Two novels are on special for $0.99 for the next few weeks.
for “Echoes from the Past” go to
for “The Devil You Don’t” go to
I found this explanation on the internet which seems to sum up what odd phrases like ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’ mean: ‘a word or phrase used in a non-literal sense for rhetorical or vivid effect.’
We, as writers, are constantly reminded that we should not use these in our writing because most people might not understand their use.
But, being that unconventional, never to be told, type, I honestly think that 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, 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 conversation.
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, but it means to get the hell out of dodge quickly. Hang on, that’s another saying, American, and the way Dodge city was in western American folklore, if you irritated a gunslinger, then best be on your way, fast.
Otherwise, yes, you guessed it, you were at the end of another saying, you would get a one-way ticket to boot hill. In other words, the cemetery.
And while I’m digressing, again, Yul Brynner made a trip to boot hill very memorable in The Magnificent Seven.
‘Like a bull in a china shop’, describes a toddler let loose, not necessarily in a china shop, but I have seen it happen in reality and it wasn’t pretty
‘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, and means that someone has the nerve to be so confronting
‘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, we seemed to have coined the phrase nutty, or nuts for people who are a little, or a lot, eccentric
You can see, if you get the references, they are somewhat apt, and, yes, they sometimes creep into my stories.
In the distance he could hear the dinner bell ringing and roused himself. Feeling the dampness of the pillow, and fearing the ravages of pent up emotion, he considered not going down but thought it best not to upset Mrs. Mac, especially after he said he would be dining.
In the event, he wished he had reneged, especially when he discovered he was not the only guest staying at the hotel.
Whilst he’d been reminiscing, another guest, a young lady, had arrived. He’d heard her and Mrs. Mac coming up the stairs, and then shown to a room on the same floor, perhaps at the other end of the passage.
Henry caught his first glimpse of her when she appeared at the door to the dining room, waiting for Mrs. Mac to show her to a table.
She was about mid-twenties, slim, long brown hair, and the grace and elegance of a woman associated with countless fashion magazines. She was, he thought, stunningly beautiful with not a hair out of place, and make-up flawlessly applied. Her clothes were black, simple, elegant, and expensive, the sort an heiress or wife of a millionaire might condescend to wear to a lesser occasion than dinner.
Then there was her expression; cold, forbidding, almost frightening in its intensity. And her eyes, piercingly blue and yet laced with pain. Dracula’s daughter was his immediate description of her.
All in all, he considered, the only thing they had in common was, like him, she seemed totally out of place.
Mrs. Mac came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. She was, she informed him earlier, chef, waitress, hotelier, barmaid, and cleaner all rolled into one. Coming up to the new arrival she said, “Ah, Miss Andrews, I’m glad you decided to have dinner. Would you like to sit with Mr. Henshaw, or would you like to have a table of your own?”
Henry could feel her icy stare as she sized up his appeal as a dining companion, making the hair on the back on his neck stand up. He purposely didn’t look back. In his estimation, his appeal rating was minus six. Out of a thousand!
“If Mr. Henshaw doesn’t mind….” She looked at him, leaving the query in mid-air.
He didn’t mind and said so. Perhaps he’d underestimated his rating.
“Good.” Mrs. Mac promptly ushered her over. Henry stood, made sure she was seated properly and sat.
“Thank you. You are most kind.” The way she said it suggested snobbish overtones.
“I try to be when I can.” It was supposed to nullify her sarcastic tone but made him sound a little silly, and when she gave him another of her icy glares, he regretted it.
Mrs. Mac quickly intervened, asking, “Would you care for the soup?”
They did, and, after writing the order on her pad, she gave them each a look, imperceptibly shook her head, and returned to the kitchen.
Before Michelle spoke to him again, she had another quick look at him, trying to fathom who and what he might be. There was something about him.
His eyes, they mirrored the same sadness she felt, and, yes, there was something else, that it looked like he had been crying? There was a tinge of redness.
