The Apocrypha – Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Peyton Manor

The old man gazed out the window. His gaze was rewarded as the sun peaked through the afternoon sky. In the distance he saw a carriage break through the forest and begin its long ramble up to Peyton Manor. He let out a thankful breath, took a drink of his wine and closed his eyes. The clatter of the outdoors floated through the window and filled his ears, and his heart.

The sounds of the doves dancing in the brush, the clamor of the roosters by the main out-building with their feathers ruffed out as they crouched and feinted at each other in preparation for battle, for dominance, and the lowly pigs locked in their pens snorting and kicking the dirt in search of food. This was his music. He took another sip as Mary, his loyal housekeeper, entered the room from the back.

Knowing a visitor was coming Mary made sure to check on her lord. Mary was a respectable-looking elderly woman, broad at the hips and much less refined than James in both manner and appearance. She was, however, the epitome of politeness. Having bid her formal but warm greeting to the old man, who was part of the rising gentry, which meant he had considerable wealth but no title such as Duke or Earl, she returned through the dining-parlor and quickly made her way into the kitchen.

The sitting room was well proportioned and handsomely decorated, as was customary in the time and befitting of a castle as distinctive as Peyton Manor. The two largest walls were covered in ornate and well-oiled dark oak paneling that included four pilasters. The pilasters gave the appearance of great supporting columns but, in fact, were purely decorative. The other walls were covered in lush colored fabrics. The interior design was influenced by the architecture of the Italian Renaissance but was executed in a less gaudy but equally elegant Dutch manner. The ceiling was five meters high and covered in tooled white plaster, which was also typical of the day. The pale ceiling gave the room a feeling of unrestrained height.

Mary returned with tea and set it on the table next to his chair along with an extra cup. She bowed slightly, turned and left the room as quickly as her large frame would allow. But before scurrying away, she noticed her lord’s bottle of Claret was getting dangerously low. She snatched the bottle and was off to the cellar. She knew James, who was the only one allowed to serve his wine, would be coming for the refreshed bottle soon.

The old man ignored the tea and took a slow drink from his wineglass. He didn’t notice the missing bottle but heard the disturbance in the hallway. He set the glass down hard and in a raspy voice called out with all his might, “James! Mam’selle!”

———-

James held Nicolette’s arms tightly to prevent her from falling. He slowly walked her over to one of the several chairs hugging the hallway walls. He lowered her gently. Twenty feet away from the archway was the sitting room and the old man. Alma, who was on her way to the kitchen to help Mary when she saw Nicolette weaken, brought water from a nearby pitcher.

From the sitting room James heard his master’s voice again, “James! Mam’selle!”

“Coming, my lord!”

Nicolette took a few sips of water and rose to her feet again. “Thank you, James,” she said. “I must complete my business and return to the Vicarage.”

“Forgive me,” James started, “you must rest and traveling at night is too dangerous. And with your bundle…”

Nicolette cut him off. “I am well guarded. Thank you. May we go, sir?” Nicolette asked with a lined brow.

“Of course. You are welcome, madam. Are you feeling better?”

“Quite.”

“This way then.” James turned to enter the sitting room. Nicolette was in tow followed by Alma who was pulling up the rear and measuring Nicolette’s every step.

James walked into the immense sitting room. Nicolette stood erect in the archway. James took a position to the right of the mammoth fireplace and announced, “My lord, Mam’selle Nicolette Giffard.” James bowed in Nicolette’s direction.

Nicolette entered the great room and bustled up to the lord of Peyton Manor. The old man tried to stand but his first attempt failed. Nicolette boldly stepped forward and, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder, said, “If it suits my lord’s pleasure and convenience, may we conduct our business and then I shall take my leave.”

It did not please his lord but his lord acquiesced, nonetheless.

Nicolette was quit petite, less than five feet tall and thin. She wore a beautiful silver-blue bodice. The embroidered front was showing age but it covered her pale skin from view and that is what mattered. The only exposed skin was her small face and childlike hands. The bodice was snug around her upper torso with the exception of the shoulders, which were wide and padded. White linen adorned the cuffs and neckline of her blouse. A sash held together by a respectable silver brooch draped her shoulders. Her skirt matched her bodice in color and style. It was broad, ruffled and had like-colored embroidery around the bottom.

The old man noted that the woman-child’s attire was more Puritan than Elizabethan. Failing to engage in even the slightest bit of polite conversation, the old man decided it was indeed best to let Miss Nicolette Giffard pick up her package and be on her way. He thought her behavior quite rude but such was the disposition of young people. Proper manners were a thing of the past and would, he had long-ago concluded, die with his generation.

The old man didn’t like the way the young woman fidgeted either. She stood firm enough but kept folding and unfolding her hands like a thieve preparing to bolt out the door. He noticed her bright blues eyes as they darted from side-to-side and caught a glimpse of golden hair, which was mostly hidden by her dark blue travelling hat. He turned away: What sort of lady enters a gentleman’s home and behaves in such a manner?

The look on her face, the old man decided, was not fear, or wonder, or even alarm, no. But he’d seen the look before, on his own son. Years ago he’d joined Walter in London to see a playing company that Walter had assured him was the best in London if not the entire world. When the play was over Walter had arranged for them to meet the famous lead actor Richard Burbage and another actor, who played a lesser role but had written the play. His name was William Shakespeare. The Bard of Avon, indeed.

Walter looked relaxed when he met the great actor but, for some reason, had the same look as young Nicolette when he met Mr. Shakespeare. The look was one of anticipation. It’s the look one has when something important is about to happen, something life changing perhaps. It wasn’t until later that night, when the old man refused to help Walter finance the troubadours’ folly, that he finally understood his son’s expression. Was this young girl’s life about to change? It likely was. Was my lord’s, for that matter.

