The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to write a war story – Episode 23

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…

Wallace wasn’t the most patient of men, and after planning what seemed, to him, as the easiest of operations, was beginning to think otherwise.

First of all, he had underestimated Atherton.  It was part of the plan to have London send him out, having, himself raised suspicions about the allegiances of the men who were in the castle.  They were, of course, British, but only he knew of their allegiance to the Reich.  That’s why he’s organized for Johannsson to be sent, and then for Jackerby to ‘stage’ a battle to consolidate London’s impression that it was being held by them, for the express purpose of repatriating defectors the allies.

Nothing, of course, could be further than the truth.  Since their arrival, only a few had been processed, just to keep London’s suspicions at bay, but the truth was, about a dozen more had been repatriated back to the Reich.

Wallace had ordered Johansson to make sure Atherton never made it to the castle, and Johansson, in turn, had given the responsibility to the resistance members, to take care of the problem, telling them Atherton was suspected of being a German spy.

Getting the local resistance on side proved to be a good idea, as it was they whom the defectors were expecting to meet when they arrive in the village.  And, as far as he was aware, Leonardo and his men had no idea who they were really working with.

Not that it would matter for much longer.  All he had to do was collect the Reich Marshall, and then he and his men were to escort him back to Germany.  He had the Fuhrers signed orders in his pocket.

There was only one wrinkle in the carefully planned operation.  The man who could recognize the defector was missing.

And, then a second wrinkle, the men he sent to find the lovesick fool were taking a long time to find a single man, though he was beginning to think there was something else going on, something that Leonardo hadn’t told him.

Johansson had said he didn’t believe all of the resistance members had signed on, even though Leonardo had told him they had.  Otherwise, how could Atherton disappear?  It was not likely that any of the villagers would harbor any soldier whatever side he said he was on.  

It was time to find out what Leonardo hadn’t told them.

He had sent Jackerby to fetch the man.  That was something else he didn’t quite understand.  Why were Leonardo and his men staying at the castle?  Didn’t they have homes in the village?  And didn’t they want to keep at arms’ length from whoever was running the castle in order to display neutrality?

Johansson had also told him he thought Leonardo was not the smart sort of person it would take to run a resistance operation, and that he believed there were some others still in the village who were once members, and who could also become a problem.  One of the reasons why Leonardo was at the castle was the fact he reported the radio provided by London had become inoperable, and the only other one was now at the castle, his main reason for being there.

He heard Leonardo long before he saw him.  A large bear-shaped man with a booming voice, a man who liked his wine in vast quantities, and had no qualms about emptying the cellar of the castle at any opportunity.  This late in the day, there would be fewer bottles.

Jackerby came into the room first, followed by Leonardo.

“You want me to stay?” Jackerby asked.

“By the door.”

Leonardo stopped by the table and then leaned on it.  “What this about?”

It was hardly a conciliatory tone, but Wallace ignored it.

“You tell me that all of the resistance members are here, but that’s not quite the truth is it?”

“Are you calling me a liar?”  

Belligerent, too, Wallace thought, but that would be the wine talking. 

“I could have you shot, so I suggest you use a more respectful tone.  You heard the question, now I want an answer.”

To emphasize the point, he took out his handgun and put it on the table where Leonardo could see it.  He could see Leonardo look at it, then back at him.

“Some of them didn’t have the stomach for it.  When you arrived here, most of us realized the fight was over.  Only I could see how we could be useful to our allies.”

“How many didn’t, as you say, have the stomach for it?”

“Three or four.  Women and a gardener, nothing that would cause anyone a problem.”

Nothing that would cause anyone a problem.  Johansson was right, the man was a fool.

“Well, it seems they are a problem, and you are going to fix it for me.  We don’t need problems, Leonardo.”

“I don’t understand.  They were on our side.”

“Seems they are not any longer.  We are expecting a high-value defector, and it seems that the Germans have recruited them to foil our operation.”

“The Germans?  There are no Germans here.”

“It seems I was mistaken about Atherton’s allegiance.  It appears he’s working with the Germans and is now actively working with those women and the gardener and causing us problems.  We’ve lost a man, and the three others we sent after him are overdue coming back.  I need you to go down to the village and find out what’s going on.”

