“Planetfall” an abandoned Sci-Fi project

Just a warning for readers, it has been so long since I worked in this that I forget there was a lot of sex in this. Early on in my writing I wanted to be popular and knew that sex sells. I soon found out that I can’t write sex. So this project was abandoned. Tell me what you think, was I right or was I right?

Planet-rise and moon-fall

Chapter 1

It took longer than I estimated to reach moon-fall. I planned it out at just over 14 hours from start to finish with five fairly cautious jumps through a complicated planetary system – never good to leap into uncharted space without knowing exactly what you are aiming at and I hadn’t been to this system for a quarter of a century – but the nav com put less trust in my methods and without even bothering to inform me, changed two of my plot points and added four of her own so the very last leap would be line of sight.

Prior to these stages we had first been holed up for a fortnight in primary prep before travelling for a further two weeks, disguising our journey and destination from the numerous patrols and system scans which sought to deny us our goal, which we hoped would enrich us beyond our wildest dreams.

Hell, as soon as we entered our dest-sys I donned my radsuit, a rather old-fashioned jacket and trouser article made of a blend of clunky polyfoil and vegiglass, but they don’t grow many of these my size. When you are built like an orbiting bogbox you can’t afford to be choosy when you clearly can’t afford to buy custo. The nametag on the suit showed that before recycling through the charity megstore on Egius Tertio, the original owner was ‘Joe’ and my name was ‘Ivan’ but with just a crew of five on board there was really no need to change it. Three of the crew had the slightly more comfortable but also clearly second-user radsmocks and the names on those also didn’t match the people I knew as Kevlin, Skeech and Selene either.

This far into the centre of the galaxy means the stars virtually fill the cosmos and this was a triple-sun system to boot, so when I say it was bright, it was actually blinding. I swear you could feel the radiation pickling your skin through the triple hull. But the radiation wasn’t our only danger, what concerned me was what filled the voids between the planets. The trouble with triple-sun systems, is that the planetary orbits are so confusing that planets don’t last long but the resultant debris lumps of long-dead worlds can be lethal forever.

Our first leap had taken us to the edge of the first asteroid belt, but before we could leap into the space between this and the outer giant, it would take at least half a terranhour for our tiny vessel to generate another small wormhole for the next leap. It is hard for non-space-travellers to understand the principles of space travel. They look at the 3Dmovies and think the process is instantaneous and that the few seconds of time before a leap is added by the director for dramatic effect, such as I saw recently in Star Trek 492, when the stricken Enterprise escapes destruction by a leap into hyperspace. But it is nothing like that. To move a vessel containing over 600 people into warp mode, would take five or six terranhours to build an entrance and they would have to have a zylon at the destination end to simultaneously set up an exit hole. We only had the one zylon, within our own vessel, there was no other presence in this system, so it all had to be done from one end. This close to the asteroid belt, there was bound to be stray debris, so we used the vegpulse engines to follow the direction of the orbit and travel faster than the orbital speed to avoid any surprises from behind and steer past slower objects ahead. We still experienced some bumping however, but nothing the hull couldn’t cope with. It would get worse though as we penetrated further into the system towards our destination.

This system had four main planets that had still managed to avoid direct impact with one another during the lifespan of the Milky Way, just two gas giants and two rock planets. Those latter tortured spheres orbited far too close to the suns and were beyond human use, their bare rock surfaces alternating between frozen and molten every two or three hours, their atmospheres boiled away and streaming clouds of frozen dust and gases had long added to the system’s barely navigable debris; landfall on the giants was also impossible, our hull, even our brilliantly pressure-resistant interstellar pods, would cave in before we hit the outermost clouds.

Our destination was one of the moons on the inner giant, and Mylon the onboard zylon computer prepared herself for the last leap to moon orbit, waiting for 20 minutes or so for the moon to rise above the horizon so there could be no mistake. We had to leap, conventional vegpulse engines would take about seven terramonths but we wouldn’t last a day out there once we got past the outer gas giant and into the first of several icy rock asteroid belts.

As you can imagine, the rest of the crew were less than impressed by this near-21 hour shift, which didn’t auger well when your fellow travellers are cut-throat pirates and outlaws or worse, and your position as pilot-master of the vessel depends on the most tenuous of mental melds with the on-board zylon computer.

The skipper Kevlin directed a scowl in my direction, his one gold tooth in a row of mainly black ones glinting in the starlight, matched by the reflections from the heavy, deeply engraved gold ring dangling pirate-fashion from his right ear lobe and protruding between lank black and silver strands of his shoulder-length hair. His scowl was mirrored by the mate’s sneer, an unavoidable expression on his part since his past participation in a blade fight had frozen his face that way. They were both chinocauk, the second most common human race after chinoasian, and these two were as common and villainous as they come.

Even their skivvy, the galleyhand Selene, at around 20 terras the youngest member of the crew, gave me a rolling of her deep warm brown eyes in plain embarrassment at being acquainted with such demonstrative ineptitude – and she was being kind as we had shared, well, recent intimate history. Selene was a rather fetching moon-faced mongol, a rare breed nowadays after the racial cleansing of the civil war, cheerfully plump and a willing, almost too willing and certainly indiscriminating, distributor of her favours. So she was popular with, well just about all the crew.

The last member of our not-so-happy band was Lilian and she stood to the left of me by the vegpulse engine console looking cool and elegant in her stunning made-to-measure i-radshift, a modern nebulous vegsilk cloak with hood, the body part of which static-clung to her tall slim form which accentuated her heavy, but buoyant and thrillingly-pointed breasts. Only the weighty double-bladed dagger, the weapon of choice for the sophisticated lady-about-space, strapped to her waist outside her cloak, disturbed the classic line of her fabulous form. She didn’t need a name badge, even the discrete designer label of ‘Lamani’ at the base of the hood was unnecessary – clearly she was accustomed to the best, ‘making do’ didn’t even figure in her vocabulary.

Normally she wore tight-fitting dark clothes, where her shape blended into the background of the dark green inner hull, but in this yellow-sun coloured i-radshift her splendid form was a magnet for gawping at by all the crew. The Skip was clearly aroused, but as far as I could tell from a recent knifepoint nick in his left cheek that Lil had successfully rebuffed the grizzled pirate’s risky advances.

The vessel’s mate, Skeech, always drooled from his crooked mouth, but any doubts about his present state of arousal were dispelled by his hand jerking up and down inside his dull grey radsmock. And as for the second female member of the crew, Selene, despite her proclivity for regular buttwinkling, she had made no secret of her sapphist tendencies and had several times sought to add Lil to her sleeppod notches without actually troubling her whittlingblade.

Me? Well I wasn’t even in the running for Lil’s attentions. No, Lil was clearly in a class of her own and had known comfort and wealth in an earlier life before recently descending by necessity into dealing with the likes of present company.

As far as I knew, it was Lilian that funded this operation, seeking to exchange her life of comparative comfort guaranteed by befriending some planetary potentate to an independent one of limitless wealth and power.

When my homeworld was taken over by the Great Rebellion and my father and family put to the sword, the rebel general assigned to rule in his place found the coffers empty and he fruitlessly tore my homeworld apart, whilst burying me deep into the penal system where I should have been lost forever. It was this treasure house that these villains believed I could access that brought this venture thus far.

Lil merely looked down her nose at me as if she had expected little more from my pathetic piloting efforts. With the hood restricting my view of her oval face to just her black almond eyes, aquiline nose and full red lips parted slightly to show a glimpse of her twin rows of perfectly straight teeth, glacial white against her dark skin, her expressionless face spoke volumes of what she expected of me.

Lil, and she had continually corrected me for shortening her name from Lilian (which only encouraged me to use my favoured contraction at every subsequent opportunity), had made no effort to disguise how much she despised me from the start. She was a supporter of the Revolution and to her I was Imperial scum, a relic, an anachronism of a bygone age. She was clearly too perfect to be true: ferociously intelligent, elegant in movement or repose, and unbelievably attractive, to be living under the radar in the criminal underclass to which my companions, which now also included myself, were forced to endure.

To me it was obvious that Lil must be an F3 hybrid, one of the chinoblack models that I had only ever encountered once, and that brought back painful memories. The F3s only revealed their existence towards the end of the long drawn out civil war and brought about a sudden collapse in the imperial system. They were indistinguishable from the humans they were modelled on. Grown by the rebels in large numbers many years earlier and used with devastating effect to infiltrate Imperial bases, often as sleepers filled with false memories, unaware even themselves of the time bombs they were designed to become until triggered at the moment of attack, to murder and sabotage, heralding inevitable victory for the Rebels. This was a pattern that had spread across the galaxy in a few short months, ending what seemed an unending unresolvable war and led to today’s status quo, the so-called Galactic People’s Republic of Humanity.

Yes, I had certainly come across an F3 hybrid before and only survived because they took prisoners in those early days, until the penal colonies were filled to overflowing. Lil sensed I was ex-Imperial, not just because I was caukoturk, which I disguised as much as possible by complete defoliation and carboblacking my fair eyelashes, plus I had resorted to squinting my naturally round eyes for so long I forgot I was even doing it. She must have picked up the traces of serial number tattoos which separated politicos from ordinary prison stock, that I had sought to disguise as star-burn. Like old enemies, we kept ourselves at a respectful distance but always held each other in view with a wall behind our backs and a sharp blade ready to hand. My own dagger of choice was of bone, long-ago fashioned from some unnameable creature which they fed to us when on rare occasion near-rancid meat was offered for prisoners to fight over for the guards’ amusement, and that blade had faithfully preserved the integrity of my ancient arse up to this point.

Come the thieves share-out would herald the inevitable reckoning, we both knew that. OK, Kevlin and Skeech would work together once we hit civstateside, and I was certain that Selene’s sharing of her favours between the pair wouldn’t preserve her share of any treasure for long.

I had met Kevlin in the slammer, of course, where I was a forgotten political prisoner of war and he was a first-offender criminal briefly incarcerated for possession of stolen goods, hence escaping the usual capital solution for piracy. He got out before me but not until I made sure he was aware of what I knew about hidden treasure beyond his wildest dreams: the total wealth of a family that could count its forebears and accumulate power, influence to build a vast treasury through millennia. In order to obtain my own release I had to kill and assume the identity of a prisoner due for release in defiance of the system, helped by bribes from Kevlin on the outside, going past guards who didn’t check my forged papers as closely as the state paid them a pittance to do. I sought out Kevlin as the person I needed to find a crew and, following recovery of the treasure, had the contacts to launder into usable state credits. He used Lilian, for whom he had smuggled illegal luxuries, to identify, finance and prepare the right vessel. Lilian was looking to build a retirement fund to replace the favours she presently lived on from rich patrons and this venture would certainly give her that.

Kevlin was a necessary evil in this venture and I knew he would target me first, once my unique knowledge of our destination and access beyond the security system expired, I would be of little further use beyond that. We may have been setting out as a band of thieves but there would be no inference of honour among our temporary band of convenience once the promised glint of treasure became a reality.

However, I knew they would underestimate the hybrid, their kind always did. I also knew that a trained hybrid assassin would take me out before carving up the buccos, so at least I knew exactly where I stood – right at the end of a dead end called Shit Street.

OK, I had killed an F3 hybrid once, but that was 20 years ago in my prime. I had few illusions of the outcome of any one-on-one now. But for the present we all needed each other. As for Selene, well she could shag any one of us to death if she wanted to but she was without any of the skills to control or dock the ship or dispose of any of the anticipated cargo. As for poor Selene, she always was a candidate for victim rather than victor. Hell, the killing machine that I knew as Lil might even let Selene off with enough loot for her own modest means; these hybrids were bred without bottom line compassion but in my experience of them, expediency didn’t always mean total slaughter.

I smiled at the concept of a partly-human assassin having more humanity than most humans of my recent acquaintance, which was not beyond the realms of possibility.

Like my brief previous experience with Kevlin, I had seen Lil before too. She was part of a ‘do-gooding’ group that visit prisons ensuring inmates’ fair treatment. I spotted her straight off because mostly they are crabby old spinsters and widows with too much wealth and time on their hands for their own good, with guilty consciences in need of assuaging. Either that or seeking their next tame ‘house boy’. She was bright and fashionable and sensationally gorgeous. She stood out from the crowd all right and, although at the time I held hopes to, I had no expectations of ever seeing her again. If she had recognised me as more than just a face in the crowd, well so far she hadn’t acknowledged it. Since release I had filled out a bit, after being hungry for almost half my life. As for deprivation during incarceration of the caring touch of a woman, well the homely Selene had recently seen to the baser of my bodily needs.

My brief reverie was interrupted as I felt the tug of the inner gas giant on the hull as we entered the elliptical orbit that heralded the penultimate stage of our journey. Through my mind-meld connection to Mylon, a flood of information came into my consciousness, distance from the planet, speed of orbit, projections of different scenarios. Even though my link was pretty tenuous, she only let me into her edited grudging version of consciousness so far, I felt at ease with her and, well, safe.

I suppose now is the time and place to reflect on where we had come this far into my life cycle, particular as it was likely to come to a swift inglorious end very soon, now. I may never get a better chance.

***

The F1 and F2s were cloned simply to follow direct orders as fighters and as only the Rebels had them initially, they had initially tipped the balance of the war early on following their introduction. But the imperial houses were soon on the case and used the technology to good effect to restore the civil war stalemate for several decades. These first two manifestations of androids were identical soldier drones and had none of the ‘bits’ that the F3s needed so they could infiltrate without suspicion. It was the F3s which were basically genetically-enhanced humans which had a devastating effect to end the resistance of individual worlds by taking out the leadership of each with minimal effort. Hell, the F3s came in many forms, although the vast majority were female, and were made from genetically-altered human children, they could even procreate with humans, their offspring indistinguishable, which is why they don’t make them anymore since the war was won.

The new F4s are ‘bits’-less again and used purely for terraforming duties. But the surviving F3s after the war were in incredible demand by the generals and their captains that now rule every despotic planet in the galaxy, as concubines or, whether they were male or female, were well accustomed to carving out a comfortable existence in the leisure-pleasure industry. I would hardly call their existence ‘life’, but then I’m prejudiced.

One of the F3s was my unsuspecting father’s second wife. The assassin killed him while he slept. Then she destroyed every last member of my family until she met her own destiny under the full depth of my trusty battleblade.

They wear so well these damn hybrids. The damn war’s been over for nearly 20 years now and I am growing grey round the edges in middle-life, but Lil still looks fresh out of the tank.

Very soon I was no longer the centre of attention as the bombard of space debris began to register on the hull and the rest of the crew had their work cut out. It was considered suicide entering a twin-sun system with only three layers of living vegipolymer skin and a fairly rudimentary antigrav generator. The cumbersome Rebel cruisers that chased Imperial guerrillas into their hideaways had at least nine hulls and were internally micropodded to boot. But the old mobile-infantry-naval-troopship-Imperials that I was accustomed to flying were simply triple-hulled, and our current vessel was the only one in the orbit parking lot that Lil had found which fitted the bill, with a zulon willing to mindmeld with the scum it believed I had become, so we could at least make steerageway.

I say ‘willing’, this was not strictly true. There are a lot of alien life-forms out there in space, as you know, as numerous as the planets, but 99.9% of it is single-celled and red or blue or green and invariably poisonous to human touch.

The zulons are just about the most advanced alien form we know and each one of their species is a fluid collection of cells that hold loosely together as a colony within which the individual parts grow and divide and die and are reborn, so an individual colony never actually dies. They have collective thoughts and memories that make each specialised brain cell more powerful than a million human brains. They send out spores that set up new colonies of cells within the fabric of the ship, interacting with the controls, even attaching to ourselves and controlling the growing of cultures for the living polymer skin layers and all linked to the main zulon form spread out on the ceiling of the upper deck, away from the grav and poop decks where they could be crushed by human feet. They are symbiotic with us, feeding on the detritus exuded from our bodies, which is why we smell so nice even though we don’t have enough water to wash regularly. Also they provide the atmosphere that we breath as a byproduct of their own bodily functions, which are adaptable to different species. They communicate with us telepathically as they do with their own kind and with any zulon-steered craft they wish to in the galaxy, instantaneous, distance no object.

As fully-formed vessels, they are able to reproduce internal pods for a wide range of different tasks, as well as external pods which can be sent out for surveying.

Without the Zulons we would have no interstellar flight, it is they that control the jumps and hold the fabric of human civilisation together, and long ago they helped the Empire spread to every corner of the Milky Way. When humans first discovered them thousands of years ago they were enslaved by my Imperial ancestors, and the Zulons were simply too civilised, too respectful of life in whatever form it comes to resist with violence. If they wanted to, they could simply deprive us of air and suffocate us within a matter of minutes, but I don’t think that possibility would even occur to them. I had my own Zulon once, when I was a pilot, it was an intense relationship and we would have died for each other, and ultimately Pymon sacrificed her life for me and I have been alone ever since. Our onboard interstellar flight computer and me: well, we are not close, Mylon, not close at all.

Our present civilisation is in the form of symbiosis personified, humans developed the technique of growing and grafting additional hulls in vegetable form, which have become our space vessels, protecting human and Zulons alike from the killing space outside. The earth-based herbal kingdom is a lower form of life which lacks the repair and regenerative properties of the animal kingdom of which humanity is part. The biotechnicians long ago formulated the living vegetable polymer that can be fed through the cell structure to strengthen and repair the normal wear and tear damage from space. The Zulons steer and control the ships through hyperspace, and provide the air we breathe; the humans grow the vegifood that keep us alive and living vegpolymer used to keep the vessel intact; the Zulons recycle the nutrients to the vegiprops and process any gaseous waste to feed to the vegpulse engines which the humans developed at the start of Earthexodus, thousands of years ago. And finally the Zulons’ capacity for telepathy keeps the galaxy colonies and vessels in continuous instantaneous contact.

I remember when I was a pilot cadet at the Imperial Academy. They had an exhibition of the early atomic space vessels: dirty, smelly, dangerous, disease-ridden metal tubes full of vermin, which took generations to get from system to system. The Atomic Age, sometimes called the Steel Age, is ancient history. And it took a great deal of effort by the Academy Museum to keep the resident Academy Zulon from cleaning up the exhibit!

Our Zulon is called Mylon. Pilot-masters like myself were trained from infancy to meld with these fantastic creatures and build a lifelong bond. They never forget their collective memories and when I melded with this one a few short weeks ago there was no hiding from it who and what I was. My old Zulon, Pynom, that I bonded with almost from birth, has long been dead. She was destroyed more than twenty years ago in the turning years of the long war, but the lingering echoes of our relationship survive in every colony that it ever communicated with and I was recognised and tentatively accepted, although I am still on probation with any zulon I interact with. Humans with imperial connections suffer from the sins of their fathers. Fortunately, it appeared, I had few sins of my own account, which avoided immediate rejection and inevitable surrender to what nowadays masquerades as the authorities. Stealing a vessel is impossible and buying or using a vessel for nefarious activities is never easy, Mylon would never demean herself to admit as much to me but I suspect the relationship with her previous owner, a local planetary general, was tenuous at best and must have been worse than whatever feelings she had towards me.

While negotiating this intense rockstorm, steerage was pointless, the crew worked the deflectors and guided the sightless Mylon to where hull repairs were required. So I wasn’t really needed and while inactively waiting for moonrise, my attention inevitably strayed back to Lil, looking very fetching in her sinuous manipulation of the dark matter which was contained in our gravdeck as she fed antigrav through the various veg engines around the hull, deflecting the more dangerous metallic rocks which threatened the integrity of the hull.

Dark matter was tricky stuff, if released from the magnetic field plus the tough and flexible living cellulose tissue which surrounded it, this whole vessel would be crushed to a size of a hydrogen molecule. Lil stood leaning over the console and the enticing firm roundness and inviting crease of her backside was like a magnet to my aching gaze. She sensed my attention and sharply turned her hooded head in my direction. My gaze shifted as quickly as I could manage to her eyes, defiant to stare out her expected spirited challenge, but her fiery glance was only a momentary flash and, with a hint of a smile on her fully pouting ruby lips, she turned her lovely head back to her task in hand, which was quite literally saving the vessel from being crushed by multiple collisions.

Guiltily and, although on one level it was perfectly natural for me to love this beautiful woman with every fibre of my being, you don’t know on how many other levels it was wrong, such were the thoughts on my part.

I turned to look instead at Selene, where at least some progress in physical relationship was possible. Relieved of rock prodding duties, she was busy in the galley to my right, preparing hot drinks before we jumped for the last time. She also noticed me look in her direction and she blessed me with a beautiful warm smile, her even white teeth prominent against her startanned face. She had a broad head, frank and open with low brow and deeply slanted eyes under black brows, wide nose and full mouth, which I could imagine would open wide enough to please more than one man at a time. Her jet black hair was cropped close at the top and sides in the current style of startravellers. She was short and full figured, her large rounded breasts swaying in time with the movements of the ship, yet full ripe enough to defy the ever present tugging of the gravdeck. Although she was more than half my age, between late teens and early twenties, she had granted me her favours on several occasions, in between servicing the captain and mate who had first call on her services and tended to indulge in tag-teaming. However, my upbringing tended to put me off simultaneous sexual sharing and she was actually the first girl to receive my attentions after my long incarceration. You could say that this adorable girl was my one true taste of freedom on this vessel, on which looked likely to be my last voyage.

***

It was almost a month earlier when I caught up with Kevlin at Magellan Prime using the state’s onetime travel ticket from the Pen. He, Skeech and Selene then transported me in their little skiff to where Lil had found the vessel we needed. I managed to persuade the zulun controlling the vessel that I was a more suitable pilot and we took off away to a hideaway while we prepared the ship for this trip. As you know, once a vessel has been full grown you can’t simply graft on another hull, but given time and someone with a bio Ph.D you can change the characteristics to cope with a hot twin-sun system, and this is where Lil came into her own. But while she worked her biomagic the rest of the crew could relax and after 20 years of hard labour I was ready for some R’n’R.

