Christmas Day

This is a work of fiction, a short story of 760 words.

Roger was much more than angry. Maybe furious would do, he wasn’t sure if that was enough though.
“Where the hell do you expect me to get cranberry sauce at this time, on Christmas Day?” Perhaps he had shouted too loudly at Samantha. After all, she had got him the new ten-inch tablet he had been hinting about. And she had been very gracious about the earrings, even though he had suspected she didn’t really like them. “Will anybody even want it on their turkey?” Sam shrugged. He knew it was no good, he would have to go out.

As he walked to the door, car keys in hand, he heard her call from the kitchen. “Try that small shop in Marlowes Lane. You know, the one past the garden centre. They are Indians or Pakistanis or something. They’re bound to be open, they don’t do Christmas.” He waved a hand in acknowledgement, not trusting himself to say more. Roger’s head was pounding when he sat in the car. A headache that was sure to ruin his afternoon was building behind his eyes, and the last thing he needed was a twenty-minute drive just to buy bloody sauce that nobody would want. Trust her to forget to buy it yesterday.

He was almost certainly driving too fast as he approached the roundabout, his anger transferring to his right foot on the accelerator. But he managed to control the car despite the speed, and took the last exit onto the far end of Marlowes Lane. Something seemed to snap inside his head. It was as if an elastic band in there, stretched far too tight, had just given up. Time slowed down as he straightened the car, and it seemed to get very dark all of of a sudden. He couldn’t focus that well, and stared at the dials behind the steering wheel.

Roger was not aware that he was dead. The car slowed, and drifted across into the oncoming traffic, hitting a family saloon coming in the opposite direction. He didn’t feel the impact, or hear the scrape of metal on metal and the sound of glass breaking. He was unaware of the airbag inflating, smothering his face momentarily, or the startled screams of the family occupying the other car.

There were lots of people around him. More people than he had ever seen in one place. Crushed together, like the crowd at a sports event. Nobody was speaking, yet everyone was undeniably talking. The countless conversations filled his head, but he was unable to isolate more than odd words. He was moving slowly carried along by the crowd, and unable to turn back, or move to the side. Everything was grey, opaque light barely illuminating the scene. He cast around, trying to find someone to ask a question of. Why was he there? What was happening? Where was the car? Was Samantha here too?

But everyone stared ahead, glassy eyes fixed on the crowd ahead of them. The man beside him had only half a face; the woman in front was very short, perhaps a child. He wasn’t sure. When he tried to speak again, no words came out, but the man turned and looked at him. Roger sensed the words, “I don’t know, none of us do. Keep walking”. The man had answered his question without moving what was left of his mouth. The pressure of the crowd kept him moving. More like a shuffle, than a walk. He realised he couldn’t hear anything; not the sound of movement, nor any ambient sounds whatsoever. He didn’t smell anything either, no odour from those tens of thousands of moving people.

They walked on, their destination unknown to all.

The paramedics and fire crews had taken their time dealing with the family. Luckily, it was mainly cuts and bruises. One of them had looked at Roger and shaken his head, moving across to the other car to help his colleague. The shaken driver was talking to a policeman. “He just drove across the road, straight at us. I didn’t realise, until the last second.” The policeman nodded his head. “Not your fault sir. You were all lucky, and cars can be replaced.”

Samantha was pleased. Everything was ready. When her parents arrived, she showed them into the living room and asked what they wanted to drink. Her Dad looked around. “Where’s Roger?”. She smiled at him. “Oh, he won’t be long. He just popped out for some extra cranberry sauce. I only got one yesterday, and it might not be enough.”

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Longer Stories: Jackie Jam-Jar

Jackie Jam-Jar

This is another very long story. (Just over 10,000 words) It is a crime saga, set in London during the 1970s. It contains depictions of violence, and some swear-words that certain readers may find offensive. All the locations used are genuine, and for those of you unfamiliar with London slang and dialect, I am beginning with a long list, explaining the terms used.

This was originally published on my blog in six chapters, all now put into one long story. If you can spare the time to read it and comment, I will be very grateful.

Chapter One.
Jackie Jam-Jar
Chapter Two.
Tubby’s Toe
Chapter Three.
Short Phil.
Chapter Four.
East Dulwich Eddie.
Chapter Five.
Billy Bang-Bang.
Chapter Six.
Carnage In Downham.

The following terms are used throughout, and it may be an idea to familiarise yourself with them, before attempting to read the story.

Commer van. This was a medium panel van, in widespread use until 1979. It was sold by Chrysler UK.
Motor. Commonly used to describe any vehicle, not just an engine.
Tom. This is an abbreviation of Tomfoolery, which rhymes with jewellery, used by criminals and Police. (Also a name for prostitutes)
Jam-Jar. This rhymes with car, and is well-known (Cockney) rhyming slang used in London.
Old Bill. This is a common expression used to refer to the Police.
Traffic Wardens. These might be called Parking Attendants or Meter maids outside of the UK.
Tools. Commonly used to describe firearms by criminals. As in ‘Tooled up.’
Sawn-Offs. These are shotguns where the barrels have been shortened, for easy concealment.
Zodiac. This was a large luxury saloon car made by Ford, and was in production until 1972.
A monkey. A slang term for £500. ($764US)
Transit. A popular panel van made by Ford. Still sold in the UK.
Slagging off. Disrespecting or complaining about someone or something.
Spun/Spin. To search hurriedly, as in a burglary.
Boozer. A pub. A Public House. A bar where drinks (and sometimes food) are sold.
Giving it the big one. Acting hard and tough. Talking loudly and boastfully.
Do him large. Beat him up very badly, or kill him.
Titfer. From Tit-For-Tat. (= Hat) Rhyming slang.
Kosher. Legal and correct.
A pull. A stop by the Police.
Cut and Shut. Two damaged cars of the same make. The front of one welded to the rear of another.
Mums The Word. Say nothing about this.
Shtum. Staying silent. (Yiddish)
Shooters. Firearms, guns.
A Ton. £100 ($155US)
Fit up. To frame him for something he hadn’t done.
In the Nick. In prison.
Stringbacks. Driving gloves with leather palms, and woven backs.
Vauxhall Victor. A family saloon car made by General Motors, until 1976.
Wandsworth. A high security prison in south-west London.
Hampsteads. From Hampstead Heath. (= Teeth) Rhyming slang.
The Richardsons. This was a criminal gang that controlled a large part of south London.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Richardson_Gang
Bent. Common slang for stolen, or corrupt.
Fags. Cigarettes.
Blaggers. Blagging was (and still is) a term used for armed robbery. (Other uses apply)
Sten. A Sten gun, a sub-machine gun used by the Allies in WW2.
A bung. A bribe; usually cash, or expensive gifts.
Card school. A regular group of hardened card-playing gamblers.
Sorting out some bird. Having sex with a girl.
Straightened-up. Bribed.
Slags. Petty criminals, thieves, robbers.
Tits-up. All go wrong. Turn upside down.
Manor. The area where someone lived or operated. Any district of London.
Fiddles. (In this context) Cons, illegal trading, obtaining by deception.
Bit of skirt. A young woman.
Spiv. Illegal trader, black marketeer, petty criminal.
One-armed bandit. Old style fruit-machine, with a handle on the side.
Mob-handed. In a large group.
Duffed up. Beaten up badly.
Bird. A girl, someone’s girlfriend.
Bent. Stolen. Corrupt.
Fags. Cigarettes.
Dosh. Money, cash.
The Nick. Prison.
Rotherhithe Tunnel. A road and pedestrian tunnel under The Thames, connecting Limehouse with Rotherhithe.
Eyeties. Slang term for Italians.
Weren’t much cop. Were not very good at what they did.
Thompson. A sub-machine gun, made in the USA. Also known as a ‘Tommy-Gun.’
Jones and Higgins. A prestigious department store in the Peckham area of London. It closed in 1980.
Fruit machines. Coin-slot gambling machines, also ‘One-armed bandits.’
Moody gear. Stolen or contraband goods.
Geezer. Slang term for a man.
Bottles it. Loses his nerve, gives up
Hillman. A brand of popular car made in the UK from 1907. Sold by Chrysler UK after 1976.
Blag. An armed robbery.
Swift. To steal.
Balls-up. To ruin, to spoil.
Took the piss. Mocked, ridiculed.
In for fifteen. A fifteen-year sentence in prison.
Luger. A German pistol, widely used by the military.
Twelve bore. A double-barrelled shotgun.
Webley. A British military revolver.

Tubby hated the old Commer van. It was a pig to start, and a bastard to drive. The sliding door wouldn’t stay shut, and it was cold today too. Every time he had to stop, he had to slip it into neutral and rev the engine like mad, or it would stall. He couldn’t risk breaking down somewhere today, not with what was in the back, anyway. As he approached the junction with Ilderton Road, the car in front suddenly indicated right, to turn into the estate. Tubby hadn’t seen it coming, and had to brake violently. Sure enough, the engine stalled, and the red lights appeared on the round dial to confirm it. “Fuck it’, he screamed. “I don’t need this, not now.” He coasted the lifeless vehicle into the kerb, his eyes darting around in case any old bill or traffic wardens were nearby. After three tries of the key, the battery started to die, and he slammed his hand repeatedly against the steering wheel in frustration.

The thing was, Tubby wasn’t remotely fat. By most estimates, he could even have been considered to be too thin. But when you are born with a name like Daniel Tubbs, what else could you expect? He didn’t really know anyone who was called by their actual name. In his circles, people either had nicknames, or a moniker relating to something distinctive about them. If you had some Tom to shift, you went to see Jewish Jonathan, and if you needed a motor for a job, then Jackie Jam-Jar was your man. But Jackie wasn’t in Tubby’s good books at the moment, as he had supplied the Commer van, and now it had broken down again.

Tubby looked around for a phone box. He would have to chance leaving the van, to make a call to Mad Eddie and let him know what was going on. Letting him down was never really an option, but with a dead motor, what else was he supposed to do? Eddie let it ring a long time before picking up. “It’s me, Tubby. The bleeding van’s packed up in Ilderton Road. That pile of shit that Jackie Jam-Jar got us, I said it was no good.” Eddie’s voice at the other end was calm, never a good sign. “Tubby, nice to hear from you. We were getting worried. Stay where you are, I will send Tall Phil over to get you and the stuff.” He hung up, giving no information about when Tall Phil would get there, or how far he was coming from.

Tall Phil wasn’t actually tall. But he was much taller than Short Phil, who was very short. Trouble was, he didn’t like to be called short. In fact, any reference to his diminutive stature was liable to get him very upset. And you wouldn’t want to be around when he got upset. And Mad Eddie was as sane as the next man, but you didn’t get to be the feared boss of a gang with a name like ‘Nice Eddie’, did you?

Tubby checked his watch, the old Ingersoll that was all his dad had left him. He hadn’t had time for breakfast, as he had been told to get across to Eddie’s place in Lewisham nice and early with the gear. He hadn’t even wanted to hold the stuff, but because he lived with his Gran in Credon Road, he was considered ‘safe’. Three sawn-offs and two revolvers, probably stood Eddie in for at least a monkey. But they were needed for the security van job this afternoon, so Eddie wanted to check them nice and early. Three days he had sweated over that bag of tools in his wardrobe, jumping every time he heard a siren. Tubby decided that he would run back to the corner of Rollins Street, and get some rolls and a tea from Babs’ stall. He checked the lock on the back doors, and it held. After four slams, he was able to lock the dodgy sliding door on the driver’s side too.

He told Babs to stick the bacon rolls in a bag, and slurped down the tea as fast as he could. No time to start on the food, he would have to eat that in the van, or in Phil’s car, if he had turned up. At the junction, he noticed a car going the other way. It was nothing special, just driving a bit fast for that time of the morning, with all the traffic about. The big Zodiac was driven by someone who looked too young, and that made Tubby notice it more than usual. There were two blokes in the back, and one had a hat on, a black hat with a red band around it. Jackie Jam-Jar had one like that, but it wouldn’t be him, surely? His manor was a long way from here, the other side of Bellingham, and the Zodiac was heading in completely the wrong direction. He put it from his mind, and headed back to the Commer, while his rolls were still warm.

Tall Phil didn’t arrive for another hour. Tubby was almost shitting himself by then. Three cop cars had passed by, and a traffic cop on a motorbike had given him a look ten minutes earlier. Jackie had said that the Commer was Kosher, and would stand up to a check. Looks like he was right about that. Phil had brought another van, an almost new Transit. He parked behind Tubby, and when the younger man approached, he growled, ” Get the gear and get in, quick. This motor’s hot enough to burn my arse.” Tubby went back to unlock the van, but to his surprise, the handle wasn’t locked, and it turned easily. The tarpaulin was still in the back where he had left it, covering the bag. He had a bad feeling as he dragged it out. Staring at the metal floor, his head was spinning. The tool bag was gone. Although he knew it was pointless, he searched inside the tarpaulin anyway. Just in case a miracle had happened.
Tall Phil didn’t take the news well. He made Tubby stay in the Transit as he went back to search the old van himself. When he got back in, the expression on his face was not a good one. “Did you tell anyone about the shooters?” His tone was measured, far too controlled. “Course not Phil” Tubby was almost screaming, his voice high and rising, “I’m not a fucking idiot. Someone must have spun the van when I was getting me breakfast.” He knew as soon as those words were out of his mouth, he should never have said them. “We can’t hang about here, let’s make a move.” Phil sounded surprisingly calm, and Tubby felt better, offering, “Just some bastard chancer, probably thought they were real tools or scrap.” Even as he said that, he realised how stupid it sounded.

