Dogged Revenge

Dogged Revenge

Daniel Lopez had a bad night. He slept fitfully, never fully awake, but never properly asleep either. He tossed and turned throughout, which gave his wife, Estrella, a poor restless night too. The reason for their lack of quality sleep, unbeknown to them at first, was the lack of barking of theirs and their neighbour’s dogs. They had become so accustomed to the persistent barking, that they could no longer rest properly in a quiet neighbourhood.

Their son, Juan, poked his head around their bedroom door, waiting for the invitation to come in and crawl under the warm duvet with them. Daniel woke as he heard the door creak open, winked at his son, and motioned for him to come and join them.  Juanito smiled, leapt onto the bed and snuggled under the covers with his parents. The sudden movement woke his wife, Estrella, with a start. She groaned and buried her head under the pillow.

After some time Estrella sat up with a slight look of concern. “Danny, why is it so quiet outside? I hope Bacco is alright.”

Bacco was their German Shepherd. Estrella sometimes wondered if her husband loved the dog more than he did her. She knew that he doted on his prize winning pedigree hound.

“Juanito, go and take a look will you? Just check that he hasn’t got out again like last time.”

Juanito groaned, climbed out of the warm place and sidled out of the bedroom. He came back minutes later, tiptoeing up to the bed and whispered, “Shhh Mummy. Bacco is sleeping on the front doorstep. I didn’t want to wake him up.”

Daniel raced out of the bed. He knew something must not be right. Bacco never slept on the step; always in the corner of the garden.

He opened the door, sensing instantly that poor Bacco was dead. He was lying in a pool of his own vomit, with his long pink tongue sticking out, as though he was trying to gasp for air. Daniel sat down on the step, oblivious to the stench and filth, cradled Bacco’s head in his arms and slowly wept.  Through his tears he gradually became aware that the whole street was dead quiet.

At first he imagined some kind of dog disease, but quickly dismissed the idea. He dressed quickly and went out into the street. Many neighbours were already out there talking, crying, showing bouts of anger. “Who would do such a thing?” cried the older widow from opposite.

Daniel swung his head round in the direction of his nearest neighbour, John Diamond. “I bet I know who did it. I’ll kill the bastard,” he spluttered as he immediately marched in the direction of his neighbour’s house.

He rang the bell non-stop. Before waiting for anyone to come he began shouting, “Come out you murdering bastard. I am going to wring your bloody neck.”

Glenda Diamond came rushing out to see what all of the commotion was about. “Daniel, what’s wrong? Why are you shouting and threatening John?”

“He killed our dog. I know it was him. He never liked our dogs. Getting a bloody little poodle was just for show, so that he could kill ours without being suspected. Where is he? I’ll kill him.”

“He is around the back of the house. You are wrong. He would never hurt your dog.”

They walked round the house. Daniel had his fists clenched ready. He was trembling with anger. As they turned the corner at the rear of the house John was sitting with his dead poodle laid across his lap. Tears could be seen running down his face. “Who could do such a thing?” He looked up at Glenda and Daniel. “Who? Tell me, who would do something like this?”

Daniel’s anger drained out in an instant. He was momentarily confused. He didn’t know what to do or what to say.

Without speaking he turned and walked away. Glenda looked at her husband, then at their little dog and finally at Daniel. “You see Daniel; I told you he would never do something like that.” Then turning back to her husband she stuttered, “But who would?”

Before leaving, Daniel turned towards them and whispered, “I’m so sorry. I thought…..Please forgive me.”

John’s mind was racing. “Go back in the house darling. I will take care of this and clean up the mess. We will discuss it when I have calmed down.” Then realising that he was still not supposed to know about any other dogs being poisoned yet he added, “We’d better call the guardia civil.”

He winced, thinking that he had almost made a serious mistake. He must be more careful.

Then, as Glenda walked away, he gave a long smirk, pleased with himself that all was going as planned. What he didn’t know was that Daniel Lopez had been watching him through a small gap in the fence. Daniel saw the smirk and now knew that he had been right all along.

*****

The police came, took statements from all seventeen close neighbours who had lost their pets.  There were also a number of cats amongst the casualties. Clearly someone had poisoned them all.

Due to the scale of the crime tests were made on the animals. They had all been poisoned with a high strength arsenic solution placed in their food. This explained the number of cats which were also killed.

During the interview Daniel gave no clue that he believed that John Diamond was guilty of the crime. In fact he openly praised his neighbour for the way he had handled the situation, in front of the police during questioning. He wanted this to be recognised by everyone.

All of the animals had been collected by the local veterinary surgeon and, after testing, were packed into a wooden carton to be disposed of by burning the carcasses.

That night Daniel looked full of sorrow. “I always walk Bacco in the evening. I think that I will just go out for my walk anyway Estrella.”

He slouched out of the door with his head hung low. Estrella wanted to hug him, but knew that was not what he needed.  “We can go out for some tapas at Pedro’s Bar if you want,” she called down the hallway.

“I’m not really in the mood if you don’t mind. I just want an hour to myself.”

Daniel walked slowly at first and then broke into a trot. He must be back in time. He jogged five kilometres to the ‘laboratorios patológicos’ and quickly clambered over the iron gate. Once inside the compound he was invisible from the street.

He crept stealthily around to the back of the building, where he was expecting to find it necessary to break in. He was in luck. The wooden carton was recognisable immediately. To his surprise it had been left outside ready for disposal. He slowly unscrewed the top bracket and eased the lid open.

Instantly the stench caused him to wretch. He turned away, before his stomach lost control. Gagging on the putrid smell, he took a handkerchief from his pocket and tied it around his mouth and nose. He turned back to the carton with dogged determination.

He thrust his gloved hands into the slime and gristle. There was little to be recognised of the individual animals. They had been carved up during the examinations. He was losing resolve and was about to give up, when he felt something he recognised. It was the studded collar of his Bacco. He pulled as hard as he could to free the animal from the surrounding mix of blood and flesh, eventually managing to drag the remaining contents of his dear old pet free.

This was the part that he had been dreading.  He took out his knife and began to cut through to the stomach. His job was made much easier by using the opening that the investigators had made. He cut two small slices of meaty offal from around this area, hoping that he had enough to do the job. He placed them into a self-seal food bag, and stuffed it into his coat pocket. Silently, he slid the remains back into the carton, removed his gloves and screwed back down the lid.

At home, after depositing the food bag in a discrete place in his garage, he went directly to the bathroom for a shower. Later, while he sat with his family he began to slowly feel better. A good bottle of rioja helped him on his way.

 

*****

Two days later was the annual birthday event for Felix Garcia, one of the well-known residents in the street. Felix was famous for his wonderful garden parties. He would always invite the neighbourhood for an evening of paella, grilled fish, tapas etc. He prided himself on his ability to throw a great party and invite as many guests as he could. Since his wife had died this had become the main event of his year. It was to be a special event this time, as it was his seventieth birthday party.

It was a warm humid evening as the guests began to arrive.  Glenda and John came early and sat furthest from the BBQ because of the heat. In all, more than forty people arrived during the next half hour. Daniel and Estrella, together with young Juanito were almost the last to arrive.

Juanito said, “aw Dad. Now we need to sit near the fire. It will be too hot.”

Estrella admonished Daniel by whispering, “If it wasn’t for your messing around in the garage until the last minute, we could have been here earlier.”

Daniel was calm and knew exactly what he was doing.

Despite the tragedy of losing their dogs only a few days before, many of the guests were upbeat in anticipation of the evening ahead.

Once everyone was seated Felix brought them to silence by clanging his spoon on a wine glass and made a small welcoming speech, thanking them for coming and wishing all his friends a wonderful evening.

When he had finished Daniel stood up to make a further toast to Felix. All stood and took the toast. Before Daniel sat down again he begged forgiveness for his indulgence but wanted to say a few words more.

“Please, I don’t want to spoil a wonderful evening by discussing the tragedy that has befallen our pets this week, but feel it necessary just to say a few words. Many of us have lost something special to us and are still grieving. Let me just say that when I went round to John, our newest neighbour, immediately after he had found his poor poodle, I saw a sight that I will never forget as long as I live. The sadness I saw in him losing a pet that he loved helped me to realise that I was not the only one to be suffering. It helped me a lot.”

As he was speaking he walked around the table and put his hand on John’s shoulder.

“We, as neighbours and friends help each other in so many ways. I would like to propose a toast to ‘neighbours’.”

All stood again and repeated, “To neighbours”.

Everyone clapped and began to continue with their previous conversations.

Daniel was watching them all. He was tight inside down to his guts. He used all of his self-control to convince the guests that he was genuine.

After the aperitif and some olives Felix announced that the paella was ready to serve. Daniel, being the one closest to the BBQ, jumped up and shouted, “Here Felix, let me help you. Who is for paella?”

The chicken Paella was handed out, ladies first, as is the custom. “This looks really good,” said John Diamond, smiling. “Felix, you have excelled. I think I am going to enjoy my retirement here very much. I am hungry enough to eat a horse.”

Daniel almost choked. “Well, we have no horse, but I hope chicken will do.”

