Don’t Be A Mug.

This is going on my blog so I have a public record of the interaction with this utter clown, who has once or twice come around to pull a few weeds (at an exorbitant sum, I might add, for the amount of work done.) RSI, and a degree of osteo-arthritis, have prevented me from doing this for myself recently.

This total weapon has occasionally contacted me to ask for money (for no reason) and to request an increase of the amount upon which we’d agreed. Since it was lockdown, I have done my best to accommodate, thinking perhaps I was doing a local bloke a favour. (Anyone who knows me knows how much I’ve struggled with money, so I understand desperation for essentials.) All I was doing, it turns out, is setting myself up as a mug. Transcript of chat follows, which proves that point quite nicely.

Lesson learned.

The ‘fun’ starts on May 9th, earlier comments are left, for context.

I’ve impressed myself by the length of time, and level of frustration, it took me to get sweary and sarky. Knowing myself as well as I do, I think I deserve public recognition for this!

Rowdy sent 28 March

Hi Terri hows your day going I was just wondering did you want the side done of garden for 15 pounds need get some money for electric sorry be pain could cut you little bit of grass out front aswell if helps

You sent 28 March

Sorry, but I can’t afford any more. And the landlord does the front grass regularly. Sorry I can’t help, but I’m struggling myself right now.

Rowdy sent 28 March

It’s okay could you possibly lend 2 pounds at all please Terri? If you could please can you transfer to bank would be really appreciated if you could thankyou

You sent 28 March

I‘m sorry, I struggled to find the extra fiver for you yesterday. Please don’t keep asking.

Rowdy sent 19 April

Hi would you like the garden done today can do the hedge aswell if needed and was you every looking at paint your fence at the back

You sent 19 April

No, thanks, I don’t get paid for a while. The fence belongs to next door, and the landlord does everything except the stony bit and the yard. I’ll give you a shout if / when I’m ready again, and see if you’re free, but cheers for getting in touch anyway.

25 Apr 2021, 11:58

Rowdy sent 25 April

Hi terri would you like the garden done de weeding

You sent 25 April

Not yet, thanks

Rowdy sent 25 April

Okay

9 May 2021, 17:39

Rowdy sent 9 May

Hi there terri I’m around this week would you like the back and side de weeded

You sent 9 May

Yes please. Will you do it for 30? It’s not too bad at the minute.

Rowdy sent 9 May

Yes no problem I can do it today if that’s okay as I’m really struggling for money or could you do what you done last time please transfer the money to my partners account and I will be there first thing in morning after school run please would be so much appreciated

Rowdy sent 9 May

You know I will turn up for the job aswell only live on montacute myself so not far terri could i send you the bank details to transfer the 30 pound if possible

You sent 9 May

Either way is fine by me, I’m working from home next week anyway. Send over the details and I’ll transfer it tonight either way.

Rowdy sent 9 May

Miss — sort code —- acc ——- thankyou ever so much really appreciate it could you do £40 please and I will do a spot on job and get a bottle of weed killer to go over afterwards aswell if that’s fine by you , can you let me know when you yhave done it please terri thanks once again

You sent 9 May

OK, it’s done. 40. You will need to bring a brush, as I don’t have one up to the job

Rowdy sent 9 May

Yeah I remember haha il bring a brush thankyou terri have to transferred the money yeah ?

You sent 9 May

Yes, as I said above.

Rowdy sent 9 May

Okay thankyou

10 May 2021, 09:27

You sent 10 May

Hi. Could you let me know what time you’ll be over, please?

Rowdy sent 10 May

Hi terri I will be over some time around 2pm if that’s okay with you was there anything else you needed doing at all

You sent 10 May

No, thanks. But you did say first thing after the school run

Rowdy sent 10 May

I know sorry had something come up ,

10 May 2021, 15:08

You sent 10 May

are you still coming today?

Rowdy sent 10 May

I’m just doing the school run then il be with you maybe in the morning but will be there to do the job 100 percent

You sent 10 May

Tomorrow’s not convenient I’m afraid. Can you do it today, since I’ve paid already?

Rowdy sent 10 May

I had something cone up this morning so I’ve been busy most the day I’m sorry for the inconvenience I will try get to you this evening

You sent 10 May

ok, thanks

10 May 2021, 21:32

You sent 10 May

How early tomorrow can you come over? I rearranged plans twice today, and it has to be first thing tomorrow as I can’t rearrange again.

10 May 2021, 22:48

Rowdy sent 10 May

Will be around 10am

11 May 2021, 10:38

You sent 11 May

I have plans, as I said, so please have the courtesy to let me know what’s going on? I told you today wasn’t convenient, and that it had to be early today. I feel you’re taking me for a mug because I was good enough to pay you up front. Please confirm you’re not going to mess me about any further.

11 May 2021, 11:03

You sent 11 May

My plans do not involve going out, but I will not be able to answer the door to you.

Rowdy sent 11 May

That’s fine I can just get on with the work

You sent 11 May

When will it be?

Rowdy sent 11 May

I’m not going to mess you around terri I’m just trying to sort few things out I van come and do the work without interrupting you no problem will be in a hour or so will co e to do the job

You sent 11 May

Okay. If it’s going to be any later though, could you let me know this time? It’s only polite.

Rowdy sent 11 May

Yes course I can

You sent 11 May

11 May 2021, 20:31

You sent 11 May

Been waiting all day for an update as promised. You said you wouldn’t mess me about but that’s exactly what you’re doing. Pretty shoddy behaviour, to be honest. It only takes a few seconds to send a DM.

Rowdy sent 11 May

So sorry had alot going on my daughter ain’t well been up hospital I will get to you I promise

You sent 11 May

Sorry to hear about your daughter. You can understand my frustration I hope, when I hear nothing and have no idea whether I’ve thrown away money I can’t afford.

13 May 2021, 08:50

You sent 13 May

Hi. I hope your daughter is okay. I’ve waited, out of respect and courtesy, but now I feel I should ask for a refund if you can’t give even keep me updated with a day and time when I can expect the work to be done. So could you do that please, at least?

13 May 2021, 14:35

Rowdy sent 13 May

I will be you on the weekend due to weather being horrible I will get the job done I’m sorry for letting you down

You sent 13 May

It’s okay, all I wanted was some communication. The weekend will be fine thanks.

Rowdy sent 13 May

No problem see you then

18 May 2021, 12:40

Rowdy sent 18 May at 12:40

Soon as weather clears will be down to do the garden for sorry for the inconvenience

You sent 18 May at 12:46

OK. I appreciate it’s tough finding a dry half hour at the moment! So unpredictable.

19 May 2021, 13:00

You sent 19 May at 13:00

apparently weather is going to be bad again from tomorrow. If you come over I won’t be able to answer the door to you as I’m working from home

19 May 2021, 16:12

Rowdy sent 19 May at 16:12

Yeah that’s no problem il will see you tomorrow or maybe Friday

You sent 19 May at 16:13

ok, but you’ll probably have missed the decent weather window by the end of today.

Rowdy sent 19 May at 16:14

Ok

22 May 2021, 11:43

You sent 22 May at 11:43

Any chance of today, before it rains again?

Rowdy sent 22 May at 11:57

I’m working today can do it tomoz

You sent 22 May at 11:58

ok

26 May 2021, 11:19

You sent 26 May at 11:19

Weather is currently clear. When can I expect this work to be done?

27 May 2021, 09:22

You sent 27 May at 09:22

Another good day – I really this to be done now, so if you can’t do it I’m going to have to start asking for a return of my money so I can get someone else to do it. The longer it’s left, the more of a job it’s becoming with all this rain and sun.

Rowdy sent 27 May at 09:32

Il be round later today day off work so can get round to do it

You sent 27 May at 09:32

Thank you. I’m working from home, so won’t be able to come to the door, as before.

27 May 2021, 15:51

Rowdy sent 27 May at 15:51

It’s okay no worries

27 May 2021, 18:34

You sent 27 May at 18:34

What time will you be over?

Rowdy sent 27 May at 18:36

Hour maybe morning 9am

28 May 2021, 09:50

You sent 28 May at 09:50

?

28 May 2021, 11:09

You sent 28 May at 11:09

I don’t want this dragging into another weekend – it’s nearly 3 weeks since I paid you. I’m not well off, I can’t afford to throw my money away.

28 May 2021, 11:36

Rowdy sent 28 May at 11:36

I will be round to do it monday if not will give you the 40 pound back I’m tied up working at the moment been called into work on my day off

31 May 2021, 09:24

You sent 31 May at 09:24

Good morning. Will you be around today, or will you transfer the money back into my account? (or put it through my door, I’m not bothered which.) It will be light until around 10 (again) and it’s an hour’s work at most, so I hope you can fit it in.

31 May 2021, 12:43

Rowdy sent 31 May at 12:43

31 May 2021, 16:12

You sent 31 May at 16:12

That doesn’t tell me what your intention is, and you put it 3 1/2 hours ago – please let me know.

