“The Price of Fame”, A Short Story

I looked at the invitation, a feeling of dread coming over me.  It was not entirely unexpected but like a great many things that had suddenly come into my life, it caused equal measures of fear and excitement.

The gold edging and the perfect script displaying my name in the exact centre of the envelope made it almost unique.  Very few people ever received such an invitation.

I held it in my hand for a longer than necessary, then put it down on the desk carefully, as if it would explode if I dropped it.

My first instinct, driven by fear, was not to accept.

But, fear or not, there was no question of me not attending.  Circumstances had painted me into a corner; I’d agreed to go a long time ago when I thought there was no chance it would come to pass.

Way back then, I had been compared to the aspiring painter in an attic having to die before I made any sort of impression.  In those days people thought it amusing.  I thought it was amusing.  Kirsty, in particular, had thought it was as impossible as I had.

Now it was not amusing.  Not even remotely.

 

My life was once quiet, peaceful, sedate, even boring.  That didn’t mean I lacked imagination, it was just not out on display for everyone to see.  Inspired by reading endless books, I had the capacity to transport myself into another world, divorced from reality, where my boring existence became whatever I wanted it to be.

It was also instrumental in bringing Kirsty into my life.  In reality, I thought she’d never take a second look at me, let alone a first.  So I pretended to be someone else.  Original, witty, charming, underneath more scared than I’d ever known.

And yet she knew, she’d always known and didn’t care.

As we spent more time together, she discovered I liked to write, not finish anything, just start, write a hundred pages, then lose interest.  Like everything I did.  Start, and never finish.

Why not?  It would never be published.  It would never succeed.

So she bribed me.  If I didn’t finish my first book and send it away, I couldn’t marry her.  It didn’t matter if it was rejected, all I had to do was finish a book, and send it.

The thought of marrying her had not entered my mind, because I hadn’t thought she would.  Incentive enough, I picked out one of the unfinished manuscripts and humoured her.  She read bits of it, not saying a word.  Sometimes she’d put a note or two on the manuscript, her equivalent to sweet nothings, and with it I gained inner confidence in my own ability, not only to write but in many other aspects of my life.

When it was finished, it was Kirsty who sent it off.  She read it, packaged it, addressed it, and sent it before I had a chance to change her mind.  Once gone, I heaved a huge sigh of relief.  It was done. That was, as far as I was concerned, the end of it.

 

It was not possible that one letter could change a person’s life so dramatically.  I came home to the all-knowing smile, and mischievous whimsicality that had always suggested trouble.

Trouble indeed!

My book was accepted.  With a cheque called an advance.  For more money than I knew what to do with.

This was followed not long after by publication.  And a dramatic change to my life, one I didn’t want.  To become a public person, to face an enormous number of people, people I didn’t know.

I went back to being scared.

 

Kirsty smiled at me and told me how wonderful I looked in my monkey suit.  Why couldn’t I go in jeans and a dress shirt?  All the best actors in Hollywood did it.

“This is not Hollywood.  You’re not an actor.”  It was a simple, practical, answer.

The hell I wasn’t.  I could act sick, dying, fake a heart attack, anything.  “What am I going to say?”

“You could talk about books.”  Quiet, efficient, oozing the confidence I didn’t feel.

She didn’t fuss.  She took it in her stride.  She dressed in her usual simple elegance, in a manner that made me love to be seen with her.  I couldn’t tie my tie, so she did it for me.  She straightened my jacket because I couldn’t do that either.  Nerves.  Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.  Or was that a reference to wives, or mistresses, or something else?

The palms of my hands were sweating.  Meatball hands, I thought, the sort of palms that betrayed the pretenders.  Me, I was the pretender.  My neck felt too large for the shirt.  Beads of sweat formed on my brow.  Where was a sponge when you needed one?

“I can’t do this.”

“You can.”

We hadn’t even left the hotel yet.

“How long before the execution.”

She looked at me with her whimsical smile.  “Long enough for me to give you a hard time.”

 

I lost count of the number of times I had to go to the bathroom, for one thing, or another.  Nerves I said.  Perhaps a dozen Valium or something similar.  Did I have any?  Had she hidden them?  Why did she keep smiling?

In the car, I looked at my watch at least a dozen times.  I couldn’t breathe.  It was too hot, too cold.  She held my hand, and it served best to stop the trembling that had set in.  Why did I agree to this?  Why?

We were greeted by the Events Manager, who was polite and genuinely interested.  He took us inside where he introduced the interviewer, another woman who oozed confidence and charm, who went over the format and generally tried to set me at ease.

I didn’t let Kirsty’s hand go.  Not yet.  She was my lifeline, the umbilical cord.  When it was severed, I knew I was going to die.

Bathroom?  Where was the bathroom?  Hell, five minutes to go, and I felt like passing out.  No, Kirsty couldn’t come in.  Comb my hair.  Straighten my tie, no it was straight.  Maybe I could hide in here?  I looked around.  No, maybe not.

Time.

The cue man was standing beside me, hand gently on my back.  He knew the score.  He knew I would turn and run the first chance I got.  Kirsty was on the other side, smiling.  Did she know too?

Then the announcement, my cue to walk on.

The gentle shove, the bright lights, the deafening applause, the seemingly endless walk to the chair, dear God, would I make it without tripping over?

How many times had I made this trip?  I stood, facing the audience, waved, then sat.  It was the fifteenth.  You’d think I’d learned by now.

There was nothing to it.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2019

 

“The End of the Road”, a short story

From the days of wandering the remote country towns of New South Wales in Australia.

