Tag Archives: Author: Stuart Carruthers

Death of a Writer by Stuart Carruthers

 

Stuart pic

The End

Bleeding by the edge of a railway line on a cold summer’s evening in Southern England isn’t the best way to end one’s life. But then again his hadn’t been much of a life. Forty-four years old and this is how it was to end. Shivering beside a cold steel rail waiting for the 7:51 from Paddington to come and remove his head. He didn’t remember the next part. It wasn’t a blur it just wasn’t. It ceased to be. He ceased to be. One minute he was staring in the opposite direction to the oncoming train and then…

He blinked, trying to stop the bright white light burning his retina, an instinctive reaction that was part of his unconscious.

“Don’t bother with that.” A voice came from nowhere. “It won’t do you any good. Just open your eyes. C’mon it won’t hurt.”

“Where am I?”

“Who knows, now c’mon let’s get moving.”

“My legs, I can’t, I don’t think I can.”

“Of course you can, now open your eyes, stand up and get walking.”

The room stretched forward for an eternity but, despite many years of arthritis, he felt no pain, no aching as he stoically placed one foot in front of another, turning from a psychosomatic limp, to walk, to a jog, to a trot, to a run. For the first time in as long as he could remember he ran and ran until his lungs were about to burst, or would have done. He had never been a fit man and he should only have been able to run a short distance before his sides stitched and his tongue burned, but when he did finally stop his companion was just a small dot in the distance. With a grin on his face he waited.

“How did you know?”

“See, this arm?”

“Yes of course it looks perfect.”

“Well that’s always been there. But this,” he pointed to his big toe “was chopped off when I was a kid. Now let’s get moving I have a feeling we’re nearly there.”

Where there were was anybody’s guess. They certainly didn’t know as they approached the atrium and saw many thousands of other people facing forward, staring blankly into the distance towards a giant screen. Pulling up a seat, he sat down at the back, near where they’d come in. Moments later he turned around to look where he’d entered only to find thousands more people behind him. No longer at the edge he was somewhere in the center of this ever expanding mass of people of all ages, colors and creeds dressed in white hospital gowns with their backs showing through the slit in the back.

“What now?” he whispered to his companion.

Nothing. It was as though he hadn’t been heard. The man who’d walked with him up that long pathway now sat staring at the screen as though listening intensely to a message being broadcast at a wavelength which was audible to everyone in the room except him. He gave the man a nudge. Again nothing. Not a flicker of movement. He tried harder the next time, but his finger just went into his arm and touched his bone. But there was no response. He tried the person to his left. The same result. Then cautiously, he turned around and looked at the people behind him. The result was the same; growing bolder he stood and walked several rows forward to discover the same motionless people, frozen, unblinkingly at the blank projector ahead of them. He kept walking forward towards an unending supply of people and then he shouted at the top of his lungs.

“HELLO!” His voice echoed around the chamber and reverberated around his head as it bounced off his eardrums.

When he next turned around the room was empty except for one man with a very long red beard.

“Are you?”

“God? Oh dear me no.”

“No, I know that.” The man with beard looked slightly crestfallen, “I mean are you Slartibartfast?”

A smile spread across his face creating a thin pink gap between his moustache and the silky red beard.

“I knew you were the one, the moment I saw you. Now come with me.”

“Can you tell me where we are?”

“Yes I can.”

And he walked off towards a small door beneath the screen.

“We can’t go through there. It’s much too small.”

“Perception is in the eye of the beholder dear boy. Just follow me.”

The man who looked like Slartibartfast, but obviously wasn’t, towered over our hero, for everyone is a hero in death, and walked through the door which was considerably shorter than either of them, as though it was exactly the right height. Cautiously our hero followed him, ducking his head to avoid a bang.

“Slar…”

“Bob, if you don’t mind.”

“Bob? But I thought you said…?”

“No, you called me that I just didn’t correct you. Where are we?”

“Yes, where are we and what just happened?”

