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

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What happens when your past finally catches up with you?

Christmas is just around the corner, a time to be with family. For Will Mason, an orphan since he was fourteen, it is a time for reflection on what his life could have been, and what it could be.

Until a chance encounter brings back to life the reasons for his twenty years of self-imposed exile from a life only normal people could have. From that moment Will’s life slowly starts to unravel and it’s obvious to him it’s time to move on.

This time, however, there is more at stake.

Will has broken his number one rule, don’t get involved.

With his nemesis, Eddie Jamieson, suddenly within reach, and a blossoming relationship with an office colleague, Maria, about to change everything, Will has to make a choice. Quietly leave, or finally, make a stand.

But as Will soon discovers, when other people are involved there is going to be terrible consequences no matter what choice he makes.

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“Trouble in Store” – Short stories my way: Adding a catalyst

Just when there’s enough complication in the story, we could leave it there with the current three protagonists and see what happens.

But I like mayhem.

So rather than another customer, it’s time to add a complication; an off duty policeman, or more to the point, policewoman.  A beat cop, if they still exist.

Her back story in a sentence or so:

It had been another long day at the office for Officer Margaret O’Donnell, or, out in the streets, coping with people who either didn’t know or didn’t care about the law.

People who couldn’t cross the road where there were crossings and lights to protect them, silly girls shoplifting on a dare, and boys who thought they were men and could walk on water.

The one they scraped of the road would never get to grow up, and his mother, well, she was not doing another call on a family to give them the bad news.

That was her day.  So far.

What is she doing near the shop?  She lives around the corner.  Perhaps she knows the reputation of the shopkeeper or perhaps not.  It’s not relevant, then, as it is a place she avoids.

Now, she may not have the option.  She sees the shop is still open, past the usual closing time.

Let’s continue:

She came around the corner into the street where she lived and saw the lights were on in the corner store.

She looked at her watch and saw it was ten minutes to midnight.  Long past closing time.  She looked through the window but from the other side of the road and could only see three heads and little else.

Damn, she thought, I’m going to have to check it out.  There were rumors, and she hoped they were not true.

Meanwhile, back in the shop how are the others faring?

The shopkeeper is in an invidious position, he can’t supply the kids with the drugs and get them out, not in front of the customer.

The fact the girl has a gun makes the situation almost impossible.  What would happen if he suggests the customer leave?  Without him, the situation would be simpler.

Alphonse had only a few moments to sum up the situation, and the sum of those deliberations was the remove the only problem, the customer.

He could still salvage this:

The shopkeeper changed his expression to one more placatory, and said quietly to the girl, ‘Look, this is not this chap’s problem.’  He nodded in the direction of the customer.  ‘I’m sure he’d rather not be here, and you would glad of one less distraction.’

He could see she was wavering, she was not holding the gun so steadily, and the longer this dragged on, the more nervous and unpredictable she would become.

And in the longer game, the customer would sing his praises no matter what happened after he left.

The girl looked at Jack.  The shopkeeper was right.  If he wasn’t here this could be over.  But there was another problem.  It didn’t look like Simmo was in any shape to get away.  In fact, this was looking more like a suicide mission.

She waved the gun in his direction.  ‘Get out now, before I change my mind.’

As the gun turned to the shopkeeper, Jack wasn’t going to wait to be asked twice and started sidling towards the door.

What happens next?

 

And the story for this section, with a few minor changes:

 

It had been another long day at the office for Officer Margaret O’Donnell, or, out in the streets, coping with people who either didn’t know or didn’t care about the law.

People who couldn’t cross the road where there were crossings and lights to protect them, silly girls shoplifting on a dare, and boys who thought they were men and could walk on water.

The one they scraped of the road would never get to grow up, and his mother, well, she was not doing another call on a family to give them the bad news.

That was her day.  So far.  For now, she was glad to be getting home, putting her feet up, and forgetting about everything until the next morning when it would start all over again.

Coming around that last corner, the home stretch she called it, she was directly opposite the corner shop, usually closed at this hour of the night.  It was not.  The lights were still on.

She looked at her watch and saw it was ten minutes to midnight, and long past closing time.  She looked through the window but from the other side of the road and could only see three heads and little else.