I remember Selene was doing the same as she was now, preparing food for the next meal when I visited the open galley to refresh my cup with cool joosale. The Skip and mate were offship sourcing supplies and Lil was busy on the poop deck with the biotanks, so we were alone on the main deck. As she poured my drink from the jug she playfully ran her hand over my smooth scalp.

‘Are you this all over?’ she enquired softly, her thick accent telling me that Standard was not her native tongue, ‘it very cool, no?’

‘Y-yes’, I stuttered, after 20 years inside the Pen it was difficult to be touched without it being synonymous with pain, ‘I’m smooth all over.’

Well, she gave me goose bumps but although I guessed she was easy with her favours, I was too shy to actually touch her first. She had only just grown out of being a kid and I was well into my fifth terradecade, in fact closer to my sixth. She turned back to her chopboard and at the same time pressed her ample buttocks into my groin, moving up and down slowly and deliberately as she rhythmically sliced bean pods. My groin twitched and responded automatically and in doing so prising apart the fold between her downy buttocks.

‘Mmmm, are you grower or just get hard?’ she breathed.

‘A bit of both, I guess,’ I ventured, ‘it’s been a long time, I’m not sure if I remember.’

‘Well, maybe you ready for ’nother refresher, uhh?’ I put down my cup and used both hands to explore her very own cups through her flimsy blouse, her nipples growing exponentially between my fingers and thumbs, the rise and fall of her breasts in time with the shortening and quickening of her breathing. Although her hair was cropped short on top and down to her ears, she had left wispy curls of downy hair around the nape of her neck and I teased her neck with my lips and tongue while working her nipples, my nose buried in dark bristly hair. The Zulons have lived with us long enough to know when they are not wanted and that is particularly applicable during mating, so for the first time I could smell the natural scent of her warm hair in my nostrils. It was sweet and heady and quite simply lovely.

My tongue flicked at the nape and around the sides of her neck and I drew an ear lobe between my lips where I could taste her fresh salty sweat for the first time on my tongue and it was so good. I lightly nibbled at her skin, lifting and releasing it again, nuzzling and nipping, sucking and licking in sheer pleasure at her willing body as she pressed her back and buttocks into my torso. She had one hand pressing my head into her neck and the other clutching at one of my arse cheeks. I tore one of my hands away from a glorious breast long enough to run an index finger down the zapzip at the front of her blouse and the garment slickly parted allowing me to access directly both of her delightful orbs and I enthusiastically but gently rubbed each stiffened nipple between index finger and thumb.

My licking/nipping travailed her shoulder and into the enticing hollow of her armpits, my excited nostrils revelling in the new experience of the zingy pungency of her delicious natural musk. While still behind her, my right hand cupped her breast and lifted the nipple and enormous brown areola to my beckoning mouth. Gently I licked her nipple and sucked at her wrinkling pimply areola, while my other hand descended to her skirt’s zapzip, which responded without resistance at the lightest touch, dropping away to the floor. Clearly women’s fashions had not changed as much since my youth as I had feared. I released my own clothing and my hugely engorged member was liberated from its woven cell and I pushed it down between her legs from behind, my blood-filled cockhood pressing against her moist cunt lips.

If I was surprised at my best friend’s length and ramrod stiffness after a couple of decades of complete sexual inactivity, clearly Selene was even more impressed, although all she said was: ‘Wow! Where you been all my life?!’

I felt any reply unnecessary, but she had given me the confidence to proceed. I moved a wetted finger to her pudendum, briefly toting with her anus and then moved through her delightful folds of flesh to the top and began to caress her clit and felt its engorgement under my attention in its shy retreat in the folds of her clitoral hood. Meanwhile, one of Selene’s hands squeezed, somewhat less than gently, my left buttock, while the finger and thumb of her right hand rather more delicately eased back and forth the prepuce over the head of my throbbing cock.

I remoistened a finger and slipped it into her vagina, where I found the lubrication unnecessary, her juices flowing from her like only a ripe young woman’s cunt can.

‘I want you now,’ I breathed softly with some degree of pleading in her ear.

‘I want too,’ she replied, turning her head and moving her lips to meet mine, raising her left hand from my bum to the back of my head drawing my lips to her eager mouth, while her right hand, with thumb pointing towards my body, tugged my foreskin up and down my shaft with an unaccustomed savage force, although it would have been churlish to imply any criticism of the gesture, when my main thought was of deep-felt gratitude. My fingers worked up and down her inner labia and around her clit.

She said ‘But I still sore down there from … last night,’ and she bit my lower lip forcing me to open my eyes. She looked up into them, a trusting yet vulnerable young woman. We stood stock still for a moment staring into each other’s eyes, gently rubbing our noses together. ‘I sore vagine,’ she continued, ‘but you welcome my butt.’

She looked so sweet, beautiful round faced and big eyes, like a pet eager to please a new master. I was only half way through replying ‘Perf…’ before her mouth devoured my tongue and, while somehow maintaining lip contact, she swung her body round and, holding my right hand in her left, we walked towards the opening to the lower deck.

For the planetbound, the concept of gravdecks is strange and a little frightening at first. The gravity comes from the extraordinary pull of dark matter, finely adjusted to suit the home planet of the vessel’s crew or passengers. So when you change decks, the ceiling of the lower deck becomes the floor to which you fall to. So there are no stairs, just an opening, on the edge of which you stand with half your feet poking over. Then, keeping your feet in place, you topple head first towards the opening; if you are tall, like me, you may just bend your knees to make sure you don’t hit your head on the other side of the opening, the momentum of your fall carrying you against the pull of the ceiling on the lower deck and you end up standing upside down with your toes on the new deck and your heels hanging in space. You can either fall back on your heels and head back to the main deck, or walk forward onto the ‘ceiling’ of the lower deck towards the quarters. What appears to be the deck ceiling is actually the floor. It is fun seeing first timers trying to do what is simply the everyday normal life of spacemen.

Once below, Selene released my hand and tucked her left arm under mine, pulling herself to me as we walked towards her pod, my flesh revelling in the warm softness of her touch, her delightful nakedness. Her sleep pod recognised her approach and eagerly unsealed and yawned open invitingly for her anticipated ingress, to succour her was its only reason for existence and right now I felt that I was of the same mindset. Although pods are vegetable growths, they have no brains or intelligence, but they have a basic instinctive response to its main user and the Zulon interface which links human vegetable and single cell intelligence into one harmonious unit. Our sleep pods accommodate, cleanse and refresh us and, in an emergency, seal us from deadly space and keep us insulated and clean and sustain our air long enough for us to be rescued.

Selene’s pod closed and adjusted the internal lighting to a relaxing low light, cool air fanned our hot bodies as we pressed together and pleasured our mouths in the pure joy of contact with another human, as we sank into the velvety haired yielding softness of the pod lining, which gently pulsated, lightly massaging our naked bodies, but giving way as we wrapped our legs around one another or rolled in unison around the concave impression our bodies formed in the soft dry nest. We kissed for a long time, not to delay the consummation act, but purely for the pleasure it gave us both. Yet while I was quiet, a hangover from prison where I had so long had to conceal my pain, even on occasion the very act of breathing could give you away to the nightly depraved hunting packs, Selene had no such reticence, she moaned and sighed and squealed at each change of use of tongue or lips or teeth and we clung to each other firmly during our kiss as if letting go would deprive either of us of this fleeting moment of paradise; the next stage in our relationship could wait until we were both ready. We were so different, one shrivelled middle age man and a fresh plumply ripe young woman, but we were relaxed and unhurried and therein lay the gentle trap of love within the simple act of mutual satisfaction.

Our lips eventually needed a rest and we clung together on our sides with heads nestling in our respective shoulders, I broke the love-trance we had fallen into by blowing a long gentle raspberry where her neck joined her shoulder and in the midst of our echoing laughter we relaxed the tense grip of our enveloping arm holds to just fingertips and looked at one another with noses barely touching before gently kissing once more.

I nibbled her chin and lipkissed her throat and along both clavicles in turn before descending with inevitable appetite to her rampant nipples, drawing in as much mammary flesh as my mouth would take without gagging, first one then the other, flicking her nipples with my tongue on egress before I raised my head to look at her face. She lay back in perfect repose with her hands behind her head, her eyes closed, her gorgeous face dreamily relaxed. She was like one of those waxpaint pictures you used to see in artgals on planet primes. At that moment my heart was open to her and I wanted to drink in every wonderful morsel of her.

I kissed her soft belly, revelling in the doughy yielding of her warm soft skin and my tongue tip enjoyed the lintless cavity of her belly button so recently moistened by her slightly salty dewy sweat. I worked my way along to her furry triangle, so dark against the beige tint of her hitherto hidden unstartanned skin, her outer labia was unshaved, her inner labia lips neatly tucked away like the unlocked pleasure house of a young virgin. Gentle pressing on the outer labia popped her sexuality open like a cherry, its healthy glistening pinkness shockingly vibrant, and the aroma of her natural scent almost overwhelming to my long-denied senses. I was both giddily disorientated, yet entirely focussed on the sensual wonder in front of me. I had lost all sense of either Selene’s breathing or my own, all my other functions were on autopilot. The adrenaline pumping through me, filling me with energy for the task in hand, yet all I could think of was what do I do next? After almost half my lifetime shunning any intimacy, could I still remember the techniques I was so expected to demonstrate? What would please this lovely creature? I didn’t want to be so selfish as to simply attend to my own pleasures. but the direction of my next move was undetermined.

Selene, however, roused me from my hesitation. She was clearly in charge despite the paucity of her years, ‘Eat me, fuck-fuck bitch!’ she screamed her irresistible order, ‘Eat me now!’

I sunk my nostrils between her cunt lips and drew the tip of my nose up and down the length of her pink wet groove and around her clitoris. Her hands clasped around my head and she arched up her back to rub my face into her expectant groin, but I countered her advances, keeping the lightest tantalising contact with her flesh as I moved up and down her vaginal valley. We were both breathing hard now, the exertions of our resistance filling us both with excited anticipation. We kept this up for two or three minutes, the tip of my tongue sometimes supplementing my nose, sampling the sweetness of her sex and teasing her into responding with alternate whoops of pleasure and vapid refusals to exonerate me from the task in hand which was in her words to ‘fuck-fuck butt ’til can’t walk’.

I smiled at her words, the more vile her exhortations, the more confidence I assumed in taking control in this gradual dishing out of pleasure. To a degree this was a role-reversal that I could appreciate, up to now Selene had dished up the delights from her galley, now I was serving the her appetite of her valley. My flesh ached to enter her and I began using my tongue making my nose redundant as I pressed deep into her crenellated crevice and I sucked in her labia and tongued her vaginal entrance and, for a short while, concentrated on rimming her anus, her favoured point of entry. Selene was crying with pleasure as I worked saliva into her butt-hole, aiming to convert her natural exit into an inviting, welcoming point of entry.

I turned her over and she complied with the unspoken command of my hands pressing her into position without protest, pausing only for a brief joining of our lips in a simple lip-lick and tongueless kiss before getting onto all fours in anticipation of a good rogering. As soon as she was positioned favourably I pressed the head of my saliva-smeared cock against her puckered arsehole and pressed gently but, after meeting initial resistance, she released all her tension and I suddenly disappeared into her body up to the full hilt of my tempered flesh ‘blade’, my hips cushioned against her amply wobbly fleshy buttocks. I was surprised at the ease of my anal entry, but she soon dispelled any doubts as to the probity of my wand as Selene flexed her hyper-tone anal muscles and enveloped my cock with a more than comfortable caress and I withdrew my love muscle slowly from her embracing scabbard until just my knobhead was encased by her crinkly-defined depths. But if it slid easily enough both ways the first time, pushing it back in, which I desperately had to do, was another matter.

Like those movies of terraforming, which show salmon swimming upstream to spawn, so my fully engorged prick had to make this same gravity-defying yet extremely gratifying journey to where I would in due course discharge my futile seed. I pressed on carefully, slowly but steadily. I was juggernaut, she the ultimate redoubt, the pain of penetration bitter-sweet, with waves of pleasure coursing through us both via the unstoppable immersion into her corrugated cleft. When it was physically impossible to invade her soft sweet body any further, I moved my hips in a circular motion against her bum cheeks, the sides of my cock subtly caressing the walls of her anal canal, bringing forth sobs of pleasure from Selene. We only carried on in this vein for maybe twenty or so deliriously delightful, slow but determined shaft-long strokes before Selene admitted defeat of her original intention to restrict me just to her bum-hole.

I was just reaching at the end of a deliberately exquisite thrust when she turned her lovely head and lifted one of her supporting hands to touch one of mine, firmly employed in holding her hips steady, and said, ‘If you pleasure me like this slow-beautiful, me now want you in pussy.’ We held each other in this gaze for a few seconds, but there was to be no one-sided discussion on the merits or otherwise of anal versus vaginal lovemaking. ‘Now-w-w!’ she insisted and she was boss.

I slid all the way out and she turned round and, still on her knees, carefully sucked my cock and licked all along its drying length before falling down onto her back and pulling my shoulders towards her, her steady gaze and brilliant smile holding me in thrall. Although her neat cunt lips gave the appearance of needing the help of fingers to enable access into her airlock-less entry hole, by simply pressing my cock into her slippery dampness enabled me to slowly and steadily descend into a place where for me time stood still and I felt like I was the cocky young boy that my memories had long ago abandoned and this was my first time … again.

As we moved our bodies together in gentle but determined tantric union, the disparity in our heights meant that I could only reach the top of her head while desiring to consume even more of her than I had already. However, she put her arms around my back and she hauled herself off the bed, burying her head in my chest. She cried in echoes of my long-past pain as her sensitive fingertips traced the years of criss-crossing cruelty in the revealing tracery that was the palimpsest of the surface of my back. Selene sobbed as she relived every lash that she encountered; and I felt her simple proffered empathy and loved her more deeply for that gift and pressed home my loving gland into her eager flesh, furthering each slow but ardent stroke with a finial flourish of the hips. She nuzzled me closely, sucking at my puckering nipples and nipping at my pectoral skin with teeth sunk deep enough to draw blood. If she could have devoured me she would, on such a small vessel we were on vegetarian rations for the trip and Selene was giving full vent to her carnivorous nature. Mylon would have some human repair work to do through my own sleep-pod, but for now the ever-present alien creature kept her respectful distance like a trusty bachelor’s valet of old.

Selene pushed me away as my thrusts quickened slightly, but not entirely. Again unspoken, we manoeuvred ourselves in the confining space of the pod so that I lay on my back and she hooked her leg over to sit astride me and with a none-too-gentle thrust of her hand guided my hot erection back into the welcome warm slippery envelope of her pleasure hole. Now it was she who was dictating the pace. The hiatus in the midst of our shagging session had slightly cooled my ardour when it had almost reached the point of no return, so when Selene renewed her slow but deep hip movements down the shaft of my grateful member, I was ready to continue afresh, confident that I could last, well for a few strokes anyway, I was deliriously too far beyond promising any kind of longevity of my resolve.

Selene lowered her body in line with mine so that her breasts rested on the lower of my ribs and from here she set the pace and the direction of penetration, I merely laid back and thought of Earth in the proverbial sense, of course as no-one I ever knew had ever been to that mythical place Meanwhile, she rubbed her delectable body up and down mine and she worked my blunt blade deeply in and almost out of her velvety scabbard. As my knobhead was squeezed to within near ejection from her accommodating nest-box at the top of her stroke she was able to reach my mouth with her avaricious tongue and lips and for a few seconds on each outward stroke we paused as she enthusiastically played with my lips and tongue and nose and chin, enveloping my head with her hands and drilling my chest with her elbows as she settled down on the length of my shaft again, wriggling her perfect fleshy bottom and driving me into bursts of pure delightful ecstasy.

She could feel the rising expectation of fulfilment in my whole being as I stiffened slightly, she too was squealing in her unbridled demonstration of her enjoyment in our primary tryst. Thus she changed her partly lateral movement to an exclusively vertical one, ferociously moving her buttocks up and down, grinding at my now vertical-aligning knob with little twists of her hips. I rose to meet each thrust with one of my one and we both moved in our lovemaking as though we were two parts of the same symbiotic creature. We both grunted in perfect unison as my balls pumped my foaming gloop into her with very short violent thrusts, I jerked what felt like a decade’s-worth of spunk into the delectable Selene’s vaginal canal. We bucked and jerked without any control – we were all over the place as every semblance of cohesion vanished, we were still thrusting at each other’s pelvis but we were both lost in separate worlds, like those sad crackheads you see littering every spaceport, where their minds are on different planets to their bodies. Just for a moment we were spaced out crackheads. Eventually, my limp spent cock shrank and slid from her dribbling glory hole and tried its best to hide in a corner of my groin.

‘Oh’ she gasped, when the immediate demands of her air-hungry lungs permitted, ‘me so sore, me no fuck-fuck for a week, no way.’

Selene sighed and smiled broadly as I pulled her up to me and wrapped my arms around her with her head just under my chin. I am old school and from a far more chivalrous age than nowadays and she was only the third woman I had made love to and now I loved her as much as I had loved anyone, despite our short acquaintance. I wanted to cherish this beautiful young woman, protect her and see her safely to planetfall, but I knew in my heart that her fate was beyond me.

Her life expectancy at that time was less than a few weeks and now we neared the end of our journey sharing the same bucking deck as we dodged asteroids and near-irresistible planetary gravitational pulls it was probably no more than 20 minutes and I doubted if I would survive her demise by more than an hour, once we made moon-fall. Our destinies would be determined either by the greed of others or in retribution and we were the most likely early casualties, whichever way the adventure unfolded. She was a dead girl walking and I could do nothing to stop it. For what it was worth, I felt more emotional love for this wonderful, generous creature than I had for anyone in the past two decades.

Back to the first time we made love. Aware of my silent reverie, Selene lifted her head and kissed me long and deep and I responded as enthusiastically as my now seedling-week body could manage, she had taken so much out of me, my ancient body had given everything I had. She nestled back in my arms satisfied that my silence hadn’t implied disappointment.

‘Tomorrow,’ she whispered her promise, ‘we suck-suck,’ and I lightly kissed the top of her adorable spiky-cloaked head.

***

Selene was already back at work vigorously chopping vegetables for the stewpot, when I awoke, freshly cleaned up by Selene’s accommodating sleep pod. I made my way back to my own, which dressed me in replacement clothes and, as nonchalantly as I could manage made my way back to the main deck. As I approached the deck opening, Lil’s legs began to descend from the poop deck, where the vegprop tanks were housed. We only had the one gravdeck, so there was a ladder leading ‘down’ from the lower deck, although if you looked down the hole from the upper deck, the ladder actually appears to travel ‘up’ from the floor. Sorry if the description appears inadequate – you need to be a spaceman in order to appreciate the beauty of the arrangement!

The sound of Selene singing some ancient song in her native language, which appeared to be a simple nursery song of some kind, filled the vessel. That and the fact that the other men were still off-ship, meant that Lil and I were immediately aware that we were alone and unobserved for the first time since we boarded. She smiled. Her face was so lovely with her smile and was so unexpected that I held out my arms and Lil fell into them gratefully, clutching me in fond embrace. Tenderly, I kissed her left cheek and then her right as I cupped her familiar beautiful face in my hands, wiping away the sudden trails of tears that ran down her dark-skinned cheeks, in defiance of her happy countenance. It was like a release for her of long pent-up emotion and I gently kissed her left cheek again. As I released my hold on her head, Lil suddenly grabbed me and kissed me hard on the lips, before pressing her forehead against mine and closing her eyes, all the while using her fingers and palms to alternately squeeze and stroke my neck and shoulders. I cupped her shoulderblades with my hands but without using any force to drag her into me.

Finally, Lil released me and said, ‘I love you Bro, I have always loved you and I will always love the memory of you, even when I have killed you, dead. You know that, Ivan, don’t you, my dearest brother?’

‘I know Sis,’ These words to this woman who was both my half-sister and my first cousin, came from my lips calmly, sincerely and without choking. ‘And you know I love you, too, Lil – even if I have to kill you first.’

TO BE CONTINUED

Chapter 2

Following her prophetic revelation, Lil spun around on her toes and stepped through the yawning deck hatch to the main deck above, leaving me alone in my reverie.

Lil’s mother, Gillian, my step-mother, and previously my once-beloved Aunt Gill, the sister of my deceased mother, was a hero of the revolution. You can read about her in the history books and how ‘the Duchess of Merciant, the former Archduchess of Burbary was killed trying to defend her family by the cowardly blade of the Imperialist oppressor, her very own step-son, the Honorable Ivan of the Merciant dynasty of Comos Prime’ 20 years ago. Shit, I’ve seen the article very recently, a semi-gloss pressing was pasted to my assigned sleep pod by the time I was ready to retire the first night aboard.

Lil wasn’t there, way back on that fateful day that we had known would come one day. She was just 18 and away at college. I lost my whole family that day, as well as my freedom, as the whole planet capitulated within hours of the invasion. We had never stood a chance. We were all victims, Gill, my family, myself and Lil, too. But the two of us survived and both of us were necessary for this present mission, even if only one of the pair actually had a future, but we had much to survive before anyone could give consideration to any individual future.

When I first saw Lil she was only 5 years old and I was 16; we were not particularly fond of each other at first. It may seem strange cousins rarely meeting, but the universe was much more complicated then. Noble families had been jockeying for betterment for hundreds of years, forming alliances, fuelling feuds, fielding petty dalliances and plotting intrigues from which only the Machiavellians among us derived any pleasure. The nobility were ancient, set in their ways and too snobbish to even know what was going on outside their enclosed protectives. The galaxy was changing and the appetite for wholesale change was growing apace. Of course, the rebels would have you believe that it was the ‘Poor’ who were the supposed driving force behind the revolution, that this 70-year campaign was for the ordinary people. What rot, the poor people before the revolution are the same poor under the new regime; the only change is that some of the middle rich are now wealthy and the formerly wealthy are either dead or now, like me, forced to survive as part of the criminal underclass.