“All will be explained.”

And he wandered off.

“This is where it all began, your life I mean. When not on Earth you live here. The trouble is you’re destroying it and we’re not happy about it.”

“Wait, what do you mean I live here?”

“All will be explained, now if you don’t mind.”

Bob, picked up his beard and headed off at such a speed that our hero had difficulty catching up.

“For an old man, you move pretty fast.”

They reached a door in another blank wall and entered what looked like a company boardroom, with its long never-ending wooden table and countless chairs.

“Sit.”

He did as he was told and Bob walked all the way to the other end where, as just a speck in the distance, he was joined by two others, who appeared out of nowhere.

“Welcome, we are Bob. You’ve met Bob and we too are Bob. Together we run GOD Inc.”

“What is…”

“Please don’t interrupt. We run a holiday service which sends people to Earth for a break from being able to have anything you could desire. Think of it as camping trip in the Lake District in summer or a trip to a music festival. And we’re pissed. You and your ilk have royally fucked up the planet and we may have to start again.”

“Excuse me!”

“Yes?” they asked in unison.

“What does this have to do with me?”

“It’s your fault. You started this nonsense and now you will fix it.”

“But I didn’t do anything. I was a branch manager of a small bank in Slough. I counted money in and money out. All major decisions were made by someone in a remote office; I just input data into a form. It was a soulless job in a soulless office in a soulless town. My life didn’t mean much to anyone. My ex-wife was so bored she ran off with an accountant!”

“Not now perhaps. But on your first visit to Earth you were quite the fabler and made quite a comfortable life for yourself. Many of your stories became best sellers eventually. You remember writing a nice little story about Adam and Eve?!”

“Wait, I did what?”

“You told bedtime stories for your kids and your horror stories for your friends to entertain them on quiet nights around the campfire and keep you fed. Of course you won’t remember, but anyway after your grandkids heard these fanciful tales and began telling them to their children they got written down and since life was simpler back then they got taken seriously. You kick started Judaism and Christianity, you fool!”

“But I…” he started to protest.

“Enough! What you will do is fix this problem. Luckily for you anti-theism is taking hold again and we want you to get them to believe in a new kind of god,”

“But I can’t do that. I don’t know how.”

“You did it before and you’ll do it again.”

“But people aren’t as simple as they once were and there are more them.”

“And now you have more ways to communicate with them. You will do it.”

“And if I don’t?”

“You’ll never be allowed to return here again.”

“Is that so bad?”

“You remember Slough!”

“Hmm, Okay. Now, Will I remember any of this?”

“Actually yes. You’ll be returned to your old mundane life and you need to start as soon as possible.”

“How the hell do I escape Slough and convince the world that you don’t exist?”

“Might we suggest you start writing some new stories? I think you’ll be surprised how well they do. Good bye”

——

“C’mon mate you don’t want to do that.”

He felt his feet being pulled and his body dragging along the road as his head banged along the tarmac just in time to see the wheels of the fast diesel whizz past his nose.

“You know what? You’re absolutely right,” he stood up, brushed himself down and thanked his good Samaritans, “I have a book to write”.

The Beginning

 

Image: https://shrapnelcontemporary.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/stairway_to_heaven.jpg

Bio: Stuart Carruthers is a writer of short fiction and lives in Taiwan with his wife and 2 kids. His work can be found on all Amazon sites.

Stuff It by Stuart Carruthers

a

 

The light streamed through the large window and cast dark shadows around the otherwise white room. Sara opened her eyes. She didn’t know where she was, it looked like a hotel room, the white linen was soft to the touch and the duvet that covered her was full and voluptuous. It was expensive. But there was something wrong. She couldn’t put her finger on it. There was something subtly out of place. She got out of bed and walked over to the window and looked down, where she could see cars and people scurrying around like mice.

Behind her she heard the door open. She wanted to turn around, but either through fear or bloody-mindedness, she kept looking out through the glass.

