Justine was flustered. The newest – and youngest – member of the board, she was already fed up. But for this meeting, the new Head of Customer Relations had been tempted to pull a sickie today. As it was, she sat, seemingly in a daydream, but actually reflecting on how to fight the latest fire, when the grossly overweight chairman rose unsteadily to his feet.
“Gentlemen. And lady.” He added poignantly, as if it was not already clear that Justine was the only woman in the room. She fiddled awkwardly with her pearl necklace, which contrasted well with her deep rouge trouser suit. “Item next”, he began. “Staff Absenteeism.”
I came across the WritePhoto prompt from K L Kaley, I had some time, fancied doing some writing, so here goes…
This week, we were asked to write the image below.
Oh, wow, she finally trusts me…
Not only will she let me ride to town on my own, but mum gave me a shopping list and some money…
I better hadn’t mess up…
Waiting at the bus stop. Do I still have her list? Her money is safe, I have a purse, but let me check anyway…
Thank goodness, not too long to wait. “A child return to town, please”. On my way. That was easy. Yay, no bossy parents today, I can sit up on the top deck. Oh, there’s Graham. He came to my ninth birthday party last month. And… he’s with his mum. Ha! Aren’t I grown up? Travelling on my own!
“Good morning, Andrew.” Mrs Fletcher. “You’re looking very smart today. I do like your shirt. Where did you get it?” My new blue checked shirt. It goes so well with these new spray-on jeans, and the trainers. I look well cool, today. “Morning, Mrs Fletcher. I don’t know, I’m afraid. It was a birthday present.” “Oh. Graham and I are going to look for some new clothes today. First, he needs a haircut, then we’re going shopping.” I could do with a haircut myself. But maybe next week? In the meantime, there’s a seat free, right at the front…
Made it! How easy was that? I should do this every Saturday morning. “Goodbye Mrs Fletcher.” Poor Graham! Still with his mum. But maybe he’ll get some nifty clothes, like mine?
Right, where’s this list? Ah, still in my pocket. Good…
Okay, supermarket. First on the list, milk. Check. Next? Carrots. What does she want carrots for? If she wants those, she can eat the bloody things herself! Anyway…
What’s next? Ketchup? Oh yes! Easy Peasy. I’m on a roll here. Tortillas? Now we’re talking!
And the last item? Sharp’s extra-sensitive baby shampoo? Must be for Charlie. Little whiney bastard. Still, if she wants it…
But where’m I gonna find that? Let’s ask this assistant…
Right. The baby section is right at the end aisle. Just this one thing, then I can check out. I have everything on her list. She *will* be pleased. Maybe I can have some of those tortillas? Maybe she’ll let me keep the change?
This must be the aisle. Now, let’s hope this thing is easy to find.
The extra-hot latte was welcome, warming Neil’s chapped hands, as he entered the shop from the cold February outdoors. He’d seen a flicker of recognition in the barista’s eyes as he’d ordered his coffee and a muffin, but then saw the dismissal as the girl couldn’t quite place him.
Not surprising, concluded Neil, for although his star was rapidly ascending, he was not yet well-known outside of political circles. Discounting the initial interest as a coincidence, he found a vacant table in the corner, and sat down. He was nowhere near warm enough to remove his thick woolen overcoat, so had to push his sleeve up to look at his watch.
I hope Fariq won’t be long, he thought, for although he was not far from his eventual destination, he did not like to be kept waiting.
He lifted the lemon-drizzle flavored cake and paused reverentially, took a deep sniff then, with a small grunt of approval, taking his first bite. For what we are about to do… He deserved this.
Neil was just brushing the crumbs from his Givenchy suit, when a hand tapped his shoulder.
“Mr F!”, he greeted with false bonhomie, standing and turning at the same time. He motioned for the elegant, well-dressed man to join him.
“I can’t stay long,” mumbled the middle-aged Fariq. “The ambassador wants to see me, he needs me back at the embassy by one.”
“No, I can’t stay long, either. The Headmaster…” – his favored nickname for the Leader of the Opposition – “… wants to see me for something, and I need to be in the house later this evening. And before all that”, he added, “I need to do some bloody TV piece for a broadcast we have coming up.”