As Daniel piled the steaming plate of paella, he slipped in the two small pieces of dog meat, which he had cooked earlier. He was shocked at the difference in colour against the pale paella, spending some moments stirring John’s plate to blend it in.

Daniel placed the plate in front of John but realised that he hadn’t given him such a good portion after all. With the stress of the situation he had lapsed in concentration and only then realised that the plate was only half full. “I’m sorry John. You said that you were hungry. I will get you some more.”

John laughed. “Don’t worry Daniel. I can always come back for more afterwards. Please, get yourself a serving and join us.”

By the time Daniel had served himself and sat down, he was almost shaking with the tension. He didn’t even know if his plan would work. As he began to eat he heard the most frightening thing of his life. “Darling, you have far too much on your plate. As my portion is smaller, let us swap.”

John shoved his plate in front of his wife as he took her plate.  Glenda was irritated by John’s assumption that she would eat a smaller portion but they both began eating without a further word. Daniel, on seeing this, choked on a piece of chicken and broke into a fit of coughing. “Here amigo. Drink this. It will wash it down,” said Felix, handing him a large glass of Sangria.

With a blotchy red face Daniel could finally speak. “Sorry about that. I think a piece of something went down the wrong way.” Everyone laughed, when they saw that all was well.

Daniel eyed Glenda working her way through the meal. He stared from the other end of the table as she placed the first piece of Bacco into her mouth. He watched the movement of her moist lipstick coated lips as she chewed the morsel of his old dear dog. He was fixated as she picked up her glass of sangria and placed it to her lips, taking a small sip and swallowing it down with the remaining residue of the chewed meat. He was paralysed as he watched the slow movement of her Adam’s Apple as she swallowed Bacco down into her stomach, where it would react with her body. He had no idea what would be the result, but only knew that his plan had failed. The revenge he had planned on the evil dog killer, John Diamond, had instead gone to his poor innocent wife.

*****

The ambulance was quick to arrive. Its siren could be heard almost as soon as the call was made. Glenda, on her way to the toilet, had dropped to her knees with terrible stomach pains, resulting in severe vomiting in the middle of the terrace. Felix reacted instantly and called emergency. He had seen the results of food poisoning before, and knew that speed was critical for the patient.

The two hour delay,  from serving the paella until the time of Glenda’s symptoms, was hell for Daniel. By the time the ambulance came he was totally drunk. Estrella had never seen him like this before, but just assumed that it was another reaction to the loss of his dog earlier in the week.

Glenda was immediately packed into the ambulance, which raced off to the local hospital. John and Felix went together in Felix’s car.

It was a long night. Glenda was drifting in and out of consciousness the whole time. Luckily, as it had happened just after a meal, the doctor assumed food poisoning and had her stomach immediately pumped and flushed. The samples were sent to the laboratory, as was standard practice in such circumstances.

The following morning at 8am, the doctor came out into the waiting area to see John and Felix, who had stayed with him the whole night. The doctor looked very grim. “Mr Diamond, I can tell you that your wife is still very ill,” but then his face relaxed slightly as he continued, “however, she is now out of immediate danger. She will live.”

John slumped down into his chair, buried his head in his hands and whispered,” she will live. She will live.”

The doctor continued, “She is now sleeping and needs more rest. I suggest that you go home and get some sleep. Come back in a few hours and she will probably be able to speak to you.”

At home Daniel, despite all of the alcohol the previous evening, had not slept a wink. He heard the car pull up outside and was immediately at his front gate showing concern and wanting to know how Glenda was. John was quite taken aback by the look of concern on his neighbour’s face. He was quite touched.

*****

That afternoon, while John was at the hospital, a police van arrived. They had a warrant to search each house in the street and with utmost speed and efficiency began to go through sheds, garages and houses, looking for something. They refused to explain what.

Later, as the officer in charge came out of John Diamond’s garage holding a small vial, John appeared at the front driveway.

“What the hell is going on here? “He shouted. “You have broken my garage door.”

“Sir. Are you Mr John Diamond, of this address?”

“I am.”

With cold eyes piercing right into John’s face, he grimly said,” Mr Diamond, I am placing you under arrest for the attempted murder of your wife and the brutal poisoning of seventeen dogs and numerous cats.”

As he said this an officer took John’s hands, placed them behind his back and clapped them in hand cuffs.

Daniel looked on from a distance in cold satisfaction. “Revenge is sweet,” he thought to himself.

He breathed a long sigh of relief. Never again would he try such an evil deed. He had learned his lesson.

Dogged Mindedness

Dogged Mindedness

John Diamond lay awake again to the persistent barking from his neighbour’s dogs. From the small nerve wrenching yappers to the big booming frightening barks of the hound next door, he heard the whole range of dog sounds. It was driving him crazy. He lay next to his wife, who added to the disturbance with her constant snoring, and wondering what he had done to deserve this torment. It was never supposed to be like this. He had worked hard for forty years, looking forward to a relaxing retirement in Spain. As he lay, his anger building, he determined not to give up on his retirement dream. He conjured up a plan.

The following day he bought a poodle. He knew that a poodle would be greeted by Glenda. She loved the ugly things. “John darling, whatever made you change your mind about a poodle? I thought that you hated dogs.”

“Anything for you my sweetheart,” he smiled through gritted teeth. “I know that you always wanted to have one of your own.”

For the following six months John Diamond suffered. He hardly slept, except under the parasol on the beach during the afternoons. The neighbourhood dogs barked consistently. Mornings, he was often seen out walking the poodle, talking friendly with the neighbours, asking them about their own dog’s welfare. He demonstrated to them such a kind affection for dogs, that he had half convinced himself that they really were a man’s best friend, until the night came and their incessant barking.

Finally the day came when he would realise his cunning plan. Months earlier he had obtained a vial of arsenic from a discreet friend. He had stored it secretly until this moment. In order to be sure to avoid any possible clues, he drove fifty kilometres to a small village where he bought three kilograms of their best stewing beef.  Back at home he diced the beef into compact bite-sized cubes and, using an old syringe, injected five milligrams of arsenic into each one. He packed them into a plastic Tupperware box and hid them behind the flower pots in his old wooden shed.

As dusk came John casually put on his old mac and flat cap. It was raining slightly. “I’m just off to walk the dog. See you in half an hour or so“, he called as he walked out of the door.

He slipped into the shed, grabbed the Tupperware box and set off down the road. The dogs heard his footsteps as he walked by, throwing two pieces of meat over each front fence. The neighbour, with the large German Shepherd got three for good measure.

Arriving back at home he carefully placed one piece of the poisoned meat in his poodle’s dish with the evening portion of dog food.

That night he slept well for the first time in months. He slept in a quiet neighbourhood with the knowledge that no-one would suspect him.

Well would you poison your own dog?

Inside The Cabinet

Inside The Cabinet

“Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”  – Niccolò Machiavelli

They all sat with downward facing nervous eyes, worried lines like tramlines across their pale countenances. “Jesus Crist!” thought the Prime Minister, “what a bunch of weaklings? Why did I allow myself to get into this hopeless situation?  I will probably go down in the annals of history but it won’t be as one of the good guys. That’s for sure.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I will be very direct. We are losing on all fronts. More of the voting public are learning to distrust our policies and our methods with each passing week. We have to find a way out of this mire. The only saving grace is that the other parties are currently just as mistrusted as we are. Today, I want to review the three main reasons for this; Finance, Climate Change and Immigration. God knows, there are plenty of others, but we have to begin somewhere. I want to come up with a reasonable way forward that can bring back confidence in us.”

George Osborne looked nervously across the table, his eyes flitting between the PM and the other two who were placed on the block today, Ed Davey and Teresa May. A short nod form David Cameron in the direction of George was enough to let him know that he was first and should begin.

George coughed briefly before he started. “The deficit…”

“Sorry George for interrupting, but I have one more thing to add. I don’t want us to leave today until we have a clear plan on these three topics with a view to gaining our trust and respect back with the populace. Carry on George.”

“Well, er…..the deficit has been coming down as we have announced publicly over the last months. Our research shows that more than seventy percent of the population still doesn’t understand the difference between public debt and deficit. They therefore assume that the debt is also reducing, which is a factor that we can use in our favour.”

“What?” blurted out Baroness Warsi. “Are you seriously saying that a natural deception or the stupidity of the average voter is something that we must use to our advantage?” She sat shaking her head in bewilderment.

“We have no choice. If we tell it as it is, Baroness, we will have riots on our hands. The truth is that the debt is rising and we have no serious solution to getting it down long-term. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. If we make the savings necessary to control the debt, it means having beggars on our streets, widespread rioting, and emerging anarchy. To keep the lie going at least keeps the country in a state of control and you know that maintaining control of the population is our first priority.”

David Cameron challenged George directly. “Are you saying that we really have no alternative other than to mislead the public for as long as we can? Okay, let’s assume we play that game. What is the outcome? If the debt continues to rise surely it can only get worse. At some point they must hear the truth.”

He looked around the table at the solemn faces. No-one spoke but just stared at some invisible item on the table before them, not daring to raise their eyes.

“George!”

George Osborne looked the PM directly in the eyes and went to speak, before changing his mind and shrinking back in his chair, shrugging his shoulders hopelessly.

