An excerpt from “Betrayal” – a work in progress

It could have been anywhere in the world, she thought, but it wasn’t.  It was in a city where if anything were to go wrong…

She sighed and came away from the window and looked around the room.  It was quite large and expensively furnished.  It was one of several she had been visiting in the last three months.

Quite elegant too, as the hotel had its origins dating back to before the revolution in 1917.  At least, currently, there would not be a team of KGB agents somewhere in the basement monitoring everything that happened in the room.

There was no such thing as the KGB anymore, though there was an FSB, but such organisations were of no interest to her.

She was here to meet with Vladimir.

She smiled to herself when she thought of him, such an interesting man whose command of English was as good as her command of Russian, though she had not told him of that ability.

All her knew of her was that she was American, worked in the Embassy as a clerk, nothing important, who life both at work and at home was boring.  Not that she had blurted that out the first tie she met, or even the second.

That first time, at a function in the Embassy, was a chance meeting, a catching of his eye as he looked around the room, looking, as he had told her later, for someone who might not be as boring as the function itself.

It was a celebration, honouring one of the Embassy officials on his service in Moscow, and the fact he was returning home after 10 years.  She had been there one, and still hadn’t met all the staff.

They had talked, Vladimir knew a great deal about England, having been stationed there for a year or two, and had politely asked questions about where she lived, her family, and of course what her role was, all questions she fended off with an air of disinterested interest.

It fascinated him, as she knew it would, a sort of mental sparring as one would do with swords, if this was a fencing match.

They had said they might or might not meet again when the party was over, but she suspected there would be another opportunity.  She knew the signs of a man who was interested in her, and Vladimir was interested.

The second time came in the form of an invitation to an art gallery, and a viewing of the works of a prominent Russian artist, an invitation she politely declined.  After all, invitations issued to Embassy staff held all sorts of connotations, or so she was told by the Security officer when she told him.

Then, it went quiet for a month.  There was a party at the American embassy and along with several other staff members, she was invited.  She had not expected to meet Vladimir, but it was a pleasant surprise when she saw him, on the other side of the room, talking to several military men.

A pleasant afternoon ensued.

And it was no surprise that they kept running into each other at the various events on the diplomatic schedule.

By the fifth meeting, they were like old friends.  She had broached the subject of being involved in a plutonic relationship with him with the head of security at the embassy.  Normally for a member of her rank it would not be allowed, but in this instance it was.

She did not work in any sensitive areas, and, as the security officer had said, she might just happen upon something that might be useful.  In that regard, she was to keep her eyes and ears open, and file a report each time she met him.

After that discussion she got the impression her superiors considered Vladimir more than just a casual visitor on the diplomatic circuit.  She also formed the impression the he might consider her an ‘asset’, a word that had been used at the meeting with security and the ambassador.

It was where the word ‘spy’ popped into her head and sent a tingle down her spine.  She was not a spy, but the thought of it, well, it would be fascinating to see what happened.

A Russian friend.  That’s what she would call him.

And over time, that relationship blossomed, until, after a visit to the ballet, late and snowing, he invited her to his apartment not far from the ballet venue.  It was like treading on thin ice, but after champagne and an introduction to caviar, she felt like a giddy schoolgirl.

Even so, she had made him promise that he remain on his best behaviour.  It could have been very easy to fall under the spell of a perfect evening, but he promised, showed her to a separate bedroom, and after a brief kiss, their first, she did not see him until the next morning.

So, it began.

It was an interesting report she filed after that encounter, one where she had expected to be reprimanded.

She wasn’t.

It wasn’t until six weeks had passed when he asked her if she would like to take a trip to the country.  It would involve staying in a hotel, that they would have separate rooms.  When she reported the invitation, no objection was raised, only a caution; keep her wits about her.

Perhaps, she had thought, they were looking forward to a more extensive report.  After all, her reports on the places, and the people, and the conversations she overheard, were no doubt entertaining reading for some.

But this visit was where the nature of the relationship changed, and it was one that she did not immediately report.  She had realised at some point before the weekend away, that she had feelings for him, and it was not that he was pushing her in that direction or manipulating her in any way.