When they got to Eddie’s workshop, Tall Phil made Tubby sit in the office as he went to speak to the rest of the gang. He could see them at the other end, grouped around each other, heads shaking in disbelief. After a while, they all walked slowly up to the office. Once they had squeezed inside, the small room felt cramped, and Tubby was getting hot. Very hot. He smiled at Eddie, and his voice sounded strange, as he said the one word, “Sorry.” Eddie didn’t look happy. “You lose my tools, ruin a job I planned for months, a job that can only be done today, ’cause my inside man’s working, and you tell Tall Phil that it’s all down to a bacon roll. You must be taking the piss boy, and I would think long and hard about that, if I was you.” To emphasise the point as he was speaking, Eddie grabbed Tubby’s throat with one hand, choking him almost into unconsciousness. “Think hard, sonny. Who did you tell about the stuff?”

When the hand was released, Tubby thought for a moment. When he collected the van from Jackie Jam-Jar, had he mentioned the guns, or the job on Monday? He was sure he hadn’t, but he had been complaining about the old Commer at the time, and slagging off Jackie for his choice of van for the job. Maybe he had said something, but he certainly wasn’t going to admit that now. He swallowed hard. “Nobody, Eddie, honest mate. I never said nothing to no-one.” Tall Phil and Short Phil both looked at Eddie. Bald Norman had come in with a holdall, and Red-Faced Brian stood across the door, rubbing the large birthmark on his neck. Eddie nodded at Norman, and the bald man produced some bolt-cutters from the bag, handing them to Short Phil.

Tubby had a strange feeling in his groin as he watched this. He gazed at the grim faces surrounding him, and a thought entered his head. It looked like Eddie was going to get Mad after all.

Jackie was in a bad mood. This was unusual for him, as he was normally a genial man, with a ready smile, and a relaxed attitude to life. It was one of Eddie’s boys that was spoiling his day, that skinny bastard, Danny Tubbs. Ever since he started out as one of Eddie’s crew, the runt acted like the hard man, a real face. He hung around the local boozer mouthing off, giving it the big one all the time. Jackie would love to do him. Do him large, he would. But he couldn’t, ’cause that would bring Eddie’s mob down on him, and that meant having to deal with Short Phil. And everyone knew there was no dealing with Short Phil.

He took off his hat, and smoothed down what was left of his hair. He adjusted the red band around the black trilby, and plonked the titfer back on his head. He smiled at the thin man, his hands pressing down and out, in a soothing gesture. ” Calm down now Tubby, don’t let’s get previous now.” He wanted the younger man to stop shouting, to cease this disrespect in his own place, in front of the lads. He had to ride the threats, but still stand up for himself. He mustn’t be seen to back down, but the whole thing was a delicate balancing act, and one he could well do without. He was in the car business, not the bloody House of Commons.

“It’s a straight motor, Tubby. Runs OK, all the right paperwork, and Kosher. It will stand a pull, believe me. It will do you for a few days, then I will get rid of it for you, after the job.” Tubby had been acting flash ever since he turned up, and Jackie was beginning to get really pissed off. But he made the little speech for the boy’s benefit, just to calm him down. Tubby wouldn’t let it go though. “These Commers are crap, Jackie, everyone knows that, and this one’s a real piece of shit. For fuck’s sake, just look at it.” Pale Ashton tried to help out. “This will do you fine, Tubby man. I checked it meself, it’s OK.” He rubbed a filthy rag around his hands as he spoke, as if it was ever going to get them clean, after years of ingrained grease and oil.

Pale Ashton wasn’t exactly pale. After all, he was from Trinidad, and as black as they come. But he suffered from Vitiligo, a skin condition that had left him with light pink patches around his nose and mouth. Nobody in Catford knew what that was, so they just called Ashton ‘Pale Ashton’, to differentiate him from any other West Indian called Ashton who didn’t have Vitiligo. Of course, they had never met anyone else called Ashton, but that wasn’t the point.

“Well that’s alright then, if you say so,” Tubby sneered. “After all you are about as much use as a mechanic as a chocolate fireguard.” Pleased with his witticism, he looked around, grinning. The others stared back, unimpressed. Tubby could see he was getting nowhere. It was the only van on the lot, and he was going to have to take it, whether he liked it or not. He wasn’t going without a fight though. “I need to make sure those doors lock good, Jackie, I don’t want the stuff falling out on the way.” Jackie went to the back doors, turned the small key in the lock, and worked the handle, showing Tubby it was secure. “Sweet as a nut, Tubby me old mate. I wouldn’t give you a wrong ‘un.” He lowered his voice, adding, “What you gonna have in there Tubby, nothing too slippery, I hope?” Tubby looked at the man. As far as he was concerned, Jackie Jam-Jar was small time. A dodgy car dealer who supplied motors to local villains, when he wasn’t stitching up old ladies or kids with cut and shut shit-piles from his car front. He had a big yard in Downham, that was for sure, but he wasn’t hard. He wasn’t one of the chaps.
Tubby puffed his chest out. “There’s a big job on on Monday. Mum’s the word, but this is the back-up van, and I’m holding the shooters.” Old Jackie looked suitably impressed. He passed his fingers over his lips, imitating a zip. “Shtum,” he confirmed. He watched Tubby drive off in the van, and smiled as he heard it revving at the junction. He turned to Pale Ashton and raised his eyebrows. The mechanic grinned, showing his sparkling white teeth. “Won’t get too far in that boss, you can count on that.”

Back in the glorified shed he called The Office, Jackie picked up the phone. It was answered after only one ring, so he wasn’t busy. “Angel, it’s me, Jackie. I need you early on Monday. Bring that Zodiac I lent you last week. There’s a ton in it for you, no grief, just driving.” Jackie wasn’t really concerned about the money. If he only shifted the tools for what it cost to pay the boys, he didn’t mind. If they were too hot, he would grind them up and lose them. But he was going to fit up that little bastard Tubby, if it was the last thing he did.

Angel was far from Angelic. His boyish looks and slight frame belied the fact that he was approaching twenty, and had done a lot in his short life. he might have had the face of an Angel, but that was where the comparison ended. Despite his age, he had trouble getting served drinks in pubs, and even had to argue the toss to get into an ‘X’ film at the pictures. But it stood in him good with the ladies, so he didn’t mind too much. Angel had been around the manor since absconding from the kids’ home at the age of fifteen. Jackie had sorted him out a bent driving licence, and had him running around doing odd jobs ever since. He didn’t mind, as Jackie had been good to him, and never tried it on, like some of the other old blokes he had met. He was even shacked up with Carol, Jackie’s brother-in-law’s daughter, looking after her while Three Times was in the nick, doing fifteen for shooting a copper.
Three Times Terry had got his name from his habit of always shooting everyone three times. For Terry, two in the body, or even the head, still wasn’t enough, he always went for the third shot. “To make fucking sure”, he had told Angel. But when the copper had bumped into him leaving the Orpington branch of Barclays bank with a big bag of cash in his hand, and Stringbacks Dave sitting in the Vauxhall Victor with the engine running, three shots had not made sure. Just as well really, or he would be in Wandsworth for the rest of his natural.

On the Monday, Angel picked up Jackie early. Tony The Tooth came along too, in case of any aggravation. They plotted up not far from Tubby’s gran’s place, and waited for the Commer van to appear. “Follow a couple of cars behind, ” Jackie told Angel. “That van will never make it to Lewisham, Ashton’s sure about that.” When the car in front of Tubby turned sharply, it was a gift. The Commer stalled, and there was no chance that it would start again, not in this life. Angel pulled into the housing estate, parking up where they could watch Tubby. They saw him run across to the phone box, and guessed that he was calling Eddie. He was soon back, sitting in the van again. “If he stays with it now, I’ll just clump him one, and lock him in the back, shall I? ” Suggested Tony.

Tony The Tooth had a lot more than one tooth left. He had lots of teeth in fact, probably more than his fair share. And they stuck out, really stuck out. He could hardly close his mouth, for the huge set of railings that looked like they were about to fall out of it. Tony didn’t really like his name. He once considered asking everyone to call him Tony Hampsteads instead. But he didn’t want anyone to think that he came from a poncy place like Hampstead, so he left it alone.

Jackie was considering the suggestion, when they saw Tubby get out. He slammed the door a few times, then checked the back doors. He walked off quickly, back up Ilderton Road in the direction of South Bermondsey Station. “Off you go, Tony.” Jackie smiled, handing The Tooth the spare keys he had got from Ashton. Tony was in and out in a flash, dropping the heavy bag in the boot of the Zodiac, before climbing into the back next to Jackie. By the time Angel had turned the car around, and started to head for the exit from the estate, Tubby was on his way back, clutching a paper bag. “Go north, Angel, we’ll take the long way.” Jackie hunched down in the seat as they passed Tubby at the junction. He had forgotten he had his hat on though, in all the excitement.

Short Phil closed the bolt cutters around the big toe on Tubby’s right foot, allowing the younger man to feel the pressure. Mad Eddie looked straight into his eyes. “Now, who did you fucking tell?”

Short Phil’s knee was aching as he stayed bent, holding the bolt cutters around Tubby’s toe. He wished that Eddie would just give the word, then he could snip the skinny bastard’s toe off, and get on with finding out where the gear was.

Being only a whisker over five feet tall was not the best start in life, at least not in a tough part of south London. Phil hadn’t always been called Short Phil, it had usually been much worse. Short-arse, half-pint, midget, pocket-size, tiny, and runt, had been just some of the kinder nicknames he had endured over the years. He had been forced to stand up for himself early on. Nobody else was going to. His father had been a Polish soldier. His mum never spoke about him much, just said that he had been killed at Arnhem, and they never had a chance to get married. She didn’t tell Phil that he was almost four years old when his father parachuted to his death in battle. Some of the other kids said he looked Polish, whatever that meant. He had fair hair, and a stocky frame, so that was good enough for them. They would dance around him at school, shouting “Polack, Polack, your dad’s never coming back.”
He left school as soon as he could, and got a job helping out at a warehouse, just off Tower Bridge Road. The boss liked him, as despite his size, he proved to be strong, and always turned up on time. Pretty soon, Phil started to notice that some of the deliveries were regularly put to one side, and he was told to leave them alone. One morning, some hard-looking men came to talk to the boss, and as Phil was sweeping up near the door, he heard the sound of a scuffle. He went to the back, to find the three men beating up his boss, who was already on the floor. Although only a teenager, Phil knew what he had to do, and he waded in with the broom, hoping to help the outnumbered man. But they just laughed at him, and one of them hit him so hard, he didn’t remember much for a while. He came round to find himself in the office. His boss was black and blue, and looked shaken, but he put his arm around the young man, and thanked him. “You did well son, take this.” He gave Phil a large £5 note, the first he had ever owned.

The next day, his jaw still aching, Phil arrived for work as normal. His boss wasn’t there, but a smart-looking man called him into the office. “I hear you give a good account of yourself yesterday, Titch.” He was smiling as he continued. “Things are changing around here, but if you play your cards right, you can stay on, and earn some good dough. What do you say?” “Sounds OK, but the name’s Phil, not Titch”, he replied. The smart man grinned. “I’ve already got a Phil, so you will have to be Short Phil, if you agree. I’m Eddie, pleased to meet you.” He extended a long hand, the nails manicured, and a gold signet ring on one finger. Phil grasped the hand, what else could he do? “OK, boss, count me in.”

Turned out his old boss had not been playing straight with Eddie. He had got his beating, and an early retirement. Eddie’s team worked part of south London, and out towards Lewisham and Catford too. Fruit machines in pubs, amusement arcades, bent fags and booze, whatever was going, Eddie was into it. The rest of the gang were an assortment of ex-army blokes, and brainless villains that had never known any different. Short Phil was one of the youngest, and he had to step up and prove himself very quickly. The years went by, and all the small crews were being forced out of their areas. Big gangs like the Richardsons were taking over south of the river, and you couldn’t even think about moving north or east. The Maltese and Greeks had most of the West End sewn up, and as Eddie put it, “It’s getting hard for an ordinary criminal to make a living these days.” The good times were certainly becoming a memory. Phil had got his flat, his motor, and some nice suits. Every now and again, he even got to appreciate the company of one of the girls that hung around. But the cash wasn’t coming so regular, so Eddie decided it was time to branch out. He could no longer run the fruit machines, the Toms, or the gambling, without falling foul of the big boys. One day, he called everyone in, and made his announcement. They would become blaggers.

