An excerpt from “Echoes from the Past”

Available on Amazon Kindle here:  https://amzn.to/2CYKxu4

 

With my attention elsewhere, I walked into a man who was hurrying in the opposite direction.  He was a big man with a scar running down the left side of his face from eye socket to mouth, and who was also wearing a black shirt with a red tie.

That was all I remembered as my heart almost stopped.

He apologized as he stepped to one side, the same way I stepped, as I also muttered an apology.

I kept my eyes down.  He was not the sort of man I wanted to recognize later in a lineup.  I stepped to the other side and so did he.  It was one of those situations.  Finally getting out of sync, he kept going in his direction, and I towards the bus, which was now pulling away from the curb.

Getting my breath back, I just stood riveted to the spot watching it join the traffic.  I looked back over my shoulder, but the man I’d run into had gone.  I shrugged and looked at my watch.  It would be a few minutes before the next bus arrived.

Wait, or walk?  I could also go by subway, but it was a long walk to the station.  What the hell, I needed the exercise.

At the first intersection, the ‘Walk’ sign had just flashed to ‘Don’t Walk’.  I thought I’d save a few minutes by not waiting for the next green light.  As I stepped onto the road, I heard the screeching of tires.

A yellow car stopped inches from me.

It was a high powered sports car, perhaps a Lamborghini.  I knew what they looked like because Marcus Bartleby owned one, as did every other junior executive in the city with a rich father.

Everyone stopped to look at me, then the car.  It was that sort of car.  I could see the driver through the windscreen shaking his fist, and I could see he was yelling too, but I couldn’t hear him.  I stepped back onto the sidewalk, and he drove on.  The moment had passed and everyone went back to their business.

My heart rate hadn’t come down from the last encounter.   Now it was approaching cardiac arrest, so I took a few minutes and several sets of lights to regain composure.

At the next intersection, I waited for the green light, and then a few seconds more, just to be sure.  I was no longer in a hurry.

At the next, I heard what sounded like a gunshot.  A few people looked around, worried expressions on their faces, but when it happened again, I saw it was an old car backfiring.  I also saw another yellow car, much the same as the one before, stopped on the side of the road.  I thought nothing of it, other than it was the second yellow car I’d seen.

At the next intersection, I realized I was subconsciously heading towards Harry’s new bar.   It was somewhere on 6th Avenue, so I continued walking in what I thought was the right direction.

I don’t know why I looked behind me at the next intersection, but I did.  There was another yellow car on the side of the road, not far from me.  It, too, looked the same as the original Lamborghini, and I was starting to think it was not a coincidence.

Moments after crossing the road, I heard the roar of a sports car engine and saw the yellow car accelerate past me.  As it passed by, I saw there were two people in it, and the blurry image of the passenger; a large man with a red tie.

Now my imagination was playing tricks.

It could not be the same man.  He was going in a different direction.

In the few minutes I’d been standing on the pavement, it had started to snow; early for this time of year, and marking the start of what could be a long cold winter.  I shuddered, and it was not necessarily because of the temperature.

I looked up and saw a neon light advertising a bar, coincidentally the one Harry had ‘found’ and, looking once in the direction of the departing yellow car, I decided to go in.  I would have a few drinks and then leave by the back door if it had one.

Just in case.

 

© Charles Heath 2015-2020

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Once Upon a Time… – A short story

Everyone knows someone who has a child that will not go to sleep.

You can set the bedtime at whatever early hour you like, but by the time they actually fall asleep, there have been two or three hours of up and down, in and out of bed, and at least one episode of a scary master lurking under the bed, or, worse, outside the window.

After exhausting every method of achieving a result and failing, I thought I’d try reading.

The first book I picked up was, yes, you guessed it, about monsters. In fact, nearly every book for kids was about monsters, witches, ogres, dragons, and vampires.

I put them back and sighed. I would have to come up with a story of my own.

It started with, “Once upon a time…”

“But that,” May said, “only applies to fairy tales.”

“Well, this is going to be a fairy tale of sorts. Minus the fire breathing dragons, and nasty trolls under drawbridges.”

“It’s not going to be much of a story, then. In fairy tales, there’s always a knight who slays the dragon and rides off with the princess.”

This was going to be a tough ask. I thought of going back to the book pile, but, then, I could do this.

“So,” I began again, “Once upon a time there was a princess, who lived in a castle with her father, the king, her mother, the queen, and her brother, the steadfast and trusty knight in shining armor.”

