At First Sight – Part 6

This month I’m participating in NaNoWriMo, which requires me to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. I’m afraid that leaves no time for writing original material for my blog, so I’m republishing my serial “At First Sight” one episode per day. I hope you enjoy it!

Jon and Vikki fell in love the day before Vikki returned to her home in Australia – leaving Jon in London. Her former abusive partner, Guy, is tracking her. Her childhood sweetheart, Dan, has proposed marriage to her. Jon must move fast. He has scraped together the air fare and flown to Melbourne. Dan meets him at the airport and tells him Vikki has disappeared…

At first sight - Great Ocean Road 170701

“Missing!”

“Yeah. She set off to the bakery this morning early and never came home. Here, do you need to sit down? You don’t look too good.”

Jon shook his head.

“Did she leave a note?” he asked

Dan took the handle of Jon’s luggage.

“Here, let me. Car’s this way.” He gestured. “Note? No, she didn’t. Margaret – that’s her mum – told me to bring you straight to the house.”

“You’ve told the police?”

“Yeah. They can’t list someone as missing until they’ve been gone twenty-four hours.”

“Where might she have gone? You know her well, don’t you?”

“The only place I would expect her to go would be home. I’ve never known her go walkabout, and I’ve known her since we were both little kids.”

Dan dropped the luggage into the boot of the car.

They sat in silence as he drove, slickly, as though he thought of himself as a racing driver.

“Here we are.”

A short woman, with dark, curly hair, burst out of the front door, and ran down the path. She was at the yard gate even before Dan had applied the handbrake.

“You must be Jon!” She grabbed him, as he climbed out of the car and hugged him fiercely. “I’m so glad you’re here. Did Dan tell you about…?” She looked up at him.

“About Vikki going missing? Yes.”

“Come in, come in! I’ll make you a cup of tea – that’s what you English drink, isn’t it? Dan, be a love and bring his case would you? No, Jon, you’re staying with us. I insist.” Her voice was unemphatic but decisive.

“I’ve been through Vikki’s stuff with a comb,” she announced, as they sat in the kitchen, Margaret at one end of the long table, Dan and Jon on her right and left. “There’s absolutely nothing to suggest she was going to run off. All her clothes are there.” Her voice quavered; her lip trembled. Dan put his arm round her shoulders.

“Keep your spirits up, Ma,” he said quietly. “We’ll get this sorted.”

“Did she tell either of you about the man she used to be with?” asked Jon

“You mean Guy? Yes, she did.” Margaret’s face became pinched and hard.

Jon moistened his lips.

“Did she tell you that he had taken a flight for Melbourne? He would have been here a few days ago.”

Dan and Margaret glanced at each other.

“She didn’t tell me. Did she tell you, Dan?” Dan shook his head. “How do you know, Jon?”

“The police told me. I was burgled and they thought it might have had something to do with Guy. When they checked, they found he had flown to Melbourne. I wrote and told Vikki.”

“If that bastard does anything to Vikki, I’ll kill him.” The words were a shocking contrast to the quiet voice in which they were uttered. Both Jon and Margaret stared at Dan.

“Now, Dan, there’s no need for threats. Our job is to get my girl back.” Margaret put an arm around both young men.

“Jon. You say the English police are investigating Guy? That gives us enough to go back to the police here and insist they take Vikki’s disappearance seriously. Will you two boys do that for me?”

At the station, the desk sergeant was anodyne.

“Do you fellows know how many people officially go missing in Australia every year? Thirty-eight thousand. That’s more than one every fifteen minutes, every day of the year.”

Jon leaned forwards.

“Look, sergeant. One,” he raised a finger, “Vikki has been the subject of threats from a man in the UK. Two,” he raised a second finger, “He has a record of violence. Three, he made it plain he was determined to obtain her address in Australia. Four, he’s flown to Melbourne, and five, Vikki’s disappeared. How much more do you need? With every moment that passes it will be more difficult to trace and catch him, and rescue her.”

“We’ve heard nothing from the English police. If she’s still missing tomorrow morning, you know what to do.”

As they trailed home, a fine rain started. The droplets made halos around the streetlights. Jon walked with his fists clenched in his jacket pockets.

Dan strode freely.

“Looks like we’ll have to go unofficial then.”

“What do you mean?”

“Better you don’t know the detail. Like I said, unofficial. Do you know Guy’s surname, and roughly where he lives?”

“He’s Guy Northcott. I think Vikki said he had a house in Luton.”

“Okay. Might be enough. You see, if I were going to kidnap someone and I didn’t live here, I’d rent a camper van. We might find him that way.”

Dan stopped, and Jon realised that they were back in front of the house where Vikki lived.

