Vancouver’s East West Market: when virtue-signaling backfires

The owner of a Vancouver grocery store, David Lee Kwen, decided to put his environmental virtue on display. But as is often the case with virtue-signaling, the exercise backfired.

David Lee Kwen printed outlandish slogans on all the plastic bags that the East West Market used for customer purchases. For example, there was one bag claiming that the bearer was into adult videos. Another had some nonsense about the “colon co-op”.

What was the point? This was ostensibly an effort to shame customers into buying reusable cloth bags instead. (You know: those expensive, bulky things that hold only a small amount of groceries.)

But as USA Today reports, the “embarrassing” plastic bags have actually been quite popular. Kwen has had to print more of the plastic bags than he expected. On the East West Market’s Facebook page, store customers have made comments like, “Total backfire, I would 100% not use reusable bags, just to see which awesome bag I get next,” and “Nope this just makes me want to use your plastic bags even more, sorry not sorry, this is awesome.”

Maybe plastic bags are going the way of the dinosaur and free speech. That complete discussion is beyond the scope of this post.

But one thing is for certain: If you own a consumer-oriented business that has heretofore used plastic bags, either eliminate them…or don’t. Don’t straddle the fence. 

And don’t attempt to put your environmental virtue on display, as David Lee Kwen did. Don’t overtly shame your customers who have always used plastic bags. 

You’re unlikely to persuade many people with such tactics, and you’ll look silly, besides. 

Just ask Mr. Kwen.

Southern Ohio’s Dead Man’s Curve

Not far from where I live, there is a stretch of Ohio State Route 125 that has been dubbed Dead Man’s Curve

The spot is just a few miles from my house, in fact. I’ve been by there many times.

According to the urban legend, if you drive this section of rural highway a little after 1 a.m., you might see the faceless hitchhiker. From a distance, this male figure may look relatively normal. Once you get close, though, you’ll see that he has no face.

Sometimes the hitchhiker isn’t content to stand there by the side of the road and watch you. There have been reports of the phantom actually attacking cars.

Creepy, right?

Yeah, I think so, too….

Dead Man’s Curve on Ohio State Route 125 has a long and macabre history. Route 125 is the main road that connects the suburbs and small towns east of Cincinnati with the city. But much of the road (including Dead Man’s Curve) was originally part of the Ohio Turnpike, which was built in 1831. (Andrew Jackson was president in 1831, just to put that date in perspective.)

That section of the Ohio Turnpike was the scene of many accidents (some of them fatal), even in the horse-and-buggy days. The downward sloping curve became particularly treacherous when rain turned the road to mud. Horses and carriages would sometimes loose their footing, sending them over the adjacent hillside.

In the twentieth century, the Ohio Turnpike was paved and reconfigured into State Route 125. In 1968 the road was expanded into four lanes. 

As part of the expansion, the spot known as Dead Man’s Curve was leveled and straightened. (As a result, the curve doesn’t look so daunting today…unless you know its history.) This was supposed to be the end of “Dead Man’s Curve”.

But it wasn’t.

In 1969, there was a horrible accident at the spot. The driver of a green Roadrunner—traveling at a speed of 100 mph—slammed into an Impala carrying five teenagers. There was only one survivor of the tragic accident.

Shortly after that, witnesses began to report sightings of the faceless hitchhiker during the wee hours. (The hitchhiker is said to be most active during the twenty-minutes between 1:20 and 1:40 a.m.) There have also been reports of a ghostly green Roadrunner that will chase drivers late at night. 

Oh, and Dead Man’s Curve remains deadly, despite the leveling and straightening done in 1968. In the five decades since the accident involving the Roadrunner and the Impala, around seventy people have been killed there.

Is there any truth to the legend of Dead Man’s Curve?

I can’t say for sure. What I can tell you is that I’ve heard many eyewitness accounts from local residents who claim to have seen the hitchhiker. (Keep in mind, I live very close to Dead Man’s Curve, and it’s a local topic of discussion and speculation.) Almost none of these eyewitnesses have struck me as mentally imbalanced or deceitful.

I know what your last question is going to be: Have I ever driven Dead Man’s Curve between 1:20 and 1:40 a.m. myself?

Uh, no. But perhaps I’ll get around to it someday, and I’ll let you know in a subsequent blog post!

***

Hey!…While you’re here: I wrote a novel about a haunted road in Ohio. It’s called Eleven Miles of Night. You can start reading the book for FREE here on my website, or check out the reviews on Amazon.

You can also start reading my other two novels of the supernatural in Southern Ohio: Revolutionary Ghosts and 12 Hours of Halloween. 

Check out my FREE short stories, too….many of them have macabre elements.