 

The End of the Road

 

The man who had said that we would never make the distance was right.

It had been my idea to go ‘troppo’, forsake everything, hop on a motorbike and go around Australia.  I was, at that stage fed up with everything and, catching Harry in one of his low spots, he decided there and then he would join me.

For the first few days, we believed we were stark staring mad and talked about calling it quits, but perseverance made all the difference.  After two months we were glad we had the resolve to keep going, and in that time we had managed to see more of the Australian countryside than we’d seen all our lives.

That was until this particular morning when we arrived in Berrigum, what could have been called a one-horse town.  It consisted of one hotel, one general store (that sold everything from toothpicks to petrol) and an agricultural machinery depot.  It also had a station and some wheat silos, and this appeared to be the only reason for a town in this particular spot in the middle of nowhere.

And it was the railway station that interested Harry, who was, by this time, getting a little homesick and fed up with his motorbike.

After coughing and spluttering for the last week it had finally died, and the five-mile walk to Berrigum had not helped either his temper, or his disposition, and had only served to firm his resolve to return home.

It was hot but not unbearably so, unlike a hot summer’s day in the city, and even worse still in public transport.  For miles around as we tramped those five miles all we could see was acres and acres of wheat, but no sign of life.  It was the same when we reached the town.  It appeared all the people were either hiding or had left.  Harry suspected the latter given the state of the road, and the buildings, more or less the epitome of a ghost town.

Standing at the end of what could have been called the main street with only our own dust for company, one look took in the whole town.  In a car, one wouldn’t have given it a second look, if one had time to give it a first.  I didn’t remember seeing neither any speed restriction signs nor signpost advertising a town ahead.

And since no amount of argument could sway him from his resolve, the first objective was to get a train timetable, if such a thing existed, and make arrangements for Harry’s return.

The station was as deserted as the town itself, and a quick glance in the stationmaster’s office showed no sign of life.

Leaving the bikes on the platform outside the office, we headed for the hotel for both a drink and make enquiries about rail services.  Being a hot day and the morning’s tramp somewhat hot and dusty, we were looking forward to a cold glass (or two) of beer.

The hotel looked as though it was a hundred years old though there was no doubting a few relentless summers would reduce it to the same state.  It was as bad inside as out, though the temperature was several degrees lower, and we could sit down in what appeared to be the main bar.  We were the only occupants and still to find any sign of life.  Overhead, two fans were struggling to move the hot air around.

More than once Harry reckoned it was a ghost town and I was beginning to believe him when, after five minutes, no one arrived.

After ten, we stood, ready to leave, only to stop halfway out of our chairs when a voice behind us said, “Surely you’re not going back out there without refreshment?”

“I was beginning to think the town was deserted,” I said.

“It is during the day, but when the sun goes down…”

I didn’t ask.  We followed him to the bar where he had stationed himself behind the counter.  “The name is Jack.”  He stretched out his hand towards us.  “We don’t bother with last names here.”

“Bill,” I said, shaking it, and nodding to Harry, “Harry.”

Harry nodded and shook his hand too.

“The first one’s on the house.”  He poured three glasses and put ours in front of us.  “Cheers.”

In all cases, it went down without touching the sides (as they say) and he poured a second, at the same time asking, “What brings you to our little corner of the earth?”

“Just passing through,” I said, “Or at least for me.”

“And you?”  Jack looked at Harry.

“I can’t hack the pace.  I can truthfully say I have thoroughly enjoyed the trip so far, except for a few mishaps, but for me, it’s time to get back to the big smoke.  My ‘do your own thing’ has run out of momentum.  Do you know if there is a train that goes anywhere important?”

The publican looked at him almost pityingly.  “Important, eh?”  He rubbed his chin feigning thought.  “You make it sound like you are in purgatory.”

“Aren’t we?”

I suppose one could hardly blame Harry for his attitude.  After all, at the beginning, he had numerous accidents, caught a virus that stayed with him (and a couple of torrential downpours had done little to help it), and now his motorbike had finally died.  No wonder his humour was at an all-time low.

For a moment I thought the publican was going to tell Harry what he thought of him, but then he smiled and the tension passed.  “Perhaps to a city fellow like you it might be,” he said.  “The mail train which has a passenger carriage comes through once a week, and, my good man, you’re in luck.  Today’s the day.”

“Good.  How do I get a ticket?”

“You’d have to see the Station Master.”

“And where might he be at the moment?  We were at the station a while back and there was no sign of life.”

“Nor will there be until the train comes.  Meanwhile, there’s time enough for lunch.  I’m sure you will stay?”  He looked questioningly at us.

I looked at Harry, who nodded.

“Why not.”

 

Over lunch, we talked.

I remember not so long ago when I had to attend a large number of lunches where the talk was of business, or, if anything, mostly about subjects that I had no interest in.  It was always some posh restaurant, time seemed important, the atmosphere never really relaxed, and to get into a relaxed state it took a large amount of alcohol to deaden the despair and distaste of that one had to fete in order to secure their business.

How different it was here.

We talked about the country, and, after seeing as much of it, and worked on it as we had to fund our odyssey, we could talk about it authoritatively.  And, most of all, it was interesting.

The atmosphere too was entirely different than it had been in the city.  Out here the people were always friendly, people always willing to stop and talk, particularly farmers; share a drink or some food.

There was none of this carefree purposefulness in the city, and more than once I’d thought of the fact one could travel in the same train with the same people for year after year and still not know any of them.  It was the same at work.  Even after five years I still hadn’t known three-quarters of the office staff, and most of them probably didn’t want to know me.  Harry was virtually the only real friend I’d had at work.

