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Archive for March, 2010

Sci-fi – Part three


2010
03.30

Entry by Eva Schultz (13 April 06)

It wouldn’t do at all, going back without even seeing the unit for myself. By the time we reached Mission, my leg would be healed, and even though the higher ups would believe what had happened, I knew there wouldn’t be an overflow of pity for the able-bodied engineer standing before them. It’s a lot easier to pity a bleeding man.

Sophie jammed the last of the recovery pack into the compact steel case and shoved it away. “Okay, let’s see about getting you to a more secured area, if we can.”

“What are you doing?” I said, indicating the pack. “We can’t leave any evidence that we were down here.”

She rolled her eyes at me as she stood. “You’re just like my dad. You old guys – you always think the game still works the way it did twenty-five years ago.” She noticed her bloody hands for the first time, brushed them together in a worthless effort to clean them, and finally settled for rubbing her palms against the backside of her canvas jumpsuit. “Come on. Give me your hand. The painkiller should be enough to let you manage a brief walk, if you lean pretty heavy on me.”

“Should be?” I echoed with a wry smile, and I was relieved when she mirrored my expression. If I could get her smiling, perhaps I could get her trusting me again. A kid like Sophie, especially trying this hard to prove herself, tended not to listen.

I seized her hand and couldn’t restrain a groan as I stood. Painkillers may be good, but they don’t dull the bizarre sensation of skin and tissue rubbing in directions they shouldn’t. “Okay,” I said. “I guess we can come back for the case later. Let’s head for the control room.”

Sophie started us down the hallway, allowing me to lean against her and hop on my good leg. “I told you, it’s surrounded. We’ve got to make for that backway escape that you talked about in the briefing.”

I stopped hopping, and my greater height and bulk forced her to stop. “That backway will take hours, if I can even find it again. Besides, the unit is the only thing we came for. I’m going to the control room.”

“Are you crazy?” she snapped. I could see that any goodwill I had been earning was now forfeit. “We will die here. Don’t you get that? If we can make it to the surface, we may be able to locate a signal beacon and modify it to call the Mission for rescue. If we go anywhere near the control room, they’ll just cut us down. What good will that do?”

I met her gaze. “Even a one-legged guy as old as your dad could get into that room before they processed what was happening and reacted,” I said, and I could see from the dawning look on her face that she knew it was true. And she knew what I meant.

“But you’ll have no way out,” she said in a small voice.

I tried to look like that didn’t bother me – maybe she was too young to read an old man’s poker face. “I’ll destroy the unit,” I said. “It isn’t as good as getting it back up and running, but it’s certainly better than letting it sit there defenseless for them to find and use against us. I’ll get in, but I won’t get out. But that’s what it’s going to take.” I let go of her shoulder and propped myself against the wall, holding my bad foot slightly off the ground. “I’m going. If you want to get back to the surface, I certainly understand that. Just don’t interfere with what I’m going to do.”

A strange look crossed her face, and I realized she wasn’t looking at me. “Sophie?”

Her eyes widened. “I don’t hear anything,” she said.

I tensed, listening. There wasn’t a sound from up the stairs. The thumping, the inevitable movement of death coming down to us – it had all stopped. We stared at each other, as silent as our pursuers.

Sci-fi – Part two


2010
03.30

Entry by Ken Guy (27/02/06)

Ready? I thought, how? I didn’t want to voice my thoughts but apart from her usual small daily issue of ammunition we had nothing to frighten them off.

If I hadn’t got spooked things may have been different. I got frightened and crapped out when one lunged at me. I didn’t remember the stairs when I ducked into the doorway. Those steep steel stairs designed to separate the groups and prevent their easy access. Could they come down them?

“Do you think they can get down the stairs now? I mean did you see any inkling that they know how?”

“Huh” Sophie grunted, “Why else do you think I’m worrying? I mean apart from the fact that you dropped the communicator when you fell, and we are out of contact 20 floors down and you got a broken bone sticking through you skin, yes I think they can get down here. They’ve had enough time to learn”

I pondered what she said. It was no good arguing about it, if she thought they could get down here then maybe they could. They were acting differently that was for sure. Yet Sophie thought that they were still being given Blue. Surely if that were the case they would have remained as docile as ever. I understood that they had been weaned off Blue years ago, once everything was up and running efficiently.

And if they were still getting Blue how did we get them to produce more over the years. If they became too docile with Blue they did not move around so much, and production would drop. I put this to Sophie and in her worried state she got angrier than I’d ever seen her.

“Of course they are getting Blue, they are hooked on it. Or something else like it. Why else do you think they are milling around all over the place. Not because they have been weaned off it that’s for sure. They are waiting for it and getting more and more impatient for their fix and they will come down here somehow, just to see if we’ve brought some”

I couldn’t answer that, Sophie was the physiologist I was just an engineer. And an old one at that! It was a long time since I had been in this unit and I had hoped never to enter it again.

When I was part of the team designing it so many years ago we little thought about what was going to be used to power it. We had our brief and worked to it, that was all. It took a while to come together but really it was quite a simple set up all told, and when it was completed we four in the team were feted and made to feel like hero’s. Just for doing our job. It was great for the city, first unit like it in the world. And it supplied all the needs of the state for all those years despite the population growing tenfold.

