Can you ever really trust the people who love you? The next ten-minute thriller!

How well do we really know those people we love?

     Is blood really thicker than water?

          Or… is it just a weird strawberry thickshake?

 

“Chords of Revenge”

By Stephen James

 

Music, so it is wisely declared by some, is the delicious wine that fills the empty cup of silence with happiness…
Or perhaps it is simply just me who believes this to be true. If you are somebody who enjoys the arts in any of its forms, then I am sure you will relate well to this intriguing story about the joy and splendour, bridged with reward, as well as the mistrustfulness’s and jealousies, which can evolve from the genius of musical composition…

When Brixton struck that final chord, then twisted his G-string, allowing the note to feedback through his amplifiers, he knew the crowd was his. The maturing rock performer took a well-earned bow. He had given his all and the standing ovation’s cheers and whistles were deafening. Moments prior, the moth-eaten but ruggedly handsome idol’s mesmerising work had just had the entire forty-thousand-plus gallery punching the air in perfect unison, to his hypnotic Texas Blues guitar rhythms. Brixton Pierce was one of the best around, no question about it, and when he stretched his vocal cords beyond their sensible limit, his clever self-taught ‘Swamp King’ timbre echoed perfectly with his music. Between verses, his manly fingers moved around the guitar’s neck so skilfully, it seemed inhuman. The tips of his left hand caressed the fretboards with the delicacy of a pollen-chasing bumblebee. His bar-room-brawled right, with the homespun muscle-shell plectrum, firmly clasped between forefinger and thumb, striking the steel strings with venom. Every note perfect. Every limit pushed. Every sound loud…

But deep down in his heart, he wasn’t complete. This backing band behind him wasn’t his original line-up. Only his best friend, bass guitarist Lefty Skankhorn, remained alongside. Their name was different now and the band had two female backup vocalists. It’s an old story; rock and roll musician has a fight with the band, therefore, they part ways. This story has a whole lot more to it, as you will discover. When Brixton pulled out of his bow to thank and introduce the other players, he rattled-off their correct names and instruments etc. Then finished:

“…And we are known around the various digs as ‘Brixton and the Murderer’s Ghost’. So, tell ya friends how much fun ya had now.” It was what he used to finish every show with, back when the others were together (this being the old band’s name). The stunned audience began clapping, hoping it had been a deep-rooted message or hidden rock star innuendo. The new band was called ‘Brixton has Murdered his Ghost’.

“Good-bye and God bless you all!” said the other stymied musos into their respective mics.

Brixton Pierce vacated the stage on cloud nine. Another great performance to a grateful audience and the guys didn’t miss a beat. His Les Paul Gibson, in the shape of a purple coffin, had resonated in a million different languages and squeezed out distorted webbings of notes, in bizarre fuzzed sounds. His fingertips were fried. He was also oblivious to his Freudian-slip to an ocean of sweaty torsos, their lungs screaming for more in the very-familiar auditorium known as Sound City Dome. He played here more than anywhere else. Brixton Pierce was adrenalin-powered at this moment. His mind had completely forgotten about the unfortunate death of his manager, Phil, and also the death of his wife. The now thirteen-month-old double-murder case had stalled to a slower than snail-paced limbo, due to the bamboozled police’s inability to convert the minuscule amount of evidence into a convincing arrest for prosecution. No murder weapon was found. All of the crime scene photographs seemed to offer no clues. Being the one left standing over the bodies, moments after, with their flesh still warm, Brixton had become the leading suspect after a cleaner had called the authorities. The distraught Scotswoman was the second person to enter the murder scene’s vicinity.

