Searching for Locations: Waitomo caves house, North Island, New Zealand

A relatively unassuming lane leads to what could be described as a grand hotel, called Waitomo Caves Hotel.

The original hotel was built in 1908, and it was later extended in 1928.  Part of it is ‘Victorian’, based on an eastern Europe mountain chalet, and part of it is ‘Art Deco’, the concrete wing, and a feature, if it could be called that, is none of the four corners are the same.

Views from the balcony show part of the surrounding gardens
 

and the town of Waitomo in the distance.
 

In gloomy weather, it does look rather spooky, and I suspect there may be a ghost or two lurking somewhere in the buildings.
 

 
But…
 

This a a very interesting, and the words of one of my younger grand daughters, a very creepy place. It would make an excellent base for paranormal activity, and there could very well be ghosts walking the corridors of this hotel.

It has the long darkish passageways that lead in all directions and to almost hidden rooms, a creepy nighttime aspect, and the creaky woodwork.

I know when we were exploring, it was easy to lose your bearings, if not get lost, trying to find certain places, and once found, hard to find your way back.

All in all, it was one of the best stays in a very old place going through the throes of modernisation.

And looking at it from the outside at night, I’ll leave you with that thought…

Books, books, and more books

If there is one thing I cannot resist is walking into a book store wherever it might be.

It usually elicits a groan from everyone I’m with because for them, watching grass grow is a more fascinating exercise.

But…

The best bookshops are the pop-up ones that appear in various shopping centres where there are empty spaces, and these have a wide variety of books for just $7 each.

And there are lots of bargains…

As you can see, I have been on a few bargain hunts lately and like any writer’s room, tucked away with the boxes of drinks, gardening equipment and everything else that just doesn’t fit in the house, are the piles of books awaiting being put into the shelves

As you can see, the shelves are almost full so it’s going to be an uphill battle to find spaces for them.

By the way, there are eight such book cases on the surrounding walls, as well as a new one, recently discarded from the lounge room, to house the reference books

Along with a few stuffed bears.

The job of putting books on shelves falls to the grandchildren, whom I am trying to convince that when they get older, they should too embrace the idea of having a reading room, which my writing room will also be when I eventually get to throw out the accumulation of years of discarded homewares.

Perhaps one day next year…

Searching for locations: Auckland, New Zealand – Another city that has a tower

Nearly every city has a high building, a tower, or a large Ferris wheel.

London had the London eye
Paris has the Eiffel tower
The Galata in Istanbul
The CN Tower in Toronto
The towers of San Gimignano
Pisa has a leaning tower

We’ve managed to see all of the above bar the Galata in Istanbul.  One day we might get there.

But, on this side of the world, there are two, the Sydney Tower, and the Sky Tower in Auckland, which we just visited recently.

20140522_153338

It’s not a tall tower, but it definitely gives great vies of Auckland, particularly to the north

20140522_150952

The mountain in the background at the top of the photo is of a volcano on Rangitoto Island.  When we were visiting, there were reports that it might become active again.

20140522_151039

To give a height perspective, it didn’t seem all that far down to the apartment building and gardens nearby.

“Because it’s not me” – a short story

If the was one fault I had, it was prevarication.

For a long time, I had always been afraid of making a mistake, after I had done exactly that.  They said our mistakes didn’t define us, but that one had.  I had lost the trust of everyone, from my parents to friends.

It was only a small lie, or so I told myself, but it had far-reaching ramifications, and almost cost someone their life.  But whilst I believed it was not all that bad, and the police had agreed that anyone who had been put in the same position would have done the same, there were those who didn’t agree.

It was a moment in time I often relived in my mind, over and over, and eventually led to several outcomes.

The first, I left home, the town where up till then I’d lived all of my life, walking away from family and those who used to be friends, knowing that what they said and what they felt were two entirely different things.  For all concerned, it was better that I left, cutting all ties, and make a fresh start, away from those whom I knew would never forget, even though they forgave me.

