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In a word: Incline

When you first think of this word, it is with a slippery slope in mind.

I’ve been on a few of those in my time.

And while we’re on the subject, those inclines measured in degrees are very important if you want a train to get up and down the side of a mountain.

For the train, that’s an incline plane, the point where traction alone won’t get the iron horse up the hill.

Did I say ‘Iron Horse’?  Sorry, regressed there, back to the mid-1800s in the American West for a moment.

It’s not that important when it comes to trucks and cars, and less so if you like four-wheel driving; getting up near-vertical mountainsides often present a welcome challenge to the true enthusiast

But for the rest of us, not so much if you find yourself sliding in reverse uncontrollably into the bay.  I’m sure it’s happened more than once.

Then…

Are you inclined to go?

A very different sort of incline, ie to be disposed towards an attitude or desire.

An inclination, maybe, not to go four-wheel driving?

There is another, probably more obscure use of the word incline, and that relates to an elevated geological formation.  Not the sort of reference that crops up in everyday conversation at the coffee shop.

But, you never know.  Try it next time you have coffee and see what happens.

Featured

Writing about writing a book – Day 2

Hang about.  Didn’t I read somewhere you need to plan your novel, create an outline setting the plot points, and flesh out the characters?

I’m sure it didn’t say, sit down and start writing!

Time to find a writing pad, and put my thinking cap on.

I make a list, what’s the story going to be about? Who’s going to be in it, at least at the start?

Like a newspaper story, I need a who, what, when, where, and how.

Right now.

 

I pick up the pen.

 

Character number one:

Computer nerd, ok, that’s a little close to the bone, a computer manager who is trying to be everything at once, and failing.  Still me, but with a twist.  Now, add a little mystery to him, and give him a secret, one that will only be revealed after a specific set of circumstance.  Yes, I like that.

We’ll call him Bill, ex-regular army, a badly injured and repatriated soldier who was sent to fight a war in Vietnam, the result of which had made him, at times, unfit to live with.

He had a wife, which brings us to,

Character number two:

Ellen, Bill’s ex-wife, an army brat and a General’s daughter, and the result of one of those romances that met disapproval for so many reasons.  It worked until Bill came back from the war, and from there it slowly disintegrated.  There are two daughters, both by the time the novel begins, old enough to understand the ramifications of a divorce.

Character number three:

The man who is Bill’s immediate superior, the Services Department manager, a rather officious man who blindly follows orders, a man who takes pleasure in making others feel small and insignificant, and worst of all, takes the credit where none is due.

Oops, too much, that is my old boss.  He’ll know immediately I’m parodying him.  Tone it down, just a little, but more or less that’s him.  Last name Benton.  He will play a small role in the story.

Character number four:

Jennifer, the IT Department’s assistant manager, a woman who arrives in a shroud of mystery, and then, in time, to provide Bill with a shoulder to cry on when he and Ellen finally split, and perhaps something else later on.

More on her later as the story unfolds.

So far so good.

What’s the plot?

Huge corporation plotting to take over the world using computers?  No, that’s been done to death.

Huge corporation, OK, let’s stop blaming the corporate world for everything wrong in the world.  Corporations are not bad people, people are the bad people.  That’s a rip off cliché, from guns don’t kill people, people kill people!  There will be guns, and there will be dead people.

There will be people hiding behind a huge corporation, using a part of their computer network to move billions of illegally gained money around.  That’s better.

Now, having got that, our ‘hero’ has to ‘discover’ this network, and the people behind it.

All we need now is to set the ball rolling, a single event that ‘throws a cat among the pigeons’.

Yes, Bill is on holidays, a welcome relief from the problems of work.  He dreams of what he’s going to do for the next two weeks.  The phone rings.  Benton calling, the world is coming to an end, the network is down.  He’s needed.  A few terse words, but he relents.

Pen in hand I begin to write.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2019

“Sunday in New York”, a romantic adventure that’s not a walk in the park!

“Sunday in New York” is ultimately a story about trust, and what happens when a marriage is stretched to its limits.

When Harry Steele attends a lunch with his manager, Barclay, to discuss a promotion that any junior executive would accept in a heartbeat, it is the fact his wife, Alison, who previously professed her reservations about Barclay, also agreed to attend, that casts a small element of doubt in his mind.

From that moment, his life, in the company, in deciding what to do, his marriage, his very life, spirals out of control.

There is no one big factor that can prove Harry’s worst fears, that his marriage is over, just a number of small, interconnecting events, when piled on top of each other, points to a cataclysmic end to everything he had believed in.

Trust is lost firstly in his best friend and mentor, Andy, who only hints of impending disaster, Sasha, a woman whom he saved, and who appears to have motives of her own, and then in his wife, Alison, as he discovered piece by piece damning evidence she is about to leave him for another man.

Can we trust what we see with our eyes or trust what we hear?

Haven’t we all jumped to conclusions at least once in our lives?

Can Alison, a woman whose self-belief and confidence is about to be put to the ultimate test, find a way of proving their relationship is as strong as it has ever been?

As they say in the classics, read on!

Purchase:

http://tinyurl.com/Amazon-SundayInNewYork

A twitter biography

Every year I come back to revisit this, and each year it becomes a harder issue to deal with.  All that’s recently changed is the number of characters you can use

I’ve been trawling the endless collection of twitter descriptions provided by their users, noting that there is a restriction of 280 characters.

How do you sum yourself up in 280 characters?

I don’t think I can, so we tend to put down a few catchphrases, something that will draw followers.  I’m thinking the word ‘aspiring’ will be my catchword.

I’m aspiring to be a writer, or is that author?  Is there a difference, like for instance, one publishes ebooks on Amazon, one publishes hard copies in the traditional manner?

Is there a guide to what I can call myself?

Quite simply put, but in more than 140 characters, married happily, two wonderful children, three amazing grandchildren, and a wealth of experience acquired over the years.

Actually, that sounds rather boring, doesn’t it?

