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

 

 

“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:

lovecoverfinal1

“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

An excerpt from “One Last Look”

 

I’d read about out of body experiences, and like everyone else, thought it was nonsense.  Some people claimed to see themselves in the operating theatre, medical staff frantically trying to revive them, and being surrounded by white light.

I was definitely looking down, but it wasn’t me I was looking at.

It was two children, a boy and a girl, with their parents, in a park.

The boy was Alan.  He was about six or seven.  The girl was Louise, and she was five years old.  She had long red hair and looked the image of her mother.

I remember it now, it was Louise’s birthday and we went down to Bournemouth to visit our Grandmother, and it was the last time we were all together as a family.

We were flying homemade kites our father had made for us, and after we lay there looking up at the sky, making animals out of the clouds.  I saw an elephant, Louise saw a giraffe.

We were so happy then.

Before the tragedy.

 

When I looked again ten years had passed and we were living in hell.  Louise and I had become very adept at survival in a world we really didn’t understand, surrounded by people who wanted to crush our souls.

It was not a life a normal child had, our foster parents never quite the sort of people who were adequately equipped for two broken-hearted children.  They tried their best, but their best was not good enough.

Every day it was a battle, to avoid the Bannister’s and Archie in particular, every day he made advances towards Louise and every day she fended him off.

Until one day she couldn’t.

Now I was sitting in the hospital, holding Louise’s hand.  She was in a coma, and the doctors didn’t think she would wake from it.  The damage done to her was too severe.

The doctors were wrong.

She woke, briefly, to name her five assailants.  It was enough to have them arrested.  It was not enough to have them convicted.

Justice would have to be served by other means.

 

I was outside the Bannister’s home.

I’d made my way there without really thinking, after watching Louise die.  It was like being on autopilot, and I had no control over what I was doing.  I had murder in mind.  It was why I was holding an iron bar.

Skulking in the shadows.  It was not very different from the way the Bannister’s operated.

I waited till Archie came out.  I knew he eventually would.  The police had taken him to the station for questioning, and then let him go.  I didn’t understand why, nor did I care.

I followed him up the towpath, waiting till he stopped to light a cigarette, then came out of the shadows.

“Wotcha got there Alan?” he asked when he saw me.  He knew what it was, and what it was for.

It was the first time I’d seen the fear in his eyes.  He was alone.

“Justice.”

“For that slut of a sister of yours.  I had nuffing to do with it.”

“She said otherwise, Archie.”

“She never said nuffing, you just made it up.”  An attempt at bluster, but there was no confidence in his voice.

I held up the pipe.  It had blood on it.  Willy’s blood.  “She may or may not have Archie, but Willy didn’t make it up.  He sang like a bird.  That’s his blood, probably brains on the pipe too, Archie, and yours will be there soon enough.”

“He dunnit, not me.  Lyin’ bastard would say anything to save his own skin.”  Definitely scared now, he was looking to run away.

“No, Archie.  He didn’t.  I’m coming for you.  All of you Bannisters.  And everyone who touched my sister.”

 

It was the recurring nightmare I had for years afterwards.

I closed my eyes and tried to shut out the thoughts, the images of Louise, the phone call, the visit to the hospital and being there when she succumbed to her injuries.  Those were the very worst few hours of my life.

She had asked me to come to the railway station and walk home with her, and I was running late.  If I had left when I was supposed to, it would never have happened and for years afterwards, I blamed myself for her death.

If only I’d not been late…

When the police finally caught the rapists, I’d known all along who they’d be; antagonists from school, the ring leader, Archie Bannister, a spurned boyfriend, a boy whose parents, ubiquitously known to all as ‘the Bannister’s, dealt in violence and crime and who owned the neighbourhood.  The sins of the father had been very definitely passed onto the son.

At school, I used to be the whipping boy, Archie, a few grades ahead of me, made a point of belting me and a few of the other boys, to make sure the rest did as they were told.  He liked Louise, but she had no time for a bully like him, even when he promised he would ‘protect’ me.

