A matter of life and … what’s worse than death – Episode 12

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 worlds 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…

 

I had walked quite fast in my attempt to distance myself from our pursuers if they were, in fact, chasing me.  In doing so I had tried to make my escape as quiet as possible.

Now, between Jack and I, hiding in the undergrowth, the only noise I could hear was our laboured breathing, and mine in particular.  I hadn’t been expecting to be doing this sort of exercise when I signed on for the job.

Now, I think, exercise was going to become a priority.

If I made it back alive.

A crack and I saw Jack go very still, ears cocked, and looking in what was the direction of the sound.  He’d know, better than me, where the noise came from.

Another minute before I could hear muffled voices, then as if they had stepped into a room, I could hear them.

“So, you’re telling me you let him hit you?”

“I had to, for the sake of making it look good.  I was told he was no fool.” 

The voice of the man who had orchestrated my departure.  I shook my head, very disappointed in myself for not seeing through what could have been a very cunning plan.  It also explained why they hadn’t summarily shot me.  I could see Jackerby gloating over the cleverness of his plan.

So perhaps for a few moments there, I was a fool.  Not anymore.

“What do we do if we find him?”

“We’re not supposed to find him, remember.  You were at the same meeting, or was that your ghost I saw with me?”

“Observe and report back.”

“Exactly.”

The voices were very close, and I could hear their boots of the rocky path until they stopped.

“Which way?”

The voice sounded very close, in fact, I thought they were just on the other side of the undergrowth, but that couldn’t be right, I could see through it in places, and no one was standing on the other side.

Sound must travel very good in this part of the forest.

“Follow the main river.  He won’t be looking to deviate from his objective, which by now would be to find the other members of the resistance and organise his departure.”

“And leave alone what he saw?”

“There isn’t much he could do about it.  By the time he’s reported back to London, we will have found the underground members and eliminated any threat.”

“Aha, so he’s leading us to the resistance?”

“That’s the plan.”

“And it was your idea?”

“I do have my moments, thank you.  Now, let’s get on, or he’ll get too much of a start on us, and I don’t want to be the one to explain how we lost him to Jackerby in particular.”

A minute passed, then two before I heard the sound of boots receding.  Johansson, or maybe Jackerby, had correctly guessed I might know where the other resistance members were, and, after escaping, go straight to them.

Pity, I was going to disappoint them.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

I’ve always wanted to go on a Treasure Hunt – Part 18

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 instalment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.

 

The pier had been moving gently up and down in response to a passing speed boat that had flouted the minimum speed law, like most of the speed boat owners.

On board the boat, the movement was more pronounced, and it was a bad time to remember that I get seasick, even standing on the pier.  My stomach was suddenly queasy.

Boggs was standing by the hatch that led down below.  It was locked with a big padlock so there was no way we were getting below.  Along the side of the boat was a raised section with windows, but there were curtained off, and the material was faded and looked dirty.

Boggs walked along the narrow walkway to the bow and tried the hatch in the middle of the foredeck.

I noticed the boat was tied to the pier fore and aft with some think rope and funny looking knots.  I don’t think I’d make a very good sailor.  I looked up to the top of the mast and it made me feel dizzy.  It was a long way up.

Behind me was an area where people could seat, and further back a large wheel which I assumed was how the boat was steered.  I could just see Rico standing behind it, captain’s hat on, looking all business-like.

“There’s nothing to see here,” I said, turning back towards Boggs, who was now coming along the other side of the cabin.  One slip and he’d be in the ocean.  I looked over the side and it didn’t look very deep.  I could even see some small fish swimming near the pylon that was covered below the waterline with seaweed.

Boggs stopped at the last window, then knelt down and peered in.

“What do you see?”

“There’s someone in there?”

“Rico?”

“No.  I saw him leave earlier.  Someone else.”

“You know who it is?”

“No.  Never seen him before.  A guy in a suit.  Not the sort of person I’d expect Rico to know, or have as a friend.”

“What’s he doing?”

Boggs changed his position to get a better look.  “He’s just sitting…oh my God, there’s blood.”

“Where?”

I moved quickly over to where Boggs was crouched.  “Give us a look?”  Curiosity was overtaking concern.

“Oh my God, oh my God,” Boggs said over and over.

I pulled out my phone and dialled 911.  When they asked me who I wanted, I said Police.  Then I looked over at the fishing shop and saw Rico and his friends coming back.

“Boggs.”

He ignored me, trying to get a better view.

“Boggs.  It’s Rico.”

