For a story that was conceived during those long boring hours flying in a steel cocoon, striving to keep away the thoughts that the plane and everyone in it could just simply disappear as planes have in the past, it has come a long way.
Whilst I have always had a fascination with what happened during the second world war, not the battles or fighting, but in the more obscure events that took place, I decided to pen my own little sidebar to what was a long and bitter war.
And, so, it continues…
We gathered up what food there was to take with us. There were no weapons left behind. Leonardo had assumed correctly we would have used them if they’d been left there.
Carlo had changed slowly into an automaton, and I guess if I could read his mind, I’d know exactly what he was thinking. Enrico had attached himself to Carlo, and I knew Carlo would look after him.
When I said that the burials would have to wait, Carlo agreed.
We had a short discussion on what we would be doing next, and in the first instance, we would be going back to the other soldiers and the church. There, with both of our knowledge of the castle, its entrances, secret or otherwise, and the internal passageways which I knew Wallace and the others there were not too familiar with, we would formulate a plan to go in and pick them off one by one.
It seemed a good plan when we first talked about it, but on the way back to the church, and I had time to consider how it would work, it seemed we would only get an advantage once, and we would have to kill or capture as many as we could in the first raid.
Then it was going to be difficult.
Unless Carlo knew of more places we could enter the castle without being seen or heard.
I only knew of three.
And the first post we had to hit, and silence, the radio room.
My war had not been as start or as terrifying as most of those whom I’d known or worked with. My part was more selective, finding and eliminating spies, informers, and enemy cells on home territory.
Sometimes that would extend into enemy territory, particularly France where, as one who could speak French fluently, I found myself working with the resistance, using intelligence gathered by a network of spies we had, not only in France but in all parts of enemy territory. That also meant, sometimes, accompanying weapons and other supplies into enemy territory.
It hadn’t included anything like what I’d just seen back at the underground cavern.
I’d been told, often, about the enemy executing whole villages, and large groups as retaliation for resistance operations that killed German soldiers, and particularly officers, but I’d not seen it first-hand.
Now I had.
I’d been told, along with the others who had been at the training camp way back at the start of the war, that we would inevitably see atrocities. Those instructors, men who had survived the first war, were speaking from experience. We were told it would make us angry. It had. I had this immediate thought of doing as much damage as I could to the perpetrators of that massacre.
But we had also been told that we had to harness that anger, and use it to drive our actions, bot in a reckless manner, but with a measured calm and with planning. Blind rage, which had been predicted, would only get us killed.
I had left the cavern at the blind rage stage, but the walk to the church wore some of that off, and I began to piece together the seeds of a plan to get our revenge. We were only a small group, but even so, we could work more efficiently than those at the castle.
Leonardo was not going to tell Wallace that he hadn’t captured or killed me in his ambush, but it might make Wallace think that my ability to retaliate would be weakened. Leonardo would know that Carlo and I were still alive. He would not know about Blinky and his men.
It would be interesting to see if Wallace would commit any of his men to hunt us down, send Leonardo back out to finish the job, or just wait until Meyer turned up. His contact in Gaole would know about the castle’s change of allegiance, but he would not know that Martina was not going to be there to greet them when they arrived in the village.
That was several days away. We would have to be there, but it was going to be dangerous unless we found a way to neutralize the castle. So far, in my head, we’d neutralized the radio and got as far as the dungeons before meeting enemy resistance.
The same had happened in the next six scenarios, after playing out the last we had arrived back at the church.
Chiara was resting as comfortably as the Sergeant could make her.
He had made a more thorough assessment of her injuries, and aside for the severe beating, she had sustained a few cracked ribs and several broken fingers. The broken fingers were a surprise. The sergeant had reset them as best he could.
Other than that, she would recover physically. Mentally, he said, would be something else. She was lucky, he said, her torturer was an amateur, and Italian. Had it been the German Gestapo, she would be dead.
She was lucid and I told her we would make Leonardo pay for what he’d done. I thought it best not to tell her about what had happened back at the cavern. She had enough on her conscience without adding the senseless deaths of the villagers.
Then we had a meeting, where I asked Carlo to draw a plan of the castle and the places where we could breach their defenses and give us an element of surprise.
He had one that I hadn’t known about, one that might give us a fighting chance.
For the first time on this trip, we encounter problems with Chinese officialdom at the railway station, though we were warned that this might occur.
We had a major problem with the security staff when they pulled everyone over with aerosols and confiscated them. We lost styling mousse, others lost hair spray, and the men, their shaving cream. But, to her credit, the tour guide did warn us they were stricter here, but her suggestion to be angry they were taking our stuff was probably not the right thing to do.
As with previous train bookings, the Chinese method of placing people in seats didn’t quite manage to keep couples traveling together, together on the train. It was an odd peculiarity which few of the passengers understood, nor did they conform, swapping seat allocations.
This train ride did not seem the same as the last two and I don’t think we had the same type of high-speed train type that we had for the last two. The carriages were different, there was only one toilet per carriage, and I don’t think we were going as fast.
But aside from that, we had 753 kilometers to travel with six stops before ours, two of which were very large cities, and then our stop, about four and a half hours later. With two minutes this time, to get the baggage off the team managed it in 40 seconds, a new record.
After slight disorientation getting off the train, we locate our guide, easily ground by looking for the Trip-A-Deal flag. From there it’s a matter of getting into our respective groups and finding the bus.
As usual, the trip to the hotel was a long one, but we were traveling through a much brighter, and well lit, city.
