“Strangers We’ve Become”, a sequel to “What Sets Us Apart”

Stranger’s We’ve Become, a sequel to What Sets Us Apart.

The blurb:

Is she or isn’t she, that is the question!

Susan has returned to David, but he is having difficulty dealing with the changes. Her time in captivity has changed her markedly, so much so that David decides to give her some time and space to re-adjust back into normal life.

But doubts about whether he chose the real Susan remain.

In the meantime, David has to deal with Susan’s new security chief, the discovery of her rebuilding a palace in Russia, evidence of an affair, and several attempts on his life. And, once again, David is drawn into another of Predergast’s games, one that could ultimately prove fatal.

From being reunited with the enigmatic Alisha, a strange visit to Susan’s country estate, to Russia and back, to a rescue mission in Nigeria, David soon discovers those whom he thought he could trust each has their own agenda, one that apparently doesn’t include him.

The Cover:

strangerscover9

Coming soon

 

Writing about writing a book – Day 26

On the surface, the relationship between Bill and Barry is an odd one.  I’ve thought about it, and at the moment, there’s some aspects that need to be written to provide background for what follows later.

I think I would like to make Barry one of those people who were built for soldiering, and not for civilian life, and it has to be said, he is a bit of a sloth once he becomes a civilian.

And, yet, under all of that, he’d be the first one in line to help his friends.

I just have to strike that balance so that I don’t make him too unsociable.

So, a little more about them, and Barry in particular.

 

A groan emanated from the table, and Barry moved his head slightly.

I shifted the drink in front of him, and then a hand went out and moved it back.  He lifted his head to look at me, and then lowered it again.

“I thought it was you.” A croak.

“Mate.  Not looking too good this afternoon?”

He groaned again, and then struggled to sit up, trying to smooth his hair back into place, and failing.  He rubbed his face and realized he had a week’s stubble, giving him the look of a deranged sanatorium inmate.

“Someone’s gotta try and get me off the gut rot Ogilvy calls booze.”  He nodded in Ogilvy’s direction, but typically, Ogilvy ignored him.

“You don’t have to drink it.”

“That’s what I keep telling myself.  Only it doesn’t work.”

“Perhaps you should try harder.”

He looked me over, looking for the changes since the last time he saw me, about four months ago.

“Where you been?”

“Hospital.”

“Not surprising.  Work too hard, no fun.”  He looked at the drink on the table, took it in his hand, then holding it up to the light.  Perhaps he thought it was the magic elixir that would fix him.

“Someone shot at me.  I nearly didn’t make it.  One thing it did, though.  Brought back all those memories I’d shut away.  Now I know why I did.”

“Shot at you?  Why?”

“I don’t know.  You should see the other guy.  He’s dead.”

“What other guy?”  He put the drink down, untouched.  He was beginning to look a little more alert.

I had not expected it would make much of a difference telling him about my problems, but it had.

“Take it from the top.”  Then, over towards Ogilvy, “Bring me some coffee.  Black.”

I started, a little hesitantly, not quite sure how much or little I should say.

Ogilvy came over with coffee for him and my orange juice.  He glared at me, then Barry.

“Your account is a little overdue,” Ogilvy said, standing over him.

“It’ll get paid.”

By little, I assumed it was more than Ogilvy was willing to stand.  He was kind, but kindness had its limits.

I pulled out two hundred dollar notes and gave them to him.  “Will this settle it?”

“I don’t want your money.  You should throw him in a detox center.  That would make more sense.”

“It’s only money.  If he wants to drink himself to death, who am I to argue?”

Ogilvy shrugged and took the money.  As he turned to leave, Barry said, “And take the scotch back.  I’ve had enough.”

He looked at Barry with surprise, no, I think it was more shock, but did as he was asked.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ogilvy drink the scotch himself, and another for good measure.

I picked up the story where Aitchison and I were shot in the street and related what I knew from there.  He asked only two questions, who was Jennifer, and what had happened to Ellen.  He’d absorbed the rest, and judging by his reaction, probably not understood any of it.

