The A to Z Challenge – Q is for “Quirky relatives”

One of the recurring memories I have of my childhood was the annual pilgrimage to Grand Marais, Minnesota, located on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

It was the place where my father grew up, along with three brothers and a sister, and where his parents had been born, lived, and eventually died.

The other memory, that his parents never came to visit us, we always had to go to them.  That, and the fact my mother hated them, that animosity borne out of an event at their wedding that no one ever spoke about.

Not until a long, long time later, after my father had passed away.

We stopped going when I turned eighteen, though I don’t think that was the reason.  Mt grandparents hadn’t died or gone anywhere, it was just the week before our pilgrimage was to begin, my father announced there would be no more visits.

You could see the relief on our mother’s face, much less ours because they were, to put it mildly, quirky.  Steven, the youngest brother put it more succinctly, weird and creepy.

Perhaps it had been the house, a large sprawling two-story mansion that had been added to over the years, and reputed to have thirteen bedrooms.  Thirteen.

They had a butler, a housekeeper, a chauffeur, and several housemaids.  Odd, because I got the impression my grandfather didn’t work, and yet they were, reputedly, very wealthy.  Equally odd, then, that wealth didn’t extend to my father.

Which, in the final analysis, was probably the reason why we stopped going.  He had been cut out of the will.

Of course, none of this would have reached my consciousness if I had not received an email from one of the sones of my fathers, brother, and uncle who had never visited us, I’d seen probably three times in my life, and who had lived with his parents in the mansion.

I’d not seen, or heard of any children of any of the other brothers, or sisters, so this was a first, and aroused my curiosity.  I had thought that our part of the family had been exorcised from all their collective memories.

Apparently not.

And, that curiosity would soon go into overdrive because with the email came an invitation to come and stay, and meet the other members of the family. 

I had a sister, Molly, and called her once I got the email, and she said she had one too.

Was she going?  Hell yes.  It, for her, was going to be the unearthing of all the secrets.

What secrets, I asked, knowing full well there had been a few, but she had simply said I’d have to wait and see.

The drive brought back a lot of memories, and unconsciously I found myself listening to the same songs we did when Dad droves us.

Molly had come to my place, and we drove there together.  In itself, it was a good reason for us to reunite after so long being apart.  It was even more profound considering we did not live all that far apart, it was just life and family that got in the way.

She, like myself, found herself reliving the annual pilgrimages, her memories being hazier than mine, but that was because she was a lot younger.

She had been the one to leave home first, finding our restrictive parents unbearable.  My departure took longer because my mother had implored me to stay, and not leave her with ‘that unbearable man’.

That final few miles from the outskirts of town, past the waterline, then inland was hushed with anticipation.  I last remembered the house, although forbidding, as impeccably maintained, with gardens, I was sure, that featured in ‘Architectural Digest’.

This vision as we approached was so different than the last, in the last vestiges of the evening, a dark forbidding place still, only a lot more sinister.  The gardens had been abandoned long ago, and everything was overgrown.

The fountain out front, the centerpiece of the gardens, was buried and gone.

The house had also fallen into disrepair, and I was surprised the local authorities hadn’t condemned it.

I parked the car in the driveway, and we sat there, staring at it.

“That motel back down the road is looking good,” Molly said.

The invitation also included staying in one of the thirteen rooms.

“Depends on how many ghosts there are.”

“The motel or here?”

I shrugged.  “I guess we’d better get to the front door before it’s dark, just in case.”

Closer to the stairs leading up to a veranda, I could see the different shades of timber when rotten planks had been replaced.  We made it to the front door, Molly hanging on to me just in case.

I pulled a ring dangling from a chain and heard a gong go off inside the house.  A minute passed, two, then the door creaked open, and an old man in a dinner suit was standing there.  “Mr. Garry, and Miss Molly, I presume.

He stood to one side before we answered, and we went in.

The inside was utterly different from the outside, having been renovated recently, much brighter than I remembered from the endless wood paneling.  The old man ushered us into a large lounge room, on one side a huge log fire was burning, and around the walls, where there wasn’t a bookshelf full of books were family paintings.

