The cinema of my dreams – Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 16

As we all know, writing by the seat of your pants is almost the same as flying by the seat of your pants, a hazardous occupation.

As it happens, I like writing this way because like the reader, I don’t know what to expect next.

And equally, at times, you can write your self into a corner, much like painting, and then have to go back, make a few changes and//or repairs and then move forward.

It’s part of the writing process, only in this case, the changes occur before you’ve finished the novel if you finish.  Quite often a lot of writers get only so far, then the manuscript hits the bottom drawer, to be brought out on a distant rainy day.

Or your cat has mocked your writing ability one too many times.

Therefore, we’re winding back to Episode 16, and moving forward once again, from there.

O’Connor seemed to be more affluent than I because he was living in a flat located in an upmarket building.  Getting into the ground floor required a passkey, one I suspect might also be needed to get in the front door of his flat, but I’d worry about that later.

My first problem was that front door, and it was not until a tradesman exited that I took the opportunity to appear to arrive at the same time, pretending to find my card, and brushing past him as he was exiting.  He ignored me, his hands full, being in a hurry.

It took a day and a half of watching the building, waiting for an opportunity.  His flat was on the third floor and although there was an elevator, I took the stairs, hoping that I wouldn’t run into anyone.

Quickly and quietly, and thankfully without seeing another resident, I came out into the passageway, and it was about ten steps to his front door.  Number 37.  Not far away, in one direction, the end of the passage, and numbers 38, 39, and 40.  In the other, four more flats and the end of the corridor.  Windows at either end, perhaps an escape route.  I would not use the elevator if I had to leave in a hurry.

There were two elevators and one staircase.  Both elevators were stationary on the ground floor.

I knocked lightly on the door to number 37.

No answer.

I knocked a little harder on the door.  It was quite solid, and I had to wonder if the knocking sound penetrated the solid wood.

I checked the lock.  Simple to open.  We’d been given instruction by a master locksmith, and I’d brought my tools.

I waited a minute, checked to see if the elevators were still on the ground floor, then picked the lock and was inside within a minute.


I felt along the wall for a light switch, usually by the door, and found it, and flicked it on.  The sudden light was almost blinding, but then my eyes adjusted.

Trashed, much the same as my flat.

But, with a difference.

A woman was stretched out on the floor, unmoving.  I could see, from where I was standing, she had been hit on the back of the head and could see the wound, and a trickle of blood through her hair.

Five steps to reach her, I reached down to check for a pulse.

Yes, she was alive.

I shook her gently.  She didn’t react.  I shook her a little more roughly and she stirred, then, as expected, lashed out.

I caught her hands, saying, “I just found you.  I’m not your enemy.”

Of course, considering I was a stranger in what could be her flat without permission, I was not surprised she continued to struggle until I tried being reassuring.  Then she stopped and asked, “Who are you?”

“A friend of O’Connor.  I worked with him.  Something happened to him at work and he said if that happened, I was to come here.  He didn’t say anything about you, though.”

“I live here, in the flat next door.  I heard a noise and came to investigate.  That’s all I remember.”

I helped her up into a sitting position, and, holding her head in her hands, looked around.  “Did you do this?”

“No.  Just got here.  But it’s the same at my place.  The people who did this are looking for something.  By the look of it, they didn’t find it here either.”

“I’ll get a damp cloth for your head.  It doesn’t look serious but there might be a slight concussion that might need attention.”

She felt the back of her head, and, when she touched the wound, gasped, “It hurts though.”

I stood and went over to the kitchenette.  O’Connor was not much of a cook, the benches looked new, and there was nothing out.  I looked in a draw near the sink and found a cloth, still with the price tag on it.  So were several utensils in the drawer.  I ran it under the water, then went back to her, now off the floor and sitting on one of the two chairs.  I handed her the wet cloth and she put it against the injured part of her head.

I made a mental note, it didn’t look like O’Connor had been here long, if at all.  Something was not right here, and if that was the case, I should take care when saying anything to this woman.

“Who are you again?” she asked.

“I worked with him.  My name is irrelevant.  It’s unlikely that he mentioned me to you, or anyone.  It’s the nature of our work.”

“Why should I believe you?  You could be my attacker.”

“If that were the case, why would I still be here trying to be helpful.”

A good question that elicited a curious expression.

“What do you do, what did Oliver do?”

Alarm bells were going off.  Oliver was not O’Connor’s first name.

“Nothing very interesting, I can assure you, and definitely nothing that would warrant this happening.  If it had only been me, I would have not thought any more of it, but since we worked together, and this has also happened to him, it seems we are mixed up in something bad.”

