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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were so happy then.

Before the tragedy.

 

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

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

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

Until one day she couldn’t.

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

The doctors were wrong.

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

Justice would have to be served by other means.

 

I was outside the Bannister’s home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Justice.”

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

“She said otherwise, Archie.”

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

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

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

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

 

It was the recurring nightmare I had for years afterwards.

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

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

If only I’d not been late…

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

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

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

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

He didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He took nineteen bullets to die.

Then came Archie.

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

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

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

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

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

He was a little more worried about his sister.

I told him it was confession time.

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

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

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

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

Then she shot him.  Six times.

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

 

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

They were not allowed to.

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

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

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

“You’ve been a bad boy, Alan.”

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

I was beginning to think I was going mad.

I ignored him.

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

Death sounded good.  I told him to go away.

He didn’t.  Persistent bugger.

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

“Why’d you do it?”

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

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

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

“You like killing?”

“No-one does.”

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

“We?”

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

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

 

Trained, cleared, and ready to go.

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

People like me.

In a mall, I became a shopper.

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

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

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

I had a passkey.

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

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

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

Until the judge, the jury and their executioner arrived.

Me.

Quick, clean, merciless.  Done.

I was now an operational field agent.

 

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

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

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

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

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

I was Barry Gamble.

I was Lenny Buckman.

I was Jimmy Hosen.

I was anyone but the person I wanted to be.

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

Head bowed, tears streamed down my face.

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

 

New York, New Years Eve.

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

This time I failed.

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

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

I was done.

I’d had enough.

I gave her the gun.

I begged her to kill me.

She didn’t.

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

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

I remembered her name after she had gone.

Amanda.

I remembered she had an imperfection in her right eye.

Someone else had the same imperfection.

I couldn’t remember who that was.

Not then.

 

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

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

It was late.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dunno.”

“You need help?”

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

“Who are you?” she asked.

“Nobody.”  I was exactly how I felt.

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

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

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

“Where are your friends?” I asked again.

“Got none.”

“Perhaps I should take you home.”

“I have no home.”

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

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

“I have my moments.”

“Have them somewhere else.”

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

“Take me home,” she said suddenly.

“Where is your place?”

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

“You won’t like it.”

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

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

“Charlotte.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

Aunt Agatha.

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

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

“Why did you come,” Charlotte asked.

“You know why.”

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

OK, now she officially scared me.

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

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

“Certainly not my fairy godmother.”

Charlotte never mentioned her again.

 

Zurich in summer, not exactly my favourite place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But…

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I was crying, tears streaming down my face.

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

It was like coming up for air.

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

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

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

“Welcome back.”

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2019

onelastlookcoverfinal2

It all started in Venice – Episode 1

When you least expect it

I was minding my own business, as the saying goes.

Having made my mark on the world, I had retired from a world that I hardly recognized as what had once been.

Pandemics, political games, countries on the brink of disaster, and what could be called a world gone mad seemed to be the new normal, though it was hard to say what the old normal was.

So, I let all flow on past me, like water under the bridge, much the same that I was now standing on, overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice, the second to last whistle-stop on what had been a long respite from the real world.

I’d also been lamenting the death of the only woman I’d ever loved and for a long time the only thing that made sense.

She was with me always, in life and in death, reminding me that she would not want me to simply give up on life.  Sometimes those words fell on deaf ears, but today was a good day.

She had always loved Venice and we always came for the Carnival, but this was the first year I’d missed it.  It would not be the same without her.

After a while I moved on, over the bridge, heading back to the apartment, one of several in the major cities we traveled to often, Paris, London, Istanbul, and Vienna to name a few.

I stopped at a Cafe, one we often did when Violetta was alive, and the owner served me himself.  It was, coincidentally, where Violetta and I first met, a story in itself

Then it was back home.

There were certain instincts I had, acquired when I lived in another world, and one was telling me something was not right.

I looked up and down the street but everything seemed normal.  It was part of the city where cars were permitted, though I chose not to have one.

I shrugged.  Perhaps my instincts were wrong, after all, it had been a long time since I’d needed them.

As I approached the front door to the building, I could see a man come from the opposite side of the street, heading towards the same doorway.  He’d timed it to arrive at the same time.

Normally it wouldn’t bother me, but he did not look like a resident or a visitor.

“Mr. Wallace?”

