A Man in Love

Hello everyone! Today I’m sharing a short story I wrote few months ago,which was inspired by the prompt of an ‘unreliable narrator’.

This is an aspect of story telling that I find very interesting, and it can be seen in plenty of book and films. How do we know if we can trust our only source of information as a reader? Should we believe anything they say? At which point do we realise that our narrator is, in fact, compromised? These are just a few questions to consider when writing a story like this, and I had a lot of fun doing it!

I hope you enjoy this story, and thanks again for reading.

P.S. I’m looking for story prompts for my new feature! See my previous post, Fortnightly Fiction – A Call for Prompts! for more details.

 

A Man in Love

By Adam Dixon

 

My name is Brian Sedgwick and I am a man in love. Consider that my confession, if you like, I’m happy to tell anyone who’ll listen. It’s not easy to love someone so much that it hurts. Before I fell in love I was alone in my flat with my games and microwave meals, but now I dream of children and country houses and all that cheesy stuff. Some people will try to belittle it and say that I’m only into her because she’s my boss, but that’s just insulting. Plus, I know that she loves me, too.

Eleanor Robins is thirty-two, a couple of years younger than me. She has long, shining brown hair and gorgeous green eyes that you could lose yourself in. She has a sweet, lopsided smile, a dusting of freckles on her nose, and a birthmark on her wrist; it looks like a USB drive to me, which I like to think is a sign that we’re meant to be. I love to hear her laugh, it’s the best sound in the world. I try to make Eleanor laugh every day in the office; she works so hard and I notice that the stress gets to her sometimes. It can’t be easy running a business in this economy, so whenever she comes into my office with an issue I look over my computer and crack some stupid, half-baked joke just to make her smile. I know she appreciates it, even though she doesn’t say it. She even started flirting with me a few months ago, which I’ll admit knocked me for six. Nothing outrageous, just the odd raised eyebrow or a smirk after a euphemism about hard drives or something. She’s also got a bit of a wild side, as the office Christmas Party 2016 can attest to. I caught her alone under the mistletoe at the end of the evening; it was the single greatest moment of my life. The next day Eleanor insisted that it was a mistake, the result of too much wine and good spirits, and asked me to keep it to myself. Ever the professional. God, I love that woman. Her husband has never deserved her.

Oh yeah, she’s been married to that ape, Darren, for six years now. I’d only met him once, but I knew all about him right away. A personal instructor at a gym in London, all muscles and protein with limited brain cells, like a hi-spec desktop with a tiny processor. He did some freelance writing on the side, mostly articles about the importance of fitness in modern society and advocating encouragement instead of body-shaming, blah blah blah…I’ve read them, they’re not very good. They were probably ghost-written, anyway. It doesn’t matter, just imagine a lout who wants a trophy wife. Eleanor is perfect; beautiful, intelligent, and successful, just the kind of woman who makes Darren look brilliant by association. He’s never loved her like I do, and I could tell that Eleanor was only pretending to love him back. The amount of times I’ve passed by her office and heard her rowing with him on the phone is ridiculous. She even started taking her wedding ring off and leaving it in a drawer. This had been going on for months, and it sounded like Darren was an arsehole at home, as I’d suspected. Eleanor only stayed with him because she didn’t know how to get away from their marriage. Poor, sweet Eleanor.

I decided to do something about it after the Christmas Party. It was made clear that Eleanor wants me as much as I want her, but I knew I’d need to be careful. Eleanor isn’t the kind of woman to engage in affairs, and I respect that. Darren was unlikely to cheat on her, because, seriously, who in their right mind would do that with Eleanor in their life? No, I needed to find a way for her to get rid of Darren, which meant proving that he was being abusive. So, I learned Darren’s schedule and started following Eleanor home when I knew he’d be waiting for her. I even managed to borrow her key from her bag and get a copy made during a lunch break. I hid three cameras in their house, one in the kitchen, one in the living room and one in their bedroom. On the days that Darren was at home I’d park across the road and keep an eye on him. I needed to make sure that Eleanor was safe.

Things seemed okay for a bit after that, Eleanor wasn’t being harassed too much at home and she was continuing our little back-and-forth at work. She even bought the whole office pizzas after a busy but successful month, and she gave the biggest one to me. Extra toppings and an extra smile thrown in, too. She’s so good to me. But in February things started to go wrong. Darren must’ve known something was up, because he started exercising more control over Eleanor. He was taking her out for fancy meals more often rather than making her cook. Then there was the long weekend in Paris for their anniversary, and the gifts and smiles and new lies. He was getting what he wanted, as they were having sex more often as well. It made me sick to watch them from the darkness of my car, hearing Eleanor moaning beneath him. I could have sworn that she whispered my name once, which made me jolt upright in a panic, but Darren didn’t seem to notice, or care. I could see right through all his tricks, but it seemed that poor Eleanor was being slowly taken in by it all. She started keeping her wedding ring on, and smiled when Darren called her at work. There was some big deal a few weeks ago, Eleanor rushed out of the toilet and showed Darren something small and plastic she’d taken in there. I didn’t get a proper look at it, but they both started crying and holding one another. It was maddening to watch him touching her, as if he deserved her. The bastard was winning, and there wasn’t a bloody thing I could do about it…

Until last month. I was feeling pretty low, believing that my love was lost to me, when Eleanor revived all of my hopes and dreams. She came in to my office to ask me about a storage issue with her computer, and requested that I teach her what needed to be done. As I clicked about and showed her the process on-screen, Eleanor leaned over the desk and put her cheek very close to mine as she watched. I could smell the sweet perfume of her skin and the fruity aroma of her shampoo, and I longed to close my eyes and rub my face against hers. I could easily see down the front of her smart white shirt, which she’d left partly unbuttoned. It was deliberate, I’m certain, and it almost drove me mad. I finished my little tutorial, blushing and stammering, unable to stand up for the moment. Eleanor stared into my eyes and gave me a smile which melted my heart. She thanked me, asking what she’d do without me. I mumbled a reply and made another terrible joke. Eleanor laughed, and I knew then what was needed. I was on her wave-length and saw that it was a signal, a request for aid. My princess was aware of her danger, and I was the only one who could rescue her from the troll who held her hostage.

The next step was easier than I expected. Through observing Darren at home I had discovered some useful facts about him, including his allergies. It was fitting that he should be allergic to peanuts when his brain was roughly the size of one. All I had to do was call in sick and wait until Darren went out on his morning run. He always made one of those disgusting protein shakes for when he got back. I let myself in and added something a little extra to it, then I waited in my car for the show. I watched the kitchen camera with a pounding heart as Darren got back. The idiot took a huge gulp of his shake without even looking at it! I had to stop myself from leaping out of the car and jumping for joy as he collapsed and convulsed. Eleanor and I could be together at last! After the respectful period of mourning had passed, of course. We both still had parts to play, but I’d waited so long already that a few more weeks would be simple.

