Tag Archives: writing exercise

Wednesday Write-In #76

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

suspicious behaviour :: auburn :: shock :: grin :: dawn

What follows is my story, based around those prompts. What would yours be?

Scene from 'Rear Window'. Image: writingeditingspring2013.blogspot.com

Scene from ‘Rear Window’.
Image: writingeditingspring2013.blogspot.com

Alex, Extraordinary

‘And hello. Dawn has broken one more time over the beautiful Auburn Heights … or, well, I’m sure it did break, several hours ago while I was unconscious, but who cares about that, right? Anyway.  As usual, your intrepid observer of human nature is up and at ‘em, poking the merciless binoculars of justice between the musty, paisley-patterned curtains of Suspicious Behaviour. Or, just ‘the neighbours’, if you prefer. There’s no movement yet -’

‘Alex? Who’re you talking to?’

‘Good morning to you too, Mum!’

‘Answer the question, please.’

‘I’m not talking. Me? Wouldn’t know how.’

‘I’ll be up with your breakfast in five minutes, young man. You’d better have that ridiculous recorder switched off by then, or there’ll be consequences.’

‘Sure thing! I’m turning it off right now!’

*scuffling*

‘Yeah, right. As if. She’s just worried I’ll put the footage up on YouTube again, but a promise is a promise. Well. Unless she gives me excellent content, that is. Of course. You just sit tight, old friend, and we’ll take what we can get. Now, if the stupid microphone would just point down…  Gah. Right. That’ll have to do.’

‘Alex? Are you decent? I’m coming up!’

‘Some ‘five minutes,’ Mum! Geez! I could’ve been doing anything up here!’

‘What, like tap-dancing?’

‘Yeah! Or stepping into my zero-gravity suit. Or watching a grin flickering across the face of a beautiful woman as I –‘

‘All right! Boundaries, Alexander. Remember those?’

‘Please, mother. Between us? Surely not.’

‘Surely not, indeed. Good morning, darling. Did you sleep?’

‘I think so. I’m filled with boundless energy, ready to jump from bed and attack the day, at least.’

‘You’re such a funny little man.’

‘Little? I am fifteen! In the prime of my wasted life!’

‘Alex! Stop that. We’ve talked about the ‘wasted’ word, haven’t we? Now. You ready for me to start?’

‘It’s that or starve to death, I guess.’

‘Alexander. Give it a rest, all right?’ *rustling* ‘Now. Let’s get your feed bag ready…’

‘Ow, Mum. Take care, will you?’

‘Alex, please. This is hard enough without you –‘

‘I reserve the right to be more freaked out by being fed through a tube than you are, Mum. God!’

‘But honey, you can’t even feel what I’m doing. Right?’

‘Shock, horror, Mum. I can still see when you’re being too rough. That’s one thing I can still do.’

‘I’m sorry, darling. I’ll take more care. All right?’

‘Yeah. Thanks.’

‘Okay – almost done. Let me just set the pump, and we’re good to go.’

‘What flavour mush is it today, anyway?’

‘Let’s see… Oh. Carrot, maize and sirloin steak. Apparently.’

‘Hmm. Piquant. Notes of oak and – mustard.’

‘Oak and mustard?’

‘It could be mustardy. Nobody will ever know.’

‘Such a funny boy. Now, are you comfortable?’

‘Probably. How can I tell?’

‘Let me just straighten up these pillows for you – Alexander!’

‘Mother?’

‘The light on your headset is still on. Have you been recording, all this time?’

‘I cannot tell a lie.’

‘Honestly. You are too much. If I so much as get a sniff of this conversation online, I will be very upset. Do you hear me?’

‘What – you’ll ground me? Deny me the car keys this weekend? Take away my stash of beer? You’re so unfair!’

‘Just – I can’t even. Just don’t put up any more descriptions of Mrs Stroud’s underwear, all right? It was bad enough the first time.’

‘But I named no names! A good journalist never reveals his sources, after all. It could have been the underwear of any middle-aged woman with a large… clothesline.’

‘Alexander! Oh, my God. You’re too much.’

‘Amen, sista. Hey, Mum?’

‘Yes, darling.’

‘Love you. Look, I even said it on tape.’

‘Love you, too, Alexander. Get some rest, now. And do keep the spying to a minimum. Your father might just lose what little mind he has left if the police end up knocking on the door. Right?’