As I went to put the key in the lock, he called out, his timing not quite getting him to the front door.  Perhaps that was because I’d quickened my pace.

I was going to ignore him, but something told me not to.  He seemed familiar.

I turned, just as he reached me.

“Mr. Wallace?”

“Who wants to Know?”

“Alfie Simkins.  Who I work for is irrelevant, but we need to have a short discussion.”

OK, the irrelevant reference told me everything I needed to know.  It was my past, coming back to haunt me.

“About what?”

“Nothing I would care to utter in the street.”

I gave him one of those long hard stares, the one known to unnerve even the hardest of opponents, but he didn’t flinch.

I knew his sort, and he was the last person I wanted to talk to.  But just to make sure he was who he was intimating he was…

“Who sent you?”

“Rodby.”

And there it was.  That blast from the past, a name I had hoped I’d never hear again.

I opened the door and he followed me in, then up the elevator to the third floor.  At the time I could not afford the top floor, but it was comfortable enough, even if the view was somewhat limited.

He’d barely made it through the door before I asked, “I need some proof…”

“That I’m not an assassin, he said you’d require it.  Two words, Alan McWhirter.”

There was a name I hadn’t heard in a long time, almost twenty years, my original name, lost after becoming so many different people.  There had been times when I hardly knew who I was myself.

Now it was only a matter of what Rodby wanted, usually the impossible.

“How is he?  He must be about a hundred years old by now.”  He was close to that when I first met him, oh so long ago.

“Still comes into the office every day, still sharp as a tack as they say.”

The man would never die or lose his marbles.

“So, what’s this about?”

“A recording a surveillance team made and which they thought held no significance.”

“But Rodby did.”

“One of the analysts, you might remember her, Wendy Tucker, thought it might be relevant so she raised a flag.”

I did remember her, and by now she would be as old as I was and probably the only surviving member of the old team.  But my memories of her were for other reasons.

“Yes, and I’m surprised she’s still there.”

“She heard your name, and another, but perhaps I should play the recording and then comment on it.”

He put his phone on the bench and played it.

A male voice accented, eastern European I thought, spoke first.  “I’m told you knew a man named Egan Watts.”

“There’s a name I never expected to hear again.”  A female voice and one I thought I recognized.

“Then you did know him?”

“Briefly, and not all that well.  He and I went to an industry function once after we met in rather unusual circumstances, but whatever it was, it didn’t last long.  He put work before anything else, so we parted.”

“Amicably?”

“Yes.  For a while after we crossed paths, had dinner, you know.”

It had been a time when I’d been in recovery and retraining and had time for such a relationship.  Nothing permanent, but just fun.  She hadn’t been looking for anything permanent either.

“So you would know him now?”

“God no.  It’s been a long time, and last I heard, he was married and traveling the world.”

“His wife died.  Now he’s in Venice.  We’d like you to pick up where you left off.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” she said.  “Chances are he’s moved on and forgotten all about me.”

“Be that as it may, this isn’t a request.  We ask you to do, or there will be consequences.”

Silence, perhaps a moment to reflect on exactly what those consequences might be, then, “What for?”

“That’s none of your concern.  All you are required to do is rekindle your relationship.  How you do it is your business, but you better go and pack for a long stay.”

Juliet Ambrose. 

I remembered the voice, and the distinctiveness of its soft Irish accent, almost mesmerizing.

She had been one of the doctors supervising my recovery and she seemed to be out of sorts, so I’d asked her out to dinner, and talk if she wanted to.  She didn’t, but one thing led to another…

That’s where Alfie stopped the recording.

“Good to know then,” I said, ” it’s time to leave Venice and move on.”  The expression on Alfie’s face told me that was not what was going to happen.  “Or…”

“The man in the conversation is Larry Pomisor, a key figure in the Waterville organization.”

That said, it all came back to me in a flood.  An assignment that specifically targeted Larry’s brother Andre, and how spectacularly it failed.  Andre had been killed, which was the mission objective, but so had his wife and children, which was not, and Larry had sworn to find his killer.

Apparently, he now had.

“Then if he regards me as the perpetrator, then you and Rodby both know Larry is going to honor a promise he made.  Surely this is all Rodby needs to put him behind bars.”  I knew Rodby could not have Larry ‘removed’ like he could once.

“It’s not that straightforward.  If we were to go in with what we know, it would burn our source, so for the time being Rodby wants you to play along, find out what he intends to do, and we’ll swoop in and round them all up.”

