Give it Your Best Shot

IMG_1634

Photo and Fiction © Steve Lakey 2015

 

(I) Mark

It doesn’t bother me that this time I personally know my target. I suppose you’d call me a professional hit man – it’s what I do for a living, and I do it well.

You might not think it, but most of my job is routine. It’s about preparation. Selecting the appropriate weapon, researching your target’s lifestyle and choosing the right place to finish the job.

I learned, from watching films, that a man has to be strong, and find his own way. You have to grab life by the throat and take what you need.
Routines – we live by them, and some of us die by them.

In this case, the man in question, Paul Johnson, is working in his study across the hall. But as he’s trying to cut down on his smoking, he leaves his cigarettes here, in the living room.

Cigarettes – they’ll kill you. Still, there’s no harm in me having one before he comes in. He’ll be another ten minutes – very methodical, is Paul.
I know I shouldn’t really smoke, but a man’s got to have some vices don’t you think? I’ll put a few in my pocket for later, it’s not like he’s going to need them, is it?

Sitting on the deep red carpet, I fit the silencer to my pistol and check it one last time. I take a last look around the living room. It’s stylish rather than friendly. Mind you, he has a good choice in movies. A few tasty DVDs next to the state-of-the-art home entertainment system. Some of my favourites – ‘Die Hard’, ‘The Terminator’, ‘The Krays’ and ‘Goodfellas’. That’s just for starters.

I don’t have time to think about them now – I’ve got a job to do.

Here he comes. I stand behind the door and wait until it swings open. I can feel his tension as he grabs the packet. Work is not going well today.

“Hey.” I call him softly, and he turns. Late forties, I would say from his face, although my dossier says he’s ten years younger. Married, in name only, and with a kid he never sees. Too many hours running his own business, although I’m told it pays well. Now he’s paying the price.

As I step forward and push the steel barrel into his forehead, the unlit cigarette falls from his open mouth. For a moment I hesitate.
“Mark. No!” I hear his scream echoing inside my head, but it’s too late. There is only a slight noise as I pull the trigger. Nice, quick and clean. Job done.

(II) Paul (Mark’s Dad)

I can do without any distractions today. I’m working from home to make sure this assignment is finished. Running my own freelance photography business means that I have to accept work as and when it comes along. It’s not just taking the photos – I’ve got to process them and do the paperwork too.

Just my luck it’s the school holidays. Julie would normally be here, but she has gone off into town. I asked her to take young Mark, but she’s meeting up with the girls and they’re going for a drink.

I haven’t got time to look after a lively ten year old. It’s easy for Julie to say I should spend more time with him, but it’s my job that puts the food on the table and buys our new gadgets. I’m sure he’s old enough to understand that. Luckily he’s happy enough watching movies. I’ll try and spend some quality time with him later.

I check on him every half an hour when I go for a cigarette break. I’ll get around to quitting one day, but life is stressful enough without one more extra hassle. If the packet was next to me I’d be smoking sixty a day. This way, it keeps me down to thirty.

When Mark is a bit older, I’ll show him my camera and computer set-up. But at the moment, my study is out of bounds for him. He’s more likely to break something. You know what kids are like, pressing and touching stuff that they shouldn’t. Plus, he’s at a funny age – wants to know everything about everything. And such an imagination!

Ah, time for another cig. I need a break – this editor is working me too hard. Don’t know where young Mark’s got to – the TV is turned off. Whoa kid! He was hiding behind the door and now he’s stuck his toy gun in my face. Gave me a real shock, for a second. Hang on – some of my cigs are missing…

“You’d better hand them over, son. That’s it. Don’t play with them – they’re really bad for you. Go and watch another film.”
I’ve taken the cigs with me to stop him messing around with them. I don’t want him picking up any bad habits.

 

The photo and fiction were prompted by Word Snap Weekly, 05 April 2015, hosted by Amanda Lakey at UniqueArtChic.com

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Word Snap Weekly

 

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Hedman Falls

IMG_0756Photo and Fiction © Steve Lakey 2015

 

Hedman Falls, Colorado isn’t a heaving metropolis at the best of times, but at ten past midnight with the thermometer falling, it was all but deserted. Outside, it was well below zero, but with the gentle hum of the car heater in the background, my eyelids were starting to head south.