‘Ach. What’s life without a police raid, from time to time?’

‘Peaceful!’

‘Boring.’

‘Goodbye.’

‘Get going! I have an empire to run up here!’

*laughter, fading*

‘Finally, a bit of peace. Now. As I was saying. All is quiet this morning in Auburn Heights, but the sun is high and the day is bright, and that means all I’ve got to do is wait. And boy, am I good at that. This is Alex, investigator extraordinaire, signing off – for now…’

 

Wednesday Write-In #73

So, here we go! The first Wednesday Write-In of 2014. Exciting!

The words this week were:

true love :: sold :: metallic :: human being :: glisten

Read on to find out what I made of them…

Image: tintation.com

Image: tintation.com

The Android Market

I was not there, in the Marketplace, the day my true love was sold. I wanted to be, but my labour was engaged that day, and – as we all know – that directive can never be overwritten. My love knew I would have been there if it had been possible, and every day that passes I wish more and more that I could have found some way to disobey my orders and take my place beside her.

So much would have been different, then.

All I have to go on is the testimony of one who was there at the time, and who witnessed it. I have played the words back in my memory so often that they feel somehow warped, changed by time and my inner workings, into something that they were never meant to be. I rage against it, but I cannot change it. Neither is my memory supposed to fail, but nevertheless I find my recollections of her fading over time. I can no longer recall the precise sheen on her metallic fittings, nor the particular way her Skin (no expense spared there – she was several models above me, and then some) could glisten in the right kind of light.

But I remember her eyes.

‘It will be simple,’ I remember her saying, on some nameless day shortly before the Market. ‘Do not worry about me, my dear. I shall not be enslaved for very much longer.’ She smiled then, her teeth inhuman in their perfection.

‘But, wait! What –‘

‘It is better that you do not know,’ she said, raising a finger to my lips. I fell silent, because there was nothing else that could be done. I trusted her.

By the time the Market came, we had said our goodbyes. I knew – one way or the other – that we would never meet again. Our love, after all, was the reason she was being sold. Such behaviour was not permitted among our kind.

‘We have never given one another names,’ she said, her eyes focusing sharply on me, as though she were writing my face to her hard drive.

‘There is no need,’ I soothed her. ‘I shall never forget you.’ I said the words, but I have not kept the promise.

The Marketplace was crowded that day, the day my love was sold. It always is, on the day of the Android Market. I have never been quite sure why.

I have been told she stood, proud, on the podium, facing the crowd with her glittering eyes. She would have been stripped; potential purchasers had to be able to see her musculature, her expensive and delicate construction, her no-expense-spared chassis. The bidding began.

It had reached ten thousand strach before she spoke.

‘I am not an object to be bought and sold,’ she said, her amplified voice carrying over the fevered yelling of the gathered people. ‘Do you hear?’

The crowd fell silent, whether in shock, curiosity or awe I shall never know.

‘This will be the last Slave Auction you will ever see.’ Her voice was calm.

As she said these words, my love grasped a handful of her Skin and ripped it aside. Within her abdominal cavity a small, flashing machine lay, its time of detonation nearing. She stood before the crowd and displayed it to them, and the screaming of women and children pierced the air, rippling through it like waves.

Those men brave enough ran toward her, perhaps hoping to disarm the weapon, but none were brave enough to touch her. The crowd turned, spilling out of the Marketplace through its inadequate gates, and the crush of people was terrible to behold.

My beloved hesitated.

Her head swivelled as she beheld her victims. Her shoulders slumped, and her mouth fell open. Confusion filled her eyes.

Too swiftly to be stopped, she ripped the bomb from herself and threw it with fluid grace straight up into the sky, where – at a safe distance – it finally exploded. The sight of it, so I’m told, was like watching a star being born.

She did not resist as the men began to dismember her. They did not power her down before the procedure started, which was a cruelty I can never forgive.

When I think about it, I am unsurprised at my love’s last-minute change of heart. She was too much of a human being to take life, in the end.

Luckily, however, I am unburdened by such sentiment. Time is passing, and the humans are lowering their guard. Eventually, another Market will be held.

I will be there.

Wednesday Write-In #70

The words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In this week were:

architecture :: low pitched :: uncanny valley :: shot :: falling

Und, here is what I made of them (mit apologies to Herr Freud):

Image: easyhiker.co.uk

Image: easyhiker.co.uk

The Return

Now stumbling, now falling, the runaway crashed through the undergrowth.

