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

NaNoWriMo (April) – Day 11

So now the truth, or a version of it it is out there, Jack now needs to find out who this Jacob is.

Well, he thinks he knows who it is, but he needs some confirmation from his mother about what she apparently has been hiding from him all his life.

Of course, as expected, his mother is being elusive.

In the meantime, I’ve been playing around with the backstory, which, sometimes never finds it’s way into the book. It serves me to get a better understanding of a character, of several, in what some might call a background paper.

I also wonder if this type of scenario plays out in other families, and if they were, or are, referred to as the skeletons in the closet.

We didn’t have any in our family, well, none that I knew about, anyway. I’m sure there were, we just never got to hear about them.

I guess that’s why often members of a family will go searching the genealogical records, and find out if they are related to someone famous. My wife reckons that she is somehow related to Harriet Beecher Stowe, the writer of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. On our side, we had a luddite (who wasn’t really a luddite – long story) transported to Van Dieman’s Land from England.

I know who won that forebear contest!

Today’s effort amounts to 2,438 words, for a total, so far, of 27,923.

More tomorrow.

The A to Z Challenge – I is for “I woke up one day…”


Ever woken up and the first thought that goes through your mind, where the hell am I?

It usually happens when I travel which was quite often, to a place where I haven’t been before, and more often than not, a long way from home.

A hotel room, sometimes they were big, sometimes quite small, opulent, or very basic, a view of snow-capped mountains, or pigeon coops. The result is the same, that first look out the window is nothing like that of out your own.

Like waking up in a different bed, in that different room with that different roof, different walls, paintings, lights, and, when you look sideways, clock.

Often, it took a few extra seconds after waking up, to try and remember all the relevant details. Like where you came from, what airline brought you, which cab you took to the hotel, and which room you were in.

The trouble was, try as they might, hotel rooms were not like most of today’s houses bedrooms.

It was this in mind when I went through the same checklist trying to figure out how it was possible there was a woman in my bed when I couldn’t remember meeting one or bringing one back to the room, simply because I didn’t. I know if I had or hadn’t.

Wouldn’t I?

The other troubling fact was that this time I had agreed to bring my wife along on this junket, just to prove that I was not having an affair, and now she was missing. That woman that was beside me in the bed was not my wife, and I had no idea who she was.

And, as I watched, she rolled over and opened her eyes. In the silence that followed, along with several changes in her expression, perhaps she was making the same assessment of her situation as I had a few minutes before.

The last expression was of surprise, then, “Who are you?”

Not what I was expecting. I was expecting outraged indignation, followed by a threatening call to the police. It could be argued, since all the rooms in the hotel looked the same, that I had intruded in her room, instead of her in mine.

I doubled checked again that this was my room, then said, “I could ask the same question.”

It took a few more seconds to focus on her. Definitely younger than I by a few years, and very attractive. I had to wonder if I had, how I’d convinced her to join me, or equally so, why I would have entertained the notion of having an affair. I may have thought about it, from time to time, but I would not have acted on it. I was content with what I already had.

“The last thing I remember was my husband bringing me a drink from the bar. We were having lunch in the Starlight restaurant. We were here celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary. What do you last remember?”

“Lunch with my wife, down in the Starlight restaurant. I brought her along to allay her fears I was not having an affair.” Which sounded as lame aloud as it did in my head.

“And yet here we are, fulfilling a prophecy.”

I noticed the quick look under the sheets to see if she was dressed, and in that flash, I could see that she had underclothes on. The dress she had been wearing was neatly folded over the back of a lounge chair and her shoes neatly placed beside it. Another glance, sideways, noted my clothes were folded neatly on the other lounge chair, and I was in my pajama bottom.

“But we are not having an affair, are we?” That also sounded lame, but in my head, it held some significance though I’m not sure why.

“I don’t know you, nor have I seen you before. I don’t even know your name. My name is Glenda Matheson. My husband is Robert Matheson.”

“The Congressman, who’s about to announce he’s running for President in the next election?”

“Yes.”

“Then if you are seen here, with me…”

The implications of being caught in a compromising situation with a Congressman’s wife, and even worse, one with such a high public profile, it would be on every front page of every newspaper, and on every TV news channel in the country. Explain that to a wife who was mildly suspicious that you were having an affair.

