Sayings: Flogging a dead horse

This wouldn’t be so apt if it didn’t bring back a raft of bad memories, those days I used to go to the races, and back all of the wrong horses.

I had a knack, you see, of picking horses that fell over, or came dead last.

Perhaps that’s another of those sayings, dead last, with a very obvious meaning.  Dead!  Last!

But…

In the modern vernacular, flogging a dead horse is like spending further time on something in which the outcome is already classed as a complete waste of time.

However…

Back in the old days, the dead horse referred to the first month’s wages when working aboard a ship, usually paid for before you stepped on board the ship.  At the end of the first month, the theoretical dead horse was tossed overboard symbolically, and thereafter you were paid.

It still didn’t make sense to me that someone would tell me I was flogging a dead horse, until I realized, one day, the lesson to be learned was never to get paid in advance.

 

Searching for Locations: The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Sorry, reminiscing again…

It was a cold but far from a miserable day.  We were taking our grandchildren on a tour of the most interesting sites in Paris, the first of which was the Eifel Tower.

We took the overground train, which had double-decker carriages, a first for the girls, to get to the tower.

We took the underground, or Metro, back, and they were fascinated with the fact the train carriages ran on road tires.

Because it was so cold, and windy, the tower was only open to the second level. It was a disappointment to us, but the girls were content to stay on the second level.

There they had the French version of chips.

It was a dull day, but the views were magnificent.

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A view of the Seine

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Sacre Coeur church at Montmartre in the distance.

Another view along the river Seine

Overlooking the tightly packed apartment buildings

Looking along the opposite end of the river Seine

Searching for locations: Windsor Castle, London, England

A fine day, on this trip a rarity, we decided to take the train to Windsor and see the castle.

This is a real castle, and still in one piece, unlike a lot of castles.

Were we hoping to see the Queen, no, it was highly unlikely.

But there were a lot of planes flying overhead into Heathrow.  The wind must have been blowing the wrong day, and I’m sure, with one passing over every few minutes, it must annoy the Queen if she was looking for peace and quiet.

Good thing then, when it was built, it was an ideal spot, and not under the landing path.  I guess it was hard to predict what would happen 500 years in the future!

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I’m not sure if this was the front gate or back gate, but I was wary of any stray arrows coming out of those slits either side of the entrance.

You just never know!

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An excellent lawn for croquet.  This, I think, is the doorway, on the left, where dignitaries arrive by car.  The private apartments are across the back.

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The visitor’s apartments.  Not sure who that is on the horse.

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St George’s Chapel.  It’s a magnificent church for a private castle.  It’s been very busy the last few months with Royal weddings.

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The Round Tower, or the Keep.  It is the castle’s centerpiece.  Below it is the gardens.

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Those stairs are not for the faint-hearted, nor the Queen I suspect.  But I think quite a few royal children and their friends have been up and down them a few times.

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And well worth the effort to reach the bottom.

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Any faces peering out through the windows?

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 60

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.

Three a.m. is meant to be so quiet; you could hear your heart beating.

Ten to, all hell had broken loose when one of the conveyor belts broke, and a replacement was needed, and the engineers were on the clock.

Ten past, the hullabaloo had died down, and back at the desk, I was contemplating a long scotch to calm the nerves.  Drinking on the job was not condoned, but not unheard of.  I opened the drawer and looked at the bottle, then thought the better of it.

And, when I looked up, Nadia was standing in front of the desk.

She was as quiet as a ninja, and just as dangerous.

“Never a dull moment,” she said, dragging a chair over and sitting down.  “I got here a half hour ago and all hell was breaking loose.”

“Conveyor broke.  No one wants to see production stop or slide.  Too many questions.”

“Fixed?”

“Of course.”  I made a note to order a replacement.  Better to have two in store, just in case.

“How did you get in?”

Security was tight, not like it used to be, especially after what happened to me.

“I know the guards, they know I’m not a threat.”

