Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Output hiatus

Due to a combination of work pressure and imminent foreign travel there will be a pause in the output of flash fiction. BUT, as that great cultural icon, Arnie, put it, "I'll be back..."

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Flash Fiction Friday, Cycle 102

Click here for the brief.


It was a strange coincidence that I should get a phone call from my old friend, Chief Inspector Pierre Vincennes, just as I finished digesting the terms of this week's Flash Fiction Friday challenge. I explained to Pierre how tough it was going to be to make the keywords - murder, bedchamber, rack, clock, wine, time - fit the story. His response took me completely by surprise.

Pierre told me how the brief reminded him of a case he was working on. After giving me the bare bones he confirmed he had just filed a report with his superiors and asked me if I wanted to read it. Curiosity pricked, I said 'Yes' and 15 minutes later the following arrived as an email attachment.

[The copy I share with you has had a number of personal details either changed or redacted out of consideration for the relatives of the victims and, of course, it is translated from the original French.]

OCT 31, 2012
Officer in the case (OIC): Ch Insp P Vincennes


This report concerns my attendance at the scene of a fatal Road Traffic Collision (RTC) as OIC at [location details redacted].

On arrival I found there were numerous members of the different emergency services already in attendance. In accordance with protocol I took command and required the police officer who was first on scene to brief me.

It was explained that the incident involved a single car which had come to rest after a severe frontal impact with a tree. The car was still in situ. The female driver had been confirmed dead by the first paramedic to arrive. Her body, crushed between the steering wheel and the seat, had not been removed.

A female front seat passenger was also still in the car. She was trapped between her seat and the deformed dashboard. A doctor had examined her and expressed the opinion that, although she was alive and conscious, there was no hope of releasing her from the car without causing her death. There was some internal bleeding but a substantial arterial rupture that had been observed through an open wound in her abdomen was being staunched by considerable pressure exerted by the dashboard. The opinion I received was that should the pressure be released for any reason the bleeding from the rupture would be catastrophic, unstoppable and inevitably fatal. The position of the passenger and the extent of other injuries ruled out any possibility of temporary corrective surgery or the application of some form of tourniquet.

I approached the car and spoke to the passenger through the open door window. I established that she was fully aware of the situation and stressed to her the importance of obtaining an account with regard to the RTC circumstances. The following statement was supplied by the witness.

I am Sophie [surname, date of birth and address]. My partner, Claudette [surname, date of birth and address], was driving us to a party. Neither of us had consumed alcohol before departure. The forest road was dark but visibility was good and the volume of traffic light.

As we came round a bend we both saw the silhouette of a figure that had human form on our side of the carriageway but floating about 1.5 to 2 metres above it. I recall Claudette screamed and then the car veered violently as if she had swerved to avoid it. The car left the road and the next thing I can remember is coming round after what was obviously an impact with a tree.

Claudette is a respected physicist working at CERN, the home of the Large Hadron Collider. She stays in Geneva during the week, returning to me in Paris at weekends and other times when she is not working.

I wish to put on record, before it is too late, that I have been wrong to question, as I have over the last several weeks, the sanity of some of the views expressed by Claudette. She has explained to me how she believes that an experiment she has been working on has had the unexpected side effect of causing a rift in the fabric of space-time and allowing entities from another universe to enter our own. Claudette has experienced several apparitions that, for reasons she has been unable to rationalise, she has found to be extremely intimidating. Initially, they were confined to the vicinity of the lab. More recently they have followed her home.

Having not witnessed any of the apparitions myself I tried to be concerned and sympathetic but to my shame I was dismissive of the possibility the phenomenon was real. What I thought was delusional behaviour I put down to the stress of Claudette's job. I now realise it was all genuine.

At this point the witness weakened and passed into unconsciousness. A further medical examination was undertaken and approximately 30 minutes later she was certified dead by the doctor.

I remained on scene until the bodies and car had been cleared and all other members of the emergency services had departed. I decided to take a last look at the point of impact with the tree.

Having completed my examination I then turned to go back to my vehicle. At this point I noticed a dark humanoid figure levitating about 2 metres above the highway. I pointed my police issue torch at what I can only describe as the apparition. It promptly disappeared.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Flash Fiction Friday: A Little R and R - the final chapter

I hope nobody minds this digression away from the brief suggested by Michael Juzwik this week. Going back to FFF Cycle 95 the challenge set by Michael's grandmother, Joyce (J.F. Juzwik), led to an impromptu collaboration with the latter contributing the most recent episode in the guise of Chapter 4. My FFF effort this week is in the form of the fifth and final chapter (apologies, Michael, for not having the time to do something underground as well).

So, if you haven't been following the series and have a little extra time to spare please use the links below to access the earlier chapters and enjoy our 'novella'.


