The cinema of my dreams – Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 6

I’m back home and this story has been sitting on a back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.

The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritising.

But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.

Did he just witness an execution?

I could see the cogs in his mind turning over.  Calculating what it would take to get past me.

Running would only help me.

Walking, well, he wasn’t going to get far.

A fight?  He might be more experienced, but I was more angry, now controlled anger aided by rational thinking.  There would be no blindly lashing out.

Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Self defence.

We were ten yards apart when he stopped, moving to one side near the wall.  I’d seen him looking for a weapon, but luckily none were on offer.  Someone kept this laneway very clean.

A car had been parked at the end, and I’d seen him try the doors.  Locked.  It would not be available for his escape.

He glared at me.  “You’re Jackson, right?”

A brief moment of shock.  How did he know my name?

“Who I am is irrelevant.”

“So you say.  But I can assure you this is all wrong.”

Rule number seventy, or something like that, the target will say anything to get you offside.

“You harmed my friends.”

“Then, you’re in big trouble if you regard them as friends.  In this business, we don’t have friends.”

He was right in one respect.  Having friends gave out enemies leverage.  But without friends, the loneliness of the job could break you.

But, right then I wasn’t interested in his opinion.

When I didn’t answer he said, “This is a setup.  I’m not the enemy, I’m one of you.  I made a mistake, and now they’ve set the dogs on me.”

I didn’t ask why we were following him, that was above my pay grade, added to the fact I didn’t want to know.  Knowing the perfidy of the target could compromise how I treated him.

“You’re the target, why I don’t care.”

“Look, I haven’t got much time.  Find a man called Alfred Nobbin.  I work for him.  I found something I shouldn’t, which is why you are here, now.  Tell him the evidence is ….”

I didn’t hear the bullet that killed him, but it came from behind me, hit him in the chest, its force sending him backwards, and he was dead before he hit the ground.”

I turned but there was no one there.

© Charles Heath 2019-2021

“For heaven’s sake…” – a short story

It was a combination of circumstances, not all related, but coming at me out of left field, circumstances that would prevent me from going home when I said I would.

I had every intention of getting there and as a testament to that, I had got to the airport with baggage two hours before departure time and had reached the departure gate with 20 minutes to spare, ready to board the plane.

I’d even got a business class ticket so I could travel in style.

What precipitated the set of circumstances? A simple phone call. I should have turned it off five minutes before boarding, but I didn’t but because I’d forgotten to, simply because I’d been distracted.

The call was from Penelope, my hard-working and self-sacrificing personal assistant. I had offered to take her with me so we could work on a business plan that had to be presented the day after I was scheduled to return, but she had declined, which when I thought about it, if she hadn’t it might have created problems for both of us.

With a huge restructure going on, I was running behind in getting it completed and had promised to finish it while at home.

The call: to tell me I had left a folder with vital research back on my desk, and she came to the airport to deliver it, and she was, in fact, was in the terminal building when the boarding call came.

When I met her at the gate, only a few passengers had to be loaded. Being business class had afforded me a few extra minutes. File delivered, I left her looking exasperated and headed down the boarding ramp.

I was last aboard, and seconds after being seated, the door was closed.

I quickly typed and sent a message to tell everyone I was on the plane, eliciting two responses. My mother was glad that I was finally coming, the other from my elder brother, saying he would believe it when he saw me.

It was not without reason; I’d been in this situation before; on the plane ready to go.

Last time the plane didn’t leave the gate, a small problem that caused a big delay, so much so, I couldn’t get home.

Not this time. There was a slight lurch as the push tractor started pushing the plane back from the gate. A minute or so later the pilot fired up the engines, a sure sign of a definite departure. Nothing could stop us now.

It was a reassuring vibration that ran through the plane before the engines settled into a steady whine, a sign of an older plane that had flown many miles in the past and would into the future.

We stopped while the push tractor was disengaged and then the engines picked up speed and we lurched forward, heading towards the runway for take-off. In some airports, this could take a long time, and tonight it seemed to take forever.

