Cometh the Hour

Face is red, hair product is blue,

They voted for him, what can you do?

Seemed a nice guy, game for a laugh

Bouncing about, playing wiff waff

Then came power, he started to change

Like an old dog spotted with mange

First he got sick, his policies sicker

Ministers angry, started to bicker

A chancellor gone, what was his name?

The mean streets of Bristol his claim to fame

Somewhere near Woodstock a real statesman spins

While an ersatz Churchill guffaws and grins

The crisis he yearned for here at last

Posturing nightly should be a blast

But though he really has news for you

It’s not going like he thought it would do

Someone to follow, someone to lead

Not posture and pose, a comedy feed

And while bumble and bluster amuse for a while

Covid-19 doesn’t flee at a smile

So cometh the hour, cometh the man

Let’s hope he arrives as soon as he can.

CLAPPING IN THE DARK

And so ends April

In the Year of Someone’s Lord

2020.

A time of dreams

Of nightmares

Of spectres of the past.

In thrall to death.

We hide at home

Made afraid

Of each other’s touch.

Through fear of what

We will not say.

Shut up alone

Cocooned in doubt,

And though we clap

Each week

On the appointed hour,

Each week we fear,

Our neighbour guesses

We do not believe

In angels.

THE CONSTABLE CODE


The Project Gutenberg EBook of Constable, 
by C. Lewis Hind: The Hay Wain

Having too much time on your hands, yet frequently not enough in a continuous run to get into a really productive writing session (children^, cat, wife in the NHS and very busy, cooking, general inability to concentrate) you find yourself trawling through old flash drives going; ‘Uh? What the…?’ and ‘Oh, I like that!’ The latter unfortunately being outnumbered 10 to 1 by the former.

One of the latter however was this – written by the look of things in 2005 for a BBC Radio4 Front Row spoof on the then very hot ‘Da Vinci’ Code. The brief was to write a 100 word (or shorter) pitch for a Dan Brown*-esque treatment of a well know cultural artefact and the mystery/conspiracy/plot around it.

They didn’t use it and I had no idea what else to do with it – haven’t written the book yet – thank goodness – so here it is, for you, in all its glory!

THE CONSTABLE CODE

Blair, Kennedy, Howard, each from a Celtic country. Could the prophecy be true? Wilson seized Charlotte’s hand, evaded the grip of the three Arch Druids and dived through the fourth floor window.

The symbolism of The Hay Wain shrieked at him louder than Charlotte’s fear as they plummeted towards the Thames. The Lydney dog cult of the Silures, the horse of the Iceni and Trinovantes from Constable’s own country, the Lindow Man like water sacrifice. The Celtic Twilight was coming.

Constable! Of course! The keeper, of a castle, the country, the dark secret! The black water closed over their heads.

 

I was frequently a bit snotty about Mr Brown, but while you can be sniffy about his literary style, it’s *****y hard to argue with the sales figures, and to be fair they are rollicking paced action stories with loads of hooks into bits of European cultural history (however weirdly presented) most people would never think about. He has also done some really good work with the cash; making obscure and unattainable books available online for example.

^ As if to prove my point just after I wrote that, my son arrived seeking sustenance – so I cooked our lunch, my daughter complained incessantly about Royal Mail not arriving with her birthday present – over a month late and a very long story – and parcels my wife ordered online began arriving in a volley of knocks on the door, rung doorbells and me piking them up from the drive. 

2026: KEEP SAFE YEAH?

Last week a member of a writers group I attend set an exercise for the group even though we aren’t meeting at the moment. It was to write a piece of about a thousand words on the idea of a ‘prediction’ six years post Covid. He provided a first phrase: ‘It was year PV 0007…’ which I have taken to heart but left out. What follows is most certainly not a prediction, but rather an irreverent imagining of what might happen if government of the UK fractured under the strain. I apologise for the ‘patois’ I’m bound to have got things ‘wrong’, but remember this is the future so I am ‘right’ after all!

 

2026

Somewhere in South London

Evening.

 

The man with the gun let Hancks into the room.

‘Wotcha Spango, awright?’Hancks said.

‘Wotcha? Wotcha? Nobody’s said Wotcha since forevs. Like before the Cov. What the effin ell’s up with you?’

‘Lightening the mood bruv, innit?’ Hancks said, hanging his head and avoiding eye contact.

‘Want it darker fam, like white dark.’

‘S’up with Spango?’

‘Brickin it inne?’

‘Fuck off Nods.’ Spango said, checking himself in a mirror.

‘Why? S’only a vlog post.’

‘Cos,’ said Nods, ‘e’s been on the Spice and e’s still all wavey.’

‘Where’d  you get that Spangs?’

‘Treasury, they got loads man.’ Nods said.

‘I ain’t been takin nuffink you nob.’ Spango rolled his shoulders. ‘Need to be tight’

‘S’a vlog post. You can do it again you get it wrong. S’not live.’

‘Why in’t he doin it live.’ Hancks asked.

‘Cos e’s bricking it.’

‘Fuck off you great wazza.’ Spango punched Nods. ‘S’important. People gotta trust me. Gotta be done right.’

Nods nodded and fiddled with the controls on the console.

‘And he wants music and effects.’

‘Oooh! Get ‘er!’

