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

On special, now only $0.99 for the next few weeks.


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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The first case of PI Walthenson – “A Case of Working With the Jones Brothers”

This case has everything, red herrings, jealous brothers, femme fatales, and at the heart of it all, greed.

See below for an excerpt from the book…

Coming soon!

PIWalthJones1

An excerpt from the book:

When Harry took the time to consider his position, a rather uncomfortable position at that, he concluded that he was somehow involved in another case that meant very little to him.

Not that it wasn’t important in some way he was yet to determine, it was just that his curiosity had got the better of him, and it had led to this: sitting in a chair, securely bound, waiting for someone one of his captors had called Doug.

It was not the name that worried him so much, it was the evil laugh that had come after the name was spoken.

Doug what? Doug the ‘destroyer’, Doug the ‘dangerous’, Doug the ‘deadly’; there was any number of sinister connotations, and perhaps that was the point of the laugh, to make it more frightening than it was.

But there was no doubt about one thing in his mind right then: he’d made a mistake. A very big. and costly, mistake. Just how big the cost, no doubt he would soon find out.

His mother, and his grandmother, the wisest person he had ever known, had once told him never to eavesdrop.

At the time he couldn’t help himself and instead of minding his own business, listening to a one-sided conversation which ended with a time and a place. The very nature of the person receiving the call was, at the very least, sinister, and, because of the cryptic conversation, there appeared to be, or at least to Harry, criminal activity involved.

For several days he had wrestled with the thought of whether he should go. Stay on the fringe, keep out of sight, observe and report to the police if it was a crime. Instead, he had willingly gone down the rabbit hole.

Now, sitting in an uncomfortable chair, several heat lamps hanging over his head, he was perspiring, and if perspiration could be used as a measure of fear, then Harry’s fear was at the highest level.

Another runnel of sweat rolled into his left eye, and, having his hands tied, literally, it made it impossible to clear it. The burning sensation momentarily took his mind off his predicament. He cursed and then shook his head trying to prevent a re-occurrence. It was to no avail.

Let the stinging sensation be a reminder of what was right and what was wrong.

It was obvious that it was the right place and the right time, but in considering his current perilous situation, it definitely was the wrong place to be, at the worst possible time.

It was meant to be his escape, an escape from the generations of lawyers, what were to Harry, dry, dusty men who had been in business since George Washington said to the first Walthenson to step foot on American soil, ‘Why don’t you become a lawyer?” when asked what he could do for the great man.

Or so it was handed down as lore, though Harry didn’t think Washington meant it literally, the Walthenson’s, then as now, were not shy of taking advice.

Except, of course, when it came to Harry.

He was, Harry’s father was prone to saying, the exception to every rule. Harry guessed his father was referring to the fact his son wanted to be a Private Detective rather than a dry, dusty lawyer. Just the clothes were enough to turn Harry off the profession.

So, with a little of the money Harry inherited from one of his aunts, he leased an office in Gramercy Park and had it renovated to look like the Sam Spade detective agency, you know the one, Spade and Archer, and The Maltese Falcon.

There’s a movie and a book by Dashiell Hammett if you’re interested.

So, there it was, painted on the opaque glass inset of the front door, ‘Harold Walthenson, Private Detective’.

There was enough money to hire an assistant, and it took a week before the right person came along, or, more to the point, didn’t just see his business plan as something sinister. Ellen, a tall cool woman in a long black dress, or so the words of a song in his head told him, fitted in perfectly.

She’d seen the movie, but she said with a grin, Harry was no Humphrey Bogart.

Of course not, he said, he didn’t smoke.

Three months on the job, and it had been a few calls, no ‘real’ cases, nothing but missing animals, and other miscellaneous items. What he really wanted was a missing person. Or perhaps a beguiling, sophisticated woman who was as deadly as she was charming, looking for an errant husband, perhaps one that she had already ‘dispatched’.

