Conversations with my cat – 85

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This is Chester.  We’ve just got the news that our granddaughters’ dog had been taken to the vet.

It’s serious.

But it’s a dog, Chester mutters.  Perhaps I should get sick…

Don’t tell me you’re feeling unloved again.

He sits on my desk, again, giving me the steely-eyed look.

This is about the litter again, isn’t it?

We changed his litter for a cheaper brand.  For some reason, it’s getting more expensive to keep a cat, and the usual brand of litter jumped to nearly double what it was when we first bought it.

He just sticks his nose in the air and refuses to answer.

Well, I’m sorry, but we must economize.

Perhaps then you could use a cheaper brand of toilet paper.

OK, where did that come from?

Four-ply luxury while I get shredded paper.

He jumps off the desk and walks off, but not before saying, this isn’t over.

I can see this is going to be another test of wills.

And who is going to lose!

“Trouble in Store” – Short stories my way: Editing (1)

First drafts are always a little messy.  The words spill out onto the page, and it’s rare that any or all of them are perfect.  Sometimes you get lucky, but most of the time you don’t.

That’s why there’s revision, or by the more dreaded name, editing.

Editing conjures up a lot of different images in my mind, from completely re-writing, to cutting the mss down in size.  Or where you discover the main character’s name has changed from Bill to Fred after a bad night.

Usually, though, as stories progress, they go through a number of rewrites, and sometimes because of what follows.  It depends on how long a period the story is written.  Some of mine take days, others quite a lot longer.

This is the rewrite of the first section of the short story I’m undertaking, adding some new details:

 

Jack was staring down the barrel of a gun.

He had gone down to the corner shop to get a pack of cigarettes.

He had to hustle because he knew the shopkeeper, Alphonse, liked to close at 11:00 pm sharp.  His momentum propelled him through the door, causing the customer warning bell to ring loudly as the door bashed into it, and before the sound had died away, he knew he was in trouble.

It took a second, perhaps three, to sum up the situation. 

Young girl, about 16 or 17, scared, looking sideways at a man on the ground, then Alphonse, and then Jack.  He recognized the gun, a Luger, German, relic of WW2, perhaps her father’s souvenir, now pointing at him then Alphonse, then back to him.

Jack to another second or two to consider if he could disarm her.  No, the distance was too great.  He put his hands out where she could see them.  No sudden movements, try to remain calm, his heart rate up to the point of cardiac arrest.

Pointing with the gun, she said, “Come in, close the door, and move towards the counter.”

Everything but her hand steady as a rock.  The only telltale sign of stress, the beads of perspiration on her brow.  It was 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the shop.

Jack shivered, and then did as he was told.  She was in the unpredictable category.

“What’s wrong with your friend?”  Jack tried the friendly approach, as he took several slow steps sideways towards the counter.

The shopkeeper, Alphonse, seemed calmer than usual, or the exact opposite spoke instead, “I suspect he’s an addict, looking for a score.  At the end of his tether, my guess, and came to the wrong place.”

Wrong time, wrong place, in more ways than one Jack thought, now realizing he had walked into a very dangerous situation.  She didn’t look like a user.  The boy on the ground, he did, and he looked like he was going through the beginnings of withdrawal.

 “Simmo said you sell shit.  You wanna live, ante up.”  She was glaring at Alphonse. 

The language, Jack thought, was not her own, she had been to a better class of school, a good girl going through a bad boy phase. Caught in a situation she was not equipped to deal with.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

Writing about writing a book – Day 28

Of course, holiday or not, there’s always something that can go wrong.

Or the fact an enforced holiday can always backfire.

Like now.

 

I’d almost managed to doze off again when the phone rang.

I jumped to its equally shrill sound cutting through the silence.  It had to be a wrong number because no one at work would call me, and I didn’t have many friends, so I let it ring out.  As far as I could remember, it was only the third time it had rung since I’d moved in, four years ago.

Blissful silence.  I looked at the bedside clock.  7 am.  Who called anyone at that hour?

It rang again.

Ignore it, I thought.  If it was anyone, it would be someone from the office.  I’d told them all not to call me, not unless the building was burning down and they were all trapped in it.

And even then, I’d have to think about it.

Burying my head under the pillow didn’t shut out the insistent ringing, compelling me to answer.  Almost reluctantly I rolled back, pulled the telephone out from under the bed, and lifted the receiver to my ear.

“Bill?”

It was Carl Benton, my immediate superior; an insipid, loathsome, irritating little man, the last person I would want to speak to.  He’d insisted I take this leave, that the office could survive without me, adding in his most condescending manner that I needed the break.

I slammed the receiver down in anger.  It was a forlorn gesture.  Seconds later, it rang again.

“I seem to remember you were the one to tell me to go on holiday, that I needed a holiday.  I’m off the roster.  It can’t be that important.  Call someone else.”  I wasn’t going to give him the opportunity to speak.  Not this morning.  I was not in the mood to listen to that squeaky, falsetto voice of his, one that always turned into a whine when he didn’t get his way.

