Category Archives: Fiction
I nearly didn’t write this today. After the late writing last night and an intensive physio session today I wanted to ignore the challenge and write this tomorrow. But I want to get started on writing a story I’ve had in mind for a while (since alt.fiction 2010 actually) and use the impetus of the last week’s writing to get it going. Not writing today would not be a good start. So, here is the final episode. There is no real climax but I can see enough that if I were to rewrite, it should be an interesting story.
on the day after sending the message, james had watched kat’s office from a high floor in a building opposite. the creep arrived late as if being boss meant he was above petty timekeeping. he was carrying the bag.
james drove to marsha’s office and waited until he could see her. ‘what brings you here?’ she asked when he was shown in to her office.
james said it was serious and private, asked that they not be disturbed and wiated until the secretary had left the office.
‘what’s wrong?’ marsha asked. ‘is it kat?’
james’ mouth was dry. he had thought this moment through a hundred times and still did not know what to say. that marsha was concerned about kat made it even worse. nothing else for it, he decided.
‘she and colin are having an affair, or they were up until a couple of weeks ago.’ marsha just stared at him so he explained about the hay bales shoot and how he came to see them in the car. he then sat silent while marsha absorbed it all.
‘you were…’ she began. ‘did you…’ she tried to ask. james nodded; he had photographed them together. he had a copy of the photograph with him but did not offer it.
‘i don’t want to see it, do i?’ no, james indicated. ‘not now,’ he said. you may want it later. it is up to you.’
‘oh,’ she said. ‘oh, yes.’
‘did you suspect before hand?’ she asked him. ‘no, nothing. you?’
marsh nodded. tears began to leak from her eyes. she blinked them away. ‘i’m so sorry, james. he did this before at least once that i know of and i’ve always suspected he was still screwing around. but i didn’t want to know. if i’d stopped him before, maybe…’
‘don’t go there, marsha. what they did is their fault, not ours. not ours at all. i don’t blame you in any way. and nor should you.’
she nodded then looked puzzled. ‘if this happened weeks ago, what made you come and see me now? were you planning not to tell me? has something else happened?’
james sighed. this would be even harder. ‘now,’ he said, ‘there is something for blame. for you to blame me, that is. i’ve been blackmailing colin. i threatened that i would show you the photograph unless he paid me a hundred thousand pounds.’
‘what?! and i suppose he refused to pay and that’s why you’re here.’ marsha was furious now. from sympathising with james and feeling joined with him in a joint misery, she felt strangely betrayed even more than she felt by her husband’s affair.
james shook his head. ‘no. sorry, i’m getting this wrong.’ marsha glared at him, still fuming. ‘as far as i know,’ james continued, ‘he has paid the money. i’ve not looked in the locker to find out.’
james took a deep breath and told marsha the whole story of the blackmail, his reason for carrying it out, his changes of heart and the resolution with james now carrying the bag and phone from the locker.
‘so that was why he had that tatty bag with him the last couple of days. i asked about it and he nearly bit my head off. you had him well rattled.’
‘i’m sorry,’ said james. ‘it was a stupid …’
marsha burst out laughing, shaking her head and holding up her hand to stop james. when she had caught her breath, she said, ‘it was brilliant. i only wish you’d told me about it so i could have been in on it as well. though i’m not sure i could have carried it off. how did you go on living with kat?’
‘i guess it was easier because she was so distracted anyway,’ he said. ‘i guess you’re not angry, then.’ this set marsha off laughing again. she had a really dirty laugh when she let go, james thought.
she looked puzzled again. ‘i wonder where he got the money from.’
‘if he did,’ said james. ‘for all i know, his bag has a bomb that’ll blow up as soon as i open the locker.’
‘ha! he couldn’t wire a fuse, let alone a bomb. and, even if he could find someone to make him a bomb, which i know he couldn’t, it’d cost him almost as much as you asked for anyway.’
she explained how closely drawn the creep was on his personal accounts and that she had refused to shift any money from her own accounts over to his when he had asked a few days ago.
‘i think it is time for the auditors to go in.’ she picked up her phone and made a quick call to her finance director, telling him what she wanted without explaining anything.
‘won’t he wonder what’s up?’ asked james.
