Figures of speech

I found this explanation on the internet: ‘a word or phrase used in a non-literal sense for rhetorical or vivid effect.’

We as writers should not use these in our writing because most people might not understand their use.  I think it sometimes adds a degree of whimsy to the story.

I remember some years ago when I working with a Russian chap who’d not been in the country very long, and though he had a reasonable use of English, it was not quite up with our figures of speech.

And made me realize when he kept asking me what they meant, just how many I used in everyday use.

Most of these figures of speech use descriptions that do not necessarily match the word being described, such as ‘I dance like I have two left feet’.

And that pretty much sums up how good I can dance.  But …

‘Like a bat out of hell’, not sure how this got into the vernacular

‘Like a bull in a china shop’, describes a toddler let loose, no, you had the securely in their pram but somehow they got loose while you weren’t looking

‘More front than Myers’, as my mother used to say, but in context, Myers is the Australian version of the English Selfridges or Harrods or Paris Galleries Lafayette.  It refers to the width of street frontage of the stores, which in fact stretched for a whole block

‘As mad as a hatter’, though not necessarily of the millinery kind, but, well, you can guess, it’s from Alice in Wonderland

‘As nutty as a fruitcake’, provided your fruitcake has nuts in it

And, ‘I haven’t heard from him in donkey’s years’ which means you haven’t heard from someone for a long time, or perhaps as long as it takes donkey’s ears to fully grow.

Yes, someone made a minor adjustment and added a y to ears, because it used to be ‘donkey’s ears’, believe it or not.

You can see, if you get the references, they are somewhat apt, and, yes, they sometimes creep into my stories.

 

Writing about writing a book – Day 21 continues

I’m still working on Bill’s backstory, and how he got mixed up in the war, and as a general background to his situation, and life before Davenport.

This is still in his own words:

 

But whether we were stupid or naive, or completely mad, we were all eager to get into battle, filled with the sort of hate only Army propaganda films could fill you with.  They were our enemy, and they deserved to concede or die.

A fresh face in a hardened platoon, I was eager to get on with it.  They looked knowingly, having seen it all before.  No idea of the reality, and no time to tell us.  Have a few beers to celebrate, and then, the next morning, go out on patrol.  No problem.

There was camaraderie, but it was subdued.  We walked single file, the seasoned campaigners in front and at the rear, treading carefully, demanding quiet, and a general cautiousness.  In the middle of nowhere, where only the sound of rain, or the animals and birds for company, we were naive enough to think this was going to be a doddle.

Then it happened, six hours out, and just before we reached a small clearing.  I thought to myself it was odd there should be such a clear space with jungle all around it.  There must be a reason.

There was.

We had walked into an ambush, and everyone hit the ground.  I was bringing up the rear with another soldier, a veteran not much older than myself whose name was Scotty, a little farther back from the main group.  Bullets sprayed the undergrowth, pinging off trees and leaves.  I buried my face in the dirt, praying I would not die on my first patrol.

We became separated from the others, lying in a hollow, with no idea how far away help was.  He was muttering to himself.  “God, I hate this.  You can never see the bastards.  They’re out there, but you can never bloody well see them.”  Then he crawled up the embankment, gun first.

He let off a few rounds, causing a return of machine-gun fire, spattering the dirt at the top.  Next thing I knew he was sliding down the hill with half his face shot away.  Dead.  I threw up there and then.  What an initiation.

Then one of the enemy soldiers came over the hill to check on his ‘kill’.  I saw him at the same time he saw me and aimed my gun and shot.  It was instinct more than anything else, and I hadn’t stopped to think of the consequences.  He fell down, finishing up next to me, staring at me from black, lifeless eyes. 

Dead. 

I’ll never forget those lifeless eyes.  I just got up and ran, making it back to the rest of the group without getting hit.  No one could explain how I made it safely through the hail of gunfire, from our side and theirs.