“Isn’t that your job.  You have the soldiers and the guns.”

“We have orders to stay in the castle and wait for the defector to arrive.  That leaves you and your men.  Besides, you should be able to move more freely and unsuspected among your own people, and therefore make it easier than it would be for us to find this Atherton.  And when you find him, I want you to bring him to me alive.  Am I clear?”

It was clear to Wallace but it was not clear to Leonardo, he would do as he was told.  Or perhaps he should shoot him as an example to the next man, who no doubt would do his bidding.

“Yes.”

“Now would be a good time to get going, don’t you think?”

Leonardo was going to say something to him, Wallace could almost see the cogs turning in his head, but in the end, shrugged.

“Is there a reward for this Atherton then?”

Wallace nodded.  “Just bring him to me alive, and we’ll discuss it then, but I’m sure something can be arranged.”  He should have guessed Leonardo’s measured reluctance was all in aid of putting a price on Atherton’s head.

When they finally left the castle, he would make sure Leonardo got what he deserved.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

Searching for locations: Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China

Tiananmen Square

Some interesting facts before we get out of the bus…

Tiananmen Square or Tian’anmen Square is in the centre of Beijing name after the Gate of Heavenly Peace, a gate that one separated the square from the Forbidden City.

The Square contains,

   the Monument to the People’s Heroes
   the Great Hall of the People
   the National Museum of China
   the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.

The square is about 109 acres and was designed and built in 1651, and since then been enlarged four times since, the most recent upgrade in the 1950s.

The Monument to the People’s Heroes

This is a ten-story obelisk built to commemorate the matters of the revolutions.  It was built between August 1952 and May 1958.  On the pedestal are reliefs depicting the eight major revolutionary episodes.

The Great Hall of the People

This was opened in September 1959, and covers 171809 square meters.  The Great Hall is the largest auditorium in China and can seat up to 10,000 people.  The State Banquet Hall can seat up to 5,000 diners.

The National Museum of China

This is one of the largest museums in the world and the second most visited museum in the world after the Louvre in Paris.   It was completed in 1959, and sits on 65 hectares, and rises four floors.  It has a permanent collection of over 1,000,000 items.

The Mauseloum of Mao Zedong

This was built shortly after his death, and completed on May 24th, 1977.  The embalmed body of the Chairman is preserved and on display in the center hall.

My own observations
This is huge; one of the largest public squares in the world, and if you’re going to walk it, like we did, make sure you’ve been exercising before you go.  It covers 44 hectares, borders on the Forbidden City, and has a memorial to Chairman Mao in the center of it.  But you cannot go near it, it’s fenced off, and it is guarded.

That’s both the statue and the square as there are random guards marching in random directions all the while watching us to see that we don’t misbehave.No one wants to find out what would happen if you jumped the fence around the statue, but I’m guessing you’ll have a few years to contemplate the stupidity of your actions with some very unhappy government officials.

 Around the edges of the square are huge buildings, on one side is the museum 

 and on the other is the Chinese equivalent of parliament.

Around the sides are also large gardens

At one end, where the Forbidden City borders on the square, there’s a huge flag pole flying the Chinese flag, and this too like the monument is fenced off, and guarded by members of all of their armed services.  No tanks rolled out during our visit much to our disappointment.  There is no entrance to the Forbidden City from the square

 At the other end is the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, which was closed the day we were there, as was the museum. 

 There are four sculptural groups installed outside the mausoleum.

Other than that, it’s just another square, albeit probably one of the largest in the world.  It can, we were told, hold about a million people.

NaNoWriMo – April 2022 – Day 20

First Dig Two Graves, the second Zoe thriller.

There’s a certain air of inevitability in the air, that the bad buys are going to succeed in tracking down Zoe, using the very person who wants to keep her safe.

IT’s not exactly the result of a sneaky plan using lies and deception to get what Worthington wants, it’s more a fact that the woman he is about to use had already made a bed for herself that others would hardly want to lie in.

Arabella was not a woman who understood or practiced monogamy.  She was always a rebel, always had more than one man on the go, and had only married for the convenience, and the money and lifestyle that went with it.

