books, fiction, writing

Shes Here by M B Blissett

I have a completed book, and am developing it for self-publishing.

I am asking, you, my readers if any of you would like to read it and offer feedback on it.

This is the general story:
SHE’S HERE
TOMMY MARTIN is a successful stand up comedian, back off his first tour since the death of his wife SOPHIE, leaving him as a single father to PENNY. When he meets EVELYN, an artist, he embarks on the first romantic relationship since the death of his wife. He experiences unusual, violent events around him, which he cannot explain.

If you are interested, please leave a comment or get in touch.

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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.’

 

2.

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?

 

3.

 

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.

 

 

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fiction, love, men, women, writing

Autumn Ghosts

Autumn Ghosts

 

Joe stood at the corner of the train station, chatting to a stranger over a cigarette when Keeley arrives. She smiled at the ease with which he carried himself in making the most of his time. When he spoke about his previous marriage, he told her how it used to irritate his wife and the corners of his mouth flickered downward each time.

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fiction, men, short fiction, Uncategorized, women

SY KERK IS UIT

SY KERK IS UIT

M B BLISSETT

 

My hands reflected my actions better than my face did. My dad had been a cook, and his hands bore the scars and burns from decades of cooking. Slips of the knife and damp towels used to grab pots and pans had kissed his skin. My experiences had kissed mine but he could look at his and not see the ghosts and horror they gave birth to. A faded white line where a man had slashed the back of my hand in Kandahar. Calluses on my knuckles and the webbing between my thumb and finger from a thousand hours training and fighting. These hands had touched others in love, in friendship but they had harmed more than healed, and there were days when they looked stained and ancient.

 

They were still supple, strong and didn’t bother me too much, outside my head.

 

His white-blonde hair was shaved to the scalp and he had scraped away the neat goatee which defined his strong jaw and high cheekbones. Time and circumstances had made him look ancient and infantile at the same time. His shirt hung around his neck and the cuffs swung on his thin wrists as he ran his tongue over his lips, moistening them before he spoke.

 

‘You’re too easy to find.’ he said.

 

His voice was strong. A cultured blend of elocution and exposure to different accents, but the nasalised vowels and diphthongs stayed in place.

 

‘No sense in hiding but it’s quiet here. A good place to think.’

 

Ricus nodded and walked into the kitchen. We embraced and he recognised my surprise. .

 

‘I have a job, Lee.’ he said.

 

When he drew back, there was a quiet, indomitable light in his eyes.

 

My expression made his smile falter.

 

‘You can’t tell me this is what you want to do with your life.’ he said.

 

Just one more middle aged man with little in the way of possessions but too much in terms of regrets and memories. No friends to speak of, no women to soothe and no children to fear for.

 

Only their ghosts and their screams.

 

‘Who is the client?’ I said.

 

He reached inside his jacket and retrieved a thick, white envelope and slid it across the table. It was heavy and without opening it, knew there was a sizeable wad of cash inside. Our eyes met and he raised an eyebrow.

 

‘Me.’

 

Ricus was born and raised in Gauteng, to Boer men and women who had farmed the land for generations, but instead left at sixteen and joined the army. From there, his talent promoted him to the Recces, and after a few years, he went into the private sector. We met in Bogota, Colombia providing security for a businessman which meant more attack than defence. I ended up as his spotter when he would sit up providing over watch. It was a few years before I told him the reason I joined him was because the teenage daughter of the businessman was flirting with me, and I wasn’t into it.  He chuckled and said he knew, but I was a good spotter and didn’t talk too much.

 

I asked if he would take out one of his wives, but his smile faltered as he picked up his coffee.

 

‘No, we’re going home.’ he said.

 

2.

 

It was like a thousand places suffused with an atmosphere as oppressive as another planet, seizing you in its grasp as you step off the plane. Ricus and I travelled in economy, nothing but hand luggage as we stepped off the plane.

 

He had arranged someone to meet us. Gun licensing was always a tricky issue, even if you were a citizen like Ricus and since the change in government, things were more complicated now.. Sure, there were questions but we had gone in with less and sometimes with more. Donald Rumsfeld said you went to war with the army you have, not the army you want. Same with equipment too, but Ricus moved with a smooth grace which lent everything the mundane air of it being just another job.

 

We drove into town in the back of a flatbed truck with a teeth-rattling suspension and the faint smell of cowshit to keep us company. Ricus sat with his forearms resting on his knees, working a toothpick in the corner of his mouth as he stared out into the distance. His eyes were serene and stern, looking at nothing and everything with a detachment which I used to envy.

 

Now, struggling to adjust to a heat so thick it compelled exhaustion just to endure it, I wondered if it was a gift or a curse. Ricus had a burden which no amount of conflict could wear away, and I had come along to see if I could help.

 

The township was alive with a teeming vitality. Smoke hung in the air, and the rich chorus of voices enveloped us, powered by the pumping music coming from a bar somewhere. Ricus craned his head, scanning the crowd for someone.

 

A black man, around his age, raised his hand as a smile pulled at the white worm of scar tissue which bisected his cheek. Ricus smiled back and nodded towards him. I followed him through the crowd. When the two men met, they moved in for a tight, firm hug before parting.

 

‘Good to see you, Gacoki.’ Ricus said.

 

He leaned away and gestured with his right hand and gave him my name. I was his business partner.  Gacoki gave me a measured look as he stepped forwards and offered his hand. I shook it, and weighed up the hard, firm grip he gave. There had been harder ones, but few. Hiding the causal flex which it prompted made him smile as he stepped back.

