Travelling after a pandemic: Destination Hobart

Hobart in June – Winter – Day 3 – Monday

Day 3 – Monday

We agreed not to plan what we were going to do today, but I had this idea we should go north or the opposite direction to yesterday.

That meant our destination, following the hop on hop off bus route was to head towards the Botanic Gardens.

Bur first, Rosemary had expressed a desire to go down to the water’s edge to have a look, giving an excellent view of the coastline at what was called Battery Point.

I tried to get there, but there were no roads that specifically went down to the water’s edge, but we did eventually drive-up Salamanca place, where we had walked a few days before.

It was not the same, but it did give us time to look at the line of sandstone buildings that had been there a long time and had been repurposed as Sn arts precinct.

Of course, there was only one flaw in the plan, Rosemary was not able to walk any great distance, so we were limited to what could be seen from the car.

But…

There was really nothing to see, just cars parked haphazardly on the side of the road near an entrance that led down some steps, or a few cars in a proper car park too far away from the entrance.

I was not sure what to make of it other than it was an exercise-intensive effort just to get from the car park to the gate, and then you had to walk around the gardens.

It was all too much.

Government House was on the same road, but it was not open to the public, nor was it in sight of the road, do no photographic moment there, so we were doubly disappointed.

The next phase of our unplanned tour was to go over the Tasman Bridge, perhaps to see the other side of the bay that we could see from our apartment.

Except…

When we got over the other side we veered left to follow the Derwent towards Lindisfarne where there was a yacht basin and several yacht clubs, one of which promised a view while you drank coffee.

Only problem, no parking spaces.

A good idea, unable to be acted on.

Instead, we drove around the esplanade, and continued on our way to Glenorchy, after not being able to get that coffee with a view.

Back on the main road, we take the Glenorchy exit and doesn’t take long to get there, though, by the time we’ve driven through the suburban area, we’re back on the main Hobart Road.

It was a case of don’t blink or you’ll miss it.  We missed Glenorchy.

Change of plans, looking for that elusive coffee, we head for the center of Hobart shopping, Centrepoint, hoping in that center there will be a coffee shop.  Of course, it’s Queen’s Birthday holiday so it’s possible nothing is open.

In the end, we found a parking space nearby. And a Hudson’s.  Coffee and a toasted sandwich went down very well. 

So, once again, we didn’t get to the places we were hoping to get to.  This is what tomorrow, we’re not going to state a place to visit.

“The Devil You Don’t” – A beta readers view

It could be said that of all the women one could meet, whether contrived or by sheer luck, what are the odds it would turn out to be the woman who was being paid a very large sum to kill you.

John Pennington is a man who may be lucky in business, but not so lucky in love. He has just broken up with Phillipa Sternhaven, the woman he thought was the one, but relatives and circumstances, and perhaps because she was a ‘princess’, may also have contributed to the end result.

So, what do you do when you are heartbroken?

That is a story that slowly unfolds, from the first meeting with his nemesis on Lake Geneva, all the way to a hotel room in Sorrento, where he learns the shattering truth.

What should have been a high turns out to be something else entirely, and from that point every thing goes to hell in a handbasket.

He suddenly realises his so-called friend Sebastian has not exactly told him the truth about a small job he asked him to do, the woman he is falling in love with is not quite who she says she is, and he is caught in the middle of a war between two men who consider people becoming collateral damage as part of their business.

The story paints the characters cleverly displaying all their flaws and weaknesses. The locations add to the story at times taking me back down memory lane, especially to Venice where in those back streets I confess it’s not all that hard to get lost.

All in all a thoroughly entertaining story with, for once, a satisfying end.

Available on Amazon here: https://amzn.to/2Xyh1ow

It all started in Venice – Episode 12

Let’s talk about Larry.

Over the main, and desert, I told her about Siena and the Palio, painting a vivid picture of horsemanship and rivalry over the course of several hundred years, making it sound so much better than it was.

It the heat, the tight confines of the square, and the large number of people crammed in, it could be quite oppressive.

It wasn’t until after coffee arrived I decided to take a different tack and surprise her.

“You know, back in the old days, when I was working a desk, I used to do research on criminals for task forces.  I longed to get out in the field, but back then you had to be a particular sort of bastard to get those jobs.  I just didn’t have that mean streak.”

“Any I might know of?”

“One that springs to mind, Larry Pomisor, head of the so-called Waterville gang, though as an organization, is went downhill quickly after Larry’s father died and he took over.”

I’d been watching her carefully, and, yes, no matter how hard people tried to mask their surprise, it never works.  I got the hit I was looking for.

“You’re saying he’s not a crime boss?”

“Exactly.  He’s little better than a complete moron.  Blames me for the death of his brother, failing to understand that he is ultimately responsible.  If he hadn’t dragged him into the business, he’d still be alive today.”

“Why would he blame you?”

“He thinks I was at the scene of his brother’s death but whoever told him got their dates mixed up.  But Larry is nothing if not pathological in his beliefs no matter how wrong they are.”

I could see she was processing how to deal with this turn of events.  Being handed to her on a plate, exactly what Larry wanted me to talk about, I could see she was mid-way between confused and surprised.  In other words, off guard.

She now had to come up with questions that were not obvious.

“Not exactly the sort of enemy you want, then.”

