What Pegman Saw – There’s a Note

I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone with this week’s story, set in Cordoba, Argentina!

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the 360 degree view of the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code.

WPS There's a Note 171104

There’s a Note

Inspector Herrera lifted the body and winced. The young woman had driven the knife so violently into her chest that the blade emerged from her back.

“There’s a note, sir.”

The handwriting was firm, towards the end almost scoring through the paper.

“Antonio,

Don’t you remember those summer nights of laughter? When La Barra played cuarteto and we danced?

Don’t you remember how we stood tall with courage and won the respect of your parents?

Don’t you remember how we became one, body and soul?

Don’t you remember?

You have betrayed my love! And for whom? For that slut Maria!

I will not live without you, Antonio; and I curse you. Not to be impotent, and your whore barren; no, you will have children – but you will bury every one of them.

And now I die, taking the first of your bastards in my body to the grave.”

The Hunt

Fox hunt 170512

The Queen’s Arms was quiet mid-week, and the landlord was only too glad to make his lounge available to the Bentham Hunt. Without their custom it would scarcely have been worth opening at all on a Wednesday.

Jack Greenwood, the MFH, was cheerful and inebriated.

“So that’s it then. Theresa May has confirmed there will be a free vote to repeal the Hunting Act 2004. Her substantial victory on June 8th …” Hoarse cheering and a banging of glasses on the table interrupted him.

“As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted, her majority in Parliament means that the Act should be gone within months and we can resume our activities. I propose that we hold our first meet in three weeks time.”

“Hang on a mo, Jack. The Act’s not going to be repealed that quickly.” Arthur Clownes looked worried; but then, he always looked worried, thought Jack.

“No, but the CPS would rule that a prosecution wouldn’t be in the public interest. Besides, what Chief Constable would be brave enough to start criminal proceedings knowing that Parliament were to consider the matter?”

“Sounds good to me.” Brian Hall spoke up. He was a small man, with a fierce expression. You didn’t mess with Brian.

Arthur sat back in his seat with resignation. He supposed Jack would be proved right; he always was. Arthur preferred to be on the right side of the law.

Next morning, at breakfast, Brian had a hangover and was more than usually surly. As Fiona, his daughter, cleared his plate, he grunted, “The Hunt’s riding out in three weeks time. Get my jacket cleaned, will you? And make sure you’ll be presentable too.” He handed her a ten pound note.

“Dad, I don’t really want to come.”

“Don’t be so wet. Of course you’re coming. Our family’s always ridden to hounds, and we always will.”

“I’ve got something else arranged.”

“Then bloody unarrange it!” He slammed the door behind him.

Fiona quietly continued the housework. When she was confident her father wasn’t coming back, she pulled out her mobile and dialled.

“George?”

“Hi, Fiona.”

“Dad’s told me the Hunt is starting up again.”

“That’s bad. Any idea when?”

“Three weeks time. On the Saturday.”

“So it’ll be illegal then?”

“I suppose so.”

“Well, thanks for the tip-off. I’ll tell Edwin.”

As soon as she’d rung off, Fiona collected her father’s jacket from his wardrobe. It was muddy and stained. She would have had it cleaned earlier, only he wouldn’t give her the money. As it was, she’d have to raid the housekeeping; ten pounds wasn’t going to cover the dry-cleaning, not with the bus fare into town as well.

George hesitated before calling Edwin. He found him aggressive and frightening. Still, he was an effective organiser of protests, and he needed to know about the planned hunt.

“The Bentham Hunt are meeting in three weeks,” he told Edwin.

“I know. Hardly a surprise. You going to be there?”

“Yeah, as long as you’re not planning any violence.”

Moi, violence? How could you even think it! No, it’ll just be placards. We’ll try and get pictures and video, of course. That sometimes leads to a… heated exchange of views.” He laughed.

George winced at the enthusiasm with which Edwin appeared to welcome the prospect.

The day of the hunt dawned fresh and clear. Brian was cheerful. He hummed as he buttoned up his jacket, in front of the mirror. “Not bad,” he thought, “not bad at all.” Perhaps he’d stand a chance with that newcomer to the village, the woman with the blonde hair and the big tits.

