Part Twenty-Two of Angel Maker: Out of Dawn’s Awakening by B. B. Wright

bournemouth-1277469_960_720The sun’s rays were just peeking above the horizon when Sergeant Snowden parked in front of Inspector Collier’s home.  Twenty minutes earlier than usual and without his second cup of tea, he was grumpy. What made matters worse, the local newspaper, The Echo, was not yet out, and that meant no cross-word puzzle to work on while he waited. He took notice of a black limousine, five doors down on the opposite side, containing three men. Glancing at his pocket watch, he mentally recorded the time. The sleepy slumber of the neighborhood encouraged him to do the same. And, with a disheartened sigh, he crossed his arms and settled back to wait.

He wondered why the Inspector would want to go to 29 Edgestone Road. That 2-story, stone clad house to blokes like him peered down with the self proclaimed majesty of a pompous, overbearing lord. In short, as far as he was concerned, the house and occupants fitted well together. That’s why he never understood how Collier and Suzanne Moodie had come to meet and fall in love; he was from the Working Class, and she…well she was from the snooty Privileged Class. He could only put it down to the old adage that love knows no boundaries.

Still… he mused.

As for her brother, Reginald, now that was a different story. He had been Collier’s Divisional Commander. And, based on the tidbits he had heard, Collier had held him in low regard. What little he had had completely dissipated in the mud mired madness of senseless slaughter and butchery during the assault at Passchendaele. Britain lost thousands from their best assault divisions; among them was Collier’s brother, Joe. Salt was rubbed into this grievous wound when he learned that General Douglas Haig, chief architect of the carnage and a close friend to the Moodie family, had awarded Reginald the Victoria Cross for Valor. Knowing it was not deserved, Collier had vociferously voiced his displeasure. Sickened by Reginald’s sense of entitlement, along with that of his family, he broke off all contact with Suzanne. She had continued to profess her love for him but, as the story went, Collier would have none it. He had moved on. It was around that time that he had begun to date Lila.

Before returning to the Front, Collier was unexpectedly promoted to Captain. He suspected the Moodie family had a part to play in it. Whoever was behind it or however it came about, the end result was that Collier spent the remainder of the First World War, out of harm’s way, in Military Intelligence, Section 6.

Snowden clicked his tongue. An uneasy smile formed at the corners of his mouth. Suzanne Moodie had never married. And, since her brother’s death, she was now the sole proprietor of 29 Edgestone Road. Unrequited love carried lots of baggage: bitterness and cynicism: melancholy and despair. And, whatever the reason for Collier’s visit, he did not want to be stuck in the middle.

He glanced at the black limousine ahead. Only two silhouettes now appeared in the vehicle. Were they part of the surveillance Collier had told him about? He decided to investigate.

The door to Collier’s home swung open and Lila stepped out. “Sergeant,” she called out, waving invitingly. “Come in, will you, and have some tea. The Inspector is running a wee bit behind this morning.”

Briefly, Sergeant Snowden continued to eye the limousine while acknowledging her entreaty with a wave of his hand. Fate had smiled on him. And the decision to turn back was an easy one. He would receive his much needed second cup of tea.

Werner melted into the shadow as the officer entered the Collier home and the door closed behind him.

He had been watching the three men in the black limo all night. They worked on two hour shifts. One of the men had entered the back seat to sleep forty minutes ago.

The sun’s rays continued to rise and scatter across the horizon.

Patiently, Werner waited.

Pavel was supposed to be one of these three men. The photograph and description left by Otto had been seared into his mind. Werner licked his lips. Today, he would dole out Nazi justice for the murder of his comrade, Klaus Becker.

He attached the silencer to his weapon. The key elements were stealth and swiftness. He wanted to be gone before the neighborhood was aware of what happened.

When a bright shiny ball formed by the sun reflected off the middle of their windshield, he casually walked to the front of the vehicle and fired.

Pop! Pop!

Dead fish eyes of the two men in the front seat stared back at him.

Pavel was not among them.

The third man did not do as expected and remained hidden. Werner crouched beside the front wheel and waited. He did not have to wait long. A splay of bullets pierced the back door. Werner grunted satisfyingly. The hole-pattern in the door told him the man was lying on the floor. Not wanting to lose his brief advantage, he quickly crawled under the vehicle and let loose a deadly spray of bullets along its floor-board.

Rising to his feet, he guardedly peered through the window.

