Heston curled his finger around the trigger of the AK 47. He loved the feel of it and the sense of power it gave him. He looked at his target through the sights. He really couldn’t miss at this range. It could fire ten rounds per second. More than enough to do the job. Overkill really. After all, his target was only one man. No wonder it was illegal to buy unless you knew where to get it. Which he did. Cost a bit. But he knew someone. Got a good deal. It came with a box of ammo. He had loaded it. He really hadn’t known how until he googled it. Amazing what you could find on the internet.
Now, he had finally tracked down his quarry, Hilton Dearden. His little hideaway, this cabin, more a shack really, miles off the beaten track had been in the family for generations. When he dropped off the face of the earth, it had taken a while to locate him. He had gone to ground, just after Heston had got out of prison, obviously fearing for his safety. Rightly so. But finally, a google search had revealed the fact that his family had it and also its location. This had to be it. And some discreet surveillance had verified that he was here.
So now, he was ready. He was well within firing range. A line of trees hid him from view. Dearden had disappeared around the side of the cabin. But he was a patient man, he would wait till he came out again.
He thought, with quiet fury, of the circumstances that led up to this point. Unremarkably perhaps, it was a double-cross. He had approached Dearden with a proposal. He had researched a high-end jewellery store run by a wealthy widow. He knew exactly what he wanted. Rings and bracelets worth over five hundred thousand dollars. He needed a wheel-man, Dearden had a good rep. He was one of the best. It took some persuasion. He had declared he was going straight, but the lure of a hundred k as his share changed his mind. Of course, Heston had no intention of giving him anything.
So on the day, Dearden pulled up just down the street, and waited, engine running. Heston went in. They were about to close. No customers were inside. He showed the woman his gun and pointed to what he wanted. She pulled out the tray. At the same time, cops burst in behind him, guns drawn. He knew he’d been shopped. He swore he’d get Dearden. The fact that he was going to screw him over, had nothing to do with anything.
He got seven years. The gun he’d used was real. He had previous convictions. He was out after four and a half with good behaviour. It was while he was inside that he’d become fascinated with the AK 47. He’d come across a book about it in the prison library.
Now, he looked once more down the sights. He drew a breath. Dearden had company. It was the widow who owned the jewellery store! No wonder he shopped him. How had the two of them got together? Before or after? He didn’t care. He’d get them both. There was plenty of ammo to go around. He steadied himself against a wall. His finger caressed the trigger, then he pulled it. It blew up in his face and he fell to the ground.
As he lay there dying, his last thoughts were, ‘no wonder I got such a good deal. The damn thing was defective.’ Ironically, his fascination with the AK 47 had killed him.
Adrian walked along, head down, moodily kicking at the odd stone as he went along.
“Bloody Matthews,” he muttered to himself. He was doing his best. So what if he forgot the odd comma or full stop. You got the gist of it. Thank goodness it was Friday. No school for the weekend and Monday was a public holiday. Yay! He had plenty of homework If he got that done early, he’d have three days free. He looked up as he passed a weathered old house. It belonged to old Mr Hastings. He would sit on the front porch on a battered old chair, watching the world go by. Adrian waved at him from time to time, but the old man generally ignored him, just staring into space. His mother had gently pointed out that he may not even have seen him, lost in thought, or just had bad eyesight.
He wasn’t there. Which was unusual. He hadn’t been there yesterday either. He wondered idly if the old man was alright. He knew he lived alone. He had home help and meals on wheels several days a week. He stopped and stood uncertainly at the rickety timber gate. Should he go in and check? They had never actually exchanged any words. Still. It wouldn’t do any harm, he decided.
He pushed open the gate, walked up the path, mounted the well-worn steps and slowly approached the front door. He stood for a moment, then knocked on the door. There was no answer. He stood uncertainly, then knocked again. There was no one home yet on either side. The neighbours were couples all of whom worked during the day. He walked to a window and tried to peer through, but the curtains were drawn. He went back to the door and tried the handle, but it was locked.
He stood there indecisively, then shrugged his bag off his shoulders, dropped it on the floor, and descended the steps. He walked around the side of the house, along the fence, to the backyard. It was mainly weed-infested grass, with a border of shrubs, and the odd tree. The grass badly needed a mow.
Fleetingly, he thought, ‘I could offer to come and mow over the weekend,’ then mounted the back steps of a back patio with a few odd bits of furniture on it. He walked to a back door and tried the handle. The door was unlocked. He pushed it open and ventured inside.
“Mr Hastings?” he called.
No answer. He was in a small room, and to his right, through an open door, he saw a laundry. Ahead was a kitchen. There were some dishes in the sink, but it was what was on the table that disturbed him. There was a plate of congealed food, a knife and fork lying on it, a chair pushed back. Alarmed, he called out again, “Mr Hastings?”
No answer. He walked past the table and into a hallway. He gasped. Mr Hastings was lying unmoving on the floor. He was on his side, a mat tangled in his feet. Without hesitation, heart thumping in his chest, Adrian ran to his side. To his relief, the old man was breathing audibly. but his eyes were closed. He seemed to be unconscious.
‘How long had he been lying there?’ he wondered.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket and punched in 000, the first time he ever had to do that.
‘They’re on their way,’ he was assured after explaining what he had found.
He ended the call, put away the phone and looked down at the old man. He must have tripped on the mat and knocked himself out. What should he do? He went off, looked into a bedroom, pulled a pillow and blanket off a neatly made bed, then returned. He gently inserted the pillow under his head and draped the blanket over him. Then he walked to the front door and opened it. He stood outside, pulled his phone out again, and called his mother. It went to her message bank. He left her a brief message explaining what had happened. She was a nurse at a nearby hospital. She would have it turned off while she was on duty. As he ended the call, an ambulance pulled into the driveway.
Some minutes later, he watched as they wheeled Mr Hastings out to the ambulance.
“He seems ok, but he may have a fractured hip,” a female paramedic told him.
“Good thing you found him. He probably wouldn’t have been able to move.”
She patted him on the shoulder. Soon the ambulance pulled out of the driveway and set off. It had aroused very little interest in the few people passing by. They just looked and kept going.
Adrian went back inside. He picked the plate up from the table, emptied it into the rubbish bin, then washed it and other dishes and cutlery he found in the sink. He dried everything with a dish towel and stacked it neatly on the draining board. He looked around. Everything was neat and tidy. He locked the back door, then pulled the plastic bag half-filled with garbage out of the bin. He would drop it in the big bin outside next to the house. He saw a set of keys hanging up on a key rack.
‘Should he take it?’ he wondered. How would Hastings get back again? He took it just in case and walked out of the front door. He would call the hospital later to check on the old man, He picked up his backpack, dropped the garbage bag in the bin, and set off for home.
Ten minutes later, he was drinking deeply from a carton of vegetable juice. His mother would not be impressed, but she wasn’t there to see him. He put it back in the fridge then went into his bedroom, dropping his bag on the floor. He lay back on his bed, pulled his phone from his pocket and pushed a button.
“Hi Aidie,” a voice trilled.
He felt warm inside. His favourite person in the whole world, well, apart from his mother.
“Hi Simone,” he answered.
They’d only been seeing each other for two months. It was exciting. She was the first person he’d ever dated.
“You’ll never guess what happened to me today.”
So Adrian proceeded to tell her all about his good deed.
“God, there’s just miles and miles of nothing!” Stacey complained.
Aaron looked at her with amusement.
“A. It’s kilometres, B, this trip was your idea. ‘Let’s go somewhere different,’ you said.
I did tell you it would be like this. Hundreds of k’s between little towns that have nothing much in them. ‘Let’s be adventurous,’ you said. That sense of adventure didn’t last long, did it.”
“But there’s not even any phone coverage,” she said.