“Sara, I’m Doctor Smith.”

“A doctor,” she said to the window, “am I sick?

“Please sit down, Miss Jones.”

“Miss Jones? Why the change of address?”

“Miss Jones, I really must insist that you come and sit down.” The tone was firm and one of a person who was used to getting his own way. Sara complied.

“So Doctor, what’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing that a short stay here won’t cure. But before we get into that let’s talk about you.

“You’re Sara Jones and you live at this address?” He showed her his clipboard. She nodded in confirmation. “Excellent, excellent. You have a good income Miss Jones, one that many would envy, especially for a single person. Lots of disposable income.”

“I’ve worked hard and had a degree of luck,” she answered defensively.

“Of course, of course. Nobody resents you, please don’t take offense. I’m just checking a few facts.”

The questions went on for a while and the doctor eventually left, without telling her why she was there or how she got there. When she tried the door, she was pleasantly surprised to find it unlocked. Having dressed in her own clothes that were neatly folded in the white chest of drawers, she walked along the corridor until she found a lift. It arrived after she pressed the down button, but nothing happened.

A voice came from a speaker. “Miss Jones you can only go to the roof, where you will find the canteen and the garden. The other buttons won’t work for you at this time.”

She pressed “R”.

When the elevator stopped, the doors opened on a Japanese garden covered by glass panels to keep the elements out. Around her she heard the sound of flowing water and the splashing of orange and white koi leaping in excitement at being fed.

Sara sat on one the benches that bordered the area. She was alone and she disappeared into her thoughts, trying to make sense of the situation.

“Miss  Jones.”

Startled, Sara’s almost jumped, but she controlled the impulse. Her job relied on not showing emotions, and she was well rewarded for this ability.

“Doctor Smith. Do you have any more questions?”

“No, but I may have some answers. This is a recovery home; you’re here to help us determine how we can help you recover from an illness. You will be released when we deem you are well enough to return to society. Your salary is still being paid and you’ll actually be able to work from here for the duration of your stay. There are full office facilities on the floor below and your laptop has been put in your secure locker. Here’s the key. Just return it when you return to your room. There are a few rules whilst you’re here, but you’ll be advised of those if you come across them.”

“What am I recovering from exactly?”

“Your spending habits.”

“But, but I buy very little!”

“And that is the problem. You don’t have enough stuff. Your credit cards are hardly used; your store cards have only the essentials registered. We’ve inventoried your home and quite frankly it’s very disappointing. You have one TV, one computer—a laptop—and a cell phone that quite frankly should be in a museum. You don’t even have a car; your bike is 15 years old. Your bank accounts show that you’re not living beyond your means or even close to it. You do, to your credit, have a bit of an alcohol problem and you eat out quite a lot, and a personal trainer helps you keep trim. Sorry, we can’t have him here, but there is a gym and pool two floors down.

“The thing is you’re supposed to want more.  A person in your position should have two televisions, a good selection of never used kitchen gadgets hiding in cupboards, many electronic gadgets that have long ceased to be useful, and of course lots of clothes that you hardly ever wear. Are you aware that interest rates are kept deliberately low to encourage you not to save and to spend more on credit?”

“Are you saying that not being a shopaholic is a crime?”

“Not technically, but it is an anomaly and as such is reason enough to have you detained here.”

“So, what do I have to do to get out of here? Promise that I’ll buy more junk? Max out my credit cards on Amazon? What do you want?”

“Well that would help, but it would only be a short term fix and you’d soon slip back into your old habits. What you’re here for is a long-term resolution, not just for you but so we can learn how to help all those who suffer in the same way. Thanks to MRI scanners, we know how to target most people’s sweet spots and we can target advertising in such a way as to get 62 percent of the population to buy anything we sell them. But there are a few of you on whom these methods just don’t work. We need to know why. You’ll be allowed to leave once we’ve found the reason.”