The man’s bloodied head lay in obscured darkness. He concluded that the man was too thin to be Pavel.

The street had come alive with people.

No time to verify, Werner turned and ran along the alley from whence he had come. His car was parked on the street two alleys away. He glanced over his shoulder. No one followed. Still, his instincts told him he was not alone. He stopped. Blood vessels pulsated in his temple while he watched and listened.

Surprisingly, he discerned no immediate danger. Still, his instincts remained pricked as he began to walk.

An odd uneasy, deep rooted discomfort settled over him as he sat behind the wheel of his car. Experiential knowledge of any kind of feeling was never his long suit. He readily accepted his emotional impoverishment. Anyway, it had suited well the life he had chosen.  So when he shifted into gear, gun ready at his side, he was fully prepared for whatever life was about to dole out to him.

Slowly, he drove along the street. His eyes skirted side to side. Intermittently, he checked the rear mirror.

The neighborhood was slowly awakening.

Where was Pavel? Otto had told him that he would be there.

He saw no unusual activity.

Ahead, police cars herald their approach.

He waited for them to pass on the main road and, then, drove in the opposite direction.

Joan Sledge by Barry B. Wright

Holding Hands SilhouetteI

Spring had arrived early and, along with it, hopes that our home team, the Milwaukee Braves, would take the World Series again. Last year was the first time they had won the pennant since moving from Boston in 1953.

A cornucopia of scent wafted through the open window. Riding its gentle warm breeze like sweetness from heaven were spicy dianthus, the heavy scent of gardenia, nicotiana, lily-of-the-valley and lilac. My mom had taught me well and as she had promised, identifying those blossoms and more had become as easy as printing and writing my name.

This was my senior year and I felt especially grown up. Graduation was two months off. Though next year meant travelling to another school to complete grade eight, it was not without some degree of trepidation. Still, for the most part, I eagerly looked forward to it.

Chin saddled against the heel of my hand, I was locked in a daydream. Baseball tryouts were still a month away and the newly formed Duffield Baseball League portended tougher competition. So, when the snow had melted and the ground barely dry, I eagerly began to practice with my Indian rubber ball. I was always amazed by its speed as it coursed its way through the uncut grass. Agility in catching and accuracy in throwing were paramount as the ball bounced off the narrow section of wall beside the dining-room picture window. A nasty hop the other day left me with a shiner. Boy, did I get a ribbing from my friends when they found out.

Mister Roberts was one heck of a great teacher but somehow today his voice was surreal and did not resonate with me.  Dipping the nib of my pen into the ink well, I neatly scratched his notes into my notebook from the chalkboard. I casually glanced around. My peers’ expressions said it all. I was not alone in my mental truancy.

Mister Roberts stopped teaching. Bracing himself against the front edge of his desk, he faced us with his usual toothy smile. “No sense me trying to teach you science when you’re not thinking about it. Huh? So let’s stir things up.” He glanced out the window. “What a beautiful day. Real learning begins out there.”

My attention suddenly piqued.  The collective mental slothfulness of the class began to evaporate like falling dominoes.

He picked up a book from his desk and began to read:

“Who has seen the wind?

Neither I nor you:

But when the leaves hang trembling,

The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?

Neither you nor I:

But when the trees bow down their heads,

The wind is passing by.”

Tilting his head slightly, he asked: “Hmmm…Now, what does this poem by Christina Rossetti have to do with science?”

The class shared a dumbfounded collective except Karen who waved her hand wildly in the air.

“Go ahead, Karen,” he said.

“Observation,” she replied.

“You’re right, the first step in the Scientific Method.”

He went to the back of the classroom and returned with a large brown empty cardboard box from the supply cupboard and placed it in the middle of his desk. “Soon we will be going outside.”

The energy level in the class jumped a few notches.

“Quiet down and listen,” he instructed half laughing and beaming a large smile.

Suddenly, a frown etched across his face; his demeanor became unusually stiff as his attention was directed behind us.

I could feel the energy being sucked out of the room.

The class turned.

Time and backbones noticeably became rigid.

The principal stood in the open doorway. His stern and uncompromising appearance sent a chill up and down my spine. An unpleasant twist gathered in my gut.

Conditioned on how to acknowledge his presence, the class in unison said: “Good morning, Mister Monkman.” He barely acknowledged our greeting.  And, without so much as either a smile or an apology for interrupting the class, he waved our teacher over to him.

