The First Date

Something a little bit darker this week…

The First Date

It may have been January, and it may have been furiously snowing on the other side of the drawn curtains, but Barney Johnson was hot. God damn he was hot. He shifted down his collar in a desperate attempt to relieve himself from the living room’s unbearable warmth. It didn’t work. Even now, Jenny was finding ways to royally piss him off.

Barney glanced at Jenny from across the darkened room; she slouched into the living room couch under the window, he just through the French doors at the dining table. He stared at her long, blonde hair, which glistened every so slightly under the glow of her father’s reading lamp. He appreciated the curves of her maturing body and the glorious length of her track team pins. Damn, those things went on forever. Barney imagined them sliding open, and him slipping down to claim the forbidden prize in between.

“Tell me ya love me, baby,” he groaned across the room, his breath laboured.

Silence.

The lamp which created the soft glow on Jenny’s hair also cast a gloomy shadow across her face; Barney could not tell if she was asleep or just ignoring him.

“Baby, ya hear me? You love me, right?” He tried again. Still, nothing.

He forced himself up from the dining room table. The act took much more effort than it should have, especially for a professional athlete. Well, a boxer anyway. But, as far as Barney was concerned, this made him an athlete, even if he had more than let himself go lately. He still blamed Johnny Knox and that dirty cheap-shot in the fifth. The dirty, cheating, lucky bastard. Still, he’d tried to keep himself in shape the best way he knew how. Just ask Sammy Tippet, after Barney and a few pals had shared a workout with him last Friday. A couple of brewskies and a couple of uppercuts: the perfect Friday night. Barney recalled how cold it had been rolling around in the snow outside the Jurassic Joe’s in the wee small hours. Fuck, what he’d give for some of the Lord’s sweet dandruff at this precise moment. Now, Barney Johnson was so bloody hot he could barely breath, let alone get up from the dining room table. But he managed it, somehow, then ambled across the room to Jenny.

“Baby, I’m talking to ya.” He slumped down on the couch beside her, her svelte figure wobbling slightly as his considerable weight made an impression. Still, nothing replied but the tick-tock of Mrs Rollison’s clock.

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.

“It’s OK, baby, ya don’t have to say nuffin’.”

Barney ran his hand across the nape of Jenny’s neck, stretching out his fingers so they mingled in her hair. He leaned in closer and whispered in her ear, “It’s OK, baby, I don’t blame ya. I still love ya.” He leaned in and left a sloppy peck on her ear. Her skin’s icy feel felt so fucking good against his. Barney Johnson liked it.

“Damn, that feels so good, baby. Ya’re so good to me.” He spoke softly, as though not wanting to wake up his girlfriend, if he could call her that, he still wasn’t quite sure. “Even now, ya know how to push all me buttons.” The hem of her dress now riding up near her forbidden zone, Barney placed a warm, clammy hand on each of her snow-white thighs, groaning as hot skin met cold. He groped pleasurably, enjoying the chilly, fleshy relief, like gripping the can of an ice-cold beer on a hot summer’s day. “So goooood,” he groaned.

He pulled Jenny’s limp body across his lap, her pale complexion standing out so starkly from the couch’s red leather. She could easily be mistaken for a ghost. A fucking super-hot, cock-teasing ghost. Barney rested her head on his shoulder, allowing his long, chunky fingers to investigate every last inviting strand on her head. He allowed himself a long, lingering sniff, something he had wanted to do from the first day he saw her. Roses and cocoa, just like he had imagined. “I knew we’d be perfect for each other,” he whispered, before locking lips with the toned athlete’s shell. Her plump red lips, now slightly blue, offered no resistance. So cold, it was like taking the first sip of an ice-filled glass of soda. He resisted the hormonal urge – and the taunts of his friends in his head – to slip his tongue right down her frigid throat; it was their first date after all. One step at a time, he told himself.

First kiss complete, he rested her floppy head in his lap and began to stroke her pillow-soft hair, his eyes squeezed tight. “I knew we’d be perfect, and I think ya know it now, too. I know ya understand why I did what I done. Too many creeps out there, ya know. It’s best ya stay with me. I love ya so much, baby.”

“I know you do, Barney. I know you do.” Jenny said, her words filling his skull as though he wore headphones. “And I love you too.”

Barney smiled and placed a fervent kiss on her frosty forehead. “Ya’re the best.”