I did not learn about politics at the Academy, although I was a student at the time. I was married on my 18th birthday just before leaving for the Academy with Pynom, my Zulon
Navigator, who I had been bonding with since 1 was about 3. I left behind my arranged bride, Velda, who was 13 and who I had only just met. Arranged marriages were normal among our society then, for increasing wealth and bolstering trade or influence or both. We were connected with the Emperor’s family at great-grandfather level and Velda’s family were connected to the Empress as first cousin, which strengthened our links with the Crown Prince. I think my father was 33rd in line for enthronement, now I believe I am fourth; Lil, descended from an archduke, is in primary position for Empress, should the monarchy ever be restored.

On marriage, my new bride was only 13, which was fine for her family, but far too young for the laws on my planet. Velda was actually more than happy to delay matters, once we were sealed in the marriage bedchamber and free to discuss privately between us, that we waited to consummate our marriage until I graduated. I found myself just a few days later, light years from the world I had known all my life. All my new fellow cadets soon found themselves satisfying diversions and I was the last to hold out, finally succumbing on the last night of the first year, having discovered that due to rebel activity in the area all students were unable to go home for the holidays. The F1 hybrids, the clone army that the rebels must have been growing in secret for a quarter of a century were launched and they changed the face of space war. Prior to this point there were never any guns used in space; the convention for thousands of years were to board through airlocks near the stalk of space vessels and win control of the ship by hand-to-hand fighting with battleblades and daggers; The rebels used the F1s, who were grown in tanks as a mixture of human and vegetation tissue so they emerged already fitted with individual space armour. So the new tactics were to launch them in space around an Imperial vessel and use hand-held guns and missiles to destroy rather than capture enemy vessels. Taking officers prisoners for negotiating ransom payments suddenly became an outdated tactic and Imperial craft were being torn apart without able to put up any semblance of defence. It was a very worrying turn of events That night was when I first met Genene and fell in love for the first time.

Genene was quite old for a prostitute, quite old enough to be my grandmother, with hints of steel grey in her wispy ginger hair, but despite that, she was stunningly beautiful and I soon become obsessed with her. She was my first love and what I learned from her had guided me to this present momentous crossroad in my life.

I almost fell into her room, I was certainly pushed through by my cadet-mates. With everyone stranded onworld, it had been a busy night for all the girls and us cadets had been hitting joosale all night and I had also been downing shots of distillate for the past hour before leaving the bar. I was just with the rest of my shipmates, I hardly knew what else was going on around me.

I had been drinking fairly heavily all evening, partly due to worry about the safety of my home world and because I felt lonely.
Probably NOT to be continued! Oh, well, can’t win ’em all!

Lost inspiration?

Lost inspiration

OK, I’m not really at that point. It’s just half five in the morning and too tired to create but too tense to relax and stay in bed. 2014 is turning out to be a struggle. My father in law died suddenly on Saturday evening. My mother in law is in hospital having collapsed yesterday with all the stress. So we were up there all yesterday and need to go up again tomorrow to see the undertakers. My mother is ill with shingles and we are visiting her today. I’m unhappy at work, my relocation is a disaster.

Also, I published my latest book on Monday, my first on Amazon. I would have published it on Friday night or Saturday, but the US tax corms wouldn’t download so even though my book was uploaded and apparently passed the criteria, they wouldn’t publish it until the tax forms were available. This will probably be my last Amazon book. With everything else going on I can’t even be arsed to do the publicity that I need to do.

Anyway, on one of my Facebook groups, Writer’s Chest, someone was saying they had a contest to enter but had run out of ideas for stories. Well, I thought, I’ve got them coming out of my ears, too many to work on at once. This is a sample of my WIP and other ideas not even started yet.

Jake and Gill
“Jake and Gill” is a romance between two people who have worked in the same bank for 12 years but in different areas, she a rising star in management, he worked in the copy shop. He noticed her first, but she was married, she even brought her children into work in emergencies, who Jake happily looked after. Now Jake is a mystery, he doesn’t want to move from the copy shop even when Gill offers him a job, his department appears bullet proof even though Gill thinks the bank would make savings if they did the copying themselves rather than sub contract to Jake’s company, which appears to have a network of in-house copy shops throughout the financial and business sector. Everyone uses Jake for advice, which is why Gill is there in the first place, everyone says Jake has the answers. He does and takes Gill and her teenagers rambling, when they are not with Gill’s divorced husband, then fell walking (this is where my inspiration for the story started, Jake & Gill went up the hill), camping. Gill falls in love, but Jake doesn’t seem to respond. Circumstances lead her back to her ex-, but Jake is aware of her partner’s swindling scheme and things come to a head. About a third written novella, 10k so far, my current project.

Aunt Marina
This is my next novel, abandoned about a year ago and barely touched until tinkered with recently. About 40k written and I intend treating it like NaNoWriMo and slog out 1500 words a day for three or four weeks, then a couple of months editing. About a 49yo spinster who is perpetual aunt to her siblings’ children, who has just been made redundant. She sees her old beau on the local news, who she has not seen in 33 years. The only man she has loved, who date raped her and gave her a child who was stillborn. She wants revenge and plots to kill him. When they face each other he recognises her and takes her in, following a snow storm which strands, seems unfazed by her presence and ignores the rape. His daughter takes a shine to her and eventually confesses that she was drugged and gang-raped and pregnant and needs Aunt Marina to tell her father. Earlier, Marina had already agreed to do the same task for her niece. History seems to be repeating itself. Actually, the story is a lot more light hearted and humourous than the skeletal outlines seem to indicate!

The Tunnel
This is my vampire/werewolf genre story, another novella, about a quarter written, 6k so far. An ancient race, rather like the Neanderthals, have lived at the same spot for 20000 years, intermarrying with the humans, waiting in case a buried alien ship should ever break free. The race and aliens share a symbiotic relationship, basically as slaves to bring prey to the aliens. Their presence, plus the appearance of the moon, triggers a reaction and the Neanderthals become werewolves. Centuries ago the slaves rebelled and the aliens retreated to their ship to sleep until erosion exposes the ship again and the vampires can rise. The werewolves wait, their genes enabling their descendants to become the antidote to the infestation. But have they become too diluted? Now the building of the road tunnel through the hill which was thrown up during the ship’s impact, next to the entry crater, begins to stir the aliens and people working in the tunnel start to disappear…. Essentially a love story between two people who are attracted to one another but he is committed to the task of protecting humanity and she has obligations to her family to marry someone dorm her own station.

Breeze
Another genre departure for me. This is a YA fantasy about spirits, Mother Earth, mythology, gods and immortals. Basically about a child born of an illicit union between the daughter of the supreme leader of the pantheon of gods and our very own sun. Evil is at work too, to grab the child for their own nefarious motives, but in the battle she is lost. Rescued by a childless human couple, they adopt her. Followers of ancient religions recognise the child for what rather than who she is and take steps to hide her in plain sight, using their influence to legalise her human birth. Set in the West Country on the edge of Dartmoor, and full of great characters, like little Eddie, a lost wind sprite with ambitions to become a hurricane, Old Mother Mars whom Mother Earth tolerates living in semi-retirement, Toby a Londoner from a deprived background who is about Breeze’s age, Will o’ The Wisp, an agent of the Dark Lord who causes mischief and threatens to expose her, a demented headmaster, a female curate who is also an adherent of the occult and therefore a friend, plus a cast of other characters. I feel very positive about this theme but need to come up with more stories as at the moment I just have a lot of disjointed interludes plus a beginning and an end. It’s the middle bit that is bothering me at the moment. About 30k written.

Santa’s Gloves and I Dream of Santa
Are two Christmas short stories which I need to do for later in the year. The first is about a pair of magic gloves that gives the wearer, who inherited them from his estranged father, seven years of good luck, abilities to make or repair anything and enable him to know how nice people really are. However, an evil wizard who pretended to be one of Santa’s elves for centuries waiting for the chance to steal the gloves, wants them back.

In the other story a single girl in her late twenties has dreamed of Santa every year, so vividly she could almost touch him. He seemed to be appearing earlier and earlier each year but this was the final straw, on the last night of November! Then she realises that she first saw him on Christmas Eve 25 years ago when she was only 3, is it possible that there is a pattern to this and, if so, what does it mean? On her way home to her parents for Christmas, she breaks down in the middle of nowhere and the tow-truck driver seems awfully familiar….

Hitch
This another novel started and stuttered about 12k in. Involves a grizzled old Traffic Officer who picks up a sweet young Portuguese day nurse in a country lane and drops her off at the mansion where she looks after the child of a heavily pregnant housewife. He looks out for her every morning and gives her a lift, for no other reason than to protect her from an accident. Then one day she is upset, the rich owner is forcing her to have sex and finds she has missed her period. She tells him he has done this with other nurses who have left. She has been unable to leave as he holds some power over her. Angry, the Officer storms into the house to “sort him out”. Unbeknown to him, the heavily pregnant wife is the daughter of a Cabinet Minister who has received threats both to him and his family; therefore she is armed and when this huge man enters her bedroom and starts beating up her husband, resorts to emptying the contents of a revolver into him. Badly injured and with the girl doing a runner (she is Brazilian and working with forged papers), everyone believes he and the girl were either part of a larger plot or are lovers. He is tried and sent to prison and his wife divorces him. After the trial, the meat wagon taking him to the Isle of Wight crashes and he escapes. He works in a cafe for a while and gets the idea for revenge and getting his life back. Still awaiting ideas for that middle section. I have the ending though, well two endings, just not sure which way to go.

The Extra
This is a romance of which I’ve only written 4000 words. Set in a British TV soap “High Street”, where a middle age extra cum stage hand slowly but steadily (also somewhat reluctantly) falls in love with one of the stars, who has been on the show since she was a child. He had previously worked as an extra on a long-running soap in LA, before coming back to England after an explosive incident with an actor who was his actress wife’s lover. Among minor movie walk-ons, he appears for a very short run as an extra in the “High Street” show, but becomes very friendly with a carpenter and joiner who sets scenes in a furniture store around which much of the show revolves. The Extra started out as a cabinet maker before catching the film bug. The girl has just returned to the show after a sabbatical on her first Hollywood feature film. Coincidently, with the actor who was once the Extra’s wife’s lover. The Extra meets her in hospital visiting his furniture-making friend who is out of action for a few weeks and the Extra is the only one who can fill in for him. Only once on the set does the realise the girl he was attracted to in spite of himself isn’t the set dresser that he assumed she was but the biggest star on the show who is about to be given a major role with an on-screen romance with the son on the furniture store boss. All the fans of the show are expecting a Christmas wedding at least. Now his new girlfriend has to play love scenes on the show with an actor who boasts he always beds his leading ladies. This is too much like deja vu for the Extra. Also, out of the blue, his daughter, who is a similar age to the girlfriend, shows up from LA to complicate matters.

Planetfall
My futuristic sci-fi adventure, where a freed political prisoner is forced to guide a set of criminals to a hidden treasury. The ex-prisoner, once son of a duke, was trained to mind-merge with an alien species which enables worm holes to be created, essential for space travel. This is an art which was almost lost in the rebel revolution which destroyed the ruling classes that controlled trade. The rebels had embedded programmed consorts among the rulers as concubines, consorts or even Duchesses where they could, who could be triggered to kill off the heads of state simultaneously across the universe. Now the known universe is broken up into fiefdoms of petty warlords. Also on board is the financial backer of the venture, Selina, a professional consort, whose clients are mainly warlords. She wants to break free of what is in effect a form of slavery. Unbeknown to her partners in crime, she is the half-sister of the Duke’s son, daughter of the assassin who slaughtered his father, mother and siblings and also a legitimate daughter of the Emperor. While rebels broke the resistance of the titled classes, they could not hold the empire together as warlords quarrelled.
The ex-prisoner, the duke’s son, in turn had killed Selina’s mother, too late though to save his family or himself from penal servitude. He only survived because the planet’s treasury was empty and it was hoped the son would break and tell his new lord its whereabouts. But further rebellions ousted the new lord and eventually the duke’s son was lost in the penal system until Selina found him.
Once the treasury is found, though, will come the reckoning, the criminals will want to kill both Selina and the prisoner, although they do not know of her assassin training. Then she wants revenge for the prisoner killing her mother, and she has been trained from birth to be both consort and killer. She hopes the treasury will fund an uprising by loyalists and, as the old Emperor’s only surviving daughter, become Empress. The prisoner just wants to survive.

Porterhouse Pete
14k written so far about a not-very-bright night-club bouncer who ends up in hospital on Christmas Eve. Homeless, under threat of spending Christmas in the cells, the emergency doctor, new to the area, takes him home, just until the holidays are over, ignoring the warnings from people who know his reputation. That same night, his former girlfriend, a well-known celebrity comes home from Paris having caught her director husband in bed with another man. Next morning, Christmas Day, the doctor persuades Pete to take a present round to his daughter. Also he starts to work improving her rambling rundown house, which was once the old Porterhouse Restaurant, which Pete’s father used to run. On the beach that day Pete meets his girlfriend’s mother who invites Pete, his daughter, the daughter’s mother and the doctor for tea. Then the press arrive on a tip off.

Unfinished Business
A retired hooker, Shamirah, returns to her old still-unsold flat do one last trick for an old client, one who she declares to Max is special to her, and not seen for five years. Max, her long-term bodyguard, has loved her unreservedly, is incensed by her decision and declares to himself that this is his last time, he has finished with this business. She is also in love with her bodyguard, too but believes he could not possibly love her as he is an honourable man. She does not love the client but, unbeknown to him, he is the father of her teenage daughter and she feels there is unfinished business with him; should she tell him or not? Should she tell her daughter, even allow them to meet? She is not aware that her client is a British secret agent, licensed to kill, recently released from a foreign prison. He is still undergoing debrief but knows because of his extreme psychopathic profile he will be retired at the end of it, thereby revoking his license. He has always killed his former lovers, due to his tortured mind requiring closure, so with Shamirah he also has unfinished business. Meanwhile, her husband, who mistreated her years earlier and used her as a sex incentive for business purposes, has finally managed to track her down…. Written as a 2-act play, only the first scene written so far.

Other story ideas

“Tin Church” (a radio play of 30 mins’ duration) 1100 words so far about a near death experience near an old tin church, where an angry feckless youth in company with his mature and settled brother, meets his dead parents, at the ghostly wedding of his middle sister, who died as a child; all as ghosts, leaving him recovering from an electric shock. The experience alters his perception of abandonment and leaves him more confident and equipped to take on the responsibilities thrust upon him.

“Time Waits” 700 words so far. A time travel courier loses his party in the past and is sucked back to the present to find the industry closed down by the government. The party consisted of a history professor doing research, with his daughter along as assistant. The courier needs to break the law to get back in time to rescue them as he realises he is in love with the Prof’s daughter. He can only make a one-way trip due to the travel mechanism in the midst of being destroyed. However, he finds when he gets there that he is his own ancestor and has only months to live in that time. How can he avoid this impossible reoccurring cycle through his child and bring his lover back to the present so they can share their lives together without knowing every moment of their future history?

“Barry the Biter”, 400 word outline. Vampires have to start somewhere and Barry the baby bites everyone as soon as he starts teething and his mother has trouble getting him to react differently when angered, as that urge is always there. At puberty, though, the urge to bite takes on an edge that frightens even Barry, forcing him to avoid relationships, making him touchy and reclusive. A comedy, not to be taken too seriously.

“You are toast” – a poem that has 7 verses of 3 lines so far. I have sketched a toast of a piece of toast with an unhappy face on it for the cover

“On the beach”, two bikinied ex-call girls meet on an exclusive beach. Each boast how well they have married rich handsome husbands since retiring, and about where they live, holiday and how close their luxury yachts are moored. Both appear to have buried their past, and believe their husbands thought their wives wholesome businesswomen. Happiness all around until their husbands come back to meet them….

“Pearl and Dean” 500 words. Pearl is an internationally famous wildlife photographer, but is also a total bitch. She relies heavily on assistant Dean, who books the hotels, flights, transport, looks after her cameras, sets up the hides and shoots, even develops and retouched all the shots while she parties. That is until the day he decides he has had enough and resigns to set up his own company.

“Sticks and Stones”, Mary McCarthy’s a mess. Running away from her abusive husband, she finds her credit cards blocked and no money. Her best friend is entertainment manager, compere and DJ who has just taken a gig on a cruise ship about to take a two-week trip around GB, wangles Mary passage as her assistant. It is early in the season and prices are cheap. Mary is a shy girl in her late twenties, painfully thin and feeling sorry for herself. On the same cruise is a comic double act of Rocky Jones and Allan Shaw, together known as Rocky Shaw. This cruise is the only gig desperate enough to take them. Allan is the funny man, Rocky the fall guy who feeds him the lines; they’ve never been on a cruise before. First night out, in the middle of a storm, Allan is chronically sea-sick and can’t go on, Rocky is stuck and has nowhere to stay. Mary is roped in to team up as a duo, both realise they knew each other at school where they hated each other…. (Just an outline at the moment)

“BYLINE”, Junior reporter Arthur Bennett has set his heart on Maggie Allum, the publishers’ daughter on a local newspaper. She is a reporter, Art is a sports photographer turned reporter. She does all the big stories, Art is a correspondent, does all the mundane clubs, councils, magistrates proceedings, doesn’t even get a byline. Hopes he is making progress with Maggie until a flash new editor arrives from a city newspaper and impresses Maggie. Art accepts he has lost Maggie until he sees the editor out with another woman. Now how does the snoop use his scoop?…

“What tangled webs we weave”, a complicated potential novel, with sex, intrigue, murder, bribery and corruption. Peninsula Coastal town. Railway spur closed in 1957 and town died as a resort since. Enthusiasts, including narrator, have been restoring line, a few engines and rolling stock for 30 years and a new entrepreneur provides funds to reconnect with mainline and bring steam excursions to town. The entrepreneur is in partnership with owner of the main old fashioned hotel, whose father recently died, saddling her with death duties and in need of a partner who will fund a refurb. Her ex-husband owns a ships chandlers business, having given up his Marina and half his 50% stake in a web design studio in settlement, to hold onto the family business. The hotel owner wants to publicise the refurb and contacts her ex-sister-in-law, a publicity agent, to do the job. Naturally the new website with online booking will be designed by her ex- and his partner (poss woman, not decided yet). Narrator is publicity agent’s boyfriend, who is a graphic designer at the web studio, who is in charge of the project as neither partner want to be involved. The ships chandlers burns down, arson suspected, and a new chandlers opens at the old Marina the same week, owned by the entrepreneur ‘so as not to inconvenience our members’, part of new complex along with café, restaurant, night spot, tourist shop, etc.

“Jogging Memories” UK version

My new novel “Jogging Memories” just published today.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jogging-Memories-Tony-Spencer-ebook/dp/B00I8DV35W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391518572&sr=8-1&keywords=Jogging+memories

This story is a gentle look at a family romantic drama after a man wakes up in hospital having “lost” the last 32 years of his memory, and the implications this has for his family. This is my 20th book and hopefully has my customary light touch throughout, dealing with first love, new and long-standing relationships.

It was written during November 2013 as part of the NaNoWriMo project. I had to do something in November, I already had a ‘tashe’!

A little taster from my new novel, “Jogging Memories”

This is a short extract from my forthcoming novel due to publish through Smashwords by the end of January. I should have ARC copies ready, in PDF format, next week. Let me know if you would like to receive a free copy.

“JJ, if you’re not down here in exactly two minutes, I’m feeding your breakfast to the dog!”

Jennifer Morris shouted up the stairs for the third time this morning. Her 16-year-old daughter didn’t have school today, they were not due back following half-term until Monday, but Friday always was Jennifer’s cleaning day and, come hell or high water, she wanted all the kids out of her hair for the rest of the day.

Eldest boy Tom, 18, was not only already up but out the door, his girlfriend’s family had picked him up outside the house early. He seemed to get on quite well with them, which amazed Jennifer, as he was so prickly and truculent at home and didn’t seem to get on with anybody at all. He even bickered with his girlfriend all the time. How he managed to get Suzannah pregnant had been a shock in more ways than one. Tigger, at 14 the youngest, as per usual, kept to himself at home most of the time and had gone out half an hour ago after eating two bowls of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes and used up a complete pint of milk.

“Now, JJ!” Jennifer tried, finally. After a couple of seconds she could hear one of the bedroom doors open and the bathroom door slam shut, bringing the first smile of the day to her lips.

Today was not only cleaning day, so she preferred an empty house, but she had an unpleasant task to do. Jennifer had been chased up yesterday by Bob’s boss, wanting to know how he was faring after his accident at work. At least that had answered one question in her mind. So, it looked like he hadn’t known about her affair with Richard in advance, it was just bad luck and an accident that had sent him home early to catch the pair of them out. Bob must have as much surprised as Richard and she has been.

What a mess! And they had been so, so very careful up to that point. Damn! It meant nothing, the affair, even now that he knew about it. There was never meant to be anything to it other than a little bit of fun.

Now it was serious, though, and was becoming more so. Bob had punched Richard to the ground and had then run away. And Jennifer had watched the horrifying sequence happen in front of her like it was a movie clip. When it was over, instead of chasing after her husband, the man she loved, she bent down to tend to Richard.

What did that tell her about herself? She didn’t love Richard any more than he loved her. For both of them it was just a little bit of extra on the side. That’s all it was, just recreational sex. As a lover, Richard wasn’t even anything to write home about particularly. He wasn’t noticeably bigger, certainly not the legend that black men are supposed to be. He wasn’t gentle or loving or caring either. Bob was all of those things and more but clearly something must have been lacking in her marriage for her to do this to him. Jennifer had even been putting Bob off from having sex for a couple of months now, since shortly after the affair began, and Jen thought perhaps he had suspected something and therefore contrived to catch them in the act. Mind you, Bob seemed to have gone off her too recently and certainly didn’t complain about being rationed. He was too wrapped up in his jogging, improving his times, talking about going in for his first marathon, at his age.

