Whatever happened to free websites?

There’s nothing more certain that a favourite web site you go to and use often, sooner or later starts charging a subscription ‘fee’.

I remember when the NANOWRIMO site had been updated, and the changes look good.  At that moment the site was free, but you do get a lot of emails and requests to purchase products, which I think is a reasonable way to raise money for keeping the site free.

But, how long is this going to last before a ‘fee’ is introduced, and then a ‘fee’ to enter your book?

It’s the airline principle, once it was a flat charge for the ticket, now you pay for this tax, that tax, fuel tax, baggage tax, tax on the tax, and then if that’s not enough, a charge for the food and water.  Soon it will be a charge for toilets, and then the air you breathe.

It’s inevitable, and once these charges start they don’t stop and only get higher with each passing year.

A lot of the sites I use are free.  Some have since started to charge and have put up a firewall to stop you getting any free information.

I’m not a rich author, so sadly I have to discontinue using these sites.

Perhaps the problem is that the owner of the site has come up with a good idea, thousands of people sign up, and suddenly a small web site becomes a big one, and hosting costs suddenly go through the roof.

Like airlines, it’s the user that pays.

Often I see or get an email from, various people with what looks to be a useful site.  Some start out by giving you a month free to have a look and use the facilities.  In some cases they are quite good, in other, well, there’s a dozen others like it that are still free.

But, after a month, you have to pay.  What gets me with some of them, they are asking somewhere between 50 and 100 US dollars a month, you heard that right, a month, which you can basically double that for me after the exchange rate and a dozen bank fees.

Sometimes there are different levels, but basically, if you look at the fine print, the lowest level set, which gives you very little, is set low deliberately.  Say it’s 10 dollars a month.  It’s no different to the free version except they probably don’t have annoying ads and advertise, what for many, is non-existent 24/7 help (via an email, no guarantee they look at it more than once a week, if at all).  Money for jam for the site owner, as the saying goes.

Why can’t there be a more reasonable option?

But I get it.  Everyone wants to get rich quick, it’s an objective that’s built into all of us, but it seems I missed the inoculation given the day after you’re born.

I also get it that these people worked hard on coming up with the web sites and facilities, and they deserve a reward for that hard work, but to me it would make more sense if they sold the service for 10 dollars or even 20 dollars a month if the systems were available and they worked.  And flowing from that wouldn’t 20,000 sales at 20 dollars, be better than 2000 at a 100 dollars?

The same seems to go for the so-called decent web site hosts, like WordPress, Wix and GoDaddy.  The free option is good but just for show and tell, but I’m sure they deliberately nobble it so it’s slow and kludgy just the sort of attributes that turn potential visitors off.

I thought if I paid a monthly charge for Wix, and reading the inclusions for what my site could do over the free one was very persuasive, so I signed up.  The site was no better than it was before and half the options that were on the list weren’t available, and still aren’t.  But I suspect if I paid them 100 plus dollars a month or more for their premium package I’d get it.

But, to pay for it I would have to be selling a million books a month, and I doubt, no matter how good my web site is, it wouldn’t attract that kind of business.

Not one of the basic packages, read affordable for me, has the ability to allow downloads after sales.  You can’t even have a sales page where you can actually sell books to people like you were a bookshop.  That’s in all of the premium packages, so they say, and that costs far too much.

GoDaddy were by far the worst, telling me if I signed up to the 60 dollars a month package I could have sales and downloads.  I tried to add it to the web page, which I might add was as difficult to create as all hell, and when it didn’t work, rang up to ask why I couldn’t have downloading after sales and was met with silence.

No, that’s not available at the moment, I was told, and not likely in the future.  What am I paying all this money for?  I don’t have a GoDaddy site any more.  I had a Wix site that I paid for, and I don’t have that any more.  They don’t offer anything useful, and they too, make it virtually impossible to create a useful site, so it sits out there in the ether with disappointment written all over it.

Perhaps others have had better luck, or things have changed in the last few years but I won’t be going back.

Maybe one day someone might understand the needs of the majority who can afford to pay exorbitant monthly charges but just not as much as we are expected to, for very little in return.

What’s that saying, hope springs eternal.

PS Sorry about the rant!

An excerpt from “The Things We Do For Love”; In love, Henry was all at sea!

