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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horrified wasn’t what I was feeling right then.

It was fear.

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

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

I was the archetypal nobody.

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

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

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

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

This conference was about countering that trend.

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

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

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

Then came the shot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was the good news.

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

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

I think death would have been preferable.

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

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

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

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

“What happens now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good man.”

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

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

That was a relief.

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

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

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

I nodded. “Yes.”

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I was annoyed.

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

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

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

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

“Well, it was overkill.”

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

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

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

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

She nodded.

“Did you catch this Jacob Westerbury character?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could see their dilemma.

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

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

“Not that I’m aware of.”

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

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

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

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

“Absolving you of any wrong doing?”

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

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

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

“I am unfortunately unavailable.”

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

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

“Then I’ll pencil you in?”

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

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

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

© Charles Heath 2015-2021

Searching for locations: Chateau Tongariro, New Zealand

This chateau was built in 1929 and was originally intended as a hostel for hikers.

It is now near the  Whakapapa skifield on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu and within  the boundary of the Tongariro National Park

chateautongoriro

We had afternoon tea in the lounge several times, and it is very pleasant in winter with the log fires burning.

togariro2

The interior is still as ornate as it had been in the 1930s.  The chairs are very comfortable, and the atmosphere pleasant.

Mount Ngauruhoe can be seen through the window of the lounge.  This was used a backdrop in the filming of Lord of the Rings.

mount-nz

But…

This place is the ideal setting for a murder, and I can see a story being written very much in the mold of Agatha Christie, with a couple of amateur sleuths who are staying there, trying to solve the crime.

Given the sort of shows being produced in New Zealand currently, for Acorn and other streaming services, this could be turned into a very pleasant two hour diversion with some very unique New Zealand, and foreign, characters.

Or just send the Brokenwood detective crew there!

Inspiration, Maybe – Volume Two

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:

And, the story:

Have you ever watched your hopes and dreams simply just fly away?

Everything I thought I wanted and needed had just left in an aeroplane, and although I said I was not going to, i came to the airport to see the plane leave.  Not the person on it, that would have been far too difficult and emotional, but perhaps it was symbolic, the end of one life and the start of another.

But no matter what I thought or felt, we had both come to the right decision.  She needed the opportunity to spread her wings.  It was probably not the best idea for her to apply for the job without telling me, but I understood her reasons.

She was in a rut.  Though her job was a very good one, it was not as demanding as she had expected, particularly after the last promotion, but with it came resentment from others on her level, that she, the youngest of the group would get the position.

It was something that had been weighing down of her for the last three months, and if noticed it, the late nights, the moodiness, sometimes a flash of temper.  I knew she had one, no one could have such red hair and not, but she had always kept it in check.

And, then there was us, together, and after seven years, it felt like we were going nowhere.  Perhaps that was down to my lack of ambition, and though she never said it, lack of sophistication.  It hadn’t been an issue, well, not until her last promotion, and the fact she had to entertain more, and frankly I felt like an embarrassment to her.

So, there it was, three days ago, the beginning of the weekend, and we had planned to go away for a few days and take stock.  We both acknowledged we needed to talk, but it never seemed the right time.

It was then she said she had quit her job and found a new one.  Starting the following Monday.

Ok, that took me by surprise, not so much that it something I sort of guessed might happen, but that she would just blurt it out.

I think that right then, at that moment, I could feel her frustration with everything around her.

What surprised her was my reaction.  None.

I simply asked where who, and when.

A world-class newspaper, in New York, and she had to be there in a week.

A week.

It was all the time I had left with her.

I remember I just shrugged and asked if the planned weekend away was off.

She stood on the other side of the kitchen counter, hands around a cup of coffee she had just poured, and that one thing I remembered was the lone tear that ran down her cheek.

Is that all you want to know?

I did, yes, but we had lost that intimacy we used to have when she would have told me what was happening, and we would have brainstormed solutions. I might be a cabinet maker but I still had a brain, was what I overheard her tell a friend once.

There’s not much to ask, I said.  You’ve been desperately unhappy and haven’t been able to hide it all that well, you have been under a lot of pressure trying to deal with a group of troglodytes, and you’ve been leaning on Bentley’s shoulder instead of mine, and I get it, he’s got more experience in that place,  and the politics that go with it, and is still an ally.

Her immediate superior and instrumental in her getting the position, but unlike some men in his position he had not taken advantage of a situation like some men would.  And even if she had made a move, which I doubted, that was not the sort of woman she was, he would have politely declined.

One of the very few happily married men in that organisation, so I heard.

So, she said, you’re not just a pretty face.

Par for the course for a cabinet maker whose university degree is in psychology.  It doesn’t take rocket science to see what was happening to you.  I just didn’t think it was my place to jump in unless you asked me, and when you didn’t, well, that told me everything I needed to know.

Yes, our relationship had a use by date, and it was in the next few days.

I was thinking, she said, that you might come with me,  you can make cabinets anywhere.