“OK Mum, I’m down,” JJ’s arrival and truculent announcement interrupted Jennifer’s unpleasant thoughts, “Even though we’ve never even had a dog.”

Her daughter was dressed in jeans with ripped holes in the knees, and a voluminous chunky sweater against the chill wind outside. She wore no make-up, her curly hair was all over the place and she had brought down with her that disreputable old denim jacket that she seemed to have been wearing on a daily basis for at least the last three years now.

Not for the first time Jennifer thought it was such a shame. If her daughter made an effort JJ could be very pretty. She was slim, petite and shapely, yet wore clothes that covered her up completely. Jennifer couldn’t remember the last time she saw JJ wear a dress, yet she looked stunning in swimwear at the weekly ladies’ only sessions down at the local pool, which showed she was supremely fit.

“I don’t know what the eggs are like, JJ, after all this time,” Jennifer said over her shoulder as she shovelled the contents of the frying pan out onto a warmed plate, “They’re probably as hard as rocks.”

“No matter, Mother,” JJ said as she shook tomato ketchup all over the breakfast.

“Where are you off to today?”

“I’ll meet up with Shazza at the shops, hang about at the arcade. I dunno, things.”

Jennifer could imagine the smart-looking Sharron would love window shopping. It didn’t seem to be JJ’s cup of tea at all.

“Well, make sure you’re back by half past five, I’ll have dinner ready at six and I need you to lay the table.”

“Will Dad be home by then?” JJ asked, with what Jennifer thought was a barbed tone to her voice. Everything about JJ was barbed recently. Teenage girls, Jennifer thought; OK, my teenage girl, while the boys were really no trouble at all.

“I don’t know, sweetheart, I hope so.”

“What have you done to him now, Mum?” JJ accused with slitted eyes, over a forkful of congealing baked beans.

“What do you mean?”

“Come off it, Ma, when did Dad last go on a residential course, for crying out loud?” she sniffed, “You must have done something. Don’t you think it’s about time you said sorry to Dad?”

“What do you mean, sorry?”

“You know, I know, everybody knows.” JJ’s mouth was full as she ate a mixture of eggs, toast and beans, “Probably, even Dad knows.”

“Knows what?”

“Knows what you get up to. Did he finally catch you up to something you shouldn’t have been while we were all away for the weekend?” she accused.

“I don’t know how you can even think a thing like that, your Dad and I-”

“Yeah, like you and Dad are all over each other all the time, Mother!” JJ spat. “It looks to me like he’s finally moved out and onto pastures new.”

“What, have you heard any word from your father?” Jennifer’s face was ashen.

“Nada, nothing. He’s been disappearing deeper into his shell for the last couple of years, and so have the boys. While you on the other hand – well, you are completely out of your gourd!”

“How dare you, Madam! You’re not too big to put across my knee, young lady!”

“Yeah, like you can take the high moral ground, Mother!”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Meaning that you are a dirty skank and everyone knows it. Us kids are like totally ashamed of you and it was about time that Dad-”

Jennifer reached across and smacked JJ hard across the cheek, splattering tomato sauce and egg across the kitchen. Both stood in shocked silence, JJ that her mother could do such a thing and Jennifer that she actually did so.

“JJ, I’m so sorry!” Jennifer gasped.

“Don’t worry about it, Mother,” blinking back the tears she knew would start to roll any moment and didn’t want to give her mother the satisfaction of seeing them.

JJ stood up, grabbed her denim jacket from the back of the chair and stormed out of the kitchen, with the parting words over her shoulders, “When Dad gets back I hope it’s only to collect me, so I can go live with him, because I don’t want to live with you one moment longer than I have to!”

Jen looked at the slammed kitchen door for a couple of minutes before sitting down, putting her head in her hands and sobbing uncontrollably.

The One

A re-working of a short story first published in 2012.

THE ONE

“Alan? Alan Palmer?”

I was miles away daydreaming over a cup of coffee in the hotel lounge, I guess. I had just closed my laptop and was thinking about my wife of twelve years, the mother of my three children, making love upstairs in her lover’s usual room, early afternoon on a Wednesday. Same ole, same ole, apparently. I found it difficult to think of anything else.

My ears pricked up at the sound of my name and I slowly reacted and turned my head to the speaker. She was tall and slim, an attractive redhead, with a rather hesitant smile on her flawless face.

I didn’t recognise her and looked her over, down and up again. She was dressed in a crisp sleek blue pin-striped business suit which emphasised the nicest pair of knees and legs I had seen in a long while. Both her hands were occupied with a smart thin briefcase and an expensive-looking black leather handbag. I think I smiled back at her, more in embarrassment than welcome, while desperately trying to place her face from recent acquaintances, former work colleagues, wives of friends, mums from the school run or customers of the gym I had recently joined. I knew for certain that she’d look better than good in running shorts, without a doubt.

No, nothing, complete blank, didn’t know her from Eve. She apparently knew me, that much was obvious. Perhaps she was a messenger from the solicitors who had been shown my photo?

“Sorry?” I said dumbly.

There was something intangibly familiar about her, but it completely escaped me. I tried to work out where I might have seen her before. I guessed her age was about 35 or 36, some ten to twelve years younger than me. I lost all my hair long ago and have shaved my head for about ten years now, so she must have known me from somewhen in the last decade.

I suppose my eyes were still moist from seeing and thinking about my wife and it was almost impossible to get this stranger’s face fully in focus through my tears. That’s my excuse, anyway. One thing I was certain of, she was a class act, well out of my league. Damn it, at my age, looks and current circumstances, they all were.

Her bright smile froze at my lack of recognition and her face rapidly took on the aspect of a frown. Her mouth pouted and she looked, well, hurt. That was crazy. Nobody looked hurt around me; upset, angry, frustrated, pissed-off, especially disappointed, but never hurt. After all I was the number one stupid dolt of all time. Who cared what I thought? Where was my life at anyway? My lovely bitch of a wife, who was ten years younger than me, was a successful editor of a high-circulation women’s magazine and I had sacrificed my career to be a stay-at-home husband and … this was a laugh on me … I was reduced to the role of being a caring father to my two sons aged eleven and three and daughter age seven. Meanwhile my wife had been running around with her boss at work, well … presumably for years. My children’s recent DNA tests showed that I wasn’t even remotely related to any one of them; I had lost the few good looks I may have started out with and my body had run to fat and I was now at the lowest ebb of self confidence ever. I’d never been even vaguely self-confident to begin with. I even doubted my sanity, nothing was going right for me and I was as miserable as sin.

Even knowing what I had to do and what I had already set in train hardly empowered me, my actions only confirmed how completely clueless and hopeless I had been. I was only sitting in the coffee lounge of this smart hotel watching the lift doors and waiting for my wife and lover to emerge before confronting them both. However, short of killing them I was pretty well powerless to do anything about their affair other than end my involvement in her life.

Now on top of all I was having to contend with, there was this beautiful redhead virtually snarling at me because I couldn’t remember who the hell she was.

So I scowled back at her. Who was she to be critical of my underdeveloped cognitive skills? Didn’t she know I’d had a lot on my plate of late and had had it up to the top of my scrawny neck?

She set her jaw squarely, leaned into me and punched me quite hard in the chest, bared her perfect white teeth and said in a low bit penetrative voice:

“Just cos you dumped me as your girlfriend twenty years ago, doesn’t mean you can treat me like a complete stranger after all this time. We lived together for five years for crying out loud! You once even asked me to marry you! You. Complete. Arsehole!” She jabbed my bruised chest with a pointed finger to emphasise each of the last three words.

Then she threw herself into a padded leather chair opposite me, slung her briefcase and handbag to the side of the table between us, rattling my empty coffee cup in its saucer, and continued to glare at me. Waiting. With folded arms. Continued waiting while my tortured mind ran through my remembered images of … of her. None of them matched, not really.

“Lesley?” I enquired, not believing it possible even for a moment. “Lesley … Collins?”

“Who did you think I was, Florence bloody Nightingale?” she snapped.

“But, you can’t be,” I spluttered, “You, you are young and … and … beautiful.”

Her frown softened and her once-oh-so-familiar brilliant smile returned to stab me in the heart, immediately under my fresh bruises. I didn’t think my pain could get any worse than it already was but it did. I really, really truthfully didn’t need this. Please, God, I never ask for anything as You well know, but don’t let me have my two worst nightmares together at the same time.

“Lesley, my God! I cannot believe it” I continued, putting in as much effort as my weak knees could muster by getting up out of that deep leather chair and pulling her up from hers to hug her tightly. I daren’t kiss her, I had already noticed the wedding band and huge-rocked engagement or eternity ring on her left hand. You couldn’t miss them.

“Wow! Muscles,” she said approvingly, her arms running over my shoulders and upper arms as we separated. “Been working out, Alan? I’m impressed.”

I must have gone bright red, my face certainly felt very hot. I jabbered back, “Been going down the new suite at the school gym five mornings a week for a month, now,” I explained, “I got a week’s free trial as an introductory offer, enjoyed focussing my anger on the machinery and punchbag down there so much that I signed on for six months about three weeks ago. I still haven’t got any abs to speak of yet, though!” I grinned stupidly.

Oh dear, I thought. When I’m nervous a talk a lot of rubbish. Stick around, you’ll get used to me.

We both sat down, holding hands across the table. Damn, I thought as I inadvertently ran my thumb over her diamond ring, it was absolutely huge. It made the yellow-tinged diamond-chip ring I had bought for her, and lost a fortune over when I sold it back to the jewellers, look absolutely pathetic on comparison. I moved my thumb away and stroked the knuckles of her index and middle fingers instead.

“Anyway,” I added as brightly as my tortured ego could manage, maintaining my first smile today since dropping Nat off at the play school and greeting my fellow friendly house-fraus, “What happened to you? You must have lost fifty pounds since I saw you last, you look absolutely amazing and … no wonder I never recognised you … you are no longer blond!”

She laughed. “I only looked blond, thanks to bleach, back then. I have light mousey brown hair and I now prefer this dark redhead look. I changed it and joined a gym, funnily enough, just after you bloody well dumped me.”

“I never dumped you,” I protested, “You dumped me after I asked you to marry me.”

I remembered it only too clearly, I’d had nightmares about it for years afterwards. Five years and two bloody months together and she turned me down flat and admitted wanting to see other men. … Men, not Another Man or just Somebody Else, but Men, plural.

God! I am so pathetic! Always in love with the wrong bloody woman at the wrong bloody time. No, make that every bloody woman I’ve ever loved, every bloody time!

We let go of each other’s hands and returned to glaring at one another again. I think we both clenched fists. I know I did. I couldn’t see her hands, I was rigidly maintaining eye contact, like I imagined I would when faced with a rearing, spitting cobra.

“I never dumped you,” she insisted, then continued, in a more considered tone of voice. “I just said that we should see other people before we got married, and then I never saw you again … until now.”

Her steely grey-blue eyes blazed as she spat those last few words back at me. Her new hair colour suited her, she was certainly fiery and I was clearly not in her good books, probably never had been. To be honest, I didn’t have any positive entry in anyone’s book right now. Only my kids loved me and they weren’t even my kids, I had recently discovered.

Hang on a minute, it occurred to me, she’s actually trying to wriggle out of dumping me, to justify her cruel actions all those years ago. Does she still think I’m a bloody wimp? Well she’s picked the wrong sodding day for that!

“No, that’s not right,” I asserted, firmly, struggling to keep my temper and my voice at an even level while I explained the situation we had been in half a bloody lifetime ago, “When you turned down my marriage proposal it was because you said you weren’t sure if I was ‘the one’ …”.

Yes, I did gesture little bunny ears with the index and middle fingers of both hands as I said it. I couldn’t help myself, alright?

I continued “… and you said you wanted to try other partners to see if you could find him. It clearly wasn’t me because you said, while I was still on my bended bloody knee in front of everyone in that swanky restaurant staring at us, that you ‘would know him when you found him’ …”

Bunny ears again, I’m so pathologically predictable.

“… We had shared a flat for five years and nearly two months for Christ’s sake so I was clearly not ‘the one’, was I? I loved you enough to commit my life to you and then you basically admitted that you never really loved me at all. I wasted those five years and more. Well, I hope you finally found ‘the one’ in the end.”

I even surprised myself that I got all that out without interruption from her. I think Lesley was stunned. It took a long moment of staring at me round-eyed, her lips attempting to form a circle while preventing her jaw hitting the table, before she replied, quite quietly.

“Yes, I think I did, eventually. Did you?”

“Not really. I settled.” I was still seething.

“But you are wrong, so wrong Alan, I did love you, I was just mixed up and confused back then. I was thinking about you all the time at work the next day and when I got home desperate to see you so we could make up, you had moved out, leaving your empty drawers open, and disappeared. I was devastated, I was going to ask you to ask me again to marry you but you had vanished. And I never saw or heard from you again. Who does that after five years and two months together? Where did you go?”

“It didn’t sound to me like you were mixed up or confused, I snapped back, still full of anger. “You very clearly said ‘no’, and then went on and on about wanting to see other people. You explained how you were a virgin when we met and therefore you felt you needed to check out other men.”

“I didn’t use those exact-”

I interjected, in full flow, “You mentioned getting more experience, probably to check if I was up to the bloody mark or something. You actually said you had been thinking about it for some time and hadn’t found the right time to bring it up. Until that bloody night in the restaurant when I was on my bended knee offering you a ring that cost the best part of a month’s wages, that is.”

“Well, being asked to make a decision about my future at that moment, when I had been seriously thinking about our relationship for a couple of months. At that moment it certainly had the effect of concentrating my mind.” She looked away at her hands, breaking eye contact with me for a moment. She looked up again. “On our fifth anniversary of being together I thought you were going to pop the question then-”

“I couldn’t,” I interrupted.

“Let me finish,” Lesley bounced back. “I expected it and was going to say yes. But you never did. We went out for the whole day, to the zoo, with a picnic. We cuddled on the grass on that blanket and held hands all day long. We made love as soon as we got back. We didn’t even make it to the bedroom, the floor of the landing was as far as we got, our clothes scattered all over the hall and stairs. We made love twice more once we got to the bed and again Sunday morning. It was a wonderful day and night and you never bloody asked me to marry you, you bastard!”

“I was still saving up for the ring,” I pleaded in mitigation, “It cost me an arm and a leg. I couldn’t get any more credit as I was maxed out and it took me four months before I had enough money together, which was twice as long as I hoped it would take. I even got your sister to find out your ring size so it would fit. I couldn’t ask you to marry me without the ring, could I?”

“What a mess,” she said, reaching out and holding my hands again. “I was broken-hearted when you left. I took the morning off work a couple of days later and went to where you worked.”

“I wasn’t there any more.”

“I know. They said you left the day before and didn’t leave any notice or forwarding address or anything. Your P45 turned up in the post about six weeks later. I tried your mum that first evening but she wouldn’t speak to me, called me a heartless bitch and said I’d broken your heart and you’d moved away.”

The lift dinged and I looked past Lesley but it was only a couple of strangers and a teenage girl wearing garish stripy tights. I thought about looking at the laptop again to see if they were finished, or in the shower, or still … well, still bloody well at it, but I couldn’t bring myself to, even if Lesley hadn’t been there. Some images were burned forever into my skull and I didn’t want to reinforce any one of them. The solicitor could access the feed that the private investigator had installed and she was getting paid well to deal with it. I just wanted it all over and done with. Lesley was a complication I could have done without.

A waitress, who appeared to have been hovering, considering the interchange between the pair of us, saw me look up and took a hesitant step towards me. She was quite pretty, I noticed, perhaps it was a sign I was getting over Natalie already. Fat chance of that in a hurry. I nodded to her and lifted my empty cup, the waitress came over.

The single word “Rosamund” announced her name plate. A pretty name for a pretty girl, I thought, it fitted the classy hotel somehow, which my wife and her lover upstairs certainly didn’t.

“Would you like a coffee, Lesley?” I asked, “It’s very good, here.”

“Yes, please, that’s what I came over here for, actually.” She turned to the waitress and smiled. “Large latte, please.”

“I’ll have another large black filter, thank you,” I ordered, attempting a wan smile. Rosamund smiled at me in return and glided away with my empty cup. I made a mental note to leave her a tip.

“Scotland,” I said.

“Scotland?”

“Edinburgh for a month, then eighteen months in Glasgow, then onto London for a couple or three years, coming home here about 15 years ago. The answer to your question ‘Where did you go?'”

“I followed you to Edinburgh after your P45 turned up. Firstly, I went back to your company based here and spoke to your mate, the other copy writer in your office, Peter or Paul or something?”

“Paul Metcalfe, that pussy hound, he was never a friend of mine.”

“No, he wasn’t!” Lesley snorted, “He made me go out with him twice before he would give me any info.”

“Bastard!” I snarled, even after twenty years, it still rankled.

I guess some things you never get over. Did he succeed with Lesley? Did I really want to know? Yes, bugger it, I did. But I would never ask. No definitely never ask. Never in a million … Lesley interrupted my thoughts.

“Yes, he was a right bastard, he kept trying to get into my knickers….” Lesley hesitated and then she smiled as if recalling some magical memory.

Bugger, bugger, bugger, did he? Did that smarmy shitface bastard nail my girl, all right my ex-girl who I still cared so bloody much about that it hurt. My thoughts screamed in my head while I did everything I could to keep my poker face on. Lesley didn’t seem to notice, she just kept rabbeting on.

“I had to knee him in the bollocks in that wine bar that used to be in Church Lane, that’s now the specialist pork butchers. Lovely sausages they do in there. Then he told me you had gone to their Edinburgh office to work off your notice.”

Yes! Re-bloody-sult! Arsehole gets his knackers crushed, good old Lesley, never been more proud of her.

OK, even if she never physically kicked me in the balls, there with my knee resting on the ground and my legs spread apart in that restaurant, it had always felt that she had. I still had the bruises, at least Paul’s pain was over in a matter of minutes, I was still walking funny twenty years on. I had even hated Lesley for a while. Would you believe it? There, the love of my life and I think for a few short moments in time I actually stopped loving her and went the other way?

Lesley still kept talking over my stumbling thoughts. Do all women’s mouths come fitted with Duracells, or only the ones I know?

“By the time I got to Edinburgh they repeated the story that you were only there working out your month’s notice and then you were off. I had a long talk with Justine. I think she fancied you so I suppose she opened up to me to find out from me more about your story. She said that nobody could get through to you in that month, even though they tried everything to get you to stay, and then you were gone. She had kept some of your best slogans and advertisement blurbs. She showed me them, stuck in a scrapbook.”

“Nice lass, Justine, talented graphic artist,” I recalled.

“Justine thought you were special, definitely very special. Disappointed that you were completely impervious to her obvious charms. Well, charming if you don’t mind big chested girls who talk with a funny accent. Then your trail went cold. I tried your professional organisation, but they were prevented from giving me any info. I even tried your mum again but she still refused to speak to me. What happened to you Alan?”

“I drifted around, worked as hard as I could, still trying to get my stuff published. Worked freelance for a couple of ad agencies in Glasgow, then London. Did some checking copy work for magazine and book publishers for a while and then came home, got married, had a bunch of kids and here I am.”

“Wow!” she said, “that was a quick round up of your life!”

Nothing much to say, on my part. I was still looking up at the banks of lift doors, waiting for my wife and her significant other. So Lesley started up talking again to fill the silence.

“So, I’ve already told you that I went out dating after about six weeks, but that was only to try and track you down, not try other men, you know? And I know you fended off the black-haired, green-eyed top-heavy beauty that was Justine,” she said, coyly, “How long was it before you went out dating again?”

Damn! What was she trying to do to me? Is she trying to crush me every time she sees me? I sighed audibly, my shoulders sank. I suddenly realised I had been trying to maintain a pose of shoulders back, chest out, stomach in. Why? I wasn’t interested in attracting Lesley; twice bitten and all that. She certainly wasn’t interested in me. So why do we males adopt poses like that?

I haven’t seen this woman in twenty years. Once the girl of my dreams, she virtually squeezed every breath of life out of me. Not content with that, she wanted to heel me under the earth, to erase my very existence, to snuff out my actual essence. What the hell did I ever do to her other than worship the very ground she walked on?

“Thirty-nine months.” I said very quietly.

“What?” Lesley leaned forward, conspiratorially.

I replied, “Three years, three months and about ten days or so.”

That shut her up. At bloody last, fifteen-forty new balls please, I stopped the rot in my service game. Studying her face, she looked amazing, she was never 45 years old, she must bathe her skin in virgin ice crystals flown in daily from Mont Blanc; she was eleven out of ten, off the scale, simply beautiful. I could sense some cogs moving somewhere in her head, though.

“Before dating or before sex?”

“Both, same night,” I said, “Well, after midnight actually, the second one of the two.”

“Wow! I was going to boast how long I waited, but I don’t think I will now.”

“That’s just acting like kids isn’t it? Like I showed you mine, you should at least flash me yours.” It didn’t look like she was going to answer. Ice Queen, I was right about the Mont Blanc ice, only she sat on a block of it rather than splash it on her physog.

“OK, then, another tack, when did you start seeing your husband?” Gotcha!

“Oh, do we have to do this?” she whined, “We are too old and there’s been too much water under the bridge for all this. Can’t we just kiss cheeks and make out that we are old friends again and part on good terms, probably never to see each other ever again?”

“Wriggle, wriggle, wriggle. You prevaricated in the restaurant twenty years ago, you are hedging your response in this coffee shop now. When we meet again, as two old pensioners, can we meet up in the launderette so I can at least sort out my week’s washing while you prance round the mulberry bush one more time?”