The old man let his thoughts go and took his eyes off Nicolette lest she become more anxious and, thereby, bothersome to him. He motioned with his hand and offered Nicolette some wine or tea and when she refused he raised his chalice and, with nothing left to say, emptied it down his throat with an air of derision. James took notice but the active Nicolette cared not. Picking his way over the expensive Turkish carpet, James took charge lest the old man become brooding and quarrelsome. James left the room quickly and returned just as fast.

James exchanged the old man’s satchel for Nicolette’s. James thought he saw Nicolette’s knees buckle ever so slightly but resisted comment. As requested and with their business concluded, James set the gold Miss Nicolet Giffard had just handed him next to the old man and escorted her to the door without another word or by your leave.

Alone and tired from the events of the day and the wine, the old man watched from his window as Nicolette climbed into her coach. The driver turned the horses toward the dirt path down to the valley floor and, with a flick of his wrists, urged them into the approaching nightfall. Two lanterns mounted on the front of the coach, one on either side, guided their way. The driver, Miss Giffard and the armed men, the old man knew only by their silhouettes inside the carriage, crossed the bridge and headed back up the hill from whence they came.

Scraps from the day’s events came and went in the old man’s mind as blackness fell. He sat quietly. He knew his peasant workers were preparing for sleep. They would dream of banquets, as the hungry usually do, and of rest, as he knew from experience those who toil for others and the yoked animal do.

Tomorrow, he hoped, he would awake to the carol of the birds, loud and high, on the beaten sill in his bedchamber. The tiny ones would sit on the sill and sing with all their might, hoping to attract a mate and fulfill their own illusions of immortality. He had no such illusions. He knew his time was soon, perhaps this very night.

He rose slowly and was off to bedlam. After many painful steps he finally reached the top of the stairs. He heard the crackling from the fire James had prepared in his bedroom. James was always a step ahead of his lord, anticipating his every need and detail. The flickering glow lit up the room and provided ample heat for his aching bones. He sat in his bedroom chair, which was identical to his downstairs’ chair, and motioned for James to attend to his Claret. James poured the dark purplish-red liquid into a goblet and placed it lovingly in his master’s unsure hands. The old man thanked James for the wine with a nod.

Time passed and the wine disappeared until finally gone. Minutes later and from a distance James thought the old man was sleeping, his business for the day completed, but he was not. His head was bowed down, to be sure, but it was also moving, almost indiscernible, from side to side as he slowly read his last and only book, The holi bible, which is exactly the way it was printed on the book’s cover.

In the glow of the fire the old man’s features were more visible than they were in the din of the sitting room. His face was smooth and shiny, waxen, and he had a large purplish spot on his left temple, a mark from his time on Earth. His eyes, once bright, had an opaque sheen to them now. His nightly reading had become difficult. His hands were large but badly gnarled from his labors on the farm and poor diet as a child. He bought The holi bible from a sweaty Italian merchant. It cost him thirty Florentine gold florins, nearly three years wages for an average clerk.

He closed his precious book and tried to place it gently down on the table but his hands were weak and it fell with a thud. His grimaced when he gripped the arms of the oak chair and leaned forward. He pushed down hard and, after two tries, lifted his brittle body up and out of the chair. He stood motionless for a moment, using the time to steady himself. He brushed his hand through his bristled white hair but it refused to lie down.

When fully erect he was almost five feet five inches tall, which was the average height of men in his time. The average man lived to be thirty-five years old but he had beaten the odds and was now almost double that age, or so he guessed. He had servants but no family in the manor. His three wives were all buried on his land.
Walter had left him more than a decade prior, succumbing to the lights of London, a growing city of 200,000 odd people known as much for its garbage, smell and disease, as its vibrancy.

His drunken steps were stiff and tottering as he scuffed across the floor, leaned over and poked the fire, causing it to crackle anew. He tossed a small log, his last of the night, onto the fire. He preferred solace at this moment so did not summon James to do the work. He returned to his chair and plopped down releasing a large puff of air. He opened his mouth and took several heavy breaths. Only one task left.

He reached over and picked up his personal ledger. He dipped his pen into the ink well and dabbed the excess off the tip. His hand shook when he performed tedious tasks such as this so he waited a moment until it had quieted down. The gold coins Nicolette Giffard had delivered were his private business and would not be entered into the ledger. He would however, record the merchandise side of the transaction.

As was custom in his time the old man wrote in all uppercase letters:

SOLD THE APOCRYPHA. JUNE 2, 1602.

The Apocrypha – Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Present Day, South San Francisco

The white minivan stopped at the crosswalk. The driver and his passenger fixed their gaze at the six foot three inch, two hundred and eighteen pounds of muscle and bone, Matt Caruthers, as he ran in front of their car and headed up the hill.

Looking out her window the thirty-something female passenger uttered, “Wow.”

Her husband kept his hands on the wheel and said, “There’s no way I’m the same species.”

“Nobody said life is fair, honey,” she replied with a sigh as they drove away.

It was a typical gray overcast morning in South San Francisco. The crisp air kept Matt’s body temperature cool and runner’s rhythm did the rest. Runner’s rhythm is what long distance runners call the internal beat, an inner bio-metronome of sorts, that gives them the tempo they need to run long distances at remarkable speeds. At least remarkable speeds when compared to the average jogger.

As Matt reached the top of the hill he craned his head around, as if he could see the last fourteen plus miles, and then returned to his classic form. His eyes were steely and his focus straight ahead. In a hundred yards he’d round the corner and sprint back to the apartment he shared with his girlfriend, April.

The thump, thump, thump of his footsteps echoed off the sidewalk. His feet and knees hurt but his endorphins resisted their power. He knew his mile-time would be good, very good. He turned the corner just as the wind picked up. He extended each stride a few inches until he was in a full sprint while, at the same time, keeping his rhythm intact. Two blocks to go.