“Told you that too,” he reminded her.
“I said there’d be places with no coverage.”
“But hundreds of miles, sorry, kilometres?” she cried.
“So, you wanna turn back? We haven’t booked anything. You said not to. It’ll be part of the adventure, you said.”
“Stop doing that!” she said crossly, “Reminding me what I said. You could have tried harder to talk me out of it!”
He laughed, “So now it’s my fault, is it? Luckily, I’ve got a great sense of responsibility. Anything you do and don’t like, I’m responsible. So, shall I turn around?”
“Oh, shut up! And stop being so reasonable. Keep going till the next town. I’ll decide then.”
“Yes ma’am,” he responded.
“It’s only a few more k’s. It’s called Shelby.”
“Dunno. It’s a bit off the highway. We’ll find out when we get there, I guess. Don’t even know if there’s anywhere to stay.”
“There wasn’t at that last place or anything to eat either. Good thing I packed sandwiches wasn’t it.”
“Yep, chicken and avocado. My favourite.”
“Oh shit! You hate avocado! I forgot. You never said anything!”
He grinned cheerfully.
“Yep, I’m just a angel.”
“Oh God,” she wailed, “This trip has gone to Hell. Why did you let me talk you into doing this?”
“Because I wanted to go as well. Don’t worry about it. The avocado didn’t kill me.”
“There’s the sign to Shelby,” she pointed.
“Okay, let’s see if there’s anything there,” he said as they reached the turnoff, and saw the
small town unfolding in front of them.
“It looks a good size,” Stacey commented.
“Hope they’ve got a motel.”
They drove down a wide Main Street, with a few houses on the approaches, then a number of shops, a hotel and a service station. Stacey pointed to a sign.
“That says motel down that side street,” she said.
Aaron turned and soon, they saw a motel sign. He stopped in front of reception. Stacey jumped out and strode inside. He watched her go. She was tall and lithe, as tall as he was. He was amused that she wouldn’t wear high heels when they went out, telling her he didn’t care if she towered over him. She hadn’t as yet. He noted the carpark was quite full. It was late afternoon. Maybe something of note was on in the town. The ‘no vacancy’ had not been lit up, so perhaps there was still an available room. Stacey came out, brandishing a key. She set off and he slowly followed her. She opened the door to number 15, and he parked in front of it. He hauled their cases out of the back of the car and carried them inside. Stacey had already turned on the kettle.
“I want a cup of tea,” she announced, as he put their cases on the floor. He looked around. The room appeared quite neat and spacious, the double bed covered with a colourful duvet.
Stacey plumped herself down on the bed.
“Something a bit weird happened in reception,” she said to Aaron.
He sat down on the only chair in the room.
“Oh? Like what?” he asked.
“There was no one in reception when I went in, then a little girl, about twelve, came out. I said I wanted a room. She gave me this strange look for quite a long time, said, “Are you sure?” then this lady came bustling out, ordered her back inside, and we did the business. Only cost $80.00.”
“Why would that little girl ask me, ‘Are you sure?’ And that strange look.”
“What was strange about the look?”
“I dunno. Just made me feel, I shouldn’t get the room. Now why would that be?”
“Who knows. Maybe she’s just a weird little girl. Anyway, what about that cup of tea.”
“Don’t feel like one now. How about we wander down the street and maybe get a drink at the hotel”
“Sure, why not. Just gotta go to the loo first.”
A little while later, they left the motel and walked down the street. They turned from the side street into the Main Street and headed for the hotel. As they passed a narrow lane, a hand reached out and clutched at Stacey’s sleeve. Startled, she realised it was the little girl.
She beckoned them to follow her down the lane. After exchanging puzzled looks, they followed her. She walked to a large dumpster, looked around anxiously, then ushered them behind it, and crouched down. She said urgently, “Bend down! Don’t want anyone to see us!”
They obeyed, then Stacey said, “What’s wrong? What’s going on?”
“Why did you come? What are you doing here?” the girl asked.
Confused, Stacey said, “We’re on a road trip. We just needed somewhere to stay for the night.”
“Well, you picked the wrong place,” the girl said.
“Why?” Aaron asked.
“Tonight’s the night they pay homage to Thanatos, and they need the blood of a human to do it, so they need a human sacrifice.”
“Okay, “ Aaron said quietly.
“Let’s back this up. First of all, who are you, who are ‘they’ and what makes you think we’re the ones marked for sacrifice?”
The little girl said earnestly, “My name’s Alice, my Mum’s one of them, and they’re Satanists who worship Thanatos, the god of death, and one night a year, they pay homage, and tonight’s the night.”
“Okay, so why us?” Aaron asked, glancing at Stacey who had listened in sceptical albeit petrified silence.
“You’re the only strangers in town. They always pick strangers,” Alice said.
“I thought Satanists worship the devil,” Stacey spoke for the first time, her voice tinged with fear.
“Not them. They’ve always worshipped Thanatos,” Alice said.
“Why are you warning us?” Stacey asked.
Alice struggled to speak, then, tears filling her eyes, she said, “I was here last year with Mum. There was a lady and her little boy, they checked in. I saw people take them out of their room because I had woken up to go to the toilet, in the middle of the night and I heard the noise and looked out the window. I was half asleep and went back to bed. The next morning, they were gone. Their room was cleaned out, and when I asked Mum, she said they’d left early in the morning.”
“That’s possible, isn’t it?” Aaron asked.
“I found their cases in the storeroom,” Alice said.
“Did they have a car?” Stacey asked.
“Yes. It was gone,” Alice said.
“Alright Alice,” Aaron said gently.
“Thank you for telling us. I’m not some helpless young woman with a child. I was in the army. I know how to look after myself, both of us actually. So you go back to your Mum before she misses you. And thanks again for warning us.”
“Alright,” Alice said, getting up, peering around the dumpster before scurrying off.
“Well?” Stacey asked.
“What do you think? Overactive, vivid imagination or have we stumbled into a Satanists lair?”
Aaron straightened up and pulled Stacey to her feet.
“She didn’t explain how she knew about the human sacrifice, or where this sacrifice is supposed to take place. Let’s go and have a drink. If there’s anything going on, maybe we can pick it up by listening to some of the locals.”
Hand in hand, they walked out of the lane, down the street and entered the bar of the hotel. A few moments later, they were seated at a table, Aaron with a beer, Stacey with a rum and coke.
“I think I need something strong,” she declared.
Aaron nodded in agreement and looked around. There were plenty of people around considering it was midweek, and he idly wondered why. It was a small town. A gathering of Satanists, perhaps? They all looked pretty normal to him, but then, he didn’t know what Satanists were supposed to look like.
“Want something to eat?” he asked.
“Yes please! I just realised I’m starving,” Stacey responded.
Aaron got up and headed for the bar. He came back after a few moments bearing a menu. He sat down and said, “I asked the girl behind the counter about all the people. She said there’s a white witch convention in town.”
“They’re the good ones aren’t they?” Stacey queried.
“Supposedly,” Aaron replied.
They perused the menu, decided what they wanted and Aaron went back to the bar to order. He came back bearing a buzzer, and another beer sat down and pulled out his phone.
“Let’s see what white witches get up to,” he said.
Stacey sipped her drink and waited expectantly.
“Well, it’s all about goodness and ethics, according to Wikipedia,” he reported.
“So white witches are the good ones,” Stacey said, “But aren’t they all women?”
“Alice said ‘people,’ she didn’t say what sex they were, but she may have dreamt the whole thing. I’d say she’s just got an overactive imagination,” Aaron commented.
“What about their bags she said were in the storeroom?” Stacey asked.
“Could have been anybody’s. How did she know it was theirs?” he responded
The buzzer went. They ate their meals in silence. Afterwards, they strolled back to the motel. Their car was the only one in the carpark.
