In a word: Air

Yep, another of those interesting little words that mean more than it appears.

Aside from the fact it is the air that we breathe, it can also be used to describe music.

It can be a breath of fresh air, though it’s hard to say where in this ever increasingly polluted atmosphere than we could literally draw one, except on a mountain top, where conversely it would be hard to breathe at all.

Have the air sucked out of us, well, that literally isn’t possible unless some madman comes up with a weird sort of vacuum cleaner, but that might be an episode for the X-Files.

He had an air about him, or her, as the case might be, which might refer to a sort of deference or manner.   There again that air might be one of boredom, which is what a lot of students seem to have in class.

Sorry, been a teacher, and know well the expressions on their faces.  Had one myself once, and finished up on the end of a chalkboard eraser.  Yep, in the good old day’s teachers used to chuck stuff at us recalcitrant students to get our attention, and not undergo a storm of protest from irate parents.

These days those same parents would most likely air their grievance, opinion, or view to the headmaster.

I’m guessing that same headmaster would be wishing those same parents to vanish into thin air, though I’m not sure how that would be possible.

And lastly, television stations air shows.

Weird, eh, how such a simple word can be used in so many contexts.

Searching for locations: Hohensalzburg Castle, Salzburg, Austria

Hohensalzburg Castle sits atop the Festungsberg, accessed by a cable car.

The castle itself dominates the Salzburg skyline.

thecatle

Below is a view down into Salzburg from the castle walls.

We had lunch at a café, the Salzburg Fortress Café, that overlooked the countryside.  This was where we were introduced to Mozart Gold Chocolate Cream added to our coffee.

The square below featured in the Sound of Music.

salzburg1

Among the more interesting objects to be seen, the gun below shows what some of the castle’s armaments might have been.  These cannons, in the ‘Firing Gallery’ date back to the thirty years war in the early 1600’s.

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to write a war story – Episode 30

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…

 

It was a good plan.

Wallace, once he discovered his search team had gone missing would send another group to find them, and we would dispatch them in the same manner.

Each foray would reduce his group at the castle until it became, for us, a manageable size.  Currently, it was 35, with four already killed.  There was also the Leonardo factor, and his men, according to Martina, numbered seven.

If I was Wallace, who would realize once he discovered the body on the road to Chiara’s, that sending his own men out to be picked off was a bad idea, would eventually send Leonardo and his men as the first foray to resolve the problem.  

That, of course, would present the same problem as Wallace’s men, there would be deadly retribution.  The villages had all hated Leonardo, and he had dislike them for not selecting him as the local head of the resistance.  That had fallen to Martina, a more popular person, and one more capable.

It seemed to me, from what she had told me, Leonardo was more a mercenary, one who would work for the highest bidder, and that was the sort of man Wallace would have no trouble employing.

Martina was right to round up the villagers to keep them safe

But, for Carlo and I, we needed to pre-emp their strike, and the safest assumption was that they would return to Chiara’s, looking for her, and for answers.  

There was some discussion as to who would be in the attack group, and I agreed that the more we had the better chances we had of beating them, but in the end, we also needed people with the villagers, just in case the worst-case scenario happened, Leonardo knew of the underground wine storage facility and came there instead.

As far as Martina was concerned, he didn’t.  Very few people knew of its existence. 

In the end, it was decided that Carlo and I should go.  He had no doubt he could take Leonardo’s seven by himself, and I didn’t doubt him, so I went along just in case he needed some help.

I took the distant ground with the sniper rifle, and when I saw them, I was not to hesitate to shoot them.  Carlo would be closer and clean up what I missed.  We had enough ammunition to take out at least twenty.

And that’s where we were, from dusk until the following morning, waiting for the search team to arrive.  It did not occur to Carlo, or me, that there was a possibility they might not come, or that Leonardo might have something else in mind.


Alone, in the dark, and surrounded by what could only be described as an eerie stillness, it was hard to imagine that a deadly war was being waged.

In this part of the world, it was not so intense, that according to our intelligence, the Germans were getting stretched very thin on the ground, and were withdrawing soldiers from the extremities of Europe to bolster the fighting closer to home, and the imminent attack in France by the allies.

Of course, there was no way the Germans could know where and when, even I didn’t know that, but it was coming.  It seemed odd to me, by way of contrast, that the Germans high command had basically wasted a formidable and hitherto undetected group of double agents to rescue a rocket scientist which, in my mind, was hardly going to save or lose the war for them.

