Writing about writing a book – Day 6

It’s been a long morning, and I sleep in.  I think the extra time is warranted because I wrote until there was nothing left in the tank.  Then, I let the plot unfold in my mind as I slept.

I had a dream.

I have IT experience.  I know the how hard it was, in the early days of networking, to get it right.  And all of the factors that have to be in place to keep it working.

I become Bill Chandler.

Servers, server software, wiring, Ethernet. Internet, wan, lan, hub, switch, meltdown.   The days when desks had terminals, not personal computers, and then the sudden disappearance of the mainframe, to local area networks.

The bottle of Scotch in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet (in the days when occupational health and safety was not so strictly enforced) for celebrations when it worked, or commiserations when it didn’t.

 

So, today I’m expanding on the plot lines:

 

Chandler, recently divorced, and now on his first holiday on his own, contemplated what he’s going to do.  It doesn’t last long and is recalled to the office to manage a crisis.

Back in the office, Benton unavailable, Chandler goes to see Aitchison, Security chief.  There he learns of Richardson’s murder, of which suicide, the police theory, the least likely cause, and that of Halligan, whose death is also questionable.  There is also a question over the computer network and that of another running within their current system.  This is something Chandler knows nothing about.   There is a way of finding out if such a network existed.  Meanwhile, the implications are frightening, and Aitchison is clearly afraid of something.

OK, another character has popped up, Halligan, but we’ll worry about that later.

Back on familiar territory, Chandler gets down to the job of finding out what information he can.  Before beginning the physical search, he is questioned closely by Gator, the policeman, on external communications involving their computer systems.

OK, that’ll need a bit of background on Gator and what information he has.

After Gator departs, Chandler goes to find Jennifer.  By now, the whole network is down and they discover several servers have been tampered with, in fact, the very ones believed to be the gateway to the ‘hidden’ network.  Alas, the evidence had been removed.

Deciding there was nothing that could be done because the maintenance contractors have been called in, Chandler and Jennifer go to lunch.  Chandler runs into a very frightened Aitchison who cryptically says he fears for his life.  About the same time shots are fired, Aitchison is killed, and Chandler seriously wounded.

 

Wow, I’m getting better at this planning stuff, though it’s early days yet.  There are several ideas about the ramifications of Bill getting shot, but that can wait till later.

Time to flesh this plotline out in words.

Doesn’t look like Sunday is going to be a day off.

 

© Charles Heath 2016 – 2019

I’ve always wanted to go on a Treasure Hunt – Part 44

Here’s the thing…

Every time I close my eyes, I see something different.

I’d like to think the cinema of my dreams is playing a double feature but it’s a bit like a comedy cartoon night on Fox.

But these dreams are nothing to laugh about.

Once again there’s a new installment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.

 

There was a clock tower not far from the hotel, and I heard it strike 12 midnight. It was time to go home before I turned into a pumpkin. Or perhaps I didn’t quite have it right. It didn’t matter. I needed sleep and it wasn’t going to happen here.

Nadia was being a temptress and not even realizing it.

“You need me on your team. I know the inside of the mall like the back of my hand.”

It didn’t surprise me. She used to run with a group of girls who could give Alex and Vince a run for their money in being cruel. I was positive now that she was in the mall at the same time we were, and quite possibly following us. After what Alex said earlier, there were going to be a lot of people following each other.

“You know where the bodies are?”

A slight hesitation before she said, “I might.”

The question was whose bodies. Missing girls, Benderby’s enemies. Certainly not the archaeologist, but if there was a torture chamber down there, maybe some clues that would point the police in the right direction.

“Well, tempting as that sounds, but no.”

“What if I told you I think I know where they tortured that archaeologist guy.”

“Why would they, in fact, it’s the one thing in all of this that puzzles me. Rico might have had a reason simply because he’s little more than a blunt instrument, not an extractor of information, that required a little more refinement than he’s, and the Benderby’s, what on earth could he know that they needed it from him.”

“Try the exact contents of this so-called treasure.”

“No one could possibly know what that pirate, whatever his name was, actually had?”

Not unless he was with the captain when he buried it, which, of course, unless he was a time traveler, he wasn’t and therefore couldn’t know.

“No one could possibly know that.”

“I beg to differ.”

She knew something we didn’t. This was turning out to be a very interesting day.

“How?”

“Say for instance the pirate had a journal, a ship log I think it’s called, and in that journal, he noted everything he pillaged from all of the ships they attacked.”

“You’ve seen it?” I asked, slightly incredulously. This was the first I’d heard of one, and I doubted Boggs had either unless it was something he was not telling me.

“No.”

“How do you know about it?”