The second, and most dire, I changed my name, and my history, even how I looked.  Today, I was a very different person to that of thirty years ago.

The third, I moved to another country and vowed never to return, always looking constantly over my shoulder, expecting someone from the past to find me.  I instinctively knew that I would never escape, that one day a stark reminder would come back and destroy everything.

I picked the one occupation that would keep me both occupied and invisible.

Journalist.

I had started at the bottom, literally writing death notices, and worked my way up to what is ubiquitously known as ‘foreign correspondent’, going to places where no one else would go, those hotbeds of unrest, and war zones, reporting from both sides.

Perhaps it could say I had a death wish, a statement my editor had once said when he came to see me in hospital back in London after I’d been caught up in a rocket attack and repatriated.  He had come to offer me a job back home, to tell me my tour was over.

I declined the opportunity, and he left, shaking his head.

But that was not the only visitor that came to the hospital that day.  The other visitor was an elderly man, immaculately dressed in a pinstripe suit and bowler hat.  It screamed public servant, and the moment I saw him wandering up the passage, a chill ran down my spine.

Although he looked like he was looking for someone else, I knew he would eventually finish up in my doorway.

Five minutes after I first saw him.

When he appeared at the door, I thought about ignoring him, but realized that wasn’t going to change anything.  Besides that, I guess I wanted to know why he would want to see me.

“James Wilson?”

“Would it make any difference if I said no?”  Well, it didn’t mean I couldn’t spar with him, just a little.  “Who are you.”

“Do you mind if I come in?”

I got the impression he would do it anyway, irrespective of what I said.  I said no, and as I suspected he came in anyway, closing the door behind him, then took a minute or two to make himself comfortable in the visitor’s chair, which was an impossible task.

Then, settled, he said, “I understand you have just been repatriated from Syria.”

“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

It wasn’t common knowledge where I’d come from, so this person knew something about me, which was immediate cause for concern.

“The bane of a reporter trying to cover a dangerous situation,” he said, with just the right amount of levity in his tone.  “I get it, by the way.  I once had that devil may care attitude you need to get the story.  I was chasing a Pulitzer, believe it or not, and used a few of those nine lives in the process.  Which one are you up to?”

I was going to say that awards didn’t matter but among those who made up the press pack in those God-forsaken places, there was an unwritten desire to be rewarded other than by pay.  For me, though, it was not a defining factor.

“Lost count.  But why would that interest you, or whoever it is you represent?  By the way, just who do you represent?”

Second attempt at finding out who this man was.  If he was dodging and weaving, it would suggest a clandestine organization.

“People who would like to use your unique talent in getting into trouble spots around the world.  We’re not asking you to come work for us exclusively, rather piggyback on the job that you already do so well.”

An unnamed man from an unnamed organization.  What he was offering wasn’t unheard of, and I had been warned, more than once, that jobs, like he was suggesting, were more often than not offered to people like me.  With that came one line of advice, turn around and run like hell.

But, with nothing to amuse me in hospital, I was curious.  “Doing what exactly?”

The fact his expression changed indicated my response had taken him by surprise.  Perhaps he was used to being told where to go.  Not yet.  I had this fanciful notion in the back of my mind that what he might offer might get me closer to the story.

“Keeping your eyes and ears open.  We’ll tell you what to look for, all you’ll be doing is looking for evidence.  There will be no need to go looking for trouble, if there’s evidence we ask you to report it, if not, no harm done.”

Not so hard.  If that was all it was.  The trouble was, if something sounds simple, which that did, but inevitably, it was going to be anything but.  I’d heard stories and the consequences.

“You’re presuming that my editor will send me back.  He just offered me a job at home.”

“I think both of us know you’re not interested in domesticity.  If he isn’t willing to adhere to your wishes, I’m sure we could find someone else who would be willing to take you on.  You have had several offers recently, have you not?”

So, without a doubt, he knew a lot about me, especially if he asked around.  I had had several offers, but I was happy where I was.  I liked the no questions about your past that my current employer had promised.