“It’s like a mausoleum,” Molly said.

I recognized a lot of those faces in the paintings, including one of our father and mother together, probably not long after they were married.  The men of that family all looked the same, except when it came to me, I looked more like my mother.

“Much better than it used to be.”

“I don’t remember much.”

To one side there was a large staircase that you could go up one side and down the other, and as children, we used to run up and down, and generally be annoying.  Sliding down the banister was strictly forbidden, until after everyone went to bed.

I was half expecting to see the old man come from the depths of the house, but instead, a man that I could easily mistake as my father came through from the rear, where, I remembered, there was a room before the kitchens.

“Garry, I presume.  And Molly.  My God, it’s been too long.”

A shake of the hand for me, and a hug for Molly. 

“David, or Jerry?”

“David.  You remember.  We used to run amok in this place.”  He grinned.

He was the wild one, and all I did was follow.  There were about seven of us, in the end, before we stopped coming.

“The others will be here tomorrow, and they’re dying to meet you.  My dad was the last man standing, and he left the place to me, not that it was much by that time.  I’ve spent years doing it up, but there’s a long way to go before it returns to its former glory.  By the way, there are no ghosts in the bedrooms, and they are modernized with their own bathroom.  I saw you out in the car before, looking horrified.  Just a word to the wise, that motel does have ghosts.  The jury is out on whether grandfather still roams the hallways, but I guess that’s something you’ll find out tonight.  He was a horrid man by all accounts.  Sorry, my wife says I babble when I’m nervous.”

“He does.”  A woman, a few years older than Molly came out from the back.”

“Angelina?”

“You remember me.”  She smiled.

I remembered her, had for a long time because back then, she was the first girl I thought I was madly in love with.  The fact she was a cousin didn’t seem to matter.  She just ignored me anyway.

And her beauty had not diminished over the years.  “How could anyone forget you?”

“Yes, I had that effect on boys, didn’t I?  It’s good to see you again.”

We both scored a hug, and yes, being close to her again did increase my heart rate just a little.

“Come,” David said, “sit and we’ll have a drink.  Have you eaten?”

“Not for a while.”

“Then we were about to have a bite, I’m sure there’s plenty for everyone.  Sit, and we’ll be back in a few minutes.”

“No wife, husband?”

“Yes on both accounts, but we would never bring them here.  This family is difficult enough for us let alone outsiders.  The rest of the group, well, you’ll see, are just plain quirky relatives.  If you ever saw the Addams Family, TV series or movies, well, they’d fit right in here.  But you’ll see.  More on that soon.”

He and Angelina disappeared outback and silence fell over the room.

“Why do I get the feeling we might be murdered in our beds tonight?”

It was beginning to look like that was a possibility.

When David returned with the old man, Angelina, and what looked to be a maid with food and drinks, we sat down again, turning our fears of being murdered into a severe frightening of ghosts.

The old man was enough to think ghosts were alive in the house.  It couldn’t possibly be the butler from the last time I saw him because he would have to be about 120 years old.

When all of us were settled, David began.

“There is another reason why I asked both of you here, along with all the others, by the way, there are around ten of us.  Your father never told you the truth, or perhaps anything, of the situation when he stopped coming to visit his parents, did he?”

“He just said it was a difference of opinion, that his father would never see reason, didn’t like my mother or her family and gave up trying to be civil.”

“It was worse than that, he told him that if he didn’t give up your mother, he would cut him off from the family fortune, which eventually he did.  It’s probably why you found life a little tougher for a few years.”

That was one way of putting it, we were taken out of our private schools and had just about all our leisure activities curtailed, and the worst, no more holidays.  Mother even had to get a job, which disappointed her family, but they were not as rich as my father’s family was, so couldn’t help us financially.

“It was difficult.”

