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Another Place To Die:
ENDTIME CHRONICLES
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fiction
The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Fiction
Zapateado - Chapter One
Sam North

She came bursting out of the door, careening noisily off the far wall, staggering to a stop, dazzled by the glare of the moon against the whitewashed walls.  She was dressed in the colourful costume of a Flamenco dancer, her long full dress hanging awkwardly askew off her shoulders, her red hair sweat bedraggled.  She nervously glanced back to the doorway, a cry seemed to stick in her throat as she heard a chair scrape and fall to the floor within.  Guitar music could be heard playing in the background, then the crash of shattering glass.

Flamenca

She began to run, stumbling a moment as a broken buckle delayed her. Her hand went out to steady herself and as she moved off again, left a clear bloody imprint on the wall.  She found some speed in her panic and dashed down the narrow passageway between the high walls and narrow windows, preceded by her fleeing shadow.  Her clattering feet on the stones echoed back up the alley and her costume trailed behind her as she ran headlong past a man coming up the other way.  Perhaps in her haste she hadn’t noticed him press himself into someone’s doorway to make way for her.  She passed by him so closely her shoulders brushed against his face and he could sense her terror.  He listened to her disappearing footsteps until they were lost in the sounds of revving motor scooters nearby.

An angry noise distracted him, emitted from house that the woman had just fled.  A tall, thin man slipped out of the opening and silently fell hard against the wall opposite, a hand fixed firmly on his neck.  Immaculately dressed in black, his short matador jacket embossed with subtle threads of gold he looked utterly ridiculous with his trousers wrapped around his ankles.  He uttered ugly animal noises as his hand clasped a spike embedded in his neck.  With great courage (and foolishness), he took hold with both hands and with a loud, long, rasping roar, he extracted the long thin metal object from his neck.  Immediately an arc of blood shot out, cascading over the whitewashed wall.  Although he tried to stand and remain vaguely dignified, in a moment his eyes rolled and he fell hard to the stone paving below. 

Joe, extracted himself from out of the doorway, and was about  to make a move when he looked up and saw a woman staring out from a window overlooking the fallen man, watched her hastily pulling her shutters closed.  It was that kind of neighbourhood.  The police or the ambulance would come soon enough; there would be others who’d make the call.  Joe had a few minutes at best.  He hunched his shoulders and quickly made his way up the slope to the deserted house.  He wasn’t worried about losing the woman.  He reflected on the fact that a terrified woman, dressed in such an exotic dress on a night of a full moon, shouldn’t be that hard to find.

Eighteen Days Earlier
Café Nero - Covent Garden  8.45pm.

The staff looked edgy, hating the last hour of the last shift, resentful of the lingering customers, turning the music up to drive them out and washing up a tad louder than was necessary.   Jan was aware of them glaring at her, even though she had her back to them as Monica shuffled the cards once again.  There was probably some kind of arcane, ancient by-law that stated one could not have your fortune told in a Covent Garden coffee shop; but this is where Monica plied her trade and she was always to be found here on a Wednesday evening to help ‘troubled’ souls.  Monica - a lapse lawyer and early career burnout, had discovered her gift whilst on holiday in Corsica.  It had been an epiphany when she’d nearly done a Maxwell and almost drowned after drinking way too much on a clients yacht.  She come back very sober, slim and suddenly serene. She allowed her hair to go naturally white, quit the law and burned the ‘men’s suits’ she was forced to wear in court and ditched everyone she knew in that life.  She had quickly discovered that there was a comfortable living to be had in reassuring people that life wasn’t going to be as bad as they thought it would be.

Jan was not a regular client, but a fellow member of the Spanish dance class they both attended on Wednesday’s at five. She was concentrating with difficulty as she laid down the last of her cards.  Jan knew enough about the process to understand that it didn’t look good; the ace of spades lay between them like a bloodied knife.

‘That’s the third time this reading Jan’, Monica muttered, looking up at Jan’s tight, tense face.  She wondered why this woman she’d known for a year now could let herself look so plain.  She was a natural beauty but did everything she could to hide it.  Her clothes were so BHS it was embarrassing.  ‘I want you to concentrate Jan. This is your life here.’