I didn’t expect to get caught. It turned out the neighbour opposite Eleanor had a CCTV camera, and my car was in its view every time I sat and watched. When the police requested it, it didn’t take long for them to arrest me. They found my cameras, too. That was sloppy, I should have taken them out of the house right away but I was too excited about my future with Eleanor. I haven’t seen her since as she’s not been at work; she’s still playing her part beautifully. I bet she looks divine as a grieving widow.

My trial will start soon. I’ve got a pretty good idea that my barrister doesn’t think we’ll win, but I’m still pleading not guilty. I’d do it all again to rescue my princess, my love. She’ll be in the court room, too, of course. I can’t wait to see her face again, to see that lopsided smile, those freckles, and that prophetic birthmark. I know she loves me, and because of that I’m confident I’ll get off with her help. We’ll get through this, and then we’ll be together.

I love her so much.

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Sick Day

Hello, everyone. I’ve been slacking a bit lately with regards to my blog, but before you seize the boiling tar and feathers, I shall explain. I’ve been devoting a lot of time this month to preparing for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, as I realised with panic that November is nearly upon us. So I have been scribbling ideas for characters, plot and interviewing people in the know in order to get something which resembles an outline before I begin. As a result, I have not been concentrating on my short stories, and for that I apologise.

Today, I would like to share with you a story which I wrote quite recently. I wrote and submitted it to a competition and although it didn’t get anywhere with it I am still quite pleased with how it turned out. The prompt was the first line: “I took a deep breath and knocked on the door…”

I hope you enjoy it, and I will have finished my next story in time for next Thursday.  Thank you for you patience.

P.S. Are any of you lovely lot taking part in NaNoWriMo this year? If you are, please let me know. Maybe we could be writing buddies!

Sick-Day

“I took a deep breath and knocked on the door-”

“Hang on a sec, why did you do that?”

“Excuse me?”

“You knocked. You said you could hear your wife moaning, so why did you knock?”

“I…don’t know. I suppose…I didn’t want to see them…at it. It was bad enough hearing what they were doing, let alone witnessing it. I suppose I wanted them to…stop.”

“Okay, Mr Carling, please continue.”

“Well, they stopped. There was silence on the other side of the door, followed by panicked whispering. She’d have had no idea that I was home as I wasn’t due back until the evening.”

“Why were you home early, Mr Carling?”

“I’d been sent home. I hadn’t felt well that morning and I probably shouldn’t have gone in at all, to be honest. But I’m rather proud of my unblemished record, you see. I’d not taken a single sick day in four years until that morning.”

“Rather convenient, wouldn’t you say?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I just find it quite strange that the one day you come home early in four years just happens to be the day your wife is playing around.”

“What are you insinuating, detective?”

“Nothing yet, I’m just remarking on the facts as they appear.”

“Then would you kindly let me finish before you begin your accusations?”

“I’m not accusing you of anything, Mr Carling, please continue.”

“Hmph. Well, I stood outside the door with my hand raised above the handle, but I couldn’t go in. I knew that I’d caught her but I couldn’t will myself to enter that bedroom and face her. I suppose…I don’t know! I knew that if I saw her in that situation then our marriage was over! I didn’t want to have to admit that…”

“I see…then what did you do?”

“I turned around and I left the house.”

“Do you remember what time that was?”

“I left work just after nine-thirty and arrived home at about ten-fifteen. I left the house probably ten minutes later.”

“Where did you go?”

“I don’t really know, I just got into my car and drove around. There was too much going on in my mind, I barely remember any of the places I drove to.”

“Barely is not completely, so could you please tell me the places you remember?”

“Erm…I drove back towards my place of work. I suppose that was by force of habit. Then, erm, I carried on into the city. I remember passing Marble Arch…later on I drove past the Stoop in Twickenham. That’s all I remember.”

“Can anyone vouch for you? Anyone who may have seen you?”

“I don’t know! Umpteen thousands of tourists, maybe! Like I said, I didn’t know where I was going! Although…I did stop at service station and buy a sandwich…I think it was near Gatwick…then I just drove and drove until I ended up back at the house.”

“Okay, we can have our staff check into that, thank you. What time did you return home, Mr Carling?”

“It was nearly half-past three. I remember looking at my watch and wondering how the time had flown.”

“Alright, then what happened?”

“Well, I was still in a bit of a daze, although by that point it may have been because of my illness. I’d calmed down a great deal, though, and I felt ready to talk to Jacqueline.”

“Mhmm. What next?”

“I took out my keys and walked to the front door. I remember thinking that it was odd that it was ajar, but I put that down to my state of mind when I’d let in the morning. That was when I saw the footprints…the bloody footprints.”

“Go on, Mr Carling. Please.”

“I…stared at them…it was as if my mind wasn’t working. I followed the prints backwards, across the hallway and up the stairs. There were…smears…on the banister and on the walls. I followed them to my bedroom door and…and…”

“I know this must be difficult, Mr Carling, please take your time.”

“Thank you…I approached my bedroom, seeing bloody handprints on the opposite wall, and I felt cold. I was so frightened…I pushed open the door…that’s when I saw the body.”

“What did you see, Mr Carling? Your first thoughts, please.”

“I saw…golden hair matted with blood…a torso lying on the floor with legs still in the bed…I saw blue eyes staring out at me, accusing me…”

“Was there anything else you noticed about the crime scene? Anything at all, this is very important.”

“I…I saw the bat…”

“The bat?”

“Yes…I bought a baseball bat and kept it under the bed…for protection…it was lying on the carpet covered in…Christ, remembering it makes me want to vomit!”

“Thank you, Mr Carling, we’ll move on now. How long was it before you called the police?”

“Hmm? Oh, possibly five minutes, no more than ten. I just couldn’t take my eyes from the body…it sickened me but I couldn’t look away…that strong, athletic frame drenched in blood…”

“I see. Well, I believe that is all we require from you for now, Mr Carling. We will contact you if we need any further information. Unfortunately, your house is still a crime scene so I will ask that you do not return there for the time being. Is there a relative or a friend you can stay with?”

“Yes…my brother lives at the other side of town. About half an hour’s drive from here.”

“That’s good. Feel free to use our phone to contact him. We will-“

“Detective, what about Jacqueline? I…I can’t believe that she…”

“I have my best officers out there looking for her, Mr Carling, we’ll find her. In the meantime I’m going to have another officer escort you to your destination and remain nearby. We can’t be too careful at this stage.”

“I understand…thank you, detective.”

“You’re welcome, Mr Carling, and thank you for your cooperation.”

 

Fiction Fursday/Re-blog

I’m afraid to say that I have failed this week in my commitment to writing a new story. I’ve just started a new job and things are still up in the air from my recent move. These are terrible excuses and I am a hypocrite for citing them as they shouldn’t have stopped me from writing, so for that I apologise. I even had a great prompt from the lovely Esther Newton work with, but I still managed to slack off.