It was just one of those moments where, after a grand dinner, a lot of champagne, and delightful company, things happen.  Standing at the door to her room, a lingering kiss, not intentional on her part, and it just happened.

And for not one moment did she believe she had been compromised, but for some reason she had not reported that subtle change in the relationship to the powers that be, and so far, no one had any inkling.

She took off her coat and placed it carefully of the back of one of the ornate chairs in the room.  She stopped for a moment to look at a framed photograph on the wall, one representing Red Square.

Then, after a minute or two, she went to the mini bar and took out the bottle of champagne that had been left there for them, a treat arranged by Vladimir for each encounter.

There were two champagne flutes set aside on the bar, next to a bowl of fruit.  She picked up the apple and thought how Eve must have felt in the garden of Eden, and the temptation.

Later perhaps, after…

She smiled at the thought and put the apple back.

A glance at her watch told her it was time for his arrival.  It was if anything, the one trait she didn’t like, and that was his punctuality.  A glance at the clock on the room wall was a minute slow.

The doorbell to the room rang, right on the appointed time.

She put the bottle down and walked over to the door.

A smile on her face, she opened the door.

It was not Vladimir.  It was her worst nightmare.

© Charles Heath 2020

NaNoWriMo (April) – Day 16

Today’s writing is about the results of the police calling on Jack, after he reported his house being broken into.

They arrive.

The make the same mistake the Italian police did, mistaking him for Jacob, who since he murdered a woman in the hotel back where the conference was being held, and is still at large.

What would any reasonable person expect?

And along with this revelation is another, that his suspicions about Maryanne were right, because the Detective has to let her go on orders from ‘someone connected’.

From this we can infer that she is either a homeland security person whose been looking for, or had Jacob under surveillance before he killed, or a private detective, though Jack has bigger problems to worry about.

He is being arrested and hauled off to the station for questioning.

And he’s not holding his breath that Maryanne will be doing anything to sort the problem out. She probably has her own problems now that Jack knows who she is, and the fact her mission has been entirely unsuccessful,

And, no, Jack didn’t tell her about the diary, but you can just bet that’s what’s she’s after.

Today’s effort amounts to 3,139 words, for a total, so far, of 39,918.

More tomorrow.

In a word: Order

I gave the order to my assistant to order the supplies we needed in order to maintain stock levels.

Oh, yes, the word order is one of my favourites, because it can confuse the hell out of many people in its simplicity and yet complexity.

I gave the order, it’s what happens in the armed forces, and a lot of other places, but mostly we would associate it with organisations that have hierarchical authority.

The military, for one, cut orders, the means of sending one of its minions to another place, or to do a specific job.

Order supplies, well, just about anyone can order something from somewhere, usually on the internet, and sometimes require or are given an order number so it can be tracked.

In order to maintain, in order to get what I want, in order to get elected, this is just another way of using the word, with the aim of achieving something, though I’m sure there’s probably a better way of expressing these sentiments.

Law and order, well, doesn’t everyone want this, and doesn’t it always turn up in an election campaign, and seems to be the first thing sacrificed after the election.  The thing is, no one can guarantee law and order.

There is the law and there is administering it.  There is no order that comes with it, we just hope that order is maintained, and deplore the situation when it isn’t.

Perhaps in order to maintain law and order, we might need more police.

Then, of course, there is alphabetical order, and numerical order, where things can be designated from A to Z, like this challenge, or from 1 to 10, or more.  We can sort words alphabetically, numbers numerically and data items by keys or an index.

This is naturally called a sort order.

Then there is my car, or bike, or washing machine, or mixmaster.  They are currently in good working order, though that might not last.

And lastly, in deference to all those out there who are thinking of becoming dictators, it’s always possible, one day, there will be a new world order.  They might actually be in their own particular order, whose intellect might be (?) of the highest order.

Surely that is one order too many.

The A to Z Challenge – M is for “Many have come, few have stayed”

It was true to say that very few people knew our department existed. In fact, I was not sure quite who it was I worked for, but when I’d been first tasked with the assignment, a transfer precipitated by a transgression that might have ended my career, I was certain I had been sent to purgatory.

At least, that’s what the sign on the door said.

