“Call me!” – a short story

You know what it’s like on Monday morning, especially if it’s very cold and the double glazing is failing miserably to keep the cold out.

It was warm under three blankets thick sheets and a doona, and I didn’t want to get up.

It doesn’t help if in the last few months, the dream job you once had turned into a drudge, and there was any number of reasons to stay home rather than go into the office. Once, that was trying to find an excuse to stay home because you’d rather go to work.

That was a long time ago or felt like it.

My cell phone vibrated; an incoming message, or more likely a reminder. I reached out into the icy wasteland that was the distance from under the covers to my phone on the bedside table. It was very cold out there, and for a moment I regretted that impulse to check.

It was a reminder; I had a meeting at HR with the manager. I had thought I might be eligible for redundancy since the company was in the throes of a cost-cutting exercise. Once I might have been apprehensive, but now, given my recent change in department and responsibility, I was kind of hoping now that it was.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Time to get up sleepy head. You have a meeting to go to, not one to be late.”

It felt strange to wake up with someone else in the bed. My luck in that department hadn’t been all that hood lately, but something changed, and at the usual Friday night after-work drinks at the pub, I ran into one of the PA’s I’d seen around, one who was curious to meet me as much as I was to meet her.

One thing had led to another and when I asked her if she wanted to drop in on the way home, she did.

“I’d prefer not to. I can think of better things to do.”

“So, could I but that’s not the point. Five more minutes, then I’m pushing you out.”

She snuggled into my back, and I could feel the warmth of her body, and having the exact opposite effect than she intended. But she was right. It was important, and I had to go. But, in the meantime, it was four more minutes and counting.

When you get a call from the head of HR it usually means one of two things, a promotion, or those two dreaded words, ‘you’re fired’, though not usually said with the same dramatic effect.

This year had already been calamitous enough getting sidelined from Mergers and Acquisitions because I’d been usurped. That was the word I was going with, but it was to a certain extent, my fault. I took my eye off the ball and allowed someone else to make their case.

Of course, it helped that the person was connected to all the right people in the company, and, with the change in Chairman, it was also a matter of removing some of the people who were appointed by the previous incumbent.

I and four of my equivalent managers had been usurped and moved to places where they would have less impact. I had finished up in sales and marketing, and to be quite honest, it was such a step-down, I had already decided to leave when the opportunity presented itself.

My assistant manager, who had already put in his resignation, was working out his final two weeks. I told him to take leave until the contract expired, but he was more dedicated than that. He had got in before me and was sitting at his desk a cup of coffee in his hand and another on the desk.

“How many days?”

“Six and counting. What about you? You should be out canvassing. There are at least three other places I know would be waiting to hear from you.”

“It’s still in the consideration phase.”

“You’re likely to get the chop anyway, with this thing you have with Sharkey.”

Sharkey was the HR manager.

You know something I don’t?” I picked up the coffee, removed the lid, and took in the aroma.
“They’re downsizing. Broadham had decided to go on a cost-cutting exercise, and instead of the suggested efficiencies we put up last year, they’re going with people. I don’t think he quite gets it.”

“You mean my replacement doesn’t know anything about efficiency. He makes a good yes man though, telling Broadham exactly what he wants to hear.”

Broadham, the new Chairman, never did understand that people appointed to important positions needed to have the relevant qualifications and experience. My replacement had neither. That was when the employees loyal to the previous Chairman had started leaving.

We had called it death, whilst Broadham had called it natural attrition. He didn’t quite understand that so far, over 300 years of experience had left, and as much again was in the process of leaving.

“Are you going to tell Sharky you’re leaving?”

“I’ll wait and see what he has to say. I think he knows the ship is sinking.”

There wasn’t much I didn’t know about the current state of the company, and with the departures, I knew it was only a matter of time. Sharky was a good man, but he couldn’t stem the tide.

He also knew the vagaries of profits and share prices, and we had been watching the share price, and the market itself. It was teetering, and in the last few months, parcels of shares were being unloaded, not a lot at one time, but a steady trickle.

