amazement before glancing briefly across at Julia, who was wide-eyed. ‘Should not work for this firm? But why, Mother? Are you receiving some message from above? Why shouldn’t I work for this firm?’ As often used to happen when he lived at home, Bruce realised he was picking up his mother’s stilted speech.
‘I have heard of this firm, Bruce, from a friend in the village. Her son worked for this firm. They sacked him for no reason. No reason at all. No redundancy. No holiday pay. No fairness. He said they are not a good firm, this Galliano-Global. Shady dealings. You must not go for the interview, Bruce.’ Ada then managed what was probably meant to be an endearing smile. ‘I only want what’s best for you, Bruce. You know that.’ Her tone was momentarily wheedling. ‘For once, take heed of your mother.’ After glaring at him for a moment, she stood and faced Julia. A strange, artificial smile seemed to slide onto her face. ‘Now, why don’t you let Bruce take you out into the garden while I make some tea, my dear. You can sit by the canal. It would be a shame to waste such a nice sunny day indoors.’
‘Thank you very much, Mrs. Kramer.’
Bruce and Julia stood and then allowed Ada to hustle them quickly through the kitchen and out into the garden. During this, Ada was strangely silent.
Bruce led Julia down the gravel path to a patio on the canal bank. There they entwined themselves into a picnic table and quietly contemplated the scene in silence. A couple with a dog and a little girl walked past on the far side of the canal. He watched as Julia exchanged a cheery wave with the girl and then as she turned to look at him intently, concern evident on her face.
‘What was all that about with your mother? Why doesn’t she want you to go for that job interview?’

...

Bruce arrives for his job interview

Bruce had killed fifteen minutes in Bath Abbey and ten minutes admiring the river from Grand Parade before he crossed Pulteney Bridge. It was a pleasant walk on a fine sunny day and the tourists were out in force.
The Bath office of Galliano-Global was located mid-way along a Georgian terrace in Great Pulteney Street. The brass plate beside the door was very coy about the business. All it revealed was: “Registered Office of Galliano-Global Ltd”.
Bruce had timed his arrival to be five minutes ahead of his appointment at ten-thirty; prompt, he thought, but not over-eager. He noted with interest the basement housed a little coffee bar called Gallianos, a strange contrast to the media emphasis he had discovered associated with the company during an internet search. Customers reached it down wide stone steps. A small coffee bar also seemed at odds with the big company image Galliano had portrayed over the phone. If this really was a big business, why wasn’t the coffee bar larger and in a busier part of Bath? For a moment his mother’s words of misgiving echoed inside his head.
Shortly after he rang the bell the enormous door was opened by a pretty, dark-haired young girl who greeted him a warm smile. Bruce gave his name and she introduced herself as Daisy, the secretary he had spoken to over the phone. Bruce followed her through a wide hallway leading to an elegantly curving staircase upon which light splashed from a beautiful stained-glass window on its turn. Large, white-panelled double doors set into an archway on the right faced a matching open archway to the left. Daisy led him through it into a bright and pleasant reception area.
Obviously the company had plenty of money if the depth of the red-pile carpet was anything to go by. Daisy invited him to sit on a cream leather sofa by the window and then offered him tea or an extensive choice of coffees. Impressed, Bruce chose latte. He was not the only visitor and he felt quite pleased for the delay, for it enabled him to discreetly enjoy the endless tanned legs of the stunning girl sitting on a matching sofa just around the coffee table from him. She almost made the air crackle with electricity; her presence was undeniable. He grabbed a copy of Country Life from the table and tried to be more circumspect behind the meagre cover this afforded; he even tried to read it, but his eyes were continually drawn from the page.
The legs in question were emphasized by her extremely short pin-striped skirt. Long, blonde hair fell in huge ringlets way below her shoulders, stray tendrils infiltrating ample décolletage revealed by a strategic number of open buttons in her snowy-white blouse; bright red lipstick adorned prominent lips; blue eyes with sparkly blue-grey eye-shadow peeped from beneath long, curling lashes; gleaming, pointy black leather shoes shouted class: these were the delicious attributes he assessed while trying not to lick his lips. Even her perfume was intoxicating. Surely this vision didn’t work for a living? He imagined she might be French. A tiny coffee cup on the table near to her suggested her taste was somewhat more sophisticated than his.
Bruce was really quite taken with it all until a horrible thought struck him. Was she competing for his job? Taking quick stock of himself he realised his cheap leather jacket, white shirt, dark brown trousers and tan brogues really did not cut the same dash. Then he considered the fact Galliano was Italian and likely to notice such things. So, would an elegant Italian prefer his academic approach and casual look to the mini-skirted bombshell sitting opposite? Damn! If only he’d known what the job was he might have at least prepared a verbal assault.
After a while Daisy returned and triumphantly delivered a professional-looking latte in a tall glass; he guessed it must have come from the coffee bar below: a cheat—but still a nice gesture. She confirmed Mr. Galliano would be ready to see him before long and then returned to her desk at the rear of the room.
Bruce sipped his excellent coffee and resumed his ponderings. Who would go in first? If it was him, and he really shone, the decision might be made before she set her sweet little foot through the door. But what if she went in first? Or maybe she’d already been in ahead of him; she did look rather pleased with herself: much too relaxed and confident for someone awaiting their initial interview. Of course she might always be that confident. He could well imagine that.
Possibly aware of his now less-guarded gaze and marginally sagging jaw, the blonde looked up from her magazine—it looked like Hello—and smiled across at him. ‘You’re here to see Mr. Galliano as well, I gather.’ It was a smooth and rather sultry tone, with just a hint of huskiness; she sounded cultured, used a certain “through the eye-lashes” look, but the hint of a foreign accent did not sound French. Maybe Spanish? Surely not Italian? Please not Italian.
Bruce realized she would present a formidable challenge. But not to the eye. ‘Yes. Job interview. You as well?’ He flashed his widest smile, nervously brushing wayward hair back from his forehead. Inwardly he pleaded. Please say no. Please say you’re just here to interview him for a financial newspaper or something.
‘In a way, I suppose.’ She crossed her legs the opposite way, a slow elaborate process that moved from perfect sloping alignment to the right to perfect sloping alignment to the left. And what legs. What a manoeuvre. Bruce tried to quell an inward shudder of excitement. If it wasn’t for his recent commitment to Julia he’d be tempted to find out what she was doing that evening. He pondered on what she had said. “In a way?” It seemed an odd reply. She was either there for a job or not. Then he considered his own case, which was vague enough. What job was he applying for, anyway? ‘Maybe we’re rivals, then?’ he ventured.
The girl laughed, a rippling waterfall of a laugh, a gently tinkling exuberance that indicated such a prospect held no fears for her; this was confirmed by the firm smile she gave him: in its way, he supposed, quite deadly. ‘Perhaps.’
Bruce’s stomach churned. He really wanted this job—if he could do it, whatever it might be—but if she was his competition, he might as well walk out and catch an early lunch: preferably liquid. This, for sure, was no dumb blonde. She also looked rich. Somehow she oozed money. The quality of her clothes confirmed it. Why did she even need a job? Surely she had a sugar-daddy?
Bruce noticed Daisy look up from her computer screen and frown somewhat disapprovingly in their direction. Perhaps she thought it was inappropriate for the enemy to fraternize in this way. Then her phone buzzed and she diverted her attention to this. ‘Right away, sir,’ he heard faintly. She replaced the handset and then came over to him. ‘Mr. Galliano will see you now, Mr. Kramer.’
Yes! Bruce mentally punched the air. Thank you, God! He found he still had faith for certain things. Perhaps he was first to see Galliano. He must assume this and really go for it. He liked the thought of a plush, red-carpeted future. He smiled across at his rival—who seemed not the least disconcerted—deposited his half-empty latte glass on the low table and then rose and followed Daisy through the archway to the white double doors opposite. After a light knock, she opened one of the doors, stepped through to introduce him and then stood aside to allow him to enter. The carpet—still red—became even thicker and richer. The office looked like a film-set for a top executive—which, Bruce guessed, he must be, judging by the expensive trappings that now caught his eye. Was he seeing the top man? This was the registered office of the holding company, after all. A big future could be on the line here. Galliano’s secretary departed with what he took to be a knowing smile.
Suddenly Bruce felt very scruffy and out of his depth. What was he doing there? Quickly, deliberately, he took in the scene with a single, panning glance. The office extended from front to back of the building. Through the rear window he glimpsed tall trees in what he assumed was Henrietta Park. The room was furnished with impressive antique furniture, very ornate and highly polished, possibly French, including a tall, elegant, glass-fronted bookcase with intricate carvings in front of the glass. Two cream leather armchairs matching those in the reception area offered a relaxed seating area by the rear window. The focal point of the room was a central, green-leather-topped desk, with the executive’s obligatory green banker’s lamp. On the desk were a number of files, an open laptop, a half-filled glass with a carafe of water, and a large blotter on which lay a small sheaf of papers. Behind it sat Mr. Galliano. The laptop immediately suggested this was a hands-on executive, despite him being much older than Bruce had anticipated. A growing suspicion nagged at Bruce that wires had got crossed; judging by his surroundings, all this was way out of his league.
Obviously this building was little more than an administrative centre for it was only a single house within a Georgian parade and it clearly had limited office space. After his mother’s dire warnings, he’d checked the company out and confirmed it had links with communications and media companies right across Europe. There must be many other offices, for it had interests in publishing, retail, property, oil and finance. Maybe the person his mother had heard about just had a bad deal from one of their associate companies? This certainly didn’t look like the “fly-by-night” image his mother’s concerns had conjured up. He decided to forget all that. A future with a company like this promised to be as rosy as the carpet. Maybe he could have similar trappings in his own office.
Galliano was a substantial, elderly man, completely bald-headed, very pale, with a set of whiter-than-white teeth that flashed a Hollywood smile at him as he rose from his chair and extended a podgy hand. From their earlier telephone conversation, Bruce had already decided he seemed pleasant enough; his smile confirmed this. Yet all the talk of setting challenges made him wary.
‘Ah, Mr. Kramer. So nice to meet you at last.’ Galliano gestured to one of a pair of leather chairs in front of his desk. ‘Please to take a seat. Make yourself comfortable. My secretary has taken good care of you, no? You have had coffee, I trust? You would like more, perhaps?’
‘No thank you. I’ve had a very nice latte, already. I’m fine.’
‘Excellent. There is nothing like good coffee.’ Galliano sat down again, but then began to wheeze, looking a little distressed. ‘Excuse me, please.’ While Bruce worried if he was about to expire, the other produced an inhaler which he used noisily; he sounded like a child slurping a depleted drink through a straw. ‘I am so sorry. I have health problems, you see.’ He paused for a moment and then carried on as if nothing had happened. ‘So we can get straight to business. Firstly, I introduce myself properly. I am Aldo Galliano, managing director of Galliano-Global. I am driving force behind Galliano-Global. I personally registered the company here, in Bath, many years ago.’ He stopped for a brief wheeze and then continued. ‘And I hire people I think will add value to the company—or to sister companies.’ Galliano then fingered a sheet of paper and glanced at it briefly. ‘I was very interested in your CV, Mr. Kramer.’ He looked up. ‘Or maybe I can call you Bruce?’
‘Please do,’ Bruce said with a smile, never doubting he’d still be calling the other “Mr. Galliano”.