Back in the camp later, the veterans remarked on how unlucky Scotty was and how lucky I was to shoot one of the enemies, and not be killed myself.  They all thought it was worth a celebration.

Before we went out the next day to do it all again.

I spent the night vomiting, unable to sleep, haunted look on his face, one I finally realized that reflected complete astonishment.

 

There will be more, as the story develops.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

Short story writing, don’t try this at home (5)

This is not meant to be a treatise on short story writing.  Far be it for me to advise anyone on the subject.  I prefer to say how it is that I do it so you can learn all of the pitfalls in one go.

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.

The same goes for the fashion of the day.

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.

More on the January update…

There is more going on on the story front, and just to keep my mind active, or tortured, as the case may be, there are a number of other stories I’m working on.

In particular, there is the story with the description, what happens after an action-packed start.

Quite a lot. In the third section of the story, episodes 31 to so far 44, we have flown into northern Nigeria, and then crossed into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in search of two men being held to ransom.

Previous attempts to rescue them had failed, this one had to succeed. It’s a matter of dealing with local militias who are tricky to deal with and then get out of the country after affecting the rescue.

At times, while writing it, looking at a map and using google earth to see what it is like, I felt like I was there looking down the barrel of a gun, and then, in the helter-skelter of getting to the evacuation point, I’m sure my heart rate had lifted considerably.

Right now, they’re about to get on the plane, back in Nigeria, but there’s a wrinkle, the kidnappers and the army are not happy and are sending troops in by helicopter.

Just imagine this …

A DC3 versus a very maneuverable helicopter. Stay tuned.

Next is the surveillance story where nothing is as it seems, which in the espionage business is nothing unusual. Nor is the fact you cannot trust anyone.

It starts out as a routine surveillance operation until a shop front explodes a moment or two after the target passes it. In the ensuing mayhem, the target reappears, now in fear of his life, and our main character tracks him to an alley where he is murdered before his eyes.

Soon after the two men whom our main character is working for appearing and start asking questions that make our main character think that they had perpetrated a hit on him, and decides that something is not right.

From there, the deeper he probes, the more interesting the characters and developments. Who was the target? What was he doing that got him killed? What did he have that everyone wants?

I’m about to start on the next phase of this story…

Then there is what I call comic light relief, the writing of stories inspired by photographs I’ve taken. Some, however, have exceeded the 1,000-word limit that I’ve set, only because I want to explore the story more, and some are spread over a number of stories.

The first book of stories, 1 to 50 are to be published next month. Currently, I’m working on number 93 of the second volume of stories, but number 88 is my favorite so far, simply because it involves a starship.

 

 

A matter of life and … what’s worse than death? – Episode 25

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

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

And, so, it continues…

Rolf Mayer had always had a dream to travel to other planets, and when he heard that the government was putting together a team of scientists with the express intention of building rockets, he gathered up his few belongings and traveled to Pennemunde to join the group being led by Werner von Braun.

At first, he had been turned away, but a chance meeting with von Braun changed his fortune.  

But, when Adolf Hitler came to power, it seemed that quest to reach the other planets became a quest to build a military weapon that would devastate an enemy city.  He had expressed his opposition to the project, but that was silenced when some Nazi party officials came from Berlin to give those scientists with reservations an ‘attitude readjustment’.

From then on all of the scientists knew when their allegiances lay and that there would be no time for traveling to the stars, even though, secretly, he drew on the experience and knowledge of the rockets they were building and testing to design his own rocket.  One day.

Then, as if only weeks had passed, the war had been declared, and the scientists had to work harder on creating a weapon which, in its first instance became known as the V1 flying bomb.  V, of course, stood for vengeance.

Later, when the enemy had bombed Pennemunde out of existence they moved to Nordhausen.  This place was different, underground where it could not be bombed, but there was something rather sinister about it.  Slave labor, prisoners from a local concentration camp were forced to work there, and the souls that he saw were not fit for work, or for anything else.

