The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 89

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.

We have a situation

Home wasn’t home anymore.

I stood inside the front door, as I had many times in the past, but this time it was different.

Maybe it was the near-death experience, maybe I hadn’t been there for a few days, maybe I had irrevocably changed in those few short days.

It seemed that I was someone else, that the old Sam had gone away, and a new version had replaced him.  Had I finally grown up, or was I still reeling from the ordeal and, more likely, mourning the loss of what had been my one true friend.

Right then, it felt like Boggs had never existed, and that Nadia had invaded that space.

Nadia.

Until now, right this moment, I hadn’t really thought about what I was about to do.  Since being in the hospital, every movement I’d made felt mechanical, and someone else was manipulating the controls.

Wanting to leave was a knee-jerk reaction, and one that failed to recognize others may have a role in what happened, like my mother.  I gad completely discounted her because of her association with Benderby, but what if that was no longer the case.

With Alex off the hook, they no longer had to worry about Nadia or what I might say or do, not that there was anything we could do.  I felt for Charlene who literally was between a rock and a hard place, having to compromise her principles to uphold justice and her disappointment in her father.

To be honest, his actions came as a surprise, despite the rumors of corruption.  It didn’t occur to me that it might have been the lesser of the evils, getting Vince off the streets, nobbling the Cossatinos, and to a lesser extent, using the situation as a bargaining chip with the Benderby’s.

But all of that was moot.  Another rumor circulating, according to the newspaper I’d seen at the hotel, was that a third term for the current sheriff was looking unlikely.  It was joined by an interview with Benderby on the construction of a new resort on the mall site.  Noticeably absent were any reports on Boggs, the treasure, or Cossatino.

I considered briefly whether I should go to the newspaper and tell them the whole story.  If he considered it had any element of truth, he’d publish it and be damned, but the thought of how his wife, an Ormiston, would take the news of finding her father, only for the body to disappear, would serve no purpose.  If there was a body, I would not hesitate.

But, now, it was enough to make a decision on what I would do next.  Pack a bag, tell my mother I was leaving, and call Nadia.

It was impossible to fit a lifetime into a bag.  It was fortunate, perhaps, that my situation had not afforded me the luxury of too many possessions, or anything of value.

Even so, what fitted wasn’t much.  I wanted to believe it was going to be a new start, but it seemed like I was just running away, that the problems I was running from would just come with me. 

And, then, there was Nadia.  I was today’s flavor of the month, but would I be in a month, or two? 

That thought was interrupted by the sound of the front door opening.  I stepped onto the passage just as my mother closed the door.

“Sam.  Where have you been?  I’ve been calling, and leaving messages.”

She wasn’t angry, but there was an edge to her tone.  I should have at the very least sent a message to say I was OK.  It didn’t help my phone battery had died.  I’d put it in the recharge, and minutes later continually dinged with missed messages

“I had to get away.  Either that or I would have done something I regretted.  I thought you’d moved in with Benderby.”

“You thought wrong.  This business with Alex.  I remember you told me he was responsible for what happened to you and Nadia, and when I overheard him arguing with his father, I realised you were telling me the truth, and neither of them could be trusted.  I just told him I needed some time to sort out some issues.”

“You’re not going back?”

“No.  What are you going to do?”

“There’s nothing for me here.  I’m not going back to the warehouse, nor do I want to be here anymore.  Not while Alex is put and about.  It’s only a matter of time before he comes after Nadia and I.”

“Then you’re still going to Italy with her.”

“For a while, see how it works out.  You should come too, at least for a holiday, think about what you’re going to do.  Personally, I think you should also leave, start fresh somewhere else.”

“Maybe you’re…”

We both heard the screeching tires of a car coming to a sudden stop outside, followed by the slamming of doors.

Alex not waiting to clean up his mess?

A sudden pounding on the door revised that assessment, if anyone was here to do us harm they would have kicked the door down.

I moved my mother behind me, and the protection of the door as I opened it.

The sheriff.

“We have a situation,” he said in his most serious tone

Warning us the Benderby’s were coming for us?

When neither of us responded, he added, “Elsie Boggs has the Benderby’s at gunpoint at the Blue Circle, and she will only talk to you.”

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 38

On the alien ship

It looked like the bridge on any other spaceship, and for a moment it had me thinking this was another earth ship, in concert with the fleeing vessel, running an operation to separate the captain from his ship.

But, why?

“Why did you bring us here?” I asked, trying to keep an even tone.  I was working overtime suppressing the fear I felt and regretting being so impulsive.

This was not how I expected first contact with another species, at least for me, would go. 

What did I expect?

Certainly not the red-carpet treatment.

“A private discussion, Captain to captain.”

He looked at Nancy Woolmer, and I said, “anything you say will be in strictest confidence.  is our on-board police detective, part of the security team.”

He gave her another long stare, as if he could see into her mind and knew what she was thinking, then just shook his head.

For an alien, he had a lot of human attributes.

“You speak very good English for, if you’ll pardon the expression, an alien.”  Nnnn decided to throw in her on the question.

I didn’t think my captain’s severe stare would silence her or re-establish my authority over the proceedings.

But it was a good question.

“We speak many languages.  You have, in your planet, hundreds.  We have the same in our corner of the galaxy, so we use what we call a universal translator.”

One thing the space age introduced, was to unify countries into blocs and reduced the number of languages.  It had been touch and go for a few years that we’d all be speaking Spanish, the most widely used language on our planet, but somehow English won the battle.

“We’ve tried to unify it to just a few.  It’s not easy.”

“We had the same problem until the translator was created, not only for us but for communicating with other species, like yourself.”

“Nevertheless, how is it you know of us, and how we speak?”

“That’s easy.  We have been visiting, even living among you, for many thousands of your years.”

“And you’ve chosen never to introduce yourselves or make contact.”

“We tried, a number of times, but you are, always were, a primitive and violent people.  We have waited for signs that you had changed, become peaceful, shown unity, but instead, you continue to kill each other and destroy your world through greed and utter stupidity.  Now you have spaceships, albeit limited in technology and travel distance.  Now, unfortunately, we can’t ignore you.”