Perhaps, she thought, he was here for the same reason she was.
No. That wasn’t possible.
Then she said, without thinking, “Do you have any particular reason for coming here?” Seconds later she realized she’s spoken it out loud, had hadn’t meant to actually ask, it just came out.
It took him by surprise, obviously not the first question he was expecting her to ask of him.
“No, other than it is as far from civilization, and home, as I could get.”
At least we agree on that, she thought.
It was obvious he was running away from something as well.
Given the isolation of the village and lack of geographic hospitality, it was, from her point of view, ideal. All she had to do was avoid him, and that wouldn’t be difficult.
After getting through this evening first.
“Yes,” she agreed. “It is that.”
A few seconds passed, and she thought she could feel his eyes on her and wasn’t going to look up.
Until he asked, “What’s your reason?”
Slight abrupt in manner, perhaps as a result of her question, and the manner in which she asked it.
She looked up. “Rest. And have some time to myself.”
She hoped he would notice the emphasis she had placed on the word ‘herself’ and take due note. No doubt, she thought, she had completely different ideas of what constituted a holiday than he, not that she had actually said she was here for a holiday.
Mrs. Mac arrived at a fortuitous moment to save them from further conversation.
Over the entree, she wondered if she had made a mistake coming to the hotel. Of course, there had been no possible way she could know than anyone else might have booked the same hotel, but realized it was foolish to think she might end up in it by herself.
Was that what she was expecting?
Not a mistake then, but an unfortunate set of circumstances, which could be overcome by being sensible.
Yet, there he was, and it made her curious, not that he was a man, by himself, in the middle of nowhere, hiding like she was, but for very different reasons.
On discreet observance whilst they ate, she gained the impression his air of light-heartedness was forced and he had no sense of humor.
This feeling was engendered by his looks, unruly dark hair, and permanent frown. And then there was his abysmal taste in clothes on a tall, lanky frame. They were quality but totally unsuited to the wearer.
Rebellion was written all over him.
The only other thought crossing her mind, and rather incongruously, was he could do with a decent feed. In that respect, she knew now from the mountain of food in front of her, he had come to the right place.
He looked up. “Henshaw is too formal. Henry sounds much better,” he said, with a slight hint of gruffness.
“Then my name is Michelle.”
Mrs. Mac came in to take their order for the only main course, gather up the entree dishes, then return to the kitchen.
“Staying long?” she asked.
“About three weeks. Yourself?”
“About the same.”
The conversation dried up.
Neither looked at the other, rather at the walls, out the window, towards the kitchen, anywhere. It was, she thought, almost unbearably awkward.
Mrs. Mac returned with a large tray with dishes on it, setting it down on the table next to theirs.
“Not as good as the usual cook,” she said, serving up the dinner expertly, “but it comes a good second, even if I do say so myself. Care for some wine?”
Henry looked at Michelle. “What do you think?”
“I’m used to my dining companions making the decision.”
You would, he thought. He couldn’t help but notice the cutting edge of her tone. Then, to Mrs. Mac, he named a particular White Burgundy he liked and she bustled off.
“I hope you like it,” he said, acknowledging her previous comment with a smile that had nothing to do with humor.
“Yes, so do I.”
Both made a start on the main course, a concoction of chicken and vegetables that were delicious, Henry thought, when compared to the bland food he received at home and sometimes aboard my ship.
It was five minutes before Mrs. Mac returned with the bottle and two glasses. After opening it and pouring the drinks, she left them alone again.
Henry resumed the conversation. “How did you arrive? I came by train.”
“Did you drive yourself?”
And he thought, a few seconds later, that was a silly question, otherwise she would not be alone, and certainly not sitting at this table. With him.
“After a fashion.”
He could see that she was formulating a retort in her mind, then changed it, instead, smiling for the first time, and it served to lighten the atmosphere.
And in doing so, it showed him she had another more pleasant side despite the fact she was trying not to look happy.
“My father reckons I’m just another of ‘those’ women drivers,” she added.
