Thumbs Up

A FREE short story by Colin Devonshire

Thumbs Up

“Christ Almighty, look at this rain, it hasn’t stopped since I left Bangkok, and it’s getting worse,” said Arpa to the mirror. She grabbed the steering wheel tighter as the truck behind her flashed its lights.

“What’s up with you?” She screamed as the vehicle sped past, hitting a deep puddle overloading the hire car wipers. 

Calming down, she flashed at a car coming towards her, “Bloody idiot, turn your lights on.”

At four pm and dark already, the cloudburst followed her. Other drivers had slowed, and their headlights were on. She felt better.

She had driven for ninety minutes, on a dry day she would have made the distance in sixty. 

“No problem, no rush.”

She was keen to show off her degree papers to her parents. The flight from Heathrow was painless, it was only when she arrived in Thailand; the weather changed. A tropical monsoon downpour, she did not miss them. London’s rain was bad enough.

“At least the rain here is warm,” she laughed to herself.

“What the…”

She tooted the horn and pulled across to the dark shadow with his thumb out.

Her mother’s warning flashed across her mind, “Don’t stop for strangers, at home or in England.” She remembered promising she would take care.

Then she recalled the local Abbot saying, “We must take care of those less fortunate.”

She opened the door.

“Get in quick,” she called.

“Oh, great, you can speak English.”

“I know that in England you ‘thumb a lift,’ but it won’t work here,” Arpa said, smiling.

“Ah, that explains it. I’ve been walking for hours,” the man answered.

“You are soaked, why not take your jacket off? I’ll turn the heater on to dry it.”

The man attempted to wriggle out of the sleeves. It was then Arpa realised how big the man was. He was built like a bodybuilder, his arm muscles restricted shaking loose his jacket.

“Why are you walking? No one except monks walk in Thailand,” she asked.

He grunted himself free and settled, looking straight ahead.

“Where are you going?” Arpa asked.

“South,” he replied.

“South can be a long way, all the way to Singapore.”

“Prachuab… somewhere or other,” he said.

“Prachuabkhirikhan, you mean, lovely part of the world,” she smiled at him. Noticing he had a facial tattoo and many piercings. 

“Can I ask again, why are you walking? We have plenty of buses and even frequent trains travel south.”

“… Eh, my bag was stolen. Money, passport the lot all gone.”

“You have an Embassy in Bangkok, why not tell them?” she asked.

The splatter of rain was the only answer she got.

He stretched his arms out, hands resting on his knees, she glimpsed, ‘LOVE and HATE’ inked across his knuckles.

She felt under the dashboard, for a second she had forgotten this was not her car. Her BMW stored a ladylike pistol. This rental had no such thing. 

“Where are you heading?” He said, facing her for the first time. She gasped, one fluorescent sky blue eye and one green cat’s eye peered at her. His lips parted enough to reveal pointed teeth, and the incisors boasted diamond chips.

“I’m going to my parents’ home, sorry, but not as far as Prachuabkhirikhan, I’ll have to drop you off soon.”

“Has anybody told you, you are beautiful?”

She tried to cover her knees with her skirt. The cotton didn’t stretch. His eyes did. His smile widened.

Arpa’s mind was spinning, how to get rid of this freak? ‘Why didn’t I listen to mum?’ she thought.

“The rain is easing,” she said.

“Are you trying to throw me out of your car?”

“No, it’s not that, I need to stop for petrol, I’ll buy you a coffee and give you enough cash for the bus which can pick you up at the station?”

“I can see you have half a tank of fuel. Are there no more stations?”

“It, it, it’s not that, I like the convenience store at the next petrol station,” she mumbled.

“How about we keep moving, also, let go of your skirt too. I prefer it when you have two hands on the wheel. Much safer, don’t you agree?”

She did as ordered. A tense silence filled the car, he stared at her legs; she wondered how to press the alarm signal on her phone. ‘I never needed it in London, back home the first person I meet and I am desperate to try it out.’ Her mind in a twirl.

“The turning for my home is coming up. You’ll have to get out soon.”

“What if I ask you to take me all the way?” he said, smirking at his poor joke.

“Sorry, that is not possible.”

He turned awkwardly to face her. “I think it is.”

She realised how huge his shoulders were.

A thought from nowhere nudged her overactive mind. 

“What work do you do?”

“Are you offering me a job?”

“Are you in the movies?” she asked.

A weird sound spluttered out like a dog caught under a bus. 

“Whatever made you ask that. Of course, I’m not a film star,” he said 

“Would you like to be one?”

“I’ve never thought about it. I’m a bouncer in a nightclub if you must know.”

Silence returned. Both were deep in thought. He was dreaming of flirting with instant fame. She dreamt of escape.

“My father is a movie producer,” she said.

“So?”

“He could find you a role, maybe a hero, or even as a villain?”

“I can’t speak Thai, it would have to be a non-speaking part.”

“No problem, my dad will know a way around that little problem,” Arpa said, feeling more at ease.

She started rooting in her bag.

“Oy, what do you think you’re doing?”

“I looking for my phone, I need to tell my dad you’re coming.”

“Okay, but speak in English, I don’t want you tricking me.”

“Dad’s English is good enough, but he’ll think it odd for us not to speak Thai.”

“Just make it quick.”

She tapped in a number.

“Hi dad, it’s me, I’m nearly home. I have the next star for your movie with me now.”

The mobile went back to her bag.

The rain stopped as they left the main road, turning left onto a winding offshoot lane. Passing pineapple fields, then mango orchards, on through farmland. Ahead was a huge property, three-metre-high walls surrounded it. Automatic gates opened and closed behind them as they swept across the gravel driveway.

Dogs were barking.

“Don’t worry, they are in cages,” said Arpa. “I don’t even know your name.”

The huge teak front door opened back. 

“My name is Philip.”

A whistling sound was heard for a second before the crossbow bolt buried itself into Philip’s heart.

“Great shot dad,” she called as she ran to cuddle her father.

“What a fantastic specimen, a good job I stocked up with formaldehyde, but I’m not sure I have a glass cylinder big enough,” Arpa’s father laughed.

The END

After Work

A FREE short story – For over 18s please.

By Colin Devonshire

After Work

“You look happy today?” said Busabong.

“Yeah,” answered Mark, “I always look forward to Thai religious days, tomorrow is the start of Buddhist Lent, which means I’ll be happy for the long weekend.”

“Why? You’re not Buddhist, or are you thinking of becoming a monk?” she asked, giggling.

“No, that will never happen, I’m not religious at all.”

“Then why will you enjoy this weekend more than others? Not because you can’t buy alcohol I’m sure?” 

Mark’s colleague was sniggering behind her slim hands. She knew Mark drank too much, not because she had been out with him, nor had anybody from the office. He stank of booze Monday mornings and often on other workdays. Daily, Busabong dressed immaculately, her job was phone marketing.

“Why do you always look so smart, not that customers ever see you?” asked Mark, changing the subject.

“If you look smart, feel smart, you will sell smart. That’s what they told us at training,” she answered. She was Thai, Thai’s are rarely rude, that’s why she never mentioned or even hinted at his dress, she tried not to allow him to see her looking at his denim shorts and filthy t-shirt.

“How come I head the sales table?”

“It helps that you speak English like a native, not like an Asian,” she said, holding her breath.

“I’m only joking, keep cool.”

“Why have you not made any friends in the office?” she asked.

“I like to keep my friendships outside work. Don’t worry, I have loads of pals here in Bangkok.”

 Mark ticked another sale on the chart. He knew they were watching him; he smiled before he turned, all heads were hastily ducked behind computer screens.

“Goodnight all,” he waved as he skipped to the doorway.

“Taxi,” he called, ordering a ride the short distance to his condo.

His shirt was flung into the washing basket, shorts soon followed as he grabbed his Gillette, a steady and careful shave, preceded his step into the steaming shower. Clouds of talc soon joined the steam. ‘Straight To Heaven’ aftershave was dabbed behind his ears.

“Bloody expensive stuff, don’t waste it,” he said to his steamy reflection in the cloudy mirror.

Flicking between hangers, suit or blazer, he decided on a tieless shirt and business trousers. His handmade brogues were gleaming, no rain in the city, no filth on the leather, unless he made them dirty in some other way.