However, I still wanted to post something, so I have decided to give an older story a dusting off this week. Last year, I wrote a story which I was very pleased with called “Fair Emma“. Some of you may have read this story already, but those of you who are new to my blog may not have come across it. I enjoyed writing it immensely and got a positive response from those who read it. I will leave a link to the original post and the first two paragraphs below, if you are interested in reading it. I hope you enjoy if you do.

Again, apologies for the lack of fresh material. I will be back on form next Thursday, I promise!

 

Fair Emma

By Adam Dixon

The streets of Whitechapel were deathly quiet that night. The street lamps were sparse and their feeble glow barely penetrated the November mist. There were shadows on every corner, and in one of them lurked a solitary, patient woman. Jackie stood motionless, her eyes on the small lodgings across the street. Standing on street corners had become a familiar occupation of hers of late, but she was not there for her trade. A fellow night-worker was completing a transaction with a client, and they had entered the small house less than half an hour ago. She stood calmly, her gaze boring into the wooden door just yards in front of her.

Soon, a man staggered outside, cursing loudly as he caught his foot on the door frame. He almost tripped, but somehow managed to remain upright and wobbled off into the night, belching out a bawdy song and chuckling to himself. After a few minutes the street was silent once again, and Jackie slowly approached the house. It was in a state of disrepair, with the door a little off its hinges and one of the panes of glass broken in the window next to it. Raising a gloved hand, Jackie knocked softly on the door.

Here is the link to the original post. Thanks for reading!

P.S. I just realised that I wrote this story in order to be featured on Esther’s blog! What a strange coincidence!

 

A – Z Challenge Day 9

Today sees the beginning of another week in the April A-Z Challenge! I’m both excited and terrified at the prospect of writing six more stories in six days, so let’s get started!

Today’s word comes once again from the inestimable Kate. Now, I know you’re all getting sick of hearing about her wonderful contributions, but don’t worry, she only has one more after this! I for one, am extremely grateful for her help as she has suggested a dazzling sequence of words for my challenge this month. Today’s word is no exception, as it is “INKLING”. Another one to give me pause, but I eventually came up with an idea which I think works quite nicely.

I hope you enjoy my latest supernatural tale.

INKLING

By Adam Dixon

“Welcome, dearly-beloved, one and all,” the bald, skeletal chaplain began as he stood behind his lectern. “I invite you tonight to join me in celebrating the life of Harold Fisher, and in welcoming him into his next one.” Constable Nicola Macmillan was sat on a pew, frowning. An odd choice of words; she had never heard the chaplain start a funeral service that way before and it only deepened her feeling of unease. Something had disturbed her ever since she had driven to the funeral home and entered the small chapel, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She had thought that it was due to her intruding on the service in order to conduct her investigation, but she knew that it was more than that.

“Indeed, Harold’s life among us was a rich one,” the chaplain continued. “Rich not in terms of wealth, but rich in the love and respect of those who knew him well. Even those who did not have the pleasure of knowing Harold personally were impressed by his character, his charm and his wit.” There came a few approving nods and smiles from his audience. It all seemed normal, but there were aspects of the service which didn’t sit right with Nicola. Firstly, it was late for a funeral as it was past ten o’clock in the evening, and secondly that there were so few people present. It was only a sleepy little town and the librarian’s death had been widely mourned, but only twelve residents had bothered to pay their respects. Something was amiss, but what? Shortly after sitting down, Nicola had put her finger on the transmitting button of her walkie-talkie. As long as she held it, the station would hear what was going on. She was probably being paranoid, but still…

“Ah, but he was a wonderful man, of that I’m sure we are all agreed,” the chaplain smiled, gesturing towards the open coffin with his bony arm. Harold Fisher was laid out in a beautiful mahogany casket and he looked very fine for a corpse. His iron-grey hair was swept back from his high forehead and his mouth showed a ghost of a smile. In fact, he looked as if he were merely sleeping. Whoever had seen to the preparation of his body had done a sterling job, even hiding the terrible wound that poor Harold had sustained to his neck before he died. It had been a nasty one, and Nicola had been the officer who had been sent out once he had been found. Nicola was always being called out for animal attacks in the forest near the town; something was out there and it was dangerous. Looking at Harold’s remains, Nicola shuddered. He looked too good, almost…

“A wonderful man who touched the lives of everyone around him before his untimely passing, but tonight is not a time for grieving, dear friends, but rather a time for exaltation!”  The chaplain’s eyes gleamed and he leaned forwards, peering into the faces of his audience. “Harold’s old life has come to an end, but tonight, his new life will begin! Brothers and sisters, let us bid Harold welcome!”

“WELCOME, HAROLD!” All twelve people stood up and raised their arms towards the coffin. Nicola was astounded and confused, and suddenly afraid. She pressed her finger on the button so hard it hurt. Wide-eyed, she followed the gaze of the residents and stared at the coffin. After what seemed like hours, but was more likely a few tense seconds Harold moved! His face twitched. It was unmistakable: his lips pulled down in a grimace and his eyebrows knitted together. Nicola blinked. She must have imagined that! The next thing to happen dispelled any doubts and brought forth a scream from her throat. Harold sat up.

The congregation and the chaplain cheered loudly, rushing forward to help Harold as he got unsteadily to his feet. Nicola stood up and made to run from the chapel, but two large men intercepted her. They were grinning at her with fangs! Nicola screamed again and tried to change direction, but was stopped short by old Mrs Quinn who had appeared out of nowhere. The dotty, white-haired old dear smiled at her, and Nicola watched in horror as her gleaming white dentures were forced from her mouth by two sharp fangs, yellowed with age, slipping down from her gums. Strong hands seized Nicola and she was carried screeching towards the newly-risen dead man. Harold Fisher looked confused as he laid eyes upon her, but when his nostrils flared and he caught Nicola’s scent, something else crept into his eyes. It looked like the hunger of a starving beast.

“Go on, Harold!” The chaplain cried, revealing his own razor-like incisors. “Give in to your urges and accept our offering! You are one of us now!”

Harold’s eyes widened and all trace of hesitation fled. He gave a guttural roar and sank his teeth into Nicola’s neck. She screamed, thrashing against the hands which held her as her own hot blood poured down her body. She flung her arms up and tried to beat her attackers off. It was no use. The life began to fade from Nicola and soon she was weakly convulsing as Harold clumsily drained her.

Constable Macmillan? Do you read me? Over!”

“What’s that?” The chaplain snapped, looking at his congregation suspiciously.

Repeat, Constable Macmillan, do you read me? Are you alright? Over!”

“Oh, I see…” the chaplain sighed as he wrenched Nicola’s walkie-talkie from her belt. As he held it, the crackling voice spoke again.

Remain where you are, back-up is on-route! Over!”

“Well, well,” the chaplain said with a hideous grin. “I do believe that we shall all be feasting tonight!” He began to laugh as he and the rest of the townsfolk moved to hide either side of the chapel doors. Soon, the wailing of approaching sirens could be heard, and their collective excitement rose.

