Saturday, November 28, 2015

Setting the Story by Margot Justes Redux

I write romantic mysteries for a niche market, my stories deal with art, travel, a bit of mayhem and romance. I might preface that with-I love art and I love to travel-and have been fortunate to be able to do so. The old adage write what you know and love is true.  

When I started writing, I knew my novel would be set in Paris. In my youth, I lived there for a year, and have since gone back a few times. It stood to reason that my first romance should be set there. I’m familiar with the city, and over the years from my perspective, little has changed in the City of Light. The Louvre now has Pei’s Pyramid at the entrance, a few buildings have been added, but the age old charm, the cobblestones, the meandering streets, the essence and soul are still very much there.

The first time I visited Bath, England, many years ago, I said I must come back, and I did. My second book is set there. My third hotel book, is set in magical and mysterious Venice. All three cities are unique and romantic places.

My heroine is an artist, and through her eyes, I introduce my readers to my favorite artists, allow her to live in exciting places, give her mysteries to solve, and someone to love. The best of all worlds.

For me it is essential to visit the place I write about, get a sense of the culture, the everyday, mundane activities that make up our lives. The magical moment of sitting in a cafe, sipping an espresso, and watching people go by. An image is created that will allow a glimpse of that perfect intimate moment.  A sculpture in a garden described so well that the reader can almost reach out and touch a sinew, that is the wonder of the written word.

Rodin has always set my pulse racing, his work is strong, exuberant, poignant to the point of agony, and sometimes even mischievous. I tried to bring that sense of joy and discovery to my hero in A Hotel in Paris, and hopefully to my readers. I find solace in art, for me it’s therapeutic. You don’t have to be an art scholar to enjoy it, it’s everywhere we turn, it surrounds us, all we have to do is take note.

Imagine tea at the Pump Room in Bath, and that first sip of the heavily scented Earl Grey tea, you take a deep whiff to savor the smell of the bergamot oil, take a bite of that a fresh scone still warm, loaded with clotted cream and strawberry preserves-except that I skip the cream and go directly for the jam, lots of jam. Those are all real memories that will enrich a story.

Visit a restaurant that has been in business since the early 1600s, watch out as you step down on the crooked stairs and touch the warped wall, coated with gobs of thick paint as you continue your descent that doesn’t seem to end, and then you gingerly sit down in a rickety old chair and hope you won’t be sitting on the ancient brick floor instead.   
From the Rodin Museum in Paris, to the Pump Room in Bath, to the dark and narrow canals in Venice, where the water mysteriously shimmers in the moonlit night. It’s all there. Familiarity with a location makes it easier to write about, it makes it come alive.

Even though I write contemporary romance mysteries, I love history and art, and that is what I write about. It goes back to the beginning, write what you know and love. 

Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within
Blood Art

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Changing Holiday Traditions by Margot Justes

 I thought I'd share a few pictures from the Biltmore Estate. I'm heading back Monday, on my way to Charlotte to check out the Christmas decorations. I've read they're wonderful, and I'll post pictures. 

The ham sandwich, the best I've had in many, many years was from Cedric's Tavern on the estate. The excellent coffee, and freshly squeezed orange juice came with breakfast.

Have a happy and thankful Thanksgiving. 

Traditions evolve and change, that is life. I didn’t grow up with any, but I made sure a few were created when my daughters were born. Something as simple as going apple picking every fall-that tradition continued with my grand-kiddies until my older daughter moved out of state.

Then there was the annual pizza party at Halloween until we moved-now I see pictures of the kiddies dressed in costumes. I still hand out candy, but no longer decorate, except for a few treasured pieces I kept, all the other stuff was given away prior to my move.  Do I miss it? Yes, but I understand that things change.

Thanksgiving was always at the house, and both daughters always made it home for the holiday, until my older daughter married, and then the tradition moved to her house, and continues to this day. It is such a beautiful, poignant, and quiet holiday-one of my favorites.

Adapting to new situations as life progresses, and making them work is essential, otherwise we lose track of what is important.

I hope to establish a new tradition with my daughters, hopefully next year we’ll all be able to spend a couple of days in Asheville, and then head to Charlotte to celebrate Thanksgiving.  That may not be possible because the young kiddies are in school. It will be a work in progress, but even one night would be a delight.

I spent a couple of days in Asheville this October, and fell in love. It would be lovely to start the season and see the Biltmore Estate decorated for the holidays.

I had a Christmas tradition as well, the annual Ruth Page production of The Nutcracker in Chicago, that tradition continued until the production ceased to exist. Then we tried other productions, a play, high tea-anything that celebrated the spirit of the holiday. It continues even now, it’s been adapted, but it continues. Christmas is a jubilant, boisterous holiday filled with light and spirit. There are always many things to do during the season.

Our traditions have evolved to suit our needs because our lives have changed. This is the first time in many, many years, that I live close to my younger daughter, and I love it.

She was away at school for many years, and would always come home for the holidays, but grad school and post doc work put her in a college environment for a long time. For her this will be a first Christmas since  she started college that she doesn’t have to travel, because this year we’ll all be together in Alexandria.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Living on a Boat by Margot Justes

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Annapolis Boat Show. The weather was breezy, but not cold, the air simmered with excitement as many people considered a new purchase, an upgrade, or curiosity seekers who wanted to get a feel for the lifestyle. I was among the curious ones.

The boating lifestyle is common to the area, and I was surprised how many people actually live year round on their boats, especially in the DC area-the water doesn’t freeze, and if it gets too cold, the boat can be shrink wrapped for warmth.

I visited a few boats that would fit the-live-on-board lifestyle, anywhere between 44 to 48ft seemed to be a good fit. They included 2 cabins, 2 baths, a galley, and actual living space. The new boat prices were not for the faint of heart.