Perhaps that’s why it had not been up to me, and I hoped that our people knew exactly what they were doing.  Those that had been filtering through the castle were not exactly the sort of people Thompson had been expecting to defect, but once he learned of Meyer’s desire to leave, that assessment had changed.

It also caused a reassessment of the operation at the castle, which led to the discovery people were not making it beyond that point and became the reason for my mission.  The fact I’d been attacked before I reached my objective was coincidental, but it didn’t take long to realize why.

From that to here had been the proverbial hop, step, and jump.

I had not anticipated having to join the resistance, not be involved in becoming a guerrilla.

Not had I expected a dog for a companion.  Jack was lying on the ground next to me, and it looked like he was getting a well-earned rest.

Then he heard something, and lifted his head, ears pricked up.

Then I heard it.

The sound of an airplane passing overhead, but some distance away.

It was not the clearest night so all we could do was hear it, not see it.  A patrol?  A plane that had lost its way.  It was a bit south of where the action was, or where I’d expect the Germans to have either fighters or bombers.

Perhaps the allies then, but late at night surrounded by darkness, there would be little to see.

A minute later, nothing.

Jack put his head down, and I was struggling to keep my eyes open.  Something had better happen soon, or I would miss it.

© Charles Heath 2020

The cinema of my dreams – Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 45

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

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

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

Chasing leads, maybe


“Silly question, what were you doing in the hotel with this ‘operative’?”

Yes, it sounded odd the moment I said it, and, if it was the other way around, I’d be thinking the same.

“We joined forces, thinking we were in danger, at the time, not knowing that she was working with Dobbin.  I discovered that later, by chance.  She doesn’t know I know.”

“And she’ll be waiting at the hotel?”

“Dobbin wants the USB.  She believes we’re collaborating, after telling me she works for MI5, on a different mission involving O’Connell.  She had apparently been undercover as a fellow resident at the block where O’Connell had a flat, and a cat.  The cat, of course, had no idea his owner was a secret agent.  The flat was sparsely furnished and didn’t look lived in, so it may have been a safe house.”

“Wheels within wheels.”

“That’s the nature of the job.  Lies, lies, and more lies, nothing is as it seems, and trust no one.”

“Including you?”

“Including me, but keep an open mind, and try not to shoot me.  I’m as all at sea as you are.  And, just to be clear, I’m not sure I believe Quigley that the information is lost.  People like him, and especially his contact, if he was a journalist, tend to have two copies, just in case.  And the explosion might have killed the messenger, but not the information.  Lesson number one, anything is possible, nothing is impossible, and the truth, it really is stranger than fiction.”

“Great.”

A half-hour later I’d parked the car in a parking lot near Charing Cross station.  The plan, if it could be called that, was for me to go back to the room, and for Jennifer to remain in the foyer, and wait.  If anything went wrong she was to leave and wait for a call.  For all intents and purposes, no one knew of her, except perhaps for Severin and Maury, but I wasn’t expecting them to be lurking in the hotel foyer, waiting for me.

As for Dobbin, that was a different story.  It would depend on how impatient he was in getting information on the whereabouts of the USB, and whether he trusted Jan to find out.

I’d soon find out.

The elevator had three others in it, all of who had disembarked floors below mine.   As the last stepped out and the doors closed, it allayed fears of being attacked before I reached the room.

As the doors closed behind me, the silence of the hallway was working on my nerves, until a few steps towards my room I could hear the hissing of an air conditioning intake, and suddenly the starting up of a vacuum cleaner back in the direction I’d just come.

 A cleaner or….

Remember the training for going into confined spaces…

The room was at the end of the passage, a corner room, with two exits after exiting the front door.  I thought about knocking, but, it was my room too, so I used the key and went in.

Lying tied up on the bed was a very dead Maury, three shots to the heart.

And, over the sound of my heart beating very loudly, I could hear the sound of people out in the corridor, followed by pounding on the door.

Then, “Police.”

A second or two after that the door crashed open and six men came into the room, brandishing weapons and shouting for me to get on the floor and show my hands or I would be shot,”

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

A photograph from the inspirational bin – 14

I’m always rummaging through the endless photographs that, if you were to ask me, I would vehemently deny I took.

It’s like the camera on my phone takes them itself, you know, the latest upgrade they didn’t tell you about, the artificial intelligence.

OK, so it’s simply a ferry crossing a wide stretch of water. You ask, why didn’t they build a bridge? A good question, and not one I can answer.