Having children had been a bore, and once they were delivered, they were someone else’s problem.  She was then able to go back to her jet-set lifestyle, touring and cruising the world.

It was also a world that which Worthington and his brother had moved in, and Worthington had been and still was, one of her lovers.  It was what made it so easy for him to enlist her, though she was not really interested in what her son John was up to.  He was too much like his father, and she needed little reminder of him.

For Worthington, he could not believe his luck, for a second time.  It was as if the Gods were lining up the ducks all in a row for him.

But she agreed to a weekend in the best hotel eating the best food and going to a very exclusive concert, where they would be mingling with ‘almost’ royalty.  She loved to drop names.

However, the secret was not a secret the moment she was seen with Worthington by Sebastian, all be it by chance.  Sebastian would have to find John and alert him to the dangers that were about to present themselves in the benign form of his mother.

Could things get any more complicated?

Today’s writing, with Zoe languishing in a dungeon waiting for a white knight, 1,650 words, for a total of 52,769.

The A to Z Challenge – R is for -” Riches beyond avarice”

We were standing at the entrance of Aladdin’s cave.  At least that was the name on the sign above the entrance.

Three days driving, the last 122 miles into the desert, or what was now desert, through three ghost towns, which looked like sets out of a movie, to what was once supposed to be a theme park.

In the middle of nowhere.  Literally.

We’d parked in what was once a thousand car carpark now almost relatives by the sand, through a large gate that proclaimed the seven wonders of the world, through to a cliff face where there were several caves, where we were now.

“And remind me exactly why we are here?”

“We win the bidding war for this place.  I mean, think of the potential.”

“I’m thinking, but not of the potential.”

Good thing then Lexie was not my wife or girlfriend, because if she was, she’d be questioning my sanity right about now.

She was a work friend, along for the ride.

Well, to begin either, this whole area was a storage facility for the nuclear weapons that were designated for destruction after the non-proliferation treaty.  There are about a dozen caves around here, all with massive blast doors, of which Aladdin’s cave was the first.  I can’t wait to see inside.”

“If it truly is Aladdin’s cave then should it not be riches beyond avarice.  I want the lamp.”

There was only one small problem.  I needed the code to open the doors, and that was only available once we had arrived.  Once there, I was to give a person on the end of the phone a code, one that changed every day, once I proved my identity.  It was a crazy system, but I had to admit, it made the cave secure.”

I made the call, once I could see the code.  It was on the screen, behind a nuclear blast-proof window, rather apt considering.  It was a code that changed every hour.

“The voice on the other end of the phone simply said, “Code please?”

I read it to them.  As soon as the call was disconnected, the doors began to open.

Then behind me, another voice.  “Thank you for that.  Now, step away, or your friend here dies.”

I turned.  I thought I recognized the voice of Joe Santiago, crime boss, a man who’d served his ten years, but never divulged where he had hidden the loot.

Another six months with guns were standing in a semi-circle, cutting off any exit I might try.

“So, this is where you hid the money, and key evidence.”

“And, as they say, it’s where the bodies are buried.  This really wasn’t going to be a theme park.”

“O rather guessed that.  I was expecting someone else, a lackey, but you did say one, you couldn’t trust any of those you worked with.”

With that said, six shots, six men down, and a seventh, at that moment when Santiago was disorientated by the first six shots.  Not to kill but disable.

A well-planned and executed operation to catch Santiago, who had never suspected we had turned one of his gang and had known all along where his loot was. 

Then it was just a matter of waiting until he got out of jail, after advertising the fact I’d won the auction to buy the Theme Park site, outbidding all of his people.

A visibly shaken Lexie said, “and when were you going to tell me we were going to be bait?”

“None of us were sure this was going to work.”

A swarm of agents moved in to take away the seven, including a cursing Santiago, who swore he’d been set up.

The doors were now open, and we were looking into a dark abyss.  The light only went so far.  I stepped inside and used the torch on the side wall, looking for the light switch.

It was about ten feet away, a large lever that had to be pushed up.  I gave it a moment, then pushed it into the on position, and the lights came on.

I heard a gasp from Lexie and turned around.

It was huge, a cavern gouged out of the small mountain, all but empty except for a shipping container sitting about fifty yards from the entrance.

