“A Matter of Perception Really!”

I hope you are getting a feel for my mini-thrillers!

    Here’s another coffee cup challenge for you…

         Ever wondered why paying attention is so important?

 

“A Matter of Perception Really!” 

 

Just because you are looking at something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are taking too much notice. As mortals, selective control of our senses is abundant; we see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear, touch the things we like the feel of, and prefer to believe the things we choose to like best, to be correct in most cases.

A sweltering day in the small desert-fringe town of Horseshoe, New Mexico had left the ground dry and hard. The inhabitants were irritable. A slow arid breeze wasn’t helping. Swirls of dust collecting on that breeze felt like sandpaper against any soft surface. Time seemed to be slowing down. It was as if the sun had paused to hover at its most potent heat-point in the western sky. The eerie silence was deafening. As the pressure of the uncomfortable afternoon built, parched onlookers swaggered along their own paths not daring to raise the attention of any would-be enemy…

Two strangers of complete disproportionate credentials were approaching each other across the gravelly road. This road was extremely broad from shoulder to shoulder, but just by coincidence they happened to both have decided to share the exact same portion of brown dust. At a short distance, with senses raised the pair of individuals began to slow their movements. It was as if each had decided to size-up the on-comer. Patience required, heads slightly raising and lowering, the weight of aggression gradually began to build within the unlikely far-smaller of these two potential combatants. He was trying to appear cooler than a polar bear’s backside. And so, the circling commenced. The looks grew steelier. The flaring of torsos now very evident of an ensuing contest added zeal to the many observing-at-a-distance females. A clock-tower ticking at fifty metres sounded like a metronomic hammer driving an endless railway spike into the ground. Without reason, the less-aggressive larger being suddenly took it upon himself to back down. An expressionless stare started to meander in the opposite direction with its hulking body slowly following. This was observed as a cowardly move by his minuscule but wiry opponent, who by this time had begun a fidgety shuffle as if securing a solid foothold on terra firma. Now with his back being the only view visible, it appeared that the antagonistic bluffing behaviour of this pint-sized challenger had prevailed. The giant waddled off, seemingly disinterested in engaging in an exhausting battle during such a searing afternoon. Shorty was having no part of fainthearted behaviour irrespective of the temperature, he wanted a fight ─ so it was a fight he would have to start, regardless of this weak-minded foe who was now several metres away and retreating at a rapid rate of knots.

A challenge deserves to be met. A charge was initiated. The first contact deserved to be made from behind. After all, it appeared only fair considering the size discrepancy involved here. Shorty scampered swiftly across the ground landing his inaugural blow to the back of the withdrawing spineless one’s head. It was barely felt. The gigantic stride continued. Another blow and another, but this time far harder caught the attention of the docile adversary. His head stung but his legs did not buckle. Like a storm turning a calm sea into a frenzy, the huge frame spun to permit a beady stare to meet his irritating enemy. They eyed each other up in hushed tension. Their silence was suddenly severed by the sound of the mission bell echoing from its tower in the city’s centre square. Amid two ticks of the clock tower’s roaming second hand, the grappling pair suddenly embraced. Hissing fury bridled pure physical strength as the war between two complete strangers erupted. Blow after blow, cannoning off seemingly without effect was infuriating the giant. He picked up his energetic little rival and tossed him away like a feather. Back up in seconds and feeling no pain from the fall, shorty launched another attack. This time with the momentum of full speed available, he seized his chosen enemy’s midsection and latched on driving with the power of his legs. The entwined couple began rolling in the burning desert grit. Over and over they tumbled, striking, kicking, biting and scratching one another whilst scraping every extremity in the process, neither prepared to recede or allow an inkling of fear to be on display. Tiny weeps of blood dripping to the ground were absorbed by the dust in seconds. Clinched together like two rampaging stags fighting for a doe’s affections with locked antlers, they spun and heaved at their opponent’s body. Fatigue started to overcome the brute. He stopped for recovery holding his lesser-strength nemesis at bay. The clock-tower sounded the hour with four clangs of its bell…

The relentless sun was showing no mercy to the foolish display taking place in the centre of the quiet street. Fortunately for our two contemporaries, this bout of ego-driven belligerence was occurring on a Sunday, hence the traffic was practically non-existent. Perhaps for the enraged duo, an interruption via car or truck would have seen an end to the boldfaced brawl. The bell ceased its marking of the hour.

In an instant, they were back at it. Both had sensed at the interval that only one would be walking away. The gauntlet had been laid in no uncertain terms that this was to be a duel to the death. Both bodies were quivering in the heat. Sheer power began to force dominance towards the favour of the large. On the ground once more in the choking dust, he seemed primed to afflict the fatal last strike but missed. A victory chance gone begging. In truth, after ten minutes there was still no clear showing of either being dominant. If anything, the only thing dominant here was the silent hatred that both had deep inside. A clever manoeuvre by the half-sized main aggressor enabled him to break the shackles and circle in preparation for the next assault. His speed and agility were clearly superior. Lunge after lunge was beginning to impede the sluggish movements of the big guy. But, he was not done with yet, there was his pride at stake here. A virtue of principle to be won. No tiny being can possibly be permitted to saunter into his territory and demand that he step aside!

A huge grey cloud steered its way across the blazing golden ball. It altered the light slightly. The twiddling bystanders felt the change of temperature and a host of glances tilted toward the heavens. Could this bring a termination to the entanglement of arrogance on display before them? It had little effect. If anything, in fact, it seemed to re-empower both ─ well beyond their second-winds by this time. They crashed together like two atomic particles for what seemed, a last gasp of hope, at the obliteration of the others meagre existence. A trip on a stone brought the large one to his back in an agonising thud. The little guy, now straddling, had his opportunity to suppress life via strangulation or dish the fatal blows. The merciless foray began. A blur of tiny impacts ground their way onto the bulky head. Again he refused to yield. Legs kicking, he summoned every last shred of energy to force off the expectant smaller combatant. A quick twist regained a foothold back on the grimy road. He backed away to recompose. At a momentary pause, a stalking promenade of respect for the other’s tactics kept them apart a slight distance. Gyrating at a similar speed at opposite sides of an invisible wall of separation they lowered and raised their centres of gravity in an effort to seek the upper hand.

The grey cloud moved on to shade another part of New Mexico…

Out of nowhere, an old black Cadillac careered around a nearby corner, it’s suspension compressing to maximum, under the heavy car’s mass. A bearded man with fire in his eyes wrestled behind the steering wheel. He had ‘couldn’t-care-less-fugitive’ scrawled across his face. A huge cloud of desert dust followed in the car’s vortex. With reckless abandon and total disregard, it shot by narrowly missing the fighters by inches. The focused pair appeared to not even notice. Both were running on empty.  Both driven by nature, who was in complete control now. By twenty past four, this exhausted couple had well and truly had sufficient time to analyse the other’s strengths and discern loopholes or weaknesses. They had seen and felt each other up close. Different species from a different side of town, with nothing in common ─ except for the will to win. It was zero hour. A glowing aura of pride awaited one, and a miserable humiliating death in front of his kind lay in store for the loser. Which was it to be?

