After an incredibly long hiatus and long, turbulent, personal journey, my writer’s block is finally over. The much ignored and discarded Sunset Shadows, sequel to Wings At Dawn is alive and revived! I have finally found my writing momentum again and the peace to face the keyboard and a manuscript begging to be loved again. It took a move to Portugal and settling in a new home to do so.
If you read Wings At Dawn, you will remember Julian Lopez, the photojournalist who stood by Alexander Adler throughout the harrowing rescue mission in India. Julian now finds himself in the Philippines with a new assignment that will take him from Manila to Bangkok, Berlin and ultimately, Lisbon. Yes, you will see a cameo appearance of Alex, but you will also meet the gorgeous and lovable Noel Rojas, who is Julian’s partner in crime. In Wings at Dawn you had the strong, independent Amrita who opened doors for the journalists and led the rescue missions. Her tragic death left us all bereft but fear not, she has a worthy successor in the form of Paolo Melendez.
I’m sharing an extract from the opening chapter for your reading pleasure. Cover reveal is coming in two weeks. So stay tuned for that. Enjoy!
The contents of the wineglass threatened to spill all over the immaculately white tablecloth as Julian Lopez slammed it down on the table. This uncharacteristic loss of control and temperamental flare-up was provoked by the man sitting to his left, a colleague and now belligerent dinner companion who objected to most parts of his current photo journalistic assignment. Usually, Julian looked forward to working with Noel Rojas, especially in Asia, where Noel knew his way around like very few did, and had connections that spanned from high-ranking government and military officials to the local slum leader. This intimate knowledge of both language and culture had saved their hides in Hanoi, Belfast, St. Petersburg, and if memory served him right, Rio de Janeiro. Whereas Julian had a penchant for getting the team into trouble because of a defiant preference to photograph in the most unconventional manner possible, Noel could talk his way through social, political, geographical, or emotional blockades. For all intents and purposes, they were the dream team, unless their stubbornness brought the assignment to a screeching halt.
Yet here they were, arguing over grilled fish at one of the most elegant restaurants Manila offered. The perfection of the dish and exquisite flavours resulting from generous but careful seasoning remained untouched and ignored as Julian’s fingers curled around the crystal stem, swirling the wine with an almost brute force. He stared furiously at the red tempest before him, noting the fact that a few drops had already formed telltale patterns next to the salad plate. The problem they faced was not so much the life-threatening manner in which to approach the assignment, but how best to pry the information out of the informants without endangering the lives of the entire community.
Manila was no walk in the park for journalists to begin with, especially with the current government that was hellbent on curtailing freedom of the press and whitewashing the news. Recent laws on internet privacy made life even more difficult for local and international photojournalists alike, as they competed with every person who owned a mobile device and a social media account. Journalistic integrity be damned, the new Instagram and Twitter generation made everyone a live “reporter” with no verified context.
The city with its 14 million residents was being deliberately complicated as far as Julian was concerned, and he was fuming over today’s roadblock, wondering whether his choice of liaison had been wise. Paolo Melendez had come highly recommended by two colleagues previously assigned to the Philippines, but so far the last two weeks had a been a comedy of errors, with Julian and Noel running into more irate people than desired, including numerous vigilante groups hunting down drug addicts and pushers. They had made very little progress with the background research on transgender sex tourism and the information obtained was not reliable enough to merit a journalistic invasion, or setting up a dialogue. Hell, Julian was not even willing to go undercover with this one either, unless he found a way to be in three places at the same time. Squeezing his eyes shut for two seconds, he inhaled sharply and exhaled audibly, his body language clearly expressing his frustration and making Paolo Melendez squirm uncomfortably.
“Your only task from the very beginning was to set up meetings for me with the various people on my list, Paolo. So far I have been on the most ridiculous wild goose chase, with an exasperating number of women sending inappropriate text messages at the oddest hours, two marriage proposals, five blatantly indecent offers from sugar mommies that would make me a very rich man overnight, and an endless string of jealous husbands who could have been the best contacts but would prefer to skin me alive! This can’t continue Paolo! Please, get trid of them by any means, and point me towards the people I really need. I have yet to experience some sort of breakthrough in the story.”
“But Julian, these women you keep complaining about are all those who are in close personal contact with the gay dance instructors, fitness trainers and couturiers that you are looking for, both in high society and the red light district!”
“They may be well connected, but why can’t I be introduced to them without having to put up with all the innuendos? Some of these interactions already border on harassment. I lost count of how many of them have grabbed my ass or brushed up against my cock! How do you expect to take any of them seriously? I am willing to take risks, dangle from a billboard even, but not sell my soul, especially not to bored rich old women whose husbands only want to play golf after work.”
Paolo burst out laughing, shaking his head back in amusement. “Lower your voice Julian, look around you, we are surrounded by several such women in this restaurant and in the last 30 minutes at least three tables have been trying to pluck up the courage to make more such proposals. The granny in red over to your left is not even trying to hide it anymore. Watch what her fingers are doing, plunging in and out of her mojito while she licks her lips. And look over to my right, the woman in blue by the window with the Prada bag has been trying to get my attention so I can introduce your Columbian ass. Unfortunately, she knows two of my aunts and is a former classmate of my mother, so there is no way for me to ignore her. You could be a very rich man in a matter of hours by just batting your eyelashes at them. So come one, be a doll and wink back so we can go places!”
“Shut up! That just makes my hair stand up even more. ‘Creepy’ doesn’t even describe how that makes me feel. I am not sushi for hire. I swear, if you weren’t such a damn good social worker I would have shown you what I learned when I did the piece on martial arts in Korea…”
“I understand, believe me, I do, but you are blessed with delicious Latino looks that attract women of all ages, no matter how hard you try to avoid them. Don’t forget all the men who have been dropping hints as well. I am the envy of many because I get to spend so much time with you. Last night three congressmen and two senators called me on my private line to offer a disgustingly large amount just to set up a meeting with you. I could easily change my career from social worker to pimp at this rate.”
Julian sighed and focused his attention on the ornate ceiling in an effort to avoid shredding Paolo to pieces. “I’m not even going to go there. Listen, we need to narrow the spectrum and tap into the target group by hook or by crook. I mean it. You and Noel need to scrounge up at least one reliable contact willing to talk, tell his story, and hopefully introduce me to others in the community, if you can even call it that.”
Noel, took a sip of his wine and carefully pushed his plate aside. He raked his fingers through his tousled blond hair and frowned. “There might be a way we could speed things up… and please try, really try, to keep an open mind Julian.”
… to be continued.