That blog post title could make a good fable idea. One in which the taxman chokes to death in front of a crowd of starving people and no one steps forward to help him because he got greedy and took too big a bite. (Any tax officers reading this, I’m just kidding. No need to make it personal by going back through my records looking for revenge, unveiling incidents of creative accounting. You won’t find any. Honestly. Don’t waste your time. Please.)
This week I’ve been working on my book of stories. (See image.) Nine of the ten are finished. I’m saving the writing of the last one until I’m back from a week in New York. (I’m off on Monday and really looking forward to visiting somewhere I’ve wanted to go for a long time.) I really deserve a holiday. I haven’t had one for over a month.
I’m holding fire on the writing of the tenth story until after my trip because I’m going to set it in New York. Even I can see the sense in visiting the place before I write the story. There are also tax considerations for writing it after I get back. As mentioned in a previous post, if I write a story set in New York I can claim certain tax breaks against the expenses of my trip. (Writing related research and travel expenses are legitimate tax deductable expenses for me just like any other self-employed worker has work related expenses. If it’s on the table why wouldn’t I take advantage of it?) So that’s what I’m going to do – have a week in New York, come home and write a story that’s set there. That’s the theory.
I also mentioned in a previous post regarding this trip that I was going to take my laptop with me and write as much of the story as I could on the plane (coming back, of course). That idea has since looked unwell in the water because of the recent laptop ban – I’m flying from Ataturk Airport in Turkey. It seems I can’t even take my Kindle with me because I’ll only be taking carry on luggage and any electrical item larger than a smartphone must now go in the hold.
But they can’t foil me. I’m a CWAP. I’m innovative and creative. I spend my days making problems (I’m talking about my writing, not my life, although my wife might have something to say about that) and then solving them. Laptop ban! Pah! I might find it next to impossible to handwrite anything longer than a shopping list but I have a solution that will enable me to keep churning out the words for the whole of the ten hour flight. It might not make me popular with my fellow passengers but that’ll be their problem. Nothing should get in the way of art. Meet my secret weapon. That should fit on the tray table nicely. Clack. Clack. Clack.
It doesn’t hurt to set the scene before I go with a few thousand words. I’ve left the story as the plane is coming in to land at JFK. I don’t know what’s going to happen in real life after that or in the story. Any ideas for both gratefully received. (I just hope it doesn’t involve a cavity search at the airport. Still, that would give me a couple of hundred words – I can’t help thinking like a writer.)
We were airborne. After half an hour waiting on the concrete apron for air traffic control to give us the green light we were on our way. We arrowed up through the low cloud cover that blanketed Istanbul’s Ataturk International airport, like a Trident missile fired from the depths of murky waters, to burst through the depressing gloom into the bright light of the troposphere. I felt better instantly.
Misinterpreting my exhalation of relief the woman sitting next to me said, ‘Don’t you like take offs?’
I turned to look at her. I was glad of an excuse to. It would have been rude of me to stare when she’d taken her seat but I’d wanted to. I’d got the impression of a youthful svelte figure as she’d stowed her hand luggage in the overhead locker. She had nice legs, long and slim, exaggerated by her tight jeans, and she smelt good. But I hadn’t managed a good look at her face. The quick glance I’d got had been mostly obscured by thick shoulder length hair.
Full on she was nothing short of stunning. Turkish or of Turkish extraction seemed a fair assumption given where we’d come from – the olive tint to her flawless skin, the dark brown eyes and her almost jet black hair. She smiled at me. The flash of good white teeth only emphasised her colouring. And that accent – English with a subtle Turkish intonation. I was a sucker for it. I remember swallowing with a dry throat and my pulse quickening. I’d also noticed she wasn’t wearing any rings.
I smiled back at her. ‘No. Just glad to be off the ground at last. On our way.’
‘I understand. I once sat in a plane waiting to take off for nearly three hours. Ever since then I, too, am always happy to be in the air.’
Her English was excellent. Usually there was a clue in the grammar or word choice, pronunciation or intonation to indicate it wasn’t a first language and I was good at spotting it – matters of the English language were my business.
I tried my luck. Why not? It was going to be a long flight. I offered my hand and said, ‘My name’s Alex.’
