An excerpt from “If Only” – a work in progress

Investigation of crimes don’t always go according to plan, nor does the perpetrator get either found or punished.

That was particularly true in my case.  The murderer was very careful in not leaving any evidence behind, to the extent that the police could not rules out whether it was a male or a  female.

At one stage the police thought I had murdered my own wife though how I could be on a train at the time of the murder was beyond me.  I had witnesses and a cast-iron alibi.

The officer in charge was Detective Inspector Gabrielle Walters.  She came to me on the day after the murder seeking answers to the usual questions when was the last time you saw your wife, did you argue, the neighbors reckon there were heated discussions the day before.

Routine was the word she used.

Her Sargeant was a surly piece of work whose intention was to get answers or, more likely, a confession by any or all means possible.  I could sense the raging violence within him.  Fortunately, common sense prevailed.

Over the course of the next few weeks, once I’d been cleared of committing the crime, Gabrielle made a point of keeping me informed of the progress.

After three months the updates were more sporadic, and when, for lack of progress, it became a cold case, communication ceased.

But it was not the last I saw of Gabrielle.

The shock of finding Vanessa was more devastating than the fact she was now gone, and those images lived on in the same nightmare that came to visit me every night when I closed my eyes.

For months I was barely functioning, to the extent I had all but lost my job, and quite a few friends, particularly those who were more attached to Vanessa rather than me.

They didn’t understand how it could affect me so much, and since it had not happened to them, my tart replies of ‘you wouldn’t understand’ were met with equally short retorts.  Some questioned my sanity, even, for a time, so did I.

No one, it seemed, could understand what it was like, no one except Gabrielle.

She was by her own admission, damaged goods, having been the victim of a similar incident, a boyfriend who turned out to be a very bad boy.  Her story varied only in she had been made to witness his execution.  Her nightmare, in reliving that moment in time, was how she was still alive and, to this day, had no idea why she’d been spared.

It was a story she told me one night, some months after the investigation had been scaled down.  I was still looking for the bottom of a bottle and an emotional mess.  Perhaps it struck a resonance with her; she’d been there and managed to come out the other side.

What happened become our secret, a once-only night together that meant a great deal to me, and by mutual agreement, it was not spoken of again.  It was as if she knew exactly what was required to set me on the path to recovery.

And it had.

Since then we saw each about once a month in a cafe.   I had been surprised to hear from her again shortly after that eventful night when she called to set it up, ostensibly for her to provide me with any updates on the case, but perhaps we had, after that unspoken night, formed a closer bond than either of us wanted to admit.

We generally talked for hours over wine, then dinner and coffee.  It took a while for me to realize that all she had was her work, personal relationships were nigh on impossible in a job that left little or no spare time for anything else.

She’d always said that if I had any questions or problems about the case, or if there was anything that might come to me that might be relevant, even after all this time, all I had to do was call her.

I wondered if this text message was in that category.  I was certain it would interest the police and I had no doubt they could trace the message’s origin, but there was that tiny degree of doubt, whether or not I could trust her to tell me what the message meant.

I reached for the phone then put it back down again.  I’d think about it and decide tomorrow.

© Charles Heath 2018-2021

People have a way of surprising you… – A short story

Last days were supposed to be joyous, the end of your working life and the start of the rest of your life.

I’d spent the last 35 years working for the company, navigating through three buyouts, five name changes, and three restructures. I was surprised I was still employed after the last, only two years before.

But, here I was, sitting in the divisional manager’s office, my office for one more day, with my successor, Jerry, and best friend, sitting on the other side.

“Last day, what are you thinking?” He asked casually.

It might have been early, but we both had a glass of scotch, a sin l e malt I’d kept aside for an important occasion and this seemed like one.

I picked up the glass and surveyed the contents, giving myself a few moments to consider an answer to what could be a difficult question. To be honest, the thinking had started on the subway on the way in, when I should have been working on the crossword, but instead, I was lamenting the fact that the next chapter of my life would be without Ellen.

We would have been married, coincidently, 43 years ago today, had she been alive. Unfortunately, she had died suddenly about four months ago, after a long battle with cancer.

And I still hadn’t had time to process it. Truth is, it had been work that kept me together, and I was worried about what was going to happen when it would no longer there.