Matt’s thick dark hair flopped from side to side, throwing off sweat like raindrops, as he streaked toward the apartment. “Empty the tank,” he said to no one. The muscles in his legs and arms flexed with each powerful stride. His white running shirt was soaked and clung to him like an extra layer of skin. He was losing oxygen fast but he kept going, pushing. His fifteen-mile runs gave him the conditioning he needed to complete a marathon. His final sprint gave him the lung capacity to beat the other San Francisco police officers in the race.

Matt felt light headed and his stomach started to turn. He knew he’d be nauseated when his run was over but he didn’t care. He’d thrown up in front of his apartment before and perhaps he’d do it again today. Empty the tank. One block to go.

Matt reached out and touched the door, his imaginary finish line. He bound to a stop. His hands and legs were shaking. He pressed the button on his watch as he bent over, gasping for air. His legs were rubbery but he had to keep moving so he began his cool-down walk. His rhythm gone, his steps were tepid.

With his breathing still labored Matt looked at his watch. He’d run fifteen miles in exactly one hour and thirty-seven minutes. Anything under one hour forty-two minutes meant he could complete the marathon in less than three hours, which was his goal. He smiled into the moist morning air and put his hands on his hips hoping to catch more air. After what seemed like a hundred gasps and gulps the nausea subsided and his head cleared.

It was ten after eight and the neighborhood coffee shops, all three of them, were open for business. Matt hoped April had managed to drag herself out of bed and pour at least one cup of coffee down her throat. He called her first cup hopeless optimism and her second cup simply, hope. She’d laughed when he told her about the names, at least the first few times.

His cool-down walk behind him Matt was back at the apartment. He twisted the key to the outer door that led to the couple’s upstairs apartment. From behind Matt heard a perky,  “Good morning Officer Caruthers. I like your uniform?”

He turned around in time to see tiny Annie Harris walking past, her short pink hair bobbing up and down in sync with her tippy-toe steps. She was one of the many Baristas who worked at the corner Starbucks.

“Hey Annie,” replied Matt. “late again?”

Annie spun around, looked Matt up and down, smiled wide and said, “A little.”

“Have a nice day, Annie.”

“So far so good, officer Caruthers,” Annie said with a giggle.

Matt’s lips widened. He started up the stairs and under his breath said, “Danger.”

Matt was right about danger but was mistaken about the source. Upstairs, on his nightstand, his phone buzzed.

—————

April Abbot inherited her Mediterranean skin, green eyes and full lips from her ancestors who, according to her Great-Nana, Donata Abbotti, were olive farmers and fishermen in the old country, in Italy. Donata, which means “given by god,” was brought to America as an infant in the mid 1920’s. Family lore has it that U.S. Federal immigration agents changed the family’s last name from Abbotti to Abbot. That’s doubtful. Thousands of passenger lists in the National Archives were compared to the immigration inspectors’ records and relatively few errors were found. The high volume of mangled names experienced by European immigrants in the early 1900’s was the work of the vessel masters and shipping company representatives, most of which only spoke English. Abbotti became Abbot in the old country and by the time the Anglicized error was discovered Abbot had taken root in the New World.

Twenty-two year old April Abbot had also inherited her Great-Nana’s electric smile, heavy breasts and firm legs. She oozed sex. As she stared into her mirror, all April saw was the rumpled look of someone that had just gotten out of bed and her imperfections, which were few but nonetheless vexing. Matt would return from his run soon so April decided to make herself presentable.

Leaning forward she examined every aspect of her reflection. The smooth features of her face and high cheekbones were beautiful even without makeup but she didn’t see it that way. She had work to do. April clutched a mass of auburn hair and wrestled it into a red scrunchie. She was wearing a laced teal bra and matching panties, similar to the red one she used to wear at the club and still wore at work occasionally. She had a new profession now and lingerie shoots were her favorite assignments. The pay was great but it was more than that, April loved wearing lingerie. There was nothing like a frilly bra and panties to make her feel pretty and sexy.

Disorder ruled the couple’s bedroom and she drove most of the violence. The closet door hung wide open. April’s clothes were skewed out and jammed onto the rod. Shoes, tops and undergarments lay scattered on the floor in a pile. Her vanity was worse.

The instinct to replace caps, lids and the screw-tops of her bottles and tubes was foreign to April. Replacing them took time and contributed nothing to the final goal, to her beauty. Full makeup was too much work given Matt’s pending return so she applied just enough to feel appealing, sprayed on a whiff of perfume and turned to leave the room. She caught her full reflection in the dresser mirror and decided she was exposing too much skin. She went to her closet and ripped a tee shirt off a hanger. The hanger flipped up like a middle finger to order and joined the growing pile on the floor.

April slipped the shirt over her head and let it fall past her hips. It was a deliberate cover up designed to discourage any post-run advances from Matt. Sex was the last thing she wanted. April lost her virginity prior to her fifteenth birthday and never looked back. Despite her beauty, or perhaps because of it, the joke in high school was, she’d fuck you in the parking lot as long as you didn’t mess up her hair. She hated the talk but her need for attention was too strong to resist.

When her dad, Bob Abbot, died last year from Alzheimer’s, April’s libido went on sabbatical. She tried to satisfy Matt’s needs but her lack of enthusiasm was obvious and led to intense fights. She agreed with Matt that their sex life had become boring and routine but she just didn’t have the energy or desire to change, at least not now. She asked Matt for time and, despite long bouts of pouting, he’d respected her wishes and a less frequent normal had set into their sex life. April heard keys pawing at the front door. Matt was home. She grabbed a stack of papers off the kitchen table.

The door swung open. “Hey, babe. How was the run?”