As for our guide, we have him from now until the end of the tour. There are no more train rides, we will be taking the bus from city to city until we reach Shanghai. Good thing then that the bus is brand new, with that new car smell. Only issue, no USB charging point.
The Snowy Sea hotel.
It is finally a joy to get a room that is nothing short of great. It has a bathroom and thus privacy.
Everyone had to go find a supermarket to purchase replacements for the confiscated items. Luckily there was a huge supermarket just up from the hotel that had everything but the kitchen sink.
But, unlike where we live, the carpark is more of a scooter park!
It is also a small microcosm of Chinese life for the new more capitalistic oriented Chinese.
The next morning we get some idea of the scope of high-density living, though here, the buildings are not 30 stories tall, but still just as impressive.
These look like the medium density houses, but to the right of these are much larger buildings
The remarkable thing about this is those buildings stretch as far as the eye can see.
Watching the doors that lead to the consulting rooms is about as exciting as watching pigeons standing on a window ledge.
When you have little else to do while waiting to see the doctor, it can take on new meaning, especially if you don’t want to be like 95% of the others waiting and be on their mobile phones.
What you basically have is a cross-section of people right in front of you, a virtual cornucopia of characters just waiting to stay in your next novel, of course with some minor adjustments. It’s the actions and traits I’m looking for, and since it is a hospital, there’s bound to be some good ones.
It’s a steady drip of patients getting called, and it seems like more are arriving than being seen, and those that are being called have arrived and barely got to sit down, whilst a steady core has been waiting, and waiting, and waiting…
Everyone reacts differently to waiting.
A lady arrives, walking tentatively into the waiting area. It’s reasonably full so the first thing she does is look for a spot where she doesn’t have to sit next to anyone else. I’m the same, nothing worse if you sit next to a talker, and getting their life history.
Or they are reading a broadsheet newspaper. It’s not the aroma of the ink that is annoying you.
Another sits, looking like they’re going to read; they brought a book with them but it sits on her lap. Is she far too worried to be able to concentrate? Or is there something else in the room that compels her attention?
The phone comes out, a quick scan, then it remains in hand. Is she expecting a call or text wishing her luck? It’s not the oncology clinic so she doesn’t have cancer. Hopefully. The fact she brought a book tells me she’s been here before and knows a 9:00 appointment is rarely on time.
As we are discovering.
A couple arrives, maybe a mother and daughter, maybe a patient and her support person. Both of them don’t look very well do it’s a toss-up who is there to see the doctor.
Next is a man who could easily pass as living on the street. It’s probably an injustice to say so, but his appearance is compelling, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.
He sits and the person next to him gets up, apparently looking for something, then moves subtly to another seat. Someone else nearby wrinkles her nose. Two others look in his direction and then whisper to each other. No guesses what the subject is.
More arrive, fewer seats, some are called, but everyone notices, and avoids, the man.
The sign of the door where the stream of patients are going, says no entry staff only, and periodically a staff member comes striding out either purposely or sedately, clutching a piece of all-important paper, the sign of someone who knows where they’re going, on an important mission. Names are being called from this door and various other sections of the room, requiring you to keep one ear open in all directions.
And, to be sure, if you have to go to the restroom, that’s when your name will be called.
It seems all hospitals are branches of the United Nations, medical staff, and particularly doctors, are recruited from all over the world, and it seems to be able to speak understandable English is not one of the mandatory requirements, and sometimes the person calling out the name has a little difficulty with the pronunciation.
Perhaps like the UN, we need interpreters. No, most of the names are recognizable until there is a foreign name that’s unpronounceable, or a person with English as a second language calls an English name. It makes what could be an interminable wait into something more interesting.
And then there are the people who have names that are completely at odds with their nationality. They are lucky enough to have the best of a number of cultures, and perhaps a deeper level of understanding where others do not. I’m reminded never to judge a book by it’s cover.
I start trying to figure out those indecipherable names and then move on to trying to match a name with its owner. I’m zero out fo four so far.
When there is a lull in arrivals and call-ups, there’s the doctor in consult room 2. He’s apparently the doctor with no patients and periodically he comes out to look in his pigeonhole, or just look over the patients waiting, and more importantly checking the door handle when not delivering printouts to the consulting room next door.
He’s a doctor with no patients, get my drift. Well, that joke fell very flat, so, fortunately, he comes out, a piece of paper in hand, and calls a name. His quiet period is over. Someone else will have to look at the door handle.
But we’re still waiting, waiting.
It’s been an hour and four minutes, and a little frustrating. Surely when you check-in they should give you an estimated waiting time, or better still how many patients there are before you.
I guess its time to join the rest and pick up the mobile phone.
The good news, I only got to type one word before my name was called. By a person who could pronounce it correctly.
**Please don’t assume that you have to, nor would I ever expect you to, read any or all of these books. You don’t.**
Everyone, it seems, will publish what they call the top 100 books that you should read. Some are voted on, some belong to the opinion of the editor of the book review section of a newspaper, and, as you know, there are a lot of newspapers, a lot of editors, and a lot of opinions.
I’m not a newspaper, I’m not an editor, but I have a list, based on personal experience, and many, many years of reading.
It’s in no particular order.
21. Passage of Arms by Eric Ambler, I have to say I have read most of his novels and they are very good
22. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, a very powerful story of a courageous, independent woman
23. The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, a 1903 secret service story, and a good example of an early espionage novel
24. The Father Brown stories by G. K. Chesterton, which features a Roman Catholic priest who is also an amateur detective
25. The Grantchester Mysteries by James Runcie, similar to the above, but featuring an Anglican vicar Sidney Chambers and set in the 1950s. Recently brought to life on television.