I knew the gang members, the boys who tow-kowed to save getting beaten up, and after the police couldn’t get enough information to prosecute them because everyone was too afraid to speak out, I went after Willy.  There was always a weak link in a group, and he was it.

He worked in a factory, did long hours on a Wednesday and came home after dark alone.  It was a half mile walk, through a park.  The night I approached him, I smashed the lights and left it in darkness.  He nearly changed his mind and went the long way home.

He didn’t.

It took an hour and a half to get the names.  At first, when he saw me, he laughed.  He said I would be next, and that was four words more than he knew he should have said.

When I found him alone the next morning I showed him the iron bar and told him he was on the list.  I didn’t kill him then, he could wait his turn, and worry about what was going to happen to him.

When the police came to visit me shortly after that encounter, no doubt at the behest of the Bannister’s, the neighbourhood closed ranks and gave me an ironclad alibi.  The Bannister’s then came to visit me and threatened me.  I told them their days were numbered and showed them the door.

At the trial, he and his friends got off on a technicality.  The police had failed to do their job properly, but it was not the police, but a single policeman, corrupted by the Bannisters.

Archie could help but rub it in my face.  He was invincible.

Joe Collins took 12 bullets and six hours to bleed out.  He apologized, he pleaded, he cried, he begged.  I didn’t care.

Barry Mills, a strong lad with a mind to hurting people, Archie’s enforcer, almost got the better of me.  I had to hit him more times than I wanted to, and in the end, I had to be satisfied that he died a short but agonizing death.

I revisited Willy in the hospital.  He’d recovered enough to recognize me, and why I’d come.  Suffocation was too good for him.

David Williams, second in command of the gang, was as tough and nasty as the Bannisters.  His family were forging a partnership with the Bannister’s to make them even more powerful.  Outwardly David was a pleasant sort of chap, affable, polite, and well mannered.  A lot of people didn’t believe he could be like, or working with, the Bannisters.

He and I met in the pub.  We got along like old friends.  He said Willy had just named anyone he could think of, and that he was innocent of any charges.  We shook hands and parted as friends.

Three hours later he was sitting in a chair in the middle of a disused factory, blindfolded and scared.  I sat and watched him, listened to him, first threatening me, and then finally pleading with me.  He’d guessed who it was that had kidnapped him.

When it was dark, I took the blindfold off and shone a very bright light in his eyes.  I asked him if the violence he had visited upon my sister was worth it.  He told me he was just a spectator.

I’d read the coroner’s report.  They all had a turn.  He was a liar.

He took nineteen bullets to die.

Then came Archie.

The same factory only this time there were four seats.  Anna Bannister, brothel owner, Spike Bannister, head of the family, Emily Bannister, sister, and who had nothing to do with their criminal activities.  She just had the misfortune of sharing their name.

Archie’s father told me how he was going to destroy me, and everyone I knew.

A well-placed bullet between the eyes shut him up.

Archie’s mother cursed me.  I let her suffer for an hour before I put her out of her misery.

Archie remained stony-faced until I came to Emily.  The death of his parents meant he would become head of the family.  I guess their deaths meant as little to him as they did me.

He was a little more worried about his sister.

I told him it was confession time.

He told her it was little more than a forced confession and he had done nothing to deserve my retribution.

I shrugged and shot her, and we both watched her fall to the ground screaming in agony.  I told him if he wanted her to live, he had to genuinely confess to his crimes.  This time he did, it all poured out of him.

I went over to Emily.  He watched in horror as I untied her bindings and pulled her up off the floor, suffering only from a small wound in her arm.  Without saying a word she took the gun and walked over to stand behind him.

“Louise was my friend, Archie.  My friend.”

Then she shot him.  Six times.

To me, after saying what looked like a prayer, she said, “Killing them all will not bring her back, Alan, and I doubt she would approve of any of this.  May God have mercy on your soul.”