Ken Clark broke the silence. “Now look here, I have many examples from my long career which I won’t bore you with today, but suffice it to say that the best solution for an deeply unpopular policy is to wait until the change of government at the next election, as we will definitely lose the next election, and to force such policies onto our successors. In other words, we let them do our dirty work for us.”

George Osborne and David Cameron looked across at each other. Their eyes said it all. They knew that there was no better solution on offer.

“Are we confident that until the time of the general election we can still maintain the current status quo? That means convincing the public that we have a workable plan. Is it sustainable until 2015?”

George became suddenly more positive and confident. “Yes Prime Minister. The national debt is forecast to just top two trillion pounds by the next election. This is already announced and I am sure we can hold to that promise. The problem comes afterwards when it becomes clear that we cannot regain control and the debt will continue to spiral up…..”

Cameron cut in again. “yes, yes, yes. I understand that.”

I propose a short break. Back here in fifteen minutes please.

*****

Right Ed, climate change. I hope we can have some better news than we had before the break.

Ed Davey was flushed and clearly well out of his depth. “Well, you all know about the latest IPCC report, stating that with 95% confidence climate change is manmade. This is one of the most…”

Eric Pickles broke into loud laughter, which stopped poor old Ed dead in his tracks.

The PM responded quickly. “Is something funny Eric?”

“I am sorry David. Please forgive me, but it really is so funny. The IPCC is a joke. We all know that. The secret is in the name. The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change is made up of administrators and scientists picked by the governments of the world exactly to make these kinds of messages. Ten or twenty years ago the people were taken in by it, but not anymore. More and more scientists are beginning to speak out. Just look last week on BBC Question Time. Come on Ed, admit it. You were annihilated by Nigel Lawson.”

Ed Davey swallowed hard, which was enough to tell Cameron that Pickles was right.

“The fact is, Prime Minister, that today most of the population still believe that we are warming up, that the Polar Caps are melting and that every large hurricane is a result of climate change. We still have them convinced. The IPCC has done its’ job well this year and managed to gloss over the fact that no warming has been seen for over fifteen years.” Ed Davey was trying hard to sound convincing, despite his highly coloured cheeks, which gave him away.

However, Eric Pickles seemed more knowledgeable that Ed Davey on this subject, despite the fact that it was well outside of his responsibilities. “The evidence is growing to the contrary by the day Ed. Boy-o-boy; I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes when the shit hits the fan.”

“When will that be?” said David Cameron thoughtfully. “Is it imminent?”

This time Eric Pickles answered. Ed Davey, the Secretary of State for Climate Change was no longer speaking. The focus was now moving towards the much wiser man.

“Within the next five to seven years for sure Prime Minister. I believe sooner rather than later. Once people realise that the whole exercise was only a ruse to get control and funding for clean energy because of the future war planned for the Middle East region, there will be hell to play. At a time when family budgets are really hurting and at the same time being loaded with all of this climate change tax, the fall out won’t be pretty.”

Cameron looked at all of the faces around him. Not one showed any sense of honour or passion. No one had any idea towards a positive solution.

Again Ken Clark broke the silence. “Here we are again David.  We can break the news now, which would annihilate the Conservative Party for the next generation, or we can run with the IPCC report, maintain the scam at least until the next election. I vote for the latter.”

“Shit. We are like a bunch of gangsters sitting around planning our next crime. This was never how it was supposed to be.” At that outburst David Cameron realised that he had let his guard down, and quickly tried to correct the situation.

“So, we have two major deceptions to prolong for the time being. God knows; if there is one thing we seem to be good at it is deceit. The alternatives are unthinkable. I hope, ladies and gentlemen, that we can all continue to sleep at night.”

We take a break for lunch now. We meet back here at 2pm.

*****

Cameron quickly called his secretary to arrange a lunch meeting with some of his key advisers. He had only two hours to firm up on his emerging plan.

“Bob, Caroline and Arnold, I have called you here for an urgent discussion regarding the next election in two years’ time. I need to know today exactly what our chances of winning are. I want no bullshit. I need to know today.”

Bob Croshaw was the most senior of the three and began first. “Prime Minister, it is not looking very favourable at the moment. We are polling 23% but can increase that for sure, however at the moment it looks very much as though Labour will win. They are the main opposition in a time of many difficulties. We are open to so many criticisms with not so many answers.”

“What about UKIP? Could they win?”

“Not a chance Sir. They are becoming quite popular, but people do not yet trust them with government. They are mainly guilty of reducing our vote. Without UKIP in the picture we could probably even beat Labour.”

David Cameron’s brain was whirring. He had an idea but needed to understand its’ chance of success.

“What could we do to ensure UKIP win the next election?”

The three looked at each other in astonishment. “What do you…”

“You heard. How can we make sure that UKIP win the next election?”

There was silence for a few minutes while each looked for an appropriate answer. Finally Bob smiled deviously. “Defection. Defection and funding. Sir, we would need a large scale defection from Conservative to UKIP. We would need to build a huge momentum in favour of UKIP. The public would love it. They need something to believe in again. With enough funding, which we could help with, I am sure that we could get them in.”

“Yes, and with large numbers of our party in there, we could probably control them from within, “said Caroline Porter enthusiastically.

“But Sir, you are not serious are you?” asked Bob, already knowing the answer from the look on the Prime Ministers face.

“Thanks everyone. I now know all I need. I don’t want a word of this getting out. You must be sure to keep this secret.”

“Of course Prime Minister,” they all replied simultaneously.

“Right, enjoy your lunch here. I need to get back to my Cabinet meeting.”

With that he was out of the door leaving three very confused but excited people with a buffet lunch, and very grateful for a bottle of red wine.

 *****

“Right, where were we before lunch. Yes, immigration. What is the situation Teresa?”

“Prime Minister, I have used the lunch break to organise a meeting with some key people, in order to arm myself with the latest exact numbers. We are expecting an influx after 1st January of between one and two million fresh European immigrants. We have no way to stem this influx. Our EU membership does not allow us to block the free movement between member states. As you know Bulgaria and Rumania come on line next year. Our benefits system draws them like flies to a….well, you understand.”

“Two million! This will cripple our services and infrastructure. There is no way we can support such a migration. There will be chaos.” It was Ken Clark, who stated the obvious for all to see.

“Hold on Ken,” interrupted the PM. “Two million will not flow over on January 1st next year. It will take some time. Teresa, do you have a view on the ramp up?”

“Actually, yes. We have to understand that the figures are estimates but it seems that we can expect four to five hundred thousand in 2014 and the same for each of the next three years.”

Cameron smiled. This was what he was hoping to hear.

“Four hundred thousand is manageable. This means that we can get through 2014 without too much trouble. By 2015 we will be engulfed in the next election. How soon can we run the election?”

Oliver Letwin jumped in. “Earliest, without special circumstances would be March 2015 Prime Minister.”

“What can you do to make the figures look better than they are for one more year?”

“That’s difficult. We could look at fudging the numbers based on illegal immigrants, especially the Roma. I would need to get back to you, but I am sure that we can show lower numbers, at least for one more year.”

“Ok. That is good enough for me. We take a short break and then I will give you my decision and we can conclude the meeting by 6pm.”

*****

“Ladies and Gentlemen, what I am about to propose will come as a shock. I ask you to listen through carefully before giving your inputs. Also this discussion is of the highest secrecy. I insist that you all honour this because the consequences of letting this out will be dire. We all remember what happened to David Kelly.”

The PM allowed this last comment to sink in. He wanted to be sure that the people around him knew for sure that this was a matter of life and death. It was dangerous to make such an undisguised threat but he had to make sure of their loyalty, even if it was only through fear.

“We will begin by maintaining the deception on Climate Change, National Debt and Immigration until the end of 2014. You are all charged to find methods and lies, yes lies, to keep the general public quiet. For example we must make sure that any scientists who speak against our policies on Climate change lose their research funding immediately. George I will deal with the banks personally to ensure their support when declaring the state of the finances. I also want Murdoch on board. We need to use the media. Any other ideas you have will be discussed here next week.”

Ken Clark was the first to speak. “But, Prime Minister, what is the point of perpetuating these lies? The truth will be sure to come out in the end.”

“Ken, you have already given us the answer earlier today. We hold off and let the next government do all the dirty work. It will finish them for good, whoever it is. We need to ensure though, that it isn’t us.”

“But getting rid of Labour long term will only strengthen UKIP even more,” responded Jeremy Hunt. “Surely we will become second party to UKIP.”

The Prime Minister smiled. He was ahead of all of them. “Not so Jeremy,” he said. “It is UKIP who will win the next election. We will see to it. During the last quarter of 2014 I want at least eight of you to defect to UKIP. I want you to work with them, go amongst them and ruin them. By my reckoning when eight of you move over, at least forty or fifty back benchers will follow you. They must not know about this plan. We don’t want those traitors back anyway. I think we, er you, can ruin UKIP within two years. It will be the shortest surviving party in the history of democracy in Britain. Afterwards we pick up the pieces. Labour will never become a real opposition for us, the Libdems have all but disappeared and UKIP will be dead.”

