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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

Inspiration, maybe – Volume 1

50 photographs, 50 stories, of which there is one of the 50 below.

They all start with –

A picture paints … well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

lookingdownfromcoronetpeak

And the story:

It was once said that a desperate man has everything to lose.

The man I was chasing was desperate, but I, on the other hand, was more desperate to catch him.

He’d left a trail of dead people from one end of the island to the other.

The team had put in a lot of effort to locate him, and now his capture was imminent.  We were following the car he was in, from a discrete distance, and, at the appropriate time, we would catch up, pull him over, and make the arrest.

There was nowhere for him to go.

The road led to a dead-end, and the only way off the mountain was back down the road were now on.  Which was why I was somewhat surprised when we discovered where he was.

Where was he going?

“Damn,” I heard Alan mutter.  He was driving, being careful not to get too close, but not far enough away to lose sight of him.

“What?”

“I think he’s made us.”

“How?”

“Dumb bad luck, I’m guessing.  Or he expected we’d follow him up the mountain.  He’s just sped up.”

“How far away?”

“A half-mile.  We should see him higher up when we turn the next corner.”

It took an eternity to get there, and when we did, Alan was right, only he was further on than we thought.”

“Step on it.  Let’s catch him up before he gets to the top.”

Easy to say, not so easy to do.  The road was treacherous, and in places just gravel, and there were no guard rails to stop a three thousand footfall down the mountainside.

Good thing then I had the foresight to have three agents on the hill for just such a scenario.

Ten minutes later, we were in sight of the car, still moving quickly, but we were going slightly faster.  We’d catch up just short of the summit car park.

Or so we thought.

Coming quickly around another corner we almost slammed into the car we’d been chasing.

“What the hell…” Aland muttered.

I was out of the car, and over to see if he was in it, but I knew that it was only a slender possibility.  The car was empty, and no indication where he went.

Certainly not up the road.  It was relatively straightforward for the next mile, at which we would have reached the summit.  Up the mountainside from here, or down.

I looked up.  Nothing.

Alan yelled out, “He’s not going down, not that I can see, but if he did, there’s hardly a foothold and that’s a long fall.”

Then where did he go?

Then a man looking very much like our quarry came out from behind a rock embedded just a short distance up the hill.

“Sorry,” he said quite calmly.  “Had to go if you know what I mean.”

I’d lost him.

It was as simple as that.

I had been led a merry chase up the hill, and all the time he was getting away in a different direction.

I’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book, letting my desperation blind me to the disguise that anyone else would see through in an instant.

It was a lonely sight, looking down that road, knowing that I had to go all that way down again, only this time, without having to throw caution to the wind.

“Maybe next time,” Alan said.

“We’ll get him.  It’s just a matter of time.”

© Charles Heath 2019-2021

Find this and other stories in “Inspiration, maybe”  available soon.

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Searching for locations: Somewhere in Tuscany, Italy, a hilltop town

It’s a town we visited in Italy when on a private tour.  Of course, I wrote it down on a notepad app on my phone at the time, and, yes, not long after that, an accidental reset lost all the data.

Now, I have no idea with the name of the town is, just that it was a picturesque stopover in the middle of a delightful private tour of Tuscany.

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There are narrow laneways that I suspect no one 300 hundred years ago planned for cars

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Narrower walkways that lead to very dark places

 

Walkways on the side of the hills that look down on the picturesque valleys

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And rather interesting hillsides, some of which provided inspiration for Leonardo da Vinci

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Or maybe it was this landscape, though it is difficult to see what could be found as inspiration in such a bland hillside

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A lot of houses, some of them quite large, nestled in amongst the trees

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Gardens, of sorts, balcony’s, not so big, and hidden doorways

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Even not so secret passageways between houses.

All in all, it was an interesting visit, and it made me wonder what it would be like to live here, all crowded together, rather than living on our relatively isolated quarter-acre blocks.

An excerpt from “The Things We Do For Love”

In the distance he could hear the dinner bell ringing and roused himself.  Feeling the dampness of the pillow, and fearing the ravages of pent up emotion, he considered not going down but thought it best not to upset Mrs. Mac, especially after he said he would be dining.

In the event, he wished he had reneged, especially when he discovered he was not the only guest staying at the hotel.

Whilst he’d been reminiscing, another guest, a young lady, had arrived.  He’d heard her and Mrs. Mac coming up the stairs, and then shown to a room on the same floor, perhaps at the other end of the passage.

Henry caught his first glimpse of her when she appeared at the door to the dining room, waiting for Mrs. Mac to show her to a table.