In the distance he could hear the dinner bell ringing and roused himself.  Feeling the dampness of the pillow, and fearing the ravages of pent up emotion, he considered not going down but thought it best not to upset Mrs. Mac, especially after he said he would be dining.

In the event, he wished he had reneged, especially when he discovered he was not the only guest staying at the hotel.

Whilst he’d been reminiscing, another guest, a young lady, had arrived.  He’d heard her and Mrs. Mac coming up the stairs, and then shown to a room on the same floor, perhaps at the other end of the passage.

Henry caught his first glimpse of her when she appeared at the door to the dining room, waiting for Mrs. Mac to show her to a table.

She was about mid-twenties, slim, long brown hair, and the grace and elegance of a woman associated with countless fashion magazines.  She was, he thought, stunningly beautiful with not a hair out of place, and make-up flawlessly applied.  Her clothes were black, simple, elegant, and expensive, the sort an heiress or wife of a millionaire might condescend to wear to a lesser occasion than dinner.

Then there was her expression; cold, forbidding, almost frightening in its intensity.  And her eyes, piercingly blue and yet laced with pain.  Dracula’s daughter was his immediate description of her.

All in all, he considered, the only thing they had in common was, like him, she seemed totally out of place.

Mrs. Mac came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron.  She was, she informed him earlier, chef, waitress, hotelier, barmaid, and cleaner all rolled into one.  Coming up to the new arrival she said, “Ah, Miss Andrews, I’m glad you decided to have dinner.  Would you like to sit with Mr. Henshaw, or would you like to have a table of your own?”

Henry could feel her icy stare as she sized up his appeal as a dining companion, making the hair on the back on his neck stand up.  He purposely didn’t look back.  In his estimation, his appeal rating was minus six.  Out of a thousand!

“If Mr. Henshaw doesn’t mind….”  She looked at him, leaving the query in mid-air.

He didn’t mind and said so.  Perhaps he’d underestimated his rating.

“Good.”  Mrs. Mac promptly ushered her over.  Henry stood, made sure she was seated properly and sat.

“Thank you.  You are most kind.”  The way she said it suggested snobbish overtones.

“I try to be when I can.”  It was supposed to nullify her sarcastic tone but made him sound a little silly, and when she gave him another of her icy glares, he regretted it.

Mrs. Mac quickly intervened, asking, “Would you care for the soup?”

They did, and, after writing the order on her pad, she gave them each a look, imperceptibly shook her head, and returned to the kitchen.

Before Michelle spoke to him again, she had another quick look at him, trying to fathom who and what he might be.  There was something about him.

His eyes, they mirrored the same sadness she felt, and, yes, there was something else, that it looked like he had been crying?  There was a tinge of redness.

Perhaps, she thought, he was here for the same reason she was.

No.  That wasn’t possible.

Then she said, without thinking, “Do you have any particular reason for coming here?”  Seconds later she realized she’s spoken it out loud, had hadn’t meant to actually ask, it just came out.

It took him by surprise, obviously not the first question he was expecting her to ask of him.

“No, other than it is as far from civilization, and home, as I could get.”

At least we agree on that, she thought.

It was obvious he was running away from something as well.

Given the isolation of the village and lack of geographic hospitality, it was, from her point of view, ideal.  All she had to do was avoid him, and that wouldn’t be difficult.

After getting through this evening first.

“Yes,” she agreed.  “It is that.”

A few seconds passed, and she thought she could feel his eyes on her and wasn’t going to look up.

Until he asked, “What’s your reason?”

Slight abrupt in manner, perhaps as a result of her question, and the manner in which she asked it.

She looked up.  “Rest.  And have some time to myself.”

She hoped he would notice the emphasis she had placed on the word ‘herself’ and take due note.  No doubt, she thought,  she had completely different ideas of what constituted a holiday than he, not that she had actually said she was here for a holiday.

Mrs. Mac arrived at a fortuitous moment to save them from further conversation.

 

Over the entree, she wondered if she had made a mistake coming to the hotel.  Of course, there had been no possible way she could know than anyone else might have booked the same hotel, but realized it was foolish to think she might end up in it by herself.

Was that what she was expecting?

Not a mistake then, but an unfortunate set of circumstances, which could be overcome by being sensible.

Yet, there he was, and it made her curious, not that he was a man, by himself, in the middle of nowhere, hiding like she was, but for very different reasons.