“The other ship?”

“It was as we expected.  We had hoped they would be peaceful and curious explorers and adopting a cautious approach, we decided to observe, not contact, see if our assessment of your people had changed.  Unfortunately, it had not.  First habitable planet, not far from here, they visited, the scientists examined the world for technology, resources, and then the people.  What they couldn’t take, they stole.  They treated the people badly, getting into disagreements, fighting, and killing.  The other captain was like you, saying they were explorers.”

That’s the thing I hated about first impressions, you do the wrong thing, it’s all you are remembered for, and the other ship had just made the whole of earth look bad.  Not that we hadn’t done that already ourselves in other ways.

Something else to note, aliens had been visiting us for a long, long time.  I didn’t think it was an appropriate moment to bring up Roswell.

OK, we’ve established that humans are not the nicest people in the galaxy but why was l here?

“I can’t answer for my fellow humans, nor will I apologize for them.  The only way they can improve, we can improve, is the get out there and learn about how others have overcome the obstacles we still face.  But, aside from all that, what was so private that I had to come here?”

“Oh, that.  You have about ten of your earth minutes to convince me not to destroy your ship and everyone in it.”

So much for the alien Captain’s promise no harm would come to us.

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 87

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.

A meeting with Nadia’s father

I’d met Nadia’s father once, but had seen him often on the streets.

He was a man to be feared, and never went anywhere without two of his footsoldiers beside him.  Perhaps that was the downside of being a crime boss, you could not be out by yourself.

Benderby was the same, but he was better at disguising them as almost normal people.  Cossatino’s henchmen looked exactly what they were, armed gorillas in cheap suits.

Vince was like his father, but with younger versions, the hangers-on from school days.  It crossed my mind more than once how Nadia had separated him from his minders, but I imagine she was more resourceful than he was.

We said little on the way back to the car, there was little to say.  I might have disagreed with her course of action, in fact, they needed to be taught a lesson, but I knew in doing so, it put a target on her back.

And, if anything happened to Vince, she have her father to answer to.  In that, I don’t think that bothered her, because, unlike Vince, she could stand up to him.  It would have taken more courage than I had for her to up and leave the way she had.

Of course, it didn’t take a lot to see why.  As far as her father and Vince were concerned, she was dispensible, if or when a situation warranted it.  Like working with Boggs and I had no doubt prompted Vince’s reaction.

Not far from the car was another, and as we approached, a man got out of the rear.  Two others got out from the front.  In the receding light, it was difficult to see who it was, but since the man had two minders it had to be either Benderby or Cossatino.

I looked at Nadia, and from her expression, she knew who it was.  She stopped just short of the car, and I joined her.

“It’s my father,” she said.

“How did he know where you’d be?”

“A tracker on my car.”

So, she had intended he find her, but was it her intention that he find Vince?  I doubted he would be interested in what happened to Alex.

She held up her hand, and said, “I wouldn’t come too close, Dad, not if your help wants to scrape what’s left of Vince off the side of the container.”

I looked closely at her hand, and it was her mobile phone.  Would that convince him she meant what she said?

“You’re not that clever Nadia.”

He took two steps, his two minders pulled out their guns and were aiming them at us.

I saw her finger move, and a second later there was a sharp bang coming from the direction of the mall.

“The next one will go off next to Vince.  Unlike what he did to Sam and I, he won’t have time to think about his death.  Tell your goons to put away their guns and get back in the car, or else.”

Cossatino stopped and motioned to his men to lower their weapons.  They did not put them away, nor did they look like they were going back to the car.

A test of wills.  Who would crack first?

I wondered if she had wired an explosive in the container.  I didn’t know much about electronics, but the steel walls of the container surely would have interfered with a cell phone signal.  I guess it didn’t have to be in the container.

“I get it,” he said.  “I should not have told Vince to take care of the problem.  I didn’t consider he would take it literally.  I’m sorry.  We don’t have to do this.”

“Just the fact you think I’m a problem is bad enough, but getting Vince to deal with it?”

“That was a mistake.  The solution was never to hurt you, or your friends.”

“He murdered Boggs, and for what?  There never was any treasure, was there?”

“Maybe once, but no.  The real treasure was the maps.  People will pay a small fortune for them if they believe there’s a chance of finding a trove.  We couldn’t have anyone upsetting the apple cart, but killing him wasn’t what I asked for.  Vince and that fool Alex took it too far, and that’s on me.”

“Literal or not, you’ve made it very clear I don’t fit into this family.  I never did, did I?  You only tolerated Alex because it was a way of uniting the Cossatino’s and the Benderby’s, not because you wanted me to be happy.”

“There will always be a place for you, Nadia.”

“Not while Vince is alive.  He won’t let it go, no matter what you tell him.”

“You leave Vince to me.”

“No.  I can’t trust you either.  So, here’s the deal.  Sam and I are going back to Italy.  I want no part of the family.  But if I see you, Vince, or anyone else I don’t like hanging around, then Isobel and the twins will pay it.”

“What are you talking about…”

At that precise moment, his phone rang, a rather odd ring tone, like one specially set for a particular person, and he answered it without hesitation.

A few seconds later, the call ended.

“You have my word nothing will happen to you, or Sam, as long as I’m alive.”  He motioned to his men to go back to the car.  “Have a nice life Nadia.”

He glared at her for a few seconds then followed his men to the car.  The car then drove off, leaving the two of us standing alone in the increasing twilight.

I had a hundred questions, but it didn’t seem to be the right time.  I went with the most obvious, “What just happened?”

“My father thought he could clean up the mess he made using me as the scapegoat.  Instead, he just confessed to, and confirmed Vince and Alex’s role in Boggs’s death.”  She held up her phone.  “Charlene was listening in to the confessions.  The sheriff should have the two boys by now, and…”

In the distance we could hear the sirens of the police cars and see the flashing lights.  Cossatino had driven into a trap.

“Isobel and the twins?”

