An excerpt from “Amnesia”, a work in progress

I remembered a bang.
I remembered the car slewing sideways.
I remember another bang, and then it was lights out.
When I opened my eyes again, I saw the sky.
Or I could be under water.
Everything was blurred.
I tried to focus but I couldn’t. My eyes were full of water.
What happened?
Why was I lying down?
Where was I?
I cast my mind back, trying to remember.
It was a blank.
What, when, who, why and where, questions I should easily be able to answer. Questions any normal person could answer.
I tried to move. Bad, bad mistake.
I did not realise the scream I heard was my own. Just before my body shut down.

“My God! What happened?”
I could hear, not see. I was moving, lying down, looking up.
I was blind. Everything was black.
“Car accident, hit a tree, sent the passenger flying through the windscreen. Pity to poor bastard didn’t get the message that seat belts save lives.”
Was I that poor bastard?
“Report?” A new voice, male, authoritative.
“Multiple lacerations, broken collar bone, broken arm in three places, both legs broken below the knees, one badly. We are not sure of internal injuries, but ruptured spleen, cracked ribs and pierced right lung are fairly evident, x-rays will confirm that and anything else.”
“What isn’t broken?”
“His neck.”
“Then I would have to say we are looking at the luckiest man on the planet.”
I heard shuffling of pages.
“OR1 ready?”
“Yes. On standby since we were first advised.”
“Good. Let’s see if we can weave some magic.”

Magic.
It was the first word that popped into my head when I surfaced from the bottom of the lake. That first breath, after holding it for so long, was sublime, and, in reality, agonising.

Magic, because it seemed like I’d spent a long time under water.
Or somewhere.
I tried to speak, but couldn’t. The words were just in my head.
Was it night or was it day?
Was it hot, or was it cold?
Where was I?
Around me it felt cool.
It was very quiet. No noise except for the hissing of air through an air-conditioning vent. Or perhaps that was the sound of pure silence. And with it the revelation that silence was not silent. It was noisy.
I didn’t try to move.
Instinctively, somehow I knew not to.
A previous bad experience?
I heard what sounded like a door opening, and very quiet footsteps slowly come into the room. They stopped. I could hear breathing, slightly laboured, a sound I’d heard before.
My grandfather.
He had smoked all his life, until he was diagnosed with lung cancer. But for years before that he had emphysema. The person in the room was on their way, down the same path. I could smell the smoke.
I wanted to tell whoever it was the hazards of smoking.
I couldn’t.
I heard a metallic clanging sound from the end of the bed. A moment later the clicking of a pen, then writing.
“You are in a hospital.” A female voice suddenly said. “You’ve been in a very bad accident. You cannot talk, or move, all you can do, for the moment, is listen to me. I am a nurse. You have been here for 45 days, and just come out of a medically induced coma. There is nothing to be afraid of.”
She had a very soothing voice.
I felt her fingers stroke the back of my hand.
“Everything is fine.”
Define fine, I thought. I wanted to ask her what ‘fine’ meant.
“Just count backwards from 10.”
Why?
I didn’t reach seven.

Over the next ten days, that voice became my lifeline to sanity. Every morning I longed to hear it, if only for the few moments she was in the room, those few waking moments when I believed she, and someone else who never spoke, were doing tests. I knew it had to be someone else because I could smell the essence of lavender. My grandmother had worn a similar scent.
It rose above the disinfectant.
I also believed she was another doctor, not the one who had been there the day I arrived. Not the one who had used some ‘magic’ and kept me alive.
It was then, in those moments before she put me under again, that I thought, what if I was paralysed? It would explain a lot. A chill went through me.

