Saturday, May 25, 2013

Thanks to Google, I spent the day in London—without leaving my office.

Author having coffee atop St. Paul's Cathedral in London
In my Bookmobile Book 4, the vengeance squad goes to England looking for the man who stole Liz's bookmobile fund. Chris goes over first to visit Angela, but he's joined soon by the rest of the group.
The first day in London, I wanted Angela to show Chris around some and keep him awake so he could adjust his inner clock to London time. I decided on a bus ride from her flat near Victoria Station to St. Paul's Cathedral because I had done that once myself, for the same reason.
To make the trip more interesting, I wanted to point out the sights along the way. That's the reason I needed help from Google. I plotted a trip using Google Maps from Angela's flat to the church. Then, as I viewed the route, I switched to the photo view and looked for interesting landmarks along the way. Big Ben, London Eye, etc. But, I also saw other bits of information that might be interesting. Lots of black cabs, for example. Cars and busses driving down the wrong side of the road. Red double-decker buses everywhere.
Here's the scene that resulted. Keep in mind this is a first draft and it may change before the book is finished, or it may be totally deleted by my editor.
Scene 15:Scene 15:Scene 15:I closed Skype. "Is it time to go to bed yet?"
Angela looked at me like I was crazy.
"To sleep. I've been up all night."
"Didn't you sleep on the plane?"
"I may have. I guess I did some, but I feel so tired."
"That's jet lag. The best way to get past it is get on schedule here. You can imagine how much I travel so I know what works."
"Okay, but I need to get up and walk or something. That sofa of yours is looking good."
"How about a quick tour of the city? This is your first time here, right?"
I stood to keep from falling asleep at the desk. "Yes, but I'm in no condition for a tour. How about tomorrow?"
"I'm not talking about a long tour. Just a ride on a double-decker bus to keep you from falling asleep. We'll have a late lunch, grab some coffee to keep you awake, and see a few sights."
"And then I can go to bed?"
She laughed. "Yes. You can go to sleep early if you like. But not before eight."
"Good. Have you made plans for tomorrow?"
"Yes. I'll show you more of London. We're meeting Andrew in the pub downstairs for an authentic English meal."
"Andrew is coming here?" Andrew was Sarah's brother who had initially blamed me for letting her get killed. He apologized later after he learned the whole story. I hadn't talked to him again after that.
"He's not coming here. He lives in London."
"What does he want?" I remembered him talking about his contacts in London. Maybe he could help find Virgil. Or, was he talking about Angela?
"Nothing that I'm aware of. I told him you'd be here and he said he wanted to see you."
"By the way, he's a banker. I doubt if he knows how to break into accounts online as fast as you do, but he may be able to offer a few, how shall we say, more legitimate connections to banks and bankers."
"I'll keep that in mind. It'll be good to see him. Thanks for setting it up." Remembering my last encounter with Andrew caused me to think about Sarah. I never wanted to forget her, but I didn't know what Angela would think if she knew what was on my mind.
We climbed aboard the first red double-decker that came by on Victoria Street across from the building where Angela lived. She took care of my fare and we found seats on the upper deck, I got the window seat. It was cold outside, but not unbearable. I saw a sign that showed the temperature to be three degrees Celsius or thirty-eight Fahrenheit.
I trusted she knew best, but I longed for sleep. The heated bus made it harder to keep my eyes open. I took off my coat and held in my lap.
"I know you're drowsy," she said, "so let me tell you about where we are. Maybe that will help you stay awake."
I leaned my head against the glass, hoping its coolness would spark my attention. "Okay. But, first tell me why everyone is driving on the wrong side of the road."
"What do you mean? The Americans are the ones who drive on the wrong side."
"Hey. There's Scotland Yard." I pointed to a building we were passing with a sign identifying it. "Is that where you work?"
"I don't work for Scotland Yard. You know that. They're like your city police. I'm more like your CIA."
"So where's your office?"
"We'll it's not marked like Scotland Yard."
"Is it near here?"
"We have many different locations."
"You're not going to tell me, are you?"
I stared out the window and counted black cabs for a while and then saw a maroon-colored one. The people of the street all walked with purpose as if going somewhere important even though it was a holiday.
"There's Big Ben!" I said.
"Right. Or, the houses of parliament."
"Oh, and there's that new Ferris wheel I saw on the news. It's huge."
"It's called the London Eye," she said.
The bus turned left before the bridge that would have crossed the River Thames and taken us to the side where the London Eye was. We followed the water line and I saw boats on the river, mostly large ones that looked as if they might be small restaurants. A few people walked along the tree-covered walkway between the street where we were and the water. There was another sidewalk beyond a wall closer to the river. I imagined the area would be full of tourists during warmer times of the year.
We passed a tall, slender monument of some type that came to a point on top. "What's that?" I asked, pointing back to where it stood between us and the river.
"That's called the Cleopatra's Needle. It's an Egyptian obelisk. There's one like it in New York City and a similar one in Paris."
We continued along the river for a ways.
"That's the Waterloo Bridge we're coming to. Someday we'll look at a map and I'll show you all the bridges that cross over the Thames."
As we approached the underpass I looked up and saw three red double-decker buses crossing the bridge.
Just as we turned left off the road that paralleled the river, Angela pointed. "That's Blackfriar Station."