“My father’s mistress.  He’s been seeing her since before my mother disappeared.  He cares more for them than me, even Vince if truth be told.  It’s his one weakness and guarantees our safety.  We are going to Italy?”

It might not have been the thought at the top of my list at that very moment, but it was almost a definite yes. There was nothing left here for me, and the last thing I wanted was Benderby as a proxy father.

The sirens had stooped, and the flashing lights become static.  Nadia looked tired, perhaps more than a little sad at the way everything had turned put.  I know I was.

As for what just happened, Nadia had surprised me.  I think for a moment back at the mall she really was going to leave them to die, which I might have considered no better than her brother or Alex’s actions, but she really wasn’t like any of them, and I put that down to her mother.

Something else I hadn’t realized was that she had a different mother, but a memory from a long distant past came back when she had mentioned her to her father, something my mother had said, more or less to say she couldn’t understand what a woman like Francesca could see in a man like him.

Perhaps she had simply up and left when she finally realized the monster she married, but it didn’t explain why she left her daughter behind.  Perhaps her father was guilty of that crime too.

“I think we both need a change, and I’ve never been out of the country.”  I took her hand in mine, then gave her a hug. 

She was shaking, whether it was the cold or the enormity of what just happened was debatable, but for the moment it was over. There would be new storms to face tomorrow, not the least of which would be to face my mother.

“Let’s go back to the hotel.  You need to get some rest.”

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 36

A Russian ship?

The navigator had left the object on screen allowing it to materialize as we got closer. 

I had to marvel at the magnification the scientists had managed to produce for the scanners on this vessel, the first of a new class, and based on our experiences, no doubt later ships would have less of the quirks we had found so far.

Not that any were serious, or if they were, that common sense and prior experience couldn’t resolve.  It was the reason why we had this chief engineer.

He had retired and was happily spending the rest of his life with the woman who had put up with all those absent years, until she died suddenly, and left him without purpose.

This ship had changed that.

I could see the outline of the distant ship and although it might not follow a standard design, it showed all the signs of coming from our planet.

Was that because we had no idea what a ship might look like from another planet or alien race?  I still wanted to believe there were other life forms out there, but how much of that was hoping they looked like us?

“The system still cannot identify what type of ship it is, sir, but it doesn’t look alien.”

It didn’t, now that it was much clearer.

“Would you know if it was?”

“No, sir.  Not really.  Time to intercept, just under fifteen minutes.  If they are intending to intercept.”

Number one just came out of the elevator and onto the bridge.  He wasn’t rostered for this time, but I suspect he had been watching the drama unfold in his cabin.

“Suggest we go to code Red, just in case their intentions are not friendly.”

We had a weekly meeting of department heads to discuss what we would do in an alien encounter, other than shoot first, and talk later, usually the military first response to any problem.

Some ground rules were implemented, one of which was to keep fingers off the triggers of our weapons, until we had justification.  It was noted we had no idea what kind of weapons they would have, or how good our shield systems would be, that would come after the first encounter.

But we did know the ship could withstand any attack from an earth-origin attack, from the nuclear bomb to cutting edge lasers.  It was a little more problematic for the humans though.

“Agreed.”

Code Red, our highest alert, meant that Number one and I could not be in the same place, for obvious reasons.  He would go down the attack room, where the bridge systems were replicated, along with an array of other units.  It would be from there where a relation, or attack, would be managed.

And no, the lights in the bridge did not turn red, just dimmed.  The only indication was a red bar running across the top of the viewing screen, on which the oncoming vessel was now clearly visible.

“It’s from earth, the scanners have identified the propulsion system, and from the scan analysis, it appears to be more advanced than just about everything back home.”

“The infamous Russian ship, do you think?”

“Doesn’t have to be.  Anyone with enough money could have financed the project, though it would be hard to hide something like that.  The question has to be, what’s it doing this far out, and, for all intents and purposes, returning.”

“We’re assuming again.  Perhaps they were just going to the outer edge of our known galaxy so that they could say they were the first.”

There had always been that great space rivalry between the Russians and the Americans.  Later, the Europeans and the Chinese had also thrown their hats in the ring, and it was possible this ship could be Chinese.  They too had a burning desire to be the first, and there’d be no surprise if we found a Chinese or Russian flag on the first liveable planet outside our solar system.

But, right now, that was all ahead of us. At this moment, it was a little disconcerting to discover we would not be the first outside our known galaxy.

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 86

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.

Two captives

Inside the mall looked totally different, they had cleaned out the whole inside and all that was left was the pylons holding the roof, and the floor above, up.  It was clear from the front to the back or would be if there was enough daylight.

There were explosives tied to each of the pylons, and wires running along the roof everywhere, resembling a spider’s Web.

They were going to bring the whole mall down in one go.  I’d seen similar demolitions on TV, but this one would be more manageable, being only two floors, at most.

“The demolition was stopped only an hour before they were going to push the button.  The control panel is still in place, ready to be detonated remotely.  All it needs is power.”

Nadia seemed to know a lot about it.

“We’re not here for nostalgia are we?”

“Could be.  I’d tell you my most predominant memory of this place but it would probably make you mad, so I won’t.  It’s probably the one thing I’d like to forget, but as a first, you tend not to.  What about you?”

“In this place, nothing.  It was just a mall, and not the best I’d been to.  Boggs and I used to come here and sit by the pool, and drink beer out of Thermos flasks.  It’s about the worst we could do.”

“You probably thought that was being badass at the time.”

We did, but we were young and stupid.  Others were more daring but always seemed to get caught by the mall cops, who had a fearsome reputation when handing out punishment.

We crossed the floor to the center fountain, and then took the stairs down to the carpark, then headed towards the ocean end, stopping at a wire fence that separated the customer park from the staff carpark. 

There was a lock on the gate, and I thought it was odd, given the rest of the building had all the walls removed.  The chain and lock were new, so it had been put there by the demolition team.  A minute later 8 could see the reason, they still had demolition equipment stored there, along with poles of recovered materials they were obviously going to take away.