A taxi pulled up as he exited his condo foyer, “Pat Pong please, no rush.”

He was dropped at the Sukhumvit end of the red-district road. 

“Ideal,” he whispered to himself, “no need to be hasty, take your time old boy.”

Three years earlier, he had walked across the same road from his hotel. A naïve tourist alone because his travel mate had been struck down with food poisoning, or was it overdoing the alcohol intake? Whatever, Mark had decided not to waste an evening of their precious two-week holiday. He looked different in those days, with long hair, bearded and broke. His mum had paid for the holiday to get ‘him from under her feet’. 

Tonight was going to be very different. He wanted savage revenge. 

Three years earlier, the novice girl hunter had met one of Pat Pong’s unbelievably beautiful ‘lady boys’. When this gorgeous night worker stroked him, whispered sweet something in his ear, leading him astray. ‘She’ led him to a ‘short time’ hotel. 

All his planning was moving in Mark’s expected direction. Both tops flung to the floor, little silver package unveiled a sheath of gossamer rubber. They both fought to slide it onto Mark.

Mark gently slid his hands under the mini-skirt. 

“What is that?” He screamed.

“I thought that’s what you were looking for?”

Mark punched ‘her’ on the nose, the plastic improvement to the bridge snapped, followed by an ear-piercing squeal which equalled Mark’s wail of agony as a bony foot parted his legs leaving him rolling in agony. Within seconds, Mark was set upon by a gang of ‘lady boys’, all high on ‘meth’, they punched, kicked, then took turns to rape him. Worse was to follow.

Three-year-old memories had not faded, every face, every tattoo and every scar even every scent, throbbed at his temples. He had scouted the bars since his arrival; he had visited the famous haunts, spotted some of the gang that changed his life.

Tonight was the get-even night. He had learned enough Thai to get his point across, loud and clear.

Earlier, he had checked into a modest three-star hotel under a false name and paid cash for two nights. He had picked a hotel that didn’t worry if you brought ‘a guest’ to your room. 

He breezed into a pulse-quickening thump of booster speakers which vibrated the walls of the ground floor club. His target was directly ahead, arms draped over a clueless tourist, a man who thought he had met the ‘girl’ of his dreams. She left him open-mouthed with lipstick dappled ear lobes, she had spotted the well-dressed Mark’s one-thousand Baht note being flapped at a pretty female topless server.

“Tilak ja,” Pippi breathed at him, “what can I get you?”

“Tilak ja? What does that mean?” asked Mark.

“It means, darling, politely. I can be very impolite if you prefer. Let’s get out of here, keep that money for me. It will be well worth it.”

“I only wanted a drink. My friends told me about these places, I wanted to see for myself.”

“Let me give you something far better than watered-down booze,” Pippi winked and slid her hand along his thigh, moving up and across as Mark grabbed her wrist.

“Not here, we can go to my hotel?”

“What hotel?” she asked, knowing would not be allowed in most.

Mark feigned forgetting the name of the place, he described the building and its address.

“Oh, I know it, it’s a very friendly, lovely place. Let’s go,” she said.

Nodding at the night manager, who didn’t lift his head from his paper, his key was handed to Mark. As any well-dressed, polite man, Mark opened the door for his ‘guest’. As she got inside, she was clubbed from behind with the handily placed hammer.

She was tied and gagged. Mark left by the fire escape at the back. He slipped a sheet of plastic in the locking mechanism ready for his return.

Hours later, he was happy with his hunt, four of the five people who attacked him were now in his room. Sluggish and drowsy as they came around dripping blood.

“Where is Lilly,” he asked. “Do not scream,” he said, as he flashed the blade under each chin.

They looked at each other, shaking heads.

“Where? I won’t ask again.”

Mark held his knife to the nearest eyeball. “Where is she?”

“She is dead, she died in jail.”

Mark looked at his prisoners, they all nodded slowly.

“Lucky for her,” said Mark.

Three of the four were gagged and blindfolded. The fourth quaked as Mark produced a dark brown bottle and unscrewed the top. He covered his mouth and nose as he filled a syringe. The girl gaped as he squirted the liquid in her mouth. 

The previous weekend Mark had visited a silk fair, not that he particularly enjoyed the feel of the material against his skin, he wanted a liquid used in the dyeing process.

 Sulphuric acid melted his captive’s tongue, she tried to spit the throbbing mucosa of her muscular organ, her whole body trembled. Fear almost popped her eyes, the pain left her gagging, struggling for breath.

“Steady on girl, we’ve only just started,” said Mark, as he ripped open her blouse.

“Let’s see what we can do with silicone breasts.”

The clear fluid worked its way through skin and plastic implants.

Each captive suffered, grunting and groaning in their helpless agony.

“Now ladies, before I start the final stage of this little operation. I want you to know what you did to me. I can no longer make love and I pee in a bag. Are you happy?”

He squirted acid onto each face. They were blind, mute, and unrecognisable.

Mark was late for work the next day, saying he had a busy weekend. When he turned up dressed in shorts and a scruffy t-shirt, he broke all sales records.

The END

Torched!

FREE short story, set in Thailand

Torched

The lanky palms swept the top of the cracked tiled roof. A frond whispered its way to the parched grass. Bangkok’s heat throbbed and drained strength, newcomers suffered, veins pumped, sweat dripped in torrents. 

“Oh, be careful that just missed you,” Justin said, pulling Mondtree back. The pull became a hug. She shrugged him away, tutting.

“Not here, not now,” she said.

He led her to the wooden steps to the porch.

“Nung, song,” she counted. “Nung, song, sam, si,” two steps, and four paces to the door, she said. “I don’t like even numbers.” Her Thai, still perfect even after spending years in London. 

Justin flicked through the brass ring of twenty-six keys, he knew how many, Mondtree had told him.

“It must be this one, look at the size of it.” He held the old key on display.

It wouldn’t fit, he jiggled and joggled, stooping to look through the keyhole. Finally, after blowing away the clogged dust, the key turned. The door swung back smoothly.

“Come on then, let me carry you over the threshold to a new life.” His arms outstretched, soon limp.

“Don’t be so daft,” she said, giggling. He grabbed at her. She fought herself free. “Someone may be watching.”

“So what? We are married.” He said as he entered the dark brown teak gloom. “Come on, we must open the window shutters, let some light and air in.”

Mondtree looked around, she heard palm leaves rustle, something else stirred her senses, what was it? Dry bamboo leaves sounded like rain, didn’t they? Bamboo stalks bobbed and danced. What else? She ran outside, back to, but not on the steps, then she stepped to one side, pulling at, and lifting dry and green branches, something scuttled below, unseen beyond the vegetation. Slowly she walked back to the front door.

“Come on,” called Justin, “what are you doing out there?”

“There was something out here.”

“Just a cat, I expect.”

Justin continued fighting the rusting hinges of the shutters, hooking them secure. 

“That’s better, homely, don’t you think?”

“It’s not like the picture you showed me,” said Mondtree.

“That was an old one, the agent sent it to me. The house has been left empty for a while.”

She grunted and wiped her finger through the dust on the window sill.

“Come on, darling, let’s look around,” Justin said.

The main living room was spacious, doors led to an outside kitchen, a small bathroom and a smaller room. 

“That can be my office,” Justin said.

Stairs grew from the centre of the main area, leaning back away from the front door directly in front.

“Bad start,” she said.

“What are you on about,” Justin said, as his grin got wider. “I’ve heard enough of your outdated Thai beliefs.”

“Two steps up, then dead ahead is a staircase. And I bet there is an even number of stairs?”

“So?”

“No house should have a ‘ghost entrance’ like this,” Mondtree, shook her head in disbelief, “Who would build like this?”

Justin shook his head, then nodded. 

“Up we go.” 

They took the stairs carefully, highly polished wood covered with dust felt like an ice rink. She counted to twenty-six. The handrail was sturdy and swept left and right at the top. Five doors greeted them. Mondtree ran to and from each.

“Oh, no,” she said, “as I dreaded, four bedrooms and a cupboard!”

“So?”

“It is unlucky, don’t you know anything?”

“What if we made two rooms into one? The bridal suite?” He scratched his chin.

She snorted louder this time.

“We’ll need another bathroom upstairs, the other one is not enough, we could make the fourth bedroom into a bathroom?” he said.

