Searching for locations: Huka Falls, Taupo, New Zealand

Huka Falls is located in the Wairakei Tourist Park about five minutes north of Taupo on the north island of New Zealand.

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The Waikato River heading towards the gorge

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The water heading down the gorge, gathering pace

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until it crashes over the top of the waterfall at the rate of about 220,000 liters per second.  It also makes a very loud noise, so that when you are close to it, hearing anything but the falls is impossible.

An excerpt from “Sunday in New York”

Now available on Amazon at:  https://amzn.to/2H7ALs8

 

Williams’ Restaurant, East 65th Street, New York, Saturday, 8:00 p.m.

 

We met the Blaine’s at Williams’, a rather upmarket restaurant that the Blaine’s frequently visited, and had recommended.

Of course, during the taxi ride there, Alison reminded me that with my new job, we would be able to go to many more places like Williams’.  It was, at worst, more emotional blackmail, because as far as Alison was concerned, we were well on our way to posh restaurants, the Trump Tower Apartments, and the trappings of the ‘executive set’.

It would be a miracle if I didn’t strangle Elaine before the night was over.  It was she who had filled Alison’s head with all this stuff and nonsense.

Aside from the half frown half-smile, Alison was looking stunning.  It was months since she had last dressed up, and she was especially wearing the dress I’d bought her for our 5th anniversary that cost a month’s salary.  On her, it was worth it, and I would have paid more if I had to.  She had adored it, and me, for a week or so after.

For tonight, I think I was close to getting back on that pedestal.

She had the looks and figure to draw attention, the sort movie stars got on the red carpet, and when we walked into the restaurant, I swear there were at least five seconds silence, and many more gasps.

Even I had a sudden loss of breath earlier in the evening when she came out of the dressing room.  Once more I was reminded of how lucky I was that she had agreed to marry me.  Amid all those self-doubts, I couldn’t believe she had loved me when there were so many others ‘out there’ who were more appealing.

Elaine was out of her seat and came over just as the Head Waiter hovered into sight.  She personally escorted Alison to the table, allowing me to follow like the Queen’s consort, while she and Alison basked in the admiring glances of the other patrons.

More than once I heard the muted question, “Who is she?”

Jimmy stood, we shook hands, and then we sat together.  It was not the usual boy, girl, boy, girl seating arrangement.  Jimmy and I on one side and Elaine and Alison on the other.

The battle lines were drawn.

Jimmy was looking fashionable, with the permanent blade one beard, unkempt hair, and designer dinner suit that looked like he’d slept in it.  Alison insisted I wear a tuxedo, and I looked like the proverbial penguin or just a thinner version of Alfred Hitchcock.

The bow tie had been slightly crooked, but just before we stepped out she had straightened it.  And took the moment to look deeply into my soul.  It was one of those moments when words were not necessary.

Then it was gone.

I relived it briefly as I sat and she looked at me.  A penetrating look that told me to ‘behave’.

When we were settled, Elaine said, in that breathless, enthusiastic manner of hers when she was excited, “So, Harry, you are finally moving up.”  It was not a question, but a statement.

I was not sure what she meant by ‘finally’ but I accepted it with good grace.  Sometimes Elaine was prone to using figures of speech I didn’t understand.  I guessed she was talking about the new job.  “It was supposed to be a secret.”

She smiled widely.  “There are no secrets between Al and I, are there Al?”

I looked at ‘Al’ and saw a brief look of consternation.

I was not sure Alison liked the idea of being called Al.  I tried it once and was admonished.  But it was interesting her ‘best friend forever’ was allowed that distinction when I was not.  It was, perhaps, another indicator of how far I’d slipped in her estimation.

Perhaps, I thought, it was a necessary evil.  As I understood it, the Blaine’s were our mentors at the Trump Tower, because they didn’t just let ‘anyone’ in.  I didn’t ask if the Blaine’s thought we were just ‘anyone’ before I got the job offer.

And then there was that look between Alison and Elaine, quickly stolen before Alison realized I was looking at both of them.  I was out of my depth, in a place I didn’t belong, with people I didn’t understand.  And yet, apparently, Alison did.  I must have missed the memo.