Or for a tall, dark and handsome foreigner who spoke in riddles and in heavily accented English, a spy, or perhaps an assassin, in town to take out the mayor. The man was such an imbecile Harry had considered doing it himself.

Now, in a back room of a disused warehouse, that wishful thinking might be just about to come to a very abrupt end, with none of the romanticized trappings of the business befalling him. No beguiling women, no sinister criminals, no stupid policemen.

Just a nasty little man whose only concern was how quickly or how slowly Harry’s end was going to be.

© Charles Heath 2019

Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 28

I’m back home and this story has been sitting on a 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

 

It was rather an anti-climax to see the cat, Herman, come slinking out of the bedroom, down the passage, and then stop just at the edge of the room to look at the visitors.

He must have been hiding in her room all this time, and when he’d heard the door close, he thought it was safe to come out.

Jan saw him and held out her hand, “Come on, Herman, you’re safe now.”

He didn’t seem to agree and sat down just back of that invisible line in the sand that he wasn’t, yet going to step over.

But he did meow a few times, just to let us know he wasn’t pleased.

“Now that you’ve seen the cat, what were you thinking might be of significance?”

“I don’t know.  The fact he considered the cat his might have been significant in some way.”

Herman was back on his paws and taking tentative steps towards Jan.  Each time he stopped, he looked sideways at me, waiting.  Perhaps he thought I might attack him.  It would be the other way around.

“Doesn’t trust me, does he?”

He took a step back at the sound of my voice.

“Don’t listen to him Herman, you’re safe here with me.”

He looked at her, the same expression on his face he gave me.  Talk about the original poker face.  I doubt anyone could guess what he was thinking.  

A few more steps, then about a yard away he stopped again and sat.  He then spent the next few minutes looking at me.  Was this a test to see who blinked first?  I knew who would win that contest.  Not me.

Jan moved slightly and he jumped, and moved back several steps, looking warily at us both now.

“We’re not going to win him over, are we?”

“Maybe, maybe not.  There are a bowl and some food in the other room.  Put some in the bowl and bring it to me.”

Ah, the way to a cat’s heart is through his stomach.  I think the only thing relevant to that statement was that he was male.  I did as she asked, and handed her the bowl, and resumed my position, far enough away for him not to consider me a threat.

He watched me leave the room and return again, and I think he recognized the bowl, and that we were about to trick him into submission.

She put the bowl down next to her and patted the floor.

“It’s your favorite, Herman.”

Yes, head movements, and was he sniffing to see if he could recognize what was in the bowl?  Maybe he was hungry after being hidden away.  Would starvation overcome a fear of strangers?

A minute later we had the answer.  He was hungry and tentatively came over before smelling what was in the bowl before starting to eat.

Jan patted him.

“Works every time,” she said.

Both of us realized at the same time that Herman had a collar, slightly lost in the fur.  And she had the same idea as I did, that the collar might be significant.

She removed it as gently as she could without startling him, and then looked at it, around the outside, and then on the inside, and a sudden change of expression told me she found something.

“VS P4 L324.  What do you think that means?” she asked?

“Whatever it is, it’s a reminder that’s significant to O’Connell, or it is a message to someone if anything happened to him.  I expect that might mean it was a message to you.  You shared the cat so, clearly, he thought at some point in time you would look.”

“If he was expecting me to decipher it, then he must have seen something in me that I can’t.”

“You would work it out in time.  The point is if he hid that in plain sight, believing that if anyone came, they would take no notice of the car, then what else might he have hidden.  Does the cat have a bed?

“Not at his place, he used to sleep at the end of his bed.  But I put out an old blanket.”

How did she know the cat slept on the end of O’Connell’s bed?  I wasn’t going to ask, but if they were more than just friends, perhaps he had confided some details of what he was doing.

“In your room?”

“In the spare room where you found the food.”

I went back to the room found the blanked tossed in a corner, put there by the person who searched her flat no doubt, because I couldn’t see the cat doing it, not unless he was extremely bad-tempered and had super cat powers to move objects multiple times heavier than he was.