Suddenly, a garbled shouting came over my radio. Then a burst of static. I was fully awake, when a second voice cut in.

“Control to Deputy Morris! Sheriff Wilson needs immediate backup over at the McCallum place. Please hurry John!” Janine’s voice was wavering. She was no shrinking violet but, like me, she knew her husband wouldn’t call for help unless he needed it. I hit the lights and siren, and my Nissan 4×4 kicked into life.

Winter in the Rockies can be harsh, and this year was no exception. I was grateful that the plough had been through town earlier this evening, but it wouldn’t have gone down the back-road that led to Billy McCallum’s driveway. As I left the street-light glow behind, my flashing lights danced eerily along the snow-covered trees at the side of the road.

When I turned onto the back-road, my snow-tyres struggled to keep their grip, and my heart began beating a little faster. I needed my wits about me just to stay on the road, but my mind was leaping ahead to what I might find.

McCallum could be a hothead, but he and Sheriff Jim Wilson went way back. Old war buddies in Vietnam, Jim had even lent Billy money to start up in business. Since then, Billy McCallum had done all right for himself. I had asked around. Maybe some sort of import/export business, no one seemed to know for sure – even Sheriff Wilson just shrugged. “Don’t you worry, John. Nothin’ untoward happens round here without me knowin’ about it. Leave McCallum to me. He can be mean.”

That was as far as our conversation went in that direction. But they never went too far in any direction. After moving from out of state, I’d worked as a Deputy in Hedman Falls for five years and still there was so much about the Sheriff, and his town, that I didn’t know. At times, I still felt like an outsider. I guess we all have secrets in our past that we want to stay buried. I know I have.

What I did know was that I wouldn’t want to cross the sheriff’s wife, Janine Wilson. ‘Feisty’ doesn’t begin to cover it. With her working at the department as a control operator, the Wilsons haven’t got room to breathe, and many’s the time they’ve had a shouting match over the airwaves.

“What’s happening, John?” My radio crackled into life. “Don’t make me come over there and sort it myself!”
“Almost, Janine, just a couple of minutes now.” Behind the bravado, she was really scared. To tell the truth, so was I.

As I turned the corner I could see the Sheriff’s car parked next to the black wrought iron gates. Driver’s door open, headlights on, but no sign of Jim. I grabbed my torch and shotgun before getting out of the car. The biting cold wind carried a little snow, which spiralled its way to the ground. The sudden drop in temperature made me shiver.

I could see a set of footprints leading up to the tall gates, and then continuing beyond. The gates were securely padlocked – nothing for it but to climb over. I gently eased myself over the spikes and set off up the wooded driveway at a run. The circle of my torchlight danced ahead of me. Other than that, there was very little light. Dark shadows swayed either side of me, but I kept my mind focused.

The drive swung round to the left and then I was clear of the trees. I could see the black outlines of several outbuildings, but I headed for the main house, which seemed to have all lights blazing. The front door was slightly ajar. I didn’t bother to knock.

“Jim! It’s John, you there?” Silence – loud and deafening. I cautiously walked through the entrance hall, giving my eyes time to adjust to the brightness. I blinked, and tried to clear my head.

“I’m through here John!” It was Jim’s familiar voice.
I ran through to the next room. It was huge and dominated by a large fireplace. A log fire roared and crackled in the hearth, casting out an oppressive heat and scattering dancing shadows across the wall hangings. A rich, musky smell hung in the air. At the dimly lit far end of the room, there was a hunched figure sat leaning over a wooden table. Head down, he had his back to me. I could see his hands were cuffed behind his back.

Even before the head half-turned, I knew that it wasn’t Jim. Billy McCallum tried to speak, but could do no more than make a grunt. His face was a mess. One eye was closed, the other regarded me with fear.

