Showing posts with label Booklet 15. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Booklet 15. Show all posts

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Mortal Sin isn’t what it used to Be by Jenny Worstall

Mortal sin isn’t what it used to be.

There was a time in my childhood when my life was like a tightrope strung carelessly over the boiling pit of hell. A wobble here or a mistake there would lead to mortal sin and send me tumbling into the vast fiery depths where I would roast for all eternity.

‘What do you think hell is really like?’ Trixie whispered during the early morning Chapel service. ‘Sister Dolores says it’s awfully hot.’

‘I’d give anything to be hot.’ I shivered in my school uniform, sitting on the hard bench. It was England in the 1970s; the power cuts were in full swing and the school was icy. ‘I don’t feel so good…’ Black spots appeared before my eyes and Trixie thrust my head between my knees.

‘You’ll feel alright soon. Keep your head down!’ She patted my shoulder.

Sister Dolores had a cup of tea with sugar waiting for me in the refectory. My fainting fits in Chapel were legendary. I once asked whether I could have the cup of tea before the service, to stop me feeling so bad, but there was no exception to the overnight fast before communion.

‘Offer it up, offer your suffering up to the Lord,’ advised Sister Dolores.

I liked the idea that my suffering might put me in credit with God – maybe he would send me less temptations as I grew older and make my feet stick on that tightrope. Maybe he would give me a ‘Get out of jail free’ card.

Fast forward over forty years and here I am. I realise I haven’t thought about mortal sin or hell for ages. Everything can be forgiven now, can’t it? People do all sorts and no one cares.

I look out through the windscreen of my car at the mangled red bicycle in front of me in the road. Where is the cyclist?

‘Anyone called the ambulance?’

‘Done it! Here in five.’

‘Should we move him?’

‘No – gotta protect the neck. That’s what they do on the telly.’

‘I’ve got a blanket.’

‘That’s good. Let’s put it over the kid.’

‘Gently now…’

‘He’s opened his eyes.’

‘Mum! I want my mum!’

‘Here, we should check the driver’s OK.’

‘She’s completely white in the face.’

I open my car door and vomit neatly into the gutter.

‘Damn! Mind me shoes!’

‘You all right, love? You’re shivering.’

‘I feel so cold. Think I was going too fast.’ I stand up and lean against the body of my car.

‘You don’t wanna say that, love.’

‘Excuse me butting in; I’m a lawyer and I agree with what that chap said. Obviously it’s to your credit that you want to take the blame, however if you were my client, I’d have to advise you not to say anything yet.’

‘Yeah, don’t blame yourself. The kid came straight out in front of you.’

‘But I was in a hurry. Oh, is he all right?’ I totter to the front of the car where the tiny child stares up at me.

‘Mum! Want Mum!’

‘Anyone know him? Anyone called his mum?’

‘At least he’s conscious. Where the hell’s that ambulance? I called it seven minutes ago.’

I feel myself going.

‘’Ere! She’s fainting!’

‘Sit down love, quick, here on the pavement.’

‘Put your head down.’

‘I can hear the ambulance!’

‘There’s a police car too.’

Within minutes the child is secured on a stretcher and slotted into the ambulance. I dig my nails into the centre of each hand as hard as I can, leaving deep welts. Let him be all right.

I’ll do anything if you let him live. This time.

A young policeman crouches beside me.

‘We need to talk to you Madam, when you feel up to it.’

‘I was rushing to work,’ I lied. ‘Didn’t have time for breakfast. It’s all my fault – will he live?’

‘Ambulance crew think he’ll be fine Madam. They’re taking him to hospital to give him the once over but all the signs are good.’

Tears burst from my eyes, drowning the image of yellow and red flames leaping up from the bottomless pit and licking my feet. My tightrope disintegrated a long time ago.

‘Here, love, have this. It’s from my café, over there. I saw the whole thing. I’ve put three sugars in it, the tea I mean. Sugar’s good for shock.’

‘You are so kind,’ I murmur, fumbling for my purse. ‘You must let me pay for the tea.’

‘You put your money away. It’s the least I can do – you’ve suffered enough.’

So it would be all right then, this time.

There’s something the nuns forgot to tell us, but I worked it out for myself over time: it’s not a mortal sin if no one finds out. Other people judge you, not God.

Today, when I saw the kid veering off the pavement onto the road in front of me, I thought why should others have a child when I never did, a lovely boy like that, on his red bicycle.

With his freckles and his blue lace-up shoes and a bell to ring. I put my foot on the accelerator then, even though I knew it was madness and I could be caught.

But it has turned out all right for me. And for the kid.

I’ll be more careful when I try again. Ram the car that bit harder, ensure the incident is fatal.

Then make a quick getaway. People do it all the time, don’t they? Hit and runs – they’re always in the papers. Today was just the dress rehearsal.

Mortal sin isn’t what it used to be.

The Rest of the Menu by Cindy Periera

Cindy has opted-out of online publication 

The Dis-Entanglement Dinner by Paul Garson

Where did I go wrong? I remembered our anniversary. I made reservations at her favorite Italian restaurant. I pre-ordered the best wine. I wrote something nice on a card. I took a shower, flossed my teeth, trimmed my beard so it didn’t tickle her and I wore the shirt she bought me for my birthday even though the stripes sometimes gave me vertigo if I saw my reflection.

I didn’t wear my favorite shoes because she didn’t like their tendency to squeak. I even bought new ones that matched the color of my belt, one of her pet peeves, my lack of coordinated accessories.

I arrived on time. The truck was taken to the best car wash and given the full treatment including the Lotus Blossom air freshener. I even removed the gun rack.

Maybe it was my choice of opening conversations. I had made a list of topics that I thought might interest her. And since she liked to chat, I started with the breath-taking news flash that I had just picked up on my quick-burst receiver thanks to the new 50 foot antenna I had installed over my vacation bunker in the New Hebrides, not that she knew about that since it would only “vex” her. According to her I could be very “vexing,” especially my “blitherings” about potential doomsday scenarios. I was “too negative” she said.

However I was working on that problem area. So back to my chat agenda. “Dear,” I said after she had finished her second glass of wine and I thought she was more receptive. “Dear, did you know that just today scientists in Moldavia overheard two atoms chatting with each other? Of course, it was actually magnetic quantum interactions, but I guess if you’re an atom, it’s chatting. In this case it was two titanium atoms a nanometer apart hooking up so to speak, the eavesdropping by way of a scanning tunneling microscope. Think about all the atoms in the wine glass you’re holding now chatting away to each other, a group chat as it were. But instead of discussing the merits of the ’76 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, they’re exchanging quantum information…in the form of a spin, a tiny magnetic momentwhen they actually feel each other unbound by space or time.

Yes, dear, I know you’re thinking the same thing I am…atoms love each other.”

When she didn’t respond and instead called the waiter to order another bottle of wine, I realized I had to take another tact, make another selection from my prepared list of topics.