 ***

The days and weeks dragged by as Sara worked, exercised, and was tested, prodded, and interviewed over and over. Eventually she was let go. One day she stepped into the lift to go to the office. She pushed the button, but instead of going up the elevator automatically went down to the basement. There she was met by a driver and shown to a black car with tinted windows. In the back was an open bottle of champagne with a note around the neck.

“Thank you for your patience Miss Jones.”

Sara poured herself a glass of wine, relaxed back into the embracing seats and watched the television. It was a new sitcom sitcom. Sara chuckled at some of the jokes. She didn’t notice any advertising. But she had this feeling, a strange urge to buy a new bicycle and, yes, she really did need to upgrade her cell phone.

***

Stuart Carruthers writes speculative fiction and childrens stories and can be found on Amazon. He lives in Taiwan with his wife and two young kids.

The root of all evil by Stuart Carruthers

picture for blog

“That’ll be two and a half hours please.”

“Two and a half hours!?” he interrobanged, “but it only took you 10 minutes!”

“Ah, but it’s not actually the length of time it takes one to do something, but the length of time it took to do the training. It’s all in the guidelines. Paragraph two point three subsection D. “Where a tariff is not directly applicable, the service provider may set their own rate based upon the amount of training they believe they have had.”

“But you’ve only changed a tire! How much training did it take?”

“That sir! Is not the point, could you have done it?”

“Of course I could have done it! A trained chimp, no offense, could have done it.

“Then why didn’t you? Sir!?” the mechanic, with the air of someone who knows he has the other party over a barrel, obsequiously asked.

“Because, I didn’t want to get my bloody dinner jacket dirty! Oh whatever, give me your card.”

The mechanic, now smiling, handed over his debit card and the surgeon held it against the back of his cell phone and deducted two and half hours off his total.

“Thank you, sir. It was a pleasure doing business with you.”

“A few more of these and I’ll be able to earn a holiday,” the mechanic thought.

A grass roots movement of communities began trading their time, rather than money, for goods and services. What started off as a good idea, started to get out of hand when law suits were filed when people didn’t get the hours they thought they were owed. After several hundred of these and the courts having their time wasted over petty civil disagreements, the government stepped in and issued guidelines as to how many hours a certain task and profession was worth. They tried to consider all jobs, but inevitably things slipped through the net and certain caveats were put in place and in the event that an agreement couldn’t be reached and independent ombudsman was placed in each area to deal with these disputes, his time was charged at a fixed rate payable by both parties.

The mechanic forgot all about it and went on his way, charging whatever he felt was appropriate. It was now manual labour workers who were time rich. Bakers could make a three-dozen loaves in three hours, yet could charge thirty minutes for each loaf. Mechanics could charge two hours for a full service and could do it in one. Solicitors, who in a cash society could charge whatever they wanted, could now only charge one hour for a ten-minute letter. Still a nice markup, but at least people weren’t going to the poor house to visit one. Our friend the surgeon was upset because, despite still being very time rich, he didn’t like being ripped off.

The surgeon contacted the ombudsman, and the ombudsman found in favor of the mechanic who once again smiled slyly at the surgeon. Now, fate is a wonderful thing and it wasn’t long before their path’s crossed once again.

“Help me doc.” The mechanic didn’t recognize his mark, with his medical Google Glasses perched on the bridge of his nose, a fresh tan from a Caribbean holiday and holiday beard he hadn’t gotten round to shaving off.

“How much will be cost?” The mechanic asked once he’d received his diagnosis.

“Hmm an appendix operation? Simple enough. Let’s say one hundred hours!”

“One hundred hours!?” it was his time to interrobang. “But the guide says it’s only worth ten hours!”

“But I foresee complications and besides which, could you do it yourself?” He winked at the mechanic.

“Don’t I know you?”

“Please give me your card.”

The mechanic meekly handed it over.

“Thank you, sir, I’ll see to it that all complications are resolved.?