“Why did you buy this place? Without even asking me, and without even seeing it?”

A year earlier, Justin had fallen in love with the chef in his favourite Thai restaurant in Knightsbridge. After a whirlwind romance, Mondtree’s father, the restaurant owner, had allowed her to marry the shy Englishman. Her father expected them to take over his business and allow him to retire. The day after the wedding, Justin stated his plan to move to Thailand and sell products online. Photographs of an aged property on the outskirts of Bangkok did nothing to cheer his in-laws.

The aged two-storey house, built with Thailand’s long-lasting, termite-free, teak wood, it was tucked away at the dead end of a Soi, far from the screaming, tooting jammed traffic. More modern homes had been built nearby, but not within 100 metres, the weeds and trees surrounded the previous occupant, they are still there, growing unhindered.

“Good job we didn’t decide to open a restaurant.” She snorted. “There’s not too much in the way of passing trade,” she glared at him.

“All I need is my laptop and a decent Wi-Fi connection,” said Justin.

“What am I supposed to do?”

“Don’t worry, we’ll both be flat out renovating. When settled, we can think of something for you.”

“I don’t want to live in a place with two steps leading up to the front door, or with four bedrooms.”

“Yeah, yeah, you’ve already told me. Don’t you think there are more important tasks, like sweeping up before we move our furniture in?” 

“That’s another thing, why order all the stuff without letting me pick some bits?”

“I only ordered the basics, you can choose the rest. I wanted to get started, that’s all.”

They relaxed, her phone vibrated.

“The furniture shop is calling me, hold on,” said Mondtree, with her hand up in a quiet gesture.

She stared at her husband, hands-on-hips, mouth open.

“What?” asked Justin.

“They will deliver, today as promised, but will they will not set foot in this house. All our new stuff will be left outside.”

“I suppose that’s because of the two steps?” he sniggered.

She playfully slapped him across the shoulders. 

“Now we will have to lug everything upstairs?”

“You wanted something to do.” He said as another slap accompanied a half-hearted smile.

A pickup truck pulled up, the men started placing boxes outside the gate and tried to sneak off and disappear.

“Why won’t you shift it all inside?” called Mondtree from the house.

She was answered with ducked heads shaking. 

“Please sign this. Out here,” the driver asked.

Most of the furniture was flat-pack, far too modern to suit the house, but easy to shift. The plastic-wrapped mattress was not so easy. Heavy and unbending, Justin’s sweat dripped from rivulets. Before they began the furniture construction, Mondtree swept while Justin mopped. 

“Look after my cigs and lighter, I’m sweating all over them.”

They smiled at each other.

“Let’s try the bed?” suggested Justin.

“I’m not sleeping here tonight, and not until you sort out that step.”

“Who said anything about sleeping?” 

“Is that all you think about,” Mondtree said.

His grin switched from jokey playmate to a slow-motion sneer. The corners of his mouth pointed south. His shoulders trembled as his head tipped from side to side.

She took a half step back and looked deep into his eyes. His lips began vibrating and twitching. His eyelids flicked up and down, his eyes glowed a steamy pink. Anger throbbed.

She pushed him away, turned, and ran.

He bounded after her, room to room, slamming doors in the chase. 

“Where are you?” he bellowed.

Panting, Mondtree skipped across the upstairs hallway and took three steps at a leap, panting for breath on reaching the bottom, unable to scream. Catching a glimpse across her shoulder, she opened the door and froze.

“Come in, come in, my pretty,” he stood at the top and pointed at the bed.

His back had hunched, his hair jutted at all angles, his fingers were gnarled like broken cutlery.

“Come on my darling, I won’t hurt you.” He beckoned with bent fingers.

Mondtree looked around, the hated two steps were bobbing up and down, like a dinghy on the sea. One step rocked up, the other dipped, both moving in and out. Hands to mouth, eyes popping, she measured her chances. Slim to none. She couldn’t stay, she dare not attempt the steps.

Taking a long step back, as his outstretched claws scratched at her, she sprang forward. Tumbling and cursing, rolling in the weeds, gasping for air. Peering for a chance to run.

Her sprint took her as far as the gateway, stopping as an idea hit her, she gathered the furniture’s wrapping paper, nylon rope, together with dried broken branches she formed a loose ball. 

Using Justin’s lighter, she torched the ball and flung it at her deformed husband in the doorway. Dust, rubbish and his clothes caught instantly alight. He laughed at the fire; he danced jumping up and down.

Not stopping to watch, she formed another ball, turning back, she threw it at the window, smash it shattered as teak burst alight. Flames licked everything it touched, catching the antique wood afire. And all inside creaked and groaned as it burnt. Spitting blackened splinters.

Smoke billowed as she wailed.

“What have I done?”

Even numbers ticked in her brain.

The two steps stopped wobbling. Still, unmoving were the two steps, but two steps she would never step on.

The END

Really?

FREE short story by Colin Devonshire

Really?

“The traffic gets no better, I see, rot tit!” Philip Rinn said as he walks into his new office.

“Oh?” Anong said.

“Oh, what?” Philip asked.

“I must have made a silly mistake when I typed up details of your interview in London.”

“How so? You type up information on all the staff?”

“Yes, it is company policy. It said on your info sheet that you cannot speak Thai and that you have never been here before.”

“I see, let me clear that up. I learned a few words of your beautiful language, and I’ve never worked here. I came for a holiday once. I picked up the term for traffic jam, as I spent most of my time in one,” he said, smiling at Anong.

“You have a corner office, with the best views of the city. If you need any supplies, just ask and I’ll arrange them. My office is next door.” 

“Can I have a coffee before you go?”

“There is a machine in the corridor, the coffee is free.” She turned her back.

Philip sat behind his desk, checked in the desk drawers. Empty. The filing cabinet was bulging. There was a calendar opened for this month. A blue and a red pen with the company logo stamped on them. 

“Lovely, pity the secretary doesn’t make coffee. Now, I wonder what they expect me to do?”

At Rank Insurance, it didn’t take a genius to guess what they offered. Health, property and vehicle cover. They also had an investment department. Philip’s only experience with insurance was a failed attempt to claim his car when it crashed in bad weather. He was drunk. 

He wandered to the coffee machine, smiling and nodding to the office workers he passed. Anong kept her head down. She answered the phone, keeping her head frozen in place.

“Yes, sir, I’ll tell him.”

Her head lifted, “Mr Rinn, the boss wants a word. Top floor.” 

“He can wait until I finish my drink.”

“Up to you, but I wouldn’t keep him waiting.”

Philip shrugged and flipped his feet on his desk. Arms behind his head leaning back, he smirked at the cooling coffee.

The plastic cup became the first item in his bin as he took the lift upstairs.

On his return, he was tempted to fill the bin with the folders and leaflets presented by his boss.

“Miss Anong, please come in here,” he asked.

“Yes, Mr Rinn,” she said, remaining standing.

“Please sit. I want you to give me the gist of all this stuff.”

Anong was Thai, normally polite and helpful, cheerful and generous. She was a good judge of people.

“I believe you should read it, find out what we as a company do.”

“I have better things to do. Give me a summary.”

She started sorting the papers.

“We can start with the fun bit, Rank Insurance takes its employees for a long weekend in the jungle.”

“Ah, ha, I’ll get to use my military training,” he said.

“Brush up your skills, as luck would have it, we go to Kanchanaburi, next weekend.”

Rinn snorted, legs on the desk, he signalled for her to continue.

She explained the coverage of each policy. Rinn was daydreaming. Finally, she placed the leaflets and brochures on a shelf, then flicked open a folder.

“I thought you’d finished?”

“You need to know the company’s rules.” She started reading the do and definitely do not of office behaviour and how to treat each client.

She crept out of the office, leaving Philip snoring gently.

As the clock hit four-thirty, “Bye Anong, see you tomorrow,” he said, waving goodbye.

“But, we don’t finish until six.”

“I have something planned.”

Office chatter caught fire. Anong busied herself with Philip’s photograph and Google search programme.

During the following four days, Philip spent his time with his head buried in his file cabinet. He pulled file after file, flicked open the details and copied them onto his iPad.

“If you are going to watch me work, at least fetch me a coffee,” said Philip.

Anong, did as requested. Then asked, “Why you are checking the documents of our English clients?”

“You have good eyesight, reading the names from your office?”