Yet another new voice came from behind us.

“We’ll take it from here.”

It belonged to an FBI agent, who was with three others.  No guns were drawn, but I suspect if I objected, they might.

“Did you not get the memo that I am in charge here,” I said.

He handed me a phone, “Your commander would like a word.”.

I took it.  “Sir?”

“We’ve been trumped by jurisdiction, just let them take over, but stay and let me know when they’ve gone.”

“There’s a shipping container right bang in the middle of the cave.”

“Let them take it “

He disconnected the call, and I returned the phone.

“Do as you wish.”

A forklift went past, and we watched as it picked up the container and took it to a waiting truck.

The FBI agent saluted, and he left with his team.

Lexie had watched the whole proceedings with an amused expression on her face.  This was obviously not news to her.  “Couldn’t have predicted that could we.”

I pulled out my phone and called the boss.  “They’ve gone.”

“They went for the big shiny object.  I’m surprised they didn’t realize Santiago is all about the show.  I’m sure they’ll soon discover it’s booby-trapped, but that’s fine, they’ll take a while to realize they’ve been had.  Now, you two go to work.  The real evidence is hidden in there somewhere.  Call me when you find it.”

Lexie looked over at me.  “What did he say?”

“The evidence is still here, not in the container.”

She looked around at the wide, deep, open space where, if it was going to be Aladdin’s cave, there would be treasure stacked everywhere.

“I’m guessing we need yo do a sweep.  You start on the other side, I’ll start here, and we’ll meet at the middle of the rear.”

I waited until she was in position, and then we moved towards the rear, studying the wall for hidden doors.  It was possible that rooms or passages ran off this cave.

A few minutes later Lexie let out a triumphant “Ah-ha!”

I stopped.  “What is it?”

She held up a small object that looked like the proverbial lamp.

“Aladdin’s lamp.  Perhaps if I polish it.” She did so, with a flourish.

Suddenly, there was a flash of light…


© Charles Heath 2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 31

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 instalment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.

 

Was she insinuating that Alex Benderby killed Jacob Stravinsky?

“Alex is a bully but he’s not a murderer,” I said, and wondering, at the same time, if he had finally graduated to a full-blown bad guy.

“He wouldn’t do it.  Like his old man, they get others to do their dirty work.  I’m sure the significance of Alex being out on his father’s boat was not lost on you.  You asked the questions, and now that I’ve thought about it, it’s possible those divers could have planted the body on Rico’s boat.”

It’s one thing to come up with theories, but it was entirely another to suddenly realize they might be true.  Until this point, I was happy to let Boggs have his dream that one day we might uncover a treasure trove, thinking that it was more fiction than the truth.  It made a good story, one of hope for a person who had had very little of it in the past.

Now, it was becoming horribly true.  What might amount to proof there might be treasure buried somewhere along this coast, an expert being interrogated and then killed, and a pair of what could only be described as gangsters about to start fighting over the spoils and not afraid of killing anyone who got in their way, these were omens, omens not to be ignored.

“Then don’t you think this is far too dangerous to get involved in?  Look what happened to Boggs and I.  We got off lightly if what you say is true.  I’m surprised if this Stravinsky is dead, then why isn’t Boggs?  He had the map, there’s no doubt Vice would assume he had made a copy.  What to stop him from doing the same to Boggs and Benderby did for Stravinsky?”

“Vince is not a clever as Alex.  Vince will never take over the Cossatino clan.  Alex, on the other hand, is the next generation of Benderby thugs.  But I suspect the older Benderby doesn’t know what’s going on.  Not yet anyway.”

My bottle of beer was empty.  Now I think I needed something stronger.  A lot stronger.

There was a knock on the door, which caught us both by surprise.

Are you expecting anyone?” I asked, and in the next second suspected it might be Vince, and I’d been led down the garden path to a place where I really didn’t want to be.

“No.”  She went over to the door and peered through the peephole.

“Damn,” she muttered.

Another, more demanding, knock.

She turned to look at me, “It’s Vince and my father.  I didn’t ask them to come here, and no, I didn’t tell them anything, whatever you might be thinking.”

All I was thinking right then was the coincidence of their arrival and being very afraid.

