The A to Z Challenge – N is for “No fool like an old fool”

Probably the sagest piece of advice I had ever been given, just before I headed out onto that highway called the rest of your life, was from an aunt who died not long after she delivered it. She was old and cranky, which I thought had been because my mother was such a pain in the neck to her, but it was more because she was simply old and tired.

Always look to the intentions of people who ask you to do things for them. People can be lying, cheating, deceitful creatures who dress up their motives in sugar-coating, so you don’t realize what their true motives are.

It hadn’t happened to me yet, and yes, we had been taught to take people at face value, but I suspect she had seen a bit more of life from all angles than both my parents. But at the time, when she delivered it, along with a lot more advice on what I should do with my life, I didn’t take much notice.

What grandchild did?

We are taught to take people at face value, that we should respect them until they prove otherwise. It worked most of the time because we all have that sixth sense that tells us if something is too good to be true, it generally is.

It can equally apply to goods as it does to people, though with people there are some who know how to confuse even the most trusting of souls. They just take a little longer before they reveal themselves.

Me, I had a few bad experiences that led to a degree of cynicism. Relationships that had failed, and jobs that didn’t end up quite as described. That’s why when I found my current role, and the fact I’d been asked for personally, made it all that more satisfying.

Of course, there was an element of flattery involved, but after so much disappointment, maybe I lowered the blinkers just slightly. But all things withstanding, it had turned out to be rewarding as well.

A few awards, some paid vacation days for meeting milestones, I thought I was going well.

Then, as the latest reward I’d been sent do a conference on the other side of the country, the equivalent to and all expenses paid junket, the sort only senior management went on.

It was an eye-opening experience, with team building exercises that supposedly only senior management went on. There were people from all over the country, from a variety of companies.

On the first day we were put into teams of four, two women and two men. The idea was that we were all equally responsible for each other, removing the gender stereotyping.

For me, it was what I understood out company was undertaking. For the other male member, he was not so gender neutral, though he spoke the words, his actions were quite different away from the women. It was wrong, but I ignored it because it was only for a few days.

On day two, at the end of the day’s exercises, I ran into him at the bar downstairs. He was more sociable than I, and was the sort who was the life of the party, only u think others had realised his shortcomings, possibly from the night before, and was nursing a drink at the bar on his own.

I was going to go somewhere else, but he saw me before I could escape, so I crossed the room and sat on the next bar stool. There was a familiar scent in the air, and it might have belonged to one of the two women. He had said earlier that he fancied the blonde, and it was clear what his motives were.

It was probably why he was alone.

“What have you got on for tonight?”

I’d barely got on the seat and caught my breath. A replacement drink arrived in front of him, a large cocktail that looked lethal.

I asked the bar tender for a club side with lots of ice.

“You’re not going to have much fun with that,” he said after the bar tender left.

“Not much of a drinker, I’m afraid.”

“Bit hard to let your hair down then?”

Like all drunks, he believed a good time could not be had unless soaked in alcohol. I’d had arguments with friends no more on exactly that subject.

“Perhaps not, but that’s not why I’m here.”

“Didn’t your boss tell you it was just a junket. There’s no working just playing. Do the stuff they throw at you for a few hours so you can get the attendance certificate that no one fails, then move on.

And I thought I was cynical.

“Where did you say you worked again?”

I told him.

“Do you know a chap called Jerry Blowfell?”

“My boss as it happens.”

“Is it now? I used to work for him at a different place, on the east coast.”

“What was he like then?’

“A mongrel. Used everyone to raise his profile in the company, taking promotions that others should have got by stealing the credit for their work.”

“Doesn’t sound like the same man.”

Short chap, likes turtleneck sweaters, black hair with a white streak.”

That was Blowfell. But it didn’t sound like him.

“He does have a white streak.”

“Got it when he was struck by lightning, or so he said. It was really caused by using the wrong sort of hair shampoo.”

It was clear from his manner that he didn’t like him.

“Tell you what, call him back at the office, mention my name and see what result you get.”

It sounded like it might be like a red rag to a bull situation. I said I’d think about it, had another drink, then left.

His words had made an impression. I had thought at first there was no way he was right, that it was just the words of a spiteful drunk.

Then I stewed over it for no real reason because there was no suggestion of impropriety.

But I would call him and see what he had to say about Jerry. It was going to no doubt confirm Jerry’s sour grapes after being fired, because very few people left of their own accord in the current economic climate.

So, when the time differences allowed, I called the office and asked to be put through. It ended with an unfamiliar girl’s voice.

“Do you know where he is,” I asked, after she told me he was not in the office.”