‘I am concentrating.’

The staff began to make noises that indicated they were ready to leave now.  Jan quickly finished the last of her latte.  ‘Anyway, nothing is going to change in my stupid life.  I chose it, I have to live with it.’

Monica shook her head and gathered the cards together.  ‘That’s not what the cards say.  You have to leave him Jan.  He’s mean, he’s cut you off from your friends and you are one of the most unhappy women I know.  For what?  A nice apartment?  Do you even have a sex life?’

‘He had a cyst, it….’  Jan’s voice trailed away. She realised that it was even more embarrassing to admit that she hadn’t had sex with her husband for almost a year now.

‘I have to tell you Jan,’ she rose and stretched, suddenly looking directly at Jan, fixing her shining ebony eyes upon her. ‘These are probably the worst cards I have read all year.  I’m not kidding.  You are in much more trouble than you think.  He’s got problems, more than you know.  It’s going to affect both of you and …’
            ‘Leonard’s just an investment adviser.  All he thinks about is tax avoidance.  He’s very dull Monica.  The only trouble he has is choosing which white shirt to wear in the morning...’ Jan was bending down to pick up her bag when she saw Monica stagger a moment.  Monica was suddenly shivering, goose bumps all over her arms. ‘Something terrible is going to happen. It’s black, Jan. I saw something...’

She was pale now and gripped Jan’s arm as she too stood up.  ‘Don’t go home.  I’m serious.’

Jan smiled thinking all this was just too melodramatic. ‘I have to go home. Leonard is fine. He’s difficult, but he isn’t violent or anything.’

‘You don’t understand.’  Monica’s voice was practically hoarse with sudden emotion.  ‘It’s something I saw just now, a violent death Jan.  I’m not kidding. I just glimpsed it.  Really.’  Monica clearly believed what she saw but Jan now felt she had to reassure her and stroked Monica’s arm. ‘I’m going to be fine, honest. I came to see you because I was thinking of changing jobs. That’s all.’

Monica shook her head, trying to clear the vision away.  ‘Change your husband first. He’s smothering you. Jan, I mean it.  Look at you. You don’t look like a woman of thirty-four.  He’s got you dressing in his mother’s clothes.  You’re too scared to tell him that you take dance class, you tiptoe around the home.’

‘I…’  Jan couldn’t actually think of anything to contradict this.

‘And what this about a tree. I saw a tree in the cards.’

Jan shook her head with a rueful smile. ‘I bought a cherry tree.  We have a glassed in balcony and I thought it would look nice there.  Leonard claims it makes him sneeze.  He began snipping bits off it and I pretended not to notice. Silly really.’

Monica places the cards back into the pack and stuffed them into her Versace bag.  ‘I don’t like what I am feeling.  Really.  This tree is a bigger issue than you think.  You’re a good dancer and you are wasting your life on a man who doesn’t give a shit about you.  You have to make a decision Jan.  I’d go away for a while.  Reflect on you life, job, marriage...’
            Jan slipped her pale blue pearl buttoned cardigan on and nodded. ‘If you only knew how many times a day I actually think about all three, in that order.  I can’t believe I once thought I’d ...’

Monica stopped her. ‘You can still be a success.  Believe me.  No one else dances like you in our group.  No one.  Burn your clothes, sneak out of the house and run away.  I mean it.  Start a new life somewhere.  I can’t tell you how strongly I feel this.  Really.’

Jan just sighed and together they strolled towards the door.  A couple laughing over a shared joke tried to enter but the staff called out in unison ‘We’re closed.’  The smiles died on the couple’s faces as they studied their watches in disbelief.
            Monica turned her head to look at the baristas, directing her remarks to Jan.  ‘Go somewhere where you can get a cup of coffee after nine o’clock.’

Jan laughed.  She liked Monica.  She admired her bravery and confidence. ‘See you at the studio next week.’