There were lots of security firms operating, collecting and delivering cash from banks and post offices. The guards carried coshes, and wore crash helmets, but that was nothing to the likes of Eddie and the boys. They were tooled up. Phil started to carry a gun at all times, an ex-army Browning automatic. And he wasn’t afraid to use it. On the jobs, they used sawn-offs, and Eddie even had a sub-machine gun, an old Sten. Wave them around a bit, and those mugs soon handed over the cash. Phil always gave them a few whacks with the gun too, just to make a point. When one bloke tried to get back into the van with the cash, he shot him in both legs. They were soon the number one team in the area, at least where armed robbery was concerned. The cash started to flood in. Phil was back in the money, and making a name for himself in the local pubs. Woe betide anyone who laughed at his height. They would get a glass in the face, a clubbing from the pistol butt, and then he would bash out all of their teeth. He was soon respected, and left alone. People he had never met tried to buy him drinks, and slutty girls sought out his company. Phil liked that, he liked being one of the chaps, a face to be reckoned with.

The coppers pulled him in sometimes. The hard ones slapped him around a bit, the easy ones took a bung to look the other way. But they never got nothing on him, not Phil. The shooter was always dumped before they lifted him, and he could always supply a solid alibi. He was playing cards with a large school, sorting out some bird at her flat, or watching telly round his mum’s. Nothing ever stuck, as there wasn’t a witness or bystander willing to risk the revenge of Mad Eddie’s gang. Besides, half the coppers could be easily straightened up, and they would probably fit someone else up for it, if Eddie wanted them to. Life was pretty good, at least by Phil’s reckoning. That was until Eddie started getting involved with the likes of Jackie Jam-Jar, and bringing in slags and know-nothings like Tubby. It wasn’t up to him to say though, but inside he knew that it would all go tits-up one day, working with the likes of them.

In the crowded office, all eyes were on Tubby, and the cutters around his toe. Eddie was just about to give him one last chance to tell who he had spoken to, when the phone rang. The loud bell made Short Phil jump, and his hands closed involuntarily. The huge bolt-cutters could do the lock on the back of a security van. They had no trouble slicing straight through the bone of Tubby’s big toe. His scream sounded above the unanswered telephone, and Short Phil watched, as the detached toe rolled across the wooden floor. Tubby was talking, the words punctuated by pain and short breaths. “It was Jackie. I might have told Jackie. When I got the van. Jackie for fuck’s sake. Jackie Jam-Jar.”
Eddie patted the younger man on the head, six hard pats, one for each word. “You only had to say so.”

Tubby was crying with the pain, and Eddie shot Short Phil a look. The look said it all, but Short Phil just shrugged in reply. “Someone better get him down the hospital”, Eddie said to nobody in particular. When the rest of the gang started to look at each other, Eddie chose for them. Turning to the red-faced man at the door, he barked, “Brian, you take him. Drop him at the entrance.” Tall Phil cleared his throat. “What about the toe Eddie?” Eddie walked over to the toe and inspected it. “Chuck it to the dog” he replied. Lighting a cigarette, Eddie wandered out into the warehouse, the yells of pain from Tubby growing faint as he was helped to hop out to the car. He rubbed his face with his hand; there was a headache in there, just waiting to happen, he was sure of that.

Eddie came from East Dulwich. Sandwiched between the rougher manor of Peckham, and the posh district of Dulwich Village, with its upper-class schools and expensive big houses, East Dulwich had never really had its own identity. The long roads leading from the greenery of Peckham Rye, up to the shops in Lordship Lane, could hardly be described as undesirable. In fact, Eddie’s parents actually owned their own house, almost unknown in his crowd. There was a good chance that he would never have encountered the sort of people that he now spent his life with, but he had done the decent thing, and gone into the army, to do his two years of National Service. Many of his peers sought exemptions, fiddled medical records, or just vanished, but he went. He had been brighter than most at school, passed his 11 Plus exam, and got a job as a trainee book-keeper at his mum’s firm in The City. When his call-up papers arrived, he didn’t mind going, hoping to see somewhere exotic, like Singapore, Malaya, or Kenya. He went for his training in Surrey, and was soon marked out by the sergeant, who transferred him to the company office, for clerical duties. From there, it was all ever going to go one way.

Sergeant Douglas was a career soldier. He had been in the war, and decided to stay on, running the stores, and being in charge of the supplies. All the paperwork necessary might have seemed a chore to some, but to the Sarge, it was a licence to print money. He saw the chance to make this Londoner his protege, and to make use of his quick brain, and skill with figures. So, Eddie was roped in to the big fiddles early on. He never got any further than Surrey, and the most exotic place he saw in two years was Guildford. The Sarge kept him close, and made sure he didn’t get posted to some faraway spot. Eddie was happy enough to play the game. Plenty of cash, nights out in the town, the odd bit of skirt to brighten the week. The Sarge shifted the stuff, Eddie cooked the books. They were a good team. When they had to deal with some of the spivs and crooks that pushed their luck, the Sarge expected him to bash a few heads, and break a few bones. He grew up fast, and realised what had to be done. No questions asked. When his time was up, the Sarge tried to talk him into staying on, but Eddie could now see his future, and it wasn’t in uniform.

Mum was upset when Eddie didn’t return to his job in The City. But he told her that he was now into import and export instead, and that impressed her. Dad seemed to know the truth, but it was never mentioned. Eddie soon moved out, into a rented flat just up the road, in Honour Oak. He got in with some blokes from Brockley Cross who were doing all sorts of dodgy deals. Eddie had his savings from his army fiddles, and could front up the money for the jukeboxes and one-armed bandits that were all the rage. It was easy enough. Turn up with a van load at a pub, cafe, or club, and tell the owner that he had to have a fruit machine or jukebox, or both. Wheel it in, plug it in, and tell him you would be back to empty the cash box later that week. If he kicked off, or made a fuss, he got a few slaps, or a bash with a cosh. If he went so far as to get help from some heavies, or throw the machine out after they had left, then they went back mob-handed, smashed the place up, and duffed-up everyone involved.
If they were hard, you just had to be harder.

There were lots of Eddies around in those days. Big Eddie from Streatham, Eddie Redhead from Coldharbour Lane, and the famous Razor Eddie, from Deptford. So he became East Dulwich Eddie, at least as far as everyone else was concerned. He never settled with that though. It was a bit of a mouthful, and East Dulwich didn’t sound that tough. He decided to create his own nickname, something more inspiring, a better branding for the sort of business he was engaged in. Not long after his twenty-first birthday, he started to refer to himself as Mad Eddie. This wasn’t that easy, as his previous street name had a tendency to stick. He had to get the rest of his associates to start calling him ‘Mad’, and when he was threatening a pub landlord, or club owner, he would say things like, “Tell them Mad Eddie was here.” After a year or so, his new name was widely adopted, and his reputation secured. He now moved on to the next stage of his plan. Taking over the gang.

He wondered why he had ever been worried. It was simplicity itself. Most of the blokes might have been older, and they were all certainly tougher, and more experienced. But they weren’t bright. There was a tendency to fight amongst themselves, and a childish spitefulness that had to be seen to be believed. They had jealousies; worrying about who had more money, or a better jam-jar, or whose bird was better looking. Eddie put it to them that he could organise things. They would have a proper manor, a defined field of operations. regular collections, cash in their pockets, and he would expand into the lucrative market of bent fags and booze. They wouldn’t even have to hijack the shipments. Just straighten up the drivers with some dosh, give them a few smacks for the sake of appearances, and drive off with the stuff. “Leave it all to me boys,” Eddie told them. And they did. Very soon, they acknowledged him as the leader, hardly noticing when the change happened. That was when the good times started.

Eddie took up with Janet that same year. She was three years older than him, and he had seen her hanging around the pubs with her mates. He asked around, showing interest. Nobody seemed to have a handle on her though. Some said her bloke was doing a big stretch, others that she had been married, and her husband was dead somehow. They couldn’t name anyone who had ever been out with her, and the only thing that everyone knew for sure was that she worked in Peek Frean’s biscuit factory, in Bermondsey. One night in the Tigers’s Head, he wandered over, and asked if she wanted a drink. He liked her short skirt, and bobbed hair, and didn’t mind that she wore glasses. Janet was excited to be chatted up by a known villain, a local face. Eddie soon found out that the truth about her was very normal. She lived with her mum and dad in Dockhead, and never had a boyfriend in the nick, or a husband who had been killed. He took her home that night, driving up to her flats in his new Rover P5, with its purring straight six engine. She kissed him in the car, and when she got indoors, told her mum that she had been brought home in a limousine. After that, they were a couple.

Eddie couldn’t help feeling that he was missing out though. The lads had no conversation, as most of them had never done nothing but crime. Janet was nice enough, and she adored him, but after the sex, he didn’t want to talk about the latest records, or her new clothes. He also regretted moving her into his new flat in Forest Hill. It had great views across from the top floor, and he had the latest G-Plan furniture, but she filled it with knick-knacks, girly bits and bobs. She had no taste, that was the problem. But she never forgot her roots, and kept the place nice, as well as always having food on the table whenever he got home. She even learned to drive, and he bought her a mini. Not an everyday one though, a posh one, a Wolseley Hornet. She didn’t have to work at the biscuit factory anymore either, not with the money he was bringing in.

And life was starting to get a lot more difficult too. His success had attracted the attention of the big gangs, and they had started to make noises about ‘including’ Eddie’s gang in their operations. It looked like a takeover was on the cards, and that would be bad news for him. They wanted in on all of it. The girls in Streatham and Balham, the gambling in Brockley and Ladywell, and the machines all over. If he wanted to stay in one piece, he was going to have to walk away from all that, and start working for a living. He would reinvent himself, and his gang, and they would become armed robbers.

Eddie walked over to the metal chest at the back. He fished around in it for a while, finally standing up holding his Sten, and two hand grenades. Behind him, the two Phils gave each other a knowing look. Eddie let out a deep sigh. “Get tooled up, boys,” he told them. “We’re paying Jackie a visit.” After collecting the guns, the blokes made their way outside. Eddie watched them as they walked up, seven assorted men, expressions grim, climbing into the two cars. With him included, that made eight, more than enough, he reckoned. They were missing one, Red-Faced Brian, who had not got back from the hospital yet. But they would go with what they had. Eddie would have been happy to go with just Bang-Bang, he was a one-man army in himself.

Billy Bang-Bang was the oldest member of Eddie’s gang. He was over fifty, though some way off sixty. He was also the toughest, and undoubtedly the most fearless. He didn’t have the caution of Tall Phil, or the unstable nature of Short Phil. He was just solid, staunch.

William Tice was also an outsider, and for one very important reason. He was from the East End, Limehouse, north of the river. In another life, he would never have met Eddie and the two Phils, Bald Norman, or Red-Face. He would have stuck to his manor, never ventured south of the Rotherhithe Tunnel, made that short journey into a land that was as foreign as another country. But the love of his life, his sweet Edna, was a Peckham girl, so he had no choice. He had made his life in these unfamiliar boroughs, that smaller part of the city. It had been so long now, he thought of it as home.
Young Billy Tice had started life in a Limehouse slum, the youngest of four. His mum and dad both had stalls on the market along Whitechapel Road, opposite the London Hospital. They sold anything they could lay hands on, but mostly second-hand clothes. Billy and his three sisters were expected to work too, from a very young age. Sorting through the rags and piles of clothes, washing them in big copper tubs, pressing them ready for sale on the market. He could just about read and write when he was taken out of school, and he was soon learning the ropes on the stalls too. In 1936, he was sixteen years old, and fed up with slaving away, and sleeping in a smelly bed with two of his sisters. He went to the recruiting office, and signed up for the army. Boy Soldier Tice.

He liked it well enough. He was almost six feet tall, and still growing. Years of hard graft had made him strong, and life on the market had made him tough. He made a place for himself in the infantry, and even got to go abroad, to India. He thought it was a dirty, smelly place, worse than Limehouse. The people were even poorer than his neighbours back home, and they used to piss and shit in the streets too. But he got used to it, and he got used to the heat as well. When the war with Germany started, he was nineteen years old, and no longer young Billy. Now he was lance-corporal Tice, and someone to be reckoned with. For the first year or so, not much happened. Then one day, they were issued with some new gear and uniform, and the clerk said they were going to the desert on a troopship. He had never heard of Libya, and the only thing he knew about Egypt was the Pyramids.

But he soon found out. To start with, they fought the Italians. Some of those eyeties weren’t much cop, but every now and again you met some who put up a fight. Then the Germans arrived, and it all got very serious. Billy lost mates, saw his first close range fighting, and began to realise that he actually enjoyed it. The truth was, he was good at fighting, and good at killing too. He shot people at long range, or shot them right in front of him. He stuck them with bayonets, hit them with shovels, bashed their heads in with a rifle-butt, or rocks, whatever was handy. He killed men who were surrendering, and also shot enemy wounded. He was a killing machine, devoid of conscience. He couldn’t understand the blokes who were scared, or who didn’t want to shoot, in case they hurt someone. It was a war, and they had to win it. Billy knew how to win it, and carried on in his own way.

The regiment had a hard war. You couldn’t make it up. After the desert, there was Sicily, then Italy. Months of slogging through the mud, Germans putting up a fierce fight. Billy made corporal by the time he was twenty-three, and the others always looked at him a bit funny. The officers loved him though. Any shitty job, dangerous patrol, or taking a strong-point, Tice was their man of choice. He got the job done, never moaned, and set out as if he couldn’t ever be killed.

