Writers need to have many alter egos, don’t they?

I have often wondered just how much or how little of the author’s personality and experiences end up in a fictional character.

Have they climbed mountains,

Have they escaped from what is almost the inescapable,

Have they been shot, tortured, or worse,

Have they been dumped, or divorced,

Have they travelled to dangerous places, or got locked up in a foreign jail?

We research, read, and I guess experience some or all of the above on the way to getting the book written, but it’s perhaps an interesting fundamental question.

Who am I today?  Or, more to the point, who do I want to be today?

Or it can be a question, out of left field, in an interview; “Who are you?”

My initial reaction was to say, “I’m a writer.”  But that wasn’t the answer the interviewer is looking for.

Perhaps if she had asked, “Who are you when you’re writing your latest story?” it would make more sense.

Am I myself today?

Am I some fictional character an amalgam of a lot of other people?

Have I got someone definite in mind when I start writing the story?

The short answer might be, “I usually want to be someone other than what I am now.  It’s fiction.  I can be anyone or anything I want, provided, of course, I know the limitations of the character.”

“So,” she says, “what if you want to be a fireman?”

“I don’t want to be a fireman.”

“But if the story goes in the direction where you need a fireman…”

“What is this thing you have with firemen?”  I’m shaking my head.  How did we get off track?

“Just saying.”

“Then I’d have to research the role, but I’m not considering adding a fireman anytime soon.”

She sighs.  “Your loss.”

Moving on.

And there is that other very interesting question; “Who would you like to be if you could be someone else?”

A writer in that period between the wars, perhaps like an F Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway, in Paris, or if it is a fictional character, Jay Gatsby.

He’s just the sort of person who is an enigma wrapped up in a mystery.

A photograph from the inspirational bin – 8

A picture can paint a thousand words, or more, or less, but…

The interesting thing about a place in the dark, in the distance, and behind a chain wire fence usually means something. Especially when there are mysterious lights involved.

We were at a night sports event, watching over a thousand screaming and yelling kids from five to eighteen pretending to compete in a variety of athletic events.

I was there to nominally to support my granddaughter in her endeavours, but right at that moment, on the far side of the track, what I was really there to see was what was behind the wire fence

“Are you watching, Poppy?”

Well, at that moment I wasn’t, but I did turn just in time to see her clear a meter high high jump and execute an elegent backflip, a result no doubt of the ballet training she had since the age of four. Seven years later those lessons had transformed into a high jumper with a great future.

Except, she couldn’t really care less. It was more about the parents and athletic organisers expectations, than hers. I was there, she told me in a secretive tone, to tell everyone to back off.

if you think spying was a dangerous occupation, then let me tell you trying to navigate a safe path between child and parents, and then the rest of the word, forget it.

So, with my trusty phone camera, slightly modified, I was pretending to take pictures of surrounding trees in the high density lighting for the athletics oval, whilst zooming in on the real target.

And, about to take the money shot, I could feel a tugging on the side of my jacket.

I looked down to see the petulant face of a child not happy.

“You said you were coming to see me perform.”

I had. I looked over at the woman the boss had assigned as my ‘date’, Nancy, and whom I’d introduced as a long time friend who deigned to suffer my invitation so she could meet the girl I was always talking about.

“Yes, Poppy,” she said with an evil undertone. “You said you wanted to see her high jumps. You’d better get over there, while I take some pictures of the trees for you.”

“Why do you want pictures of dumb old trees?” That was a question I would have asked myself, and I didn’t quite have an answer for it.

Nancy did. “Because he’s odd like that. It’s one of the quirks I like about him.” She took the camera out of my hand and shooed us off.

And, heading back to the high jump, she asked, “What’s a quirk?”

“Just ask your father later. He knows all about quirks.”

© Charles Heath 2021

“Quickly, quickly…” – a short story

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

You could truthfully say you were hearing voices.

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

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

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

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

The mission?

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

Our job?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing else was stirring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anyone down here?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I heard what sounded like gunshots, then nothing.

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

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

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

I sighed.

Plan B it was.