And hung up again.

Not that it would do any good.  I knew that even if I was in Tibet, he would still call.  Then I realized it was too early for him to be in the office, and if he was, he would have been dragged out of bed and put in a position where if he didn’t produce results, they might realize just how incompetent he was.

At last, my holiday had some meaning and smiled to myself.  I’d make the bastard sweat.

He left it a few minutes before he rang again.  And I let it ring out.  I could see the expression on his face, bewilderment, changing slowly into suffused anger.  How dare I ignore him!

Another five minutes, then the phone began its shrill insistence again.  Before it rang again, I’d moved it from the floor to the bed.  I counted the rings, to ten, and then picked up the receiver.

“Bill?  Don’t hang up.”  Almost pleading.

“Why?  You said I should go, away from work, away from the phones, away to recharge my batteries, I believe you said.”

“That was Friday.  This is Monday. You’re needed.  Richardson has been found shot dead by his desk.  All hell has broken loose!”  Benton rarely used adjectives, so I assumed when he said all hell had broken loose, it meant something had happened he couldn’t fix.  His flowery language and telegram style had momentarily distracted my attention from Richardson’s fate.

Harold Richardson was an accountant, rather stuffy, but good at his job.  I’d spoken to him probably twice in as many years, and he didn’t strike me as the sort who would kill himself.  So why did I think that?  Benton had only said he was shot.

Benton’s voice went up an octave, a sure sign he was going into meltdown.  “It’s a circus down here.  Jennifer is missing, Giles is not in yet, the network is down, and that bunch of nincompoops you call support staff are running around the office like headless chooks.”

It all came out in a nonstop sentence, followed by a gasp for air.  It gave me time to sift the facts.  Jennifer, my sometime assistant, and responsible for data entry and accounts maintenance, was not there, which in itself was unusual, because she kept longer hours than me, Peter Giles, my youthful assistant, just out of university and still being beaten into shape was not in, and that was usual, so it could only mean one thing.

The network was down.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

 

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.

Inspiration, maybe

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

lookingdownfromcoronetpeak

And the story:

 

It was once said that a desperate man has everything to lose.

The man I was chasing was desperate, but I, on the other hand, was more desperate to catch him.

He’d left a trail of dead people from one end of the island to the other.

The team had put in a lot of effort to locate him, and now his capture was imminent.  We were following the car he was in, from a discrete distance, and, at the appropriate time, we would catch up, pull him over, and make the arrest.

There was nowhere for him to go.

The road led to a dead-end, and the only way off the mountain was back down the road were now on.  Which was why I was somewhat surprised when we discovered where he was.

Where was he going?

 

“Damn,” I heard Alan mutter.  He was driving, being careful not to get too close, but not far enough away to lose sight of him.

“What?”

“I think he’s made us.”

“How?”

“Dumb bad luck, I’m guessing.  Or he expected we’d follow him up the mountain.  He’s just sped up.”

“How far away?”

“A half-mile.  We should see him higher up when we turn the next corner.”

It took an eternity to get there, and when we did, Alan was right, only he was further on than we thought.”

“Step on it.  Let’s catch him up before he gets to the top.”

Easy to say, not so easy to do.  The road was treacherous, and in places just gravel, and there were no guard rails to stop a three thousand footfall down the mountainside.

Good thing then I had the foresight to have three agents on the hill for just such a scenario.

 

Ten minutes later, we were in sight of the car, still moving quickly, but we were going slightly faster.  We’d catch up just short of the summit car park.

Or so we thought.

Coming quickly around another corner we almost slammed into the car we’d been chasing.

“What the hell…” Aland muttered.

I was out of the car, and over to see if he was in it, but I knew that it was only a slender possibility.  The car was empty, and no indication where he went.

Certainly not up the road.  It was relatively straightforward for the next mile, at which we would have reached the summit.  Up the mountainside from here, or down.

I looked up.  Nothing.

Alan yelled out, “He’s not going down, not that I can see, but if he did, there’s hardly a foothold and that’s a long fall.”

Then where did he go?

Then a man looking very much like our quarry came out from behind a rock embedded just a short distance up the hill.

“Sorry,” he said quite calmly.  “Had to go if you know what I mean.”

 

I’d lost him.

It was as simple as that.

I had been led a merry chase up the hill, and all the time he was getting away in a different direction.

I’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book, letting my desperation blind me to the disguise that anyone else would see through in an instant.

It was a lonely sight, looking down that road, knowing that I had to go all that way down again, only this time, without having to throw caution to the wind.

“Maybe next time,” Alan said.

“We’ll get him.  It’s just a matter of time.”

 

© Charles Heath 2019

Find this and other stories in “Inspiration, maybe”  available soon.

InspirationMaybe1v1

 

 

I’ve always wanted to go on a Treasure Hunt – Part 35

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.