As they came together for the final time, the fierce brutality magnified. Ripping, tearing and mutilating at will as if nothing else in the world mattered. And for them, it didn’t. Legs became severed in the process. Within a matter of moments, a big motionless carcass lay cold in the dirt on its back. Our honoured victor hobbled away. The arduous microscopic sumo-wrestling match ceased. The tiny ant had defeated the large beetle…

Did I fool you? I hope so. If you did not break into even the tiniest of smiles, perhaps you either misread the closing few lines, or maybe did not get my message. If either is true, then try this on for size: Look back at the story’s title and ask yourself about perception. Take our little protagonist for example. Ask yourself, how does he view the world? Can an ant see an elephant? Can an elephant see an ant? Strange, one might say, how two such dissimilar creatures both bare the same three letters in their names, isn’t it? It’s all about perception, and speaking about three-letter-words, let’s look at another. Try this on for size: SEX?

Got your attention this time, didn’t I?

Yes, the odd little three-letter-word that has helped sell more magazines, books, movies, TV commercials, billboards, soap operas, sitcoms plus whatever else you wish to name. Why, it has overthrown presidents and even affected royal families. Powerful little sucker, isn’t it? How on earth can one silly little word have quite so much influence on us humans? Well, look back at my depiction of the word and notice it is punctuated. What does this mean? Adding this conjures-up all sorts of different perceptions again…

Allow me to supply several answers to this tiny riddle. How you portray them may vary depending upon your own personal gender. Remember; voice inflexion also changes what is being asked. Say the word in your mind prior to each answer, and the word was SEX.

“Oh, no thank you. I’m married.”

“Sure! Where? When? How?”

“I thought you’d never ask!”

“My favourite word… how did you guess?”

Male.

Female.

Transgender.

“Not with you, pal. You are not in my league!”

“Certainly miss! But aren’t you being a little forward?”

“Thanks for offering, but you’re the wrong… well, how can I explain?”

“Sorry, I’m far too busy for that. My friend here is free right now.”

“Okay! How much do you charge?”

“How rude! No way, not even if you were the last guy on the planet!”

“Are you for real? What do I have to do to impress you enough to marry me?”

“I can’t. War wound you see…”

And, what about this one, the pièce de résistance: “Sure, but can I put your offer on ice for a couple of weeks? I’m stuck with this proper bitch. But once I have ditched her, we can get right at it!”

A little word ─ big meaning. Hope you got a chuckle this time and please remember my stories and blogs are all for pure entertainment, plus you could learn a little in their hidden meanings.

Cheers, Steve.

 

Here’s another ten-minute blast for you!

You never know who you can really trust… do you?

             I love this twist…

 

“Let your Imagination Inspire!” 

 

Some people search for everlasting love. Some people search for friendship. Others simply play a cold-hearted game of “Love ’em and shove ’em!”

“Death shall soon be your welcome friend after you feel the suffocation of loneliness eating away at your heart!” vexed the chiselled features of Grigori des Vislosky. He swallowed his wine-filled challis in one enraged breath.

“Perhaps so, my deceitful lover…” replied his beautiful wench, her tattered dress falling from her shoulder from the strength of his grasp. Auburn hair ablaze after love-making. “But soon you will regret the very sound of my name. For you see my handsome charlatan, ‘tis you who shall soon be walking alongside the shadow of the Grim Reaper!”

A pause in the blur of key-striking brought the device to silence. “I’m a genius!” she quoted aloud, clasping her palms in triumph. Only moments prior, the passions of impulsive finger-filled energy were caressing their small, circular, lettered faces of creativity with the grace of a concert pianist. She extracted bliss from her own written words.

Lady Dandelion as she liked to refer to herself was perched like Queen Victoria in her wicker chair. Naturally, as always by sun’s glorious set, in her hand swirled a tall gin and tonic. The veranda beneath her sandals had a light layer of dust and the slow-turning fan above did little to move the air. The woman’s true name was Hilary Dandling and she felt very rich.  Already on her fifth gushy novel and just two months beyond her fourth husband, Hilary had taken to writing, inspired by the works of Karen Blixen the Danish heiress who married her friend Bror Blixen-Finecke in Kenya, to save dignity. Nearing thirty years, back in the early 1900’s titled women who went unwed were frowned upon. Alas, poor Karen’s marriage to the unfaithful Bror failed dismally, but her story of honesty, strength, self-respect and courage is world renowned. Her best-known book ‘Out of Africa’ was a romanticized but true depiction of her early life. In Blixen’s pages, Lady Dandelion saw the uselessness of men. To her, they were merely toys of temporary entertainment. Her four husbands, by coincidence, had all passed away by a heart attack before reaching fifty. She grinned in artificial helplessness with tears rolling, as the body-bags were individually wheeled away. Hilary was nothing like the woman she so much admired. Her favourite saying of; “Who on Earth needs a husband when you’ve got money” placed her well amongst the small peer group who tagged along for hand-outs. What few of them realized, was that the bulk of Lady Dandelion’s meagre dowry was assembled from insurance payouts and not from her book royalties, as she would have them all believe. No one even cast so much as a hint of suspicion at her of murder…

Choosing to feed the role of eccentric authoress with all of the correct props, her novels were obsessively clunked-out on an ageing Olivetti typewriter. She wrote as slow as a politician’s decision-making, but it mattered not, because any increase in Hilary’s typing pace would have only served to dilute the already watered-down plots. She always wore floral cotton dresses. Her face never missed a day’s heavy make-up. She twisted her mother’s metre-long loop of pearls twice around her long neck. The sordid evening air, filled with her metronomic click ─ click ─ clicks, weaved its way through her flock of excessively-dyed, curly, raunchy-auburn hair, then on through her open front door. The scent of smouldering ashtray butts was collected by this breeze. Chain-smoker Hilary, of course, owned a scruffy little white dog, whose shaggy mop of fur lay coiled at her feet almost constantly. His only breaks from her constant chatter, to his pitching-to-attention ears, came when he would trudge off to the other end of the veranda for a nibble or a drink of water. Skokie the hairy cross-breed even followed the romance writer indoors to recharge her G and T, which was usually on the anniversary of each page’s completion.

“Another villain put to the sword!” she exclaimed, withdrawing the typed sheet, making a speedy ratchet sound as the accelerated roller spun around. Hilary stared at her freshest page. “See Skokie-boy, young and handsome Grigori des Vislosky may have been… but he is no match for the shy sweet Esmerelda! He thought his looks and lies would win her over. Ha!” She downed the tarty alcoholic splendour, ice-cubes and all. “Best go get another, Skokie, while I’m on a roll!”

At that moment her ancient but necessary mobile phone rang. Wicker chair squeaking and creaking under her weight, Hilary stared toward the nuisance sound, watching the chunky plastic handpiece vibrate its way along her coffee table. She began hoping it would simply cease irritating her. It did. Probably just another admirer, she pondered, immediately celebrating her resistance to the temptation of answering it by lighting another cigarette. Faithful as ever, Skokie waddled in behind her to her makeshift bar.

