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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

I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 28

Space is not the high seas, is it?

I’m guessing no one ever wanted to think about criminals in space.

With the Chief Engineer working on the status and availability of our propulsion unit, and the status of the ship’s systems after the jump to a speed that was probably never considered at design time. All the heads of departments had reported back little or no damage other than crew blackouts. And, a systematic check of all crew by the medical staff showed no one had suffered any side effects. Well, none that were showing in the last hour or so.

That gave me some time to consider just how it might be possible for pirates to exist.

The cost was astronomical, to the point where many governments had pooled their resources to get where we were now, scraping at the edges of our so-called known galaxy. There were just too many zeros at the end of the numbers that simply represented the investment in the ship I was on.

But the thought of criminal activity, that wasn’t on the radar, well, not mine anyway.

As we progressed with new ships replacing the old, it was not hard to assume that someone with a lot of money and will could get their hands on an old ship or two, and find people who were willing to commit crimes, particularly if they were already at a penal colony under limited supervision.

Perhaps they had hoped to stay off the radar, but unfortunately ran into us, a ship that could move as fast as they could, and chase them down. Of course, that led to another thought, right at that moment, one that told me that it was not in their best interests to have us reporting their existence.

if what I thought to be true, was, then it would simply be a matter of destroying their ships and sending them back to Mars, but they still had a bargaining chip, our nuclear scientist. We had to rescue her first.

And I thought meeting aliens was going to be difficult.

It was time to have a chat with Lt Colonel Baxter about this ship’s capabilities, defense-wise, and rather than summon him to the bridge, I thought a low-key approach might be better.

He was expecting me.

“You’ve spoken to O’Mara?” O’Mara was the scanning specialist.

“I assume the previous captain had been briefed on the possibility we might run into pirates?”

It felt weird calling them pirates because most of history portrayed them as being on the high seas.

“It was mentioned in passing. We were never expected to run into any, but aside from that, there’s very little intelligence on them. We’re only just hearing about the breakout at the Mars mining outpost.”

“Sounds like bad luck. Of all the places in space we can go, we had to end up in the same sector. Have you spoken to your superiors back home?”

From what I had read on the trip to join ship, the military were on board for defense purposes, if we needed to be defended, otherwise our own security people would take care of any problems we encountered. We were not on a mission to seek out trouble, but explore, particularly galaxies beyond our own.

Our mission was not to get involved problems like pirates, labour disputes, or matters that were the providence of the so-called space police. The need for such an authority had only just been recognised, and being new, were still in the throes of getting ships and personnel, and a workable frame of reference.

“I have. Their preference is for us to stay on mission, and not engage, unless of course, we’re attacked.”

“At which point we can retaliate.”

“With full force and effect, yes, but only as a last resort. I recognize the need to rescue our crew member, but if it means compromise, perhaps it’s best not to engage. That being said, I believe O’Mara has a plan to rescue her without causing any problems.”

He could have mentioned that, but I suspect he didn’t want to come to me with something that might not work.

“Just the same, I would like you on the bridge while we’re within hailing distance of what O’Mara informs me, are pirate ships.”

“As you wish, sir.”

© Charles Heath 2021

How could that possibly happen… – A short story

I had hoped by the time I was promoted to assistant manager it might mean something other than long hours and an increase in pay.

It didn’t.

But unlike others who had taken the job, and eventually become jaded and left, I stayed. Something I realized that others seemed to either ignore or just didn’t understand, this was a company that rewarded loyalty.

It was why there were quite a few who had served 30 years or more. They might not reach the top job, but they certainly well looked after.

I had a long way to go, having been there only 8 years, and according to some, on a fast track. I was not sure how I would describe this so-called ‘fast track’ other than being in the right place at the right time and making a judicial selection.

When it was my turn to be promoted, I had a choice of a plum department, or one most of my contemporaries had passed over. At the time, the words of my previous manager sprang to mind, that being a manager for the most sought after department or the least sought after, came with exactly the same privileges.