Perhaps it would be better if I was a retired policeman, a retired lawyer, a retired sheriff, a retired private investigator, a retired doctor, someone who had an occupation that was a rich mine of information from which to draw upon.

Retired computer programmers, supermarket shelf stackers, night cleaners, accounts clerks and general dogsbody s don’t quite cut the mustard.

I have also become fascinated with the expression ‘killer biography’.  Does it mean that I have to be a ‘killer’?

Better than the self-confession above.  Should we try to embellish our personal history in order to make it more appealing?

It’s much the same as writing about daily life.  No one wants to read about it, people want to be taken out of the humdrum of normalcy and be taken into a world where they can become the character in the book.

And there you have it, in a nutshell, why I write.

 

“The Devil You Don’t” – A beta readers view

It could be said that of all the women one could meet, whether contrived or by sheer luck, what are the odds it would turn out to be the woman who was being paid a very large sum to kill you.

John Pennington is a man who may be lucky in business, but not so lucky in love. He has just broken up with Phillipa Sternhaven, the woman he thought was the one, but relatives and circumstances, and perhaps because she was a ‘princess’, may also have contributed to the end result.

So, what do you do when you are heartbroken?

That is a story that slowly unfolds, from the first meeting with his nemesis on Lake Geneva, all the way to a hotel room in Sorrento, where he learns the shattering truth.

What should have been a high turns out to be something else entirely, and from that point every thing goes to hell in a handbasket.

He suddenly realises his so-called friend Sebastian has not exactly told him the truth about a small job he asked him to do, the woman he is falling in love with is not quite who she says she is, and he is caught in the middle of a war between two men who consider people becoming collateral damage as part of their business.

The story paints the characters cleverly displaying all their flaws and weaknesses. The locations add to the story at times taking me back down memory lane, especially to Venice where in those back streets I confess it’s not all that hard to get lost.

All in all a thoroughly entertaining story with, for once, a satisfying end.

Available on Amazon here: https://amzn.to/2Xyh1ow

No stone unturned… – A short story

Mondays were usually a slow day to start the week, a brief few hours after the storm the was every Friday. Some chose to come in late, others gathered on arrival to have a team debriefing.

Our department chose to have a debriefing, and it was my job to analyze all the data and turn it into a graphical representation that basically said the business was heading in the right direction – up.

But, this Monday morning, the circumstances were slightly different.

The head of the company had personally sent both an email and a memo to every employee, an event that had never happened before.

In fact, for most of us, it was an eye-opening discovery, one where had the company not become engulfed in a scandal of international proportions, his identity might have remained a secret.

Not that it mattered to the 15,000 odd people who worked for the company, because the bottom line was that it would not affect us, or our employment.  Well, that was the message the email and the memo was primarily about.

Was it too little too late?

The problem was that the morning’s paper’s headlines screamed scandal in large letters and then went on to describe how the company was basically a front for laundering money associated with various criminal activities. It stopped short of accusing the company’s upper management of being criminals, but it was clear, reading between the lines, they had to know something was wrong.

I walked into the meeting room where all of the Department’s staff were seated, talking among themselves, that dying down the moment I closed the door behind me. On the desk in front of each was one of the three morning papers, all with basically the same story.

I didn’t bring a paper in with me, nor a copy of the email, or the memo. I was hoping the meeting was not going to be about the scandal.

I was wrong.

It was one of those companies where everyone knew everyone. I knew everyone in the room, and regarded most as friends as well as workmates. The company promoted from within and on merit, and with this, I had the respect of everyone who worked under me.

I could see by the mood, and looks of expectation, that trust was going to be tested.

“I suspect that everyone has seen the news, and hopefully read both missives from management regarding the situation the company finds itself.”

That was met with a murmur of agreement.

“It was also, for some, a surprise.”

For others, it was not. Our department was basically in place to ensure that all transactions were conducted properly and that clients’ accounts were managed within the guidelines set by the company, and the various government institutions responsible for financial affairs.

Several of the senior officers had come to me with what they regarded as anomalies, and I have given them the authority to investigate. It was also within my remit to advise the relevant government authority. Most of the anomalies had simply been oversights by the account manager, except for one, which as far as I was aware, had been cleared.

Or not.

“Can we safely assume that Wally Anderson’s somewhat abrupt was not as described?”

Wally Anderson’s abrupt departure had been described to me in a one-line email, ‘taking some personal time to work through some family issues’. In the week leading up to his departure he had become increasingly agitated, and one call one of the others had taken in his absence was from a reporter.

It was one of his accounts that remained doubtful, until shortly after he left when an external investigator was brought in.

But I had a difficult line to walk, trying to placate both sides of the spectrum and management, and as a leader. Respect could be won or lost in a matter of words.

“That might or might not be the case, but the odds are, given what we’re reading, that there may be room for doubt. However, despite what we may conclude, or deduce, it is better for all of us to keep an open mind. I suspect, at some point, again based on what I read, we might be approached by the police or representatives of a number of regulatory organizations for information.”

It was as far as I got.

The side door swung open, and my superior, the Chief Accountant, strode in, along with the mystery man who was, the papers said, the Owner, followed by the harried personal assistant.

“Mr. Nelson…”

The Chief Accountant stood front and center to the group. I thought it wise to stand off to one side, the opposite, in fact, the Owner, now standing just inside the door, next to his PA who was quietly talking into her cell phone.

“I’ll take over from here, Max.”

He switched his attention back to the group and took a few seconds to run his eye over all over them, almost as if he was looking for someone or something.

“I have spent the last 48 hours in rather tedious discussions with the regulators who insist that they received information about the Ridley investigation. Unfortunately, without consulting the company, he took part of the results of the investigation to them. Was anyone here aware of his actions?”

Another eye cast over the group, and, in the end, a glance at me.

I felt responsible to answer for the group.

“Investigations are conducted by individuals, and as far as I was concerned, the Ridley investigation was his. As equally that after he departed, that investigation was completed and cleared. Are you intimating that it wasn’t?”