31 May 2021, 21:02

You sent 31 May at 21:02

OK. I’ll expect a refund then. Contact me tomorrow, to let me know how my money will be paid back by weds latest. Perhaps you haven’t seen my messages today? No problem, I’ll post to you in public on the Honicknowle page, just in case.

1 Jun 2021, 20:13

You sent 1 June at 20:13

I’m still waiting. I’d like the money back tomorrow please, I have this whole conversation thread ready to share in case anyone thinks I’m being unreasonable. I have been patience itself, and you have taken me for a soft touch and a fool. I do not appreciate that, but at least you’ve taught me a valuable lesson in trust, and human nature.

1 Jun 2021, 20:45

Rowdy sent 1 June at 20:45

I’m sorry I dont have time to reply straight away to your messages but it’s called working and hhavent got time when in a kitchen working I will refund you the money tomorrow not a problem ..

You sent 1 June at 20:49

I understand working, I have 3 jobs. You were always quick enough to respond if you needed money, or wanted to increase the agreed payment, and I have given you at least a day before chasing.

Rowdy sent 1 June at 20:49

Yeah it’s fine will message when on way

You sent 1 June at 20:51

Thank you.

2 Jun 2021, 19:01

You sent 2 June at 19:01

In case you find it easier: acct no: —– sort code: —–. T. Nixon I’m at work all week.

4 Jun 2021, 12:28

You sent 4 June at 12:28

Again, out of courtesy I have left it a couple of days – but until I get the refund from you I can’t afford to ask anyone else to do this work. I don’t know if you think I’m made of money, but I’m struggling as much as anyone. So I’m going to ask again, please refund the money by the end of today, or do the job today for which I paid you almost a month ago. Many thanks.

5 Jun 2021, 13:18

You sent 5 June at 13:18

I’m going public with this if I don’t hear from you by the end of today – you seem to think that because I was good enough to pay you in advance, I must be rolling in it. If you’d prefer to do the work, just come and do it, no hard feelings. But if you keep messing me about I’m going to have to think very hard about what to do next.

Rowdy sent 5 June at 13:20

Yes that’s understandable I have tuesday off next I cant do much when I’m working early hours till late in evening I’m a chef so long hours I will be there tuesday without fail nd if I dont public it the convo I dont mind I didnt mean for this ti happen I’m sorry for the inconvenience tuesday 100 percent okay

You sent 5 June at 13:27

I don’t want to wreck any chance of work you might want with someone else, which is why I haven’t gone public already. I’m just getting so frustrated and upset with it all. It’s a mess there now, and my landlord is giving me grief over it. Tuesday will be okay, but PLEASE don’t let me down again. Weather looks good that day.

Tues 11:35

You sent 8 June at 11:35

What time today, please?

Tues 12:53

Rowdy sent 8 June at 12:53

4 maybe 5

You sent 8 June at 12:54

ok, cheers

Tues 19:18

You sent 8 June at 19:18

Wow. Give you an inch, you really take a mile and keep running, don’t you? You must be laughing your socks off at how pathetic I am to keep giving you chances. You’d be surprised how wrong you arre though. If you aren’t here in an hour I’d better see that money in my account tomorrow morning.

Tues 19:51

Rowdy sent 8 June at 19:51

The money will be in your account tomorrow I’ve had stuff to deal with and havent had time to reply sorry il forget the job and just pay you back as cant do right

You sent 8 June at 20:04

Fine

Tues 21:53

You sent 8 June at 21:53

Just remember YOU came to ME for this work, and begged me to pay you up front. I’m fucking livid. If you’d been truthful from the start I could have paid someone reliable, but a month of you pissing me about has turned the place into a right mess.I’ll be checking my account first thing.

Wed 11:17

You sent 9 June at 11:17

Just checked my account. Imagine my surprise… 🙄

Rowdy sent 9 June at 11:18

Send me details will do it soon as I’m home

You sent 9 June at 11:18

They’re further up the chat

You sent 9 June at 11:19

In case you find it easier: acct no: —- sort code:—— T. Nixon

Rowdy sent 9 June at 11:19

Okay think I delete the message

You sent 9 June at 11:19

ok

Rowdy sent 9 June at 11:19

Thurs 10:40

You sent 10 June at 10:40

Still waiting. Please pay, so we can forget each other exists.

Thurs 12:46

Rowdy sent 10 June at 12:46

Yes we will I get paid tomorrow so no problem

Fri 18:17

You sent Yesterday at 18:17

Waiting… and broke

08:47

You sent Today at 08:47

Still waiting. I’m just going to keep bugging you until you either pay up, or I take this to small claims (and get you to pay the costs for that, too) I know you’ve seen my previous message.

14:27

You sent Today at 14:27

If this is pissing you off, you know what to do.

14:51

Rowdy sent Today at 14:51

Yes pay you when I have a day off as havent got online banking and dont get home till 1pm every night

You sent Today at 14:52

Give me a day and time then, and I’ll stop bugging you.

Rowdy sent Today at 14:56

Friday 2pn

You sent Today at 15:00

Fuck’s sake. Another week? I should be charging you interest on this. Right, if I don’t get it by then I’m taking this further.

As it was paid into your girlfriend’s account, why not repay it the same way? Meantime this is going on my blog so I have a public record of it for when it goes to court.

12 Jun 2021, 16:01

You sent 12 June at 16:01

15 Jun 2021, 07:45

You sent 15 June at 07:45

I’m going to try to recover the money from my bank, using this conversation as evidence you have not provided the service for which you’ve been paid.

Rowdy sent 15 June at 07:45

I know I said I’d stop bugging you, but…. something’s come up and I can’t do that after all.

I’ll stop bugging you tomorrow at 11 am. Promise. (?)

You sent 15 June at 07:45

You sent 15 June at 07:46

Or maybe Friday.

Wed 17:50

You sent 16 June at 17:50

Your mid-week reminder…

Rowdy sent 16 June at 17:52

Yes i know thankyou 40 friday

Fri 15:18

You sent 18 June at 15:18

It’s 3:20… still waiting.

Sat 06:56

You sent 19 June at 06:56

Waiting

Sat 11:07

You sent 19 June at 11:07

Waiting

Sat 11:53

You sent 19 June at 11:53

Waiting

Sat 18:41

You sent 19 June at 18:41

Waiting

Rowdy sent 19 June at 18:42

Be round to do the eork tomorrow or woukd you rather like the money

You sent 19 June at 18:52

The money!!! I messed up my shoulder doing it myself, as it was turning into a jungle and I couldn’t afford to get someone else to do it. I told you that!

Rowdy sent 19 June at 18:53

Okay no problem sorry

You sent 19 June at 18:54

Thank you

Sun 07:51

You sent 20 June at 07:51

Well?

Sun 08:19

You sent 20 June at 08:19

I posted the link to my blog on my profile — people are coming up with some interesting names for you! I expect Twitter will be even more fun. And then there’s Rogue Traders. I’m talking to the bank tomorrow, so you’ve got until 6pm today. Either through the door, or into my account – use your girlfriend’s account if you have to, since that’s the one I paid into.

Mon 08:22

You sent Yesterday at 08:22

Waiting

Mon 11:10

You sent Yesterday at 11:10

Waiting

Mon 16:02

You sent Yesterday at 16:02

Waiting

Advertisement

Prosecco and Promises. Guest Post – A.L. Michael

Welcome, welcome! Today I’m thrilled to be sharing this tantalising excerpt of A.L. Michael’s brand new book: Prosecco and Promises

Here’s the cover:

 

p and p

Doesn’t it look gorgeous? And now I’ll hand you over to the author herself, who will introduce the series and give you a sneak-peak at what you’ll find.

 

Prosecco and Promises is book two in The Martini Series. Book one, Cocktails and Dreams, was about Savvy’s journey towards living her life more fully. This book is about her best friend, Mia. Mia’s been given an impossible task – she’s been sent away at the end of her dad’s illness to get to know her Italian family.

I’ve loved writing Mia’s story – she’s fiesty and strong and brash, and everything I wish I had the strength to be. But she’s also vulnerable and needs a little support. The book is set on the island of Ischia, which is a little bit magic.

I really hope you enjoy the excerpt below!

 

 

Chapter One

 

‘Babe, I love that we’ve become friends since Savvy jetted off into the sunshine, but I do actually need to work,’ Jacques wiped the bar down, moving my elbow. My arm thunked down on the table, and I let my head rest. There had been four rum and cokes, maybe five. In very short succession.

‘Yeah, sure,’ I garbled, ‘You work. Aren’t bartenders meant to be here to listen to people’s problems?’

‘Nope, they’re meant to make people drinks.’

‘You did that part!’

Jacques raised a perfectly arched eyebrow, ‘Yes, and you’ve repaid me by being an incredibly irritating drunk.’

I pouted, fluttering my eyelashes. ‘Come on, my best friend abandoned me. You’re my only friend in the world.’

‘My sympathies,’ he snorted, ‘give me half an hour and I’ll play agony aunt. But I’ll warn you, darling, it’s bad drag.’