And stop back soon! I add content to this website every day!

Which films were better than the book?

From today’s trending Twitter hashtag, #TheFilmwasBetter.

I have to admit that in most cases, I like books better than movies. But there are at least a few films in which the Hollywood creation was more entertaining than the source material:

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

This teen classic of 1982 was based on a nonfiction undercover exposé of teen life at a San Diego area high school.

I’m not sure if that original book is even in print anymore. But the Hollywood version (which was considerably embellished, of course), is still popular….for a nearly 40-year-old movie about teenagers, that is.

View Fast Times at Ridgemont High on Amazon!

True Grit

I wouldn’t exactly call Charles Portis’s 1968 novel, True Grit bad, but I prefer the film adaptations. True Grit has been made into a movie twice. The most recent film version, starring Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, is the better of the two.

Here are a few more examples in which the Hollywood version of the book was better (or just as good):

Little House on the Prairie

Game of Thrones

Deliverance

Cloud Atlas

Hey, while you’re here.…Check out my free online serial, The Consultant. This is the web serial that everyone’s talking about….the story of an ordinary American trapped in North Korea. (And best of all, you can read it for FREE…no sign-up required, no strings attached!)

The Consultant

The ossification of indie publishing, ten years on

I was lurking in a closed Facebook group for authors the other day, when I came across a post from a youngish (early 30s) writer who was lamenting the difficulty of breaking even under the Kindle Unlimited publishing model, as it has evolved:

“I’m a new author. I published my first book on April 14th and my third yesterday. I’ve been running Amazon ads with limited success in sales. I have no idea how they’ve done with KU. I’ve sold almost 570 books (most on a free promotion of book one) and am over 30,000 pages read on KU. Advertising costs are killing me. I have one ad that’s brought me 49 sales. Another that got me 11, the rest aren’t near double digits added together. I’ve read books on advertising, watched videos, researched, used KDP rocket, everything I can think of. I’m living on a teacher’s salary with a wife and 3 kids. I just don’t know if advertising is really worth it at this point. Any ideas?”

Then other authors chimed in with advice. (That’s what such forums are for, after all.) They all gave him the same advice, more or less:

1. Write a really long series! Eight to ten books! 

2. Spend $749 dollars on Mark Dawson’s “Advertising for Authors” course!

3. Invest even more in Facebook and Amazon Marketing Services ads. Maybe spend $800 to $1,000 on a Bookbub promotion!

4. Hope and pray that you “earn out”. (I.e., hope and pray that your combined sales and Kindle Unlimited page reads exceed your high advertising costs.)

Then I noticed a post from yet another author:

“Interestingly, I think I would do better to dump writing novels or short stories and concentrate on my blog, because several [companies] have approached me to advertise on it….”

I looked up the other author online. Like me, she writes across several genres, including nonfiction. She blogs about current events (as I have been known to do). Her politics are pretty much the opposite mine, but that’s an irrelevant point for our purposes here.

This blogging author’s posts received crickets from the other authors in the group. They didn’t know what to do with it. 

Write on a blog? Do actual…online content marketing? What the heck is that?

Roughly ten years ago, when the “indie publishing revolution” began, it was greeted by loud voices of denial in the traditional, New York-based publishing establishment. I remember, circa 2010, actually reading claims that publishing oneself on Amazon amounted to “cheating”.

Now that independent publishing has become such a fixed part of the book ecosystem, that charge sounds ridiculous, of course. But remember the mindset of 2010: There was very rigid, collective mindset regarding “how things are done”. Back then, anyone who wanted to succeed as a writer had a narrow focus on the world of New York publishers and literary agents. 

I’ve found an interesting paradox where writers are concerned: Most of them are “progressive” on political and social issues. Those writers who do make their politics known online almost invariably engage in public hissy fits about Trump and the GOP. They gush about Obama and Elizabeth Warren. 

But when it comes to publishing itself, these same writers are more conservative and hidebound than the evangelical wing of the Alabama Republican Party. 

A mere ten years after indie publishing became a thing, it has become as ossified as traditional publishing was fifteen years ago. Just as aspiring authors were once obsessed with “landing an agent” and “getting a contract”, they are now obsessed with their “Amazon sales rank”. 

This leads them to ignore other writing channels that could be advantageous (like a blog, distribution on other online retailers, etc.) It also leads them to spend irrationally on AMS and Facebook ads, because they don’t want to let their Amazon sales ranks slip. The Amazon system encourages this, of course, because Kindle Unlimited borrows are counted as sales for ranking purposes, and the Kindle Unlimited program stipulates exclusive distribution. 

The result is an overheated ad market, and a Kindle Unlimited catalog stuffed with hastily written books. Many authors are now losing money on AMS ads, so that they are effectively paying to publish. 