I looked out the window and saw a backdrop of lights against the darkness, but no indication of where we were. It didn’t look like the end of the runway because I could not see any other planes waiting to take off.

Then the engines revved louder and for a pronged period. We didn’t move but remained where we were until the engines returned to what might be called idling speed

It was followed by an announcement from the pilot, “This is the captain speaking. We have encountered an anomaly with one of the engines, so to be on the safe side, we are returning to the gate and will have the engineers have a look at it. I do not anticipate this should take longer than 30 minutes.”

A collective groan went through the airplane. Those savvy with these problems would know that the odds were we would not be leaving tonight. The airport curfew would see to that.

But a miracle could still occur.

The plane then started back to the terminal. Another message from the pilot told us we would not be going back to the gate, but to a holding area. Time to have a glass of champagne the steward was offering before going back to the terminal for what, an interminable wait.

It seemed the gods did not want me to go back home.

When we got back to the parking spot, three buses and four delays later, I headed for one of the several bars to get a drink, and perhaps something decent to eat.

Then I saw Penelope, sitting by herself, a glass of champagne sitting half drunk in front of her.

“What are you doing here?” I said as I slid onto the stool beside her.

She started, as if she had been somewhere else, and turned to see who it was. The faraway look turned into a smile when she recognized me. “Getting drunk.”

“I thought you were going home.” A nod in the direction of the bartender, followed by pointing to her glass and indicating I wanted two, got instant service.

“I saw an ex heading to a plane with his latest squeeze. Made me feel depressed. I heard your plane was returning so I decided to wait. Better to get drunk with someone you know than drink by yourself or someone you don’t. I’ve had three offers already.”

I wasn’t surprised. She was very attractive, the sort of woman who was the most popular at any of the work functions but was equally surprising was that she was not with any of those potential suitors. In fact, as far as I knew, she was not in a relationship.

“No one at home to amuse you?” It was not the sort of question I should be asking, because it was really none of my business.

It elicited a sideways glance as if I stepped over an invisible line.

“Sorry, none of my business.”

She finished off the glass in front of her, just as the new round arrived in front of her. I gave the bartender my credit card and asked him to start a tab. I’d just heard that the plane was going to be another two hours before we’d be leaving.

“I live with two other girls, but they are more interested in finding stray men and getting wasted, not necessarily in that order, and that’s not what I want to do.”

“Get wasted or find stray men?”

I was not sure how anyone had the time and inclination to do that, but a few weeks back I spent two evenings with a friend of mine whose marriage had fallen apart. The people there seemed either desperate or looking for a one-night stand. It had amused me to discover most of them were married, and not divorced, and that the girls knew what to expect.

“Both apparently.”

“How do you expect to find the man of your dreams if you don’t go looking.”

“I am, this place seems as good as any, but the man of my dreams doesn’t exist.”

The bemused expression and the tone of her voice told me she had had more than one drink before I got there. Even then, judging from several previous parties for work we had attended, she had a much greater capacity for alcohol than I had.

She finished off the glass just brought, and seconds later her eyes seemed glassy. Perhaps it was time for me to put her in a cab and send her home.

“Another,” she said, “and then you can be responsible for me.”

I had no idea what that meant, and I think, judging by the facial expressions, she didn’t really care.


She didn’t let me finish. “Perhaps you should buy me another drink and lighten up.” And the look that came with it told me not to argue the point.

I got the bartender’s attention, and he responded by bringing two fresh glasses and a bottle. I told him to leave it. It gave me a minute or so to contemplate what she meant by ‘lighten up’. I was so used to seeing her work ethic and diligence, this was a different side to her.

I took a sip and could feel her looking at me. A glance took in the near permanent bemused expression.

“Are you going to be alright getting home?” It was probably not the question I should have asked, but in the back of my mind there was a recent briefing given to all of management on the subject of sexual harassment and intraoffice romances.