“No,” Alison said softly, stealing a glance in my direction, “No secrets between friends.”

No secrets.  Her look conveyed something else entirely.

The waiter brought champagne, Krug, and poured glasses for each of us.  It was not the cheap stuff, and I was glad I brought a couple of thousand dollars with me.  We were going to need it.

Then, a toast.

To a new job and a new life.

“When did you decide?”  Elaine was effusive at the best of times, but with the champagne, it was worse.

Alison had a strange expression on her face.  It was obvious she had told Elaine it was a done deal, even before I’d made up my mind.  Perhaps she’d assumed I might be ‘refreshingly honest’ in front of Elaine, but it could also mean she didn’t really care what I might say or do.

Instead of consternation, she looked happy, and I realized it would be churlish, even silly if I made a scene.  I knew what I wanted to say.  I also knew that it would serve little purpose provoking Elaine, or upsetting Alison.  This was not the time or the place.  Alison had been looking forward to coming here, and I was not going to spoil it.

Instead, I said, smiling, “When I woke up this morning and found Alison missing.  If she had been there, I would not have noticed the water stain on the roof above our bed, and decide there and then how much I hated the place.” I used my reassuring smile, the one I used with the customers when all hell was breaking loose, and the forest fire was out of control.  “It’s the little things.  They all add up until one day …”  I shrugged.  “I guess that one day was today.”

I saw an incredulous look pass between Elaine and Alison, a non-verbal question; perhaps, is he for real?  Or; I told you he’d come around.

I had no idea the two were so close.

“How quaint,” Elaine said, which just about summed up her feelings towards me.  I think, at that moment, I lost some brownie points.  It was all I could come up with at short notice.

“Yes,” I added, with a little more emphasis than I wanted.  “Alison was off to get some study in with one of her friends.”

“Weren’t the two of you off to the Hamptons, a weekend with some friends?” Jimmy piped up, and immediately got the ‘shut up you fool’ look, that cut that line of conversation dead.  Someone forgot to feed Jimmy his lines.

It was followed by the condescending smile from Elaine, and “I need to powder my nose.  Care to join me, Al?”

A frown, then a forced smile for her new best friend.  “Yes.”

I watched them leave the table and head in the direction of the restroom, looking like they were in earnest conversation.  I thought ‘Al’ looked annoyed, but I could be wrong.

I had to say Jimmy looked more surprised than I did.

There was that odd moment of silence between us, Jimmy still smarting from his death stare, and for me, the Alison and Elaine show.  I was quite literally gob-smacked.

I drained my champagne glass gathering some courage and turned to him.  “By the way, we were going to have a weekend away, but this legal tutorial thing came up.  You know Alison is doing her law degree.”

He looked startled when he realized I had spoken.  He was looking intently at a woman several tables over from us, one who’d obviously forgotten some basic garments when getting dressed.  Or perhaps it was deliberate.  She’d definitely had some enhancements done.

He dragged his eyes back to me.  “Yes.  Elaine said something or other about it.  But I thought she said the tutor was out of town and it had been postponed until next week.  Perhaps I got it wrong.  I usually do.”

“Perhaps I’ve got it wrong.”  I shrugged, as the dark thoughts started swirling in my head again.  “This week or next, what does it matter?”

Of course, it mattered to me, and I digested what he said with a sinking heart.  It showed there was another problem between Alison and me; it was possible she was now telling me lies.  If what he said was true and I had no reason to doubt him, where was she going tomorrow morning, and had she really been with a friend studying today?

We poured some more champagne, had a drink, then he asked, “This promotion thing, what’s it worth?”

“Trouble, I suspect.  Definitely more money, but less time at home.”

“Oh,” raised eyebrows.  Obviously, the women had not talked about the job in front of him, or, at least, not all the details.  “You sure you want to do that?”

At last the voice of reason.  “Me?  No.”

“Yet you accepted the job.”

