Low flight of angels in.., p.1
Low Flight of Angels in the Benelux, p.1
Low Flight of Angels in the Benelux
By Ed Hurst
Copyright 2013 by Ed Hurst
Copyright notice: People of honor need no copyright laws; they are only too happy to give credit where credit is due. Others will ignore copyright laws whenever they please. If you are of the latter, please note what Moses said about dishonorable behavior – “be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23)
Permission is granted to copy, reproduce and distribute for non-commercial reasons, provided the book remains in its original form.
Cover Art: “Dinant: Meuse embankment,” .Marc Ryckaert Used by permission under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license; source.
Low Flight of Angels in the Benelux
Part 1 – Of Images and Angels
Part 2 – Of Wheels and Angels
Part 3 – Of Children and Angels
Part4 – Of Truth and Angels
Part 1 – Of Images and Angels
No Pulitzers here, but maybe something that would keep him from going hungry.
Preston was reviewing the images from the last three days of whizzing around The Hague. He did his best to avoid the touristy stuff and captured angles with an artsy edge. His work filled a very narrow niche that saw the wire services buying sometimes almost as much as ten percent of what he submitted.
The park behind the Noord Hove shopping center was relatively quiet that morning. He had been wandering all over Zoetermeer since dawn with the help of a district tourist map and a borrowed bicycle. His camera was recent technology, but still on the low end of the price range. He bought it because it was the most he could get in such a tiny pocket digicam.
For the third time he reminded himself he really should carry the laptop on these forays. The bigger screen would make it much easier to discard images with major flaws. It would take him awhile but he decided to head back to the village where his host was part owner of an inland marina. The tiny village of Hoogmade sat among the polders east of Leiden just off the A4.
As he pedaled along the narrow lanes, zigzagging his way in a northerly direction, his mind wandered back over the events that brought him there.
Two decades ago as a freshly minted soldier, he hadn’t even known that there were US military installations in the Netherlands. He worked maintenance in one of the not-so-secret forward storage sites for heavy military vehicles. His post was several acres of steel warehouses surrounded by blacktop and high security fencing; his job was a mind-numbing boredom of rotating the aging vehicles in and out of storage for routine inspection and lubrication. Occasionally someone up the chain of command mandated an upgrade of some component, then back into storage it went.
On the other hand, it was as close to a paid vacation as you could get in the military. The Dutch were wonderful hosts, the country wide open to exploration and he was officially encouraged to take full advantage of it. Preston’s photography hobby was a prime excuse for blindly grabbing a train headed somewhere new and he saw most of the Lowlands during his tour. Eventually he bought a nice mountain bike and light backpack for longer jaunts overnight, sometimes taking in on the train. He made a lot of new friends, but one in particular became a lifelong buddy.
During one of his long rides he found himself on the shore of a large lake at the foot of three conical cooling towers. Nuclear energy had always been big in Europe. Out on the lake in a stiff breeze were a large number of wind-surfers. Apparently it was some kind of competition. When he pulled out his camera and began seeking a good angle, someone called out to him from atop a rather large enclosed cargo van. The fellow had backed as close as permitted to the edge of the water and stood on top. He had a tripod supporting a rather ancient VHS video camera.
Preston found the Dutch typically eager to speak English, but he decided to learn as much Dutch as possible, careful to mimic the sounds he heard. It prevented a quick stop from turning into a long conversation when he didn’t feel like hanging around some place. This fellow’s patter was loaded with too much jargon, so after a couple of comments while the man gestured to a built-in ladder on the back door, Preston called out in English.
“How come you aren’t out there riding the wind with the rest of them?”
Without breaking stride, the man switched to English. “I’m the primary sponsor of this event!”
Between getting some good shots, helping the man get more from his video equipment and enjoying a few beers, they became fast friends. Preston learned the man called himself Harry for some odd reason, though it bore no relation to any part of his real name. The fellow’s family had been nautical builders from way back, even bearing the name Botenbouwer (roughly translated as Boatwright). Harry insisted on paying him in advance for some large photo prints of the event. The family business near Leiden became a frequent stop for Preston on his wanderings over the years while stationed in the Netherlands.
So that was long ago, and Harry had kept in touch when Preston returned stateside. Preston kept working in heavy equipment maintenance as a civilian, becoming a manager quickly. However, he never lost his love for photography. He spent a lot of time online with other photography buffs and kept in touch with Harry through nautical forums and email.
You would have thought it would go on like that forever, but at some point Preston stumbled across the manosphere on the Net. As he began implementing the changes, his pushy wife was not amused. She pretended it was just another hobby, but Preston took it to heart and the friction became unbearable. She refused to change. It was an ugly divorce and the courts ruled against him 100%. She moved her toy-boy into the house while he was on a business trip and changed to locks on the doors. He found most of his personal belongings had been delivered to the hunting lodge he shared up on the mountains. He stayed there while tying up the loose ends.
