short fiction, women

No One Can Know

No One Can Know


She is stood in line, her right hand reaching inside her purse as she looks around. Her tongue darts from the right side of her mouth, like a snake tasting the air. It was nervous excitement, fueled by flashes of malevolent, chemical lights in her eyes like an aurora borealis.


The behaviour doesn’t sit with her appearance. She’s classic soccer mom. The ass of a woman who spent hard hours on equipment she would have ordered from a shopping channel. The clothes are copies of major labels, chosen with care to match her skin tone.


Sallow, right now and dark circles under the manic eyes and excitement. None of it fits, which attracted my interest.


People are my business. You can tell a lot by what stands out about them, but it is the ordinary details which have saved my ass more than once. It provides you with useful information. Whether someone is in a manic state.


Or if they’re carrying a gun on them.


It is in her purse. Judging by the material and how it sags, it is too much gun for her frame. She’s fit but kinetic energy will throw back whatever she aims and fires. A perfect shit storm of too much firepower and need, too little training.


The pair of guys with her draw my attention. An amateur would have focused on them first, but there is professionalism I can account for without too much effort. A shotgun sweeps across the store, and the Glock in the other guy’s hand shakes when he holds it up too long. They both shine with flop sweat, which is another problem. No masks mean people will remember their faces. They don’t realise it but once the initial burst of adrenaline ebbs, they will.


Ducking down behind the coffee aisle gives me a good view of her. The other two men fan out, securing the store.


The steak is still in the plastic. It should be on a grill, sizzling in salted garlic butter then chased down with a blunt before a good, easy sleep and then a meeting with the new boss in the morning. No, instead it is in the packaging as the woman’s eyes meet mine.


Yep. Terrified.


The smartest thing is to get the woman’s attention in a way which doesn’t frighten her. The fact she’s high out of her mind is a complication but not an imposition.


She sees me, but the hand doesn’t come out of the purse.


‘Miss. You look a little unnerved.’


Formality of speech shows authority. With the guys, it would get me shot but something younger in her reacts like a puppy paid attention.  


‘Those men are friends of yours?’


Her eyes welled up with tears as she nodded. To my left, a young Asian man hissed at me to shut the fuck up. One hard look from me and he was scurrying away down the aisles.


‘I partied with them. I left my husband with the kids. I don’t know what happened then.’


Up close, she carried the sour whiff of meth coming through her pores.


‘Do you want to be here right now?’


My directness did not faze her. Shouting or struggling with her would have meant attention and she was high, frightened and responded well to authority. Perfect way to avoid having to shoot her in front of these people.


She shook her head.


I told her which car was mine and gave her the keys. She turned to leave, but I put my hand on her shoulder and looked at the handbag. She reached into her bag. It was a good piece. L Framed Magnum, hand-tooled. She ducked down and slid out through the open doors.


The cylinder was full as one guy came back. Mr Shotgun.




I had to dip the end of the barrel to cock the hammer. On one knee, I looked down the front sight and let it dip onto the hollow of his throat. Black, tattooed flames licked at his chest as my finger squeezed on the trigger.


He folded in half, the impact taking out his throat as blood and cartilage splattered on the tower of kitchen rolls behind him. The shotgun fell from his hands as the air rang with the shot. I was moving towards him, dipping the barrel to cock the hammer again.


Someone was screaming and firing. Just another day at the office as I turned around and waited.


There was an amber puddle of cooking oil in the aisle. An amusing idea came as I held the gun up to bear.


‘Hey, asshole?’


He ran, firing wild, eyes bulging in their sockets as the bullets pinged around me. When the heel of his left foot hit the puddle, I fired and took him in the pelvis. The wet crack when it broke was almost music, but when he hit the tiled floor and wept like a baby, that was my cue to get out of there.


Took the steak too. Least they could do for my efforts as a concerned citizen.


She was in the passenger seat. I pointed the gun at her and said we were making other arrangements.


We got past the cops and were out on the road without so much as a nod from anyone.




It would make the next part easier.


I pop the trunk open and look down at her. She’s passed out and the bruise at her temple isn’t anything she can’t cover up with a little concealer. The gun didn’t have a serial number, tricked out with band aids and now in my collection. Tonight proved you couldn’t have too much gun.


She woke up by degrees.


‘No one can know.’ she said.