“Alright, alright. I’ll tell you.” Lesley looked upwards, either for inspiration, or divine intervention. “Give me strength.”

She looked at me directly, her eyes seemed softer, even prettier than they ever had.

“I thought you’d be back next day,” she said softly, “Then after the weekend maybe, almost certainly a week later. No-one was admitting they knew where you were. I realised that our friends were my friends, you didn’t seem to have any of your own that I was aware of. It appeared as though your whole world was … me. I never realised how much I had hurt you, hurt us, killed our relationship.”

She grabbed my right hand in both of hers and squeezed, as hard as Natalie had when David was born. A single tear formed in each eye and slowly rolled down her cheeks. I lifted my left hand and cupped her right cheek, which was soft as a child’s and smooth as alabaster, wiping the tear away with my thumb. Then I wiped her left cheek with a gentle upward stroke of the back of my hand. She smiled sweetly and continued.

“So I gave it a month, that was long enough to pay me back for my treatment of you, wasn’t it? But no show. Then four months and your birthday, I sent you a card and a long letter and some flowers to your Mum’s address. Then I sent Christmas cards to you both. You didn’t send me one, nor did your mother, nor would she answer the phone and slammed the door in my face when I went round at New Year. Valentines Day I sent another card, then it was our sixth anniversary, ten months without seeing or hearing from you. Finally, it was a year since you walked out and I didn’t have any hope left. I lost a lot of weight. It was summer and I lost the house, too. I couldn’t keep up the payments on my own and I’d run out of savings. I sold the house and sent your mum a cheque for your half. God! Did you get it? I know it was cashed -”

“Yes, I got it. Mum did keep your cards and mail for me, I picked them up that summer passing through. I used the sixty-five thousand, along with my savings to put a deposit on my house. So, when did Mr Two-Carat come along?” I pointed to her lovely blue white diamond.

“About fourteen and a half months after you left, other than a new wardrobe I had blown the rest of the house money on a flat share with a couple of friends. Alison, who you don’t know, and my very best friend Lucy, who you probably do remember.”

“I remember Luce,” I smiled. “She made the wearing of blue jeans and knotted tee-shirts an art form. Whatever happened to her?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“No?”

“Don’t go there.”

“What if I wanted to? What if I was a free agent, for example?” I grinned mischievously, “Just supposing.”

Lesley sighed. “Four children, four different fathers, none of whom pay support and …” she paused, “… The only way she can get through doors is like a crab would.”

She looked at me with her mouth set and tilted her head to one side as if to say I told you that you wouldn’t want to know but you wouldn’t take no for an answer, happy now?

Well, Lesley didn’t know how my own situation was about to go tits-up, so I was keeping my options open. Lucy, now, you never know she might be as desperate I was about to become.

“So you were sharing a flat with Luce and Alison, what then?”

“What then? Luce was temping as a receptionist and her office were having a picnic for staff and families. Luce dragged me along as a guest. I met Hubby there and we sort off … clicked.”

“So, date followed and then sex?”

“No, sex first, date later.” Lesley actually blushed. “In fact, we hardly dated at all, just met for sex, great sex and lots of it. We were both so busy with work that we mainly just met for sex. I know that sounds really bad but I hadn’t had any in a long time. Fifteen months was fifteen cycles when I was at my most fertile and I wasn’t having what I really missed. You were gone for good. I was horny and he was devastatingly handsome, still is, and dynamite in the bedroom, still … much too much information.”

The damned Mont Blanc ice she was sitting on must have run down the drain, her face was so red. Damn, why is it that women look even sexier when they are embarrassed and losing a little control over their emotions than when they are playing ice cool and are holding everything together? Or is it just me that feels that way?

“Was he your only other lover?” I blurted out without thinking.

Why do I torture myself even asking? No, impossible, every man in this room, everyone who has walked past us has almost walked into something because they were looking at Lesley. Health and Safety should make her carry around a fluorescent warning sign. She can’t have restricted herself to just two lovers, especially after dumping me so she could play the field, surely.

She nodded.

Damn again. I know that women can’t be trusted, ever, from bitter bloody experience … but I believed her. It really didn’t make me feel any better, knowing she was married to mister bloody perfect lover.

“So,” Lesley resumed, “What have you been doing with yourself lately?”

I smiled. So much to say and so much not to say. She didn’t say “since”, so I guessed I could limit myself to a quick sketch, leaving out all the important details. Or I could throw it all back at her, of course.

“Well, as I’ve got in the coffees, perhaps you could give me an update first.”

She regarded me, trying to read what I was thinking, or hiding. Why I was playing with her? A slow enigmatic smile formed on her full red lips. She was made up to perfection, not heavily so, but enough to darken and perhaps lengthen her eyelashes from the light brown natural that I remembered, her lips glossy red, her cheeks smooth and matt, no doubt from some subtle proprietary foundation preparation. Her dark red hair full and thick, brushed away from her open forehead and tied in a neat bun at the back of her head, a few stray hairs like delicate whispers softening her delicious outline. She looked stunning.

“I’m an investment broker, advising on life insurance, ISAs, income tax and investment portfolios. I cover this immediate area for the Lotto. I’ve just met a lovely old couple here in their hotel suite this morning who have won the jackpot and I left some proposals for them to consider.” Lesley paused, with a smile on her face recalling the recent meeting, no doubt.

“Go on,” I encouraged.

“I live over by West Park,” her voice lifting as if questioning whether I was aware of the exclusive executive-type homes in that area. I was, it was a long way from where I live. “We have one girl, Belinda, who is at college studying catering, she wants to be a pastry chef, perhaps own her own shop. Either that or do three-day eventing.” She smiled, at the recollection of her daughter.

I imagined what Belinda was like. She could have been our daughter in another life, as beautiful as Lesley is, I’m sure. As she must’ve been at least 18 to be in college, it seemed that Lesley didn’t wait long to set about finding ‘the one’, it took me three years before I even started dating anyone, by then Lesley was the mother of a toddler.

Still bearing that sweet smile on her lovely face, Lesley softly asked “What about you?”

I think I snorted, unintentionally. That wasn’t a good start. Why should I resent her perfect life, fulfilling well-paid job, great home, probably driving around in a top of the range BMW or Lexus, stunning ambitious daughter, lucky bloody lucky husband and looking sensational herself to boot. It wasn’t fair,was it?

But nobody ever promised me fairness, Lesley never promised me anything, I clearly took her for granted, so whatever happened to end our relationship was my fault. She was perfect and I’m not just saying that, she was and I had always thought so. Perhaps too perfect for little old imperfect me. The fact that I was only a stopgap in her life wasn’t really her fault. I had five years and two months with her. They were among the best 62 months of my life and I should be grateful and thank her for them, they were more than I deserved. Only the time spent with my … the children of my marriage … came anywhere near.

Accentuate the positive, I thought, this was a day for me to be assertive and the day I finally took my destiny into my own hands. So I forced my lips into the biggest smile I could muster and gave her the saccharine version of my life.

“Actually, I have a great life,” I said, “And it is getting even better after today.”

I paused for a moment as the smiling Rosamund approached with a tray containing our coffees. I helped her unload them and thanked and sent her cheerfully on her way. The back view of the departing waitress was just as good as the front and my gaze lingered. Lesley regarded me with a quizzical look. I chuckled, I couldn’t help it. I had decided I was quite happy at that very moment. For some reason a veil of misery had lifted and I felt good. OK, it looked like I was going to have to elaborate somewhat on the artificially sweetened tale I had been going to weave.

“Lesley, you find my life in a state of flux. Everything changes today. This sad, pathetic, bald, overweight nobody has been pushed around for over twenty-five years. Sorry, sweetheart,” I said as I held and squeezed one of her hands, “I include you a little unfairly in my life of subservience. Today, my marriage of twelve years is finally over, although I now know it never really got off the starting blocks in the first place. I was duped. I have no career, other than writing a few short romance stories for a woman’s magazine for pocket change. I am a house husband caring for my three children.”

I paused, gathering my thoughts, how much to say, what to leave out? After all, I’ll never see Lesley again, would I?

“Go on,” urged Lesley, “You used to write all the time all those years ago and couldn’t get published, other than advertising copy fore the ad agency. You are the most loving and sensitive man I have ever known, and I can see you as being a great father. Please continue, honey.”

“My children, who I adore, are my life. David and Lisa, are at school, and little Nathaniel, Nat, was at play school this morning where I dropped him off but has been collected by my mother an hour or so ago. The older two kids are walking around to Granny’s after school for tea and I will meet them there and tell them that their mummy isn’t coming home.”

Lesley sat stunned. I continued my tale of woe.

“All her stuff is in black rubbish sacks in the garage and all the locks were changed this morning.” I took a deep breath. “About three weeks ago I found out that my children are not my children, the DNA clinic says that I have worse than a million-to-one chance of being the father.”

“Oh, Alan, I’m so sorry. Is there a chance the clinic mixed up your sample with someone else? Isn’t it worth doing again?”

“No chance,” I said sadly, “With Mum’s blessing I sent her sample along with mine and the kids. There were two samples for each so they keep one as a back up. The results confirmed that Mum and I are closely related but with next to no chance that her grandchildren are even remotely related to her. Never mind the results, they are still my kids, I just wanted to check to discover the extent of my wife’s duplicity. I may not be their biological father but I’m 100% their Dad and always will be. There’s no way their sperm donor will ever get his hands on them.”

By now I felt myself getting a bit loud. Rosamund was giving me a funny look from her station at the counter. Even Lesley looked sad and concerned, now holding onto both my hands with both of hers.

Of course they were my kids, I reasoned as I calmed down. I had stayed at home with them, fed, changed and bathed them. I had nursed them through their illnesses, taken them for their shots, their first steps, first words, first day at nursery, school, secondary school, all of their plays, activities, homework. They had my speech patterns, my mannerisms, my family values. They did not have those of the gutter like their real mother and biological father.

“The children almost certainly share the same father, which means that my wife has been sleeping with the same lover for twelve years, at least as long as I have been married. Well, she’s welcome to him. I wash my hands of both of them.”

“I am so sorry, I wish I could stay but I’ve got to go, Alan, I have another appointment down town and I’m running late. Come here, Alan, please honey.”

Lesley stood up and pulled me towards her, we put our arms around each other like two old ex-lovers, one to comfort the other on the occasion of some great loss. I buried my face in her sweet-smelling hair. I think, I know, I cried silent tears, selfish tears.

I heard the lift ding. We both did. At the same time we turned towards the sound.

The lift doors opened and several people walked out. An elderly smiling couple emerged first, holding hands, wreathed in smiles, looking around to get their bearings. They saw Lesley and I as we embraced and they waved at us cheerily. Lesley waved back automatically.

Then a couple of businessmen came out behind them, wearing name badges for some conference, carrying a few pamphlets, deep in conversation, almost running into the back of the elderly couple.

The lift ejected the last two occupants, a man and a woman, holding hands and carrying small overnight bags. They made a beautiful couple, he was tall and tanned, blond-haired, freshly shaved, devastatingly handsome and wearing what was obviously an expensive hand-made suit. He looked old money, established classy wealth. She was a little shorter, slim built, brunette, similarly power-dressed, but haughty, driven, ambitious, controlling, certainly beautiful, glowing even.

They had eyes only for each other and as they stepped out of the lift they kissed passionately and moved away in opposite directions, holding onto outstretched hands as long as possible, still maintaining smiling eye contact, no doubt each thinking “until we meet again soon, sweetheart”.

I released Lesley, stepped around the thick buttoned leather chair and strode powerfully towards the lift. I called over my shoulder, “Look after my laptop, please Lesley, I’ll be back in a jiff.”

I nodded and smiled at the nice old couple as I passed them, although my smile may have been a little on the grim side. The businessmen saw me approach and separated to let me barge through between them. And there they were, the couple, oblivious to everything but themselves, fingertips touching in parting.

“Natalie!” I said sharply, like addressing a naughty child. She looked up, somewhat shocked to see me.

“Alan? What-”

I looked away and focussed my attention on him.

“Old Man, this isn’t what it looks-” started her lover but I stopped him with my right fist on the point of his nose.

Those punchbag sessions down the school gym paid off as he went down like a sack of spuds, blood spouting from his imploding nose, splashing both Natalie and me. Natalie screamed, piercing, short and sharp.

“Honey?!” came a strangled shout from behind me.

I turned and faced Lesley, her handbag over one shoulder, her briefcase in one hand and my laptop clutched in the other. Her face was grim-set, disapproving. Perhaps she hated violence, she wouldn’t hurt a fly, I remembered; Lesley only ever hurt me.

A groan from behind alerted me to the fact that lover-boy was getting up. I turned, bringing my fists up into the defensive position as my coach had taught me so recently. He had assured me that I would never be a contender, but he taught me both how to punch and how to take a good licking. Just get a good one or two punches in, he had said sagely, and remember them while you recover from the beating you are going to get. Alan, you are a writer not a fighter. Damn, I wasn’t even a better lover than a fighter.

His handsome face didn’t look as pretty any more, his blood splattered lips twisted into a hideous scowl. He was taller, heavier and had a longer reach than me, but I had taken a few punches in the last month and was prepared to give as good as I got. I considered my beating would be cathartic. He held his fists up too, comfortably, moving his feet well as he circled me, our eyes focussed warily on each other. Damn, he was probably coached at public school and may have kept up practicing since.

“Roger!” the shout came from nowhere and took his attention away from me just for a moment. He looked to his right, then a flash of silver hit him hard in the face. This time he went down for the count.

I turned to face Lesley. She held up my mangled laptop.

“Sorry, I’m right-handed,” she said by way of apology.

“Nothing that can’t be replaced.” I shrugged as I relieved her of the wreckage.

“I’ll call my next appointment and reschedule for the morning.” She hauled out her phone. “Your Mum still serve up fish fingers and alphabet spaghetti for the kid’s tea?”

“Almost every time,” I said, “Perfect comfort food.”

“I haven’t had a fish finger sarnie with ketchup for years. Does she … you think … keep a large stock in the fridge?”

“There’s an Iceland on the way to the multi-storey. Better to be safe than sorry.”

“Great.” She found the entry she sought in the phone directory and launched the number.

“Don’t make that appointment too early in the morning,” I said.

“Mr Jones? Lesley. Something’s come up, sorry. Same time tomorrow afternoon? Great. See you then. Bye!”

She put the phone away and looked at me with those soft grey-blue eyes again.

“Introductions are in order, I think,” she said. “Meet Hubby, otherwise known as Roger, my husband, soon to be ex-husband. Roger? Oh, he’s still out for the count. Perhaps, Alan, you can recommend a good solicitor?”

“I have her card somewhere,” I said. “I look it out later.”

“Thanks,” she smiled.

“So, he wasn’t ‘the one’, then?” I ventured as I held out the crook of my arm for her. “Still looking?”

“He wasn’t ‘the one’. Not for a millisecond, never in a million years. I settled,” she said as she tucked her slim elegant arm in mine and we moved towards the exit. I took out ten, no made it fifteen, and handed it to the hovering open-mouthed Rosamund.

“Am I still looking?” Lesley continued, “I’ve never stopped … for twenty years I’ve tried to find ‘the one’ … again.”

The end.

The Rehearsal

Here’s another short.

The Rehearsal

“Look, Henry, all I was saying was, we are playing two characters who are deeply in love and they have a very hot sex scene in the second act, so we need to be convincing lovers for the audience.”

“I know all that, Audrey,” Henry said, “I’ve read the manuscript, twice, and my part through twice more since we were selected for the roles.”

“It’s a big part for you, Henry.”

“I know, it’s the biggest I’ve ever done, I just hope I can deliver.”

“You’ll be fine, you and I are in it pretty well all the way through, start to finish. If anyone can do it, you can, Henry.” She squeezed his hand. “We were made to do this, darling, fate has brought us to-”

“No, that’s not exactly right Aud. You are there because Madge Allnut was caught shop-lifting after a Kindle Fire was found in her shopping bag when she went through the scanner at the Asda exit. Her court case comes up in a fortnight. Meanwhile, Reg Mellow, who usually plays the male lead roles, came out in a rash because of some allergic reaction, so I wasn’t the first choice either.”

“There you go, fate has definitely brought us together.” she smile in triumph at the confirmation of her theory.

“But what you are suggesting we do to enhance our performance is nothing short of crazy. We are not method actors. After all is said and done this is only amateur dramatics!”

“But Henry darling, this is embarrassing for me to say,” she whispered as low as she could, as a stage hand walked by carrying a prop, “But I have played roles similar to this in the past, before younger actresses like Madge came along, and believe you me, it can make a huge difference to the actual performance on stage.”

“You mean,” Henry leaned so close that he was almost overcome by her heady scent, “You’ve slept with the leading man before?”

“Almost,” she breathed through her crimson lips, her hot breath fanning his ear, “Every time, darling.”

“Oh, and you think it makes that much difference?”

“Immeasurably.”

“I don’t know,” Henry sounded doubtful, flicking over a page and pointing to some odd line hoping that onlookers would assume they were quietly discussing the finer points of the script. As Audrey had already pointed out, the pair of them carried the whole weight of the play. He continued, “I have never done anything like this before. You know I haven’t.”

“It’s just like falling off a log, darling, at the very least we should get together for a quickie, just to break the ice between us so we can relax when we get it all together sizzling like very familiar practising lovers on the stage.”

“Look, Aud, you are a beautiful, very desirable woman, but I am married and you are married, we can’t possibly do this.”

“Tosh! Henry, it’s just sex, darling, it won’t mean anything to either of us other than a relaxing pleasure which will ensure we achieve sublime artistic integrity!”

“I couldn’t do that to Bernie, not that I know him all that well, Audrey.”

“You’d be doing Bernie a favour,” she leaned in even closer, dropping her voice lower still, “He wouldn’t want to be aware that I’ve told you this but Bernie can’t, you know, can’t get it up anymore, so he really doesn’t mind.”

“Oh.” Henry thought about it for a moment. “Anyway, I still can’t possibly, what would Libby think? She’s been your best friend since, well, forever.”

“Pooh and fiddlesticks!” Audrey scoffed, “We’d be discrete about it, darling. I could get us a hotel room, we could do it over lunchtime or you could miss one of your precious football games. I would be the very model of discretion and Libby will never be any the wiser.” She squeezed his arm, “Consider it, if you will, part of the rehearsal process.”

“No, impossible, it’s our twentieth wedding anniversary in two weeks’ time and I’ve already got a surprise planned for the evening. Sorry Aud, I couldn’t possibly cheat on Libby, no matter what. If it is a problem for you, I’ll happily step down and let the understudy take the part, John would be fine.”

“I’m very disappointed, Henry. You know I think you are a hunk who I’ve lusted after for years. Have you never thought of having sex with a woman other than your wife?”

“I can honestly say I never have. Not with any woman, no matter how tempting their charms. You are a very attractive woman, Audrey, I’ve even agreed as much with Libby, who is always singing your praises. Even more so recently. I’m sure many men would jump into your arms like a shot. Clearly some have, but I do not desire you significantly more than any other woman and certainly no more than my own wife. I think you can guarantee, Aud, that I’m a one-woman man.”

Henry held Audrey’s shoulders for a moment, while Audrey put her hands on his hips and pulled herself in close, wrapping her arms around his waist. Henry kissed her on the cheek, before exiting stage left. Audrey watched his firm round butt cheeks as he strode purposeful off the stage and sighed, thinking he was definitely a hunk but it was pretty definitely now that he’d made it clear he would never be her hunk. Just then a hand on her shoulder made her jump and turn around.

“Libby!” she exclaimed, “What are you doing here?”

“Watching you seduce my husband!” her friend laughed, “I just saw you two kiss and squeeze each other, so when are you both getting together to do the dirty deed?”

“Oh, Lib, it was just a kiss on the cheek as old friends, there will be no getting together. He just doesn’t want to make love to me.”

“No?” Libby’s euphoria evaporated and her face took on a crestfallen look, “I thought you of all people wouldn’t let me down, Aud.”

“Sorry Lib, I tried every trick in the book to bed him and he doesn’t want to know. Normally when I flutter my lashes at a man he gets at least a semi on, I rubbed my firm thigh up against your hubby’s nut sack, after trying everything else and he was as soft down there as farm fresh brie. Nice package he’s got though, by the way.”

“O God!” Libby looked ashen, “What am I going to do now? You were my last hope.”

“Honey, I know you told me not to ask questions when you requested that I seduce your husband. And you know I was more than happy to oblige, but I’ve got to ask, what the hell are you playing at?” said Audrey in exasperation, “Henry has admitted to me that you are the only woman he has ever been with since your marriage and the only woman he will ever be with. He is simply not interested in bonking his leading lady or any other lady for that matter. Sweetheart, Henry is a keeper. He’s one in a million. So why are you throwing another woman at him? Unless he is crap in bed, which I doubt, especially after you have boasted about him for at least the last twenty years. If you push him into another’s arms, you could find yourself losing him!”

“That’s the last thing I want, Aud,” Libby began sobbing now, “I couldn’t possibly live without Henry. As for crap in bed, he’s nigh on the perfect lover. He’s considerate, gentle, loving, but can be as passionate as any Casanova when he is on a mission.”

“Like your anniversary?”

“Oh God, that’s only two weeks away.”

“So why this, trying to palm him off on your friends, after nearly twenty years of marriage?”

“Just because it is nearly twenty years, that’s the big problem.”

“Lib, I can’t understand, he’s not having an affair, you’ve said he’s gentle and attentive. I know he’s got something special set up for your anniversary, he’s already said so. You always look forward to your anniversaries, especially the big ones.”

“I know, I always sneak looks at the credit card he uses for surprises and he has booked a show, restaurant and hotel room for the weekend in the West End, it’s going to be brilliant.”

“Lib,” Audrey shook her head.

“It’s Enrique!” Libby blurted out.