The time passed slowly. I pushed my dark curls over my shoulder and stared down the bar. It was a quiet Tuesday. I’d ended up spending more time at The Martini Club after my best friend Savvy left to go to cookery school in Barcelona. She used to work at the club, and I hung out there partly because I missed her, and partly because I liked having somewhere secret and beautiful to go. A retreat in the centre of the city, where there was no light, you had no concept of time, and everyone was vibrant and alive.

Alive. Right.

A shape shifted to my right and a man slipped onto the bar stool next to me. I could have guessed what he’d looked like before I even turned my head. Carefully coiffed, suit and a smirk to match.

‘Can I buy you a drink?’ Smirky face smirked, so sure of himself.

I blinked to focus on him, ‘Mate, I’m resting my head on the bar. Do I look like I need another drink?’

‘Well, uh-’

‘Well, uh, unless you’re a prowler pervert who wants to get done for trying to coerce a drunk lady, I suggest you slither back in the hole you came from.’

He blinked, then scowled.

‘Bitch.’

‘Darn tootin’,’ I wiggled my fingers at him, ‘Buh-bye.’

Jacques came over not long after.

‘Is that coffee? God bless you!’

‘You’ve got twenty minutes. Hit me with your problems.’

‘Tomorrow I am being put on a plane to an Italian island against my will.’

‘Oh,’ he rolled his eyes, ‘poor you.’

‘Ugh, I wish Savvy was here, she’d understand.’

My best friend was the only person who was there when my dad got sick the first time. She was the one who held my hand when I cried over chemo treatments and sat drinking with me when I didn’t want to sleep incase there was bad news. She was the only one who didn’t lose touch with me when I stopped going out, stopped answering texts, when the world seemed too hard to be anything but the daughter of a man who was dying.

But he got better. He married Marjorie, his girlfriend who was a mere 7 years older than me, which drove me crazy, but he was alive and he was allowed to do anything he wanted as long as he stayed alive. And now…

‘Okay, glibness aside,’ Jacques sat down next to me and placed a hand on mine, his kohl rimmed eyes soft and serious, ‘why are you being sent to Italy against your will?’

I took a breath, ‘My father’s dying wish.’

Jacques looked astounded, and in the few months I’d known him, I’d never seen him speechless. He squeezed my hand. ‘When…did your dad pass away?’

‘He hasn’t…’ I pressed my lips together to try and ignore the irritation that crept up every time I thought about it, the desire not to say the word yet. ‘He doesn’t want me to be here at the end, whilst he declines. We went through it before, and this time…he says it’s a gift. His wish for me. And I need to do what he says, but I am so mad that I could explode.’

‘Do you have to do what he says? Couldn’t you stay anyway?’

‘Ignore the dying man? So that I forever live to regret denying him the final thing he wanted?’ I snorted, ‘Sure, a life of regret along with being an orphan. Awesome.’

I knew this wasn’t fair on Jacques. We weren’t those kind of friends yet. I had hoped we might be. His sassiness complemented mine well, and I’d enjoyed bitching with him about my work at the makeup counter. He was also a keen historian, outside the bar, away from the eyeliner and stage presence. He was secretly a cardigan-wearing dork, and we’d wandered around a few museums whilst I joyfully geeked out, using the long dusty knowledge from my barely used archaeology degree.

That was another point Dad had made. I had come back home in the middle of my first dig after graduating, when he got sick, and I’d never tried again. I worked at the makeup counter in the local department store, staying nearby, moving home so I could be there if anything happened. And now, it was happening, and I wasn’t going to be there.

‘I guess you’re faced with an impossible choice – do what he says, and be mad at him, or ignore his wishes and let him be mad at you.’

‘You think I could let my dad die mad at me?’ I suddenly realised that of course, Jacques didn’t even really know what type of person I was, what family meant. That my dad had been the only person I’d ever had, the only person who’d been there no matter what, and yet, I didn’t really even know him. I knew he liked two sugars in his coffee, and he watched TED talks religiously. I knew he pretended to hate how everyone talked about his much younger wife, but in secret preened and swanned about, joyous at the incredulity of his good fortune. His friends would ask him how the hell he got a girl like Marjorie, and he’d say, ‘Get cancer, does wonders for your love life.’

And before that, before the sickness, he was the kind of dad who would encourage me to climb trees and make mess. One day, not long after Mum died, he presented me with the empty, white wall of our living room and told me we were going to put the colour back in the world. We painted that entire wall with leafy-green handprints, a jungle of fingertips and lined palms. It’s still there, that wall, our fortunes told a hundred times in repeat.

Who was going to help me put the colour back when he was gone?

‘I think you’re the kind of person I’ve known for months, who never once mentioned her dad was sick. You’ve got a control I didn’t think you were capable of.’

I snorted at that, ‘That’s my charm. I seem impulsive and fun, but in fact it’s very tightly reigned in and controlled chaos.’

‘So what are you going to do?’ He left his hand over mine, and I started to feel sweaty and irritable.

‘I’m going to drink my coffee, buy a kebab on the way home, and finish packing my case. And then tomorrow, with the world’s worst hangover, I’m going to kiss my father goodbye, and get on that plane.’

No matter how hard it was.

Buy Prosecco and Promises here.

About the author:

A.L. Michael is hurtling towards the end of her twenties a little too quickly. She is the author of 10 novels. Her most recent collection of books, The Martini Club Series, started with Cocktails and Dreams, to be followed by Prosecco and Promises, and Martinis and Memories.

She likes to write about difficult women. Well, they say to write what you know.
Chosen headshotAndi works as a content writer, as well as a therapeutic facilitator. She has a bunch of degrees in stuff to do with writing, and wrote her MSc dissertation on the power of creative writing in eating disorder recovery. She truly believes stories can change your life.

She is represented by Madeleine Milburn Agency, and you’ll be seeing a lot more from her in 2018.

Website
Twitter: @almichael_
Facebook

Visit AL Michael’s Amazon Author Page.

 

A Tooth For A Tooth

Hello, and thanks for joining me! Today I’m offering this little bit of festive silliness, written as part of a writing forum challenge about a million years ago, and the ideal length to read over a quick tea break. The challenge was to take a well-known fictional (?) character, and drop them into a Christmas setting. Enjoy!

A Tooth for a Tooth

A festive short story

by Terri Nixon

 

 

It had been doomed to failure from the start. I knew it, we all knew it, but would they listen? Then, when it all kicked off, guess which mug was called in to sort out the mess. Which was how I found myself, on Christmas Eve, hanging on by my fingertips for dear life , with sweat trickling into my eyes and the hands on the church clock across the road marching mercilessly towards the twelve.  I let out a groan; I wanted it to be exasperation and it was… partly. But the bigger part was pure scaredy-cat whimper.

Where the hell was she?
To take my mind off the enormous lump of nothing beneath my swinging feet, I allowed my mind to scamper back over the path that had led me here. I must have been mad to take the job on to start with, but I’d been desperate – why else would I have been stupid enough to sign up as corporate troubleshooter to a bunch of shiny-faced over-achievers like The Directors?  They threw buzzwords around like confetti and made all the proper, concerned noises about their Investment In People, but I’d lost count of the times they’d driven out the best qualified person and replaced them with one of their own inside contractors.
This case was a prime example: Tania Featherfly – even her initials suited the job – had been the best tooth fairy in the business, but, like so many other small franchises she’d had to increase her prices to maintain those high standards. I remembered the board meeting and hearing the words: ‘Economic Downturn,’ and ‘Credit Crunch’ bandied about, but all it really boiled down to was: “My Lot Are Cheaper, You’re Fired.” And bingo – tooth fairying was farmed out to a pool of corporate suits with as much sense of tradition as a brick.
Tania had, quite rightly, been somewhat annoyed at being laid off so close to Christmas – from Hallowe’en onwards, a lucrative time for the collection of enamel– so she’d decided to do something about it. But did she go to the administrators and offer to work at lower cost? No. Not her style. She thought it would be far more entertaining to follow the new contractor on his rounds, and start removing perfectly healthy teeth while they were still in the mouth.

And there was certainly no money being left in return for these filched fangs.

That was when I got the call. Luckily, the only person to wake during one of Tania’s dubious ‘extractions’ had been the chairman of the board who’d fired her, and only then because she’d really gone to town on him; quite the revenge-seeker is our sweet little Tania.
I still remember him trying to talk through a mouth that had only one tooth left in it.  “Joe, it’s vital you get every single one of those teeth back where they belong, before midnight.”
I took a moment to decipher what he was saying, then asked, “Why midnight?”
“Come on, you know this is a special night.”

“Christmas Eve, sure. But what difference does that make?”
The chairman sighed. “Midnight GMT, Christmas Eve? Think about it.” With exaggerated patience, he quoted: “If there be mischief abroad in The Netherworld at that time, all magic will cease to have effect.”  When I didn’t answer, he growled, “The guy in the red suit?”
“Ah.”
“Yes, ‘Ah.’ The Human World will be thrown into turmoil, there will be no belief in anything anymore. And that means?”
“Err, no teeth left out for collection?”
“The penny drops. Now get onto it. And, Joe?”

“Yeah?”

“I hardly need remind you which teeth are top priority.”

