By Nora Vasconcelos
By Ian Robinson
Now, 12 months later, Ian is participating again in the challenge, but many things have happened since that November 2014. One of them, is this magnificent short story he’s written and which he has been incredibly kind to share here on my blog.
Rubicon made the shortlist in a competition ran by No Exit Press to find a new voice for the publishing house.
This story may be shared but not reproduced or published anywhere else without Ian’s permission. (@imdambassador)
Never wear slippers to a shoeing. Ben Hamer should have listened to this advice but he didn’t. Big H is down two million. Now Hamer is no fool. He’s a yank and works with money. The only issue is he should have invested in property as Big H had requested. But he hadn’t. That’s where I come in.
I’m not affiliated to the big man but I have been subcontracted, on a few occasions, to rectify business transactions that have gone awry. It’s quite a simple contract; whatever you borrow from the big man you must give back with the agreed interest. Hamer is Big H’s accountant. He’d done good work until he decided to work both ends of the chain and start talking to the old bill about Big H’s money. You see, even amongst criminals there’s a code of conduct. Hamer has breached that line.
I have nothing to do with either of them but I do have my own set of morals. Morals are the Velcro of society. I see myself as a twenty-first century bounty hunter. In my work the first law of survival is to stay alive. The first rules of any hunt: don’t be seen. This applies to the hunted as well as the hunter, that’s why I’ve been so successful. I’ve never met Big H but he knows how to get hold of me. I drop my number regularly but I always make sure he is up to date.
A little tool Hamer would have been good to grasp. In the end it’s about discipline and Hamer lacks it. I was raised on discipline; something my old man was keen on. I’ve the buckle scars on my back to prove it. My mum also took her fair share. She shouldn’t have intervened. Childhood prepared me for the Army and when I left the service, after nine years, I was educated for life. Her Majesty also prepared me to kill; another bonus. Second rule: know your target. The Army was keen on this message as friendly fire is frowned upon.
When you’re getting paid to do a job, do it properly. Now this wasn’t too difficult with Hamer, as he’d never met me. I’d been left a photo in a bin drop at Kings Cross station. I knew Big H didn’t want this done as a knock on the door. This is not an Ikea self-build. The instructions must be clear.
Following him was a piece of piss. He’s an accountant not a villain. Hamer is slower than an amputeed sloth and this made following him easy. His portly frame exuded an odour that was distinguishable in crowds. He would stop frequently. This is easy to combat on a foot follow but tougher by vehicle. Hamer was often looking over his shoulder when he was out on the capital’s streets, but then who isn’t in London. Hamer wasn’t aware of me.
I know this as I have given up my cab for him and sat in the same food joints as him. He is oblivious to his surroundings. I dress up to dress down, because it helps in the hunt and fits with the first rule: don’t be seen. I can adapt in most places. I’m in an age bracket where you take a pride in yourself but no one really notices you.
Money hasn’t changed him. Hamer sticks with habitual routes, uses cabs and avoids public transport. His size and apathy for exercise means he stops frequently. He ends up in the same place most lunch times, a small garden area in Temple, protected by Chambers. He enjoys foot-long meatball Subs. The juices leak from his mouth like drool from a Hippo. It took a month to learn his rituals, lunch spot and favourite Titty bar. You may have money, work with money and wipe your arse with money but when it’s not your money, you can’t hide or keep the change.
I’ve rented a room in a converted Court House in Elephant and Castle. It houses a bunch of Buddhists on retreat. I sleep in what was a holding cell but has now been adorned in befitting decoration and locks from the inside. It’s sparse but there is a certain beauty in minimalism. This works well for me. No one speaks or asks questions, there’s no CCTV and I can meditate.
Meditation calms the mind. Teaches me patience, a necessary trait when you are about to end a life. Remember the second rule: know your target, mistakes cost lives.
I know where Hamer will be in the next hour, it’s a Thursday he’ll be at the Titty bar. He’ll be dressed in his only grey pin stripe suit, his trousers held up by braces that strain against his gut like a noose on a neck. He will leave around midnight and I know what route he will take to get home. I take my time getting ready. It’s easy in this small abode. I’ve chosen a black tracksuit, dark polo sweater and black peaked cap. I have the appearance of a running insomniac, which should blend in well with the surroundings and the route I’ll be taking to Hamer’s final destination. There is a peaceful serenity about the Centre, a calm abiding they call it. I feel it but not enough to stop me.