Then the policeman answered, “What’s the nature of your emergency?”

“Dead man on a boat, Eden’s Landing, Pier 5, a boat called ‘Freedom Runner’.  And you’d better hurry.”

“Why?”

“Because the owners coming and he doesn’t look happy.”

Then to Boggs, “We got to get the hell out of here, now.”

But, by that time, there was nowhere to go.  Rico had seen us and was all but running to cut off our escape.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

“Echoes From The Past”, buried, but not deep enough

What happens when your past finally catches up with you?

Christmas is just around the corner, a time to be with family. For Will Mason, an orphan since he was fourteen, it is a time for reflection on what his life could have been, and what it could be.

Until a chance encounter brings back to life the reasons for his twenty years of self-imposed exile from a life only normal people could have. From that moment Will’s life slowly starts to unravel and it’s obvious to him it’s time to move on.

This time, however, there is more at stake.

Will has broken his number one rule, don’t get involved.

With his nemesis, Eddie Jamieson, suddenly within reach, and a blossoming relationship with an office colleague, Maria, about to change everything, Will has to make a choice. Quietly leave, or finally, make a stand.

But as Will soon discovers, when other people are involved there is going to be terrible consequences no matter what choice he makes.

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What happens after the action-packed start – Part 23

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.

 

“As I understand it, you were to fly to the drop off point about two miles from the abandoned farm where the operatives were hiding, and not far from the farm, where a group of enemy soldiers had set up camp.  The plan was one team was to create a diversion, while the other rescued the operatives.”

It sounded quite simple and equally workable when said out loud, now.

But, at the time and on the ground, nothing could be further from the truth.  It had sounded equally simple when we discussed the final plan before we moved out.  My team would provide the diversion; Treen’s would affect the rescue.

“In your post operational debriefing, you said you encountered the enemy not far from the drop zone.”  He looked down at his notebook, and then up again, after checking what the question was, “but you didn’t exactly say how that affected moving forward, or whether you thought they had been informed prior to your arrival.”

“It was basically unexpected and both Treen and I had to adjust the plan on the fly so to speak.  It was a setback, but it wasn’t what might be called a show stopper.  Not initially, anyway.”

Except Treen had lost it because I soon discovered he didn’t like changes.  The plan was the plan, come what may.

“And, now, after you’ve had time to think about it?”

“I did say, at the briefing, that if the source of the ground had gone silent, it might mean he’d been caught, and if so, may have told the enemy of our intentions.”

“And this suggestion was given no credence?”

“It was left to Treen to factor that into his decision as the officer in charge.  I’m sure that decision was based on more than just my input. but, on the other hand, no one else asked seemed to consider that a possibility.  So, if it was you, would it not seem strange the enemy would let the choppers land, drop us off, and take off again, then give us time to set up before attacking.  If I’d been told anyone was coming, I’d use rockets to take out the choppers in the air, kill the raid before it started.”

Lallo had his best poker face on, so I had no idea what he thought, but he did make a note.

“Where was Treen after you landed?”

“With his group.  We’d re-worked the plan while in the air, and to minimise the choppers exposure, we were to hit the ground running.  We had different destinations, so I didn’t see him or his team.  It was dark, and not possible to see where anyone other than your immediate team members were.”

But as it turned out, their chopper had landed closer to the pickup zone, and we had enemy soldiers between us and them.  We were as soon as we landed effectively cut off from Tree, and he would not get any support from us.

“The choppers didn’t land together?”

“No.  We were a hundred yards, maybe more, apart.”

“But you knew they were close.  You said you heard shots fired not long after your chopper took off.  Was the gunfire theirs or ours?”

“All guns sound the same at night.  It was impossible to say.  It was the first indication that there was a group of enemy soldiers near the drop zone, coincidentally or otherwise, and Treen’s team had been seen.   I sent Sycamore to find out what had happened, and the rest of the team waited.  No point walking into a firefight.  I trusted Treen to get the job done whatever the circumstances.”

“Your man didn’t come back?”

“No.”

“What happened then?”

My team members disobeyed orders to stay on mission, and not wanting to remain alone in the field, I followed them on what I thought was suicide.  If the other members of their team had been killed, or, worse, captured, and it was certainly looking like it, then the odds were they were going to join them.

It’s a perfect situation where being the odd man out works in your favour.

I saw Andrews and Ledgeman go over the hill and disappear, and seconds later the sound of automatic fire.  It was exactly as I thought it would be.  I broke for cover and made it just in time to see a dozen enemy soldiers come over the hill, heading towards our drop zone.  I assumed they’d done a head count and found one was missing.