That told me that Broadham and his cronies were cashing in while the going was good, and quite possibly were about to steer the ship onto the rocks. The question was who was buying, and that, after some hard research I found to be certain board members. Why, I suspected, was to increase their holdings and leverage, but I don’t think they quite realized that there would be nothing left but worthless stock certificates.

It was evidence, when I finally left, that I would pass on to the relevant authorities.

In the meantime, I had a meeting to go to.

“Best of luck,” my assistant muttered as I passed his desk.

“If I don’t return, I will have been escorted from the building. If that happens, call me.”

It had happened before. When people were sacked, they were escorted to their office, allowed to pack their belongings, and were then escorted to the front door. It would be an ignominious end to an illustrious career, or so I’d been told by the girl who was no doubt still asleep in my bed.

She had heard the whispers.

The walk to the lift, the traversing of the four floors to the executive level, and then to the outer office where Sharkey’s PA sat took all of three minutes. I had hoped it would be longer.

“He’s waiting for you,” she said, “go on in.”

I knocked on the door, then went in, closing it behind me. “Now, sir, what on earth could you want to see me about?


© Charles Heath 2021

In a word: Leg

Aside from the fact it is one of those necessary items to walk with, and the fact we can have two or four for most humans and animals, there are a few other uses for the word ‘leg’.

Like…

‘You haven’t got a leg to stand on’, doesn’t necessarily mean you have no legs, but that you are in a precarious position.

“the table had ornate legs’, yes, even non-living objects can have legs, like tables and chairs.

“It was the fifth leg of the race’, meaning it can be a stage of a race.

“He was legless’, meaning that he was too drunk to stand up.  Some might think being legless is a badge of honour, but I suspect those people have been drinking a long time and the alcohol has destroyed most of their brain cells.

“leg it!’, meaning get the hell out of here before you’re caught.

Then, finally, ‘he’s on his last legs’, meaning that he’s exhausted, or about to die.

I’m sure there’s more but that’ll do for now.

I have to use my legs to get some exercise, of which the first leg is to the tripod to check if its legs are stable, and the second leg is to come back to the table and replace one of the legs which is broken.  Then I’ll leg it to the pub where hopefully I won’t become legless.

Hmm…

Searching for locations: From X’ian to Zhengzhou dong by bullet train, China

Lunch and then off on another high-speed train

We walked another umpteen miles from the exhibition to a Chinese restaurant that is going to serve us Chinese food again with a beer and a rather potent pomegranate wine that has a real kick.  It was definitely value for money at 60 yuan per person.

But perhaps the biggest thrill, if it could be called that, was discovering downstairs, the man who discovered the original pieces of a terracotta soldier when digging a well.  He was signing books bought in the souvenir store, but not those that had been bought elsewhere.

Some of is even got photographed with him.  Fifteen minutes of fame moment?  Maybe.

After lunch, it was off to the station for another high-speed train ride, this time for about two and a half hours, from X’ian to Zhangzhou dong.

It’s the standard high-speed train ride and the usual seat switching because of weird allocation issues, so a little confusion reigns until the train departs at 5:59.

Once we were underway it didn’t take long before we hit the maximum speed

Twenty minutes before arrival, and knowing we only have three minutes to get off everyone is heading for the exit clogging up the passageway.  It wasn’t panic but with the three-minute limit, perhaps organized panic would be a better description.

As it turned out, with all the cases near the door, the moment to door opened one of our group got off, and the other just started putting cases on the platform, and in doing so we were all off in 42 seconds with time to spare.

And this was despite the fact there were about twenty passengers just about up against the door trying to get in.  I don’t think they expected to have cases flying off the train in their direction.

We find our way to the exit and our tour guide Dannie.  It was another long walk to the bus, somewhat shabbier from the previous day, no leg room, no pocket, no USB charging point like the day before.  Disappointing.