I could beg to differ, but I was glad to see her.  “Did you know Alex was a caver?”

“A what?”

“One of those people who go scrambling through caves.”

“I doubt it.”

“He used the word spelunking.”

“Which is?”

“Exploring caves.”

“He’s no explorer, I bet he’s looking for the treasure.”

“And so has a million others before him.  I seriously doubt the treasure will be in a cave in the hills, which is where all the known caves are.  Of course, that doesn’t necessarily include the so-called underground river under the mall, but apparently isn’t.”

“You heard?”

“That the flooding was not necessarily the result of a flood of water from the mountains, yes.  A problem with the foundations, it has been suggested.”

“A fact Benderby is working overtime to cover up.”

Nadia seemed well informed.  I was guessing the Cossatino’s could see an opportunity to blackmail Benderby, if they had proof.  I wouldn’t put anything past them.

“You know something I don’t?”

“We always know something others don’t.”

“Have I got a dark secret?”

“That depends.” 

She smiled, and it worried me.

“Your mother and Joshua Benderby used to be very good friends when they were at school.”

Old news, well, not so old news, but if I hadn’t seen the flowers…

“What are you insinuating?”

“They had a fling before your mother realized what sort of a man he really was and picked your father instead.  But, from what I’m told, they were close, and there wasn’t a lot of time between the breakup and you coming along.”

Odd, but that was just the thought that entered my mind at the exact instant she said it.

“But, I look nothing like the Benderby’s.”

“Benderby didn’t look anything like his parents either, it’s a generational thing, so you might want to find a photo of his father and mother, you know, just to settle the nerves.  Or a DNA test.”

It was the last thing on my mind.  Imagine being a stepbrother to Alex.  Wouldn’t that get his nose out of joint, going from the only son and heir to sharing the mantle?  I was older than him, too, which gave me more of a claim on the fortune.

No.  Not a chance in the world.  There wouldn’t be enough money to assuage the horrors of that family.  It would be bad enough if they got together now, which wasn’t as unlikely as it sounded.  His wife had died, and he hadn’t remarried, or, for that matter, found someone else.  Yet.

“Have you come with any other news?”

“No.  Just a picnic basket.  I thought you might want a late, late supper.”

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 59

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.

Did it upset me that Boggs was a little snarky?  Yes, a bit.

We’d been friends for a long time, the sort who had stuck together at school to keep arm’s length from the bullies and work together on projects and homework.  That friendship had become more important after his father disappeared, and I had believed he appreciated it.

Until this treasure thing.

It hadn’t been there, looking over everything.  The fact of the matter was he had been too young to understand any of it, and his mother wisely kept the extended details of her husband’s obsession away from him, and it was quite by chance he stumbled over his father’s effects in the attic.

Had she destroyed that stuff then perhaps we’d all not in this position?

Life had been more predictable, we avoided Alex and Vince, Nadia was nowhere to be seen, and life just rolled along in unemployed heaven.  Of course, that would have had to change, as it had, because my mother couldn’t continue to support a son in his late teens, and at that age, I should have been looking for both work, and to move on with my life.

The state of the economy, and the town’s fortunes, made that difficult, and I guess it would have been a matter of time before I left, like nearly all of my contemporaries had to the bigger towns and cities for more opportunities.

Benderby and the factory had staved that off, for now.

Other than that, I was rather pleased with the job I had, not too taxing, amenable hours so I could do other stuff, and although the only downside was working with Alex, all I had to do was avoid him, and the warehouse was a large building.

I went home to change and found my mother there, sitting at the kitchen table having a cup of coffee.

“You’re home early,” I said when I saw her.

“On a break.  Had to go to the bank, and it wasn’t much further to come here.  Muriel tells me you’ve been talking to Nadia Cossatino.”

Talking to Nadia to her was the same as spending time with her.  And to my mother, the Cossatino’s were public enemies, close to the number one.

“You taught me to be polite and speak when spoken to.”

It was always good to quote her rules back to her when she was trying to admonish me.