“I’m fine. It’s not as if I do this a lot, but the last week has been difficult. Not only for me, but for you too. But you have to admit you put yourself under a lot of pressure.”

She was starting to sound like my conscience. It was something I’d been thinking about on the way to the airport but decided it was part of the job, and I knew when I accepted the position what it would involve. My predecessor, much older than I was, had fallen on his sword, the pressure destroying his marriage and almost his life.

“So I said, lamely, It goes with the job, unfortunately.”

She shook her head. “No, it doesn’t. They might think it does, but they don’t care. They sit in their ivory tower and watch their minions crash and burn. There’s always someone else waiting in the wings to take your place, believe me.”

It was an interesting perspective, but where did it come from? I knew she had been at the corporation for a number of years, and I had been lucky enough to draw the long straw when having her assigned to me as my PA when I took the position. One of the other executives had lamented my good fortune, but he had also said she was one of the few who were there to guide that higher management considered were management prospects.

I just thought I was lucky.

“I might end up in that ivory tower one day.”


She turned to look directly at me. It made me uncomfortable now, as it had on other occasions, and I had begun to think it might have something to do with unspoken feelings. I liked her, but I doubted that was reciprocated. And, after the lecture on office romances, I promptly put those feelings in the bottom drawer and locked it.

“Doesn’t everyone aspire to be the best, and climb to the top of the corporate ladder?”

“For that, you have to be devious and ruthless, and from what I’ve seen, you’re neither. You’ve heard the expression ‘good guys come last’. It’s true.”

I was guessing from the people she had worked for, she had firsthand experience. My predecessor was a ‘good guy’ and some said he was eaten alive by the office predators. I knew who they were, and avoided them. Perhaps she knew something I didn’t, but when would she have told me? Not tonight, no one could have predicted the plane would break down.

“You’re telling me this now, why?”

“You’re smarter than all of those above you put together. You don’t need them, but they need you. But, you won’t get any concessions, not until you get near the top. By then you will have had to sell your soul to the devil.”

Good to know, on one hand, I was about to see my soul to the devil, and on the other that I was smart, just not smart enough to see the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

I noticed she hadn’t touched the latest glass of champagne. Nor was she the languid barfly she’d pretended to be earlier.

“You’re advice, if I’m listening correctly, is that I should be looking for another job.”

“Actually, you shouldn’t be listening to me at all. Too many drinks and I pontificate. Some people become happy, I become,” she shrugged, “unhappy. Take no notice.” She swung around to the front and picked up the glass.

“OK.” I turned around to look at the departures board to see my flight had been canceled, and I should go to the check-in counter. “My plane is completely broken, so it looks like I’m staying home.”

“Or you could take me to dinner.” She looked sideways again, the bemused expression back.

“Wouldn’t that be inappropriate?”

“Only if you were in upper management, married, and asking me to have an affair. Last I looked you’re not in upper management, not married, so there’s no hint of an affair. For heaven’s sake, it’s only dinner.”

She was right on all counts, and it was only dinner.

“Why not?” I said, more to myself than to her.

“Good. And you’d better get me on the plane too. We need to get that report done, and it’ll be an excuse to stay at a hotel. I know you wouldn’t want to stay in your old room at your parents’ house.”

She was right about that too, I had long outgrown them, and staying at home would only lead to arguments. “How could you possibly know that?”

She smiled. “You talk in your sleep.”

© Charles Heath 2021

Memories of the conversations with my cat – 30

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.  Waiting impatiently.

I’ve asked him to stay by the front door and let me know when the delivery man comes.

What is it we’re waiting for?

It’s a surprise.

For who?

If I told you that, then it wouldn’t be a surprise.

That, of course, sets his mind racing, because now he thinks I’ve got a surprise for him.  And the memories of that doesn’t sit well, because the half dozen practice mice I got him didn’t get used.

Why do I need to practice chasing mice that don’t move? he asked.

It was an interesting question, a led to another surprise, a half dozen clockwork mice.