To a certain extent, I was still on autopilot, her death coming in the middle of a major disaster concerning the company, one that had finally, and successfully, been brought to a conclusion with favorable results for everyone.

But what was I thinking right then, at that precise moment in time? Not something he would want to hear, so I made the necessary adjustment. “That I’m basically leaving you a clean slate, so don’t screw it up.”

I could see that was not what he wanted to hear.

He decided to take a different tack. “What have you got planned for the first day of retirement.”

He knew about Ellen and had been there for me, above and beyond what could have been expected from anyone. I owed him more than a platitude.

“Sleep in, probably, but I’m going to be fighting that body clock. It’s going to be difficult after so many years getting up the same time, rail hail or shine. But we had plans to go away for a few months, you know, the trip of a lifetime, then move. Ellen wanted to go back home for a while, now, I’m not sure what I’m going to do.”

“Then perhaps you should, or at the very least, go home for a while. You said you both come from there; who knows, being back among family might just be what you need.”

It was something I had been thinking about and had been issued an open-ended invitation from her parents to come and stay for as long as I wanted, one that I was seriously considering.

But, before I could tell him that, the phone rang.

Never a dull day…
The day went quickly, and as much as it was expected I’d hand over anything that happened to my successor, I couldn’t quite let go. There was the proverbial storm in a teacup, but it was a good opportunity to watch the man who was taking over in action. He had a great teacher, even if I said so myself.

But it was the end of the day and the moment I had been dreading. I’d asked the personnel manager not to make a big deal out of my departure, and that I didn’t want the usual sendoff, where everyone in the office came and I would find myself at a loss of words and feel like I had to speak to a lot of people I didn’t really know.

There were only about a dozen that I really knew, a dozen that had survived the layoffs and restructuring, and although there were others, I didn’t have anything to do with them. My last job took me out of the office more than being there, and so many of the other people were from offices scattered all up and down the east coast.

I’d mostly said my goodbyes to them on the last quarterly visit. Sixteen offices, fifty-odd employees who were as much friends as they were staff who worked for me. There had been small dinners and heartfelt moments.

This I was hoping would be the same.

Jerry had been charged with the responsibility of getting me to the presentation; they called it a presentation because I had no doubt there would be a presentation of some sort. I had told the CEO a handshake and a couple of drinks would suffice, and he just congenially nodded.

Jerry had taken the manager’s chair and I was sitting on the other side of the table. We’d finished off the last of the single malt, and dirt was time to go. I closed the door to the office for the last time, and we walked along the passage towards the dining room. It was a perk I’d fought hard to keep during the last restructure when the money men were trying to cut costs.

It was one of the few battles I won.

He opened the door and stood to one side, and ushered me through.

It was a very large space, usually filled with tables, chairs, and diners. Now it was filled with people, leaving a passageway from the door to a podium that had been set up in front of the servery, where a large curtain stretched across the width of the building with the company logo displayed on it.

There were 2,300 people who worked in this office and another 700 from the regional offices. By the look of the crowd, every single one of them was there.

It took fifteen minutes to get from the door to the podium. Faces of people I’d seen every day, faces I’d seen a few times a year, and faces I’d never seen before. On the podium there was a dozen more, faces I’d only seen in the Annual Accounts document, except for the General Manager and the CEO.

“You will be pleased to know everyone here wanted to come and bid you farewell,” the General Manager said.

“Everyone? Why?”

“Well, I’ve learned a lot about this company and its people over the last week, and frankly, people have a way of surprising you. And given the impact you have had on each and every one of them, I’m not surprised. So much so, they wanted to give you something to remember them by.”

A nod of the head and the curtains were pulled back, and behind them was an original 1968 XJ6 Jaguar, fully restored, a very familiar XJ6. The car had belonged to Helen and I had to sell it to help pay the medical bills. It had been a gut-wrenching experience, coming at a time when everything that was happened to her almost overwhelmed me.

“Jerry told us about this particular car, so all of your friends thought, as a fitting memory to you and of her, that we should find it and restore it. Everyone here contributed. It is our gift to you for everything you have done for us.”