However, if one is serious about that lifestyle, there are options-a well loved used boat. There were quite a few vendors publicizing used boats for sale, at a fraction of the cost of a new one. As always,s buyer beware-the used boat should be inspected, the condition of engines well evaluated, just like buying a house.

The idea appeals to me, there is of course a onetime flat fee to belong to a marina, or yacht club, and then monthly fees to live there-but they’re not outrageous. Taking all the fees into account, the price is quite reasonable, and less that most house or condo living.

Am I considering another change? Yes, I’m seriously thinking about it. I have not actually visited a used boat broker, but have started to look online, and the more I look the more it gains in appeal.

At a certain age, life-let me narrow that down a bit-every day becomes an adventure.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice

Monday, October 19, 2015

Holiday Season by Margot Justes

The wonderful holiday season is upon us, for me that starts with Halloween and ends with the New Year. Every year I have decorated for Halloween, and the festivities included a pizza party for family and friends.

That tradition has gone by the wayside since the move. I still put up a few decorations, but the majority of the ‘stuff’ went during the garage sales while still in Illinois.  Downsizing is a terrific process, one I’m still going through-just in case in a couple of years, I’ll downsize once again-but I digress.

The pizza party will not happen, but a pizza dinner is not out of the question. There will be trick-or-treating in the complex, and I’ll have to buy the sweet stuff, and of course I buy what I like-chocolate.  Whatever candy will be leftover, will immediately go with Dina to her office. Open bags of chocolate are not a good thing in this house-they are not safe-even unopened bags are not safe, that is why the candy will be bought as close to Halloween as possible.

After Halloween, Thanksgiving will be upon us. This year will be spent in Charlotte, with the munchkins, that tradition continues-in a different state-but family will be together. The trip to Charlotte will include a stop in Asheville, to visit the Biltmore Estate, that will already be decorated for Christmas...a Christmas tree in every room, and candlelight to pave the way. It sounds positively magical, and Dina has never been to Asheville.

Christmas this year will be celebrated in Alexandria, Solonge and her troops will be coming here for a week. Once again the decorations will be minimal, space is severely limited, but it will be spent with family, and that is the most important part of the holiday season.

Hope your holiday season will be a wonderful one. I have included a few pictures of my Halloween decorations, the few I kept because of sentimental reasons.

Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
Blood Art
A Fire Within

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Urban vs. Suburban by Margot Justes

Still playing tourist in Alexandria, and I have not been consistent with my blogs-nothing new there-the history here is simply amazing, and there is much to see everywhere you turn, and as a result I have not focused on my writing. So many places rich in American history are close by and beckon a visit.

I’m a writer, I actually need to write...that being said, A Hotel in Venice has been released and I’m working on a sequel set in Barcelona.

I spent many years living in suburbia, raised two accomplished and successful daughters in the burbs. Fortunately it was a quiet life-a life with an excellent school district that benefitted my daughters, a life filled with dear friends, and many memories and strife-in other words-life. The hardest part was leaving lifelong friends, but we all make an effort to visit each other, and most assuredly we stay in touch.

When the decision came to move, I wanted something a little more mobile, certainly more urban. I love to walk and wanted to be able to do so. Driving for me was never a delight, and always a chore, one I dislike immensely.

Alexandria was perfect, it is at once urban and suburban. Filled with history, a quaint and charming old town packed with restaurants, boutiques, antique shops,  historical buildings and tourists. A gorgeous water front, with easy access to DC, just a hop on the Metro, and within 20 minutes  the National Gallery beckons. Did I mention, all the Smithsonian museums are free to the public.

A water taxi and 20 minutes later the giant Ferris wheel beckons at the National Harbor, MD.

The best part, most of the sites in Alexandria are within walking distance for me, that includes the Alexandria Harbor, that also boasts a converted torpedo factory that now houses 82 studios and artists, and 7 galleries, the studios/galleries are open to the public free of charge. It is heavenly.

I find the vitality of urban life, the sound of cars and sirens, the Metro going by, construction- all exhilarating and life affirming. There is soul pulsing in this city, it is a tourist town that generates excitement because of its history and many landmarks, it is a business center. It is home.

The National Science Foundation is building its headquarters here, along with NSF, new condos and apartment buildings are rising fast to accommodate the influx of new blood. An announcement from TSA indicated that they’re moving their corporate headquarters to our area in 2017...more urban reality.

I posted a few pictures from Alexandria for you to enjoy.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Travel Tips by Margot Justes

Travel can be exhausting, and I hear from many people how tired they are of packing and planning, and then there is the actual travel itself. I try to simplify my travel as much as I can.

I love the planning part, that is not a problem for me. There is a tremendous amount of information available on the internet. Yes, it does take time, but for me that is part of the fun of travel. The only part I dislike is the going to the airport and getting on the plane. It is no longer enjoyable. Oiled sardines have more freedom in the can than passengers in the plane.

I already booked back to back cruises that will take me to Rome in October, 2016. It is easier to budget, if you can plan in stages, and I can always cancel until the end of August and get a full refund. I check the prices weekly, and if there is a lower rate for my cabin category, I call the cruise line and ask for the lower price; it depends on availability and if indeed the price is lower for the cabin category.

An upgrade can be requested up until departure, however there are no guarantees. I’ve had reductions in price, but have yet to receive a ‘free’ upgrade. So far I have only cruised Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, they are sister companies. These are Celebrity cruises, and I’ve accumulated enough points to receive a few perks, every little bit helps.

If travelling to Europe, I always spend at least two days in the port city. I look for hotels, and check to see if description meets my criteria-central in town, and easy walking distance to a few sites. I love to walk, and European cities tend to be walking cities.

Generally I book through the hotel, there is a better chance of an upgrade. If there is a membership involved, I join. I’m registered with Marriott, SPG, IHG, Hilton and Hyatt. Sometimes boutique hotel have terrific deals. I never rule anything out.