“Great! I’m making my time regularly now.”

“Good for you. I admire your dedication,” she said with a soft smile.

Matt smiled back. “You’re welcome to join me anytime you know.”

“Yeah, right, not gonna happen,” April teased. “Aren’t you off today?”

“10-4 that. Bad guys don’t take days off and we’re short staffed so we’ll see. Right now I need a shower, ice and some food.”

Matt started toward the refrigerator, saw the papers in April’s hand and continued, “You still going through your dad’s letters?” He knew the answer and before she could answer and added, “Find anything interesting?”

“As a matter of fact, I did. I’m not sure I understand everything I’m reading but if I’m right this is some amazing shit!” April cocked her head slightly and squinting one eye ever so slightly asked, “Matt, have you ever heard of The Apocrypha?”

“Yeah, I think so,” he replied, “Isn’t that the end of the world or something? It’s in the Bible, right?”

“Ah, close, but no. You’re thinking about the Apocalypse,” April said and then slowing her speech dramatically asked, “I asked you if you’ve ever heard of the Apocrypha?”

April had a habit of slowing her speech when she asked Matt a question she didn’t think he understood. It pissed him off so in an equally slow cadence he replied, “Then. No. Whyyyeee?”

Ignoring his mockery April explained. “Daddy had this whole thing going on with my cousin Bacia about the Apocrypha but he never mentioned it to me. I mean look at all these emails and letters from her. His journal is full of entries about her work at the Vatican and at Oxford. I can’t believe he never mentioned it to me. Bacia always was the smart one.”

Matt didn’t acknowledge April’s comment. He paused his march to the frig, leaned over and, before she could pull away, gave her a quick peck on the head.

“Matt, you’re sweaty honey, and you smell. Please don’t touch me. Ewww.”

“You used to like me sweaty. Remember?”

April eyed Matt, gave him a loving smile and relented, “Maybe tonight lover-boy but, and I mean it, stay away from me and go shower. You’re gross.”

“I remember you telling me about your cousin Bacia but not the other stuff. So how does a stripper have a cousin who goes to Oxford and ends up working at the Vatican? Don’t those places do background checks anymore?”

April laughed. “They used to check but not anymore. It used to be right on the application,” she said as she ran her index finger from left to right across the table. “Question #5, ‘Do any of your relatives pole dance for a living?’ but then hey decided that was unfair to gorgeous women so they killed the question.” April batted her eyes at Matt.

Matt smiled and said, “Lucky for your cousin they deleted that question. I guess the PC crowd is good for something.”

Slapping her hand down lightly on the table April laughed, “I know, right?”

From the other room Matt’s phone buzzed. He had another text message. It would be several days before he understood their meaning. The couple’s playtime was about to end…horribly.

The Apocrypha

The Apocrypha

 

Chapter 1

 

Five Miles Outside of London

Miss Nicolette Giffard’s mind was full. She had no idea what to expect or how the exchange would occur. The old man was worrisome. He was well known in the villages north of London for his great wealth. He was also known for his temper and there were whispers that his mind was failing.

A mere nineteen years old, Nicolette had the courage and vigor of youth, which is one of the reasons the Vicar chose her. There were other reasons as well. She had charm and a manner beyond her years, and the faithfulness of his most devoted priests. A brittle old man, the Vicar surmised, would be no match for a very determined Nicolette Giffard.

Nicolette closed her eyes as she had so many times during her long journey. She folded her hands and recited the prayer one of the priests had penned specifically for her charge. Her fate and that of the Apocrypha was now in God’s hands she told herself. She tried to relax and enjoy the view from her carriage window.

She saw the opening ahead. The dirt road split the dense forest and gave passage to a lush green valley beyond. She let out a nervous smile. The scene was just as the Vicar had described. The carriage creaked and rocked as it began its ascent up the hill. She shifted and swayed with the carriage, hugging the satchel and its precious contents the entire time.

Once through the opening the old man’s home, Peyton Manor, which means fighting man’s estate, stood stoically on a hilltop in the distance. It was magnificent and nothing like Nicolette had ever seen. Almost a half a mile away, the gray stone, mammoth walls, and abundant chimneys rising up into sky were beyond her imaginings. The more she stared the more she wondered if the stories she’d heard about the treasures inside the great castle were true. That question, and many others, would be answered soon.

As her carriage approached Peyton Manor, Nicolette tried to control her breathing. It was a trick the Vicar had taught her during her training for this trip. He told her to use it in times of stress or corporal punishment, which she prayed she’d avoid.

She turned her attention to the grounds surrounding the estate in another failed attempt to escape the anxiety attacking her. The trees were aligned perfectly and the shrubs neatly trimmed. The hedges rose high, almost six meters, and were as dark a green as she’d seen in the dense forests she’d braved on her path to the castle.

The carriage stopped short, startling Nicolette. Her hands clamped down on her satchel in reflex. Her driver opened the carriage door and reached in to help Nicolette exit the carriage. She instinctively jerked the satchel to her side and away from his encroaching hand. She stepped out of the carriage with the satchel pressed firm against her bosom. With each step the pebbled walkway crackled below her feet. She walked up the dozen or so steps to the portico. As soon as she arrived at the top step a white haired man in formal attire opened the massive door, bowed his head and motioned for her to enter.

“James,” he said without looking.

“Nicolette Giffard,” she responded in a firm voice.

Her foot fell lightly onto the black and gray marble floor. Once inside the heavy door shut behind her and soon Nicolette and James were walking down a long hallway.

“My lord is very festive today and is quite excited to make your acquaintance,” James offered.

Nicolette did not believe him, not in the slightest. Nonetheless she looked at James and nodded.