An awkward thirty-five-minute verbal stoush erupted in the dressing room after the show. Pierce’s new band’s manager, Brian S, as he liked to be referred to, asking where the hell the maturing rocker’s head was at. Brixton guzzled from the neck of a bottle of Jack Daniels Tennessee Whisky, passed to him by a hopeful blonde groupie who had again secretly forced her way in. The scantily dressed twenty-six-year-old, whose fountain of naturally blond hair ─ thick as Bougainvillea, tressed in bunches to her waistline, and was the shade of ripening wheat. The girl’s name was Nadine and her wading-bird legs seemed longer than realistically possible and out of scale with her large well-rounded breasts. She was beautiful beyond reproach. The other band members did not like her meddling into the group’s personal affairs. They didn’t approve of Nadine’s fondling hands, each time she brushed past the superstar. Backbone and right-hand man, bass player, Lefty Skankhorn, called her Barbie Doll even to her face, but the temptress pouted his comments into oblivion. Brian S said she was a slut and not a good vibe to bathe the band in. Brixton called her Nady Sexy Lady and told them she was just harmless eye candy. When the dust settled on the heated discussion, a combined promise of the band’s future became heralded as their chief priority. The other instrumentalist left along with the two backup singers. New manager Brian stared at the brooding virtuoso guitarist.

Brixton sat, picturing the scene in that very same dressing room, where his dead wife, Cassandra, lay naked donning only her wedding ring, alongside the body of his previous manager, Phil Slipphiery. He too was wearing precious nothing but his solid gold Omega watch. Both corpses bore the gunpowder burns of a near-point-blank, instantly fatal, gunshot entry wound at the heart. Brixton’s head rang loud with the lead-up week’s ugliness. His ears burning at her words of; “You are never here, bigshot! If you don’t stop touring, Brixton, I might have to find somebody else to cut my grass!”

Shrewd manager, Phil Slipphiery, had paid everyone the same measly amount, despite Brixton being the founder and mainstay. He had written and arranged all of their music and coined their lyrics too. Pierce was cool with that in the pop group’s heyday, believing showbiz to be a combined effort of talented synergy. After all, it was Phil who had packed the giant stadiums year after year, thus had a lot to thank him for. However, when once the pop group’s differentiations had escalated out of control, to the point of separation, he felt his nose slipping out of joint. He’d threatened: “Take a hike you promotional nightmare. I’ll play my own songs with good quality session musos and manage them all by myself!”

Phil Slipphiery had responded with: “Then I shall hit you with a crippling contract-breaking lawsuit!” Stressing further with disdain: “You dumb guitar-plucking hillbilly… you should have read the fine print! You will be left with nothing but your ego!”

Manager-dynamos, Brian and Phil were in fact brothers. Brian S’s previous clients, ‘The Thieves of Indiscretion’ had lost popularity due to the progression of music trends through the years, eventually disbanding altogether. He had propelled them to five top ten songs, three of which had charted in the number one spot. In the end, trapped like lamp-driven moths in the worn-out nineties grunge sound, they had fallen to fresh idealess cover songs. Out of coincidence, blended with convenient collaboration, Brian took over the ‘Brixton has Murdered his Ghost’ reins during the aftermath of his brother’s and Cassandra’s tragic passing ─ minus the contract’s ambiguous fine print. Snookered and stranded, Brixton was left little option but to comply…

Nadine sat quietly brushing her dazzling woven locks in front of the enormous bulb-clad mirror, out of earshot. Brixton’s head hung low. Speaking with the same haunting ‘Swamp King’ vocal tones used to sing with, he said with alacrity to Brian, “It’s frigging hard to keep myself focused and wired in, mate. You can imagine what it’s like. You have been in this business as long as I have. Always keeping fixated. Giving the crowd your all. Reading the knee-jerk, bullshit, negative, tabloid press. Trying to constantly come up with a great new sound!” He looked exhausted.

Brian, sucking hard on his Spanish filter-tip urged, “Leave it all up to me. But, don’t forget Brixton… that love triangle which you, Phil and Cassie were involved in throws an ugly beam of light on your image. Are the police still harassing you, champ?”

“Yeah, I gotta go visit them tomorrow at ten. And it wasn’t a frigging triangle, pal!”

Brian blew out a huge ball of cigarette smoke in Nadine’s direction. “Whatever… Are you feeling concerned or scared?”

“They reckon they may have a new flaming lead. My neck is practically in the proverbial noose!”

“Dumb detectives, wouldn’t know a criminal if he walked in off the street. Bet you are pretty angry still, Brixton?”

Pierce’s response came sharply. “Hell yeah! You know they full-on suspect it was me… I loved the bitch.” He swallowed a huge, neat, heart-stopping-for-most slug of his best friend Jack and dropped the half-full bottle on the carpet. “Should probably have given up the industry after all. Like she wanted me to. Damned hooked on the adrenalin-filled junk, wasn’t I?” Nadine flew from her chair to retrieve the dribbling golden liquid.

