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Don Stoll
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ym75stonesgirl.jpg
Art by Darren Blanch © 2019

Stones Girl

by Don Stoll

Detective Inspector Ellen Flay would have enjoyed chatting with Nigel the canteen ponce if she hadn’t been late for work. Silly bugger wetting himself over John Lennon’s thirty-fourth birthday, Flay thought. She reminded Nigel she was a Stones girl.

“McCartney singing about his dog,” she teased. “Where’s the anarchy?”

“Was about Jane Asher, darling,” Nigel said.

“But never sang ‘Jane My Dear,’ did he?”

First thing she saw in the station was Hedges and Blake abusing a black chap.

Their racism worse, or the misogyny? Flay wondered. Mention the scar on my lip, Hedges: “Couldn’t fit some nig-nog’s great whacking thing in there, Ellen?” One date with Doctor Sylvain de León, they can’t bear the thought. Sylvain tall and dark—yeah, dark like that. Date him again just to get on their tits.

Chief Inspector Redmond crooked his finger. Flay trailed after to his office.

“Want you heading up the Johnny Too Bad investigation, Flay,” Redmond said with his back turned. “No loss if Johnny doesn’t survive, but my concern’s the survival of peace and quiet on the streets.”

“Worried the blacks will riot, Chief Inspector?”

He didn’t answer.

“And if Storey and Rice were at fault?”

“Too Bad’s rubbish and you’ll find the officers weren’t at fault,” he said, turning and smiling thinly. “But I need you to find that—someone the blacks trust.”

“But just in case, sir,” she said.

He turned away.

 “Help for me, sir?”

 “Wasting time, Flay.”

 After she’d joined the station her reluctant partner had retired. Leaving an odd number of detectives, Flay the odd woman out. 

#

 Desk sergeant said Storey and Rice were temporarily reassigned to Islington.

 “They’ll be cleared,” he smirked.

 Thinking Sarge’s ass wants an extra stool to catch the spill-over, Flay headed for 19F David’s Lane. Time to get to know Johnny as more than a stoned-out small-time marijuana dealer who’d unaccountably assaulted two coppers massively bigger than himself. . . bollocks that no black in Brixton will swallow. 

 Warm enough for the car window down. Flay heard the crowd a block away as she parked, howling for the two coppers’ blood. Revolution brewing, she thought.

 Spotless inside.   

 Bedroom: loads of socks and knickers, only two changes of clothes. Launderette every day?

 Loo: two deodorants. No pubic hairs lying about.

 Kitchen: nothing. Scrawny bloke like that attacking a beef-fed pair of London’s Finest? Bloody likely.    

 Back to the bedroom, shuffle the socks again. Polaroids! What’s he been shagging? Could make a vicar’s photo album, though: Mum and Dad, Johnny as a lad.

 Hello! Schoolgirl: ginger hair and freckles, white blouse, tartan skirt. Catholic, church’s name on the gate she’s posed by. School would have the church’s name.

 She slipped the photo into her coat pocket. Studying again the pictures of Mum and Dad and wee Johnny tasty as a chocolate drop she thought Take that one.     

 Loo again. Sniff the girlie deodorant, like the manly one better: Roger Moore, not Connery. She rubbed some on. She put Roger in her pocket. 

 Call Sergeant Fatty, bugger actually helpful: Holy Cross School, the Chaucer Road.       

 Paki gardener outside, inside straightaway put off by the smell. Stale, she thought, like what they teach these poor buggers.

 “Alice Coughlin,” said the owlish woman behind the counter glancing at the picture of the ginger-haired freckled girl.

 “Brooch been in the family?” Flay said. “Looks well loved, Mrs.—”              

 “My gran’s,” the woman smiled, fingering the Celtic monstrosity at her collarbone and handing over a scrap of paper. “Call me Olive. Two addresses, Twickenham one’s Dad.”  

 “Ta, Olive. Got my gran’s brooch too but can’t wear it, my line of work. What would male colleagues think, me decked out like my gran?”

 “Bet I know this about your work,” Olive sighed. “Men thinking it’s all about being hard.”

 Her wink shocked Flay.

 “Snicker at Miss Marple, don’t they, Detective Inspector? Want Philip Marlowe.”  

 “Easier to pop out of bed knowing my partner’s Humphrey Bogart and”—returning Olive’s wink—“that I might pop back in later.”

 They laughed.                                        

 “Anyway, Alice Coughlin,” Flay said.       

 “Just expelled. Marks good, but. . .” 

 “Boys, alcohol, drugs?”

 Olive looked around. She and Flay were alone.

 “Add girls.”

 “She funny?” Flay said in mock horror, catching Olive’s eye to see if she’d caught the mockery.                        

 “Experimenting,” Olive said reassuringly. “Best they get it out of their system young.”

 “Like you did, Olive?” Flay smiled.

 Olive smiled cautiously back.

 “Tell me about the blokes,” Flay said.

 “Keep my head down. But you hear things. Heard about an older chap, early twenties. Tallish, ginger hair.”

 “Ginger like Alice. Must have made a lovely couple.”

 Olive cleared her throat.     

 “Family mum about plans after the expulsion?” Flay said.                  

 “Dad has a second house in the North. Mentioned taking her there for a bit. Unhappy with us, saying school’s job’s only to get her through A-levels.”

 Olive shook her head.

 “Catholic school the mum’s idea,” she said. “Tepid Catholic. Grasping at straws, us the last hope. Alice is eighteen.”

 “Eighteen?” Flay said.

 “Birthday last week. Like nails, though. Don’t be fooled by that angel face.”                       

 “Still,” Flay smiled, “trouble between Mum and Dad never good for the child.”

 “Don’t say there wasn’t sympathy for the girl, but. . . the blokes they fancy. . .”                

 “Our grans wouldn’t give them the time of day.”

 “Only chap I saw,” Olive said, again making sure they were alone, “darky looked like the cat dragged in. Snogging with him out front when I come in early one morning. Maybe Alice thought lick him all over like a mother cat, get the dirt off that black skin and he’s a prize.”

 Flay pictured Johnny’s pristine flat.

#

 Of Islington’s favorite lunch places for coppers, Flay decided first on Maltbie’s, near Highbury’s Clock End.

 Extra Roger Moore needed. She parked, undid her buttons for a rub.             

 She let Maltbie’s door slam.

 “Detective Inspector Flay,” she shouted, “looking for Constable Storey and Constable Rice.”

 “Rice here,” answered a dark-haired young man.

 “Storey,” said the taller ginger-hair beside him.

 Rice dishy, Flay thought, but she disliked Storey. Ginger hair lovely on Alice, not on him. Bland features, youth football coach sort, sort you’d let your son stay with overnight after a tournament if the drive back’s long. Unless you notice the cold pale eyes. The undressing-with-the-eyes look I get less often now, then deciding I’m not worth it and shutting off the look. Ask Sylvain if I’m worth it, you cold bastard.                        