She opened the door.

Vince barged in almost pushing the door into his sister and stopped when he saw me.  At a more sedate speed, Giuliano Cossatino, Nadia’s father came into the room, and also stopped when he saw me.

There was no mistaking the malice on Vince’s face.   Nadia was right.  He was all muscle and no brain.

The older Cossatino spoke first.  “I see you have a new friend, though I would have thought you’d have better taste in men.”

“Your days of telling me what I can do and not do were over the moment you sent me away.”

“And yet you come back, slinking about like a thief in the night.  Your mother was most upset when you didn’t tell her.”

“The fact I have to, as you call it, slink back, should tell you a lot.”

“That you’re still the idiotic child you were before you went away.”

OK, now I was in the middle of a domestic family standoff.  I was waiting for the order for Vince to throw me out, quite possibly over the balcony for good measure.

“I should leave,” I said standing, “and let you two work it out.”

Vince took another step forward and was now only two paces away.  I’d have to go through him to leave.

“Stay,” Cossatino said.  “I have nothing against you.  Yet.”

“If you’re thinking this is anything but reminiscing about the old days, Mr Cossatino, then you’d be wrong.  There’s nothing between your daughter and I but air.  And,” mustering more bravado than I felt, “call your attack dog off.”

“Or what?”

“You don’t want to find out.”  Where was this coming from?  I was saying the words, but they were not my words.

“I hardly think…”

“That’s probably your biggest fault,” Nadia said, in a tone that suggested she was rapidly losing patience with her father.  

It was clear to me now, she had a hard time of it as a child, not unlike the rest of us, but for different reasons.  The bullying didn’t have to happen at school, but I could see why she had been like she was back then. 

“You never gave me any attention except to treat e like garbage, no, worse than garbage.  I can see nothing has changed.”  Then she switched her attention to Vince.  “And look at you, daddy’s little attack dog, as Sam says.  I’d start worrying Vince, because one day someone’s going to beat the crap out of you, and then you’ll be nothing, just like me.”

Vince only had one expression, so it was difficult to tell if he was worried or not.

Back to her father, “Why are you here?”

I doubt anyone had spoken to him like Nadia just did, and he looked angry.  If I hadn’t been there, I was not sure what would have happened to her.

“Your mother would like to see you.”

“You tell her to grow a backbone first, then when she does, I’ll think about it.  Now get out of my room, or I’ll call the sheriff.  At least he’s not in your back pocket.”

She picked up her phone and made ready to call.

A flick of his head got Vince to back up to the door and open it.

“You will regret this, young lady.”

“And don’t you forget I know where the skeletons are buried, so I’d leave now before some of them start rattling.”

A look of suffused anger flashed across his face, and he took a step forward.  I was not sure what to expect, but Nadia did take a step back.  She knew what he was capable of.

“We need to talk.  Don’t make me wait too long or there’ll be consequences.”

A glare at me, another for his daughter along with a shake of his head, then he left closing the door quietly after him.

I sat down before I fell down.  Nadia visibly wilted.

“I’m sorry about that.  You might have thought twice about threatening Vince.  You know he’ll come after you now.”

“Let him.  I always thought you were close to your father.”

“Daddy’s girl I was not.  Daddy’s biggest disappointment, maybe.”

“You didn’t ask him to come?”

“No.”

“But he didn’t come here to ask you to visit your mother.  It sounded like a last-minute invention.”

“It was.  My real mother is dead, and my stepmother was the reason why I was sent away.  Among other things.  No.  He was here to tell me to get closer to Alex.  It means only one thing.  This treasure hunt is about to get very, very ugly.”

 

 

© Charles Heath 2019

An excerpt from “Sunday in New York”

Now available on Amazon at:  https://amzn.to/2H7ALs8

 

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.”

“Barclay?”

“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.”

“When?”

“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

 

The A to Z Challenge – I is for “I woke up one day…”


Ever woken up and the first thought that goes through your mind, where the hell am I?

It usually happens when I travel which was quite often, to a place where I haven’t been before, and more often than not, a long way from home.

A hotel room, sometimes they were big, sometimes quite small, opulent, or very basic, a view of snow-capped mountains, or pigeon coops. The result is the same, that first look out the window is nothing like that of out your own.