“Who?”

“Enrique the stripper” Libby elaborated.

“The stripper at Julia’s hen night last month?”

“Yes, I … I slept with him.”

“But you didn’t have time, I was the designated driver that night and drove you home straight after, you were out of your head, sucking him like that, you wicked woman you! It was a hen night, it was just a bit of oral, so it doesn’t really count, does it? And us girls will make sure that Henry never finds out.”

“I know, I couldn’t believe what I did when I was sober the next day, but when Enrique called me -”

“What? How did he call you?”

“I must’ve passed him my mobile number, I really can’t remember,” Libby wailed.

“So he called you?”

“Yes, the next day while I was still under the influence and what I did still fresh and obsessive in my mind. And so I agreed that we met up in a hotel room.”

“You dirty, lucky bitch!”

“No, it was god-damn awful,” sobbed Libby, “He was abusive, slapped me around making me feel like the slut I was. I thought it was going be exciting as I had done nothing like this before but it really was terrible, Aud.”

“Oh honey,” Audrey embraced her best friend, who was now crying openly in centre stage, “Henry will never find out, we’ll make sure of that, so best just chalk it up to experience.”

“You don’t understand,” Libby cried, “Enrique has pictures and is threatening to show Henry.”

“How did he get photos?”

“He booked the hotel room for the day and set a couple of small cameras up that were taking stills … of us doing it.”

“Is he after money?”

“Not yet, he’s after more sex, but if I stop giving it to him, he will either tell Henry or will want money.”

“What do you mean, ‘stop’?”

“He’s blackmailing me to continue seeing him.”

“How often?”

“Once a week, but he wants to step it up to twice from this week.”

“So how many times have you been with him?”

“Three,” she sobbed, “And he’s shown me more photos that he has taken since, so I can’t go to Henry and say I made a single mistake, unless I can catch Henry doing the same.”

“So that’s why you want me to seduce Henry?”

“That was the idea, throw you two together so you have an affair, I find out and forgive Henry, so then he has to forgive me. That’s why I followed Madge a couple of weeks ago and slipped the Kindle I stole into her shopping bag in her trolley while you kept her occupied in conversation. Then I slipped an irritant into Reg’s shower gel when I used his bathroom, so that you and Henry would be cast together in this play.”

“How the hell did you get into Reg’s bathroom, you and Angie hate each other, right?”

“Damn, this gets worse,” Libby admitted, “I had to seduce Reg, and now he’s pestering me for more sex as well!”

“I despair of you sometimes, Lib!”

***

Henry quietly left the side of the stage a little puzzled, having turned back to check the timing of the next rehearsal. With mobile in hand he pressed the one-touch key and held the phone to his ear as it rang and the other end was picked up on the second ring.

“Hi H,” the speaker squawked, “You on the way to the pub?”

“No can do, Fred, although I was dying for an ale or two-”

“Yeah” interjected the distant voice, “I bet prancing about on the stage like a right tart all evening makes you posers really thirsty.”

“You’re right!” laughed Henry, “I could murder a jar or three and still thrash you at a game of arrows with one arm tied behind my back!”

“Ooo! Get you, Shirley Temple,” came the retort in an affected camp accent, “I bet you theatricals loved being tied up!”

“As it happens …” Henry laughed back using a similar affectation, “No, Libby’s back from her girls’ night early, really early, in fact. She seems a bit upset, too. So I better get back to the old homestead. I’ll see you at the match on Saturday, yes?”

“OK, I’ll see you then, H. I take it that you’ve not told her anything yet?”

“Nah, I told you, Fred, we gotta get this anniversary outta the way, then leave it a couple of weeks for her to come down from her high. Then I’ll tell her. You understand that, don’t you?”

“Yeah, you sensitive old fart, you,” the voice came back affectionately, “Don’t forget I love you, man.”

“I know,” said Henry softly, “Love you loads too, big boy.”

THE END.

Long Haul

Long Haul, a short story

Alice was so beautiful she took my breath away every time I saw her. I asked her out a couple of times and she turned me down on both occasions. The second time was just after she split with Dougie Laughery and I thought I had a real chance this time. Dougie was an asshole, I had been competing with him toe-to-toe since junior high. I couldn’t see what Alice saw in him even before he had been caught with his pants down in company with Sissy Hollins, whose reputation went before her almost as far as her chest measurements did.

When I asked Alice out we were both working for the same pharmaceutical company whose massive plant was sprawled on the edge of our home town. Alice agreed to come to lunch with me, on her terms, so we took sandwiches and sodas to the park and sat on a blanket. Alice was straight with me, she liked me, she said, liked me a lot but she was in love with someone else and only wanted to be fair to my feelings. She sensed that I more than just liked her but she made it crystal clear that we could only be friends.

“OK,” I said, “let’s stay friends.”

And we did. We met up for lunch regularly, as we spent most of the time at work in different parts of the building. She worked in accounts, I was an engineer troubleshooting problems in production. We became best friends. She started dating again post-Dougie, several different guys, but no-one seemed to stick. We even went on foursomes, with Alice trying to get me interested in one of her pals but none of them stuck either. She used to pull my leg about it, even got angry a couple of times when some of her friends really seemed to like me but I couldn’t get involved.

I was too full of love, infatuation, obsession, whatever it was, with Alice to begin any other meaningful relationship.

What was it about Alice? Well, I guess we would have made an odd couple. She was small and neat, say just an inch over five foot tall, her petite body sublimely in proportion. She looked plain, ordinary even, at very first glance and could easily be overlooked by the more discerning. But when she moved, as gracefully as any cat, and she smiled to light up the room, she was in another class entirely.

Alice was captivating, lively and funny. She knew everybody and everyone knew her. She would talk to anyone, not just at you but converse, encourage you to engage with her and always gave the impression that she hung off every word you uttered. Yet she was aware what else was going on around her and loved to talk about everyone, aware of who they were seeing and who everyone’s cousin was. Alice never had a bad word to say about anyone, though, she just seemed genuinely interested in people.

She was the centre of everyone’s attention but I don’t think she knew that at all, she believed she was on the outside of the web, just networking, without realising she was the hub, the object of everyone’s desire.

Me? I’m Carl Smith, by the way. Well, I was just over six foot high, with blonde curly hair, and built like the proverbial brick outhouse. Neither handsome, nor noteworthily ugly, just average, shy, wallflower material I guess. While she was funny, engaging and outgoing, I was serious, quiet, dull.

My folks split up when I was little. Dad moved a thousand miles away, started a new family and forgot us entirely. Meanwhile Mom found it hard to make ends meet. So I always had to get home from school to do my chores and any jobs around the neighborhood for spare change to put in my college fund. I won scholarships, but still had to work my butt off to get by. I was into all sports, played some football and basketball at college but wasn’t one of the jocks. Outside school I played racket sports to keep fit as gym work didn’t appeal to me. I was grateful that I had done some weight training in my early teens so I developed my body to its best advantages. I was quite smart and went all the way to a masters in engineering, that didn’t give me much time for anything else, like socialising and dating.

I tried out for the school and college teams and got a few games in but there was always someone just enough better than me to keep me on the bench. Usually that was Dougie Loughery. We bounced into and off each other all the way through from eighth or ninth grade to state graduation.

Naturally, Alice was crowned home-coming queen all through high school and college and she was paired with Dougie every time. She seemed shocked every time she won, while Dougie thought his was a given. He boasted to everyone in the team that he had taken Alice’s virginity on high school graduation night but I doubted it. He probably did later but when Alice and I became best pals, I got the impression there was no way she had given it up to him so early and easily.

So that’s where we were, Alice and I as best friends and bumping along, with me hoping to be there for when she was mature enough to recognise my qualities, whatever they were. I wondered if she thought I was gay, she treated me like a best girlfriend, at least she didn’t go so far as to ask me to go lingerie shopping with her!

Then she told me she was going out with Dougie again and my world vaporised around my ears. She had actually been seeing him for a couple of weeks before she told me, one lunch time. She knew I would be hurt and had put it off. I donned a smiley face and asked if she was happy. I could recognise the dreamy look in her eyes when she said she was. She gripped my hand and said I needed to get myself fixed up, it was what I deserved. I almost lost my lunch.

I stumbled back to work for an hour or two that afternoon doing nothing on the shop floor, before locking myself in my office looking for jobs on the net. I found one in California, got myself an interview and flew out a couple of days later. After three interviews I was taken on board. I gave two weeks’ notice and, without saying anything to anyone, took the two weeks’ leave I was owed and disappeared. Just like that.

A clean break, it was the best thing for her, the only option for me. I was thinking of the long haul.

Two years later I was back home for a brief visit to Mom. I’m a poor son, really, I can only take so much of her, but there is only me for her nowadays.

So I sneaked out to a bar second night home and saw them together, Alice and Dougie. They had walked into the bar and met up with some friends, Alice kissing everyone and generally making everyone’s day as usual. I was sat at the far end of the bar, the dark end, with a whiskey sour, feeling more and more sour every moment. I drank up and left. I stayed inside keeping Mom company until my visit ended.

Back home, I checked vacancies within the group and found they had an engineering opening in England with a good opportunity for local advancement. Nobody who was any good wanted to go to this dead-end place with run-down plant and the poorest performance in the group. I was already concentrating hard on my career and making a good impression, so nobody understood my interest. This job, after promotion would mean a big hike in pay and I’d be a big fish in a small pond, but the place was scheduled to be closed down in a couple of years max, pending results.

I really enjoyed my ten years in England. Back home I was considered too quiet, while to the Brits I was a big noisy, pushy Yank. The plant was small and quaint, the equipment almost medieval and held together by gaffer tape. The biggest department was research and development but were understaffed, underfunded and although absolutely brilliant, had been ignored too long and were virtually moribund. Some of the stuff they were working on though was revolutionary. Some stuff had been developed already and mothballed because no one at head office had recognised what they even had there.

My boss Jim was two years off retirement and looking forward to going home to the States. The chemists lacked direction. I got them enthused again. A young man, Nigel, who was about my age and stuck as a junior in the lab, seemed to have potential. With Jim’s easy acquiescence, I got Nigel motivated by running the lab while I concentrated on updating the manufacturing plant and quality control.

They had been on the site for 75 years, during periods of boom and bust. They had plenty of room for expansion into the empty buildings and we used every inch of the place in my ten years. The scientists appreciated the recognition they were getting for their work and kept coming up with stuff they had offered up before but been forced to shelf. We had so much stuff which promised results that we had to ship some of the testing to other sites and I made sure the guys got the chance to go with the samples and nurse them through the trials. We had a happy ship and they brought in the goods.

Long story told short, in ten years, the England operation became the jewel in the business and I was local president with eight years of solid year-on-year achievement behind me. Then head office wanted me to come home and manage a much bigger plant. Yes, you got it. The company had expanded, due to all the new products produced in the English R&D, and had bought lock, stock and barrel the company that owned the plant in my home town. It was my dream job.

They accepted my recommendation to have Dr Nigel run the England end, the first Brit they had allowed to run the place since they had set it up in the 1930s. Nigel and the rest of the guys appeared to be sad at my parting and seemed genuinely insistent that I came back and visit. Great actors those Brits, Oscar winners all. I know I had ridden them hard but I had to concede, they had sure come up with the goods.

I hadn’t been Stateside in two years. I learned my lesson from my previous home town visit and flew Mom down to Florida each summer and stayed with her there. No way was I gonna run into Alice and Dougie again. Last year Mom came to stay with me across the pond, which was surprisingly enjoyable. I was looking forward to getting home again and planned on staying with Mom until I had scouted out a place of my own.

I toyed with the idea of renting out my English house, but I had bought it when the market was low and although still relatively low, it had done better than property had in the States over the same period, so I sold it for a very good price.

I was still single. I had courted some since leaving my home town, but without endangering my bachelor status. I came close with Caroline six or seven years ago. When I thought about taking it to another level, though, I discovered that although I was very fond of her, she was a lovely person, she just wasn’t the girl I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I introduced her to Nigel and I am now godfather to both their lovely children.

I read the dossier on the plant as I flew over the Atlantic, so I was primed for my meeting in Manhattan with the top dogs. I knew the senior VP, my second in command, was going to be Mrs Alice Loughery but didn’t understand why she hadn’t been promoted to president. The answer was that she simply didn’t want it. According to the group president, she had the local finances screwed down tight but the problem with the plant was production. The plant was worn out, morale was low and the place needed a production man to put it right and she would do her best to pull the financial strings to make it work if the right person was running the show.

Alice now knew I was the man they had appointed and she told them she thought I was the best man for the job and she looked forward to working with me, again.

Well, at least I knew where I stood. It seemed she was prepared to work with me and I thought I’d had enough time to get over her so I could do the same. We were both 40, I just hoped she was fat and over-run with a houseful of brattish kids. I just had to psych myself up to be professional and impersonal in all my dealings with her. I could be restrained and aloof, impenetrably unemotional, if I wanted. Hell, I’d worked with the Brits long enough, I was practically one of ’em!

I had never told Mom about how I felt about Alice, so the subject never came up in any conversation. Mom gave up on having grandkids long ago. I know Alice had one kid though because another local guy I used to get emails from mentioned she was on maternity leave. That pain went straight to my heart. I soon found excuses for only replying sporadically and that source eventually dried up. The company info sheet just had her married name, age, length of service and disclosed that she was a mother.

It was mid-winter when I went back to the States. I had become accustomed to mild English winters where if they had any snow at all it was just a few inches. On the plane out of a freezing New York, they were talking about three or four feet of snow falling on my destination and we got rerouted to another city and it looked like we were stuck there for the night.

We were disembarked, without our luggage, and milling around waiting to be told where we were spending the night, when I heard the voice behind me.

“Hey Buddy, how’yer doin’?”

I turned, the last person, well bar one, that I wanted to see right now when I wasn’t really primed and ready, was Dougie Loughery.

Of course I knew the voice, but the man was barely recognisable, he was fat and bald, the last eleven years or so hadn’t been kind to him. Maybe it was because he stuck to an American diet while I adhered to a more austere English one, where food was so much more expensive and portions in proportion.

We struck up a conversation which I kept steered well away from personal details. When he said,

“Hey, you know whom I’m married to, don’cha?”

“Yes, I do,” I said tersely, holding my hand up. “Look, I’m tired, stuck in limbo, and I don’t want to talk about our happy families, OK?” I didn’t want him rubbing my nose in the fact that he had beaten me in our contest over Alice.

“Sure,” Dougie grinned, “Look, I’ve been in this position before, Carl, I trade in sporting goods, and travel all over and on my way home from a convention. I called ahead while we were in the air and booked a room for the night.”

I must’ve stared at him blankly. He sighed.

“Look around you, the hotels can’t cope with this number of people, so they’re gonna have to double or even treble up the guests in the rooms. So we are in a bargaining position, instead of being forced to take in a stranger, we could be roomies.”

It sounded like a good idea. Dougie really did know all the tricks of the hotel trade, got us into the restaurant with ease and persuaded the hotel to sponge down my suit and launder my shirt overnight for peanuts. He had planned ahead for this eventuality and had his own spare clothes and toothbrush in his carry-on.

We hit the bar, boy, could he drink. It was like I was the boring married one and he was the footloose and fancy free bachelor.

Actually, I do him an injustice. Although I hated him for being the first and only choice of the only woman I loved, he was surprisingly good company and I found myself enjoying our stop-over. I even let him show me photos he carried in his wallet of his three beautiful girls. The eldest was painfully close to the Alice I knew when she was 15, his girl Annie clearly had her eyes and smile. The other two girls were a lot younger, were darker haired and looked facially more like Dougie than Alice, but still feminine and kind of cute.

I had a bit of a hangover in the morning, while Dougie was fresh as a daisy. I blamed it on jet-lag, but I suppose it was down to clean living on my part; my body couldn’t take that kind of hammering. At least I had a clean shirt and suit, thanks to my new companion. The weather had improved by the morning, the runway cleared of snow at both destinations, although it was still cold.

The flight was uneventful. We sat together, Dougie having charmed the stewardess into making the adjustment to the seating plan. He had called ahead, he told me, so he would be met in the arrivals hall and he wanted the pleasure of introducing me to the four wonderful angels in his life. He gave me that lop-sided smirking grin and I started to dislike the son-of-a-bitch again just for rubbing my nose in it.

I hung back behind Dougie after collecting our bags, I wasn’t anxious to meet his family yet. I knew I couldn’t put it off as long as I had originally hoped, by coming to town early. I would have liked to have sneaked off, leaving them to it, but that was the coward’s way out. I just had to bite the bullet and hope my eyes didn’t water too much at the pain I knew I was going to experience.

I saw the oldest girl first, she burst out of the crowd as a flash of bright yellow top and blue jeans, long flowing blonde hair all the way down her torso.

“Daddy!” she cried as she dived into her father’s arms. He cried out “Annie!”

They hugged and I moved over to the side out of the line of sight, looking for Alice. I found her, looking on and smiling Mona Lisa-like at Annie embracing her father. Alice looked good. She had filled out a little, but hardly at all. She certainly wasn’t fat like her husband, far from it, although she did hold Annie’s waterproof coat in front of her, camouflaging her shape somewhat. Her face looked as luminous as I remembered her almost every night in my dreams.

She stepped forward when her daughter let him go, then she embraced him, too. I couldn’t watch, it was too gut-wrenchingly painful. This is why I stopped coming here eleven years ago, only the pain felt like it was just yesterday.

I looked away from the couple and my eyes settled on a young lady right in front of me, looking at me with her head to one side. Annie regarded me with interest mixed with amusement. She appeared even more like her mother than she had in her photo. She wore that same enigmatic smile, regarding me, working out the sum of me, while maintaining her independent confidence in her own self-worth.

“I saw you coming through with my Dad, are you his friend? I’ve not seen you before.”

She was disarmingly forthright.

“Well, I don’t know about friend,” I said, trying to be honest, I’ve learned how to be around kids, well my two godchildren, “But I suppose I’ve known him since before you were born.”

“Oh!” she said, nodding, “You talk funny.”

“That’s because I’ve lived in England for ten years, I suppose it was bound to affect the way I speak.”

She nodded her agreement to the possibility.

“Do you know my Mom, too?”

“Yes.” I could have said more but I felt under interrogation here and was reluctant to spill all the beans at once.

“So, are you a friend of my Mom?”

Oh boy, she was good, perhaps she watched a lot of cop shows.

“I was, once upon a time.”

“And now you’re not sure?”

“That’s right.”

She regarded me for a moment, then stuck her hand out,

“I’m Annie Loughery, pleased to meet you.”

“I’m Carl Smith,” I said, smiling.

She digested that information for a moment, still holding onto my hand.

“You’re early,” she said, then grinned, shaking her head slightly, sending waves down her blonde locks, looking even more incredibly like her mother, “You are in such trouble.”

“I am?”

“You are,” she confirmed, “You never said goodbye to Mom, Carl.”

“At the time I thought it was for the best.”

“It wasn’t.” She was as frank and honest as her Mom. I liked this little girl already.

I suppose I smiled.

“You’re quite cute, for an old guy,” she offered by way of comment, “And you look like you’ve kept yourself in shape. Smart suit.” She nodded approvingly. The thought occurred to me that she was measuring me up, like her Mom used to do, for one of her friends, the babysitter, perhaps.

Annie let go of my hand and looked around behind me.

“Where’s your family, Carl?” she asked.

“My family? Oh, my Mom isn’t expecting me for a couple of days.”

“There’s just … your Mom, then?”

“Yeah, I don’t see my Dad any more.” Damn, I was spilling the beans and she hadn’t even done the good cop, bad cop bit yet.

“And you’re staying with your Mom?”

“Yes, but not tonight, it’s late and she’s not expecting me, so I’ll take a cab, find a hotel.”

“Oh, boy,” she laughed, “You are in such trouble. You don’t even know how much trouble you are in, do you Carl?”

“Really?”

“Deep trouble, really deep. I guess you are gonna need me to handle your defence.”

I suppose she watches courtroom dramas as well as cop shows, I didn’t just like this little girl, I loved her already.

“I suppose you’re going to need a retainer?”

She nodded.

“Can you split a ten?”

“Nah, the ten’ll cover it, Carl.”

I guess I’d lost track of the cost of living over here in ten years. I dug a note out of my wallet for her, which she neatly folded and stuffed in her jeans pocket and we turned as one to face her parents.

Dougie had a little girl in each arm, a big grin on his face, and was looking at us, chuckling. The two little brunette angels were smiling too. Standing in front of them was Alice, looking absolutely amazing like barely a day had passed since I last saw her, but I couldn’t even begin to read the expression her face. Annie might have expressed the opinion in her words that I was in trouble, in my terms it looked like I was royally screwed.

A woman partly hidden behind Alice then moved to one side. She was also looking at me and smiling. She looked familiar, overweight, by thirty pounds or more, but she reminded me a little of an older Sissy Hollins. She was pulling Dougie’s case with one hand and slowly waving at me up and down with the other. She was smiling as broadly as Dougie. I turned to my newly-appointed attorney and moved my head close to hers for a private consultation.

“Sissy is …?” I lifted my eyebrows.

Annie put a hand over her mouth to foil lip readers. Oh, she was good, really good.

“Sissy Laughery is the mother of my half-sisters,” she explained carefully, like one would to a child or rather slow adult, she had summed me up pretty well, “And has been married to my Dad for about eight years. I can’t remember Dad ever living with us, actually, he left when I was a baby. Apparently he always had something for Sissy. She’s really very nice, very momsy, when you get to know her.”

“Yeah, she was really nice when I knew her, too, although she wasn’t very momsy at all back then. So, does your Mom still … love your Dad?”

“Are you for real, Carl?”

“Why, you think I’m a dipstick?”

“What’s that?”

“Er … a dipshit?”

“Yeah, kinda. She loves you, dummy. But that doesn’t mean you’re outta trouble yet, it’ll be a long time before I can call you ‘Dad’, Carl.”

