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Rodney Franklin was a happy man. Thirty years out of the Marine Corps, he kept to himself except for a Friday night beer in the nearest bar, ran his farm single handed when he could and hired in some help for the jobs he couldn’t manage. When he first bought the farm in ’72 some of the locals laughed that he always hired in help to slaughter his livestock rather than doing it himself, but once he told a few people he’d seen enough death in Vietnam and would see no more, the story got round and people stopped laughing.

He was checking the foundations for a new hog pen when he was disturbed from his work by a voice from the past.

‘Well hello Mr Franklin. How are you today?’

Rodney turned slowly, knowing yet still dreading who he was going to see.

‘Lenny Bertrand. Back again?’

‘Why yes Mr Franklin. I think it’s about time you made me a small gift, don’t you?’

‘I paid you, Lenny. I paid you ten years ago and almost every year since. Why am I still paying you?’

‘Because you really don’t want Sherriff Hunter to know what you did with Mrs Hunter at the barn dance all those years ago, now do you? I’ve kept my end of the bargain. I left town with the money you gave me then, I only come back when I need a top up and no one ever knows I’ve been. Unless you tell them?’

‘I don’t tell nobody nothin’ Lenny. But I don’t see why I should keep paying you year after year for one fumble in my truck. Anyhow, Elaine Hunter’s been dead these last five years.

‘You think the Sherriff cares about that? You think he wants her memory spoiled? I don’t want much Mr Franklin, just enough to see me south and set up for the winter.’

‘Now that’s all you want. But you’ll be back. Again and again. You’re going to keep coming until I die aren’t you?’

‘Or until the Sherriff dies I guess, yes.’

Or until you die The thought popped into Rodney’s head.

‘Wait there. I’ll get your money, you bloodsucker.’ He said, and made to walk towards the farm house. Lenny turned, even he had the decency to give the man he was blackmailing some privacy. That’s why he didn’t see Rodney sneak up behind him and hit him over the back of the head with a shovel. He fell in to the open trench. Rodney looked over, saw the unmoving body and, realising what he’d done, retched up his lunch.

He ran to the house, thinking of different excuses he could give to the Sherriff for finding the dead tramp. He considered throwing the body to the hogs, he knew they would eat almost anything. In the end he decided to simply cover up the body. He couldn’t bring himself to look at it again, so he started up his digger and half filled the trench with hard core to form the foundation of his new hog pen.

 *

Rodney’s success continued. For five more years he lived on his farm. His hogs thrived, he made enough money and carried on living his simple life. He drove his truck to the nearest bar one night a week as he had always done, drank a couple of beers and drove home again. If anyone had known him well enough they may have noticed that he had something on his mind most of the time, but everyone had their own worries and anyway no one was that close to him, so no one noticed.

 *

But something was playing on Rodney’s mind. He’d read Poe. He could hear Lenny’s heart beat every time he went to the hog pen. He knew that one day he would have to move the body or go mad. Finally the day came. He could stand it no longer. Rodney let loose the hogs and drove his digger through the pen walls. Then he dug. He dug down to where the body should have been and saw nothing. He dug further, and still no body. He got out of the digger and dug with a shovel. Still nothing. Finally he started scraping at the ground with his bare hands. He was on his hands and knees when the trench collapsed in on him. If anyone had been there they would have seen a filthy, crying man shouting over and over again ‘She wasn’t worth this! She wasn’t worth this!’

 *

The Sherriff arrived a couple of hours later. Someone had called him after seeing hogs loose on the highway. Sherriff Hunter recognised that they were Rodney’s. He saw the damaged pens and re-opened foundations but could not work out why Rodney would have done that much damage. He assumed some sort of accident or vandalism. Worried, he went looking for Rodney. When he couldn’t find him around the farm he eventually called for some help and dug down in to the reopened trench. That’s where they found his body.

No one in town ever worked out what happened or why. The only man who might have known saw a news report of the mysterious death while nursing a sandwich and coffee in a Salvation Army hostel two towns away. Lenny Bertrand rubbed the scar on the back of his head, hidden by his long greasy hair. Yet again he thanked his lucky stars that the one farmer who tried to kill him was probably the only one on the country too squeamish to check he was dead before leaving him alone in the trench with enough time to climb out and slip away.

