In a word: Straight

Yes, that man is straight as an arrow.

Well, in my experience based on the fact many years ago I used to play Cowboys and Indians, and I was always an Indian, I used to make a bow, and arrows, from the limbs of a tree in our back yard, those arrows were never straight.

How they got them so back in the middle ages without a lathe is anybody’s guess.

We all know what straight means, level, even, true, not deviating.  It could be a board, a road, the edge of a piece of paper.

But, of course, there are other meanings like,

He was straight, meaning heterosexual, a question not 50 odd years ago anyone would ask you, and 100 years ago, you wouldn’t dare admit anything but.

In poker, a card game, it is a sequence of five cards, and the sort of straight I’d like to get is ace high.  Chances of that happening, zero per cent.

It can mean being honest, that is, you should be straight with her, though I’m not sure telling your wide you’re having an affair would be conducive to continuing good health.

It could mean immediately, as in, I’ve got a headache and going straight to bed, probably after hearing news of that affair that was best left unspoken.

Perhaps that would be the time to have a whiskey straight, that is without mixers or ice.  I’ve tried, but still, at the very least I need ice.

This is not to be confused with the word strait, which is a narrow waterway between to areas of land.

But, here’s where it gets murky because a company can be in dire straits after being in desperate straits, and a person can be strait-laced, and just to be certain, most lunatics finish up in a straitjacket.

 

You can research anywhere, even in a, er, waiting room

Watching the doors that lead to the consulting rooms is about as exciting as watching pigeons standing on a window ledge.

But…

When you have little else to do while waiting to see the doctor, it can take on new meaning, especially if you don’t want to be like 95% of the others waiting and be on their mobile phones.

What you basically have is a cross-section of people right in front of you, a virtual cornucopia of characters just waiting to stay in your next novel, of course with some minor adjustments.  It’s the actions and traits I’m looking for, and since it is a hospital, there’s bound to be some good ones.

It’s a steady drip of patients getting called, and it seems like more are arriving than being seen, and those that are being called have arrived and barely got to sit down, whilst a steady core has been waiting, and waiting, and waiting…

Everyone reacts differently to waiting.

A lady arrives, walking tentatively into the waiting area.  It’s reasonably full so the first thing she does is look for a spot where she doesn’t have to sit next to anyone else.  I’m the same, nothing worse if you sit next to a talker, and getting their life history.

Another sits, looking like they’re going to read, they brought a book with them, but it sits on her lap.  The phone comes out, a quick scan, then it remains in hand.  Is she expecting a call or text wishing her luck?  It’s not the oncology clinic so she doesn’t have cancer.  Hopefully.  The fact she brought a book tells me she’s been here before and knows a 9:00 appointment is rarely on time.

As we are discovering.

A couple arrives, maybe a mother and daughter, maybe a patient and her support person.  Both of them don’t look very well do it’s a toss-up who is there to see the doctor.

Next is a man who could easily pass as living on the street.  It’s probably an injustice to say so, but his appearance is compelling, and I’m not the only one.  He sits and the person next to him gets up, apparently looking for something, then moves subtly to another seat.  Someone else nearby wrinkles her nose.  Two others look in his direction and then whisper to each other.  No guesses what the subject is.

More arrive, fewer seats, some are called, but everyone notices, and avoids, the man.

The sign of the door where the stream of patients are going, says no entry staff only, and periodically a staff member comes striding out purposely, or sedately, clutching a piece of all-important paper, the sign of someone who knows where they’re going, on an important mission.  Names are being called from this door and various other sections of the room, requiring you to keep one ear open.

It seems all hospitals are branches of the United Nations, medical staff, and particularly doctors, are recruited from all over the world, and it seems to be able to speak understandable English is not one of the mandatory requirements, and sometimes the person calling out the name, has a little difficulty with the pronunciation.

Perhaps like the UN, we need interpreters.  No, most of the names are recognizable until there is a foreign name that’s unpronounceable, or a person with English as a second language calls an English name.  It makes what could be an interminable wait into something more interesting.

And then there are the people who have names that are completely at odds with their nationality.  They are lucky enough to have the best of a number of cultures, and perhaps a deeper level of understanding where others do not.  I’m reminded never to judge a book by it’s cover.