In some cases, places like Expedia might have a special price; it is best to check a few sites on line. Do your research.  One thing I found out, you will not get the nicest room if you book through a second party, but sometimes the price is considerably lower and well worth it. Best to check all possible sources.

I always request breakfast with room. This way I don’t spend time looking for a place to eat in the morning. It is easier and more expedient for me, and they tend to be a delight. A leisurely breakfast, usually accompanied by a terrific coffee is a wonderful beginning to a full day.

The next thing I do is book the flight, usually a month before the trip, but I start watching the prices two months before departure. I’ve read that Tuesdays are a good day to book the flight, but that has not been my experience.

There is not much wiggle room. I watch the prices on a couple of airlines, and when they seem low enough I book them. I don’t gamble, but when booking a flight I consider it a crap shoot. They go up and down minute by minute.

There are a few ways to save, your earned miles, or points through a credit card.
I have a credit card that gives me travel points.  I don’t track my miles at all, because it is a huge hassle to book a flight using miles; I feel as if I’m at the mercy of the airlines. It doesn’t work for me. Usually the most direct route is best if at all possible; the fewer transfers the better, the less chance your luggage will ultimately wind up in a different city, or sometimes a different continent.

I always check the various sites advertising lower rates, but they all quote similar prices to the actual airlines. Most airlines won’t give you miles if you book through a second party. The same applies to hotels.

Whenever possible, I like to arrange my airport transfer ahead of time. Rome is the perfect example. I’ve used RomeCab before. I just send an e-mail with the flight information, hotel information, and pick up time from hotel to port. They’re reliable, and I know they’ll show up at the airport with my name on a placard. It’s easy, and I don’t have to wait in a long line for a taxi. The price is about the same as a cab ride. There is no pre-payment involved, just a cash payment upon arrival in hotel, and I know up front what the price will be.

The back to back cruises are booked, the InterContinental Hotel in Rome is one of my favorites, good location, right above the Spanish Steps, walking distance to a few sites, and I have SPG points I’ll be using. The breakfast buffet is delicious, and the coffee superb. A couple-usually more-cappuccinos in the morning is a delight, and start the day beautifully.I already have the hotel and the cruises booked. 

Two weeks before the trip, I make a list of things I’ll need. I’ve always had this dream that  my passport is lounging at home, while I’m the airport.  I pack light, and set everything I think I’ll need on my dresser. By the time I’m ready for a suitcase, the pile is considerably smaller, and ready to go in.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice

Monday, September 7, 2015

Travel by Margot Justes

This year,  along with a move from an apartment to a condo, I’ve gone back several times to Illinois for special occasions, and to visit friends. Along with those hops, I’m also going to the Georgia Romance Writers conference in Atlanta this coming October. On the way back I plan to stop in Asheville, and visit the many art galleries that have found a home there. Then it will be time for the beginning of the holiday season and family. This year time seemed to disappear.

I did book back-to-back cruises from Rome in 2016 that will take me to Portugal, Spain Turkey, a few Greek Islands, and Israel-with a stop in Haifa. I plan to visit Mt. Carmel and a certain boarding school where I spent 2 years in my youth. Amazingly enough, it is still there.

I tend to travel light, I’m not as young as I used to be, and lugging heavy suitcases is a pain, literally and figuratively. I have an expanding suitcase, that for some strange reason is fully expanded on the way back.

I have two grandchildren, and I bring back a few souvenirs, but am careful what I buy. Books tend to make the top of the list, paperback edition of the history of the area, local architecture, and of course there are many artists that display their works around popular tourist areas, and I tend to gravitate to that, of course t-shirts and hats, all that takes space. Thankfully I no longer hunt for espresso cups-I collect them-but with condo living, space is limited and I had to stop. That is why the suitcases expand on the way home.

I also have a gigantic purse that could pass for a suitcase, and put all my essential information there, passport, travel information, and anything I can’t do without should my luggage get lost. I’m allowed a carry on, and that is packed with my small and light lap top, camera, Kindle, a spare change of clothes, travel book, and the allowed make-up accoutrements, along with anything else I’ll need. I also have a copy of my passport page-just in case, which I keep with me but not in the same place as my passport.

I never, never put anything valuable in my suitcase. I don’t travel with a lot of cash, and many credits cards. I take two credit cards, only because should something happen, I have another options I keep the telephone numbers of the cards, and use the hotel or cabin safe, if on board ship. It is not full proof, and I’m sure if anyone wanted to break in-they would simply destroy the safe-but as the saying goes-it keeps the honest people out.

I have a daily budget, the rest stays in safe, and I only take one credit card with me when touring, the other one remains in the safe. Money belts work well, and I have a small comfortable purse that goes over my shoulder, the purse is in front, so I can see it at all times, and I hang on to the straps. Best advice, is pure common sense, be aware of your surroundings.

Over the years, I have bought clothes that I can roll easily, and of course there are shoes. I love shoes, but have learned to pack them sparingly; one good and comfortable pair of walking shoes. I don’t worry if the shoes will match whatever I’m going to wear-never did-and won’t start now. I want to be comfortable and avoid blisters if at all possible. I do pack a box of band-aids, those things are expensive, especially on board ship.

I used to pack my gym shoes, because I love to walk on the jogging deck while on the ship, but now use the walking shoes for that as well-they have rubber soles and offer excellent support, and they are not as bulky as gym shoes. Notice I said walk-I do not run or jog-I walk. One pair of dress shoes, along with a couple pair of sandals that will do for short walks, or simply while on board ship, FitFlops work well.  A pair of dressy black pants, and a couple of sparkly tops for the formal nights on board ship, and by the way I roll them up too.

I don’t pack an outfit or two for each day, I pack mix and match outfits, and always remember there are laundry facilities in hotels and cruises-should the need arise. The laundry prices in hotels tend to be expensive, but in an emergency, it’s there. I also remind myself how much airlines charge for overweight luggage-that cures me of even thinking of over packing.