“Paris taking a well-deserved reward for his hard work on the Johnson contract. The board were delighted with the result.”

“Oh,” I muttered, then hung up.

He had done nothing towards the Johnson contract, other than to hand the file to me. Our last conversation, the day before I left for this conference was to confirm the details of the settlement.

And yet he was the one in Paris. My first thought, that should be me.

My second thought, Jerry was right.

But the question was, how did he manage it?

It wasn’t hard to work out. Taking people with low expectations, he had dazzled me with this conference, firstly to get me out of the office, then secondly to go away, perhaps over the exact same period, and in normal circumstances I might never discover what happened.

Such was his skill at compartmentalising, none of us in his tear ever knew what the others were doing spread out as we were around the country. The fact was, I only discovered what had happened from someone outside the country.

I took breakfast on my room, livid. But as angry as I might be, I didn’t want Jerry to know he was right.

Instead, I came up with endless scenarios of tackling him about it, but knew, if he’d been doing for this long, he would have the bases covered, and my complaints would fall on deaf ears.

If he was going to get caught out, I would have to come up with an elaborate scheme to trap him.

Fast forward three months

I got over my anger, went back to work, and pretended like nothing had happened. My boss had got back from Paris the day before I returned from the conference and was there to greet me when I returned.

It was a strange feeling to cast eyes upon someone in such a different light. I figured that if I tried to find out what else he had perpetrated on the back of other team members, he’d find out, and asking anyone who could tell me, could be potential conspirators. Doing what did did could not be done on his own, so there had to be others.

But, one by one, when the opportunity arose from a work perspective, I spoke to each of the other people in the team, and all had been sent to the same conference I had. Only one voiced an opinion, one I had not asked for, and that was to say they thought they’d seen him at the conference but must have been mistaken.

But it got me thinking, and I looked up the venue and the online presence of the program. It was well received and awarded by chambers of commerce and industry associations alike.

There was a history of how it came into being, theme changes that had been made in response to changing times and new industry regulations, and a profile of the man who brought it into being.

My boss’s brother. There was a picture of him, and there was no mistaking the family likeness. It wasn’t a stretch to believe that my boss may have leaned on his brother to grant places on his courses, paid for the company. It wasn’t wrong, but if he could steal credit where it wasn’t due, maybe he arranged kickbacks for places.

It was all that I could assumed because there was no proof of his deeds anywhere and that might have been part of a non-disclosure agreement made with anyone who discovered his secret.

It was nothing I could take to the board. I would have to find another way. That presented itself some weeks after I returned when he dropped a new file on my desk.

Our specially was to analyse companies or organisations that were teetering on the edge of disaster and set them up in such a way that larger companies could step in and take them over for a mutually beneficial deal.

The last, what we call settlements, was that which my boss had taken the credit for, involved a sole trader who had a great product but hadn’t been able to manage the financial aspects of the business, and with the downturn, which caused him to close the doors.

This case was something similar in that the owner had taken his idea and made it into a successful business, then tried to turn it into a franchise. The only problem was, with a pandemic induced downturn that heavily relied on people presenting themselves, the sudden loss of those people threw everything into disarray.

He needed a buyer, someone with a lot of financial backing to tide the business over until the market returned to normal.

When I did my investigation, I discovered that one of the casualties of the imminent collapse was none other than the boss’s brother, and the man who ran the conference I had recently gone to. He was one of about a dozen around the country who were, through no fault of their own, in trouble.

It was most likely a call from him that resulted in the file that I now had sitting in front of me.

It led to the creation of two solutions, one of which I would give the boss and he would run with as his own, and the other I would keep in the filing cabinet to pull out and save the day. It would no doubt cause considerable consternation for his brother for a short period, but it was going to solve the problem we analysts had.

And something else that I hadn’t realised was the MSN who was in charge of us was not sufficient versed in the processes that drove our solutions, just very savvy in his ability to pick people who were. It meant that he would not be able told discern the solution provided would not necessarily solve the problem with the best outcome. Only those who vetted it before it was implemented would.

And once I’d completed the two analyses, I set the plan in motion.

It was two weeks before a person I’d never seen before, but whose name was familiar gave me a call.

He introduced himself as one of those who acted on the information we supplied, to whom the boss would have sent the file I had supplied him.

“So, here’s the problem. After we looked at the file he supplied, it showed some critical errors, which is a first for his work, and when we asked him to explain how he’d reached his conclusions, he said some of it was obtained externally, and when pressed gave us your name and number. What can you tell me?”

I was not sure what I was expecting as an outcome to my subterfuge but perhaps this was the only chance I was going to get to plead my case.

