An excerpt from “Sunday in New York”

Now available on Amazon at:  https://amzn.to/2H7ALs8

 

Williams’ Restaurant, East 65th Street, New York, Saturday, 8:00 p.m.

 

We met the Blaine’s at Williams’, a rather upmarket restaurant that the Blaine’s frequently visited, and had recommended.

Of course, during the taxi ride there, Alison reminded me that with my new job, we would be able to go to many more places like Williams’.  It was, at worst, more emotional blackmail, because as far as Alison was concerned, we were well on our way to posh restaurants, the Trump Tower Apartments, and the trappings of the ‘executive set’.

It would be a miracle if I didn’t strangle Elaine before the night was over.  It was she who had filled Alison’s head with all this stuff and nonsense.

Aside from the half frown half-smile, Alison was looking stunning.  It was months since she had last dressed up, and she was especially wearing the dress I’d bought her for our 5th anniversary that cost a month’s salary.  On her, it was worth it, and I would have paid more if I had to.  She had adored it, and me, for a week or so after.

For tonight, I think I was close to getting back on that pedestal.

She had the looks and figure to draw attention, the sort movie stars got on the red carpet, and when we walked into the restaurant, I swear there were at least five seconds silence, and many more gasps.

Even I had a sudden loss of breath earlier in the evening when she came out of the dressing room.  Once more I was reminded of how lucky I was that she had agreed to marry me.  Amid all those self-doubts, I couldn’t believe she had loved me when there were so many others ‘out there’ who were more appealing.

Elaine was out of her seat and came over just as the Head Waiter hovered into sight.  She personally escorted Alison to the table, allowing me to follow like the Queen’s consort, while she and Alison basked in the admiring glances of the other patrons.

More than once I heard the muted question, “Who is she?”

Jimmy stood, we shook hands, and then we sat together.  It was not the usual boy, girl, boy, girl seating arrangement.  Jimmy and I on one side and Elaine and Alison on the other.

The battle lines were drawn.

Jimmy was looking fashionable, with the permanent blade one beard, unkempt hair, and designer dinner suit that looked like he’d slept in it.  Alison insisted I wear a tuxedo, and I looked like the proverbial penguin or just a thinner version of Alfred Hitchcock.

The bow tie had been slightly crooked, but just before we stepped out she had straightened it.  And took the moment to look deeply into my soul.  It was one of those moments when words were not necessary.

Then it was gone.

I relived it briefly as I sat and she looked at me.  A penetrating look that told me to ‘behave’.

When we were settled, Elaine said, in that breathless, enthusiastic manner of hers when she was excited, “So, Harry, you are finally moving up.”  It was not a question, but a statement.

I was not sure what she meant by ‘finally’ but I accepted it with good grace.  Sometimes Elaine was prone to using figures of speech I didn’t understand.  I guessed she was talking about the new job.  “It was supposed to be a secret.”

She smiled widely.  “There are no secrets between Al and I, are there Al?”

I looked at ‘Al’ and saw a brief look of consternation.

I was not sure Alison liked the idea of being called Al.  I tried it once and was admonished.  But it was interesting her ‘best friend forever’ was allowed that distinction when I was not.  It was, perhaps, another indicator of how far I’d slipped in her estimation.

Perhaps, I thought, it was a necessary evil.  As I understood it, the Blaine’s were our mentors at the Trump Tower, because they didn’t just let ‘anyone’ in.  I didn’t ask if the Blaine’s thought we were just ‘anyone’ before I got the job offer.

And then there was that look between Alison and Elaine, quickly stolen before Alison realized I was looking at both of them.  I was out of my depth, in a place I didn’t belong, with people I didn’t understand.  And yet, apparently, Alison did.  I must have missed the memo.

“No,” Alison said softly, stealing a glance in my direction, “No secrets between friends.”

No secrets.  Her look conveyed something else entirely.

The waiter brought champagne, Krug, and poured glasses for each of us.  It was not the cheap stuff, and I was glad I brought a couple of thousand dollars with me.  We were going to need it.

Then, a toast.

To a new job and a new life.

“When did you decide?”  Elaine was effusive at the best of times, but with the champagne, it was worse.

Alison had a strange expression on her face.  It was obvious she had told Elaine it was a done deal, even before I’d made up my mind.  Perhaps she’d assumed I might be ‘refreshingly honest’ in front of Elaine, but it could also mean she didn’t really care what I might say or do.

Instead of consternation, she looked happy, and I realized it would be churlish, even silly if I made a scene.  I knew what I wanted to say.  I also knew that it would serve little purpose provoking Elaine, or upsetting Alison.  This was not the time or the place.  Alison had been looking forward to coming here, and I was not going to spoil it.

Instead, I said, smiling, “When I woke up this morning and found Alison missing.  If she had been there, I would not have noticed the water stain on the roof above our bed, and decide there and then how much I hated the place.” I used my reassuring smile, the one I used with the customers when all hell was breaking loose, and the forest fire was out of control.  “It’s the little things.  They all add up until one day …”  I shrugged.  “I guess that one day was today.”

I saw an incredulous look pass between Elaine and Alison, a non-verbal question; perhaps, is he for real?  Or; I told you he’d come around.

I had no idea the two were so close.

“How quaint,” Elaine said, which just about summed up her feelings towards me.  I think, at that moment, I lost some brownie points.  It was all I could come up with at short notice.

“Yes,” I added, with a little more emphasis than I wanted.  “Alison was off to get some study in with one of her friends.”

“Weren’t the two of you off to the Hamptons, a weekend with some friends?” Jimmy piped up, and immediately got the ‘shut up you fool’ look, that cut that line of conversation dead.  Someone forgot to feed Jimmy his lines.

It was followed by the condescending smile from Elaine, and “I need to powder my nose.  Care to join me, Al?”

A frown, then a forced smile for her new best friend.  “Yes.”

I watched them leave the table and head in the direction of the restroom, looking like they were in earnest conversation.  I thought ‘Al’ looked annoyed, but I could be wrong.

I had to say Jimmy looked more surprised than I did.

There was that odd moment of silence between us, Jimmy still smarting from his death stare, and for me, the Alison and Elaine show.  I was quite literally gob-smacked.

I drained my champagne glass gathering some courage and turned to him.  “By the way, we were going to have a weekend away, but this legal tutorial thing came up.  You know Alison is doing her law degree.”

He looked startled when he realized I had spoken.  He was looking intently at a woman several tables over from us, one who’d obviously forgotten some basic garments when getting dressed.  Or perhaps it was deliberate.  She’d definitely had some enhancements done.

He dragged his eyes back to me.  “Yes.  Elaine said something or other about it.  But I thought she said the tutor was out of town and it had been postponed until next week.  Perhaps I got it wrong.  I usually do.”

“Perhaps I’ve got it wrong.”  I shrugged, as the dark thoughts started swirling in my head again.  “This week or next, what does it matter?”

