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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Writing a historic western with broad appeal

By Nora Vasconcelos

Headshot_Charli_MillsCharli Mills loves riding horses the same as she loves writing stories. As she describes herself, she is “a born buckaroo, wrangling words”, and currently she is building a literary community at Carrot Ranch with weekly Flash Fiction Challenges open to all writers.

“Like most passionate writers, I’ve been writing since I was young. My 7th-grade teacher assigned writing stories (using the week’s spelling words) and I was hooked. It wasn’t until I was almost 30 before I went to college and earned a BA in literary writing.”, Charli remembers.

“Back in the 1990s, if you seriously wanted to write fiction you either had to be connected, brilliant or pursuing an MFA. With three children to raise, I turned to a career in marketing communications which allowed me to develop my freelance writing. Yet, I yearned for fiction. I’m a storyteller at heart. I dabbled with writers groups and contests and started numerous novels that fizzled before completion. When life took an unexpected hard turn, I decided it was time to finish at least one novel.” (Her first novel, “Miracle of Ducks” is currently seeking representation)

Over two decades, Charli’s worked in freelancing, publications, sales, marketing, editing and speaking. Her work has been published in magazines, anthologies, books and online. In 2012 she moved back west to follow stories and sunsets, working on her writing. As part of her motivation to finish her manuscripts, Charli decided to be part of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

“In 2012 I used NaNoWriMo to complete all the gaps I had in my book in progress. After numerous revisions and professional edits, my 2012 manuscript is ready to seek a publishing home. In 2013 I wondered if I could write a first draft in 30 days from start to finish. I did. That manuscript needs more work, research and revision but it is material I wouldn’t have without NaNoWriMo. This year, I developed an idea from writing flash. I researched all summer and wrote weekly flash fiction to blend the history with my characters and ideas. In October I made my first-ever research trip! NaNoWriMo 2014 was a chance to pull it all together.

Rock Creek Mock-Up

– Once you committed yourself to this challenge, how difficult was it for you to keep going with it?
I’m the sort of person who perseveres. Even when I’m feeling low or lost, I keep pecking at the keys until I find my way. This book industry can be discouraging to emerging authors. That’s another reason why I appreciate NaNoWriMo; it is a challenge that helps me focus on my commitment and not the distractors. Every year, I improve. Every year, I meet other writers that have something to share with me. It keeps me going the rest of the year when I have to work on revision.

– Which was the toughest part of achieving your goal and how did you managed to cope with the difficult times?
This year was particularly difficult because I’ve focused more on fiction than freelancing which is a financial balance that can easily become a struggle. When my husband lost his job, I had a choice: continue, or stop and pick up some clients. I continued on while also putting out feelers for possible gigs. Mentally this was taxing for me and I felt near hopeless at the beginning of the month. I had also committed to encouraging others during this process, and I kept to it even when it was tough. The reward was the encouragement other writers gave in return.

– What is your manuscript about?
Rock Creek” is the story of one of the west’s most disputed historic gunfights. In July of 1861 James Butler Hickok (not yet known as “Wild Bill”) gunned down the notorious McCanles Gang at a Pony Express relay station in Rock Creek, Nebraska Territory. There was no gang, but historians continue to argue why the shooting of three men took place.

My book explores and fictionalizes the women of Rock Creek in order to understand what happened that day. It looks at a surface event through the deeper gaze of these women that history has overlooked. I hope it surprises historians and offers fresh insight. “Rock Creek” is an historic western with broad appeal.

– Your book involves some traveling experiences, can you give me more details about them?
Rock Creek Station is now an historic state park. The fact that Wild Bill Hickok lived there and shot three men has spared the station from demise. Following an historic photograph from 1860 and an archaeological dig in the 1980s, the park has rebuilt both the west and east stations.

I really wanted to see the physical recreation and understand the positions each of my characters had taken in real life. I wanted to see the place as they saw it and absorb the feeling of the story by standing in the existing wagon ruts. I found a rental suite in Fairbury, which is the nearest town since I was taking family along with me on this journey.

My daughter and I both flew into Kansas City. She is a radio journalist and brought along her recording equipment to tell the story of discovery. We talked with locals, visited the library and found David McCanles’s grave. I cried when I discovered his wife was buried next to him. She is one of my characters and I feel her pain. Not only did she lose her husband and raise their five children as a widow on the frontier, but she lost her connections to family back home in North Carolina because of the Civil War. It’s a deeper story when you listen to the women.