That night after four more pages; therefore four more G and T’s, weary Hilary flopped into bed to contemplate her novel’s dramatic conclusion. Her lung-shaking cough barked louder than Skokie ever could dream of. She wrestled with several ideas, but her tired brain, clouded from typing, was throbbing with opaque blandness from one too many of everything. It struggled to fire. At the foot of her bed, the scruffy little dog tweaked his eyebrows in doggy fashion at her tossing and turning. He was probably wondering why on earth his mistress did this to herself every single night…

Six months later, Lady Dandelion was at the Southern Manchester shopping mall, busily signing copies of ‘What’s Your Plan B?’ Although her mind lived extensively in the colourful rugged African landscape, her home address was 37 Old Pottery Road, Lancashire, England. Her grin widened with each endorsed purchase. Her wink at the menfolk became sexier, and the plum in her mouth grew ever larger. One well-dressed man stopped for a prolonged discussion. He was as handsome as her mind had pictured Grigori des Vislosky. She obliged the gentleman with an extensive tenure of her time. As he drew away to leave, the man leaned in closely.

“I’ve always admired your work, Lady Dandelion,” he flattered. “Would you be kind enough to do me the honour of accompanying me to dinner tonight? Only if you’re free, of course.”

“How thoughtful. What a kind offer,” she praised back, waving her hand at her false blush. “Why, I do believe I am available to oblige you with companionship this evening. Mr…?”

“Doctor Raymond Barrington-Derbyshire. At your service ma’am!” He bowed. His expensive voice crisping all the vowels perfectly.

“Medical doctor?” her eyebrows raising like a guillotine blade being hauled up to its apex.

“Medical specialist. And still single too.” He released from his bow.

She slid a business card across the table ─ her mind effervescing at the possibilities of true wealth. “Here’s my card Raymond. Surprise me at seven?” Hilary hoped she could stay off the sauce long enough to land this massive catch-of-the-day.

A silver Bentley pulled up outside 37 Old Pottery Road at three minutes to seven. A gloved chauffeur’s hand opened the door. At once Hilary appeared at her own doorstep, sober, titivated, elegantly dressed and fully manicured. She was way too keen but Raymond didn’t seem to mind. He met her halfway from her front gate, kissing the back of her hand on perfect cue. Caruthers fired-up the elegant silver beast. The big saloon purred away without so much as startling a mouse. Skokie’s stumpy tail wagged from the other end of his panting pink tongue. At long last Mummy…

A delightful evening was underscored with stimulating conversation and laughter, suffice to inspire a return date. And another. And yet another. It led to the whole shooting match. Before the year was out, Mrs Hilary Barrington-Derbyshire strode white-dressed and veiled, arm-in-arm down the lengthy aisle of the same church her other ill-fated four husband’s had paid for over the past seven years. She never said a word of it to her new specialist husband. His destiny awaited.

Hilary did not let Raymond down. From a physical perspective, the inaccurate adjective beautiful would be far better replaced with charming or attractive. Her sunny days of beauty had long since set. Back then, men fell at her feet, literally! Now with her enticing looks transformed into experience, she became a bedroom virtuoso of impeccable standards. Hilary’s almost wunderkind passionate performances, born from her novels, came to life with impresario management skills. “Don’t hold anything back, Raymond dear! Love me like you’ll choke on your own appetite for passion! Let your imagination inspire!” she would repeatedly say when dancing him around the bedroom like a doyenne.

“Where do you get your ideas for all of your incredible stories from?” the love-smacked doctor would reply, trying to divert her from his inadequacy, completely lost for answers to her dazzling skills.

“They’d been bottled-up for years. I hid inside my own sweet passion-filled mind. I restricted my desires, kept myself waiting! Waiting! Waiting! I observed the world via extensive travel, staying pure, in order to fulfil my chapters with what they deserved.”  She lied with the eloquence of a soap opera superstar. “I was born to meet a man like you!”

Raymond tolerated her booze, which had substantially backed-off, much to the enhancement of her storylines. He even stomached her lust for nicotine, with the view that it was all part and parcel of her chemistry. The flavour of which Dr Barrington-Derbyshire very much enjoyed. The truth of her lack-lustre sales became evident. This he also overlooked. Forty-two-year-old Hilary kept up her facade for two and a half more books ─ taking nearly three years to publish them.

But now it was time to claim all her winnings…

Friday was killing-day for diabolical Hilary. She had prepared the lethal dose of digitalis, enough to stimulate his heart into irreversible overdrive. The foxglove derived drug had been successful on her previous husbands. There was no reason to think it wouldn’t work on Raymond. He was due home at five. Hilary always chose Fridays, because her promise of ‘Friday afternoon delight’ to all her spouses, ensured that they came home on time, eager to please and compliant with all her requests. She sat by the double-sash window of their large house in Manchester’s dress-circle neighbourhood, to listen for the Bentley. This afternoon had proven very convenient also because Caruthers had the last Friday of every month off.  To allow her to work uninterrupted, Hilary’s dog Skokie was staying over at her favourite niece Carmen Mylanta’s house, some distance across town. Miss Mylanta always acted as the terrier’s carer when she took leave of absence for any reason.

The car arrived. The front door opened. The queen-of-farce wore her sheer sky-blue negligee to greet him ─ flesh exposing from all extremities. His favourite music streamed from the sound system. The charade of tomfoolery commenced. Blind-folds and riding-crops. Feathers and filigree masks ─ they used it all. As per her customary technique, the glasses of champagne sat chilled and inviting beside their bed. His with a golden stag emblem on a tiny chain around its stem. Hers with a similar golden swan emblem. More bottles lay in wait. Between primaeval romps, they both slurped heavily on the bubbly aphrodisiac stimulant. Very cleverly, between disguises and sex-acts, she had been dropping small amounts of digitalis into his champagne. Small enough to be indistinguishable, but deadly as it would collect in his digestive system, rushed to his bloodstream via the aerated alcohol. After six or seven glasses, he would collapse into a stupor then his vital organs would cease to operate.

Strangely, she was the one who felt life slipping away…

“Let your imagination inspire!” perked the doctor.

“I feel dreadful,” wimped the murderess, coughing with more than her usual barking smoker’s hack. “What is happening to me?”

“Touché Darling! I knew exactly what you were up too. You’re not as good an actress as you think, my little puppet! Silly woman. I swapped the little chains while you were busy in the bathroom,” said Raymond, wearing a nasty smirk. “You see my dear, you are a very infamous widow Hilary. However, something you aren’t aware of, is that I am an infamous widower! You will now become my sixth dead wife! My wealth has been assembled in much the same way as yours!”

With nothing more to do now but hasten her demise, she drinks the remainder of her perilous bubbly and dies in his arms. Raymond’s expression aglow now pulls the glass from her fingers. He is elated at outsmarting the trashy-love-story novelist. He closes her staring eyes, uttering, “All of your pilfered mammon is now mine… Good night Lady Dandelion!”