Ken Clark smiled. He thought about how thankful he was that he hadn’t retired last year after all. He wouldn’t have missed this for the world. “I will volunteer first,” he said, raising his index finger. “My career will be over by then anyway.”

Eric Pickles sat stunned. This was a new era. Government based purely on deception.  He thought about the famous quote from Stalin. “Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not give our enemies guns so why should we let them have ideas.” It applied in this case too. “Count me in also,” he said.

The Beginning

The Beginning

Adrian was alone. He woke up one morning, huddled in some foliage that he had managed to gather around him to keep out the chilling cold of the night. He had no recollection of the previous day, no knowledge of who he was, or even what he was.

Adrian sat up. He looked at the barren views. No plants, no animals, no nothing. All he could see was the desolate landscape out into the distance; into eternity. He gazed into the early morning sky. The stars were still visible and so was the moon. He looked up, trying to think, trying to understand, but this was to no avail. He couldn’t think and he certainly couldn’t ever understand.

The only break from the emptiness was the little copse where he had spent the night. It consisted of a dozen trees and some long grass. He was hungry, but had no food. He tried gnawing at the tree bark but some hidden instinct soon told him it was not good. So he chewed at the only other available sustenance, the long succulent grass.

After some time his throat was dry. He needed some liquid. There was none. No food and no water.

He went back to his little comfort spot between the trees and curled up into the foliage again. His eyes closed and he began to die.

As he slept, Adrian didn’t dream. He was not capable of dreams, in the same way that he was not capable of thoughts; at least, not the kind of thoughts that we understand. He slept soundly, with death being his only future. This gave him no sorrows. He wasn’t capable of having sorrows either.

As he became weaker and dehydrated his sleep grew deeper, almost comatose. The end was near.

Then, as sweet as an opening of a Beethoven Symphony, as gentle as a light breeze on fallen leaves, he heard something pleasantly entering his consciousness through his deep sleep. It was a light trickling sound. It came from nearby. He opened his eyes, sat up and looked around. Very slowly and steadily he came to his feet. The trickling sound grew louder.

Adrian was very weak but something told him that he must get to the source of this sound. He staggered a few paces and saw a stream of running water. Through the dark barren landscape, flowing towards him, came a long pathway of cool clear rippling water. He instinctively put his hand in. It was very cold. He drank thirstily. It felt good.

Although still quite weak from lack of food, he began to walk in the direction of the flowing water. He had no idea why he must follow the stream. He looked back from some distance at the small clump of trees where he had spent the night. It left no meaning to him. He must follow the water.

As the day came to its’ conclusion and the night sky began to reveal a mass of bright sparkling stars, Adrian began to feel cold again. He realised that the dark seemed to be concurrent with cold. This night he had no trees or foliage to keep him warm. He sat down by a large rock, with only the sound of the stream in his ears and the cold infertile landscape before his eyes. Again he lay, shivering, and began to die.

The next morning, at daybreak, Adrian peered through bleary eyes at the most beautiful sight he had ever seen. Ahead of him, next to the stream, was another group of trees and bushes, similar to the ones from the previous day. One of the trees had small round fruits hanging in little bunches. They were red and very appealing. Adrian took one from the tree and inspected it before popping it into his mouth. He didn’t know why it should go into his mouth. It was instinctive.

As he slowly sucked on the small cherry he enjoyed the tangy taste, and quickly popped in a few more. It was so good that he began to chew vigorously, until a sharp pain surged through his lower jaw. Something had broken off inside his mouth. It was hard and he spat it out quickly, along with the mouthful of cherries.

Now, with a piercing pain in one side of his mouth, he slowly took some more cherries, this time being careful not to bite hard on the stones inside. Those he spat out.

Adrian now felt good. He continued on his journey along the side of the stream. As he walked the days turned gradually into weeks and the routine of always finding an orchard to eat from and to huddle down into against the dark cold nights became his way of life.

But the environment was gradually changing. One day the stream became wider and he saw other creatures moving in the water. On closer inspection he saw that some of them were quite big. He tried to catch them with his bare hands but they were far too difficult to grasp. That night he made a net by weaving the grass together and fastening it to a long stick.

The following morning he went back into the river, with his homemade net. It was easy to catch one of the bigger fish as they were so abundant. He feasted hungrily on the constantly flapping fish.

After his feast he sat looking at his surroundings. He began to marvel at the night sky with its’ billions of stars and the moon, which was always changing shape. The hills in the distance were no longer grey and barren. He saw forests and grassland. He looked with awe as a bird flew by and landed on a nearby tree. Such beauty he had never seen before.

*****

Adrian lived many years in his world of survival and discovery. He travelled thousands of miles through barren wasteland, deserts, forests and huge areas of rich savannah. Always there was a morsel of food, or a drink of water to keep him going. He never questioned it. It was simply his way of life.

Gradually, as time drifted on he began to age. He was no longer jumping out in the morning to wash and feed with vigor and anticipation of the new day. He was crawling out of his hole slowly, with aching limbs and remaining tiredness in his head. He was becoming old.

One day, as he was bathing in the river, he was suddenly confronted with another human being. This was just as had always been the case with his new discoveries; they simply appeared from one second to the next.  Like him, it was naked, but with a different shaped body. They never spoke, but smiled at each other.

That night they huddled together against the cold. They quickly learned that it was warmer together than separate. Adrian gradually started to become younger again. He found that his aches and pains were receding and he could catch fish again as he had years before.

Eventually Adrian and Evelyn learned that they could share their food and chores. Adrian was much more successful at fishing and gathering the heavy foliage for their nest. Evelyn had learned how to cut the fish into little strips and dry in the sunshine. It tasted much better that way.

One day Evelyn became very sick. She had enormous pains in her stomach and screamed each time the pains became bad. Adrian looked at her without emotion. He just watched her in agony as she writhed on the grass. He was helpless.

With one final scream and huge sigh Adrian watched as a screeching little wriggling baby came out from between Evelyn’s legs. Instinctively he took the baby, wiped the skin clean and handed him to his mother. That night there were three of them huddled into the nest.

*****

Yorick246 sat at his computer. His parents had hardly seen him since he was given the latest version of “SCHOEPFUNG”,  a simulated reality software that was all the rage with the kids at the moment.

His father had concern that Yorick was becoming too infatuated with it and not giving enough time to his normal studies. He decided to visit him in his chamber and try to understand what it was about this software that made it so compelling.

He pressed the autoslide button outside Yorick’s chamber and entered.

“Hey Yorick, I’m just checking that you are still alive. You’ve buried yourself in here for the last week. I will need to check your vitamin D levels if you carry on like this. What’s the new package like?”

“Hi Dad. Don’t worry, I am soon finished. This new SimRel package is awesome. Look, I can show you a fast replay of what I have achieved so far.”

YorickC, his father, watched the large screen to see what his intelligent young fifteen year old had been playing with for the last week.

“Son, this is really impressive. You seem to have taken the software to its limit.”

“I know Dad, but to be honest some of it has been hit and miss guesswork. Twice I nearly lost Adrian, because I didn’t plug in sustenance early enough. He very nearly timed out due to lack of water and food. I just managed to plug it in time to keep him going.”

“Well, he certainly looks fine now. I see that he has a little family too.”

“That was the hardest part Dad. I didn’t realise that I had to generate a woman in order to keep the species going. As we don’t have to do that anymore it slipped my mind. I am using the package for primitive creation, which needs to have all the basics put in. Still, it’s interesting to see how mankind used to be. I nearly lost him due to that too. Adrian became old before I could replace him, so I had to do a quick rejuvenation on him to make him young again.”

“Well I think you’ve done a great job Yorick. We should show your Mum. She will be proud.”

“There’s just one thing Dad. I know that my allowance is all used up for this month, but I would really like to develop this a bit further. To do that, I need the add-on package, which will cost another eighty Pay Units. Can I have an advance on next month Dad, please?”

Yorick’s father was quite hesitant. The extra Pay Units were not the problem, but he was a little concerned that his son was becoming too immersed in only one thing. He knew that it was not healthy to obsess about one toy.

“I tell you what Yorick. If you will agree to have a day out with me and Mum, I will let you have the add-on tomorrow, when you can continue with this. Today we can go to the Funcentre  for skiing in the morning and then play Virtual Paintballing in the afternoon. How’s that?”

“Ok Dad”, Yorick said smiling. “Although virtual reality is only interesting to you old fogies these days, I guess I could come with you, as long as you don’t tell any of my friends”

YorickC looked at his son with pride. “Deal”, he said ruffling his hair.

“So what is this new add-on package all about that you want?”

“It’s really exciting. It has a number of enhancements, but the one I want is called Will4. It will allow me to give my creations a free will of their own. That way the whole thing can develop in ways that I haven’t programmed. They will have the ability to do their own things. “

“It all sounds a bit funny to me. It means you lose some level of control over them.”

“That’s exactly the point Dad. I don’t want to be programming every little detail. The whole point of simulated reality I to get as close as you can to reality, not just some simple robots.”

“Ok. I get it now. By the way, what do you call these characters in your program, er reality world?”