 

So I’d collected a copy of the evening’s itinerary, and set out. First I had to find Tania and talk her into coming with me, which might be difficult. Not the finding her part, that was easy;  I just started at the end of list and worked backwards through the as-yet unvisited kids, all sleeping happily with sugar plums dancing on their heads … or whatever.
Eventually I ran into the new operative. I didn’t think there was any point telling him what was going on, he didn’t look the type to cope well under pressure, so I just nodded as he sidled past on the window sill. He gave me a nervous look, obviously aware of my position within the company.
I smiled. “Nothing to worry about, Brian, you’re doing a great job.” I kept smiling and nodding while he slipped off into the night, looking over his shoulder, suspicion still furrowing his brow.
I glanced at my list – how far behind was Tania? Was it worth trying to beat her to the previous house or should I just wait here til she arrived? I didn’t have to ponder long; she’d followed so closely on Brian’s heels it was a miracle he hadn’t seen her. Actually no, it wasn’t: Tania was good.
I stepped into her path as she alighted on the sill. “Hey, Tania. Thinking of pitching for the Santa franchise next year?”
She gave a helpless little squeal, then glared at me, dropping the pretence.“Oh, it’s you.”
“Nice to see you too. Look, you have to stop what you’re doing.” I tried to sound understanding, but Tania’s glare intensified, and she held up her pliers.
“Get out of my way, Joe, I’m busy.”
I dropped reasonable, and launched into pleading. “You have to help me put this right.”
“After what they did to me? They can kiss my fairy ass! Now move, I’ve got a lot to do tonight.”
“Look, it won’t work. You’ll just end up destroying us all!” I said, my voice rising in frustration . “Please, Tania, we’ll sort this and then go to the board together. Try to work something out.”

I gestured at room beyond the window. A red and green woollen stocking lay draped across the foot of the bed, and the boy’s face reflected that curious mixture of utter peace, yet enormous potential for mischief, that only a sleeping child can convey.
“Don’t mess it up for them,” I said, and I knew I’d succeeded in chipping through her layer of betrayed fury. She hadn’t become the best tooth fairy in history by accident; she genuinely liked her customers – under normal circumstances.
“We don’t have time,” she said, and I was relieved to note a touch of regret in her voice.
“We will if we work together. Come on, we’ll go back the way you came.”

And so, with Tania back on side, albeit accompanied by mutinous muttering, we’d started back along the path of destruction she had laid. In each room I prised open the child’s mouth, while Tania consulted her own list then selected the proper tooth from her gilt-embroidered bag.
Some of the kids were awkward little sods. They’d turned over onto their fronts, making it nigh on impossible to get a good grip on their jaw, and one or two opened sleepy eyes and blinked a few times while Tania and I stood dead still, so tense we could hear each other’s heartbeats.
In the fourth house we re-visited, I was holding open a little girl’s lips while Tania shoved the tooth back into the socket, when the girl spoke in her sleep; “Don’t want no coal …”
I gave a yell and jumped out of the way just as the girl’s hand flopped out of the covers to brush at her mouth. Her finger caught the back of my head and sent me tumbling onto the pillow, where I floundered in a mass of blonde curls.
“Well that’s one kid with a new wobbly tooth tomorrow,” Tania said. “I’m not going back up there to glue that one in place.”
“At least you can fly,” I grumbled.

We worked well together, in fact, and even managed to sort out the chairman’s revolting teeth and replace them in pretty good time. All purloined premolars were soon firmly back in their rightful mouths. When we got to the second-to-last house, I thought Tania looked a bit troubled.
“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, come on, let’s get this one done.” She caught at my arm to lift me into the room, where the boy lay flat on his back, his mouth obligingly wide open. I grinned at Tania, celebrating our luck, but she still didn’t look pleased.
I chose not to say anything, and a glance at the bedside clock told me we’d better hurry to get the last house done in time. A sense of great achievement filled me; I’d done it again! Troubleshooter Extraordinaire saves the day! I might even get a pay rise out of this one.
We landed on the last window sill and I turned to Tania, rubbing my hands. “Come on then,” I said. “We’ve got a few minutes spare but let’s not take it down to the wire.”
“Joe, there’s a problem.”
“Problem?”
“There are no more teeth left in the bag.”
“What?” A cold feeling wormed its way through me and I could feel my grin dropping away like a shed skin. All my happy thoughts sank into my feet and started seeping out of my boots.
“I thought so at the last house, and now I’m sure; that was the last one.”
“But it can’t be!” I grabbed the bag – it was one of those bizarre ones that has endless depths when it’s full, but when it’s empty, it’s empty. “There’s nothing there,” I said dully, turning it inside out.
Tania bit her lip. “No, there isn’t.” Then her face lit up. “Oh! I know where it is!”

Relief banished my scowl, but only until she spoke again. “I threw it in the pond.”
“What?” I stared at her, incredulous. “Tania, you –”
“I was angry! This was the first house I’d done, and I just threw it away when I came out of the room. I saw it land in the pond.”
“And this helps us how?” I snarled.
“I can get it back. There are water nymphs in that pond.” And without another word she jumped into the air and was gone – leaving me stranded on the windowsill of a fourth floor room, the church clock slowly ticking towards the destruction of everything.
I sat down. There was little point in wearing a path in the wood by pacing up and down, and at least if I kept my back to the night I wouldn’t have to look at those mercilessly marching hands as midnight crept ever closer.
A sound made me look up hopefully. Tania back already? But it wasn’t her. Instead there was a rushing of air and I closed my eyes against the dust and bits of leaves that blew into my face. When I opened them again I was just in time to see the current Santa Claus franchise holder leaping back into his sleigh.That guy was fast! I was lost in admiration for a moment, but as the sleigh took off again the downdraught hit and, suddenly numb with fright, I found myself sliding towards the edge of the window sill.  There was enough breath left for me to yelp as my feet lost contact with the solid surface, and somehow I twisted and caught at the edge of the sill.

And that’s how you found me. Hanging on, blinking sweat out of my eyes and almost able to hear that church clock ticking away my last hope.
“Tania!” I yelled. “Hurry up!”  My hands were slipping, and my heart pounded harder than it ever had before – it occurred to me I could actually die here. I felt sick and my arms started trembling with the effort of holding on, my fingertips burning against the rough wood.
Finally, blessedly, I heard her land on the sill. “Got it!” she beamed, holding up the missing tooth. Then she gave me an impatient look. “Well, come on, we haven’t got all night.”

I managed a glower. It was quite a good one, considering my situation, and even as I put all the force of my fury into it I could appreciate the way it must have burned her. Or it would have, if she hadn’t turned her back and ducked into the bedroom. I took a deep breath and tried to imagine I was doing pull-ups at the gym. I never went to the gym.

My fingers were slipping again, and this time I had no hope that Tania would swoop in and grab me at the last second, because she was already gone. Another slip, maybe half an inch but felt more like a foot, and my fingertips were on fire now.

“Tania!” I gasped, close to blind panic now. “Hey!”

“Oh, for goodness sake,” she said, and swooped in to grab me at the last second.

I’d known she would.

Thinking it over, safe and warm in my bed on Christmas morning, I decided I’d been quite the action hero, and I allowed myself a smile of satisfaction. Tania would have some explaining to do, but we’d work something out – at least she’d helped put it right and I could relax again, knowing I’d saved the Netherworld from a terrible fate.
The phone rang. I picked up, still smiling.  “Merry Christmas!”
“Joe? We have a problem: we just had to fire Santa and he’s not happy …”

 

The End.

Merry Christmas!

 

© 2011 Terri Nixon. (updated 2016)

Unbroken – Personal.

Lately I’ve been struggling with some difficult memories. For the sake of my family I’ve tried to to keep a lid on them, but I’ve come to realise that the only way I’m going to find any kind of peace is to let them out. I hope, if any of those I love see this and feel this is wrong, that they’ll forgive me, and try to understand. None of them knew anything of it, until several years later, and for the most part they have supported me, and not pushed me away.

I will not publicise this blog, but neither will I hide it – I’ve been doing that for far too long. It might be best if I was more open, anyway, as it might explain some things about me and my personal choices.  **UPDATE** in the light of the #MeToo revelations, and the need to raise awareness of the scale of this issue, I am going back on this decision not to share the blog. I wrote it several weeks ago but it feels like it’s time now.

I have lost some family over this; I was in a strange and difficult place, and I said something that was the truth, though I regretted immediately and have apologised, but it was too late; one third of my family has withdrawn from me, and is set on punishing me for the rest of my life, but there’s nothing more I can do about it. Nothing more I want to. I’ve moved on. So here is something I wrote when I finally realised too much of my life has been sacrificed to the looming spectre of one person. I’ve  lifted the lid, and last night I slept really well; the only bad guys in my dreams were zombies, and I can deal with that.

 

Unbroken

Man of the people, everyone’s friend. I was about three when you came. You smiled, you waited. When I was nine, you struck.
But you did not break me.
You sculpted my youth to the shape of your twisted mentality.
You created a Hell for me in your secret hideaways. Those who loved me remained outside, oblivious.
You wielded your threats like serrated blades, carving your lies. I obeyed; I deserved it, you said so.
But you did not break me.

