My grandchildren have just started working

It’s hard to believe that both the 17 year old and the 14 year old have just both got jobs and started on their path of working for the next 50 to 60 years.

They seem quite amused at the thought, and not without reason, and are not really considering the idea. Not yet, anyway.

The novelty is still quite new, and it has a sense of excitement, but this will no doubt wear off in the coming months. After all, as new workers, they only have to do between 3 and 5 hour shifts.

I guess the fact they have decided to work at such a young age reminded me of my experience, way back when I was 15.

Unhlike them, who will be afforded to opportunity to remain in school to the end, Year 12, and possibly the chance to go to University, in my case we did not have the money to continue education beyond Year 10, and there was no question of ever going to University. Only the rich could afford that, and we were anything but rich.

Instead, I guess hating school helped facilitate my departure, and the notion that I would have to pay my own way, forced me into working.

Of course, it helped living in a small country town, and my father having a job that brought him in contact with everyone who was an anyone, and thus got offers to work in whatever profession I chose.

I ended up in the Post Office, what I considered as the easiest of jobs, originally employed as a telegram delivery boy, and mail collector from the post boxes scatted about the town. As you can imagine, there were not many telegrams to deliver, so other duties included sorting mail, and then mail delivery. Yes I because a postman!

Then, after a few months, I became the night switchboard operator, and with a host of other operators, had some of the most interesting and varied conversations imaginable.

It was a bit of a wrench when we finally moved from the country town back to the city.

When we did, my father bought a small business, and for a year of so, I became a shop assistant.

That lasted for a year or two, until I was 17. Realising that a lack of education was going to make it difficult to ever get a good paying job, I took the opportunity to go back to night school while I had the chance, and it necessitated finding another job to help pay for it.

That was packing books for a wholesale bookseller, part of a small team hidden away in the basement of a very old building. It might not be the best paying job, or the best working conditions, but I suspect it was the universe telling me something.

That job, and being surrounded by books started me off on a journey of reading, and eventually writing.

The first case of PI Walthenson – “A Case of Working With the Jones Brothers”

This case has everything, red herrings, jealous brothers, femme fatales, and at the heart of it all, greed.

See below for an excerpt from the book…

Coming soon!

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An excerpt from the book:

When Harry took the time to consider his position, a rather uncomfortable position at that, he concluded that he was somehow involved in another case that meant very little to him.

Not that it wasn’t important in some way he was yet to determine, it was just that his curiosity had got the better of him, and it had led to this: sitting in a chair, securely bound, waiting for someone one of his captors had called Doug.

It was not the name that worried him so much, it was the evil laugh that had come after the name was spoken.

Doug what? Doug the ‘destroyer’, Doug the ‘dangerous’, Doug the ‘deadly’; there was any number of sinister connotations, and perhaps that was the point of the laugh, to make it more frightening than it was.

But there was no doubt about one thing in his mind right then: he’d made a mistake. A very big. and costly, mistake. Just how big the cost, no doubt he would soon find out.

His mother, and his grandmother, the wisest person he had ever known, had once told him never to eavesdrop.

At the time he couldn’t help himself and instead of minding his own business, listening to a one-sided conversation which ended with a time and a place. The very nature of the person receiving the call was, at the very least, sinister, and, because of the cryptic conversation, there appeared to be, or at least to Harry, criminal activity involved.

For several days he had wrestled with the thought of whether he should go. Stay on the fringe, keep out of sight, observe and report to the police if it was a crime. Instead, he had willingly gone down the rabbit hole.

Now, sitting in an uncomfortable chair, several heat lamps hanging over his head, he was perspiring, and if perspiration could be used as a measure of fear, then Harry’s fear was at the highest level.

Another runnel of sweat rolled into his left eye, and, having his hands tied, literally, it made it impossible to clear it. The burning sensation momentarily took his mind off his predicament. He cursed and then shook his head trying to prevent a re-occurrence. It was to no avail.

Let the stinging sensation be a reminder of what was right and what was wrong.

It was obvious that it was the right place and the right time, but in considering his current perilous situation, it definitely was the wrong place to be, at the worst possible time.

It was meant to be his escape, an escape from the generations of lawyers, what were to Harry, dry, dusty men who had been in business since George Washington said to the first Walthenson to step foot on American soil, ‘Why don’t you become a lawyer?” when asked what he could do for the great man.

Or so it was handed down as lore, though Harry didn’t think Washington meant it literally, the Walthenson’s, then as now, were not shy of taking advice.

Except, of course, when it came to Harry.

He was, Harry’s father was prone to saying, the exception to every rule. Harry guessed his father was referring to the fact his son wanted to be a Private Detective rather than a dry, dusty lawyer. Just the clothes were enough to turn Harry off the profession.

So, with a little of the money Harry inherited from one of his aunts, he leased an office in Gramercy Park and had it renovated to look like the Sam Spade detective agency, you know the one, Spade and Archer, and The Maltese Falcon.

There’s a movie and a book by Dashiell Hammett if you’re interested.