At Nordhausen, they worked on the V2 rockets, rockets in the true sense of the word, and it was abhorrent to him that they should be used for wholesale murder rather than their true purpose.  A promotion to Haupsturnfuhere in the SS and making him responsible for the horrific crimes being committed against humanity was the last straw.

He had enough information to create his own rocket based on the success of the V2, and it was time to leave, get away from this place before it killed him too.  There was only one problem, the real SS was watching, everyone and everything.  They trusted no-one, not even their own fellow officers.

Mayer was one of the scientists lucky enough to get a billet to the town nearby.  It was quiet enough, but he believed everyone living there knew what was going on, and worse, they knew about the concentration camp and the evil that went on inside.  Worse still, he knew everyone was watching everyone else, and reporting back to the SS anything out of the ordinary, including newcomers.

One such man came into the town, dressed as Obersturnfurer with one other SS officer in a car.  Everyone knew how impossible it was to get fuel, or if you had a car, a permit to use it except for essential services, or if it was requisitioned.

They were SS, so no one questioned why they were there.  But that didn’t mean that whispers of their presence didn’t filter around the town.  Just the very mention of the SS gave most people cold shivers.

Mayer heard about the two mysterious visitors when he arrived downstairs where he was lodging.  

“They were asking about the people staying here and wanted to see their papers.  I think they’re looking for someone, someone from the factory.”

“Nonsense.  They’re probably here to see some of their friends up at the camp.”

With that, he dismissed the visitors from his mind and went up to his room.  He unlocked the door and went in.  A moment later he realized his room had been thoroughly searched, and the mess left as a warning.  Had someone told the SS of his discontent.  He hadn’t said as much, but attitude and body language would have told a different story.

Then the door closed behind him with a bang, and the moment a hand touched his shoulder he jumped in fright.

There’s been a man behind the door.

“I suggest you do not speak or do anything that might bring attention to us.  Am I clear?”

Mayer nodded.

“Good.”

Another man, dressed in the uniform of a SS Standartenfuhrer, stepped out of the shadows in front of him holding a folder, the folder that contained his drawings and specifications for a more advanced V2 rocket,

Condemning evidence of him being a traitor to the Reich unless he could put a different spin on it.  He waited to see what the Standartenfuher had to say.

“This is damning evidence of your traitorous behavior.  We received information that you were stealing secrets from the Reich?  For whom, Mayer?  The British or the Americans?”

“I did not steal anything.  I work on the plans here in my spare time, away from that place.”  He realized the moment he said it, it might not be the best idea to be critical of anything, because it was always taken as a criticism of the Reich itself.

“Are you displeased with your working environment.  No one else has raised such issues.”

“No, no,” he added hastily, “it was not what I meant.  It’s just difficult to think clearly on problems when we’re under so much pressure.”

The Standartenfuhrer shook his head.  “Enough Mayer.  You are coming with us to explain yourself.”

“You need to clear this….”

“We don’t need anyone’s permission, Mayer.  We walk out of here, into the car, and not a word to anyone.  Any trouble I will not hesitate to shoot you.  Understand?”

Mayer nodded.

This wasn’t good.  Arrested by the SS.  There could be only one outcome.  It wouldn’t matter what he said, it would be the cells and then the firing squad.  He’d heard the rumors.

The other SS officer went first, the Mayer, then the Standartenfuhrer, down the stairs and past the owner of the boarding house.  The Standartenfuhrer stopped, and said, “This man’s papers, now.”

The owner stepped back into a room and came out a minute later and handed the Standartenfuhrer the document.

“No one is to be told what happened here.  Not unless you want us to come back and arrest your family.”

“Yes sir,” the owner said, very scared.

The proceeded to the car, got in, Mayer in the back with the Standartenfuhrer, and they drove off.  Only two people saw the whole event, and because it was by the SS, they were not going to tell anyone.