 

It was an understatement to say I was dreading going to Boggs’ place.

In fact, in the hour it took to get through the morning chores I had time to consider how and why I was in this position.  Boggs was a friend.  We were friends at school and as best we could we had each other’s back when the bullies came out to play.

At times that didn’t amount to much because as everyone knows, bullies hunt in packs.  Six against two wasn’t much of an equation.  And it those days, the teachers spent more time hiding from the students than being in front of them.

It was simply a case of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

It didn’t feel like that, not for a very long time.

But, in the end, misfortune can make strange bedfellows, and in a town that depended on a single industry, it soon became apparent that there were more people against the Benderby’s and the Cossatino’s than for, and in small-town politics, that was more than an evening up.  Out of school and separated from their acolytes, both Alex and Vince found that whatever influence they had once, was now gone, and all that was left was a grunt, and we were basically left alone.

Boggs was the dreamer.

He had idolized his father and when he went missing it broke him.

This map thing was the first signs of Boggs finally coming back to life, but the problem was, it was all pinned on false hopes.  The Sherriff was right.  Boggs was in over his head, playing with the two most vicious families from around here, and it was bad enough that his father had fallen foul of them, the Sherriff was not about to see his son go the same way.  I was going to try and talk Boggs out of it.

Yet, on the other hand, it was people like us who needed a win, just to show there was still hope in this place.  With threats every day that the factory might have to close, there were dark clouds hanging over everyone’s head.

If the factory closed, there was going to be a very large hole in the local economy and a lot of people in financial trouble.  I’m not sure how finding the treasure might solve all of that, but I suspect Boggs’ had something up his sleeve.

I knocked on the door and his mother answered.  She looked harried.  She was a nurse and looked as though she just got home from the night shift at the hospital.  

“Boggs is in his room.”

“How are you this morning?”

“Tired.  And an afternoon shift, which I might not get to if I don’t get some sleep.  You know where he is.  Try not to make any noise.”

“Will do.”

I came in and closed the door, watching her dash off down the passage to the other end of the house.

She could not work endless double shifts for much longer, but like all of us, it was not out of desire but necessity.  She had implored Boggs to get a job and help, but he seemed oblivious to the problem.  I’d tried to speak to him, but he had that insufferable way of just not listening.

Boggs was in his room, sitting on the bed and staring at the ceiling.

I looed up too, but there was nothing there.

“Don’t tell me,” I said, “but you’ve suddenly discovered you’ve got X-Ray vision.”

“If only.  I could use it right now to find something that’s missing>”

“Your cell phone?”  Boggs was always misplacing something, of forgetting it.  I’d lost count how many times he’d misplaced his phone.

“No.  An underground river.”

OK.  That was out of left field.  I had no idea any rivers were missing, or, in fact, they could actually go missing.

Apparently, they could.

“There’s two,” he said.  300 years ago five or take this part of the coastline had several rivers that ran down from the mountain range.  What we now call the hills on the edge of the coastal plain.  There was also a lake, not very large, but it used to have several streams flow into it all year round and had an aqua flow that came out along the coastline.”

“And you figured all of this out from what?  A copy of the treasure map.”

The moment he started quoting rivers, streams, and lakes, I remembered each of those geographical features appeared on several of the map versions.  I had suggested, rather comically, that it would be funny if the treasure was buried in the lake.

It wasn’t all that funny.  It was also possible.

“Imagine this.  Drop anchor out to sea, in other words on the other side of the natural sandbar that formed at the seaward side of the river, get in the longboats and row inshore to the lake, across the lake, up another river to the base of the hills.  Then do a little exploring, north or south, and find a cave.  I reckon the treasure was buried in a cave.  We know there are caves up there, not many, but I think there used to be more.”

“Someone already did a survey with some rather fancy electronic equipment with the same idea in mind.  He found three, not very long, and certainly without treasure.  Two had substantial falls inside, which is why they were buried.”

“There’s more.”

He jumped up off the bed and went over to the robe and opened the door.  Tacked on the back was a copy of an ordnance survey map of this part of the coastline, and a tracing of the treasure map, to the same scale on top.

“As you can see, I think ‘I’ve found the correlation between the real, and what was real 300 years ago.”

Except there’s no rivers and no lake.  And no sand bar as I recall.  There was a small marina in what might have been where the river met the sea, but that’s gone.  They filled it in and build a shopping mall on it.  A huge, now half empty, shopping mall.  A modern wonder 40 years ago that was supposed to bring business and shoppers to the town.  For a few years it did, until another town 50 miles away got the same idea, sold the land for half the price, and made the rents a quarter of what they were here.

They called it progress.

We called it piracy.

“Then we can hardly row our boat inshore and up the stream, if it’s not there.”

I hated to state the obvious.

“But,” he said, looking like the cat who’d swallowed the canary.  “What if it is still there, but we just can’t see it?”

© Charles Heath 2020