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Teddy Cornmow picked up after the third ring. I had decided George's voicemail message could wait. The priority was to get the ball rolling and unravel this mess.

I kept the pleasantries to a minimum. Teddy is astute and it didn't take him long to realise I was seriously worried. I gave him the bullet points of the story so far. My old associate had just got started on the obvious questions when there was a sudden bang from the direction of the boat house. I swivelled round to see the door rebounding back off the wall after being thrown open. Clearly, the building was not as deserted as I had led myself to believe.

The double barrels of a shotgun were pointed in my direction. Holding the firearm was a female. I recognised the face from the photos in George's cabin. The cell was still in my right hand as I raised my arms.

"Janine, I presume?" I asked while glancing involuntarily to where I had propped George's gun against a mooring bollard.

"Don't give it another thought. I see you as much as flinch and you're getting both barrels."

I froze.

"Good boy. Now we're going to take this nice and easy. No sudden moves. We'll be going on a little voyage together in that yacht but first I need to make you nice and secure."

Janine took a couple of paces forward and said, "Ok, keep your hands up and turn so that you're facing away from me. Good. Now throw the cell into the water."

As the phone disappeared I hoped Teddy had picked up enough of the gist to understand what was happening. It looked as though I would never know what the message was from George.

Next I felt the barrels of what I assumed to be the shotgun press up against the back of my head. Janine told me to bring my arms down slowly and cross my hands behind my back. As I did so she deftly slipped a plastic cable tie over my wrists and tightened it.

On board the yacht Janine sat me down in the cockpit. Keeping one eye and the gun trained on me she cast off fore and aft. She then produced an ignition key and started the yacht's engine. I got the impression she had done this before.

In silence Janine manoeuvred the boat away from the jetty then pointed it between the red and green buoys forming a channel out of the inlet. As we exited into open water the chill wind returned. I couldn't quite determine whether it was this or my situation that sent the shiver down my spine.

"So it's going to be a double burial at sea then, Janine?" I asked. "Presumably, Danny and I will be keeping each other company in the briny at some point?"

"Not while you have some value to me." Janine said. There was a glimmer of hope in this comment but I didn't place a lot of faith in any possibility that she intended seeing me live to tell this one to the grandchildren. Janine didn't deny knowing that the recently deceased Danny was taking up bunk space down below.

"What possible value could I be to you?" I asked. It seemed like I'd nothing to lose by testing the water and seeing how far Janine was prepared to let me swim.

"Well, let me explain it like this. I've only started to realise over the last 24 hours just how much of a slime ball George is but both you and me are going to take a gamble that even he will not want to see his little brother joining Tommy and Danny on the roll call of the recently deceased. I'm hoping there are two things on this boat he is willing to pay a million bucks for - a large quantity of cocaine and you, Frank."

Janine pointed the nose of the yacht into the wind and dropped the engine revs so that it was standing virtually still in the swell. She reached into her jacket and pulled out a cell.

"George, it's Janine ... Just shut up and listen. I'm on the yacht and I think you will be interested in the passenger manifest. Danny is down below with a chest full of lead and getting stiffer by the minute, the packages are in the forward locker and, get this, Frank is enjoying the cruise despite being trussed up like a turkey at Christmas ... What do I want? Well if you'll shut up I'll tell you. That mil you think is stashed for a rainy day will sort everything out nicely ... Yeah, that's right; I saw the statements in those nice neat folders last night after I took care of Slick ... Danny? Well I didn't like his attitude when I got to the yacht and challenged him about why he was intent on casting off with the cargo by himself. Listen, you've got my account details. I will check via my banking app in 30 minutes whether a nice fat one million transfer has appeared and call you back." With that Janine hung up and pocketed the cell. She gunned the yacht's engine and set the auto-pilot to due south.

"I'm no Sherlock, Janine," I said, "But it sounds like the little gang is falling apart. I'm assuming you righteous officers of the law got together when you saw an opportunity to turn a profit on some cocaine but the boys have been shafting you, possibly in both senses of the phrase."

"First off, Frank darling, the only shafting I've experienced at the hands of either of those faggots is of the financial variety. If you weren't aware of Georgie-boy's proclivities it's time for a reality check. He and Danny have been an item for a long time. Danny is a little more prone to swinging both ways and when he started to show some interest in me George saw the green-eyed hobgoblin. Could explain why your brother has been only too willing to do me out of what is rightfully mine."

"So, Janine, I'm dying to know. What happened after the phone conversation I overheard between you and Danny during the storm?"

"I already had my suspicions about the possibility George and Danny had been skimming the cream off and that they were about to cut me and the others out altogether. We had berthed the yacht and taken a package up to the cabin to show a buyer. The deal wasn't going to go down for another week. Then I get this crazy call from Danny who was in a total panic because George had told him you were having the cabin for a vacation. Danny wouldn't have it from either me or George that you would be none the wiser if left alone.