(c) Chris Johnson 2019

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PA250058.JPGHarry Farnsworth loved the engine sheds. Especially at night when red glow of the fires and the steam and heat from the boilers changed the hulking locomotives from cold iron and steel into living, breathing beasts and the boilers turned the sheds in to the warmest place in Derbyshire. The smell, the noise, the comradery all made the decision to come out of retirement to drive the engines again an easy one. Even if it meant driving limestone and coal down a branch line rather than steaming up and down the main lines with hundreds of passengers. All in all, Harry thought to himself, it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good and the wars in Europe hadn’t done him any harm. Driving troops in France during the First World War, then brought out of retirement to drive again in 1941, they’d probably made him the man he was. And two years on he still liked the man he was. Tall, wiry, a full head of white hair, and smartly dressed in clean trousers, a tweed jacket, clean shirt and tie, waistcoat and solid work boots.

Eric, his regular fireman, was already on the plate and building the fire under the boiler when Harry climbed up on to the plate.

‘Evening Eric.’

Eric grunted a reply and carried on with his job. The two men had worked together long enough to not need to speak. Everything that had needed to be said had been said years before. Both quick to anger, and even quicker to forgive, they’d had their fist fights and equally forgiven each other again over countless pints. Always underpinned with admiration and acceptance that the other man was the best in the company at what he did.

Harry took a clean piece of rag out of his jacket pocket and carefully wiped down the brass handles and faces of the dials. Then he walked around the engine and tender, speaking to all of the engineers before checking with his brake man, Charlie, who would ride in the last carriage. Climbing back aboard, he waited for another nod and grunt from Eric before slowly reversing the engine out of the shed and coupling up his load for the night.

‘Limestone to Uttoxeter, back with coal.’ Ernie Foxton, the yard foreman shouted up to him. ‘You should have a clean run, you’re the first out tonight and all of the afternoon traffic has cleared the branch. It’s foggy in the valley though, so watch for signals.’

Harry threw a mock salute. He had little respect for men like Foxton. Young enough to fight, but hiding in reserved occupations. He made one last check of the valves, waited for Eric to nod, then pulled out of the yard and accelerated to a steady speed.

Seven miles down the line they came to their first signal box. The next five miles of the line followed the river valley. This stretch was Harry’s favourite stretch of line on a warm summer day. The river glinting in the sun, cows and sheep in the fields and often children waving from the riverside. On these autumn nights, though, it always seemed colder in the valley bottom and on foggy nights like this one it was impossible to see more than a few yards in front of the engine.

‘I don’t like this fog, Eric.’

‘Me neither.’

The signal was for them, as they expected, and when they passed the box George Hart, the signalman, waved and smiled.

‘Look at him. Sat there in his warm dry box. He should be fighting.’ Harry said, as he threw his second mock salute of the night. The he added, for Eric, ‘We’ll have a brew when we’ve cleared the valley.’ Eric nodded and went back to shovelling coal while Harry strained to see ahead. Suddenly he shouted and pulled on the brakes.

‘Red light, there’s something on the track!’

The locomotive, with all of the weight behind it, took nearly a quarter of a mile to stop. There was nothing obvious in front of them. Harry sent Charlie back up the line to tell the signalman that they’d had a near miss, while Eric and Harry searched the line for anything that could have given off the red light. They found nothing, although as Eric said.

‘Can’t see toffee in this dark and fog anyhow.’

After an hour, with all four men searching and nothing obvious being found, they remounted the engine and finished their work for the night with no more incidents.

 

‘Farnsworth, can I have a word please?’ Harry stopped short as Ernie called across the sheds to him. ‘Now please.’ Harry turned and walked in to his office.

‘Yes?’ he asked.

‘I’m going to have to send you home, Farnsworth, just until the doctor’s checked you out.’

‘Why?’

‘After that scare yesterday. We need to know your eyes are up to it.’

‘My eyes? Better than yours have ever been you little…’

‘Don’t make this worse, Farnsworth. Go home. The doctor will be with you as soon as he’s finished his evening surgery. All being well you’re back on the job tomorrow night.’

Harry formed a fist, then thought better of it and stretched his hand out again. Without saying anything he walked out of the sheds and back home. The company doctor arrived ten minutes later.

‘Evening Harry. What’s this about then, last time I checked you had the best eyes on the line?’

‘Still do, doctor, but because of that no one else saw what I saw.’