 

‘Let’s get a drink.’ he said.

 

Ricus took him up on the offer of a beer but I stuck to cola. It was thicker and more chemical than I was used to, but the bubbles settled my stomach. They fell into a mix of Afrikaans and English, some of which I followed, but otherwise it was a pleasant way to while away a few hours. Later, they spoke about what we needed. Gacoki shrunk into his chair.

 

‘It’ll be tough. Things are different now.’ he said.

 

Ricus swallowed and sat back in his chair, finished the last of the beer before he set the bottle on the table.

 

‘Money still talks, though?’ Ricus said.

 

Gacoki nodded and retrieved a cigarette from the soft pack on the table and lit it, gave him time to think. He smiled and winked at us.

 

‘Always.’ he said.

 

After that, it was about logistics. Most of it could have been found at a mall but Ricus had grown up here, and he knew things were scarce. He took the list from Ricus, got up, leaned over for a brief hug and left, acknowledging me with a short nod. The residue of the coke clung to my teeth as I licked my lips and got to my feet. Ricus took the pack from the table where Gacoki had left them and slipped them out.

 

‘You up for a drive?’ he said.

 

A hot burst of irritation gathered in the back of my throat.

 

‘Only if you tell me what’s going on.’ I said.

 

He smiled before he lit the cigarette.

 

‘That’s what I‘m going to show you.’

 

The car was a clean, worn Range Rover. My seatbelt didn’t work, so I sat with one hand on the passenger door, bracing myself against the inevitable dips and turns in the roads. My distaste faded with the passage of time. The muscle memories allowed me to adjust, relaxing the muscles still tense from hours of travel as we drove out into the deepening darkness.

 

There were small fires dotted along the road, and as we drove North, the air grew cold, but Ricus did not register it as he focused on the drive.

 

I spotted the outline of the buildings, the tops visible above a dark brick wall dominated by a large metal gate.

 

‘I’ll be on point.’ Ricus swallowed, a flash of nerves apparent on his face before he controlled himself and looked at me.

 

‘Who are we meeting, Ricus?’ I said.

 

He stopped the car and got out, went to the intercom and pressed the button. A squall of static split the air before a woman’s voice came through the speaker. They spoke in Afrikaans, but the long pause and the single word after Ricus spoke indicated a caution and surprise which raised the skin on my forearms into gooseflesh.

 

‘Broer?’ she said.

 

The motor on the gate was old and worn from frequent use as it gave a choked wheeze in protest before the gate opened and Ricus came back to the car. We drove up to the central building. These were rough, sturdy buildings gathered in a horseshoe as well as several outbuildings. A working farm or the memory of one. We got out as the front door opened and a woman emerged, in a white t-shirt and jeans before she walked towards us.

 

Ricus glanced at me before he walked towards her. Her features gained coherence as she came forwards, and the familial resemblance between her and Ricus became apparent. She was younger, and her blue eyes held the light with a clarity which made her attractive. There were fine lines around her mouth and eyes, but she was a striking, beautiful woman without make up and her hair scraped back into a ponytail.

 

Her expression was somewhere between a pleasant surprise and a pebble in her shoe. A short wince followed by a jangling burst of delight as her eyes shone with tears. They stopped before one another, and I stayed by the car, uncomfortable with breaking up a reunion.

 

We had learned of one another’s pasts in sips and swallows. He referred to it over burdening me with names or stories. Most of the time, the talk was soft and small. We learned more about one another with silence being a better teacher than speech. I guessed she was his sister, judging by her age and their mutual resemblance.

 

She reached for him first but he matched the strength of her embrace but not her tears as she pressed herself against him. When they parted, he gestured for me to come over.

 

Elna.

 

Her hand was small but strong. It fitted inside mine and the heat from her palm surprised me before she smiled and asked my name.

 

She asked if we were hungry. Ricus nodded and we went inside. He fell behind her and walked alongside me.

 

‘This isn’t a gig, Ricus.’ I said.

 

My voice was low and even, but Elna glanced back at us for a second before she reached the door.

 

Ricus put his hand on my forearm.

 

‘It is, but I need to explain.’

 

He should have done it on the plane. It was my decision to follow him, and whatever attachments Mexico presented, they were easy to let go of. For all the times my memories of work were stained with blood and regret, here I was, far from home yet comfortable and aware of the situation, if not the details.

 

I nodded and followed Ricus and his sister inside.

 

The table was set for dinner. Two children were sat there before brimming bowls of a thick, brown stew and two other places were set but only one of them had a bowl sat there. Elna walked into the kitchen and smiled at the children.

 

‘Dian. Leeto. This is your uncle Ricus and his -‘ she turned and looked to Ricus for an answer.

 

‘My business partner. Lee..’ he said.

 

Elna turned back to the children.

 

The youngest of the them, a boy around ten, gave Ricus a careful look.

 

‘Why didn’t he come to dad’s funeral?’ he said.

 

Elna’s hands pressed together and I saw her shoulders tighten with tension before she walked around the table.

 

‘Leeto. Your uncle was working away. I did explain.’ he said.

 

Her voice was soft and tired, but there was steel there which made the boy look away. A mother’s kindness was a strength. She had explained, I’m sure, but it was an excuse not a reason.

 

I stayed by the door, watched the small spasms of unresolved grief on their faces as it passed between them.