‘he worked for my father,’ said marsha, ‘and never did like or trust colin. he’ll be up there doing a little happy dance, which, given that he is 78, would be something to see.’
‘i was going to talk to kat when she got home and spend the next few nights in a hotel, until i get somewhere to live. but, if you don’t want to confront colin, yet, i can hold off.’
‘oh, i want to confront him all right. in fact…’
james dialled the blackmail phone, hoping the battery had held out. the creep answered.
‘i thought i wasn’t going to hear from you again. what do you want now.’
‘hello, colin. james here.’
there was a silence at the other end. then, ‘i knew it was you, you bastard. you’ve got the money,’ james nodded at marsha, ‘so piss off back to your whore of a wife. you deserve each other. i’m going to fire her and you can see where how far the money gets you. i hope it chokes you.’
james swallowed, his throat aching from holding back on his own tirade. ‘where did you get the money from, colin?’ he said calmly.
‘what? go to hell. i’m not telling you anything.’
‘ok,’ said james and handed the phone to marsha.
‘so, ‘darling’, why don’t you tell me where you got it?’
Well, at least I finished this lot today (just). Going across midnight messed up the 750words stats.
Will see tomorrow how well I can write without editing as I go along on something that really matters. But that won’t be appearing up here. You’ll just have to wait to buy the book when it comes out.
And still it goes on. I tried to finish this tonight but ran out of day. Tomorrow’s (okay, later today’s) part will be short. I hope.
time to end things, james thought, a few days later.
he walked into the local mail shop and handed over a copy of his receipt email. the assistant, in turn, handed over a key and james used it to retrieve the blackmail phone from the box he had rented online while in london. the battery was dead so james plugged it into a charger in his car. more messages and more missed calls from the creep. time for the next step in his campaign. james sent a text message.
“£100k – get it within five days and be ready for instructions on how, when and where to give it away.”
james thought of saying the phone would be switched off but didn’t care enough one way or the other.
life with kat had been tense. she was obviously worried and james had to play it carefully to show just enough concern without showing that he knew just how worried she must be. in reality, he found it hard showing any concern at all. his love seemed to have rapidly wilted since he returned from london. how could that be? in a sense, it was as if he was already divorced and had moved on from that, as if kat was someone he cared about in his past but who was now simply an acquaintance. the blackmail plan had cut him off from his old life. he was in between lives, just waiting for his new one to start.
the five days passed in the same way. at several times when they sat together eating or watching television, he sensed that kat was on the verge of telling him about the affair. he did not know whether he would then tell her of the blackmail scheme and abandon it or lie to her and say he knew nothing about it. fortunately, she never did have that much courage so the question never arose. james assumed that the creep had insisted that james should not be told, even if they both did suspect that he was the blackmailer. if they were wrong and james then told marsha, all would be up.
on the fifth day, james made his arrangements and picked up the phone again. this time he did not even look at any of the messages queued up from colin. the message he sent was much longer.
“put the £100k into a bag. take the bag to the station and go to locker E171 – the code for opening it is 6618. put your bag with the money into the locker. another bag will be in the locker. it will be empty apart from this phone. take that bag and leave the phone in it. shut the locker with the same code. carry the new bag with you and have the phone switched on at all times. at some point i will track the phone’s location and check that you have that bag. sometime after that i will retrieve the money. when the phone battery dies, you may get rid of both it and the bag. do all this correctly and you will never hear from me again. get any small part wrong and your wife, the board of your company and the local newspapers will receive the photograph with details of where and when it was taken. this ends all our communications.”
well, thought james. that should do it.
he wondered whether the creep really had got the money together. it was a huge sum. much more than james thought was possible for one person to acquire in only five days. but he really didn’t care whether the money was in the locker or not.
james had begun thinking about the blackmail wondering how he might spend the money he would ask for. at that stage it was only £10k. he then thought that such a sum might be too easily got by someone like the creep. hell, he could probably get that much by selling his watch on ebay. so, he had increased the amount, in his mind, to £25k and then to £50k.
but at that point, the money became separate from his own life. he could imagine himself having and spending £10k. there was a medium format digital camera that would take that much and some of his own money to buy. or he could trade in his car and get a new one with the extra money. at the higher levels, however, the money became too tainted with the same darkness as the betrayal of infidelity. he could no more imagine himself spending that sort of money, acquired in that way, than he could imagine himself being unfaithful to kat.
it was this, he supposed, that had pushed him into indifference to her and the fate of his marriage. thinking about the blackmail money had brought home the exact wrongness of the affair. he wanted neither kat nor the money.
his next thought was to pick up the money and give it to a charity. certainly, he had no thought that tainted money could never do good. money was simply money. but the idea of touching the money appalled him. he did not want to get anywhere near it.
