Blog Archives

The Fixer – Flash Fiction short story

IASDpicFlash Fiction short story no:7 (only 93 more to go). This a1FlashFictionwill probably be the last one for a week or so while I catch up on some long overdue book reviews. Happy reading, writing, reviewing, and blogging. Whatever your passion, enjoy …

 

If you’re enjoying these flash fiction stories, for some even shorter 100-word microfiction from different authors, see link below:

IASD Micro-fiction

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The Fixer

Anna Dawson listened to the reading of the verdict. The words not guilty would ring in her ears for the rest of her life.

justice3The man who had raped and killed her daughter was about to walk free from court. She didn’t blame the jury, the police, or prosecution for that matter; it had been slim enough evidence to start with. And with such a convincing alibi they weren’t left with much choice but to let the monster walk. It was hard to argue with the sworn testimony of over thirty people, each one of whom was willing to testify that Harry Tilsley was hundreds of miles away drinking with friends when her daughter, Jackie, met her death.

Harry Tilsley flashed a smile at her before showing a thumbs-up gesture to the jury, almost like a mock ‘thanks.’ He knew Anna was in court. The wry smile and gesturing were all directed at her, a reminder that his money made him virtually untouchable.

*

“Hello. Mr Jacobs, it’s Anna Dawson here,” Anna said.

“Write down the following directions. Do exactly as I tell you, and I will meet with you in three days,” the voice at the other end of the phone answered. There were no polite formalities, not so much as a hello or goodbye from the voice, just the lengthy instructions followed by the crackle of the line going dead.

She followed the directions and instructions to the letter. It was an odd place to meet, she thought. Still, it was better that than the cliché flash of headlights in a deserted underground carpark.

justice5Mr Jacobs was not at all like she expected. Actually, she hadn’t known quite what to expect, except that with his gangster fedora and cigar, and the whole seedy smoke-filled nightclub in a less than respectable part of the city, this wasn’t it. The entire place, the people, it was like a jaunt back in time to a Sam Spade movie – she wouldn’t have been surprised to see Humphry Bogart walk through the door with his trademark raincoat turned up at the collar. The man that did join her though wasn’t that far off the mark.

 

“You’re the man who arranged Harry Tilsley’s alibi,” were the first words out of Anna’s mouth when Mr Jacobs approached to join her at the table she had been instructed to sit.

Mr Jacobs nodded his agreement with her statement. If Anna had been expecting denials, excuses, or justification, she was going to be disappointed.

“But I understand you’re not here to recriminate with me, so, to business then,” Mr Jacobs continued.

“No, I’m not. I want to employ your services. I don’t have the same money as Harry Tilsley, but I’ve raised a sizeable amount, and I’m willing to work for you to make up any shortfall,” Anna replied, handing him a note with the figure she had raised. He looked at it and mouthed a barely perceptible smile. Mr Jacobs passed it back to her, nodding his agreement of its acceptability.

 

Anna no longer hated Mr Jacobs and his organisation for what they had done. Had Harry Tilsley not employed their services, yes, he would have gone to prison.  But would he have got the punishment he deserved, that was another matter. With his money, he would probably have got the charge reduced to involuntary manslaughter. Any actual prison time would have been in some cushy minimum security place, and likely for no more than a few months.

     This was better, she thought, much better indeed!

*

Anna made Harry suffer. Surprisingly, she opted not to kill him. Leaving him as ‘half a man’ was much more satisfying. It wasn’t all bad for Harry though; with modern medicine and advanced surgery, there was every likelihood of being able to reconstruct some sort of artificial penile tube for urination. And perhaps those little rubber implants to at least give Harry the illusion of him still possessing his balls might be a comfort too. Looks wise though, he was left with a face not even his own mother could ever love again despite all the reconstructive surgery his money could buy.

Anna now owed Mr Jacobs her lifelong loyalty should he decide to act on her offer to work for him. It was a small price to pay, she thought.

*

Naturally, as the mother of the girl Harry Tilsley had been accused of raping and murdering, Anna was the authorities’ first port of call in their investigations. They quickly dismissed her as a suspect though; she was still too distraught from Harry Tilsley having been proved innocent at his trial to barely think straight, in their opinion. And when they checked her alibi, Anna Dawson was found to be hundreds of miles away drinking in a seedy smoke-filled bar, drowning her sorrows with friends – over thirty people were willing to testify to that.

 

House Sitting Surprise – Flash Fiction short story

IASDpicFlash Fiction story no:5. This one comes in at a shade over the 900-word mark. Just another 95 more stories to go till I reach the magic 100 figure for publication.   

                         a1FlashFiction

House Sitting Surprise 

Henry Abbot had grown tired of the local louts shouting abuse at him, throwing rubbish in his garden, even trying to break in a couple of times. Mostly it didn’t bother him. He was a sturdy old boy, but he wasn’t getting any younger. He needed a holiday, just to get away for awhile, he thought.

 

Dutch and Jonesy were two of Henry’s training recruits from his time as a Colour Sergeant in the army. That was a long time ago, and they had long since matured into two of the toughest squaddies ever to grace a drill square. In Henry’s eyes though, they were still his lads, and he was looking forward to seeing them again.

In ‘his lads’ eyes, he was still the NCO they would walk over hot coals for to hell and back.

*

Mick and Gazza were always on the lookout for a night’s grafting, though not an honest night’s one like driving a taxi or manning the local 24-hr gas station. Their idea of a night’s work was to go out and rob someone. A ‘good’ night’s work was not getting caught. Their usual victims were the frail and elderly, those who wouldn’t be able or likely to put up much of a fight should the two robbing scumbags be discovered mid thieving.

 

“Hey, Mick, that house on the corner opposite the post box, I just been past it, and it looks like they’ve left one of the downstairs back windows open.”

“That’s that old boy from Rozzerman street’s house, the old git with his polished shoes and the regimental blazer.”

“Yeah, that’s right. I remember a few years back him telling me to quieten down when I was yelling at some old girl. I’ll give the old bastard ‘quieten down,’ see if I don’t.”

“So, what’s this about an open window?”

“Yeah, back kitchen window by the looks of it. There’s no lights on, and his car’s not there. He might have fucked off somewhere for the weekend. 

“And left an empty house and an open window … nice!”

burglars

“I think we might have company,” Dutch silently mouthed the words to his mate.

Jonesy nodded his agreement. They both silently sidled up either side of the connecting door between the dining room and the kitchen, waiting for the two intruders to come through.

A moment later, the door opened. Mick and Gazza crept quietly into the dining room; they may have possessed the practised stealth of seasoned burglars, but they were rank amateurs compared to Dutch and Jonesy.

It was the last ‘creeping’ either of them would ever do again. The only sound they might have heard in those last few moments of life was their own or each other’s muffled screams through constricted airways. Both Dutch and Jonesy had big powerful hands, easily strong enough to squeeze the life out of the two robbing scrotes in Henry’s house.

Dutch and Jonesy would have preferred the quick and immediate method of a knife thrust just below the heart or for a few extra minutes of painful gasping for breath drowning in their own blood, a strike to the lungs. But they had Henry’s recently cleaned carpets and new sofa to think of, it just wouldn’t do to go messing up Henry’s front room when they’d promised faithfully to look after his house while he visited family abroad.

Between them, they soon had the two intruders sliced and diced and ready for disposal, and all without a trace of DNA evidence to show the two scumbag burglars had ever been near the house.

