“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

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

 

An excerpt from “The Things We Do For Love”

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

lovecoverfinal1

An excerpt from “The Things We Do For Love”

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

lovecoverfinal1

An alternate A to Z Challenge – T is for – “This is getting interesting…”


The story below was the one that was supposed to be published under T, but the month got away from me and I was not able to get most of what I wanted to do done.

After all, it was the A to Z as well as NaNoWriMo for April, and the notion I could write 26 short stories and complete a 50,000 word novel at the same time…

What was I thinking?

Anyway, I had the bones of the story written, I just needed time to finish it. So, here it is, as will for the next few days, stories for U, V, W, X, Y and Z.

The email I received said:

“Go to Newark airport, go to the United booking desk and give them your name. Take proof of identity. Pack for five days, light.”

It was going to be, supposedly, a magical mystery tour. I read in a travel magazine, that a company offered five day inclusive trips to anywhere. You do not get the destination, just what to take. Then, just be prepared for anything.

I paid the money and waited, until last evening when the email came.

I was ready.

When I presented my credentials as requested, I found myself going to Venice, Italy, a place I had never been before.

When I looked it up, it said it took about 10 hours to get there with one stop in between. Enough time to read up on the many places to go and see, though according to the instructions, everything had been arranged in advance.

I could also take the time to brush up my schoolboy Italian.

When I got off the plane at Marco Polo airport, in Venice, it was mid-morning, but an hour or so was lost going through immigration and customs. A water taxi was waiting to take me to a hotel where I would receive further instructions. I was hoping it would on or overlooking the Grand Canal.

At the airport I wondered if there was going to be anyone else on this trip, or whether I would be doing it alone. I’d read sometimes likeminded people were put together for a shared experience.

We had to agree and then fill out an extensive profile so they could appropriately match people. Sometimes, people joined at different times along the way, you just never knew what was going to happen.

That random unpredictability was just what I needed having just gone through a breakup after a long period of peacefulness and stability, and frankly, I would not have chosen this type of tour if I had not.

It was a pleasant half hour or so winding our way through the canals, having paid the driver extra to take long route. I’d not been in Venice before, but I had read about it, and while some of the negative comments were true, it didn’t diminish the place in my eyes.

And the hotel, on its own island overlooking the main canal was stylish and elegant, and my room exactly where I’d hoped it would be. I think I spent the next hour just looking out at the city, and the boats going by, like a freeway or turnpike, a never-ending stream of traffic.

A knock on the door interrupted what might have been described as a reverie, by one of the concierge staff delivering an envelope with my name on it.

Perhaps more instructions.

“Tomorrow will be a free day in Venice. See attached suggested itinerary for ideas on what to do. Then, the following day you will be travelling from Venice to Florence by train departing Santa Maria Novella at 10:20 am.”

I looked at the list of suggested places to visit and a day would not be enough, but I could always come back. I’d always assumed this trip would give me some idea of what was on offer, and that if it was great, I could always come back.

A second reading of the instructions picked up something I’d almost missed. A dining party in the hotel where others like myself, with similar arrangements to mine might attend. It was underlined that it was not mandatory to attend, only if you wanted to.

The only provisor was that you do not talk about where you were going, only about yourselves, an opportunity to meet others and not dine alone. It was an interesting idea. All we had to do was give our name and the time of the booking.

I would think about it.

I arrived at the entrance to the restaurant at five minutes to eight, after a long deliberation on the merits of whether I wanted to see the other travellers.

At first, I thought what the point would be if you couldn’t talk about where you were going, but, after more thought, I wondered what it was that motivated those people who had also opted for a leap into the unknown.

These were not adventure holidays as such, just someone else planning the itinerary so you didn’t have to.

I gave the maitre’d my name and he escorted me to a table set for ten, of which four people were already seated. Were they expecting ten? Would anyone not turn up?

We exchanged greetings and I sat. Two men, two women, sitting together. My first thought, two couples, but I would not make any assumptions.

One of the women spoke first, “My name is Marina Delosa. I assume you are another intrepid traveller?”

“Ben Davis. I’m not so sure about the intrepid part, just lazy, I think, because I’m not very good at arranging my own travel.”

“I think you might say that applies to all of us,” she said.

The others introduced themselves as Angela and Harry Benson, and David Wilson.

“We were quite pleased they chose to start our tour in Italy. I have always wanted to visit Venice, so the travel Gods must be smiling on us,” Harry said.

“I must say I was surprised. I guess it’s one of the benefits of this type of travel, not knowing where you’re going to end up. I think my secret wish was to come here, too, or at least Italy. I think I have a relative or two that came from here.”

“That might be said for all of us,” Marina said. “One part Italian, one part Irish, and not quite sure what the other parts are.”