 

Now I was in jail.  I’d spent three hours detailing the deaths of the five boys, everything I’d done; a full confession.  Without my sister, my life was nothing.  I didn’t want to go back to the foster parents; I doubt they’d take back a murderer.

They were not allowed to.

For a month I lived in a small cell, in solitary, no visitors.  I believed I was in the queue to be executed, and I had mentally prepared myself for the end.

Then I was told I had a visitor, and I was expecting a priest.

Instead, it was a man called McTavish. Short, wiry, and with an accent that I could barely understand.

“You’ve been a bad boy, Alan.”

When I saw it was not the priest I told the jailers not to let him in, I didn’t want to speak to anyone.  They ignored me.  I’d expected he was a psychiatrist, come to see whether I should be shipped off to the asylum.

I was beginning to think I was going mad.

I ignored him.

“I am the difference between you living or dying Alan, it’s as simple as that.  You’d be a wise man to listen to what I have to offer.”

Death sounded good.  I told him to go away.

He didn’t.  Persistent bugger.

I was handcuffed to the table.  The prison officers thought I was dangerous.  Five, plus two, murders, I guess they had a right to think that.  McTavish sat opposite me, ignoring my request to leave.

“Why’d you do it?”

“You know why.”  Maybe if I spoke he’d go away.

“Your sister.  By all accounts, the scum that did for her deserved what they got.”

“It was murder just the same.  No difference between scum and proper people.”

“You like killing?”

“No-one does.”

“No, I dare say you’re right.  But you’re different, Alan.  As clean and merciless killing I’ve ever seen.  We can use a man like you.”

“We?”

“A group of individuals who clean up the scum.”

I looked up to see his expression, one of benevolence, totally out of character for a man like him.  It looked like I didn’t have a choice.

 

Trained, cleared, and ready to go.

I hadn’t realized there were so many people who were, for all intents and purposes, invisible.  People that came and went, in malls, in hotels, trains, buses, airports, everywhere, people no one gave a second glance.

People like me.

In a mall, I became a shopper.

In a hotel, I was just another guest heading to his room.

On a bus or a train, I was just another commuter.

At the airport, I became a pilot.  I didn’t need to know how to fly; everyone just accepted a pilot in a pilot suit was just what he looked like.

I had a passkey.

I had the correct documents to get me onto the plane.

That walk down the air bridge was the longest of my life.  Waiting for the call from the gate, waiting for one of the air bridge staff to challenge me, stepping onto the plane.

Two pilots and a steward.  A team.  On the plane early before the rest of the crew.  A group that was committing a crime, had committed a number of crimes and thought they’d got away with it.

Until the judge, the jury and their executioner arrived.

Me.

Quick, clean, merciless.  Done.

I was now an operational field agent.

 

I was older now, and I could see in the mirror I was starting to go grey at the sides.  It was far too early in my life for this, but I expect it had something to do with my employment.

I didn’t recognize the man who looked back at me.

It was certainly not Alan McKenzie, nor was there any part of that fifteen-year-old who had made the decision to exact revenge.

Given a choice; I would not have gone down this path.

Or so I kept telling myself each time a little more of my soul was sold to the devil.

I was Barry Gamble.

I was Lenny Buckman.

I was Jimmy Hosen.

I was anyone but the person I wanted to be.

That’s what I told Louise, standing in front of her grave, and trying to apologize for all the harm, all the people I’d killed for that one rash decision.  If she was still alive she would be horrified, and ashamed.

Head bowed, tears streamed down my face.

God had gone on holiday and wasn’t there to hand out any forgiveness.  Not that day.  Not any day.

 

New York, New Years Eve.

I was at the end of a long tour, dragged out of a holiday and back into the fray, chasing down another scumbag.  They were scumbags, and I’d become an automaton hunting them down and dispatching them to what McTavish called a better place.

This time I failed.

A few drinks to blot out the failure, a blonde woman who pushed my buttons, a room in a hotel, any hotel, it was like being on the merry-go-round, round and round and round…

Her name was Silvia or Sandra, or someone I’d met before, but couldn’t quite place her.  It could be an enemy agent for all I knew or all I cared right then.