But here, in ‘the middle of nowhere’ as Harry had called it, I felt as though I’d known the publican all of my life instead of the few short hours.

 

Some hours later and after much argument, where Jack and I tried to talk Harry into staying (Jack said he knew someone who could fix anything including Harry’s bike), Harry remained unconvinced and resolute.  Jack, to round off the occasion (we were the first real guests from outside he had had in a week) provided another on-the-house ale and then saw us to the station.  “After all”, he had said, “I’ve nothing else to do at the moment.”

By that time the station was showing a little more life than it had before.  A station assistant, moving several parcels with a hand trolley, slowly ambled towards the end of the platform.

And whether it could be called a platform was a debatable point.  It was a gravel and grass affair that looked more like part of cutting through a hill than a station.

At the station, Jack portentously announced he was also the stationmaster and would be only too happy to take care of Harry’s requirements.  It would be, he added, “the first passenger ticket sold for several months.”  Certainly, the ticket he handed Harry bore witness to that.  It had yellowed with age.

One would have thought with the imminent arrival of the train there would be more people, but no.  The only event had been the station assistant’s stroll to the end of the platform and back.  Now both he and Jack had disappeared into the office and we were left alone on the platform.  Very little in the whole town stirred, nor had it the whole time we’d been there.

“Well,” I said to break the silence.  “I’m sorry to see you going through with it.  I thought I might have been able to talk you out of it…”  I shrugged, leaving the sentence unfinished.

“I’m sorry to be going too, but a body can take only so much bad luck, and God knows that’s all I’ve had.”

“Yes.”  I couldn’t think of much else to say.  “But it’s been good to have your company these last few months.”

“And you.  When do you think you’ll get back?”

“When I get sick of it I suppose.”

“Look us up then when you get back.”

“I will.”

Thankfully the appearance of the train in the distance broke off the conversation.  I had begun to think of what it was going to be like out on the road with no one to talk to but myself.  The thought was a little depressing and I tried not to let it show.

We said little else until the train pulled in, three flat cars, seven enclosed wagons, a passenger carriage and the guard’s van.  The train stopped with only part of the passenger carriage and the guard’s van at the station.

The guard took aboard the parcels the station assistant had left for him earlier, and then put those that were for Berrigum on the trolley.

I shook Harry’s hand and said I’d see him around.  Then he, the motorbike, and the guard were aboard and the train was off, disappearing slowly into the afternoon haze.

The station assistant then repeated his amble to the end of the platform to collect the hand trolley.

“Staying or moving on.”  Jack had come up behind me and gave me a bit of a start.

“Staying I guess, until tomorrow or maybe later.”

“I had heard one of the farm hands is leaving tomorrow heading back to Sydney.  There could be a vacancy.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I said.

“I could put in a word for you.”

“Thanks.”

Jack just grinned and we headed for the hotel.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2019

Inspiration, maybe

50 photographs, 50 stories, of which there is one of the 50 below.

They all start with –

A picture paints … well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

lookingdownfromcoronetpeak

And the story:

It was once said that a desperate man has everything to lose.

The man I was chasing was desperate, but I, on the other hand, was more desperate to catch him.

He’d left a trail of dead people from one end of the island to the other.

The team had put in a lot of effort to locate him, and now his capture was imminent.  We were following the car he was in, from a discrete distance, and, at the appropriate time, we would catch up, pull him over, and make the arrest.

There was nowhere for him to go.

The road led to a dead-end, and the only way off the mountain was back down the road were now on.  Which was why I was somewhat surprised when we discovered where he was.

Where was he going?

“Damn,” I heard Alan mutter.  He was driving, being careful not to get too close, but not far enough away to lose sight of him.

“What?”

“I think he’s made us.”

“How?”

“Dumb bad luck, I’m guessing.  Or he expected we’d follow him up the mountain.  He’s just sped up.”

“How far away?”

“A half-mile.  We should see him higher up when we turn the next corner.”

It took an eternity to get there, and when we did, Alan was right, only he was further on than we thought.”

“Step on it.  Let’s catch him up before he gets to the top.”

Easy to say, not so easy to do.  The road was treacherous, and in places just gravel, and there were no guard rails to stop a three thousand footfall down the mountainside.

Good thing then I had the foresight to have three agents on the hill for just such a scenario.

Ten minutes later, we were in sight of the car, still moving quickly, but we were going slightly faster.  We’d catch up just short of the summit car park.

Or so we thought.

Coming quickly around another corner we almost slammed into the car we’d been chasing.

“What the hell…” Aland muttered.

I was out of the car, and over to see if he was in it, but I knew that it was only a slender possibility.  The car was empty, and no indication where he went.

Certainly not up the road.  It was relatively straightforward for the next mile, at which we would have reached the summit.  Up the mountainside from here, or down.

I looked up.  Nothing.

Alan yelled out, “He’s not going down, not that I can see, but if he did, there’s hardly a foothold and that’s a long fall.”

Then where did he go?

Then a man looking very much like our quarry came out from behind a rock embedded just a short distance up the hill.

“Sorry,” he said quite calmly.  “Had to go if you know what I mean.”

I’d lost him.

It was as simple as that.

I had been led a merry chase up the hill, and all the time he was getting away in a different direction.

I’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book, letting my desperation blind me to the disguise that anyone else would see through in an instant.