“It doesn’t bear thinking about.” She rose and sat on the side of the bed, then collapsed backward.

“What happened?” I took a step towards her, but something made me stop.

Instead, I looked sideways and realized what woke me was the sunlight streaming in through the open window. I was sure before I left the room, those curtains were drawn, certainly enough that no one could see in. Now, from the building across the road, and reasonably close, it would be possible to see into the room from a room there. I moved the other window and drew the curtains, darkening the room.

A light came on from her side of the bed.

“People could see in?”

“If they wanted to, but normally it wouldn’t matter. If they were looking, I’d say it was too late.”

“Except there’s a Congressman’s wife in one of the rooms, and a hoard of photographers following them around. You have no idea what fame can do to your privacy.”

I could imagine. And she was right, of course, I’d seen the media coverage of anyone who had a high profile, and they were literally hounded.

“Are you alright?” she was still lying down.

“Dizzy. Lightheaded. This is how I feel when I have two sleeping pills instead of one.” Then, a few seconds later, “and the same taste in my mouth.”

“You were drugged?”

“Are you dizzy, feeling lightheaded?”

It didn’t seem so, but it was possible. “I didn’t drug you if that’s what you’re thinking. The only time I’ve seen you is in the paper, and even then, I didn’t take much notice. If I had, I would have know who you were.”

She was about to say something when there was a pounding on the door. “Mr. Jackson, are you in there. This is the police.”

My heart just about stopped.

Then, almost an instant later there was a voice behind me, a woman, “If you don’t want to end up dead, come with me now.”

Both of us immediately turned in the direction of the voice. Middle-aged, conservatively dressed, could be a school teacher.

“Who are you?”

“Someone who is trying to save your life. Now. The both of you. Before they kick the door in.”

Another few seconds and more pounding on the door set us both in motion. She grabbed her clothes, I grabbed mine, and we followed her through a connecting door, and she closed it just before we heard the door to my room open. The room had another connecting door that led into another room, whose door was in the side wall. After locking one, she came over, opened the third and we went through, out into a passage, and then into a stairwell where on the other side she locked it.

“Get dressed. We have to go.”

“Where are you taking us?” Glenda asked. She had regained her senses, enough to ask relevant questions.

“Away from here.”

“Why?”

“Because the police officers that entered that room have been ordered to kill you.”

….

© Charles Heath 2021

NaNoWriMo (April) – Day 10

One third of the month is gone and this writing job is not getting any easier.

The notion that we can sit down and over a period of 30 days, we can write a 50,000 word novel would be, to some, a preposterous notion.

For me, it is not. I have done it for three years in a row, and even without having a plan.

This one has a plan, but that plan only sometimes stretches to a day or two ahead, depending on how I’m going.

Today, it had been hard going because I set time aside to just sit down and write it, but you all know how fickle that can be. Devote time, and the words don’t come, have no time and try scratching in between a lot of other jobs, and the words are flowing.

It is annoying to say the least.

Bit, for today, Jack has discovered he does, indeed, have a doppelganger, and that he is related, which explains the uncanny likeness. Of course, he has been followed to the island, and run to ground in a park where the two meet face to face. Oh, and the doppelganger has a name, Jacob.

It could have got ugly, but Maryanne is there, though Jack is still not sure why, and her presence averts what could have been an ugly showdown,

Instead, some words of advice. Jack must ask his mother for the answers.

A fine time for Jack to discover that his mother has been lying to him for his whole life.

But, of course, any attempt to get her on the phone is proving difficult.

And it might mean the end of his holiday.

Our Jack is not a happy man.

Today’s effort amounts to 2,873 words, for a total, so far, of 25,485.

Yes, word wise we have reached the half way mark, but story wise, it appears it make take a little longer.

More tomorrow.

The A to Z Challenge – I is for “I woke up one day…”


Ever woken up and the first thought that goes through your mind, where the hell am I?

It usually happens when I travel which was quite often, to a place where I haven’t been before, and more often than not, a long way from home.

A hotel room, sometimes they were big, sometimes quite small, opulent, or very basic, a view of snow-capped mountains, or pigeon coops. The result is the same, that first look out the window is nothing like that of out your own.

Like waking up in a different bed, in that different room with that different roof, different walls, paintings, lights, and, when you look sideways, clock.

