The cinema of my dreams – It’s a treasure hunt – Episode 68

Here’s the thing…

Every time I close my eyes, I see something different.

I’d like to think the cinema of my dreams is playing a double feature but it’s a bit like a comedy cartoon night on Fox.

But these dreams are nothing to laugh about.

Once again there’s a new installment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.

Back at the newspaper archives

Boggs didn’t come home.

His mother and I waited until way after dark, and when I raised the possibility that something might have happened to him, she didn’t agree, nor did she look all that concerned.

The fact he had experience in cave exploration, and used to camping out with his father and later uncle Rico and had suffested he might not be back for a few days and was not a cause for concern.

It didn’t register that he might get into trouble considering the instability of some of the caves, nor the fact they have warning signs and or been boarded up to stop explorers.

It bothered me.

He was starting to emulate his father, with this obsession.  If the story in the paper was anything to go by, at worst he could finish up just like his father, buried under a pile of rubble.  That was one of the more speculative reults to his treasure hunt, besides leaving his family penniless and heartbroken.

Did I believe that was where his father was?  I didn’t think he disappeared of his own volition but as to the who, well, there were only two principal suspects, and no evidence of the complicity.

Boggs’s father might never be found.

But, in the end, I didn’t know what to think, because the waters were so muddied by people who were driven by self-interest.

There was so much more to this story, mostly driven by self-interest, revenge perhaps, and, worse, greed.  It was perhaps a symptom of everything that had gone wrong in not only this town but what was happening on a much larger scale to the whole country.  But, that was someone else’s problem.  My concern was here, now, and saving Biggs from following the same destructive path his father had

And, to do that, I needed to know more.  That meant, first thing the next morning, a trip to the newspaper office.

When I returned to the newspaper office Lenny was in his usual seat with a paper in hand, reading.  Keeping up with the competition, he said, though the difference in circulation was counted in millions.

There was a woman behind the other desk.

“Staff journalist,” he said when he saw me looking at her.  “And family.  My wife, Jennifer.”

I’d not seen her before, and she didn’t come from here, or I would have recognized her.

She smiled, and there was something in that expression that struck me as familiar.

“Are you related to the Ormistons?”

It was a vague resemblance, after seeing so many pictures of the Ormistons, that everyone looked like them.

“It’s a name I don’t use anymore,” she said, “for obvious reasons.  My grandfather stirred a lot of resentment.”

“And,” Lenny added, “it’s between us and these four walls, Sam.”

I nodded.  I could understand the sentiment.  And it explained Lenny’s depth of knowledge.

“Just to be clear, your grandfather didn’t find the treasure?”

She sighed.

Lenny said, sharply, “Sam!”

I shrugged.  “Sorry.  I had to ask.”

“No, he did not, and believe me, that’s a sore point with everyone whose lives he destroyed.”

“I can imagine.  Does anyone know what happened to him, the real story?”

“There is no real story Sam.  I tried to discover the truth and failed.  For Jennifer’s peace of mind.  We may never know what happened to him.”

“But surely you don’t believe he died in a cave somewhere?”

“It’s the most plausible.”

“And what about Boggs’s father?”

“He was a fool,” Jennifer said.  “From what I remember of him, he was always insistent that the treasure was in a cavern up in the hills, accessible only by an underground river that flowed down to the sea.  He originally thought it was the one the mall was built over, except every cave had a dead end.”

“Before or after the mall was built?”

“My father explored the cave system, with my grandfather, extensively, before the mall was built.  There was no underground river.”

“How did the mall get destroyed in a flood then?”

“That was the Benderby’s cost-cutting the foundations.  The flooding was man-made, not an act of nature like they said it was.  That was just so they could claim the insurance.  No one could really tell the difference, and the specialist the got to sign off on it lied.  The same guy that turned up dead on Rico’s boat, by the way.”

“The Benderby’s cleaning up another mess, but their way.”  Jennifer sounded, and probably had every right to be, resentful.

“Then there still could be an underground river somewhere along the coast?”

“If there is, I haven’t found it, and neither has Alex and that fancy boat of his.  It’s another dead end, and like as not, another nail in the coffin of what was a fairy tale, to begin with.  There was no treasure, just a fable invented by the Cossatinos.”

“Even so, it’s part of the folklore of this county and will have a place in the history I’m writing.  I noticed over the years the treasure had a prominent place in the paper.”

“My father, and his before him thought it would be good for the town. You know, bring in tourists.  It was my father’s idea to print treasure maps, and then the Cossatino’s embellished it but producing what they called ‘the real map’ each a slight variation on the other, commanding a special fee, and swearing the purchases to a promise of silence, and adding to the authenticity, demanding a 19 percent share of whatever they found.  People lapped it up and my father said they’d made a fortune out of it.  Boggs’s father hand-made the copies and used that money to fund his own explorations.  Everyone made money out of it, one way or another except Ormiston.”

A bitter irony if there was ever one.  There was more money in the illusion of treasure than the actual treasure itself.

“And the so-called real map that Boggs reputedly found in the pirate’s hideaway?”