“I’ll be round in the morning, about eight,” said Dan. “We’ll go and see if we can stir up some action from the police.” He drove away. His car was dirty, and one of the rear lights had failed, Jon noticed.

Margaret welcomed him warmly, fed him, chatted to him about Vikki, but it was a melancholy evening. She was troubled at what Dan might be planning.

“He’s very fond of Vikki, Jon. He always was, even when he was an age when boys don’t like girls. I’d always thought Vikki would probably marry him. So did he, I think. This is hitting him very hard. I’ve never heard him threaten anybody like that. I hope he doesn’t do anything stupid.”

Jon excused himself early, and went to the bedroom Margaret had prepared for him. It wasn’t large. There was a single bed and a bookcase filled with novels, all well-worn. He sat on the bed and phoned home.

“I’ll see if I can help,” offered his father. “I have one or two senior contacts in the police. They might be able to encourage liaison with the Australian force. Call me in eleven hours and I’ll let you know if there’s anything useful.”

“Thanks, Dad. I appreciate that. I’ll put a reminder in my mobile.”

“Yes. Yes, I suppose you would. Okay. Chin up, Jonathan. Chances are that everything will work out. Till this evening, then.”

Dad always knew someone. And never knew how people felt inside. “Irritating old bastard,” Jon said to himself.

Despite the fatigue of the journey, and the comfortable bedroom he slept badly.

Dan was early next morning, and Jon was still on the phone to his father.

“So I need to email Bedfordshire police, and complete a witness statement for them, and then they will contact Melbourne with a formal request for help with tracking Guy?”

“That’s it. I should give the locals twenty-four hours after you submit the witness statement before you contact them.”

“Thanks, Dad. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

Dan greeted him with a wolfish grin. “Maybe we won’t need the jacks after all. I found something last night. Come on; I’ll tell you about it in the car.”

“Hang on while I grab my tablet. I can do the witness statement on that while we drive. Are we going far?”

“Couple hundred miles maybe.”

“We’d better tell Margaret.”

“All done, mate, while you were chatting to your dad.”

And even as he spoke, Margaret entered the room with a large bag.

“Breakfast, lunch and probably dinner too if you’ve not been able to stop.”

She hugged them, first Dan, then Jon. As she held Jon close she whispered, “Find my girl, Jon. Bring her back to me.”

Dan had been driving for about ten minutes, and Jon had been typing on his tablet. He pressed send.

“Okay. I have to wait for a reply before I can do anything more. So. What did you find out last night, and where are we going?”

“Guy Northcott rented a camper van in Melbourne. He picked it up two days ago. Last night he was booked into a site about a hundred miles up the Great Ocean Road. And that’s where we’re going.”

He paused, and added, “We’re going ready for trouble. Look in the glove pocket, but don’t touch anything.”

Jon opened the glove pocket. Lying on an oily cloth was an automatic pistol. It had a long barrel, and a large magazine. It looked, to Jon’s inexperienced eye, to be very deadly.

At first sight - pistol 170701

“Is that legal?”

Dan laughed.

“No, of course not. Do you have a problem with that? Because if you do, now’s the time to say so. I’ll drop you off, and you can take a taxi back to Margaret. I’m sure she’d understand.” His scorn was obvious.

“Don’t be stupid. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

The two of them drove on in silence.

 

 

 

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What Pegman Saw – Payback time

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using 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. This week’s prompt is New Orleans, Louisiana.

WPS - Payback time 181020

Lafayette Cemetery, New Orleans, Louisiana | Save Our Cemeteris Jean Mensa Google Maps

Payback time

She was skinny, dirty, and bruised and obstructed his passage through the cemetery. Clark tried to walk past her but, without seeming to move, she still blocked his path. Clark swiped, casually, to knock her out of the way but his blow hit nothing.

He looked more closely; she seemed familiar.

“I was the first,” she murmured, so quietly that he could scarcely hear.

Another girl, perhaps fourteen years old, stepped out bringing the stench of decay. Clark gasped. He’d left this one in a garbage dumpster.

“You sold my body for sex and then you murdered me.” She whispered the words.

Fire crackled ahead of him, fierce and orange.

He bolted from it, but the flames were faster. All around him children stared, accusing; judging.

When his screams eventually stopped, his corpse lay between the tombs, contorted but unburned. The children sighed in unison – and gently turned to mist.

Friday Fictioneers – Collateral

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - Collateral 180926

PHOTO PROMPT © Priorhouse

Collateral

Furious, Lane seized his wife’s wineglass and hurled it out of the window of the lobby on level thirty-five.