Often, it took a few extra seconds after waking up, to try and remember all the relevant details. Like where you came from, what airline brought you, which cab you took to the hotel, and which room you were in.

The trouble was, try as they might, hotel rooms were not like most of today’s houses bedrooms.

It was this in mind when I went through the same checklist trying to figure out how it was possible there was a woman in my bed when I couldn’t remember meeting one or bringing one back to the room, simply because I didn’t. I know if I had or hadn’t.

Wouldn’t I?

The other troubling fact was that this time I had agreed to bring my wife along on this junket, just to prove that I was not having an affair, and now she was missing. That woman that was beside me in the bed was not my wife, and I had no idea who she was.

And, as I watched, she rolled over and opened her eyes. In the silence that followed, along with several changes in her expression, perhaps she was making the same assessment of her situation as I had a few minutes before.

The last expression was of surprise, then, “Who are you?”

Not what I was expecting. I was expecting outraged indignation, followed by a threatening call to the police. It could be argued, since all the rooms in the hotel looked the same, that I had intruded in her room, instead of her in mine.

I doubled checked again that this was my room, then said, “I could ask the same question.”

It took a few more seconds to focus on her. Definitely younger than I by a few years, and very attractive. I had to wonder if I had, how I’d convinced her to join me, or equally so, why I would have entertained the notion of having an affair. I may have thought about it, from time to time, but I would not have acted on it. I was content with what I already had.

“The last thing I remember was my husband bringing me a drink from the bar. We were having lunch in the Starlight restaurant. We were here celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary. What do you last remember?”

“Lunch with my wife, down in the Starlight restaurant. I brought her along to allay her fears I was not having an affair.” Which sounded as lame aloud as it did in my head.

“And yet here we are, fulfilling a prophecy.”

I noticed the quick look under the sheets to see if she was dressed, and in that flash, I could see that she had underclothes on. The dress she had been wearing was neatly folded over the back of a lounge chair and her shoes neatly placed beside it. Another glance, sideways, noted my clothes were folded neatly on the other lounge chair, and I was in my pajama bottom.

“But we are not having an affair, are we?” That also sounded lame, but in my head, it held some significance though I’m not sure why.

“I don’t know you, nor have I seen you before. I don’t even know your name. My name is Glenda Matheson. My husband is Robert Matheson.”

“The Congressman, who’s about to announce he’s running for President in the next election?”

“Yes.”

“Then if you are seen here, with me…”

The implications of being caught in a compromising situation with a Congressman’s wife, and even worse, one with such a high public profile, it would be on every front page of every newspaper, and on every TV news channel in the country. Explain that to a wife who was mildly suspicious that you were having an affair.

“It doesn’t bear thinking about.” She rose and sat on the side of the bed, then collapsed backward.

“What happened?” I took a step towards her, but something made me stop.

Instead, I looked sideways and realized what woke me was the sunlight streaming in through the open window. I was sure before I left the room, those curtains were drawn, certainly enough that no one could see in. Now, from the building across the road, and reasonably close, it would be possible to see into the room from a room there. I moved the other window and drew the curtains, darkening the room.

A light came on from her side of the bed.

“People could see in?”

“If they wanted to, but normally it wouldn’t matter. If they were looking, I’d say it was too late.”

“Except there’s a Congressman’s wife in one of the rooms, and a hoard of photographers following them around. You have no idea what fame can do to your privacy.”

I could imagine. And she was right, of course, I’d seen the media coverage of anyone who had a high profile, and they were literally hounded.

“Are you alright?” she was still lying down.

“Dizzy. Lightheaded. This is how I feel when I have two sleeping pills instead of one.” Then, a few seconds later, “and the same taste in my mouth.”

“You were drugged?”

“Are you dizzy, feeling lightheaded?”

It didn’t seem so, but it was possible. “I didn’t drug you if that’s what you’re thinking. The only time I’ve seen you is in the paper, and even then, I didn’t take much notice. If I had, I would have know who you were.”

She was about to say something when there was a pounding on the door. “Mr. Jackson, are you in there. This is the police.”

My heart just about stopped.

Then, almost an instant later there was a voice behind me, a woman, “If you don’t want to end up dead, come with me now.”

