“The Devil You Don’t”, be careful what you wish for

Now only $0.99 at https://amzn.to/2Xyh1ow

John Pennington’s life is in the doldrums. Looking for new opportunities, prevaricating about getting married, the only joy on the horizon was an upcoming visit to his grandmother in Sorrento, Italy.

Suddenly he is left at the check-in counter with a message on his phone telling him the marriage is off, and the relationship is over.

If only he hadn’t promised a friend he would do a favor for him in Rome.

At the first stop, Geneva, he has a chance encounter with Zoe, an intriguing woman who captures his imagination from the moment she boards the Savoire, and his life ventures into uncharted territory in more ways than one.

That ‘favor’ for his friend suddenly becomes a life-changing event, and when Zoe, the woman who he knows is too good to be true, reappears, danger and death follow.

Shot at, lied to, seduced, and drawn into a world where nothing is what it seems, John is dragged into an adrenaline-charged undertaking, where he may have been wiser to stay with the ‘devil you know’ rather than opt for the ‘devil you don’t’.

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And I found this photograph…

Because despite all the self warnings, and trepidation…

…I crossed that bridge and found this:

Yes, we went back in time, and when I pulled over, and got out of the car the first thing that crossed my mind, I was either in an old gold mining town, or it was a mid way settlement to somewhere else.

Of course, it was deserted.

So, next thought was that this was a ghost town. But, the fact it’s late in the afternoon and everything looks as though it’s locked up, this might also quite easily be a tourist attraction, done for the day.

But, it was off the main road, down a track that led to what I thought might have been a settlement.

I go for a walk and look at some of the buildings. They have been kept in good order, but are showing signs of age, and no sign of modernisation.

Does this mean I’ve gone back in time?

“Hey?”

I hear a voice behind me, that of a man, and turn around.

He’s about 80 wearing well worn clothes and a raggedy beard, wrinkled eyes and leathery skin. A miner? A cowboy? Someone who lived here, like perhaps the last remaining resident.

“Who are you?” he askes stopping about 20 feet away. He looks annoyed, or maybe that was his perpetual angry face.

“A visitor?”

“From?”

“Back east.”

A knowing look crosses his face. “City slicker eh?”

Language right out of an old Hollywood western. Any minute now I might see John Wayne or a troop of Union soldiers.

“Perhaps.” I had no idea why I used the expression, back east.

“Then you’d better go back. No place for the likes of people like you. Last fellow that came from the city got run out of town.”

Friendly town then. A sideways glance showed movement, and another man along side one of the buildings, with a rifle, pointed straight at me.

“I guess I’m not welcome. I’m leaving. You might tell that to the man with the gun on me.”

“He knows.”

I turned, and walked slowly and steadily back to where I thought I left the car. Instead there was a saddled horse tied to a fence.

That’s when I had a very bad feeling…

I saw this photograph…

When doing some research for another story:

And a thought popped into my head. What if that was a gateway to another dimension, or just a gateway to hell. Or, since my mood wasn’t leaning towards death and mayhem, what if it was the entrance to a new world, one where troubles could be left behind?

All you have to do is cross that bridge.

IT could be like hundreds of others scattered over the United States, simply a bridge crossing a stream. Why did someone build over it? Was there a reason?

Delving into the mysteries of covered bridges there are among no doubt many two that I found. The first, so that the bridge timbers underneath didn’t rot, and the second, since it looked like a barn, animals would not hesitate to walk under and cross the bridge.

So, if it was me, out on a motoring holiday, somewhere in New England where there are a number of these bridges, I’d stop and take a look. First, to see what was on the other side, probably more forest as the road heads into the mountains, then walk through, tasking that first tentative step to see if anything happened.

What would I be expecting? A tingling sensation, a momentary blank, like losing consciousness for a fraction of a second, and coming to without any apparent change of scenery. Perhaps it might be a time warp, and stepping off at the other side sends me back in time, or maybe forward in time.

Or would I get a feeling of elation, that I had made it to the other side, but without being able to define what the other side was.

Or would I be filled with dread, and run back to the car and drive away as fast as I could?

The possibilities are endless.

An excerpt from “Strangers We’ve Become” – Coming Soon

I wandered back to my villa.

It was in darkness.  I was sure I had left several lights on, especially over the door so I could see to unlock it.

I looked up and saw the globe was broken.

Instant alert.

I went to the first hiding spot for the gun, and it wasn’t there.  I went to the backup and it wasn’t there either.  Someone had found my carefully hidden stash of weapons and removed them.

Who?