But, what does the thought of a ferry conjure up?

It brought to mind the film Jaws, and the summer visitors to the island, or should I say, shark hunting ground.

Here?

Perhaps a little less sinister…or not.

To me, at this point, it suggests the possibility of a get away, depending on what side you’re on, mainland, or island. I’m going to say, you’re on the island and going back to the mainland.

Running.

The island is like one of those remote places, with one way in and one way out. a place where people go to try and breathe life back into a marriage that’s falling apart under the stresses of city life, but it failed.

The problem wasn’t the fact you didn’t see each other enough, it’s just that you had grown to dislike each other, and going into a small isolated situation only made the problem worse.

It was just easier to blame everything else.

But going home, well that’s a whole different kettle of fish, because bridges were burned before you left, and going back, well, there was going to be grovelling involved.

Or not.

There’s a story here, but not right now. Perhaps in a day or two.

It’s late, very late, and I need some sleep … well, thinking time.

It’s a long hard road I’m still on…

Self published authors are fully aware that perhaps the easiest part of the writing journey is the actual writing.  Well, compared to the marketing aspect I believe it is.

I have read a lot of articles, suggestions and tips and tricks to market the book to the reading public.  It is, to say the least, a lot harder to market eBooks than perhaps their hard or paper covered relatives.  This is despite the millions of eReaders out there.

Then there is that other fickle part of the publishing cycle, the need for reviews.  Good reviews of course.  As we are learning, reviews can be bought.  Currently Amazon is out there seeking out these reviews and reviewers and it will be interesting to see the result of their actions.

All the advice I have seen and read tells me that reviews should not be paid for, that reviews will come with sales.  It might be a difficult cycle, more reviews means more sales, etc.  And getting those first sales …

Therein lies the conundrum.  It is a question of paying for advertising, or working it out for ourselves.  I guess if I were to get more sales, I could afford the advertising … yes, back on the merry-go-round!

And yet, the harder the road, the more I enjoy what I do.  It is exhilarating while writing, it is a joy to finish the first draft, it is accomplishment when it is published, but when you sell that first book, well, there is no other feeling like it.

I am inspired.

Now, where are those notes for the next story …

“The Devil You Don’t”, she was the girl you would not take home to your mother!

Now only $0.99 at https://amzn.to/2Xyh1ow

John Pennington’s life is in the doldrums. Looking for new opportunities, and prevaricating about getting married, the only joy on the horizon was an upcoming visit to his grandmother in Sorrento, Italy.

Suddenly he is left at the check-in counter with a message on his phone telling him the marriage is off, and the relationship is over.

If only he hadn’t promised a friend he would do a favour for him in Rome.

At the first stop, Geneva, he has a chance encounter with Zoe, an intriguing woman who captures his imagination from the moment she boards the Savoire, and his life ventures into uncharted territory in more ways than one.

That ‘favour’ for his friend suddenly becomes a life-changing event, and when Zoe, the woman who he knows is too good to be true, reappears, danger and death follow.

Shot at, lied to, seduced, and drawn into a world where nothing is what it seems, John is dragged into an adrenaline-charged undertaking, where he may have been wiser to stay with the ‘devil you know’ rather than opt for the ‘devil you don’t’.

newdevilcvr6

Are these people who say they have the answers to writing success useful or a hindrance?

I’ve been investigating, another word, perhaps, for research!

On how to become an overnight success.

It’s a mistake, I know, because everyone is different, everyone has their own way of doing things, and success comes for different people in different ways, quite often not able to be replicated by others.

What’s the expression, you had to be there.

I read success stories, I read what these people did to get 1,000 extra Twitter followers in a day, a week, or five minutes, sold thousands of copies of their books in a month, from absolutely nothing, and/or have the formula for success.

All you have to do is part with, hang on, yesterday it was $495.00, but today only, just for you, it’s $69.95.

Read the fine print, this might not work for you.  And, generally, who reads the fine print.

I read about other authors using book promotion services, yes we had 250,000 twitter followers just aching to buy you book.

Read the fine print, it depends on a whole lot of factors whether it sells or not.  You could be ‘lucky’.  Most authors are not.

What’s the answer?

I think it’s at the bottom of the abyss, where I’m in free-fall heading rapidly towards.

If I happen to find the answer and become ultra successful, I’ll be happy to share it for nothing.  It’s not going to affect my sales, not once I’m established.

It’s just taking that first step.

