An excerpt from “The Things We Do For Love”; In love, Henry was all at sea!

In the distance he could hear the dinner bell ringing and roused himself.  Feeling the dampness of the pillow, and fearing the ravages of pent up emotion, he considered not going down but thought it best not to upset Mrs. Mac, especially after he said he would be dining.

In the event, he wished he had reneged, especially when he discovered he was not the only guest staying at the hotel.

Whilst he’d been reminiscing, another guest, a young lady, had arrived.  He’d heard her and Mrs. Mac coming up the stairs, and then shown to a room on the same floor, perhaps at the other end of the passage.

Henry caught his first glimpse of her when she appeared at the door to the dining room, waiting for Mrs. Mac to show her to a table.

She was about mid-twenties, slim, long brown hair, and the grace and elegance of a woman associated with countless fashion magazines.  She was, he thought, stunningly beautiful with not a hair out of place, and make-up flawlessly applied.  Her clothes were black, simple, elegant, and expensive, the sort an heiress or wife of a millionaire might condescend to wear to a lesser occasion than dinner.

Then there was her expression; cold, forbidding, almost frightening in its intensity.  And her eyes, piercingly blue and yet laced with pain.  Dracula’s daughter was his immediate description of her.

All in all, he considered, the only thing they had in common was, like him, she seemed totally out of place.

Mrs. Mac came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron.  She was, she informed him earlier, chef, waitress, hotelier, barmaid, and cleaner all rolled into one.  Coming up to the new arrival she said, “Ah, Miss Andrews, I’m glad you decided to have dinner.  Would you like to sit with Mr. Henshaw, or would you like to have a table of your own?”

Henry could feel her icy stare as she sized up his appeal as a dining companion, making the hair on the back on his neck stand up.  He purposely didn’t look back.  In his estimation, his appeal rating was minus six.  Out of a thousand!

“If Mr. Henshaw doesn’t mind….”  She looked at him, leaving the query in mid-air.

He didn’t mind and said so.  Perhaps he’d underestimated his rating.

“Good.”  Mrs. Mac promptly ushered her over.  Henry stood, made sure she was seated properly and sat.

“Thank you.  You are most kind.”  The way she said it suggested snobbish overtones.

“I try to be when I can.”  It was supposed to nullify her sarcastic tone but made him sound a little silly, and when she gave him another of her icy glares, he regretted it.

Mrs. Mac quickly intervened, asking, “Would you care for the soup?”

They did, and, after writing the order on her pad, she gave them each a look, imperceptibly shook her head, and returned to the kitchen.

Before Michelle spoke to him again, she had another quick look at him, trying to fathom who and what he might be.  There was something about him.

His eyes, they mirrored the same sadness she felt, and, yes, there was something else, that it looked like he had been crying?  There was a tinge of redness.

Perhaps, she thought, he was here for the same reason she was.

No.  That wasn’t possible.

Then she said, without thinking, “Do you have any particular reason for coming here?”  Seconds later she realized she’s spoken it out loud, had hadn’t meant to actually ask, it just came out.

It took him by surprise, obviously not the first question he was expecting her to ask of him.

“No, other than it is as far from civilization, and home, as I could get.”

At least we agree on that, she thought.

It was obvious he was running away from something as well.

Given the isolation of the village and lack of geographic hospitality, it was, from her point of view, ideal.  All she had to do was avoid him, and that wouldn’t be difficult.

After getting through this evening first.

“Yes,” she agreed.  “It is that.”

A few seconds passed, and she thought she could feel his eyes on her and wasn’t going to look up.

Until he asked, “What’s your reason?”

Slight abrupt in manner, perhaps as a result of her question, and the manner in which she asked it.

She looked up.  “Rest.  And have some time to myself.”

She hoped he would notice the emphasis she had placed on the word ‘herself’ and take due note.  No doubt, she thought,  she had completely different ideas of what constituted a holiday than he, not that she had actually said she was here for a holiday.

Mrs. Mac arrived at a fortuitous moment to save them from further conversation.

 

Over the entree, she wondered if she had made a mistake coming to the hotel.  Of course, there had been no possible way she could know than anyone else might have booked the same hotel, but realized it was foolish to think she might end up in it by herself.

Was that what she was expecting?

Not a mistake then, but an unfortunate set of circumstances, which could be overcome by being sensible.

Yet, there he was, and it made her curious, not that he was a man, by himself, in the middle of nowhere, hiding like she was, but for very different reasons.

On discreet observance whilst they ate, she gained the impression his air of light-heartedness was forced and he had no sense of humor.

This feeling was engendered by his looks, unruly dark hair, and permanent frown.  And then there was his abysmal taste in clothes on a tall, lanky frame.  They were quality but totally unsuited to the wearer.

Rebellion was written all over him.

The only other thought crossing her mind, and rather incongruously, was he could do with a decent feed.  In that respect, she knew now from the mountain of food in front of her, he had come to the right place.

“Mr. Henshaw?”

He looked up.  “Henshaw is too formal.  Henry sounds much better,” he said, with a slight hint of gruffness.

“Then my name is Michelle.”

Mrs. Mac came in to take their order for the only main course, gather up the entree dishes, then return to the kitchen.

“Staying long?” she asked.

“About three weeks.  Yourself?”

“About the same.”

The conversation dried up.

Neither looked at the other, rather at the walls, out the window, towards the kitchen, anywhere.  It was, she thought, almost unbearably awkward.

 

Mrs. Mac returned with a large tray with dishes on it, setting it down on the table next to theirs.

“Not as good as the usual cook,” she said, serving up the dinner expertly, “but it comes a good second, even if I do say so myself.  Care for some wine?”

Henry looked at Michelle.  “What do you think?”

“I’m used to my dining companions making the decision.”