I sucked in a breath or two while I considered whether I could trust him.  Even if I couldn’t, I could see my ship was sinking, so it wouldn’t matter what I told him, or what Elaine might find out from him.  “Jimmy, between you and me I haven’t as yet decided one way or another.  To be honest, I won’t know until I go up to Barclay’s office and he asks me the question.”

“Barclay?”

“My boss.”

“Elaine’s doing a job for a Barclay that recently moved in the tower a block down from us.  I thought I recognized the name.”

“How did Elaine get the job?”

“Oh, Alison put him onto her.”

“When?”

“A couple of months ago.  Why?”

I shrugged and tried to keep a straight face, while my insides were churning up like the wake of a supertanker.  I felt sick, faint, and wanting to die all at the same moment.  “Perhaps she said something about it, but it didn’t connect at the time.  Too busy with work I expect.  I think I seriously need to get away for a while.”

I could hardly breathe, my throat was constricted and I knew I had to keep it together.  I could see Elaine and Alison coming back, so I had to calm down.  I sucked in some deep breaths, and put my ‘manage a complete and utter disaster’ look on my face.

And I had to change the subject, quickly, so I said, “Jimmy, Elaine told Alison, who told me, you were something of a guru of the cause and effects of the global economic meltdown.  Now, I have a couple of friends who have been expounding this theory …”

Like flicking a switch, I launched into the well-worn practice of ‘running a distraction’, like at work when we needed to keep the customer from discovering the truth.  It was one of the things I was good at, taking over a conversation and pushing it in a different direction.  It was salvaging a good result from an utter disaster, and if ever there was a time that it was required, it was right here, right now.

When Alison sat down and looked at me, she knew something had happened between Jimmy and I.  I might have looked pale or red-faced, or angry or disappointed, it didn’t matter.  If that didn’t seal the deal for her, the fact I took over the dining engagement did.  She knew well enough the only time I did that was when everything was about to go to hell in a handbasket.  She’d seen me in action before and had been suitably astonished.

But I got into gear, kept the champagne flowing and steered the conversation, as much as one could from a seasoned professional like Elaine, and, I think, in Jimmy’s eyes, he saw the battle lines and knew who took the crown on points.  Neither Elaine nor Jimmy suspected anything, and if the truth be told, I had improved my stocks with Elaine.  She was at times both surprised and interested, even willing to take a back seat.

Alison, on the other hand, tried poking around the edges, and, once when Elaine and Jimmy had got up to have a cigarette outside, questioned me directly.  I chose to ignore her, and pretend nothing had happened, instead of telling her how much I was enjoying the evening.

She had her ‘secrets’.  I had mine.

At the end of the evening, when I got up to go to the bathroom, I was physically sick from the pent up tension and the implications of what Jimmy had told me.  It took a while for me to pull myself together; so long, in fact, Jimmy came looking for me.  I told him I’d drunk too much champagne, and he seemed satisfied with that excuse.  When I returned, both Alison and Elaine noticed how pale I was but neither made any comment.

It was a sad way to end what was supposed to be a delightful evening, which to a large degree it was for the other three.  But I had achieved what I set out to do, and that was to play them at their own game, watching the deception, once I knew there was a deception, as warily as a cat watches its prey.

I had also discovered Jimmy’s real calling; a professor of economics at the same University Alison was doing her law degree.  It was no surprise in the end, on a night where surprises abounded, that the world could really be that small.

We parted in the early hours of the morning, a taxi whisking us back to the Lower East Side, another taking the Blaine’s back to the Upper West Side.  But, in our case, as Alison reminded me, it would not be for much longer.  She showed concern for my health, asked me what was wrong.  It took all the courage I could muster to tell her it was most likely something I ate and the champagne, and that I would be fine in the morning.

She could see quite plainly it was anything other than what I told her, but she didn’t pursue it.  Perhaps she just didn’t care what I was playing at.

And yet, after everything that had happened, once inside our ‘palace’, the events of the evening were discarded, like her clothing, and she again reminded me of what we had together in the early years before the problems had set in.

It left me confused and lost.

I couldn’t sleep because my mind had now gone down that irreversible path that told me I was losing her, that she had found someone else, and that our marriage was in its last death throes.

