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The Engagement Ring

Tuesday, balancing two coffees in my hands, I walked through the open door to say good morning to the Boss. Amanda didn’t even hear me, she was completely absorbed in inspecting the ring on her finger. It was the most enormous diamond in an exquisite platinum setting. I sighed, and backed away through the door. For the last month or so it had been impossible to get her to focus on anything but her forthcoming wedding. In fact, the whole Thames Valley organised crime division had come to a virtual standstill as one of their senior officers had announced her engagement to the notorious crime boss, George Morello. To be fair though I thought, as I sat down at my desk, George Morello had not put a foot wrong since he bought the huge estate on the outskirts of Windsor, and no charges had managed to stick since he took over from his father ten years ago.

I had believed Amanda too ambitious to make such a career destroying move. We had almost had a relationship five years ago, but she backed off for that very reason – she had set her sights on the top job. So, one wonders what changed her mind? He was obscenely rich, no doubt about that, but then Amanda was not the sort of woman to marry for money, so I reckoned it must be love.

Finally, I pinned her down, so the next day we arranged to meet for a drink at the local pub. Amanda had a gap between wedding dress fittings and meeting with florists to choose the flowers. The other local villains didn’t seem to hold much interest for her any more.

“Look, I don’t have much time, Jack so let’s cut to the chase. You obviously want to know why I’m marrying George!”

So in what is known as a pre-emptive strike, she had me on the defensive about thirty seconds after she walked through the door.

“Mandy, I’m just worried about all this and how it’s going to work out. Living with the the local Mafia boss is not going to do your chances of promotion any good at all.”

As usual, she was looking elegant, but I’ve never seen her appearing so tired and stressed.

“And just don’t tell me it’s none of my business, Mandy, I’m your friend. Do you love him? Just tell me what this is all about.”

There was a significant pause, as she looked down at the ring on her finger and went to the bar to order the drinks. She still didn’t say anything as she gave me the pint and took a sip of her usual dry white wine. She then twisted the ring around on her finger and sighed.

This was not going well; she was my boss after all, and I had the feeling any moment she was going to pull rank and tell me I was well out or order and that would be that. She took another gulp of her drink straightened her shoulders and said somewhat defensively,

“Jack, you know that George hasn’t any sort of criminal record. The Met couldn’t pin anything on him and neither can we…..”

She tailed off at that point, seeing the look of complete disbelief on my face. It didn’t help her case when she added rather lamely:”

“He’s going straight”.

At that point, I left the table to get another drink, noticing that she’d finished the first one, and bought another wine and a double Scotch for me. She was a first class detective and this sounded all wrong.

“So what about the top brass? Surely they must have some objections to this wedding of yours? “

“Well no, the invitations have done out and they have said they would attend. You and the rest of the team should get yours in the next few days, I do hope you will all be able to make it. Jack, I really would appreciate your support.”

She then summoned her driver and left, having finished her second glass of wine. I ordered another Scotch and then called it a day. I’m a good detective as well, and this certainly wasn’t adding up. So what was really going on here?

Old Sergeant Brown kept his ear close to the ground. He readily agreed to meet for a pint the next day.

“It’s a sting, Jack”, he mused aloud, “must be something along those lines.” Now that was an interesting theory, which would explain the support of Thames Valley top brass. It would also explain why Amanda played along. Taking George down would be mean a promotion for her. Of course it was a bit of a gamble, and just how far was Amanda prepared to go along with this?

Of course the other angle is that Amanda was on the take, but that doesn’t explain why George Morello had to die. It could be just have been the usual mob rivalry but I would bet there was more to this than met the eye. Unfortunately, we will may never know; George was killed just two days before the wedding. It looked like a professional job but the perpetrator was never caught. Sergeant Brown was of the opinion that the mob thought he was literally getting in bed with the Thames Valley police. They couldn’t be sure of his loyalty any more. Amanda never said another word on the subject but still wore his ring for another few weeks. Then she then stopped wearing it, and her old enthusiasm for catching villains came back. Her new house in the country is very pleasant, by the way!

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Write a short story they said. She procrastinated furiously until the end of the month. But what should she write about? Anything you like! This, as she discovered, was easier said than done. She needed some inspiration so she took the dog for a walk.

As she trudged over the heathland, the usual scenic views were blurred by the rain, and the wind was gusting as she slogged her way to the top of the hill. On a clear day, and this was not it, the view is just spectacular and one can see all the way to the distant coast. She turned to face the wind and discovered that the view from the peak was missing and the whole of the valley right across to the sea was suddenly invisible as the weather closed in. As she descended, the rainwater trickling down the pathway quickly grew to a cold rivulet and then an icy torrent, as the temperature dropped another five degrees. The incline became a very slippery slope. A increasingly soggy small dog was trying to shelter behind her as the rain turned to sleet.