So much for the usual sendoff…

—-

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

An excerpt from “Echoes from the Past”

Available on Amazon Kindle here:  https://amzn.to/2CYKxu4

 

With my attention elsewhere, I walked into a man who was hurrying in the opposite direction.  He was a big man with a scar running down the left side of his face from eye socket to mouth, and who was also wearing a black shirt with a red tie.

That was all I remembered as my heart almost stopped.

He apologized as he stepped to one side, the same way I stepped, as I also muttered an apology.

I kept my eyes down.  He was not the sort of man I wanted to recognize later in a lineup.  I stepped to the other side and so did he.  It was one of those situations.  Finally getting out of sync, he kept going in his direction, and I towards the bus, which was now pulling away from the curb.

Getting my breath back, I just stood riveted to the spot watching it join the traffic.  I looked back over my shoulder, but the man I’d run into had gone.  I shrugged and looked at my watch.  It would be a few minutes before the next bus arrived.

Wait, or walk?  I could also go by subway, but it was a long walk to the station.  What the hell, I needed the exercise.

At the first intersection, the ‘Walk’ sign had just flashed to ‘Don’t Walk’.  I thought I’d save a few minutes by not waiting for the next green light.  As I stepped onto the road, I heard the screeching of tires.

A yellow car stopped inches from me.

It was a high powered sports car, perhaps a Lamborghini.  I knew what they looked like because Marcus Bartleby owned one, as did every other junior executive in the city with a rich father.

Everyone stopped to look at me, then the car.  It was that sort of car.  I could see the driver through the windscreen shaking his fist, and I could see he was yelling too, but I couldn’t hear him.  I stepped back onto the sidewalk, and he drove on.  The moment had passed and everyone went back to their business.

My heart rate hadn’t come down from the last encounter.   Now it was approaching cardiac arrest, so I took a few minutes and several sets of lights to regain composure.

At the next intersection, I waited for the green light, and then a few seconds more, just to be sure.  I was no longer in a hurry.

At the next, I heard what sounded like a gunshot.  A few people looked around, worried expressions on their faces, but when it happened again, I saw it was an old car backfiring.  I also saw another yellow car, much the same as the one before, stopped on the side of the road.  I thought nothing of it, other than it was the second yellow car I’d seen.

At the next intersection, I realized I was subconsciously heading towards Harry’s new bar.   It was somewhere on 6th Avenue, so I continued walking in what I thought was the right direction.

I don’t know why I looked behind me at the next intersection, but I did.  There was another yellow car on the side of the road, not far from me.  It, too, looked the same as the original Lamborghini, and I was starting to think it was not a coincidence.

Moments after crossing the road, I heard the roar of a sports car engine and saw the yellow car accelerate past me.  As it passed by, I saw there were two people in it, and the blurry image of the passenger; a large man with a red tie.

Now my imagination was playing tricks.

It could not be the same man.  He was going in a different direction.

In the few minutes I’d been standing on the pavement, it had started to snow; early for this time of year, and marking the start of what could be a long cold winter.  I shuddered, and it was not necessarily because of the temperature.

I looked up and saw a neon light advertising a bar, coincidentally the one Harry had ‘found’ and, looking once in the direction of the departing yellow car, I decided to go in.  I would have a few drinks and then leave by the back door if it had one.

Just in case.

 

© Charles Heath 2015-2020

newechocover5rs

Once Upon a Time… – A short story

Everyone knows someone who has a child that will not go to sleep.

You can set the bedtime at whatever early hour you like, but by the time they actually fall asleep, there have been two or three hours of up and down, in and out of bed, and at least one episode of a scary master lurking under the bed, or, worse, outside the window.

After exhausting every method of achieving a result and failing, I thought I’d try reading.

The first book I picked up was, yes, you guessed it, about monsters. In fact, nearly every book for kids was about monsters, witches, ogres, dragons, and vampires.

I put them back and sighed. I would have to come up with a story of my own.

It started with, “Once upon a time…”

“But that,” May said, “only applies to fairy tales.”

“Well, this is going to be a fairy tale of sorts. Minus the fire breathing dragons, and nasty trolls under drawbridges.”

“It’s not going to be much of a story, then. In fairy tales, there’s always a knight who slays the dragon and rides off with the princess.”

This was going to be a tough ask. I thought of going back to the book pile, but, then, I could do this.