 

“They might be a couple of thieving bastards, but they’re young and healthy; all them mineral-rich nutrients in them would have done wonders for the Sarge’s garden,”  Jonesy remarked.  

When he wasn’t soldiering, Jonesy was quite the environmentalist – and yes, he was also the camp comedian among his comrades, and no, being dead now, the two intrusive burglars could hardly still be called healthy.

“Can we save the jokes, till later, eh?” Dutch replied, a slight tone of reprimand in his voice given the seriousness of the matter, “and no, we’re not burying them in Henry’s garden. We’ll stick to the woods we reccied earlier.”

digging1        bodies    digging2

*

“How was yer holiday, Sarge?” Jonesy asked, greeting Henry on his return.

“And the family, hope they were good?” Dutch added.

“Had a smashing time thanks, lads. And yep, the family were all good too. Them grandkids of mine are shooting up fast, I tell you,” Henry replied, adding: “And thanks too for stopping over and looking after my place. I know it meant giving up some of your leave so anytime there’s anything I can do for you, you’ve just to ask.”

“Was a pleasure, Sarge, “ Dutch said.

“What he said,” Jonesy agreed, waving a thumb at his mate.

“And those two louts I told you about, you had no grief from them, did you? I was sure they’d break in if they saw my car was gone and the lights out,” Henry said.

“No trouble at all. We kept the downstairs lights on most of the time, so they knew there were people in,” Dutch lied.

“I heard that they’d had some grief of their own with some rival scumbags elsewhere. Maybe you won’t have any more trouble with them if that’s the case,” Jonesy lied too.

“But you can always give us both a call if anyone else bothers you,” Dutch said.

“Cheers lads. Now let’s all go inside and have us a few beers.”

Short Story collection – Short, Long And Tall Stories … (Review)

 

Another of my Welsh Wednesday Writing reviews of Welsh authors, this time a collection of short stories by Welsh author, Stuart Kear, a life-long resident of the Rhondda Valley. I first discovered Stuart’s stories via the Tonypandy Writer’s library1Group’s multi-author collection of short stories and poetry, which featured two of Stuart’s stories. Having been impressed with both contributions I checked to see if the author had anything published elsewhere, and so discovered this awesome collection of short stories here …

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Click on book cover thumbnail below for Amazon purchase link …

Short, Long And Tall Stories

timberwolfamazonAs clever and entertaining a collection of short stories as I can remember reading, ever!

StuartKear1

All the stories here have a Welsh theme, and in most cases specific to the Welsh valleys; now when I say a ‘Welsh theme,’ I don’t just mean that the author simply mentions Wales in passing or has perhaps given each story a Welsh character – in most cases, the Welsh setting, being Welsh, or having grown up in the valleys is an integral part of the meaning of each story.

This is quite a substantial body of varied stories, thirteen in total. Among the stories, the author tackles a variety of topics including bereavement and how close relatives deal with loss in their own very different ways, tragedy in the coal mining pits, plots of murder mixed up with irony and poetic justice, and even an incredulously funny flash fiction piece in ‘The Letter,’ – as simple a premise as you could imagine but a guaranteed ear to ear smile for the reader. 

Some of the stories are more a reflection of the human condition and are simply satisfying to read for their own sake without the need for any clever or surprise conclusions. Others though are quite definitely of the ‘twist in the tale’ type, often blended with a deliciously wicked element of humour, and I have to say, Stuart Kear has demonstrated a real talent for that type of story.

My favourite story? – I’m torn between ‘The Look, ‘ a brutal tale of murder and poetic justice with a little touch of black humour, and ‘The Departure,’ another relatively simple story but having the impact of being hit right between the eyes with a claw hammer! Others that also caught my particular attention – ‘The Accident’ and the ‘The dig at the Station Hotel.’

If I had but two tiny criticisms it would be that I would have preferred a more ‘Wales’ orientated cover as the one here puts me more in mind of a major city than the Welsh Valleys. Secondly, given how many people like to read on their Kindles, tablets, and phones etc it would be nice if this collection were more widely available as an eBook too as these stories really do merit the widest possible readership! Apart from that, an absolutely superb clever and entertaining collection of stories. No hesitation in rating it a thoroughly well-deserved 5 stars!

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About the author …

Born in 1945, Stuart Kear, was born and raised in the Welsh Valleys, having also lived and worked there all his life.  With three children and two grandchildren, Stuart Kear was recently widowed and it is to the memory of his late wife of 47 years he dedicated the above short story collection.

In addition to his love of books and language, Stuart Kear’s other interests are photography, walking, quizzes, snooker, and of course, writing.

 

 

Bells On Her Toes – Book Review

DJFprofile

This is the first murder mystery novel I’ve read in a long time, so many thanks to Diana J. Febry for reintroducing me to this neglected genre for me. Reading Diana’s novel, Bells On Her Toes, reminded me just how important a good plot is, and how giving the reader something to think about is to the reader’s enjoyement. Diana J. Febry is the author of five novels, and in her own words, her mysteries combine eccentric rural characters, village politics and as many teists and turns as a country lane. As well as being an author, she is an active book reviewer and contributor to several online writing groups.

Diana J. Febry was born near Bristol and educated at Oxford Brookes University. She continues to live near Bristol with her husband and two teenage children. When not writing she spends her time roaming the countryside with her dog and horses.

Further links to Diana J. Febry’s writing can be found at:

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www.twitter.com/mariamallon1

Diana J Febry’s Fb Author page:

Diana J Febry’s Amazon Author page:

www.wings-press.com

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Bells On Her toes

By Diana J. Febry

(Available from Amazon as an eBook)

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DJF5Set against the murky backdrop of the world of race horse training, Diana J Febry has produced a real murder mystery and detective whodunit (and why), filled with twists and turns and lots of deliciously deceptive red herrings to keep the reader guessing and trying to fathom who the murderer is. Given the setting, it inevitably gives rise to comparison with Dick Francis, but having read both I would say this book owes more to the influence of say a modern day Agatha Christie – I could easily picture this book as one of those very English murder mysteries dramas although this is definitely more Morse than Frost. With her background and knowledge, Diana J Febry has used the horse racing and training world to give the story a character and feel all of its own but without immersing the reader too deeply in it; likewise with the investigative and police procedural elements, she has concentrated on telling a story rather than trying to impress the reader with her knowledge of the former.

The story starts off predictably enough with the discovery of dead body (with a gunshot wound) in the barn of a country estate, but others are soon to follow. As the Detective duo DCI Peter Hatherall and DC Fiona Williams start their investigations we are introduced to a wide and esoteric cast of characters. With each new character new theories arise regarding the initial murder, some more probable than others and some wildly speculative, though if I had but one small criticism in this area it would be that I think some of the theories and speculation alluded to by the locals was just a tad too off the mark and slightly out of sync with the overall feel of the story, taking it slightly into the realms of a thriller at times.

Due to the plot driven nature of murder mystery stories, I don’t want to allude to too many specific elements of the plot for fear of spoiling it any way, but what I can say is that this is a well-crafted literary jigsaw encompassing lost and past love, possibe offiicial shady goings on involving the environment, and official cover ups to name but a few, all inviting the reader to reach premature conclusions as the author sends the reader in several different directions with the different lines of enquiry.