 

The stew was good. Rich and thick comfort food which I struggled to finish. I ran on less than I used to but Ricus polished off two bowls with a quiet gusto. Leeto and Annika went through to their rooms. There were whispers between Elna and her children, but Ricus and I sat in the kitchen, waiting for her to return.

 

‘What happened to their father?’

 

Ricus sighed and lit a cigarette.

 

‘You know how things are different here?’

 

I shook my head, concerned with how personal this had become.

 

‘Men came, raided the farm. They shot Bern in the head. Elna and the children went into the panic room. He stayed out to protect them.’ he said.

 

I leaned forward, studied his face as he spoke.

 

”What’s the mission, Ricus. Tell me or I am on the next plane home. Friend or not, you need to tell me everything.’

 

They will come again. I want to convince them it is a bad idea.’ he said.

 

His voice had thickened, the pain crept in at the edges and it was the closest he had ever sounded to vulnerable. It didn’t ease my concerns, but it reminded me of his conviction. We did bad things for money, but we had a code.

 

‘Gacoki’s getting you a long gun, isn’t he?’

 

He smiled and winked at me.

 

Going out and looking for them is pointless. There’s too many people settling old scores out here to find out who came.’

 

I asked him for a cigarette. He passed one to me and I lit it.

 

‘What does your sister want?’

 

‘We‘re going to find out.’

 

Elna stood in the doorway with her arms folded. Her eyes were still and haunted as she glanced at our faces.

 

‘Find out what?’ she said.

 

She sagged forwards in her chair when he told her. Elna shook her head and pressed her palms together, negotiating.

 

‘There’s been enough death.’ she said.

 

Ricus blinked slow as he sat up in his chair.

 

‘ They‘re not going to give up, Elna It will be either them or the government.’ he said.

 

Elna said some other farmers had been offered settlements for their land. Nowhere near what the land was worth, or what had been invested in it but it was better than nothing.

 

‘It might as well be nothing. So, if you’ve got to stay, then I need to protect you.’ he said.

 

Elna’s eyes were damp as she rubbed her hands over one another.

 

‘I’ll accept what they offer me. It’s not charity, but it will get me somewhere.’ she said.

 

She was negotiating with the future. It offered ugly terms but if it meant her children were safe, Elna was prepared to endure a little fear until things improved. Ricus sighed and shook his head.

 

‘Give me a week. I can review your defenses, there’ are plenty of things we can put up to improve your security.’ he said.

 

Ricus sounded reasonable. It was something he could do without me but I had been asked to come for a reason.

 

Elna looked between us and sat back in her chair.

 

‘My children’s safety comes before everything, Ricus. You don’t get to endanger that. Ever.’ she said.

 

It was a show of steel which reminded me of her brother. He nodded and got up, came around to her and put his hand on her shoulder.

 

‘It is why I’m here. I know it’s too late, but things are different now.’ he said.

 

He didn’t say how. Elna wept and leaned into his stomach as she stifled her cries with her hand. It had been something she’d developed, so the children didn’t hear her.

 

Ricus and I took the couch and chair in the living room. We decided on the floor and laid there, looking at the ceiling. Ricus fell into a light doze without speaking. He knew my decision and how I would go along with it.

 

Elna had nowhere to go. It was a scenario of diminishing returns, but if it kept people from the farm who had no business being there, then a few nights over watch wouldn’t hurt. A job had a clear outcome and this had been murky from the start. Still, my decision to follow had been my agreement. Going home might have meant survival, but it was a juvenile wish. Sleep didn’t come but I settled into a rest which felt close enough for it not to matter.

 

Ricus was awake at dawn. He worked for, if not alongside Elna as she went through the morning routines. There were more than a few which had been her husband’s domain and Ricus carried them out, his strength was an apogee for Bern’s death. When I came through to the kitchen, Dian and Leeto were at the table, drawing on rolls of wallpaper They used thick layers of crayon, raised against the paper like scabs and ending in jagged outlines. Spikey shadows wielded sticks which dripped with blood. One of the groups had a man in the centre, and Dian was hunched over, scraping the wax away with a crayon. My curiosity jangled with interest, but when I walked over, they both stopped what they were doing and looked at me.

 

‘What are you drawing?’ I said.

 

Dian grimaced and put the coin down. One edge of it was dark with black crayon and her fingertips were smeared as she looked at her brother.

 

‘Nothing. We just like to draw.’ he said.

 

Each step closer made them draw in to one another. I raised my hands and nodded.

 

‘It’s ok. I should mind my own business.’

 

He stared at me.

 

‘Do you have kids?’ he said.

 

Leeto’s voice was rough and high, the broken tones of someone on the verge of puberty but his question was a boy’s in nature. I nodded and offered they were both adults. Their estrangement was something left unsaid.

 

‘Would you have gone out to defend them?’ Dian said.

 

I nodded.

 

‘I would have done the same thing your father did.’

 

Dian swallowed, her eyes brimmed wet before she looked out through the window.

 

‘We saw them as they left. Some of them used to work here, during the harvest.’ she said.

 

Leeto turned to her, keen to correct her.

 

‘No, not all of them. There was -‘ he said.

 

Dian glanced at the drawing they had been working on and pulled back, unable to avoid looking at it. They both looked at me. I walked around to where they were sat and saw the face at the centre of the group. The livid scar gouged into the crayon face and how it ran down his cheek. I ran outside to find Ricus.

 

He was at the truck when he saw me run up. It didn’t take long to tell him.