If you cruise enough, and join their frequent cruising club, eventually you’ll get a laundry allowance or discounted prices on board ship.

I have seen people bring a few suitcases per person when boarding a ship, and always wonder where they are going to put all that stuff-the cabins are small, and storage space is limited.

Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
Blood Art
A Fire Within

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Blessings by Margot Justes Redux

How often do we take the time to just whisper thank you to one in particular. Just a whispered thank you. How often do we count our blessings? How often do we take the time to just relax?  How often do we smile for no reason at all? I think we should, on a daily basis. If we did that, we’d see how lucky we are, because there are always others that are worse off.

We get on with our daily lives, but most of us are blessed, sure enough we have problems, various ills, issues at work, with friends, all the daily stuff that I call drudge stuff, but it is in fact life. It is what makes most of us who we are, weak or strong, or somewhere in between. We deal with what life throws at us to the best of our ability without hurting others.

With age comes wisdom, or at least that is what everyone says. Wisdom to take a breath and say thanks, wisdom to know the difference between what is important, and what is superfluous.

I’ve always had the philosophy that you should do what you can now, tomorrow is not guaranteed. Don’t wait to call family and friends. Don’t wait to do what makes you happy; take that road trip, read that book, visit that family member or friend. Stay connected whatever way possible to the people important in your life, and don’t let minor disagreements destroy those human connections.

We’re so hooked on those electronic connections and gadgets that we lose sight of what matters. You go to lunch with friends, sit down and check your phone, start texting, or worse, make a phone call.  Wasn’t it the idea to go to lunch with friends-sans the electronic equipage-is it really that important to check that phone? Don’t we get a break, maybe more to the point do we want that break? I know I do. Am I missing something, or is it just the age difference. You know, the with age comes wisdom adage.

Last week, I was walking out of Macy’s and a young thing bumped into me at the door, she didn’t even know I was there, didn’t look up, just plowed ahead. She was busy texting, and what was more telling, she didn’t even apologize. Must be the age thing.

On that note, we should smile, take a breath, and be thankful for what we have, and the things that matter. Others are not so lucky.

Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
Blood Art
A Fire Within

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Magical Venice by Margot Justes

I’m immersed in Venice. My latest release is set there. Memories of my trip are flooding back, and I hope to return next year.This is a city that has captured my heart and soul.

Venice is mystical, its magic powerful, and just walking along the narrow ancient streets allows your imagination to soar. The eerily lit side streets, the reflecting glow in the canals and ancient brick walls, summon you forth. You cross an old bridge and you wonder who else walked along the same path.

Was it Casanova? His face covered by a mask as he celebrated Carnivale, and waited for a damsel. Such is the evocative power of Venice. Steeped in history and romance, the stunning architecture,  the art, and the beautiful tranquil canals, all pull together to form this magical place called Venice.

The Grand Canal flows majestically, along the way, palaces and homes seem to float in the water, as the famous Rialto Bridge stands guard. It’s an evocative place to be sure. It’s a place where you can get lost in the history, go back in time, daydream, and imagine as things were, and still come back to the present and enjoy delicious coffee, black pasta and incomparable gelato.

If you like glass, Venice offers that too, many buildings and hotels show proudly their Murano masterpieces. If you want to see for yourself, visit a furnace, or a gallery,  Murano is thirty minutes away by vaporetto, and fifteen minutes by water taxi. A beautiful way to travel on the Grand Canal.

I’m looking forward to my return trip to a mysterious and magnificent city. If you want  more of Venice, I posted a rather lengthy travel article on my website on the travel page.

Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks

Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Hotel in Venice-First Chapter by Margot Justes

I thought I'd share the 1st chapter of my latest release, and a little bit of Venice with you. 
It is truly a magical and mystical city.       