I leave the centre and turn left onto the main drag to Elephant and Castle. At the lights I cross and avail myself of the London Bike scheme.
The one thing this government has enabled is state endorsed crime. Santander may sponsor the bike but that’s not the message being ‘pedalled’.
I cannot tell you the amount of pushers I know who use this service to transport their commodities about the London streets, providing the poor unfortunate masses with their fast food. Big H controls their financial sector. He also provides the payment cards to facilitate the hire. A generous man.
The traffic over Blackfriars Bridge is sedate and I’m making good time. I travel light; a small compact backpack is all I need to carry my tools. At this moment in time Hamer is getting his fill at the bar and not all of it drink. I know from my times sitting opposite him that he will be playing with change in his pocket whilst he wipes his sweat strewn brow with a handkerchief that has seen better days. He consumes neat Whiskey and tips the ladies well. They in turn allow him a quick feel but nothing more.
I’ve become friendly with the inevitable although I don’t wish to meet my maker anytime soon. Looking at my watch face I am aware that I am the only person who knows Hamer’s time is coming to an end unless of course you believe in God, which I don’t.
I picked Thursday for his demise, as I knew he would have enjoyed his last hours before death. I could afford him this last luxury. I am a decent man after all. Big H sees it differently, which he can, it was his money Hamer gambled with.
The ride along Pentonville Road is tough and the climb steep from Kings Cross. I remember life is tougher with every revolution of the wheel. I replace the bike at a rank near Chapel Market and begin my run. I check my watch, a ‘Rolex’ purchased on a beach in Thailand. The watch is fake but it provides genuine time.
It’s 00.30hrs. I have 20 minutes.
Barnsbury, respite for the hip and bohemian. An area populated by politicians and the head of a prominent crime family. It’s also where Hamer had chosen to rent a one-bedroom ground floor studio flat. The curtains still twitch here. First rule: don’t be seen. Even in a salubrious area the street lighting is poor and provides me with good cover. I pause by the steps of number 62a and undo the backpack. There are only four steps from street to door. The basement flat is vacant.
The petrol-filled water bottle I’d been carrying gradually becomes lighter as I thoughtfully dispense its toxic smelling contents over the front door and main step. If anyone were looking they would just see a man emptying a bottle after his run. The streets are quiet, the only visitor an urban Fox who has the sense and wisdom not to approach. I smile at him. There was many a time I would be lying in a hedgerow waiting for my foe and a Fox would stroll by, take a piss on me and move on. A rare skill To be invisible to the indigenous street dweller. I’m careful not to get any inside the letterbox. Insurance is high in this area. Time 00:40hrs. Hamer will be here in five. I carry on pouring the petrol down the steps and across the road where I stop at the entrance to a small secluded park.
A pair of eyes catches my attention and I freeze. The same hunters eyes I had seen earlier watching and waiting for any spoils. Headlights sweep through the park and I duck back. I remove a Zippo from my pocket. I hear the vehicle stop. The engine remains running. It’s a black cab. I know the engine noise. I hear Hamer’s voice and I move forward towards the gate to the park entrance. Voices emanate and formalities are exchanged. Only two heard, both male. The night is pleasant with very little breeze.
The eyes that were following me have disappeared. This is it. I am about to cross the Rubicon. I pull my polo neck over my lower face and my cap peak down. My gloves feel like skin and the grip on the lighter is good. Tick, tick goes the watch. The flame ignites with the first flick of my thumb. I move towards the end of the fuel line and look up with one final check. I hear another engine, not a car. Hamer turns towards me, his eyes briefly catch mine. I sense a glimmer of recognition then he looks away in the direction of the road. I freeze. Darkness turns to light and he’s gone. Lit up like a self-immolating Monk.
The scene has altered now. Police tape decorates the road at either end. A white tent has been erected thirty feet from the flats charred door. A 500cc Kawasaki motorbike lies on its side further along the road. A black cab with its passenger door missing is emanating steam into the night air and misting the portable lights. Fire has devoured it. Three Fire trucks remain, engines idling. The low hum of the generator ticks over and assists in the illumination of people in white suits and masks, some on their hands and knees, picking at the road and moving in one horizontal line, others coming in and out of the main door to the flat.
The smell of petrol is overpowering, which is fortuitous, as I haven’t changed clothing. There are no ambulances only local voyeurs. I’ve always enjoyed this moment, the return to the scene of the crime. The creation of chaos is an occupational hazard but one that keeps many in employment.