That isn’t independent publishing, that’s vanity publishing. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

The problem isn’t a sinister plot at Amazon, per se, but the one-size-fits-all mindset that has taken root in the indie author community. Roughly a dozen indie author gurus (most of whom sell books and expensive courses) have now become the sole voices for how independent publishing should be done.

But there is, in fact, more than one way to do it. Let’s not forget that a mere decade ago, the very idea of independent publishing was considered radical and fly-by-night. There are still a few New York literary agents out there, who are convinced that this whole indie publishing thing is a brief flash in the pan. They’re waiting for it all to end, any day now.

No, indie publishing isn’t going to go away. Indie publishing is here to stay. 

It is too early, however, in the indie publishing movement, to declare that there is only one path to success…only one way to do things. It is too early for indie publishing to become hidebound and ossified. 

Lauren Southern, and those attractive young women on the right

Conservative commentator Lauren Southern has announced her retirement, at the ripe old age of 23. This comes on the heels of some blistering accusations from the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos:

“Southern, famously, writes very little of her own material, and has often embarked on sexual liaisons with men who have helped her with video scripts or notes for her content. While giving speeches about the “trad life,” which typically refers to fidelity in same-race nuclear families, Southern was, in the indelicate words of one major YouTuber, “throwing herself around what seemed like the entire conservative movement in exchange for help with her writing.” We approached four of the men she has been linked to romantically, each of them a prominent Right-wing media figure in a position to help Southern succeed professionally. All four begged not to be named in this story.”

Dangerous.com

Milo Yiannopoulos is certainly a smart guy, but I frankly wonder how stable he is. I’m fine with him being gay and all. (This is 2019, right?) But this is the same Milo who sang the National Anthem a few years ago while dressed as Marlyn Monroe. 

Who knows? There is something suspicious about the timing of Southern’s departure. To the best of my knowledge, Southern has made no public rebuttal of Yiannopoulos’s allegations. 

Southern, whatever one thinks of her, is no shrinking violet. So why would she simply fade away, without answering the charges? 

Again, the timing invites suspicion.

In recent years, there has been a welter of attractive women in their early twenties who have become spokespersons in the conservative movement. They often utilize YouTube and other visual social media platforms. 

What I’m trying to say, as delicately as possible, is that nothing sells any message like a comely young twentysomething woman, especially when the audience is predominantly male. 

But there is more than simple sex appeal involved here. There is an overwhelming perception (shared by the right and the left), that conservatism is predominantly the philosophy of “old white dudes”…or at least white dudes. Conservatives, as much as anyone, want to be seen as hip and cutting-edge. So when a spritely woman not old enough to remember the Soviet Union and Ronald Reagan takes up the conservative cause, she is bound to attract an audience, provided she’s reasonably articulate. (Note the appeal of Candace Owens—who is young, and very attractive, and African American.)

I should probably take this opportunity to come clean: I was never really familiar with Ms. Southern’s work, but I have been known to watch Lauren Chen (aka Roaming Millennial). Chen is a young, female, attractive YouTuber. Ms. Chen regularly takes to task the “snowflakes” of her generation, and the various diktats of political correctness.

I would guess that Ms. Chen is about 23 years old—more or less the same age as Lauren Southern. She is reasonably articulate, and she’s good in front of a camera. 

But here’s the rub: Ms. Chen doesn’t tell me anything I haven’t heard before. She mostly recycles standard Republican talking points. 

If I want conservative commentary, an issue of National Review is likely to be a lot more informative.

So why do I watch Lauren Chen?

Because I’m a guy, and an easy mark for an attractive young woman who validates my political beliefs. That’s why. 

I am perfectly okay with the success of young female activists on the right. I won’t bother to refute their critics, who complain that they owe their success partly to their youth and looks. YouTube is a visual medium, and attractive young people have always had an advantage on camera. That’s the way the world works; deal with it.

I’m also okay with the fact that much of what Lauren Chen says is derivative. I will read books and 2,000-word editorials. Not everyone will—especially among the post-literate, Millennial generation. 

Admittedly, Lauren Chen is no Roger Scruton. But then, Roger Scruton wouldn’t be a very big hit on YouTube, would he?

The Maze: Chapter 10

But when they arrived in the main lobby, their arms loaded up with the items they had brought in with them, there was no Evan in the little sitting area that would have been the logical place for him to wait. Hugh’s first impulse was to ask the security guards if they’d seen him; but the two security guards who had signed them in were nowhere to be found. Hopefully they haven’t been taken away by that other security guard, Hugh thought.

“Maybe out in the car,” Amanda offered.