Beside Mr. Monkman stood the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. To say that I was mesmerized did not do that moment justice.

“Finish copying the notes from the board, class,” Mr. Roberts said, joining them in the doorway. “Once done, write down and explain the skills and tools you will need to do an effective job in observation.”

The three of them stepped out and closed the door behind them.

Every guy’s gaze—that’s fifty percent of the class—was fixed on the window in the door. That’s fifteen pairs of eyes including my own vying to be noticed by her. But, I was sure she was looking at me. I smiled and nodded. She returned it. I gave a circumspect wave. She did the same.

A ball of paper ricocheted off the side of my head and rolled onto my desk. This ticked me off. I knew it came from Alison. Lately, her favorite pastime was bonking me on the head. Once, every day for a solid week, she had left a yucky clump of her hair on my desk. I cringed with the thought of what came next. And I didn’t have to wait long.

Straddled between her desk and Diane Dawson’s, Alison performed a bizarre series of acrobatics. My glare was assailed by a screwed up face and a rude thrust of her tongue.

Ignoring her, I drew a bead line between my nemesis, Harry Brewer, who continued to smile, nod and wave, and the door. One conclusion resulted. And, it did not favor me.

Miffed, I had barely about faced to cocoon myself in a huff when a cacophonous sound of cascading desks followed by a resounding thump turned the room into chaos.

The pain was immediate. The desk beside me had wedged itself against my ankle.  Everyone around me scampered to the door.

Splayed out on the floor between overturned tables and empty ink wells was Alison in a puddle of ink. Her red hair had turned a weird color of blue. Each time she  wiped the tears from her face, she increasingly took on the appearance of a boxer who had been severely pummeled in the ring.

Not without great effort I restrained myself from giggling as I could feel Mr. Monkman’s cold stare squarely on me.

“Don’t move, Alison. Stop touching your face,” urged Mr. Roberts. “Someone, get the nurse.” He retrieved a bundle of paper towels from the back cupboard and fastidiously layered them around her to sponge up the ink. “Now, Alison, please remain still while I clear away these tables.”

Mr. Roberts’ tall muscular frame made easy work of uprighting the topsy-turvy desks on top and around her. I felt a great deal of relief when he removed the desk against me.

“You alright?” asked an unfamiliar voice.

I turned towards its source. Her face was so close to me that I was swimming in the deep blueness of her eyes. I had lost my words.

I felt flush with embarrassment when she used the back of her hand to lift my jaw into the closed position.

“A fight?” she asked pointing to my eye.

“Ah-huh.” I lied without hesitation. There are lies and there are dumb lies. This was the dumbest. But, at that moment, I felt a need to puff myself up. Some might say like a peacock during mating season, and, quite honestly, they would have been correct.  “I’ll tell you about it if you’ll let me walk you home today.”

She smiled. “Okay.”

“What’s your name?”

“Joan…Joan Sledge.”

A low hum settled over the class. The nurse had arrived and was examining Alison. A few minutes later she gave the class thumbs up. Alison was A-1 okay. Nevertheless, she and Mr. Monkman escorted her to the school dispensary. A full week would pass before we saw her again.

By the time graduation rolled around, I had fallen head over heels in love with Joan as she with me.

Time seemed to sprout wings as grade seven ended. And, like a spring board, we were launched into summer. Little did I know at the time that heartache and mystery awaited me at its end.

 

Part Twenty of Angel Maker: Third Party Malice by Barry B. Wright

Man in the Shadows Two

Happenstance had changed Lynn Hall’s life. Her lifelong goal—a career in Foreign Service—had come to an abrupt end four years ago when she stumbled and shot herself in the leg during a hunting expedition in the Kizilcahaman District of Ankara, Turkey.

She glanced at ‘Cuthbert,’ her wooden prosthesis, lying on the table beside her.

The past according to her way of thinking was better left where it was, in the past, and forgotten. Still, the memory she wished forgotten clung steadfast and fresh as yesterday. This vulnerability was concealed by a carefully crafted façade.

Captain Hall was a controlling and cerebral person; emotion of any kind made her uncomfortable. It wasn’t that she eschewed empathy, quite on the contrary; it was more that she had never connected it to herself. Feeling sorry for oneself was a luxury that she could ill afford especially since war appeared more imminent.