And, he was right. I took the least sought after, much to their disdain and disapproval. One year on, that disapproval had turned almost to envy; that was when the Assistant Managers were granted a new privilege, tea, and lunch in the executive dining room.

“So, what’s it like?” John asked, when our group met on a Friday night, this the first after the privilege was granted.

He had been one of the three, including me, who had the opportunity to take the role. Both he and Alistair had both declined, prepared to wait for a more prestigious department. It hadn’t happened to them yet.

“The same as the staff dining room, only smaller. Except, I guess, the waitstaff and butler. They come and serve you when you have to go to them in the staff room. They’re the same staff, by the way, except for the butler.”

I could see the awe, or was it envy, in their eyes. “but it’s not that great. The Assistant Managers all sit at one end of the table, and we’re not part of the main group, so no sharing of information I’m afraid. And the meals are the same, just served on fancier crockery.”

“Then nothing to write home about?” Will was one of those who they also thought to be on a ‘fast track’. I was still trying to see how my ‘fast track’ was actually that fast.

“Put it this way, the extra pay doesn’t offset the long hours because you get overtime, I don’t, so on a good week, you’d all be earning more than me. Without responsibility, if anything goes wrong. I think that’s why Assistant Managers were created, to take the blame when anything goes wrong.”

That had been the hardest pill to swallow. Until I got the role, I hadn’t realized what it really involved. Nor had the others, and it was not something we could whinge about. My first-day introductory speech from Tomkins, my Manager, was all about taking responsibility, and how I was there to make his life easier. It was a speech he made a few times because he’d been Manager for the last 16 years, much the same as the others, and promotion if ever, would come when they died.

And Manager’s rarely died, because of their Assistant Managers.

“How old is Tomkins now?” Bert, a relative newcomer to our group, asked. He was still in the ‘in awe’ phase.

“About the same as Father Time,” I said. “But the reality is, no one knows, except perhaps for the personnel manager.” O looked over at Wally, the Personnel Department’s Assistant Manager. “Any chance of you telling us?”

“No. You know I can’t.”

“But you know?” I asked.

“Of course, but you know the rules. That’s confidential information. Not like what you are the custodian of, information everyone needs.”

Which, of course, was true. Communication and Secretarial Services had no secrets, except for twice a year when the company Bord of Directors met, and we were responsible for all the documents used at their meetings. Then, and only then, was I privy to all the secrets, including promotions. And be asked ‘What’s happening?’.

“Just be content to know that he’s as old as the hills, as most of them. It seems to me that one of the pre-requisites for managership is that you have been employed here for 30 years.”

Not all, though, I’d noticed, but there wasn’t one under the age of fifty.

And so it would go, the Friday night lament, those ‘in’ the executive, and those who were not quite there yet.
It seemed prophetic, in a sense, that we had been talking about Mangers and their ages. By a quirk of fate, some weeks before, that I learned of Tomkins’s currents state of health via a call on his office phone. At the time he was out, where, he had not told me, but by his the I believed it was something serious, so serious he didn’t want me, or anyone else, to know about it.

That phone call was from his wife, Eleanor, whom I’d met on a number of occasions when she came to take him home from work. I liked her, and couldn’t help but notice she was his exact opposite, Tomkins, silent and at times morose, and Eleanor, the life of the party. I could imagine her being a handful in her younger days, and it was a stark reminder of that old saying ‘opposites attract’.

She was concerned and asked me if he had returned from the specialist. I simply said he had but was elsewhere, and promised to get him to call her when he returned. Then I made a quick call around to see where he was and found that he was in Personnel. I left an innocuous message on his desk, and then let my imagination run wild.

At least for a day or so, the time it took for me to realize that it was probably nothing, the lethargy he’d been showing, gone.

I’d put it out of my mind until my cell phone rang, and it was from the Personnel Manager. On a Sunday, no less. In the few seconds before I answered it, I’d made the assumption that Tomkins’s secretive visits to the specialist meant he needed time off for a routine operation.