And as I grew, your darkness grew with me; your violence followed me; your hatred poisoned me.
You writhed your way into every part of my life: my play, my friends, even my job.
You were behind every door. Your cold brown eyes found me in my innocent laughter and froze it in my throat.
You said others would come, that you’d invited them, that I should be grateful; I lay wide awake and nauseous in the dark, waiting.
It did not break me.

You proudly showed me the weapon and ammunition you said were my fate; the place outside the workshop, beneath the wet fallen leaves, where you laughed and said you would bury me. Where no-one would look. More empty threats to plague my sleep, and taint my waking hours. I was a child, you controlled me, but you did not break me.
And when you finally left this Earth a better place for your passing, you reached out from your stinking grave and painted me the demon, the liar, the destroyer of illusions.

But I have fought and beaten stronger things than you.
You will not break me.

 

 

 

 

 

© Terri Nixon 2017

 

 

Review -A Knightsbridge Scandal by Anita Davison

a-knightsbridge-scandal
Having read and loved the first two titles in this series, I was naturally delighted to be asked to review the third Flora Maguire novel: A Knightsbridge Scandal.
Once again, the indomitable Flora launches herself into a world of intrigue and deceit, lies and danger… this time becoming embroiled in the conflicting worlds within the Women’s Suffrage movement, and the discovery of the body of one of its leading lights. Flora’s powers of deduction are at full stretch on this one; dark alleyways contrast with the glitz and glamour of high society, but danger lurks equally in both.  Clues are not always what they seem, and characters keep you guessing right to the end.
The descriptions in this book are fully as beautifully written as in the previous two; Ms Davison’s deft touch with a verbal paintbrush is evident in everything, from the weather to a fine china cup. Food leaps off the page and into your hands; the damp fug of the street leaves its smell in your hair; and the chilly air of a pre-Christmas London brushes your skin. You are absolutely in the moment.
 With the delightful, and often amusing, addition of her maid, Sally, Flora’s newest adventure becomes a sparkling and witty two-hander. The men lurk pleasantly enough in the background, offering sage advice and trying not to get in the way, while the women just straighten their shoulders  and get on with the job.
I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear of Mrs Harrington, nee Maguire, and I very much look forward to reading her next adventure!
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Review – Betrayal at Cleeve Abbey by Anita Davison

Today it’s my great pleasure to welcome Anita Davison. Anita is the author of the brilliant Flora Maguire Mysteries, published by Aria Fiction.

First, a little background, from Anita, to book one:

Flora’s Secret by Anita Davison (Book 1 in the Flora Maguire Series)

Flora Maguire is a twenty-two-year old governess to Edward, the son of Earl Trent. Raised by her father, Riordan Maguire, the head butler on the earl’s Gloucestershire estate, she is used to watching the lives of the aristocracy from the side-lines.

After a family wedding in New York, where Flora has been included as part of the family party, the earl and countess decide to extend their holiday, thus Flora is entrusted with the task of escorting Edward home to England to attend school. Conscious of her status as an upper servant among a complement of only first class passengers, she avoids the dining room on the first night and meets the charming Bunny Harrington on deck, who catches her peeking under the canvas at his new automobile.

The next morning, Flora finds the body of a man at the bottom of a companionway, a death pronounced accidental by the ship’s doctor. Flora’s doubts about what happened prompts her to have the man’s death acknowledges as deliberate, and to do that she has to find the killer.

She enlists the help of Bunny, who is at first sceptical, but after a burglary, a near drowning during a storm and a second murder – the hunt is now on in earnest for a killer as the Minneapolis approaches the English coast.

Book 2 in the series, Betrayal at Cleeve Abbey is out now, followed by Book 3, A Knightsbridge Scandal, due for publication in early in 2017, with two more stories scheduled for later in the year.

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About Betrayal at Cleeve Abbey:

Even the most glamorous stately houses hide secrets and lies from the past…

For fans of Downton Abbey, a thrilling and romantic mystery set in the glorious Cotswolds landscape.

Flora Maguire is now happily married to Bunny Harrington and living in Richmond when she receives an alarming telegram informing her of her father’s tragic death in a riding accident at Cleeve Abbey.

Heartbroken, she and Bunny return to her former home, where she was Governess to Eddy, Viscount Trent, and her father was Butler to Earl Trent.

Flora’s intention was to bury him next to Lily, her mother, who sadly passed away when Flora was a small child.

Mystery surrounds the final resting place of Lily. No-one is willing to talk and, with her father now dead in a suspicious accident, Flora must once again strive alone to uncover hidden family secrets.

My thoughts:

I remember writing a review for the first in this series, Flora’s Secret, and being bowled over by the captivating writing style, and the fresh voice of the main character, Flora Maguire. I clearly recall hoping we would meet Flora again at some point. I also remembered the unfolding story, and how it was so beautifully structured, and the great sense of everything being exactly as it should be, by the end.
What I hadn’t fully remembered, until I came to read Betrayal at Cleeve Abbey, was the author’s ability to describe everything – from the ornate beauty of a well-appointed room, to the glorious simplicity of a perfectly-fried egg – with the kind of immediacy that puts you in that room, (or poises your fork above the egg!) and makes you feel such an integral part of the story you forget where you actually are.
This second book in the series is no less evocative than the first in any of those respects; from the very outset – when we are with Flora on a sticky hot day, and feeling her slightly grumpy discomfort – right the way through until the end, we can see, taste and smell everything. And we can feel the gradually building tension as Flora investigates, and unravels the mystery behind a seemingly-accidental death on the hitherto-familiar estate where she spent her childhood.
This death, in contrast to the slightly detached fascination of the previous incident on the Minneapolis, hits much closer to home. Flora’s emotions are tugged in all directions as she learns family secrets that have been shared by people she has always trusted, and struggles to keep the clear head she needs if she is to see justice done.
As with the descriptions of physical sights, sounds, and other everyday occurrences, we are gently but skilfully drawn into the very heart of Flora’s fears and dilemmas. Again, the viewpoint is third person, but limited to Flora, so we discover things at the same time, react in much the same way, and rejoice in every small triumph.
The secondary characters in this book are as well-drawn as those in the first; the contrast between social classes is clearly marked, without resorting to stereotypes, and the kind of family dynamics that favour no class or situation, shine through the dialogue and little ‘asides.’

I very much look forward to the next outing with Flora… Although, feeling so much part of her world, I just hope I’m not the one she’s investigating next!

Buy Betrayal at Cleeve Abbey from Amazon.ad

Guest Post – Jennifer Wells

Welcome to another of my occasional guest posts, this time by the wonderful Jennifer Wells, who gives us an insight into the theme of motherhood in her new book, The Liar.

First, here’s the stunning cover. Beautiful!

aria_wells_the-liar_e

The Liar – A Story of Mothers and Daughters

‘A mother’s journey as she tries to find out what really happened to her daughter – a journey that unearths secrets from the past and ends in obsession.’

When I started to write The Liar, I imagined it as a simple mystery but, as the characters started to emerge, I found that another theme was developing – the relationship between mother and daughter.

The mother-daughter relationship is something that we all experience, even if what we are feeling is the absence of that bond.

The story actually features two mothers – Emma who idealises motherhood but has little experience of what it is really like, and Maud, who struggles with the reality of motherhood and would risk the love of her children just to make ends meet. Ruby, the little girl they appear to be fighting over, is torn between them. One of the women is her real mother – but which one?

As I was writing I started to think about, not only my own mother, but the relationship that I will develop with my infant daughter, and I started to question where my inspiration for the characters had come from.

So, am I Emma? In some ways, yes. I am fortunate enough never to have lost a child but, as a parent, I have a constant fear of losing my children and, when I think too deeply, I can feel Emma’s loss.

So, am I Maud? Well, like all mothers, I struggle day-to-day, work hard so that they can be fed and clothed and, as a consequence, neglect them at times.

But good mothers and perfect relationships do not inspire good stories and, as I work on my next novel, I find that new characters are emerging. They are very different from Maud, Emma and Ruby…but again, they are mother and daughter.

 

 

Buy The Liar at Amazon UK, here.

Researching A Woman’s War

In book two, of The Oaklands Manor Trilogy, aristocrat Evie Creswell makes the decision to leave Oaklands, and to go off and ‘do her bit’ for the war, never dreaming what truly lies ahead for her and countless others.

Today I’m guesting on Josie Barton‘s blog, which has a WW1 Remembered feature on Sundays. Here you’ll find a few words on how I researched the working woman’s life during The Great War, and what it taught me. Plus a reading list for anyone interested.

http://jaffareadstoo.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/sunday-ww1-remembered.html

Ask No Questions

INTRODUCTION: Thanks for taking the time to check out this short story. It’s something I wrote a long time ago, in about 2002, but recently updated. For readers of my ‘usual’ fare, either the Historicals or Mythic Fiction, a word of warning: this is from my Horror-head! Please feel free to leave comments and/or share this blog post with anyone, but be aware it is copyright protected, so please do not reproduce all or part of it without first contacting me. Thank you 🙂 

 

 

Ask No Questions.