Like waking up in a different bed, in that different room with that different roof, different walls, paintings, lights, and, when you look sideways, clock.

Often, it took a few extra seconds after waking up, to try and remember all the relevant details. Like where you came from, what airline brought you, which cab you took to the hotel, and which room you were in.

The trouble was, try as they might, hotel rooms were not like most of today’s houses bedrooms.

It was this in mind when I went through the same checklist trying to figure out how it was possible there was a woman in my bed when I couldn’t remember meeting one or bringing one back to the room, simply because I didn’t. I know if I had or hadn’t.

Wouldn’t I?

The other troubling fact was that this time I had agreed to bring my wife along on this junket, just to prove that I was not having an affair, and now she was missing. That woman that was beside me in the bed was not my wife, and I had no idea who she was.

And, as I watched, she rolled over and opened her eyes. In the silence that followed, along with several changes in her expression, perhaps she was making the same assessment of her situation as I had a few minutes before.

The last expression was of surprise, then, “Who are you?”

Not what I was expecting. I was expecting outraged indignation, followed by a threatening call to the police. It could be argued, since all the rooms in the hotel looked the same, that I had intruded in her room, instead of her in mine.

I doubled checked again that this was my room, then said, “I could ask the same question.”

It took a few more seconds to focus on her. Definitely younger than I by a few years, and very attractive. I had to wonder if I had, how I’d convinced her to join me, or equally so, why I would have entertained the notion of having an affair. I may have thought about it, from time to time, but I would not have acted on it. I was content with what I already had.

“The last thing I remember was my husband bringing me a drink from the bar. We were having lunch in the Starlight restaurant. We were here celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary. What do you last remember?”

“Lunch with my wife, down in the Starlight restaurant. I brought her along to allay her fears I was not having an affair.” Which sounded as lame aloud as it did in my head.

“And yet here we are, fulfilling a prophecy.”

I noticed the quick look under the sheets to see if she was dressed, and in that flash, I could see that she had underclothes on. The dress she had been wearing was neatly folded over the back of a lounge chair and her shoes neatly placed beside it. Another glance, sideways, noted my clothes were folded neatly on the other lounge chair, and I was in my pajama bottom.

“But we are not having an affair, are we?” That also sounded lame, but in my head, it held some significance though I’m not sure why.

“I don’t know you, nor have I seen you before. I don’t even know your name. My name is Glenda Matheson. My husband is Robert Matheson.”

“The Congressman, who’s about to announce he’s running for President in the next election?”

“Yes.”

“Then if you are seen here, with me…”

The implications of being caught in a compromising situation with a Congressman’s wife, and even worse, one with such a high public profile, it would be on every front page of every newspaper, and on every TV news channel in the country. Explain that to a wife who was mildly suspicious that you were having an affair.

“It doesn’t bear thinking about.” She rose and sat on the side of the bed, then collapsed backward.

“What happened?” I took a step towards her, but something made me stop.

Instead, I looked sideways and realized what woke me was the sunlight streaming in through the open window. I was sure before I left the room, those curtains were drawn, certainly enough that no one could see in. Now, from the building across the road, and reasonably close, it would be possible to see into the room from a room there. I moved the other window and drew the curtains, darkening the room.

A light came on from her side of the bed.

“People could see in?”

“If they wanted to, but normally it wouldn’t matter. If they were looking, I’d say it was too late.”

“Except there’s a Congressman’s wife in one of the rooms, and a hoard of photographers following them around. You have no idea what fame can do to your privacy.”

I could imagine. And she was right, of course, I’d seen the media coverage of anyone who had a high profile, and they were literally hounded.

“Are you alright?” she was still lying down.

“Dizzy. Lightheaded. This is how I feel when I have two sleeping pills instead of one.” Then, a few seconds later, “and the same taste in my mouth.”

“You were drugged?”

“Are you dizzy, feeling lightheaded?”

It didn’t seem so, but it was possible. “I didn’t drug you if that’s what you’re thinking. The only time I’ve seen you is in the paper, and even then, I didn’t take much notice. If I had, I would have know who you were.”