Spango stuck a finger up at Hancks.

‘Shut it right. I’m going to do it now. Okay Nods?’

‘Yeah go in three, two, one.’ He pointed a finger at Spango who began to speak.

‘People of South England. Good evening, I…’

‘E can’t say that.’ Hancks whispered at an enormous volume.

‘What the f…’ Spango exploded.

Nods toggled a switch and shook his head.

‘It’s a vlog innit?’ Hancks said.

‘I know it’s a fucking vlog. So effin what? I haven’t said anything yet.’ Spango screeched.

‘You said “Good evening”. What if they’s watching in the afternoon?’

Nods creased up laughing.

‘It doesn’t matter when they watch it. It’s evening now innit? It’s when it’s made counts.’ Spango explained.

‘I’d think it was well weird the Prime Minister saying “Evening” in the middle of the day, me. I’d think you’d lost it bro.’

‘Well nobody’s arxing you is they? So shut it yeh.’ Spango looked at Nods. ‘Need it from the top or run on is it?’

‘Just read man, I’ll splice it.’

Spango looked into the webcam again. ‘And you interrupt again I’ll have you office spaced you twattin bozak.’

Hancks sneered but shut up.

Nods did the three two one bit again and Spango went on.

‘I am speaking to you tonight to let you all know that my cabinet and I is thinking about letting you all out a bit. We have had only a few deaths this last week and we knows you is all cooped up and that. It is like six months since we let people out without offing anyone if they went out so we think it’s worth a shot.’

Spango took a breath and looked at Nods and Hancks. ‘Okay?’ he mouthed. They gave him a thumbs up. ‘That was bangin, Bossman!’ Nods said.

Spango smiled and carried on.

‘So from midnight tonight I am telling all… What now!?’ he yelled at Hancks.

‘Look bruv I don’t want no Babylon beating on me, but what midnight? I mean is that “tonight” tonight or “tonight” when it gets posted or “tonight” when they watches it?’

Spango’s eyes got really wide and his hands balled up into fists, but before he could scream at the door guards to take Hancks out and beat him up, Nods spoke.

‘Nah he’s right. I mean you gotta be precise. You don’t want no mandem thinkin “skate park time” and getting slotted cos it’s the wrong midnight.’

Spango’s fists unclenched.

‘Right. Carry on.’ Spango took a breath.

‘So from midnight on March 20 2026 all police and army will allow anyone with a ID app on their mobile to be out on the street from eight in the morning to 6 at night. If that goes okay for three weeks, we’ll see about extending that and I’ll get back to you. Keep safe bros.’

Spango stared into the camera with the hint of a smile on his lips and then Nods waved his hand across his throat to let everyone know he’d stopped recording.

‘Good?’

‘Well good bro.’

‘You want to skin up?’ Hancks asked.

‘Nah, I gotta to talk to Treasury now.’

Hancks and Nods folded over laughing.

‘Nah, no effin Spice you wasters. I gotta see if we is still skint after being Rishi’d.’

‘Whole world’s been Rishi’d man.’ Said Hancks.

‘Yeah well I gotta do a deal with some Northerners, get some jabs innit? Gonna need bare loot for that. Keep my people safe you know?’ Spango ducked his head to show how serious it was.

‘Yeah, can’t long it no more. Gotta get some.’ Nods agreed. ‘I’ll splice this up and get the tekkers to put some banging sounds on it yeah?’

‘Yeah, cool.’

‘You want Beeb South lined up for it?’ Hancks asked.

‘Yeah, bitches gotta be good for somethin.

‘Bozza know you is coming? Don’t want his people offin you cos you ain’t from their ends bruv.’ Hancks looked worried.

‘We doin it on the bridge. He stays north of the river. I stay south.’

‘Wear a mask man.’

‘A mask? I ain’t on the run bruv. I run everything south of the river. Bossman yeh? Pigs are mine now.’

Nah fam! A mask. He’s had it. Effin carrier now.’

‘You had it same time Hancks, you is okay.’

‘Can’t trust him though man. He had it real bad. Wear a mask.’

Spango nodded and went to talk to Treasury.

WESTLEY WRITERS Chapter 4

Julian has taken his time walking back from the pub, having declined Stephanie’s advances hasn’t he? It must be about 8 months by my reckoning! They are about to be reunited however as the new Westley Writers are due to hold their first proper meeting to elect officers and hear what they have all been doing since the split.

If you want to read yourself in or catch up with what has happened so far go to Westley Writers

 

CALM

‘Morning Julian, how are you?’

‘I’m well, thanks June. And yourself?’

‘Oh you know, hanging on.’

‘Sounds a bit grim. Things getting on top of you?’

June sighed and stopped unpacking her bag. ‘You know the Readers section are getting uppity about this place?’

Julian took off his coat and hung it over the back of the chair at the other end of the table from where June was unpacking.

‘No. I haven’t really heard anything from them since the split. What’s the matter with them?’

‘Oh some of them think they should have three weeks out of four here as they are bigger than the Writers group.’

Straker pulled a face of discontent at this news.

‘We sorted all that out the meeting and told the library didn’t we?’

‘Well yes, of course but…’

‘What do the library say about it?’