When there is a lull in arrivals and call-ups, there’s the doctor in consult room 2.  He’s apparently the doctor with no patients and periodically he comes out to look in his pigeonhole, or just look over the patients waiting, and more importantly checking the door handle when not delivering printouts to the consulting room next door.

He’s a doctor with no patients, get my drift.  Well, that joke fell very flat, so, fortunately, he comes out, a piece of paper in hand, and calls a name.  His quiet period is over.  Someone else will have to look at the door handle.

But we’re still waiting, waiting.

It’s been an hour and four minutes, and a little frustrating.  Surely when you check-in they should give you an estimated waiting time, or better still how many patients there are before you.

I guess its time to join the rest and pick up the mobile phone.

The good news, I only got to type one word before my name was called.  By a person who could pronounce it correctly.

The doctor, well that’s another story.

What happens after the action-packed start – Part 30

Our hero knows he’s in serious trouble.

The problem is, there are familiar faces and a question of who is a friend and who is foe made all the more difficult because of the enemy, if it was the enemy, simply because it didn’t look or sound or act like the enemy.

Now, it appears, his problems stem from another operation he participated in.

 

At the end of the discussion, which began to get quite heated, I was escorted from the room and taken to another interrogation room.


Fresh from his intimidatory success with Jacobi, Lallo was, no doubt, going to try and press on his advantage with me though I was not quite sure what it was he thought I could help him with, other than to dissuade him from his current plan.

I had to wait an hour in that small, stuffy room considering the possibilities.  Surely he wasn’t expecting me to join his band of merry men.

When he finally came, he arrived with a folder and two bottles of cold water, one of which he gave to me before he sat down.

I took a sip of water out of the bottle, after checking the seal hadn’t been broken.  I still didn’t trust him, and with good reason considering the trick he’d played on me.

“Now, I’m sure you saw and heard everything that happened with Jacobi.”

I nodded.

“He’s the reason your mission failed.  He met the other team on the ground and was supposed to lead them to the building where the targets were hiding.  Instead, he told the Government forces, Bahti, the plan for their rescue and their location.  It was a double-cross brought on by greed.”

“It always is.  But he’s more than likely right about the fate of the two prisoners.”

“Half dead, yes, pressed into working on a prison farm, but neither has been cracked yet.  After the last attempt at rescuing them, we cultivated new agents on the ground.  Their advice has led to us being able to formulate a new attempt to rescue them.”

Had they asked my opinion long before the first attempt, I would have told them to have more than one source, and particularly if they were paying handsomely for information.  It was always an opportunity for double-cross.

There still was, but I don’t think that eventuality was factored into Lallo’s thinking.

“Who’s the fool you have in mind to lead this disaster.”

“You.”

Good thing I’d braced myself for the bad news, and it came as no surprise.  In that hour of considering possibilities, they all seemed to come back to one person.  I was the only one left who’d been there, if only for a few hours.

It had also given me time to work on an excuse not to go.

“I don’t think so…”

Lallo put his hand up to stop me.  My protestations might have worked on a reasonable man, but Lallo wasn’t reasonable.

“Well, you, too, have a choice.  Stay and be court marshalled for your failure to follow orders in the last attempt or redeem yourself and volunteer to lead the next.”

“I did nothing wrong the last time.”

“Not according to the investigation I’ve just completed, the one that I intend to submit to the JAG if you are unwilling to follow orders.”

And there it was.  All the time I’d been in Lallo’s hands he had been compiling a feasible case against me, just so that I could be induced to do his bidding.  I was stupid not to connect the dots long before this and shut my mouth.  Everything I had denied, was the same evidence he could use against me.

n typical military-style, someone had to shoulder the blame for the previous mess.

And to be given a choice, one that made me as expendable as Jacobi, was, as far as Lallo was concerned, a masterstroke.

If I went and was killed in action, he would have a scapegoat he needed.  If I didn’t go, I would be court marshalled and thrown in a cell for the rest of my life.  And if I went, and succeeded, he would become the golden boy in the intelligence services, and the same fate as any other scenario would befall me.  It was lose-lose.

“You’re not throwing out any bones?”

“Don’t have to.  But you get to pick the team you want to go with you.”  He tossed a file across the table to me, and I opened it.  Several pages, with photos attached.