...

In a second interview, Bruce is surprised to find himself alongside Sofia

Galliano invited Sofia into his office first, leaving Bruce to check out what she’d been reading in Hello Magazine. His mind was so preoccupied the celebrity houses and weddings passed him by without even registering; they were just mannequins living in picture-perfect surroundings. After fifteen minutes of boredom Daisy’s phone rang, she answered it, and he was finally ushered into Galliano’s office. It was a surprise to find he was joining both Galliano and Sofia on the sofas near the rear window. Sofia smiled up at him, laughter in her eyes. Bruce began to wonder if he’d been set-up over lunch.
Galliano stood to shake his hand and then smilingly gestured to space on the sofa next to Sofia. Bruce sat and made himself comfortable while Sofia smoothed down her skirt—insomuch as its short constraints allowed. Galliano then went across to use the phone on his desk to ask his secretary to bring some tea—while Bruce amused himself imagining reaching out to gently caress the tanned leg so tantalisingly close to his own.
Galliano returned to sit on the sofa opposite them. ‘Sometimes I like your English tea, Bruce. Is very nice in afternoon.’ He paused for a moment. ‘I gather you two young people have already met? Have got—what you say?—chummy over lunch?’ He grinned when Bruce exchanged an amused glance with Sofia. ‘Which puts an interesting slant on what I now have to say to you both.’ He paused. ‘Maybe you think I ask you to work together, no?’
Sofia shook her head firmly. ‘No, I don’t think that, Aldo. I am not here to work for you, like Bruce.’
Galliano leaned across and briefly tapped Bruce’s knee. ‘By the way, please to also call me Aldo, Bruce.’ He sat back. ‘But there is common ground. As I explained, Sofia, I would like you to undertake a little task in return for my backing. As they say, there is no such thing as free lunch.’ He smiled. ‘So I propose identical task for you both. If you complete this task with success, for you, Sofia, I can assure you of a role that will not disappoint in major film.’ He watched her smile grow and her eyes widen and then he focused on Bruce. ‘And for you, Bruce, a well-paid executive job afterwards.’ Bruce felt a grin attach itself to his own lips.
‘But first I tell you a little of myself, no? I not work hard at school. I leave with few qualification and work in café in Sorrento. There I learn the challenge of achieving perfection in food, coffee, presentation, and it interest me. I like achieving perfection. I learn how to make the perfect cappuccino and latte. And I learn good latte art.’ He looked at them enquiringly. ‘You know, making the pictures on a latte? It is skill that comes from practice and pouring the milk by shaking the jug from the wrist. Like so.’ He waggled his hand and then smiled. ‘I was good. Beautiful flowers; hearts for the ladies. Latte art. I impress people. I discover so many things go toward perfection. You not only need good coffee bean, you need good burr grinder, not blade. You need to fill and tamp coffee basket just the right way. You need to calibrate espresso machine with pressure just right to deliver one fluid ounce in twenty-three seconds precisely.’
Galliano opened his hands and smiled from one to the other of them. ‘So many things I learn, you wouldn’t believe. Later I work up to manager, owner, then several cafés in Sorrento, then Lake Garda, then elsewhere. Now all over Europe. You may have noticed one in basement here. All are all called Gallianos. This one very small, but is only way to make sure I get good coffee in office. So long as it pay the staff. My little extravagance.’ He laughed. ‘I not try to give Starbucks a hard time. Gallianos are more intimate. People like that. I like to see Gallianos in cities. They are haven for rest and good coffee.
‘I then began with other businesses. New challenges. But always I want things perfect.’ He shrugged. ‘Well, I like perfection. I try to make all my businesses perfect. They are, I know, not all perfect, but they are good. And I need good people to make it so. And now we come to you two young people.
‘But first, there is challenge. If I give people special help, I sometimes need their special help in return. And to you young people, I throw down my gauntlet. I call it “Galliano’s Gauntlet”. I ask you both to do some research and write a little report over six month period. I give you three hundred thousand pounds each for your budget to do this.’ He looked from one to the other of them, apparently enjoying their astonishment. Then he concentrated on Sofia. ‘Not bad, eh? But maybe you need some extra help, I think. To pay people, maybe? Six months is not so long and task is hard. If you succeed you keep remainder of your budget plus, maybe, a one million pound prize.
‘Yes!’ He sat back and smiled at their astonished faces with delight. ‘You hear me right. One million pounds for the best effort. Plus your film, Sofia, or your job, Bruce.’ He paused for a moment to let this sink in. ‘If you do not succeed, but still produce worthy attempt, you keep the remainder of your budget.’ He smiled between them. ‘So, some encouragement for good work and efficiency, no?’ A brief spasm hit him again and, after fumbling in his pocket, he quickly took a gasp from an inhaler.
Bruce and Sofia exchanged bewildered glances.
‘But I am not good at writing, Aldo,’ said Sofia, looking back at him. ‘It is not what I do best.’
He smiled at her. ‘But you can pay someone to write, Sofia. That is why I give you so much money. You can manage my little project, surely? Prove your abilities? Your initiative? You do not think this worth some effort? Remember the film is part of this deal.’
Sofia shook her head uncertainly. ‘What is this report about, Aldo? And why do both of us have to do it? I don’t understand. You mean we must work together?’
At that moment the tea arrived, Daisy poured cups for each of them at Galliano’s request and then she departed and they sat back while Galliano explained further.
‘Firstly, it will not have escaped your notice I am not well man. I have very advanced septicaemia and I am told is spreading. But is my fault. I smoke fat Havana cigars. Now I pay.’ He shrugged. ‘I have to accept this is my killer, not work. I have best treatment, of course, but twelve months would be good news. Nine maybe. Six, if things go bad. I don’t know, but I try to live as long as I can, no?’ He gave them a forced smile. ‘I plan for nine-plus, I still have many things to do. Of course, I am not young. I am seventy-one. But not too old, either, I think.’
‘Poor Aldo.’ Sofia crossed to sit on the sofa next to him. She put a hand on his arm. ‘You poor darling. I can’t believe it. And you are still interested in work?’ She rolled her eyes. ‘I think I would be in the Caribbean, Aldo, not Bath.’
Galliano smiled. ‘You are right, my dear. I should.’ He leaned forward and patted her knee, his hand lingering perhaps a little longer than a casual—even continental—gesture should allow. He then leaned back again, addressing them both. ‘Through my companies I have great wealth. Many millions. But money is no longer my focus. Life is my focus: whether I can gain any more than I should reasonably expect. But can money—or worry—add an extra hour to your life?’ He looked at Bruce. ‘Recognize this saying, Bruce, from the Bible?’
‘Who of you by worrying can add one hour to his life?’ quoted Bruce. He knew this was from Luke.
‘Exactly,’ said Galliano, beaming at him. ‘Although cryonics might just do that. Eventually. You know of this, Bruce?’
‘Freezing the body?’
‘That’s right. Or just freezing the head or brain in what they call "neuropreservation". Is easier and saves preserving my old body parts.’
Sofia shivered. ‘Why ever freeze yourself, Aldo? And why just a head?’ She looked aghast. ‘Why not just have a nice peaceful burial?’
Galliano turned to explain. ‘Only freeze after death, my dear. When legally dead, no heartbeat, but biologically still alive. Deep-freeze body or organs. Very low temperatures to preserve. Severed-head, maybe. Get my old brain restored in a nice new body some time in the future.’ He chuckled at Sofia’s expression. ‘Or my body brought back to life when medical science is more clever and I can be cured. Maybe I get new younger body through cloning? Who knows?’ He tapped the side of his head. ‘But with this brain, you see. This brain. And all will be well so long as they don’t put it into a cow or sheep, eh?’ He chuckled at their wide-eyed expressions. ‘If they do this, I haunt them for sure. I think I maybe put in special clause to prevent mad experiment. But who knows what method they use to restore me with their future technology? They do not even know this yet.’
Galliano then focussed on Bruce. ‘Imagine if there is a heaven, Bruce. What if there is eternal life? What happens if I go to heaven and then, later, some scientist brings my body back to life? I might be snatched out of a delightful heaven, with a beautiful woman, to go back into imperfect earthly body, eh?’ He grimaced at them both. ‘If there is a God and heaven, this is not good scenario, I think. So what is it to be for me?’ He shrugged. ‘And what if there is reincarnation? Does karma affect that? Can I live in two bodies at once if they brought me back to life with cryonics?’ He shook his head and smiled. ‘Not that I much believe in reincarnation. But you see my problem? Maybe there is no God. Maybe mankind just like to think there must be a God. So which way do I go? Survival or salvation? Sofia? Bruce? Cryonics or prayer? If there is nothing after death then I not worry. It make no difference.’ Then he smiled from one to the other of them. ‘But good manager think of all possibilities and plan for all contingencies, eh? I want best chance not to party with the devil. But, if there is nothing after death, I need not worry in my last months. Worry will not help me live longer, I think. If I do not worry, maybe I live much longer than doctors think anyway.’ He gave a wide, continental-style shrug. ‘Is difficult.’
Sofia shook her head in despair. ‘Life is complicated enough, Aldo. But I thought death was straightforward until today. Now you even make death complicated. Business men.’ She flapped her hands in frustration. ‘Mamma mia.’
Galliano rocked with laughter. ‘Good managers foresee all complications, Sofia. And when I look at the beauties of this world,’ and here he indicated the park beyond the window, followed by gesturing towards Sofia herself, ‘I sometimes think it must take a very good manager to handle all this. Any big organisation without good management soon gets into big mess. Yet look at that.’ He waved dramatically towards the park.
‘Nature. Our universe. Not a mess—except where we meddle. Could all that blunder along by chance and still be so beautiful and successful? But, I do not know. Maybe is so. Especially if intelligent life only on this planet. It could all be going wrong right now. There’s global warming. Would not God intervene already, if he existed? Maybe there is no God. Science thinks this, no? If you think they are right, is up to you to convince me why. And to do that, you will need to consider why the Bible and the Christian religion has lasted so long. I come from Catholic family and would need some convincing. But over the years I’ve had growing doubts about God. So if there is a God, I need to understand where science is getting it wrong. If there is a God, how much he influence things, eh?’
Sofia leaned across towards Galliano. ‘Aldo, this is well out of my league. Truly. Bruce has studied theology. I am just a model. An aspiring actress. Why on earth do you think I could help you? You can pay experts to tell you. What good is my opinion?’
Galliano smiled at her. ‘I have two experts working on this already, my dear. One “for” and one “against” God. But I have talked to them for many hours and they just confuse me more and more. So I tell them to go away and write readable reports. Yet I already know I will not understand their words. I now think is better to get opinions of ordinary people who take the time to think about this. People without preconceptions. My poor brain will soon burst from this. And I have good reason for choosing someone like you, Sofia. I tell you more one day. Meanwhile, I have urgent businesses to attend to and that will take all my time. I need your two young unbiased brains to think about this for me.’ He smiled. ‘Your unbiased brains, eh? I think is good investment. Sofia, you are from Catholic parents but you don’t really believe in God. You say this before lunch, ? You are like a control in my little experiment. And Bruce, you say you would like to believe in God. But you need time to think it out. Better you judge from this than blinkered position.’ He sighed. ‘Both my experts are blinkered, you see. And you both need to take time to get your minds around this, I know. So I pay for your time. You both work for me on this project, eh? You both at right place at right time, no?’ He grinned.
Sofia leaned towards him. ‘Yes, I’d like to be able to believe in a God, Aldo, because my parents brought me up a Catholic. But it all seems too mythical these days. If there is a master plan, why is it going so wrong? Would a God allow us to destroy our planet? But that’s just the way I feel right now. I admit, if I were dying I might feel very differently. In view of what you ask, I might even change my mind.’ She then gave him a sympathetic expression, smoothing out her skirt again and wriggling to adjust her pose. This was followed by a coy look at Bruce, who reckoned she was just trying to plant uncertainty into his mind about the direction she might choose. He figured she had by now decided to accept the challenge. After all, there were some very big carrots for them both.
‘And you, Bruce,’ Galliano said, turning to him. ‘You say you would like to get your head together about your belief. Like me. So this is perfect chance. You will both accept my challenge, no? What I need is for you to write a report that argues a logical case for there being a God or there not being a God. I want the report to convince me, in simple terms, one way or other. To have definite conclusion based on evidence presented; this important. If there is a God, you need to explain the doubts of science; to explain where the Bible fits in when it seems contrary to science on evolution, et-cetera. There are many contradictions and many mysteries. I have written many points down for you to consider. You can do this?’ He looked hopefully at Bruce.
‘Just solve the meaning of life within six months, Aldo? That's after I’ve decided whether I truly do believe in God myself? Is that all? Not much of a challenge, then.’ Bruce gave him a comical expression which caused Galliano to burst into laughter, shortly followed by wheezing into a snowy-white handkerchief.