Perhaps I need to believe that hard word and perseverance will work.

I’m also sure there are 101 ways to taking that first step, and someone out there knows one, or two, and someone else, knows another.  It’s just finding those people who do know, and who are willing to share, not for $495, not for $69.95, but because they want to do it to help others.

And maybe, just maybe, all those who gain the benefit their wisdom will buy their books.

Hang on, perhaps that’s number one on the list of 101 ….

An excerpt from “One Last Look”: Charlotte is no ordinary girl

This is currently available at Amazon herehttp://amzn.to/2CqUBcz

I’d read about out-of-body experiences, and like everyone else, thought it was nonsense.  Some people claimed to see themselves in the operating theatre, medical staff frantically trying to revive them, and being surrounded by white light.

I was definitely looking down, but it wasn’t me I was looking at.

It was two children, a boy and a girl, with their parents, in a park.

The boy was Alan.  He was about six or seven.  The girl was Louise, and she was five years old.  She had long red hair and looked the image of her mother.

I remember it now, it was Louise’s birthday and we went down to Bournemouth to visit our Grandmother, and it was the last time we were all together as a family.

We were flying homemade kites our father had made for us, and after we lay there looking up at the sky, making animals out of the clouds.  I saw an elephant, Louise saw a giraffe.

We were so happy then.

Before the tragedy.

When I looked again ten years had passed and we were living in hell.  Louise and I had become very adept at survival in a world we really didn’t understand, surrounded by people who wanted to crush our souls.

It was not a life a normal child had, our foster parents never quite the sort of people who were adequately equipped for two broken-hearted children.  They tried their best, but their best was not good enough.

Every day it was a battle, to avoid the Bannister’s and Archie in particular, every day he made advances towards Louise and every day she fended him off.

Until one day she couldn’t.

Now I was sitting in the hospital, holding Louise’s hand.  She was in a coma, and the doctors didn’t think she would wake from it.  The damage done to her was too severe.

The doctors were wrong.

She woke, briefly, to name her five assailants.  It was enough to have them arrested.  It was not enough to have them convicted.

Justice would have to be served by other means.

I was outside the Bannister’s home.

I’d made my way there without really thinking, after watching Louise die.  It was like being on autopilot, and I had no control over what I was doing.  I had murder in mind.  It was why I was holding an iron bar.

Skulking in the shadows.  It was not very different from the way the Bannister’s operated.

I waited till Archie came out.  I knew he eventually would.  The police had taken him to the station for questioning, and then let him go.  I didn’t understand why, nor did I care.

I followed him up the towpath, waiting till he stopped to light a cigarette, then came out of the shadows.

“Wotcha got there Alan?” he asked when he saw me.  He knew what it was, and what it was for.

It was the first time I’d seen the fear in his eyes.  He was alone.

“Justice.”

“For that slut of a sister of yours.  I had nuffing to do with it.”

“She said otherwise, Archie.”

“She never said nuffing, you just made it up.”  An attempt at bluster, but there was no confidence in his voice.

I held up the pipe.  It had blood on it.  Willy’s blood.  “She may or may not have Archie, but Willy didn’t make it up.  He sang like a bird.  That’s his blood, probably brains on the pipe too, Archie, and yours will be there soon enough.”

“He dunnit, not me.  Lyin’ bastard would say anything to save his own skin.”  Definitely scared now, he was looking to run away.

“No, Archie.  He didn’t.  I’m coming for you.  All of you Bannisters.  And everyone who touched my sister.”

It was the recurring nightmare I had for years afterwards.

I closed my eyes and tried to shut out the thoughts, the images of Louise, the phone call, the visit to the hospital and being there when she succumbed to her injuries.  Those were the very worst few hours of my life.

She had asked me to come to the railway station and walk home with her, and I was running late.  If I had left when I was supposed to, it would never have happened and for years afterwards, I blamed myself for her death.

If only I’d not been late…

When the police finally caught the rapists, I’d known all along who they’d be; antagonists from school, the ring leader, Archie Bannister, a spurned boyfriend, a boy whose parents, ubiquitously known to all as ‘the Bannister’s, dealt in violence and crime and who owned the neighbourhood.  The sins of the father had been very definitely passed onto the son.

At school, I used to be the whipping boy, Archie, a few grades ahead of me, made a point of belting me and a few of the other boys, to make sure the rest did as they were told.  He liked Louise, but she had no time for a bully like him, even when he promised he would ‘protect’ me.

