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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.

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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

Memories of the conversations with my cat – 34

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…

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This is Chester.  We are having a robust discussion about ethnicity.

I think it may have been a good idea not to bring up the subject of our forthcoming trip to China.

I’m not sure if it is because we’re going away, or because we’re going to China that has set him off.

Chester is Tonkinese.  As far as I’m aware, a Tonkinese is a cross between a Siamese and a Burmese.  They do not come from China.

That doesn’t deter him and he maintains that if I take him with me, he might be able to meet up with some distant relatives.

Maybe, if we were going via Thailand where it’s possible, but I suspect the Siamese relatives wouldn’t want anything to do with him.

Besides, I add, there are quarantine regulations to deal with, and whilst leaving the country might not present a problem, getting into another might.

You might have to stay in a cage for about a year to make sure you’re clear of any diseases or health problems.

Which sounds like a good idea now that you mention it.  You can torment a whole new group of people, and I can truly have a holiday.

You don’t mean that.

I don’t answer.

He sighs.  Maybe I might stay home then. It’ll be a holiday for me too.

Skeletons in the closet, and doppelgangers

A story called “Mistaken Identity”

How many of us have skeletons in the closet that we know nothing about? The skeletons we know about generally stay there, but those we do not, well, they have a habit of coming out of left field when we least expect it.

In this case, when you see your photo on a TV screen with the accompanying text that says you are wanted by every law enforcement agency in Europe, you’re in a state of shock, only to be compounded by those same police, armed and menacing, kicking the door down.

I’d been thinking about this premise for a while after I discovered my mother had a boyfriend before she married my father, a boyfriend who was, by all accounts, the man who was the love of her life.

Then, in terms of coming up with an idea for a story, what if she had a child by him that we didn’t know about, which might mean I had a half brother or sister I knew nothing about. It’s not an uncommon occurrence from what I’ve been researching.

There are many ways of putting a spin on this story.

Then, in the back of my mind, I remembered a story an acquaintance at work was once telling us over morning tea, that a friend of a friend had a mother who had a twin sister and that each of the sisters had a son by the same father, without each knowing of the father’s actions, both growing up without the other having any knowledge of their half brother, only to meet by accident on the other side of the world.

It was an encounter that in the scheme of things might never have happened, and each would have remained oblivious of the other.

For one sister, the relationship was over before she discovered she was pregnant, and therefore had not told the man he was a father. It was no surprise the relationship foundered when she discovered he was also having a relationship with her sister, a discovery that caused her to cut all ties with both of them and never speak to either from that day.

It’s a story with more twists and turns than a country lane!

And a great idea for a story.

That story is called ‘Mistaken Identity’.

Read an extract tomorrow.

Searching for locations: San Gimignano, Italy

We have visited this town on a hill, famous for its fourteen towers, twice.  The first time we stayed in a hotel overlooking the main piazza, and the second time, for a day visit, and return to a little restaurant tucked away off the main piazza for its home cooking.

No cars are allowed inside the town and parking is provided outside the town walls.  You can drive up to the hotel to deliver your baggage, but the car must return to the carpark overnight.

This is one of the fourteen towers

I didn’t attempt to climb to the tower, which you can do in some of them, just getting up the church steps was enough for me.  Inside the building was, if I remember correctly, a museum.

Looking up the piazza towards some battlements, and when you reach the top and turn left, there is a small restaurant on the right-hand side of the laneway that had the best wild boar pasta.

Another of the fourteen towers, and through the arch, down a lane to the gated fence that surrounds the town.  The fortifications are quite formidable and there are several places along the fence where you can stand and look down the hill at the oncoming enemy (if there was one).

Part of the main piazza which is quite large, and on the right, the wishing well where my wish for a cooler day was not granted.

Officially, the Piazza della Cisterna is the most beautiful square of the town, San Gimignano.  The well was built in 1273 and enlarged in 1346 by Podestà Guccio dei Malavolti.

And not to be outdone by any other the other old towns, there is an old church, one of several.  It is the Collegiate Church or the Duomo di San Gimignano, a monument of Romanesque architecture built around 1000 and enlarged over time.

Next door is the Museum of Sacred Art.

And I guess it’s rather odd to see television aerials on top of houses that are quite literally about a thousand years old.  I wonder what they did back then for entertainment?

An excerpt from “Strangers We’ve Become” – Coming Soon

I wandered back to my villa.

It was in darkness.  I was sure I had left several lights on, especially over the door so I could see to unlock it.