Sophie spoke again, maybe she was thinking she’d upset me

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have snapped like that. What with your leg and all we got to do something fast”

I wouldn’t argue with that for I was getting very weak and woozy. My pack, where was my pack. I slurred the words a little

“I dropped my pack down here somewhere. Its got a kit in it”

‘Why didn’t you say something before? Where did you drop it? Maybe it’s broken”

Before I could answer Sophie was off at a run. First she searched around the stairs where it should have fallen, then, with a shouted “No” she was off up the first flight. My mind was beginning to wander and I was drifting in and out of clarity. In the kit was my salvation. I must pray that it had not been damaged even the tiniest bit for it must work at full power to clear up my wound.

In the far distance I could hear her feet on metal floors like an old broken eletraphone sticking on notes before rushing on with the unidentifiable tune. They were getting fainter so I supposed they were getting further away, or maybe the power was dropping……Like my eyelids……

I came too to pain, a deep throbbing in the whole of my leg right up to my hip. I wondered if my renovated heart could stand it and I wanted so much to go back to where I had just come from.

“Thank the Lord you’re awake. I heard a thump and it sounds like at least one of them is on his way. I don’t know if it’ll survive the knocks from the stairs but it could make a cushion for the others to follow”

I reached down to the pain and was surprised to find the tourniquet had been removed. I tentatively felt lower and felt the hole where the bone had been sticking through.

“I still got to bandage that” she said, “But at least you are back together”

Sophie had blood on her face like it had been sprayed with a gory fountain. Her arms were smeared red beyond the elbows and the bandage she as unpacking was slowly becoming red and white.

“Lay back so I can finish you off. It says on the pack that a bad break like you had will take a good two hours to knit, and then not strongly. The flesh is already healing but I want to cover it in case we have to move fast. Don’t try to put too much weight on it yet. It won’t be back to normal for at least twelve hours”

I heard a thud and a moan from above. I looked into Sophie’s eyes and she nodded.

I marveled at her composure. Sophie had just wrenched my broken leg into place and fixed it so it would soon be like new. Now they were on the way down and she was stuck with an invalid. And I saw no fear in her eyes.

“I’m sorry for getting you into this. It’s just that I have been so inactive lately, and I am out of practice”

“Well let’s face it you were retired after all. I don’t know why it should come down to you though they must have plenty of engineers”

“I said the same and they told me this was a special case. Said they needed someone who knew the unit intimately and could pinpoint the problem. Guess I had better get my brain into gear and start working on it.

Sci-fi – Part one


2010
03.30

Sophie was five minutes, ten at the most, but I can’t tell you how long that felt in that freezing room with its puddled concrete floor. At first I could focus on nothing but my leg, but when the blood soaking the tourniquet began to darken, my heartbeat slowed a little and I began to think of other things. Like how the hell we were going to get out of there. My addled brain couldn’t get any further than the question though. It had been a long time, long enough to forget how to think under pressure like this.

She came back, breathing hard from the effort of necessary speed, and I felt bad for wondering in a moment of weakness if she’d leave me there. Believe me, I wouldn’t have blamed her this time.

“It’s surrounded,” She said, not minding about the echo; we wouldn’t be heard way down here, which of course was partly the problem. She flopped down against the wall next to me. There was a new cut on her arm that she hadn’t noticed, and I opened my mouth to tell her, then thought better of it. I let her get her breath before asking her what had happened, but there wasn’t much to tell; apparently she hadn’t got far.

“I’d been hoping maybe they didn’t know about those stairs, God, no one ever uses ‘em, but…” She threw her hands up helplessly, then looked at me with something close to an apology. “They’ve got around you know. Everywhere.”

I’d been trying not to think about that little fact but I knew it might help to know why. What had happened to them?

“S’ok, you’ve got guts I’ll give you that.”

“For a girl?”

“Of course for a girl.” I tried a smile. “Any more ideas?”

“I’m all out.” She looked at me, a little surprised. “Shouldn’t you be the one to come up with the genius plan anyway? I mean you are the one who’s been here before.”

“Not like this. Last time I had the whole team with me, we were in and out in under an hour, this is completely different and you know it. I mean, Christ…” I looked at my leg in despair. “I don’t understand Sophie. They’ve changed, wouldn’t you say? Do you think they’re acting differently?”

Sophie considered this for a moment, then began checking her pack for more ammunition pretending my words didn’t affect her. The funny thing was that she had been saying this exact same thing right up until the point we found ourselves sitting ducks on floor zero-twenty.

“There’s a perfectly decent explanation and you know it,” she said with more conviction than I’m sure she felt. “Here’s a for instance. When’s the last time they had their Blue?”

I looked at her in disbelief as she rummaged in her pack, frowning with concentration.

“You know we stopped giving them that crap years ago, Soph.”

“Oh, is that what they told you?”

“What, have you been reading too many conspiracy sites? Of course we did – why do you think this round has been so hard? Jesus, usually they don’t even look up, don’t pay any…you know…attention. None at all. Let alone…” I looked at my leg. “Something’s going on, and it’s not what you think, it’s different this time.”