I knew as much about it as the others.

“It was, until someone else reopened it, and reported it. We believe it was someone in this room.”

“That’s not possible,” I said. “I have oversight of all the officers in this room, and the ability to monitor everything they do and everything they look at. You know the security protocols in place in the software itself.”

“An investigation into the software has been implemented, and it shows that certain log files were altered so that the user log wouldn’t show who looked at the records. Someone with database experience.”

“We’re basically auditors not database managers.”

“Well, someone apparently is. Everyone is on notice. We will find out who it was, and believe me when I say we will leave no stone unturned in the process.”

An almost imperceptible not from the Owner, the harried PA was still on the cell phone, the Chief Accountant gave the group another steely look, then glared at me, said, “My office, one hour,” then left pulling the other two along in his wake.

I cast an eye over the group, picking out those whom I suspected were capable of performing such a search and destroy operation. Three.

“My door is open for anyone who might have any information, with the promise of anonymity.”

I left them with that and also left.

What should have been a quiet morning’s discussion just became a witch hunt where someone would be burnt at the stake. Whether they were guilty or not.

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

An excerpt from “What Sets Us Apart”, a mystery with a twist

See excerpt from the story below, just a taste of what’s in store…

http://amzn.to/2Eryfth

whatsetscover

McCallister was old school, a man who would most likely fit in perfectly campaigning on the battlefields of Europe during the Second World War. He’d been like a fish out of water in the army, post-Falklands, and while he retired a hero, he still felt he’d more to give.

He’d applied and was accepted as head of a SWAT team, and, watching him now as he and his men disembarked from the truck in almost military precision, a look passed between Annette, the police liaison officer, and I that said she’d seen it all before. I know I had.

There was a one in four chance his team would be selected for this operation, and she had been hoping it would be one of the other three. While waiting for them to arrive she filled me in on the various teams. His was the least co-operative, and the more likely to make ad-hoc decisions rather than adhere to the plan, or any orders that may come from the officer in charge.

This, she said quite bluntly, was going to end badly.

I still had no idea why Prendergast instructed me to attend the scene of what looked to be a normal domestic operation, but as the nominated expert in the field in these types of situations, it was fairly clear he wasn’t taking any chances. It was always a matter of opinion between us, and generally I lost.

In this case, it was an anonymous report identifying what the authorities believed were explosives in one of the dockside sheds where explosives were not supposed to be.

The only reason why the report was given any credence was the man, while not identifying himself by name, said he’d been an explosive expert once and recognized the boxes. That could mean anything, but the Chief Constable was a cautious man.

With his men settled and preparing their weapons, McCallister came over to the command post, not much more than the SUV my liaison and I arrived in, with weapons, bulletproof vests, and rolls of tape to cordon off the area afterward. We both had coffee, steaming in the cold early morning air. Dawn was slowly approaching and although rain had been forecast it had yet to arrive.

A man by the name of Benson was in charge. He too had groaned when he saw McCallister.

“A fine morning for it.” McCallister was the only enthusiastic one here.

He didn’t say what ‘it’ was, but I thought it might eventually be mayhem.

“Let’s hope the rain stays away. It’s going to be difficult enough without it,” Benson said, rubbing his hands together. We had been waiting for the SWAT team to arrive, and another team to take up their position under the wharf, and who was in the final stages of securing their position.

While we were waiting we drew up the plan. I’d go in first to check on what we were dealing with, and what type of explosives. The SWAT team, in the meantime, were to ensure all the exits to the shed were covered. When I gave the signal, they were to enter and secure the building. We were not expecting anyone inside or out, and no movement had been detected in the last hour since our arrival and deployment.

“What’s the current situation?”

“I’ve got eyes on the building, and a team coming in from the waterside, underneath. Its slow progress, but they’re nearly there. Once they’re in place, we’re sending McKenzie in.”

He looked in my direction.

“With due respect sir, shouldn’t it be one of us?” McCallister glared at me with the contempt that only a decorated military officer could.

“No. I have orders from above, much higher than I care to argue with, so, McCallister, no gung-ho heroics for the moment. Just be ready to move on my command, and make sure you have three teams at the exit points, ready to secure the building.”

McCallister opened his mouth, no doubt to question those orders, but instead closed it again. “Yes sir,” he muttered and turned away heading back to his men.

“You’re not going to have much time before he storms the battlements,” Benson quietly said to me, a hint of exasperation in his tone. “I’m dreading the paperwork.”

It was exactly what my liaison officer said when she saw McCallister arriving.

The water team sent their ‘in position’ signal, and we were ready to go.

In the hour or so we’d been on site nothing had stirred, no arrivals, no departures, and no sign anyone was inside, but that didn’t mean we were alone. Nor did it mean I was going to walk in and see immediately what was going on. If it was a cache of explosives then it was possible the building was booby-trapped in any number of ways, there could be sentries or guards, and they had eyes on us, or it might be a false alarm.

I was hoping for the latter.

I put on the bulletproof vest, thinking it was a poor substitute for full battle armor against an exploding bomb, but we were still treating this as a ‘suspected’ case. I noticed my liaison officer was pulling on her bulletproof vest too.

“You don’t have to go. This is my party, not yours,” I said.

“The Chief Constable told me to stick to you like glue, sir.”

I looked at Benson. “Talk some sense into her please, this is not a kindergarten outing.”

He shrugged. Seeing McCallister had taken all the fight out of him. “Orders are orders. If that’s what the Chief Constable requested …”

Madness. I glared at her, and she gave me a wan smile. “Stay behind me then, and don’t do anything stupid.”

“Believe me, I won’t be.” She pulled out and checked her weapon, chambering the first round. It made a reassuring sound.

Suited up, weapons readied, a last sip of the coffee in a stomach that was already churning from nerves and tension, I looked at the target, one hundred yards distant and thought it was going to be the longest hundred yards I’d ever traversed. At least for this week.

A swirling mist rolled in and caused a slight change in plans.

