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.

In a word: Maybe

This word, where I live, had taken on a new meaning.  We have telephone scammers who ask your name when you answer the phone, and when you say yes, they hang up.

It doesn’t take much imagination how they can use that recording.

So, I now answer the phone with maybe, which confuses the real callers who want to know if it is you.

Of course, maybe is one of those words that have so many meaning, but the best one is to use it while you have time to think of a proper answer.

For example, did you get the potatoes?  You haven’t been out, it slipped your mind, or you just plain forgot, but run with a ‘maybe’ so you can judge the reaction.

Angry face, you know no matter what, you’re in trouble.

Genial face, you know that it didn’t really matter and all is forgiven.

Then there’s the person who doesn’t know you and comes up to you in a crowded room.  Are you [put name here]?

Maybe.  We want to know if we’re in trouble, or if it for something good.

Using ‘maybe’ in writing probably isn’t the best word to us, but I like defying the experts.  You can always find a maybe or two in any of my books.

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.

PIWalthJones1

An excerpt from “Sunday in New York”

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The battle lines were drawn.

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

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

Then it was gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No secrets.  Her look conveyed something else entirely.

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

Then, a toast.

To a new job and a new life.

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

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

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

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

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

I had no idea the two were so close.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yet you accepted the job.”

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

“Barclay?”

“My boss.”

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

“How did Elaine get the job?”

“Oh, Alison put him onto her.”

“When?”

“A couple of months ago.  Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She had her ‘secrets’.  I had mine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It left me confused and lost.

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

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

 

© Charles Heath 2015-2020

Sunday In New York

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wouldn’t I?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

“Then if you are seen here, with me…”

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

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

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

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

A light came on from her side of the bed.

“People could see in?”

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

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

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

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

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

“You were drugged?”

“Are you dizzy, feeling lightheaded?”

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

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

My heart just about stopped.

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

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

“Who are you?”

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

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

“Get dressed. We have to go.”

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

“Away from here.”

“Why?”

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

….

© Charles Heath 2021

“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:  http://amzn.to/2CqUBcz

NaNoWriMo (April) – Day 10

One third of the month is gone and this writing job is not getting any easier.

The notion that we can sit down and over a period of 30 days, we can write a 50,000 word novel would be, to some, a preposterous notion.

For me, it is not. I have done it for three years in a row, and even without having a plan.

This one has a plan, but that plan only sometimes stretches to a day or two ahead, depending on how I’m going.

Today, it had been hard going because I set time aside to just sit down and write it, but you all know how fickle that can be. Devote time, and the words don’t come, have no time and try scratching in between a lot of other jobs, and the words are flowing.

It is annoying to say the least.

Bit, for today, Jack has discovered he does, indeed, have a doppelganger, and that he is related, which explains the uncanny likeness. Of course, he has been followed to the island, and run to ground in a park where the two meet face to face. Oh, and the doppelganger has a name, Jacob.

It could have got ugly, but Maryanne is there, though Jack is still not sure why, and her presence averts what could have been an ugly showdown,

Instead, some words of advice. Jack must ask his mother for the answers.

A fine time for Jack to discover that his mother has been lying to him for his whole life.

But, of course, any attempt to get her on the phone is proving difficult.

And it might mean the end of his holiday.

Our Jack is not a happy man.

Today’s effort amounts to 2,873 words, for a total, so far, of 25,485.

Yes, word wise we have reached the half way mark, but story wise, it appears it make take a little longer.

More tomorrow.

The first case of PI Walthenson – “A Case of Working With the Jones Brothers”

This case has everything, red herrings, jealous brothers, femme fatales, and at the heart of it all, greed.

See below for an excerpt from the book…

Coming soon!

PIWalthJones1

An excerpt from the book:

When Harry took the time to consider his position, a rather uncomfortable position at that, he concluded that he was somehow involved in another case that meant very little to him.

Not that it wasn’t important in some way he was yet to determine, it was just that his curiosity had got the better of him, and it had led to this: sitting in a chair, securely bound, waiting for someone one of his captors had called Doug.

It was not the name that worried him so much, it was the evil laugh that had come after the name was spoken.

Doug what? Doug the ‘destroyer’, Doug the ‘dangerous’, Doug the ‘deadly’; there was any number of sinister connotations, and perhaps that was the point of the laugh, to make it more frightening than it was.

But there was no doubt about one thing in his mind right then: he’d made a mistake. A very big. and costly, mistake. Just how big the cost, no doubt he would soon find out.