“Why is their armor always shining?”

I was going to tell her to save the questions until after the story, by which time I had hoped I’d bored her enough to choose sleep over criticism. I was wrong.

“Because a knight always has to have shiny armor, otherwise the king would be disappointed.”

“Does the knight spend all night shining his armor?”

“No. He has an apprentice who cleans the armor, and attends to anything else the knight needs.”

“And then he becomes a knight?”

“In good time. The apprentice is usually a boy of about 11 or 12 years old. First, he learns what it means to be a knight, then he has to do years of training until he comes of age.” I saw the question coming, and got in first, “When he is about 21 years old.”

She looked at me, and that meant I had to continue the story.

“The princess was very lucky and lived a very different life than her subjects, except she wished she had their freedom to play, and do ordinary things like cooking, or collecting food from the markets. Because she was a princess, she had to stay in the castle, and spend most of her time learning how to be a princess, and a queen, because when it was time, she would marry a prince who would become a king.”

“Doesn’t sound too lucky to me, being stuck as home. I like the idea of getting somebody to do everything for me though. She does have maids, doesn’t she?”

“Yes. And, you’re right, she has everything done for her, including getting dressed. A maid to clean, a maid to dress her, a maid to bring her snacks. And it was these maids she envied.”

Maybe I should not make the story too interesting, or she’ll never go to sleep.

“Well, one day, she decided to change places with one of her maids. They were almost identical and when they exchanged clothes, the other maids could not tell they had changed places. At the end of the day, when the maids went home, the princess headed to the house where the maid she had taken the place of.

It was very different from the castle, and the room she had in the castle. The mother was at him, cooking the food for the evening meal, and it was nothing like what she usually had. A sort of soup with scraps of meat in it. There was a loaf of bread on the table. The father came home after working all day in the fields, very tired. They ate and then went to bed. Her bed was straw and a piece of cloth that hardly covered her. At least, by the fire, it was warm. It didn’t do anything for the pangs of hunger because there had barely been enough for all of them.

The next morning she returned to the castle and changed places back again. When the maid she changed places with asked about her experience of how it was like in their life, the princess said she was surprised. She had never been told about how the people who served the king lived, and she had assumed that they were well looked after. Now she had experienced what it was like to be a subject, she was going to investigate it further.

After all, she told the maid, I have to have all the facts if I’m going to approach the king.

And she thought to herself, a lot more courage than she had.

But, instead of lessons today, she was going to demand to be taken on a tour outside the castle and to see the people.

“This sounds like it’s not going to have a happy ending.”

No, I thought. Maybe I’ll get the dragon that her brother failed to slay to eat her.

“It will. Patience. But that’s enough for tonight. If you want to know what happens, you’ll have to go to sleep and then, tomorrow night, the story continues.”

I tucked her in, turned down the night light so it was only a glow, just enough to see where I was going, and left.

If I was lucky she would go to sleep. The only problem was, I had to come up with more of the story.

Outside the door, her mother, Christine, was smiling. “Since when did you become an expert on Princesses?”

“When I married one.”

—-

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

Inspiration, Maybe – Volume Two

50 photographs, 50 stories, of which there is one of the 50 below.

They all start with –

A picture paints … well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

And, the story:

Have you ever watched your hopes and dreams simply just fly away?

Everything I thought I wanted and needed had just left in an aeroplane, and although I said I was not going to, i came to the airport to see the plane leave.  Not the person on it, that would have been far too difficult and emotional, but perhaps it was symbolic, the end of one life and the start of another.

But no matter what I thought or felt, we had both come to the right decision.  She needed the opportunity to spread her wings.  It was probably not the best idea for her to apply for the job without telling me, but I understood her reasons.

She was in a rut.  Though her job was a very good one, it was not as demanding as she had expected, particularly after the last promotion, but with it came resentment from others on her level, that she, the youngest of the group would get the position.

It was something that had been weighing down of her for the last three months, and if noticed it, the late nights, the moodiness, sometimes a flash of temper.  I knew she had one, no one could have such red hair and not, but she had always kept it in check.

And, then there was us, together, and after seven years, it felt like we were going nowhere.  Perhaps that was down to my lack of ambition, and though she never said it, lack of sophistication.  It hadn’t been an issue, well, not until her last promotion, and the fact she had to entertain more, and frankly I felt like an embarrassment to her.

So, there it was, three days ago, the beginning of the weekend, and we had planned to go away for a few days and take stock.  We both acknowledged we needed to talk, but it never seemed the right time.