He got leave just in time to meet Edna. She was looking at him across the floor of a dance hall in the West End. He had been staying with one of his mates in Tottenham, as he had no more to do with his family, and hadn’t seen or contacted them in years. Edna was his sort of girl. Small, pretty, and not too mouthy. Nothing like all the whores and slags who he had paid for over the years. It was love at first sight for him, and for Edna too. She had lost her fiance at Dunkirk, and didn’t expect to meet anyone else for a long time. But the tall sun-tanned soldier just made her heart flutter.

But first he had to go to France. Not long after D-day, they landed in time to get involved in the real bad fighting, near Caen. One damp morning, they lost two blokes to machine-gun fire from behind some hedgerows. When Billy flushed them out, they were just kids, wearing uniforms too big for them. The platoon had six prisoners, and the lieutenant told Billy that they were from the SS, the Hitler Youth Division. Without hesitation, Billy marched them behind the hedge and shot them all with his Thompson. They looked even younger when they were dead. After success in Normandy, they had to fight their way across what seemed like the whole of Germany, until it was over. Little villages, towns with houses like those in fairy stories, fighting for every one of them. Even after the surrender, Billy had to stay on, just ’cause he was a regular, they told him. The Army of Occupation wouldn’t be so bad. After all, they were still fighting the Japs in the Far East, so it was better than that. There were lots of fiddles too. The Black Market was the thing then, and he made a good few quid, here and there. He didn’t get back to Edna until 1946 though, and they married that same month.

Billy was finished with the army. It was no life for Edna, after all, and he really did love her. He loved her enough to move to south London, no matter how strange it seemed. The cold-water rooms in Nunhead were alright with him, as long as Edna was happy. Her dad got him a job as a lorry-driver, and she carried on working in Jones and Higgins. The driving job was just a front though. The bloke who owned the company was shifting all sorts of moody gear, and Billy was quick to catch on to the opportunities offered by this petty crime. He drifted in and out of different jobs, started to run with some of the gangs, and got the name as a tough guy, someone good when there was trouble. When it turned out that Edna couldn’t have kids, he didn’t mind. They got a better flat near Goose Green, and enjoyed life, going out drinking and dancing with their friends, and holidays in Southend, or Margate. By the time he met Eddie, he reckoned he knew a good boss when he saw one, and threw in with him as soon as he was asked.

At the time, he was still just Billy, or Bill. Some called him Limehouse Bill, to mark him out from the other Williams and Billys. He got his real nickname on his first job for Eddie. He went to a pub with Short Phil, acting as back-up for the little bloke. The landlord wasn’t playing ball, and threatening to bring in fruit machines from other gangs. Despite Short Phil acting his most fierce, the bloke wasn’t shifting. “You two better fuck off out, if you know what’s good for you,” he snarled. Billy produced two revolvers, one in each hand. He fired a shot from each one into the ceiling of the pub, and everyone shifted out of there in the wink of an eye. The bloke changed his mind.
Later on, Short Phil was telling the story to the rest of the gang. “You should have seen it. Billy gets out two shooters, and bang-bang. The geezer bottles it. He looked like he was going to shit his pants.” That was it. ‘Billy Bang-Bang’ was going to stick. It got shortened of course, as they often did. They dropped the Billy, and just used Bang-Bang. Sometimes, it was reduced to ‘Bangs’, but everyone knew who was being talked about. It got so that even Edna started to call him Bangs after a while, and some blokes didn’t even know his real name.

In the back of the Hillman, Billy was loading a spare magazine for the Thompson. They weren’t too far from Jackie’s place now, and you could never be too sure what to expect. Eddie placed the Sten on the floor between his feet. The thing was, it wasn’t about the guns, and not about the money they were worth either. It wasn’t even about the fact that weeks of work on the blag had all gone out of the window, and the inside man might not be on that run again for months. It was about taking the piss, and not showing respect. He had known Jackie for years, and yet the bastard thought he could swift his shooters, and balls up his job. He must think I’m getting soft, thought Eddie.

Jackie was sitting in the shabby office at the back of his car lot in Downham. He was thinking about how much he hated gangsters, and asking himself for the umpteenth time why he ever allowed himself to get involved with them in the first place. They pretended to be your mate, they acted like you were part of their set-up, but they just took the piss out of you, showed you no respect. Well this time, he had bit back, got one over on them. It wasn’t about the guns, far from it. He was just fed up with being fed up, and tired of being used.

Jackie Jam-Jar wasn’t even a Jackie, or a Jack. He wasn’t even Jack Rose, the name on his sign fronting Downham Way. He was Jacob Rosenberg, and he lived a respectable life, at least as far as his family, friends, and neighbours were concerned. He had been born in Vienna, where his parents ran one of the most respected tailoring shops in a good area. But then Hitler had come to power in Germany, and everyone knew that Austria would be next. He was sent to live with his aunt in London, in the affluent district of Golders Green, where she had a shop selling ladies undergarments. He didn’t hear from mum and dad after that. When he was old enough to understand, Aunt Ada told him that they had probably died in the camps.

He did well at school, and went to Technical College, where he became interested in engines, and the cars that they went in. He got a job at Ford’s in Dagenham, working in the technical development office. Aunt Ada found him clean rooms with a Jewish family in Wanstead. It was there that he met Hester, a cousin of the family, from south London. They decided the pair would be a good match, and a marriage was arranged. Aunt Ada was pleased, and gave Jacob the money to set up his own car company. He found some cheap land with a workshop in Downham, and began with a grand idea, to build his own brand of sports car. But Hester wanted a house, and it had to be somewhere nice, like Bromley. Then she got pregnant, and the money was going fast. After little Anthony was born, Hester wanted only the best, so Jacob had to become Jack, and start selling cars, instead of inventing new ones. He was soon approached by dodgy types, asking for cars that had no history, or bringing him ones that did. This was easy money though, and it was regular too.

Now Anthony was at university, hoping to become a barrister. Hester had declined to have more children. She always said that she had a bad time with her first, and didn’t want to go through that again. Aunt Ada was long dead, and Jacob had become Jackie Jam-Jar, everyone’s friend, living a lie. Hester wanted little more out of life than new furniture, and to talk about the family car company to her posh friends. If only she knew. If only they all knew. There was her brother Terence of course. He was never mentioned. He had been adopted in a moment of madness, before they knew they were expecting Hester. When he turned out to be a monster, they disowned him. But Jackie kept in touch, and kept an eye on his daughter, Carol. The least he could do, with Terry in for fifteen. He lit a cigar, and sat back in the collapsing chair. The shit would hit the fan, he was sure of that. And he had stopped caring. He was sure of that too.

When the cars drove into the yard, Jackie knew. He opened the drawer of his desk and took out the Luger pistol he kept there, laying it across his lap. Angel was in the doorway. “They’re here Jackie,” he stated the obvious. His tone was flat, disinterested. He walked off into the workshop, no doubt to give Tony The Tooth and Pale Ashton the heads-up. In his mind’s eye, Jackie had imagined the scene. Eddie would arrive heavy, shout a lot, threaten him and the boys. Short Phil might wave his bolt-cutters about, and Bangs might even show off his Thompson. But the stuff was long gone, not to be found in his place, anywhere. And he would deny it all, blame Tubby, and tell Eddie to do his worst, but it wasn’t him. They need me, he told himself. Where else would they get the motors and vans they needed all the time? Eddie would have to take this one on the chin, whatever he thought he knew.

But that day, things didn’t work out quite as smoothly as he had anticipated. For once, Mad Eddie was really mad, and he was already planning where to get his motors in future.

Angel had grabbed the twelve-bore from the boot of the Zodiac in the workshop. Tony The Tooth put his Colt .45 automatic in his inside coat pocket, and even Pale Ashton tooled up, getting the old Webley from the red tool box in the corner. Just in case. But the best laid plans…You know the rest.
Eddie started firing the Sten before he had even cleared the top step into Jackie’s office. Poor old Jam-Jar didn’t have time to pick up the Luger. He looked at the holes in his belly, the blood already soaking his shirt. It didn’t hurt yet. The shock would have to wear off first. Bangs got out of the other car, firing short bursts with the Thompson at the thin walls of the workshop. Tony gave a yell, and fell over backwards. Angel glanced at him, and saw he wasn’t moving. He poked the barrels of the shotgun through the small doorway, and fired them both, more in panic than with care. Bangs was surprised to find himself on his back. He couldn’t stand up, and suddenly felt very cold. Angel had managed what all those Italians and Germans had never been able to. But in his panic, he had fired both shells, and forgotten to reload. As Bald Norman approached the door, pointing a pistol at his face, Angel pointlessly pulled the triggers on two empty chambers, just before the .38 soft nose bullet entered his head.

Pale Ashton had never been so scared, but he was no coward. He ran out of the back door, and around the side, until he was behind the office. As Eddie walked back down the steps, Ashton shot him in the back, twice. The smart man fell onto his face, and didn’t move. Ashton thought about shooting him again, but then something hit him hard in the side, and he fell as well. He looked up, and saw one of the cars reversing at speed, back out of the entrance into the road. The other car was now empty; doors open, engine running. He thought he could perhaps get into it, and make his escape, so started to crawl towards it. But Bald Norman had other ideas. His first shot had been a fluke from that range, so he was closing the gap for a second try. Pale Ashton realised he was never going to make it. He turned awkwardly, and fired the remaining four rounds at the man approaching him. Norman fired back as he walked forward, but suddenly found himself kneeling on the floor, wondering why he wasn’t upright. The black bloke was dead for sure, but Norman didn’t feel that good either. He guessed it must be something to do with the hole in his shoulder, then his face hit the tarmac.

They got the story in time for the evening papers. It was meaty stuff, sure to sell out the edition.
‘CARNAGE IN DOWNHAM. SEVEN DEAD IN SHOOT-OUT’ The banner headline was repeated on the flyers by the news-stands.

Edna always got a paper on her way home. Although no names were mentioned, a photo of the scene was published, the bodies covered over with sheets or something. She recognised the car, the one with its doors open. It was Eddie’s car, no mistake. She felt sick, as if she was going to pass out. She held onto a wall in Rye Lane, and a lady came up to her. “You alright dear?” She asked.
Janet didn’t find out until the six-o-clock news on the telly that night. She hadn’t been worried, as Eddie was rarely home before seven anyway. She started to cry, and she wasn’t sure if she would ever stop. In Bromley, Hester was watching something different, when the doorbell rang. There were two men in raincoats, and a policewoman in uniform. She showed them in, and when they told her, the scream she let out made them all jump. Carol got a phone call. He mumbled something about Angel, and told her to watch the news.

She didn’t cry at first. She had always expected this.

Longer Stories: Travelodge

A Travelodge is a budget hotel, part of a popular chain here in the UK. This is one of my earliest attempts at longer fiction, originally published in three parts. I have decided to group it together into one long post, and offer it as something for new followers to discover. If you take the time do do just that, I will be very grateful. I warn you now, it is over 11,000 words.

I have taken some liberties with punctuation and grammar. Where those appear, they are deliberate.

Part One: Chris

Pardew indicated left, to turn into the service road behind the large petrol station. He was craning his neck, to see if his favourite spot was free. He considered it unlucky if someone else was parked in it, though for no good reason. He turned right, following the direction indicated by the blue sign, and was ridiculously elated to see the free space, right at the end, next to the huge concrete planter containing a mature pampas grass. Two weeks ago, there had been a flat bed truck in that space, the one he considered ‘his’, and he had felt deflated. Not only had he lost his spot, it seemed that commercial drivers were now using the hotel, lowering the tone, in his opinion. But then, everything around him was changing.

As he turned off the ignition, and reached over to the back seat, to grab his jacket, and overnight bag, he reflected on how many times he had made this journey, in just over a year. Every two weeks, for fourteen months; less Christmas, and that last summer holiday, naturally. At least thirty times. It seemed a lot more though, and he wondered how he was going to arrange for it to stop.

At first, it had been so exciting. It was not contrived, neither sought, nor even wished for. It had simply happened. The annual conference, at some awful generic hotel, in the heart of what was commonly known as; ‘The West Midlands Urban Conurbation’. Pat had been the new girl, a recent addition to the sales force, and one of only two women employed in this role. She was surprisingly confident, and very straightforward, unlike any other woman he had met. Some of the old hands laughed behind her back, calling her ‘a bloke with tits’. Pardew almost knew what they meant. She had an easy way about her, chatted freely; and she didn’t flirt, or come across ‘all feminine’. He liked that about her. After the conference, they all met for dinner and drinks, normally a stilted affair, where regional factions gathered together, suspiciously eyeing up those who were doing well, or those from the larger cities. Pat brightened the evening, doing the rounds in the room, but not sucking up to the bosses too much. Just enough though.