“You know what the Cossatino’s are, Sam.”

“She doesn’t act like one, not now.”

“You know why they sent her away, don’t you?”

Sent away?  That was not what I heard, but then, as a so-called child, what we were told and what was reality were two entirely different things.

“I thought I did, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me the grown-up reason?”

“She stabbed a girl, and instead of going to juvenile detention, they sent her home to Italy where she couldn’t get into any more trouble.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why did she stab another girl?”

“Do the Cossatino’s need reasons for what they do?  She’s not a very nice person, nor are the family very nice people.  Remember that the next time you see her.”

“She’s nice to me, and I prefer to be polite.  But I’ll take what you said and be careful.”

That said, I was dismissed, lecture given.

I changed and came back to pack a meal for the evening break.  Mother was still sitting at the table.

“I thought you’d be on your way back to work.”

“Not going back today.  I’m not feeling very well.  How is the job going?  I never get to see much of you these days.”

“I’m helping Boggs when I can.”

“Isn’t he on that treasure trail his father started?”

“Yes.  He found a box of his stuff in the attic, and we’ve been trying to make sense of it.”

“There is none.   There was no treasure, just a bunch of maps Boggs’s father made for the Cossatino’s to con people out of their money.”

“What about Ormiston?”

“He was a bigger fool than Boggs.  You don’t want to be humoring Boggs with such nonsense.  You concentrate on doing your job properly and let him follow his father down that rabbit hole.  I feel sorry for Muriel, having two of her family sucked into that mess.”

“And what if it is real?”

She gave me a look that told me the only thing that was real would be her wrath if I persisted with it.  “OK,” I said.  “I’ll try and reason with him, and get him to give it up.”

It was then I noticed the flowers over by the window, a very expensive-looking bouquet in an ornate vase.

“Do you have a secret admirer?”

She looked a little puzzled, then realized what I was talking about.

“Joshua sent them over, thought it might cheer me up.”

Joshua was Alex Benderby’s father, my employer.  Odd that he would be sending my mother flowers.  We were not anywhere near his social circle.

“He’s a kind man, Sam, and we have been friends since school.  I could do with some cheering up.”

I was not sure what she meant by that, but I hope it didn’t mean he would come visiting.  Knowing Benderby was a curse, not a benefit, and I hoped my job wasn’t contingent on her being nice to him.

I shuddered at the thought, said no more, and left for work.

My job was supposed to be my sanctuary, where I could get away from home, the depressive nature of living in the town, and Boggs and his treasure hunt.

It wasn’t an escape from Alex, and not only did he work in the same building, but treated it as his fiefdom, and resented the fact I’d ‘wormed’ my way into his domain.

Under that boastful and arrogant exterior, he really was just an insecure little boy.

But very, very dangerous.

He was leaving when I arrived, having switched from night shift to day, a blessing.  His alternate for the night shift was an uncaring old man who was approaching retirement and didn’t want anything to screw up his exit.

He let me do whatever I wanted so long as it didn’t blow back on him, and I took extra care not to cause offense, or raise any flags.  Stuff came in, stuff went out, the stock register was up to date, and nothing ran out.

It was as simple as that, and even so, Alex still couldn’t get it right so we covered for him.

Alex stopped at the door on the way out, a bad sign.

“You want to tell that clown of a friend, Boggs, to stop poking around the caves.  They’re not a place for amateurs.”

“I didn’t know he was poking around the caves.  Nor that you were.  Any particular reason?”

“It’s called spelunking, dimwit.”

I knew that but wasn’t going to make an issue of it.  He was lucky he could pronounce it let alone know what it was.

“They’re just caves, Alex, with nothing more than a few limestone pinnacles, and bat shit on the floor.  Unless, of course, you think the pirate captain hid his treasure in one of them.  I can’t see how, or why.  They’re a long way from the coast.”

“We’re not looking for treasure.  It doesn’t exist.”

“Then why warn Boggs off?”