“Well, the good news is, your grandmother, our grandmother, was not as quirky or pedantic as her husband and never forgot the service your father did for her when he could.  In that regard, she has left a bequest to both you and your sister, Molly.  It’s been a long, hard battle to get it through the system, but it’s finally sorted.”

“I liked grandmother more than grandfather,” Molly said.

“Most of us did.  He was a rebel himself, going against his family, a very interesting bunch themselves.  Our quirkiness probably came from them, the last of the relatively unknown banking and railroad tycoons more famous in the 19th century than today where we are relatively forgotten.  It is of course a blessing in disguise.  But you ask, what is that quirkiness worth?”

“Not much I would imagine, after all this time.  Our father taught us the value of money, so it’ll be nice to have some extra.”

“Some extra.”  He smiled.  “It’s about 125 million dollars, each.  Enough I would say that you can now afford some quirks of your own.”


© Charles Heath 2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 30

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 instalment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.

 

Was this going to be the very definition of dining with the devil?

Or was my curiosity going to be the death of me?

It was just one of a dozen questions I asked myself on that trip back to Nadia’s room.  One reason I was going there was not in the expectation of a romantic interlude.  No, this was something else.  I kept reminding myself that Nadia was, first and foremost, a Cossatino, and the Cossatino’s were not people you wanted to be friends with.

When we arrived, she asked for a few minutes so she could change, so I stayed out on the balcony.  It was a coolish night, a clear sky, and just a hint of salt in the air.  We were not far from the ocean, and it reminded me of another lifetime, one where I was young enough not to have to worry about all that grown-up stuff.

I heard the door open behind me.

“Thanks for waiting.”

I turned, not sure what I was expecting.  Certainly not a statuesque woman in training gear.  She looked to me ready to go for a training run.

I walked past her into the room, faintly smelling of some perfume, and sat in one of the two chairs in the room.  I watched her close the door, go over to the mini bar, get two bottles of beer out, and hand one to me.

It was an odd thought, being in a hotel room with Nadia, the last thing I’d ever be doing with her, let alone any other woman.  My choices had always been limited, or so I had thought.

“I had this thought,” she said, leaning against the desk on the opposite side of the room, “that we should try and beat Vince at his own game.”

An interesting thought, was Nadia thinking of joining in Boggs’s treasure hunt, take it over, or was this a ruse, and had she been working with Vince all this time, and using us to get to the prize by another route.  Or was it a rivalry with Vince that she wanted to win?  Wasn’t it Boggs’s call who joined the expedition?

“We as in you and me, or we as in Boggs and you, or…”

“You’re overthinking it Smidge.”

“A word of advice, Nadia, if you’re trying to appeal to my good side, you might consider dropping the nickname.  Only the people I hate use it, and I’m sure you don’t want me to add you to the list.”

Not necessarily warranted, and in my younger days I’d never dare to speak to her like that, but I felt I had the upper hand, at least for a short time.

“OK.  Note to self, call Smidge Sam.  Old habits are hard to break.”

In more ways than one, I thought. 

“Well, overthinking it or not, it’s not my call to make.  I’m assuming you want to join in on Boggs’s treasure hunt?”

“That was the idea.”

“You’re assuming that Boggs actually has the real map, or, in fact, there is such a thing.  You have to remember that his father created all those maps, and it wouldn’t be hard to make one look more authentic than another, just to get a better price.  Everything to do with the treasure seems to me like it’s one big hoax.”

“If that was the case, why do you think Vince is so wound up about it?  My point is, Vince is simply all muscle and no brains.  He always has been, so you have to assume that my grandfather has decided there’s something in the rumours.  Granted he may have been working in league with Boogs senior, but don’t you think that in order to create forgeries, there had to be some sort of map to work from.”

An interesting premise.

“If it led to treasure on an island in the Wast Indies, I’d be more likely to believe in it, but here, a million miles from any of the pirate trading routes, and having a deep abiding disbelieve in hidden treasure still not recovered in this day and age, what do you think?”

“Does Boggs’s know about your scepticism?”