Greetings over, O’Reilly, the Personnel Manager, cut straight to the chase, “For your personal information, and not to be repeated, Tomkins will be out of action for about two months, and as that is longer than the standard period, you will become Acting Manager. We’ll talk more about this Tuesday morning.” Monday was a holiday.

All Assistant Managers knew the rules. Any absence of a manager for longer than a month, promotion to Acting Manager. Anything less, you sat in the office, but no change in title. There was one more rule, that in the event of the death of a manager, the assistant manager was immediately promoted to Manager. This had only happened once before. 70 years ago. If a manager retired, then the position of Manager was thrown open to anyone in the organization.

It was an intriguing moment in time.

Tuesday came, and as usual, I went into the office, with only one thought in mind, let the staff in the department know what was happening, of course, the moment I was given the approval to do so by Personnel.

Not a minute after I sat down, the phone rang. I picked it up, gave my name and greeting. It was met with a rather excitable voice of the Assistant Manager, Personnel, “I just got word from on high, you’ve been promoted to manager. How could that possibly happen…”

Then a moment later, as realization set in, “Unless…”

—-

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

Memories of the conversations with my cat – 18

As some may be aware, but many not, Chester, my faithful writing assistant, mice catcher, and general pain in the neck, passed away some months ago.

Recently I was running a series based on his adventures, under the title of Past Conversations with my cat.

For those who have not had the chance to read about all of his exploits I will run the series again from Episode 1

These are the memories of our time together…

20160903_010425

This is Chester, he’s lurking in the shadows.

This is near the front door, so I wonder if he’s waiting for someone, or keeping guard, or he’s spotted something outside.

The grandchildren will be here soon, and I haven’t told him they are paying a surprise visit.  He has a habit of disappearing the days they usually come.

We both hear a noise outside.

He goes into stealth mode.

Then I recognize the sound, of letters being shoved into the mailbox.

He shakes his head.  I think he was expecting a mouse.

I hear the back door rattle and the loud sounds of the grandchildren arriving.

He lifts his head, stands, and bolts.

That’s the fastest I’ve seen him move for a long time.

“The Things We Do For Love” – Coming soon

Is love the metaphorical equivalent to ‘walking the plank’; a dive into uncharted waters?

For Henry the only romance he was interested in was a life at sea, and when away from it, he strived to find sanctuary from his family and perhaps life itself.  It takes him to a small village by the sea, s place he never expected to find another just like him, Michelle, whom he soon discovers is as mysterious as she is beautiful.

Henry had long since given up the notion of finding romance, and Michelle couldn’t get involved for reasons she could never explain, but in the end both acknowledge that something happened the moment they first met.  

Plans were made, plans were revised, and hopes were shattered.

A chance encounter causes Michelle’s past to catch up with her, and whatever hope she had of having a normal life with Henry, or anyone else, is gone.  To keep him alive she has to destroy her blossoming relationship, an act that breaks her heart and shatters his.

But can love conquer all?

It takes a few words of encouragement from an unlikely source to send Henry and his friend Radly on an odyssey into the darkest corners of the red light district in a race against time to find and rescue the woman he finally realizes is the love of his life.

The cover, at the moment, looks like this:

lovecoverfinal1

Searching for locations: Mount Ngauruhoe, New Zealand

Mount Ngauruhoe is apparently still an active volcano, has been for 2,500 years or so, and last erupted on 19th February 1975, and reportedly has erupted around 70 times since 1839.

The mountain is usually climbed from the western side, from the Mangatepopo track.

This photo was taken in summer from the Chateau Tongariro carpark.

In late autumn, on one of our many visits to the area, the mountain was covered with a light sprinkling of snow and ice.

On our most recent visit, this year, in winter, it was fully covered in snow.

It can be a breathtaking sight from the distance.

The story behind the story: A Case of Working With the Jones Brothers

To write a private detective serial has always been one of the items at the top of my to-do list, though trying to write novels and a serial, as well as a blog, and maintain a social media presence, well, you get the idea.

But I made it happen, from a bunch of episodes I wrote a long, long time ago, used these to start it, and then continue on, then as now, never having much of an idea where it was going to end up, or how long it would take to tell the story.