And now I knew it had something to do with Barclay.

 

© Charles Heath 2015-2020

Sunday In New York

 

Another photograph from the inspirational pile…

I remeber once being told that if you shoot for the moon, you’ll land in the clouds, if you shoot for the tree tops, you’ll finish up back where you started from.

It was a silly analogy, but I always remembered it when I looked up at the sky and saw clouds.

That was back in those hazy carefree days just after you were finished with school and you had your whole life in front of you. Your parents were there as the safety net, and were still proud of your scholastic achievements, and were not in too much of a hurry to hustle you out of the house.

But what happened when there’s a recession that came upon everyone without any warning.

Stocks plummeted, people lost their life’s savings, those with mortgages and loans suddenly finding that along with unemployment came no income, no ability to pay the bills, and therefore lost everything.

Although I never said it, I was thinking what good was an education when the whole world had gone to hell in a handbasket.

Two things I remember from back then, which in the context of disaster, wasn’t all that long ago. Firstly, my father making us children go camping from before we could walk, and with it, to survive with nothing but the clothes on our backs, and our wits.

It had happened to him, as a member of am expedition in Africa in his younger days, thinking that he might become the next great explorer, or archeologist, and finishing up getting lost, even though he asserted the other members had deliberately left him behind.

And secondly, that it was essential that we forge working relationships with any and all those who were like minded, such as those who wanted to be saved, not those who expected everyone else to so the work. It was obvious he had met a lot of those type of people too.

It served us well.

When nations began turning on each other, when essential resources like electricity and fuel stopped being distributed and rationed, when food suddenly became scarce, that’s when the real trouble started. My father said, at the outset, what would happen, and was glad our mother was not there to see it.

Then, when neighbours attacked neighbours once food became scarce, it was time to leave. The pity of it was, he died defending us, even after offering up some of the food we had stored away, but that had not appeased a hungry or angry mob.

His last words, “Go to where we said we would go, and remember everything I’ve taught you” were etched in my brain, and my brother and I did as he asked.

But, even knowing where we had to go, and how to get there, a plan of action made many years before, and trialled in recent years with success, nothing in the past could have prepared us for the journey.

It was, literally, time to shoot for the moon.

© Charles Heath 2021

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

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.

 

 

 

Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 41

I’m back home and this story has been sitting on the back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.

The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritizing.

But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.

Chasing leads, maybe

I gave it about five minutes before I think I started breathing again and then headed back to Jennifer.

Or where I thought I had left her.

She wasn’t there. I think, in the end, it didn’t surprise me. She had been reluctant from the start so if I had to guess, she had done a bunk. This was not her fight, nor mine, but she had a ticket out. Why would you want to come back after being betrayed by the likes of Severin and Maury?

I hope she left the car behind.

Now that I was here there was no point leaving, so I took a few minutes to search the surrounding area, just in case she was still here, just someplace else, and when she wasn’t, I quickly and silently made my way back to the side of the house with the open door from a different direction.

There was another set of French doors, these curtained, and with an overhead light above the doorway, so I kept my distance in case there was a movement activator, another which looked to be a servant’s entrance at the back. Neither door looked to be an easy viable entrance.

The original side door was still unlocked, with no lights or movement inside.

I waited, then opened the door wide enough to slip through. Again, I waited in case there was a silent alarm, then when nothing stirred, slipped through and closed the door behind me.

On the other side of the door, it was quite dark, except now I could see, on one wall, the dying embers of a fire. Someone had been in the room earlier and most likely gone to bed.

It meant the house was occupied.

It also meant I had to be careful.

On the other side of the doors, it was a lot warmer. Again I waited a few minutes, just in case someone came, and, when they didn’t, I pulled out a small torch and turned it on.

In front of me were two chairs and a table, one I would have walked into without a light. The walls had shelves and those shelves were filled with books. Some behind glass doors, others not. There was another chair by the fire, and beside it, a stack of cooks, and a table with had an empty glass and a bottle, and a pair of reading glasses.

The downstairs reading room.