“Where is he, by the way?”

“I was hoping you could tell me.  If you live next door and know him well enough to be here, he might have told you.”

“No.  He never spoke about work.”

She was trying to stand so I helped her up and held on when it looked like she was about to collapse.  Last time I had a knock to the head, I had dizziness for a minute of two.  Her knock had been a lot harder.”

“Are you alright?”  She didn’t look it.

“I will be, I’m sure.”

I let her go, and she took several steps, then gave me a rather hard look.  “Why are you here again?”

“Trying to find my friend.”

“How did you get in here?”

Rather than make her disorientated, the knock must have sharpened her senses.  Time to test a theory. 

“I think we should call the police now, and report the break-in.”

I pulled out my phone.

“Look, I don’t want to get mixed up in this.  You go, and I report this when I get back home.  And, if you find him, tell him Josephine is looking for him.”

As I thought.  She was not able to explain to the authorities why she was in this flat, as I’m sure she believed I couldn’t either.

She started walking towards the door.  My staying any longer would raise her suspicions about me, and any search I was going to do would have to wait.  I opened the door, she walked out, and I followed shutting the door after me.

I left her standing outside the door and headed for the stairs.  A last glance back showed her still where I left her.  I went down to the first landing, then stopped.  It was part of the training, to treat everyone as suspicious.

Then I heard her voice, as she passed the top of the staircase, on her way back to her flat.  “He was here, looking for the files.  No, he’s gone.”  A minute’s silence, then “On my way.”

Another minute, I heard the elevator car arrive on the third floor.

I quickly ran down the stairs to the ground floor and waited at the door until she came out of the elevator, heading for the door.

Then as she passed through the front door, I came out into the foyer just in time to see a car stop out the front, and a familiar face out through the rear window.


© Charles Heath 2019-2022

Searching for locations: The Mary Valley Rattler, Gympie, Queensland, Australia

I have a passion for visiting transport museums, to see old trains, planes, buses, cars, even ships if it’s possible.

This has led to taking a number of voyages on the TSS Earnslaw in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Many, many, many years ago on Puffing Billy, a steam train in the Dandenongs, Victoria, Australia.

The steam train in Kingston, New Zealand, before it was closed down, but hopefully it will reopen sometime in the future.

The London Transport Museum in London England, which had a lot of buses.

The Workshops Railway Museum in Ipswich, Queensland, where once the many steam engines were built and maintained, and now had only a handful of engines remaining.

However, in the quest for finding and experiencing old transportation methods, we came across the Mary Valley Rattler, which runs out of Gympie, Queensland, Australia.

The ride begins in Gympie at the old Gympie Railway station, and as can be seen below, is one of the relics of the past, and, nothing like the new more modern stations.  Thankfully.

If you’re going to have a vintage train, then you have to have a vintage station.

The Class of engine, seen below, is the C17, a superheated upgrade to the C16 it was based on, and first run in 1903.  This particular engine was built in 1951, although the first of its type was seen in  1920 and the last of 227 made in 1953.  It was the most popular of the steam engines used by Queensland Railways.

The C designation meant it had four driving axels and 17 was the diameter of the cylinder, 17 inches.  It is also known as a 4-8-0 steam locomotive
 and nicknamed one of the “Brown Bombers” because of its livery, brown with green and red trimming.

Also, this engine was built in Maryborough, not far from Gympie by Walkers Limited, one of 138.

This photo was taken as the train returned from Amamoor, a trip that takes up to an hour.

The locomotive is detached from the carriages, then driven to the huge turntable to turn around for the return journey to Amamoor.

This is the locomotive heading down to the water station, and then taking on water.  After that, it will switch lines, and reverse back to reconnect the carriages for the trip to Amamoor.

The carriages are completely restored and are extremely comfortable.  It brings back, for me, many memories of riding in older trains in Melbourne when I was a child.

The trains, then, were called Red Rattlers.

This is the locomotive climbing one of the hilly parts of the line before crossing over the Mary River on a trestle bridge.

This is the engine at Amamoor near the picnic area where young children and excited parents and grandparents can get on the locomotive itself and look inside where the driver sits.

And, no, I didn’t volunteer to shovel coal.

This particular locomotive spent most of its working life between Townsville and Mount Isa and was based in Cloncurry, Charters Towers, and Townsville, before being sent, at the end of its useful days in the late 1960s, to the Ipswich Railway Workshops.

A photograph from the inspirational bin – 22

I found this…

So near and yet so far.