Yikes. Nearly forgot about writing today. Is the end in sight? Absolutely no idea. Ask the characters.
back in the hotel, james was less confident about his ability to follow through on the blackmail scheme. he had edited one of the photographs, making it look like it had been captured on an iphone by lowering the resolution, changing the crop and blurring parts of the image. in particular, he blurred enough of kat’s features so that she was largely unrecognisable, making it look as if light flare had obscured her. there was still enough to remind colin of his escapade, though, and it was this that made james draw back. he knew that kat had screwed the creep and the creep knew this but the idea of handing him a souvenir of the fact turned james’ stomach.
he had to admit to himself that he still loved kat. could he forgive her this transgression? probably not. their marriage was almost certainly over but he did still love her. james could remember too much good about kat and their times together. he could not hurt her, could not want to hurt her, much as he thought he should. but a great wrong had been committed and it had to be righted. silly as it sounded, james believed in balance. he knew there was no such thing as cosmic justice, but he believed there ought to be. if someone does something bad to someone else, then something bad ought to happen to them. he hoped that kat would see the end of their marriage as a bad thing happening to her. but he knew that the creep would see the end of his own marriage in those terms.
so, he got on with it. after editing the image and modifying the metadata to obscure its origin on his camera, he transferred it to the phone he had just purchased. he did not think that it was possible to tell what sort of phone a message came from but, even if it was, he doubted this was something colin would be bothered about investigating.
he was about to send the message when he worried that the creep would open it in the company of his wife or other people. there was no way to be certain but james rang his office anyway and asked to speak to him. the secretary asked what it was about and james made up some story about having met colin the previous month, discussed some lucrative business and now wanting to follow through on it. the secretary put james through and he hung up as soon as the creep answered. just to make sure that he had his phone with him, james rang his number directly and, again, hung up when it was answered.
no doubt, the creep was getting annoyed. well, now to get him scared. james sent the photograph with the simple message, ‘you take a nice shot. think your wife would like a copy?’
the reply came back almost immediately. the guy’s thumbs must have been burning. ‘who are u. how did u get that. what do u want.’
well, thought james, at least he got to the important bit by the end. james thought to send a demand straight back but decided to let colin stew for a while. for a long while. james returned to the conference and enjoyed the rest of the sessions, the pre-dinner drinks and the conference dinner.
he was more than a little drunk by the time he returned to his room. the blackmail phone was vibrating as he opened the door. he drank three glasses of water using the plastic bathroom cups before checking the phone. there were seven messages waiting for him and the phone had been called three times. it seemed that colin really wanted to talk to his photographer. all the messages were variations on the same theme of wanting to know what james wanted. he deleted all of them and switched the phone off.
it was then that his own phone rang. james jumped up from the bed, dropping the blackmail phone and checked the display on his own phone. it was kat calling and it seemed she had called twice previously. he thumbed the call button and answered, ‘hello, love. sorry i didn’t get your calls. i left the phone up here during the sessions and didn’t come back before dinner. how are you?’
he spoke as much mundanity as he could in the hope that his own mind would still before he would have to take part in any exchange with his wife. ‘you sound drunk,’ she said. ‘i am very drunk,’ he replied. ‘the pre-dinner drinks were sponsored by one firm, the dinner wine by another and then another pitched in with cognacs all round. you ought to have come with me.’
james wondered if the last comment had been over the top. kat had never accompanied him to a conference before, had stated her dismal view of conference spouses in the past and james had long ago stopped inviting her. she surprised him with, ‘i wish i had as well. work has been dreadful today. i really wish you were here to talk to.’
this took james aback. kat had never said anything of the sort before. she had prided herself on being able to take whatever her colleagues or customers handed out without crumbling ‘like a weepy woman.’ she had always said that she had to be tougher than anyone else and had carried through that policy even into her home life. james had learned not to offer any sympathy when she told him about work difficulties, just to back her up with whatever plan she had for overcoming them.