There were four hiding spots and all were empty.  Someone had removed the weapons.  That could only mean one possibility.

I had a visitor, not necessarily here for a social call.

But, of course, being the well-trained agent I’d once been and not one to be caught unawares, I crossed over to my neighbor and relieved him of a weapon that, if found, would require a lot of explaining.

Suitably armed, it was time to return the surprise.

There were three entrances to the villa, the front door, the back door, and a rather strange escape hatch.  One of the more interesting attractions of the villa I’d rented was its heritage.  It was built in the late 1700s, by a man who was, by all accounts, a thief.  It had a hidden underground room which had been in the past a vault but was now a wine cellar, and it had an escape hatch by which the man could come and go undetected, particularly if there was a mob outside the door baying for his blood.

It now gave me the means to enter the villa without my visitors being alerted, unless, of course, they were near the vicinity of the doorway inside the villa, but that possibility was unlikely.  It was not where anyone could anticipate or expect a doorway to be.

The secret entrance was at the rear of the villa behind a large copse, two camouflaged wooden doors built into the ground.  I move aside some of the branches that covered them and lifted one side.  After I’d discovered the doors and rusty hinges, I’d oiled and cleaned them, and cleared the passageway of cobwebs and fallen rocks.  It had a mildew smell, but nothing would get rid of that.  I’d left torches at either end so I could see.

I closed the door after me, and went quietly down the steps, enveloped in darkness till I switched on the torch.  I traversed the short passage which turned ninety degrees about halfway to the door at the other end.  I carried the key to this door on the keyring, found it and opened the door.  It too had been oiled and swung open soundlessly.

I stepped in the darkness and closed the door.

I was on the lower level under the kitchen, now the wine cellar, the ‘door’ doubling as a set of shelves which had very little on them, less to fall and alert anyone in the villa.

Silence, an eerie silence.

I took the steps up to the kitchen, stopping when my head was level with the floor, checking to see if anyone was waiting.  There wasn’t.  It seemed to me to be an unlikely spot for an ambush.

I’d already considered the possibility of someone coming after me, especially because it had been Bespalov I’d killed, and I was sure he had friends, all equally as mad as he was.  Equally, I’d also considered it nigh on impossible for anyone to find out it was me who killed him because the only people who knew that were Prendergast, Alisha, a few others in the Department, and Susan.

That raised the question of who told them where I was.

If I was the man I used to be, my first suspect would be Susan.  The departure this morning, and now this was too coincidental.  But I was not that man.

Or was I?

I reached the start of the passageway that led from the kitchen to the front door and peered into the semi-darkness.  My eyes had got used to the dark, and it was no longer an inky void.  Fragments of light leaked in around the door from outside and through the edge of the window curtains where they didn’t fit properly.  A bone of contention upstairs in the morning, when first light shone and invariably woke me up hours before I wanted to.

Still nothing.

I took a moment to consider how I would approach the visitor’s job.  I would get a plan of the villa in my head, all entrances, where a target could be led to or attacked where there would be no escape.

Coming in the front door.  If I was not expecting anything, I’d just open the door and walk-in.  One shot would be all that was required.

Contract complete.

I sidled quietly up the passage staying close to the wall, edging closer to the front door.  There was an alcove where the shooter could be waiting.  It was an ideal spot to wait.

Crunch.

I stepped on some nutshells.

Not my nutshells.

I felt it before I heard it.  The bullet with my name on it.

And how the shooter missed, from point-blank range, and hit me in the arm, I had no idea.  I fired off two shots before a second shot from the shooter went wide and hit the door with a loud thwack.

I saw a red dot wavering as it honed in on me and I fell to the floor, stretching out, looking up where the origin of the light was coming and pulled the trigger three times, evenly spaced, and a second later I heard the sound of a body falling down the stairs and stopping at the bottom, not very far from me.

Two assassins.

I’d not expected that.

The assassin by the door was dead, a lucky shot on my part.  The second was still breathing.

I checked the body for any weapons and found a second gun and two knives.  Armed to the teeth!

I pulled off the balaclava; a man, early thirties, definitely Italian.  I was expecting a Russian.

I slapped his face, waking him up.  Blood was leaking from several slashes on his face when his head had hit the stairs on the way down.  The awkward angle of his arms and legs told me there were broken bones, probably a lot worse internally.  He was not long for this earth.

“Who employed you?”

He looked at me with dead eyes, a pursed mouth, perhaps a smile.  “Not today my friend.  You have made a very bad enemy.”  He coughed and blood poured out of his mouth.  “There will be more …”

Friends of Bespalov, no doubt.