‘Well they’ve just apportioned the bookings 50-50, alternate weeks but they don’t want any trouble or too much attention, so we must be careful.’

‘Attention? I can understand them wanting to avoid trouble, but surely they want the attention. The council are always saying nobody uses the place and here are two local community groups fighting for access.’

‘For a service we don’t pay for.’

Straker’s mouth creased open in a wry smile. ‘Ah of course. An empty conference room not making cash. The horror!’

June looked around the room. ‘Hardly a conference room. It seats about 20 people at pinch. But I suppose that’s what some councillor will call it when he’s asking why the library isn’t making maximum commercial use of the facility.’

‘They used to teach night school classes in here’

‘Yes, languages wasn’t it? Nobody does that any more.’ June looked over at Straker.’ You used to teach some didn’t you?’

Straker dipped his head in acknowledgement.

‘For my sins.’

‘What was it again?’ June asked.

‘Bloody Russian. Who wants to learn that?’ Ashby walked in

‘Quite a few before austerity.  False economy if you ask me.’

‘Why? Who needs to speak Russian round here? Not going to have Putin coming round on a bear wrestling expedition are we?’ He peered at Straker, ‘Are we?’

‘Don’t look at me John, but I think learning about other cultures through their language has its own reward.’

‘Bloody hell. Sorry June. When did you become a hippy?’

‘There are no hippies left John. I just think it’s interesting.’

Ashby laughed. ‘Depends what you do with that interest.’ He raised an eyebrow in Straker’s direction, ‘Doesn’t it Julian?’

June had heard this sparring contest many times and John Ashby never got anything out of Straker about his facility with the Russian language.

‘Are we expecting the others?’ she  asked.

‘I hope so. I emailed everybody as agreed. Well not Sarah or Alan obviously.’

‘Are they still not online? I can’t see the point of having a computer if you aren’t online.’ Ashby said.

June looked at her watch. ‘Well it looks like it’s just us. Stephanie normally turns up though. Shall we wait or make a start?’ She voted with her feet and went to make a cup of coffee.

Ashby put his bag on the table and shed his coat.

‘We’re supposed to be electing officers and agreeing a constitution today.’ Straker said. ‘Not sure we can go ahead with three of us.’

‘Course we can.’ Ashby said. ‘Three best writers are here anyway.’

‘Not sure we should be judging people like that John.’ June replied, but the pride in her tone was evident. ‘I really think we need Steph here as well though, she’s always so practical.’

‘If people were online and paid more attention’ Ashby murmured, ‘they’d maybe realise why Stephanie wasn’t here.’

Straker paused on his way to the hot water jugs and coffee.

‘Oh?’

‘Still not bothering with Social Media then Julian?’

‘Not particularly. I’ve never seen the need to listen to speculations about lizard people or watch cats falling into wastepaper bins myself.’

‘Well forewarned is forearmed is all I’ll say.’

The day when John Ashby kept quiet about anything would be a day of miracles and wonders, Straker knew, so he kept quiet and moved off to make a coffee.

As June finished making hers and went to sit down Ashby bustled over.

‘She posted quite a witty piece about being stood up in a country pub the other day.’ He spooned coffee. ‘Sounded as if it were from the life.’ He raised an eyebrow in Straker’s direction. ‘You know, like it had really happened.’

‘Thanks John, I know what “from the life” means.’

‘Wonder where she got the idea from?’

Straker sighed.

‘It’s called creative writing John. You make it up from the imagination.’

‘Oh aye. If you say so.’

They pumped hot water from the flasks provided by the library.

‘So why did you think that meant Steph wouldn’t be coming today?’

‘Couple of things in it suggested maybe she, excuse me Julian,’ he interrupted himself, ‘I mean the protagonist of the story, had fallen out of love with the idea of writing for the time being. Emotional conflicts and all that.’ He raised an eyebrow in Straker’s direction and displayed the subject matter on his phone.

Straker let a little smile play on his lips.

‘She really can capture a feeling of moment can’t she?’ he said and dropped the used spoon into a spare mug. ‘Almost like one were in the room at the time.’

Ashby followed Straker back to the table and they busied themselves with notepads and pens.

June asked if they were ready to start but before either of them could respond the door opened and a gaggle of latecomers pushed their way into the room.

Straker looked at Ashby, expressionless as they both noted Stephanie Williams was among the group.

The noise levels rose as people exchanged greetings and comments about the weather, the library and of course the momentous events of their last meeting. Straker remembered that this was the first time many of them had been together since the split.

‘Thanks for the email Julian.’ Diane Eaton said. ‘Sorry I missed the other week, I was so worried about poor old Bill here.’ She pulled Parker into view. ‘I missed everything that was said after that.’

‘That’s okay, good to see you.’ Straker turned to Parker. ‘You okay now Bill?’

Parker nodded and prodded at a strip of plaster on his head where the skin surrounding it was still discoloured by bruising.

‘Rather sore still but the doc says I’ll live.’ He smiled at June. ‘And I’ve decided not to sue.’

Diane punched him gently on the arm while June blushed.

‘Leave her alone Bill. You know how upset she was.’

Parker shrugged.

‘Only joking ladies. Smiling through the pain and all that you know.’

Diane raised an eyebrow.

‘I’ll give you some pain if you don’t leave it. Tea is it Bill?’

