we are a little different this year:
some contributions are exclusive stories, others are excerpts
from the authors' novels,
but all have our traditional format of...
Read the Story - Guess the Song
Here's a clue to the song title
|Queen takes King...?|
The clock struck one
The alarm clock rang. Ever since one of its little plastic feet went missing it had ended its morning reveille by waddling to the edge of the bedside table and falling off, unless Maurice woke quickly enough to lunge across and catch it. Since today was Monday, he didn’t bother.
Oh, Monday, Monday! The one day you can trust, because it’s always as awful as the last one. ‘I don’t like Mondays,’ he thought.
Maurice rolled off the bed, slipped his feet into his slippers – except that, as usual, one of them had turned round during the night so it was reversed under the bed – had a good stretch and scratch, and padded along the corridor to the bathroom.
Suitably cleaned up, he opened the wardrobe to select his clothes for the day. Until he managed to get to the dry cleaners to get the tomato sauce removed from the navy suit, it would have to be the other one, and the choice of ironed shirts was minimal, so that selection was easy too. He found his old school tie and knotted it carelessly. It was not that he had any great affection for his school – far from it – but it had cost him eight pounds and he had only had five years’ wear out of it at school.
On went the kettle, down went the toaster, and in a few minutes breakfast sat before him. As usual it took him longer to make a meal than to eat it, and soon he was locking his front door and joining the shuffling millions heading for London, the majority of them on the 7.38 from platform 2, to judge by the overcrowding in the carriage.
The Tube was no better. He spent the whole trip from Liverpool Street to Holborn with his nose far too close to a woman’s armpit as she gripped the strap above him. He should have eaten his greens when he was younger like his mother said, then he would have been taller and his nose might have been high enough to escape its fate.
Disgorged at Holborn he ran to the Piccadilly line to get to Piccadilly Circus and, as usual, the train doors slammed in his face. No matter how quickly or slowly he got there, they always did. It had been that way since he was a boy, when it seemed to him that the school bus driver took a perverse pleasure in shutting the doors and driving off just as he was about to board.
Maurice breathed in deeply as he left the station. It was the closest thing he would get to fresh air all day. In fact, now he came to think of it, he wasn’t sure what fresh air was any longer. He lived in a town, spent the best part of three hours in various metal canisters breathing people’s armpits and smelly coats, and worked in London where the air was rippled through with diesel fumes. He resolved to spend his lunch break in a park or garden, if he could find one, and if he actually got his lunch break today, which would depend on whether The Reaper got him.
By The Reaper he did not mean a hooded figure in black, although, come to think of it, Mr Willingham usually wore a charcoal grey suit and had a rather skeletal appearance, with a bald head, a gaunt appearance and his pale complexion. On the other hand, he had a little moustache, which skeletons rarely have. Mr Willingham was the Head of Department and had his desk in a little cubicle formed by a glass screen on two sides in the corner of the sales department. Describing him as Head of the Sales Department was a bit rich considering that there were only four people in the department, and they doubled as the Marketing Department and the Advertising Department too, because the Big Boss wanted callers to think that they were a much bigger firm than they actually were. To that end, each of them had two phones on their desk. They answered one as the Sales Department, and Maurice’s other one was for the Advertising Department, whereas Keith had the Marketing Department extension. Mr Willingham answered as the Human Resources Department, and Claire took the calls from the deli that made up their lunchtime sandwiches. That call was often the highlight of Maurice’s day as he contemplated the wide range of possibilities created by a build-your-own-sandwich offer. What, he wondered, would peanut butter and tuna be like? Did they do boiled beef and carrots?
Mr Willingham did not partake of the deli service. He often used the word “partake”. To the best of Maurice’s knowledge, he was the only person who did. Mr Willingham brought his own sandwiches to work in a faded blue Tupperware container with a lid slightly stained after years of exposure to tomatoes. The sandwiches, like Mr Willingham, were thin and uninteresting. Processed cheese seemed to feature prominently.
It suddenly dawned on Maurice that he had no idea whether there was a Mrs Willingham. Did Mr Willingham make his own sandwiches, or was there, somewhere in suburbia, some poor woman whose fate was to be yoked till death us do part to a miserable, humourless tyrant? In his mind’s eye Maurice pictured a bright-eyed beautiful young woman who had spent thirty years becoming thinner and more monochrome with each passing day until now she was a colourless splodge against the magnolia-painted walls of her domestic prison.