I looked up and saw the globe was broken.

Instant alert.

I went to the first hiding spot for the gun, and it wasn’t there.  I went to the backup and it wasn’t there either.  Someone had found my carefully hidden stash of weapons and removed them.

Who?

There were four hiding spots and all were empty.  Someone had removed the weapons.  That could only mean one possibility.

I had a visitor, not necessarily here for a social call.

But, of course, being the well-trained agent I’d once been and not one to be caught unawares, I crossed over to my neighbor and relieved him of a weapon that, if found, would require a lot of explaining.

Suitably armed, it was time to return the surprise.

There were three entrances to the villa, the front door, the back door, and a rather strange escape hatch.  One of the more interesting attractions of the villa I’d rented was its heritage.  It was built in the late 1700s, by a man who was, by all accounts, a thief.  It had a hidden underground room which had been in the past a vault but was now a wine cellar, and it had an escape hatch by which the man could come and go undetected, particularly if there was a mob outside the door baying for his blood.

It now gave me the means to enter the villa without my visitors being alerted, unless, of course, they were near the vicinity of the doorway inside the villa, but that possibility was unlikely.  It was not where anyone could anticipate or expect a doorway to be.

The secret entrance was at the rear of the villa behind a large copse, two camouflaged wooden doors built into the ground.  I move aside some of the branches that covered them and lifted one side.  After I’d discovered the doors and rusty hinges, I’d oiled and cleaned them, and cleared the passageway of cobwebs and fallen rocks.  It had a mildew smell, but nothing would get rid of that.  I’d left torches at either end so I could see.

I closed the door after me, and went quietly down the steps, enveloped in darkness till I switched on the torch.  I traversed the short passage which turned ninety degrees about halfway to the door at the other end.  I carried the key to this door on the keyring, found it and opened the door.  It too had been oiled and swung open soundlessly.

I stepped in the darkness and closed the door.

I was on the lower level under the kitchen, now the wine cellar, the ‘door’ doubling as a set of shelves which had very little on them, less to fall and alert anyone in the villa.

Silence, an eerie silence.

I took the steps up to the kitchen, stopping when my head was level with the floor, checking to see if anyone was waiting.  There wasn’t.  It seemed to me to be an unlikely spot for an ambush.

I’d already considered the possibility of someone coming after me, especially because it had been Bespalov I’d killed, and I was sure he had friends, all equally as mad as he was.  Equally, I’d also considered it nigh on impossible for anyone to find out it was me who killed him because the only people who knew that were Prendergast, Alisha, a few others in the Department, and Susan.

That raised the question of who told them where I was.

If I was the man I used to be, my first suspect would be Susan.  The departure this morning, and now this was too coincidental.  But I was not that man.

Or was I?

I reached the start of the passageway that led from the kitchen to the front door and peered into the semi-darkness.  My eyes had got used to the dark, and it was no longer an inky void.  Fragments of light leaked in around the door from outside and through the edge of the window curtains where they didn’t fit properly.  A bone of contention upstairs in the morning, when first light shone and invariably woke me up hours before I wanted to.

Still nothing.

I took a moment to consider how I would approach the visitor’s job.  I would get a plan of the villa in my head, all entrances, where a target could be led to or attacked where there would be no escape.

Coming in the front door.  If I was not expecting anything, I’d just open the door and walk-in.  One shot would be all that was required.

Contract complete.

I sidled quietly up the passage staying close to the wall, edging closer to the front door.  There was an alcove where the shooter could be waiting.  It was an ideal spot to wait.

Crunch.

I stepped on some nutshells.

Not my nutshells.

I felt it before I heard it.  The bullet with my name on it.

And how the shooter missed, from point-blank range, and hit me in the arm, I had no idea.  I fired off two shots before a second shot from the shooter went wide and hit the door with a loud thwack.

I saw a red dot wavering as it honed in on me and I fell to the floor, stretching out, looking up where the origin of the light was coming and pulled the trigger three times, evenly spaced, and a second later I heard the sound of a body falling down the stairs and stopping at the bottom, not very far from me.

Two assassins.

I’d not expected that.

The assassin by the door was dead, a lucky shot on my part.  The second was still breathing.

I checked the body for any weapons and found a second gun and two knives.  Armed to the teeth!

I pulled off the balaclava; a man, early thirties, definitely Italian.  I was expecting a Russian.