A who’s who of the military types that spent more time in the stockade than on the battlefield.  Men who would do anything to stay out, men who had nothing to lose.  Men who were expendable.

“You’re kidding?”  I looked up at him, but his expression told me he wasn’t.

“Are you sure any of these will obey orders?”

“You have my assurance they will.  We’re sending an observer, just to make sure everyone stays on mission.  You have three days to pick a team of four men, establish command, and prepare to leave.”

Something else I thought about in that hour, other than it was probably the last time I would have for reflection, was that it would have been better to die in the helicopter crash.

I waited until he left the room before I reopen the file.

© Charles Heath 2019

“The Kingston Flyer” – Researching can be fun

These days it’s getting harder and harder to find ghosts of the past.

It’s surprising when you read how many steam locomotives existed in the days of steam, and how few remain, and even then, if those that remain, how many actually still work.

It makes writing historical fiction all that much harder.

Some years ago I had an idea I might write a story that involved a steam train, and, since we travelled to New Zealand almost once a year, decided it was time to pay the train a visit.  That year, the train was still running, and it was an experience.

Try drinking a cup of team, on the train, without spilling it.  We couldn’t but it was not the train that was the problem, it was the tracks it ran on.

Now, although I read somewhere it might make a comeback, the last visit we made, the trains were firmly ensconced in their shed, and not looking remotely like moving.

These photos are from the last time we visited.

The Kingston Flyer was a vintage train that ran about 14km to Fairlight from Kingston, at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu, and back.

This tourist service was suspended in December 2012 because of locomotive issues.

However, before that, we managed to go on one of the tours, and it was a memorable trip.  Trying to drink a cup of tea from the restaurant car was very difficult, given how much the carriages moved around on the tracks.

The original Kingston Flyer ran between Kingston, Gore, Invercargill, and sometimes Dunedin, from the 1890s through to 1957.

There are two steam locomotives used for the Kingston Flyer service, the AB778 starting service in 1925, and the AB795 which started service in 1927.

The AB class locomotive was a 4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotive with a Vanderbilt tender, of which 141 were built between 1915 and 1927 some of which by New Zealand Railways Addington Workshops.

No 235 is the builder’s number for the AB778

There were seven wooden bodied passenger carriages, three passenger coaches, one passenger/refreshments carriage and two car/vans.  The is also a Birdcage gallery coach.  Each of the rolling stock was built between 1900 and 1923.  They were built at either of Addington, Petone, or Hillside.

I suspect the 2 on the side means second class

The passenger coach we traveled in was very comfortable.

This is one of the guard’s vans, and for transporting cargo.

The Kingston Railway Station

and cafe.

A matter of life and … what’s worse than death – Episode 18

For a story that was conceived during those long boring hours flying in a steel cocoon, striving to keep away the thoughts that the plane and everyone in it could just simply disappear as planes have in the past, it has come a long way.

Whilst I have always had a fascination in what happened during the second world war, not the battles or fighting, but in the more obscure events that took place, I decided to pen my own little sidebar to what was a long and bitter war.

And, so, it continues…

 

It was clear, however, that Marina was familiar with the man and very annoyed with the woman.

When I took a longer look at the man, I realised he was not a man at all, but a boy in his teens, blessed by the fact he looked older than he was.  My guess, about 16.  I was surprised he had not been conscripted into the war, there seemed very few young men in the area.

Marina went straight over to him and snatched the elderly rifle he was holding away from him, the glared at Chiara

“Are you stark staring mad.  Enrico is not supposed to be out in the open, hell, it’s been a battle to keep him hidden away.  What will his parents think when they discover he’s here?”

“Pleased,” Enrico said.  “My father said it’s about time I did something to rid of the Germans, of the English too for that matter.  None of you has any right to be here.”

Fervently spoken, and to the wrong person, it would earn him a bullet to the back of the head.  But I agreed with him.

“All well and good,” Marina said to him, “but now there’s no easy way of doing that.  We must be careful, and you must stay put with your parents.  What we’re doing isn’t a game, you are neither trained or equipped to take anyone on, except perhaps rabbits.”

Back at Chiara.  “Take him home, and never bring him back here.  You don’t want to be the one who has to tell his mother if he gets killed.  Now, both of you go now, before I shoot both of you myself.”

“This is not the end of the matter,” Enrico said.