Yes, looking at the determination on this man’s face, I had no doubt they or he could do what he said.  No one comes to a meeting like this without holding all the cards.  Also, not that I wanted it to be so, It told me that my agreement was not necessarily going to be optional.

But I was happy to dither and find out.  “Since I’m not sure when the hospital is going to discharge me, and the fact I’m not exactly very mobile at the moment, can I consider the proposal.  Right now, as you can imagine, getting back to work is not exactly a priority.”

“Of course.”  He took a card out of his coat pocket and put it on the bedside table.  “By all means.  Call me on that number when you’ve decided.”

He stood.  “It will be a great opportunity.  Thank you for your time.”

Of course, the two impressions I was left with were, one, he had me mixed up with someone else, and two, that I would never see him again.

It was an impossible task, for me at least, because I did not have a poker face, and could barely carry a lie.  I would be the last person they’d want for the job.

And thinking that, I rolled over, put it out of my mind, and went back to sleep.


© Charles Heath 2021

Short Story Writing – Don’t try this at home! – Part 6

This is not a treatise, but a tongue in cheek, discussion on how to write short stories.   Suffice to say this is not the definitive way of doing it, just mine.  It works for me – it might not work for you.

Now, there’s this thing called continuity, but it covers a whole range of writing sins, most of which I eventually get caught out.  Films sometimes miss a few items, like back in the roman days, there are plane trails in the sky, in a 1920’s period piece, there’s a mobile phone sitting on a desk.

Like one minute the hero has a gun, and the next he’s fighting for his life with a knife, and, hey presto, there’s that gun again.  The error might not be that big but you can’t pull out a weapon you don’t have or wasn’t there in the first place.

Similarly, the hero pulls out a mobile phone, but there’s only one problem, it’s 1980, and there are no mobile phones.  Our problem might be that we are so used to doing and using certain things that we might forget, for a minute or two, that were not available in the past.

Then there’s places like hotels and restaurants, both of which change hands and close and reopen with a different owner like someone changes their socks.  There’s no substitute for checking, on the internet of course, whether a Hilton Hotel was in 6th Avenue, New York, in 1920.

The answer is no.  The first Hilton Hotel was in Waco in 1927.  The New York Hilton opened in 1963.

The same goes for the fashion of the day.

I’m no fashion guru, but I have to rely on Google once again to fill in the gaps.

And my all-time favourite, getting the right make and model of car.

Oh, and just for good measure, back in the old days they used acoustic couplers to attach to phones via a serial port to dial-up not a server, but a BBS, Bulletin Board Service, at a rate of 300 baud, or a little while later, 1,200 baud.

There was no internet in general use.  If you wanted to call the office when out, use a telephone box.  Or carrier pigeon.

And the use of language, there’s a lot of stuff relevant today that was not used back then, and there was a lot of stuff back then that isn’t tolerated now.  Some of it might be hard to get your head around. 

It isn’t for me, because I can remember the 1970s and 1980s, but I’m not too sure about allowing some of what happened then to creep into my work.

So, you get the picture.  Try to use the past as the past, or leave it in the past.

Unless it’s a book about time travel, then all bets are off.

Short Story Writing – Don’t try this at home! – Part 5

This is not a treatise, but a tongue in cheek, discussion on how to write short stories.   Suffice to say this is not the definitive way of doing it, just mine.  It works for me – it might not work for you.

Now we have the where and the who.  What’s the story going to be about?

I find inspiration in the most unlikely places.

Shopping malls are great, there is so many things going on, so many different types of people, there’s often enough to fill a journal.

Driving on the roads, you get to see some of the most amazing stunt driving, and it’s not even being filmed, it’s just playing out before your very eyes.

Waiting in hospitals, waiting for doctors, accountants, dentists, friends, hanging around coffee shops, cafes, bistros, restaurants, hotels, the list is endless.

But often a reliable source, the media and newspapers in particular, and a frequent go to, and the more obscure the headline the better.  Then it’s simply a matter of letting your imagination run free, like:

Four deaths, four mysteries, all homeless.