“But my parents will be back soon,” Jenny began, “I love you, but you’ll have to sort this mess out. If they find us…” Her words echoed in his head and Barney felt the heat inside him rise once more.

He wiped several beads of sweat off his own forehead with the sleeve of his sweaty shirt. Fuck, it was hot in here. Hotter than all god damn hell. “Oh shit, baby.”

Jenny Rollison was right. Annoyingly, she usually was. After all he’d done to make her his, her fucking parents would come home and ruin everything. Barney wasn’t having that. He wasn’t gonna let them take his Jenny-Bear away.

The first thing he’d have to do was figure out what to do with the body.

The Fluffy Promotion

The Director’s office smelled of cigarette ash and day-old deodorant. James Rooney, whose crew cut and slender frame made him appear younger than his thirty-three years, took a regrettable deep breath as he entered. The morning sun shone in brightly through full-length windows on three sides. He stood in between two plush leather chairs – non-swivel variety – and awaited the invitation to sit.

“Either one,” the Director said, without glancing up from his long, dark oak desk. Director Jenkins, a middle-aged man with a rough, unshaven face and an even rougher reputation, very rarely invited employees up to his office.

James perched himself on the edge of the chair to his right. Director Jenkins glanced up from his desk and stared at him with wide, suspicious eyes. James shifted nervously in his seat. Jenkins enjoyed this part, and paused to let it simmer a little longer. Then he said, “Relax, Mr Rooney! Relax. It’s good news.”

James let out an audible sigh of relief and sunk a little further back into the chair’s soft leather. “Oh, thank goodness. I mean, you hear stories-” He stopped himself. Evidently he’d become a little too relaxed.

Luckily, Jenkins appeared in good spirits – which in itself was a tale James would enjoy telling at a later time – and took the quip in his stride. “I wouldn’t know anything about that.” He began to shuffle the papers on his desk – a tension building technique he had long-since mastered – then cupped his hands together. “Now, to business. You know why I’ve called you up here?”

James Rooney was pretty sure he knew why. Several months ago he had applied for a position in a special programme which involved infiltrating and monitoring very special persons of interest. The actual nature of the programme was unknown, although it was the cause of much discussion and wagering in the lower floors of the Dynamic Industries offices. James was happy that the Director seemed happy, as this surely indicated good news.

“It’s about the programme. The Persons of Interest programme I applied for,” he said, disguising his answer ever-so-slightly as a question.

Jenkins smirked. “Of course it is. I’m happy to say you’ve been accepted.”

“That’s fantastic news.” It was fantastic news – the bump in salary alone was astounding – but hidden behind James’ smile was an important and nagging question. He had only applied for the position one a whim one horrible Friday afternoon, after all.

“But I do have one question. Why me?” And there was the nagging question in his head. James had none of the qualifications he deemed necessary to work in the Person of Interest division. He knew very little about it, of course, but from what he had gleaned from others, and his own ideas about what the division did, he doubted his background in data analysis would be of any use to him. The application was more in hope than any sort of tangible expectation.

Jenkins leant in closer over his desk. “We deal in a very special kind of observation and monitoring here, James. For it to work we need very special people, too.” He paused, allowed the moment to build. “You’re one of those people.”

James had always imagined being called special would fill him with some sort of inner warmth, but the answer was too vague to allow this. He needed more. “Special how?”

“Well,” Jenkins began, the sun now shining in stronger and highlighting the near-baldness of his scalp, “the science behind it all is far below my pay grade, to be honest. Inconsequential really. But the crux of it all is this: we have a way to implant a consciousness in a living being, so we can monitor a specifically chosen target first-hand, without the need for bugs or cameras. But, the criteria for compatibility rules out most people. You, however, are a suitable candidate.”

“Suitable candidate?” James pondered.

“Like I said, leave the science to the scientists. Basically it’s all about brain wave suitability, compatibility matrices, etcetera etcetera. It’s all quite complicated and extremely boring, I promise you.”

“But-”

Jenkins anticipated his response, He knew this dance. “You’re wondering how the targets don’t realise the people closest to them aren’t quite their usual selves, considering that they’re wandering around with yours or someone else’s conscious thoughts in their head?”

James nodded.

“Trial and error. We started by implanting on human targets, but, as you can imagine, it became difficult to maintain a satisfactory façade long enough the glean the information we required from the target. Sooner or later they figure out something is up.”