It was a lonely sight, looking down that road, knowing that I had to go all that way down again, only this time, without having to throw caution to the wind.

“Maybe next time,” Alan said.

“We’ll get him.  It’s just a matter of time.”

© Charles Heath 2019

Find this and other stories in “Inspiration, maybe”  available soon.

InspirationMaybe1v1

“Second Thoughts”, a short story

Get me to the church on time.

It was a tune out of My Fair Lady, and it was in my head the moment I woke up that morning.  And this day was, to quote some immortal’s line, was supposed to be the happiest day of my life.

But, somehow, it didn’t feel like that and lying under the warm covers of my bed, perhaps for the last time at my parent’s home, the last place I thought I’d find myself, I began to consider how it was I had ended up in this situation.

It was not a question of who the bride was, we had been friends from an early age and used to joke about getting married, but at the age of six or seven, that was a concept rather than something we might act on in the future.

Except that was how it panned out, and, not for the reasons one might think would lead to such an eventuality.

Yes, we were close friends till the early teens, then my family went in one direction, New York, and her family went in another, San Francisco, and in each place both families built successful businesses.

Josephine, the intended bride, and I met off and on over the next fifteen years, some of that mutually when we were at university together, and, I might add, living together.  Even then, there had been no suggestion of permanency because we each had to go home to eventually work in the family business.

In those few years, it had been easy because there had been no expectations by either of us.  We simply came together, stayed together, and parted at the end both happy to have enjoyed the experience.

Then, several events changed the course of our lives.

My father died unexpectedly at a crucial point in the company’s expansion, and without his direction, it began to flounder.  Then, Josephine arrived in New York to open a branch of her family’s business, and just happened to arrive on the day of my father’s funeral.

I thought it a coincidence and was grateful for her support at a time when I needed it.

A month after that, one of the lead investors in the new expansion plan pulled out, as was his right because the loan had been contingent on my father overseeing the project.  It was the end of a very bad week, and instead of being the last to leave the office, I left early, called up an old friend, Rollo, who had followed us to New York, and we went to his favourite bar.

He suggested a night on the town was called for and I agreed with him.  I think by that time I’d had enough of the problems for a few days.  But with Rollo, I learned no invitation was without its twists and turns, so when he said his sister was bringing a friend, I had to act happy even if I didn’t feel like it.  Her friends could be a little strange.

Another coincidence, the friend was Josephine.  Hearing from her once maybe, but twice in the same week, I didn’t think so, so I let it pass.  Yet despite my reservations, in the end, I had to admit I was glad to see her because the last thing I wanted to do was entertain a quirky woman I didn’t know.

Long story short, Josephine’s family business came aboard as the replacement investor, but not without some rather stringent requirements, and though no one on either side would admit it, it was suggested that perhaps Josephine and I would make an excellent match.  After all, we were childhood friends, had lived together without the problems that sometimes came with it, and we would be working very closely together.

I proposed, she accepted, and everyone was happy.

Well, not everyone.

 

I was down in the dining room getting breakfast, before the wedding, when Rollo arrived.  It went without saying Rollo was going to be the best man.

Curiously, he was neither surprised nor shocked to learn of my proposal, but it was a surprise to learn, in a roundabout way, he wasn’t exactly happy for me.  It was not anything I could put my finger on, but more of a feeling I had.  And, to be honest, before I had proposed to her, I was sure that Rollo had feelings for her, and at times I thought how much more sense it would make if they were together.

I’d even asked him once or twice if he liked her, and he just said they were friends.

The other side of that equation was his sister, Adrienne, who was, I thought, charming, funny, and sometimes a little offbeat, which is why I was drawn to her.  Over time, I think I may have developed feelings for her, but by the time those feelings were rising to the surface, I was advised that a woman of Josephine’s standing was more my type.

My mother could be very annoying at times, and whilst she might be looking after her son’s best interests, she was also looking after the company’s interests as best she could.  I suspect Josephine’s parents were the same, hoping their daughter would marry advantageously.

Rollo, being on the outside, had summed it up perfectly, ‘if this had been the eighteenth century there’s no doubt you two would be the perfect match’.

“You look as happy as I feel,” I said when I saw him.

“It’s going to be a big day, church wedding, in Latin of all languages, then the society event of the year.  What’s not to be happy about?”

Put like that, I shrugged.  “A registry office, burger and chips at the local diner, then a few days in the Catskills would have sufficed.”

“And on what planet do you think you are right now?”

I didn’t answer.  I simply poured another cup of black coffee and sat down.  It was a large room, with seats for a dozen, and I was the only one up.  I had expected a room full of family members, of which at least twenty were upstairs right now recovering from last night’s festivities.

Rollo poured some tea into a cup and sat opposite.  “OK.  What’s wrong?  Wedding day jitters?”

Could he read my mind?

“It just doesn’t seem right.  I mean, it seems we have been on this track forever, but you know, there’s something missing.”

“Love?”

Exactly.  It was another of those thoughts I had just before I got out of bed.  I liked her, maybe I loved her once, when I didn’t really know what love was, but now?  I don’t know what it was I felt about her.  I had been expecting those mythical thunderbolts to strike, but as the days, weeks, and months wore on, it just didn’t happen.

It was almost if we were going through the motions.

“It feels like it’s going to be a marriage of convenience.”  There, I said it.

And I expected Rollo to start having a fit.  Instead, he concentrated on putting three spoonful’s of sugar into his tea and stirring.  And stirring.  And stirring.

“Say something,” I said.  “Anything.  Tell me I’m being stupid, tell me to get out of my funk and screw my courage to the sticking place, or whatever it is you say in times like this.”