“No more than any of the others I’m sure are waiting in line.  I was there, yes, but not when his brother was killed, he was alive when I left.  It was a meeting his brother called, and we believe he was going to inform on Larry, and Larry had him killed, then pinning the blame on us, and me in particular.  His brother never wanted anything to do with Waterville, but Larry never gave him the option.”

“I can’t believe that he would do that, not to his brother.  No one would do that to family.”

“Like I said, everything I learned about Larry pointed to the fact he was a moron.  His father hated him, and his mother moved to be as far from him as possible.  She lives in Sorrento you know.  His father was a piece of work, and I first met him on a domestic call-out when their neighbors reported gunshots.  She had taken a beating, not the first, and not the last, and I had to say, I’d never seen anyone more relieved when the old man died.”

I wondered what Larry was making of this if he was listening in.  He had once told me, in passing, in one of many visits to the parent’s house to intervene, that he would kill his father if he didn’t stop.

But, Larry was all talk and no action and did nothing to stop it.  In the end, it was his wife Gabrielle, who finally ended the violence. 

When it happened she called me, the most familiar face, and told me what happened.  I then told her what to do, and it eventually kept her out of jail.  Over the years since our paths rarely crossed, but significantly I was on her Christmas card list.

She had, when she learned I was living in Venice incited Violetta and I over for tea, and we went a few times, but the last was a long time ago.

“He doesn’t blame you for that too foes he?”

“Probably, but Gabrielle can put him straight on that.  I should go and see her, it’s been a while.”

 “What do you mean?  Go see Larry’s mother?”

“Why not?  The chances of Larry being there are remote.  It’ll have to be after Cecilia goes back home.  You want to come, see a bit more of Italy?”

“What?”

The shock of the conversation direction had finally caught up with her.  I’d seen her glancing more than one at her phone, and equally wondering what Larry was making of it.

“Go see Larry’s mother.  We’re old friends.  I’m sure she’d give him a stern talking-to if she knew he wanted me dead, don’t you?”

“I don’t know.  I’ll have to see.”

“Of course.  Too short notice.”

I gave her one of my winning smiles, just as Cecilia loomed out of the darkness and came over, dropping heavily into the seat next to me, and complaining, “Well, that was a spectacular waste of time and effort.”

© Charles Heath 2022

An excerpt from “Mistaken Identity” – a work in progress

The odds of any one of us having a doppelganger are quite high. Whether or not you got to meet him or her, or be confronted by them was significantly lower. Except of course, unless you are a celebrity.

It was a phenomenon remarkable only for the fact, at times, certain high profile people, notorious or not, had doubles if only to put off enemies or the general public. Sometimes we see people in the street, people who look like someone we knew, and made the mistake of approaching them like a long lost friend, only to discover an embarrassed individual desperately trying to get away for what they perceive is a stalker or worse.

And then sometimes in is a picture that looms up on a TV screen, an almost exact likeness of you. At first you are fascinated, and then according to the circumstances, and narrative that is attached to that picture, either flattered or horrified.

For me one turned to the other when I saw an almost likeness of me flash up on the screen when I turned the TV on in my room. What looked to be my photo, with only minor differences, was in the corner of the screen, the news reader speaking in rapid Italian, so fast I could only translate every second or third word.

But the one word I did recognize was murder. The photo of the man up on the screen was the subject of an extensive manhunt. The crime, murder of woman in the very same hotel I was staying, and it was being played out live several floors above me. The gist of the story, the woman had been seen with, and staying with the man who was my double, and, less than an hour ago, the body had been discovered by a chambermaid.

The killer, the announcer said, was believed to be still in the hotel because the woman had died shortly before she had been discovered.

I watched, at first fascinated at that I was seeing. I guess I should have been horrified, but at that moment it didn’t register that I might be mistaken for that man.

Not until an another five minutes had passed, and I was watching the police in full riot gear, with a camera crew following behind, coming up a passage towards a room. Live action of the arrest of the suspected killer the breathless commentator said.

Then, suddenly, there was a pounding on the door. On the TV screen, plain to see, was the number of my room.
I looked through the peep hole and saw an army of police officers. It didn’t take much to realize what had happened. The hotel staff had identified me as the man in the photograph on the TV and called the police.

Horrified wasn’t what I was feeling right then.

It was fear.

My last memory was the door crashing open, the wood splintering, and men rushing into the room, screaming at me, waving guns, and when I put my hands up to defend myself, I heard a gunshot.

And in one very confused and probably near death experience, I thought I saw my mother, and thinking what was she doing in Rome?

I was the archetypal nobody.

I lived in a small flat, I drove a nondescript car, had an average job in a low profile travel agency, was single, and currently not involved in a relationship, no children, and according to my workmates, no life.

They were wrong. I was one of those people who preferred their own company, I had a cat, and travelled whenever I could. And I did have a ‘thing’ for Rosalie, one of the reasons why I stayed at the travel agency. I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but one could always hope.

I was both pleased and excited to be going to the conference. It was my first, and the glimpse I had seen of it had whetted my appetite for more information about the nuances of my profession.

Some would say that a travel agent wasn’t much of a job, but to me, it was every bit as demanding as being an accountant or a lawyer. You were providing a customer with a service, and arguably more people needed a travel agent than a lawyer. At least that was what I told myself, as I watched more and more people start using the internet, and our relevance slowly dissipating.

This conference was about countering that trend.

The trip over had been uneventful. I was met at the airport and taken to the hotel where the conference was being held with a number of other delegates who had arrived on the same plane. I had mingled with a number of other delegates at the pre conference get together, including one whose name was Maryanne.