“Maybe,” Hugh agreed—though Evan would have to be waiting outside the car, since the vehicle had been locked, and the key fob was now in Hugh’s pocket.

Evan wasn’t near the car, either. Hugh and Amanda loaded their equipment into the Camry. Then they tried to contact him on his cell phone, which went to voice mail.

Amanda shrugged. “That’s odd. I guess we’ll have to go back inside the building and hunt him down,” she said, obviously a bit annoyed at Evan. Hugh had the feeling that unless Evan was lying in a pool of his own blood somewhere, Amanda was going to give him a royal chewing out once they arrived back at the office. 

As they walked back toward the main entrance, Hugh stared up at the nearest eponymous tower of Lakeview Towers. The windows reflected the mid-morning September sun, and lots of blue sky and cumulus clouds. This had to be a normal building, he told himself. No matter what you thought you saw.

Then he caught a glimpse of something that profoundly startled him. It appeared to be the silhouette of a giant winged creature, passing across two wide panes of windows around the fifth floor. 

Hugh felt a fight-or-flight rush of adrenalin flood through his body, and for a brief moment, the familiar dread of chest pains. Then he told himself, You didn’t see that, Hugh. Remember Occam’s Razor: the simplest solution first. What you saw was the shadow of an unusually shaped cloud. 

“You okay, Hugh?” Amanda asked. 

“I’m fine. Let’s go track down Evan.”

But where to look for Evan? Given the size of Lakeview Towers, the metaphor of the needle in the haystack would not be entirely inaccurate. But they had to start somewhere, so they decided to start with the men’s room. If Evan were sick, he might be hunkered down in one of the toilet stalls. 

Hugh stepped into the men’s room, leaving Amanda in the hallway. He could see immediately that the men’s room was empty. For form’s sake, he called out Evan’s name and checked each empty stall. Wherever his young coworker was, he wasn’t in here.

Hugh walked out of the men’s room, shaking his head. Amanda pursed her lips and shook her head in response. The case of Evan Daley, junior sales associate at Merlesoft Software Systems, was shaping up to be a genuine mystery.

Then they received their first break toward solving the mystery—or so they thought at the time. It was the sound of Evan’s voice—distant, but audible and unmistakable. 

“It’s coming from down the hall,” Amanda said, “from behind that set of double doors.”

Amanda was right. Hugh noted that one of the double doors in question was partially ajar, revealing only darkness behind it.

There seemed to be no need for more deliberation. They were going through that door, obviously. Hugh led the way, out of a vague sense of chivalry that Amanda probably would have found annoying had he articulated it: He wanted to go through the unknown passage first, on the odd chance that something dangerous was waiting on the other side. 

But there was nothing dangerous about the room on the opposite side of the door, at least nothing that was readily apparent. This was a generic corporate office complex storage room, the sort that existed in nearly every office building in the world. There was a room much like this at the Merlesoft building in Cincinnati, in fact. The only odd thing was the size of this storage room: It was much larger than most; but that would be fitting, given the unusual size of the Lakeview Towers complex. 

Hugh scanned the endless rows of high shelving and the islands of pallets that sat in the semidarkness. He called out Evan’s name. Then he heard his own name called back to him, and he saw Evan near the opposite end of the room, along the far wall.

 Evan was obscured in shadows, but a look of unreserved relief filled his face. “Hugh!” he shouted again. He began threading his way through the pallets and shelving that stood between them, making his way toward Hugh and Amanda. “Amanda!” he called out. “You’re here!”

If Evan was glad to see Amanda, Hugh thought, then something unusual had indeed taken place. Judging from his tone and unalloyed elation, you would have thought that he had just been rescued from the wreckage of a downed jetliner that had crashed in a remote part of the world. 

“Yes, yes, we’re here,” Hugh said. “The question is, why are you here?” 

Amanda stepped forward, her shoes clicking on the mostly unseen floor beneath them. “That’s right,” she said. “You’ve got some explaining to do. First you bolt out of a sales presentation. Then we can’t find you in the lobby, out in the parking lot, or even in the men’s room. And it turns out that you’re shooting the breeze in here, exploring by the look of it. What do you think this is, Evan, some sort of a game?” 

“Hell, no,” Evan shot back, his momentary truce with Amanda already over. “I’ve been trapped in here, I’ll have you know.”

“Evan,” Amanda said. “What are you talking about?”

“The door!” Evan protested, pointing in the general direction of the double doors. “I came in here because the security guard more or less made me. Only the security guard wasn’t exactly a security guard, but really some sort of a homicidal robot. Yes, I know that sounds crazy, Amanda, but just hear me out. Then I came in here, and when I tried to leave, the double doors that I’d gone through—” Evan paused as if trying to think of an obscure or technical word. “Well, the doors were just gone.” 