She was about mid-twenties, slim, long brown hair, and the grace and elegance of a woman associated with countless fashion magazines.  She was, he thought, stunningly beautiful with not a hair out of place, and make-up flawlessly applied.  Her clothes were black, simple, elegant, and expensive, the sort an heiress or wife of a millionaire might condescend to wear to a lesser occasion than dinner.

Then there was her expression; cold, forbidding, almost frightening in its intensity.  And her eyes, piercingly blue and yet laced with pain.  Dracula’s daughter was his immediate description of her.

All in all, he considered, the only thing they had in common was, like him, she seemed totally out of place.

Mrs. Mac came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron.  She was, she informed him earlier, chef, waitress, hotelier, barmaid, and cleaner all rolled into one.  Coming up to the new arrival she said, “Ah, Miss Andrews, I’m glad you decided to have dinner.  Would you like to sit with Mr. Henshaw, or would you like to have a table of your own?”

Henry could feel her icy stare as she sized up his appeal as a dining companion, making the hair on the back on his neck stand up.  He purposely didn’t look back.  In his estimation, his appeal rating was minus six.  Out of a thousand!

“If Mr. Henshaw doesn’t mind….”  She looked at him, leaving the query in mid-air.

He didn’t mind and said so.  Perhaps he’d underestimated his rating.

“Good.”  Mrs. Mac promptly ushered her over.  Henry stood, made sure she was seated properly and sat.

“Thank you.  You are most kind.”  The way she said it suggested snobbish overtones.

“I try to be when I can.”  It was supposed to nullify her sarcastic tone but made him sound a little silly, and when she gave him another of her icy glares, he regretted it.

Mrs. Mac quickly intervened, asking, “Would you care for the soup?”

They did, and, after writing the order on her pad, she gave them each a look, imperceptibly shook her head, and returned to the kitchen.

Before Michelle spoke to him again, she had another quick look at him, trying to fathom who and what he might be.  There was something about him.

His eyes, they mirrored the same sadness she felt, and, yes, there was something else, that it looked like he had been crying?  There was a tinge of redness.

Perhaps, she thought, he was here for the same reason she was.

No.  That wasn’t possible.

Then she said, without thinking, “Do you have any particular reason for coming here?”  Seconds later she realized she’s spoken it out loud, had hadn’t meant to actually ask, it just came out.

It took him by surprise, obviously not the first question he was expecting her to ask of him.

“No, other than it is as far from civilization, and home, as I could get.”

At least we agree on that, she thought.

It was obvious he was running away from something as well.

Given the isolation of the village and lack of geographic hospitality, it was, from her point of view, ideal.  All she had to do was avoid him, and that wouldn’t be difficult.

After getting through this evening first.

“Yes,” she agreed.  “It is that.”

A few seconds passed, and she thought she could feel his eyes on her and wasn’t going to look up.

Until he asked, “What’s your reason?”

Slight abrupt in manner, perhaps as a result of her question, and the manner in which she asked it.

She looked up.  “Rest.  And have some time to myself.”

She hoped he would notice the emphasis she had placed on the word ‘herself’ and take due note.  No doubt, she thought,  she had completely different ideas of what constituted a holiday than he, not that she had actually said she was here for a holiday.

Mrs. Mac arrived at a fortuitous moment to save them from further conversation.

 

Over the entree, she wondered if she had made a mistake coming to the hotel.  Of course, there had been no possible way she could know than anyone else might have booked the same hotel, but realized it was foolish to think she might end up in it by herself.

Was that what she was expecting?

Not a mistake then, but an unfortunate set of circumstances, which could be overcome by being sensible.

Yet, there he was, and it made her curious, not that he was a man, by himself, in the middle of nowhere, hiding like she was, but for very different reasons.

On discreet observance whilst they ate, she gained the impression his air of light-heartedness was forced and he had no sense of humor.

This feeling was engendered by his looks, unruly dark hair, and permanent frown.  And then there was his abysmal taste in clothes on a tall, lanky frame.  They were quality but totally unsuited to the wearer.

Rebellion was written all over him.

The only other thought crossing her mind, and rather incongruously, was he could do with a decent feed.  In that respect, she knew now from the mountain of food in front of her, he had come to the right place.

“Mr. Henshaw?”

He looked up.  “Henshaw is too formal.  Henry sounds much better,” he said, with a slight hint of gruffness.

“Then my name is Michelle.”

Mrs. Mac came in to take their order for the only main course, gather up the entree dishes, then return to the kitchen.

