Gold or Gone… in ten-minutes!

You never know where your next life-long

      friend will emerge from!

            So never lose faith and never give up…

 

“A Second Chance at Success”

By Stephen James

Adversity, as it would appear, unquestionably extracts the very best from most champions, regardless of their inclination. In this short, fictional, life-and-death story, I certainly hope you barrack for the hero with the equivalent level of passionate enthusiasm as I did when contriving it.

 

When ace Spitfire pilot Tyrone McAllister pressed the firing button to discharge the final few seconds’ worth of machine-gun rounds at the BF 109 Messerschmitt in his sights, he wasn’t prepared for the next thing that happened. It was 1941 and his fighter-plane was over the English Channel. A dogfight between twenty-two, brave but heavily-outnumbered, RAF pilots was drawing to a close. Fuel was low on both parties, as was ammunition. The battle against thirty-seven of Germany’s finest warbirds had worn-on for over an hour, and had only come to fruition when the bomber-guarding planes had long-since left their duties to engage with one another. All deployed planes had diverted to a separate airspace to avoid collision with the slower heavier returning bombers — thus rendering them with minimal protection, but it was identical for the Germans too. Unbelievably, the allies had squared the ledger number-wise, to eleven apiece, with Squadron Leader McAllister personally responsible for six of the kills. The Australian-born gifted pilot had number seven in a merciless position, diving for an escape route toward the water, in an inverted barrel-roll. The G-forces became unbearable as Tyrone closed in close enough to be positive of a successful airstrike. With only a few spurts left in his four Browning machine-guns, the courageous flight-officer knew he would have to return to base immediately, and did not wish to leave his portion of the squadron outnumbered. He had previously emptied his twin 20 mm Hispano cannons during the assault on the Luftwaffe bombers. He also knew that his foe, with superior dive-speed, would be gone if he waited any longer before squeezing the Dunlop gun-firing button located on his spade grip handle.

Sqn Ldr McAllister waited for the precise moment, then let him have it…

The BF 109 Messerschmitt took the full brunt of the Browning .303 bullets which drained his every last round. Tyrone, as per usual, said a prayer for his much-respected adversary. “God rest your soul if you don’t jump out pal… C’mon bailout for me now, please. Bail out now!”

But this was just the beginning of his tale. He heaved the Mk VI Spitfire’s joystick against the almost disobedient moan of her straining Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. The man’s blurring mind pleading a second prayer, with centrifugal forces nearly stalling the savage V12 brute mid-dive. Her wings were screaming under the strain. Moments after the ace pulled out of the nine-hundred kilometre-per-hour dive, he shook himself back into a reality check. The exhausting hour-long ordeal had left him with a lather of sweat which adhered to his flying suit like watery glue. Fear had saturated his veins with an intoxicating degree of adrenalin. The continuous bombardment of G-forces rendered his vision blurry and had stolen his usual clarity of thinking. He climbed to 26,000 feet. McAllister’s teal-blue eyes searched for his loyal and every airman’s best friend, the horizon line — and finally found it. The sun was low in the sky. The green fields of England loomed in the distance. The command to retreat was given. The pilot took a brief minute to reflect upon his two life-loves. His mind cast its way back to 1936, two years before he had even considered becoming a combat pilot. His first love, a beautiful, young, budding, British actress, Annabelle Strike, had been watching in the crowd, cheering him on to the finish line at the Berlin Olympic Games. His second love — that of being a world-class 5,000 metre runner had blossomed to reality, on the big stage. Although he did not win a medal, this eighteen-year-old athlete had proved himself a worthy contender by making the semi-finals. The look on his beloved Annabelle’s face was all the wiry young man had needed to empower him onto the next scheduled summer games in 1940, where London had won the right to host them. Needless to say, he never competed in those games — as history tells us they were cancelled due to the Second World War. He did, however, marry Annabelle whose face filled his mind at this precise moment in front of his Spitfire’s acrylic bubble canopy. His fatigued mind forged a wry grin onto his battle-wearied face. The brave squadron leader’s memory held a clear-cut vision of that day when the world had yet to be at loggerheads, and the only combat for him was on that running track in Berlin. He had been comprehensively beaten by Hans Frocklemüller, the elite German middle-distance runner. Hans eventually went on to claim the gold medal the following day in the final. He’d never forgotten the kind words of encouragement offered by Frocklemüller when he offered his big hand to haul Tyrone off the track. McAllister had engineered his personal best by just under four seconds, to try to reel in the leading pack. The Herculean effort had shredded his body to utter exhaustion, causing an ungainly staggering collapse, just metres past the finish line. The, then skinny, young up-and-comer had merely stared in awe of the maestro-of-the-track and just moments before they embraced, had replied; “You just wait Hans, in the next games in London, I will leave you in my dust!”

Frocklemüller’s reply of; “I certainly hope so my young comrade… your spirit deserves it. I certainly hope so!” was exemplified by several solid pats on his back. The two bonding athletes had no notion whatsoever of the war which was to follow three years later, and how they would never meet again to compete.

The powerful memory was rich in his heart. But it was short-lived…

In this battle-retreating daydream of less than two minutes, his life changed forever. A burst of cannon-fire tore through his Mk VI Spitfire’s fuselage.  He had been caught by a rogue bandit coming out of the setting sun. The large calibre shells tore through the hydraulic tubing, gauges, levers, switches and vital operational mechanisms of his aircraft. It all happened so quickly that he never even felt the two that had buried themselves into his right leg. One in the thigh and one in his calf. He checked his gauges — some were working but not the altimeter. The P8 compass was fine. He checked his rear-vision mirror — a small stream of smoke, perhaps burning oil. He increased the throttle — the V12 Merlin was still responsive but for how long? He scanned the skies for the enemy BF 109 — a dot was vanishing triumphantly in the distance. He tried the radio — it was dead. Altitude was his friend now because Tyrone knew he may have to glide home. He knew his plane was nearly empty, plus, the distinct smell of fuel was filling his cockpit. He put her into a steady climb and began counting to estimate his ceiling, but realized his cabin pressure was non-existent. The spray of cannon shells had put pay to that. The icy air was freezing through his gloves. He said out loud behind his oxygen mask. “I reckon that’s about 30,000 feet Annabelle. Should just be enough to limp ‘er home by, when the prop gives up. See you soon Darling.” His voice shivering. His right leg now burning with pain. So this was it.