Three weeks since she had been home.  Lost to a febrile expression of repressed id. It had lost its appeal and now she was getting to go back and make amends.


Or try to.


‘Amnesia. Nothing complicated, which means it will be easier to stick to.’ I said.


She nods and swallows. Then smooths down the front of her dress. She smells sour up close, which is the meth coming out of her pores and the regret, perhaps. I offer my hand and she takes it, holds onto my fingers until the trembling travels down my forearm.


‘Thanks for not -’ she said.

I raised my hand to silence her.

I did what needed doing.’


She looked at her small, neat  house. I realized it was a fine place to live and raise a family. It wasn’t something which crossed my mind too often, but it wasn’t alien. A place to put your flint to the tinder and make a spark.


Madeline had damn near burned her house down.


I stood there until she walked inside the house. The drive was soothing and gave me time to think. City limits were ahead, and there was time for an hour’s sleep before my meeting with the Dixie Mafia in the morning. Killing ambitious Serbians in return for large amounts of cash.


I had taken my exercise and it was like she said.


No one can know.


fiction, men, war

the bullet found him

He ran in his dreams.


There was the recollection of his uncoiled youth. Slim and taut with muscle, even at twelve. It taints his memories of his youth with crude washes of horror and regret.


These dreams woke him, trembling and confused. It was a long time ago, and yet these dreams returned like a recurring complaint. He was a man who could have someone killed with a phone call, but in his dreams, he ran from the train with the snap of bullets passing by him.


He got up, poured himself a good measure of single malt, lit a cigarette and walked to the living room.


Benny stood up when he walked in, his mouth twisted into a knot of concern but Ernest waved him off. Despite wearing nothing but a robe, Benny responded to him like he were in an expensive suit, but Ernest sat down and looked at his employee with something close to need.


‘Do you ever have bad dreams, Benny?’ he said.


His voice was a thin, reedy whisper but Benny furrowed his brow and considered the question with great importance. He shook his head and emitted a small squeak of a no.


Ernest chuckled and took a sip of the whisky. He sat back and drew on the cigarette.


‘Is everything ok, Mr Wolfowitz?’


Ernest let his head tilt backwards as he blew out a plume of smoke.


‘I guess. You can sit down, Benny. I’m worried you can see my cock from there.’


Benny sat down fast enough to make the cushions jump and Ernest sat up to look across at him. He ran his tongue across his lips, left to right, before he let it settle in the right corner of his mouth. His eyelids were low as he took another pull on the cigarette before settling into the couch.


‘Thanks for not saying either way. I make you nervous, huh?’ he said.


Benny nodded and flicked a nervous smile. His moustache was sweating as he looked at his boss.


‘Just this is the first time I’ve sat across from you. You said, if I see you, it means something’s gone wrong.’ he said.


Ernest recalled saying it, and a small burst of regret singed his insides.


‘I meant, I need no interruptions, Benny. I’m not an asshole to you guys.’ he said.


Ernest set the tumbler down on the floor by his feet as he adjusted his robe.


Relax. We’re just talking,” he said.


Benny had never served, but he nodded in agreement again and say thank you. His reaction pleased Ernest, who picked up the tumbler again and took another appreciative sip. Its warm burn relaxed him as he blinked and chased it down with a puff on the cigarette.


‘I have this dream, Benny. The same dream, over and over.’



You know the worst thing?


How ordinary those men were. You think of them as monsters but it is too easy, gives you an out if you ever wonder about your own capacity for evil, Benny, I tell you. A unit of volunteers, police in their own country, but they volunteered to come and do their duty.


They came to the village at night. Pulled from our houses like vermin, gathered together in the square as they watched us, made sure we didn’t run away. My father had died last year, so I was the only man left in my family.


There was nothing I could do. Nothing at all. Twelve years old, and looking at those men, barbers and engineers at home but here. Gathering us up to take a train.


. They kept the men together, and packed us in so tight, Such a thing, I couldn’t breathe, but I was thin and so I moved to the sides, pressed to find any cool, clean air to breathe in. Each breath stunk of other people, all of us, soiled and doomed.


Such a thing to smell, Benny, I tell you.  


Escape? No, such a thing was a dream and I was very much awake.


But I didn’t stop looking. They were not smart men, who put us in these carriages. Some of them smelled of too much beer and looked at us like they expected us to tell them what to do. One of them was slack on securing the door. I watched him do it.