“It’s not like you to drop a bomb like this at a time like this…”

I felt he had more to say, the good part where he’d call me an ass, and then tell me to get my shit together.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

“But…”

“But I rather get the impression this wedding might not be going ahead.”

“It has to.  God knows how many people have put themselves out to be here.  It was, my mother said, a logistical nightmare.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened.”

“You’re supposed to be arguing for the wedding, not against it.”

“I would if I knew your heart was in it.  But it isn’t, is it?  I think you’ve spent so much time trying to please everyone else, that you have forgotten about yourself.  I know you’re not happy.  I also happen to know that Jo isn’t either.”

“You’ve spoken to her?”

“Just before I got here.  Call her.  You two need to talk.  In the meantime, you’re going to have to repay a huge debt after I somehow manage to sort this mess out.  My car’s outside.  Leave now, and I’ll let you know when it’s safe to return.”

“Where will I go?”

He smiled.  “I’m sure you’ll know by the time you get in the car.”

It was reckless and would cause a lot of pain and anguish for my mother, but I considered how much more pain it would cause to Josephine if I didn’t call it off.

I made the call on the way upstairs to finish dressing.

“I’m assuming you’ve spoken to Rollo?”  She didn’t wait for me to speak.

“You feel the same way?”

“It started out with the best of intentions, but I can’t help thinking if we were right for each other we would have married after university.  We are best friends, Alan, and I don’t think it’s ever going to progress from there.  I know you feel that too, it’s just the pressure from our families has managed to mask our true feelings.”

“Do you have any idea what sort of storm is about to erupt?”

“Everyone will get over it.  There’s too much at stake on both sides for there to be any real or lasting consequences.  I guess Rollo is going to have his work cut out for him.  I’ll see you one the other side.”

She didn’t say what other side, but I suspect it meant when the dust had settled.

I literally ran downstairs, mainly because I heard movement and didn’t want to run into anyone, and out the door towards Rollo’s car.

Once again I had to admire the fact he had exquisite taste in cars, and the one he’d brought was no exception, a Lamborghini, yellow, fast, and he knew I wanted to drive it.

What I didn’t expect. His sister, Phoebe, sitting in the passenger seat.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

“I was minding my own business when…”, a short story

What do you say, when everything that could be had been said, and then some.

What did marriage counselors know, other than they are right, and you are wrong?

I don’t think either of us, with the same belief, could be wrong.  The marriage was over, and there was no use prolonging the agony.

Except we had to try to at least put some of the pieces back together, if only for the sake of walking away with a sense of closure and peace.

But, peace was the last thing in the atmosphere inside the car, and it had been like that since leaving Vancouver.

There had been a momentary truce in Kamloops where we had to stay, in separate rooms, and polite conversation over breakfast, until I put my foot in my mouth.

Again.

I’m not sure if I knew what to say to her anymore.  To her, everything I said was laced with an agenda or a subliminal plot.  I got it, I’d lied to her once too often, and once she proved one right, and, from there, it didn’t take long for the whole charade to unravel.

I’d been advised against marrying her, that I would not be able to do my job and have some sort of life with Eloise, but I wanted it.

And, fifteen months down the track, my employers had been proved right.
Eloise was driving.  Her parents lived in Banff, and we had made the trip in all of the four seasons, and now winter, she was more used to the icy conditions than I.

It gave me a chance to look at her from my side of the mid-sized SUV.  We were going to take her car, a rather small sedan, but it had broken down, so I hired a Ford Flex.

If you’re going to take on the elements, I wanted a car that could handle the conditions.

In that, I think I’d managed to surprise her, and not in a bad way.

For the first time in a long time.

Then, of course, she had to look sideways, and that ruined it.  The frown followed by the pursed lips.  Something caustic was about to come my way.

Except a very loud bang took us both by surprise, and skewing the car sideways, catching the edge of the ice on the road, and we started spinning.

As good as she was, there would be no containing this calamity.

I looked behind to see what the hell had hit us.

An F350 or RAM 2500, definitely larger than us, definitely deliberate, and definitely with intent to hurt us.

Or me.

My work had finally come home.

There was a scream just on the edge of her terror as the car had spun sideways and the car behind us slammed into it us again, arresting the spin and pushing us towards the edge of the road.

I could see what the pursuer’s intent was.  Down the side, a roll if possible, then pick off the survivors as they scrambled from the wreckage.

Or not have to worry, the roll may do the job for them.
We hit the edge as the other car braked, and we continued on, that stifled scream from Eloise now erupting.

She could see what was going to happen, just as our car tipped.

Six seconds.

Seat belt or not, totally unprepared for what was about to happen, she was not going to walk away from this.

Unless I did something about it.

Seatbelt unhitched I dragged her to me and protected her as best I could.  She didn’t resist, but the look in her eyes, terror laced with something else, no time to think about it now, told me she would do whatever I wanted.

Over on the roof, upside down, I prayed it stayed there, and slide,  The ice, snow, and slush was going to help.

Seconds passed, taking what seemed forever, till we reached the bottom of the hill and hit a rock, arresting the movement with a loud bang and a crunch of bending metal.

Stopped.

Engine still running.

No movement from her.  Yet.

And relief.  No bones were broken, or none that I noticed.

Under me, she stirred.

Just as a bullet smashed the rear passenger window, and the shattered glass splattered the interior.  A moment later, the side window, above my head did the same.
I lifted myself, whispering in her ear, “Slide towards the front window.”  It was buried in the snow and dirt kicked up in the final run to the bottom.  The shooter would not be able to see it, or her.