 “Here about—” she said.

 “Didn’t hit him hard,” Storey said in a voice that went with his eyes. “But not the healthiest specimen. Drugs I reckon.”  

 “Outside,” Flay said.

 “Drugs,” she said on the sidewalk. “Cannabis interacted with the tissue of his skull in such a way that your gentle tap was able to fracture it?”  

 “Meant he wasn’t a big strapping bloke,” Storey said.

 “Wasn’t. Relegated to past tense already?”

 “Don’t want him to die,” Rice whimpered.

 You the soft one, Rice? Flay thought.

 “Should downplay the unhealthy specimen bit,” she said, “since then the exigency for deadly force fades away like the bloom on a young girl’s cheek. Like on hers.”

 They didn’t react to Alice’s picture.

 “Thought this was about the darky,” Storey said. 

 “Bird the darky was shagging,” Flay said. “Know her?”   

 She realized that their voices were audible to the coppers inside Maltbie’s, who watched them through the restaurant’s big front windows.

 “This way,” she said, leading them into an alley.               

 “Funny the attraction young birds have to black chaps,” she said.  

 They looked at their shoes.       

 “But understand why white chaps feel threatened.”

 “Threatened?” Storey said. 

 “More like animals. More physical, so more sexual. But male animals not always gentle toward their females.”

 Watching Storey.

 “Male hippopotamus: three thousand pounds and they mate in the water.”

 “In the water?” Storey said. 

 “He’s on top coming at her doggy style, so her head’s shoved under. And she’s not a bloody fish.”

 “Mammal?” Storey said and, after some thought, “Must drown.”

 “Male hippo lacks staying power, her saving grace. Survival of the species. Can’t have Hippo Mum drown as she conceives.”  

 Storey looked down.

 “And where you find hippos?” she said.

 “What country?” Storey said. “Africa.”

 “Heat gets them hot and bothered,” she said. “Animals and men both.”  

 Storey looked squarely at Flay.

 “We don’t know the bird in that picture,” he said.  

 “Keep a log of all your partner’s acquaintances?” she smiled.    

 “I don’t know her,” Rice said.

 Storey grinned. His cold pale eyes didn’t.

 She handed the family snapshot to Rice.  

 “You didn’t want him to die,” she said. “Was somebody’s darling boy. Still is, put yourself in his mum’s shoes.”    

Rice’s eyes cloudy.    

“Just saw his mum,” she said. “Heard all about her boy.”

“We’re sorry,” Storey said, not sounding sorry. “But it’s self-preservation.”

“Wild man he was,” Rice added, wiping his snot away.

“Strength in him you didn’t know where it come from,” Storey said.

Flay returned the Polaroids to her pocket.

“Wasting time,” she said. “I can find Alice Coughlin, ask whether you’re mates.”    

“So what if we know Alice?” Storey snarled. “Protecting her. And her reputation.”

“Already tarnished,” Flay said. “Expelled from school for sexual indiscretions, never mind drugs. You knew that and you knew Johnny was mixed up in it. Broke up your perfect little ginger-haired couple.”

“You’re clueless,” Storey laughed.

“Don’t want him to die,” Rice said.

“Shut it, Rice,” Storey said. 

“How you going to feel when he dies, Constable Rice?” Flay said. “Have to get it off your conscience, better sooner than later. The less time it eats at you.”

“You fancy them,” Storey said.

Flay turned toward him.

“Your rubbish about hippos shagging,” he said. “Africa this, Africa that. All in your head, why it come out so easy. Young birds fancy the black chaps? Know one Detective Inspector old enough to be my mum who does.”

“Can have your badge for insubordination, Constable Storey.”

He took a step toward her. 

“Badge not what it used to be, way this country’s going, Detective Inspector. Too many like you, high and mighty but mind’s in the gutter. Sick way you fancy them comes out like it or not. Think you know me but I know you too.”

She smelled his sour breath.  

“Fancy the black chaps less than seeing you burn,” she said.

They were almost touching.

“This personal, Detective Inspector?”

“Don’t think you are a person, Storey.”

Her tits brushed against him.

“Elasticity gone,” he said. “Wander about on their own, do they?”

Flay blinked.

“Put my finger on a soft spot? So to speak?”           

“I’ll claw your eyes out,” she snarled. “I’ll toss your balls to the wolves if I don’t eat them myself. You ginger down there too?”

“Sticking to our story,” Rice said.

She’d forgotten Rice.

“We knew Johnny was giving Alice drugs,” he said, “knew he was shagging her. Course we gave him a talking-to, told him to stop.”

She turned toward Rice.

“Wouldn’t listen,” he said. “Bloke attacked us.”

He’d run his fingers through his dark hair and made a cat’s breakfast of it. Smiling now, he patted it back in place.

#

Flay rang the bell of Michael Coughlin’s lovely Georgian home and waited. Rang and waited more. Not a peep. Door locked. The back? Good neighborhood, no fences. Good day to sit beneath a tree.

Behind the house no one was sat under a tree. Back door, she thought.

She would need to pass through a sort of cabana, accessible via an opening in the chest-high wall facing toward the neighbors, half a football pitch away. She passed through the opening, receiving a shock when she saw on her back, trusting too much in the provision made for privacy, a naked girl extracting a hand from between her legs.

“Alice Coughlin?” Flay stammered, thinking Pity Sylvain’s out of town, that’ll stick in my mind alone in bed tonight. If I can wait till tonight.

“Detective Inspector Ellen Flay of the Metropolitan Police,” Flay said with her back already turned.        

“Lying out not good for skin like yours,” she said, a mistake because it right off conjured the image of the girl’s ivory flesh.

“I’m decent,” Alice said.         

Green and white plaid bikini. Looking Flay in the eye. Shameless.

At your age should sit in the shade, Inspector. . .”

Elasticity gone and at your age sit in the sodding shade, Flay thought.

Hiding her eyes behind oversized sunglasses, Alice gestured toward facing lawn chairs.

“Detective Inspector,” Flay said. “Here to discuss a misfortune suffered by a mate of yours, calls himself ‘Johnny Too Bad.’”

Alice crossed her legs.

“Assaulted a couple of police officers, also mates of yours.”

“Why would he do that?” Alice said.

“Officers are fine,” Flay said. “Mr. Too Bad didn’t leave a scratch.”

“I see. And how’s Mr. Too Bad? Johnny.”

“Nice to hear you call him by his first name.”

Anger flared in Alice’s eyes. Flay thought: Chauvinist cliché, but truly is prettier when angry. Ginger hair brings out even more the flush in her cheeks. Chest flushing too. Maybe all the way down to her titties, ivory flesh going all rosy like her nipples?   