The man had enthusiasm, I’ll give him that, but no idea what might happen if it all went wrong; that there will be a lot of pain and suffering involved.  Larry was not a man to miss hitting the first time.

“All good intentions I’m sure, but both of you seem to forget I don’t work for him, or the government, anymore.”

“He never rescinded your file.  As far as anyone knows you’re still on the active list.  It’s just for a short time until we make all the connections.  Clearly, while the girl is courting you nothing is going to happen, and we’ll have eyes on all the major players.  All he’s asking is for you to play a role.”

It seemed to me my whole life had been one long screenplay.  And it was never that simple.

“If I say no?”

“Then I’m sure he’ll arrive on your doorstep and personally ask you to return the favor”

Yes, I’d expected that.  He may have agreed very reluctantly to my retirement, but it had always come with a caveat.

“Just this once then.”  There would be no getting around it.

“Of course.  I assume that we have permission to install eyes and ears here?”

An inconvenience, but necessary.  I nodded.  “But I am considering going to Paris, and then to New York.  She might ask to come with me.”

“Wouldn’t you simply stay put and make them come to you?  Besides, why would you take anyone actively assisting in a plan to kill you anywhere?”

Good point.  “Perhaps we’ll see what happens,  I have to get back home sometime.”

“Then give us the addresses and we’ll take care of the rest.  Oh, and the plane.  Just in case.”

I shook my head.  I guess I could say goodbye to privacy for the next few weeks.

© Charles Heath 2022

In a word: Pause

Yes, when you are going at it like a bat out of hell, it might be an idea to take a pause and regroup.

That being a pause as an interruption to an activity.

In music, it’s a mark over a note.

Perhaps it’s a good idea to pause recording a TV show while the ads are on.  Networks don’t like it, but it makes the show make more sense without the distractions of advertisements, sometimes quite inane, or annoying.

What I just said, might give pause to my opposite number in this debate.

Have you been in a conversation, someone says something quite odd, and there’s a pregnant pause?

How did the word pregnant get into the conversation?  That, of course, usually means something significant will follow, but rarely does.  But it can also be a conversation killer where no one says anything.

Is that a wide eye in awe moment?  You did WHAT?

Then there is the word pours, sounds the same but is completely different.

In this case, the man pours water from the bucket on the plants.

Or my brother pours cold water on my plans.  Not literally, but figuratively, making me think twice about whether it would work or not.  Usually not.

Or a confession pours out of a man with a guilty conscience.  AKA sings like a bird.  Don’t you just love these quaint expressions?  It reminded me of a gangster film back in Humphrey Bogart’s day.

It never rains but it pours?  Another expression, when everything goes wrong.  A bit like home renovations really.

Really, it means to flow quickly and in large quantities, ie. rain pours down.

And if that isn’t bad enough, what about paws?

Sounds the same again, but, yes it’s what an animal has as feet, especially cats, dogs, and bears.

One use of it, out of context, of course, is ‘get your paws off me!’

And one rabbit paw might be good luck, but having two rabbit pows, I might win the lottery.

If only….

 

 

NaNoWriMo – April 2022 – Day 14

First Dig Two Graves, the second Zoe thriller.

We’re still in Bratislava with Zoe making a few repairs, having been injured in the getaway from the hotel, where bullets were flying around indiscriminately.

In a nondescript hotel near a railway station, the favorite accommodation for assassins, maybe, there’s enough time for John to get the message Zoe is not happy with him bringing along a hit squad.

And, they’re on the news, that is to say they know who it is that’s on the news, the blurry figures are too indistinct for anyone else to identify them. It was disconcerting to be called criminals fleeing the scene of a crime.

Back in London, Sebastian is about to have a set to with Worthington, who has decided Sebastian is too close and might compromise his black op, so he’s sending him to Paris.

It’s here we learn that Sebastian has both Isobel and Rupert locked up in the cells in the basement, awaiting interrogation, and Worthington orders him to send them home.

Of course, Sebastian is not going to so anything of the sort.

He knows they know where John is, and by implication, where Zoe is, and wants to know.

In the first edit, I suspect I will have to mention Sebastian ‘arresting’ Rupert and Isobel just to keep continuity, and no unfathomable surprises later on.

Today’s writing, with Worthington getting his ducks in a row, 1,445 words, for a total of 41,162.