At that, Fariq raised a thick, black eyebrow, but refrained from passing comment. He was not really interested in what the politician was doing, in any case. He moved the conversation on. “So, Mr.”, then stopped himself. They needed to be careful not to use names in public places. “So, you know what we expect of you?”
“Of course”, replied Neil. “I’m all prepared for the debate next Tuesday. You just need to send the text of the question to me.” He added gingerly, “And do you have what’s… He coughed discreetly. “… er,… expected from you?”
With that, Fariq slipped a hand into his jacket and pushed something under the table, where Neil’s grateful hand was waiting. In an instant, the package was safely inside Neil’s pocket.
Fariq immediately stood and left the shop, leaving Neil to finish his drink. A few minutes later, Neil looked at his watch. Ten minutes, but he was only around the corner.
As he, too, left the shop, he could not resist a quick glance, and pulled a brown envelope an inch out of his pocket. He immediately recognized a bundle of banknotes, before returning the package quickly and resuming his walk to the studio.
He saw the usual suspects. There was Glenda, the party’s Head of Communications, clearly relieved.
“You cut that fine.”
“I told you I’d be here. I just had some business to take care of first. Now, I need to see the Headmaster at 2, so can we make this quick?”
And fifteen minutes later, Neil, freshly brushed and made up, entered the studio.
“Once again”, he read from the autocue, “we find the government unable to get on with the serious task of running the country, because, once again, its ministers have been involved in sleaze…”.
Mark pulled up to the gatehouse, as usual. His new 5l charcoal Hummer purred as he pressed his smartcard pass against the keypad. Ugh! Even opening the window for a second was oppressive, he grimaced. And it was a real pain in the ass, but constant breaches by the climate brigade had prompted his employer, Natural Development Global, to dramatically increase its security.
A green light permitting him to proceed, Mark looked down to the ditch beside the gate. Originally dug to help with drainage, if he had any concern, he needn’t have, for it was at least a dozen years since it had contained any water. Instead, a few persistent wildflowers clung desperately on to its sides.
Once on site, Mark was an automaton, driving mechanically up to the ninth storey of the car park – a height which might have afforded a breath-taking view over the surrounding countryside, were it not for the ubiquitous slate-grey offices obstructing him.
But Mark had no time for views. He had a deadline as early as 10:30 that morning. An early start today, to prep his manager, Jim, for a meeting at 11.
The increasing heat hit Mark as soon as he flicked the engine, and the air conditioning, off, and he found his hands already sticking to the black leather steering wheel. As he climbed out of the car, he could feel the discomfort of his pressed white cotton shirt, as its smart creases began to evaporate. The immediate heat from the engine block was quickly replaced by the ambience, as Mark hastily opened the back door and reached for his briefcase, taking one last gulp of the still-cool air inside the car, before braving the journey.
By the time Mark had covered the hundred fifty yards back into his air-conditioned sanctuary, he was already sweating.
The first stop each morning was the coffee area, where Mark discovered that his cup had been miraculously cleaned, and tidied into the cupboard, from the day before. But this morning, he could not resist a drink from the water fountain first. Looking forward to the cool flow, he pushed the lever. A dribble. Then he remembered. Low pressure in the system, they would be out of action, today and tomorrow. In the meantime, the water supply would be diverted to allow for hot drinks, and bottled water would be provided instead. As he pulled the chilled bottle of Evian, specially imported from the Swiss Alps, from the refridgerator, he felt Jim entering the area.
“Morning, sir, gonna be another hot one today.” He mustered a smile, and quickly offered the man his bottle of water.
The older man, grossly overweight, mopped his brow. “Man, this summer feels like it’s never going to end.” And then to business. “Are you still good for later? I found out last night that one of the bigwigs from the fourteenth floor was making an appearance today.”
Mark exuded confidence. He’d been preparing this project for weeks. All he had to do was polish up his presentation to Jim.
And he had good news.
It would be NDG’s next big deal, Mark thought. The atoll of Elauru. Way out in the Pacific, down toward Papua New Guinea. Currently, ripe for development, with just a handful of inhabitants. And with surveys that tantalised with promises of the third-largest oil reserves in the company’s history.
And yes, safe in the knowledge that the rights could be bought, that the people could be bought, Mark was confident. This was his ticket into the boardroom.