You would, he thought.  He couldn’t help but notice the cutting edge of her tone.  Then, to Mrs. Mac, he named a particular White Burgundy he liked and she bustled off.

“I hope you like it,” he said, acknowledging her previous comment with a smile that had nothing to do with humor.

“Yes, so do I.”

Both made a start on the main course, a concoction of chicken and vegetables that were delicious, Henry thought, when compared to the bland food he received at home and sometimes aboard my ship.

It was five minutes before Mrs. Mac returned with the bottle and two glasses.  After opening it and pouring the drinks, she left them alone again.

Henry resumed the conversation.  “How did you arrive?  I came by train.”

“By car.”

“Did you drive yourself?”

And he thought, a few seconds later, that was a silly question, otherwise she would not be alone, and certainly not sitting at this table. With him.

“After a fashion.”

He could see that she was formulating a retort in her mind, then changed it, instead, smiling for the first time, and it served to lighten the atmosphere.

And in doing so, it showed him she had another more pleasant side despite the fact she was trying not to look happy.

“My father reckons I’m just another of ‘those’ women drivers,” she added.

“Whatever for?”

“The first and only time he came with me I had an accident.  I ran up the back of another car.  Of course, it didn’t matter to him the other driver was driving like a startled rabbit.”

“It doesn’t help,” he agreed.

“Do you drive?”

“Mostly people up the wall.”  His attempt at humor failed.  “Actually,” he added quickly, “I’ve got a very old Morris that manages to get me where I’m going.”

The apple pie and cream for dessert came and went and the rapport between them improved as the wine disappeared and the coffee came.  Both had found, after getting to know each other better, their first impressions were not necessarily correct.

“Enjoy the food?” Mrs. Mac asked, suddenly reappearing.

“Beautifully cooked and delicious to eat,” Michelle said, and Henry endorsed her remarks.

“Ah, it does my heart good to hear such genuine compliments,” she said, smiling.  She collected the last of the dishes and disappeared yet again.

“What do you do for a living,” Michelle asked in an off-hand manner.

He had a feeling she was not particularly interested and it was just making conversation.

“I’m a purser.”

“A what?”

“A purser.  I work on a ship doing the paperwork, that sort of thing.”

“I see.”

“And you?”

“I was a model.”

“Was?”

“Until I had an accident, a rather bad one.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

So that explained the odd feeling he had about her.

As the evening had worn on, he began to think there might be something wrong, seriously wrong with her because she didn’t look too well.  Even the carefully applied makeup, from close up, didn’t hide the very pale, and tired look, or the sunken, dark ringed eyes.

“I try not to think about it, but it doesn’t necessarily work.  I’ve come here for peace and quiet, away from doctors and parents.”

“Then you will not have to worry about me annoying you.  I’m one of those fall-asleep-reading-a-book types.”

Perhaps it would be like ships passing in the night and then smiled to himself about the analogy.

Dinner now over, they separated.

Henry went back to the lounge to read a few pages of his book before going to bed, and Michelle went up to her room to retire for the night.

But try as he might, he was unable to read, his mind dwelling on the unusual, yet the compellingly mysterious person he would be sharing the hotel with.

Overlaying that original blurred image of her standing in the doorway was another of her haunting expressions that had, he finally conceded, taken his breath away, and a look that had sent more than one tingle down his spine.

She may not have thought much of him, but she had certainly made an impression on him.

 

© Charles Heath 2015-2020

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The cinema of my dreams – I never wanted to go to Africa – Episode 21

Our hero knows he’s in serious trouble.

The problem is, there are familiar faces and a question of who is a friend and who is foe made all the more difficult because of the enemy, if it was the enemy, simply because it didn’t look or sound or act like the enemy.

Now, it appears, his problems stem from another operation he participated in.

Lallo delivered that statement with deceptive calm, and I didn’t miss the inference.  That is if he was trying to say that anyone associated with that operation was likely to end up dead sooner rather than later.

Food for thought indeed, and suddenly it explained the reason for this interrogation.  And though I didn’t want to believe it, or even think it possible, Breeman might be in some way connected with that operation.  Or someone involved in it.

Suddenly I found my mid connecting dots, real or imaginary, that led back to Breeman requesting my transfer, knowing who I was, and then becoming closer in a way that was not expected, or could be explained, which had consequences if it came to light.

That was what Bamfield was alluding to in the desert camp.

But even Lallo had to admit it would be stretch at best to tie what was a random event being selected for what was basically an off-book training flight to being shot down, and link to a failed operation, and a suspicious suicide by Treen. 

Especially when it was Bamfield’s own men who shot the helicopter out of the sky because we had so-called encroached the no-fly zone.  Yet, by extension, if those people knew the proximity of the helicopter to the ground, and how thorough my survival training had been, that posed a whole new raft of questions, which, right then, I didn’t want to think about.

No, it was utterly ridiculous.  My thoughts were simply the manna which drove conspiracy theories.  Lallo was jumping to conclusions, and even I was guilty of the same offence.

Time to put it out of my mind, and answer the question, even if it sounded rhetorical.  “It was the Colonel who tried to kill me, not the person who sent me on that operation.  Are you trying to tell me Bamfield is involved in more than one conspiracy?”

Lallo simply shook his head, made a note in his notebook, and turned the page.

“Let’s go back to the day you were assigned to the ill-fated exercise.  How many of your number at that particular base, are available for helicopter duty?”

“Four.”

“Who assigns the missions?”

“Operations.”

“Not the commanding officer?”

“No.”

“And in this particular case, when you were sent on the fatal mission?”

“I had to countersign the order.  I didn’t see her name on the form.”

“But she would know, or be able to make suggestions.”