‘Tell me the story.’

As the doctor examined him Harry explained what had happened the night before.

‘Could it have been a bicycle light, or a car, that moved on?’

‘Not with the blackout, no. It was a rail light on low and it wasn’t moving. We should have run in to the back of a stationery train. But it wasn’t there. Maybe I am just too old for this.’

‘Well, I’m giving you a clean bill of health. And there’s nothing wrong with your eyesight. So if you saw something, it was probably there.’

 

That night Harry did not sleep, so at dawn he walked to the site of the incident and from there down the line to where he thought the light had been. He first walked the line and then searched the undergrowth alongside it. After an hour he thought to himself, there’s nothing here. Maybe I am ready for the knacker’s yard. As he turned to walk back up the line he saw the sunlight glint off something red at the side of the tracks. He bent to pick it up. It was broken red glass. He looked again and found more and finally he found the crushed remains of a metal lamp attached to a broken stick. I knew I saw something. Here it is he thought.

Harry walked to the signal box and asked George Hart to send a message up the line to the depot. An hour later Ernie Foxton dropped off a slow moving engine as it passed. Harry took him and showed him the damaged light. Ernie looked at it, then turned to Harry.

‘I think we need to leave that where it is and call the police, Harry, that looks like it was set to stop you and I can’t think of any good reason why anyone would want to do that. I’ll go to the signal box and call for the police. You wait here.’

Harry found a rock to sit on and watched Ernie walk up the line. He waited for an hour before he started to get worried, but when neither the Ernie nor the police arrived he decided he needed to go after them. He took off his tie and left it tied to a fence post as a marker, and set off up the tracks. As he neared the junction box he saw George walking towards him in front of the box. His hair was a mess, his tie askew and he looked like he had a tear in the knee of his trousers.

‘What are you doing on the line, Farnsworth?’ George shouted.

‘Have you seen Foxton?’ Harry replied. ‘He came to use the telephone in your box.’

‘No, I’ve not seen him’.

By this time the men had almost met. Harry looked again at George and could see that he had marks on his face like he’d just been in a fight.

‘You ok Hart?’

‘Just go away, Farnsworth, there’s a good lad.’

‘You don’t talk to me like that!’

Harry was about to give George a mouthful of abuse when he saw a hand waving in the signal box window.

‘Who’s that in your box?’ He asked. George didn’t even look before he answered

‘No one. Your eyes must be paying tricks again.’

Harry didn’t hesitate, he thumped George square on the jaw, knocking him to the floor. While George was on the ground Harry ran up to the signal box, where he found Ernie gagged and partly tied to a chair and looking almost as bad as George did. Harry pulled the gag out of his mouth.

‘Quick, raise the alarm.’ He said.

Harry sounded the alarm signal then pulled all of the signals to stop just in case. When he looked out of the window he could see that George was coming back towards them, and he had a pistol in his hand. Harry locked the box door and pulled the chair with Ernie still in it and himself behind the cast iron stove. As the first bullet hit the stove he prayed for the first time since 1917. His prayer was answered as there was no second bullet, just the sound of George cursing his jammed gun, in German. The two men looked at each other, then Harry stood up, picked up a crow bar kept for prising apart frozen points, unlocked the door and calmly hit the retreating George across the back of the head, causing him to fall down the signal box stairs. When he landed his left leg pointed in the wrong direction from the knee, and he was ranting in German to himself. Harry picked up the gun, put it in his pocket, then untied Ernie.

 

The Police arrived and took George away to Derby in an ambulance. Over two days he was interrogated by them, then the army, and finally someone from Military Intelligence. He refused to give up his secrets. The intelligence officer eventually came to interview Harry.

‘Evans, Intelligence.’ He said by way of introduction. ‘Jolly good show with that Nazi, old man. Wonder if I can ask you a few questions?’

Harry looked him up and down. He was almost as tall as Harry was, with a blue pinstripe suit, beige raincoat, trilby hat and a rolled umbrella.

‘Come in. There’s tea in the pot.’ He said, ‘Evans was it?’

‘Evans? Oh, yes that’s it. Evans.’

Harry explained in some detail what had happened. Evans asked him some searching questions on his background, service and eventually about his view on why anyone would want to stop the train.

‘I don’t know, Evans. There could be any reason. But the obvious one is to cause an accident.’