The office, if it could be called that, was in the basement, around so many twists and turns in the passages that it was easy to believe you had entered another dimension. It wasn’t located in the building you walked through the front door of, but somewhere else nearby. Through the walls, you could hear the sounds of cars, but whether it was a nearby road above the ceiling, or they were parking, it was not easy to say.

On another side, the sounds of trains passing through tunnels were barely discernible, and sometimes only noticeable by a slight vibration of the coffee mug on the desktop, of which there were four, the maximum number of occupants in the small area, but I have never seen who two of the other four were.

Such was the nature of our job. We operated in secret, hidden from the world, and the others. I was never quite sure why.

The interview, when I thought was going to be fired, was given by an old man in a pinstripe suit, long past the age of retirement. In fact, had I not known better, I would have said he was dead, and all that was missing was the cobwebs. He had no sense of humor and got straight to the point.

“You are being transferred to PIB effective immediately.”

He didn’t say what PIB stood for, and the no-nonsense tone told me this was not the time to ask.

“Many have come, but few have stayed. It’s not a job to be taken lightly, and a word of advice, the work you are about to undertake is not to be discussed with anyone but the person you have been assigned to work with.”

He then handed me an envelope, sealed, and that was the end of the interview.

I did not get to speak a word. I had this speech memorized, ready to explain why I had failed so badly, and what I was prepared to do to make up for it, but I was not given the opportunity. Perhaps I should just be grateful I was given another chance.

I waited until I was out of the building, and a block away in a small cafe, and the cheerful waitress had brought my coffee and cake. It was, in a small way, a celebration I still had a job, working for the organization I had set my sights on way back when I was in school.

Making sure no one was sitting too close; I opened the envelope and took out the neatly folded sheet of paper.

It was blank.

Was this some sort of joke?

There was a loud noise outside in the street, a car backfiring, and it caused a few anxious moments, particularly for me in case it was trouble, but it wasn’t. When normality returned I went back to the sheet of paper, picking it up off the top of the coffee cup where it had fallen, and something caught my eye.

Writing. Specifically, numbers, but what I thought I’d seen had disappeared, or hadn’t been there at all.

A shake of the head, perplexed, to say the least, I took a sip of the coffee. As the cup passed under the sheet, a pattern was discernible, displaying then disappearing. Bringing the cup back under the sheet, numbers suddenly appeared. It was a telephone number. It was also very cloak and daggers.

Was it a test? Because at that moment when I saw the blank sheet of paper, the meaning was very clear. It was a puzzle, and if I didn’t work it out, then I didn’t get the job. I’d simply been told to turn up at an anonymous building to see a man whom I doubted would answer to the name I’d been given to ask for again after I left.

I entered the number then pressed ‘call’.

Seven rings before a woman’s voice answered, “Yes?”

No names, no identification.

“Mr McCall gave me an envelope with this number in it.”

“You worked it out?” She sounded surprised.

“By accident, yes.”

“Well, four out of five candidates don’t. Consider this to be your lucky morning, the day is not over yet. Where are you?”

I told her.

“Then you’re not far from Central Park. Go to the souvenir store and wait.”

“How will I know you?”

“You won’t, I’ll recognize you.”

Then the phone went dead, and I was left looking at it as if I had the ability to see, via the phone, who that person was. I shrugged. How many others had failed even the most basic test, to figure out what was on the sheet of paper, and, was it an indication of the work I would be doing?

I spent the better part of an hour watching the squirrels at play. They scuttled around on the ground chasing each other or their imaginary friends or leaping from branch to branch in the shrubs and trees. They didn’t seem to have a care in the world, and I wondered what that would be like.

Unfortunately, I had to pay the rent, bills, and eat, all of which required having a paying job. I had been looking at having to return home a dismal failure and fulfil the destiny my father had predicted for me.

“David Jackson, I presume?”

I looked sideways to see a woman about my own age, dressed so that she would look anonymous in a crowd. It was anyone’s guess how long she had been there, but that, I guess was the point. She had been observing me, and no doubt assessing my suitability.

Could I blend in? Perhaps not if I was that easily identifiable.

“I am.”

“What if anything has been explained to you about the job?”