Fiona dressed with resignation. Her father had made it clear that she was expected to ride. She didn’t imagine for one moment that she’d succeed if she pleaded a headache. Still, her spirits lifted as she climbed into the saddle; it was a beautiful day. She’d enjoy the ride, and stay as far back from the kill as possible.

“Woah! Behave yourself, Prince!” The stallion was large and strong, but that didn’t worry Fiona; she’d been on horseback since before she could walk. Prince stopped tugging at the bit. Only his twitching ears as they left the yard betrayed his excitement.

The sunny day had also lifted the spirits of George’s wife, Clare, as she drove him to the protesters’ rendezvous.

“I’ll leave the car here, and take Liz in the carrier. We could walk over to the common. Take care of yourself, George! Love you!” Liz gurgled and smiled as her mum popped her into the carrier. George was hesitating, fiddling with the laces of his boots. Clare put her arm around him. “I’m ever so proud of you, standing up for what you believe in.” She kissed him gently on the lips. He smiled and stood up straight.

“I’d best be off then. Don’t want to be left behind! See you here at midday.” He set off to cover the quarter mile to where the protesters were assembling.

Edwin thrust a placard into George’s hands.

“Make sure the bastards see it.”

Edwin turned to the other protesters. There were thirty or so, a mixed bunch, from the smart to the squalid, from the dainty girl with flowers on her wellies to the gnarled man in filthy cords and battered army boots. Edwin himself looked like a paramilitary in a dark-green sweater, camouflage trousers and a balaclava. He carried a camcorder on a lanyard round his neck.

“Listen up, everybody. Hold those placards high. We want the Bentham to see them. I’ll try and get them in shot as I video. And remember – no violence! This is a peaceful protest. If you’re assaulted, move away.” He looked round the group. “Right. Let’s go.”

They followed him along the road, turned right, and entered the village of Bentham Manor.

The riders were assembling outside The Queen’s Arms.

“Uh-oh. Looks like we’ve got company,” Arthur muttered to Jack.

“Do you want me to see them off?” Brian looked eager, combative.

“No. Let’s not ask for trouble. I’ll go and talk to them. Walk on, Shadow.”

His magnificent grey walked forward towards the oncoming protesters, and stopped several yards short of them. They halted.

“Can you all hear me?” Jack had a loud and carrying voice. A few of the protesters nodded.

“I’m the MFH for the Bentham Hunt. Speaking on their behalf, I tell you that we have seen and noted your protest. If you wish to assemble on the verge there,” he pointed at the roadside, “we will be riding past in ten minutes, and we will have plenty of chance to admire your artwork.

Please don’t come any closer to the Hunt. Horses are strong and heavy, and are sometimes capricious. I don’t want an accident and I’m sure you don’t either.” He tipped his riding cap to them. “Good day to you.”

He turned his horse very deliberately, giving the protesters plenty of time to observe the intimidating size of the beast, and walked slowly back to the Hunt.

“Nice touch with the cap, Master.” Brian was grinning.

The protesters stayed put, irresolute, looking to Edwin for a lead. He beckoned them close, and spoke softly.

“I want photos of all of them, and I want video footage showing the Hunt assembling. I need to be closer. I want us to split into two groups, half on that verge, and half on this, and then walk towards them. Stop when you’re about five metres away. Don’t go any closer than that, and don’t make any sudden movements. Don’t yell. That ponce in the pink is right about horses being dangerous.

Right.

Come on.”

Edwin walked along the crown of the road, the protesters straggling after him. Some of the riders turned their horses to face the group. Fiona held Prince on a tight rein, moving to the edge of the group. She kept his head turned away from them as much as possible, but he tugged and pulled, his eyes rolling. The scent of aggression was strong in his nostrils.

George was close to Edwin, on the same side of the road as Fiona. He kept a wary eye on Prince, as he raised his placard high.

“I thought I warned you to stay clear?” Jack’s anger was plain. “Here, put that thing away!”