I was done.

I’d had enough.

I gave her the gun.

I begged her to kill me.

She didn’t.

Instead, I simply cried, letting the pent up emotion loose after being suppressed for so long, and she stayed with me, holding me close, and saying I was safe, that she knew exactly how I felt.

How could she?  No one could know what I’d been through.

I remembered her name after she had gone.

Amanda.

I remembered she had an imperfection in her right eye.

Someone else had the same imperfection.

I couldn’t remember who that was.

Not then.

 

I had a dingy flat in Kensington, a place that I rarely stayed in if I could help it.  After five-star hotel rooms, it made me feel shabby.

The end of another mission, I was on my way home, the underground, a bus, and then a walk.

It was late.

People were spilling out of the pub after the last drinks.  Most in good spirits, others slightly more boisterous.

A loud-mouthed chap bumped into me, the sort who had one too many, and was ready to take on all comers.

He turned on me, “Watch where you’re going, you fool.”

Two of his friends dragged him away.  He shrugged them off, squared up.

I punched him hard, in the stomach, and he fell backwards onto the ground.  I looked at his two friends.  “Take him home before someone makes mincemeat out of him.”

They grabbed his arms, lifted him off the ground and took him away.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a woman, early thirties, quite attractive, but very, very drunk.  She staggered from the bar, bumped into me, and finished up sitting on the side of the road.

I looked around to see where her friends were.  The exodus from the pub was over and the few nearby were leaving to go home.

She was alone, drunk, and by the look of her, unable to move.

I sat beside her.  “Where are your friends?”

“Dunno.”

“You need help?”

She looked up, and sideways at me.  She didn’t look the sort who would get in this state.  Or maybe she was, I was a terrible judge of women.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“Nobody.”  I was exactly how I felt.

“Well Mr Nobody, I’m drunk, and I don’t care.  Just leave me here to rot.”

She put her head back between her knees, and it looked to me she was trying to stop the spinning sensation in her head.

Been there before, and it’s not a good feeling.

“Where are your friends?” I asked again.

“Got none.”

“Perhaps I should take you home.”

“I have no home.”

“You don’t look like a homeless person.  If I’m not mistaken, those shoes are worth more than my weekly salary.”  I’d seen them advertised, in the airline magazine, don’t ask me why the ad caught my attention.

She lifted her head and looked at me again.  “You a smart fucking arse are you?”

“I have my moments.”

“Have them somewhere else.”

She rested her head against my shoulder.  We were the only two left in the street, and suddenly in darkness when the proprietor turned off the outside lights.

“Take me home,” she said suddenly.

“Where is your place?”

“Don’t have one.  Take me to your place.”

“You won’t like it.”

“I’m drunk.  What’s not to like until tomorrow.”

I helped her to her feet.  “You have a name?”

“Charlotte.”

 

The wedding was in a small church.  We had been away for a weekend in the country, somewhere in the Cotswolds, and found this idyllic spot.  Graves going back to the dawn of time, a beautiful garden tended by the vicar and his wife, an astonishing vista over hills and down dales.

On a spring afternoon with the sun, the flowers, and the peacefulness of the country.

I had two people at the wedding, the best man, Bradley, and my boss, Watkins.

Charlotte had her sisters Melissa and Isobel, and Isobel’s husband Giovanni, and their daughter Felicity.

And one more person who was as mysterious as she was attractive, a rather interesting combination as she was well over retirement age.  She arrived late and left early.

Aunt Agatha.

She looked me up and down with what I’d call a withering look.  “There’s more to you than meets the eye,” she said enigmatically.

“Likewise I’m sure,” I said.  It earned me an elbow in the ribs from Charlotte.  It was clear she feared this woman.

“Why did you come,” Charlotte asked.

“You know why.”

Agatha looked at me.  “I like you.  Take care of my granddaughter.  You do not want me for an enemy.”

OK, now she officially scared me.