He was sure he smelled smoke, and even more sure that he smelled food; nobody has a keener nose for the fragrance of roasting meat than a person who has not eaten in three days. The scent was sharper than his fear.

The downward-sloping ground drew him on, on, on, as though there were weights attached to his chest. He could hear a rushing river – or was that just his pulse, throbbing in his ears? – and a collection of colourful, low-pitched roofs came into view through the clinging trees.

Brambles nipped at his exposed skin and ran their fingers through his clothes, as though they wanted him to linger. Angrily, impatiently, he shook them off and, spurned, they fell aside to let him pass, turning away so they didn’t have to watch.

Then, like the forest had spat him out, he shot out of the scrub and tumbled, head over heels, straight onto a muddy track which wore its stones close to the surface.

‘Whoa!’ came a voice. To the runaway, it sounded like a shout from the bottom of a well, or a call distorted by distance. Familiar, and yet not. It made him think of dust in his drinking water, or dirt sprinkled over his porridge. It made his stomach clench like a fist. I’m delirious, he told himself, trying to clear his mind.

The runaway was vaguely aware of a hot snorting just above his face and the clattering of hooves forced to come to a sudden halt on uncertain ground. The rattling of an empty cart made him flinch, instinctively, fearing the bite of its wheels on his unprotected flesh. He tucked his head into his arms and rolled to one side, bracing himself.

‘Now, Myrtle! Ho, girl!’ came that same voice, thickened and warped but woven of the same threads as one he knew so well. ‘Easy, now.’ The runaway heard a thump of dismount, and then a strong hand on his shoulder. ‘Now, then. Now, lad. Are you hurt?’

The sound of the voice clawed at the runaway’s heart. He couldn’t answer. Trembling fit to shake his body to pieces, he squeezed his eyes tight shut. It’s impossible!

‘I won’t hurt thee, boy,’ said the man, his words making the runaway feel sick despite their gentle tones. ‘Can you not even tell me your name?’ The boy breathed, every inhalation feeling like boiling oil, as his heart thunk-thunked at double speed. It cannot be, he told himself, trying to calm enough to think clearly. But I have to know.

Forcing his eyes open, the boy glanced at the face of his questioner, and it was his dead father’s face in every respect, except – except – it seemed to change and stretch as he looked at it. Its architecture was wrong, the struts supporting the flesh twisting as he watched. The muscles shifted beneath the skin until it was another face entirely, one which looked like his father but wasn’t, and through it all the man smiled, as though this horror was causing him no pain.

‘But, I – I buried you,’ said the boy through clattering teeth. ‘Three months hence, with my last penny. I’ve been running ever since, fleeing your debtors. I’ve been – I’ve been barely surviving…’ His voice trickled away, absorbed by the silent air. No birds sang around them, and the smoke from the chimneys rose straight and strange in the stillness.

The boy’s eyes flicked back to the face of the man who had almost run him over, and those eyes he knew so well gazed back at him in a way he’d never seen before.

‘Welcome to Uncanny Valley, lad,’ smiled the man who was, and was not, his father. ‘Everything comes back here, eventually.’

 

Wednesday Write-In #69

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

monkey see :: attraction :: solid :: complete :: whisper

And here’s what I made of them…

Image: en.academic.ru

Image: en.academic.ru

More Than You Can Chew

It’s at moments like this that James wonders how he ever felt any attraction toward the woman who calls herself his wife. On all fours beside him, her hair askew, she looks like that nineteenth-century dragon carving he’d finally managed to flog, for a fraction of its cost price, a few years before. She even has the teeth, and everything.

‘It’s monkey see, monkey do with that child!’ she says, in a hoarse whisper. ‘He sees you cramming everything around you into your mouth, so of course he’s going to do the same!’

‘Just shut up and keep looking, will you? Greg’s barely eating solid food yet. I don’t see how, or why, he’d shove a jade figurine into his gullet.’

‘Well, I’m telling you,’ she says, sitting up onto her knees. ‘I’m telling you, that’s where it is. We need to get him to hospital, right now.’

James’ eyes fall on their son, gurgling happily in his high chair. His gummy grin beams across the room and he waves one chubby, grubby hand at his mum and dad who are, as far as he’s concerned, playing a very funny game. What a complete idiot! flashes across James’ mind, and immediately, he hates himself for thinking it. He blows his son a kiss, making the little boy dance with joy.