I picked it up and immediately had cat hair on my clothes.  Good thing then I wasn’t allergic to cats.

Then, I had a feeling someone was watching me.  I was right, Herman had come back to see what I was doing.

“Just straightening it out for you,” I said.

The death stare didn’t change.  He just stood there looking at me.  Or was he looking through me at something else, like a ghost?  It was slightly un-nerving.

I felt around the edges and suddenly, in the middle of one side, where the manufacturer’s label was, it felt like something was under it.  On closer examination, I could see the stitching had been removed for several inches in length and then crudely sewn it back together.  Inside what would be a pouch, I could feel something under the material, and with a little more twisting I thought it might be a tag.

I’d seen a pair of scissors in the kitchen and came back to get them.  Jan was busy trying to position the wet part of the towel over her head.  After I’d finished with the blanket, I would fetch her some Panadol.

I gently cut the crude stitches and then wriggled the item out.  It was a card with a number on it, 324.  That was all that was printed on the card.  Not what it was, who it belonged to, or what it represented.  I went back into the room where the cat was now sitting on her leg.

“There was a card sewn into the blanket.  It has the number 324 on it.  That would make it…”

“… a check for a post box, or safety deposit box, or a storage locker.”

Not exactly what I was going to say, but close enough.

Then she said, “It’s the same number on the collar.  L324.  Locker 324.  Somewhere defined by VS and P4.”

“Do you have a computer?”

“Not here.  Do you?”

“No.”

“Then I’ll go into the office and use one of theirs.  I assume you can do the same?”

I could, but I wasn’t quite sure what or who would be waiting for me,, now that I knew I couldn’t trust Nobbin.

“To be honest, I don’t think it’s safe for me.  It’s probably better if I don’t, not until I can find out who is who.”

Either of the two, Nobbin or Severin could be on the wrong side, maybe even both of them.  I was surprised that Severin didn’t drag me off when he came for Maury.  Perhaps I was still useful to him in the field as a second-string to finding the USB.

I helped her to stand.  

“No time like the present.  I’ll let you know what I find if anything.  Are you going to stay here?” she asked.  

“No.  Severin knows about this place and might come back.  We’re done here.  I’ll make sure the cat gets out.  I don’t think you should come back here unless you have to.”

“Then I’ll see you at the hotel.”

© Charles Heath 2020

Just one of many reading lists – part 3

**Please don’t assume that you have to, nor would I ever expect you to,  read any or all of these books.  You don’t.**

Everyone, it seems, will publish what they call the top 100 books that you should read. Some are voted on, some belong to the opinion of the editor of the book review section of a newspaper, and, as you know, there are a lot of newspapers, a lot of editors, and a lot of opinions.

I’m not a newspaper, I’m not an editor, but I have a list, based on personal experience, and many, many years of reading.

It’s in no particular order.

41.  The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as a host of other Sherlock Holmes stories

42.  The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad, one of Conrad’s later political novels, set in London in 1886 and deals with anarchism and espionage.  In those days spies were called anarchists.

43.  The Ipcress File by Len Deighton, introducing us to Harry Palmer, who was personified by Michael Caine and led to Horse Under Water, and Funeral in Berlin.  More of Len Deighton later on in the list

44.  The Remorseful Day by Colin Dexter introducing the somewhat enigmatic detective, Morse, his first name not revealed for a long time but oddly, Endeavour.  John Thaw brought him to life

45.  Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, hard to pronounce and even harder to read, but perhaps worth it in the end.  By the time I read this I was wishing for a Russian writer had could use an economy of words

46.  Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak wasn’t it.  A vast and lengthy dissertation on lost love, I felt very sad for Zhivago in the end.  I saw a stage play of the same name, and I’m sorry, but it’s a few hours of my life I will never get back

47.  Casino Royale, the first of the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming.  I have to say these are among my favorite spy books.  I must say I preferred the new James Bond in Casino Royale, though Sean Connery still rules!