She thrust a cheque into my hand, smiled, and left.

“Who is she,” I asked after we watched her depart.

“Certainly not my fairy godmother.”

Charlotte never mentioned her again.

 

Zurich in summer, not exactly my favourite place.

Instead of going to visit her sister Isobel, we stayed at a hotel in Beethovenstrasse and Isobel and Felicity came to us.  Her husband was not with her this time.

Felicity was three or four and looked very much like her mother.  She also looked very much like Charlotte, and I’d remarked on it once before and it received a sharp rebuke.

We’d been twice before, and rather than talk to her sister, Charlotte spent her time with Felicity, and they were, together, like old friends.  For so few visits they had a remarkable rapport.

I had not broached the subject of children with Charlotte, not after one such discussion where she had said she had no desire to be a mother.  It had not been a subject before and wasn’t once since.

Perhaps like all Aunts, she liked the idea of playing with a child for a while and then give it back.

Felicity was curious as to who I was, but never ventured too close.  I believed a child could sense the evil in adults and had seen through my facade of friendliness.  We were never close.

But…

This time, when observing the two together, something quite out of left field popped into my head.  It was not possible, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought she looked like my mother.

And Charlotte had seen me looking in their direction.  “You seem distracted,” she said.

“I was just remembering my mother.  Odd moment, haven’t done so for a very long time.”

“Why now?”  I think she had a look of concern on her face.

“Her birthday, I guess,” I said, the first excuse I could think of.

Another look and I was wrong.  She looked like Isobel or Charlotte, or if I wanted to believe it possible, Melissa too.

 

I was crying, tears streaming down my face.

I was in pain, searing pain from my lower back stretching down into my legs, and I was barely able to breathe.

It was like coming up for air.

It was like Snow White bringing Prince Charming back to life.  I could feel what I thought was a gentle kiss and tears dropping on my cheeks, and when I opened my eyes, I saw Charlotte slowly lifting her head, a hand gently stroking the hair off my forehead.

And in a very soft voice, she said, “Hi.”

I could not speak, but I think I smiled.  It was the girl with the imperfection in her right eye.  Everything fell into place, and I knew, in that instant that we were irrevocably meant to be together.

“Welcome back.”

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2019

 

“Do you believe in g..g..ghosts…?”, a short story

Inside the old building, it was very quiet and almost cold.

Strange, perhaps, because outside the temperature was bordering on the record hottest day ever, nearly 45 degrees centigrade.

The people who’d built this building nearly a hundred years before must have known how to keep that heat at bay, using sandstone.

Back then, the sandstone would have looked very impressive, but now after many years of being closed off and left abandoned, the outside was stained by modern-day pollutants giving it a black streaky look, and inside layers of dust, easily stirred up as we walked slowly into the main foyer.

It was huge, the roof, ornate, with four huge chandelier lights hanging down, and wood paneling, giving way to a long counter with brass serving cages highlighting its former use; a bank.

In its day it would have conveyed the power and wealth so that its customers could trust the money to. Of course, that was before the global economy, online banking, and a raft of the new and different institutions all vying for that same money.

Then it was a simple choice of a few, now it was a few thousand.

“How many years had this been closed up?” I asked.

“Close to twenty, maybe twenty-five. It was supposed to be pulled down, but someone got it on the heritage list, and that put an end to it. “

Phil was the history nut. He’s spent a month looking into the building, finding construction plans, and correspondence dating back to before and during the construction.

Building methods, he said, that didn’t exist today and were far in advance of anything of its type for the period. It was the reason we were standing in the foyer now.

We were budding civil engineers, and the university had managed to organize a visit, at our own risk. The owner of the building had made sure we’d signed a health and safety waiver before granting access.

And the caretaker only took us as far as the front door. He gave us his cell number to call when we were finished. When we asked him why he didn’t want to come in with us, he didn’t say but it was clear to me he was afraid of something.

But neither of us believed in ghosts.