Gone?” Amanda shouted. “Hugh and I just walked through those doors. They weren’t locked, weren’t even latched, in fact, why—” Amanda turned in the direction of the doors, as if to emphasize the patent foolishness of what Evan was suggesting. Then her mouth dropped open. “No way,” she said. “No—that can’t be.”

Amanda walked away from the two men, toward the double doors. Or rather—the place where the double doors should have been. 

Hugh followed her, his mouth agape. He had processed what Evan had said, and he was now combining that story with the irrefutable truth before them: Where the two metallic doors had been only minutes ago, there was now blank wall space. 

The door had vanished, as impossible as that seemed. It had gone back into the wall, or the wall had swallowed it up. Whichever description one opted for, the result was the same.

“I don’t believe this,” Amanda said, running her hands along the smooth, painted cinderblock wall. “This can’t be.”

“Well, believe it,” Evan said, approaching her, “because it is what it is. The door disappears once you cross over to this side of the wall. I saw the open double doors, too—when I was out in the hallway. But when I entered this room they disappeared. And there’s a lot more to tell, too.” Evan glanced nervously overhead. “There’s something up in those pipes, or rather—some things.”

But Amanda was not interested in whatever Evan was alluding to overhead. She was determined to arrive at a logical answer regarding the door. “I didn’t know that this sort of technology even exists,” she said. “I mean, this must be some sort of a high-tech security system.”

There were the sounds of claws scraping against one of the pipes above them, then multiple footsteps—clawed feet, by the sounds of it. The chirring of more than one animal. What kind of an animal, though?

Hugh looked up at the ceiling, into one of the dim fluorescent bulbs. He saw something jump from one of the pipes to another. It was a creature with a long body and a long tail. Amanda, alerted by the noise, looked up and saw it, too.

“What is that?” she asked.

“Maybe part of that high-tech security system,” Evan suggested. 

On the far end of the room—the end that was obscured in a pall of shadows, came the clamor of something crashing down from one of the top levels of the shelving and onto the floor.

Hugh and Evan exchanged glances. They both had the same idea: One of those things scurrying around in the overhead pipes was attempting to find a way down. Perhaps several of those things were attempting to find a way down.

“I suggest,” Hugh said, in a quiet and deliberate voice, “that we all exit from the doorway on the far side of the room. “Whatever happened, we can’t go back the way we came. And it’s also obvious that we’re not alone in here.”

“But there is no doorway on the other side of the room,” Evan protested. “I’ve looked all around in here, stumbling around in the dark.”

“Look over there,” Hugh said. “You can see a wedge of light. That would suggest an exit.”

Evan looked in the direction Hugh had indicated. There was indeed a thin wedge of light, though its source was hidden behind several rows of shelving.

“It wasn’t there before,” Evan said. “But over the past hour, I’ve been gradually losing my need for a rock-solid explanation about everything. Come on, let’s get the hell out of here.”

They walked toward the source of light. Meanwhile, there were more clawed footsteps overhead, and more sounds of items crashing down at the end of the room farthest from them. Yes, those things were coming down. No doubt about it.

“I suggest we hurry,” Hugh said. 

They passed by two rows of shelving, moving through one of the wide central aisles that had been left clear for human traffic, and presumably forklifts as well. Sure enough, there was a door in one corner of the room—a single metal door with a window in its center. Leading the way, Hugh peered through the door: It seemed to be just another ordinary hallway. He grabbed the door’s handle and pulled: Thankfully, it wasn’t locked. 

At the opposite end of the room, they all heard two large shapes fall to the floor. And these weren’t boxes. Then there were more clawed footsteps—but on the floor this time.

“Go!” Hugh said. He opened the door and practically shoved Evan and Amanda through the opening. Then he whirled around and slammed the door closed, and pushed the little knob at the base of the handle that would lock it. Whatever those things from the pipes were, they weren’t going to join them in the hallway.

Chapter 11

Table of contents

Incredible savings at Opulent Jewelers

Opulent Jewelers is a Pennsylvania-based jewelry store with a great reputation. 

Just read their Google reviews. Some of the compliments the store receives include:

“Amazing service and super quality selection! Just beautiful!”

“I feel I got a great price on a great piece of jewelry!

Oh, and speaking of price: Opulent Jewelers offers discounts of up to 80% on some categories of jewelry.

80%? They had might as well just give the stuff away.

Up to 80% off Designer Jewelry at Opulent Jewelers

I don’t know if you, the reader, is a man or a woman. If you’re a woman, then I probably don’t have to work very hard to convince you to check out the selection at Opulent Jewelers. It really is something. 