It was then she said she had quit her job and found a new one.  Starting the following Monday.

Ok, that took me by surprise, not so much that it something I sort of guessed might happen, but that she would just blurt it out.

I think that right then, at that moment, I could feel her frustration with everything around her.

What surprised her was my reaction.  None.

I simply asked where who, and when.

A world-class newspaper, in New York, and she had to be there in a week.

A week.

It was all the time I had left with her.

I remember I just shrugged and asked if the planned weekend away was off.

She stood on the other side of the kitchen counter, hands around a cup of coffee she had just poured, and that one thing I remembered was the lone tear that ran down her cheek.

Is that all you want to know?

I did, yes, but we had lost that intimacy we used to have when she would have told me what was happening, and we would have brainstormed solutions. I might be a cabinet maker but I still had a brain, was what I overheard her tell a friend once.

There’s not much to ask, I said.  You’ve been desperately unhappy and haven’t been able to hide it all that well, you have been under a lot of pressure trying to deal with a group of troglodytes, and you’ve been leaning on Bentley’s shoulder instead of mine, and I get it, he’s got more experience in that place,  and the politics that go with it, and is still an ally.

Her immediate superior and instrumental in her getting the position, but unlike some men in his position he had not taken advantage of a situation like some men would.  And even if she had made a move, which I doubted, that was not the sort of woman she was, he would have politely declined.

One of the very few happily married men in that organisation, so I heard.

So, she said, you’re not just a pretty face.

Par for the course for a cabinet maker whose university degree is in psychology.  It doesn’t take rocket science to see what was happening to you.  I just didn’t think it was my place to jump in unless you asked me, and when you didn’t, well, that told me everything I needed to know.

Yes, our relationship had a use by date, and it was in the next few days.

I was thinking, she said, that you might come with me,  you can make cabinets anywhere.

I could, but I think the real problem wasn’t just the job.  It was everything around her and going with her, that would just be a constant reminder of what had been holding her back. I didn’t want that for her and said so.

Then the only question left was, what do we do now?

Go shopping for suitcases.  Bags to pack, and places to go.

Getting on the roller coaster is easy.  On the beginning, it’s a slow easy ride, followed by the slow climb to the top.  It’s much like some relationships, they start out easy, they require a little work to get to the next level, follows by the adrenaline rush when it all comes together.

What most people forget is that what comes down must go back up, and life is pretty much a roller coaster with highs and lows.

Our roller coaster had just come or of the final turn and we were braking so that it stops at the station.

There was no question of going with her to New York.  Yes, I promised I’d come over and visit her, but that was a promise with crossed fingers behind my back.  After a few months in t the new job the last thing shed want was a reminder of what she left behind.  New friends new life.

We packed her bags, three out everything she didn’t want, a free trips to the op shop with stiff she knew others would like to have, and basically, by the time she was ready to go, there was nothing left of her in the apartment, or anywhere.

Her friends would be seeing her off at the airport, and that’s when I told her I was not coming, that moment the taxi arrived to take her away forever.  I remember standing there, watching the taxi go.  It was going to be, and was, as hard as it was to watch the plane leave.

So, there I was, finally staring at the blank sky, around me a dozen other plane spotters, a rather motley crew of plane enthusiasts.

Already that morning there’s been 6 different types of plane depart, and I could hear another winding up its engines for take-off.

People coming, people going.

Maybe I would go to New York in a couple of months, not to see her, but just see what the attraction was.  Or maybe I would drop in, just to see how she was.

As one of my friends told me when I gave him the news, the future is never written in stone, and it’s about time you broadened your horizons.

Perhaps it was.


© Charles Heath 2020-2021

Coming soon.  Find the above story and 49 others like it in:

In a word: Keep

Yes, this is an easy one.

I want to keep the car.  Especially if it’s a Lamborghini and it didn’t cost $500,000.

This form of the word simply means to hang on to something, or up the proper definition, to have or retain possession of

Paring it with other words is where it gets complicated.

For instance,

Keepings off, make sure that the ball doesn’t get into someone else’s possession.

Keep it to yourself, yes, here’s your chance to become the harbinger of secrets and not tell anyone else.  Not unless a lot of money is involved, or a Lamborghini.

You guessed it, the car is the running joke on this post.

How about, keep a low profile, been there tried that, it’s a lot harder than you think.

What about keeping your cards close to your chest, yes, this had both a literal and figurative meaning which makes it sort of unique.