But a strange twist thwarts his plan…

Months later an ingenious police investigator discovers she has confessed to all of the murders of her previous four husband’s cryptically in her novels. All of her female protagonists had an uncanny mirror-like similarity to her, with each plot an echo of her own life’s conspiracy. Even Esmerelda in the fifth one was Hilary’s middle name. This name had been the catalyst. And so, as a result, her small fortune is confiscated by the police and a governmental executive decision was made to bequest the money to its correct beneficiary. Raymond received nothing. His suspicious case is being examined by the same detective. Hilary’s will had left everything to Skokie.

Niece Carmen Mylanta, who was caring for the scruffy little dog, now has executor rights to issue him a life of comfort. They were last seen in Acapulco on a Li-lo bed in a swimming pool, where Carmen and Skokie were accompanied by a sexy French Poodle…

 

 

Third ten-minute thriller!

Buckle up for this little sizzler!

“Lucky Number Thirteen?” 

 

People will go to extraordinary lengths for revenge when challenged by deceitfulness or humiliated internally. Pride is a powerful magnet to the steely heartstrings of the desperate individual. Especially one in complete denial of his or her own misguided treachery.
You’ll soon see what I mean…

The tension of anticipation was collecting at an alarming rate when, head of his own construction business, Teddy Polaris, finally made up his mind to do away with his once-friend, now Chief Accountant of the firm, Oswald Brickfielder. Teddy had suspected for some time now that the lucrative firm’s figures were simply not gelling. He had called in an undercover auditor to verify the last few years’ transactions, and didn’t like what he saw. Nancy Spindloff had covertly posed as his new secretary, while feverishly scrutinizing the multi-million-dollar business’s materials invoices, travel expenses, insurance premiums and wage documentation etc. Put in simple terms; Brickfielder’s figures did not add up. Within three weeks, the Meg Ryan look-alike had revealed an ugly truth.

“Oswald has gleaned you of three and a half million over the last thirty months, Teddy. But it will be very hard to prove,” she said, arms folded, eyes not blinking, consonants sharp and deliberate. “You barely made a profit this year, Mr Polaris. The money has been transferred as a ghost salary for five staff members who simply do not exist. He funnelled it into a Bermuda bank account at regular monthly payments; even paid their artificial expense accounts. There is verification evidence on everything, except for these people’s birth-certificates. They even have fake social security numbers. He’s not a nice fellow.” Her lips had closed slowly after speaking.

“Thank you for enlightening me. It was just as I’d suspected.” He’d replied blankly. “You have performed admirably, and just as we had planned, when he arrives on Tuesday to address the summit, you and I shall have our petty argument. After which, I shall over-react and fire you. Is this clearly understood?”

Nancy had agreed. “Clearer than Oswald’s bookwork, sir.” Her perfect rosebud lips smiled at his nod as she accepted his more-than-generous remuneration.

Something not mentioned to Nancy, was the ongoing love affair between CEO Teddy and ten years his junior, Mrs Yvette Brickfielder. Likewise, Oswald had mentioned nothing to Teddy’s face, despite having caught them both embracing in the tower’s elevator some years back. Yvette had said that she had caught Teddy after he fainted. The smudge of lipstick on his chin happened by accident. When grilled as to why she was even in the Polaris Constructions Tower, Yvette quickly remarked; “To come to see you, of course, dear!” It now glared Teddy hard in the face that, the former best man at his wedding to his own wife Jane, had squared the ledger with both Yvette and himself, in a far cleverer way. Teddy knew only too well after yesterday’s long lustful lunchbreak with his secret lover, that the mere fact she’d mentioned that balding Oswald was going skiing next week, meant he was really headed off to the tall mountains of Bermuda. Tall mountains of Teddy’s cash that is!

When Tuesday arrived, the scheduled argument ignited like a tiny clockwork hand-grenade going off perfectly to plan, moments before the minutes were to be read. Teddy leered at her with artificial condescension. Nancy stormed out of the meeting, never to be heard from again. Stage two was about to begin…

The Polaris Constructions Tower has seventeen floors. The company’s motto was: Never introduce bad luck in the construction business. On the thirteenth floor, large stainless-steel padlocks sealed shut all the doors. As a result of this unwritten ethics code, no staff member was to ever enter these premises. A secret lay behind the innocent-looking doors. It was within the confines of these rooms where a lavish-style romance room, fully-equipped with all the necessaries, bar, bed, shower and closed-circuit TV cameras, waited for twice-weekly usage. The only sets of keys were held by Teddy and Yvette. One was in his desk, another was in his wall safe along with a loaded .38mm Smith & Wesson pistol, the combination of which, Oswald had privy to. He never abused the privilege of knowing the combination, but on this occasion, a trap had been laid for exactly this to happen. It involved the snaky prevaricator Yvette, who would giggle to herself each Monday and Friday after saying goodbye to her accountant husband, as she hung the gold-chained key around her neck. The key’s cold metal serrated edge tickled between her ‘too-perfect-to-be-realistic’ breasts. Through her mind would drift the words: ‘This key is the one which will unlock the freedom in my heart…’

Naive Yvette, who was a bottle-per-week platinum blond, had actually fallen for Teddy’s promise that he had fully intended to leave Jane before Christmas. What she didn’t know was that the expensive cosmetic surgery enhancements she was receiving to sizzle Teddy’s loin’s lustfulness, were paid for by her lover’s embezzled finances. It was an ironic loop. Another upshot that the silicone-filled Barbie-doll was unaware of, was the fact that she was soon to become the patsy in Mr Polaris’s murder plans. When Friday of the same week came around, as per usual, Oswald played dumb, kissing Yvette goodbye to head for the office tower. He had no notion of the fact that this was scheduled-in, to be his last day of breath. The plan had been laid. The bait would be arriving at around eleven o’clock. The ledger would be squared. His adversary would fall victim. The thievery would soon be avenged…

At precisely five to eleven, the elevator, filled with her favourite perfume, began making its way up to the thirteenth floor. Yvette’s smile grew heartier at the thought of what was to transpire over the following hour or two. She twiddled the key between her fingers. An excitement flourished. Her palms sweated with anticipation. She wore a short skin-tight white dress for impact. A morsel of a man with a manila folder tucked under his stringy arm joined her on the seventh. He was new to the firm. He liked what he saw so much that it turned his face green. He raised himself onto his toes for effect, but she never even noticed him. The shy little man darted out on the twelfth before the doors were fully open. After one more ping, the silver doors parted once more, and Yvette strode like the Queen of Sheba towards the padlocks. Through her childlike mind rolled the words: ‘One day half of this will be all mine. Poor foolish Oswald…’

Though Teddy Polaris was a wretchedly bad husband ─ he was an instinctively great lover. But want-it-all Teddy had grown tired of his mistress, it was time for a replacement, and he had Nancy’s cell phone number ─ if he dared go there. However, he fully intended to get his money’s worth first, before eliminating both problems this lunch hour.