‘Interesting thought, old man. You know anything about troop movements?

‘Not since I drove trains across France in 1918. Why?’

‘I’m going to tell you a secret, Farnsworth. More than my job’s worth if you pass this on. More than your life’s worth too. Be a troop train through in two days. Will follow the train you were driving. Non-stop from Buxton, full of new recruits. Our man Foxton was supposed to be making sure the line was safe. Looks like you spotted something he didn’t.’

Harry nodded.

‘So if someone stopped a freight on the line, then ploughed a troop train straight in to it we’d lose a lot of men as well as engines and possibly use of the line?’ Harry asked.

‘That’s the thinking.

‘So stopping me was a trial run?’

‘We think so. We think Hart, if that’s his name, wanted to check out whether he could stop your train and keep the line open for the troop train to hit you. Works once, it’ll work again. He just forgot that everyone would investigate why you stopped.’

‘So I’m in the clear?’

‘More than that, old man, a hero.’

 

Harry walked back in to the yard that night, head held high and acknowledging the shouts and waves of his colleagues. He was heading for his usual engine when Ernie shouted him over. Harry’s heart fell, but he kept the smile on his face.

‘Change of duties tonight, Farnsworth.’

Harry didn’t like the sound of that.

‘We need a new signal man. Clean and warm. Fancy it?’

‘No, sir. If I wanted clean and warm I’d go back in to retirement.’

‘Thought so. So I’ve put you forward to drive troop trains from now on. We need our best men on that job. Hop a ride up to Buxton, you can drive from there to London overnight. Take Eric.’

‘Thank you Sir.’ He said. Harry smiled as he walked across the yard.

 

Picture (Keighly and Worth Valley Steam Railway) (c) Chris Johnson 2013

Words (c) Chris Johnson 2016

11898940_10153633488311095_2218785026502278564_nThe candle guttered as the breeze from the open window blew across the flame. The room was otherwise dark and silent, Charlie and Evie long having run out of conversation and retreated to their own thoughts. Charlie assumed that Evie was composing a poem. He had always envied her ability to ‘write’ in her head and only later commit to paper. He needed to see words on a page, to see what they looked like and to capture them before they were lost. He was thinking about money. Or lack of money. Hence the Friday night blackout. It saved on electricity. At least that was what Evie said. ‘With what we save on a Friday we can go out or have a take away on a Saturday, and anyway it’s a great way to come up with ideas and work on them’. Except it never seemed to end up that there was enough money left for a night out and he never came up with ideas that he could remember long enough to use.

Charlie knew that Evie was by far the better writer of the two of them. She seemed to turn her hand to any genre, sold articles and fake agony aunt letters and responses to the local papers and even had some interest from an agent for her unfinished novel. Not that they ever had any money, even with his part time wages and the money he managed to get from selling by the inch filler pieces on local clubs and societies to the local free papers, they still struggled.

A moth flew in and started to circle the candle. Charlie watched as it flew close to the flame, then further away only to be drawn back again. Evie gasped as it flew straight through the flame and trailed smoke as it circled a little wider for a while before, inevitably, being drawn back. Charlie just knew she was composing some deep meaningful poem. He tried to come up with some ideas himself. He could write about pilots in a dog fight. Something meaningful about how the pilots had more in common with each other than with the politicians who sent them to fight. He reached for the ever present notebook and pen, then realised that he couldn’t see well enough to write and Evie would never allow a light. Even so, he stared at the flame and started to plot the story even though he knew he would never remember it, hoping that something useful would remain somewhere in his subconscious.

Time passed. The moth continued to flirt with the flame and somehow just avoid being burned alive.

“Bed time.” Evie said. “Have you come up with any ideas?”

“A few” he lied.

“I’ve got a poem on the go. That moth was a brilliant inspiration, don’t you think?”

“I suppose.”

“Are you ok?”

“Yes, of course I am. Always.”

Evie went to bed. Charlie blew out the candle and closed the window before he followed her up. As he got into bed Evie recited some of the poem she’d ‘written’. She was using the moth circling the flame as a metaphor for a destructive relationship, subverting what appeared to be a love poem into something really quite dark in the final verse. It was genius. Charlie was devastated. Again.