Another intrepid adventurer arrived at the table, another woman. She was older than the rest of us, but I would not think by more than ten years. She had the same look of trepidation I had felt before coming. And, at a guess, recently divorced, or separated.

“Anne Lebroski,” she said, leaving a seat between her and I. It was an interesting move. I had deliberately not tried to distance myself.

Only six of a possible ten arrived, and it turned out to be a very good evening. Whilst all of us had that battle within not to talk about where we were going, it seemed to force the issue of talking more about where we had been previously, and what we did with our lives.

And as quickly as it had begun it was over and everyone kept the conversation going until the elevator dropped us off, each to a different floor, as if we were deliberately being kept apart. Of course, it was simply my overactive imagination conjuring up different scenarios, perhaps in an effort to make a simple holiday seem more exciting

Suddenly, once back in my room, a great tiredness came over me and I barely made it into bed. Would we all run into each other the next morning over breakfast? It was a thought that kept me awake for all of a few minutes before slipping into an uneasy sleep.

When I woke up, I was confused and disorientated.

In those initial few seconds, and through the blurry eyes of just having woken, what I saw was unfamiliar.

I was definitely not in my room at home.

It took a few more seconds, in fact, almost a minute, before I realised that I was not at home. It was a hotel room, and quite unusual, light seeping through the thick curtains that covered what had to be a window.

Was in morning, afternoon, or evening? It had to be morning.

And, what was I doing in a hotel room?

When some of the fog had cleared away, I slipped out from under the sheet, and crossed over to the desk on the other side of the room. I pulled the curtain aside slightly and more light came in, splashing across the desk. On it was a piece of paper, a receipt, with the name Hilton Molino Stucky, Venice on it.

What was I doing in Venice?

I pulled the curtains further aside and looked out the window. It overlooked a body of water, and right then, a very large cruise liner was passing by. A very, very large cruise ship.

Then, behind me I heard a noise and turned.

There was someone else in the bed, a head appeared from under the sheet and looked over at me. A woman, messy blonde hair and a familiar face.

I didn’t remember coming to Venice or travelling with anyone. I was sorely tempted to say, “Who are you?” but stifled it. Instead, I asked, in what was a croaky voice, “What happened last night?”

The woman looked surprised. “You don’t remember?”

“To be honest, I’m having a hard time remembering where I am, let alone what I was doing?”

“Well, for starters, you were drinking copious quantities of champagne, which you well know you should not because of what it does to you.”

OK, that had a semblance of truth about it, not that I remember drinking champagne, but what it does to me. Exactly what was happening now. Last time, well, I couldn’t remember, but it wasn’t good.

Still, I didn’t know who this woman was, but I had enough sense to play along. The taste in my mouth reminded me of drinking too much wine, which was what I used to do.

“This much is true. When…” There I stopped, realising how it might sound.

Another look, not of surprise, but disdain perhaps?

“You don’t remember my arriving last night. Nor, I’m willing to bet, inviting me here. You rang two days ago, said you just arrived in Venice, and knowing I was on assignment in Rome, called me, asking if I wanted to come and see you, stay a day or two.”

It was not something I would have done, but for the simple reason I didn’t know anyone in Rome to call. But, oddly, she looked familiar. “Marina?” I said, almost under my breath.

The smile returned. “You do remember.”

“Barely, along with dinner the other night, with some other people. Tourists?”

“Yes. Two days ago, you said you’d asked some travel agents to pick your destination, and it ended up in Venice, along with several others. We’re supposed to be going to Florence this morning, but I was hesitant waking you in case you weren’t feeling well.”

Well, that part was true. I wasn’t. And that reference to Florence, it seemed likely. There was another piece of paper on the desk, an itinerary which said I was travelling to Florence by train.
I looked at the clock beside the bed.

6:17 am.

I looked at the itinerary, and the train was at 11 am.

The itinerary had two names on it. Ben and Marina Davis. I knew I was Ben, but I didn’t remember anything about having a wife, or friend, named Marina. More of the fog had lifted in my brain, and every instinct was telling me to play along. I don’t know why that message popped into my head at that exact moment, but it did.

“We’ve got five hours before the train leaves. I suspect it might be a good idea to start getting ready. I’ll call down for coffee, and, bearing in mind I’ve lost all sense of orientation and not exactly sure of everything going around me, as you say I should not be drinking wine in copious quantities, I’ll toss you the phone so you can order whatever you want. Sorry, but for the moment, I’ve forgotten everything.”

Let her counter that, or also play along. Her expression told me she was thinking about what I said, but then shrugged. “You don’t remember asking me, do you?”

“I do remember something, and it involves you because you are very familiar to me, so don’t be too upset. I am glad you’re here, because I was simply dreading travelling in Italy by myself, and you are almost a native. There, I knew there was a perfectly good reason why you’re here.”