A – Z Challenge Day 8

 

Today sees the end of the first full week of this April’s blogging challenge. Writing six stories in six days has been quite difficult, but so far I have found it to be very rewarding. Let’s hope I can keep up the pace and the optimism!

Today’s word comes from the wonderful Kate again, and the word is
image

“HESSIAN”. I had to look this one up, because I initially convinced myself that it was something to do with an unpleasant old crone. I was quite wrong about that!

Anyway, here’s what I was able to come up with. It’s slightly darker than the previous two stories, just as a heads-up.

(P.S. The word I was confusing “hessian” with was “harridan”, in case you’re interested!”

 

HESSIAN

By Adam Dixon

My breathing comes out in harsh gasps as I struggle to remain calm. My hands and ankles are tied securely and my left side is numb. It’s so hot in the boot that my damp hair sticks to my head and it hurts to breathe; the digital thermometer on the dashboard had read thirty-two degrees outside when I had seen it last. That had been in the morning, long before the hottest point of the day. I am hyperventilating, my is body stiff with fear and my jeans are soaked with piss. The car rocks me to and fro as it cruises along to God-knows-where. I’ve long since given up crying out as the stereo system in the back drowns out any attempts I make with embarrassing ease. I am cursing it with all my might and regretting the day I installed it. All I can do is wait.

After what seems like hours, the car stops. I lay still, praying that a policeman has halted the car, or that the road I’m being driven down is impassable, or even that the driver has had a fucking heart attack at the wheel! I’m so desperate for something to happen that I can’t help but yelp with fright when the boot is yanked open. Sunlight greets me like a slap in the face, its rays barely filtered by the thick hessian sack covering my head. Gruff laughter from those outside rubs salt in my wounds as six strong, rough hands seize me and drag me out. I land heavily on the ground, jarring my numb hip. The ground is strewn with coarse, hot sand and the air seems clearer than back in the city. All I can smell is mouldy coffee; the sack must have been used to transport beans at some point before it was repurposed. I am forced onto my knees with my head hanging low. I am blubbering, begging these strangers not to hurt me. I am pleading with them, offering money I don’t have and promising to change whatever aspect of my life so offends them. No words are spoken, but I hear muted conversation and the cocking of a gun…

***

I sat bolt-upright in my bed, sweat covering my face and torso. I slowly took stock of my surroundings, panting and listening to my heart pounding in my chest. She stirred beside me and when I finally looked around she was watching me with concern.

“Did you have that dream again, babe?” she asked, her dark eyes glittering like orbs in the night.

“Yeah…” I answer. There’s nothing else to say, we’ve already said it before. The same nightmare has come once or twice every week since that afternoon five years ago. That was the day that I realised just how dangerous being a political journalist in the heart of the capital could be. That was the day I realised that I would never be safe, no matter what my employers promised. That was the day I stopped being a journalist.

I groaned as I got out of bed and stood up. The pain in my left shoulder was always worse after the nightmare, almost as if I were actually reliving the experience. In a way, I was, because the dream replayed the entire ordeal back to me in crystal-clear detail. But I always woke up before the bullet hit me these times. Thank God for small favours, eh? Christ…

I staggered out of our bedroom and into the bathroom. I didn’t turn on the light because I knew where my pills were kept. I also couldn’t bear to see the angry scar on my shoulder after the nightmare anymore. I seized the medicine bottle and shook out two of my pills. After a brief moment of doubt I shook out two more. What the hell, right? Tilting my head back I swallowed them dry, feeling them scratch my throat on the way down, threatening to catch and make me gag. I managed to coax them down my oesophagus as I stood staring at my reflection in the mirror. It was too dark to see anything, but I knew how haggard I was looking those days. Bags under the eyes, wrinkles appearing weekly and even locks of grey hair spreading across my head like a fucking forest fire. The hair which wasn’t falling out, anyway. Those men had messed me up big-time.

I wandered back into the bedroom and saw that she was still watching me. We stared at each other in a silence which was borne of desperation: her desperate need to know what I was thinking and my desperate need to forget what I had seen. She broke eye contact first, she always did. I don’t know why that always made me feel good, but it fucking did. She wouldn’t understand, anyway, so there was no point in trying to explain. I grabbed the half-empty bottle of whiskey from the bed-side table and poured out a glass, perching on the edge of the bed. She laid back down and turned away from me. That was fine; no sense both of us losing sleep. So I sat on my bed and swallowed my first slug of that particular morning. I held the glass to my nose and inhaled deeply for several seconds before every subsequent mouthful. I needed to get the stench of mouldy coffee out of my nostrils somehow, didn’t I?

 

A – Z Challenge Day 3

Third day of the April Challenge already! Blimey, I think it ought to slow down a bit!

Today’s word was once again provided by the wonderful Kate, and the word is “CONCUBINE”. Again, this is a great suggestion and not at all what I was expecting as a prompt, but it began to spark ideas in my brain almost right away. The idea which caught the kindling was that of ancient Greece and their penchant for concubines, and I was able to coax it into a blaze.

Here’s what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.

CONCUBINE

By Adam Dixon

Cassandra stood at the foot of the marble steps leading up to the palace, closing her eyes to better feel the breeze on her skin. She tilted her head back, enjoying its cool fingers caressing her hair. It had been a long journey from Troy and she was grateful to be back on dry land. She had had some misgivings about travelling to Mycanae, and her main concern had been its queen. Queen Clytemnestra had been awaiting the return of King Agamemnon, and she would surely not be pleased to learn that her husband would be bringing home another woman. Cassandra was Agamemnon’s concubine and had borne him twin sons during the Trojan campaign, but she was essentially just a trophy. Worrying over the queen’s reaction to the news had given Cassandra dozens of sleepless nights during their voyage and she had prayed to all the gods of Olympus that they give her the courage to face her. However, to her great surprise Clytemnestra seemed to already know about her. She welcomed Cassandra to Mycanae warmly and immediately offered her a place to bathe before the feast. Cassandra had been taken aback and had declined with what she hoped was the proper degree of humility. She had remained behind as the King was escorted inside his palace, preferring to collect herself before following him.

As she stood enjoying the breeze, she began to feel as if she were being watched. She opened her eyes and saw a tall, lithe man leaning against a pillar not ten feet from where she stood, staring at her with an unsettling look on his face. Cassandra felt her skin crawl and she cleared her throat loudly before turning towards him. She did not know him, but she recognised him by his description; his cold blue eyes, hooked nose and curled blond hair marked him as Aegisthus, the former ruler of Mycenae. Cassandra wondered why he was there in the first place, since Agamemnon and his brother had jointly forced Aegisthus from the throne years before.

“Good day to you, my lord,” Casssandra said nervously, bowing her head slightly. “I do apologise, I thought I was alone.”