“You have a friend?  Does Ellen know about this friend?”

“Ellen and I are divorced.  Don’t you remember me telling you several years ago?”

“Has it been that long?”

He’d been like this off and on over the last twenty years.  It had been getting worse in the last few years, his health failing, and, at times, his memory.  I watched him pick up the coffee cup, his hand shaking so badly, he needed to hold it was two.  It took a minute or so before he could drink it, and then, his face was of a child, taking medicine.

He looked over towards the bar.  “More coffee.”  He set the cup down carefully, and then looked back at me.

“What can I do?”

“I need someone to watch my back.  I have the odd feeling I’ve got myself into a situation.  The people I work for, well, I can’t put my finger on it, but they’re probably doing something they shouldn’t.  I have some evidence, and I think they know I’ve got it, and they’ve attacked me, like I said, at least once since I got out of the hospital.”

“You want me to get this Kowalski character and beat it out of him?

I smiled at the thought.  I had no doubt if I asked him, he would do exactly that.

“Not yet.  We have to get a better case against them first.”

“So, just watch your back?”

“For the moment.  And for Jennifer.”

“But you are not sure about her.  I get the impression you think she might be involved in more ways than one.”

“Did I give that impression?”  I had no idea he would pick up on my doubts.  But he was right.  I did.

“Yes.  But it doesn’t matter.  If she is we’ll find out soon enough.”

In the space of five minutes and the arrival of the second cup of coffee, to be followed by a third, his whole manner had changed.  There was still the pained look from the hangover, but the eyes were brighter, and he had a purpose.

“Then you’re in?”

“Might as well.  It’ll be better than the last bodyguard gig I had.  Had to thump the little turd.  Smart arse needed it.”

 

To be honest, I didn’t expect Barry to take up the challenge.  Perhaps I’d become used to seeing him down and out, and not expecting anything else.  It was the look in his eyes that changed my opinion.  The same look I’d seen all those years ago, in the jungle.

It was another good sign when he asked for an hour to clean up so he could become inconspicuous.  I told him he could take over my place, gave him the key, gave him some money, and then told him where he could find me in an hour.

It was exactly what I needed.  The Barry of old.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

An excerpt from “Echoes from the Past”

Available on Amazon Kindle here:  https://amzn.to/2CYKxu4

 

With my attention elsewhere, I walked into a man who was hurrying in the opposite direction.  He was a big man with a scar running down the left side of his face from eye socket to mouth, and who was also wearing a black shirt with a red tie.

That was all I remembered as my heart almost stopped.

He apologized as he stepped to one side, the same way I stepped, as I also muttered an apology.

I kept my eyes down.  He was not the sort of man I wanted to recognize later in a lineup.  I stepped to the other side and so did he.  It was one of those situations.  Finally getting out of sync, he kept going in his direction, and I towards the bus, which was now pulling away from the curb.

Getting my breath back, I just stood riveted to the spot watching it join the traffic.  I looked back over my shoulder, but the man I’d run into had gone.  I shrugged and looked at my watch.  It would be a few minutes before the next bus arrived.

Wait, or walk?  I could also go by subway, but it was a long walk to the station.  What the hell, I needed the exercise.

At the first intersection, the ‘Walk’ sign had just flashed to ‘Don’t Walk’.  I thought I’d save a few minutes by not waiting for the next green light.  As I stepped onto the road, I heard the screeching of tires.

A yellow car stopped inches from me.

It was a high powered sports car, perhaps a Lamborghini.  I knew what they looked like because Marcus Bartleby owned one, as did every other junior executive in the city with a rich father.

Everyone stopped to look at me, then the car.  It was that sort of car.  I could see the driver through the windscreen shaking his fist, and I could see he was yelling too, but I couldn’t hear him.  I stepped back onto the sidewalk, and he drove on.  The moment had passed and everyone went back to their business.

My heart rate hadn’t come down from the last encounter.   Now it was approaching cardiac arrest, so I took a few minutes and several sets of lights to regain composure.