A short horror story by T. Nixon

 

Charlie Bryant crawled clear of the car, dizzy and only vaguely aware that the little moans he heard were his own. The wet grass beneath his sweating hands was a relief, and he clutched handfuls of it as he pulled himself up the side of the ditch, ignoring the scratch of thistles and the tingling sting of nettles. Finally he scrambled onto the solid surface of the road, and only then could he bring himself to look back at the wreckage steaming in the ditch. The car was crumpled beyond recognition.

Charlie bent over, certain he was going to throw up, but in the end he only spat onto the tarmac. A thread of saliva swung from his lower lip, stretching, and for a moment he watched it in detached fascination, before blinking back to reality and sweeping it away; it was already cold, and the mild revulsion he felt went some way towards easing the shock as he wiped the back of his hand on his trousers. He straightened again, and eyed the car nervously; his phone was still plugged into the charger, but there was a rank smell of diesel drifting through the night air – one spark from the door handle could be all it took… he moved away up the road, his heart tripping uncomfortably, until the smell faded. He held his watch up, angling it to catch the faint moonlight that struggled through racing clouds. Almost three a.m. He peered through the drizzle in both directions and swore under his breath; be lucky to see anyone out here at this time of the morning. He looked back at his car again, his mind skittering briefly over the contents, assuring himself that nothing incriminating remained in the wreckage. As further reassurance he patted the waistband of his trousers, and felt the familiar, comforting weight still there. Best get moving then.

Concussion might be a problem if someone picked him up; it wouldn’t do to say the wrong thing to the wrong person. Hopefully it was only mild, but he couldn’t even remember how the crash had happened. Some kind of animal in the road? Or another car that hadn’t stopped? More like it, and whoever it was didn’t even pull over to see if he was alright … bastards. Charlie’s confusion melted into righteous anger, altogether more palatable. He frowned, trying harder to remember, then shrugged; he was totally screwed up about the job. Who wouldn’t be?

He had been walking for less than twenty minutes when he heard the engine coming up behind. A heavy, rattling diesel engine. Charlie turned and almost fell over his own feet when he saw the bus. It was closer than he had thought and he barely had time to wonder at its even being there before relief took over and he waved frantically for it to stop. It drew slightly past him before halting, and Charlie saw it was one of the old fashioned kind with an open entrance at the back and a wide step to swing himself aboard. Thankfully, he pulled himself up by the bar and stepped into the interior. It pulled away and continued its slow journey down the lane. Buses had improved their services since he’d last had to rely on them; they’d never have run a late bus between town and the outlying villages back then. Must be a works one.

Charlie looked around for a seat – something he would have expected to find easily at this time of night, but the bus was packed. No one turned to see who had flagged them down all the way out here; they remained, rigidly facing forwards. Nobody was talking. No-one was fiddling with their phone, checking Facebook or listening to music. He wasn’t used to travelling on public transport anymore, but even he knew that on a bus everyone was plugged into something…

The silence felt heavy. Damp. Thick. Charlie suddenly wanted to get off –wanted it very badly indeed. He reached out a shaking hand, pressed the bell, and stepped back out towards the platform. A figure appeared in front of him, its face lost in the semi-darkness, blocking his way. He pushed forward, knowing deep down there would be no polite apology and an easy exit, but he pushed anyway.

The shadowy bulk remained firm, and a moment later Charlie felt a hand on his upper arm, gripping him tightly until he gasped in pain, his fingers splayed wide in reaction to the pinch on his nerves. The hand jerked him roughly around until he faced back into the bus, and shoved him into the narrow aisle between the double seats. He tried to glance sideways at the people nearest him, but a cold set of fingers settled on the back of his neck and jaw, making it impossible to turn.

The terror began to build then, starting in his temples until his head seemed to swell with it – the pressure behind his eyes was frightening. Panic was close, very close… His heart hammered harder than ever, he could feel it in every pulse-point. For the first time in his life Charlie understood how fright could kill. He tried to force himself to think it through rationally. He’d somehow stepped into the middle of a hijack situation; everyone was scared to turn, to see their attackers in case that made them dangerous witnesses. It was best not to try to look anywhere but directly ahead. Maybe he’d have a chance to get at the gun in his belt which, although had seemed close to hand a moment ago, now felt as unreachable as the wrecked car he had left behind.

But through these thoughts, the truth bit deep. This was no hijack; it couldn’t be solved by the timely intervention of some crack police squad, even if one were to materialise out of the night. The grip on his neck eased, and Charlie realised he was at the front of the bus, and that there was a single empty seat. Shakily he slid into it, keeping his face fixed ahead as the other passengers did.

The seat was cold under him, the cracked red vinyl split to allow stuffing to escape, and he saw an old, carefully folded ticket tucked under the metal strip that ran down the length of the bus. Without knowing why, except that it was a relief to see something so ordinary amidst this strangeness, he picked it out and unfolded it, and his throat tightened with a new, colder fear.

Charles M. Bryant. Welcome Home!

He lurched upright, clutching the ticket with whitened fingers. Stumbling out into the aisle, he turned towards the exit, and froze as he saw the faces of his fellow passengers. Some were young, some were old, some men, some women. And all were very clearly dead. A scream started somewhere in Charlie’s brain but got no further. The shape which had blocked his way, and which now stood at the back of the bus again, turned to face him fully, and Charlie felt himself grow light, his vision narrow, his muscles weaken. He tried to reach out, to grasp the back of his seat to stop himself from falling, but his fingers had no strength and, as he fell forwards into the aisle, the ticket fluttered from his hand and landed beside his slack face on the floor.

***

 

Charlie Bryant had taken up his current employment soon after the army had kicked him out. It was logical. He was due for a move anyway; even a dedicated regular like himself was well over the hill now. And the past few years of specialist training meant he was made for the job. It wasn’t so much a career change, he rationalised, as a move to the private sector.

Charlie wasn’t one to think too much, to ask too many questions. First his old dad and then the N.C.Os had knocked it into him … ‘You’re not paid for askin’ fuckin’ questions, Bryant! What are you not paid for?’

‘Askin’-fuckin’-questions, Corp!’

‘So switch off that light and build that fuckin’ AK back together.  You got thirty-eight seconds.’

Head down, he’d heard the pin pulled, and the knobbly grenade wobble across the floor of the bunker as the corporal’s boots clattered out, the harsh voice counting back as it faded,

‘Thirty seven …’

Thanks to the legacy of Thatcher and her bollocks of a government, he’d soon found himself unemployed and broke. And there wasn’t much call in Civvy Street for his kind of training. This job he could do, and it was lucrative. What more did he need to know?

His best mate, Warren, had been a squaddie too. Same outfit. But … well he didn’t like the wet stuff. He’d taken the golden handshake just about a year before Charlie had taken the boot up the arse.

‘So, what’d they get you for in the end?’ Warren had asked him as they leaned at the bar. He’d offered a cigarette – back in the days before the nanny state had banned smoking in pubs.

‘Fight.’ Charlie accepted the cigarette and lit up with a deep drag. ‘No biggie. But… well, it happened at the wrong time, in the wrong place and I half-killed the wrong person.’ He shrugged. Warren raised a questioning eyebrow; Charlie exhaled in a sigh. ‘Soddin’ adjutant!’

Warren had just laughed. ‘Fuck’s sake!’

They hadn’t discussed Charlie’s dishonourable discharge any further but, after several more drinks, Warren had fixed him with a shrewd look and asked if he had any plans for the future.

‘Make some money. Have a laugh,’ he’d replied vaguely. ‘Why, got any ideas?’

‘Oh yes, my son. I have an idea – and you’ll make plenty of money. Can’t guarantee the fun though.’

‘No problem. I’ll make the money now, have the fun later. Talk to me.’

But he hadn’t needed the fun, not after the money started to roll in. He’d abandoned all thoughts of socialising, of having a normal family life, he lived for the job now; it suited him perfectly – except for the first time.

 

 

Two days after their conversation, Warren had delivered an envelope containing a name, address, description and a down-payment. Fanning the money in his hand, Charlie grinned, scarcely able to believe this was only half his profit.

Later that night he’d thought he would never smile again. It had gone badly. Nerves. He’d missed with his first shot and aimed just as badly with the second, although he had at least hit the target somewhere. He stood over the screaming man, his mind spinning, his stomach churning with disgust; disgust at himself and what he had done, but also at the sight of the writhing, stinking person at his feet. The middle-aged man had soiled himself as Charlie had pulled the trigger and, since the bullet had punctured his groin, massive amounts of blood had mingled with the faeces, and even the third and fourth bullets had failed to silence his screams. Now there was more blood from a huge, ripped wound in his side and one in his chest, and Charlie had stepped forward to end it, not trusting his own shaking aim any longer.