Both of us immediately turned in the direction of the voice. Middle-aged, conservatively dressed, could be a school teacher.

“Who are you?”

“Someone who is trying to save your life. Now. The both of you. Before they kick the door in.”

Another few seconds and more pounding on the door set us both in motion. She grabbed her clothes, I grabbed mine, and we followed her through a connecting door, and she closed it just before we heard the door to my room open. The room had another connecting door that led into another room, whose door was in the side wall. After locking one, she came over, opened the third and we went through, out into a passage, and then into a stairwell where on the other side she locked it.

“Get dressed. We have to go.”

“Where are you taking us?” Glenda asked. She had regained her senses, enough to ask relevant questions.

“Away from here.”

“Why?”

“Because the police officers that entered that room have been ordered to kill you.”

….

© Charles Heath 2021

“One Last Look”, nothing is what it seems

A single event can have enormous consequences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NaNoWriMo (April) – Day 10

One third of the month is gone and this writing job is not getting any easier.

The notion that we can sit down and over a period of 30 days, we can write a 50,000 word novel would be, to some, a preposterous notion.

For me, it is not. I have done it for three years in a row, and even without having a plan.

This one has a plan, but that plan only sometimes stretches to a day or two ahead, depending on how I’m going.

Today, it had been hard going because I set time aside to just sit down and write it, but you all know how fickle that can be. Devote time, and the words don’t come, have no time and try scratching in between a lot of other jobs, and the words are flowing.

It is annoying to say the least.

Bit, for today, Jack has discovered he does, indeed, have a doppelganger, and that he is related, which explains the uncanny likeness. Of course, he has been followed to the island, and run to ground in a park where the two meet face to face. Oh, and the doppelganger has a name, Jacob.

It could have got ugly, but Maryanne is there, though Jack is still not sure why, and her presence averts what could have been an ugly showdown,

Instead, some words of advice. Jack must ask his mother for the answers.

A fine time for Jack to discover that his mother has been lying to him for his whole life.

But, of course, any attempt to get her on the phone is proving difficult.

And it might mean the end of his holiday.

Our Jack is not a happy man.

Today’s effort amounts to 2,873 words, for a total, so far, of 25,485.

Yes, word wise we have reached the half way mark, but story wise, it appears it make take a little longer.

More tomorrow.

The A to Z Challenge – H is for – “How is this possible…”


It started with a simple memo.

After several years of bad management, the company had decided to make a clean sweep and change upper management. Of course, that sort of change was driven by the volatility of the company’s share price and dividends, and shareholders’ discontent. Productivity was down because of low employee morale driven by what was labelled a ‘toxic work environment’. This led to production problems, quality control issues, and falling sales.

Something had to be done.

The new broom, as it was come to be known as, had made several far sweeping changes, one of which, to counter the discontent of its employees, was to institute the anonymous complaint. Any employee could make a complaint without fear of reprisals. In the past, those that had were vilified, demoted, or sacked. Now, the new broom had decided that employee input would improve the workplace, improve productivity, and provide the way back to the halcyon days.

Or so we thought.

Two phones, each on a bedside table, both chimed to indicate an incoming message.

I’d been staring at the roof, contemplating the start of a new week in a place where I had decided was not where I wanted to be. Beside me, still asleep, was the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, but she was not sure about making a commitment. She’d been down that road before, and it failed miserably and was taking it slow.

I told her slow was my middle name.

I leaned over and picked up the phone, more out of curiosity than anything else, but fascinated that both phones could go off at the same time.

“In the light of a host of complaints about the catering division, it has been decided that the staff cafeteria will cease operations at the end of the month. It has for a number of years been the subject of employee dissatisfaction and the result of an extensive investigation to the feasibility of keeping it going, given the economic climate and fiscal position of the company the only viable decision is to cease operations. Staff currently working in the catering department will be transferred to other positions within the company.”

How could this be possible? I had seen the feasibility study relating to the cafeteria, and it was ‘feasible’ to keep it going. They were right though, there had been a host of complaints, but that was because the catering manager had no idea how to run a large-scale cafeteria that churned out upwards of 5,000 meals a day. Even Olga, who was right here with me now, had said that it was the most poorly managed operation she had ever worked in.