...

Bruce sounds out an unusual character for his research team

Bertie Protheroe did seem a weird choice at first. It had to be admitted he was a complete eccentric. His appearance caused most people to give him a wide berth. He normally wore a battered straw hat and garishly-coloured shirts with baggy combat trousers — extraordinary on his bony little body. This, coupled with his hooked red nose, rosy cheeks and highly-wrinkled, weather-worn face, gave him an almost clownish appearance; only the grease-paint seemed missing. The thing about Bertie was he seemed to have been everywhere, done everything, and while one might doubt all of it at first, prolonged conversation with him across the bar had convinced Bruce he was quite genuine: he truly had been everywhere, done everything, met everyone. Occasional comments he’d made gave Bruce the feeling he even had hidden spiritual depth.
Apparently Bertie had sheared sheep in the outback of Australia, worked in a casino in Las Vegas, fished in the North Sea, studied under a yogi in India, worked as a crop-sprayer in New Zealand—without a pilot’s licence—driven a bus in Coventry and a taxi in Liverpool; the list seemed endless. Whether it was all true seemed a little doubtful, but certainly a great deal of it was for, when asked an in-depth question about any of his exploits, Bertie was always forthcoming with the details; it was difficult to judge whether he was completely genuine, an excellent liar or complete fantasist. Bruce made up his mind to engage Bertie in a telling conversation to find out more while he had the opportunity.
Realising it was no good attempting to do this while on duty that evening, Bruce headed for the bar at lunchtime. Apart from being there between 7 pm and 9 pm in the evenings, Bertie was reliably there between 1 pm and 2:30 pm in the afternoons. Whatever he did with his days, it was clearly planned with military precision. He had, of course, once been in the army.
When Bruce arrived he was pleased to see Bertie already propping up the end of the bar, half-way through his first pint.
‘All right, today, Bertie? Can I top you up?’
‘You can line me up, if you like, Bruce,’ he winked. ‘A bird in the hand. But aren’t you on the wrong side of the bar, old chap?’
Bruce went over to him, laughed and then ordered two pints from Cathy who was amazed to see him there off-shift. ‘It’s nice to be this side of the bar for a change, Bertie.’
‘Just can’t get enough of this place, can you, Bruce?’ said Cathy, smiling at him as she pulled a pint. She had a strong Merseyside accent.
‘Just thought I’d try the view from this side of the bar,’ Bruce grinned back. ‘It seems more peaceful here.’
‘That’s because it is.’ Cathy already knew he had handed in his notice.
Once Bertie’s second pint was lined up next to his first, and Bruce had taken a thankful draft of his own—it was a hot summer’s day and he needed to cool down after his walk from home—Bruce waded in. ‘I just wanted the chance of a decent chat with you, Bertie,’ he said. ‘It’s too frustrating talking to you from behind the bar. Too many interruptions. You seem to have had a fascinating life.’
‘Cheers.’ Bertie raised his new pint, took a sip and then returned for a sip from his original glass. He winked. ‘Like a dog. Marking my possessions. Oh yes. I have had a fascinating life, Bruce. Wouldn’t have lived it any other way. No sir. And if I knew getting old was so interesting I’d have done it years ago.’ He cackled at his own joke. ‘I don’t even mind being old. It’s a badge of honour, the way I see it.’ He pointed with a knobbly finger at his lined forehead. ‘Every furrow tells a story. Ploughed them all personally. But I’m only a youngster at seventy-five. My father lived to ninety-two.’
‘But I take it you’re retired now. What did you used to do?’
Bertie shook his head and gave him a toothy grin. There was a large gap right in the front which tended to draw the eye. ‘How long have you got?’ he asked. ‘Telling you all I’d done would take all day. And then some. And I might be retired by name, but I can still turn my hand to more things than most youngsters have even heard of. Aye, that I can.’ He winked and took a long draft that almost emptied his original pint.
‘You’re pretty much self-sufficient, I imagine,’ said Bruce, easing his way in.
‘Oh yes. Can survive anywhere, Bruce. I’ve survived without water in the outback for three days. I’ve survived a shipwreck in the North Sea. I’ve fallen from a hundred-foot cliff and just rolled to safety. Been snapped at by a crocodile within an inch of my face in Australia. Invincible, that’s me.’ He finished the beer, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and then pulled his new pint towards him.
‘So you’ve no need for God, then, Bertie? To help you along when life gets tricky?’
‘God?’ Bertie turned his head to look at him with interest. ‘You’re a God-man, are you, Bruce?’
Bruce nodded. ‘I think there might be a power that controls our universe, but I’m not too sure about a personality called God. There seem too many troubles in the world today. And science has it all wrapped up, doesn’t it? What do you say?’
‘Well, that depends on what—or whom—you mean by God.’
Bruce raised an eyebrow. ‘There’s only one God, with a capital “G”, so far as I’m aware. I’d leave the pagan gods to history. You only allow for one God, don’t you, Bertie?’
Bertie pulled a barstool towards him and heaved himself up onto it. Bruce did likewise, for experience told him Bertie might be launching into a long tale.