 

Bio

____

Stuart Carruthers is a sceptical deist, pseudo geek and frog herder. Having escaped British winters he now lives in Taiwan where he shares his house with his wife and two kids. Find his books here: http://www.amazon.com/Stuart-Carruthers/e/B008LR5FRM/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Born with Dignity

euthanasia

“Ooo isn’t it lovely, George? cooed Mildred as they sat on Brighton promenade watching the seagulls dive and the sea gently lap the pebble shore on a pleasantly warm day in June.

“Yes, love, it’s absolutely beautiful. We haven’t had a holiday like this for…” He paused and closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and smelled the fragrant salt air. “Oh, I don’t remember.”

George and Mildred held hands and watched sunset as they slowly drifted off to sleep.

Elsewhere, June was reclining and perspiring on her patio sun lounger, watching her grandchildren gambol and giggle and their parents, her children, grilling steaks on the barbeque whilst holding glasses of wine and chatting and laughing. She watched all this happening from a distance, feeling slightly disconnected from it all. A light warm rain shower cooled her down and she licked her lips tasting the small water droplets, she closed her eyes and took in a deep breath of the smell of ozone and drifted off to sleep.

 

“You alright Jane?”

“Bloody busses, one bit of rain and the whole system grounds to a halt; then just as I got outside, a truck goes too fast through a puddle and soaks me to the bone. Oh well, never mind. What have we got on today?”

“There’s an old couple in room 503, a single woman in 210, and in 320 there was a handsome young man.”

“I hate it when they’re young. Such a shame. Still I suppose he had his reasons.”

In a rather enlightened bit of policy making, an outgoing government, realizing that they achieved nothing in their last eight years and had nothing to lose, decided to legalize euthanasia. It would certainly cost them the election, maybe keep them from power forever; but having decided to separate the church from the state, they threw all the religious rhetoric to the wind and launched a pro-freewill campaign. It was, much to their surprise, incredibly popular and launched them to power for the next five elections.

 

“Okay, Doc,what happens now?” asked the handsome young man.

“You’ll have your approval or rejection in three-to-four weeks, a cooling off period if you like, and then you’ll be assigned a liaison officer, who will be your contact from there on in.”

“What are my chances?”

“That’s not for me to say. An independent panel will watch this session recording. They’ll also read my notes and view the test results. It’s for the best. To be sure.”

Joe wheeled himself out of the office and slowly made his way home.

“How did it go, Joe?” asked his parents.

“I just have to sit back and wait.” He smiled. “Nothing new there then, more bloody sitting.”

For three years, ever since he’d been involved in a freak accident whilst practicing for his fourth marathon, Joe had been confined to a wheelchair. His broken spine and pelvis were damaged so badly that he was lucky to be alive. The irony, that he’d been hit by an out of control motorbike spinning through the air from behind, did not escape Joe even in the moment of the accident. Nor did he forget seeing the rider land and crumple at his feet moments before the impact. Just as Joe was recovering from the shock of seeing the leather clad figure at his feet, 200 kilos of Ducati Monster smashed into him and sent him spinning along the road. Six months in the hospital going through mental and physical rebuilding, then release into a handicapped life.

 

On his last day, Joe’s parents drove him to the clinic. As he wished, they said farewell at door. He wheeled himself through the double doors and was shown to his room. For the next two hours, he rode a simulated motorbike through some of the toughest roads in Europe. The wind increased as he pulled back the throttle, and, at a prescribed time, he lost control, and took one final breath of gasoline scented air.

 

Author Bio
Stuart Carruthers is a sceptical deist, pseudo geek and frog herder. Having escaped British winters he now lives in Taiwan where he shares his house with his wife and two kids.

Murder in the Supermarket by Stuart Carruthers

cartoon

I’m after a book, I know the shop that has it, and I know what it costs. I don’t like to waste time shopping. In fact I’m slightly obsessive about saving time.

The Internet was my godsend.