She didn’t look quite so sure. “I’ll be in the bathroom,” she said. “Coffee will be fine. I think I had too much to drink last night too.”

After she disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door, odd, I thought, for a woman who had slept in the same bed as I, I called down for coffee and croissants. By that time, I was feeling better, and the queasy stomach was subsiding.

Twenty minutes later there was a knock on the door.

Room service.

“Ben.”

I did remember the person outside the door, dressed as the room service waiter. “Alan.”

“They took the bait?”

“Obviously. Too much booze…”

“Slipped you a mickey. Be careful. These two don’t play by the rules. Luigi is downstairs pacing like a cat ready to pounce. Thin short guy in a cheap black suit, pink shirt and grey tie.” Alan shook his head. “No dress sense whatsoever.”

“I don’t remember much.”

“Nothing happened, don’t worry. Had eyes on you the whole time like we promised. Now, you’ve a train to catch. Just be careful.”

He brought the tray in and put it on the desk.

Marina chose that moment to open the door.

“Room service,” I said. “Coffee for two. There’s a croissant too if you want one.”

“Sir,” Alan muttered, and headed for the door, remembering at the last second to produce a form for me to sign.

Then he was gone.

Fog cleared, everything came back in a rush. She was still standing in the doorway, the only think between her and modest, a large white towel wrapped around her. Beautiful but deadly, Alan had said.

Let the games commence.

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

An alternate A to Z Challenge – T is for – “This is getting interesting…”


The story below was the one that was supposed to be published under T, but the month got away from me and I was not able to get most of what I wanted to do done.

After all, it was the A to Z as well as NaNoWriMo for April, and the notion I could write 26 short stories and complete a 50,000 word novel at the same time…

What was I thinking?

Anyway, I had the bones of the story written, I just needed time to finish it. So, here it is, as will for the next few days, stories for U, V, W, X, Y and Z.

The email I received said:

“Go to Newark airport, go to the United booking desk and give them your name. Take proof of identity. Pack for five days, light.”

It was going to be, supposedly, a magical mystery tour. I read in a travel magazine, that a company offered five day inclusive trips to anywhere. You do not get the destination, just what to take. Then, just be prepared for anything.

I paid the money and waited, until last evening when the email came.

I was ready.

When I presented my credentials as requested, I found myself going to Venice, Italy, a place I had never been before.

When I looked it up, it said it took about 10 hours to get there with one stop in between. Enough time to read up on the many places to go and see, though according to the instructions, everything had been arranged in advance.

I could also take the time to brush up my schoolboy Italian.

When I got off the plane at Marco Polo airport, in Venice, it was mid-morning, but an hour or so was lost going through immigration and customs. A water taxi was waiting to take me to a hotel where I would receive further instructions. I was hoping it would on or overlooking the Grand Canal.

At the airport I wondered if there was going to be anyone else on this trip, or whether I would be doing it alone. I’d read sometimes likeminded people were put together for a shared experience.

We had to agree and then fill out an extensive profile so they could appropriately match people. Sometimes, people joined at different times along the way, you just never knew what was going to happen.

That random unpredictability was just what I needed having just gone through a breakup after a long period of peacefulness and stability, and frankly, I would not have chosen this type of tour if I had not.

It was a pleasant half hour or so winding our way through the canals, having paid the driver extra to take long route. I’d not been in Venice before, but I had read about it, and while some of the negative comments were true, it didn’t diminish the place in my eyes.

And the hotel, on its own island overlooking the main canal was stylish and elegant, and my room exactly where I’d hoped it would be. I think I spent the next hour just looking out at the city, and the boats going by, like a freeway or turnpike, a never-ending stream of traffic.

A knock on the door interrupted what might have been described as a reverie, by one of the concierge staff delivering an envelope with my name on it.

Perhaps more instructions.

“Tomorrow will be a free day in Venice. See attached suggested itinerary for ideas on what to do. Then, the following day you will be travelling from Venice to Florence by train departing Santa Maria Novella at 10:20 am.”

I looked at the list of suggested places to visit and a day would not be enough, but I could always come back. I’d always assumed this trip would give me some idea of what was on offer, and that if it was great, I could always come back.

A second reading of the instructions picked up something I’d almost missed. A dining party in the hotel where others like myself, with similar arrangements to mine might attend. It was underlined that it was not mandatory to attend, only if you wanted to.

The only provisor was that you do not talk about where you were going, only about yourselves, an opportunity to meet others and not dine alone. It was an interesting idea. All we had to do was give our name and the time of the booking.

I would think about it.

I arrived at the entrance to the restaurant at five minutes to eight, after a long deliberation on the merits of whether I wanted to see the other travellers.