"That's another thing I want to do while I'm here."
"What's that?"
"I want to learn how to use the underground. I hear it is a great way to get around."
"It is. I almost took you on it today, but I thought sitting up here on the bus would show you more and keep you awake better. But, we'll be riding the underground a lot I'm sure."
Angela leaned across me toward the window. "We're going to get off in a couple of blocks. I know this place that makes the best pizza in town. It's like Naples pizza, if you know what I mean."
I didn't, but I assumed it was good.
I followed Angela off the bus and she led the way to the pizza place. It wasn't one of the chains we had in Texas. As soon as we entered I know they used a wood oven, the smell was heavenly.
"Let me order," Angela said. "Get us a table."
I found a place near the window so I could watch the people go by. I hung my coat over the back of my chair. Angela returned with two large glasses of cloudy liquid.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Lemonade. Not exactly a winter drink, but I thought it might help you stay awake. They make this fresh from lemons from Naples."
I took a sip that turned into a gulp. "Excellent choice," I said.
"The owners came from Naples about ten years ago and their pizzas are made the same with the first pizzas were made there. I ordered one with tomato slices instead of a meat. I think you'll like it."
As she talked, I looked. She had a cute smile when she was happy and her whole body took on a sense of happiness when she talked about something she was interested in. Even pizza.
A young woman with long dark hair brought a large pizza and two plates.
The first thing I noticed was how thin the crust was. I was used to a much thicker one. But after taking a bite, I know why Angela liked this place. Delicious.
We at silently for a while and I savored every mouthful.
"Okay," she said. "Next stop is the coffee shop. That pizza woke you up, but I'm not any chances."
The coffee shop was across the street from the pizza place. When we got there, Angela pulled a silver Thermos out of the large handbag she carried.
"Fill this up, please," she said to the barista. "No need to rinse it first. It's clean."
After placing the filled Thermos in her handbag, she headed toward the door.
"I thought we were going to have coffee," I said.
"We are. Just hold on."
I followed her as she walked briskly away from the coffee shop. Up ahead I could see a large building with a dome on top.
"What's that?" I asked.
"That's where we're going next. That's St. Paul's Cathedral."
We continued along the sidewalk until we were in front of the enormous church.
"I recognize this place. Those steps especially. What movie would I have seen of this church?"
"You're probably thinking of Mary Poppins."
"That's it. Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews. Right?"
"That's right. There have been other movies made around and in the church. One of the Harry Potter movies and the latest Sherlock Holmes movie."
Angela led me to a wide stair case in a corner of the church. We started up.
"Where does this lead?" I asked.
"You'll see. Not only will this keep you awake, you'll be truly amazed when you get there."
There weren't many others on the stairs. We finally reached an area where we could walk all around the dome.
I looked down. "You're right. This is beautiful."
She laughed. "This is the whispering gallery. We're only about a third of the way to where we're going."
I looked up, but didn't see any way to go further.
"Follow me," she said.
She led me to a smaller stairway. One where we had to stop and twist for people coming down. After what seemed like forever, we reached a point where we went outside.
"Ah, this is it. Beautiful," I said.
"No. This is the stone gallery. We're about two-thirds the way to the top now."
Soon, she was walking up and I was following. When she finally stopped, I knew I was there.
"Here we are," she said. "The golden gallery. Eighty-five meters from the cathedral floor. Five-hundred and twenty-eight steps."
My mind converted meters to feet automatically. Two-hundred-eighty-seven, almost two-hundred-eighty-eight feet. But I didn't care. The view was unbelievable. Cool wind whipped around us, but it wasn't all that uncomfortable. I walked all around the top of the dome looking at the city below from different vantage points. When I got back to where I'd started, I found Angela sitting on a wall drinking a cup of coffee. I pulled out my cell phone and took her photo.
She passed the silver cup, the Thermos lid, to me. Smoke rose from the liquid. The smell of fresh coffee was awakening in itself. I took a sip, still holding my phone in my other hand. I passed the cup to her.
"What time is it back home now?" I asked.
She looked at her watch. "About eleven-thirty in the morning."
"Is that Austin time?"
"Then, nine-thirty in California. I'm going to call my mother."
I tapped in the number and waited. Angela shook her head, but smiled and handed me the coffee cup when my other hand was free. Another couple popped through the opening to our level and stared at me like I was crazy. I don't know if it was because of the coffee or the phone, and I didn't care.
"Mom. Guess where I am?"
"London, I hope. That's where you said you were going."
"Yeah, but where in London?"
"I have no idea."
Angela took the cup from me and refilled it. She took a sip and motioned it toward me. I shook my head.
"I'm on the very top of St. Paul's Cathedral with Angela. We're having coffee here."
"Is that allowed, dear? Doesn't seem like a good place for a picnic."
"We climbed five-hundred and twenty-eight steps, Mom. We're resting up for the walk back down."
"Okay, dear. Just don't spill any coffee and be careful on the way down."
"Okay, Mom. Love you." She didn't understand. She'd have to see the place to know what I meant.
That was the highlight of the day. When we finished our coffee we made the trek down to the street and took the underground back to Angela's flat. She made coffee in an effort to keep me awake a little longer while I waited on the sofa.

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