 

The shifting realisation and nature of betrayal crossed his face. His mouth fell open as the blood drained from his face before he regained his control. His jaw tightened and he looked over his shoulder.

 

‘I guess I won’t be getting the rifle then, eh?’ he said.

 

We walked back towards the house. Ricus asked Elna what weapons she had in the house.

 

It was late in the afternoon when we looked at everything laid out on the table. A revolver, with two speedloaders. One shotgun, with a box of buckshot shells. There were tools around the farm, but if we had to use those, we were already dead.

 

Elna came down from the attic with a long case in her arms. She handed it to Ricus.

 

‘Bern never wanted to use it. Said it was meant for you, but you never came back to get it.’ she said.

 

He took it from her and laid it on the table. Ricus opened it with a slow reverence and when the waning light hit the dull wood. I understood what he was reacting to. What was passed down did so because of utility, and Ricus picked the rifle up, saw in the scars and utilitarian ugliness what history it possessed.

 

‘Pa said he sold it to pay for the damage Gacoki and I did to the school house.’

 

Ricus grimaced to say his friend’s name aloud. He put the rifle back in the case and looked around him. Elna gestured to the table.

 

‘Why would he come back? There’s nothing here.’ she said.

 

The land. Gacoki had contacts in the government and military. He was the canary in the coalmine, responsive to changes in situations with a view to making money from it. If it meant he turned on a neighbour or a friend, then he was the vanguard of a new age for all of them. Ricus sighed and looked at his sister.

 

‘I’ve got an idea. It wasn’t what I hoped, but I’ve something in mind.’

 

He turned to me and asked me to prepare the front bedroom. It did not take long to strip the beds, move the mattress off the frames and clear two parallel spots away from the windows. I was preparing a shooting gallery for anyone who made it over the wall. Ricus took the rifle and wandered over to the tallest barn.

 

It was a comfort to retreat into logistics. Elna, Leeto and Dian were assets and reducing them to such meant we could speak without sentiment about our chances of success. Repulsing a small home invasion would be easy, but Gacoki wouldn’t go small if he knew Ricus was involved.

 

With Elna and the children, I led them through the exit path, over and over until they were confident of moving in the dark. I covered their truck with tarp, checked the oil and brakes, saw there was a full tank of gas and threw in the go bags Elna had made on Ricus’ instructions. He was shocked when she told him about not having passports, but otherwise, she was compliant and followed his instructions.

 

As did I.

 

Elna insisted on cooking for everyone. It was an ostentatious feast, farmer‘s sausage and pot food followed by milk pudding and a fresh pot of coffee alongside plates of fried doughnuts. Ricus ate well, but refused the doughnuts and took a flask of coffee.

 

He got up, gathered his rifle and walked out to the barn. We tested communications and his voice came over, strong and clear.

 

Elna put the children to bed and we sat in the kitchen.

 

‘Why is he so sure they’ll come back? Because he’s here?’ she said.

 

She looked at me for an answer.

 

I shrugged and got up from the table.

 

‘It’s been going on for a while, hasn’t it? Farmers, I mean.’

 

She sighed as I turned and walked to the kitchen sink.

 

‘It’s getting worse, but what choice do we have?’

 

I turned and looked at her.

 

‘They’ll keep coming until you’re dead or you leave, Elna. Ricus knows it, and so do you.’

My voice was harsher than I intended. She flinched and leaned forward.

 

‘Then why are you here?’

 

He asked me to come. He had earned the right to ask. Yet we had wandered into the latest spasms of something old and ugly, and there were always casualties in the rush of history to assert itself. I had been on the winning side of it for money, but we were a means to settle old scores. Power. Territory. Wrongs handed down until they wiped out generations. The names and colours didn’t matter.

 

There was the faint roar of cars travelling fast down the road. My radio squawked into life.

 

‘Two cars. 500 meters. Making the shot.’ he said.

 

The crash was loud in the night sky. A blush of flames and the faint shouts as the survivors emerged.

 

I was moving. Elna got up and ran to her children.

 

‘Three hostiles down. Three moving towards you now. Secure the principals and move to second position.’

 

I stopped.

 

‘You’ve got them on overwatch?’

 

‘Yes, but they’re closer to the gate than I’d like. Go to second position, Lee.’ he said.

 

Elna and the children were in the bedroom, fully dressed as I looked through the doorway.

 

‘Second position, now.’

 

They moved through the doorway, heads lowered as I turned and covered their exit. I walked with my back to them, stopped in at the front bedroom and grabbed the shotgun, slung it over my back and went outside after Elna and the children.

 

A shadow, climbing the wall. He had a garden fork in his left hand, and a dull, disconnected frown as he came towards us. I aimed down the front sight at his chest and fired. He fell backwards, toppling out of sight without a sound. Elna was climbing into the driver’s seat as the children scrambled into the back.

 

A cry of alarm made me turn to my right and fire into the pair of men who charged towards me. Not men, I thought, boys with machetes, and flushed with a horrible excitement. Elna called my name, and it sounded faint to me as my ears rung from the gunshots.

 

I got into the passenger seat and shouldered the shotgun.

 

‘Leeto, check there are three go-bags.’ I said.

 

Leeto looked up in confusion.

 

‘There are four here.’ he said.

 

I asked him to lift the bags up as Elna pulled away from the farm. The bag at the top was full, and rattled against Leto’s attempts to lift it.

 

Elna took the truck out at full speed.

 

‘What about Ricus?’ she said.