Above me, I reached up to feel under the seat and found the package.

A gun.  Always be prepared.

Ten seconds since the last shot.  From up top, the shooter would not be able to see us, or any movement.  He was going to have to come down and finish the job.

And hope we were would not be able to fight back.

That was the purpose of running us off the road.

Pity then that he had not been given my file.  If he had he would have driven off and tried again later.

That he was halfway down the hill when I saw him told me this operation had been cobbled together quickly, with no time to find a professional.

And now I knew why Barnes had told me to be careful.

A lone wolf looking to make a name for himself.

And failing.
Ten minutes, the police arrived.

Long enough to bury the body and the weapons under a lot of snow, in a ravine that no one would discover until the thaw.

The car that rammed us had gone.  Soon as he saw his partner go down, he left.  A wise man, he had stayed at the top of the hill, having more sense than his friend.

Live to fight another day,

The policeman asked the questions, and Eloise answered.  Not one mention of being rammed, run off the road, being shot at, or that there was anyone else involved.

As cool as a cucumber.

It took her a minute after I shot our attacker to ask the questions I’d expected a week ago when she finally discovered my other life, prefaced by, “No more lies, just tell me the truth.  What the hell is it you do for a living?”

“Make the world safe for people like you, and in my case right now, for you in particular.  Sorry, I was sworn to secrecy.”

“Even from your wife?”

“Especially from you.  You now know why.”

“Bit late for that now, do you think?”

“Just a little.”

And then I saw the look, the one I had fallen in love with 15 months ago.  The one that made my heart miss a few beats.

“You do realize you are the biggest idiot on the planet, don’t you?”

“Does this mean I can stay?”

She punched me on the arm.,  OK, no broken bones, but there was going to be bruising, major bruising.

“If you promise to tell me only the truth from now on.”

What harm could it do?  She knew enough.

“Good.  We should probably do something with that man out there.  I’m assuming the police do not take too kindly to you working in their jurisdiction.”

Too many thrillers, too much TV, or an educated guess, she was right.  This would be impossible to explain, and Barnes was already angry at me.

I held out my hand and she took it as I helped her out of the wreckage.  Out in the fresh, cold air, she took in a huge breath and let out a slow sigh.

“Is it always this exciting?”

“This is the Sunday in the park stroll.  Wait till you have a hand held rocket boring down on you.”

 

© Charles Heath 2019-2020

Inspiration, maybe

50 photographs, 50 stories, of which there is one of the 50 below.

They all start with –

A picture paints … well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

lookingdownfromcoronetpeak

And the story:

It was once said that a desperate man has everything to lose.

The man I was chasing was desperate, but I, on the other hand, was more desperate to catch him.

He’d left a trail of dead people from one end of the island to the other.

The team had put in a lot of effort to locate him, and now his capture was imminent.  We were following the car he was in, from a discrete distance, and, at the appropriate time, we would catch up, pull him over, and make the arrest.

There was nowhere for him to go.

The road led to a dead-end, and the only way off the mountain was back down the road were now on.  Which was why I was somewhat surprised when we discovered where he was.

Where was he going?

“Damn,” I heard Alan mutter.  He was driving, being careful not to get too close, but not far enough away to lose sight of him.

“What?”

“I think he’s made us.”

“How?”

“Dumb bad luck, I’m guessing.  Or he expected we’d follow him up the mountain.  He’s just sped up.”

“How far away?”

“A half-mile.  We should see him higher up when we turn the next corner.”

It took an eternity to get there, and when we did, Alan was right, only he was further on than we thought.”

“Step on it.  Let’s catch him up before he gets to the top.”

Easy to say, not so easy to do.  The road was treacherous, and in places just gravel, and there were no guard rails to stop a three thousand footfall down the mountainside.

Good thing then I had the foresight to have three agents on the hill for just such a scenario.

Ten minutes later, we were in sight of the car, still moving quickly, but we were going slightly faster.  We’d catch up just short of the summit car park.

Or so we thought.

Coming quickly around another corner we almost slammed into the car we’d been chasing.

“What the hell…” Aland muttered.

I was out of the car, and over to see if he was in it, but I knew that it was only a slender possibility.  The car was empty, and no indication where he went.

Certainly not up the road.  It was relatively straightforward for the next mile, at which we would have reached the summit.  Up the mountainside from here, or down.

I looked up.  Nothing.

Alan yelled out, “He’s not going down, not that I can see, but if he did, there’s hardly a foothold and that’s a long fall.”

Then where did he go?

Then a man looking very much like our quarry came out from behind a rock embedded just a short distance up the hill.

“Sorry,” he said quite calmly.  “Had to go if you know what I mean.”

I’d lost him.

It was as simple as that.

I had been led a merry chase up the hill, and all the time he was getting away in a different direction.

I’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book, letting my desperation blind me to the disguise that anyone else would see through in an instant.

It was a lonely sight, looking down that road, knowing that I had to go all that way down again, only this time, without having to throw caution to the wind.

“Maybe next time,” Alan said.

“We’ll get him.  It’s just a matter of time.”

© Charles Heath 2019

Find this and other stories in “Inspiration, maybe”  available soon.

InspirationMaybe1v1

Inspiration, maybe

50 photographs, 50 stories, of which there is one of the 50 below.

They all start with –

A picture paints … well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

lookingdownfromcoronetpeak

And the story:

It was once said that a desperate man has everything to lose.