She wouldn’t look at me, and again I wondered if she’d heard. We sat for a full minute without speaking, then a sound like the slamming of a door made us both jump. My skin went cold as I realised it was a door banging open.

Sophie looked me full in the eyes. “Well, it looks like they’re paying attention now,” she whispered shakily, “so we’d better be ready.”

Thriller – Part seven


2010
03.30

Entry by Tom Geraghty – May 08

The seat was hard, and lumpy. Once upon a time there were some springs, or some padding or something in there, but it had long ago decomposed, along with much of the truck. Though the light was starting to fade, Alex was sure there was a small hole in the floor of the footwell through which the road surface was visible, rushing past. Still, as long as there are no sudden bumps, it’ll hold together, he figured.

Petri held the wheel like he was wrestling a bull, and those bear-like arms looked like they’d be able to hold a bull at bay for the foreseeable future.

“Cold day.” Said the bear.

“Isn’t it always?” Alex replied.

“It gets colder.”

A man of few, but well chosen words, thought Alex, and English words at that. “How did you know I was English?”

“No Czech would go near that shit-hole of a brothel you just came out of, and you sure as hell aren’t German. Maybe American, but what’s the difference?”

“A sense of decorum?”

“A what?”

“Nothing. Listen, could you drop me on Jilska?”

“No. Van won’t get down there, I’d never get out again. Anyway, it’s out of my way. I can leave you at Karlov Most, it’s only a short walk from there.”

“Appreciated.”

The rest of the journey, what there was of it, was conducted largely in silence, save for the rumble of the engine and the disconcerting rattle every time they navigated a left-hand turn. As they traversed one of the numerous bridges crossing the Vltava, Alex saw the weir to his left, and further up the river, tourists in small red boats, rowing or in some cases, pedalling their way back to the pontoon as it was nearing dusk, and he assumed the boat hire gentleman wanted to get in the warm pub on the other side of the road. Behind, to the south-west, he could see the steeply rising hillside of the Vltava valley. Nothing like the hills and mountains back home, or rather, his mother’s home, where the summits were usually blanketed in cloud, and if it wasn’t raining, well, it was at least very wet, and probably about to rain. But at least Wales was quiet, peaceful, and had a certain majesty about it. His father’s home however, was majestic in a different way. In a decadent, indulgent, and grandiose way. Befitting of an ambassador, but not particularly to Alex’s taste.

The alarming rattle of the truck’s front axle roused Alex from his reverie as they swung a sharp left across the lights and beared north. A soft, dull ache in his lower back reminded him that it had been some time since he’d drunk anything other than alcohol, and he was in some danger of becoming dehydrated.

“Nearly there.” Growled the grizzly as they passed a small shopping arcade on the left.

Most of the traders were shutting up shop for the day, packing their goods into boxes and stacking them neatly on the shelves, or simply piling them on the floor. The rolling steel shutters of a couple of stores had already been pulled down, one displaying a rather concise piece of Czech graffiti, simply stating “Go gently”, followed underneath, in stylised writing, by the word “Zeko”. A nice sentiment, thought Alex. If you’re going to write graffiti, it should always be worth writing. Simply daubing or scribbling your name, or your tag, onto a wall somewhere always seemed fairly pointless – in all other methods of communication, the author usually has to create something before they sign it off. An artist simply signing a plain canvas rarely receives much in the way of praise, and a writer who signed off their blank manuscript would rightfully be ridiculed. But creating a statement, something that people read, absorbed, considered and potentially discussed? That’s different. It’s something artistic, or at least creative, and while it might not make much sense, it at least causes the viewer to consider the statement that’s been made on that wall. Alex could remember seeing some graffiti at the south bank in London, written along the top of a wooden bench, which plainly stated “I’m not resting.” He felt for a while that it begged the question of what they in fact were doing on the bench, but came to the conclusion that it didn’t really matter, and the writer was probably just being intentionally obscure.

The truck ground to a halt, and Alex pushed the heavy door of the cab open.

Charles Bridge wasn’t a bad place to be dropped off. While there were vantage points everywhere for someone to spot Alex as he climbed out of the truck and shook Petri’s hand to say thanks, it was busy enough to merge into the crowd quite easily.

With twenty minutes to spare, Alex had a bottle of water to purchase and some time to kill. Unfortunate turn of phrase, he thought. Taking the tourist route through town was the safest bet, not the tiny little back streets that littered Prague’s old town; Alex could remember all too clearly the night in Marrakesh, when he, through a combination of haste and inexperience, walked down the tiny, rutted and dark alleyways to get to the rendezvous. Some nasty little kid had jumped him, trying for his wallet and clearly under the impression he was a tourist who had wandered off the beaten track. Alex had dealt with him quickly, thoroughly, and not without some degree of satisfaction. The wiry little bastard had friends nearby, evidently, and not only were they numerous, but they’d seen him break the skinny runt’s right leg in two places. In the ensuing scuffle, Alex had supplied the gang with a number of broken wrists, a cracked skull, and almost definitely prevented one of them from spawning any more little criminals. Unfortunately, he’d also obtained two broken ribs and a ruptured (well, stabbed) kidney for his troubles. He’d nearly bled to death, but made it to the rendezvous, where his contact was able to take him to a surgeon for what Alex still likes to term a hatchet-job.