 

I pressed the radio, and was met with a burst of static. Saying his name brought no response.

 

The explosion behind us made a final, terrible statement.

 

I kept glancing back at the bag. An improvised explosive device would have gone off by now, and it was too clean for the types of attacks which were going on. I took the bag from the back, surprised at the weight as I put it on my lap and opened it.

 

The gleam of gold hurt my eyes and my heart. I passed the envelope to Elna, who retrieved three new passports, making them citizens of St Kitts, a Caribbean island. The gold was to get us out the country.

 

‘He’s not coming, is he?’ Elna said.

 

I glanced at Leto and Dian, then her.

 

‘No, I don’t think he ever was.’ I said.

 

The weight of recognition fell on us, squashing us into a mutual silence as we drove towards the agreed location.  A plane was waiting, and we fled South Africa.

 

We settled in Canberra.

 

After a year, the children were sleeping through the night and Elna found a farming concern she felt able to handle. She asked me to stay and help out. It seemed churlish to refuse her, and after a few weeks, she invited me into her bed and we came together, trembling and wondering if Ricus would have approved.

 

His answer came via the ordering of his legal affairs. His career had been lucrative and despite the use of his own resources in securing the equipment and weapons we used during our time at the farm, there was more than enough to provoke shock, surprise and tears when the terms of his will were read out.

 

Elna and her children were set for a comfortable, abundant life. Ricus had also left me a sizeable sum and a letter, which was handed to me upon my signature. When we left the lawyer’s office, Elna had taken herself to the coffee shop, keen for something normal to do in order to offset the bizarre, bittersweet gift of her brother’s wealth, so soon after his death.

 

No, his sacrifice.

 

He had handwritten the letter, and judging by the date, it had been written before he came to see me. My eyes blurred as I read, but I finished it, despite the ache in my chest.

 

Lee,

There was not time to explain. I knew you would understand, and if not, then I am sorry.

 

Consider this a late payment for your services. If your pride won’t let you accept, then it is yours to do with as you wish.

 

My hope is you were with me at the end. Dying in a bed, surrounded by well meaning strangers horrified me. When Elna told me about Bern, it had a simplicity which appealed to me. There is no place for guilt or pride about my past but there is a small hope I find some meaning in what is left of my future.

 

One bullet could end it all. But why deny someone the honour of facing someone like me who has nothing left but his family to defend? I am not sure I deserve such an end, but it is not for me to decide the most important factor in my strategy.

 

If you came with me.

 

.

 

Standard
fiction, love, short fiction

Tips For Dating A Homicide Detective

‘Do you believe in ghosts?’ Gloria said. She was flushed with excitement at his being a cop but too polite to come out and ask Hoyt about his work straight away.

He looked past her. The growing crowd who followed him around. Junot with his throat cut. Jessica, blue from strangulation. Too many others to hold onto. Each one faded when he closed a case but there were others. They spoiled dates but he’d been lonely.

He picked up the glass and smiled, enjoying her excitement and wondered if she could handle the truth.

‘Sure I do.’ he said.

Standard
men, short fiction

Dispositio

Nathan and Felicity sat there, papers arranged with a surgical care and wearing identical expressions of smug, glacial triumph. Henry walked into the meeting and swore under his breath at the sight of them.

 

Felicity was the Director of Preventative Measures Against Gendered Violence, she was broad with wide, flat features. Her cats eye spectacles perched on the bridge of her nose. She had an athlete’s build. Henry smiled at her as he strode in and enjoyed the polite scowl of contempt she gave.

 

For one of his books, Henry had researched chess to better flesh out his protagonist, and there was a phrase which came to his mind as he looked between the pair of them.

 

Zugzwang. Where you were in a disadvantageous position but had to move. He patted his phone in his pocket and turned his attention to Nathan.

 

Nathan had a face like a malnourished child He had his legs crossed tight enough to make Henry’s balls ache in sympathy..He inspired a whiff of contempt at how he could not hide his cold glee at being able to bring Henry down. His small head and red bow tie made Henry wonder if he could reach over and wrap his hand around it. He wouldn’t squeeze, but he would hold the manlet in his hand to show him how offended he was in his flamboyant dishonour. Henry would not have characterised Nathan as a eunuch because it implied he had balls in the first place, and there was a nauseous ambiguity to him. Nathan aspired to be nice, and nice men were dangerous, Henry thought.

 

Felicity was in it for the money. Her job was to project her own pain and inadequacies onto the university and took a large paycheck home each month. Henry respected the allure of money, it had brought him here. An award of a contract and a completion bonus at the end of it. Henry saw the furtiveness when she thought no one was looking. She had occupied an ideological niche and saw a way to make money out of white guilt but she carried a wilful diagnosis of impostor syndrome.

 

Most activism in identity politics,chose the wrong targets. He wondered who had hurt these people, fathers, he guessed but he was here as an apogee and it had all started out with the best intentions.

He came to teach writing here, fancying being an Englishman in America and keen to educate young people on the power of story. Henry lacked a formal education beyond having the discipline to write through injury or insult and keep taking all the rejection on the chin. There was an element of ego in it for him and when he sat with the applications for the course, he had visions of inspiring bold, feral writers to tell good, engaging stories. He sat with the stack of applications and a notebook to write his thoughts.

 

Lauren was expanding the bandwidth of what it meant to be a woman. She wrote a piece about growing a beard but it was not the possible transgressive act which dismayed Henry. There was no story, just a diary entry. An unpublished draft of a blog post.