Teddy tapped on the frosted window, as per usual, after externally re-locking the solid brass fixtures. Secret still safe. She opened it, as per usual. He leapt over the sill, as per usual. Her open arms caught him, as per usual. Together they slammed the window shut. His tie was off. Her dress hit the floor. His shirt fell open. Her underwear was discarded. His trousers soon formed an unnecessary obstacle to climb over. Her back crashed to the queen-sized ensemble. They crashed together like two railway carriages. Jiggery-pokery in full-swing to the background music. Heaven at last…

Forty minutes later, Teddy sent a text message via her phone while she finished taking her shower. It was a message deliberately left for Oswald on his mobile phone as if by accident, saying: Meet you at twelve in the usual place my darling bear! Our usual lucky number thirteen… I love Mondays and Fridays. Today I’m going to drain your energy dry! He pressed send. Intelligent Oswald was, he knew exactly what it meant. He knew the fire of deceit was burning brightly, he just didn’t know where the flames were.

Well… now he’d found out!

He’d always been angered by the sneakiness but tried to ignore it. To Oswald, she wasn’t worth fighting for anymore. But this hit him in the heart like a javelin. It pounded with enraged vigour. Hatred flushed through his veins. His blood felt like adrenalin fuelled lava. The forty-five-year-old potbellied numbers wizard became engulfed by revenge. It flashed through his mind that she’d done it deliberately, but quickly passed the thought aside knowing what a true coward he had married. His wife had obviously made a mistake. A really bad one. Just as Teddy knew he would be doing, Oswald rushed to the safe to seize the key and the revolver. His racing mind whisked his fingers through the combination. He flung the safe’s door aside as if she was behind it. His shaking fingers snatched up the key, spun the chamber to check that the .38 was loaded and slammed-shut the safe door. He tucked the gun-barrel into the back of his waistband and flew for the lift doors…

When they opened, Oswald was confronted by the familiar face of Jane Polaris. She hit him with a huge smile. “Good morning Mr Brickfielder!” It wasn’t returned. She noticed his sweating brow and angry eyes. “You seem to be rather anxious this morning. Is everything alright?”

At first he fell silent, but once the doors separated them from the hallway he spoke. “Are you off to visit Teddy, Mrs Polaris?”

“Yes,” she sparkled back. “He doesn’t know I’m coming. I plan to surprise him!”

“How thoughtful,” he rebounded, swallowing half of his rage and thinking: ‘How convenient, she can now do the dirty work instead of this weapon.’

“It’s our anniversary. Fifteen years, no less,” she beamed.

He calmed, offering, “Ted’s not in his office right now. Can I call you Jane?”

“But of course, Mr Brickfielder…” her smile lit up the elevator car.

“As a matter of concern for your surprise’s maximum effect, Jane, I happen to know exactly where he is this minute.” His hand patted her arm.

There was a pause as the scrawny little man returned with his manila folder to the lift on the seventh floor. Oswald rode with Jane, muted, all the way to the seventeenth, where the company CEO’s lavish office overlooked the Chicago skyline. The nervous spiderling scurried off.

Oswald furtively said, “Ted is in a special meeting on floor thirteen. He only goes there twice a week. I don’t really know why, he said never to bother him, but I’m sure for you it would be different. The door is locked but I have a key.” He held it up. Then pressed the button for thirteen…

While Yvette was washing the evidence of her sins from her sculpted body, Teddy had pulled out his other .38mm, the one kept on floor thirteen. This pistol contained the real bullets, not the blanks which were in Oswald’s. He had placed it inside a colourful Ming Dynasty vase on the bookshelf, but within easy reach. Teddy planned to switch them after killing his antagonist, to make it appear as if a disastrous murder/suicide had taken place. Yvette came out of the bathroom stark naked. Teddy was wearing just his underpants. He wanted his ex-best friend to really get an eyeful of vengeance before he pulled the trigger. Snake-in-the-grass Teddy took Yvette in his arms to contemplate whether to shoot her in the back or in the head. He kissed her for the last time. They were near the front door. Over her shoulder, he could easily read the classic wall clock. It was nearly twelve. She knew nothing of the next five minutes which would see her black heart stop beating. He listened for the jingling sound of the padlock. Seconds later, on perfect cue, he could hear the sound he had planned on. “Guess what, darling,” he uttered, with sex oozing in his voice to blanket the sound.

“What?” She replied wearing the face of a Jezebel. “Have you got more in you?”

Suddenly the door burst open…

Jane shouted at the top of her lungs. “Surprise!”

The coup de grace crescendo fell right on time ─ but with an additional uninvited participant! On seeing her nakedness, by a sheer reflex of anger, Oswald produced the Smith & Wesson. He repeatedly pulled the trigger. The gun discharged three loud bangs. Three bullets came out but missed. They shattered the Ming vase. The other gun spun to the floor. Jane’s face filled with distress. Something had gone horribly wrong with Teddy’s plan.

Wrong gun? Wrong bullets? Wrong blanks?

Everything went black and a silence fell. A peculiar repetitive clicking-sound filled the air…

Then the massive room filled with light. The film had broken just before its finale. A girl in the front row of the movie theatre screamed. She bounced out of her seat as if hit by one of Oswald’s stray bullets, covered in a shower of popcorn and looking like a lamington. A voice came over the loudspeaker. “We apologise for the disruption. Things will return to normal shortly.”

The crowded theatre erupted into laughter at her white-speckled apparel…

Are you being watched?

       If you enjoyed that last little ride,                                                                          try this next dramatic heart-wrencher on for size!

“Don’t Look…

          You’re Being Followed”

 

By Stephen James

Who is the real protagonist? Good question! I hope you struggle to figure out your own answer to which way the finger is pointing, before being caught by its unexpected swerve…

Actress Irma Snodgrass had become a popular soap opera starlet back in 1967. Her chosen stage name, Crystal Chevalier had shone a brilliant light, improving her odds of landing roles, allowing Irma to take leaps over the opposition; painstakingly languishing on the casting-couch. She was a fine-looking woman, part and parcel necessities for the rapidly blossoming hour-long brand of afternoon bored housewife’s viewing. Misses Snodgrass had still not quite forgiven her new husband Archibald for handing her the awkward moniker. Hence the invention of her pseudonym. Archibald was a scriptwriter for the same network, but Crystal refused to admit that this had the scantiest influence in her ability to land the much-sought-after role. In her limited vision ─ it had been all her own doing. They had a child together in 1969, naming her Valerie Marie after Irma’s favourite actress Valerie Marie Winterstorm. Archie went along with it, though not appreciating the wishy-washy body of work Miss Winterstorm produced, caring more about the child’s welfare than her name. A television production-set child of the 70’s, Valerie soon learned how to cope with completing her year one school lessons and parent-tutored manners at the network’s studio.

The small family lived in a humble three bedroom bungalow in middle-class Los Angeles. A suburb called Sachiko. Raven-haired Crystal’s role developed into becoming the main protagonist; Private Investigator Zelma Hardachre, and with its importance in the show, her ego inflated to scale. Her salary grew also, and Ms Chevalier (as she liked to be addressed) did some commercials as well.