© Charles Heath 2021

Travelling after a pandemic: Destination Hobart – 6

Hobart in June – Winter – Day 6 – Thursday

The next day we try a different fish and chips vendor.  It was a good idea to go back to Mures and have the flathead, but I was foolish and wanted a different experience

And not be disappointed.

In the end, we selected Fishy Business

This order comprised battered flake, battered flathead, hoping that it would be similar to yesterday, sea scallops in batter, chips, two potato cakes, and tartar sauce.

The battered flake was excellent.

The battered flathead was scraps, three small pieces which were probably imported from Vietnam, definitely not fresh or local and, sadly, terrible.

The scallops were delicious.

The potato cakes were alright, but not strictly potatoes cakes, but the sort you get from a supplier.  The real potato cakes game batter around a thin slice of potato.  They had mashed potatoes, and the batter was not very nice.

For the price we paid, it was enough to say I’d never go back there again.  You’d think as a place on the sea they could get it right, making the food themselves, but it gets a mega fail.  Only the flake was definitely local.

Maybe next time we’ll try Flippers.


There were other sights and on the obligatory walk after eating, we came across a sailing ship

This ship is called the Windeward Bound,  a two-masted brigantine-rigged vessel, and for the sailing buffs, Windeward Bound is rigged with four square sails, three headsails, three staysails between the masts, a gaff mainsail and gaff topsail, totalling 12 sails in all. The total sail area is 402 m2 (4,330 sq ft)

Later we visited the Mawson Hut Replica Museum, and it is authentic in almost every detail. And amazing that 17 men could actually stay together in it and not feel claustrophobic.

It was an eerie experience, and extremely interesting. I could not imagine myself staying in it down in Antarctica, in the freezing conditions.

The fourth attempt, other factors, and people

There are two other characters that will be used in this rewrite, the second an addition to give the main character a means of letting the reader get to know a bit about him.

His name is Milt, an African American that’s always been on the fringe.  Another who is a victim of his circumstances but not letting it get the better of him, the sort of man who makes the best of a bad situation.

He’s seen active service in the army, honourably discharged, but still affected though not as bad as some of those he served with.  He is in fact the ideal man for the job, with combat experience, so he’s not likely to get flustered in a shit storm.

And probably not the man you want on this site.  Being in desperate circumstances doesn’t mean you do desperate things.

He is one of a team of four and our main character drew the straw to partner him.  There are two others, based on the other side of the park, neither of whom are trustworthy, Smithy, the overall leader, to whom they all report at shift start and end, and Carruthers, an Englishman reputed to be ex SAS, but no one is inclined to believe him. 

The scars on his neck tell a story, but it was left to the other’s imagination, as he doesn’t talk about it.  Milt was of the opinion he was captured in Afghanistan and tortured, but that could be just be canteen scuttlebutt.

Whatever the circumstances, Graham kept away from him as much as possible, and was glad when he didn’t have to partner him for the shift.

The other character. Penelope has featured in the earlier versions of the story.  Over the changes her background has changed, but I’ve settled on a medical surgeon career, renown for doing tricky procedures with a high success rate, and in doing so gained a reputation, some not always good.

Wealth and ego don’t always make a good pair, and marrying wealth brings its own rewards and pitfalls, particularly when you discover the man you married isn’t exactly whom you thought he was.

It is of course a typical scenario, but I’m going to try and weave it differently.  There will be no more teasers until the story starts.

But she will be introduced earlier than in the previous iterations because she needs some backstory too, otherwise just arriving at Graham’s work and getting shot, while provoking a volatile situation that drags the reader in, out of left field is not exactly the best start.

So, let’s begin.

© Charles Heath 2022

NaNoWriMo – 2023 – Day 0

Before it all begins

Anyone can write a book.

It’s an extravagant statement and not necessarily true, but often used by relatives when one of their numbers says they’ve written a book.

My brother said that when I told him I’d written one

I didn’t tell him that I’d written a dozen and published five, it seemed irrelevant at the time.

But as easy or hard as it may be to write one, writing a second is so much harder.

This year, I’m tackling a book I started nearly 35 years ago when I first married my wife and discovered she liked reading Mills and Boon Romance stories.

There was always a stack of them in the restroom, so I took to reading one, and after a few chapters, I decided I could write one for her to read.