“I organised the files, I know who goes in which drawer.”

“Brilliant. If you must know, I aim to run an advert, in English, in the Bangkok Post. Is that okay with you?”

“We have an ad department that handles that,” she answered as she stalked to her desk.

The clock in Philip’s office ticked its way to six pm. He hadn’t found the information he wanted.

A note was placed on each staff member’s desk. ‘Kanchanaburi Trip. Staff are requested to meet outside the building at nine am tomorrow. Casual clothes, strong walking shoes and a hat will be needed. Alcohol will be served. Have fun, but please remember the company’s good name!’.

Philip snorted as he balled the paper.

“Shit, shit, shit. What do I do now?” he asked himself.

“Gather round, please,” called the office manager. “I have some great news,” he pointed to Philip’s office, “the lady who graced that office, will be joining us tomorrow. As you all know, she left us to settle down to married life.”

Philip’s ears pricked up. “All may not be lost.” He grinned.

The phone’s alarm rang at eight. Philip sprang up and readied himself.

“There is extra food this morning, don’t eat it all at once, I will be gone awhile.”

The condo door slammed. 

“Good morning, Mr Rinn, you seem much happier this morning?” said Anong.

“I’m looking forward to this excursion. I’m keen to meet eh, Mrs?”

“Oh, Miss Whitely, now Mrs Jacobs, she will be joining us at the boat.”

Philip sat alone on the coach’s front seat. Thinking, planning how to phrase his questions. The noise, chatter, and Thai songs didn’t disturb his scheming.

The coach arrived at the river. Its passengers poured to the pavement, they bounced and bubbled down the bank to the wide, open-sided craft, ready to whisk them to the River Kwai’s famous sights.

“Philip, please sit next to Miss… sorry, Mrs Jacobs,” said the office manager.

“Please call me Lily.” She smiled with her hand outstretched.

“Lovely to meet you, I’m Philip. New to join this happy bunch of insurance experts.”

Talk of a honeymoon on Phuket, the possibility of starting a family, and river life punctuated with Leo beers, relaxed the pair. 

“Do you mind if I ask you a work-related question?” said Philip.

“But first, where is Mr Rinn? I expected to see him today?” asked Lily.

“You know Mr Rinn?” whispered Philip.

“Oh yes, we were great friends in the London office. I recommended him for this job.”

Philip looked at the group getting louder and merrier. No one heard her. He decided he should stay close; he didn’t want her to talk to Anong.

“Oh, no, looks who’s coming,” he stammered.

“Anong, darling, you look great. Married yet?” asked Lily.

“No, no one will have me, will they, Mr Rinn?”

With a burst of laughter, all heads turned to see who fell overboard. Mr Rinn splashed his way to dry land, he slipped and fell back, before he clambered to the rocky edge. On knees and hands made it to the top. Soggy Baht notes paid for his trip to Bangkok.

“Where did my ex-wife hide her money?” he screamed at the helpless, tightly bound Philip Rinn. His untouched food bowl smashed on the tiles.

Mr Rinn shook his head and mumbled as he tried to speak with a parched throat.

“Please release me,” he said.

“What did the silly cow do with it before she died?” 

“I don’t even know her name,” said Mr Rinn.

“She had insurance with your company. I deserve that money.”

Sirens broke his concentration, he grabbed a kitchen knife and held it under Philip’s throat.

The door burst open, as two police officers tumbled through. A third fired, the bullet hit the standing man between his eyebrows.

The real Philip Rinn blinked and shook the blood from his eyes.

The END

To Write a Wrong

FREE short story by Colin Devonshire

To Write a Wrong

“Yes, yes, I’m coming. But, I must finish this first,” Geoff said. He grabbed an A4 sheet from his printer, balled the paper and missed the bin.

“I’m sick of waiting for you. I’m going now.” Cyn, Geoff’s girlfriend, shouted from the bottom of the stairs. 

In the tiny second bedroom, Geoff was studying the ceiling for the umpteenth time that morning. He slammed the laptop shut, there was an unwelcome sound from the aged machine.

“Christ, what now?” He was scared to open it.

“I’m going this minute,” Cyn screamed, the front door creaked as she crashed it into the shoe cabinet behind.

Geoff grabbed his jacket and descended three stairs at a leap. The door slammed shut as he finished tying his shoes.

“Wait, give me a minute.” The porch ceiling got stared at.

He banged on the bonnet of their car as she reversed to turn into the road. The passenger door flung back, Geoff leapt in as the door narrowly missed the gate post.

“What’s the mad hurry? The doctor is always late,” said Geoff.

“This is our first baby, I want everything to be perfect.”

“If I don’t get my work done, we won’t be able to feed it!” 

“If you keep on, you won’t even see it,” answered Cyn, sniffing away tears. The ten minutes to the surgery passed in silence.

The doctor began her work with pleasant chit chat and then some tough questions.

“Are you getting enough sleep? What are your stress levels? And eating?”

The answers satisfied the doctor. 

“Please lay on the bench and lift your shirt.”

Geoff walked in circles, looking up and scratching his chin. Cyn snorted.

The doctor watched his movement, as she checked Cyn’s rising temperature.

“Please don’t get stressed out. Every expectant couple worries, it is normal.”

“I wish it was the baby, he freaks out about missing deadlines,” said Cyn.

The doctor raised her concerned eyes. Gripping Cyn’s wrist.

“Baby is barely moving, I can hear only the faintest heartbeat. I suggest you check into the hospital. I mean this minute.”

“What,” said Geoff, “Sorry, I was miles away. What do you want?” His eyes flitted from one woman to the other. The doctor shouted orders.

“I’m moving next door to the hospital, you go home and fetch my toothbrush.”

“Oh, is that bad?”

“Yes, you idiot. Get my stuff.”

Geoff padded upstairs to the small room and slumped at his desk. His fingers were itching to tap his keys.

He slowly lifted the Mac’s lid, remembering the odd noise when he had shut it earlier. The screen, normally dark blue sky greeted him, was black, a jagged crack ran diagonally across it. The stars from his background picture no longer flickered. He wanted to cry. No copywriting, no money. He was suddenly jolted backwards as he placed his hand on his trusty workmate’s screen.

“Christ, what am I doing, I should be thinking about Cyn and the baby.” Life’s reality hit him hard as he fingered the sharp crack. “Sod the work.”

Warmth spread up his arm as the computer suddenly burst into life, the stars not only returned, they glistened.

Geoff opened his work file, not the ad agency page, his diary. 

“The last time I used this I was hungover, after a party at Cyn’s friend’s house, I think?” 

He flicked to today’s date and started typing.

“We have been to the quack’s surgery this morning, painful truths hit me in the gut, Cyn and the baby’s agony struck me for the first time. I am now scared for my family.”

He grabbed a bag; her wash stuff and the pink toothbrush, swept them in a holdall, a pair of knickers and a bra joined them. He flew down the stairs. Speeding to the hospital, careless parking and running inside and up the stairs.

Expecting the worst, Geoff stopped in the doorway.

Cyn’s tears were rolling down her cheeks, she was beaming. A huge smile greeted the father to be.

“The baby is fine, little heart thumping, and the tiny body is wriggling like an Olympic wrestler.”

“Do they have wrestling in the Olympics?” smiled Geoff.

They hugged.

“What did they do?” asked Geoff.

“Nothing, that’s the weird thing, my doctor is puzzled, as soon as they started the tests, I, we, was fine. They want to monitor me, but I can go home tomorrow.”

Half an hour later, Geoff went to see the doctor. “Thank you, doc. Whatever you did worked fine.”

“We did nothing, I can’t believe the change. I’ve seen nothing like it.”

Geoff, deep in thought opened his laptop.

“Dear Diary, Incredibly, Cyn and the baby are fine. Why? Why the problem, and why was it fixed so easily?”

Geoff leaned back and started thinking of his sister, two years his junior, he missed her. He could see her now as a three-year-old, how they chased and ran from room to room up and down the rickety stairs at their parent’s old house, in and out to the garden. Dodging mum’s flowers, jumping over flowerpots and ducking rose thorns. 

“You hide, I’ll count to fifty, then I’ll come to find you,” he said in his daydream.

“Where are you?”

His sister’s scream shattered his dream.