The next morning she was back.
“My name is Winifred. We don’t know what your name is, not yet. In a few days, you will be better, and you will be able to ask us questions. You were in an accident, and you were very badly injured, but I can assure you there will be no lasting damage.”
More tests, and then, when I expected the lights to go out, they didn’t. Not for a few minutes more. Perhaps this was how I would be integrated back into the world. A little bit at a time.
The next morning, she came later than usual, and I’d been awake for a few minutes. “You have bandages over your eyes and face. You had bad lacerations to your face, and glass in your eyes. We will know more when the bandages come off in a few days. Your face will take longer to heal. It was necessary to do some plastic surgery.”
Lacerations, glass in my eyes, car accident, plastic surgery. By logical deduction, I knew I was the poor bastard thrown through the windscreen. It was a fleeting memory from the day I was admitted.
How could that happen?
That was the first of many startling revelations. The second was the fact I could not remember the crash. Equally shocking, in that same moment was the fact I could not remember before the crash either, and only vague memories after.
But the most shattering of all these revelations was the one where I realised I could not remember my name.
I tried to calm down, sensing a rising panic.
I was just disoriented, I told myself. After 45 days in an induced coma, it had messed with my mind, and it was only a temporary lapse. Yes, that’s what it was, a temporary lapse. I would remember tomorrow. Or the next day.
Sleep was a blessed relief.

The next day I didn’t wake feeling nauseous. Perhaps they’d lowered the pain medication. I’d heard that morphine could have that effect. Then, how could I know that, but not who I am?
I knew now Winifred the nurse was preparing me for something very bad. She was upbeat, and soothing, giving me a new piece of information each morning. This morning, “You do not need to be afraid. Everything is going to be fine. The doctor tells me you are going to recover with very little scarring. You will need some physiotherapy to recover from your physical injuries, but that’s in the future. We need to let you mend a little bit more before then.”
So, I was not going to be able to leap out of bed, and walk out of the hospital any time soon. I don’t suppose I’d ever leapt out of bed, except as a young boy. I suspect I’d sustained a few broken bones. I guess learning to walk again was the least of my problems.
But, there was something else. I picked it up in the timbre of her voice, a hesitation, or reluctance. It sent another chill through me.
This time I was left awake for an hour before she returned.
This time sleep was restless.
There were scenes playing in my mind, nothing I recognised, and nothing lasting longer than a glimpse. Me. Others, people I didn’t know. Or perhaps I knew them and couldn’t remember them.
Until they disappeared, slowly like the glowing dot in the centre of the computer screen, before finally fading to black.

The morning the bandages were to come off she came in bright and early and woken me. I had another restless night, the images becoming clearer, but nothing recognisable.
“This morning the doctor will be removing the bandages over your eyes. Don’t expect an immediate effect. Your sight may come back quickly or it may come back slowly, but we believe it will come back.”
I wanted to believe I was not expecting anything, but I was. It was probably human nature. I did not want to be blind as well as paralysed. I had to have at least one reason to live.
I dozed again until I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. I could smell the lavender, the other doctor was back. And I knew the hand on my shoulder was Winifred’s. She told me not to be frightened.
I was amazed to realise in that moment, I wasn’t.
I heard the scissors cutting the bandages.
I felt the bandage being removed, and the pressure coming off my eyes. I could feel the pads covering both eyes.
Then a moment where nothing happened.
Then the pads being gently lift and removed.
Nothing.
I blinked my eyes, once, twice. Nothing.
“Just hold on a moment,” Winifred said. A few seconds later I could feel a cool towel wiping my face, and then gently wiping my eyes. Perhaps there was ointment, or something else in them.
Then a flash. Well, not a flash, but like when a light is turned on and off. A moment later, it was brighter, not the inky blackness of before, but a shade of grey.
She wiped my eyes again.
I blinked a few more times, and then the light returned, and it was like looking through water, at distorted and blurry objects in the distance.
I blinked again, and she wiped my eyes again.
Blurry objects took shape. A face looking down on me, an elderly lady with a kindly face, surely Winifred, who was smiling. And on the opposite side of the bed, the doctor, a Chinese woman of indescribable beauty.
I nodded.
“You can see?”
I nodded again.
“Clearly?”
I nodded.
“Very good. We will just draw the curtains now. We don’t want to overdo it. Tomorrow we will be taking off the bandages on your face. Then, it will be the next milestone. Talking.”
I couldn’t wait.