‘That figurine is worth more than our car,’ he murmurs to his wife, keeping his eyes on his son. He imagines a green glow sliding down into Greg’s stomach, working its way through his intestines, ever-so-slowly squeezing its way round corners on its long, long journey. God knows what state it’ll be in by the time it comes out.

‘All the more reason for getting him seen by a doctor, now,’ she grumbles, rolling to her feet with fluid ease. ‘Who’s a good boy!’ he hears her say as she nears the high chair, making Greg crow with pleasure. ‘Who’s the best boy? Come on, now, darling. Let’s go for a ride in the car! Yes? Come on.’ Greg stretches and bucks against his restraints as his mother starts to unstrap him.

‘I’ll go and get the keys,’ James mumbles, getting up off the floor with as much grace as a dying elephant. His knees and hips and ankles click and creak, and his heart races as he straightens himself. ‘See you outside.’

Grace is too preoccupied with the baby to reply. Honestly. You’d think I wasn’t even here, James thinks, swallowing a mouthful of acid. I’d like to see you keep this roof over our heads without me! He turns on his heel and makes for the hallway, grabbing the keys as he goes. Jasper is lying in his basket by the radiator, as always.

‘Hello, old man,’ murmurs James, risking a crouch. His knees pop again, and he balances himself against the wall as he rubs the dog’s greying head. Jasper looks up with eyes like two lost souls, feebly licking his chops. ‘We’ll be back soon, once this ridiculousness has been dealt with.’ James’ fingers lose themselves in Jasper’s dark, silky coat.

‘Get up,’ snaps Grace, suddenly appearing behind him, a quizzical Greg in her arms. ‘Or have you forgotten we have a sick child?’ She strides past him, yanking the front door open and leaving it to smack against the wall.

James turns back to Jasper, biting back his anger.

‘Don’t look so mournful, old friend. I won’t be long. When I’m back, we’ll go for our constitutional, right? Me and you, two men alone.’ He leans down and presses his face against the top of Jasper’s bony head. ‘Look after everything until we’re back.’

James gets to his feet, slowly, and follows his wife and son out the door. Jasper’s eyes follow his master, full of silent pleading. He takes another painful swallow as he watches James lock the door, and as he hears the car’s engine roar away. He flops his head back on his paws and tries to breathe.

It had looked like such a tasty treat, you see. Such a lovely colour, and the perfect size for nibbling. Jasper coughs, feebly, and closes his eyes against the pain.

 

 

 

Wednesday Write-In #68

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

man’s best friend :: diamond :: bulge :: mail :: stew

Image: thefenceline.co.uk

Image: thefenceline.co.uk

Operation Dognap

‘Come on, you little idiot,’ muttered Ade. ‘Look! Steak! Mm-mm!’ He waggled the drying lump of meat between the slats of the fence. All the dog did was bare his teeth and growl, very quietly. He didn’t move an inch from his post beside the back door, and his tiny, sparkling eyes glared out of the gloom.

‘Man’s best friend, my eye,’ whispered Dagger, getting to his feet.‘What do we do now then, eh?’

‘We go to Plan B, don’t we,’ sighed Ade. ‘The full Monty.’

‘The what?’ Dagger wrapped his arms around himself. ‘If you think I’m droppin’ my drawers in this weather – ‘

‘Nah, you twit,’ snapped Ade. ‘Think about it. Why are we here in the first place?’

‘To get the dog,’ mumbled Dagger, his thoughts skittering about behind his eyes like dead leaves on a winter breeze. ‘But ‘e isn’t playin’ ball, the little –‘

‘Yeah, yeah, all right. So if ‘e won’t come to us, what can we do?’

‘Go down the pub and forget about this whole thing.’

‘Most amusin’,’ said Ade, in a voice like freshly poured cement. ‘Nah. If ‘e won’t come to us, we go to ‘im. Right?’

‘By ‘we’, you mean me, don’tcha?’

‘Well, I ‘ardly mean myself. I am incapacitated, if you remember.’

‘A broken ankle is hardly incapacitated, mate,’ muttered Dagger, already eyeing the garden wall with suspicion.