Running down the stairs, grabbing his keys, diving into the driver’s seat, rushing to his parent’s place in the countryside, fifty miles away.

His phone vibrated in his trouser pocket. A snatched glimpse confirmed it was his dad.

“I’m on my way,” he said.

“But you don’t know why…” his dad was cut off.

Geoff could see his mum, dad and sister jumping for joy in the driveway as he rounded the corner.

A distant, dreadful memory had never left him, it returned in a flashback. She had hidden in the outside toilet; it smelt of powerful bleach after a recent scrubbing. Little Beatrice spotted the bright purple plastic bottle, she had never seen the fluid before, undoing the top, Beatrice inquisitively squeezed the bottle and sniffed it. Geoff burst in.

“Got you, found you!” 

The detergent splattered into her eyes. 

Back to reality, Geoff shook his head, his father’s urgent pulling at the door chased Geoff’s memories away. 

“You’ll never guess?” he started.

“Beatrice can see again?” answered Geoff.

“But how do you know?”

“I can’t stay long, I wanted to see you all and share our joy. Then I must go back to my writing. In my diary!”

The END

Dead, Dead! Dead?

FREE short story by Colin Devonshire

Dead, Dead! Dead?

“We’re sitting here like idiots. There must be something we can do?” Giles said. Elbows on knees, chin in palms, the same stance as his two best friends. Giles was the thinker of the three, if anyone could resolve this situation, it was Giles.

“How long have we been sitting here? Seems like ages?” Roger asked. He relaxed, and stretched his back, remaining seated on the boulder.

“We can’t wait here forever. Won’t someone come and get us?” John moaned, he yawned, stood and walked around the rocks.

It was dark, not pitch black, but gloomy, and chilly.

“Where is the light coming from?” asked Giles.

“What light?” asked Roger.

“We’re in a cave, in case you hadn’t noticed, there is no electricity. So, how come there is some light, not a lot, I agree, but some.”

“Who said we’re in a cave? The floor is flat, not all rocky,” said Roger. “And you can’t see the ceiling.”

“Is there anything to climb on?” asked John.

“Stand on your rock, you are bound to see for miles up there. Idiot,” said Giles.

“Don’t call me an idiot, at least I’m trying.”

“Yes, very trying. It’s your fault we’re here.”

“Guys settle down, we’re all in it together, it is nobody’s fault,” said Roger. “Anyone hungry or thirsty?”

“No, that’s odd, I’m usually starving by mid-morning.”

Giles realised his watch was gone.

“What’s the time? I’ve lost my watch.”

“Hey, where is mine?”

“And I’ve lost my phone.”

“We can’t even look at the sun to guess the time,” laughed John.

“It’s not funny, who has nicked our stuff?” said Giles.

“This gets worse,” said Roger. “Is this anything to do with you, John?”

“Why would it be my fault?”

Giles groaned but refrained from saying what he was thinking.

‘He got us in this mess. He was the one who loved Roger’s dopey sister. Perhaps not so dense, she’s training to be a stunt actor. My God, she’s can jump from moving horses, whatever next. John was the one who planned to scare the fearless girl. And then come to her rescue, dragging us with him.’

John placed his hands on the cool rock, “I read somewhere…”

“I doubt if you read anything, anywhere, are you sure it wasn’t on TicTok?” said Roger.

“As I was saying, if you get lost in a maze, simply put your hand on the left side fence, or in our case, wall, and follow it back to the entrance. Simple.”

“In case you hadn’t noticed, we are not in some childish game,” said Giles.

“I’m going to try, if you want to get out, follow me.”

John ducked his head, scratched his nose to hide the beginning of tears.

‘Why did I fall for an older woman? I know she fancied me. She was happy enough to show off her new driving licence and take my friends for a ride.’ He thought.

“I sort of agree with John, we can’t just sit here. We must be better off by following the left-hand side of the wall, won’t we?” Roger said.

‘If he’d have acted like a grown-up, instead of a love-struck teenager we wouldn’t have been in this mess.’ Roger thought.

“Can any of you remember why or how we got here?” Giles asked.

“Never mind that now, let’s try to get home,” said John. Roger was nodding by his side.

“We can start by using my left hand on the wall, if it gets sore we can swap, take it in turns. Okay?” said John.

“Have you guys got anything to mark the wall, just in case we’re walking in circles?” suggested Giles.

“Where’s my chewing gum? I had a new pack.”

“Yeah, my house keys have gone!”

“Someone has emptied all our stuff,” said Giles. “I always carry a pen in my shirt, too. It has gone.”

They set off, John thought he was Indiana Jones. He jauntily strode ahead.

“I could do with that gum, we could mark the wall with little blobs?”

“Is that your best idea?”

They walked and walked, John’s arm didn’t ache, they didn’t tire.

“Are we there yet,” John joked, mimicking a youngster.

“That stupid comment jogged a memory.” Giles was deep in thought, looking face to face. “John was sitting in the front, Roger and I sat in the back?”

“The back of what,” asked Roger. ‘Nothing comes to me,’ he thought.

“We were in your sister’s car,” said John.

“Yes, that’s right. She has just passed her test,” said Roger. ‘How could I have forgotten that, my dad bought her a Ford saloon. Wonder if I’ll get one when I pass?’

“And you were teasing her. Remember John, you said that women shouldn’t be allowed to drive, she lost her temper and clipped the kerb?”

“Oh, yeah. I had my hand on her knee too.”

“You dirty sod. I told you my sister didn’t like people touching her,” said Roger. ‘Bastard, lucky for him I didn’t see.’

Roger stretched forward and clipped John’s ear.

‘No reaction, I’ll do it much harder next time.’ Thought Roger.

“Guys, we are getting nowhere. Does anyone need a rest?” asked Giles.

“I’m not tired, let’s keep moving,” said John.

 “I want to stop, sit and think what happened to us,” said Giles.

“The memories have come back, bit by bit. I can almost feel her thigh. Lovely,” said John.

Roger punched him hard on the nose. “That’s my sister, you’re talking about.”

No blood spurted across John’s face, no yelp of pain. “Haha, I’m tougher than you imagined, that didn’t hurt at all,” laughed John.

Giles was quiet, thinking about himself. ‘Lucky for me, they didn’t notice me grabbing a handful of her titties from the back seat. My arm got wedged between seat and door. It’s coming back. What else can I remember?’ He scratched his temples.

“Are we going to walk forever?” asked Roger.

“Let’s stop, get into a mini scrum, put our heads together, think hard, and try to come up with a solution,” said Giles.

“And you thought walking was a bad idea? How is that going to help?” asked Roger.

“Something may come to us. Come on, try.”

The boys linked arms and bumped their heads together.

The initial smirks and sniggers quietened.

“We were in my sister’s car, she was driving slowly, concentrating. Where were we going?”

“I think we were just cruising?” said John.

“Then you frightened her and she lost control,” said Giles.

“Yes, it’s all coming back to me,” said Roger. He then broke the scrum fiercely. “You caused it!” he screamed at Giles.

“What…” he answered.

“Yes, she undid her seat belt. Opened the door and… jumped out. Because of you, you filthy sod, grabbing her. You know she hates people touching her.” Stammered a weeping Roger.

 “She put the gear in neutral. We flew down the hill and…” said John.

“Going faster and faster.”

“We crashed into a lorry at the crossroads.”

The truth hit the boys. 

“Sorry, my fault. We are dead,” whispered Giles.


The END

See You Later

FREE short story set in Bangkok by Colin Devonshire

See You Later

“Are you coming tonight?” Jake asked. He guessed the answer but didn’t want to hear it confirmed.

Johnny turned with a smirk and that ‘you’ve gotta be joking’ look.

“Come on, it’ll be fun.” Knowing it wouldn’t be fun for his best mate.

A garish purple and green taxi pulled up. The window lowered. “Where you go?” The driver asked in his best English.

Jake looked at Johnny. “Well?”

“You go on. Maybe I’ll join you later,” Johnny answered, pushing his mate into the cab. They had been putting in the hours, selling non-existent shares in non-existent companies. It was Friday night, bonus night. Jake at least, felt they deserved to celebrate with a few beers. Better still Champagne, but where he planned on visiting, don’t stock any. Their wine came in tacky boxes.