When youngster Valerie was fast-approaching her sixth birthday, the sad news about her father’s passing in a car accident, when en route to a film set at Las Vegas, found its way to her heart. Concerned for her child’s well-being, Crystal avoided subjecting her timid daughter to the rigours of a gala Hollywood funeral. The girl was looked after by her uncle Quentin for the afternoon, while her mother attended. During the devastating aftermath, for several months, Quentin Snodgrass became a rock of Gibraltar for the grieving pair of girls, whose affinity gradually knitted tighter. The home’s memory too strenuous, they moved to an upmarket dwelling closer to the centre of town. Crystal even asked for the Private-eye Zelma Hardachre’s character’s role to be down-written somewhat, in order to spend more time with her only daughter. This was greatly appreciated by the budding girl.

In an obscure twist of events, as Valerie grew up, her years spent guided by a single parent and fighting for survival in the cut-throat city, seemed to dilute her timorous nature. Valerie’s mother attempted several relationships but nothing seemed too serious, now nearly forty ─ as a woman in her prime, the business of her shooting schedule took precedence above all else. Her figure was lustrous. Her diet was impossible. Her temper became shortened. Her time spent learning her lines lengthened, but devoted Crystal Chevalier persevered best as she could.

Valerie was suddenly seventeen and beginning to notice the stares of men. Her inherited gene pool’s allure began encroaching faster than a blizzard. She was pretty. Stunning curves and a trim mid-section had transformed her previously-stick-like body. Crystal did not favour this but was powerless to prevent it. Fast-forgotten by her were the credentials that she’d applied to open the studio’s doors in the first place. The rules were strict and Valerie Marie abided by them. A good child she was…

Studios are supportive of soap operas ─ they even sustain the longevity of their stars. But it cannot last forever, and the evolving viewing audience’s desire for an influx of fresh new blood saw the shrinkage, demise and eventual cancellation of waning protagonist Zelma Hardachre. Crystal was fired from the show. She did not want to plummet back down to the depths of being Irma Snodgrass once again, but the women of the 80’s with their big hair, small waistlines and breast augmentation were blazing an ultra-competitive trail, too fast for her to chase. She resented her male producer, calling him a chauvinist. She was angry at the screenwriters for not making her character sexy enough to tread water with the new meat. She became autocratic in her disciplinary attitude towards Valerie.

Day after day. Night after night. The stern voice of unemployed Irma rang in her daughter’s ears. “No men! You simply cannot trust any of them!”

“But Mum,” she would plead… “I just want to go out on a date, please!”

“You are far too young and vulnerable,” came repeatedly back. “You are still only a schoolgirl, for God’s sakes! As I have told you so many times in the past, you cannot trust men. They are only after one thing. And once they’ve got it, they’ll cast you aside like an unwanted worn-out pair of shoes!”

At times the discussions bore unpleasant heat.

“Yes, okay mum, you’re the boss!” she would reconcile. Valerie respected her mother’s advice, knowing it would not be forever. Soon, when she was a bit older her chance would arise. “But I can’t help wondering what it would be like to have a boyfriend of my own.”

“Finish your grades first, girl. Then we’ll see.” It was always the same type of conversation.

In the 1980’s there were no smart phones or social media; therefore, her friends all had to be met personally. The few boys who hung around her group were stringently grilled by her mother. They were wary of the consequences of overstepping the line with her.

At last came 1990. For Valerie, now twenty-one, beautiful in her own right and working as a receptionist with a legal firm, living at home still, to repress her mum’s loneliness was a part of life. She was patient but could now come and go as she pleased. One day at the mall, dressed nicely as usual, she noticed a man following at a distance. Well, she’d figured he was, because each time she went into one shop he would float past but reappear moments later. This pursuer was not making eye-contact with her, and was too far behind for her to make out any clear features. All Valerie could tell was that the man was quite solidly built with dark-brown hair and expensive-looking sunglasses covering his eyes. His clothes were blueish. Whenever she moved, he moved. Whenever she stopped, he stopped. She began feeling extremely apprehensive. She increased her stride in an effort to shake him off. He allowed this to happen, then in a second his image once more hovered in her peripheral vision.  It persisted for over twenty minutes. Her heart began to pound harder and harder. Her mother was right. She felt like a piece of prime-cut beef being hounded by a very determined dog. Valerie, not one to panic, decided to seek the assistance of a security guard…

“Pardon me sir?” she inquired quietly, pointing to her wrist as if inquiring about the time and being careful not to face the stalker. The last thing she needed was to aggravate him. “Please play along with me and show me your watch. You see, there is a man following me. He has been lurking behind me for ages. It is spooking me out. What should I do?”

“A man following, you say?” said the uniformed guard, complying with her smartly-disguised request. He raised his voice for effect, just in case. “Nearly four-thirty-five, miss!”

Valerie nodded a thank you. “Well. What should I do? Can you do something about him?”

“Until he makes a move to harass or grab you, I can’t really do anything, miss. There’s no law against being in the mall. If I approach or detain him for questioning, he could have me up for harassment. Stupid, isn’t it? Let’s at least bluff him. Which man is it miss?”

They both peered round slowly. The skulking stranger was gone. Both sets of eyes did a quick scan of the busy mall but he had vanished. Valerie felt the weight of a huge encumbrance lift from her shoulders. Her bulging plastic shopping-bag seemed to weigh less now.

The guard smiled dismissingly. “You might have just been imagining it, miss.”

“No I wasn’t!” she rasped back. “I tell you he was no more than thirty yards behind me. A deep blue shirt and jeans. He has dark-brown hair. Oh, and he was wearing reflective Ray-bans too!”

The burly African-American guard’s communication radio started beeping. “Excuse me miss. I have to get this. Just give me a few minutes, will you?”

“Humph…” grunted Valerie, taking another look, but the coast was clearer than a politician’s conscience. She took-off, shaking her frustrated head, mindful of her five o’clock dental appointment near home. “Thanks for nothing, anyway.”

The main entrance was in view, so she made a beeline. On her own once more and with a pair of four-inch Prada heels scuffling underneath her tight-fitting, open-necked, Versace business dress, the upset girl couldn’t wait to get to her car. With each short step, her frightened little heart was increasing in pace. She could hear her own breathing. Perhaps her mother’s excessive warning over-kills had made her mind play tricks on her? The big glass double doors loomed. Not far to go now!

“Get a grip on yourself!” she vented, under her heavy breathing…

Other shoppers were staring at the fleet-footed twenty-one-year-old, dodging and weaving her way through the hoards. The plastic bag of shopping was banging against her hip. Her handbag, with its thin leather strap was continuously bouncing on her bottom. Her mind was filled with three stern words… Trust no one!

At last the entrance arrived, and as luck would have it the automatic doors were held apart by pedestrian traffic. Valerie kept her pace up, turning right into the underground carpark. Pursuing a trim figure, she’d always made a habit of parking at the furthest space away as possible. Today she wished she hadn’t. She kept scurrying along, praying that one of the white Prada’s wouldn’t break or come adrift. The focused girl could now see her car in the distance ─ like an island to a drowning swimmer at sea. Her shoes echoed on the hard concrete ceiling. The massive columns seemed to be hiding something. Her fear mounted as she suddenly realised how few people were down here. Her car felt like it was getting further away. Valerie was running out of breath. Slowing down.