"I decided to follow Danny. George called me when I landed on the island. I suppose he decided to follow me. Danny had picked up Slick and ensconced him in the cabin down the track to post sentry on the access route. When Slick told me he couldn't let me continue on to George's cabin I knew then that this was because it was a perfect opportunity for the drugs and the money to be made to disappear. I took out Slick and made it look like a professional hit to put the mounties off my scent.

"By the time I got to George's cabin there was no sign of you, Danny or the package of cocaine. George's bank statements confirmed that money had been hidden from me. I knew that Danny must have made for the yacht and the rest of the stock. When I found him on board he tried to lie his way out of it but things turned ugly and you know how it ended up.

"Because of the stupidity of those two losers there is no way I can go back to my job. George's money is the only way that I can get myself set up."

"Where are you heading, Janine? I asked.

"I'm sure you've realised I'm heading south. So long as George does nothing stupid I'll be in the States in a few hours with a healthy bank balance."

I looked away from Janine and out to sea. She had kept me alive so far but only because I was a card she could make use of in the game she was playing with George. Janine had confessed to two murders. She was perfectly capable of disposing of me as well. What were my chances when either the money showed up in her bank account or George made it plain that his sibling sympathies had their limits?

Whatever Janine's decision in relation to me, there was also the bigger picture. It was plain from the words and actions of the Coast Guard visitors to the yacht that there were others involved. Janine had just made herself their target. I could easily become collateral damage in any war she had started.

It was at this point in my musings that I realised I could have made a big mistake by contacting Teddy. My heart sank as it dawned on me it was almost inevitable that, by now, he would have alerted the authorities. What if, inadvertently, he had spoken directly to the guys who were involved or, as the search teams were dispatched, they got wind of what was happening?

Janine had put the yacht into the wind once again so that she could hoist the sails. I was still seated in the cockpit while she went on deck to winch the mainsail into position. There was a lithe confidence and strength to her as she busied herself with the boom and the sheets.

Back in the cockpit Janine released the jib. With the yacht still pointed into the wind both sails just flapped ineffectually. Janine turned the wheel to return to a southerly tack. As the yacht turned on its axis the stiff breeze swiftly filled the sails and the boat heeled over.

For a moment Janine was off balance. As she tried to recover her stance I took my opportunity and lunged at her. My hands were still tied behind my back but I shoulder barged her as hard as I could towards the rail on the downward side of the boat. Janine lost her grip on the wheel and, screaming, she half-cartwheeled out of the cockpit into the water. My momentum carried me on to the console by the side of the wheel. Dragging myself downwards I was able to pull on the throttle with my chest and open the engine up.

Under sail and full revs the yacht quickly pulled away from Janine. She was not wearing a life jacket or dry suit. In these cold northern waters it was unlikely she would last more than a few minutes.

As Janine became little more than a dot bobbing around in the swell I realised I had some answers but there were now new questions to ask. George had a few too many secrets for me to ever trust him again but had he paid Janine's ransom or written me off as a lost asset? Were his corrupt colleagues now in the hunt for me? Should I make a clean breast of it with the authorities and endeavour to get myself off the hook for Janine's death or start a new life by finding a market for the boat and the stash down below? And, oh yes, there was one other very pressing query.

How the hell do you sail an ocean going yacht with your hands tied behind your back?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A Little R and R, Chapter 4

At the hands of J.F. Juzwik Frank's vacation just keeps getting worse. Chapter 4 of a A LITTLE R AND R is now available on her blog. Click the links below for chapters 1 - 3.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Joyce is a great sport for keeping this going despite being so busy with all her other writing projects. I will try to ensure chapter 5 is posted by 28 October.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Flash Fiction Friday, Cycle 100

The next "high-falootin, rootin tootin" challenge from Flash Fiction Friday is holed up here. Ride 'em cowboy!


It was as if Dan had always part-existed in another universe populated by caricatures from the black and white westerns he had watched whenever he could as a boy. He was the first to admit that he lived in a fantasy world of rattlesnakes, six-shooters, gold rush miners, outpost madams, blond haired kids called Dusty who said 'aw shucks' and, of course, sheriffs.

Wish I was, yeah, a wild west hero.

PC Dan Brocklehurst closed his eyes as the first line of his all time favourite ELO track, Wild West Hero, played through the iPhone ear plugs. A cool breeze brushed his cheek. He found himself transported, as was his habit, from the run down housing estate in the small Lancashire town that was his beat to somewhere he saw in broad brush relief as being the 'big country'.

Sometimes I look up high and then I think there might
just be a better life.
Away from all we know, that's where I wanna go,
out on the wild side
and I wish I was, o-oo-o-oh, a wild west hero.

