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

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 2018-2020

NaNoWriMo Day 30 + 14

Yes, this project is still moving through the water, albeit very slowly, but progress is being made.

For the moment we are out of the snow storms and freezing cold, and meandering through a much more temperate part of the realm.

It’s a time to discover that people fear the unknown. My father once told me of soldiers in the second world war, their orders were to shoot first and ask questions later.

Has that changed much in any war? Or street battle between rival organisations or gangs?

These days it’s guns wreaking the damage, but back in the past, the old, old, old, old days it was swords, lances, bows and arrows, maces, and a few other interesting but painful implements.

To save the realm, these disaffected people need to be brought back into the fold, but decades, even centuries had festered the ill feelings between the others makes it nigh on impossible.

Sound like something going on right under our noses?

For those keeping an eye on the word count, this session, 3,842 words for a running total of 129,742.

“Chance Encounter”, A short story

The afternoon rush hour jammed the exit roads, particularly those to the beach.  Nearly everyone was heading for relief from the heat wave, now in its tenth consecutive day.  What had started out a novelty was now just tiresome, with no forecast respite.

A light breeze tried to fan away the afternoon heat, but it had little impact.  The temperature was still hovering in the high 30’s when Bill left the office at 6:30 that evening.

On the road it was little better, and hotter in the car than out.  There was no point running the air conditioner in those conditions, as both he and many others had discovered.  The stop-start traffic made it worse, and people who had already suffered enough were close to breaking point.

Once again, the traffic stopped, and tempers frayed to the point of blowing horns and yelling forlorn abuse at some unseen driver or cause.  It was a no-win situation, and to Bill, a waste of time and energy.  His time and energy, he thought, was best directed at analysis.  Yet how different had the afternoon been to what was currently happening?

In charge of the Customer Service centre for the area’s electricity supplier, it had been difficult to say the least.  That afternoon had seen the highest consumption of electricity since the heat wave began, since time immemorial for that matter, and had started to affect the functionality of the grid, with the first failures occurring. 

It had been predicted, but was not expected quite this early, and as parts of the city were beginning to feel the effect of temporary blackouts, his, and his staff’s work had begun to receive the full effect of the community’s contempt and hatred. 

The traffic disaster was not a patch on the abuse both he and members of his staff had received that afternoon, and he instinctively knew it was not going to improve.

Normally he would stay on and help the incoming supervisor.  This time, someone else could handle the problems.  Doing the usual Friday afternoon desk clean up, he’d found the invitation to Wally’s stag party and as best man, he was obligated to go.  One of the other and more compelling reasons was to see which of his colleagues would make a fool of themselves.

It didn’t take long to get home and change into what he considered proper party attire.  He smiled at the thought of being an anachronism from a bygone age, and of what others thought of him.  He was too old to change.

Before leaving, he lingered over several glasses of champagne, and strawberries, trying to get into the mood.  At the same time, he surveyed the ravages of middle management pressures.  Just a year in the job had aged him five, and a tinges of grey beginning to appear at the sides.

A wave of tiredness came over him.  The thought of staying home and immersing himself in classical music and another bottle of champagne crossed his mind, but he said he would go.  Wally was one of the few he could call a true friend.  He would go, but not stay long.

As usual, he was late.

Groups had spilled out onto the front veranda, and onto the front lawn.  He knew most of the partygoers by sight, if not by name.  Acquaintances, not friends.  Not the sort of people he usually mingled with.  He exchanged greetings, accepted drinks, and tried to maintain appearances.

It didn’t take long to realise it was a mistake.  The carnival atmosphere and good cheer all around him made him feel melancholier, as a wave of loneliness closed around him like the night air.

He knew only too well what the problem was but had no idea how to deal with it.  Neither his upbringing, nor experience was of any use.  It would require outside help; the sort Wally had already offered.  Just when would he do something about it, if at all?  If the truth were known, Bill was too frightened of the consequences, of getting hurt.  Perhaps a few more drinks…

Making his way through the crowded rooms towards the back of the house, he felt the deadening effect of the alcohol beginning to fight off the empty feeling within.

He made desultory conversation with a secretary he knew was high on the dating list for most junior executives, deriving some pleasure in the thought she talked to him, then to another young lady who worked his shift, whom he thought both intelligent and charming, and whose behaviour didn’t shatter his assumptions as some others had.