26. The High Commissioner by Jon Cleary, an Australian author, this novel introduces Sargeant Scobie Malone, in the first of many adventures
27. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, the first Dickens book I read, possibly because it was one of the shortest, and paved the way to read all of his books. Who could forget Madame Defarge
28. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, another of those delightful but depressing stories of the 20s through to the 40s, perhaps for some, the golden age. What could be said, in the end, about the Flytes?
29. The Godfather by Mario Puzo, is the story of the Corleone mafia family, and for me, the most interesting part was that of the horse’s head, and of course, the death and mayhem
30. The Shipping News by Annie Prouix, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and a story about a man, Quoyle, who against all odds puts his life slowly back together
31. Detection Unlimited by Georgette Heyer, noted mostly for her Regency romances, she also wrote a series of detective novels. This was her last detective novel published in 1953
32. Poldark by Winston Graham, a series of stories about the Poldarks and Cornwall, and his arch-nemesis, George Warleggan
33. Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene, one of many very interesting novels, this the first I read, followed by the Quiet American and Travels With My Aunt. Seeing movies of some didn’t enhance the reading experience.
34. The Mayor Of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, another of his interesting but sometimes hard to read novels of rural England. This led to Jude the Obscure and others in the ‘series’. It all started with Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
35. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, set during the Italian campaign of World War 1. He also wrote The Old Man of the Sea
36. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, I don’t think he was all that lucky
37. Whiskey Galore by Compton MacKenzie, the story of the ‘rescue’ of several hundred cases of whiskey and the locals’ efforts to hide it. Also famous for writing Monarch of the Glen, later a television series
38. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett, a collection of satirical observations of English life in the 1700s in spa towns and seaside resorts
39. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope, part of the series known as The Chronicles of Barsetshire and features the unpopular Bishop Proudie and Mrs. Proudie
40. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie, Christie’s first book published in 1920, and introduced Poirot, Arthur Hastings, and Inspector Japp. Who knew so many books would follow
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.
Life for me returned to something like normal when I was back in the warehouse, surrounded by endless shelves filled with all manner of items.
It was the central repository for all the spare parts that were needed for the factory’s machinery in one section, a large variety of stationery, and office, items in another, and groceries for the cafeteria in another.
My in-tray was filled with requisition form received from the previous day, that hadn’t been processed by Roger, the morning shift clerk who inhabited my desk when I wasn’t there.
As usual, he had managed to idle away most of his shift by doing absolutely nothing, which I guess was acceptable because Roger was one of Alex’s cronies, as were many others scattered about the factory.
One of the managers from another department knocked on the open door, perhaps to wake me before he walked in, something he had told me once before he was used to doing, and after a few seconds came in.
“The afternoon shift doesn’t sleep on the job,” I said. He was one of the good managers, so he knew I was not admonishing him.
He saw the pile of requisitions, a good indication of why his order for stores had not been processed.
“It will be.” I shuffled through the pile and pulled out his requisition. Only one item.
“Is it possible I could get it today?”
“Better still. Take a seat, I’ll get it myself.”
“That’s what I was hoping you’d say”
He sat in one of the plastic chairs designed to keep people moving and picked up an old National Geographic. I was fascinated to find there were issues going back as far as the 1920s. I wondered if Benderby knew they were collectors’ items and worth a lot of money.
I headed towards the door. “Make yourself comfortable, I won’t be long.”
The only other time I had seen a building as big as the warehouse was indoor basketball courts. It was a hundred yards across, and half a mile long, and sometimes it was easier to hitch a ride with the forklift driver to get the other end quickly.
The fork life driver had gone missing, so it was a walk. The shelf I was looking for was somewhere near the middle.
Something else about the building, it had remarkably interesting acoustics, and sometimes I could hear conversations between the supervisor and the forklift driver when they were some distance away, and out of sight.
About 100 yards from the shelf, I heard voices. They were indistinguishable, but as I got closer, broken sentences became more understandable. I used one of the cross paths so see if I could locate the source of the voices and found them in the third aisle.
Alex and the man I’d seen earlier at the mall.
They had pulled two seats and a carton of the shelves and were sitting, feet on the carton, smoking cigarettes, right underneath a ‘No Smoking’ sign.
Typical. Not much further along was the ‘Inflammable Goods’ sign, but something like that for Alex would be an invitation to press his luck.
“You sure it was them?”
“Course. I’d recognize that kid you call Smidge anywhere. And his crazy offside, Bloggs or something. What do you think they’re doing out there?”
“Must be something to do with the treasure. That kid’s holding back on us. We’ve been searching the coastline for those two rivers. Nothing but drains now. I got Dad to lean on one of the councilors to get us some old maps of the coastline, and one had five rivers. Talk about trying to find a needle in a haystack.”
“Perhaps we’re trying too hard. One of those old maps showed the Navy Yard, and the cove they’d dredged. One of the maps she showed me has evidence there was a once a river running into that cove, and according to the old biddy in the library, that area was once owned by a chap called Orminson. She also thought his descendants didn’t move too far away from here after they sold the property to the Navy. I’ve got a copy of the map, so we can check if it lines up with some of the other maps we have, and, of course, the treasure map.”
“We should find these descendants. Perhaps they have more information.”
“Already on it.”
“What we also need, but probably won’t be able to get, is the architectural plans of the Naval site, before, during, and after the works.”
“I’ll get Brains onto it. He’ll have some way of getting the documents.”
“Good. Sooner rather later OK.”