Damn, she thought, I’m going to have to check it out.  There were rumors, and she hoped they were not true.

 

The shopkeeper changed his expression to one more placatory, and said quietly to the girl, ‘Look, this is not this chap’s problem.’  He nodded in the direction of the customer.  ‘I’m sure he’d rather not be here, and you would glad of one less distraction.’

He could see she was wavering, she was not holding the gun so steadily, and the longer this dragged on, the more nervous and unpredictable she would become.

And in the longer game, the customer would sing his praises no matter what happened after he left.

The girl looked at Jack.  The shopkeeper was right.  If he wasn’t here this could be over.  But there was another problem.  It didn’t look like Simmo was in any shape to get away.  In fact, this was looking more like a suicide mission.

She waved the gun in his direction.  ‘Get out now, before I change my mind.’

As the gun turned to the shopkeeper, Jack wasn’t going to wait to be asked twice and started sidling towards the door.

 

Next:  Actions have consequences

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

Writing about writing a book – Day 26

Now, Bill makes an attempt to recruit Barry, following on from yesterday’s narrative.

 

A groan emanated from the table, and Barry moved his head slightly.

I shifted the drink in front of him, and then a hand went out and moved it back.  He lifted his head to look at me, and then lowered it again.

“I thought it was you.” A croak.

“Mate.  Not looking too good this afternoon?”

He groaned again, and then struggled to sit up, trying to smooth his hair back into place, and failing.  He rubbed his face and realized he had a week’s stubble, giving him the look of a deranged sanatorium inmate.

“Someone’s gotta try and get me off the gut rot Ogilvy calls booze.”  He nodded in Ogilvy’s direction, but typically, Ogilvy ignored him.

“You don’t have to drink it.”

“That’s what I keep telling myself.  Only it doesn’t work.”

“Perhaps you should try harder.”

He looked me over, looking for the changes since the last time he saw me, about four months ago.

“Where you been?”

“Hospital.”

“Not surprising.  Work too hard, no fun.”  He looked at the drink on the table, took it in his hand, then holding it up to the light.  Perhaps he thought it was the magic elixir that would fix him.

“Someone shot at me.  I nearly didn’t make it.  One thing it did, though.  Brought back all those memories I’d shut away.  Now I know why I did.”

“Shot at you?  Why?”

“I don’t know.  You should see the other guy.  He’s dead.”

“What other guy?”  He put the drink down, untouched.  He was beginning to look a little more alert.

I had not expected it would make much of a difference telling him about my problems, but it had.

“Take it from the top.”  Then, over towards Ogilvy, “Bring me some coffee.  Black.”

I started, a little hesitantly, not quite sure how much or little I should say.

Ogilvy came over with coffee for him and my orange juice.  He glared at me, then Barry.

“Your account is a little overdue,” Ogilvy said, standing over him.

“It’ll get paid.”

By little, I assumed it was more than Ogilvy was willing to stand.  He was kind, but kindness had its limits.

I pulled out two hundred dollar notes and gave them to him.  “Will this settle it?”

“I don’t want your money.  You should throw him in a detox center.  That would make more sense.”

“It’s only money.  If he wants to drink himself to death, who am I to argue?”

Ogilvy shrugged and took the money.  As he turned to leave, Barry said, “And take the scotch back.  I’ve had enough.”

He looked at Barry with surprise, no, I think it was more shock, but did as he was asked.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ogilvy drink the scotch himself, and another for good measure.

I picked up the story where Aitchison and I were shot in the street and related what I knew from there.  He asked only two questions, who was Jennifer, and what had happened to Ellen.  He’d absorbed the rest, and judging by his reaction, probably not understood any of it.

“You have a friend?  Does Ellen know about this friend?”

“Ellen and I are divorced.  Don’t you remember me telling you several years ago?”

“Has it been that long?”

He’d been like this off and on over the last twenty years.  It had been getting worse in the last few years, his health failing, and, at times, his memory.  I watched him pick up the coffee cup, his hand shaking so badly, he needed to hold it was two.  It took a minute or so before he could drink it, and then, his face was of a child, taking medicine.

He looked over towards the bar.  “More coffee.”  He set the cup down carefully, and then looked back at me.

“What can I do?”