“Billy and me have had a falling out.” The lack of emotion in the voice behind me didn’t disguise who owned it. I turned to see Sheriff Jim, his rifle draped casually over his arm as if he was out hunting rabbits. He didn’t have a hair out of place, but the fixed grin on his face scared me. He looked me up and down. “You’re looking flustered, Johnny. You must’ve got here in a real hurry.”
“You gave out an emergency call, for this?”

Jim looked puzzled and shook his head. He lowered his rifle until it was pointing the floor. “You still don’t get it do you. You want to know what business he’s in? Go and take a look.” He gestured over his shoulder to a door in the corner of the room. I tightened the grip on my shotgun and cautiously walked over.

The heavy door was reinforced and didn’t open easily. Inside, dozens of packing cases were stacked, almost floor to ceiling. One of them was open. I moved the straw to one side and took out an antique lamp. Without thinking I reached underneath. It came as no surprise to me that I had pulled out a bag of white powder. And then another, and another.

It’s an import business, to be sure.

The sound of a shotgun blast set me running through the doorway. I saw the body on the floor just before I felt the Sheriff’s rifle barrel pressing into the back of my neck. He slowly eased the shotgun from my hands.

“Just relax, John. McCallum was onto a good thing but he just got greedy. This operation ran as sweet as sugar when we set it up. I kept him out of trouble and he gave me a fair cut. But then he started holding back on me. He shouldn’t have done that, but now the business is mine, I guess I need a new partner. You interested?”

“What do you take me for? You think I’m as twisted as you?”

I instantly regretted it. With my revolver safely clipped in its holster, this wasn’t a good time to turn Jim into an enemy. His rifle was now digging into my back.
“It’s tragic, really. My deputy was shot while struggling with the prisoner. You’re from outta town. You’ve never been one of us, Johnny!”

He stepped back from me. I closed my eyes and waited for the impact. Two shots rang out, and I crumpled to the floor.

“Jim, you lowlife! I knew you were up to something!” The voice was unmistakably Janine. I opened my eyes. She was standing over the body of her recently expired husband. “I should have done that a long time ago! He couldn’t get anything right. You can pick yourself up now, Deputy.”

* * *

And that all happened three years ago. Funny how things turn out really. I feel much more at home since I was made Sheriff of Hedman Falls. Janine has made a fine Deputy. We don’t have too much crime to fight here, which gives us plenty of time to work on a little Import business that we inherited. If you ever want to buy an antique lamp or two, you know who to call.

 

The photo and fiction were prompted by Word Snap Weekly, 29nd March 2015, hosted by Amanda Lakey at UniqueArtChic.com

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Word Snap Weekly

 

Lyin’ Eyes

IMG_0590Photo and Fiction © Steve Lakey 2015

It was after I glanced at the Obituaries that I saw the black Toyota. A 4×4 with darkened windows, it came from the direction of the short-stay parking lot. The driver was doing his best to catch my attention and not being too discreet about it. Casually putting the paper down, I walked over and leaned through the open window of the passenger door.

A huge bear of a man, dressed in an Armani suit, gave me the once-over before he spoke. “You the English guy lookin’ for work?”
“Yeah that’s me.” I felt a little under-dressed in jeans and t-shirt, but I’d just stepped off the plane after a nine-hour flight. I guessed he wouldn’t mind.

He reached out his hand and crushed mine with a vice-like grip before speaking. “I’m Blake. Throw your gear in the back and climb aboard!”

We drove away from the huge airport at Fort Worth. After about an hour, we swung off the main highway, and soon found ourselves on a dusty track. He glanced at me from time to time, perhaps wondering if he should fill the silence. He took the easy way out and turned on the radio. Country music blasted through the car. He grinned as he shouted above the chorus. “You not a big fan of this music, Mister?” I paused awkwardly before answering. I didn’t want to upset my host just yet. “I’m not really a big fan of Country. But I do like the Eagles.”
“The Eagles ain’t Country!” I felt like I’d just insulted his religion. Maybe I had. His mouth creased into the beginnings of a smile. “Don’t worry about it, son.”