At the next intersection, I waited for the green light, and then a few seconds more, just to be sure.  I was no longer in a hurry.

At the next, I heard what sounded like a gunshot.  A few people looked around, worried expressions on their faces, but when it happened again, I saw it was an old car backfiring.  I also saw another yellow car, much the same as the one before, stopped on the side of the road.  I thought nothing of it, other than it was the second yellow car I’d seen.

At the next intersection, I realized I was subconsciously heading towards Harry’s new bar.   It was somewhere on 6th Avenue, so I continued walking in what I thought was the right direction.

I don’t know why I looked behind me at the next intersection, but I did.  There was another yellow car on the side of the road, not far from me.  It, too, looked the same as the original Lamborghini, and I was starting to think it was not a coincidence.

Moments after crossing the road, I heard the roar of a sports car engine and saw the yellow car accelerate past me.  As it passed by, I saw there were two people in it, and the blurry image of the passenger; a large man with a red tie.

Now my imagination was playing tricks.

It could not be the same man.  He was going in a different direction.

In the few minutes I’d been standing on the pavement, it had started to snow; early for this time of year, and marking the start of what could be a long cold winter.  I shuddered, and it was not necessarily because of the temperature.

I looked up and saw a neon light advertising a bar, coincidentally the one Harry had ‘found’ and, looking once in the direction of the departing yellow car, I decided to go in.  I would have a few drinks and then leave by the back door if it had one.

Just in case.

 

© Charles Heath 2015-2020

newechocover5rs

I’ve always wanted to go on a Treasure Hunt – Part 45

Here’s the thing…

Every time I close my eyes, I see something different.

I’d like to think the cinema of my dreams is playing a double feature but it’s a bit like a comedy cartoon night on Fox.

But these dreams are nothing to laugh about.

Once again there’s a new installment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.

The shrill ring tone of my phone woke me.

And, for a moment I was in a state of panic because I’d woken in unfamiliar surroundings.  Until my eyes cleared and I realized I was still at Nadia’s.

And it was morning.

What the….

The phone was still ringing, and Nadia, lying on the bed beside me rolled over and said, sleepily, “Are you going to answer that?”

I picked up the phone off the bedside table and pressed the green button.  

I already knew it was Boggs.

“Don’t you know what time it is?”  It was nine, a respectable hour of the morning to call.  It was just that I was tired.

“Where are you?”

I could lie, or I could tell the truth.  I don’t think I should say at home because I suspect that was where Boggs was now.  And my mother would be there, wondering what happened to me.

“Out and about.  Nice day for some exercise.  Why?”

“Your mother is not happy you didn’t come home.  And I’m surprised.  Where were you?”

Good question.  One that needed time to consider, time I didn’t have.

“Surveillance.  I’ve been watching Alex and his friends.  It’s been a long night.  What do you want?”

“I was going to head down towards Kentville, check on the other river.  We need to drive down there.”

“Well, right now I’m busy, so it will have to wait until tomorrow morning.  Sorry.  I have a job to do, and then I have to get home before I go to work.”

“What was Alex up to?”

“Not over the phone.  I’ll tell you when I see you.  Come back home about lunchtime.”
I could tell by the silence he wasn’t happy. 

“OK.”  He hung up.

I glared at the phone and put it back on the table, then turned to look at Nadia.  First thing I noted, we were both still in the clothes we were wearing the previous night.

“What happened?”

“Nothing.”  A momentary look of disappointment crossed her face.  “You were tired and I told you to stay.”

“Nothing can happen, or I’ll become Vince fodder.”

“I wouldn’t tell him.”

“He’d find out.  He has walls as spies.”  I looked around the room looking for potential spy cameras or bug locations.

“He wouldn’t dare.”

I climbed off the bed and smoothed out my clothes.  It didn’t make much difference to the crumpled look.  “At least it looks like I’ve been on an all-night surveillance assignment.”

“What are you going to tell Boggs.”

“Nothing.  There’s nothing concrete to tell him yet, just that Alex is, like the rest of us, running around in circles.

