7 Tips From a Reticent Spymaster

When it comes to fantasy storytelling, Charles Yallowitz is your man. From why only some vampires can (and should) reproduce to the proper way of knowing the best mapper shop in town, he’s the expert.

He recently dragged one of the best spies from his Legends of Windemere series out to ask him for 7 Tips to Being an Effective Spymaster. The post is as follows:

(From a Yahoo image search)

So, I’ve asked Kai Stavros from War of Nytefall: Rivalry to give some tips on being a spymaster.  He doesn’t really want to share his secrets or be out in public, so he gave me a list.  It was written into my car with a warning that I should never ask him to do anything like this again.  Here we go:

  1. Never do public appearances unless they are on your terms . . . Just going to voice a complaint right away, huh?  You know, I could have asked another of my spy characters to do this.  Well, I don’t have any, but I know a few who would willing to make stuff up.
  2. Always double-check your information.  (That makes sense.)  Torture is a good way to confirm . . . Really!?  This is what I get for asking a vampire how this goes.  In his defense, vampires regeneration, so what would be a fatal wound for a mortal isn’t a big deal for them.  Still, there could be kids reading this, Stavros.
  3. Maintains some friendships with your coworkers, but remain distant.  You don’t want to get attached to those you might have to sacrifice for the sake of a mission.  The exceptions are your masters or employers depending on your personal employment position.  (That was bizarrely bureaucratic.)
  4. Never fall in love because that will inevitably be used against you.  If not your lover then children, so celibacy is a good idea as well.  (I know of one famous spy who would really disagree on that last one.  Why doesn’t that guy have kids on every continent?)
  5. When sending messages, you must write in code to protect your secrets.  It is best to have multiple code systems and randomly cycle through them.  Only one person should know the locations of the scrolls needed to decipher them.  It helps to put two spells on the messages as well.  One is to share the information with your employer if you and the translator are dead.  The other is to curse or kill anyone who manages to get even one word correct.  (Wow.  That’s actually a good one.)
  6. Never agree to appear on a blog to share secrets.  It doesn’t matter how much the author pathetically begs.  (And we’re back to the sass.)
  7. Uh . . . This one is in code and I don’t want to risk anything.  I mean, he did give me a warning in #5.  Oh, it’s just messy penmanship since I guess he was in a rush to get out of here.  The tip is: Don’t bring attention to yourself, but don’t try to hide from society.  You need to find something in the middle because blending in and understanding human nature are essential tools of the trade.  (I think that was cursed . . . No, just the Taco Bell I ate, which is basically the same thing.)


See? Spies can be handy -you know, when they’re not stabbing you in the back or whatnot.

Be sure to check out Charles’ books for more adventures. He writes unique stories where vampires are the main characters, and not because they sparkle.

The Case of the Kitchen Cacophony

Frank stopped to listen; the drip drip drip of the old faucet echoing in an empty kitchen. A possibly empty kitchen, of course. Frank remembered The Escapade of ’18 like it was last year and wasn’t taking any chances.

He peered around a finger-smudged corner; first an ear, then his cheek, then his left eye.

Now that his ear was exposed, a click click click from the old kitchen clock played backup music to the faucet. A whirr whirr swoosh whispered from beyond the old kitchen window. An ergh creak moan drifted from the old kitchen floor.

Now that his eye was exposed, he watched the glint squint of dancing stove light caught in leaking faucet drips. He saw the spooky lift and shake of branches sighing in window wind. His attention flicked to the stuttering movement of clock hand inchings. His feet felt, surely, an undulation or two from the beams beneath them in the groaning floor.

What ear and eye did not see, to their owner’s relief, was any sign of HER. Frank sighed softly. Softly, so as not to alert HER to his presence.

His left sneaker inched to and around his peering-corner. Amidst the drip click whoosh creak of kitchen cacophony his squeak-toed sneakers barely spoke. Soon; his left arm, knee, side, and nose came out. He still saw no whole person; no HER. He decided to fully enter.

Thus he stood, midst stove light shadows and singing sighs. Thus he found things just as he spied. Thus he moved, more stealthily still, across an ergh creak moan floor-sea in squeak squeak shoes past click click hands and drip drip sink.