He stood over the man, who stared back up at him in agony and terror, his eyes pleading for help, for some explanation. But how could Charlie explain what he had not been told? He had been contracted to kill this man, that’s all he knew, and he had screwed it up. Oh, man, had he ever screwed it up…

Charlie pressed the gun to his victim’s head and forced himself not to close his eyes as he squeezed the trigger once more. Finally, blessedly, the man was silent. With a last look at the carnage he had created, Charlie left the house, gagging, and unscrewed the now almost pointless silencer from his gun and dropped it into the nearest wheelie bin. With trembling fingers he pulled off his gloves, and stuffed them deep into the pockets of his coat, before getting into his car two streets away and fumbling for the ignition key.

It had been three days before he was able to contact Warren McKinley for the remainder of his payment. He dreaded retribution, but McKinley waved away the apology.

‘Forget it; it was your first time. Call it your apprenticeship. You did it, that’s what matters, and you didn’t get caught. The scent’s been well and truly directed elsewhere. Wanna know where?’

Charlie hesitated. ‘Nah.’ But he had to know something else now, especially after the mess he had made. ‘I was wondering though… what did he do?’ His brain provided a replay of the shattered man begging for an explanation, and he bit down on his own lip to silence the phantom voice.

‘Didn’t do anything,’ Warren said blandly. ‘He was the main shareowner in a company that our client wanted to take over. Now he’s out of the picture, our client can proceed.’

‘That’s all? He was just… shit. Forget I even asked.’

‘Yeah,’ Warren advised. ‘Better that way. Now, you want me to get you more work or what?’

For three months Charlie had refused, but gradually his mind began to chip away at the layers of sick loathing he had built up, and the memory of the smell and the screams faded. He contacted Warren.

After that it got better. The next hit was a retired teacher who’d been giving his pupils after-school lessons they could well have done without. One such pupil had finally had enough after a young adulthood plagued by nightmares, and paid Warren to help him win his revenge. Warren had told him all this over a few pints, but Charlie was only half listening as he poked a finger into the corner of a sealed envelope and finger-counted the twenties stuffed inside.

For twenty years he received his orders and his envelopes. During that time Charlie was responsible for the deaths of eighty people. He never took a partner, he never said ‘no’ to a contract. And he never asked again. He’d abandoned all pretence of interest in who the victims were, and how they’d managed to fall foul of Warren McKinley.

On October 16th this year, Charlie had taken his last contract. A month ago he had been given the details for a young man, pleasant-looking, no movie star, but didn’t look like a tosser either. Charlie had always been a good shot but tonight there had been too much distance between him and the mark, and the shot had hit the bloke in the abdomen instead of the chest. Charlie had to shoot him again. It had been the first time since the beginning that the hit hadn’t gone to plan, and as usual he didn’t know anything about this victim, but it had shaken him just the same. Even from that distance he had seen the shock and pain in the young man’s face, and as the man – Jarvis, his name had been Jarvis, he remembered – had folded to his knees, something had whispered in Charlie’s head that this was the end. He met Warren one last time.

‘I’m out.’

Warren hadn’t seemed surprised, he’d simply nodded and handed Charlie a fat envelope. ‘Yeah, I know.’ He caught Charlie’s surprised look, and laughed quietly. ‘I’ve been watching you, watching the questions start to build up again. It’s time to get out. This’ll be the last.’

Charlie nodded slowly. He pocketed the envelope he knew would contain the balance of payment for the Jarvis job and details of his last assignment, and reached out his right hand to shake Warren’s for the last time. ‘Don’t contact me again.’

‘Understood. You’ll find full payment for your final job in there too.’ He patted Charlie’s jacket where the envelope bulged. ‘You’ve been good at this, Charlie, you know that. I pulled the work but I could never have pulled the trigger the way you could. Don’t worry, I won’t contact you. But you’ve got my card.’ The laugh was flat, emotionless, but Charlie saw something like regret in his old friend’s eyes, and he stood quickly. Feelings he could do without – at least for now. He had left those behind twenty years ago, and now he had one more job before he could allow them back into his life. After that, who knew? Maybe he could begin some kind of normal existence, whatever that was.

Back home he opened the envelope, extracted a thick wad of banknotes, then shook out the other contents. A black and white photograph fell out, along with a piece of paper noting the name, address and known movements of the target. He picked up the photograph and felt his scalp tighten. His heart slithered in his chest, and he dropped the picture back on the table.

Warren’s face smiled back up at him.

This was no candid shot taken by a secret camera – this was posed and deliberate. Along with the name, details and address was a card with a printed message.

‘Don’t ask.’

Charlie didn’t.

 

Ten forty-five p.m. Charlie Bryant sat in his car, screwing the fresh silencer into place and trying to conquer the rising horror that threatened to push reason aside. He was about to kill his best friend – not in a rush of passion or the heat of the moment, but in cold blood. It had to be a sickness. It had to be. Warren was dying and he wanted to end it before the pain got too bad. What better way to cheat dismal fate than to get the one man who never said “no,” to whack you instead? The one guy he could trust.

He had almost called to refuse the job, but his memory was tugged back to the gentle regret in Warren’s eyes as they sat together on the park bench for the last time.

‘You’ve got my card.’  Oh yeah, Charlie had his card alright … and his photo and itinerary for good measure.

He took a deep, shuddering breath, checked his weapon, and tucked it away into his waistband. He didn’t know who to hate more, himself or Warren. How could the bastard do this to him, his best friend?

‘Fuck it.’ What was the point? It would be like hating the gun he held, the trigger he squeezed; just a waste of emotion, and emotions didn’t come cheap these days.

He glanced at his watch and climbed out of the car, squinting at the sky. A bit of drizzle blew around in the stiff breeze; wouldn’t be many people out and about tonight. His legs shaking more than ever before, he walked the usual two streets, this time to Warren’s home, and slipped into the large front garden and around to the back of the house.

There was movement in one of the upstairs rooms, and after a while the kitchen light came on. Charlie ducked down out of sight, his heart pounding, then relaxed. What was the point in hiding? Warren knew he was coming. His wife and daughter were both out, according to the itinerary, so it had to be the man himself who had come into the kitchen. Charlie stepped boldly up to the back door and let himself in.

Warren turned, and the pleased surprise on his face made Charlie hesitate for the briefest moment, before professionalism took over and he brought his gun out, aiming it at Warren’s head. For christ’s sake be quick

Movement in the corner of the room distracted him and the shot went wild, smashing into a cupboard in a splintering thump. He turned to see a woman in her dressing gown, a hot lemon drink in her hand, a tissue pressed to her nose as she stood, paralysed at the sight of the gunman in her home. No time to think, get the job done…

The next shot was more audible than the dull ‘whump’ of the first, and Warren had moved. The bullet took him in the left shoulder and he screamed as he went down. Charlie’s vision swam; the memory of his first kill came drove all other thoughts from his head; the shrieks, the blood, the smell – God, the smell …

He smelled it again now, and the nausea threatened to choke him. His hand shook. ‘Lie still! Still, dammit…’

But Warren was scrambling feebly backwards, his face a mask of pain, terror and bewilderment.

‘Charlie… what’s… Christ, man! What ...?’

Charlie’s voice was a sob. ‘Don’t. Fucking. Ask!’  One more bullet, and the questions were over.

Susan McKinley was dragging in sharp, shallow breaths, the tissue still pressed against her face, her eyes wide and blank as she stared past Charlie, unable to move in her terror. Never before in his career had Charlie taken a life he wasn’t contracted for, but he had no choice now. He swivelled his gun towards the stricken woman and shot her. Once. A small, dark red hole appeared in the centre of her forehead as she fell to the floor, and Charlie had a moment to wonder bitterly why he had been unable to do as well for Warren, before another shape appeared in the back doorway. He saw with the low tingle of alarm that this time he was the one with a weapon sighted on him.

Warren’s daughter, a cool twenty-three year old, stared at him over the barrel of her father’s hunting rifle. It looked incongruously large in her slender hands, but Charlie had no doubt she would use it, and use it well.

‘Well well,’ she said slowly. ‘I seem to have stumbled on a terrible murder scene. I might have to defend myself.’

Charlie stared back at her, confusion fighting with an unaccustomed sensation; fear. ‘Caroline, you’re supposed to be out with—’

‘My mother?’ Her gaze fell on the woman who lay by the other door. ‘Yes, that cold put the mockers on things a bit.’

‘What are…’ Realisation set in and his voice dropped to a whisper. ‘Oh, my God. It was you.’

‘Well what did you think? That he was suffering from terminal cancer, like in some crappy detective programme? Come on, Charlie. How long have I known you? I credited you with a little sense.’  With trembling fingers, she held up a brown envelope identical to the one that had contained Charlie’s final instructions.

‘This is the contract you were supposed to have. Turns out it was your old Corporal. Probably no real reason other than Dad not liking to be shouted at. Anyway, I swapped them before he left to meet you.’

‘But why?’ Charlie felt his own hands shaking, almost uncontrollably, but he held the gun as firmly as he could, nevertheless feeling it slip slightly in his sweaty palm.