Dan knew his days in the 'job' were now numbered. They had sent him out on patrol this morning because of staff shortages but, deep down, he realised there was no way back. He looked at the text message again. His sergeant wanted him back at the station by 3.00pm to ' with the brass.' Suspension pending a disciplinary investigation was the least he could expect. Criminal charges seemed likely.

Ride the range all the day till the first fading light,
be with my western girl round the fire, oh, so bright.
I'd be the Indians' friend, let them live to be free,
ridin' into the sunset, I wish I could be.

It had happened the same day as the meeting with the Neighbourhood Watch management committee. PC Brocklehurst had been required to attend in his role as community liaison officer.

He listened to the complaints that nothing was being done about a gang of teenage drug dealers who were making life hell for everyone on the estate. The committee knew that most of the inhabitants were too frightened to give evidence. They just wanted the police to get tough by any means. Dan knew what the legal limits on action were and tried to share the constraints placed on the police with his audience. The bitter cynicism embodied in the responses was plain to all.

I'd ride the desert sands and through the prairie lands,
try'n to do what's right.
The folks would come to me, they'd say, we need you here.
I'd stay there for the night.
Oh, I wish I was, o-oo-o-oh, a wild west hero.

After the meeting Dan took a walk through the municipal park adjacent to the community centre. It would do no harm to be seen taking an interest by not returning to the station in the comfort of a patrol car.

As it turned out there wasn't a soul in sight until PC Brocklehurst arrived at the children's play area. Dan immediately recognised one of his targets. Shaylon McCalla - 17, mixed race, tall and painfully thin - was surrounded by a small group of younger kids. It was obvious what was going on. McCalla was a known dealer and skunk cannabis would be the drug of choice among this age group.

One of the young kids looked towards Dan and said something. All apart from McCalla ran off. Shaylon stood his ground, a grin spreading from ear to ear.

"Wassup policeman officer Danny-boy?" rapped McCalla as Dan stepped up close and personal to him.

"Wassup, Shaylon? Wassup! Wassup is you dealing drugs to those kids."

"No I ain't and anyways you can't prove nothing. I ain't got nothing on me and those bruvvers ain't goin' to grass. Shit, you're a dick head Brocklehurst. You ain't fuckin' with me on my manor."

What happened next was very quick. A single forearm smash delivered by the police officer to the youth's face and the latter was on his back with his arm bent at a hideous angle having crashed into the seesaw on the way down.

Ride the range all the day till the first fading light,
be with my western girl round the fire, oh, so bright.
I'd be the Indians friend, let them live to be free,
ridin' into the sunset, I wish I could be.

That was it. In an ill-judged flash of temper a career was over. Dan knew the drill. He had infringed Shaylon McCalla's human rights. Dan had assaulted him and caused, as the court would phrase it, grievous bodily harm. The constabulary would not tolerate a loose cannon who could not be trusted to control himself.

Oh, I wish I was, o-oo-o-oh, a wild west hero.
Oh, I wish I was, o-oo-o-oh, a wild west hero.
Oh, I wish I was, o-oo-o-oh, a wild west hero.
Oh, I wish I was, o-oo-o-oh, a wild west hero.
Wish I was, o-o-oo-o-o-o-oo, a wild west hero.

As the music faded the taunts penetrated. Dan looked round to see TJ Simpson, one of Shaylon McCalla's crew, shouting at him from across the street. He was making gun signs with both hands.

"Oi copper, you is goin' down. That's right, goin' down blue. If you don't do time me and my boys is going to plug you anyway."

Dan said nothing. A set of brakes squealed as he sprinted across the road.


PC Dan Brocklehurst looked down at the body on the floor. He took in the widening pool of blood that poured from Simpson's gaping head wound. Dan slowly lifted the tip of his ASP tactical baton towards his lips and blew as if smoke was wafting from the end. As he holstered the baton Dan touched the brim of his cap.

"Adios, amigo."

If y'all enjoyed the yarn, why not drop in for a hoedown with the boys from ELO?

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Flash Fiction Friday, Cycle 99

This week's brief can be found here.


They have made me wait so long for my moment. No matter, I am centre stage now. I will make the most of being in the spotlight at last.


From a Staff Reporter

October 10, 2012
Huntsville, Texas

A Texas man convicted of eleven murders, all characterised by sadistic cannibalism, was put to death Wednesday. Yet another prisoner to be executed in America's most active capital punishment state, Tyrone Gardener is said to have modelled himself on fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter.

As usual, the prison at Huntsville was the scene of protests by anti-death penalty activists in the run up to the 6.00pm execution time. A number of family members of the victims were permitted into the Death House within the so called 'Walls Unit' to witness Gardener being put to death by a single injection of pentobarbital.