“So,” I began again, “Once upon a time there was a princess, who lived in a castle with her father, the king, her mother, the queen, and her brother, the steadfast and trusty knight in shining armor.”

“Why is their armor always shining?”

I was going to tell her to save the questions until after the story, by which time I had hoped I’d bored her enough to choose sleep over criticism. I was wrong.

“Because a knight always has to have shiny armor, otherwise the king would be disappointed.”

“Does the knight spend all night shining his armor?”

“No. He has an apprentice who cleans the armor, and attends to anything else the knight needs.”

“And then he becomes a knight?”

“In good time. The apprentice is usually a boy of about 11 or 12 years old. First, he learns what it means to be a knight, then he has to do years of training until he comes of age.” I saw the question coming, and got in first, “When he is about 21 years old.”

She looked at me, and that meant I had to continue the story.

“The princess was very lucky and lived a very different life than her subjects, except she wished she had their freedom to play, and do ordinary things like cooking, or collecting food from the markets. Because she was a princess, she had to stay in the castle, and spend most of her time learning how to be a princess, and a queen, because when it was time, she would marry a prince who would become a king.”

“Doesn’t sound too lucky to me, being stuck as home. I like the idea of getting somebody to do everything for me though. She does have maids, doesn’t she?”

“Yes. And, you’re right, she has everything done for her, including getting dressed. A maid to clean, a maid to dress her, a maid to bring her snacks. And it was these maids she envied.”

Maybe I should not make the story too interesting, or she’ll never go to sleep.

“Well, one day, she decided to change places with one of her maids. They were almost identical and when they exchanged clothes, the other maids could not tell they had changed places. At the end of the day, when the maids went home, the princess headed to the house where the maid she had taken the place of.

It was very different from the castle, and the room she had in the castle. The mother was at him, cooking the food for the evening meal, and it was nothing like what she usually had. A sort of soup with scraps of meat in it. There was a loaf of bread on the table. The father came home after working all day in the fields, very tired. They ate and then went to bed. Her bed was straw and a piece of cloth that hardly covered her. At least, by the fire, it was warm. It didn’t do anything for the pangs of hunger because there had barely been enough for all of them.

The next morning she returned to the castle and changed places back again. When the maid she changed places with asked about her experience of how it was like in their life, the princess said she was surprised. She had never been told about how the people who served the king lived, and she had assumed that they were well looked after. Now she had experienced what it was like to be a subject, she was going to investigate it further.

After all, she told the maid, I have to have all the facts if I’m going to approach the king.

And she thought to herself, a lot more courage than she had.

But, instead of lessons today, she was going to demand to be taken on a tour outside the castle and to see the people.

“This sounds like it’s not going to have a happy ending.”

No, I thought. Maybe I’ll get the dragon that her brother failed to slay to eat her.

“It will. Patience. But that’s enough for tonight. If you want to know what happens, you’ll have to go to sleep and then, tomorrow night, the story continues.”

I tucked her in, turned down the night light so it was only a glow, just enough to see where I was going, and left.

If I was lucky she would go to sleep. The only problem was, I had to come up with more of the story.

Outside the door, her mother, Christine, was smiling. “Since when did you become an expert on Princesses?”

“When I married one.”

—-

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

Inspiration, Maybe – Volume Two

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

They all start with –

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

And, the story:

Have you ever watched your hopes and dreams simply just fly away?

Everything I thought I wanted and needed had just left in an aeroplane, and although I said I was not going to, i came to the airport to see the plane leave.  Not the person on it, that would have been far too difficult and emotional, but perhaps it was symbolic, the end of one life and the start of another.

But no matter what I thought or felt, we had both come to the right decision.  She needed the opportunity to spread her wings.  It was probably not the best idea for her to apply for the job without telling me, but I understood her reasons.

She was in a rut.  Though her job was a very good one, it was not as demanding as she had expected, particularly after the last promotion, but with it came resentment from others on her level, that she, the youngest of the group would get the position.

It was something that had been weighing down of her for the last three months, and if noticed it, the late nights, the moodiness, sometimes a flash of temper.  I knew she had one, no one could have such red hair and not, but she had always kept it in check.