I knew the gang members, the boys who tow-kowed to save getting beaten up, and after the police couldn’t get enough information to prosecute them because everyone was too afraid to speak out, I went after Willy.  There was always a weak link in a group, and he was it.

He worked in a factory, did long hours on a Wednesday and came home after dark alone.  It was a half mile walk, through a park.  The night I approached him, I smashed the lights and left it in darkness.  He nearly changed his mind and went the long way home.

He didn’t.

It took an hour and a half to get the names.  At first, when he saw me, he laughed.  He said I would be next, and that was four words more than he knew he should have said.

When I found him alone the next morning I showed him the iron bar and told him he was on the list.  I didn’t kill him then, he could wait his turn, and worry about what was going to happen to him.

When the police came to visit me shortly after that encounter, no doubt at the behest of the Bannister’s, the neighbourhood closed ranks and gave me an ironclad alibi.  The Bannister’s then came to visit me and threatened me.  I told them their days were numbered and showed them the door.

At the trial, he and his friends got off on a technicality.  The police had failed to do their job properly, but it was not the police, but a single policeman, corrupted by the Bannisters.

Archie could help but rub it in my face.  He was invincible.

Joe Collins took 12 bullets and six hours to bleed out.  He apologized, he pleaded, he cried, he begged.  I didn’t care.

Barry Mills, a strong lad with a mind to hurting people, Archie’s enforcer, almost got the better of me.  I had to hit him more times than I wanted to, and in the end, I had to be satisfied that he died a short but agonizing death.

I revisited Willy in the hospital.  He’d recovered enough to recognize me, and why I’d come.  Suffocation was too good for him.

David Williams, second in command of the gang, was as tough and nasty as the Bannisters.  His family were forging a partnership with the Bannister’s to make them even more powerful.  Outwardly David was a pleasant sort of chap, affable, polite, and well mannered.  A lot of people didn’t believe he could be like, or working with, the Bannisters.

He and I met in the pub.  We got along like old friends.  He said Willy had just named anyone he could think of, and that he was innocent of any charges.  We shook hands and parted as friends.

Three hours later he was sitting in a chair in the middle of a disused factory, blindfolded and scared.  I sat and watched him, listened to him, first threatening me, and then finally pleading with me.  He’d guessed who it was that had kidnapped him.

When it was dark, I took the blindfold off and shone a very bright light in his eyes.  I asked him if the violence he had visited upon my sister was worth it.  He told me he was just a spectator.

I’d read the coroner’s report.  They all had a turn.  He was a liar.

He took nineteen bullets to die.

Then came Archie.

The same factory only this time there were four seats.  Anna Bannister, brothel owner, Spike Bannister, head of the family, Emily Bannister, sister, and who had nothing to do with their criminal activities.  She just had the misfortune of sharing their name.

Archie’s father told me how he was going to destroy me, and everyone I knew.

A well-placed bullet between the eyes shut him up.

Archie’s mother cursed me.  I let her suffer for an hour before I put her out of her misery.

Archie remained stony-faced until I came to Emily.  The death of his parents meant he would become head of the family.  I guess their deaths meant as little to him as they did me.

He was a little more worried about his sister.

I told him it was confession time.

He told her it was little more than a forced confession and he had done nothing to deserve my retribution.

I shrugged and shot her, and we both watched her fall to the ground screaming in agony.  I told him if he wanted her to live, he had to genuinely confess to his crimes.  This time he did, it all poured out of him.

I went over to Emily.  He watched in horror as I untied her bindings and pulled her up off the floor, suffering only from a small wound in her arm.  Without saying a word she took the gun and walked over to stand behind him.

“Louise was my friend, Archie.  My friend.”

Then she shot him.  Six times.

To me, after saying what looked like a prayer, she said, “Killing them all will not bring her back, Alan, and I doubt she would approve of any of this.  May God have mercy on your soul.”

Now I was in jail.  I’d spent three hours detailing the deaths of the five boys, everything I’d done; a full confession.  Without my sister, my life was nothing.  I didn’t want to go back to the foster parents; I doubt they’d take back a murderer.

They were not allowed to.

For a month I lived in a small cell, in solitary, no visitors.  I believed I was in the queue to be executed, and I had mentally prepared myself for the end.

Then I was told I had a visitor, and I was expecting a priest.

Instead, it was a man called McTavish. Short, wiry, and with an accent that I could barely understand.