What I found was the moon out in the late afternoon, a phenomenon that might happen on a regular basis, but this one of the few times I’ve seen it.

And it reminds me of something I was told a long time ago. Shoot for the moon. I never quite understood what the person meant, not until a long time later when I realised that I was being told nothing was impossible.

Had I ever achieved the impossible?

The thing is, each of us define what is possible and what is impossible ourselves, and is therefore different for every person. If you tell yourself it is impossible, then it requires a mind shift to get past that barrier.

But, the question still remains the same, did I achieve the impossible?

I never thought I’d write a book, or have it published. Some would say I still haven’t achieved that goal because I self published it on Amazon.

I think I achieved what I set out to do.

I never thought I’d get a university degree, but people had faith in me, and yes, I got it in the end.

I never thought, when I was younger, I would be a father, and sometimes I wonder whether it was worth it, but having grandchildren dispelled any perceived disappointment.

And what is on the impossible list now?

Not a lot. At my age, I don’t think it’s possible I will travel to the moon, nor afford to skirt the edge of space, as much as it would be amazing to look back at the planet.

I don’t think I’ll ever become a CEO, but then I don’t want to. Too much responsibility.

What’s left that is achievable?

Tracing my family history, and going back to where my ancestors came from, and, hopefully finding someone who was ‘famous’.

I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 22

It’s the most non captain job to be done

I hadn’t realised that the ship was, on the one hand, virtually a city, with all the standard infrastructure like hospitals, schools, and a pseudo police force.

And, on the other hand, almost like a hotel, running quarters for the single staff, a restaurant for everyone to eat, and recreational facilities to provide entertainment outside of work.

It was, perhaps on of the reasons why the ship was so large, and its crew so diverse.

And in the way diversity is sometimes a curse or land, so it can be on board the ship, with the usual disagreements between people. I was sure the human resource division took all that diversity into consideration when they chose the crew, but there was always going to be the odd situation.

Which is why I had to attend to the first, and probably not the last, ‘situation’ between two crew members. It seemed strange to me that they hadn’t sent a judge type figure to sort those out, but left it to the captain.

Not to mention the running of a very large cafeterias, a sort of night club, sports venues and so many other items

And like every other city, there was always going to be an element that caused trouble.

A chamber had been set aside where the ship’s security team was located, for either mediation or adjudication.

The matter at hand should have been dealt with long before it reached me, but Masters, head of security, believed a tone had to be set as it was very early in the voyage and simple problems could fester into bigger problems.

This was where the previous captain’s experience was needed.

But, he was not available, and it was in my hands.

In normal circumstances the two crew members involved should have sorted their differences out themselves. The fact that a fight had started over seating arrangements in the restaurant was bad enough, but the fact both were willing to continue it outside, sealed their fate.

Now each sat either side of the table with a glowering Masters sitting between them. He read out the charge sheet.

Neither looked contrite.

I looked at Fred Danvers, storeman, a burley man whom his employment record said was a hard worker, a good man in a crisis, but prone to getting into fights over trivial matters. This was exactly that, trivial.

I switched my look of consternation to the other man, Bryson O’Connell, a red headed Irishman, who worked in the Laboratory, a man specially along to aid in the research of alien life, if we found any.

His employment sheet showed no prelidiction to fighting or even exchanging a cross word with anyone.

An ideal foil for Danvers, then.

I glared at one then the other. “Can either of you give me one good reason why you should not spend the next week in the brig?”

Masters eyebrows went up, registering surprise, but he didn’t comment.

Danvers said, “That’s a bit harsh for an argument over a seat?”

I looked at O’Connell.

“I should have just walked away,” he said.

I shrugged. “Three days in the brig for the both of you. You’ll have time to write down why it shouldn’t be extended for the rest of the week.” To Masters, “put the word out if people want to waste my time over trivial matters, it’ll be a week minimum in the brig where they can figure out what their priorities are. We’re out here to do a job, not get caught up on petty misdemeanours. Make a note in their records, a second infraction and they’re off the ship.”

I stood, just in time to hear the message, “Captain to the bridge.”

I also noticed, coming out of the chamber, that the ship had slowed, or stopped. I hoped it was not a problem with the propulsion unit.

© Charles Heath 2021

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 72

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.

Back at the hospital with Boggs

Nadia dropped me off at the hospital where Boggs had been taken.  She offered to come in with me, but I said Boggs might not be too receptive to any Cossatinos given the circumstances of where we found him, adding I was not trying to be disrespectful until I found out what happened.