That, I think is the joy of ad hoc writing, even you, as the author, have as much idea of where it’s going as the reader does.

It’s basically been in the mill since 1990, and although I finished it last year, it looks like the beginning to end will have taken exactly 30 years.  Had you asked me 30 years ago if I’d ever get it finished, the answer would be maybe?

My private detective, Harry Walthenson

I’d like to say he’s from that great literary mold of Sam Spade, or Mickey Spillane, or Phillip Marlow, but he’s not.

But, I’ve watched Humphrey Bogart play Sam Spade with much interest, and modeled Harry and his office on it.  Similarly, I’ve watched Robert Micham play Phillip Marlow with great panache, if not detachment, and added a bit of him to the mix.

Other characters come into play, and all of them, no matter what period they’re from, always seem larger than life.  I’m not above stealing a little of Mary Astor, Peter Lorre or Sidney Greenstreet, to breathe life into beguiling women and dangerous men alike.

Then there’s the title, like

The Case of the Unintentional Mummy – this has so many meanings in so many contexts, though I image back in Hollywood in the ’30s and ’40s, this would be excellent fodder for Abbott and Costello

The Case of the Three-Legged Dog – Yes, I suspect there may be a few real-life dogs with three legs, but this plot would involve something more sinister.  And if made out of plaster, yes, they’re always something else inside.

But for mine, to begin with, it was “The Case of the …”, because I had no idea what the case was going to be about, well, I did, but not specifically.

Then I liked the idea of calling it “The Case of the Brother’s Revenge” because I began to have a notion there was a brother no one knew about, but that’s stuff for other stories, not mine, so then went the way of the others.

Now it’s called ‘A Case of Working With the Jones Brothers’, finished the first three drafts, and at the editor for the last.

I have high hopes of publishing it in early 2021.  It even has a cover.

PIWalthJones1

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.

 

“One Last Look”, nothing is what it seems

A single event can have enormous consequences.

A single event driven by fate, after Ben told his wife Charlotte he would be late home one night, he left early, and by chance discovers his wife having dinner in their favourite restaurant with another man.

A single event where it could be said Ben was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Who was this man? Why was she having dinner with him?

A simple truth to explain the single event was all Ben required. Instead, Charlotte told him a lie.

A single event that forces Ben to question everything he thought he knew about his wife, and the people who are around her.

After a near-death experience and forced retirement into a world he is unfamiliar with, Ben finds himself once again drawn back into that life of lies, violence, and intrigue.

From London to a small village in Tuscany, little by little Ben discovers who the woman he married is, and the real reason why fate had brought them together.

It is available on Amazon here:  http://amzn.to/2CqUBcz

The cinema of my dreams – It’s a treasure hunt – Episode 36

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.

 

“How long have you been working on this?”

“A week. Lying in bed is boring, so I decided to look at everything I’ve got again, and then again. There were some old maps of the coastline stored with the treasure maps, so I think my father was trying to find the actual location his treasure maps were based on and came up against the same problem. Physical landmarks on the treasure maps are no longer there, and if you didn’t know any better, I would think you were looking in the wrong place.”

“So, in actual fact, what you’re saying now is that your father had no idea where the treasure was buried, that he was just producing maps for the Cossatino’s’ to sell.”

That, of course, could be looked at from a different angle, one that I wasn’t going to suggest right then because Boggs was not ready to hear it. I think the real maps Boggs had found with eh treasure maps were the basis for the treasure maps, that is, his father had to give them real-life elements to keep the punters interested.

“No, not necessarily. I think he knew it was somewhere along this coastline give or take a hundred miles, because of its proximity to the Spanish Maine, but essentially you’re right. He probably had no idea.”

So, he hadn’t come to the same conclusion I had. Yet.

And if I could come to that conclusion, surely Cossatino also would, after all, he was the one who got Boggs senior to make the maps. Why all of a sudden did he think that there was a real treasure map. It couldn’t be simply because Boggs had said there was one. He’d have to know that anything Boggs junior found was an invention commissioned by him,

Or hadn’t Vince told his father what he was doing? Surely the father would have told the son about the treasure map scam.