I tossed the phone back on the bedside table and got back under the covers. Too early and too cold to get out of bed.

It woke Olga.

“Trouble in paradise?”

Paradise was her euphemism for work. She had become increasingly desponded as I about working there. In her case, as q waitress in the cafeteria, it was a job she could take or leave. For me, loitering on the fringes of middle management, not so much. Not if I wanted to keep the flash apartment and upscale car.

“They have dumped the cafeteria.”

I had expected her to leap up in indignation. It barely registered on the Richter scale. “And what did you expect?” She raised her head off the pillow. “They were never going to implement your suggestions, it would make Commissar Bland look like a fool, like the fool above him.”

Her analogy transposing our fearless leaders with those back in the old Soviet Union were always an insight to what she had experienced back home before she emigrated with her parents. Commissar Bland was a dictator, and not a man to cross. She cared little about him, and treated him, like the others did, as a joke.

“So much for the new broom,” I muttered.

“You are so naive Petr, but like home, change means no change, just different faces and words that all mean the same thing.”

Petr was her pet name for me, named after an old mentor of hers.

“Aren’t you the one losing your job. Doesn’t it bother you?”

“I will become best factory worker. We are very adaptable. You should try not to lose any sleep.”

She lay down again and snuggled closer.

I left her at the fourth floor where my office was located, and she would continue up to the next, the location of the cafeteria.

If I remember correctly, the current CEO when the factory manager, had always wanted to reclaim the cafeteria space for a new modernised production line, but the old guard had seen the benefit of keeping it despite the cost, as a means of keeping its workforce. Even twenty years ago, it would not have made a discussion topic, even in jest.

But times change.

Herman, another of the middle management fringe dwellers, and had also seen the need to have something to ‘bribe’ the workforce. We’d only been talking about it with others on our level the other day when all manner of rumours were drifting through our building.

He was loitering in the passage, obviously waiting for me.

“You’ve seen the message?”

I nodded.

“Hell of a way to kill an institution?”

I walked into my cubicle and dumped my bag on the floor. As a first act, the new broom removed all the offices, and put everyone into an open plan, where it was easier to communicate with others and removed the barriers walls and doors presented. The jury was still out on whether it worked, I could still never get to see the people I needed to.

He followed me in and sat in a chair in the corner. I sat on the desk, it was not a large cubicle.

“It was a drain on profits. The world has moved on from pandering to workforces. It seems dividends are more important. I’m sure this will not be the only change.”

“Like managers losing their cars and credit cards, except for the upper echelon. I don’t think you’ll see them close the executive dining room.”

Yes, it was only a matter of time before that morsel would raise its head under the banner of hypocrisy.

“Probably not. But remember, we used to build cars once, and it was good advertising to hand them out to all and sundry. Now, trying to do the right thing costs too much.”

My phone on the desk rang and startled me. It was still quiet, the bulk of the cubicle population hadn’t arrived yet. My guess they were gathering in coffee shops discussing the news.

I picked up receiver mid ring, then said, “Yes?” I refused to follow the official answering sequence advised by the new broom.

Hesitation, then, “O’Hara from Administration. Can you come and see me, nine a.m.?”

Why? There was no way anyone could know I sent that memo, and I wasn’t on management’s radar, it had been O’Hara himself who told me to keep up the good work, the coded message that said I was not on the latest promotion list.

“I’ll see you then.” I was not going to say ‘yes, sir’ like other management hopefuls. O’Hara was not someone who could be buttered up, a fact only I seemed to be aware of.

“Who was that?”

“O’Hara.”

“Then your days are numbered. He never calls except to say you have a promotion or you’re fired. You aren’t on the promotion list.”

“How can you be sure?”

No one was supposed to know who was on that list for sure, it was a closely guarded secret. Herman said he knew someone who knew someone who knew Herman’s PA, and had been told who was on the list. So far, in the last two lists, he had been right about us two.

Perhaps he was right. I was going to get fired.

“Have I ever been wrong?”

Technically, no. But I never got any other names of those who were on the list. Maybe it was better to wait, and be disappointed then.

“Well, we’ll soon find out.”

It took twenty minutes to walk from the old administration building to the new, built recently on the outskirts of the company site, on what was once the carpark. The carpark had been relocated under the new administration building, and it gave management the perfect excuse to charge us to park our cars.