James shifted back in his chair, having found himself on the edge of it. “So-”

“So,” Jenkins again cut in, “we decided to travel down a slightly different route. A route which enables us to monitor the targets closely, but with a very low risk of discovery. Two percent risk in fact. so far anyway. At this point, Mr Rooney, I have to ask you, are you still interested?” It was a question HR required Director Jenkins ask, even though only one answer was ever acceptable. Still, even now, Jenkins awaited the response hungrily, his finger perched above the black security button under his desk.

James found himself glancing over his Director’s left shoulder and out of the ludicrously over-polished double-glazed windows, where several birds flitted around in the open air. His mind replaced the birds with dollar bills, and he imagined them falling through the air all around him. The Person of Interest programme didn’t half pay well. “I’m still interested. Definitely.”

Jenkins slid his trigger finger away from the button. A smile stretched across his ragged face. “Excellent. That’s good to hear. Now, big question…” His trademark pause reared its ironic head again. “How do you feel about Pomeranians?”

The Necessary Evil

Rows of pitch pine pews stood on either side as Katherine Morgan swept across the nave’s unpolished floor. She reached the cross standing atop the altar’s faded blue fabric and bent down, her knees clicking as she descended the small distance to the hard wooden floor below. The surface offered her little physical comfort, but its familiarity provided the relief she had hoped for.

She checked over her shoulder, her gaze passing the symmetrical rows of fatigued wood and tall stone pillars, and toward the closed door and vacant doorway. Happy she was alone, she turned to the sky.

“Might need a little help here.” She spoke softly, tapping her forehead and chest and then her left and right shoulders.

Katherine – Kathy to only her closest of friends – reached up and touched the worn and peeling cross above her. Formerly the beautiful centrepiece of a lively and vibrant parish, the object now stood as a reminder of something the town of Netherdale had long-since lost. The sense of community the small town had once prided itself on, had been replaced by feelings of isolation and a stubborn ignorance toward one’s fellow townsfolk, such were Katherine Morgan’s thoughts on the matter.

Kathy, along with the other nine members of the Netherdale Town Council, placed the blame squarely at the feet of Live Better Ltd. Live Better had purchased land – against the wishes of the Council and the near 600 petitioning names – on the Southern outskirts of town twenty-five months previous. Within six they had built and filled almost half of the new homes with tenants. The new townsfolk were decent enough people – Kathy had made the effort to meet many in person (meet, not cross-examine she had convinced herself) – but most were fresh out the city. They’d pass each other in Food Mountain’s narrow aisles, sure, or exchange glances across Greasy Al’s dining tables, but that would be about the long and short of it. It disappointed her no end. What saddened her more was that she knew construction was underway on a second complex to the North of the town. A hideous sandwich if ever there was one, she would say in the small moments she felt flippant about the matter.

Kathy had already raised this issue with one of Live Better’s senior board members, a man she knew could halt proceedings if he deemed it prudent to do so. It was a man she knew well, both from her previous dealings with him, and, more prominently, because the man was her older brother, Jonah Rogers.

The only girl within a gaggle of five, Kathy had never been particularly close with her siblings. As they grew old and their parents passed, her five bothers had scattered; she was the only Rogers child to remain in town. When Jonah had returned it was like meeting a well-recognised stranger, she had considered at the time. So much so, she had not preserved enough emotional traction to have any influence of his decision to build so near to the town, despite her vigorous behind-closed-doors protestations. But enough was enough. If one housing complex wasn’t bad enough, a second would surely be the final nail in the coffin for the town she had once so much-loved.

Like the cross, which she released from her touch as she knelt back down, Kathy had once been considered beautiful. Hell, there was a time when she was even called beautiful. Perhaps that’s why she found herself feeling such an affinity to it. It, like her, unwillingly wore the effects of stress and time and the absence of care. Although, in Kathy’s case, there was enough still there – hidden behind the wrinkles and the well-worn scowl – to see how she was once crowned Netherdale High’s Prom Queen. Once beautiful, now aged, worn down, unloved. Just like this town, she thought.

She interlocked her fingers and rested her forehead on their join. “We really need this,” she pleaded, her voice weakening. For a few moment, silence. Well, almost silence, as one of Reverend Vickers’ pigeons let known its obvious objections to her reason for worship this morning. She forced herself up from the cold wood, reminding herself not to cuss because a) you’re not allowed to cuss in church, as she had been told before, and b) it’s only a pigeon. Then, as she plodded back down the nave, her phone rang. She knew she’d be told off again for using the damn thing inside, but she decided, as there seemed to be nobody around, that she didn’t care.