Of course, it mattered to me, and I digested what he said with a sinking heart.  It showed there was another problem between Alison and me; it was possible she was now telling me lies.  If what he said was true and I had no reason to doubt him, where was she going tomorrow morning, and had she really been with a friend studying today?

We poured some more champagne, had a drink, then he asked, “This promotion thing, what’s it worth?”

“Trouble, I suspect.  Definitely more money, but less time at home.”

“Oh,” raised eyebrows.  Obviously, the women had not talked about the job in front of him, or, at least, not all the details.  “You sure you want to do that?”

At last the voice of reason.  “Me?  No.”

“Yet you accepted the job.”

I sucked in a breath or two while I considered whether I could trust him.  Even if I couldn’t, I could see my ship was sinking, so it wouldn’t matter what I told him, or what Elaine might find out from him.  “Jimmy, between you and me I haven’t as yet decided one way or another.  To be honest, I won’t know until I go up to Barclay’s office and he asks me the question.”

“Barclay?”

“My boss.”

“Elaine’s doing a job for a Barclay that recently moved in the tower a block down from us.  I thought I recognized the name.”

“How did Elaine get the job?”

“Oh, Alison put him onto her.”

“When?”

“A couple of months ago.  Why?”

I shrugged and tried to keep a straight face, while my insides were churning up like the wake of a supertanker.  I felt sick, faint, and wanting to die all at the same moment.  “Perhaps she said something about it, but it didn’t connect at the time.  Too busy with work I expect.  I think I seriously need to get away for a while.”

I could hardly breathe, my throat was constricted and I knew I had to keep it together.  I could see Elaine and Alison coming back, so I had to calm down.  I sucked in some deep breaths, and put my ‘manage a complete and utter disaster’ look on my face.

And I had to change the subject, quickly, so I said, “Jimmy, Elaine told Alison, who told me, you were something of a guru of the cause and effects of the global economic meltdown.  Now, I have a couple of friends who have been expounding this theory …”

Like flicking a switch, I launched into the well-worn practice of ‘running a distraction’, like at work when we needed to keep the customer from discovering the truth.  It was one of the things I was good at, taking over a conversation and pushing it in a different direction.  It was salvaging a good result from an utter disaster, and if ever there was a time that it was required, it was right here, right now.

When Alison sat down and looked at me, she knew something had happened between Jimmy and I.  I might have looked pale or red-faced, or angry or disappointed, it didn’t matter.  If that didn’t seal the deal for her, the fact I took over the dining engagement did.  She knew well enough the only time I did that was when everything was about to go to hell in a handbasket.  She’d seen me in action before and had been suitably astonished.

But I got into gear, kept the champagne flowing and steered the conversation, as much as one could from a seasoned professional like Elaine, and, I think, in Jimmy’s eyes, he saw the battle lines and knew who took the crown on points.  Neither Elaine nor Jimmy suspected anything, and if the truth be told, I had improved my stocks with Elaine.  She was at times both surprised and interested, even willing to take a back seat.

Alison, on the other hand, tried poking around the edges, and, once when Elaine and Jimmy had got up to have a cigarette outside, questioned me directly.  I chose to ignore her, and pretend nothing had happened, instead of telling her how much I was enjoying the evening.

She had her ‘secrets’.  I had mine.

At the end of the evening, when I got up to go to the bathroom, I was physically sick from the pent up tension and the implications of what Jimmy had told me.  It took a while for me to pull myself together; so long, in fact, Jimmy came looking for me.  I told him I’d drunk too much champagne, and he seemed satisfied with that excuse.  When I returned, both Alison and Elaine noticed how pale I was but neither made any comment.

It was a sad way to end what was supposed to be a delightful evening, which to a large degree it was for the other three.  But I had achieved what I set out to do, and that was to play them at their own game, watching the deception, once I knew there was a deception, as warily as a cat watches its prey.

I had also discovered Jimmy’s real calling; a professor of economics at the same University Alison was doing her law degree.  It was no surprise in the end, on a night where surprises abounded, that the world could really be that small.

We parted in the early hours of the morning, a taxi whisking us back to the Lower East Side, another taking the Blaine’s back to the Upper West Side.  But, in our case, as Alison reminded me, it would not be for much longer.  She showed concern for my health, asked me what was wrong.  It took all the courage I could muster to tell her it was most likely something I ate and the champagne, and that I would be fine in the morning.

She could see quite plainly it was anything other than what I told her, but she didn’t pursue it.  Perhaps she just didn’t care what I was playing at.

And yet, after everything that had happened, once inside our ‘palace’, the events of the evening were discarded, like her clothing, and she again reminded me of what we had together in the early years before the problems had set in.

It left me confused and lost.

I couldn’t sleep because my mind had now gone down that irreversible path that told me I was losing her, that she had found someone else, and that our marriage was in its last death throes.

And now I knew it had something to do with Barclay.

 

© Charles Heath 2015-2020

Sunday In New York

 

“Quickly, quickly…” – a short story


It was odd having a voice in your head, well, not really in your head as such, but in your ear, and sounding like it was in your head.

You could truthfully say you were hearing voices.

It was the next step after going through some very intensive training, having someone else as your eyes and ears when breaching a secure compound, and avoiding the enemy.

I’d signed on for this extra training thinking one day it would land me in the thick of the action. Some of the others thought I was mad, but someone had to do it, and the fact it was quite dangerous added just that extra bit to it.

But as they say, what you learn in training, and practise in a non-hostile environment, is nothing like being in that same situation in reality.

Now on was on my first assignment, part of an elite team, packed and taken to what was to everyone else, an unspecified location, but to us, it was the point of incursion.

The mission?

To rescue a government official (that was how he was described to us) who had been illegally detained in a foreign prison.

Our job?

To break him out and get out without the knowledge of the prison staff, or anyone representing that government. Yes, what we were doing was highly illegal, and yes, if we were caught it was more likely than not we would be executed as spies.

We were under cover in an abandoned farmhouse about three miles from the prison. We had been brought in under cover of darkness, and had only a few hours to set up, and then wait it out until the following night.

It was now or never, the weather people predicting that there would be sufficient cloud cover to make us invisible. Two of us were going in, and two remaining strategically placed outside to monitor the inside of the prison through a system of infrared scanners. We also had a floor plan of the building in which the prisoner was being held, and intelligence supplied, supposedly, by one of the prison guards who had been paid a lot of money for information on guard movements.

To me, it was a gigantic leap of faith to trust him, but I kept those thoughts to myself.

We had been over the plan a dozen times, and I’d gone through the passageways, rooms, and doors so many times I’d memorised where they were and would be able to traverse the building as if I had worked there for a lifetime. Having people outside, talking me through it was just an added benefit, along with alerts on how near the guards were to our position.

I was sure the other person going with me, a more seasoned professional who had a number of successful missions under his belt, was going through the same motions I was. After all, it was he who had devised and conducted the training.

There was a free period of several hours before departure, time to listen to some music, empty the head of unwanted thoughts, and get into the right mindset. It was no place to get tangled up in what-ifs, if anything went wrong, it was a simple matter of adapting.