On discreet observance whilst they ate, she gained the impression his air of light-heartedness was forced and he had no sense of humor.

This feeling was engendered by his looks, unruly dark hair, and permanent frown.  And then there was his abysmal taste in clothes on a tall, lanky frame.  They were quality but totally unsuited to the wearer.

Rebellion was written all over him.

The only other thought crossing her mind, and rather incongruously, was he could do with a decent feed.  In that respect, she knew now from the mountain of food in front of her, he had come to the right place.

“Mr. Henshaw?”

He looked up.  “Henshaw is too formal.  Henry sounds much better,” he said, with a slight hint of gruffness.

“Then my name is Michelle.”

Mrs. Mac came in to take their order for the only main course, gather up the entree dishes, then return to the kitchen.

“Staying long?” she asked.

“About three weeks.  Yourself?”

“About the same.”

The conversation dried up.

Neither looked at the other, rather at the walls, out the window, towards the kitchen, anywhere.  It was, she thought, almost unbearably awkward.

 

Mrs. Mac returned with a large tray with dishes on it, setting it down on the table next to theirs.

“Not as good as the usual cook,” she said, serving up the dinner expertly, “but it comes a good second, even if I do say so myself.  Care for some wine?”

Henry looked at Michelle.  “What do you think?”

“I’m used to my dining companions making the decision.”

You would, he thought.  He couldn’t help but notice the cutting edge of her tone.  Then, to Mrs. Mac, he named a particular White Burgundy he liked and she bustled off.

“I hope you like it,” he said, acknowledging her previous comment with a smile that had nothing to do with humor.

“Yes, so do I.”

Both made a start on the main course, a concoction of chicken and vegetables that were delicious, Henry thought, when compared to the bland food he received at home and sometimes aboard my ship.

It was five minutes before Mrs. Mac returned with the bottle and two glasses.  After opening it and pouring the drinks, she left them alone again.

Henry resumed the conversation.  “How did you arrive?  I came by train.”

“By car.”

“Did you drive yourself?”

And he thought, a few seconds later, that was a silly question, otherwise she would not be alone, and certainly not sitting at this table. With him.

“After a fashion.”

He could see that she was formulating a retort in her mind, then changed it, instead, smiling for the first time, and it served to lighten the atmosphere.

And in doing so, it showed him she had another more pleasant side despite the fact she was trying not to look happy.

“My father reckons I’m just another of ‘those’ women drivers,” she added.

“Whatever for?”

“The first and only time he came with me I had an accident.  I ran up the back of another car.  Of course, it didn’t matter to him the other driver was driving like a startled rabbit.”

“It doesn’t help,” he agreed.

“Do you drive?”

“Mostly people up the wall.”  His attempt at humor failed.  “Actually,” he added quickly, “I’ve got a very old Morris that manages to get me where I’m going.”

The apple pie and cream for dessert came and went and the rapport between them improved as the wine disappeared and the coffee came.  Both had found, after getting to know each other better, their first impressions were not necessarily correct.

“Enjoy the food?” Mrs. Mac asked, suddenly reappearing.

“Beautifully cooked and delicious to eat,” Michelle said, and Henry endorsed her remarks.

“Ah, it does my heart good to hear such genuine compliments,” she said, smiling.  She collected the last of the dishes and disappeared yet again.

“What do you do for a living,” Michelle asked in an off-hand manner.

He had a feeling she was not particularly interested and it was just making conversation.

“I’m a purser.”

“A what?”

“A purser.  I work on a ship doing the paperwork, that sort of thing.”

“I see.”

“And you?”

“I was a model.”

“Was?”

“Until I had an accident, a rather bad one.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

So that explained the odd feeling he had about her.

As the evening had worn on, he began to think there might be something wrong, seriously wrong with her because she didn’t look too well.  Even the carefully applied makeup, from close up, didn’t hide the very pale, and tired look, or the sunken, dark ringed eyes.

“I try not to think about it, but it doesn’t necessarily work.  I’ve come here for peace and quiet, away from doctors and parents.”

“Then you will not have to worry about me annoying you.  I’m one of those fall-asleep-reading-a-book types.”

Perhaps it would be like ships passing in the night and then smiled to himself about the analogy.

Dinner now over, they separated.

Henry went back to the lounge to read a few pages of his book before going to bed, and Michelle went up to her room to retire for the night.