“Nothing. I was asked to meet a nameless man in an anonymous office and was handed an envelope which led to my call to you.”

After I said it out loud it sounded crazy.

“If you don’t mind me asking but how did you work out how to read the letter?”

Moment of truth, was there a right or wrong answer? Most if not all the people who received it would not work it out.

“Quite by accident.”

She smiled. “The truth is a rare commodity in our business. But then, you’re one of a very select group of people who made it to this level.”

“Just out of curiosity, what happens to those who done work out how to read the number?”

“They don’t get to stand where you are. Welcome aboard.”

© Charles Heath 2021

In a word: Rabbit

Have you ever heard of someone rabbiting on, you know, endlessly rattling on about nothing?

That’s just one use of the word rabbit.

The most obvious is the animal, a rabbit.  You know, that burrowing, plant-eating, long-eared, short-tailed animal that goes by the name of Bugs Bunny, maybe.

Nearly every child has a stuffed, cuddly one.

Of course, it’s of some significance at the moment because its Easter, and that there are countless chocolate versions of the so-called Easter bunny.

Then there is that 6-foot high invisible rabbit called Harvey, or not necessarily a rabbit, but a pookah.

We use the expression rabbit ears to describe those old interior television antennas.

There’s rabbit stew, rabbit pie, and white rabbit beer.

But my favourite is when the magician pulls the proverbial rabbit out of a hat.  It’s an expression we also use for someone who pulls off an impossible task.

The story behind the story: A Case of Working With the Jones Brothers

To write a private detective serial has always been one of the items at the top of my to-do list, though trying to write novels and a serial, as well as a blog, and maintain a social media presence, well, you get the idea.

But I made it happen, from a bunch of episodes I wrote a long, long time ago, used these to start it, and then continue on, then as now, never having much of an idea where it was going to end up, or how long it would take to tell the story.

That, I think is the joy of ad hoc writing, even you, as the author, have as much idea of where it’s going as the reader does.

It’s basically been in the mill since 1990, and although I finished it last year, it looks like the beginning to end will have taken exactly 30 years.  Had you asked me 30 years ago if I’d ever get it finished, the answer would be maybe?

My private detective, Harry Walthenson

I’d like to say he’s from that great literary mold of Sam Spade, or Mickey Spillane, or Phillip Marlow, but he’s not.

But, I’ve watched Humphrey Bogart play Sam Spade with much interest, and modeled Harry and his office on it.  Similarly, I’ve watched Robert Micham play Phillip Marlow with great panache, if not detachment, and added a bit of him to the mix.

Other characters come into play, and all of them, no matter what period they’re from, always seem larger than life.  I’m not above stealing a little of Mary Astor, Peter Lorre or Sidney Greenstreet, to breathe life into beguiling women and dangerous men alike.

Then there’s the title, like

The Case of the Unintentional Mummy – this has so many meanings in so many contexts, though I image back in Hollywood in the ’30s and ’40s, this would be excellent fodder for Abbott and Costello

The Case of the Three-Legged Dog – Yes, I suspect there may be a few real-life dogs with three legs, but this plot would involve something more sinister.  And if made out of plaster, yes, they’re always something else inside.

But for mine, to begin with, it was “The Case of the …”, because I had no idea what the case was going to be about, well, I did, but not specifically.

Then I liked the idea of calling it “The Case of the Brother’s Revenge” because I began to have a notion there was a brother no one knew about, but that’s stuff for other stories, not mine, so then went the way of the others.

Now it’s called ‘A Case of Working With the Jones Brothers’, finished the first three drafts, and at the editor for the last.

I have high hopes of publishing it in early 2021.  It even has a cover.


“One Last Look”, nothing is what it seems

A single event can have enormous consequences.

A single event driven by fate, after Ben told his wife Charlotte he would be late home one night, he left early, and by chance discovers his wife having dinner in their favourite restaurant with another man.

A single event where it could be said Ben was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Who was this man? Why was she having dinner with him?

A simple truth to explain the single event was all Ben required. Instead, Charlotte told him a lie.

A single event that forces Ben to question everything he thought he knew about his wife, and the people who are around her.

After a near-death experience and forced retirement into a world he is unfamiliar with, Ben finds himself once again drawn back into that life of lies, violence, and intrigue.