Flay recognized the need to focus on her inquiry.

“I get angry at work, the blokes laugh,” she said. 

Alice seemed curious.

“Woman copper. What’s that like?”  

“Spend loads of time plotting revenge against blokes.”

“Revenge?” Alice said.

“Wore a wire to catch a colleague on about shagging a slut. Played the recording for the missus, put asunder what God had joined together.”

From the telly, Flay thought. Good idea, though.

“Old hat for me,” she continued. “Expelled from Catholic school younger than you for recording an old pervy priest chatting me up.”

Also from the telly.

“You’re better off expelled,” Alice smiled, but not smiling said “You wired now?”     

“Have a look,” Flay said, undoing her top two buttons and fingering the third.

Alice’s eyes popped. 

“You’re barking mad,” she said.

“Point is what you’re mad at.”  

“What you mean?”          

“Bit older than you,” Flay said. “All right, lot older. But a woman, so been through the same: blokes—pervy priests, manky colleagues—thinking they know better.” 

“Not sure what men are good for,” Alice said. “Except, you know.”

“Up to us to train them. Up to the mums.”

“You a mum?” Alice said, looking surprised.

“No time.”

“Not sure I want to be. So many things wrong with the world.”

Alice swept her arm toward her father’s house.

“How do I deserve this?” she said.

“Father must have worked hard. Who would you give it to anyway? Somebody that didn’t work for it?”

Flay saw Alice’s eyes narrow behind the dark glasses.

“What about them that work hard but don’t get rewarded?” Alice said.

Where’s this going? Flay wondered.  

“Mustn’t speak like this to Pete and Teddy.”

“Storey and Rice? Speak like what?”    

“Mustn’t tell them the treatment of the blacks isn’t right.” 

Fuck me, Flay thought. Better lucky than good.      

“How you know them?” she said.

“Knew Teddy’s brother at my last school. Brother and Teddy both fancied me.”

“You went for Teddy. Bit old, isn’t he?”

“Didn’t go for him, but had a motor and made good money.”

Alice paused.

“Blokes do it to birds, turnabout’s fair play.”

“Dangerous game, bloke figures it out,” Flay said. “And worse once Johnny’s sniffing around you?” 

“Try telling a bloke like Teddy he doesn’t own me,” Alice sighed. “Or try telling his scary ginger-haired mate.”

“Your fancy man Teddy Storey,” Flay said, confused. “Or. . .”

“Teddy is Rice,” Alice said. “He has dark hair. Storey is Pete.”

Bloody hell I’ve mixed up their names, Flay thought. And not just their names.

“Sometimes when Teddy would see you,” she said, “Storey would be there too?”     

“Not saying Pete didn’t fancy me—”  

“Course not,” Flay smiled.

“—but like he was biding his time. Odd, those two: like Teddy was the apprentice and Pete the master. Waiting to take over when the apprentice made a bollocks of it.”

Alice shook her head.

“He took Polaroids.”

“Pete did?”

“Teddy,” Alice laughed. “But he showed them to Pete.”

“How you know?”

“Ever know something without knowing how you know?” Alice shrugged.

She stood up.

“Was a fool to let him,” she said.

“You trusted him,” Flay said soothingly. “Sometimes we trust the wrong people, but can’t do without trust altogether. World would be unbearable.”

Alice smiled.  

“Didn’t trust him that much.”                                                                       

She went in the house. She came back with a picture saying “Read the back too.”

Now able to distinguish between dark-haired Teddy Rice and ginger-haired Pete Storey, Flay studied Rice with knickers down in a state of arousal and Storey to the side with hands clapped on his cheeks and face twisted in mock astonishment.

Back said “18th birthday coming Alice so something nice for you. Teddy.”  

#

Alice Coughlin went for a time to the North of England with her father.    

Chief Inspector Antony Redmond’s job survived the violence that erupted after the announcement that there would be no prosecution of Constable Teddy Rice or Constable Pete Storey. Four Brixton residents died but The Revolution didn’t come to pass.

John Kamau Desmond AKA Johnny Too Bad died from his injuries. Constables Rice and Storey resigned from the Metropolitan Police, preserving themselves and the force from scandal. Prosecutors determined that a jury would not deliver a conviction for the killing of Mr. Desmond, given the latter’s unsavory character. Rice and Storey found employment with a private security firm, earning salaries much in excess of what the Metropolitan Police had paid.      

END


Holiday Season

by Don Stoll

 

        Detective Inspector Charlie Blake thought that if Detective Inspector Ellen Flay kept acting like a fucking cow then he’d happily lead her to slaughter.

       Bloody cheek Flay had recording Hedgie on about shagging that tart, Blake thought. Playing it for the missus, ruining Hedgie’s marriage. Hedgie pissing it up then, useless on the job, transferred out. Flay strutting through the station tits high, on about her black witch doctor. Like to put a blade to that pretty throat, other hand squeezing her tits.

#

       Last straw, Flay thought, was the morning that black chap was arrested on suspicion of being the Brixton Rapist. Racist twats Hedges and Blake dragging the poor sod up to me, arms pinned. Hedges yanking down his trousers and—‘ello!—no knickers. Eying me like they’d won the pools.

        “Thought gorillas had teeny ones,” Hedges said.

        They’d forgotten the black chap’s arms. He reached for his trousers but Blake grabbed an arm and wrenched it behind his back. 

        “That scar of yours,” Hedges said. “Your black French doctor have one this big? Use his scalpel to enlarge your mouth, try to get his thing in?”

        “Doctor Sylvain de León,” Blake said. “Black French witch doctor.

        Blake with that grin on his fat porridgey face looking like Benny Hill, Flay thought.           

        “Ivory Coast,” Hedges said. “Do cures with elephants’ tusks? His thing big like an elephant’s tusk?” 

        “This bloke an actual suspect?” Flay said. “Or just the first black chap you happened to see after you woke up?”

        Similar height and build to Sylvain, Flay thought. Same ebony coloring. Bloody bigger down there.      

        “Suspect?” Hedges said. “Hang him by that great whacking thing, he’ll confess to killing Kennedy. Caught him pissing in an alley with that thing hanging out, thought Got to show Flay, let her compare him to her black witch doctor.”

        That was the moment when Detective Inspector Ivor Hedges situated himself squarely between Flay’s crosshairs.              

#

        Christmas Eve. The Provisional IRA’s bombing campaign commencing eighty-two days previously in Guildford had two days before nearly taken the life of former Prime Minister Edward Heath, conveying to the pessimistically inclined the sense that the country was falling apart. The blackness of the wee hours of the morning heralded another grim gray day through the bedroom window of Doctor Sylvain de León’s Twickenham flat round the corner from his cosmetic surgery practice. Ellen Flay sprang out of bed to answer her fiancé’s phone.