“Well, he is called Adrian and his woman is Evelyn. I haven’t named the baby yet.”

“That’s a bit of a mouthful Yorick. Can I suggest a small modification? How about Adam and Eve, it’s simpler, and you could call the baby after your Mum, Cain235.”

“Ok Dad. Adam and Eve it is with little Cain. I can’t wait to see what they do when I give them a free will.”

The Life Of Times

 

The Life Of Times

John Briggs slowly raised the caked, distorted lashes from his heavy eyes as the alarm emitted its’ incessant high-pitched tone, telling him that it was four o’clock and time to drag himself from the warm sheets. He glanced across at Barbara. He would miss her, but not much.

These business trips were slowly wearing him down. He was fifty-six. “Could he really survive another ten years of this until retirement?” he thought to himself as he brought the BMW to life on the front driveway.

Arriving at the airport he continued to develop those unhelpful thoughts about his future retirement and the things with which he would occupy himself, once he had the time. He just needed more time. “Who knows? If he wasn’t so bloody tired all the time maybe even his erections would return.” At this thought a sad smirk flowed across his face. “Maybe if his wife would make some kind of effort his erections might return too. God, what a shit life.”

He hated Heathrow. He always had the crazy feeling that to get anywhere one had to walk four hundred metres, turn left, then another four hundred metres, and so on, four times until he was back where he started, but probably only the other side of a wall. He imagined that the airport designers had gained some sadistic pleasure from such designs, or maybe it was just to keep the punters busy during the long waiting times.

Waiting was the worst part. He bought a Times newspaper to help him to get through the two hour wait for his flight to Hong Kong, where he would travel on to Melbourne. “Damn it”, he muttered to himself as he spilt some of his coffee over the front page, then grinned stupidly as he realised that the stain looked like a small beard on a picture of Ed Milliband’s face. Not resisting the temptation, he took a black ball-point from his jacket pocket and drew a small moustache to finish the job. His spirits heartened as he realised that he still maintained a degree of childishness. This kept him sane during difficult moments.

On hearing the call for boarding over the loudspeaker, he threw the newspaper down onto the seat next to him and made his way to the departure gate. His two-week trip to Australia was to be one of his longer ones. Already, he couldn’t wait to get back home.

*****

Sarah Mountford had decided to return to her native country of South Africa. With heavy heart but also mixed with a burning optimism, she was returning to the nest which had been her family, until seven years ago, when she had emigrated to England with her new husband. He had swept her off her feet.  James had been rich, well connected and loved her as no other ever had, or so she thought.

She had known that he had some difficult business deals and consequently had developed a number of enemies. She had always assumed that this was simply part of the territory of success. Then, one day, James just disappeared. He left the house as usual, in the morning. She heard nothing more.

The police finally, after three years, decided to close the case. It was assumed that he had been murdered due to one of his many business deals going wrong. The worst part for Sarah was the ‘not knowing’. There was no closure. After his disappearance it was found that James had not been as rich as his life indicated. His debts were colossal. There was little left for Sarah to start building her new life.

She imagined that the seven years had been one long tragic film epic at the cinema. Now the film was ended, she would go back to her old life as though nothing had happened.

Sitting down in the waiting lounge, she smiled to herself as she saw the silly face of Ed Milliband. Someone had drawn a moustache, just as she used to do as a child. She picked up the newspaper and began to read. “Just my luck!” she thought to herself, as she realised that it was a copy of the Times. She found it rather boring and figured that politics or business were not the correct recipe for her in this frame of mind. She needed something light that would relieve her sadness.

Then she noticed that there was a special eight page insert covering yesterday’s London Marathon. This was more like it. She took out the insert and tossed the remaining newspaper aside, onto another seat.

In the café, with the large broadsheet spread across the table she looked through the pictures of runners, especially her most admired athlete, Paula Radcliffe. Sarah had once attempted a marathon, but blew up at twenty-two miles. She knew how hard it was to complete such a feat, and had respect for all who did.

There were many pictures of people in fancy dress. She giggled at a picture of big fat man in a nappy, wondering how much time he would have needed to complete the course with so much weight. Then her face turned to stone. She began to shake violently, uncontrolled, without realizing that she was shouting his name over and over again. “James. James. James.”

In the picture, behind the fat, almost naked runner, was a house with balcony. On the balcony she saw the sinister face of her lost husband. James was laughing, but worse, he had his arm firmly round the shoulders of a woman. They appeared to be a couple.

The waitress rushed over to offer assistance. “Madam, are you ok? Can I help you?”

Sarah tried to answer but could find no words. The next thing she woke up in the airport first aid centre.

“Really, I just had a terrible shock. I am fine”, she insisted to the nurse. “I don’t want to go to hospital. I want no fuss.”

She left the airport, heading back into London centre. She could not go back to South Africa with the knowledge that James was still alive.

*****

Cleaning toilets for a living was not Josh Timberlake’s idea of a good life. Dropping out of school at sixteen, he had been bumming around for eight years. Most of these years had been spent around the airport. There was money there. People needed their shoes cleaned, help with luggage. The early years had been spent doing such odd jobs, picking up a few tips here and there. It was surprising how much one could make in a week.

Two years ago he answered an advertisement for cleaner. “At least a regular pay”, he thought at the time. Now he had had enough of cleaning up other peoples waste. He imagined that the smell was slowly permeating through his whole body, slowly turning him into one large living turd.

Today was a good day. No toilets. He had been asked to fill in for a sickness in one of the general airport cleaning staff. He preferred this, as it gave him more contact with people and the stale smell was absent. Looking at his watch he realised that there was only fifteen minutes to go until his coffee break. Just enough time to do the bins before settling down to a half hour doze in the staff room.

“Why the hell can’t people use the bin provided?” he ranted, as he picked up two coffee cups and an old newspaper from the seats. On seeing the mustached face on a copy of the Times of someone who looked like some kind of politician, he slid it into the pocket of his overalls to read during his break. Reading was the best way to help him to drift into a soft catnap.

In the staff room, he poured himself a cup of coffee, with its usual four sugars, and found a quiet seat in the corner. He pulled out his pen and began scribbling beards and moustaches onto more of the faces. He even gave some bowler hats or flat caps. Jean, who was the senior cleaner, walked by and glanced at Josh’s work of art. “Christ Josh, are you never going to grow up?”, she tormented.

Josh was concentrating deeply and didn’t even look up to greet her. His eye had caught an advertisement. He was imagining what it would be like to work in a crematorium. He considered that his chances would be good. No-one wants to work with dead bodies. He would give them a call.

Immediately after his shift was over he went to the telephone box in the departures area. Not knowing exactly how to apply for a job, he just blurted it out when the call was connected.

“Hello. My name is Josh Timberlake. I am enquiring about the advertisement for Crematorium Technician. Is the vacancy still open?”

“Hello Mr Timberlake, I am George Wilson, the Crematorium General Manager. I can tell you that you are the first person to call regarding this vacancy in over a month. It seems that although we have many unemployed people here in London, being out of work seems preferable to working in a crematorium for most people. What is it that particularly interests you in this vacancy?”

The voice at the other end of the phone appeared friendly and welcoming. Josh had a good feeling.

“Well, er, I read that it involves being trained as Crematorium Technician within 6 months of appointment. I think that this could give me a new start in life, as I have no qualifications yet.”

“Oh hell, why did I need to say that?”, Josh reprimanded himself quietly.

“Don’t worry. There are no pre-requisite qualifications for this job, but your position would only become permanent after completing the course as stated. Are you okay with this? If so, I would like to meet you for an interview. Are you available tomorrow?”

Tomorrow was Josh’s day off. This was perfect. “Yes, any time”, he quickly replied.

“Right. Let me see. Can you come to the crematorium at ten o’clock? We can discuss the arrangements and if we are both happy, I can show you around at the same time.”

“Yes. Thank you. Thank you very much.”

“I think that it is I who should be thanking you Josh. See you tomorrow.”

Josh was so excited. This could be his big chance to finally make something of himself.

He decided to hang on to his newspaper as it had the phone number in, just in case there was a problem.

The next day he was up early. He didn’t have a suit, but decided that his best trousers and corduroy jacket would be smart enough. After all, he wasn’t applying to become a big businessman.

At the entrance to the crematorium he took a deep breath, before climbing the steps. At the last minute he realised that the newspaper was still in his jacket pocket. Apart from looking a bit scruffy, he certainly didn’t want his potential new employer to see all of the scribbled faces. It would give a bad impression. So he tossed the newspaper into a nearby wastepaper bin.

Fingers crossed he entered the crematorium.

*****

The gnarled, broken fingernails scratched into the rubbish. It was becoming colder. Summer was over and the nights were approaching those dreaded frosty temperatures. Jocky had been living on the streets of London for many years. At forty-two he looked more like sixty. He had long, matted hair, straggling down his shoulders. His stink trailed him like an invisible bubble of pure stench wherever he went. His belly hung out over the string, which he used as a belt, where an untreated hernia had allowed his guts to spill out, held together only by his flabby skin.

He knew that his days were severely numbered. He would live one more winter at most.