“You’ve been a bad boy, Alan.”

When I saw it was not the priest I told the jailers not to let him in, I didn’t want to speak to anyone.  They ignored me.  I’d expected he was a psychiatrist, come to see whether I should be shipped off to the asylum.

I was beginning to think I was going mad.

I ignored him.

“I am the difference between you living or dying Alan, it’s as simple as that.  You’d be a wise man to listen to what I have to offer.”

Death sounded good.  I told him to go away.

He didn’t.  Persistent bugger.

I was handcuffed to the table.  The prison officers thought I was dangerous.  Five, plus two, murders, I guess they had a right to think that.  McTavish sat opposite me, ignoring my request to leave.

“Why’d you do it?”

“You know why.”  Maybe if I spoke he’d go away.

“Your sister.  By all accounts, the scum that did for her deserved what they got.”

“It was murder just the same.  No difference between scum and proper people.”

“You like killing?”

“No-one does.”

“No, I dare say you’re right.  But you’re different, Alan.  As clean and merciless killing I’ve ever seen.  We can use a man like you.”

“We?”

“A group of individuals who clean up the scum.”

I looked up to see his expression, one of benevolence, totally out of character for a man like him.  It looked like I didn’t have a choice.

Trained, cleared, and ready to go.

I hadn’t realized there were so many people who were, for all intents and purposes, invisible.  People that came and went, in malls, in hotels, trains, buses, airports, everywhere, people no one gave a second glance.

People like me.

In a mall, I became a shopper.

In a hotel, I was just another guest heading to his room.

On a bus or a train, I was just another commuter.

At the airport, I became a pilot.  I didn’t need to know how to fly; everyone just accepted a pilot in a pilot suit was just what he looked like.

I had a passkey.

I had the correct documents to get me onto the plane.

That walk down the air bridge was the longest of my life.  Waiting for the call from the gate, waiting for one of the air bridge staff to challenge me, stepping onto the plane.

Two pilots and a steward.  A team.  On the plane early before the rest of the crew.  A group that was committing a crime, had committed a number of crimes and thought they’d got away with it.

Until the judge, the jury and their executioner arrived.

Me.

Quick, clean, merciless.  Done.

I was now an operational field agent.

I was older now, and I could see in the mirror I was starting to go grey at the sides.  It was far too early in my life for this, but I expect it had something to do with my employment.

I didn’t recognize the man who looked back at me.

It was certainly not Alan McKenzie, nor was there any part of that fifteen-year-old who had made the decision to exact revenge.

Given a choice; I would not have gone down this path.

Or so I kept telling myself each time a little more of my soul was sold to the devil.

I was Barry Gamble.

I was Lenny Buckman.

I was Jimmy Hosen.

I was anyone but the person I wanted to be.

That’s what I told Louise, standing in front of her grave, and trying to apologize for all the harm, all the people I’d killed for that one rash decision.  If she was still alive she would be horrified, and ashamed.

Head bowed, tears streamed down my face.

God had gone on holiday and wasn’t there to hand out any forgiveness.  Not that day.  Not any day.

New York, New Years Eve.

I was at the end of a long tour, dragged out of a holiday and back into the fray, chasing down another scumbag.  They were scumbags, and I’d become an automaton hunting them down and dispatching them to what McTavish called a better place.

This time I failed.

A few drinks to blot out the failure, a blonde woman who pushed my buttons, a room in a hotel, any hotel, it was like being on the merry-go-round, round and round and round…

Her name was Silvia or Sandra, or someone I’d met before, but couldn’t quite place her.  It could be an enemy agent for all I knew or all I cared right then.

I was done.

I’d had enough.

I gave her the gun.

I begged her to kill me.

She didn’t.

Instead, I simply cried, letting the pent up emotion loose after being suppressed for so long, and she stayed with me, holding me close, and saying I was safe, that she knew exactly how I felt.

How could she?  No one could know what I’d been through.

I remembered her name after she had gone.

Amanda.

I remembered she had an imperfection in her right eye.

Someone else had the same imperfection.

I couldn’t remember who that was.

Not then.

I had a dingy flat in Kensington, a place that I rarely stayed in if I could help it.  After five-star hotel rooms, it made me feel shabby.

The end of another mission, I was on my way home, the underground, a bus, and then a walk.

It was late.

People were spilling out of the pub after the last drinks.  Most in good spirits, others slightly more boisterous.

A loud-mouthed chap bumped into me, the sort who had one too many, and was ready to take on all comers.