“Kathy,” the soft female voice said.

She recognised it instantly as that of Beatrice Simmons, a near-fifty year old cashier at Food Mountain, wife of Glen Simmons, a newly hired construction worker helping lay the groundwork for the new housing complex. What Kathy didn’t recognise was the meekness of her voice.

“Beatrice, what’s going on?” she asked.

“Where on earth are you? I’ve been trying your home phone for ten minutes.”

“I’m..,” she paused, considered, “..just out. Beatrice, what’s wrong?”

There was a lengthy pause on the other end of the line, then Beatrice Simmons spoke. “It’s the site, there’s been an accident. A terrible accident.”

Kathy breathed deeply, composed herself. “Oh… goodness, is Jonah all right? Glen?”

“No… I mean I don’t know. I’m not sure. They won’t tell me anything. I’m heading to St Clare’s right now,” Beatrice replied, the tremble in her voice evident even down the crackling line.

“OK, just stay calm Beattie,” Kathy began,“I’m sure they’re fine. I’m leaving right now, I’ll meet you there.”

Beatrice’s voice faded. “Yes… OK… good. See you in a moment.” Kathy went to hang up. “I just hope everyone’s all right.”

“Me too. I’m sure they’re fine. See you soon.”

She knew it wasn’t right, but Katherine Morgan’s head was already filling with notions of red tape and healthy and safety procedures, of lawsuits, appeals and counter-appeals. She waddled back up to the cross – which seemed to have taken on a new lease of glowing life as the sun shone in from behind it – and kissed its cold steel, then turned her head once again to the sky.

“Thanks,” she said gleefully, throwing the musky open air above her the slightest of winks. “This will do just dandy.”

The Unexpected Visitor

The door vibrated in its lock as Dale Jennings thumped it. The red residue he left on the door reminded him fresh blood still covered his hand. He hurriedly wiped his knuckles clean on the back of his leg, ruining the jean’s blue denim. His mind raced with the morning’s events as he stood and waited for the door to be answered. He was still panting from his sprint over to 112 Grove Drive, a run made all the more difficult by the closeness of the air; a thunderstorm was indeed on the way. He knocked again and then bent down, dropping his head between his knees, breathing in deeply. It may have indeed been more humid than hell, but he knew part of the reason he could barely stand was due to the state he’d let himself get in recently. From college ball player to the town’s designated drunk, all in the space of three years. He knew this was how most of Netherdale’s residents viewed him – hell, it was how he viewed himself. A drunk and a layabout and a lousy boyfriend, he thought. The first two he would worry about another time, but right now he was going to rectify the last part of his depressive self-description. He thumped on the door again and prepared himself for it to open.

* * * *

Claire Summers swiftly applied a final layer of lip gloss as the door sounded below. James was early, and he was never early, so his arrival had taken her slightly by surprise. Thoughts of reasons for an early arrival were quickly washed away by those of his hands, his lips, his other regions. She bounced up from her bedroom floor and slipped out onto the landing. She paused for a moment, checking her hair one final time in the mirror at the top of the stairs. If her parents were home she knew they’d both be moaning at how long she’d spent getting ready. “I hope you’re going to pay for that electricity,” her dad would shout. “They’re not worth all that effort, sweetie,” would be her mother’s two-cents worth. Not today though. She had the house to herself and a sensationally hot boy coming over. She skipped down the stairs and approached the front door, by which time she had already convinced herself nothing that continually felt this right could ever be wrong. She’d hidden it from Dale this long, another night wouldn’t hurt.

* * * *

The sight of Claire Summers’ sultry smile, so often the cause of a rise in his pants, did nothing today but cause a rise in Dale Jennings’ fury. As he felt his eyebrows constrict and his eyes narrow, her face quickly became devoid of feature. He had never seen this look on his girlfriend’s face before, but right now, with the mood he was in, he liked it.

“Not who you expected?” he drolly offered, not giving her the chance to attack first in any verbal joust.

She had a notoriously silver tongue, something he’d yesterday learned many of the boys in Netherdale had been on the welcoming receivership of. It was one of the things which had attracted him to her in the first place, all those years ago. He was the captain of the football team, she was the impossibly-cute, overly-popular president of the student body; they’d been a match made in small-town high-school heaven. How times had changed. Her silver tongue was now, at this precise moment, something he actively despised. He watched as she struggled to find a word, her lips opening but finding nothing but the empty space of the stupidly-humid air between them.