I slapped his face, waking him up.  Blood was leaking from several slashes on his face when his head had hit the stairs on the way down.  The awkward angle of his arms and legs told me there were broken bones, probably a lot worse internally.  He was not long for this earth.

“Who employed you?”

He looked at me with dead eyes, a pursed mouth, perhaps a smile.  “Not today my friend.  You have made a very bad enemy.”  He coughed and blood poured out of his mouth.  “There will be more …”

Friends of Bespalov, no doubt.

I would have to leave.  Two unexplainable bodies, I’d have a hard time explaining my way out of this mess.  I dragged the two bodies into the lounge, clearing the passageway just in case someone had heard anything.

Just in case anyone was outside at the time, I sat in the dark, at the foot of the stairs, and tried to breathe normally.  I was trying not to connect dots that led back to Susan, but the coincidence was worrying me.

A half-hour passed and I hadn’t moved.  Deep in thought, I’d forgotten about being shot, unaware that blood was running down my arm and dripping onto the floor.

Until I heard a knock on my front door.

Two thoughts, it was either the police, alerted by the neighbors, or it was the second wave, though why would they be knocking on the door?

I stood, and immediately felt a stabbing pain in my arm.  I took out a handkerchief and turned it into a makeshift tourniquet, then wrapped a kitchen towel around the wound.

If it was the police, this was going to be a difficult situation.  Holding the gun behind my back, I opened the door a fraction and looked out.

No police, just Maria.  I hoped she was not part of the next ‘wave’.

“You left your phone behind on the table.  I thought you might be looking for it.”  She held it out in front of her.

When I didn’t open the door any further, she looked at me quizzically, and then asked, “Is anything wrong?”

I was going to thank her for returning the phone, but I heard her breathe in sharply, and add, breathlessly, “You’re bleeding.”

I looked at my arm and realized it was visible through the door, and not only that, the towel was soaked in blood.

“You need to go away now.”

Should I tell her the truth?  It was probably too late, and if she was any sort of law-abiding citizen she would go straight to the police.

She showed no signs of leaving, just an unnerving curiosity.  “What happened?”

I ran through several explanations, but none seemed plausible.  I went with the truth.  “My past caught up with me.”

“You need someone to fix that before you pass out from blood loss.  It doesn’t look good.”

“I can fix it.  You need to leave.  It is not safe to be here with me.”

The pain in my arm was not getting any better, and the blood was starting to run down my arm again as the tourniquet loosened.  She was right, I needed it fixed sooner rather than later.

I opened the door and let her in.  It was a mistake, a huge mistake, and I would have to deal with the consequences.  Once inside, she turned on the light and saw the pool of blood just inside the door and the trail leading to the lounge.  She followed the trail and turned into the lounge, turned on the light, and no doubt saw the two dead men.

I expected her to scream.  She didn’t.

She gave me a good hard look, perhaps trying to see if I was dangerous.  Killing people wasn’t something you looked the other way about.  She would have to go to the police.

“What happened here?”

“I came home from the cafe and two men were waiting for me.  I used to work for the Government, but no longer.  I suspect these men were here to repay a debt.  I was lucky.”

“Not so much, looking at your arm.”

She came closer and inspected it.

“Sit down.”

She found another towel and wrapped it around the wound, retightening the tourniquet to stem the bleeding.

“Do you have medical supplies?”

I nodded.  “Upstairs.”  I had a medical kit, and on the road, I usually made my own running repairs.  Another old habit I hadn’t quite shaken off yet.

She went upstairs, rummaged, and then came back.  I wondered briefly what she would think of the unmade bed though I was not sure why it might interest her.

She helped me remove my shirt, and then cleaned the wound.  Fortunately, she didn’t have to remove a bullet.  It was a clean wound but it would require stitches.

When she’d finished she said, “Your friend said one day this might happen.”

No prizes for guessing who that friend was, and it didn’t please me that she had involved Maria.

“Alisha?”

“She didn’t tell me her name, but I think she cares a lot about you.  She said trouble has a way of finding you, gave me a phone and said to call her if something like this happened.”

“That was wrong of her to do that.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not.  Will you call her?”

“Yes.  I can’t stay here now.  You should go now.  Hopefully, by the time I leave in the morning, no one will ever know what happened here, especially you.”

She smiled.  “As you say, I was never here.”

© Charles Heath 2018-2022

strangerscover9

The cinema of my dreams – It’s a treasure hunt – Episode 10

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 instalment of an old feature, and back on the treasure hunt.