When morning came, I found myself afraid. Winifred had mentioned scarring, there were bandages on my face. I knew, but wasn’t quite sure how I knew, I wasn’t the handsomest of men before the accident, so this might be an improvement.
I was not sure why I didn’t think it would be the case.
They came at mid morning, the nurse, Winifred, and the doctor, the exquisite Chinese. Perhaps she was the distraction, taking my mind of the reality of what I was about to see.
Another doctor came into the room, before the bandages were removed, and he was introduced as the plastic surgeon that had ‘repaired’ the ravages of the accident. It had been no easy job, but, with a degree of egotism, he did say he was one of the best in the world.
I found it hard to believe, if he was, that he would be at a small country hospital.
“Now just remember, what you might see now is not how you will look in a few months time.”
Warning enough.
The Chinese doctor started removing the bandages. She did it slowly, and made sure it did not hurt. My skin was very tender, and I suspect still bruised, either from the accident or the surgery, I didn’t know.
Then it was done.
The plastic surgeon gave his work a thorough examination and seemed pleased with his work. “Coming along nicely,” he said to the other doctor. He issued some instructions on how to manage the skin, nodded to me, and I thanked him before he left.
I noticed Winifred had a mirror in her hand, and was somewhat reticent in using it. “As I said,” she said noticing me looking at the mirror, “what you see now will not be the final result. The doctor said it was going to heal with very little scarring. You have been very fortunate he was available. Are you ready?”
I nodded.
She showed me.
I tried not to be reviled at the red and purple mess that used to be my face. At a guess I would have to say he had to put it all back together again, but, not knowing what I looked like before, I had no benchmark. All I had was a snippet of memory that told me I was not the tall, dark, and handsome type.
And I still could not talk. There was a reason, he had worked on that area too. Just breathing hurt. I think I would save up anything I had to say for another day. I could not even smile. Or frown. Or grimace.
“We’ll leave you for a while. Everyone needs a little time to get used to the change. I suspect you are not sure if there has been an improvement on last year’s model. Well, time will tell.”
A new face?
I could not remember the old one.
My memory still hadn’t returned.

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 2018-2020

Why New Year resolutions are a waste of time, this year

If ever there was a year to not have any new year resolutions, this is the one.

After what had to be the worst year that I can remember, I will be glad to see an end to 2020. Absolutely everything was disrupted.

But…

The panacea that governments are touting, the COVID 19 vaccine, will not stretch to every corner of the earth, nor be available for everyone in the short term (we in Australia won’t get it until March or April) and it will be the same for nearly every country that isn’t the US, Russia and China.

By the end of next year, of course, we will know whether the vaccine will be once a year, who can’t have it, who won’t have it, and how many people will have had an adverse reaction to it. Then there’s the question of whether it stops you from getting COVID, and whether COVID can still kill you even after being vaccinated.

The problem is, 2021 is going to be a watershed year for the vaccine. Will it eradicate the virus, or will it just make the virus more resilient, or will it mutate into a version the vaccine can’t stop. Nobody knows the answers to these questions because there hasn’t been enough time to study the virus, or the vaccines because like it or not, they really do take five years to discover their effectiveness.

In that case, if I was going to make a resolution it would be to stay away from the virus and be alive in 2022.

That, of course, is impossible. There are too many selfish and inconsiderate people out there who don’t care if they get it it, and then if they pass it on. Anything to avoid being inconvenienced. So what if a few old people die, or sick people die. Less of a drain on the economy because they don’t really contribute anything, do they?

It could be argued that whoever invented this virus intended it for old and sick people because of the burden they place on the welfare system. Otherwise why would it not be so devastating for those under 50 typically most of the productive members of the workforce, nor the young who need to take their place. It is said that we may never get rid of COVID so will it be a cycle that will mean some time in the future that people will not live beyond the age of, say, 60, by design?

Has someone arbitrarily decided that there are too many people on the planet and it’s time to start culling the population? A pandemic that removes about 1 billion people would make things more sustainable.

It’s a terrifying thought. It’s the stuff of science fiction, but the problem with that it, life eventually imitates art, and what has been dreamed up on television or in the movies, eventually happens in reality.

Think about Logan’s Run. Was this the forerunner of what life will be like on this planet?

There were films about space travel in the 50’s. That became a reality in the 70’s.

Pandemic type films like Outbreak and Contagion showed the problems and possible resolutions, and yes, it eventually happened almost exactly as the latter film showed us.