I cross the room slowly, hoping there were no squeaky floorboards, to be expected in an old house like this one. The timber flooring was exposed only at the edges of the room, the rest of the floor covered in a large, discolored, and fraying carpet square.

It was old, like everything else in the room.

I was tempted to have a look at how far the books dated back to but resisted the urge. I was looking for information on the owner.

At the doorway to what looked like a passage, I turned off the torch and peered out. It was not exactly dark, my eyes had adjusted to the low-level light from low wattage lights about a foot above the floor.

Lights to help guide the way at night.

Left, rooms, right, rooms, at the end of the passage a wide doorway leading towards the other side of the house. Larger rooms perhaps.

I turned right and headed towards the front, and they stopped at the doorway to the next room. I’d deliberately walked on the carpet runner in the middle of the passage, and just managed to catch my foot when one part of the floor creaked softly.

The room next door was almost the same as the one I’d entered by, with chairs and shelves but only on two sides. This room had a long window and no French doors.

On one side there was a writing desk, open, with papers scatted on the writing surface. I quickly crossed the room to it, switched on the light, and checked.

Bills. In the name of Mrs. Marianne Quigley. This had to be Adam Quigley’s mother, and by deduction, O’Connell’s mother.

Proof I was in the right place.

Then I heard the squeak of a floorboard followed by the clicking sound of a gun being cocked.

“Don’t move, or I’ll shoot. Hands in the air. And don’t make me ask twice.”

Hands up it was.

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

An excerpt from “The Things We Do For Love”

In the distance he could hear the dinner bell ringing and roused himself.  Feeling the dampness of the pillow, and fearing the ravages of pent up emotion, he considered not going down but thought it best not to upset Mrs. Mac, especially after he said he would be dining.

In the event, he wished he had reneged, especially when he discovered he was not the only guest staying at the hotel.

Whilst he’d been reminiscing, another guest, a young lady, had arrived.  He’d heard her and Mrs. Mac coming up the stairs, and then shown to a room on the same floor, perhaps at the other end of the passage.

Henry caught his first glimpse of her when she appeared at the door to the dining room, waiting for Mrs. Mac to show her to a table.

She was about mid-twenties, slim, long brown hair, and the grace and elegance of a woman associated with countless fashion magazines.  She was, he thought, stunningly beautiful with not a hair out of place, and make-up flawlessly applied.  Her clothes were black, simple, elegant, and expensive, the sort an heiress or wife of a millionaire might condescend to wear to a lesser occasion than dinner.

Then there was her expression; cold, forbidding, almost frightening in its intensity.  And her eyes, piercingly blue and yet laced with pain.  Dracula’s daughter was his immediate description of her.

All in all, he considered, the only thing they had in common was, like him, she seemed totally out of place.

Mrs. Mac came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron.  She was, she informed him earlier, chef, waitress, hotelier, barmaid, and cleaner all rolled into one.  Coming up to the new arrival she said, “Ah, Miss Andrews, I’m glad you decided to have dinner.  Would you like to sit with Mr. Henshaw, or would you like to have a table of your own?”

Henry could feel her icy stare as she sized up his appeal as a dining companion, making the hair on the back on his neck stand up.  He purposely didn’t look back.  In his estimation, his appeal rating was minus six.  Out of a thousand!

“If Mr. Henshaw doesn’t mind….”  She looked at him, leaving the query in mid-air.

He didn’t mind and said so.  Perhaps he’d underestimated his rating.

“Good.”  Mrs. Mac promptly ushered her over.  Henry stood, made sure she was seated properly and sat.

“Thank you.  You are most kind.”  The way she said it suggested snobbish overtones.

“I try to be when I can.”  It was supposed to nullify her sarcastic tone but made him sound a little silly, and when she gave him another of her icy glares, he regretted it.

Mrs. Mac quickly intervened, asking, “Would you care for the soup?”

They did, and, after writing the order on her pad, she gave them each a look, imperceptibly shook her head, and returned to the kitchen.

Before Michelle spoke to him again, she had another quick look at him, trying to fathom who and what he might be.  There was something about him.

His eyes, they mirrored the same sadness she felt, and, yes, there was something else, that it looked like he had been crying?  There was a tinge of redness.