Even though the venue was bland, by any standards, the management sought to save money, by making everyone stay at various Travelodges, or Premier Inns, a short distance away. This also meant that they all would have to drive later, so reduced drunkenness, and any awkward scenes. When Pat let slip that she was staying at the same Travelodge, Pardew was inordinately pleased, though he couldn’t think why. She had given no indication of undue attraction to him, and he had certainly not propositioned her. He had suggested a meeting at breakfast, before they made their respective departures. As the hotel had no catering facilities, this would be taken at the roadside diner, part of a national chain, conveniently located beside the petrol station. She had not confirmed this arrangement by the time they left the conference dinner, so he thought no more of it. He reversed his Audi A4 out of the tight space, and drove through the darkness, arriving at the motel in less than fifteen minutes. There were no staff around as he entered, so he walked straight to his room, and decided to ring his wife.
It was only 10.30pm, but you would have thought it was the middle of the night, judging by her tone. He guessed that he was interrupting one of her programmes, probably something she had Sky-Plussed earlier. He rambled on about how dull the conference had been, and how crushingly boring it was, to be stuck in the motel, near the junction of three major motorways. Mandy suggested he watch TV, and when he said he would be home the next evening, about six, she ended the lukewarm chat, with a simple ‘bye’. Pardew stretched out on the reasonably comfortable bed, blowing out his cheeks, and releasing the air slowly. They had only been married for three years for Christ’s sake, was that her best effort? He went over to his bag, and took out the half bottle of vodka, purchased in a supermarket yesterday. At least he could relax, and enjoy a drink, maybe it would help him sleep. Try not to think too much Chris, he told himself. It’s the thinking that does the damage. He took mental stock of his life. Almost thirty years old, a reasonably successful salesman, with a nice car, decent salary, and numerous benefits. Married to the lovely Mandy, for three years, no children planned as yet, until she got her business running to a level at which she would feel secure. She was good with computers, and could write and design a mean website. Trouble was, so could thousands of other people, and most of them were a lot cheaper than Mandy.  Too much thinking was making his head hurt. Time for sleep.

The next morning, he had a nine o’clock almost forty miles away, so decided to skip breakfast, and try to beat the morning rush. It didn’t pay to be late these days. The world of business computing was getting ever more crowded, and customers would think nothing of not seeing you, if you were five minutes late. He had been chasing this prospect for almost three months, and wasn’t about to let him get away, at least not without a fight. Thinking of the right pitch occupied his mind, and he didn’t even glance into the diner as he drove past. He never saw the woman, looking at her watch in a window seat, wondering what she was going to say to this relative stranger, when he arrived to join her for breakfast.

When he got out of the meeting, he was not in the best of moods. the buyer was a good five years younger than him, open necked shirt, casual jacket, very Silicon Valley. He had made Pardew feel old, and even worse, made his product feel old, and outdated too. In another life, he might have agreed with the cocky youngster. Their stuff had seen better days. Once the brand leader, it was now lagging behind the new guys on the block, and the hardware was beginning to show its age. He had managed to remain positive and upbeat, but was secretly crestfallen when he realised all the work getting in to see this company was pointless. They had gone with the new lot, like so many before them. He would make his next call on one of the old regular customers, just to cheer himself up. He checked his mobile. It was more of a computer than a phone, almost too big to fit into a pocket, and packed with every gadget and gizmo possible. He had a text from an unknown number, but read it anyway. You never know, it might be something good. It was a simple message. ‘Thanks for breakfast. I felt a right prat sitting there. Dickhead.’ He knew at once it had to be from Pat. She must have contacted the office to get his number, probably told them she needed advice or something. He had completely forgotten the promise of a shared breakfast, and felt his face flush with embarrassment, despite sitting alone, in a parked car. This was soon replaced by indignation. After all, she hadn’t confirmed it last night, so how was he supposed to know?

He replied with a text along the lines of sorry, I will make it up to you, or something similar; now long forgotten, and securely deleted. He didn’t bump into Pat for a few weeks after that, during a routine trip into Head Office, for leaflets and samples. He expected awkwardness, but received the friendliest of welcomes, and it put him completely off guard. Before he knew it, he could hear himself blatantly chatting her up, and suggesting a meal later that night, if she could make it. He was staying at the nearest Travelodge, so it would not be too far for her. After all, she had given away that she only lived a short drive from the out of town industrial estate where they were chatting. He had clocked her wedding ring, but tried his luck anyway. What was the worst that could happen? She agreed to meet at the Harvester across the road from the hotel, at 6.30. It was hardly a place he would have chosen; one of this featureless chain of pubs, with their family-friendly cheap meals, all tasting as if they had come straight from the freezer. Still, at least he could have a drink, and walk back across the car park to his room.

He was in the bar at 6, at a table with a good view of the door. By 6.45, he presumed that she wasn’t coming, and constant checks on his phone showed no message, or apology for lateness. He looked once more at the picture-book menu, failing to get inspiration from the photographs of how the meals would appear on the plate, but deciding that he had better have something, as he hadn’t eaten since a skimpy breakfast. As he went back up to the bar, to order another drink, she appeared, coat flapping, all rush and bluster. She was dressed for a ball, with long gown, full make-up, and a hairdo that was probably straight from the salon, before a buffeting in the car park disassembled it. Not really appropriate for steak and chips in a Harvester, he thought to himself. She muttered some apology, and he asked what she wanted to drink; just water please, was her reply. He showed her to the table, and commented on how attractive she looked. She finally relaxed, and with a chuckle, told him that she had used the excuse of having to go to a formal company dinner, so thought that she had better dress as if she actually was.

A dumpy waitress arrived, probably working after school or college, awkward in her too-short black dress and thick black tights, wrinkled at the knees. They both ordered a main course only, and Pardew suggested wine, to which Pat replied, not for me, but thanks anyway. The conversation was surprisingly easy, and flowed a lot better than he had anticipated. Both gave a short history of their lives up to then, as well as their present circumstances. Pat was married, and had been for almost ten years. She had no children. Despite trying hard for a few years at first, it just hadn’t happened. Her husband was called Alan, and he was a policeman, a motorway traffic officer. He was working until 11 that night, so she would have to be home by the time he got in. He didn’t like her being out too late, and naturally frowned on any drinking, when she would be driving later. Without asking her directly, Pardew guessed that she was a few years older than he was. The length of time she had been married, the music she talked about, and how long her husband had been a copper, it all added up to her being about thirty-five. When they were eating the meal, conversation dropped off, but she smiled a lot, and ate casually, without undue speed, or apparent hunger. The long purple dress, matching bag and shoes, and flawless make-up, all oozed class. He felt good, and ordered another glass of Chablis to celebrate this feeling of well-being. After the meal was finished, she declined a dessert, and suddenly interrupted him during the full flow of one of his funnier stories. Please call me Trish, she asked, everyone calls me Pat.
He checked his watch, time to ask the inevitable question. After all, he had nothing to lose. How about coffee or a drink in my room, he suggested, it is very noisy in here. She nodded, and reminded him to ask for the bill. He gave the gloomy waitress a £5 tip, feeling the need to spread the good mood around the room. Pat put her coat on, and followed him out, for the short walk across to the Travelodge. The desk staff didn’t bat an eyelid when he arrived with a glamorous woman in tow. There was little left to surprise them, in the life of an out of town motel, where guests treated them as if they were invisible; most of the time, anyway. In the room, they abandoned any pretence at niceties, and began kissing as soon as Pat’s coat was off. There was the usual frantic fumbling with zips, sleeves, and assorted fasteners, and they were soon on the bed, clad only in underwear. Pardew noted that she was wearing hold-up stockings; a nice touch, he mused. Her body was not gym-hardened and fleshless, like Mandy’s, but womanly, soft and fragrant. If he had imagined a sex-fest of unusual antics, and porn film proportions, he was wrong. But it was all very nice, in a hurried, longing for satisfaction kind of way. When it was over, and they were both replete, Pat retreated to the small bathroom, to tidy up, as she put it. Pardew was feeling pretty pleased with himself. His first extra-marital assignation had gone well. He searched inside for guilt, but felt none present. Despite reservations about his physical image, lack of muscle tone, and slight belly, he had received no complaints. And it was still only 10.15, so he could probably get to see that film at 11, after all.

Pat reappeared fully dressed, hair combed, and make-up reconstructed. She said that she was sorry to rush, and that it had been very nice, not that she ever did that sort of thing normally, you understand. She made sure that he had saved her number, and when he suggested meeting again, in say two weeks, she agreed without hesitation. He kissed her goodbye at the door of the room, as she had declined his offer of walking her to the car. Back in the room, he confirmed his good feelings to himself. This could be nice. A fortnightly diversion, a break from the norm. Was it an affair though? He doubted that. More like a modern arrangement.

It went on much the same, though with the distinct absence of hold-up stockings, and evening wear. Within a short time, it had become a standing arrangement, every two weeks, saving family occasions, holidays, and unforeseen dramas. She would turn up, often in sports clothes, apparently now using going to an exercise class with friends, as a regular excuse. They rarely bothered to go out, or to eat first. Pardew would have a few drinks in his room, and text her the room number. She would arrive around seven, and usually be gone by nine. He would be left to his TV programmes, catching up on paperwork, and the late call to Mandy, to listen to how bored she was to hear his voice. The once frantic sex of the early days had gone. It had been replaced by rapid undressing, a leap under the duvet, then following the usual routine, until they were both satisfied, or Pat had to leave. They couldn’t give each other presents, or small gifts, as they could not explain them. Cards were out of the question, for the same reason. And they never mentioned the word love. It just didn’t seem appropriate. In the same way, the prospect of either of them leaving their spouses was never raised. This was not going to end in divorce, or living alone in a small room, for either of them. It had become a habit, like most things in life always do, eventually.

Fourteen months on, as he waited for Pat to arrive, probably late as usual, Pardew reflected on the complete pointlessness of it all, and resolved to end it that evening. Things were certainly no better with Mandy, but the feeling of freedom that he got from his fortnightly sneaking, no longer existed. He knew exactly what to expect, from the moment Pat came through the door, until the second that she left to go home. He would be kind and considerate, perhaps invent an excuse. Maybe Mandy had an illness that meant he had to be home more. Perhaps he could say that they were moving nearer, and he had no more excuses to stay away. He didn’t know for sure, but he would think of something, and end it as friends.
At least, that was the plan.

Part Two: Trish

The traffic was heavier than usual, probably an accident on the motorway, everything diverted, to just where she needed to be.

Trish was going to be late, as normal. He never moaned about it, but she could always tell that he noticed. At least the rain had stopped, and she could open the window again. Alan had been a bit sullen that afternoon. He couldn’t see why she wanted to go to her imaginary exercise class, then for drinks with the girls later. After all, he was on a day off, and she wouldn’t be drinking anyway. He had offered a lift, but she had been adamant that she wanted her own car there. After all, she had explained, I might want to leave early. As soon as she got in from work, contriving an early finish by cancelling her last appointment, he had been on her as usual. Big deal, he was on a day off. What about all those nights and weekends of her life, when he was out in his Police Car? She had never complained.
She resolved to make this THE night, the one time she got to speak to Chris properly. Forget the sex, they needed to talk. This had all gone on far too long, without any decent conversation, and no planning for the future. She had not intended this relationship to be just a year of stolen assignations in a crappy motel. She deserved more, and she would tell him so. The red lights of the car ahead suddenly blazed bright, and she stood on her brakes. Concentrate Trish, she told herself, watch what you’re bloody doing girl. She couldn’t really work out how she had let it go for so long. There was never any talk of love, or even of like, for that matter. There was some scant affection, and sex of course, but that was all, and occasionally, it left her feeling empty. Every two weeks, she had determined to tell him that she loved him, and to ask what his plans and intentions were for the future. Then it just didn’t happen, and she always mentally kicked herself, on the short journey home. She would not allow herself to believe that all he wanted was routine sex on a fortnightly basis. That was impossible to consider. It had to be more surely? It certainly was, for her.

Compared to Alan, Chris was all she had hoped for. Amusing, relaxed, good company, and undemanding. Of course, Alan had been different when they were young. He was her first serious boyfriend at sixteen, and the first man she ever had sex with, a year later. In fact, until that fateful meeting fourteen months earlier, the only man that she had ever had sex with. There had been lots of offers, naturally. You cannot be a woman in this sort of job, without constant innuendo, inappropriate touching, and even downright suggestions of how about it? Until she met Pardew that night, it had never seriously crossed her mind. It was just that he was the sort she always fancied. Not athletic, a bit cheeky, and rough around the edges. He didn’t think that much of himself, which made others think all the more of him. If she could have gone back in time, and had the benefit of hindsight, she would have waited for someone exactly like Chris. He even referred to himself as Pardew, as if he was talking about someone else, and despite the fact that he was one of the best salesmen in the company, he was suitably self-deprecating. Every time she went to meet him, she felt better, warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer. He had a good effect on her, and she wanted to feel that more than once every fortnight.