This poses a few interesting scenarios, such as, were they homeless or were they made to look like they are homeless.  If they are genuinely homeless how did they die?  Are they connected in any way?

The point is, far from the original story that simply covers four seemingly random deaths, a writer can spin this into a thriller very easily.

It could follow a similar headline in another country where three headlines could be found, say, in London, where a man is found dead in an abandoned building, a week after he died, with no obvious signs of how he died.

A woman is killed in what seems, from the outset, an accident involving two cars, but the kicker is after three days, the driver of the second vehicle just simply disappears.

A man is reported missing after not reporting for work when he was supposed to return from a vacation in Germany.

And the third death, where an obscure piece says a man was found at the bottom of a mountain, presumed to have fallen in a climbing accident.

It’s all in the joining of the imaginary, yet possibly quite real, dots.

You could be on a train, and two people are acting oddly, note I didn’t say suspiciously, when going to or from work.

When on a holiday, you notice that a fellow hotel guest is in the same place at the same time every day but acting like he or she is waiting for someone or something.  Then suddenly they’re not there.

But I’m not suggesting for a minute you should start investigating.

Just let the imagination work it’s tricks.

And, before you know it, you’re on that rollercoaster ride.

Maybe there’ll be less confusion tomorrow.

Short Story Writing – Don’t try this at home! – Part 4

This is not a treatise, but a tongue in cheek, discussion on how to write short stories.   Suffice to say this is not the definitive way of doing it, just mine.  It works for me – it might not work for you.

You’ve got the place, now you want the who.

My main characters are quite often me.

Not the real me, because I’m boring.  No, those characters are what I would like to be, that imaginary superhuman that can do everything.

Until, of course, reality sets in, and the bullets start flying.  When that happens, we should be looking to run or at the very least get under cover, not walk into a hail of bullets, with a huge grin, staring down the enemy.

Hang on, that never happens except in superman comics.

What’s really needed here is a little vulnerability, a little humility and a lot of understanding, qualities at times I don’t have.

So, in order to create a more believable character, I start dragging traits from others I’ve met, or know, or really don’t want to know.  

In a writer’s environment, there are a plethora of people out there that you can draw on for inspiration.  I once spent and afternoon at a railway station just observing people.  Even now, I make observations, some of which are true, and others, wildly off course. 

I once tried to convince my other half that I could pick people’s traits, and we sat at a café outside a church in Venice.  I was lucky, I got more than 75% correct.

Other characters in my stories I have met along the way.

Like a piano player in a restaurant.  It was not so much the playing was bad, it was the way he managed to draw people into his orbit and keep them there.  The man has charisma, but sadly no talent for the instrument.

Like an aunt I met only twice in a lifetime, and who left a lasting impression.  Severe, angry looking, speaking a language I didn’t understand, even though it was English.  It was where I learned we came from England, and she was the closest thing I came to as an example of nineteenth-century prim and proper.  And, no, she didn’t have a sense of humour or time for silly little boys.

Like one of my bosses, a man of indeterminate age, but it had to be over 100, or so it seemed to my sixteen-year-old brain, who spoke and dressed impeccably, and yes, he did once say that I would be the death of him.

I can only hope I wasn’t.

Like a Captain of a ship I once met, a man who didn’t seem to have time for the minions, and a man who reeked authority and respect.  I’ve always wanted to be like him, but unfortunately, it was not in the genes.

Those are only a few, there are thousands of others over the years, a built-in library, if you will, of characters waiting to be taken off the shelf and used where necessary or appropriate.  We all have one of these banks.

You just have to know when to use them.

The fourth attempt, other factors, and people

There are two other characters that will be used in this rewrite, the second an addition to give the main character a means of letting the reader get to know a bit about him.

His name is Milt, an African American that’s always been on the fringe.  Another who is a victim of his circumstances but not letting it get the better of him, the sort of man who makes the best of a bad situation.