And reached the silent ceramic pot, alone. Alone, with the sounds; which now, for dramatic suspense, all held their noise and watched.

He stretched an arm.

He opened a fist.

He grasped the white ceramic lid.

He lifted.

Standing just a bit taller on tips of toes, Frank used his eyes to peer inside.

And gasped.

All at once, the old kitchen orchestra strummed to life. All at once, they played in time. And, as Frank returned ‘cross noisome space, their song came clear to his sad ear; a rhyme he knew from preschool years yet hadn’t recalled till now it played in drip click moan:

♪Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?♫

And, sad little Frank answered truthfully, “Not me.”


Thanks to Peregrine Arc, for a great prompt idea.

For this week’s prompt, I want you to imagine you are a thief. Whatever motive you have, good, bad, or both, is up to you. Whatever setting and condition the safe is in is also up to you. It could be underwater, in a mine, in a delapidated mansion…Take the wheel of literature and drive us there!

But here’s the twist: you don’t get what’s inside the safe. Do you crack it and the contents are missing? Or do you lose your nerve and get caught? Ponderings. Take it and fly and add a psychological twist for $1000, Alex.

Wilhelmina Winters, Seventy-Seven

After their eventful weekend, Monday’s alarm startled Wil more than it usually did. She’d been dreaming of mists and searchings again, yet the feeling of the thing differed. Instead of a lost sensation, or a confused one, Wil had felt a …dread. The thing she sought in her dreams was now something she was not keen to find.

She lay staring up at her ceiling until the alarm rang again; she must have pushed Snooze at its initial sounding. “Oh!” she cried and fell off the bed. Graceful as ever, Wyl Winterling, she thought as she groped at the alarm and then at her laundry pile on the floor.

Soon enough, she had pants and a long-sleeved top. She resolved to ensure a matching outfit after the walk with her mother and a shower. Yawning and stretching, she dressed and clumped down the hallway. It was a good morning for Wil as she only bumped against the wall twice.

She heard her parents’ room before her eyes could make out the dark outline of its opening. A rhythmic machine-breathing came from that direction. The BiPAP was on again. She hadn’t heard it since the last time Cynthia was ill. Wil forgot how much she hated it despite how calm the soft, regular noise sounded.

W paused just outside the room, listening with an alertness acquired from years of training. A demonic *Shhhhsssshhh* *Shhhhhssshhh* emanated from the space, interrupted by a random rustling, a grunting snore.

What could it be? she wondered. She placed a thoughtful gloved finger to her lips in consideration. Alarm system? She’d disabled that upon entry, and the guard for good measure. Heating element? W knew no passive piece of equipment had a constant airflow, besides antiquated equipment like a ceiling fan. Is the hostage being subjected to a form of torture used decades ago?

With only one way to find out since her extendable cameras were inoperable this far beneath the ground, W peered around the corner of the doorpost.

At the sight of what lay beyond, she stifled a curse. Highly unprofessional, she knew. Still, what nefarious opponents had devised the assortment of cloth piles, closely-packed furniture, and random detritus before her?

A movement. A form upon the bed turned to its side yet still lay resting. The guard was asleep, then; good for him so long as he stayed that way. She turned her wary attention to her mission and her goal: the hostage. W gasped.

She realized, even before running a scan with her wristband, that the situation was more serious than she had been warned of. Her eyes traced the coils of tubing running from the box on the floor as her ears still heard its inexorable *Shsssshhhhssshhh* she’d first picked up outside the door.

Not only was the woman a hostage within the basement confines of a cement building, lying near a guard who might wake at any minute, she also literally rested within the clutches of a strange robotic device.


Continued from Seventy-Six.
Keep reading to Seventy-Eight.

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty

Fresh, warm air with a hint of sterility met Wil’s chill-kissed senses as she opened the door into Number 2. She walked into the dimness gratefully, just remembering to retrieve her key before shutting the door behind her. Jakob made it his habit to keep her key if she forgot it in the lock.