If you’re a man—like me—then perhaps you’re clueless about jewelry. But you probably have a woman in your life who absolutely loves jewelry.

Well, the folks at Opulent (who have great reviews on their customer service!), can help you out. They can help you find a great piece of jewelry, at a great price.

You don’t have to tell her that you got a great deal—up to 80% off!

Up to 80% off Designer Jewelry

Why you need a robotic vacuum cleaner

Let me put a personal spin on this….

I enjoy writing. I enjoy reading. I even enjoy working out. 

But I hate cleaning my house. 

And no part of housecleaning is more tedious than cleaning the floor.

Bleh!

I would be willing to bet that you’re in the same boat.

But…

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a device that took care of that for you?

 
Enter the robotic vacuum cleaner….

Perhaps you’ve heard about these robotic vacuum cleaner thingamabobs. 

A robotic vacuum cleaner is like having your own personal R2D2, who will essentially be your housecleaning slave. 

Sound interesting?

Read on…

 

Enter the Roborock S5 Robotic Vacuum and Mop Cleaner

I like the Roborock S5 because of all its features. This thing will both sweep and mop your house. 

It works on carpet, hard floors, and wood floors. 

Oh, yeah, and there’s more. Look at all these features:

 

  • 3D cleaning: A series of brushes, placed at different angles, cleans all the nooks and crannies in your floor. A powerful fan (up to 2000Pa high suction) creates a cyclone effect. Suck up that dirt!
  • LDS Smart Navigation: The Roborock S5 scans the dimensions of each room, and figures the most efficient cleaning path, based on an algorithm. (I can’t even do that!)
  • Climbing ability: This turbo-charged robotic cleaner can surmount those little ridges between the thresholds of many rooms. (And it won’t trip on them, as I sometimes do.)
  • Carpet pressurization: The Roborock S5 can be programmed to switch into a higher suction mode when it reaches a carpeted area, in order to get that area of the floor extra-clean. (Once again, I can’t even do that!)
  • Ultra-high 5200mAh battery capacity: Do you have a large house? The massive battery on this machine enables it to clean for 150 minutes on a single charge. 150 minutes! That’s more than two hours! (Yes, I’ve gotta say it: Even I can’t do that.)

 

Are you interested yet?

You can get a great deal on the Roborock S5 at Amazon. The Amazon product page will also give you a more detailed summary of its many, many features. 

There are those who clean floors, and there are those who use technology to avoid floor cleaning. 

I don’t know about you, but I know which group I want to be in…

The Consultant: Chapter 55

Get a deal on headphones at Amazon.com!

A day later, Jung-Ho—partly to his own surprise, partly not—found himself telling another woman about the impending coup. 

What’s wrong with me? he wondered.

But he knew what was wrong with him: He was already in his early thirties, and he had no woman—none he could call his own, at least.

Not that he had never been with a woman. He had told Barry Lawson that there was no prostitution in the DPRK. And that was an honest assessment, so far as a Westerner like Barry Lawson would understand the term. 

During the reigns of of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, there had been rumors of the Kippumjo, the “Pleasure Brigade”. These were—if you believed the rumors—hand-selected 14- to 20-year-old virgins. They were trained in the arts of pleasure, and then dispatched to the service of high-ranking party officials. At the age of twenty-five, members of the Kippumjo were shuffled into arranged marriages. 

About 2,000 Pleasure Brigade girls were said to have existed, until the Kippumjo was disbanded, shortly after the death of Kim Jong-il.    

Jung-Ho had never been near the level of power that would enable access to the Kippumjo—if it ever existed at all, that was. He had once considered asking his father about the rumors. Colonel Tak would be in a position to know. 

But that would necessitate another, more uncomfortable question: Had his father ever partaken of such pleasures? Jung-Ho cringed at the very notion. There were some things that a son did not want to know about his father.

There were other, more unsavory options, short of the quasi-mythic Kippumjo. There were young women in the DPRK who sold themselves near train stations, often for only a few won

But the laws against participating in or patronizing such commerce were strict, and the punishments harsh. Jung-Ho tried to avoid such desperate measures. He had patronized the train station women on a handful of occasions, in order to dispel the constant aching in his loins. But the experience always left him nervous and unsatisfied. 

Unless you were at the very heights of power, the only real way to secure safe, constant access to a woman’s body in the DPRK was to marry. And stuck here in the Yang Suk Foreign Friends camp, Jung-Ho had met few marriage prospects. For this reason alone, he was often bitter that he had not been assigned to a post in one of the DPRK’s urban areas.

The most desirable woman in his midst—other than the impossibly resistant Anne Henry—was Mi-kyung. 