He’s seen active service in the army, honourably discharged, but still affected though not as bad as some of those he served with.  He is in fact the ideal man for the job, with combat experience, so he’s not likely to get flustered in a shit storm.

And probably not the man you want on this site.  Being in desperate circumstances doesn’t mean you do desperate things.

He is one of a team of four and our main character drew the straw to partner him.  There are two others, based on the other side of the park, neither of whom are trustworthy, Smithy, the overall leader, to whom they all report at shift start and end, and Carruthers, an Englishman reputed to be ex SAS, but no one is inclined to believe him. 

The scars on his neck tell a story, but it was left to the other’s imagination, as he doesn’t talk about it.  Milt was of the opinion he was captured in Afghanistan and tortured, but that could be just be canteen scuttlebutt.

Whatever the circumstances, Graham kept away from him as much as possible, and was glad when he didn’t have to partner him for the shift.

The other character. Penelope has featured in the earlier versions of the story.  Over the changes her background has changed, but I’ve settled on a medical surgeon career, renown for doing tricky procedures with a high success rate, and in doing so gained a reputation, some not always good.

Wealth and ego don’t always make a good pair, and marrying wealth brings its own rewards and pitfalls, particularly when you discover the man you married isn’t exactly whom you thought he was.

It is of course a typical scenario, but I’m going to try and weave it differently.  There will be no more teasers until the story starts.

But she will be introduced earlier than in the previous iterations because she needs some backstory too, otherwise just arriving at Graham’s work and getting shot, while provoking a volatile situation that drags the reader in, out of left field is not exactly the best start.

So, let’s begin.

© Charles Heath 2022

The cinema of my dreams – Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 42

I’m back home and this story has been sitting on the back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.

The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritizing.

But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.

Chasing leads, maybe

A second later the light came on and I was temporarily blinded.

The woman had to be on the other side of the door, and coming into the room, I must have passed her. Her voice sounded quite old, so it must be the mother.

“Turn around, slowly.

I did. By that time my eyes had readjusted, and I could see a woman, still dressed, with what looked to be an Enfield WW1 rifle. Just as dangerous now as it was then, particularly at this close range.

“Mrs Quigley, I presume,” I asked. Remain polite and conversational and keep her from getting nervous.

“Who are you?”

“Sam Jackson.”

“Is that your real name?”

“Why would you presume to think it wasn’t?”

“You’re breaking into my house which means you’re a criminal, and criminals by nature are also liars. Why would I think you any different to the rest?”

Good question. “I knew your son.”

“Which one?”

“Adam.”

“He’s not here. He hasn’t been around since he gallivanted off overseas a few years back.”

“I saw him only a few days ago, in London. Not gallivanting, by the way, but with feet firmly planted on the ground.”

“He’s not here.”

“Do you know where he is?”

She didn’t know he was dead, and I didn’t think it was my business to tell her. That was Dobbin’s job, and I was surprised he hadn’t. Or, I only had her word for it he hadn’t.

“Are you hard of hearing.” Get into the middle of the room.”

I moved slowly into the middle, watching her edge slowly towards the writing desk while keeping the gun aimed at me. If I tried to run for it, and if she was any sort of shot, I’d be dead before I got three, possibly four paces. If I could get a shred of surprise.

I hadn’t seen the phone on the desk, and watched her pick up the receiver, and, with the same hand, started dialing a number.

“Put it down.” Another voice, another woman, coming from the doorway.

Jennifer.

With a gun in hand, pointed at the woman.

“What if I shoot him, or you?”

“You’ll be dead before either scenario happens. Just put it down. I’m not here to shoot anyone if I can help it.”

Of course, this was just like one of those scenes out of a comedic spy film. Guns pointing in all directions.

And, true to form, a click, and a voice. “You put your weapon down.”

He appeared out of the shadows and had the gun pointed straight at Jennifer’s head at very short range.

Adam Quigley, aka O’Connell, and very much alive.

Jennifer dropped her gun, but Adam didn’t take his gun off her.

“Hello Sam. How did you find me?”