A Lot of employees had switched from car to the train, less than the weekly cost of the carpark. Another new broom initiative; getting people out of cars and onto public transport, their contribution to easing global warming.

None of us, other than those in the new administration building had passes, so we had to sign in as visitors on the ground floor, even though we spent a lot of time travelling back and forth, and visiting other members of our departments who had been moved from the old building.

No, not a new broom initiative, just the result of an obtuse security chief.

Getting the pass made me five minutes late, and O’Hara didn’t like tardy people.

A glare followed me from the door of his office to the seat in front of his desk where he motioned me to sit. The offices were better here and were offices not cubicles. Everyone else wanted to be transferred to the new office. I didn’t. Too far away from Olga.

“I called you over to discuss the ten-point plan to save the cafeteria.”

“What ten-point plan?” Perhaps they did know who wrote the memo.

“I had every written complaint checked to see whose writing it was. Next time, write it on the computer and print it out.”

I shrugged. “I did it for a laugh. Nothing’s going to change in this place.”

“You sound like you don’t like working here?”

“I do. Most days. Today, though, is one reason to leave. That cafeteria has been here since the day the factory started. The employers, once, were involved in getting employees housing, even had their own estate, and assisted them to buy cars. It was a novel thought in an age where employers, well, some employers, considered their employees assets.”

“We still do.”

I shook my head. I guess if you wanted to be in management you had to believe and repeat the new mantra. I’d heard about the management team building conferences.

“So, we’re going back to our original values?”

“This is neither the time, nor do we have the fiscal viability. But it seems some of the board members consider your proposals need fleshing out into a plan with costings so they can make a more balanced judgement.”

“Unfortunately, you just uttered the two words that make that idea redundant, fiscal viability. There is no possible way in this current world we live in that a cafeteria would ever be viable, unless we charged five-star restaurant prices for the meals.”

“Humour me and do it anyway.”

“Not my department.”

“Fixed. You now are temporarily assigned to ‘rebuilding and restructuring’. You can add three others to your team. You have a week.”

“And if I say no.”

“It’s that or your resignation. You have been given an opportunity, take it.”

I shrugged. I’d heard about the new broom’s method of culling. Give them jobs that they can’t possibly find a solution to. Devious, but devastatingly effective. One last hurrah before being tossed on the executive scrap heap.

When I came out of his office, Herman was waiting in the outer office.

“You too,” I said.

“Nine of us. Sounds like there’s a new project in the wind.”

I didn’t burst his bubble. Ten more budding executives were getting the push. I sighed.

At least now Olga and I could go visit her family on the shores of the Black Sea. There was no excuse not to.

And, yes, it really did start with a memo.

© Charles Heath 2021

NaNoWriMo (April) – Day 9

Today Jack is about to become as confused as he ever will be. Well, maybe not as ever, but it’s the start of a time when he will not know what is happening.

Firstly, there’s Maryanne. Whilst the full extent of the enigma she she will be for nearly three quarters of the book, may need a little adjustment when it comes to the first edit, I know something about her now, and those characteristics will gradually be dropped in front of the reader.

Some will say, after this chapter, that she is trouble. Jack has known that from the start, but that assessment really comes from a distinct lack of understand of women in general. Yes, he had had girlfriends, but not like Maryanne.

And, before you asked, yes, she is, in part, modelled on a woman I once knew, and she was nothing like any other woman I had known. She was genuinely a beautiful soul, and very much misunderstood.

Jack is fortunate in that he is hesitant to take that last step, though I suspect he might want to, but there are reasons for holding back.

These will be more apparent in the next chapter … I hope.

It’s written in my head, and I’m tempted to stay up and write it, but it’s late, and life other than being a writer will impinge on my time tomorrow.

Today’s effort amounts to 2,018 words, for a total, so far, of 22,612.

More tomorrow.

The A to Z Challenge – H is for – “How is this possible…”


It started with a simple memo.

After several years of bad management, the company had decided to make a clean sweep and change upper management. Of course, that sort of change was driven by the volatility of the company’s share price and dividends, and shareholders’ discontent. Productivity was down because of low employee morale driven by what was labelled a ‘toxic work environment’. This led to production problems, quality control issues, and falling sales.

Something had to be done.