So, there it was, painted on the opaque glass inset of the front door, ‘Harold Walthenson, Private Detective’.

There was enough money to hire an assistant, and it took a week before the right person came along, or, more to the point, didn’t just see his business plan as something sinister. Ellen, a tall cool woman in a long black dress, or so the words of a song in his head told him, fitted in perfectly.

She’d seen the movie, but she said with a grin, Harry was no Humphrey Bogart.

Of course not, he said, he didn’t smoke.

Three months on the job, and it had been a few calls, no ‘real’ cases, nothing but missing animals, and other miscellaneous items. What he really wanted was a missing person. Or perhaps a beguiling, sophisticated woman who was as deadly as she was charming, looking for an errant husband, perhaps one that she had already ‘dispatched’.

Or for a tall, dark and handsome foreigner who spoke in riddles and in heavily accented English, a spy, or perhaps an assassin, in town to take out the mayor. The man was such an imbecile Harry had considered doing it himself.

Now, in a back room of a disused warehouse, that wishful thinking might be just about to come to a very abrupt end, with none of the romanticized trappings of the business befalling him. No beguiling women, no sinister criminals, no stupid policemen.

Just a nasty little man whose only concern was how quickly or how slowly Harry’s end was going to be.

© Charles Heath 2019

An excerpt from “Betrayal” – a work in progress

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

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

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

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

She was here to meet with Vladimir.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A pleasant afternoon ensued.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, it began.

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

She wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later perhaps, after…

She smiled at the thought and put the apple back.

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

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

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

A smile on her face, she opened the door.

It was not Vladimir.  It was her worst nightmare.

© Charles Heath 2020

Sayings: Flogging a dead horse

This wouldn’t be so apt if it didn’t bring back a raft of bad memories, those days I used to go to the races, and back all of the wrong horses.

I had a knack, you see, of picking horses that fell over, or came dead last.

Perhaps that’s another of those sayings, dead last, with a very obvious meaning.  Dead!  Last!

But…

In the modern vernacular, flogging a dead horse is like spending further time on something in which the outcome is already classed as a complete waste of time.

However…

Back in the old days, the dead horse referred to the first month’s wages when working aboard a ship, usually paid for before you stepped on board the ship.  At the end of the first month, the theoretical dead horse was tossed overboard symbolically, and thereafter you were paid.

It still didn’t make sense to me that someone would tell me I was flogging a dead horse, until I realized, one day, the lesson to be learned was never to get paid in advance.

 

The story behind the story – Echoes from the Past

The novel ‘Echoes from the past’ started out as a short story I wrote about 30 years ago, titled ‘The birthday’.

My idea was to take a normal person out of their comfort zone and led on a short but very frightening journey to a place where a surprise birthday party had been arranged.

Thus the very large man with a scar and a red tie was created.

So was the friend with the limousine who worked as a pilot.

So were the two women, Wendy and Angelina, who were Flight Attendants that the pilot friend asked to join the conspiracy.

I was going to rework the short story, then about ten pages long, into something a little more.

And like all re-writes, especially those I have anything to do with, it turned into a novel.

There was motivation.  I had told some colleagues at the place where I worked at the time that I liked writing, and they wanted a sample.  I was going to give them the re-worked short story.  Instead, I gave them ‘Echoes from the past’

Originally it was not set anywhere in particular.

But when considering a location, I had, at the time, recently been to New York in December, and visited Brooklyn and Queens, as well as a lot of New York itself.  We were there for New Years, and it was an experience I’ll never forget.

One evening we were out late, and finished up in Brooklyn Heights, near the waterfront, and there was rain and snow, it was cold and wet, and there were apartment buildings shimmering in the street light, and I thought, this is the place where my main character will live.

It had a very spooky atmosphere, the sort where ghosts would not be unexpected.  I felt more than one shiver go up and down my spine in the few minutes I was there.

I had taken notes, as I always do, of everywhere we went so I had a ready supply of locations I could use, changing the names in some cases.

Fifth Avenue near the Rockefeller center is amazing at first light, and late at night with the Seasonal decorations and lights.

The original main character was a shy and man of few friends, hence not expecting the surprise party.  I enhanced that shyness into purposely lonely because of an issue from his past that leaves him always looking over his shoulder and ready to move on at the slightest hint of trouble.  No friends, no relationships, just a very low profile.

Then I thought, what if he breaks the cardinal rule, and begins a relationship?

But it is also as much an exploration of a damaged soul, as it is the search for a normal life, without having any idea what normal was, and how the understanding of one person can sometimes make all the difference in what we may think or feel.

And, of course, I wanted a happy ending.

Except for the bad guys.

 

Get it here:  https://amzn.to/2CYKxu4

newechocover5rs

 

Searching for locations: Niagara Falls, Canada

We visited the falls in winter, just after Christmas when it was all but frozen.

The weather was freezing, it was snowing, and very icy to walk anywhere near the falls

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Getting photos is a matter of how much you want to risk your safety.

I know I slipped and fell a number of times on the ice just below the snowy surface in pursuit of the perfect photograph.  Alas, I don’t think I succeeded.