That might follow the second definition, to continue, or cause to continue a particular state.

Another way of using keep is by delaying or stopping someone from doing something or getting somewhere; ie, I was kept waiting at the doctor’s surgery because he was late.

There are any number of examples of using the word keep in tandem with other words

One that specifically doesn’t relate to all the former examples, is simply the word keep.

What is it?

Usually the strongest part of the castle, and the last to fall in an attack.

At least, that was the theory.

The story behind the story – Echoes from the Past

The novel ‘Echoes from the past’ started out as a short story I wrote about 30 years ago, titled ‘The birthday’.

My idea was to take a normal person out of their comfort zone and led on a short but very frightening journey to a place where a surprise birthday party had been arranged.

Thus the very large man with a scar and a red tie was created.

So was the friend with the limousine who worked as a pilot.

So were the two women, Wendy and Angelina, who were Flight Attendants that the pilot friend asked to join the conspiracy.

I was going to rework the short story, then about ten pages long, into something a little more.

And like all re-writes, especially those I have anything to do with, it turned into a novel.

There was motivation.  I had told some colleagues at the place where I worked at the time that I liked writing, and they wanted a sample.  I was going to give them the re-worked short story.  Instead, I gave them ‘Echoes from the past’

Originally it was not set anywhere in particular.

But when considering a location, I had, at the time, recently been to New York in December, and visited Brooklyn and Queens, as well as a lot of New York itself.  We were there for New Years, and it was an experience I’ll never forget.

One evening we were out late, and finished up in Brooklyn Heights, near the waterfront, and there was rain and snow, it was cold and wet, and there were apartment buildings shimmering in the street light, and I thought, this is the place where my main character will live.

It had a very spooky atmosphere, the sort where ghosts would not be unexpected.  I felt more than one shiver go up and down my spine in the few minutes I was there.

I had taken notes, as I always do, of everywhere we went so I had a ready supply of locations I could use, changing the names in some cases.

Fifth Avenue near the Rockefeller center is amazing at first light, and late at night with the Seasonal decorations and lights.

The original main character was a shy and man of few friends, hence not expecting the surprise party.  I enhanced that shyness into purposely lonely because of an issue from his past that leaves him always looking over his shoulder and ready to move on at the slightest hint of trouble.  No friends, no relationships, just a very low profile.

Then I thought, what if he breaks the cardinal rule, and begins a relationship?

But it is also as much an exploration of a damaged soul, as it is the search for a normal life, without having any idea what normal was, and how the understanding of one person can sometimes make all the difference in what we may think or feel.

And, of course, I wanted a happy ending.

Except for the bad guys.

 

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More or less… – A short story

It was meant to be time to reacquaint as brothers.

Louis and I had not seen each other for decades, and when he returned, about a week before, I got the impression there was more than just ‘missing his brother’ going on.

But that was Louis. He was never one to say what or how he felt about anything, preferring to be the strong silent type, and it had not fared well for him transitioning from teenager to adult.

As for me, when our parents split up, Louis went with our father, and I stayed with our mother, and, given the amount of acrimony there was attached to the split, it was no surprise to anyone that Louis and I had effectively become estranged.

In fact, when I had tried to find them, about two years after the split and our mother had died suddenly, all I found were loose ends. They had effectively vanished.

With that part of my life effectively over, I had married, had children and watched 30 years disappear before Louis suddenly popped up. He simply knocked on the front door one afternoon, Helen answered it, and within minutes they were the best of friends. I’d had that rapport, once, many years before, but life and circumstances had all but ruined that.

Or perhaps that was just me, worn down by that same life and circumstances we were all supposed to take on the chin.

His arrival was a welcome distraction, and when, after a week, he suggested that he and I go on a hike, the sort our father used to take us on when we were a family, I agreed. Helen was happy to be rid of me, and I guess a week without our arguing would suit everyone.

It was probably fortuitous timing. Helen and I had finally got to the point where divorce lawyers were about to be called in. The children had all moved on and had children and problems of their own, and we, as parents just didn’t gel anymore.

Besides, I said, just before I joined Louis in the truck, ready to embark for the wilderness, it would be time to clear my head.

And by day two, my head was clear, and Louis, taking the lead, led us along the ridgeline, a trek he said, that would take us about seven hours. We’d stopped the previous night in a base camp and then headed out the next morning. We were the only two, it being early in the season with snow still on the ground.