“I reckon that Boggs must have some knowledge of this. You want me and the boys to go and rough Boggs up a bit more, see what he knows about this?”
“No. Not a good idea, as much as I would like it to happen, just to wipe the smug look off his face, but the last time the old man came down on me for being, as he calls it, un-subtle, whatever that means. It’s not as if he hasn’t beaten the crap of people for information before. The same goes for Smidge. Just watch and report. That’s all. For the moment.”
“You got anything else you want me to do?”
“Yes. Get some of the boys to follow them. And try not to get seen. Boggs might be a fool, but Smidge isn’t. He’s a lot smarter than I gave him credit for.”
“He’s just a kid, Alex.”
“Well, you keep thinking that, and when he outsmarts you, you know what will happen.”
Alex stood. “And clean up this mess before you go.”
McCallister was old school, a man who would most likely fit in perfectly campaigning on the battlefields of Europe during the Second World War. He’d been like a fish out of water in the army, post-Falklands, and while he retired a hero, he still felt he’d more to give.
He’d applied and was accepted as head of a SWAT team, and, watching him now as he and his men disembarked from the truck in almost military precision, a look passed between Annette, the police liaison officer, and I that said she’d seen it all before. I know I had.
There was a one in four chance his team would be selected for this operation, and she had been hoping it would be one of the other three. While waiting for them to arrive she filled me in on the various teams. His was the least co-operative, and the more likely to make ad-hoc decisions rather than adhere to the plan, or any orders that may come from the officer in charge.
This, she said quite bluntly, was going to end badly.
I still had no idea why Prendergast instructed me to attend the scene of what looked to be a normal domestic operation, but as the nominated expert in the field in these types of situations, it was fairly clear he wasn’t taking any chances. It was always a matter of opinion between us, and generally I lost.
In this case, it was an anonymous report identifying what the authorities believed were explosives in one of the dockside sheds where explosives were not supposed to be.
The only reason why the report was given any credence was the man, while not identifying himself by name, said he’d been an explosive expert once and recognized the boxes. That could mean anything, but the Chief Constable was a cautious man.
With his men settled and preparing their weapons, McCallister came over to the command post, not much more than the SUV my liaison and I arrived in, with weapons, bulletproof vests, and rolls of tape to cordon off the area afterward. We both had coffee, steaming in the cold early morning air. Dawn was slowly approaching and although rain had been forecast it had yet to arrive.
A man by the name of Benson was in charge. He too had groaned when he saw McCallister.
“A fine morning for it.” McCallister was the only enthusiastic one here.
He didn’t say what ‘it’ was, but I thought it might eventually be mayhem.
“Let’s hope the rain stays away. It’s going to be difficult enough without it,” Benson said, rubbing his hands together. We had been waiting for the SWAT team to arrive, and another team to take up their position under the wharf, and who was in the final stages of securing their position.
While we were waiting we drew up the plan. I’d go in first to check on what we were dealing with, and what type of explosives. The SWAT team, in the meantime, were to ensure all the exits to the shed were covered. When I gave the signal, they were to enter and secure the building. We were not expecting anyone inside or out, and no movement had been detected in the last hour since our arrival and deployment.
“What’s the current situation?”
“I’ve got eyes on the building, and a team coming in from the waterside, underneath. Its slow progress, but they’re nearly there. Once they’re in place, we’re sending McKenzie in.”
He looked in my direction.
“With due respect sir, shouldn’t it be one of us?” McCallister glared at me with the contempt that only a decorated military officer could.
“No. I have orders from above, much higher than I care to argue with, so, McCallister, no gung-ho heroics for the moment. Just be ready to move on my command, and make sure you have three teams at the exit points, ready to secure the building.”
McCallister opened his mouth, no doubt to question those orders, but instead closed it again. “Yes sir,” he muttered and turned away heading back to his men.
“You’re not going to have much time before he storms the battlements,” Benson quietly said to me, a hint of exasperation in his tone. “I’m dreading the paperwork.”
It was exactly what my liaison officer said when she saw McCallister arriving.
The water team sent their ‘in position’ signal, and we were ready to go.
In the hour or so we’d been on site nothing had stirred, no arrivals, no departures, and no sign anyone was inside, but that didn’t mean we were alone. Nor did it mean I was going to walk in and see immediately what was going on. If it was a cache of explosives then it was possible the building was booby-trapped in any number of ways, there could be sentries or guards, and they had eyes on us, or it might be a false alarm.
I was hoping for the latter.
I put on the bulletproof vest, thinking it was a poor substitute for full battle armor against an exploding bomb, but we were still treating this as a ‘suspected’ case. I noticed my liaison officer was pulling on her bulletproof vest too.
“You don’t have to go. This is my party, not yours,” I said.
“The Chief Constable told me to stick to you like glue, sir.”
I looked at Benson. “Talk some sense into her please, this is not a kindergarten outing.”
He shrugged. Seeing McCallister had taken all the fight out of him. “Orders are orders. If that’s what the Chief Constable requested …”
Madness. I glared at her, and she gave me a wan smile. “Stay behind me then, and don’t do anything stupid.”
“Believe me, I won’t be.” She pulled out and checked her weapon, chambering the first round. It made a reassuring sound.
Suited up, weapons readied, a last sip of the coffee in a stomach that was already churning from nerves and tension, I looked at the target, one hundred yards distant and thought it was going to be the longest hundred yards I’d ever traversed. At least for this week.
A swirling mist rolled in and caused a slight change in plans.