“They must all have gone to their convention,” Stacey remarked.
Aaron nodded. They entered their room.
“I still feel uneasy,” Stacey said.
“Understandable,” Aaron responded.
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“I’ll wedge the chair under the door handle,” Aaron suggested.
“That way, no one can get in, just on the off chance.”
“Sounds good to me.”
The rest of the night passed without incident, although neither slept very well. They were up early the next morning. The carpark was full.
“Wonder how their convention went,” Stacey commented as they drove out of the carpark.
“And whether they found someone else to sacrifice,” said Aaron with a wry smile.
“I hope we never find out,” Stacey said with a shudder.
“Let’s hope it was just Alice’s over active imagination.”
As the car disappeared down the street, they were unaware that Alice had come outside. She stood clutching a teddy bear and watched them go, an expression of relief on her face.
Danny lay on his bed. He sighed heavily as he stared at the ceiling. He had just returned from another day of unsuccessful interviews. Well, not the whole day. After all, he’d only had one. The first one they’d said they’d let him know, but he could tell, they wouldn’t bother. At least, he’d got an interview, they hadn’t just ignored his application, like so many of his others had been. And the second one was way across town. By the time he got there by public transport, he’d been 20 minutes late, so they refused to see him. He’d sat despondently on a park bench outside for quite a while before wearily making his way home. He’d gone straight to his room and laid on his bed. He drifted off.
He awoke with a start. His mother was standing over him. She was angry, he could just tell. He struggled to sit up.
“You forgot to bring in the washing. It’s rained, and everything’s wet!”
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
“And you promised to wash the dishes, and clean the kitchen, it’s disgusting! And your room’s a mess. I keep asking you to tidy it, but that’s obviously too much for you, And I suppose you forgot to pick up bread and milk as you walked past that milk bar too, didn’t you. God, you’re useless!”
She turned on her heel and stormed out of the room. He stared after her resentfully.
“I’ve had a bad day too, Mum,” he felt like shouting but refrained. He knew he was at fault. He had promised to do all these things, but still. That was no reason for her to yell at him like that. He got up. He’d go for a walk just to calm himself down. He donned his hoodie and headed for the front door. His mother’s bedroom door was closed, but he was too angry to tell her he was going anyway. He opened the door and was tempted to slam it, then thought better of it. It had a stained glass pane in it. It wasn’t the best, but she had made it when she was attending a class once. She would be enraged if he broke it. So he closed the door gently and set off. It was drizzling slightly, and almost dark. It didn’t deter him and he set off, head bent.
He walked in the direction of the Main Street. There was a pub further along. Maybe he’d shout himself a beer, but he realised rather ruefully, that he only had about twenty-five dollars in cash and probably not much more than that in his account. Still, at this moment, he didn’t care. As he turned into the Main Street, someone cannoned into him. He staggered slightly, but the other person, a man, went down heavily. He must have twisted his knee. He gave a yell. He dropped a bag he was carrying, rolled over, looked at Danny, then back past him up the street, scrambled up and hobbled off, leaving the bag behind. Danny picked it up. It was a woman’s handbag.
Realisation dawned. He must have stolen it. He looked up the street. In the distance, he could see a woman. She was leaning against a car. As he watched, she opened the passenger door, and sat down, leaving the door open. He headed for her. The car was a Lexus, he noted. The drizzle had eased. He approached the car, and asked hesitantly, “Are you ok?”
The woman looked at him. She seemed unfocused.
“Are you ok,” he asked again.
“No, I’m not, young man,” she answered.
“I’ve just been mugged, I think. That’s what you call it, isn’t it? Some man grabbed my bag as I was walking back from that atm up the road. There were no parking spaces any closer, that’s why I had to walk so far. He just came up behind me and grabbed my bag and ran. I got such a fright!”
She was almost gabbling, but he thought, ‘Poor thing, she must be in shock.’
She was an older lady, very well dressed, and he could smell her perfume, probably very expensive, he thought. She was sitting in a Lexus after all.
“Is this your bag?” he asked, holding it up.
“Oh my goodness, yes!” she cried.
“Did you see what happened and catch him? My purse is in it and my phone, so I couldn’t ring the police or anything. Thank you, thank you.”
She took the bag, rummaged in it and said excitedly, “Everything’s still here. You’re a hero!”
About to tell her what actually happened, he thought, ‘I’m a hero!
How often is anyone going to call me that. Never! I’m taking it!’
So he shrugged self deprecatingly, “Well, I tackled him, but he got away.”
It was sort of true.
“Thank you again young man, I am most grateful.”
She opened her purse and thrust two fifty dollar notes at him.
“I hope you don’t mind but I’d like to reward you for your bravery and honesty.”
He stared at the money, then said reluctantly, “Oh, I couldn’t take it.”
In his head, he heard, ‘You idiot! Of course you can. You need it. Take it.’
“I insist,” the woman said.
So he took the money, thrust it into his pocket, and said, “Thank you, although it isn’t necessary.”
“Money is always necessary,” she said. “It’s how the world works. Now, is there any other way I can help you?”
Without thinking, he said, “Well, if you can find me a job, that would be good. I’m in between at the moment.”
She looked at him, then said, “I just might at that.”
He stared back at her, then stammered, “Sorry, that just came out, but did you say you might be able to?”
She rummaged in her bag again, then handed him a card.
“My son runs an online business. He’s looking for delivery people. He was only complaining to me today, that his last one just left him in the lurch. So would that be suitable? He supplies the van and a phone, so he told me.”
“That would be great,” Danny said, putting the card in his pocket.
“Good, go and see him in the morning. I’ll tell him you’re coming.”
She added with a laugh, “I suppose it helps if I know my hero’s name?”
Danny squirmed, “It’s Danny Taylor.”
She put out her hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Danny Taylor. I’m Helen Thompson.”
They shook hands, then she said, “Just help me out of the car please, Danny. I can get in but getting out is a bit of an issue.”
He helped her out, shut the door, then escorted her around to the other side and opened the door for her. She got in. He closed the door. She put the key in the ignition and lowered the window.
“Thank you again, Danny. I’m sure I’ll see you again sometime.”
He nodded, walked around the car to the pavement and watched her slowly drive away. He walked in the direction of the pub, his mind in a whirl. He could well afford that drink now. A bit of money and the prospect of a job. He could hardly believe it.
A few moments later, he was downing a welcome beer. He thought about his mother. She was justified in having a go at him, he supposed. Normally even-tempered, she must have had a hard day at work to lash out at him. But he did need to pull his weight a bit more.
He confined himself to one beer, then wandered through the poker machine area. He could afford to put the last twenty dollars through. After all, he had a hundred dollars he didn’t have before he left home. He was down to his last three dollars when it happened. Flashing lights, bells, and envious looks from other patrons, and a dazed Danny was walking home with $2400 in his pocket. He remembered to buy milk and bread at the milk bar as he was passing. It was just closing.
He walked into the house. His mother was sitting at the kitchen table, several papers in front of her. They looked like bills. He put the bread and milk on the bench and sat down next to her.
“Sorry Mum,” he said.
“It’s ok,” she said quietly.
Her face was tired and drawn.
“Bills?” He pointed at the papers.
She said tiredly, “Nothing for you to worry about,”
He pulled his winnings out of his pocket, laid it on the table, and with a broad smile, said, “Will this help?”
Wide eyed, she looked at him, and said, “Did you rob a bank?”
So he told her all about his evening, his winnings, his new job prospect and his $100 reward. All because he had just been an accidental hero.