I just hope I don’t need to go there, thought Mark.
For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #142, where we write about the image below from Shift Drive @ shutterstock.com.
At the same time as he realized his thirst, Garry wished he could stop the pickaxe from hammering away on his skull. He had just woken up from the night of all nights. Slowly, he opened an eye, gingerly using his right hand to flick his long, dark hair away.
Oooh, slowly, now.
Every movement seemed to be painful. And so far, the opulence surrounding him went unnoticed in the darkness. Chinks of daylight, however, filtered in from the drawn curtains.
He tried lifting his head, but… fuck! It’s so heavy, and with a will of its own it flopped down once more onto the white satin pillow. His jigsaw of thoughts finally fusing, Garry realized that just getting up was going to take some effort, but as he was contemplating, planning his move, he was disturbed by the sigh which came from next to him.
Slowly, gently, Garry maneuvered onto his other side, and opening the other tired eye, made out the figure of the young black man sleeping, also naked, beside him. Oh, fuck! What had he got up to last night? Allowing his head to drop back once more, Garry concentrated, his brain attempting to penetrate the fog.
First, he realized where he was. Once more opening his eyes, he saw the curves of a Louis XIV table appear in the shadows, serving to confirm that he was in an unbelievably upmarket hotel room. Gradually, he pieced the evening together. The Jubilee Design Awards, the Arundel Hotel. The ceremony had gone well, but the after-party was where the booze – and coke – had flowed. It was lucky, then, that he’d been allotted accommodation for the night, and at the end, only had to stagger into an elevator.
He looked again at the hunk of a figure sleeping next to him. Who the fuck is that? And then it started to dawn. Their competitors, the young apprentice, that sly wink and the cheeky smile. But what the fuck was this guy’s name? And the champagne. Bottle after bottle of the finest Pol Roger, appearing magically from nowhere whenever he needed refilling. He’d been the toast of the evening, all right. Nobody could seem to get enough of him, least of all this guy.
Fuck me, my head hurts!
Turning back towards the edge of the bed, Garry realized he would need to concentrate, if he were going to quench his thirst, and with military precision he finally edged himself into a sitting position. Planting his feet squarely into the thick pile of the carpet, he attempted to stand. However, Garry’s balance had not yet caught up, and he immediately fell back into his goose-feather envelope. The fall stirred his partner, who sighed an exhausted grunt before seeming to settle back into his repose.
Psyching himself once more, Gary made a lunge toward the table, knocking something metallic over on his way. He looked down to see a twelve-inch-high silver trophy now lay on the floor, a small pool of vomit now trickling onto the carpet.
Some more of last night returned. Fuck me, I won! Garry Palmerston, Best Newcomer!If they could but see me now, he thought as with reverance, he replaced the statuette onto the table. This was something else he’d never live down!
For now, though, Garry’s more immediate problem was physical, as he threw himself once again toward the window, being careful to avoid the pool. Pulling open the curtains, sunlight flooded the room as Garry blinked, grasping the immaculate white window-ledge for support.
His partner, too, was surprised by the sudden daylight, “What the…?”, he cried in shock, before closing his eyes and falling back into the bed. For the first time, Garry saw the bleached blonde ends of his dreadlocks, and more memories of last night crept back.
Now accustomed to the light, Garry admired the view over the park from the third-storey window, only now appreciating the time as he observed commuters wending their ways to work below. Feeling not only thirsty but ravenous, he turned back to the table, picked up his phone and checked the time.
“Come on”, he threw a cushion at his new friend. For god’s sake, what was his name? “We have precisely fifteen minutes to get dressed, if you want to grab some breakfast before we get chucked out of here.”
Blinking, with his left hand placed over his eyes to block the sun, with his right hand the man slowly reached down to touch his genitals. With a soft Scottish lilt, he replied “Do you fancy ordering some room service?”
Cerys snatched one last gulp of her now-tepid instant coffee, as she searched for her missing car keys. Spying the glint of silver on the kitchen counter she hastily snatched the keyring and kissed the dozing Mandu goodbye, as she hurried through the freshly-painted door. Bumping swiftly along a narrow hallway, she stooped to collect the small bundle of mail, freshly delivered. Without paying the letters any further attention, she dashed from the house.