Given the number of characters I was impressed with how well they were developed and how that development was incorporated into the overall story. The subplots were cleverly weaved into the wider story to give them relevance rather than being used simply to add extra pages. The dialogue between the two lead detectives and the rest of the characters was realistic, driving the story forward when necessary while at other times giving the reader time to pause and speculate as to which way the story is going, which for me is one of the enjoyments of reading this type of book. I also liked the fact that the relationship between the two detectives wasn’t without its problems, and I enjoyed watching how it developed with just the merest hint at a possible romance. Although this is the first of this author’s books I’ve read, I know from reading the blurbs of her other novels that this isn’t the last we’re destined to see of DCI Peter Hatherall and DI Fiona Williams I’m pleased to say. I would rate this in the region of 4.5 to 4.7, and since that’s way closer to 5 than 4, it gets a five star rating from me.

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Diana J. Febry’s current titles: Click on thumbnails for Amazon links

DJF2 DJF1 DJF3 DJF4 DJF5

Larry Flynn – Book Review

 

maxblogpicLarry Flynn by Max Power is another title that came to my attention via facebook, twitter, and the growing number of positive reviews it has quickly accumulated. Having already enjoyed and reviewed Darkly Wood by Max Power I had no hesitation in adding this new one to my reading list.

Max Power has written several books including Darkly Wood, Bad Blood, and Little Big Boy. Originally from Dublin he currently resides in Maynooth in Kildare Ireland with his family, and following the huge success of Darkly Wood, is currently working on its sequel.

As well as being an author, Max Power is a prolific book reviewer, blogger, and regular contributor to a number of Indie Author Support Fb groups, Goodreads, and other assorted social media, and is fast establishing himself as major name in Indie publishing.

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Further information on Max Power and links to his writing can be found at:

http://maxpowerbooks.wordpress.com/

Max Power’s Amazon Author page:

www.facebook.com/maxpowerbooks

www.twitter.com/maxpowerbooks1

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Larry Flynn

By Max Power

(Available in eBook and paperback from Amazon)

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Larry Flynn isn’t your usual doddering old fella but one harbouring a hidden past filled with tragedy, drama, and secrets of epic proportions. He certainly isn’t a nice old man; in fact he comes across as a thoroughly dislikeable and heartless bitter old man without a single redeeming virtue to his name – whether this is due to circumstances, the fact that he’s slowly dying and knows it or simply his nature is for the reader to discover and decide for themselves, but what they will also discover along the way is a cleverly constructed story that starts off in a sedate but intriguing way, hinting at a horrific progression.

Quite early on the author makes it clear that Larry Flynn has a hidden and sinister agenda, and one in which a pretty young girl plays a major part, giving rise to all sorts of gory speculation, but as anyone who has read any of Max Power’s books before will know, it’s never wise to jump to any obvious conclusions. Set in Dublin, much of the narrative and dialogue pays homage to the locality, utilising some of the local dialect to give a real feel for the characters and place, but keeping the balance just right so as not to distract or confuse any readers not familiar with the Irish accent or terminology. The dialogue is authentic, switching effortlessly between the characters to give each their own distinctive voice, bringing each of them to life with every word, thought and action. There are some lengthy narratives at times, but expertly interwoven into the dialogue and action sequences, providing the framework for the unfolding story.

In its simplest terms, this is a story of one old man’s obsessional need for revenge, and he’s prepared to go to any lengths to get it. When a young girl provides the opportunity for Larry to put his plans into action, things quickly escalate beyond his control, que the arrival of host of other characters he hadn’t allowed for: a ruthless Dublin crime boss, some nasty associates of the crime boss even more objectionable than Larry Flynn himself, a couple of equally ruthless US security special forces, and the US ambassador. What emerges is a story spanning the past seventy years; a conspiracy involving the Catholic Church, a soldier who knows too much, a shady high ranking Nazi, the smuggling of a Nazi fortune, and the Fuhrer himself – these may sound like the typical ingredients of a thriller but without giving too much away, those elements really are just the surface of this intriguing story of political ambition, murder, rape, kidnap, and a determination to safeguard a terrible secret. Another fine piece of writing from Max Power.

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Further titles by Max Power: click on thumbnails for Amazon links –

littlebigboy darklywood badblood

Max’s Mayhem – Book Review

This is a story I was prompted to read after having
read and enjoyed one of Amber Hawkins’ short stories featured on her blog, http://ambersalley.wordpress.com/.

 

Max’s Mayhem, by Amber Hawkins (Available on amazon Kindle)

max' mayhem4This is a novel that most definitely falls in the Crime and Detective genre. Although set in the present day, this is very much a good old fashioned detective story and reads very much like a Ray Chandler or Sam Spade novel; if it weren’t for the occasional references to modern technology, the reader could almost imagine themselves in a period 1930’s murder investigation. It’s the classic story of an old school detective teamed up with a tenacious young female reporter, determined to get to the bottom of the of the seemingly motiveless murder of a high class call girl: Throw in a Senate Governor, a jealous wife, and a mysterious killer lurking in the background, and you have all the ingredients of a an engaging and fast-paced ‘who and why they did it story.’ There are a number of sub-plots and unexpected turns that slowly and cleverly fall into place to form the overall story. The ending was not what I was expecting, and is suggestive that this might well be just the first in a longer series of such stories.

If I had but one tiny criticism it would be that I do think there is just the slightest over reliance on semi-colons in the first half of the story, but again, I say that based on my own reading and writing preferences, and I suspect other readers may well disagree with me on this.

Despite not being a dedicated fan of ‘classic’ detective novels, I did find this story to be well written, enjoyable and entertaining. One of the things I don’t usually enjoy with some detective novels is when the author tries to impress with almost Sherlock Holmes levels of analysis and clues that would take a super computer to figure out. In ‘Max’s Mayhem’, Amber Hawkins manages to get the balance more or less just right to intrigue and hold the reader’s interest without drowning them in procedural detail, relying instead on the detective’s and the reporter’s respective instincts and experience to move the story forward.

At sixty two pages, this is more a novella than a full length novel, but packed within those pages is a story that fans of the murder, crime, and detective genres will really enjoy.

Sweet Old Lady…

Preface:

When we think of murder and those who commit it, it’s common to think of a man, someone brutal and evil looking, calculating and without remorse, or sometimes someone consumed by jealousy or thoughts of revenge or greed perhaps. On those rare occasions when the murderer is a woman, again we conjure up an image of someone hard and evil looking, like those now infamous pictures of the likes of the British child murderer, Myra Hindley, or the American serial killer, Aileen Wuornos. The truth is, there is no look or image for a murder, they look just like you and me, and everyone else…

 

Sweet Old Lady…

Elspith Eliza Harrington and her husband had moved to the quaint little village not long after the advent of the internet. With so many different sources of entertainment available, work for an aging actress of the stage had become harder and harder to come by, and Elspith was not one to take second-rate roles in the smaller theatres…

Life in the village was pleasant. Elspith and Mr Harrington had settled in well, especially that nice Mr Harrington, who had been born and raised not more than a few miles away. The villagers were so proud that a local lad had made a name for himself; he had enthralled the locals with tales of the theatre, and best of all had brought fresh life to the local ‘amateur dramatics’ group.