I see a Uniformed Police Officer standing by the scene tape looking bored. At least he’s had the heat of the fire to keep him warm. I decide to approach, I’ve seen what I need to see. My polo neck is rolled down and my hat on as befits the situation. I reach into my right pocket. As I approach, the uniform officer moves forward to stop me but is intercepted by a young female wearing a forensic suit. Her auburn hair is tied back in a ponytail; she doesn’t wear makeup and looks tired.
She moves in front of the Uniform and takes a clipboard from him. I continue forward and stop at the edge of the line. Some rules are vital to obey, implied or otherwise. She approaches me, confidence emanates from her protective garment.
” Looks like the bike rider lost control, mounted the pavement and killed the male as he was getting out the cab. The rider went over the top and the bike, deceased, and the door carried on in a ball of flame. Petrol from the bike engine ignited them both. The corpse we’ve established is a Ben Hamer. Next of kin informed but there’s not much of him to be identified. Motorcyclist is at the UCH not likely to survive. I’ve requested pre transfusion blood and started house to house. Cab driver is giving a statement. It’s all in hand sir.”
I nod. Sign the Crime Scene Log, hang my warrant card round my neck and duck under the tape. A forensic suit and shoes are handed to me. Final rule; keep your enemies close. They’re your greatest teacher.
By Nora Vasconcelos
Just a few days ago, I was telling my friend Jane Isaac about how delighted I had been while visiting some places in Mexico where the Halloween and the Day of the Dead celebrations converge. Here some of the photos I took then, showing all the amazing ways people decorated their hometowns.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Ornate.”
By Nora Vasconcelos
It often happens that when we learn that a terrible disaster has affected people , we wonder what we could do to help them, and some sense of impotence frequently comes with that question. But sometimes, we actually can help, and Jo Carroll has taken action into her concerns, launching a £1500 appeal to build a house in Nepal.
“There’s a family in Nepal who will be deeply grateful for anything you feel you can give, however small.”
In a short interview with her, Jo has told me that some time ago, when she was visiting a small village in the mountains, affected by the earthquake that hit Nepal last April, she came across a house with the upper storey heaped above the ground floor, dust and rubble everywhere, and a family living as best they could in what was left of their house. However, every time it rains there is a risk that what is left of the building will collapse and bury this family – a couple, his mother, and two small children.
‘This is a small village. The big charities are too busy with the need in Kathmandu to begin to consider the damage in remote areas. But, my guide told me, this man can rebuild his house himself. He needs only £1500 – an impossible amount for him, but surely within our means’. Then, Jo said; ‘I’ll pay for his house,’ having not a clear idea at that point how she was going to do it. ‘I only knew that, instead of being overwhelmed by the need, this was something I could do.’
– What is your goal and deadline?
– I’m travelling again in the New Year, so I have only a short window to collect this £1500. However, I will have an ebook out before Christmas, with all proceeds going to the appeal, so if I haven’t made the money by then hopefully the ebook will top up the rest.
– Once all the money is collected, how is it going to be the process of building the house?
I know this man can rebuild his house himself. I’ve seen other buildings he has worked on in the village, and so I know he has the skills to do this. In addition, other men from the village will help – as he will help them.
This family will move back on once the work is done. When the children grow, the son and his family will live there. It will shelter them for generations.
– How’s been the experience of collecting the money?
I launched this appeal with some trepidation. It does seem rather a crazy idea, building a house in Nepal. But, when I thought about it, what did I have to lose?
The support of other writers – and from almost everyone I know on social media – has been humbling.
I had no idea what the reaction would be, but they have been universally kind and encouraging. It is wonderful to know that so many people are there to support a family they have never known. The kindness of strangers continues to inspire me.
– Have you organized something like this before?
No, I’ve never done anything like this before – I’m happy to cheer on the fundraisers from the wings, but have always been reluctant to take centre stage.
Will I do it again? Who knows. I won’t make a habit of it. But if I come across a need like this again – well, we’ll have to wait and see.
* JO CARROLL gave up her work as a play therapist with traumatised children in her mid-50s to trek round the world on her own. Now safely home, she has time to write, walk the Wiltshire downs, treasure her daughters and grandchildren, write poems and short stories, and tell anyone who will listen about her travels.
*All images courtesy of Jo Carroll
The Avocado Republic of Chile, because it’s Too Cold to Grow Bananas by Walker Rowe*
At 3 AM on a Tuesday in 2006, an assistant winemaker from VIA wines in Talca, Chile picked me up at the airport in Santiago. It’s such a long flight from the USA, 13 hours, that coming and going one gets used to stirring about at such an ungodly hour.