He wanted to know why I was winding them up, and then, when I put them down, he simply watched then crash into the wall.

I shake my head as I walk away.  Why did I say anything?  All I had to do was open the door and he would have come, sat and waited for no reason at all.



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

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

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

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

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

My private detective, Harry Walthenson

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

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

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

Then there’s the title, like

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

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

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

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

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

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


Searching for locations: – Lake Louise, Canada, ice, snow, and cold

The Fairmont at Lake Louise, in Canada, is noted for its ice castle in winter.  This has been created by the ice sculptor, Lee Ross since 2007, using about 150 blocks of ice, each weighing roughly 300 pounds.

When I first saw it, from a distance, looked like it was made out of plastic  It’s not.  Venturing out into the very, very cold, a close inspection showed it was made of ice.

And, it’s not likely to melt in a hurry given the temperature when I went down to look at it was hovering around minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

And that was the warmest part of the day.

An excerpt from “Sunday in New York”

Now available on Amazon at:


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The battle lines were drawn.

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

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

Then it was gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No secrets.  Her look conveyed something else entirely.

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

Then, a toast.

To a new job and a new life.

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

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

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

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

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

I had no idea the two were so close.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yet you accepted the job.”

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


“My boss.”

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

“How did Elaine get the job?”

“Oh, Alison put him onto her.”


“A couple of months ago.  Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She had her ‘secrets’.  I had mine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It left me confused and lost.

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

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


© Charles Heath 2015-2020

Sunday In New York


It’s all about the Cover

And, of course, the description.

Probably one of the hardest things for a first-time author is not so much the writing but what is needed after the book is written.

You need a good description.  Short, sharp, incisive!

There’s a ream of advice out there, and I have read it all.

And, still, I got it wrong.

Then there is the cover.

I wanted simplistic, a short description to give the reader a taste of what’s in store, and let the story speak for itself.


Apparently, a good cover will attract the reader to the book.

When I tendered my books on various sites to advertise them, sites such as Goodreads, and ThirdScribe, all was well with what I had done.

Then I submitted my books to a third site and they rejected the covers as too simplistic and the descriptions mundane, and wouldn’t post them.


There’s a huge blow to the ego.  And just the sort of advice that would make a writer think twice about even bothering to continue.


Perhaps the person who wrote that critique was being cruel to be kind.

At any rate, I am changing the covers, and rewording the descriptions.

Will it be a case of ‘what a difference a cover makes’?

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.


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.


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.


“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

The cinema of my dreams – It’s a treasure hunt – Episode 48

Here’s the thing…

Every time I close my eyes, I see something different.

I’d like to think the cinema of my dreams is playing a double feature but it’s a bit like a comedy cartoon night on Fox.

But these dreams are nothing to laugh about.

Once again there’s a new installment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.

Here’s the thing. Should I tell Boggs about the Ormiston’s?

Should I tell him that there was more than one lake?

Should I wait until I’d looked at the information that had been stored away? From the way Gwen was talking, no one had looked at Ormiston’s papers since the day they were deposited in the library, except perhaps Gwen herself.

And it helped that Gwen would not give any meaningful assistance to Alex Benderby or any of his cohorts. It seemed all she had given them was the briefest outline of the Ormiston story. She obviously didn’t mention that Ormiston had left anything behind.

Two tasks that I added to a list were, firstly, to start looking at old newspaper archives in the area for anything on Ormiston’s fruitless searches for the treasure, and find out, if possible, whether he works with a map of any sort. Nadia had mentioned the possibility of the pirate captain keeping a journal. Had he seen it, even owned it one time?

There was also the impression that Boggs’ father was not the only one involved with searching for the treasure. He had a map and it looked quite old. Was it possible it had been handed down from father to son, and just to take it a little further, had Ormiston and Boggs’ grandfather been rivals or cohorts? Indeed, a question for Boggs when I saw him.

Secondly, I would have to go around the various churches in the county and see what I could find about Ormiston’s relations. I would not be the only one, Alex would have people out there now doing just that. Whilst that information would be available at the County’s capital, but I knew from experience when I was looking into my own family’s history, getting information out of them was costly and time-consuming.