Since she did favor her wines, I thought it dove-tailed nicely into my mentioning of the recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences regarding the detection of prebiotic ethanolamine in a molecular cloud near the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, i.e. our home galaxy. So I took a breath and broke the ice again, beginning with,

“Dear, did you hear about the discovery of the galactic appearance of the amino acid that may have contributed fundamentally to the development of life on Earth?

“In fact, it may finally reveal why life came to exist here in the first place, since we really have no explanation. This amino acid is the building block of protein. We are carbon based of course but couldn’t exist without proteins. We’ve also found this ethanolamine in meteorites which could account for the emergence of life on our planet and countless others, evidence of panspermia permeating the universe, and all thanks to a whiff of interstellar alcohol. Call it the galactic love potion if you will.”

That did it. I finally struck the right chord. Because, a second later, my dear looked me straight in the eye and murmured, “I’ll drink to that.” And she did, nicely draining the full glass, then seamlessly refilling it again.

I held my glass up as well and said, “I’ll drink to that, too.”

She finished the newly re-filled glass, placed it on the table and with one finger plinked it over. Then she sighed and said, “Must you copy everything I do and say. Do you lack all originality?”

I was stumped for a reply. I felt something tingly and wiggling deep down my throat. I think it was panic clawing its way up my esophagus. Were all my efforts to repair our relationship going to naught? I tried one last item from my list of conversation topics.

“Dear, I do have something totally original to reveal to you.”

She yawned.

“I’ve invented a transmutation device that will revolutionize our lives as we know it. It can turn the hardest, coldest stone to the warmest gold.”

I think she actually laughed but I wasn’t certain. It could have been a belch. Undeterred I pressed on. From my coat pocket I brought out the small white box with a red ribbon and placed it on the table in front of her.

She stared at it for a moment, then used her fork to bring it closer to her. Using her knife, she cut the ribbon. She looked up at me. I smiled. She looked back at the box and with the knife popped off the lid. Then it seemed Time stood still.

She stared into the box. Then it came. A tear. Then another.

She looked up at me, her face reddening. She slowly turned the box over. The rock rolled across the table and stopped right side up. In gold letters, it read “I love you.”

I smiled, then said. “Dear, it’s a meteorite and I painted the words in real gold leaf. Can we agree that it’s very original?”

“Diamonds are original,” she hissed and in a flash she was gone but not before she “returned” my present. Now I sit here holding the napkin over my throbbing eye, just waiting for the bill.

The Real Peter by Sheena Billett

How had it come to this?

Peter buried his face in his napkin and sobbed, oblivious to the other diners in The Golden Fleece, next to the Premier Inn on the ring road.

This was not how he had imagined his career would end – an ignominious send off with only his loyal secretary, Pat, for company; and even she had left, barely sipping her wine, muttering something about getting home to her mother.

Even so, he had put a brave face on things and ordered his meal. But as he raised the first forkful of food to his mouth, Peter saw himself – sitting in this anonymous restaurant with two Happy Retirement cards; one signed by everyone in the office and the other from Pat, and the Homebase gardening voucher in his wallet.

In his imagination, he would have held his leaving do in the swanky Yodo restaurant in town, with the whole department toasting his wonderful career, and wishing him and Anna a wonderful retirement in their French Villa.

Peter left a twenty pound note on the table, and strode abruptly out of the restaurant. He got into his Lexus and headed for the motorway – he might as well enjoy one more journey, as it was being repossessed tomorrow.

It was difficult to know exactly when things had gone wrong. Was it the morning he’d needed a drink before going to work? Was it the day when his hands shook so badly that he’d had to leave a junior surgeon to finish up? Maybe it was as far back as the first time he had drunk a bottle of wine on his own. No wonder Pat couldn’t bring herself to share a bottle of wine with him. What had he been thinking? It had been the final, pathetic, flimsy, attempt to pretend that things were normal.

Ten years ago, Peter had had it all. He was a brilliant cardio-thoracic surgeon, a pioneer of cutting edge techniques, highly respected by his colleagues and on the board of the hospital.

He had the perfect wife, two children at university, one of them at Oxford, and enough money to buy a villa in France. But somehow, there had come a time when having it all had not been enough, and Peter had found himself, in his early fifties, thinking: what else is there? In those days, no one talked about mental health, or depression; most people didn’t even recognise the symptoms – not even a medical professional like Peter, or maybe, especially a medical professional like Peter.

He and Heather had got into the habit of drinking a bottle of wine each evening, ‘to unwind’, after the younger of their children had left for university. Then, one evening, Heather had been visiting her parents and Peter, unable to break the habit, had drunk a bottle of wine on his own. From there, slowly but surely, over the next ten years, alcoholism had stealthily crept up on him. Things had come to a head when a junior doctor had alerted the chairman of the board that he could smell alcohol on Mr Walker and didn’t think he was fit to operate.

Peter had never stepped into an operating theatre since, as arrogantly and obstinately he refused help and refused to even acknowledge the problem, insisting that other colleagues were ‘out to get him.’ Left with no other option, the hospital had insisted on immediate early retirement with a reduced pension. And so it had come to this – still refusing to accept that a demon was running his life, even ordering a bottle of wine this evening, and expecting Pat to drink it with him. What had he been thinking? In fact what had he been thinking for the last year-or-so?

Heather had found out from a friend at the hospital, had immediately moved out, and was currently taking him to the cleaners, intent on bleeding him dry. The legal fees alone would wipe him out. His children weren’t talking to him, and he knew that he would have to leave the area. The hospital had hoped to hush things up, but inevitably, the local press had got wind of the scandal, and his face had been in every paper.

Peter found that he had driven almost all the way to Leeds. This was the first evening he could remember not having a drink – somehow he hadn’t been able to face it after Pat had left. He felt himself to be at a fork in the road: He could turn off at the next exit and return home and get some help, or he could drive on into oblivion allowing his pride, self-pity and anger to overwhelm him.

Three weeks later, Peter found himself dressed in uncharacteristic jogging bottoms and a T-shirt, running along a beach.

‘Come on keep going, old man,’ shouted Tim over his shoulder as he sprinted off.

Peter stopped, hands on his knees trying to get his breath. He had not felt this good in a long time.

Tim returned and patted him on the back. ‘You’re doing great, Dad – for an oldie.’

‘Do you know, Tim, I never thought I could feel this good with so little,’ he puffed.

‘I’m so proud of you, Dad. Mum and Lizzie will come round, eventually, you know.’

‘I know this sounds a bit soft, but I think I’m only now getting to know the real Peter.’

‘Me too. And I think I’m going to like him… a lot. Come on, let’s get you a latte and boost your sugar levels. Race you!’ And he was gone.

Spring Street Love Story by Beverley Byrne

‘You can set your watch by them,’ said Joey. ‘Every July 4th. Same time. Same booth. They’ll order the specials, open cards and hold hands over dessert. Man, that’s a New York love story.’

According to Joey, the couple had been meeting once a year at the Spring Street Lounge since forever.

‘The old guy once told me he fell for her by the jukebox,’ he smiled, swiping a cloth over the copper counter. ‘Fireworks exploding outside and in.’

He tapped his watch. ‘They’ll be here soon. Seven. On the dot.’