Chapter 1
The stars seemed to follow the black gondola as it flowed along the
Grand Canal, and in the distance, a dark and narrow passage beckoned
for a romantic interlude.
            Iridescent shards glistened in the moonlight. The golden glow and
the ripples in the water reminded Minola Grey of Shelley’s poem
Love’s Philosophy. “And the moonbeams kissed the sea.” As the
gondola glided along the canal, the old palazzos, one building after
another, appeared to sway with the hushed tones of the lapping water.
Peter Riley had wanted some peace and quiet and asked the
gondolier to choose a less travelled way along a narrow and more
intimate path.
            “Welcome to Venice, Miss Grey.” Peter’s finger traced the line of
her cheekbone and then her neck. “I'm very much in love with you,” he
whispered in her ear and felt her lean into him. This was the way it
should be, just the two of them together. Alone. Nothing stood in their
way. They were in Venice for a wedding. Theirs. Minola loved glass
and art. Because of the Biennale Art Festival and Murano, another
island world-renowned for blown glass that was only fifteen minutes
away by water taxi, they had chosen Venice as the perfect destination.
            Minola Grey turned toward him and brushed her lips against his,
the touch whisper soft. “I’m very much in love with you, too.
Anywhere with you is romantic, but Venice is magnificent.
Incomparable,” she purred like a contented kitten, nestling deeper into
his arms and gazing across the canal.
            He was completely absorbed in the peaceful moment, until Minola
tilted her head away from him and murmured in his ear, “Peter. Isn’t
that strange?” She pointed above her head at the pier and stared at what
seemed like a mound of multi-colored mosaics. From her vantage
point, the glass appeared to be a colorful blanket. “It’s like a sculpture,
sort of.”
            “Miss Grey, may I remind you we’re in a gondola in Venice. The
moon is shining.” He ran his fingers over her cheek once again, his
touch firm and persuasive. “I’m caressing your face. We’re together.
You, Love of my Life, should be looking at me, not glass. I know, after
our visit to Murano, you have glass on your mind, but really, where is
your sense of romance?”
            “Peter, I’m sorry. I am romantic. You tell me I'm romantic when we
            “Love? Yes, you are. Passionate and romantic, you turn my world
upside down, and not just when we make love. However, now would be
a good time to slip into that romantic mood again.” His lips curved up
in a smile. He couldn't help himself. Everything she did made him
smile, with the exception of getting into trouble and endangering her
life. She had an uncanny talent for finding bodies, and the end result
terrified him.
            They had met in Paris. He was with Interpol, and his money
laundering case almost cost Minola her life. In Bath, her life was
threatened, and worse, he couldn’t control her impulse to help. Peter
loved his work—he excelled at it—but now he focused on keeping the
woman sitting beside him safe from harm. That was not as easy as it
appeared. She was a remarkable artist who knew how to get into
trouble and could never deny anyone’s cry for help.
            “But, Peter, it’s unusual. I know we’re on the Grand Canal. Well,
we turned and are now on this lonely, dark, narrow, and romantic
canal—okay, sort of an alley, except that this is Venice and it is a canal.
Just take a peek…” Minola Grey would not let go and pointed again to
the glass enclosure when she heard Peter groan.
            “I'm sorry. But…but…” She stuttered.
             “Minola, what am I going to do with you? We have moonlight, a
dark intimate canal in front of us, a lantern, and a gondolier who is not
going to sing to us. A perfect setting.”
            “Perfect setting? For what?” she asked, still captivated by the
colorful display on the pier, and she moved closer to the edge of the
gondola so she could see better.
            “You’re going to reduce my vocabulary to Arrgh.” Peter’s voice
sounded resigned. He motioned to the gondolier. “Roberto, please bring
us closer to that pile of glass, whatever it is.” Peter watched as the
gondolier expertly used his foot and a wall to push off so he could
maneuver his gondola as close to the pier as possible, allowing Peter to
step out. “Stay put,” he ordered as she tried to follow him. “I mean it.”
            He gazed back at her and frowned. “Stay.”
            Minola bristled at the order. “I'm not a doggie.” She glanced at his
resolute expression and grudgingly replied, “Fine. I won't budge.”
Minola settled back in the gondola and saw Peter bend down.
Tiny pieces of glass were molded together to form what appeared to
be a blanket for whatever was underneath. The center was well-crafted,
and the colors brilliant. The edges, not finished well, were sharp and
haphazard. Suddenly, he felt those goose bumps on the back of his neck
that told him more than just glass rested on the secluded dock.
            “I have a bad feeling about this,” he murmured.
            “Peter, did you say something?” Minola raised her voice to be
heard. She rarely shouted and found the sound unpleasant. Her
preference lay in peaceful contemplation and quiet conversation. Loud
noises did not appeal to her gentle soul, and she avoided situations that
involved screaming and throngs of people. Even her art exhibits were
tempered, and Peter made sure she was protected at all times. He
understood her and would do anything to keep her from harm.
Anything. She appreciated that, but often did not agree with his
assessments and his need to shield her.
            “Stay put. I’m going to be a little longer.”
            “Nooo… not without me. I’m not staying in the gondola alone.”
             “You’re not alone. I’m right here, and so is Roberto.” Peter stooped
down and viewed the bizarre sight. The flashlight on his cell helped
him to see the blood around the base of the glass. He pointed the light
toward the edge of the pier and saw the blood trail lead to water.
Peter tried to lift the hefty glass, and using both hands, he could
hardly budge it. Straining hard, he lifted the mound a tiny notch,
enough to tell him all was not well. The familiar stench that reached his
nostrils caused him to instinctively control his breathing. He'd
recognize the odor of a decomposing body anywhere. The sweet acrid
smell, the reek that defies description but lingers long after, told him a
body was hidden underneath the glass sarcophagus. He turned, quickly
stepped down, and boarded the gondola before calling the police.
            Peter’s bleak expression told her all she needed to know. “Peter,
that’s a body covered by glass, isn't it? A dead body?"
            “Are there any others?” he quipped, running his hand down her arm
for support. “The police are on the way.”
            “What would it be doing there? This is Venice. A piece that large
had to come from a big furnace. Are there large furnaces in Venice? I
thought they all moved to Murano centuries ago.”
            “I don’t know. You’re the glass expert. That is why we spent so
much time in Murano, isn’t it?” His voice was short. He was in
unfamiliar territory, and at the moment, he had no contacts in Venice.
None that would allow him access to this investigation.
            “No, we came here on vacation, to be together, visit a friend, a few
galleries, and see Murano,” she spoke softly, afraid she ruined their
time together. “We came here to be married.”