There was a group who made those decisions, not any one person, and it was possible anyone of that group could make a suggestion.  But, as for Breeman, I doubt she was interested in that level of micromanagement.

Yet there was a suggestion I’d been moved off the active roster, and that it was possibly on her orders.  Perhaps it would be best not to say anything about that.  It also begged the question of why.  Had she known something might happen to me?  Or did she have an idea what might happen for another reason?

“Anything is possible, but I’m not privy to the machinations of command.  I just do as I’m ordered.”

He smiled thinly.  “I’m sure you’d say that even if it wasn’t true.”

Lallo was becoming an annoying little gnat, so I decided to treat him like one.  “Is there an actual point to these questions, other than to dredge up past history, make erroneous accusations, and base all your conclusions on conjecture?”

“I simply deal with the facts before me.”  It was almost a childish response.

A face hovered outside the ward door, and he noticed it.

“Excuse me.”  He put down the notebook and headed out the door.  Monroe remained, looking menacing.

Was someone else listening, and didn’t like the turn of events?

© Charles Heath 2019-2023

An excerpt from “The Devil You Don’t”

Available on Amazon Kindle here:  https://amzn.to/2Xyh1ow

By the time I returned to the Savoie, the rain had finally stopped, and there was a streak of blue sky to offer some hope the day would improve.

The ship was not crowded, the possibility of bad weather perhaps holding back potential passengers.  Of those I saw, a number of them would be aboard for the lunch by Phillippe Chevrier.  I thought about it, but the Concierge had told me about several restaurants in Yvoire and had given me a hand-drawn map of the village.  I think he came from the area because he spoke with the pride and knowledge of a resident.

I was looking down from the upper deck observing the last of the boarding passengers when I saw a woman, notable for her red coat and matching shoes, making a last-minute dash to get on board just before the gangway was removed.  In fact, her ungainly manner of boarding had also captured a few of the other passenger’s attention.  Now they would have something else to talk about, other than the possibility of further rain.

I saw her smile at the deckhand, but he did not smile back.  He was not impressed with her bravado, perhaps because of possible injury.  He looked at her ticket then nodded dismissively, and went back to his duties in getting the ship underway.  I was going to check the departure time, but I, like the other passengers, had my attention diverted to the woman in red.

From what I could see there was something about her.  It struck me when the light caught her as she turned to look down the deck, giving me a perfect profile.  I was going to say she looked foreign, but here, as in almost anywhere in Europe, that described just about everyone.  Perhaps I was just comparing her to Phillipa, so definitively British, whereas this woman was very definitely not.

She was perhaps in her 30’s, slim or perhaps the word I’d use was lissom, and had the look and manner of a model.  I say that because Phillipa had dragged me to most of the showings, whether in Milan, Rome, New York, London, or Paris.  The clothes were familiar, and in the back of my mind, I had a feeling I’d seen her before.

Or perhaps, to me, all models looked the same.

She looked up in my direction, and before I could divert my eyes, she locked on.  I could feel her gaze boring into me, and then it was gone as if she had been looking straight through me.  I remained out on deck as the ship got underway, watching her disappear inside the cabin.  My curiosity was piqued, so I decided to keep an eye out for her.

I could feel the coolness of the air as the ship picked up speed, not that it was going to be very fast.  With stops, the trip would take nearly two hours to get to my destination.  It would turn back almost immediately, but I was going to stay until the evening when it returned at about half eight.  It would give me enough time to sample the local fare, and take a tour of the medieval village.

Few other passengers ventured out on the deck, most staying inside or going to lunch.  After a short time, I came back down to the main deck and headed forward.  I wanted to clear my head by concentrating on the movement of the vessel through the water, breathing in the crisp, clean air, and let the peacefulness of the surroundings envelope me.

It didn’t work.

I knew it wouldn’t be long before I started thinking about why things hadn’t worked, and what part I played in it.  And the usual question that came to mind when something didn’t work out.  What was wrong with me?

I usually blamed it on my upbringing.

I had one of those so-called privileged lives, a nanny till I was old enough to go to boarding school, then sent to the best schools in the land.  There I learned everything I needed to be the son of a Duke, or, as my father called it in one of his lighter moments, nobility in waiting.

Had this been five or six hundred years ago, I would need to have sword and jousting skills, or if it had been a few hundred years later a keen military mind.  If nothing else I could ride a horse, and go on hunts, or did until they became not the thing to do.

I learned six languages, and everything I needed to become a diplomat in the far-flung British Empire, except the Empire had become the Commonwealth, and then, when no-one was looking, Britain’s influence in the world finally disappeared.  I was a man without a cause, without a vocation, and no place to go.

Computers were the new vogue and I had an aptitude for programming.  I guess that went hand in hand with mathematics, which although I hated the subject, I excelled in.  Both I and another noble outcast used to toss ideas around in school, but when it came to the end of our education, he chose to enter the public service, and I took a few of those ideas we had mulled over and turned them into a company.

About a year ago, I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse.  There were so many zeroes on the end of it I just said yes, put the money into a very grateful bank, and was still trying to come to terms with it.

Sadly, I still had no idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life.  My parents had asked me to come back home and help manage the estate, and I did for a few weeks.  It was as long as it took for my parents to drive me insane.

Back in the city, I spent a few months looking for a mundane job, but there were very few that suited the qualifications I had, and the rest, I think I intimidated the interviewer simply because of who I was.  In that time I’d also featured on the cover of the Economist, and through my well-meaning accountant, started involving myself with various charities, earning the title ‘philanthropist’.

And despite all of this exposure, even making one of those ubiquitous ‘eligible bachelor’ lists, I still could not find ‘the one’, the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.  Phillipa seemed to fit the bill, but in time she proved to be a troubled soul with ‘Daddy’ issues.  I knew that in building a relationship compromise was necessary, but with her, in the end, everything was a compromise and what had happened was always going to be the end result.