I could, but I think the real problem wasn’t just the job.  It was everything around her and going with her, that would just be a constant reminder of what had been holding her back. I didn’t want that for her and said so.

Then the only question left was, what do we do now?

Go shopping for suitcases.  Bags to pack, and places to go.

Getting on the roller coaster is easy.  On the beginning, it’s a slow easy ride, followed by the slow climb to the top.  It’s much like some relationships, they start out easy, they require a little work to get to the next level, follows by the adrenaline rush when it all comes together.

What most people forget is that what comes down must go back up, and life is pretty much a roller coaster with highs and lows.

Our roller coaster had just come or of the final turn and we were braking so that it stops at the station.

There was no question of going with her to New York.  Yes, I promised I’d come over and visit her, but that was a promise with crossed fingers behind my back.  After a few months in t the new job the last thing shed want was a reminder of what she left behind.  New friends new life.

We packed her bags, three out everything she didn’t want, a free trips to the op shop with stiff she knew others would like to have, and basically, by the time she was ready to go, there was nothing left of her in the apartment, or anywhere.

Her friends would be seeing her off at the airport, and that’s when I told her I was not coming, that moment the taxi arrived to take her away forever.  I remember standing there, watching the taxi go.  It was going to be, and was, as hard as it was to watch the plane leave.

So, there I was, finally staring at the blank sky, around me a dozen other plane spotters, a rather motley crew of plane enthusiasts.

Already that morning there’s been 6 different types of plane depart, and I could hear another winding up its engines for take-off.

People coming, people going.

Maybe I would go to New York in a couple of months, not to see her, but just see what the attraction was.  Or maybe I would drop in, just to see how she was.

As one of my friends told me when I gave him the news, the future is never written in stone, and it’s about time you broadened your horizons.

Perhaps it was.


© Charles Heath 2020-2021

Coming soon.  Find the above story and 49 others like it in:

What did it mean, “Being ‘undead’ isn’t being alive”

I remember one day many many years ago seeing a piece of graffiti in a railway tunnel:  “Being undead isn’t being alive”.

It was the ’70s right after a turbulent ’60s where everything changed, where only the young, as I was at the time, didn’t recognise what had changed.

Of course, this is the problem down through the generations, where the older generation witness the changes, too fast, too sudden, too radical, and the young, they adopt them without thinking.

And that piece of graffiti, it was more than likely a cry for help that would never come.

After all, the older generation never knew what had happened, and there was no means of coping.  Words were not enough, and it was the beginning of a breakdown in discipline, and a lot more that didn’t manifest itself for a generation.

But that sign lived on, through the ’80s and the ’90s.  I first saw it as a child, it was still there when I was going to and from work on the train.  It made me wonder often during those years what the graffitist was trying to tell the world.

Being undead?  What sort of expression is that?

I think he or she was alluding to the fact that being alive was more than just drawing breath, eating and sleeping.

Those early years of youthful emancipation brought on all sorts of maladies, and drugs.  We were never warned about them, not like they do now in schools, and it seemed everyone knew someone who knew where to get them.

I never tried them.  Not for the usual reasons, it was just I never found myself in a situation where I could get them, or try them to see what all the fuss was about.

Perhaps I should be glad it worked out that way.

Of course, I would never find out what the graffitist meant, but I suspect it could have been one of those moments of rare clarity, in a drug-induced haze, or the depths of despair from not having had the next ‘fix’.

Or was it something simple, like he or she had just broken up with a long-term partner, that painful time when one or other calls it quits? Or that time after an argument with one of your parents, or a best friend, and it seemed there was no path back?  Or is it like that feeling of being betrayed, that awful feeling when you discover your partner is cheating on you, and inevitably everyone else knew, but you’re the last to find out?

No, the message wasn’t that simple, especially because of the psychedelic manner in which it was presented on that wall, I doubt the perpetrator had an artistic talent they wanted to show off.  That artistic bent was fuelled by something else, perhaps a dream or a vision.

Or, instead, there was no real reason, and it was the culmination of having the freedom you always wanted, and yet be left with an emptiness that cannot be filled no matter how many drugs you take.  Was that why so many people back then died from an overdose?

I’ll never know who it was that put that sign on the wall, whether they lived or died, or whether they found what they were looking for.  Nor will I ever know what it was like to be in their shoes.

Perhaps I was one of the lucky people, who knows?

 

 

 

“Strangers We’ve Become”, a sequel to “What Sets Us Apart”

Stranger’s We’ve Become, a sequel to What Sets Us Apart.

The blurb:

Is she or isn’t she, that is the question!

Susan has returned to David, but he is having difficulty dealing with the changes. Her time in captivity has changed her markedly, so much so that David decides to give her some time and space to re-adjust back into normal life.

But doubts about whether he chose the real Susan remain.