Joey’s stories of Little Italy mobsters, gang brawls and limos prowling the street, were a perk of my job. After Mum died, I found photos of her posing in front of New York landmarks wearing yoga pants and Bo Derek braids. Several featured her outside the Spring Street Lounge where she’s clowning with a couple of Springsteen clones and a russet haired woman holding a baby. Having never seen her that jubilant, I flew here searching for the mother I never really knew. When I stood outside the bar and saw the sign on the window saying ‘Staff Wanted,’ I took it as a posthumous sign.

Joey, the manager, said my British accent would be catnip to New Yorkers. The Lounge was a SoHo legend and tourists seeking Mean Streets scenes bantered with yellow cab drivers and steel toe capped builders. I loved it when they asked questions like, ‘Hey you met the Queen?’ or ‘Is there a bridge over to Ireland?’

I was serving beers to a bunch of tattooed students when Joey dug me in the ribs and whispered, ‘That’s him.’ An old grey bearded guy wearing a suit jacket was pushing through the Independence Day scrum. Joey left the bar to greet him. I’d seen Joey, flexing baseball biceps, throw out a mouthy jock twice his size. The solicitous way he took the elderly man’s elbow was touching.

The bar was sauna hot with sweaty punters waving Stars and Stripes flags. Occasionally, bodies parting like the red sea revealed the man seated at the table. He’d propped two envelopes against the menu and sat rifle straight, eyes glued to the door. With every creaking opening, his smile waxed and waned. In between, he checked his watch and mobile. Joey, mixing Manhattans in a cocktail shaker, said, ‘Never known her to be this late. Don’t say she’s stood him up after all these years.’

The giant clock over the optics ticked the minutes. People ebbed and flowed, shouting over the music and slamming down shot glasses. Amid the jollity, the old man looked out of place and uneasy. At eight thirty, Joey said, ‘Go ask if he wants to order. His lady was English.

Your accent might cheer him up.’ I doubted this but taking my pencil and pad, shouldered my way through the throng. The man had his head in his hands. I coughed. When he looked up his complexion paled to cement grey. Two fat tears rolled down his cheeks and nestled in his beard like twin diamonds.

‘Are you ok?’

‘Yes, yes. I’m sorry,’ he mumbled, ‘You’re just so like…….……’ His voice trailed off as if lacking the energy to finish the sentence.

I shifted from foot to foot before asking if he’d like to order. He interrogated my face for long minutes while I waited, pencil poised. Then he straightened his shoulders suggesting a decision had been made. 

‘Bring me the special and a bottle of house white. Two glasses please.’

I did as I was bid and watched, bemused, as he poured wine into both glasses. When I returned with his meal, he said, ‘Would you do me a favour?’

‘If I can.’

‘Join me for ten minutes. Joey won’t mind. I sure could use some company.’

Listening to strangers was part of my job but the bar was heaving. Yet Joey said, ‘I’ll hold the fort kid. Go talk English to the poor sap.’

His food was barely touched. When I asked if I could remove his plate he shook his head and pushed a quarter towards me saying. ‘Would you indulge me further by putting Dancing In The Dark on the jukebox?’ I looked round to see Joey give a big thumbs up.

Artie Shaw’s mellow big band chords worked magic and smooching couples shuffled in circles, arms limp across shoulders.

The banquette’s sticky plastic cooled my thighs as I sat opposite him. He pushed the envelopes towards me. ‘Would you mind opening these?’

What next? Hold his hand? ‘Please,’ he implored. ‘It would mean a lot to me tonight.’

The card expressed typical anniversary sentiments. Love on the front. Love on the inside and ‘Forever yours. Gerry.’ I propped it between us. He nodded at the other. I ripped it open.

Photographs fluttered out. Posturing lads. A red head with a baby. And my mother in blonde braids outside the Spring Street Lounge.

‘Why have you got photographs of my Mum?’ I placed my hands palm down on the table to stop them shaking.

‘You’re her living image. She’s dead, isn’t she?’

Tears threatened. I nodded and his hand covered mine as the song faded. I wanted to shake it off but the warmth was comforting.

‘They were taken the day we fell in love.’ He pointed to the other woman. ‘This is the woman I betrayed. Laurie, my wife with our son Eric. Your mother was her friend. She understood I couldn’t leave them.’ His lips trembled. ``We met every year. But she never told me about you.’

I thought back to summers spent with gran when mum went away. The reason was sitting opposite me in the Spring Street Lounge. I scrutinised his features for clues to the question Mum would never answer. Outside, fireworks illuminated the New York night.

The Cracking of the Mirror by Mary Farrell

‘ Wunderkind’ the press had called him. How the paparazzi would love to see him now! He imagined the tabloid front pages. Hiding in a booth in a side-street eatery! He’d ignored his sixth sense jangling lately. Now after just a few short phone calls….. !

His meteoric rise had made headlines in the financial world. With an instinctive nose for over-extended companies about to crash, he’d buy them for a song, break them up and off-load the smaller units at great financial gain. The moniker no-one used to his face was ‘The Spare Parts Dealer’. His business team was nicknamed ‘The Foxhounds’, eager as they were for both the hunt and the kill.

His personal life too had had a successful upward curve. From a Council Estate in Barnsley, a scholarship to Oxford had smoothed out his accent. Marrying Louise, the granddaughter of an Earl, a month after his graduation, brought him connections with both the Tory Party and the English Peerage.

The Company he soon founded was sleekly promoted by her brother’s PR firm. Moving up through the labels of millionaire, multi- and then billionaire, an amicable divorce re-allocated his assets and their three children to everyone’s satisfaction. Louise got the children and Cotswold estate and he the South Bank penthouse.

Oiled by his annual profits, his years passed comfortably. Saint Moritz in January,

Rio at Easter, his Bahamian holiday home in August, and Australia each November for the Melbourne Cup formed the backdrop to his very satisfying London life. He regularly featured in the media with this season’s mistress, each as beautiful and intelligent as the last. He had the usual entourage of housekeeper, cook, and personal trainer as well as Season tickets for all the appropriate events both cultural and sporting. His Private Accountant and Personal Secretary were as discreet as they were efficient. His life purred smoothly.

Until Monday morning. Only yesterday!

Arriving at the office, he was surprised to find Elaine’s desk unoccupied. His Personal Secretary had been there at 8.30 sharp every morning for the last fifteen years.

Disconcerted he nonetheless began his day by ringing Charles, his Accountant, but was told that he too was not at work yet. How very curious! Speculation over this was interrupted by a call from his Chief Investments Banker. Why had he cancelled the monthly funding for the Coral Project? As he had done no such thing, he ordered the banker to his office immediately. A subsequent investigation revealed a long list of similarly cancelled payments.

The funds for them all had, over the weekend, been diverted to a Cayman Island account.

The afternoon brought more bad news. Huge deficits appeared right across the wide band of his investments and bank accounts. The revelations continued long after business hours. After far too few hours of sleep, he spent the morning with four different Bank Managers trying to quilt together a patchwork of borrowed funds to disguise the extent of his financial disarray.