When the Spitfire levelled out, Tyrone had a clear view of both the British and French coastlines. The dogfight had drifted all combatants due-west and his final engagement had happened over the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey — these distinctive outlines he also well-recognized. Occupied by the Nazis, neither of these were a desirable landing option. The distinctive silhouette of an approaching Spitfire would be shot out of the sky in minutes. His target was Exeter RAF Base in Devon, over a hundred and twenty miles or two-hundred kilometres away, with little fuel left. Thirty or so minutes he’d estimated. A risk he had no option but to take. He turned her nose north-west to home but his elite warbird did not respond. Again and again, Sqn Ldr McAllister nudged the joystick towards the left to tilt her home. The controls were suddenly not responding and to make matters worse, the tailplane elevators and rudder movements were locked into position now. She was airborne but severely wounded. The compass showed him a gentle drift to the right and there was nothing but the English Channel below. Bailing-out was not a viable option…

Next, the Rolls-Royce spluttered to a halt. The three tips of his propeller rocked to a standstill. Tyrone was on a course for Nazi-occupied France. The quick-thinking ace attempted to straighten her out using the main wing flaps and it worked, however, he knew full well that this delicate adjustment was costing him altitude. Altitude he could ill afford. The flaps were retracted. He wondered how much blood he was losing and laid his head back, expecting to first faint and then slowly die. The wind whistled through the gaping holes in the aluminium fuselage skin. He was not scared but felt very alone. Annabelle’s face once again filled his mind — he convinced himself not to give up because he owed it to her to stay alive. The dark blue water beneath him transformed into dark green fields. The sun now disappeared. The undercarriage fortunately lowered and a flattish field was searched for. With visibility at dusk level and surrounded by silence, he felt like he was gliding in on the back of a wounded bat. He estimated it must be about five minutes from touchdown. Beauvais was the name of the closest city he was approaching, although Tyrone had no knowledge of this. He merely wanted the surrounding paddocks. He stalled her using the main flaps to wash-off airspeed and raise her nose. Minutes ticked by. Closer… closer… closer, she dipped and yawed, eventually ploughing into the fields of Montreuil-sur-Brêche without being shot at. The fighter-plane skewed around like a rum-sodden sailor, before tipping onto her bent propeller.

The tiny French hamlet with its stone walls, fourteenth-century buildings, gravel roads and clustered haystacks must have seemed like a dream-come-true to the very lucky pilot, who unclipped his Sutton harness and took an enormous sigh. His gloved hands cupped a pair of weary eyes. Having spotted several enemy military vehicles, when coasting in, the Australian-born ace knew he had to attempt the fastest exit possible. Or worse… the remnants of fuel vapour left in her tanks could erupt and blow them to kingdom come! Two fumbling hands managed to force back the acrylic canopy in its sliding tracks, but he had lost all feeling in his right leg. Tyrone failed to haul himself free from the cramped cockpit. Suddenly, he heard a clambering sound, which was joined by the fearsome barrel of a German Luger pistol at his temple, seconds before Tyrone uttered what he thought were his last few words… “I’m going to die in here, aren’t I?”

“Englander… out now! Oder sie sterben!” shouted the chiselled-featured enemy officer. “Schnell! Schnell!” The pistol forced his head back against the firewall.

Tyrone screamed back — hands raised — fingers pointing frantically to his legs. “Beine! Beine sind gebrochen!” It meant broken legs and was enough to convey the message.

The officer waved his Luger in the air, shouting to two uniformed men carrying Mauser Karabiner 98k rifles. “Unteroffizier, holen die bahre mit — schnell!”

It was the last thing Tyrone heard before he blacked-out and slumped against the joystick. The two under-officers returned promptly with the stretcher. The three Germans hauled his flaccid body from the wreckage and carried him to a nearby tavern. He was barely alive…

Squadron Leader McAllister woke up several days later, in a gloomy room at that same country tavern. He was considerably cleaner now — free of the filth of battle but riddled with the remnants of morphine. A woman was sitting on the bed applying a wet cloth to his burning forehead. She had a French look about her. She smiled. He smiled back. He was under some bed-linen. His eyes flashed down to where he thought his right leg used to be. The pretty woman’s eyes glanced away. Tyrone shut his. She had merely cast her eye-line towards the door where the German officer had just arrived, its heavy oak panels blocking his uniform from the bed. All she said was…

“Monsieur Kapitän, he’s awake now.”

McAllister’s eyelids flashed swiftly apart, like separating lovers.

“Danke dir, Michelle,” he replied, still out of view. “You may leave us now.”

Michelle got up, nodded at Tyrone and slowly backed away to the door, without breaking any eye-contact. He swallowed hard contemplating the facts. Still, the Nazi officer did not enter the make-shift ward. Instead, seemingly eschewing the patient, he spoke with calm across the room in a strong accent. “So, my Spitfire pilot. It would appear that you have probably flown your last mission, yar?”

Tyrone envisioned the bleak harshness of a P.O.W. Camp. His face broke into a nervous sweat. He gritted his teeth. “Why didn’t you just shoot me there and then, Captain? Why this? I would have probably preferred to die — instead of failure.” He’d yielded his plane to the enemy.

The Hauptmann laughed from behind the door. “Still have that same spirit I see—”

An uncomfortable silence filled the next three minutes, as the confused Sqn Ldr tried to piece the odd statement with the semi-recognizable tone. He had already used up his first two strikes, shot down and crash-landing — thus, daren’t say anything to further jeopardize his circumstances.

“Your legs let you down, yet again!” sparked the stern voice, breaking the silence as it emerged from behind the inn’s bedroom door. “But do not worry, 5,000 metre runner, Tyrone McAllister, I have had them saved for you!” He stared his enemy right in the eyes — face unyielding but smiling. “By my own Bavarian hands, plus much help from her.”

“Hans Frocklemüller! It is you. I can’t believe it. After all these years, we meet again!”

“You were extraordinarily lucky on many counts,” Hauptmann Frocklemüller replied, offering his hand to shake. “I am the surgeon-general for our battalion. Hauptmann is my true rank but she calls me Kapitän. I am only here for a short time… and you arrive at my doorstep. I have saved your legs and you may well even walk once more. Tyrone, we are enemies for the moment, but somehow, I feel we shall be friends for life.” He called Michelle back in and whispered to her at the end of the room. She nodded obediently.