But try as he might, he was unable to read, his mind dwelling on the unusual, yet the compellingly mysterious person he would be sharing the hotel with.

Overlaying that original blurred image of her standing in the doorway was another of her haunting expressions that had, he finally conceded, taken his breath away, and a look that had sent more than one tingle down his spine.

She may not have thought much of him, but she had certainly made an impression on him.

 

© Charles Heath 2015-2020

lovecoverfinal1

In a word: Might

We might have to use some might to beat the mite.  Confused?

Might is force, so expending might is much the same as what Thor does with his hammer.

We might expend some force, we this might is a maybe.  You’re never quite sure when someone uses the word might, whether or not they will actually do it.

I might do a lot of things, but somehow I never seem to get around to actually doing them,

Of and just for the record, it’s the past tense of the word may.  You know, you may do something, or you might not.

You might also use the word might when being polite, which seems to be a rarity these days because everyone is terse, tense, and it a hurry.

So might I go to the movie will aways get a resounding no if it means you get home late at night.   And you’re only 10 years old.

I might be interested, but I don’t think so.  Let me think about it.  Which also means no.

Of course, if you’re slack in doing homework, you might want to try a little harder next time.

What might have been if only you tried harder?

Then there’s that little pest called a mite, though it goes by a lot of other names, one of which is everywhere, a termite.

Or a dust mite.

It also could be used slangily for a child in distress, that is, look at that poor little mite, he looks so tired.

Or another word for slightly, for example, the girl seemed a mite embarrassed.

 

 

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to write a war story – Episode 34

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.

© Charles Heath 2020

Searching for locations: From Zhengzhou to Suzhou by train, and the Snowy Sea Hotel, Suzhou, China

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.

Waiting rooms, a great source of material to write about

Watching the doors that lead to the consulting rooms is about as exciting as watching pigeons standing on a window ledge.

But…

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.

The doctor, well that’s another story.

Just one of many reading lists – part 2

**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

The list continues

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 42

Here’s the thing…

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

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

But these dreams are nothing to laugh about.

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

 

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.  

“Busy day?”

“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.”

 

© Charles Heath 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://amzn.to/2Eryfth

whatsetscover

An alternate A to Z Challenge – T is for – “This is getting interesting…”


The story below was the one that was supposed to be published under T, but the month got away from me and I was not able to get most of what I wanted to do done.

After all, it was the A to Z as well as NaNoWriMo for April, and the notion I could write 26 short stories and complete a 50,000 word novel at the same time…

What was I thinking?

Anyway, I had the bones of the story written, I just needed time to finish it. So, here it is, as will for the next few days, stories for U, V, W, X, Y and Z.

The email I received said:

“Go to Newark airport, go to the United booking desk and give them your name. Take proof of identity. Pack for five days, light.”

It was going to be, supposedly, a magical mystery tour. I read in a travel magazine, that a company offered five day inclusive trips to anywhere. You do not get the destination, just what to take. Then, just be prepared for anything.

I paid the money and waited, until last evening when the email came.

I was ready.

When I presented my credentials as requested, I found myself going to Venice, Italy, a place I had never been before.

When I looked it up, it said it took about 10 hours to get there with one stop in between. Enough time to read up on the many places to go and see, though according to the instructions, everything had been arranged in advance.

I could also take the time to brush up my schoolboy Italian.

When I got off the plane at Marco Polo airport, in Venice, it was mid-morning, but an hour or so was lost going through immigration and customs. A water taxi was waiting to take me to a hotel where I would receive further instructions. I was hoping it would on or overlooking the Grand Canal.

At the airport I wondered if there was going to be anyone else on this trip, or whether I would be doing it alone. I’d read sometimes likeminded people were put together for a shared experience.

We had to agree and then fill out an extensive profile so they could appropriately match people. Sometimes, people joined at different times along the way, you just never knew what was going to happen.

That random unpredictability was just what I needed having just gone through a breakup after a long period of peacefulness and stability, and frankly, I would not have chosen this type of tour if I had not.

It was a pleasant half hour or so winding our way through the canals, having paid the driver extra to take long route. I’d not been in Venice before, but I had read about it, and while some of the negative comments were true, it didn’t diminish the place in my eyes.