“Vince.”

“He’s pulling your leg. There’s no such journal or log in existence.”

“Oh, there is. That’s what the archaeologist had. And that’s what both Alex and Vince were trying to buy. And when he wouldn’t sell it to Alex, his men went a little too far with their persuasion tactics.”

“I bet Vince wasn’t happy.”

“No. He thinks Alex does know where it is, so they’re playing their games of cat and mouse. But it’s a waste of time. My source tells me the archaeologist never gave up the location of the journal. Both the Benderby’s and the Cossatino’s have been to his house but it was nowhere to be found.”

And if that was the case, then there would be no interior to the house left, one of the other would have stripped the walls in their search. But, if it was true and there was such a journal, two questions came to mind. The obvious was, where was it? The less obvious was why didn’t the archaeologist go looking for the treasure himself?

There was an answer, that he didn’t have the right map.

I cast my mind back to the only time Boggs showed me what he called the real map. It had been folded, and you could see the fold marks that had been there for a long, long time. Was it possible at some point the map was separated from the journal?

Had someone known about the map, and stolen it and rather than the journal?

“I can see the cogs ticking over in your head Smidge. You are going to need me, in the end. Especially if you find the treasure. You’ll want to know what both Vince and Alex are up to, and little old me with be right there between them.”

“You think that Alex doesn’t know what you’re up to?”

“You already know more than you did when you walked in the door. Either of them finds the treasure, I get nothing. You and Boggs find it, maybe I’ll get something. I don’t care what they think.”

She was dangerous, deceptive, and beguiling sometimes all at the same time. This was one of those moments.

“I think Boggs doesn’t entirely trust you, or anyone,” she said.

“That couldn’t possibly surprise you. Look what’s happened to him over the years. No one knows what happened to his father.”

“Maybe we can find out. How about you and I pay the mall a visit. I guarantee it will be a lot more interesting than finding a mannequin.”

Put like that, how could I say no.

 

© Charles Heath 2020

An excerpt from “Strangers We’ve Become” – Coming Soon

I wandered back to my villa.

It was in darkness.  I was sure I had left several lights on, especially over the door so I could see to unlock it.

I looked up and saw the globe was broken.

Instant alert.

I went to the first hiding spot for the gun, and it wasn’t there.  I went to the backup and it wasn’t there either.  Someone had found my carefully hidden stash of weapons and removed them.

Who?

There were four hiding spots and all were empty.  Someone had removed the weapons.  That could only mean one possibility.

I had a visitor, not necessarily here for a social call.

But, of course, being the well-trained agent I’d once been and not one to be caught unawares, I crossed over to my neighbor and relieved him of a weapon that, if found, would require a lot of explaining.

Suitably armed, it was time to return the surprise.

There were three entrances to the villa, the front door, the back door, and a rather strange escape hatch.  One of the more interesting attractions of the villa I’d rented was its heritage.  It was built in the late 1700s, by a man who was, by all accounts, a thief.  It had a hidden underground room which had been in the past a vault but was now a wine cellar, and it had an escape hatch by which the man could come and go undetected, particularly if there was a mob outside the door baying for his blood.

It now gave me the means to enter the villa without my visitors being alerted, unless, of course, they were near the vicinity of the doorway inside the villa, but that possibility was unlikely.  It was not where anyone could anticipate or expect a doorway to be.

The secret entrance was at the rear of the villa behind a large copse, two camouflaged wooden doors built into the ground.  I move aside some of the branches that covered them and lifted one side.  After I’d discovered the doors and rusty hinges, I’d oiled and cleaned them, and cleared the passageway of cobwebs and fallen rocks.  It had a mildew smell, but nothing would get rid of that.  I’d left torches at either end so I could see.

I closed the door after me, and went quietly down the steps, enveloped in darkness till I switched on the torch.  I traversed the short passage which turned ninety degrees about halfway to the door at the other end.  I carried the key to this door on the keyring, found it and opened the door.  It too had been oiled and swung open soundlessly.

I stepped in the darkness and closed the door.

I was on the lower level under the kitchen, now the wine cellar, the ‘door’ doubling as a set of shelves which had very little on them, less to fall and alert anyone in the villa.

Silence, an eerie silence.

I took the steps up to the kitchen, stopping when my head was level with the floor, checking to see if anyone was waiting.  There wasn’t.  It seemed to me to be an unlikely spot for an ambush.

I’d already considered the possibility of someone coming after me, especially because it had been Bespalov I’d killed, and I was sure he had friends, all equally as mad as he was.  Equally, I’d also considered it nigh on impossible for anyone to find out it was me who killed him because the only people who knew that were Prendergast, Alisha, a few others in the Department, and Susan.