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 25

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 was in the middle of a large building, sitting on a chair, a single light on above me creating a weird shadow in a circle of light.  Beyond that circle was darkness.

But I was grateful there was no blindfold or gag.

It had to be one of the buildings on Benderby’s factory site.  There were a number of older warehouses on the perimeter of the site, boarded up and in disrepair.  I had heard rumours they were going to be refurbished or demolished, no one seemed to be able to decide what to do with them.

It was deathly quiet, but if I strained hard, I thought I could hear the sound of a generator not far away.  Benderby’s had their own mini power station in case the main power grid went down, and I remembered that it was round the time for the six-monthly testing of the generators.  I was definitely inside the Benderby complex.

So, did that make my captor one of Benderby’s men?  Or was it Alex himself, trying to make a bold statement.  I didn’t think he had that sort of aggressive behaviour in him, but he was a Benderby, and they all had violent streaks somewhere in their makeup.

“Good.  You’re awake.”  The distorted voice could be either male or female.  I’d know more when I saw my assailant, but it came from beside me and I tried to look in that direction.  It was difficult because whoever tied me up did a good job.

There was also an echo, brought on by the emptiness of the building.

“What do you want?  I’m not much good to you if you’re trying to break into the main building.  I don’t have night access.”

“I’m not interested in the main building.”

“What are you interested in?”

“You.”

I had expected to hear the word treasure, not me.

“Sadly, I’m not that interesting.”

“So you say.  But maybe it might have something to do with that friend of yours, Boggs.”

“Then it’s the treasure you’re after.”

“Me, personally, no.  The people I work for, I guess.  The word is that Boggs has a treasure map that his father left him.”

This person had to be acquainted with Rico, because only he could possibly know about that particular map, that is, if Boggs had told him, or told his mother, and Rico had overheard him.

Or Boggs had told this person, under duress, that I had the map, holding it for safekeeping.  My mind started conjuring up all sorts of terrifying scenarios, all of which ended badly.

“If Rico told you that, then he was only trying to save his own skin.  He’s been trying to barter a copy of something to the Benderby’s, a map he didn’t have and hadn’t been able to get off Boggs.  If there is such a map, then Boggs has it.”

“I’m sure he told you about it, didn’t he?”

“What are best friends for, but whether I believed him is a different matter.  He told me about a map he said his father had in his possession, and I know he’s been hunting high and low for it, but if he’s found it, then he hasn’t told me about it yet.”

I was trying to sound sincere, but fear has a way of making you sound, well, afraid.

My captor took a step forward into the fringe of the light.  Dressed in black, with a mask, the body shape looked more like a woman than a man, a figure that could be disguised by the bulky outer clothing.

“Who are you?”

“That’s irrelevant.  What I will do to you if you do not tell me the truth, is.  Boggs told me you had the map.  I believe he was telling the truth.”

So, this person had interrogated Boggs.  It would not have taken much.  Boggs was not the bravest soul I knew.  At school, Boggs had always been the first to capitulate in any confrontation.

I wondered if they had searched him.  Of course, they had, and he didn’t have the map on him, which made it easier to deflect the onus to me.

But I didn’t have the map on me either.  I took the precaution of hiding it away in a place no one would find except me.  Now it was a matter of withstanding whatever this person decided was needed to extract ‘the truth’.

The problem was, I didn’t handle confrontation any better than Boggs had.

“And I’m telling you the truth when I tell you I haven’t got the map.  But I do have one of those being peddled at Osborne’s bar.  You can have that one if you like.”

I saw my captor shake their head.  Disdain, or disappointment?

Two steps further into the circle of light, and the two slaps, either side of my face, very hard.  The paid was instant and stinging, bringing tears to my eyes.  It should have brought acquiescence, but deep down defiance was building.  It surprised me.

My captor took a step back and looked down on me.  “Don’t make me have to hurt you.  All I want is the map.”

“I can’t give you what I don’t have.”

Closed fist this time, and aside from the teeth jarring, possible jaw-breaking, nose bleeding effect, I was starting to consider how long I could withstand this sort of beating.

“The map?”  Patience was running thin, anger was building.

“I can’t…”

Several punches to the ribs and stomach, taking my breath away and making it very difficult to breathe.  Pains where I’d never had pain before.  I’d had beatings at school but never like this.

Once more a step back, I could now only see the black figure through blurry eyes.