Stopping to listen and look intently, she smiled as the sounds of her mother’s presence reached her from the couch: soft sighs of a shadowy sleeper, almost synchronizing with the methodical mechanized sighs and beeps of the IV machine.

Today began the weekend. They would have two complete days together.

Wil paused. She realized her father was at work till late. Jakob was at school till later. Now was the perfect time for a search.

The room was dark; the humming refrigerator and erratic heating provided ample background noise.

A hand clothed in darkness moved deftly, feeling for any obstacles as its owner hushed across the floor. Her dark body barely rustled the air it passed through. She was as silent as the night, as deadly as sharpened steel.

In an eye’s blink of time, she reached the hall. As she suspected, the woman sleeping had not stirred. No one knew Agent W was there. That was preferable, sometimes.

Her gloved hand moved to the wall, lightly guiding her secret path to the room at the end. She could see the door’s outline, then the frame, then the door; then she was pushing gently into complete blackness.

It was then W realized her penlight still rested under the bureau of the Iranian Prime Minister’s military commander. The late commander, she reminded herself -and she smiled. It wasn’t much of a smile, but it was all that was left after what the past decade had done to it.

No matter. She gently closed the bedroom door behind her back, then flipped the overhead light switch on. The glare was overpowering at first, but W adjusted quickly.

She blinked and scanned the disheveled and cluttered furnishings. The floor was littered in laundry, papers, shoes, and medical apparatus. The desk and dressers squeezed uncomfortably around the unmade bed. The bed was scattered pillows, more laundry, and lumpy masses of blankets.

One of the larger lumps began moving and emitting sounds of awakening. Wil quickly switched off the light, fumbled for the doorknob at her back, then rushed from the room before her father woke enough to recognize her.


Continued from Forty-Nine.
Keep reading to Fifty-One.


Want to start at the very beginning? It’s a very good place to start.

Wilhelmina Winters: Sixteen

Despite finishing her simple assignment in a reasonable amount of time, Wil was not able to progress much through her coded note.

She looked for repeated symbols, but there were few. She tried an obvious opening address like her first message, but could not see one. Also, the different lines, dots, and half-squares were bunched together in orders that made word spacing too difficult to find. If written in plain English, themessagewouldappearalltogether.

Wil grunted an exasperated sound, then quickly blushed and sunk farther behind her monitor at the curious looks she received in return. She had burned through the small fuel curiosity and novelty had provided. In frustration, she crumpled the paper into her pocket.

The final bell sound played, and the class awoke to chatter, smiles, and the hustle and rustle of materials gathered and chairs returned.

The teenage mass rolled toward the door, then down the halls to other waves of young persons. They all moved toward lockers or toward friends, to eddy in conversations of tide pool depths.

Wil retrieved her backpack and school things without the bother of popularity at all, eyeing the empty chatterers a tad enviously as she usually did. She turned to shut the locker door after putting everything into her pack. Then, Wil jumped and gave a small shout of surprise.

There was another paper in the dust of the locker floor, though she was certain it had not been there when she first withdrew the contents. As usual, it was a torn piece of notepaper. Wil reached in and picked it up.

The writings on this paper matched the printed examples of the lines and line-dots code of her computer work: two X’s and two box grids, each with and without dots, were drawn …with letters! Someone had just dropped her the key to the code!

Wil looked round suspiciously, but her chance had clearly fled. She kicked at the thin carpet floor in frustration. “Zut alors!” She exclaimed, borrowing one of Mrs. T.’s expressions.

“Well,” she thought, “At least now I can crack the dumb thing. Maybe the person’s name is on this one.” She doubted it.

Hefting her backpack onto her shoulders, Wil hurried down the hall and outside. She headed to the usual carpool pickup area.

She saw her neighbor whom she rode with, but the middle-aged woman wasn’t sitting in her usual hunched position over her phone as the engine idled. True, she still hadn’t left the driver’s seat. But, Mrs. Crandall was actively and agitatedly looking at and around departing bodies of students for Wil.

This was never a good sign. Wil increased her pace as worry slowly creased her face.


Continued from Fifteen.
Keep reading to Seventeen.