“I need someone to watch my back.  I have the odd feeling I’ve got myself into a situation.  The people I work for, well, I can’t put my finger on it, but they’re probably doing something they shouldn’t.  I have some evidence, and I think they know I’ve got it, and they’ve attacked me, like I said, at least once since I got out of the hospital.”

“You want me to get this Kowalski character and beat it out of him?

I smiled at the thought.  I had no doubt if I asked him, he would do exactly that.

“Not yet.  We have to get a better case against them first.”

“So, just watch your back?”

“For the moment.  And for Jennifer.”

“But you are not sure about her.  I get the impression you think she might be involved in more ways than one.”

“Did I give that impression?”  I had no idea he would pick up on my doubts.  But he was right.  I did.

“Yes.  But it doesn’t matter.  If she is we’ll find out soon enough.”

In the space of five minutes and the arrival of the second cup of coffee, to be followed by a third, his whole manner had changed.  There was still the pained look from the hangover, but the eyes were brighter, and he had a purpose.

“Then you’re in?”

“Might as well.  It’ll be better than the last bodyguard gig I had.  Had to thump the little turd.  Smart arse needed it.”

 

To be honest, I didn’t expect Barry to take up the challenge.  Perhaps I’d become used to seeing him down and out, and not expecting anything else.  It was the look in his eyes that changed my opinion.  The same look I’d seen all those years ago, in the jungle.

It was another good sign when he asked for an hour to clean up so he could become inconspicuous.  I told him he could take over my place, gave him the key, gave him some money, and then told him where he could find me in an hour.

It was exactly what I needed.  The Barry of old.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

“The Devil You Don’t”, be careful what you wish for

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John Pennington’s life is in the doldrums. Looking for new opportunities, prevaricating about getting married, the only joy on the horizon was an upcoming visit to his grandmother in Sorrento, Italy.

Suddenly he is left at the check-in counter with a message on his phone telling him the marriage is off, and the relationship is over.

If only he hadn’t promised a friend he would do a favour for him in Rome.

At the first stop, Geneva, he has a chance encounter with Zoe, an intriguing woman who captures his imagination from the moment she boards the Savoire, and his life ventures into uncharted territory in more ways than one.

That ‘favour’ for his friend suddenly becomes a life-changing event, and when Zoe, the woman who he knows is too good to be true, reappears, danger and death follows.

Shot at, lied to, seduced, and drawn into a world where nothing is what it seems, John is dragged into an adrenaline-charged undertaking, where he may have been wiser to stay with the ‘devil you know’ rather than opt for the ‘devil you don’t’.

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Inspiration, maybe

A picture paints … well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

lookingdownfromcoronetpeak

And the story:

 

It was once said that a desperate man has everything to lose.

The man I was chasing was desperate, but I, on the other hand, was more desperate to catch him.

He’d left a trail of dead people from one end of the island to the other.

The team had put in a lot of effort to locate him, and now his capture was imminent.  We were following the car he was in, from a discrete distance, and, at the appropriate time, we would catch up, pull him over, and make the arrest.

There was nowhere for him to go.

The road led to a dead-end, and the only way off the mountain was back down the road were now on.  Which was why I was somewhat surprised when we discovered where he was.

Where was he going?

 

“Damn,” I heard Alan mutter.  He was driving, being careful not to get too close, but not far enough away to lose sight of him.

“What?”

“I think he’s made us.”

“How?”

“Dumb bad luck, I’m guessing.  Or he expected we’d follow him up the mountain.  He’s just sped up.”

“How far away?”

“A half-mile.  We should see him higher up when we turn the next corner.”

It took an eternity to get there, and when we did, Alan was right, only he was further on than we thought.”

“Step on it.  Let’s catch him up before he gets to the top.”

Easy to say, not so easy to do.  The road was treacherous, and in places just gravel, and there were no guard rails to stop a three thousand footfall down the mountainside.

Good thing then I had the foresight to have three agents on the hill for just such a scenario.

 

Ten minutes later, we were in sight of the car, still moving quickly, but we were going slightly faster.  We’d catch up just short of the summit car park.

Or so we thought.

Coming quickly around another corner we almost slammed into the car we’d been chasing.

“What the hell…” Aland muttered.