Our training had reinforced the necessity to instantly gauge a situation and make changes on the fly. There would literally be no time to think.

I listened to the nuances of Chopin’s piano concertos, pretending to play the piano myself, having translated every note onto a piano key, and observing it in my mind’s eye.

My opposite number played games of chess in his head. We all had a different method of relaxing.

Until it was 22:00 hours, and time to go.

“Go left, no, hang on, go right.” The voice on my ear sounded confused and it was possible to get lefts and rights mixed up, if you were not careful.

It didn’t faze me, I knew from my study of the plans that once inside the perimeter fence, I had to go right, and head towards a concrete building the roof of which was barely above the ground.

It was once used as a helipad, and underneath, before the site became a prison, the space was used to make munitions. And it was an exceptionally large space that practically ran under the whole of the prison, built above ground.

All that had happened was the lower levels were sealed, covered over and the new structures built on top. Our access was going to be from under the ground.

Quite literally, they would not see, or hear, us coming.

The meteorological people had got it right, there was cloud cover, the moon hidden from view, and the whole perimeter was in inky darkness. Dressed in black from head to foot, the hope was we would be invisible.

There were two of us heading to the same spot, stairs that led down to a door that was once one of the entrances to the underground bunker. We were going separate ways in case one of the other was intercepted in an unforeseen event.

But, that part of the plan worked seamlessly, and we both arrived at the same place nearly at the same time.

Without the planning, we might easily have missed it because I didn’t think it would be discernable even in daylight.

I followed the Sergeant downstairs, keeping a watchful eye behind us. I stooped at the point where I could see down, and across the area we had just traversed.

Nothing else was stirring.

As expected, the door was seamless and without an apparent handle. It may have had one once, but not anymore, so anyone who did stumble across it, couldn’t get in.

Except us. We had special explosives that were designed to break the lock, and once set, would not make a lot of noise. Sixty seconds later we were inside, and the door closed so no one would know we’d broken in.

I was carrying a beacon so that the voice in my head could follow my progress. The sergeant had one too, and he led.

“Straight ahead, 200 yards, then another door. It shouldn’t be locked, but it might be closed.”

In other words, we had no way of knowing. Our informant had said no one had been down in the dungeons, as he called them, since the munition factory closed, and had been sealed up soon after the prison building had been handed over for use.

We were using night goggles, and there was a lot of rubbish strewn over the floor area so we had to carefully pick our way through which took time we really didn’t have. It looked as though our informant was right, no one had been down there for a long time. We were leaving boot prints in the dust.

We reached the door ten minutes later than estimated. Losing time would have a flow-on effect, and this operation was on a very tight time constraint.

“Once you are through the door, there’s a passage. Turn left and go about 50 paces. There should be another passage to your right.”

“Anyone down here?”

“No, but there is a half dozen prison officers above you. Standard patrol, from guardhouse to guardhouse. Unless they can hear you through five feet of solid concrete, you’re safe.”

My instincts told me five feet of concrete were not enough, but I’ll let it ride for the moment.

The door was slightly ajar and it took the two of us to pull it open so that we could get past. Behind it was the passage, going left and right. Trusting my invisible guide was not getting mixed up again, I motioned right, and we headed down the passage.

Despite the fact we should be alone, both of us were careful not to make any noise, and trod carefully.

At 50 or so paces, the passage came into sight. The sergeant went ahead. I stayed back and kept an eye in both directions. The passage before us was the one that would take us under the cell of the captive we were sent to retrieve.

There would be no blasting our way in. The floor to the cell had a grate, and when removed, a person could drop down into the ‘dungeon’. Currently, the grate was immovable, but we had the tools to fix that.

The sergeant would verify the grate was where it was supposed to be, then come back to get me.

Five minutes passed, then ten. It was not that far away.

I was about to go search when the voice in my head returned, but with panic. “We’ve been compromised. Get the hell out of there, now. Quickly…”

Then I heard what sounded like gunshots, then nothing.

A minute later there was a new voice. “I don’t know who you are, but I’d strongly advise you give yourself up to the guards. Failure to do so within one hour, I’ll execute the two men I now have in custody.”

Ahead of me there was a sudden explosion, followed by a cloud of dust and fine debris.

Hand grenade, or mine, it didn’t matter. The sergeant wouldn’t be coming back.

I sighed.

Plan B it was.

© Charles Heath 2021

“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

“Quickly, quickly…” – a short story


It was odd having a voice in your head, well, not really in your head as such, but in your ear, and sounding like it was in your head.

You could truthfully say you were hearing voices.

It was the next step after going through some very intensive training, having someone else as your eyes and ears when breaching a secure compound, and avoiding the enemy.

I’d signed on for this extra training thinking one day it would land me in the thick of the action. Some of the others thought I was mad, but someone had to do it, and the fact it was quite dangerous added just that extra bit to it.

But as they say, what you learn in training, and practise in a non-hostile environment, is nothing like being in that same situation in reality.

Now on was on my first assignment, part of an elite team, packed and taken to what was to everyone else, an unspecified location, but to us, it was the point of incursion.

The mission?

To rescue a government official (that was how he was described to us) who had been illegally detained in a foreign prison.

Our job?

To break him out and get out without the knowledge of the prison staff, or anyone representing that government. Yes, what we were doing was highly illegal, and yes, if we were caught it was more likely than not we would be executed as spies.

We were under cover in an abandoned farmhouse about three miles from the prison. We had been brought in under cover of darkness, and had only a few hours to set up, and then wait it out until the following night.

It was now or never, the weather people predicting that there would be sufficient cloud cover to make us invisible. Two of us were going in, and two remaining strategically placed outside to monitor the inside of the prison through a system of infrared scanners. We also had a floor plan of the building in which the prisoner was being held, and intelligence supplied, supposedly, by one of the prison guards who had been paid a lot of money for information on guard movements.

To me, it was a gigantic leap of faith to trust him, but I kept those thoughts to myself.

We had been over the plan a dozen times, and I’d gone through the passageways, rooms, and doors so many times I’d memorised where they were and would be able to traverse the building as if I had worked there for a lifetime. Having people outside, talking me through it was just an added benefit, along with alerts on how near the guards were to our position.

I was sure the other person going with me, a more seasoned professional who had a number of successful missions under his belt, was going through the same motions I was. After all, it was he who had devised and conducted the training.

There was a free period of several hours before departure, time to listen to some music, empty the head of unwanted thoughts, and get into the right mindset. It was no place to get tangled up in what-ifs, if anything went wrong, it was a simple matter of adapting.

Our training had reinforced the necessity to instantly gauge a situation and make changes on the fly. There would literally be no time to think.

I listened to the nuances of Chopin’s piano concertos, pretending to play the piano myself, having translated every note onto a piano key, and observing it in my mind’s eye.

My opposite number played games of chess in his head. We all had a different method of relaxing.

Until it was 22:00 hours, and time to go.

“Go left, no, hang on, go right.” The voice on my ear sounded confused and it was possible to get lefts and rights mixed up, if you were not careful.