Monica wasn’t smiling.  ‘I don’t think I will Jan. Really. I don’t think I’ll see you again for a very long time.’

Jan walked on alone. Disturbed, vaguely amused and puzzled over Monica’s parting remarks.  Did it mean Monica was dropping the classes or she really believed that she wasn’t going to be there?  Jan scoffed at the death threats.  Leonard was many things, but he wouldn’t hit her.  Bore her to death perhaps, but nothing more.  She saw the Number 9 bus and ran for it.  You never knew when there might be another.

Monica walked towards Charing Cross station, annoyed with Jan.  She had definitely seen danger.  Why seek advice and not heed it?   She had wondered if she ought to go home with her, just to make sure.  She had this gift, but everyone was just amused by it.  They didn’t really see that it was real.  She shivered a moment.  The image of a bloody body lying in the grass had appeared so clearly and gone just as quickly.  But whose body?  Jan or her husband?  She was annoyed her gift was so damn imprecise.  She had to work harder at it.  Make it become more clear.  She’d call Jan in the morning.  Perhaps a night’s sleep would make it more transparent.          


Jan got off the bus on High Street Kensington and walked towards her apartment block.  The apartment had been Leonard’s choice.  New luxury units carved out of an old University building near to his precious Holland Park.  Even though they had gone up considerably in price since they’d bought, they were cramped for space and she desperately missed having a garden of her own.  She’d lived in South London before and her little home in Mottingham had a wonderful south-facing small garden filled with flowers and scents accessed by an annoyingly sticky French door.  Now the only flowers she saw were on the compulsory strolls through the park with Leonard for his evening constitutional.  She wanted to scream sometimes.  Same walk, same flowers, same trees.  Same damn husband, always silent and contemplative.  He never enquired about how she was, or what she was thinking.  She was just supposed to accompany him and he sulked if she faked a headache.  Worse, she found those headaches were becoming increasingly real.

She halted outside the apartment block. There was a skip there full of items from someone’s apartment being renovated.  Lying on top of the skip was her cherry tree.  No mistaking it.  It was her tree!  Bloody Leonard.  Well, two could play at that game.  She resolved to rescue it.  She’d need a chair to climb up, but that tree was going back. 
           
Leonard was putting on his coat when she arrived home.  He barely glanced at her.  ‘I’m going out.’
She said nothing about the tree.  ‘Are you coming back for supper?’
‘No.’ He made no mention of the tree either.  He left without further comment.

She found herself staring at the closed front door. There was a trail of dirt from the now empty clay planter on the balcony.  He hadn’t even bothered to clean up.  No guilt, no explanation, nothing.

She swept up immediately, trying not to let the anger build.  In the end she couldn’t stand it anymore and grabbed a chair.  The tree had to be rescued.

The neighbours, if they cared at all, must have thought she was crazy climbing up there and removing her tree from the trash, carefully trying to keep the soil intact.  The stem wasn’t damaged and only one branch was broken.  It wouldn’t be dignified, but it would live.  She dragged it and the chair back into the building watched all the time by a woman across the way who stood there with an arthritic Jack Russell.  Jan had only glanced at the dog for moment but she saw the pain in its eyes.  Some people held onto their dogs for far too long.

Tree secure (if a little forlorn) and back in its planter, she took a shower, trying to think if there was anything in the freezer she could stick into the microwave for supper.  Monica was right, she decided, this life with Leonard had gone on too long.  Her whole existence needed an overhaul.  The job, husband, her clothes.  She had about two grand saved in the bank.  It wasn’t much, but enough to get away for a while if she was careful.  She’d think about what she would live on afterwards.  Hell she could wait tables.  She’d done enough of that at University to get money together.  Leonard probably wouldn’t even notice she’d gone, except when he needed a shirt ironing. She sometimes thought that he’d only married her so he’d have someone to iron for him.  He’d be too cheap to hire a maid.

The hot shower calmed her and with towel wrapped around her head she wandered into the kitchen naked, as was her custom when Leonard wasn’t around.  Jan was very critical of her body, but the regular dance workouts kept her supple and she was proud of the fact that she was almost the same size since graduating from Bristol eleven years before.

