If you’re a fan of international espionage and intrigue, then Stephen J. Stirling’s “Persona non Grata” is for you. Join everyman Paladin Smith as he finds himself thrust into an international crisis involving one of his former students.
Stirling lives in Arizona and, like Smith, is a seminary teacher, though he doesn’t expect to find himself involved in international espionage anytime soon.
“Persona non Grata” is available in bookstores and from online retailers.
Author: This excerpt from chapter one serves as an introduction to Paladin Smith in his classroom element – before his adventures begin.
The classroom was buzzing in a circus of conversations as Mr. Smith entered, closing the door behind him. He slowly approached the front of the room and leaned on the lectern in the corner. An apple—his lunch—was perched on top, along with his class roll pinched onto a clipboard. With a bland smile on his face, he waited there for a long minute, fiddling with the apple and observing his students — most of whom seemed unaware of him.
Three boys entered the room, clearly late, and sat by some friends. Another conversation began. Smith gradually straightened to his full height of five feet eight inches—not exactly, as he was well aware, a stature of commanding attention. The students continued to largely ignore him.
He cleared his throat at mid-volume. “I, uh—I’m not interrupting anyone, am I?” The student noise diminished slightly, but most of the classroom hum went on. This was, after all, the first day of school. He knew they were all pretty excited to see each other.
“Good to see you, Mr. Smith,” said a student on the front row.”
“Yes, isn’t it though!” Paladin answered amiably. The chatter continued.
The class of thirty-two students was pretty evenly divided between former students and students who had never seen Mr. Smith before. The initiated knew enough to settle down by now. That wasn’t to suggest that they had any idea how he intended to bring order. No one ever knew what the history teacher would do from moment to moment. He was never that predictable. They simply knew from experience that he would do something. The others were oblivious to this reality and kept talking. After all, class hadn’t really begun yet.
Smith casually strolled over to the side of the room and picked up a black baseball bat that was leaning against the wall. “My dear friends, I can tell you’re excited to be here on this, the first day of class.” Not much change. He smiled and hefted the bat in both hands. “This is a Louisville Slugger, thirty-two ounces of perfectly-balanced, crafted, polished maple.”
Poising the bat vertically, he scanned it with admiration. His eyes rested on the logo and, below it, the monogram: Presented to Paladin Smith—Midwest Baseball Challenge—2001. He continued. “In the hands of someone who knows how to use it, this stick of lumber can send a baseball soaring four hundred feet over the garden wall.” The bat arched down as he leaned on it like a cane. “It is a symbol not only of the national game but also of American society itself.”
Paladin had their partial attention. But since they never really paid full attention in any other class, why should they here? With the bat still in hand, Smith walked to the opposite side of the room where a huge, beautifully decorated pot stood four feet from base to brim. “This is a vase, a reproduction from the Ming Dynasty, dating from approximately the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries. It represents the greatest in art, culture, and technology which the world of the Orient had to offer that corner of the globe.”
Mr. Smith glanced up. As he fully expected, his introduction to World History had left them nonplussed. Less than half of them were even looking at him. “Okay. What do you suppose would be the result with the inevitable meeting of these two cultures?”
No answer. Smith smiled and took a deep breath. The students who knew him braced themselves.
“LET ME REPHRASE MY QUESTION!” Paladin suddenly raised his voice to a level that could be heard throughout the building. He strode to the front, center of the class. “LISTEN CAREFULLY,” he shouted, hefting the bat again in both hands as he stepped deliberately over to the huge vase. “WHAT WOULD BE THE OUTCOME WHEN THE MODERN WESTERN WORLD EVENTUALLY CLASHED WITH THIS LESS-SOPHISTICATED ORIENTAL SOCIETY?”
He hadn’t even finished the question before he settled into a perfect batters position a few feet from the vase. Without waiting an instant for the imaginary pitch, his face tightened, and he swung the bat toward the fences in one flawless and powerful motion. As he made contact the vase shattered into a thousand pieces that showered around the room.
Mr. Smith stood amid the dust and wreckage, covered with shards of clay. Wide-eyed students were too stunned to speak. Even the veterans had never seen anything like it. He certainly had their attention. Conversations were frozen in mid air.