And, then there was us, together, and after seven years, it felt like we were going nowhere.  Perhaps that was down to my lack of ambition, and though she never said it, lack of sophistication.  It hadn’t been an issue, well, not until her last promotion, and the fact she had to entertain more, and frankly I felt like an embarrassment to her.

So, there it was, three days ago, the beginning of the weekend, and we had planned to go away for a few days and take stock.  We both acknowledged we needed to talk, but it never seemed the right time.

It was then she said she had quit her job and found a new one.  Starting the following Monday.

Ok, that took me by surprise, not so much that it something I sort of guessed might happen, but that she would just blurt it out.

I think that right then, at that moment, I could feel her frustration with everything around her.

What surprised her was my reaction.  None.

I simply asked where who, and when.

A world-class newspaper, in New York, and she had to be there in a week.

A week.

It was all the time I had left with her.

I remember I just shrugged and asked if the planned weekend away was off.

She stood on the other side of the kitchen counter, hands around a cup of coffee she had just poured, and that one thing I remembered was the lone tear that ran down her cheek.

Is that all you want to know?

I did, yes, but we had lost that intimacy we used to have when she would have told me what was happening, and we would have brainstormed solutions. I might be a cabinet maker but I still had a brain, was what I overheard her tell a friend once.

There’s not much to ask, I said.  You’ve been desperately unhappy and haven’t been able to hide it all that well, you have been under a lot of pressure trying to deal with a group of troglodytes, and you’ve been leaning on Bentley’s shoulder instead of mine, and I get it, he’s got more experience in that place,  and the politics that go with it, and is still an ally.

Her immediate superior and instrumental in her getting the position, but unlike some men in his position he had not taken advantage of a situation like some men would.  And even if she had made a move, which I doubted, that was not the sort of woman she was, he would have politely declined.

One of the very few happily married men in that organisation, so I heard.

So, she said, you’re not just a pretty face.

Par for the course for a cabinet maker whose university degree is in psychology.  It doesn’t take rocket science to see what was happening to you.  I just didn’t think it was my place to jump in unless you asked me, and when you didn’t, well, that told me everything I needed to know.

Yes, our relationship had a use by date, and it was in the next few days.

I was thinking, she said, that you might come with me,  you can make cabinets anywhere.

I could, but I think the real problem wasn’t just the job.  It was everything around her and going with her, that would just be a constant reminder of what had been holding her back. I didn’t want that for her and said so.

Then the only question left was, what do we do now?

Go shopping for suitcases.  Bags to pack, and places to go.

Getting on the roller coaster is easy.  On the beginning, it’s a slow easy ride, followed by the slow climb to the top.  It’s much like some relationships, they start out easy, they require a little work to get to the next level, follows by the adrenaline rush when it all comes together.

What most people forget is that what comes down must go back up, and life is pretty much a roller coaster with highs and lows.

Our roller coaster had just come or of the final turn and we were braking so that it stops at the station.

There was no question of going with her to New York.  Yes, I promised I’d come over and visit her, but that was a promise with crossed fingers behind my back.  After a few months in t the new job the last thing shed want was a reminder of what she left behind.  New friends new life.

We packed her bags, three out everything she didn’t want, a free trips to the op shop with stiff she knew others would like to have, and basically, by the time she was ready to go, there was nothing left of her in the apartment, or anywhere.

Her friends would be seeing her off at the airport, and that’s when I told her I was not coming, that moment the taxi arrived to take her away forever.  I remember standing there, watching the taxi go.  It was going to be, and was, as hard as it was to watch the plane leave.

So, there I was, finally staring at the blank sky, around me a dozen other plane spotters, a rather motley crew of plane enthusiasts.

Already that morning there’s been 6 different types of plane depart, and I could hear another winding up its engines for take-off.

People coming, people going.

Maybe I would go to New York in a couple of months, not to see her, but just see what the attraction was.  Or maybe I would drop in, just to see how she was.

As one of my friends told me when I gave him the news, the future is never written in stone, and it’s about time you broadened your horizons.

Perhaps it was.


© Charles Heath 2020-2021

Coming soon.  Find the above story and 49 others like it in:

In a word: Keep

Yes, this is an easy one.