Of course, writing the first 100 pages was easy. Then it got hard, because I’m a thriller writer, not a romance writer, and suddenly it veered off into thriller land.

And the end result left it on the shelf.

Then, things happened, the book was put to one side, and over the years other stories became the focus.

Yes, I did keep writing, and yes, I eventually finished it, but it sat in a box for nearly 15 years before I brought it out.

In the last few years, with COVID preventing me from leaving the house, the story got moved to the top of the pile, underwent three rewrites, and now just needs to be finished.

It recently acquired the title ‘The Things We Do For Love’, and is the project for this year’s April NaNoWriMo.

An excerpt from “Amnesia”, a work in progress

I remembered a bang.
I remembered the car slewing sideways.
I remember another bang, and then it was lights out.
When I opened my eyes again, I saw the sky.
Or I could be underwater.
Everything was blurred.
I tried to focus but I couldn’t. My eyes were full of water.
What happened?
Why was I lying down?
Where was I?
I cast my mind back, trying to remember.
It was a blank.
What, when, who, why and where, questions I should easily be able to answer. Questions any normal person could answer.
I tried to move. Bad, bad mistake.
I did not realise the scream I heard was my own. Just before my body shut down.

“My God! What happened?”
I could hear, not see. I was moving, lying down, looking up.
I was blind. Everything was black.
“Car accident, hit a tree, sent the passenger flying through the windscreen. Pity to poor bastard didn’t get the message that seat belts save lives.”
Was I that poor bastard?
“Report?” A new voice, male, authoritative.
“Multiple lacerations, broken collar bone, broken arm in three places, both legs broken below the knees, one badly. We are not sure of internal injuries, but ruptured spleen, cracked ribs and pierced right lung are fairly evident, x-rays will confirm that and anything else.”
“What isn’t broken?”
“His neck.”
“Then I would have to say we are looking at the luckiest man on the planet.”
I heard shuffling of pages.
“OR1 ready?”
“Yes. On standby since we were first advised.”
“Good. Let’s see if we can weave some magic.”

It was the first word that popped into my head when I surfaced from the bottom of the lake. That first breath, after holding it for so long, was sublime, and, in reality, agonising.

Magic, because it seemed like I’d spent a long time under water.
Or somewhere.
I tried to speak, but couldn’t. The words were just in my head.
Was it night or was it day?
Was it hot, or was it cold?
Where was I?
Around me it felt cool.
It was very quiet. No noise except for the hissing of air through an air-conditioning vent. Or perhaps that was the sound of pure silence. And with it the revelation that silence was not silent. It was noisy.
I didn’t try to move.
Instinctively, somehow I knew not to.
A previous bad experience?
I heard what sounded like a door opening, and very quiet footsteps slowly come into the room. They stopped. I could hear breathing, slightly laboured, a sound I’d heard before.
My grandfather.
He had smoked all his life, until he was diagnosed with lung cancer. But for years before that he had emphysema. The person in the room was on their way, down the same path. I could smell the smoke.
I wanted to tell whoever it was the hazards of smoking.
I couldn’t.
I heard a metallic clanging sound from the end of the bed. A moment later the clicking of a pen, then writing.
“You are in a hospital.” A female voice suddenly said. “You’ve been in a very bad accident. You cannot talk, or move, all you can do, for the moment, is listen to me. I am a nurse. You have been here for 45 days, and just come out of a medically induced coma. There is nothing to be afraid of.”
She had a very soothing voice.
I felt her fingers stroke the back of my hand.
“Everything is fine.”
Define fine, I thought. I wanted to ask her what ‘fine’ meant.
“Just count backwards from 10.”
I didn’t reach seven.

Over the next ten days, that voice became my lifeline to sanity. Every morning I longed to hear it, if only for the few moments she was in the room, those few waking moments when I believed she, and someone else who never spoke, were doing tests. I knew it had to be someone else because I could smell the essence of lavender. My grandmother had worn a similar scent.
It rose above the disinfectant.
I also believed she was another doctor, not the one who had been there the day I arrived. Not the one who had used some ‘magic’ and kept me alive.
It was then, in those moments before she put me under again, that I thought, what if I was paralysed? It would explain a lot. A chill went through me.