He shook his head.  “You’re as daft in the head as he is.  Just tell him not to get in my way.”

With that, he was gone.  A huge sigh of relief, and a long peaceful night ahead of me.

Until the phone rang.

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

A writer isn’t just a writer

Is he, or she?

No, we have any number of other functions, so the notion we can sit down all day every day and just write is a misnomer.

I know for a fact I can’t.

I have jobs to do around the house, and therein lies the problem.

I sit down, once the jobs for that part of the day are done, and fire up the computer, or sometimes sharpen the pencils.

Then, free to write, it’s like starting the lawnmower, wait till it settles into a steady rhythm, and then, as you begin to mow the lawn, it runs out of petrol.

Yes, that’s happened to me a few times, and only goes to highlight the other problems.

When you have to do something else, your mind is happily working on the book, story, article, piece, or whatever, and then, when you sit down, your mind is on the next lot of chores.

Only the most disciplined mind can separate the two so that each allotted timed time is allotted to the task.

Me, I suck at that.

Like now.  I want to get on with one of my longer stories, and my mind is telling me I have to write a blog post.

So, I’m writing the blog post.

I know that tomorrow I’m not going to get much writing time because the grandchildren are over for a mini stay and we’re going to see Doolittle.

But, can I get it done now?

No.  In the background, the Australia vs India one day cricket match is murmuring, and we’re not doing so good.  It’s a necessary distraction, but I still haven’t learned to multitask.

Perhaps it’s too late for that.

Anyway, I got to go.  We just got a wicket, and the tide is turning.

I hope!

My opinions are my own

It’s always a good thing to get that across especially if you work for an organization that could misinterpret what that opinion is, or generally have an opposing opinion. Of course, by saying your opinions are your own, you’re covering yourself from becoming unemployed, but is this a futile act?

Perhaps it’s better to not say anything because everything you say and do eventually find its way to those you want most not to hear about it, perhaps one of the big negatives of the internet and social media.

And…

It seems odd to me that you can’t have an opinion of your own, even if it is contrary to that of the organization you work for, and especially if their opinion has changed over time. An opposing opinion, not delivered in a derogatory manner, would have the expectation of sparking healthy debate, but it doesn’t always end up like that.

I’m sure there are others out there that will disagree, and use the overused word, loyalty. Perhaps their mantra will be ‘keep your opinions to yourself.

This, too, often crops up in personal relationships, and adds weight to the statement, ‘you can pick your friends but not your relatives’.

I’m told I have an opinion on everything, a statement delivered in a manner that suggests sarcasm. Whether it’s true or not, isn’t the essence of free speech, working within the parameters of not inciting hate, bigotry, racism or sexism, a fundamental right of anyone in a democracy?

Seems not.

There’s always someone out there, higher up the food chain, with an opinion of their own, obviously the right one, and who will not hesitate to silence yours. But, isn’t it strange that in order to silence you, they have to use leverage, like your job, to get theirs across.

Well, my opinions are in my writing, and whether or not you agree with them or not, I’m sure you will let me know. In a robust but respectful manner.

Unlike some, my door is always open.

Short Story Writing – Don’t try this at home! – Part 4

This is not a treatise, but a tongue in cheek, discussion on how to write short stories.   Suffice to say this is not the definitive way of doing it, just mine.  It works for me – it might not work for you.

You’ve got the place, now you want the who.

My main characters are quite often me.

Not the real me, because I’m boring.  No, those characters are what I would like to be, that imaginary superhuman that can do everything.

Until, of course, reality sets in, and the bullets start flying.  When that happens, we should be looking to run or at the very least get under cover, not walk into a hail of bullets, with a huge grin, staring down the enemy.

Hang on, that never happens except in superman comics.

What’s really needed here is a little vulnerability, a little humility and a lot of understanding, qualities at times I don’t have.

So, in order to create a more believable character, I start dragging traits from others I’ve met, or know, or really don’t want to know.  