“That none of it was his work, and that he has been taking the credit when it was not due.”

Then I explained what I’d done, and then emailed the correct version of the file, and after he had read the relevant sections I ended with the damming phrase, “if he had the necessary experience and accounting knowledge, he would have seen though it fairly quickly like you had.”

When he had he would look into the allegations I’d presented, I suddenly though I may have overstated my case, particularly when I didn’t hear anything back. The only saving grace was that I hadn’t been fired which if he had a strategy in place in case someone like me tried to burn him would have happened reasonably quickly.

Then one morning I got a phone call from one of the other analysts.

“Have you ready your email this morning?”

I hadn’t. Not feeling well, I hadn’t gone into the office and decided I would work from home if anything came up. We had recently been set up to work remotely because of the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns.

I went online and opened the mailbox. At the top of the inbox was an email advising that the company had accepted the resignation of our former boss who had cited personal reasons for leaving.

In other words, he had jumped before he had been pushed.

Below it was another email from HE advising they were recruiting his replacement from within and were looking for applications.

And there was one more, almost hidden by the white noise of spam, one that specifically thanked me for my contribution to the recent file, with an invitation to meet the people who implement our plans.

It was an invitation I gratefully accepted.

© Charles Heath 2021

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

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

See below for an excerpt from the book…

Coming soon!


An excerpt from the book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except, of course, when it came to Harry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Charles Heath 2019

An excerpt from “Betrayal” – a work in progress

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

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

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

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

She was here to meet with Vladimir.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A pleasant afternoon ensued.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, it began.

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

She wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later perhaps, after…

She smiled at the thought and put the apple back.

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

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

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

A smile on her face, she opened the door.

It was not Vladimir.  It was her worst nightmare.

© Charles Heath 2020

The story behind the story – Echoes from the Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally it was not set anywhere in particular.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, of course, I wanted a happy ending.

Except for the bad guys.


Get it here:



NaNoWriMo (April) – Day 16

Today’s writing is about the results of the police calling on Jack, after he reported his house being broken into.

They arrive.

The make the same mistake the Italian police did, mistaking him for Jacob, who since he murdered a woman in the hotel back where the conference was being held, and is still at large.

What would any reasonable person expect?

And along with this revelation is another, that his suspicions about Maryanne were right, because the Detective has to let her go on orders from ‘someone connected’.

From this we can infer that she is either a homeland security person whose been looking for, or had Jacob under surveillance before he killed, or a private detective, though Jack has bigger problems to worry about.

He is being arrested and hauled off to the station for questioning.

And he’s not holding his breath that Maryanne will be doing anything to sort the problem out. She probably has her own problems now that Jack knows who she is, and the fact her mission has been entirely unsuccessful,

And, no, Jack didn’t tell her about the diary, but you can just bet that’s what’s she’s after.

Today’s effort amounts to 3,139 words, for a total, so far, of 39,918.

More tomorrow.

“The Things We Do For Love” – Coming soon

Is love the metaphorical equivalent to ‘walking the plank’; a dive into uncharted waters?

For Henry the only romance he was interested in was a life at sea, and when away from it, he strived to find sanctuary from his family and perhaps life itself.  It takes him to a small village by the sea, s place he never expected to find another just like him, Michelle, whom he soon discovers is as mysterious as she is beautiful.

Henry had long since given up the notion of finding romance, and Michelle couldn’t get involved for reasons she could never explain, but in the end both acknowledge that something happened the moment they first met.  

Plans were made, plans were revised, and hopes were shattered.

A chance encounter causes Michelle’s past to catch up with her, and whatever hope she had of having a normal life with Henry, or anyone else, is gone.  To keep him alive she has to destroy her blossoming relationship, an act that breaks her heart and shatters his.

But can love conquer all?

It takes a few words of encouragement from an unlikely source to send Henry and his friend Radly on an odyssey into the darkest corners of the red light district in a race against time to find and rescue the woman he finally realizes is the love of his life.

The cover, at the moment, looks like this:


In a word: Order

I gave the order to my assistant to order the supplies we needed in order to maintain stock levels.

Oh, yes, the word order is one of my favourites, because it can confuse the hell out of many people in its simplicity and yet complexity.

I gave the order, it’s what happens in the armed forces, and a lot of other places, but mostly we would associate it with organisations that have hierarchical authority.

The military, for one, cut orders, the means of sending one of its minions to another place, or to do a specific job.

Order supplies, well, just about anyone can order something from somewhere, usually on the internet, and sometimes require or are given an order number so it can be tracked.