Preston had prepared well. He had already made a deal to sell all his assets on short notice, written up and dated before her move, so she ended up with the physical property only. The house and car she had were already paid off, so he felt no further obligation to her. Preston decided it was a good time to take Harry up on his offer to photograph the test run in the North Atlantic for a new sloop design. The one remaining teenage daughter at home begged Preston to take her with him, but he didn’t want to defy the court decree directly, having skated around the edges of it so much already.
So Preston shipped out with Harry and his crew, and the voyage ended up back home in the Netherlands. Preston lived frugally and began selling some of his images wherever he could, hoping he could avoid touching his hidden offshore accounts for a couple of years. With so many banks collapsing around the world, he wasn’t sure he’d ever see the money, anyway. For now, he was biking through the regions around The Hague and taking lots of pictures.
It was that woman again.
The first time Preston ran across her was in Katwijk. He had been trying to capture the ancient cathedral near the beach with some sails in the background. At one point he was lying on the sidewalk with his camera resting on a loose brick he found nearby. Out of the corner of his eye a figure rode by and he waited for her to clear his frame.
The gal was striking, though not in the sense of grand beauty. Pretty enough, sure, but she was possessed of a very incongruous set of features. Diminutive, she was riding one of the smaller framed bikes typically used by older children. However, she was not petite, but rather muscular like an athlete. Her middling shade of brown skin was common enough among the cosmopolitan Dutch, but it was matched with entirely Caucasian facial features and beautiful flowing red hair. For a moment he wondered if it could possibly be her natural color, but then turned back to his photo composition.
Apparently her image lingered in his mind, because he could have sworn he saw her again in Wassenaar when he was out at the Duinrell campground taking pictures of some of the unusual characters occupying the old horse track during a celebration. He saw here up near the rental office. The next week he was near Voorschoten photographing the shooter’s festival – men firing low powered .22 caliber rifles at tiny round blobs on a frame mounted at the top of a very long pole. The festivities included some deliciously creative military styled uniforms copying elements of just about every uniform men had worn in Western military history since firearms were introduced. He spotted her in the crowd just a few meters from where he stood.
He almost went up and spoke to her, but decided against it. Instead, he decided to test the limits of coincidence. Waiting until after dinner time one evening, he skipped the bike and grabbed a seat on a bus headed to Alphen, and from there took the train south to Gouda. It was a short hike to the old city center. He sat at a table in the triangular old market plaza, which was dominated by a baroque looking city hall he had seen too many times in photographs already. He waited and watched as the traffic nearly disappeared and some of the nightspots closed. Paying his tab he walked along the northern edge of the market plaza and threaded his way through the ancient streets to the Rotterdamsweg traffic circle, and then south across the river.
Taking the southerly route, he hiked out across the bridge to the Kattendijk and followed it south out of town along the IJssel River. By now it was dark and the moon was setting early. In its first quarter, he was hoping to catch it against the roof of an ancient farmhouse across the river from him. There was still time to find a good angle which placed him along a fairly straight stretch in the channel. He sat hunched down in some tall grass along the road. It was very quiet and nearing midnight.
As the moon began to approach the ideal angle above the horizon, he heard a canal barge approaching from the right. There were a few old boat pilots around who knew the channels well enough to run them at night, but never without lights. This one was unlighted and he could barely make it out. Suddenly the motor sputtered and died and the barge slowed visibly as a dark mass in the water below him. He was curious. Since his camera was capable of capturing images in low light conditions without a flash, he steadied it on his knee and aimed the lens at the boat. His finger found and pressed the compose button, one click down. After a couple of seconds, the scene became just visible to him. Someone stepped out of the pilot booth and onto the deck behind it, which was the roof of the cabin.
Something in Preston’s instincts twitched his finger to press the button down to the second click, which recorded in video mode.
The figure reached down and began dragging a heavy load of some kind. Preston could just make out a long duffel bag, almost as big as the man dragging it. Stopping at the rear of the deck, he looked down at his load, then squatted to change his grip. He wrapped loose fabric from the bag in each hand across the middle. Hoisting it, he turned around completely. Then, keeping the load behind him, he took two very quick steps, twisted his body and heaved the load over the side. One end struck the gunwale on the way down, flipped and sank into the water. The figure watched as only bubbles rose to the surface; the boat drifted downstream away from the spot.
Then the figure turned back toward the wheelhouse and stepped inside. The engine coughed and came to life, driving the barge with fresh momentum down river again. As it reached the next bend, the lights came on and there was no sign anything had happened. That is, except for the video footage of the incident in Preston’s camera, which ended as the barge passed before him and he captured the name painted in bold letters across the stern.