The scar goes much of the way across his lower back, and he still misses his right kidney, along with a small but not insignificant part of the left. You probably always miss an organ when it’s gone, apart from the appendix. Unfortunately for Alex, the reduced kidney function meant that he had to keep his hydration levels up, for when he became dehydrated, his crappy left kidney was less able to remove waste from his bloodstream. This wasn’t really a problem, and never had been in the past, but it was something he had to be constantly aware of, which is why he compelled himself to buy and drink bottled water whenever he could.

The bell on the shop door rang as he entered the liquor store/crystal shop/newsagent, and initially it was difficult to spot the bottled drinks in the rather haphazard arrangement of goods, though Alex found the ubiquitous branded bottled water in the cooler, took one, and placed a Euro on the counter for the shopkeeper.

Thriller – Part six


2010
03.30

Entry by Mike Day (May 2008)

Alex reached the door and turned the brass handle, it had a high polish in places and a dark patina in others. Used a lot but never cleaned, he reasoned. Inside, the room smelt of stale sweat, harsh Russian cigarettes and even cheaper spirits.

The Garish coloured walls downstairs should have given it away but he had been too distracted by his recent escape; this was a… he searched his memory for that quaint English term, a house of ill repute.

The wallpaper was peeling from the walls like the skin of a sunburnt whale, revealing grey concrete beneath. The bed was covered in a big red faux satin duvet, stains and cigarette burns littered its surface giving it a foul appearance to match the stench.

He slipped the latch on the door behind him and glanced around, there might well be eyes on him from peep holes but he didn’t care. All he wanted was a place to change his clothes and rake a comb through his hair. If the old woman wanted a cheep thrill she was welcome.

He was down to his underwear when a knock came at the door. Alex slipped the stolen pistol under the pair of dress trousers he held in his left hand, with his right he flicked back the catch.

If the door had burst open he would have squeezed the trigger and slotted whoever came through. Fortunately for the young girl sent to enquire if he wanted any “Extras” she had pushed the door open slowly enough to avoid alarm.

She was somewhere between fifteen and twenty five, thin to the point that her elbows stood out like carbuncles on her reed like arms. Her hair was something close to blond, or it would be if she washed it. But what Alex found the most repellent was the vacant calculation in her eyes. She reached up and tugged at the shoulder strap of her loose fitting slip, tilting her head to ask a question with out words.

This sort of lost child made Alex’s blood boil, behind her somewhere there would be a gang of men getting rich off of these girls. He shook his head and gestured with his free hand for her to get out.

She turned as she headed back towards the corridor and looked at him quizzically.

Had she seen the gun, he wondered or was it simply that a man who came here usually only wanted one thing? He didn’t intend finding out, he finished dressing quickly and threw his things into the bag, covering the painting.

At the foot of the stairs the diminutive madam was waiting for him. “You have best girl. You pay me now!” She folded her arms and placed her feet wide apart, daring him to argue.

“I didn’t touch her. Now get out of my way.” Alex said pushing passed her.

“Ay Yah!” she cried out, wailing at her unfair treatment.

From a room near the door a heavy set man with a shaven head stepped into the hallway.

“Are you trying to leave without paying?” growled the thug.

“Paying for what? I just used the room to get changed in. I’m happy to pay for that but I didn’t touch the girl.” Alex spat.

“They both say otherwise.” He said without asking either woman.

Alex let the tension slip from his shoulders, the last thing he needed now was more bodies and the police back on his tail. “Ok, how much?”

The madam looked him up and down, noting the smart evening suit and silk tie. “One hundred US” she said as if this was quiet reasonable.

Alex reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his wallet. He pulled out twenty Euros and placed it on the occasional table next to him. As the woman began to protest he held open his jacket and displayed the gun tucked into his waistband.

The thug showed a glimmer of intelligence by nodding and stepping out of Alex’s way.

“No Taxi?” Alex asked as he headed for the door. He didn’t need a translator to guess what the little woman said in reply.

Out on the street the bitter wind cut through the thin jacket and shirt. He braced his shoulders against its chill and began walking along the road towards the centre of town.

A passing Soviet era truck, more cast iron than carbon fibre, mounted the curb in front of him and pulled to a wheezing stop. As he approached, its passenger side door swung open.

“Do you want a lift?” asked the driver, a great bear of a man, wrapped in bark blue overalls.

“You’re a life saver” Alex said clambering up into the fug of the cabin.

“Petri” he said sticking a paw out towards Alex.

“Alex”

“So where are you heading” Petri asked.

“The town centre”

“Hot date?”

“More like a cold shoulder” Alex grinned as he pulled the heavy steel door shut.

Thriller – Part five


2010
03.30

Entry by Judy Goh

It was not much of a situation, for in Alex’s line of work, he was used to the hysteria and destruction. But getting out of a public display of murder had never been an easy task, especially where there were property and people to be compensated, and coupled with his jet lag, Alex just didn’t feel like dealing with the curious crowd of onlookers. Sometimes he just wished he had a normal, completely risk-free office job with medical insurance you never had to actually use. A still-bouncing Russian doll came to a halt at his weary feet as he regained his balance. Her beautifully painted arched eyebrows and deep blue eyes reminded him of Katka, and jerked him out of his wishful thinking and back to reality.

