In a word: Keep

Yes, this is an easy one.

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

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

Paring it with other words is where it gets complicated.

For instance,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is it?

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

At least, that was the theory.

In a word: well

At first, you would think this word has something to do with your health.

You’d be right.  “Are you well?” or “Are you well enough?”

Of course, it can cause some confusion, because how do you measure degrees of wellness.

Reasonably well, very well, not well, or just well.  Not a good descriptive word for the state of your health, maybe.

How about what if the team played well.  Not health this time, but a standard.

There’s ordinary, mediocre, as a team, brilliantly, and then there’s well.

It seems it can be used to describe an outcome.

Well, well.

Hang on, that’s something else again.

What about, then, we use the word to describe a hole in the ground with water at the bottom.

Or not if it is a drought.

A lot of people get water from a well, in fact in the olden days that was a common sight in a village.

What about those environment destroyers, oilmen.  They have oil wells, don’t they?

And when I went to school, there were ink wells on every desk.

Messy too, because I was once the ink monitor.

But if the well’s dried up?

It becomes a metaphor for a whole new bunch of stuff.

OR what about a stairwell?

And at the complexity of it all, for such a small word, tears well up in my eyes.

Searching for locations: Kaikoura, New Zealand, and, of course, the whales

I’m sure a lot of people have considered the prospect of whale watching.  I’m not sure how the subject came up on one of our visits to New Zealand, but I suspect it was one one of those tourist activity leaflets you find in the foyer of motels, hotels, and guesthouses.

Needless to say, it was only a short detour to go to Kaikoura and check out the prospect.

Yes, the ocean at the time seemed manageable.  My wife has a bad time with sea sickness, but she was prepared to make the trip, after some necessary preparations.  Seasickness tablets and special bands to wear on her wrist were recommended and used.

The boat was large and had two decks, and mostly enclosed.  There were a lot of people on board, and we sat inside for the beginning of the voyage.  The sea wasn’t rough, but there was about a meter and a half swell, easily managed by the boat while it was moving.

It took about a half hour or so to reach the spot where the boat stopped and a member of the crew used a listening device to see if there were any whales.

That led to the first wave of sickness.

We stopped for about ten minutes, and the boat moved up and down on the waves.  It was enough to start the queasy stomachs of a number of passengers.  Myself, it was a matter of going out on deck and taking in the sea air.  Fortunately, I don’t get seasick.

Another longish journey to the next prospective site settled a number of the queasy stomachs, but when we stopped again, the swell had increased, along with the boat’s motion.  Seasick bags were made available for the few that had succumbed.

By the time we reached the site where there was a whale, over half the passengers had been sick, and I was hoping they had enough seasick bags, and then enough bin space for them.

The whale, of course, put on a show for us, and those that could went out on deck to get their photos.

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By the end of the voyage, nearly everyone on board was sick, and I was helping to hand out seasick bags.

Despite the anti sickness preparations, my wife had also succumbed.  When we returned and she was asked if the device had worked, she said no.

But perhaps it had because within half an hour we were at a cafe eating lunch, fish and chips of course.

This activity has been crossed off the bucket list, and there’s no more whale watching in our traveling future.  Nor, it seems, will we be going of ocean liners.

Perhaps a cruise down the Rhine might be on the cards.  I don’t think that river, wide as it is in places, will ever have any sort of swell.

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to write a war story – Episode 15

For a story that was conceived during those long boring hours flying in a steel cocoon, striving to keep away the thoughts that the plane and everyone in it could just simply disappear as planes have in the past, it has come a long way.

Whilst I have always had a fascination in what happened during the second world war, not the battles or fighting, but in the more obscure events that took place, I decided to pen my own little sidebar to what was a long and bitter war.

And, so, it continues…

 

The new leader of the resistance was the woman, Martina, best if I didn’t know her last name.  Fair enough.  There had been a necessary restructure after the infiltration, and untimely deaths of over half their number.

When I asked what happened to the former leader, I learned that he, and all but five other members were captured and taken to the castle.  They were now, for all intents and purposes, double agents, working for the Thompson at the castle.

The remaining five, of which Giuseppe and Martina belonged, had been forced to hide, dodging the men sent from the castle to hunt them down and kill them.

It was both the lack of reporting from the castle, followed by a message received regarding a possible traitor inside the resistance we had received in London, that set everything in motion, including my arrival to ascertain what was happening within the resistance group, and also at the castle.  Until that information reached us, there had been no reason to suspect that anything was wrong, and that the plans set in place to facilitate the defection of useful German scientists and, in some cases, high ranking officers, or that it had been infiltrated and to put it bluntly, original members had been killed and replaced.