But I remembered, Benny, and when we got to the train yards, it would pass the woods outside my village.


The woods were my favourite place to play, I knew them well.


My hands shook as the train slowed down, ready to take on more passengers. My heart was in my throat but I made myself push the door open. The night air fell on me like a cool wave, and I cried out with a savage joy. There was a rough hand at my back then I was tumbling forwards, landing in the dirt hard enough to knock the air from my lungs.


I got to my feet, heard the shouts go up and then the guns firing at me.


Have you ever ran like your life depended on it?


It is not an easy thing to do. Part of you wants the defeat, like a wound which can never heal and it gives you a reason to be clumsy, Benny, but fight it when it comes.


They were not good shots. It was not a matter of pride for them, to be competent soldiers. It was to my fortune they missed me.


Others behind me, were not so lucky, but they died free.


Still, they died.


The worst thing is, I don’t dream about my mother or my sisters. My father had been dead for three years by then. None of those things bother me, Benny, but do you know what does?


In my dreams, Benny, I dream about them shooting me. Or worse, catching me and putting me onto the train again. What sort of man thinks about those things?


What sort of man dreams about the bullet which never found you?




Benny fought back tears as he coughed into his hand before he looked up at his boss.


‘We all have times when we think about how things could have gone down, Mr Wolfowitz.’ he said.


Ernest tilted his head to one side, curious despite his exhaustion.


‘But I didn’t get shot, Benny. I made it, and then from there to all of this.’ he said.


There was no need for a gesture, Benny knew. If you worked for Mr Wolf, you knew what he did to keep what was his and added to it with the same fervour. If James Brown was the hardest working man in show business, then Ernest Wolfowitz was the hardest working man in crime. One of the wealthiest too, and he had moved a lot of dirty cash in clean, legitimate vehicles but if you bought a dime bag, Mr Wolf made money from it.


‘I know, but we still think about it. If it makes you feel fortunate, then it’s God talking to you.’


Ernest frowned and picked up his glass.


‘He does not talk Benny. Not since he packed my family into the trains.’


Benny sat back, remembering how his girlfriend had told him to stay off religion or politics in polite conversation with anyone you didn’t want to piss off. He folded his hands and put them into his lap.


‘Sometimes he doesn’t say nice things, but he tells you the truth.’ he said.


Ernest watched him before he drained the rest of the glass and stubbed out the cigarette in the ashtray. He got up, adjusted himself inside his robe and walked away without speaking. Benny stood up as he left, but Ernest did not acknowledge the gesture. Benny waited until he heard the click of the bedroom door before he sat down.


He wondered how much trouble he was in until dawn when the next guy came in to take over and he drove back to his apartment. When the phone rang, he heard Yanni, one of Mr Wolf’s lieutenants, tell him a car was outside.


Benny ran to the bathroom and vomited before rinsing his mouth out with water and throwing on a jacket as he ran downstairs.


Someone set a chess board up in the study. Mr Wolf sat with a crystal decanter of scotch and a welcoming smile which unnerved Benny as he looked at the empty chair opposite him.


‘Sit down, Benny.’ he said.


Benny sat down and looked at Mr Wolf.


‘Am I in trouble, sir?’ he said.


Ernest shook his head.


‘If you were, you’d know.’ he said.


This, Benny knew, was Mr Wolf. The old man last night, he wasn’t someone to mess with, but this man before him, although he wore the same face, held himself apart from everyone and everything.


Mr Wolf poured Benny a drink and handed it to him.


‘No, Benny, I thought it useful to talk about God with someone I trust not to tell anyone.’ he said.


Benny went to say like a confession but remembered his girlfriend’s advice and bit down on his tongue. The scotch stung him, but he kept his impulse under control.


‘Mr Wolf.’ he said.


Ernest shook his head.


‘No, Benny, call me Ernest.’ he said.


It was the start of a great friendship. They held one another’s confidence for five years before a stroke took out Mr Wolf and left him bedridden. Benny took half a million from the Garcia Cartel to hold a pillow to his friend’s face, but as he felt him relax. Benny was glad at the end, it was down to him. Tears ran down his face as he leaned over and whispered into Ernest’s ear.


‘The bullet found you.’  he said.


Benny recognised himself in the ordinary men who shoved Ernest’s family into the streets, and it had killed his own faith. As Ernest died, part of Benny died with him. The rest of it followed a week later when the Garcia Cartel decided Benny was too expensive to keep around.