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

An excerpt from “Sunday in New York”

Now available on Amazon at:  https://amzn.to/2H7ALs8

 

Williams’ Restaurant, East 65th Street, New York, Saturday, 8:00 p.m.

 

We met the Blaine’s at Williams’, a rather upmarket restaurant that the Blaine’s frequently visited, and had recommended.

Of course, during the taxi ride there, Alison reminded me that with my new job, we would be able to go to many more places like Williams’.  It was, at worst, more emotional blackmail, because as far as Alison was concerned, we were well on our way to posh restaurants, the Trump Tower Apartments, and the trappings of the ‘executive set’.

It would be a miracle if I didn’t strangle Elaine before the night was over.  It was she who had filled Alison’s head with all this stuff and nonsense.

Aside from the half frown half-smile, Alison was looking stunning.  It was months since she had last dressed up, and she was especially wearing the dress I’d bought her for our 5th anniversary that cost a month’s salary.  On her, it was worth it, and I would have paid more if I had to.  She had adored it, and me, for a week or so after.

For tonight, I think I was close to getting back on that pedestal.

She had the looks and figure to draw attention, the sort movie stars got on the red carpet, and when we walked into the restaurant, I swear there were at least five seconds silence, and many more gasps.

Even I had a sudden loss of breath earlier in the evening when she came out of the dressing room.  Once more I was reminded of how lucky I was that she had agreed to marry me.  Amid all those self-doubts, I couldn’t believe she had loved me when there were so many others ‘out there’ who were more appealing.

Elaine was out of her seat and came over just as the Head Waiter hovered into sight.  She personally escorted Alison to the table, allowing me to follow like the Queen’s consort, while she and Alison basked in the admiring glances of the other patrons.

More than once I heard the muted question, “Who is she?”

Jimmy stood, we shook hands, and then we sat together.  It was not the usual boy, girl, boy, girl seating arrangement.  Jimmy and I on one side and Elaine and Alison on the other.

The battle lines were drawn.

Jimmy was looking fashionable, with the permanent blade one beard, unkempt hair, and designer dinner suit that looked like he’d slept in it.  Alison insisted I wear a tuxedo, and I looked like the proverbial penguin or just a thinner version of Alfred Hitchcock.

The bow tie had been slightly crooked, but just before we stepped out she had straightened it.  And took the moment to look deeply into my soul.  It was one of those moments when words were not necessary.

Then it was gone.

I relived it briefly as I sat and she looked at me.  A penetrating look that told me to ‘behave’.

When we were settled, Elaine said, in that breathless, enthusiastic manner of hers when she was excited, “So, Harry, you are finally moving up.”  It was not a question, but a statement.

I was not sure what she meant by ‘finally’ but I accepted it with good grace.  Sometimes Elaine was prone to using figures of speech I didn’t understand.  I guessed she was talking about the new job.  “It was supposed to be a secret.”

She smiled widely.  “There are no secrets between Al and I, are there Al?”

I looked at ‘Al’ and saw a brief look of consternation.

I was not sure Alison liked the idea of being called Al.  I tried it once and was admonished.  But it was interesting her ‘best friend forever’ was allowed that distinction when I was not.  It was, perhaps, another indicator of how far I’d slipped in her estimation.

Perhaps, I thought, it was a necessary evil.  As I understood it, the Blaine’s were our mentors at the Trump Tower, because they didn’t just let ‘anyone’ in.  I didn’t ask if the Blaine’s thought we were just ‘anyone’ before I got the job offer.

And then there was that look between Alison and Elaine, quickly stolen before Alison realized I was looking at both of them.  I was out of my depth, in a place I didn’t belong, with people I didn’t understand.  And yet, apparently, Alison did.  I must have missed the memo.

“No,” Alison said softly, stealing a glance in my direction, “No secrets between friends.”

No secrets.  Her look conveyed something else entirely.

The waiter brought champagne, Krug, and poured glasses for each of us.  It was not the cheap stuff, and I was glad I brought a couple of thousand dollars with me.  We were going to need it.