I hadn’t realised who was in charge until the paratroopers had arrived and I’d become a prisoner.  Part of my brief had also been to verify the layout of the castle in accordance with old plans we had found using my archaeology background as a front, and Id managed to explore certain areas before Thompson had become suspicious and basically stopped me.  I’d searched part of the lower levels of the castle, but hadn’t got as far as the dungeons, where I eventually discovered becoming one myself, they were keeping many more prisoners.

I hadn’t long enough in the dungeons to discover whether any of the prisoners were part of the original team sent, whether there were any defectors being still held there, except for two that I’d seen, and definitely one I talked to, but there had to be more.

And, now that I’d found the remaining members of the resistance, it was my intention to return to rescue then, and retake the castle.  What was going to make it difficult, if not impossible, was the fact there were only five, and they were all busy trying not to get caught.  Still, I had to try, and I asked Martina if it was possible to get everyone together for a meeting.

Martina just laughed.  Whether it was my request or my plan to retake the castle was the cause of her mirth.

“With what?”  she said incredulously, “there are only five of us left, and we spend most of our time keeping one step ahead of the turncoats.”

“How many of them are there?”

“Too many, led by that bastard Francesco.  He didn’t like taking orders from a woman, thought we’d picked the wrong side, especially when the Germans killed about fifty of the villagers when we refused to give ourselves up.  They killed his wife and mother  after he refused to send them away.”

That didn’t seem right to me, to align yourself with that sort of enemy, not after what they had done.  Except there was no telling what anyone might do in the face of such an adversary, or circumstances.  But I had to ask, “Why would they?”

“They’ve got hostages from the village up there, in the dungeons.  That’s how they turned them.”

Damn.  I was not going to be able to turn them back, not when the lives of their friends, even family, was being threatened.

“Is that the case for those who didn’t surrender?”

“No.  Our relatives left when we could see what was going to happen.”

“So, the problem we have is, freeing the hostages, freeing the soldiers if there are any of the original group, retake the castle, and get the pipeline working again.”  And, I thought to myself, pull off seven miracles in fifteen minutes.

I was putting forward what was for all intents and purposes impossible.

“There’s more,” she said.  “There is a high-value scientist coming, last advice was that he was in transit from Germany to here.  We know, and they know, courtesy of Francesco.  They want him captured; we want him safely delivered to the submarine waiting to take him to England.  He’s due in three days, and he doesn’t know the castle’s allegiances have changed.”

“Then we’ll have to intercept him.”

“Yes, but we don’t know what he looks like, but we do have a code name.  Francesco and the castle don’t have that, only his real name.”

A name I saw on a highly confidential document on Forster’s desk the day he briefed me on my current mission.  Blackfoot.  I thought it was an operation.  I think that was the code name for the defector.

“Blackfoot?”

“How did you know?”

“A lucky guess.” 

The question I had was, why didn’t he tell me about it?  Did he think I was going to get captured and tortured?

“Well, you’re right.  But it means Francesco and his men are going to be looking extra hard for us, because without that codename, as soon as they fail to confirm their identity to him, he will kill himself rather than go back, which I’m guessing will be their least preferred option.  And to make matters worse, London’s orders are quite specific, this man must be delivered alive.  He has critical information they need, and which will hasten the end of the war”

“Then I think we should tell London the nature of our situation and see what they come up with.”

 

© Charles Heath 2019

Friday night at a hotel bar

It’s a writer’s paradise for characters

I’m not a night person and even less so a pub person, except perhaps for a Sunday lunch, for what is usually an incomparable steak.

But tonight is different.

We’re meeting people who have come up from Melbourne for a wedding, people we haven’t seen for a long time.

I’m not a conversationalist, so I leave them to it, and go on a character hunt.

And the pickings are rich.

My first victim, If she could be called that, is the one I call the lady in the red dress.

She’s on the other side of 40, with a sort of earthy attractiveness about her.  The first thing to notice, for her age, the dress is too short.  Maybe that’s the fashion and I’m just an old fogey, but it does say something.

She’s definitely single, or perhaps a player, certainly a flirt.  She holds the stage, and talks with her hands, and those around her are captivated.

The untidy hair loosely collected in a hair tie tells me she carries a sort of messy but not messy look, and I wonder at the state of her residence.  It’s a leap I know, but small signs indicate bigger things.

I’ve counted two glasses of beer in an hour and a half, so she is sensible, aware of her surroundings, and of the three men she has spent her time with, it’s hard to pick a winner.  It’s not hard to captivate a loser.

Next comes the party girls three 20 somethings dressed to be noticed, and overly animated and screams look at us.

Oops, they just parked themselves nearby with the very expensive and exotic-looking matching cocktails.  There’s the obligatory selfie together, and then a casual look around to see what’s on offer.

I don’t think there’s a lot, but my standards and their standards are most likely miles apart.