The trip allowed me to experience the lonely expanse of the prairie first-hand, and enjoy a bottle of Nebraska wine!

– Now that the NaNoWriMo challenge has ended for this year, what’s next for you and for your manuscript?

I’m finishing up the first draft that will be 75,000 words or more. Then I’ll re-plot the scenes to make sure I have a solid three-act structure. Next I’ll list new research questions for historians, museum experts and a select few beta-readers who will help refine the historical accuracy. That will result in a better-informed revision.

After that, I’ll pass it off to my editor for an initial assessment. Next I’ll revise for readability and then I’ll send it off to my editor for copy-edits. I have a few specific publishers to explore. Because I’ve learned so much about this event, place, people and time, I’m also planning to promote the book by writing freelance articles for special interest magazines. However, I would love to travel one more time! My story begins in North Carolina and I’d love to complete the research there in person.

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Enjoying the process of writing

By Nora Vasconcelos

Ian

“I think Artificial needed the time it has taken me to write it, to understand where the characters were going, and what journey the book would take me on.”

One of the most amazing things about internet is the way it connects us to the rest of the world, giving us the chance, not only to learn most of what happens everywhere immediately, but also, to achieve goals that for some time they might have seem difficult to reach.

That is the case of the international online challenge that every November thousands of writers around the world take. Thanks to the initiative National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, many manuscripts are completed in one month, from which, published and unpublished books give a sense of completion and success to those who dedicate their days and nights in order for them to make their dreams come true.

Last November, I met Ian Robinson, a writer from Hertfordshire, England, who lives with his wife and family, as well as with a multitude of pets. At that time he had just started with the NaNoWriMo challenge and I found very interesting how this project became the incentive he needed to complete an old manuscript.

Ian spent most of his early years living abroad, and worked in the public sector for 27 years until retiring this year, then he launched his own business, Bladeshunner Ltd.

A little more than one month has passed since the beginning of our conversations about his writing aims, and now, that he’s achieve his goal, he’s been very nice and has shared with me some of his experiences while working on his manuscript:

How was it that you decided to be part of the NaNoWriMo challenge?

I used it as an opportunity to complete my first novel rather than starting a new one. My novel, Artificial, had been with me for over thirteen years and I was half way through, so I decided it was time to finish what I had set out to complete. I had also had the privilege of meeting other writers and authors who have provided advice and encouragement.

Once you committed yourself to this challenge, how difficult was it to go on with it?

I think writing is as tough as we wish to make it. Personally, I try and enjoy the process, and if that means a book takes years to complete, then so be it.

I don’t believe in forcing myself to write a certain number of words each day. The discipline of writing each day I found to be the most beneficial thing. It makes you routined and gifts you the space to do what you enjoy. I reached the 50,000 word limit simply because I wrote more on some days than others.

I think Artificial needed the time it has taken me to write it, to understand where the characters were going, and what journey the book would take me on. After all, there are plenty of things in life we have to do that we would rather not, so why make writing one of them!

Which was the toughest part of achieving your goal, and how did you manage to cope with the difficult times?

The toughest part was giving myself the time to write, giving myself permission to write, that was the biggest challenge. My writing times were when the kids were all in bed, then I wrote. Having my family’s support during the process was a major help.

What is your manuscript about?
Artificial is about following one man through a year of his life. The main character is a man called Arthur Wint, an unassuming type of guy who is in his late thirties, living at home with his mother.

The book is set in the mid-eighties, just before the Miners strike in the UK, and is set within the county of Nottingham. Arthur is a gardener by trade and he works for an eccentric retired Psychiatrist. From his interactions with her and others, we see how his life evolves. The book is a mixture of humour, life, music and crime!

What was your inspiration for this novel?

In the beginning it was to present my wife with a book I had written, as she collects first editions, particularly the first thousand Penguin books. This still is my purpose, but in addition I also wanted to write a book that a reader would find entertaining and thought provoking. I intend when published to donate 10% of year-end sales to the Muscular Dystrophy Charity.

In my spare time, when not with the family, I enjoy music, play drums, I’m an ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy campaign, and play wheelchair basketball with The London Titans.

Now that you’ve completed your manuscript, what’s next?

I have three other novels I outlined when I first started Artificial. I kept the notes and will look at one of these to resurrect it and continue with it whilst editing this one, and looking for a publisher. But as in life, where next?.. is always an open and unknown area.

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I'm part of Post A Week 2014