...

Bruce's research team are talking about "creation"

‘Yes,’ said Bruce, ‘the Genesis authors made some schoolboy bloomers about the universe—as has science over the previous millennium I might add, so we can certainly excuse the original scribes; but it’s clear they were inspired because they faultlessly stated the correct evolutionary sequence. No so-called logical assumptions led them to tamper with that.’
‘Some interesting observations and conclusions,’ nodded Carla, grudgingly. ‘And some food for thought. Thanks, Bruce. I see you’ve had your thinking cap on.’
‘A thinking chair, actually,’ grinned Bruce. ‘At home. But it has the same effect.’
Carla moved on. ‘Okay, but what about the second account of creation in Genesis 2? The one you call Version Two in your chart?’
‘That’s more of a problem. I need a bit more time in the thinking chair for that one.’
Carla turned to Bertie. ‘You’ve been unusually quiet, Bertie. No input from you on this one? No Eastern Promise?’
Bertie grinned. ‘I believe in creation, or a time when our world suddenly came into being. Yes, the Big Bang, Carla. But why should I be concerned whether it was six thousand or many millions of years ago? The point is that it certainly took a creative force to think-up this Big Bang. Am I not right, Mrs. Science, that quantum mechanics breaks down at the zero point of energy, at the instant of the Big Bang?’
Carla looked impressed. ‘Well said, Bertie. Fancy you being into quantum mechanics. You’re a dark horse.’
‘You’d better believe it, dear lady. Sometimes I whinny.’ Bertie flickered his eyebrows at her. ‘But I’m better at bicycle mechanics.’
Carla ignored this. ‘General relativity can’t deal with the sharpness of zero, either,’ she admitted. ‘In a black hole, space and time are meaningless.’
‘So you’re in a black hole too,’ grinned Emma.
‘Not entirely,’ replied Carla. ‘String Theory can handle it better.’
‘So do you rule out a creator, Carla?’ asked Bruce. ‘You just think the Big Bang sprang into being in the middle of nothingness? For no better reason than spontaneity?’
‘As I think you know from our earlier days at Cambridge, Bruce, I might be sympathetic to the notion of some kind of “intelligent design”—if it made logical sense. But, as a scientist, I can sympathise with scientific arguments that the evolution of our universe, and life upon it, has been random.’ She paused for a moment of uncertainty. ‘On the other hand, again, I have some sympathy with the observation it seems jolly well too organized and beautiful for chance. Most things end up in a mess when left to chance. That our world could evolve life as a collection of efficient machine-like beings of such diversity seems a bit unlikely to me. But my work makes it quite clear evolution explains the ascent of man. So, while I find too many holes in the Bible to take it onboard without screaming and shouting, I do look forward to any enlightenment that might come out of this project to support intelligent design.’ She looked at Bruce. ‘How’s that for open and honest, Brucie?’
‘Confused, more like,’ muttered Bertie.
Ignoring him, Bruce winked and smiled at Carla. ‘That’s it. Keep open minded, Carla. That’s all I ask. I’ve been trying to remember why I chose you as our science representative.’

...

 

Sofia, Bruce's principal rival, is having trouble keeping things on track"

Sofia was in a rush when the phone rang in her apartment. In a further twenty minutes a car would be picking her up for a photo-shoot on the other side of Rome. She was surprised to hear it was Victor Freed on the line.
‘What can I do for you, Victor?’
‘I just wanted to run an idea past you, Miss Mancini.’
‘Well, I’m about to go out, so it must be very quick. Two minutes and the stage is yours.’
‘Right!’ Victor sounded a little panicked by this. ‘I’m bothered the Old Testament describes aliens in lots of places. And talking of lots, there is just that: “Lot”. Remember? I told you about the guy whose wife was turned into a pillar of salt? The visitors who talked to him sound like aliens. They were shocked by the sexual perversions in Sodom and wanted to take Lot and his wife away. Then burning sulphur rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah; that was some sort of bomb they set off, of course. Well, my angle is based on Kathleen’s theory these people were missionaries who came to make mankind better on this planet. But more than that, they were preparing for an invasion. Control over mankind? Perhaps they wanted to emigrate to earth. Something like that. I haven’t figured it all out yet.’ He paused. ‘How do you like the sound of this, Miss Mancini? It all helps show you cannot take the Bible seriously about angels. They were no more angels than you or me.’ He paused. ‘Do you like this new angle?’
Sofia sighed. ‘I admit I’m no angel,’ she said. ‘But do I like this aliens idea? No, I do not. I read about Lot after you mentioned it. Genesis describes his visitors as men as well as angels. Human beings. So if you want your money, stick to the brief, Victor. No crazy theories about aliens. Okay? And there’s the time travel issue. We agreed Ezekiel’s visitors were human missionaries with advanced flying technology who probably came from another continent. That their craft might connect with vimanas mentioned in that Indian epic?’ Sofia gave another loud sigh. ‘Did we not agree on all this, Victor?’
‘I guess so. But I might be onto something important here—’.
‘No buts, Victor. No buts. Now I must go. Stick to the brief. And do have a nice day.’

Who is Bruce chatting with? Could it possibly be God?