She took it without hesitation. Her grasp was firm and cool, which made me think mine must feel hot and clammy. ‘Deniz,’ she said.
‘Turkish names have meaning, don’t they?’
‘Yes. Deniz means from the sea.’
I nodded and said, ‘Aren’t we all.’ She didn’t get it and it showed. I reminded myself that there probably wasn’t much evolution in Turkish education or culture (in both senses). I tried to cover up my stupid ‘joke’, ‘Have you been to America before, Deniz?’ I always like to let a woman know I can remember her name.
‘No. It’s my first time.’
‘Business or pleasure?’
‘Pleasure, I hope.’ She smiled again. ‘I am recently divorced.’ My first thought for that was that she looked young to be divorced in a Muslim culture. ‘My husband never let me go anywhere.’ She inhaled deeply and let it out slowly. I tried not to stare at the effect on her bosom. The deep breath seemed an involuntary physical reaction triggered by a mental one regarding recognition of her recent state of unweddedness, and it spoke volumes for her sense of new found freedom. At least that’s what it said to me. She was still talking. ‘I am going to explore the sights of New York. I have always wanted to visit.’
I nodded. I was still smiling. I couldn’t help it. Her joy was infectious. ‘Anywhere in particular?’
‘I must see Central Park, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Grand Central Station. And the art museums, of course: The Metropolitan, the Guggenheim and I want to visit Ellis Island.’
‘Sounds like you’re going to be busy. I hope you have a lovely time.’
‘Thank you. And you, Alex? Is this your first time to visit America?’ She could remember names too. Touché.
‘No. I went a long time ago. But to somewhere different: California. I’ve never been to New York.’
‘I also want to visit California one day. You are very lucky.’
‘Not really. I cheated.’
Again the look of confusion. ‘Cheated?’
‘Yes. I was at school. There was a nationwide competition run by a big bank. The prize was two weeks in California.’
‘And you won the competition?’
‘Yes and no. My name was on the entry form but my dad answered all the questions. He was an English teacher. We had to write an essay on why we wanted to go to America. He was great with words.’
She laughed and wagged her finger at me. ‘That is naughty.’
‘Yeah. Cheating. But it was a great two weeks. I was one of ten winners. We went across the state in a big bus, stopping at interesting places. Really, I was a fish out of water.’
‘The other winners. They’d obviously all done their own entries. All of them so much smarter than me. I think within a day everyone guessed I must have had help.’
She laughed again.
I said, ‘But we had fun. It was a great time. Sometimes I wonder what they must all be doing now. Big important jobs I should think.’
‘And what about you? Do you do a big important job? Is that why you are going to America?’
It was my turn to laugh. ‘No. Not a big important job. I used to have a job – not big or particularly important – these days I’m a CWAP.’ I always enjoy the look of total confusion on people’s faces when I drop that into the conversation. But it’s more fun with a native English speaker. ‘That stands for Crime Writing Author Publisher.’
Her brow creased in puzzlement.
I said, ‘I write crime novels. That’s my job now. It’s how I make my living.’
The light dawned for her. ‘Ah. You write story books?’
‘Yes. Sort of. But they’re not real books.’
The lines were back, only deeper. The ones on her forehead. Not the ones coming out of my mouth.
‘I write crime stories and then I self-publish them through the Internet. People download them from e-book sites onto their tablets and phones and computers and read them.’
The light was back on. She was nodding understanding. The smile was coming back into focus, gaining in intensity. ‘I see. You can make money at this?’
‘I get by. Just. I have other interests that help pay the bills.’
‘So you are going to New York on holiday?’
‘Yes and no. I’ve always wanted to see New York but being a CWAP hasn’t made me wealthy enough to jet off to all the places I’d like to see. Not yet.’ I gave her a look to indicate I was waiting for industry recognition of my writing and the six figure publishers’ bidding war that would follow for the rights to my books. ‘Talking to my accountant I discovered that any money I spend on anything to do with my writing can be offset against my taxes.’
‘You mean things like pens and paper?’