In the meantime, David has to deal with Susan’s new security chief, the discovery of her rebuilding a palace in Russia, evidence of an affair, and several attempts on his life. And, once again, David is drawn into another of Predergast’s games, one that could ultimately prove fatal.

From being reunited with the enigmatic Alisha, a strange visit to Susan’s country estate, to Russia and back, to a rescue mission in Nigeria, David soon discovers those whom he thought he could trust each has their own agenda, one that apparently doesn’t include him.

The Cover:

strangerscover9

Coming soon

 

Memories of the conversations with my cat – 67

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…

This is Chester. He’s come down from his bed in our bedroom to see what the commotion is about.

He stops at the top of the stairs down into the lounge room and sees the TV.

I might have guessed, the Maple Leafs are playing, he says.

Yep, I say, gleefully, and they’re winning.

Its not over until you know what…

Way to be a spoilsport. Stop complaining and take a seat. It’s a new day, a new coach, and a new invigoration in the team.

He sits and does that wrap around thing with his tail that indicates irritability.

Don’t get your hopes up, he says. And shouldn’t you be out in the office working on your NaNoWriMo project.

Under control I say. It’s practically writing itself.

Is that a shake of his head?

“What Sets Us Apart”, a mystery with a twist

David is a man troubled by a past he is trying to forget.

Susan is rebelling against a life of privilege and an exasperated mother who holds a secret that will determine her daughter’s destiny.

They are two people brought together by chance. Or was it?

When Susan discovers her mother’s secret, she goes in search of the truth that has been hidden from her since the day she was born.

When David realizes her absence is more than the usual cooling off after another heated argument, he finds himself being slowly drawn back into his former world of deceit and lies.

Then, back with his former employers, David quickly discovers nothing is what it seems as he embarks on a dangerous mission to find Susan before he loses her forever.

http://amzn.to/2Eryfth

whatsetscover

In a word: Line

The English language has some marvelous words that can be used so as to have any number of meanings

For instance,

Draw a line in the sand

We would all like to do this with our children, our job, our relationships, but for some reason, the idea sounds really good in our heads, but it never quite works out in reality. What does it mean, whatever it is, this I’d where it ends or changes because it can’t keep going the way it is.

Inevitably it leads to,

You’ve crossed the line

Which at some point in our lives, and particularly when children, we all do a few times until, if we’re lucky we learn where that line is. It’s usually considered 8n tandem with pushing boundaries.

Of course, there is

A line you should never cross

And I like to think we all know where that is. Unfortunately, some do not and often find their seemingly idyllic life totally shattered beyond repair. An affair from either side of a marriage or relationship can do that.

You couldn’t walk a straight line if you tried

While we might debate what straight might mean in this context, for this adaptation it means staying on the right side of legality. Some people find a life of crime more appealing than doing honest days work.

This goes hand in hand with,

You’re spinning me a line

Which means you are being somewhat loose with the truth, perhaps in explaining where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing. I think sometimes liars forget they need to have good memories.

Then there are the more practical uses of the word, such as

I have a new line of products

Is that a new fishing line?

Those I think most of us get, but it’s the more ambiguous that we have trouble with. Still, ambiguity is a writer’s best friend and we can make up a lot of stuff from just using one word.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horrified wasn’t what I was feeling right then.

It was fear.

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

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

I was the archetypal nobody.

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

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

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

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

This conference was about countering that trend.

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

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

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

Then came the shot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was the good news.

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

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

I think death would have been preferable.

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

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

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

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

“What happens now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good man.”

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

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

That was a relief.

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

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

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

I nodded. “Yes.”

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I was annoyed.

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

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

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

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

“Well, it was overkill.”

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

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

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

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

She nodded.

“Did you catch this Jacob Westerbury character?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could see their dilemma.

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

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

“Not that I’m aware of.”

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

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

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

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

“Absolving you of any wrong doing?”

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

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

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

“I am unfortunately unavailable.”

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

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

“Then I’ll pencil you in?”

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

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

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

© Charles Heath 2015-2021

Searching for locations: Chateau Tongariro, New Zealand

This chateau was built in 1929 and was originally intended as a hostel for hikers.

It is now near the  Whakapapa skifield on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu and within  the boundary of the Tongariro National Park

chateautongoriro

We had afternoon tea in the lounge several times, and it is very pleasant in winter with the log fires burning.

togariro2

The interior is still as ornate as it had been in the 1930s.  The chairs are very comfortable, and the atmosphere pleasant.

Mount Ngauruhoe can be seen through the window of the lounge.  This was used a backdrop in the filming of Lord of the Rings.

mount-nz

But…

This place is the ideal setting for a murder, and I can see a story being written very much in the mold of Agatha Christie, with a couple of amateur sleuths who are staying there, trying to solve the crime.

Given the sort of shows being produced in New Zealand currently, for Acorn and other streaming services, this could be turned into a very pleasant two hour diversion with some very unique New Zealand, and foreign, characters.

Or just send the Brokenwood detective crew there!