Edwin had raised the camcorder, and was panning across the hunt. Hearing Jack’s voice, he grinned and pointed the camcorder straight at him.

“That’s illegal!” yelled Jack. “Stop recording – now!” He walked Shadow forwards, leaned out of the saddle, grabbed the camcorder’s lanyard and tugged hard. The lanyard bit into Edwin’s neck, half choking him. Edwin lashed out at Jack’s hand, to make him let go. He didn’t. Edwin took hold of the lanyard himself, and pulled hard. Off-balance, Jack toppled forward in the saddle, and released Edwin, who stumbled backwards into Prince, and fell to the floor.

Prince reared, lashing out with his hooves. Using all her skill, Fiona controlled him within seconds, but the damage was done.

Edwin lay on the ground, motionless.

Jack was out of the saddle immediately, kneeling beside the fallen man.

“There’s no mark of hooves and he’s breathing, thank goodness. We’d better call an ambulance. Arthur, would you? Brian, give me a hand getting him onto his side.” Quickly, they placed Edwin into the recovery position. His eyes started to flicker open.

“Fiona, back Prince a little, would you? Give us a bit more space.”

Fiona edged Prince back, away from the fallen man. Suddenly, she gasped and pointed. George was slumped against the granite gatepost.

He was still unconscious when the ambulance arrived. The paramedics assessed him rapidly, and called in the air ambulance to take him to the nearest specialist neurological unit. The police took statements.

That evening, the local superintendent of police called on Jack Greenwood. While he couldn’t give a categorical assurance, it was unlikely that any charges would be brought. Jack had warned the bystanders to keep back, and, although there’d been a scuffle, it hadn’t involved George. It seemed that Prince, as he reared, must have backed into George, knocking him into the gatepost. The whole thing was just an unfortunate accident.

  *          *          *

Afterword

George survived, but his injury was life-changing; he was permanently disabled.

Fiona cried herself to sleep that night, and many following nights.

Clare was too busy looking after George to allow herself the luxury of weeping. Liz grew up wondering why her Dad was in a wheelchair. His slurred speech and distorted face frightened her, and his drooling repelled her.

The Hunt continued to meet.

 

The Big Win

John Garrett knew that he was a boring man. A fifty year old accountant, he lived in an average semi with his wife Sue, who had been his first (and only) love. If he could have managed it, he would doubtless have had two point four children, but as fractional children don’t happen, he’d settled for two. He was boring, but he was comfortable and that was enough for him.

He felt, therefore, a profound shock, a sense of disbelief, and an emotion that he belatedly recognised as terror, when he saw one Saturday morning that his lottery entry had won the jackpot. He checked the numbers on the screen. He checked the numbers on his ticket. He double-checked the dates on both. Everything matched. His eyes kept straying to the figure at the top of the screen. “Jackpot £18,279,317”.

His hands were shaking.

“Darling. Would you come here a minute, please? I want you to look at something for me.”

Sue came into the room. Her smile changed to a look of concern as she saw his face. “What is it, love? You look quite pale.”

He pointed at the screen and the ticket. She examined both. She ran her tongue over lips that were suddenly dry. Hesitantly she said, “We seem to have won? Is that it?”

“The numbers match. I bought the ticket for last night’s draw and the dates match. That means we’ve won.”

They looked at each other. Abruptly things had become different. There were – possibilities.

Suddenly Sue grinned. It was a feral expression, showing all her teeth. “John, we’ve won. We’ve bloody won.” She grabbed him, kissed him, pulling him close, rubbing against him. “Fuck me, we’ve bloody won. Eighteen million bloody quid. Fuck me.” She pushed him away. “Well get on the bloody phone to them, then. What are you waiting for?”

John picked up the ticket. He felt a little calmer, less tremulous. Now that Sue had seen the ticket and confirmed it matched the draw, he could start to allow himself to believe that maybe they really had been ridiculously, unjustifiably, lucky. Maybe they really had won.