It didn’t faze me, I knew from my study of the plans that once inside the perimeter fence, I had to go right, and head towards a concrete building the roof of which was barely above the ground.

It was once used as a helipad, and underneath, before the site became a prison, the space was used to make munitions. And it was an exceptionally large space that practically ran under the whole of the prison, built above ground.

All that had happened was the lower levels were sealed, covered over and the new structures built on top. Our access was going to be from under the ground.

Quite literally, they would not see, or hear, us coming.

The meteorological people had got it right, there was cloud cover, the moon hidden from view, and the whole perimeter was in inky darkness. Dressed in black from head to foot, the hope was we would be invisible.

There were two of us heading to the same spot, stairs that led down to a door that was once one of the entrances to the underground bunker. We were going separate ways in case one of the other was intercepted in an unforeseen event.

But, that part of the plan worked seamlessly, and we both arrived at the same place nearly at the same time.

Without the planning, we might easily have missed it because I didn’t think it would be discernable even in daylight.

I followed the Sergeant downstairs, keeping a watchful eye behind us. I stooped at the point where I could see down, and across the area we had just traversed.

Nothing else was stirring.

As expected, the door was seamless and without an apparent handle. It may have had one once, but not anymore, so anyone who did stumble across it, couldn’t get in.

Except us. We had special explosives that were designed to break the lock, and once set, would not make a lot of noise. Sixty seconds later we were inside, and the door closed so no one would know we’d broken in.

I was carrying a beacon so that the voice in my head could follow my progress. The sergeant had one too, and he led.

“Straight ahead, 200 yards, then another door. It shouldn’t be locked, but it might be closed.”

In other words, we had no way of knowing. Our informant had said no one had been down in the dungeons, as he called them, since the munition factory closed, and had been sealed up soon after the prison building had been handed over for use.

We were using night goggles, and there was a lot of rubbish strewn over the floor area so we had to carefully pick our way through which took time we really didn’t have. It looked as though our informant was right, no one had been down there for a long time. We were leaving boot prints in the dust.

We reached the door ten minutes later than estimated. Losing time would have a flow-on effect, and this operation was on a very tight time constraint.

“Once you are through the door, there’s a passage. Turn left and go about 50 paces. There should be another passage to your right.”

“Anyone down here?”

“No, but there is a half dozen prison officers above you. Standard patrol, from guardhouse to guardhouse. Unless they can hear you through five feet of solid concrete, you’re safe.”

My instincts told me five feet of concrete were not enough, but I’ll let it ride for the moment.

The door was slightly ajar and it took the two of us to pull it open so that we could get past. Behind it was the passage, going left and right. Trusting my invisible guide was not getting mixed up again, I motioned right, and we headed down the passage.

Despite the fact we should be alone, both of us were careful not to make any noise, and trod carefully.

At 50 or so paces, the passage came into sight. The sergeant went ahead. I stayed back and kept an eye in both directions. The passage before us was the one that would take us under the cell of the captive we were sent to retrieve.

There would be no blasting our way in. The floor to the cell had a grate, and when removed, a person could drop down into the ‘dungeon’. Currently, the grate was immovable, but we had the tools to fix that.

The sergeant would verify the grate was where it was supposed to be, then come back to get me.

Five minutes passed, then ten. It was not that far away.

I was about to go search when the voice in my head returned, but with panic. “We’ve been compromised. Get the hell out of there, now. Quickly…”

Then I heard what sounded like gunshots, then nothing.

A minute later there was a new voice. “I don’t know who you are, but I’d strongly advise you give yourself up to the guards. Failure to do so within one hour, I’ll execute the two men I now have in custody.”

Ahead of me there was a sudden explosion, followed by a cloud of dust and fine debris.

Hand grenade, or mine, it didn’t matter. The sergeant wouldn’t be coming back.

I sighed.

Plan B it was.

© Charles Heath 2021

“Uncanny good luck shines upon me…” – a short story


I never did take advice very seriously.  Especially when they were issued by old man Taggard, a man of some mystery that we all, adults and children alike wanted to know about.

Everyone in the street knew him as he had lived in the almost derelict mansion at the end of the cul-de-sac forever, way longer than anyone else in the neighborhood had.  In fact, it was rumored he had owned all the land around and sold it off bit by bit over time, the reason why there were so many houses of varying age in the estate.

Ours was one of the older houses, a few doors up from it.  We were close enough to observe Taggard’s habit, like sitting gon the porch on an old swing chair in the afternoons, to the late-night wanderings in the street.  Some said he was accompanied by the ghost of his long-dead wife, which led to stories being told of the house he lived in being haunted.

As children, we had been brought up on a diet of TV shows such as ‘The Munsters’ and ‘The Addams Family’, and had invented our own make-believe show called ‘The Taggard Mansion’, the house with ghosts, and the neighborhood center for strange goings-on.

And as children were wont to do, we had to ‘investigate’.

There was a ‘gang’ even though we didn’t refer to it as such, about seven of us who lived in nearby houses, and all of whom had very active imaginations.  We also met in the cubby house out the back of our house to plan forays to find out whether the rumors were true.  The thing is we never got very far as he seemed to know when we were sneaking in and scared us off, so for years, the rumors remained just that, rumors.

But as grown-ups, and by that I mean, middle teens, our plans became bolder and more sophisticated, based on a whole new breed of TV shows, where the seemingly impossible was no longer that.  And Andy Boswell, my older brother’s best friend, his father was a private detective, or so he told us, and he had managed to ‘secure’ some of his father’s tools of the trade; a camera on the end of a wire that could connect to a cell phone, a listening device that could hear through walls, and in-ear communicators.  We could now, if we were close enough, see under doors, and hear if anyone was in.  We could all keep in touch, though I couldn’t see how this would help.

But a plan was formulated.  All seven of us had a role to play.  My brother Ron and Delilah, his girlfriend, were taking point, whatever that meant, Andy and I were going to take point, while Jack, Jill, and Kim were going to run distraction.  The theory was, they’d make enough noise to keep the old man occupied chasing them.  No one had been inside the house, ever.  Andy and I were going to be the first.

Andy had drawn up a plan and it was up on the wall.  He had charted the house, and had a very accurate picture of the house’s footprint, where doors and windows were, likely entrance points, including a hatchway down into what he assumed was a basement, though he preferred to call it the dungeon, and a layout of the grounds.  Apparently under the undergrowth were paths and gardens, even a large fountain that once graced the grounds of the three-story mansion made of sandstone, and built sometime during the middle of the 1800s.

Andy had done some research, mostly from old newspapers, and also discovered that the old man had once been married, they had a half dozen children, three of whom had died, the others scattered around the world.  It explained why no one ever visited the place.

The distraction team would be going in through the front gate, easy enough because it had come off its hinges and just needed a shove to open.  The old man usually emerged from the house via the driveway, or what was once a drive that cars could enter one side of the property, stop under a huge canopy, and emerge onto the road further along.  But it’s overgrown stare, the width of the pathway was now about six feet.  The fact it was once an amazing feature was the roadside lights, now all but disappearing behind the undergrowth.