I would have to leave.  Two unexplainable bodies, I’d have a hard time explaining my way out of this mess.  I dragged the two bodies into the lounge, clearing the passageway just in case someone had heard anything.

Just in case anyone was outside at the time, I sat in the dark, at the foot of the stairs, and tried to breathe normally.  I was trying not to connect dots that led back to Susan, but the coincidence was worrying me.

 

A half-hour passed and I hadn’t moved.  Deep in thought, I’d forgotten about being shot, unaware that blood was running down my arm and dripping onto the floor.

Until I heard a knock on my front door.

Two thoughts, it was either the police, alerted by the neighbors, or it was the second wave, though why would they be knocking on the door?

I stood, and immediately felt a stabbing pain in my arm.  I took out a handkerchief and turned it into a makeshift tourniquet, then wrapped a kitchen towel around the wound.

If it was the police, this was going to be a difficult situation.  Holding the gun behind my back, I opened the door a fraction and looked out.

No police, just Maria.  I hoped she was not part of the next ‘wave’.

“You left your phone behind on the table.  I thought you might be looking for it.”  She held it out in front of her.

When I didn’t open the door any further, she looked at me quizzically, and then asked, “Is anything wrong?”

I was going to thank her for returning the phone, but I heard her breathe in sharply, and add, breathlessly, “You’re bleeding.”

I looked at my arm and realized it was visible through the door, and not only that, the towel was soaked in blood.

“You need to go away now.”

Should I tell her the truth?  It was probably too late, and if she was any sort of law-abiding citizen she would go straight to the police.

She showed no signs of leaving, just an unnerving curiosity.  “What happened?”

I ran through several explanations, but none seemed plausible.  I went with the truth.  “My past caught up with me.”

“You need someone to fix that before you pass out from blood loss.  It doesn’t look good.”

“I can fix it.  You need to leave.  It is not safe to be here with me.”

The pain in my arm was not getting any better, and the blood was starting to run down my arm again as the tourniquet loosened.  She was right, I needed it fixed sooner rather than later.

I opened the door and let her in.  It was a mistake, a huge mistake, and I would have to deal with the consequences.  Once inside, she turned on the light and saw the pool of blood just inside the door and the trail leading to the lounge.  She followed the trail and turned into the lounge, turned on the light, and no doubt saw the two dead men.

I expected her to scream.  She didn’t.

She gave me a good hard look, perhaps trying to see if I was dangerous.  Killing people wasn’t something you looked the other way about.  She would have to go to the police.

“What happened here?”

“I came home from the cafe and two men were waiting for me.  I used to work for the Government, but no longer.  I suspect these men were here to repay a debt.  I was lucky.”

“Not so much, looking at your arm.”

She came closer and inspected it.

“Sit down.”

She found another towel and wrapped it around the wound, retightening the tourniquet to stem the bleeding.

“Do you have medical supplies?”

I nodded.  “Upstairs.”  I had a medical kit, and on the road, I usually made my own running repairs.  Another old habit I hadn’t quite shaken off yet.

She went upstairs, rummaged, and then came back.  I wondered briefly what she would think of the unmade bed though I was not sure why it might interest her.

She helped me remove my shirt, and then cleaned the wound.  Fortunately, she didn’t have to remove a bullet.  It was a clean wound but it would require stitches.

When she’d finished she said, “Your friend said one day this might happen.”

No prizes for guessing who that friend was, and it didn’t please me that she had involved Maria.

“Alisha?”

“She didn’t tell me her name, but I think she cares a lot about you.  She said trouble has a way of finding you, gave me a phone and said to call her if something like this happened.”

“That was wrong of her to do that.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not.  Will you call her?”

“Yes.  I can’t stay here now.  You should go now.  Hopefully, by the time I leave in the morning, no one will ever know what happened here, especially you.”

She smiled.  “As you say, I was never here.”

 

© Charles Heath 2018-2020

In a word: Toe

A toe is one of five at the end of your foot, and from time to time you wriggle.  It’s also one of the first things to go when you get frostbite.

And when was the last time you stubbed your toe?  It hurts!

It can also mean something at the tip or point, such as the toe of a country like Italy, or England.

What does it mean when someone treads on your toes?   You upset or annoy them.

What if you go toe to toe with someone?  Two people having a ‘robust discussion’.

What about that boss that keeps you on your toes, especially when he’s looking over your shoulder!

And what about a toe-poke, a hard kick of the football with your toe?