“No one ever saw it, except that one time it was authenticated age-wise, so no one ever got to see it.  Boggs made sure of that, and never let it out of his sight.  Now we’ll never know.  I’m sure Boggs junior doesn’t have it, but with him, he’s as daft as his father was.”

“He had a lot of his father’s stuff he found in a box in the attic recently.  I’ve seen some of it, but not an authentic map, so maybe your right.”

“Of course I am.  When you have an idea of what this history of yours is going to look like, let me know. And I’ll publish in parts if you want, maybe pass it on to the dailies.  It might be worth something.”

“Thanks.  I will.  But more study first, you have the history of the place in that back room, maybe you should write something yourself. Being the journalist.”

“Too busy with births deaths and marriages, Sam, and the antics of the Benderby’s and Cossatino’s.  Do you know that Benderby is demolishing the mall and putting a marina in its place?  Talk of building a hotel, boosting tourism.  Talking of running for mayor, you know, the first stop on the way to the presidency?”

“A crook for a mayor?”

“Wouldn’t be the first, won’t be the last.  But one thing is for sure, that kind of news sells papers.”

It did, but I had a feeling the Benderbys were all about creating a distraction, and something else was going on at that mall site.

A construction crew had arrived, and more secure fencing was being erected, and the two points where I’d entered the sire with Boggs on one hand and Nadia later, they were gone.  There was also an increase in the security guards, covering more of the fence line in shorter intervals, and worse, arc lighting lit the whole outside area like a sports stadium.

Not even an ant could sneak in without being seen.

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

You learn something new every day (1)

And it’s not necessarily something that might be good. To be honest, I didn’t know what to think, but in a strange sort of way it put a few things into perspective.

My brother and I have been delving into the family history, or at least my brother is throwing everything at it, and I’m along for the ride.

I did have a trove of stuff that we found when cleaning out my parent’s house when they moved into aged care, and at the time I didn’t think much of it. It was more about getting them settled than figuring out what was kept.

Now, four or so years later, and having finally received an interim output of the family tree, it’s not so much the forebears that interested me, as it was my parents.

It seems that our looking at our immediate family’s potted lives is like walking through a minefield, riddled with contradictions, rumors, and anecdotal evidence that doesn’t, for the moment, have any hard evidence to back it up. Or at least some have, but that’s not the interesting part.

So, picture this. The extent of my knowledge of my immediate family was that my father is Australian, his mother English, and I’m a second-generation Australian with an English grandparent. It doesn’t sound much, but not so long ago I could have applied for and got an English passport and had dual nationality. Unfortunately, that cannot happen anymore, you have to be one or the other.

My mother’s mother was of English descent and her husband of German descent. It was understood that my grandfather on this side died not long after I was born, though for a long time we were never told how. Only recently it came to light that he had committed suicide, and my brother has a copy of the suicide note he wrote. Morbid, eh? It turns out he thought he had cancer, but didn’t and mistakenly ended his life thinking he might have been a burden on my grandmother.

But now we started digging, getting dates of birth, easy, dates of death, easy, marriage certificates, and parents’ names for this limited dip into history, relatively simple.

But the story, the real aspects of genealogy, is where they went to school, their first job, what the did in the war, that fascinating the story of their lives at different times, that’s where I’m more interested. My brother has the facts, I want to give them a story entwining those facts.

Something that adds some flesh to the story is letters.

Another recent addition to the pile of family documents are the letters between my mother and father before they were married, and the fact my mother had another boyfriend, something we never knew until the great clean up. I have those letters, or some of them too.

Those letters, from him, unfortunately, we don’t have hers, are fascinating, as are those from my father. There is no indication of why there was a breakup with the first boyfriend, but I did learn that my father had gone to an introduction agent by the name of Mrs. J Phillips who gave him her name. What factors had led him down this path?

It was, to me, very Dolly Levi-ish.

I discovered my father worked as a projectionist at the Snowy River hydro-electric project after the war., around 1948. He had spoken of showing pictures at the Athenaeum Theatre in Flinders Street, and the King’s Theatre in Melbourne, but not exactly when, which accounted for his amazing knowledge of Hollywood movie stars. It was, however, as much as he had shared for a long time.

I also discovered that he was in Perth, Western Australia immediately after the war, and then went overseas to England by ship 13th August 1947, arriving in London on 12th September, and stayed at Middlesex with relatives.

Ok, now it gets a little weird because when in Bedfordshire he became engaged to an English girl that he had (apparently) known for 10 years. How this came to pass is still a mystery awaiting an answer. The wedding was supposed to be on 21st December 1947 but never happened, because the marriage was forbidden by her parents because they did not want their daughter to move to Australia, and equally forbidden by his parents because she was Catholic.

Yes. Religion was a breaking point in those days because he was a protestant. He returned, perhaps heartbroken, a year after he left, in April 1948.

I found that for a period of two years there would be enough speculative material to fuel a very lively account of their lives, and particularly his.