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The mist was generated from both the waterfall and the low cloud.  It was impossible not to get wet just watching the falls.

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Of course, unlike the braver people, you could not get me into one of the boats that headed towards the falls.  I suspect there might be icebergs and wasn’t going to tempt the fate of another Titanic, even on a lesser scale.  The water would be freezing.

“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:

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In a word: Flower

It’s what we expect to see when we walk past the front of some houses but instead sometimes see lawn, rocks, or a disaster.

They are what makes the difference between a delightful street and an ugly one, and by that I mean flowers.

By definition though, it means the state or period in which the plant’s flowers have developed and opened/

Just beware the man who turns up with a bunch of flowers that look vaguely familiar to those that grow in your neighbour’s gardens.

They are also in abundance in horticultural gardens, and in florist shops.

My favourites are roses.

And just a word of warning, look out for triffids.  If you read John Wyndham science fiction you’ll know what I mean.

Another mean for the word is to reach the optimum stage of development, though the word bloom could also be used to describe the same thing.

There is another similar-sounding word, flour, but this is the stuff used to make bread, scones, and puddings.

By definition, it is the result of grinding wheat or other grains to a powder.

If something is said to be floury, then it means it is bland.

 

Curious children find a curiosity

I am constantly reminded of how curious grandchildren can be when they are not asking you what it was like to live with dinosaurs!

The second eldest who is a rather clever 13-year-old considers it interesting that I’m a writer, and having just met a ‘real’ author who came to visit them at school, asked me a few questions, some of which sounded like those that had been asked of my ‘real’ counterpart.

Like, “how old were you when you first wrote a story, and what was that story about?”

I didn’t think it was when I was at school, but sometime after that, and after a lot of reading.  Perhaps it had been one of those moments when a light bulb goes on in your head, and I said to myself, I can write these stories too.

Of course, that wasn’t an answer, so she asked again, when did I start writing?

That required a little thought, and there were several triggers that gave me a date, where I lived at the time, the fact I used my mother’s old portable typewriter, and the fact I had not been long out of school.  I was, in fact, about 17.  It was 45 years ago; I’ll let you do the math!

What was it about; that I couldn’t tell her, but I said I had rescued a lot of old scribbling of mine and put them in a box to look at later when I had the time.

I guess that time had arrived.

And, yes, there was the book, the individually typed pages, some with corrections, unfinished.

The pages were brown with age.

The story, well, I read the first few pages, and it seems I’d started down the thriller path then, the story so far, an agent comes ashore from a trawler to a bleak and isolated village, perhaps on the Scottish coast.

Then there was the inevitable next question; “What was the first story you read that put you on the path to wanting to become a writer”.

That was easy, Alistair Maclean’s HMS Ulysses.  I showed her a copy of the book.

That led to, “but this is about the British Royal Navy in World War 2…”

Perhaps I didn’t answer that correctly, it was after reading about a dozen of his novels, most of which were precursors to the modern-day thriller, perhaps more along the lines of action adventures.

The next question, understandably; “What was the first book you ever finished?”

That was The Starburst Conspiracy, the manuscript of which was in the box along with another completed novel, and quite a few short stories.

Back in those days, I remembered that I had sent some of my stories off to various publishers, and had entered a number of short story competitions, all to no avail.  And for a number of years, until I because to old, used to write and enter a novel in the Vogel novel competition but never made it to the shortlist.

It’s probably why I gave up writing for a number of years, until I worked for an interesting company who had a rich history of phosphate mining in the Pacific and being given permission to look into the archives, began writing what could only be described a saga, and by the time I’d left, it was over 1200 closely typed pages long.

I showed the bulky manuscript to her, but by this time her interest had moved to something else.

For me, however, it seemed there was a lot of unfinished business.

A shattered dream, perhaps, or just wishful thinking?

There was time, quite a few years back I had a dream, well, it was more wishful thinking than anything else.

I was going to run a bookshop.  You know, that quaint little storefront in a tucked away little town somewhere by the ocean, where the clientele would be both travelers and locals alike, people who liked to read.

It would have an area set aside, somewhere within the shelves where there would be a fire in winter, and opened windows and fresh air in summer, a place where you could drink coffee or tea, with scones or cake, and read prospective tomes, or start on that purchase you just made.

There would be not only new books but old, second, third or having been through many hands, books with the aroma of time seeping up from every page, hard covered books with crackly spines, pages that have the stains of age.

And perhaps the name of one of its owners scribble on the front page, along with the price, what it cost all those years back when it was new.

Of course, those places still exist, somewhere in the literary universe, but the idea of owning one such establishment now would mean that you had to be independently wealthy, with a pile of money in the bank, because you would not be relying on profits to keep it going.

If I was a successful author, yes, it would make sense, existing in a literary world where I could read, or write, or talk to other readers or writers, or just do nothing.

And, yes, there would have to be a cat.  There’s always a cat, somewhere, sitting in the window and looking out on the world passing by, or curled up by the fire, reliving those halcyon years of mice catching.

Hang on, where had my fairy godmother gone?