On the way from the station to the hotel, the tour guide usually gives us a short spiel on the next day’s activities, but instead, I think we got her life history and a song, delivered in high pitched and rapid Chinglish that was hard to understand.

Not at this hour of the night to an almost exhausted busload of people who’d had enough from the train.  Oh, did I forgot the singing, no, it was an interesting rendition of ‘you are my sunshine’.

The drive was interesting in that it mostly in the dark.  There was no street lighting and in comparison to X’ian which was very bright and cheerful, this was dark and gloomy.

Then close to the hotel our guide said that if we had any problems with the room, she would be in the lobby for half an hour.

That spoke volumes about the hotel they put us in.

Endless flight – a short story

It had been billed as the longest commercial flight in the world.  London to Sydney.

Previous times it had been flown, it was devoid of passengers and cargo, except for a few reporters and airline staff; not more than about 20.

The plane, state of the art, was capable of flying twenty-one hours straight.  We would only need Nineteen and a half.  It was the first flight of its kind, and we were the first to participate in what was being touted as history-making.

I was on board only because I’d won a competition.  To be honest, I couldn’t believe my luck.

I guess it was the same for the other 287 of us on board.  With baggage and cargo included, oh, and not forgetting fuel, I guess our biggest concern was getting off the ground.

It wasn’t long before that fear had been dispelled, though for a moment more than one of us thought we might not get into the air.  There were collective sighs of relief when we finally lurched into the air.

Once the seat belt sign went off, the First Officer spoke to the passengers, more or less telling us we were going to make history and to sit back and enjoy the in-flight service.

I guess it was ironic that as someone who didn’t like flying I was in this plane.  The thing is, I didn’t expect to win the competition.  But, I was on board for the experience and was going to make the most of it.  I’d brought half a dozen crossword books.

I woke from an uneasy sleep about two hours before I e plane was due to land.  The cabin lights had come on, and breakfast was about to be served.

Everyone else was in varying states of awareness.  Some hadn’t slept at all, which was what usually happened to me, and they looked like I felt.  Bleary-eyed and half awake.

I looked at the flight path in the headrest in front of me, and it said we had about an hour and fifty minutes, and from the outset, precisely on time.  We’d had headwinds and tailwinds but neither had any lasting effect on our arrival time.

Something else did.  After breakfast had been cleared away, and we were all getting ready for the last hour of the flight, word came through from the flight deck that we had to go into a holding pattern due to a problem on the ground.

The first question on everyone’s mind, did we have enough fuel.  The Captain, this time, allayed that fear.

But, I was sitting over the wing where I could see the engine.  I was not an expert but I thought I’d heard a murmur, the sort an engine made where the fuel supply was running out.

Perhaps not.  Perhaps it was my overwrought imagination after not enough proper sleep.

Another half-hour passed, and I could feel a change in the plane’s flight.  I was now listening and waiting and interpreting.  The Captain said the problem was resolved and we were cleared to land.

That’s when the engine outside my window stuttered, if only for a fraction of a second.

Fortunately, we were well into our descent, and I could see the ground below.  Now, going through some low cloud, the ride became bumpy, and I was sure it was covering the more frequent stuttering of the engine, and once, I was not the only one to hear it.

As the wheels went down and clunked into place, I think the engine stopped, though I couldn’t be sure, because there was little or no change in the plane’s flight other than a slight change in the plane’s speed but not its rate of descent, and none of us would have been any wiser had the pilot, in his usual calm manner, not told us there was a small problem with one of the engines but there was no problem with landing, and we would be on the ground in ten minutes.

In fact, the landing was, as any other I’d been on, flawless, even though I was sure I heard a slight stutter in the other ending, but by that time we were on the ground.

The only difference between this and any other landing was the accompaniment of several emergency services trucks, and the fact we were not going to a gate.  Instead, we were taken to a bay not far from the runways, and then calmly taken off the plane.

From the ground, just before being loaded onto a bus, I could see the plane, and it looked the same as it had any other time.