The dirt track snaked its way between sprawling areas of woodland. Despite the air-conditioning, and tinted windows, the fierce sun seemed to seep its way into the car. Occasionally, I felt a small trickle of cold sweat slide down my back. As he drove, Blake continually mopped at his brow. So it wasn’t just me feeling the heat.

After a while, we turned through an old, rusted gateway. A steep gravel track led to the cabin, concealed from view by the rise of the land. Hidden and remote, I could see why he had chosen it.
Blake pulled up close to the building. We walked to the door and he unlocked it.
“Everything you need is here. Plans, maps, photos. I’ve even stocked the fridge. No one even knows this place exists except me. Tomorrow I’ll drop you out of town where you can hire a car from a place that don’t ask too many questions. The job goes down, the day after. And I’ll have a watertight D.C. alibi.” He smiled. “Nice and neat, then you’re away to wherever.”
Blake stepped inside, and I followed. After unlocking a wall safe, he took out an attaché case. “You’ll find the money is all here, in used notes. And of course, here’s the pistol. It’s the model you requested – one hundred percent untraceable.”

He turned to face me and I swear, there were tears in his eyes. “I hope you understand that this is not personal, between me and my wife. It is purely business. My main holdings are losin’ heavily. Her investments are all on the rise. It’s just a matter of economics, son. Pure and simple.”
I nodded and gave him a friendly tap on the shoulder. “Tomorrow, then Blake.” A poor attempt at male bonding, but under the circumstances it was the best I could do. Watching him drive away, I almost felt a twinge of regret about the whole sorry affair.

I’m also familiar with economics and market forces myself. The same market forces that got me to negotiate with Blake’s wife. Blake was right about her financial position. She could afford to double his asking price. And she did.

A point blank shot to his head, and Blake would be left holding the gun. If anyone ever found him in his cabin, the unfortunate guy’s business accounts would tell their own story. One more boom and bust.

Poor Blake. I never did get to tell him my favourite Eagles’ song.

‘Lyin’ Eyes.’

The photo and fiction were prompted by Word Snap Weekly, 22nd March 2015, hosted by Amanda Lakey at UniqueArtChic.com

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Word Snap Weekly

 

Jungle Plant

DSC03243Photo and Fiction © Steve Lakey 2015

 

I’ll never forget seeing Spike in the flesh for the last time, as my taxi was being loaded up. Everyone called him ‘Spike’, on account of the way he wore his bleached blond hair. Or maybe it was because his customers spiked the stuff he sold them straight into their veins.

“Hey! Take a look at this.” He waved a wad of notes at me from across the road. Mafeking Terrace was my street – or at least it used to be. The fifty years I’d lived here counted for nothing. He’d only been here a matter of months, but it was like he was running the place. He never missed a chance to remind me.
“You ain’t ever seen so much cash. Buy you some new slippers mate! Want some?” His gold jewellery flashed in the sunshine.
Spike’s Bull Terrier snarled at me and strained at the leash. I could imagine Spike slipping off the collar, and watching with pleasure as it ripped me to pieces.

Bill, the taxi driver, caught my eye and tried to give me a reassuring look. He opened the door and gestured for me to get into the car. “Come on Tom, ignore him.”
I had chosen to give up the fight. It was a war I couldn’t win. Someone would take Spike’s place, and I hoped someone would take mine. Things are more confusing now. These days, you don’t know who your enemy is.

Spike stood grinning at me, a gold-toothed smirk that lacked any trace of humanity. His face quickly turned to a frown. “Don’t worry about your house Pops. I’ve got some people who’ll keep an eye on it. Can’t be too careful these days, there’s some dodgy people about!”
I should have got straight into the car, but my anger had been building up for a long time. I could feel the vein in my forehead starting to throb, a herald to yet another migraine. But I’d seen worse than him in Burma. This wasn’t a heroic defence from me, more of a parting shot.

“Listen! My name isn’t ‘Pops’, it’s Tom! Thomas Briggs, Royal Marine Commando. I’ve fought for this country. I lost a lot of friends in jungles you’ve never even heard of. I might be broken now, but in my day, I could have knocked your on your back without a second thought. You and your kind make me sick!”