Of course, it’s not to be confused with the word tow, which basically means to pull something behind you.

Like a tow truck, pulling a broken down, or smashed up, vehicle.

But, do you toe the line, or tow the line?  Or both at different times?

It seems that to toe the line means to do as you are told, or conform to a standard.

Sadly, that doesn’t describe me!

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

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

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

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

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

My private detective, Harry Walthenson

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

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

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

Then there’s the title, like

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

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

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

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

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

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

PIWalthJones1

Ideas come from everywhere

I have an electronic note book on my smart phone and writing pads at the ready at home in my office/writing room/library.

As soon as one hits, I get it down, either on paper, or on the phone app. I use SomNote as it’s easy to export the text to an email, or have a version of the app running on my computer and just copy and paste. SomNote is great because I can used it anywhere.

Of course, it doesn’t work so well in the shower, so I’m still waiting for a waterproof phone. Or perhaps it can wait for a few minutes until I’m finished.

But, the trouble with that it, these ideas come so quickly and are sometimes so vivid that they need to be put down as quickly as possible. I have come up with the perfect dialogue for a tricky scene, and played it all out in my head, and by the time I got to the paper, it was almost gone.

Perhaps a whiteboard and a permanent marker on the wall.

Or is that going to far?

A long time ago, I received a portable tape recorder for a present, you know, the one you can hold in your hand, and the tapes so small you wonder how much will fit on it. The gifter said that when ideas came to me, all I had to do was speak. It was also voice activated.

Needless to say that conjured up a few ideas right there.

But, I used it, but I found it quite weird to be talking, ostensibly to myself, in the car whilst driving home, or go to, work, and the curious looks I’d get from others. One thing it did teach me was that when a conversation was repkayed, it would sound ok or like most of the time, hardly what one expected a conversation would really be like.

So, because of that device, I learned to read out all conversations, and if they sounded stupid, they were.

SO, ideas come in the shower, ideas come while driving, ideas come when reading the newspaper, ideas even come when reading books.

Which leads me to another point that I learned early on. Writers must read. Not only novels of their chosen genre, but any reference books that go with it. Research was, a friend and more successful author than I told me, was mandatory.

So too was the reading to the classics, old English, and sometimes American, literature, to gain an appreciation for the written word. We might not follow those styles, but we can learn the majesty of the English language.

That author taught me a lot, though at the time I didn;t realise it. Perhaps I thpought I was already smart enough to write, but I’m guessing that it took a long time before I felt my writing was worth reading before publishing it.

I don’t profess to have a fully understanding of the language. I might have loved that school subject called English, and later in University, creative writing and literature, but not all of it soaked in. But writing is one of those odd things, that it can take many forms and styles, but at the end of the day, if the reader understands where the story is going, and when at the end, is satisfied that it was ‘a good read’, then the author’s work is done.

The only trouble is, getting the next idea, and then the were withal to write a second book, or third. It is said everyone as one book in them. For those who can write more, well, that might be what might be called, a gift.

My trouble is, I have too many ideas, too many starts and brief outlines to work with, I don’t know which story to start on next. I guess being spoinlt for choice is a good thing, yes?

The story behind the story – Echoes from the Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally it was not set anywhere in particular.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, of course, I wanted a happy ending.

Except for the bad guys.

 

Get it here:  https://amzn.to/2CYKxu4

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In a word: Lie

Here’s another of those small words that have so many different meanings that it can boggle the mind.

The most obvious, is telling a lie, in other words trying fervently to avoid getting the blame, admit that we are anything but ordinary, or that we are larger than life.

I’m none of the above.

Then it’s where a golf ball lands, and is quite often, for me, at the bottom of a lake, or in the middle of a sand trap. That statement, play it where it lies takes on a whole new meaning when playing with friends who hate to lose.

Then, if I’ve got a headache, which is what this is giving me trying to catch up with all the meanings, I have to lie down. Usually that’s in a prone position, though I’m sure there are people who would argue otherwise.

You can lie in state, after you’re dead, but that ain’t going to happen to me. And the way Prince Harry’s going, I don’t think it’ll happen to him either.

The mountain lies in that direction, said the elf pointing towards the sea. Elves are meant to be confusing. But inevitably something will lie in a particular direction.

Perhaps the elf will lie about the lie of the land?

A book will lie on the table, or a sill, or a shelf, or just about anywhere.

And just to add to the confusion, your future will lie before you. Figure that one out!

This is not to be confused with lye, a strongly alkaline solution, especially of potassium hydroxide, used for washing or cleansing.