Behind that was a shipping container which was obviously where more valuable stuff was stored. She also had a key to the lock, removed it, and swung the door open.

I pointed the flashlight inside and when it reached the end I could see two people tied up and lying on the floor.

If I was to guess…

“I told Alex to run.  Obviously, he didn’t listen.”

“He didn’t.”

She didn’t deny the identity of one, and I think I could guess who the other person was.  Vince.

“You think this is a wise course of action, considering who the parents are?”

“Don’t care, Sam.  I told my father what he did, and he told me I should have minded my own business.  I said there would be consequences and he laughed.”

I suspect he didn’t realize just how annoyed his daughter was at being treated like she was irrelevant.  I felt the same, but I couldn’t take it to the level she had.

“What do you intend to do with them?”

“Nothing.  I have some questions, maybe we’ll get some answers, but when we’re done, we’re leaving.  If the demolition people get here in time, they’ll be rescued.  If they don’t, they’ll have plenty of time to reflect on what they did.  I’m not going to harm them in any way, Sam.  Once, I might have, but I want to be better than that.”

One of the forms moved, groaned, and then began to struggle, suddenly realizing they were tied up.  It didn’t last long, once he realized trying to escape was futile.

The other form also woke, did the same then stopped soon after.

Nadia went in and leaned over each one, ripping off their gags.

It took a moment before both realized who was in the container with them.

Vince spoke first, “What the hell are you doing, Nadia.  Untie us now and we might just let you walk away.  There’ll be hell to pay if father finds out what you’ve done “

She walked back a few steps, collected a chair, went back, and sat down, just out of reach.  They were not only restrained but also tied to the wall.

How did she manage to do it, and did she have help?  Not the time to ask.

“You tied me up and left me for dead, Vince.  I nearly died; Sam nearly died “

“It’s a shame you didn’t.  You went against a direct order.”

“That’s on you, Vince.”

“I don’t have to explain anything to you, because you’re nobody.”

“And yet here you are, trussed up like a Thanksgiving Turkey with your newest best friend forever, and both looking at a very bleak future.”

“Don’t be an ass, Nadia.  When father finds out what you’ve done, you’ll wish you had died in that cave.”

“He won’t.  You will have just disappeared like you do from time to time, only this time you won’t be coming back.  And when this place comes down, there’s not going to be much left to identify you.”

Alex had been lying quietly on the ground listening to the exchange between brother and sister.  As an outsider, he must have felt the discussion was going in the wrong direction.

“How much do you want, Nadia.”

“What makes you think I want anything?”

“Look at this realistically.  Between the two of us, you could walk away with a couple of million dollars.  You’ve had your revenge, we both get it, we didn’t think it through when we left you there, but it doesn’t have to end this way.”

He sounded very reasonable, and if I was a reasonable person, I might have believed him.  I’m sure he could be very persuasive when he wanted to be.

“You sound almost sincere, Alex.  What do you think Sam.”

“A couple of million dollars is a powerful argument, Nadia.  Worth considering.”

They hadn’t realized I was there, not till she spoke to me.  I wondered if she wanted me to be the voice of reason.

“It is, isn’t it.  We’re going to need money where we’re going.”

“I can make it happen,” Alex said.  “All you have to do is let us go, and I’ll transfer the funds the moment I get to the bank.  I promise.”

And there was the catch.  We had to let him go.  The moment he got away, the bank was the last place he’d go.

“You really do think girls are stupid, don’t you Alex?”

“No.  And not you, Nadia.  I made you a promise, and I keep my promises.”

“So do I Alex, and I promised Sam that I would make the pair of you suffer the consequences if we got free.  We did, and now it’s time to make good on it.  I don’t need your money Alex, not that you have any, so I’m not sure how you were going to pay me.  No.  Sam and I will be going away, and not coming back.  I’m not sure if I’ll remember to tell anyone where you are, but maybe Sam will remind me.”

“Or maybe he won’t,” I said.  “There’s a lot of years of school torment for you to atone for Alex.”

Vince had been watching and listening to the back-and-forth banter, but I don’t think he believed Alex could bargain their way out.  Perhaps he understood the grit Nadia showed, and perhaps, again, that might be a Cossatino trait

Whatever he was thinking, it was clear that they were not going to be set free, his sister was madder than he’ll with him, and Alex was only making a bad situation worse.

“You don’t want to do this Nadia.  You’ve had your revenge, and now it’s time to end this charade.  We both know you’re not going to kill me.  That’s not who you are.  You’ve always been soft on what needed to be done, and for once I’m glad that’s the case.  Go away, by all means, take Sam with you, but never show your face here again.  If you do, you know what will happen.”

At last, some truth.  Of course, Vince would not honor any promises made under duress, but what it told me, more than anything else, was that it wasn’t his idea to abandon us in the cave.  Neither Vince or Alex for that matter were leaders or thinkers.  Just blunt instruments, doing what they were told to do.

That meant Vince could make all the promises in the world because it was not him who decided our fate.

“I do,” she said.  “So, here’s the deal.  We’re going now.  I’ll wait until we’re out of the country and then I’ll tell our father where you are.  At least that way, you’ll know how we felt being left to die.  Think yourself lucky Vince I’m not the hardnosed batch I was supposed to be.”

“I’d make it sooner rather than later Nadia.”

“Sure.”

She stepped back, and closed the doors, leaving them in the dark.

“You’re not going to tell anyone, are you?” I said after we headed back to the ground level and the exit.

“It depends.”

She didn’t say on what.

...

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 35

There’s something on the long-range scanner

I didn’t make it back to the leafy suburban late-night stroll, as much as I wanted to have that relaxing moment, going back to the bridge.

It was quiet, if not a subdued atmosphere, in other words, normal for the hour.  It was a skeleton crew, mostly volunteers, those without partners or couldn’t sleep. 

Sleep was one of the first problems because there was no real differentiation between night and day, a sort of hangover from those who worked night shift back on earth, only it extended to everyone.  I’d long since given up the notion of getting a good night’s sleep.