Caleb threw back the blankets and searched for his slippers with his feet. They weren’t there. He normally left them next to the bed because that’s what he wore, the last thing at night before he retired. Obviously not last night. He needed to pee, so he didn’t have time to look for them. After he finished, he looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. Not particularly impressed with what he saw, which was not unusual, he ran a hand through his increasingly sparse greying hair which was sticking up everywhere. His equally grey eyebrows were becoming alarmingly tufty. And was that hair sticking out of his nose? Hadn’t he only just trimmed them a few weeks ago? He was only sixty. What was going on? Premature ageing? Or was this just what was supposed to happen.
But the forgetting stuff, like his slippers, that was the most concerning. Over the last week alone, he recalled misplacing a number of items. That was all he remembered. Not what he’d misplaced or where just that he had. He sighed. At least he didn’t have someone constantly nagging him for his forgetfulness. Maggie had long since departed, but her reasons for leaving were simply that she was tired of living with such a boring do nothing dullard.
He wandered barefoot into the kitchen and put the kettle on for his usual morning cuppa. Normally, the matching canisters containing teabags, coffee and sugar were lined up next to the kettle, but the one with teabags was missing. Now, where could he have put it? He looked around but couldn’t see it anywhere. He opened the pantry, cast his eyes over the shelves, but there was no sign of the missing canister. He sighed in frustration. Was this just another sign of his increasing memory loss? The kettle boiled. He’d have to settle for coffee, but he liked to heat the milk in the microwave first.
He opened the fridge. The teabag canister was sitting on the middle shelf. He simply stared at it. He had no recollection of putting it there. Shaking his head, he retrieved it.
A short while later, with a mug of tea in hand, he was sitting on a chair in the lounge. He turned on the television, his Saturday routine, to watch the news. He never turned it on during the week, preferring to get ready for work without its distraction. But it was never good news. This morning was no exception, so after a few moments, he abruptly turned it off.
That was a first. He generally sat there, apathetically watching. He sipped his tea and mulled over in his mind what he was going to do that morning.
First look for his slippers. They had to be somewhere. He cast his mind back. When was the last time he’d worn them? Frustratingly, he couldn’t remember. He finished his tea, He had planned to go somewhere this morning. He’d read something in the community newspaper early in the week. Now, what was it? Oh yes, it was an art exhibition by locals in the nearby community hall. His friend Angie had several paintings on show. He had told her he was going to drop in and have a look. He grimaced slightly. In his opinion, Angie was no artist. She called herself an abstract painter. Trying to make sense of her paintings drove him to distraction. She had told him they weren’t supposed to make sense, she was expressing her inner soul, whatever that meant. It looked like a very tormented one to him. But what did he know? He didn’t have an artistic bone in his body.
He got to his feet. He’d hunt for his slippers. They had to be somewhere. But 30 minutes later, no luck. So he had his morning shower. When he finished, he looked for his nose hair clippers to deal with the hair he could see sticking out of his nose. Once again, something else he’d mislaid. He couldn’t find them anywhere. He gave a groan of despair.
He really was losing his mind.
He dressed and went to the kitchen to have his usual Saturday breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast, and coffee. He only had it on Saturday. The rest of the week was cereal and tea. He opened the fridge. To his dismay, he had no eggs. He’d forgotten to buy any. He remembered using the last ones last weekend. So he at least remembered that, he just hadn’t gotten any more. Annoyed with himself, he decided to treat himself, which he did from time to time. He’d go out for breakfast, then go to the art exhibition. And on the way home, buy some eggs. Maybe it would be a good idea to check whatever else he needed although his usual shopping night was Friday, on his way home from work. He probably didn’t need anything, but he’d forgotten the eggs, hadn’t he.
A short while later, keys in hand, he opened the back door on his way to the garage.
He stumbled and almost fell over his slippers. They were sitting on the mat. He recovered his balance, then snorted in remembrance. He had worn them last night when he’d gone out and deposited some rubbish in the bin. It had rained, he’d gotten some mud on them so he’d left them there rather than track mud inside.
He opened the side door of the garage and got into his car. As he pressed the button on his key fob to open the garage door, he reflected that at least he’d remembered where his car keys were, he had his wallet, and he just recalled where he’d left his nose hair clippers. So perhaps not so absentminded after all. He backed down the driveway and watched the garage door close. He turned into the street and set off for the nearby coffee shop which served a very nice breakfast. A sudden realisation hit him. He sighed, then pulled over. He needed to turn around. He was going the wrong way. His previous thoughts about his absent-mindedness might have been a bit premature. Damn.
Oh well, once he had his breakfast, he might forget where he was going afterwards and miss seeing Angie’s atrocious works of art. Maybe there were some positives to being absent in mind.
Shelby Marriott strode up the street. The wind was quite cold. He was glad to be wearing his Burberry coat. It kept the cold out. His driver had dropped him several blocks from his hotel. He needed the walk and the fresh air. Eight hours cooped up in an office with back to back meetings needed some release. Especially as some had involved heated disagreements that had taken all his negotiating skills to navigate. It was getting dark, the sunset early this time of the year. He walked past a figure huddled on the steps of a closed office building. It was a man. He was dressed in shabby clothes, had no jacket, and was shivering. He stopped, turned back, pulled out his wallet, and put two fifty dollar notes in his coat pocket. He stripped off the coat and draped it around the man who looked up at him in surprise. Shelby patted him on the shoulder and said, “There’s some money in the pocket. Get yourself something to eat,” and walked on.
The Palace hotel was only a block further on. He hurried up the steps. A bus had just pulled in. Three lines of people stood at the the reception desk. The three staff members were flat out checking everyone in. Shelby walked past everyone in one of the queues and caught the receptionist’s eye. She gave him an impish grin, and turned from the woman she was serving, found a key card in a rack and handed it to him. He smiled at her and headed off.
“Hey! What the hell? I was here first!” the woman erupted. “Sorry, Ma’am, the gentleman just wanted his keycard.” “Not the point! You should have finished serving me first.” The girl looked at her quizzically, and asked, “So what do you want me to do?” “Finish booking me in, then I want to see the manager!” The woman had a distinct American accent, and was rather loud. “Are you freaking kidding me? We’ve been standing here as long as you. You’ve held us up longer than that feller did!” The man standing behind was becoming quite irate. “I don’t care!” the woman said stubbornly. “He got served ahead of me and he shouldn’t have.” “Ma’am, I think you should know, that gentleman was the owner of this hotel. If he was made aware of your behaviour, he might ask you to leave. That’s his right,” the girl said. The woman was silent. The receptionist handed her her keycard and she marched off.
The man behind her stepped up and said, “ She’s been a pain in the butt since our trip started. Can you really get her kicked out? We’d all appreciate it.” The girl smiled and shook her head, leaned forward and whispered, “He’s not really the owner, just a frequent guest.” The man burst out laughing. “The best thing I heard all trip!”
Upstairs, Shelby had a shower, then decided to go down and have something to eat. The restaurant wasn’t full. He found a corner table and ordered a glass of white wine while he perused the menu. He’d been there often and ordered the Chef’s special, which was always good. After a very satisfying meal, he went back to his room. Some emails needed to be answered, then he would have an early night. It was a little later that the phone rang. The girl at reception informed him that the police had arrived, and wished to speak to him. “Oh. They’ve finally caught up with me have they?” he remarked. Flustered, she said, “What should I tell them?” “Send them up,” he responded cheerfully. “I’m ready to turn myself in.” “Alright,” she said uncertainly.
Five minutes later, there was a discreet knock on the door. He opened it. Two people stood outside, a man and a woman. The woman introduced herself as detective sergeant Ashley Manners, the man as detective John Kopetnik. Both showed him their warrant cards. He invited them inside. Ashley Manners looked around the room appreciatively. It was a spacious suite with expensive furnishings and comfortable chairs and a sofa. They sat down. “So,” Shelby began, “ How can I help you?” The woman looked at him. He was tall, trim, with short black hair, not particularly good looking, she thought, but she felt he had something. He also had a dimple in his chin.