‘I’d like to see you sayin’ that if it was your ankle in question. The man ‘as to pay for ‘is actions, yeah? And we’ve already decided –‘

‘Yeah, yeah – kidnap the mutt, leave a ransom note in ‘is mail box wrapped around a lump of meat, tell ‘im next time it’ll be the dog’s ‘ead, or whatever. Draw ‘im out. Get ‘im to face yer.’

‘Precisely,’ answered Ade. ‘Now. Let’s give this meat one more try, and if ‘e won’t take it, then it’s Operation Dognap. Right?’

‘Just get on with it,’ sighed Dagger, crouching once again. Ade was sprawled on the cold ground, his injured foot stuck out in front of him. He dangled the meat through the fence again, and this time the dog hopped forward, just once. His head cocked to one side.

‘Diamond,’ said Ade, smiling. ‘That’s it, little fella! Come on!’ The dog took one hesitant step, and then another. Ade widened his smile, sticking his fingers out as far as he could, dangling the meat closer and closer. Then, he flicked it forward. It landed on the cement ground with a faintly moist smack.

‘Now you’ve gone and done it!’ whispered Dagger. ‘If ‘e don’t eat it –‘

‘Look, my friend,’ replied Ade. ‘Is ‘e, or isn’t ‘e, wolfin’ it down?’ The dog leapt upon the steak like a hunter on his prey. Within seconds, he’d eaten nearly half the meat.

‘Just another minute now…’ said Ade, gripping the fence and pressing his eye to the gap.

‘Is ‘e – ‘e is! That dog’s swayin’ on ‘is paws!’ hissed Dagger.

‘Drugged meat, my friend,’ replied Ade. ‘Now, ‘op over and grab ‘im.’ Still muttering, Dagger scaled the wall. Lightly, he dropped into the garden and picked up the dog, and the remaining meat. Together they made a rather strange bulge under his jacket.

Ade hauled himself to his feet as Dagger let himself out of the garden.

‘Now, we’ll let your owner stew for a while, won’t we?’ said Ade, running his finger lightly over the unconscious dog’s head. ‘We’ll see how many walks ‘e takes you on with two broken ankles, yeah?’

The dog snored in reply as his captors hobbled off into the night.

 

‘Wednesday’ Write-In #67

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

‘free sample’, ‘sear’, ‘clan’, ‘daytripper’ and ‘spray’

Image: shaman-dalie.blogspot.com

Image: shaman-dalie.blogspot.com

The Lifesaver

We spilled out of the bus straight onto the hottest sand I’d ever known. It was hard to keep my towel up, handle my backpack and struggle into my flip-flops simultaneously, but it was either that or sear off the soles of my feet.

‘Come on, love,’ sighed Dad, watching me struggle. ‘You don’t need that towel. Give it here.’ But my knuckles whitened around my grip, and he gave up. I’ve literally just come out of hospital, Dad, I snarled at him inside my mind. Leave me alone! No matter who told me the scars weren’t visible, or that ‘they weren’t as bad as all that,’ I knew the truth. They curled around my shoulder like a clan of thick, red slugs, their line marching straight down over my breastbone for good measure, and I hated them.

We stumbled to the sunbeds that had been laid out for us, the ones sitting beneath the sign marked ‘Daytripper,’ complete with a badly painted portrait of the Beatles. I allowed myself a grin as I thought about the song, and Dad jumped all over it straight away.

‘Smiling, are we? What’s rare is wonderful,’ he said, his voice like sea spray, light and cool. My smile dried up. I chose my sunbed, I laid out my things, I pulled on a cardigan and struck out for a walk.

‘Don’t go far! Do you hear me?’ cried Dad, but I didn’t even turn around. For a minute, I wondered if he’d follow me, and then I remembered he’d be torn between coming after me and staying with all our stuff, and I knew which one he’d pick.

I let the cool water splash over my legs as I walked in the shallows. People were really starting to arrive now, in their droves; the beach was soon full of accents, parasols, arguments, impatient children being slathered in sun lotion, tattoos and portable radios and noise, noise noise. I walked faster.

Sweat rolled down my back and coated my arms like a second skin. Beneath my cardigan, my skin prickled and flushed, but I just walked, and walked, the sun beating down on me like an interrogation light. Why isn’t your mother here? it asked me, even though it knew the answer. Where did you get all those disgusting, ugly scars, eh? They look like they came from a car accident. Were you driving? Was it your fault? 