“No apology is necessary, my lady,” Aegisthus replied coolly, his eyes gliding along Cassandra’s hips and thighs. “I am merely taking some air before the celebrations begin. You are the King’s prize, are you not?”

Cassandra frowned and adjusted her robe. She disliked having his eyes all over her, it made her feel unclean.

“I suppose I am at that, my lord,” she answered curtly, hoping she didn’t sound too brusque. Her grip on the politics of Mycenae was slight and she didn’t know how powerful this man was. She would tread carefully.

“To the victor go the spoils,” Aegisthus quoted with a sneer. He stood up straight and flexed his fingers. Cassandra had been around soldiers enough to recognise it as a pre-combat technique, performed almost without thought.

“Tell me,” Aegisthus stepped towards Cassandra, a terrible gleam in his eyes. “Are the rumours surrounding you true? Are you truly a Seer?” Cassandra took a step backwards, moving away from the stairs and back towards the shaded garden.

“They are…my lord,” she said hesitantly. “Mother Hera gifted me with Foresight, although its usefulness has been overstated, I fear.”

“Curious…” Aegisthus took another step closer, scratching at his chin thoughtfully. “I heard that your Talent is often ignored, and at the detriment of those who do so. Is that true also?” Cassandra grew fearful at this line of questioning, and attempted to change the subject.

“So, the King prepares for his feast,” she stammered, looking down at her sandals. “It promises to be a great event, with no expenses spared by the Queen on food and wine.”

“Hmm? Oh…yes,” Aegisthus seemed irritated by the deflection. “The Queen intends to provide a welcome which the King will never forget. It will go down in history, mark my words!” He gave a low chuckle which chilled Cassandra to the bone. As she stood wondering what to say next, a Vision sprung upon her without warning. As though through a blood-tainted window, Cassandra saw the King emerging naked from his bath with Clytemnestra holding a towel nearby. As Agamemnon steps forward, Clytemnestra tosses the towel over the King’s head. The King roars in surprise, for the towel has been weighted down at its corners, blinding and trapping him. A heartbeat later, Aegisthus runs forward from behind a screen wielding a sword which he plunges into the King’s chest. Agamemnon’s screams echoed in Cassandra’s ears and the present world flashed back into sight, the Vision leaving her weak and breathless. She fell to her knees, gasping and looking up at Aegisthus in horror. The man watched her, his smiling growing ever wider as Cassandra’s fear rose like a black flower in her heart.

“Guards!” She spluttered hoarsely. “Guards, help! A traitor is among us! Protect the King!” Aegisthus descended the stairs in four quick leaps and struck Cassandra hard with his fist. She fell onto her back and the world swam as her mouth filled with blood.

“It’s too late, my little whore!” Aegisthus snarled, wiping his knuckles on his tunic. “The events are already in motion and you cannot stop them! Enjoy your last moments whilst you can, for the Queen has plans for you!” He spat in Cassandra’s face before bounding back up the stairs and disappearing into the palace.

Cassandra groaned and struggled to sit up. Her vision was blurred and her limbs were weakened from her Vision. She attempted to call the guards again, but her voice would not obey her. She wept bitterly as she realised that nobody would believe her anyway. Nobody ever believed her…

Minutes later a cry of alarm was raised within the palace, and then the fighting began.

A Dangerous Man II: Merlin’s Wrath

This story contains a character whom I created back in January. If you’re interested, the link for his first appearance is here: https://adamdixonfiction.com/2016/01/09/a-dangerous-man/

 

A Dangerous Man II: Merlin’s Wrath

By Adam Dixon

The Man sat on the hard wooden stool, the light from the crackling fire dancing on his spectacles as the witch scurried around the cave. She was a plump woman and her pleasant, feminine face was flushed with anxiety. She had a light blue dye in her short hair and she appeared to be no more than thirty years old, but the Man knew better; she was much, much older. She was searching for something, rearranging a collection of jars here, discarding a pile of yellowed scrolls there and all the while muttering to herself. The Man sat in silence and allowed himself an amused half-smile. Finally, the witch found the object she sought.

“Aha! I knew I ‘ad one!” she exclaimed, her delicate French accent filtering through her triumph. She brandished a cast-iron flask decorated with ancient runes in her left hand. In the firelight it was easy to spot that her little finger was missing, and the stump that remained was swaddled in bloodied bandages. There was another long bandage tied around her head which kept slipping over her eyes. She stepped in front of a bubbling cauldron set above the fire and beamed at her guest. The Man leaned forwards, his eyes gleaming.

“Well then, Madeleine,” he rasped, maintaining eye contact. “What’ve you got for me this evening?” Madeleine wilted under his stare, and visibly steeled herself before replying.

“What do I ‘ave, Master?” she said, waving her free arm with a flourish. “Why, I ‘ave the very thing you ‘ave been asking for!” She smiled at him again, looking expectant.

“As fun as it is, you don’t have to call me Master, y’know,” the Man chuckled. “It sounds a bit medieval to me, and I’m all about the here and now!” The witch’s smile faltered.

“But I ‘ave to, Master,” she said in a serious tone. “By customs ancient and binding I must. You killed my apprentice and defeated me in single combat.” Madeleine grimaced at the memory. “Poor Isolde…she showed such promise….”

“Alright, alright!” the Man barked, irritated. “Call me whatever you need to, just get on with it!”

“Of course, Master. My apologies,” the witch replied, bowing her head. She took a long-handled ladle from next to the cauldron and dipped it inside, scooping up a large helping of the putrid, mottled green liquid. The Man noted that the ladle also had runes etched into it. As Madeleine transferred the steaming concoction into the flask, a single drop fell to the floor. Her eyes widened in alarm for the merest hint of a second before she composed herself; the Man saw it, but said nothing. Once she had filled the flask, Madeleine dropped the ladle and held the potion reverently, turning to face the Man.

“’Ere you are, Master,” she said, her voice a husky whisper. When Madeleine whispered, her voice made grown men swoon, but as usual it had no effect whatsoever on the Man. “This is known as Time’s Bane, and it is most powerful. I was involved in its creation, and I am the only witch left alive who knows the recipe. Drink this, Master, and you shall know youth again!” Madeleine’s eyes sparkled with pride and anticipation. “Each mouthful will return twenty years of strength to your bones and the time will fade from your face in but a moment!” She held the potion out with a solemn bow of her head. The Man said nothing and merely observed her. After a few tense minutes, Madeleine began to perspire, a faint sheen developing across her upper lip and forehead. She cleared her throat nervously.

“Master, is something wrong?” she asked, her hands beginning to shake. “I ‘ave done what you asked, for I am your devoted servant!” The Man snorted and stood up. His long, dark coat covered his body as he rose, and Madeleine was ominously reminded of the cloaks of witch-hunters. He was shorter than her, but the black aura which surrounded him was one which demanded fear and obedience.