It was on a train out of the city, Benny had sat in first class, which made him easy to find. When the three men, not much more than boys, closed the doors behind them, Benny smiled. They were competent, and they promised to be quick.


His bullet had found him, too.


He looked forward to telling Ernest about it.



fiction, short fiction, women

Had It Coming

Sarah looked out the window, her thin, pale hands wrapped around a large mug of hot chocolate. The marshmallows had melted, but she kept sipping it, even with the frosting of melted goo on her upper lip. Martin didn’t mention it to her, deriving a quiet stab of childish pleasure watching it settle on her upper lip before she swiped it away with her tongue.


She looked at him, thanked him for the hot chocolate and turned to look back outside. All he saw was their reflection, distorted and robbed of detail by the overhead lights and the night outside. He turned away with a sigh and went over to the couch, picked up the book and tried to read.


He scowled, knowing she couldn’t see it but felt another burst of malign delight at, to borrow the Italian phrase, biting his thumb at her.


Sarah had it coming.


Responsibility without authority was slavery, Martin believed and the years he had worked, maintained and pursued for a life of stability was such an example. A wealthy businessman, with an attractive wife and she had betrayed him.


With someone penniless in comparison.


Sarah looked out the window.


The chocolate had lumps in the bottom, so it was too weak and she had clumps of damp powder on her teeth. He had sulked over to the couch, and it was a relief. She was accustomed to his sullen silences, a small but anxious cloud of self-reproach and covert contracts never fulfilled. His squat, little body had softened out around the middle and wisps of hair clung to the side of his head. A perfect catalogue of his flaws was hers with a single thought.


She hears the splash before the quinine comes to her across the room. He’s having a drink, she thinks. It is his excuse for his inability to get an erection, or why he slept in the spare room most evenings. Sarah ached for comfort but he denied it to her, long before she ever sought anyone else.


At least, she tells herself that.


The first time she saw herself through John’s eyes had been in a bookshop. She ordered from the internet, but when she had met her mother for lunch, she had an hour spare before Martin came home and walked into the Book Hive.


The newer titles reminded her of how sparse her inner life had become. She was about to leave, unable to bear the sharp edge of her insight.


Which was when she saw him.


Warm, brown eyes. An awareness equidistant between the faint glimmering of need and a wry, playful hunger. Some white in the beard, but clear skin and he had good posture. Her eyes fell to his hands and her stomach flipped with a slow curious interest at his long fingers and the soft, brown curls of hair on the backs of his hands as he held the book.


They said nothing. A small, slow smile from him. A little overbite, but his teeth were white and his lips were full and the colour of fresh salmon.


Shaved head, which lent him an arrogance she found compelling. He followed her eyes.


Their words were ineffective jockeys riding vast primal beasts of want, stirred into being and her interest became an amusement.


She was open about being married as much to test his reaction. He smiled and asked none further.


They exchanged numbers. It all felt inevitable in hindsight. The free market of ideas, and this one, breaking a cardinal, ancient tenet.




They went to his, coupled with a ferocious energy which she hadn’t enjoyed since her twenties and he reintroduced her to her body and its capacity for joy with amused mastery and invention.


John never specified what he did for a living. She saw him writing a lot, and he travelled. A consultant, he said. He listened more than spoke, his implacable strong fingers running along the soles of her feet.


The curve of her buttocks.


She had a drawer of toys at his, plus some underwear she never wore for her husband.


They wrote to one another, bought the letters with them and left them in a lacquered box he made for her. A present she could not display, but it spoke to her heart in a way nothing her husband gave her ever could.


Not even the fucking car, she thought.


She was lost in a fog of hormones. Sarah missed the battered Ford Escort which followed her drive from home into the city.


Deaf to the small click when she called him.


Blind to the short, dark man who left the restaurant just after them and tucked a small leather notebook into his coat pocket.


Mute when she came home and found Martin sat there, flushed with indignation and gin as he slapped the manila folder on the coffee table.


She wouldn’t get a thing in the divorce.


He would get custody of the children.


Martin was an awful husband but an excellent businessman.


A sense memory came to her, cruel in its beautiful clarity. John on top of her, looking into her eyes with a hunger which made them dark whilst his fingers curled around her throat. She blinked it away as tears came.