My mother, by the way, spent the war years attending Dandenong High School, a steam train ride down from Pakenham to Dandenong. After that, she gained employment in Melbourne, and spend the weekdays at a Ladies Boarding House called Chalmers Hall, in Parliament Place, and going home to Pakenham on the weekends. From a note or two, it seems she was something of a ‘wild’ child who craved doing something with her evenings other than ‘staying in’, with references to her going out with her friends.

My father confessed that he was the family’s black sheep, that he didn’t get along with any of the family, and which was why he was never home and always traveling. He wrote, in one letter of October 1948, that when he got into an argument he got mad and walked out on them, and came back when calm had returned. I assume that meant it might take days, weeks, or even months for the dist to settle.

There were disputes with my father with both his brothers and his parents over marrying my mother, and there were problems between my mother and her parents, to the extent they might not attend the wedding. For a few months of tense silence, there might not have been a wedding at all, but eventually, this happened at Trinity Church, Camberwell, on the 28th of June, 1949.

Wow! It shows that illusions of what might have been their happy day turning out to be moments of high dudgeon. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall.

I still have no idea what split her and the original boyfriend, a man she’d known since she was 14, and was from her hometown area, Pakenham. It might have been something she said because there are indications on one of two draft letters that she was prone to speaking her mind, and had a temper which would not have helped in using discretion. I’m guessing a few years of war would make a man lose interest in a high minded, and perhaps a sharp-tongued woman. I suspect we’ll never know.

She is now 93 and has Alzheimer’s and dementia, and unlikely to remember back then.

Similarly, my father is 97 and I doubt sitting down with him would elicit much on the way of a sensible discussion. He was always irascible at best and oddly suffers from PTSD from his war service if that’s still possible. Over the years he was never prone to sharing his past life, except in snippets, and that, some of it was about the war. I guess war did terrible things to the participants back them

And, as for his war service, we have the physical documentation of where and when, but only a potted history of his own account of his service. But even that is a story and a half in itself.

More on that later.

“Trouble in Store” – Short stories my way:  More on the policewoman

I’ve been looking at the role of the policewoman, and her interaction with the shop’s participants.

I’m still working on whether she needs more or less of an introduction, but, for the time being, this is what I’m going with:

It had been another long day at the office for Officer Margaret O’Donnell, or, out in the streets, coping with people who either didn’t know or didn’t care about the law.

People who couldn’t cross the road where there were crossings and lights to protect them, silly girls shoplifting on a dare, and boys who thought they were men and could walk on water.

The one they scraped of the road would never get to grow up, and his mother, well, she was not doing another call on a family to give them the bad news.

That was her day.

So far.

At the end of the day, she was glad to be getting home, putting her feet up, and forgetting about everything until the next morning when it would start all over again.

Coming around that last corner, the home stretch she called it, she was directly opposite the corner shop, usually closed at this hour of the night.  It was not.  The lights were still on.

She looked at her watch and saw it was ten minutes to midnight, and long past closing time.  She looked through the window, but from the other side of the road, she could only see three heads and little else.

Damn, she thought, I’m going to have to check it out. 

She was aware of the rumors, from her co-residents and also her colleagues down at the station, rumors she hoped were not true.

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

The cinema of my dreams – Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 46

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

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

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

Chasing leads, maybe


It was all over in the blink of an eye.  The swat team had secured the scene, zip ties, and shoved me into a corner with two burly men standing over me, guns ready in case I tried to escape.

Before the next wave, I had time to consider what just happened.  Obviously, Dobbin or Jan had set the scene.  She lied about being able to track Maury, they found him, brought him back to the room, tortured him, and then killed him.  The few seconds I had to look at the body showed signs of intense interrogation.

A side benefit was to stitch me up for the crime.  The fact the police were at the door a minute after I’d arrived meant they had been waiting for me to come back.  That pointed to Jan as the informant.

But to what end.  If they considered I was the only one who could find the USB, why let me get caught by the police.

Jennifer would be safe.  She had been in the foyer a full ten minutes before I arrived, and was sitting in a corner when I passed her.  If they knew she was involved, she would have been missing.  Hopefully, she would have seen the swat team arrive, and leave.

A few minutes after the swat leader spoke into his two-way radio, a middle-aged woman and a young man in his late 20’s arrived, the woman first, the young man behind her.  A Detective Chief Inspect, or Superintendent, and Detect Sergeant.  He was too well dressed to be a constable,.  One old, one new.

The young man spoke to the swat leader, the woman surveyed the scene, looked at the body, then at me, shaking her head slightly.

I tried to look anonymous if not invisible.  The fact they had found no ID on me would not count well for my situation, or so I had been told.  Nor was the fact I preferred not to speak.

Never volunteer information.

A nod from her and the two swat guards took several steps back.  She pulled a chair over from the side of the bed, and once three feet away, sat down.

“I’m told you are refusing to answer any questions.”

“Refusing to answer and simply not talking is not the same thing.”

“You do speak.”

“When appropriate.”

“What are you doing here?”

“This is my room, along with a young lady, who as you can see, is not here.  That much you should have gleaned from the front desk.”

She pulled a card out of her pocket.  “Alan, and Alice Jones.  Not your real names I suspect., nor very original.  Do you know who the man on the bed is?”