A little wine spilled and fell, making a constellation of crimson droplets orbiting the glass. A girl walked towards the hotel entrance below.

The glass sang as it fell, the sound modulating as it tumbled in the breeze, constantly accelerating towards its rendezvous. The sunlight sparkled mesmerizingly from it. A trickle of wine dribbled around the bowl like blood.

The glass struck, shattered her skull, made a thousand scintillating diamonds in her hair even as the light faded from her eyes.

Friday Fictioneers – Le Café des Parapluies

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - Les Parapluies 180919

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

Le Café des Parapluies

I sat on the terrace of the Café des Parapluies, fiddling with my phone and staring out into the night. Should I ring my daughter, let her know the good news? I’d pushed her away during my illness; I’d thought it might spare her pain.

I glanced at the man at the next table. He was tall, and although his hair was silver he looked fit. And kind. I needed kindness.

He smiled.

“Bonsoir, Madame.”

He paused, then suggested “Make the call”.

I raised my eyebrows – then nodded. He was right; the cancer was gone.

I had a future again.

A big ask – long version

This Saturday’s prompt for What Pegman Saw was Hanoi, Vietnam. The challenge was to write a story about the location of 150 words or fewer.

I wrote a story and squeezed it into the word limit, but it seemed to me to have such potential that I simply had to write a longer version – and here it is! I hope you enjoy it.

A big ask - long 180910

A big ask – long version

“Now Vietnam’s normalising, we need a man there, open an office, build contacts. You speak the lingo, don’t you, Matt?”

Usually Matt could ignore the pain in his back that had throbbed persistently for twenty-five years, but it suddenly stabbed at the mention of Vietnam.

“You remember how I learned the language?”

“Oh, that.” With a wave of his hand the CEO dismissed the nine months of captivity, beatings and torture Matt had suffered.

“It’s a Regional Director post, Matt. You’ll be responsible for all our south-east Asia business. It’s a good job. Secure, too.” He dropped a thick file on the desk in front of Matt. “That’s the provisional analysis of the potential. Read it. Get an idea of the scale of your opportunity.”

‘Vietnam is different now,’ Matt told himself. ’Besides, it sounds like this job or no job.’  It wasn’t many weeks before he was settling into Hanoi.

And, as his months in the country passed, he found himself liking the Vietnamese – one of them in particular. Thirty years old, not beautiful but with a quirk to her lips when she smiled that he found irresistible, Nguyen Thi won Matt’s heart. They dated, danced, dined – and fell in love.

“Come see my Pa,” urged Thi.

“Sure,” said Matt. “I’d like that.”

“Next Saturday?”

“That’ll be fine. I’ll look forward to it.” Matt’s back twinged. Until he’d been captured, he’d fought against the Vietnamese of Thi’s father’s generation. He was not proud of some of the things he and his comrades had done. He hoped profoundly that the man wouldn’t recognise him and point him out as a killer.

On Saturday, Thi’s father, Nguyen Anh Dung was nervous. The table was covered with small dishes of food, spicy prawns, savoury meat, crisp vegetables, tangy fruits. He hoped the American would enjoy it. Perhaps at last his daughter would marry. He didn’t like the thought of an American son-in-law, but as he told himself, ‘Thi’s happiness comes first’.

The late afternoon sun lit the buildings, an eclectic mix of colonial and modern, elegant and utilitarian, as Matt and Thi walked hand in hand to visit.

“Here we are,” said Thi.

It was a plain apartment block, neither smart nor scruffy, but clean and in good repair. The couple were silent as they rode the elevator to the eighth floor.

At the door of Anh Dung’s apartment, Thi poised her finger on the bell.

“Ready?” she smiled. Her lips quirked. A surge of love poured through Matt.

“Go for it!”

A few seconds. The sound of shuffling feet. The rattle of a security chain being unfastened. The door opened.

The two men looked at each other.  Their eyes met. They both froze.

Pain surged in Matt’s back. Terror washed icily through his stomach. He fought to retain self-control, not to run. He glanced once, imploringly, at Thi, and then locked eyes once again with Anh Dung.

Anh Dung saw the eyes of a young GI, at first defiant, then screaming, and finally broken, abject. He remembered the contempt he had felt then, and was filled with shame and horror at what he had done, who he had been.

Thi stared from one to the other.

“What is it? What’s the matter?”

She seized her father’s arm and shook him. Gently, Anh Dung pushed her away. He bowed deeply and spoke to Matt.

“I once did you great wrong,” he said. “Nothing I do now can atone for that. Can you forgive the father’s evil for the sake of his daughter?”

He lowered his gaze, fixed it on the ground and remained silent, waiting.