“Where are we?”  I asked, after sitting in the chair and casting a glance over the bridge in semi-darkness, and the view of empty, inky black space outside the ship.

The answer to the question, I thought wryly, was ‘in space’, but I doubt any of those on duty would have the desire to use humour in such a situation.

“In direct line with Pluto’s orbit.”

Salaman, the navigating officer, was not a man with a sense of humour, a just the facts sort of person.

“Any chance if seeing the planet?”

“If we sit here for the next 68 years, maybe.”

OK, so Salaman did have some humour in him if a little dry.

“Engineering.”  The Chief Engineer’s voice came over the loudspeaker.

“Good news, I hope?”

“Problem sorted.  Another item to take up with the inspection crew when we get home.  You’re free to resume.”

“Thank you.”  Then to the helmsman, “Let’s take it slowly, quarter speed.”

“Quarter speed it is, sir.”

There was a barely noticeable movement, then it was as if nothing had happened.  That was the disconcerting part, the fact we had no discernible way of knowing we were moving.

“Quarter speed, sir, all systems nominal.”

“Give it five minutes, then move to half, and so on “

“Yes, sir.”

I leaned back in the chair and closed my eyes.  I often tried to remember what it was like back home, before the weather changed for the worse, before people changed, not necessarily for the worse, but not as friendly or happy we once were.

That was a long time ago, though, and I’d spent more of my life in space than on earth now and wasn’t sure how I was going to survive once I had to retire.  That was, hopefully, a long time away.

“Sir, we have a long-range contact, not sure yet if it’s a meteor or a ship.”  The navigator’s voice cut into my reverie.

Did she just add the ship to the report, hoping to make a boring night into something more interesting?

“Should we hold off going to full speed, Sir?”

Probably a good idea until we identified the problem.  “OK.”

I stood, walked over to the window, and looked out, symbolically looking for the object.  Long-range meant, beyond a million or so earth kilometres, barely discernible to the scanners let alone a human eye.

“It’s moving at about half light speed, coming towards us.”

That might be a stretch assuming that we could possibly be on an intercepting course.

“Change our heading five degrees and see if it changes too.”

There was a slight movement as we changed course.  I remained by the window, watching and waiting.  There were a few flecks in the blackness, and I wondered if this was the outer rim of a meteor shower.  Were they too small for the sensors to pick up, or was the navigator concentrating on the one large object?

Five minutes passed, then ten.

“Object still on a collision course, sir.”

Which missed stating the obvious, that whatever was out there had also changed course.  Whoever or whatever was out there wanted to meet us.

“Revert back to the original course.  When will we have a clearer picture of this object?”

“Fifteen minutes, sir.”

I had read the specifications of the long-range sensors and scanners, the former mostly do we could avoid space debris that could damage the hull, though that would take a relatively large chunk.

It was our speed, and that of incoming objects that were the problem, and that’s why we had sn autopilot to help avoid these issues.

The scanners could see objects, magnify them, from a reasonable distance, so we could identify them if we had previous knowledge of them.  Alien spaceships, if we were to encounter one, might make that identification difficult but not impossible.  But, on the other hand, the specifications of every ship in space, that we knew about, of course, was in the database.

Anything else, it could be added.

Nothing more to see, I sat down again.  We were still sitting at half speed, and from what I could see on my console, everything was fine.

Then the screen switched to the long-range scan of the object.

It was a ship.

The scanner was going through the known ships list, looking for a match, until it reached the end, bringing up “unknown”.

The navigator stated the obvious, “it’s a ship sir, but not one in our database.  Do you think it might be the prototype the Russians were talking about making a dozen or so years ago?”

Everyone knew about the famous, if you won’t share we’ll build our own, bigger and better ship when the space alliance at the time baulked at bully tactics the Russians tried to use to take over running the alliance.

They had backed down in the face of a world united against them, but had they really?

“We’ll soon find out.”

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 85

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.

Nadia reappears

There was no fanfare when I walked out of the hospital lobby and out into the cool afternoon.  After the heat, we were due some rain, and looking up to the sky, it was imminent.

I hadn’t organized a ride and was hoping to get a taxi.  It was probably the wrong time of the day.  Standing in the curb, I noticed a black SUV pulling into the drive-through, distinguishable by the reflective windows.  FBI or the state’s equivalent?

It stopped in front of me, and I stepped back, expecting a couple of Feds to get out.  Instead, the passenger door window opened and I could see a woman at the wheels.

When she turned to look at me, I recognized the face instantly.  Nadia.

“Get in.”

No hello, how are you, beg your pardon.

I climbed in, and we were moving almost before I shut the door.  The forward momentum did that.

“Is there a reason for this cloak and dagger approach?  It’s good to see you, and all that, by the way.”

“I’m trying to keep under the radar.  The sheriff seems to think I know more than I told them, which was nothing.  I hope you did the same.”

“What would be the point?  Alex and your brother took control of the narrative, days before we were found.”

“They did.  Deceitful lying little…”

It was clear that just talking about them made her extremely angry, so I figured I should change the subject.

“When are you going back to Italy?”

It didn’t take long to realize she was heading towards The Grove, and we were not far from the Mall.  I wondered if there was still a hold on the demolition.

“Soon.  I have a few jobs to attend to before then.”

I was going to ask what jobs, but then decided I was better off not knowing.

“How did you know I was leaving the hospital?”

“I called, pretending to be your mother.  She seems to spend a lot of time with Benderby.”

A sidelong glance at the girl I hardly knew, to say it was odd that she was interested in what my mother was doing was an understatement.  I thought I had some understanding of the girl I’d come to like a lit more than I should, but now I wasn’t so sure.

“Does it matter?”

“You can see what Benderby is doing, can’t you?”

“Take me out of the equation, of course.  Shiny new promotion and all, at work.  She’s going to be disappointed all round I guess when I leave town.”

“You thought about going to Italy with me?”

“Anywhere but here.  I don’t think Boggs’s death has sunk in yet.  Mad as he might have been he didn’t deserve what he got.”