She was by far the more famous of the two, but Elspith was a Londoner, it might take longer for her to gain their acceptance, or so Elspith thought and hoped.To the villagers they were just a normal couple. In private, things were very different…

Elspith had been an actress in her younger years; it’s what had attracted Mr Harrington to her in the first place. He was the casting director at the Strand Theatre, and she became his latest, and as time would show, greatest discovery. She wasn’t his only discovery though; he auditioned many chorus girls, always willing to provide a helping hand to the careers of the many young girls dreaming of theatrical stardom, and his wandering hands and roving eye were always more than willing. For Elspith though, time had made her his prisoner, his cash cow, and his possession. Many of her friends and admirers had urged her to leave the old bastard. One particular admirer, Charlie, a charming but brutal East London gangster, had even offered to have Mr Harrington entombed in the foundations of his new house. Years later she regretted not taking him up on his offer, especially when Mr Harrington’s extra-marital affairs gradually became common knowledge throughout the business; Eliza didn’t like that; he would have to go when the opportunity arose. That took much longer than Elspith would have liked, thirty years longer in fact….

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“I wish you’d let me drive the car as well, it would make life so much easier for me.” Elspith said.

“I’ve said no. Everywhere in the village is within walking distance for you.” Mr Harrington replied.

“I know that, but I just mean so that I can go a bit further, see some of the countryside, it seems a shame to be surrounded by so much beauty and not be able to see more of it.”

“You haven’t driven in years; it would cost too much to add you on the insurance.”

“And whose fault is that if you never let me drive in the first place? As for the insurance, it is my money we’re living off after all.”

Mr Harrington didn’t reply. He just looked at her. Elspith could sense his resentment, and immediately regretted saying anything. It wasn’t that she was sad at having maybe hurt his feelings, he didn’t have any, but she knew he would be even more unbearable now for the next few days, deliberately making her life even more of a misery in a multitude of different ways.

Elspith missed her old life. Her days of stardom were long behind her, but it would have been nice to lend her experience to the local amateur dramatics group like her husband, but Mr Harrington would have none of it. She knew the locals would have liked her to participate more, and resented her for not doing so, thinking she believed herself to be ‘far too grand’ for them, a belief she knew her husband encouraged on the quiet.

As time passed the locals treated her with more and more indifference, while affording Mr Harrington the adulation he never had in the theatre; it was his revenge, she thought, for remaining in the shadow of her public success for all their years in the theatre together.

Over the years the villager’s indifference gradually turned to thinly disguised scorn. If Elspith and Mr Harrington were visiting one of the village shops, he would be greeted with a friendly smile and social chit chat, she with little more than begrudging nods. He was invited to numerous social gatherings, often related to his involvement with the ‘am-dram’ group; she remained at home, left to her own devices. It was during those times Elspith thought about and plotted an end to her situation, waiting for just the right opportunity to put her plans into action…

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It was that time of year again, the summer charity fete. Mr Harrington was rehearsing another of his awful period dramas. Against her husband’s wishes, Elspith had volunteered to run one of the food stalls. Such generosity with her time and effort had not been warmly accepted, but anything that reduced the workload of the village fete committee was never refused, no matter how unpopular the source of the offer.They had a committee for just about anything – jam making, the church roof, even what colour the bus-stop benches should be. Elspith had learned to despise the small and narrow-minded extent of village life.

Mr Harrington did nothing to support her, choosing instead to belittle her efforts at every opportunity…

“I don’t see why you’re doing this. It’s just a village charity fete, not one of your grand star studded fund-raising events, can’t you just do as I ask for once and not try and hog the limelight?”

“I’ve always done as you asked, or more like what you’ve told me to do. I’m bored not having anything to do – you won’t let me play a part in any of the amateur dramatics, you won’t let me drive, I’m practically your servant and prisoner. Why are you so against me taking an active role in village life?”

“Because you’re not one of us, you’re just a chorus girl who got lucky, and that was thanks to me. Why can’t you be grateful for the life you have and not try to be the centre of attention? This is a village, not the starring role in a west-end production.”

Elspith already knew that’s how he thought of her. Despite it being her money that had bought them their lovely house and provided the income for their comfortable life, he regarded her success as his own and therefore the money too. And why shouldn’t he, he often thought, he had given Elspith her first big break in the business – her hard work and talent were incidental…

With Mr Harrington out of the way at rehearsals, Elspith was busy with her baking: fancy tea cakes, sausage rolls, savories, chocolate cookies, all manner of delicacies to tempt the appetite. She was a bit behind, having had to wait for various ingredients that were hard to come by – her old friend Charlie had been most helpful in that department. He’d long since retired from his ‘other activities’ so was glad to be of help, ‘just like old times’ he’d remarked when she made the unusual request.

All those days spent alone while Mr Harrington had been at rehearsals, out with friends, and socialising had given her all the time she needed. She now knew more about the countryside and all it had to offer than most of the locals; she was amazed at how many of the local plants, fruits, berries, and the such like were actually quite dangerous. She also knew as much about the villagers: Mrs Collins for example, the chairwoman of the local ‘am-dram’ group, had a severe allergy to nuts, while that equally obnoxious sister of hers had an intolerance for penicillin. Daisy Morgan, the church organist, was diabetic, while Jack Miles, the postman, had a heart condition for which he took a blood thinner to help his circulation.

The selection of culinary delights Elspith had produced was impressive. Even Mr Harrington had to begrudgingly concede she had done well before leaving for his early morning walk. How smug he would have been had he known the truth, that Elspith had secretly gotten her old friend Charlie to deliver in food from Royal food suppliers, Fortnum and Mason.

Elspith allowed herself a rare moment of reflection of how good life might have been in the village. The doorbell interrupted her thoughts…

“Oh, hello Charlie, I’m so pleased you could make it.”

“Eliza my darling, anything for you babes.” Elspith laughed out loud; only Charlie ever called her by her middle name or ‘babes.’ She knew she was far too old now for such endearments as the latter but she appreciated the flattery.

“I know, but thank you anyway.” She replied, smiling, and gave him a theatrical kiss on both cheeks.

“So Eliza, are you sure about all this?”

“After thirty years, never more so.”

“That’s my girl. I’ll be off then before he gets back, but I’ll be hovering around in the background to keep an eye on things.”

*************************

The fete was going well. The locals and a fair number of visitors had turned out in force. Elspith stood in dutiful attendance at her food stall, one of several but by far the most popular – it was difficult for the others to compete with the professional products of the Royal food suppliers:

“Really, Elspith, these look delicious,” said Mrs Collins, looking over the pastries in the middle of Elspith’s display.

“Thank you Mrs Collins, one does one’s best…”

“Oh please, call me Margaret; you’ve obviously worked so hard.” Elspith forced a weak smile in acknowledgement.

If only Mrs Collins had known just how true that was, about how much work had really gone into her efforts; not just the baking and cooking, but the planning and the preparation, thirty years’ worth, and it wasn’t simply to earn Elspith the accolade of calling Mrs Collins by her first name.

“I’ll take one, please, no need to wrap it.”

“My pleasure… And please, I’ve got a couple more already wrapped for you later, my little thank you for all your theatrical efforts with my husband.” It was Mrs Collins’ turn to force a smile, not quite sure of Elspith’s meaning…

“Yes, you’ll enjoy these, they’re a particular favourite of mine too,” Elspith assured her next customer, Daisy Morgan, “and I think I may have made too many of the sugar free butter candies so if you stop by towards the day’s end I’m sure they’ll be plenty left if you want some to take home?”

“That really is most kind of you. I have to be so careful with my diet.”