            “So far, we haven't spent much time together. You've been busy.” A
muscle flickered in his jaw, and he felt himself tense. “And now we
won't have much peace.”
            “I know. I'm sorry. I wanted to visit the Castigli family. They are
friends, their furnace produces exquisite glass, and Jennifer needed to
talk.” She saw his reaction and bit her lip until she tasted blood, a habit
indicating her nerves. Licking her lips and swallowing, she looked up
and found Peter's gaze focused on her mouth.
             “Yes, I know. I was there…with you. How quickly you forget.” His
reply was curt. Nothing good was going to come out of this.
            “I didn't forget. Peter, I'm sorry.” She bent her head down to hide
the sorrow. She’d hurt him, something she never wanted to do. “I
always know when you're with me.” She took his hand in hers and
touched his palm, hoping to erase the pain she caused. “Peter, I always
            “You might want to let me know once in a while.” Peter looked out
to the Grand Canal and the narrow canal where they now found
themselves docked, gazing at the beauty surrounding them. The various
lanterns and lit homes that lined the Grand Canal reflected a burnished
glow in the water as a vaporetto, the typical utilitarian mode of travel
used by locals and savvy tourists alike, sped by. Even the standard
public transportation was romantic.
            He raised her hand to his lips, the embrace as soft as a gentle
breeze. Above all else, he loved the woman sitting next to him. His life
changed for the better when they met in Paris after she became
involved in a murder investigation. His murder investigation. She
bloody well wrapped herself around his very soul and very nearly died
in the process. It must not happen here. She would not become
involved. Despite his firm resolve, he knew she would help, and he, in
turn, would follow her anywhere to keep her safe.
            “Always. I promise. Peter, you do know that I'm in love with you.
That I'm yours and always will be.” She brushed her lips against his
cheek. The touch was at once gentle and erotic. The spark against her
fingertips as she touched him reminded her of their first meeting, and
her volatile and intimate reaction to him. She would later learn he had
an English and an American education. He could read people well, and
that made him excel at his job.
            “That's better.” Once she allowed him into her life, he never
doubted her love and commitment to him. His always savage response
to her when they were together was tempered by her gentleness. He
wanted her at all times, something he never imagined possible. The
more he knew her, the more he loved and the more he wanted. How is
that feasible?
            “Peter, you don’t think this is connected to the missing master glass
blower or the problems at the Castigli Furnace, do you?” The words
slipped before she had a chance to stop them. During their earlier visit
to the Castigli furnace, her friend Jennifer had been distracted. One of
her employees had not shown up for work for over a week, and Jennifer
knew he wouldn’t leave without saying a word. They were working on
a project together, and Minola’s inquisitive nature just couldn’t let go
of the mystery. “We're not in Murano, and I'm imagining things. There
are many furnaces in Murano.” A shadow of alarm touched her face.
            “No, this is Venice. This is where I wanted a romantic gondola ride
with the love of my life. This is where I wanted to…Damn it; you just
had to find a body,” he groused.
            “This is where you wanted what?” Minola asked.
            “I’m not going there now. We’re waiting for the police, and we
have to tell them we found a body. We’re out of our element here, Miss
            “Why? You’re Interpol-that means International Police. Venice is
            “Not funny, Miss Grey.” He shook his head and replied smoothly,
            “I have no contacts here at this time.”
            “Shouldn't you have international contacts?” Her voice was fragile,
uncertain. She didn't want to inflict additional strain on their
relationship and hoped they had come to terms with his obsessive need
to always protect her.
            “I do, just not in Venice, not at the moment.” He sensed her
disquiet as they sat in silence and waited for the carabinieri to arrive.
Peter was quite familiar with their history. They were the national
military police of Italy, formally known as Arma dei Carabinieri
loosely translated as Arm of the Police or Militia. Policing both
military personnel and civilians, their past was long and involved.
            “Minola, this will not be easy. The carabinieri are not just a police
force. Do you know they were originally the police force of the
Kingdom of Sardinia? They are not to be trifled with.”
            “That means they realize what needs to be done and will work with
Interpol—that’s you.”
            “Hardly.” Peter comprehended their mission, and that they took it
seriously. They had a unit that could defend Italy, plus another unit that
focused and dealt with organized crime, terrorist, and subversive
activities. They did their job well, understood the criminal mind on all
levels, and did not trust easily.
            He watched the gloomy gondolier sit down and rub his hands
together. He seemed nervous as he shoved his hand through his hair, a
sure sign of agitation. Peter didn't blame him. Roberto, like many other
Venetians, was trying to eek-out a living as a gondolier in a difficult
economy, and now he was stuck waiting for the police. Peter turned
toward Minola and saw her looking at him.
            “Peter, were you able to see anything?”
            “Minola, it’s dark. I couldn’t lift the glass, far too heavy, and
besides, if I were the local police, I’d be angry if someone interfered
with the crime scene. I’m a cop and should be well versed in police
procedures, no point in ruffling feathers. Especially carabinieri feathers.
We’ll just have to wait. All I can tell you—we have a body.”
            “Dead?” She whimpered, still hoping it was not so.
            “You didn’t just ask me that?” He smiled in spite of the difficult
            “Well, yes, I did. Wasn’t thinking,” she replied sheepishly.
            “I see.” His lips curved up a little. “Until we know more about the
body, we’ll refrain from discussing the issues at the Castigli furnace.”
            “When you spoke with Jennifer Castigli, did she mention police
            “No, she just indicated Julio was missing, and they had issues with
the glass blending formula or something like that. They were going to
handle it internally. I didn’t ask any questions. She wanted to talk, and
then she didn’t. She was concerned, and I didn’t want to push her.
Didn’t see the point at the time.”
            “Maybe we should pay another visit,” Peter suggested
            “I think so, too, and we have an excuse. Should anyone ask, they
are friends who are making the vases for the wedding. She had her
glass pieces exhibited at the Standish Galley in Chicago. That is how
we met. She’s a talented glass blower, and I’ve always had a thing for
glass. We kept in touch.”
            “A thing for glass, Miss Grey?”
            “Yes, I love it. Sort of like a thing for you. I love you. Deeply.” Her
lips touched his neck, and she felt a brief shiver ripple through her
body. It would always be like this with him. He was her everything.
            “Thank you for that caress. You always know what to do.” He
gripped her hand in his and smiled. “Now you're bringing romance into