Because the front of the buildings was constantly illuminated by large overhead arc lamps, my intention had been to approach the building from the rear where there was less light and more cover. Despite the lack of movement, if there were explosives in that building, there’d be ‘enemy’ surveillance somewhere, and, after making that assumption, I believed it was going to be easier and less noticeable to use the darkness as a cover.

It was a result of the consultation, and studying the plans of the warehouse, plans that showed three entrances, the main front hangar type doors, a side entrance for truck entry and exit and a small door in the rear, at the end of an internal passage leading to several offices. I also assumed it was the exit used when smokers needed a break. Our entry would be by the rear door or failing that, the side entrance where a door was built into the larger sliding doors. In both cases, the locks would not present a problem.

The change in the weather made the approach shorter, and given the density of the mist now turning into a fog, we were able to approach by the front, hugging the walls, and moving quickly while there was cover. I could feel the dampness of the mist and shivered more than once.

It was nerves more than the cold.

I could also feel rather than see the presence of Annette behind me, and once felt her breath on my neck when we stopped for a quick reconnaissance.

It was the same for McCallister’s men. I could feel them following us, quickly and quietly, and expected, if I turned around, to see him breathing down my neck too.

It added to the tension.

My plan was still to enter by the back door.

We slipped up the alley between the two sheds to the rear corner and stopped. I heard a noise coming from the rear of the building, and the light tap on the shoulder told me Annette had heard it too. I put my hand up to signal her to wait, and as a swirl of mist rolled in, I slipped around the corner heading towards where I’d last seen the glow of a cigarette.

The mist cleared, and we saw each other at the same time. He was a bearded man in battle fatigues, not the average dockside security guard.

He was quick, but my slight element of surprise was his undoing, and he was down and unconscious in less than a few seconds with barely a sound beyond the body hitting the ground. Zip ties secured his hands and legs, and tape his mouth. Annette joined me a minute after securing him.

A glance at the body then me, “I can see why they, whoever they are, sent you.”

She’d asked who I worked for, and I didn’t answer. It was best she didn’t know.

“Stay behind me,” I said, more urgency in my tone. If there was one, there’d be another.

Luck was with us so far. A man outside smoking meant no booby traps on the back door, and quite possibly there’d be none inside. But it indicated there were more men inside, and if so, it appeared they were very well trained. If that were the case, they would be formidable opponents.

The fear factor increased exponentially.

I slowly opened the door and looked in. A pale light shone from within the warehouse itself, one that was not bright enough to be detected from outside. None of the offices had lights on, so it was possible they were vacant. I realized then they had blacked out the windows. Why hadn’t someone checked this?

Once inside, the door closed behind us, progress was slow and careful. She remained directly behind me, gun ready to shoot anything that moved. I had a momentary thought for McCallister and his men, securing the perimeter.

At the end of the corridor, the extent of the warehouse stretched before us. The pale lighting made it seem like a vast empty cavern, except for a long trestle table along one side, and, behind it, stacks of wooden crates, some opened. It looked like a production line.

To get to the table from where we were was a ten-yard walk in the open. There was no cover. If we stuck to the walls, there was equally no cover and a longer walk.

We needed a distraction.

As if on cue, the two main entrances disintegrated into flying shrapnel accompanied by a deafening explosion that momentarily disoriented both Annette and I. Through the smoke and dust kicked up I saw three men appear from behind the wooden crates, each with what looked like machine guns, spraying bullets in the direction of the incoming SWAT members.

They never had a chance, cut down before they made ten steps into the building.

By the time I’d recovered, my head heavy, eyes watering and ears still ringing, I took several steps towards them, managing to take down two of the gunmen but not the third.

I heard a voice, Annette’s I think, yell out, “Oh, God, he’s got a trigger,” just before another explosion, though all I remember in that split second was a bright flash, the intense heat, something very heavy smashing into my chest knocking the wind out of me, and then the sensation of flying, just before I hit the wall.

I spent four weeks in an induced coma, three months being stitched back together and another six learning to do all those basic actions everyone took for granted. It was twelve months almost to the day when I was released from the hospital, physically, except for a few alterations required after being hit by shrapnel, looking the same as I always had.

But mentally? The document I’d signed on release said it all, ‘not fit for active duty; discharged’.

It was in the name of David Cheney. For all intents and purposes, Alistair McKenzie was killed in that warehouse, and for the first time ever, an agent left the Department, the first to retire alive.

I was not sure I liked the idea of making history.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 82

Here’s the thing…

Every time I close my eyes, I see something different.

I’d like to think the cinema of my dreams is playing a double feature but it’s a bit like a comedy cartoon night on Fox.

But these dreams are nothing to laugh about.

Once again there’s a new installment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.

The rescue story

When I woke again, it was noticeable that it was light outside the room, even though the curtains were drawn.

My mother was sitting, or rather slumping, in the chair beside the bed, asleep.  She looked tired, worse, like she had been to hell and back.

I guess the thought of losing me, after my father, might have been too much for her to bear.  It also brought up the question of why I hadn’t told her what I was doing.  At the time, it didn’t seem to matter, I’d always be coming home, and there was no question in my mind that anything bad might happen to me.

So, of course, there was an easy answer and a more complicated answer, but I had to hope she wasn’t going to jump to any conclusions before I had a chance to explain.  And then, when I thought about it, what could I say that was not going to tip her over the edge?  In not planning for the worst eventuality, the worst had happened.

I’d done everything I said I would never do, and for selfish reasons.  It was nearly the death of me.  How could I expect her to understand any of it?

She stirred, then slowly sat up, and stretched.  Those chairs were not comfortable at the best of times.

“I’m sorry,” I said, my voice barely above a whisper.

She stopped mid-stretch and looked at me.  It was not with anger or annoyance, but relief.

“How are you?”  She lowered her hands to take mine in hers.

It was a strange question, given my condition, and being in a hospital.  Yet, I guess everyone asked that same question out of courtesy or to make polite conversation.

“I’m told I’ll live.”