“The first and only time he came with me I had an accident. I ran up the back of another car. Of course, it didn’t matter to him the other driver was driving like a startled rabbit.”
“It doesn’t help,” he agreed.
“Do you drive?”
“Mostly people up the wall.” His attempt at humor failed. “Actually,” he added quickly, “I’ve got a very old Morris that manages to get me where I’m going.”
The apple pie and cream for dessert came and went and the rapport between them improved as the wine disappeared and the coffee came. Both had found, after getting to know each other better, their first impressions were not necessarily correct.
“Enjoy the food?” Mrs. Mac asked, suddenly reappearing.
“Beautifully cooked and delicious to eat,” Michelle said, and Henry endorsed her remarks.
“Ah, it does my heart good to hear such genuine compliments,” she said, smiling. She collected the last of the dishes and disappeared yet again.
“What do you do for a living,” Michelle asked in an off-hand manner.
He had a feeling she was not particularly interested and it was just making conversation.
“I’m a purser.”
“A purser. I work on a ship doing the paperwork, that sort of thing.”
“I was a model.”
“Until I had an accident, a rather bad one.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
So that explained the odd feeling he had about her.
As the evening had worn on, he began to think there might be something wrong, seriously wrong with her because she didn’t look too well. Even the carefully applied makeup, from close up, didn’t hide the very pale, and tired look, or the sunken, dark ringed eyes.
“I try not to think about it, but it doesn’t necessarily work. I’ve come here for peace and quiet, away from doctors and parents.”
“Then you will not have to worry about me annoying you. I’m one of those fall-asleep-reading-a-book types.”
Perhaps it would be like ships passing in the night and then smiled to himself about the analogy.
Dinner now over, they separated.
Henry went back to the lounge to read a few pages of his book before going to bed, and Michelle went up to her room to retire for the night.
But try as he might, he was unable to read, his mind dwelling on the unusual, yet the compellingly mysterious person he would be sharing the hotel with.
Overlaying that original blurred image of her standing in the doorway was another of her haunting expressions that had, he finally conceded, taken his breath away, and a look that had sent more than one tingle down his spine.
She may not have thought much of him, but she had certainly made an impression on him.
© Charles Heath 2015-2020
I gave the order to my assistant to order the supplies we needed in order to maintain stock levels.
Oh, yes, the word order is one of my favourites, because it can confuse the hell out of many people in its simplicity and yet complexity.
I gave the order, it’s what happens in the armed forces, and a lot of other places, but mostly we would associate it with organisations that have hierarchical authority.
The military, for one, cut orders, the means of sending one of its minions to another place, or to do a specific job.
Order supplies, well, just about anyone can order something from somewhere, usually on the internet, and sometimes require or are given an order number so it can be tracked.
In order to maintain, in order to get what I want, in order to get elected, this is just another way of using the word, with the aim of achieving something, though I’m sure there’s probably a better way of expressing these sentiments.
Law and order, well, doesn’t everyone want this, and doesn’t it always turn up in an election campaign, and seems to be the first thing sacrificed after the election. The thing is, no one can guarantee law and order.
There is the law and there is administering it. There is no order that comes with it, we just hope that order is maintained, and deplore the situation when it isn’t.
Perhaps in order to maintain law and order, we might need more police.
Then, of course, there is alphabetical order, and numerical order, where things can be designated from A to Z, like this challenge, or from 1 to 10, or more. We can sort words alphabetically, numbers numerically and data items by keys or an index.
This is naturally called a sort order.
Then there is my car, or bike, or washing machine, or mixmaster. They are currently in good working order, though that might not last.
And lastly, in deference to all those out there who are thinking of becoming dictators, it’s always possible, one day, there will be a new world order. They might actually be in their own particular order, whose intellect might be (?) of the highest order.
Surely that is one order too many.
Stranger’s We’ve Become, a sequel to What Sets Us Apart.
Is she or isn’t she, that is the question!