“What is going on?” asked the bewildered Sqn Ldr.

“I have made some arrangements and she will take care of you,” he winked. “But not a murmur to anyone. Do I have your word on that?” Their hands locked like a vice.

Tyrone’s eyes stared with determination. “Of course, Hans… but?”

“Say no more on it. Look me up when once this disgraceful war is over. Is that a promise?”

“This is as good as any gold medal I could have taken from you,” said Tyrone, with a hint of a tear in his striking blue eyes.

Hauptmann Frocklemüller laughed. “I think that I always had your measure, airman!”

“Perhaps you are right. Good luck and thank you. I’ll definitely look you up!”

Several months later, after spending time with the French underground, by virtue of Michelle dú jeu Bois, the near-rehabilitated RAF officer made his way to Switzerland and eventually, back to England. His now-accomplished actress wife Annabelle was patiently waiting. Tyrone went on to fly a further sixteen assignments, claiming five Luftwaffe bombers and nine more fighters, before reaching the rank of Wing Commander — then switching to become a land-based fighter attack strategist.

After the conclusion of The Second World War, three years on during the Christmas of 1948, Mr and Mrs McAllister along with their five-year-old son, Hans, flew to Geneva to link-up with Dr and Michelle Frocklemüller. With him, in a beautiful velvet case tucked tightly under his arm were his two latest loves. One was the Distinguished Flying Cross he had received for bravery — the other was a gleaming gold medal for winning the men’s 5,000 metre, in the rescheduled 1948 London Olympic Games. In the years that followed, his autobiography became a global bestseller and later, a feature film. It co-starred Annabelle as herself…

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Can your viewpoint alter in the next ten-minutes?

We all think that nothing of serious importance happens in life’s daily drudge…but merely going for a stroll can lead to quite the unexpected!

 

“I’m Watching You!”

By Stephen James

 

For anyone entering Heaven for the first time, the gates are always open. For anyone trying to leave hell at any time, they are always locked. Our eyes see plenty but our mouths stay shut. Our ears hear the wickedness of the world but our tongues prefer to taste the sugars of success. Our noses sniff out trouble but we feel the touch of a stranger to be a step closer to a friend. Oh, yes… Our alert senses feed us greedily with so much information, choices simply have to be made.
                This unfortunate observer had to make some ugly decisions…

 

The wooded surrounds which blanket the many-hectare state-owned forest outside Crossbow Falls was teaming with wildlife. Here, at this fishing village, on the Texas shoreline rim bordering on the Gulf of Mexico, life is peaceful. Well, it was back in April last year after a good season’s catch had repeatedly filled the bellies of the fishing boats. The men all drank heartily at the Crossbow Inn and the women-folk tolerated their boisterous mischief. It was set up in a Davy Crockett-meets-William Tell styled motif. The centuries-old village had a Cajun atmosphere about it, not violent, just very, very, old-fashioned. Lessons were taught an eye for an eye. You took your punishment when you were wrong. What happened in the bedroom – stayed in the bedroom. A few hundred miles around, is where the incomparable Rio Grande empties its daily unwanted burden into the gulf.

I had wandered off course accidentally. Crossbow Falls, or even its surrounding forests, was not my usual neck of the woods. I am an out-of-towner from upstate Texas; more a mountain-lover than the water’s edge, who just so happened to be visiting. Just out of town about two miles past Hogey Johnson’s farm, there is a winding track leading Creekside to a broken-down hardwood pier. Nobody goes there anymore because rogue alligators from the nearby Florida wetlands are fairly common. Here, the trees meet the water. I had decided to wander the Creekside gravel road and see where it took me. Diving seabirds hauled-off their prey, each catch swinging like a helpless prisoner in their powerful clutches. As each struggled for freedom, the morning sun’s glint lit up the creature’s scales with a silvery reflection. Mangroves reached out on their tiptoes as far as they dared. Trickling water lapped the shoreline. The view across the gulf was breathtaking. Silence filled the air. Aside from several dilapidated timber structures, there was no sign of mankind. I found a beautiful spot to take a short nap. Dappled in semi-shade beneath a glorious fat-trunked evergreen, with one of its branch-tip’s touching the water, a lush covering of grass had my name on it. My makeshift mattress curved its way up a grassy knoll comprising of two tiers. Later on, I had my choice of either one to sit on and watch the water. Asleep in moments…

A man’s voice woke me up. It’s macabre timbre, a tad shy of the clattering-sound made by a cargo ship’s anchor chain being hauled up, broke the silence. A woman’s voice soon accompanied it but hers was suffering. My ears pricked to feel the wind brush my face. Good, whoever this pair is, I am out of earshot for them. I kept still. The hillbilly-drawl, not clear, continued on like a stick in a bucket. Do I eavesdrop?

Her cries grew louder…

I moved slowly in the grass to keep quiet. Step by step, crawling up the slope, to where a scruffy shrub blocked the view suffice to see closer, without being seen. An old beaten-up truck sat in a clearing. I’d not noticed it arrive when asleep. I settled in to listen. A woman of good health was sprawled out on a large boulder, on her back. Her wrists were tied with old-school rope to four posts hammered into the ground. She could just move. Her clothes had been removed and she was crying.

“Your answer?” He asked, inches from her face, coiled-up whip in his hand. A rifle sat leaning up against the boulder. A sledgehammer cast aside was crawling with ants.

“You know I can’t tell you the answer to that horrible question, Vernon,” she screamed.

“You cheap bitch!” he cracked the whip next to her face, the tip split her cheek. “You make me look a dog-gone fool in my own town, Sarah-Jessica. That, I cannot forgive!” Again with the whip… but this time, he launched it across her body. Her scream so loud it startled the nesting sea eagles, but nobody else could hear. This place was completely deserted, except for us. He whipped her six more times, then kissed her. “Goodbye, Sarah-Jessica!”

I had woken up at a bad time, in a bad place. My nerves started to tingle. This situation did not look good. In front of me, almost as far as you could spit, this bearded hayseed — as big as a house, was about to terminate his woman. She, it would seem, has been accused of being unfaithful. Is this really how these people carry on? I was totally powerless to prevent it, and any attempt to run away would disclose my presence. KEEP STILL.