Time to plead to deaf ears, “You can beat me to within an inch of my life, but I can’t give you what I don’t have.  It’s as simple as that.”

And then I waited for the next round of punches.

A minute.  Two.

Then a new voice, out in the void, said, “He doesn’t have it.  This is a nothing but an elaborate hoax.”

Not a recognisable voice though.

A final blow rendered me unconscious.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

NaNoWriMo – April 2022 – Day 13

First Dig Two Graves, the second Zoe thriller.

Today we are in Bratislava in Slovakia.

John has found Zoe after playing a little cat and mouse in the streets near the hotel. Back at the hotel, they just get back to the room when a member of Worthington’s hit team arrives and comes off second best.

Of course, the rest are stationed at the obvious exits, and it takes some effort to getaway.

Even that escape is fraught with danger, but with all the cunning she can muster, Zoe makes sure they get back to Vienna.

With Worthington’s hit team hot on their train, a diversion in the main railway station helps aid their departure.

By now, two things are certain:

Worthington is behind the latest attempted hit, and they are both in the firing line, and

John had to decide whether or not he wants a life always looking over his shoulder.

No prizes for guessing his choice!

Today’s writing, with John throwing his lot in with Zoe, 2,905 words, for a total of 39,717.

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 24

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 was in the middle of a large building, sitting on a chair, a single light on above me creating a weird shadow in a circle of light.  Beyond that circle was darkness.

But I was grateful there was no blindfold or gag.

It had to be one of the buildings on Benderby’s factory site.  There were a number of older warehouses on the perimeter of the site, boarded up and in disrepair.  I had heard rumours they were going to be refurbished or demolished, no one seemed to be able to decide what to do with them.

It was deathly quiet, but if I strained hard, I thought I could hear the sound of a generator not far away.  Benderby’s had their own mini power station in case the main power grid went down, and I remembered that it was round the time for the six-monthly testing of the generators.  I was definitely inside the Benderby complex.

So, did that make my captor one of Benderby’s men?  Or was it Alex himself, trying to make a bold statement.  I didn’t think he had that sort of aggressive behaviour in him, but he was a Benderby, and they all had violent streaks somewhere in their makeup.

“Good.  You’re awake.”  The distorted voice could be either male or female.  I’d know more when I saw my assailant, bit it came from beside me and I tried to look in that direction.  It was difficult because whoever tied me up did a good job.

There was also an echo, brought on by the emptiness of the building.

“What do you want?  I’m not much good to you if you’re trying to break into the main building.  I don’t have night access.”

“I’m not interested in the main building.”

“What are you interested in?”

“You.”

I had expected to hear the word treasure, not me.

“Sadly, I’m not that interesting.”

“So you say.  But maybe it might have something to do with that friend of yours, Boggs.”

“Then it’s the treasure you’re after.”

“Me, personally, no.  The people I work for, I guess.  The word is that Boggs has a treasure map that his father left him.”

This person had to be acquainted with Rico, because only he could possibly know about that particular map, that is, if Boggs had told him, or told his mother, and Rico had overheard him.

Or Boggs had told this person, under duress, that I had the map, holding it for safekeeping.  My mind started conjuring up all sorts of terrifying scenarios, all of which ended badly.

“If Rico told you that, then he was only trying to save his own skin.  He’s been trying to barter a copy of something to the Benderby’s, a map he didn’t have and hadn’t been able to get off Boggs.  If there is such a map, then Boggs has it.”

“I’m sure he told you about it, didn’t he?”

“What are best friends for, but whether I believed him is a different matter.  He told me about a map his said his father had in his possession, and I know he’s been hunting high and low for it, but if he’s found it, then he hasn’t told me about it yet.”

I was trying to sound sincere, but fear has a way of making you sound, well, afraid.

My captor took a step forward into the fringe of the light.  Dressed in black, with a mask, the body shape looked more like a woman than a man, a figure that could be disguised by the bulky outer clothing.

“Who are you?”

“That’s irrelevant.  What I will do to you if you do not tell me the truth, is.  Boggs told me you had the map.  I believe he was telling the truth.”

So, this person had interrogated Boggs.  It would not have taken much.  Boggs was not the bravest soul I knew.  At school, Boggs had always been the first to capitulate in any confrontation.

I wondered if they had searched him.  Of course they had, and he didn’t have the map on him, which made it easier to deflect the onus to me.