As the night wore on. it became evident few had noticed his arrival, even fewer his sudden disappearance to the back veranda, overlooking the ocean.  He had seen Wally on one occasion when he was trying to drink about 10 gallons of beer in one attempt and thought it wise not to interrupt.

It was, he thought, all part of the game, to drink so much he would forget how it was when he was single, though Bill doubted he could do it in a single night.  Bill could hardly wait till the wedding the next afternoon.

He looked back momentarily at the apparent abandon of the other guests, hearing the muted murmur of endless conversations, and loud music.  Everyone was having a good time, as it should be.

The gentle, soothing, lapping of the tide on the beach beckoned him.  He put his empty glass on a ledge and went quietly down the stairs onto the sand.  A refreshing, cool breeze rolled in with the tide, immediately improving his mood.

At the water’s edge, he paused momentarily to soak in the calming atmosphere, then put his hands in his pockets and headed for the pier.  A leisurely stroll there and back would be sufficient break to enable him to endure the rest of the evening.  Yes, he would stay, if only to see that Wally didn’t overindulge.  After all, some duties did fall on the incumbent best man.

Occasionally he kicked the sand with the toe of his shoe, once for a thoroughly detestable human relations consultant, and another for a particularly annoying assistant.  It scuffed the high polish, but he didn’t care.  This was a time where near impeccable would be good enough.

He was alone, and in more ways than one, he thought, but it was more by design than by accident.  He had recently been involved in a relationship that was doomed before it began.  Work had always pushed that side of his life into second place because he let it.

Now, having thought about it rationally for the first time, he realised it was time to place less importance on work, and more to giving any sort of relationship a chance.

Wally had offered to find him someone, but knowing Wally as he did, Bill had declined.  Of course, to Wally ‘no’ really meant go ahead anyway.  While at the party, he had surveyed those he thought Wally might have invited as potential matches, some voluptuous, some half-naked, some painted, some all three.

There was no doubting their intent, and he had seen the same in the singles bars when on the town with Wally when they had nothing better to do with a Friday night.  Yet, none of those he’d seen, then or now, matched his criteria.  Were his standards set too high?  Wally never said it, but the fact he didn’t said more than if he had said it out loud.

Bill sighed.  Perhaps he was too set in his ways and unable to change.

Adjoining the pier was the old amusement centre, burnt down several years before.  It was the reason for the closing of the beach, and its recent exclusivity to those nearby backing onto the beach.  All that remained was the scorched concrete floor and parts of the walls.  It was these remains he had just gone under.

Beneath them, the sounds of the sea and the night were more pronounced, creating an eerie, sinister feeling.  The smell of the burnt timber still hung in the air, despite the intervening years.

“Hi!”  A feminine voice came out from the shadows, behind one of the pylons nearby.

He started violently, not expecting anyone else.  It took a moment to collect his thoughts, then turn to see who she was. 

“Oh,” was all he could say to the now visible girl’s outline etched against the distant city lights.

Both came out the other side together into the half-light, leaving the gloom behind.  She began, “I hope I didn’t scare you back there?”

“Only half to death.”  He brushed the non-existent wrinkles out of his dinner suit, more a reflex action, then put his hands back in his pockets, composure regained.

“I’m awfully sorry.  I didn’t mean to.”

He was a little angry, and turning to her, said quietly, “Then what was….” He stopped suddenly, surprised at what he saw.  Tall, well proportioned, dressed in expensive eveningwear, much the same as he was.  He instantly realised she could almost pass as an exact replica of Venus except for the untidyish, waist length hair.

“I don’t know.  I guess I wanted to talk to someone, you were handy, so I just said ‘hi’.”  Her tone was apprehensive, with a slight tremor in it. 

She smiled nervously, yet in a way, he noticed it totally changed her appearance, and his heart missed a beat.

“Oh,” he said again, subconsciously feeling she had put him in his place.  He shook his head and looked again, disbelieving what he saw.

“I hope you don’t mind?”

“Don’t mind what?”  He’d lost track of the conversation, and realised he was quickly moving towards looking and sounding like a gibbering idiot.  It was, he realised, just like every other time when faced with a beautiful woman.

“Me talking to you.”

He took a deep breath and tried to remain calm.  He could feel a runnel of sweat slide down the side of his face, “No.  Not really.  It’s just the diversion I need”.  He looked at the sand, the sea, then her.  “I have a feeling I’ve seen you before.” 