The next morning she was back.
“My name is Winifred. We don’t know what your name is, not yet. In a few days, you will be better, and you will be able to ask us questions. You were in an accident, and you were very badly injured, but I can assure you there will be no lasting damage.”
More tests, and then, when I expected the lights to go out, they didn’t. Not for a few minutes more. Perhaps this was how I would be integrated back into the world. A little bit at a time.
The next morning, she came later than usual, and I’d been awake for a few minutes. “You have bandages over your eyes and face. You had bad lacerations to your face, and glass in your eyes. We will know more when the bandages come off in a few days. Your face will take longer to heal. It was necessary to do some plastic surgery.”
Lacerations, glass in my eyes, car accident, plastic surgery. By logical deduction, I knew I was the poor bastard thrown through the windscreen. It was a fleeting memory from the day I was admitted.
How could that happen?
That was the first of many startling revelations. The second was the fact I could not remember the crash. Equally shocking, in that same moment was the fact I could not remember before the crash either, and only vague memories after.
But the most shattering of all these revelations was the one where I realised I could not remember my name.
I tried to calm down, sensing a rising panic.
I was just disoriented, I told myself. After 45 days in an induced coma, it had messed with my mind, and it was only a temporary lapse. Yes, that’s what it was, a temporary lapse. I would remember tomorrow. Or the next day.
Sleep was a blessed relief.

The next day I didn’t wake feeling nauseous. Perhaps they’d lowered the pain medication. I’d heard that morphine could have that effect. Then, how could I know that, but not who I am?
I knew now Winifred the nurse was preparing me for something very bad. She was upbeat, and soothing, giving me a new piece of information each morning. This morning, “You do not need to be afraid. Everything is going to be fine. The doctor tells me you are going to recover with very little scarring. You will need some physiotherapy to recover from your physical injuries, but that’s in the future. We need to let you mend a little bit more before then.”
So, I was not going to be able to leap out of bed, and walk out of the hospital any time soon. I don’t suppose I’d ever leapt out of bed, except as a young boy. I suspect I’d sustained a few broken bones. I guess learning to walk again was the least of my problems.
But, there was something else. I picked it up in the timbre of her voice, a hesitation, or reluctance. It sent another chill through me.
This time I was left awake for an hour before she returned.
This time sleep was restless.
There were scenes playing in my mind, nothing I recognised, and nothing lasting longer than a glimpse. Me. Others, people I didn’t know. Or perhaps I knew them and couldn’t remember them.
Until they disappeared, slowly like the glowing dot in the centre of the computer screen, before finally fading to black.

The morning the bandages were to come off she came in bright and early and woken me. I had another restless night, the images becoming clearer, but nothing recognisable.
“This morning the doctor will be removing the bandages over your eyes. Don’t expect an immediate effect. Your sight may come back quickly or it may come back slowly, but we believe it will come back.”
I wanted to believe I was not expecting anything, but I was. It was probably human nature. I did not want to be blind as well as paralysed. I had to have at least one reason to live.
I dozed again until I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. I could smell the lavender, the other doctor was back. And I knew the hand on my shoulder was Winifred’s. She told me not to be frightened.
I was amazed to realise in that moment, I wasn’t.
I heard the scissors cutting the bandages.
I felt the bandage being removed, and the pressure coming off my eyes. I could feel the pads covering both eyes.
Then a moment where nothing happened.
Then the pads being gently lift and removed.
I blinked my eyes, once, twice. Nothing.
“Just hold on a moment,” Winifred said. A few seconds later I could feel a cool towel wiping my face, and then gently wiping my eyes. Perhaps there was ointment, or something else in them.
Then a flash. Well, not a flash, but like when a light is turned on and off. A moment later, it was brighter, not the inky blackness of before, but a shade of grey.
She wiped my eyes again.
I blinked a few more times, and then the light returned, and it was like looking through water, at distorted and blurry objects in the distance.
I blinked again, and she wiped my eyes again.
Blurry objects took shape. A face looking down on me, an elderly lady with a kindly face, surely Winifred, who was smiling. And on the opposite side of the bed, the doctor, a Chinese woman of indescribable beauty.
I nodded.
“You can see?”
I nodded again.
I nodded.
“Very good. We will just draw the curtains now. We don’t want to overdo it. Tomorrow we will be taking off the bandages on your face. Then, it will be the next milestone. Talking.”
I couldn’t wait.