It was perhaps a by-product of the whole nobility thing.  There was a certain expectation I had to fulfill, to my peers, contemporaries, parents and family, and those who either liked or hated what it represented.  The problem was, I didn’t feel like I belonged.  Not like my friend from schooldays, and now obscure acquaintance, Sebastian.  He had been elevated to his Dukedom early when his father died when he was in his twenties.  He had managed to fade from the limelight and was rarely mentioned either in the papers or the gossip columns.  He was one of the lucky ones.

I had managed to keep a similarly low profile until I met Phillipa.  From that moment, my obscurity disappeared.  It was, I could see now, part of a plan put in place by Phillipa’s father, a man who hogged the limelight with his daughter, to raise the profile of the family name and through it their businesses.  He was nothing if not the consummate self-advertisement.

Perhaps I was supposed to be the last piece of the puzzle, the attachment to the establishment, that link with a class of people he would not normally get in the front door.  There was nothing refined about him or his family, and more than once I’d noticed my contemporaries cringe at the mention of his name, or any reference of my association with him.

Yet could I truthfully say I really wanted to go back to the obscurity I had before Phillipa?  For all her faults, there were times when she had been fun to be with, particularly when I first met her when she had a certain air of unpredictability.  That had slowly disappeared as she became part of her father’s plan for the future.  She just failed to see how much he was using her.

Or perhaps, over time, I had become cynical.

I thought about calling her.  It was one of those moments of weakness when I felt alone, more alone than usual.

I diverted my attention back to my surroundings and the shoreline.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the woman in the red coat, making a move.  The red coat was like a beacon, a sort of fire engine red.  It was not the sort of coat most of the women I knew would wear, but on her, it looked terrific.  In fact, her sublime beauty was the one other attribute that was distinctly noticeable, along with the fact her hair was short, rather than long, and jet black.

I had to wrench my attention away from her.

A few minutes later several other passengers came out of the cabin for a walk around the deck, perhaps to get some exercise, perhaps checking up on me, or perhaps I was being paranoid.  I waited till they passed on their way forward, and I turned and headed aft.

I watched the wake sluicing out from under the stern for a few minutes, before retracing my steps to the front of the ship and there I stood against the railing, watching the bow carve its way through the water.  It was almost mesmerizing.  There, I emptied my mind of thoughts about Phillipa, and thoughts about the woman in the red coat.

Until a female voice behind me said, “Having a bad day?”

I started, caught by surprise, and slowly turned.  The woman in the red coat had somehow got very close me without my realizing it.  How did she do that?  I was so surprised I couldn’t answer immediately.

“I do hope you are not contemplating jumping.  I hear the water is very cold.”

Closer up, I could see what I’d missed when I saw her on the main deck.  There was a slight hint of Chinese, or Oriental, in her particularly around the eyes, and of her hair which was jet black.  An ancestor twice or more removed had left their mark, not in a dominant way, but more subtle, and easily missed except from a very short distance away, like now.

Other than that, she was quite possibly Eastern European, perhaps Russian, though that covered a lot of territory.  The incongruity of it was that she spoke with an American accent, and fluent enough for me to believe English was her first language.

Usually, I could ‘read’ people, but she was a clean slate.  Her expression was one of amusement, but with cold eyes.  My first thought, then, was to be careful.

“No.  Not yet.”  I coughed to clear my throat because I could hardly speak.  And blushed, because that was what I did when confronted by a woman, beautiful or otherwise.

The amusement gave way to a hint of a smile that brightened her demeanor as a little warmth reached her eyes.  “So that’s a maybe.  Should I change into my lifesaving gear, just in case?”

It conjured up a rather interesting image in my mind until I reluctantly dismissed it.

“Perhaps I should move away from the edge,” I said, moving sideways until I was back on the main deck, a few feet further away.  Her eyes had followed me, and when I stopped she turned to face me again.  She did not move closer.

I realized then she had removed her beret and it was in her left side coat pocket.  “Thanks for your concern …?”

“Zoe.”

“Thanks for your concern, Zoe.  By the way, my name is John.”

She smiled again, perhaps in an attempt to put me at ease.  “I saw you earlier, you looked so sad, I thought …”

“I might throw myself overboard?”

“An idiotic notion I admit, but it is better to be safe than sorry.”

Then she tilted her head to one side then the other, looking intently at me.  “You seem to be familiar.  Do I know you?”

I tried to think of where I may have seen her before, but all I could remember was what I’d thought earlier when I first saw her; she was a model and had been at one of the showings.  If she was, it would be more likely she would remember Phillipa, not me.  Phillipa always had to sit in the front row.

“Probably not.”  I also didn’t mention the fact she may have seen my picture in the society pages of several tabloid newspapers because she didn’t look the sort of woman who needed a daily dose of the comings and goings, and, more often than not, scandal associated with so-called celebrities.

She gave me a look, one that told me she had just realized who I was.  “Yes, I remember now.  You made the front cover of the Economist.  You sold your company for a small fortune.”

Of course.  She was not the first who had recognized me from that cover.  It had raised my profile considerably, but not the Sternhaven’s.  That article had not mentioned Phillipa or her family.  I suspect Grandmother had something to do with that, and it was, now I thought about it, another nail in the coffin that was my relationship with Phillipa.

“I wouldn’t say it was a fortune, small or otherwise, just fortunate.”  Each time, I found myself playing down the wealth aspect of the business deal.

“Perhaps then, as the journalist wrote, you were lucky.  It is not, I think, a good time for internet-based companies.”

The latter statement was an interesting fact, one she read in the Financial Times which had made that exact comment recently.