‘we can talk now,’ he said. ‘no,’ she answered, ‘it can wait until you come back tomorrow. i’ll let you get to bed so that you are fresh for tomorrow.’ they did chat a little longer but soon disconnected.
what was that about, wondered james. he found out.
he arrived home late the following evening, tired and still with an unshifting headache from the morning’s hangover. kat greeted him with affection, leading him into the dining room where she had laid out a light supper. ‘i thought you might like a snack before bed, to unwind from the conference and train journey. do you want a drink?’ james asked for tea. kat waited while he sat down and started cutting into the cold meat and salad on the plate, then went to make the tea.
james heard the kettle switch off in the kitchen but heard no sound of the tea being made. he went upstairs to their bedroom. kat had strewn clothes from his travel bag all over the bed and was now sweeping her hands through his laptop case.
‘what are you doing?’ he asked. kat spun around with papers in one hand and his phone in the other. ‘erm. i’m just unpacking for you, so you can go straight to bed after supper if you’re tired.’
‘thanks,’ said james. ‘i’ll make the tea then. do you want some?’
This has to finish soon…
the main goal, thought james, would be to cause colin the creep the maximum pain while not unduly hurting either kat or the creep’s wife, marsha, who james had thought quite nice, talented and wholly undeserving of her obnoxious husband when they had met at parties her company had thrown for employees and their families. the solution was pretty obvious. james would have to relieve the guy of a large sum of money, denting his lifestyle since he would have to take it out of his pocket money rather than try and get it from his wife.
but how to do this? james had taken pictures of kat and the creep cavorting so blackmail would be easy. and if he could make it seem that the blackmailer was an uninterested party, ie not james, it would be more likely to succeed. he could not just phone the guy since there was a chance he would remember james’ voice from when they had met. email would work but it was highly likely that someone with such an aversion to real work would have his secretary dealing with all his emails. sending him a text message would be best but how could he get an anonymous phone – tottenham court road, it would have to be. luckily, james had a conference in london the next week. the only drawback to this would be that the creep would be left with a picture of kat and her bare buttocks but that could not be helped.
the rest of the week and the weekend were difficult. james had the image of kat in the car in the front of his mind whenever he was with her, so he took to spending even more time out with his camera. his own experience had left him overly sensitive to other people as well. any time he took a picture of a man and a woman together, he imagined that they were illicit lovers, sneaking around behind their spouses’ backs. he was sorely tempted to tell kat what he had seen but the thought of making the creep squirm kept his mouth shut.
sunday afternoon, he set off for london since the conference had a greeting session that evening. it was good that the conference was two days long so he could get his blackmail scheme set up with no interference from either his own work or from the awkwardness of interactions with kat. he worked the plan out in more detail on the train. he did search his own conscience about the idea of blackmail but found it did not bother him at all. he was not at all worried about getting caught by the police, either. if it did happen, he would admit his guilt and take whatever punishment came his way. it was not as though he was worried about leaving kat while he spent time in prison.
james checked into the hotel room he had booked. the room was the usual anonymous glitz supposed to appeal to the travelling businessman. including the requisite porn channel, without which the businessman on his own could not be expected to pass a single night. this was something james had looked at in the past but was not in the least attracted to right now.
on the following morning, james chatted to people he knew from other companies and other conferences over breakfast. he attended the opening plenary session, spending the time like all the others working through his email and googling the other attendees on his laptop, or playing with the goodies in the conference bag. as the session let out and everyone else was racing to get to the coffee queues first, james slipped down the stairs and out the main entrance of the hotel.
tottenham court road was only a few streets away from the conference centre as, indeed, it seemed to be from most places that james knew from his infrequent trips to london. the conference handout map was enough to get him there. he walked down a street of hotels, another of b&bs and then ducked into a side street leading to the main shopping areas. it was on the side street that he found a dingy looking electrical and electronics shop advertising buy-and-talk phones. for only forty pounds he could get a cheap multimedia phone with one hundred minutes of calls and one hundred texts. more than enough. he didn’t even have to visit the bank for more cash.
having sorted out his main business, james decided to treat himself to a splurge on his credit cards in the tottenham court road bookshops. what the hell, he would soon have more than enough money to cover it.
but not yet!