She was an unusual young woman, not the sort that I usually met, because she was the one who was usually surrounded by all the boys, the life of the party. In normal circumstances, I would not have introduced myself to her, but she had approached me. Why did I think that may have been significant? All of this ran through my mind, culminating in the last event on the highlight reel, the door bursting open, men rushing into my room, and then one of the policemen opened fire.

I replayed that last scene again, trying to see the face of my assailant, but it was just a sea of men in battle dress, bullet proof vests and helmets, accompanied by screaming and yelling, some of which I identified as “Get on the floor”.

Then came the shot.

Why ask me to get on the floor if all they were going to do was shoot me. I was putting my hands up at the time, in surrender, not reaching for a weapon.

Then I saw the face again, hovering in the background like a ghost. My mother. Only the hair was different, and her clothes, and then the image was going, perhaps a figment of my imagination brought on by pain killing drugs. I tried to imagine the scene again, but this time it played out, without the image of my mother.

I opened my eyes took stock of my surroundings. What I felt in that exact moment couldn’t be described. I should most likely be dead, the result of a gunshot wound. I guess I should be thankful the shooter hadn’t aimed at anything vital, but that was the only item on the plus side.

I was in a hospital room with a policeman by the door. He was reading a newspaper, and sitting uncomfortably on a small chair. He gave me a quick glance when he heard me move slightly, but didn’t acknowledge me with either a nod, or a greeting, just went back to the paper.

If I still had a police guard, then I was still considered a suspect. What was interesting was that I was not handcuffed to the bed. Perhaps that only happened in TV shows. Or maybe they knew I couldn’t run because my injuries were too serious. Or the guard would shoot me long before my feet hit the floor. I knew the police well enough now to know they would shoot first and ask questions later.

On the physical side, I had a large bandage over the top left corner of my chest, extending over my shoulder. A little poking and prodding determined the bullet had hit somewhere between the top of my rib cage and my shoulder. Nothing vital there, but my arm might be somewhat useless for a while, depending on what the bullet hit on the way in, or through.

It didn’t feel like there were any broken or damaged bones.

That was the good news.

On the other side of the ledger, my mental state, there was only one word that could describe it. Terrified. I was looking at a murder charge and jail time, a lot of it. Murder usually had a long time in jail attached to it.

Whatever had happened, I didn’t do it. I know I didn’t do it, but I had to try and explain this to people who had already made up their minds. I searched my mind for evidence. It was there, but in the confused state brought on by the medication, all I could think about was jail, and the sort of company I was going to have.

I think death would have been preferable.

Half an hour later, maybe longer, I was drifting in an out of consciousness, a nurse, or what I thought was a nurse, came into the room. The guard stood, checked her ID card, and then stood by the door.

She came over and stood beside the bed. “How are you?” she asked, first in Italian, and when I pretended I didn’t understand, she asked the same question in accented English.

“Alive, I guess,” I said. “No one has come and told what my condition is yet. You are my first visitor. Can you tell me?”

“Of course. You are very lucky to be alive. You will be fine and make a full recovery. The doctors here are excellent at their work.”

“What happens now?”

“I check you, and then you have a another visitor. He is from the British Embassy I think. But he will have to wait until I have finished my examination.”

I realized then she was a doctor, not a nurse.

My second visitor was a man, dressed in a suit the sort of which I associated with the British Civil Service.  He was not very old which told me he was probably a recent graduate on his first posting, the junior officer who drew the short straw.

The guard checked his ID but again did not leave the room, sitting back down and going back to his newspaper.

My visitor introduced himself as Alex Jordan from the British Embassy in Rome and that he had been asked by the Ambassador to sort out what he labelled a tricky mess.

For starters, it was good to see that someone cared about what happened to me.  But, equally, I knew the mantra, get into trouble overseas, and there is not much we can do to help you.  So, after that lengthy introduction, I had to wonder why he was here.

I said, “They think I am an international criminal by the name of Jacob Westerbury, whose picture looks just like me, and apparently for them it is an open and shut case.”  I could still hear the fragments of the yelling as the police burst through the door, at the same time telling me to get on the floor with my hands over my head.

“It’s not.  They know they’ve got the wrong man, which is why I’m here.  There is the issue of what had been described as excessive force, and the fact you were shot had made it an all-round embarrassment for them.”

“Then why are you here?  Shouldn’t they be here apologizing?”

“That is why you have another visitor.  I only took precedence because I insisted I speak with you first.  I have come, basically to ask you for a favour.  This situation has afforded us with an opportunity.  We would like you to sign the official document which basically indemnifies them against any legal proceedings.”

Curious.  What sort of opportunity was he talking about?  Was this a matter than could get difficult and I could be charged by the Italian Government, even if I wasn’t guilty, or was it one of those hush hush type deals, you do this for us, we’ll help you out with that.  “What sort of opportunity?”

“We want to get our hands on Jacob Westerbury as much as they do.  They’ve made a mistake, and we’d like to use that to get custody of him if or when he is arrested in this country.  I’m sure you would also like this man brought into custody as soon as possible so you will stop being confused with him.  I can only imagine what it was like to be arrested in the manner you were.  And I would not blame you if you wanted to get some compensation for what they’ve done.  But.  There are bigger issues in play here, and you would be doing this for your country.”

I wondered what would happen if I didn’t agree to his proposal.  I had to ask, “What if I don’t?”