Slowly, one finger at a time, Matt unclenched his fists. Slowly his panic subsided and his breathing slowed. Thi reached out to him, and he grasped her offered hand, drew strength from her.

“It’s been a long time,” he said. “I guess I can try”.

 

The dove on the pergola – progress 180813

The Dove on the Pergola – progress 180813

This is a blog post about the progress of my novel “The Dove on the Pergola”. The novel is about a young Indian woman, Makshirani, who has lived until she was sixteen years old in a village in Bengal, and who then moves to the big city of Kolkata.

To help me develop the characters and set them in a believable background, I am writing short stories; none, some or all of these stories may appear in the final novel. This story, “Flowers” comes from early in the novel when Makshirani has been living in Kolkata for a couple of months. 

Mallick_Ghat_Flower_Market,_Kolkata_03

© Bernard Gagnon

Flowers

The city air felt cool to Makshirani as she, Tarangi, and Neerudhi left the factory, where the operation of hundreds of machines kept the rooms hot and stuffy. Makshirani wished she had a jacket like Tarangi, or didn’t feel the cold like Neerudhi. She coughed as she breathed in the exhaust fumes that loitered in the still air.

“I hate the cold. Let’s go out and have some fun tomorrow,” exclaimed Tarangi.

“Oh, yes!” Neerudhi clapped her hands. “My horoscope says it is an auspicious day for romance. Perhaps I shall meet someone I like and my parents will approve of him.”

“You must come too, Makshirani. I won’t let you stay at home again. You’ll get dull!”

“I want to send as much money home as I can,” began Makshirani.

“We’ll go to the Millennium Park. It’s only ten rupees to go in, and the bus fare’s only eight rupees each way. Twenty-six rupees, that’s all. You can afford that I’m sure.”

Makshirani was tempted. She’d sent a thousand rupees home in her first month, and two thousand in her second. The thought of doing something different for a day was appealing.

“What’s it like,” she asked.

“It’s beautiful. It lies right next to Mother Ganga. There are trees and birds…”

“And men,” giggled Neerudhi, “and fairground rides. I’m going to go on the swing boats…”

“I didn’t know Mother Ganga was near Kolkata?” said Makshirani.

“Oh, yes, it’s one of the mouths of the delta, but the river’s called the Hooghly River here.”

Makshirani thought back to the week before she’d fled to Kolkata. Her mother, Joti, had taken her to the river, poured water on her head and prayed.

“This water with my blessing will flow down to Mother Ganga, and then down to the sea. It will bring you good fortune if you work hard to deserve it.”

‘Maybe some of my mami’s blessing will be flowing past while I’m visiting,’ thought Makshirani, as she walked with her friends in Kolkata. The idea warmed her.

“It sounds delightful,” she said, “and I’d love to go.”

Next morning, Sunday, at a quarter past six, Makshirani was deeply asleep. Her mouth twitched and her fingers fidgeted; her eyelids shivered with the movement of the eyes beneath. The room where the three girls lived was bright with early sunshine.

Suddenly Makshirani’s hands jerked forward and her eyes opened abruptly.

“Oh!” she exclaimed.

Tarangi, already dressed, turned to her.

“Namaste.”

“Namaste,” answered Makshirani, still half-asleep. “Will there be somewhere I can buy flowers on the way to the park?” She sat up, suddenly awake. “Flowers. Yes, I was dreaming about flowers. I was standing on the river bank and I wanted to give something to Mother Ganga, but I didn’t have anything. I was sad, and then my mami came smiling to me with her arms full of flowers. She gave me some, and together we cast them on the waters, on Mother Ganga.” Makshirani looked both happy and wistful.

Tarangi smiled at her.

“We’ll buy some on the way,” she said.

At Tarangi’s urging they were out of the house and on the bus by seven o’clock.

“We’re going to get off at the Howrah Bridge stop,” Tarangi said.

“Why?” demanded Neerudhi. “We’ll have to walk miles!”

“Don’t exaggerate, it’s not even one mile…”

“We’ll be exhausted!”

“It’s not even one mile, and we’re going to the Mullick Ghat flower market.”

“Why?”

“Because I want to buy flowers to offer to Mother Ganga.”

Makshirani looked gratefully at Tarangi. If Neerudhi had thought they were making the detour for Makshirani’s sake, she would have been grumbling about it all day.

It didn’t take long to reach their destination. The small footbridge in front of the pumping station was already thronging with people as they walked across it. And then they were in the market.

The scent of the flowers mingled with the smell of sap from the carpet of bruised leaves on the path. Vendors shouted, prospective buyers frowned and made gestures of negation as they haggled. Young men barged past, with great armfuls of blooms that they were carrying to purchasers’ vehicles. A trolley overflowing with marigold garlands came flying round a corner, forcing the girls to jump out of the way.