“I’ve told him enough times, but he has this bee in his bonnet, and I’m his best friend, probably his only friend.  I humour him.  And I doubt seriously if he’ll ever go through with it, because he’s never finished anything in his life.  He gave me a copy of the map, but I suspect that was a copy of the one he gave Vince in the end.

“So, you think it’s not a worthwhile exercise?”

“What I think doesn’t matter.  But I’ve got a question for you.  Why have you come back here?”

“What if I told you it’s possible that the treasure is real.”

“I’d say you’ve been indulging in the drugs your family pedals.”

“What if I said I had proof?”

OK, where is this going?  Did that mean she had proof, or that the Cossatino’s had proof, and was she about to open a can of worms?

“I’m listening.”

“That man that you found dead on Rico’s boat.  His name was Jacob Stravinsky.  He was an authority on pirates and their lost treasure, and had over the years, uncovered evidence that pirates had come here supposedly fleeing from the authorities, and that at least two of them could have hidden some of their treasure somewhere along this coastline.  News of the discovery of several gold coins off the coast, not ten miles from here somehow caught Ales Benderby’s ear and he went to visit him.

“No one is sure what happened at that meeting, but I know Alex was there because that’s where I ran into him.  And, the fool that he is, got drunk and told me, no bragged about how he was going to find the treasure and prove his worth to his father.”

“Then how did this Stravinsky end up dead on Rico’s boat.”

“Because Alex got what he wanted and made sure no one else found out.”

 

© Charles Heath 2019

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

The A to Z Challenge – H is for – “How is this possible…”


It started with a simple memo.

After several years of bad management, the company had decided to make a clean sweep and change upper management. Of course, that sort of change was driven by the volatility of the company’s share price and dividends, and shareholders’ discontent. Productivity was down because of low employee morale driven by what was labelled a ‘toxic work environment’. This led to production problems, quality control issues, and falling sales.

Something had to be done.

The new broom, as it was come to be known as, had made several far sweeping changes, one of which, to counter the discontent of its employees, was to institute the anonymous complaint. Any employee could make a complaint without fear of reprisals. In the past, those that had were vilified, demoted, or sacked. Now, the new broom had decided that employee input would improve the workplace, improve productivity, and provide the way back to the halcyon days.

Or so we thought.

Two phones, each on a bedside table, both chimed to indicate an incoming message.

I’d been staring at the roof, contemplating the start of a new week in a place where I had decided was not where I wanted to be. Beside me, still asleep, was the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, but she was not sure about making a commitment. She’d been down that road before, and it failed miserably and was taking it slow.

I told her slow was my middle name.

I leaned over and picked up the phone, more out of curiosity than anything else, but fascinated that both phones could go off at the same time.

“In the light of a host of complaints about the catering division, it has been decided that the staff cafeteria will cease operations at the end of the month. It has for a number of years been the subject of employee dissatisfaction and the result of an extensive investigation to the feasibility of keeping it going, given the economic climate and fiscal position of the company the only viable decision is to cease operations. Staff currently working in the catering department will be transferred to other positions within the company.”

How could this be possible? I had seen the feasibility study relating to the cafeteria, and it was ‘feasible’ to keep it going. They were right though, there had been a host of complaints, but that was because the catering manager had no idea how to run a large-scale cafeteria that churned out upwards of 5,000 meals a day. Even Olga, who was right here with me now, had said that it was the most poorly managed operation she had ever worked in.

I tossed the phone back on the bedside table and got back under the covers. Too early and too cold to get out of bed.

It woke Olga.

“Trouble in paradise?”

Paradise was her euphemism for work. She had become increasingly desponded as I about working there. In her case, as q waitress in the cafeteria, it was a job she could take or leave. For me, loitering on the fringes of middle management, not so much. Not if I wanted to keep the flash apartment and upscale car.

“They have dumped the cafeteria.”

I had expected her to leap up in indignation. It barely registered on the Richter scale. “And what did you expect?” She raised her head off the pillow. “They were never going to implement your suggestions, it would make Commissar Bland look like a fool, like the fool above him.”