After that, it was a negotiation.


She finished it by email. He made her delete and block his number from her phone. Martin walked her between the computer and the phone like a recalcitrant child.


Martin said he would have John hurt if she saw him again.


Or worse. He did business with some Polish construction companies. Men who were directors on paper but thugs in person. They would understand his anger, and act to help him. It was the closest he had come to potency for years.


Her worst fear was John coming to the house. Yet each day he didn’t, hurt even more. She held her children more, but it didn’t take from the anguish.


The cottage was his idea. Her sister had the children and been the one person she told about John. Lucy had never liked Martin, but loved her sister enough to listen saying nothing.


They didn’t have sex. He was enjoying his anger too much to allow himself the pleasure and the thought of having him inside appalled her. Talking things through, they agreed.


It had been silence for most of the evening. He communicated his disdain through his glances and the theatrical sighs which he did in between drinks.


He decided he would go through with it.


Lucy could have the children. He’d claim insanity and there was enough stashed offshore to keep the children until he got out. Wiping her from the face of the earth was a simple business decision. He had negotiated a deal which no longer benefited him.


She was so fucking beautiful and he disgusted her. His weakness burned like acid in his chest. He got up from the sofa and went to the bedroom. Sarah sighed with relief and kept looking out of the window.


There was a flash of a headlamp and then more of the damp dark kissing the windows.


It was small in his hand. Heavy and cold but it sat in his palm and when he curled his fingers around it, his cock stiffened with an electric urge as he opened the cylinder and checked the load. Six rounds.


He had perfume to confuse the gunshot residue. A revolver meant he could pick up the casings, dispose of them without incriminating himself.


A drive to the shops to get milk. She would have been alone in the cottage.


There had been burglaries along the coast. Bored teenagers, they said.


But, Martin had decided, what if they weren’t?


Even if he did time, it wouldn’t be long and he had resources. Friends in high places.


Low ones, too. His heart thumped against his ribs. Martin brightened and swelled as he left the bedroom.


She screamed when she saw the gun in his hand. His grin was a death rictus and his chin shone with a glaze of gin-scented saliva.


If only she had been looking at him.


Martin had time to turn before he stared into John’s eyes, no longer warm as something caught him in the windpipe. John’s leg swept his feet from under him.


The floor smacked him between the shoulderblades as his finger squeezed the trigger.


John let go, clutching his left ear from where the gun had gone off. Sarah saw he was wearing black leather gloves which shone from the rain outside.


A pane of glass shattered and Sarah felt something splatter her cheek.


She fell forwards, crying out but moving towards John.


He staggered for a moment before he looked at her. He nodded before he turned around and drove the heel of his right boot into Martin’s sternum then onto his left wrist. Martin wheezed his protest before the slick crack of his bones breaking made him scream as much as his empty lungs allowed. The gun hung from his useless fingers but John stamped on his hand twice more just to make sure.


John knelt over and drew out a pen from inside his jacket and hooked it through the trigger guard before he retrieved a clear plastic bag and slipped the gun inside. Martin gurgled as he aspirated bloodied scraps of cartilage. John stood up and sealed the bag shut.

He turned and looked at Sarah.


‘You ok?’ he said.


She touched her cheek. Her fingertips came away wet with her blood and her knees were hollow as he put the bag on the floor and unzipped his jacket. She collapsed into his embrace, warm fur and muscle against her. It was like cool water on a hot day and she looked past him as her husband twitched out his last breath on the wooden floor.


‘What did you do?’ she said.


He took off his jacket and put it around her.


‘Go wait in the hallway. Touch nothing and wait for me.’


She said his name. He moved with an experienced economy as he lent over Martin before glancing over his shoulder.


It took only twenty minutes. He came to her and found another coat for her to wear.


‘Your sister will vouch you were there after the kids were asleep. You left him here because he was drunk. You called an Uber and he will testify you were upset and had a mark on your cheek from where he struck you.’


She shuddered and wrapped her arms around herself. He put his hand out to her and she took it.


‘He bought the gun a few days ago. Saw him leaving and did the percentages.’


‘What percentages? I don’t get it, John, you don’t know things like this.’ she said.


His eyes shone with a quiet, cold light.


‘With you, I got to come away from all that.’ he said.


She took a deep breath and fought tears.


‘I can’t believe he bought me here to fucking kill me. The cunt.’ she said.