Because the front of the buildings was constantly illuminated by large overhead arc lamps, my intention had been to approach the building from the rear where there was less light and more cover. Despite the lack of movement, if there were explosives in that building, there’d be ‘enemy’ surveillance somewhere, and, after making that assumption, I believed it was going to be easier and less noticeable to use the darkness as a cover.
It was a result of the consultation, and studying the plans of the warehouse, plans that showed three entrances, the main front hangar type doors, a side entrance for truck entry and exit and a small door in the rear, at the end of an internal passage leading to several offices. I also assumed it was the exit used when smokers needed a break. Our entry would be by the rear door or failing that, the side entrance where a door was built into the larger sliding doors. In both cases, the locks would not present a problem.
The change in the weather made the approach shorter, and given the density of the mist now turning into a fog, we were able to approach by the front, hugging the walls, and moving quickly while there was cover. I could feel the dampness of the mist and shivered more than once.
It was nerves more than the cold.
I could also feel rather than see the presence of Annette behind me, and once felt her breath on my neck when we stopped for a quick reconnaissance.
It was the same for McCallister’s men. I could feel them following us, quickly and quietly, and expected, if I turned around, to see him breathing down my neck too.
It added to the tension.
My plan was still to enter by the back door.
We slipped up the alley between the two sheds to the rear corner and stopped. I heard a noise coming from the rear of the building, and the light tap on the shoulder told me Annette had heard it too. I put my hand up to signal her to wait, and as a swirl of mist rolled in, I slipped around the corner heading towards where I’d last seen the glow of a cigarette.
The mist cleared, and we saw each other at the same time. He was a bearded man in battle fatigues, not the average dockside security guard.
He was quick, but my slight element of surprise was his undoing, and he was down and unconscious in less than a few seconds with barely a sound beyond the body hitting the ground. Zip ties secured his hands and legs, and tape his mouth. Annette joined me a minute after securing him.
A glance at the body then me, “I can see why they, whoever they are, sent you.”
She’d asked who I worked for, and I didn’t answer. It was best she didn’t know.
“Stay behind me,” I said, more urgency in my tone. If there was one, there’d be another.
Luck was with us so far. A man outside smoking meant no booby traps on the back door, and quite possibly there’d be none inside. But it indicated there were more men inside, and if so, it appeared they were very well trained. If that were the case, they would be formidable opponents.
The fear factor increased exponentially.
I slowly opened the door and looked in. A pale light shone from within the warehouse itself, one that was not bright enough to be detected from outside. None of the offices had lights on, so it was possible they were vacant. I realized then they had blacked out the windows. Why hadn’t someone checked this?
Once inside, the door closed behind us, progress was slow and careful. She remained directly behind me, gun ready to shoot anything that moved. I had a momentary thought for McCallister and his men, securing the perimeter.
At the end of the corridor, the extent of the warehouse stretched before us. The pale lighting made it seem like a vast empty cavern, except for a long trestle table along one side, and, behind it, stacks of wooden crates, some opened. It looked like a production line.
To get to the table from where we were was a ten-yard walk in the open. There was no cover. If we stuck to the walls, there was equally no cover and a longer walk.
We needed a distraction.
As if on cue, the two main entrances disintegrated into flying shrapnel accompanied by a deafening explosion that momentarily disoriented both Annette and I. Through the smoke and dust kicked up I saw three men appear from behind the wooden crates, each with what looked like machine guns, spraying bullets in the direction of the incoming SWAT members.
They never had a chance, cut down before they made ten steps into the building.
By the time I’d recovered, my head heavy, eyes watering and ears still ringing, I took several steps towards them, managing to take down two of the gunmen but not the third.
I heard a voice, Annette’s I think, yell out, “Oh, God, he’s got a trigger,” just before another explosion, though all I remember in that split second was a bright flash, the intense heat, something very heavy smashing into my chest knocking the wind out of me, and then the sensation of flying, just before I hit the wall.
I spent four weeks in an induced coma, three months being stitched back together and another six learning to do all those basic actions everyone took for granted. It was twelve months almost to the day when I was released from the hospital, physically, except for a few alterations required after being hit by shrapnel, looking the same as I always had.
But mentally? The document I’d signed on release said it all, ‘not fit for active duty; discharged’.
It was in the name of David Cheney. For all intents and purposes, Alistair McKenzie was killed in that warehouse, and for the first time ever, an agent left the Department, the first to retire alive.
I was not sure I liked the idea of making history.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my brothers and sister, but I can now only take them in small doses.
You know how it is growing up, always fighting for your own space, having to live with their idiosyncrasies, getting blamed for stuff you never did.
I never got to have a room of my own, always sharing with the other middle brother, James, whereas the eldest brother had his own room, and by necessity, our youngest sister.
They too got the first-class education where James and I were shuffled off to trade school, which James always said was a hop, step and jump from prison.
Coincidentally, James and I were the first to leave home as soon as it was possible. WE had to earn a living and pay rent, whereas the other two were being nurtured through school, and life.
It was the school of hard knocks for us.
Over the years we all drifted in and out of each other’s lives. We also drifted, at one time or another all over the world, and later, all over the country.
Because of this, only seminal events brought us back together, and even then, those moments were few and fleeting, and not looked upon with fondness. We were not the typical family.
When the time came for each to marry, at varying times of our lives, each would be there at the event. Keeping up with each other was a task for social media, and there we learned of children, divorces, affairs, and disasters.
But there was one defining event that finally shook up our collective trees of life; the death of our parents. Whilst none of the children were particularly close, it seemed to fall upon Janine, the daughter, to look after them.
