“The Devil You Don’t”, be careful what you wish for

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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 favour 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 ‘favour’ 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 follows.

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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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.

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“The Things We Do For Love” – Coming soon

Is love the metaphorical equivalent to ‘walking the plank’; a dive into uncharted waters?

For Henry the only romance he was interested in was a life at sea, and when away from it, he strived to find sanctuary from his family and perhaps life itself.  It takes him to a small village by the sea, s place he never expected to find another just like him, Michelle, whom he soon discovers is as mysterious as she is beautiful.

Henry had long since given up the notion of finding romance, and Michelle couldn’t get involved for reasons she could never explain, but in the end both acknowledge that something happened the moment they first met.  

Plans were made, plans were revised, and hopes were shattered.

A chance encounter causes Michelle’s past to catch up with her, and whatever hope she had of having a normal life with Henry, or anyone else, is gone.  To keep him alive she has to destroy her blossoming relationship, an act that breaks her heart and shatters his.

But can love conquer all?

It takes a few words of encouragement from an unlikely source to send Henry and his friend Radly on an odyssey into the darkest corners of the red light district in a race against time to find and rescue the woman he finally realizes is the love of his life.

The cover, at the moment, looks like this:

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“Trouble in Store” – Short stories my way: Point of view

If this story was being written the first person the only perspective or point of view would be that of the narrator.

Since we need to have a number of perspectives it is better done in the third person so we can change between characters and try to understand their motivation.

We might look at the first-person perspective for each of the characters later.

The second of the protagonists is the girl with the gun.  How did she get it?  How did the situation deteriorate so quickly?   What is she going to do?

This is a short story and we need to know something about her, so we have to get to the heat of the matter quickly, so let’s start with:

Her mother said she would never amount to anything, and here she was, with a broken drug addict coming apart because she had been cut off from her money, dragged into coming to this shop to leverage drugs from his dealer at the end of a gun.  It was her fault, Jerry said and made her feel responsible, much the same as her parents and everyone else in her life.

One of life’s losers or just a victim?  This theme can go in any direction.

Then a moment to reflect on why she was here:

Why had she agreed to go with Jerry?  At that moment when she picked up the gun off the floor, she realized it was not out of responsibility or fault, it was out of fear.

That gives us the why; he had obviously tried to make her feel responsible and when that failed, he threatened her.  But now there’s a bigger issue, the gun and a situation spiraling out of control.  The thing is, she has the gun and the power to walk away or make matters worse.

The problem was, she has outed the shopkeeper as a dealer in front of someone who had not known.  That now made him a victim as much as she was.

She looked at the two men facing her, a shopkeeper who was a dealer and a customer scared shitless.  As much as she was.  Her gun hand was shaking.

The scene is set, something has to give.

Time for the shopkeeper to weigh in.

“I have no idea what you are talking about.  Please, put the gun down before someone gets hurt.”

It’s a typical response from a man who realizes he’s in trouble and is trying to make time while he thinks of how to rescue himself from a potentially dangerous situation.

Time to change the perspective again and explore the shopkeeper.

If only Jack hadn’t come in when he did.  He would have the gun, called the police, and brazened his way out of trouble.  Who would the police believe a pair of addicts or a respectable shopkeeper?

Now he had to deal with the fallout, especially if the girl started talking.

 

Next, actions have consequences, building the tension.

 

This section rewritten, moving from Jack as the narrator to the girl, and then to the shopkeeper:

 

Annalisa looked at the two men facing her, a shopkeeper who, despite his protestations, was a dealer and a customer scared shitless.

The poor bastard was not the only one.  This was meant to be simple, arrive at the shop just before closing, force the shopkeeper to hand over the shit, and leave.  Simple.

Except …

The shopkeeper told them to get out.  Simmo started ranting waving the gun around, then collapsed.  A race for the gun which spilled out of his hand, she won.

He was getting the stuff when the customer burst into the shop.

Shit, shit, shit, shit, she thought.

Why had she agreed to go with Jerry?  It was her fault, Jerry had said, and he made her feel responsible for his problems, much the same as her parents and everyone else in her life.

Her mother said she would never amount to anything, and here she was, with a drug addict coming apart because she had been cut off from her money, dragged into coming to this shop to pick up his score from his dealer at the end of a gun.