Just before noon he phoned Louise. She would understand and help. She was indeed sympathetic but explained that all of her available assets were tied up in the various business ventures of their children. And there was certainly no point in approaching the children she went on to warn him. After all, he hadn’t helped them with any initial funding for their businesses when asked, giving them instead a lecture on self-sufficiency!

By mid-afternoon he could no longer continue to ignore that the absence of both Charles and Elaine had a related significance. As the skein had further unravelled over the day, it had become clear that their combined knowledge about his funds and personal habits had created this crisis. Charles had indeed been one of his best assets. No-one could even begin to follow the money trail, the tracks were so cleverly hidden. Over the weekend, they, and most of his money, had vanished without trace.

By close of business, he realised he’d barely eaten for two days. Booking a table at a down-market restaurant where he would be anonymous, he left a voicemail for Chrissie, his latest mistress, to meet him there. He left the office building by the back entrance. Maybe he was being paranoid but he could swear he saw some reporters in the Front Lobby. Not wanting to use his own car, he took a taxi to Fusion. Sliding into a back-booth, he ordered food, and a very good Chardonnay. He was in deep trouble, yes, but he could still turn this round. He knew he could!

He poured a glass for Chrissie. He needn’t have bothered. A short phone-call informed him that she would not be coming. Elaine had phoned her on Sunday night, hinting that she seek out another benefactor. A handsome Italian high-flyer in the City had been very welcoming last night when she’d moved from the apartment which he’d rented for her into Ernesto’s new townhouse in Chelsea. Yes, she and Elaine had become very friendly indeed over the last few months. He hadn’t known? He’d never asked!

He stared at the cooling food on his plate…thinking. When the phone rang again, he was tempted to ignore it, but a fatalistic curiosity took over. Yes, this was he. Whose office? Dr Fisher in Harley St? but he’d had his routine medical check last week for the Insurance Company. The full works - blood test, x-ray, even a sight and hearing test. The results? Sorry but he was too busy to attend to routine test results at the moment. What!

Could you repeat that please?

As he put the phone down with a shaking hand, an unfamiliar sensation uncurled behind his eyes. Without warning, tears began to stream. When actual drops began to fall onto his place mat, he covered his eyes with a pristine Henry Poole linen handkerchief.

Even those born without a silver spoon but who had fought hard to buy one, should never doubt the ability of the Fates to decide who keeps it!

Big Bella's Piano Lessons by Graham Crisp

Jim tapped his watch, “Oi, lover boy, ‘bout time too. I was just about to clear off without you.

The digger is being delivered this morning, and the hire company won’t hang around. Get a flippin’ move on.”

Aaron jumped into the cab and straightened his hi-vis jacket, “Sorry Boss, me alarm never went off. Me Mam just called me in time.”

Jim glanced across at his companion and smiled, “So, young stud, what were you doing this weekend?”

He gave Aaron a sly wink. “You were spotted coming out of Big Bella’s house, Sunday morning, clutching an overnight case.”

Aaron scratched his head. “Oh yeah, go on then, who saw me?”

Jim, was now grinning broadly, “My missus, she was coming home from her night shift. She was on the number 12.”

"She saw you leave."

Aaron rubbed his hands together. “It’s not what you think, Jim.” He hesitated. “Oh, I might as well tell you, but promise me you won’t tell the other lads, OK?” Jim nodded, “Aaron boy your sordid secrets are safe with me, so go on then, spill.”

“She’s teaching me to play the piano. OK, have a good laugh, the bag is what I keep my music in.”

Jim’s shoulders shook. “The ‘kin piano! Hark at Elton here, you’ll be wearing sequin suits next.”

………..

Aaron tapped lightly on the front door. It immediately opened. A soft voice invited him in.

Aaron stood firm and whispered, “I can’t, we’ve been rumbled, I’m having it ripped out of me all day. I’ve got to stop.”

The voice replied, “Don’t be such a wimp, and get yourself in here.” The voice lowered, “I’ve run us a nice hot bath …… and I’ve bought that outfit you like!”

Aaron glanced furtively over his shoulder and slid in.

The Frog Walker by Cindy Pereira

 Cindy has opted-out of online publication.

But We Forgot About The Ropes by Steve Goodlad

“She saw you leave”

“How? I wasn’t even here. I was in Blackpool with my mates.”

“I know, you said. Your “alibi’s”. You told the police that. But Ali saw you that night.”

“She’s only a kid, she’s never liked me.”

Just then, Ali stepped out of the shadows and stood next to me. We’d got our Uncle just where we wanted him. He’d been hanging around Mum way too much lately since Dad died.

But he’d seen a chance to break the ice with her kids whilst she was at work. He said he’d take us out in the car.

Dad used to tinker with that car in the garage and I loved the smell of oil and exhaust. Traces of carbon monoxide mingled with the must of old leather, until the coroner told us that in an enclosed space, a mix of booze and sleeping pills was the suicide of choice for those hell-bent on finding an easy way out.

Later, the smell I came to hate the most was the fake tan that Uncle Tony wore; a more frequent presence; “providing comfort for your Mum.”

We never believed the coroner, because Ali had said she had seen Uncle Tony closing the garage door. The engine must still have been running then. She was not a credible witness apparently.

At McDonalds it had been easy to put sleeping tablets and whisky in his coke whilst he went to the toilet. He was yawning on the way home and the car wandered, but we made it home.

I opened the garage door and he drove in.

We tied him to the driver’s seat. We left what remained of the whisky and tablets on the passenger seat. Ali turned on the engine. We left and I closed the garage door.

Out of the Question by David Silver

"Who broke it?"

"Broke what?" queried Reg.

"The silence," said our quiz team captain Roger. "Who broke the silence by answering that

final contest question with a typically daft answer?"

"That was you, Roger," said Reg.

"I know it was me," snapped Roger. "All I'm saying is that we should all keep our mouths

shut from now on instead of compounding our ruinous reputation."

Roger was right in a way. Our team were a laughing stock in the quiz league. We would

possibly have earned a smidgen of respect by maintaining a dignified silence. But everything

had gone wrong from the start.

Whatever the subject, the lads invariably gave lousy answers. Not only that, the wrong

responses were cloaked in a mantle of stupidity.

Our replies to questions were forged in the fires of foolishness and hammered into poor

shape on the anvil of ineptitude.

Word soon got round about our awfulness. Our team -- Roger, Reg, Ziggy and me -- built up

a following of sadistic supporters who loved nothing more than to guffaw at our lamentable

efforts until their thighs became sore from constant slapping.

Ours was no longer just a poor quiz team. We had assumed the dubious status of a

hopeless cabaret act -- a quartet of comedians whose knowledge of general knowledge was

nil.

The decision had to be made. The team would disband at the season's end. And so it came

to pass. We went our separate ways and never saw each other again. Which is not quite

true. I saw our former captain Roger on a television quiz show.

He had to correctly answer his first question to stay in the contest. Question: What is the

world's largest mammal? Answer: A pregnant elephant.

Roger and out.