“Yes I know, but I had so many friends in the theatre, particularly the dancers, who had to maintain their figures for their work that I learned of all sorts of ingenious delicacies they came up with. I can give you the recipe for them if you would like?”

“I’d like that very much. We must be sure of seeing more of each other from now on.”

“Yes. And I’d like that very much, bye for now.”

“These honey filled scones taste great Mrs Harrington, I’ll take four.” It was no wonder Jack Miles had a heart problem and struggled to get the post delivered on time. Elspith knew he wouldn’t share a single one of them with his wife.

“Four it is Mr Miles. And here’s an extra two, free of charge for when you get home.”

“Hmmm,” said Jack, “I’ll enjoy them later. I can’t remember the last time I tasted honey this thick and succulent. How did you make it like this?” Elspith looked at him with her sweetest smile. It was best all round that she didn’t answer that question, at least not truthfully…

“So, how’s it going Eliza? Selling lots?” Asked Charlie.

“I should say, but I think that’s more to do with the quality of the Fortnum and Mason suppliers than my selling skills. This lot are getting the very best the world’s chefs have to offer for less than the price the local bakers would charge.”

“Hmm,” Charlie muttered, and then adding, “well just you be careful you don’t get them mixed up. You said yourself some of the villagers were alright to you.”

“No need to worry. I’m not one of the Borgias, you know. I’ve been most careful.”

“And you’ve sold to everyone you wanted to then?”

“Yes, to every one of them, it couldn’t have gone better if I had planned every last detail.”

“But you did,” Charlie laughed.

“Ha! So I did!” Snapped back Elspith with a huge mischievous grin…

It had been a busy but enjoyable day. Elspith’s catering efforts had gone down a treat. For the first time in years, the villagers had been really nice to Elspith. But it was all too little and too late…

Later that night, Margaret Collins went into anaphylactic shock, the result of something she ate, though exactly what couldn’t be identified.

Two days later both Daisy Morgan and Elizabeth Collins died in strange circumstances: Daisy from an extreme diabetic attack brought on by elevated blood-sugar levels and Elizabeth from some sort of penicillin induced heart attack.

A food source was suspected in both cases, but like with Margaret Collins, what particular food or where from was a mystery.

The mystery deepened further when the following day, Jack Miles died from a sudden and massive heart attack. Traces off an anti-clotting agent were later found in the autopsy, the very last thing you would expect to find in someone taking a blood thinning agent for clogged arteries.

And who could have foretold of Mr Harrington’s suicide? No one had suspected anything going on between him and Margaret Collins. He must have loved Margaret very much to be so distraught to kill himself when he heard of her death…

Poor Elspith, people thought. The village had finally warmed to her…

 *************************

“Not guilty!” The verdict of the month long trial was greeted by cheers and knowing nods of approval from the public gallery. The friends and admirers of the defendant had left little room for the usual assortment of morbidly curious onlookers.

Elspith Eliza Harrington allowed herself a wry smile as she listened to the Judge telling her she was free to go. She made a pretence of trying to adjust her hearing aid, forcing the judge to repeat himself. There was nothing wrong with her hearing but it amused her to do so…

The verdict had never really been in doubt; the evidence was flimsy and circumstantial at best. And even if it had been stronger, without absolute proof or a full confession, who would have believed that the frail looking sweet old lady standing in the dock could really have been responsible for multiple deaths in a quiet country village?

A court usher assisted Elspith descend the three short steps from the dock, not that she needed any help; truth be known, she was fit as a fiddle and with a razor sharp mind to match, but the frail, slightly confused persona had served her well so why abandon it just yet?

Only two people in the court weren’t fully taken in by Elspith’s performance: Judge Billingsgate, who had frequently indicated his disbelief by way of repeated interruptions of the defence; prolonged fiddling with his silver rimmed glasses as he pulled them midway down his nose to peer over betrayed his scepticism as surely as standing up and calling her a liar. And then there was Inspector Musgrove, the officer in charge of the investigations that had brought them all to this point…

It was sheer bad luck for Elspith that Inspector Henry Musgrove had been at the village fete that day otherwise the whole affair might never have come to court. What clinched his suspicions was seeing Charlie at the fete too. You see, Henry Musgrove hadn’t always been a country copper. Twenty years previously he’d led the task-force assigned to gathering the proof to convict Charlie Hawton – unsuccessfully.

There was nothing to connect Charlie with the unexplained deaths but it was obvious he knew, and was fond of Elspith Eliza Harrington.

In his mind, wherever Charlie was there was a crime waiting to be solved- if he couldn’t prove Charlie was responsible it would have to be the dotty old woman instead. He simply hadn’t counted on the ‘dotty old woman’s’ theatrical skills – the jury never stood a chance…

Charlie gave the inspector a cheeky wink from the gallery before proceeding to greet his ‘now’ fiancée, his beloved Eliza.

Accepting Charlie’s marriage proposal was a small price to pay for the opportunity of one last great performance…

Lottery Loser…

Preface:

 Murder, the deliberate taking of another human life, is quite possibly the most heinous of crimes a human being can commit. There can never be a real justification for it, can there? But are there cases where it might be understood, identified, and even sympathized with? You decide…

 

Lottery Loser…

How quickly life can change. Peter Miller had a beautiful wife and two adorable kids. What he didn’t have was a job, money to pay the bills, and hope for the future. Like everyone else on the run-down estate where they lived, he dreamed of how things might be: fancy holidays, a new car, and a better life for his family. All that stood in his way were six little numbers, the right numbers on the right ticket. It was the same dream fifteen million other lottery ticket buyers had. Dreams just didn’t come true for families like the Millers…

“For god’s sake Pete,” screamed Jill, his wife,”there’s barely enough electric left on the meter to get us through the week, we’re out of milk, behind with the rent, and you’re still wasting money on bloody lottery tickets!”

Peter turned away, knowing she was right, too ashamed to meet her angry tear-filled eyes. Neither of them had the energy to pursue the arguement further.

Peter Miller continued to dream. He needed his dreams to cope with going through the motions of applying for jobs he wouldn’t get. Each new morning brought the usual letters of rejection from those who had bothered to reply. The bin was full of such letters. The bills and final demands couldn’t be disposed of so easily; they were put in a draw.

Saturday night came round. Peter Miller would have liked to drop the kids off at their gran’s and take his wife out for a night out. But where to? With no money, no car, not even bus fare? Another night in front of the TV then. Peter Miller slumped into an armchair, mentally preparing himself for the inevitable disappointment of the lottery results. Jill no longer had enough fight in her to be remotely interested; the cost of their lottery ticket would have bought them two pints of milk.

Peter switched TV channels to hear the results. They never saw the other channel appear. Without warning, the the TV and the lights went dark and quiet.

“Well, that’s just soddin’ great!” Jill said.”

“I’ll go and operate the emergency supply,” he replied, lifting himself up. Like most of the other residents on the estate, their electric supply was a ‘pay as you go’ meter. You paid in advance for the electric you used. And when it was used up, the lights went out. The only safeguard was the emergency supply button; five pounds of emergency credit to allow the customer to restore their electric supply until the customer could get to a local shop to buy more credit for the key that updated the meter balance. Two minutes later the lights came back on, and the TV sprang back to life. They had missed the lottery results. It seemed unimportant. What was important was that it was another week away before they got the next unemployment cheque – the measly five pounds emergency credit wouldn’t stretch another week…

The days passed. Life continued for the Millers. With a little economy they might just make the electric last til the end of the week; more blankets instead of central heating, strict rationing of the house lights, and the kids would have to forego using their X boxes for the rest of the week – they would cope, somehow. The Millers were used to coping, to making do..