“Where are we going?” Mayer asked.

“Headquarters.  You will be wise to sit, be quiet and say nothing under any circumstances.”

Headquarters was in Berlin, at least that’s where he went to be made an officer of the SS, as a Hauptsturmfuhrer to give him the necessary authority to take charge of certain aspects of the production process of the V2 rockets.

And that included work on improving the guidance system.

But, he noticed they were not going north, but south.

© Charles Heath 2020

In a word: state

I think it’s stating the obvious, we are expressing something definitively and clearly.  I stated my case, but it was not good enough to save me from the hangman’s noose.

Or, they stated their case, but with an unforgiving government, it didn’t save them from being deported.

Or maybe not, maybe a state is a territory or nation under one government, though sometimes we might think that governance is not all that great

But it could also mean a subdivision within a single country, like the 52 states of the US, and the 5 states in Australia

And woe betide you if you become a state-less person, it means living in the international transit lounge for the rest of your life.

Or it might be how I feel at the time, you know, I’m not in a fit state of mind to be writing this post, or that I might be agitated, with someone else saying ‘he’s in a state’, or having said something quite odd, it might be said that my state of mind is clouded by grief.

If I was an important person, such as a king or prince, and had the unfortunate luck of dying, I could lie in state, though I could never understand why you’d want to hang around after you died.

 

An excerpt from “One Last Look”

 

I’d read about out of body experiences, and like everyone else, thought it was nonsense.  Some people claimed to see themselves in the operating theatre, medical staff frantically trying to revive them, and being surrounded by white light.

I was definitely looking down, but it wasn’t me I was looking at.

It was two children, a boy and a girl, with their parents, in a park.

The boy was Alan.  He was about six or seven.  The girl was Louise, and she was five years old.  She had long red hair and looked the image of her mother.

I remember it now, it was Louise’s birthday and we went down to Bournemouth to visit our Grandmother, and it was the last time we were all together as a family.

We were flying homemade kites our father had made for us, and after we lay there looking up at the sky, making animals out of the clouds.  I saw an elephant, Louise saw a giraffe.

We were so happy then.

Before the tragedy.

 

When I looked again ten years had passed and we were living in hell.  Louise and I had become very adept at survival in a world we really didn’t understand, surrounded by people who wanted to crush our souls.

It was not a life a normal child had, our foster parents never quite the sort of people who were adequately equipped for two broken-hearted children.  They tried their best, but their best was not good enough.

Every day it was a battle, to avoid the Bannister’s and Archie in particular, every day he made advances towards Louise and every day she fended him off.

Until one day she couldn’t.

Now I was sitting in the hospital, holding Louise’s hand.  She was in a coma, and the doctors didn’t think she would wake from it.  The damage done to her was too severe.

The doctors were wrong.

She woke, briefly, to name her five assailants.  It was enough to have them arrested.  It was not enough to have them convicted.

Justice would have to be served by other means.

 

I was outside the Bannister’s home.

I’d made my way there without really thinking, after watching Louise die.  It was like being on autopilot, and I had no control over what I was doing.  I had murder in mind.  It was why I was holding an iron bar.

Skulking in the shadows.  It was not very different from the way the Bannister’s operated.

I waited till Archie came out.  I knew he eventually would.  The police had taken him to the station for questioning, and then let him go.  I didn’t understand why, nor did I care.

I followed him up the towpath, waiting till he stopped to light a cigarette, then came out of the shadows.

“Wotcha got there Alan?” he asked when he saw me.  He knew what it was, and what it was for.

It was the first time I’d seen the fear in his eyes.  He was alone.

“Justice.”

“For that slut of a sister of yours.  I had nuffing to do with it.”

“She said otherwise, Archie.”

“She never said nuffing, you just made it up.”  An attempt at bluster, but there was no confidence in his voice.