It was strange to discover that everyone knew a pandemic was possible, knew what was supposed to be done, just in case, and then when it hit, no one had any idea of what to do. Will we have learned from this crisis?

I doubt it.

The biggest problem with a crisis of global magnitude is people. Half the world are constantly told lies, and the other half do not want to be told the truth.

If anything is going to destroy this world, it will not be nuclear radiation or global warfare, but a simple unkillable bug that will, if we let it though ignorance and stupidity, kill us all.

After all, there’s been a few movies that have prophesised exactly that.

“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

Memories of the conversations with my cat – 86

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. He’s having a hard to trying to understand the notion of a day happening only once every four years.

I try to explain to him that it’s the fault of the Romans getting the calendar wrong.

He tosses that aside and mutters, Time is irrelevant.

How so? OK, I have to bite, because I’m sure I’m about to get a catlike pearl of wisdom.

It comes and it goes, and if it wasn’t for the fact there was night and day, you’d have absolutely no idea what time it is.

About to dismiss it as crazy, I stop to think about it.

And, damn him, he’s right.

Of course, one could argue semantics, and say if I was outside, I could approximate the time by the sun, or at night by the stars, but that’s a little beyond the cat’s imagination.

So, in a sense, you might be right, but I can usually guess what the time is.

Chester shakes his head.

You’re retired, time is irrelevant for you too. You can sleep all day and work at night if you want to. Or not do anything at all.

Like you?

Another shake of the head.

What is the point in having a serious discussion with you?  But just one question before I go?

That’ll be interesting.

Was I born on the 29th of February?”

No. Not that lucky, I’m afraid. Why?

If I was I would have no reason to feel every one of those 18 human years I’ve had to put up with your nonsense. It would only be 4 and a half.

He jumps off the seat and heads out the door.

Where are you going now?

To bed. It’s been a long morning.

You’ve only been here 10 minutes.

In your time. In cat time, it feels like hours. Only call me if you see a mouse.

An excerpt from “Betrayal” – a work in progress

It could have been anywhere in the world, she thought, but it wasn’t.  It was in a city where if anything were to go wrong…

She sighed and came away from the window and looked around the room.  It was quite large and expensively furnished.  It was one of several she had been visiting in the last three months.

Quite elegant too, as the hotel had its origins dating back to before the revolution in 1917.  At least, currently, there would not be a team of KGB agents somewhere in the basement monitoring everything that happened in the room.

There was no such thing as the KGB anymore, though there was an FSB, but such organisations were of no interest to her.

She was here to meet with Vladimir.

She smiled to herself when she thought of him, such an interesting man whose command of English was as good as her command of Russian, though she had not told him of that ability.

All her knew of her was that she was American, worked in the Embassy as a clerk, nothing important, who life both at work and at home was boring.  Not that she had blurted that out the first tie she met, or even the second.

That first time, at a function in the Embassy, was a chance meeting, a catching of his eye as he looked around the room, looking, as he had told her later, for someone who might not be as boring as the function itself.

It was a celebration, honouring one of the Embassy officials on his service in Moscow, and the fact he was returning home after 10 years.  She had been there one, and still hadn’t met all the staff.

They had talked, Vladimir knew a great deal about England, having been stationed there for a year or two, and had politely asked questions about where she lived, her family, and of course what her role was, all questions she fended off with an air of disinterested interest.

It fascinated him, as she knew it would, a sort of mental sparring as one would do with swords, if this was a fencing match.

They had said they might or might not meet again when the party was over, but she suspected there would be another opportunity.  She knew the signs of a man who was interested in her, and Vladimir was interested.

The second time came in the form of an invitation to an art gallery, and a viewing of the works of a prominent Russian artist, an invitation she politely declined.  After all, invitations issued to Embassy staff held all sorts of connotations, or so she was told by the Security officer when she told him.

Then, it went quiet for a month.  There was a party at the American embassy and along with several other staff members, she was invited.  She had not expected to meet Vladimir, but it was a pleasant surprise when she saw him, on the other side of the room, talking to several military men.

A pleasant afternoon ensued.

And it was no surprise that they kept running into each other at the various events on the diplomatic schedule.