In order to maintain, in order to get what I want, in order to get elected, this is just another way of using the word, with the aim of achieving something, though I’m sure there’s probably a better way of expressing these sentiments.

Law and order, well, doesn’t everyone want this, and doesn’t it always turn up in an election campaign, and seems to be the first thing sacrificed after the election.  The thing is, no one can guarantee law and order.

There is the law and there is administering it.  There is no order that comes with it, we just hope that order is maintained, and deplore the situation when it isn’t.

Perhaps in order to maintain law and order, we might need more police.

Then, of course, there is alphabetical order, and numerical order, where things can be designated from A to Z, like this challenge, or from 1 to 10, or more.  We can sort words alphabetically, numbers numerically and data items by keys or an index.

This is naturally called a sort order.

Then there is my car, or bike, or washing machine, or mixmaster.  They are currently in good working order, though that might not last.

And lastly, in deference to all those out there who are thinking of becoming dictators, it’s always possible, one day, there will be a new world order.  They might actually be in their own particular order, whose intellect might be (?) of the highest order.

Surely that is one order too many.

The A to Z Challenge – M is for “Many have come, few have stayed”

It was true to say that very few people knew our department existed. In fact, I was not sure quite who it was I worked for, but when I’d been first tasked with the assignment, a transfer precipitated by a transgression that might have ended my career, I was certain I had been sent to purgatory.

At least, that’s what the sign on the door said.

The office, if it could be called that, was in the basement, around so many twists and turns in the passages that it was easy to believe you had entered another dimension. It wasn’t located in the building you walked through the front door of, but somewhere else nearby. Through the walls, you could hear the sounds of cars, but whether it was a nearby road above the ceiling, or they were parking, it was not easy to say.

On another side, the sounds of trains passing through tunnels were barely discernible, and sometimes only noticeable by a slight vibration of the coffee mug on the desktop, of which there were four, the maximum number of occupants in the small area, but I have never seen who two of the other four were.

Such was the nature of our job. We operated in secret, hidden from the world, and the others. I was never quite sure why.

The interview, when I thought was going to be fired, was given by an old man in a pinstripe suit, long past the age of retirement. In fact, had I not known better, I would have said he was dead, and all that was missing was the cobwebs. He had no sense of humor and got straight to the point.

“You are being transferred to PIB effective immediately.”

He didn’t say what PIB stood for, and the no-nonsense tone told me this was not the time to ask.

“Many have come, but few have stayed. It’s not a job to be taken lightly, and a word of advice, the work you are about to undertake is not to be discussed with anyone but the person you have been assigned to work with.”

He then handed me an envelope, sealed, and that was the end of the interview.

I did not get to speak a word. I had this speech memorized, ready to explain why I had failed so badly, and what I was prepared to do to make up for it, but I was not given the opportunity. Perhaps I should just be grateful I was given another chance.

I waited until I was out of the building, and a block away in a small cafe, and the cheerful waitress had brought my coffee and cake. It was, in a small way, a celebration I still had a job, working for the organization I had set my sights on way back when I was in school.

Making sure no one was sitting too close; I opened the envelope and took out the neatly folded sheet of paper.

It was blank.

Was this some sort of joke?

There was a loud noise outside in the street, a car backfiring, and it caused a few anxious moments, particularly for me in case it was trouble, but it wasn’t. When normality returned I went back to the sheet of paper, picking it up off the top of the coffee cup where it had fallen, and something caught my eye.

Writing. Specifically, numbers, but what I thought I’d seen had disappeared, or hadn’t been there at all.

A shake of the head, perplexed, to say the least, I took a sip of the coffee. As the cup passed under the sheet, a pattern was discernible, displaying then disappearing. Bringing the cup back under the sheet, numbers suddenly appeared. It was a telephone number. It was also very cloak and daggers.

Was it a test? Because at that moment when I saw the blank sheet of paper, the meaning was very clear. It was a puzzle, and if I didn’t work it out, then I didn’t get the job. I’d simply been told to turn up at an anonymous building to see a man whom I doubted would answer to the name I’d been given to ask for again after I left.

I entered the number then pressed ‘call’.

Seven rings before a woman’s voice answered, “Yes?”

No names, no identification.

“Mr McCall gave me an envelope with this number in it.”

“You worked it out?” She sounded surprised.

“By accident, yes.”

“Well, four out of five candidates don’t. Consider this to be your lucky morning, the day is not over yet. Where are you?”

I told her.

“Then you’re not far from Central Park. Go to the souvenir store and wait.”

“How will I know you?”

“You won’t, I’ll recognize you.”