His expression didn’t change.  “I’m sure you are a sensible man Mr Pargeter, who is more than willing to help his country whenever he can.  They have agreed to take care of all your hospital expenses, and refund the cost of the Conference, and travel.  I’m sure I could also get them to pay for a few days at Capri, or Sorrento if you like, before you go home.  What do you say?”

There was only one thing I could say.  Wasn’t it treason if you went against your country’s wishes?

“I’m not an unreasonable man, Alex.  Go do your deal, and I’ll sign the papers.”

“Good man.”

After Alex left, the doctor came back to announce the arrival of a woman, by the way she had announced herself, the publicity officer from the Italian police. When she came into the room, she was not dressed in a uniform.

The doctor left after giving a brief report to the civilian at the door. I understood the gist of it, “The patient has recovered excellently and the wounds are healing as expected. There is no cause for concern.”

That was a relief.

While the doctor was speaking to the civilian, I speculated on who she might be. She was young, not more than thirty, conservatively dressed so an official of some kind, but not necessarily with the police. Did they have prosecutors? I was unfamiliar with the Italian legal system.

She had long wavy black hair and the sort of sultry looks of an Italian movie star, and her presence made me more curious than fearful though I couldn’t say why.

The woman then spoke to the guard, and he reluctantly got up and left the room, closing the door behind him.
She checked the door, and then came back towards me, standing at the end of the bed. Now alone, she said, “A few questions before we begin.” Her English was only slightly accented. “Your name is Jack Pargeter?”

I nodded. “Yes.”

“You are in Rome to attend the Travel Agents Conference at the Hilton Hotel?”

“Yes.”

“You attended a preconference introduction on the evening of the 25th, after arriving from London at approximately 4:25 pm.”

“About that time, yes. I know it was about five when the bus came to collect me, and several others, to take us to the hotel.”

She smiled. It was then I noticed she was reading from a small notepad.

“It was ten past five to be precise. The driver had been held up in traffic. We have a number of witnesses who saw you on the plane, on the bus, at the hotel, and with the aid of closed circuit TV we have established you are not the criminal Jacob Westerbury.”

She put her note book back in her bag and then said, “My name is Vicenza Andretti and I am with the prosecutor’s office. I am here to formally apologize for the situation that can only be described as a case of mistaken identity. I assure you it is not the habit of our police officers to shoot people unless they have a very strong reason for doing so. I understand that in the confusion of the arrest one of our officers accidentally discharged his weapon. We are undergoing a very thorough investigation into the circumstances of this event.”

I was not sure why, but between the time I had spoken to the embassy official and now, something about letting them off so easily was bugging me. I could see why they had sent her. It would be difficult to be angry or annoyed with her.

But I was annoyed.

“Do you often send a whole squad of trigger happy riot police to arrest a single man?” It came out harsher than I intended.

“My men believed they were dealing with a dangerous criminal.”

“Do I look like a dangerous criminal?” And then I realized if it was mistaken identity, the answer would be yes.

She saw the look on my face, and said quietly, “I think you know the answer to that question, Mr. Pargeter.”

“Well, it was overkill.”

“As I said, we are very sorry for the circumstances you now find yourself in. You must understand that we honestly believed we were dealing with an armed and dangerous murderer, and we were acting within our mandate. My department will cover your medical expenses, and any other amounts for the inconvenience this has caused you. I believe you were attending a conference at your hotel. I am very sorry but given the medical circumstances you have, you will have to remain here for a few more days.”

“I guess, then, I should thank you for not killing me.”

Her expression told me that was not the best thing I could have said in the circumstances.

“I mean, I should thank you for the hospital and the care. But a question or two of my own. May I?”

She nodded.

“Did you catch this Jacob Westerbury character?”

“No. In the confusion created by your arrest he escaped. Once we realized we had made a mistake and reviewed the close circuit TV, we tracked him leaving by a rear exit.”

“Are you sure it was one of your men who shot me?”

I watched as her expression changed, to one of surprise.

“You don’t think it was one of my men?”

“Oddly enough no. But don’t ask me why.”

“It is very interesting that you should say that, because in our initial investigation, it appeared none of our officer’s weapons had been discharged. A forensic investigation into the bullet tells us it was one that is used in our weapons, but…”

I could see their dilemma.

“Have you any enemies that would want to shoot you Mr Pargeter?”

That was absurd because I had no enemies, at least none that I knew of, much less anyone who would want me dead.

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“Then it is strange, and will perhaps remain a mystery. I will let you know if anything more is revealed in our investigation.”

She took an envelope out of her briefcase and opened it, pulling out several sheets of paper.

I knew what it was. A verbal apology was one thing, but a signed waiver would cover them legally. They had sent a pretty girl to charm me. Perhaps using anyone else it would not have worked. There was potential for a huge litigation payout here, and someone more ruthless would jump at the chance of making a few million out of the Italian Government.

“We need a signature on this document,” she said.

“Absolving you of any wrong doing?”

“I have apologized. We will take whatever measures are required for your comfort after this event. We are accepting responsibility for our actions, and are being reasonable.”

They were. I took the pen from her and signed the documents.

“You couldn’t add dinner with you on that list of benefits?” No harm in asking.

“I am unfortunately unavailable.”

I smiled. “It wasn’t a request for a date, just dinner. You can tell me about Rome, as only a resident can. Please.”

She looked me up and down, searching for the ulterior motive. When she couldn’t find one, she said, “We shall see once the hospital discharges you in a few days.”