Charlie dreamed. He was a moth and Evie was the flame he was circling. Every time he tried to get away she drew him back. But whenever he got too close he got burned. He woke with a start. Realising he would not get back to sleep he quietly got out of bed and went downstairs. The candle sat where it had been the night before. The moth was dead, its body preserved in the re-hardened wax. Before Evie woke he had packed and gone. Out into the darkness.

 

 

Photograph (c) Karen Downs-Barton 2015. Thanks to Karen for the writing prompt and kind permission to use her photograph. You can find her at: http://karendownsbarton.blogspot.co.uk/

Words (c) Chris Johnson 2015

 

“Angie! Angie, wake up!”

Towelling his wet hair, Grant walked into his bedroom.

Grant reached down to shake her. He really wanted her to leave before his house mates woke. He told himself it was to protect her reputation, in truth it was probably more about his. Like a number of newly qualified doctors he was older than the student nurses he often drank with and was well aware that a reputation could badly impact on his future employment prospects.

He touched Angie’s shoulder. It was cold. He pulled his had away, she rolled on to her back. That’s when he saw the blood on the pillow, dribble from the corner of her mouth.

Grant stood stock still for what seemed, to him, to be hours. Then he grabbed a bag, filled it with some clothes, found his passport, phone and wallet and headed out of the house.

***

An hour later blue lights strobed across the front of the house. Grant’s housemates stood around waiting for the police to tell them what to do. Grant was at the ticket desk at St Pancras praying that he could get on a Eurotunnel train before the police got his name and address on some watch list. He succeeded. He travelled fast, Paris, Mediterranean coast, North Africa, on and on further South into sub Saharan Africa. Days later, tired, hungry, dirty and unshaven he washed up at a refugee camp. Giving a false surname, he volunteered to help in the field hospital.

He used the internet terminal in the hospital office once a day to check for any news. By the time he’d arrived at the camp the main story, the death of one student in another’s bed had already been archived. The only news story that appeared to be updated daily was the search for him. He swore to himself not to go back.

Six months passed.

Grant stepped out of the operating theatre and into the shower tent. Wet, refreshed, he looked in the only mirror on the camp. A tanned, bearded and haggard man he barely recognised looked back.

Soon afterwards Grant’s boss offered him the chance to work even further into the interior of the desert. After six months there he moved on again, then again, then again. He carried on running from his own past, concentrating on his work. Forever moving to the next trouble spot, never taking any payment except for food and board.

Time passed. The man in the mirror’s beard bleached blonde in the sun, his hair grew first long, then bleached the same colour as his beard. He still occasionally checked the internet. It was clear that the police had stopped actively searching for him, but he was on a number of missing persons databases. He’d never seen anything indicating that Angie’s murder had been solved. He was sure he was still a suspect. He wasn’t sure that in some, unspecified way, he was guilty.

***

Grant’s boss found him one day, taking a nap in an otherwise empty dormitory tent.

“Grant, I need you to go to the UK on a fundraising lecture tour.”

“No.”

“I need you to go. You’re intelligent, erudite and most important you could earn a good living in the UK but you’ve chosen to be here. It’s a story we want to cash in on, it’s a great recruiting tool.”

“No.”

“Grant, I’ve been suspicious for a while that you’re running from something. But please, reconsider.”

“I have no passport.”

“We’ll get you one. Any name you want.”

“You can’t do that.”

“We do it all the time. We get passports for loads of refugees. What’s one more?”

Grant realised he had been cornered. “Ok.”

***

“Sir?”

“Yes, PC Hains?”

“Sir, we’ve got a hit on an old case. Facial recognition on CCTV at Heathrow.”

“Let me see.” He looked over the PC’s shoulder. “That is an old case. Ok, track him and bring him in to a local nick.”

***

The hotel manager opened the door to Grant’s hotel room at dawn, the PC with him was obviously wary as he entered the room. Grant was awake, reading his presentation for that day at the small desk in his room.

“Sir, please stand and turn to face me.” The PC said.

Grant’s shoulders drooped. His head too. “Ok” he said, and did as he was told. “Am I being arrested?”

“No sir, I’ve just been asked to take you to the station. Someone wants to talk to you.”

***

The interview room was something from Grant’s worse nightmare. After years of desert life and refugee camp hospitals, the damp, dark room felt like a tomb. An overweight balding man in plain clothes, escorted by the PC who had brought Grant in, came in to the room. Sitting, the detective checked Grant’s name and confirmed his address at the time of Angie’s death.