        “Christmas Eve, Ellen! There’s other D.I.’s.”     

        Saying “D.I.” makes Sylvain feel like an insider, Flay thought.

        In the front room hitting her shin on something, she switched on the light stark naked thinking Sod the open curtains, let anyone who’s lucky enough have an eyeful.

        “Sorry to call so early, Flay.”

        Redmond apologizing. Mark it on the calendar.

        “Need you,” he said.

        Got Sylvain, she wanted to shoot back. But Redmond not one to joke with.

        “Know Killarney Street, Flay? The Red Lion? Where the soldier was stabbed.”

        “Blackest part of Brixton. Favorite place for Hedges and Blake to bust heads.”    

        Silence on Redmond’s end, Flay thought. Crossed a line?

        “Not another bombing, sir?”

        “Could see that. Great for soldiers with a taste for exotic amusements.”

        Exotic meaning black, Flay thought.

        Her intention upon returning to the bedroom was to dress for work but her fiancé had not reconciled himself to the wreckage of his holiday.

        “Five minutes,” Sylvain said.

        “Bloody hell.”

        “That a no?”

        “Bloody hell no.”

#

        Flay caught Elton John’s cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” on two different stations as she drove. Life’s not completely buggered, she thought. Not with blokes like Lennon and now this chap pinning diamonds in the sky.             

        Chief Inspector Antony Redmond was waiting for her not at The Red Lion but across Killarney Street in front of a squat ugly building, not alone.

        “You smell like sex, Ellen,” nodded Charlie Blake through a smile, its insincerity illuminated by a streetlight whose effective functioning surprised Flay. 

        “And you don’t,” Flay said. “Boyfriend still asleep?”

        Fucking cow, Blake thought.         

        “Need you two to put it aside,” Redmond said. “Third floor. Walk up give you time to prepare.”

        “No lift?” Blake said.

        “Bring a folding chair from your car, Flay?” Redmond said. “Give Blake a sit-down on the landings, catch his breath?”

        Redmond stopped. Flay could see he didn’t want to say what he had to say.

        “Not good at being human”—finally admitted it himself, Flay thought—“but. . . bloody hell, it’s Hedges.”

        Chief Inspector going to cry? Flay wondered what to do. She looked at Blake’s frozen face and wondered again. Suddenly these hard blokes who never wanted me in the station though Redmond has come to respect my work with little-boy faces wet with tears and snot. Flay thought If I tried that, might as well say I can’t work because of cramps.  

        But she said “Sorry, Charlie.” 

        She touched his arm. Like a tennis player flailing at a shot to his backhand that he might just get his racket on he repelled it.

        “You wanted him dead,” he hissed. “Bit of taking the piss but you couldn’t take it. Innocent fun and now he’s dead, so don’t pretend you ain’t happy.”

        Flay recalled Hedges’ constant obscene suggestions about the scar on her upper lip.

        “Always on about a bloke’s”—she glanced at the Chief Inspector—“about one stuck in my mouth, me needing to make it bigger. That’s innocent?”

        “How did you get that scar, Flay?” Redmond said distractedly.

        “Told you it was a drunken boyfriend,” she said thinking Fucking hell Redmond stay focused, Charlie’s scaring me.                

        “Flirting was all,” Blake said. “Hedgie had a wife, so couldn’t ask you out, but his way of saying you was all right.”

        “Wife keep him from shagging that tart?”

        Suddenly Blake was shaking her, sour breath in her face and screaming “Fucking cow!” Then Redmond was between them. Blake released her arms.

        Redmond’s hat knocked off. Kojak look suits him, Flay thought.        

        “Number Eighteen, Flay,” he snapped. “I’ll bring Charlie up. Need you both.”

        Flay adjusted her clothes and smoothed her hair. Breathing heavily, Blake hitched his trousers up over his stomach.

        “Blake and me a team?” she said.

        “Your objectivity, Charlie’s motivation,” Redmond said, no humanity in his face.

        “He’ll kill me, sir.”

        “Not like you to overreact, Flay, so proud of your cool head.”

        Redmond’s voice was icy.

        “Heat of the moment.”

        “Bloody hell,” Flay said, going inside.

        She tried the lift, but Redmond had been right: out of order.

        The walk up not breathing through her nose because of the stink of piss gave her time to think about working with Blake. Stay on my guard, not think hard about the case but let him take the lead. And make sure he doesn’t kill the first black he suspects.

        She nodded at the constable outside Number Eighteen. He looked away. Flay thought Like I’m his mum. 

        “Bloody hell. Borrow your gloves?”

        “Christmas Eve,” he said, offering her an excuse but not looking in her eyes.

        She pulled on the oversized gloves and opened the door.

        The corpse of Ivor Hedges was sunk into the ragged sofa. Flay experienced a satisfaction she knew she couldn’t show. The head, blood having streamed out of both sides, rested against the wall behind like he’d nodded off watching football. Sofa facing the telly. Note on the low table his legs were stretched beneath, but Flay saw why Redmond didn’t think suicide. Two words—“I’m sorry”—and not even a period. Why type two words except to disguise the handwriting? Plus Hedges would have known that the trick to steady a hand that might pull away last second is barrel in the mouth with lips clamped round it. Lips clamped round it like round something else, Flay thought, remembering Hedges’ innocent fun and thinking Dance on your grave now. 

        She was distracted from this thought that she knew would do her no good by the shop talk of the forensics blokes. Here fast, no one pulling them back into bed for a shag. She peeked into the hallway. Tom about his business in the bedroom, Dick in the loo. 

        “Any estimate of time of death?”

        “Only rough so far, Ellen,” said Dick.

        She thought Why would a bloke call himself Dick?         

        “Full rigor not attained yet,” Tom added. “But takes longer at this temperature. Can’t afford to run the heat, looks like.”  

        “Tart lives here,” Dick said. “Half-six now, so might have an alibi if she was across the way pissing it up before work.”

        Half-six and miserable bloody sunrise ninety minutes away, Flay thought. Be like spring in the Azores then.         

        Tom and Dick in the hallway.

        “Doing my job now?” she said sternly.

        Tom grinned. Dick’s face fell.

        “Reason he’s called Dick,” Tom said.

        “Taking the piss, Richard,” she smiled.                                                                    

        Back to the front door.

        “Who found him?” she said.

        “Tenant, down the hall with her mate in Twenty-three,” the young constable said in a normal voice and then, quietly, “Tart.”

        “Alibi?”

        “Working all night,” he smirked. “And smells like it. Acting broken up. Knew him.”

        Poor alibi, Flay thought. That kind of work travels, and just try finding the blokes afterward.

        “Knew him?” she said.

        She had another idea about the shooting.

        “Her name Mandy?”