As for Benderby, senior could base his assumption of the fact that he’d found some old coins off the coast nearby that could be part of the trove. Alex then may have decided to usurp his father’s search with one of his own, conveniently forgetting the treasure maps were an invention of the Cossatino’s. IT was a tangled web of lies deceit and one-upmanship, one that was going to leave a trail of human wreckage in its wake.

Boggs and I were two of the first three. We had lived to tell about it, Frobisher was the first casualty.

But what I suppose was more despairing was how taken Boggs was with the notion that the treasure was real, hidden out there somewhere, and that his father had ‘the’ map. I was loath to label him delusional, but his pathological desire to prove his father’s so-called legacy was going to not end well, especially when we found nothing.

And, yet, I had to admire the lengths he had gone to, to prove his case. Even now, looking at the overlaid maps, there was no guarantee we’d find anything, but at first look, the evidence was compelling.

Except I had a feeling Boggs had something up his sleeve. I had to ask the question. “Where did you get the idea of matching the treasure map to the real map?”

“My father’s journal. It was tossed in the bottom of a box of his other stuff. There are about ten boxes stacked in the shed, stuff my mother just couldn’t be bothered sorting through after he disappeared. Again, boredom pushed me into going through everything over and over just in case I missed something.”

He reached in under the mattress of his bed and pulled out an old leather-bound notebook. It had a strap that bound it together, and by the look of it had extra papers inserted or glued to pages, as well as papers at the start and back of the volume, making it look about twice the original size.

He handed it to me. The leather was old, cracked, and had that distinctive aroma of the hide. I loosened the strap and the top cover opened. The first page was a newspaper cutting, a small piece about some old coins being found about a hundred yards offshore by some surfers. Were these the same coins that Benderby had claimed were part to the trove?

“Benderby was getting that antiquarian that was murdered to identify some coins,” I said after a quick glance through the article.

“I spoke to one of the surfers the other day,” Boggs said. “He told me he came off his board on a big wave and as he was going down saw something glinting on the seabed. He managed to pull up three coins. There were more but he had to come up for air. When he went down again, he realized he’d been dragged away by the current.”

Tides and currents along this part of the coast were particularly bad, and the undertow, at times could get surfers and swimmers alike into a lot of trouble. I’d been caught out once in a dinghy myself, finishing up ten miles further down the coast that I expected to be.

“Then, I take it he can’t remember the exact spot so he could go back.”

“He tried, but alas no. Said he sold the coins to old man Benderby for a hundred apiece and told him approximately where he thought the others were, but nothing’s been found since.”

Not that Benderby would tell anyone if he did. But it explained where the coins came from that he gave to Frobisher.

“Except we can assume that it’s off our coastline somewhere, right?”

“Five miles of coastline to be precise. He and his mate always had a few reefers before they went out, made the ride more interesting he said. He could have been off the coast of Peru for all he knew.”

Surfers, drugs and a colorful story.

“It explains why Benderby and a team of divers have been out in his new boat,” Boggs added, “probably trying to either find the location or line up landmarks on his map from the seaward side at the same time. But he doesn’t know what we know.”

What did we know? I leafed through a few more pages of the diary, but the scrawled notes were almost illegible. I picked up various words, like a marina, underground river, dry lakebed, but none of it made any sense.

“Which map did we give to Alex?”

Boggs went over to a drawer in the wardrobe and leafed through the papers in it and pulled out one and gave it to me. Like the rest it showed the shore, the hills, the lake, and two what looked to be rivers flowing into the sea. Each of the maps had those same features but in different places.

I didn’t want to say it, but it seemed to me we were playing a very dangerous game. The maps might look different in some respects, but the chances were, if Alex was smart enough to hire an expert, that we might run across him out there, and, to be honest, he would be the last person I’d want to see.

“You do realize our paths are going to cross at some point.”

“Maybe, maybe not.”