Bruce could see a golden sphere of light shimmering through the swirling mist ahead. He walked towards the light but that in itself proved to be a strange sensation. He felt almost weightless, like a spaceman walking on the moon. When he looked down, he could not see his body, despite the dim light. Worse, when he tried, he found he couldn’t even feel it. It was weird. Spooky.
Approaching closer, walking as if on sponge, the presence of the light seemed strangely reassuring. He stopped, afraid to draw any closer. A palpable peace seemed to descend on him, like the peace he often sensed in old churches—due, he once fervently believed, because they were “tanked-up” with worship. Then he heard a voice coming from the direction of the sphere.
‘Hello Bruce.’ The voice had a booming quality even though it was not loud: a deep richness that sounded friendly and reassuring. Yet how could it echo in the mist?
Bruce wondered if he might be dead. Had Nailer’s pill killed him? Then it struck him. Could this golden light be God? He didn’t feel dead, and this surely couldn’t be a dream since he was distinguishing what had happened in the real world—which, in his experience, never happened in dreams. Maybe it happened in Nailer’s dreams, though. Yet the voice couldn’t really be God’s because God couldn’t possibly be encapsulated in a ball of light. It was like a fireball, yet it didn’t radiate heat, it just looked like pure, shimmering light.
‘Who are you?’ asked Bruce nervously.
There was a deep laugh. ‘Who do you think I am, Bruce?’
Bruce hesitated. ‘I don’t know. Am I in the collective unconscious?’ Even as he said it he was aware how ridiculous it sounded—like asking which store department he had stumbled into from a lift.
The laugh was repeated, but this time with more hilarity. ‘If I said I was God you wouldn’t believe me. So what am I to say?’
Bruce was incongruous. ‘So you’re saying you are God?’
‘I’m saying you wouldn’t believe me if I said I was God. And I want you to believe all I have to say, Bruce, I really do, so I’d better not start by saying the one thing you will never believe, had I? Even if I am God.’
Bruce felt his head throbbing—even though he didn’t seem to have a head. ‘I don’t like riddles,’ he snapped. ‘My head hurts. Please just tell me who you are. And if you’re God, please make my head stop hurting.’
‘Do you believe I can do that?’
‘I believe you can do that if you really are God.’
There was a gentle laugh this time—and suddenly his head did stop hurting. ‘Well, you might tell me I’m wrong,’ said the voice, ‘but I believe I’m God. I have every faith I’m God. Do you have faith, Bruce?’
Bruce thought about this for a while, looked around at the near-blackness, realised he had no explanation for where he was, who he was talking to, whether it was even human. Was he still on the earth or was he in a dream? Or was he actually dead? He remembered he’d taken a pill. Was this a con? Was he, perhaps, talking to Albert Nailer while in a trance? But then he remembered Carla was there to check on that. And if it was all a dream, nothing really mattered anyway, so no worries. He must stop worrying. All would become clear in the end. There seemed little choice but to go along with the voice for now: albeit in a dream or trance. Yet, if that were so, would he be able to think about it like this? Could he ever remember reasoning in a dream before? Didn’t you just do and feel in a dream?
‘If you were God, why would you bother to talk to me since I’ve doubted you?’ Bruce thought this was a good line to start with and he was pleased with it.
‘Bruce, if you met a stranger in a pub and he said his name was Jimmy Green, would you believe him or not?’
‘I’d have no reason to doubt him.’
‘So why do you have reason to doubt me if I tell you I really am God? Are you more likely to meet Jimmy Green here?’
Bruce let out a long disbelieving breath; strange, considering he had no apparent body; perhaps it was just metaphorical breath. ‘Let’s just suppose I go along with that for now,’ he conceded. ‘But if that is so, where am I? And why are you speaking to me now?’
‘Let’s just say you’re in limbo, Bruce. Stop worrying about not having a body for the moment. It doesn’t bother me, not having a body. Make the most of this conversation, Bruce. You’re too preoccupied with bodies.’
‘Okay,’ said Bruce, somewhat uncertainly.
‘Now, Bruce. Do you remember taking that pill?’
‘Yes. I took Albert Nailer’s pill.’
‘Then that’s how you got here. You said you’d like to have a chat with God, didn’t you? To Julia? And to Emma?’
‘Yes, I did,’ agreed Bruce.
‘So that’s the reason you’re here for a while, Bruce. For as long as that pill allows your physical brain to access higher intelligence. And you chose me. Thank you for choosing me, Bruce. I believe you have some questions. So ask away. All I ask of you is that you truly always believe in me if you believe what I’m about to tell you. Doesn’t that sound a reasonable request? This is a unique opportunity for you, you know.’
‘I find it difficult to believe in a God I can just talk to like this.’
‘You mean you find it easier to believe in one you can’t talk to?’
‘No. I mean you might just be a voice in my head. Or in my dream.’
‘I’m in everyone’s head to some degree, Bruce. Lots of people worry about my judgement, but I’m just a little bit concerned about yours. So why not postpone deciding whether I’m God or just a voice in your head until you’ve heard what I have to say? Let me ask you this. Could your head answer your most difficult questions, Bruce? Is it likely your average dream could?’
‘No. Definitely not.’
‘So ask them, Bruce. Don’t waste valuable time when you’ve got what you asked for. Ask the real corkers, if you like. Ask your most difficult questions and then believe. I’m all ears, Bruce, and I can answer your questions.’
Bruce took another metaphorical breath. ‘Right. The big stuff then. Let’s start with wars. If you’re God, why do you allow wars to take place?’
There was a low chuckle. ‘You really meant it when you said big stuff, didn’t you? Right. Wars. So many people seem to focus on wars: and to blame me for wars when human-beings start them all. These days wars are all down to human-beings, Bruce. Why wouldn’t there be wars resulting from big disagreements?’
‘But people get killed needlessly. Pointlessly. Innocent people. How can you allow that? I might have a complete faith if I could get my head around a few things like that. How can you justify such things? You even invoked some wars Israel got involved in, according to the Old Testament. Why?’
‘Simple. To kill off idol worshippers who were spreading evil and contaminating my people. It’s all there in the Bible, Bruce.’
‘But what about the wars taking place today? Why don’t you get involved and stop them?’
‘Again. Who makes those wars, Bruce?’
Bruce felt cross. ‘Look, why are you asking me questions? Please! Can’t you just answer them?’
‘Don’t get impatient, Bruce, we have all the time in the world, if necessary. I can stop it, you see, if I wish. Time, that is. But be patient, because by answering my questions, you will learn. Your inner-self will begin to understand. You need to think in order to understand anything in creation. Why do you think Jesus spoke in parables?’
‘So the stories would be easily remembered and handed down intact?’
‘Hmm, that’s actually true, but it was also to make the right people think.’
Bruce was puzzled by this. ‘The right people?’