In the bin was a half-eaten ham sandwich. “Hey, it seems to be my lucky day,” he thought to himself.

He put the sandwich in his pocket and also pulled out an old newspaper from the rubbish. He had long experience of the warmth that could be maintained when wrapping oneself in newspapers.

Jocky drifted through London all afternoon, trying to ignore the sneers and stares and, worst of all, the expressions of disgust at his finely developed aroma. He finally settled on a bench for the night in Hyde Park. One had to get in quite early, before the best ones were taken.

In the twilight, just before it became completely dark, he drained a quarter bottle of whisky that he had managed to pinch and ate the day’s findings. His ham sandwich was accompanied by two apples stolen from the vegetable market and a Cornish pasty that someone had accidentally dropped on the floor after taking only the first bite. He dined well that evening.

Wrapping himself in a number of newspapers and cardboard sheets, he settled down for the night. His sleep was the most pleasurable part of his life, where he could allow sweet dreams to drift into his weak body. Only his waking hours were his worst nightmare.

*****

John Briggs woke with the thump of the landing gear on the hard tarmac. He couldn’t wait to get back home after two hard weeks wheeling and dealing in the summer heat of Melbourne.

He was looking forward to eating egg and chips, English breakfast or pizza, after so many exotic business lunches. He wanted to get back to basics.

He glanced at his watch. He would be home by eight o’clock, just in time to have breakfast with his wife before she went off to work. The rest of the day was free for him to relax.

Barbara had been doing some hard thinking while he had been away. She had also realised that it was not going so well between them and had decided to spend the two weeks trying to get back into shape. She had been to the manicurist, been waxed, bought some new clothes and was looking quite gorgeous as John came in through the front door.

“Wow! Barbara! Is this really you?”, he said, startled by the transformation.

“Hello John. This always was me. I have just been a bit too busy and tired these last months. Do you like it?” she asked as she did a twirl.

He wrapped his arms around her thinking, “maybe life is not so bad after all.”

“Tonight I think we must see what we can do about Mr. Wiggly”, she chuckled.

Once Barbara had left for work , despite feeling very tired from the jet lag, he wanted to go out for some fresh air. It was a cold crisp morning with signs of the first frost of the year. After slipping into his jeans and trainers, with an old pullover, he set off for a good brisk walk through London.

During the walk he pondered over his life. Only two weeks earlier he had felt trapped. Trapped by his job and trapped by his complacent wife. He had only a future of slowly growing old, with little to look forward to. How this had changed in such a short time. He thought about how easily our moods can flip-flop from happy to sad and back again. More deeply, he realised that life can so easily go downwards or upwards, depending often on a few uncontrollable circumstances. He felt, at that moment, like one of the luckier ones.

On walking through the park he came across one of the unlucky ones. An old man was lying on a bench, wrapped in all sorts or rubbish. At first John thought that he could have been dead, but saw him stir as he approached nearer. The old man opened his eyes, which met John’s. They were tired eyes, eyes of no hope, no pleasure, and no life.

In a sudden burst of deep empathy John pulled out his wallet and gave the old man a twenty pound note. “Here”, he said. “Make sure that you get yourself a good hot breakfast today.”

As the tramp reached up to take the money, John could not make out whether they were tears in his eyes or just the watery puss leaking out from beneath his lids. He wanted to do more, but knew that this wouldn’t help. The old man was soon to die.

When he turned to walk away a picture caught his eye. On a piece of newspaper, wrapped around the old man’s shoulders was a picture of Ed Milliband staring up at him. The face had a coffee stain, which looked like a beard and someone had drawn a silly moustache on him.

“Nah! It couldn’t be”, John dismissed the thought as quickly as it came into his mind.

 

Epilogue.

Sarah Mountford found her lost husband. He had arranged his disappearance in order to avoid the huge debts that had been amassed, and to escape from his enemies. After informing the London police, he had been arrested, and is now serving twelve years in Wormwood scrubs for fraud and bigamy. Sarah has returned to South Africa as planned, after having the marriage annulled.

Josh Timberlake is now a fully trained Crematorium Technician, soon to be married. His life is on the up and he is working hard towards the next promotion to Crematorium Manager.

Jocky didn’t survive much longer due to a sudden cold spell. He was found only two days after his encounter with John Briggs, with a twenty pound note in his shirt pocket, still wrapped in an old copy of the Times newspaper. Ed Milliband had continued to look up with the same smile on his face.

John Briggs and his wife Barbara found each other again. All it had needed was a little effort from each of them to bring the love back into their lives. They would be happy together.

The Case Of The Missing Envelope

The Case Of The Missing Envelope

Theft

“Oooowa! Okay, I give in. You can have it. Just leave me alone.”

I had always been treated badly by Richard. He would take anything that he wanted from me. He was bigger, stronger and with the ability to hurt people. His anger seemed to know no bounds. Having spent most of my childhood trying to keep out of his way, I was now dreading the upcoming holiday in Spain, where we would be sharing a room for two weeks.

Richard is my step brother. His father walked out on him when he was four years old. Soon after their divorce Mum married Dad and I arrived very soon afterwards. None of us liked Richard. He was always getting into trouble at school and at home. It seemed as though he carried an angry cloud round with him, wherever he went.

Except for odd times when he was in a good mood. This normally happened when Dad was away on a business trip, and it was just the three of us. Mum then also relaxed and had more time for us. I especially remember us falling about laughing while playing tiddlywinks in front of the blazing fire, on those freezing cold evenings in winter. But that was only when Dad was away.

During these moments Richard was more than a step brother. He was also my friend. How he would quickly transform his attitude when Dad came home.

Mum had been saving all year towards our holiday. She had taken the habit of putting some money by each week, just as her parents had done when she was a child. It gave her a feeling of achievement to see the money pot grow until; at last, the holidays were upon us.

We had booked an apartment on the Coast Duarada in Spain. I dreaded being confined in a bedroom with Richard. I would come home with some new bruises for sure. Only two weeks to go.

One morning Mum opened the chest drawer to put another twenty pounds into the envelope, only to find that it had gone. She searched for over an hour; Took all of the clothes out, removed the drawers and checked it all again. The envelope with nearly eight hundred pounds was gone.

Confession

We all sat around the table. Dad was almost purple with anger. Mum was crying.

We all knew that Richard had taken the money. He was the only one who would do such a thing, during one of his moments of tantrum. We were all quiet for a while.

Mum spoke first. “If whoever took the money owns up now, we will say no more about it. Just bring the money here. Put it on the table and leave the room.”

“Oh, let’s just stop all of this nonsense. We all know who it was. This bloody son of yours; Come on! Admit it. We all know it was you. You are nothing but trouble. I don’t know why I ever…..”

He stopped before he said what we also all knew. He hated Richard. He seemed to blame him for his father’s bad ways. I watched Richard and saw him wince at the words “that bloody son of yours.”

Mum tried very hard not to show bias and asked me first.” David, did you take the money? Or do you know anything about where it could be?”

I hesitated. My mind was racing. Maybe if I said that I did it, in order to protect Richard, he would be grateful and be my friend in future. No more bullying. Oh, how I wanted him to be my proper friend and big brother.

My hesitation made them all wonder if I could be the guilty one after all. However, after a minute or so, I shook my head and murmured that I had not taken it or had any idea about it. I looked at Richard with sorrow in my eyes because I couldn’t lie for him. Our eyes met, and I thought for a moment that he had understood.

“Ok David. Can you please go to your room? I want to speak with Richard now.”

As I walked out I turned my head to see Richard looking hopelessly at our parents. There was fear in his eyes. He knew what was coming next.

Mum spoke calmly and softly. “Richard, I ask you the same question. Did you take the money?”

I stopped in the doorway to watch the reaction. No-one noticed that I was still in the room.

“I hate you all. He hates me anyway and is always horrible to me,” he shouted pointing to Dad. “And you Mum, you stopped caring about me the day Pop left. I am just in the way here. I hate you all.”

He burst out of the room, brushing me aside and running up the stairs to his room. Mum was close behind shouting, “It’s not true. It’s not true. I love you.”

We all went into Richard’s room. He was now crying and lying face down on the bed. Mum sat on the bed saying nothing. I stood in the doorway.

After some time Richard turned his head. He looked Mum deeply in the eyes and said, “Yes, I took the money and I am glad I did. I don’t want to go on any stinking holiday anyway. But it’s gone. I gave it all to a tramp in the town centre this morning.

Hell at home.

Richard became the black sheep for sure now. There was no holiday.

We hardly spoke. He would just stay in his room sulking. Dad treated him like a criminal. He had no time for him and certainly made no secret of the fact. It was as though the whole family had now given up on Richard. Even I could see no way for us to be a real family.

One day, at breakfast, Richard was putting some cereal in his bowl when the inner packet slipped out of the cardboard outer, spilling muesli all over the floor.

“Can’t you be more careful? Are you stupid as well as a thief?” Dad shouted with a harsh grimace.

“Darling, please don’t talk like that to our children. It was an accident.” Mum tried to calm things down.

“Our children! Our children! No child of mine would ever act like that I can tell you.”

I watched as Richard cooked inside. He was bursting. I became afraid at what could happen next.