I held up the pipe.  It had blood on it.  Willy’s blood.  “She may or may not have Archie, but Willy didn’t make it up.  He sang like a bird.  That’s his blood, probably brains on the pipe too, Archie, and yours will be there soon enough.”

“He dunnit, not me.  Lyin’ bastard would say anything to save his own skin.”  Definitely scared now, he was looking to run away.

“No, Archie.  He didn’t.  I’m coming for you.  All of you Bannisters.  And everyone who touched my sister.”

 

It was the recurring nightmare I had for years afterwards.

I closed my eyes and tried to shut out the thoughts, the images of Louise, the phone call, the visit to the hospital and being there when she succumbed to her injuries.  Those were the very worst few hours of my life.

She had asked me to come to the railway station and walk home with her, and I was running late.  If I had left when I was supposed to, it would never have happened and for years afterwards, I blamed myself for her death.

If only I’d not been late…

When the police finally caught the rapists, I’d known all along who they’d be; antagonists from school, the ring leader, Archie Bannister, a spurned boyfriend, a boy whose parents, ubiquitously known to all as ‘the Bannister’s, dealt in violence and crime and who owned the neighbourhood.  The sins of the father had been very definitely passed onto the son.

At school, I used to be the whipping boy, Archie, a few grades ahead of me, made a point of belting me and a few of the other boys, to make sure the rest did as they were told.  He liked Louise, but she had no time for a bully like him, even when he promised he would ‘protect’ me.

I knew the gang members, the boys who tow-kowed to save getting beaten up, and after the police couldn’t get enough information to prosecute them because everyone was too afraid to speak out, I went after Willy.  There was always a weak link in a group, and he was it.

He worked in a factory, did long hours on a Wednesday and came home after dark alone.  It was a half mile walk, through a park.  The night I approached him, I smashed the lights and left it in darkness.  He nearly changed his mind and went the long way home.

He didn’t.

It took an hour and a half to get the names.  At first, when he saw me, he laughed.  He said I would be next, and that was four words more than he knew he should have said.

When I found him alone the next morning I showed him the iron bar and told him he was on the list.  I didn’t kill him then, he could wait his turn, and worry about what was going to happen to him.

When the police came to visit me shortly after that encounter, no doubt at the behest of the Bannister’s, the neighbourhood closed ranks and gave me an ironclad alibi.  The Bannister’s then came to visit me and threatened me.  I told them their days were numbered and showed them the door.

At the trial, he and his friends got off on a technicality.  The police had failed to do their job properly, but it was not the police, but a single policeman, corrupted by the Bannisters.

Archie could help but rub it in my face.  He was invincible.

Joe Collins took 12 bullets and six hours to bleed out.  He apologized, he pleaded, he cried, he begged.  I didn’t care.

Barry Mills, a strong lad with a mind to hurting people, Archie’s enforcer, almost got the better of me.  I had to hit him more times than I wanted to, and in the end, I had to be satisfied that he died a short but agonizing death.

I revisited Willy in the hospital.  He’d recovered enough to recognize me, and why I’d come.  Suffocation was too good for him.

David Williams, second in command of the gang, was as tough and nasty as the Bannisters.  His family were forging a partnership with the Bannister’s to make them even more powerful.  Outwardly David was a pleasant sort of chap, affable, polite, and well mannered.  A lot of people didn’t believe he could be like, or working with, the Bannisters.

He and I met in the pub.  We got along like old friends.  He said Willy had just named anyone he could think of, and that he was innocent of any charges.  We shook hands and parted as friends.

Three hours later he was sitting in a chair in the middle of a disused factory, blindfolded and scared.  I sat and watched him, listened to him, first threatening me, and then finally pleading with me.  He’d guessed who it was that had kidnapped him.

When it was dark, I took the blindfold off and shone a very bright light in his eyes.  I asked him if the violence he had visited upon my sister was worth it.  He told me he was just a spectator.