First, Alex had to get out of there in order to make his meeting at the restaurant and find out what was really going on. And without a ride, it could take hours to reach his destination from this part of the suburbs. Looking around, he noticed the crowd of people thinning, to his relief. But on the downside, Czech police had arrived to join the party in the form of two squad cars. Alex’s heart sank. He knew enough to understand that if he tried to escape, his face could end up on a WANTED poster, his cover would be completely blown, and he would be off the case- no questions asked. If he went quietly with the police and let himself be arrested, the entire process of explaining his identity could take weeks, and the meeting at the Seven Angels would be a no-show. Either way, Brocuek had gotten him into serious hot soup.

Luckily, distraction arrived in the form of one celebrity- Anastazie. She was more than just the local soap opera drama queen, now that she had released her own platinum-status album and landed herself a role in a Hollywood film. Nevertheless, she was famous enough to have her own entourage of fans, and plenty of the people were big fans. The shopkeeper of Russian Dolls Galore! and the toddler were no exceptions, both of which got to their feet earnestly and started clamouring for signed autographs along with everyone else. Alex seized this opportunity to slip away from the police, making like a bat out of hell. Anastazie’s mall tour was probably the best thing that had happened to Alex since his plane had touched down at the airport, and he made a mental reminder to himself to send her some flowers, even though he was not quite a fan of chick flicks.

Now that Alex had gotten out of the legal complications due to Brocuek and the unnamed driver’s murders, he had to hitch a ride to the Seven Angels restaurant in time, with the prized painting in tow and looking presentable. Running away from the crime scene was something he had to do often, and for once, he was glad that he had packed light. All he had to do was grab the bag containing the Matisse and just take off. His watch read eight-fifteen, while his reflection in the windows of nearby shops told him that his clothes needed changing. Forty-five minutes was hardly enough time to look as polished as James Bond would, especially in a posh restaurant. Alex picked up his pace and ducked into a family-run bed and breakfast, within a kilometre radius of the crime scene where the car had crashed.

The bed and breakfast was definitely not what Alex had expected. The walls were painted a garish fire engine-red. Chinese lanterns hung from the ceilings, and there seemed to be lingering scent of incense on the traditional rosewood furniture, which was an unnerving shade of auburn. Dragon designs were carved onto the mantelpiece. Alex stared in awe at the horrible decor as a stooped old Eurasian lady wearing a crimson qipao and her greying hair in a bun appeared at the doorway towards the kitchen. She shuffled towards him, all the while yelling at someone in some Chinese dialect that sounded like gibberish to Alex. Her expression seemed rather amused at the shellshocked Englishman standing on the bamboo flooring.

“Do you want room? All free, no customers today,” she spoke in a broken English.

‘I can see why,’ he thought grimly to himself. Naturally the appearance of the bed and breakfast itself was no more appealing than the smell. However, given the circumstances, he had no other choice. Time was a-ticking away and he needed a room to change into his disguise before meeting his new contact. More importantly, he had to find out what

“Yes, one room for just the one night. I’ll be leaving shortly, could you call me a cab? Thank you very much.” Alex hastened up the staircase, two at a time. He almost hated to see how his room would look like.

Thriller – Part four


2010
03.29

Entry no.2 by Marie Peach

In professional silence behind smoked glass, Broucek’s driver took them smoothly along the highway, where snow was piled high against the central reservation, and then past the bleak, graffitied apartment blocks of the suburbs. They emerged onto one of the many bridges across the Vltava, and the depravity of the high rises was all but forgotten as they were faced with the grandeur ahead. It had been four years since Alex had seen that view – the red-tiled roofs; the palace and government buildings; the winding river that sliced the city in two like a lazy cheese wire – and the last time he had seen it, he had been running for his life. Alex took a deep breath and breathed out hard to try and dismiss the memory. He did not have time for this now.

Whoever this guy, Broucek was, thankfully he was not a talker, and Alex was free to stare out of the window and appear to take in the sights whilst weighing up his options. The combination of three plastic cups of bourbon on the plane and the proximity of a man who almost certainly did not have his best interests at heart, made seeming relaxed an almost titanic effort. His knee jigged up and down involuntarily for a few seconds before he got it together and looked round briefly at Broucek, an amenable smile on his face.

The meeting was planned for nine pm at the Seven Angels restaurant, but that was when Katka had been his contact, when she’d been in charge – had things changed? He looked at his watch; seven thirty pm and counting. He had to assume that meeting was still on. He would make it to the restaurant and work out what to do from there if the client didn’t turn up.

Time to cut loose.

He kept his eyes front, kept it casual. “I don’t suppose there would be time to show you the painting now? I mean, it seems the safest place to do it, on the move. Don’t you think?” Alex’s eyes met keen interest and he saw how eager the man was to see it. Good.

“If you wish, of course. I won’t stop you,” Broucek managed to say calmly, although his eyes showed he was anything but. A tight shirt collar cut unpleasantly into his neck, and emphasised uncomfortable warmth. Alex was close enough to see the sweat on the man’s upper lip. Whether its source was excitement or edginess from playing an unfamiliar role in the proceedings Alex didn’t know. Whichever, it was definitely not the climate, as the car’s interior struggled against fifteen-below temperatures outside.