Above was the clear cloudless blue sky and in front of us, trees and mountains. There was snow on the ground but it was not solid and showed no signs of human footsteps, only animals. The air was fresh, and it was good to be away from the city and its pressures.

Approaching noon, I’d asked him if we were about halfway. I knew he was holding back, being the fitter of us.

“More or less.”

“More or less what, more closer or less close than we should be.”

I watched him do a 360-degree turn, scoping out our position. It was a maneuver I was familiar with from my time with the National Guard. I’d used my backcountry experience that I’d learned from my father, as a skill I thought they might be able to, and eventually did, use. I got the feeling Louis was looking for something.

“You get the impression we’re not alone?” I asked. I had that nagging feeling something was not right, not from about two miles back in the forest. It was like my sixth sense being switched on.

“Doesn’t seem so, though there have been a few animals lurking behind us, probably surprised anyone’s about this time of the year. It’s been a while, so I’m just getting a feel for the trail. This is, for now, our mountain.”

There was a time, from a time when we were kids, that I could tell when he was lying. He was better at covering it, but it was still there.

Where we’d stopped was a small clearing, a staging point that would be used by other trekkers, still overgrown because of lack of trekkers. Ahead there were the signs of a trail, and after six months, it would become clear again. In places, as we had made our way from the base camp, sections of the distinctive trail had all but disappeared, but Louis seemed to know where he was going, and it was not long before we had picked up the trail again. This spot was a lookout, giving a spectacular view of the valley below, and a fast running river through it.

I walked to the edge and looked up and down the valley, and at the trail that ran along the cliff for a short distance. I looked down, not the wisest of things to do, but it was long enough to catch sight of several charred pieces of wood. On top of the snow. The thing is, someone had been along this trail before us, and recently, something I thought wise to keep to myself.

Back at the log, I sat for a moment and drank some water, while Louis stood patiently, but impatiently, for me to join him.

“You look like you’ve got somewhere to be.” Probably not the wisest thing to say but it was out before I could stop it.

A flicker of annoyance crossed his face, then it was gone. “If we stop too long, joints will freeze up, especially when it gets colder.”

“Sorry.” I put the container back in the pack and joined him. “Let’s go. The cold and I don’t get along very well, and it’s been a long time since the last time I ventured into the great unknown.”

“Helen said you gave up trekking when you married her.”

“She wasn’t a trekker, Robbie. We all have to give up something, sooner or later.”

Another hour, feeling rather weary, we’d come to another small clearing and a place where I could sit down.

“You always were the weak link, Robbie. Admittedly you were younger, but you never seemed to grasp the concept of exercise and fitness.”

I looked up at him and could see my father, the exact stance, the exact words, the exact same sneer in his voice. It all came rushing back as if it was yesterday, the reasons why I chose to go with our mother, that another day with his bullying would be one too many. And he was a bully. And, in an instant, I could see the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree.

“Out of shape after languishing in an office, perhaps,” I said, “but I was never the disappointment our father always considered me.”

“You didn’t join the army, follow in his footsteps, as he wanted us to do. I did. Proudly served, too.”

I could see it. Like father, like son. No surprise Robbie had followed in his father’s footsteps. And it was a clue as to what Robbie had been doing since I saw him last.

“So, tell me about it.”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“No, I probably wouldn’t. Let’s push on.”

I’d also thought, along the way, he might ask questions, delve further into the problems that Helen and I were having, but I knew she had told him all he needed to know. I’d been held up at the office, and had rung to ask her to take him to dinner, get to know him, she might get to learn something of my life before I met her, details of which I hadn’t told her other than that my mother was dead, my father had left and taken Robbie with him. My past, I’d told her from the outset, was not something I would talk about.

I didn’t ask what they talked about, but I could see a change in both of them. Perhaps she had succumbed to Robbie’s charm, back in school all the girls did, but they all soon learned he was not a nice person, not once you got to know him. I didn’t warn her, and perhaps that was regrettable on my part, but it reflected the state in which our relationship had reached.

I’d also tried, once or twice, to find out if our father was still alive, but he deflected it, changing the subject. That meant he was still alive, somewhere, perhaps annoyed at Robbie for coming to see me. If I was a betting man, I’d bet our father would have denied permission for
Robbie to do so, even if he was a grown man and capable of making his own decisions.

Odd, but not surprising. Even now I could remember my father had secrets, and those secrets had fed into the breakup of our parents.

“So, you’ve been dodging it for days now, but you still haven’t told me if dad is alive or dead. He’d be about seventy-odd now.”