“Staying long?” she asked.

“About three weeks.  Yourself?”

“About the same.”

The conversation dried up.

Neither looked at the other, rather at the walls, out the window, towards the kitchen, anywhere.  It was, she thought, almost unbearably awkward.

 

Mrs. Mac returned with a large tray with dishes on it, setting it down on the table next to theirs.

“Not as good as the usual cook,” she said, serving up the dinner expertly, “but it comes a good second, even if I do say so myself.  Care for some wine?”

Henry looked at Michelle.  “What do you think?”

“I’m used to my dining companions making the decision.”

You would, he thought.  He couldn’t help but notice the cutting edge of her tone.  Then, to Mrs. Mac, he named a particular White Burgundy he liked and she bustled off.

“I hope you like it,” he said, acknowledging her previous comment with a smile that had nothing to do with humor.

“Yes, so do I.”

Both made a start on the main course, a concoction of chicken and vegetables that were delicious, Henry thought, when compared to the bland food he received at home and sometimes aboard my ship.

It was five minutes before Mrs. Mac returned with the bottle and two glasses.  After opening it and pouring the drinks, she left them alone again.

Henry resumed the conversation.  “How did you arrive?  I came by train.”

“By car.”

“Did you drive yourself?”

And he thought, a few seconds later, that was a silly question, otherwise she would not be alone, and certainly not sitting at this table. With him.

“After a fashion.”

He could see that she was formulating a retort in her mind, then changed it, instead, smiling for the first time, and it served to lighten the atmosphere.

And in doing so, it showed him she had another more pleasant side despite the fact she was trying not to look happy.

“My father reckons I’m just another of ‘those’ women drivers,” she added.

“Whatever for?”

“The first and only time he came with me I had an accident.  I ran up the back of another car.  Of course, it didn’t matter to him the other driver was driving like a startled rabbit.”

“It doesn’t help,” he agreed.

“Do you drive?”

“Mostly people up the wall.”  His attempt at humor failed.  “Actually,” he added quickly, “I’ve got a very old Morris that manages to get me where I’m going.”

The apple pie and cream for dessert came and went and the rapport between them improved as the wine disappeared and the coffee came.  Both had found, after getting to know each other better, their first impressions were not necessarily correct.

“Enjoy the food?” Mrs. Mac asked, suddenly reappearing.

“Beautifully cooked and delicious to eat,” Michelle said, and Henry endorsed her remarks.

“Ah, it does my heart good to hear such genuine compliments,” she said, smiling.  She collected the last of the dishes and disappeared yet again.

“What do you do for a living,” Michelle asked in an off-hand manner.

He had a feeling she was not particularly interested and it was just making conversation.

“I’m a purser.”

“A what?”

“A purser.  I work on a ship doing the paperwork, that sort of thing.”

“I see.”

“And you?”

“I was a model.”

“Was?”

“Until I had an accident, a rather bad one.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

So that explained the odd feeling he had about her.

As the evening had worn on, he began to think there might be something wrong, seriously wrong with her because she didn’t look too well.  Even the carefully applied makeup, from close up, didn’t hide the very pale, and tired look, or the sunken, dark ringed eyes.

“I try not to think about it, but it doesn’t necessarily work.  I’ve come here for peace and quiet, away from doctors and parents.”

“Then you will not have to worry about me annoying you.  I’m one of those fall-asleep-reading-a-book types.”

Perhaps it would be like ships passing in the night and then smiled to himself about the analogy.

Dinner now over, they separated.

Henry went back to the lounge to read a few pages of his book before going to bed, and Michelle went up to her room to retire for the night.

But try as he might, he was unable to read, his mind dwelling on the unusual, yet the compellingly mysterious person he would be sharing the hotel with.

Overlaying that original blurred image of her standing in the doorway was another of her haunting expressions that had, he finally conceded, taken his breath away, and a look that had sent more than one tingle down his spine.

She may not have thought much of him, but she had certainly made an impression on him.

 

© Charles Heath 2015-2020

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What are the odds… – A short story

I’m not a betting man.

I’d been to the horse races a few times, but every time I backed a horse to win, it would come last, and if I backed it to place, it would come fourth.

Then, every time I bought a lottery ticket, my numbers never seemed to come out, as if they were heavier than the others.

You get the picture, gambling, and I didn’t get along.

That being said, Vernon, a friend from school days, and then, having made the graduate program for the same company, remained friends into adult life. He was a betting man, he bet me he would be married first, he picked horses that came first, and always walked out of a casino with more than he walked in with.