“Then I’ll pencil you in?”

She looked at me quizzically. “What is this pencil me in?”

“It’s an English colloquialism. It means maybe. As when you write something in pencil, it is easy to erase it.”

A momentary frown, then recognition and a smile. “I shall remember that. Thank-you for your time and co-operation Mr. Pargeter. Good morning.”

© Charles Heath 2015-2021

In a word: Murder

I started off thinking that murder was pretty straight forward, you know, someone pulls out a gun and shoots someone else: murder.  Of course, there are any other means of doing the same crime, by knife, poison, strangulation, or suffocation.

Or, by endless inane conversation.  Much less chance of going to jail with that one.

Its the stuff that keeps crime writers going, fictional detectives detecting and crime scene investigators analysing.

Still the fact someone might be getting away with murder, means they’ve successfully found a way to have their cake and eat it.

Come to think of it how many times have we used that word in vain, like when a child drives you to distraction, red-faced and you say with a great deal of conviction ‘you do that again I’ll murder you’.

Just make sure it doesn’t actually happen, or those words will come back to haunt you.

But this is only one aspect of using the word.

You could, if you want, scream blue murder, which is literally impossible.  In fact, what the does that really mean?

It can also refer to an onerous task or experience, hence the possibility that listening to that discussion about hot water bottles was absolute murder.

For one thing, it probably murdered an hour or two of my time.

It could also describe a comprehensive defeat, that we murdered the other side 86 to nothing.  Come to think of it, I never got to participate in such a game, so that might account for why I’d never heard it used before.

And, lastly…

Did you know it can refer to a flock of a particular type of bird, I think crows.

The cinema of my dreams – Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 20

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

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

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

A chessboard of players

 

I sighed.  Someone else who wasn’t who they seemed to be.

At a guess, it was a gun in my back.  We were far enough away from anyone else for them to recognise what was happening.

“No need for whatever weapon you have in my back.  I’m neither armed nor dangerous.”

“Why are you following me?”

Should I tell her the truth or tell her a lie.  The latter would be the most expedient, but I needed to talk to her, so I went with the former.

“You know O’Connell.”

“Were you the one who attacked me?”

“I told you I meant you no harm.  What happened to you wasn’t my fault.”

Whatever was in my back was no longer there, so I turned around to face her.  She had changed her look since O’Connell’s flat, not only the change in hair colour and length but also the makeup, making it difficult for anyone to recognise her from a distance.  I’d been lucky.

“What do you want with him?”

“More than likely the same as you.  He made the mistake of thinking you were interested in him, but I suspect your assignment was to get close, and the flat next door was as close as you could get.”

“What are you babbling about?  We were friends.”

“How often did he stay in that flat?  Everything in it still has the price tag on it.”

“You’re loopy.  I’m going now, and I suggest you don’t follow me again.”

“I know where you live remember.  All I want is some answers.”

“There are no answers.  He was a friend, that’s it.  I’m going now.”  She turned and started to walk away.

“If I know who you are, the chances are the others do too.”

She stopped.  Interesting response.  In her shoes, my first reaction, if I was an innocent person, would be to call for a policeman to have me taken away for assaulting her.

She turned and took two steps back towards me.  “What are you talking about now?”

“O’Connell’s flat was like Marks and Spenser this morning.  I came and found another woman claiming to live next door, named Josephine, unconscious on the floor, and I didn’t do it by the way.  She works for a man named Nobbin, McConnell’s direct superior, and whom I think, indirectly I do too, and I suspect she was neutralised by another man named Severin.

“Whatever O’Connell was up to, there are a lot of people who want a missing USB with what I suspect is very interesting, and probably damaging information.  You wouldn’t have it, by the way?”

“Who are you?”

“That’s what I’m not sure about.  Like I said, I think I work for the same man whom O’Connell worked for, but before that, I worked with the people who had him killed for whatever was on the USB.”  It sounded far more horrible out loud than it had a few seconds earlier in my head.  God only knew what she was thinking about it.  “Who do you work for, because a woman who can do the transformation you just did is either a call girl or an agent?”  Another thought just occurred to me, a reason perhaps why she had changed her appearance so radically.  “Your flat was searched too, wasn’t it?”

No need to answer yes or no.  The look on her face was enough.

 

We ordered coffee and sat down.  She was still very wary of me, but since I seemed to know, or presumed to know, what had happened, she was going to ask me some questions I wasn’t going to be able to answer.

And not because the answers were in the top-secret category, it was simply because I didn’t know.

“So,” I asked, “who do you work for?”

“You don’t need to know.”

“But you were either keeping O’Connell close company by insinuating yourself into his life, or you were maintaining some sort of surveillance.”

She was plating it close, and with a poker face.  She was better at it than I was.

“Where is he, by the way?”

“Dead.”

“Dead?”  

No mistaking that look of fear the flickered on her face, then disappear again into rocky granite.

“Dead.  Seems he came across some information, and it caused his death.  I was there shortly before he died, shot by a sniper, I think, and there was nothing I could do about it.  Any idea what that information was?”

“I still don’t know what you’re talking about, but either way, if I did or I didn’t the answer would be the same, no.  He told me he was a reporter, working on a really big story, and that he would have to go away for a few days.  I knew that was his cover story.”

“Were you after that same information?”