I’d read the coroner’s report.  They all had a turn.  He was a liar.

He took nineteen bullets to die.

Then came Archie.

The same factory only this time there were four seats.  Anna Bannister, brothel owner, Spike Bannister, head of the family, Emily Bannister, sister, and who had nothing to do with their criminal activities.  She just had the misfortune of sharing their name.

Archie’s father told me how he was going to destroy me, and everyone I knew.

A well-placed bullet between the eyes shut him up.

Archie’s mother cursed me.  I let her suffer for an hour before I put her out of her misery.

Archie remained stony-faced until I came to Emily.  The death of his parents meant he would become head of the family.  I guess their deaths meant as little to him as they did me.

He was a little more worried about his sister.

I told him it was confession time.

He told her it was little more than a forced confession and he had done nothing to deserve my retribution.

I shrugged and shot her, and we both watched her fall to the ground screaming in agony.  I told him if he wanted her to live, he had to genuinely confess to his crimes.  This time he did, it all poured out of him.

I went over to Emily.  He watched in horror as I untied her bindings and pulled her up off the floor, suffering only from a small wound in her arm.  Without saying a word she took the gun and walked over to stand behind him.

“Louise was my friend, Archie.  My friend.”

Then she shot him.  Six times.

To me, after saying what looked like a prayer, she said, “Killing them all will not bring her back, Alan, and I doubt she would approve of any of this.  May God have mercy on your soul.”

 

Now I was in jail.  I’d spent three hours detailing the deaths of the five boys, everything I’d done; a full confession.  Without my sister, my life was nothing.  I didn’t want to go back to the foster parents; I doubt they’d take back a murderer.

They were not allowed to.

For a month I lived in a small cell, in solitary, no visitors.  I believed I was in the queue to be executed, and I had mentally prepared myself for the end.

Then I was told I had a visitor, and I was expecting a priest.

Instead, it was a man called McTavish. Short, wiry, and with an accent that I could barely understand.

“You’ve been a bad boy, Alan.”

When I saw it was not the priest I told the jailers not to let him in, I didn’t want to speak to anyone.  They ignored me.  I’d expected he was a psychiatrist, come to see whether I should be shipped off to the asylum.

I was beginning to think I was going mad.

I ignored him.

“I am the difference between you living or dying Alan, it’s as simple as that.  You’d be a wise man to listen to what I have to offer.”

Death sounded good.  I told him to go away.

He didn’t.  Persistent bugger.

I was handcuffed to the table.  The prison officers thought I was dangerous.  Five, plus two, murders, I guess they had a right to think that.  McTavish sat opposite me, ignoring my request to leave.

“Why’d you do it?”

“You know why.”  Maybe if I spoke he’d go away.

“Your sister.  By all accounts, the scum that did for her deserved what they got.”

“It was murder just the same.  No difference between scum and proper people.”

“You like killing?”

“No-one does.”

“No, I dare say you’re right.  But you’re different, Alan.  As clean and merciless killing I’ve ever seen.  We can use a man like you.”

“We?”

“A group of individuals who clean up the scum.”

I looked up to see his expression, one of benevolence, totally out of character for a man like him.  It looked like I didn’t have a choice.

 

Trained, cleared, and ready to go.

I hadn’t realized there were so many people who were, for all intents and purposes, invisible.  People that came and went, in malls, in hotels, trains, buses, airports, everywhere, people no one gave a second glance.

People like me.

In a mall, I became a shopper.

In a hotel, I was just another guest heading to his room.

On a bus or a train, I was just another commuter.

At the airport, I became a pilot.  I didn’t need to know how to fly; everyone just accepted a pilot in a pilot suit was just what he looked like.

I had a passkey.

I had the correct documents to get me onto the plane.

That walk down the air bridge was the longest of my life.  Waiting for the call from the gate, waiting for one of the air bridge staff to challenge me, stepping onto the plane.