And he was right, he got married first, had children first, settled into a manager’s role, and was content.

I was not so eager to follow in his footsteps; I often said that I hadn’t found the right girl yet, but the truth was, I wasn’t exactly putting myself out there. A couple of bad experiences had put me off the whole idea.

He had a side bet with another of our friends that I would not get married before I was forty. He had mentioned it to me some time ago, and I’d agreed with him; it was a safe bet.

The thing was, Evie had learned about that bet, and it was, in her mind, a situation tailor-made for her, being Vernon’s very popular wife, and not one to pass up a romantic challenge. Not after Vernon had suddenly decided to make a bet with her, to find me a girlfriend. With a time limit, of course, of six weeks. Just to make it interesting.

Of course, I had no clue this challenge existed, not until much later.

What I did knew was that she had a vast array of both married and single girlfriends and acquaintances, and was known to throw memorable parties on a Friday night. She had issued me with a standing invitation a long time ago, one that kept promising to honor, but I never seemed to get there.

I knew some of her friends were singles, and that she had a reputation of being something of a matchmaker. Vernon told me that those Friday night affairs were where some of his other friends had found romance and that it wouldn’t surprise him if I was not a target.

I agreed with him, but coincidentally, right after he said this, I got a call from Evie who all but ordered me to attend this Friday’s festivities. I was going to decline, but she added it was Chloe’s fifth birthday, and as her Godfather, I was obligated to attend.

It had been an honor when Vernon first asked me, it still is, but it seemed to me it was going to be used for some other reason, so I was going to have to be on my guard.

Over the years I had met most of Evie’s girlfriends and they were fun, yes, I’d heard about the exploits on weekends in Vegas, but it was not for me. I was the quiet, shy type, and they, in a nutshell, were not.
I’d met most of Evie’s family. She was one of five girls, the one in the middle. The two older sisters were professionals, one a doctor, the other, Geraldine, a lawyer. The two younger sisters were more hands-on, the second youngest, Zoe, was a home caterer, and the youngest, Yasmine, with no head for, or desire to own, a business, was more carefree. Like Evie, she was family orientated and still lived with her parents. The most level headed, and the one they all turned to for advice, was Melanie, the eldest.

She was the first person I saw after I arrived. I thought I would get there early because I never wanted to make an entrance.

“I haven’t seen you around for a while,” Melanie said, already a champagne flute filled, in her hand. Something else I knew, she liked to drink wine. She was also married, but I remembered her husband was away a lot.

“Part of the low profile I try to keep. How is Leonard, still the king of frequent flyer points?” His travels had finally earned him a special card reserved for very few.

“He’s in Paris, probably with his mistress.” She shrugged. “Husbands are like accessories these days. You can keep them or throw them out. I’m sure Genevieve will get tired of his soon and send him back.”

A unique attitude, for one who was supposed to give advice.

“You’re still not married, I see, Good choice. Marriage these days seems to be only good for a year or two, then sue the other for everything they’ve got. Sorry, I lost a case today, so I’m feeling a little cynical. Come back when I’ve had a dozen champagnes.”

She suddenly spotted on of Vernon’s neighbors and headed in his direction.

Zoe was walking past with a tray of canapes in her hand and stopped. “Ian? It is you. It’s so long since I’ve seen you.”

“Geraldine’s wedding. You catered that. A splendid feast I might add.”

Geraldine’s wedding had been a year ago, and after everyone had gone home, I found Zoe out the back in tears. She didn’t tell me then what had happened, but we talked for hours. Out of all the Wolverhampton’s, she was the most sensible, and the one I liked the most. But, like all those like her, she was spoken for.

“It was. How have you been?”

“Working, eating, sleeping, repeat.”

“It’s a bit like that, isn’t it? It gets to the point where all the days seem to run into each other, and in the end, you don’t know what day it is. That’s why I have a smartphone. It’s certainly smarter than I am.”

Something I had learned in that discussion was the fact she suffered from low self-esteem, perhaps from being a younger sister, perhaps because her parents had higher hopes for her than just being a caterer. Given her grades at school and later university, she could have been anything.

I was going to disagree with her and sing her praises, but one of her serving staff came up, told her there was a problem.

She sighed, handed the tray to the new girl, and a wan smile, disappeared towards the back of the house.

I thought then that I should leave because I doubted I would be missed.
Whenever I had to go to a party, particularly like one of these, where no one was sitting, and everyone was mingling, I usually set myself a task, picking a focal point and then following it all night. This night it turned out to be Zoe. I was curious about how she managed, running staff, organizing food and drinks, organizing the waitstaff, and managing crises.