And, when they were killed unexpectedly in a car crash, it was she who delivered the bad news, and issue the invitation to return home for the funerals.
It was sad, yes, but not as much as it should be for a child. For me, I had spent years hating them for perceived wrongs perpetrated, not getting the same treatment as eldest and youngest siblings, not getting the financial support when requested, and not getting a visit, even if it was only once a year.
So, when I read about their deaths, it saddened me, but I hadn’t seen them for a half dozen years, and had almost forgotten they existed. Yes, I should have made more of an effort to go see them, introduce them to their grandchildren, but I didn’t.
It was a completely different situation with Sally’s parents. There were a close-knit family who, whilst also had the monetary and space constraints as we had, and with more members of the family to contend with, they seemed to make it work without fear or favouritism.
She had only recently met each of my siblings in person, simply because of the fact we were getting older, and reasons for coming together more urgent, well, for the others, anyway. And that Sally had put her foot down and demanded we make an effort to see them.
“So, you are going to the funeral, all of us this time I hope.” I had just shown her the missive sent by my sister, Janine, proclaiming the sad news, not being surprised yet again at the coldness that ran between the members of my family.
She had been disappointed at my indifference, even when I explained the circumstances, and how that coldness had begun and festered throughout our lives. For one who had never been in that situation, it was hard to explain, or understand. Not when comparing it to her own situation.
“If you want.” I was going to make the excuse that my work would not allow the time off, but that would only be because of me, not them. I had used it before, and Sally had realised eventually what I was doing. It wouldn’t work this time.
“We should. They were, after all, your parents, and like it or not, they did give you your start in life. I’ve no doubt they did the best they could.”
Sally always saw the best in people, though with my parents, they did leave her somewhat perplexed at times. The same went for Jeremy, the eldest brother, and his indifference. He was our father reincarnated, and his wife, Lucy, was very much like our mother, perpetually suffering from disdain.
“You had to be there,” was all I would say in my defence.
It was a statement I used often to explain away their indifference. I wanted to believe they had done the best they could, but they could have done better. I hesitate to use the word selfish, but they had been, putting their needs before us.
Even in death, I could still feel the resentment.
“Do you want me to make the arrangements?” She always did, and if she had not, perhaps she might never meet my parents, or my brothers and sister.
“That might be best. You know what I’m like.”
I didn’t hear her reply, but I knew what it would be. A frown and muttering under her breath. She knew what I was like, and still married me, much to the disdain of my eldest brother, Jeremy, who had said to her, a day before the wedding, she still had time to change her mind.
He hadn’t endeared himself that day, or any of the days since.
For Alison and Ben, the two children that were never going to be anything like my siblings, it was an adventure. We rarely travelled far from home for holidays. Preferring to spend it with Sally’s parents at their summer house, big enough to fit everyone, what I would have called a boarding house. It was near a lake and was the closest thing to a summer camp as I would get.
Going over in the plane, Sally had banished me to an aisle seat one row behind them. I suspect that was to give me some mental preparation time, but more likely to consider the lecture she’d given me at the airport about me being more proactive in being nice to my family.
It was time to stop playing the forgotten child routine, and to start behaving like I had a family and simply accept them despite their idiosyncrasies. She was right, of course, as she always was, and todays, of all days, it made me wonder what is was she saw in me.
Off the plane, the first surprise was waiting in arrivals. Sally. Holding a sign much like a chauffeur would. Apparently, she had arranged transport. The second surprise was Sally and Janine together, like they were old friends. I was guessing Sally and Janine had had long conversations over the funeral arrangements.
She also liked Janine, even though she lived in a different world. Janine had never married, had a job that paid squillions of dollars, and lived in a mansion, one my children described as a castle, it had so many rooms.
Then, after the hugs, and the smiles, she saw me, the wet blanket.
“You can give me a hug you know.”
I could feel Sally’s eyes burning a hole in me. Hug it was. It was a first, and oddly, rather than consider it was waste of time, it gave me a strange set of emotions.
Then the moment passed.
“You look well.”
“That you can thank Sally for. Left to my own devices, I’d probably be a basket case now.”
“Who’s to say you not, still.” Sally gave me the critical eye, and it was a warning shot across the bows. Behave or else.
We followed Janine out of the terminal building to a parking lot where limousines were parked. She had got us a stretched limousine. Wherever we were going, it was going to be in style.
Sally told me at some point that when she had suggested we stay in a hotel, Janine would not hear of it. She said she lived in what was tantamount to a mausoleum, and there was plenty of room for us. And the rest of the family.
It seemed that she had been very successful in inventing something that everyone needed, and, when she described it, it made sense. Holding the patent and licensing people to manufacture it had made her very wealthy indeed.
Somehow, I’d missed that aspect of her life, though my impression of her, with her education and cleverness, she earned squillions. I was practically right.
What was also explained to me, because I had remarked on how well Sally and Janine got along, and that couldn’t have developed in the last few days while arranging thw funeral visit, it transpired the two had met once of twice when Sally was over this side of the country for seminars, and the two regularly emailed each other.
No sense, Sally said, for her to shun my sister as I had.
Once it might had annoyed me that she would do something like that, but it made sense that Sally would want to know Janine, at the very least, better despite how I painted her. She may have tried with the other two, but I knew Jeremy would strike out the first time she spoke to him, and James was hard enough for anyone to find, let alone his family. I’d tried, and he had disappeared. Not even Janine knew, at that moment in time, where he was.
Jeremy, unfortunately, we would see later.