Mr Willingham worked with his door open. He was answering his phone, and Maurice strained his eyes looking for a wedding ring. There was none, but then not all men wear them. There was only one thing for it. He would have to ask Claire. Claire knew these things. She remembered birthdays and knew what time local shops opened and closed.
‘Married?’ whispered Claire. ‘Why do you want to know? You haven’t got a pash on him, have you?’ she giggled.
The thought turned Maurice’s stomach. Not that he had anything against gay people, but he was revolted by the idea of intimacy with Mr Willingham. There are some people you just don’t want to get close to.
‘As it happens,’ Claire continued, ‘I do know. He asked me to get some flowers for her on his anniversary. He offered me a fiver and I had to tell him he wouldn’t get much for that.’
Speak of the Devil. Maurice turned to go back to his seat and found The Reaper looming over him.
‘Temporarily unoccupied, Maurice?’ he asked in his whiny nasal tone.
‘Just clarifying a point with Claire, Mr Willingham.’
‘Good. Clarification is always necessary. So long as it doesn’t turn into idle gossip.’
He enunciated gossip as if it were a dirty word.
Maurice nodded mutely and resumed his seat. Why were his palms clammy? He hoped Mr Willingham had not overheard any of the discussion, though on reviewing it mentally it seemed innocent enough. But Mr Willingham unnerved him.
‘Don’t fear The Reaper,’ he murmured to himself.
The morning passed abominably enough until that life-changing moment at 10:46. Claire had put the kettle on, as instructed by Mr Willingham.
‘Put the kettle on, Claire,’ he called, as he did every morning at 10:45. And Claire replied ‘Yes, Mr Willingham,’ as she did every morning just after 10:45, and automatically opened the biscuit tin to select eight cheap biscuits. On this particular Monday she selected two almost-digestives, two slightly-tasting-of-ginger nuts, two not-so-NICE and two coming-up-shortcakes. She then spent the time until the kettle boiled arranging them tastefully on the plate.
It was at that moment that Maurice had a driving urge to rush forward and jumble the biscuits on the plate, not to mention having a rant about cheap biscuits. He could feel the blood rushing through his temples and ran to the Gents’ to sit in a cubicle until the feeling died down.
There were only two cubicles in the Gents’. The left one was occupied, while the right one bore a large sign declaring it to be out of order. Despite this, Maurice pushed the door back and stood inside, his back against the door, trying to recover what little equanimity life had left him.
At length the other cubicle opened and closed, and the thumping in his head subsided, so Maurice opened the door, just as Mr Willingham entered through the outer door.
‘Are you quite all right, Maurice?’ he asked, but before waiting for an answer his face contorted in horror. ‘You haven’t been using the out of order cubicle, I hope?’
‘Actually, I have,’ Maurice replied defiantly. ‘When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go now.’
‘Go now,’ Maurice affirmed. ‘But I’ve left it tidy.’
‘I should hope so,’ said Mr Willingham doubtfully.
As Maurice washed his hands he glanced in the mirror and saw Mr Willingham bending to sneak a peek in the toilet bowl.
‘If I had a hammer…’ he thought before gripping the roller towel tightly and giving the loop of towel a sharp twist as if someone’s neck were inside it. It was then that it occurred to him that if Mr Willingham no longer existed, it would make a number of people very happy. It was a comforting thought, and he was all right for a while; he could smile, for a while.
He was still smiling when he returned to the office. Claire handed him a mug.
‘What are you so happy about?’ she demanded to know.
‘Just my imagination,’ Maurice replied, ‘running away with me.’
He took a biscuit and winced as he realised that it was soft.
‘Do you want a sandwich?’ Claire asked.
‘No, not today, Claire. Things to do,’ he decided.
Thus at one o’clock he rushed to the bank to withdraw all his money in cash. It was hardly going to cause the bank to fail, but he needed it. He detoured to the basement on returning to the building to borrow an item from the toolbox under the stairs, and hid it in his briefcase.
Claire had finished her sandwich and, as always, put her coat on in preparation for her ten minutes’ walk to get some fresh air, though where she found that in Piccadilly was beyond Maurice.
‘I’ll come with you,’ said Keith, which seemed not to be an unwelcome suggestion. It never was. Maurice idly wondered where a couple could have a secret snog or worse within two minutes’ walk of the office, but shook himself out of it.
‘Mr Willingham,’ he asked, ‘could I have a private word?’
The processed cheese sandwich paused in mid-air.
‘If you must,’ Mr Willingham replied.