Hang on, news flash, they’re a part of another group nearby, several older office workers who could be the so-called chaperones, or just having a quiet drink before having to go home to any of, a family, a car, an empty flat, or blessed relief the week is finally over.

Next door to us is a family group, the kids are teens, and I’m wondering if the boys are boyfriends.  The mother is an older, very attractive version of the daughter.

Perhaps it’s an experience for the girls because I don’t see a man who could act as a husband unless it’s the second time around with a younger version.

Why not.  Men do it, why can’t women.  But out on the town with your teenage children?

The bar’s entertainment … a single guy playing the guitar, along with backing music that makes him sound better, but people seem to agree that it’s good but not brilliant.

He’s singing covers, which may have made him just so so, perhaps if he sang his own material it might take him to the next level.

But, who cares, no one seems to be listening, the noise level of what seems like a thousand concurrent conversations drowning out any appreciation.  

Of course, it’s headache-inducing because he has the volume so high, just to get over the ambient noise, and in doing so, it takes away the intrinsic musicality of it all, and it’s just more noise to contend with.

I suppose it’s better than canned music.

OK, news flash, the red dress had moved down the table and settled on a prospect, about 15 years younger.  Her animation has intensified, and yes, there’s the casual brushing against him, like a cat marking its territory.

The night is young, and it’s looking good.  I’m not going to pretend I have given a passing thought to spending a few minutes with her, for character creation purposes only.

And yes, we now have a sing-along.  At half-past eight, it’s a bit early for the crowd to be too exuberant.

A squeal shatters the, well, not silence, and is one of the groups pretending like someone had dripped ice down the back of a dress that has no back, the next phase of attention-getting.

And, attention directed their way, they do a little dance, skol the drinks, and with all eyes on them, head to the bar for round two, or is that three.  Several others join them, but they don’t need to do the dance.  The lack of clothes more than makes up for the squeals.

If these are the modern mating rituals a lot has changed in the last 50 years.  Or perhaps not, I’m just too old to remember.

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 49

A matter of diplomacy

I had to wonder, in that brief moment standing there, how I had come from a contented life plying space in a nomadic cargo vessel, to this, in charge of over 2000 crew, on a spaceship the size of a small town, on a mission to find new life out beyond the known edge of space.

And succeeding beyond all expectations without the loss of a single life, or perhaps that wasn’t quite true, the previous captain had become a casualty in exceptional circumstances.

I looked over at the head of Diplomacy.  “Have you given any thought to my suggestion?”

After coming back from the alien vessel, I had immediately gone to the head of the Diplomatic mission and told him to pick a team to go down to the alien planet, telling him that we had been given permission to learn about their culture and others in their galaxy.

There had been no shortage of volunteers, and they had left not much more than an hour after I arrived back on board.  It was an opportunity not to be missed.

The other matter was about leaving some people there until we came back, or the next earth vessel arrived.  It was not what had been considered back on earth before the mission left, but to me it had some merit, perhaps setting up what might be a galactic embassy smoothing the way for other vessels like ours.

A sea of expectant faces, only one asked the question on everyone’s mind, giving my diplomatic chief a little more time to come up with an answer.

“Who are they, and are they like us?”  The fourth officer had finally appeared from his room in engineering where his interest lay, but from a practical standpoint, was there in case the bridge was lost.

“No.  And yes.  They are consciousness in an artificial body that looks like us, but I imagine it would take the form of any being they came in contact with.  I suspect they have evolved beyond the need for a body that wears out over time, which it seems is our problem, and we are only at the threshold of robotics as replacement parts, even bodies.  I don’t know the whole story, but that’s one for the medical people.  But…”

I turned back to my diplomatic expert, “we are going to have to talk to these people and not only that, we need to understand them and their customs before more of us blunder into their territory and do everything wrong.  You have permission to send two representatives to the planet to talk to their scribes, which I believe are most likely historians.  They are going to tell us about the peoples of this galaxy and perhaps beyond.  It will at least give us something to work with before as they rightly put it blunder our way into possible diplomatic nightmares.”

“Do you think they’d let us set up a diplomatic outpost?”

“You could work on a proposal, but for now we have about six days or so to get as much information as we can.  Anything else is your department, and for you to decide.  I understand there are some in your department who signed on in the hope they might get to stay in a new world, but, again, you will have to make a threat assessment based on all of the contacts so far.  I have endured all of the recordings of our encounters are available.”

“How long have I got?”

“Until we reach the Princesses home planet in about three days’ time.”

Not a lot of time to review and assess given most of the encounters were hostile.  But an arrangement with these people would be considered advantageous as a first stop on the way to other galaxies.  And I had no doubt they had a vast store of knowledge of other alien life forms which would be invaluable.

“How did we get stuck with taking the Princess home, and how do we know they will want her back?  We don’t know the precise circumstances of how she got there in the first place.”