At first, I thought what the point would be if you couldn’t talk about where you were going, but, after more thought, I wondered what it was that motivated those people who had also opted for a leap into the unknown.

These were not adventure holidays as such, just someone else planning the itinerary so you didn’t have to.

I gave the maitre’d my name and he escorted me to a table set for ten, of which four people were already seated. Were they expecting ten? Would anyone not turn up?

We exchanged greetings and I sat. Two men, two women, sitting together. My first thought, two couples, but I would not make any assumptions.

One of the women spoke first, “My name is Marina Delosa. I assume you are another intrepid traveller?”

“Ben Davis. I’m not so sure about the intrepid part, just lazy, I think, because I’m not very good at arranging my own travel.”

“I think you might say that applies to all of us,” she said.

The others introduced themselves as Angela and Harry Benson, and David Wilson.

“We were quite pleased they chose to start our tour in Italy. I have always wanted to visit Venice, so the travel Gods must be smiling on us,” Harry said.

“I must say I was surprised. I guess it’s one of the benefits of this type of travel, not knowing where you’re going to end up. I think my secret wish was to come here, too, or at least Italy. I think I have a relative or two that came from here.”

“That might be said for all of us,” Marina said. “One part Italian, one part Irish, and not quite sure what the other parts are.”

Another intrepid adventurer arrived at the table, another woman. She was older than the rest of us, but I would not think by more than ten years. She had the same look of trepidation I had felt before coming. And, at a guess, recently divorced, or separated.

“Anne Lebroski,” she said, leaving a seat between her and I. It was an interesting move. I had deliberately not tried to distance myself.

Only six of a possible ten arrived, and it turned out to be a very good evening. Whilst all of us had that battle within not to talk about where we were going, it seemed to force the issue of talking more about where we had been previously, and what we did with our lives.

And as quickly as it had begun it was over and everyone kept the conversation going until the elevator dropped us off, each to a different floor, as if we were deliberately being kept apart. Of course, it was simply my overactive imagination conjuring up different scenarios, perhaps in an effort to make a simple holiday seem more exciting

Suddenly, once back in my room, a great tiredness came over me and I barely made it into bed. Would we all run into each other the next morning over breakfast? It was a thought that kept me awake for all of a few minutes before slipping into an uneasy sleep.

When I woke up, I was confused and disorientated.

In those initial few seconds, and through the blurry eyes of just having woken, what I saw was unfamiliar.

I was definitely not in my room at home.

It took a few more seconds, in fact, almost a minute, before I realised that I was not at home. It was a hotel room, and quite unusual, light seeping through the thick curtains that covered what had to be a window.

Was in morning, afternoon, or evening? It had to be morning.

And, what was I doing in a hotel room?

When some of the fog had cleared away, I slipped out from under the sheet, and crossed over to the desk on the other side of the room. I pulled the curtain aside slightly and more light came in, splashing across the desk. On it was a piece of paper, a receipt, with the name Hilton Molino Stucky, Venice on it.

What was I doing in Venice?

I pulled the curtains further aside and looked out the window. It overlooked a body of water, and right then, a very large cruise liner was passing by. A very, very large cruise ship.

Then, behind me I heard a noise and turned.

There was someone else in the bed, a head appeared from under the sheet and looked over at me. A woman, messy blonde hair and a familiar face.

I didn’t remember coming to Venice or travelling with anyone. I was sorely tempted to say, “Who are you?” but stifled it. Instead, I asked, in what was a croaky voice, “What happened last night?”

The woman looked surprised. “You don’t remember?”

“To be honest, I’m having a hard time remembering where I am, let alone what I was doing?”

“Well, for starters, you were drinking copious quantities of champagne, which you well know you should not because of what it does to you.”

OK, that had a semblance of truth about it, not that I remember drinking champagne, but what it does to me. Exactly what was happening now. Last time, well, I couldn’t remember, but it wasn’t good.

Still, I didn’t know who this woman was, but I had enough sense to play along. The taste in my mouth reminded me of drinking too much wine, which was what I used to do.

“This much is true. When…” There I stopped, realising how it might sound.

Another look, not of surprise, but disdain perhaps?

“You don’t remember my arriving last night. Nor, I’m willing to bet, inviting me here. You rang two days ago, said you just arrived in Venice, and knowing I was on assignment in Rome, called me, asking if I wanted to come and see you, stay a day or two.”

It was not something I would have done, but for the simple reason I didn’t know anyone in Rome to call. But, oddly, she looked familiar. “Marina?” I said, almost under my breath.

The smile returned. “You do remember.”

“Barely, along with dinner the other night, with some other people. Tourists?”