The Wednesday edition of the Hackney Gazette dropped through the letterbox, the local freebie paper. It made a change from the bills and job rejection letter. It was filled with local news and an ever decreasing number of job adverts. The news was mostly bad, and the jobs beyond his qualifications and skills. It did feature the lottery results as well though…

“This can’t be fucking right? – Jill!” It was Peter’s turn to scream her name. Jill assumed it was another bill, and continued her washing up.

“Jill! He screamed again, “Jill, for fucks sake, leave that and get in here will you.” This time she took notice. It wasn’t like him to swear like that, not at her.

“What is it, what’s wrong?” there was worry and concern in here voice.

“Wrong? Nothing, at least I don’t think so – here, take a look…” He replied, thrusting the local paper into her hands, “look at the numbers, they’re our numbers, the ones we do every week.. We’ve fucking won!!!” She took the paper., not really taking in what he was saying. The winning lottery numbers certainly looked familiar, but it had been so long since she had been the one to buy the tickets that she couldn’t be sure, still not believing it…

“I’m telling you Jill, those are our numbers!” He didn’t bother to wait for her reaction before racing upstairs to retrieve the lottery ticket. Jill raced after him, paper still in hand. They stared at the numbers screaming out at them from the now crumpled page of the Gazette and compared them to those on the ticket. They were the same! They turned to look at one another, their eyes met. This time the tears were joyful. No words needed saying at that moment – the empty fridge, the electric running out, their damp cold flat – none of it mattered now, they were going to be rich…

The morning’s weather was as cold and wet as it could be, but for the Millers it was the brightest they’d ever known. They’d been too excited the previous night to actually ring the lottery company to claim their winnings. With shaking hands Peter Miller dialed the contact number to verify their ticket.

“Hello, is that the claims line?” He asked, his voice shaking in sync with his hands.

“Yes, this is the Camelot claims line, can I help you?”

“Yes, I think we may have won this week’s jackpot, we’ve checked the numbers and everything.”

“That’s good. If you could just read the numbers on the ticket for me then please?”

“Sure: seven, eleven, twenty four, thirty two, thirty nine, sixteen, and bonus ball is eight”

“Yes, those are the correct numbers. Now, could you just read the ticket verification code in the bottom left-hand corner.”

“Two, one, four, nine, six.”

“Thank you, if you could just hold on a moment please… Just having a bit of trouble getting the verification, nothing to worry about, the system’s a bit slow at the moment.”

“That’s okay, I can hold…”

“Errm, can I take your details please? The system’s down at the moment so we’ll need to get back to you later today, or if that’s not possible could I you call back later?”

Peter Miller gave the claims assistant his name and number and agreed that they would speak again later to confirm his claim just as soon as the ‘system’ was up and running again…

“They said we’ve got the correct numbers, but their verification machine is down at the moment so we need to call back later for final confirmation, or something like that. Other than that, everything’s okay.”

“Oh that’s so great, I’m so sorry for snapping at you, oh god, I’m so happy!”

“Me too, love. Now let’s start planning…”

Over the next couple of hours, the two of them made all the sorts of plans you would expect of a money-strapped young couple who had just won the lottery: what sort of house and car they would buy, where they would move to, a world cruise, who they were going to help, everything they could dream of. Life was going to be so great for them from now on.

Three hours later…

“Hello, is that Peter Miller?”

“Yes, that’s right”

“This is John Salford, from Camelot. You spoke to one of my colleagues earlier in respect of a claim. I’m afraid there’s a problem…”

“A problem? I don’t understand, I mean, the numbers are right, I’ve checked and re-checked them a dozen times..”

“Yes they are, but the ticket verification code you provided, it’s invalid. According to our records it’s registered to a ticket issuing machine that was stolen from a retail outlet three years ago… Sorry, are you still there Mr Miller?”

Peter Miller was having trouble following what was being said, he just wasn’t taking it in. He’d bought a ticket from his local newsagents, how could it not be valid? The man in the shop had even paid him for previous little wins, the odd tenner or so, it just wasn’t making sense to him…

“I’m afraid I’m going to need details of exactly when and where you bought your ticket so we can pass this matter onto the police and our fraudulent claims department Mr Miller.”

“What? You think I’m making a false claim, I bought the fucking ticket in a shop for God-sake, this is all bollox..”

“Yes, I understand. No one’s accusing you of making a false claim, but we believe a wider fraud may have been committed in which you are a victim Mr Miller.”

*************************

Arnold Simms, proprietor of the Dalston Road HappyShopper newsagents and tobacconist, was charged with multiple counts of defrauding the Camelot Lottery company. Over a three year period he had pocketed over thirty thousand pounds from the sale of invalid lottery tickets by way of a stolen lottery ticket machine. To perpetuate the fraud, he had paid out numerous small wins to maintain the illusion of selling valid tickets, working on the assumption that the odds of a customer having a really big win were too long to worry about. He intended to plead not guilty on the grounds on that he had bought the said stolen machine in good faith. Due to his previous good character he was granted bail and allowed to continue trading. He was never brought to trial…

 *************************

Peter Miller was originally charged with the murder of Arnold Simms, having walked into the HappyShopper newsagents in broad daylight and shot him twice through the chest. When the police arrived, Peter Miller was sitting on the floor of the shop with the gun lying beside him, muttering and crying. At his trial the jury refused to convict him of murder, opting instead for the alternative of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. He was released after serving three years of a five year sentence…

 *************************

Was it murder? Should he have been released so soon? Put yourself in Peter Miller’s position. How would you have reacted to having all your hopes and dreams come true, only for them to be destroyed in a single moment? What might you have done?

A good man…

A good man…

 Scully was an eighteen carrot prize bastard, no other way to describe him, least-ways not in polite company; a miserable little weasel with a fondness for preying on the teenage waifs and strays coming to London for whatever reasons – escaping abusive homes, lure of the bright lights, promises of fame and fortune – the reasons as innumerable as those arriving. Pimp, drug dealer, predator, Scully had been all of these and more…

 The man’s neck snapped like a twig underfoot. His body fell limp into the waiting arms of Hatchet Ron, ready for disposal. It was all in a night’s work for Old Hatchet, real name Ronald Hatch, not that it was wise for anyone to call him ‘Old’.

 This had been a rush job. Normally he would have charged a hefty bonus for the added urgency, but after a little digging into the weasel’s life, he’d willingly foregone the extra.

 Hatchet Ron thought back to the previous week when he first met the old man. A ‘friend of a friend’ as it were had sorted the details. The old man’s grand-daughter had died six months earlier…

 “It’s just not right, out-living your own kids, and then ya grandkids too…” He remembered the old man saying between the coughs and splutters. He’d be dead soon, was his first thought. He knew death well – the look, its smell. The old man should have been dead already but there remained one last thing that needed doing, one more person he needed to out-live.