Stuffing the mail into the inside pocket of her smart, leather jacket, she maintained her pace until she was safely in her car.
Late, late, late!
And she could ill afford it, not today. Assignments – any assignments – were hard enough to come by, so when that catalogue work had come through, how could she possibly refuse? She knew vaguely where this guy’s studio was, but at that time of day, she’d be pushing it.
Why was she so disorganised? She had never been like this before Gary had gone, but she was left with no choice but to kick him out, after she found out about the affair. And overnight, Cerys had become a singleton once again. At first, loneliness was the biggest problem, and so she’d sought a rescue cat. She had renamed him, rather wittily, she thought. But Mandu didn’t care what she called him, so long as Cerys provided him with bed and board.
The decision to redecorate had taken longer, but Cerys was happy to have made up her mind. This was now her space, not their’s, and after six years of sharing, it was time to stamp her own identity on the place.
As it happened, the traffic was good that day, and Cerys just about arrived in time. Crossing a quaint courtyard, she ascended a spartan staircase. On the wall were various framed photographs, and Cerys recognised some of the faces among them.
Crossing a landing covered in carpet tiles – no expense spared – a white door stood in front of her. To it’s right was a smart plastic sign, “J. Lloyd, Photographic Studio”. She knocked, and the door was answered by a grey-haired, fifty-something man carrying a spotlight.
“Hi there. I’m looking for John?”
“Cerys? Come in, my dear. I was expecting you”, as he beckoned her in and turned away. Over his shoulder, he nodded at two sofas in what must have been the “reception” area, adding, “Make yourself comfortable. Let me just finish setting this light and I’ll be right with you.”
He’s nice enough, thought Cerys as she waited. Better than a lot of photographers I’ve worked with.
True to form, a coffee to start, along with a polite man behind the camera, Cerys relaxed and the session went smoothly.
They concluded the shoot shortly before lunch, and John made the pair another coffee.
“Here, the photographs will already have uploaded to the server, so if you give me ten minutes, I’ll have a quick look through them and pick out a few of the best. And, as the shoot had finished early, Cerys agreed. Though the catalogues themselves made the final decisions, they often placed a lot of faith in photographers’ recommendations. As John turned to leave Cerys for the moment, he caught her admiring some artwork hanging on the wall, and explained, “my partner. We both share this studio space”.
Leaving Cerys nursing her coffee, John suggested that she could look through some of his portfolio, wafting at a large bookcase with a shelf full of binders.
Feeling pleased with a job well done, Cerys flicked through one of the binders, although she still wanted to preserve as much of her day as possible, and if she could get out of here soon, she might be on time to meet girlfriend Suzanne for that coffee and catch up, after all. Cerys took her jacket from the ornate coat rack, and as she was putting it on, she felt the bundle of letters in the pocket. She might as well read them, while she waited.
Nothing remarkable, until she came to a white envelope franked Baldwin, Clark and Spencer. Huh? Who on earth were they? But it was definitely her name and address peeping through the window and she peeled the letter from its envelope.
As Cerys read, the shock of the letter forced her to sit back down as her head began to spin. Lawyers… instructed by Gary Hooper… divorce proceedings…
Yesterday afternoon I wrote some flash around the photo below. I left the story at an early juncture, but even as I hit “Publish”, it was obvious that there was a second part, and I began writing it straight away.
“Now, are we clear?”, gloated Billy, taking a triumphant swig from his half-full bottle of Corona, then slowly wiping his mouth.
From staring at my own bottle, which we’d knocked onto the floor during the contest, I looked up at him. “You know I ain’t gonna stop seeing your sister, Billy.”
“I beat you fair’n’square, Nate. I want you to call her up tomorrow and cancel your date.”
“I can’t do that, buddy. If she wants to cancel, that’s up to her, But I’m planning on turning up Friday.”
Billy was becoming frustrated, “I told you, Nate, I don’t want you horsin’ around with my sister. Am I gonna have to explain that to the both of you?”
“I guess so. Let’s ask Mary Beth and see what she thinks.
Fired up, Billy wasted no time careering us the seven blocks over to Mary Beth’s place in his beat-up, cream Yaris. He was already hammering on the door as I was climbing out of the car. I recognised the plum door that Mary Beth had described to me last night, as she’d delivered a blow-by-blow account of her disastrous exploits decorating her new house. I was still in the front garden as her diminutive auburn frame opened the door.