Then she saw him…

She froze mid-stride. A stab of fear shot through her chest. The man, still wearing his dark glasses appeared from behind a parked van. Its sliding door was open. She caught a brief glimpse of a cage-like mesh separating the driver’s section. His eyes looked right through her. His cheek bore a long jagged scar. His hands were large. He said nothing. Valerie screamed but nothing came out. Terror dragged her eyes sideways. She went to take a step behind a FWD, catching her handbag’s strap on its wing-mirror. It snapped. Her bag fell open to the dirty concrete. Her precious mace spray now entirely useless. Do I retrieve it?

“I know where you parked. I followed you in,” his gravel-voice uttered ─ face breaking into a strange one-sided smile ─ finger pointing at her car. “I knew you’d come out this way.”

Valerie’s entire body was shaking uncontrollably. Her heart felt the harrowing ordeal of rape fast approaching. What an introduction to the world of sex, her mother hadn’t prepared her for this!

“What do you want?” she asked with a mouse’s voice. “Why are you following me?” Her stomach was ice.

“You are pretty aren’t you? No need to be scared.”

“I don’t know you, and I don’t want to know you! Back off! I’ll scream if you come anywhere near me!” Valerie removed one of her shoes, holding the stiletto in his direction. He laughed at it.

The man raised his sunglasses. His eyes were darker than his hair but the same brown colour. He reached down for her bag. She hated being trapped like this. Where are all the shoppers? She knew all her identification was in that bag. If he got it, she was doomed. What the hell game was this?

The intimidating man picked up her belongings, tucked them back inside and walked over to the van’s open sliding door. “It is you. I knew it! I just had to see how you’d look, all grown up!  Come… I’ve brought you a present.” The scar shrank up the man’s cheek as a smile broke. “You probably don’t remember me. I left when you were six. Your mum… Well, let’s just say, my brother Quentin was taking care of her long before we pretended I got killed. It was easier that way.”

“Daddy… is that really you?”

“I just had to be sure it was you.” He reached into the van and pulled out a giant fuzzy pink donkey. “Sorry I took Wonky Donkey, but she was all I had to remember you by, honey!”

Valerie Marie dropped her shoe and burst into tears…

Ten-minute thrillers!

Thought I would start something new to keep all of my avid followers amused, pending the publication of my most recent mystery/ crime thriller. Stories with a twist are always a lot of fun. A quick fast read with a mug of coffee to start or end your day. Here is a “Ten-Minute Thriller” to tantalize you with the sort of thing to expect. This is the first of many. There will be one every week for you to enjoy absolutely free. Please share with your friends if you enjoyed the read. Feedback would also be greatly appreciated.

“A Fight to the Death”

By Stephen James

At a time when the plague of greed was paramount…
The foolhardy rantings of a diabolical madman, who instilled sufficient lies to persuade his cohorts to follow, demolished the peaceful harmony of society. It desecrated the very fabric of common decency. Think of the smell of death wafting through the cold night air’s shadows, chilling your every fibre into a sleepless paranoia of fear. How would it plague your mind ─ not knowing who or where your real enemy is?
But I am getting far too ahead of myself. This story begins way back in time…

When Harry Cayuga emigrated from England with his bride Shirley, way back during the freezing-cold winter of 1922, the happy newly-weds had no idea exactly what was in store. Harry, a qualified carpenter, just like his own father before him, had adhered to his Yorkshire-born dad’s advice, taken the generous one hundred and fifty-pound incentive and purchased two second-class tickets to Australia. The steamship Aryanise had delivered them safely to the docks at Sydney, and from there they had caught a train to Melbourne. The capital city of the state of Victoria had been chosen because its weather most-closely matched that of the north of England from whence they’d come. Shirley, now six months pregnant, had pushed for the opportunities on offer in the Land Down Under as it was referred to by the British of the day. Umbilical-to-his-family Harry, had at first objected to the lifestyle upheaval, but eventually came around after his father’s kind financial enticement. Shirley Cayuga gave birth to identical twin brothers on 20th February 1923, she named one Eric after her own father. Shirley’s parents had long since left England’s hustle ‘n’ bustle, and settled in the delightful hamlet of Baiersbronn, nestled in the Black Forest of Bavaria ─ not far from the French border. This was the town in which the couple enjoyed their wedding and honeymoon. Harry had the pleasure of calling his other son Harold in honour of himself. In a strange sort of irony, the two jet-black-haired boys both shared a common middle name. That being Derek because their parents both liked Vaudeville star Derek Sherrington, the popular celebrity of the era. Baiersbronn was so picturesque and romantic that it had proved to deliver the very seed of the twins’ inception.

As youngsters, Eric and Harold were inseparable. They shared a bedroom, ate together, played together, walked to kindergarten hand-in-hand with their mother, and whenever necessary ─ told little white lies to mum and dad to defend the other. As they steadily grew up this pledge never waned, if anything it tightened. Their teachers often remarked to their peers about the incredible bond between the brothers as if they shared a common soul. The outskirts of St Kilda, where the family rented a humble abode, proved to be a rugged upbringing for the without-sibling pair of healthy boys. The suburb had been selected for its healthy beachside environment. Melbourne was a multicultural city. It always had been right from its earliest inception as Australia’s potential Capital city. Most groups in this era, including the small children, were encouraged to stick to their own kind, but talkative-pair, Eric and Harold wanted to acquaint everyone in their first year of Primary School. Sometimes welcomed and sometimes scorned, the persistent pair accepted life for what it offered, black-eyed days and all. Each day, Harry would trundle off to work on one of the many housing construction-sites surrounding St Kilda’s fast-developing fringe areas. Never a drinker, in the evenings he would play with his sons and encourage their education, an area of absence in his youth, until their bedtime. After he’d tucked them in, he would discuss the family’s future in Australia over a late cup of tea with Shirley.

Which never came…

By 1929, with the boys scarcely six, a dreadful disaster overcame the world. After America’s initial stock market crash, the black cloud of depression spread like an out-of-control epidemic. It engulfed the western world, thrusting it into a suppression of industry never before encountered on such a grand scale. Labelled ‘The Great Depression’ for obvious reasons, the jobless numbers soon began to challenge the employed. Harry’s career, collateral damage like so many stalled to a crawl, then his company crumbled altogether. Australia was hit as hard as the rest, with queues of men lining up for hours for hand-outs. Harry became one of them. The dowry left by his father, which they were rebuilding during the late 1920’s, after it at first shrank whilst they established a foothold in the country, had been reduced to a poultry twenty-five pounds. A reasonable sum for the time, but it would barely see the year out.  Shirley found some work as a domestic for a wealthy banker but the meagre one-day-per-week wage did little to assist matters. They grew hungry and desperate. Arguments soon overwhelmed the once-happy family. In his frustration, Harry left himself with little option other than to take to the bottle. A shattering mistake. It led to more intense arguments. As the year dissolved into 1930, it appeared the one and only highlight was a thoroughbred called Phar Lap. The horse’s winning ability gave all Australians something to cheer about. He blitzed the field every race, also claiming the Melbourne Cup of that year, and it appeared that there wasn’t a distance he couldn’t win at. This became Harry’s saviour. He’d bet his last savings on ‘Bobby’ and did quite well. It fuelled his drinking habit, fed his family and quelled the quarrels temporarily, for a year. However, the odds were getting shorter and the handicap-weights were getting heavier. Shirley hated his new ‘punter’ lifestyle but with no other option, kept her mouth shut and fumed silently to herself in private. They ceased to be affectionate during this period. The last straw broke on 3rd November. Harry bet all his remaining reserves on Phar Lap in the 1931 Melbourne Cup and lost the lot. Phar Lap came 8th carrying a ridiculous combination of sixty-eight kilos. It nearly killed the horse.