The Ghosts of Durley Hall by Jeff Jones

“Why couldn’t we all go for a nice meal like normal people do to celebrate their birthday? I mean, who throws a séance at a supposedly haunted house for a birthday treat? No wonder she hasn’t got many friends.”

“Firstly, Peter, Kate is normal, so don’t ever say that again. So she’s a little ‘out there’, so what? You know she’s always been into this paranormal stuff. It’s our job as her friends to support her in however she chooses to celebrate her birthday,” admonished Susan.

“And why couldn’t we have carried out this farce in town?”

“Because you don’t tend to get many haunted mansions in the town centre.”

“Waste of time, that’s what it is.”

“Give it a rest, Pete. Look, we’re here now.”

Susan stopped the car at the bottom of a long straight driveway. The rusty iron gates were open and a weathered sign saying ‘Welcome to Durley Hall’ hung above the entrance. The mansion was just about visible at the end of the tree lined drive, but no lights appeared to be on.

“Well it certainly looks the part,” said Lisa.

“It’s just a dark and neglected building, nothing more,” scoffed Peter.

The car crunched its way up the shingle drive and pulled up outside the mansion next to two other cars.

“Looks like we’re last,” said Steve.

The four friends hurried into the building through the already open front door, shaking the rain off their coats as they entered.

“Hi, guys, thanks so much for coming. I’m so excited. I’ve not met her before, but the medium I’ve hired is meant to be superb,” said Kate as she hugged each of her friends.

“Honestly, Kate, when you said bring your own spirits, I didn’t think you had this sort of party in mind,” quipped Peter. Everyone laughed.

“Come through all of you, everyone’s here now, we can get started,” said Kate.

They followed Kate into another room where they were greeted by three more friends. The room was small and smelled musty. Here and there old, discoloured wallpaper clung tentatively to the damp walls. The room’s solitary window was shuttered and the only light in the room emanated from three candles sat on a large, round, felt-covered table in the centre of the room. Only one of the seats was occupied and this was by a large woman in drab-coloured clothes, who seemed to be watching the friends with a bemused look. Her grey hair was flattened and pulled back into a tight bun giving her a stern countenance.

“Everyone, this is Edna Lucas. She is one of the most famous mediums in the country,” announced Kate proudly. “Please all take a seat.”

“Looks more like an extra-large to me,” Peter whispered to Steve.

Steve had to suppress a laugh, but Susan, who had also heard it, gave Peter an embarrassed dig in the ribs. The medium glanced at Peter, but if she was offended, her face didn’t betray the fact.

“Welcome everyone,” said Edna. “I know that some of you are sceptical about what we hope to achieve here tonight, but if we are to do this, I must insist that you all do exactly as I say. Are you all in agreement?”

Everyone voiced or nodded their agreement. Peter just raised his eyes to the ceiling. When he looked at Edna again, she was staring at him, a smirk tugging at the corners of her mouth.

“Good, then let us begin. Who are we trying to contact tonight; a loved one?” asked Edna.

“I... we'd... like to contact the original occupants of this house, the Durleys. It is said they died in a fire here some years ago. People say that the Durleys have never left here such was their love for the place,” said Kate enthusiastically.

“I have heard this too. Very well, please all join hands and close your eyes and I will try and summon their spirits forth.”

“Not a ghost of a chance,” whispered Peter.

Susan kicked him under the table before shutting her eyes. Peter rubbed his injured leg and saw that Edna was smirking at him again.

“You must remain silent,” said Edna.

Peter joined hands with Susan and Steve and closed his eyes while Edna began to chant. After a couple of minutes, Edna gasped and slumped forward in her chair. Everyone had opened their eyes by now and some were looking at Edna with real concern. Peter was smiling and shaking his head at the performance.

Suddenly Edna shot bolt upright and they all saw that her eyes had taken on a vacant, distant look. “Someone’s here,” she whispered.

“I hope it’s the pizza guy,” muttered Peter.

Some of the friends started to nervously glance around the room. Peter continued to watch Edna. Kate was smiling, enjoying every minute.

“Who are you?” asked Edna. “Make yourself known to us.”

There was no reply, but a sudden blast of cold air shot through the room, causing the candles to flicker and the friends to gasp involuntarily.

“Who are you?”

The unmistakable sound of someone’s footsteps walking across floorboards in the room directly above them broke the eerie silence. Two or three of the guests suddenly looked very anxious and pale, a look that was enhanced by the guttering candlelight. To Peter it was obvious that this fraud of a woman had an accomplice stomping around upstairs and he considered putting an end to this charade by running upstairs and grabbing the perpetrator. Then he thought about Kate and one look at her face told him that she was loving the whole experience and he suddenly didn’t have the heart to spoil her evening; after all, she had paid for this.

The sound of a door being slammed upstairs followed by heavy footsteps as they descended the stairs, drew Peter from his thoughts. Rachel let out a small cry and Peter felt Susan grasp his hand that much tighter. Whoever this accomplice was, they were obviously confident that nobody was going to get up and challenge them and would remain seated as instructed by Edna.

Behind him, Peter heard the door to their room slowly open, accompanied by the obligatory squeal of rusty hinges and he smiled to himself at the cliché. Rachel, who was sat opposite him facing the door, screamed and made to get up, but Edna forcefully told her to remain seated.

By the time everyone had turned to face the door it was wide open, but nobody had entered, nor could anyone be seen in the hallway beyond. Then, without anybody touching it, the door slammed shut again, making Susan jump. Her hand was really crushing Peter’s fingers now.

“Who are you?” Edna demanded.

For a moment nothing happened and then the table started to shake violently. A nice trick, thought Peter, and he was still thinking that when his chair was suddenly tipped halfway back and held there for a few moments. Shocked and confused, Peter swore he could hear rasping breaths behind him and detect the faint aroma of burning.

His friends were staring open-mouthed at the way his chair was precariously balanced on two legs, when suddenly it righted itself causing Peter to tip forward and nearly hit his head on the table. The door was open again.

Peter swallowed hard and looked at the people around him, his confidence in the fraud wavering. Even Kate looked worried. Only Edna looked unperturbed. Peter was about to say something when they heard the front door open and shut.

Despite Edna’s plea for everyone to remain seated, they all leapt up to investigate, some entering the hallway whilst others stood in the room’s doorway. Standing in the hall shaking the rain from her umbrella, was a woman in her early sixties with grey hair and a friendly face. She looked shocked to see them all staring at her.

“Hello,” she said. “You all look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”

Nobody laughed.

“Sorry, bad jokes are a by-product of the vocation.”

“Sorry, who are you?” asked Kate, annoyed at the intrusion.

“Why I’m Edna, of course, Edna Lucas, the medium. I’m sorry that I’m late, but my wretched car broke down – wish I could have foreseen that.” She smiled at her own joke.

“There must be some mistake, Edna’s in...”

They all turned to look at the woman sat at the table, but the room was empty.

Mary Durley and her husband watched from an upstairs bedroom as the eight young people sped off in their cars, closely followed by the real Edna Lucas.

“That was fun, Charlie.”

“I know, I never tire of it, particularly when there’s a sceptic. Did you see his face? Priceless. We could have had so much more fun if that medium hadn’t shown up.”