“Probably, maybe, I don’t know.  Our information was mostly conjecture, a profile built up by our research department, based on his travels, and sightings at a location we know is running a network of agents.  The conclusion was that it was not one of ours, so I was assigned to find out exactly who they were.”

“O’Connell would not have told you.”

“Given the circumstances I find myself in, I’m beginning to think that.  If you worked with him, then he was on the same side as you, so are you good or bad?”

That was a rather interesting question to be asking me at this late stage, and especially after she had told me basically what I needed to know, bar who she worked for, but that, I was beginning to think, was MI6.

“A rather silly question to ask, don’t you think?  It stands to reason that if I was bad, then I would not have left you alive in O’Connell’s flat.”

“Not unless you wanted something from me and set this up as a trap.”

So that was the reason why she kept checking everyone she could see upstairs and monitoring the stairs to see who arrived and left.  We were in the right spot to keep tabs on everyone.  And I knew her gun wasn’t very far from her hand.

“Obviously you don’t have it, so my work is done here.  I suggest you don’t go back to that flat.”  I stood.  “Your location and probably who you are is compromised.  And two men and their attack dogs will be looking for you.  Good luck with that.”

“Aren’t you one of those two men attack dog, by your own admission?”

“I’m new and not cynical enough to shoot people out of hand.  You’re probably lucky in that regard.  And if someone like me can find you, then think what a seasoned professional would be able to do.  Have a nice life, what you have left of it.”

© Charles Heath 2019

Searching for locations: Salzburg, Austria

Along with My Fair Lady, another of my favorite musicals was Sound of Music and having seen it a number of times over the years, it had conjured up a number of images of Salzburg in my mind, and with them a desire to go there.  We had been to Salzburg once before, an overnight train stop between Vienna and Innsbruck, an afterthought, but what we saw then was reason enough to come back later and spend several days.

A pity then the day we arrived, and for much of our stay, it rained.  But, like hardened travelers, very little stops us from doing anything, and particularly sightseeing.

We stayed at the Crowne Plaza – The Pitter in a very well-appointed room.  Breakfast included, it was a great way to start the day.  The afternoon we arrived we went for a short walk to the old city passing through the Mirabelle gardens with the Pegasus Fountain, Rose Garden, and Dwarves Garden.  Later we discovered that the archway had been used in part of the filming of Sound of Music.

We took the Festungsbahn funicular railway up to the Fortress Hohensalzburg, dating back to 1077, and the largest fortress still standing in Europe.  We spent a pleasant afternoon wandering through the rooms and exhibits and then had lunch at a café, the Salzburg Fortress Café, that overlooked the countryside.  This was where we were introduced to Mozart Gold Chocolate Cream added to our coffee.

It led us to search for the product which we eventually found in a confectionary store, Holzemayr in the Alter Markt.  Not only sis we find the Gold liqueur there was also a dark chocolate variety as well.  We bought a whole box to bring back with us, as well as a number of other chocolates including Victor Schmidt Austrian Mozart Balls, a delicious chocolate and marzipan combination.

With another afternoon to spare we visited the Salzburg Residence which previously housed Salzburg’s ruling prince-archbishops.  We visited the reception rooms and living quarters, as well as the Gallery.  It is as ornate as any of the palaces in Austria, resplendent with furnishings and paintings.  After that, the visit to Mozart’s birthplace was something of an anticlimax.

But, what we were in Salzburg for, the Sound of Music tour, and the places we visited:

The Mirabelle gardens, where Maria sang Do Re Mi in front of the gates to the gardens.  We spent some time here before and after the tour, and also has a look inside the Mirabelle Palace, which is not open to the public as it is the city administrative offices.

Leopoldskron Palace where the boating scene was filmed as well as exteriors.  They were not allowed to film inside the place and were only allowed to use the exterior.  An interesting tidbit of information, one of the children nearly drowned.

Heilbrunn palace is now home to the gazebo where Rolf and Leisl sang their song, ‘16 going on 17’.  The interesting part of this was the fact the Gazebo used to film the scene was much larger than the actual Gazebo on display.

The walkway from the fortress back to the old city passes Nonnberg Abbey where Maria was a novice, and where the opening scenes were filmed.  A number of scenes were filmed here, including the song ‘Maria’ in the courtyard.  The tour only showed the exterior of the Abbey.

Salzburg lake district where panorama and picnic scenes were filmed.  Even on the dullest of days, during which throughout our tour in continually rained, the scenery was still magnificent.

Mondsee church, where the wedding scenes were filmed.  It was surprising just how small the church really is.  It was also a stop to have afternoon tea or some ‘famous’ apple strudel.

Needless to say, we watched Sound of Music straight after the tour and managed to pick out all of the places we had been to.  The only downside to the tour, singing along to the songs.  I’m sorry, but I do not sing, and some of those that were, well, I say no more.

I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 26

Where the hell are we?

When I opened my eyes, there was a moment where I felt I was rising up from the bottom of the ocean, holding my breath, and heading towards the light.

I was in the captain’s seat, and as my vision focussed, I sucked in a huge breath and sat up. There were others in front of me still slumped over their consoles, barely visible in the emergency lighting.

I tried standing intending to go over to the navigation console and felt my legs buckling under me, and had to sit down again.

I heard a groan from behind me, followed by, “What happened?”

It was the Chief Engineer.

I turned just as he attempted to stand and collapsed to the floor.

I tried again, with more success, and walked slowly over to him. That was when a different sort of light illuminated the bridge and, when I turned to see what it was, just saw the edge of a planet come into view.