By the fifth meeting, they were like old friends.  She had broached the subject of being involved in a plutonic relationship with him with the head of security at the embassy.  Normally for a member of her rank it would not be allowed, but in this instance it was.

She did not work in any sensitive areas, and, as the security officer had said, she might just happen upon something that might be useful.  In that regard, she was to keep her eyes and ears open, and file a report each time she met him.

After that discussion she got the impression her superiors considered Vladimir more than just a casual visitor on the diplomatic circuit.  She also formed the impression the he might consider her an ‘asset’, a word that had been used at the meeting with security and the ambassador.

It was where the word ‘spy’ popped into her head and sent a tingle down her spine.  She was not a spy, but the thought of it, well, it would be fascinating to see what happened.

A Russian friend.  That’s what she would call him.

And over time, that relationship blossomed, until, after a visit to the ballet, late and snowing, he invited her to his apartment not far from the ballet venue.  It was like treading on thin ice, but after champagne and an introduction to caviar, she felt like a giddy schoolgirl.

Even so, she had made him promise that he remain on his best behaviour.  It could have been very easy to fall under the spell of a perfect evening, but he promised, showed her to a separate bedroom, and after a brief kiss, their first, she did not see him until the next morning.

So, it began.

It was an interesting report she filed after that encounter, one where she had expected to be reprimanded.

She wasn’t.

It wasn’t until six weeks had passed when he asked her if she would like to take a trip to the country.  It would involve staying in a hotel, that they would have separate rooms.  When she reported the invitation, no objection was raised, only a caution; keep her wits about her.

Perhaps, she had thought, they were looking forward to a more extensive report.  After all, her reports on the places, and the people, and the conversations she overheard, were no doubt entertaining reading for some.

But this visit was where the nature of the relationship changed, and it was one that she did not immediately report.  She had realised at some point before the weekend away, that she had feelings for him, and it was not that he was pushing her in that direction or manipulating her in any way.

It was just one of those moments where, after a grand dinner, a lot of champagne, and delightful company, things happen.  Standing at the door to her room, a lingering kiss, not intentional on her part, and it just happened.

And for not one moment did she believe she had been compromised, but for some reason she had not reported that subtle change in the relationship to the powers that be, and so far, no one had any inkling.

She took off her coat and placed it carefully of the back of one of the ornate chairs in the room.  She stopped for a moment to look at a framed photograph on the wall, one representing Red Square.

Then, after a minute or two, she went to the mini bar and took out the bottle of champagne that had been left there for them, a treat arranged by Vladimir for each encounter.

There were two champagne flutes set aside on the bar, next to a bowl of fruit.  She picked up the apple and thought how Eve must have felt in the garden of Eden, and the temptation.

Later perhaps, after…

She smiled at the thought and put the apple back.

A glance at her watch told her it was time for his arrival.  It was if anything, the one trait she didn’t like, and that was his punctuality.  A glance at the clock on the room wall was a minute slow.

The doorbell to the room rang, right on the appointed time.

She put the bottle down and walked over to the door.

A smile on her face, she opened the door.

It was not Vladimir.  It was her worst nightmare.

© Charles Heath 2020

In a word: Prize

What you win, first prize in a raffle, though I don’t think I’ve ever won first prize.  Second maybe.  But, aren’t all raffles rigged?  

But despite my unfortunate run of luck, a prize is generally give to someone who works hard, or wins a race

Or I could have been a prize fighter but lacked the size and the strength, and out of curiosity how many prize fighters didn’t win a prize?

And if I had been a pirate, I could have sailed the seven seas to find a prize, namely a ship to attack and take as my own.

And as a prime example, a Chelsea supporter walking into a bar full of Manchester United fans could be called a prize idiot.

This is not to be confused with the word prise

Don’t relatives prise the last dollar out of a dying man’s hand?

Or prise the truth out of a witness, or a perpetrator

Or prise a window open like thieves do when we forget to lock them properly?

A moment to slip back into the past

Televison is a great recorder of the past, and most channels, and especially cable tv have great libraries of films that go back more than a hundred years.

And, whilst it’s possible that modern day films and television series can try to recapture the past, the English as an exception being very good at it, often it is impossible to capture it correctly.