“But I am boring you.”  She smiled again.  “I should be minding my own business and leaving you to your thoughts.  I am sorry.”

She turned to leave and took a few steps towards the main cabin.

“You’re not boring me,” I said, thinking I was letting my paranoia get the better of me.  It had been Sebastian on learning of my good fortune, who had warned me against ‘a certain element here and abroad’ whose sole aim would be to separate me from my money.  He was not very subtle when he described their methods.

But I knew he was right.  I should have let her walk away.

She stopped and turned around.  “You seem nothing like the man I read about in the Economist.”

A sudden and awful thought popped into my head.  Those words were part of a very familiar opening gambit.  “Are you a reporter?”

I was not sure if she looked surprised, or amused.  “Do I look like one?”

I silently cursed myself for speaking before thinking, and then immediately ignored my own admonishment.  “People rarely look like what they are.”

I saw the subtle shake of the head and expected her to take her leave.  Instead she astonished me.

“I fear we have got off on the wrong foot.  To be honest, I’m not usually this forward, but you seemed like you needed cheering up when probably the opposite is true.  Aside from the fact this excursion was probably a bad idea.  And,” she added with a little shrug, “perhaps I talk too much.”

I was not sure what I thought of her after that extraordinary admission. It was not something I would do, but it was an interesting way to approach someone and have them ignoring their natural instinct.  I would let Sebastian whisper in my ear for a little longer and see where this was going.

“Oddly enough, I was thinking the same thing.  I was supposed to be traveling with my prospective bride.  I think you can imagine how that turned out.”

“She’s not here?”

“No.”

“She’s in the cabin?”  Her eyes strayed in that direction for a moment then came back to me.  She seemed surprised I might be traveling with someone.

“No.  She is back in England, and the wedding is off.  So is the relationship.  She dumped me by text.”

OK, why was I sharing this humiliating piece of information with her?  I still couldn’t be sure she was not a reporter.

She motioned to an empty seat, back from the edge.  No walking the plank today.  She moved towards it and sat down.  She showed no signs of being cold, nor interested in the breeze upsetting her hair.  Phillipa would be having a tantrum about now, being kept outside, and freaking out over what the breeze might be doing to her appearance.

I wondered, if only for a few seconds if she used this approach with anyone else.  I guess I was a little different, a seemingly rich businessman alone on a ferry on Lake Geneva, contemplating the way his life had gone so completely off track.

She watched as I sat at the other end of the bench, leaving about a yard between us.  After I leaned back and made myself as comfortable as I could, she said, “I have also experienced something similar, though not by text message.  It is difficult, the first few days.”

“I saw it coming.”

“I did not.”  She frowned, a sort of lifeless expression taking over, perhaps brought on by the memory of what had happened to her.  “But it is done, and I moved on.  Was she the love of your life?”

OK, that was unexpected.

When I didn’t answer, she said, “I am sorry.  Sometimes I ask personal questions without realizing what I’m doing.  It is none of my business.”  She shivered.  “Perhaps we should go back inside.”

She stood, and held out her hand.  Should I take it and be drawn into her web?  I thought of Sebastian.  What would he do in this situation?

I took her hand in mine and let her pull me gently to my feet.  “Wise choice,” she said, looking up at the sky.

It just started to rain.

© Charles Heath 2015-2020

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‘Sunday in New York’ – A beta reader’s view

I’m not a fan of romance novels but …

There was something about this one that resonated with me.

This is a novel about a world generally ruled by perception, and how people perceive what they see, what they are told, and what they want to believe.

I’ve been guilty of it myself as I’m sure we all have at one time or another.

For the main characters Harry and Alison there are other issues driving their relationship.

For Alison, it is a loss of self-worth through losing her job and from losing her mother and, in a sense, her sister.

For Harry, it is the fact he has a beautiful and desirable wife, and his belief she is the object of other men’s desires, and one in particular, his immediate superior.

Between observation, the less than honest motives of his friends, a lot of jumping to conclusions based on very little fact, and you have the basis of one very interesting story.

When it all comes to a head, Alison finds herself in a desperate situation, she realises only the truth will save their marriage.

But is it all the truth?

What would we do in similar circumstances?

Rarely does a book have me so enthralled that I could not put it down until I knew the result. They might be considered two people who should have known better, but as is often the case, they had to get past what they both thought was the truth.

And the moral of this story, if it could be said there is one, nothing is ever what it seems.

Available on Amazon here: amzn.to/2H7ALs8

An excerpt from “Betrayal” – a work in progress

It could have been anywhere in the world, she thought, but it wasn’t.  It was in a city where if anything were to go wrong…

She sighed and came away from the window and looked around the room.  It was quite large and expensively furnished.  It was one of several she had been visiting in the last three months.

Quite elegant too, as the hotel had its origins dating back to before the revolution in 1917.  At least, currently, there would not be a team of KGB agents somewhere in the basement monitoring everything that happened in the room.

There was no such thing as the KGB anymore, though there was an FSB, but such organisations were of no interest to her.

She was here to meet with Vladimir.

She smiled to herself when she thought of him, such an interesting man whose command of English was as good as her command of Russian, though she had not told him of that ability.

All he knew of her was that she was American, worked in the Embassy as a clerk, nothing important, whose life both at work and at home was boring.  Not that she had blurted that out the first tie she met, or even the second.

That first time, at a function in the Embassy, was a chance meeting, a catching of his eye as he looked around the room, looking, as he had told her later, for someone who might not be as boring as the function itself.

It was a celebration, honouring one of the Embassy officials on his service in Moscow, and the fact he was returning home after 10 years.  She had been there once, and still hadn’t met all the staff.

They had talked, Vladimir knew a great deal about England, having been stationed there for a year or two, and had politely asked questions about where she lived, her family, and of course what her role was, all questions she fended off with an air of disinterested interest.