It was still possible he had ended up on the beach after being dealt with by her father, brother, or some of their gang.  I could have expressed myself better because there was no mistaking that look she gave me.

Coming on top of the admission she almost forced out of me, about trust, I got the impression that the rapport we had built up was slipping away, much like sand through fingers.

Watching her drive off, I wondered if that might be the last time we spoke.  It was, I had come to the conclusion on the way back from the beach, a relationship fraught with many problems, in my case, being with a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, and in hers, well, I was not sure what her expectations were.

If only she wasn’t a Cossatino.

I went in the main entrance, asked at the admissions counter where Boggs was, giving my name, and stated the fact I was his best friend.  I was expecting to be told the only visitors could be direct relatives.

It elicited a phone call which on any other occasion I might have dismissed as hospital protocol, but in this instance, and the grave expression on the admission clerk’s face told me this was different.

When she hung up the phone she told me to sit, someone would come to get me.  Several minutes later the Sheriff came out of the doors leading into the emergency department.

It looked serious if the sheriff was involved.  I was hoping Boggs had not succumbed to his injuries, even after the medics has said his survival prospects were good.

“Sam.  I was hoping you would come to see Boggs.”

“How is he?”

“Uncooperative to the extent of truculent.”

“He’s awake then.”

“Aside from exposure, and a thorough shaking up, there’s little wrong with him a night or two won’t fix.  But, there’s a small problem with the Cossatinos.  They claim he stole a document from their residence, and they want to charge him with trespassing and theft.  He had nothing with him when they brought him here.”

“Maybe they were chasing him and he hid it somewhere.”

“Maybe, but he’s not talking.  Perhaps you could persuade him to tell you because we need a statement, or I’ll have to charge him, pending an investigation.”

“I’m not exactly his best friend at the moment.”

“Because of Nadia?”

News traveled fast in this town, or was it like the sheriff once told me another time I’d got into trouble, nothing happened in his town that he didn’t know about.  Or my mother told him to tell me she was bad news, which was the most likely scenario.

“She is not the sort of girl you want to be with.  You know as well as I do what the Cossatinos are like, and that’s all of them, Sam, without exception.”

My mother had spoken to him because those were her words.  The sheriff had to be more diplomatic.

“What happened to cutting people some slack?  Have you considered she might be different?”

“She has a file, Sam.”

It was all he needed to say.  I wanted to believe her, but discounting all the rumors and stories I’d heard about her was not going to justify overlooking the obvious.

“Message received and understood.  Is Boggs up to taking visitors?”

“Yes.  Follow me.”

We went through the doors leading to the emergency department, down a corridor where ambulance patients in various stages of distress were lined up waiting to be processed, it was a busy night.  At the end, we turned right where there were several rooms, one of which had a policeman standing outside.

A nod from the sheriff and the policeman opened the door and I went in.  The sheriff didn’t follow me.

Boggs was almost sitting up, staring out the window, until the door closed when he turned to see who had come into the room.  When he saw me, he turned back to the window.

Then I noticed a girl sitting in the chair beside the bed, almost obscured from view.  It took a moment to recognize her, Charlene, the sheriff’s daughter.

What was she doing here?

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

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

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

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

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

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

My private detective, Harry Walthenson

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

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

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

Then there’s the title, like

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

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

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

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

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

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


Writing about writing a book – Day 6

It’s been a long morning, and I sleep in.  I think the extra time is warranted because I wrote until there was nothing left in the tank.  Then, I let the plot unfold in my mind as I slept.

I had a dream.

I have IT experience.  I know the how hard it was, in the early days of networking, to get it right.  And all of the factors that have to be in place to keep it working.

I become Bill Chandler.

Servers, server software, wiring, Ethernet. Internet, wan, lan, hub, switch, meltdown.   The days when desks had terminals, not personal computers, and then the sudden disappearance of the mainframe, to local area networks.

The bottle of Scotch in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet (in the days when occupational health and safety was not so strictly enforced) for celebrations when it worked, or commiserations when it didn’t.


So, today I’m expanding on the plot lines:


Chandler, recently divorced, and now on his first holiday on his own, contemplated what he’s going to do.  It doesn’t last long and is recalled to the office to manage a crisis.

Back in the office, Benton unavailable, Chandler goes to see Aitchison, Security chief.  There he learns of Richardson’s murder, of which suicide, the police theory, the least likely cause, and that of Halligan, whose death is also questionable.  There is also a question over the computer network and that of another running within their current system.  This is something Chandler knows nothing about.   There is a way of finding out if such a network existed.  Meanwhile, the implications are frightening, and Aitchison is clearly afraid of something.