the picture, while we’re waiting for the police and a body is keeping us
company. There is something to be said for your timing, my love.
Jennifer. Tell me more about Jennifer. I need to keep my mind off your
body and the things I'd like to do with you, and to you,” he whispered
in her ear then took a deep breath.
            “Stop right there or I'm going to be in trouble.” A tingling settled in
the pit of her stomach. Every time he looked at her, her pulse
quickened. He’d unlocked her heart and soul. “Jennifer. Right,” she
sighed and continued. “Well, she went to Murano about three years
ago, just for the summer. She returned to Chicago, did some amazing
blown glass. The colors were just unbelievable. They seemed to glow
and float, one color next to the other. I’ve never seen anything like it. It
reminded me a bit of the Tiffany colors, but the glass was more
translucent instead of Tiffany’s opalescent and iridescent styles. I have
a piece. Becky is storing it for me.”
            “Storing it for you?”
            “Yes, when I left Chicago, I literally left with just the clothes on my
back and the necessary art supplies. Well, I did take the few vintage
clothing pieces I owned. I scoured countless consignment stores for
them, spent a lot of time finding my treasures, and I wasn’t about to
leave them. Anyway, Becky stored the few pieces of art I owned, and
the rest went to charity. When I make a break, I make a clean break.”
Her decision to leave home had been quick and matter of fact. What
she’d thought was a relationship did not exist, and she learned the hard
way to distrust men in general. Peter had his work cut out for him, but
he stuck around. For that, she was profoundly grateful.
            “I see.” He chuckled softly. She wanted a full partnership in their
relationship, and his gripping fear for her security led them along a
stormy path that only recently had calmed. He hoped. Peter knew well
that the criminal elements at the international level had a long reach.
Being with Minola Grey in the public eye did not give him any peace
of mind. He could be hurt through her.
            Minola was not immune to violence. Attempts on her life had been
made before, leaving Peter unable to focus on his job. Their issues
revolved around his lack of communication, as she put it, and her
determination to lead a normal life amidst threats and danger. He
understood the criminal elements and the danger they posed, while she
lived an innocent life and had believed in the goodness of others, until
she met him.
            “How did Jennifer wind up living in Murano?” he asked.
            “She fell in love with Antonio Castigli and decided to move
permanently to Murano. He was a master glass blower and may still be
blowing glass. The family goes back centuries. Jennifer once told me
he was a master at design and blowing. That is an impressive
combination. We haven’t really kept in touch until recently. They were
married a couple of years ago and seemed very much on love.”
            “If, and it’s a big if, that body is the missing glass blower, we have
a problem.”
            “Just one?”
            “For the moment,” he replied with quiet confidence. He knew the
carabinieri would not play nice. Their turf, and they protected it well.
            “How will we know who it is?” she asked quietly.
            “I assume, more like hope against hope, the local police might
extend a courteous hand to Interpol. If not, someone in the London
office might have a connection. Things are a bit difficult between
Interpol and the local police here. We’ll worry about that later. Now I
think you need to call Jennifer and have a chat.”
“Why would we believe it’s Julio? It could be anyone.” Minola was
afraid for her friends.
            “Yes, it could. But somehow, I doubt it. We have a coffin made of
glass, a missing master glass blower, and a recent visit to Murano. Not
to mention, you made the news, and so did I as your lover.” He looked
down at their intertwined hands. His grip tightened, and he continued.
            “Isn't that how the papers described me?”
            “Peter, does it bother you?” she asked in a broken whisper.
            “To be your lover? No. That is what I am and always will be.” His
fingers touched her collarbone, lingering there intimately. “But the
publicity and your safety, yes, you know I'm bothered a great deal by
any risk to you.”
            “I didn't say anything to the press. It was supposed to be a quiet
vacation. I don't know how they found out about us.”
            “Well, for one, you are here during the Biennale Art Festival.” He
knew she wanted to see the world-renowned festival that dated back to
1895, held every other year. The modern art exhibition turned many
unsuspected nooks and crannies into temporary galleries. “You're a
known artist, fresh from a murder investigation in Bath and a
successful showing in London. We have been together since Paris.
Need I say more? And I have been with you every step of the way as
your lover. They are right.”
            “Peter, I'm so sorry.” She swallowed hard and bit back the tears that
threatened to fall. He cherished his privacy as much as she did, yet her
profession somehow threw her into the public eye, along with Peter.
            “Nothing to be sorry about. This is our life, and I wouldn’t change a
thing. We’re together. That is all that matters.” His voice was calm, and
his gaze steady on her face. Above all, he wanted to reassure her that,
no matter what, they belonged together.
            “Thank you for understanding,” she whispered. “When I call
Jennifer, what do I tell her? That you found a body and it could be
Julio? Why upset her before we have concrete information? Maybe we
can identify the shards of glass as belonging to a specific furnace.
Wouldn’t that be a start?” Minola asked.
            “I’m going back to take a few pictures.” Peter stepped out of the
gondola, reached into his pocket, took out his cell, and then walked
over to the glass display and snapped about a dozen shots. He put his
cell away, stepped back into the gondola, and saw Roberto was quietly
and unobtrusively watching him. Taking out his identification, he
showed it to the gondolier. Roberto nodded and lowered his head in
            Waiting in silence, they saw the police boat smoothly maneuver
around the traffic on the Grand Canal and turn the corner alongside
their gondola. The flashing lights added another sparkle to the lively
water traffic. He remembered Minola comparing the Grand Canal to
other grand avenues in Paris, New York, and Chicago, except this one
was wet. Peter stared in the face of the agility of the boaters to
maneuver around tight corners and other boats, a well-choreographed
dance on water.
            Peter helped Minola step out of the gondola. He thanked the
gondolier and asked him to take them back to the hotel after the police
were done, with a promise of additional compensation. Peter watched
as the police questioned the gondolier. They were short and precise. An
effort was made to establish their time of arrival at the intersection and
why they stopped. Roberto answered succinctly and did not offer
anything else. The police then turned their attention to Captain Peter
Riley, Interpol, and Minola Grey, American artist. Roberto maneuvered
his gondola against a wall and waited.
            “What made you go there? Isn’t that a little insolito—eh—unusual
for a turista?” the first officer asked.
Taking out his identification, Peter introduced Minola and himself.