Susan has returned to David, but he is having difficulty dealing with the changes. Her time in captivity has changed her markedly, so much so that David decides to give her some time and space to re-adjust back into normal life.
But doubts about whether he chose the real Susan remain.
In the meantime, David has to deal with Susan’s new security chief, the discovery of her rebuilding a palace in Russia, evidence of an affair, and several attempts on his life. And, once again, David is drawn into another of Predergast’s games, one that could ultimately prove fatal.
From being reunited with the enigmatic Alisha, a strange visit to Susan’s country estate, to Russia and back, to a rescue mission in Nigeria, David soon discovers those whom he thought he could trust each has their own agenda, one that apparently doesn’t include him.
There’s the cover, and, of course, the description.
Probably one of the hardest things for a first-time author is not so much the writing but what is needed after the book is written.
You need a good description. Short, sharp, incisive!
There’s a ream of advice out there, and I have read it all.
And, still, I got it wrong.
Then there is the cover.
I wanted simplistic, a short description to give the reader a taste of what’s in store, and let the story speak for itself.
Apparently, a good cover will attract the reader to the book.
When I tendered my books on various sites to advertise them, sites such as Goodreads, and ThirdScribe, all was well with what I had done.
Then I submitted my books to a third site and they rejected the covers as too simplistic and the descriptions mundane, and wouldn’t post them.
There’s a huge blow to the ego. And just the sort of advice that would make a writer think twice about even bothering to continue.
Perhaps the person who wrote that critique was being cruel to be kind.
At any rate, I am changing the covers, and rewording the descriptions.
Will it be a case of ‘what a difference a cover makes’?
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’.
Yep, in changing characters and timelines and thinking about the plotline between Bill and Ellen, a lot has changed, well, perhaps not a lot, but some fundamentals in the relationship.
Whilst I am determined, for some unknown reason, to write the first draft by hand, it leads to using a lot of paper and wearing out several self-leading pencils. I have a bin with screwed up paper, and yes, if I get it in, it’s three points. A lot don’t make it and lie forlornly beside and in front of the bin.
If only I had a cleaner to clean up. When I’ve become a best selling author.
I look at the pages I kept. God, I didn’t know I was that messy.
I start typing the first draft on the computer using my trusty old version of Microsoft Word, only because I know how to use it.
I have Scrivener but haven’t yet worked out all the bells and whistles. That will come, no doubt, with book number two.
But, as you might think, I am getting ahead of myself. I have yet to finish the first.
A cool breeze blew briskly across meadows of tall grass, giving the impression of the ocean in a storm. High above, clouds scudded across the sky, occasionally allowing the sun to shine through to bathe the ground in sunshine, intensifying the richness the greens and browns.
It was spring. Trees were displaying new growth, and flowers were starting to show the promise of summery delight. An occasional light shower of rain added to the delightful aromas, particularly where the grass had recently been mown.
I was there, too, with my grandmother, the woman who had, for the most part, brought me up at her country residence. But, as I got older, the dream changed and sometimes there were storm clouds on the horizon, or I was caught in the rain, alone and frightened, or lost in the woods in the dark.
There were other visions like these from my childhood, now a million years away somewhere in a distant past that was hard to remember or say where and when they belonged. It was a pity some were now based on images stolen from the start of a movie seen on TV late at night as I was trying to get to sleep. Or that the psychiatrist had said there was some trauma from my early childhood, trying to work its way out.
Like every other morning, these images came to me as I was hovering somewhere between conscious and unconscious, just before the alarm went off. Then it did, filling the room with a shrill noise that would have woken the dead.
I cursed, and then dragged myself over to the other side of the bed where I’d put the alarm clock, and hit it, killing the shrill sound. I’d put it there so I would have to wake up to turn it off. And, worse, I’d forgotten to turn it off the night before because it was, technically, the first day of my holiday.