His mother, and his grandmother, the wisest person he had ever known, had once told him never to eavesdrop.

At the time he couldn’t help himself and instead of minding his own business, listening to a one-sided conversation which ended with a time and a place. The very nature of the person receiving the call was, at the very least, sinister, and, because of the cryptic conversation, there appeared to be, or at least to Harry, criminal activity involved.

For several days he had wrestled with the thought of whether he should go. Stay on the fringe, keep out of sight, observe and report to the police if it was a crime. Instead, he had willingly gone down the rabbit hole.

Now, sitting in an uncomfortable chair, several heat lamps hanging over his head, he was perspiring, and if perspiration could be used as a measure of fear, then Harry’s fear was at the highest level.

Another runnel of sweat rolled into his left eye, and, having his hands tied, literally, it made it impossible to clear it. The burning sensation momentarily took his mind off his predicament. He cursed and then shook his head trying to prevent a re-occurrence. It was to no avail.

Let the stinging sensation be a reminder of what was right and what was wrong.

It was obvious that it was the right place and the right time, but in considering his current perilous situation, it definitely was the wrong place to be, at the worst possible time.

It was meant to be his escape, an escape from the generations of lawyers, what were to Harry, dry, dusty men who had been in business since George Washington said to the first Walthenson to step foot on American soil, ‘Why don’t you become a lawyer?” when asked what he could do for the great man.

Or so it was handed down as lore, though Harry didn’t think Washington meant it literally, the Walthenson’s, then as now, were not shy of taking advice.

Except, of course, when it came to Harry.

He was, Harry’s father was prone to saying, the exception to every rule. Harry guessed his father was referring to the fact his son wanted to be a Private Detective rather than a dry, dusty lawyer. Just the clothes were enough to turn Harry off the profession.

So, with a little of the money Harry inherited from one of his aunts, he leased an office in Gramercy Park and had it renovated to look like the Sam Spade detective agency, you know the one, Spade and Archer, and The Maltese Falcon.

There’s a movie and a book by Dashiell Hammett if you’re interested.

So, there it was, painted on the opaque glass inset of the front door, ‘Harold Walthenson, Private Detective’.

There was enough money to hire an assistant, and it took a week before the right person came along, or, more to the point, didn’t just see his business plan as something sinister. Ellen, a tall cool woman in a long black dress, or so the words of a song in his head told him, fitted in perfectly.

She’d seen the movie, but she said with a grin, Harry was no Humphrey Bogart.

Of course not, he said, he didn’t smoke.

Three months on the job, and it had been a few calls, no ‘real’ cases, nothing but missing animals, and other miscellaneous items. What he really wanted was a missing person. Or perhaps a beguiling, sophisticated woman who was as deadly as she was charming, looking for an errant husband, perhaps one that she had already ‘dispatched’.

Or for a tall, dark and handsome foreigner who spoke in riddles and in heavily accented English, a spy, or perhaps an assassin, in town to take out the mayor. The man was such an imbecile Harry had considered doing it himself.

Now, in a back room of a disused warehouse, that wishful thinking might be just about to come to a very abrupt end, with none of the romanticized trappings of the business befalling him. No beguiling women, no sinister criminals, no stupid policemen.

Just a nasty little man whose only concern was how quickly or how slowly Harry’s end was going to be.

© Charles Heath 2019

In a word: Maybe

This word, where I live, had taken on a new meaning.  We have telephone scammers who ask your name when you answer the phone, and when you say yes, they hang up.

It doesn’t take much imagination how they can use that recording.

So, I now answer the phone with maybe, which confuses the real callers who want to know if it is you.

Of course, maybe is one of those words that have so many meaning, but the best one is to use it while you have time to think of a proper answer.

For example, did you get the potatoes?  You haven’t been out, it slipped your mind, or you just plain forgot, but run with a ‘maybe’ so you can judge the reaction.

Angry face, you know no matter what, you’re in trouble.

Genial face, you know that it didn’t really matter and all is forgiven.

Then there’s the person who doesn’t know you and comes up to you in a crowded room.  Are you [put name here]?

Maybe.  We want to know if we’re in trouble, or if it for something good.

Using ‘maybe’ in writing probably isn’t the best word to us, but I like defying the experts.  You can always find a maybe or two in any of my books.

The A to Z Challenge – H is for – “How is this possible…”


It started with a simple memo.

