The 'Heartless' romantic adventures
The Amelia Hartliss stories (or 'Heartless' as she is known to her friends) have been translated into a number of languages, and have been well received in China and Australia. The mix of thriller and contemporary romance has caused a stir in critical circles, and fans are looking forward eagerly to the launch of her next web site, which will include background on the origins and influences of this feisty and fabulously floozy investigator.
If you want to know what Amelia Hartliss has been up to recently, read on -
Burglars break in just as top U.K. Security agent AMELIA HARTLISS is about to sit down to dinner at a smart party in her home town of Manchester, England. She is there with people she doesn’t know, a motley assortment of academics, media people and community workers, but, while fighting the criminals and rescuing the victims, she meets JOE BOYSON, a frighteningly handsome man with a grudge. He doesn’t spare Melia the details of his complaints, which seem to be directed at everyone in authority - the City Council, the local University and Health Authority. This is tedious, but exactly what Melia requires. She has been sent 'undercover' to gather information.
Later that night she visits the 5-star Trade Hotel in the city centre, and makes a rendezvous with her boss, Deputy Director CAULFIELD. Relaxing in the cocktail bar, he quizzes her ruthlessly. Did they mention Dr DANIEL BATTENBERG? he demands. Endlessly, she replies. They talked of nothing else but the wicked Doctor. All of them.
Caulfield is excited. This is exactly what he suspected, from the first. A routine alert from the agency’s Computer Records Bureau had warned him that a certain Dr Battenberg had arrived in the city and taken over as Deputy Director of Public Health. This is worrying. The man had been logged for some time, as someone who belonged to a suspect revolutionary organisation while at University in England and then travelled extensively in the Middle East and China. To Caulfield, this is suspicious in itself. The Doctor is precisely the sort of person that WSB, the UK’s foremost anti-terrorism unit, needs to keep an eye on. Melia has been sent back to Manchester to mix in with local people and find out what she can. After all, says Caulfield, a man in that position – charged with improving the health of the city’s population – is in an ideal position to poison the water supply, or some worse terrorist outrage.
But, says Melia, the thing they’re all talking about is his work with refugees and asylum seekers. Caulfield pays attention. In that case, he says carefully, the good Doctor would be well placed to smuggle his terrorist friends into the country. If he was a terrorist, Melia reminds him. We have no proof.
Everyone’s talking about ASARR, she tells him. It stands for ‘Asylum Seekers and Refugees Research’. It’s a local charity, and just about everyone at the dinner party is involved with it in some way. That’s great for me, Melia says. I’ve told them I’m engaged in postgraduate research at Thames University in London. That’s my cover story and they accept it. They tell me everything.
It’s a long story, she goes on, but the most important point is that ASARR set up a local project here, in Manchester. They call it ‘The Manchester ASARR Project’, and it’s separate from the parent body, the first ASARR. When Battenberg arrived last year, they invited him to join the Management Board of the Project. Then he started taking the Project over, she says, making changes, sacking the staff and management.
Caulfield is jubilant. This is exactly the sort of thing I suspected, he says. Battenberg is up to something. He has a plan. We can't trust him. You have to get close to him, Melia, before he does any damage.
That night, back at her flat and alone in her bed, Melia is thinking about everything she’s been told. The Doctor already has done some damage, she knows. He was responsible for getting two members of his own staff sacked from the ASARR Project, according to people at the dinner party. And Joe Boyson. His version of events is that he was forced out of his job with a local charity by the machinations of Dr Battenberg. Melia questions her feelings. She is attracted to Joe, despite the fact that he is not at all her ideal type. But he has an energy and an enthusiasm for his work that is impressive. He has passion. It’s an attractive quality.
In the next few days she meets up with Joe repeatedly. All the time, she is listening and learning, gaining more insight into her main target, Dr Battenberg. Melia is saddened. These people are so trusting, she tells Caulfield, it’s almost too easy.
It’s worth it, Caulfield says. It appears that Dr Battenberg has conspired with top people in the City Council and the University. These important people, they’ve broken every rule in the book, Caulfield says gleefully. Council leaders? University professors? Just what kind of people are they? Melia asks, baffled. Ruthless, Caulfield says. Capable of anything. Heartless, Melia suggests, reminded of what people have called her in the past. Heartless.
At the same time, Melia’s own heart is on the line. Despite all the differences between them, Melia can’t help liking Joe, in every way. When they are alone together, she feels her temperature rise. She knows that this is an important assignment, and Caulfield is keeping a close eye on her, but she feels full of joy, young again, and reckless.
Melia worries. All these important people, why would they risk their careers to smother a small organisation like the ASARR Project? Anyway, why are they supporting each other? What do they have in common? How has Battenberg managed to recruit them to his cause?
The doorbell rings. Joe has arrived to take her out. Not tonight, she says dully, tired and lacking enthusiasm. This is work, he assures her.