“Tell ‘em whatever crap they want to hear. Just don’t admit anything…”

His defence came even more loaded. “I didn’t do it damn you, Brian! Sure, I had all the reason in the world… Frigging ass-hole was fleecing my money and screwing my childhood sweetheart. What do ya reckon? I’m over the flamin’ moon about going to prison, just because the cops can’t pin it on any other bastard!”

“Okay, okay, okay… settle down maestro. Why don’t you, you know?” Brian had flicked his eyes down towards Nadine’s all-fours position with impious intent. He made a fist and vulgarly raised his forearm. “No one will tell, now that the others have all gone home.”

Although he was whispering, she easily heard and smiled like a deer fawn. The prostitute-red mini-skirt she was wearing hid little of her thighs and both men could practically see her navel between her fighting-against-gravity breasts’ cleavage. Brixton looked at her and said, “You’re just a kid, Nady Sexy Lady, but you’re a good-looking one. Don’t get mixed up with me. You may live to regret it.”

The glamourous groupie seldom spoke, her figure did most of her communicating, but on this occasion, a voice reminiscent of evocative molasses did offer “I love you Brixton. I always have, ever since I was a little girl.” The girl rested back to a kneeling position screwing the lid back on to Jack’s neck, her engaging blue eyes invading his spirit. “I have seen almost every single one of your concerts. But, I will wait forever or until you are ready. If you ever will be. I would even kill for you. I have never taken a lover. I’m still a virgin you know…”

Two speechless male jaws dropped open like oven doors. Brian S stood up and left…

At the police station, the rock performer sat in clouded disillusion as a series of photographs were spread out on the table in front of him. “Look,” launched a fattish balding superintendent. “I can’t believe we missed something so bloody obvious.”

“Nothing’s obvious to me, DSI Spokane. I’ve seen these before,” replied Brixton, staring at the horseshoe of hair which wrapped around the back of his head.

“Well, let me explain,” said Spokane, sliding one particular long-distance image into Brixton’s view. “It is hard to see at first, so we had this corner-section enlarged, just after this arrived yesterday.” The Detective Superintendent flipped over a photograph which had been inverted and put to the side. Next, he began hauling a small black booklet from his briefcase. “It is this… and as you can faintly see in the other snapshot. It is resting on that side table under those music sheets.”

Brixton held the two pictures juxtaposed. He glared at the distance one first. His tired eyes squinted to focus on the microscopic image. “It looks like a notebook or similar type of writing book. But I don’t recognise it. What’s this all about?” He had begun to study the much larger but distorted, fuzzy, enlarged, printed photograph.

Then it appeared…

A slapping sound, as it hit the desk, accompanied the arrival in front of him, of the small book shown in the police photographer’s enlargement. There was nothing on its black cover except for an embossed golden cobra in the top right-hand corner. Brixton’s heart skipped a beat upon sensing its recognition. Cassandra had the identical image tattooed on her front upper pelvis. Through his confused mind raced one question: What in the hell?

“Open it,” said the calmly-toned Spokane.

The first page bore the title: ‘Chords of Revenge ─ The Diary of a Frustrated Cassie Pierce’. Brixton started engrossing his way through the vividly-worded explanations of her steamy ongoing love affair with Slipphiery. Six months of disgusting lust. It described how her feelings for the rock star had waned, once the intellectual mind of the conniving older brother had encapsulated her attention. This minutes-older brother was, in fact, Brian, the new manager. Anger speared its way through his heart. He had already been torn in half ─ now it felt like quarters.

Spokane continued on. “It all became quite obvious to us once the diary was handed in. Brian was the one who had pulled the trigger on her and his own brother in a two-pronged alibi attempt to score your talent, and cast blame in your direction to confuse us. As you can see, he was clearly the one who was having an affair with Cassandra. It is our belief that he somehow set up the entire crime scene situation after, and I’m sorry for having to elaborate, Mr Pierce… after making love with your wife moments prior. He must have telephoned his brother and shot and stripped his clothes off to make it appear as though Phil was the adulterer. Then, dressed himself and hustled away with the gun. When our DNA tests were performed on Phil, the sperm residue had a matching, almost conclusively perfect result. Who would have guessed that his identical twin would actually be that donor?”