Vernon picked up a leather medical-style bag and ripped it open. He seized hold of four knives in his huge hand and tossed the bag to the ground. He circled her punished physique three times. The whole time his mumbling jargon waffled-on about how hard done by he was now. And, how is he supposed to live without her now? He placed the eight-inch-bladed daggers across her belly and held them in place with one hand. He smiled like a hangman.

I watched in total disbelief, as Vernon took the first knife and thrust it into her but not into a vital organ area. She had been squealing so much that it seemed impossible to exceed the previous ones but this brought it out. “You deserve it! You filthy whore. Cry in hell!” Her cringe spilled the other three knives to the ground.

I checked left, then right, then left again. Not a soul in sight. It was still just us. In the process, my nose filled with the indisputable coppery smell of freshly-drawn blood. Quite sickening. I watched on, as he drank from a large glass container and wiped his chequered flannelette sleeve against his chin. This man looked and smelt so dirty, it was as if water was illegal or something. Did he sleep with fish? He seemed in no hurry. I, on the other hand, was contemplating the best and fastest escape route possible. Either way, I had to return via the gravelly road, which went right past in full view of this creature from the netherworld. The hottest burning question was… when to go?

Vernon selected his second blade. He flipped it in his right hand, always catching the handle, regardless of its rotations. He forced it slowly into her side. “I’ve always liked to have a drink with you, Sarah-Jessica. Pity it’s our last!” He swigged on his glass container. “And, of course, it doesn’t really matter how long we spend here together. It’s not as if you’ve got any place to go, afterwards.”

I yawned, more out of fear than anything else, I guess. A sea otter let out a shrilling call from the undergrowth on the riverbank behind me, my heartbeat fluttered. This was not my brain’s idea of A1-time-passing. Although, what was happening in front of me was mildly intriguing, possibly only because of the fact of my complete stealth — uncertainty became my ever-present companion.  Decision time fell upon me, in guillotine-like fashion! The risky gravel road stood beckoning… or was descending away, and slipping into the gulf and perhaps off to the patches of beach, which I had noted a bit further around upon arrival, a good one? Now that’s my last option. I could smell the alligators from here. Like it or not, I had to see it out and wait for him to leave…

The local-yokel stared up at the sun, shielding his dirty face from its powerful rays. He staggered several alcohol-effected rotations on the spot. He picked up his third tool-of-chastisement for Sarah-Jessica and began banging its blade against his trouser leg. Vernon sneered at her flagging expression, his eyes reflected the soul of a deep-seated lie. But they were the black hollow eyes of a shark. One of these people was evil. If it was the woman, then the man is vengeful. If it is the man, then he is evil and vengeful, and she is an innocent victim. Needless to say, he would get his way. He circled the boulder with stiff strides. The strides of an unhappy man. He began talking to a person who no longer was hearing. She was dying.

“Of course, I would have taken it all back, if?” Vernon placed the third dagger nearer her heart but still not fatal. He leaned on it. “…If you had told me what his name was… and why you killed him!”

I could see her pain, though now, she had lost the ability to feel the physical trauma or at least it appeared that way ─ because no words or screams were forthcoming. The sounds of the forest, to my ears at least, had fallen silent, almost with her. She now had over twenty-inches of steel in her, the wounds all bleeding and I had witnessed the entire process! I had been here every inch of the way. Locked away inside my mind was this wicked sacrifice. I knew that I could never share it. I hunkered down to watch the fourth knife finish her off. Vernon went to where Sarah-Jessica’s staked-out naked body could still be seen breathing. Her eyes were still open, alas, they would be seeing very little, right now. The shattered-mess-of-a-man sat next to her on the boulder. He took another big guzzle from the container, popped the cork back in, and dropped it to the floor.  In a deliberate trait to stall the entire process, he began to shave his beard with dagger four. Vernon tilted his head up, maintaining his; now you’re sorry, eye contact with her; just get it over and done with, idol stare. He stroked the clumsy blade down the side of his face again and again. His hand always stopping the blade when it neared the necklace, crudely made from reptilian teeth, which surely looked stuck to his skin in a balm of sweat. It took an eternity. When you have cheated death yourself, as indeed, I have on a number of occasions, you can sense when it is nearby. My keen sharp eyes and live-by-your-wits nature have come to the rescue a few too many times for me to deny what a fine tightrope we all walk. The seconds ticked agonisingly by. They became minutes. He kept shaving. Her eyes were closing. My breathing slowed. The wind changed direction. I felt suddenly vulnerable and shifted my weight. I was terrified. What would he do next? A nearby twig snapped under my foot. Did he hear that?

“Who’s there? Come out and show yourself. If you’re game.” The hillbilly stood up, knife still in his hand. His eyes were affixed right at mine, my only screen was the scruffy shrub. I remained statue-still. “This is a family argument going on, fair and square. Now, show yourself, or take yourself elsewhere.” He scanned the vicinity, coming closer and closer to my hideout. Vernon stopped suddenly, he heard Sarah-Jessica speak:

“Jarryd Walhavern, it was,” she coughed. “Because, he told a lie about you. That’s why I killed him. Sorry if I let you down.” Her head was raised from the boulder. It wobbled with her words. I could now see how pretty she actually was. And how broken she now appeared. Eyes like frozen flames. The last thing I heard her say was, “Yes, your own brother-in-law. There was no affair…”

He turned back to watch the last few moments of his wife’s innocent life trickle out the door. It was nothing to do with how she’d answered his stupid questions. He had already made up his mind long ago. The control lever inside his head had swung across to the premeditated mark. He thrust the knife into her heart and held it there. “Liar!” he shouted at her corpse. Like all killers think: He was right and she was a liar, of course.

In the strangest of circumstances, with discreet secrecy, I had watched the entire diabolical episode pan out, in complete disbelief. Was this fiendish creature of the same breed or race? I felt confused not understanding anything about the what, or the why.