He turned on me, “Watch where you’re going, you fool.”

Two of his friends dragged him away.  He shrugged them off, squared up.

I punched him hard, in the stomach, and he fell backwards onto the ground.  I looked at his two friends.  “Take him home before someone makes mincemeat out of him.”

They grabbed his arms, lifted him off the ground and took him away.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a woman, early thirties, quite attractive, but very, very drunk.  She staggered from the bar, bumped into me, and finished up sitting on the side of the road.

I looked around to see where her friends were.  The exodus from the pub was over and the few nearby were leaving to go home.

She was alone, drunk, and by the look of her, unable to move.

I sat beside her.  “Where are your friends?”

“Dunno.”

“You need help?”

She looked up, and sideways at me.  She didn’t look the sort who would get in this state.  Or maybe she was, I was a terrible judge of women.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“Nobody.”  I was exactly how I felt.

“Well Mr Nobody, I’m drunk, and I don’t care.  Just leave me here to rot.”

She put her head back between her knees, and it looked to me she was trying to stop the spinning sensation in her head.

Been there before, and it’s not a good feeling.

“Where are your friends?” I asked again.

“Got none.”

“Perhaps I should take you home.”

“I have no home.”

“You don’t look like a homeless person.  If I’m not mistaken, those shoes are worth more than my weekly salary.”  I’d seen them advertised, in the airline magazine, don’t ask me why the ad caught my attention.

She lifted her head and looked at me again.  “You a smart fucking arse are you?”

“I have my moments.”

“Have them somewhere else.”

She rested her head against my shoulder.  We were the only two left in the street, and suddenly in darkness when the proprietor turned off the outside lights.

“Take me home,” she said suddenly.

“Where is your place?”

“Don’t have one.  Take me to your place.”

“You won’t like it.”

“I’m drunk.  What’s not to like until tomorrow.”

I helped her to her feet.  “You have a name?”

“Charlotte.”

The wedding was in a small church.  We had been away for a weekend in the country, somewhere in the Cotswolds, and found this idyllic spot.  Graves going back to the dawn of time, a beautiful garden tended by the vicar and his wife, an astonishing vista over hills and down dales.

On a spring afternoon with the sun, the flowers, and the peacefulness of the country.

I had two people at the wedding, the best man, Bradley, and my boss, Watkins.

Charlotte had her sisters Melissa and Isobel, and Isobel’s husband Giovanni, and their daughter Felicity.

And one more person who was as mysterious as she was attractive, a rather interesting combination as she was well over retirement age.  She arrived late and left early.

Aunt Agatha.

She looked me up and down with what I’d call a withering look.  “There’s more to you than meets the eye,” she said enigmatically.

“Likewise I’m sure,” I said.  It earned me an elbow in the ribs from Charlotte.  It was clear she feared this woman.

“Why did you come,” Charlotte asked.

“You know why.”

Agatha looked at me.  “I like you.  Take care of my granddaughter.  You do not want me for an enemy.”

OK, now she officially scared me.

She thrust a cheque into my hand, smiled, and left.

“Who is she,” I asked after we watched her depart.

“Certainly not my fairy godmother.”

Charlotte never mentioned her again.

Zurich in summer, not exactly my favourite place.

Instead of going to visit her sister Isobel, we stayed at a hotel in Beethovenstrasse and Isobel and Felicity came to us.  Her husband was not with her this time.

Felicity was three or four and looked very much like her mother.  She also looked very much like Charlotte, and I’d remarked on it once before and it received a sharp rebuke.

We’d been twice before, and rather than talk to her sister, Charlotte spent her time with Felicity, and they were, together, like old friends.  For so few visits they had a remarkable rapport.

I had not broached the subject of children with Charlotte, not after one such discussion where she had said she had no desire to be a mother.  It had not been a subject before and wasn’t once since.

Perhaps like all Aunts, she liked the idea of playing with a child for a while and then give it back.

Felicity was curious as to who I was, but never ventured too close.  I believed a child could sense the evil in adults and had seen through my facade of friendliness.  We were never close.

But…

This time, when observing the two together, something quite out of left field popped into my head.  It was not possible, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought she looked like my mother.

And Charlotte had seen me looking in their direction.  “You seem distracted,” she said.

“I was just remembering my mother.  Odd moment, haven’t done so for a very long time.”

“Why now?”  I think she had a look of concern on her face.