“A good thing too.  I’m glad they found you.”

“Who?”

“You know, that slip of a girl you told me you liked, but she was too good for you, or some such nonsense.”

“Charlene?”

“The sheriff’s daughter, yes.”

“She still is.”

“Only in your mind Sam.”

Forever the matchmaker even on my near-death bed, she had always been looking for the right girl, never accepting that our station in life made certain choices impossible.  And, even if Charlene liked me, she would not be allowed, but that was something my mother would never understand.

“What day is it?”  I had no idea of the date or time for that matter, but it had to be days later.

“Thursday. You were missing for nearly eight days, and it’s been a further five days while being treated for severe dehydration.”

First question, what happened to Boggs?

It was as if my mother could read my mind.  “I was told that when they found you, you were asking about Boggs.  I’m sorry to tell you he was found deceased yesterday in one of the caves.”

Had he got lost, or did Alex and Vince go after him too?  They hadn’t left in the same direction, so in all likelihood, he simply got lost, though being the climber and cave Explorer he was, that seemed unlikely.

“That Cossatino girl recovered quickly, but she’s still here, under observation.  She’s been saying she’s not leaving until she sees you.  I’m not sure that’s a good idea, Sam. The sheriff is considering charges against that whole family.”

“She didn’t do anything wrong.  It was her brother and Alex who tied us up and left us for dead.”

She didn’t get time to respond, but the astonished look on her face told me something was very amiss.  The sheriff and Charlene had arrived with the doctor, and a nurse who hustled her out of the room.

The doctor examined me, asked a few questions to determine whether I could withstand an interrogation, and then left me with the interrogators, the sheriff, standing back after closing the door, and Charlene, in the seat my mother just vacated.

She had her notepad open on a blank page.

“Firstly, I should apologize for taking so long to send out a search party.  For the record, I received your text message.  I assume you sent that before you left.”

“As we walked out the door of the shoreside hut.  I assume that was the first place you looked.”

It was obvious it wasn’t, so I was beginning 5o wonder what happened.  My first question was, “when did you find out we were missing.”

“Your mother came to the office two days after the message.  She said you hadn’t come home but wasn’t overly worried because she assumed you were with Nadia.  She only came because your work had asked her if you were ill because you hadn’t turned up for your shift, and that it was the first time.”

“As a courtesy to your mother Sam, I said I would look into it.  I went to the warehouse and Alex said you had taken off with Nadia and had left him in a difficult position.”  The sheriff wasn’t making excuses, just reporting the facts.

I hadn’t been thinking about Alex simply because I didn’t want to, not right then, but I was probably going to have to.  My first thought went to Nadia, who, by the time we realized that we might die, had all but signed his death warrant.  If she survived, she was going to kill him, and her brother, and her explicit description of how she was going to make them suffer made me shudder.

Charlene noticed.  “Again, I’m sorry, but we have to go through this.  What happened after you left the hut?  Take your time.  I know this might be painful, but it is necessary.”

Given what the sheriff just said, I had a feeling that implicating Alex wasn’t going to be easy.  Having a head start on us, he had time to get a story out there, and friends who would readily lie for them.

And Nadia being on the outside of her family, the Cossatinos would close ranks around Vince, and between Alex and Vince, refute any allegation I made, and quite possibly Nadia too.

It would be good to know what she was thinking.

“For whom?  Because from where I’m sitting, and judging by the expressions on your faces, I’m the one who’s in trouble here.”

“We just want the facts, Sam.”

“It seems to me you’ve already got them, and what I have to say, if there was anything to say, is irrelevant.  I don’t know anything about what happened to Boggs, and I’m not prepared to speculate.  I don’t know what Nadia told you, but I remember very little about what happened, except we were in a cave, and then I woke up here.”

It then occurred to me to look at my wrists, and there were only faint marks to show I’d been tied up.  I knew then someone had come back and untied us, so that if we hadn’t been found, our deaths would not be suspicious.

“We just want your side of the story.”

So the Benderby’s could refute it once the sheriff delivered my statement.

“You just got it.  If Nadia gave you hers, then that should be it.”

“Nadia won’t tell us anything, not even why she was in the cave.  It seems it was a place where pirates might once have visited, but except for a bundle of straw and an empty chest, there was nothing.”

And there it was.  The bodies had been removed, the crime scene cleansed, and we were simply trespassers the Cossatino’s could prosecute.

“Boggs had taken us spelunking, obviously in a place we shouldn’t, but I thought with Nadia coming with us, we didn’t need permission.  Perhaps the assumption was wrong.”

“Cossatino isn’t interested in charging anyone with anything.  He’s just happy we found his daughter.”

Pity the feeling between daughter and father wasn’t mutual.

“The good tidings abound.  Everyone is happy.”

“I’d still like to know why you were adamant Alex had something to do with the professor’s death.”

“I don’t.  I hate the bastard, it’s as simple as that.”

“We know the professor was killed at the mall, you got that right, and dumped on Rico’s boat, but there was no evidence Alex was there, or any safe, desk or anything except dust.”

Of course.  Alex had been on a massive clean-up exercise, just in case we survived.  It was going to be a very interesting first meeting when I saw him again.

“A good guess then.  I’m no longer interested in treasure, Boggs, God rest his soul, or anyone else for that matter.  Soon as you’re done with me, I’m gone, and you will never see me again.”

With that I rolled over to face the other way, the interview as far as I was concerned, done.

“This isn’t over Sam.”  Charlene was disappointed but she’d get over it. 

And my estimation of her just fell below zero.  It was clear Alex had got to her. And she believed his story.

Of course, I just realized what I’d said to my mother, and had to hope she didn’t repeat it.  But, knowing her affiliation with Benderby, I had no doubt she would tell him, so I could expect a visit from his lawyers, threatening all kinds of punitive action if I dared to repeat it.

As for Nadia, the fact she said nothing told me everything.  Both Alex and Vince were going to face a different type of justice, and I was going to ask her for an invitation.