I was out of the car, and over to see if he was in it, but I knew that it was only a slender possibility.  The car was empty, and no indication where he went.

Certainly not up the road.  It was relatively straightforward for the next mile, at which we would have reached the summit.  Up the mountainside from here, or down.

I looked up.  Nothing.

Alan yelled out, “He’s not going down, not that I can see, but if he did, there’s hardly a foothold and that’s a long fall.”

Then where did he go?

Then a man looking very much like our quarry came out from behind a rock embedded just a short distance up the hill.

“Sorry,” he said quite calmly.  “Had to go if you know what I mean.”

 

I’d lost him.

It was as simple as that.

I had been led a merry chase up the hill, and all the time he was getting away in a different direction.

I’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book, letting my desperation blind me to the disguise that anyone else would see through in an instant.

It was a lonely sight, looking down that road, knowing that I had to go all that way down again, only this time, without having to throw caution to the wind.

“Maybe next time,” Alan said.

“We’ll get him.  It’s just a matter of time.”

 

© Charles Heath 2019

Find this and other stories in “Inspiration, maybe”  available soon.

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“Trouble in Store” – Short stories my way: Point of view

If this story was being written the first person the only perspective or point of view would be that of the narrator.

Since we need to have a number of perspectives it is better done in the third person so we can change between characters and try to understand their motivation.

We might look at the first-person perspective for each of the characters later.

The second of the protagonists is the girl with the gun.  How did she get it?  How did the situation deteriorate so quickly?   What is she going to do?

This is a short story and we need to know something about her, so we have to get to the heat of the matter quickly, so let’s start with:

Her mother said she would never amount to anything, and here she was, with a broken drug addict coming apart because she had been cut off from her money, dragged into coming to this shop to leverage drugs from his dealer at the end of a gun.  It was her fault, Jerry said and made her feel responsible, much the same as her parents and everyone else in her life.

One of life’s losers or just a victim?  This theme can go in any direction.

Then a moment to reflect on why she was here:

Why had she agreed to go with Jerry?  At that moment when she picked up the gun off the floor, she realized it was not out of responsibility or fault, it was out of fear.

That gives us the why; he had obviously tried to make her feel responsible and when that failed, he threatened her.  But now there’s a bigger issue, the gun and a situation spiraling out of control.  The thing is, she has the gun and the power to walk away or make matters worse.

The problem was, she has outed the shopkeeper as a dealer in front of someone who had not known.  That now made him a victim as much as she was.

She looked at the two men facing her, a shopkeeper who was a dealer and a customer scared shitless.  As much as she was.  Her gun hand was shaking.

The scene is set, something has to give.

Time for the shopkeeper to weigh in.

“I have no idea what you are talking about.  Please, put the gun down before someone gets hurt.”

It’s a typical response from a man who realizes he’s in trouble and is trying to make time while he thinks of how to rescue himself from a potentially dangerous situation.

Time to change the perspective again and explore the shopkeeper.

If only Jack hadn’t come in when he did.  He would have the gun, called the police, and brazened his way out of trouble.  Who would the police believe a pair of addicts or a respectable shopkeeper?

Now he had to deal with the fallout, especially if the girl started talking.

 

Next, actions have consequences, building the tension.

 

This section rewritten, moving from Jack as the narrator to the girl, and then to the shopkeeper:

 

Annalisa looked at the two men facing her, a shopkeeper who, despite his protestations, was a dealer and a customer scared shitless.

The poor bastard was not the only one.  This was meant to be simple, arrive at the shop just before closing, force the shopkeeper to hand over the shit, and leave.  Simple.

Except …

The shopkeeper told them to get out.  Simmo started ranting waving the gun around, then collapsed.  A race for the gun which spilled out of his hand, she won.

He was getting the stuff when the customer burst into the shop.

Shit, shit, shit, shit, she thought.

Why had she agreed to go with Jerry?  It was her fault, Jerry had said, and he made her feel responsible for his problems, much the same as her parents and everyone else in her life.

Her mother said she would never amount to anything, and here she was, with a drug addict coming apart because she had been cut off from her money, dragged into coming to this shop to pick up his score from his dealer at the end of a gun.

She heard a strange sound come from beside her and looked down.  Simmo was getting worse, like he had a fever, and was moaning.