He stopped and turned to face me. “Would it matter if he was alive? I doubt you’d want to see him after what mother must have said about him.”

Interesting that he would think so. “She never had a bad word for him, and wouldn’t hear of one spoken, by me or anyone. And I have wondered what became of him, and you. At least now I know you spent time in the Army. If I was to guess what happened, that would be high on my list.”

“No surprise then you became an office wanker.”

Blunt, but, to him, it was a fact. I’d used that expression when telling Helen one time after a very bad day.

“We can’t all be heroes, Robbie.”

I put my hand up. Alarm bells were going off in my head. “You can come out now,” I yelled.

Robbie looked puzzled.

“I know you’re there. You’ve been behind us for about a half-mile now.”

A few seconds passed before the cracking of a twig, and then a person in a camouflage kit came towards us.

He’d aged, hair and beard grey in places but almost white now, but the face was familiar.

“What brings you to this part of the woods, Dad. Or is it just an unlucky coincidence?”

—–

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

An excerpt from “Betrayal” – a work in progress

It could have been anywhere in the world, she thought, but it wasn’t.  It was in a city where if anything were to go wrong…

She sighed and came away from the window and looked around the room.  It was quite large and expensively furnished.  It was one of several she had been visiting in the last three months.

Quite elegant too, as the hotel had its origins dating back to before the revolution in 1917.  At least, currently, there would not be a team of KGB agents somewhere in the basement monitoring everything that happened in the room.

There was no such thing as the KGB anymore, though there was an FSB, but such organisations were of no interest to her.

She was here to meet with Vladimir.

She smiled to herself when she thought of him, such an interesting man whose command of English was as good as her command of Russian, though she had not told him of that ability.

All her knew of her was that she was American, worked in the Embassy as a clerk, nothing important, who life both at work and at home was boring.  Not that she had blurted that out the first tie she met, or even the second.

That first time, at a function in the Embassy, was a chance meeting, a catching of his eye as he looked around the room, looking, as he had told her later, for someone who might not be as boring as the function itself.

It was a celebration, honouring one of the Embassy officials on his service in Moscow, and the fact he was returning home after 10 years.  She had been there one, and still hadn’t met all the staff.

They had talked, Vladimir knew a great deal about England, having been stationed there for a year or two, and had politely asked questions about where she lived, her family, and of course what her role was, all questions she fended off with an air of disinterested interest.

It fascinated him, as she knew it would, a sort of mental sparring as one would do with swords, if this was a fencing match.

They had said they might or might not meet again when the party was over, but she suspected there would be another opportunity.  She knew the signs of a man who was interested in her, and Vladimir was interested.

The second time came in the form of an invitation to an art gallery, and a viewing of the works of a prominent Russian artist, an invitation she politely declined.  After all, invitations issued to Embassy staff held all sorts of connotations, or so she was told by the Security officer when she told him.

Then, it went quiet for a month.  There was a party at the American embassy and along with several other staff members, she was invited.  She had not expected to meet Vladimir, but it was a pleasant surprise when she saw him, on the other side of the room, talking to several military men.

A pleasant afternoon ensued.

And it was no surprise that they kept running into each other at the various events on the diplomatic schedule.

By the fifth meeting, they were like old friends.  She had broached the subject of being involved in a plutonic relationship with him with the head of security at the embassy.  Normally for a member of her rank it would not be allowed, but in this instance it was.

She did not work in any sensitive areas, and, as the security officer had said, she might just happen upon something that might be useful.  In that regard, she was to keep her eyes and ears open, and file a report each time she met him.

After that discussion she got the impression her superiors considered Vladimir more than just a casual visitor on the diplomatic circuit.  She also formed the impression the he might consider her an ‘asset’, a word that had been used at the meeting with security and the ambassador.

It was where the word ‘spy’ popped into her head and sent a tingle down her spine.  She was not a spy, but the thought of it, well, it would be fascinating to see what happened.

A Russian friend.  That’s what she would call him.

And over time, that relationship blossomed, until, after a visit to the ballet, late and snowing, he invited her to his apartment not far from the ballet venue.  It was like treading on thin ice, but after champagne and an introduction to caviar, she felt like a giddy schoolgirl.

Even so, she had made him promise that he remain on his best behaviour.  It could have been very easy to fall under the spell of a perfect evening, but he promised, showed her to a separate bedroom, and after a brief kiss, their first, she did not see him until the next morning.