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

An excerpt from “Mistaken Identity” – a work in progress

The odds of any one of us having a doppelganger are quite high. Whether or not you got to meet him or her, or be confronted by them was significantly lower. Except of course, unless you are a celebrity.

It was a phenomenon remarkable only for the fact, at times, certain high-profile people, notorious or not, had doubles if only to put off enemies or the general public. Sometimes we see people in the street, people who look like someone we knew, and made the mistake of approaching them like a long lost friend, only to discover an embarrassed individual desperately trying to get away for what they perceive is a stalker or worse.

And then sometimes it is a picture that looms up on a TV screen, an almost exact likeness of you. At first, you are fascinated, and then according to the circumstances, and narrative that is attached to that picture, either flattered or horrified.

For me one turned to the other when I saw an almost likeness of me flash up on the screen when I turned the TV on in my room. What looked to be my photo, with only minor differences, was in the corner of the screen, the newsreader speaking in rapid Italian, so fast I could only translate every second or third word.

But the one word I did recognize was murder. The photo of the man up on the screen was the subject of an extensive manhunt. The crime, the murder of a woman in the very same hotel I was staying, and it was being played out live several floors above me. The gist of the story, the woman had been seen with, and staying with the man who was my double, and, less than an hour ago, the body had been discovered by a chambermaid.

The killer, the announcer said, was believed to be still in the hotel because the woman had died shortly before she had been discovered.

I watched, at first fascinated at what I was seeing. I guess I should have been horrified, but at that moment it didn’t register that I might be mistaken for that man.

Not until another five minutes had passed, and I was watching the police in full riot gear, with a camera crew following behind, coming up a passage towards a room. Live action of the arrest of the suspected killer the breathless commentator said.

Then, suddenly, there was a pounding on the door. On the TV screen, plain to see, was the number of my room.
I looked through the peephole and saw an army of police officers. It didn’t take much to realize what had happened. The hotel staff identified me as the man in the photograph on the TV and called the police.

Horrified wasn’t what I was feeling right then.

It was fear.

My last memory was the door crashing open, the wood splintering, and men rushing into the room, screaming at me, waving guns, and when I put my hands up to defend myself, I heard a gunshot.

And in one very confused and probably near-death experience, I thought I saw my mother and thought what was she doing in Rome?

I was the archetypal nobody.

I lived in a small flat, I drove a nondescript car, had an average job in a low profile travel agency, was single, and currently not involved in a relationship, no children, and according to my workmates, no life.

They were wrong. I was one of those people who preferred their own company, I had a cat, and travelled whenever I could. And I did have a ‘thing’ for Rosalie, one of the reasons why I stayed at the travel agency. I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but one could always hope.

I was both pleased and excited to be going to the conference. It was my first, and the glimpse I had seen of it had whetted my appetite for more information about the nuances of my profession.

Some would say that a travel agent wasn’t much of a job, but to me, it was every bit as demanding as being an accountant or a lawyer. You were providing a customer with a service, and arguably more people needed a travel agent than a lawyer. At least that was what I told myself, as I watched more and more people start using the internet, and our relevance slowly dissipating.

This conference was about countering that trend.

The trip over had been uneventful. I was met at the airport and taken to the hotel where the conference was being held with a number of other delegates who had arrived on the same plane. I had mingled with a number of other delegates at the pre conference get together, including one whose name was Maryanne.

She was an unusual young woman, not the sort that I usually met, because she was the one who was usually surrounded by all the boys, the life of the party. In normal circumstances, I would not have introduced myself to her, but she had approached me. Why did I think that may have been significant? All of this ran through my mind, culminating in the last event on the highlight reel, the door bursting open, men rushing into my room, and then one of the policemen opened fire.

I replayed that last scene again, trying to see the face of my assailant, but it was just a sea of men in battle dress, bullet proof vests and helmets, accompanied by screaming and yelling, some of which I identified as “Get on the floor”.

Then came the shot.

Why ask me to get on the floor if all they were going to do was shoot me. I was putting my hands up at the time, in surrender, not reaching for a weapon.

Then I saw the face again, hovering in the background like a ghost. My mother. Only the hair was different, and her clothes, and then the image was going, perhaps a figment of my imagination brought on by pain killing drugs. I tried to imagine the scene again, but this time it played out, without the image of my mother.

I opened my eyes took stock of my surroundings. What I felt in that exact moment couldn’t be described. I should most likely be dead, the result of a gunshot wound. I guess I should be thankful the shooter hadn’t aimed at anything vital, but that was the only item on the plus side.

I was in a hospital room with a policeman by the door. He was reading a newspaper, and sitting uncomfortably on a small chair. He gave me a quick glance when he heard me move slightly, but didn’t acknowledge me with either a nod, or a greeting, just went back to the paper.

If I still had a police guard, then I was still considered a suspect. What was interesting was that I was not handcuffed to the bed. Perhaps that only happened in TV shows. Or maybe they knew I couldn’t run because my injuries were too serious. Or the guard would shoot me long before my feet hit the floor. I knew the police well enough now to know they would shoot first and ask questions later.

On the physical side, I had a large bandage over the top left corner of my chest, extending over my shoulder. A little poking and prodding determined the bullet had hit somewhere between the top of my rib cage and my shoulder. Nothing vital there, but my arm might be somewhat useless for a while, depending on what the bullet hit on the way in, or through.

It didn’t feel like there were any broken or damaged bones.

That was the good news.

On the other side of the ledger, my mental state, there was only one word that could describe it. Terrified. I was looking at a murder charge and jail time, a lot of it. Murder usually had a long time in jail attached to it.

Whatever had happened, I didn’t do it. I know I didn’t do it, but I had to try and explain this to people who had already made up their minds. I searched my mind for evidence. It was there, but in the confused state brought on by the medication, all I could think about was jail, and the sort of company I was going to have.

I think death would have been preferable.

Half an hour later, maybe longer, I was drifting in an out of consciousness, a nurse, or what I thought was a nurse, came into the room. The guard stood, checked her ID card, and then stood by the door.