“It was over before it started.”

 

© Charles Heath 2019

“The Devil You Don’t”, be careful what you wish for

John Pennington’s life is in the doldrums.  Looking for new opportunities, prevaricating about getting married, the only joy on the horizon was an upcoming visit to his grandmother in Sorrento, Italy.

Suddenly he is left at the check-in counter with a message on his phone telling him the marriage is off, and the relationship is over.

If only he hadn’t promised a friend he would do a favor for him in Rome.

At the first stop, Geneva, he has a chance encounter with Zoe, an intriguing woman who captures his imagination from the moment she boards the Savoire, and his life ventures into uncharted territory in more ways than one.

That ‘favor’ for his friend suddenly becomes a life-changing event, and when Zoe, the woman who he knows is too good to be true, reappears, danger and death follows.

Shot at, lied to, seduced, and drawn into a world where nothing is what it seems, John is dragged into an adrenaline-charged undertaking, where he may have been wiser to stay with the ‘devil you know’ rather than opt for the ‘devil you don’t’.

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It’s a long hard road …

Self-published authors are fully aware that perhaps the easiest part of the writing journey is the actual writing.  Well, compared to the marketing aspect I believe it is.

I have read a lot of articles, suggestions and tips and tricks to market the book to the reading public.  It is, to say the least, a lot harder to market eBooks than perhaps their hard or paper covered relatives.  This is despite the millions of eReaders out there.

Then there is that other fickle part of the publishing cycle, the need for reviews.  Good reviews of course.  As we are learning, reviews can be bought.  Currently, Amazon is out there seeking out these reviews and reviewers and it will be interesting to see the result of their actions.

All the advice I have seen and read tells me that reviews should not be paid for, that reviews will come with sales.  It might be a difficult cycle, more reviews means more sales, etc.  And getting those first sales …

Therein lies the conundrum.  It is a question of paying for advertising or working it out for ourselves.  I guess if I were to get more sales, I could afford the advertising … yes, back on the merry-go-round!

And yet, the harder the road, the more I enjoy what I do.  It is exhilarating while writing, it is a joy to finish the first draft, it is an accomplishment when it is published, but when you sell that first book, well, there is no other feeling like it.

I am inspired.

Now, where are those notes for the next story …

A Chapter from “Echoes from the Past”

Currently available from Amazon

http://tinyurl.com/Amazon-EchoesFromThePast

 

Chapter One

I looked down on 5th Avenue and could just see, in the distance, Saks, and opposite, the Rockefeller Center.  Recently I’d gone ice skating there with a woman I had begun to care for more than I should, and who liked spending time with me.

It was a relationship that had evolved slowly and was now moving into dangerous territory.  From the moment our eyes first met across the ice, I knew that outing had been a mistake.  Whatever I’d been thinking it couldn’t happen, but against better judgement, I had let it happen.

It was not her fault, it was mine.  I was not the person she thought I was, the person I wanted to be, and if the circumstances of my past were not as they were, the person she was most likely looking for.

It had happened before, and it would happen again, and the result would be the same.  I would move on, find a new city, a new job, a new life, and continue to hide in plain sight.

Waiting for an eventuality that may never happen, but if it did, it would happen to me alone, not the woman I loved.

I sighed inwardly, thinking about how unfair life could be.  And how much, this time, I wanted it to be different.

From my office window, high up in the sky, I could see several Fire Department vehicles going through yet another drill and could just hear the sound of the sirens floating up to the 32nd floor.  Darkness was closing in, and the fast-moving red strobing lights stood out against the neon signs, the street lighting, and the Christmas decorations.

It was that time of the year again, a time that brought back very sad memories.  For most people, it was when families came together to celebrate.  That was not possible for me.  I’d thought with the passing of time it would no longer hurt so much, but it did.  I felt a tear in my eye and pulled a tissue out of the box on my desk to wipe it away.

Enough with the sentimentality.

Behind me, I heard files being dropped on my desk.  It was Friday when Maria from Accounting brought me the latest customers who were overdue in paying their investment contributions.  The stack was getting bigger every week.

I turned to face her.  She was only three years younger than me but looked ten.  Italian parents, conservative dressed, reserved manner, but usually friendly and outgoing, she was well liked by all.  What surprised me, out of all the people she could choose as a friend, and since our ice skating expedition something more than that, she chose me.

I was not exactly the easiest of people to get along with, for obvious reasons.