After several years of bad management, the company had decided to make a clean sweep and change upper management. Of course, that sort of change was driven by the volatility of the company’s share price and dividends, and shareholders’ discontent. Productivity was down because of low employee morale driven by what was labelled a ‘toxic work environment’. This led to production problems, quality control issues, and falling sales.

Something had to be done.

The new broom, as it was come to be known as, had made several far sweeping changes, one of which, to counter the discontent of its employees, was to institute the anonymous complaint. Any employee could make a complaint without fear of reprisals. In the past, those that had were vilified, demoted, or sacked. Now, the new broom had decided that employee input would improve the workplace, improve productivity, and provide the way back to the halcyon days.

Or so we thought.

Two phones, each on a bedside table, both chimed to indicate an incoming message.

I’d been staring at the roof, contemplating the start of a new week in a place where I had decided was not where I wanted to be. Beside me, still asleep, was the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, but she was not sure about making a commitment. She’d been down that road before, and it failed miserably and was taking it slow.

I told her slow was my middle name.

I leaned over and picked up the phone, more out of curiosity than anything else, but fascinated that both phones could go off at the same time.

“In the light of a host of complaints about the catering division, it has been decided that the staff cafeteria will cease operations at the end of the month. It has for a number of years been the subject of employee dissatisfaction and the result of an extensive investigation to the feasibility of keeping it going, given the economic climate and fiscal position of the company the only viable decision is to cease operations. Staff currently working in the catering department will be transferred to other positions within the company.”

How could this be possible? I had seen the feasibility study relating to the cafeteria, and it was ‘feasible’ to keep it going. They were right though, there had been a host of complaints, but that was because the catering manager had no idea how to run a large-scale cafeteria that churned out upwards of 5,000 meals a day. Even Olga, who was right here with me now, had said that it was the most poorly managed operation she had ever worked in.

I tossed the phone back on the bedside table and got back under the covers. Too early and too cold to get out of bed.

It woke Olga.

“Trouble in paradise?”

Paradise was her euphemism for work. She had become increasingly desponded as I about working there. In her case, as q waitress in the cafeteria, it was a job she could take or leave. For me, loitering on the fringes of middle management, not so much. Not if I wanted to keep the flash apartment and upscale car.

“They have dumped the cafeteria.”

I had expected her to leap up in indignation. It barely registered on the Richter scale. “And what did you expect?” She raised her head off the pillow. “They were never going to implement your suggestions, it would make Commissar Bland look like a fool, like the fool above him.”

Her analogy transposing our fearless leaders with those back in the old Soviet Union were always an insight to what she had experienced back home before she emigrated with her parents. Commissar Bland was a dictator, and not a man to cross. She cared little about him, and treated him, like the others did, as a joke.

“So much for the new broom,” I muttered.

“You are so naive Petr, but like home, change means no change, just different faces and words that all mean the same thing.”

Petr was her pet name for me, named after an old mentor of hers.

“Aren’t you the one losing your job. Doesn’t it bother you?”

“I will become best factory worker. We are very adaptable. You should try not to lose any sleep.”

She lay down again and snuggled closer.

I left her at the fourth floor where my office was located, and she would continue up to the next, the location of the cafeteria.

If I remember correctly, the current CEO when the factory manager, had always wanted to reclaim the cafeteria space for a new modernised production line, but the old guard had seen the benefit of keeping it despite the cost, as a means of keeping its workforce. Even twenty years ago, it would not have made a discussion topic, even in jest.

But times change.

Herman, another of the middle management fringe dwellers, and had also seen the need to have something to ‘bribe’ the workforce. We’d only been talking about it with others on our level the other day when all manner of rumours were drifting through our building.

He was loitering in the passage, obviously waiting for me.

“You’ve seen the message?”

I nodded.

“Hell of a way to kill an institution?”

I walked into my cubicle and dumped my bag on the floor. As a first act, the new broom removed all the offices, and put everyone into an open plan, where it was easier to communicate with others and removed the barriers walls and doors presented. The jury was still out on whether it worked, I could still never get to see the people I needed to.

He followed me in and sat in a chair in the corner. I sat on the desk, it was not a large cubicle.

“It was a drain on profits. The world has moved on from pandering to workforces. It seems dividends are more important. I’m sure this will not be the only change.”

“Like managers losing their cars and credit cards, except for the upper echelon. I don’t think you’ll see them close the executive dining room.”