Not that I really wanted one because since Ellen left, my life consisted of work, work, and more work. It kept my mind off being alone, and in an empty apartment except for the books, a bed, a table and two chairs, a desk, and well-worn lounge chair. I’d been there for a while and still hadn’t bought any new furniture or anything else for that matter.
And the last holiday I’d gone on had been organized by Ellen only a few years ago in Italy after our two daughters had finished school and graduated almost top of their class. We’d both thought it might help mend the damage, and for a while we were happy, but happiness was too fleeting for me, and soon after the rot had set in, and it was the beginning of the end.
I remembered it only too clearly, coming home, opening a letter addressed to her, and finding proof of what I think I’d known all along. She was having an affair, had been for quite some time.
It should not have been a surprise given what I had put her through over the years, since my discharge from the Army and later the nightmares active service had fuelled, but it was what it was and sent me spiralling to a new low.
But that was two years ago. I came out of the fog a year after that. Ellen was away most of the time with a new partner she never told me about, and the girls, who shared a unit not far from mine came to see me from time to time
But for all of that, all I now had left were memories.
I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. I was on holidays. No work, no pressure, nothing.
I thought about going back to my grandmother’s house and visit, but my grandmother was no longer there, and my mother, who was, was too judgemental, and I didn’t need to be told, yet again, how I had let the only woman for me slip through my fingers.
I could do almost anything.
I’d almost managed to doze off again when the phone rang.
I jumped to its equally shrill sound cutting through the silence. It had to be a wrong number because no one at work would call me and I didn’t have many friends, at least none who would call me at this hour.
I let it ring out.
Blissful silence. For five minutes.
Then it rang again.
Ignore it, I thought. It had to be someone from the office. I’d told them all not to call me, not unless the building was burning down and they were all trapped in it.
And even then, I’d I said I would have to think about it.
Burying my head under the pillow didn’t shut out the insistent ringing.
Almost reluctantly I rolled back, pulled the telephone out from under the bed, and lifted the receiver to my ear.
It was Carl Benton, my immediate superior; an insipid, loathsome, irritating little man, the last person I would want to speak to. He’d insisted I take this leave, that the office could survive without me, adding in his most condescending manner that I needed the break.
I slammed the receiver down in anger. It was a forlorn gesture. Seconds later, it rang again.
“I seem to remember you were the one to tell me to go on holiday, that I needed a holiday. I’m off the roster. It can’t be that important. Call someone else.” I wasn’t going to give him the opportunity to speak. Not this morning. I was not in the mood to listen to that squeaky, falsetto voice of his, one that always turned into a whine when he didn’t get his way.
And hung up again.
Not that it would do any good. I knew that even if I was in Tibet, he would still call. Then I realized it was too early for him to be in the office, and if he was, he would have been dragged out of bed and put in a position where if he didn’t produce results, they might realize just how incompetent he was.
At last, my holiday had some meaning and smiled to myself. I’d make the bastard sweat.
A good days work if I say so myself.
I only wished I was better at typing, but it was a self-correcting ribbon and would suffice.
Tonight it would be the sleep of the just.
Tomorrow, more plotting, more characters. I need a friendly head of a department, one that suffers Benton, a name for the assistant, and what are the circumstances that drag him back into work?
Death, murder, police, or security?
And all I thought I had to do is write!
© Charles Heath 2016-2020
A single event can have enormous consequences.
A single event driven by fate, after Ben told his wife Charlotte he would be late home one night, he left early, and by chance discovers his wife having dinner in their favourite restaurant with another man.
A single event where it could be said Ben was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Who was this man? Why was she having dinner with him?
A simple truth to explain the single event was all Ben required. Instead, Charlotte told him a lie.
A single event that forces Ben to question everything he thought he knew about his wife, and the people who are around her.
After a near-death experience and forced retirement into a world he is unfamiliar with, Ben finds himself once again drawn back into that life of lies, violence, and intrigue.
From London to a small village in Tuscany, little by little Ben discovers who the woman he married is, and the real reason why fate had brought them together.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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