‘Yes. The people who matter. The ones who want to believe. The ones prepared to think for themselves. There’s a reason man has a sophisticated mind. It is to be used for thinking. Only believers can fathom certain mysteries.’ He paused for a moment. ‘Now, back to wars. I ask you again, Bruce. Who makes these wars?’
‘Men.’
‘Correct. Not me. So why blame me?’
‘But you control the way things pan out, right? Is it preordained we have wars?’
‘Nothing is preordained, Bruce.’
‘But surely you give people talents to use in your work? So, if that’s right, it is preordained they go the particular ways you planned. Right? Me, even? And, if that’s right, the paths of men who make wars is to some degree preordained; therefore the wars are preordained. Cause and effect?’
God laughed. ‘My, you put up a good argument, Bruce, even though you don’t really believe that in your heart. You’re as earnest as Job to get at the truth, aren’t you? Understand this. All human-beings have absolute freedom about what they do in life. Chance plays a part, but the greater part is due to their own inclinations, good or bad. And bad inclinations in powerful people can lead to war.’
‘But you could intervene. You could end wars if you’re all powerful.’
‘Which would interfere with the plan. The rules.’
‘What plan? What rules?’
‘It’s hard to clearly explain any individual question you might have, Bruce, because you need to understand the bigger picture of the nature of creation in order to appreciate any particular part of it. But we can get there, if you’re patient. You’re capable of understanding so much, and I know you’re interested. When I thought of the whole concept of creation I had a general thought. Some people might call it a plan, but that is rather misleading; over-ambitious. “Concept” would be nearer the truth: the concept of creation.’
‘Do you mean inventing the Laws of Nature was the concept?’
‘Ah, yes. You’re beginning to get the right idea, Bruce, but I don’t like to call it “inventing”. What people call the “Laws of Nature” are just part of the creation concept. The laws are merely effects, really; the maths behind it, if you like. For example, you can model how the weather will change, but the fact there are algorithms to predict that does not mean anyone had to do those calculations in order for the weather to change. It just happens. Do you see? The maths just creates a model to help man predict the effects. It does not relate to the cause or contribute to the effect. Laws. Rules. Forget them. Or if you must consider them, within the constraints these set, there is chance and freedom. For man, it means he can make his own decisions, go his own way, but that doesn’t mean I don’t give individuals particular talents or, if you prefer, the concept allows individuals to develop particular talents which, ideally, are used for the common good but which, in some cases, get wrongly used for evil. Like you can have a good or a bad dream. I had a concept, then, when it was realised, it became what we might term a manifestation. The physical world became manifest.’
‘But if you want things to be used for the common good, why allow evil?’
God laughed. ‘Come, Bruce, I’ve even heard you expound on this one. As you have said yourself, there will always be a lowest degree of good. Ultimately the concept, the plan, will allow good to overcome evil; there is always a good bias, and most people are inherently good. You could say good is programmed into the collective unconscious if you wish to pursue that model. So good will win out—but good only stands out as good in contrast to evil.’
‘But I don’t see how you can have a good plan that allows so many to die in wars. Innocent people die.’
‘That’s where you need to better understand the scope of creation, Bruce. If you believe life ceases when people die then it may well seem terrible to you, but if you knew that these people—the good people—live on for eternity in a place much more pleasant—in heaven—then you might look at death very differently. Death is not a terrible thing, you see, it is merely the transition to a new life: an enjoyable new life, much better than the old. So dying in war is a blessed release from massacre.’
Bruce began to sense the immensity of what they were talking about and how blinkered normal human viewpoints were. But he wanted to get one thing clear. ‘So nothing is preordained?’
‘Nothing is preordained, or beyond change, up to the point where events happen.’
‘Creation is more than a bit complicated. How did you think it up?’
Jolly laugher followed. ‘Think about your own dreams, Bruce. I know you already have thought along these lines. But consider. How real do those seem to you?’
Bruce responded very quickly to this. ‘Very real.’
‘And what if something fantastic occurs in them? Ever have anything like that? And did that fantastic thing seem real at the time?’
‘Yes. Flying. I once dreamt I could fly. And yes, that seemed real enough. I just flew through the air without any effort.’
‘You see, Bruce, your dream world was as real to you during your dream as your real world seems to you when you are awake. Do you agree?’
‘Absolutely.’
‘And how much design and pre-planning did it take for you to create that dream world, Bruce? Lots of work? Did you firstly have to invent laws and do the maths on how that world would behave? Was it difficult to create that dream world, or did it just come naturally?’
Now Bruce laughed, despite himself. He was beginning to enjoy the repartee. ‘Of course there was no planning. It just came, and it all seemed very real and natural at the time.’
‘Because your conscious mind was not nagging at you that it couldn’t be true. Like it is now, questioning this very conversation with me. Like it nags at you that I couldn’t be true, that there couldn’t be a God talking directly to you. Isn’t that right?’
‘Yes.’ Bruce felt guilty.
‘Don’t feel guilty, Bruce. Your conscious mind is a slave to the pull of what you call the physical world, for it responds most directly to that world. Your mind automatically sets up the constraints of that dream world. Your real world is like that to me, Bruce. Can you see it now? You can day-dream and whip-up an imaginary world, or you can dream of one during your sleep which is every bit as real as your consciously-aware world. All of them—everything in your so-called real world—is all a matter of pure concept, pure ideas within the mind. Mind moulds what you consider to be reality. But that’s my mind, in reality.’
Bruce pondered on this for a while. At a superficial level it sounded like a riddle, but he did get it. ‘You’re saying the real world is no more real than a dream world? And that it’s all in your mind? You sound like Bertie.’
God chuckled. ‘Or Bertie sounds like me. It’s true, though. I dreamt up everything in your world. And everything in your consciousness—subconscious included. In a way you could say I’m dreaming this conversation. It’s all in my mind. Your dream worlds can seem very similar to the real world, can’t they? But do you ever think what happens around the corner where you don’t get to go in your dream world, across the sea you never cross, in the buildings you never enter? What do these places look like if you’ve never seen them? Does your consciousness dream those up although you never call upon those scenarios, or does it improvise when you enter into those previously unknown areas? What do you think, Bruce?’
Bruce laughed. ‘Boy, you’re asking me the corkers now. You know I can’t answer them.’
‘Asking yourself questions is how you really learn, Bruce. Everyone should try it from time to time. It shows you what you need to give more thought to. Everyone should think about the world they live in and how it got like that.’