“Yes. Two days ago, you said you’d asked some travel agents to pick your destination, and it ended up in Venice, along with several others. We’re supposed to be going to Florence this morning, but I was hesitant waking you in case you weren’t feeling well.”

Well, that part was true. I wasn’t. And that reference to Florence, it seemed likely. There was another piece of paper on the desk, an itinerary which said I was travelling to Florence by train.
I looked at the clock beside the bed.

6:17 am.

I looked at the itinerary, and the train was at 11 am.

The itinerary had two names on it. Ben and Marina Davis. I knew I was Ben, but I didn’t remember anything about having a wife, or friend, named Marina. More of the fog had lifted in my brain, and every instinct was telling me to play along. I don’t know why that message popped into my head at that exact moment, but it did.

“We’ve got five hours before the train leaves. I suspect it might be a good idea to start getting ready. I’ll call down for coffee, and, bearing in mind I’ve lost all sense of orientation and not exactly sure of everything going around me, as you say I should not be drinking wine in copious quantities, I’ll toss you the phone so you can order whatever you want. Sorry, but for the moment, I’ve forgotten everything.”

Let her counter that, or also play along. Her expression told me she was thinking about what I said, but then shrugged. “You don’t remember asking me, do you?”

“I do remember something, and it involves you because you are very familiar to me, so don’t be too upset. I am glad you’re here, because I was simply dreading travelling in Italy by myself, and you are almost a native. There, I knew there was a perfectly good reason why you’re here.”

She didn’t look quite so sure. “I’ll be in the bathroom,” she said. “Coffee will be fine. I think I had too much to drink last night too.”

After she disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door, odd, I thought, for a woman who had slept in the same bed as I, I called down for coffee and croissants. By that time, I was feeling better, and the queasy stomach was subsiding.

Twenty minutes later there was a knock on the door.

Room service.

“Ben.”

I did remember the person outside the door, dressed as the room service waiter. “Alan.”

“They took the bait?”

“Obviously. Too much booze…”

“Slipped you a mickey. Be careful. These two don’t play by the rules. Luigi is downstairs pacing like a cat ready to pounce. Thin short guy in a cheap black suit, pink shirt and grey tie.” Alan shook his head. “No dress sense whatsoever.”

“I don’t remember much.”

“Nothing happened, don’t worry. Had eyes on you the whole time like we promised. Now, you’ve a train to catch. Just be careful.”

He brought the tray in and put it on the desk.

Marina chose that moment to open the door.

“Room service,” I said. “Coffee for two. There’s a croissant too if you want one.”

“Sir,” Alan muttered, and headed for the door, remembering at the last second to produce a form for me to sign.

Then he was gone.

Fog cleared, everything came back in a rush. She was still standing in the doorway, the only think between her and modest, a large white towel wrapped around her. Beautiful but deadly, Alan had said.

Let the games commence.

© 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

The A to Z Challenge – Z is for “It’s a zero…”


When it came to holidays, I preferred to get as far away from everyone as possible.

I saw my parents, and sister who lived with them, every week on Sunday, for lunch and cross-examination of why I was not married with children yet.

Explaining I was only 27 was not a reason because, “your brother married at 21 and he’s got three children, a great job, his own house..”  and in and on it went.

And I saw my brother every other Saturday just to tell him that I was Ok.  He was considerate in one sense, it was just the matchmaking wife always inviting what she considered suitable women for me.

That fortnight off work was an oasis in a desert full of well-meaning people.

I’d tried dating several girls at work, but they never got past the family inquisition.  If I had been in their shoes I’d just say it was all too much too.  The lesson I learned there was to never take a girlfriend home.

But, for now, I was footloose and fancy-free.  The most recent girl I’d met had decided to return home, no it was nothing I’d done wrong, but I guess it was.  Perhaps asking to go with me to Hawaii was a bit too forward too soon.  Another lesson learned.

I think I’d probably get it right by the time I was fifty.

So here I was, a history buff, looking to further my knowledge of the events surrounding Pearl Harbour.  I’d read a great many history books on the subject, and now, it was a matter of going there, and getting a feel for the place.

More than once I had lamented the fact I could not go back in time and live through the event.  I had mentioned this once to a friend, and he asked if I was stark staring mad.

Of course, he was right.  Who would want to be in the middle of such a violent attack, especially when it came largely by surprise?

Since my work required mt to fly a lot I had sufficient frequent flyer points to upgrade to first class.  I was hoping after flying coach for so long, I’d notice the difference.

Certainly, the initial service after being shown my seat, and the champagne soon after as a welcome onboard, set the tone.

When the door closed, and everyone was on board, only half the seats in first class were taken.  A glance at those who were fellow travelers showed an interesting cross-section.   A husband and wife who definitely upgraded from coach like me, but were a little m less refined.  An executive and his personal assistant, who, judging by the way she looked after him, there was more to that relationship, a woman in her sixties, definitely born to money, and casting somewhat distasteful stares at the upgrade couple, and a woman about my age, who looked very unhappy.