        “Mate of yours too?” he grinned but Flay looked at him and the grin vanished.

        Hedges’ revenge? Flay thought. Like it was the tart’s fault he’d told her “Won’t run you in you do me.” Tart’s fault I taped him on about doing her? Course he’d take revenge on a poor black tart scraping out a living providing a necessary service. Poor, black, and a tart: good enough reasons for Hedges. He’d faked someone doing a poor job of faking his suicide so whoever investigated would think murder.

        Then Flay thought Worked too long in this slime. Coppers often worse than the criminals, now I’ve turned into the slime. Twisted thoughts come easy.

        Then she thought Doesn’t mean the slime’s not the slime, means maybe time to get out. Marry Sylvain, this time get through the engagement with no cock-up, quit the force, shop and play tennis. Last only so long doing that, bored to tears. But last a while and think of something else, just bloody get out of the force. And maybe last a bit longer shopping and playing tennis if Sylvain moves the cosmetic surgery practice to Los Angeles like he’s talked about. Novelty of getting to know the place, take longer to get bored.

        Move to Los Angeles, Flay thought, maybe have him give me the perfect tits I’ve joked about, not altogether joking. Required to prove local residence there, stuck at the back of the queue at the meat counter if you’re not loaded with both barrels pointed at the butcher’s face. Sorry luv, see you’re from out of town so got to serve these five local ladies ahead of you. Except do they have meat counters in the States? All pre-packaged, no worries about the meat counter but easily identifiable as a tourist looking for Cary Grant’s house.      

        Flay also thought Not murder but that vengeful racist woman-hater wanted it thought so and if Blake doesn’t make Mandy pay he’ll see another black does.

        Speak of the devil.

        “Accept my apology Ellen?” said Blake with a smile plastered on his porridgey face.

        “I understand, Charlie,” she said just as insincerely.

        Maybe play a different game, she thought: play soft, put him off guard. Game he thinks he can play, she thought, also thinking But I’ll play it better.

        Redmond right behind, not fooled by either of them but looking like he wanted to fool them into thinking he was fooled. Oh what a tangled bloody web, Flay thought.  

        “Not suicide,” Redmond said.

        “Course not,” Blake said, glancing at the note after glancing at the corpse of his former partner, weeping no more now, instead trying to convince Flay and Redmond that he was a man so he could handle this. “Murder made to look like one. And poor job of it.” 

        “Suspects,” Redmond said. “First impressions?”

        “Usual for Charlie,” Flay said. “Whole population of Brixton with extra pigmentation. Years to interview them all.”

        “Start with Hedges’ tart,” Redmond sighed. “You take her, Flay.”

        She thought He knows Blake can’t be objective but then why assign him? So I’ll keep an eye on him? He finally figure out Hedges and Blake terrorized these poor blacks, that why he moved Hedges? Blake on his way out too? Not soon enough.

        “You start knocking on the other doors,” Redmond said. “Delicately.” 

        “My middle name, sir,” Blake grinned.   

#

        Mandy Marshall sat facing Flay in the middle of a careworn sofa.  

        “Watches your little boy while you’re working?” Flay said nodding toward the large woman making tea in the kitchen, not as dark as Mandy.

        “Didn’t hear anything,” Mandy said.

        Like carved out of some precious polished gem, Flay thought, stirred by the young woman’s beauty and reminded of occasional intriguing experiments at college, but never with anyone quite this pretty. Easy to see why Hedges fancied her. Tarts for a copper’s taking all the time but I listened for my chance to catch Hedges out and Mandy was the first.        

        “No sugar,” Flay said to the large woman, thinking East Indian. Effing Black Hole of Calcutta so bad they’d rather come here for abuse by the likes of Hedges and Blake?

        “Sorry,” Mandy said. “Your job to ask her.”

        “Might have happened last night when the pub across the way was jumping,” Flay said. “Gun had a silencer, doesn’t really silence but can change the noise when there’s loads going on in the area.”

        Mandy looked at her curiously.

        “Sound like a car backfiring, something heavy falling, whatever,” Flay said.    

        “If it was last night she could have been asleep with my son,” Mandy said, looking toward the kitchen. “Reads to him and they nod off together. But the other tenants. . .”

        “My partner’s got them.”

        “Ivor’s partner. You the new Ivor?”

        Flay hesitated. 

        “What you think of him?” she said.

        Mandy hesitated longer.

        “What you think of him?”

        “Does his job,” Flay shrugged.  

        “That what you call it?”

        Flay hesitated again.

        “What time you start working last night, Mandy?”  

        Dick the forensics bloke was right: at The Red Lion pissing it up before starting work until late.

        “How late?” Flay said.

        “Late.”

        “After ten?”

        “Think well after. Holiday season.”

        “People see you there?”

        “Whole neighborhood,” Mandy laughed.

        Time of death rough so far, Flay thought, but Dick the forensics bloke might be right and poor tart Mandy polished like some precious black gem might be in the clear. Make sure Blake understands, stay with her for when he comes knocking. 

        Which he did sooner than Flay had expected and not in the mood she’d expected. Not fury and hunger for revenge but grief, Flay thought. Defeat, barely a nod at his late partner’s tart. Just a halfway-civil explanation that she needs to wait at her mate’s till forensics can finish, clear the body out of the way.

        “Nothing?” Flay whispered after they’d left the tart with her mate.

        “Too early,” he said not whispering. “Sleeping the sleep of the innocent whether they are or not, or else saying they didn’t or couldn’t of heard a thing, all beating their tom-toms across the way half the night. Holiday season and all.”  

        “Not half-seven. Give them time to wake up?”

        Blake smiled a sad little smile.

        “Got something in the car for a Christmas Eve morning.”

        Keep your guard up, Flay thought. But his grief seems real. Got to be human.

        “Hedgie’s Black Label,” he said. “Left it behind. Constant companion after. . .”        

        Flay thought After Yours Truly destroyed his life.

        “Too early, Charlie.”

        “One or two, Ellen. Then back to work.”

        “Charlie. . .”

        She’d already capitulated by calling him Charlie. But got to be human, she thought. And how else kill a bit more time? Charlie might have two or three, but I’ll stop at one.

        “Christmas Eve, Ellen.”   

#

        The immediate warming of Flay’s insides by the remnant of the dead man’s bottle of Johnnie Walker conspired with her recognition that it was after all but a remnant to persuade her to think Let’s have a couple, finish it with the poor grieving twat.

        Poor Charlie—he was poor Charlie now—had three or four. Flay lost count.

        Blake and Flay went back inside the squat ugly building where even Blake now thought, without prompting by Flay, Hedgie may have offed himself but faked someone doing a poor job of faking him offing himself so that whoever investigates thinks murder.