In between times, Evie was introducing me to various people, married and unmarried, without appearing to do her ‘magical’ thing. Vernon made sure I remained in the mainstream, and not ‘hiding’ as he called it, and the conversation centered on football and baseball when I with the men, and about vacations and children when I was with the married women and their husbands, and gossip when I was with the single and divorced women.

And all the while I kept an eye on Zoe, zipping in and out of the back rooms, in earnest discussion with what I assumed were prospective new clients, and occasionally on the phone. Not once did she take a spell, and relax for a few minutes.

It was, I had to admit by the end of the night, a pleasant way to spend a few hours, made all the more pleasant by not having to worry about Evie trying to ‘match; me to any of her single friends, though she made sure I knew who they were. Of course, as always, there was not one or another that fitted what was my subconscious selection test. There was one whom I agreed to call and have coffee, but that was an open-ended arrangement, done to please Evie more than anything else.

After the last guest left, I wandered out the back. Vernon had asked me to stay, sample a new after-dinner wine he had discovered.

I’d been there for about half an hour when, instead of Vernon, Zoe came out with two glasses in hand.

“Vernon has stood you up, I’m afraid. He’s getting to be an old married man who had to be in bed before midnight. You’ll just have to settle for my company.”

“So long as you are going to tell me how I should be married, have two and a half children, and be living in a grand house in the suburbs, your company will be fine.”

She handed me a glass and sat next to me on the swing seat. It was a clear, cool night, and I’d been spending the time searching the stars for constellations. Sorry, I was never very good at astronomy.

“You don’t want that?”

“I don’t know what I want. Wouldn’t that all fall into place when you found the perfect partner?”

“Is there such a thing as a perfect partner? We start out thinking that, think we’ve found it, then the bastard goes off and had an affair.”

There was a lot of anger in those last few words of her statement. It explained the few heated exchanges I’d seen her have in what she thought were private moments. I wasn’t prying, I just happened to be nearby at the time.

“Then perhaps my expectations have been set too high. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Everyone told me what he was like.” She shrugged. “Another box ticked for life’s experiences.”

We drank wine and sat in silence. Unlike some others that evening, where it was kind of awkward, I didn’t feel that with Zoe. In fact, I was not sure what it felt like. Companionable?

“Look, I don’t have the best sort of shoulder to cry on, but if you need someone to listen, it’s one thing I’m good at.”

There were tears forming in her eyes and I’d only just noticed them in the moonlight.

“I could do with a hug. Are you any good at those?”

“I could try, and you could let me know. Always looking to add strings to that proverbial bow.”

She smiled. “What are you doing tomorrow?”

“Nothing in particular. Why?”

“I need someone to just take me away from all this, if only for an hour or two. Vernon said you have a cabin by the lake, and I’ve never been fishing. Is it too forward for me to ask, I mean, sorry, sometimes I just speak before I think.”

“One thing at a time. Hug first, then fishing. Maybe.”
Upstairs, Evie rested her head on Vernon’s shoulder as they both looked out over the back garden, and, more specifically at Ian and Zoe on the swing chair.

“What are the odds, Eve. I told you he had a thing for her,” Vernon said.

“I would have said ten to one against. It’s so unlike her. I mean, he’s just so boring.”

“Is he now? That’s just the impression he gives everyone else. So much for your matchmaking.”

———-

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

“The Devil You Don’t”, be careful what you wish for

Now only $0.99 at https://amzn.to/2Xyh1ow

John Pennington’s life is in the doldrums. Looking for new opportunities, prevaricating about getting married, the only joy on the horizon was an upcoming visit to his grandmother in Sorrento, Italy.

Suddenly he is left at the check-in counter with a message on his phone telling him the marriage is off, and the relationship is over.

If only he hadn’t promised a friend he would do a favor for him in Rome.

At the first stop, Geneva, he has a chance encounter with Zoe, an intriguing woman who captures his imagination from the moment she boards the Savoire, and his life ventures into uncharted territory in more ways than one.

That ‘favor’ for his friend suddenly becomes a life-changing event, and when Zoe, the woman who he knows is too good to be true, reappears, danger and death follow.

Shot at, lied to, seduced, and drawn into a world where nothing is what it seems, John is dragged into an adrenaline-charged undertaking, where he may have been wiser to stay with the ‘devil you know’ rather than opt for the ‘devil you don’t’.

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Surely there’s a better way… – a short story

Surely there’s a better way…

When you have secrets, sometimes it’s very hard to hide them from others.