I managed to fit in another glass of champagne before the plane reached the runway.

Then, with a roar of the engines, we were off.

Halfway through the 13-hour flight, I found it impossible to sleep, even with the luxury first-class provided me.  I just couldn’t sleep on planes.  Instead, I sat up, found a book of crosswords, one of three or four I always had with me and usually got to solve one or two puzzles.

It was quiet and still except for the noise of the air rushing past outside the plane.  In that almost soundless atmosphere, I thought I could detect any changes in engine speed or the gentle movement of a change of course.  The ride was quite smooth, except for some turbulence and the pilot took us up another 2,000 feet to escape it.  We’d been slowly coming back down over the last hour.  I’d been monitoring it on the flight path screen.  It might be a larger screen, but watching movies was, to me, boring, except in a cinema.

“Can’t sleep either?”

It was the soft voice of the girl from two seats across.  She had several revolutions of the plane, exercising I heard her explain to the cabin crew because she couldn’t sit down for long periods.

“Not on planes, no.  Trains, yes, ships yes.”

“Crossword fanatic?”

I saw her glance down towards the book.  “Not really.  This has been floating around for about 10 years, and I drag it out as a last resort.”

“I try reading.  It doesn’t help.  Where are you going, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Oahu.  Doing the whole Pearl Harbor history experience.  And just laze around for a few days before going back to work.”

“New York?”

“Yonkers, upstate.  Are you from New York?”

“My family is.  I work in San Francisco, come over once a year, but this year I got sick of them early, so I just jumped on the first plane out that had a first-class berth.  It was this one.  I’ll let you get back to your crossword.”

I was going to say it wasn’t a problem, but she had gone back to her seat.  A moment later our cabin attendant, Lucy, came over to deliver a glass of champagne, then came over to me.  I hadn’t seen the second glass on the tray.  “Miranda thought you might like a glass too.”

I looked over to nod a thankyou, but she was looking out the window.  There wasn’t much to see as it was dark and most of the passengers had the shades down.

Then, just as Lucy turned to leave, the plane hit more turbulence.  A second, maybe two, later the seatbelt sign went on, just as the co-pilot came on the speaker system to advise all cabin crew to sit down and belt up.

A minute later what sounded like a large bang, one I would have said was an engine exploding, made everyone jump in their seats, to be quickly followed by a sudden jerk to the right that was almost instantly corrected, but that was not the worst of it, equally suddenly the plane started to descend.  Very quickly.

At the same moment, the masks dropped down from overhead, I grabbed it and fumbled putting it on, realizing that panic was setting in.  It took a minute, but then it didn’t seem like there was any air flowing through it.

Not that any of that mattered.  Starved of oxygen, I could feel myself losing consciousness.  A minute or so later, I think the plane had started to level off, and a look at the flight path showed we were down to 10,000 feet, in the middle of the ocean.  My last thought, how long we would survive if we ditched.

I felt a hand on my shoulder shaking me.

“Sir, sir, are you alright?”

I opened my eyes and blinked several times.  I had to be in the middle of a nightmare.

The first thing I noticed was the engine noise, it was very loud, the loudness that came from propeller engines.  The second, I was no longer on an Airbus A330.  This was more like a Boeing 314, a flying boat.  The third, the man shaking me awake was a steward in a white coat, with PanAm on it.

Where the hell was I.  No, when the hell was I.  What the hell had happened?

“Sir, there’s a message for you.”  He handed me a folded sheet of paper.  “The captain asked me to tell you we’ll be landing in an hour, and that you, we all, should be prepared.  It’s a mess.”

“What is?”

“Pearl Harbour.  It was attacked yesterday morning by the Japs.  Bastards came in and practically blew everything up.”

All of a sudden there was a roaring sound outside the plane, followed by what had to be the chatter of a machine gun, followed by the sound of bullets hitting the fuselage.  One minute the steward was standing next to me, the next he was a bloody heap on the floor.  Above my head was a line of bullet holes.  More machine gun chatter, then an explosion, followed by a cry behind me of, “got the zero.”

I got out of the seat and went to the steward, staring at me with lifeless eyes.  A quick check for a pulse told me he was dead.  When I looked behind me there were a dozen or so military men, army, and navy.  Two sailors came up and gently maneuvered the steward towards the rear of the aircraft.  He had been the only casualty.  Turning back towards my seat I caught a reflection of myself in the window, that of a Lieutenant in the Navy.  How, and why was I here, now?

I remembered the note the steward had given me, sat down, and unfolded it.