 Two years earlier, Maria, the old man’s grand-daughter, had fell in with a “thoroughly bad lot,” as he had put it, “run off with some conman who had promised her the world…the things he’d made her do…you wouldn’t believe…” But he did believe; it was a tale Hatchet Ron had heard all too often to be shocked or moved to sentimentality by. Despite the horrific details, Hatchet Ron’s face had betrayed no emotion or reaction to the old man’s account of his grand-daughter’s suffering. He’d wanted to console the old man, place a hand on his shoulder or something, reassure him that her suffering wouldn’t go unpunished. He didn’t though; there was another witness to the tale, the ‘friend of a friend’ who had made the introductions – Hatchet Ron was a paid cold-blooded killer, he had a reputation to maintain, and sentimentality wasn’t a part of it. Not even the old man’s parting words that he only had a few weeks to live, hence the urgency of the job, had visibly stirred him.

 “I understand. It’ll be done by the end of the week,” he’d told the old man.

 “Thank you; you’re a good man.. I wish I could pay you more…”

 “No. It’s a simple enough job, this is more than enough to cover it.”

 The old man had tears in his eyes as the ‘friend of a friend’ discreetly passed Hatchet Ron the thick brown envelope, not just of sadness of the circumstances, but gratitude too for the knowledge that his grand-daughter’s tormentor would soon be dead. He had no way of course of enforcing the contract but something about the manner and voice of this, to him, nameless man told him that this was a man of his word…

 *******************

The old man’s face lit up at the arrival of the following week’s edition of the Dalston Chronicle. The headline read…

 Brutal death of local drug dealer

 It went on to catalogue a list of horrific injuries that local drug dealer ‘Sculley’ Mitchell had suffered prior to the final one, a broken neck that had ended his life. He knew of course that the newspaper account was a heavily abridged version; the photographs Hatchet Ron had provided him with had shocked him, but he had no regrets, it was nothing more than the scum had deserved, it had been worth his twenty thousand pounds life savings… Harry Simpkins died the following day clutching the photos with a smile on his face…

 ********************

 Hatchet Ron had so wanted to tell the old man that his grand-daughter Maria had had a son a few months before her death. Hatchet Ron had known this before accepting the job. The boy had been placed into foster care and then adopted by a very nice couple in the country. But that would have created a dilemma for the old man – to pay for the vengeance and justice Maria deserved and die knowing that Scully would go on living, or provide an inheritance for the boy? The old man was a decent sort, he would rather have lived his final weeks with the misery of injustice just so long as he could do something for the boy. And Hatchet Ron would not have got his fee. He couldn’t let-on, he had his reputation to maintain. Even the hardest and most vicious of his peers were a little taken aback at the coldness of his decision not to give the old man the choice, and to think the old man had called him a good man

 ********************

 A little over twenty years later, little Todd Simpkins came of age. He’d grown into a fine young man, having inherited all the kindness and generosity of the great grand-father he never knew, so who could begrudge him the previously unknown trust that had been set up for him twenty years earlier, twenty thousand pounds that had since grown to nearly a hundred thousand pounds….

 ********************

 Hatchet Ron sat listening to the frail old woman as she recounted the story of the thugs who had stolen and brutally tortured and killed her only companions, her beloved two cats. She wasn’t the least bit upset at parting with Hatchet Ron’s sizeable fee, knowing that the thugs would be brought to justice.

 Hatchet Ron had been moved by the plight of the local animal shelter that desperately needed funds to remain open and had been wondering how he might find the cash to make a donation…

Cold Callers…

Preface:

 It’s funny, the little things that provide the inspiration for a story. In the following story, the seed of the idea started with a TV commercial featuring a woman in the kitchen receiving a phone call from a loft insulation salesman. She puts him on hold while she goes off to make a cup of coffee. It got me thinking of all the different ways to deal with cold callers…

 

 Cold Callers…

 

Time – 08:00: Here I am, Sunday morning, sitting at my keyboard, working on my blog. It’s another short story, not so much a whodunit as a whytheydunit.

The TV’s off, I’ve put my mobile on silent, logged off from Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media, and locked the wife and kids in the cellar – well, not really, I made that last bit up, but you take my point.

I’m lost in my own little world, the only external contact being my fingers tapping away at the keyboard. The words are flowing, bringing the page alive before my very eyes, I couldn’t be happier… The last time I had a flow like this was a burst water pipe.

Disaster… The landline is ringing. I think for a moment to ignore it. Only my family and close friends know my home number; it might be important. Reluctantly I emerge from my other world…

“Yeah, who’s this?” I ask, making little effort to hide my annoyance at the interruption. If it’s anyone I know I can make my apologies later. If not, I don’t care…

“Is that Mr Brown?” The twat didn’t even have the courtesy to answer my question.

Who is it that’s asking?” I ask, again…

 “Oh I’m sorry, did I not say?”

“No.”

“Ah, okay, I’m sorry…” He’s lying; he’s not a bit sorry, obviously a salesman of some sort.

“So you said. Now, who are you?”

“Yes of course, my name’s Colin, Colin Smithers.” Smarmy git, he’s trying to control the exchange, like a chess player trying to dominate the middle of the board. Well, I’m not playing…

“What do you want?” I already know what he wants, a sales commission. He won’t be getting one, not from me…

“I’m calling on behalf of Snuggly loft insulation, and…”

“I live in an igloo! I’m not interested.” I say, slamming the phone down. I take a deep breath, just like my therapist advised.

Time – 08:35: I’m back at my keyboard. I can’t help wondering, if I can’t even get some peace and quiet in my own home to write, how the hell did JK Rowling manage it in a cafe? I put the thought from my mind as I resume the sentence I was writing. Now what was it, oh yes I remember, the outline of a murder plot, my fingers returning to the keyboard once more..

Dingggg Dongggg… It’s the front doorbell going…

“What the fuck now?” I mutter under my breath, once again having to tear myself away from my beloved keyboard…

“Yes?” I ask, throwing the door wide open. Standing before me are a man and a woman, of African origin I would say, wearing bright coloured clothing and with equally bright beaming white teethed smiles that would grace the covers of Dentistry Monthly

“We’re from the Holy Hackney Church of the Apostles…”

“And I’m from the Battersea Boy’s Home for waifs and strays, what of it?”

The beaming smiles momentarily wither beneath their puzzled frowns. But only for a moment; they’re trained you know, to deal with stroppy unbelievers. The greater the challenge the greater the reward in heaven, they think. I’m about to throw doubt on their hypothesis…

“Would you be interested in any of our leaflets on the life eternal…?”

I’m glad it’s the man who’s asking. I’m not sexist or ‘owt, but I do find it so much easier being rude and abrupt to another man. It’s a failing, I know; I’m sure if I was a woman I’d feel comfortable with either.

“Not in the slightest!” I reply, about to close the door on this interruption.

“You’re not a believer then my friend?” Asks the female half of the double act.

I feel my blood pressure rising, I take another deep breath, just as I’ve been told. My therapist is going to have to devise a more effective coping mechanism for me; this one is beginning to fail…

“Oh but I am,” I reply, treating them both to a broad smirk, “a fully paid up member of the Sun Worshiping Pagan Tree Hugging Society,  have you heard of us? No? …Thought not…”

It was amusing to see those ‘far too happy to be true’ smiles fall from their faces as they turned to walk away in sync with my closing the door on them. Another unwelcome interruption satisfyingly dispatched…

Time – 09:15: I’m back at my keyboard. A full stop concludes the sentence I was writing, and indeed the paragraph. It’s also the conclusion of my muse for the moment. My ‘flow’ has been become a trickle, and no, that’s not a reference to a prostate problem so please forgive the unfortunate analogy.