Sullenly, she stared at the inflamed stump below her knee. Unaware of the tears that streamed down her cheeks, she continued to gently apply the soothing cream to her stump. Strange, she thought, as she examined it. My eyes have always been either closed or directed elsewhere. Why did I do that?

She already knew the answer in its fullness.

Placing the lid back on the jar of cream, she stopped what she was doing and sat back in the chair.

Time washed through her until no more tears could flow.

She glanced at the wall clock. Two hours had passed.

Gathering up several tissues she wiped away her tears, throwing the soggy ball into the wastebasket. With a deep sigh, she rewrapped her stump and attached ‘Cuthbert.’

Standing at the bedroom window and seeing her reflection she smiled and said “I’m okay now.” And she knew that she meant it.

A light knock at the door startled her. At first she thought it was her imagination until she heard it again. It was three in the morning. Had she awakened Inspector Collier and his wife? They had been kind enough to open their guest room to her overnight. Her face flushed with embarrassment.

In a barely audible tone, she called out: “Yes?”

The door opened slightly and Lila poked her head into the room. “Are you alright, dear? I don’t mean to be nosey but I…thought… I heard you crying.”

“Everything’s okay, Mrs. Collier,  I didn’t mean to…”

“Shush, no need to apologize.” Tucking her dressing gown across her chest and readjusting the waist strap, she broadcast a large smile. “I’m often rumbling around this house at the strangest hours, especially when Sandy’s not home.” She fell into a brief silence. “Nasty stuff about our niece…I’m going downstairs to make myself some tea and have one of those custard tarts. Should I count you in?”

Captain Hall nodded.

“Jolly good then,” Lila replied rubbing her hands together. About to leave, she stopped herself in mid flight.  “Would you mind starting the coal fireplace in the living room?”

“Consider it done, Mrs. Collier,” Lynn assured her, without the slightest hint of hesitation.

“Lila…please call me Lila.”

Lynn was stoking the fireplace when she heard the front door open and close. The rattling of dishes and the high pitch whistle of the kettle suddenly stopped. Splintering floor boards and low exchange of whispers melted away along the hall toward the kitchen at the far end of the house. Unable to decipher whether the exchange of words were happy or sad, she forced herself to concentrate on the fireplace. Hopeful that the news about their niece would be good, she crossed her fingers and continued to poke at the fire. The tray of goodies being placed on the table behind her startled her.

“Oh…I…” Lynn almost lost her balance attempting to stand. A sharp burning sensation traveled up her stump leg and briefly settled in her hip. She smothered the sensation to flinch.

“We didn’t mean to startle you,” Lila injected, proffering her hand.

“I’m alright, really I am.” She fussed with her clothing. “It’s so not like me to let my mind drift off like that.”

“We have good news.Though the doctor thinks it’s best to keep her in the hospital a few more days, Diane is alright. ” Lila wrapped her arm around Sandy’s and gave it a tearful hug.

The explosion at the Cricketer’s Arms had taken an emotional toll on both of them. From the moment the Inspector had learned that his niece had been found among the rubble, he had never left her side.

Arms fully extended, Lynn embraced them.

Happy tears flowed between them until Lila, stepping away and wiping her face with her apron, said: “I’d better finish what I was doing. I’ve decided we’re going to have a picnic right here in front of the fireplace to celebrate.”

“Picnic? At three thirty in the morning? You’re daff, girl,” replied Sandy in astonishment.

“Maybe so, Sandy, but nevertheless it’s going to happen.” She grabbed a large multi-colored knitted blanket from the back of the couch and thrust it in his direction. “You, two, move the coffee table back and place this rug neatly in front of the fireplace.” Satisfied that it had been done to her liking she turned to Sandy. “Remember, Sandy, what you agreed to in the kitchen. You’ve got five minutes. And I’ll set the timer to keep you honest. So make your minutes count.” With a large smile on her face, she scurried out of the room and down the hall to the kitchen.

Flummoxed, Lynn searched the Inspector’s expression for clarification.

Lila bellowed from the kitchen: “You’re on the timer now, Sandy Collier.”

During the ordeal of the last twenty-four hours, uncharacteristic bags had formed under his tired eyes. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his pipe and pouch of tobacco. After he had filled his pipe and lit it, he began.

“Does the name Pavel ring a bell? A balding, possibly Eastern European, heavy set fella in his early forties with thick, round glasses.”