I had come all the way from Virginia to work at the winery and write a book about my experience working the harvest. This was to be my third book on wine, and my last, as I have nothing more to say on the subject, having moved onto other material.
As I embarked, a Napa Valley fermentation scientist who helped me line up this unpaid position arranged with the vineyard that I bring 100 kilos of yeast in my luggage. It filled my two suitcases completely and left scant room for clothes.
To give you an example of just how much yeast that is, in Virginia, where I was a partner in a winery and where I planted two vineyards, we bought yeast in 500 gram packages. At my house, when I wanted to make 5 liters of wine I would put in 5 grams of yeast.
So here I was with enough yeast to make 100,000 5-liter carboys of wine in my luggage, a lifetime supply for any of the boutique wineries of virginia. But at Via Wines, where they make 5 million cases of wine per year, that would last for, well, that would last for, I have no idea.
Anyway, it was all for naught as when I arrived at the winery and opened my suitcase, out flowed the smell of fresh bread. The packages had burst in the luggage hold. Several thousand dollars of yeast had been exposed to air. So it was all spoiled.
Such was my first foray into Chile, the country I have adopted as my home now. Having seen it first in 2006 and having grown attached while frequently going back and forth, I moved here full time in 2010.
Chile is that narrow country at the bottom of the word that no American and few Europeans can locate on a map. If they know it at all, they know it as home to towering snow-capped mountains, volcanoes, and constant earthquakes. Or they might know it from the film “The 33” about the 33 miners who spent months trapped underground in a copper mining here as the world watched on. Antonio Banderas and Juliette Binoche starred in that film. When he came to Chile, all the women swooned. When Juliette Binoche came, I fell in love all over again.
You might wonder why an American like me would give up the USA and move to Chile? Well, for someone my age, 54, who is somewhere between retirement and the need to work, whose kids are off at college, and who was living alone in a farm in the woods with 30 sheep, 2 dogs, and a cat, I felt the need to go live with a woman. So I gave up that lonely existence where, here, I live all alone on a farm in Chile with 1 dog, a cat, and a horse, sans woman.
I would say that what drew me here more than anything was the weather. It’s like California, but without all the people. But what a mistake that was. I had been sold a false bill of goods.
Having lived all my live on the rainy and frozen east coast of the USA and having planted all kinds of crops and gardens, I was thrilled here that in the frost-free, dry weather of Chile I could plant bougainvillea, lemons, oranges, lavender, and roses and wine grapes without having to spray them each week to ward off mildew or worry about sub-freezing weather. All of this is true: the rain free weather here makes Chile an agricultural paradise. That is because rain as it splatters spreads spores and thus disease, which is why California is where farmers grow most of America’s fruit and vegetables.
But what I did not know at the time was Chile in winter is freezing cold and, well, chilly, like the name says. It’s cloudy today as I write this. We have had record amounts of rain this year at the end of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, in September. And because of the El Niño warming of the ocean this year, those rains have stretched into October, something I have never seen before. It’s supposed to be sunny and warm now. Tomorrow it will.
Bundled up in my warm house in Virginia the cold would have been no problem. But as I explain in my new book on Chile, The Avocado Republic Chile, in Chile, the problem is in winter it’s colder inside than outside, because there is no heat.
No one has central heat here. Electricity and natural gas are too expensive. Chile could buy lots of that from its neighbors Bolivia, Peru, or Argentina, but they do not get along with any of them, still seething over 100-year old tensions and war. Chile has no diplomatic relations with Bolivia. Chilean investors spent billions to build a pipeline from Argentina, but the Argentine government abruptly cut off the gas in 2006 because of the corruption and chaos in that country that makes even the simplest of endeavors all but impossible.
Such is life here in South America. It’s one long telenovela (soap opera). All of what happens here provides much material for the writer who, in my case, focuses on the irony of that. It makes for funny reading too. I’d like to think I write like George Orwell, i.e., his non-fiction, whose stock-in trade was to travel to India, Spain, France, and coal-covered Northern England and flush out through satire what makes those situations absurd.
So, this is what I tried to do with my book, write sort of a memoir and travelogue. But I’m not travelling anymore, as I am here to say. Please take a look at my book, if travel writing and foreign cultures is what you fancy, and let me know what you think.
– – – –
*Walker Rowe is an American expat writer living in Curacaví, Chile. He publishes Southern Pacific Review
** All images courtesy of Walker Rowe