It was John who insisted that they should remain anonymous; he said that otherwise they would receive a flood of begging letters. This thought attracted rather than repelled Sue, who would have enjoyed wielding the power of patronage as she flaunted their new-found wealth. But John was firm, and this was so unusual that Sue capitulated. It was nice to have an assertive husband, as long as he confined it to matters that didn’t really matter too much to her. And in return for anonymity, she extracted a promise that they would move to a bigger, better house; she knew that John, as soon as he’d considered it, would have argued in favour of staying where they were.

Sue handed in her notice at work the day after the money was safely banked. John didn’t. He liked the routine, and his secretary was an attractive brunette. In fact, now that he was rich she seemed even sexier. Wealth brought an expanded horizon. He had been used to suppressing thoughts of luxuries; now he could afford them.

Sue didn’t mind him continuing with his job for a while, as she didn’t particularly want him under her feet at home, but there were limits. After a few months, she felt demeaned by his continuing to work, undervalued. Didn’t he want to spend time with her?

It was evening, several weeks after they had moved to their new home. John had just returned from work. Sue poured them each a drink, then snuggled up close to him on the over-stuffed sofa.

“Do you remember what it was like before we married?”

John smiled, and slid an arm around her. “Oh yes,” he said. “I remember very well. What plans we had!”

“Do you feel that maybe – now we have money – you might like to do some of the things we dreamed about?”

“Which things did you have in mind?” John took a mouthful of single malt scotch and savoured it. How delightful that he could drink it every evening without considering the expense! He ran his hand over the inside of Sue’s thigh. She kissed him, hard.

“You remember how we always said we’d go to Africa, and see elephants and lions, and the migrating wildebeest? I sent off for details of a safari and they came this morning. Would you like to look at them? After dinner perhaps?”

“Mm, maybe.” He kissed her. There were better things to do than look at brochures…

When John opened his briefcase at work next morning, he found an envelope full of glossy publicity for Safari DeLuxe Tours. There was a quotation for a six week holiday. John winced automatically when he saw how much it was, before he remembered that it no longer mattered. He could afford it.

He read the brochures at lunchtime. Although it was expensive, and many stays were in comfortable hotels or game lodges, he counted seven nights under canvas, and twenty-three days when they needed to be in a 4×4 vehicle by 6 o’clock in the morning. That was definitely not his idea of first class travel.

His secretary, Dawn, came in; he’d never managed to persuade her to knock before entering. He would have been embarrassed to shuffle the brochures into his case, but he surreptitiously slid the itinerary with its tell-tale price under some other papers.

“Ooh! Are you going to Africa?”

“We’re thinking of it. It’s Sue’s idea; it’s not really my cup of tea.” He smiled at Dawn.

“You know what?” she said. “You’ve been quite different the last couple of months. Ever so cheerful and nice.” John glanced at her suspiciously, but her face was candid. She gave him a grin. “I suppose I’d better give you these letters for signing and get back to this month’s sales figures.”

John stuffed the details of the African holiday into his case. Perhaps he should suggest that Sue went by herself? Possibly he might – but no, he didn’t want to cheat on Sue. He shook his head firmly. Sue wouldn’t be happy if he said he wasn’t coming with her.

She wasn’t.

It was their first row for years, and ended with Sue locking herself in the main bedroom. John sat and drank scotch. She was being an unreasonable bitch. Who’d bought the lottery ticket anyway? When he woke up at 5 a.m., he was sitting in an armchair, cold, and with a pounding headache. He took ibuprofen, and black coffee, and tried to settle himself in the guest bedroom, but it was no good; he couldn’t sleep.

He gave up trying at seven o’clock, and went into the kitchen. Sue was already there. She looked at him, stony-faced, but spoke quietly.

“I’m sorry, John, but I was extremely disappointed. I know you’re not as keen on travelling as I am, but last night was as though you’d trampled on our dreams together.” She sighed, and then added, “Can I make you a coffee? You look terrible. I’m sorry if you had a bad night.”

John felt contrite. He was just about to apologise to Sue, and say that he would go with her to Africa, or indeed, to the ends of the earth if it would make her happy, when she placed her finger on her lips to silence him.