        But still pointless, Flay thought. Rousted one or two. Others still sleeping the sleep of the innocent whether they are or not, even Charlie Blake not up for banging on doors. Not on Christmas Eve morning with the whisky mellowing him from his insides out and him feeling grief not anger.

        At nine Blake said “Red Lion, Ellen? Maybe someone there who was working last night, finally give us some help?”

        “Be tripping over themselves to help, Charlie,” she laughed.

        Crossing the street she said “No more whisky, Charlie.”

        “All right, mum,” he sighed.

        “Forgot he’s mulatto,” Blake mumbled when he saw the owner behind the bar.

        Flay looked at Blake.             

        “Thinks he’s white,” he said.

        “Staff coming in at ten was here till late,” smiled the proprietor of The Red Lion. “Put them to work cleaning up.”

        Blake and Flay followed his gaze as it surveyed the wreckage of the previous night.

        “Keep me and the whisky company till then?” the proprietor said.

        Blake hesitated.

        “Or taste of the islands?”

        “You didn’t say no rum,” Blake said, looking at Flay.

        Just like that three shots of Captain Morgan in three glasses.

        “Bloody hell,” Flay said.

        “Sorry about your mate,” the proprietor said.

        “Ta,” Blake said.

        “Another on the house in his honor,” the proprietor said.

        “Jesus,” Flay said.

        “Should start the cleanup. One more on the house then you pay.”

        “Pour it now so we can sit?” Blake said.

        “Course,” the proprietor said.           

        “Table in the corner, Helen?” Blake said.

        “You call me Helen?”

        “Don’t think so. Know it’s Ellen.”             

        “Day’s shot,” she said, walking loose-limbed toward the corner.

        When Blake stopped she bumped into him.

        “Thought you meant the other table,” she said.

        “Can keep your hand there.”

        It was on Blake’s arm.

        “Almost ran you down,” she said.        

        Fat but he doesn’t seem disgusting, Flay thought. Seems soft and pitiful.

        “My pleasure,” he said, thinking Could do her.

        Doesn’t seem full of herself, he thought. Seems like she’d understand.

        “Any time,” he added.

        They sat down.

        “Thinking about Hedgie,” he said.

        She leaned toward him.

        “Might have done himself, made it look like murder,” he said.

        She nodded expressively.           

        “Like him to find one last way to give the black bastards grief,” he grinned.

        Flay wrenched violently to her left to avoid spewing on the table.

        Blake watched the contents of her stomach spill out.

        “My fault,” someone said.

        She wondered how the owner could be there right away with a mop.

        “Sorry,” she said.

        The smell of the bleach nauseated her. She spewed onto the mop.

        “There, there, luv,” she heard Blake say. 

        She felt his hand pat and stroke her back and feel for her bra clasp.

        “Get off,” she said sharply.

        Blake removed his hand.

        “Barman’s best mate, bleach,” the owner said. “You not the first or the last, luv.” 

        “Don’t have to be like that,” Blake said. “Didn’t mean anything.”

        She turned around to ask what “like that” meant but he was headed out.

        “It bloody did mean something” she said, and he said, “Fucking cow.” 

        “Coffee?” the owner said, and she said “Ta” and he said, “This’ll make you right.”

        But its bitter smell nauseated her, so she said, “Back to work” and up and left.

        The first thing Flay saw when she stumbled into the grim gray morning was Charlie Blake’s broken body in the middle of Killarney Street.      

#

        Ellen Flay resented her brief suspension from the Metropolitan Police for drunkenness during official hours, during which certain male colleagues had often been drunk. But her resentment was mitigated by the satisfaction of knowing she hadn’t been drunk enough to walk in front of a lorry.

        Her return to duty was also brief due to Doctor Sylvain de León’s decision to move his much-in-demand cosmetic surgery practice to Los Angeles sooner rather than later.

        “Just resign and thumb your nose at those bastards who blame you for Hedges and Blake,” he said, and she thought that was a fine idea.

        He asked about the investigation of the death of Ivor Hedges, which she’d been removed from. She said she didn’t bloody care, which was true.

END



Faith

by Don Stoll

 

     Detective Inspector Ellen Flay reckoned that she enjoyed the taste of roast goose, Yorkshire pudding, and pigs in blankets as much as anyone. But the words “Christmas dinner” awakened her own Ghost of Christmas Past.

     That Christmas when she was only seventeen, she’d told Ralph she loved him even though she didn’t. Realizing that even though she didn’t love this boy the choice of what and whom to love was hers and not Mum and Dad’s imparted a certain strength, which in turn imparted a certain determination. Course, strength and determination can be misused by a young girl who hasn’t yet got her head screwed on straight.    

     She’d run off with Ralph, but on the bus they counted their money and saw that from Leeds they’d have to thumb it.

     “Could of thumbed it from York,” he said. “Left us more for a bite to eat.”

     “And if we didn’t catch a lift straight off? If one of me dad’s mates saw us? Make everything right in London, anyroad.” 

     Not sure we belong down South, Ralph thought. But you couldn’t argue with Ellen once she’d decided that it couldn’t get any worse than Mass every Sunday and school with the nuns and Mum yapping at her about nothing and Dad having nothing to say except to tell her to listen to her Mum.

     “Could of waited till after Christmas to run off,” Ralph said. “Make for a hard Christmas for me Mum and Dad. And yours.”

     “This our Christmas gift to ourselves, Ralphie. Grab some kip and remember that when you wake up.”                           

     Can’t argue with her, he thought. Best do what she says, grab some kip.               

#

     “Not a sodding brolly between us,” Ellen said as they got off at the Leeds station.                                              

     Tucking their faces onto their chests against the drizzle, they made their way to a spot that looked right for getting a lift.

     “Be easy, it not dark yet,” she said. “Our young beautiful faces illuminated by the legendary Yorkshire sunshine.”

     Ralph wished she would shut it.

     “Pervs won’t be able to resist,” she laughed. “First priest drives by. . .”  

     “That’s not funny.”

     “Bloody is.”                                         

     A car stopped. The window came down. A man in a tie studied them. To Ellen and Ralph he looked like a businessman, despite the sleeves too long for his jacket.

     “Need a lift?” he said with a heavy working-class accent. 

     Ellen and Ralph admired the car: black Vauxhall 14-6 saloon car, pre-war. Ellen smiled and said “Look like Frank Sinatra” because the pomade in the man’s dark hair hadn’t prevented a lock from tumbling onto his forehead. He pushed the stray lock aside to show the small ugly scar beneath his hairline.

     “Still look like Sinatra?” he said. “But didn’t have to fight the Jerries, did he?”

     “Perforated eardrum, I heard. Yanks’ army wouldn’t have him.”  

     “You believe that, lass?” he said. “Sings like that, got bad hearing?”                 

     Ellen and Ralph climbed in back. Tobacco stink, cheap-rum smell of pomade. Cold.