Two pilots and a steward.  A team.  On the plane early before the rest of the crew.  A group that was committing a crime, had committed a number of crimes and thought they’d got away with it.

Until the judge, the jury and their executioner arrived.

Me.

Quick, clean, merciless.  Done.

I was now an operational field agent.

 

I was older now, and I could see in the mirror I was starting to go grey at the sides.  It was far too early in my life for this, but I expect it had something to do with my employment.

I didn’t recognize the man who looked back at me.

It was certainly not Alan McKenzie, nor was there any part of that fifteen-year-old who had made the decision to exact revenge.

Given a choice; I would not have gone down this path.

Or so I kept telling myself each time a little more of my soul was sold to the devil.

I was Barry Gamble.

I was Lenny Buckman.

I was Jimmy Hosen.

I was anyone but the person I wanted to be.

That’s what I told Louise, standing in front of her grave, and trying to apologize for all the harm, all the people I’d killed for that one rash decision.  If she was still alive she would be horrified, and ashamed.

Head bowed, tears streamed down my face.

God had gone on holiday and wasn’t there to hand out any forgiveness.  Not that day.  Not any day.

 

New York, New Years Eve.

I was at the end of a long tour, dragged out of a holiday and back into the fray, chasing down another scumbag.  They were scumbags, and I’d become an automaton hunting them down and dispatching them to what McTavish called a better place.

This time I failed.

A few drinks to blot out the failure, a blonde woman who pushed my buttons, a room in a hotel, any hotel, it was like being on the merry-go-round, round and round and round…

Her name was Silvia or Sandra, or someone I’d met before, but couldn’t quite place her.  It could be an enemy agent for all I knew or all I cared right then.

I was done.

I’d had enough.

I gave her the gun.

I begged her to kill me.

She didn’t.

Instead, I simply cried, letting the pent up emotion loose after being suppressed for so long, and she stayed with me, holding me close, and saying I was safe, that she knew exactly how I felt.

How could she?  No one could know what I’d been through.

I remembered her name after she had gone.

Amanda.

I remembered she had an imperfection in her right eye.

Someone else had the same imperfection.

I couldn’t remember who that was.

Not then.

 

I had a dingy flat in Kensington, a place that I rarely stayed in if I could help it.  After five-star hotel rooms, it made me feel shabby.

The end of another mission, I was on my way home, the underground, a bus, and then a walk.

It was late.

People were spilling out of the pub after the last drinks.  Most in good spirits, others slightly more boisterous.

A loud-mouthed chap bumped into me, the sort who had one too many, and was ready to take on all comers.

He turned on me, “Watch where you’re going, you fool.”

Two of his friends dragged him away.  He shrugged them off, squared up.

I punched him hard, in the stomach, and he fell backwards onto the ground.  I looked at his two friends.  “Take him home before someone makes mincemeat out of him.”

They grabbed his arms, lifted him off the ground and took him away.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a woman, early thirties, quite attractive, but very, very drunk.  She staggered from the bar, bumped into me, and finished up sitting on the side of the road.

I looked around to see where her friends were.  The exodus from the pub was over and the few nearby were leaving to go home.

She was alone, drunk, and by the look of her, unable to move.

I sat beside her.  “Where are your friends?”

“Dunno.”

“You need help?”

She looked up, and sideways at me.  She didn’t look the sort who would get in this state.  Or maybe she was, I was a terrible judge of women.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“Nobody.”  I was exactly how I felt.

“Well Mr Nobody, I’m drunk, and I don’t care.  Just leave me here to rot.”

She put her head back between her knees, and it looked to me she was trying to stop the spinning sensation in her head.

Been there before, and it’s not a good feeling.

“Where are your friends?” I asked again.

“Got none.”

“Perhaps I should take you home.”

“I have no home.”

“You don’t look like a homeless person.  If I’m not mistaken, those shoes are worth more than my weekly salary.”  I’d seen them advertised, in the airline magazine, don’t ask me why the ad caught my attention.