“You are the only bastard in this house,” he fired at Dad.

Dad jumped up, raising his hand as he did so. Mum sprang between him and Richard, but Dad brushed her aside with his other arm, knocking her against the kitchen sink. She winced as her hip caught the cupboard door handle.

Richard jumped up, grabbing the bread knife as he lunged forward, screaming “leave my Mum alone you bastard.”

Dad was quick and managed to get hold of Richards’s knife arm and they fell over on the floor, grasping and gauging at anything they could get at.

Mum screamed for them to stop. I ran to Mums arms and we stood holding each other tightly.

Dad managed to get the upper hand and with a very sharp blow, punched Richard hard into one cheek, which split instantly, pouring blood onto the kitchen floor. The blow seemed to bring everyone back to their senses. Richard was oblivious to the cut on his cheek. The tears were mingling with bright red blood as he just kept repeating. “I hate you all. I hate you all.”

Dad slowly got to his feet, exhausted and with blood smeared across his white business shirt. “Call the police,” he demanded to Mum.

“No Brian. We can’t. He is our, my son.”

“If you don’t, I will,” he retorted. “He pulled a knife on me. Do you want to wait until he kills someone?”

Mum picked up the phone, trembling and slowly called the local police. We were both sent to our rooms until they arrived.

I felt terrible. Despite all the bad treatment and terrible things that Richard had done, I still had some feeling in my stomach that it wasn’t right. Those lovely evenings, when Dad was away, were still in my memory; Evenings when Richard was as nice as anyone can be. I knew that he had a good side.

I crept into his room. The blood was untreated, drying on his cheek. I fetched a wet flannel from the bathroom and went back to him. “Here, let me wipe that for you. Is it bad?”

“Go away. I don’t need you.”

“I only wanted to help Richard. Dad gave you a real beating.”

 

Richard looked up to me with wild anger and hatred in his eyes. “I am getting out of here. I only said that I took that money to save your bacon. Now, you can have them all to yourself, just like you always wanted.”

“But that’s not true Richard. Of course you took the money. How can you do such things to your own family?”

We could hear whisperings downstairs and shortly afterwards a policeman was standing in the doorway of Richard’s bedroom.

“Well, young man. It looks like you have got yourself into a lot of trouble. I am placing you under arrest and taking you down to the station.”

I watched from the bedroom window as Richard, in handcuffs, was led out to the police car.

The neighbours were all agog. Mum was at a loss for words. Her family was breaking up before her eyes.

Punishment

Richard was charged with intent using a dangerous weapon.  The theft of eight hundred pounds was also considered with his case. He admitted guilt to both crimes.

He was sentenced to eight months in a secure training centre, after which time he would be reassessed for suitability to return home or to be placed into care.

We were only allowed to visit twice per month. It was always the same. Richard didn’t want to see us. Dad never came in with us. He seemed to have washed his hands of Richard completely. Mum and I would sit, hardly saying anything. It was a terrible time.

I could see more clearly by each visit how Richard was losing all hope for a future. He believed that the world was against him. He thought that no-one loved him. Mum was torn between me, Dad and Richard, who didn’t make it easy to receive his share of Mum’s affection.

I began to feel very sorry for him. Despite all he had done, he didn’t deserve to be kept in this prison, away from us all.

One time, when we were returning home after such a visit, I said, “when Richard’s time is up can we try to make sure he comes home to us? Mum, please, can we give it a try?”

Dad jumped straight in saying that there was no chance. He doesn’t want that thief back in the house. “He probably still has that money stashed away somewhere, for all we know.”

Mum said nothing, so as not to enrage Dad again. It seemed that Richard’s situation was quite hopeless.

Atonement

Richard’s sentence was due to end next week. Mum had worked quite hard on Dad to get him to agree to accept him back into the family home. Dad wouldn’t budge.

One time he even said, “Susan, it’s me or him. You need to choose whether you want a violent thief in the house, or me. I don’t want him back here disrupting our lives anymore.”

He said this as he left for the airport. He had planned a business trip to Paris for three days. I was looking forward to a few days with just me and Mum.

There was a new film on in town, which she had promised to take me to; Ice Age 3. It was really nice to sit cuddled up to her, eating popcorn. We both laughed at the crazy stunts in the film. At one point I became serious at the thought that this is exactly what Richard had been missing. How would I feel if I had been deprived of this loving closeness? Again, Richard’s situation filled me with sympathy. I pulled Mum closer.

We arrived home in the early evening. “Well, I thought the Mammoth was the funniest,” I giggled as we walked up the driveway. Mum went for her key only to find that the door key had somehow fallen from the key ring. We were locked out of the house.

Mum suggested that we should break the downstairs window, but it would be quite expensive as we had sealed double glazing. She was just about to give it a bash with a brick when I had an idea.

“Hold on Mum. I am small enough to get in the bathroom window. I bet it’s open.”

We walked round to the back of the house and sure enough, it was open enough for me to crawl in.

“But how can you get up there David? It’s too high and the ladders are kept in the shed. Only Dad has the key on the fob with his car keys.”

We went to the shed and one of the windows was not on the latch. By lifting it up I was able to crawl in and open the shed door from the inside. “Hey presto!” I said, smiling as I opened the shed door.

Mum went in to lift the ladders down from the shed wall. As she took it from it’s hooks, she froze and dropped it onto the floor, breaking a pile of small flower pots. “Mum, what’s wrong?” I shrieked.

She slowly reached down onto the workbench and placed her fingers gently onto a brown envelope. “It cannot be,” she spluttered. “How could it….? Only Brian comes in here.”

As she slowly realised that something very terrible had happened, the strength left her legs and she sank to the shed floor.

“But Mum, what’s wrong? Are you ill?”

She was focusing on the corner of the envelope. In faint pencil was written 780. The paper was worn where someone had rubbed out the number each time in order to change it to the new figure.

I had no idea what was going on. “My poor boy. My poor poor boy,” she said.

“No Mum, I am fine,” I replied.

She turned towards me with a loving sad smile. “No David; I don’t mean you. I mean Richard. We have to get him out of there.”

******

Our Dad never did come home. I saw him only once a month for the weekend for a while, but that soon fizzled out. He always seemed unshaven and smelled of stale beer.

Now we are a proper family again. Well, if you can call two boys and a Mum a proper family. Richard has changed. We are now true brothers.

Mum loves us both.

I can’t wait for the next time in front of the fire on a cold winters evening, playing tiddlywinks with my little family.

Saved By The Chain

I am not very sure where to begin. Probably the best point in time would be the growing awareness of my impotence. This is a difficult story to tell, so please forgive me if I labour in some areas which come close to my heart and touch my inner sadness.

Helen was a career girl. She adored her work as head of the languages department at a large nearby comprehensive school. Despite the love of her work and her very ambitious career path, she also wanted to include a family of at least two children. At that time, in nineteen sixty three, I was also growing into my role as a research chemist at the water board. I was working long hours, heavily immerged in the complexities of river water pollution, caused by air quality variations throughout Europe.

When viewed from the outside we were the perfect couple. We appeared as two highly professional people, who could boast a PhD in chemistry and a Masters in French culture. Our house had recently been extended to include a fourth and fifth bedroom, which was to allow our friends to stay overnight during their frequent visits, and also hopefully later, for our children.

However when viewed from the inside we were not quite the happy couple that we appeared to be.

Once we had decided to start our family the downturn came. At first we thought that it was due to overwork or stress. We even considered that maybe we were trying too hard. After a few years of trying in vain we made an appointment with the local doctor. Following many tests it turned out that the problem was all mine. I had two problems in fact. I had a damaged nerve in my groin, probably the result of an accident as a teenager when I fell out of a tree onto a lower branch. This was the cause of the worsening impotency. The second problem was much more shocking to us. I was infertile. We would never have children together naturally.

*****

The following three decades were oriented around our careers. We had discussed on numerous occasions the possibility of using a donor or adopting children. Both options seemed to be a poor second best, so we decided to follow a different path in life. We planned to work hard and build up our financial stability such that we could both retire at fifty, and then live well, travel the world. It seemed like a realistic and exciting plan at the time.

Through those years our relationship was sound, or so we thought. It was a life of work during the day, socializing evenings and weekends. Parties were often taking place at our large home. Still, we were the ‘perfect’ couple to all around us.

But passion failed. We were occupying ourselves with people, parties, work and career, but there was little love. Somehow it had gradually drained away from us, as water flows out of a bath, until all that is left is an empty tub. We were the empty tub.

*****

The emptiness was never spoken, never discussed, but just lingered between us. We even kept to our early retirement plan, both afraid to speak the unmentionable.

During the final few years before my fiftieth birthday I worked, during the week, in Brussels. I was leading a European initiative into environmental pollution. I would be at home in England only for weekends. There was little time to brood over our marriage.

Almost as if it had been planned for us, the project was due to end just three months after my fiftieth birthday. I resigned as planned, hopeful that I could re-build our marriage. All we needed was to have more time together, or so I thought.

I am a year older than Helen, which meant that I retired first. She was to follow me the following year in Autumn.