That raised the question of who told them where I was.

If I was the man I used to be, my first suspect would be Susan.  The departure this morning, and now this was too coincidental.  But I was not that man.

Or was I?

I reached the start of the passageway that led from the kitchen to the front door and peered into the semi-darkness.  My eyes had got used to the dark, and it was no longer an inky void.  Fragments of light leaked in around the door from outside and through the edge of the window curtains where they didn’t fit properly.  A bone of contention upstairs in the morning, when first light shone and invariably woke me up hours before I wanted to.

Still nothing.

I took a moment to consider how I would approach the visitor’s job.  I would get a plan of the villa in my head, all entrances, where a target could be led to or attacked where there would be no escape.

Coming in the front door.  If I was not expecting anything, I’d just open the door and walk-in.  One shot would be all that was required.

Contract complete.

I sidled quietly up the passage staying close to the wall, edging closer to the front door.  There was an alcove where the shooter could be waiting.  It was an ideal spot to wait.

Crunch.

I stepped on some nutshells.

Not my nutshells.

I felt it before I heard it.  The bullet with my name on it.

And how the shooter missed, from point-blank range, and hit me in the arm, I had no idea.  I fired off two shots before a second shot from the shooter went wide and hit the door with a loud thwack.

I saw a red dot wavering as it honed in on me and I fell to the floor, stretching out, looking up where the origin of the light was coming and pulled the trigger three times, evenly spaced, and a second later I heard the sound of a body falling down the stairs and stopping at the bottom, not very far from me.

Two assassins.

I’d not expected that.

The assassin by the door was dead, a lucky shot on my part.  The second was still breathing.

I checked the body for any weapons and found a second gun and two knives.  Armed to the teeth!

I pulled off the balaclava; a man, early thirties, definitely Italian.  I was expecting a Russian.

I slapped his face, waking him up.  Blood was leaking from several slashes on his face when his head had hit the stairs on the way down.  The awkward angle of his arms and legs told me there were broken bones, probably a lot worse internally.  He was not long for this earth.

“Who employed you?”

He looked at me with dead eyes, a pursed mouth, perhaps a smile.  “Not today my friend.  You have made a very bad enemy.”  He coughed and blood poured out of his mouth.  “There will be more …”

Friends of Bespalov, no doubt.

I would have to leave.  Two unexplainable bodies, I’d have a hard time explaining my way out of this mess.  I dragged the two bodies into the lounge, clearing the passageway just in case someone had heard anything.

Just in case anyone was outside at the time, I sat in the dark, at the foot of the stairs, and tried to breathe normally.  I was trying not to connect dots that led back to Susan, but the coincidence was worrying me.

 

A half-hour passed and I hadn’t moved.  Deep in thought, I’d forgotten about being shot, unaware that blood was running down my arm and dripping onto the floor.

Until I heard a knock on my front door.

Two thoughts, it was either the police, alerted by the neighbors, or it was the second wave, though why would they be knocking on the door?

I stood, and immediately felt a stabbing pain in my arm.  I took out a handkerchief and turned it into a makeshift tourniquet, then wrapped a kitchen towel around the wound.

If it was the police, this was going to be a difficult situation.  Holding the gun behind my back, I opened the door a fraction and looked out.

No police, just Maria.  I hoped she was not part of the next ‘wave’.

“You left your phone behind on the table.  I thought you might be looking for it.”  She held it out in front of her.

When I didn’t open the door any further, she looked at me quizzically, and then asked, “Is anything wrong?”

I was going to thank her for returning the phone, but I heard her breathe in sharply, and add, breathlessly, “You’re bleeding.”

I looked at my arm and realized it was visible through the door, and not only that, the towel was soaked in blood.

“You need to go away now.”

Should I tell her the truth?  It was probably too late, and if she was any sort of law-abiding citizen she would go straight to the police.

She showed no signs of leaving, just an unnerving curiosity.  “What happened?”

I ran through several explanations, but none seemed plausible.  I went with the truth.  “My past caught up with me.”

“You need someone to fix that before you pass out from blood loss.  It doesn’t look good.”

“I can fix it.  You need to leave.  It is not safe to be here with me.”

The pain in my arm was not getting any better, and the blood was starting to run down my arm again as the tourniquet loosened.  She was right, I needed it fixed sooner rather than later.

I opened the door and let her in.  It was a mistake, a huge mistake, and I would have to deal with the consequences.  Once inside, she turned on the light and saw the pool of blood just inside the door and the trail leading to the lounge.  She followed the trail and turned into the lounge, turned on the light, and no doubt saw the two dead men.