Andy had found a photograph in the paper of it, and it had looked magnificent, as had the gardens, the overhanging canopy, and all the lights.  To think such magnificence was now lost.  And having seen it for what it once was, it was not hard to imagine any number of scenarios, my favorite, rescuing a damsel in distress from the tower.  Yes, it even had a tower, two, in fact, at each end of the house.  My brother always said I had an overactive imagination.

Andy and I would be going in by the less used car exit, and heading for the left side of the building where Andy said was several floor-to-ceiling windows that looked to him like French doors.  Of course, none of us knew what French doors were, and my brother cut Andy short when he tried to explain.

Failing that, there was a door at the rear that seemed to be open, and we’d try that next.  We would get into position, advise the distraction team, and the operation would be a go.  The only debate was what time of the day were we going to do it.  My brother preferred late in the afternoon.  Andy said it was better at dawn, or soon after if we were looking for maximum confusion of the target.

Dawn, confusion, tactics, target, Andy was in his element.  He was going to be a spy when he grew up.  My brother said he would never grow up, but then, my brother said I was a dreamer and would never amount to anything.  We ignored his advice, well, we pretty much ignored everything he said.

We were going in at dawn.

At 5 a.m. on Saturday morning, we gathered at the cubby house ready for action.  We all took a communicator and put it in our ears, and then had fun saying stupid stuff, and hearing it through the earpieces.  It was weird but added an exciting element to the adventure.  I know my heart was beating faster in anticipation.  Andy was pretending to be cool and failing.  I suspected my brother and Delilah had other plans when we left them alone in the cubby house.  The distraction team was ready to go.

Shortly after the sun came up, it was cool and the air still.  It was going to be a hot day, and that first hour, everything was almost perfect.  It seemed a waste to do anything but let the early morning serenity settle over us.  Not today.  Andy and I went to our position, slowly feeling our way through the bushes, taking bearings from the light poles, and every now and then seeing the guttering and what looked to be a concrete path.  Beyond that was once a garden, and I tried, more than once, to imagine what it was like.

In my ear I could hear the others in the distraction team setting up at the start of the driveway, ready to go.  We reached our position, about twenty feet from the so-called French windows, the view into the house blocked by curtains, but beyond that, what we could see was darkness inside the house.  Taking in the whole side of the house, there were no lights on behind any of the windows.  If we didn’t know better, we could have assumed the house was empty.

I heard Andy say, “Ready.  Start making noise.”

A minute later we could both hear the distraction team in the distance and through the communicators.  It took two minutes before we heard the old man, yelling, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”  Their job done, getting him out of the house, all they had to do was retreat.

Time for Andy and I to go.

Working on the basis that no one else was at the house, and the fact we had no evidence there was, we were not overly worried about making a stealthy approach.  I could hear in my earpiece, the gasping of those in the distraction team having just made it outside the gate, and to tell us the old man had stopped at the gate.  I doubt he had been running, but his yelling was just as effective.

That had stopped, and a sort of silence fell over the area.

We were now at the French doors, and Andy produced another tool that he’d forgotten to tell us about, a lock pick.  The fact it didn’t take long to unlock the door told me he was either very talented, or the lock was old and presented no problems.  Either way, he opened the door and ushered me in.

I brushed the curtains aside for him to follow, then moved in as he followed, closing the door behind him.

I’d taken five steps before I heard a woman’s voice say.  “Uncanny good luck shines upon me.  My knights in shining armor.  You’ve come to rescue me, no?”

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

“Uncanny good luck shines upon me…” – a short story


I never did take advice very seriously.  Especially when they were issued by old man Taggard, a man of some mystery that we all, adults and children alike wanted to know about.

Everyone in the street knew him as he had lived in the almost derelict mansion at the end of the cul-de-sac forever, way longer than anyone else in the neighborhood had.  In fact, it was rumored he had owned all the land around and sold it off bit by bit over time, the reason why there were so many houses of varying age in the estate.

Ours was one of the older houses, a few doors up from it.  We were close enough to observe Taggard’s habit, like sitting gon the porch on an old swing chair in the afternoons, to the late-night wanderings in the street.  Some said he was accompanied by the ghost of his long-dead wife, which led to stories being told of the house he lived in being haunted.

As children, we had been brought up on a diet of TV shows such as ‘The Munsters’ and ‘The Addams Family’, and had invented our own make-believe show called ‘The Taggard Mansion’, the house with ghosts, and the neighborhood center for strange goings-on.

And as children were wont to do, we had to ‘investigate’.

There was a ‘gang’ even though we didn’t refer to it as such, about seven of us who lived in nearby houses, and all of whom had very active imaginations.  We also met in the cubby house out the back of our house to plan forays to find out whether the rumors were true.  The thing is we never got very far as he seemed to know when we were sneaking in and scared us off, so for years, the rumors remained just that, rumors.

But as grown-ups, and by that I mean, middle teens, our plans became bolder and more sophisticated, based on a whole new breed of TV shows, where the seemingly impossible was no longer that.  And Andy Boswell, my older brother’s best friend, his father was a private detective, or so he told us, and he had managed to ‘secure’ some of his father’s tools of the trade; a camera on the end of a wire that could connect to a cell phone, a listening device that could hear through walls, and in-ear communicators.  We could now, if we were close enough, see under doors, and hear if anyone was in.  We could all keep in touch, though I couldn’t see how this would help.

But a plan was formulated.  All seven of us had a role to play.  My brother Ron and Delilah, his girlfriend, were taking point, whatever that meant, Andy and I were going to take point, while Jack, Jill, and Kim were going to run distraction.  The theory was, they’d make enough noise to keep the old man occupied chasing them.  No one had been inside the house, ever.  Andy and I were going to be the first.

Andy had drawn up a plan and it was up on the wall.  He had charted the house, and had a very accurate picture of the house’s footprint, where doors and windows were, likely entrance points, including a hatchway down into what he assumed was a basement, though he preferred to call it the dungeon, and a layout of the grounds.  Apparently under the undergrowth were paths and gardens, even a large fountain that once graced the grounds of the three-story mansion made of sandstone, and built sometime during the middle of the 1800s.

Andy had done some research, mostly from old newspapers, and also discovered that the old man had once been married, they had a half dozen children, three of whom had died, the others scattered around the world.  It explained why no one ever visited the place.

The distraction team would be going in through the front gate, easy enough because it had come off its hinges and just needed a shove to open.  The old man usually emerged from the house via the driveway, or what was once a drive that cars could enter one side of the property, stop under a huge canopy, and emerge onto the road further along.  But it’s overgrown stare, the width of the pathway was now about six feet.  The fact it was once an amazing feature was the roadside lights, now all but disappearing behind the undergrowth.

Andy had found a photograph in the paper of it, and it had looked magnificent, as had the gardens, the overhanging canopy, and all the lights.  To think such magnificence was now lost.  And having seen it for what it once was, it was not hard to imagine any number of scenarios, my favorite, rescuing a damsel in distress from the tower.  Yes, it even had a tower, two, in fact, at each end of the house.  My brother always said I had an overactive imagination.