For some months I had been noticing that my grip was becoming weaker. It was something that I had felt but never fully registered. I had put it down to age and lack of physical training. After beginning my retirement it became much more noticeable and developed further such that my fingers often had pins and needles and seemed to tremble slightly.

I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease only six months after beginning my retirement.

*****

Helen changed instantly. She had loved me, I was sure, but that was years ago. Now, with the realisation that she had not only missed out on a family because of my infertility, she was also likely to miss out on a happy retirement by living out her old age with an invalid.

I felt so sorry for her. She was torn between her feelings of responsibility for me and her need for a fuller life. I knew that she had sacrificed so much to be with me. She hadn’t felt the sensation of deep love, the hardness, the excitement of sexual passion for many years. And now, she couldn’t look forward to her old age with a loving husband to travel with. We both knew that I had ten good years left, maybe fifteen if I was one of the lucky ones.

Things happened fast after that. She didn’t retire as we had planned. She didn’t feel safe to do that, but said that she needed her work more than before. I dutifully nodded and accepted that things were not going to be as we had planned.

Then came Brian; the bastard. Helen was in such a vulnerable position. I can’t find it in my heart to blame her or hate her for the affair. Brian was divorced and made every effort to see her on her own.

After she told me about the affair, through tears and guilt, I forgave her instantly. How could I have acted differently? I loved her. She was hurting.

I visited Brian at his home. We had known each other for years. I became so angry that I threatened him, but he just laughed.

“Roger, don’t be ridiculous“, he said. “In your condition you couldn’t knock the skin off a rice pudding. Now go home, there’s a good chap.”

I was so upset that I raised my trembling fist, but we both knew that it was futile. My thin half clenched hand was a joke.

“You can’t blame Helen for wanting a real man,” he said provokingly with a pathetic grin on his face.

I turned in shame and shuffled back to my car. I never felt more alone or useless in my life.

*****

Helen became nervous, irritable and began to treat me like a child. It was as though she saw my illness as something intellectual. She would tell me when to clean, wash up, do the laundry etc. If I opened the wrong bottle of wine with our meal I would be berated for my stupidity. I never had the energy to fight. My medication was playing hell with me.

So I began acting like a child. I watched TV from morning till night. Helen would come in from work and begin the complaining. Gradually she didn’t come in from work. Where she was I never knew.

Then came the bombshell. She wanted out. After dinner one evening she just spurted it out. “Roger, now don’t go getting upset again, but I can’t continue like this. I need a life. I need some fun again. I’m sorry, but I don’t see why I should give up the rest of my life for a…a…well you know.”

Yes, I knew. An invalid. An impotent invalid. An impotent wimp of an invalid.

“But things will be different when you retire. We will have more time together and can travel and see all of those places we have talked about for so many years. All we need is time.”

I could see in her eyes that I was talking in vain.

“No, Roger. I have decided. I am leaving you. We will sell the house and buy two apartments, one for each of us. I need to have a life of my own, but I want you to know that I will always be there for you. As your symptoms worsen I will care for you but not as your wife. I have thought about this for months, and although family and friends will probably hate me for it, I have to do it this way. My mind is made up.”

I began to cry. I was so empty that I couldn’t speak for a moment until somehow I pulled myself together enough to say, “Perhaps it’s for the best. Helen, I still love you, I always have and always will. You need a real man. I know that. You can go, without any malice from me. I understand and am willing to release you from any obligations, but you will not care for me like a nurse. When you go, I want no more to do with you. You lead your life and I will lead mine.”

I said this with such intensity that I saw the fear on her face. She had made this decision and now had to carry it through.

*****

The house went on the market the following week. Nineteen eighty-eight was not the best time to sell. The market was stagnant and we dropped the price three times before anyone even came to look at the place.

After two years we still had not sold it and were living as separate people under one roof. While Helen was still working it was manageable. She was out all day and most evenings. She had boyfriends, she went to parties, and she lived in the fast lane. It was as though she was trying to catch up on all she had missed over the last twenty or thirty years.

My condition worsened. The medication was given in ever increasing doses until the limit was reached. I began having one of the dreaded side effects of hallucination. I would be sitting in my room at home, when faces would come onto the walls and ceilings. They were always unidentifiable faces, but ever there. Where did these faces come from?

During this time I became fully depressed. I had nothing to live for. My condition would only get worse. The woman I loved saw me as a useless invalid. I would live out my days in a two bedroom apartment alone and childless. I considered many times to take my life, but didn’t even have the courage for that.

After two more years two major events happened. Firstly Helen finally retired, and secondly we found a buyer for the house.

After her retirement Helen took pleasure in long lie-ins, walks in the park, much reading. I had expected that she would have been attending even more parties, had more boyfriends, painted the town red, but the opposite happened. It was as though she had become tranquil in herself. She slowly started to appear to me as the woman that I married.

Sometimes I would accompany her on her walks. We began to talk about all sorts of things again. This was one of the first attractions between us when we met as students. We would sit up for hours discussing some current affairs, or some scientific phenomenon. She also taught me rudimentary French during that time.

It was becoming just like old times, except for the physical side.

But the house was sold. We would separate forever within the next few months.

*****

We had found two apartments. One, mine, was a fully modernized, renovated, Victorian two bedroom flat in the centre of town. It would enable me to reach most shops and facilities without too much difficulty. It was on the ground floor, with good access for a wheelchair, which I knew would one day be needed.

Helen found a flat in the country in a surrounding village, which was in dire need of renovation, but which she wanted to take as a personal project. It seemed as though her plan was near to fruition. She should have been pleased.

But to me, something was wrong. Helen never talked about the house sale. She didn’t seem very interested in the new flat or the move. On the other hand, I was quite looking forward to finally making the break and ending the difficulty of seeing her trapped in her marriage to me.

What on Earth was going on? I should be the sad one regarding our separation and she should be looking forward to it. I was totally puzzled by her reaction after so many years of wanting to get out.

One morning we had a phone call from the estate agent. The sale of our house was in jeopardy. A buyer at the lower end of the chain had failed to get the financing and the whole chain was held up. I called the estate agent of our apartments to inform him and he gave me some more bad news. The owner of my apartment had another buyer and therefore would not wait. The owner of Helen’s wanted to increase the price if he agrees to wait for the chain to clear.

I was devastated. We had already invested over two thousand pounds in search fees and other costs, and it now seemed as though we were going back to square one.

When Helen came in from her morning walk I gave her the news. It was apparent that she was not as disappointed as I had expected. In fact she had a slight smile on her face as though she knew something that I didn’t.

This time, I didn’t hold back. I just spurted it out after weeks of wondering what she was up to, without having the nerve to address it.

“Helen, this is terrible news for us you know. We have been trying to sell this house for over four years, have invested thousands of pounds in costs, not to mention all of the time and anguish. And now you are smiling. What the hell is going on?”

Helen looked startled. She looked at me and giggled and almost as quickly burst into tears. At that moment her heart was breaking. She was hurting so much that she couldn’t catch her breath. She couldn’t speak, but choked on her tears. The sudden transformation was stark. It was as though the last decade of pain and upset was pouring out in one hard long breath.

Eventually she sat silent. Her face was raw; her eyes were red and swollen. She looked like a beaten puppy. I didn’t know what to say and as always, just stood there like a fool, waiting for something to happen.

“Roger. I have something to tell you. I have no idea how, but I need to. Since you announced your illness I have been with men, I have met with friends; I even was involved in a number of sexual encounters.” As she said this her lips began to tremble again, but she kept control.

“I have said things and done things that I can never be forgiven for. I only saw my life deteriorating and wanted to get it back at any cost. I am not worthy of you or your love, and yet you stand there with only concern and love for me in your eyes. You are such a good man, and I am nothing.”

“That’s not true Helen. Don’t say that. You had just lost your way. Life dealt us some bad cards and you didn’t know how to handle them. Important is that you are now ba…”

I stopped, not daring to say those words.

“Yes, I’m back, if you will have me. These last few weeks I have come to realise that the things I was chasing are not real. They are temporary worthless pleasures, whereas what I had with you since I retired is so wonderful. I want to have a Golden Retriever and go on long walks with you for as long as you still can. I want to see roses and flowers in the garden. And most of all I want to love you and look after you for as long as I can. Your illness was never the problem. I know that now. It was me. Can you really ever forgive me Roger?”

I placed my arms around her and held her long and close for an eternity, before I whispered, “Thank goodness the house sale didn’t go through. Had we sold four years ago, when we put it on the market, we would never have lived this moment.”

*****

I am now seventy eight years old, going on ninety five. My time is nearly over. The illness has almost run it’s course.

I am sitting in my armchair looking out of the window on this fine sunny afternoon. Helen is snipping at the roses. She also limps with the bad hip that I keep telling her to have operated, but she is stubborn. She will not go into hospital and leave me unless she has to.

In the twenty years since she retired she has been the most wonderful wife to me. There is never a day when she doesn’t smile and tell me she loves me. She is now very contented, as am I.

I still have some sadness at having no children, but most of all for not having been a better husband. However, despite this sadness I will die a happy man in the knowledge that I got my Helen back. She was worth waiting for.

Thank God the sale never went through.