So, it began.

It was an interesting report she filed after that encounter, one where she had expected to be reprimanded.

She wasn’t.

It wasn’t until six weeks had passed when he asked her if she would like to take a trip to the country.  It would involve staying in a hotel, that they would have separate rooms.  When she reported the invitation, no objection was raised, only a caution; keep her wits about her.

Perhaps, she had thought, they were looking forward to a more extensive report.  After all, her reports on the places, and the people, and the conversations she overheard, were no doubt entertaining reading for some.

But this visit was where the nature of the relationship changed, and it was one that she did not immediately report.  She had realised at some point before the weekend away, that she had feelings for him, and it was not that he was pushing her in that direction or manipulating her in any way.

It was just one of those moments where, after a grand dinner, a lot of champagne, and delightful company, things happen.  Standing at the door to her room, a lingering kiss, not intentional on her part, and it just happened.

And for not one moment did she believe she had been compromised, but for some reason she had not reported that subtle change in the relationship to the powers that be, and so far, no one had any inkling.

She took off her coat and placed it carefully of the back of one of the ornate chairs in the room.  She stopped for a moment to look at a framed photograph on the wall, one representing Red Square.

Then, after a minute or two, she went to the mini bar and took out the bottle of champagne that had been left there for them, a treat arranged by Vladimir for each encounter.

There were two champagne flutes set aside on the bar, next to a bowl of fruit.  She picked up the apple and thought how Eve must have felt in the garden of Eden, and the temptation.

Later perhaps, after…

She smiled at the thought and put the apple back.

A glance at her watch told her it was time for his arrival.  It was if anything, the one trait she didn’t like, and that was his punctuality.  A glance at the clock on the room wall was a minute slow.

The doorbell to the room rang, right on the appointed time.

She put the bottle down and walked over to the door.

A smile on her face, she opened the door.

It was not Vladimir.  It was her worst nightmare.

© Charles Heath 2020

Jump Now – A short story

It was 2 am, the ideal time to assemble a team that would be clandestinely boarding a vessel.

Dark and moonless, it was fortuitous rather than planned, and, dressed in black from head to toe, it was hard to see the others in the inky darkness.  At least something was on our side.

Up until this point, we’d had nothing but bad luck, though I was more of the opinion we had a traitor in our midst because some of the events could not have any other explanation.

It had caused me to be far more selective in who I gave details of the mission to.

Each of the four team members had arrived and let themselves into the shed.  It was not far from the ocean, and a small pier where there was a landing craft waiting.  From there, it would be a half-hour trip out to the ship in question, where, if we got close enough, we would either have to go over the side and swim, or pull alongside, but either way we’d have to go up a rope.

A lot depended on the crew member we had recruited getting a rope overboard, and given the luck we had so far, if there was a flaw in the plan, that was it.

Aside from the four people sitting in front of me, there were only three others privy to what was about to happen.  Now, with recent events, it was hard to imagine that one of them could betray us. That’s why I hadn’t completely told them what they were about to do, just that they needed to be prepared to get wet.

“I’m sure, now we’re here, you can tell us what’s going on.”  Robert was the most trusted of my team and my best friend.

“And why all the hush-hush,”  Linda added.  She had been amused at the secrecy and my explanation.

I was never very good at spinning a story.  She knew that but had not questioned why.

“It’s been touch and go for the last week.  It’s why we’ve all been on standby, with this last-minute call out.  We’ve been waiting for a particular ship to leave port, and now it has.  So, without further ado, let’s get to it.  A boat ride, just enough time to gather the courage to the sticking point, and then with any luck we won’t have to go into the water and swim, but a short shimmy up a rope.  I hope you’ve all been working out.”

The boat ride was in silence.  I’d worked with this group before and they were not big on talking.  Aside from the fact that noise traveled over water, and since we had a specially silenced motor on the boat, there was not going to be any unnecessary conversation.

We could see the ship once we reached the headland, and aside from it’s running lights, there were lights where I presumed the bridge was, and several in the crew quarters.  Closer again, I got the impression it was not moving, or if it was, it was very slow.  It was hard to tell in the darkness.  That same darkness aided our approach.

When we were within several hundred yards I could see that the ship was not moving, and, in fact, had the anchor out.

That was not expected.  Were they waiting for us?  Had they discovered the cream member who was working with us?  We’d know soon enough if there was no rope in the designated point, not far forward of the stern, a spot where we could maneuver the boat under the hull curvature.

