Monday, July 9, 2012
Real Life Thrillers, starring - The Reds!
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I spent the summer between my junior and senior college years in Italy, digging on a mesolithic hunting site and visiting the must-see towns; Pisa, Florence, Rome. One afternoon, I was touring the Eternal City with my very attractive archeology professor (upon whom I had a massive crush.) We had paused at the Spanish Steps, admiring the view while the crowds swirled around us, when something odd happened. A well-dressed man strode past me and laid a small notebook on the corner of one of the piazza's trashcans. He walked on without pausing.
In that instant, I felt like I had stepped into a thriller. I could see how it would play out; I, the innocent American student, would pick it up and see that it contained pages and pages of numbers. The handsome professor would try to figure it out. Dangerous men would come after us. We would narrowly escape from the Pensione. Romance and adventure and late-night train rides across Europe would ensue.
Of course, none of it happened. We passed without picking the notebook up and went for gelato. Well, there were late-night European train rides as I burned up my Eurail pass, and there was a romance that winter, after I was no longer in his class, but, like most of us outside the bounds of a good thriller, I didn't stumble upon an international conspiracy. But I've never forgotten the sense that, for just a moment, I was a character at the beginning of mysterious, pulse-pounding story.
How about you, Reds? Have any of you ever felt like you had slipped into the pages of a Bourne novel? Ever seem as if Jack Reacher might be just around the corner?
JAN BROGAN - So you ALMOST got involved with Jason Bourne, right Julia? I almost got involved with Don Corleone. When I was investigating the corruption of the credit unions when I was in Providence, I had to interview the president of one of the credit unions rumored to be mob-owned. When I went in for the interview, they tried to intimidate me but surrounding me with three very Godfather casting call "Bankers." Luckily for me, I wore high heels that day, which made me about six foot two to their five' five. As we rode the elevator tot he meeting, with them surrounding me, I was never so happy to be tall in my life. After the interview, but before the insurance fund and the unions actually crashed, I started getting hang ups at my phone at home, in Massachusetts. I was pregnant with my first child and imagined all sorts of ways they would "off me." But even then I followed the story, no one came close to hurting me. Although they did keep complaining to my editors that I was getting everything "wrong," I went on maternity leave and the entire credit union system collapsed. This is pretty awful to admit, but I felt vindicated, rather than sorry (which would have been the correct emotion.)
LUCY BURDETTE: We were sailing earlier this summer on a small boat in the British Virgin Islands. Twice over the week, people disappeared. One minute they were snorkeling, the next minute vanished. In both cases, happily they resurfaced, having been hidden by a cove or some larger waves. But both times, I had the horrible, utterly panicked feeling that this was the beginning of a frightening story. I would HATE to actually to be living in a thriller. But at least I took notes so maybe I can use that awful sense of foreboding in the future.
RHYS BOWEN: When I was a student a friend from Oxford and I took the train to Greece, through the old Yugoslavia--still very much oppressed and communist run at that time. When we reached the border crossing men came on the train to look at our passports. Mine was fine. They said Ruth's visa was no good. You must come with us, they said, and took her off the train into a little hut. Of course I was going through agony. Should I go after her, leaving all our things on the train? What exactly were they doing inside that hut? I waited and waited. The train started to move again. Full of dread I pictured the telegram I'd send to her parents "Have lost your daughter in Yugoslavia." Then miraculously the compartment door opened and there was a very breathless Ruth. It has been a scam to make her buy a new, and more expensive, visa. In the end she'd paid up and rushed to swing aboard the train.
It was at that moment I realized how very un-intrepid I was.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I arrived in London on the morning of 9/11, UK time. I drove to a little town on the Sussex coast, and didn't learn what had happened until that evening. No phones, no email. All flights shut down. It was a week before I had any contact with my family, and two before I knew I'd be able to get home. That was closer than I ever want to be to a thriller...
ROSEMARY HARRIS: Not at the time, but way after. I can remember sneaking into a bar in Brooklyn...um...I was underage...and getting chatted up by a guy that that later investigated as being a part of the Luftansa heist. One of my friends was actually interviewed by the cops. Every time I watch Good Fellas I think YOW...thank goodness I didn't go home with that guy!
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: What fabulous stories! Let's see--my Dad was a diplomat, and posted in Hamburg. He couldn't go over into East Germany, but my friend and I could. We did--age 17 and alone in East Berlin, with Vopos (and German Shepherds on every corner. Allison and I realized were were absolutely on our own, in a place that still was bombed out and terrifying. (Maybe it was a YA thriller.)
More recently, I was in a private plane, being flown to cover a story in St. Johnsbury Vermont about an alleged cult that was accused of beating their congregants' children. It was a beautiful sunny day, my photographer was in the front seat, and I was in the back of the four seater. I happened to notice..as we were merrily flying over southern Vermont, that the pilot was falling asleep! I instantly started chattering, talking non-stop, offering him candy. But all the while I was writing my notebook: THE PILOT IS FALLING ASLEEP. So if we crashed, the people who found the wreckage would know what happened.
Gosh, as a reporter I've wired myself with hidden cameras, sneaked into places in disguise, confronted corrupt scam artists, chased after criminals. (Once absolutely splatting on the sidewalk, ruining my tights and getting bloody knees.) (Maybe that was comedy thriller.)
JULIA: How about you, dear Readers? Have any of you ever stepped inside your own thriller?