When morning came, I found myself afraid. Winifred had mentioned scarring, there were bandages on my face. I knew, but wasn’t quite sure how I knew, I wasn’t the handsomest of men before the accident, so this might be an improvement.
I was not sure why I didn’t think it would be the case.
They came at mid morning, the nurse, Winifred, and the doctor, the exquisite Chinese. Perhaps she was the distraction, taking my mind of the reality of what I was about to see.
Another doctor came into the room, before the bandages were removed, and he was introduced as the plastic surgeon that had ‘repaired’ the ravages of the accident. It had been no easy job, but, with a degree of egotism, he did say he was one of the best in the world.
I found it hard to believe, if he was, that he would be at a small country hospital.
“Now just remember, what you might see now is not how you will look in a few months time.”
Warning enough.
The Chinese doctor started removing the bandages. She did it slowly, and made sure it did not hurt. My skin was very tender, and I suspect still bruised, either from the accident or the surgery, I didn’t know.
Then it was done.
The plastic surgeon gave his work a thorough examination and seemed pleased with his work. “Coming along nicely,” he said to the other doctor. He issued some instructions on how to manage the skin, nodded to me, and I thanked him before he left.
I noticed Winifred had a mirror in her hand, and was somewhat reticent in using it. “As I said,” she said noticing me looking at the mirror, “what you see now will not be the final result. The doctor said it was going to heal with very little scarring. You have been very fortunate he was available. Are you ready?”
I nodded.
She showed me.
I tried not to be reviled at the red and purple mess that used to be my face. At a guess I would have to say he had to put it all back together again, but, not knowing what I looked like before, I had no benchmark. All I had was a snippet of memory that told me I was not the tall, dark, and handsome type.
And I still could not talk. There was a reason, he had worked on that area too. Just breathing hurt. I think I would save up anything I had to say for another day. I could not even smile. Or frown. Or grimace.
“We’ll leave you for a while. Everyone needs a little time to get used to the change. I suspect you are not sure if there has been an improvement on last year’s model. Well, time will tell.”
A new face?
I could not remember the old one.
My memory still hadn’t returned.

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 29

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.


“Where is he?” I asked, hardly disguising the annoyance in my tone.

“In the toilet.”

A minor relief, but what the hell was she doing in his room?

“You do know Vince is responsible for Boggs being attacked, and me too, by the way.  There was no mistaking that thug even if he was hiding behind a balaclava.

“You’re not telling me anything I didn’t know already.  And it might be my fault.  I told him, no, he all but beat it out of me, about the map and Boggs, and you, and Alex.”

“So, I can expect to see Alex in here sometime soon?”

“No.  The Benderby’s have their own private hospital.  No one will get to hear about it, except maybe when there is the retaliation.  This who map and treasure thing is about to get a whole lot more problematical.”

Boggs chose to return from the bathroom and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw me.  “How did you manage to get past the head of Gestapo, Nurse Jamieson?”

“I had an angel show me the way.  How are you?”

“This is a hospital; how do you think I feel.”

The nurse was right, he looked worse than he was.  The bruising was going to be very colourful in the coming days, before everything settled down.


“Like I could tell who it was.  Only Vince can sound like Vince even where he’s trying not to sound like Vince.”

“Did he get the map.”

“One of them, but not necessarily the right one, just a better one.”

Boggs got back onto the bed and lay back.  I got the impression he was putting on a brave face for Nadia.  But it didn’t explain why she was there.

“What are you doing here,” I asked, with just a shade less annoyance.

“I heard what Vince did and I cam to apologise.  You were next,.” She said to me, “But, seriously guys, you were the masters of your own destinies with this map thing.  You don’t even know if it’s real or just another of a host of hoaxes.  Old man Cossatino reckons that Boggs’s dad created a lot of different variations, in the hope of selling them as the real thing.  He was, after all, just a common con man, and not very good at it.”