“Mary Beth? I’ve told Nate, we wrestled for it, and now I’m telling you. I don’t want you two seeing each other. Okay?”
Poor Mary Beth was caught completely unawares – I would have been, too – and I watched on helplessly as Billy was forced to elaborate. Finally, she leaned in toward Billy, lifted her arms around his neck, and uttered a consoling “Come here” as the pair hugged. She then brought her right knee up hard into his groin.
Despite Billy now being doubled up, Mary Beth was not yet finished her scolding. “And let that be a lesson to you! Ain’t nobody tells me who I can and can’t go out with. You got that?”
I was about to run as she turned her attention on me.
“And you!” She was about to come after me, too. “You think you can play your stupid games over me?” She moved towards me and instinctively I ran out to the safety of Billy’s Toyota.
But Mary Beth had stopped dead in her tracks, possibly sensing the futility of a cartoon chase around the car. Still in her front garden, she sighed and took a deep breath. “Well, leastways you know where I live, for when you come by Friday.” And with that, she turned back toward her house, for good measure kicking Billy lightly up the ass as she passed his still-doubled figure.
“You got that?”, she chided as he groaned. “I decide.” And without waiting for an answer, she re-entered her house and slammed the door behind her. That wouldn’t help her new paintwork!
When Billy finally staggered back to the car. I thought I did quite well. As best I could, I suppressed my grin and just asked, “Would you like me to drive you home?”
There. Quick as a brown fox, I tightened the three outsize stainless screws into the pine. But it was easy enough; these things come naturally, with fifteen years’ practise. That frame would be secure enough now, at least until I fixed it properly after lunch. I loosened the buckle of the worn harness and waved the crane away.
On the ground, I beckoned to the crane – did Billy realise the time? – before turning back to the skeleton to admire my handiwork. The timber frame was almost complete now, and the downstairs walls of the new house were already taking shape.
Unscrewing the lid of my thermos, I poured the still-steaming coffee into my enamel mug. As I took my first sip, Billy appeared from his cab.
My best buddy, since forever, he’d joined the construction company with me, straight out of school. I still saw in him that shy, gangly nine-year-old, complete with braces, that I’d first met all those years ago. How the fuck does he do it? It’s still so effortless for him, while I’m losing hair by the fistful and will soon need to wear a corset.
But we’ve been through a lot, Billy and me. We’d gotten closer since our respective divorces a couple of years back, eerily within a year of each other. But we’d both gotten through, and Billy seemed okay now. We’d both been through our first marriages and were enjoying the single life once again.
Billy poured from his own Thermos, and we settled into silence as we began to eat from our respective lunch boxes.
The eating done, Billy broke the silence.
“Pa says he saw you out last night with Mary Beth.” He phrased it as a statement, not a question. Mary Beth. Billy’s sister, younger by three years. I’d known her almost as long as I’d known Billy himself. Now with a divorce under her own belt. So, she’d been right, it was her Pa. Mary Beth had thought she recognised the car when they were out walking together.
“Yeah, we went out last night for a beer. She’s a good listener. I like her. We cried on each other’s shoulders.”
“I don’t think you should see her again.”
I hadn’t thought Billy would be so protective. “But…”.
“No buts, Nate. I don’t want you going out with my sister, and that’s that.” Billy had a way of telling people when the discussion was over.
With clear unease between us, Billy soon made his excuses to return to his cab.
However, I spent the afternoon preoccupied, and at the end of the day, I cornered Billy.
“Can we talk about what you said at lunchtime?”
“Ain’t nuthin’ to say, Nate. I don’t want you seeing my sister. That’s all.”
“But Billy, I liked her. We sat and talked for hours. And I think she liked me. We’re going out for a meal, Friday night.”
“The hell you are.”
“It’s arranged, Billy. I wanted to see her again, she wanted to see me. We’re not young kids, for chrissake, we’re all grown adults.”
“Hmmm… Nate. We need to sort this. Meet me at the tavern at nine o’clock tonight, and we’ll settle this.”
“Settle? Whaddya mean, settle?”
“You know, the way we always used to settle things.”