Asked by the warden if he wanted to make a statement, Gardener said, "I do not believe in a heaven or a hell. My self-awareness is about to cease but the families of those I have touched will continue to be tortured by memories of the suffering I inflicted. I offer them no comfort about how their delicious loved ones died or false sentiments of regret. I welcome the dark nothingness to come. I am ready."


I wake.

The smell of brimstone overpowers. Heat sears my eyes. I cannot close them.

The pain in my stretched eyelids is overwhelming. I have no limbs, no body. I am just a head. It is suspended above a roiling cauldron. The relentless burning melts flesh that is replaced and melts again, over and over in endless agony.

Where is the oblivion I craved before my execution?

Saturday, 29 September 2012

A Little R and R, Chapter 3

The experimental collaboration with J.F. Juzwick continues in this post with chapter 3 of A Little R and R. To read chapters 1 and 2 click the links below.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2



I could hardly believe that I was more or less back where I started. Alone, isolated and with just George's shot gun for company the cabin did not feel like a great place to be.

On the plus side the storm had passed and George's SUV had made quick work of clearing the fallen tree off the track during the journey back from the scene of Slick's demise. Lifting up the telephone handset and immediately hearing the tone confirmed that service had been resumed. However, my sorry looking drowned cell remained inoperable.

I stood outside the cabin's front door and took in the surroundings. A blustery wind made me shiver as I looked through the break in the trees where the track entered the clearing. In the far distance beyond an expanse of pine forest I could see down to the coast, the straits and the mainland beyond. The ferry, a distant toy boat surrounded by waves capped with white horses, was sailing away from Snug Cove. Beyond the ferry I could see another vessel, perhaps something military, on a different course but it was too far away to make out any meaningful detail.

Although the sky had cleared to reveal a cloudless blue I was in shade and quickly driven back indoors by the cold. I found myself drawn to the utility room off the kitchen. The loose panel in the ceiling looked the same as I had left it. Once again two fingers easily prised it free. This time, however, there was no package taped to the rafter.

I sat down in the swivel chair by George's desk. It wasn't yet midday but I decided not to be precious about whether it was too early to help myself to the Jack Daniels.

Had I imagined the bizarre phone conversation? Did the cocaine really exist? I was beginning to feel like the previous night was all a bad dream. The sequence of events played out in my mind like a film. "Come on Frank, pull yourself together," I said out loud. It was all real and I knew I was in serious danger. Whether George was involved or not someone had killed Slick. Whatever it was the petty thief had known it would be safe to assume the killer would not want to take any chances on me knowing too much as well.

There seemed to be just two logical possibilities in relation to the whereabouts of the coke. Either the killer had made it to the cabin and recovered it while my brother and I were busy with the police or George had sneaked it out in front of me. As I mulled this over I opened a desk drawer. I wasn't looking for anything in particular but it felt like I needed to get to know George a little better. There, in a neat row, was a series of ring binder folders. Identical, they each had the imprint of the Bank of Montreal on the spine. I guessed they contained statements. Why did he keep them at his vacation retreat? If I knew George half as well as I thought I did the most recent would be the furthest to the right. Sure enough, on turning to the last page I found the latest balance in a savings account. It was in excess of a million Canadian dollars. Not bad for a career civil servant. Perhaps I didn't know my brother at all.

On the wall above the desk were a number of photos. They were mostly of yachts. George has a big thing for messing about on the water. Off towards one side at the top was a picture that grabbed my attention. It appeared to be of a hunting party. All told there were a dozen people in the shot. A little separate to the main group three people stood together. The two guys were recognisably George and Danny. The third was a woman. She was about the same age as George and good looking. Could this be Janine? She and Danny were facing the camera. George was staring at her.

Further along the wall there was another small picture. This one had just the three of them together, all smiling at the camera. George and Danny were dressed in their Coastguard gear. The female was in the uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The desktop was tidy, just as you would expect with George. Lined up at the back were some neatly labelled box files. I opened the one marked 'Maps'. It was immediately apparent George kept a comprehensive selection covering British Columbia. Spreading a topographical chart of Bowen Island on the desk I studied my location. I was grateful to George for marking his own cabin with a highlighter. Using the same pen he had also traced a meandering path down through the woods from the cabin to the coast. It went in more or less the opposite direction to Snug Cove and seemed to terminate at a small inlet about five miles away. The presence of a jetty was marked. I couldn't rationalise why but I felt my PI's radar pointing in that direction.

My thoughts turned back to the killer. If he had made a mistake when hitting Slick he would quickly realise. I knew I was a sitting duck at the cabin. If I had to be a target I preferred to be of the moving variety. Time, I decided, to get some kit together and make another move.