But, if you have a film shot in the moment, then you have a visual record of what life, and what was once part of our world before you in all it’s dated glory. The pity of it is that, then, we never appreciated it.

After all, in those particular times, who had the time to figuratively stop and smell the roses. Back then as life was going on, we were all tied up with just trying to get through each day.

Years later, often on reflection, we try to remember the old days, and, maybe, remember some of what it was like, but the chances are that change came far too rapidly, and often too radical, that it erases what we thought we knew existed before.

My grandmothers house is a case in point. In it’s place is a multi lane super highway, and there’s nothing left to remind us, or anyone of it, just some old sepia photographs.

I was reminded of how volatile history really is when watching an old documentary, in black and white, and how the city I grew up in used to look.

Then, even though it seemed large to me then, it was a smaller city, with suburbs that stretched about ten or so miles in every direction, and the outer suburbs were where people moved to get a larger block, and countrified atmosphere.

Now, those outer suburbs are no longer spacious properties, the acreage subdivided and the old owners now much richer for a decision made with profit not being the motivator, and the current suburban sprawl is now out to forty or fifty miles.

The reason for the distance is no longer the thought of open spaces and cleaner air, the reason for moving now is that land further out is cheaper, and can make buying that first house more affordable.

This is where I tip my hat to the writers of historical fiction. I myself am writing a story based in the 1970s, and its difficult to find what is and isn’t time specific.

If only I had a dollar for every time I went to write the character pulling out his or her mobile phone.

What I’ve found is the necessity to research, and this has amounted to finding old films, documentaries of the day, and a more fascinating source of information, the newspapers of the day.

The latter especially has provoked a lot of memories and a lot of stuff I thought I’d forgotten, some of it by choice, but others that were poignant.

Yes, and don’t get me started on the distractions.

If only I’d started this project earlier…

An excerpt from “If Only” – a work in progress

Investigation of crimes don’t always go according to plan, nor does the perpetrator get either found or punished.

That was particularly true in my case.  The murderer was very careful in not leaving any evidence behind, to the extent that the police could not rules out whether it was a male or a  female.

At one stage the police thought I had murdered my own wife though how I could be on a train at the time of the murder was beyond me.  I had witnesses and a cast-iron alibi.

The officer in charge was Detective Inspector Gabrielle Walters.  She came to me on the day after the murder seeking answers to the usual questions when was the last time you saw your wife, did you argue, the neighbors reckon there were heated discussions the day before.

Routine was the word she used.

Her Sargeant was a surly piece of work whose intention was to get answers or, more likely, a confession by any or all means possible.  I could sense the raging violence within him.  Fortunately, common sense prevailed.

Over the course of the next few weeks, once I’d been cleared of committing the crime, Gabrielle made a point of keeping me informed of the progress.

After three months the updates were more sporadic, and when, for lack of progress, it became a cold case, communication ceased.

But it was not the last I saw of Gabrielle.

The shock of finding Vanessa was more devastating than the fact she was now gone, and those images lived on in the same nightmare that came to visit me every night when I closed my eyes.

For months I was barely functioning, to the extent I had all but lost my job, and quite a few friends, particularly those who were more attached to Vanessa rather than me.

They didn’t understand how it could affect me so much, and since it had not happened to them, my tart replies of ‘you wouldn’t understand’ were met with equally short retorts.  Some questioned my sanity, even, for a time, so did I.

No one, it seemed, could understand what it was like, no one except Gabrielle.

She was by her own admission, damaged goods, having been the victim of a similar incident, a boyfriend who turned out to be a very bad boy.  Her story varied only in she had been made to witness his execution.  Her nightmare, in reliving that moment in time, was how she was still alive and, to this day, had no idea why she’d been spared.

It was a story she told me one night, some months after the investigation had been scaled down.  I was still looking for the bottom of a bottle and an emotional mess.  Perhaps it struck a resonance with her; she’d been there and managed to come out the other side.

What happened become our secret, a once-only night together that meant a great deal to me, and by mutual agreement, it was not spoken of again.  It was as if she knew exactly what was required to set me on the path to recovery.

And it had.