Spike looked around to see who else was watching. I expected him to stride across the street to me and I regretted my outburst. Apart from the three of us, there didn’t appear to be anyone in sight. Maybe a few behind the lace curtains, but I’ve learned not to count on their type.

Spike didn’t move from outside his gate, but pointed a gold-ringed forefinger at me. “You’re a sad old boy. You’ve been telling lies, writing stuff you can’t prove. There’s things here you don’t know. My lawyer will have your wrinkly butt thrown in jail. So think on that! In the Army, eh? What was it like at Waterloo?” He spun away with a chuckle.

His good humour didn’t last. Spike’s hand reached for the latch on his gate. He shouted in pain as the concealed nail bit into his finger. Just far enough in to draw blood. I wanted to be there when he did it, just to make sure. To anyone else watching it would have just seemed like an accident, not a jungle booby trap. Now it was time for me to go.

As he drove me to the airport, Bill looked at me with genuine concern. He’d been driving me around for so long, we’d become friends. I would miss him and I think the feeling was mutual.
“Are you sure this is what you want, Tom? Moving ‘Down Under’ is a big step.”
“It’s the right time, Bill. Alice, my eldest, has been asking me to go and live with them for years. To be honest, things haven’t been the same since Maureen died. And it’ll be nice to see the grandkids again. Just picture me, Bill. Perth, Western Australia – I’ll be sat on their back porch, a hundred yards from the Indian Ocean. Not too bad a way to end my days.”
“So, you’re not coming back then? It won’t be the same around here.” Bill looked really upset, bless him.
“Tom, you can be proud. You did your best to stop the druggies getting a foothold. If someone had backed you, who knows? It’s funny – I didn’t know you fought in the Far East. When you said you were ex-Marines, I assumed your War was in Europe.”
“It’s not something I talk about much. We were taught to live rough and fight dirty. Funny thing is, that’s how I got interested in exotic plants. We learned which foliage has sap that can keep you alive, and which ones, if they get into your bloodstream, will kill you. You don’t want to get them mixed up!”
“So what about the plants in your greenhouse?”
“You can eat the tomatoes, but be very careful with the rest. Bio toxins aren’t good for the health! Rob from next door is having them. Said he’ll take care of my ‘babies’. They aren’t easy to import, you know, I don’t want them to be left to die.”

* * *

That was three weeks ago. I’m on that porch overlooking the Indian Ocean. After receiving an e-mail from Bill today, I was starting to feel homesick. That was until I clicked on the link from our, or rather his, local paper. Dated a couple of weeks ago, it told of how the body of an undercover policeman was found in Mafeking Terrace. He had been attempting to infiltrate a major drugs ring. The cause of death appeared to be some sort of extreme toxic reaction. Then I saw his photograph. He looked different in the picture – perhaps it was the uniform. But the spiky blond hair gave him away.

Maybe it’s a chill wind off the ocean, but I think I’ll go inside now. I’m starting to feel very cold.

 

The photo and fiction were prompted by Word Snap Weekly, 15th March 2015, hosted by Amanda Lakey at UniqueArtChic.com

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Word Snap Weekly

 

Yellow Fever

IMG_1372Photo and Fiction © Steve Lakey 2015

 

It was the sort of shabby place you automatically overlook, unless you can’t afford to. The lazy rain drifting down only added to the gloom.

I know now that something drew me to that classic MK IV Cortina. There’s not a day goes by that I wish I hadn’t passed Christie’s Used Car forecourt and just kept on walking. But when I saw that car shining like a bright yellow beacon, I just had to go for a closer look.

I remember running my hands over the warm bonnet. It was the strangest feeling – like I was touching something alive. Why it was warm, I don’t know. Other vehicles, front and rear boxed it in. Maybe they had turned the engine over for a previous punter.