I expected her to scream.  She didn’t.

She gave me a good hard look, perhaps trying to see if I was dangerous.  Killing people wasn’t something you looked the other way about.  She would have to go to the police.

“What happened here?”

“I came home from the cafe and two men were waiting for me.  I used to work for the Government, but no longer.  I suspect these men were here to repay a debt.  I was lucky.”

“Not so much, looking at your arm.”

She came closer and inspected it.

“Sit down.”

She found another towel and wrapped it around the wound, retightening the tourniquet to stem the bleeding.

“Do you have medical supplies?”

I nodded.  “Upstairs.”  I had a medical kit, and on the road, I usually made my own running repairs.  Another old habit I hadn’t quite shaken off yet.

She went upstairs, rummaged, and then came back.  I wondered briefly what she would think of the unmade bed though I was not sure why it might interest her.

She helped me remove my shirt, and then cleaned the wound.  Fortunately, she didn’t have to remove a bullet.  It was a clean wound but it would require stitches.

When she’d finished she said, “Your friend said one day this might happen.”

No prizes for guessing who that friend was, and it didn’t please me that she had involved Maria.

“Alisha?”

“She didn’t tell me her name, but I think she cares a lot about you.  She said trouble has a way of finding you, gave me a phone and said to call her if something like this happened.”

“That was wrong of her to do that.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not.  Will you call her?”

“Yes.  I can’t stay here now.  You should go now.  Hopefully, by the time I leave in the morning, no one will ever know what happened here, especially you.”

She smiled.  “As you say, I was never here.”

 

© Charles Heath 2018-2020

In a word: Stick

Everyone knows what a stick is, it’s a lump of wood that you throw out in front of you, and if your dog is inclined to, he will run out and fetch it back.

Of course, there’s the obstinate ones who just lie down on the ground and look at you like you’re foolishly throwing away something useful.

For instance, that stick, and a few others that would be very useful to light a campfire, or just a woodfire in the house, during winter.

Or it can be a stick of wood needed for something else, like a building project, of of those highly secret affairs that go on in the locked shed at the bottom of the garden.

I’m sure the dog who refuses to fetch sticks knows exactly what is going on there, but is disinclined to say.

But..

If you are looking at the gooey sense of the word, there is an old saying, if you throw enough mud, some of it sticks’.

Yes, you can stick stuff to stuff, such as words cut out of various newspapers to make up a ransom, or warning, note.

Too many mystery movies, I know.

Paint will stick to timber, or any surface really.

Mud sticks to the bottom of shoes or boots and then becomes analysable evidence.

I can stick to you like glue, which means, really, where you go I go, quite handy if you are trying to stop an opposition player from scoring in a game.

I can use a walking stick, beat someone with a stick, use a stick to fly a plane, or a gear stick to move a car.

I’m sure, if you think about it, you can come up with a dozen more ways to use it.

 

 

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 May 2020.  It even has a cover.

 

PIWalthJones1

Writing about writing a book – Day 5 continues – The complications of life

I hate it when other characters are drawn in, and without a proper introduction, the reader gets confused.

Well, let me tell you, the writer can get confused too.

The introduction of Jennifer cannot go without the introduction of Ellen Bill’s ex-wife, and we have talked a little about her background before.

She has a role, one that will have a major impact later on, but every now and then she is going to appear, adding to the backstory between her and Bill.  There is no real animosity between them, their parting amicable because both knew it was time to end.

Bill’s problems were brought about his military service, and her father has a part to play in the story, though I’m not sure how to weave this in yet.  But it’s not so much what Bill remembers of his service, but of what he has forgotten, or more to the point buried.

That will eventually rise to the surface.

However, at this time, it’s still at the part where the narrator has to introduce Jennifer.

There are three distinct stages to this relationship between the two most important characters, and as it happens it’s Ellen unknowingly that brings Bill and Jennifer together,

 

Then Ellen, my estranged, and sometimes difficult wife decided she wanted a divorce.  I had no objection, and that was most likely the problem.  Perhaps she had expected me to fight for her, but she had made it clear, many years before, that she was no longer interested in preserving the marriage and was only keeping it up until our two daughters were old enough to fend for themselves.

That time had come.

I found myself in a situation where I needed someone to talk to.  I was not one of those people who made friends easily, nor did I spend much time seeking the company of other women.  I had my work, and it had been enough.

But Ellen’s request for a divorce, for some reason, had shaken me, and the day I got the phone call, Jennifer has bustled into my office as she always did, dumping the pile of log file printouts on my desk, and instead of leaving, perhaps she had seen my look of dismay, or more to the point, utter shock, and stayed.