“He told me his name is Maury, not sure of his first name, but that wasn’t his real name.  His other name was Bernie Salvin, but that might also be a fake.  He was one of two men who were in charge of my training.”

“For what?”

“I suspect it might be above your pay grade.”

If she was shocked at that statement she didn’t show it.  In fact, I would not be surprised if she had suspected it was likely it had to do with the clandestine security services.  Torture victims were not an everyday occurrence, or at least I hoped for her sake they weren’t.

She gave a slight sigh.  “And who do you work for?”

“There’s the rub.  I have no idea.  I’ve just been caught in the middle of a bloody awful mess.”

The second rule is always to tell the truth, or as close to it as possible so you don’t have to try and remember a web of lies, and trip yourself up at later interviews.  And keep it simple.

“So, no one I should be calling to verify who you are?”

“No.  Not unless you can revive the man on the bed.  I’m only new, been on the job after training for about a week.  I was part of a team running a surveillance exercise when a shop exploded and the target disappeared.  I’ve been trying to find out what happened.”

Her expression whanged, telling me she was familiar with the event.

“Do you find out anything?”

“Only that the would be a body in the shop, a journalist, that was trying to hand over some sensitive information.   I have no idea what it was, or who he was.  The target, whom I suspected was there for the handover, is now also dead. So, quite literally, two dead ends.  Do I look like someone who could do that to a man?”  I nodded in the direction of the body.

“You’d be surprised who was capable of what.  Do you have a real name?”

“I do, but I won’t be telling you.  You have my work name, that’s as much as I can volunteer.”

“A few days in a dank hole might change that.”

“A few days in a dank hole would be like a holiday compared to the week I’m currently having.”

She smiled, or I thought it was a smile.  “I daresay you might.”

There was a loud noise and some yelling coming from outside the door.  A man burst into the room, two constables in his wake.

A man I didn’t recognize.

She stood.  “Who are you?”

“Richards, MI5.”  He showed her a card, which she glanced at.  She’d no doubt seen them before.

“We’ll be taking over from here.”

“This person?”  She nodded her head in my direction.

“Leave him.  We’ll take care of him.”

“Johnson, Jacobs, let’s leave the room to them.  We’re done here.  Places to be, gentlemen.”  She nodded in my direction.  “Good luck, you’re going to need it.”

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

The cinema of my dreams – Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 45

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

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

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

Chasing leads, maybe


“Silly question, what were you doing in the hotel with this ‘operative’?”

Yes, it sounded odd the moment I said it, and, if it was the other way around, I’d be thinking the same.

“We joined forces, thinking we were in danger, at the time, not knowing that she was working with Dobbin.  I discovered that later, by chance.  She doesn’t know I know.”

“And she’ll be waiting at the hotel?”

“Dobbin wants the USB.  She believes we’re collaborating, after telling me she works for MI5, on a different mission involving O’Connell.  She had apparently been undercover as a fellow resident at the block where O’Connell had a flat, and a cat.  The cat, of course, had no idea his owner was a secret agent.  The flat was sparsely furnished and didn’t look lived in, so it may have been a safe house.”

“Wheels within wheels.”

“That’s the nature of the job.  Lies, lies, and more lies, nothing is as it seems, and trust no one.”

“Including you?”

“Including me, but keep an open mind, and try not to shoot me.  I’m as all at sea as you are.  And, just to be clear, I’m not sure I believe Quigley that the information is lost.  People like him, and especially his contact, if he was a journalist, tend to have two copies, just in case.  And the explosion might have killed the messenger, but not the information.  Lesson number one, anything is possible, nothing is impossible, and the truth, it really is stranger than fiction.”

“Great.”

A half-hour later I’d parked the car in a parking lot near Charing Cross station.  The plan, if it could be called that, was for me to go back to the room, and for Jennifer to remain in the foyer, and wait.  If anything went wrong she was to leave and wait for a call.  For all intents and purposes, no one knew of her, except perhaps for Severin and Maury, but I wasn’t expecting them to be lurking in the hotel foyer, waiting for me.

As for Dobbin, that was a different story.  It would depend on how impatient he was in getting information on the whereabouts of the USB, and whether he trusted Jan to find out.

I’d soon find out.

The elevator had three others in it, all of who had disembarked floors below mine.   As the last stepped out and the doors closed, it allayed fears of being attacked before I reached the room.

As the doors closed behind me, the silence of the hallway was working on my nerves, until a few steps towards my room I could hear the hissing of an air conditioning intake, and suddenly the starting up of a vacuum cleaner back in the direction I’d just come.

 A cleaner or….

Remember the training for going into confined spaces…

The room was at the end of the passage, a corner room, with two exits after exiting the front door.  I thought about knocking, but, it was my room too, so I used the key and went in.

Lying tied up on the bed was a very dead Maury, three shots to the heart.

And, over the sound of my heart beating very loudly, I could hear the sound of people out in the corridor, followed by pounding on the door.

Then, “Police.”