I didn't want to get lost in the woods again. The vehicular access track was the only way back to the ferry terminal. It would be easy for someone to lie in wait in the trees and pick me off somewhere between the cabin and Snug Cove. The only other option was the path to the inlet. I decided to take the gamble that the killer was working alone and would not risk me getting away via the main track because he was covering that path.

Two hours or so later I was at sea level and approaching the inlet. The walk downhill from the cabin had been uneventful. I might even have felt it had been a pleasure but for fretting about George. Inexorably, I was running out of excuses or innocent explanations as to why he had become embroiled in something that was both big and very wrong.

In the lee of the hillside the inlet was sheltered from the bitter wind. As I emerged from the trees the view was initially obscured by a large boat house. As the angle changed I could see the jetty jutting out into the dappled water. There was a yacht moored on the landward side. I'm no expert but I estimated it must have been at least 30 feet long and looked both new and expensive. This was unexpected. Taking the shot gun off my shoulder I approached cautiously.

The boat house was locked up. I looked through a dusty window. From the little light that penetrated it seemed there was no sign of life.

I carried on down the jetty to where the yacht was moored. There was no indication that anyone was aboard. I stepped over the safety wire and on to the deck. Having clambered down into the cockpit I then tried the door to the saloon. It was unlocked. Inside I flipped a light switch. The 12 volts circuit was working. A charged leisure battery meant the yacht had seen recent use but, I surmised, surely not during the storm.

This could be my means to slip away from Bowen Island unseen but first, I decided, I needed to check it out thoroughly. I went to the forward cabin. The two bunks in the bow were covered by a mess of sails. Whoever had berthed the boat had seemingly dropped them down through the deck hatch and not bothered to put them away. I pulled the sails into the saloon and lifted the cushions off one of the bunks. In the stowage underneath there were a dozen football sized packages. The similarity to the one I had found secreted in the cabin was striking. I had no doubt about what they must contain.

There had been no real attempt to conceal the cocaine on the yacht. The person who put them there was not expecting the attention of the authorities. If George was involved with the transportation of cocaine did he see himself as having some kind of immunity from the police or Coastguard when at sea? How could my own brother have access to an expensive boat without me knowing about it? Probably, I thought, for the same reason I was not aware of his millionaire status.

Were there more drugs on board? I searched the storage in the saloon. There was nothing out of the ordinary. I ducked down into the low corridor that passed under the cockpit and made my way into the aft cabin. In the dim natural light entering through two small portholes I could see there was a double bunk with a pile of bedding on it.

I flicked the light on. There was more than just untidy bedding. A body was stretched out diagonally across the large bunk and partially concealed by a duvet. The face wasn't visible because the head was pitched back over the edge furthest from me. With deepening foreboding I moved round the perimeter of the bunk. As the angle changed I could see the chest and abdomen were a complete mess. It looked like both barrels of a shotgun had been discharged at close quarters. I carried on to where I could see the head. My recognition of the face was certain. It was Danny.

Back out on deck I strove to keep it together as I gasped in the fresh air. I thought I was going to be sick and held on to a railing as I looked down at the water. The distinctive thrum of a powerful diesel engine penetrated my consciousness. I turned my head and saw a Coastguard cutter rounding the entrance to the inlet.

My first thought was that George may be on board. I then realised that if he wasn't my situation did not look so great. I was standing on the deck of a yacht containing a large quantity of cocaine and a dead Coast Guard officer. Bearing in mind the nature of Danny's wounds, George's shot gun suddenly felt very heavy.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Flash Fiction Friday, Cycle 97

This week's challenge from Flannery Alden:-

Gray and Gold, by John Rogers Cox

"This week’s prompt is my favorite painting, that you can see at the top. It lives at the Cleveland Museum of Art, tucked off to the side of the modern art section, near the coat racks. Every time I go there, I seek it out and ponder it longer than anything else there. It’s captivating to me and suggests so many possibilities.

I’d like you to use it as an inspiration for a story and I’d like your story to feature this particular crossroads as a setting. Are you meeting someone? The devil, perhaps? Have you been walking aimlessly down a country lane and found yourself here, not sure which way to go?

Take a few moments. Absorb the scene and then decide to go down the write path."


As the plane touched down at Cleveland-Hopkins 15 years suddenly felt like a long time to have been away. I had got on with a busy life. Time had passed at a pace I hardly noticed in the hurly-burly but coming back home for the first time after such an interval put things into perspective.

Aunt Clara allowed the tears to flow freely down her cheeks when she smothered me in a huge embrace at the arrivals exit. "Goddammit, I wasn't going to cry," Clara said as she dabbed her eyes. Uncle Josh gave me a firm handshake and looked embarrassed as he shuffled from foot to foot. Perhaps this first meeting of my homecoming was too public for his sensibilities.