“This is our house and always will be,” said Mary. She kissed her husband and hand in hand they disappeared through the bedroom wall.

The Viewing by Vivienne Moles

‘No need to take your shoes off,’ she sings. To be honest, it hadn’t crossed my mind. Why would it? Surely these good people don’t want strangers walking around their house in bare feet.

‘This is the hallway.’ Now there’s a platitude if ever I heard one. She glances at her clipboard, falsely reassured. She keeps looking up and around and down at the printed details in front of her. She struggles to unclip one set of details to pass to me. If she’s been to this house once before I’d be surprised. She makes her way tentatively to a door on the right. She’s been rewarded in her endeavours and says confidently, ‘... and this is the kitchen.’ I see her smile broadly. She clearly likes to please.

In one respect, I feel for her. She’s obviously new to this. I must ask her where she got her suit from. How old is she? How old do you have to be to become an estate agent? She must be all of sixteen. I’m not sure about the shoes. I’m thinking sixth form and work experience. Yes, that must be it. Do they really let them out on their own on work experience? Surely not.

‘You can go out from here to the garden.’ She points with her forensically manicured painted nails to a door at the far end. The kitchen is generally unremarkable but functional. The shelf by the window is full of small pots of dried herbs, each one carefully labelled in black cursive handwriting. There’s what looks like a chicken carcass on top of the fridge. That’s an odd thing to leave out if you know you have potential buyers coming round.

‘You could take the wall down and make a large kitchen-diner,’ she says with glee. Now why would I want to do all that? Might as well go for a house with a kitchen-diner in the first place if that’s all I’m going to do. I nod and smile, signalling some sort of encouragement. Anyway, does that wall even go through to the dining room? I’m not entirely sure she knows.

We squeeze round the doorway doing an about turn, partly because she didn’t really think this through and partly because she failed to indicate her intentions. It leaves us sharing an awkward moment.

‘This is the dining room,’ she says, with some aplomb, opening the door next to the kitchen. She’s trying to do the right thing, letting me go in first to get a sense of the room and to appreciate the size. But now I really do feel sorry for her. Her face drops.

‘Oh,’ she says. The room is completely blacked out. There’s black emulsion on the walls and, from what I can tell, blood-red ceramic tiles on the floor. I think the windows have been bricked up. She tries the light switch, up, down. It doesn’t work. This room didn’t feature in the online brochure. Small feathers drift around in the draught from the door.

‘Must be...,.’ She fiddles with something next to the switch. ‘Ah, there.’ I’m rooting for her. She’s trying. She’s found some sort of dimmer switch but it’s hardly shedding much light on the matter.

‘Oh.’ I am probably on my umpteenth house where umpteen is fast approaching infinity and have learnt to expect little, because that’s what I usually get. The poor child is clearly new to this and her naivety, although refreshing in one sense, makes me fear for her long-term prospects.

‘Oh,’ she says again. Maybe she doesn’t have an extensive vocabulary. Maybe that will come when she learns the script better. Maybe if she had read the online brochure...?

‘Oh, sorry, I didn’t...,.’ she mumbles. We both stare at some sort of pentagram set in the centre of the flooring and some weird paintings on the walls. Creatures doing strange things. We both tilt our heads sideways but apparently neither of us can make out what it’s supposed to be. A heady scent pervades the air around us: incense, maybe. Is it to cover the slight notes of burnt meat I’m picking up? Is that an altar standing proud on what looks like a marble slab? There are at least a dozen tall dark candles in ornate cast iron holders flanking this slab. I look up at the ceiling. Zodiacal signs loom through the darkness as vague silhouettes. We’re both looking round, open-mouthed. Interesting...,.  She turns off the dimmer switch and shuts the door. Did I hear a sigh of relief just then?

‘The living room is up here. It’s a family that lives here.’ I don’t say anything. What can I say? Even she can see this is not quite what she thought she was expecting. She opens the door into a conventional living room, comfy chairs and a large wide screen television on one wall. I feel relieved on her behalf. She’s on much safer ground. We both admire the large windows and the ornate fireplace. Bookshelves are filled with classic novels and reference books, nothing untoward. 

‘Three bedrooms upstairs, one en-suite,’ she says, taking it all in her stride now, her training showing. The professional ousts the unconfident gangly youth. I follow her upstairs. 

‘Family bathroom, separate toilet,’ she points. I peek in. Do I say anything? It’s not as though I was looking to find fault but the toilet lid is up and the water in the bowl is almost overflowing. There’s some not very nice detritus floating on the top. But do I say anything? I don’t want to upset her. I’m just worried in case I tip her over the edge. For all I know this is her very first viewing on her very first day of her very first job. So I shut the door tightly and continued along the corridor with her.

‘The master bedroom,’ she proudly says with a pseudo bow as she ushers me through. Again, she’s in control now because she can see a double bed, matching duvet cover and pillowcases, those tiny little matching cushions that have no other purpose in life other than to be carefully positioned and removed daily and fitted wardrobes. It is impressive. I peek into the en-suite. No strange jetsam lurking in the toilet bowl here. I make the appropriate noises indicating my approval. It really is rather charming.

‘Bedroom two,’ she announces with a flourish, again allowing me to go in first. It is done up as a young girl’s bedroom. Pink. So much pink. So very much pink. The clues were there. The door was labelled Princess Barbie’s Castle. I came out of there a little stunned. Dizzy, even. If I’d worn sunglasses...,.

‘They have a little girl,’ she says.


‘I think they use the third bedroom as a guest room and study,’ she says. Still recovering from the pink, I’m then met with its antithesis: beige. I take it all in. It’s smaller than the other two rooms. There’s room for a sofa that would fold down into a guest bed and a desk next to the window. The rest of the wall space is filled with shelves. Each shelf is filled with cabbage patch doll heads, every one unique. It becomes apparent that each head is numbered meticulously and presumably cross-referenced elsewhere. Out of order comes chaos. One of the more gruesome looking specimens has three nails driven into its forehead. Propped up next to it is a book, How to Grow Your Own Cabbage Patch Doll, by Kaley Brockley.

‘Oh,’ says my young friend. I’d forgotten she was there. She really needs to work on her conversational skills. We both go back downstairs.

‘I have a key to the back door so we can go into the garden,’ she says, looking chuffed as once more she is on safer territory. She has the key. She came prepared.

‘I think we have to go out through the kitchen,’ she says, partly to reassure herself. If that’s what she needs to do...,.

‘Ah,’ she says when she manages, after several attempts, to unlock it. At least it’s a change from ‘oh’. She looks down at her shoes. I look down at her shoes. They are very attractive glitzy five-inch stilettos. They would be perfect for a night out. The garden is a fair-sized rectangle with not much interest contained within it. Patches of grass bridge the small muddy areas. Larger muddy areas bridge boggy areas.

‘Well, if you’d like...,.’ She motions for me to have a good look if I want to. I think I’ve seen enough. I smile at her. Hopefully, it is an encouraging smile. I would hate for our meeting today to have broken her into a snivelling heap. 