I browse online for books, but I buy them from my favorite bookshop. Why don’t I buy books online if I don’t like shopping? Life is far from ideal and not easily answered.

I work in a drab building 60’s tower block, which, like many of the older inmates, has cancer. The functional furniture was designed by engineers, engineered for space and efficiency, with no thought given to the inhabitants. The fluorescent strip lights stings my eyes, so at lunchtime, I escape for some fresh air and rush to the bookshop, followed by a Marks and Sparks sandwich and fruit juice and a sit in the park with my new book.

If it’s raining or very cold, I head over to a peaceful back alley deli for a freshly made pastrami and honey mustard sandwich on crusty farmhouse bread and a glass of squeezed juice. To warm the bones there’s also a daily soup. It’s pricey, but as an administrative manager for a bank, I can afford it occasionally. A wife, a child and a 40 mile commute take their toll on the rest of my pay packet.

About a week ago, one of my underlings royally fucked up and nearly failed his three-month probation. He had committed several clerical mistakes that resulted in some of our credit card customers being overcharged. Several complained and threatened to change banks.

As his supervisor I took most of the responsibility and was hauled across the coals. I was stressed not only because my team had screwed up but because I could have prevented the mistake by doing my job. Instead, I killed time at work browsing online for books just out of sheer boredom.

Being bollocked makes me feel inadequate, just the way I was as a 14 year old at school. “Hunter” my math’s teacher would shout “what is x if –b plus the square root of b2-4ac divided by 2a?” and I’d stand there and quiver.

“I…I…”

“I what Hunter?”

“I don’t know, sir”

“You don’t know? Weren’t you listening?” and then, without waiting for an answer he’d turn to someone else and in a withering tone say  “Johnson tell Hunter what the answer is”.

Of course my carpeting wasn’t anything like that, 30 years on. It was all a bit more civilized. But my ingrained reaction was the same, and my bowels churned.

I angrily left for lunch in a rush from the barren walls, fluorescent lighting, stale air and most of all the noise, the constant chit chat and shrill squeal of the temp agency girl flirting with the young men. Any other day I’d envy them and let it wash over me. Today, I felt they sensed my anger and were carrying on this way deliberately to bait me.

The crisp February air and sunshine were a welcome change from the murk of the office. I still felt unhinged, my head filled with a dense fog. It was like a serious head cold that causes stupid errors of judgment or retarded performance of even the simplest tasks such as getting on the right bus or checking that the road is clear.

I walked down the street, got on the tube, caught the train and went home, calling in sick from the train. It may have looked a bit suspicious, but I was more afraid of what might have happened had I stayed in the office.

Arriving at the station, I walked the 15 minutes home. Nobody would be there, my wife was at work and my daughter was at school.

Shit. It was half term. I’d forgotten all about it. I leave for work before my daughter gets up and return home after her normally. I’m a bit out of touch with her schedule.

“Hi Dad”, she said as I walked through the door

“Hi Jess…ah struth, its half term, isn’t it?”

“Er yeah? What you doing home?,

“Oh, I’m sick.”

“Bunking off more like,” she smiled

“Yeah, something like that.”

The mist had cleared a little. I liked seeing Jess. I missed her when I didn’t see her and as we grew older we were seeing less and less of each other.

“Say seeing as we’re both at home, do you want to go to a movie and grab a pizza for dinner?”

“Sorry Dad, I’m meeting Dianne and Susan in town in an hour or so”

“Ok, have fun, I’ll go to Sainsbury’s and treat myself.”

I went up stairs to change into jeans, t-shirt and jumper, pulled on some shoes, pulled the car keys off the rack and went to the car.

The drive was uneventful. But, because it was half term, the place was full of mums and their kids. It was like hell on earth and I was about to enter the seventh circle of it.

Hell is other people, according to Sartre. I’d say hell is a supermarket or shopping center during a school holiday.