“Where have you been Grant?”

Grant told the short version of his story.

“You’ve been on the run?”

Grant nodded.

“From what?”

“The girl in my bed was dead. I am a murder suspect. You’ve never caught anyone as far as I can tell. I’m fairly certain I didn’t do it, but I was very drunk. Anyway you probably think I did?”

“She was murdered?” the detective asked.

“Yes…wait”, Grant frowned, “ I never checked. The internet news stories never actually said murder. I just assumed.”

“Some doctor you are. Didn’t even check. For God’s sake never work on me. Off you go.”

“Wait? What? I can go?”

“Natural causes. She died of natural causes. You would have been back at college that afternoon with a story that you could have dined out on for life. Goodbye Grant, good luck with your lecture tour.”

As he walked back to his hotel the early commuters gave Grant a wide berth as his laughter turned to massive, loud, sobbing tears.

(C) Chris Johnson 2013

Adam was feeling good. He’d just done a deal, a big one, one that could make his career. He’d sold the farmhouse that had been on his company’s books since before anyone could remember. His mind, as ever on the money, was working out his commission and what he might spend it on; boat, holiday, replacement Range Rover, redecorate his apartment.
The traffic slowed, Adam cursed. He felt a headache coming on, reached for a cigarette.
Inching forward for a few minutes, he finally saw the cause of the hold up. A farmer, trailer full of sheep on the back of an ancient pick-up, two flat tyres. The farmer flagged him down.
“Give me a hand mate?”
“I’m in a rush, meeting.”
“You’ll not get far unless I can move this trailer”
Adam grunted, “Ok, hitch her up, I’ll get her out of the road.”
The old farmer introduced himself as Seb. Within ten minutes the trailer was hitched up and Seb was in the passenger seat.
“It’s only a couple of miles, and it’s in your direction.”
Adam was about to argue, he’d only agreed to move the trailer out of the way, but something made him think that an argument was not something Seb would want to listen to.
Ten minutes down the road Seb indicated a left turn. Adam was concentrating so hard on getting the long trailer turned without risking any damage to his car, that he nearly rammed the tractor and trailer blocking the road.
“Rigwelter!” Seb exclaimed, and was out of the car and away across the fields like a shot. Before Adam could react a couple of huge looking lads were standing on either side of the car, an old man by his door, shotgun held at just the angle that wasn’t quite a threat, but made the threat an option.
“Out.”
Adam complied.
“Sheep thief. Does thou know what we do with sheep thieves round here?”
Adam started to argue; “No, I was just helping Seb. He’d got two flat tyres.”
“He’d got two flats’ cause he got them shot out, trying to steal my sheep,” he nodded towards the trailer, “them sheep what you’re stealing now.”
Adam tried again to protest his innocence. The old man smiled.
“Well, that’s fine. Marlon here,” he nodded to one of the hulking lads, “will just drive your car and my sheep back to my farm. Me and you’ll go in the tractor, nice and friendly like.”
Adam thought, very briefly about arguing, but the shotgun and the sheer size of Marlon made mind up.
“Eric.” Said the man once he was in the tractor and heading back up the main road. He held out a hand the size of a shovel, and as course as sandpaper. “And you?”
“Adam.” They shook hands. Adam felt his bones grinding together.
“Good bible name that. Religious man Adam?”
“No, my mother was. Not me.”
“Ahh. You might want to learn quick.”
“Sorry?”
“Don’t be. You’ll get the same chance all sheep thieves get.”
Adam protested his innocence again, but Eric didn’t appear to be listening.