“You can see aspects of cathedrals in the design,” Phil said. ” You could quite easily turn this space into a church.”

“Or a very large wine cellar.” I brought a thermometer with me, and inside where we were standing it was the ideal temperature to store wine.

Behind the teller cages were four large iron doors to the vaults. They were huge, and once contained a large amount of cash, gold, and whatever else was deemed valuable.

They were all empty now, the shelves and floor had scattered pieces of bank stationery, and in a corner, several cardboard boxes, covered in even more dust.

Behind the vaults were offices, half-height with glass dividers, the desks and chairs still in place, and some with wooden filing cabinets drawers half-open.

Others had benches, and one, set in the corner, very large, and looked like the manager’s office. Unlike the other office which had linoleum tiles, this one had carpet. In a corner was a large mirror backed cabinet, with several half-empty bottles on it.

“Adds a whole new meaning to aged whiskey, don’t you think.” Phil looked at it but didn’t pick it up.

“I wonder why they left it,” I muttered. The place had the feel of having been left in a hurry, not taking everything with them.

I shivered, but it was not from the cold.

We went back to the foyer and the elevator lobby. They were fine examples of the sort of caged elevators that belonged in that time, and which there were very few working examples these days.

The elevators would have a driver, he would pull back an inner and outer door when the car arrived on a floor, and close both again when everyone was aboard.

Both cars were on the ground floor, with the shutter doors closed, and when I tried to open one, I found it had been welded shut. The other car was not sitting level with the floor and the reason for that, the cable that raised and lowered it was broken.

Restoring them would be a huge job and would not be in their original condition due to occupational health and safety issues.

The staircase wound around the elevator cage, going up to the mezzanine floor or down to the basement.

“Up or down?” He asked.

“Where do you want to go first?”

“Down. There’s supposed to be a large vault, probably where the safety deposit boxes are.”

And the restrooms I thought. Not that I was thinking of going.

As we descended the stairs it was like going down into a mine shaft, getting darker, and the rising odor of damp, and mustiness. I suspect it would have been the same back when it was first built being so close to the shoreline of the bay, not more than half a mile away.

The land this building and a number of others in a similar style, was built on was originally a swamp, and it was thought that the seawater still found its way this far inshore. But the foundations were incredibly strong and extensive which was why there’d been no shifting or cracking anywhere in the ten-story structure.

At the bottom, there was a huge arch, with built-in brass caging with two huge gates, both open. It was like the entrance to a mythical Aladdin’s cave.

There was also an indefinable aura coming from the depths of that room. That, and a movement of cold air. Curiously, the air down there was not musty but had a tinge of saltiness to it.

Was there a natural air freshener effect coming from somewhere within that vault.

“Are we going in?”

I checked my torch beam, still very bright. I pointed it into the blackness and after a minute checking, I said, “We’re here, so why not.”

We had to walk down a dozen steps then pass under through the open gates into the room. There was a second set of gates, the same as the first, about thirty feet from the first, and, in between, a number of cubicles where customers collected their boxes.

Beyond the second set of gates was a large circular reinforced safe door high enough for us to walk through.

This cavernous space stretched back quite a distance, and along the walls, rows, and rows of safety deposit boxes, some half hanging out of their housing, and a lot more stacked haphazardly on the floor.

I checked a few but they were all empty.

I shivered again. It felt like there was a presence in the room. I turned to ask Phil, but he wasn’t there. I hadn’t heard him walk away, and there were only two sets of footprints on the floor, his and mine, and both ended where I was standing.

It was as if he had disappeared into thin air.

I called out his name, and it echoed off the walls in the confined space. No answer from him.

I went further into the room, thinking he might have ventured towards the end while my back was turned, but he hadn’t. Nor had he left because there were only footprints coming in, not going out.

I turned to retrace my steps and stopped suddenly. An old man, in clothes that didn’t belong to this era, was standing where Phil had last been.

He was looking at me, but not inclined to talk.

“Hello. I didn’t see you come down.”

Seconds later the figure dissolved in front of me and there was no one but me standing in the room.