What did bother me was several words spoken by what looked to be an engineer.  He said, “That plane was literally flying on vapor.  What you’re seeing is 228 of the luckiest people in the world.”

If ever there was an excuse to buy a lottery ticket…

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

Social media is such a distraction

I’m back to writing, sitting at the desk, pad in front of me, pen in hand.

The only thing lacking, an idea.

It’s 9:03 am, too early to start on a six pack.

I need a distraction.

Blogging, web sites, twitter and facebook, all of these social media problems are swirling around in my mind.

The more I read the more it bothers me that if I don’t have the right social media presence, if I do not start to build an email list, all of my efforts in writing a book will come to nought.

Then I start trawling the internet for information on marketing and found a plethora of people offering any amount of advice for anything between a ‘small amount’ to a rather large amount that gives comprehensive coverage of most social media platforms for periods of a day, a week or a month.  I don’t have a book so it’s  a bit early to be worrying about that.

I move onto the people who offer advice for a cost on how to build a following, how to build a web presence, how to get a thousand Twitter followers, how to get thousands of email followers before the launch.
The trouble is I’m writing a novel not a non fiction book, or have some marvellous 30 page ebook on how to do something, for free just to drive people to my site.

I’m a novelist not a handyman so those ideas while good are not going to help me.

Yet another problem to wrestle with along with actually creating a product to sell in the first place.

Except I’m supposed to be writing for the love of it without the premeditated idea of writing for gain or getting rich quick.

What am I missing here?

So should l be writing short stories and offering them for free to drive people to my site?  These would have to be genre specific so it needs time and effort and fit into a convenient size story that will highlight or showcase my talent.

Or should I create a web site for the novel and set up pages for the characters an get some interaction going that way?

It will be difficult without giving the whole plot away so if I do it will have to be carefully managed.

I don’t think I will have a good night’s sleep again with all of these social media problems I’m going to have.

Oh well, back to the book.  It’s time to have a nightmare of a different sort!

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

Memories of the conversations with my cat – 37

As some may be aware, but many not, Chester, my faithful writing assistant, mice catcher, and general pain in the neck, passed away some months ago.

Recently I was running a series based on his adventures, under the title of Past Conversations with my cat.

For those who have not had the chance to read about all of his exploits I will run the series again from Episode 1

These are the memories of our time together…

20160921_071440

This is Chester.  He’s miffed that I didn’t tell him about China.

Sorry, already had this discussion a month ago, and I’m beginning to think he’s losing his marbles.  Perhaps he didn’t remember me saying I hadn’t run into any of his relatives on the Chinese side.  Dodging cars and scooters, you know…

The blank look says it all.  Oh, well, if we must…

So…

This morning he decided to jump up on the desk and sit beside the keyboard.  He was going to sit on it, but a stern look from me deterred him.

Or am I deluding myself, and we’re playing a game.

But I get it.  China.  The gossip, now.

Well, Beijing airport is the same as anywhere else in the world, except I had to battle the fingerprint machines.

A look tells me that any fool can get a paw, well, fingers, on the glass plate.   Next time I go, I tell him, he’s coming and I’d like to see his efforts.  It’s not as easy as it looks, and I wasn’t the only one.

After exiting the airport, a train ride to the baggage belt then out to find our guide, it takes about an hour and a half just to get to the bus, then another hour in the bus to our hotel.

He looks at the cup of tea I’ve made, attention span coming to an end.  Tea leaves from China, I say.  Good for you.  Saw it dissolve iodine right before my eyes.

Of course, the retort is, what idiot drinks iodine?

Just in case, I say.  You can never be too prepared, can you?

He takes a sniff, turns up his nose, and jumps down.  Enough of ‘travels without my cat’ for today.

I just shake my head and get back to work.

 

Inspiration, maybe – Volume 1

50 photographs, 50 stories, of which there is one of the 50 below.