     “Heat not working?” Ralph said.

     The man drove in silence.

     “Meat pie here you’re welcome too,” he finally said. “Took one bite.” 

     The man handed Ralph something wrapped in a paper napkin.

     “Tuck in,” he said.

     Ralph unwrapped it.

     “Oniony,” Ellen said quietly.

     “No thank you,” Ralph said.

     “Valentine’s Day two months off,” the man said. “Can’t let him eat onions till then?” 

     “Always Valentine’s Day for us,” she said brightly.

     “Won’t press you about what that means,” he said, his voice changing slightly. “But young enough anyroad, reckon you got the stamina.”

     Ellen pressed her knee against Ralph’s.          

     “Mum and Dad know he’s your Valentine?” the man said. “That why you run off?”

     They felt his eyes in the rearview study their dark silhouettes.  

     “Fancies Frank Sinatra she does, lad,” the man said to Ralph. “So maybe sing to her for Valentine’s Day. ‘All or Nothing at All.’”        

     “Out of date you are,” Ellen laughed. “Not heard him do ‘How Deep Is the Ocean?’”

     The man drove some more.

     “You Catholic, luv?” he said.

     Ellen tucked the tiny crucifix hanging outside her jumper inside its V-neck.

     “Habit,” she said.

     “Were Catholic, but lost your faith? Pity. Cruel world. Need faith to get you through.”

     “Yeah, pity,” she said in a tone suggesting the conversation had ended.                                          

     Ralph examined the dashboard. From a spot where there might have been a cigarette lighter dangled a wide-mouthed flexible hose, the length of Ralph’s hand. It reminded him of the gas masks used during the First World War. He tried to suss out what it could be. He tapped Ellen’s knee to get her attention. She’d dozed off. He’d stopped trying to make sense of it by the time she woke up. 

     “Got a name?” she said.

     The man answered impassively. 

     “Spencer is it?” she said. “First or last?”

     “That’s right, lass.”

     Ellen and Ralph stared out the windows.       

     “Traveling light,” Spencer said after he’d driven many more miles. “Skint, are you?”

     Ralph answered vaguely.

     “Buy you a meal, next town?” Spencer said. “Sort of a Christmas dinner, don’t know you’ll get a real one.” 

     Ellen accepted.

     She noticed the hose hanging from the dashboard. She tapped Ralph’s knee in the same way he’d tapped hers earlier. He shrugged.

     Spencer turned into a country lane. Darkness had settled upon the land while Ellen slept.

     “You lost, Spencer?” she said.

     He took a hand off the wheel and held it up, as if to reassure them. He pulled off the road. Ellen and Ralph looked at the trees in the headlights.

     “Going for a slash?” Ellen said.

     Spencer swiveled around to look at them. He rested his left hand on top of his seat.

     “Skint, aren’t you,” he said. “Fiver then, since I’m feeling generous.”

     Spencer had left the engine running. Some light came from the dashboard. Ralph noticed the hose again. Then he saw Spencer’s right hand. It held a gun.

     “Get on before I reduce my offer,” Spencer said. “So who’s first?”

     Ellen looked at Ralph thinking Twat doesn’t get it. She removed her coat.

     “Cold,” she said. “Can keep me jumper on?”

     “You’ll heat up soon enough, lass. Want to see nowt on you. And you, lad.”

     While Ellen and Ralph undressed, Spencer opened the glove box. He found the torch. He switched it on. Ellen and Ralph covered their eyes.           

     “You’ll adjust,” Spencer laughed. “But won’t do the trick in that state, lad.”

     He pointed the gun at Ellen.

     “Don’t play the innocent schoolgirl. You can see what needs to be done.”

     “I am a schoolgirl.”  

     She fingered the silver crucifix between her breasts.     

     “You Catholic too, Spencer? What about that?”

     “Cruel world, lass. Why faith’s needed.”                    

     She complied with Spencer’s wish.

     “Don’t make a Christmas dinner of it, lass. Was taking the piss when I offered one.”

     She pulled away.  

     “Now want to see you licking her right up to her liver, lad.”

     Ellen lay on her back. Ralph bent over her.

     “Hang on,” Spencer said. “In a proper state now, so shouldn’t waste it. On top.”

     “No, Spencer,” Ellen said. “If I get pregnant. . .”

     “Ways to deal with that,” he answered. “Clever lass like you. . .”           

     Ralph complied.       

     “Hang on,” Spencer said.

     “Bloody make up your mind,” Ellen said. “He’s happy to act your monkey.”

     “Flip over,” Spencer said. “Like you’re an egg wanting frying.”

     “Oh God,” she said. “You’re thinking. . .”

     “You’ll get through it, lass,” he grinned. “Lad’s excited enough it be over quick.”

     “Never done it that way,” Ralph said as he looked down at Ellen’s backside.        

     “On your knees, lass,” Spencer said. “Like you’re scrubbing the floor.” 

     Ralph moved up against Ellen. He reached for her breasts.

     “No,” Spencer said. “Let them hang. Want to see a good shake when you drive in.”

     Ralph looked at Spencer.

     “Problem, lad?”

     “I’m trying,” Ralph said. “Wish I could. . .”   

     “You wish you could?!” Ellen said.

     Ralph began to weep.

     “Fucking hell,” Spencer said. “Then manage dog-style, you think?”

     Full-on sobbing, Ralph nodded.

     “Hands off her tits, though, and drive in hard. Can see they’re firm, so you’ll need to get really stuck in to get a good bounce-about.”

     Ralph made several thrusts.

     “That all right?” he said, using his right hand to wipe away his tears.

     His left hand gripped her buttock.

     “Hand blocking me view, lad,” Spencer said. “Put it on the roof, you want leverage.”

     Ralph had stopped crying. He’d settled into a comfortable rhythm. Ellen closed her eyes. She tried to pretend that Spencer wasn’t there. But he kept talking.         

     “Before it’s over just like that—was a young lad meself—I need one more thing from you: need you pulling well out every time. Want to see shaft.”

     Ralph slowed his pace.

     “A natural you are, lad,” Spencer laughed. “And lovely glisten on your shaft.”  

     “Fucking hell,” Ellen said.

     Ralph found a rhythm again. Nature took its course. But the intensity of his orgasm was undercut halfway through by his awareness of Ellen’s silence. 

     “I do something wrong?” he said.

     “Twat you are, Ralph.”         

     “Proud of you, lad,” Spencer said. “Break for the loo?”

     Ralph pulled up his trousers as he climbed out of the car dying to pee.

     “Need your clothes,” Spencer grinned, “now the body heat’s dissipated.”

     Ralph shot off to the side. Ellen went round back of the car. She read by the taillights: 410 NQ. She headed the opposite way from Ralph.    