Captain Hall stared at him long and hard before answering. “Pavel Sudoplatov comes close to that description.”

“Who is he?”

“He’s a NKVD operant. Up to recently, he worked only out of the Rotterdam area. But, about a month ago, one of our agents sighted him in London. We put a tail on him but he shook it off a week ago.”

“Any idea why Pavel would have been with the hospital administrator, Klaus Becker?”

“Is Becker alright?”

“No, Captain Hall, he isn’t. Klaus is very much dead.”

A brief silence reigned between them.

“Do you remember me telling you, Inspector, that the NKVD and British Intelligence are often at cross purposes? He nodded. “Well, this is one of them. And it’s a doozy SNAFU.

The timer in the kitchen went off.

“Otto Imhoff,” she continued. “I mentioned his name during the drive home from Lambton Manor the other night?”

“Wasn’t his coded signature on…?”

“That’s right,” she interjected. “Klaus was a double agent and he had discovered Otto’s identity. On the day of the explosion, he was supposed to transfer the dossier on Otto to me. Earlier that very same day, I received this envelope. In it was a letter with a riddle.” She handed him the envelope.

He carefully examined it. “Do you normally open at the side?”

“Yes. Why are you asking?”

“This envelope has been opened and resealed. As you can see here there are two distinct glue lines along the seal. By the way, how did you know it was from him?”

“By these triangular three dots, Inspector, in the upper right corner of both the envelope and note.”

He carefully scrutinized the riddle:

 

You have everything you need to solve this. There are 100 lockers each hiding a single word. You and 99 others are each assigned a number 1 to 100.

# 1 opens every locker

# 2 closes every 2nd locker

# 3 will change the status of every 3rd locker (that is if the locker is open, it will be closed; if the locker is closed, it will be opened.)

# 4 will change the status of lockers 4,8,12,16,20,24,…

#5 will change the status of lockers 5,10,15,20,25,30,…

Etc.,

# 99 will change the status of locker 99

#100 will change the status of locker 100

The words in the lockers that remain open at the end will help you crack the combination lock on my locker.

 

“Was this his normal manner of communication with you?

“No, it wasn’t.”

“Have you already solved this riddle?”

“I have, Inspector.”

“”…combination lock on my locker” Then, do you know where the locker is?” he asked, returning the envelope and letter to her.

She shrugged. “First time I’ve heard about it. I’ve been his contact barely a year. And the few meetings I’ve had with him, four to be exact, were at carefully chosen out of the way places.”

He chewed on the end of his pipe. Pulling aside the curtain on the living room window, he peered through the slit.  “Hmm… Perhaps you hadn’t chosen carefully enough.” He stepped aside to allow her to survey the street.

The figure she saw, as if on cue, disappeared into the shadows of the housing opposite.

She sat on the far arm of the couch, her shoulders slumped and facing away from him.

“There’s no time here for self-chastisement, Captain. Accept it, and move on.” He heard her sigh and watched her straighten up. “Let’s assume, like you, that they’ve already cracked this riddle. Then the locker location is the only thing missing.”

“Klaus was too careful to leave that kind of information lying around in his apartment,” she added as an afterthought. She heard the rattling of dishes coming down the hall. “If Otto was onto Klaus…”

“Then, there’s good likelihood that both the NKVD and Otto have you under surveillance.” Collier tapped his pipe on the ashtray and returned it to his pocket. “And, they think you will lead them to the locker.”

“If Klaus knew that he had been found out by Otto, and the riddle supports that, where did he conceal the information about the whereabouts of the locker? He must have thought it would be obvious for me to find. And something else, Inspector. Why did Pavel kill him?”

“Times up, Sandy Collier, open this door,” Lila called out.

“I fear that I may have put you and Lila in harm’s way. But, right now, there’s no time to explain, we must get to the morgue. I think I know where he hid it.”