‘Aye, one sugar please.’

Parker sat while Diane went to get the drinks.

Veronica Goodman offered a tight smile and slid round the table to sit opposite Ashby. Straker offered a flash of teeth in return and Ron ducked her head.

‘Julian.’ Steph said and sat next to him.

‘Stephanie.’ He responded. ‘Can I get you a coffee?’

‘Thank you, but Diane’s getting me one.’

‘Okay.’

Stephanie turned round to face him.

‘Seriously Jules, she offered as we came in.’

‘It’s okay. I believe you.

‘Sorry.’

‘Me too. My feet were killing me by the end.’

‘Serves you right.’

‘There you are Steph.’ Diane said. ‘What serves him right?’

‘Walking for miles at his age.’

‘How far?

‘Only about four miles.’ Straker answered.

‘Nothing for a man of your years.’

‘That’s what I thought when I started.’ Straker grimaced. ‘Anyway Steph, I read your Facebook piece. Very good.’

‘Yes, thanks. I was inspired. I didn’t know you were on Facebook?’

‘I’m not. John was kind enough to show me this morning.’

Stephanie leaned back and beamed at Ashby.

‘Thanks John, it’s appreciated.’

‘No problem Steph. Glad to be of service.’

Straker listened to that exchange. That was, he decided, an odd bit of phrasing. He’d remember that and use it in a story somewhere. He couldn’t make his mind up whether it was a deliberate tell of a conspiracy, an accidental giveaway, a meaningless exchange of pleasantries between two acquaintances or a piece of deliberate misdirection. He blinked. That way lay indecision and inaction. But then he didn’t need to decide right now did he. There was time for a longer game yet. He smiled.

‘Shall we get this meeting started then June?’ he said. ‘With any luck we can read some of the things we’ve been writing as well. I’m sure people will have made good use of the period since we last met.’

June put her coffee down and raised her whistle to her lips.

 

 

 

SECRETS: CHLOE

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

 

SECRETS: CHLOE

‘Chloe! How are you?’

She hadn’t been looking forward to this event. It wasn’t relaxing or exciting. Hanging out with the senior people from the office was never going to be either of those, but it got her out of the house. It also offered a chance to refine her knowledge of the pecking order. Coming back from such a long secondment was never going to be easy and she was way out of touch with who was on the way up, who was marking time and who was about to head to freight and mails. It wasn’t just the rankings that had changed though, the game had changed. Corporate infighting would always be bloody, but being away for so long meant you were playing by old rules. Her ‘broadening’ experience should have been a great asset and she had been assured it would be, but there was no evidence. It was all on a trust basis and anyone who trusted what HR said was mad. Not being able to talk about what she had been doing for the last few years sometimes drove her crazy anyway. She listened to the desk bound types spouting off about things she knew about from first hand experience, and had to bite her tongue instead of putting them right. It wasn’t that she wanted to go and do it again but she was beginning to wonder if she could put up with not doing it again. At least Warwick was in a nearby office. They’d done some mad stuff together in the field before he came here. Having someone who knew the score was great, that someone being Warwick was even more of a comfort, even if neither of them seemed certain where they were going.

The voice calling her name broke her train of thought and made her heart sink a little. Not Chris? Surely not here?

She scanned the crowd for the face associated with the voice. There he was. On the stairs. Posing.

Her colleagues, she could tell, were intrigued. Not even pretending they weren’t interested in how this person knew their new section head.

‘Hello Chris, how are you?’ She said, trying hard to make her voice neutral.

‘Darling! All the better for seeing you.’ He boomed ‘Where have you been hiding yourself dear heart?’

She cringed inside, but kept her game face on. As long as he didn’t want to talk about the “good old days” she might be able to keep this short and sweet.

‘I’m in the branch now.’ she waved her glass in a gesture encompassing the room and the members of the branch assembled. She could see the interest levels rising around her. She needed to stop being the centre of attention.  She linked arms with him and dragged him into the least crowded corner of the room. The crowd noise resumed its random activity as they moved from centre stage.

‘So what are you doing here tonight Chris?’

‘Liaison old thing. Not sure precisely what I’m supposed to be doing at this shindig, but I’m glad I came now.’ He smiled that smile that had annoyed for two years of ops. ‘And you?’

‘Well I’m trying to fit in, so…’ she shrugged, ‘…here I am. Being a good section head, bonding and all that.’

‘Isn’t this a bit tame for you? I mean last time I saw you, we were…’

‘I think we can leave the circumstances of our last meeting out of it, don’t you?

‘But it was so much more fun than what happens here.’

‘Fun? I think we have different memories of it then.’

She shuddered at the thought of when she had been working with Chris. She shuddered some more when Chris leaned closer and ran his finger down her glass.

‘Well I remember quite a lot of fun.’

People were edging closer, eyes slightly glazed as they nodded to each other out of synch with their conversations, straining to hear what the pair were saying. Chloe remembered holding her breath as men with guns walked around in the rooms below the roof space she was hiding in. She remembered the decanting of brains from a splintered skull, oozing like half set pink blancmange. Fun?

‘I don’t want to talk about that now.’

‘Why don’t we go somewhere a little quieter then? There’s a playroom for Alan’s kids where we could have a chat if you want to let it go?’ His smile widened. ‘That might be fun.’