Suddenly, in the remoteness could be heard the wailing sounds of the law. Within seconds, distinct human voices yapped like distant foxhounds. My cue had been sounded. The protective surrounds of my vantage point were no longer required and I was not going to speak of this to any soul. This much I promise you. My long pointed nose shan’t be sticking itself anywhere that it shouldn’t. Well, not in the near future, anyway. I scurried away towards the water to dance with the ‘gators. It was the risky route but…

This immediate vicinity was definitely no place for a timber-wolf like me to be loitering. I had seen enough!

Evil behind the mask – curse or fate?

Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy…

                 Be grateful for what you have!

 

“Behind the Noble Mask Lurks Evil?” 

By Stephen James

 

                We all love a juicy tale of tyrants or martinets and their downfalls, don’t we? Well, if the fingers of your mind are well lubricated – slip your mental hand into this five-pronged glove of an anecdote! The theme is in fact based upon the skeleton of a true story, but I have nitro-injected it somewhat for your folk-law reading pleasure…

Commodore Richard Connachtie stood watching as the last remaining vines were being judiciously planted in their soldier-like rows. Each gnarly-looking trunk had already felt the sun’s glare for well over one-hundred and fifty summers, albeit in the south-eastern French valley of the northern Rhône district. Carefully removed and transported to the ideal stony granite soils which surrounded his newly-erected castle, overlooking the Hawkes Bay cliffs of New Zealand’s north island, here and now, in 1861, they could flourish and yield him his premier wine of choice. That deep rich red being Syrah or Shiraz to some. The bay was named by Captain James Cook in honour of Admiral Edward Hawke who decisively defeated the French at the Battle of Quiberon Bay in 1759. The irony of a British ex-naval statesman planting French grapevines here was simply a coincidence, but the outcome of Richard’s story is far from a simple one. His elaborate twenty-four bedroom castle had taken fifteen years and a crew of thirty-five skilled tradesmen to erect. This massive acreage had been secured for a song, via the fledgeling country’s Native Settler and Land Purchase Commissioner Sir Donald McLean. (The land alone would be worth very many millions of dollars in today’s money). Richard turned his gaze to his castle’s reaching solid stone walls, complete with battlements, and stroked the goatee section of the bold musketeer moustache which bridled his weak lower jaw. Nature had exchanged him a handsome face for a plain uneventful one; the trade had left him with courage. This valour had left him with a slight limp. Time had made him wealthy. He felt good inside…

In an act of chivalrous ego during October of 1861, Commodore Connachtie carried his new young bride of just twenty-one years across the castle’s threshold, much to her delight. A wedding of Biblical proportions had just eclipsed in the grounds of Connachtie Castle. He was at the maturing age of forty-seven years and desperately required a sired male offspring to carry on the family name, along with the inheritance of his fortune – gathered from astute investments throughout his peppered and well-travelled life. The young woman glared up at the towering vaulted ceilings as her piercing green eyes swept through the massive structure’s confines en route to his boudoir. Her name was Beth Murdoch, eldest daughter of a politician from the capital city Napier and she had never before set eyes inside the Gothic-styled building until now. The one-hundred and eighty-five guests were left drinking at their tables as the long shadows of dusk settled on the exterior stone walls. Beth’s two younger sisters, all still virgins, just as she was, sat amongst the gentry pondering their own futures.

Within seven years the Connachtie clan had swollen to become a family of eight. All was good except for one factor– the Scottish descendant had become surrounded by seven females. Frustration had eked its way into Richard’s heart from Beth’s failure to bare him a son. Though the ruddy-faced landowner loved his six daughters immensely, especially the twins, his once-gallant shoulder-length Cavalier locks and facial hair were now greying with despair. Richard began spending long hours locked high up in the turret which enjoyed captivating views over his vineyard – an area of the castle forbidden to Beth’s audience. From here, through his trusted brass spyglass, the retired seadog could observe his bulging Syrah vines, plump from regular seasonal rain and painstakingly groomed by Jônuet Du Mauriér, his Belgian wine-master. The servants became concerned about Connachtie’s health and his General Practitioner began to make more frequent unannounced visits. Dr Royce Chancellor was as much a family friend as their doctor, having delivered all the offspring as well as saving Beth’s life when a bout of pneumonia threatened to take her away. The foolish fair-skinned young woman had wandered off to the property’s far end to search for solace at her favourite viewing spot near the cliff-faces of Hawkes Bay to watch the hordes of nesting gannets. There, clad in little other than a silken dress, her flesh and raven tresses had quickly become saturated from an unleashing freak storm which chanced upon her as she wept incessantly from the wounds of her husband’s invectives. His tirades bore deep scars into her soul…

Another non-pregnant year evaporated, leaving the couple passionless other than during their workmanlike endeavours to fulfil his dream.

At last… a son was born late in the year of 1870. Jubilant Richard seemed to become reinvigorated with his zest for life. A huge garden-party was organized to celebrate the occasion, drawing guests from all parts of New Zealand’s north island. Dignitaries funnelled in to share copious goblets of Connachtie Castle Gold-label Hermitage Syrah and view the newborn brat. Unfortunately, with them came a dreaded strain of influenza, taking the three-month-old baby’s lifeblood within four days. The Commodore was struck with desolation and sank into a depression lasting nine months. He spoke only at mealtimes to Beth throughout this period, during which she hardly ate from the lavish spread of food their staff had prepared on a daily basis. As the days ground away, her weight diminished. Beth’s next eldest sister, Jean, was summoned in to care for her nieces. Having been close to the family, she was the obvious choice to play the role of surrogate mother. On Friday 2nd December 1871 Lady Bethania Connachtie drew her terminal breath – she was just thirty-one years and four months of age. Dr Royce Chancellor assessed her body but found no diseases, infections or illness, declaring that she had perished from a besotted broken heart.