“Go on, take a look inside. Feel free!” The voice, so close to my ear made me jump. It belonged to ‘James Christie’, according to his lapel badge. He had an uncanny resemblance to a young Paul Newman – complete with those clear blue eyes. I got the feeling that the shirtsleeves image was deliberate attempt to look casual. It certainly wasn’t the weather for it.

I opened the door and sat behind the wheel. James’ non-stop chatter soon became irritating. “First car, is it? You look the student type to me. No offence if you’re not, though. Of course, it’s an ideal car if you’re on a budget. I took it out myself last night. It goes like a dream…” After a couple of minutes, I had taken enough. I leaned over and closed the driver’s door shutting him out of my world, if only for a few precious moments. It closed with a reassuring thud. Goodbye!

The black leather interior looked in excellent condition, but something felt wrong. There was something strange about the air in the car – it was thick and heavy and reminded me of somewhere mysterious. A thick, sweet smell of incense. Or maybe something a little more little exotic.

I couldn’t seem to get my breath. I reached for the door handle but it wouldn’t open. Panic quickly set in. I banged on the window with my fist and shouted for James, but he wasn’t there. How I needed him now.

I was losing the struggle. My eyes were like lead and my head was spinning faster and faster. I knew I was going under. The last thing I remember was the sound of my own voice. It followed me into the void.

**

I opened my eyes, blinked twice, and then screwed them tightly shut again. I thought that if I opened them slowly everything would return to normal. But this wasn’t normality.

I was still sitting behind the wheel, but outside the light was fading, and I seemed to be surrounded by trees. What was happening? Where was I? Cautiously, I tried the door handle and thankfully it opened first time. I slowly climbed out and took a walk around. The car was parked in a clearing – hemmed in on three sides by dense woodland.

I had only walked on for a few steps when there was a sharp crack of a twig behind me. Instinctively, I turned and ducked down. I could see the outline of a man walking towards the car – I wasn’t alone! This didn’t feel good.

I quietly lowered myself to the ground and crawled up to the bonnet, eventually overcoming my fear enough to peek round the side of the car. I only saw it in outline, but the man was clearly struggling to lift a bulky object from the boot. I strained my eyes against the gloom. My God! He was lifting out the body of a woman! I choked back a scream, and pulled myself lower to the ground.

After what seemed like an age, he pulled her over his shoulder – her lifeless head and arms swaying like a rag doll. He staggered into the woods – coughing as he went. A deep rattling cough that went right down to his boots. It thankfully faded as he moved further away. Then he was lost from sight.

I didn’t wait for him to come back. I ran, blindly, in the opposite direction. Trees and bushes pulled at my arms and face, desperate to hold me back. Time and again, I broke free, to continue my desperate flight.

I never saw what brought me down. It may have been a low-lying branch or a small hole. I felt the ground rush up to meet me, and again my world turned to black.

And then I was back. Sat in the car, in the rain, and back on the forecourt – far away from that horrible scene. But that feeling of fear still gripped me tight and had me fighting for air. The door opened easily and I almost jumped out of the car. I wanted to run but James was standing there with a curious look on his face. He was probably waiting for me to say, “I’ll take it – it’s just what I’m looking for.”

I didn’t want any part of it. To think I had been attracted to this thing! I just needed to get away from there – put as much distance between me and that car as possible. Mumbling something towards James I shook my head and turned away. I half-walked, half ran to the safe haven of the street – a few steps, but a whole world away. I wanted to hide in the traffic, the smells and the noise. I knew that He was watching me all the way, his bright blue laser eyes burning two neat holes in the back of my head.

Once I had reached safety, I had to turn back for one last look. The Cortina no longer stood out. That’s when the doubts, the logical thoughts, started to creep in. Thinking it over…maybe I was just stressed out and had a panic attack. Yes, that’s it. Or too many late night horror movies…

Then I saw him. And what I heard cut through me more than those laser eyes ever could. James was slowly walking back to his office, coughing, his chest rattling right down to his highly polished shoes.

 

The photo and fiction were prompted by Word Snap Weekly, 8th March 2015, hosted by Amanda Lakey at UniqueArtChic.com

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Word Snap Weekly