 

 

 

 

2008-My Watershed Moment by Barry B. Wright

Women Looking onto the water

Yesterday changed everything.
Where do I go? What do I do?
Questions scratched on a wall before the abyss.
Once my Springs were full of scented flowers and warm gentle breezes; they flowed like honey for me.
Daily, from golden cups, I copiously drank their intoxicating mixture of nectar and life’s festive dream.
I had made it.
Atop my perch upon the mountain I felt safe.
Then the winds thundered through and toppled the oak tree.
What now? Why now?
Fate’s smiling and deathless face has struck me deeply; it carries no answers but greed; it has shattered dreams with its fierce pain.
My climb wasn’t easy. Can I do it again? Of course I can.
I know nothing less than to win.
I have achieved great things.
Or, so I thought.
Hubris, my blindness, barred my way home.
Money, too much money, often shapes what’s wrong to make it seem right.
Truth becomes lost in the frenzy of perception’s ninety-nine percent and the one percent’s hold.
No longer do I want to bathe in the flicker of their incense.
Their faces, shadowed and cold, flow in the water by me.
Does guilt-free sleep lie beneath its surface? I think not.
What will excite my mind again?
It must not be the same.
If my life ended, how would I be remembered?
Would I be remembered for who I was or who I became?
Reading the fullness of my story is what I would prefer; not to be forgotten as the one they no longer could reach.
Time is the currency I must follow.
My friends are the people I care for best; they can do me much harm if they leave me.
Their forgiveness is paramount; in it lies hope; without it future’s potential is lost to a tapestry fixed in the past.
My abilities are steady and sure; they will navigate me to where I need to go.
But my choices, they must change; they must answer what I truly am.
Does wisdom follow my aging or does it lie beyond my reach?
I guess it depends on who is watching.
Opinions flow easily where knowledge is lacking.
No longer at war with myself, days fly by where once only seconds dragged on.
I own my fate and for the first time I know it.
If it is true that you are what you were when, then this year is my watershed moment.

An August Morning Better Spent by Barry B. Wright

Girl Under the Window

It was 4:00 A.M. Rain smashed against the bedroom window; howling winds pushed tree branches to and fro along the siding like fingernails across a chalkboard.

Too driven by daily routine to remain spooned against my wife, I carefully, so as not to disturb her, slid out of the comfort of our warm bed and into my slippers. Grabbing my dressing gown from the chair beside the door I put it on before heading downstairs.

I stared out the living room window. Ugh! Depressing, I thought. It’s more like the grey days of November than early August. An involuntary shiver seemed to emphasize that very point as the wind threw another bucket of water at the window.

Normally, I met each day with vim and vigor but today my oomph was beginning to poof.

I must change my perspective; I must re-focus. Some soft jazz and a shave and shower should do the trick, I thought. And, sure enough, by the time I returned to the kitchen for my granola, milk and fruit, I was loaded for bear.

To my surprise, my lovely wife, who usually slept late on weekends, was curled up on the loveseat under the side window in the living room. I could not pass without stopping to drink in her beauty. I had to touch her and smell her hair. Close to her, I knelt on one knee. Her eyes opened and she smiled.

“I didn’t mean to awake you,” I said stroking her hair.

“You didn’t. Go get ready while I fetch you your breakfast.”

As always, I had prepared my gear the night before and had left it in the mudroom. Unless I got a lucky break in the weather, which seemed unlikely, my forty kilometer cycle today would likely be a difficult one.

Fifteen minutes later, after she gave me a very warm, lengthy and lascivious embrace, I cycled away feeling somewhat flushed and reflective.

The tall trees on either side of the road afforded me a brief but pleasant respite from the sheets of rain. I glanced back at our home. Our bedroom light turned off; at the window was her outline; then, the curtains were closed.

The land opened up into flat fields on either side. Nature was furious and I was her prey. Cycling into head winds was grueling as rain pellets stung sharply and slashed at my face. I had prepared with my weather-proofed gear but, nonetheless, I felt soaked through and through. And, I had barely begun.

It wasn’t long before my senses came to a consensus that my mettle was not up to the challenge…today.

I turned for home.

The house was dark and quiet as I slipped out of my gear. I hung each item on a makeshift clothes line in the laundry room and dried myself down.

Butt naked, I ascended the stairs to the bedroom.

Climbing into bed, I snuggled up close to her and wrapped my arm around her waist. Her hand touched my thigh and followed it up. She moaned and backed in closer.

“We’ve got lots of time,” she giggled. “That silly husband of mine is out cycling in that mess and won’t be back for hours.”

For a flicker of a moment I froze, stunned by her remark. That is, until the light bulb in my head went on.

Part Nineteen of Angel Maker: Cricketers Arms by B. B. Wright

Bournemouth Pub Explosion in Angel Maker

Famished and well past noon, Diane Waumsley parked her bike outside the Cricketers Arms on Winham Road. Securing the bike with her combination lock, she entered the pub.