Her analogy transposing our fearless leaders with those back in the old Soviet Union were always an insight to what she had experienced back home before she emigrated with her parents. Commissar Bland was a dictator, and not a man to cross. She cared little about him, and treated him, like the others did, as a joke.

“So much for the new broom,” I muttered.

“You are so naive Petr, but like home, change means no change, just different faces and words that all mean the same thing.”

Petr was her pet name for me, named after an old mentor of hers.

“Aren’t you the one losing your job. Doesn’t it bother you?”

“I will become best factory worker. We are very adaptable. You should try not to lose any sleep.”

She lay down again and snuggled closer.

I left her at the fourth floor where my office was located, and she would continue up to the next, the location of the cafeteria.

If I remember correctly, the current CEO when the factory manager, had always wanted to reclaim the cafeteria space for a new modernised production line, but the old guard had seen the benefit of keeping it despite the cost, as a means of keeping its workforce. Even twenty years ago, it would not have made a discussion topic, even in jest.

But times change.

Herman, another of the middle management fringe dwellers, and had also seen the need to have something to ‘bribe’ the workforce. We’d only been talking about it with others on our level the other day when all manner of rumours were drifting through our building.

He was loitering in the passage, obviously waiting for me.

“You’ve seen the message?”

I nodded.

“Hell of a way to kill an institution?”

I walked into my cubicle and dumped my bag on the floor. As a first act, the new broom removed all the offices, and put everyone into an open plan, where it was easier to communicate with others and removed the barriers walls and doors presented. The jury was still out on whether it worked, I could still never get to see the people I needed to.

He followed me in and sat in a chair in the corner. I sat on the desk, it was not a large cubicle.

“It was a drain on profits. The world has moved on from pandering to workforces. It seems dividends are more important. I’m sure this will not be the only change.”

“Like managers losing their cars and credit cards, except for the upper echelon. I don’t think you’ll see them close the executive dining room.”

Yes, it was only a matter of time before that morsel would raise its head under the banner of hypocrisy.

“Probably not. But remember, we used to build cars once, and it was good advertising to hand them out to all and sundry. Now, trying to do the right thing costs too much.”

My phone on the desk rang and startled me. It was still quiet, the bulk of the cubicle population hadn’t arrived yet. My guess they were gathering in coffee shops discussing the news.

I picked up receiver mid ring, then said, “Yes?” I refused to follow the official answering sequence advised by the new broom.

Hesitation, then, “O’Hara from Administration. Can you come and see me, nine a.m.?”

Why? There was no way anyone could know I sent that memo, and I wasn’t on management’s radar, it had been O’Hara himself who told me to keep up the good work, the coded message that said I was not on the latest promotion list.

“I’ll see you then.” I was not going to say ‘yes, sir’ like other management hopefuls. O’Hara was not someone who could be buttered up, a fact only I seemed to be aware of.

“Who was that?”

“O’Hara.”

“Then your days are numbered. He never calls except to say you have a promotion or you’re fired. You aren’t on the promotion list.”

“How can you be sure?”

No one was supposed to know who was on that list for sure, it was a closely guarded secret. Herman said he knew someone who knew someone who knew Herman’s PA, and had been told who was on the list. So far, in the last two lists, he had been right about us two.

Perhaps he was right. I was going to get fired.

“Have I ever been wrong?”

Technically, no. But I never got any other names of those who were on the list. Maybe it was better to wait, and be disappointed then.

“Well, we’ll soon find out.”

It took twenty minutes to walk from the old administration building to the new, built recently on the outskirts of the company site, on what was once the carpark. The carpark had been relocated under the new administration building, and it gave management the perfect excuse to charge us to park our cars.

A Lot of employees had switched from car to the train, less than the weekly cost of the carpark. Another new broom initiative; getting people out of cars and onto public transport, their contribution to easing global warming.

None of us, other than those in the new administration building had passes, so we had to sign in as visitors on the ground floor, even though we spent a lot of time travelling back and forth, and visiting other members of our departments who had been moved from the old building.