He put his arms around her.


‘We need to go.’ he said.


The bike was outside. He passed her a helmet and she slipped it on.


The cottage compressed as they rode away. His jacket was warm from his skin and he smelled of the dark tobacco he smoked. She wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed herself against him as he opened the throttle up on the bike.


She had it coming, she told herself and ached to see her children again. Meanwhile with her arms slipped around his taut waist, she leaned into John’s back as the cottage grew smaller and flickered with activity.  


fiction, writing


They knocked out the lights in the hallway. The glass from the lightbulb crunched under her boot and she heard someone moving towards her and the palm strike to her nose, feeling it crunch and then the knife punching through her vest. She falls back, bangs the back of her head. She didn’t get to draw her gun.


She came in low, drove the tomahawk into the meat of his thigh and dragged it down. There is an artery there, and he was dead before she went up the stairs.


The shotgun came as a surprise and the force of the round slammed her back down the hallway.


Next time, she had the revolver up, squeezed off a clean shot which clipped him in the temple before he brought the shotgun up. His blood and brains made a comma shaped mark on the wall behind him. She looked back at the bodies and crept up the stairs.


She died twice before she shot through the floorboards with the shotgun, took out two people before she walked up, cruising on adrenaline like a migrating bird on the thermals. Every swallow tasted of copper as she cut down a young man who pointed a cheap revolver from a doorway at her.


He fell onto his side, stared out at nothing. Imogen had been at the last Thanksgiving turkey hand out, he couldn’t have been over ten sporting a swollen lip from another of his mother’s endless loop of men and she’d gone into the apartment, shot out a hard right which took him by surprise, gave the kid a twenty and warned his mother if she saw the boy with so much a frown, she’d come back and fuck her up.


That had been before she’d volunteered for the enhancement programme, laid in a hospital looking at three dimensional images of her brain and body as the doctors explained where they were cutting and why.


The implants in her brain. Carbons in her bones. Artificial muscle grafts and fullerenes to strengthen her and heighten her reflexes.


She was recovering from a knife in her gut when the man from the government visited her. He smelled of the curry he’d eaten for lunch and he had a spot on his cheek where he had missed it when shaving. He discussed her record, her former military service.

Policing was becoming militarised and once the military had installed the enhancive program, deploying them in Venezuela, it became a matter of time and public acceptance.


Politics was downriver from culture and culture was downriver from biology. A woman officer was good optics and the man explained it all in a warm, soft voice which cut through the fog of painkillers and antibiotics. She was thinking about the box cutter digging through the skin of her stomach, how her last thought had been if she lived, she’d never be able to wear a bikini again.


Two years later, she walked into the squad room, claps on the back and hard hugs, the wary light in the eyes of her crew as she sat with them.


Imogen closed her eyes, visualised the teeming mist of the valley and the warm, damp earth beneath her feet. An image of tropical perfection, part of her meditative practice as she ignored the rumble of the road beneath her feet. The darkness was a blanket draped around her shoulders, and she sank into it as they drove to the warehouse.


Her crew were quiet, saving their nerves for the job.  


The car stopped and she felt a hand at her shoulder. Imogen opened her eyes and smacked her lips.


She knew her enhancements frightened them and she compensated by going on point. It kept them alive, and grateful for having her there. Detective Imogen Capaldi was better than any vest, any gun but they didn’t know the cost she paid to be a better breed of cop.


Imogen got out the car, breathed in the warm, dank air of a summer midnight in New York and looked at the scarred front door of the drop house. Precognition ran its nails down her spine as she checked her revolver and looked at the rest of her crew.


They asked her if she saw their deaths but she shook her head.


It was what she told them if they pressed her.


She knew it would be another eight years, defusing a dirty bomb planted in Grand Central Station, without a child or a family to mourn her passing. The job would bury her with reverence, but it was no comfort against feeling her flesh melt on her bones from the brutal waves of radiation.


She smiled and nodded towards the building, watched the future roll towards her as she smiled and went to face it.

short fiction

White Rabbit


“Men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore, the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.”

Nicollo Machiavelli, The Prince.




Ibrahim walked down the street, cursing Ellen for making him clean out the frier again before he left to attend mosque with his uncle. He hated the job, but Mohammed insisted he finish out the summer before he got him an internship at the firm.