The taxi pulled away. Jake’s ‘Fuck you then’, middle finger salute earned a brief smile from Johnny. He walked on through the busy crowd of office workers mixing with a smattering of tourists hunting street-side bargains of fake designer shirts and shoes. Johnny earned enough to buy the genuine gear from Bangkok’s upmarket stores. He didn’t.

Turning left, between two high-end boutiques, he was soon away from five-star tourist traps, bank head offices, and glitzy hotels, he was where rats lived side by side with three-legged dogs and cats with broken tails, and his friend, Busaba. She was dying.

“Hello, Khun Maah, how is your daughter?” Johnny’s spoken Thai was enough for day-to-day conversation.

Khun Maah’s tears said enough.

Johnny moved to the back room, he caught his breath, Busaba chest rose and fell. She was gasping for air, eyes shut, the nasal tubes and clear plastic face mask barely moved as the rasping oxygen intake agony for the once beautiful girl.

Unashamedly, tears ran down his cheeks. He looked around at her mother, his words would not come. 

“Khun Johnny, thank you for all you’ve done for her. All the medicine, and the oxygen machine, everything. It’s not working.”

“Let me take her to the hospital?”

“It’s too late. The doctor came earlier. There is nothing they can do. Better she dies here.”

Johnny thought back to one month ago. Jake fired her with the words, “You are no good to this company, here one day, sick the next. Better you find a new position. Goodbye.”

Busaba, too proud to cry in the office, merely touched Johnny’s hand as she walked past.

She had dated Johnny for a month before telling him of her mother’s tough life, how she bowed and scraped to get her through school and finally completing her accountancy degree. How she had sold the family Buddha image to buy clothes suitable for office work. How she owed her mum the world, only to fall sick. Her sister, older by a year, didn’t finish school, she worked to help her mum and little sister. She wasn’t proud of her job. She worked in a bar, offering drinks and extras. When Busaba started a job and soon after found a boyfriend, she treated herself to a rare gift. A glow in the dark fluorescent tattoo.

“I want to end Busaba’s misery,” Khun Maah said.

“What do you mean?”

Johnny knew.

Khun Maah looked at the electric switch. Johnny followed her glance to the emergency generator, thinking what a lifesaver it had been in the regular power cuts. 

“I’m a Buddhist. I cannot take life,” she said.

“You mean…”

Johnny knelt and grabbed Busaba’s right hand, Khun Maah held her left, tears flowed. Briefly, Busaba smiled and opened her eyes. She mouthed goodbye in Thai, then English before closing her eyes.

The generator chugged to a stop.

Johnny kissed her forehead, his wai to her, then he turned to her mother, repeating the gesture, the most painful actions he had ever experienced. Khun Maah got busy on her battered phone, she spoke to a monk about funeral arrangements. Johnny grabbed a container of powerful painkillers and slipped it into his pocket. Ducking, he went past the three-legged canine back to the flashy high street and signalled a taxi.

He steeled himself before tapping a number on his phone.

“At last. Are you coming?” asked Jake. “What the hell have you been up to?”

“Oh, nothing much, I’m on my way.”

“That girl with the fluorescent tattoos is here. Waiting for you!”

“Good, I want to speak to her,” said Johnny.

“Only talk, haha,” smirked Jake.

A few minutes later Johnny straightened his shirt, checked his cheeks were dry, and marched into the seedy club, offering huge fake smiles all around.

“Ah-ha, here he is. Get us two more beers. Make sure they are cold this time.”

Jake eased the scantily clad lass from his lap. 

“Now, let us enjoy that bonus,” Jake shouted. The pounding hip-hop music failed to drown his excitement.

Beer bottles clinked. “Heres to another big bonus,” said Jake.

“I’m looking for a little extra tonight, where is the flashing tattoo lady?”

“She’s waiting for you. I told her you were coming. Here she comes with our beers.”

Tilak, ja,” she joked with Johnny.

Johnny smiled and winked. 

“I need to talk to you. Wait until I signal you,” he said in Thai, knowing Jake never learned the language.

She skipped back to the bar, tattoo glistening with the strobe.

“Fancy a short?” Johnny asked.

“Why not, brandy and coke?”

Jake turned and gave the order to his conquest. Johnny undid the container in his pocket and counted out six of the pills. Jake’s ‘friend’ returned with a small bottle of Sang Som, two bottles of coke and an ice bucket. She mixed the drinks, then kissed Jake, long and hard. Johnny used the ice claws to smash his pills to powder. The powder sprinkled in Jakes’s glass. Then the girl broke from Jake’s embrace, pecked his nose, and started stirring the drinks, handing them to her customers.

“Cheers,” said Johnny, as he downed his glass in one. Jake copied. The girl was already mixing the next glass.

Before the brandy bottle and pill container were empty, Jake was empty of life. His girl tutted, “Drunk foreigners,” and stalked off. Johnny signalled Miss Tattoo across.

“He is dead. Don’t panic. He deserved it. Your sister died tonight. It was his fault,” pointing at his ex-friend. “You and your bouncer friend get rid of his body. As a payment for that service, you keep his diamond studded Rolex, his gold chains, rings and his credit cards. I know the ATM numbers, they are his birth year. So, for ridding the club of, what looks like a drunk, you can profit nicely. If your mother needs anything, she has my number.”

Miss Tattoo was fighting tears. She sloped to her bouncer pal, when they returned to the table, Jake held a piece of paper in his teeth, bank code numbers.

There was no sign of Johnny. He never returned.

The END

Twisted Fate

A FREE short story by Colin Devonshire

Twisted Fate

“I’m going now. To Thailand I mean, I’m going to find him,” said Arthur.

“You are as mad as our son,” said Mildred.

“Our son is missing for God’s sake.”

“Not according to the Embassy in Bangkok when you pestered them.”

“We have not heard from him for one year. No Christmas cards, no birthday wishes. And you say he’s not missing?”

“This morning you got an email, from him, so what’s the panic?” said Mildred.

“That email was sent one year ago. It was the same one we opened exactly one year ago. Don’t you think that’s strange?”

“Okay, but before you buy a plane ticket, check with, what’s ‘is name, at the computer shop.”

“Yeah, yeah, his mate, Steve. I will. Are you coming?” asked Arthur.

Mildred popped into the butchers next to ‘Caversham Comps’, Arthur looked at the boxes of the latest Apples and packs of electronics he didn’t know how to open the packaging let alone know what to do with the stuff in them.

“Ah, Steve, just the man,” he said, leaning on the counter.

“Hi, Mr Stone, how are you? Is Mickey coming home?”

“We hope so. I need to tap your brain.”

“Sure, what can I do for you? Do you want an iPad?”

“A what? No, no, just some advice about emails, Mickey send me one this morning.”

“Great, what’s his news?”

“Uh, nothing. It was the same one he sent a year ago. Strange, eh?”

“It happens if you set a date to resend. Is it your birthday?”

“No, the message was nothing like that, just saying he was okay and asking about us. That’s all, why send it again?”

“Strange? I still see some of the old mates. No one has heard from him for ages. Wait a minute, I’ll check and see when he last contacted me. It was some time ago,” said Steve, tapping at his phone. “One year ago today, he told me it was hot, that was all. Hey, what’s this? A new mail, and it’s from Mickey, the same as last year. And, oddly, at the same time, eleven minutes past one.” Steve was scratching his head.

“How about his other mates?” asked Arthur.

“I’ll ask Alison.”

“Who?”

Mildred wandered in with bags full of pork chops.

“Do you know an Alison?” asked her husband.

“No, and I don’t want to. She is a weird girl. I’ve heard all about her and her crazy aunt,” answered Mildred.

“That was the girl, wild about him. Not a girlfriend, even if she wanted to be, but he was nice to her, even if the rest of us weren’t so kind. Maybe he kept in touch to keep her happy?” said Steve.

“Can you contact her?” asked Arthur.

“Her family brought stuff here, so I should have details.” He clicked at a keyboard. “Here we are.”

Steve waited a few seconds, then looked at his mobile.

“That’s funny, a photo of Mickey comes up, but no answer. I’ve also got her mum’s number, I’ll ask her.”

Steve showed them the picture, then called the new number.

“Hello, Mrs Albescu, sorry to trouble you…”

“Don’t you dare call this number.”

“Please, I need to speak to your daughter, Alison. Please.”

“Her name is Albie, she only changed it because of you lot teasing her.”