...


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REVIEWS:

"Very good, and addresses a universal question in a much better way than Dan Brown in Angels and Demons, where the God vs science debate is just another sub-plot in yet another ciphering book. In Flying a Kite it's the main plot thread, convincingly dealt with and riveting." (Richard Pierce, author of Dead Men)


"Fluid, smooth and flows at a lovely pace. Really engaging from the start. Like The Shack, there is a niche for this kind of book." (Gillian McDade, author of The Standing Man)


"Tight writing… using dialogue to give just enough detail to hook us into the story, leaving the snippets of backstory until the reader is well and truly engrossed. Great stuff!" (Jo Carroll, author of Over The Hill And Far Away)


"Characters are direct and effective. I enjoyed the pace which allows the reader to think about the important concepts by himself." (Heikki Hietala, author of Tulagi Hotel)


"Fluent, graphic writing and excellent use of description... Characters alive with captivating dialogue." (Elijah Iwuji, author of Praying in the Will of God)


"I love the characters. Ada is superbly done." (Anne Lyken-Garner, author of Sunday's Child)


"Up there with some of the best published work around." (Walter Robson, author of Access to History: Medieval Britain)


The following non-fiction book partners Flying a Kite
at present only an eBook

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READER COMMENTS:

"The most abstract of concepts are communicated in a clearly digestible form… There is a tremendous need for the genre represented here: arguments which transcend the physical world. For many, if not most, the task of adequately preparing oneself to respond to such questions is simply too daunting. I appreciate the scholarly professionalism and the extensive referencing… [The author] rises to the challenge of what most would consider an extremely difficult calling." (James Revoir - Authonomy)


"This is a very intriguing piece. I believe there is a significant demand for such discussions... I especially appreciate the inviting style, which will definitely be a plus for more skeptical readers." (Faith Rose - Authonomy)