Brixton snapped the diary shut. His pulse was racing. His face fell into his interlocked hands on the desktop ─ eyes weeping. He mumbled into his web of moistening fingers. “Who handed it in?”

DSI Spokane eagerly answered. “She was a tall woman with blond hair. Quite attractive, in fact. Gave her name as Nadine Faithful, you know, like that old-school singer…”

“You mean, Marianne Faithful I think,” Brixton interrupted.

“Yep, that’s the one. Anyway, when we asked why, where, when, how, etcetera… The girl just said she somehow picked it up a day after, before the crime scene had been cleared. How she got in and out is a mystery, and she’s refused to tell us without seeing you first. Go figure? Very soon all the facts will be revealed.”

Suddenly, passing by within metres, an escorted and securely handcuffed Brian Slipphiery enters the police headquarters, head hung low. Brixton and Spokane’s head’s spun in unison.

The venom in Pierce’s voice, no longer imminent blurted, “You rotten, lying, conniving piece of dog-shit!” He left his chair to confront the dual killer ─ face painted to its extremities with loathing.

A tall sexy woman, who’d followed in the entourage’s shadow, stepped between them ─ her hand touching his chest. “Over a year I’ve held onto it. Didn’t want to break your heart any further, if you saw it, I mean… I… I…” she said, trembling in her high-heels. “Pretty dumb, huh?”

He looked shell-shocked but relieved. “Talk about waiting until the eleventh hour!”

She uttered five more simple questioning words. “Are you ready this time?”

Brixton’s demeanour changed quicker than a used car dealer’s smile. His indebted reply took twenty seconds to materialize. “Never readier! This has given me an inspiration for a song! Okay woman… Let those wagons roll…”

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“The Secret Letters” – the next ten-minute thriller!

 Well, I hope you are enjoying your weekly read…

   Thrillers come in many forms:

      Espionage, murder, conspiracy, whodunnit and romance.

         Romance? Packs a powerful punch sometimes!!!

 

“The Secret Letters”

 

Every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser. It’s not necessarily the size of the prize which determines the outcome. More importantly, it’s how we play the game that counts. “Hogwash!” declare the ones who lose. “You really believe that old cliché?” question the ones who are victorious. “Absolutely!” triumph those who enjoy life’s magnificent ride. “You never know what’s around the next bend.” Quote the optimistic aspirants. Well, let’s see what unfolds…

Vera Discordia had abandoned high school prematurely, her personality make-up simply not cushioning well with the discipline required to achieve competent grades. Her disappointed mother, vesting to the acceptance of her only daughter about to sashay through a career path of meagre paying jobs, simply gave up. What her mother had failed to realize, was that attractive Vera imitated her lackadaisical mum’s every personification. The family house had been a disregarded disastrous mess for years, with laziness presiding strongly, in order for television soap-opera’s to rule the entertainment roost. The Discordia family home in Bridlington, a lower-class suburb of Brisbane became far too compact for two grown-up female shirkers to reside under the same roof. She soon moved into a flat of her own.

With no realistic hint of a career in sight, long-legged buxom Vera decided her only option was to marry a man of high income but low vision, and utilise a string of pregnancies to lock him into a lifetime of mundane routine, which could sustain her in the comforts she so richly deserved. A fruitful qualifying process encouraged a steady procession of unadorned-looking hopefuls to woo and swoon their way into her boudoir. The keen individuals were practically tripping over their own feet to taste the sweetness of Vera’s accomplished bedroom skills. Her only other skill remained in her uncanny ability to segregate the pack from one another’s notice, in order to juggle her week’s expectant brigade of aspirants. On the odd occasion when a risky overlap did occur, Vera cleverly waved good-bye, shouting words to the tone of; ‘Thank you for cleaning my windows, Sam! Same again next month!’ The satisfied but unaware individual would keep walking toward her gate with a shake of his head, nodding a polite hello to the oncoming male passer-by.