‘Ask no questions, Charlie. Not important. The thing that you should be worrying about now is what I tell the police? We do have a choice here.’ It had the feel of a prepared speech, but the chill in her voice transmitted itself to Charlie’s heart and he couldn’t find any mocking words to break the spell and retrieve his dignity. She stepped around the body of her mother, carefully avoiding the spreading pool of blood under the mat of dark hair on the floor. The gun she held wavered but didn’t drop.

‘Do I say that I disturbed you, and you ran away? That I didn’t see you? Or that I found you here standing over the bodies of my parents and I shot you in self defence?’

Charlie couldn’t answer her; his mind was still struggling with the knowledge that this girl had arranged the murder of her own father and her mother.

She smiled suddenly, but her long hazel eyes were still icy. ‘So which is it to be?’

Dear god she was serious, she was giving him a choice. He cleared his throat, thinking fast.

‘What’s in it for you if you let me go? Why not just shoot me anyway since you’ve done all this groundwork?’

She shrugged. ‘Letting you go means less questions from the police. If I have to shoot you it’ll all become … more complicated.’ She sighed. ‘We could always shoot each other, but you don’t want that any more than I do.’

‘Your father was my best friend. You made me kill him.’ Charlie heard the self-pitying tone in his own voice and wondered at it; what right did he have to feel sorry for himself?

For the first time, Caroline’s composure broke. ‘And he made you kill my fiancé!’ Bright tears sprang to her eyes and she knuckled them away furiously.

Charlie stepped back, caught off guard. ‘What?’

‘Last month. Robert Jarvis. You shot him twice. Ring any bells? But then why would it? You don’t care enough to find out. If you did you’d have maybe refused the contract. But you never ask do you? So I knew you wouldn’t this time.’ Her voice faltered, and now she just sounded tired.  ‘Get out, Bryant. Next time I see you there won’t be a choice.’

Charlie turned and stumbled from the kitchen, half expecting to feel a bullet slam into his back, but it would hardly look like self-defence if Caroline shot him now.

The two streets to safety felt like two miles, but finally he jerked open his car door and slid behind the wheel, fighting to control his racing heart. Warren and Susan McKinley, both dead…

He lowered his head onto his hands as they gripped the steering wheel, and breathed deeply as he fought the urge to weep for this and all the other times he’d done exactly the same thing. What right had he to cry now, for those faceless people? For their families? None. He gunned the engine and drove away into the night, heading south back to London and home.

***

 

Charlie began to stir. His face, pressed against the floor of the bus, was numb with the cold and as he opened his eyes he saw the ticket lying face up beside him. At once the fear and disbelief returned and he closed his eyes tightly against reality. A moment later he felt a hand close on his shoulder, digging long, thin fingers into the muscle there. He bit back a shriek of pain and terror, struggling to his knees to alleviate the sharp agony.

From where he knelt he saw the cold, dead faces staring at him and as his mind, tired of pretense, cast aside all other possibilities for this madness, he began to recognise them. There – that was the old schoolteacher who had been playing after school, there was Robert Jarvis, the side of his head curiously flattened … but really, not so curious, was it? The second bullet from Charlie’s gun had torn away half his face. The owner of the bony fingers squatted beside him, and Charlie moaned as he saw again the face of Warren McKinley.

‘Hello, Charlie. Just tell me. Did I look sick to you? Did I?’

‘I … thought … I didn’t know …’

‘You didn’t ask,’ Warren hissed.

‘You told me not to! Christ, you said it often enough!’

‘No, Charlie! I agreed with your rank cowardice! I never held back any information, but all you cared about, was that what you didn’t know couldn’t hurt you!’ Warren’s voice rose to a scream, spittle spraying from tight, white lips and beading on Charlie’s face.

‘It was Caroline!’ Charlie reached up to wipe away the moisture from his cheek, and found his hand gripped and bent backwards at the wrist, further and further until the bones in his fingers and forearm started to burn.

Warren’s voice was calm again. ‘No, it wasn’t. She was no more the killer than I’d been all those years. You were the triggerman. You were the guy who worked in the wet. Now, come with me, friend, I’m going to find some answers for you.’

He gave one more twist, and Charlie heard the bone snap; the pain was instant and huge. He almost greyed out, but was brought back to reality by Warren gripping his cheek and twisting until he was certain the ghost was going to tear him apart where he knelt. Even the pain of his broken wrist was almost eclipsed by this new and unlikely agony. He was pulled to his feet by the skin of his own face, and pushed forwards until he was standing in front of the nearest passenger.

‘Simon Bignall,’ Warren told him conversationally, and switched his grip so he was holding Charlie tightly by the back of his neck, as he had before. ‘Simon, did you have something to tell Mr Bryant?’

‘You killed me three years ago,’ Bignall said, his voice calm. ‘Never said what the reason was. You took out my eye.’ Suddenly on his feet, he shot out his thumb and jammed it deep into Charlie’s left eye socket. Charlie’s knees gave out and he stumbled, clapping his uninjured hand to his eye, feeling blood seeping through his fingers.

He heard himself sobbing, but Warren paid no attention, and dragged him on to the next seat on the bus, where Rob Jarvis was sitting, his head bowed, his hands clasped across his waist. Without warning Jarvis sat bolt upright and, with one terrifyingly swift movement, drove his blood-soaked fist into Charlie’s stomach. His expression contorted with disgust at the mewling sound Charlie made as he staggered back.

‘Think that hurts, do you?’ Jarvis followed him and sank his clawed fingers into Charlie’s mouth and cheek, pulling it viciously to the side. The heat of blood flooded down Charlie’s jaw, and Charlie could do no more than whimper at the enormity of the pain.

‘I fell in love with his daughter,’ Jarvis said. ‘That was my crime. I wasn’t good enough for him. Or for that bitch …’ Jarvis jerked a thumb in the direction of a middle-aged woman in a night-gown. She had a small, red eye in the centre of her forehead.

‘Hello, Charlie dear,’ Sue McKinley said, and, smiling, tipped the hot lemon drink from her hand onto his face, where the citrus burned like sulphuric acid into the raw wounds.

The ragged flaps of flesh which had once been Charlie’s cheeks stretched obscenely apart as he moved the visible jawbones. Words were difficult to form, but his remaining eye pleaded mutely as he gestured at Warren.

Jarvis understood. ‘Yeah, but you’re the one who pulled the trigger. Your bastard partner believed he had a reason, at least. But he couldn’t kill. Left up to him, I’d just be a nasty thought, but still walking around.’ He swung out his arms to take in the entire busload of dead. ‘We all would. But you … you don’t ask questions … not even when you’re looking your man in the eyes.’

It began in earnest then. Charlie stumbled away from Jarvis only to find himself surrounded. One by one the passengers exacted their revenge, biting, scratching, clawing and all the while shrieking their manic accusations. The noise was deafening, mind-twisting, the agony deeper and more savage than he could ever have imagined pain could be. He could feel shredded skin hanging off what remained of his face, his teeth were loose and spraying blood as he screamed wordlessly; his tongue lay useless and uncontrollable, every movement of his head sending it sliding into the sides of his blood-filled mouth. The lid had been torn from his single eye denying him any chance of shutting out the horror around him, but, dear God, there had to be a way out of this torment…

A flare went off in his consciousness; there was one hope left. He dragged the gun from the waistband of his trousers, and, turning it on himself with a wild-eyed scream of triumph, he jammed the barrel under his chin and pulled the trigger.

He felt it all. Felt the heavy, dull impact, and the blood spilling down his face, felt the horrifying sensation of the bullet mashing his brain and splintering his skull, blowing the back of his head away  … but there was no blessed release, just more intense agony, and the dark, screeching laughter as his tormentors closed in tighter. Then, at the rear of the bus, the open platform gaped like a black maw and his reeling mind saw his sole means of oblivion.

He ran the gauntlet of eighty ripping, slashing souls. He groped past the last few rows of seats, feeling his fingernails peel back as he snatched at the metal rails to claw himself forward. Talons raked like scalpels down the backs of his legs, the flesh there parting with sickening ease, and as the blood gushed under his feet he slithered in the stickiness. He gave short grunts of effort and desperation, but moving forwards in the leopard crawl he had perfected in the army he slithered on, flat on his belly until a sabre of pain sliced his body in two. Light-headed and puking, he turned and recognised the pale, chubby man, who spat Charlie’s own mangled testicles into his face. It was his first kill. The messy kill. The kill he had shot in the balls.

The blood from Charlie’s ruined face flooded his remaining eye and turned the nightmare crimson. But the black hole of escape from this hellish bus was inches away now… just inches… he gathered the last ounce of strength in his shattered body, forced himself forward over the fiery coal pit that was his groin, and launched himself into the blackness.

He hit the edge of a ditch and rolled down, sobbing with fierce, triumphant elation at the feel of fresh, cool air on his burning face. The wet grass beneath his sweating hands was a relief, and he clutched handfuls of it as he pulled himself up, ignoring the scratch of thistles and the tingling sting of nettles. Finally he scrambled onto the solid surface of the road, and only then could he bring himself to look back at the wreckage steaming in the ditch.

The car was crumpled beyond recognition.

 

© Terri Nixon 2016.