"The survey of arguments both for and against the existence of God provides the reader with a way to better compare and contrast different viewpoints… Presenting the strengths and weaknesses of all of these different viewpoints was one of the things I liked most. I was really interested to read these chapters because, as a mathematician and a Christian, while there may be perceived conflicts between science and religion, I believe there are no conflicts between the structures and systems of the universe and God. This book also explains things very well… [and is] accessible without sacrificing scientific integrity… I think the book will be enjoyed by many and will encourage lively discussion." (David Bortress - Authonomy)


"Extremely well written, researched and set out. Every point is very clear. The analogies are extremely imaginative and very effective. The passion in this work is powerful and every paragraph is thought provoking. The arguments are well thought through and persuasive... I would suggest that everyone reads it and think very carefully about what you say." (Gareth Naylor - Authonomy)


"'Reality Check' is an interesting and accessible book... that sets up the basic argument well, an intriguing one at that: proof of God in brain and mind being two different things, mind existing beyond the time-space continuum. At this stage my interest was piqued. I haven’t come across an argument like this before so it appears original... I was entertained and informed along the way and feel richer for the debate. Anyone interested in these themes would do well to have a read of 'Reality Check'." (Ross Clark - Authonomy)


"This is one hell of a book, excuse the pun; and so well researched, and the thoughts are radical on this matter... [the] Albert Einstein line, very relevant to-day and very much relates to what you have written... I was totally intrigued... and found it to be very informative." (Tom Bye - Authonomy)


Also by the same author, his debut novel, a psychological thriller:

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READER COMMENTS:

"If you love a mystery that will keep you captivated from the very beginning... A psychological thriller, you travel along the journey that Kingsley masterfully unfolds and you never know what is awaiting you around the next turn... I totally enjoyed reading this book. The author skillfully portrayed the characters and they are beautifully interwoven. I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoys a mystery that will keep you turning the pages until the very end." (Theresa Hurley - Amazon.com)


"Sense of evil throughout, of things encroaching upon a family unit. There's the real threat of the creep on the sand dunes, but also the perceived one with Paul's jealousy... He clearly knows there's more going on under the surface with his wife than meets the eye... but what really drew me in was this almost unnerving sense of impending disaster over the family... It's gripping stuff, good pace, excellent scene-setting." (Pat Black)


It's time for a Saturday night curl up your toes and cuddle in the corner thriller chiller mystery. What starts out so right ends up so wrong on this vacation trip for the Vincent family... A murder occurs and who could have done it? ... The author, Ian Kingsley, strings you along until the end. What a great story! It is the memories of the characters that bring in half the fright and add the tension to the night... Then, when you are done, you can leave it on the bureau for an overnight guest. Then you will not have to worry about entertaining them... let the "Sandman" do it." (J. Cormier - Amazon.com)


"A gripping psycholgical read with characters that reach out and grab you. A real page-turner." (SOPHIE KING - bestselling author)


"An extraordinary thriller that tells the tale of a family's vacation turning into a nightmare... I highly recommend this book to any fan of a good mystery or thriller. It really keeps the reader guessing with all the twists and turns." (bookworm - Amazon.com reader review)


"With suspense and interesting plot twists, as well as a series of well developed characters that add to the unique storyline, Ian Kingsley has written a thrilling mystery that the reader will not be able to put down, once started." (kratzy - Amazon.com reader review)


"Ian Kingsley has written a phenomenal mystery story that has all the elements of a murder mystery combined with the suspense of a thriller... I highly recommend this book to any fan of a good mystery or thriller. It really keeps the reader guessing with all the twists and turns." (Bookworm - Amazon.com)


"Sandman" is a modern thriller by Ian Kingsley that keeps the reader captured in the twists of a story with many underpinnings... This book is perfect for vacation reading, but will also definitely please everyone that is a fan of serious mystery books. (kratzy - Amazon.com)


"Sandman" by Ian Kingsley is a book that begs to be read. From page one, you are drawn into the story created and you won't want to put it down. The thrills and chills normally associated with mystery/thriller novels are all there in bright and shiny color just waiting for an idle afternoon needing a kick start. (GR - Amazon.com)


"An emotional thriller with just enough twists to keep the ending undistubed by the reader's attempts at guessing... perfect for that weekend escape to the beach, just don't let your imagination run away with you." (G. Reba - Amazon.com)


"Set in lovely scenery this book is really enjoyable and gripping. It's very hard to put down once you start reading it and will keep you guessing right to the end. Highly recommended." (Alison Cole - Amazon.co.uk)


"You've got a page turner on this one and it will not disappoint. Will the family rise about it or will it take its toll and tear everyone apart? ... This is one to give out to your friends and to keep on the shelf for that late rainy night." (M. Stanhope - Amazon.com)


"Readers can't help turning the pages compulsively as we are seduced with small details and quick punchy dialogue... nothing is as it seems... it made me think I was watching a movie focusing on several characters that are all subtly interwoven into the threads of each other's lives... a novel you may want to re-read, once for the sheer thrill of the story, and again to fully absorb its implications." (Norm Goldman - Amazon.com Top 500 Reviewer)


"I found this a gripping book that was hard to put down. The characterisations and dialogue are very realistic and good. All in all a very enjoyable read. I'll be keeping an eye out for any future Ian Kingsley fiction." (C. Thwaite - Amazon.co.uk)


"You are able to relate to the Vincent family and are able to sympathize with them as well. Although you may think you have this book all figured out, trust me you don't, wait until the end." (Michele Tater - The Couch Tater Review)


"A must read book. I didn't know how this book would end until the last few pages. There were lots of twists. Just couldn't put the book down and read it in 24 hours." (JJ - Amazon.co.uk)


"A very exciting gripping read. I loved this book. Couldn't put it down, very engrossing and kept you thinking right to the end. Would definitely recommend this book." (Mel H - Amazon.co.uk)


"This book kept me enthralled right to the end. In fact I couldn't put it down. It had lots of twists and turns and kept me guessing right to the end. I hope the author writes more psychological thrillers." (emmie - Amazon.co.uk)


"A real page-turner. Ian Kingsley provides very believable, well-developed characters, but nothing is as it seems. Every character has motive and each motive can be traced back to the murder; it's a perfect crime novel. It keeps readers guessing." (Book-lover - Amazon.com)


"This was an excellent read and very hard to put down. The book is extremely thought provoking with lots of twists and turns. Local interest is a good addition aiding imagination with the main characters being very real, making this book a pleasure to read. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it, especially to locals and visitors, who are familiar to the area." (Ray - Amazon.co.uk)


"Sandman touches our primary emotions: jealousy, love, fear, hatred, and grief. As a father, I related to Paul's unwavering commitment to keep his family safe... an intriguing mystery/psychological thriller with interesting, believable and well-developed characters, twists, turns, red herrings and a healthy dose of hair-raising fear and suspense to keep even the most fickle reader captivated. The dialogue is authentic, and, along with the scene-painting narrative, you'll feel like you're on the beach witnessing the unfolding action... you won't stop reading until the last page is savoured. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy a great mystery!" (William Potter - Reader's Choice Book Reviews)