She realised the fun he was thinking about wasn’t anything to do with people trying to shoot them or blow them up, but the drunken disaster of a fumble they had had near the end of her tour. She didn’t want to relive that, and she certainly didn’t want to recreate it tonight. Not ever.

‘I don’t think that would be a good idea Chris, do you? Not exactly the way to establish my place in Alan’s branch.’

‘I’m here in a general liaison capacity within the Division but I spend a lot of time in Alan’s branch. I’m hoping to spend a lot more time in parts of Alan’s branch now. I could help. You know, discreetly. Put in a good word.’ Chloe took a half pace back.

‘Let’s get this straight Chris. We weren’t friends like that. We made complete arses of ourselves that night.’ She took a deep breath. ‘People here may think you are some sort of Ian Fleming type, but we know what it’s really like. So let’s keep our mouths shut and have a nice quiet evening and one of us can leave in twenty minutes. All right?’

It was no good. She didn’t know how much Chris had had to drink or if he was just being stupid about their one fling, but he didn’t want to let it go. He’d already made her life a lot harder. Everyone here was wondering how they knew each other. As long as he didn’t mention where they had been or what they had been doing, otherwise life could get very awkward, for both of them.

‘Why wait Babe? We could go now. Your place or mine? Probably best yours, I’m in a hotel at the mo.’

‘Chris, we are not going anywhere. Certainly not together. If you want to stay for form’s sake, stay away from me and I’ll leave as soon as I’ve done the rounds. Okay?

‘Come on Chlo. You mean all that time together meant nothing? All those days? All those nights?

‘We’re not talking about this here Chris.’ Chloe shook her head. ‘We’re not talking about it anytime.’ She turned to go, but Chris reached out to take her elbow.

‘Come on Chloe, that excitement wasn’t just because we were in…’

Time seemed to expand. The stupid sod was going to say where they had been. It had taken months to adjust this much and she was damned if she was going to have to start again. Everyone was staring, straining their ears to catch the revelation of where Chris had spent ‘all those night’ with the new section head.

She knew what she was going to do. She just hoped she could cover it with a good excuse. It was in all probability going to make the sojourn in freight and mails rumour look a little hollow. Chloe heard the first syllable of the location, whether for real or in her head she was never sure, but she pivoted on her heel and with her free hand slapped at his face. The shock stopped his speech but to make sure he got the message she slapped him with the other hand, dropping her glass first so she didn’t cut him. He sat down hard and she realised his nose was bleeding. She stared down at him.

‘Sorry Chris, but I did tell you to shut up.’

Warwick appeared at her side.

‘You okay?’

‘Yes, thanks.’

‘Shall I get the car? Do you want go?’

She nodded.

‘Probably best.’ She said.

‘All right, and don’t worry, half the office has been wanting to do that. I’ll square Alan. He doesn’t need telling what a prat Chris is, but it won’t hurt to remind him.’

Chloe smiled at him. ‘I can fight my own battles you know? You get the car. I’ll be out in a minute.’

 

SECRETS: CHRIS

Having read what the party goers saw and the story they assembled from their various vantage points and perceptions of the protagonists, what about those two main actors?

How did the evening pan out for them as it happened?

Chris’ story next.

 

 SECRETS: CHRIS

 

Chris hated evenings like this.

He’d had to turn up of course. What was the point of a liaison officer who hated parties? And generally speaking he was up for most work related socials, from the raucous Channel Nights at sea as the ship returned to home port, to the sophisticated and measured diplomatic dances of embassy functions.

Nights like this, faux social gatherings of work colleagues, were however, mind numbingly dull. It was difficult even to enliven the affair with a liaison of the more carnal kind. Alan, the branch head was quite old fashioned about things like that and made life difficult. Not impossible, but certainly difficult.  Sometimes that made the thrill of the chase even greater, but frankly at this level of seniority the pickings were a bit outside his target age range. From his vantage point on the landing that stretched the width of the place, he surveyed the scene in what he had to admit was rather a swanky reception room.

He was trying to decide whether Hilary would be worth the candle if he could separate her from her partner, whatever his name was, or whether he should just have a few tots more and work on his career by schmoozing up to Alan. The mental coin was still spinning when a new arrival walked into the room and all his plans went on hold.

Chloe Macalastair! Hilary and Alan dropped right off the evening’s things to do list. There was one object in mind now. To renew his acquaintance with the delectable Chloe. True they hadn’t parted on quite the terms he would have wished for. Actually he wasn’t certain there were terms on which he wished to part from Chloe Macalastair at all. That in itself was a warning light. Chris had always had very clear moral principles on this. Never get involved with a woman who made you feel as if you might want to stay close to her for more than twenty four hours. Not that he had a problem with being with a girl for a long time, just not on consecutive days. It removed the mystery and the fun and Chris liked fun and variety. It was why, he told himself, he was a great liaison officer and a fun guy to be around. That was enough introspection he decided.