“Her birthday, I guess,” I said, the first excuse I could think of.

Another look and I was wrong.  She looked like Isobel or Charlotte, or if I wanted to believe it possible, Melissa too.

I was crying, tears streaming down my face.

I was in pain, searing pain from my lower back stretching down into my legs, and I was barely able to breathe.

It was like coming up for air.

It was like Snow White bringing Prince Charming back to life.  I could feel what I thought was a gentle kiss and tears dropping on my cheeks, and when I opened my eyes, I saw Charlotte slowly lifting her head, a hand gently stroking the hair off my forehead.

And in a very soft voice, she said, “Hi.”

I could not speak, but I think I smiled.  It was the girl with the imperfection in her right eye.  Everything fell into place, and I knew, in that instant that we were irrevocably meant to be together.

“Welcome back.”

© Charles Heath 2016-2019

onelastlookcoverfinal2

Endless flight – a short story

It had been billed as the longest commercial flight in the world.  London to Sydney.

Previous times it had been flown, it was devoid of passengers and cargo, except for a few reporters and airline staff; not more than about 20.

The plane, state of the art, was capable of flying twenty-one hours straight.  We would only need Nineteen and a half.  It was the first flight of its kind, and we were the first to participate in what was being touted as history-making.

I was on board only because I’d won a competition.  To be honest, I couldn’t believe my luck.

I guess it was the same for the other 287 of us on board.  With baggage and cargo included, oh, and not forgetting fuel, I guess our biggest concern was getting off the ground.

It wasn’t long before that fear had been dispelled, though for a moment more than one of us thought we might not get into the air.  There were collective sighs of relief when we finally lurched into the air.

Once the seat belt sign went off, the First Officer spoke to the passengers, more or less telling us we were going to make history and to sit back and enjoy the in-flight service.

I guess it was ironic that as someone who didn’t like flying I was in this plane.  The thing is, I didn’t expect to win the competition.  But, I was on board for the experience and was going to make the most of it.  I’d brought half a dozen crossword books.

I woke from an uneasy sleep about two hours before I e plane was due to land.  The cabin lights had come on, and breakfast was about to be served.

Everyone else was in varying states of awareness.  Some hadn’t slept at all, which was what usually happened to me, and they looked like I felt.  Bleary-eyed and half awake.

I looked at the flight path in the headrest in front of me, and it said we had about an hour and fifty minutes, and from the outset, precisely on time.  We’d had headwinds and tailwinds but neither had any lasting effect on our arrival time.

Something else did.  After breakfast had been cleared away, and we were all getting ready for the last hour of the flight, word came through from the flight deck that we had to go into a holding pattern due to a problem on the ground.

The first question on everyone’s mind, did we have enough fuel.  The Captain, this time, allayed that fear.

But, I was sitting over the wing where I could see the engine.  I was not an expert but I thought I’d heard a murmur, the sort an engine made where the fuel supply was running out.

Perhaps not.  Perhaps it was my overwrought imagination after not enough proper sleep.

Another half-hour passed, and I could feel a change in the plane’s flight.  I was now listening and waiting and interpreting.  The Captain said the problem was resolved and we were cleared to land.

That’s when the engine outside my window stuttered, if only for a fraction of a second.

Fortunately, we were well into our descent, and I could see the ground below.  Now, going through some low cloud, the ride became bumpy, and I was sure it was covering the more frequent stuttering of the engine, and once, I was not the only one to hear it.

As the wheels went down and clunked into place, I think the engine stopped, though I couldn’t be sure, because there was little or no change in the plane’s flight other than a slight change in the plane’s speed but not its rate of descent, and none of us would have been any wiser had the pilot, in his usual calm manner, not told us there was a small problem with one of the engines but there was no problem with landing, and we would be on the ground in ten minutes.

In fact, the landing was, as any other I’d been on, flawless, even though I was sure I heard a slight stutter in the other ending, but by that time we were on the ground.

The only difference between this and any other landing was the accompaniment of several emergency services trucks, and the fact we were not going to a gate.  Instead, we were taken to a bay not far from the runways, and then calmly taken off the plane.

From the ground, just before being loaded onto a bus, I could see the plane, and it looked the same as it had any other time.

What did bother me was several words spoken by what looked to be an engineer.  He said, “That plane was literally flying on vapor.  What you’re seeing is 228 of the luckiest people in the world.”

If ever there was an excuse to buy a lottery ticket…

© Charles Heath 2020-2021