It was also apparent that once we reached the mausoleum, that I was supposed to go and have a chat with Janine, family stuff she said, and Sally was happy to move into, and unpack, then get the cook to make the children a meal.
We went into a room that Janine called her office.
It was a large wood panelled room with a lot of shelving and a huge number of books. My only remark, that she could not have read them all. It was a little churlish and elicited a grimace.
Janine was not going to put up with my nonsense and was well aware of my attitude from discussions with Sally. It led to her first statement, soon after we sat in very comfortable leather chairs, in front of a window that looked out over a rose garden.
I was counting staff by then, a housekeeper, a cook, a young woman who was there as a waitress, a maid who showed Sally and the children to their rooms upstairs, and outside two gardeners. It was no surprise then the limousine was hers, and the man who drove it, ger chauffeur.
She lived a very different lifestyle than I did.
“I can see that look on your face where you are judging me, and you shouldn’t. You might think you were badly done by, but I’ll let you into a secret, you got the better deal. Not that I’ll defend Jeremy, but in my case, I had a hell of a lot of expectation dumped on my shoulders. You got to swan off and live your life without a care in the world, and I can see you have made all the right decisions, and got everything I could only have hoped for. I have no husband, nor boyfriend, and any I did didn’t last long because my focus was on work and success, instead of happiness. So, yes I have a big house and a lot of money, and people running around doing my bidding, but I have no one to share it with, and no one to pass it onto.”
“Yet.” It was a noble speech, and I’m sure she felt the loneliness of it all. I was going to say she had a choice, just as I had, but somehow it didn’t seem appropriate.
Certainly, I didn’t feel the same way about her as I had before I came of this odyssey, and that in itself may for some be something of a revelation. That hug she had given me at the airport, and the feelings it conveys almost confused me, and most likely would have frightened me if I had not had Sally.
For some reason, now, it was going to be impossible to have the same feelings, or feelings of resentment, I once had.
“There are things you need to know, Tom. The first is that I am not long for this earth. I have about a year, two at the most, the news of which I received about an hour after the police called to tell my our parents had been killed in a car crash.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
It was bad news for anyone to learn, but on top of the news of our parents, I couldn’t imagine what that was like.
“The second is that our mother had been diagnosed with the same condition, about two years ago, and didn’t tell anyone. Maybe she thought she was protecting me from the possibility it would happen to me, but we both know she was selfish and inconsiderate at the best of times. Believe me when I tell you we had some incredible rows over the years. And no, I was not a daddy’s girl so I got no support or help in dealing with her truculence.”
I could just imagine our mother giving Janine hell. And in that same thought, how sad it was to have saddled Janine with all of that responsibility. I knew Jeremy hadn’t been any sort of help in regard to both parents, and James was not to be found. I really had no excuse, and I had to admit that some of my father’s selfishness had rubbed off on me too.
“You should have told me, or told Sally to tell me.”
“You would not have been in a receptive frame of mind, not then. But now, I can see you’ve turned a corner, just being here. You could have declined to come, I know now of the hurt our mother and father in particular had inflicted on both you and James, because in their declining years, they eventually turned on both Jeremy and I. Jeremy didn’t cope very well, and did what you did, just went away, leaving me to deal with it. I’m not blaming you, not do I blame you for leaving, I truly understand why. It’s just a pity we didn’t have conversation years ago, because now we’re going to miss on so much in the little time we do have.”
The pity of it was there was nothing I could do now to get that back. But going forward, I was not sure what I could do to make it up to her. And I said as much, and it sounded a lot better in my head than out loud.
“Well, there is something you can do. It’s a funny story, though I believe you will not get a laugh out of it. The third thing is that I am the executor of their wills. Against my advice, and probably something our mother was not fully cognisant of, was a desire for my father to take her on one last road trip. The doctors had decreed due to her worsening condition she would have to go into managed care. He took her to Las Vegas, of all places. The thing is the day they left, mother decided to play this jackpot poker machine, and won the jackpot. I didn’t discover this until the Casino rang me, though how they got my phone number is still a mystery, to tell they hadn’t cashed the check. They were on the road out of Vegas when a truck hit them head on. It wasn’t really an accident, according to the police. They said the truck driver said our father had driven straight at him. I have no reason to disbelieve him.
“He deliberately wanted them both to die?”
“Yes. He had said more than once that he didn’t want to live without her, so I think it was his plan to spend a few days together while she was still cognizant, and then end it. I have no doubt she knew what he was planning to do, and had agreed it was the best way to end the pain and suffering.”
It certainly sounded something he would do. They never regarded the feelings of anyone else in any of the decisions they made. I was going to make a comment, but it seemed moot. They were dead now, and they had gone out on their own terms.
“The truck driver?” I had to spare a thought for him, because they would not have.
“Relatively unharmed, just shaken. And the shock that someone would do that. I met him and apologised, but it seemed not enough recompense for the suffering they caused him. Anyway, I asked the police if they had found a check in the remnants of the car, but given the state of it, it was not surprising they didn’t so I asked the casino to cancel it and write a new one.”
She reached out and picked up a folder on the table between he chairs, and took out a slip of paper and handed it to me.
A check made out to our parents.
For eighty-seven million dollars, and change.
I looked at her, quite literally astonished. “This is ridiculous.”
“What it is, is a sign from the heavens that will give me an opportunity I might not have been granted otherwise. I want you to come home, and spend the last months of my life here with me, and make up for the time we have lost. I know both you and Sally have jobs back home, but that check, your share of it, will make the decision a little easier to make.”
“Does Sally know about this?”