No harm in renewing the relationship for a bit. They had spent a lot of nights together but he had to admit not in the way he wanted to have spent them. Lurking in various safe houses, bushes, dodgy housing estates and backs of panel vans had not been the series of romantic interludes he craved with Ms Macalastair. Still, they had been very close, if only physically at work, and now was the chance to put right that rather clumsy tryst at the end of his tour. They would both, he was sure, relish the opportunity to relive that experience with a better outcome. And he had a head start on anyone else here. They had both spent months in extreme front line circumstances and it would do no harm to remind her of the dangers they had faced. Danger was always sexy.

He checked his look in the mirror at the top of the stairs. Perfect as always, and he timed his descent to arrive just three steps above her as she passed the foot of them.

‘Chloe! How are you?’ he said in his best rolling brogue. He knew women couldn’t resist his warm rich tones, it was he decided hardly fair, but then they got to be with him, so the benefits evened up in the end.

He saw the leap of recognition in her eyes as she looked up at him. He loved women looking up at him, such a great feeling. She played it cool of course as you would expect from a professional in such matters. You didn’t go all girly just because the mark had walked in the pub did you? Neither did Chloe. That was what made the prospect so much more fun than usual. Desk types knew the score of course but couldn’t play the game. Civilians were okay but just too easy to be worth it most of the time. Most of them didn’t ever realise there was a game being played.

‘Hello Chris, how are you?’ Chloe said, a little bit too fast Chris decided. Not quite as cool as she’d hoped for no doubt. Well if that was the way it was, no need to complicate matters, Charge!

‘Darling! All the better for seeing you.’ He said, projecting so she could hear the delight in his voice. ‘Where have you been hiding yourself dear heart?’ he concluded and glided down to greet her with a peck on the cheek. The crowd was staring at them now and well they might, the two best looking people for miles he knew. She radiated a smile at him.

‘I’m in Alan’s branch.’ she said indicating the onlookers who had to be here at Alan’s command. She linked arms with him and steered him somewhere more intimate out of sight of the gawping office workers who resumed their murmuring as the two beautiful people slipped from view.

‘And what are you doing here?’ she whispered.

‘Liaison old thing. Though I’m not sure why I was supposed to be here until you showed up.’

She laughed at him in that way that had always excited him when they had been up close together on surveillance. ‘And why are you here?’ he asked.

‘I’m a Section head in the branch’

‘Really? Isn’t this a bit tame for you? I mean last time…’

‘I don’t think we should discuss that here do you? I mean they don’t need to know.’

‘Not everything, but why end up here? What we had was so much more fun.’

‘Fun? You remember things differently from me.’

He leaned closer and ran a finger down Chloe’s glass.

‘I didn’t necessarily mean the work Chlo. I remember some bits of that tour being a lot of fun.’

Around them the people in the room were edging closer, trying to look elsewhere as they listened to what was being said.

‘Chris, I don’t want to talk about that now. No-one here knows about where I’ve been or what I did, that and they don’t need to know. It’s a security thing? You remember that?’

‘Of course I do sweetie, but we don’t have to have this reunion so publicly. Alan’s kids have a playroom that’s off limits to the hoi polloi.’ His smile widened. ‘We always did like to play didn’t we Chloe?’

Chris could see the memory made her flustered and realised that it would be difficult for her. He wondered if they should leave now and go straight back to her place. He was in hotel accommodation which was okay for some things but lacked the space and privacy he felt their reunion demanded. He realised she was saying something else.

‘… or I’d have got Alan to sort this out earlier.’

‘It’s okay Chloe. I’m general liaison to the Division head and I don’t spend a lot of time with Alan’s branch, but I’m hoping to spend a lot more time with parts of Alan’s branch in future.’

He realised she needed time to sort out in her head how this would work out in practice.

‘Right Chris. Let’s get this straight. We were friends but I need to concentrate on getting myself back into desk work for a bit. You’re some sort of Ian Fleming figure to the nerds round here and that isn’t going to help me keep a low profile. So keep your mouth shut and let’s have a nice quiet twenty minutes before we leave. All right?’

The faces of those closest to the pair flickered with increased interest as they tuned in to Chloe’s voice. Chris looked round. Could he control himself for another twenty minutes? He didn’t think so.

‘Why wait? We could go now.’

‘Chris, we aren’t going anywhere together. For form’s sake, stay away from me and we leave separately. Okay?

‘Come on Chlo. All those days together? All those nights? I don’t think I can play it cool now I’ve found you again.’

‘We’re not talking about this here Chris.’ Chloe shook her head. She turned to go, but Chris reached out to take her elbow.

‘Come on Chloe, just because we were in…’

He realised what a confused state of mind she was in, how much it must mean to her too, as she swung round in panic. The people in the room were staring now, the ones closest straining their ears to catch the revelation of where Chris and Chloe had spent ‘all those nights’. There was no way he wanted to hurt her or her career, but he suddenly knew he wanted her very much. Wanted to be with someone who actually knew what living that long on the edge was like.

As she pivoted to face him again, she stumbled and threw out a hand to steady herself on his firm shoulder, but he had taken a step to catch her, and her hand caught him a glancing blow in the throat instead. He coughed and choked with shock as much as anything, and staggered. Chloe dropped her glass and threw out her hand to steady him but caught him instead full in the face with her open hand. He sat down on the deep pile of the Axminster carpet blood pouring from his nose.

‘Oh Chris! I’m so sorry.’

The bloodied figure on the floor nodded as the crowd began to gather and ask if they were all right.