James steps were slow. Nicolette had to restrain herself to keep proper pace. She used the time to gaze at the opulence inside the castle. Large paintings and colorful tapestries adorned the walls. Nicolette assumed each was worth hundreds of pounds sterling. She had never seen such wealth and beauty.

Seeing the young woman’s eyes grow wide James offered, “Peyton Manor was built by the late Sir Richard Grayson. The treasures you see,“ he continued with a broad wave of his hand, “were purchased by the current master of the manor.”

Nicolette smiled politely and still said nothing. She knew the story well. Sir Richard had raised the old man as his own after his parents died, like so many others, from the cold of that awful winter so long ago. He was thought to be about nine years old at the time. No one knew his exact age. He was a peasant, after all, and peasant lives were not recorded. Birth and death records were for the moneyed class.

The old man never blamed Sir Richard for not providing adequate heat for his parents and the other peasants. Peasants died young. It’s just the way it was and determining blame was not worthy of thought or discussion. They were disposable cogs in the landholder’s machinery and replacements were easily acquired. The going rate was a small portion of food each day and a roof over their heads a night. In exchange the peasants offered their backs and, occasionally, their women.

Sir Richard had noticed an unusual intellect in the boy, well beyond that of the other children, and most adults for that matter. The boy was well behaved and grateful for Sir Richard’s generosity, for his food. Sir Richard trained the youth well and when he passed, having no heir, he gave his landholdings, which was largely how wealth was measured at the time, to his faithful student.

When the old man was thought to be twenty-two years old, Sir Richard left this world and entered the next. Thus the peasant genius, as he was mockingly called by the other lords in the area, became the new Lord of Peyton Manor and a very wealthy gentleman. To them he was still a peasant, despite his great intellect and wealth. That suited the old man since he preferred his own company to that of the mindless upper class, as he, mocking back, referred to them.

Nicolette saw the archway into the sitting room ahead and the shadows from the fire dancing on the walls. Her pulse quickened with each step. She glanced at James. He was staring at her. Despite her months of training, non-stop prayers and dedication to the Church, the exchange and the old man’s mental state frightened her. She felt faint.

Just then another thought, a larger thought, filled her with dread. Only moments away from what she had been told was her destiny and with a mystery dating back to Christ stuffed deep inside the bag she clutched to her chest, one question filled her heart: How would the Lord God Almighty judge what she was about to do?

The hallway started to spin. Nicolette turned to run. An iron hand clamped down on her wrist.

 

 

 

 

A Personal Note about The Truth

A Personal Note about The Truth

 

Legend has it that decades ago families watched TV together. Dads sat in Dads’ Chairs, dished out their own brand of justice and said little. Moms ran their kitchens with the skill and grace of an orchestra leader. The children, placed strategically around the home to promote peace, similar to the way knick-knacks were placed around a room to avoid breakage, behaved. Television consisted of three network channels and the grown-ups decided which one of the three the family watched.

 

Legends tug at our hearts. We want them to be true. But brains are wired differently. Brains like to shuck legends aside and dismiss them as Hollywood fantasies. This legend, as you’ll see, is worth holding onto for two reasons. The first reason is because it’s true, it’s not a Hollywood tale, and the second reason is below the bucolic surface of our legend lies unseen and profound truths. Let’s use the legend to discover those unseen and profound truths.

 

Picture in your mind’s eye a large recliner aligned perfectly, centerline-to-centerline, in front of a small TV in the corner of a small living room. That was our living room and that was my Dad’s Chair. Every night dad and his chair went mano-y-mano with our underweight TV. The tension was palpable but that man never wavered or even blinked. He had the best viewing angle and my two sisters and me knew that getting between him and that TV, even for a moment, was risky business. My Mom policed that area so airspace violations were rare. She was the best!

 

Mom ruled our spartan 1950’s style kitchen lovingly and, with nothing more than a few well-worn white appliances and an old coffee can half full of bacon lard, she breathed life into one miracle after another. At night, when the crisp scent of cinnamon toast and rich aroma of hot cocoa snuck into our family room, as it often did, I knew Mom’s magic would fill my constantly half-empty belly. Mini-marshmallows were abundant as long as they were “on special” that week.

 

My sisters were much older than me and they helped mom without being asked because cinnamon toast and cocoa logistics were a priority in our household. Dad had decreed long before my ascent into boyhood that food and drink are served hot. All the rules required strict obedience and, while I didn’t like many of them, this particular rule had my full support.

 

We were Germans, after all, so rules were commonplace. I sat cross-legged in my assigned spot next to the TV. My standard uniform was a pair of Levi’s, buttoned-to-the-top flannel shirt and bright white socks. My buzz haircut completed the desired look. Life was good and I was as happy as a puppy with two tails. Plus, I had a great job. My responsibilities as our family’s lone remote control were exalted and the envy of all. I alone, the smallest of the litter, got to touch Dad’s TV. Take that, ladies!

 

My Mom could not only cook, she was brave too. She often spoke when Dad was watching TV. None of us dared to do that…oops. Let’s not go down that path just now. I’ll stuff that one back where it belongs, in the Suppressed Memories file. Whoa, that’s a big file.

 

Anyway, Dad loved travel shows, which were typically just a short segment on Walt Disney’s World, which later became Walk Disney Presents and then, from 1961-1969, Walk Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. Yeah kids, this is old school stuff.

 

When Disney aired a travel segment my mom would point at the screen and tease us. She’d smile and say, “I’ve been all over the world sitting right here.” My Dad’s eyes never veered from the screen, and the whole unblinking thing still creeps me out, but right on queue he’d bark, “Katie!” That ended that.