A shiver went down my spine, an omen I thought. Boggs has something up his sleeve, and I really didn’t want to know.

Not right then.

 

© Charles Heath 2020

An excerpt from “Sunday in New York”

Now available on Amazon at:  https://amzn.to/2H7ALs8

 

Williams’ Restaurant, East 65th Street, New York, Saturday, 8:00 p.m.

 

We met the Blaine’s at Williams’, a rather upmarket restaurant that the Blaine’s frequently visited, and had recommended.

Of course, during the taxi ride there, Alison reminded me that with my new job, we would be able to go to many more places like Williams’.  It was, at worst, more emotional blackmail, because as far as Alison was concerned, we were well on our way to posh restaurants, the Trump Tower Apartments, and the trappings of the ‘executive set’.

It would be a miracle if I didn’t strangle Elaine before the night was over.  It was she who had filled Alison’s head with all this stuff and nonsense.

Aside from the half frown half-smile, Alison was looking stunning.  It was months since she had last dressed up, and she was especially wearing the dress I’d bought her for our 5th anniversary that cost a month’s salary.  On her, it was worth it, and I would have paid more if I had to.  She had adored it, and me, for a week or so after.

For tonight, I think I was close to getting back on that pedestal.

She had the looks and figure to draw attention, the sort movie stars got on the red carpet, and when we walked into the restaurant, I swear there were at least five seconds silence, and many more gasps.

Even I had a sudden loss of breath earlier in the evening when she came out of the dressing room.  Once more I was reminded of how lucky I was that she had agreed to marry me.  Amid all those self-doubts, I couldn’t believe she had loved me when there were so many others ‘out there’ who were more appealing.

Elaine was out of her seat and came over just as the Head Waiter hovered into sight.  She personally escorted Alison to the table, allowing me to follow like the Queen’s consort, while she and Alison basked in the admiring glances of the other patrons.

More than once I heard the muted question, “Who is she?”

Jimmy stood, we shook hands, and then we sat together.  It was not the usual boy, girl, boy, girl seating arrangement.  Jimmy and I on one side and Elaine and Alison on the other.

The battle lines were drawn.

Jimmy was looking fashionable, with the permanent blade one beard, unkempt hair, and designer dinner suit that looked like he’d slept in it.  Alison insisted I wear a tuxedo, and I looked like the proverbial penguin or just a thinner version of Alfred Hitchcock.

The bow tie had been slightly crooked, but just before we stepped out she had straightened it.  And took the moment to look deeply into my soul.  It was one of those moments when words were not necessary.

Then it was gone.

I relived it briefly as I sat and she looked at me.  A penetrating look that told me to ‘behave’.

When we were settled, Elaine said, in that breathless, enthusiastic manner of hers when she was excited, “So, Harry, you are finally moving up.”  It was not a question, but a statement.

I was not sure what she meant by ‘finally’ but I accepted it with good grace.  Sometimes Elaine was prone to using figures of speech I didn’t understand.  I guessed she was talking about the new job.  “It was supposed to be a secret.”

She smiled widely.  “There are no secrets between Al and I, are there Al?”

I looked at ‘Al’ and saw a brief look of consternation.

I was not sure Alison liked the idea of being called Al.  I tried it once and was admonished.  But it was interesting her ‘best friend forever’ was allowed that distinction when I was not.  It was, perhaps, another indicator of how far I’d slipped in her estimation.

Perhaps, I thought, it was a necessary evil.  As I understood it, the Blaine’s were our mentors at the Trump Tower, because they didn’t just let ‘anyone’ in.  I didn’t ask if the Blaine’s thought we were just ‘anyone’ before I got the job offer.

And then there was that look between Alison and Elaine, quickly stolen before Alison realized I was looking at both of them.  I was out of my depth, in a place I didn’t belong, with people I didn’t understand.  And yet, apparently, Alison did.  I must have missed the memo.

“No,” Alison said softly, stealing a glance in my direction, “No secrets between friends.”

No secrets.  Her look conveyed something else entirely.