My aunt and uncle drove me from the airport to their house. I was seated in the back of the car, just as I had so very often as a boy. We passed familiar landmarks. Aunt Clara filled me in with a steady commentary on the changes to Cleveland I would encounter. Uncle Josh maintained an almost unbroken silence as he drove. Every so often Clara would seek his agreement on some point of geographical interest and he would respond with a firm nod. Josh always had been the silent type.

The first few hours back at the old house passed in a whirl of renewing acquaintances. A constant stream of cousins and neighbours progressed in and out of the front door. I was polite but found I had little to say to any of them. They asked what I was doing with myself these days. Fairly bland, perfunctory answers seemed to keep them happy. Mostly, they just wanted to tell me about their own lives. I realised that I had moved on in more than just the physical sense of the phrase.

That evening I found myself alone in the yard lighting a cigarette. It was good to have some time to myself. After a couple of minutes contemplating the dark I became aware that Uncle Josh was standing by my side. I had no idea how long he had been there before noticing. We were both comfortable with the silence.

"It's great to see you and Aunt Clara looking so well Uncle Josh," I said, stubbing out my cigarette at the same time.

"Oh, you know how it is," Uncle Josh said. He paused then continued, "We keep going but we ain't getting any younger either."

"I know it's a long time but I really have missed you two."

There was no response.

"Looking back now, Uncle Josh, I do appreciate everything you and Aunt Clara did for me. Taking me in like that. With no children of your own it must have been a shock to the system to suddenly have a nine year old kid taking up space."

"There was never any question for us. It was just something we had to do."

"You know I've still no recollection of what happened."

Uncle Josh looked down, turned and started towards the kitchen door. Pausing, he said, "Probably best to just let it go, Sam," and continued indoors.

At no other time did Mom and Dad get mentioned during that first day back in Cleveland. Everyone knew that I came to live with my mother's brother and his wife after the disappearance. I guess, though, nobody wanted to rake over the painful past. It was more comfortable to steer away from the tragedy and concentrate on the trivia of the here and now.

By the second day Aunt Clara could probably sense that I would benefit from a change of scene. Uncle Josh, who was way past a normal retirement age, had gone to work. My aunt suddenly announced that I needed to be re-acquainted with the 'sights' of Cleveland and drove me into the city centre.

After a late morning caffeine fix at Starbucks I expressed a wish to call in at the Case Western Reserve University Bookstore. It was an old haunt that I genuinely wanted to see again. When we came out my aunt said that in all her years living in the city she had never visited the Cleveland Museum of Art. It was close by. I agreed it would be a good idea to go. It would placate Clara and provide a subject of conversation other than meaningless small talk.

I dimly remembered visiting the museum during the course of, perhaps, one school trip. The lay-out was unfamiliar. I was happy to meander in an unplanned way. Eventually we came to the modern art section. There, near the coat hooks, was a painting called Gray and Gold.

The shock caused by what I saw was visceral and instantaneous. I found myself rooted to the spot and utterly transfixed by the picture. Waves of panic started to surge through me and then I was nearly overwhelmed by the urge to vomit. The light in my peripheral vision started to fade. For a moment there was nothing but the intensity of the painting then that, too, dimmed. Eventually, there was only blackness.

When I came to I was aware there was a huddle of people - museum staff and members of the public - standing round me. I was flat on my back in the modern art gallery. I heard Aunt Clara's voice and tried to focus in the direction it came from.

"Oh Lord, Sam, are you alright? What came over you?"

Paramedics gently pushed her aside and tended to me. Full consciousness slowly returned. After a series of tests and questions satisfied them I would be alright Aunt Clara was permitted to take me home.

During the drive back to the house recollection started to surface. I realised that when I had looked at Gray and Gold snatches of memory of what happened the day my parents disappeared were triggered for the first time.

I was standing alone at the cross-roads portrayed in the painting. We had been in a car. Something was wrong with it. We pulled over and we all got out. A light appeared. It seemed to be all around me. Then Mom and Dad were gone. I stood there, shouting at the brooding clouds and calling for them to come back.

“Aunt Clara,” I said, “Uncle Josh was there wasn’t he? The day Mom and Dad disappeared.”

“Yes Sam, he found you. He arrived at the cross-roads in his truck and saw you there alone. It was a squally day and you had your waterproofs on. He said you were screaming at the storm clouds.”

“Why doesn't he talk about it?”

“Oh Sam, it's been so hard for him. He’s a black and white kind of a guy who has had to come to terms with something unexplainable and extraordinary. He lost a sister he was close to in circumstances he can’t fathom. You were the only one left behind and he doesn’t know why.”