“You don’t believe he slipped and fell?”

“Nor does Charlene.”

“Charlene is naive.”

Charlene still believed the world wasn’t a corrupt place, and that the law was the same for everyone.  The job was going to destroy her in the end.

“Or she might just find a way to bring Alex and Vince down, that is if you still think Vince needs to be taught the error of his ways.  I didn’t think he would have the temerity to attach his own sister.”

“Neither did I, but my suspicion there was something wrong with him mentally was right.  He crossed a line, Sam, and in my book, you cried that line, you don’t come back.”

Instead of heading straight on, where I thought she was heading for her beachside shack, we took the side road to the mall and the rear carpark.

The whole site was abandoned now, with the demolition halted.  Even the security guards had abandoned the place, their demountable office closed, and in darkness.

She parked the car some distance from the side door we used on our last visit, behind the overgrown tree line that separated the staff carpark from the customer’s.  The question was, what were we doing there.

As they say, the silence was deafening.

I didn’t know what to think.  After everything that happened in such a short space of time, my head was still reeling. 

I guess I should have been pleased that I worked put where the treasure once was and that we had solved the mysterious disappearances of Boggs senior and Ormiston.  I wanted to tell the respective families, but given the threat of both Alex and Vince, and no doubt Benderby himself, made it difficult.

There was also the possibility no one would believe me since the evidence had been removed.

And there was no doubt the near-death experience had crystallized my desire to change my life, and definitely get away from this place which now seemed more like a prison than a home.

Then, there was Nadia. 

I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams actually being in the same room as Nadia, let alone stealing a kiss.  Just a touch of hands had the effect of sending an electric charge through me, and the thought of doing anything else almost made me weak at the knees.

I wondered if she had any idea of the effect she had on me. 

A stolen glance showed her sitting relaxed, eyes closed, the hint of a smile on her face.  What was she thinking?

A few seconds later I felt her hand touch mine, and it was like getting an electric shock.  Almost instinctively our fingers intertwined.  She opened her eyes and turned her head to look at me.

“I had a lot of time, back in the cave, to think about stuff I never really thought about before.  You think you have all the time in the world, but the truth is, you don’t.  Everything can be taken away from you in an instant, and all those things you said you’d do one day, never happen.”

“All part of the near-death experience.  It got me thinking too.  Everything I was going to do, one day.  And for a little while there, I honestly believed I’d wasted my whole life.”

“It’s funny, or rather not funny, what you think was important, and really isn’t.  We shared something nearly everyone else won’t or could, Sam.”

She held up her hand in mine.  “Like this.  A month ago, this would not have happened, you and I, not a possibility.  I was too wrapped up in who and what I was, that overdose of self-importance and ego, when the reality was I am nothing more than just another speck on the landscape.”

“You’re more than that, Nadia.”

“To you, yes.  To everyone else, no.  I was brought up to believe the family was everything, but, in the end, it counted for nothing.”  She sighed.  “To them, I’ll be nothing but a girl.  I can’t tell how disappointed I was, or repeat what I said to my father, or that which I now refuse to call my mother.”

I wondered what I could say that would make her feel better, but there was nothing in my word armory.

“If it’s any consolation, I want to go to Italy with you, and explore the possibilities.”

She smiled.  “Summers are magic, you wake up, the early morning sun caressing warmth on your body, the tactile feel of the person lying next to you.  It’s hard not to imagine those feelings coursing through you.”

Did that mean she had a boyfriend back in Italy?  My have must have expressed my thoughts.

“You are the one in my thoughts, Sam.  It’s you there beside me and has been since getting out of the cave.  I know you feel the same about me.”

My heart missed a beat, or three.  I could see us there, together, bodies entwined.

“Now hold that thought.  We have one last job to do, and I think you’ll appreciate it.”

I hadn’t realized I’d stopped breathing and let out a long breath.  If it were up to me, I’d be on the next plane to Rome.

Instead, it looked like we were going to make a final visit to the mall.

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

A photograph from the inspirational bin- 34

This is the moon, unexpectedly observable in the late afternoon.

For me, the moon provided inspiration for an episodic story I have entitled, for now, ‘I always wanted to see the planets’.

It’s about a freighter captain who gets a gig as First Officer on an exploratory starship, who by a series of inexplicable events gets promoted to captain, and has to navigate not only the outer reaches of space, but new species.

But in the back of my mind there is that expression ‘shoot for the moon’, which could mean almost anything.

It could mean going for the unobtainable, whether it be a job, or the partner of your dreams. Failing can be heartbreak. Success might mean you’d be ‘over the moon’.

Them there’s travelling to moon, perhaps the next logical step for regular people, heading off the spend a week on a moon base hotel. I’m not sure what we would see out there in space; Perhaps a UFO?

Fictionalised, a moon base might just be the meeting place for various species, and being the mystery writer I am, what if there was a murder?

As always, the possibilities are endless.

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 84

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.

I’m leaving town and not looking back

Three days later, after Nadia had disappeared, I was cleared to leave the hospital, almost fully restored.

It had been a strange three days, time enough to consider what happened to Nadia, and in the end, I had to conclude that she needed to get away from everyone and everything.

I wanted to believe she was back in Italy; among people she could trust.  That notion of living a simple life in the vineyard that she proposed was now more appealing than going back to my old life working for the Benderby’s.  There was no doubt in my mind that I would never be going back to that warehouse, or anything else to do with the Benderby’s.

Three days to finally come to the painful conclusion that I had done nothing with my life, and staying in town, it would just be more of the same, only lonelier now that Boggs had gone.  Not even the prospect of seeing Nadia made it any better, not that was going to stay longer than she had to.

Boggs’s mother finally came to visit me, and, when I saw her, I had the awful feeling she was going to blame me.  Perhaps I had already blamed myself because it was me who took him there, and if I had not, he would still be alive.

Nor did I believe he died in a fall, he was too good a climber for that to happen.  Alex or Vince must have found him, and silenced him the only way they knew.  He hadn’t deserved that, but, then, neither had we, but I guess when you try to keep a secret, it was the only way to ensure silence.