The driver piloted the boat slowly to the designated point and the rope was there.  He would stay with the boat and wait.  The four of us would go up and collect what we came for.

I watched the three go up the rope before me, waiting for the last to stop at the top and then go over the side onto the deck.  It took nearly a minute before I got the signal it was clear to follow.

It had been too easy.

I went up the rope slowly, slower than the others, something else other than the object of the exercise on my mind.  Not three days before I had a conversation with my boss, telling him that I’d been doing the job too long and that it was time to retire.  Approaching forty wasn’t exactly retirement age, but in this job, lasting that long was almost a miracle.  The places I’d been, the sights I’d seen, and the people I’d met.  And how many lives I’d used up.

It was a dangerous thing, thinking about anything other than the job when you’re on the job.

I reached the top and pulled myself over the railing and onto the deck.  A little off balance it took a moment to stand.  By then it was too late.

Two of the three other members of the team were sitting by the superstructure, heads on their heads, two members of the crew were watching them, guns at the ready, and Linda had one pointing at me.

“I can’t imagine how MacIntyre thought he was going to convince Petra to defect.  Or how this charade of a rescue attempt was ever going to work.”

I put my hands up.  Not entirely unexpected.  “It was not the mission objective.”

“What…”

I was surprised that she had made her move so early.  If it was my operation, I would wait until we were well into the superstructure, heading to the cabin where Petra would be waiting, and then make the move.

Three seconds, three shots, two guards taken out, and Linda incapacitated.  She would not be moving or fighting back any time soon.  The Petra came out of the shadows, and I collected Linda’s gun and stood near her, just in case Petra missed the target.

Petra cut the two other’s bindings, and said, “get to the side and jump now.”

Linda looked up at me.  “What now?”

I shrugged.  “Time for us to leave.”  I gave Petra a nod, and she went over to the side, took one look back at Linda, shook her head, then jumped.

“You’re just going to leave me here?”

“If it were up to me, I’d shoot you, but MacIntire is getting a little soft in his old age.  But yes, I’m leaving you here.  Now, I really must go.”

I took a last look at Linda, who realized that if she moved it would only worsen her injury, and jumped, not exactly my preferred way of leaving the ship.

The boat came up alongside me and two hands dragged me on board, at the same time we could hear the sound of the anchor chain being pulled up, and the propellers creating a wash as the ship started moving.

Job done, and not one that pleased me.  “Let’s go home,” I told the driver, “it’s past my bedtime.”

—-

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

In a word: Dear

Yes, it’s that simple word that we use to call someone affectionately.

Or sometimes, with a little accent on the word; yes, dear and no, dear.

In other words, it’s a person regarded with deep affection.

It can also mean expensive, by saying, that’s a bit dear, isn’t it, when we’re really saying it’s way overpriced.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve said something is ‘too dear’ to the children.

Grannies tend to use the expression, ‘be a dear and…’, to get you do do something for them.

Friends, sometimes tongue in cheek, will say, ‘oh dear, I’ve upset you’, when that was exactly what they meant to do.  Friends you say?  Yes, friends indeed.

And then we always start a letter (always?  Who writes letters any more?) with

Dear John (oops, not one of THOSE letters)

Dear Sir/Madam

Of course, instead of swearing, you could simply say ‘Oh dear, you’ve let us down again!’.

And when you lose your job, which is happening a lot at the moment, it is said it would cost you dear, though sometimes it would be more appropriate to use the adverb, dearly.

It is not to be confused with the word deer which is an animal, the males of which have antlers.

There are a number of different types of deer, such as reindeer and elk.  In Canada, they are called caribou.

In Robin Hood’s day, killing deer brought you very harsh punishment.

And one of my favourite meats is venison, meat from a deer, which are farmed in New Zealand along with sheep.

Searching for locations: Murano, Italy

The first time we visited Venice, there was not enough time left to visit the glass-blowing factories on Murano.  We saved this for the next visit, and now more comfortable with taking the Vaporetto, boarded at San Marco for the short journey.

The view looking towards the cemetery:

The view looking down what I think was the equivalent to the main street, or where several of the glass-blowing factories and display shops were located:

Looking towards a workshop, this one costs us each a Euro to go in and observe a demonstration of glass blowing, and it still surprises me that some people would not pay

The oven where the glass is heated

And the finished product, the retail version of the horse that the glassblower created during the demonstration:

Then we bought some other glassware from the retail storefront, a candle holder

and a turtle.