 

She put more detail into her biography. The list of preferred pronouns, the word salad of their sexual identity which amused Henry until he realised it was not part of the story. Her writing meandered, nothing moved and it did not even have the tang of nihilism to mitigate it. Competence of technique but no story at the centre which bored Henry rigid.

 

Jennifer wrote about dating her father’s colleague but it was so self-serving and boring, Henry struggled to finish it and even the end escaped him. She left for college and he went back to his wife. They didn’t even fuck, just held hands and she cried. Henry wanted to believe a better story was in there.

There was one who was angrier than the others.

 

David did not surprise him. He was thin, with sharp, ascetic features and a genuine humility. He had changed over from business studies and talked about having to work two jobs to cover tuition for the rest of the year. Henry recognised the hunger in the writing, but winced at the clumsy leaps in narrative, the obsessive need to describe everything. David wrote about a woman, who he did not name but he knew well. Something had passed between them and then broke them apart. An old boyfriend, and David wrote about his feelings for them. An act of violence and the day before it happened, captured in spare, detailed language. Walking through the corridors with an assault rifle, looking to save his girl from a bitter, loveless marriage but facing armed resistance on the way. It was a power fantasy, but so was everything Henry wrote, so he was kinder to the work because it showed genuine promise.

 

‘Good afternoon.’ Henry said.

 

Nathan gestured to the chair and Henry sat down, put his shoulders back and stuck his chest out. He held Nathan’s eye until he looked away. Felicity turned the first page.

 

‘Mr Ellis. We are investigating a complaint of gendered violence and trans phobia from a student.’ she said.

 

Henry gave her a pointed look and smiled.

 

‘Who?’ he said.

 

Valerie frowned and looked towards Nathan.

 

‘That’s confidential.’ Nathan said

 

Henry chuckled which made the pair of them sit back in their chairs.

 

‘How many students have complained?’ Henry said.

 

Nathan pouted and looked at the papers in front of him.

 

‘One or over one student has registered a complaint -‘

 

‘Which is it? One or over one. Do I possess Schrodinger’s Student, Nathan?’ he said.

 

Valerie sighed.

 

‘This isn’t helping, Henry -‘ she said.

 

‘Mr Ellis, thank you. Let’s keep this formal as much as possible.’ he said.

 

Valerie nodded and looked down to read from the statement.

 

‘In a recent round of feedback, did you describe a student’s submitted essay as childish?’

 

Henry chuckled and shook his head.

 

‘No, I said the story was childish. I am trying to teach writing here, and I’ve sought to be constructive but nothing makes them look up from their phones.’ he said.

 

Nathan simpered and looked down at his paperwork.

 

‘Did you refuse to use a student’s preferred pronouns in class?’

 

Henry sighed and put his hands together.

 

‘It became difficult to remember them once we got to the fifteen mark. Nathan.’ he said.

 

Nathan’s face was still. Henry looked for a reaction but Nathan lifted his chin. Henry observed how the second and third chins were drooping with age.

 

‘Please answer the question’ Nathan said.

 

Henry sat back in the chair.

 

If they’re terrified of feedback then they are in for a terrible shock, aren’t they?’ he said.

 

Felicity sighed and turned a page over.

 

‘Please answer the question, Mr Ellis.’ she said.

 

‘I did not refuse.’ Henry said.

 

Nathan wrote something down and looked up at Henry.

 

‘Your methods of giving feedback are problematic’ he said.

 

Henry drew his lips back over his teeth.

 

‘So, is that an official position of the university, Nathan?’ he said.

 

Nathan adjusted his bow tie and Henry returned his attention to Felicity.

 

‘So, Schrodinger’s Student has complained. I think it’s an excuse because I’m honest with them about the areas of development they need to work on.’ he said.

 

‘We’re here to protect the students. ‘Felicity said.

 

Henry breathed in, taken aback and incredulous as she gave a slow blink.

 

‘From whom? They’re in a university. I’m here to teach them and I shouldn’t have to work so hard to do it. I’m trying to disabuse myself of the idea it can’t be taught, but some of these students are the worst blend of narcissism and puritanism.’ he said.

 

Nathan saw Henry’s passion as panic and he leaned forward as he made notes.

 

‘Well, when Human Resources receives a complaint or complaints, we investigate it.’ Nathan said.  

 

‘They’re children, and you won’t let them grow up. If they have issues with how I teach, they’re welcome to discuss it with me.’

 

Henry noticed how the corners of Felicity’s mouth flickered upwards. It was not a pleasant sight, seeing the pleasure she took in the dull sport of this meeting.

 

‘Do you feel you’re being accused, Mr Ellis?’ she said.

 

He pressed his palms together.

 

‘ It’s ridiculous and unwarranted.’ he said.

 

‘But you can understand why some of your students feel threatened by you?’ Nathan said.

 

His enjoyment was clear, the flamboyant dishonour there in his smug smile and looking down his nose at Henry.

 

‘No. I’m clear my comments challenge but it’s guide them to produce stories of quality and appeal.’ he said.

 

Felicity shook her head.

 

‘Mr Ellis, some of your students are suffering from neurodivergence and their gender identities are threatened by your approach.’ she said.

 

Henry’s temples throbbed as he sat back in the chair.

 

”You’ve used words but I’m not sure they meant anything.’ he said.