It fascinated him, as she knew it would, a sort of mental sparring as one would do with swords if this was a fencing match.

They had said they might or might not meet again when the party was over, but she suspected there would be another opportunity.  She knew the signs of a man who was interested in her, and Vladimir was interested.

The second time came in the form of an invitation to an art gallery, and a viewing of the works of a prominent Russian artist, an invitation she politely declined.  After all, invitations issued to Embassy staff held all sorts of connotations, or so she was told by the Security officer when she told him.

Then, it went quiet for a month.  There was a party at the American embassy and along with several other staff members, she was invited.  She had not expected to meet Vladimir, but it was a pleasant surprise when she saw him, on the other side of the room, talking to several military men.

A pleasant afternoon ensued.

And it was no surprise that they kept running into each other at the various events on the diplomatic schedule.

By the fifth meeting, they were like old friends.  She had broached the subject of being involved in a plutonic relationship with him with the head of security at the embassy.  Normally for a member of her rank, it would not be allowed, but in this instance it was.

She did not work in any sensitive areas, and, as the security officer had said, she might just happen upon something that might be useful.  In that regard, she was to keep her eyes and ears open and file a report each time she met him.

After that discussion, she got the impression her superiors considered Vladimir more than just a casual visitor on the diplomatic circuit.  She also formed the impression that he might consider her an ‘asset’, a word that had been used at the meeting with security and the ambassador.

It was where the word ‘spy’ popped into her head and sent a tingle down her spine.  She was not a spy, but the thought of it, well, it would be fascinating to see what happened.

A Russian friend.  That’s what she would call him.

And over time, that relationship blossomed, until, after a visit to the ballet, late and snowing, he invited her to his apartment not far from the ballet venue.  It was like treading on thin ice, but after champagne and an introduction to caviar, she felt like a giddy schoolgirl.

Even so, she had made him promise that he remain on his best behaviour.  It could have been very easy to fall under the spell of a perfect evening, but he promised, showed her to a separate bedroom, and after a brief kiss, their first, she did not see him until the next morning.

So, it began.

It was an interesting report she filed after that encounter, one where she had expected to be reprimanded.

She wasn’t.

It wasn’t until six weeks had passed when he asked her if she would like to take a trip to the country.  It would involve staying in a hotel, that they would have separate rooms.  When she reported the invitation, no objection was raised, only a caution; keep her wits about her.

Perhaps, she had thought, they were looking forward to a more extensive report.  After all, her reports on the places, and the people, and the conversations she overheard, were no doubt entertaining reading for some.

But this visit was where the nature of the relationship changed, and it was one that she did not immediately report.  She had realised at some point before the weekend away, that she had feelings for him, and it was not that he was pushing her in that direction or manipulating her in any way.

It was just one of those moments where, after a grand dinner, a lot of champagne, and delightful company, things happen.  Standing at the door to her room, a lingering kiss, not intentional on her part, and it just happened.

And for not one moment did she believe she had been compromised, but for some reason she had not reported that subtle change in the relationship to the powers that be, and so far, no one had any inkling.

She took off her coat and placed it carefully of the back of one of the ornate chairs in the room.  She stopped for a moment to look at a framed photograph on the wall, one representing Red Square.

Then, after a minute or two, she went to the mini bar and took out the bottle of champagne that had been left there for them, a treat arranged by Vladimir for each encounter.

There were two champagne flutes set aside on the bar, next to a bowl of fruit.  She picked up the apple and thought how Eve must have felt in the garden of Eden, and the temptation.

Later perhaps, after…

She smiled at the thought and put the apple back.

A glance at her watch told her it was time for his arrival.  It was if anything, the one trait she didn’t like, and that was his punctuality.  A glance at the clock on the room wall was a minute slow.

The doorbell to the room rang, right on the appointed time.

She put the bottle down and walked over to the door.

A smile on her face, she opened the door.

It was not Vladimir.  It was her worst nightmare.

© Charles Heath 2020

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to write a war story – Episode 13

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

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

And, so, it continues…

 

I remained on the spot, not moving, for at least five minutes before I let out a sigh of relief.  It would be relatively safe because I had heard them walk off, following the river, and Jack, as my eyes and ears, had been out and had come back,. tail wagging slightly.

I was hoping he was not in league with Jackerby.

“So,” I said quietly to him, “you think it is safe out there?”  To be honest, I was not sure why I was asking the dog, or, for that matter, if he understood a word I was saying.

I  took tail wagging as a good sign.

Until, all of a sudden he went quiet and very still again, ears up and listening.

Then, I heard what he had heard.  The cracking sound of a foot on a twig or dry branch.

From behind me.

We both turned slowly.

An Italian man, about mid 30’s with a dated rifle in his hands, aimed at my head, not twenty feet away.  I was not going to take the chance he couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn.

“Who are you?”  He started with schoolboy German, obviously not his first language.

The problem I had was deciding whether he was the traitor, or with the resistance that hadn’t been betrayed.

“Not a German for starters,” I said.

I noticed Jack was standing very still with teeth bared.  He didn’t like this man.  Perhaps he too didn’t like the odds of rushing the man with the gun.

“Englander?”

The way a German would call an Englishman.

“In a manner of speaking.”

“Are you from the castle?”

That was a trick question if I say no, he wouldn’t believe me, and if I said yes, I’d be tarred with the German brush.

“I escaped from there, so in a manner of speaking, yes I am from the castle.”

“Name?”

It couldn’t hurt to tell him.  “Sam Atherton.”

He let the gun drop, but it was still in a position to shoot me if I tried anything.

“Are you from the resistance?  I mean the group that hasn’t been compromised by a traitor?”