 

Mom faded back into silence until it was time to scrape us all up for the nightly bathing, brushing and bedding wars. I fought all of it with a vengeance but it was our regimen and my weaponry was weak, mostly just wailing, nonsensical threats of future disobedience and every child’s cherished battle cry, “No!” Our routine was neither unique nor creative but it served us well. Our routine got us through one day and onto the next and, as you’ll soon see, that’s the secret to a happy retirement and a successful second-act. Routine is the first truth.

 

As I mentioned, our routines and rituals, boring as they were, contained profound truths and here’s the second, my Mom’s whimsical belief that TV travels could somehow be equated with real travel changed my life. I’ll explain. Even at my tender age I remember knowing that Mom hadn’t really been anywhere or seen anything. I knew she was fooling herself and trying to fool us as well. I laugh easily but never cared much for this bit of foolishness, not then and not now. Truth number two teaches us that happy people don’t sit on the sidelines. What I heard in my Mom’s words disturbed me. There was more to this lady than I had been led to believe.

 

Looking at my Mom in those early years I began to see sadness. Her life was about survival. I wanted mine to be about living. Her life was about scarcity. I wanted mine to be about abundance. Her life was about avoidance. Mine would be about pursuit. I knew as a small child that my life would be vastly different than my parents. That is the third truth.

 

Since we’ve already dug so deep let’s keep going. It took almost six decades to find but, just as I suspected, here’s another truth. The fourth truth, which I only truly came to understand recently, is my parents were incapable of preparing me for my eventual life because my life became something they could have never imagined. That’s not a jab; it’s a fact.

 

We’ll come back to that one later but here’s a personal question for you to ponder, is that true of your parents as well? It’s not my business but “parent-shaming” has become a national pastime so I thought I’d ask. Good luck with that one.

 

My parents were Depression Era babies. My Dad was a bartender and my Mom, when she worked outside the home where she often took in laundry, was a waitress. They were raised to expect little more from life than a long hard slog for survival. I was stunned when my Mom tried to talk me out of going to college because I had a good job as a Machinist. That was my mistake. They had their own view of the world and their own logic. Don’t we all.

 

My Mom and Dad worked hard all their lives. When their health declined they lived meagerly off Social Security. They had few possessions but they left me an enormous fortune for which I’m forever grateful. My inheritance is the fifth truth.

 

I inherited my work ethic and drive from my parents. Thanks Mom. Thanks Dad. Thank you, Jesus! They couldn’t leave me worldly possessions but they gave me everything I needed, and more, to earn an incredible living. Like most parents they didn’t live to see their child benefit or enjoy their final generosity. However I like to think they know that I got their gifts, appreciate them tremendously and used them to the best of my ability.

 

Shorty after their passing I became obsessive about my education and work. A co-worker called me a young-man-in-a-hurry once (it was a long time ago) and I suppose he was right. I certainly didn’t think of myself that way. I also didn’t think much about getting old, retirement or constructing my own personal second-act. Those thoughts came much later, in 2012, the eve of the sixth truth.

 

In 2012 I created a plan that would let my wife and I retire in January 2013. That is when the sixth truth revealed itself to me. The sixth truth is retirement is a lot of wonderful things but it can also be an empty calendar and a lot of time to fill. In a land with infinite possibilities, infinite possibilities can be stressful! I needed help.

 

Help is not a concept that gives me the warm-fuzzies. My helping you is cool. Me asking you for help is, well, more cold-prickly than warm-fuzzy. At 62 I clearly still have some growing up to do. And whom do we all turn to about growing up matters? That’s right, back to our parents.

 

My Mom and Dad both lived to be about a decade older than I am today. If they were here I’d ask them a lot of questions about getting older. They wouldn’t understand how a professional career and one’s personal identity intersect. And I know the concept of a “second-act” would be equally as foreign. But they sure did know me!

 

Insights into myself from people that know me well, I think, would be helpful. The seventh truth, which is key to a happy life and a happy retirement, is to know yourself really well. That’s not as easy as it sounds. Maybe I can help you.

 

Here’s your assignment: Go ask those who know you the best and have known you the longest, “What passions and traits do they see in you today that are the same as the passions and traits they saw in you years ago, perhaps as a child?”

 

For me one answer might be, “You’re still an asshole!” Okay, but that’s a layup and not the kind of answer we’re looking for in this exercise. You want attributes such as giving, creative, loved to cook, athletic, smells everything, dramatic, smart, loving, serious, funny, daring, outgoing, or private. You’re looking for characteristics that are part of who you are that you can translate into activities.

 

The then and now, the time aspect is key because we all possess a transitory-self and a permanent-self. Don’t believe me? Think about your 15-year-old self. Now compare that version of you to your 30-year-old self. See what I mean? You were a lot different at 30 than you were at 15 but, at the same time, you were the same you as well. It’s the similarities you want to understand fully.

 

The take-away from this exercise is the eighth truth. That is, if you’re 45 today I can assure you that you have no idea what you’ll be like when you’re 60. We are all constantly evolving. At the same time we all have permanent-self we are well served to understand and nurture. Identifying your permanent-self in great detail fits perfectly into your post-retirement to-do list. You’ll want a fun to-do list.

 

People romanticize about retirement being this blissful time, a respite from and reward for a lifetime of hard work. Free from the shackles of a job and those life-sucking non-events called meetings, you’ll wake up happy each day and require a full ten minutes just to scrub that stupid smug-ass grin off your face. The ninth truth connects to the eighth. It is the when for the what. The ninth truth knows that your to-do list needs to be tied to time. A blank calendar mocking you is stressful. We don’t like stress so let your permanent-self fill in your calendar. He or she knows the important stuff.