From London to a small village in Tuscany, little by little Ben discovers who the woman he married is, and the real reason why fate had brought them together.

It is available on Amazon here:

NaNoWriMo (April) – Day 15

Well, we knew something was going to happen when Jack walked in the front door of his modest residence.

It’s been trashed.

We have the clues, we know what they are looking for – that item his mother fortuitously dropped off at the travel agency.

No one knows what it is yet, but it is going to be an important part of the puzzle moving forward.

And now Rosalie has it, it means that she is in danger.

Of course, this is the time to contrast his relationship with Maryanne, and that with Rosalie. Back, before he left, he realised he had a thing for her (though is ‘thing’ the right word to use?) and had said he would meet with her when he got back.

So, a meeting is set. Without Maryanne tagging along.

In the meantime, there is that disaster called his residence to deal with, and, of course, he calls the police to report the break in.

We know where that’s going, don’t we?

Today’s effort amounts to 2,028 words, for a total, so far, of 36,779.

More tomorrow.

The A to Z Challenge – L is for “Long time, no see…”

You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your relatives.

So sayeth my sister, who for years refused to acknowledge I was her brother.

The point is, as I was trying to tell Nancy, the woman who had agreed to marry me, “my family has long been ashamed of me because I refused to become a doctor.”

“That’s no excuse, I’m fact that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

To most people, it would. I agreed with her. But then, her family had not had a forebear who stood shoulder to shoulder with George Washington at the Siege of Yorktown.

It was a statement my mother had often pulled out of nowhere at dinner parties, and sometimes in general conversation, just to impress. I thought of trotting out as another example of ridiculous statements, but though better of it.

It was a situation I had not bargained for, and probably why it took so long to find someone to share the rest of my life with.

Perhaps I hadn’t quite thought through what would happen once I asked the question, and it was a yes.

It was not as if Nancy and I hadn’t taken the long road with our relationship. She had been burned a few times, and I always had my family in the back of my mind as the biggest obstacle.

In fact, I always had considered it insurmountable, and because of that, rarely made a commitment. But Nancy was different. She was very forgiving and had the sort of temperament saints were blessed with.

Her family sounded like very reasonable people who lived up state out of Yonkers on a farm she simply said had been in the family forever.

She didn’t have big city aspirations, was not impressed by wealth, travel, large houses, or a resume a mile long with achievements. It was everything I didn’t have and didn’t want, and my job as storeman and fork life driver was one where I could go to work and leave it there.

Nancy on the other hand, was a checkout clerk at a large supermarket, with no aspirations to be a boss or run the place. She had a run in with a tractor early on in life and could manage a lot of the farming basics.

Her parents sent her to the big city to learn a different trade, but she just wasn’t interested. She was a country girl and would never change.

We met when she was attending the same pre wedding party that I was, both with different partners at the time, and both of whom were more party animals that we were.

A week later we ran into each other in the same bar, and it grew from there, and after a rather interesting six months or so, we had ended up making the ultimate commitment.

“I guess, now, we have to tell our parents,” she said, stating what was to her, the obvious.

Such a simple statement with so many connotations. I had deliberately steered the conversation away from all of them, and so, at this point in time, she knew I had parents, grandparents, and three other siblings. And that they lived on the other side of the country.

Asked why I had moved so far away, I told her that I’d failed to meet their expectations and preferred to be as far away as possible. My brothers more than made up for my failings, so it was not necessary I stay there.

It was only recently I’d told her those expectations were of me following the family tradition into medicine. It was when I told her my father was a pre-eminent thoracic heart surgeon, my brothers top of whatever field they’d chosen and my sister, a well-regarded general practitioner.

When she asked in what way I’d failed, I said it was not in the education because like all Foresdale’s, we were always top of the class, and as much as I tried to fail, the teachers knew better.

I just refused to go to University. Instead, I tried to disappear, but my father had the best private detective at his disposal. It took a very long, loud, screaming match to sever that tie, get disinherited, and leave to make my own way in the world.

Perhaps, I said, it would be best to just say I was an orphan.

That, of course, to Nancy, was not an option. She came from practical people who always found a solution to any problem, and they had had a few really difficult ones over the years.