“I’ve never seen so many flowers,” gasped Makshirani, “It’s like a festival!”. There were anemones, camellias, and carnations, daffodils, tulips, and poppies, sweet peas, ranunculus and wax flowers.

Tarangi strode confidently in front. Makshirani stayed close to her; she would have loved to loiter and allow herself to be dazzled by the displays, but she was frightened of getting lost. Then Tarangi dived around a corner into a small alley and stopped at a stall.

“Namaste, Maheem,” she trilled.

The young man behind the stall looked round and beamed.

“Namaste, Tarangi! Welcome, cousin! How can I help?”

“I know you only sell in bulk, Maheem, but have you a few nice blooms that I and my friend can buy? We want to make offering to Mother Ganga.”

“Tarangi! You know my customers will lynch me if I steal their retail trade! But look here. I have some off-cuts that you could have for five rupees each.” He pulled out a couple of magnificent garlands.

“Shall we, Makshirani?”

Makshirani’s eyes opened wide. Such a beautiful offering for only five rupees! She fumbled in her purse for the coins.

“Thank you,” she breathed, as she took the garland of orange-yellow marigolds. “Oh, the scent reminds me of home and festivals!” Her eyes were lustrous with unshed tears. Maheem’s sharp, lively features softened.

“You are new to the city?”

“Yes. Yes, I am.”

“Then be welcome. Namaste!”

“Maheem, thank you. Your mami would be very proud of your generosity and piety!” Tarangi was never at a loss for the right thing to say.

Maheem grinned. He was seldom accused of piety.

“I must attend to my other customers now, ladies, or I will have a stall full of wilting flowers and an empty cash till!”

As the girls rounded the corner back onto the main path through the market, Tarangi murmured to Makshirani, “These would be at least five hundred rupees each from a shop”.

Makshirani gasped. “How can Maheem sell them to us so cheaply?”

“I expect they’re yesterday’s blooms – still nice, but you can’t sell them here if you want to build a reputation.”

Makshirani looked thoughtful. Tarangi stopped walking.

“If I tell you something, will you promise not to tell anybody else?”

“Not even Neerudhi?”

Especially not Neerudhi.”

The two girls looked down the path. Neerudhi was fifty metres away, ogling some lilies – or possibly the handsome young man selling them.

“Maheem is a sort of cousin. His mother and Aunt Abhilasha are – talking together.”

“Talking together? Oh. Oh! Congratulations! Maheem is very handsome!”

“It’s early days, that’s why I don’t want Neerudhi to find out.” She sighed. “I do hope it works out well; Maheem is such a kind man, and a really good businessman. Aunt Abhilasha is so good to speak for me; I’d stand no chance otherwise.”

Neerudhi spotted them, and waved.

“Come on!” she called, “I want chai and kochuri!”

“And you shall have them!” Tarangi steered them to a stall on the market’s edge. “And there is the Millenium Park. Not so far, you see, Neerudhi!”

 

 

In the Keukenhof Gardens

This story is a fictionalised account of an actual experience I had in the Keukenhof Gardens. These gardens are in Holland, close to Amsterdam. They are absolutely magnificent, and are open to the public for eight weeks every year, a ‘must see’ if you’re visiting Amsterdam.  You can read and see more about the gardens here: https://keukenhof.nl/en/discover-the-park/open-2018/

DSC01584

In the Keukenhof Gardens

Orange, scarlet and golden blooms sing softly beside the dark lake. Silver light reflects peacefully from ripples in the lake’s waters. The scent of thousands of flowers glows in the air.

I walk, slowly, along curved paths. Gravel scrapes under my feet. April sunshine lies warm and weightless across my shoulders. A gentle breeze strokes me, like feathers, like silk, like the tender fingertips of a lover.

Faint and distant music hangs like wood-smoke in the air, tickling, teasing, and I follow. The tuneless tune allures, rousing me, and I follow. The tone becomes harsher. There are others on the path. Still I follow.

The path broadens, the music loud now, raucous dance-music on a mechanical organ rasping out the joys and sorrows of the world. People talk, laugh, shout, and the dance sweeps up their voices into harmonious dissonance. It booms in my head like brass and tinkles like crystalline snowflakes.

All the emotion in all the world shrills through those organ pipes, crashes with those cymbals, the drum beats driving the dance before me and after me. I sing beside the deep waters; I dance beside the orange and scarlet blooms. Silver tears ripple silently down my cheeks as I see my part in the dance – and rejoice that it holds so much of the gold of love.