And the hotel, on its own island overlooking the main canal was stylish and elegant, and my room exactly where I’d hoped it would be. I think I spent the next hour just looking out at the city, and the boats going by, like a freeway or turnpike, a never-ending stream of traffic.

A knock on the door interrupted what might have been described as a reverie, by one of the concierge staff delivering an envelope with my name on it.

Perhaps more instructions.

“Tomorrow will be a free day in Venice. See attached suggested itinerary for ideas on what to do. Then, the following day you will be travelling from Venice to Florence by train departing Santa Maria Novella at 10:20 am.”

I looked at the list of suggested places to visit and a day would not be enough, but I could always come back. I’d always assumed this trip would give me some idea of what was on offer, and that if it was great, I could always come back.

A second reading of the instructions picked up something I’d almost missed. A dining party in the hotel where others like myself, with similar arrangements to mine might attend. It was underlined that it was not mandatory to attend, only if you wanted to.

The only provisor was that you do not talk about where you were going, only about yourselves, an opportunity to meet others and not dine alone. It was an interesting idea. All we had to do was give our name and the time of the booking.

I would think about it.

I arrived at the entrance to the restaurant at five minutes to eight, after a long deliberation on the merits of whether I wanted to see the other travellers.

At first, I thought what the point would be if you couldn’t talk about where you were going, but, after more thought, I wondered what it was that motivated those people who had also opted for a leap into the unknown.

These were not adventure holidays as such, just someone else planning the itinerary so you didn’t have to.

I gave the maitre’d my name and he escorted me to a table set for ten, of which four people were already seated. Were they expecting ten? Would anyone not turn up?

We exchanged greetings and I sat. Two men, two women, sitting together. My first thought, two couples, but I would not make any assumptions.

One of the women spoke first, “My name is Marina Delosa. I assume you are another intrepid traveller?”

“Ben Davis. I’m not so sure about the intrepid part, just lazy, I think, because I’m not very good at arranging my own travel.”

“I think you might say that applies to all of us,” she said.

The others introduced themselves as Angela and Harry Benson, and David Wilson.

“We were quite pleased they chose to start our tour in Italy. I have always wanted to visit Venice, so the travel Gods must be smiling on us,” Harry said.

“I must say I was surprised. I guess it’s one of the benefits of this type of travel, not knowing where you’re going to end up. I think my secret wish was to come here, too, or at least Italy. I think I have a relative or two that came from here.”

“That might be said for all of us,” Marina said. “One part Italian, one part Irish, and not quite sure what the other parts are.”

Another intrepid adventurer arrived at the table, another woman. She was older than the rest of us, but I would not think by more than ten years. She had the same look of trepidation I had felt before coming. And, at a guess, recently divorced, or separated.

“Anne Lebroski,” she said, leaving a seat between her and I. It was an interesting move. I had deliberately not tried to distance myself.

Only six of a possible ten arrived, and it turned out to be a very good evening. Whilst all of us had that battle within not to talk about where we were going, it seemed to force the issue of talking more about where we had been previously, and what we did with our lives.

And as quickly as it had begun it was over and everyone kept the conversation going until the elevator dropped us off, each to a different floor, as if we were deliberately being kept apart. Of course, it was simply my overactive imagination conjuring up different scenarios, perhaps in an effort to make a simple holiday seem more exciting

Suddenly, once back in my room, a great tiredness came over me and I barely made it into bed. Would we all run into each other the next morning over breakfast? It was a thought that kept me awake for all of a few minutes before slipping into an uneasy sleep.

When I woke up, I was confused and disorientated.

In those initial few seconds, and through the blurry eyes of just having woken, what I saw was unfamiliar.

I was definitely not in my room at home.

It took a few more seconds, in fact, almost a minute, before I realised that I was not at home. It was a hotel room, and quite unusual, light seeping through the thick curtains that covered what had to be a window.

Was in morning, afternoon, or evening? It had to be morning.

And, what was I doing in a hotel room?

When some of the fog had cleared away, I slipped out from under the sheet, and crossed over to the desk on the other side of the room. I pulled the curtain aside slightly and more light came in, splashing across the desk. On it was a piece of paper, a receipt, with the name Hilton Molino Stucky, Venice on it.

What was I doing in Venice?

I pulled the curtains further aside and looked out the window. It overlooked a body of water, and right then, a very large cruise liner was passing by. A very, very large cruise ship.

Then, behind me I heard a noise and turned.