Perhaps, she thought, he was here for the same reason she was.

No.  That wasn’t possible.

Then she said, without thinking, “Do you have any particular reason for coming here?”  Seconds later she realized she’s spoken it out loud, had hadn’t meant to actually ask, it just came out.

It took him by surprise, obviously not the first question he was expecting her to ask of him.

“No, other than it is as far from civilization, and home, as I could get.”

At least we agree on that, she thought.

It was obvious he was running away from something as well.

Given the isolation of the village and lack of geographic hospitality, it was, from her point of view, ideal.  All she had to do was avoid him, and that wouldn’t be difficult.

After getting through this evening first.

“Yes,” she agreed.  “It is that.”

A few seconds passed, and she thought she could feel his eyes on her and wasn’t going to look up.

Until he asked, “What’s your reason?”

Slight abrupt in manner, perhaps as a result of her question, and the manner in which she asked it.

She looked up.  “Rest.  And have some time to myself.”

She hoped he would notice the emphasis she had placed on the word ‘herself’ and take due note.  No doubt, she thought,  she had completely different ideas of what constituted a holiday than he, not that she had actually said she was here for a holiday.

Mrs. Mac arrived at a fortuitous moment to save them from further conversation.

 

Over the entree, she wondered if she had made a mistake coming to the hotel.  Of course, there had been no possible way she could know than anyone else might have booked the same hotel, but realized it was foolish to think she might end up in it by herself.

Was that what she was expecting?

Not a mistake then, but an unfortunate set of circumstances, which could be overcome by being sensible.

Yet, there he was, and it made her curious, not that he was a man, by himself, in the middle of nowhere, hiding like she was, but for very different reasons.

On discreet observance whilst they ate, she gained the impression his air of light-heartedness was forced and he had no sense of humor.

This feeling was engendered by his looks, unruly dark hair, and permanent frown.  And then there was his abysmal taste in clothes on a tall, lanky frame.  They were quality but totally unsuited to the wearer.

Rebellion was written all over him.

The only other thought crossing her mind, and rather incongruously, was he could do with a decent feed.  In that respect, she knew now from the mountain of food in front of her, he had come to the right place.

“Mr. Henshaw?”

He looked up.  “Henshaw is too formal.  Henry sounds much better,” he said, with a slight hint of gruffness.

“Then my name is Michelle.”

Mrs. Mac came in to take their order for the only main course, gather up the entree dishes, then return to the kitchen.

“Staying long?” she asked.

“About three weeks.  Yourself?”

“About the same.”

The conversation dried up.

Neither looked at the other, rather at the walls, out the window, towards the kitchen, anywhere.  It was, she thought, almost unbearably awkward.

 

Mrs. Mac returned with a large tray with dishes on it, setting it down on the table next to theirs.

“Not as good as the usual cook,” she said, serving up the dinner expertly, “but it comes a good second, even if I do say so myself.  Care for some wine?”

Henry looked at Michelle.  “What do you think?”

“I’m used to my dining companions making the decision.”

You would, he thought.  He couldn’t help but notice the cutting edge of her tone.  Then, to Mrs. Mac, he named a particular White Burgundy he liked and she bustled off.

“I hope you like it,” he said, acknowledging her previous comment with a smile that had nothing to do with humor.

“Yes, so do I.”

Both made a start on the main course, a concoction of chicken and vegetables that were delicious, Henry thought, when compared to the bland food he received at home and sometimes aboard my ship.

It was five minutes before Mrs. Mac returned with the bottle and two glasses.  After opening it and pouring the drinks, she left them alone again.

Henry resumed the conversation.  “How did you arrive?  I came by train.”

“By car.”

“Did you drive yourself?”

And he thought, a few seconds later, that was a silly question, otherwise she would not be alone, and certainly not sitting at this table. With him.

“After a fashion.”

He could see that she was formulating a retort in her mind, then changed it, instead, smiling for the first time, and it served to lighten the atmosphere.

And in doing so, it showed him she had another more pleasant side despite the fact she was trying not to look happy.