A second, albeit somewhat smaller wedding saw the coming together of Jean and Richard, within six months of Beth’s passing. The retired Commodore justified it as a natural progression of events, warning the rumour-mongers to hush their mouths or be subsequently waylaid. He’d overheard several kitchen-staff members talking of discriminate observations, including Jean’s frequent visits to the turret to share his appreciation for the grapes, for many years. Fair-haired Jean, although four years her junior, had stood three inches taller than her sister, Beth. She was a high-spirited woman whose good-looks spurred her outgoing nature like paraffin on a fire. Within two years of marriage to the ageing Richard, she had him wrapped tightly around her contriving ring finger. No longer did she pay lengthy visits to his observation turret – much to the dismay of the now silent, however, still uncertain about her loyalties, castle staff members. Much of their discussion revolved around night-time eeriness and strange sightings. Many claimed that they could hear noises along the castle walls resembling the cries of a distressed woman. Little did Jean realize that in her haste to cocoon her wealthy prey, she had inadvertently signed a prenuptial agreement, along with her certificate of marriage. The cleverly worded clause, compiled in a text way beyond her scholarly abilities spoke of disqualifying her from any part of his fortune, if she failed to produce a son. He had told her it was the deeds to his land and her name needed to be added. Betrayed by her own captivating-looks, the beauteous young woman had signed with a scramble. Time moved on…

In a bizarre turn of events, despite the expectations of the proud Jônuet Du Mauriér, the vintages of 1872, 1873 and 1874 were disastrous. Unfit for bottling, barrel after barrel of the repulsive, shellac-tasting, burgundy vinegar had to be hauled off to be donated to the wharf workers down at the Port of Napier. Many fell ill from their own greed.

For exasperated Richard Connachtie, the year of 1874 turned from black to gold, when at long last he stared into the eyes of a baby boy on 16th August. Little did the self-proclaimed ‘Sovereign of Hawkes Bay’ realize that this child was not of his blood-line. The elusive golden-haired Jean had begun an illicit affair with the ruggedly handsome gatekeeper, Morris Hokkapinni Johnson. Johnson was a half-cast Māori with exquisite horsemanship skills, whose job it was to escort Lady Jean into town down the winding mountain roads of gravel. He steered her private single-horse-drawn-vehicle with the precision of a surgeon. Trusted by Richard, the broad-shouldered, coffee-coloured, mild-mannered employee fell victim to her advances. So pale were the features of the immoral wench that the newborn’s complexion bore little evidence to suggest it not to be of Connachtie’s spawn. The ingratiated nobleman’s ego powered him on to splurge gifts of opulence for his fair young wife. Her crocodilian cheating smile eluded any inkling of suspicion. Until once again disaster struck the estate, when, during the harsh winter of 1875, a rare-for-the-area snowfall dumped sufficient deposits in the higher country to cause a mini-avalanche. At the time, her Ladyship was travelling to the secret lodgings in town, where her romantic interlude with Johnson continued. Over a million tons of freezing snow swept her sulky off the side of the twisting road, killing her and her lover. At the time, Morris’s hands were clutching the reins and her arms were draped around his waist. The horse miraculously survived, pulled to freedom by a witnessing passer-by. Coincidentally, Lady Jean was also thirty-one at the time. When word reached the castle, the Connachtie children bore unsympathetic grins, as did many of the estate’s workforce. Sixty-one-year-old Richard felt the strangling arms of a gremlin’s choke around his throat and convinced himself that a back-up heir was necessary. He had begun to take notice after overhearing some parlour-gossip, that Richard II, whose one-year-old eyes were nothing like his own, also the boy’s flesh was smooth and olive in hue, also not like his own. A replacement wife had to be found – one not from the blood-stock of Beth Murdoch or her sister Jean, these women he proclaimed as the jinx to his welfare. After climbing the narrow spiral staircase upward to his turret, where he brooded in selfish pity, Commodore Connachtie, head muddled with embarrassment, decided that the search for a suitable match must begin at once…

Richard sent his daughters across the Tasman Sea to gain an elite education in the thriving colony of Australia. There they would be safe and out of his way. By 1876 his plight was in full swing. Far too vain to accept anything other than a beautiful virgin, all his energy became devoted to the sub-thirty-year-old aristocratic ladies-in-waiting, who had frequented his previous garden-parties. Care of Richard II was palmed off to Eliza Murdoch, the third-in-line sister, and still a spinster. This selfless woman had offered her services, along with permitting him to be as promiscuous as he pleased, and was more than agreeable to any prenuptial agreement but Richard would hear nothing of it, for fear of the Murdoch scourge. Pressure resulting from the express rising costs of the building’s upkeep mounted like pigeon poop. This, coupled with the children’s schooling costs affected his mind. Assets began to be sold off to offset living costs. Months drifted by without the addled ex-Naval officer being able to select a suitable life-partner. Before any had the chance to offer him anything that remotely resembled love, he had them plotting to get their hands on what remained of his rapidly-shrinking finances.

Eliza would stand for hour upon hour in the main foyer – arms clasped around her nephew, listening to the haunting whispers of her sisters. At the end of another arduous day of potential wooing, frustrated Richard would storm in through the enormous double-entry doors; after which, he would verbally abuse her and then covertly persuade her into his four-posted brass bed. To keep the peace, humble-natured Eliza forestalled his autocratic desires with little objection. On a sexual basis, the hobbling, maladroit, Scottish descendent repulsed her but her sense of moral responsibility overrode her personal tastes. Eliza’s eyes were on the young son of her deceased sister, and she was privy to Jean and Morris’s love-affair, right from the beginning. All three sisters had been very close. Eliza had no need for gold-digging either, her ailing father, Senator Horace Murdoch had already told her that he had bequeathed his family estate to her – his sole remaining heir. She would be well taken care of when he passed. The politician had squirrelled his adequate salary away in stocks and bonds after sadly losing his own wife, Jayne, to a heart attack at the age of fifty-two. Eliza’s time was shared between toing-and-froing between her father’s upmarket house in Napier and Connachtie Castle.

By the time Richard’s sixty-third birthday had slipped by without so much as a formal evening dinner, he had given up his attempts to secure a new bride. His state of mental stability was on the rocks and he preferred chasing wildfowl with a shotgun around his surrounding estate, to chasing women forty years his junior around town. Eliza fit the role of secretly applying sexual gratification (along with a procession of the town’s well-paid prostitutes) without threatening his dwindling fortune. They had a convenient agreement, whereby the boy was kept at the opposite end of the castle, told how busy the man whom he believed to be his father always was, and only permitted to visit when formally asked.