Nadia remained on the bed, and even though she looked as messy as I did, hers was a far more alluring messy.  I could feel the pangs of a forbidden desire.  Time to go.

“Come back tonight.  We can go on a voyage of discovery, see the mall as you’ve never seen it before.”

“Sounds like a Discovery Channel documentary advert.”

She sat up then stood and teased the knots out of her hair.  It was the first time I’d seen it out.  It gave her a whole new, softer look.

“Is that a look of desire I see in your eyes, Smidge?”

And the whole moment was shot to pieces.

“Don’t call me that.  I’ll see you tonight, though I’m not sure why.”

I let myself out, after carefully checking to see if the way out was clear.  The last thing I wanted, or needed, was to tangle with Vince.

Or ending up letting the dream become reality.

 
© Charles Heath 2020

“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

Motive, means, and opportunity – Motive

I’m working on a novella which may boringly be called “Motive, Means and Opportunity” where I will present a chunk of information from which you if you want to, can become the armchair detective.

Here’s the first part, the so-called Motive

 

So, here’s the thing…

I said it.  Not once, in the heat of the moment, but more than once, to several different people.  I wanted James Burgman dead.

Why?

Because I knew he was the man sleeping with my wife, Wendy.

I’d long suspected she was having an affair, you know the signs, not where you expect her to be, making excuses where none were necessary if she was doing what she said she was, and disappearing for hours without an explanation.

And I knew James Burgman was an old boyfriend, a discovery that was made quite by accident.  In fact, I followed her one night, not because I was suspicious, but worried for her safety.

That was where I saw her meet him with more than just a friendly handshake.

I had to say it made me feel gutted.

But would I kill him?

It was not worth the problems it would cause me to do so, and, when push came to shove, neither of them were worth it.  I knew, even if he was out of the way, she would not stay with me. 

That train had left the station about a year ago when our only son had been killed in a senseless road accident.

 

© Charles Heath 2019-2020

“Echoes From The Past”, buried, but not deep enough

On special, now only $0.99 for the next few weeks.


What happens when your past finally catches up with you?

Christmas is just around the corner, a time to be with family. For Will Mason, an orphan since he was fourteen, it is a time for reflection on what his life could have been, and what it could be.

Until a chance encounter brings back to life the reasons for his twenty years of self-imposed exile from a life only normal people could have. From that moment Will’s life slowly starts to unravel and it’s obvious to him it’s time to move on.

This time, however, there is more at stake.

Will has broken his number one rule, don’t get involved.

With his nemesis, Eddie Jamieson, suddenly within reach, and a blossoming relationship with an office colleague, Maria, about to change everything, Will has to make a choice. Quietly leave, or finally, make a stand.

But as Will soon discovers, when other people are involved there is going to be terrible consequences no matter what choice he makes.

https://amzn.to/2CYKxu4

newechocover5rs

Writing about writing a book – Day 25

We’ve been given the introduction to who Barry McDougall is, or the man otherwise known as ‘Brainless’, and after three days of trying to get it straight, this is the first rough draft of his start in the story.

 

Barry, whose daring selfless deeds earned him the nickname Brainless because that was the only way to describe the motivation behind them, was one of the regular soldiers, and, for a long time, had been my only true friend.  His was a reputation both friends and foes alike considered awesome.  He’d been in Vietnam, and later just turned up at Davenport’s camp, reporting for duty.

Davenport was more surprised than I was at his arrival, but obviously, after checking his credentials, he was impressed because he let him stay.  And it would be true to say, if he had not, I would not be here now.

So Barry was just the sort of person I needed to help me.

That was the good news.

The bad news was Barry, at the best of times, either on one of his ‘benders’ using drugs or alcohol, whatever was easier to get at the time, lost to everyone, or locked up in a mental institution, having admitted himself.  He had no interest in participating in life, hadn’t worked in years, and often said, in moments when he was at his lowest, that he did not care if he lived or died.  It had not always been that way, but his demons had all but taken him over, and despite the help, I tried to give him, nothing could shake him out of this lethargy.  He said once he envied me that I could not remember the dark days, and, now those memories had returned, I knew what he meant.