The vegetable aisle thronged with human cattle. The elderly pulling along bags ready for an extra bottle of booze or a pack of biscuits; the chronically unemployed shy and feckless in their pajamas and slippers; mums of all types who needed to get something for the night’s tea as the half term upset their normal routine; and a few who fitted no category, people who should be working but weren’t. Maybe they’d finished for the day, were throwing a sickie or taking the afternoon off just as I was.

I let out a deep sigh as the mental fog descended again. I didn’t want to be around people and expected the supermarket, in the middle of the afternoon in the middle of the week, to be a quiet haven. I felt as if I were suffocating.

All I needed was a space at the deli counter for some nice pate, cheese and biscuits and then the wine aisle. Instead, I was blocked at every turn by a trolley or a small child and forced to perform little hopscotch-style jumps and shuffles to get through.

At the deli counter, I was out of breath and turning puce. Gripping the top of the counter, I deliberately took deep, slow breaths. It took a few minutes before I began to calm down.

Then some Neanderthal, halfbreed blubber babe in pink fleece pajamas and pink slippers wailed at a kid called Jedward and bumped, I should say rammed, into my back. She was walking at full speed and suddenly turned to clip Jedward around the head. I know his name because she was yelling it in his ear.

But then, to my utter incomprehension she wailed on me and spewed forth a  string of expletives about how I was in her way. I took it for over a minute before I pulled out a night stick and beat her senseless – well, dead, actually. She was senseless before I laid a splinter on her. Her head cracked loudly and the blood scattered around the scene like droplets of mercury on a science lab desk. Her kid screamed in terror.

What was his problem? He was free now to change his name and escape the brutality of his life.

His fat mother, eyes popping out of her skull, jaw hanging loosely, would never speak abusively to anyone again.

I pulled off my jumper and t-shirt, wiped the blood off my face and walked calmly from the store. Time was frozen, and I walked through it. I didn’t hear anybody scream. Everyone parted as silently as the electric doors through which I left.

At least that’s what I wanted to have done as I slowly stirred from my dream of what might have happened.

The woman stopped shouting obscenities; I turned to the deli server and ordered. She poked me again.

“Are you gonna say sorry?”

“Pardon?”

“You deaf or stupid? Are… you… gonna… apologize?”

“For what? You bumped into me, I was just standing here”

“ You want a slap mister?”

I was beginning to wish I had the night stick.

“I’m sorry for bumping into you” I said without a hint of sarcasm.

She still picked up on my lack of sincerity. “You being funny mister?”

“No, I mean it I am truly sorry”,

“Well what you gonna do about it?”

The image of her dead body sprawled on the floor returned briefly.

“I’ve apologized, what more, could you want?”

“You could compensate me”,

“I don’t think so”,

“Buy me my shopping or I’ll claim sexual harassment”

I smiled at the thought of someone molesting this hag. I leaned back to breathe out of my mouth, to avoid the smell of cigarette smoke on her breath.

“What you laughing at?”

“Nothing, nothing”, I said before turning to the deli server, and asking him to pass me his meat tenderizer.

Stuart Carruthers is a sceptical deist, pseudo geek and frog herder. Having escaped British winters he now lives in Taiwan where he shares his house with his wife and two kids.

 

The Trouble with the Joneses – A Harry Patterson short by Stuart Carruthers

“Oi that hurt. Stop it you crazy cow.”

That one was an orange onyx ashtray and it bounced off my shoulder before leaving a hole in the grass. Any higher and I’d have been lying spark out on the garden I was standing on.

It all started a week before when I got called into my editor’s office after a few weeks of reporting on Christmas nativity scenes.

“Harry, Joe ‘Jawbreaker’ Jones, has been nicked, go and cover his trial and the impact on the community. Take Max with you for the photos when the trial ends.”

“Yes boss.”