Since then we saw each about once a month in a cafe.   I had been surprised to hear from her again shortly after that eventful night when she called to set it up, ostensibly for her to provide me with any updates on the case, but perhaps we had, after that unspoken night, formed a closer bond than either of us wanted to admit.

We generally talked for hours over wine, then dinner and coffee.  It took a while for me to realize that all she had was her work, personal relationships were nigh on impossible in a job that left little or no spare time for anything else.

She’d always said that if I had any questions or problems about the case, or if there was anything that might come to me that might be relevant, even after all this time, all I had to do was call her.

I wondered if this text message was in that category.  I was certain it would interest the police and I had no doubt they could trace the message’s origin, but there was that tiny degree of doubt, whether or not I could trust her to tell me what the message meant.

I reached for the phone then put it back down again.  I’d think about it and decide tomorrow.

© Charles Heath 2018-2020

An excerpt from “Echoes from the Past”

Available on Amazon Kindle here:  https://amzn.to/2CYKxu4

 

With my attention elsewhere, I walked into a man who was hurrying in the opposite direction.  He was a big man with a scar running down the left side of his face from eye socket to mouth, and who was also wearing a black shirt with a red tie.

That was all I remembered as my heart almost stopped.

He apologized as he stepped to one side, the same way I stepped, as I also muttered an apology.

I kept my eyes down.  He was not the sort of man I wanted to recognize later in a lineup.  I stepped to the other side and so did he.  It was one of those situations.  Finally getting out of sync, he kept going in his direction, and I towards the bus, which was now pulling away from the curb.

Getting my breath back, I just stood riveted to the spot watching it join the traffic.  I looked back over my shoulder, but the man I’d run into had gone.  I shrugged and looked at my watch.  It would be a few minutes before the next bus arrived.

Wait, or walk?  I could also go by subway, but it was a long walk to the station.  What the hell, I needed the exercise.

At the first intersection, the ‘Walk’ sign had just flashed to ‘Don’t Walk’.  I thought I’d save a few minutes by not waiting for the next green light.  As I stepped onto the road, I heard the screeching of tires.

A yellow car stopped inches from me.

It was a high powered sports car, perhaps a Lamborghini.  I knew what they looked like because Marcus Bartleby owned one, as did every other junior executive in the city with a rich father.

Everyone stopped to look at me, then the car.  It was that sort of car.  I could see the driver through the windscreen shaking his fist, and I could see he was yelling too, but I couldn’t hear him.  I stepped back onto the sidewalk, and he drove on.  The moment had passed and everyone went back to their business.

My heart rate hadn’t come down from the last encounter.   Now it was approaching cardiac arrest, so I took a few minutes and several sets of lights to regain composure.

At the next intersection, I waited for the green light, and then a few seconds more, just to be sure.  I was no longer in a hurry.

At the next, I heard what sounded like a gunshot.  A few people looked around, worried expressions on their faces, but when it happened again, I saw it was an old car backfiring.  I also saw another yellow car, much the same as the one before, stopped on the side of the road.  I thought nothing of it, other than it was the second yellow car I’d seen.

At the next intersection, I realized I was subconsciously heading towards Harry’s new bar.   It was somewhere on 6th Avenue, so I continued walking in what I thought was the right direction.

I don’t know why I looked behind me at the next intersection, but I did.  There was another yellow car on the side of the road, not far from me.  It, too, looked the same as the original Lamborghini, and I was starting to think it was not a coincidence.

Moments after crossing the road, I heard the roar of a sports car engine and saw the yellow car accelerate past me.  As it passed by, I saw there were two people in it, and the blurry image of the passenger; a large man with a red tie.

Now my imagination was playing tricks.

It could not be the same man.  He was going in a different direction.

In the few minutes I’d been standing on the pavement, it had started to snow; early for this time of year, and marking the start of what could be a long cold winter.  I shuddered, and it was not necessarily because of the temperature.

I looked up and saw a neon light advertising a bar, coincidentally the one Harry had ‘found’ and, looking once in the direction of the departing yellow car, I decided to go in.  I would have a few drinks and then leave by the back door if it had one.

Just in case.

 

© Charles Heath 2015-2020

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