I knew the secret, and it was a question of how long I would survive before I was next on the list. Alex would never believe I could keep it to myself, and I had been safe in the hospital, but now I was leaving, it was only a matter of time before he made a move.

That gave me the impetus to make a decision that was in my best interests, to leave and never come back.  That meant leaving my mother too, as hard as it would be, and for reasons she would never understand.

I told her that the day before.

She visited twice a day, and each time I tried to find the courage to tell her of my decision, and each time it was not possible.  She was too happy that I was alive, and was making plans for the future, coming to the conclusion that life was too short, and putting things off until another day might mean they may never happen.

It was the same conclusion I’d come to, but with different ideas as to what it was I should not put off.

It took until the day before my discharge, and made easier with her news of a proposal from Benderby.  Both had been cool to the idea of taking their relationship to the next level, but now it seemed he had a change of heart.

My devious mind found another reason, and it was not because he cared about her.  It was more to do with silencing me, and her, putting us under his ‘protection’.  It told me he knew about his son’s involvement, and it would be interesting to see what he did about Alex.  My guess: nothing.

And was it wrong of me to hope Nadia would drive a stake into Alex’s heart?

She had just finished telling me about the second piece of news, my promotion, being in charge of the warehouse, rather than just being a clerk, a job I suspected normal people would have to wait years to attain.  It cemented my suspicions of his motive.

“That’s Alex’s domain,” I said.  “What’s he going to do?  The last thing I need is him being resentful.”

“He’s going to be your stepbrother, Sam, and we’re hoping the two of you will play nice.”

“Did Alex get the memo?”

“It doesn’t sound to me like he will be the problem “

It was a recipe for disaster.  And surprising that she should take Benderbys side.  My mother seemed to have forgotten all those years of angst at school, and the fact Alex was little better than a bully.  I guess, after the years of struggling after my father left us, she had to look out for herself. 

It was my cue.

“You don’t have to worry about me anymore.  I can look after myself.”

“I have no doubt you can.  But you have to get along with others, Sam.”

“I will.  But it won’t be here.  When they finally let me go, I’m leaving town.  There are just too many bad memories here now.”

I thought, while she was still wrapped up in the romance with Benderby, she’d just nod and move on.

Wrong.

She was genuinely upset with my decision.  “Are you leaving with that dreadful girl?”

“She is not a dreadful girl.  If that’s what Benderby is saying, he’s wrong.  I got to know her, those days in the cave when hope was fading.  That’s where you find the real person.  But, no, I’m not.  I don’t know where she is.  I’m disappointed, but not surprised.  By the way, Alex treated her very badly when she was his girlfriend, and back in school.”

“She would say that being a Cossatino.”

“And I’m sure the Benderby’s have nothing nice to say about them.  Irrespective of the Benderby’s and the Cossatino’s hatred for each other, they are more the reason to leave rather than stay.  But, more importantly, when time was running out in that cave, I realized all the things I hadn’t done, and why.   I’ve wasted opportunities and years of my life and lost a very good friend, who, if I’m to be judged one day, let down terribly.  That alone makes it impossible to stay here.”

“There’s a lot of good you can do here, Sam.  And all of the Boggs’s spent too much of their time having after that non-existent pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  You can’t feel sorry for them, father and son alike.”

Given what I knew, her admission was probably parroting the same sentiments as everyone else, and it was a fruitless search only in the fact that the treasure had been removed.  I had no doubt it had been there once, and moved, or discovered many years before.  Boggs’s father had found the resting place, and would have found the treasure.  Ormiston had too.  But would I tell anyone the truth, probably not?

But when I should have let it go, I didn’t.  “There’s so much you don’t know, that no one knows and probably never will.  You are entitled to your own opinion, I’m entitled to mine, and we’ll agree to disagree.  All the more reason to leave, because all it’s going to do is upset me every time someone mentions Boggs or the treasure.”

She stood.  I could see her ‘I don’t want to hear this’ face, and knew she’d long stopped listening to me.  As far as she was concerned, I would come around in the end.  There was no point arguing, I was just going to leave and worry about the consequences later.

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 77

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.

Boggs is not a happy man

I could feel the waves of hate emanating from Boggs as he was staring at Nadia, who was doing her best to ignore him.

The previous evening when I made the suggestion to her that we should do whatever we could to aid in his search, on the Cossatino’s beach head without involving the Cossatinos, and in an attempt to have a backup plan if they caught up with us, met the same stony silence as it had when I told Boggs.

Her response was a stony, ‘don’t expect me to go up against my father and Vince, I’m not that brave.”

All Cossatino’s were tarred with the same brush, he said, just short of telling me he was convinced she was working with them, trying to find out what he knew via me.  He didn’t believe me when I told him she had done anything but interrogate me.

I wanted to believe she was not on their side, but just in case he might be right, my idea was to keep the enemy, if she was playing me, close.  Certainly, if the family turned up to thwart us, then I’d be convinced she was against us.

But, at least we’d then know, and it would make little difference in the end.  What Boggs was planning, with or without me, was basically suicide.

And she had voiced exactly the arguments that I’d already expected, although stopping short of saying she would not be part of it.

What had surprised me, Boggs had actually come, knowing Nadia would be there.

I let the silence reign for a minute or so, then dived in.

“Right.”

Both heads turned towards me, and I could feel the temperature rise about 10 degrees.

“I had imagined this would go so much better when I planned it in my head, but I can see quite plainly there are trust issues on either side.  The point is, Boggs, you can’t do this on your own.  You tried once and failed.  You might get lucky a second time, but I suspect the Cossatinos know now what you’re trying to do, and will be waiting.”

“They tried to kill me,” he muttered.

That might be putting it a bit strongly, because he had said as much to the sheriff, and the Cossatino’s denied it, as expected, but the evidence was quite clear, Boggs’s rope had been severed with a knife, located when the sheriff had visited the site and found the rope still attached to the top of the cliff.