The patriarch of the Cossatino’s the one she referred to as Old Man Cossatino, was Nadia’s grandfather, and although Nadia’s father was nominally in charge of the clan, everyone knew who the real leader was.  And Old Man Cossatino was someone you didn’t cross, and that went for the Benderby’s too.

Boggs’s dad had worked for the Cossatino’s at one time, and it would not surprise me if it was Cossatino’s idea to create all the bogus maps, just to make money.  I couldn’t see Boggs’s dad having the brains to mount a scheme such as Nadia described.

It surprised me that I had forgotten about that.  Way back, when my father was still picking a side, he had said there’d been a rumour going around that a new map for the treasure had been found, and that both the Cossatino’s and the Benderby’s were in a bidding war for it, along with some other unsavoury characters.

And the rumour died as fast as it had risen, and not long after Boggs’s dad disappeared, later to turn up dead.  One rumour, he had gone looking for the treasure, though no one proffered an answer as to how he might have come across the original map which he had, at one time, claimed, and another, Cossatino had him make it up, then killed him so he would never reveal the truth.

That original map had never seen the light of day, nor mentioned since.

It didn’t explain why Vince was on the warpath.

“What’s Vince up to?  I thought you guys had the original map?”

She looked surprised.  “First I’m hearing about it.”

I realised then she would have been as young as I was, and Boggs, which was about five or six.  Precognitive memories.  She might have been too young to remember.  I only remembered it because my father had continually bagged Boggs’s father as a fool who should have got a real job and support his family, rather than let others do it for him, a veiled reference about the times Boggs stayed over and ate with us.

But it was not lost on Boggs.

“There’s any number of maps, yes.  I found a lot of them in Dad’s stuff in the shed.  I suspect those were the ones created for the Cossatino’s to sell privately, and I also think he double-crossed them and kept one particular map, the one he called ‘the map’ for himself, which may have been the original.”

That I was guessing, was the map Boggs had now.  “And you’re telling me that’s the one you said you found, and…”

“I still have it.  Vince has one of the half dozen that all seem to be slightly different, different enough from the original to keep him happy for a while.”

“What was the point of sending him to me?”

“I needed more time to figure out which variation to give him.  I’m hoping now, if he thinks it’s the original, he’ll start looking for it.  Save us a lot of time and effort if he does the groundwork.  And I’m sorry about what happened to you.  If it’s any consolation, I knew he wouldn’t hurt you.”

It seemed to me, judging from the expression on Nadia’s face, that discussing the fact Vince didn’t have the right may prompt her to tell him.  She was a Cossatino first, after all, and had for years toed the family line.

Maybe she’d changed, but I wish Boggs was not so trusting.

“That’s nonsense Boggs,” Nadia said.  “My brother doesn’t go easy on anyone.”

“How did you get in here?”

No mistaking that voice of authority.  The head of the hospital Gestapo had arrived.  She glared at me.  “You’d better leave before I call both the hospital security staff and the police.”  Then she looked at Nadia, who was getting out of the seat.  “You should know better.”  Much kinder voice for Nadia, suggesting they were acquainted.

She probably helped old man Cossatino with his interrogations.

“Had you told me how Boggs was, I would not be here.”  I’m not sure why I decided to take a stand with her.

“Don’t be impertinent.  You can see how he is, now leave while I’m in a good mood.”

I’d hate to see her when she was in a bad mood.

“Tomorrow,” Boggs said.  “I’m sure they’ll let me have visitors by then.”

I waved and left.  Nadia stayed back for a moment, then joined me in the passage.

“What were you really doing here,” I asked her.  “It’s bot as if you had any reason to visit Boggs, other than to cause trouble.”

“I came to apologise.  My brother can be a moron sometimes.”

“Does he know you’re here?”

“No.  And I want to keep it that way.”

“It’s Vince we’re talking about, or has he gone soft.  From what I witness during our encounter, it seems he’s got worse.”

“Which is why I don’t want to see him.  You want to come back to the room and have a few drinks.  Maybe we could talk about old times, you know, trash Alex?”

“Sounds good to me.”

A nightcap with Nadia.  I would never have thought that possible, even in my wildest dreams.  Had she changed, or was she up to something?

Time would tell.


© Charles Heath 2019

“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, and 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 favour 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 ‘favour’ 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’.