“No. Don’t say that you’ll come. You’ve spoilt the dream; that’s gone now. It’s my dream, but not yours. I’ll go alone. Perhaps we’ll find somewhere else that you’d rather visit.”

“I’m sorry,” he managed, as she handed him a mug of steaming black coffee. She nodded.

“Let’s just drop the subject. Do you fancy some breakfast? Some bacon, and a couple of fried eggs?”

It was several weeks before Sue left for Africa. John waited a couple of nights, and then invited Dawn to come for a drink. They were enjoying themselves, so it seemed completely natural that they should go from the cocktail bar to a restaurant. John relished Dawn’s uncomplicated delight in the deferential service and the elaborate cuisine. And if he kissed her when he’d taken her back to her flat in a taxi, it was chastely on her cheek.

You couldn’t in good conscience say that Dawn led him on; she let him set the pace. Had John been disposed to stay faithful to Sue, Dawn would have been disappointed but no worse. She enjoyed life, and saw no reason to deny herself life’s pleasures. If she thought of Sue at all it was to consider that taking a six-week holiday without John was just asking for trouble. Presumably sex no longer interested her.

Sue wasn’t able to keep in touch every day – not all the lodges had wifi, and, of course, there were those nights in tents that had dismayed John so much. However, she called him several times a week, on Skype where possible. She looked fit, bronzed and sleek. Despite the drying effect of the sun and the wind, her face looked less lined, more youthful. John was glad she was finding the holiday satisfying despite his absence.

It was four weeks after her flight out, Saturday morning, nine o’clock, when the doorbell rang.

“Do want me to go?” asked Dawn.

“No, it’ll only be the postman. I’m not expecting anything. They’ll go away.”

Dawn chuckled. “You randy so-and-so!”

The doorbell rang again. John levered himself out of bed.

“I suppose I’d better see what they want.” He pulled on his dressing gown.

The doorbell rang a third time. Dawn looked irritated. “They’re a bit of nuisance, this time on a Saturday!”

It was a tall gentleman in a smart suit at the door. His expression was serious.

“Mr Garrett?”

“Yes?”

“My name is Mark Cornforth. I’m the General Manager of Safari DeLuxe Tours. May I come in please?”

They seated themselves in the lounge.

“I’m very sorry, Mr Garrett, but I have some bad news for you. As I’m sure you’re aware, we can’t make our safaris completely safe – we are, after all, working close to large, powerful and dangerous creatures. Sometimes there are accidents.

I’m afraid we experienced such an accident last night. For some reason your wife left the tent and wandered away. One of our guides noticed and followed quickly to bring her back, but he was too late. There was a lion close by that attacked her, and killed her before we could shoot it. I’m extremely sorry.”

John shook as though feverish. “Are you sure?”

“I’m afraid there’s no doubt. The tour guide identified her for the Kenyan authorities.”

John covered his face with his hands. His pulse was racing. Dead! And he’d been…the thought nauseated him.

“We’ve made arrangements for the body to be returned to the UK. I imagine that the police will want you to identify it, just as a matter of routine you understand.”

John nodded. His cheeks were wet with tears. He ushered Mark Cornforth out of the house, and wept.

“What’s happened, John? What’s the matter?”

“It’s Sue. She’s been killed.”

Dawn covered her mouth with both hands. “Oh, no! Oh, John! How can I help you?”

“I think – if you just go, and leave me on my own for a bit. Do you mind?”

“Are you sure?”

John nodded.

The body arrived in England about a week later, and sure enough, John was asked to identify it. The pathologist drew back the cover and John looked down at the still features.

His head spun. The buzzing in his ears rose in a vicious crescendo. As his legs buckled and the whirling blackness claimed him, he croaked, “But this isn’t my wife!”