I’d kept out of Nadia’s way since then, and the few occasions our paths had crossed, she had studiously ignored me. After graduating she disappeared, and seeing here with Alex, just now, was the first time in years.She had grown into the sort of woman you’d see in the social pages of the newspapers and magazines, sometimes for all the wrong reasons, and I wondered if that was how Alex had leveraged her co-operation.

But, there were bigger problems to overcome before I had a chance or find out her back-story.

Alex was going after Rico for the map, a map he didn’t have, a map that Rico was going to need and Boggs was going to suffer the consequences.

Or not, if I could do something about it.

I had a stroke of luck when I got back to the warehouse office where McDonald was waiting, not necessarily for me, but most likely Alex.“Ah, Sam,” he said when he saw me walk through the door, “Come into the office. We need to have a chat.”

That sounded ominous. I wondered if it had anything to do with my absence for what seemed a long time when I’d been watching Alex and Nadia.

“We have a new opening on the afternoon shift, and I thought you might consider it because it pays a little more, with a shift allowance. The hours are 4pm to Midnight. What do you think?”

On the way back to the warehouse I’d been thinking about how I was going to help Boggs and keep the job because the hours I was working made it impossible to do anything during the day, other than spy on Alex.

Taking this afternoon job, I could work, and, in the mornings, help Boggs in his quest.

“When would this start?”

“Tomorrow. You would not have to come in till 4pm.

“Sounds good then, I’ll take it.”

He seemed more relieved that I had accepted. It made me think for a moment whether this was Alex’s idea, and he had an ulterior notice. If he did I guess I would soon find out.

An hour later I was on my way home.I had a lot of items to talk about when I saw Boggs and a possible mission.

© Charles Heath 2019-2021

An excerpt from “The Devil You Don’t”

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

 

By the time I returned to the Savoie, the rain had finally stopped, and there was a streak of blue sky to offer some hope the day would improve.

The ship was not crowded, the possibility of bad weather perhaps holding back potential passengers.  Of those I saw, a number of them would be aboard for the lunch by Phillippe Chevrier.  I thought about it, but the Concierge had told me about several restaurants in Yvoire and had given me a hand-drawn map of the village.  I think he came from the area because he spoke with the pride and knowledge of a resident.

I was looking down from the upper deck observing the last of the boarding passengers when I saw a woman, notable for her red coat and matching shoes, making a last-minute dash to get on board just before the gangway was removed.  In fact, her ungainly manner of boarding had also captured a few of the other passenger’s attention.  Now they would have something else to talk about, other than the possibility of further rain.

I saw her smile at the deckhand, but he did not smile back.  He was not impressed with her bravado, perhaps because of possible injury.  He looked at her ticket then nodded dismissively, and went back to his duties in getting the ship underway.  I was going to check the departure time, but I, like the other passengers, had my attention diverted to the woman in red.

From what I could see there was something about her.  It struck me when the light caught her as she turned to look down the deck, giving me a perfect profile.  I was going to say she looked foreign, but here, as in almost anywhere in Europe, that described just about everyone.  Perhaps I was just comparing her to Phillipa, so definitively British, whereas this woman was very definitely not.

She was perhaps in her 30’s, slim or perhaps the word I’d use was lissom, and had the look and manner of a model.  I say that because Phillipa had dragged me to most of the showings, whether in Milan, Rome, New York, London, or Paris.  The clothes were familiar, and in the back of my mind, I had a feeling I’d seen her before.

Or perhaps, to me, all models looked the same.

She looked up in my direction, and before I could divert my eyes, she locked on.  I could feel her gaze boring into me, and then it was gone as if she had been looking straight through me.  I remained out on deck as the ship got underway, watching her disappear inside the cabin.  My curiosity was piqued, so I decided to keep an eye out for her.

I could feel the coolness of the air as the ship picked up speed, not that it was going to be very fast.  With stops, the trip would take nearly two hours to get to my destination.  It would turn back almost immediately, but I was going to stay until the evening when it returned at about half eight.  It would give me enough time to sample the local fare, and take a tour of the medieval village.

Few other passengers ventured out on the deck, most staying inside or going to lunch.  After a short time, I came back down to the main deck and headed forward.  I wanted to clear my head by concentrating on the movement of the vessel through the water, breathing in the crisp, clean air, and let the peacefulness of the surroundings envelope me.

It didn’t work.

I knew it wouldn’t be long before I started thinking about why things hadn’t worked, and what part I played in it.  And the usual question that came to mind when something didn’t work out.  What was wrong with me?

