Caspian Hand

Known at NASA as “Eye of God” (Helix Nebula)

When the father of her new student turns out to be the man who caused her husband’s death in Istanbul, schoolteacher Dahlia Benson is pulled back into the world of international espionage and conspiracy.

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Can one really ever leave the world of adventure, intrigue, deception, power; the thrilling world of espionage?  Why would anyone want to?  Especially if one worked for the one nation on earth that fought for justice and freedom, fought against tyranny, against communism, against oppression, against dictatorships, against the stench of wickedness wherever it was found in this world?  That is to say, why would anyone, anyone, choose to leave the Central Intelligence Agency?

The Company.  The place where camaraderie, brotherhood reigns.  The place where you act as a superhero, often with the power of invisibility and the power of invincibility–where each act you do works for the betterment of a democratic, just world.  CIA.  No three letters carve fear into the hearts of the wicked as these three letters.  In whatever language, CIA, the dread.  CIA, the stealthy.  CIA, the mighty hand of America, number one superpower on earth.

Why would one choose to leave the ranks of this powerful branch of the United States government, and lower oneself to the position of schoolmarm for fourth grade Hispanic immigrant children in Escondido, California?

Why would one change her name?  Why would one keep secret that wonderful awe-inspiring past?  One word, and all other teachers would go silent when you enter the room.  One word, they would hold their breath, eyes wide open. The news would spread.  Wildfire.

Your 10 year old boys would listen, finally, when you taught.  The boys and girls would hold you in awe, hang on your every word.

But then, suddenly, someone would ask, why did you leave?  And everything would fall down, walls of Jericho, onto your quiet life.  My husband was killed, on our assignment.  I gave up.  Wildfire.  One word, and the omnipresent tentacles of ÇETE would find you.  And you would be dead.

Dahlia Benson values her life.  Even life as a teacher is better than being six feet under, like Benjamin, like her heart.  After escaping CIA, her life has once more found equilibrium.   And then Cameron Beck arrives, an exchange principal from Germany.  Her heart is awakened to a new love.  He paints a picture for her of what their life could be together.  Adventure; safe adventure.  Excitement; safe excitement.  Travel.  Oh, yes.  Travel.  Cameron, so full of life, so tied to honor.  His words lull Dahlia to accept his marriage proposal.  Life is about to soar to new heights.

And then who enters her classroom, but the man who killed her husband: Emre Aykurt, the son of ÇETE big boss Buyukbaba, and now, Emre’s little daughter Cyntia is her student.

Excerpt

Escondido, California

A powerful wind slammed against the glass door.  As if it were a living beast, it rattled the walls to get the attention of those inside.  Startled, Dahlia and Fluffy looked up from their business, Dahlia from her noble task of writing report cards and Fluffy from his noble dream of chasing a squirrel off the balcony.

Nature’s groanings reminded the dog of nature’s other call, and he stood up whining, wagging his stump tail and looking to his mistress.  He trotted over to the front door, pointing his nose to it, in case Dahlia did not understand.  The sun had set, it was time for his walk.  Humans could become so unobservant sometimes.  As she made no move toward rising to his dictate, he made his demand even clearer with a short bark.  The kind that usually made her stand immediately.

Right on cue, she stood up.  He had trained her well.

Yet she did not move toward the door.  She walked into the kitchen.  Fluffy’s brown eyebrows wiggled with sudden realization.  The kitchen meant one thing:  food!  He trotted over toward her, a different drive happily placated with the smell, and then the sight and sound of a lambchop plopping into his bowl.  He could wait to go outside.  First things first.

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Dahlia looked at her dog and petted his sleek black back.  She sighed as she returned to her stack of partially begun report cards.  The scent of caramel apples wafted over from the flickering candles on the bar.  Candles were therapeutic, helped her focus.  With reluctance, she reached toward the stack of work before her.

The wind slammed against the glass pane again, sending sharp pain into the cavities of her skull.    “Will this never end?” she asked.  Without thinking, she made her way to the bathroom at the corner of her galley kitchen/livingroom and opened the medicine cabinet.

Prescription or over the counter?  She paused with her hand outstretched.  Remembering the formidable task ahead of her, and the foreboding wind, she shook out two prescription pain killers.

Yet when she returned, she found her water glass completely empty.  Another trip into the kitchen to refill her glass, and she had succeeded in wasting another five minutes of the forty-five  she had set aside for report cards tonight.  At this rate she would spend her whole evening in this joyful manner.

She sat down on the couch with the heaviness of years pressing her down.  It was still just the joyful first quarter of the school year, she had a great class of the brightest students of the school, Fall festivities like Halloween and Thanksgiving were some of the most enjoyable to celebrate at school.  Yet gravity pressed her heavily to the couch, as if the weight of the universe were on her shoulders.

The wind rattled again, demanding to come in.  A chill came over Dahlia, her silent sneeze making her wonder if she was catching the fall flu.  That would be miserable.  Good thing she had some Theraflu in the cupboard, just in case.

With dread and trepidation, she looked down at the high stack of carbonpaper before her. Rallying her fortitude, she pulled the first one up, studying the name.   Michael Ruiz.  “Okay, Michael, what have you been up to?”  She knew Michael well.  Good kid.  Normal mischief maker, for a boy.  Pleasant to be around.  She could use none of these meaningless epithets on her report card, though.

nustar-hand-of-god
Known at NASA as “the Hand of God”

Glancing at her grade book and the test report printouts next to her on the couch, she found what she knew already. Reading at third grade level, for a fourth grader.  Low vocabulary.  Ironic twist of fate common for many bilingual students.  High ability, low achievement.  The fact that they fluently functioned in two languages was irrelevant to this report card.  How did they measure up to other English speakers?  That was  what would be marked.  Poor Michael was found wanting.  “Mene Mene something Uparsin,” like the writing on the wall.

She jotted a few positive comments about his behavior in class and listed his scores as below average.

“But aren’t we all,” she said to herself, lifting her eyes and noticing the remains in her coffee cup were cold.  She got up to pour herself some coffee.  And after seeing the pot was empty, starting to make a new pot, deciding instead to fix herself a cappuccino, pulling out her espresso machine, and setting that up, she felt Fluffy knock his long snout into her leg.  Another knock, the dog’s eyebrows wiggling his telepathy.

There would be no work done as long as he wanted out.  She fastened his leash, then grabbed her coat, hat, scarf, and with a final jubilant determination, her wallet.  A caramel latte at Starbucks was the only solution to this painful dilemma.

She stepped out into the blustery October evening.

Sometimes life hits you unguarded, knocks you out of yourself.  You find yourself looking down at yourself, from above, from outside, critically, sympathetically, compassionately.  You follow the line of your life back to those things that shaped you, that warped you.  You follow your past to the things you would undo if you had the power, the things you would have not left undone if you had known all.