It must be love he thought. With that thought he could understand why she made her excuses and left with the East German desk guy. Good cover. He’d see her tomorrow and pick up where they had left off.

SECRETS: GUESTS

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

 

‘Chloe! How are you?’

Several people looked up as Chris drawled the words out for longer than their syllables required. Most of them had heard him do that when he wanted to make an impression, particularly with women. It usually meant that he wanted, or at least believed he ought to be seen to want, to have sex with them.

Whether it worked or not was open to question. He certainly managed liaisons with some women, but whether that was because of what he imagined was his irresistible, come to bed voice, was anyone’s guess. He presumably believed it worked as he refused to cease using it. Exchange of views by those who had been on the receiving end, suggested that it was not necessarily an asset. The judgements passed in the ladies’ rooms, bars and gymnasiums of the locality concluded however, that the lounge lizard sound only added a minor degree of repulsivity to his already odious character. That he was at all successful in his seductions was probably, so the consensus went, down to his supposedly mysterious past and inability to hear the word “no”’.

How much Chloe knew of this was unknown to those present at that initial exchange of the evening. They knew she was a new section head. That she seemed energetic and engaging, keen to get to know her staff and understand the nuances of the role she had taken on, was clear. Everything else was murky. She had appeared in the job virtually unannounced. No-one had seen her turn up for interview. No-one was sure where she had been until the day she arrived. Warwick, the Royal Marine from the East German desk seemed to know her from somewhere and they appeared quite thick. But when asked where she had been recently, he shrugged and said they had lost touch. No he didn’t know what she had done in between. In another division at least. Maybe she had been on secondment somewhere?

There had been a quiet word with key personnel, suggesting staff did not ask her directly, as it would be awkward for all concerned. Senior management knew people would understand.

They did. Of course they did given the nature of the work. And given the nature of the work everybody tried that bit harder to find out where she had come from. Just not directly.

One had to admire their discretion until you realised they didn’t want to be reported and dragged in for an interview without coffee, or worse, a security appraisal.

So Chloe found herself the centre of a social whirl of invitations to dinner parties, squash evenings, drinks parties, hashing events, birthday parties, lunches, wild parties, quiz nights, boring parties, skittles evenings and more parties. She even gave some herself. Tonight was not one of hers however, and it was certainly not being given with the aim of revealing her immediate past.

Alan had decided it was time to entertain and bond his senior team a little closer. The invitation had been to anyone and everyone in the branch of course. As the venue was his house, it was understood that not all were required or even expected to attend. Section heads and above obviously cleared their diaries, and aspiring or precarious sub section heads put on a brave face and donned the smartest casuals they had. Below that level one had to be very confident of a glowing future or too dim to realise there were limits to aspiration in order to turn up. At that level one had to be content with a certain amount of low level servitude as well; serving drinks, distributing snacks, making small talk with wives, partners and seconded low ranking allies, all on an entirely voluntary basis of course.

So when Chris stood half way down the sweeping central staircase and greeted Chloe with his well developed drawl, there was a fair sized audience of mixed ranks, genders and nationalities, waiting for the response. They were intrigued as to how they knew each other. Chris had been with the office on secondment for about a year. While he had not fitted in with accepted gender equality expectations in the modern nineteen eighties government service, he had proved himself to have as sharp an analytic brain as any there. His home department would no doubt be looking forward to his return at the end of his tour. The prospect that Chloe and Chris may know each other from the latter’s exploits with his own agency was too delicious for the assembly. He was another apparent cipher without a past.

‘Hello Chris, how are you?’ Chloe’s reply came in about a quarter of the time of Chris’ greeting.

‘Darling! All the better for seeing you.’ He boomed ‘Where have you been hiding yourself dear heart?’ and with that descended to the room below.

‘I’m in Alan’s branch obviously,’ she waved her glass in a gesture encompassing the room and the members of the branch assembled.  She linked his arm and steered him into a corner of the room. The murmuring began again as the main focus shifted.

‘And what the hell are you doing here?’ she hissed.

‘Liaison old thing. Not sure I’m supposed to be at this gathering really. And why are you here?’

‘I’m a section head here now.’ She said.

Isn’t this a bit tame for you? I mean last time…’

‘I think we can leave the circumstances of our last meeting in the past where they belong, don’t you?’

‘But it was so much more fun than what happens here.’

‘Fun? You remember things differently from me.’

He leaned closer and ran a finger down Chloe’s glass.

‘Well I remember some bits being a lot of fun.’

People were edging closer, pretending to be looking elsewhere while straining to hear what was being said. Chloe ignored them.

‘Chris, I don’t want to talk about that now. No-one here knows about that and they don’t need to know. You know; security? You remember that?’

‘Why don’t we go somewhere a little quieter then? Alan’s kids have a playroom that’s off limits to these bods.’ His smile widened. ‘You know me Chloe, always up for a bit of play.’

‘Stop playing silly buggers Chris. I didn’t realise you were anywhere near here or I’d have got Alan to sort this out earlier.’

‘I’m here as general liaison capacity within the Division but I spend a lot of time in Alan’s branch and I’m hoping to spend a lot more time in parts of Alan’s branch now.’ Chloe took a half pace back.