The waiter brought champagne, Krug, and poured glasses for each of us.  It was not the cheap stuff, and I was glad I brought a couple of thousand dollars with me.  We were going to need it.

Then, a toast.

To a new job and a new life.

“When did you decide?”  Elaine was effusive at the best of times, but with the champagne, it was worse.

Alison had a strange expression on her face.  It was obvious she had told Elaine it was a done deal, even before I’d made up my mind.  Perhaps she’d assumed I might be ‘refreshingly honest’ in front of Elaine, but it could also mean she didn’t really care what I might say or do.

Instead of consternation, she looked happy, and I realized it would be churlish, even silly if I made a scene.  I knew what I wanted to say.  I also knew that it would serve little purpose provoking Elaine, or upsetting Alison.  This was not the time or the place.  Alison had been looking forward to coming here, and I was not going to spoil it.

Instead, I said, smiling, “When I woke up this morning and found Alison missing.  If she had been there, I would not have noticed the water stain on the roof above our bed, and decide there and then how much I hated the place.” I used my reassuring smile, the one I used with the customers when all hell was breaking loose, and the forest fire was out of control.  “It’s the little things.  They all add up until one day …”  I shrugged.  “I guess that one day was today.”

I saw an incredulous look pass between Elaine and Alison, a non-verbal question; perhaps, is he for real?  Or; I told you he’d come around.

I had no idea the two were so close.

“How quaint,” Elaine said, which just about summed up her feelings towards me.  I think, at that moment, I lost some brownie points.  It was all I could come up with at short notice.

“Yes,” I added, with a little more emphasis than I wanted.  “Alison was off to get some study in with one of her friends.”

“Weren’t the two of you off to the Hamptons, a weekend with some friends?” Jimmy piped up, and immediately got the ‘shut up you fool’ look, that cut that line of conversation dead.  Someone forgot to feed Jimmy his lines.

It was followed by the condescending smile from Elaine, and “I need to powder my nose.  Care to join me, Al?”

A frown, then a forced smile for her new best friend.  “Yes.”

I watched them leave the table and head in the direction of the restroom, looking like they were in earnest conversation.  I thought ‘Al’ looked annoyed, but I could be wrong.

I had to say Jimmy looked more surprised than I did.

There was that odd moment of silence between us, Jimmy still smarting from his death stare, and for me, the Alison and Elaine show.  I was quite literally gob-smacked.

I drained my champagne glass gathering some courage and turned to him.  “By the way, we were going to have a weekend away, but this legal tutorial thing came up.  You know Alison is doing her law degree.”

He looked startled when he realized I had spoken.  He was looking intently at a woman several tables over from us, one who’d obviously forgotten some basic garments when getting dressed.  Or perhaps it was deliberate.  She’d definitely had some enhancements done.

He dragged his eyes back to me.  “Yes.  Elaine said something or other about it.  But I thought she said the tutor was out of town and it had been postponed until next week.  Perhaps I got it wrong.  I usually do.”

“Perhaps I’ve got it wrong.”  I shrugged, as the dark thoughts started swirling in my head again.  “This week or next, what does it matter?”

Of course, it mattered to me, and I digested what he said with a sinking heart.  It showed there was another problem between Alison and me; it was possible she was now telling me lies.  If what he said was true and I had no reason to doubt him, where was she going tomorrow morning, and had she really been with a friend studying today?

We poured some more champagne, had a drink, then he asked, “This promotion thing, what’s it worth?”

“Trouble, I suspect.  Definitely more money, but less time at home.”

“Oh,” raised eyebrows.  Obviously, the women had not talked about the job in front of him, or, at least, not all the details.  “You sure you want to do that?”

At last the voice of reason.  “Me?  No.”

“Yet you accepted the job.”

I sucked in a breath or two while I considered whether I could trust him.  Even if I couldn’t, I could see my ship was sinking, so it wouldn’t matter what I told him, or what Elaine might find out from him.  “Jimmy, between you and me I haven’t as yet decided one way or another.  To be honest, I won’t know until I go up to Barclay’s office and he asks me the question.”