The cinema of my dreams – Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 32

I’m back home and this story has been sitting on a back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.

The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritizing.

But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.

Chasing leads, maybe


I ordered breakfast to be brought to my room, then sat back and read the paper, culminating in a second cup of coffee and a half-hearted attempt at the crossword.

My mind was not sufficiently clear of all the implications of what I’d seen last night, and before that.

The first task was to go back to the office and get onto the computer to track down the address the car was registered to.  It was not the flat.  My guess that it was a sort of safe house.  He may not have had reservations about Jan, or who she worked for, not until he became the prey.

Then it occurred to me that if Jan didn’t know where the USB was, then she had to realize he might have rumbled her perfidy.  Maybe he was not as easily fooled as I first thought.

But it didn’t explain why Nobbin was in the dark over the USB’s whereabouts, as he had told me to give Nobbin a message.  Perhaps there’s been a secret message behind that message.

Now, my mind was spinning out of control.

Like O’Connell/Quinley, and in accordance with more lessons on tradecraft, I too, had what I would like to have called a safe house, a small flat on the outskirts of Wimbledon.  

I also had an off-site parking space that was a reasonable distance from the flat, so that if I was being hunted, the car would not lead them to my hiding spot.

There I had a shower, changed, and headed for the underground.

I took the train to Charing Cross, getting there around nine, to take the short walk to the hotel.

Not expecting to find her in the room, I used my key to let myself in.

I was wrong.

She was in bed, still asleep.  Or was until I let the door slam shut.

She didn’t exactly come out from under the covers with a gun pointing at me, but I would be willing to be there was one under her pillow and her hand was on it.

“Sam?”  It was uttered sleepily, the sort that would normally send a shiver down my spine.  Not now.

“I hope you’re not intending to shoot me?”


I could see her hand moving slowly withdrawing, and then watched her sit up and swing her legs over the side.

Still in basic clothes.  Obviously, no time to go and get some pyjamas then.

“What happened to you?”

“Got side-tracked on what I thought might be a lead, and it wasn’t.  Just a waste of time and a long night.  Thought I’d come here and get some shuteye.  Perhaps not.  Are you going to order breakfast?”

“Of course.”

“I’ll have a pot of coffee and a paper, preferably one with a crossword.”

She rang down a breakfast order, full English, then said she was having a quick shower.  I heard the water running and wondered if she was giving Severin a short report.  Old trick, running water hides conversations.

Breakfast arrived at the same time as she came out of the bathroom, hair up in a towel, and in one of the hotel dressing gowns.  My imagination got a five-second workout before I grabbed the paper and the coffee and sat in the corner.

She could have the desk.

“Do we know where Maury is?” I asked suddenly.


She hesitated before answering, a moment to give herself time to process the question, and if there were any hidden meanings.

“You know?  You dropped a tracker on him.”

“Oh, him.  He must have found and dumped it.  It was pinging about 100 yards from the flat.”

Of course.  There probably wasn’t one in the first place.

“Pity.  I’d like to turn up unannounced, give him a bit of a scare.”

I went back to the crossword, keeping an eye on her, noticing every now and then giving me a sideways glance.

“Did you go anywhere after the flat?”  Again sudden, out of left field.

“No.  Just come straight back here.  Do you want to keep the room for a few days?  See what happens.”

“Sounds like a good idea.  Look, I have to run an errand this morning, unfortunately, it’s not a work matter, so I’ll give you a call on my way back.  You must want to talk to your people and let them know what’s happening if you haven’t already.”

I finished the coffee, folded the paper, and stood.

“At the very least,” I added, “I have to go back into the office and report to Nobbin.  I’m sure he’ll be impressed with the lack of progress.”

“Won’t you run into that other fellow, what’s his name?”


“Him, yes.”

“I don’t think so.  His name will probably be very high on the ‘we’d like to talk to you’ list if he shows his face.  Anyway, I’ve got your number.”

I deliberately waved the phone where she could see it, and the implication she could probably use it to track my movements.  That might have been the case if there was a sim card in it, and it was similar to the phone she last saw me with.

It was not.

Where I was going, no one was going to follow me or find me.

© Charles Heath 2020