48.  The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsythe, a fascinating story about an assassin

49.  Anything written by John Le Carre, but in particular, the George Smiley collection.  Finally unmasking his nemesis the Russian spymaster made it all so satisfying.

50.  The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlam, inspiring a long series by both Ludlam and Eric Lustbader makes entertaining reading, but the first, the man who did not know who or what he really was, was excellent.  Matt Damon didn’t harm his persona either.

51.  Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers, whose detective is Lord Peter Whimsey, a 1933 mystery novel that’s eighth in the series

52.  Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith.  You have to admit that his Russian detective Arkady Renko is up against it when his investigation goes in a direction that uncovers corruption and dishonest in his superiors

53.  The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler, a semi-autobiographical novel written between 1987 and 1884, and published in 1903.  The story of the Pontifex family.

54.  Howards End by E. M. Forster, first published in 1910, is an interesting insight into the behavior of the, and between the classes, with the Schlegels acting as the catalyst.

55.  Washington Square by Henry James, originally published as a serial, and covers the conflict between daughter and father.  I must say I prefer The Ambassadors to Washington Square.

56.  Ulysses by James Joyce, a day in the life of an ordinary man, Leopold Bloom, why could it not be the 7th June rather than the 16th, for obvious reasons

57.  The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley is a view of society at the end of the Victorian period through the eyes of a young boy.  I read this while still at school and had no clue why, but later, when I read it again, I understood the meaning

58.  Atonement by Ian McEwan, I saw the film and then read the book.  Never a good idea.  Basically, a young girl makes a bad mistake and tries to atone for it.

59.  Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell, the War and Peace of Americal novels, and as long by comparison.  The only book written by Mitchell, and the second most read book by Americans.  The film was interesting but awfully long.

60.  The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, with a man with severe burns and the effect he had on three others.  Colin Firth is villain one day and hero the next, this time in the cinematic version, an out and out cad.

More to come…

 

In a word: Angle

We all know this to be an intersection of two lines like a crossroad is at a 90-degree angle

But…

It’s an angle bracket that keeps the shelf up, hopefully with books on it.

Did you know that it was something someone did in order to get something?

She began to angle for an invitation to a party that she would not normally be invited to, or he has angled his answers to the prospective employer in a bid to be more likely to be selected for the position.

It can also refer to a position, or judgement, so that someone might say, try and see it from my angle, or another angle.

Or that it refers to fishing, and the fisherman or woman is known as an angler.

It can be a position from which something is viewed, or in crime parlance, the CSI people will work out the angle of the bullet’s entry do they can locate the position of the shooter.

Angle can refer to people of Germanic origin, such as an Anglo Saxon

And, here’s something even I didn’t know, in Astrology, it is each of the four cardinal points of a chart, from which the first, fourth, seventh, and tenth houses extend anticlockwise respectively.

Searching for locations: Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia

It was recently topical because of the Commonwealth Games, but we have been to the Gold Coast on many occasions and nearly always stayed at the Hilton.

Nearly all of the photos here are taken from floor 13 through to 45, some close to the ocean, others facing north, and west, towards the hinterland.

Below is one of the main beaches, where the typical sun, sand, and surf pretty well sums it up.  Been ion the water a few times myself, and it is amazing how warm it can be on some days, and how cold it can be on others.

And a surfer’s paradise it sure is!

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At the bottom, the start of the shopping centers and eateries.  The is more different types of food there that can be counted on the fingers and toes together.

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The beach just to the north, and where the market stalls set up at night.

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Further north, through the highrises, and far, far into the distance towards Brisbane.

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North, again, looking up Cavill Avenue.

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South, showing highrises and the Q Tower.

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South, taken from the Q Tower, the coastline to Coolangatta dotted with high rise apartment blocks.

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The two towers behind the Grand Chancellor, are the twin towers of the Hilton Hotel.

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From the Q Tower, looking towards the canal residential precinct.

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Yes, we were looking for whales, no we didn’t see any.  The ocean, though, was unusually calm.

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