The new broom, as it was come to be known as, had made several far sweeping changes, one of which, to counter the discontent of its employees, was to institute the anonymous complaint. Any employee could make a complaint without fear of reprisals. In the past, those that had were vilified, demoted, or sacked. Now, the new broom had decided that employee input would improve the workplace, improve productivity, and provide the way back to the halcyon days.

Or so we thought.

Two phones, each on a bedside table, both chimed to indicate an incoming message.

I’d been staring at the roof, contemplating the start of a new week in a place where I had decided was not where I wanted to be. Beside me, still asleep, was the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, but she was not sure about making a commitment. She’d been down that road before, and it failed miserably and was taking it slow.

I told her slow was my middle name.

I leaned over and picked up the phone, more out of curiosity than anything else, but fascinated that both phones could go off at the same time.

“In the light of a host of complaints about the catering division, it has been decided that the staff cafeteria will cease operations at the end of the month. It has for a number of years been the subject of employee dissatisfaction and the result of an extensive investigation to the feasibility of keeping it going, given the economic climate and fiscal position of the company the only viable decision is to cease operations. Staff currently working in the catering department will be transferred to other positions within the company.”

How could this be possible? I had seen the feasibility study relating to the cafeteria, and it was ‘feasible’ to keep it going. They were right though, there had been a host of complaints, but that was because the catering manager had no idea how to run a large-scale cafeteria that churned out upwards of 5,000 meals a day. Even Olga, who was right here with me now, had said that it was the most poorly managed operation she had ever worked in.

I tossed the phone back on the bedside table and got back under the covers. Too early and too cold to get out of bed.

It woke Olga.

“Trouble in paradise?”

Paradise was her euphemism for work. She had become increasingly desponded as I about working there. In her case, as q waitress in the cafeteria, it was a job she could take or leave. For me, loitering on the fringes of middle management, not so much. Not if I wanted to keep the flash apartment and upscale car.

“They have dumped the cafeteria.”

I had expected her to leap up in indignation. It barely registered on the Richter scale. “And what did you expect?” She raised her head off the pillow. “They were never going to implement your suggestions, it would make Commissar Bland look like a fool, like the fool above him.”

Her analogy transposing our fearless leaders with those back in the old Soviet Union were always an insight to what she had experienced back home before she emigrated with her parents. Commissar Bland was a dictator, and not a man to cross. She cared little about him, and treated him, like the others did, as a joke.

“So much for the new broom,” I muttered.

“You are so naive Petr, but like home, change means no change, just different faces and words that all mean the same thing.”

Petr was her pet name for me, named after an old mentor of hers.

“Aren’t you the one losing your job. Doesn’t it bother you?”

“I will become best factory worker. We are very adaptable. You should try not to lose any sleep.”

She lay down again and snuggled closer.

I left her at the fourth floor where my office was located, and she would continue up to the next, the location of the cafeteria.

If I remember correctly, the current CEO when the factory manager, had always wanted to reclaim the cafeteria space for a new modernised production line, but the old guard had seen the benefit of keeping it despite the cost, as a means of keeping its workforce. Even twenty years ago, it would not have made a discussion topic, even in jest.

But times change.

Herman, another of the middle management fringe dwellers, and had also seen the need to have something to ‘bribe’ the workforce. We’d only been talking about it with others on our level the other day when all manner of rumours were drifting through our building.

He was loitering in the passage, obviously waiting for me.

“You’ve seen the message?”

I nodded.

“Hell of a way to kill an institution?”

I walked into my cubicle and dumped my bag on the floor. As a first act, the new broom removed all the offices, and put everyone into an open plan, where it was easier to communicate with others and removed the barriers walls and doors presented. The jury was still out on whether it worked, I could still never get to see the people I needed to.

He followed me in and sat in a chair in the corner. I sat on the desk, it was not a large cubicle.

“It was a drain on profits. The world has moved on from pandering to workforces. It seems dividends are more important. I’m sure this will not be the only change.”

“Like managers losing their cars and credit cards, except for the upper echelon. I don’t think you’ll see them close the executive dining room.”

Yes, it was only a matter of time before that morsel would raise its head under the banner of hypocrisy.

“Probably not. But remember, we used to build cars once, and it was good advertising to hand them out to all and sundry. Now, trying to do the right thing costs too much.”

