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

 

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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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

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

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

See below for an excerpt from the book…

Coming soon!

PIWalthJones1

An excerpt from the book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except, of course, when it came to Harry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Charles Heath 2019

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

Now only $0.99 for a short time at https://amzn.to/2Xyh1ow

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’.

newdevilcvr3

A square peg in a round hole

That’s what it feels like some days.

The story is there waiting to be written, I know where it’s coming from, I know where I want it to go, but the words are not working.

I read it once, yuk, I read it twice, it’s begging me to press the delete button.  Now!

This is how it looks:

 

My life was going nowhere.  If I took a step back and took a good, long, hard look at it, what could I say was the one defining moment?

There was no defining moment.

I’d bounced around schools till the day I decided I was not cut out to learn anything more, or perhaps the teachers had given up trying to impart knowledge.  Whatever the reason, I dropped out of college, and drifted.  Seasonal laborer, farm hand, factory worker, night watchman.

At least now I had a uniform and looked like I’d made something of myself.

Until I went home.

My parents were distinctly disappointed I was not married with children.

My overachieving brother always said I was a loser, and would never make anything of myself.

My ultra successful sister, married into a very wealthy family, had the regulation 2.4 children and lived in the lap of luxury, mostly pretended I didn’t exist, didn’t invite me to the wedding, and I had yet to meet the husband and children.  I guess she was ashamed of me.

This year I was avoiding going home.

This year I volunteered to work the holidays.

 

Yep, time to walk away and do something entirely different, like wrapping Christmas presents, my second favorite job to mowing the lawn.  Maybe if I contrive an accident with the lawnmower …

Back in front of the page, some hours later, an idea pops into my head.  The story continues:

 

It was 3 a.m. and it was like standing on the exact epicenter of the South Pole.  I’d just stepped from the warehouse into the car park.

The car was covered in snow.  The weather was clear now, but more snow was coming.

A white Christmas?  That’s all I needed.  I hoped I remembered to put the antifreeze in my radiator this time.

As I approached my car, the light went on in an SUV parked next to my car.  The door opened and what looked to be a woman was getting out of the car.

“Graham?”

It was a voice I was familiar with, though I hadn’t heard it for a long time.

My ultra successful sister, Penelope.  She was leaning against her car door, and from what I could see, she didn’t look too well.

“What do you want?”

“Help.”

My help, I was the last person to help her or anyone for that matter.  But curiosity got the better of me.  “Why?”

“Because my husband is trying to kill me.”

With that said, she slid down the side of the car, and I could see, in the arc lamps lighting the car park, a trail of blood.

 

It desperately needs work, and I’ll walk away now and find something else to do.

Anything on paper is better than nothing on paper.  Tomorrow, or the next day, I will edit and rewrite and see what happens.

Stay tuned.