Yes, it was only a matter of time before that morsel would raise its head under the banner of hypocrisy.

“Probably not. But remember, we used to build cars once, and it was good advertising to hand them out to all and sundry. Now, trying to do the right thing costs too much.”

My phone on the desk rang and startled me. It was still quiet, the bulk of the cubicle population hadn’t arrived yet. My guess they were gathering in coffee shops discussing the news.

I picked up receiver mid ring, then said, “Yes?” I refused to follow the official answering sequence advised by the new broom.

Hesitation, then, “O’Hara from Administration. Can you come and see me, nine a.m.?”

Why? There was no way anyone could know I sent that memo, and I wasn’t on management’s radar, it had been O’Hara himself who told me to keep up the good work, the coded message that said I was not on the latest promotion list.

“I’ll see you then.” I was not going to say ‘yes, sir’ like other management hopefuls. O’Hara was not someone who could be buttered up, a fact only I seemed to be aware of.

“Who was that?”

“O’Hara.”

“Then your days are numbered. He never calls except to say you have a promotion or you’re fired. You aren’t on the promotion list.”

“How can you be sure?”

No one was supposed to know who was on that list for sure, it was a closely guarded secret. Herman said he knew someone who knew someone who knew Herman’s PA, and had been told who was on the list. So far, in the last two lists, he had been right about us two.

Perhaps he was right. I was going to get fired.

“Have I ever been wrong?”

Technically, no. But I never got any other names of those who were on the list. Maybe it was better to wait, and be disappointed then.

“Well, we’ll soon find out.”

It took twenty minutes to walk from the old administration building to the new, built recently on the outskirts of the company site, on what was once the carpark. The carpark had been relocated under the new administration building, and it gave management the perfect excuse to charge us to park our cars.

A Lot of employees had switched from car to the train, less than the weekly cost of the carpark. Another new broom initiative; getting people out of cars and onto public transport, their contribution to easing global warming.

None of us, other than those in the new administration building had passes, so we had to sign in as visitors on the ground floor, even though we spent a lot of time travelling back and forth, and visiting other members of our departments who had been moved from the old building.

No, not a new broom initiative, just the result of an obtuse security chief.

Getting the pass made me five minutes late, and O’Hara didn’t like tardy people.

A glare followed me from the door of his office to the seat in front of his desk where he motioned me to sit. The offices were better here and were offices not cubicles. Everyone else wanted to be transferred to the new office. I didn’t. Too far away from Olga.

“I called you over to discuss the ten-point plan to save the cafeteria.”

“What ten-point plan?” Perhaps they did know who wrote the memo.

“I had every written complaint checked to see whose writing it was. Next time, write it on the computer and print it out.”

I shrugged. “I did it for a laugh. Nothing’s going to change in this place.”

“You sound like you don’t like working here?”

“I do. Most days. Today, though, is one reason to leave. That cafeteria has been here since the day the factory started. The employers, once, were involved in getting employees housing, even had their own estate, and assisted them to buy cars. It was a novel thought in an age where employers, well, some employers, considered their employees assets.”

“We still do.”

I shook my head. I guess if you wanted to be in management you had to believe and repeat the new mantra. I’d heard about the management team building conferences.

“So, we’re going back to our original values?”

“This is neither the time, nor do we have the fiscal viability. But it seems some of the board members consider your proposals need fleshing out into a plan with costings so they can make a more balanced judgement.”

“Unfortunately, you just uttered the two words that make that idea redundant, fiscal viability. There is no possible way in this current world we live in that a cafeteria would ever be viable, unless we charged five-star restaurant prices for the meals.”

“Humour me and do it anyway.”

“Not my department.”

“Fixed. You now are temporarily assigned to ‘rebuilding and restructuring’. You can add three others to your team. You have a week.”

“And if I say no.”

“It’s that or your resignation. You have been given an opportunity, take it.”

I shrugged. I’d heard about the new broom’s method of culling. Give them jobs that they can’t possibly find a solution to. Devious, but devastatingly effective. One last hurrah before being tossed on the executive scrap heap.

When I came out of his office, Herman was waiting in the outer office.

“You too,” I said.

“Nine of us. Sounds like there’s a new project in the wind.”

I didn’t burst his bubble. Ten more budding executives were getting the push. I sighed.

At least now Olga and I could go visit her family on the shores of the Black Sea. There was no excuse not to.

And, yes, it really did start with a memo.

© Charles Heath 2021