A second or two after that the door crashed open and six men came into the room, brandishing weapons and shouting for me to get on the floor and show my hands or I would be shot,”

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

Sayings: Irons in the fire

There is an expression you hear a lot, here, there, and everywhere when referring to someone who is very busy, ‘oh, he has a lot of irons in the fire’.

These days we use it as an analogy not to have too many things on the go at the same time, and, in the end, none of them will be finished properly, or finished at all.

There are two old-time literal meanings that can apply to this analogy, the first being that in laundries, they used to have their irons in the fire, warming so that clothes could be ironed. Having too many meant sometimes one would be left too long, and end up scorching the clothes being ironed.

Hopefully, that didn’t happen to a very expensive dress!

The second meaning came from a blacksmith’s foundry where he had iron bars in the fire, heating up so that they could be worked on. Having too many in the fire at once sometimes meant that one became overheated, and ruined.

Conversely, having too many pieces of iron in the fire might cause the fire to be too cool to heat any of the metal bars.

These days, a lot of people need to have a lot of projects on the go at once, in the hope that one or more might suddenly become a winner.

Sadly, that doesn’t happen very often.

And, no, buying a lot of lottery tickets hoping one will win, that is not very likely either.

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 43

Back on the alien vessel

The ‘ooh’ from Nancy was unmistakable the moment we rematerialized in the alien’s ship’s bridge.  It could be one of those awe-inspiring moments, had it not been for the circumstances.

The second time on the bridge, I realized that it was a little more sparse than it had been before, with a wall of control panels missing, along with a panel that stretched across the front of the Captain’s chair, but with no crew members present.

It was now a blank space.  The whole space could have been a large empty room with windows overlooking empty space, except in the distance, our two ships.  Beyond that, there seemed to be a thin streak of light, or colored lights, flickering.  At a guess they might be a long, long, long way away, but whether it was in the direction we had come, or where we were going, or somewhere else, I couldn’t tell.

On the other side of the bridge, the female alien was still holding the Russian Captain, some sort of weapon at his throat.

I was still feeling the tingling sensation that was the effect after re-materialization.  The first time it was disorientating, I was prepared this time.

I was also not sure what to expect, now that it was clear the aliens were not what they portrayed themselves to be.  Of course, it was naive of me to expect that others in the galaxy would be better than us.

“An explanation of what this is really about might go a long way towards preventing tragic consequences.”  I thought I’d throw out the opening gambit.

“Agreed.  I had hoped the problem could have been resolved before your arrival.  As you might be aware, we have the ability to transport our people, and I had hoped to recover the missing citizens that were taken by this,” he pointed to the Russian, “captains ship.”

“They asked for asylum, we did not take them.”

Another piece of the puzzle, the female must be one of the Aliens crew, and had beamed aboard, taken the captain hostage, and demanded the release of the citizens.

Question: why hadn’t he simply beamed them back?

To the Alien, “Is this true?”

“Semantics “

Note:  this alien had a very good grasp of the nuances of the English language.

“Semantics or not, if you know anything about earth culture, it’s that we look after those who need help, and if people come to us asking for asylum, we generally give it.  You will also be aware that those who ask for asylum generally are in fear of their lives.  The question is, why would these people ask for asylum.”

“The people aboard that ship are criminals who were serving their sentences in one of our remote facilities.  Your captain apparently came across this remote facility and assisted in setting the criminals free.  When we sent a ship to apprehend them, they were taken aboard the earth ship and it attempted to leave.  We were going to stop the earth vessel from leaving when your ship appeared, and it seemed prudent not to display hostility.  There was also the possibility you were working together.”

“We are not, as you are now aware.  Nor would I be willing to interfere with your internal matters, except that it involves another of our ships, one I didn’t know about, which only complicates matters.

Why do you have the captain.”

“He refused to set the prisoners.”

“If you could beam your operative and the captain here, why not just beam the criminals too.”

“They are currently protected in a special part of the captain’s ship that does not allow us to bring them back.  They obviously told him what our capabilities are.”

Criminals, if they were criminals, seeking asylum.  If it was me, I would be happy for someone else to take away the criminal element and make it someone else’s problem.  The unfortunate truth in our world is that criminals didn’t go to jail anymore, they were shipped off to remote mining planets where they spent the rest of their days working in very harsh conditions.  Over time it had proved to be a very good deterrent, so much so, that off plant mining operations now had to pay large sums of money to get people to work there.

“Number One.”

“Sir?”

“Find the so-called criminals the captain has stowed on his vessel and ask them what their side of the story is.  Quick as you can.”

“Yes, sir.”

I looked over to the Russian Captain.  “You might want to tell your second in command to make things easier for my crew.”

A look from me to the alien, and back, time to consider my request, then gave the order.

“On my way, sir.”

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 42

We seem to have a spot of bother

The next statement from Number One, “Sir, it seems we have a hostage situation.”

A glance back at the main screen showed the Russian ship’s bridge minus the captain and flickering on, the alien ship’s Captain.

“I didn’t open a channel, Sir,” the comms officer said quickly.

I glared at the alien representative for a few seconds, hoping to convey my displeasure, but I doubted it would have any effect.