There was someone else in the bed, a head appeared from under the sheet and looked over at me. A woman, messy blonde hair and a familiar face.

I didn’t remember coming to Venice or travelling with anyone. I was sorely tempted to say, “Who are you?” but stifled it. Instead, I asked, in what was a croaky voice, “What happened last night?”

The woman looked surprised. “You don’t remember?”

“To be honest, I’m having a hard time remembering where I am, let alone what I was doing?”

“Well, for starters, you were drinking copious quantities of champagne, which you well know you should not because of what it does to you.”

OK, that had a semblance of truth about it, not that I remember drinking champagne, but what it does to me. Exactly what was happening now. Last time, well, I couldn’t remember, but it wasn’t good.

Still, I didn’t know who this woman was, but I had enough sense to play along. The taste in my mouth reminded me of drinking too much wine, which was what I used to do.

“This much is true. When…” There I stopped, realising how it might sound.

Another look, not of surprise, but disdain perhaps?

“You don’t remember my arriving last night. Nor, I’m willing to bet, inviting me here. You rang two days ago, said you just arrived in Venice, and knowing I was on assignment in Rome, called me, asking if I wanted to come and see you, stay a day or two.”

It was not something I would have done, but for the simple reason I didn’t know anyone in Rome to call. But, oddly, she looked familiar. “Marina?” I said, almost under my breath.

The smile returned. “You do remember.”

“Barely, along with dinner the other night, with some other people. Tourists?”

“Yes. Two days ago, you said you’d asked some travel agents to pick your destination, and it ended up in Venice, along with several others. We’re supposed to be going to Florence this morning, but I was hesitant waking you in case you weren’t feeling well.”

Well, that part was true. I wasn’t. And that reference to Florence, it seemed likely. There was another piece of paper on the desk, an itinerary which said I was travelling to Florence by train.
I looked at the clock beside the bed.

6:17 am.

I looked at the itinerary, and the train was at 11 am.

The itinerary had two names on it. Ben and Marina Davis. I knew I was Ben, but I didn’t remember anything about having a wife, or friend, named Marina. More of the fog had lifted in my brain, and every instinct was telling me to play along. I don’t know why that message popped into my head at that exact moment, but it did.

“We’ve got five hours before the train leaves. I suspect it might be a good idea to start getting ready. I’ll call down for coffee, and, bearing in mind I’ve lost all sense of orientation and not exactly sure of everything going around me, as you say I should not be drinking wine in copious quantities, I’ll toss you the phone so you can order whatever you want. Sorry, but for the moment, I’ve forgotten everything.”

Let her counter that, or also play along. Her expression told me she was thinking about what I said, but then shrugged. “You don’t remember asking me, do you?”

“I do remember something, and it involves you because you are very familiar to me, so don’t be too upset. I am glad you’re here, because I was simply dreading travelling in Italy by myself, and you are almost a native. There, I knew there was a perfectly good reason why you’re here.”

She didn’t look quite so sure. “I’ll be in the bathroom,” she said. “Coffee will be fine. I think I had too much to drink last night too.”

After she disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door, odd, I thought, for a woman who had slept in the same bed as I, I called down for coffee and croissants. By that time, I was feeling better, and the queasy stomach was subsiding.

Twenty minutes later there was a knock on the door.

Room service.

“Ben.”

I did remember the person outside the door, dressed as the room service waiter. “Alan.”

“They took the bait?”

“Obviously. Too much booze…”

“Slipped you a mickey. Be careful. These two don’t play by the rules. Luigi is downstairs pacing like a cat ready to pounce. Thin short guy in a cheap black suit, pink shirt and grey tie.” Alan shook his head. “No dress sense whatsoever.”

“I don’t remember much.”

“Nothing happened, don’t worry. Had eyes on you the whole time like we promised. Now, you’ve a train to catch. Just be careful.”

He brought the tray in and put it on the desk.

Marina chose that moment to open the door.

“Room service,” I said. “Coffee for two. There’s a croissant too if you want one.”

“Sir,” Alan muttered, and headed for the door, remembering at the last second to produce a form for me to sign.

Then he was gone.

Fog cleared, everything came back in a rush. She was still standing in the doorway, the only think between her and modest, a large white towel wrapped around her. Beautiful but deadly, Alan had said.

Let the games commence.

© Charles Heath 2020-2021