“My father reckons I’m just another of ‘those’ women drivers,” she added.

“Whatever for?”

“The first and only time he came with me I had an accident.  I ran up the back of another car.  Of course, it didn’t matter to him the other driver was driving like a startled rabbit.”

“It doesn’t help,” he agreed.

“Do you drive?”

“Mostly people up the wall.”  His attempt at humor failed.  “Actually,” he added quickly, “I’ve got a very old Morris that manages to get me where I’m going.”

The apple pie and cream for dessert came and went and the rapport between them improved as the wine disappeared and the coffee came.  Both had found, after getting to know each other better, their first impressions were not necessarily correct.

“Enjoy the food?” Mrs. Mac asked, suddenly reappearing.

“Beautifully cooked and delicious to eat,” Michelle said, and Henry endorsed her remarks.

“Ah, it does my heart good to hear such genuine compliments,” she said, smiling.  She collected the last of the dishes and disappeared yet again.

“What do you do for a living,” Michelle asked in an off-hand manner.

He had a feeling she was not particularly interested and it was just making conversation.

“I’m a purser.”

“A what?”

“A purser.  I work on a ship doing the paperwork, that sort of thing.”

“I see.”

“And you?”

“I was a model.”

“Was?”

“Until I had an accident, a rather bad one.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

So that explained the odd feeling he had about her.

As the evening had worn on, he began to think there might be something wrong, seriously wrong with her because she didn’t look too well.  Even the carefully applied makeup, from close up, didn’t hide the very pale, and tired look, or the sunken, dark ringed eyes.

“I try not to think about it, but it doesn’t necessarily work.  I’ve come here for peace and quiet, away from doctors and parents.”

“Then you will not have to worry about me annoying you.  I’m one of those fall-asleep-reading-a-book types.”

Perhaps it would be like ships passing in the night and then smiled to himself about the analogy.

Dinner now over, they separated.

Henry went back to the lounge to read a few pages of his book before going to bed, and Michelle went up to her room to retire for the night.

But try as he might, he was unable to read, his mind dwelling on the unusual, yet the compellingly mysterious person he would be sharing the hotel with.

Overlaying that original blurred image of her standing in the doorway was another of her haunting expressions that had, he finally conceded, taken his breath away, and a look that had sent more than one tingle down his spine.

She may not have thought much of him, but she had certainly made an impression on him.

 

© Charles Heath 2015-2020

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There are so many things I haven’t done

Does it really matter, you ask?

Perhaps not, but now seems to be an appropriate time, flying past the age of 65, to take stock.

We have achieved a lot in the last 15 or so years once the children had grown up and could look after themselves.

Unlike a lot of more modern couples who are doing the traveling in their 20’s and 30’s then having children, we chose to do it the other way around.

To me, it seemed easier to deal with teenagers when we were in our 40’s rather than our 60’s.  With the benefit of hindsight, I can truthfully say we were right.

We were older and wiser when we traveled and more aware of the dangers around us, sometimes overlooked or ignored by a youthful devil may care attitude.

But, in saying that ….

No, I don’t think I’ll be getting to see Mt Kilimanjaro, observing the wild animals in the Serengeti, climbing Mt Everest, or seeing the ancient pyramids.

Which is a sad state of affairs given the world has changed so much in recent years and has pretty much ruled out going to a lot of places, and in particular, the middle east, and because of COVID 19, just about everywhere else.

But, if it is ever possible before I die, I still want to go to the Greek Islands, and, Santorini is at the top of my travel bucket list.

We’ve been to London.  We’ve been to Paris and Euro Disney.  We’ve been to Rome and seen the ancient ruins.  We’ve been to Vienna, Schonbrunn Palace, and, particularly for us, a visit to Swarovski crystal world, near Innsbruck, we’ve been to Salzburg, and been on the Sound of Music tour.

We’ve been to Florence and loved it, we’ve been to Venice and loved that too, and we’ve spent a few days in the heart of Tuscany, and want to go back for longer, much longer, if time and disease doesn’t defeat us.

In fact, that’s the second item on the travel bucket list.