“Joe.”

Phil, from behind me. I turned and there he was large as life.

“Where were you?”

“I’ve been here all the time. Who were you just talking to?”

“There was an old man, standing just over there,” I said pointing to somewhere between Phil and the entrance.

“I didn’t see anyone. Are you sure you’re not having me on?”

“No. He’s right behind you.” The old man had reappeared.

Phil shook his head, believing I was trying to fool him.

That changed when the man touched his shoulder, and Phil shrieked.

And almost ran out of the room. It took a few minutes for him to catch his breath and steady the palpitating heart.

“Are you real?” I asked, not quite sure what to say.

“To me, I am. To anyone else, let’s just say you are the first not got faint, or run away.”

“Are you a ghost?” Phil wasn’t exactly sure what he was saying.

“Apparently I am and will be until you find out who killed me “

Ok, so what was it called, stuck in the afterlife or limbo until closure?

“When?”

“25 years ago, just before the bank closed. It’s the reason why it’s empty now.”

“And you’re saying we find the killer and you get to leave?”

“Exactly. Now shoo. Go and find him.”

We looked at each other in surprise, or more like shock, then back to the man. Only he was no longer there.

“What the…” Phil sail. “It’s time to go.”

“What about the man and finding his killer?”

“What man? We saw nothing. We’re done here.”

I shrugged. Phil turned to leave, but only managed to take three steps before the gates at the entrance closed with a loud clang.

When he crossed the room to stand in front, he tried pulling them open.

“Locked,” he said. Flat, and without panic, he added, “I guess it looks like we have a murder to solve.”

© Charles Heath 2019-2020

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

Writing instead of insomnia – 6

A lot can happen in 60 seconds.

Rage can increase or decrease, a decision made in haste might be reconsidered, especially if there was another resolution presenting itself.

My immediate rage had not gone away, but that first instinct to kill had faded slightly, but it might still happen depending on what the man in front of me did.

He was cornered and he knew it. But a man in his position cornered like this was a very dangerous animal indeed, I’d seen what he had done to at least one of the team.

I had grave fears for the others.

He had come at me and failed. So far.

He remained warily at bay, just out of reach, and I could see he was sizing up his options, to get past, around, or through me.

Perhaps at this moment in time, he knew the rage within me made it unlikely he would succeed. That meant he was willing to watch and wait me out.

“Who are you?” I asked.

We’d been given a name and a description, but I knew the name was not his. Nothing about this man was real except that he was a killer and quite possibly one of our agents gone rogue.

It was suggested this was a training run, but I think it was something else entirely, but the person who planned it, hadn’t taken his target’s profile into account.

“Why are you following me?”

“I just do as I’m told.” I’d tell him what they told me, “This was meant to be a training run, no one was expecting to get harmed.”

“You were misled. You and your team are part of an execution squad.”

This man was deranged. There was no other reason to explain that response.

But curiosity got the better of me. “Explain.”

“I quit. You don’t quit. Not with all the shit there is in my head.” He tapped his head at the same time. “Ever wondered why there’s no agents in retirement?”

I hadn’t given it a thought. The retirement age was a long time into the future and I suspect having chosen the profession I had, long life was not necessarily on the cards.

I shook my head to say no.

“Because you either die in the service, or they retire you.”

Interesting point.

Not that I had much time to consider his explanation. He considered it time to make a break, having sufficiently distracted me.

And, he nearly made it.

Almost beside me, before I had enough time to react, I didn’t hear the bullet with his name on it, I only saw the end result, entering his forehead, and taking out the back half of his head with it.

He was dead before he hit the ground.

I quickly turned around to see my coordinator just steps away, detaching the silencer from the gun and putting both items in his coat pocket.

“Were done here,” he said. “Let’s go.”

Seeing him put the gun away gave me some hope that I might not be on the menu. It was obvious I was still useful to him.

How long for, well, that was a question I wasn’t going to ask right then.

 

© Charles Heath 2020