Then the phone went dead, and I was left looking at it as if I had the ability to see, via the phone, who that person was. I shrugged. How many others had failed even the most basic test, to figure out what was on the sheet of paper, and, was it an indication of the work I would be doing?

I spent the better part of an hour watching the squirrels at play. They scuttled around on the ground chasing each other or their imaginary friends or leaping from branch to branch in the shrubs and trees. They didn’t seem to have a care in the world, and I wondered what that would be like.

Unfortunately, I had to pay the rent, bills, and eat, all of which required having a paying job. I had been looking at having to return home a dismal failure and fulfil the destiny my father had predicted for me.

“David Jackson, I presume?”

I looked sideways to see a woman about my own age, dressed so that she would look anonymous in a crowd. It was anyone’s guess how long she had been there, but that, I guess was the point. She had been observing me, and no doubt assessing my suitability.

Could I blend in? Perhaps not if I was that easily identifiable.

“I am.”

“What if anything has been explained to you about the job?”

“Nothing. I was asked to meet a nameless man in an anonymous office and was handed an envelope which led to my call to you.”

After I said it out loud it sounded crazy.

“If you don’t mind me asking but how did you work out how to read the letter?”

Moment of truth, was there a right or wrong answer? Most if not all the people who received it would not work it out.

“Quite by accident.”

She smiled. “The truth is a rare commodity in our business. But then, you’re one of a very select group of people who made it to this level.”

“Just out of curiosity, what happens to those who done work out how to read the number?”

“They don’t get to stand where you are. Welcome aboard.”

© Charles Heath 2021

In a word: Rabbit

Have you ever heard of someone rabbiting on, you know, endlessly rattling on about nothing?

That’s just one use of the word rabbit.

The most obvious is the animal, a rabbit.  You know, that burrowing, plant-eating, long-eared, short-tailed animal that goes by the name of Bugs Bunny, maybe.

Nearly every child has a stuffed, cuddly one.

Of course, it’s of some significance at the moment because its Easter, and that there are countless chocolate versions of the so-called Easter bunny.

Then there is that 6-foot high invisible rabbit called Harvey, or not necessarily a rabbit, but a pookah.

We use the expression rabbit ears to describe those old interior television antennas.

There’s rabbit stew, rabbit pie, and white rabbit beer.

But my favourite is when the magician pulls the proverbial rabbit out of a hat.  It’s an expression we also use for someone who pulls off an impossible task.

The story behind the story: A Case of Working With the Jones Brothers

To write a private detective serial has always been one of the items at the top of my to-do list, though trying to write novels and a serial, as well as a blog, and maintain a social media presence, well, you get the idea.

But I made it happen, from a bunch of episodes I wrote a long, long time ago, used these to start it, and then continue on, then as now, never having much of an idea where it was going to end up, or how long it would take to tell the story.

That, I think is the joy of ad hoc writing, even you, as the author, have as much idea of where it’s going as the reader does.

It’s basically been in the mill since 1990, and although I finished it last year, it looks like the beginning to end will have taken exactly 30 years.  Had you asked me 30 years ago if I’d ever get it finished, the answer would be maybe?

My private detective, Harry Walthenson

I’d like to say he’s from that great literary mold of Sam Spade, or Mickey Spillane, or Phillip Marlow, but he’s not.

But, I’ve watched Humphrey Bogart play Sam Spade with much interest, and modeled Harry and his office on it.  Similarly, I’ve watched Robert Micham play Phillip Marlow with great panache, if not detachment, and added a bit of him to the mix.

Other characters come into play, and all of them, no matter what period they’re from, always seem larger than life.  I’m not above stealing a little of Mary Astor, Peter Lorre or Sidney Greenstreet, to breathe life into beguiling women and dangerous men alike.

Then there’s the title, like

The Case of the Unintentional Mummy – this has so many meanings in so many contexts, though I image back in Hollywood in the ’30s and ’40s, this would be excellent fodder for Abbott and Costello

The Case of the Three-Legged Dog – Yes, I suspect there may be a few real-life dogs with three legs, but this plot would involve something more sinister.  And if made out of plaster, yes, they’re always something else inside.

But for mine, to begin with, it was “The Case of the …”, because I had no idea what the case was going to be about, well, I did, but not specifically.

Then I liked the idea of calling it “The Case of the Brother’s Revenge” because I began to have a notion there was a brother no one knew about, but that’s stuff for other stories, not mine, so then went the way of the others.

Now it’s called ‘A Case of Working With the Jones Brothers’, finished the first three drafts, and at the editor for the last.

I have high hopes of publishing it in early 2021.  It even has a cover.