The rest of my stay in Cleveland passed without incident or further reference to the loss of my parents. I felt relaxed about realising how deeply I loved my aunt and uncle. The need to get away from Cleveland 15 years ago had been overwhelming. Then I had been confused about my past and haunted by self-doubt brought on by the amnesia. Now I had the beginnings of recollection. I still had no understanding of how or where my parents had been taken but, for the first time in my life, I had the feeling that I was at the beginning of a journey of discovery.

On the day of departure Aunt Clara and Uncle Josh drove me to the airport. They agreed to stop off at the Cleveland Museum of Art on the way. I made my way quickly to the modern art gallery while they waited in the car.

I stood in front of Gray and Gold. There was no physical shock but, once more, I found myself transfixed. This time, however, it was not a flood of memories that induced my reaction. It was the appearance of a small figure in the painting itself. A child in rain gear was standing at the cross-roads staring towards the clouds and surrounded by luminescence.

It came to me then. I was the portal.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

A Little R and R, Chapter 2

J.F. Juzwik has paid me the enormous compliment of writing chapter 2 to my tale posted on 12 September, A LITTLE R AND R. Click here to read the continuation. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Flash Fiction Friday, Cycle 96

The brief this week:-

"I imagine I’m not the only one who does this, but sometimes when I watch a movie or read a book my mind drifts and I begin to wonder how I would have written the final cut. That could just be a bit of narcissism. Grandiose ideas and whatnot.

So this week’s challenge is simple. Take a classic movie scene and rewrite it."

Apologies, in advance, if you conclude the following is not strictly in the spirit of Ron's challenge but a train of thought was triggered and I decided to follow it through. For reasons that will, hopefully, become apparent there are two movies referred to in my piece - 'Modern Times' and 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich'.


Summer 1948, Siberia

My dearest Svetlana,

I have no idea whether this letter will get to you or not.There is a young guard who seems to have a little kindness about him and says he will smuggle it out in return for a day's rations. Maybe I am being very foolish trusting him but I have to explain - have you understand - how our lives could fall apart like this.

I do not know the date today. No-one here does. We have all lost track of time. It seems like it must be summer. The weather is a little kinder than it was during the long months of the march to the camp. That was so hard with many falling by the wayside. It is still very cold but, "Hey-ho," we joke, "the work keeps us warm."

It makes me so angry, the fact that I could not speak to you during either the long weeks of my incarceration and torture in the Lubyanka or that farce of a trial. Every day I prayed that I could just see you and the children one more time. Anyway, I do not know what lies they have told about why I have been torn from our little family. Here is the truth of it my darling Svetlana.

It is as simple as this. I upset Uncle Joe with my grandiose plans to try and entertain him. Our people do not know that Stalin loves foreign films and particularly those by the great Charles Chaplin. Foremost among the films played in the Kremlin night after night is “Modern Times”. My ambitious plan was to have this film re-made in a Soviet setting. I had presented my script to Bolshakov, the People’s Commissar of Cinema, and the next I know I am being plucked by the NKVD from our lovely nest at three in the morning. It seems my proposals for a Russian comedy disturbed Stalin’s sensibilities. Why, I do not know.

I would like to tell you a little about my life here but I fear it will be too upsetting. It is very grim. There is no comfort. None of the tattered clothes issued to us fits and we have to make and mend all the time. I work for 16 hours each day outside in the bitter cold. They only let us stay in if it falls below -41. There are scant rations and what little we have is rotting and has no goodness in it. My teeth are falling out. I sleep on an ancient thin mattress filled with horse hair. The guards fare little better than us prisoners although we are very jealous of the fire they are allowed at night.

This gulag system is brutal. Mostly, the guards are vicious and vengeful towards us. They resent the work they do and take it out on us. We have to keep them happy by meeting our work quotas. They are punished if we do not.

I am in a fine team, the 104th. We are led by a good man called Andrey Prokofyevich Tiurin. He has been here 19 years and knows how to argue for the better jobs. We all have to pull our weight. If one of us slacks the whole team is punished.

They gave me 10 years. It is not unusual for another sentence of the same length to be added on before the first is served. Expecting the worst is better than being disappointed. It will, I know, be many years before I am able to come home. I cannot bear the thought that we will not be together but I have to be strong and tell you it is too long for you to have to wait. Your happiness is everything. I know our good friend, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, has a soft place in his heart for you. Svetlana, my love, you and the children could do a lot worse.

Maybe Alexander will write one of his books about me and my time here. Perhaps they could make a film of it. To describe one day of my life would say so much about the awfulness of what the Soviet system does to its people.

What folly it was to think that I could re-write a masterpiece of the cinema! How foolish I was to incur the wrath of Stalin in this way! I do not know how you can ever bring yourself to forgive me.

Please kiss the children and tell them how precious they are to their father.

All my love forever,

Ivan Denisovich Shukhov