“We arrested a man earlier tonight. He was causing a disturbance in a restaurant just down the street. Apparently, the staff were familiar with him, they knew he was homeless, often found him scrounging food out of the dumpster. He insisted he could pay, they didn’t believe him, they tried to eject him, and he hit one of the male staff. They were about to call us, but we happened to be in the restaurant having dinner. We took him into custody, and when we searched him, he did have a hundred dollars on him, but the coat he was wearing was a very expensive Burberry, and it had a card with your name in an inside pocket.”
“I see,” Shelby said thoughtfully.
“He said you gave it to him, and he saw you go into this hotel. We just needed to verify his story.”
“Of course. Well, it’s true. I gave him the coat and the money.”
“That coat is worth over two grand!” Kopetnik exclaimed. Shelby smiled slightly.
“It’s just a coat, and he was cold.” “So you’re verifying his story?” Manners asked.
“I am,” he asserted.
She got up. “Thank you for your assistance. The restaurant may still wish to press charges.”
“Oh, will they now?”
“Yes, the owner was quite adamant. People like that scare patrons away, he said.”
“I imagine news of a restaurant prosecuting a homeless man wouldn’t do too much for their reputation either,” Shelby remarked.
“I suppose not. I might point that out to him. Thank you for your time, sir.”
“Oh, call me Shelby, please. Will you let me know whether they’re going to proceed with the charge? I might need to have a word.”
She looked at him for a moment and wondered what motivated a man to give away a two thousand dollar coat and defend a homeless man. It would have been interesting to find out.
“I will. Goodbye.” They left. As they descended in the lift, Kopetnik exclaimed, “Wow, what sort of guy does that?”
“A very interesting one,” Manners said thoughtfully.
Shelby lay back on his bed and thought about his two recent guests. Sargeant Manners was quite an attractive woman. Not pretty in the accepted sense of the word, but nicely put together, with short auburn coloured hair and curves in all the right places. She intrigued him. He hoped she would contact him about the homeless man. Of course, she could be happily partnered with no interest in him whatsoever. Hopefully, he’d find out.
There was another knock on the door. Then, it opened. The receptionist who had given him his keycard came in hesitantly.
“Are you alone?”she asked.
“Sadly, yes,” he answered. She closed the door, then walked to the bed.
He sat up and folded her into his arms.
“It’s so nice to see you, uncle Shel,” she said.
“Me too. Pumpkin” He released her. “Still enjoying the job?”
“Love it!” she exclaimed. “Thanks so much for putting in a good word for me.”
“I put in several actually. Threatened to take my custom elsewhere if they didn’t take you on.” She giggled. “I told that lady I was serving that you were the owner when she objected to me giving you your keycard.”
“Well, I’ve been here so often, I should probably have taken shares in the place. Anyway, how’s your mother?”
She pulled a face. “Same old, same old. She complains about everything! No wonder Dad left her. I’m so glad you’re not like her.”
He ruffled her hair affectionately. “Yes, I’m afraid she takes after your grandma.” “Are you going to see Grandma while you’re here, uncle Shel?”
“Probably. Apparently, she’s driving everybody in the nursing home nuts.”
“I can imagine. What about Mum?”
“Honestly? I don’t know if I want to see her. Last time, I got a long lecture about the things I’ve done wrong over my life.”
“I don’t blame you. Best thing I ever did was to move out and share with Bethany. But I know she’s a bit lonely.”
“I’ll think about it, but no promises. So, are you off duty yet?” “No, just popped out for a moment to see my favourite uncle. I’d better get going.” She reached out and hugged him again, then got up and walked to the door.
She blew him a kiss, then left the room. He lay back with a smile. What a lovely girl she’d turned into from the pigtailed little tot he used to take for walks, to the park, and the zoo, and so many other places. How fast they grow up, he thought to himself. But as for her mother, that was another story altogether. He really didn’t want to see her if he could help it, but he probably would. Most of his friends thought he was far too much of a softie, considering he was a highly regarded senior executive for a very prestigious corporation. Wouldn’t they be appalled if they knew what he’d done with his Burberry coat. But it had been a gift from a grateful client. He would never have bought one himself. Speaking of which, he wondered what had happened to the homeless man. Just as the thought occurred, his phone rang. He didn’t recognise the number.
“Hello, Shelby Marriott.”
“Mr Marriott, this is sergeant Manners.”
“Hello, sergeant, nice to hear from you. I thought I told you to call me Shelby, or Shel for short.”
There was silence for a moment, then, “Alright Shelby, I just wanted to tell you I spoke to the restaurant owner and he’s decided not to proceed with charges against Mr Watts.”
“Good to hear. Very sensible. The homeless man’s name’s not Charlie, is it?”
“As a matter of fact, it’s Charles. Why?” She sounded mystified.
Shelby laughed. “Oh sergeant, or can I call you Ashley? Haven’t you heard of Charlie Watts?”
“No, not really.” “Oh dear, there’s something sadly lacking in your musical education, Ashley. Charlie Watts has been the drummer for the Rolling Stones since 1963.”
“Oh. I’m an Eagles and Fleetwood Mac fan myself.” “Not bad. You’ve got some good musical tastes. Now, was there anything else?”
“No. I just wanted to let you know what happened.”
“Why on earth did you give him that expensive coat?” she blurted.
He laughed. “Oh Ashley, it’s just a coat, but if you want to know more, you’ll have to have dinner with me, unless there’s a Mr Manners who might object.”
She didn’t answer for a moment, then she said cautiously, “No, there’s no Mr Manners, or anyone else for that matter.”
“Great!” he said enthusiastically. “Do you want to have dinner here? I can highly recommend the food.”
“Alright,” she agreed. “I’m supposed to finish at five tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow’s fine. About 6.30?or so?”
“Yes.” “Good. Look forward to seeing you.”
“Ok. Goodbye Shelby.”
She was gone. He lay back on the bed again. He had an idiotic smile on his face. He reviewed his day in his head, It had been very interesting. Successfully resolved meetings, helping a homeless man, he’d given away his coat, met his adorable niece, and finally, secured a date with an attractive woman. All in all, a very rewarding day.
“Life’s like a box of chocolates? More like a pile of rubbish,”
Peta looked up from her desk and asked, ”What on earth are you talking about?”
“That Forrest Gump movie quote. It’s a pile of rubbish.”
Peta looked at him with amusement.
“It’s just a movie you know. And why are you referencing it anyway?”
“My mother quoted it at me last night at dinner. ‘You never know what you’re gonna get’ he parodied in a high pitched squeaky voice.
“Very good. You sound just like her.”
“Yeah? Well, I got a pile of rubbish this morning. Derek rejected that programme I worked on all weekend in favour of that idiotic braindead moron Sean’s piece of rubbish!”
“You’re starting to repeat yourself,” she told him.
“But what did you expect. Sean’s his nephew. And his brother’s got a stake in the company, don’t forget.”
“A company that’s going down the toilet if he adopts Sean’s programme..”
“No, it’s not. Derek’s smart enough to modify it so it doesn’t do too much damage. He’ll probably use bits of yours too.”
“Yeah and I’ll get no credit for it,” Ren huffed.
“We are in a mood today, aren’t we?” Peta said.
“Tell auntie Peta what’s really bothering you.”
He looked at her askance.
“You’re the same age as me!”
“But so much wiser and more mature,” she observed.
“Hell,” he muttered.
‘He was really getting very tiresome,’ she thought.
But normally upbeat and quite fun to be around, she knew something was bothering him. She waited and said nothing further.
He sighed, then said abruptly, “I’m going off.”