They go to the centre of Manchester. Joe takes her into a bright, modern bar beside the old Rochdale canal. The place is buzzing. It’s a warm summer evening and people are standing outside and sitting at tables along the canal wall. Melia is enjoying the atmosphere but their ‘quiet drink’ is rudely interrupted by something worse. Shouting and threatening noises come from the far end of the pedestrianised street. There is a crowd approaching, waving banners. Men and women around Melia suddenly become agitated and storm towards the new arrivals. Before she can see what it’s all about, a full-scale riot seems to have broken out, swirling around them.
Melia’s job is to protect her source, Joe, but luckily he seems to have no inclination to get involved. He seems reserved, quiet. You know what this is all about, don’t you? she asks him, and he nods, sadly.
Melia’s flat is a short walk from the mayhem. She takes Joe back there but he seems completely withdrawn, brooding. She leaves him and hurries to meet up with Caulfield. I’ve got it, she tells him. Evidence.
Melia and Caulfield go up to his room in the plush hotel, then use his laptop computer to log onto the WSB database. She scans through the photo library of established terrorists, and eventually stops, triumphant. I saw this man tonight, she tells her boss. They gaze in silence. It’s a key field operative of the shadowy terrorist network known simply as ‘Le Quest’. This is serious, Caulfield agrees, but what are they planning? Melia shakes her head. She has no idea. Whatever it is, Battenberg is at the centre of it, she says ominously.
Back at her own flat, Joe has collapsed in a heap and Melia retreats to her own bed. A few short hours later, she is woken from a deep sleep by the sound of scuffling in her living room. She creeps out cautiously, and is astonished to see that Joe has awoken and is hunched in front of her own computer, searching the internet. He turns round when he hears her approach and waves the leaflet at her, the one she picked up at the riot. It’s a tissue of lies, he tells her. Look at this, Joe says. They’re quoting a ‘recent study’ by the Deputy Director of Public Health. Battenberg!
With Joe still scouring the internet, Melia goes back into her bedroom and calls Caulfield. He’s not poisoning the water supply, she tells her boss. He’s poisoning people’s minds!
Over the next few days the picture becomes clearer. Battenberg is now in charge of the Manchester ASARR Project and has turned it from research to exaggeration. No one is going to question ‘the Deputy Director of Public Health’. It's all for ‘Le Quest’, Melia thinks to herself. With public order threatened, they will be able to go about their business unimpeded.
The crisis comes faster than anyone could predict. Le Quest has been out in the areas in which asylum seekers have been housed distributing leaflets and spreading vile lies and propaganda. Attacks on refugees’ homes start.
The next day Melia finds out precisely how far things have gone. A march has been called by ASARR, churches, and other charitable bodies supporting the rights of asylum seekers. Extreme organisations have vowed to disrupt the demonstration and cause trouble, (fomented and focussed by ‘Le Quest’). Sure enough, when Melia gets to Albert Square in the middle of Manchester to meet Joe, the whole area is in chaos. People are fighting in small groups, taunting each other and shouting. The anti-ASARR groups are handing out leaflets. Melia only has to scan the words to see ‘Deputy Director of Public Health’. Battenberg! His conspiracy has come to fruition. He caused all this.
She finds Joe at a café on the edge of the action. He is concerned. He’s seen Battenberg walking away from the Town Hall. We should follow him, he says.
Melia follows Joe down Princess Street, away from the riot. As they move, they see police reinforcements arrive, with riot shields and protective gear. Also, dozens of ‘plain clothes’ officers. Melia is astonished to recognise several of her colleagues from WSB. Caulfield has sent in the whole team!
Melia spots Battenberg on the corner of Canal Street. She hurries Joe, and they scoot around the corner, just in time to see the Deputy Director of Public Health and a few cronies duck into a bar. They follow. Joe is fired up and storms over to confront Battenberg. His quarry is strangely amenable, quiet and seemingly open to persuasion. Battenberg says: I use one of the offices upstairs. All my material is there. Let’s go and look at it. If you don’t agree with any of my findings, point them out and I promise to look at them again.
It doesn’t seem too dangerous to climb the back stairs of the café bar, but it's a trap! Melia tries to get him talking, to distract him, to slow him down. We know about the figures, she tells him. The fake statistics. I know, he says. We know about your trips abroad, she says. I’m going to make you regret you ever met me, he announces. That’s already true, she replies.
Suddenly, Battenberg's face is covered in blood. He collapses on the floor. Joe is standing over him. Stop, gasps Melia. Stop! But he won’t be distracted. Murderous rage fills Joe and Melia is pinioned and unable to respond. She has to watch in helplessness while Joe has his revenge.
Later, when Joe has found keys and released Melia, they huddle together on the floor. She inspects his wrists, which are unbelievably torn and scarred. You pulled yourself out of the handcuffs, she gasps. I hated him that much, Joe agrees.
Melia looks for her phone and calls her unit headquarters for back-up.
If you want to read more about Amelia Hartliss, why not click the link below and follow the trail to Mickey's Business Pages, where you can download a selection of chapters of previous novels in the series.
(They are filed under 'Action Adventures' - but don't be fooled.
There's plenty of Romance when Melia is on the case!)