“Oh, I don’t doubt it! But…why don’t you take the first sip, Maddie?” the Man said, his eyes glittering and his voice even. “You’ve put in all the effort, so why not take a small reward? Take a couple of months off!” He cackled at the joke, and Madeleine froze. Her eyes were wide and her mouth moved silently like a fish.

“Spit it out, Maddie!” The Man said. “Not the potion, though! You’ve gotta get that bad boy down you!” He laughed again, the sound sending a shiver up Madeleine’s spine.

“But…Master,” she stammered. “This potion, it is not for me! I…I ‘ave already ingested my annual dosage…to drink more would court disaster! It is for you to regain your former strength this night, not I! I crafted it especially for you, and I fear it will not for me!” Madeleine waited, her eyes fearful. The Man took a step closer, glaring solidly into her face. She managed a weak smile which crumbled as quickly as a rose. Suddenly, his large hands snaked out and covered hers as they held the flask. Madeleine yelped with fright and tried to jerk away from him. The Man held her tightly.

“I don’t believe you,” he said in a threatening tone. “In fact, I smell a rat…a stupid, blue rat!” The Man wrenched his hands to the right, sending Madeleine tumbling to the floor and the flask flying across the cave. It struck the jagged wall and the green liquid splashed all over it and dripped to the ground. As soon as it made contact with the surfaces it began to bubble and hiss furiously, burning through several centimetres of rock. The Man advanced on Madeleine, who screeched in terror and flung up her hands. A torrent of fire flew from her open palms towards the Man, who ducked underneath it and ran forward. His boot cracked into Madeleine’s temple and she fell on to her back, extinguishing the jet of flames. In an instant he was straddling her, his stocky thighs crushing her chest and pinning her left arm to her side. As she swung her right hand in a wild fist but he caught her wrist in a vice-grip.

“Now, now, Maddie,” he crooned, holding her with ease as she bucked and writhed under him. “Don’t make this any harder than it needs to be.”

“Spare me, Master!” Madeleine cried, her eyes wide with terror. “I did not mean to-“

“Shut the hell up!” the Man barked. “Spare me your excuses! You tried to kill me, again, and you’ve failed! You really shoulda thought of something less obvious, darlin’.” He reached inside his coat with his free hand and removed the remnants of an ancient bronze spear. The power emanating from it was almost palpable from that distance and at the sight of it Madeleine began to whimper, tears rolling down her cheeks. “You must really think I’m stupid, huh?” He began to run the spear point along Madeleine’s trembling arm, nicking the skin here and there. Tiny droplets of blood seeped down as the blade bit into her flesh.

“I’ve been a killer all my life,” the Man said, moving his grip up to Madeleine’s hand. “And one thing I’ve learned the hard way over the years is to never…ever…trust a witch!” The Man spat this remark through bared teeth. Spittle flew from his lips and decorated Madeleine’s pale face.

“Please, Master, not again!” She begged as he forced open her hand with his, exposing her index finger. “The Holy Lance, she does not cut like other blades! My wounds, they still bleed! Please, no! I will do all you ask! Non, je vous en prie!”

“Hush, Madeleine,” the Man crooned, touching the razor-sharp edge of the spear to her finger. “You have disrespected me. Accept your punishment.” With one quick, clean motion the Man sliced off the witch’s finger with the blade. Madeleine screeched, the noise reverberating painfully around the cave. Blood poured down onto their clasped hands and dripped on to her chest as she struggled furiously. The Man held her still for a few moments, a manic grin on his face. Finally, he released her hand and stood up, holding the dripping spear at his side. Madeleine hugged her hand to her chest and curled into the foetal positon, whimpering and moaning.

“There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” The Man asked, the glee evident in his voice. “All is forgiven! You can get back to doing as you’re told, now. Isn’t that right, Madeleine?”

“Y-Yes, Master…” Madeleine replied, barely audible. The Man crouched down and rested the wet spear against her throat. She stopped moving immediately and her breath came out in harsh gasps.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite hear you, darlin’” he whispered, his eyes burning with malice. “I said: isn’t that right, Madeleine?”

“YES MASTER!” Madeleine shouted, gazing fearfully at the lance. The Man nodded and plucked Madeleine’s severed finger from its resting place on the ground. He examined it for a moment, admiring the precision of the cut.

“You know, I had my doubts about this thing,” he said, turning his gaze back to the Lance. “But I’ve gotta tell ya, it’s a real beauty!” He snorted and stowed the weapon in his coat. Using a nail he produced from another pocket, the Man pierced the bloody digit all the way through and slipped it onto a piece of twine he wore around his neck. The grisly object slithered down the twine and came to rest next to two other trophies: a little finger and an ear, both stained brown with dried blood. He cackled as he tucked the necklace back into his shirt and glanced over at the witch.

“Madeleine,” he said quietly. “What is that green swill anyway?”

“M-Merlin’s Wrath, M-master,” stammered Madeleine, still laying on the ground. “A p-potent p-poison. B-burns all creatures i-inside out…”

“Really? Hmm…” The Man stroked his stubble with bloody fingers, leaving smear marks along his chin. He strode over to the cauldron and seized a glass vial.

“Will this hold it?” The Man asked. Madeleine merely nodded, groaning. Lifting the ladle the Man filled the vial with the bubbling green liquid, slamming a stopper securely in place. He shook the vial and watched its contents swirl around inside the glass.

“Y’know, my old Ma used to make stuff like this,” he said quietly, watching the firelight illuminate the murky liquid. “She’d go out at night and come back with all kinds of weeds and flowers in a sack. She’d stink out the back room when she’d cut them up and put them in the tub. She’d spend days making her ’remedies’, as she called them. My Pa told me and my sisters that Ma had a screw loose, but he was deadly afraid of her when she did all that. He never beat her or any of us during those few days…” The Man chuckled again, shaking his head.

“Well now, get a load of me! Talking away like an old housewife!” He said, smirking. “I’d better go, Maddie, I’m hunting tonight. Bigger fish and all that!” He raised the vial in a mock salute to Madeleine and grinned at her.

“Thanks a bunch, sweetheart!” he said, slipping it into his coat along with the Holy Lance. “This’ll come in handy, for sure! Just make sure you’ve got what I ask for next time, or I won’t be so gentle with you.” He strode out of the cave, leaving the mutilated witch sobbing and cursing him as he howled with laughter.

 

Live a Little

I wrote this story for the lovely Jen over at Ink And Quill. She has very kindly featured me as her guest writer today, which is exciting! 🙂 She asked me to write a brand new story to be used as part of that post, and this is what I was able to come up with.

Please visit Ink and Quill for some wonderful poetry and inspiring guest writers and poets 🙂

https://jennifercalvertwriter.wordpress.com/

 

Live a Little

By Adam Dixon

 

I can still remember the night that I died; it’s seared into my mind like a cattle brand, white-hot and permanent. I can still hear the sound of my own laughter in my ears coupled with the cheers and encouragement of my friends. I can still feel the bitter wind tearing at my hair and clothes as I waved my arms above my head. I can still see the painted lines on the tarmac racing past in a blur of white. I’d never felt so alive, and I’d never been so reckless. It was all their fault.