“You can’t. You just got here,” she protested.
“What will I tell Derek?”
“Tell him I got a severe attack of diarrhoea. My mother’s cooking. It could be true, she’s a terrible cook,” he said, picking up his laptop bag, slinging it over his shoulder and walking out the door.
She watched him go. Derek was going to be pissed, but it wasn’t her problem. Still, she worried about Ren, it was quite unlike him.
Ren strode out of the building. He had no idea where he was going. He just knew he had to get out. They were located on the outskirts of the bustling city and there was a park nearby. He headed for it, passing a coffee vendor on the way. He bought a cappuccino, found a bench and slumped down on it. He stared moodily at his feet while he sipped his coffee. He had no idea why he felt so unsettled and frustrated this particular morning. It was a mild day. There were quite a few people about in the park. Didn’t any of them work? he wondered. He closed his eyes and took another sip of his coffee and tried to marshall his thoughts into some coherence.
He’d worked at the company for two years now. At first, he’d quite enjoyed it. He liked the relaxed atmosphere, and Derek wasn’t a bad bloke. He liked Peta too, a lot, but she had a boyfriend. He still enjoyed the work, but Sean’s arrival had changed the dynamic. It hadn’t bothered him at first, but increasingly, he found himself more and more frustrated. No matter how good he was, Sean would always be the favoured one, only because he was the boss’s nephew. Maybe that was it. All the suppressed frustration had boiled over into this feeling that he felt barely able to contain. So, what was he going to do about it?
He opened his eyes. He was startled to see a tall dark-haired girl sitting on the other end of the bench. She had a laptop on her lap and was engrossed. Her lips were pursed, a frown marred her forehead. Quite attractive, he thought, if you liked them tall and skinny.
Suddenly, she said, “Damn!”
He was amused. Just like him that morning. Everything had been rubbish.
Impulsively, he asked, “Problem?”
She looked around at him and said in a frustrated tone, “It’s frozen,”
“Have you tried rebooting it?” he asked.
“I’m too scared to in case I lose everything,” she said.
“Would you like me to try?”
“Do you know anything about computers?”
“I work for a software company, so, a little bit,” he said.
“Well, if you’re sure, I really can’t afford to lose all this work. I spent all weekend on it.”
“And you haven’t backed it up?”
She shook her head.
He moved to sit next to her. She was wearing a perfume that he quite liked.
She handed the laptop to him.
He looked at it critically while she watched fearfully. It only took him a few minutes.
He handed the laptop back to her.
“There you go,” he said.
“I’ve backed it up as well so you can’t lose it.”
“Thank you so much,” she said.
“You’re a lifesaver,”
She looked at the screen, then closed the lid.
“I really appreciate what you did. It’s so lucky I ran into someone who knew what they were doing.”
He smiled self-deprecatingly.
Impulsively, she said, “Would you allow me to take you to lunch? As a thank you?”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” Ren demurred.
“I’d like to. Please.”
‘You idiot. How often do you get an offer like that?’ a voice in his head asked him.
“Alright. Thank you. I’m Ren,” he said.
“Jasmine. I’ll meet you at the Romano at twelve. You know it?”
He nodded speechlessly. It was the most expensive restaurant in the city.
“Don’t worry,” she laughed.
“On the company expense account.”
She added thoughtfully, “It might be a business lunch. My computer guy just quit. If you’re interested, maybe I can steal you away from where you’re working now.”
Ren stared at her, then nodded.
“Sure, we can talk about it,” he managed.
Jasmine got up.
“See you at twelve,” she said, and strode away.
Ren watched her walk out of sight. She had a very trim behind.
He picked up his coffee and sipped it. It was cold. He put it down again, thoughts swirling around in his head. Then he thought about his mother. He smiled ruefully to himself. He owed her an apology, even if only in his head. He had a few hours to kill before his lunch appointment. Would it be a date or business? He wouldn’t mind if it was both. He wouldn’t go back to work. He’d text Derek, let him know his diarrhoea had laid him low, then go off to visit the art gallery. He hadn’t been there for years.
On the way home later, he’d drop a box of chocolates off at his mother’s. He figured she deserved it.
Jenny bounced into the room, slung her schoolbag onto the couch, and announced, “School’s having a fete on the thirtieth.”
Simon, busy on his phone, didn’t bother to respond. Her mother Sara looked up from the stove where she was stirring bolognese sauce, sighed and said, “That’s next week, I suppose I have to make something.”
“Not if you don’t want to, Mum. I can ask Chantelle.”
Sara bristled. She couldn’t help it. Chantelle was their father’s new girlfriend. She was extremely obliging, irritatingly so, in Sara’s opinion. Trying to win the kids over. Sara, against her will, quite liked her. The divorce had been reasonably amicable. Chantelle was a recent arrival on the scene, and shouldn’t bear the brunt of her sometimes unreasonable hostility, but still. She bit her tongue, and said, “I don’t mind making something, but if you’d rather ask her?”
“Oh Mum, you’re so transparent! Of course, I’d like you to make something. Your cupcakes are fantastic. You can make them.”
Chastened and chuffed at the same time, Sara marvelled at her daughter’s perceptiveness. She was fifteen. She should be totally self-absorbed and completely oblivious to what was going on around her. Like her twin brother.
Simon uncurled himself from his chair.
“Yeah Mum, your cupcakes are the best. Wonder what would happen if you laced them with marijuana. Be interesting, wouldn’t it? I could make it a study project.”
Taken aback, she looked at him for a moment, then said, “Could you get me some?”
She said patiently, “Could you get me some marijuana?”
He looked at her in disbelief.
“Are you serious? Where would I get marijuana?”
She shrugged and said, “It was your idea.”
“Yes, Simon,” Jenny joined in.
“It was your idea. I wouldn’t mind trying some.”
He looked at them both in disgust, shook his head and walked out of the room, leaving them laughing in his wake.
It was the following morning. The kids had gone to school. Jenny, who ran a part-time accounting business from home, decided to take the day off and do some shopping. The divorce from John had left her financially secure, partly she knew because of his guilt. He had been sprung with his attractive nubile young assistant. It was so cliched, really.
‘Middle-aged madness’, he admitted. But things hadn’t been good between them for a long time anyway. And she didn’t ever tell him about her own moment of weakness, well several hours really, with one of her clients, who, fortunately, now lived overseas.
She drove to the nearby shopping mall. New shoes. That’s what she needed, well, wanted. Same thing. As she pulled into a parking space in the underground car park, she was forced to brake hard as a car rapidly reversed out of the adjacent space and took off with a squeal of smoking tyres. She shook her head. He or she, it was hard to tell with the tinted windows, was certainly in a hurry. She parked and got out of the car. On the ground where the other car had been, she saw a small plastic bag. She crouched down and picked it up. It was green and looked like grass clippings. With a start, she realised it must be marijuana.
She straightened and looked into the eyes of a man who had walked up quietly and was now regarding her thoughtfully.
“Oh,” she said, “You startled me.”
“Sorry,” he said, without sounding the least bit apologetic. He was tall, athletic, with black hair and piercing blue eyes, probably about her age, which meant the wrong side of forty.
“What’s that?” pointing to the plastic bag.
“I don’t know,” she answered.
“I just found it on the ground. It must have dropped out of that car that just left.”
He said sharply,” Can you describe it? Did you see the driver?”
“Sorry, but who are you?”
He reached into his pocket and flashed a warrant card.
“Detective Ryan Harris. Now the car and the driver. Did you see him?”
Confused, she shook her head.
“No, it had tinted windows, but was a black BMW.”
He also shook his head, but in frustration, then took a plastic bag out of his pocket, held it open and said.”Would you mind dropping that in there please?”
She obliged. He sealed it and muttered to himself,’ Might get some prints off that.’