“I didn’t know. Sorry, can I speak to her?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because she’s not here. She’s gone to Asia,” said Mrs Albescu.

“Has she gone to Thailand?”

“Some island called Samui. Don’t call again.”

Steve looked at his phone his chin dropped, ping, ping, ping. Emails streamed in.

“What in hell’s name? Excuse me, let me see what these are.”

Arthur and Mildred waited patiently.

“Look at this. Six-hundred and sixty-six emails, all saying the same, ‘White Romanian, Orange Brit’, what the hell does that mean?”

Arthur and Mildred shook their heads.

The shop’s door almost came away from the frame. Black and grey hair flying in all directions, scarlet lips snarled, teeth snapped.

“What is the meaning of this? Where’s your boss, I’ll have your job,” she screamed.

“Hello, Mrs Albescu, what can I do for you?” stammered Steve.

“You may think this is funny?”

“What?”

“Wasting my time, sending stupid mails.”

“I didn’t. I just received a load of nonsense too, what does yours say?” asked Steve.

She blurted a sentence in Romanian.

“Can I see?”

“No. In English it is a curse,” she said slightly calmer.

“Mine says, ‘White Romanian, Orange Brit’, does that make sense in Romanian?”

“The first part of my name, Albe, means white. Does that help? Is it from my daughter?” she said, tidying her wayward locks.

“There is no way of telling who it is from. But the mails come from a contact centre in Samui.”

“White Romanian must be Albie,” said Mrs Albescu. “But orange Brit?”

“Has she met an Englishman called Mr Orange?” asked Mildred. “What’s orange in Romanian?”

“Nah, I think the orange refers to Thai monks?” said Arthur. “I’ve seen their pictures. The monks always wear orange. Do we know a Thai monk?”

“Of course we don’t know a monk. You never even go to church, where are you likely to get a religious fanatic.” As if a thunderbolt struck home. “Unless our boy is now a monk! That’s why we haven’t heard from him?” said Mildred.

“Can you go home and get our mobile? Maybe we’ve got messages too?” said Arthur.

“I need to put all this in the fridge anyway,” said Mildred as she trudged off.

“You seem anxious about your daughter, anything we should know. Odd both of them are in Samui, don’t you think?” asked Steve.

“Yes, you are right. She is not an easy child. I shouldn’t tell you our family secrets. But I’ve plenty to be worried about, my witch of a sister for example, Albie believed every word she breathed, she was even learning gypsy tricks,” said Mrs Albescu.

“Come on tell us more, anything that could affect Mickey?” asked Steve.

“He was all she talked about. Mickey did this, Mickey said that. She… no I’d better say nothing.”

“How do you work this thing,” Mildred said as she bumbled in, passing the phone to her husband.

“Shall I,” offered Steve. “Yep, you got the same as us. Hundreds of messages. Wait a minute, you’ve got a new one. Christ, is that Mickey?”

“What has he done,” said Arthur.

“Let me see,” said Mildred, snatching the phone. Her son, head shaven, no eyebrows glared from the screen. “Look at his robes.”

Ping, ping, ping called phones all around the shop, even boxed and uncharged mobiles were vibrating, all begging to be answered.

Mrs Albescu, Arthur and Steve answered theirs while the rest in the shop kept bleeping.

This time a video was displayed. Again it was Mickey, but this time he had a rope around his neck. He was tied to a tree. The thick nylon cord strung over a high branch. Struggling to keep his balance on an overhanging rock, above the crashing waves. Mickey wriggled against tightly tied wrists. Then Albie’s face appeared. Sweat streamed down her panting cheeks.

“We were to be married. Look what he’s done. Look at him. How can I marry a bald religious nut? He won’t even leave the temple. He is wed to his new faith.”

She kicked him off the cliff. Watching him dangle, she turned back to the camera.

“Maybe next life?” 

She collapsed to her knees, laughing and cackling aloud as the connection was lost.

The END

Dad’s Gone

Short story by Colin Devonshire

Dad’s Gone

“Oh, mum, can’t I watch TikToc a little longer?” asked Patsy.

“You’ve got school tomorrow. After this long break, aren’t you excited to see your friends? I want you asleep before I leave for work.”

“You’re leaving me alone tonight?”

“Darling, you know I must go back to work. You are a teenager now, not a baby,” said Hathai Chantawan, Patsy’s mother. Chantawan was not her legal name. Fifteen years ago she had married a foreigner, taking his name, Peters. It was thought better in her job to use her maiden name.

“But mum?”

“Don’t but me. I’m needed at the station, I must go. I’m sorry your dad is not here. He would always care for you when I worked nights. Well, we must get on with our lives. So, sleep. And I mean now.”

“Do I have to go to school? What time will you be home?”

“Patsy, why do you bombard me with questions you know the answers to?”

“But I don’t want to go back to school.”

“You have to return sometime. The quicker the better, and I’ll be home in time to get you off to school. Now, sleep.”

Hathai half closed the curtains, turning, as she bent to kiss her daughter goodnight, a movement outside caught her eye, returning to the window she peered long and hard into the darkness, she shook her head and returned to her motherly task of pecking Patsy’s forehead. Patsy hugged her mum like a baby koala with its mother.

“That’s enough. I going to my room to shower and change. I want you asleep when I look in.”

Hathai was pulling off her sweatshirt before deciding on her outfit. As a detective in the Royal Thai Police Force, she wore plain clothes. Tonight she expected to be catching up on a backlog of unsolved cases. Jeans and a t-shirt would suffice.

“You are supposed to be sleeping,” said Hathai. “Get back into bed this minute.”

“But mum, I saw someone.”

“You shouldn’t have been looking.”

“I had my eyes shut… But, sensed something. I had to look,” said Patsy.

“What did you see?”

“It is dark out there, so nothing clearly, but somebody, I think a man, who ducked behind the coconut trees.”

“And what did you notice about this person? What was he wearing, for example?”

Hathai’s detective skills piqued.

“As I said, it is pitch black. I could make out the shapes of vegetation. Then a grey shape moved. It looked like he was wearing a hat.”

“A hat like your father wore?”

“I didn’t want to say that, but yes. And no, I wasn’t dreaming of dad.”

“I’m going out to look, you stay here.”

Hathai strode out of the room and stamped down the stairs, grabbing a torch as she went out the back door, flicking on the bright beam as she hit the grass.

“Anyone out here?” she asked loudly.

The coconut palm rustled in the wind.

“I have a gun. Come out at once,” she lied. Her gun, forgotten in the kitchen.

She was answered by insects and leaves, all sounding louder, as if they were partying at her expense. Patsy and Hathai’s unfenced back garden reached the neighbouring farmer’s land, packed with heavily laden fruit trees. The only fears Hathai had experienced outside work, were snakes. Snakes did not wear hats. Especially like her husband’s.

The shadow she too had seen, appeared to be wearing a straw trilby. Like the ones available in tourist resorts.

Her husband did not need to dress for work. He wrote articles for the travel trade.

“Get a grip woman,” she said to herself. “There is nothing here.”

“Thank God, no one has touched my weapon.”

She was talking to herself again as she unlocked the drawer. She checked the safety, dabbed a spot of oil on the trusted friend, then holstered the weapon with a good luck tap. She called up the stairs, “Okay, babe, nothing there. I’m off now. See you in the morning.”

She didn’t wait for a list of questions. Driving the short distance to her office she started another conversation with herself.

“Am I being too hard on Patsy? Maybe she needs to toughen up? We’ll see.”

She tried to concentrate on the pile of case files, sitting there, taunting her. Trilby hats doffed to her memory.

“Returning to work is like Patsy going back to school. Tough at whatever age.” She tutted as she pulled the details from another file.

Patsy was back at the window. She prayed to see her father whistling to himself in his favourite garden seat. ‘Just cogitating,’ he would say, smiling at her. But a school prankster playing a joke was far more likely. The boys ribbed her, not just because her father was English, but also because her mum was a police officer.

“When will they grow up?” she said, staring into the blackness.

She grabbed a tissue, dabbed her sad eyes.

“Come on, girl. You’ve got to face the other kids tomorrow,” she whispered. A smokey shadow flicked past the vegetation.

“What was that?” she asked, leaning to the glass, grabbing the window sill with white knuckles.