 

Glorious things come alive in retirement. I love my free time with my wife and the freedom to do whatever we darn well please, even if that’s nuttin’. Sleep comes easy, is deeper, and lasts longer since I’ve earned my freedom. But not every day is sunshine, lollypops and unicorn races, however. Retirement is still real life and as such there are good days and bad days. Note: That may be truth number ten but I kinda lost count…

 

On the bad days I miss two things about work – my workmates and my schedule, the structure. There’s something comforting about the time requirements of work. Work provides a bit of a formula for getting through each day, like cinnamon toast, cocoa, and bath-wars. You may not like your work all the time, or at all, but there’s utility in a fixed schedule. You get up at a certain time, drive to work, do your thing and come home. Presto, another day enters the archives.

 

A successful retirement doesn’t come with built-in structure so you have to create it yourself and it’s more than your to-do list and calendar. A successful retirement involves people. Those people should be folks that have a keen sense of who you are outside their profession, outside of what they do, or did, for a living.

 

Happy retirees have self-identities and relationships that go beyond their being a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker, and they certainly go beyond being the Vice President of whatever-the-hell-it-is-we-do-around-here.

 

Happy retirees are also aware of their current and future network of friends and tribesmen – fellow cooks, woodworkers, writers, gardeners, golfers and volunteers. You’ll need to decide if you’re going to grow a new circle of friends or bring your old friends along for your second-act journey. Of course it will be a mixture of the two. I gravitate toward the old. New friends can be a lot of work and mistakes are bound to occur. My advise is to try to recycle your old friends into your new you and work hard to enjoy each day.

 

Speaking of friends, your feedback on The Left Handed Study was incredibly helpful last year. They made me a better writer. Thank you so much.

 

In the coming weeks I’ll post the some draft chapters from my next book, The Apocrypha, and ask for your input again. I have about 60,000 words committed to The Apocrypha and, while not all of them will survive the editing process, that word-count feels about right.

 

Steve

The Left Handed Study and Good Intentions

An interesting thing happened after I published my first piece of fiction, The Left Handed Study, nothing. That’s right, nothing happened. Let me explain.

 

When I told my social media tribes that The Left Handed Study was available as an ebook on Amazon there was lots of excitement. People were congratulating me, “I’ll buy it,” chanted some, while others accepted my offer for a free copy. It was a great experience and a great memory. Then a few clouds appeared.

 

A few days later I got a request for an autographed copy, then a second. Huh? Now those were puzzling. I reread my messages and I was quite clear, The Left Handed Study is an ebook on Amazon, here’s how you get a free copy, and please post a review. It took me a few days to solve the puzzle. Here’s the deal, the gap between the original messages and the follow-up requests is the tell.

 

My tribe hadn’t really read the messages, at least not entirely. They had gotten caught up in the publishing celebration and sent me their heartfelt hosannas because that’s what good tribes do. At that point they thought their jobs were done. They largely missed the parts in the messages about it being an ebook, how to get a free copy and especially my request for a short review. It gets better.

 

Later in the week I was with several people and a sweetheart of a person says to me, “I can’t wait to read your book,” then the next day another person, also in a public setting, says, “I want a copy.” I felt my emotional gears lock into a familiar place and, with my Asperger Syndrome (limited empathy) fully engaged, I said in a chilly voice, “There’s a free copy in your inbox. It’s been there since Monday.” Oh well…

 

As of this writing, it’s been a full week since I launched The Left Handed Study and still no reviews. Keep in mind that it’s not a long read, if the book were in print format it would be 105 pages long. So why are there no reviews, glowing or otherwise? It’s one of two reasons.

 

The first is people are too damn busy for all this. Between work, kids, parents in many cases, and other real-life responsibilities, finding the time to read a book is hard. Take it a step further and ask for a review, and it’s a tough ask. The second reason might be they don’t like the book and don’t want to write a negative review and risk hurting my feelings. That’s appreciated but it’s a mistake.

 

I really need feedback to improve my writing and my feelings won’t be hurt. I’m battle-tested in the corporate world and withstood personal attacks on my intelligence, motivations and judgement in front of a room full of people. I just want to know what’s good and what’s bad so my second ebook, which is almost outlined, is better than my first. I’m guessing you want the same thing.

 

On April 1 through April 3 The Left Handed Study is available free on Amazon, here’s the link – The Left Handed Study. You can search for it too using the title, The Left Handed Study, or my last name, Hartkopf. Oh, and please leave a review.

The Left Handed Study

I retired from corporate life in 2013. Since then I have been writing fiction, practicing my new craft. On March 23, 2015 my first published story came out, see synopsis below. If you want to learn more visit www.amazon.com/kindle and type in The Left Handed Study or my last name, Hartkopf.

Good reading…

The note on the door told Matt the study was over. As he heads home, dejected, there’s a man in the shadows following close behind. Unaware of the threats closing in on him and his girlfriend, April, Matt is haunted by his strange experiences at the study. Looking for answers, he seeks advice from April’s dying father and his friend, a hard-baked San Francisco Detective.

As Matt and the detective search for the truth, April searches for money and excitement until she finds herself in a hotel room with her friend, the escort, and a strange man. Trapped in a web of lies, no one suspects that one man is behind the deception. That man is an elusive CIA trained killer named Sabir.

 Nothing is quite as it seems…then the first shot rings out.

B2B Copywriting and Storytelling

B2B Copywriting and Storytelling

Copywriting is for advertisers and storytelling is for writers. That’s how traditional B2B marketing people think, but it’s no longer the case. The web changed the meanings of both copywriting and storytelling and brought them closer together.

B2B copywriting and storytelling are becoming synonymous.

Not long ago B2B copywriters dealt only with facts and had few avenues to add non-technical information to their outbound messages. But in today’s world, exploring broader storylines and including them into the message is required.

Storyteller skills needed.

Today’s B2B customers still believe they only want to know the brand name and dry product data but they require more. The reason is it takes more to convince them that one product is superior to another. Convincing someone that the new version is better than the old one, and that’s why they should switch, requires both the data listing the technical benefits and the context explaining why it matters to them personally.