I usually blamed it on my upbringing.

I had one of those so-called privileged lives, a nanny till I was old enough to go to boarding school, then sent to the best schools in the land.  There I learned everything I needed to be the son of a Duke, or, as my father called it in one of his lighter moments, nobility in waiting.

Had this been five or six hundred years ago, I would need to have sword and jousting skills, or if it had been a few hundred years later a keen military mind.  If nothing else I could ride a horse, and go on hunts, or did until they became not the thing to do.

I learned six languages, and everything I needed to become a diplomat in the far-flung British Empire, except the Empire had become the Commonwealth, and then, when no-one was looking, Britain’s influence in the world finally disappeared.  I was a man without a cause, without a vocation, and no place to go.

Computers were the new vogue and I had an aptitude for programming.  I guess that went hand in hand with mathematics, which although I hated the subject, I excelled in.  Both I and another noble outcast used to toss ideas around in school, but when it came to the end of our education, he chose to enter the public service, and I took a few of those ideas we had mulled over and turned them into a company.

About a year ago, I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse.  There were so many zeroes on the end of it I just said yes, put the money into a very grateful bank, and was still trying to come to terms with it.

Sadly, I still had no idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life.  My parents had asked me to come back home and help manage the estate, and I did for a few weeks.  It was as long as it took for my parents to drive me insane.

Back in the city, I spent a few months looking for a mundane job, but there were very few that suited the qualifications I had, and the rest, I think I intimidated the interviewer simply because of who I was.  In that time I’d also featured on the cover of the Economist, and through my well-meaning accountant, started involving myself with various charities, earning the title ‘philanthropist’.

And despite all of this exposure, even making one of those ubiquitous ‘eligible bachelor’ lists, I still could not find ‘the one’, the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.  Phillipa seemed to fit the bill, but in time she proved to be a troubled soul with ‘Daddy’ issues.  I knew that in building a relationship compromise was necessary, but with her, in the end, everything was a compromise and what had happened was always going to be the end result.

It was perhaps a by-product of the whole nobility thing.  There was a certain expectation I had to fulfill, to my peers, contemporaries, parents and family, and those who either liked or hated what it represented.  The problem was, I didn’t feel like I belonged.  Not like my friend from schooldays, and now obscure acquaintance, Sebastian.  He had been elevated to his Dukedom early when his father died when he was in his twenties.  He had managed to fade from the limelight and was rarely mentioned either in the papers or the gossip columns.  He was one of the lucky ones.

I had managed to keep a similarly low profile until I met Phillipa.  From that moment, my obscurity disappeared.  It was, I could see now, part of a plan put in place by Phillipa’s father, a man who hogged the limelight with his daughter, to raise the profile of the family name and through it their businesses.  He was nothing if not the consummate self-advertisement.

Perhaps I was supposed to be the last piece of the puzzle, the attachment to the establishment, that link with a class of people he would not normally get in the front door.  There was nothing refined about him or his family, and more than once I’d noticed my contemporaries cringe at the mention of his name, or any reference of my association with him.

Yet could I truthfully say I really wanted to go back to the obscurity I had before Phillipa?  For all her faults, there were times when she had been fun to be with, particularly when I first met her when she had a certain air of unpredictability.  That had slowly disappeared as she became part of her father’s plan for the future.  She just failed to see how much he was using her.

Or perhaps, over time, I had become cynical.

I thought about calling her.  It was one of those moments of weakness when I felt alone, more alone than usual.

I diverted my attention back to my surroundings and the shoreline.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the woman in the red coat, making a move.  The red coat was like a beacon, a sort of fire engine red.  It was not the sort of coat most of the women I knew would wear, but on her, it looked terrific.  In fact, her sublime beauty was the one other attribute that was distinctly noticeable, along with the fact her hair was short, rather than long, and jet black.

I had to wrench my attention away from her.

A few minutes later several other passengers came out of the cabin for a walk around the deck, perhaps to get some exercise, perhaps checking up on me, or perhaps I was being paranoid.  I waited till they passed on their way forward, and I turned and headed aft.

I watched the wake sluicing out from under the stern for a few minutes, before retracing my steps to the front of the ship and there I stood against the railing, watching the bow carve its way through the water.  It was almost mesmerizing.  There, I emptied my mind of thoughts about Phillipa, and thoughts about the woman in the red coat.

Until a female voice behind me said, “Having a bad day?”