     Ralph returned to the car first. Spencer had locked the doors. Ralph could see him in the light from the dashboard. The flexible hose now stretched from the dashboard to his crotch. Ellen was now on the other side of the car.

     “Got me coat and bag in there,” she said.

     “You promised a fiver,” Ralph shouted.

     He banged on the window. Spencer’s contorted face looked up.

     “Give us our money, wanker.”

     Turning toward Ellen, Spencer switched on the overhead light and withdrew from the hose. The semen pooled at the end of his penis. The expression on his face was that of a man who’d just taken his first mouthful of cold coffee. He grabbed the gun from the top of the dashboard and pointed it at Ralph. 

     “Wanker,” Ralph shouted.           

     With his free hand Spencer stuffed his penis back into his trousers and rolled the window down a couple of inches. He fired. Because of the shooting angle through the high narrow opening, the bullet went over Ralph’s head. He turned and ran, shouting to Ellen to do the same. Spencer pulled his car back onto the country lane.

     Ellen shivered violently.

     “You that cold?” Ralph said. 

     “That angry.”          

     Ralph took off his coat and draped it over her shoulders.

     “Looking to redeem yourself, Ralphie?”             

     He wouldn’t meet her gaze.

     “You want to play the hero,” she said, “then do what I say. Knob I was to leave me coat and bag. But I’ll get them back.”

     “They’re gone, Ellen. He’s got a motor and we’re hoofing it.”

     “Notice his petrol gauge?” she said walking away. “Nothing open now, he’ll be stuck in the next town.”

     Ralph caught up.

     “He low on petrol?” he said.

     “Too distracted to stop. And you see he didn’t head back to the main road? Knows there’s a town not far. So I’ve got him.”

     “He’s got a gun,” Ralph said as he blew on his hands.

     Ellen smiled.

#

     For perhaps an hour as they walked they heard only the occasional screech of a barn owl or the occasional barking dog far off. Ralph didn’t know what to say. He thought under the conditions best to say nothing. Ellen said twice “Best if we get where we’re going with the pubs still open, that’s my hope.” Ralph didn’t ask her to explain her plan.  

     When they finally heard something other than a barn owl or a barking dog, Ellen knew she was in luck. They heard pub noises.  

     Ralph didn’t know she was in luck because he didn’t know her plan. In fact, he knew as they approached the pub that they were both dead out luck because there was Spencer’s black pre-war Vauxhall 14-6 saloon car and he was a nasty bloke with a gun.

     Ellen knew what Ralph was thinking.  

     “No need to piss yourself, Ralphie. Wrong license plate.”

     She took off his coat.

     “Wear it so they don’t think you’re daft, attract attention,” she said. “Ask there’s another pub here and how far’s the next town.”

     “Half a mile,” he said when he came out. “Next town’s maybe five mile.”           

     He paused.

     “Just gone nine o’clock, Ellen.”

     He thought that increased their odds of seeing Spencer come out of the pub. He thought that couldn’t be good.       

     “Want the coat back?” he said.

     “Bugger the coat,” she said as she walked away. “Got business.” 

     Ralph followed. He’d started to feel like Ellen’s pet Spaniel, but he was warm enough.

     “Keep your eyes peeled for a big rock,” she said. “But not too big for swinging.” 

     He obeyed. She was pleased when he handed her what he’d found.

     “Making yourself useful, Ralphie.”                               

     She thought the walk to the next pub seemed less than half a mile. She also thought the steps might have flown by because she was excited.   

     “Our lad: 410 NQ,” she said when they came upon the black Vauxhall 14-6 saloon car parked outside the next pub. 

     Town proper began far side of the pub, handful of darkened shops with the first houses a good way off. Mild ruckus from the pub, otherwise quiet as the dead. Perfect, Ellen thought.

     “Even way it’s parked,” she said.

     The driver’s side faced the pub.              

     “Lord truly is my fucking shepherd,” she said. “I shall not want.”

     She hefted the rock.

     “Anybody comes we run back way we came,” she said. 

     She hurled the rock through the back left window. They waited. No one came. She reached through the broken window. She found the door handle. She got inside and climbed into the front.  

     “Get in,” she told Ralph.

     She opened the glove box.

     “Gun would be better,” she shrugged. “But torch will do. Or rock.”

     “Got the gun on him,” Ralph said. 

     “If you do need to piss yourself Ralphie, not in here. Manky already.”

     She returned to the back.

     “One requirement I got besides not pissing yourself in here,” she said. “Stay awake.”

     They waited in silence. Ellen thought maybe another hour. The minutes didn’t fly past like the steps had coming from the first pub.  

     Spencer came out. He’d had a few. He got in and started the engine.

     “Wanker,” she whispered. 

     As he turned around she struck him in the left temple with the torch, producing the desired result.

     “Need help scooting him over, Ralphie?”

     Ralph jumped out. Opening the passenger door, he dragged Spencer toward himself.

     Ellen studied the fuel gauge.    

     “Five mile to next town, Ralphie? Go three.”

     He looked at Ellen.

     “Drive,” she said.

     She watched the odometer.

     “Here,” she said after three miles.

     She got out. She opened the passenger door. Ralph had pulled Spencer up against it. She tipped him out.

     “He’ll freeze to death.”

     “You the weather bloke, predict the overnight temperature?” she said.

     She felt in Spencer’s trouser pockets. She found his wallet. She looked inside.

     “We’ve done well,” she said.            

     She climbed in. She climbed out. She opened Spencer’s coat. She found the gun in a shoulder holster. She took the gun. She climbed in.             

     “Freezes to death, Ralphie, that’s the weather done him in, not me.”

     Ralph hesitated.

     “Want the police, want a doctor?” she said. “Answer questions, have the whole story come out? What you done to me?”

     Ralph started driving.

     “Don’t know if there’s lodging in the next town,” she said. “Sleep in the car at worst.”

     Ralph realized that Ellen frightened him.

     “Maybe torch the car in the morning,” she said.      

     Ellen’s laughter frightened Ralph even more.

     “Share the joke?” he said timidly.

     She became serious.

     “Wanker on about faith,” she said. “Faith this, faith that. Silly bugger.”

     She’d rested the gun in her lap. She looked down at it.

     Ellen Flay’s got faith in herself,” she said. 

END


Don Stoll has fiction forthcoming in The Helix; Green Hills Literary Lantern; The Main Street Rag; Sarasvati; Between These Shores (twice); Down in the Dirt; and Children, Churches and Daddies. His stories have appeared recently in Eclectica (tinyurl.com/y73wnmgqand Erotic Review (twice: tinyurl.com/y8nkc73z and tinyurl.com/y36zcvut). In 2008, Don and his wife founded their nonprofit (karimufoundation.org) to bring new schools, clean water, and clinics emphasizing women's and children's health to three contiguous Tanzanian villages.

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