We were very close, and it seemed the ship had adopted a circumnavigation path. The ship also seemed to be slowly rotating, hence the changing view of the planet.

Others were stirring. I helped the Chief Engineer up.

“Whatever happened,” I said, “we seemed to have traveled to an as-yet-unnamed planet.”

“Mars perhaps?” He sat back at his console.

A voice yelled out, “not Mars sir, Uranus. And in the distance, that reddish-colored moon is Oberon I think.”

Exactly where the alien ship had said there was a colony, under the ice surface.

I turned to the Engineer, “Chief, what’s the state of the ship?”

“It apparently is on standby, awaiting our command. It is as the Navigator says, we are at Uranus, in a geosynchronous orbit.”

The moon that we believed to be Oberon came up on the screen, and standing off it was three ships, the two that we had encountered, and a larger ship, no doubt belonging to the kidnappers.

“Do you have the elapsed time since we started the test?” I was curious how long we had been unconscious.

I would also like to know why were ended up unconscious, but that was a matter for later. The other problem; the three ships would soon discover our arrival and would be curious themselves, and I didn’t like the odds if we had to go into battle.

“Sixty-five earth minutes, sir.”

I’m sure he would tell me just how fast we had traveled soon enough. “I’ve got to get back down to engineering. I’ll have a report as soon as possible, but, if required, we’re on standby for any operation you deem necessary.”

“Very good.” Then, “Any chance we arrived un-noticed?” I asked the navigator.

“No sir. We were just scanned, so they know something is out there.”

I found it surprising that the kidnappers had told me precisely where they were going. Perhaps they had not expected our ship could follow them, and that, until just over an hour ago, was exactly our thoughts too.

“Is it possible to scan the moon, and the planet?”

“In the process of doing so, sir.”

I went over to the military console where the officer was quickly checking all the systems. “Everything online and available?”

“As far as I can tell. We should be able to retaliate if we have to.”

“It may be sooner than we think. One of the ships, a smaller one, is heading in this direction.”

I yelled out, “Anyone needing medical assistance?”

No one replied. It seems they had all suffered the same malaise I had, a period of unconsciousness. Then a series of reports filled the bridge as each officer reported their systems were online and ready.

I then asked the ship’s department heads to report in, and each came back, not asking the obvious question, but to say everything, and everyone, was ok.

Five minutes later, the ship could be seen approaching us, stopping in indeterminable distance from us, but it was quite close, close enough to make out the detail of the outer hull, and, I noticed, for one of the scientists to scan the vessel and take photographs for reference if we needed to know about it later. The first alien ship in our database.

Then a voice came over the communications system, not one of ours. “Hailing earth ship’s captain. We are sending one of your crew back to you, we do not know what is wrong with him.”

The next instant the captain, in a prone poisition, appeared on the deck in front of the chair. “Medical team to the bridge,” I said.

I went over to him, and he appeared asleep. I checked for a pulse, and there wasn’t one. He was cold, and not a good sign.”

“We have him,” I said. “What happened?”

“He collapsed. Our medical people tell me from what they know of your physiology, that he has stopped breathing, and possibly had what you call a heart attack. I assure you we did not harm him, or your other crew member in any way.”

One of the ship’s doctors came out of the elevator and ran over to us, and immediately did a scan. We were the first ship, the first people, in fact, to use the new technology which was supposed to diagnose most of the problems humans could suffer in a matter of minutes.

“He’s dead, sir,” the doctor pronounced. He had brought several others on the medical team, along with the means to transport him back to the hospital.

They carefully lifted the captain onto the mobile stretcher. “Permission to leave, sir?”

I nodded.

The alien captain, if it was him, came back, “We would like to know how your ship managed to get here so quickly. Our knowledge of your technology makes it impossible for you to travel such distances as you have, and especially in that ship.”

“We’re trying to work that out ourselves. Would you like to tell us how you can move so quickly yourself?”

“We have nothing to hide. Perhaps we could meet and discuss it.”

© Charles Heath 2021

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 76

Here’s the thing…

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

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

But these dreams are nothing to laugh about.

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

The sheriff calls

It’s not often a patrol car stopped outside your residence without a reason for doing so.

I just happened to be looking out the windows when it pulled up, and I first thought it was the sheriff here to visit my mother.

It was hard to imagine my mother being the object of men’s attention, particularly one the top lawman in the county, and the other, a top criminal.

Both were charming in their own way, but it was the baggage both brought with them that bothered me.  I tried not to think of the ramifications if she married either one.  At worst, I could not see Alex as a brother, nor Charlene as a sister, not after what we had done at the last school summer camp

The pounding on the door interrupted that thought.  I heard my mother’s muffled voice from upstairs telling me to see who it was, and when I opened the door, it was one of the sheriff’s deputies, Anderson, big brother to a school friend, and the most unlikely to become a lawman.  I guess he turned his life around.

“Sam.”

“Joel.”

“The sheriff would like to see you.”

“He could have rung.”

“He likes the personal touch.”

It must be serious if he sent a deputy.  “When?”

“Now.”

“And if I can’t come now?”

He took a pair of handcuffs out of his belt.  “There’s the hard way and there’s the easy way.”

Serious enough then.  “Why?”

“I learned a long time ago to follow orders, not question them.  I don’t know, and I don’t care.  Did you do anything wrong?”

“No.”

I heard my mother coming down the stairs behind me.  “Who is it?”