No, not a new broom initiative, just the result of an obtuse security chief.

Getting the pass made me five minutes late, and O’Hara didn’t like tardy people.

A glare followed me from the door of his office to the seat in front of his desk where he motioned me to sit. The offices were better here and were offices not cubicles. Everyone else wanted to be transferred to the new office. I didn’t. Too far away from Olga.

“I called you over to discuss the ten-point plan to save the cafeteria.”

“What ten-point plan?” Perhaps they did know who wrote the memo.

“I had every written complaint checked to see whose writing it was. Next time, write it on the computer and print it out.”

I shrugged. “I did it for a laugh. Nothing’s going to change in this place.”

“You sound like you don’t like working here?”

“I do. Most days. Today, though, is one reason to leave. That cafeteria has been here since the day the factory started. The employers, once, were involved in getting employees housing, even had their own estate, and assisted them to buy cars. It was a novel thought in an age where employers, well, some employers, considered their employees assets.”

“We still do.”

I shook my head. I guess if you wanted to be in management you had to believe and repeat the new mantra. I’d heard about the management team building conferences.

“So, we’re going back to our original values?”

“This is neither the time, nor do we have the fiscal viability. But it seems some of the board members consider your proposals need fleshing out into a plan with costings so they can make a more balanced judgement.”

“Unfortunately, you just uttered the two words that make that idea redundant, fiscal viability. There is no possible way in this current world we live in that a cafeteria would ever be viable, unless we charged five-star restaurant prices for the meals.”

“Humour me and do it anyway.”

“Not my department.”

“Fixed. You now are temporarily assigned to ‘rebuilding and restructuring’. You can add three others to your team. You have a week.”

“And if I say no.”

“It’s that or your resignation. You have been given an opportunity, take it.”

I shrugged. I’d heard about the new broom’s method of culling. Give them jobs that they can’t possibly find a solution to. Devious, but devastatingly effective. One last hurrah before being tossed on the executive scrap heap.

When I came out of his office, Herman was waiting in the outer office.

“You too,” I said.

“Nine of us. Sounds like there’s a new project in the wind.”

I didn’t burst his bubble. Ten more budding executives were getting the push. I sighed.

At least now Olga and I could go visit her family on the shores of the Black Sea. There was no excuse not to.

And, yes, it really did start with a memo.

© Charles Heath 2021

“The Devil You Don’t”, she was the girl you would not take home to your mother!

Now only $0.99 at https://amzn.to/2Xyh1ow

John Pennington’s life is in the doldrums. Looking for new opportunities, prevaricating about getting married, the only joy on the horizon was an upcoming visit to his grandmother in Sorrento, Italy.

Suddenly he is left at the check-in counter with a message on his phone telling him the marriage is off, and the relationship is over.

If only he hadn’t promised a friend he would do a favor for him in Rome.

At the first stop, Geneva, he has a chance encounter with Zoe, an intriguing woman who captures his imagination from the moment she boards the Savoire, and his life ventures into uncharted territory in more ways than one.

That ‘favor’ for his friend suddenly becomes a life-changing event, and when Zoe, the woman who he knows is too good to be true, reappears, danger and death follow.

Shot at, lied to, seduced, and drawn into a world where nothing is what it seems, John is dragged into an adrenaline-charged undertaking, where he may have been wiser to stay with the ‘devil you know’ rather than opt for the ‘devil you don’t’.

newdevilcvr6

Searching for locations: New York from a different perspective

It is an amazing coincidence that both times we have flown into New York, it is the day after the worst snow storms.

The first time, we were delayed out of Los Angeles and waited for hours before the plane left.  We had a free lunch and our first introduction to American hamburgers and chips.  Wow!

I had thought we had left enough time with connections to make it in time for New Year’s Eve, like four to five hours before.  As it turned out, we arrived in New York at 10:30, and thanks to continual updating with our limousine service, he was there to take us to the hotel.