Andy and I would be going in by the less used car exit, and heading for the left side of the building where Andy said was several floor-to-ceiling windows that looked to him like French doors.  Of course, none of us knew what French doors were, and my brother cut Andy short when he tried to explain.

Failing that, there was a door at the rear that seemed to be open, and we’d try that next.  We would get into position, advise the distraction team, and the operation would be a go.  The only debate was what time of the day were we going to do it.  My brother preferred late in the afternoon.  Andy said it was better at dawn, or soon after if we were looking for maximum confusion of the target.

Dawn, confusion, tactics, target, Andy was in his element.  He was going to be a spy when he grew up.  My brother said he would never grow up, but then, my brother said I was a dreamer and would never amount to anything.  We ignored his advice, well, we pretty much ignored everything he said.

We were going in at dawn.

At 5 a.m. on Saturday morning, we gathered at the cubby house ready for action.  We all took a communicator and put it in our ears, and then had fun saying stupid stuff, and hearing it through the earpieces.  It was weird but added an exciting element to the adventure.  I know my heart was beating faster in anticipation.  Andy was pretending to be cool and failing.  I suspected my brother and Delilah had other plans when we left them alone in the cubby house.  The distraction team was ready to go.

Shortly after the sun came up, it was cool and the air still.  It was going to be a hot day, and that first hour, everything was almost perfect.  It seemed a waste to do anything but let the early morning serenity settle over us.  Not today.  Andy and I went to our position, slowly feeling our way through the bushes, taking bearings from the light poles, and every now and then seeing the guttering and what looked to be a concrete path.  Beyond that was once a garden, and I tried, more than once, to imagine what it was like.

In my ear I could hear the others in the distraction team setting up at the start of the driveway, ready to go.  We reached our position, about twenty feet from the so-called French windows, the view into the house blocked by curtains, but beyond that, what we could see was darkness inside the house.  Taking in the whole side of the house, there were no lights on behind any of the windows.  If we didn’t know better, we could have assumed the house was empty.

I heard Andy say, “Ready.  Start making noise.”

A minute later we could both hear the distraction team in the distance and through the communicators.  It took two minutes before we heard the old man, yelling, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”  Their job done, getting him out of the house, all they had to do was retreat.

Time for Andy and I to go.

Working on the basis that no one else was at the house, and the fact we had no evidence there was, we were not overly worried about making a stealthy approach.  I could hear in my earpiece, the gasping of those in the distraction team having just made it outside the gate, and to tell us the old man had stopped at the gate.  I doubt he had been running, but his yelling was just as effective.

That had stopped, and a sort of silence fell over the area.

We were now at the French doors, and Andy produced another tool that he’d forgotten to tell us about, a lock pick.  The fact it didn’t take long to unlock the door told me he was either very talented, or the lock was old and presented no problems.  Either way, he opened the door and ushered me in.

I brushed the curtains aside for him to follow, then moved in as he followed, closing the door behind him.

I’d taken five steps before I heard a woman’s voice say.  “Uncanny good luck shines upon me.  My knights in shining armor.  You’ve come to rescue me, no?”

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

“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

“Return to sender” a short story


We all make mistakes, errors of judgment, stupidly or otherwise.

I’ve made a few, just like in the words of a song that rattled around in my head for a long time after.

Regrets, I’ve had a few, but there was one that, in the end, I didn’t.

But I guess it took a while to get to that point.

Sometimes it’s hard to work out why, sometimes because it’s simply time, others, well when you look back you realize that it should have happened for so many reasons, but at the time you couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

We were in a bad place.

I’d been spending too much time traveling in a job that I had begun to hate, and I could see our relationship slipping away.  It was not that neither of us cared for the other, or even stopped loving each other, it was simply the stresses of everyday life.

And it was not as if Chloe didn’t have a high-pressure job, the one she had always wanted, and the one, we agreed, nothing would get in the way if she was given the opportunity.

I was happy with that, and for her.  She was as entitled to have her dream job, as I was.  I thought, I think we both thought, and believed, that would be the foundation of a good relationship.

And it was, to begin with.

There’s a point where there is a catalyst, that action, or statement, or person, or moment in time that comes along like a wrecking ball, and sets a series of events in motion, and no one really knows where it’s going to land or it’s effect.

That event?

I came home early and saw an old friend of mine, Roger, leaving our house.  OK, not so much a big deal, except for the send-off.  Still, even then it might not be such a big deal, because I knew Chloe was a very affectionate, touchy feely sort of person.

It used to faze me, way back in the beginning, but she had said and proved, that I was the love of her life, and that others, well, she made them feel special.

I thought no more about it, of course, and I didn’t even mention it, though at the time when I did walk in the door, she seemed distracted.

And I would not have thought about it again until Roger’s wife, Melissa, called one morning, though why she would call me was a mystery, to say that she was planning to surprise Roger in Las Vegas.

OK, I was suitably surprised, thinking that she was suggesting that Chloe and I should both go and make a weekend of it.  We had done it before because Melissa was a travel agent, and sometimes got airline and hotel deals that made it affordable.

I remember saying that as far as I was aware Chloe was in Pasadena doe the week on a conference.

No, she said, Chloe was co-incidentally in Las Vegas and Roger had accidentally run into her.

Should alarm bells be going off, I wondered, when that sliver of memory of him leaving popped back into my mind?  No, it was just me, running around like a headless chook, failing to read her diary correctly.

I simply said, fine, and told her to make the arrangements.

It was going to be a surprise because I hadn’t seen Chloe for two or three weeks, time seemed to pass too quickly these days, and it would be good for the both of us to spend some time together, away from home and the stresses of our respective jobs.

I met Melissa at the airport.  Unlike Chloe, she was traveling light with only a carry-on bag.  I was used to moving fast and light with a bag that fitted in the overhead locker.

Sher had secured business class which was a treat because, in this day and age of economics, that perk had disappeared a while back and was only available to the senior staff.

Onto the fourth glass of champagne, she dropped her bombshell, whether deliberate or otherwise I was never sure.

“It was very nice of Chloe to find Roger a job in her company.”

Did she, I thought.  It was the first time I’d heard about it, and my expression must have given me away.

“You didn’t know.”

“Chloe never mentioned it, no.  But it is like her.”  She had also employed members of her family that, in my opinion, wouldn’t get a job anywhere else.

“Odd, don’t you think?  It’s been about a year now.  His company went broke, and all the employees were tossed out onto the street with nothing.”

A year was a long time to forget to tell someone.  “Has it.  Perhaps it just slipped her mind.  She doesn’t tell me everything that goes on, nor do I want to know unless she thinks it’s important.”

Except employing my best friend was important, and it surprised me that he hadn’t told me himself.  He was never backward in bragging about his achievements.  Odd, yes, that he hadn’t told me he’d lost his other job.