She was about to say something when there was a pounding on the door. “Mr. Jackson, are you in there. This is the police.”

My heart just about stopped.

Then, almost an instant later there was a voice behind me, a woman, “If you don’t want to end up dead, come with me now.”

Both of us immediately turned in the direction of the voice. Middle-aged, conservatively dressed, could be a school teacher.

“Who are you?”

“Someone who is trying to save your life. Now. The both of you. Before they kick the door in.”

Another few seconds and more pounding on the door set us both in motion. She grabbed her clothes, I grabbed mine, and we followed her through a connecting door, and she closed it just before we heard the door to my room open. The room had another connecting door that led into another room, whose door was in the side wall. After locking one, she came over, opened the third and we went through, out into a passage, and then into a stairwell where on the other side she locked it.

“Get dressed. We have to go.”

“Where are you taking us?” Glenda asked. She had regained her senses, enough to ask relevant questions.

“Away from here.”

“Why?”

“Because the police officers that entered that room have been ordered to kill you.”

….

© Charles Heath 2021

Coming soon – “Strangers We’ve Become”, the sequel to “What Sets Us Apart”

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

The blurb:

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

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

But doubts about whether he chose the real Susan remain.

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

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

The Cover:

strangerscover9

Coming soon

 

Searching for locations: A typical diner, New York

We decided to have lunch in a traditional Diner.

On an early morning walk, I discovered the Brooklyn Diner, a small restaurant tucked away in a street not far from Columbus Circle, perhaps a piece of history from the American past.

After all, if you’re going to take in the sights, sounds, and food of a country what better way to do it than visiting what was once a tradition.

This one was called the Brooklyn Diner.  It had a combination of booths and counter sit down, though the latter was not a very big space, so we opted for a booth.

The object of going to a Diner is the fact they serve traditional American food, which when you get past the hot dogs and hamburgers and fries, takes the form of turkey and chicken pot pies among a variety of other choices.

Still looking for a perfectly cooked turkey, something I’ve never been able to do myself, I opted for the Teadition Turkey Lunch, which the menu invitingly said was cooked especially at the diner and was succulent.  I couldn’t wait.

We also ordered a hamburger, yes, yet another, and a chicken pot pie, on the basis the last one I had in Toronto was absolutely delicious (and cooked the same way since the mid-1930s)

While waiting we got to look at a slice of history belonging to another great American tradition, Baseball, a painting on the wall of the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets field, long since gone from their home.

The Turnkey lunch looked like this

which didn’t seem to be much, and had this odd pasta slice on the plate, but the turkey was amazing and lived up to the menu description.

The Chicken Pot Pie looked like this

And looked a lot larger in reality than the photo shows.

But, sadly while it was not bad, it was a little dry, and could possibly do with using the more succulent thigh part of the chicken.

All of this was washed down by Long Island Ice Teas and Brooklyn Lager.

AS for the Diner experience, it’s definitely a 10 out of 10 for me.

‘What Sets Us Apart’ – A beta readers view

There’s something to be said for a story that starts like a James Bond movie, throwing you straight in the deep end, a perfect way of getting to know the main character, David, or is that Alistair?

A retired spy, well not so much a spy as a retired errand boy, David’s rather wry description of his talents, and a woman that most men would give their left arm for, not exactly the ideal couple, but there is a spark in a meeting that may or may not have been a set up.

But as the story progressed, the question I kept asking myself was why he’d bother.

And, page after unrelenting page, you find out.

Susan is exactly the sort of woman the pique his interest. Then, inexplicably, she disappears. That might have been the end to it, but Prendergast, that shadowy enigma, David’s ex boss who loves playing games with real people, gives him an ultimatum, find her or come back to work.

Nothing like an offer that’s a double edged sword!

A dragon for a mother, a sister he didn’t know about, Susan’s BFF who is not what she seems or a friend indeed, and Susan’s father who, up till David meets her, couldn’t be less interested, his nemesis proves to be the impossible dream, and he’s always just that one step behind.

When the rollercoaster finally came to a halt, and I could start breathing again, it was an ending that was completely unexpected.

I’ve been told there’s a sequel in the works.

Bring it on!

The book can be purchased here: http://amzn.to/2Eryfth