For a long time, I could not understand why he didn’t try harder to help himself, and I guess he humored me by accepting the jobs I’d found him, and the help I offered.  I owed him a great deal, but that was probably the one honorable thing about him, he never expected, nor wanted, anything in return.

He tried to make a go of being a police officer and lasted several years before he resigned over an incident that didn’t reach the papers.  There was, he said, no place for heroics in modern society.  I hadn’t got to the bottom of it, but I heard he shot some thieves at a time when the police were trying to promote a pacifist image.

He tried a few other occupations with an equal lack of success, so now he survived on whatever money I gave him.  He lived on the street, and when he was not there, I knew he could be found in a bar, in one of the more seedier parts of the city, a ubiquitous underground bar called Jackson’s, named after a man who had a salubrious reputation that hovered between load shark and saint, and who was reputed to be buried under the storeroom floor.  The present owner, or what I assumed to be the owner, was a large, gruff, ex-prizefighter, who had the proverbial heart of gold, most of the time, and who took my money and looked after Barry without making it look like he was.

I’d called the bartender in advance, and he said he was in his usual spot, and that it was at the start of the next cycle, having just discharged himself from the hospital after a bout of pneumonia.  It was, he said, getting worse, and taking longer to recover.

It was probably only a matter of time before it took him, so perhaps this time I would have to try harder to convince him to give up his nomadic lifestyle.

When I walked in, the aroma of spilled beer, stale sweat, and vomit, mingled with the industrial-strength carbolic cleaner almost took my breath away.  In the corner, two construction workers were sitting, quietly smoking and drinking large glasses of beer.  In the other, Barry was being held up by the table, an untouched double scotch sitting in front of him.  Sitting at the bar was a woman of indeterminate age, badly made up, and thin to the point of emaciation.  I was not sure what she was drinking, or what it was she was smoking, but I could smell it from the front doorway.

The bartender, Ogilvy, no first name given, was pretending to polish glasses, standing at the end of the bar, looking at the television, playing some daytime soap.  He didn’t look over when I came in, but I knew he didn’t miss anything.  I saw him flick a glance at Barry, and then shake his head.  I think he cared as much about Barry as I did, but could recognize the sadness within him.  As much as Ogilvy said, which wasn’t much, he too had seen service in Vietnam, and it had affected him too.

I ordered an orange juice, caught the glances from the construction workers, and a steely look from the woman then went over to Barry’s table and sat down.  Despite the loud scraping noise when I moved the chair, or the creaking as I sat in it, Barry didn’t move.

Whilst the bar had that seedy aroma, Barry was showing the signs of having spent time on the street.  It was one of the disadvantages of having no permanent residence and though there was a shower at the bar which Ogilvy let Barry use from time to time, he obviously hadn’t for a few days.

 

Getting all of this background in shape is hard work, and having toiled long and hard, tomorrow I’ll have a go at getting Barry back.

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

 

 

An excerpt from “One Last Look”

This is currently available at Amazon herehttp://amzn.to/2CqUBcz

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were so happy then.

Before the tragedy.

 

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

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

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

Until one day she couldn’t.

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

The doctors were wrong.

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

Justice would have to be served by other means.

 

I was outside the Bannister’s home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Justice.”

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

“She said otherwise, Archie.”

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

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

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

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

 

It was the recurring nightmare I had for years afterwards.

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

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

If only I’d not been late…

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

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

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

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

He didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He took nineteen bullets to die.

Then came Archie.

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

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

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

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

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

He was a little more worried about his sister.

I told him it was confession time.

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

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

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

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

Then she shot him.  Six times.

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

 

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

They were not allowed to.

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

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

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

“You’ve been a bad boy, Alan.”

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

I was beginning to think I was going mad.

I ignored him.

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

Death sounded good.  I told him to go away.

He didn’t.  Persistent bugger.

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

“Why’d you do it?”

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

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

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

“You like killing?”

“No-one does.”

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

“We?”

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

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

 

Trained, cleared, and ready to go.