He didn’t want to be late. Mohammed was fastidious without being vain and he had known nothing but his faith but he did business without it being a problem.


Ibrahim drew comments and stares. No one wanted to feel alien in their own skin and he would slip out of the way, finding something to do in the back until their attention went elsewhere or he pretended not to have heard anything. He simpered and it hurt to do it but once he was working with his uncle, he would earn respect without being made to suffer for it.


He was running late.


It was the only thing which saved him.


He saw the mosque and quickened his pace before a massive hand slapped him backwards. He smelled his hair burning and his eardrops popped like balloons as he fell backwards, breaking his coccyx against the sidewalk.


Ibrahim lay there, mute with pain as his hair burned and his body turned inside out with pain. He had bitten his tongue and each swallow tasted of burnt copper as he struggled to breathe.

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romance, women

Home – Episode 13

Previous episodes are in the link below



They had been walking through the twilight, almost in lockstep with one another, when John heard Kelly give a shiver as she wrapped her arms around herself. He turned and looked at her, the purple half-crescents of exhaustion tattooed beneath her eyes and the waxy pallor of her skin made him stop and put his hand out to touch the small of her back.


‘We will stop and get warm now, Kelly.’ he said.


His voice was low and rough with the burden of his own exhaustion. He knew he had pushed their pursuit to mitigate his mistake, but he saw the impact of his decisions reflected in her face. She nodded with gratitude as she drew closer to him.


‘Good, I’m feeling the cold.’ she said.


Kelly resented the admission, but she had been forcing one foot in front of the other for hours, wracked with hunger and cold, as she fought the looming exhaustion which dogged her harder than the men hunting her.


He looked ahead and sniffed. The scent of chill, running water ran down his throat as he smiled and gazed at her as he took the tomahawk and gripped it in his right hand. He told her to wait here whilst he found wood for the fire. She sat down before she collapsed, fighting a sudden squall of tears by lowering her chin and letting her hair fall over her face.


She awoke to his touch as he squatted in front of her but he shook his head and told her to go back to sleep. A burst of gratitude, gentle and delightful ran through her as she lowered her chin and slipped back into a blank, exhausted sleep.


The fire woke her up as John sat there, cross legged and going through his rucksack. She watched him, the fire highlighting the hints of gold in his brown eyes as he worked with a careful diligence.


She got up, rubbed her legs to get the blood flowing again and joined him by the fire.


‘How long do you think we’ll be out here?’ she said.


He gave a hesitant smile as he handed her a strip of jerky and a fresh canteen of water. She chewed as the salty, meat taste flooded her mouth with sustenance but the salt stung and she washed it away with a slug of cold, clean water.


‘There’s not many of them but they looked prepared.’ he said.


She caught the unspoken fact of the reduction in their numbers by how the skin around his eyes crinkled with a sharp pang of acknowledgement. He sighed and looked down, calculating their odds as Kelly watched him, hopeful for a sign of a positive outcome.


Her assessment was as bleak as it was undefined. Despite moving, they were hidden, detached from their lives and circumstances and she wondered if she would ever have cause to feel dissatisfied with a late arriving cab or bad service in a restaurant again. The time spent unplugged had stripped away much of her affectations, but it came to her as a relief. She had a love of puzzles, which is part of why she adapted to computing, then its darker applications but here she had been confronted with two puzzles.






Kelly realised she had not touched a computer in days, had missed the flow of information which served as a secondary memory for her with a piquant ache. She dabbled in the self-pity before she saw it as an affectation and let it go. Her skills had earned her a death sentence, and out here, she was safe from the consequences.


She hoped she was.


They sat by the fire in companionable silence until she drew closer and rested her head on his shoulder. He had accepted her overtures with stoicism, and he kept his hands from wandering over her, nor had he forced a kiss on her. Kelly wondered if this was how he was with people, or whether he was too polite to reject her but he embraced her with a tenderness which made her wish, she could stay like this with him.


John did not answer her question. He would need to see for himself, which invited further risk and conflict. He had his hungers but no genuine appetite for murder, and each time it took something from him he was unsure he could replace.


For now, they were safe and warm, which was enough.


Jasper was not fluent in the language of conciliation and failure. If there were an app or a phrase book available, he would have devoured it. Instead, he was sat in a restaurant, plucking the linen napkins instead of smoking, thinking through what he needed to do.


His employer was coming to the U.S. This evening.