She would ask him about leaving his wife. From what little she had heard about Mandy, she concluded that she was a selfish, driven woman, who had a husband as an accessory, and would have preferred a more executive model. Their house was chosen by her, as well as the decor, furnishings, and even the car that Chris had picked from the list of those available. He was there for the journey, a passenger in the speeding train of her life and plans. Trish believed that she had so much more to offer. She would involve him, allow him to be himself, and embrace his friends and family, all currently sidelined by this snobbish woman from Worcester. She had dissected every snippet of conversation, all the snapshots of his life provided by their all too short talks, before and after sex. Over these last months, she had managed to construct an image of Chris’s life with Mandy, in their heavily-mortgaged, larger than necessary house, on an executive estate, on the outskirts of a small Midlands town. Mandy’s own business was hardly doing well. Web Site management, so what? You could do that on your own these days, with free tools provided by numerous organisations. Why pay that shrew to do it for you? Trish expected that Mandy lived on debts, with huge credit card bills, and loans paying off forever, to provide her life with the best of everything. She doubted that Chris knew half of it, and was sure that Mandy kept him firmly in the dark about financial affairs. He was so easygoing, after all, and probably just went along with anything, to get the quiet life he sought.

He would be better off with her. They could force Alan and Mandy to sell the houses, get half of each, if anything was left, and begin afresh. They were still young enough to start again, get a small house somewhere, and maybe even have a family. They both had good jobs, company cars, and expenses, and could work hard to lead a happy life together. She would explain that it was Alan who couldn’t give her children, and that she was in full working order. Since meeting Pardew, she had even had to secretly go back on the pill, to the great surprise of her doctor. She had said it was because of period problems, as she could hardly tell the truth, when her and Alan both went to the same GP. He had never accepted that it was because of him, that they couldn’t have children. He refused to accept his low sperm count, and she dare not even consider broaching the possibility of a donor. He put it down to the doctors taking her side, and grew angry and withdrawn whenever the subject came up. He poured his energies into his job, his training at the gym, his football club, and in cycling. He was always cycling, it seemed to her. He had even spent £3,000 on a special bike of some kind, without even mentioning it to her, until it appeared in the garage one day. He thought nothing of going for fifty miles, and would habitually do a twenty mile ride, even before work. She didn’t go on about it, knowing better than to rile him.

It had been different when they were young. He was two years older than her, waiting to join the Police as soon as he could get in. It was all he ever wanted to be, and he had prepared for it his whole life, even dressing in a small policeman’s outfit on his fifth birthday. The photo of that event had pride of place, alongside his passing-out parade photo, on the unit near the TV. The other girls had been jealous. He was six feet tall, sporty and athletic; square-jawed, and blue-eyed. He came from a good family, and he had a car! What more could she ask for, her friends had all told her. Even so, he had waited a long time to propose. They didn’t marry until he was sure that he had achieved what he wanted, and passed all his courses in the Police. Once he was accepted for the Traffic Patrol, his ultimate goal, he arranged the wedding for the following year. She was twenty-six, and he was almost twenty-nine, when they had the dream wedding in the small church, followed by a lavish reception in the country club hotel. Almost ten years later, and they still lived in the two-bed semi that they bought the year before they married. He preferred to spend any spare money on cars, instead of moving up the housing ladder. Last year, he had gone and spent almost sixteen grand on a car that he said was the best on the road, a Mitsubishi Evolution. Alright, he could afford the loan repayments, but she didn’t think much of it. It was bumpy, noisy, and not very practical. She had to admit though, Alan’s eyes did light up when he got behind the wheel of it.

Then there was the gym equipment, with the spare room kitted out like the local health centre. As well as this, he also paid out a fortune in membership fees, to the swanky gym club on the ring road. What with all that, the cycling, football, and driving his car, for the sake of it, he was hardly home, even on his days off. Despite these absences, he begrudged her any time apart. Over the years, she hardly saw her friends anymore, and lost herself in study. After sixth form college, she worked for a large insurance company, and soon realised that she was good with computers. Studying at home, and one night a week at college, she got qualifications, and decided that she would change careers, and start selling business computing systems. Alan had been against that of course. He thought that she should stick with Insurance, make her career there, and build up a nice pension. For the first time since she had met him, she went against his wishes, and applied for the job with one of the big companies. They had a territory vacant around the area where she lived, so she would always be home at night. After weeks of sulking, Alan finally came around to the idea, and started to look through car magazines. If she could change her job, he could change the car; that was his take on it, anyway.

When she came home with a start date, she also told him that she had chosen her company car, from the list of options available. He almost exploded when she told him that she had picked a Ford Focus. He demanded to look at the list. For God’s sake, she could have had a BMW 3 series for not much more a month, why the hell had she picked such a boring bloody car?  To Trish, a car was a car. It was almost free, you just paid a small tax penalty. They even paid for the petrol, insurance, and servicing, so why was he so angry? Alan didn’t think women could drive properly. She never drove when they went anywhere, as she could not bear the constant criticism and superiority. If she went the wrong way, or changed gear too late, he would yell at her, and get red-faced with frustration. She just left it to him, and switched off inside. As he got older, Alan got angrier. Trish didn’t like to admit it, but she was becoming afraid of him. It wasn’t that he was violent; he never touched her, or even threatened to do so. It was the anger that she was afraid of, and it always seemed to be directed at her. He often talked about his work, and would tell her the stupid things people did on the motorways, and how he came along to clear up the carnage that they left behind. If he had his way, no foreigners, women, or anyone over seventy would be allowed to drive. And while he was at it, nobody under twenty-one either. Unless they were Policemen, of course.

It had never really occurred to her to stray. The night she met Pardew, she couldn’t stop looking at him, but managed a good job of hiding it, pretending to suck up to the bosses. When he asked her to join him at breakfast, she agreed, but played it cool, and contrived to be out of the room as everyone left, to avoid returning to the Travelodge together. Inside, she was as excited as a teenager before Prom Night. Was breakfast considered a date? Perhaps she had gone too far,but she really liked him, his easy ways, and the fact that he had changed into a smarter suit, after the meeting, and before coming over for the dinner. He had made the effort to go back to his hotel and change, and he was the only one that had bothered. When he didn’t show up for breakfast, she had been angry at first. She got his mobile number from the office, and sent a shitty text. Then she had felt silly. Perhaps he had misunderstood, or something had come up. She was too embarrassed to text again, and just left it. But she continued to think about him though. A lot. When she saw him at Head Office, she was overjoyed. He was friendly and urbane, every inch the gentleman. The text was never mentioned, and he was obviously coming on to her. When he asked her out, she agreed immediately, not even considering Alan. On the way home, she came up with the excuse of having to go to a formal dinner, to represent the company. She couldn’t get out of it, and she was all in a rush as a result. Alan wasn’t too happy, but would be working until 11, so he couldn’t really do much about it over the phone; especially as he was dealing with a fatal accident at the time.

She chose the outfit in a hurry, one her best ones, together with her sexiest underwear, normally reserved for Alan’s birthday, or Christmas. She spent ages on her make-up, then styled her own hair, using some device bought for her as a gift, long-forgotten in the back of a cupboard. It wasn’t ideal, but at least it looked as if she had tried. She put on her new coat, and left, all a fluster, as she knew she would never make it by the agreed time.  She needn’t have worried. Pardew was there, smiling, friendly, and warm, just as she knew he would be, deep down. She must not drink, as Alan would go crazy if he smelt alcohol on her, and she ordered the first thing she saw on the menu, too excited to want to think about food. Chris was the one, she decided over her sparkling water. This was the man she should be with, not that aggressive traffic cop, who was no longer the man he had been, if he ever was in the first place. When Chris suggested going to his room, she didn’t hesitate. She had been disappointed when he had ordered that second glass of wine, in case it meant he was going to stay drinking in the restaurant, and that would be it. Once in the door of his room, it was all she had hoped it would be. He tugged at her clothes, kissed her passionately, and they fell to the bed, both hot with desire. His attraction was obvious, and his love-making was insistent, yet tender, just like those in the books she had read. He covered all the bases, and satisfied her completely, even in the short time they had available. By contrast. Alan had always embarked on sex with the determination of a mountaineer. For him, it was all about stamina, endurance, and physical prowess. Oral sex was taboo, as he considered it dirty. When she had suggested it, a long time ago, he had remarked that she might as well work in a brothel, as only whores did that sort of thing. He was a pumper, banging away on top, until she lost the will to live most times. She was sure that he was timing it in his head, and anything less than thirty minutes pumping, was considered a failure.

When Chris suggested meeting in two weeks, she agreed, and managed to conceal her concerns. She had expected him to declare his love for her, and she had been more than ready to do the same. To her way of thinking, they should be arranging to meet the same week, to talk over their plans for leaving, and being together always. Perhaps there were things he had to arrange first, so two weeks, same place, would have to do for now. Trish had never really worked out how it always ended that way. Meeting again in two weeks, the room number sent to her by text, and never any talk of living together, or how much they were in love. The sex stayed great. It must have been, because it was usually the same, which was always great for her. And Chris seemed to enjoy it. She always meant to have that chat though, and it just never happened. Tonight would be different, she would definitely do it. It must be tonight, she was certain.

The car park was busy, and she left her car in the delivery area. Although she knew she wasn’t supposed to park there, she doubted that there would be deliveries after normal hours. He had sent the text, the room was on the ground floor, one they had used many times. She grabbed the gym bag off the passenger seat, and hefted the heavy handbag onto her other shoulder, pressing the remote to lock the Focus, as she did so. Get ready Pardew, she muttered to herself, as she strode purposefully into the reception area.

Tonight’s the night.

Part Three: Alan
The blood running down from the crushed door was pooling on the tarmac. Looks like a nasty one, Alan thought, as he walked along the hard shoulder towards the small hatchback. He turned, and shouted to his colleague that they would need the Fire Brigade, sooner rather than later. Someone needed cutting out of this mess, alive or dead. He waved angrily at the traffic on the opposite carriageway. There would be an accident on that side soon, if they all kept slowing down to look at the one that had already happened. The driver of the lorry was looking dazed, sitting on the grass verge, as paramedics attended to him. The motorway was closed Northbound, so there would be hell to pay with a traffic backlog later, at the height of the rush hour. He looked into the car. As he had suspected, the young woman driver was very dead, with most of the door and front wing squeezed into half of her body. Her head was undamaged, and she looked as if she was sleeping, in a heavy, deep sleep, like someone who is unwell, or very drunk. Except she was neither. She was in that sleep from which nobody ever awakes.

His mobile was going off, buzzing in his pocket, the volume turned off. He fumbled under his yellow over-jacket, and saw it was Pat calling. He turned towards the car so he would not be seen, and answered. She had to go out after work, she panted, seemingly out of breath. Big occasion, got to represent the company, can’t get out of it. Wouldn’t be a late one though, sorry and all that, but it is her job, after all. He was about to tell her to say no, when the siren from the approaching fire engine all but drowned out the call. He just said OK then, and hung up. No time to sort it now, he would deal with it later. He walked towards the fireman who had jumped out of the rescue truck. You will need cutting equipment, he told him, but no rush, she’s had it.

By the time Alan got home that night, Pat was already asleep in bed. He took her car keys from the hook in the kitchen, and quietly went into the garage, using the back door from the garden. From a box under some tools, he removed the small notebook, where he kept a daily record of her mileage. Outside, he eased into her car, the digital mileometer activating with the entry key. He added the reading, next to the date for that day, then reversed his movements. He was sure that she was unaware he was doing this, as she had never shown any sign that she knew. Later this week, he would casually ask her where the function had been, and calculate the distance accordingly. Back in the house, he checked the washing basket in the bathroom. Black stockings, and lacy knickers; very fancy, for a company dinner.

He didn’t get much chance to chat for a few days, until he had finished the run of late shifts. He was sleeping when she left, and she was in bed when he returned. That weekend, he was off, so started Saturday morning with a forty-mile round trip on his bike. That blew away the cobwebs, and sharpened his thoughts. When he got back, she was at the supermarket, a note left behind a fridge magnet said she wouldn’t be long. Before he showered, he put his bike away, and did an hour on the running machine, followed by some press-ups. She returned, laden with all sorts of stuff, and announced that she was cooking a special meal, as they hadn’t seen a lot of each other that week. As she fussed over the shopping, he quickly checked her mileage, and scribbled it into the notebook. Relaxing later, his sixth sense was telling him that something was not right. He had known Pat for almost twenty years, and he knew her deep down, inside out. He knew what she was thinking, what she wanted, and what she would say in answer to a question. At least he thought he did. That evening, he had lost that connection, that surety. It was as if a radio had lost tune, and the regular station couldn’t be found. His signals were not just crossed, they were totally absent. This was a different Pat, as if she had been substituted with another model, identical in appearance, but completely opposite in character and attitude. It troubled him greatly.

Alan coasted along for the next few days, waiting for the inevitable. On Thursday, it appeared. After dinner, Pat casually injected a chat about the women at Head Office, and how well she got on with two of them. Still gazing vacantly at the TV, she added that they had asked her to go to an exercise class, then for a drink afterwards. You always tell me that I need to take more exercise, she had told him, so here is my chance. What she didn’t know, how could she, was that he had already found the sports wear and new trainers, purchased the previous Saturday, and tucked away in the top of the spare room wardrobe. Strange that she should have them ready, for an invitation to go to a class received five days later. She must think he was stupid, but he would play along, for now. He had told her that he would be on early shift, so he could take her and collect her if she liked. As expected, she said that she would sooner have her own car. She added that it was over twenty miles away, closer to where one of the others lived, so a shame to run him around. She could use the company car petrol and mileage, they would never know. He grumpily conceded, and went out to the garage, stripping down to do some weights. He didn’t want to watch her crappy programmes anyway, let alone listen to more lies.