The backstory.

B2B copywriting image

B2B Copywriting and Storytelling

Product names and features, functions, and benefits remain the story’s heroes but younger customers like learning about how the product got its name? Who else is using it? If the manufacturer is Green, or are they still fossil fuel junkies? Storytellers provide this context. They string together the drab data of the copywriter and burnish it into shiny personal messages.

You need a storyteller to turn the copywriters’ bullets, charts, and images into an intimate plea for website visitors to click-here, register today, or buy-now.

Marketers need stories that entertain and engage in subtle ways.

B2B marketers in the electrical or industrial space, for example, selling technical products need to be especially subtle. The facts still lead the story but the company’s history of innovation, keeping jobs in the US and the diversity of the management team have become important facts to today’s more socially conscience customers. They grew up with broader marketing messages.

Steve Jobs is a great example. He was a master storyteller. He approached his customers as a peer. He showed us cool stuff. He made billions pimping cool and few noticed because he was subtle. He just explained what he’s been doing since the last time he spoke to us. His style and tone gave the impression he was showing us his summer vacation slides even though we knew it was much more. We were delighted with each new product story and reached deep into our wallets.

It’s a people question

The purpose of this post is not to denigrate the job of copywriter. It is, however, to get B2B marketers to open their eyes wider and see if a larger story has a role in their marketing messages. If it does, then you may need to re-evaluate your team.

You can learn more at these sites:

http://www.copywriting.com/articles.html

http://www.thewritersforhire.com/

http://freelancewrite.about.com/od/freelancejobresources/ht/hire.htm

Shareable Content

Everyone struggles to create shareable content, content that is retweeted, Liked, and spreads out on the various social media platforms.

Writing quality content can be a challenge, for sure, but it’s more than just the quality of your writing. Creating shareable content requires good headlines, images that quickly convey your message and have meaning for your audience and some idea as to when is the best time to post.

In short, creating a steady stream of shareable content requires knowledge and a plan.

Here are six articles that will help you understand how to meet those challenges.

Hartkopf Blogroll

My Blogroll

Want to improve your blogging skills? I do. That’s why I try to learn from the best.

Below are the bloggers I visit regularly, some more than others. These are some of the true heavyweights in blogging. Spend time reading these blogs and you will improve your writing, gain insight into your own unique voice and writing style and be exposed to an array of blog layout styles.

That’s important. You want the look and feel of your site, the visual element, to be consistent with your blog topics and writing style.

 

Chris Brogan @chrisbrogan Chris Brogan is a best selling author, online contributor on multiple platforms, marketing consultant, and frequent speaker on social media and online marketing. Chris is highly accessible, we’ve emailed each other several times on subjects ranging from pets to blog templates. He recently launched Owner Magazine for entrepreneurs and is the CEO of Human Business Works.

Copyblogger: Brian Clark is the guiding genius behind Copyblogger. This is the number 1 site for blogging and writing instruction, which is good since that’s how they earn their living.

Brains On Fire: Robbin Phillips is the President but she has a good team of inspired writers. They write an interesting blog and have published two books.

Brand Against The Machine: John Morgan is a branding guru and author. His posts are often provocative. I like that.

Brand Savant: Tom Webster runs this site. He focuses on the consumer side of business but his content is well-written and to-the-point.

C.C. Chapman CC’s site is highly visual. He consults through his marketing agency with big brands like Coca-Cola and HBO and wrote Content Rules with Ann Handley.

Peter Shankman: Shankman is one busy dude. I won’t try to describe all the things he’s involved with but he’s an entrepreneur, consultant, author, internet guru, CEO, and a bunch of others things all rolled up into one guy. If you want to see what’s possible this is a good place to start.

Six Pixels Of Separation: Mitch Joel has a great site with lots of video and a fantastic color palette. If you want to be challenged then read his blog.

Ann Handley @marketingprofs. Ann manages the contributory blog at marketingprofs. A pioneer and leader in social media and B2B marketing. I also love the site, it’s resource rich and easy to navigate.

Guy Kawasaki @guykawasaki, Guy is a bit of a legend in the online marketing world. He recently took a position at Motorola so has toned down his online presence. However, he’s authored about 10 books, co-founded Alltop.com, is a Founding Partner of Garage Technology Ventures, worked at Apple marketing the original Mac, and is sought out by startups. Huge web-celeb, prolific writer and social media user and, like Brogan, approachable: we’ve also exchanged emails.

Gary Vaynerchuk @garyvee, I interviewed Gary when his book Crush It came out in late 2009. He’s a showman but his videos and insights are spot on. He gets it and is worth listening to if you want to get calibrated on social media and content marketing. He’s worth listening too but you’ll learn more by watching him apply the tactics.

Scott Stratten @unmarketing is the President of Unmarketing. He produces lots of informative podcasts. Scott is opinionated and good.

Robert Scoble @scobleizer, long term blogger, technical evangelist, trend setter and author. Scoble is best known for his blog, Scobleizer, Lots of great video blogs and a great site to visit if you’re interested in cutting-edge thinking.

Liz Strauss @lizstrauss, of Successful Blog posts long well written blogs. Liz is a storyteller.

Peggy Noonan writes for the Wall Street Journal. She was Ronald Reagan’s speak writer and author of several books. She is one of my favorite writers with a unique style and rich voice. She is someone worth reading if you want to add a bit of style to your writing.

Kristi Hines writes the Kikolani blog. It covers the latest in content, search, and social media marketing for personal, professional, and business bloggers to succeed in blog marketing.

 

I’m going to post these bloggers on my Resource Page as well. Let me know if I left anyone out and, if I think they make the grade, I’ll add them to the list.