They all start with –

A picture paints … well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

lookingdownfromcoronetpeak

And the story:

It was once said that a desperate man has everything to lose.

The man I was chasing was desperate, but I, on the other hand, was more desperate to catch him.

He’d left a trail of dead people from one end of the island to the other.

The team had put in a lot of effort to locate him, and now his capture was imminent.  We were following the car he was in, from a discrete distance, and, at the appropriate time, we would catch up, pull him over, and make the arrest.

There was nowhere for him to go.

The road led to a dead-end, and the only way off the mountain was back down the road were now on.  Which was why I was somewhat surprised when we discovered where he was.

Where was he going?

“Damn,” I heard Alan mutter.  He was driving, being careful not to get too close, but not far enough away to lose sight of him.

“What?”

“I think he’s made us.”

“How?”

“Dumb bad luck, I’m guessing.  Or he expected we’d follow him up the mountain.  He’s just sped up.”

“How far away?”

“A half-mile.  We should see him higher up when we turn the next corner.”

It took an eternity to get there, and when we did, Alan was right, only he was further on than we thought.”

“Step on it.  Let’s catch him up before he gets to the top.”

Easy to say, not so easy to do.  The road was treacherous, and in places just gravel, and there were no guard rails to stop a three thousand footfall down the mountainside.

Good thing then I had the foresight to have three agents on the hill for just such a scenario.

Ten minutes later, we were in sight of the car, still moving quickly, but we were going slightly faster.  We’d catch up just short of the summit car park.

Or so we thought.

Coming quickly around another corner we almost slammed into the car we’d been chasing.

“What the hell…” Aland muttered.

I was out of the car, and over to see if he was in it, but I knew that it was only a slender possibility.  The car was empty, and no indication where he went.

Certainly not up the road.  It was relatively straightforward for the next mile, at which we would have reached the summit.  Up the mountainside from here, or down.

I looked up.  Nothing.

Alan yelled out, “He’s not going down, not that I can see, but if he did, there’s hardly a foothold and that’s a long fall.”

Then where did he go?

Then a man looking very much like our quarry came out from behind a rock embedded just a short distance up the hill.

“Sorry,” he said quite calmly.  “Had to go if you know what I mean.”

I’d lost him.

It was as simple as that.

I had been led a merry chase up the hill, and all the time he was getting away in a different direction.

I’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book, letting my desperation blind me to the disguise that anyone else would see through in an instant.

It was a lonely sight, looking down that road, knowing that I had to go all that way down again, only this time, without having to throw caution to the wind.

“Maybe next time,” Alan said.

“We’ll get him.  It’s just a matter of time.”

© Charles Heath 2019-2021

Find this and other stories in “Inspiration, maybe”  available soon.

InspirationMaybe1v1

The cinema of my dreams – It’s a treasure hunt – Episode 13

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.

I stood at the entrance and counted to ten, then pushed the door open and went in.

I was not sure what I was expecting, but it was not what I saw.  A country and western bar, with decorations that made you think you were in Texas, booths and tables elegantly set under subdued lighting, and well dressed serving staff serving customers.

Across the back was a long bar, and a bottle of every known drink known to mankind behind it, and two bartenders, looking busy.  Several people were sitting at the bar, including Nadia, who was by herself, having a shot glass, no doubt with tequila, and beer put in front of her.

No one even looked up to note my arrival.

It took a minute to scan the customers I could see, and not recognise any of them, except they were not of the scoundrel variety, and whether or not there was another exit if I needed one.

Always an emergency exit near the restrooms and I could see them in the distance.

Another look around, then I crossed the room, weaving through the tables, to where Nadia was sitting.  She hadn’t noticed my arrival.

“This seat taken?” I asked.

A quick turn of the head and I could see the rebuke on her lips.  Then surprise on her face.

“Smidge.  What are you doing here?”

“You keep asking me that question every time we meet.”

“Perhaps we should stop meeting like this.”  She turned back to the bar and downed the shot glass contents.  “Sit if you must.”