“And when you’ve taken him back, come back here.  We need to talk.”

Chiara said nothing, just nodded sullenly.  I think she believed the less said the better and did as she was asked, nodding her head in his direction, and adding a few choice phrases in Italian to him that I couldn’t understand.  It also just occurred to me that she had not asked Chiara the questions about the two men from the castle.  I guess that would have to wait until the safety of Enrico was settled, and she returned.

“Make sure they’re safe,” she said to Carlo, and he disappeared, leaving us alone.

“I thought all of the young men had been taken away by the Italian Army.”

“Not all.  We managed to hide a few away, but as you can see, despite our best efforts, they don’t seem to appreciate the trouble they could get into.  We used to have about a hundred young men from 14 through to 20 at the start of the war.  Two have found their way back, casualties of war, the rest, we may never see them again.  Enrico just doesn’t see the trouble he could get into.”

“It’s called youthful enthusiasm.  In the first world war, joining up, or going to war, was a lark.  It was a little less so this time because most of the parents knew from firsthand experience what it was like and tried to shield them.  And if you didn’t join up, questions were asked, and quite often jail, except for some who landed cushy jobs away from the fighting.”

“You were not so lucky?”

“No, I was one of those mad buggers who thought joining up to fight would be an adventure.  That quickly faded when the enemy started shooting at me.”

“And now you’re here, and a spy to boot.  That’s what they’ll hang on you if you get caught.”

“Then I shall try very hard not to get caught.  Again.”

 

Chiara came back about an hour later.  It seemed to me it was a lot safer to move around at night with the blackout, and I doubted Thompson would spare any men from the castle to check up on the local farmers.

And while I was at the castle, I didn’t hear anything raised about the local resistance, which I thought odd at the time, but now I knew why.  Most of them had joined him.  Better that than be hunted down and killed.

Chiara still looked sullen.  A closer look showed she was not very old herself, barely out of her twenties, and surprising that the Italian army, or Thomson for that matter, had not rounded her up for ‘duties’ at the castle.

There were a number of the local women working up at the castle, but they were mostly staff, or more likely forced labour, though I had thought we, when I believed it to be a British outpost, would be fairer to the locals than either the Germans or their own Italian military.  It’s odd how you tend to look at certain situations because of who you are, and the fact you would not do similar things at home.  The Germans, however, we would always treat differently, because they were the enemy, and because we expected the worst from them.  At that moment, though, wouldn’t the Germans think the same of us if the positions were reversed?

Best not to think about that.  My view of the war and the people in it was clouded enough.

Chiara, however, clearly thought the worst of me, and of those in the castle, and certainly didn’t think I was as neutral as I appeared.  A gun always in hand, I was sure she would shoot me again with the least provocation.

We sat, both Chiara and Marina with their weapons on the table in front of them.  I wasn’t trusted enough to be given a weapon.

Marina’s first question was directed at Chiara, “I’m told there were two men from the castle following Sam, and that he told you about them.”

“He did.  We did not see them.  We didn’t take the path, because, as you know, it’s not safe.”

It was a reasonable answer.  If the men at the castle were unfamiliar with the area, as I’m sure they would be, because they hadn’t been there for very long, and I doubt Thompson would want to advertise the nationality of those at the castle unless he had to, they would stick to the clearly-marked roads and paths.

I had on my way to the castle, from a different direction.  It didn’t explain why I had not been met by the leader of the resistance as arranged, but that was now explained, both by the former leader trying to kill me in a roadside explosion, and then what I learned at the castle in the last few days.

“Even so, there’s not that much distance between the two, and it is possible to shadow them.”

“I keep well away from them.  Perhaps Leonardo saw them.  He doesn’t have to worry about what they might do because they use him to supply food.  Maybe he knows more.”

“Perhaps I shall ask him next time I see him.  We need to know who from the castle is about and when so that we don’t get caught.”

“I’ll remember next time.  Is that all?”

“Yes.”

Chiara picked up her gun, gave me an extra-long sullen stare.  “I don’t trust this one, Marina.  You 

need to be careful.”

“I will.”

We waited a few minutes until after she had departed, and then Marina said, “We should be going too.  This place is a little eerie at night.  There are far too many ghosts for my liking.”

I shuddered, then followed her out.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

“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.

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