“Barclay?”

“My boss.”

“Elaine’s doing a job for a Barclay that recently moved in the tower a block down from us.  I thought I recognized the name.”

“How did Elaine get the job?”

“Oh, Alison put him onto her.”

“When?”

“A couple of months ago.  Why?”

I shrugged and tried to keep a straight face, while my insides were churning up like the wake of a supertanker.  I felt sick, faint, and wanting to die all at the same moment.  “Perhaps she said something about it, but it didn’t connect at the time.  Too busy with work I expect.  I think I seriously need to get away for a while.”

I could hardly breathe, my throat was constricted and I knew I had to keep it together.  I could see Elaine and Alison coming back, so I had to calm down.  I sucked in some deep breaths, and put my ‘manage a complete and utter disaster’ look on my face.

And I had to change the subject, quickly, so I said, “Jimmy, Elaine told Alison, who told me, you were something of a guru of the cause and effects of the global economic meltdown.  Now, I have a couple of friends who have been expounding this theory …”

Like flicking a switch, I launched into the well-worn practice of ‘running a distraction’, like at work when we needed to keep the customer from discovering the truth.  It was one of the things I was good at, taking over a conversation and pushing it in a different direction.  It was salvaging a good result from an utter disaster, and if ever there was a time that it was required, it was right here, right now.

When Alison sat down and looked at me, she knew something had happened between Jimmy and I.  I might have looked pale or red-faced, or angry or disappointed, it didn’t matter.  If that didn’t seal the deal for her, the fact I took over the dining engagement did.  She knew well enough the only time I did that was when everything was about to go to hell in a handbasket.  She’d seen me in action before and had been suitably astonished.

But I got into gear, kept the champagne flowing and steered the conversation, as much as one could from a seasoned professional like Elaine, and, I think, in Jimmy’s eyes, he saw the battle lines and knew who took the crown on points.  Neither Elaine nor Jimmy suspected anything, and if the truth be told, I had improved my stocks with Elaine.  She was at times both surprised and interested, even willing to take a back seat.

Alison, on the other hand, tried poking around the edges, and, once when Elaine and Jimmy had got up to have a cigarette outside, questioned me directly.  I chose to ignore her, and pretend nothing had happened, instead of telling her how much I was enjoying the evening.

She had her ‘secrets’.  I had mine.

At the end of the evening, when I got up to go to the bathroom, I was physically sick from the pent up tension and the implications of what Jimmy had told me.  It took a while for me to pull myself together; so long, in fact, Jimmy came looking for me.  I told him I’d drunk too much champagne, and he seemed satisfied with that excuse.  When I returned, both Alison and Elaine noticed how pale I was but neither made any comment.

It was a sad way to end what was supposed to be a delightful evening, which to a large degree it was for the other three.  But I had achieved what I set out to do, and that was to play them at their own game, watching the deception, once I knew there was a deception, as warily as a cat watches its prey.

I had also discovered Jimmy’s real calling; a professor of economics at the same University Alison was doing her law degree.  It was no surprise in the end, on a night where surprises abounded, that the world could really be that small.

We parted in the early hours of the morning, a taxi whisking us back to the Lower East Side, another taking the Blaine’s back to the Upper West Side.  But, in our case, as Alison reminded me, it would not be for much longer.  She showed concern for my health, asked me what was wrong.  It took all the courage I could muster to tell her it was most likely something I ate and the champagne, and that I would be fine in the morning.

She could see quite plainly it was anything other than what I told her, but she didn’t pursue it.  Perhaps she just didn’t care what I was playing at.

And yet, after everything that had happened, once inside our ‘palace’, the events of the evening were discarded, like her clothing, and she again reminded me of what we had together in the early years before the problems had set in.

It left me confused and lost.

I couldn’t sleep because my mind had now gone down that irreversible path that told me I was losing her, that she had found someone else, and that our marriage was in its last death throes.

And now I knew it had something to do with Barclay.

 

© Charles Heath 2015-2020

Sunday In New York