Grant and the others were back, holed up in a secure location and collating their information so Jasper had a hymn sheet to sing from. The waiter came over and took his order as he received a report from Olivia.


She had threaded the few facts with supposition. Kelly had lucked into the presence of an eccentric wealthy survivalist, with a dog he trained to hunt, and the charitable nature to help her evade capture. They had fled into the woods but Olivia had been confident they would return to civilisation and had suggested surveillance on any known associates. Jasper did not correct her with the fact her closest friend and collaborator had died in the plane but he figured doing something was better than not doing anything. The briefcase was so much ash, but he had to be seen to be acting in his employer’s interests.


Jasper had never met his employer. A lawyer had approached him with a contract, followed by a telephone conversation and a set of directives. A transfusion of credit to his failing security business had smoothed over any concerns and the work kept Jasper busy and wealthy if a little uncertain of his role.


Last night, Jasper had received a phone call to announce his employer was coming to the area on business. Jasper had swallowed his nerves, fearful the visit was a termination of their agreement but a phone call would have sufficed. A bullet to the head was an international and expansive gesture, but Jasper feared disappointing his employer more than death.


Since his childhood as a twitching nerve, Jasper had bullied his way through basic military training then selection into the SAS before eight years of operations and the nascent idea of his own business. Now, he was little more than an hour away from wondering if this was the last good day he would ever know.


He forwarded the report to his employer and by the time his food had arrived, his phone rang.


‘Who wrote this report?’


Jasper broke out in gooseflesh as he stammered out Olivia’s name.


‘Excellent. Will she be available to discuss her findings?’


Jasper agreed she would be because it limited his chances of dying. At heart, Jasper had an animal’s instinct for survival. Some breeds chewed off limbs to escape traps, but it did not mean they enjoyed the taste and he was no different.


He rang the number for the secure location and told Olivia she needed to meet him at the Chateau Marmont at 1400. He ended the call before she could ask anything and he sat back in his chair with a sense of reprieve lifting his mood.


Jasper even found his appetite again.




Kelly awoke as the blue light of dawn washed over her. John was not in his sleeping bag and she swore under her breath as she looked around for him. He had left her a note, pinned underneath a flat rock.




She got out of the sleeping bag when she heard a faint rustling from the foliage to her left. Kelly had the gun in her hands but John poked his head through and looked at the gun with a frown.


‘I should have warned you but I have good news.’


Kelly lowered the gun, it had gained a weight which drew her arms down as she looked at him with expectation.


‘They’ve backed off. I followed the scent trail and it died off. There aren’t any drones and they’ve hidden their two guys.’


Kelly was disarmed by the news as she sat back down, her head light and stunned with feeling.


‘They’re gone?’ she said.


John buttoned up his shirt and raised his eyebrows as he nodded.


Kelly put her head down and wept. She felt John’s arms wrap around her, solid and safe as she let go, ensconced in the rich, dark presence of the man.


It was time to go, if not home, then somewhere.






He made no requests. The items were made available, and in duplicate around the world. Installations were completed and tested before his arrival, so he could exist in a state of comfort fitting to his achievements and station.


The meeting at the Marmont was to collect the pair of them. He had purchased a beachfront villa, perfect to accommodate the additional equipment which made him comfortable. By the time his plane landed on American soil, his base of operations was complete and correct.

It had been a long time since he had been in the country. He was aware, and amused by the changes, ephemeral flickers disguised as fundamental spasms of change but he remained silent as the car took him to his home.


A hot meal had been arranged, he was informed and the only thing he said was thank you before returning to his reading. The report was interesting and he read it through twice without blinking, absorbing the pertinent sections and asking questions of his own.


The couple were more interesting to him alive, he decided. Jasper’s call to retreat had been a good one, although he would take pleasure from seeing his aide sweat through the details. He closed the laptop and sat back, closing his eyes as he looked forward to a good meal and the assertion of his authority.


short fiction, women

Good Meat – Episode 3.

Previous episodes are here and here. If you enjoy my work and want to buy me a coffee, you can do that here .


John had left the cabin when she woke up. She found a note on the table, written in a neat, delicate hand that he was out hunting and would be back soon. He had left coffee, and the last of the bread from last night. She had not seen a rifle and then gooseflesh arose on her forearms and thighs.


It’s because he doesn’t need one, she thought.

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