My phone on the desk rang and startled me. It was still quiet, the bulk of the cubicle population hadn’t arrived yet. My guess they were gathering in coffee shops discussing the news.

I picked up receiver mid ring, then said, “Yes?” I refused to follow the official answering sequence advised by the new broom.

Hesitation, then, “O’Hara from Administration. Can you come and see me, nine a.m.?”

Why? There was no way anyone could know I sent that memo, and I wasn’t on management’s radar, it had been O’Hara himself who told me to keep up the good work, the coded message that said I was not on the latest promotion list.

“I’ll see you then.” I was not going to say ‘yes, sir’ like other management hopefuls. O’Hara was not someone who could be buttered up, a fact only I seemed to be aware of.

“Who was that?”

“O’Hara.”

“Then your days are numbered. He never calls except to say you have a promotion or you’re fired. You aren’t on the promotion list.”

“How can you be sure?”

No one was supposed to know who was on that list for sure, it was a closely guarded secret. Herman said he knew someone who knew someone who knew Herman’s PA, and had been told who was on the list. So far, in the last two lists, he had been right about us two.

Perhaps he was right. I was going to get fired.

“Have I ever been wrong?”

Technically, no. But I never got any other names of those who were on the list. Maybe it was better to wait, and be disappointed then.

“Well, we’ll soon find out.”

It took twenty minutes to walk from the old administration building to the new, built recently on the outskirts of the company site, on what was once the carpark. The carpark had been relocated under the new administration building, and it gave management the perfect excuse to charge us to park our cars.

A Lot of employees had switched from car to the train, less than the weekly cost of the carpark. Another new broom initiative; getting people out of cars and onto public transport, their contribution to easing global warming.

None of us, other than those in the new administration building had passes, so we had to sign in as visitors on the ground floor, even though we spent a lot of time travelling back and forth, and visiting other members of our departments who had been moved from the old building.

No, not a new broom initiative, just the result of an obtuse security chief.

Getting the pass made me five minutes late, and O’Hara didn’t like tardy people.

A glare followed me from the door of his office to the seat in front of his desk where he motioned me to sit. The offices were better here and were offices not cubicles. Everyone else wanted to be transferred to the new office. I didn’t. Too far away from Olga.

“I called you over to discuss the ten-point plan to save the cafeteria.”

“What ten-point plan?” Perhaps they did know who wrote the memo.

“I had every written complaint checked to see whose writing it was. Next time, write it on the computer and print it out.”

I shrugged. “I did it for a laugh. Nothing’s going to change in this place.”

“You sound like you don’t like working here?”

“I do. Most days. Today, though, is one reason to leave. That cafeteria has been here since the day the factory started. The employers, once, were involved in getting employees housing, even had their own estate, and assisted them to buy cars. It was a novel thought in an age where employers, well, some employers, considered their employees assets.”

“We still do.”

I shook my head. I guess if you wanted to be in management you had to believe and repeat the new mantra. I’d heard about the management team building conferences.

“So, we’re going back to our original values?”

“This is neither the time, nor do we have the fiscal viability. But it seems some of the board members consider your proposals need fleshing out into a plan with costings so they can make a more balanced judgement.”

“Unfortunately, you just uttered the two words that make that idea redundant, fiscal viability. There is no possible way in this current world we live in that a cafeteria would ever be viable, unless we charged five-star restaurant prices for the meals.”

“Humour me and do it anyway.”

“Not my department.”

“Fixed. You now are temporarily assigned to ‘rebuilding and restructuring’. You can add three others to your team. You have a week.”

“And if I say no.”

“It’s that or your resignation. You have been given an opportunity, take it.”

I shrugged. I’d heard about the new broom’s method of culling. Give them jobs that they can’t possibly find a solution to. Devious, but devastatingly effective. One last hurrah before being tossed on the executive scrap heap.

When I came out of his office, Herman was waiting in the outer office.

“You too,” I said.

“Nine of us. Sounds like there’s a new project in the wind.”

I didn’t burst his bubble. Ten more budding executives were getting the push. I sighed.

At least now Olga and I could go visit her family on the shores of the Black Sea. There was no excuse not to.

And, yes, it really did start with a memo.

© Charles Heath 2021