Jung-Ho was not surprised that Barry Lawson had fallen for her ruse in the restaurant of the Ichiryu Hotel in Osaka. (Jung-Ho had helped plan the entire thing, after all.)  Stronger men than Barry Lawson would have succumbed to Mi-kyung under those circumstances. 

Even now, sitting in the visitor’s chair of his little office, Mi-kyung was maddeningly desirable. Even in her uniform, with her long, lustrous black hair pulled back into a bun.

“You said you wanted to talk to me?” Mi-kyung asked. 

Her manner was polite, but not overly friendly. Jung-Ho had long sensed that Mi-kyung was less than fond of him. She probably sensed his desire. Was it that palpable? 

Yes, perhaps it was. 

Jung-Ho silently cursed Anne Henry.

“Yes,” Jung-Ho said at length. “Forgive my boldness, but I have always felt that the two of us have achieved…a level of trust.”

For a moment Mi-kyung said nothing. But he would get her talking. Jung-Ho was almost certain that he saw into the mind of Mi-kyung. She was smarter than most—and certainly smarter than that idiot, Commander Cho.

“I suppose so,” Mi-kyung said. “We are comrades, of more or less the same rank.”

Jung-Ho realized that he was about lay all his cards on the table, and thereby make himself completely vulnerable. He would have to make sure that it was worth the risk.

Mi-kyung, he knew, had—or once had—a lover in Russia. North Korea and Russia were on friendly terms, as they had been during the Soviet era. Mi-kyung had met her Russian boyfriend through liaison work she did with the Russian foreign intelligence service, the SVR RF. 

But how serious was it? Did this man have a claim on her? 

There was only one way to find out. He had to ask.

“That boyfriend of yours,” Jung-Ho said abruptly. “What is his name?”

“You mean Yuri,” Mi-kyung said. 

“Yes, the Russian.”

Mi-kyung bristled. She sat up against the back of the chair.

“Why all of this interest in my personal life?”

Why? Jung-Ho wanted to shout. He was now thirty-two years old. It was time for him to get married, and have children, hopefully at least one son.

He still believed that Anne Henry could be persuaded—if grudgingly. But a wise man, Jung-Ho knew, always leaves himself at least one backup plan.

Without being too obvious, Jung-Ho studied the swell of Mi-kyung’s breasts inside her uniform.

She would not be a bad second choice.

She might even be a good first choice.

“No reason,” Jung-Ho replied.

“I somehow doubt that. But if you must know: Yuri and I haven’t seen each other in months. He’s been transferred to Syria; and my work is unlikely to take me to Russia again in the foreseeable future. So I believe that our relationship is concluded. In the end, it will be nothing more than a ‘fling’, as the decadent imperialists would say.”

Good! Jung-Ho thought triumphantly. Now, on to the next point. 

“You despise Commander Cho, is that not true?”

This question, too, had been abrupt—and Jung-Ho had intended it that way. He wanted to gage her reaction. 

“You’re taking us in a very dangerous direction, Jung-Ho. For all you know, I’m Commander Cho’s spy. For all you know, I’ll report you within the hour, and you’ll be kneeling in a cell, with a pistol against your head.”

“Perhaps,” Jung-Ho allowed. “But I think not. I think, moreover, that you’re far more intelligent than you let on.” 

Mi-kyung looked directly into his eyes. “You flatter me, Comrade Tak.”

“No,” Jung-Ho said. “Not flattery. Just an honest assessment.”

“So,” Mi-kyung said. “I somehow have the feeling that you have something to tell me.”

Jung-Ho paused to consider. So far, he had engaged in mildly treasonous talk, but it was nothing that he couldn’t easily deny. If he told her about the conspiracy, then he would be irrevocably at risk. Mi-kyung was not Anne Henry. Whereas Anne Henry was isolated from authority in the DPRK, Mi-kyung could walk into Commander Cho’s office and report him at any time. 

Jung-Ho’s eyes wandered again to the swell of her breasts inside her uniform. 

He could always wait. There was no real reason to tell her now, to lay all of his cards on the table. If the coup succeeded, then he could use his newfound power to win her over. 

There was no hurry.

But then again, the coup would create many newly powerful men in the new DPRK, wouldn’t it? Mi-kyung would reward trust and loyalty, he reasoned. She would remember the man who had first thought of her.

“Yes,” Jung-Ho said. “I do have something to tell you.”

She raised her eyebrows. “So tell me. Or don’t tell me. It’s up to you. But I have no time or patience for games.”

“All right, then…”

Jung-Ho proceeded to tell her the basics of the coup plot. He only slightly exaggerated his role in the plan. It was important for her to grasp that his status would change, though…That he would be elevated.

When he was finished, he let out a sigh and asked her, “What do you think?”