For months her highly congested sex-life flourished without a decent contender. Her filament of potentials glowed a disappointing quality of luminescence. All earned a similarly pathetic income to herself ─ most lying to her face until after the fact, in which case they were not offered a return application. Vera was exceedingly fulfilled with sex ─ but somewhat empty of hope…

Up until honest and unassuming Harvey Purstians, a hard-working electrician whose gifted good-looks were fading with each hair that parted ways with his rapidly smoothing head. It was adding ten years to him and he knew it. Harvey couldn’t believe his luck when he reached home-base after just two expensive restaurant meals, which he’d happily swallowed the bill for. Smitten with the blonde after just three weeks, the shy tradesman dropped her off in his white van, leaving in her hand a small square fuzzy case. “Not tonight Vera,” he appealed. “Got a huge day tomorrow. Will you…”

“Of course I will!” She hugged, pressing her firm bosom against him for a double reassurance.

Fifteen years and five children later, the Purstians’ household was awash with dirty laundry, uncleared dinner plates, and over a decade’s worth of dust rested upon every horizontal surface. Vera had not learned any lessons from Harvey, who never complained. She had burned-out her third TV set by this time and was busily working away on the fourth. As fastidious as a one-man ant colony, Harvey could be seen well into the evenings beavering his way around the house straightening things up. Alas, it was a losing battle, he simply could not keep up with the extra load of housework adding to his already long day. On his side of the wardrobe the polished shoes, all lined-up like sleeping soldiers reflected a stark contrast to Vera’s, stacked precariously up in bonfire fashion. His neatly-ironed shirts butted-up together above the row of pressed slacks folded over hangers on the rail directly below. Beside them, her dresses, knotted in balls of fabric could hardly be discerned from her blouses and pantsuits occupying the over-stuffed shelving. The three-drawer bedside table housing his neatly folded underpants in the top, perfectly aligned, colour-coded and tucked one inside the other socks in the second, and a plethora of monogrammed H U P handkerchiefs (the U stood for Ungears ─ his father’s first name) in the bottom, mirrored hers. But only in external appearance, minus the dust layer and coffee mug rings. Within Vera’s three drawers was a mishmash of clean and dirty bras and knickers, twisted amongst her stockings and now seldom-worn lingerie. She never went near his side, and he daren’t venture into her drawers for fear of what might come out.

Their five offspring looked forward to school, the three older girls even staying on for extra tuition to avoid the filth of their home. The two young boys, figuring it was pretty cool to have a mother whose surroundings rivalled their own apocalyptic bedroom, kept their schedule. It was common for the clean washing to remain on the clothesline for days until Harvey would retrieve it late in the evening. Dysfunction prevailed and heads turned the other way to keep things peaceful. Foolish Vera couldn’t care less. She had won the partner of her dreams and he was keeping her in the lifestyle to which she was accustomed. The torrent of twice-a-day steamy love which had magnetised them together at the start of their relationship had evaporated, however, her curvaceous figure remained sharp, as did her pretty facial features and long blond locks. Now manager of his own company, at a rented workshop, with a staff of four tradies and an attractive brunette secretary, the quietly-spoken electrician went about his business of making an above average income to support his clan. Late in the evenings he would drag his weary feet through the front door then remove his shoes, only to collect a shallow peck on the cheek for his efforts. He would immediately shower, then over some idle chat he would eat his evening meal on his lap to a background of reality TV and bickering youngsters. After which, Harvey would wash the dishes and retire to his office to catch up on his small company’s income tax bookwork. Often, when in there, he would sit reflecting back on his exciting life.

It was mid-morning on a Wednesday. Super-bitch Vera suddenly became bored with the reruns of ‘Days of our Lives’ and in a frantic upheaval of guilt, decided to tidy her half of their bedroom. She hummed away as if second-naturedly going about her chores. Standing back to admire her handiwork, the once-bombshell noticed something odd about Harvey’s bottom drawer.

“That won’t do,” she muttered, noticing it was protruding open more than an inch. “Poor old bugger, must have been really tired last night.” She pictured his now forty-year-old handsome face with its garnish of crow’s feet creeping into the sides of his Caribbean-blue eyes.

Vera slid the drawer halfway out to press down on the wads of monogrammed cotton, all perfectly folded into quarters, in an effort to allow the drawer to shut fully.