Nor was it any surprise to discover that something indeed didn’t add up. 

Potentially we had a very bad situation, facing off an alien vessel with unknown capabilities and weapons, and a ship that was not supposed to exist, having reputedly committed unknown criminal activities.

“General, you might have to make an instant decision, so if the potential threat is life or ship threatening, don’t wait for confirmation.”

“Sir.”

“Code Red, and everyone, report anything no matter how trivial.”

“Number one, a hostage situation is only a hostage situation if the hostage-taker has a hostage.  You get a clear shot, shoot them.”

“There may potentially be casualties, sir.”

“Then at your discretion, but hold that thought until I have a word with our new, so-called, friends.”

“Sir.”

To say I was annoyed was an understatement, but I had to remember that our underlying mission was to make new friends, not enemies.

“Captain,” the alien commander decided now was the moment to speak.

“You have not been quite truthful with us, have you?”

“They did commit crimes, that is the truth.”

“Then why is one of your people holding the captain hostage?”

It only just struck me then that the alien vessel had beamed one of the people onto the Russian ship after the alien ship arrived with us.  But to what purpose?

“To force them to return to the planet where the crimes were committed.  I had no reason to believe you would force the issue.  Our experience with humans is they support each other before they do the right thing.”

“Your experience is narrow-minded, generally supported by few instances, and basically does not define the human race.  Like everyone, we have a bad element, but it doesn’t define who or what we are.  You obviously heard my instructions to my boarding party.  Your turn now to give me a good reason why I should not shoot them?”

“I assume you still want to open diplomatic relations between our worlds?”

“Not at the expense of gunboat diplomacy.”

“I could destroy both your ships.”

“You could try.  If you know as much as you claim to know about humans, you’ll know that we are at our most formidable when our backs are to the wall.  My ship is an unknown quantity to you, which means you have no idea what we are capable of, but if you want yo find out, by all means, try.”

It was hard to keep an even tone when you are terrified.  Our first encounter had been nothing but threats and violence.  Was I no better than the worse of our kind?

Number one was back in my ear, “Sir, the alien and the Captain just disappeared.”

“I would like you to join us on my ship for discussions, Captain.  I’m sure this situation can be resolved amicably.”

“I’d like a skilled diplomatic negotiator with me, and not agreeing will be considered a hostile act.”

Just in case he was intending to beam me aboard his ship.  A nod in the General’s direction showed he knew what to do if the alien tried.

“Send a message to our diplomatic representative to cone to the bridge urgently.”

I preferred this to be done privately so as not to alert the crew.

I had read the file on Margaret Simpson, and it was, to say the least, extraordinary.  Her achievements at getting the most disparate parties to the table spoke for itself, and it surprised me that she would go on what could prospectively be a one-way trip.

I had not yet spoken to her since boarding, but it had been on my list before we ran into an alien species.  Now, that introduction was lost.

She looked exactly as I’d expected, just in the prime of middle age, diminutive, but not overly imposing, but distinctive enough to stop and look when she walked into a room.

“Captain, I can’t say what comes next doesn’t excite me.”

“You got a brief description of events?”

“An alien race, hostile or not, is exactly why I came.”

“Things could go pear-shaped very quickly.”

“You are exactly as described Captain, refreshingly honest, but somehow I don’t think I need to worry too much if you’re coming with me.”

“A perk of the job, I’m afraid.”

I looked at the alien captain on screen.

“Ready.”

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – It’s a treasure hunt – Episode 91

Here’s the thing…

Every time I close my eyes, I see something different.

I’d like to think the cinema of my dreams is playing a double feature but it’s a bit like a comedy cartoon night on Fox.

But these dreams are nothing to laugh about.

Once again there’s a new installment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.

The aftermath and goodbye

No one in the room, of those who had been forced to remain, could quite comprehend what just happened.

You could read about it in a newspaper, or hear about it on television during the news hour, and think, well, I wasn’t there but it must have been traumatic for those who were, but traumatic didn’t even begin to describe what I just witnessed.

It took everyone more than a few minutes to process those last few seconds before they could move, let alone think about what they were going to do.  With the threat incapacitated, there was no reason to, at least, not straight away.

I was surprised then, that after however long it had been since those events, I heard Charlene’s voice cutting through the fog.

“Are you alright?”

She was shaking me by the shoulder, sitting on the floor next to me, and she looked, and sounded, visibly upset.  I was surprised she was still in town much less anywhere near here.

“I wasn’t the target,” I said, and then realized that was hardly relevant to anything; it was just the first response that popped into my head.

I could then suddenly hear everything as if someone had turned up the volume, and the first background sound was Benderby’s daughter crying.

“You were almost in the line of fire for one of the marksmen.  I thought he’d misaimed. For a moment there, when I saw you fall…

She still cared, which was something I should appreciate.  I took a moment before lifting myself off the floor to sit beside her.

“This was a disaster.  Your father should have realized a woman with a gun would be hell-bent on revenge and wasn’t going to be talked down.  She probably used the time it took to get me to mentally prepare so she could kill the pair of them.  And I’m surprised you didn’t see it coming.”