The second officer was not backwards in voicing concerns.  He was the ship’s resident Mr doom and gloom.  But for all that, his was a view that could be used as a counterbalance when making a decision.

“A good question and one I intend to get answers to right after we finish here.”

That left general business on the table, departmental reports, crew statuses, and the all-important ship systems.

Good to know the crew was reasonably happy, all performing their duties through the various crises, and systems had only minor failed that the skeleton shipbuilders crew were able to fix, one way or another.

Best of all, the chief engineer was happy, so far.

An hour later, it was time to visit the Princess.

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

“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

Getting the lie of the land

A lot of locations for stories are based on places that I’ve visited. So, any time I’m on holiday, I’m also discreetly observing, and noting, the places with an ulterior motive.

At some point in time they’ll finish up in a story.

Places like Florence, London, Paris, New York and Venice have all been used in recent stories.

Of course places change, and there are some that I can’t get to, so it’s useful having Google Maps and Street View. These can either make up for lack of memory and a be a refresher.

Especially if you need to visit Africa. Parts of several stories are set in Nigeria, not exactly a place I would go, no matter how much I wanted to get the lie of the land, nor would I go to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rwanda, maybe, but in investigating locations, it is interesting to discover that places like Kenya and Rwanda are reasonbly safe. Uganda is more or less the same, but whether I’d visit, as inviting as it might be to see the wildlife (animals that is) I’m thinking Google Maps will do for now.

And, of course, at the moment there is another reason why I can’t get a practical look at overseas locations. Covid-19.

I have always had a fascination for other places, from way back when I was in school and we did a subject called geography. Back then, nearly 60 years ago, we had school atlases that had all of the British colonies, even if they had become independent, coloured red on the maps, and there was a lot of them.

Places like London, of which we also studied in history, always held a fascination for me, and, in particular, the royal family. Oddly enough, I knew all of the kings and queens from 1066 onwards, and yet had no idea who our Prime Ministers in Australia were.

It wasn’t until much later we learned about Australian history.

But seeing places foreign are only part of the story. I have had time during the pandemic when we were not allowed to leave home, to delve into the historical side of Australia, and it has created a fascination for writing a story that has basis in fact.

This was unwittingly pushed along when my grand daughter came home from school with the assignment of writing a story about a character that was affected by a historical event. Thus Eliza at the Eureka Stockade was created.

I remember back in university days when working on the narrative part of my literature stream we were set an assignment based on pictures from a certain period, and a series of written documents to put together a story. Mine was about a passenger on a ship from Melbourne to Geelong in the days before rail around the time of the gold rush.

I’m guessing that’s what is called historical fiction.

Well, it’s time to get back to the mists of time…


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

 

A photograph from the inspirational bin – 8

A picture can paint a thousand words, or more, or less, but…

The interesting thing about a place in the dark, in the distance, and behind a chain wire fence usually means something. Especially when there are mysterious lights involved.

We were at a night sports event, watching over a thousand screaming and yelling kids from five to eighteen pretending to compete in a variety of athletic events.

I was there to nominally to support my granddaughter in her endeavours, but right at that moment, on the far side of the track, what I was really there to see was what was behind the wire fence

“Are you watching, Poppy?”

Well, at that moment I wasn’t, but I did turn just in time to see her clear a meter high high jump and execute an elegent backflip, a result no doubt of the ballet training she had since the age of four. Seven years later those lessons had transformed into a high jumper with a great future.

Except, she couldn’t really care less. It was more about the parents and athletic organisers expectations, than hers. I was there, she told me in a secretive tone, to tell everyone to back off.

if you think spying was a dangerous occupation, then let me tell you trying to navigate a safe path between child and parents, and then the rest of the word, forget it.

So, with my trusty phone camera, slightly modified, I was pretending to take pictures of surrounding trees in the high density lighting for the athletics oval, whilst zooming in on the real target.

And, about to take the money shot, I could feel a tugging on the side of my jacket.

I looked down to see the petulant face of a child not happy.

“You said you were coming to see me perform.”

I had. I looked over at the woman the boss had assigned as my ‘date’, Nancy, and whom I’d introduced as a long time friend who deigned to suffer my invitation so she could meet the girl I was always talking about.

“Yes, Poppy,” she said with an evil undertone. “You said you wanted to see her high jumps. You’d better get over there, while I take some pictures of the trees for you.”

“Why do you want pictures of dumb old trees?” That was a question I would have asked myself, and I didn’t quite have an answer for it.

Nancy did. “Because he’s odd like that. It’s one of the quirks I like about him.” She took the camera out of my hand and shooed us off.

And, heading back to the high jump, she asked, “What’s a quirk?”

“Just ask your father later. He knows all about quirks.”

© Charles Heath 2021