Alex retrieved a small key from his breast pocket, and liberated his hand from the handcuffs, which were attached to the bag. He passed them over to Broucek, absently, saying, “hold these,” without looking at him. Obediently, and almost incredibly, he took them with both hands, allowing Alex to turn and casually slip them over both of his wrists at the last minute. Broucek had time to stare at him incredulously, and say one Czeck swear word before Alex slipped his arm around his shoulders, like the bold teenager in the back row, and yanked his head around sharply. The crack his neck made told Alex all he needed to know and he reached under the jacket for the dead man’s gun.

This development took maybe ten seconds from start to finish, and he hoped that maybe he would still had another few seconds before the driver would notice something was wrong through the inch thick smoked glass. This gave Alex time to attach the silencer he’d found in Broucek’s pocket, which presumably had been meant for him, and get ready for the chaos that his next move was going to cause. He picked up the bag with his left hand, and put the same hand on the door handle leaving his gun hand free. Knowing that he had had better ideas in his life, and also knowing that with Broucek dead this was the only option, he fired the gun, four times at the wooden panel behind the driver.

Things began to happen next in quick succession. The first was that instead of slumping and letting go of the wheel as he met his maker, the driver actually tightened his grip and heaved the wheel over to the left, steering them off the road and directly into the short corridor-like shopping centre next to the Charles Bridge. The car miraculously missed shops on either side, and a young woman with a child, his face painted like a tiger, jumped out of the way screaming. The second thing that happened was that Alex opened the car door and did a kind of rolling leap, landing on the woman and inadvertently dragging her and the tiger to the ground, just in time to see a dead man drive into the glass fronting of a shop that sold nothing but Russian dolls.

For a few seconds following the BANG of the crash, there was silence except for the ping-pong bounce of hundreds of wooden Russian dolls as they made their way down the shopping centre slope towards the river.

Then the shouting began, and all fingers were pointing to him.

Thriller – Part three


2010
03.29

(Following submission by Joe Prentis)

Alex tried not to react to Milo Broucek’s unexpected appearance, but he realized that he had hesitated too long before making his denial. The small silver pen clipped to the lapel pocket of this man’s suit had once adorned the cap of a Nazi SS officer during World War II. This was to identify him as his contact, but it was obvious that there was something wrong. Was this man drunk? Why had he approached him so openly? He could smell alcohol and the odor of cheap tobacco, and could see a bulge that was probably a pistol underneath his coat. He took a careful look around the restaurant, seeing an elderly woman with a child occupying a table in the corner. The child was playing with a pack of cigarettes, tapping them against the top of the table. The woman was watching indulgently, a half-smile playing around the corners of her lips. Four young adults at a nearby table were leaned forward, engaged in an animated conversation. They did not seem to be aware of anything going on around them. One of the men said something and the blonde one threw back her head and laughed. He decided that they were probably what they appeared to be, college students on a weekend outing. Through the double doors on his left, the concourse was almost empty with only a few stragglers making their weary way toward the exit. A soldier with an AK47 was strolling slowly past. He glanced through the open doorway, but did not see anything that aroused his curiosity.

“Where is Katka?” Alex demanded when the soldier moved along without stopping.

Broucek’s eyes shifted slightly to the left and downward, the betraying action of a practiced liar. “I am afraid that Miss Katka has suffered an unfortunate accident.”

“What kind of accident?” Alex was watching carefully for his reaction.

He made a sighing sound, but did not look like he was sorry. “Her car left the road. She was not seriously injured, but she will be under medical supervision for the next few weeks. Some of our roads are terrible, not what you are accustomed to in England.”

“Then I will need to see her immediately.”

“I am afraid that is impossible. It will be my pleasure, however, to escort you to your hotel. I will be completely at your disposal while you are here. If you will let me have your bag, I have a car waiting outside.”

Alex had no intention of surrendering the bag or the canvas it contained to this stranger. When he grabbed at the handle, he turned quickly away, blocking the movement with his hip. Broucek took a step backward but continued to stare down at Alex’s wrist where the handcuffs were hidden underneath the cuff of his jacket. He had evidently seen the glint of metal as he turned. When he looked up, Broucek’s face was flushed, the anger glittering in his eyes.

“Don’t you trust us?” Broucek asked, trying to make it appear that he was offended but only managed to look evasive.

“It isn’t a matter of trust. Do I have to remind you what a Matisse is worth on today’s market?”

Alex saw the little flicker of his eyelids and realized that they had not told him what he was carrying. A masterpiece worth eight million pounds was enough to tempt anyone and it was obvious that this man would be tempted by far less. Alex realized that he was looking across his shoulder into the corner of the room. This meant that there were at least two of them, maybe more. He felt a moment of sadness, and a vague, undefined sense of regret. He would have to kill Broucek and the man working with him, and then he would have to find Katka.