            “Miss Grey noticed the glass and was curious. We stopped so that we
could see it better.” Peter did not elaborate further. He didn’t have a
warm and fuzzy feeling about this interrogation.
            “Interpol?” the officer snorted. “And what did you find?”
             “I tried to lift the glass, and I was able to identify the smell easily
enough.” Peter was surprised at the ease with which the officer spoke
            “I see. Who noticed the glass?”
            Peter wanted to be snippy. He already told him it was Minola.
What, did they think that in the span of a few minutes his story would
            Minola quickly replied, “I did. The moonlight reflected the colors
brilliantly. So much color—unusual, vibrant…strange,” More than a
little nervous, she continued. “So vivid and beautiful.”
            “What else can you tell me? Did you know what it was?”
            “Well, no. I saw it from a distance, and in the moonlight, it
appeared to be a huge piece of art…because of all the many different
colors, I thought maybe a mosaic,” Minola advised quietly.
            “How did you know what it was?” the officer persisted.
            “I didn’t. From afar, it might have been a sculpture. I wanted to see
it a little closer.”
            “I ask again, why, Miss Grey?”
            “Because I’m an artist and was curious,” she replied simply.
            “What do you know of Venetian Glass that you would be so
            What she wanted to do was tell him that she didn’t need to know
anything about Venetian glass, or any other glass, to be curious and
acknowledge its beauty, but instead she replied in an even voice, “I
didn’t know it was Venetian. It seemed intriguing and quite beautiful.”
            “You had to satisfy your curiosity,” he insisted.
            “No, I did not. Captain Riley went to do that. The pieces seemed to
be shard leftovers from a furnace.” Minola bit her lip when she realized
she’d said too much.
            “How would you know that?”
            “I’m an artist. I paint,” she repeated. “And I also love glass. I
visited Murano today and know that the shards are often reused, kept in
a bucket and eventually wind up in smaller jewelry pieces or glass
bricks. They are sharp, therefore kept in containment for safety reasons.
Outsiders have no access. Out of courtesy, I was given a private tour. I
just wondered what it was and why it was left on the pier. I was
curious. That is all.” She took a deep breath and literally could have
kicked herself for allowing him to get the upper hand. She knew better.
            “As an artist and a tourist, you visited a furnace in Murano?” he
            “Yes, like all the other tourists and artists who visit Murano, I did
the touristy thing and saw a couple of furnaces. That is why I wondered
how such a huge sculpture was just sitting on a secluded pier. We
turned from the Grand Canal into this small canal, and I…It does look
like a sculpture.” She glanced at the pile and shuddered. “The fact that
it resembled a sarcophagus seemed bizarre. Rather striking if you don’t
think about what it covers…don’t you agree?” She tended to babble
when nervous, and this was no exception. She reached toward Peter and
knew he'd be there to support her, and he didn't disappoint. He wound
his fingers around hers.
            “That seems to be sensate… reasonable explanation,” the first
officer nodded and turned toward Peter. “Captain, where are you
staying? I would recommend you do not leave town.”
Peter smiled at the pronouncement, giving them the name of the
hotel and their length of stay.
            “Are you here on holiday?” the second officer asked, addressing
            “Yes, we are. As stated before, Miss Grey is an artist, and we came
to enjoy the Biennale.” Peter wasn’t about to share the more intimate
reason for their visit. It would most probably have to come out, but as
far as he was concerned, at this time, there was no incentive to divulge
anything remotely personal. They already had more than enough
            “We will wait for the…medico legale to arrive, but you may go.
We know how to reach you,” came the warning. At least Peter took it
as a warning. Do not leave town.
             “Is there a possibility that we can find out the identity of the victim?
As a police officer, you understand…” Peter let the request trail, and
watched as the scene was photographed from every angle.
            “Yes, of course, unfinished business. Common courtesy would
signify that we notify you of the victim’s identity.” The officer’s reply
was terse and non-committal.
            “Thank you.” Peter felt effectively dismissed and wasn’t sure if he
would ever find out who the victim was, certainly not from the police.
They didn’t even promise anything that vaguely resembled a courtesy
call. Peter asked Roberto to take them back to their original destination.
No point in pursuing a romantic rendezvous with the image of a body
still fresh in their minds. Peter watched Minola’s silent retreat. The
horrific mound of glass so starkly visible in the moonlit sky was
hauntingly beautiful.
            The big question was why dump the body and cover it with what
was essentially a work of art? The piece was stunning. The various
earthy colors were uneven and most likely discarded pieces. Such a
large piece took time to create. Was it a work of art that was meant to
be used elsewhere, or was it specifically designed to become a casket?
If so, the murder had to be premeditated. Why use the remnants of
glass? Or was the piece already made and only used as a coffin at the
last minute? Was it commissioned? If so, would it be missed?
            “Minola, the composition of the shards, the colors used, it must
have been somehow relevant to the crime. If it is indeed Julio, then how
he was killed and covered must be significant. Something so elaborate
can’t have been just a body dump.”
            “I thought the same thing, but only Jennifer can tell us. Good thing
you took all those pictures. Hopefully, she’ll know if it came from her
furnace,” Minola replied.
            “I think the death is somehow related to the furnace, and the
missing person.” His instincts never failed him; he’d been in the
business too long to take things at face value.
Peter wondered what they had gotten themselves into. He was a
seasoned cop, and he didn't believe in coincidences. If the glass was
from the Castigli furnace, Minola was once again in the middle of a
            He’d met Antonio Castigli briefly on their earlier visit to the
furnace. Minola introduced them, and they also met a family friend and
member of a competing furnace, Pia Deniccali. The striking, self assured
woman, who Peter felt sure would demand to be the center of
attention in any gathering, left him untouched by her cold and
calculating beauty. He was all too familiar with the type.
Peter remembered that, after the introductions were made, he found
Pia Deniccali staring at him as if she were appraising his worth, or
maybe something else. He couldn’t understand her fascination with him
and felt uncomfortable with the scrutiny, but he thought maybe she
wanted his help. Odd that Minola did not matter to Pia. She glared at
him. He’d heard the expression man-eater before, and she fit the
description quite well.
            So far he’d met some interesting people, and a fascinating mystery
beckoned. In this case, Peter had no contacts, unless he ingratiated
himself with the local police, and the carabinieri did not seem too
receptive. In fact, they seemed downright hostile.

A Hotel In Venice

Margot Justes