One summer’s day in February, three-year-old Richard II climbed the spiralling hardwood stairs and entered the private turret. He wanted to get closer to his maligned father. This was a terrible mistake. Just tall enough to reach the unbolted brass door handle, he pulled the lever down. When the oak door slammed against the wall, the toddler was confronted by an angry Richard senior, in a very embarrassing pose with one of his ladies-of-the-night. In a flash of demented rage, he swooped upon the child and cast the infant down the winding hardwood timber staircase which led to the turret – killing him instantly. The naked whore ran down to try to save the boy but his skull was in disarray. Panic-stricken Richard leapt from the turret window to his own death. A very black day in the castle’s history. He left behind his seed in Eliza’s womb without knowledge. In September of that year, a baby boy was born to her. She named him Morris and blessed him with the Murdoch surname…

The freshly-educated children returned from Australia, having still never soiled their hands from hard work, only to find a very different Connachtie Castle awaiting them. The sprawling vineyards were like a hundred acres of unkempt hair. Many staff members had left. The building had fallen into a state of disrepair and steadily the magnificent furnishings had been auctioned to cover running costs. A bitter succession of legal battles for the rights of ownership wrangled for decades. The lawyer’s fees began to cripple the Connachtie siblings. Having been supported totally by their father’s dowry all of their lives, the daughters were clueless to the workforce’s requirements. Finally, after the turning of the century, a compromise was settled upon with the sale of the estate to none other than Eliza Murdoch. The aspiring middle-aged woman had managed to educate herself after the sad passing of her father, Horace. She had prospered magnificently with his handed-down shares and real estate portfolio. Now as a fully-fledged geothermal engineer, she became highly acclaimed in the scientific research department, helping map and predict earthquakes on both the north and south islands. Eliza opened the castle up to care for orphans and mistreated children. Generously financing the entire operation personally, she left its organization in the very capable hands of her one and only son, Morris, sired by Richard. Our story does not end there…

Eliza had taken the uneducated jezebel under her wing after the black day in February 1877. She sent the woman off to a succession of special mature learning classes where she developed accounting skills with honours. After meeting a dapper young man from Auckland in 1880, she married and gave birth to five successive sons. Young Morris ended up marrying the prostitute’s only daughter who had been born several years later. Together they ran the orphanage. By the turn of the next century, the much-seasoned stone structure had more stories to tell than William Shakespeare.

In 2004, the Murdoch family’s progenies donated the entire estate to the New Zealand national Trust and it is now simply a tourist attraction – with a female ghost called Beth, who skirts its cold sandstone walls in the evenings, calling for Richard…

Here is the first ten-minute thriller for 2019… Dive in !!!

Thinking of becoming a writer yourself?

After reading this story ─ you may want to reconsider…

 

“The Bestseller”

By Stephen James

 

                Think you’ve read them all, do you?
I shan’t tantalise this story with an inviting paragraph of elevator-pitch. Just hoe straight in. See how long it is before your penny drops. I see both the humour and the horror in it. I hope you do too…

“I can’t take it anymore!” screamed the confused man, who sat with his hands clasped firmly over his eye-sockets. He was rubbing so hard, that his wife’s concern, pitched her out of her comfort level. She came to protect his sanity.

“It is alright honey, another opportunity will fall your way.” Her hand found his shoulder.

“Thanks for the throwaway advice, woman. Next thing you’re gonna say is… ‘We’ll be able to dig our way out. Take it easy. Blah! Blah! Blah!’ Well, I don’t care anymore about them! And, I don’t care anymore about the money! And, I don’t care anymore about you!”

The moderate house had a dangerously-silent chill suddenly engulf its every fibre. All the years of pent-up frustration had consumed this usually mild-mannered and intelligent man, turning him into a psychopath. He burst from his chair and turned on his wife in a rage. He was behind her in a flash, arm around her neck. She wore him like a cloak. Her heartbeat cannoned against her ribcage. His hands found their way to her throat. They were alone. She fought desperately, grabbing for his eyes and tearing at his hair. He locked his fingers with unnatural expertise. They began to squeeze the lifeblood out of her. She coughed a gargling last-gasp and fell limp into his arms. The poor woman spoke no more words. He had murdered her out of pure frustration. He hated himself at this point and knew life would never be the same again. One stupid act. One huge price to pay…

His hands, though not strong ones, had easily enough power in them to pick her up and carry her to the bedroom. Here, he placed her on the bed and called the police. “Hello. Yes, thank you. I wish to report a murder.”

 

THE END

 

“Well, what did you think of it?” Sparked Barney Petkovic, arms folded, a grin you couldn’t bargain for your kid to have on Christmas Day. He had just finished narrating the final two chapters of his novel from his computer to his wife. “I’ll bet you never ever would have picked that ending.”

His wife of one score years clearly was taken aback. Mary had been his rock all through his literary journey. Mary was a gentle but forthright woman. She loved seeing him this happy.

“It truly threw me. I love your paraphrasing’s style and descriptive parameter layouts. At the main part of the story, I was beginning to think it was almost a vicarious biography of your life, cleverly told through somebody else’s eyes. On deeper thought… No, it is nothing like a biography.” She twirled in theatrical adoration. “But, in all honesty, after you spun things around in that ending… A mountain, then a valley, a forest, then quicksand, twist, turn, turn, twist… I was left breathless…”

Barney had even considered changing his author’s name. Some wise-cracking friends had told him that his books would sell better if his name had more flair. He hoped one day his words would do his talking for him and was exploding with expectation. This was a masterpiece. He knew it was good. He was positive that nothing had ever been written like it before and the likelihood was, that nothing would ever be written like it again. It stunk of bestseller. They were on a goldmine, all he had to do was select which company had the privilege of producing his work.

“This will shut all my critical non-believers up. Hey, Mary? I can’t believe how I pulled it off. The sub-plot is so cleverly hidden right in front of the reader’s face.”

“All you need now is a brilliant synopsis to really punch a hole through the stone walls of the plethora of potential begging editors who will quickly want to get their mitts on it. Let’s get straight to it, shall we?” Her eagerness seemed as profound as his own.

“I’ve already prepared it,” he gloated, flicking a mouse command to open a magnificent three-hundred-word précis. “I have sharpened this collection of paragraphs so much, it could cut through the coldest of stones.” He scrolled through the concoction of literary genius. It described in crisp clever word usage his story, minus the ending, knowing, wondering, hoping, and teasing her to read it ─ he was red hot and ready-to-go!

“May I?” She asked, in an irresistible tone, her hand on the back of his ergonomic chair.