He moved on, and so did she, both in unison.

“Staring at you from the pages of magazines?”

“I guess so.  What did you do?  Rob a bank?  Divorce a Prince, or millionaire?”

“As if.  Nothing quite as exotic, or exciting, I’m afraid.  Just draped in clothes or plastered in make-up.  Boring huh?”

“No.  Not really.”

“You’re a bit hard up for new lines?”

He shrugged.  It was difficult talking to this woman, and, lacking in confidence, he was starting to feel a little embarrassed.

She changed the subject.  “Do you live here?”

“No….”

“Don’t say it, not really!” she interrupted.

He sighed, trying to regain composure.  “OK.  I was at a party.”

“Aha.  Now we’re getting somewhere.”  Then she gave him a curious look.  “Was?”  Then, after he didn’t answer, “How come you’re not with the others, having a good time?”

“Perhaps I’m not cut out to ‘have a good time’.  Actually, I thought I’d take a time out from the frenetic pace and get some fresh air.”

“And now the fresh air had lost its appeal?”

“I didn’t say that.”  Did that come out sounding flustered?  It was how he felt inside.  He was going to have to try harder if he was to keep her interest.  “It’s beginning to get interesting.  And I still can’t place where I’ve seen you before.”  He shook his head.  “No matter.  What brings you here?”

“Someone told me about this place a long time ago.  I thought I’d come and check it out.”

He turned and headed back, deciding the diversion had exceeded the time limit he’d set, and it had now become an elongated absence.  She did the same.

“And what do you think?” he asked.

“About what?”

This conversation would sound very strange if anyone else was nearby listening to them.  Luckily, there wasn’t.  “This place.”

“Very peaceful, secluded, interesting, as you said.”

“Interesting in what way?”  Damn, had he asked that already?

“Well …”  She shrugged, then asked, “Do you always walk around with your hands in your pockets?”

Simple answer, yes.  “Can’t think of where else to put them.” 

What did it have to do with her anyway?  And, in that instant, he realised that it he who was the problem here, not her.

“What if you were to hold a girl’s hand?”

“I don’t know of any who would want me to.”

“Would you like to hold mine?”

“Why?  Is it going to run away?”

She smiled.  “More than likely.”

He stopped.  She stopped.  He surveyed her with a critical eye.

“Aha.  The eye that asks, ‘Who is the disreputable and outrageous person who dares to ask such a thing?’

He smiled and took her hand in his.  It was soft and warm, and sent a slight tingle up his spine.

“I talk too much. Don’t I?” she asked suddenly, after they started walking again.

“No.”

She sighed.  “Here we go again.”

On the other side of the pier there was an old car park, no longer used.  Along the beach front was a long, low stone wall, and they headed towards it.  Once there, they sat down to watch darkness finally settle in, the last of the sun’s rays melting in a glorious display of reds, oranges, and yellows.

Without speaking, they were content to listen to the waves, feel the cooling breeze, and watch the sea glisten in the moonlight. 

Nothing happened for an indeterminable length of time, during which he nearly forgot she was there.  He suddenly snapped out of it when he heard a match rasping.

He turned to see her trying to light a cigarette, but her hand was shaking so much, the match went out.  She tried again, but the same thing happened.  She savagely threw the cigarette away and pounded her hand on the cement as though it was something she hated.

He took a pack of cigarettes and a lighter out of his coat pocket and offered her one.

“No.  It’s reason enough to try to give it up,” she said quietly.

He returned the items to his pocket and took her hand in his, looked carefully at it, then kissed it.  “Trying to dent cement is not wise unless you are superman or Supergirl.  I know.  I tried once and broke three fingers.  Fortunately, nothing is broken.”

She moved closer.  “Thanks.”

“For what?”

“Making me feel silly.”

“But … I didn’t mean to … I mean …”

She leaned towards him and kissed his lips.  “Hush.”

He held her hand up and looked at it, rather than her, trying to get a grip on his emotions, and saying, a good dead steadier than he felt, “I need a third hand.  Do you think I could have it?”

“With pleasure.  It’s apparently no good to me anymore.”

“Why?”

“Shakes too much.”

“Perhaps I could use it to massage my face.”  He gently moved her hand down the side of his face and again felt a tingle up his spine.  Again, he kissed it gently where she had hit it, not knowing why, just that it seemed like the right thing to do.