“It might not have come to this if she hadn’t known Alex and Vince were suspected of killing her son.  Did you tell her about Alex and Vince?”

It was a meaningful look, one that conveyed disapproval because she was right, it had to come from me because I was only one of a very few who knew the actual facts of the matter.”

Better then, to admit it.  “No.  But I told my mother, while I was in hospital before I had time to consider the ramifications.  That was some deal Benderby pulled off, to have Vince strung up and a signing a confession to get Alex off the hook.”

“He didn’t exactly get away scot-free.  He still has a string of minor charges to face, and there will be jail time, one way or another.”

I glanced over at Mrs. Boggs spread out on the floor where she had collapsed after being shot at least twice.

Almost before she hit the floor, two deputies were beside her, removing the gun, and checking if she was still alive.  I imagine the sheriff, by the door, phone to his ear, had called for medical assistance, perhaps out of deference to a woman who was a friend, or because he had to show all care and respect for her so a good defense attorney didn’t find a reason to have the case dismissed for lack of respect.  There had been problems handling perpetrators in the past, perpetrators who got off on technicalities.

But all that was moot if she was dead.  She seemed to be alive when she hit the floor, and then hadn’t moved in the last few minutes.  My first thought was that they had killed her, but I saw her hand move, which meant she was still alive, incredibly good shooting on the part of the marksmen considering the obstacles, and the inclination to stop the perpetrator permanently.

Around us, several other deputies were escorting the remainder of the patrons out of the room, now officially a crime scene designated by the ‘do not cross’ tape lines going up.

The sheriff had made it his job to escort Mrs. Benderby, and her daughter, out of the room, and, no doubt get a statement after being checked out by a paramedic.

I could hear sirens in the distance, so they would be arriving imminently.

A. Minute or so later, I was the last civilian in the room. 

I turned to Charlene, “You do realize that both Boggs senior and Ormiston were in that cave, before Alex and Vince cleaned up.”

She smiled.  “Actually, as a matter of fact, I do.  I took a forensic team back to see if we could find either of Alex’s or Vince’s DNA, and not only did we fund it, but the skeletal remains of what appears to be four individuals.”

“Boggs, Ormiston, and two pirates.  One had a sword through the rib cage so I suspect there was a little dissent when the treasure was being divvied up.”

“I’m sure that will be confirmed soon.  I wanted to nail Alex’s ass to the wall, now it appears we might have enough evidence to put old man Cossatino away too.  He was picked up at the airport trying to leave the country.  An all-around good day for team justice.”

“Except for Mrs. Boggs”

“I’m sure she’ll plead temporary insanity, overcome by the grief of losing her son.”

Flippant, perhaps, or just cynical?  It was a bit early in her career to be like that, so perhaps that might be a little of her father rubbing off.

“Perhaps she was hoping the police would kill her.  After all, she has very little left to live for.  I doubt pleading insanity was her first thought when she walked into this room.  You might want to study up on the human condition a little before you start labeling people, and especially if you are thinking of continuing on this detective thing.”

That came out wrong, more a rebuke than an observation, and judging by her expression, she took it as the former.

“There will always be a lot of things we could do better.  You might consider next time to dissuade your friends from doing stupid things, like Nadia kidnapping Alex and Vince in the first place.”

“If you had done your job…”

Neither of us had seen the sheriff come over, and he was there long enough to be privy to the last comments.  “I’m sure at the end of the day, justice will prevail despite the convoluted route it took us to get there.  But for argument’s sake, neither Alex nor Vince would press charges against Nadia, so it was not kidnapping, and since the mall belongs to the Benderbys, neither wanted to press for trespass, so, all in all, no harm done.”

He glared at his daughter.  “I asked you to get his statement, not debate the legalities of the situation. Get it done and get back to the station.”

With that said, he left.

Charlene stood up, glared at me, then said, “no good deed goes unpunished.  Do you want to give it here, or at the station?”

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 40

Sorry, but it was the only option at the time

“What’s the situation with the other ship?”

Number one had come up to the bridge and was standing over the navigator, looking at the screen.

“Sir, might I remind you…”  Nancy began.

“We’ll discuss the ethics later, but right now we don’t have much of a choice.  I expect you to keep what just happened to yourself for the time being.  Am I understood?”

I wasn’t silencing her, it was a matter for reports and discussions in due course.

“Understood, sir.”

“Very good.  Just be ready to be in the boarding party when we catch up with them.”

Her expression told me that she was far from impressed with my decision, but, I wasn’t about to test our ship’s defenses against an unknown quantity.  That might come later, after a discussion with the military commander.

“Later, then.”  She gave me a last witheringly look, then left.

Number one turned.  “What happened over there?”

“Not for discussion right now.  The ship?”

“About fifteen minutes at maximum speed.   They seemed to have stopped.  No indication if they’re having problems.”

“Lay in a course and get us there, maximum speed.”

A moment later the navigator said, “Awaiting the order, air.”

“Go.”

A slight shift inside the ship as it gathered momentum, then the dampeners kicked in.