At this point our reluctant author was about two miles from home, extremely cold and miserable, so she quickened her pace.. She was unaware her dog was not keeping up, until the little tyke came racing down the slope and hit at speed in the back of her knees. She collapsed in a heap putting her hand out as she fell and spraining her wrist. The sleet turned to snow, and a branch falling from a small conifer hit her in the face while she wallowed helplessly in the now raging stream. Realizing that the path had become impassable, she crawled into a small adjacent hollow. The dog followed as she burrowed into the bracken lining her makeshift den.

This is turning into a somewhat harrowing tale, so just let me assure you that both of them made it back in the end. The snow drifted after a couple of hours and even soggy dogs generate a fair amount of heat, when one is stuck in a snowdrift with a lining of bracken. A handful of chicken treats and a bar of chocolate kept the pair going while they waited in the small hollow for the blizzard to subside, and gave them both the energy to make their way home.

Next time, the author may just try embroidery, to stimulate some sort of creative mood. No more of this connecting with nature rubbish; it’s just not safe! At least that way, she won’t have to type the story using her left hand.

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“Exit, pursued by a bear” one of the most memorable stage directions in the Shakespearean canon appears in The Winter’s Tale. The fact that my mother’s name was Hermione was probably just a coincidence and why she named me Perdita, much the same.

Nevertheless, that particular winter when my parents split up was a tragi-comedy, if not a farce! I can’t claim to be the child of a broken family since the year it happened I was close to forty, happily married with two children and a dog.

So, Leontes, (sorry – Leo, as my father is called), came round for supper one evening when my mother was rehearsing her next play. My mother, rather late in life, had developed an interest in amateur dramatics, and this was her first starring role. Well, although it was news to me, I didn’t think it was something much to worry about until his pronouncement was delivered in a dramatically anguished tone:

” I’m convinced your mother is having an affair with her leading man!”

At this point, I didn’t ask what his name was; it would just have been too surreal if he were called Polixenes, so I enquired calmly as why he thought this was the case.

“She just can’t stop mentioning his name, and she’s wearing much more makeup than she has done for years.”

We were in the kitchen at the time of this revelation. My father was helping me load the dishwasher, and in his distress managed to drop a plate which smashed to pieces on the tiled kitchen floor. Well, I hoped it was an accident and not a fit of jealous rage, as he sat down at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. I cleared up the shattered pieces from the floor as I tried to calm him down, whilst struggling to keep an excited golden retriever from hurting his paws. My husband, David, accompanied by two children stuck their heads round the kitchen door, but retreated when I shooed them away.

I must admit, from what my father had said so far, the evidence seemed flimsy, and it was a couple of months later when I finally caught my mother on her own. She was “busy with rehearsals” and was somewhat difficult to pin down. We met for coffee at a small hotel in town. Mum joined me at the table, looking unusually happy and terribly chic; her makeup immaculate and her outfit brand new. This raised alarm bells but as yet no serious cause for concern. She drank her coffee and chattered in an animated tone, about rehearsals and Polixenes (sorry – Peter, her leading man). I listened, mesmerised by her somewhat theatrical hand gestures, her expressive face, and her eyes alive with a passion and enthusiasm I couldn’t remember having seen in my dear old mum. After another coffee, I finally sensed her winding down and dived in when I saw a gap:

“Mum”, I said lightly, aiming for a slightly amused tone,   “Dad seems to think you may be sharing more than the stage with Peter.”

Her reaction was unexpected, her expression almost smug, as she gleefully responded:

“Darling, it serves him right, he’s taken me for granted all these years. Is he jealous, do you think? “.

I nodded, raised one eyebrow, and said gently:

“Mother, Dad seems really distressed. Couldn’t you just…


“Don’t worry”, she interrupted, “your father will survive, he’s just grown too complacent and he needs to learn a lesson or two. I know what I’m doing. It will all work out fine.”

I came to the conclusion that this was all a game but I had a funny feeling it was going to end in tears. I paid the bill, followed her out of the hotel as we almost collided with my very dapper looking father with a young blonde on his arm. He had a triumphantly smug expression on his face! I also noticed he was wearing a black tie, and the blonde was in a nicely tailored black suit. He greeted me as my mother brushed past them and disappeared without saying a word.

At this point, I couldn’t decide if it was a Comedy of Errors, Much Ado about Nothing, or The Winter’s Tale, as a change of address card from Mum dropped through the letterbox the following week. The final denouement, as it gradually emerged, more closely resembled a Brian Rix farce! Apparently, a row of epic proportions resulted in Mum stomping out in frustration after packing an overnight bag.

My father then panicked, asked my husband, a lawyer, to sort it all out. A tangled web of misunderstandings, misdirection, and lies emerged as David cross questioned my parents and tried to keep a straight face. Mum had left the script for the play lying on the coffee table open at the page of a passionate embrace between the two leading players. Then she had bumped into Dad and his secretary on the way to the funeral of the senior partner of his company. Bitter accusations of infidelity were flying around! Finally David made them see sense, and both of them smiled sheepishly as he jokingly enquired to whom should he send the bill.

So Christmas with my parents went very well, with Mum back in the family home. And the Boxing Day panto was a roaring success. The children loved it and my father was very proud, Mum looked wonderful in a wig and a fairy tale dress. The leading man was in his late seventies, and according to David, my mother had described him as having bad breath and a dodgy hip. So the passionate embrace turned into a brief peck on the cheek. There was one brief moment of alarm when the bear was a bit too enthusiastic and the leading man tripped just as he exited stage left!