The receipt date was 3:00 pm on 8th December 1941.  It was addressed to me, that is, a man with my exact name.  Orders to report to an Admiral who would reassign me, the ship I was being sent to had been sunk, and likely not to see service again.

We’d been in the air at the time of the attack, and I guessed news would have been sent to the plane, just in case it was not safe to land.  Perhaps they hadn’t counted on try Japanese Zero fighters hanging around for just such a flight as ours.

Whatever the reason I was here, however it had happened, I would have to make the most of it.

Only then did I remember what I had once said, ‘if only I could go back’.

Once again I felt a hand on my shoulder, and a voice, this time of a woman, gently shaking me awake.

“We’re arriving in Honolulu in about 40 minutes.  You need to prepare for landing.”

At the same time, I heard a change in the engines as we began to descend.  I looked around.  More familiar surroundings, back on the A330, the quiet hum of jet engines, and the sight of familiar faces.

“Did something happen to the plane or was I imagining it?”

“Just a lightning strike.  We had to go down for a bit, but these planes are designed to handle just about anything.  You slept through it, the best thing to do in situations like that.”

OK.  It had to be a dream.  That’s all I could put it down to.  Except for one small detail.  My grandfather’s name was the same as mine, he was in the Navy during World War 2, and he had been sent out to Pearl Harbour and was en-route when it happened.  But there was only one slight difference.  He had been killed when the lone zero had struck, not the steward.

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

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

 

The A to Z Challenge – Z is for “It’s a zero…”


When it came to holidays, I preferred to get as far away from everyone as possible.

I saw my parents, and sister who lived with them, every week on Sunday, for lunch and cross-examination of why I was not married with children yet.

Explaining I was only 27 was not a reason because, “your brother married at 21 and he’s got three children, a great job, his own house..”  and in and on it went.

And I saw my brother every other Saturday just to tell him that I was Ok.  He was considerate in one sense, it was just the matchmaking wife always inviting what she considered suitable women for me.

That fortnight off work was an oasis in a desert full of well-meaning people.

I’d tried dating several girls at work, but they never got past the family inquisition.  If I had been in their shoes I’d just say it was all too much too.  The lesson I learned there was to never take a girlfriend home.

But, for now, I was footloose and fancy-free.  The most recent girl I’d met had decided to return home, no it was nothing I’d done wrong, but I guess it was.  Perhaps asking to go with me to Hawaii was a bit too forward too soon.  Another lesson learned.

I think I’d probably get it right by the time I was fifty.

So here I was, a history buff, looking to further my knowledge of the events surrounding Pearl Harbour.  I’d read a great many history books on the subject, and now, it was a matter of going there, and getting a feel for the place.

More than once I had lamented the fact I could not go back in time and live through the event.  I had mentioned this once to a friend, and he asked if I was stark staring mad.

Of course, he was right.  Who would want to be in the middle of such a violent attack, especially when it came largely by surprise?

Since my work required mt to fly a lot I had sufficient frequent flyer points to upgrade to first class.  I was hoping after flying coach for so long, I’d notice the difference.

Certainly, the initial service after being shown my seat, and the champagne soon after as a welcome onboard, set the tone.

When the door closed, and everyone was on board, only half the seats in first class were taken.  A glance at those who were fellow travelers showed an interesting cross-section.   A husband and wife who definitely upgraded from coach like me, but were a little m less refined.  An executive and his personal assistant, who, judging by the way she looked after him, there was more to that relationship, a woman in her sixties, definitely born to money, and casting somewhat distasteful stares at the upgrade couple, and a woman about my age, who looked very unhappy.

I managed to fit in another glass of champagne before the plane reached the runway.

Then, with a roar of the engines, we were off.

Halfway through the 13-hour flight, I found it impossible to sleep, even with the luxury first-class provided me.  I just couldn’t sleep on planes.  Instead, I sat up, found a book of crosswords, one of three or four I always had with me and usually got to solve one or two puzzles.

It was quiet and still except for the noise of the air rushing past outside the plane.  In that almost soundless atmosphere, I thought I could detect any changes in engine speed or the gentle movement of a change of course.  The ride was quite smooth, except for some turbulence and the pilot took us up another 2,000 feet to escape it.  We’d been slowly coming back down over the last hour.  I’d been monitoring it on the flight path screen.  It might be a larger screen, but watching movies was, to me, boring, except in a cinema.

“Can’t sleep either?”

It was the soft voice of the girl from two seats across.  She had several revolutions of the plane, exercising I heard her explain to the cabin crew because she couldn’t sit down for long periods.

“Not on planes, no.  Trains, yes, ships yes.”

“Crossword fanatic?”

I saw her glance down towards the book.  “Not really.  This has been floating around for about 10 years, and I drag it out as a last resort.”