Romance – Part four


2010
03.29

Entry by Michael Frearson

I sat down in my chair and let him keep hold of my hand.
“Okay,” I said.  “I don’t have time for this.”
“Time for what?”
“I’m hungover.”  My head was throbbing.  I just wanted to go back to bed.  “Just leave me alone.  I’ll catch up with you this afternoon.”
He let go of my hand and folded his arms across his chest.  “What?”
“I’m late.  I feel like shit.  I’ve got work to do.”  I spun my chair round and switched the computer on.  “Where’s your desk?”
“I don’t think I have one.  Ethan said you had to show me round.”
“Yeah.  Well come back to me after lunch, when I’ve had time to get some coffee in me.”
“What am I going to do ’til then?”  He screwed his face up into an annoying defensive frown.  Surely he should have grown out of that by now.
“Go and chat up the receptionist.”  I stood up and grabbed the mug off my desk, then pushed past Karl and went through the door into the kitchen area.  I felt him watching me leave.
The kettle boiled violently at my side as I leant over the sink and took some deep breaths, trying to stop my head from spinning.  He’d had the sense not to follow me in.
The coffee was bitter, strong but watery at the same time.  No matter how sweet you make it, instant coffee can never taste of anything but piss.  My stomach wouldn’t settle.  I ran the cold water from the tap and then filled up a pint glass.  I drank half of it in one go, then filled it up again, and took both vessels back out into the office.
Karl was nowhere to be seen.  I sat down at my desk and began to log in.  A head poked over the cubicle wall.
“Who’s the mystery man?”
“Julie – why don’t you ask him yourself?”  I kept my eyes on the screen and opened up my Outlook.  Julie disappeared.  I looked out of my cubicle to see which way she was going, but she was already gone.
Twenty unread messages.  As I looked at the list, another one popped up.

from                                         subject
Ethan Morris                         Wednesday’s Copy

I closed my eyes and hoped it was a bad dream.

My stomach was grumbling by eleven, and come midday I was feeling completely hollow.  A walk down the road to the sandwich shop would clear my head a bit and fill my stomach too.  I switched off my computer and opened the drawer to get my handbag out.  When I straightened up again Karl was stood outside my cubicle.
“Hi.”
“Hi.”
I stood there and let him stare at me.  I refused to let it bother me; all I wanted was something hot and filling in my stomach to keep me upright and stop my insides from churning.
“I’m going out for lunch,” I said.
“Good,” he said.  “I was just about to invite you out with me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know the area very well.  I’d really like some advice about where to get a good sandwich from.”
“Karl –”  I looked around at the other cubicles, conscious of our proximity to so many ears.    “Okay,” I said, “let’s go.”
I walked out of the office with Karl in tow, and didn’t look back until I was out on the street.  He was right behind me.
“This way,” I said, and crossed the road quickly.

We sat in The Clock Café, finally drinking a proper coffee, waiting for our sandwich meals.  He hadn’t said much, and I’d said even less – just concentrating on breathing and nursing my head.  Then the waitress came and delivered our food with a smile; she checked him out – I saw it – and then left without another word.  She didn’t give me a second glance.  When she was gone he raised his head and spoke.
“Look, I’m sorry I pissed you off this morning.  I didn’t realize you were in such a bad mood…”
“Yeah, well I’m sorry if I was a bit shitty.  I woke up feeling like death this morning, and it’s been all downhill since then.  It just wasn’t the right day to run into you.”
“No, I guess not.”  He took a bite of his sandwich.  “So what were you doing last night?”
“What do you think I was doing?” I said, frowning at him.
He winced and said, “Ordering a donner and shish mix…urrghhh.”
I let him smile at his own joke, since he’d gone to the trouble of making it.  “So you don’t remember, then?”
“Remember what?”
“We celebrated my birthday on five separate occasions, but that’s not enough for you to remember it.”  I took a big bite of my tuna sandwich – so big that I had trouble chewing.  I automatically raised my hand to my mouth.
Karl smiled and reached into his pocket.  “Of course I didn’t forget.”  I watched him pull out a small parcel and lay it on the table.  “Happy birthday,” he said, and I looked at it, sitting there on the table between us.  When I looked up again I noticed how smug he’d become.
“What is it?”
“Open it and see.”
I began to feel suspicious.  I picked up the parcel and turned it over in my hands, looking for a point of entry.  He sat back in his chair as if settling down for an evening’s entertainment.  I looked over at him as I tore the paper away.  Underneath was a small, neat box.
“I hope this isn’t cufflinks,” I said.
“No,” he said quietly, then leaned over and opened the box to me.
I looked hard at it, there on the table, and I took a breath and tried to find something to say.  Karl had begun to tap his foot on the floor.  There was only one sentence revolving in my mind, and I didn’t know where else to start.
“What the fuck is that?” I said.