“Time to target 11 minutes, 35 seconds sir.” 

He didn’t add the “give or take” at the end signifying that it was a serious situation.

“Code Red, military commander to the bridge.”

The lights dimmed and a hush came over the bridge.

“Have we had time to analyze the data on the Russian ship or the alien vessel?”

“For the Russian ship, yes.  Schematics, vulnerabilities, propulsion.  A scaled version of ours, no doubt stolen by their spies, but without some of the modifications we think. It appears its maximum speed is about 60% of ours.”

“Then we can catch them if they try to escape?”

“If we need to, but I’m not sure why we’d want to?”

“There are reasons which at the moment you don’t need to worry about.  Just get us there, and be ready to go after them if they try to leave.”

“Sir.” 

He was also unhappy because our remit was not to be attacking our own ships, but there were always extenuating circumstances, circumstances that I needed to take up with the Admiral before I took any sort of action.

The military commander stepped on the bridge.  “You want to see me?”

“Come with me.  Number one, keep me posted on progress.”

I ushered the commander into my day room.

“I hear we’ve just made first contact.”

“You could say that.  They are following us, on our way to the Russian ship.  At the moment I don’t have the luxury of knowing whether or not the Russians committed atrocities, but the commander of the alien vessel says they did.  To prevent this ship from being destroyed I told him we would apprehend those involved and jointly sort out the mess. It was the best plan I could come up with in the time frame, and we don’t know much about the alien vessel.”

“A sticky situation then.”

“Not even the half of it General.  Our first encounter and already we’re behind the eight ball.  This is not exactly how I envisioned it, but our fellow humans have managed to let us down badly.  Now, you’ve got about 10 minutes to prepare for various outcomes, but that ship can’t be allowed to leave, and, if the alien vessel attacks us, you have to defend us.”

“Battles used to be so much easier, on the ground. Very well.  I’ll see you on the bridge.”

While I had a great deal of autonomy aboard the ship, because we were a long way from home and the sheer distance over which communications had to travel through subspace would make them difficult at best, I didn’t have high hopes of getting hold of the Admiral in the time I had available to me. Of course, the relay satellites we dropped along the way would help boost the signal, but when you’re hoping to rely on something in a crisis, it invariably will let you down.

The situation was one that fell within the guidelines where I needed to brief the Admiral of intended actions so at the very least if there were consequences, he would be in a position to comment, defend, or more likely apportion blame.

This would not be an issue if we were the only ship out on the edge of space, but we were not.

While talking to the General I had started the call but was not expecting to raise him. Given the parameters needed on a good day, and because this was urgent, I wasn’t expecting anything.

I was surprised when a blurry picture of his office appeared on my screen, before it crystallised into the Admiral sitting on the front of his desk. It was almost as if he had been expecting a call.  There would be a lag, but a lag I could live with.

“Captain, we calculated you must be getting close to Pluto’s orbit.  How are you?”

“Everything is fine, and you’re right, we are close to seeing what’s beyond our galaxy.  But, there’s a problem.  There’s another ship out here from earth, been over the border, one that’s neither alien or in our ship register.”

I waited.

“The infamous Russian or Chinese ship?”

“Yes.  But more significantly, we have made contact with an alien race, as have these other humans, and the experience has left the aliens with a severe mistrust of our intentions.  So much so, when we met, I was presented with an ultimatum.  Suffice to say, I’m left in a position where I have to oversee justice against some of that crew.  We don’t have time to discuss the details, it’s a situation where I’ll have to find a mutually beneficial resolution, or our exploration aspirations will be over before they start.”

It was a lot for him to digest.

“Is it likely to cause a problem with the other human ship?”

“The alien captain demanded we detain the guilty crew members, and have them face a judiciary.  I’ve negotiated a presence, but I’m not sure just what the limits of participation will be.”

“How long have you got?”

A look at the top of my screen told me we were on station with the other earth vessel, with the alien ship not far away.

“We’re there, now, so it’s minutes rather than hours.  For the moment it’s simply a heads up.  I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.  You might want to ask some hard questions as to who is out here, sir, because they’re not helping our cause.”

It was exactly the situation the Space Alliance had predicted would happen if we were to present a fractured front to whomever might be out there.  Armed with the knowledge I’d just passed on, the data file the scientific team had assembled, he would be able to ask the hard questions, and hopefully get answers

“It would seem not. But, just so you know, we have just had a conference with what appears to be the command center of the Russian vessel, which, I can now tell you, is a joint venture between the Russians and the Chinese. Further, they claim their ship is being unjustly harassed by the alien who, according to them, simply took exception to them for no apparent reason. Someone is not telling us the whole story.”

“What do you make of it?”

“Since they lied about building a ship, and then sending it out into space without telling us, and given the arrogance shown during the conference, I’d say, from the body language of the Chief of Operations, they have something to hide. You have the authority to take whatever action you deem necessary while walking that very thin line of diplomacy.

“We have a diplomat in the crew.”

“Of course.  Keep me informed of developments, and remember, you are representing the whole world.”

No pressure then.

© Charles Heath 2021-2022