The party had been a riot. A mutual friend had just joined us in the ranks of the over-25s and we four were still buzzing from it. Jen hadn’t wanted to leave, but Bradley had insisted. He never would back down once he’d got an idea into his head, and Jen never would resist him for long. I’d have happily gone home, myself. If only I’d said something, then maybe all this wouldn’t’ve happened. But I didn’t, and sometime after midnight myself, Jen and her older brother, Steve, all piled into Bradley’s car and set off down the motorway. We were laughing and joking, singing loudly and badly to whatever was on the radio and passing a bottle of vodka around. The familiar burn in my throat and the rush of alcohol to my head was as exhilarating as ever, and I soon got in the mood to find another party.

But it was then that I noticed how drunk Bradley was. He was blinking rapidly behind the wheel, grinning like an idiot and slurring his words whenever he spoke. He hadn’t seemed that bad before, but then again we hadn’t really been watching him. I’d told Jen to keep an eye on him, damn it! At one point Steve said something which made him laugh and he sent us careening across two lanes! The motorway was deserted, of course, but still…

After a while I asked Bradley to slow down. He wasn’t listening because Jen had her hand on his crotch and was whispering something to him as she caressed him through his jeans. Steve was being a nuisance; he seemed to think that because I was drunk I would be doing the same. I can still feel him nuzzling my neck as one hand clumsily pawed my breasts and the other slid up my skirt…I can still hear the ‘crack!’ as I slapped him, too. Christ, that was satisfying, and it succeeded in finally getting Bradey and Jen’s attention.

“Oi, what the hell are you playin’ at back there?” Bradley thundered, glaring at me via the rear-view mirror. Steve was stunned, rubbing his cheek and staring at the back of Jen’s seat.

“Oh, Lisa’s just bein’ a spoilsport, babe!” Jen mocked, rolling her decorated eyes and flicking her perfect hair. “Looks like she doesn’t wanna have some fun with Steve. Can’t blame her, really, he is an ugly bastard!”

“Oi!” Steve protested, still rubbing his cheek. He wasn’t that ugly, but drunk or not I didn’t appreciate him being so forward.

“C’mon, Lees!” Bradley said, annoyed. I hated it when he called me that! “What’s wrong with old Steve-O, anyway? C’mon, live a little, for fuck’s sake!”

“Shut up, Bradley,” I spat, but secretly I felt bad for hitting Steve. That was the effect that Bradley had on people: he was too bloody good at making you feel like the bad guy. The next few minutes consisted of Bradley and Jen laughing about how uncool I was and how much of a stick-in-the-mud I could be. I angrily disagreed with them, of course, but it really got under my skin. Steve didn’t say much, he just carried on sitting there looking like a kicked puppy. Maybe it was the drink, but I was suddenly determined to prove them wrong.

“I’m not boring, I can do anything you twats can!” I said after downing another mouthful of liquid fire.

“That so?” Bradley asked, still laughing. “I don’t believe you, Lees. Look, you’ve still got your bleedin’ seat-belt on for a start! Why can’t you live a little?”

“Fine!” I had practically ripped my seat-belt off at that remark. I immediately felt it was a bad idea, but I ignored the thought. Big mistake.

“Oooh, look at the balls on you, babe!” Jen had twisted round in her seat to flash a big, stupid grin at me. I felt like we were back in the school playground. “Betcha won’t do anything else though! Betcha wouldn’t lean out of the window while we’re movin’, would you? Nah, course not, you’re too much of a wimp!”

“Just watch me, bitch!” I said and moved towards my window. I remember clearly the struggle I had unwinding the stupid thing, and the memory comes to me in slow motion. It’s torture to recall it, to remember how I gripped the cold roof of the car with one arm as I leaned my torso out into the night. I even lifted my leg and rested my thigh on the thin glass so that I was more out of the car than inside. The wind buffeted me and tore a gasp from my lungs as I steadied myself. I remember squealing like a giddy child as I raised first one arm, then both into the air as my soul rejoiced at my freedom.

“You see me now, you arseholes!” I screeched at them, laughing deliriously. “I can fucking do anything!” They were laughing too and even Steve was cheering. It was fantastic. It was fatal. Leaning out of a car travelling at ninety miles per hour driven by an intoxicated monkey in a shirt has consequences. Nobody saw how close to the edge of the railings Bradley had gotten until it was far, far too late.

Now I’m trapped in a lonely existence on this barren stretch of asphalt, doomed to watch speeding cars and fester with impotent rage.

Live a little, they had said….

They all wear their seat-belts now.

 

 