“Oh, very much, yes! I’ll open a bottle of champagne. You get ready. Give me five minutes but please, don’t start until I return. I want to read your expressions!” He dashed off.

She sat back and gently rubbed her eyes in preparation of her injection of English language wizardry, which she trusted would erupt from her husband’s penmanship. He already had four previous self-published creations, all of which were quite well accepted by the writer’s platform he had established over the years. Mary thought about the toiling hours she did on her own computer, to help with the enormous behind the scenes work, which goes into creating a novel. Eight-and-a-half years they’d been at it. She had been behind him all the way with her sharp ideas and brilliant memory. Nothing had quite really hit the big time. Not yet anyway…

When he returned, with the fizzy reward for his efforts thus far, her eyes sprang open in surprise. She had been immersed in thinking about the last ten years of their lives together: The publishing work. Her own job, done in tandem with being his personal PA. That interfering woman who came between them nine years ago and befriended Mary out of a lot of money. The fact that Barney couldn’t hold a real job down. His bosses always saying his head was in the clouds and he wasn’t concentrating properly. Belittled by his personal peer group, especially the women. All of these traits were traits of one of the characters, albeit, no reader would know it was Barney who was cleverly woven into the plot in cryptic genius. She admired his ability to fool the public. It was what good novelists did best of all. And after her eyes sprang apart, he kissed her nose and said, “I think we should down one first.” He handed the slender glass of bubbly liquid.

Weeks flew past and turned into months…

He had started by sending the manuscript off for perusal to the biggest publishing houses in the country. Several per week with enticing email heading grabs. The excited couple had gone through all of the correct procedures without a reply. They knew it would only be a matter of time. It was too good not to be grasped. The world is short of quality storylines, after all, that is what you constantly hear. Why else are there so many sequels and remakes and rewrites ─ only on steroids?

Then, gradually the months grew into seasons…

The fire in Barney’s belly had taken a dousing. He began to self-judge about the quality of his work. Truth was… nobody had bothered to read it yet. Publishers are so snowed under, that very little of the works submitted even get a look in. He was simply a statistical part of the make-up of the mind-bogglingly huge galaxy of writers who get flicked. This was not how Barney took it. The feeling of dejection began to absorb his mind. They began calling literary agents. None were interested. He pulled a few strings with an old buddy who had become a solicited author. No luck there either, they were only taking drafts from previously-established authors. Mary began to sense how much of a failure Barney was thinking himself to be. “Of course you will write again! Don’t ever say you’ll chuck it in dear,” she would constantly reply to his mood swings.

After over a year of unsuccessful attempts…

The Petkovic’s had pressed every single available button to become recognized, at least with the courtesy of an email. They had several horrific arguments. He felt utterly destroyed, because the world, for some stupid reason, didn’t want to leap out of the blocks to feast upon the delicious fruits of his painstaking efforts. Barney had sunk to an all-time low and lost his job, yet again. He had decided to investigate matters at blood-cell level. He must challenge his ego and rationale, to make sure that he and Mary weren’t simply imagining how good it was. One morning after a sleepless night, Barney felt ready to revise his document. He had breakfast with Mary and sent her off to the hospital, where she worked as a nurse. Barney fired-up his laptop occupying an astringent expression on his chubby face. It began at six-forty-five that morning, immediately after she’d departed for work. He had been so unhappy and had to dive back into his pages to see where he had gone wrong. Hour after hour he sat reading. All four-hundred-and-sixty-two pages had to be devoured before she arrived home… The manuscript had to be dissected, consumed and examined for weakness. There had to be a reason? He barely ate any lunch, it was a coffee-powered day. As fast as he dared to swallow the pages, he immersed himself into the twists and turns, searching for poor choices and sentence quality, but there were no weaknesses. The novel was infectious. He could hardly believe that he was actually the person who wrote it. Barney couldn’t believe it when he concluded reading the manuscript. It was even more powerful now than it had been on that night they celebrated the finished article. His tired mind began to spin in a whirlwind of frustration. He had read the book like the world’s number-one cynical critic ─ all the way through.

Mary walked in the door and stood near him. She was tired but always supportive. It seemed obvious he wasn’t alright. He spoke first. After everything that had happened, he fumed with angst.

“I can’t take it anymore!” screamed the confused man, who sat with his hands clasped firmly over his eye-sockets. He was rubbing so hard, that his wife’s concern, pitched her out of her comfort level. She came to protect his sanity.

“It is alright honey, another opportunity will fall your way.” Her hand found his shoulder.

“Thanks for the throwaway advice, woman. Next thing you’re gonna say is… ‘We’ll be able to dig our way out. Take it easy. Blah! Blah! Blah!’ Well, I don’t care anymore about them! And, I don’t care anymore about the money! And, I don’t care anymore about you!”

The moderate house had a dangerously-silent chill suddenly engulf its every fibre. All the years of pent-up frustration had consumed this usually mild-mannered and intelligent man, turning him into a psychopath. He burst from his chair and turned on his wife in a rage. He was behind her in a flash, arm around her neck. She wore him like a cloak. Her heartbeat cannoned against her ribcage. His hands found their way to her throat. They were alone. She fought desperately, grabbing for his eyes and tearing at his hair. He locked his fingers with unnatural expertise. They began to squeeze the lifeblood out of her. She coughed a gargling last gasp and fell limp into his arms. The poor woman spoke no more words. He had murdered her out of pure frustration. He hated himself at this point and knew life would never be the same again. One stupid act. One huge price to pay…

His hands, though not strong ones, had easily enough power in them to pick her up and carry her to the bedroom. Here, he placed her on the bed and called the police. “Hello. Yes, thank you. I wish to report a murder.”

Barney Petkovic had flipped. He realised he had just swapped twenty years of marriage for twenty years of prison. Go figure?

There is one upside to this tale, so relatable to all writers. Barney’s novel did go on to become a bestseller. One of the small publishing companies Mary had contacted came back with a mouth-watering offer. The police allowed it to proceed. The incredible irony of the plot mirroring his life catapulted the manuscript to unparalleled success. People simply love a scandal, don’t they? Barney Petkovic still types from his cellblock. Prison life has opened his mind to deprivation.

His fifth instalment, in the current third series, is already satisfactory for copy-editing…