‘Do you mind if I close the door? It’s a little personal.’
‘No, go ahead. If it’s personal.’
‘Oh, it’s very personal,’ Maurice insisted. ‘You see, I want to break free.’
‘Break free? What does that mean?’
‘Just this,’ said Maurice, and hit Mr Willingham with the lump hammer. It felt good, so he did it again. His plan was to empty the safe and flee the country, but it felt so good that he was still raining down blows when Keith and Claire returned.
Keith tried to grab his arm.
‘Don’t stop me now!’ Maurice snarled. ‘I’m having such a good time – I’m having a ball!’
‘Now, Maurice,’ said Keith, ‘I realise that you’re under pressure but this is not a good idea.’
Claire was screaming. You had to hand it to her, for a small woman she could generate a lot of noise.
‘Keith,’ Maurice warned him, ‘you’re my best friend. But if you try to stop me, you’ll be next.’
Keith raised his hands in submission.
‘Point taken. We’ll just leave you to it, then. Mind if we shut the door to keep the noise down?’
‘That would be good,’ Maurice agreed. ‘Just leave me all by myself. I’ve had the time of my life.’
‘Keith!’ Claire protested. ‘You can’t let him do this.’
‘He’s got a bloody hammer, Claire,’ Keith pointed out. He seemed a shade overwrought.
‘Well, who wants to live forever?’ Claire snapped, marched forward and tried to grab the handle of the hammer. Maurice swung it away from her, but she jerked it back and there was a dull thud as it hit her above the eye.
‘Crikey,’ whispered Keith. ‘Another one bites the dust.’
Somehow the sight of Claire sliding to the floor stopped Maurice. He was still standing over her when the police arrived. They invited him to drop the hammer. He declined to do so, but he realised the difficulty of his position when the sergeant placed a chair opposite Mr Willingham’s open door and sat himself on it.
‘Every move you make, I’ll be watching you,’ he said.
Maurice let the hammer drop to the floor, and the constable slickly clicked the handcuffs around his wrists.
‘You’re going inside for a long time,’ said the sergeant.
‘I hope there are lots of dishy men,’ he pouted.
Song: Killer Queen
About Graham Brack
Graham Brack has been writing for as long as he can remember, but now concentrates on crime fiction. Three times shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association's Debut Dagger prize (in 2011, 2014 and 2016) he never quite managed to win it.
Graham lives with his wife Gillian in Northamptonshire and has two children and three granddaughters, who are too young to be allowed to read Grandad's books, so he provides other stories for them.
He trained and practised as a pharmacist and has also written about football, rugby and medical law.
|Read our Reviews|
Death In Delft
Untrue Till Death
Dishonour and Obey
The Noose's Shadow
The Vanishing Children
images via: Pixabay unless otherwise stated
Note: it is illegal to copy lyrics but there is no © for ideas!
our stories or excerpts to enjoy
1st Deborah Swift - an excerpt from Pleasing Mr Pepys
2nd Graham Brack - The Clock Struck One
3rd Cindy Vallar - Rumble the Dragon
4th Barbara Gaskell Denvil - The Great Forest
5th Nicky Galliers - Two Stories
6th Annie Whitehead - excerpt from To Be A Queen
8th Paul Marriner - First Love
9th Loretta Livingstone - Labour of Love
10th Marian L. Thorpe - excerpt from Empire’s Heir
11th J G Harlond - excerpt from A Turning Wind
12th Amy Maroney - excerpt from Island of Gold
13th Richard Tearle - excerpt from the North Finchley Writer's Group
14th Inge H Borg - Excerpt from After the Cataclysm
15th Juhi Ray - the movie Jodha Akbar
16th Clare Flynn - Excerpt from The Green Ribbons
17th Anna Belfrage - A Light So Bright
18th Elizabeth St John - excerpt from Written in Their Stars
19th Nicky Galliers - Duty
20th Erica Lainé - La Belle Russe
21st Anna Belfrage - Excerpt from A Rip In The Veil
22nd Kathryn Gauci - Excerpt from The Poseidon Network
23rd Cryssa Bazos - Excerpt from Rebel's Knot
24th Debbie Young - The Secret Ministry Of Frost
* * *
you might also enjoy books by Helen Hollick
or direct to an Amazon near you
* King Arthur Trilogy
* the events that led to the Battle Of Hastings 1066
(includes US The Forever Queen USA Today Bestseller)
* the Sea Witch Nautical adventure series
* Cosy Mysteries