‘Yes, although I write using a computer. Pens and paper are so old fashioned. And writing the old fashioned way makes my wrist ache. And research expenses. Say I wanted to write a story set in New York. Naturally, I’d need to visit the place to get a feel for it, to write authentically about it. It comes under research.’
She caught on quick. ‘And you can claim research related expenses against your taxes?’
‘That’s the plan. I get a free trip to New York out of it. All I have to do is make sure I write a story that includes plenty of New York when I get home.’
She nodded her appreciation at my business acumen. ‘And you can do this? You can just write a story set anywhere?’
‘I can certainly try. I haven’t failed yet.’
‘I’ve been to loads of places for ‘research’.’ I etched speech marks in the air. ‘Last year I went to Vancouver in Canada. I wrote a story where my hero needed to travel there in search of clues to some big mystery. It sold quite well and I got all my travel expenses back. The year before I was in Thailand.’
‘Like James Bond?’
‘Sort of. My guy’s a bit flawed in comparison and he generally works alone.’
‘The works alone bit, yes. My ex-wives would probably agree with the flawed bit as well.’
‘Ex-wives? As in plural?’ her ears were sharp and her English was very good.
‘Afraid so.’ I smiled through my idiocy at letting that one slip out. Then tried to recover with, ‘Only three. So far.’
Her eyes widened. I let her know I was joking. She laughed. Again. I was encouraged that this could be a pleasant flight. I had a captive audience who was a single pretty young woman and she found me amusing. Things were definitely looking up.
I said, ‘Next year I’m going to Australia and New Zealand. I’ve got a feeling there’s going to be an environmental catastrophe caused by a careless multi-national company that my hero has to go and put right. Save the world.’
She laughed. She seemed to laugh a lot and it suited her.
The frown returned for an encore. ‘And you live in Turkey?’
‘God, no. I mean, no I don’t. It’s very nice. What I’ve seen of it. But no. I live in the UK. I was only in Istanbul for…’
‘Don’t tell me: research purposes.’ She etched speech marks in the air. We both laughed. I wondered if they’d put something in the oxygen tanks. I looked at the man sitting the other side of her in the aisle seat. His face was stony and hard as he tried to read his paper. I guessed they hadn’t. Or if they had he was immune to it.
I said, ‘Is Istanbul your home?’
‘What do you do for work? A job?’
‘I had a good divorce and a rich father. I don’t need to work.’
I felt I could be falling in love and we hadn’t left Turkish airspace.
There was a natural lull in our conversation. I tried to think of something to say to keep it going. I realised that the longer I was quiet the more it might look like a reaction to her last remark. I thought that wouldn’t look good.
I said, ‘How long are you in New York for?’
‘One week. I must get home for my sister’s wedding. And you?’
‘Same. One week.’
‘Maybe we are staying in the same hotel.’ she laughed.
She was reading my mind, although her words didn’t carry the hope that my thoughts did. ‘Now that would be funny. I’m staying at the Hilton. My character likes luxury and HMRC can afford it.’
She made a sad face that lifted my spirits. ‘I’m in the Four Seasons.’
Now I made a sad face. I didn’t need to act it. ‘Oh well. Maybe we’ll bump into each other in a museum or an art gallery or times square.’
I made a decision to strike while the iron was hot and bothered. I dug out one of my business cards. It had my name and mobile phone number as well as website details and colouring to match the logo of my series of books. I offered it to her and said, ‘That’s me. Look me up on the Internet. Do you read crime novels?’
She shook her head.
‘Never mind. On my web page there’s some information about my characters. You can have a look at the guy who travels all around the world. And you can download a book for free. You never know. You might like it.’
She turned the card over thoughtfully. ‘Do you also use the people you meet when you travel, like you use the places?’
I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that. ‘Do you mean do I base my characters on people I meet?’
‘Sometimes. If I meet someone worth writing about. Someone who I can picture in one of my stories.’
She smiled again. ‘Maybe you can use me?’
I really hoped telepathy wasn’t one of her natural gifts. I cleared my throat and said, ‘Maybe.’
She wasn’t finished. ‘If you do, make me dangerous.’
Her eyes glowed. ‘Yes.’
‘Goodie or baddie?’
She considered. ‘Baddie. Yes. Make me a bad girl.’