When she got home on Thursday night, she headed straight for the shower. She said that there were few facilities in the class, as it was held in a village hall, so she had felt sticky and uncomfortable all the time they were in the pub afterwards. He went out to her car, mentally noted the mileage, and then into the garage, to add it to his records. He was amazed how well he controlled his rage. Inside, he was boiling with frustration, and fit to explode. Externally, he remained the same old Alan, slightly aloof, a little preoccupied, the serious policeman. If Pat noticed anything, it wasn’t apparent. Her head was filled with whatever it was she was up to, and he knew that he had to find out just what that was. In his mind, he began to formulate a plan. He had not wasted all his years as a copper, all those courses attended, and the constant reading about crime and punishment, all over the world. There was nothing he didn’t know about, when it came to procedures, detection, forensics, and every other aspect of policing. It would be a new project. He would embrace it, and like everything he did, he would do it well, and be one of the best at it.

When he had met Patricia, all those years ago, he was only too aware that he could have done a lot better. She wasn’t one of the glamour girls who eyed him up as he walked by, tall, fit, and fair-haired. She had been the quiet one, good at maths and lessons generally, but easily overlooked, in favour of those with shorter skirts, or heavier make-up. He had tried a couple of the lively ones, but they were just slags. They had nothing of substance within, no loyalty, and integrity was a word and concept unknown to them. They were happy to give you a blow-job for the price of a Big Mac meal, then count themselves lucky that you would drive them home afterwards. They probably told their mates that you were their boyfriend, and that you were going to get engaged or something. Little did they know. Pat was different. She had no expectations, and no big ideas about a Prince Charming coming along. He would be the answer to all her dreams, and she would be grateful. She would obviously be loyal, as she knew that she could do no better, and he would never have to worry about her, where she was, or who she was with. It all went to plan, until the kids didn’t come along. There was a time, when they had talked about names, always boys names, naturally. Plans to move a bit further out, get a three-bed house with a bigger garden, near some decent schools; the sort of schools who didn’t depend on inner-city dregs to fill their numbers. They worked out the best times to have sex, and stupidly told their respective families that they were trying for a baby.

For Alan, it all changed after that. The family kept on and on, particularly Pat’s family, who seemed to eye him with pity, when no pregnancy appeared after six months. Pat seemed to be obsessed with children, and spoke about nothing else, at every opportunity. On one of his days off, Alan did a full search of their house, just to make sure that she wasn’t on the pill, trying to make him look inadequate. And he constantly checked her handbag and car, whenever she was in the bathroom. Then there were the visits to the doctor, followed by hospital checks with specialists. How humiliating, to have to be inspected by strangers, and deliver samples of sperm in small pots, jerking-off in a side room, with people sitting outside, knowing what you were doing. And those counsellors. Stupid frumps, social workers and medicos who couldn’t do a real job, and probably had no kids themselves. What did they know, anyway. They even had the temerity to try to blame it on him. Low sperm count, insufficient live sperm. There was even a DVD to watch, showing live sperm swimming, and dead ones drifting about; or something like that, he hadn’t really looked. He almost smashed in the TV, and still didn’t know how he managed to endure it all. After that, he just switched off, got on with what he wanted to do, the important stuff. They had a good life; nice cars, a decent house, holidays in Greece and Slovenia, and he was good at his job. What more was there after all. Kids were a sideline, an encumbrance. Better off without them. It had all been OK since then. No more talk of clinics, family and friends put in their place, and life got back to normal. Until now.

So, the exercise class was going to be every two weeks, mostly on the same day. But of course, it wouldn’t interfere with family stuff, holidays, or Christmas. She liked it, getting out, meeting up with the girls, and having girly chats for a change. She worked in a male dominated world, and lived with a man. She hardly ever saw her Mum, and spent a long time alone, when he was on shift, so she would be going. It was only once a fortnight, after all. This little speech was delivered over a forgettable meal of chicken in some sort of creamy sauce, and overdone vegetables. It came out in a rush, and sounded as if it was read from a card. He looked across the small table at her. I don’t even know this woman, he thought. She stabbed a piece of chicken, and he was sure that he detected a tremble on that fork, as she raised it to her lying mouth. He smiled, and said OK, whatever you want love. That fooled her, the surprise was all over her face. If the roles were reversed, he would have been thinking, that was too easy. But she wasn’t him, and could never be.

Working shifts meant that he couldn’t always make time for his investigations, but it did give him some time during the day. He bought maps, very detailed maps of the area, and carefully drew circles on them. Each circle was a radius of a given amount of miles from the house. He knew the area really well anyway, thanks to his job, so could quickly exclude factories, farmland, woodland areas, and public spaces. He marked all these off, with a red highlighter pen. They could be omitted from his search area. What had at first seemed an insurmountable task, soon narrowed down to something that he was sure he could achieve. There were things to buy, but they must not be traceable to the house, or delivered when he was out. Boot sales. That would do it. Go when it’s busy, choose the stalls with more than one helper, a face forgotten in a crowd. The next step was time-consuming, and took months. Every time she went to the so-called class, he checked her mileage. It wasn’t the forty-odd, that would confirm her explanation, but only six miles each time. He got a new map, and worked out a three-mile radius, dividing it into areas, each segment exactly the same as the last. This was a lot easier, and after eliminating all the usual stuff, he only had five areas to concentrate on.

Any time he got the chance, he covered one area. Up and down every street, along all the main roads, and each industrial estate. He was able to continue his process of elimination, but was staggered to see just how much was left. It could be any of the thousands of houses, or hundreds of pubs or shops. Then he had a thought. He went into Headquarters, and asked to check CCTV over a wide area, saying he was checking for a car that had driven off, failing to stop for him. It took all day, even though he was only checking a specific date. But he found it. It was her car, heading towards a large roundabout, a place he knew well. It did not reappear on the cameras on the other side. He had the area, now just to narrow it down. He went out the next day, supposedly on one of his long bike rides. Heading along the same route, he arrived at the roundabout, and dismounted his bike, looking across the junctions ahead. The right turn led down to the motorway, and the first left, to a council recycling depot. The second left was a lot more interesting. It was a services area, with a large petrol station that had a cafe attached to it, and then the road carried on, past a large pub with restaurant, and on to a car park behind. At the back of that car park, was a Travelodge hotel. It had to be the pub, or the hotel, one or the other. It had taken almost six weeks, but his determination had paid off. This had to be the place.

Two weeks later, Alan waited until she left, then got his bike out. He felt calm, infused with justification and righteousness. The ride there was relaxed, the rucksack on his back adjusted for comfort, and he was in no hurry at all. He knew about traffic cameras and CCTV, so was careful not to be caught on film. He cycled the back roads, across fields where necessary, carrying the delicate cycle when he had to. Finding a place under some trees, he concealed himself, then took the heavy binoculars from his rucksack. He connected then to the small tripod, and began to scan the area ahead.  It wasn’t dark yet, but that hardly mattered, as they had night-vision capability when needed. Eighty quid at a boot sale, no haggling, and in full working order. Using a small notepad, he jotted down the registration numbers of all the cars parked outside the pub. He then changed position, moving across country, to get a better view of the hotel. He kept himself low, and there was nobody about. Who would ever walk around the back of a service area anyway. He soon spotted her car, parked just outside the reception area. There were at least a dozen other cars there, and he counted them; fifteen, including Pat’s. Every number went into his small book, except for three, that he couldn’t get an angle on, without getting in nearer, and being on camera. That would do, for a start.

A few days later, during a regular trip to Headquarters, Alan looked around for an unattended terminal. Almost everyone left themselves logged on, although it was strictly forbidden to do so. He had waited until lunchtime, when the civilian staff would be in the canteen, or outside, having lunch somewhere. It was important not to do the checks himself, as the Police National Computer was monitored, and his log in code must never appear. Looking for an appropriate terminal, Alan struck gold. It was in the office of the traffic survey department, where hundreds of checks like this were done daily. A few more would hardly be noticed, tagged on to a list of thousands, filed away for who knows what, never to be looked at again. He began to run the numbers through, and stopped at only the fourth one. Black Audi A4, registered to the same company that Pat worked for, too much to be a coincidence. After deleting  the checks from the screen, he left. Now it was time to wait; for the right day, the perfect moment, and to see how long it went on.

Months went by, and she continued to go to classes. She didn’t look any fitter, but he didn’t even bother to mention that. Much of his spare time was spent planning. Going over it again and again, making sure no tiny detail was missed, and that everything would be perfect, for the eventual confrontation. The weight of evidence would be indisputable, his victory certain, and the look on Pat’s face would be worth all the time and effort. When the day came, he was full of beans, in the best mood he could remember for years. he made sure that he didn’t let on though, appearing to be his usual grumpy self, quiet and withdrawn. He even asked Pat if she would give it a miss, then offered her a lift instead, but she insisted on using her own car He mentioned that he wouldn’t be in when she left later, as he would be on a bike ride. The rucksack was packed, and he had double-checked that everything was in place. She seemed unconcerned, as if her mind was on greater things. After she had left, Alan checked her sports bag, making sure that all the usual stuff was in there, ready for her to change into later. There was a back-up plan, but he didn’t want to use it.  She got in early from work, a bit surprised to see him still there, and went upstairs to change. He repeated the offer of a lift, and she refused once again. He walked out to the garage, collected his things, and rode off.

Alan cycled through heavy rain for a while, and when he got near the motorway, he noticed that the traffic was snarled up all over. Probably an accident, that would slow Pat down a bit. It didn’t bother him, as he was on a pedestrian footpath, crossing the six lanes on a footbridge high above. He arrived long before she did, and found a good spot. The biggest problem was seeing which room she was going into, that could prove to be very tricky. A row of windows on the ground floor would indicate any movement there. Similar rows on the two floors above would do the same, but the exact room was always going to be difficult. He would have to move very fast, but he knew that he could. Some days earlier, he had waited at the back of the hotel, concealed behind the large waste bins. When a member of staff came out, he noticed that the back door took a long time to close, operated by some sort of non-slamming device. After another couple of hours, someone else came out, to empty something into the bins. When they went back in, he rushed forward , and slipped a tiny piece of curved metal over the top of the frame before it closed. It was barely enough, but it would do. The door appeared shut, but a tiny gap had been created by the metal sliver, just enough to slip something inside, and use it to lever the door open. That night, he was hoping that it was still in place.

Pat arrived a long time later. She parked somewhere he couldn’t see, but then reappeared on foot, heading hurriedly towards the entrance. Alan took deep breaths to calm himself down, and scanned with his binoculars. He saw her go past the second window on the ground floor, and he moved rapidly. Using the benefits of his years of training, and superb fitness, he was at the back door in seconds. The thin strip of metal slid into the imperceptible gap, and he was in. He crept to the end of the corridor that led to the rooms. He was too late to see her, but he saw a door closing, and heard voices behind. That was the room, he was sure of it.

Pardew was lying on the bed watching the local news on TV when she knocked. He had kept all his clothes on, as he was determined that they would have a talk tonight. It had gone on too long, and was leading nowhere. Still, they had to carry on working at the same place, so he would have to be careful what he said. She breezed in, face set, not the Trish he had known for so long. Something was different. Chris, we need to talk, we really do, she blurted, unable to contain the need to get it all out of her system. You are right, we do, he replied. There was a knock on the door, sharp and insistent. This had never happened before, but Chris was not thinking about that, as he turned to open it.

Somehow, Chris found himself on his back, and all around him was black. Trish shouted something, then was quiet. There was a weight on his chest, and he couldn’t move. He remembered a dark figure in the doorway, dressed in black, face concealed by some sort of mask, like those that cyclists wear, to combat pollution. Then something covered him, thick and black, and he was pushed over, all in an instant. Alan was kneeling on the man’s chest, his breath coming in short gasps. He quickly tied the feet, then wrapped coils around the body. Soft ropes, nothing that would leave marks, or shed fibres.  When he was sure that there would be no movement, he walked over and turned up the volume on the television. Not too loud, so as to upset any other rooms, but enough to cover the muffled sounds coming from under the thick plastic sack that covered the man, from head to  knees. Pat was sprawled on the bed, felled by one determined blow to the side of her head. He had hit her very hard, but not so hard as to damage his hands. Anyway, the thick gloves would help, and there should be no bruising. Alan dragged Pat across to the window, propping her head close to the white painted wooden sill. He pulled her top off, then slid down the footless tights, that she pretended to wear for the class. He wrapped the nylon legs together around his hands, then passed them around her neck, pulling hard. She didn’t even wake up before she died. It that was easy. Getting the angle right, he held her head with both hands, and struck it against the window sill, though the closed curtains. It hit with a satisfying thump, and left blood on the material. Then he turned, it was time to deal with the man.