The landing was rough, the plane swaying all over the place and many of the passengers were sick.  Blankets were in short supply!

We made it to the hotel, despite snow, traffic, and the inevitable problems associated with NYE in New York, with enough time to throw our baggage in the room, put on our anti cold clothes, and get out onto the streets.

We could not go to Times Square but finished up at Central Park with thousands of others, in time to see the ball drop on a big screen, exchange new year’s greetings, and see the fireworks.

Then, as luck would have it, we were able to get an authentic New York hotdog, just before the police moved the vendor on, and our night was complete.

The second time we were the last plane out of Los Angeles to New York.  After waiting and waiting, we boarded, and then started circling the airport waiting for takeoff permission.  We stopped once to refuel, and then the pilot decided we were leaving.

This time we took our eldest granddaughter, who was 9 at the time, and she thought it was an adventure.  It was.

When we landed, we were directed to an older part of the airport, a disused terminal.  We were not the only plane to land, at about one in the morning, but one of about four.  The terminal building filled very quickly, and we were all waiting for baggage.  The baggage belts broke so there were a lot of porters bring the baggage in by hand.

One part of the terminal was just a sea of bags.  To find ours our granddaughter, who, while waiting, sat on top of the cabin baggage playing her DSI until the announcement our bags were available, walked across the top of the bags till she found them.  Thankfully no one was really looking in her direction.

Once again we kept our limousine service updated, and, once we knew what terminal we were at, he came to pick us up.  This time we arrived some days before NYE, so there was not so much of a rush.  We got to the hotel about 3:30 in the morning, checked in, and then went over the road to an all-night diner where we ordered hamburgers and chips.

And a Dr. Pepper.

“What Sets Us Apart”, a mystery with a twist

David is a man troubled by a past he is trying to forget.

Susan is rebelling against a life of privilege and an exasperated mother who holds a secret that will determine her daughter’s destiny.

They are two people brought together by chance. Or was it?

When Susan discovers her mother’s secret, she goes in search of the truth that has been hidden from her since the day she was born.

When David realizes her absence is more than the usual cooling off after another heated argument, he finds himself being slowly drawn back into his former world of deceit and lies.

Then, back with his former employers, David quickly discovers nothing is what it seems as he embarks on a dangerous mission to find Susan before he loses her forever.

http://amzn.to/2Eryfth

whatsetscover

It all started in Venice – Episode 3

Making sure I recognized the target

It was mid-afternoon and a half hour before her plane touched down when I arrived at the airport by water taxi.  It was not a trip I made often, but that final run from the city across the open water was at times invigorating, sometimes quite pleasant.

Today the water had a chop, and the ride was less smooth than usual.  The driver also seemed to be in a hurry, just about leaving the dock before I’d got off the boat.  It was one of the more interesting ways of arriving at an airport.

It was a leisurely walk to the terminal building, and just as I passed the first of the arrival boards, I saw her plane had landed, about ten minutes early. 

I headed to the gate where as I arrived the first of the passengers were coming through the door.  She was not at the front of the plane, and it is a full flight, it might be a while before she appeared.

I checked to see if there was anyone who seemed out of place, expecting that Larry would not be that trusting to allow her any freedom, but there were no suspicious others, except if you counted me in that category, lurking within eyesight, but masked from the exiting passenger’s view.

It was several minutes before she appeared, casually dressed as a tourist might, in a bright coloured floral dress with a denim jacket, and travelling with a cabin bag she wheeled in front of her.

She looked different again than the photograph, not as gaunt in the face, as if she had recovered from a serious illness.  I could not see the expression on her face, but one thing was clear, she was not happy.

Then I saw why.

A man came up to her just as she left the lounge area, appearing suddenly which meant he had been hidden from me, and she looked surprised, then angry, angry enough that airport security started walking towards them.

The man, seeing the police approaching said something to her, then quickly walked away.  I took a photograph and looking at it realised it wouldn’t be difficult to remember him if I needed to.