She heard a strange sound come from beside her and looked down.  Simmo was getting worse, like he had a fever, and was moaning.

The shopkeeper saw an opportunity.  “Listen to me, young lady, I have no idea what you are talking about.  Please, put the gun down before someone gets hurt.  Your friend needs medical help and I can call an ambulance.”

The girl switched her attention back to him.  “Shut up, let me think.  Shit.”

The storekeeper glanced over at the customer.  He’s been in once or twice, probably lived in the neighborhood, but looked the sort who’d prefer to be anywhere but in his shop.  More so now.  If only he hadn’t burst in when he did.  He would have the gun, called the police, and brazened his way out of trouble.  Who would the police believe a pair of addicts or a respectable shopkeeper?

Now he had to deal with the fallout, especially if the girl started talking.

 

© Charles Heath 2016 – 2020

 

“Trouble in Store” – Short stories my way: Setting the scene

I used to like writing short stories, somewhere between two and five thousand words, but, in the end, it was too much hard work.

No chance of getting into stride with a location description, no real chance of giving a background to a character, it was simply a case of diving straight in.

But …

I’ve been thinking about writing a short story, starting it with a short succinct sentence that will set the tone.

Something like:  “Jack was staring down the barrel of a gun”

What then?

Should he start analyzing what sort of gun it was, did it have a light trigger, was the person holding it shaking, a man or a woman, or a child?

Location, in a house, a disused factory, a shop, a petrol station, the side of the road.

So, where was Jack?

Something like:  “He had gone down to the corner shop to get a pack of cigarettes.”

For himself or someone else?  Is it day, is it night, or somewhere in between?

Something like:  “He had to hustle because he knew the shopkeeper, Alphonse, liked to close at 11:00 pm sharp, and came through the door, the sound of the bell ringing loudly and the door bashed into it.”

So, Jack’s state of mind, he is in a hurry, careless coming through the door, not expecting anything out of the ordinary.

How would you react when you saw a gun, pointed at Alphonse until the sound of the door warning bell attracted the gunman’s attention?

Is it a gunman?

Something like:  “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, Alphonse, and then Jack.  A Luger, German, a relic of WW2, perhaps her father’s souvenir, now pointing at him.”

The punch line:  Cigarettes can kill in more ways than one.

The revelation:  The corner store also supplied the local drug addicts.

The revised start is now:

 

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 bead 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 an 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 was not her own, she had been to a better class of school, a good girl going through a bad boy phase.

 

Nest time, point of view.

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

Save, you idiot, save …

It’s late at night and there are twenty other story ideas that are currently running around in my head instead of the story I should be working on.

These ideas are impinging on the current story, and somehow are finding their way onto the page.

Writing, cursing, deleting, re-writing, deleting, cursing.

I’m working on the latest book and it is not going well.  I don’t have writer’s block, I think it is more a case of self-doubt, laced with a healthy dose of second-guessing.  It’s why I can’t concentrate.

It’s why I’m thinking about the next story and not staying on track.

This leads me to be over critical of what I have written and much pressing of the delete key.

Then …

only to realize that an action taken in haste can be regrettable, and makes me feel even more depressed when I realize the deletions are irrecoverable.

Damn.

That is not supposed to happen because the great God Microsoft told me that auto save was running.

But, it appears even God’s can’t save deleted data if it is ‘in between’ saves.

I think I’d be happier in a garret somewhere channeling van Gogh’s rage.

Lesson learned – don’t delete in haste or anger or when tired, save it to a text file so it can be retrieved when sanity returns.

I was not happy with the previous start.  Funny about that, because until a few weeks ago I thought the start was perfect.

What a difference a week makes or is that politics?

Perhaps I should consider adding some political satire.

But I digress…

It seems it’s been like that for a few weeks now, not being able to stick to the job in hand, doing anything but what I’m supposed to be doing.  I recognize the restlessness, I’m not happy with the story as it is, so rather than getting on with it, I find myself writing words just for the sake of writing words.

Any words are better than none, right?

So I rewrote the start, added about a hundred pages and now I have to do a mass of rewriting of what was basically the whole book.

But here’s the thing.

This morning I woke up and looked at the new start, and it has inspired me.

Perhaps all I needed was several weeks of teeth gnashing, and self doubt to get myself back on track.

And, perhaps that first cup of coffee in the morning!

“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.

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