It was something Henry had to do since the day he could speak. The fact that his parents had been murdered because of their profession, something his grandfather told him was akin to ‘working for the government’. The fact that he was from a very wealthy and influential family. The fact he was heir to a fortune. The fact he was anything other than just another boy, who grew up to be just another man.

His whole life, to this point, had been ‘managed’ so that no one, other than a selected few chosen by his grandfather, knew who he was, or what he represented. And more to the point, he had been told to just live his life like any other of his age.

Yes, he went to a private school, but it wasn’t an exclusive one, yes he went to university, but he had got into Oxford on his own merit, and, yes, he was smart, smart enough to create his own business, and make a handsome income from it. And no, he never drew upon the stipend he had been granted by his parents will, so it just gathered dust in the bank.

Henry was an only child, and to a certain extent, introverted. It was a shyness that his grandfather knew existed in his son, Henry’s father. It could be an asset or it could be a liability. With Henry’s father, it had been an asset, a means by which many had misunderstood him. It might even serve him well for the next phase of his life.

Today, Henry was meeting his grandfather at Speaker’s Corner at Hyde Park, and an unusual meeting place because in the past it had always been at his grandfather’s club. At his grandfather’s request, he had undertaken a three-year program, one that his father had, and his father before him, and a pre-requisite for a profession that would be explained to him.

And it was all because Henry said he was bored. The business he’d built could run without him, his attempts at relationships with various girls and women hadn’t quite achieved what he was looking for, even though he had no idea what he was looking for, and, quite frankly, he told his grandfather, he needed something more exciting.

It was, he’d been told, the way of the MacCallisters. Ever since the British tried to put down the Scots.

Henry was listening to a rather animated man preaching the word of the Lord, but he was not sure what Lord that was. Anything he quoted from the bible resembled nothing he had read and remembered. Perhaps the man was on drugs.

Two or three people stopped, listened for a minute or two, shook their heads, some even laughed, and moved on.

“It’s the last bastion of freedom of speech, though I can say this man is not about to gather an army of insurrectionists any time soon. Let’s walk.”

His grandfather was getting old, and walking was getting more and more difficult. More scotch was needed, he had told Henry, to ward of the evils of arthritis. And, he added, ‘I should have had a less devil may care attitude when he was younger.’

It was a slow amble to the serpentine, which, being a bright sunny day, if not a little chilly, was alive with people.

He waited until his grandfather spoke. One lesson he had learned, speak when you’re spoken to, and if you’ve got nothing to say, best to remain silent.

“I have found a job you might like to have a go at. Nothing difficult, mind you, but a perhaps, at times, hard work. I think you’d be good at it.”

“Is that meant to be a hint, and I have to guess?”

“I think you’re smart enough to know what it might be yourself, young Henry.”

I think I did too. Everything I’d been doing over the last three years led me to believe I’d been training to walk in my father’s footsteps. It was with the Army, and I had imagined my father had been a soldier, though I’d never seen him in a uniform. But my Grandfather had said he worked for the government, so I wondered if that might be some sort of policeman, or some sort of internal agent, like MI6. It had not been boring, and the exercises had been ‘interesting’, but no one had said what the end result of this training might be; in fact no one had said who they were.

“Something hush, hush as the saying goes.”

We had gone about fifty yards and reached a cross path. As we did, a youngish woman dressed in leather appeared and walked towards us.

“I’d like you to meet a friend of mine, Henry. Her name is Marion, though I suggest you don’t call her that.”

She smiled. “Call me Mary. There’s only one person in the whole world that would dare call me that, and he’s standing here. Your grandfather has spoken a lot about you.”

Henry’s first impression; she had been to the training school he had. He could see it in her manner, and in the way she scanned the area, even though it didn’t look like she was. He’d been doing it himself, and he had seen her earlier. What made her stand out, she didn’t have a bag like all the other women.

“I hope it was good, not bad.”

“You have no bad traits?”

“Everyone had bad traits. You’ll just have to get to know me if you want to know what they are.”

“Well,” my grandfather said, “enough chit chat. Mary has a task, and she needs a little help. I thought you might want to join her.”

“Doing what?”

“She’ll explain it on the way. When it’s done, come and see me.” With that, a hug from Mary, and a handshake from his grandson, he turned and walked back the way they had come earlier.
“So,” Henry asked, “What’s the job?”

“I have to pick up a computer.”

“That doesn’t sound like something you would need help with.” In fact, if he was right in his assessment of her, he was the last person she needed, if at all. She looked to him as if she could handle anything.