Romance – Part three


2010
03.29

Entry by J P Shaw (13 Feb 07)

“I entered my boss’s office. The coppery taste of my own blood rested against my tongue. I had bitten my lip, hard, as I stepped up behind the man who remained seated with his back to me in the chair.
“You look awful!” My boss said. If I’d had an anvil, I gladly would have dropped it on his head for the announcement. I should have pinched my cheeks harder on the ride in this morning. But at least I had on matching shoes, now.
“I want to introduce you to a new member of our staff.” My boss pointed to the man sitting with his back to me. It was the moment I had been dreading from the minute I’d peeked through the office window, seeing him sitting in the chair, comfortable and relaxed.
“Hello, Quinn.”
My stomach lurched hearing him speak my name. I wanted to throw up. I would have, too, if there had been anything in my stomach other than a mixture of large quantities of alcohol resting peacefully at the bottomless pit of my mid section, still sleeping off my birthday celebration. I did not want to wake a sleeping giant. So, I bit my lip again to keep control. Besides, how embarrassing would that be? Hello Karl-and then spewing chunks. Nice.
“You two know each other?” Ethan turned to me.
Ethan Morris, my boss, and of course also attached to the list below Jennifer Aniston, and above Grace from Will and Grace, younger than me. A good guy, Ethan looked pleased.
“Quinn and I go back. Don’t we?” Karl said, his eyes focusing upon my face that didn’t need any pinching now. And again I felt like kicking myself for not putting my make-up on properly before leaving this morning. I was certain I was three shades crimson, and perhaps a little violet, too.
It was always that way, thinking back, between Karl and I. No matter where we were, I’d catch him, just staring at me. Karl always had an intent look upon his face as though he were dissecting a small animal caught in a vice. But then-he’d smile. He’d smile, and my entire body would liquefy immediately. Put us together, and I could whip up a margurita in seconds with the way my body reacted toward him. I’d be the hit of every party.
Together.
We’d already been-together. And flashes of the past came reeling back to me. Karl and I in Paris, bungee jumping in Rome, skiing in Vancouver, skinny dipping in Mexico, and making love all night long beneath-.
“Quinn?” Ethan called my name. I wasn’t sure how many times he’d said it before I actually registered he was talking to me. Embarrassment flooded my face. “It’s good you two know each other. That makes this easier. .”
Makes what easier? My eyes rounded with each syllable Ethan danced around me. And then he said, “You two are going to be working together on the new column. I’d like you take Karl around. Show him how you work, and spend some time catching up with one another. And since you already know each other. This is going to be great! I want first copy on my desk by Wednesday.”
I stood motionless. My legs floated beneath me like puffy white clouds twirling a waltz in the air. I scanned around the room, hoping Ashton Kutcher would jump from behind Ethan’s desk to tell me I was being punked.
Who was I kidding? I was not a celebrity, in any sense of the word. I had to face reality. This was my life. I was a reporter. I had a column to do. My boss had just introduced to me my writing partner, who happened to be a man I’d shared a bed with for nearly five years.
It was a relatively simple concept to adjust to, and yet somehow my brain felt like Tweedy Bird swallowed by Sylvester behind Granny’s back.
This couldn’t be happening.
I stormed out of the room, quick on the heels of my white-laced Reebok’s, headed straight for my desk. I passed Jules along the way. I could tell by the look on her face she wanted to know why I was reeling with anger, needing to know every gory detail to what just transpired in our boss’s office. Well-I wasn’t going to say anything. Not to anyone.
And then it hit me. I couldn’t work with Karl. We had a history. We’d lived together for crying-out-loud! Wasn’t it unethical or something?
I had no idea what I was going to do. I could storm back into Ethan’s office and spill my beans about my sordid past with Ethan’s new acquisition. No, I thought. That would be worse than standing in the room, before, listening to Ethan tell me the news, and seeing Karl again.
“So-.” The deep voice said from behind me. I was gripping my chair, which was a good thing, because I was ready to claw the roof. Just hearing the slow, sexy tone, caused the temperature of my body to go up faster than an Oak tree caught in an unfortunate summer blaze.
“So, what?” I replied, turning to face him. Karl leaned against the side of my cubicle. It was then I noticed how much older he looked. Not in a bad way, mind you, not even close. He looked more-mature.
Dressed casual, blue jeans and a black cashmere sweater, which did everything to outline his perfect physic, and nothing to squelch the fire I was feeling just looking at him. Silvery strands dusted his charcoal locks slightly. I liked it. It made him look more refined, and sexy. If that were even possible, which judging from the way my foot began to tap nervously. It was.
“Look-Quinn. I know this isn’t easy. .”
I stifled the laughter that bubbled up from my throat, once again biting my tongue, hard. Easy! He had no idea. Easy was when you had to wash your car for the afternoon in the sun. Not an entire parking lot, which is what I’d have to wash the moment I got home, to cleanse myself. Just being this close to him after all this time made me feel grungy with memories from our past. How it ended, and how ugly things had gotten between us.
“We can’t work together,” I said with straightforwardness.
“Why not?”
Karl was amused. The corners of his eyes always turned up whenever he watched me struggle with my words, as I was doing right this very second. He was enjoying this-the bastard!
“Mmmm, let me think,” I said. “Uhh, could it be because I hate you!” I told him. The next sound I heard was laughter. Not my own either. His.
Karl chuckled from deep in his throat, low and husky. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to work with him, let alone finish this conversation if he kept doing that.
“You don’t hate me, Quinn.”
“Yes, as a matter of fact-I do!”
“No you don’t.”
“I do,” I repeated with frustration.
“No-you-don’t.” Karl paused, his smile deepening. A hint of rebellion twinkled his baby blues, and reaching down, he grabbed me by the hand. “And I’m going to prove it to you.”


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