* * * *

It did not happen often, but Claire Summers did not know what to say. She prided herself on her quick-wit and ability to turn a phrase when it was most needed. But right now, as her boyfriend – or, as it was quickly dawning on her, soon to be ex-boyfriend – stared at her with those increasingly familiar angry eyes, she did not know how to respond. She knew she’d been rumbled, she knew that much, but the next best appropriate course of action eluded her. Should she play the victim, play to Dale’s admittedly hard to access sensitive side, or go on the offensive, blaming him for forcing her away with his too-frequent drunken nights and increasingly bad temper? The look on his face and the fury lurking just behind those big, brown eyes suggested an attack on his behaviour was probably not the best course of action.

“I, I…,” she mumbled.

If she’d known those would be the last words she would ever utter, she would have tried an awful lot harder to make them more memorable.

* * * *

“Oh, for crying out loud!” Brenda Bittles squawked, shocked at the sudden burst of feathers and beak around her.

The nest of birds she had so patiently spent two-hours drawing were now making manic tracks across her garden’s skyline, cutting through the air like physics-ignorant shooting stars. Up, down, left, right, they spread out all around her, away from the nest and the focus of her drawing. After a brief moment of situational recalibration, Brenda had composed herself enough to question the sound she, and the now scattered birds, had just heard. It sounded very much like it came from the Summers’ house next door, although Brenda was sure – or as sure as her fading memory would nowadays allow her – that they were away at the moment. She placed down her 9B graphite pencil and attempted to force herself out of her comfy garden chair. The voracious complaints from her joints stopped an investigation before it had even begun. She slumped back down and started to draw a new picture, having already forgotten she had just heard a gunshot.

Cake

No S+S, Part 4 this week, sorry guys. I’ve not been well the last few days and this piece has literally been rushed out at the last minute, as I began to perk up a little.

Anyway, here it is…

Cake

I hear the distinctive clip-clop of his footsteps at the end of the corridor. Those cheap-ass loafers come in handy for something after all. In thirty seconds he’ll be entering the interrogation room. Faster still if I make too much noise from inside it.

Start counting.

Across the room, two men. One tall, the other taller. One in the corner, the other across the desk. My side of the desk. Small protuberances around their ankles have already alerted me to concealed knives, complimenting the pistol each carries at their hip.

I calculate it would take the man two seconds to reach across the desk and grab me, judging by his muscular build and the speed in which he grabbed the conveniently knocked pencil I elbowed on my way in. I’d give him three to three-point-five seconds if he decided to grab his knife first.

The man in the corner is the problem. I witnessed first-hand his proficiency with a firearm yesterday. He’s fast on the trigger, but his speed on the draw is an unknown factor. Is he fast, or is he quicker than that? He could pull out his weapon and have finger-on-trigger within two seconds of any initial movement, and even that’s a best-guesstimate.

Either way, I need to be fast, and quiet.

He’s twenty seconds from the door now, around ten seconds until he reaches a decent hearing range. Any closer and I’ll lose the element of surprise.

“I’ll ask you one final time: where is he?”

I offer a nothing but a simple, lips-together smile. I know he has to ask, he knows I can’t answer. It’s procedure, part of the system. One of the many reasons I wanted out.

“Fine. You’re out of time.”

Not yet I’m not.

Three.

Two.

I take a deep breath.

One.

As he turns to his partner, I launch across the desk, my weight forcing him to the floor. Before we hit the ground I’ve reached inside his trouser leg and pulled from it the knife. It slips out easy, even with metal-bound wrists. I force the inside of my knee across his throat as I fling the knife at the man in the corner. It plants in his neck; his pistol makes a quiet-enough thump as it hits the floor in his hand. I place the man’s neck in a knee-shackled vice, his throat offering up a pitiful wail as his neck snaps.

I grab the handcuff keys from his pocket and leap from the floor. With free hands I place a pistol in my waistline and a knife in my hands. As I hear his sound from beyond the door’s metal, I position myself just out of view. I wipe the unwelcome presence of sweat from my brow, wetting my lips as I ensure a firm grip on the hilt.

As the door rattles from a knock, my focus switches to a new target: the outside, only two minutes from this room, tops.

I just need to deal with the other one plus fifty-or-so agents on the other side of this door. It should be a piece of cake.

After all, they’ve taught me a little too well.