“I’m in your hands, Annie, what tariff d’yer reckon you can get me, Hon?

“Don’t call me ‘Hon’, Carl, it’s unethical as well as unprofessional.”

“Sorry, H-Annie.”

“That’s OK, I should be able to get you at least 15 to 20,” Annie whispered, tucking her arm in mine,

“But stick with me, Dad, we’re gonna try for life!”

THE END.

There’s always a catch

A short story for you, something of a fantasy.

THE CATCH

Drew loved to fish, any kind of angling, he was prepared to try. Coarse fishing occupied a lot of his spare time and he’d enjoyed a few holidays in Scotland over the years, hunting wild salmon and trout with a fly on a gossamer line; but his real love was sea fishing.

His uncle John introduced him to the pastime when he was a kid. Drew lost his dad to emphysema when he was very young and inherited a string of temporary uncles, few of whom bothered to give a snotty-nosed Drew the time of day. Uncle John wasn’t around for that long but he took him fishing for carp at a flooded quarry a couple of times and, in that old cliché, Drew was hooked.

Losing his dad to an occupational disease put Drew off coal mining. So when he came to choose a career, he sold insurance, mostly life, health and investment plans. Drew didn’t break any industry records but he did OK. The business had changed wholesale since he started. Most of it was done over the phone nowadays but at the outset he put in a lot of door-to-door leg work. He wasn’t a bad-looking kid and looked after himself, dressed smartly for the job, so he got a lot of offers from bored housewives but turned them all down. He didn’t consider himself a prude, he was as randy as the next man, but these desperate housewives reminded him too much of his Mum.

She had been lonely, desperate for love, still considered herself too young and pretty to be a widow hampered by two young kids, Drew’s sister Alice is two years older. Drew’s mum had to settle for short relationships, too much alcoholic drink and, he suspected, occasional recreational drugs. As a consequence of his Mum’s desperation for affection and seeking attention elsewhere, there wasn’t much time or love left over for the children. As a result both siblings found it difficult to establish lasting relationships. Drew didn’t blame Mum for his crappy childhood, they were just the hands that they were dealt. Both Drew and his sister Alice were still single, now well into their thirties, and both of them cold fish when it came to lasting romance. Drew only seemed to love cold fish.

That’s why he cultivated his friendship with Alan when they were about ten years old. Alan’s dad had a little boat moored up in an estuary about twenty miles from their mining village and, by palling up with Alan, Drew wangled a few fishing trips each summer.

Drew broke off the friendship briefly when they were both 15 and Alan started courting Janice, a girl Drew was sweet on but much too shy to ask out.

After a couple of months Drew realised how much he missed Alan, even more than he missed the sea fishing. They really turned out to be good friends, after all. So, he approached Alan and Janice straight after school and shook Alan’s hand and asked if they could be friends again. Alan had embraced him without embarrassment in front of everyone and then Janice kissed and told him that Alan had been really miserable without his best friend to bounce off.

Drew didn’t tell either of them exactly how he felt about Janice at the time, he would have been far too embarrassed. That didn’t stop him telling everyone at their wedding reception eight years later, through the hilarious medium of the best man’s speech, the full story of how he loved them both and always would.

Apparently, everyone knew already, had always known, but it did Drew good to clear the air. Janice kissed him gently when it was his turn to dance with her, assuring him that the couple would both always love him. He was later godfather to both their kids and now they had a third one on the way.

Janice kept trying to fix Drew up with her own friends with little success. The last few years they had almost exclusively been divorced or single mothers. He smiled at the recollection. No, if he was going to fall in love it was going to have to be someone very special. Unfortunately Janice had set the bar way too high.

Alan was on board the boat, of course, it was now partly at least his boat. His dad had lasted longer than most, but you don’t get many old miners draining the pension fund for long. Alan didn’t seem to spend much time fishing on this particular trip or the previous one. He was busy tinkering with the blasted engine again, ensuring he got it going again before the tide turned, in order to take them home.

Alan had gone down the mine like his father, shortly after his sixteenth birthday. However, the mine had been shut for over ten years now and he was currently employed as a forklift driver at an out-of-town supermarket. He needed to take the boat that he shared with his three brothers out on his turn every four weeks with a guest or three prepared to chip in for the beer, sandwiches, bait, gas and mooring fees to make the boat pay for itself. Today, Alan’s brother-in-law Jack and a friend Andy were invited but each had cried off at the last minute for one reason or another.

Drew knew the score, and insisted Alan took fifty instead of the usual twenty. Alan knew the score too and accepted the crisp folded notes without objection or argument, the bond between them so strong.

Drew hollered down the engine hatch, “Time for a beer break, Al!”

Alan poked his head, with one cheek streaked with grease, through the engine room opening, just as Drew closed up the cool box, and smoothly caught the tossed can.

“Cheers!” laughed Drew.

“Likewise,” grinned Alan. He clambered out and joined his crew-mate sat on a bench next to the half-dozen rods trailing their lifeless hooks and lines behind and to the side of the boat.

“Wow!” exclaimed Alan, looking around. “What a lovely day.”

Just a few puffy clouds punctuated the azure sky, a light swell barely disturbing the quiet water all around them.

“You should be up here enjoying the trip, not messing about with that engine,” Drew said. “Get that spare one put in that Pat keeps offering you.”

“We can’t afford it, Drew, you know that, especially with the baby coming.”

Drew knew the situation and wished he could help. He was working on it, actually. Old Pat down at the boat chandlers was a shrewd old sea dog, he knew the dilemma that was faced by the owners of the boat and had come up with a solution with Drew. Alan and his brothers couldn’t afford to replace the engine but Drew could. The engine would cost half the value of the boat, so if he had a mind to he could probably negotiate a half share in the boat without the brothers having to fork out the capital investment. The difficulty then was with the running costs, which made it such a delicate matter. With the four brothers having equal shares, they could each take the boat out once a month, with two or three paying guests at a time and break even. With a fifth wheel, even if he just took the one turn every five weeks instead of every second week, the balance would shift and the brothers would eventually be unable to maintain their share and have to drop out. That would end Drew’s friendly relationship with Alan’s brothers and probably damage his best friendship with Alan. A prickly problem, no easy solution.

Pat’s plan was that Drew quietly pay for half the engine, Drew could afford that. Pat would then offer it at half-price to the brothers on easy repayment terms. Drew was still considering it.

“Your father ordered that engine before he died, you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” Alan admitted. It wasn’t common knowledge, but it wasn’t that much of a secret either and he’d noticed that Drew had become pretty pally with Old Pat of late so assumed it must have come up in the conversation.

“Da had banked on still drawing his pension to pay for it and him going so quick at the end, and Ma’s onset of dementia, meant every penny of Ma’s pension and more goes into paying the nursing home’s fees.”

Alan felt sorry for Pat and the shame arising from the situation he shared with his brothers. Pat had paid out good money for that engine, still greased up in its packing case three years on. A lot of the other boats looked at that wooden case with covetous eyes but everyone moored in that estuary were in the same boat, so to speak.

There was no-one in view within the horizon in any direction of the scruffy little vessel today though, and no matter how many many problems the boat may have suffered there was only brilliant sunshine and sparkling water under the clear blue skies. There was just a slight swell running, east to west, the boat easily riding up and down the gentle waves. It really was a beautiful day. They both thought this was simply perfect.

“Just ten more minutes, putting the engine together,” Alan promised, “And I’ll fire it up again.”

“OK, just make sure that’s all,” grinned Drew. “You know, if you got Pat to put that engine in, you’d be up here enjoying the sunshine, the fishing, and the company.”

“Yeah, sure,” he grinned, “You know I only bring you with me so I can be sure you’re not chatting up Janice while I’m away?”

“Alan, she’s seven months pregnant.”

“You still think she’s the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen, though,” Alan’s smile was sympathetic, he felt for his friend, knowing how devastated he would be if he ever lost Janice.

“Yeah,” Drew agreed, lost in his thoughts for a moment. Then another thought came into his head, one he’d harboured for a few weeks now, waiting for the right moment. Now, thinking about tangled relationships, seemed to be the most appropriate time.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Al,” he said, seriously, watching his pal take another pull from his can of John Smith’s, “talking about the subject of extra-marital, reminded me of your sister.”

“Oh yes?” Alan still had a smile on his face at his friend’s clear embarrassment.

“Yeah, I’ve been hearing rumours that Jack is up to his old tricks again.”

Alan sighed. He’d been putting this off too, Janice had been chewing his ear to do something about it for a month now and, as urgent action was required, he had mulled over it for long enough and had intended bringing it up with Jack today. Only Jack shied off, no doubt so he could meet some woman he was seeing. Sherry deserved better than that slimy toe rag.

“Yeah,” Alan admitted, “I heard that too. What we gonna do about it?”

Alan wasn’t slow or dumb, but he was hardly a man of the world. Married at 23 to the one and only girl in his life, he led a simple naïve existence which he was reluctant to complicate. He drove his forklift all day and hardly spoke to anyone at work, at home he was surrounded by loving wife and two adorable little angels. His hobbies were his family, making wooden toys in his workshop, caring for his racing pigeons and the boat. Simple, uncomplicated, a life relatively without stress.

Drew on the other hand was out in the community all day and many evenings, selling, networking, juggling different complicated insurance plans and gearing them to the requirements of his clients. Alan had taken on what insurances and saving plans he could afford too, and knew that Drew was as straight as they come. Any advice he gave on any subject would be insightful, considered and therefore worth taking into account.

“I was hoping Jack’d be here today,” Drew said, “So we could have it out with him and, if he didn’t change his ways we’d lash him to the anchor and bump him along the bottom for a couple of hours. What’yer think?”

Yeah, thought Alan, that was considered, pretty much what I would do. He laughed and drained his can.

“Sherry always had a crush on you,” he grinned.

“When?” Drew’s eyebrows raised.

“Since she was about 9 and you started coming round to see me again after our little trial separation,” Alan admitted, “And she still says nice things about you whenever you come up in the conversation.”

“When do I come up in the conversation, then?”

“All the bloody time,” Alan grinned, as he clambered down the engine way, before an empty can came his way, “We hardly talk about anything else!” Then he was gone, leaving Drew alone with only the empty ocean for company.

Just then one of the reels clicked, indicating a nibble.

Drew picked up the rod, felt the bite and struck the hook firmly with a flick of his wrist, then the fish was hooked, off and running. Drew began the process of reeling it in, letting it run and reeling in once more. Sooner than usual the fight was over and he could reel his first catch of the day in. This late in the trip, it would probably be his last catch today. He knew by the feel of it that it was a sizeable specimen and he’d need the gaff to get the monster out of the water, but that was well out of reach in the wheelhouse and Alan was also out of sight and earshot with the engine.

The fish was totally played out and was hauled to the surface with barely a flap of its broad tail. What a strange fish, Drew thought, he had never seen anything like it. It was about three feet or so long and looked like a mirror carp but of course he knew that carp were freshwater fish that couldn’t possibly survive long this far out to sea.

He estimated it weighed about 40 pounds. It lay there placidly in the water, as if it was completely played out. It would be a stretch, he knew, but he could reach down and pull it out, although it would be a strain. Drew kept himself pretty fit but this was risky. All the while the fish rested it was naturally garnering its strength for another run, no doubt hoping for success this time.

Damn it, thought Drew, I don’t want to lose this fish.

He stretched down over the gunwale, wrapped his hands around and under the large fish and braced himself to lift the monster onto the boat. He took the strain slowly and careful, drawing the beast forth from the reluctant suction of its native environment. Remarkably, the fish didn’t react adversely to being lifted, almost as if it sensed that Drew meant it no harm. At the moment he lifted that fish, Drew could honestly say that the only thoughts running through his head were of wanting to see this beautiful specimen close up. Not even an inkling of any other event or consequence occurred to him. There was no malice, triumph in winning a battle, sense of achievement or otherwise, only an overwhelming admiration for the indescribable beauty of one of God’s exquisite creations.

As the water streamed off the fish and it emerged into the clear as crystal air, the sun shone on the golden scales, each individual mirror reflecting a contorted image of Drew’s face, while he himself was filled with wonderment at this glorious sight.

His strong arms hauled the fish over the side of the boat, fluids draining off the body streamed to the deck around his feet and down his trousers. Drew kicked a towel off one of the benches and spread it out carefully with his toe as he balanced the heavy fish in his arms, trying his best not to rub off scales or damage it in any way. He got down to his knees and laid the fish on the now very wet towel and carefully removed his arms from underneath, draping the ends of the towel over the fish to prevent it drying out.

He sat back on the bench and regarded his capture for a moment while he caught his breath. He was sure he had held in his breath during the whole of the extraction process. The fish just lay there on its side, looking at him with its baleful eye, mouth open, almost as if it was breathing like a mammal rather than gasping like an aquatic out of its element. It languidly flapped its tail and one end of the towel slipped away. Drew got down on his knees once more and adjusted the towel, overlapping the ends and thus reducing the risk of it falling off, leaving only the head and tail fins exposed to the desiccating air, in the welcome shade of the gunwale.

“You are beautiful,” he breathed, hardly able to contain his sense of wonderment at the glorious creature of the deep immediately in front of him. He had never seen anything so stunning in all his life. He bent down and kissed the fish on its head without a second thought.

He had kissed fish before, never quite as reverentially as this particular one, of course. He laughed inwardly, remembering that his first kiss was not with a girl, no it was five or six years earlier than that! His first smacker, planted on the very first muddy reservoir carp he caught at the age of nine, was tentative at best. Later specimens were pressed to his lips more enthusiastically, accompanied by an appropriate exclamation of joy or triumph as well as appreciation, typically such as “You absolute beauty!”. He believed none of those triumphant milestones had touched him to his very soul as this latest piscine treasure had.

Drew glanced back at the engine hatch to check that Alan hadn’t seen his brief act of devotional reverence. Then he thought he needed to get some seawater to keep the fish wet, and pour the water across its gills to keep it alive longer. He toyed with the idea of putting it back in the water as soon as Alan had seen it. The thought of gutting, filleting, freezing and later cooking and eating it never even crossed his mind.

In the wheelhouse were a stack of buckets, all with ropes attached. He fetched one and tossed it in the water and dragged it back to the boat, filled to overflowing with bright seawater. As he did so he leaned over the engine hatch and yelled to Alan to come up and see what he had caught.

The echoey reply was somewhat short-tempered and conveyed the muffled message that did he realise the boat’s engineer was right up to his armpits right now in muck and bullets and would be another three or four minutes, if it pleased his lordship and master?

Drew grinned at the reply and turned around to view the fish where he left it safely in the well of the boat and dropped his bucket in surprise. The water sloshed up his trouser legs and splashed across the deck and ran out through the scuppers. The fish was no longer there!

In its place, or rather sitting on the bench above the well where it had previously lain almost inert, was a creature which could only be described as a … mermaid!

Drew stood there, his mouth dropping open as his jaw muscles failed to respond to any positive signals from his brain, which had gone completely into mental overdrive. There in front of him was that object of legend, part female, part fish!

It couldn’t possibly be real, could it? But his eyes added the evidence of substance to any notion of incredulity. This was no heat-haze mirage, no smoke and mirrors trickery, nor any projected CGI hologram as an elaborate if belated April Fool, but a real embodied, heavenly bodied he noticed, creature of substance, flesh and blood.

The towel was wrapped around her, hanging from her shoulders. The being was clearly feminine, although the recognisable biological gender indicators and the somewhat alien transition between the species was conveniently (for her, not him) veiled by the damp cloth, the effect not unlike that of a wet teeshirt was not totally lost on Drew’s cognitive senses. Her tail glistened in the sunshine, the fin laterally undulating languidly. He raised his eyes from the fin to the face again to realise that what should be a manifestation of unmitigated horror was actually a vision of unbelievable beauty, lithe in shape and elegantly attractive in appearance.

She was carrying an enigmatic smile on her heart-shaped face, which was unblemished and stunning, decorated in delicate freckles. Her hair was outstanding, thick and long lustrous tresses like spun gold flowing over her shoulders and tumbling in shimmering waves down to her waist. Her delicate shoulders were flat and square, her arms slender and pale in colour the upper surface covered in pale freckles reminiscent of the scales which were probably their original form.

“No doubt you are amazed that this miraculous transmogrification has happened?” she said in perfect English, without any trace of accent, a fairly husky, yet feminine voice both pleasant and unsettlingly sexy, “Still happening, as you can see.”

Drew looked down at her long tail, which was melting away from its original fishy singular form and turning into a pair of extremely shapely legs, her fins also evolving rapidly into a pair of long and slim dainty-toed feet. He raised his head to her bemused smile once again.

“How?” Drew’s mind was racing, filling with questions, possibilities, worries for his sanity, fears for his safety, excitement that this was happening to him, yet all he could get out was a single stuttering syllable.

“Magic, Drew,” she almost sang her words to him, sending electric pulses of tingles up and down his spine, “I am borne out of the love you held for my oceanic form.”

“Because I kissed you?” he asked, still coping with the shock, “All this because of a kiss?”

“Ah, but what a kiss,” she smiled with a dreamy look which made her stunning face look impossibly even more desirable, “Such a kiss no man has ever bestowed upon an immortal. The poets could occupy themselves for millennia on this single act alone.”

“How can you speak so well, how is it even possible that you know my name?” Drew now finding his voice.

“Your kiss conferred to me all your memories, every experience, each and every hope and aspiration you have ever harboured, all of your deepest most secret desires and knowledge at first hand of exactly what pleases you as well as what you have wanted but never had the opportunity to try.”

“So what does that all mean?”

By now her legs and feet had fully formed, her muscles taut and sculptured. She gracefully stretched out a slender arm towards Drew.

“Would you mind helping me to stand, Drew? I may be a little wobbly for a while as I get used to having legs.”

“So, do you have the ability to read my thoughts?” asked Drew.

“No, of course not, my dear heart,” she smiled showing even white teeth, the action swelling plump freckled flesh high on her cheekbones and crinkling the skin around eyes that Drew noticed were a gloriously deep green colour, “When your lips touched me you completed a process already begun when you hooked me. I felt drawn towards you as if this was always meant to be, as if the gods themselves decreed we be bound together for as long as there are stars in the heavens. That premonition inside me was compounded by feelings emanating from you through the slender line that held me, bonding me to your soul. This inspired me to desire that we would be joined together for ever when you lifted me so tenderly and lovingly out of the water. And then, the kiss.”

She paused for a moment as Drew absorbed this information.

“Now I will be your devoted partner in love. We could be married soon my dearest, make love every night, any time in fact at the drop of a hat would give me such pleasure. There’s nothing I would deny you. Understand, Drew, that I will never age, never get fat or wrinkly, be utterly devoted to you and I will care for you always. When our time together on Earth is ended we will become a new constellation to illuminate the sky for all eternity.”

“Why me of all people? I just sell insurance.”

“Our destiny must have been written in the stars, who knows or cares who, it only matters that we are now together,” she continued, her voice melodic and captivating, “I was already intrigued by that gentle and tender act, which satisfied any doubts I might have had why I allowed myself to be caught in the first place.”

“You allowed me?”

“No human has ever caught one of my kind before. Like you, we have legends of what you call mermaids, some strange and exotic intermediate creature between the two separate kingdoms of mammals and fish, but we always regarded such ideas as flights of fantasy, impossible in reality.”

“If this is so fantastic what brought you here?”

“I was freeing a poor fish which nibbled at the dearly departed body of another fish and suddenly your hook jumped into my mouth and, before I knew what was happening, you started reeling me in.”

“What was the fish you shooed away from my hook, then?” asked Drew, intrigued.

“Naturally I know her by another ancient name, completely unpronounceable using this human tongue but an exploration of your memory banks, which I have assimilated, reveals it was a fish you call a Sea Bass.”

“Oh, was it a big one?”

“Oh yes, bigger than any bass you remember catching before.”

“Bigger?”

“Much bigger, a male bass in the prime of his life, now free to spawn more of his delightful children,” she closed her eyes, “Oh, I can see in your memories horrible images of you eating fish! Now, my darling, I forgive that transgression, but that will have to stop from now on.”

“Stop eating fish? What do you eat?”

“Seaweed, we are vegetarians,” she replied, “I see you used to like eating fish and even the act of catching fish. No more of that my love, you’ll have to live on salads and engage in other pastimes from now on in.”

“What? No more fish’n’chip suppers? No more fishing? Ever?”

“That’s right my darling, for that very small sacrifice you will have me to give you sweet sweet loving every night for the rest of eternity….”

***

Alan paused at the engine hatch for just one delicious moment, closing his eyes as the warm sunlight hit his hot, flushed face, which he knew would be grubby with dirt and engine grease. He allowed the fresh salty breeze to sweetly refresh his turgid lungs and water down the diesel, grease and body odour aromas he knew permeated to the very core of every pore in his body. That damn engine, he thought, it had ruined his last two trips and he knew his brothers were having the self same interruptions to their fishing pleasure. They were going to have to find the money some-

Splash!

Alan’s train of thought was shattered by the sound of the splash, his first new thought in panic was that Drew had been dragged or fallen overboard. He turned his head round sharply to face the stern of the small vessel and was relieved see his best friend standing there with his back to him, head bowed looking down at the water, a wet towel hanging loosely from one hand, both arms dangling by his side.

“Drew!” Alan called from the hatch as he climbed out, “Are you alright?”

Drew turned, showing a very wet shirt front and trousers.

“Fine,” he replied, his face set grim.

“Thought you fell overboard,” said his friend, “I heard a splash like a body going over the side.”

“Just jettisoning something that wasn’t as palatable as I hoped it might be. Is the engine OK?”

“Yes, the engine’s ready to go,” Alan smiled, “Should get us home, now. Gonna bite the bullet and get that new engine off of Pat. Ordering it today.”