Melissa had found out the hotel they were staying in, how I had no idea and didn’t ask, and it was simply a matter of telling the front desk clerk their spouses had arrived, and without question, he handed over the keys.

They were staying on different floors which to me made sense.  I wasn’t expecting they would be staying together, but I had an awful feeling Melissa had.

On the floor, I went to the room and knocked on the door.

A minute later the door opened.  Chloe, still in her nightgown, and an expression which lasted a fraction of a second before it registered surprise.

“Tom!”

Any other time, I might have thought she was expecting someone else.

Then my phone buzzed, an incoming message and I looked at it.

From Melissa.  “Lobby, now.”

I looked up, thought how beautiful she still looked, and said, “Hold that thought.  I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Then I closed the door and headed for the elevators.

Once inside and going down, my brain finally registered what it had just seen.  A woman prime for sex with that lustful look she used to have when we were first married.  Yes, she had been expecting someone, only not me.

Yet, in that moment of realization, I wasn’t mad at her or angry.  She was exactly where she was because of me, and my lack of consideration.  I had several opportunities to toss in the job that was clearly causing us issues, and I didn’t.  It was inevitable we were going to end up here.

When I stepped out of the elevator, I looked for Melissa, but she was not immediately noticeable.  Then, a further scan showed she was outside, and not in a good state.  When I reached her, it was evident she had been crying, and she was angry.

“Is it what I think you’re going to say?”

She nodded.  “When he opened the door, his first words were, “Chloe you sly fox, back for seconds?  And then nearly had a heart attack when he saw me.

“I’m sorry.  But did you have an idea this might happen?”

She nodded.

It explained everything, the hints, the sadness, the trip.  Obviously, she had known about it for some time.

I gave her a hug, and she melted into my arms, and we stayed that way until I saw Roger coming out of the elevator, looking around.

“Roger’s coming,” I said.

“I don’t want to see him, much less talk to him.”

“Then I’ll head him off.  Do you want to go home?” Again she nodded.  “Then get a taxi to the airport and I’ll be along in a short time.  I’ll text you when I’m leaving.”

A quick look in Roger’s direction, she headed to the taxi rank, and just as Roger came out the door, her taxi departed, leaving him standing there.

He saw me coming towards him, and to give him credit, he didn’t run.  It would be difficult for him to know exactly how I might react.

“Tom.”

“My best friend, Roger.  I might have been able to cope if it was some random guy, but not you.”

“Look…”

If he was going to try and justify himself, or make excuses, I didn’t want to hear it.  “Now is not the time.  I’m going to take Melissa home, and I suggest you take the time to figure out how you are going to deal with her because I’m not the problem.”

He was going to reply but possibly thought twice about it.  Instead, he shrugged.  “Later then.”

I watched him go back inside.  What I should have done, then, was go back to see Chloe.  The thing is, I didn’t know what to say, and I didn’t want the conversation to descend into blame, or worse.  Better I just head for the airport and come to grips with what I was going to do next.

As expected, about five minutes after the taxi had left for the airport, Chloe called.

“I’ve been expecting you,” she said.  Her tone was not confident, but a little bit hesitant.

“Sorry.  Roger came looking for Melissa, and seeing him, well, that just threw me.”

“I’m sorry I lied to you?”

“About?”

“Going to Pasadena.  I came here to end it because it made me realize what was missing between us, and I wanted it back.”

“And if Melissa hadn’t played out her worst fears that would have worked.  The world, it seems, works in mysterious ways.”

If I thought about it, I might have had suspicions, but I was not the sort of person to let them get the better of me.  And had it not been for Melissa, my ignorance would have been bliss.

“What is it telling us, then, Tom?”

“That we need to take a step back.  I know that I’m to blame as much as anything else, and although you might find it hard to believe, I don’t hate you, nor am I angry with you.  For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.  I saw the signs and I didn’t do anything about it.  We’ll talk when you come home.”

I disconnected the call.  My voice had broken, and I hadn’t realized just how much it had affected me, suddenly overcome with great sadness.

I didn’t go home.

On the plane back, I realized that where I lived was just a house.  It wasn’t mine, Chloe’s success had contributed most towards it, and everything else.  If I was to be objective, there really wasn’t anything of me there.

It was easy to walk away.

When Chloe came home and found me missing, she called, three times before I answered.  I had thought long and hard about what we had together, and whether or not we could get over what had happened.  Perhaps, if she hadn’t lied about where she was, perhaps if it had not been Roger, my best friend, who, by the way, was no longer my best friend, I might have considered we had a chance.

But the trust was broken, and I’d always be wondering.  She was successful, she had everything she ever wanted, and she was a grown woman who had to take responsibility for her actions.

She would always be the love of my life; it’s just I couldn’t live with her.  We spoke about divorce, but it never seemed to happen.  I think she always had the notion that we would eventually get back together.

We parted friends but never seemed to travel in the same circles.  On our twentieth wedding anniversary, she sent me a letter, perhaps thinking it was the only way she could speak to me, I had long since traded my old phone in for a new one, in another country.

I toyed with the idea of reading it, but in the end scrawled on it black capital letters, “Not known at this address, return to sender”.  It was time to move on.

© Charles Heath 2021

‘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

“Return to sender” a short story


We all make mistakes, errors of judgment, stupidly or otherwise.

I’ve made a few, just like in the words of a song that rattled around in my head for a long time after.

Regrets, I’ve had a few, but there was one that, in the end, I didn’t.

But I guess it took a while to get to that point.

Sometimes it’s hard to work out why, sometimes because it’s simply time, others, well when you look back you realize that it should have happened for so many reasons, but at the time you couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

We were in a bad place.

I’d been spending too much time traveling in a job that I had begun to hate, and I could see our relationship slipping away.  It was not that neither of us cared for the other, or even stopped loving each other, it was simply the stresses of everyday life.

And it was not as if Chloe didn’t have a high-pressure job, the one she had always wanted, and the one, we agreed, nothing would get in the way if she was given the opportunity.

I was happy with that, and for her.  She was as entitled to have her dream job, as I was.  I thought, I think we both thought, and believed, that would be the foundation of a good relationship.

And it was, to begin with.

There’s a point where there is a catalyst, that action, or statement, or person, or moment in time that comes along like a wrecking ball, and sets a series of events in motion, and no one really knows where it’s going to land or it’s effect.

That event?

I came home early and saw an old friend of mine, Roger, leaving our house.  OK, not so much a big deal, except for the send-off.  Still, even then it might not be such a big deal, because I knew Chloe was a very affectionate, touchy feely sort of person.

It used to faze me, way back in the beginning, but she had said and proved, that I was the love of her life, and that others, well, she made them feel special.

I thought no more about it, of course, and I didn’t even mention it, though at the time when I did walk in the door, she seemed distracted.

And I would not have thought about it again until Roger’s wife, Melissa, called one morning, though why she would call me was a mystery, to say that she was planning to surprise Roger in Las Vegas.

OK, I was suitably surprised, thinking that she was suggesting that Chloe and I should both go and make a weekend of it.  We had done it before because Melissa was a travel agent, and sometimes got airline and hotel deals that made it affordable.