But, for the first time, there was an look of perplexing on her face. Maybe she was thinking that she should have asked more probing questions about my family before agreeing to be my wife.

“I think I can safely say that your parents will be more approachable than mine. Those expectations on me will also fall on you.”

And having said it aloud, it sounded so much more like a threat. The problem was, I knew what there were like, living in that rarefied air where the upper classes lived.

I might be a forklift driving storeman, but I was still a Foresdale, and my match had to be commensurate to the family values.

“Then we’re just going to have to go visit them and lower those expectations. I’m not afraid of them.”

No, I expect she was not. I’d seen her deal with all types of miscreants at the checkout counter, rich and poor alike. She had the sort of gumption I always had wanted but was too much of a coward to confront the problem.

Perhaps now, it would be the perfect opportunity.

“We should go next week. I’ve got some vacation days owing, and I’m sure the boss will let you go if you tell him the reason.”

Practical as ever. Confront the beast and get it over with.

“Sure. I’ll talk to the boss, arrange the tickers, and let someone know we’re coming. But I will not be staying at the house. That way if it gets too intense, we can leave.”

I saw her shrug. I’m not sure she agreed that was a good idea, but I didn’t want to see them corner they way they had a habit of when any of us children brought anyone home. I did once, and never again.

“It will be fine.”

Famous last words.

I had the phone number of my sister Eric’s, stored on my phone, not that I’d ever intended to call her. It was there because she had called me, I had made the mistake of giving it to her when I left, because she asked me for it.

I hadn’t spoken to her since I left home all those years ago, nearly ten by my reckoning, and perhaps it was a testament to my father that not one of them had called, or even reached out.

Being cut off literally meant that. But it was not something that irked me. I was glad not to see them. I could easily keep up with them in the newspapers and magazines, such was their visibility.

I was surprised Nancy hadn’t made the association.

I don’t know how long it was that I stared at that number, finger hovering over the green button. My first concern was whether I’d remain civil, or how long it would take before I disconnected the call.

Then, courage summoned, I pressed the button.

An anticlimax might occur is there was no answer, or the number had been disconnected, but such was not the case. It rang.

Almost for the full number of rings before a familiar voice answered. “Good morning, this is Erica speaking.”

If only I’d learned to answer a phone properly like that.

“It’s Perry.” Damn, I hated that name, and once I left home, I adopted my middle name, James.

“Now that’s a blast from the past. Never expected to hear from you again.”

“Believe me, if I had my way, you wouldn’t, but there’s a person who insists she meets the family. I tried to talk her out of it, but she’s a force to be reckoned with.”

“Good for her. I always knew you’d meet a sensible girl who wouldn’t put up with your nonsense. I’m assuming you asked her to marry you?”

“I’m beginning to wonder if I should have just outright lied and said I was an orphan.”

“Yes, and how would that have worked when we finally ran you to ground. Besides, your father has known where you’ve been hiding all along. You are still a Foresdale, and that will never change.”

“Even when I’ve been ex-communicated from the family.”

“That’s only your assumption. Everyone here might have expected you to change your minds somewhat earlier, but we never doubted you would return. Now, just who is this Nancy, and who does she belong to?”

© Charles Heath 2021

NaNoWriMo (April) – Day 14

There’s nothing like having a travel agent on hand when you need to make some urgent bookings because your travel arrangements have gone up in smoke.

Anyone else would have had the devil’s own job sorting out their travel arrangements.

And, yes, Maryanne is coming along for the ride. Is she feeling obligated to look after him, or is there some other reason. As yet, it’s not clear.

But it’s a day of planes, trains and automobiles, attempts to locate his mother so he can find out more about what’s going on, and then get home where it may, or may not be, safe.

So much for having a holiday.

So much for going to his first conference. There’s going to be some explaining to the head agent.

Today’s effort amounts to 2,237 words, for a total, so far, of 34,751.

It seems that this novel, going on the amount of writing so far, is going to be bigger than 50,000 words, at the half way mark, or near enough, I’m at 35,000 words, give or take, which indicates a story of 70,000 words.

We will have to wait and see what happens. I have more planning to do.

More tomorrow.