The man I was chasing was desperate, but I, on the other hand, was more desperate to catch him.

He’d left a trail of dead people from one end of the island to the other.

The team had put in a lot of effort to locate him, and now his capture was imminent.  We were following the car he was in, from a discrete distance, and, at the appropriate time, we would catch up, pull him over, and make the arrest.

There was nowhere for him to go.

The road led to a dead-end, and the only way off the mountain was back down the road were now on.  Which was why I was somewhat surprised when we discovered where he was.

Where was he going?

“Damn,” I heard Alan mutter.  He was driving, being careful not to get too close, but not far enough away to lose sight of him.

“What?”

“I think he’s made us.”

“How?”

“Dumb bad luck, I’m guessing.  Or he expected we’d follow him up the mountain.  He’s just sped up.”

“How far away?”

“A half-mile.  We should see him higher up when we turn the next corner.”

It took an eternity to get there, and when we did, Alan was right, only he was further on than we thought.”

“Step on it.  Let’s catch him up before he gets to the top.”

Easy to say, not so easy to do.  The road was treacherous, and in places just gravel, and there were no guard rails to stop a three thousand footfall down the mountainside.

Good thing then I had the foresight to have three agents on the hill for just such a scenario.

Ten minutes later, we were in sight of the car, still moving quickly, but we were going slightly faster.  We’d catch up just short of the summit car park.

Or so we thought.

Coming quickly around another corner we almost slammed into the car we’d been chasing.

“What the hell…” Aland muttered.

I was out of the car, and over to see if he was in it, but I knew that it was only a slender possibility.  The car was empty, and no indication where he went.

Certainly not up the road.  It was relatively straightforward for the next mile, at which we would have reached the summit.  Up the mountainside from here, or down.

I looked up.  Nothing.

Alan yelled out, “He’s not going down, not that I can see, but if he did, there’s hardly a foothold and that’s a long fall.”

Then where did he go?

Then a man looking very much like our quarry came out from behind a rock embedded just a short distance up the hill.

“Sorry,” he said quite calmly.  “Had to go if you know what I mean.”

I’d lost him.

It was as simple as that.

I had been led a merry chase up the hill, and all the time he was getting away in a different direction.

I’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book, letting my desperation blind me to the disguise that anyone else would see through in an instant.

It was a lonely sight, looking down that road, knowing that I had to go all that way down again, only this time, without having to throw caution to the wind.

“Maybe next time,” Alan said.

“We’ll get him.  It’s just a matter of time.”

© Charles Heath 2019

Find this and other stories in “Inspiration, maybe”  available soon.

InspirationMaybe1v1

Inspiration, maybe

50 photographs, 50 stories, of which there is one of the 50 below.

They all start with –

A picture paints … well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

lookingdownfromcoronetpeak

And the story:

It was once said that a desperate man has everything to lose.

The man I was chasing was desperate, but I, on the other hand, was more desperate to catch him.

He’d left a trail of dead people from one end of the island to the other.

The team had put in a lot of effort to locate him, and now his capture was imminent.  We were following the car he was in, from a discrete distance, and, at the appropriate time, we would catch up, pull him over, and make the arrest.

There was nowhere for him to go.

The road led to a dead-end, and the only way off the mountain was back down the road were now on.  Which was why I was somewhat surprised when we discovered where he was.

Where was he going?

“Damn,” I heard Alan mutter.  He was driving, being careful not to get too close, but not far enough away to lose sight of him.

“What?”

“I think he’s made us.”

“How?”

“Dumb bad luck, I’m guessing.  Or he expected we’d follow him up the mountain.  He’s just sped up.”

“How far away?”

“A half-mile.  We should see him higher up when we turn the next corner.”

It took an eternity to get there, and when we did, Alan was right, only he was further on than we thought.”

“Step on it.  Let’s catch him up before he gets to the top.”

Easy to say, not so easy to do.  The road was treacherous, and in places just gravel, and there were no guard rails to stop a three thousand footfall down the mountainside.

Good thing then I had the foresight to have three agents on the hill for just such a scenario.

Ten minutes later, we were in sight of the car, still moving quickly, but we were going slightly faster.  We’d catch up just short of the summit car park.

Or so we thought.

Coming quickly around another corner we almost slammed into the car we’d been chasing.

“What the hell…” Aland muttered.

I was out of the car, and over to see if he was in it, but I knew that it was only a slender possibility.  The car was empty, and no indication where he went.

Certainly not up the road.  It was relatively straightforward for the next mile, at which we would have reached the summit.  Up the mountainside from here, or down.

I looked up.  Nothing.

Alan yelled out, “He’s not going down, not that I can see, but if he did, there’s hardly a foothold and that’s a long fall.”

Then where did he go?

Then a man looking very much like our quarry came out from behind a rock embedded just a short distance up the hill.

“Sorry,” he said quite calmly.  “Had to go if you know what I mean.”

I’d lost him.

It was as simple as that.

I had been led a merry chase up the hill, and all the time he was getting away in a different direction.

I’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book, letting my desperation blind me to the disguise that anyone else would see through in an instant.

It was a lonely sight, looking down that road, knowing that I had to go all that way down again, only this time, without having to throw caution to the wind.

“Maybe next time,” Alan said.

“We’ll get him.  It’s just a matter of time.”

© Charles Heath 2019

Find this and other stories in “Inspiration, maybe”  available soon.

InspirationMaybe1v1

Inspiration, maybe

50 photographs, 50 stories, of which there is one of the 50 below.