 

He wanted to point out it was almost a pangram, but he decided against it. He glanced around at the airless, antiseptic office. It saddened him how at ease Nathan and Felicity were, fragile and domineering without the cheer of outrage to warm them.

 

‘Is this a formal meeting?’ Henry said.

 

Nathan and Felicity glanced at one another. Henry got to his feet.

 

‘You two keep looking at one another like you’re in a play and you keep forgetting the lines.’ he said.

 

Felicity furrowed her forehead and looked down at the paper in front of her.

 

‘Mr Ellis, this is not a formal hearing.’ she said.

 

Nathan took a sealed envelope from the pile of papers and held it out for Henry. Henry’s chest ached for a moment at the frustration and disbelief of what was happening.

 

Henry looked at it but did not take it. Nathan held it out for him for a painful, awkward moment before he set the envelope on the table and pushed it across to him.

 

‘Opening it means I am acknowledging it. Which I am not. So tell me what’s in there.’ Henry said.

 

Nathan smiled, showing baby teeth behind thin, bloodless lips before he composed his expression into a false paternalism.

 

‘Your behaviour has breached section 3 of our gendered violence and conduct policy. Pending an investigation, the dean of faculty has agreed to suspend you until we’ve carried out further interviews.’ he said.

 

Henry fought the urge to reach out and grab Nathan’s head in his hand and grip it. His affected effeteness offended to Henry on a personal, visceral level. He felt his body throb with a focused burst of aggression but he took in a deep breath and got to his feet.

 

‘What policy?.’ he said.

 

Felicity leaned forward.

 

‘It was introduced at the most recent racial and gendered violence awareness workshop.’ she said.

 

Henry narrowed his eyes and studied her.

 

‘The voluntary one?’ he said.

 

Felicity nodded and leaned forward, confident in capturing Henry in his own words.

 

‘It was mandatory for HR and pastoral staff, but everyone was invited.’ she said.

 

Henry craved a cigarette, but he used the urge, felt for the hole in the story here with the same brute discipline and insight he had fed on when no one was reading his work and he was learning from failure more than success.

 

‘So, it was voluntary. I learned it in the Royal Navy, never volunteer for anything.’ he said.

 

Felicity sat up in the chair and regarded Henry with a neat disdain.

 

‘These workshops allow us to know the signs of racial and gendered violence.’ she said.

 

Henry didn’t want to sneer but Felicity irritated him. He never knew how to argue with American women. Men, he could prepare himself to escalate into violence with. Women were capable of being vicious actors but they could never agree to the weapons used in the duel. He drew the blunt club of his obstinance and swung it at them both.

 

‘And introduce policies I’m being suspended on.’ he said.

 

Henry had, back when he had day jobs and sidelines designed to distract him from taking on the fear of writing anything, he had been a trade union representative. The irony had not been lost how he defended members from bullying and harassment, and here he was, decades later, being accused of it.

 

It made him sad how the world had changed, and he rubbed his closed eyes with his fingertips.

 

‘I’ll expect to be paid and have access to witness statements before any further meetings.’ he said.

 

He could have raised many things in his defence but he saved it. He thought about David, had sent the first story to his agent in a gesture of genuine enthusiasm. A man did things to help others, through helping himself. It hurt him because he took pride in being a mentor to those willing to accept it and he was accused of it being abusive.

 

The shots rang out from the hallway. All three of them flinched. Nathan yelped and got up from the chair and moved towards the back of the office.

 

Henry stood up and went towards the door. He swallowed, heart thumping in his chest as he reached for the door.

 

‘Henry, please.’ Felicity said.

 

Henry closed his eyes and opened the door outwards. He took a deep breath and walked forwards.

 

‘I’m coming out. Please don’t shoot.’ he said.

 

He waited for the shot.

 

There was a broken sob, and it hurt him to hear it.

 

He opened his eyes and turned around.

 

David had the assault rifle held to his shoulder. His eyes welled up with tears as he looked past the front sight and smiled at Henry. He wore a black long sleeved t shirt, grey camoflague pants tucked into boots with a perfect crease down the front. Henry admired the precision, until he saw the people laid on the ground behind him.

 

‘Mr Ellis.’ he said.

 

Henry’s mouth went dry like autumn leaves and his next breath was a chill in his lungs.

 

‘What’s with the gun?’ he said.

 

He floated above himself, watched him stand there as David lowered the rifle. He shuddered and shut his eyes as he shook his head.

 

‘I wrote all those words for her and she’s fucking engaged.’ he said.

 

Henry fought tears as he nodded.

 

‘I’ve been there, David. Writing about it helps, the good and the bad.’ he said.

 

David sucked in a deep breath.

 

Henry tried not to look at the slumped body in the hallway behind David.

 

There were screams echoing from everywhere.

 

Henry walked towards him and opened his arms. David shuffled towards him and Henry realised how the first story, his best if he was honest, was a plan.

 

‘It will be all right David.’ he said.

 

David shook his head as he slipped the rifle off his shoulders. Tears streamed down his face and he stared into Henry’s eyes with an intensity which hurt to look at. Henry imagined it would hurt less than a bullet so he kept his eyes with David as he put the rifle on the ground.

 

David shook his head and grimaced.

 

‘No, I won’t. But you’ll be okay, Mr Ellis.’

 

Henry smiled as his eyes grew damp and he swallowed.

 

‘Call me Henry.’ he said.

 

David grinned and reached to the small of his back as he lifted his chin. There was a terrible, blank joy to his face as he lifted the small pistol and pressed it to the side of his head.