“Deputy Joel.”

“What can we do for you?” She asked.

“The sheriff would like a word with your son, ma’am.”

“Why?”

Was that a look of exasperation on his face?

“He didn’t confide in me, ma’am, just asked me to escort him down to the station.”

“This’ll be to do with that Nadia,” she muttered.  “I told you she is trouble.”

I shrugged.  “Let’s go.”  Time to escape a lecture.

I had time to think why the sheriff would want to see me, and remembered that I’d spoken to Charlene, and it had to be that she had as I suggested, spoken to her father and it must have something to do with that.

Anyone outside the sheriff’s office seeing Deputy Joel and I arrive might have got the impression I’d just been arrested, except I was not in handcuffs.  There was no doubt Joel had wanted to use them, all the more reason to be co-operative.

We walked through the foyer towards the rear where the sheriff’s office was, and he sat me down on an uncomfortable bench.  At the other end was a girl in a party dress looking hungover.  The foyer was a hive of activity.

The sheriff put his head out the door.  “Sam, come in.”

It was the first time in his office, not the first time in the station.  My father had a few run-ins with the law, in the early years of the current sheriff’s tenure, as part of the alumni group of my mother, father, the sheriff, and Benderby.  It was the fact he was a friend of and worked with Benderby that he found himself under suspicion so often, and my memories of him were when my mother and I came to bail him out.

It was probably one of the reasons why I couldn’t understand why she let Benderby in the door.

The room was small and it felt crowded surrounded by files and papers.  His desk was a mess, with two half-drunk mugs of coffee sitting to one side.

He looked like a man under great stress.

He picked up the phone and pressed a number, then said, “Can you join us?”

A minute later Charlene came in and closed the door behind her.  She then sat in the chair next to mine, and rather close.

Was it a form of intimidation?

The sheriff leaned back in his chair and it creaked under his weight.  “Charlene tells me you think young Benderby is involved in what happened to the professor.  How did you come to this conclusion?  You should realize that making accusations such as this against a member of an influential family such as the Benderbys could afford you some unwanted attention, and not only from their lawyers.”

I had considered that but had expected the sheriff would be more proactive in his investigation.  It seemed he was taking a more cautious approach.

“You said you overheard Alex at work,”  Charlene added a nail in the coffin. 

“It seems unlikely that Alex would be that stupid, Sam, so it leads me to believe you either have some other means of identifying him as being involved, or it’s just a petty act of revenge, which, knowing you as I do, is unlikely.  Which is it?  The fact you know about this so-called room where mall cops were located, the location of a safe, and where the combination is, is very specific.”

Was this a version of good cop bad cop?  I hadn’t thought it through, thinking Charlene might want to take a win.  It didn’t take in the possibility the sheriff would be overly cautious in taking on a Benderby.

Except that I forgot it was an election year, and there were a few younger and more qualified candidates in the mix.  Age and experience were not going to cut this year.  He was going to need a win and taking down a Benderby would put him firmly in the public eye.

“You can’t tell me that Rico was responsible for the professor’s death.  He wasn’t killed on that boat, despite the way the body was left.  I was there, that crime scene was staged.”  Time to come out fighting.

“So you’re a crime scene expert now?”

“Keen observation, no indication of blood spatter from the look of the wounds, which to me looked like torture.  I did some research, and the professor apparently had a diary that belonged to the pirate that everyone believes hid the so-called treasure somewhere along this coastline.  Did you think to find out why the professor was here, certainly his last movements, and whether or not Alex Benderby contacted him?”

I’m sure they did, not that they would probably tell me.

Charlene glared at me.  Perhaps insulting her ability put an edge to her tone.  “A timeline of the victim’s last movements was done.”

A reproving look from her father, she should not be discussing case details with the public.

She glared back at him.  “Damn it, I will not be insulted.”

The sheriff gave me a rather curious look.  Perhaps I was not so off the mark, so I said, “He’s been here before, you know when those coins were pulled out if the cove.  He came down to identify them.  I think he had the diary then, which was why he came back.”

“How is it you know so much about this professor?”

“Unlike Boggs, I have an interest in historical detail, perhaps Boggs should not have asked for me to help him, but if I’m going to do something I like to be thorough.”

“Yes, it’s been noticed.  A session at the library, and surprisingly, a stash of documents scooped up from Ormiston.  I know you read his diaries.  Then you hit the newspaper office and looked at back issues of the paper.”

She or one of the deputies had been following me around.  I wondered briefly whether they’d been following Boggs around too.

“And we know you went to the mall with Nadia Cossatino.  So, your information was not gleaned from overhearing conversations, you’ve actually been in that room.”

Guilty as charged, but silence might be the better option here until their objective came clear.

“Knowing you as I do, Sam, I doubt it was your idea to go sneaking about that mall.  Your association, for want of a better word, with Nadia is going to lead you down a dark path, and I know your mother is worried about you.  The Cossatinos and Benderbys are sworn enemies, and you do not want to get caught in the crossfire.  She was obviously motivated by causing trouble for the Benderbys.”

Possible, but unlikely, yet what had she hoped to gain by taking me there?  And it was clear my mother was using the sheriff to get me to stay away from Nadia.

“I’m not interested in charging you with trespass, or lecturing you on the dangers of wandering around a place like that, but there may be something to the allegations.  We managed to get a stay on the demolition for that room, and it’s now an active crime scene.  How long have you known about this.”

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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