“Perhaps not.  Seems to me you have a case of bad nerves.  These are familiar symptoms.  You need a rest, perhaps a holiday, and complete relaxation.  That will be a five-dollar consultation fee.”

She smiled.  “Will you stop it.”

“Why?  It makes you smile.”

“Your right, of course.  I need a rest.  The last six months have been horrible, working day and night, and a failed relationship on top of it.”  She sighed.  “I feel sleepy.”  She leaned against him, putting her arms around him for balance.

“Hey, no.  You can’t do that.”  He fended her off gently.  “I’ve got a party to get back to, and by now I think I should be missed.  God knows what Wally will think.”

He stood and she rolled sideways.  “Oh, come on.”  He looked up towards the sky.  “Why did you make some women like this for,” he muttered.  Then he put his arms around her and lifted her to her feet.  She leaned back against him and he could feel how warm and soft she was.  It was a battle just to make sure he kept his hands in the right places, and she wasn’t making it easy for him.

He held her up then moved around to the front and caught her just as she began to fall forward.  It was exasperating, and yet amusing.  He let her go and she began to fall down, so he caught her again.

She was smiling.

“Beware the smile on the face of the tiger,” he muttered.  His face was level with hers and just then an idea came to him.  He kissed her forehead, nose, chin, then finally her lips, and she came to life.

It was just what she was hoping would happen.  Instead of surprising her, she surprised him by responding in kind; leaving him with a feeling he’d never experienced before.  And a heart rate that was off the chart.

“Now, if only you’d tried that earlier,” she said.

He looked her straight in the eye.  “Just who are you?”

“Me.”

“Does ‘me’ have a name?”

“Do you want ‘me’ to have name?”

“Yes.”

“Claire.”

“Then you may call me Bill.  Do you often pick up strange lonely men on secluded beaches?”

“No.”

“Infuse life into otherwise dead souls?”

“No.”

“Just happened to be the one thing I needed right now?”

She smiled; a smile that made his heart do double somersaults.

“Perhaps a yes.”

“Can I see you again?  I have to see you again.”

“Have to?”

“Like to, then.”

“Perhaps.”

“When?”

“Soon, perhaps sooner than you think.  Do you have to go back?”

“Yes.  If I don’t, Wally will be mad at me.”  He pulled out a notebook and pencil he always carried with him.  “Where do you live?”

She told him.

“If I come by Sunday may I take you out, a drive, somewhere up the coast.  Fresh sea air, total relaxation.”

“Part of the therapy I’m paying five dollars for?”

He brushed a few strands of hair out of her eyes, feeling her warm soft skin under his hand, then kissed her.  “Until the next time.” 

She smiled again. “Until the next time.”

He turned and headed back to the party, not looking back.

No one noticed his absence; despite the fact over an hour had lapsed.  He resumed his place on the veranda, new drink in hand looking vacantly towards the pier, wondering if he would see her again, if she were just a figment of his imagination.  It was just too good to be true.

“Ah, Bill.  I thought I would find you here.  Thinking about a walk.  No, I see you’ve already been.”  Wally sounded sober and looked it.  Perhaps this was all just a dream.

He looked down.  His shoes still had sand on them.  He looked at Wally and smiled.  “Fresh air.  Contemplating the human condition.  You know what I’m like at parties.”

“Better than you think.  What did you think of her?”

“Her?”

“The so-called blind date.  I didn’t think a formal introduction would work.”

Bill shrugged.  “Very nice, but a little…”

Wally smiled the same unique smile of hers.

“Your sister?”

Wally nodded.  “Take exceptionally good care of her my friend.  She’s very vulnerable at the moment, and I couldn’t think of anyone better to look after her.”  He held up his glass.  “Cheers.”

© Charles Heath 2020

And for something different

This month is nearly over, and once again, I don’t feel like I’ve got much further on than the end of the last month.

January has all but disappeared, getting lost in the politics of the US. I feel as though I know more about US history than my own country.

But, what were my writing expectations? 

I had set a list of projects for the month, more episodes for the three continuing stories, and a start to the next episodic story, ‘motive, means, and opportunity’, though for this story I have brought together all the writing I’ve been doing in past weeks. It has holes than need to be filled.