I remember saying that as far as I was aware Chloe was in Pasadena doe the week on a conference.

No, she said, Chloe was co-incidentally in Las Vegas and Roger had accidentally run into her.

Should alarm bells be going off, I wondered, when that sliver of memory of him leaving popped back into my mind?  No, it was just me, running around like a headless chook, failing to read her diary correctly.

I simply said, fine, and told her to make the arrangements.

It was going to be a surprise because I hadn’t seen Chloe for two or three weeks, time seemed to pass too quickly these days, and it would be good for the both of us to spend some time together, away from home and the stresses of our respective jobs.

I met Melissa at the airport.  Unlike Chloe, she was traveling light with only a carry-on bag.  I was used to moving fast and light with a bag that fitted in the overhead locker.

Sher had secured business class which was a treat because, in this day and age of economics, that perk had disappeared a while back and was only available to the senior staff.

Onto the fourth glass of champagne, she dropped her bombshell, whether deliberate or otherwise I was never sure.

“It was very nice of Chloe to find Roger a job in her company.”

Did she, I thought.  It was the first time I’d heard about it, and my expression must have given me away.

“You didn’t know.”

“Chloe never mentioned it, no.  But it is like her.”  She had also employed members of her family that, in my opinion, wouldn’t get a job anywhere else.

“Odd, don’t you think?  It’s been about a year now.  His company went broke, and all the employees were tossed out onto the street with nothing.”

A year was a long time to forget to tell someone.  “Has it.  Perhaps it just slipped her mind.  She doesn’t tell me everything that goes on, nor do I want to know unless she thinks it’s important.”

Except employing my best friend was important, and it surprised me that he hadn’t told me himself.  He was never backward in bragging about his achievements.  Odd, yes, that he hadn’t told me he’d lost his other job.

Melissa had found out the hotel they were staying in, how I had no idea and didn’t ask, and it was simply a matter of telling the front desk clerk their spouses had arrived, and without question, he handed over the keys.

They were staying on different floors which to me made sense.  I wasn’t expecting they would be staying together, but I had an awful feeling Melissa had.

On the floor, I went to the room and knocked on the door.

A minute later the door opened.  Chloe, still in her nightgown, and an expression which lasted a fraction of a second before it registered surprise.

“Tom!”

Any other time, I might have thought she was expecting someone else.

Then my phone buzzed, an incoming message and I looked at it.

From Melissa.  “Lobby, now.”

I looked up, thought how beautiful she still looked, and said, “Hold that thought.  I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Then I closed the door and headed for the elevators.

Once inside and going down, my brain finally registered what it had just seen.  A woman prime for sex with that lustful look she used to have when we were first married.  Yes, she had been expecting someone, only not me.

Yet, in that moment of realization, I wasn’t mad at her or angry.  She was exactly where she was because of me, and my lack of consideration.  I had several opportunities to toss in the job that was clearly causing us issues, and I didn’t.  It was inevitable we were going to end up here.

When I stepped out of the elevator, I looked for Melissa, but she was not immediately noticeable.  Then, a further scan showed she was outside, and not in a good state.  When I reached her, it was evident she had been crying, and she was angry.

“Is it what I think you’re going to say?”

She nodded.  “When he opened the door, his first words were, “Chloe you sly fox, back for seconds?  And then nearly had a heart attack when he saw me.

“I’m sorry.  But did you have an idea this might happen?”

She nodded.

It explained everything, the hints, the sadness, the trip.  Obviously, she had known about it for some time.

I gave her a hug, and she melted into my arms, and we stayed that way until I saw Roger coming out of the elevator, looking around.

“Roger’s coming,” I said.

“I don’t want to see him, much less talk to him.”

“Then I’ll head him off.  Do you want to go home?” Again she nodded.  “Then get a taxi to the airport and I’ll be along in a short time.  I’ll text you when I’m leaving.”

A quick look in Roger’s direction, she headed to the taxi rank, and just as Roger came out the door, her taxi departed, leaving him standing there.

He saw me coming towards him, and to give him credit, he didn’t run.  It would be difficult for him to know exactly how I might react.

“Tom.”

“My best friend, Roger.  I might have been able to cope if it was some random guy, but not you.”

“Look…”

If he was going to try and justify himself, or make excuses, I didn’t want to hear it.  “Now is not the time.  I’m going to take Melissa home, and I suggest you take the time to figure out how you are going to deal with her because I’m not the problem.”

He was going to reply but possibly thought twice about it.  Instead, he shrugged.  “Later then.”

I watched him go back inside.  What I should have done, then, was go back to see Chloe.  The thing is, I didn’t know what to say, and I didn’t want the conversation to descend into blame, or worse.  Better I just head for the airport and come to grips with what I was going to do next.

As expected, about five minutes after the taxi had left for the airport, Chloe called.

“I’ve been expecting you,” she said.  Her tone was not confident, but a little bit hesitant.

“Sorry.  Roger came looking for Melissa, and seeing him, well, that just threw me.”

“I’m sorry I lied to you?”

“About?”

“Going to Pasadena.  I came here to end it because it made me realize what was missing between us, and I wanted it back.”

“And if Melissa hadn’t played out her worst fears that would have worked.  The world, it seems, works in mysterious ways.”

If I thought about it, I might have had suspicions, but I was not the sort of person to let them get the better of me.  And had it not been for Melissa, my ignorance would have been bliss.

“What is it telling us, then, Tom?”

“That we need to take a step back.  I know that I’m to blame as much as anything else, and although you might find it hard to believe, I don’t hate you, nor am I angry with you.  For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.  I saw the signs and I didn’t do anything about it.  We’ll talk when you come home.”

I disconnected the call.  My voice had broken, and I hadn’t realized just how much it had affected me, suddenly overcome with great sadness.

I didn’t go home.

On the plane back, I realized that where I lived was just a house.  It wasn’t mine, Chloe’s success had contributed most towards it, and everything else.  If I was to be objective, there really wasn’t anything of me there.

It was easy to walk away.

When Chloe came home and found me missing, she called, three times before I answered.  I had thought long and hard about what we had together, and whether or not we could get over what had happened.  Perhaps, if she hadn’t lied about where she was, perhaps if it had not been Roger, my best friend, who, by the way, was no longer my best friend, I might have considered we had a chance.

But the trust was broken, and I’d always be wondering.  She was successful, she had everything she ever wanted, and she was a grown woman who had to take responsibility for her actions.

She would always be the love of my life; it’s just I couldn’t live with her.  We spoke about divorce, but it never seemed to happen.  I think she always had the notion that we would eventually get back together.

We parted friends but never seemed to travel in the same circles.  On our twentieth wedding anniversary, she sent me a letter, perhaps thinking it was the only way she could speak to me, I had long since traded my old phone in for a new one, in another country.

I toyed with the idea of reading it, but in the end scrawled on it black capital letters, “Not known at this address, return to sender”.  It was time to move on.

© Charles Heath 2021