Wilhelmina Winters: Thirteen

Wil felt lucky. Instead of the potential danger her briefing had warned of, she had only to secure this classified document. “N” would be pleased -or, at least, appeased– until Wil could ultimately locate and apprehend their mysterious informant.

She was unlikely to encounter armed sentries near the note, judging by the vacant and disused look of the place. The cold wind swirled light mists of snow from the drifts toward her exposed hands and face. No footsteps could be seen.

Wil was still concerned about the people inside, however. The doors were tinted, and locked, but someone might come close and see her through the glass. She couldn’t blow her cover again.

Setting her books against the wall, she inched around the corner carefully and slowly walked to the red table. Her footfalls echoed softly from the walls of the courtyard, as she placed careful steps amid cold wind burst whirls of old snow.

Wil tried to steal glances at the people inside the lunchroom inside the building. These were mostly bystanders, but the tall ones patrolling round the innocents were not. Those were informants.

She steadied her shivering limbs and teeth. She drew ever nearer her goal. She was close enough to hear the paper flapping against the brick imprisoning it. She could almost reach out and free it.

Wil checked the doors once more as she stepped over a yellow bench, and froze in cold and surprise. Just as quickly as the shadow appeared, it disappeared. But, Wil was left with the memory of two hands cupped around a face, against the door, the better to see her with.

Recovering quickly, Wil leaned over the red table, lifted the brick with her right hand, and extracted the fluttering paper quickly with her left. She grasped it as tightly as she could in her mittened first. She turned and exited much more quickly than she’d entered. This time, loud clomping and a slight squeak echoed back to her.

Not looking back, she retrieved her books and ran back around the school to the door she’d first used to get outside.

“Please, still be open,” She repeated to herself through chattering and exercised exhaling.

There was the door; she made it. Wil slid her left hand, clutching the note, against the door crack to feel for the slight opening her rock should have made.

“Oh, good!” She exhaled gratefully. The words hung a slight mist in the air. The rock was still in place.

Wil pried and hefted the door open with cloth hands. Kicking the stone to the side, she entered the school a bit breathlessly.

She looked side to side. She attempted to slow her breathing, elevated by escape and elation.

She’d done it. Mission accomplished.


Continued from Twelve.
Keep reading to Fourteen.

Wilhelmina Winters: Twelve

Wil’s current school had been remodeled a few years ago, and someone along the chain of command had decided that large, chunky furnishings in the primary colors would make a good decorating idea. As such, the public areas like the common and lunch rooms had tables and chairs painted brightly in red, yellow, or blue.

Also, some large, odd accents that may have resembled the idea of modern art were periodically attached to the walls in ways that were meant to be artistic and interesting. These were painted in the primary color scheme as well. The wall shapes reminded Wil of plastic preschool utensils that had been garbled in a disposal accidentally; or of a young scribbler’s interpretation, in crayon, of swooping birds.

Wil crept carefully under a yellow swanlike wall spoon, listening; ruminating on the décor. The hallway was nearly empty.

She was no novice to top secret missions like this one, though she admitted being a little rusty after so many months assigned to a desk job. If only her partner hadn’t moved at the last second on their last case! -Well, regrets wouldn’t help now, and she was finally able to prove herself again.

Wil wouldn’t give “N” the chance to censure anything. She’d slip in completely undetected, finish the job, and file her report before anyone even knew she’d left for her mission.

There was a general hum of sound Wil was attuned to, punctuated by louder exclamations at times. As Wil drew closer to the front of the school, this noise resolved into collective conversations with occasional bursts of laughter or shouts. Wil paused and bit her lip. How would she get past a crowd that size, unnoticed?

A brave beam of sunlight pushed past the dissipating fog and overcast sky outside to lay across the floor of the hallway in front of Wil. Her eyes were drawn to it. She could take the door to outside, since no one would be out there in this chilly weather. Indeed, the doors were all locked this time of year, even to the small outdoor yard with tables by the lunch area. No one would want to eat in the cold.