Then there is the completion of two new novels that will be in the editors hands by now, so I will be waiting with dread after the umpteenth edit, supposedly the last. Then there is the next two …

It would be easy to blame COVID 19, but that’s not the problem.  I’ve been home and had the time, but there have been a number of distractions, and ideas for new stories that seem to divert my attention from what I should be doing.

It’s not writers block.  It’s not laziness.  It seems that I just don’t want to work on them, and that might be because there are problems with the narrative, and I’m just not ready to address them.

What has got my attention then?

I’m not sure how or why, but something triggered the idea of passing through a portal into another time, in the past.  I think I might have been looking for photographs to write another photo/story, and I came across a covered bridge, and that led to looking for photographs of ghost towns. 

What topped it off, there was an old western in black and white, High Noon, which provoked a whole lot of memories of many westerns I’d seen in the past.

What other reason do you need to write your own story?

Then, when visiting my grandchildren, we just happened to do some star gazing, using Google Sky Map, picking out the planets.  Somehow I managed take a photo, and looking at it, took me back to the days of Star Trek, and the many series, which sort of gave me an idea for another story.

Equally, I’m always on the lookout for photo opportunities that I can use to write short stories, and these continue apace, the latest, number 135.  These are being formed into anthologies, stories 1 to 50, and stories 51 to 100.  The first has been assembled into book form, and is awaiting the editors first reading and report.  I’m still working on the second.

Perhaps some of the time has been spent keeping up with Twitter, where over the last six months, and more recently, sales of my books on Amazon have been increasing.  Not to best seller numbers, but people are reading my stories, and the reviews have been very good.

It has, of course, pushed me to work harder on marketing and that had consumed some of my time, which unfortunately takes me away from writing.  It sometimes feels like a self defeating exercise, but it is the same for all of us.

Oh, and something else that cropped up this month, my brother has been digging into out family history, and around the middle of the month he found some interesting revelations about some family members, including a pseudo luddite, and then later on, when chasing down the places that we, as a family, lived, and this brought out some very interesting information about our father.

I’m discovering for what I’d always assumed was an ordinary man, he had done a lot of very interesting things in his life, and not only that, I’ve been fictionalising the story.  I have potted pieces written over various stages, and, one day, it might come together as a sort of biography.  It is astonishing just how much you don’t know about your family, until much later on, at least for some of us.  Our relatives have always been a mystery to me, and it’s fascinating as each one is brought to life with a new detail here and there.

Looking back on what I’ve just written, perhaps the passing of the month had been more productive that I first thought.  It just seems like nothing major has happened.

A matter of life and … what’s worse than death? – Episode 39

For a story that was conceived during those long boring hours flying in a steel cocoon, striving to keep away the thoughts that the plane and everyone in it could just simply disappear as planes have in the past, it has come a long way.

Whilst I have always had a fascination with what happened during the second world war, not the battles or fighting, but in the more obscure events that took place, I decided to pen my own little sidebar to what was a long and bitter war.

And, so, it continues…

Leonardo was a fool, not that any of those who followed him would say that to his face, but all of them knew it and accepted that he made the best leader.

The reason for that, they all knew if anything went wrong, then the leader would be the first to be held accountable.

They all also knew that what Leonardo had done to Martina and Chiara, and the cold-blooded murder of the villagers, justifying it by saying they were collaborators, was also wrong, and had refused to take part in it.

Leonardo just thought they didn’t have the stomach to do what was necessary, failing to realize he was committing a crime, war or not.

Alberto, arguably the next man to take over the resistance group if anything happened to Leonardo, was nominally second in command and was there because he had the respect of the men, far more than their current leader.

He was the one who suspected there was something wrong at the castle, that the British soldiers there were not quite doing what they said they were there for.  He had seen, even directed, Germans seeking sanctuary in England in exchange for information, come, but not go.  Not like they did in the beginning.

And that man called Atherton, the one who arrived just before the paratroopers, he was British, and they had captured him.  The talk was that he was a German collaborator, but Alberto wasn’t convinced.

But, not having the full allegiance of all the resistance fighters, he could not say anything or try to organize the men to be more careful in their approach to those at the castle.  Leonardo still held sway with them. 

For now.

.

The Italians had their own section of the cells in the dungeons where they stayed, Leonardo, deeming it not safe in the village.  Alberto agreed because he had made several forays down there, only to discover that Leonardo would be shot on sight if he showed his face there again.  Some resistance they made, he thought, where they didn’t have the confidence of their own people.