I started, caught by surprise, and slowly turned.  The woman in the red coat had somehow got very close me without my realizing it.  How did she do that?  I was so surprised I couldn’t answer immediately.

“I do hope you are not contemplating jumping.  I hear the water is very cold.”

Closer up, I could see what I’d missed when I saw her on the main deck.  There was a slight hint of Chinese, or Oriental, in her particularly around the eyes, and of her hair which was jet black.  An ancestor twice or more removed had left their mark, not in a dominant way, but more subtle, and easily missed except from a very short distance away, like now.

Other than that, she was quite possibly Eastern European, perhaps Russian, though that covered a lot of territory.  The incongruity of it was that she spoke with an American accent, and fluent enough for me to believe English was her first language.

Usually, I could ‘read’ people, but she was a clean slate.  Her expression was one of amusement, but with cold eyes.  My first thought, then, was to be careful.

“No.  Not yet.”  I coughed to clear my throat because I could hardly speak.  And blushed, because that was what I did when confronted by a woman, beautiful or otherwise.

The amusement gave way to a hint of a smile that brightened her demeanor as a little warmth reached her eyes.  “So that’s a maybe.  Should I change into my lifesaving gear, just in case?”

It conjured up a rather interesting image in my mind until I reluctantly dismissed it.

“Perhaps I should move away from the edge,” I said, moving sideways until I was back on the main deck, a few feet further away.  Her eyes had followed me, and when I stopped she turned to face me again.  She did not move closer.

I realized then she had removed her beret and it was in her left side coat pocket.  “Thanks for your concern …?”

“Zoe.”

“Thanks for your concern, Zoe.  By the way, my name is John.”

She smiled again, perhaps in an attempt to put me at ease.  “I saw you earlier, you looked so sad, I thought …”

“I might throw myself overboard?”

“An idiotic notion I admit, but it is better to be safe than sorry.”

Then she tilted her head to one side then the other, looking intently at me.  “You seem to be familiar.  Do I know you?”

I tried to think of where I may have seen her before, but all I could remember was what I’d thought earlier when I first saw her; she was a model and had been at one of the showings.  If she was, it would be more likely she would remember Phillipa, not me.  Phillipa always had to sit in the front row.

“Probably not.”  I also didn’t mention the fact she may have seen my picture in the society pages of several tabloid newspapers because she didn’t look the sort of woman who needed a daily dose of the comings and goings, and, more often than not, scandal associated with so-called celebrities.

She gave me a look, one that told me she had just realized who I was.  “Yes, I remember now.  You made the front cover of the Economist.  You sold your company for a small fortune.”

Of course.  She was not the first who had recognized me from that cover.  It had raised my profile considerably, but not the Sternhaven’s.  That article had not mentioned Phillipa or her family.  I suspect Grandmother had something to do with that, and it was, now I thought about it, another nail in the coffin that was my relationship with Phillipa.

“I wouldn’t say it was a fortune, small or otherwise, just fortunate.”  Each time, I found myself playing down the wealth aspect of the business deal.

“Perhaps then, as the journalist wrote, you were lucky.  It is not, I think, a good time for internet-based companies.”

The latter statement was an interesting fact, one she read in the Financial Times which had made that exact comment recently.

“But I am boring you.”  She smiled again.  “I should be minding my own business and leaving you to your thoughts.  I am sorry.”

She turned to leave and took a few steps towards the main cabin.

“You’re not boring me,” I said, thinking I was letting my paranoia get the better of me.  It had been Sebastian on learning of my good fortune, who had warned me against ‘a certain element here and abroad’ whose sole aim would be to separate me from my money.  He was not very subtle when he described their methods.

But I knew he was right.  I should have let her walk away.

She stopped and turned around.  “You seem nothing like the man I read about in the Economist.”

A sudden and awful thought popped into my head.  Those words were part of a very familiar opening gambit.  “Are you a reporter?”

I was not sure if she looked surprised, or amused.  “Do I look like one?”

I silently cursed myself for speaking before thinking, and then immediately ignored my own admonishment.  “People rarely look like what they are.”

I saw the subtle shake of the head and expected her to take her leave.  Instead she astonished me.

“I fear we have got off on the wrong foot.  To be honest, I’m not usually this forward, but you seemed like you needed cheering up when probably the opposite is true.  Aside from the fact this excursion was probably a bad idea.  And,” she added with a little shrug, “perhaps I talk too much.”