I thank her profusely with promises to give her feedback, making a mental note that I will have to spend tonight, yet again, looking for more possible properties to view.


The Charmer by S. Bee


Jinny took a deep breath to steady her nerves. Then she launched in: 

'I'd like to book a few days in Farlington Bay on my own.'

Good. She'd actually stated it, and hadn't muddied the waters by prattling beforehand with 'I hope you don't mind' or 'I'm sorry about this' to try and soften the blow.

'You want to go away on your own? What an earth for?' Jinny's boyfriend of one month, Neil, asked sharply.

'Well-' she'd tried to mentally prepare for his response, running it over in her head countless times, yet now she still felt on edge about the conversation.

'I'd just like a few days away to think about things.'

He sighed heavily. 'Think about what?'

She hesitated. 'Life in general. My job, for instance.' Jinny was very careful not to bring their relationship into it, as Neil would see it as a criticism.

'I can understand that, babe. I mean, who actually wants to be an IT geek?'

I do, she thought, as she hid her pricking tears. 

Jinny really wished she had the courage not to let him into her home this evening.  

No doubt he'll try and persuade me to change my mind, she mused, as she clenched her hands. It's not going to work this time, Neil! 

'Why don't we go together? Strolling along the beach, hand in hand. That could be so romantic,' he purred.

'Yes it could, but the weather's going to be cloudy and chilly,' she put in quickly. Not that the weather would put him off, she thought cynically. 

'I suppose you've discussed this with Sue.' Neil's tone was sour.

'Please don't fret, Neil. I don't talk about us.'

Yes, Jinny had confided in her sister, Sue about her concerns  - yet only to a certain level. 

She envied Sue. She'd been happily married for fifteen years to Mike – a kind, cheerful, warm, down to earth chap. 

Jinny would love to meet someone like Mike, but sadly, she'd had a run of bad luck in her previous relationships. When Jinny had met Neil, she'd thought she'd struck gold... 

He was still clearly stressed. 'Look babe, I'm not happy about you going away on your own. You know how I worry.'  

Jinny forced a smile. 'There's no need to worry about me. I just need a bit of solitude to try and work things out, career wise.' 

'You've mentioned solitude. I guess that means you want to break contact with people?' 

She nodded. 'Yes, and that will include Sue.'

'Why don't you stay here and I'll give you two days with no contact?' 

Yet Jinny knew that Neil wouldn't be able to manage it. Within five minutes, her phone would bleep with the first text. 

'I've booked the B&B now. But it might be a good idea not to contact me while I'm away.'

He shrugged. 'Fine.'

He strode out, and slammed the door behind him. 

Jinny winced. Was it too much to ask for a quiet, settled life like Sue's?


                                                               ***


After a pleasant train journey on Friday evening, Jinny arrived at Farlington Bay and found the B&B easily. 

She knew the resort well, as Jinny, Sue and her parents had often holidayed here in summer.

As she unzipped her luggage, her belly rumbled. She glanced at the clock - it was almost tea time, but the small B&B didn't provide an evening meal. 

Jinny unpacked, grabbed her jacket, and headed out to the quaint seaside promenade. Luckily, the fish and chip shop was open. 

For the first time in ages, with the deep blue sea spread out in front of her, Jinny felt content as she ate fish and chips out of a tray on a bench. 

Her meal choice would horrify food snob Neil, she thought. But Neil wasn't here, was he?


                                                                         *** 


At first, the attention from Neil was immensely flattering. 

The steady stream of texts at work, the huge, showy bouquets of flowers, the perfume, the expensive meals out, the compliments... 

Yet there was something about this charm offensive that put Jinny on edge.

'Did your Mike shower you with flowers when you first met?' she asked Sue.

'Yes. It was a blissful, heady time. Has Neil done the same?' 

She nodded.

'Most women would be thrilled. Yet you don't look very happy,' Sue observed. 

Jinny shrugged. 'I don't know how I feel. I'm all mixed up.'

'The trouble is, your judgement's been skewed by all those losers in the past. You can't tell if a man's decent or not.'

'It just feels very intense -'

Sue cut in. 'There's no need to be scared of true love, Jinny. Neil only wants to impress you. When are we going to meet him?'

Jinny pulled a face. 'I'm not sure. We're not ready for the 'Meet the family' stage.'

'Well, from what you've told me, he sounds absolutely lovely.'

'His dating profile on the app does sound lovely to the majority of single women. A forty- something bachelor, a good- looking solicitor, no ex wives or kids, own house and car...'

'I meant lovely in other ways. How he noticed your favourite perfume and bought you a bottle, for instance. How, despite being weighed down with work, Neil takes time out to be with you.' 

'I know that, but -'

'If you don't want him, I'm sure he'll get snapped up! You're silly if you throw this relationship away, Jinny.'


                                                                                ***


At Farlington Bay, Jinny spent the next morning strolling along the beach.  There was a cool breeze, but she didn't mind that. She revelled in the feeling of freedom. 

At lunch time, she went into a cafe for a cuppa and a sandwich.

Although it was unwise, she switched on her mobile. 

The flood of messages from Neil was overwhelming. One was begging: 'Please come back babe. I miss u so much.' 

Jinny had specifically asked for time on her own. She'd requested no contact, yet Neil wasn't able to respect that. How she hated his endearment of babe! 

I suppose he could argue that I've spoken to Sue about our relationship, she mused, and he asked me not to. 

So therefore I'm not able to respect his wishes either - she sighed. Oh why was this relationship business such hard work?


                                                                                *** 


Later, she took a bracing walk along the cliffs. Yet Jinny had the strange sensation of being watched.

Her heart sank. It was probably Neil. 

Hoping to be proved wrong, she looked over her shoulder – and surprise, surprise, there he was, panting as he caught up with her.

'What are you doing here?' she asked.

'I arrived today. I spotted you in the cafe. And then I followed you.' Jinny thought he sounded rather pleased with himself. 

She had nothing to say to him. The cutting wind pulled at their hair and clothes, while seagulls cried out. It began to rain, a soft drizzle.  

The place was deserted. There weren't even any dog walkers around.

'I didn't know which B&B you're staying at. You didn't tell me. Why didn't you reply to my texts?' he demanded.

She carried on walking.

He pulled at her sleeve. 'Answer me Jinny!' 

This was the right moment. Without warning, she turned to him and pushed him hard over the cliff.

He fell in one single swoop. 

She peered over. The high tide would take his body and wash it out to sea.

Shaken, Jinny found a bench and sat for a while. 

Then she strolled to the B&B, rang for a taxi, packed up, tucked her passport into her handbag, and checked out.

The taxi took her to the airport. Any European flight would do. 

On the journey, Jinny reflected. 

She guessed Neil would turn up to see her. She'd deliberately led him onto the cliffs, to a section where the path fell away. Jinny knew it well from her childhood holidays. 

High tide times had come in useful too.

I shouldn't have killed him, she thought. Yet how else am I supposed to escape a control freak? 

Police involvement, injunction orders and court action held little appeal.

Besides, Neil was a solicitor, she thought. He'd easily find legal ways of wriggling out of it... 