To his relief, she smiled. “It sounds to me like you are going to be an important man, Jung-Ho.”

Jung-Ho could not fully contain his glee. He felt a smile break out on his face. “I will do my duty for my country. No more, no less.”

“Very well, Jung-Ho. And when you do your duty, you will remember your old friends, correct?”

“Of course,” Jung-Ho said. 

“I had better get back to my post,” Mi-kyung said, standing. “Commander Cho keeps me constantly in his view.” 

She rolled her eyes significantly as she said this. Jung-Ho wondered: Did that scrawny little monkey have aspirations of bedding Mi-kyung? 

At his age, would he even be able to get it up? 

Mi-kyung turned toward the door. “We’ll talk more, you and I,” she said. 

Chapter 56

Table of contents

The Cairo Deception: Chapter 3

There were five of them in total. They were sitting at the bar, directly opposite Jack, and across the room. 

Ali Abber, a notorious Cairo gangster, and four of his henchmen. They were sitting on bar stools, with their backs to Jack. Jack could see their faces in the mirror behind the bar.

Ali Abber was sitting to the left of his men. Jack had never had the displeasure of making Ali’s acquaintance, but he knew him by reputation. Many people in Cairo knew Ali Abber by reputation. 

Ali Abber was short and stocky, in his early thirties. His black hair was close-cut and thick. Ali’s face was bisected by a long diagonal scar that ran from just below his right eye, to the left corner of his chin. The scar was said to be the product of a childhood knife fight. According to the stories, Ali Abber had been a boy of twelve at the time of the fight, and his opponent had been a grown man. Ali Abber had gotten the scar, but Ali had gutted the grown man. 

Or so the stories went. Jack saw no reason to doubt them.  

Jack had not seen Ali and his men enter the bar. It seemed to him, though, that they had appeared there directly in his wake.

A coincidence, to be sure, but not the only one. Jack feared that he had been deliberately betrayed. 

It had all started with a quarrel with Tahmid, the man he had hired to serve as his digging assistant, guide, and interpreter. Jack had dismissed Tahmid after finding the garnet. He had no further need of the Egyptian man’s services, after all.

Jack had given Tahmid a bonus when he terminated his employment. The bonus was more than Jack could afford, given the meager cash reserves that he had brought to Egypt with him. 

“Is that all, boss?” Tahmid had asked. 

When Jack had asked him what he meant by that, Tahmid had replied, “What I mean, boss, is that you’re a rich man now.” Jack had been less than discreet about what he was digging for out in the desert. As a result, Tahmid had some grasp of the garnet’s worth.

Jack had reminded Tahmid that he wouldn’t be rich until he returned to the United States and found a buyer for the garnet. This was true. He couldn’t give Tahmid cash that he didn’t have. 

His assistant had walked away, but he was clearly unconvinced by Jack’s explanation.

And then just yesterday, Jack had seen his erstwhile assistant, Tahmid, in the bazaar district, talking to this same Ali Abber who was now sitting at the bar. 

Jack had watched, out of sight of the two men, as Ali had slipped Tahmid a handful of Egyptian pounds.

The exchange was technically none of Jack’s business. He had no claim on Tahmid—especially now that Tahmid was no longer in his employ. If Tahmid now wanted to work for one of the most notorious hoodlums in Cairo, that was his business. 

It was, however, an odd coincidence: Ali Abber and his men showing up at this bar—a bar that Jack was known to frequent—the day after he had seen the disgruntled Tahmid talking to Ali.

Jack was pretty certain that Ali and his men had not been in Rossi’s Bar when he’d entered. They had come in after him.

As if they had been following him.

Jack reminded himself that the garnet wasn’t the only significant object that he had on his person tonight. Also in one of the interior pockets of his jacket was a Model 1911 45-caliber pistol. The M1911 had a seven-round cartridge. 

One round for each man at the bar, with two rounds to spare.

Jack was no stranger to rough-and-tumble dealings among men. He had served in the U.S. Army during peacetime. He had been in his share of scraps—especially during his boyhood in Indiana. 

But he had never killed a man before. And he didn’t want to start tonight, not if he could help it.

Moreover, any sort of gunfight in a bar would set in motion consequences that Jack could not predict or control. Even in the Wild West that was Cairo. To simply remove the weapon from his jacket, and display it in a threatening manner, would bring consequences. Most men in Cairo were armed, in one way or another. But there were rules about such things. And one rule was: You didn’t brandish semiautomatic handguns in a crowded bar.

Then another coincidence occurred. Ali Abber turned around on his barstool. He was about to make eye contact with Jack—or so Jack thought—when:

“Hey, you! get out of here!” yelled a voice very close to Jack’s ear. 

Chapter 4

Table of contents