I had expected the back of her hand to slap me to the floor for daring to talk to her, but instead sat before she changed her mind.

“Same question,” she said, still not looking at me.

I’d try flippancy first and see how that went.  “Always wanted to come and see the famous Lantern Inn, but it doesn’t seem to be famous any more, well, not in that respect.”

She looked sideways at me.  “What if it had been?”

“Then I’m guessing this would have been a short encounter.”

“It still might be.”

OK, try not to be too brave, she could still beat me to a pulp with one hand tied behind her back.  “I doubt you want to cause a scene, and especially not with someone like me.”

She turned and looked at me.  Admittedly I was not the skinny assed punk I used to be, but still not her type.

“When did you go and grow up?”  At least, now, she didn’t tower over me, I could see eye to eye, literally and figuratively.

“While you were away.  Amazing what some sunshine and fertilizer will do.”

Was that a hint of a smile, or a grimace?

“Still a smart ass though.”

“You haven’t changed much either.”  Short skirt, low cut top, she’d been wearing a coat when she came in.  Hair was shorter and with a fringe.  Didn’t suit her.  “What happened to this place?”

“The last Mayor cleaned up the waterfront, most of it anyway.”

And died, rather ironically, in the crossfire between the two rival gangs in this very place.  Nothing like killing a public official, corrupt or not, to precipitate a cleanup.  It just sent the gangs into darker corners.

“Why are you here, then?”  I had to ask.

“I’m respectable.”  A nod to the bartended got another shot of tequila.

For me, a Budweiser.

“So does that mean you’re dating a Benderby?”  For her, it would be the only type of respectability she could have in a town like ours unless she moved away to somewhere no one knew who she was.

“Not if they were the last family on earth.”

“So, what’s he got on you?”

She turned much faster this time to look at me, sliding off the chair and standing over me.  There was not a pretty look on her face.

I tried not to exhibit signs of fear and failed.

“Who told you that?”

“No one.”  I took a deep breath to get the tremor out of my voice.  “They got the dirt on everyone, so why should you be an exception?”

I slipped of my chair and stood toe to toe with her.

For a person with an ugly soul, she had beautiful eyes.

Then she leaned forward those last six inches and kissed me briefly on the lips.  Hers was cold.

“What do you really want Smidge?”  She pulled back, and sat down again, picking up the beer and taking a sip.

“To get payback on Alex.”

“And you think I’ll help you?”

“Well, you need a map, and I don’t think you want to cosy up to Rico, do you?”

I had just put together a plan, shaky at best, highly dangerous at worst, but it might work.  It didn’t have to be the real map, just one that was close enough to the real thing.

She reached into her purse and pulled out a key, and slid it across the bar towards me.

Room 14 at the Shingle Hotel.   Where they used to have rooms to rent by the hour.  And cockroaches, people not the bugs, in every corner.

“One hour.  Now leave.”

I heard the door open and close and looked back through the mirror behind the bar.  A large man with a beard and dark glasses.  In a gloomy restaurant.

Her date?

I took the key and left, trying to look like I was not leaving in a hurry.

© Charles Heath 2019-2021

“One Last Look”, nothing is what it seems

A single event can have enormous consequences.

A single event driven by fate, after Ben told his wife Charlotte he would be late home one night, he left early, and by chance discovers his wife having dinner in their favourite restaurant with another man.

A single event where it could be said Ben was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Who was this man? Why was she having dinner with him?

A simple truth to explain the single event was all Ben required. Instead, Charlotte told him a lie.

A single event that forces Ben to question everything he thought he knew about his wife, and the people who are around her.

After a near-death experience and forced retirement into a world he is unfamiliar with, Ben finds himself once again drawn back into that life of lies, violence, and intrigue.

From London to a small village in Tuscany, little by little Ben discovers who the woman he married is, and the real reason why fate had brought them together.

It is available on Amazon here:  http://amzn.to/2CqUBcz