When suddenly she saw them…

She frowned with a quiz, before lifting the handkerchiefs onto the unmade bed. Layered halfway between the white squares was a stack of pink envelopes. On the front of each was gracefully inscribed the name Dily Velp. It was clearly her husband’s handwriting. Vera knew that the name of Harvey’s shapely secretary, equipped with her own high-calibre of efficiency and orderly acumen, was Delores but was oblivious to her surname. In a rage, she seized the thick handful of beautifully inscribed envelopes and spread them across the sheets. A flick of her eyes counted thirty-five. Her blood began to boil. Her breathing intensified. Her eyes, at first wide like a mouse’s, squeezed to become slits. Her fingers began to tremble. Was it guilt? Or was it jealousy? What was she feeling at this moment?

Vera picked one up and thrust it to her chest while staring at the blank cream bedroom wall. Next, she glanced at her fierce reflection in the wardrobe mirror, then down at the name, her flared nostrils collecting the scent of her own favourite perfume at the short distance. Without creasing the paper, she slid out a three-page love-letter and commenced to read it. Starting at the top with Dear Dily, the letter flowed a magnificent appraisement of affection with a poetic appeal. The perfume burned deeply into her air-passages, as one after another, she flurried through the beautifully worded paraphrases of lust and desire. She read twelve separate letters. Vivid descriptions of love-making and passionate kisses idling across the pale pink pages in wispy lettering enraged her jealousy. She wanted to set fire to the bed she shared with this betraying womaniser and torch his inscriptions of wilful yearning along with it ─ but needed to keep the evidence to shame him.

She dismissed any guilt, believing her tutorial to the incompetent balding twenty-five-year-old as a smorgasbord of intercourse he would never have received without her. After all, it bore them five precious young ones, didn’t it? What more could he want? Her emotion couldn’t be jealousy, because he was totally in the wrong here! No, this was disdain in her veins. That philandering bastard!

Her heart was fuming and all she could think of was how many more were there? The sent ones that she couldn’t read! Vera tucked each poisonous promise back into its rectangular shroud and planned her divorce. What would be the outcome? How much would she get? Who would have custody? Again she stared at her sorry reflection but wasn’t liking what she saw…

When Harvey plodded in that night, Vera thrust the letters at his face. “Explain this you cheating arsehole!” she shrilled, as all bar one, fell to the floor tiles.

“Oh, you found them,” he answered dimly ─ eyes looking to the floor at the scattered pink mess at his feet. “I was going to tell you all about them when I thought you would be ready…”

Appetite whet for revenge, she cut him off sharply, grumbling a barrage of incendiary remarks. “I give you the best years of my life! Tolerate your boring electrical conversations! I have beared your children, yet managed to keep myself attractive for you to look at! Never even looked sideways at another man… and believe me, there’s been offers out there! Perhaps I haven’t been the best housewife in the world. But you’re alive at least. Well, aren’t you?”

Vera’s veins were fully swollen, she looked mean as a snake!

“Sure honey,” he limped back, feeling kicked in the groin. “What’s this all about, anyway?”

“What’s this all about?” she yelled, waving the solitary last letter still between her fingers. She briefly paused before impaling him again. “I know our romance has stalled momentarily. But this sought of disgusting behaviour was not on my radar when we got married! What is she to you Harvey?”

He forced a sheepish grin. “Shhh, the children, dear. Did you read any?”

“Of course I did Einstein! Never mind them. What do you reckon I am going on about?” Vera pulled the love-letter from its envelope as if she was drawing a six-shooter from its holster. She flicked its pages open in front of his face. “Now, before we discuss our divorce. Who is Dily Velp you prick?”

Poor Harvey was feeling like a rabbit cornered by a fox. His eyebrows became angled at the top and his bottom lip protruded. He took the incriminating-looking communiqué from between her crimson nail-polished fingers, glanced at his own revealing handwriting and spoke softly. “Dear is obvious. D is Darling. I means me. L stands for Love. Y, of course, is you dear. V is for Vera. E remember is for Enid, your second name. L is Lucy, your third Christian name. And P stands for Purstians, your current surname. I wrote them all for you over the last ten years but thought you might laugh at my corny mushy eroticisms. I didn’t mean to upset you, sweetheart.” His expression was priceless.

Vera’s mouth fell agape like a sideshow-alley clown awaiting its next ping-pong ball…

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…