But I didn’t have the map on me either.  I took the precaution of hiding it away in a place no one would find except me.  Now it was a matter of withstanding whatever this person decided was needed to extract ‘the truth’.

The problem was, I didn’t handle confrontation any better than Boggs had.

“And I’m telling you the truth when I tell you I haven’t got the map.  But I do have one of those being peddled at Osborne’s bar.  You can have that one if you like.”

I saw my captor shake their head.  Disdain, or disappointment?

Two steps further into the circle of light, and the two slaps, either side of my face, very hard.  The paid was instant and stinging, bringing tears to my eyes.  It should have brought acquiescence, but deep down defiance was building.  It surprised me.

My captor took a step back and looked down on me.  “Don’t make me have to hurt you.  All I want is the map.”

“I can’t give you what I don’t have.”

Closed fist this time, and aside from the teeth jarring, possible jaw-breaking, nose bleeding effect, I was starting to consider how long I could withstand this sort of beating.

“The map?”  Patience was running thin, anger was building.

“I can’t…”

Several punches to the ribs and stomach, taking my breath away and making it very difficult to breathe.  Pains where I’d never had pain before.  I’d had beatings at school but never like this.

Once more a step back, I could now only see the black figure through blurry eyes.

Time to plead to deaf ears, “You can beat me to within an inch of my life, but I can’t give you what I don’t have.  It’s as simple as that.”

And then I waited for the next round of punches.

A minute.  Two.

Then a new voice, out in the void, said, “He doesn’t have it.  This is a nothing but an elaborate hoax.”

Not a recognisable voice though.

A final blow rendered me unconscious.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

A moment to slip back into the past

Television is a great recorder of the past, and most channels, and especially cable tv have great libraries of films that go back more than a hundred years.

And, whilst it’s possible that modern-day films and television series can try to recapture the past, the English as an exception being very good at it, often it is impossible to capture it correctly.

But, if you have a film shot in the moment, then you have a visual record of what life, and what was once part of our world before you in all its dated glory. The pity of it is that, then, we never appreciated it.

After all, in those particular times, who had the time to figuratively stop and smell the roses. Back then as life was going on, we were all tied up with just trying to get through each day.

Years later, often on reflection, we try to remember the old days, and, maybe, remember some of what it was like, but the chances are that change came far too rapidly, and often too radical, that it erases what we thought we knew existed before.

My grandmother’s house is a case in point. In its place is a multi-lane superhighway, and there’s nothing left to remind us, or anyone of it, just some old sepia photographs.

I was reminded of how volatile history really is when watching an old documentary, in black and white, and how the city I grew up in used to look.

Then, even though it seemed large to me then, it was a smaller city, with suburbs that stretched about ten or so miles in every direction, and the outer suburbs were where people moved to get a larger block, and countrified atmosphere.

Now, those outer suburbs are no longer spacious properties, the acreage subdivided and the old owners now much richer for a decision made with profit not being the motivator, and the current suburban sprawl is now out to forty or fifty miles.

The reason for the distance is no longer the thought of open spaces and cleaner air, the reason for moving now is that land further out is cheaper, and can make buying that first house more affordable.

This is where I tip my hat to the writers of historical fiction. I myself am writing a story based in the 1970s, and it’s difficult to find what is and isn’t time-specific.

If only I had a dollar for every time I went to write the character pulling out his or her mobile phone.

What I’ve found is the necessity to research, and this has amounted to finding old films, documentaries of the day, and a more fascinating source of information, the newspapers of the day.

The latter especially has provoked a lot of memories and a lot of stuff I thought I’d forgotten, some of it by choice, but others that were poignant.

Yes, and don’t get me started on the distractions.

If only I’d started this project earlier…

The A to Z Challenge – H is for – “Have you any idea…?”

Most children, when they turn 18, or 21, get a car as a present for their birthday.  In fact, I had been hoping, in my case, they would buy me a Ferrari, or at the very least, an Alfa Romeo, blue to match my older sister’s red.

Hope is a horrible thing to hang on to.

Instead, I got a seat at the table.

Not an actual seat but joined the other 7 family members that comprised the management group for the family-run business.  One would retire to make way for new blood, as they called it.

“This is how it works and has done for a hundred years.  In your case, you will be replacing Grandma Gwen.  You will be given an area to manage, and you will be expected to work hard, and set an example to your employees.  There will be no partying, no staying home when you feel like it, and definitely no getting into trouble.  And for the first three years, you will sit, be quiet, listen and learn.  One day, down the track, you will become the CEO.”