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

People like me.

In a mall, I became a shopper.

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

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

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

I had a passkey.

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

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

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

Until the judge, the jury and their executioner arrived.

Me.

Quick, clean, merciless.  Done.

I was now an operational field agent.

 

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

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

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

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

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

I was Barry Gamble.

I was Lenny Buckman.

I was Jimmy Hosen.

I was anyone but the person I wanted to be.

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

Head bowed, tears streamed down my face.

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

 

New York, New Years Eve.

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

This time I failed.

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

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

I was done.

I’d had enough.

I gave her the gun.

I begged her to kill me.

She didn’t.

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

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

I remembered her name after she had gone.

Amanda.

I remembered she had an imperfection in her right eye.

Someone else had the same imperfection.

I couldn’t remember who that was.

Not then.

 

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

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

It was late.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dunno.”

“You need help?”

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

“Who are you?” she asked.

“Nobody.”  I was exactly how I felt.

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

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

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

“Where are your friends?” I asked again.

“Got none.”

“Perhaps I should take you home.”

“I have no home.”

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

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

“I have my moments.”

“Have them somewhere else.”

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

“Take me home,” she said suddenly.

“Where is your place?”

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

“You won’t like it.”

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

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

“Charlotte.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

Aunt Agatha.

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

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

“Why did you come,” Charlotte asked.

“You know why.”

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

OK, now she officially scared me.

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

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

“Certainly not my fairy godmother.”

Charlotte never mentioned her again.

 

Zurich in summer, not exactly my favourite place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But…

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I was crying, tears streaming down my face.

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

It was like coming up for air.

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

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

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

“Welcome back.”

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2019

onelastlookcoverfinal2

It’s a cold snap, and a do or die playoff game for the Maple Leafs

It’s an interesting expression, a cold snap, which probably would be more suited to describing freezing vegetables than the state of the weather.

But, it’s a fitting description, made all the more miserable watching the Maple Leafs playing the fourth game in the series, vying for a chance to continue their campaign for the Stanley Cup.

It’s two goals to none and no prizes for guessing who is none, and as much as I hate to concede defeat, it doesn’t look good.

So, it’s back to the weather, currently a more interesting topic of conversation.

Usually in winter, in Brisbane, it’s a lot warmer, and it’s supposed to be 26 degrees Celcius today, which would imply blue skies and sunshine.

As usual, the meteorological department has not quite got it right. Right now, its just past midday, and the temperature is 22 degrees centigrade, but there’s no sunshine, so there’s a ‘feels like’ factor here, and my guess is it’s more like 12 or 13.

And, just as I stepped out to check the weather, and the Blue Jack scored another goal. It’s now 3-0.

It’s looking very grim looking in this direction which is towards the ocean.

Looking the other way, there’s a ray of hope with slivers of blue sky trying to break through the cloud cover.

Where are the Maple Leafs?  One gets the feeling right now, they’re just going through the motions.

Oh, well, back to the weather…

Meanwhile…

Hang on, we just scored a goal and it’s 3-1. Hope springs eternal? The player I follow, Nylander, scores.

Now we’re playing with an empty net, sometimes a dangerous thing to do. OK, I just managed to catch my breath, and we just scored another goal. The score is now 3-2.

How many players can you fit in a net, because everyone is in the Blue Jackets net? Attacking. Attacking.

Yes, another score. It’s now 3-3.

I can’t believe it, and neither can the commentators. I don’t think anyone can, but if there had been spectators, there’d almost be a riot right about now.

So, we now have over time.

So, time to calm down, get a drink and a snack, and get back in time for the fourth period.

Of course, we expected the Maple Leafs would continue with their late boost in momentum, but things sorts of evened up as the minutes’ tick by.

Thinking that it was bogged down, I left the room to do something else, and, lo and behold, Mathews gets a goal and we won.

Typical.

Then I went outside and the weather had changed, more along the lines of what the weather bureau predicted.

Or was it because the Maple Leafs won?

Let’s hope the sun keeps shining because there’s another game to go.