Alan had hardly noticed a detail of the man who had been screwing his wife for a year or more. He was shorter, that was certain, and his black hair was tousled. He was wearing a suit, with the tie loosened, and still had his jacket on. There hadn’t been time for a better look, as he had barged through the door, pulled the sack over him, and kicked his legs away. Pat had started to shout something before he hit her, and as she fell, Alan quickly turned to close the door, before leaping onto this man, to subdue him. Walking around the small room, Alan took in all the small details of the sort of place his wife had decided to use to betray him, and to ruin their lives in. The coffee and tea facilities, with the stupidly small kettle. The wardrobe, not needed for whores and philanderers; no more use than the pointless suitcase stand, clad in mock mahogany, and never used by anybody. The crumpled blue bedspread, the dented pillow, and the small flat-screen TV, with built-in Freeview. Was this what she had wanted, instead of him. He got his rucksack off, and laid out the things that he would need. When he had been lurking by the bins, he had noted the brand of drain cleaner used by the hotel chain, and had found it easily; he had bought two, and left one at home, everyone had it, nothing unusual there. Then the funnel, it had to be metal, plastic might melt. The thin metal tube, with some element of flexibility, and the sharp-bladed carpet knife, all easily found at boot sales, along with ropes, and most other things.

Alan lifted the man onto the bed. It was surprisingly easy, he didn’t weigh that much. With the knife, he cut a small hole in the sack, careful to leave a flap, so that no plastic fell onto the floor or bed. Pardew was really worried now. He was trussed up, had been heaved onto the bed, and was unable to make himself heard. Trish was saying nothing, and he could hear the local news coming from the TV, reports of a bad accident earlier, on the motorway. He felt some pressure near his mouth, and a slight rush of air, indicating an opening. He was about to call out, when something appeared between his teeth. His instinct was to bite down, but the pressure behind the thing was enormous, and it easily slipped over the enamel, and down to his gullet, making him retch. After attaching the thin pipe to the end of the funnel, Alan unscrewed the cap on the drain cleaner, casually flinging it across the room. A lot of muffled gurgling sounds came from under the sack, as he poured the liquid. It was certainly strong, the fumes hurt his eyes, though the cycling mask stopped any of them from being breathed in. The man was convulsing, writhing under the ropes, finding new strength from terror. Alan pressed down on the body, slowly adding more of the liquid, until the full litre was gone. Some had splashed on the plastic, and more was foaming from the small opening in the sack, but no matter, that was to be expected.

Waiting for long enough was really boring. Lying on top of this man until he stopped struggling, Alan found himself craning his neck, trying to watch the end of the news on the TV. He couldn’t quite manage it though, and had to be content to listen instead. When he could sense no movement, Alan stood up, and put his ear to the opening. No breath could be felt coming from the man, and he was no longer spluttering. He removed the tube, placing it, together with the funnel, into the thick plastic bag brought along for this purpose, putting both into his backpack. Uncoiling the ropes, and untying the feet, he put them carefully inside that too, as well as the small knife. It was surprisingly difficult to remove the sack carefully, so as not to unduly disturb the body. Afterwards, he pulled down the suit jacket, and splayed the legs, that would look more realistic. Taking a lint-free cloth, he carefully wiped the insides of the man’s teeth, which would hopefully remove any traces of the metal from the tube. He added to this prospect, by flicking a toothbrush, brought along also, along the backs of the teeth, trying to get all traces onto the cloth. Then the sack was carefully folded, and the flap checked to make sure that it was still in place. Along with the cloth and toothbrush, it was placed in the rucksack. Lifting the man’s lifeless right hand, he pressed the fingers into the canister of drain cleaner, before wrapping the hand around it, then letting it fall to the bed, alongside the body. Alan had worn gloves when he bought it, so whatever prints were found, they would not be his.

One last survey of the scene, and Alan was happy. He opened the door slightly, to see if anyone was about, picked up the rucksack, and left, leaving the do not disturb sign on the door handle, and closing it very quietly. On the way out, he removed the small metal device from the door, placing it with the other stuff he had brought along. Halfway back to where his bike was concealed under a bush, he stopped to collect his binoculars and tripod, finally filling the rucksack. He checked it once again, nothing he had brought along had been left behind, it was all there. Riding home, lights on his bike flickering, Alan was a happy man. They had taken him on, and lost.

Detective Inspector Ann Mather had seen her share of sudden deaths, and even the occasional murder, but this one was different. It was a copper’s wife, so she had to do it right. Murder-Suicide they called it. The bloke had strangled her, then killed himself, by drinking drain cleaner. What a way to go; couldn’t he have just hung himself. They both worked for the same firm, so she must have been over the side, probably going to call it off, and the bloke lost it, strangling her with her leggings. She must have tried to get away, and hit her head on the widow ledge as she struggled. He saw what he had done, and got some drain cleaner from the bathroom, just drank the lot. The hotel staff confirmed that they used it, and may well have left it in the bathroom. They would tell the cleaning staff to be more careful. The two officers that had made the house call said that Alan had been distraught. Pat had said she was going to exercise class, and stopping at the house of a friend from work, so he hadn’t though any more about it. He was still in bed when they called, as he was supposed to be on night duty later. Poor bastard.

Ann called the Superintendent from her mobile. Mather here sir, this is open and shut, murder suicide. Messy though, the husband’s a copper. Yes, he has been informed, I will bring you up to speed later.

Guest Post: David Miller

I am very pleased to bring you this guest post, from David Miller. David is a published author, and a song lyricist too. His witty limericks are a joy to read, and his last novel ‘Pope On The Dole’ was a cleverly-constructed and amusing story set in the near future. He has been a great supporter of my blog over the years, and has also become a firm friend too. His own site can be found here.
https://millerswindmill.wordpress.com/ Please check out that site, when you have a chance to do so.

Today’s story is an amusing look at the vagaries of how we manage time, with a hint of science fiction thrown in.

TIME FOR AN INTERVIEW

After Jason Targo–our newly designated ambassador to the planet Kthorus–participated in the first of several scheduled diplomatic talks, he sat down with a reporter named Waktu for an interview that touched upon measures of time.
WAKTU: You measure Time by counting the revolutions of your planet around your star, which you call the Sun… How old are you?
JASON TARGO: I’m 58 years old. I was born on December 12th, 2110.
WAKTU: According to my sources, it’s now August 5th, 2169. So surely you are mistaken about your age. You must be 59. It’s simple math: 2169 minus 2110 is 59.
JASON TARGO: That’s true. But it doesn’t change the fact that I’m 58 until December 12th.
WAKTU: And yet this is your 59th year! So I’m confused… What century is this on Earth?
JASON TARGO: It’s the 22nd Century.
WAKTU: But it’s 2169! If you are 58 until your 59th birthday, shouldn’t you be living in the 21st Century until the year 2200?
JASON TARGO: I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way… Oh, and you might be interested to know that 2200 is the only year that starts with 22 that’s actually part of the 22nd Century, because the following year, 2201, is the start of the 23rd Century.
WAKTU: This is confusing. I’m also confused by the way you tell the time of day.
JASON TARGO: Oh? And how do the people of Kthorus tell the time of day? My understanding is you also use AM and PM.
WAKTU: Yes, but we have 20-hour days, which is to say that we’ve divided the day into 20 increments. Our AM lasts 10 hours, and so does our PM. But let’s talk about Earth hours. For some reason, you divide your day into 24 hours. Your AM lasts 12 hours, and your PM lasts 12 hours. But the way you treat the transition from AM to PM and vice versa makes no sense to me.
JASON TARGO: I think I understand what you mean. Why is 12 midnight considered AM, when the number 12 follows 11, and–?
WAKTU: Yes, but it’s more than just that. Logically, since you are 58 years old until your 59th birthday, shouldn’t it be PM from midnight until 12:59, with the morning of the next day starting at precisely 1:00 AM? And shouldn’t AM be applied through 12:59, so that the afternoon doesn’t start until 1:00 PM? Shouldn’t mornings and afternoons start with 1 instead of 12?
JASON TARGO: Well, it’s an interesting idea. But it would never work. How can we apply the word ‘Noon’ to 1:00? ‘Noon’ means 12, just as ‘Midnight’ means 12!
WAKTU: So your clock is a slave to language?
JASON TARGO: I wouldn’t put it that way, but–
WAKTU: Let me back up a bit. What about your centuries? Earth is far older than 2,169 revolutions around your Sun, but, of course, it’s impossible to base a calendar on the formation of one’s planet because it’s a very lengthy process. We know that homo sapiens has existed on your planet for at least 200,000 Earth years, but, again, it would be impossible to date your species precisely. However, you have a recorded history that goes back approximately 5,000 years. So even if you can’t date the first written record to the exact year it was produced, you can at least establish an estimated Year 1. It seems to me that you should be living in, say, the 52nd Century! And yet, you claim this is year 2169…
JASON TARGO: I can assure you that our dates go back farther than that!
WAKTU: Oh? You have negative years?
JASON TARGO: No! We have CE and BCE. You see, there was this religious man, and we decided he was born in 1 CE–on December 25th of that year.
WAKTU: So he was born near the end of the year?
JASON TARGO: Yes. At least as far as the calendar is concerned.
WAKTU: So shouldn’t the first year of your CE calendar have begun on that day?
JASON TARGO: Uh…
WAKTU: Correct me if I’m wrong, but based on what you said about your birthday, this religious man didn’t celebrate his first birthday until near the end of 2 CE. Is that right?
JASON TARGO: Yes. Like I said, he was born in 1 CE. There is no zero year in our calendar. The year before 1 CE was 1 BCE. In order to celebrate your first birthday in 1 CE, you had to be born in 1 BCE.
WAKTU: I really can’t make any sense out of all that. Here on Kthorus, we count the years based on revolutions around our star. So we have that in common. But we don’t base our calendar on a religious man. We base it on the earliest known written record of our species. We consider that point in time to be the birth of our civilization. So our calendar reflects the age of our civilization.
JASON TARGO: That’s very interesting. And I’d like to discuss these things further with you, but I’m afraid I’ve run out of time.
WAKTU: You look healthy to me… Surely, you aren’t about to die..?
JASON TARGO: No! I can assure you, I’m far from ready to knock on Death’s door!
WAKTU: But you did just say that you’ve run out of time! …And what about that door?

Copyright ©2017 David E. Miller

Guest Post: A poem by Fraggle

I was delighted to receive this poem from FR, at https://fragglerocking.org/
Her delightful photography is highly recommended, as are her thoughts on life too. An engaged blogger, great blogging friend, and all round nice lady. Please head over and check out her site.

An ode to poetry by Fraggle Rocks
(with apologies to Shakespeare, Wordsworth et al)

Oh What a poet I could be
if only rhymes came easily,
my words would flow and stanza’s fill
with fields of golden daffodills.

If iambic parameter wasn’t so hard
I’m sure I’d be an excellent bard,
I’d find some arcane words to use,
Alas,Alack,Begone,Forsooth.

I’d write some plays with many pages
of Kings and Queens throughout the ages,
Sir Ian McKellan would be the star,
and I’d be feted near and far.

My sonnets, well they’d be sublime,
obsessive love in fourteen lines,
and men would weep to feel such angst
and ladies swoon and wet their pants. (sorry, best I could do for angst)

Alas, with words I have no skill,
can’t find enough to fit the bill,
and so dear Shakespeare, do not fret
still Engerlands greatest poet yet.

But a picture paints a thousand words
of sunsets, beaches, castles,birds.
Children playing, a lovers kiss,
no better poetry than this.

So off I go, camera in hand,
to photograph North East Engerland
I’ll write my poems with an XT-2
It’s just as good, don’t you think
Forsooth?

On the Cover of a Magazine – Who’s that Girl?

A great article from Jane, about her artwork on the latest edition of Longshot Island magazine. I’m inside too!

Jane Lee McCracken, Artist

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Featured on the cover of this November’s Longshot Island literary magazine, is one of Jane’s most personal artworks, The Sideboard I.  An exciting new press, Longshot Island publishes contemporary fiction and non-fiction by talented writers from across the globe. When editor-in-chief D.S.White approached Jane to feature her artwork, she was delighted he wanted to include several Biro drawings from her series ‘Tales from the East’.

Jane McCracken [Colour Artwork] ‘The Sideboard II’ 2008 red Biro drawing The Sideboard triptych portrays the anonymous memories of a small child at play within the safety of home, before the onset of war. The drawings were inspired by the little girl in the red coat from the film Schindler’s List 1993 Steven Spielberg, as she wanders through the Kraków Ghetto while it is being liquidated by the German Army during WWII. The triptych features Jane’s niece Jemma, and contemplates victims of conflict as individuals rather than statistics.

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Since creating The Sideboard…

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Guest post: A Poem by Rachel

I received an email from a lady named Rachel. She sent me a poem for consideration as a guest post.
I liked it, and thought it showed great promise. But what do I know about poetry? My own recent attempts made me realise that the answer to that is “very little”.

So, let her know what you think, by adding a comment below. Thanks in advance, Pete.

Poem

Time
This time, that time, place and face
Meanings and memories, our mind’s embrace 
Intensely felt pleasure and pain
Looking back, facing forward, regret in vain

Treasured moments , truthfully beauty
Stealing wonderment from complex duty 
Decisions abound, a landscape to cross
The challenge of life , of love, of loss 

When my life is ending I want it to feel 
That there was nothing undone that could have made it more real
So everything matters, woven, like intricate lace 
This time, that time, place and face