“If we’re still in business.”  It didn’t take much to see that the company was struggling, as indeed many others were in the same industry, cheap imports and changing tastes taking a huge toll.

But we had been making exclusive and distinctive furniture for a long, long time, and discerning people who wanted a reminder of an elegant past still bought it.  Part of my training, before I got that seat, was to learn the trade, and like all members of my family, could build a chair from start to finish.

It was part of the mantra, lead by example.

On the second day in my new role as manager, I arrived at the office, grandma Gwen was throwing the last of 50 years’ worth of stuff into three large boxes.

It was no surprise that she was resentful at being ousted to make way for me, not that she needed the money, but because even approaching 90, the last thing she wanted to do was retire.

I got the cold stare when she saw me, and, on her way out, a parting shot, “Don’t get comfortable, sonny, they’ll be closing the doors in three months, even sooner.  Your father hasn’t a clue how to run the place.”

Out on the factory floor, the eight specialist workers didn’t exactly give her the goodbye I expected, showing that she didn’t have their respect.  The foreman, Gary, the man who had shown me the intricacies of the work, opened and closed the door for her, shrugged, and headed back to the office.

The others went back to work.

When he came into the office, his expression changed from disappointment to amusement.  He had said, years ago when I was very young, I’d be sitting in that office one.

Now I was there, though the chair, plush and comfortable when new about 50 years ago, was now as old and tired as the office’s previous owner, was hardly a selling point for the job.

“Told you you’d be sitting in that chair one day.  That day is here.”

“Maybe not for long, though.”

“Don’t pay no mind to Gwenny.  She and your father never got along.  She wanted to sell the business 20 years ago when it was worth something, but your Dad wanted to keep the worker’s jobs.  It’ll be a different story in a few years, once we’ve all gone.  No one wants to be an artisan anymore.  And wires, it’s all about furniture in boxes, all veneer and plastic, and a two tear life.”

“Shouldn’t we get a slice of the veneer and plastic market?”

“Can’t beat the overseas factories at their own game.  The trick is to diversify, but to do that we’d need to retool, and repurpose factory space and that costs money, big money.”

With all that stuff I learned at University, economics, management, and design, it might have been better to have taken the medical path, but I had been convinced to lay the groundwork to take over the company one day.

Back then, it wasn’t a possibility the company would not go on forever.  It seemed odd to me that my father hadn’t said anything about the situation Gary knew so well.  Did he not listen to those who knew most?

“So, what’s the solution?”

“That depends on you.”

This was not the job I signed up for.

What did I know about furniture?

It didn’t matter.

It was about manufacturing in a world economy, and the point was, that we could not compete.  Like the car industry, there was nothing but foreign imports and rebadged imported items made overseas.

So what was my role?

I was sure that every conclusion I had come to, everyone else around the table was painfully aware of too.  A short discussion with my elder sister confirmed it.

It was like being aboard the Titanic and watching it sink firsthand.

That seat at the table was in an ancient wood-paneled room with a huge table that seated 24, a table and matching chairs reputedly hand made by the first owner of the company, my so-many times great grandfather, Erich.

The room reeked of wood polish, the mustiness of age, and a deep vein of tradition.  Paintings on the walls were of every CEO the company had, and the first time I was in that room was the unveiling of my father’s portrait.

It was like stepping into a time warp.

Alison, my father’s PA was just finishing up setting the table for the meeting that morning.  She had Bern around for a long time, so long I could remember her when I was a child.

She looked over as I stepped into the room.

“You’re just a little early.”

“Just making sure I know where I’m going.”

“Are you nervous?”

“No.  It won’t be much different from sitting down to a family dinner, only a few less than normal, and I suspect there won’t be too many anecdotes.”

“It can be quite serious, but your father prefers to keep it light, and short.  Your grandfather on the other hand loved to torture the numbers with long-winded speeches and religious tracts.”

Small mercy then.

“Where do I sit?”

“Down the end in the listen and don’t speak seat.  It’s where all new members sit for the first year.”

That was twice I’d been told.

There were eight family members, the seven others I knew well, some better than others.  I’d seen arguments, words said that were better unsaid, accusations, and compliments.  I’d seen them at their best and at their worst.

It would be interesting to see how they got along in this room.

It started with an introduction and mild applause at my anointment to the ‘board’.