‘Right Chris. Let’s get this straight. We weren’t friends like that. Shit, we weren’t friends. You were and are a complete arse, and while the desk pilots here may think you are some sort of Ian Fleming type, I know you’re more Captain Pugwash. So keep your mouth shut and let’s all have a nice quiet twenty minutes before you piss off. All right?’

The faces of those closest to the pair flickered and they exchanged glances as Chloe’s voice rose in volume.

‘Why wait Babe? We could go now. Your place or mine? Probably best yours, I’m in a hotel at the mo.’

‘Chris, get it in your thick head, we are not going anywhere. Certainly not together. If you must stay for form’s sake, stay away from me. Okay?

‘Come on Chlo. You mean all that time together meant nothing? All those days? All those nights?

‘We’re not talking about this here Chris.’ Chloe shook her head. ‘We’re not talking about it anytime.’ She turned to go, but Chris reached out to take her elbow.

‘Come on Chloe, that excitement wasn’t just because we were in…’

The people in the room were staring, the ones closest straining their ears to catch the revelation of where Chris had spent ‘all those nights’ with the new section head, where Chloe had disappeared to off the radar.

No-one was any longer in doubt that Chloe was aware of Chris’ approach to women. What happened next scotched the idea that her last posting had, as some unkind souls had suggested, been with freight and mails.

Chloe pivoted on her heel as Chris grasped her elbow and with the side of her free hand delicately chopped him across his throat, silencing him before he could reveal the location of their tryst. As his hand loosened on her arm she dropped the glass she was holding and smashed the heel of that hand into his nose. He sat down with a satisfying thump into the thick Axminster, sputtering the blood pouring out of what was left of his nostrils over his shirt front, gasping for breath.

‘I told you to shut up Chris. Speak about where I was again and it won’t be an informal reprimand.’ She stared down at him. ‘Understand?’

The bloodied figure on the floor nodded.

Warwick stepped forward and quietly asked Chloe if she was okay.

‘Yes, thanks.’

‘Well you aren’t going to have any insubordination problems from now on. On the other hand your social diary suddenly developed a lot of space.’ He smiled, ‘Shall we leave them to it?’

She nodded.

‘I’ll just make my apologies to Alan, and then we can go.’

SECRETS: A TRIPTYCH

I wrote a short story last week with the intention of submitting it for publication in an online magazine. It was just over the word limit however, and as I edited it down I was struck by the realisation that there was a lot unsaid in it. It wasn’t that it needed to be longer per se, I had told the story but only from the point of view of one set of viewers of the action. I wanted to know what was going through the minds of the protagonists as well. This was too many points of view in around 1500 words. So I wondered what a whole series of views would look like.  Well three anyway. The main protagonist, the woman, her interlocutor, the man and the observers in the party.

The result is three short stories, each around 1500 words.

This isn’t going to work for a short story slot below 2,000 words of course but I like the result so I’m putting it/them on here. Just got to decide on the order in which to post them.

I’m going to sleep on it and then it will be one a day – maybe consecutive days, maybe every other day.

I know this concept is not original, the film Rashomon told the story of a murder based upon multiple versions by participants and witnesses and was itself based on a short story inspired by Ambrose Bierce’s Gothic tale of murder by three different tellers, including the deceased via a medium.

No-one dies in my story but I like the different viewpoints of the same event. All participants see exactly the same event but like most witnesses to sudden events recall them differently in detail. Their own perspectives and backgrounds alter their perceptions and truths.

 

Which one first?

ONE NATION

I have wanted to try my hand at an Englyn for some time. It is a compressed form of Welsh verse style (actually there are several types and it would be best if you want to know more to search online for a more precise set of definitions and explanations – again there are several and they don’t all agree!). The version I have attempted has a ten syllable first line with the first appearance of the rhyme on the seventh syllable, where there is a break. The rhyme appears at the end of the remaining lines. The next line has six syllables with the last two lines having seven syllables each.

The difficulty is not adhering to the syllable count – any fool can juggle the words to fit that. The trick is conveying something coherent within that format. In Englyns in Welsh there is also supposed to be cynghanedd, or harmony, within each line and I am sure I haven’t achieved this.

I think the cynghanedd concept works better in Welsh but although I read Welsh and speak it a little, writing poetry is hard enough in English for now. So my Welsh and my poetry remain works in progress.

So for what it’s worth here it is :

 

ONE NATION

Broken dreams in B&B, zero hours.

In your austerity

Levelling up sounds so twee

In a queue in A & E

 

for those who may not know –

B&B is bed and breakfast accommodation – a nice way of spending the night away from home on holiday at less cost than full hotel accommodation – no doubt airbnb has changed perception and meaning to some extent. The B&B I am talking about here however is cheap emergency accommodation provided for those who find themselves homeless and on welfare. It started out as a good idea  but many  B&B places provided just that – bed and breakfast and people had to wander the streets during the day as they were not allowed shelter during those hours.

A&E is accident and emergency at hospital – there were long queues to access treatment in Britain long before the coronavirus outbreak. A major cause was too few beds in hospitals thanks to accountancy cuts – can’t have ‘spare wards’ full of ’empty beds’ and staff with ‘time on their hands’ waiting for a surge of admissions. A concept NHS staff found laughable before the current crisis.