He sat staring in the grass waving in the breeze directly in front of him. What did he just see? He had the laptop with him this time, but he suddenly felt the urge to get as far as possible from this spot.
It was at the moment his muscles tensed to drive him upright that he heard the female voice. “Heeft hij motorpech hebben?”
While his brain translated reflexively the question about possible motor trouble, he was too surprised to answer in kind. “I wouldn’t count on it,” he said as he rose to his feet. He turned to see the short sturdy redhead on her bicycle. He continued, “The pilot shut the motor off on purpose, then tossed a heavy bag into the river, just about the size of a human body.”
She gasped and put her hand on her mouth. While she stared downriver where the barge had disappeared, Preston briskly walked back the way he had come. She caught up with him and rode quietly alongside in the darkness.
Without slowing, he turned his head to face her and demanded, “Why are you stalking me?”
She sputtered for a moment in Dutch, and then tried again in English. “I meant no harm. I was told you were a professional photographer and I wanted to see if I could learn from you.”
They continued along the Kattendijk a bit, while she made an obvious struggle to find words. “I was going to introduce myself when you got to Gouda but my cellphone died and I thought I had lost you. I rode around town a bit and almost gave up when I spotted you again coming out this way.”
With a bit of stammering, she offered, “I’m sorry, Sir.”
After a bit of tense silence, Preston asked, “What does your cellphone have to do with it?”
“Please stop, Sir, and I’ll show you,” she begged.
He stopped and turned to face her. She pulled her bicycle almost behind him and reached out to his backpack. From someplace on the bag she pulled at something that made an audible click when it let go. She held out her hand to show him a tiny gadget no bigger than a zipper pull.
“It’s all the latest rage with wealthy families,” she explained. “The government has been experimenting with tracking stations around this area under a private contract – train stations, some shops, and popular hangouts. Parents can place this on anything their child is likely to carry and they won’t notice. Every time the child passes a tracking point, it registers with a central website and parents can see in realtime where their child is going.”
He stared hard at her for a moment. She added, “There is a cellphone app that connects to the website and updates with onscreen alerts.”
His face betrayed nothing. He breathed deeply, than asked mildly, “So when did you tag me?”
She seemed a bit relieved. “The day you were lying on the ground in Katwijk. I was riding through there and saw you, and became fascinated. An old man standing nearby said you were yet another professional photographer using the old church as so many others do. Except, I could see you were getting a totally unique frame of the image. You left your bag where I could get to it and not disturb you.”
She shifted on her bicycle seat, then spoke some more. “I may lose my job and I was hoping you’d be willing to apprentice me.”
Her name was Anja.
Preston reflected a moment. “That’s rather like Angie in America.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “You can call me Angie; I like that.” Angie it was.
By the time they arrived back in Gouda, he realized she had to be around thirty years old. Her story was pretty simple, in that she grew up in a Catholic orphanage somewhere close to the Delft and never knew her parents. She managed to graduate just about the time the orphanage closed and found various jobs with an inter-denominational Christian missionary society. She played whatever volunteer sports were available.
“I was sexually abused along with all the other girls, but far less often because I was never as cute as the others. I was considered too boyish.” She was also exposed to numerous different languages and spoke a few with enough fluency to pretend it was her native tongue. He noticed her English had a hint of proper British enunciation, but not too strong. As she continued chatting with him, it faded noticeably into a standard American sound.
The night air was still warm as they entered Gouda and made their way to the old market plaza. Preston pulled a small gadget from his pocket and was delighted to see several unsecured wifi signals were still available. The only lighting was the minimal security lamps here and there. He sat down in the shadows; Angie huddled next to him as he opened his laptop. He transferred the memory chip from the camera to the laptop and copied the video first.
After running through it couple of times, Preston zoomed in the middle frames of it to see the action with as much clarity as possible. He used editing software to bring the ambient light level up just a bit more. This he saved as a second video file. Then he copied out several frames showing the man’s face as he walked back toward the wheelhouse after dumping the bag.
He explained to Angie, “First, we take advantage of the face recognition software on a couple of major social websites.” Sure enough, the site searching algorithms found a few matches, but only as a secondary person unnamed in the pictures.
“So it means he has a social life of sorts, but avoids being identified the way most people do.” Angie seemed rather surprised how easy it all was.
He turned to her and warned, “This next part is rather risky. I have access to a commercial vendor site that happens to have a development contract with several national and international law enforcement agencies. One of my friends works there and lets me use his login. It checks images on file with the likes of Interpol and the FBI to see if there’s a match. The problem is, if I get a hit, someone in those agencies is going to know about it. They might not have any idea who, simply because I’m using a public wifi connection, but they are going to know where it was and when. I would go through Tor, but the site doesn’t allow connections from there.”
Low Flight of Angels in the Benelux by Ed Hurst / Romance & Love / Thrillers & Crime have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on33 votes