Then the captain of the Titanic my father as the current CEO, read out the agenda.

No icebergs expected, just plain sailing.

I sat, and I listened.  It was easy to see why it was plain sailing.  The family had made its wealth generations ago when our products were in high demand, and we had been living off the wealth generated by astute investment managers.

But even so, the business could not keep going the way it was without being an ever-decreasing drain on resources.

We needed a plan for the future.

“Now, if there’s no more business…”  My father looked around the table, his expression telling everyone there was no more business, and stopped at me.

Was that my cue?

“I’m sorry, but I can’t sit here and pretend this place isn’t going to hell in a handbasket.”

“It may or it may not be, but that is none of your concern.”

The tone more than suggested that I should stop, right now.  Of course, if I had the sense expected of me I would have, but if I was going to make a contribution, I might as well start now.

“Do you have any idea what’s going on here?  We need a plan for the future, we need to be doing something.”

All eyes were on me.

I’d never seen my father so angry.  At that moment I thought I’d pushed it a little too hard.  To be honest I don’t know what came over me.

He glared at me for a full minute.  Then as if a thought came to me that moment, there was a slight change in expression.

“Then, I have a proposition for you.  I want you to work on this plan you say we need to have, what you think will be best for the company, and the family, for everyone, for the future.  I believe everyone here will agree on something, as you say, that needs to be done.”

There were nods all around the table.

Then, looking directly at me, he said, “if there is nothing else.  Good.  Our business is done.”


© Charles Heath 2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 21

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.

 

“Why are we still here,” Boggs asked.

A small crowd had gathered to watch the police, some vocal about them finally doing what they should have some time ago.  Very few people liked Rico and rumours were rife about his alleged participation in trafficking drugs.

The fact the current Sherriff hadn’t arrested him before now was said to be because he was corrupt, but nobody would say so out loud.  I felt sorry for the Sherriff because my mother said he had made it quite clear he was not working for anyone but the city that employed him, and that no one was above the law.

But I’d only heard one person question why he was not here, using the event as part of his campaign for re-election.

“Curiosity,” I said.

“About what.  I thought the situation explained itself.  Rico’s finally been caught red-handed.”

“I’m not so sure/it was him.  Were you watching the boat the whole time when you were waiting for me?”

“What do you mean?”

“If you were, you would have seen him on the boat, join the others and leave.  Did it look like they were killing a man below deck?”

How the hell should I know?  As you said, it was below deck.”

“But the boat would have been moving, well, the mast really.”

“With the wash coming towards it from the fools who drive their boats too fast.  Good luck with that.  Do you want Rico to get off, and then come terrorize us.  That’s what’s going to happen if they let him go.”

“I don’t think so.”

Despite his protestations, Boggs was as interested in what was unfolding as I was.  Only I suspect he wanted to see Rico locked up, if possible, forever.  Quite a few people would, and none more than the Benderby’s.

Boggs might not realise it, but his quest for the treasure was at the heart of this.  Had Rico tried to double-cross the Benderby’s?  He was trying to get Nadia to steal the map from Rico, and perhaps Rico had discovered Benderby was trying to cut him out of the deal.

Had Rico threatened them, and was this how they rep[aid disloyalty?

Or was it my original thought, that the Benderby’s were looking for an easy target?

“I’m going.  Coming?”  Boggs had lost interest.

“No.  Not yet.  I want to see what Alex is going to do.”

“Alex Benderby?  What’s he doing here?”

“He just conveniently arrived on his father’s boat, which means he wasn’t very far away.”

“Of course not.  They’ve been having engine troubles for the last month.  They were probably out testing the repairs.”

“How do you know that?”

“Rico.  He thinks it’s hilarious they spent so much money on that boat and haven’t got a full day of sailing out of it.  More money than sense, that lot.”

I looked in the direction of Alex’s boat and he was coming ashore.  So were the divers, now out of their suits and dressed casually, and for the sake of looking normal, with three women, one of whom looked like Nadia.

“Anyway, I’ve decided,” he said, “we’re doing this treasure hunt on our own.  I don’t trust anyone but you.  It was a mistake thinking Alex would help.  Call me tomorrow when you’re free.  We have to start planning.”

“OK.”

I didn’t see him leave.  I was too busy watching the group with Alex.  It was Nadia, and she was looking very cosy next to him.

 

© Charles Heath 2019