Twenty minutes up the road Eric pulled the tractor in to a farm lane and stopped at a farm house. Adam immediately launched into a sales patter.
“I could sell this for you when you decide to retire. It’s got to be worth a fortune. Land for a campsite, golf course, 4x4s, that sort of thing. The house itself could be a great holiday let, maybe converted to flats and apartments. You got brick barns too?”
Adam didn’t notice until too late that Eric had turned first red, then purple with rage.
“This is my land, farm land. When I’m gone Marlon and James will farm the land just like I do and my father and his father. You city scum ain’t turning this into a playground. Just where do you think all your food’s coming from when you’ve bought and sold all these farms. Now out, over there, bottom of the quarry.”
***
“This is country justice. You stole my sheep, I caught you. You climb the quarry,” Adam loked up at sixty feet of limestone walls, loose rocks and sparse vegetation. “You get to the top, you can walk away.”
“If I fall?”
“Brother keeps pigs. Family joke. Eat anything will a pig.”
Adam started to argue. Seb cut him off.
“Or I could just have an accident with this here shot gun, I’m an old man and my fingers sometimes shake.”
Adam started to climb. He carefully picked his way up the unstable wall. What seemed like days, and was probably hours later he started to think he could make it. His hands and knees were bleeding, his suit in shreds and he was covered in sweat, but he finally got a hand over the top.
As soon as he did a boot landed on it. Adam looked up. Marlon.
“Dad says no-one ever makes the climb.”
Adam looked down, Eric was waving his hands in the air and shouting. He looked up again. Marlon was distracted. Adam took the chance to free his hand. As he reached over the edge someone grabbed his arm. Looking up again he saw the uniform and face of a policeman.
“Let me help you up.”
As soon as he was safely over the top Adam started to tell his story.
“So you’re telling me that Eric made you climb the quarry because you’re a sheep thief?”
“I’m not, but he thinks I am!”
“I’ll need to investigate.”
He cuffed Adam, then walked him down to the bottom of the quarry.
“Eric,” he said as he uncuffed Adam, “You know I’ve told you before about country justice. You know our Mum would never have approved.”
Adam looked from man to man, noticed the family resemblance.
“Once is far too easy. You gotta give him at least the best of three.” He smiled at Adam. “Off you go again, young man.”

Big thanks to Ant for the inspiration. C

(C) Chris Johnson 2013

I saw the shadow pass across the frosted window in my door three times before it finally stopped outside. I heard a knock.

‘Come in!’ I shouted, and got up, closing the lid of my lap top and sliding it in to a drawer of my desk.

I met my visitor at the door and looked her up and down. Tall, long red curls. A looker too. I didn’t recognise her, wondered how she’d found me. She’d been crying, her green eyes were blood shot. I offered her a seat, and a drink.

‘You got any scotch?’ She asked. She looked at me, looked round my office and added, ‘or, based on the look of this place maybe I should ask for bourbon? What is this, a film set?’

I smiled, pouring us each a Black Jack. ‘I often got asked that question or a variation of it when people came to visit me for the first time.’

‘You’ve got this place done out like a cliché of a 1930’s New York private detective. Come to think of it, you’re dressed like one too. You for real?’

I handed her a bourbon, took a drink of mine.

‘I like it. I find it helps me to concentrate, Miss?’

I left it hanging. So did she.

‘Does this impress clients, or scare them off?’

‘Clients?’

‘Yeah, whatever, I’ve got a job for you and I need someone below the radar. You took some finding, I had to ask around, so I suspect you’re not well known? And no doubt you’re either very cheap or very expensive?’

‘Sorry, I didn’t catch your name and I have no idea what it is that you want? Can we rewind a little?’

‘You can call me Scarlett. It’s close enough. I need a detective.’

‘I’m not…’

‘I don’t care how busy you are, or how expensive you are, I haven’t got time to find anyone else.’

‘Haven’t got time?’

‘I have to get this pen drive,’ she pulled a USB stick out of her bag and placed it in my hand, ‘to the right people within the next 24 hours. They’ll pay me well for it.’

‘So what’s on it?’

‘Some files that I stole from work.’

‘I’m not getting involved in anything illegal!’

‘Call it whistle blowing then. I need you to find the right people, deliver this and bring back the money. Simple.’

‘Scarlett, you need a courier not a detective, and certainly not…’

She banged her glass down on my antique desk.

‘I don’t have a name and address you idiot, just a place and time to meet with someone. I don’t know if I can trust them so I want to send someone who can help, maybe follow them if need’s be. I need a private detective. That’s you.’

‘You don’t seem to understand, or you don’t want to hear…’

‘I understand, you’re a bit odd with all this ‘30’s noir stuff, but you’re it. I haven’t got time to go looking for anyone else.’

‘Please listen to me. This 30’s noir stuff is a movie set. Well, set dressing anyway. I’m not a detective, I’m a writer. I write detective novels set in 30’s New York. This stuff helps me write. If you need help, call the police. Or a real private detective. I’m not who you’re looking for.’

She burst into tears again.

(C) Chris Johnson 2013