She came over and stood beside the bed. “How are you?” she asked, first in Italian, and when I pretended I didn’t understand, she asked the same question in accented English.

“Alive, I guess,” I said. “No one has come and told what my condition is yet. You are my first visitor. Can you tell me?”

“Of course. You are very lucky to be alive. You will be fine and make a full recovery. The doctors here are excellent at their work.”

“What happens now?”

“I check you, and then you have a another visitor. He is from the British Embassy I think. But he will have to wait until I have finished my examination.”

I realized then she was a doctor, not a nurse.

My second visitor was a man, dressed in a suit the sort of which I associated with the British Civil Service.  He was not very old which told me he was probably a recent graduate on his first posting, the junior officer who drew the short straw.

The guard checked his ID but again did not leave the room, sitting back down and going back to his newspaper.

My visitor introduced himself as Alex Jordan from the British Embassy in Rome and that he had been asked by the Ambassador to sort out what he labelled a tricky mess.

For starters, it was good to see that someone cared about what happened to me.  But, equally, I knew the mantra, get into trouble overseas, and there is not much we can do to help you.  So, after that lengthy introduction, I had to wonder why he was here.

I said, “They think I am an international criminal by the name of Jacob Westerbury, whose picture looks just like me, and apparently for them it is an open and shut case.”  I could still hear the fragments of the yelling as the police burst through the door, at the same time telling me to get on the floor with my hands over my head.

“It’s not.  They know they’ve got the wrong man, which is why I’m here.  There is the issue of what had been described as excessive force, and the fact you were shot had made it an all-round embarrassment for them.”

“Then why are you here?  Shouldn’t they be here apologizing?”

“That is why you have another visitor.  I only took precedence because I insisted I speak with you first.  I have come, basically to ask you for a favour.  This situation has afforded us with an opportunity.  We would like you to sign the official document which basically indemnifies them against any legal proceedings.”

Curious.  What sort of opportunity was he talking about?  Was this a matter than could get difficult and I could be charged by the Italian Government, even if I wasn’t guilty, or was it one of those hush hush type deals, you do this for us, we’ll help you out with that.  “What sort of opportunity?”

“We want to get our hands on Jacob Westerbury as much as they do.  They’ve made a mistake, and we’d like to use that to get custody of him if or when he is arrested in this country.  I’m sure you would also like this man brought into custody as soon as possible so you will stop being confused with him.  I can only imagine what it was like to be arrested in the manner you were.  And I would not blame you if you wanted to get some compensation for what they’ve done.  But.  There are bigger issues in play here, and you would be doing this for your country.”

I wondered what would happen if I didn’t agree to his proposal.  I had to ask, “What if I don’t?”

His expression didn’t change.  “I’m sure you are a sensible man Mr Pargeter, who is more than willing to help his country whenever he can.  They have agreed to take care of all your hospital expenses, and refund the cost of the Conference, and travel.  I’m sure I could also get them to pay for a few days at Capri, or Sorrento if you like, before you go home.  What do you say?”

There was only one thing I could say.  Wasn’t it treason if you went against your country’s wishes?

“I’m not an unreasonable man, Alex.  Go do your deal, and I’ll sign the papers.”

“Good man.”

After Alex left, the doctor came back to announce the arrival of a woman, by the way she had announced herself, the publicity officer from the Italian police. When she came into the room, she was not dressed in a uniform.

The doctor left after giving a brief report to the civilian at the door. I understood the gist of it, “The patient has recovered excellently and the wounds are healing as expected. There is no cause for concern.”

That was a relief.

While the doctor was speaking to the civilian, I speculated on who she might be. She was young, not more than thirty, conservatively dressed so an official of some kind, but not necessarily with the police. Did they have prosecutors? I was unfamiliar with the Italian legal system.

She had long wavy black hair and the sort of sultry looks of an Italian movie star, and her presence made me more curious than fearful though I couldn’t say why.

The woman then spoke to the guard, and he reluctantly got up and left the room, closing the door behind him.
She checked the door, and then came back towards me, standing at the end of the bed. Now alone, she said, “A few questions before we begin.” Her English was only slightly accented. “Your name is Jack Pargeter?”

I nodded. “Yes.”

“You are in Rome to attend the Travel Agents Conference at the Hilton Hotel?”

“Yes.”

“You attended a preconference introduction on the evening of the 25th, after arriving from London at approximately 4:25 pm.”

“About that time, yes. I know it was about five when the bus came to collect me, and several others, to take us to the hotel.”

She smiled. It was then I noticed she was reading from a small notepad.

“It was ten past five to be precise. The driver had been held up in traffic. We have a number of witnesses who saw you on the plane, on the bus, at the hotel, and with the aid of closed circuit TV we have established you are not the criminal Jacob Westerbury.”

She put her note book back in her bag and then said, “My name is Vicenza Andretti and I am with the prosecutor’s office. I am here to formally apologize for the situation that can only be described as a case of mistaken identity. I assure you it is not the habit of our police officers to shoot people unless they have a very strong reason for doing so. I understand that in the confusion of the arrest one of our officers accidentally discharged his weapon. We are undergoing a very thorough investigation into the circumstances of this event.”

I was not sure why, but between the time I had spoken to the embassy official and now, something about letting them off so easily was bugging me. I could see why they had sent her. It would be difficult to be angry or annoyed with her.

But I was annoyed.

“Do you often send a whole squad of trigger happy riot police to arrest a single man?” It came out harsher than I intended.

“My men believed they were dealing with a dangerous criminal.”

“Do I look like a dangerous criminal?” And then I realized if it was mistaken identity, the answer would be yes.

She saw the look on my face, and said quietly, “I think you know the answer to that question, Mr. Pargeter.”

“Well, it was overkill.”