Then, a toast.

To a new job and a new life.

“When did you decide?”  Elaine was effusive at the best of times, but with the champagne, it was worse.

Alison had a strange expression on her face.  It was obvious she had told Elaine it was a done deal, even before I’d made up my mind.  Perhaps she’d assumed I might be ‘refreshingly honest’ in front of Elaine, but it could also mean she didn’t really care what I might say or do.

Instead of consternation, she looked happy, and I realized it would be churlish, even silly if I made a scene.  I knew what I wanted to say.  I also knew that it would serve little purpose provoking Elaine, or upsetting Alison.  This was not the time or the place.  Alison had been looking forward to coming here, and I was not going to spoil it.

Instead, I said, smiling, “When I woke up this morning and found Alison missing.  If she had been there, I would not have noticed the water stain on the roof above our bed, and decide there and then how much I hated the place.” I used my reassuring smile, the one I used with the customers when all hell was breaking loose, and the forest fire was out of control.  “It’s the little things.  They all add up until one day …”  I shrugged.  “I guess that one day was today.”

I saw an incredulous look pass between Elaine and Alison, a non-verbal question; perhaps, is he for real?  Or; I told you he’d come around.

I had no idea the two were so close.

“How quaint,” Elaine said, which just about summed up her feelings towards me.  I think, at that moment, I lost some brownie points.  It was all I could come up with at short notice.

“Yes,” I added, with a little more emphasis than I wanted.  “Alison was off to get some study in with one of her friends.”

“Weren’t the two of you off to the Hamptons, a weekend with some friends?” Jimmy piped up, and immediately got the ‘shut up you fool’ look, that cut that line of conversation dead.  Someone forgot to feed Jimmy his lines.

It was followed by the condescending smile from Elaine, and “I need to powder my nose.  Care to join me, Al?”

A frown, then a forced smile for her new best friend.  “Yes.”

I watched them leave the table and head in the direction of the restroom, looking like they were in earnest conversation.  I thought ‘Al’ looked annoyed, but I could be wrong.

I had to say Jimmy looked more surprised than I did.

There was that odd moment of silence between us, Jimmy still smarting from his death stare, and for me, the Alison and Elaine show.  I was quite literally gob-smacked.

I drained my champagne glass gathering some courage and turned to him.  “By the way, we were going to have a weekend away, but this legal tutorial thing came up.  You know Alison is doing her law degree.”

He looked startled when he realized I had spoken.  He was looking intently at a woman several tables over from us, one who’d obviously forgotten some basic garments when getting dressed.  Or perhaps it was deliberate.  She’d definitely had some enhancements done.

He dragged his eyes back to me.  “Yes.  Elaine said something or other about it.  But I thought she said the tutor was out of town and it had been postponed until next week.  Perhaps I got it wrong.  I usually do.”

“Perhaps I’ve got it wrong.”  I shrugged, as the dark thoughts started swirling in my head again.  “This week or next, what does it matter?”

Of course, it mattered to me, and I digested what he said with a sinking heart.  It showed there was another problem between Alison and me; it was possible she was now telling me lies.  If what he said was true and I had no reason to doubt him, where was she going tomorrow morning, and had she really been with a friend studying today?

We poured some more champagne, had a drink, then he asked, “This promotion thing, what’s it worth?”

“Trouble, I suspect.  Definitely more money, but less time at home.”

“Oh,” raised eyebrows.  Obviously, the women had not talked about the job in front of him, or, at least, not all the details.  “You sure you want to do that?”

At last the voice of reason.  “Me?  No.”

“Yet you accepted the job.”

I sucked in a breath or two while I considered whether I could trust him.  Even if I couldn’t, I could see my ship was sinking, so it wouldn’t matter what I told him, or what Elaine might find out from him.  “Jimmy, between you and me I haven’t as yet decided one way or another.  To be honest, I won’t know until I go up to Barclay’s office and he asks me the question.”

