Rubicon – Short Story

GUEST POST
By Ian Robinson

Last year, Ian Robinson and I met thanks to the NaNoWriMo event. Back then, he had committed to the challenge in order to complete a manuscript he had been working on for a while.

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.

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The history of Chocolate

Now that St. Valentine’s is all around, I’ve come across this very nice infographic which appeared on the OUP Blog

Enjoy!!! :p

Headline image credit: Photo by Security. Public domain via Pixabay. - See more at: http://blog.oup.com/2015/05/history-chocolate-infographic/#sthash.PoWH0HiJ.dpuf
Headline image credit: Photo by Security. Public domain via Pixabay. – See more at: http://blog.oup.com/2015/05/history-chocolate-infographic/#sthash.PoWH0HiJ.dpuf

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Weekly Photo: Alphabet

By Nora Vasconcelos

“When you read a book a tree smiles because then it knows that there’s life after death”

Alphabet

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The little town that Christmas saved

By Nora Vasconcelos

Tlal1

About two hours and a half from Mexico city, it lays a magical town called Tlalpujahua. Its history goes back all the way before the Spaniards came to this country. When they arrived, they turned this little place into a very rich mining city, even though, native people kept their agricultural activities, adding later handcrafts making and forged iron.

Life went like this for a long time, until one day, in the past century, an accident with mining waste destroyed most of the town. Mining stop being a good business and the town people had to dig out what wast left of their houses and streets.

It was then when a local businessman opened a Christmas Spheres factory there, and taught people the art of blowing crystal and decorating it, in order to produce the most delicated and original ornaments.

Ever since, Tlalpujahua has being identified for its beautiful spheres which are produced all the year long by 100 workshops that proudly deliver to the domestic and international markets some 70 million of these unique handmade Christmas adornments.

Walking around the streets of this wonderful colonial city is like wandering around an enchanting place where time runs at a different pace, where happines fills the air, and where a feast of colours and shapes bring a big smile to all visitors.

santa

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Hope for Nepal, one house at a time

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.”

The new house may look like this one.
The new house may look like this one.

(“Let’s build a house in Nepal”)

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.

 

 

Portrait Jo Carroll

* 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.

***

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*All images courtesy of Jo Carroll

Weekly Photo: Inspiration

By Nora Vasconcelos

Magnificent and inspirational.
Magnificent and inspirational.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Inspiration.”

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Your Ideal Book Cover

By Nora Vasconcelos

Cover designed by POV
When fiction and reallity collide.
I recently came across an infographic that shows how similar some bookcovers are and that has kept me thinking about what an ideal book cover should look.

Some time ago, while looking for an ideal title, a friend of mine gave me the following advice: “Imagine the stories finally published in a book and is in a bookstore shelve, what title will make it stand out amongst other books in the shop?”

Ever since, I picture imaginary book lovers, wandering in a bookstore, enjoying themselves, just letting their hand picking up all those books that they get attracted to.

According to an article published on The Fast Company, there are some key elements that help a book cover to become an instant target such as striking colors; a design which allows the readers to immediately get an idea what the book is about, and a cover that keeps looking attractive no matter if it’s on the physical book, online or on social media with very small dimensions.

On the other hand, there’s always the option of doing something unusual and going for a cover designed to judge the readers emotions …yes! Just as it sounds! A group of Dutch designers came up with the idea of creating a Book Cover Prototype which allows a book cover to scan the person’s emotions, and “only when it’s approached with no emotions (that means, that the reader’s not judging the book by its cover) the book will open!

But, while each one can decide which is their ideal book cover, why not have a good time looking at the twin designs that some bestsellers have opted for:

Book Cover Twins: Why So Alike? #infographicDid you like this infographic by Visualistan? You can fine many more on their website.

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