They now had nothing…

It was all too much for Shirley.  She decided to leave him for the security of a life with her parents in Europe, which was less affected by ‘The Great Depression’. With her she took Eric, leaving Harold with his father. It seemed only fair not to strip him of everything. Devastated, the boys waved goodbye just after sharing Christmas 1931 together. For Harry, it meant doing whatever he could to support young Harold. They share-housed with other unfortunates. He laboured on the roads. He quit drinking. He even stole for him. After peaking in 1932, the depression slowly lifted. Father and son became a unified force. Young Harold did not hate his mother for leaving but struggled with forgiveness for her. His memories of childhood faded as the boy became a man. With the passing years and drop-off of letter writing, the two men galvanized strongly. Education had been substituted for a carpentry apprenticeship, and at sixteen, young Harold Derek Cayuga had it all before him. That was until September 1939 and the outbreak of war…

The Axis forces led by Adolf Hitler needed to be stopped. Great Britain and her allies surged in to assist Poland, France, Belgium and Europe’s other invaded countries. USSR, USA, Australia and New Zealand combined with forces globally to thwart the threat. Initially too young at the outbreak, Harold quickly volunteered for the infantry when permitted, without a whim of dissuasion from his dad. Photographed in his proud uniform and donning a slouch hat, the nineteen-year-old set sail for battle in July of 1942. Harold became part of a special covert group of volunteers who supported the Canadians. He fought in the beach assault at Dieppe in France, where the Axis forces won very swiftly. The allies were lucky to escape alive, many died. He went to The Netherlands and served for month after month, toughening and hardening his resolve as the troops around him fell. Friends were made quickly and lost even faster. He had witnessed bloodshed at its most extreme and was a far cry from the lad who had learned to saw timber for his dad for a living. As a corporal two years on, he was sent back to France to engage at The Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II. It was launched through the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in eastern Belgium, northeast France, and Luxembourg. It was one of the most significant battles of the entire six-year ordeal.

Just prior to his injection into the desecrated, snow-covered, wintery landscape, he had enjoyed a lengthy furlough from action. This temporary leave of absence saw him enjoy a much needed romantic interlude in the small French town of Vesoul. Julienne Du Manseau was a waitress at a small café. Pretty, dark-featured and petite, he fell for her elfin good-looks and pleasant personality like an anvil out the sky. Her sexy French accent only added further to her captivating charm. Harold promised Julienne that at war’s end he would return to Vesoul for her, and take her back with him to Australia if she desired it. She agreed to his offer. He carried her photograph next to his heart into battle and dreamed of her kisses when lying exhausted in the slushy freezing tent called home. He pictured her face in his mind all the time and convinced himself that it was the German army keeping them apart. It nourished his fervour. By 3rd January 1945, Harold had been away from home for over thirty months. He was mature beyond his years but longed for Melbourne, like a kid craves hugs.

Harold was now twenty-one. He had become resilient friends with Patrick Williams, a tall strong farm-boy from NSW who was in his regiment. They had shared many stories about their homeland during the halts in fighting. Pat seemed, like Harold, to be a bullet-dodger. “Just lucky I guess” they would often agree, upon the sight of one another, after a relieving embrace. It was only three months but to them, it felt like three years. Life was so knife-edged out there. The war was hell. Corporal Cayuga saved Pat’s life after a botched raid left him bayonetted in a sodden ditch. Harold shot the Nazi then carried his friend to safety under mortar fire. It went unnoticed but neither cared much for medals. Following that, machine-gunner Pat had a month’s reprieve from active duty but couldn’t wait to see his mate again. Once reunited, after the mobile hospital unit had patched young Williams up, Harold glared sternly. “Still dodged the lead… you lucky bastard! You’d do the same for me Pat,” was all Harold’s pockmarked-from-shrapnel expression said. And he was right.

Side-by-side they slugged out the long days together, always filthy, always upbeat, keeping each other sane. “You’re the best mate a bloke could ever have!” Pat would say every time their eyes locked…

One moonlit night after a bitterly cold day in mid-January, the two mates lay against a bullet-ridden shed wall sheltering from the wind. “Have I ever shown you this?” asked Williams.
“What is it?” replied Harold, taking a small square piece of cardboard from his friend.
“She’s my girl. Only known her a while ─ but we’re in love…” He smiled like a lottery winner.
Harold instantly recognized Julienne’s every feature staring back from the photo. He knew it happened when Pat was on furlough. He saw scarlet-red and immediately attacked Patrick physically, calling him all the abusive names for betrayal and disloyalty. Pat, totally perplexed, had to fight back. The two soldiers hammered each other to pieces, punching and choking comprehensively while ignoring their surroundings completely. It was boots and all. Bigger stronger Pat was getting the better of the jealous corporal. He held him against the crumbling brickwork and beat him to a pulp, trying to explain his ignorance to Harold’s previous involvement with the French lass but it seemed to matter not. When Pat let him go, Harold came back at him, but this time he’d drawn his bayonet. “You lousy bastard! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you!” he shouted swiping the blade at Williams’ throat. It was as if all the torment of his first twenty-odd years had exploded inside his head. The pair came together once more with Pat taking a stab in his belly. Ironically it pierced the very same point where he’d received the one which put him in intensive care for weeks, just prior to his tryst at Vesoul. As he fell to the ground, Harold moved in for the death blow. The double-edged blade sat inches from Pat’s face ─ his sorrowful eyes twinkled under the moonlight. “No, please mate,” he begged. “I swear I knew nothing, and she never mentioned a word of you!” The bayonet was raised high, Pat closed his eyes grimacing, knowing what was coming.

When suddenly nothing happened!

“Halt! Don’t do it soldier!” was the next thing they heard. It was a German accent.
Harold spun around, unable to move his arm being gripped by the hand protruding from the German uniform. No weapon drawn. “Back-off you Nazi swine!” he blasted. “This has nothing to do with you. We’ll fight afterwards if you like.” His eyes froze still at the face which was his own. Next to the face was a crumpled photograph. It was of two little boys beside a Christmas tree.
“I could hear your voice, yar vould… plain as if it vas yesterday, Harold,” uttered Eric with a tear. “We’ve lost… and I had comen to give myself up, yar. Don’t murder your friend, please. We have got so much to discuss, my brother!” Pat Williams was spared…