Leonardo was up supping with the devil, as Alberto had been known to say, put of Leonardo’s earshot, and several of the men were resting.  The others, more loyal to Leonardo were in the cellar cell drinking their way through the wine stock and were most likely drunk and passed out.

Alberto didn’t care for the vintage, a subject that he was well versed in because before the war he had worked for the family of winemakers.  The wines stored, he had recognized when they’d first discovered them, as being of inferior quality, and had been left there rather than throwing it away.  Leonardo would not have known the difference.

“Something is not right.”  A voice from the corner, belonging to a man named Bolini, broke his reverie.  The truth was, he was tired and wished it were all done with.

“What makes you say that?” He asked.

“Killing the villagers.  What did they do wrong, other than just trying to survive?  It’s what we’re all trying to do.  It’s not our war.”

“You know what it’s like, stuck in the middle.  It’s a bit like the in-laws.  You don’t want them, but you’re stuck with them.”

“In-laws.  Don’t get me started.”  The other, a man named Christo, weighed in.  

“You do realize we may be held accountable for what happened back at the village,” Bolini had obviously been thinking about the repercussions.

“We brought the only witnesses here, and they sure as hell aren’t going to last long.  Not after what Leonardo did to them.”

“That’s possible, but we all know what happened.”

“But there are others outside who also know what happened, and if we want to keep out of trouble, we are going to have to take care of them,” Bolini said.

Alberto hadn’t quite got through considering the ramifications of what Fernando just did, and the fact they’d helped him.  Bolini was right, even if they hadn’t been as reckless, they were still going to be tarred with the same brush.

And Atherton was still out there.

The trouble with trying to clean up a mess is that eventually there’s a bigger mess to deal with.  Maybe it was time to get rid of Fernando.

The man called Wallace, the one who seemed to be in charge, came around the corner and stopped when he saw Alberto.

“Where’s your leader?”

Alberto pointed his head in the direction of the wine cellar.

Wallace shook his head, knowing what that meant.  “Tell him he’s got another pickup.  Two hours in the village.  A family, with two children.  Tell him to sober up, and if he doesn’t in time, you have my permission to shoot him.”

Surely the man wasn’t serious.

“Well, what are you sitting around for?  Get moving.”

Wallace cast a disapproving glance over the three, shook his head again, and left.

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

NaNoWriMo Day 30 + 13

Yes, this project is still moving through the water, albeit very slowly, but progress is being made.

As much as it is the height of summer here, and we are sweltering in the high thirties centigrade and 100 percent humidity, my writing takes me to a place where it is very cold. The surrounding are of ice and snow, a proverbial frozen wasteland.

Well, people play around with magic and have little realisation of the consequences, especially when it was originally a fit of anger, and we all know what happens if we get too angry; deeds are done and words that can’t be taken back are said.

It is the reason why it is the way it is, but there are forces afoot to change all that.

So, what really is bad about magic one has to ask.

It’s like everything, the few who abuse the privilege make it bad for the rest. They say they can be trusted not to do the wrong thing, but, alas, people have shattered that faith, and typically after that, no one can be trusted. It is a theme that will be explored.

The story is picking up a few real-life themes as we go along, as there was an example of just that situation recently. Some people, apparently, believe the rules don’t apply to them.

How wrong they were.

For those keeping an eye on the word count, this session, 3,626 words for a running total of 125,900.

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

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 2018-2020

NaNoWriMo Day 30 + 12

Yes, this project is still moving through the water, albeit very slowly, but progress is being made.

Today’s efforts are directed towards completing several chapters that have most of the text written, but waiting on previous events to play out.

In other words, the story later on depends on something happening earlier on, so I have to go back and re-write certain parts, or in one case write a whole new chapter.

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen too often.

And, I’ve been discussing Ophelia’s contribution to the story with my second eldest granddaughter (who is providing the inspiration for this role) and she has decided that she needs so mystical (magic is banned you know, she tells me with a dead straight face) powers.

Yes, well, I’m working on it. At least I didn’t tell her there’s a major family calamity coming up, not ours, but her mythical family. She can wait until she reads the first draft to find out.

For those keeping an eye on the word count, this session, 4,254 words for a running total of 122,274.