The shopkeeper saw an opportunity.  “Listen to me, young lady, I have no idea what you are talking about.  Please, put the gun down before someone gets hurt.  Your friend needs medical help and I can call an ambulance.”

The girl switched her attention back to him.  “Shut up, let me think.  Shit.”

The storekeeper glanced over at the customer.  He’s been in once or twice, probably lived in the neighborhood, but looked the sort who’d prefer to be anywhere but in his shop.  More so now.  If only he hadn’t burst in when he did.  He would have the gun, called the police, and brazened his way out of trouble.  Who would the police believe a pair of addicts or a respectable shopkeeper?

Now he had to deal with the fallout, especially if the girl started talking.

 

© Charles Heath 2016 – 2020

 

“Trouble in Store” – Short stories my way: Setting the scene

I used to like writing short stories, somewhere between two and five thousand words, but, in the end, it was too much hard work.

No chance of getting into stride with a location description, no real chance of giving a background to a character, it was simply a case of diving straight in.

But …

I’ve been thinking about writing a short story, starting it with a short succinct sentence that will set the tone.

Something like:  “Jack was staring down the barrel of a gun”

What then?

Should he start analyzing what sort of gun it was, did it have a light trigger, was the person holding it shaking, a man or a woman, or a child?

Location, in a house, a disused factory, a shop, a petrol station, the side of the road.

So, where was Jack?

Something like:  “He had gone down to the corner shop to get a pack of cigarettes.”

For himself or someone else?  Is it day, is it night, or somewhere in between?

Something like:  “He had to hustle because he knew the shopkeeper, Alphonse, liked to close at 11:00 pm sharp, and came through the door, the sound of the bell ringing loudly and the door bashed into it.”

So, Jack’s state of mind, he is in a hurry, careless coming through the door, not expecting anything out of the ordinary.

How would you react when you saw a gun, pointed at Alphonse until the sound of the door warning bell attracted the gunman’s attention?

Is it a gunman?

Something like:  “It took a second, perhaps three, to sum up the situation.  Young girl, about 16 or 17, scared, looking sideways at a man on the ground, Alphonse, and then Jack.  A Luger, German, a relic of WW2, perhaps her father’s souvenir, now pointing at him.”

The punch line:  Cigarettes can kill in more ways than one.

The revelation:  The corner store also supplied the local drug addicts.

The revised start is now:

 

Jack was staring down the barrel of a gun.

He had gone down to the corner shop to get a pack of cigarettes.

He had to hustle because he knew the shopkeeper, Alphonse, liked to close at 11:00 pm sharp.  His momentum propelled him through the door, causing the customer warning bell to ring loudly as the door bashed into it, and before the sound had died away, he knew he was in trouble.

It took a second, perhaps three, to sum up the situation. 

Young girl, about 16 or 17, scared, looking sideways at a man on the ground, then Alphonse, and then Jack.  He recognized the gun, a Luger, German, relic of WW2, perhaps her father’s souvenir, now pointing at him then Alphonse, then back to him.

Jack to another second or two to consider if he could disarm her.  No, the distance was too great.  He put his hands out where she could see them.  No sudden movements, try to remain calm, his heart rate up to the point of cardiac arrest.

Pointing with the gun, she said, “Come in, close the door, and move towards the counter.”

Everything but her hand steady as a rock.  The only telltale sign of stress, the bead of perspiration on her brow.  It was 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the shop.

Jack shivered and then did as he was told.  She was in an unpredictable category.

“What’s wrong with your friend?”  Jack tried the friendly approach, as he took several slow steps sideways towards the counter.

The shopkeeper, Alphonse, seemed calmer than usual, or the exact opposite spoke instead, “I suspect he’s an addict, looking for a score.  At the end of his tether, my guess, and came to the wrong place.” 

Wrong time, wrong place, in more ways than one Jack thought, now realizing he had walked into a very dangerous situation.  She didn’t look like a user.  The boy on the ground, he did, and he looked like he was going through the beginnings of withdrawal.

 “Simmo said you sell shit.  You wanna live, ante up.”  She was glaring at Alphonse. 

The language was not her own, she had been to a better class of school, a good girl going through a bad boy phase.

 

Nest time, point of view.

© Charles Heath 2016-2020