It wasn’t often my powers of speech deserted me. I looked up to see the timely and friendly face of a steward looming over us. He wanted to know if we’d like anything to drink. The three of us said we would and ordered. The hard faced man in the aisle seat had a Coke. Deniz had water. Because all drinks were included in the ticket price and I was British I had a beer. Deniz took my drink from the steward – can and plastic cup. Without talking about it she poured some of the beer into the cup for me and passed it over. It was a strange and lovely gesture. Turkish hospitality. I thought about proposing on the spot. Our hands touched briefly. I felt it in more than the skin of my knuckles.
When the steward had moved on I raised my plastic beaker to Deniz and said, ‘Cheers.’
We dinked drinking vessels. She said, ‘Is it not early in the day for alcohol, Alex?’
I felt bad. Like an uncovered drunk. I shrugged and said, ‘Somewhere in the world it’s lunchtime.’
She laughed and everything was back to normal.
I woke up feeling terrible. I squinted against the bright light coming in through the cabin window. I looked at my watch. My mind was a bit fuzzy and it took me a while to work out I’d been asleep for nearly eight hours. Eight hours! Where did that come from? I did some more maths to work out it was not far from midday local time and that it wouldn’t be long before we were shaping up to land. I was a bit pissed off at missing the meals I’d paid for.
I just couldn’t understand what had happened to me. I only ever slept like that in my own bed and then rarely.
I wriggled myself upright in the seat. My mouth felt like something had crept in there and had a poo. My eyes were gritty and sore. My shirt front was wet from dribble. I ran my fingers through my hair and realised it was sticking up at the back in what mum called a hen’s bottom. Nice.
I remembered the woman to my right, although it took me a minute to remember her name: Deniz. I risked a look at her but she was fast asleep. It suited her. And it was a relief. I remembered we’d been chatting away quite companionably. I remembered she was very attractive and laughed a lot. And recently divorced. And well off. And in New York on her own for a week. I closed my eyes and swore several times at myself. Then I wondered how strong that Turkish beer had been.
Things stayed pretty much that way until the steward came around telling people to get their chairs upright, stow away their tray tables and belt up. Deniz woke with a stifled yawn and then a stretch. I was well awake by then but still feeling crappy.
Deniz seemed to want to talk still. That was good. ‘I slept.’
‘Me too,’ I said. ‘I must have needed it. But I feel awful for it.’
‘Pressured cabins,’ she said. ‘It’s not natural.’ She wasn’t wrong.
We didn’t talk much after that. The plane descended. My ears suffered so that I could hardly hear a thing and they hurt. They always did. I wish someone could invent something for that. I wasn’t the only one suffering. A small child in the row in front of us was screaming with pain, not that I heard much of it, being temporarily deaf.
It was my habit as a flyer to wait when the plane landed. I don’t understand the thinking of people who unclip and jump up to rummage around in the overhead lockers before the plane has even finished taxiing to a stop. Where do they think they’re going? They always end up standing bunched together for ages as the stairs are wheeled into position and things are made ready for passenger disembarkation. And then when these people are first into the terminal they have to wait around for the luggage to come through in baggage reclaim. Crazy. Stupid. Idiots. It was one of the reasons I always asked for a window seat. I didn’t want to be stuck in an aisle seat with two people sitting to the side of me making noises about wanting to get out and queue to get off.
Eventually the doors were opened and like a drain being unblocked the people started flowing towards the exit. I waited. The man in the aisle seat had gone. Deniz didn’t hang around either once things started moving. She looked down at me and said, ‘Aren’t you coming?’I had to lip read this because I was still deaf.
‘I like to wait ‘til the crush has dispersed,’ I heard myself say as though listening through a hat with thick woolly ear-flaps.
She nodded her understanding. ‘Maybe I will see you in New York.’ I think she said.
‘That would be nice. You’ve got my card. The phone number works everywhere.’
Someone made a space for her. She filtered into the foot traffic and walked away. I was already planning on surprising her at the baggage reclaim carousel. I wasn’t about to let her get away so easily. But I really needed the toilet and a basin with running water first to freshen myself up and do something with my hair.
To be continued…