We’ve also been to Singapore and Hong Kong, at first out of necessity as an airline stopover, but then we went back to see the city and tourist, and non-tourist attractions.

I will not forget staying at the Hong Kong Conrad hotel as a Diamond Hhonors member.  Oh, the memories.

Sadly, I don’t think we as Australians will ever be welcome back in Hong Kong now that China had completely taken it over, and is a sad statement of the relations between the two countries.

We’ve also stayed on the French Riviera, in a timeshare apartment in Antibes where every morning when out back you had a view of the shimmering Mediterranean if the sun was out.

Nice, Cannes, Monte Carlo, the billionaire’s yachts in Antibes harbor, Monte Carlo and ‘that’ casino, taking the same drive along the coast as Grace Kelly did in To Catch a Thief, and feeling like James Bond arriving for a new adventure, minus the half-million-dollar sports car.

But, now, crashing back to earth with a very hard thump ….

Travel in the future is looking difficult for both of us, not only financially but from a health aspect.  We are both not as sprightly as we used to be.

Yet given the restraints and if it is at all possible, aside from the Greek Islands and Tuscany, the next items on the list are:

Germany, visiting both Berlin, from a cold war aspect, the Brandenburg gate springs to mind, and Munich at the time of the Octoberfest.  As a beer drinker that is also high on the bucket list.

Scotland, more so since we’ve started watching Outlander, and besides being a beer drinker, I am also partial to a good Single Malt, and the Whiskey trail.

Ireland, because my wife’s previous name was Murphy and at some point, in the long distant past some relatives emigrated to Australia, and she would like to visit the country of her forebears.

But, again, with the current state of the world, our health issues, and that all-important requisite money, or the lack of it, perhaps it’s time to visit other parts of our own country.

Perhaps it’s time to do a culinary trip, in the Barossa Valley in South Australia, the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, or Rutherglen in Victoria.  It’s practical and achievable and safe.

And it’s a big country.

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

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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 follow.

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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Searching for locations: Kaikoura, New Zealand, and, of course, the whales

I’m sure a lot of people have considered the prospect of whale watching.  I’m not sure how the subject came up on one of our visits to New Zealand, but I suspect it was one one of those tourist activity leaflets you find in the foyer of motels, hotels, and guesthouses.

Needless to say, it was only a short detour to go to Kaikoura and check out the prospect.

Yes, the ocean at the time seemed manageable.  My wife has a bad time with sea sickness, but she was prepared to make the trip, after some necessary preparations.  Seasickness tablets and special bands to wear on her wrist were recommended and used.

The boat was large and had two decks, and mostly enclosed.  There were a lot of people on board, and we sat inside for the beginning of the voyage.  The sea wasn’t rough, but there was about a meter and a half swell, easily managed by the boat while it was moving.

It took about a half hour or so to reach the spot where the boat stopped and a member of the crew used a listening device to see if there were any whales.

That led to the first wave of sickness.

We stopped for about ten minutes, and the boat moved up and down on the waves.  It was enough to start the queasy stomachs of a number of passengers.  Myself, it was a matter of going out on deck and taking in the sea air.  Fortunately, I don’t get seasick.

Another longish journey to the next prospective site settled a number of the queasy stomachs, but when we stopped again, the swell had increased, along with the boat’s motion.  Seasick bags were made available for the few that had succumbed.

By the time we reached the site where there was a whale, over half the passengers had been sick, and I was hoping they had enough seasick bags, and then enough bin space for them.

The whale, of course, put on a show for us, and those that could went out on deck to get their photos.

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By the end of the voyage, nearly everyone on board was sick, and I was helping to hand out seasick bags.

Despite the anti sickness preparations, my wife had also succumbed.  When we returned and she was asked if the device had worked, she said no.

But perhaps it had because within half an hour we were at a cafe eating lunch, fish and chips of course.

This activity has been crossed off the bucket list, and there’s no more whale watching in our traveling future.  Nor, it seems, will we be going of ocean liners.

Perhaps a cruise down the Rhine might be on the cards.  I don’t think that river, wide as it is in places, will ever have any sort of swell.