In a writer’s environment, there are a plethora of people out there that you can draw on for inspiration.  I once spent and afternoon at a railway station just observing people.  Even now, I make observations, some of which are true, and others, wildly off course. 

I once tried to convince my other half that I could pick people’s traits, and we sat at a café outside a church in Venice.  I was lucky, I got more than 75% correct.

Other characters in my stories I have met along the way.

Like a piano player in a restaurant.  It was not so much the playing was bad, it was the way he managed to draw people into his orbit and keep them there.  The man has charisma, but sadly no talent for the instrument.

Like an aunt I met only twice in a lifetime, and who left a lasting impression.  Severe, angry looking, speaking a language I didn’t understand, even though it was English.  It was where I learned we came from England, and she was the closest thing I came to as an example of nineteenth-century prim and proper.  And, no, she didn’t have a sense of humour or time for silly little boys.

Like one of my bosses, a man of indeterminate age, but it had to be over 100, or so it seemed to my sixteen-year-old brain, who spoke and dressed impeccably, and yes, he did once say that I would be the death of him.

I can only hope I wasn’t.

Like a Captain of a ship I once met, a man who didn’t seem to have time for the minions, and a man who reeked authority and respect.  I’ve always wanted to be like him, but unfortunately, it was not in the genes.

Those are only a few, there are thousands of others over the years, a built-in library, if you will, of characters waiting to be taken off the shelf and used where necessary or appropriate.  We all have one of these banks.

You just have to know when to use them.

In a word: Park

We mostly understand that a park is an area set aside for recreation, and can have trees, flowers, a lake, and vast lawns.  These parks are also sometimes called ‘gardens’.

A great example of a park is Central Park in New York.

Nearly every city has a park or some sort, some have more than one.

But the word park has a number of other uses.  For instance,

You can park a car, or bike, or yourself; in other words, it’s a place where you stop for a while.  For cars, it is a carpark.

You could say ‘it’s just a walk in the park’, which means that the job is going to be easy.  I never understood that analogy because quite a lot of parks have walks that are difficult, and not so much ‘a walk in the park’.

It is also used to describe a place where animals are kept, other than calling it a zoo, it can go by the name of a wildlife park.  Zoos though are more for cities.  Wildlife parks can be quite huge and many are found in Africa.

A park can also be used to describe a sporting arena or field.

You can park a bag in a locker.

You can park an idea in the back of your mind and come back to it later, or if you are like me, it disappears into the ether.

It can be an area of land around a manor house, but there are very few of those left now.  The most notable of these are in England, and were designed by a man called Capability Brown.

 

It all started in Venice – Episode 20

More Plans

Rodby’s generosity did not extend to the Citation taking me back to Venice, but he did fund a business class seat on a commercial flight the next morning.

I was in no hurry to go back, the overnight sojourn giving me time to make a plan of sorts.  A few hours after I left the police I received a message from Alfie, with an attached sound file.

A recording of a phone call between Jaime and Larry.

“Your enemy just arranged for me to be dragged off to a police station and interrogated.”

An interesting start to a conversation.

“Which enemy?”

Good to know he had more than one.

“You know who.  He was supposed to be in Venice not London, and he’s not supposed to be working with anyone, yet it seems he is.”

“On what pretext did they take you in?”

“That C4 you left in your crates in my warehouse.  They think it’s mine “

“Did you tell them about me?”

“Didn’t have to, you left your name all over the crates.  They’ll be looking for you.”

“Let them look.  What did he have to say?”

“Annoyed that you’re going after him.”

“How does he know that?”

“How does he know anything, Larry.  He does.  He says his ex-boss is the one who wants you, not him, and that story you told me about him killing your brother, it’s not true.”

“He’s lied to you, just like I said he would.”

“Then that means your mother is lying too, because I called her, and she had a different version of events.  I can’t trust you, and you are now very hot property and I can’t afford to be involved with you.  The police have taken the crates away, so as far as I’m concerned it’s the last I want to see of them, and you.  Don’t try to contact me again.”