Alfie would no doubt tell me who he was in due course.  In the meantime, Juliet had waited for the police and then spoke to them briefly before heading towards the water taxi terminal.

I was closer to that exit and got there before her, checking to see if the man who had accosted her was waiting outside, as he had left in that direction, and had passed quite close to me.  Most noticeable about him, the tattoo of a snake wrapped around his neck.

It gave him that fearsome look that he no doubt used in his profession.

I couldn’t see him, so I headed towards the terminal, this time with the intention of getting the public water bus otherwise known as a VaporettoShe followed more casually, taking in the sights as if it was her first time in Venice.

It also gave rise to the thought again of how she was going to ‘run into me’ in a city full of alleyways and hidden passageways, making it easy for even the most experienced traveller to get lost at least once during their visit.  The only possibility was in St marks square or the promenade along the Canal that led off the square from the Doges Palace.

Then I saw him, waiting by a water taxi, or perhaps a private motorboatShe saw him too and headed straight for the Vaporetto, boarding just before it departed, giving him no chance to catch her.  It was an amusing charade, and an act of defiance she would probably pay for later.

It provided an opportunity to follow him, and when he left, I asked the driver of my water taxi to follow him, coming up with a suitable excuse why I would want to do so, but not sure the driver believed me.  One thing was certain, with a captive passenger, he could charge a premium fare knowing I’d have to pay it.

Keeping a suitable distance between us, he followed the boat to Murano, the island of glass-blowing factories.  He waited until the driver of the boat left the dock and then took his place for me to disembark, and then I gave him a head start before following discreetly, or as discretely as I could in the circumstances.  There were not many visitors about, so I could hardly lose myself in the crowd.

We passed several glass showrooms on the way alongside the Canal until he reached a bridge and crossed it.  On the other side, I could see a basilica, yet another of the many churches in the city, each as old and ornate as the next, and one of the many I’d visited over time and many visits to the city.

But this was not one I’d been to before.

On the other side of the bridge, not far from the church, he stopped and turned around.  It was as if he knew he was being followed, and fortunately, just at that moment I was all but hidden behind the base of the bridge on the opposite side of the Canal.

A long hard stare at each of those he could see, including those crossing the bridge, then he shrugged and walked towards another man, similarly dressed, waiting outside the church. 

I managed to get a better photograph of him and one of his new companions too, just before they met and walked into the church.  I was not going to follow them in.  I was hoping Alfie would find out who they were, and where to find them, though I had a feeling I was going to meet them again, but not in similar circumstances.

Another question popped into my head as I walked back to the Vaporetto station.  Where was Larry right now?  On his way to Venice?  Or would he wait until Juliet made contact?  I knew which hotel she was staying in, a rather small but interesting one I’d stayed at the first time I came to Venice, do I could find her any time I wanted to.

© Charles Heath 2022

An excerpt from “One Last Look”: Charlotte is no ordinary girl

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

In a word: Keep

Yes, this is an easy one.

I want to keep the car.  Especially if it’s a Lamborghini and it didn’t cost $500,000.

This form of the word simply means to hang on to something, or up the proper definition, to have or retain possession of

Paring it with other words is where it gets complicated.

For instance,

Keepings off, make sure that the ball doesn’t get into someone else’s possession.

Keep it to yourself, yes, here’s your chance to become the harbinger of secrets and not tell anyone else.  Not unless a lot of money is involved, or a Lamborghini.

You guessed it, the car is the running joke on this post.

How about, keep a low profile, been there tried that, it’s a lot harder than you think.

What about keeping your cards close to your chest, yes, this had both a literal and figurative meaning which makes it sort of unique.

That might follow the second definition, to continue, or cause to continue a particular state.

Another way of using keep is by delaying or stopping someone from doing something or getting somewhere; ie, I was kept waiting at the doctor’s surgery because he was late.

There are any number of examples of using the word keep in tandem with other words

One that specifically doesn’t relate to all the former examples, is simply the word keep.

What is it?

Usually the strongest part of the castle, and the last to fall in an attack.

At least, that was the theory.