The brief satisfaction of my dismissal of the God botherers has worn off. I’m still annoyed at them, blaming them for my loss of focus. I sit staring at the screen, the words on the page a blur, my fingers seemingly paralysed. Another hour passes and still the words don’t come. I fill the following hour with all manner of meaningless tasks: tea making, email checks, Facebook updates, anything to fill the void until the words return. Nothing seems to work, I’m becoming jittery, like an ex-smoker in those first few days of giving up. The deep breathing exercises have lost all effect. I resolve to make another appointment with my therapist. I really should take one of my pills, but I don’t want to blur my imagination even more…I take one anyway.

My morose mood is punctured by the sound of the landline ringing, my second call of the day…

“Hello, is this Mr Brown?” A voice asks. With my mind and fingers still not communicating, this time it’s a welcome intrusion.

“Yes it is. Who’s calling please?”

“My name’s John Hargreaves. I’m calling on behalf of Winter Warm Windows about an exclusive offer we have for your area, Mr Brown.”

“Sorry, what was that name again…Har…Grove… was it? Could you spell that please?”

“Spell it..?” I can hear the frustration in his voice.

“Yes, that’s right, just so I know who I’m talking to…” It’s only fair; he already knows who I am…

“Errm… Yes, right then… H – A – R – G – R – E – A -V – E – S.”

“Thank you for that. And the name of your company? Was that Winter Warm or Warm Winter?”

“The first one, Winter Warm, but as I was saying…” The resignation in his voice is becoming more evident, I wonder if he has high blood pressure too?

“And is that all one word or two, or hyphenated maybe?”

“Oh, erm, two words, without a hyphen… But, what I wanted to…”

“Thank you for that John…I can call you John can I?” I’m enjoying this. Before he can answer I continue:

“Tell me John, what’s it like working for Winter Warm? Are they a good firm to work for, it’s just that I’m thinking of a career change  and  I quite like the idea of sitting round all day just talking to people…”

“It’s… a bit like that, but…” Again I cut him short…

“And the pay, would you say they pay well? It’s not one of those ‘commission only’ set ups is it? I would insist a on a decent basic salary as well, wouldn’t you agree…?”

Time to give him a moment to splutter some blurb about what it is he wants me to buy…

“Yes, the pay’s okay, and yes, there’s a basic salary, but what I was calling about was our special offer to customers in your area…”

“A special offer you say, how exciting.” I hope he recognizes the distain in my voice.

“Are you offering to double glaze my entire house for free then?” If he says yes I might even start taking this conversation seriously…

“Not free exactly, but we are offering a fifty per cent discount to the first twenty customers who sign up for six new windows.”

“That sounds good,” I lie, “and the payment, can I pay in instalments, would there be a deposit to pay first?”

“Yes, definitely, you can pay in instalments, with just a ten per cent deposit to pay first.”

“And the deposit, can I pay that in instalments too?”

“Well, not really, we do require the ten percent to paid before any commencement of work I’m afraid.”

“Oh,” I say, trying to sound disappointed.

“I’ll have to give it some thought then. Obviously before making any commitment I’ll need to take a few particulars about your company to verify its legitimacy, you don’t mind do you?”

“No, not at all,” he says, actually believing I’m genuinely interested now.

“First, could you give me the full postal code addresses of both your local and Head office premises, as well as that of any parent company, and of course their respective customer service and administration telephone numbers. I’ll also need your VAT and Company House registration numbers. I trust none of that will be a problem?”

“All the information you’ve asked for would be in the documentation we provide.”

He’s trying to maintain his composure and civility; sales calls are mostly recorded these days. I suspect this is being recorded too, for training and monitoring purposes, otherwise he would almost certainly have either put the phone down by now or bluntly asked if this was a piss take.

“I appreciate that, but I would still require it beforehand, for my checks you see. And another thing I forgot to ask, is it a new company, and who the directors are? You hear so many horror stories of rogue companies carrying out bad work, closing down, and then opening up again under a slightly different name… Your company isn’t one of those is it?”

There’s an uneasy pause before he answers:

“No, we’re not one of those companies,” he reassures me…

“I’m sure you’re not, but you do see I had to ask don’t you? It’s just that while we’ve been talking I’ve been googling your company. According to their entries your company was only formed six months ago, and it has… My gosh… Eighty seven consumer complaints against it and an honorary mention on both the Cowboy Builders and Consumer Watchdog TV programs…”

I wait in gleeful anticipation for his reply…. Oh dear, we seem to have been cut off, I conclude as the line goes dead. I’m so grateful for his call though, our little exchange has quite rejuvenated my creativity….

Time – 11:55: The words are flowing again, my mood lifted, and my blood pressure back down in the safe zone. Life is good again as I put together the final pieces of my literary jigsaw. The final dilemma was the method to be used for the actual murder committed by my principal character. I had been torn between a brutal bludgeoning or knife attack, and poisoning. The decision is clear to me now as the final scene comes alive on the page…

Dingggg Dongggg… The sound of the doorbell shatters the tranquillity, again…

 Deep breaths, in out, in out, fists clenching, blood pressure ready to explode again. I close my eyes in the hope that whoever it is will  go away…

Dingggg Dongggg… Why now? Sunday is supposed to be a day of peace and quiet…

They’re still there. I feel an anxiety attack coming on. I’ve not the time to take a pill or ring my therapist. Defeated, I rise from my desk to answer yet another intrusive call…

“Yes!” It’s not a question this time. The man standing before me grins like a Cheshire cat. He’s younger than me, mid-thirties I estimate. His suit is slightly ill-fitting. He’s gone for the executive look, but on a limited budget, it’s more dodgy second-hand car salesman.

“Hello, I’m Colin, Colin Smithers; we spoke on the phone earlier this morning. I think I may have caught you at an inconvenient moment at the time.”

My jaw drops in disbelief. The arrogance of this prick. Was I not blunt enough with him on the phone?

“What is it you want?” I’m bloody pissed; this really is taking cold calling to a whole new level. I’ve had enough. Well, I think my response will also have to be taken to a whole new level too…

“I think we may have gotten off to a bad start on the telephone earlier, and as I was in the area on another appointment I thought I might call on you personally to let you know about our limited time exclusive offer we are able to offer on account of a budget underspend last month.”

“Yes, perhaps I was a bit hasty this morning. Please come in…”

Time – 13:45: I’m back at my keyboard. I’ve just about finished my story. The murder scene came out better than I could ever have imagined, a gory brutal decapitation for dramatic effect…

 ********************

It just after 2:20pm when the armed response unit arrived at the house. Mr Brown was sitting at his desk, typing, covered in blood, muttering away to himself, something about ignoring anymore interruptions. He hadn’t even noticed when they came crashing through the door, armed to the teeth, screaming at him to drop to the floor. He just looked over his shoulder and calmly turned off his PC, and told them he was done now done and would be happy to oblige. It was the strangest call-out they’d ever had; the odd reports of a possible murder, the site of that severed head hanging from the external door knocker when they arrived and the make shift sign saying ‘NO COLD CALLERS’.

 *******************

One year later… Time – 08:00: It’s great here. I’ve got access to lots of PCs, and even one in my room. I no longer have to work, not if I don’t want to, so I’ve got all the time in the world for my writing. The doctors tell me I’ll be here for the next twenty years at least, even longer with a bit of luck, though I’ll have to play up a bit if I want an indefinite stay.

Now what was I writing, ah yes, a storyline for the murder of an annoying room-mate…

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