The phone went dead.

Good.  She did the right thing, though it was as expected.  She could also quite easily contact him another way, but for the time being, I’d give her the benefit of the doubt.

Next, I called Larry’s mother.

Same background noise, it seemed she didn’t want to go home.  Larry must be ingratiating himself.

“I spoke to Jaime, the woman Larry is purported to be romancing.  He is not, or not as far as I can tell.”

“She has since then.”

“She does now.  What would Larry want with C4?”

“What’s C4?”

“Explosive.”

“Vaults. His father used to specialize in blowing safes and tried to teach the son but Larry nearly blew the both of them to the afterlife.”

“It’d have to be a very big safe.”

“You could always ask him yourself.  He’s going to be around for dinner tomorrow night.  Just be wary of the bodyguards.  There’s three of them.”

“Things might get a little rough, do you really want that in your house?”

“Someone needs to teach the bastard a lesson.  By the way, a good call from that Jaime woman, asking me about your role with my sons.  She seemed surprised.”

“I wasn’t very nice to her.”

“She’s a criminal,  not a thoroughly bad one like Larry, but one nonetheless.  You don’t have to be nice to them.  Let’s hope she doesn’t have to worry about her sons like I had to.”

That was the problem with that sort of family business.  The children really have nowhere to go but join or disappear.  Then it became a battle for survival, especially if you had a parent running the organization.  Then there were always expectations, and then that first kill.

Larry’s brother had never wanted that life, he wanted to live on his terms, but neither the father nor the eldest son and successor saw it that way.

“I thought I could escape all of this cloak-and-dagger stuff, but Larry seems to have put that on hold.  Perhaps if we have a little chat he might change his mind.”

“I think it would be better than what you had in mind.  He increased their guards too when he was not here, and it’s unsettling for her, and especially me.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

It couldn’t be easy for her with a son like him, especially bow the police were looking for him.  He was not going to get back into the country because his name will be on an alert list, so it would be interesting to see how he got back home.

He had the means, simply because he had turned up in Sorrento using none of the known methods of transportation.  And he didn’t own a private jet, or at least, one that I knew of.  Something else to investigate.

I called Alfie.

“Got the message.  Interesting call.”

“Do you believe her?”

“Not really.  But we’ll know soon enough.  Um having dinner at his mother’s tomorrow night and he will be there.”

“Then play c is off the table for the moment?”

Plan c was taking his effect and child to use as leverage.  It might still be needed, depending on the upcoming meeting.

“Backburner.  Where’s Cecilia?”

“I moved her to your place.  Seemed the best option.”

“She will need a sniper rifle, and get herself to Sorrento tomorrow morning.  Give the address.  She’ll need a site that gives a good view of the dining room.  And needless to say, no advertising her presence.”

“Have you got a plan?”

“Not really.  He’s not going to do a lot with his wife and daughter there, but, again, it’s Larry and he is unpredictable.”

“I hope you know what you’re doing “

“Never.  Now, it seems the C4 was to crack a safe or create a diversion.  You need to get the team onto finding out what he’s planning.  You might want to go through ex-partners and associates in case he’s on a revenge kick.”

“Rodby said he wouldn’t be unhappy if you just shot him.”

“We’re not allowed to.”

“There are ways and means.”

“Then we’re no better than they are.  We’ve had this conversation a few times.”

“We’re not winning the war, and people are getting restless.  There’s talk Rodby will be replaced by a more aggressive department head.”

That was all the department needed, someone to hasten its demise.  It was already vastly limited in what it could do, and in recent years reduced to little more than intelligence gathering and a few side missions. After I left, it had lost its sting in the tail.  I thought Rodby was marking time for his retirement.

Now it seemed that might come earlier than expected.  Was this why he was pushing the Larry project, one last hurrah?

“It won’t happen, they can’t possibly get rid of institutions like him.”

“I hope you’re right.”

© Charles Heath 2022