I soon discovered this was the only time she and I could meet in the office without the prying eyes of our workmates making more of it than it was.  Office romances, not that either of us would acknowledge we were having one, were frowned upon.  Worse, rumours were very easily started, and much harder to quash.

“To be honest, I’m glad I don’t have your job, Will.”

She looked at the stack and then gave me a special look, one I wanted to believe was reserved just for me.  Her smile always tugged at a heart string or maybe two.  This night it did more than that.

I shrugged and tried to be casual.  “I was told I had a gift.”

“Ah, the statement of faith, just before the sucker punch.”

Everyone knew to call customers in distress was a difficult job at best.  It required tact and diplomacy, a trait I’d acquired over time because of my situation.  It had been a strange match of opportunity and unrealized talent when a disgruntled customer had come into the office and verbally attacked Mr Bartleby, a senior partner.

I’d talked the customer down, and talked myself into the job.  I’d only agreed to do it because it came with the promise of a promotion.  Now I was considering an exit strategy, it probably didn’t matter.

“Doing anything for the weekend?”  She asked the same question every Friday.  The last time, I surprised her by asking if she skated on ice, not expecting she did.  She said yes.

It didn’t take long to realize she would have said yes to climbing Mount Everest.  It was her first time on skates, and we learned a lot about each other over the half hour she managed to stay upright.

For her bravery, I took her to dinner and then took her home.  She asked me to stay for a while, to patch up her wounds, perhaps the modern day equivalent of ‘would you like to come up and see my paintings’.

Whatever her intentions or my desires, we just talked over a bottle of wine and then coffee.  I didn’t have to leave, but it was better for both of us that I did.

I closed my eyes to break the connection.  I could feel it.  I was starting to fall in love with this girl, this woman, and I knew I had to be careful.  It would not be long before the questions started; questions I couldn’t answer.

“No.  I wasn’t intending to do much.”

“Then perhaps you might consider joining the rest of us monkeys for beer, wine and a lively discussion about anything but work.   Harry’s found a new bar, up on 6th Avenue.”

Harry was our social director, not a real one but self-appointed, and he organised most of the unofficial staff gatherings.  He was a bit too self-important for me, an ‘I am’ sort of guy, but he went to Harvard and had probably earned the right.  I wasn’t on his social radar so he rarely invited me to anything.  If he did, I generally declined.  Those gatherings were the hunting grounds of the go-getters, the rookies looking for an edge to climb the corporate ladder.  I was all about keeping a low profile.

“Is he asking, or you?”

A momentary frown settled on her face.  We’d had a similar discussion once before, and I’d realized then she tried only to see the good in people.  Perhaps that was why I was so lucky.

“Does it matter?”

I pretended to think about it for a minute, and then said, “No.”

Her smile returned.  “Do you want me to come to fetch you?”

“As appealing as that sounds, I have a couple of matters to tidy up.  You go, and I’ll drop in later.”

The expression on her face told me she didn’t believe me.  It was not without merit, because I had told her the same before and not followed through.  Then, it didn’t matter because I hadn’t known her all that well.  Now, it seemed everything had changed.

“You are not just saying that to get rid of me, are you?”  The tone matched the doubtful expression.

Blunt, but fairly accurate.  I didn’t want to underestimate this girl.  In normal circumstances, I might have considered something else, other than drinks.  Instead, I said, “I would have preferred a walk in Central Park, but I don’t think the weather is going to behave.”

Then I had a moment where I thought if I told her something closer to the truth, it might help me climb my way out of the deep hole I was digging for myself.  “To be honest, I’m not very good at these social gatherings.”

Another change in expression, she had many faces for many occasions.  This one was of surprise, or was it agreement?

“Then you and I could go somewhere else if you like.”

Not exactly the result I was looking for.

“We could, but then you would miss out on being with your friends and most likely miss the next scandal to envelop us.”

The last one was about Bartleby junior and a certain socialite.  Everyone knew what he was like except one person, his current fiancée Katrina.

“True.”  She shrugged.  I had just become a lost cause.  “I will look out for you.  But remember, I will be disappointed if you don’t come.”

She gave me a last look, somewhat whimsical I thought, as I watched her walk across the floor to the elevator lobby.  It was like watching the love of my life leaving, without turning back.

 

I’d promised myself a long time ago that I would not get involved with a woman, but I soon learned how difficult a promise like that was to keep, especially when the woman’s name was Katrina.

I’d not known real love before, and it was not difficult to fall under her spell.  She was as beautiful as she was beguiling.