“I don’t know anything about the resistance if there is one.  I’m a farmer, trying to go about his business in the middle of a war.  What are you doing here?”

It might seem to anyone rather odd to be standing around in the woods.  “Hiding from two men who have come from the castle to follow me.”

He looked around.  “Where are they now?”

“Supposedly following me into the village, in that direction,” I pointed to where I thought the village was, “where I’m supposed to be leading them to the resistance, which, you said, doesn’t exist.”

“I didn’t say it didn’t exist, only that I don’t know anything about it.  What makes you think there is a resistance unit in these parts?”

Good question.  And, depending on what side he was on, still to be determined, I was not going to give them away.  “I’m acting on some sketchy intelligence we got in London, along with the possibility that the men in the castle, who are supposed to be Englanders, as you call them, but who are actually working with the Germans.  Seems they were right on one count, because they caught me and put me in a cell, and possibly wrong, according to you, on the other.”

“How did you manage to get away, if you were in a cell.”

So, here comes the part that sounds totally improbable.  “One of the two men following me broke me out.”

Yes, the look on his face said it all.

I shrugged.  “Ask the dog.  He’ll tell you.  His name is Jack by the way, but I’m not sure if he understands English.”

The dog went still again and turned his head.

Another crack, another person in the undergrowth, coming from the other side of the bushes.  My first thought, my two pursuers, realizing they’d lost me, had circled back to find me.

The man in front didn’t raise his gun, so it was someone he knew.

“Who is he?”

A woman’s voice.  I turned my head slightly.  She was older, perhaps this man’s mother.  She had a pistol in her left hand.

“Claims he escaped from the castle.”

“They all do.”

I heard a soft bang, and then something in my back, like a needle.

Seconds later my heard started spinning, and few more seconds later my legs gave out, and darkness followed.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

The cinema of my dreams – It all started in Venice – Episode 13

Cecilia changes the subject

Being an up-and-coming movie start was not all beer and skittles, as the saying goes.

Juliet gave her a look that I thought was her death stare, annoyed by her arrival at what might have been a critical point in the conversation.

Cecilia saw her and shook her head.  “Oops, I’m intruding.  Sorry.”  She stood

“You’re not,” I said, which earned me a harsh look too, “We’re just having coffee, but you might want something stronger.”

“No, I’d better go.”  She was looking directly at Juliet, putting the onus directly on her.

“Stay.  We’re just having coffee.”

Cecilia waved to a waitress and sat down again.  “Great, I wasn’t looking forward to going back to an empty room.”

For effect, she touched me on my arm, her seat being closer, and I could see what she was doing. 

We opted for more coffee, Cecilia ordered a bottle of champagne, and three glasses, an attempt to smooth the rocky waters.

Juliet was definitely annoyed.  Another death stare in Cecilia’s direction, then, “would I have seen anything you’ve starred in?”

“Me?  I’m not a star, not a big name, just bit parts in series like Midsommer Murders, and Silent Witness.  I get to play dead bodies and murder victims.  My last role was a little better, I got a half dozen lines.  But I’m just one of the hundreds of hopefuls out there.”

“Do you have a day job, then, if parts are so few and far apart?”

Interesting question, Juliet was thinking on her feet.

If she was trying to catch Cecilia out, but she was ahead of Juliet.  “I do.  I’d like to say that it’s being a high-class escort, but they make more money than I’d know what to do with, so I toil away as a supermarket checkout girl.  Gives me the most flexibility regarding time off, and I get to meet so many different people, who become part of my repertoire of characters.  What do you do?”

“Pathology.”

“A doctor.”

“A disgraced doctor that can’t practice medicine.  Perhaps that might be material enough for another of your characters.”

Cecilia had one glass of champagne the moment it came, and then refilled for a second.  She offered it to us, and I nodded, taking half a glass.  Juliet declined.

“Played a hospital patient, a bomb victim, swathed in bloody bandages, been a doctor in the background once, got to spill coffee over another doctor.”

“What is the best part you’ve had?”

 “A fallen nun.”

The best said about that the better, but not before my mind went to places it shouldn’t.  I changed the subject.  “What will you be doing after the festival is over?”

“Going home.  I have an audition for a part in a film about mercenaries, they want me to be a mercenary would you believe?”

Apparently Juliet didn’t think so.

“But I have a spare few days if you want to show me more of Italy.  I’d like to see a little of Tuscany, try some wine.”

Another touch and a smile.

“I thought you were going to Sorrento.”  Not unexpected from Juliet.

“It can wait.  I’ve been thinking of going home, and can take Cecilia to Tuscany, send her on her way, and go visit Larry’s mother at Sorrento “

“And if I take up your tour offer to come with you?”

Cecilia gave me a Juliet look.

“Then I’ll send you a text saying where and when I’ll meet you.”

Change bottle empty, Cecilia gave me one last look, one that would no doubt get a reaction from Juliet, and sauntered away.

Juliet watched her leave, and after she disappeared out of sight, said, “it seems to me she’s more than just a friend.”

“That’s just her, no doubt playing a role.  She asked me if you were a girlfriend, and I said, once maybe, but not now.  Seems she didn’t quite believe me.”

“I think we both know where that ship is headed.”

The rocks, perhaps.  “It’s too soon after Violetta to contemplate anything like that.  But, that doesn’t mean I can’t be friends for now, and see what the future brings.”

“Not much if what you say about this Larry character is true.”

“That said, you might also want to be careful.  Larry’s not averse to using or killing close contacts of only to send a message.  So, if feel unsafe, or he makes an overture, tell me and I’ll pass it on to my minders.”

“If he does, I’ll definitely let you know.”

“Good.  It’s getting later.  We should get back to the hotel.”

© Charles Heath 2022

This is beginning to sound a lot like…

It’s odd how art sometimes imitates life, but it’s much, much worse when life imitates art.