“I try reading.  It doesn’t help.  Where are you going, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Oahu.  Doing the whole Pearl Harbor history experience.  And just laze around for a few days before going back to work.”

“New York?”

“Yonkers, upstate.  Are you from New York?”

“My family is.  I work in San Francisco, come over once a year, but this year I got sick of them early, so I just jumped on the first plane out that had a first-class berth.  It was this one.  I’ll let you get back to your crossword.”

I was going to say it wasn’t a problem, but she had gone back to her seat.  A moment later our cabin attendant, Lucy, came over to deliver a glass of champagne, then came over to me.  I hadn’t seen the second glass on the tray.  “Miranda thought you might like a glass too.”

I looked over to nod a thankyou, but she was looking out the window.  There wasn’t much to see as it was dark and most of the passengers had the shades down.

Then, just as Lucy turned to leave, the plane hit more turbulence.  A second, maybe two, later the seatbelt sign went on, just as the co-pilot came on the speaker system to advise all cabin crew to sit down and belt up.

A minute later what sounded like a large bang, one I would have said was an engine exploding, made everyone jump in their seats, to be quickly followed by a sudden jerk to the right that was almost instantly corrected, but that was not the worst of it, equally suddenly the plane started to descend.  Very quickly.

At the same moment, the masks dropped down from overhead, I grabbed it and fumbled putting it on, realizing that panic was setting in.  It took a minute, but then it didn’t seem like there was any air flowing through it.

Not that any of that mattered.  Starved of oxygen, I could feel myself losing consciousness.  A minute or so later, I think the plane had started to level off, and a look at the flight path showed we were down to 10,000 feet, in the middle of the ocean.  My last thought, how long we would survive if we ditched.

I felt a hand on my shoulder shaking me.

“Sir, sir, are you alright?”

I opened my eyes and blinked several times.  I had to be in the middle of a nightmare.

The first thing I noticed was the engine noise, it was very loud, the loudness that came from propeller engines.  The second, I was no longer on an Airbus A330.  This was more like a Boeing 314, a flying boat.  The third, the man shaking me awake was a steward in a white coat, with PanAm on it.

Where the hell was I.  No, when the hell was I.  What the hell had happened?

“Sir, there’s a message for you.”  He handed me a folded sheet of paper.  “The captain asked me to tell you we’ll be landing in an hour, and that you, we all, should be prepared.  It’s a mess.”

“What is?”

“Pearl Harbour.  It was attacked yesterday morning by the Japs.  Bastards came in and practically blew everything up.”

All of a sudden there was a roaring sound outside the plane, followed by what had to be the chatter of a machine gun, followed by the sound of bullets hitting the fuselage.  One minute the steward was standing next to me, the next he was a bloody heap on the floor.  Above my head was a line of bullet holes.  More machine gun chatter, then an explosion, followed by a cry behind me of, “got the zero.”

I got out of the seat and went to the steward, staring at me with lifeless eyes.  A quick check for a pulse told me he was dead.  When I looked behind me there were a dozen or so military men, army, and navy.  Two sailors came up and gently maneuvered the steward towards the rear of the aircraft.  He had been the only casualty.  Turning back towards my seat I caught a reflection of myself in the window, that of a Lieutenant in the Navy.  How, and why was I here, now?

I remembered the note the steward had given me, sat down, and unfolded it.

The receipt date was 3:00 pm on 8th December 1941.  It was addressed to me, that is, a man with my exact name.  Orders to report to an Admiral who would reassign me, the ship I was being sent to had been sunk, and likely not to see service again.

We’d been in the air at the time of the attack, and I guessed news would have been sent to the plane, just in case it was not safe to land.  Perhaps they hadn’t counted on try Japanese Zero fighters hanging around for just such a flight as ours.

Whatever the reason I was here, however it had happened, I would have to make the most of it.

Only then did I remember what I had once said, ‘if only I could go back’.

Once again I felt a hand on my shoulder, and a voice, this time of a woman, gently shaking me awake.

“We’re arriving in Honolulu in about 40 minutes.  You need to prepare for landing.”

At the same time, I heard a change in the engines as we began to descend.  I looked around.  More familiar surroundings, back on the A330, the quiet hum of jet engines, and the sight of familiar faces.

“Did something happen to the plane or was I imagining it?”

“Just a lightning strike.  We had to go down for a bit, but these planes are designed to handle just about anything.  You slept through it, the best thing to do in situations like that.”

OK.  It had to be a dream.  That’s all I could put it down to.  Except for one small detail.  My grandfather’s name was the same as mine, he was in the Navy during World War 2, and he had been sent out to Pearl Harbour and was en-route when it happened.  But there was only one slight difference.  He had been killed when the lone zero had struck, not the steward.

© Charles Heath 2020-2021