“Great idea, if Pat starts immediately that will mean the boat will be up on stocks in the yard for five or six weeks, right?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“How about we go pike fishing in four weeks’ time instead of sea fishing, my treat this time?”

“Yeah, sounds great,” Alan said, “So long as you cheer up before then, though, you look like you’ve found a pound and lost a tenner, mate.”

Drew smiled slowly, “I’m fine, really, although I do have a favour to ask of you.”

“Anything, mate!” Alan laughed, happy to see Drew cheer up somewhat.

“Can you persuade Sherry to kick Jack into touch and then put in a good word for me?”

“Sure thing, it’s a given. Looks like the beers are on you tonight, huh?”

“Yeah. Why not? We’ll have a few jars in the Jolly Fisherman and swap fishing yarns. Bags I go first!”

THE END.

Not Passing Go!

Happy new year everyone. Hope it is a good one for everybody. This short story was written last year and, I believe, is much improved thanks to some tips from my Facebook Buddies on Writers Chest. Let me know what you think:

NOT PASSING GO!

I picked up a very beautiful young woman from her office. I was supposed to take her to the airport. Almost immediately she realised that the limo was the one that Yousif normally drives.

Clearly disappointed to find a middle-aged guy like me in the driving seat, she asked tersely, “Where’s Yousif?”

I fed her a line, not much choice really.

“Sorry, Madam,” I apologised, “This is my first day with the courtesy car firm. Taking you to the airport’s only my second unsupervised job and I really don’t want to muck it up.”

I gave her my most charming smile and hoped she’d buy it. Her brow remained furrowed. Damn! This was supposed to have been a whole lot easier than this.

The plan was to drive her to the airport in time for her flight and collect a second two hundred for my trouble. Then see if I could sneak off with her passport, leaving her there tapping her pretty little foot. That was the plan. I knew now that that was far too simple. I should have realised sooner and walked away. Maybe I could still do that. Just stop the car, get out and leave her and that limo well alone. Then I looked at her beautiful face in the mirror and knew I couldn’t do that either. She’d be an innocent victim. As for Yousif? He would have to take his chances.

She was still waiting for a better explanation from me. I couldn’t tell her what was really going on, could I? She’d’ve freaked.

I lied and told her I had been introduced to a dozen different drivers and other staff on this, my first day in the job. They were all a blur of faces but I suggested Yousif was a tall, very slender dark-haired charming young man with a neat moustache?

“Yes,” she said, “That’s him, so why’s he not driving?”

Damn good question, Danny boy, I thought. She’s not only attractive, she’s a sharp smart chick for someone still in her mid- to late-twenties, I guessed. With a comfortable lifestyle she’ll probably still look gorgeous well into her middle years. Me? I’m 39 and well and truly careworn from a hard life, so I look a lot older.

I replied that I was just the new guy and didn’t know very much. As I understood it, Yousif had planned the afternoon and evening off and left before this job came in. Otherwise, I suggested, he might have been driving instead of me.

Without waiting for her to comment, I moved the car out into the heavy early evening traffic. I knew that the airport was almost certainly not the best place to go. In the meantime I’d head that way until I could think of something better.

She went rather quiet and closed the soundproof courtesy window on me. She tried to ring Yousif on his mobile. In the mirror I could see her key in the numbers and press her mobile to her ear. I could also feel his phone vibrating against my thigh as it was set on silent earlier in the day. I knew it was his phone, because I didn’t have one of my own. Eventually it stopped and presumably went to voicemail as I saw her lips move, leaving a message. She fiddled with her phone again, making other calls, probably trying his known haunts.

Best of luck finding him girl, he was actually only three feet away from her in the boot but she would never hear him in that soundproofed compartment.

She knew his number off by heart, which brought to mind the smirk on his face earlier when he told his caller that he knew the pick-up. I didn’t know what religion Yousif was but I’m smart enough to recognise when someone knows another person in the Biblical sense. I was just late in picking up on those signals. I guess I got rusty over the last five years. He had repeated the name too, Susan Kollikov, over the phone, I now recalled. It was a common enough Russian name, even in London, so it didn’t ring any alarm bells in my head at the time. They were jangling like bloody fire alarms at an oil refinery right now.

I knew we were both in serious trouble. Yousif was too, although he didn’t know it, nor did she, yet.

Obviously there was no way I was going to tell the young lady that I had Yousif’s mobile. Nor would I admit that Yousif was trussed up tight and gagged in the boot of our sleek limo, next to whatever was going to kill them both. Me too, if I stuck around long enough.

OK, I am no limo driver. Sure, I’ve driven a few getaway cars, smaller, more manoeuvrable and a whole lot faster than this baby elephant. I was driving this limo purely out of desperation.

I only got out of nick three days ago. The old muckers I was relying on for a decent leg up, having done my time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure solely on their behalf, had disappeared. No doubt off to warmer climes to spend theirs as well as my share of the multi-seven-figure bank takings. I had managed to locate whereabouts in Spain that Mikey was holed up. Now I needed enough seed money to get to him before he heard I was out and he jumped. Through Mikey I hoped to catch up with the rest of the thieving buggers, Marty and Simon.

I intended taking out my fair share from each of them, either in lump sums or simply lumps. I was easy either way. I like accounts to be balanced, debit and credit, settled nice and neatly to satisfy my own self-audit.

Anyway, earlier that afternoon, I was sitting relaxed in a café enjoying a warm sweet cuppa. It made a nice change from the tongue-strangling stewed brew I had become accustomed to. I was minding my own business and keeping well out of the winter chill. I wasn’t used to being outside much. Just an hour a day exercise for over seventeen hundred consecutive days leaves you a touch agoraphobic.

That’s when I overheard this skinny guy dressed in a smart grey drivers’ uniform. This Yousif was taking a phone call, which I only caught one side of the conversation. The gist was that he had to pick up a girl from a nearby office and take her to the airport. He scribbled down the flight number on a scrap of paper. He added the city office post code, pick-up and departure times and finally the girl’s name, which he repeated saying he knew the person. That’s when that knowing smile played on his greasy chops.

What pricked up my ears was that some guy was bringing round her cases to the café with a two hundred down-payment. Yousif repeated the caller’s promise of another two hundred at the airport. He arranged to meet someone who would have her tickets and passport, provided they were in time to catch the flight. Yousif assured the caller that was no problem.

I could definitely use both payments as I was broke. In Freddie the Forger’s hands that passport could be used to get me to and from Spain without my parole officer being any the wiser-like, between our weekly appointments scheduled for my first six months out and about.

I went outside first and waited, freezing my bloody balls off. Sure enough a big black car turned up outside the café, driven by a mature heavy-set bloke with a buzz cut, who looked more than a bit useful. From where I stood, in an alleyway behind where this long limo was parked. I could see they knew one another as soon as he went inside. They came out and walked over to the big dude’s car. The guy opened his boot and handed over a couple of heavy smart leather cases to Yousif. They shook hands and Yousif was handed four crisp fifties, which he folded and put in his pocket. The big guy drove off. Yousif dragged the cases over to his limousine and unlocked the boot lid, opening it up.

That’s when I hit him, short and sharp. In my game one punch is plenty. I bundled his limp body seamlessly into the cavernous boot, taking the keys out of his hand. I dropped the cases in on top of him and looked around. Nobody was about to see anything anyway. I drove the car around the corner where it was even quieter. I opened the boot again.

His uniform would never fit me, I was tall and broad, he was just as tall but painfully skinny, so I just took his cap. Good job he had a big head. I had lost a lot of weight in five years. I was a lot leaner and harder than when I went in, I’d had to be to survive.

I really needed to drill another hole in my old belt but the battery in my cordless drill round at Mum’s was so flat it wouldn’t take a charge any more, so I had to keep hitching up my trousers to stop them falling down. Apparently hipsters were all the biz with the kids, I was just too old to look right in them.

There was a pack of polishing rags in the boot, they like these cars to be kept gleaming. I stuffed one in his gob and tied another over his mouth to keep it in place. Used others to tie his hands and feet and finally lashed them together with his necktie to stop him moving about when he eventually came to. He couldn’t move much anyway, jammed up against those heavy cases.

Jeez, I thought, this Susan woman was either one big broad or she likes to wear a lot of boots, those cases sure weren’t packed with skimpy knickers and bikinis. Perhaps she was going to the North Pole and had flat-packed the sled and a team of huskies?

In his pocket, along with the folded fifties, was the note of the office address plus the flight number. I took his mobile, too, using the web function to find out the check-in time. There wasn’t much time to spare, so I drove straight to her office.

So there we was, me driving up front and Susan sitting in the back wondering where Yousif was and why she couldn’t get hold of him. Not much I could do about that.

Trouble for me was that I already knew of her hubby, Benny Kollikov. He was the banker who financed my last bank job. I never actually met him, this kind of business uses middle men, so Benny’s hands were clean as he raked in his cut. Made his money on Afghanistan drugs, apparently, with his hands also on an almost inexhaustible supply of plastic explosive. I needed a few grams of that myself at the time.

I had organised the bank job, and took on the risky business of driving decoy. I drove a car recently registered in my own name, while a very similar car with fake plates did the actually getaway from the job. I drove off as the second part of a tag team, with the police following me in hot pursuit, while the other car and the loot was driven into a gated yard we’d rented.

Damn those stingers. Stopped me in my tracks, they did. I had expected that, though. They arrested and charged me with the bank job, while I countered with “I thought you were chasing me for unpaid parking fines. It’s a fair cop for the fines, officer, but I don’t know nuffink about no bank heist!”

I thought that when the real getaway car was found later that day, burnt out with almost the same number plate, with an F in the index number and mine with a broken bottom stroke of the E, I would have the perfect alibi.

The other car never bloody-well turned up.

Somebody put me away, while the others involved got off scot free. The police had a tape recording of me telling the lads my plan for the raid in the pub. The recording implicated me and me only, the rest of the boys kept schtum during the recording. Yeah, real funny that.

I got five years from the judge and ended up doing the lot. I was picked on for fights a lot inside, winning most, losing some, but mostly I lost any chance I might have had of early release for good behaviour. Funny that, too.

My buddies on the outside were supposed to look after me missus, while I was inside. They certainly did that alright, she had twins 15 months into my sentence. My Mum told me she’d named them Martina and Michaela, which meant either Simon was innocent or my wife was double-bluffing me and Simon was the culprit. Agnes wasn’t that bright, she was cute but dumb when I met her on alpine training in Norway. Agnes and the girls were still living in our cheap near-hovel flat on a sink estate in Tottenham, so she definitely wasn’t the mastermind behind my prolonged incarceration. The three stooges didn’t have a brain cell between them either, but sod it, all three of them were getting the good kicking they deserved.

Susan slid open the courtesy window, breaking me out of my thoughts.

“I don’t have my passport with me,” she announced, “I need to go via my place, first.”

I had been led to believe that the passport in question was already waiting for her at the airport and that she had been informed of that fact. I knew that was now more than likely extremely bloody unlikely, as was Yousif’s promised two hundred for passing Go!

Anyway, A, she didn’t need to know that and B, not moving towards the airport was a really good plan as far as I was concerned.

“Certainly, Madam,” I replied, “What’s the postcode?”

She told me and I keyed it into the SatNav. The resulting route led me to a destination just twelve minutes away, which was way better than the ninety or so estimated to get to the airport. At this time of the evening, it would mean maybe an hour before getting to open country. No way was I staying behind that wheel for anywhere near another sixty minutes.

I didn’t know what the margin of error was, I wasn’t prepared to assume anything at the moment.

“Thanks, driver, sorry I don’t know your name?”

“Daniel, Miss, most of my friends call me Dan or Danny.”

“It’s Mrs rather than Miss, Danny, and you can call me Susan if you like, I prefer informality.”

I understood that. She’d clearly been very informal with her previous driver. At least she hadn’t asked me for my telephone number yet. Perhaps I was too old for her, only being about twenty years younger than her husband.

We had a short conversation, she found out I had a family (all right I lied again, this time about Agnes and the twins but it don’t count as a lie if we’re still married though, does it?). She told me there was just Benny and herself, no kids yet. Like a sixty-year-old gangster with a grown-up family back in Moscow wants more kids? Anyway, she rabbited on, Benny had a holiday home in the Bahamas and that was where they were headed, apparently.

“Last minute plans?” I asked, knowing the answer already.

“Yes. My husband’s secretary called me out of the blue about this spontaneously-arranged trip,” Susan said, “I love surprises. … Although I feel sure that Benny has a Lodge meeting on the first Tuesday in the month and he never misses one. Why the panic, why not fly out tomorrow?”

Yeah, why the panic? I guess old Benny had found out about Yousif and legal niceties are anathema to Russian gangsters. Well, that applies to any gangsters I suppose. A Lodge meeting with all those senior police officer present, makes a convenient alibi for a brother Mason.

Once we reached the destination, Susan directed me to the entrance to the underground car park. I guessed that limo had 40 minutes left on the clock, enough time to get to the apartment, grab her passport, and let Yousif out. He had behaved himself, after all.

I just wasn’t sure what to do with Susan herself. She was hot and bright, while my type was more cute and dumb. I smiled at the thought. Yeah, right, any attractive girl was my type. I just didn’t have much of a chance to register as hers, even in my wildest dreams. No, even though I would never be rewarded in that way, I would have to get her out of it somehow. Her marriage had terminal stamped all over it, that didn’t necessarily have to apply to her life as well.

We pulled into a parking spot next to a smart new shiny black Bentley that I had seen already today. Benny’s Bentley, no doubt. We both got out.

“Do you want me to go up with you?” I asked, “In case you need a hand bringing anything down. You didn’t pack your own bags, I believe?”

Susan thought, just a momentary hesitation.

“Not a problem, please wait here for me, Danny.”

“OK, Susan.” Not much else I could say, she was holding all the cards, calling all the shots. “Shall I come up in twenty minutes if you are not down by then?”

“That’s a good idea,” she smiled, “The Penthouse, the code to the car park door is 1234 and the elevator code is 5678. Damn! That is so lame, I hadn’t really thought about it before.”

I nodded and rested my butt on the bonnet, folded my arms, apparently resigned to wait. “See you in twenty, then.”

She flashed that stunning smile again and turned, walked through the car park and the code-protected door. My eyes followed her all the way, she sure looked tasty in that pin-striped suit cut just above the knee.

I gave her just two minutes before pulling the htorch rubber torch from the glove compartment and following her through that door. I ignored the lift. I climbed those stairs fairly rapidly, I was still in good shape for an older guy. Plain food and plenty of exercise for the last five years helped in that regard. The only problem was that my damn trousers kept wanting to go south. If Yousif had worn a belt I might’ve tried it on for size. It occurred to me then that I could’ve taken his tie to hold my kecks up, if I hadn’t already used it to lash his hands to his feet.

That reminded me about Yousif, I should have dragged him out and dropped him the other side of the Bentley for safety. Plenty of time though, I could leave him for another twenty minutes. Just about.

The stairs didn’t go right up to the penthouse, they stopped at a solid door a floor short. It took a different code to the ones Susan had given me, I guess she didn’t use the stairs much. I had to open the window and climb out. Alright, I’ve done some cat burglary in the past, just never got caught doing it so it’s not on my record. I knew the mountain climbing training I had in the Forces would come in handy. Plenty of handholds in the brickwork and I made it to a skylight over one of the darkened bedrooms in no time at all, carrying the torch in my mouth. A little judicious knife work with my gloves on to avoid leaving fingerprints and it was open. I dropped down almost silently into the room, pausing for a moment to hear any sounds in the apartment.

I could hear voices, a male and female conversing faintly but animatedly, some distance away. I was in an empty bedroom.

I crept over to the door and twisted the knob slowly, it was well oiled and silent. I opened it a crack, using a single eye to look through into a deserted brightly-lit corridor. I opened the door wider and chanced a glance up and down. A door at the far end was open, where the voices came from. There was another closed door opposite this one, which I stepped up to and opened cautiously, it was in darkness, so I went in and closed the door silently behind me.

My eyes had long been attuned to the dark and I soon recovered from the brief exposure to the bright light in the corridor. It was too dark to make out much though. I flicked on the torch. I was in what looked like the master bedroom with one of the biggest beds I’d ever seen. But what took most of my attention was a body on the floor in front of the bed, oozing scarlet onto a very nice Axminster rug.

He wasn’t quite dead yet, but he didn’t have long to go. Gut shot, single bullet, nine-millimetre by the size of the entry wound. Recently shot, longer than ten but twenty minutes tops, so it wasn’t Susan. Somebody she rang from the limo?

I knew the signature of the gut shot, Dmetri.

He was another Russian gangster I knew of. Had been around a while, started off pimping, drug dealing, owned a couple of small bars-cum-nightclubs, all small stuff. Couldn’t remember his surname but I knew it began with P, because everyone called him Poppemoff. He liked to hit his victims with a single shot in the gut and let them die slowly, twenty to thirty minutes.

Benny on the other hand liked to blow people up, timed to go off outside town in the country. There it was less messy but would not be allowed to go as far as the airport where they had sniffer dogs and the victim might just get away. Also, Benny no doubt wanted to kill two birds at the same time, his cheating wife and the cheeky bastard driver who did the nasty on him.

Anyway, there I was thinking about this nearly deceased body, Benny’s life leaking casually into that lovely woollen weave when I realised the obvious. The only reason for a rug on top of the thickest, plushest fitted bedroom carpet I’ve ever seen in my life was … a floor safe.

I rolled the big bugger over, lifted up the Axminster and there it was. Oh, goody, a Marshall-Eckhart Mark 2a. Typical Russian gangster, drives a top of the range Bentley but keeps his valuables in the kinda safe you couldn’t give away for 99 pence on eBay. Ideally, I needed a slotted screwdriver, but all I had was my trusty heavy penknife, which would have to do.

The voices were still coming from the other room at the end of the corridor, so I had to be quiet. I lined up the knife, pulled the carpet back over to muffle the sound and struck the knife with the heel of my hand. I listened for a moment. Nothing came my way, so I checked the safe. It was open. It’s criminal what rubbish some of these security firms pass you off with nowadays.

Inside were bundles of notes plus a lot other papers. I took the lot with just a quick glance through. In cash alone there must’ve been eighty grand in fifties. I stuffed the notes in my waistband. At least they solved the problem of keeping my trousers up! The other documents I slipped into my jacket or back pockets. I closed the safe, which gently clicked shut, rolled back and smoothed out the carpet and then rolled Benny back on top. He let out a low groan. I stood up, time to get going, I thought.

Suddenly the door crashed open and before I could react a slug hit me at close range and lifted me off my pins. I fell back against the bedside cabinet, cracking my head on the wall and slipped out of consciousness.

I don’t know how long I was out, the bedroom was still in darkness but now the corridor light was out as well. The only other immediate thoughts that surfaced was that my head and gut really bloody hurt. I was about to lift my hand to my head when I realised there was a gun in my ungloved right hand. That immediately brought to mind where I was and how I got there. I released the gun and fumbled around and found the torch, flicked it on. Benny was still where he fell, he didn’t look well, no, not well at all.

I checked the gun, it was an automatic with the magazine and chamber empty. It had my dabs on it and I was sure as hell that Benny’s dabs would be on it too. I could guarantee that there’d be nobody else’s.

I imagined how Dmitri’s mind worked, the created scenario being that Benny had disturbed me, a known criminal and suspected burglar. He shot me, I wrestled the gun from him and shot him back, he pushed me against the wall and then we both conveniently died of our wounds. That was the scenario. I was feeling less than happy about being that convenient for Dmitri and the recently-widowed Susan.

I got up, unsteadily, and checked my stomach. The wads of notes had stopped the bullet going right the way through although I would have some colourful bruises to show for it and probably piss blood for a few days. Written off about five grand, had Dmitri, but maybe Mum could still pass them off for me through the local shops. Blame it on mice, she could; we get a lot more bloody mice round our way than crisp fifties!

Couldn’t leave the gun there, I’d wipe it and dump it in the river on my way home. I stuffed it in my jacket, zipped it up and put my right glove on again. As I walked down the back stairs, the building suddenly rocked. Damn it Benny, I thought, used too much plastique again as per bloody usual. I guess when you have to pay through the nose for the stuff you use barely enough; when you got loads you use loads. Well, he’ll never learn now. I decided to take the fire escape the rest of the way and let myself out the back of the complex, take a stroll along by the river.

Shame about Susan, if she’d stuck with me we could’ve had a gas instead of being vaporised with both her lovers. I recalled that instant back in the apartment, the open door, Dmitri and his gun, with Susan peering out from behind him, both hands clinging to his protective left arm.

Anyway, I’ve got a few bob literally tucked under my belt now so I can track down my ex-buddies, and got Benny’s Russian passport in my back pocket for Freddie to work his magic on. Wonder what I’d look like in a buzz cut?

In my jacket I had the deeds for a seafront property in the Bahamas and another set for a luxury yacht; wasn’t sure where it was moored but I’d track it down. I may have to invite Freddie over for the next few winters, he don’t get out much. I know I carried what was left of Freddie after he stepped on that UID, over five kilometres of mountain desert, so he still thinks he owes me. I’ll persuade him he’s got to concede that we can finally call it quits so that I can pay him the going rate he deserves in future.

Then there was the bank vault key nestling safely in my pocket, along with the yellow post-it with the bank code, account number and password on it. Thank goodness Benny’s memory for numbers was like a bloody sieve. I looked upon that as a bit of a bonus.

I reached the end of the fire escape and strolled unconcernedly along the riverside walk. I breathed in the night air, which started out heavy with the smell of cordite, burning rubber and fuel. Soon the air became cleaner, with the fresh pungency of the ebb-tide river breaking through. It was a damp chilly evening, a light mist rising from the water.

I thought how nice it would for the twins to learn to swim in a warm and secluded Caribbean cove.

What the hell, I thought, I can’t help it if I’m more comfortable with cute but dumb.

THE END.