I mean, in a sense, it’s good that life imitates Star Trek because we need lasers to ward off unfriendly aliens when they finally arrive, as well as having intergalactic warp-speed vessels.

But it’s very, very bad when a contagion pops up, and the scenario that follows is right out of the script for the movie Contagion.

Or Outbreak, not that any President would ever nuke a US City, which was the premise in that film.

Or follow along the lines of The Omega Man, where a virus turns everyone into a zombie-like creature, with the last surviving human finally running out of luck.

There’s been quite a few doomsday scenario films, the most interesting one involving walking plants (The Day of the Triffids) but scary as they might be, what’s happening now is equally scary.

And the thing is, with the benefit of hindsight, the COVID pandemic was predicted, so it seems sci-fi writers, and screenwriters knew long before us what was going to happen.

So, what’s the next thing sci-fi writers have in store for us?

Time travel?

It’s been getting a lot of reports, and photographs of people in the 1930s or 1940’s supposedly with mobile phones in their hands.

Were they just ‘visiting’ or were they there to change the course of history.  It doesn’t seem like there have been any changes so maybe it’s just about interpretation.

How about travelling through portals, one minute you’re in Sydney, and the next you’re in New York, on the other side of the planet.  That would be good, but then we’d be upsetting the plane manufacturers, so if there was such technology, wouldn’t they buy it and shelve it?

It’s what the oil people did every time someone invented a car engine that ran on water.

What else is there that people with vested interests have shelved – a cure for cancer maybe?

I guess that’s why we have science fiction, and how some authors’ ideas become reality.  I’m guessing somewhere in a laboratory there is a spaceship with a warp engine capable of travelling at the speed of light.

And there might be colonies of humans living on the moon, or on Mars – we just don’t know about it yet.

Or that aliens from other worlds live on earth, or that a select group of people on earth have met people from other planets, not necessarily in this solar system, because we know there are livable planets out there.

But the thing is if they told us the truth, would we believe it?

In a word: Prize

What you win, first prize in a raffle, though I don’t think I’ve ever won first prize.  Second maybe.  But, aren’t all raffles rigged?  

But despite my unfortunate run of luck, a prize is generally give to someone who works hard, or wins a race

Or I could have been a prize fighter but lacked the size and the strength, and out of curiosity how many prize fighters didn’t win a prize?

And if I had been a pirate, I could have sailed the seven seas to find a prize, namely a ship to attack and take as my own.

And as a prime example, a Chelsea supporter walking into a bar full of Manchester United fans could be called a prize idiot.

This is not to be confused with the word prise

Don’t relatives prise the last dollar out of a dying man’s hand?

Or prise the truth out of a witness, or a perpetrator

Or prise a window open like thieves do when we forget to lock them properly?

The cinema of my dreams – I never wanted to go to Africa – Episode 19

Our hero knows he’s in serious trouble.

The problem is, there are familiar faces and a question of who is a friend and who is foe made all the more difficult because of the enemy, if it was the enemy, simply because it didn’t look or sound or act like the enemy.

Now, it appears, his problems stem from another operation he participated in.

It didn’t take much effort to come to the only viable explanation of why a buried operation had been brought back to life.

Colonel Bamfield.

And it didn’t take much more effort to realise that operation had been one of his, not that any of us knew that at the time, but for whatever reason, it had gone badly and now he was looking for answers.

Answers to what though?

It was a simple extraction; two operatives had their cover blown and were in hiding.  A seven-man team in two choppers, get in, collect them, and get out.  Seven men were overkill, but they were important operatives with vital intelligence.

I was a last minute addition to the team, replacing one of the sergeants who had been injured in an accident.  It was a tight-knit team and I was not made to feel welcome.  It was the usual fate of outsiders and it didn’t bother me.

It was their leader that did.  Lieutenant Treen.  But that came later, all it was, at first, was a sense of unease with his informal manner of command, and somewhat edgy disposition.

When I landed at the airfield, I was met by the other Sergeant, Mason, and taken to the briefing, which had been delayed until my arrival.  Treen was there, pacing up and down like a caged tiger.  It was apparent there were still some details still being worked on.  Being so close to wheels up, I was not surprised at the tension among the group.

A Captain, a man named Worsefell, conducted the briefing, and it was patchy.  Not the worst I’d been to, but it appeared the situation on the ground had changed considerably in the last 12 hours, necessitating a change in plans.

 The operative had managed to get cover in an old abandoned building.  That was fine until a group of enemy soldiers arrived and set up camp in the field not 100 yards from their position.  Now, it was not possible to leave without being seen, day or night.

We now had to either distract or remove the enemy soldiers, an enemy we had no numbers or how heavily armed they were because our source on the ground had gone quiet.  To me, it was possible the source had been captured, and if that was the case, it was also possible the enemy knew we were coming.  But according to the Captain, this particular source had gone quiet before, in similar circumstances, so my suggestion was ignored.

Instead, the consensus was to go in and make an assessment on the ground.  It meant we had to land further away, and have a long journey by foot with all the problems that might involve, and then return.  That was the plan.  The Captain had left it in Treen’s hands.

And Treen was not one to back away from a fight, not even when it was clear to everyone in that room, with or without the necessary intelligence, that the odds were stacked against success.

I looked at Lallo who was waiting for an answer.  “I guess the brass didn’t know what to do with me, sir.”

My use of the word sir was noted.

“Be that as it may, I have a few questions about that operation.”

“I’m afraid it’s classified, and I’m under oath not to speak about it.”

Lallo took out a piece of folded paper from the inside pocket of his uniform jacket unfolded it and passed it to me.

From the very General who had ordered my silence.

© Charles Heath 2019-2022