I was not sure what I thought of her after that extraordinary admission. It was not something I would do, but it was an interesting way to approach someone and have them ignoring their natural instinct.  I would let Sebastian whisper in my ear for a little longer and see where this was going.

“Oddly enough, I was thinking the same thing.  I was supposed to be traveling with my prospective bride.  I think you can imagine how that turned out.”

“She’s not here?”

“No.”

“She’s in the cabin?”  Her eyes strayed in that direction for a moment then came back to me.  She seemed surprised I might be traveling with someone.

“No.  She is back in England, and the wedding is off.  So is the relationship.  She dumped me by text.”

OK, why was I sharing this humiliating piece of information with her?  I still couldn’t be sure she was not a reporter.

She motioned to an empty seat, back from the edge.  No walking the plank today.  She moved towards it and sat down.  She showed no signs of being cold, nor interested in the breeze upsetting her hair.  Phillipa would be having a tantrum about now, being kept outside, and freaking out over what the breeze might be doing to her appearance.

I wondered, if only for a few seconds if she used this approach with anyone else.  I guess I was a little different, a seemingly rich businessman alone on a ferry on Lake Geneva, contemplating the way his life had gone so completely off track.

She watched as I sat at the other end of the bench, leaving about a yard between us.  After I leaned back and made myself as comfortable as I could, she said, “I have also experienced something similar, though not by text message.  It is difficult, the first few days.”

“I saw it coming.”

“I did not.”  She frowned, a sort of lifeless expression taking over, perhaps brought on by the memory of what had happened to her.  “But it is done, and I moved on.  Was she the love of your life?”

OK, that was unexpected.

When I didn’t answer, she said, “I am sorry.  Sometimes I ask personal questions without realizing what I’m doing.  It is none of my business.”  She shivered.  “Perhaps we should go back inside.”

She stood, and held out her hand.  Should I take it and be drawn into her web?  I thought of Sebastian.  What would he do in this situation?

I took her hand in mine and let her pull me gently to my feet.  “Wise choice,” she said, looking up at the sky.

It just started to rain.

 

© Charles Heath 2015-2020

newdevilcvr6

In a word: Hear

Which reminds me, I am told I have selective hearing, that I only hear what I want to hear

But what if you overhear someone?  Would it be by accident or on purpose?  Of course, some people talk so loudly you can’t help but hear them

In reality, to hear is to perceive with the ear something or someone

If you pay attention in class, you might hear what is being said

The judge, far from being dismissive, said he would hear the case

And I’m sure we sometimes wonder if God can hear our prayers

Did you hear the news?  If it’s anything other than COVID I probably did.

Hear hear, now what does that really mean when someone cries it out after someone else makes a statement?

This is not to be confused with the word here

Like when someone asks where you are, you say I’m here, but forget to add that you are invisible

This is going to end here and now!

Here is a book I think you should read

Here, let me take that bag of groceries

How many times did you consider not saying ‘here’ when the teacher called your name at roll-call?  I know I did, a few times

In a word: Keep

Yes, this is an easy one.

I want to keep the car.  Especially if it’s a Lamborghini and it didn’t cost $500,000.

This form of the word simply means to hang on to something, or up the proper definition, to have or retain possession of

Paring it with other words is where it gets complicated.

For instance,

Keepings off, make sure that the ball doesn’t get into someone else’s possession.

Keep it to yourself, yes, here’s your chance to become the harbinger of secrets and not tell anyone else.  Not unless a lot of money is involved, or a Lamborghini.

You guessed it, the car is the running joke on this post.

How about, keep a low profile, been there tried that, it’s a lot harder than you think.

What about keeping your cards close to your chest, yes, this had both a literal and figurative meaning which makes it sort of unique.

That might follow the second definition, to continue, or cause to continue a particular state.

Another way of using keep is by delaying or stopping someone from doing something or getting somewhere; ie, I was kept waiting at the doctor’s surgery because he was late.

There are any number of examples of using the word keep in tandem with other words

One that specifically doesn’t relate to all the former examples, is simply the word keep.

What is it?

Usually the strongest part of the castle, and the last to fall in an attack.

At least, that was the theory.

Searching for locations: The Longjing Pearl Factory, Beijing, China

The Longjing Pearl Factory is located at:
No.2 Zuoan Gate Inner Street, ChongWen District, Beijing 100061 China.

This Pearl Center specializes in both freshwater and seawater pearls, with a reputation backed by the government of China, with a big selection and of the highest quality.  There were all kinds of jewelry made of pearls in different colors, shapes, and sizes.