Neighbours, teachers, pupils and fellow officers all had their theory about what happened to Patsy’s dad. A happy home, loving relationships, no shortage of money and a cheerful daughter. What went wrong? Where did he go, and why did he leave them?

He was there one day, gone the next. Hathai’s police training and all her colleagues failed to discover where he went. The British Embassy had been informed. Prodded and questioned. They had been polite, but with nothing to add, except that he had not used his passport.

“I going to chase them up again,” Hathai said to another officer. “They are hiding something, I can feel it.”

Patsy called from her bedroom doorway, “Mum, are you home?” knowing she wasn’t back, Patsy crept down the stairs. The back door was locked, the key, hanging from the door handle. Finding her flip-flops, she unlocked the door and edged her way out. The insects and the wind, breaking the silence.

Then she saw it again. A smokey shadow hid between palms. Low branches rustled, twitching against the breeze.

“Who is that?” she called.

“It’s me, darling.”

“Dad?”

Kicking off her shoes, “I’m home, are you up?” asked Hathai from the hallway.

“Hi, mum, how was work?”

“It was fine, thanks. Busy, but had to be done. How about your sleep?”

“Fantastic, thanks.”

“Really? Are you ready to go back to school?”

“Oh, yeah, can’t wait.”

There was a gentle pad, pad, pad down the stairs.

“My goodness, you are dressed already? Hair fixed, very smart, good girl.”

“Yes, mum, I’ve eaten, there’s some for you, just warm it up when you’re ready.”

If Hathai’s eyes got any bigger and rounder, they’d be Frisbees.

Patsy talked non stop on the short way to school.

“I can’t wait to see my friends. They will tell me what I missed, what they’ve been doing…”

A peck on the cheek and she ran to join the gang of girls waving wildly at her.

“That was easy,” muttered Hathai to herself. “Now to quiz the Embassy again.”

The drive was sluggish to central Bangkok. Jams and confused drivers clogging the lanes. She parked and sweatily flashed her badge, made her way into the secure building.

She was led through to a private office.

“Please take a seat. Mr Jenkins will be with you presently. Can I offer you a drink?”

She glanced at Windsor Castle in a travel brochure. “Hmm been there,” she said as a fit and an immaculately dressed man entered.

“Handsome, but with an embarrassed smile?” she said. “You’ve got bad news for me,” said Hathai.

“Yes, I’m afraid I have. I’m sorry. Your husband’s body has been found in Yangon. There is no mistake. His partner, when working for us, escaped and got back here yesterday. He is here if you want to talk…”

The END

Mirror, Mirror…

A short story by Colin Devonshire

Mirror, Mirror…

“Jen, your breakfast is ready. Do you want it down here, or shall I bring it up?”

“Thanks, mum, can I eat it here?”

Mrs Perks tightened her cheeks, forced her eyes to brighten. A thin smile battled its way across her mouth as she entered the girl’s bedroom.

“Here we are, darling. Oh, you are not in bed?” The bed was patted firmly as the tray was slid across the bedside table.

“Come on, Jen, away from the mirror. Put the brush down, you’ll wear it out.”

The girl was gently led back to bed, settled with a pillow propped against her back. A sturdy wooden tray placed across her legs.

“Smells good, mum, Khao tom?”  

“Yes, dear, just as you like it. Not too spicy, a squeeze of lemon and still piping hot. Be careful you don’t burn yourself. Enjoy, I’ll see you later. Your dad and I have to go out, don’t worry, we won’t be too long.”

Mrs Titima Perks was born in Bangkok. Her father owned a gem factory, Titima worked for him when she finished her university degree. Her language skills proved invaluable to the company. She then married one of her customers, Mr Bertie Perks, a jeweller from London. He sold his shop and moved to Bangkok. They now ran the business when Titima’s father retired.

Life was good. Their daughter was everything they could hope for. She looked like her mum, which pleased Bertie. Unfortunately, her cute, but, ‘Thai’ flat nose did not please Jen. She wanted a bridge, a ‘falang’ nose. She loved her father’s nose, strong and prominent. 

The family arguments started two years ago.

“I want a nose job,” Jen announced one morning.

“No, you are too young,” said her mum, stamping her foot almost cracking tiles.

“Your nose is beautiful,” said her father. “It is like your mum’s.”

“Exactly, that’s why I want to change it.” If eyes could burn. “Come on dad, the operation can be my birthday present.”

“You are not having an operation purely for looks at your age. And that is final,” said Titima.

“Soon I’ll be sixteen, then I can do whatever I want.” Jen ran to her room. Tears followed her up the stairs. It didn’t stop there, even though she didn’t mention it again. Daily fuming, pulling and poking at her hated nose. She saved and planned.

The office door opened for them. “Mr and Mrs Perks, lovely to see you again. Please take a seat.” The white-clad man showed them to seats around the coffee table. “Did you think any more about my suggestion?”

“Yes, Doctor, we’ve done nothing but consider your ideas. Can we meet the person you mentioned?”

“I thought you’d say that.” He leant across and pressed a button on his phone. “Ask Khun Samalie to come in, please.”

At the door stood a striking lady, dressed in a fitted business suit and silk blouse. Her lively hair was far from fitted, it escaped any clip and bounced across her shoulders.

“Please call me Sammy,” she said, offering the traditional Thai greeting, the wai, with a respectful bend of the knees, hands to the nose. She slid to the free seat at the table.

Jen finished her breakfast, wiped her mouth on the sleeve of her nightie, and found her way back to her favourite seat at the dressing-table mirror. Before sitting, she leaned forward and touched the glass, checking the angle. It was set perfectly. Smiling, she made her way to her parent’s bedroom. The curtains were closed. She felt her way to her mum’s make-up drawer. She opened a lipstick and sniffed deeply. She ran the soft, waxy material on the back of her hand.

“That’s the one,” she said.

 Her mirror welcomed her back as any old friend would.

“The operation not be an easy one. The doctor here, and his team, will doubtless succeed. Of that, I do not worry. My concern is the mental effect on your daughter. I must meet with her several times to judge the likely effects. I hope you agree?” said Sammy.

Mr Perks clutched his wife’s hand, almost pleading. He muttered, “Darling?”

“We must do whatever you suggest. When can we start?” Mrs Perks asked.

“How about now?” said Sammy. “Please tell me what happened?”

Mr Perks nudged his wife.

“I refused to allow her to have plastic surgery. She was so desperate to change her looks. So, she went ahead alone.”

“If we’d agreed, we would have made sure the operation was completed professionally,” said Mr Perks.

“You were against it as I was,” said Mrs Perks.

“Yes, but…”

“Please, never mind who was at fault. What happened?” asked Ms Sammy.

“Jen had saved up her pocket money, and found a surgeon she could afford on the web.”

“Yes, she told us she was going to stay with a friend.”

“But, she didn’t stay with a friend. She went to a clinic in Petchaburi, where the quack had his business.”

“Our little girl went all alone to have the op.” Mr Perks touched the corner of his eyes.

“The untrained ‘doctor’ opened our girl’s face and stuffed in silicon.” Mr and Mrs Perks were both crying. Sammy tried to calm them. Urging them to continue.

“The doctor left the room to answer a call. Jen couldn’t wait to see the result of the operation. She started unwrapping the bandages. The sun was at its hottest. It brightly lit the room. Jen needed her glasses to find a mirror. She scrabbled around, finding them in her bag. She held them by one arm in her mouth as she fiddled with her bandages. She looked around and grabbed a small mirror from the table. Then she lay back, tired from the exertion after the op, and admired her swollen face. Her glasses caught the sun’s beam and acted as a magnifying glass for the glare, and we guessed some spirits used in cleaning caught the bandages alight. She didn’t feel a thing because of the painkillers. By the time she saw flames she was in shock and failed to remove the wrappings in time. There was no one to help her.” Sniffing, she shook her head. “It’s all my fault.” Mrs Perks crashed her open palms against her temples.

“No, dear, let’s not go through that again,” said Mr Perks.

“Please come home with us and meet our little girl?” asked Mrs Perks.

“Or should we bring her here? Would that be better for you? But I warn you she may be against that idea,” said Mr Perks.

“Really? Why?” asked Sammy.

“It is difficult to get her away from her mirror.”

“But she has no eyes!” said Sammy.

The END

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