Jinny's new life abroad beckoned.


Serving of Revenge by Yvonne Lang


Angus rearranged his bulky frame in the uncomfortable hard-backed diner chair. It was not the sort of establishment he was used to frequenting, but needs must. This dump served hot food and was near the airport he needed. It must rely on the airfield clientele for business. No-one would happen across this place, let alone make a special trip for.

Angus couldn’t imagine many poor people used private light aircraft, maybe illegal immigrants – so if it was people with similar finances to himself, why was this nearby café such a dump? Oh well, the mysteries of America would soon no longer be his problem. He was going properly off grid this time. To a small country with a government who didn’t ask too many questions. After living in various European countries and then dotted round the US, he knew this would be his biggest lifestyle adaption yet – but it would be warm, he could live quite luxuriously, and most people spoke English. He couldn’t afford not to move somewhere for flung; he had accidentally ripped off the wrong person this time. The guy hadn’t told him it was money laundering, or declared his gang affiliations, but Angus supposed it wasn’t the sort of thing you dropped into a casual conversation. Still, he and his latest acquired fortune best scarper for a bit.

Angus’ thoughts were interrupted by the approach of a waitress.

“Are you ready to order yet sir?”

A friendly enough statement, but she said it, dripping with venom. Angus studied her, she was smiling, but it was so obviously forced she would be better being honest and scowling. Angus was unsure why this woman in her forties, maybe thirties and simply overworked, with a minimum wage job that probably earned less in a year than his cufflinks cost was giving him attitude. Perhaps he had just answered his own question. Regardless, she shouldn’t bring her personal problems to work and project them onto him, a paying customer. This madam would certainly not be getting a tip.

“All day breakfast please, dear.

Angus knew the patronising use of dear would irk her, and he saw her eyes momentarily flash with anger before she composed herself and scuttled back to the kitchen. He loved getting under people’s skin and one-upping them – no matter how small the victory, it always gave him a kick.

Then a thought crossed his mind, he hoped the little wench didn’t spit in his food, it was likely to be unsavoury enough from an establishment of this calibre anyway. But he didn’t want to fly hungry and there were no other options. He was just grateful this airfield had a vacancy that could transport him so last minute. His scheduled flight had been cancelled a matter of days ago due to some mechanical problems. He had been relieved when they had suggested an alternative.

Angus leant back as the waitress returned with his coffee. She didn’t acknowledge him as she poured. Angus studied her; her uniform didn’t fit. She must be new to the job and feel it beneath her. It couldn’t be anyone’s dream, waitressing in a dump in the arse end of nowhere. Still, she had obviously made bad life decisions and this was the price she had to pay. If she didn’t buck her ideas about customer care up, she was going to stay poor as she struggled for tips.

 

Angus glanced round and was surprised by how the diner was filling up. Where were all these customers coming from? They were all steadfastly refusing to look at him, as if acknowledging there was an outsider in their diner, but they would all ignore him by some unspoken agreement.

There was an elderly couple tucking into fish and chips very slowly, massively hampered by the fact they were eating one-handed as they held hands across the table. The lunacy of love – or maybe one of them was scared the other would run off if given the chance.

A young man was reading a newspaper whilst eating his fried breakfast. A middle-aged couple were having a hushed conversation over omelettes. There was a young woman spreading jam over her toast. Another young woman in a nice suit was doing a crossword while sipping coffee. Then there was another handful of geriatrics dotted about, eating as if they had all the time in the world – well – what else did the coffin dodgers have to do? Angus has never understood why you were supposed to respect the elderly – just because they had been born before you and so far managed to dodge death didn’t make them superior. Although Miss Hoity-Toity waitress seemed to like them, she was beaming away as she served them and topped up drinks. Maybe she just didn’t like successful people as they reminded her of her own failures?

Angus shrugged, he was rich and liked to enjoy his wealth, he was more than accustomed to jealousy from less motivated and less intelligent people. Blame the rich guy because you want what he has, rather than looking at your own shortcomings and figuring out how to achieve your own success.

He took a sip of his coffee, and had to use all his will power not to spit it out. It was the foulest coffee Angus had ever tasted. How did the useless waitress manage to bugger up coffee? It had a bitter edge. Stupid woman. It wasn’t worth the effort to complain though. Soon he’d be sipping cocktails on a private plane off to his new home. His bathroom was bigger than this entire dump. The bitter loser could stay here with her bitter coffee; he had bigger fish to fry.

Angus was disappointed, but not entirely surprised, that the food was barely better. Way too salty. The numerous old folk filling the tables could not be regulars – no-one who ate here regularly with this diner’s level of salt intake would have made it past their fifties. He asked the grumpy waitress for water. She defied all expectations of incompetence and managed to serve a substandard glass of water. Angus suspected the slice of lemon dumped in the glass was a bit off.

He had never endured such an abysmal meal, not only was he not going to tip, Angus felt they should pay him for the disgrace they’d claimed to be food. He wasn’t going to kick up a fuss or dispute the bill though, he couldn’t afford the police being called on him today of all days. Exasperatedly, he signalled the waitress for the bill.

She brought it over, smiling brightly. Too late to try to turn on the charm and get a tip now, Angus thought as she made her way over. She handed him a huge long till receipt, longer than his arm, and stood smugly back, arms folded. Had the waitress realised she wasn’t going to get a tip and itemised each bloody item of the breakfast? Had she charged per baked bean?

Huffily, Angus snatched the receipt and unravelled it. He was dumbfounded; listed on it was not his breakfast. Listed were a selection of his crimes of the people he had scammed and ripped off.


Mr and Mrs Walker. Scammed out of their pension, £768,000.

Cindy Routledge. Mortgage deposit stolen, £26,200

Harold Archer. Trust fund taken, £4.6 million.

Laure Clover. Credit card debt of £67, 436

Mr and Mrs Knapp. Property scam, AUS $65,000

So Trang Li. University funds, $30, 640

The list went on. It wasn’t all of his jobs, but it was a pretty comprehensive list. Angus looked up at the waitress. She was smiling daggers at him,

“Kim Thornton, you diverted my house deposit of thirty-two grand and made me homeless when you absconded with it.”

Angus realised the restaurant had gone still. Everyone had stopped eating and the cook had come out from the kitchen. They started introducing themselves and what he had taken from them. His latest victim, the one who had caused him to flee this time, walked out of the kitchen in a crisp suit, a delighted look of victory on his tanned face.

Speechless, Angus looked back at the receipt to avoid looking at the judgemental faces whilst he tried to figure this out. Did they just want to embarrass him? Were the police on their way? Were they going to beat him up? Surely not, most were the elderly or women, his preferred con target.

Then he saw the huge subtotal for his listed endeavours at the bottom of the receipt. Followed by a price, to be paid for with your life – how was the food and drink?

Today you were served by Karma.

“It’s pretty quick acting poison, so if you have any last words, I’d say them now,” the suited man announced.

Then a painful tingling spread through Angus’ body, and he felt a burning sensation engulf him. His deeds had caught up with him, and he had a tab to settle.