“It’s one of those just in case situations.”

They walked a circuitous route back to Park Lane and crossed both roads, up Deanery Street, left where Tilney Street veered off, and then a short distance to Deanery Mews. Henry noted this was an area with a lot of expensive real estate, and scattered Embassies. If he was not mistaken, the Dorchester Hotel wasn’t far away.

Walking down the mews seemed to Henry to be walking into a trap. When he looked back towards Deanery Street he thought he saw two men position themselves, not quick enough to prevent him from getting a glimpse of them.

“You do realize that getting back out of here could be a problem.”

“It’s why I asked for help. Just in case.”

No visible sign of fear, or of what the consequences might be if this went south. Perhaps his grandfather had considered this a test. But what sort of test?

They reached the end, and, just around the corner, a van was parked with what Henry assumed was the driver, standing by the open driver’s door, smoking a cigarette.

Mary stopped about ten feet away from him. “Have you got the package?”

He reached inside the car and lifted up a computer case. There didn’t necessarily have to be a computer in it. I looked up and around. It was a good place for a meeting. No witnesses. But there were CCTV cameras. I wondered if they were working.

The man tossed the bag back in the car. “Have you got the money?”

She held up her phone. “Just need the bank account details.”

“OK. Just step over here and let’s get this done.”

She moved closer, and in a flash, he had grabbed her, holding her by the neck with a gun to her head. The two men Henry thought he’d seen at the top of the mews were now within sight, and both had guns trained on him. A trap, indeed.

“What do you want?” Henry asked.

“Tell your boss the price just doubled. Two million. You’ve got five minutes.”

I shook my head, not to clear the cobwebs, but to calm down and think rationally.

Talk first. “Surely there’s a better way to do this. You don’t need to hold a gun to her head.”

I held my hands out just to show I wasn’t a threat.

“No, probably not.” He released his grip and lowered the gun.

A very, very bad mistake.

—-

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

“Sunday in New York”, it’s a bumpy road to love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As they say in the classics, read on!

Purchase:

http://tinyurl.com/Amazon-SundayInNewYork

In a word: Nobody

This is sometimes how we must feel when overlooked or ignored, like a nobody.

And some people will treat you like a nobody, i.e someone who is just not important.

That’s just one use of the word.

Another might be…

Who did that to your room?

‘Nobody’ is the plaintiff reply.  The infamous Mr. Nobody.  We’ve never met him, but he’s always there.  And, what’s more, he seems to be able to be in more than one place at a time.

Then there’s that time when there’s nobody in the room, nobody agreed with me, hell, that happens all the time, and when I rang your phone nobody answered.

Nobody?  Was I expecting Mr. Nobody to answer?  Surely the response should have been, ‘and you didn’t answer’.

Of course, let’s not delve too deep here, lest we might find out something we didn’t want to know.

I went to your house last night, but nobody was home.

How is it we refer to the people whom we know live in that house as ‘nobody’.  Shouldn’t we be saying, ‘none of you was at home’?

It seems nobody is one of those words we often use in vain.

People have a way of surprising you… – A short story

Last days were supposed to be joyous, the end of your working life and the start of the rest of your life.

I’d spent the last 35 years working for the company, navigating through three buyouts, five name changes, and three restructures. I was surprised I was still employed after the last, only two years before.

But, here I was, sitting in the divisional manager’s office, my office for one more day, with my successor, Jerry, and best friend, sitting on the other side.

“Last day, what are you thinking?” He asked casually.

It might have been early, but we both had a glass of scotch, a sin l e malt I’d kept aside for an important occasion and this seemed like one.

I picked up the glass and surveyed the contents, giving myself a few moments to consider an answer to what could be a difficult question. To be honest, the thinking had started on the subway on the way in, when I should have been working on the crossword, but instead, I was lamenting the fact that the next chapter of my life would be without Ellen.

We would have been married, coincidently, 43 years ago today, had she been alive. Unfortunately, she had died suddenly about four months ago, after a long battle with cancer.

And I still hadn’t had time to process it. Truth is, it had been work that kept me together, and I was worried about what was going to happen when it would no longer there.

To a certain extent, I was still on autopilot, her death coming in the middle of a major disaster concerning the company, one that had finally, and successfully, been brought to a conclusion with favorable results for everyone.

But what was I thinking right then, at that precise moment in time? Not something he would want to hear, so I made the necessary adjustment. “That I’m basically leaving you a clean slate, so don’t screw it up.”

I could see that was not what he wanted to hear.