To her, he said,”We think that guy’s a dealer. We’ve been following him, but we lost him. We need to get your prints so we can run whatever else is on the bag. Would you mind coming to the station?”
“Unless you have important shopping to do.”
“Yes, very. I need to buy shoes.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“Need to, or want to?”
She said stubbornly,”Need to.”
He smiled unexpectedly. It was a very nice smile. Then said, “I suppose you can do it later. So can I expect you sometime in the next twenty-four hours?”
” Twenty four hours?” she echoed.
“Yes,” he said.
“I’ve been married. I know how long shoe buying takes.”
“I will be over in a few hours,” she said firmly.
“So, who will I be expecting?”
“Sara. Sara Daniher.”
He reached out and shook her hand. It was a nice firm handshake.
“You know where the local police station is?”
“Ok. See you then,” and turned and walked away. He had a very nice walk.
‘Get a grip,’ she told herself. Nice smile, firm handshake, nice walk. It had been far too long, she was starting to lose it. Still, she couldn’t help her mind from wandering. Time to go and buy those shoes.
It was just two hours later. Sara parked in the police station car park and went up the steps and to the reception desk.
“Ryan Harris please,” she said to the absurdly young-looking policewoman behind the desk. She looked Jenny’s age. She went off, and Sara heard, “Ryan, one of your girlfriends is here.”
His reply was indistinct, then he came out. His eyes widened in surprise, then said, “So you didn’t buy any shoes then?”
“Of course I did. Two pairs.”
“In only two hours?”
“I knew what I wanted, so I went and got them.”
The young policewoman came out and looked at them with great interest.
Ryan took her elbow, opened the flap of the desk.
“Come out to the back. We’ll get those fingerprints done.”
The policewoman said,”You need to fingerprint them now to keep track of them?”
“Just ignore her. Young people have no respect for their elders and betters.”
“I’ll give you elder, but I don’t know about the better.” she called out to their retreating backs.
Sara suppressed a smile. Definitely like Jenny. He seated her at his desk, which was in a large room containing a number of desks, some unoccupied, others with staff busily working at laptops, iPads or on phones. After a few curious glances, they were ignored. After he had taken her fingerprints, and given her wipes to clean her fingers, she asked, “Did you get anything from the bag?”
“This isn’t CSI, things don’t get done in an hour including ads. It’ll be done when they get around to it. Could be days, could be weeks.”
“Sorry, got work to do. Thanks for coming in so promptly. I’ll see you out.”
Oddly disappointed, she followed him out of the room. He raised the flap of the desk, then followed her outside, watched with avid interest by the young policewoman.
“I’ll walk you to your car.”
They walked in silence. She got in the car, wound down the window, and said,” I don’t suppose it’s any good asking you to let me know how you get on with your drug dealer?”
He leaned down.
“Why would you be interested?”
‘I’m not, I’m interested in you’, she thought silently.
Aloud she said, “I have to make some cupcakes for a school fete. My son suggested I try lacing them with marijuana, you know, so he can study how it affects people? I may need a contact.”
He looked at her for a long moment, shook his head slightly, then said, “I have an idea that sort of thing is illegal. It looks like I might have to keep a close eye on you, Sara Daniher. You don’t have an inconvenient husband around do you?”
Mutely, she shook her head.
“Good,” he said briskly.
He reached in and gently touched her cheek.
“I’ll be in touch.”
He strode away. She watched him walk up the steps and disappear into the building. Yes, he definitely had a nice walk. She drove away slowly. She realised he hadn’t asked for her phone number, but he was a detective, he’d track her down if he really wanted to. She fervently hoped he did.
Back home, she made herself a salad for lunch, then settled down to finish work she had started for a client. But her mind kept wandering, and she had to force herself to concentrate. It had been a long time since anyone had sparked her interest, and she had to admit, she was definitely attracted to Ryan. A man she had known all of an hour if that.
The doorbell went. It was too early to be one of the kids who had forgotten their key, which happened frequently. She opened the door. It was Celie, whom she had met when she started doing yoga classes. She was Mauritian, a tiny woman, barely five feet, around sixty, but who looked forty, something Sara was extremely envious of. The two women had formed an instant bond and met regularly. They hugged briefly, then Sara led her to the kitchen and immediately put the kettle on for Celie’s jasmine tea, which was the only tea she drank.
Soon, she was telling her all about Ryan.
“You are attracted to this man after only knowing him for less than an hour?” she asked in her lilting, almost singsong voice.
“Well, I hope you know what you are doing,” she said, concern in her voice.
Celie was married to Roger, who, at six foot, towered over her and absolutely adored her. He called her his little Mauritian princess. Sara found him pompous and overbearing but tolerated him because he was so obviously besotted with Celie. She could twist him around her little finger. She didn’t love him, she confided once when she had more than one glass of wine, but she had escaped from an abusive relationship and was content with her life.
The slamming of the front door heralded the arrival of one of the twins. Jenny charged into the room.
“Auntie Celie!” she cried and rushed to hug her. She had insisted on calling her ‘auntie’, Sara having no siblings, and her father, only brothers. Soon, they were chatting away, and Sara left them to it and tried to finalise her client’s account. But her mind kept wandering. She made a determined effort, and finally managed to finish it. By this time, Simon had arrived, and the discussion turned to dinner. Roger was at a conference so wouldn’t be home till late, so Celie was pressured into staying, and what’s more, volunteered to cook, much to everyone’s delight. Simon was dispatched to the local supermarket to buy the ingredients required.
Much later, after a delicious cari poule(chicken curry) meal, the kids had gone, not to bed, it was pretty much a waste of time trying to get them to do that, but to their rooms.
Celie said,”Roger wants to go on a cruise.”
“Really? Where to?”
“Probably a river cruise, you know, from Amsterdam to Budapest. Something like that.”
“How exciting for you.”
Celia pulled a face.
“I do not like boats.”
“You’ll love it. Go, it’ll be a great experience.”
Celie got to her feet.
“I will think about it. I must go.”
Sara rose and hugged her friend.
“Thanks for dinner tonight. The kids thought it was wonderful.”
After Celie had left, Sara sat down, turned on the television and sat watching without registering what was on. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have someone take her on a cruise. Her mind turned to Ryan. She wondered if he liked cruising. Probably not. He looked the kind who would want to be out sailing his own yacht or something. Why was she even thinking about him? She might never hear from him again. She knew absolutely nothing about him. He might have a girlfriend or even a string of them. What had that ridiculously young-looking policewoman said? She tried to steer her thoughts in a different direction.
The problem was that she suddenly realised she was lonely. There had been no one since John left. It hadn’t bothered her till now. And she didn’t think she could live like Celie, with someone she didn’t love, but then her circumstances were different. This was getting her nowhere, so she switched off the unwatched tv and went to bed. And tossed and turned all night. It was ridiculous. Ryan kept marching through her mind. Eventually, she fell into a fitful sleep.
The days passed. To her increasing angst and frustration, she did not hear from Ryan. It troubled her how profoundly it affected her. She felt cranky and out of sorts. The kids noticed and warily steered clear of her. Until Jenny demanded to know what was wrong with her. Caught by surprise, she knew she couldn’t tell her the truth, that she was mooning over a man she had known for less than an hour, like a lovesick teenager. But Jenny was a teenager, maybe she would’ve understood. Or maybe not. She prevaricated and said she was stressed about a difficult client. But it did serve as a wake-up call. It wasn’t to be. She made a determined effort to put Ryan out of her mind.