They also had, as an interesting sideline, famous Chinese traditional cosmetics such as pearl cream and pearl powder, reputed to make your skin smoother, tenderer, and most importantly, younger.

We were advised of all of this well before we arrived at the factory, and of course, one suspected the glowing review, with emphasis on the fact it was a government operation and therefore trustworthy, suggested we should buy, meant the tour guide would receive a commission on each sale.

This is nothing new, it’s the same the world over, so it’s up to the visitor to buy or not to buy.

As soon as you get in the door you are taken to the group’s guide for the tour (and afterward, available for help on making purchases). who gives you a rundown on the different types and colors of pearls.  This briefly is,

Pearls come in two main categories: freshwater cultured pearls and saltwater cultured pearls. Various types of pearls are the result of the environment in which they live, and different cultivation techniques used by the pearl farmers. 

Freshwater cultured pearls are grown in lakes and rivers, whereas saltwater cultured pearls are grown in bodies of saltwater such as bays.  The most commonly used pearls are Freshwater pearls. 

Freshwater Pearls come in various pastel shades of white, pink, peach, lavender, plum, purple, and tangerine.  
South Sea cultured pearls come in shades of lustrous white, often with silver or rose overtones. 

Black pearls are known as Tahitian pearls and come most often in shades of black and gray. While a Tahitian pearl has a black body color, it will vary in its overtones, which most often will be green or pink.

Then there’s a demonstration, where one of the tour group is selected to pick an oyster out of the tank, and then there’s the guessing game as to how many pearls are in the shell, with the winner getting a pearl.

Guesses ranged from 1 to 23 and the answer was 26.  Nearest wins, and one for the person who picked the oyster out of the tank.  After this demonstration, we move on to the ways we can tell the difference between real and fake pearls.

It seems strange that they would, but we were guaranteed by both the tour guide and the lady delivering the lecture that the pearls we were about to buy were real, so how could we suspect there was anything dodgy about them?  Besides, now we could tell real from fake!

We then move onto the showroom floor where there are casements of pearl products, in the form of necklaces, earrings, and any number of variations and uses.  And, just to let you know, the prices are very, very expensive, even if they say they have a special.

Perhaps the best products, and those that found favor with many of the women on the tour, was the pearl cremes and powders.  These were not expensive, and, as we discovered later, actually worked as described.

The cinema of my dreams – I never wanted to go to Africa – Episode 11

It’s still a battle of wits, but our hero knows he’s in serious trouble.

The problem is, there are familiar faces and a question of who is a friend and who is foe made all the more difficult because the enemy if it is the enemy, doesn’t look or sound or act like the enemy.
Old friends, new tricks.

Genial tone, trying to win my confidence.  I wasn’t going to ask, but wait for an explanation.  Asking would be like leaving the door ajar.

He sat after pulling the chair closer to the table and put his clasped hands on the table.

“This is a secret military operation known only to very few, apart from the team that is in situ.  Commander Breeman has been, against very specific direct orders, trying to find out what we are doing here.”  He stopped.

I think this was the moment I was supposed to ask, what was going on here.

If it was secret, then I didn’t want to know, and he was not going to tell me anyway.

I just looked attentive.

“You have been caught up in a jurisdictional issue.  It’s not hard to assume that you were sent here, with the pilot of that helicopter, to do an off the book search for this camp.  That, in itself, would be impossible, but the flyover coincided with a provedore run.  Just plain bad luck.”

For Joe, the pilot, it was.  Or not, if he had been given specific verbal orders, making it out to be a training run.  And the odds of me being on board at the same time, given my association with Breeman?

One coincidence too many.

And if it was as the man before had said, they knew everything, then Bamfield would know of my connection to her.

“You said you had no idea where you were when you were shot down?”

Time, I guess, to speak.  “No, I didn’t.  The desert looks all the same to me.”

“You will forgive me if I say I find that hard to believe.  I know you are better than that, Alan.  Who sent you out here?”

“I was along for the ride.  Standard operating procedure.  A helo goes up, someone like me has to be on board in case of trouble.  More conventional trouble than rockets.”

“But you specifically?”

“I don’t make the rosters, I just go where they tell me.”

Bamfield frowned.  I think he’d finally noticed I was not addressing him as ‘sir’.  Until I knew what side he was on, I considered myself a prisoner of war.

 

© Charles Heath 2019