It caused a slight change in our relationship.

 

I’m still working on it, but there will be more.

Or fewer words perhaps, after all, it’s only meant to be a brief introduction.

See how simple things become complicated, very quickly.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

In a word: Key

So, as we all know, a key is used to lock or unlock a door, gate, or something else.  It’s either made of shiny metal, brass, or rusty iron, it can be small, or very, very big, as is the key to a dungeon.

We can have one key or we can have many or even a master key that unlocks everything, very handy if you have a house full of locked rooms.

People always seem to want to steal them, especially in crime shows.

There is also an item called a key card.  Not the metal thing, but a plastic thing, that opens doors.  Odd that it’s called keyless entry!

Then there’s what is known as the key to something, i.e. you might have the key to his or her heart, metaphorically speaking.

And in that metaphorical sense, it opens up pandora’s box with a plethora of different meanings.

He had the key to the puzzle.

I wish sometimes I had the key to be able to write better, that that one particular key eludes me.

There are keys on a keyboard, the ones you use on computers and calculators.  They were originally on typewriters.  You can also find keys on a piano, or an accordion, and some other musical instruments.

A key can also be a master index field, or unique identifier, in a database, particularly those kept on computers.

And,

there’s a host of other uses for the word key, such as

roughening a surface

describing the shooting area on a basketball court

a group, or one, of small coral islets

matching words to pictures

or, you’re just too keyed up to sleep.

 

 

 

“Strangers We’ve Become”, a sequel to “What Sets Us Apart”

Stranger’s We’ve Become, a sequel to What Sets Us Apart.

The blurb:

Is she or isn’t she, that is the question!

Susan has returned to David, but he is having difficulty dealing with the changes. Her time in captivity has changed her markedly, so much so that David decides to give her some time and space to re-adjust back into normal life.

But doubts about whether he chose the real Susan remain.

In the meantime, David has to deal with Susan’s new security chief, the discovery of her rebuilding a palace in Russia, evidence of an affair, and several attempts on his life. And, once again, David is drawn into another of Predergast’s games, one that could ultimately prove fatal.

From being reunited with the enigmatic Alisha, a strange visit to Susan’s country estate, to Russia and back, to a rescue mission in Nigeria, David soon discovers those whom he thought he could trust each has their own agenda, one that apparently doesn’t include him.

The Cover:

strangerscover9

Coming soon

 

The story behind the story – Echoes from the Past

The novel ‘Echoes from the past’ started out as a short story I wrote about 30 years ago, titled ‘The birthday’.

My idea was to take a normal person out of their comfort zone and led on a short but very frightening journey to a place where a surprise birthday party had been arranged.

Thus the very large man with a scar and a red tie was created.

So was the friend with the limousine who worked as a pilot.

So were the two women, Wendy and Angelina, who were Flight Attendants that the pilot friend asked to join the conspiracy.

I was going to rework the short story, then about ten pages long, into something a little more.

And like all re-writes, especially those I have anything to do with, it turned into a novel.

There was motivation.  I had told some colleagues at the place where I worked at the time that I liked writing, and they wanted a sample.  I was going to give them the re-worked short story.  Instead, I gave them ‘Echoes from the past’

Originally it was not set anywhere in particular.

But when considering a location, I had, at the time, recently been to New York in December, and visited Brooklyn and Queens, as well as a lot of New York itself.  We were there for New Years, and it was an experience I’ll never forget.

One evening we were out late, and finished up in Brooklyn Heights, near the waterfront, and there was rain and snow, it was cold and wet, and there were apartment buildings shimmering in the street light, and I thought, this is the place where my main character will live.

It had a very spooky atmosphere, the sort where ghosts would not be unexpected.  I felt more than one shiver go up and down my spine in the few minutes I was there.

I had taken notes, as I always do, of everywhere we went so I had a ready supply of locations I could use, changing the names in some cases.

Fifth Avenue near the Rockefeller center is amazing at first light, and late at night with the Seasonal decorations and lights.

The original main character was a shy and man of few friends, hence not expecting the surprise party.  I enhanced that shyness into purposely lonely because of an issue from his past that leaves him always looking over his shoulder and ready to move on at the slightest hint of trouble.  No friends, no relationships, just a very low profile.

Then I thought, what if he breaks the cardinal rule, and begins a relationship?

But it is also as much an exploration of a damaged soul, as it is the search for a normal life, without having any idea what normal was, and how the understanding of one person can sometimes make all the difference in what we may think or feel.

And, of course, I wanted a happy ending.

Except for the bad guys.

 

Get it here:  https://amzn.to/2CYKxu4

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