She wore a woolen sweater with a slight roll at the neck and flared pants. One pant leg had been tied off to prevent it from becoming ensnared in the bicycle chain. A bob of her long hair was enclosed in a loosely knitted snood which held it close to her nape.

It took a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the dim interior. There were booths on both sides and tables in front of her. The smell of spilt beer and fish and chips permeated the air. Her stomach gurgled. It was busier than she expected.

Someone at one of the tables called out: “Don’t be shy lass, come in and sit with me,” he suggested, patting his lap.

“Put a sock in it, Gordie. Leave the girl alone,” the bartender bellowed from the bar. “Or you’ll be out on your duff.”

It was a straight bar counter painted brown with thick yellow imitation graining on the front panels. Four yellowish white china handles with shiny brass atop stood up from its counter. Behind the bar rows of bottles and glasses reflected themselves on shelves along a large mirror.

The bartender-proprietor leaned on the counter. “What can I do for you young lady?” he asked, watching her approach him.

“Have you got a menu?” Diane asked.

A broad smile filled his face. “Nothing fancy here,” he replied. “That’s it…” he continued, thumbing toward the sign beside the bar. “But…”

The signage written in chalk read: Fish and chips, BLT and ham sandwich.

He came around the bar and erased the first two. “We’re fifteen minutes away from the two thirty closing,” he said with a shrug. He waited for her reply.

“Two, then, please, wrapped to go.” she replied.

A heavy set man strolled into the bar with a box under his arm. Before he sat at one of the booths he tilted his cap; the bartender-proprietor returned his salutation with a slight dip of his head.

“Two ham sandwiches it is. You must be hungry?” She nodded. Distracted by a group of men at the far table he yelled out: “Enough there… you blokes finish up and get on your way. As for the rest of you, the same goes. I want you all gone by the time I return. He smiled at her. “We’ll see what we can put together for you out back.”

Pressing his fists in on either side of his waist he put on the stiff, stern demeanor of a drill sergeant and waited until the tables began to clear. The pub almost empty of clientele, he disappeared along the hall beside the bar.

“Miss Waumsley? What a surprise. Please, join us.”

This unexpected and familiar voice took her by surprise. She glanced at the mirror. Klaus Becker’s reflection greeted her from around the arm of one of the booths. She turned to face the hospital administrator. Not knowing what to say, she nodded and smiled back. He continued to beckon her to join him. Half looking back for the bartender, she walked to his table.

“What a coincidence, we were just talking about you…I mean your uncle,” Klaus said cheerily. “Do you normally come here?”

“No, it’s my first time.” She glanced back at the bar. “Actually, I’m on my way to see him and I’m in a bit of a hurry.”

“Forgive my rudeness, this is my friend Pavel. He’s come all the way from Murmansk. Are you sure you don’t want something to eat, Pavel. Maybe I can get this establishment to put together something for you.”

Pavel declined.

On the table was a handsome box of chocolates with the Ukrainian crest on it. Klaus noticed Diane eyeing it. “Perhaps you and Inspector Collier might like some?” He reached out to undo the wrapping when Pavel’s hand stopped him.

“I do have another box, Klaus. If you’ll tell me where to have it delivered, I’ll send it around today.” He glanced at his watch. “Now, I really must go. Supper at Bournemouth pier this evening is set, Klaus. There’s nothing you need to do. I am very pleased to meet you, Miss Waumsley.” He said standing. “I’m sorry it had to be so short. ” As he shook her hand, his attention was diverted behind her. “I think your sandwiches may be ready. Remember to always do what the bartender tells you, it could mean the difference between life and death,” he chortled.

“Pavel, what a strange thing to say,” complained Klaus. “Explain yourself.”

“All I’m saying is that a great deal can be learned from listening. Unfortunately most people don’t listen but bartenders generally do.”

“Here’s to listening then.” Klaus agreed and lifted his glass of Burton in salute.

Pavel smiled, bade Klaus farewell, and exited the pub.

The bartender gestured to Diane for her to join him. After a brief conversation, he escorted her down the hall beside the bar.

Pavel was a safe distance along the street by the time he heard the sharp explosion. A timing device had detonated the bomb in the chocolate box.

Consequences by B. B. Wright

Unsplash Four

“Where are you going?” I dared to ask as I watched her put on her boots.