The topic for December/January 2021 Short Story Competition was A Winters Tale.

The Handkerchief

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My most vivid and happy memories of my childhood were woven around my grandmother and her house. My mother died shortly after I was born. And my father for many years was just a hazy and often distant figure. As I grew older, I understood a great deal more, but in those early days I thrived, happy basking in the bottomless, unconditional love of my grandmother.

Of course the endless summers were not the only things I remembered; there must have been grey days lurking somewhere. Gran loved to embroider, and I used sit on the rug to lean against her knees, reading one of my favourite books she must have heard a million times.

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Chrissie for Dan

“It was not my choice that you and I should mesh.
You crept in slowly and your presence grew;
With every day that you came close,
A gradual understanding of my need gained
Trust.

A new dimension seemed to open wide,
Beliefs were questioned, where before was bleak
Hopelessness and hurt, long harboured,
Slowly banished by your gentle calm; came
Hope.”

Dan for himself

“In the end how do we ever really know those whom we love? I fell in love with Anne all those years ago, and my love in the beginning was  an expression of faith.  We once visited this place where I now sit alone looking at the magnificent view. I would just try to see it through her eyes.  Did we both see the same things in the same way? I wanted to be able to read her thoughts and spend the rest of our relationship trying to make Anne understand why this was what I imagined love really was. It transcended mortality, and a true meeting of minds could only be achieved after death.

It ended badly, of course, but two years was something of a record for me, which is why she held a special place in my memory.  It was my first serious relationship, full of promises and hope, but it failed in the end.  She wasn’t prepared to take the final step.  Our romance ended here on this island where the Troodos mountains meet the sea.  In this secluded villa on the edge of the point  with nothing else for miles, she said no.  I had  been too young then to know why she ended it all. I’d been to this villa many times over the years since my parents bought it for our family holidays. The name, they say, is a rough translation from the Greek – The Villa at the Edge of the World   It seemed to be then more like the villa at the end of my world. “

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Lady Lucy Fanshaw

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“Courage is the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. Bravery is the quality that allows someone to do things that are dangerous or frightening.”

So wrote Lady Lucy Fanshaw in her diary which she left for her sons to discover in the library at the manor house near Norwich. In the proceeding years before her death, she was obliged to make many decisions which tested her bravery and her courage. To seek a haven of safety where few existed, to remind herself that it was her duty to protect their lives, their freedoms, and their honour. The estate, and her diary, were passed on to future generations.
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No pressure then?

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“Because I could not stop for death, He kindly stopped for me; The carriage held but just ourselves and immortality.”

Emily Dickinson

Arthur Bliss was intrigued by the prospect of immortality so he devoted a huge slice of his accumulated wealth on funding research into Cryonics. With advancements in medical science transforming the world, his primary strategy for living through the 22nd century and beyond, was not to die. Should this happen his back up plan was to buy a Cryonics company which theoretically ensured that some time in the future his frozen remains could be defrosted and brought back to life.

A week after the company, renamed Eternal Bliss, had been acquired, his personal transporter crashed on one of his routine trips to the moon. His remains, unfortunately scattered across the crash site, were problematic to retrieve but his head luckily remained largely intact. It was dispatched to Eternal Bliss according to his wishes, and placed in the freezer. Arthur was aged 70. His only living relative, his niece Mildred, inherited his fortune.

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Melissa

I open to the door to our quarters. Melissa sits on the floor. She’s cradling the baby in her arms, and he’s holding on to her finger as he gazes into her eyes. She’s talking softly and smiling back at him. I can’t help it, but it’s wrong. It’s just going to be so much harder when they take him to The Nursery.  She will never be able to hold him again. She looks over to me and I know she knows what I’m thinking. She stays where she is, thank goodness, she knows better than to touch me at the moment.  It’s not to be encouraged, and emotional relationships with others, even family members detracts from our duty and responsibilities towards the Brotherhood and the continuance of our society.  Melissa ignores this, much of the time, although I do my best to discourage her. She frequently sails much too close to the wind in private.

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The church bells stopped ringing. It was the signal that the coast was clear so Monty marched down the path towards the back kitchen door speaking into his Acorn MB* radio.

“They should all be in church. Now approaching the kitchen door door. Over.”

“Over what?” squeaked a voice in his ear.

“Never mind.” Monty sighed, “are you all ready?”

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Home for Christmas

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She was having trouble with her memory these days, not to mention her arthritis, so she was so  grateful that this year, the Christmas Day meal was being cooked by Beatrice her daughter. Bless her, she had also organised all the shopping and bringing it with her. The house looked a treat, thanks to Mrs Thomas from the village, who came in to clean. She’d managed to decorate the tree too, and on the coffee table were the games she’d found and Beatrice’s favourite Christmas story book, “Santa and His Little Helpers. She hoped the children would enjoy them.

Where on earth were they all?

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