They all start with –

A picture paints … well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

lookingdownfromcoronetpeak

And the story:

It was once said that a desperate man has everything to lose.

The man I was chasing was desperate, but I, on the other hand, was more desperate to catch him.

He’d left a trail of dead people from one end of the island to the other.

The team had put in a lot of effort to locate him, and now his capture was imminent.  We were following the car he was in, from a discrete distance, and, at the appropriate time, we would catch up, pull him over, and make the arrest.

There was nowhere for him to go.

The road led to a dead-end, and the only way off the mountain was back down the road were now on.  Which was why I was somewhat surprised when we discovered where he was.

Where was he going?

“Damn,” I heard Alan mutter.  He was driving, being careful not to get too close, but not far enough away to lose sight of him.

“What?”

“I think he’s made us.”

“How?”

“Dumb bad luck, I’m guessing.  Or he expected we’d follow him up the mountain.  He’s just sped up.”

“How far away?”

“A half-mile.  We should see him higher up when we turn the next corner.”

It took an eternity to get there, and when we did, Alan was right, only he was further on than we thought.”

“Step on it.  Let’s catch him up before he gets to the top.”

Easy to say, not so easy to do.  The road was treacherous, and in places just gravel, and there were no guard rails to stop a three thousand footfall down the mountainside.

Good thing then I had the foresight to have three agents on the hill for just such a scenario.

Ten minutes later, we were in sight of the car, still moving quickly, but we were going slightly faster.  We’d catch up just short of the summit car park.

Or so we thought.

Coming quickly around another corner we almost slammed into the car we’d been chasing.

“What the hell…” Aland muttered.

I was out of the car, and over to see if he was in it, but I knew that it was only a slender possibility.  The car was empty, and no indication where he went.

Certainly not up the road.  It was relatively straightforward for the next mile, at which we would have reached the summit.  Up the mountainside from here, or down.

I looked up.  Nothing.

Alan yelled out, “He’s not going down, not that I can see, but if he did, there’s hardly a foothold and that’s a long fall.”

Then where did he go?

Then a man looking very much like our quarry came out from behind a rock embedded just a short distance up the hill.

“Sorry,” he said quite calmly.  “Had to go if you know what I mean.”

I’d lost him.

It was as simple as that.

I had been led a merry chase up the hill, and all the time he was getting away in a different direction.

I’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book, letting my desperation blind me to the disguise that anyone else would see through in an instant.

It was a lonely sight, looking down that road, knowing that I had to go all that way down again, only this time, without having to throw caution to the wind.

“Maybe next time,” Alan said.

“We’ll get him.  It’s just a matter of time.”

© Charles Heath 2019

Find this and other stories in “Inspiration, maybe”  available soon.

InspirationMaybe1v1

Inspiration, maybe

50 photographs, 50 stories, of which there is one of the 50 below.

They all start with –

A picture paints … well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

lookingdownfromcoronetpeak

And the story:

It was once said that a desperate man has everything to lose.

The man I was chasing was desperate, but I, on the other hand, was more desperate to catch him.

He’d left a trail of dead people from one end of the island to the other.

The team had put in a lot of effort to locate him, and now his capture was imminent.  We were following the car he was in, from a discrete distance, and, at the appropriate time, we would catch up, pull him over, and make the arrest.

There was nowhere for him to go.

The road led to a dead-end, and the only way off the mountain was back down the road were now on.  Which was why I was somewhat surprised when we discovered where he was.

Where was he going?

“Damn,” I heard Alan mutter.  He was driving, being careful not to get too close, but not far enough away to lose sight of him.

“What?”

“I think he’s made us.”

“How?”

“Dumb bad luck, I’m guessing.  Or he expected we’d follow him up the mountain.  He’s just sped up.”

“How far away?”

“A half-mile.  We should see him higher up when we turn the next corner.”

It took an eternity to get there, and when we did, Alan was right, only he was further on than we thought.”

“Step on it.  Let’s catch him up before he gets to the top.”

Easy to say, not so easy to do.  The road was treacherous, and in places just gravel, and there were no guard rails to stop a three thousand footfall down the mountainside.

Good thing then I had the foresight to have three agents on the hill for just such a scenario.

Ten minutes later, we were in sight of the car, still moving quickly, but we were going slightly faster.  We’d catch up just short of the summit car park.

Or so we thought.

Coming quickly around another corner we almost slammed into the car we’d been chasing.

“What the hell…” Aland muttered.

I was out of the car, and over to see if he was in it, but I knew that it was only a slender possibility.  The car was empty, and no indication where he went.

Certainly not up the road.  It was relatively straightforward for the next mile, at which we would have reached the summit.  Up the mountainside from here, or down.

I looked up.  Nothing.

Alan yelled out, “He’s not going down, not that I can see, but if he did, there’s hardly a foothold and that’s a long fall.”

Then where did he go?

Then a man looking very much like our quarry came out from behind a rock embedded just a short distance up the hill.

“Sorry,” he said quite calmly.  “Had to go if you know what I mean.”

I’d lost him.

It was as simple as that.

I had been led a merry chase up the hill, and all the time he was getting away in a different direction.

I’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book, letting my desperation blind me to the disguise that anyone else would see through in an instant.

It was a lonely sight, looking down that road, knowing that I had to go all that way down again, only this time, without having to throw caution to the wind.

“Maybe next time,” Alan said.

“We’ll get him.  It’s just a matter of time.”

© Charles Heath 2019

Find this and other stories in “Inspiration, maybe”  available soon.

InspirationMaybe1v1