 

‘Goodbye, Henry.’

 

He squeezed the trigger. It turned him liquid and he poured onto the floor.

 

Henry went over to him and knelt beside him.

 

He stayed there until the police arrived. Nathan and Felicity went on six months safety leave and the accusations went away. He signed completes for anyone who requested it but there were less than he expected.

 

Those who stayed, listened, but he missed David in the classes even when he learned about how he shot the girl he talked about, and her fiance. They had shared one class together but never spoke beyond a few words. He wrote to David’s family, but they never replied. People took his submission of David’s story as a publicity stunt because checking the dates would not be as good a story. It was an irony David would have appreciated, had he lived.

 

It was during the Christmas break on a flight back to England for Christmas with his family, he wrote about David in a small black notebook. He was tired enough to let himself feel the grief and the first few lines, written in the sealed warmth of a ride home through the blur of tears.

 

 

Standard
love, politics, women

a good soldier

John had put the no phones rule in place from the start. It was odd at first, like a missing limb and feeling a strange obligation to be present with people. The drinking helped and when he passed a thick joint, his staff smiled and they relaxed.

 

It was useful to talk off the record. He listened more than he spoke, but all the staff enjoyed the warm purity of his attention. When he spoke, his voice was low and cultured. Cassie, the speech writer enjoyed how he spoke like that all the time. She told him too, and he chuckled as he lifted the tumbler of scotch to his lips.

 

‘I curse like a sailor, Cassie, just not in public.’

 

She giggled and leaned forward, squeezing her thighs together beneath her pencil skirt as she blushed, aware of the blood rising in her throat.

 

‘What’s your favourite swear word?’ she said.

 

Harry glanced around the room, nervous. There was always the fear of someone recording.

 

He raised his hand and nodded.

 

‘Cunt.’

 

The room fell silent before Cassie giggled and put her hand over her mouth. The laughter was like crystal being rung. She giggled so hard it became difficult to breathe. It wasn’t made any easier when he leaned forward and put his hand on her forearm. He had big, strong hands and she stared at them before another ripple of giggles bubbled up in her.

 

‘Cassie, are you okay?’

 

She nodded, took deep breaths and took the bottle of water, turning her head.

 

He sat back, but she held onto the contact for a second. He gazed into her eyes and smiled at her before returning to a conversation about Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, and the room thrived like a fire being lit.

 

Harry came over to her as she stood by the window, a tumbler of scotch in his hands.

 

‘This is where I remind you you work for him.’ he said.

 

Cassie curled her upper lip and pulled away from him, shaking her head.

 

‘I’m not stupid.’

 

Harry, with perpetual shadows underneath his eyes and a permanent scrub of beard smiled and shook his head.

 

‘It’s why I’m saying it. You’re not stupid, he is.’

 

Cassie sneered and raised an eyebrow

 

‘That’s disgusting Harry, on so many fucking levels. I wouldn’t put myself in that situation at all.’

 

Harry passed her the scotch.

 

‘We’ve got a tough six months left out here. We’re fighting against a lunatic fringe pumped up by internet tough guys and actual fucking nazis being listened to. He’s not the one, but he’s a one, do you agree?’

 

She nodded. Despite everything she’d felt the swell of admiration when he spoke. His policies were solid, innovative in ways endorsed by smart and popular people.

 

‘Harry, I will not fuck my boss.’

 

He chuckled and shook his head.

 

‘I’m your boss but no, that’s not good for anyone. We need to be going in hungry for the next round and I can’t have attachments to bring us into question.’

 

She took a good gulp of the scotch. It stung, but she liked the sharp sting of it in her sinuses and the warm bubble of intoxication as it blew up in her like a slow explosion. Her eyes watered as she handed back the glass.

 

‘I’m a good soldier Harry.’ she said.

 

He smiled and walked off. She looked after him, reaching in her jacket for her cigarettes before she felt his hand on the upper part of her arm. The shiver passed, brief and sharp like a sweet cramp.

 

Harry was two weeks too late. She had gone to him. They had been working on a speech about their economic policy. She put out her terms. He sat back, furrowed his forehead and laid his palms on the arms of the couch. He smiled.

 

‘Come here.’ he said.

 

Cassie was 5’7″, threw weights around and punched out her neuroses into other people who were doing the same thing in return. She launched herself at him and snarling with a want as bright as flame.

 

They took great pains to be stupid in controlled doses, the hunger building between them until he pinned her to the wall of his suite, fingers on her throat and hand in her panties. Cassie had seen the king in him, but behind closed doors, she knew the lover and the warrior.

 

She wanted him to succeed. If it took him away, she would decide what she wanted. This was not a job to her, and it had not been for sometime.

 

It was a mission. Cassie was not in this for the prestige of being seen with him. What she possessed was unique to her, a quiet surrender stroked and cajoled in moments of prolonged ecstasy.

 

‘Thirty minutes.’ she said.

 

He liked her to sleep over. They had exquisite slices of time before she would wake up, go back to her room and shower the musk of his sweat away. Cassie carried the delicious ache with her in her hips through the long days which followed. It waned, replaced by the anticipation of when they would be alone again.

 

Harry was a good general but Cassie could not explain it to him. It was a state of feeling, a primacy she could not contain. If he had turned her away, she would have continued to work for him. She had articulated it to him, willing to risk rejection but offering an arrangement which would suit them both.

 

She counted the time down, her heart racing in anticipation as she waited.

 

Standard