The Cossatinos had been sloppy in covering their tracks, and the excuse they had been rock climbing hadn’t been taken seriously since no equipment had been found at the house, and none of them could provide any details of doing so elsewhere.

Evidence or not, no charges had been laid yet, nor had the Cossatinos proceeded with a trespass charge, perhaps fearing a more detailed investigation might be too intrusive or prove Boggs’s case.  In turn,  Boggs had been forced to agree not to go back, but simple words on the paper he signed, meant nothing.

“Deter you, I’d say,” Nadia said, “because killing you would bring unwanted attention to their activities.” 

Nadia was probably right because Boggs’s quest was too well known, as was the theory that the treasure was still on The Grove.  Already, the story was on the front page of the local paper, and Lenny was trying to get interviews.

And it was attracting attention from other media.  If anything, the Cossatinos would want to hose it down, not throw fuel on the fire.

“Well, you’re not dead,” I said, “fortuitously we found you, and now if you are going to persist with this quest, there has to be a plan, and Nadia has to be part of it.”

“I’ve already told you I don’t need anyone’s help.”

“OK.  Then I’ll start my own quest, with Nadia’s help, and we’ll see who gets to the treasure first.  I told you I believe I know where it is, and I think you believe you know too.  Your problem will be getting back there, whereas, I have no such problem.  So,” I pointed to the door, “you can leave any time, but don’t call me again.  We’re done.”

I glared back at him, and while not exactly squirming in his seat, he appeared to be mulling over the ultimatum.  I hadn’t planned to give him one, but he was pushing all the wrong buttons.

It also elicited an interesting look from Nadia, because it was the first time she was hearing that I knew where the treasure was.  It was a calculated risk telling her, but I’d know soon enough whose side she was on.

“If you sign a document forfeiting any rights over the treasure you have a deal.  Both of you.”

So, it came down to the money, pure and simple.  I thought I’d made it clear long ago that I wasn’t interested in anything to do with the treasure because it was cursed.  “No problem.”

I looked at Nadia.

“God no, I want nothing to do with it.  I’ve seen what the obsession with wealth can do to people, and families, and it’s why I left.  I’m happy to sign anything you want.”

He pulled what looked to be sheets of folded paper from his pocket, unfolded them, and gave one to each of us.

“Call me when they’re notarized.”  With a final glare, he left.

That left Nadia looking at me with a curious expression.  “You know where the treasure is?”

“Maybe.  I just wanted to put the wind up him because I think he does.  There are clues that Boggs doesn’t know about, and I haven’t told him about.  I believe according to some of the information I’ve found, that he was in the right place when we found him.”

“I didn’t see any caves or tunnels, or any sort of hiding place, just rocks.”

“There are a few factors involved that make that area a likely spot and the reasons that spot was chosen.  One is that there doesn’t seem to be apparent access by land, other than the way we came, across the rocks, but at the time the pirates might not have had the time or the know-how to get there by anything other than the sea.”

“So, you’re saying they came by sea.  How did they get past the reefs?  And how the hell could they see a cave or tunnel in that rockface?”

“It’s been a couple of hundred years, and I think back then that shoreline would have been a lot different.  I’m not a geologist but that cliff face shows signs of rockfalls and slippage, so it’s possible it’s now concealed.  From what I’ve read, just in the newspaper archives alone, there’s been seismic activity occurring for the last seventy-odd years and maybe even during the last few centuries, just look at the fact there used to be a lake further inland.  Then, I suspect they came ashore by an abnormally high tide.  For an experienced seafarer, it has the pluses, and precise navigation through the reef, and it’s the hardest to get to spot on the Grove’s coastline.  An ideal spot that is to everyone other than a master mariner, an unlikely place to get to.

She looked like she was weighing up the pros and cons of what I’d told her.

“I’m surprised you’re telling me this.”

“The chances of the treasure still being there or that I’m right about the location is quite remote, so it doesn’t really matter.  Anyway, up to now, you haven’t given me a reason not to trust you, so if there’s anything you want to tell me, now would be the time.”

So, she had considered how it might look to me, the family name and reputation she had inherited.

“I’ve told you what my situation is.  To be honest, I don’t think there’s any treasure to be found either.  I once heard a discussion between family members, when I was very young and didn’t understand what they were talking about, involving putting a story out there that there was a treasure, and if they sold it well enough, people would pay plenty for maps.  In my opinion, the treasure story is a Cossatino special money-making scheme built off Ormiston’s and layer, Boggs’s obsession.  The myth has been perpetuated by articles in papers, and new maps surfacing from time to time.  I’d be surprised if you did find anything, but for Boggs’s sake, it’s better he learn the truth than hang on to false hope.”

“So you know it’s all a hoax?”

“On the face of it, you would think so, but Vince, not the sharpest of people, bought into it, especially when Boggs’s father came on board to draw the maps.  He was a cartographer you know, and worked for the county authorities in mapping the area.  I’m guessing that’s how he got started on this treasure thing.  That was another story my father liked to tell us, how Boggs had found a cave that was a pirates lair, only to see it destroyed not long after in one of the recent earthquakes.  That discovery turned him into a true believer and was happy to help the Cossatino’s so he could muddy the water while he searched for it.  There have always been rumors of treasure along this coastline.  It might be possible there was treasure somewhere, but don’t you think it’d be found by now?”

“Logic dictates that it would be, but anything’s possible.  Why did you take me on that coin-seeking exercise?”

“The truth Sam?  I heard Vince talking about Boggs snooping around, and I was hoping we’d find nothing.  Vince can be an ass most of the time, and I want to believe he wouldn’t do anything to seriously hurt Boggs, just put the wind up him.  Thankfully nothing happened, and it’s the best I could do in the circumstances.  I’m sorry.”

Was she by definition somewhere between a rock and a hard place?

“This time we were lucky.  Next time it might be a very different story.  I’ll understand if you want to quit now, because you may have to pick a side.”

“Let’s hope then it doesn’t come to that.”

© Charles Heath 2020-2022