Wil checked for any prying eyes, then headed right to the door. Wrapping her scarf more snugly, she pushed the door open into freezing air. In an unusual gesture of forethought, she sought a small rock and lodged it in the bottom of the door. This was a trick she’d used back in the Gold Onyx Mission. The latch wouldn’t connect fully, but the rock made the door look fully closed. Wil hoped that enemy sentries would be inattentive, at least till her return.

She folded her arms tightly around her books and herself and traveled quickly around the back of the building where there would be fewer people. It was cold. Wil wasn’t certain what sort of surveillance was in place; so she ducked under windows, hurried past doors, and kept her face shrouded in her purple hood.

In this fashion, she reached the wall that turned to fence the outdoor lunch court. Her stopping point faced north, and somehow also exposed Wil to a chill wind. Shivering, she tried to look spy-like as she peered around the corner into the yard.

Red, yellow, and blue tables and benches sat empty and frozen. Small snowdrifts were gathered in the shaded wall alcoves and at the bases of the tables. Wil’s scarf flapped a bit in the wind, but it wasn’t the only thing doing so.

As she looked closer, Wil could see a discarded brick from the wall sitting on one of the red tables. And there, pinned by the brick, flapped a blue-lined paper with a torn, serrated edge.


Continued from Eleven.
Keep reading to Thirteen.

Wilhelmina Winters: Eleven

Wil wasn’t able to add more to her drawing after considering negative points of the secret note. Her pencil absent-mindedly traced existing lines repeatedly as her mind traced alternate options repeatedly.

The spy operatives were testing her, to see if she was hasty and thoughtless about missions. Or, the teenage geniuses thought to set Wil up and sneer at her average skills. Worst of all, the King of Fairies would never consider someone so tall.

Mrs. T. glided about the room, punctuating positive phrases with smiles, gestures, and foreign expressions. She paused at Wil, and her smock settled around her as she roosted momentarily.

Mrs. T. cocked her head to one side, peered at Wil’s face, and chirped enquiringly, “Is everything all right, Wil? I love the mysterious scene you’ve been sketching, but your mind is en vacances.” She moved her hand in a vague circling motion as she spoke about mind-vacation, and smiled at Wil.

Wil looked up, startled, at her teacher. As her eyes focused on Mrs. T.’s face, and she was brought back to current circumstances, the end of class bell resounded through the halls.

The art teacher swooped to face her class, who were scrambling to add finishing touches or to put away supplies. Those late to lunch, the next period, would spend half the time in line for food.

“Just put your perspective into your art folders, and we will, perhaps, work on them next time. Adieu!” She impulsively waved them from the room, then turned back to Wil.

Wil was also trying to put things away. Her pencil had rolled somewhere, and she was bobbing around her table looking for it.

She caught her favorite teacher’s look just as she caught the pencil, under her chair. “I’m fine, Mrs. T. Really.” Wil sighed. “I got a note from someone and was just thinking about it.”

Wil saw her teacher’s face light up. “But, this is good, Wil!” She said excitedly. “A boy?”

“Oh,” Wil responded. She hadn’t even considered that. “I don’t know.”

Mrs. T. shrugged a shoulder. “Ça m’est égal, chérie. You must go and meet this mystery!”

Wil’s face clouded a bit. “But, I don’t know who wrote the note, or if the person is honestly ..um, honest. Or,” Wil fumbled for the right words. “Or, anything, really,” She finished lamely.

Mrs. T. considered Wil seriously, and asked, “Can you be a spy?”

Wil started, wondering how Mrs. T. had known about the possible espionage she had considered.

“You will go and keep that wonderful power of observation you have open, and see first what might be,” Mrs. T. concluded. “Then, there will be no traps and no worries.”

Wil thought that was excellent advice. “Thank you. I’ll do that.” She smiled gratefully, then picked up her books to leave.

“Let’s put your pencil, ruler, and forest away first, Wil.” Mrs. T. reminded her with a wink.

Wil blushed. “Oh. Yeah.” She returned the supplies to their caddy, slid her artwork into her folder in the cupboard, then waved goodbye nervously and headed out the door.

“Bonne chance!” Mrs. T. called to Wil’s retreating back. She’d have to remember to ask Wil about the note later. She loved a good mystery.


Continued from Ten.
Keep reading to Twelve.