“Barclay?”

“My boss.”

“Elaine’s doing a job for a Barclay that recently moved in the tower a block down from us.  I thought I recognized the name.”

“How did Elaine get the job?”

“Oh, Alison put him onto her.”

“When?”

“A couple of months ago.  Why?”

I shrugged and tried to keep a straight face, while my insides were churning up like the wake of a supertanker.  I felt sick, faint, and wanting to die all at the same moment.  “Perhaps she said something about it, but it didn’t connect at the time.  Too busy with work I expect.  I think I seriously need to get away for a while.”

I could hardly breathe, my throat was constricted and I knew I had to keep it together.  I could see Elaine and Alison coming back, so I had to calm down.  I sucked in some deep breaths, and put my ‘manage a complete and utter disaster’ look on my face.

And I had to change the subject, quickly, so I said, “Jimmy, Elaine told Alison, who told me, you were something of a guru of the cause and effects of the global economic meltdown.  Now, I have a couple of friends who have been expounding this theory …”

Like flicking a switch, I launched into the well-worn practice of ‘running a distraction’, like at work when we needed to keep the customer from discovering the truth.  It was one of the things I was good at, taking over a conversation and pushing it in a different direction.  It was salvaging a good result from an utter disaster, and if ever there was a time that it was required, it was right here, right now.

When Alison sat down and looked at me, she knew something had happened between Jimmy and I.  I might have looked pale or red-faced, or angry or disappointed, it didn’t matter.  If that didn’t seal the deal for her, the fact I took over the dining engagement did.  She knew well enough the only time I did that was when everything was about to go to hell in a handbasket.  She’d seen me in action before and had been suitably astonished.

But I got into gear, kept the champagne flowing and steered the conversation, as much as one could from a seasoned professional like Elaine, and, I think, in Jimmy’s eyes, he saw the battle lines and knew who took the crown on points.  Neither Elaine nor Jimmy suspected anything, and if the truth be told, I had improved my stocks with Elaine.  She was at times both surprised and interested, even willing to take a back seat.

Alison, on the other hand, tried poking around the edges, and, once when Elaine and Jimmy had got up to have a cigarette outside, questioned me directly.  I chose to ignore her, and pretend nothing had happened, instead of telling her how much I was enjoying the evening.

She had her ‘secrets’.  I had mine.

At the end of the evening, when I got up to go to the bathroom, I was physically sick from the pent up tension and the implications of what Jimmy had told me.  It took a while for me to pull myself together; so long, in fact, Jimmy came looking for me.  I told him I’d drunk too much champagne, and he seemed satisfied with that excuse.  When I returned, both Alison and Elaine noticed how pale I was but neither made any comment.

It was a sad way to end what was supposed to be a delightful evening, which to a large degree it was for the other three.  But I had achieved what I set out to do, and that was to play them at their own game, watching the deception, once I knew there was a deception, as warily as a cat watches its prey.

I had also discovered Jimmy’s real calling; a professor of economics at the same University Alison was doing her law degree.  It was no surprise in the end, on a night where surprises abounded, that the world could really be that small.

We parted in the early hours of the morning, a taxi whisking us back to the Lower East Side, another taking the Blaine’s back to the Upper West Side.  But, in our case, as Alison reminded me, it would not be for much longer.  She showed concern for my health, asked me what was wrong.  It took all the courage I could muster to tell her it was most likely something I ate and the champagne, and that I would be fine in the morning.

She could see quite plainly it was anything other than what I told her, but she didn’t pursue it.  Perhaps she just didn’t care what I was playing at.

And yet, after everything that had happened, once inside our ‘palace’, the events of the evening were discarded, like her clothing, and she again reminded me of what we had together in the early years before the problems had set in.

It left me confused and lost.

I couldn’t sleep because my mind had now gone down that irreversible path that told me I was losing her, that she had found someone else, and that our marriage was in its last death throes.

And now I knew it had something to do with Barclay.

 

© Charles Heath 2015-2020

Sunday In New York