I want to keep the car.  Especially if it’s a Lamborghini and it didn’t cost $500,000.

This form of the word simply means to hang on to something, or up the proper definition, to have or retain possession of

Paring it with other words is where it gets complicated.

For instance,

Keepings off, make sure that the ball doesn’t get into someone else’s possession.

Keep it to yourself, yes, here’s your chance to become the harbinger of secrets and not tell anyone else.  Not unless a lot of money is involved, or a Lamborghini.

You guessed it, the car is the running joke on this post.

How about, keep a low profile, been there tried that, it’s a lot harder than you think.

What about keeping your cards close to your chest, yes, this had both a literal and figurative meaning which makes it sort of unique.

That might follow the second definition, to continue, or cause to continue a particular state.

Another way of using keep is by delaying or stopping someone from doing something or getting somewhere; ie, I was kept waiting at the doctor’s surgery because he was late.

There are any number of examples of using the word keep in tandem with other words

One that specifically doesn’t relate to all the former examples, is simply the word keep.

What is it?

Usually the strongest part of the castle, and the last to fall in an attack.

At least, that was the theory.

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!

PIWalthJones1

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

More or less… – A short story

It was meant to be time to reacquaint as brothers.

Louis and I had not seen each other for decades, and when he returned, about a week before, I got the impression there was more than just ‘missing his brother’ going on.

But that was Louis. He was never one to say what or how he felt about anything, preferring to be the strong silent type, and it had not fared well for him transitioning from teenager to adult.

As for me, when our parents split up, Louis went with our father, and I stayed with our mother, and, given the amount of acrimony there was attached to the split, it was no surprise to anyone that Louis and I had effectively become estranged.

In fact, when I had tried to find them, about two years after the split and our mother had died suddenly, all I found were loose ends. They had effectively vanished.

With that part of my life effectively over, I had married, had children and watched 30 years disappear before Louis suddenly popped up. He simply knocked on the front door one afternoon, Helen answered it, and within minutes they were the best of friends. I’d had that rapport, once, many years before, but life and circumstances had all but ruined that.

Or perhaps that was just me, worn down by that same life and circumstances we were all supposed to take on the chin.

His arrival was a welcome distraction, and when, after a week, he suggested that he and I go on a hike, the sort our father used to take us on when we were a family, I agreed. Helen was happy to be rid of me, and I guess a week without our arguing would suit everyone.

It was probably fortuitous timing. Helen and I had finally got to the point where divorce lawyers were about to be called in. The children had all moved on and had children and problems of their own, and we, as parents just didn’t gel anymore.

Besides, I said, just before I joined Louis in the truck, ready to embark for the wilderness, it would be time to clear my head.

And by day two, my head was clear, and Louis, taking the lead, led us along the ridgeline, a trek he said, that would take us about seven hours. We’d stopped the previous night in a base camp and then headed out the next morning. We were the only two, it being early in the season with snow still on the ground.

Above was the clear cloudless blue sky and in front of us, trees and mountains. There was snow on the ground but it was not solid and showed no signs of human footsteps, only animals. The air was fresh, and it was good to be away from the city and its pressures.

Approaching noon, I’d asked him if we were about halfway. I knew he was holding back, being the fitter of us.

“More or less.”

“More or less what, more closer or less close than we should be.”

I watched him do a 360-degree turn, scoping out our position. It was a maneuver I was familiar with from my time with the National Guard. I’d used my backcountry experience that I’d learned from my father, as a skill I thought they might be able to, and eventually did, use. I got the feeling Louis was looking for something.

“You get the impression we’re not alone?” I asked. I had that nagging feeling something was not right, not from about two miles back in the forest. It was like my sixth sense being switched on.

“Doesn’t seem so, though there have been a few animals lurking behind us, probably surprised anyone’s about this time of the year. It’s been a while, so I’m just getting a feel for the trail. This is, for now, our mountain.”

There was a time, from a time when we were kids, that I could tell when he was lying. He was better at covering it, but it was still there.

Where we’d stopped was a small clearing, a staging point that would be used by other trekkers, still overgrown because of lack of trekkers. Ahead there were the signs of a trail, and after six months, it would become clear again. In places, as we had made our way from the base camp, sections of the distinctive trail had all but disappeared, but Louis seemed to know where he was going, and it was not long before we had picked up the trail again. This spot was a lookout, giving a spectacular view of the valley below, and a fast running river through it.