“Only that I’m going to die sooner rather than later, and that she was waiting until you came here before talking to you about what to do. She said it would be better coming from me, not her, because of how things are in the family. I’ll be honest with you, Tom, I was prepared to come to you to plead my case before our parents did what they did because there’s no one else I would want to spend what precious little time I have left.”
I knew now why I’d felt such intense feelings earlier at the airport. It had been a sixth sense, that something was terribly wrong. And she was right, what time she had should be spent with family, those values I had come to terms with being with Sally. It was the right thing to do, but it was not wholly my decision. There were ramifications of uprooting our lives back home, including the sacrifices Sally would have to make.
“Have you told Jeremy?”
“God, no. He’d be a total ass about it, saying I was trying to steal the limelight and making it all about me. We can tell him when it’s too late for him to make any comment at all.”
“We’ll find him. I have resources available that you can only imagine exist.”
I believed her.
“Then I guess I should go and find Sally and see what she has to say about it. And I guess I should apologise for being such an ass all these years.”
“No need. In a way I envy you, always have.”
“You have no reason to. I never made anything of myself, not like you have.”
“You’re wrong if you think that. You have an amazing partner, two beautiful children, and you have provided for them, and look after them in a manner in which I can only dream about. It’s not about money, or possessions, or anything like what you see I have, because when it comes down to it, all that matters is the people around you. That, unfortunately, was the legacy our parents gave us and it was wrong.”
She stood, “Let us not dwell on the past, but brace ourselves for the impending crash landing of the one and only Jeremy. I have some very good champagne chilling at the bar, and we’re going to need fortification, if not Dutch courage before the monster arrives.”
It could be said that of all the women one could meet, whether contrived or by sheer luck, what are the odds it would turn out to be the woman who was being paid a very large sum to kill you.
John Pennington is a man who may be lucky in business, but not so lucky in love. He has just broken up with Phillipa Sternhaven, the woman he thought was the one, but relatives and circumstances, and perhaps because she was a ‘princess’, may also have contributed to the end result.
So, what do you do when you are heartbroken?
That is a story that slowly unfolds, from the first meeting with his nemesis on Lake Geneva, all the way to a hotel room in Sorrento, where he learns the shattering truth.
What should have been a high turns out to be something else entirely, and from that point every thing goes to hell in a handbasket.
He suddenly realises his so-called friend Sebastian has not exactly told him the truth about a small job he asked him to do, the woman he is falling in love with is not quite who she says she is, and he is caught in the middle of a war between two men who consider people becoming collateral damage as part of their business.
The story paints the characters cleverly displaying all their flaws and weaknesses. The locations add to the story at times taking me back down memory lane, especially to Venice where in those back streets I confess it’s not all that hard to get lost.
All in all a thoroughly entertaining story with, for once, a satisfying end.
Staying at Hampton Inn and Suites downtown, whatever that means because it looks like we are in the middle of nowhere.
But, judging by the crowd in the breakfast room, it’s a popular hotel. Of course, it is Sunday morning so this could be the weekend escape people.
Two things I remember about staying in Hampton Inns is firstly the waffles and whipped butter. It’s been five years but nothing has changed, they are as delicious as ever. The other, its where I discovered vanilla flavored milk for coffee, and it, too, is addictive.
They also used to have flat burgers that were made out of sausage meat which was delicious, but on the first day, they were not on the menu.
Nevertheless, it was still a very yummy breakfast.
After some research into where we might find this pixmi unicorn, it appears that it is available at a ‘toys are us’ store in one of the suburbs of Vancouver. So, resuming the quest, we took a taxi to West Broadway, the street the store is located.
A quick search of the store finds where the toys we’re looking for are, after asking one of the sales staff, and we find there are at least a dozen of them. Apparently, they are not as popular in Canada as the might be in America. Cheaper too, because the exchange rate for Canadian dollars is much better than for American dollars. Still, 70 dollars for a stuffed toy is a lot of money.
We also get some slime, stuff that our middle granddaughter seems to like playing with.
After shopping we set off down West Broadway, the way we had come, looking for a taxi to return us to the hotel. There’s no question of walking back to the hotel.
A few hours later we walk to the observation tower, which was not very far from the hotel,
a place where we could get a 360-degree view of the city of Vancouver although it was very difficult to see any of the old buildings because they were hidden by the newer buildings, nor could we see the distant mountains because of the haze.
After leaving the tower we walked down Water Street to see the steam clock and the old world charm of a cobbled street and old buildings
We stopped at the Spaghetti Factory Italian restaurant for dinner and is so popular that we have to wait, 10 minutes to start with. It doesn’t take all that long to order and have the food delivered to the table. Inside the restaurant, there is an actual cable car but we didn’t get to sit in it.
I have steak, rare, mushrooms, and spaghetti with marinara sauce. No, marinara doesn’t mean seafood sauce but a very tasty tomato-based sauce. The steak was absolutely delicious and extremely tender which made it more difficult to cut with a steak knife.
The write up for the marinara sauce is, ‘it tastes so fresh because it is made directly from vine-ripened tomatoes, not from concentrate, packed within 6 hours of harvest. We combine them with fresh, high-quality ingredients such as caramelised onions, roasted garlic and extra virgin olive oil’.
Oh, and did I mention they have a streetcar right there in the middle of the restaurant
I’m definitely going to try and make this when we get home.
After dinner, we return to the observation tower, the ticket allowing us to go back more than once, and see the sights at night time. I can’t say it was all that spectacular.
Another day has gone, we are heading home tomorrow.
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.”
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?”
“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?”
“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.”