He decided to take a different tack. “What have you got planned for the first day of retirement.”

He knew about Ellen and had been there for me, above and beyond what could have been expected from anyone. I owed him more than a platitude.

“Sleep in, probably, but I’m going to be fighting that body clock. It’s going to be difficult after so many years getting up the same time, rail hail or shine. But we had plans to go away for a few months, you know, the trip of a lifetime, then move. Ellen wanted to go back home for a while, now, I’m not sure what I’m going to do.”

“Then perhaps you should, or at the very least, go home for a while. You said you both come from there; who knows, being back among family might just be what you need.”

It was something I had been thinking about and had been issued an open-ended invitation from her parents to come and stay for as long as I wanted, one that I was seriously considering.

But, before I could tell him that, the phone rang.

Never a dull day…
The day went quickly, and as much as it was expected I’d hand over anything that happened to my successor, I couldn’t quite let go. There was the proverbial storm in a teacup, but it was a good opportunity to watch the man who was taking over in action. He had a great teacher, even if I said so myself.

But it was the end of the day and the moment I had been dreading. I’d asked the personnel manager not to make a big deal out of my departure, and that I didn’t want the usual sendoff, where everyone in the office came and I would find myself at a loss of words and feel like I had to speak to a lot of people I didn’t really know.

There were only about a dozen that I really knew, a dozen that had survived the layoffs and restructuring, and although there were others, I didn’t have anything to do with them. My last job took me out of the office more than being there, and so many of the other people were from offices scattered all up and down the east coast.

I’d mostly said my goodbyes to them on the last quarterly visit. Sixteen offices, fifty-odd employees who were as much friends as they were staff who worked for me. There had been small dinners and heartfelt moments.

This I was hoping would be the same.

Jerry had been charged with the responsibility of getting me to the presentation; they called it a presentation because I had no doubt there would be a presentation of some sort. I had told the CEO a handshake and a couple of drinks would suffice, and he just congenially nodded.

Jerry had taken the manager’s chair and I was sitting on the other side of the table. We’d finished off the last of the single malt, and dirt was time to go. I closed the door to the office for the last time, and we walked along the passage towards the dining room. It was a perk I’d fought hard to keep during the last restructure when the money men were trying to cut costs.

It was one of the few battles I won.

He opened the door and stood to one side, and ushered me through.

It was a very large space, usually filled with tables, chairs, and diners. Now it was filled with people, leaving a passageway from the door to a podium that had been set up in front of the servery, where a large curtain stretched across the width of the building with the company logo displayed on it.

There were 2,300 people who worked in this office and another 700 from the regional offices. By the look of the crowd, every single one of them was there.

It took fifteen minutes to get from the door to the podium. Faces of people I’d seen every day, faces I’d seen a few times a year, and faces I’d never seen before. On the podium there was a dozen more, faces I’d only seen in the Annual Accounts document, except for the General Manager and the CEO.

“You will be pleased to know everyone here wanted to come and bid you farewell,” the General Manager said.

“Everyone? Why?”

“Well, I’ve learned a lot about this company and its people over the last week, and frankly, people have a way of surprising you. And given the impact you have had on each and every one of them, I’m not surprised. So much so, they wanted to give you something to remember them by.”

A nod of the head and the curtains were pulled back, and behind them was an original 1968 XJ6 Jaguar, fully restored, a very familiar XJ6. The car had belonged to Helen and I had to sell it to help pay the medical bills. It had been a gut-wrenching experience, coming at a time when everything that was happened to her almost overwhelmed me.

“Jerry told us about this particular car, so all of your friends thought, as a fitting memory to you and of her, that we should find it and restore it. Everyone here contributed. It is our gift to you for everything you have done for us.”

So much for the usual sendoff…

—-

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

Searching for locations: Castello di Monterinaldi, Tuscany, Italy

As part of a day tour by Very Tuscany Tours, we came to this quiet corner of Tuscany to have a look at an Italian winery, especially the Sangiovese grapes, and the Chianti produced here.

And what better way to sample the wine than to have a long leisurely lunch with matched wines.  A very, very long lunch.

But first, a wander through the gardens to hone the appetite:

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And a photo I recognize from many taken of the same building:

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Then a tour of the wine cellar:

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Then on to the most incredible and exquisite lunch and wine we have had.  It was the highlight of our stay in Tuscany.  Of course, we had our own private dining room:

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And time to study the paintings and prints on the walls while we finished with coffee and a dessert wine.

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And of course, more wine, just so we could remember the occasion.