The Attack

Damien Grant was a happy man. His career was blossoming, he was married to the woman he loved, and in his leisure time he played guitar in a Ska band. What’s not to like? And, best of all, he had a son, little Noah, just started school.
He whistled cheerfully as he strode down the street. This was one of his rare days off. He’d been rehearsing all morning with the band, ready for a gig at the weekend; that always left him fizzing. The sun was shining, and the early promise of spring was stirring all around him. There were tight leaf buds on some of the trees; daffodils glowed in flower-beds and on grass banks. Life was sweet.
He pushed open the door of the Golden Lion. The faint tang of woodsmoke tickled his nostrils. He beamed. There was Coral, in the cosy corner close to the open fire. He hurried over and joined her.
“They’ve got both our favourites today.” He loved the Jamaican lilt in her voice, a characteristic she had from her parents who had come to Britain in the late eighties, when she was just a little girl.
“Whitebait?”
Coral laughed. “And tomato and red pepper soup for me. They must have known we were coming!”
They chattered pleasantly, inconsequentially, as they ate. They enjoyed a glass of wine. The publican liked them. They were regulars, polite, never any trouble. He didn’t mind them lingering over the meal. They had a dessert, then a coffee. It was a holiday for them, and they were enjoying it.
At last Coral looked at her watch.
“Oh my gosh, look at the time! We’d better hurry – we don’t want Noah to be on his own in the playground!”
“We’ll be fine. No problem. I’ll just settle the tab.”
*       *       *       *
Daacad sat in his bed-sit and gazed at his battered laptop. Most of the screen was filled with a photograph of a date processing factory in Lebanon, posted on the Asian Speciality Foods website. He wasn’t looking at that. He was looking at the brief message below it.
“High Street, Shirley, Solihull. 15:00 8th March 2008”
That was it. He’d known it would come. That was his call to martyrdom. “Allahu Akhbar!” he thought, with a chill in the pit of his stomach. It was an honourable calling, but a difficult one. He was frightened.
He had a suicide vest. It was a top quality one, with commercial plastic explosive. There were ball bearings around the charge.
“Do not worry too much about being in a crowd of people. You only need to be close to a handful. You are a messenger to the infidels, that we will seek them out and punish them even in the places that they feel safest.” That is what he had been told.
That is what he would do this afternoon. His mortal life would be over. He would no longer be troubled by this corrupt society, he would be in Paradise, in the world as it should be. But he was frightened. He honestly didn’t know whether he could go through with it.
He put down the laptop and crept over to the wardrobe, from which he removed a large and heavy package. He opened the box, took out the vest and put it on. His breath came short and fast. It wouldn’t hurt, he knew. He would be instantly in Paradise. He fastened the buckles, slipped his hoodie on over the top and studied himself in the mirror. Nothing seemed to look out of place. The hoodie was a loose garment and you couldn’t see he was wearing a bomb.
He tried to imagine himself on the street, looking out for a cluster of people. He would walk up to them, close the switch, and the bomb would detonate. “Allahu Akhbar,” he whispered again.
*       *       *       *
People smiled as Damien and Coral passed them. Although Damien was tall and Coral was tiny, they walked briskly, hand in hand, perfectly at ease with each other.
“I wonder how Noah’s ‘Show and Tell’ went today? I love the way he copies you on that toy guitar of his!” They both laughed, imagining their son standing in front of the teacher solemnly strumming the pink plastic toy.
The world about them exploded.
Damien struggled up from the blackness. The pain was astonishing, outrageous. He could hear nothing. He lay on the pavement, cheek resting against the tarmac. He could see Coral. She wasn’t moving. Her wounds were terrible, her clothes saturated with blood. She couldn’t be dead? She mustn’t be dead! He struggled to reach her, but he couldn’t move. His vision was dimming. His strength was ebbing. “Coral,” he thought, and then “Noah…”
In the playground, a very small boy waited. Where were his mum and dad? He clutched a pink guitar. His friends had all met their waiting parents, but his weren’t there. He started to cry.
“No mummy yet, Noah?” He ran to the teacher and buried his face against her. She held him gently for a few minutes, and then took him indoors while she tried to find out why there was no-one to collect him.
In the High Street, amid the blare of sirens and the bustle of paramedics, a mobile phone rang unanswered in a beaded handbag.