I’d only been in the job a year, and this was my first real assignment. I’d covered court cases before as a trainee when I went and watched cases about minor stuff like shop lifting and drunks being wheeled out in front of a magistrate, but Mad Joe was serious. He and his family had been terrorizing the area for the last 20 years and he’d got away with it every time. He was a nutter. The case lasted a week and it was a foregone conclusion, he was going down and when the judge returned to pass sentence he was given five years. His family, sitting next to me, shouted and booed when the pronouncement was given and when I started to ask questions I was given a thinly veiled threat from one of the younger members of the family.

“Piss off unless you want your pretty little fingers broken,” was how he phrased it. My fingers are neither pretty nor little. These gnarled things had worked hard on my late father’s farm and good genes had made them the size of dinner plates, but I took his point and left it for a day or so to go and talk to some of his victims. They were scared, the family had long arms and they were keen that their protection racket wouldn’t stop funding their middle class lifestyle just because Pa had gone away for few years. A few “off the record” conversations with no names and no pack drill hadn’t given me enough for a paragraph, never mind the four columns that my editor expected for the Friday edition. I needed to do something drastic.

“Max, I need some decent snaps so I can build a story, let’s do some detective work.”

Max, was the same age as me and just getting started. Luckily he was as keen as I was stupid and he was up for any plan I had.

“Alright ‘arry what’s the plan?”

The plan was to follow the little thug that had threatened me and find out what he was up to. He was easy enough to find, the ‘family’ drank in a shithole of a pub where they were given free drinks in exchange for not burning the place down. Walking through the stained glass wooden doors we approached the bar and the place fell into the kind of deathly silence that would have allowed a gnat’s fart to be heard. All eyes fell upon us like the spotlights on an escaping prisoner. I leaned on the bar and ordered a couple of beers from the barman, who looked at one of the family, before being given the go ahead.

“What do you want, pal? I told you to get lost unless you want your hands broken.”

“I just want a drink is that so wrong?”

“Drink it and leave, it’s on the house.”

I expected as much, and Max and I necked our pints before peeling my jacket sleeve from the sticky, beer drenched bar and heading out into the frigid February air and into our car that parked up the road.

Three hours later and we were still there, feeling like castrated metal apes.

“Jesus it’s cold,” I complained for twentieth time, as I breathed on my hands.

“Oh shut up ‘arry, it’s fuckin’ winter. You know it’s gonna last for another few months. Anyway I reckon he’ll be out soon, he must have something to do today.”

Max’s intuition was spot on and next time we looked up, this bloke and a couple of mates were leaving the pub. They climbed into a nearby Cosworth and disappeared round the corner before my Montego had even got warm.

Just as we turned the corner, in the same direction that they’d gone, and cursing myself for not keeping the engine running, we saw the same red RS had been stopped by a Panda and the boot was open with a police officer holding, in his gloved hand, a sawn-off shotgun.

“That’s one for the good guys. Max, get a picture of that will you, I think I have my story, but first let’s go and tell the poor man’s mother.”

A five minute drive and we were outside Ma’s house and I knocked on the door.

“I know you. You were outside the court when my Frankie was sent down. Barry told you to get lost.”

“Yeah, I just saw him having a conversation with the policeman holding a shotgun. It seems like you may be losing a son as well. Now do you have anything to say for the Herald?”

She slammed the door in my face and the next thing I know pots, pans and a lot of abuse are being thrown at me from an upstairs window.

The photographs were great; especially the ones of me cowering behind my car after the ashtray nearly dislocated my shoulder and her other children speeding down the road to rescue Ma and coming over with baseball bats to damage my hands and Max’s camera. We sped off for the good of our health.

Barry was locked up for a six months, and I was given a death threat, which, after the windows on my car were broken, I took seriously enough to hand in my notice and see what Hong Kong could offer to a probationary hack.

END

Stuart Carruthers was born in England, where he lived until 2005 when he decided to sell everything and move to Taiwan because “no one he knew had ever been there”. Several years later he married and had two children. He’s written 2 short stories about Harry in Hong Kong which can be found at: http://www.amazon.com/Stuart-Carruthers/e/B008LR5FRM/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1