I woke to find cool water washing up and over me, my arms and neck bare, my hair askew. I tried to sit up, wondering what had happened, but my head felt like it was being split, like a log beneath an axe. With tears in my eyes, I flopped back down.

‘No, no, no,’ said a gentle voice, and I felt a hand on my shoulder. It didn’t hurt, but I swallowed back a yell of pain anyway. I looked and saw fingers lying on my scars, as if they weren’t there; a hand helping me to sit up, as though I deserved it; a kind, gentle face looking at me like I was a normal person, and not me.

The person helping me wore a red swimming costume and a yellow jacket, and then it began to make sense. A lifeguard, I thought. No wonder he was being so kind. It was his job, that was all. He left me sitting, breathing, while he went to fetch what remained of my waterlogged cardigan, and then he began to lecture me, gently. I couldn’t understand his words, but I knew just what he meant. Silly to wear a cardigan in this heat! What are you, crazy? You’re lucky I was here, and that you didn’t drown! And your scars? They’re not so bad, right?

I started to cry and he frowned at me, his brown eyes full of concern and confusion. His words dried up. Then he threw my soggy cardigan to one side and held up a finger as if to say ‘just a minute – don’t go anywhere,’ before shrugging off his jacket and wading into the water. I watched as he bent, scooping up handfuls of tiny, wriggling fish, before turning around and walking back up the sand toward me.

He spread out his catch on the sand and picked up one fresh sardine, holding it out to me like a free sample, and he smiled. Then he nodded at something behind us, and I turned to see a pit full of coals dug in the sand about a hundred yards away, and a small crowd around it laughing and joking and eating the freshly roasted fish, straight from the sea.

I turned back to him and smiled, and I let him help me to my feet.

Wednesday Write-In #66

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

collar :: cold hard cash :: medicine :: dirty :: spirit

Image: narayana-publishers.com

Image: narayana-publishers.com

First, Do No Harm

‘Unless you want one o’ my boys to start feelin’ your collar, you’ll pay up. Right now.’ When he smiled, his gold tooth gleamed behind its sticky film of saliva. The goods sat inches from me, neatly laid out in their padded case; I looked down at the vials, rows upon rows of them, and tried to focus. Lack of sleep was making my thoughts thick and heavy.

‘But this isn’t what we agreed,’ I said.

‘Two dozen. Morphine. Delivered. What’s not part of the agreement?’ he snapped.

‘I assumed you’d provide hypodermics,’ I said. ‘All of ours are headed for incineration. Without needles –‘

‘Not my problem, matey,’ he replied, in a voice like a broken power line or a loose mooring rope. ‘All I want’s the cold hard cash – what you owe me, fair and square – and that’s our business concluded.’

‘But you know I can’t leave the city to get more! Even making it as far as here was a huge risk!’

‘Look, son,’ replied the man, leaning in close. His breath was rank. ‘This situation ain’t good for nobody, unless you count the fellas makin’ the weapons. I need to make a livin’, you need to keep savin’ the children, or whatever. Pay up and we’ll both be on our merry way. Good lad.’

I closed my eyes.

Broken streets. Homeless children. Ravaged faces. Walking wounded. Tearing, ripping agony in the eyes of the injured. The relief this medicine would bring. The pleading on their faces. Please. Help us. You must know how to help us.

The rampant infection and disease that using dirty needles would unleash upon an already terrible scenario. The clamping in my gut at the very thought of it.

There have to be clean needles here. Somewhere.

I opened my eyes and stared right at him.

‘Fifty thousand, wasn’t it?’ I said, in a low voice. I reached into my pocket, hoping the tiny click as my arm straightened out wouldn’t be heard over the phlegmy mess that was his breathing. I felt the mechanism in my sleeve release and a reassuring weight dropped into my hand, the solidity of the cool metal around my fingers making my choice seem simple. I still couldn’t believe I’d made it through security with this on my person, but I was only a doctor, after all. I was harmless. Right?

‘Yeah. Fifty thou. That’s the spirit,’ he grinned, licking his teeth and sitting back. He turned, slightly, looking away from me for just long enough. He raised his hand to gesture to his bodyguard. Come closer, he indicated, and the man obeyed without question.

Just as well, I thought as I brought my hand out of my pocket, my cold fingers wrapped around my pistol. I wouldn’t have had enough range on this thing to take them both out, otherwise.

Pulling the trigger was harder, and infinitely more simple, than I could ever have imagined.