She lifted her head and looked at me again.  “You a smart fucking arse are you?”

“I have my moments.”

“Have them somewhere else.”

She rested her head against my shoulder.  We were the only two left in the street, and suddenly in darkness when the proprietor turned off the outside lights.

“Take me home,” she said suddenly.

“Where is your place?”

“Don’t have one.  Take me to your place.”

“You won’t like it.”

“I’m drunk.  What’s not to like until tomorrow.”

I helped her to her feet.  “You have a name?”

“Charlotte.”

 

The wedding was in a small church.  We had been away for a weekend in the country, somewhere in the Cotswolds, and found this idyllic spot.  Graves going back to the dawn of time, a beautiful garden tended by the vicar and his wife, an astonishing vista over hills and down dales.

On a spring afternoon with the sun, the flowers, and the peacefulness of the country.

I had two people at the wedding, the best man, Bradley, and my boss, Watkins.

Charlotte had her sisters Melissa and Isobel, and Isobel’s husband Giovanni, and their daughter Felicity.

And one more person who was as mysterious as she was attractive, a rather interesting combination as she was well over retirement age.  She arrived late and left early.

Aunt Agatha.

She looked me up and down with what I’d call a withering look.  “There’s more to you than meets the eye,” she said enigmatically.

“Likewise I’m sure,” I said.  It earned me an elbow in the ribs from Charlotte.  It was clear she feared this woman.

“Why did you come,” Charlotte asked.

“You know why.”

Agatha looked at me.  “I like you.  Take care of my granddaughter.  You do not want me for an enemy.”

OK, now she officially scared me.

She thrust a cheque into my hand, smiled, and left.

“Who is she,” I asked after we watched her depart.

“Certainly not my fairy godmother.”

Charlotte never mentioned her again.

 

Zurich in summer, not exactly my favourite place.

Instead of going to visit her sister Isobel, we stayed at a hotel in Beethovenstrasse and Isobel and Felicity came to us.  Her husband was not with her this time.

Felicity was three or four and looked very much like her mother.  She also looked very much like Charlotte, and I’d remarked on it once before and it received a sharp rebuke.

We’d been twice before, and rather than talk to her sister, Charlotte spent her time with Felicity, and they were, together, like old friends.  For so few visits they had a remarkable rapport.

I had not broached the subject of children with Charlotte, not after one such discussion where she had said she had no desire to be a mother.  It had not been a subject before and wasn’t once since.

Perhaps like all Aunts, she liked the idea of playing with a child for a while and then give it back.

Felicity was curious as to who I was, but never ventured too close.  I believed a child could sense the evil in adults and had seen through my facade of friendliness.  We were never close.

But…

This time, when observing the two together, something quite out of left field popped into my head.  It was not possible, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought she looked like my mother.

And Charlotte had seen me looking in their direction.  “You seem distracted,” she said.

“I was just remembering my mother.  Odd moment, haven’t done so for a very long time.”

“Why now?”  I think she had a look of concern on her face.

“Her birthday, I guess,” I said, the first excuse I could think of.

Another look and I was wrong.  She looked like Isobel or Charlotte, or if I wanted to believe it possible, Melissa too.

 

I was crying, tears streaming down my face.

I was in pain, searing pain from my lower back stretching down into my legs, and I was barely able to breathe.

It was like coming up for air.

It was like Snow White bringing Prince Charming back to life.  I could feel what I thought was a gentle kiss and tears dropping on my cheeks, and when I opened my eyes, I saw Charlotte slowly lifting her head, a hand gently stroking the hair off my forehead.

And in a very soft voice, she said, “Hi.”

I could not speak, but I think I smiled.  It was the girl with the imperfection in her right eye.  Everything fell into place, and I knew, in that instant that we were irrevocably meant to be together.

“Welcome back.”

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2019