The day of the fete dawned. She had made the requested cupcakes, two dozen in all. Jenny had taken them the day before. It being a Saturday, she decided to go along. Jenny was helping out at one of the stalls. Simon declared he wouldn’t be seen dead at a fete and went to a mate’s house to play video games. The day was cloudy and overcast, and rain threatened. Sara arrived later in the morning and noticed the weather had not deterred the throngs of people who turned up. She didn’t see Jenny anywhere but noticed with pleasure that only one of her cupcakes was left when she wandered past the cake stall. She threaded her way through the crowds, occasionally exchanging greetings and chatting with parents whom she knew. She decided she needed coffee and headed for a van she had seen parked nearby.
An arm slid through hers. It was Jenny.
“Hi Darling, Didn’t see you. Where’s your stall?”
She waved her hand in the air.
“That way somewhere, but I’ve done my bit. I’m off to hang out with Lee. Oh, your cupcakes were a hit. They’re all gone. I snagged the last one. See ya!”
With that, she was gone. She smiled to herself and continued on to the coffee van. And stopped in her tracks. Ahead, in the queue waiting to order, was Ryan. Next to him, holding his arm, was a stunningly attractive blonde woman. Holding his hand, bouncing up and down, was a little blonde girl. Her heart sank into her shoes. No wonder he hadn’t contacted her. He was married! She turned away and walked blindly in the opposite direction. She narrowly avoided bumping into people but didn’t stop until, near the school office, she sank down on a bench near the front of the building. She found she was shaking. What an idiot. And how could she possibly have thought he would be interested in a middle-aged woman like her. Thoughts swirled through her head. Hadn’t he said he’d been married? Past tense. Maybe it was his ex-wife. It didn’t seem like it. And the flippant remarks by the young policewoman? She felt confused. Be that as it may, he hadn’t contacted her anyway. Again she berated herself for being such an idiot. She buttoned her jacket. It was getting cold. The threatened rain was probably on its way. But she found she couldn’t move.
People started walking past on their way to the car park. She was staring at the ground and was caught unaware when a voice said,
“Sara? Sara Daniher?”
She looked up and into Ryan’s eyes. He stood in front of her with his blonde companion and the little girl, both looking at her curiously.
“You go, guys. I’ll catch up.”
“Who’s the lady, uncle Ryan?” the little girl piped up.
“Come along Maddy. See you at the car Ryan.”
The woman dragged the protesting little girl away. Through the roaring in her ears, all Sara registered was, ‘Uncle. Uncle Ryan.’
She tried to pull herself together. He sat down next to her.
“Hello,” she managed through chattering teeth.
“Why are you sitting here in the cold?” he asked.
“Waiting for my daughter,”she lied.
He looked at her sceptically, then said,”Sorry I haven’t been in touch. We’ve been planning a sting operation and I had to go undercover for a while. Couldn’t contact anyone. I only got back last night and my sister dragged me to this fete this morning.”
She looked at him.
“And how it did go?”
“It was a bust. A complete fizzer. They were onto us. They got away. But we got their stash. About five acres of marijuana. I thought about getting you some for your cupcakes, but I didn’t think I’d get away with it. By the way, if those were your cupcakes at the cake stall, Maddie and I thought they were delicious. Stella didn’t have any, watching her figure.”
“She’s very beautiful,” Sara ventured.
“Only on the outside. She’s got a vile temper. Takes after our mother.”
He got to his feet.
“Gotta take the witch home, then I’ve done my duty. So, Sara Daniher, doing anything tonight?”
She opened her mouth, but nothing came out, so she mutely shook her head.
“Good, want to have dinner? I’ll pick you up at about seven.”
She found her voice.
“Do you know where I live?”
“I’m a detective. I detect. So, yes, I know where you live. See you tonight.”
He reached out and gently touched her cold cheek, then swiftly walked away. She watched him. He still had a nice walk. She sat for a while, no longer feeling the cold. Then she got to her feet and slowly walked to the car park, her thoughts racing ahead. What was she going to wear, something to go with her new shoes perhaps.
What would the kids say when they met him? After all, she hadn’t dated in all the years she’d been divorced. It was new but exciting. She quickened her pace. What a bizarre coincidence running into him at the fete. Perhaps it was meant to be. She laughed to herself. That’s what it was, a twist of fete.
The car took the corner on two wheels, leaving smoke in its wake. It flashed past a minivan driven by a nun. She instinctively braked, her little vehicle sliding sideways, ending up among the rose bushes in the front yard of a startled elderly lady gardener.
The car careered down the street and sped past a police car, which instantly turned on sirens and lights and took off in pursuit. The car weaved its way through the early morning traffic, slowed as it came to an intersection, allowing the police car to catch up, turned on its right turn signal, then abruptly turned left. The police car, about to turn right, skidded across the intersection and crashed into an inconveniently parked garbage truck. The car continued on its merry way, passing trucks and cars as if they were standing still.
Alarmed police called for air support and a helicopter was soon in the air. It picked up the car as it turned onto the freeway and shadowed it as it turned north, passing traffic at around two hundred kilometres an hour. Startled motorists were immediately on their phones, and two television station helicopters joined the chase in short order. They were instructed to keep a safe distance from the police chopper but were soon streaming live coverage to thousands of avid television and other media watchers. Meanwhile, authorities were trying to establish where the car had come from and why it was travelling at such speed. Nobody seemed to know. It just appeared. Ahead of the car, more police vehicles entered the freeway and were travelling in a convoy. Alerted by the helicopter of the car’s approach, they travelled abreast along the road blocking its path. The car did not slow. Fearing a rear-end crash, one police car slowed. The car flashed through the gap, police cars in pursuit.
The car had heavily tinted windows, including, unusually, the front windscreen so it was impossible to see the driver. Also, it was an unrecognisable make, and it was a shimmery colour, quite hard to describe. Some television and radio callers claimed have seen the car earlier in the day. It had been motoring through the suburbs at normal speeds. It had drawn attention because of its shimmery colour and tinted windscreen. One caller claimed that the car had sped up when it passed a church and a hearse had emerged and come up behind it. Whether there was any reason to believe this had any bearing on subsequent events was impossible to know.
Meanwhile, the car continued on its way up the freeway, destination unknown. The police helicopter kept up its aerial pursuit, the police in their cars a discreet distance behind it. A hundred-kilometre stretch lay ahead. A convoy of trucks entered the freeway and was deployed to travel three abreast on the three-lane freeway. A much more formidable obstacle than the police cars. The car approached, still travelling at over two hundred kilometres an hour. The trucks slowed, still side by side. The car reached the rear of the right-hand side truck, unbelievably tilted on two side wheels and shot past the trucks. It bounced back on four wheels and continued on up the freeway.
The media helicopters excitedly relayed the vision back to an increasing audience. The police helicopter had to call off its pursuit to refuel. The media helicopters keep authorities abreast of the car’s progress. More on the road police vehicles joined the chase. As best they could, police tried to clear traffic ahead to avoid a major catastrophe.
By now, the pursuit had been on for about three hours. Trailed by the police convoy, the car sped on. Then an off-ramp appeared, curving sharply to the left onto a bridge crossing a wide fast-flowing river. Without slowing, the car took the off-ramp and flew onto the bridge. Luckily, there was no oncoming traffic as it bounced onto the wrong side of the road. It hit the railing and burst through it. It plummeted over the edge and cartwheeled down into the river, hitting the water with an almighty splash, every second recorded by the media helicopters. It sank swiftly and disappeared from view, presumably being washed downstream by the fast-flowing waters. The helicopters hovered low but could see nothing. Squads of police cars pulled up on the bridge, but apart from the broken and twisted railing, there was nothing to see.
A protracted and intense search of the river found no trace of the car or its occupants. The media coverage was intense. The speculation, discussion, and wild theories went on for weeks. But gradually and inevitably, it faded, to replaced by other news. However, the strange appearance and equally baffling disappearance of the car remains an unsolved mystery to this day.