That was for my own family. Looking for someone else would, no doubt, be might in impossible, considering privacy regulations. There was more chance of gleaning information from tombstones in church graveyards the getting it from the local government.

It was a thought consuming exercise, considering everything after just a short talk with Gwen, and, about to cross a road to retrieve my bicycle, two things happened. The first, I was nearly run over and had only a blaring horn scaring me half to death as a timely warning, and second, the chance sighting of what looked like a man following me. He thought he’d managed to duck out of the way quick enough, but he hadn’t. It was the red check shirt that gave him away. Perhaps if he had been dressed more conservatively, I might have missed him.

I should have remembered that Alex wanted both me and Boggs followed.

Now he would know I went to the library, and if anyone asked, I hoped Gwen would not give away what we had been talking about.

It brought up another moment, one that sent a shudder through me. Had he seen me come and go to Nadia? I hadn’t seen anyone, and I was careful in both coming and going.

Now I would have to be even more careful.

As I checked before crossing the road towards the bicycle rack, I saw the man again, not exactly trying to hide the fact he was following me. At least I now had an advantage.

I delayed the arrival home until I knew my mother would have left for work. I’d worry about explaining myself to her later.

Boggs was waiting for me, sitting on the front steps to the house, absorbed by a new game on his phone. He looked up as I dropped my bike on the ground. I’d need it soon to go to work, and it was easier just to leave it outside the front door.

He had as combative look on his face, the sort he wore when things weren’t going his way. I was not sure if there was anything more I could have done for him. For a few years now, I had tried to be the best friend I could, and in the circumstances, I tried to be there for him. It was not as if I didn’t share his situation also being without a father, but the way in which we lost him was not the same as Boggs.

Perhaps in the last few days, or weeks, I’d changed a little, getting a job, whereas Boggs had no interest in doing so, and interacting with more and different people. Even just being with Nadia, even though it was a very bad idea, made a difference.

It was time that Boggs grew up and started taking some responsibility. It was just a case of I not wanting to be the one to tell him. So, in the meantime, I would just have to tolerate his attitude.

“What was more important than going to check on the other river.”

He decided to tackle me head-on. The truth is I forgot we were supposed to be going there this morning. It would not have happened if I hadn’t stayed with Nadia, but I wasn’t going to be able to use her as an excuse.

I decided to be nice and deflect his implied criticism. “Hello, and how are you?”

“Yada, yada. Now that you have a job, we have only a few hours every day to get stuff done. I could do this on my own, but I thought you would like to be included. In fact, you said that you needed something to liven up what was a very dull existence.”

I had, but that was before I got the job.

“Maybe you should try and get a job too. I’m sure that the treasure is not likely to be going anywhere.”

“You can’t be sure that Benderby or the Cossatino’s are not hot on the trail right now. Unless you saw something last night to the contrary.”

I was hoping he wouldn’t bring that up. No such luck. “Alex is going around in circles, and I’m not sure what the Cossatino’s think because they originally came up with the idea of selling fake maps which means they have no real idea where it is, a fact you told me.”

“Be that as it may for the Cossatino’s, but Alex is no fool.”

“Alex is a fool, Boggs. He was a fool as school, and just little more than a thug in a suit now. And like the people he hangs out with, and like Vince, if you look closely, they all lack the acumen of their fathers, and they are not necessarily running point for their families, I suspect neither Alex nor Vince had told their respective fathers of what they’re up to.”

That mollified him a little, but he was still looking combative.

“We still should be concentrating our efforts.”

“Well in that respect I have been doing some digging. What do you know about a man called Ormiston?”

It was like the sun just went behind a cloud.

© Charles Heath 2020

Skeletons in the closet, and doppelgangers

A story called “Mistaken Identity”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a great idea for a story.

That story is called ‘Mistaken Identity’.

Read an extract tomorrow.