The Heist

The Heist

By Adam Dixon

“I knew today would be the day he finally killed me,” he rasped, breaking off to spit out more blood. “I knew it as soon as we started this job.”
“Shut up a minute and let me think!” I snapped. I felt bad about that, but the stress was getting to me. I couldn’t believe that it had gone so wrong. The job had been planned to the last detail and we should have breezed through it. I glanced back down at Wilko, watching him as he held his wounded stomach and struggled to breathe.
I was in shock. Breathing deeply to calm myself, I took in our surroundings. We were in an abandoned car park underneath a derelict block of flats; it was the rendezvous point that Wilko had suggested days ago, during our planning. Hiding in plain sight, he had called it. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, and Big John had been happy enough with it. Now it seemed like madness. We were essentially trapped in a giant open space just yards away from a busy street. What if someone had seen us pull into the building? It would only take one nosey sod to dial 999 and it would all be over. It was cold, dimly lit by the surviving lights above our heads and it stank of stale urine. It was not helping my mood at all.
“How the bloody hell did this happen?” I said aloud, half to myself. Wilko grunted and a pained sneer spread across his face.
“I’ll tell you how,” he wheezed. “We let ourselves get involved with bleedin’ Pyscho Bill, that’s how! I knew I should’ve pulled out as soon as he was let in, I bloody knew it.”
“Well, your foresight really helped you, didn’t it?” I replied spitefully. I felt another twinge of regret, but he was really getting on my frayed nerves. The smell of his blood and his piss-soaked trousers wasn’t helping, either; it threatened to make me add vomit to the list. Worse than that, I was scared. The day had tuned into a colossal cock-up and I could almost hear the judge condemning me to another long stretch in a dark, cramped cell. But more annoyingly, Wilko had a point. What had Big John been thinking, putting a loose cannon like Pyscho Bill in our team? We had had the group we needed: myself, Wilko, and Fingers handling the crowd, with Miggs and Tiptoes emptying the safe. A team of five men, all professionals, all reliable, and crucially, we had all worked together before. Next thing we knew, Big John called and told us that Fingers was out and Pyscho Bill was in, no arguments. We couldn’t believe it; Pyscho Bill was, as the name suggested, a maniac, a liability. We needed to get in there quick and get out with minimal problems and no mistakes. Wilko had been especially unhappy about the change; he kept saying that Bill had a serious problem with him from an old job they’d worked on. I’d told him he was paranoid, but I hadn’t felt comfortable around the man, either.
“Why did he just flip like that?” I asked in exasperation. Everything had been going smoothly: Joe Public were scared stiff and under control, and Miggs and Tiptoes were sweeping the safe nice and fast.
“We were on our way out the doors, for Christ’s sake! Why did he take a shot at you then, when everything was almost over?”
“Buggered if I know,” Wilko growled, struggling to sit up. His long grey hair was lank with sweat, and his wrinkled face looked more haggard than ever. “I told you, the bloke had a screw loose. He never liked me, or Miggs, come to think of it. That’s why he shot him next. Poor sod took one right in the face.” He shook his head in anger and grief. He and Miggs went back a long way, but I wasn’t in the frame of mind to get sentimental.
A stray cat moved into sight near the entrance, making me jerk and reach for my pistol. I swore loudly at myself for being so jumpy.
“I think we were set up,” Wilko declared, out of the blue.
“Oh, do me a favour!” I snorted, “you must’ve lost a pint too many if that’s what you’re comin’ up with now!”
“Mate, there’s something you should know,” Wilko reached out and gripped my wrist tightly. He stared into my eyes and I saw the serious, pleading look in his. “Pyscho Bill was Big John’s nephew. I think John knew that Bill was likely to snap and try to take us out, that’s why he put him in our team instead of Fingers.”
“What?!” I yanked my arm free from his grip, my anger flaring. “Wilko, I ain’t in the bloody mood for games!”
“I’m dead serious, mate,” Wilko insisted, and he certainly looked it.
“But…why would Big John want us all killed? It…don’t make sense,” I stammered. “Why let the job go ahead in the first place? If he wanted us all dead, he could’ve sent some heavies ’round to our gaffes and done us in individually.”
“I know, I know,” Wilko rasped, shaking his head. “It sounds daft, but think about it. It was bugging me from the start, why John insisted that we do it all old-school and not take any mobile phones and not to contact him until we were well away with the money. Usually he’d want to have ears on what’s goin’ on, and be able to bark out orders when needed. But this time he said he’d rather sit back and leave us to it.”
“Well, that’s cos he knew we’d be able to handle it!” I said, desperately. “Christ, he knows we’re all good for a simple job like this!”
“Maybe so, but he’d still’ve wanted to know what was happenin’ as it happened.” Wilko had set his jaw, a stubborn expression I had seen many times. “We both know that! I reckon that he stayed well away this time so it would look like our own doin’, nothin’ to lead it back to him. I also reckon he told Bill that he wanted us all dead, and that he’d have to wait until the job was well under way before he tried anything. That’s why he shot me and Miggs.”
“But that don’t make sense either!” I whined. I sounded pathetic, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t accept what Wilko was saying. “Why would Big John put his own nephew at risk? He must have known that Bill wouldn’t’ve had the brains to pull it off!”
“That’s what I’m thinkin’ too,” Wilko replied gravely. “An’ I reckon that Big John was bankin’ on Pyscho Bill getting’ taken out in the process. Look, the bloke’s an embarrassment to him, that’s why he never told anyone that they were related! Nah, he wanted Bill to go down too, and he’d deal with whoever survived some other way.” I was stunned into silence, a ton of ice settling heavily on my shoulders and melting slowly down my back.
“This is all getting a bit Reservoir Dogs to me,” I groaned, running both hands across my sweating face. “All that needs to happen now is for a copper to get tortured and you to end up as a bloody police mole! That’d just about top it all off!”
“Piss off!” Wilko snapped, immediately grunting in pain. “This ain’t a poxy movie and this ain’t a bloody joke. That arsehole has got me killed today, and you and Tiptoes will probably get banged up for your trouble! You’ll get done for murder as well as armed robbery, even if it was self-defence, and that’s if you’re lucky an’ all! What happened to Tiptoes, anyway? I didn’t see much after I took one in the derby.”
“He took off in the other car,” I said slowly, massaging my temples. “Just after I shot Bill in the chest. He looked like a ghost had turned up and booted him in the arse. He had all the cash, too.”
“Well, halle-bleedin’-lujah!” Wilko sang angrily. “At least one of us did alright out of this mess!”
“Tiptoes ain’t stupid,” I said, rounding on him. “He’ll have made straight for Big John to let him know what’s happened. It’s all gone pear-shaped so far, but it’ll be a lot bloody worse if that cash doesn’t get to the boss! Cos I don’t think you’re right about this so-called ‘set-up’ anyway. Once Big John learns what’s gone on, he’ll sort us out. You’ll see.”
“I hope you’re right, son,” Wilko sounded doubtful. “’Cos if you’re not and I am, Tiptoes is dead as soon as he gets to Big John.” We drifted into uneasy silence once again, a chill wind sending a shiver up my spine as I tried to think clearly. Maybe this was the universe playing a big cosmic joke on me and my partners: the old ‘crime doesn’t pay’ rubbish. Or maybe it was ‘no honour among thieves’. Har-dee-bloody-har.
“What I said is worth considerin’, is all,” Wilko said matter-of-factly. “It’s definitely the sort of thing a cold-hearted bastard like Big John could arrange. I don’t know why he’d want us all taken out, but I ‘spose it ain’t that important right now. You should think about what I’ve said and plan your next moves very bloody carefully, mate.”
“Why did we even take this job, Wilko?” I asked softly. I didn’t want to hear any more about Wilko’s conspiracy theory, it was making my brain hurt. “I mean, neither of us are hard-up for a bit of cash these days, the other jobs saw to that. We could’ve just sat on our laurels, bone-idle and comfortable for the rest of our lives. Why did we come back? What was so special about this job?”
“Weren’t the job, mate,” Wilko replied, pausing to spit blood again. “It’s ‘cos we can’t sit bone-idle, not forever. We’re too bloody greedy for a start, and we love the thrill of a big job like this one. That’s what it all comes down to. I’ve been on the wrong side of the law for thirty-odd years, and no job has ever made me want to change that for long. So I blow some of my ill-earned dosh on drugs, booze and women and then wait by the phone, hopin’ that Big John will call me again. I ‘spect that you’re the same.”
“Yeah, I suppose I am,” I said, thoughtfully. He was right, about the thrill of a job and also about being greedy. ‘Once a thief, always a thief’, as my old man used to say. How bloody true.
“Figured as much,” Wilko wheezed, closing his eyes. “Screw it, I’m done for. I knew that son of a bitch would kill me today, I bloody knew it.”
I didn’t have anything else to add, so I sat down on the damp ground next to my dying friend. I put my arm around his shoulders and waited. Time passed slowly, and my minuscule hope flickered and faded along with Wilko’s vital signs. Finally, my old pal let out a long, rattling breath and left me alone. I had no bloody idea what to do next.