“As I said, we are very sorry for the circumstances you now find yourself in. You must understand that we honestly believed we were dealing with an armed and dangerous murderer, and we were acting within our mandate. My department will cover your medical expenses, and any other amounts for the inconvenience this has caused you. I believe you were attending a conference at your hotel. I am very sorry but given the medical circumstances you have, you will have to remain here for a few more days.”

“I guess, then, I should thank you for not killing me.”

Her expression told me that was not the best thing I could have said in the circumstances.

“I mean, I should thank you for the hospital and the care. But a question or two of my own. May I?”

She nodded.

“Did you catch this Jacob Westerbury character?”

“No. In the confusion created by your arrest he escaped. Once we realized we had made a mistake and reviewed the close circuit TV, we tracked him leaving by a rear exit.”

“Are you sure it was one of your men who shot me?”

I watched as her expression changed, to one of surprise.

“You don’t think it was one of my men?”

“Oddly enough no. But don’t ask me why.”

“It is very interesting that you should say that, because in our initial investigation, it appeared none of our officer’s weapons had been discharged. A forensic investigation into the bullet tells us it was one that is used in our weapons, but…”

I could see their dilemma.

“Have you any enemies that would want to shoot you Mr Pargeter?”

That was absurd because I had no enemies, at least none that I knew of, much less anyone who would want me dead.

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“Then it is strange, and will perhaps remain a mystery. I will let you know if anything more is revealed in our investigation.”

She took an envelope out of her briefcase and opened it, pulling out several sheets of paper.

I knew what it was. A verbal apology was one thing, but a signed waiver would cover them legally. They had sent a pretty girl to charm me. Perhaps using anyone else it would not have worked. There was potential for a huge litigation payout here, and someone more ruthless would jump at the chance of making a few million out of the Italian Government.

“We need a signature on this document,” she said.

“Absolving you of any wrong doing?”

“I have apologized. We will take whatever measures are required for your comfort after this event. We are accepting responsibility for our actions, and are being reasonable.”

They were. I took the pen from her and signed the documents.

“You couldn’t add dinner with you on that list of benefits?” No harm in asking.

“I am unfortunately unavailable.”

I smiled. “It wasn’t a request for a date, just dinner. You can tell me about Rome, as only a resident can. Please.”

She looked me up and down, searching for the ulterior motive. When she couldn’t find one, she said, “We shall see once the hospital discharges you in a few days.”

“Then I’ll pencil you in?”

She looked at me quizzically. “What is this pencil me in?”

“It’s an English colloquialism. It means maybe. As when you write something in pencil, it is easy to erase it.”

A momentary frown, then recognition and a smile. “I shall remember that. Thank-you for your time and co-operation Mr. Pargeter. Good morning.”

© Charles Heath 2015-2021

In a word: Right

Am I right?  Or is that correct?

In the moral sense, or in answering a question?

Do I have a right to …

As an entitlement?

Maybe

But right means generally to be correct, but the word itself can be used, like many others in a variety of ways

Such as, do we have any rights any more, since the government is slowly shutting down our freedoms, and, you guessed it, allegedly taking away our rights.

What about a right angle, we know this as being an angle of 90 degrees

How about I right a wrong, returning a bad situation to a good one?

Are you left-handed or right-handed?

Are you one of those people who can’t tell their left from their right?

And who was it that decided what was your left or your right, ever thought about that?  I didn’t until just now.  Good luck finding an answer on Google.

And how many times have you wished you were in the right place at the right time???

Then, of course, if English is a second language, how about confusing right with write.

Means something quite different, doesn’t it?

How about rite?  Yes, I guess if we were in the habit of chopping chicken heads off and dancing around a fire, that might be its meaning,

But…

It too has a lot of different meanings

Are you confused yet?

In a word: Mine

Well, that’s his, and this is mine.  Possession is 9 points of the law, or so they say.

What’s mine is mine and what’s his is mine.  Sound like a divorce settlement?  Sure is!

There are often a lot of arguments over the possession of goods, and who they belong to.  Perhaps it’s best to own nothing, then no one can take it from you.

Sound like a lawyer contesting his own divorce?  Probably.

But that’s not the only mine.  Take for instance a land mine or a sea mine.

Devilish things to walk on, or brush up against.  It spawned a new type of ship, a minesweeper, and I’ve read a few books about the exploits of those aboard, and how close they come to death when a ship hits one.

And land mines, the damage they can cause.

Then, of course, you can go underground, way underground, into a mine.

Gold in South Africa, coal in Wales, tin in Sumatra, copper in New Guinea.

And it doesn’t have to be underground.  You can have an open cut mine, which accounts for a lot of coal mines in Australia.

Oddly, you can mine data, the sort that’s stored in databases on computers.  I’ve done a bit of that in a former life.

You can mine talent,

Or you can mine bitcoin, but that’s a whole different ballgame, and everyone seems to be in on some sort of scam when it comes to bitcoin.  It seems to me the only way you would make money out of bitcoin was to buy units the very first day it was released.

It’s not, and never will be, something I’ll dabble in.

Searching for locations: The apartments at Greve in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy

When we first planned to stay in Tuscany for a few days, we wanted to be in a central area.  We had thought of staying in Florence and making daily treks, but the tour operator we selected told us it would be better if we stayed closer to Arezzo.

We picked Greve in Chianti, and a place called Antico Pastificio, we booked a standard apartment with two bedrooms, and it was about as authentic Italian you could get.  The building we stayed in was the yellow pasta factory, and the apartment named ‘Iris’.

It was only steps away from the main square, shops, restaurants, and at the opposite end, the quaint ringing of church bells at various times during the day.

Gaining access was through a very narrow arch which required some deft driving and then up the road.  There were villas and two large apartment blocks.

You can just see the archway at the end of the road. 
This was the entrance to our room,

 along a passage and up the stairs, turning left at the top.

 Going straight ahead through the gate to the car park, 

and access to the grounds behind the buildings.

This was the view from the lounge/living room.  The days were hot, and on several evenings it rained, breaking the heat and making the evenings sitting by the window cool and refreshing.

 And the last view is looking towards the town piazza and the church