A long time ago, in what felt like another lifetime, Katrina Winslow and I worked together.  She taught me my first job at Bentley, Bowman and Bartleby, Accountants.  And, as with anyone with whom you work so closely, we became friends, and then something more than that.

By the time I realised what had happened, it was too late.  She was the daughter of parents who cared about their daughter, and the people with whom she associated.  They had me investigated.

I remember that Monday morning as if it was yesterday when she came into my office.  We had spent a perfect weekend together, and when I left her Sunday night, I was full of those starry-eyed dreams people in love had.

An hour later, all of those dreams had been shattered, not only for me but for her too.  I had no answers for her questions, answers the investigators could not find.  I knew from the first day I met her she was out of my league, but I honestly believed love could conquer all.

Her father didn’t.  It ended, and in time I realized it was for the best.  I had nothing to offer her, and I could never give answers to any of the questions she might ask.

Not long after, Maria told me about her engagement to Marcus Bartleby, son of the remaining live partner whose name graced the building, and signs throughout the city.  I told myself he would be the sort of man her father believed she deserved, but in my heart, I knew what sort of person Marcus was, and equally, there was nothing I could do about it.

I had a secret, one that I could never tell anyone.  And until I could find a way of reconciling my past I could never contemplate having a future, make any friends, or find any sort of peace or happiness.

With Katrina, with Maria, or anyone else.

 

The truth is my life was the equivalent of a metaphorical train wreck.  You wouldn’t know it, looking at me, but how I looked now, how I acted and reacted was a product of many years of practice.  From the moment I had seen my parents murdered at the age of fourteen, I’d been on the run.  Being that young, it was tough on the road, and I had to get street smart, and defensive, very quickly.  I’d learned the hard way, through the school of hard knocks.  By comparison, the Bartleby’s of this world had got it easy.

But, don’t get me wrong.  It was not something I was bitter about.  It was what it was.  I did what I had to do, and what I have to.  I accepted they had and always would have everything handed to them on a platter.  It was the way of the world.

On the upside, I had only myself to please.  I did not have to rely on anyone else, nor was I responsible for anyone but myself.  I had no family to speak of, or that I would acknowledge.

My father had been an orphan and had spent a relatively lonely life up to the point where he married my mother.

The family I had on my mother’s side were the reason I ran away and kept running, and fortunately, I had not seen any of them since the day I finally escaped.

On the downside, I’d never stayed in one place too long, and never had the time to get a good education, a prerequisite for a good job.  Instead, I had a lot of experience in jobs that didn’t have much of a career path.

I’d thought of night school, even tried it once, but it didn’t work out.  That was the catalyst for joining the army, the one place where people like me finished up.  It was a place to call home wherever they dumped you, and you made friends that didn’t care who or what you were, or cared too much about your past.

I was sent to Iraq, the first time around, with a great bunch of guys, until most of the platoon was killed in a suicide bombing, and the few that survived, including me, were physically repaired and discharged.

In the years since I’d stopped in ten cities.  New York was the most recent, and I’d been here the longest.  I’d carved a path across America from the Mid West, a place called Columbus, Nebraska, through to New York, with a lot of places in between.  It was an interesting way to see the country when in normal circumstances I would have little reason to leave my home town.

Now, after all the running, all the looking over my shoulder, there was a desire to stop.  The problem was I couldn’t.  I couldn’t afford to feel safe, because the moment I did, the moment I let down my guard, it would be when I’d make a mistake, a mistake that could have horrific consequences.  Not only for me but others around me.

I’d learned that lesson well, soon after I had run away from home, but before I left my home town.  Escape was a relief, and when they had not caught up with me after a week, I started to feel safe.

I let down my guard.  I allowed my trust of the one person in that family I thought was my friend to influence my actions.  She had unwittingly led the family to me after being used as a decoy.  I hadn’t thought of that possibility.

They handed me to the man who murdered my parents.  He told me he’d been willing to track me to the ends of the earth, as long as it took.  He held me captive for a few hours until I escaped, and I had no intention of being caught again.

From that day, I never trusted anyone again.

I remembered the demonic look in his eyes when he told me he would never stop looking.  He was out there, somewhere, and I had to remain vigilant.  The passing of time, for this murderer, was irrelevant.

And, standing there, looking out the window and down 5th Avenue, I could feel the itch, the one I couldn’t scratch.  The one that told me my pursuer, a man who went by the name of Edward Jamieson, wasn’t very far away.

 

© Charles Heath 2015-2019