I walked to the edge and looked up and down the valley, and at the trail that ran along the cliff for a short distance. I looked down, not the wisest of things to do, but it was long enough to catch sight of several charred pieces of wood. On top of the snow. The thing is, someone had been along this trail before us, and recently, something I thought wise to keep to myself.

Back at the log, I sat for a moment and drank some water, while Louis stood patiently, but impatiently, for me to join him.

“You look like you’ve got somewhere to be.” Probably not the wisest thing to say but it was out before I could stop it.

A flicker of annoyance crossed his face, then it was gone. “If we stop too long, joints will freeze up, especially when it gets colder.”

“Sorry.” I put the container back in the pack and joined him. “Let’s go. The cold and I don’t get along very well, and it’s been a long time since the last time I ventured into the great unknown.”

“Helen said you gave up trekking when you married her.”

“She wasn’t a trekker, Robbie. We all have to give up something, sooner or later.”

Another hour, feeling rather weary, we’d come to another small clearing and a place where I could sit down.

“You always were the weak link, Robbie. Admittedly you were younger, but you never seemed to grasp the concept of exercise and fitness.”

I looked up at him and could see my father, the exact stance, the exact words, the exact same sneer in his voice. It all came rushing back as if it was yesterday, the reasons why I chose to go with our mother, that another day with his bullying would be one too many. And he was a bully. And, in an instant, I could see the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree.

“Out of shape after languishing in an office, perhaps,” I said, “but I was never the disappointment our father always considered me.”

“You didn’t join the army, follow in his footsteps, as he wanted us to do. I did. Proudly served, too.”

I could see it. Like father, like son. No surprise Robbie had followed in his father’s footsteps. And it was a clue as to what Robbie had been doing since I saw him last.

“So, tell me about it.”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“No, I probably wouldn’t. Let’s push on.”

I’d also thought, along the way, he might ask questions, delve further into the problems that Helen and I were having, but I knew she had told him all he needed to know. I’d been held up at the office, and had rung to ask her to take him to dinner, get to know him, she might get to learn something of my life before I met her, details of which I hadn’t told her other than that my mother was dead, my father had left and taken Robbie with him. My past, I’d told her from the outset, was not something I would talk about.

I didn’t ask what they talked about, but I could see a change in both of them. Perhaps she had succumbed to Robbie’s charm, back in school all the girls did, but they all soon learned he was not a nice person, not once you got to know him. I didn’t warn her, and perhaps that was regrettable on my part, but it reflected the state in which our relationship had reached.

I’d also tried, once or twice, to find out if our father was still alive, but he deflected it, changing the subject. That meant he was still alive, somewhere, perhaps annoyed at Robbie for coming to see me. If I was a betting man, I’d bet our father would have denied permission for
Robbie to do so, even if he was a grown man and capable of making his own decisions.

Odd, but not surprising. Even now I could remember my father had secrets, and those secrets had fed into the breakup of our parents.

“So, you’ve been dodging it for days now, but you still haven’t told me if dad is alive or dead. He’d be about seventy-odd now.”

He stopped and turned to face me. “Would it matter if he was alive? I doubt you’d want to see him after what mother must have said about him.”

Interesting that he would think so. “She never had a bad word for him, and wouldn’t hear of one spoken, by me or anyone. And I have wondered what became of him, and you. At least now I know you spent time in the Army. If I was to guess what happened, that would be high on my list.”

“No surprise then you became an office wanker.”

Blunt, but, to him, it was a fact. I’d used that expression when telling Helen one time after a very bad day.

“We can’t all be heroes, Robbie.”

I put my hand up. Alarm bells were going off in my head. “You can come out now,” I yelled.

Robbie looked puzzled.

“I know you’re there. You’ve been behind us for about a half-mile now.”

A few seconds passed before the cracking of a twig, and then a person in a camouflage kit came towards us.

He’d aged, hair and beard grey in places but almost white now, but the face was familiar.

“What brings you to this part of the woods, Dad. Or is it just an unlucky coincidence?”

—–

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

“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:

lovecoverfinal1