OK, another character has popped up, Halligan, but we’ll worry about that later.

Back on familiar territory, Chandler gets down to the job of finding out what information he can.  Before beginning the physical search, he is questioned closely by Gator, the policeman, on external communications involving their computer systems.

OK, that’ll need a bit of background on Gator and what information he has.

After Gator departs, Chandler goes to find Jennifer.  By now, the whole network is down and they discover several servers have been tampered with, in fact, the very ones believed to be the gateway to the ‘hidden’ network.  Alas, the evidence had been removed.

Deciding there was nothing that could be done because the maintenance contractors have been called in, Chandler and Jennifer go to lunch.  Chandler runs into a very frightened Aitchison who cryptically says he fears for his life.  About the same time shots are fired, Aitchison is killed, and Chandler seriously wounded.


Wow, I’m getting better at this planning stuff, though it’s early days yet.  There are several ideas about the ramifications of Bill getting shot, but that can wait till later.

Time to flesh this plotline out in words.

Doesn’t look like Sunday is going to be a day off.


© Charles Heath 2016 – 2019

“One Last Look”, nothing is what it seems

A single event can have enormous consequences.

A single event driven by fate, after Ben told his wife Charlotte he would be late home one night, he left early, and by chance discovers his wife having dinner in their favourite restaurant with another man.

A single event where it could be said Ben was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Who was this man? Why was she having dinner with him?

A simple truth to explain the single event was all Ben required. Instead, Charlotte told him a lie.

A single event that forces Ben to question everything he thought he knew about his wife, and the people who are around her.

After a near-death experience and forced retirement into a world he is unfamiliar with, Ben finds himself once again drawn back into that life of lies, violence, and intrigue.

From London to a small village in Tuscany, little by little Ben discovers who the woman he married is, and the real reason why fate had brought them together.

It is available on Amazon here:

The Perils of Travelling: Airports can be disasters

Melbourne airport – an underwhelming experience

Let me sum up this experience at the start, in one word.


I know it’s not much past post-Covid, but tell me, what were the airport administrators doing for two years, other than lamenting the lack of plane traffic and sitting on their hands? Did they think no one was ever going to travel again?

Let me suggest what they should have been doing, getting onto every one of the retailers that had to close, and making sure that from day one of reopening, it was back to pre-Covid.

Instead, it’s a desolate nightmare.  There was only one dedicated Cafe and a bar and two bookshops down the Qantas end.

And the food was basically stale sandwiches and muffins. And if you don’t like muffins…

We had to walk a mile to get to the Cafe and get a decent cup of coffee and a toastie, which the Cafe itself and coffee and food scored a ten out of ten.

If you didn’t know it was there, God only knows what you would do if you wanted something decent.

Score out of ten for the Airport Administrators – minus 5 

Since scoring that I had the unhappy experience of going to the men’s restroom.  It was filthy.  How hard could be for someone to check every half hour to clean up the obvious mess?  I’ll let you imagine how that will affect their current score.

My other bugbear about airports is the scanning of bags before getting to the gate.

Melbourne for some reason has been the worst experience in quite literally the world because it is a complete mess, particularly if one thing goes wrong.

I hate it, and it was no better today and left me shaking, which only happens when I’m extremely stressed.

I can only hope it eventually gets better, but, sorry to say this but they’ve had nearly two years to get the process right and run much smoother, but it’s clear they’ve also just sat on their hands.

Maybe one day someone might do something about it, but we’re talking government here, and it takes them ten years just to create a green discussion paper.

So, not holding my breath.

Of course, in reading about the current parlous state of air travel throughout the world, it seems we are not the only ones having problems. I guess we should spare a thought for those going to Heathrow in London. The many times we’ve been there, it’s been borderline organized chaos, and yes, once, we had to wait an hour for our baggage, but now it seems it just disappears.

Glad I’m not going there any time soon.

But, soon, we’re taking the plunge again, and going to Hobart.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

An excerpt from “Sunday in New York”

Now available on Amazon at:


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The battle lines were drawn.

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

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

Then it was gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No secrets.  Her look conveyed something else entirely.

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

Then, a toast.

To a new job and a new life.

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

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

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

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

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

I had no idea the two were so close.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yet you accepted the job.”

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


“My boss.”

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

“How did Elaine get the job?”

“Oh, Alison put him onto her.”


“A couple of months ago.  Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She had her ‘secrets’.  I had mine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It left me confused and lost.

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

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


© Charles Heath 2015-2020

Sunday In New York