“Out,” she retorted.

I glanced at the window. “Winter’s on the war path. Are you sure that’s a wise choice?” A cavalcade of chills rippled up my backside. “You’ll barely see beyond your nose. You’ll get lost.”

She peered at me through a curtain of auburn hair. Whatever she was about to say I could tell she was sizing me up for impact. You get to know those things after living together for a year. We planned to marry in the spring.

I slowly backed away. My only comfort at that moment was the pleasant warmth of the fireplace against my backside.

“Maybe that’s what I want…to get lost.”

My heart sank.

She cocked one eyebrow. “Anyway, what’s wrong with my nose?”

Ugh, I thought, I’m caught in a double whammy. Diplomacy should have shot to the top of my list but my genetics lack dearly there. I have always been told to speak from the heart. Begrudgingly, though, I have learned that my fate is generally more akin to the poor bull in the china shop. Well here I go into the valley. Mine is not to reason why, only just to do and …die? Hmm.

“I’m sorry…I shouldn’t’ve done it.” I tried to muster a smile. “Judith, we can work this thing out. Stay. There’s a nice fire. Your favorite wine is on the counter. And goodies are in the fridge. What do you say? Huh? Oh, and by the way, there’s nothing wrong with that cute pug nose of yours”

Figuratively speaking, an iron curtain suddenly thwacked between us.

“If you think you can placate me with a romantic fire, goodies, wine and appending my appearance to a boxer or pug dog, you’ve got another thing coming.”

Ouch! Calling her a pugilist or a flat nosed wrinkly faced pooch was not my intention.

“Button nose, I meant button nose.” My legs felt like they were being seared by the fire.

She brushed aside her hair and stared at me. “Babies, young children and maybe some teens but adults, no, adults don’t have button noses, Arthur. Now, let me finish.” She held up her hand to silence me. “What’s happening has nothing to do with any of this and you know it. You broke the honesty and trust between us the moment you read my diary. You did it without my permission. And then you had the gull to lie to me.”

Tears bubbled up in the corner of her eyes.

I drew up a chair beside her and sat down. “I’m sorry. I’m such a schmuck.”

“Yes you are.” She looked at me long and hard.

Words stuck in my throat. I could only shrug and shake my head. An eternity of silence passed between us. Her demeanor softened.

“Arthur, please help me. I’m trying to comprehend why you did it.”

I stood up and walked to the window in the living room. Winter’s fury continued to rage outside. “I could say I was thoughtless, in an unthinking sort of way.” I turned to face her. “But, unthinking it was not. Foolish, yes, but my actions… were deliberate. The truth, sometimes, can be a bad thing. This is one of those situations.” I returned to the chair beside her and sat down. “Judith, I have loved you from the first moment I saw you. And still do, even more so. Yet…I allowed doubt to get in the way of that love.”

“Doubts about me?”

“Yes,” I sighed.

“I see… I don’t know what to say.” Taking off her jacket, she neatly placed it over the back of her chair and walked to the kitchen counter. She offered up the bottle of Bordeaux.

I nodded.

When she returned, she handed me my glass and suggested we move the couch so that it faced the fireplace. After we had done that I threw a couple of logs on the fire and joined her. For a long while neither of us spoke. We sat sipping our wine.

There are four essentials to a healthy relationship: trust, honesty, communication and cuddle time (non-sexual touching). And I, being the idiot I am, demolished the first three. What can I say? The curiosity bug had bitten me. To be honest, I have always wondered what she wrote in her diary every day. It had become just too damn tempting not to have a peek. When I saw her with that other guy… well… that just broke the camel’s back. Jealousy did the rest. Who was he? Huh-huh! I thought. There is justification! As I saw it, I now had my moral compass to rifle through her diary.

“Arthur?”

“Uh-huh.”

“What kind of doubt?”

Taking in a deep breath, I curled my leg up on the couch and faced her. “Who was that guy I saw you with last Wednesday outside SideKicks Café?”

I could see a smile curling up at the corner of her mouth. “So that’s your excuse.”

“You deny it?”

She shook her head. “I’m disappointed in you. No, I won’t deny it. What I don’t understand is why you didn’t just ask me? Instead, you let your imagination run away with you.”

She stared at the fire, rolling the goblet between her hands.

“You’re leaving me for that other guy?”

She turned so sharply to face me I recoiled. “That other guy was my brother, you jerk.”