She’d been full of promise then.  Wanting to work in publishing or dance professionally, but dance was such a risky choice and everyone advised her against it. She’d told herself that she’d make no money in dance, it was a short career, she wasn’t good enough.  So she’d set herself a goal to be an editor of a major magazine by thirty.  One stint as an intern at Cosmo had told her everything she needed to know about how big a hill she had to climb.  She was neither bitchy nor ruthless enough to survive ‘work experience’ never mind climb over the backs of all the other graduates to the editorial side.  Worst of all she discovered that she had little interest in gossip, sexual techniques or fashion.   She ended up as an editor for a wildlife and environmental publisher in Soho.  It was tedious, repetitive and she never wanted to see another bird book as long as she lived.  There wasn’t a day went by when she didn’t regret pursuing a career in dance.  She had only herself to blame.  Now it was too late.  Everything was too late.

The freezer was in desperate need of defrosting.  She had to hack at the packets and plastic bags with a fork to get at anything.   The fork made sudden contact with something metal.  Puzzled Jan forced the frozen peas apart and dragged out an old frozen pizza box.  Something slid out and fell with a heavy thud onto the maple wood floor.  Astonished Jan stared down at a frosted handgun lying at her feet.  She looked in the box and there was something else.  She shook it and a heavy wrapped plastic bag fell to the floor.  Jan had no idea what or why.  She only knew that she was the only one who used the fridge and Leonard never, in any way used the fridge or indeed the kitchen.  It was, as he put it ‘her territory’.

Half an hour later Jan, now dressed in her quilted turquoise gown was eating angel hair and some awful mushroom and tomato sauce out of a jar and just staring at the four objects on the table.  A handgun that appeared to be a fully loaded Smith and Wesson 331.  It was short and stubby, the sort of thing she knew from TV that could easily be concealed.  There was also 20,000 Euros in 100 and 200 notes and both of their passports.  New and unused and both even Leonard’s using her maiden name.  She already had a valid passport in her bedroom, but this one appeared to be valid as well.

Clearly Leonard had arranged this, but what was a boring investment and tax adviser doing with a gun? Or false passports?  The gun was most certainly unlicensed. The money?  Well that was OK; perhaps Leonard was hiding something from the taxman.

Jan was fascinated.  Was Leonard leading a secret life?  The thought amused her that he was even capable of such a thing.  He had to be keeping the gun for a friend.  But that begged the question of what friend.  They had no friends.  Leastways not the kind who’d ask Leonard to stash a gun for them.  Leonard had systematically removed everyone of her friends from her life and he had none that she could actually recall.  And why the passports?  Was it Leonard wanting them to make a quick getaway one day?  Or did he think the freezer was just a safe place for his ‘ready’ money?   She would have loved to ask him about it but knew she didn’t dare.

Jan carefully put the gun back into the pizza box and wrapped his passport back in the plastic bag.  She carefully replaced them in the freezer and covered them with the frozen peas again.  The money and her own passport lay on the table still and she hastily put both into her duster drawer.  She knew that this was wrong.  That this wasn’t her money, but it was a sign, if ever there was one.  Freedom from this life in a duster drawer.   She felt tempted to call Monica but it was nearly midnight and..

Her mobile phone suddenly vibrated.  (She kept it on silent because the ring annoyed Leonard).   She glanced at the number and was happily surprised.  She quickly pressed the button. ‘Monica, hi, I was wanting to call you but I thought it was too late.’

Monica was to the point. ‘I have had another message Jan.  Please get out of there.  Please. Someone is going to get killed very soon and I just don’t want it to be you.’

            ‘That’s why I wanted to call you,’ Jan quickly replied, but suddenly she was aware that Leonard was standing in the kitchen doorway.  Jan halted only momentarily but Monica would have been aware of the change of tone. ‘I just wanted to thank you for your help this evening.  Sleep well.’   She disconnected and smiled at Leonard.  He was looking back at the tree.

            ‘We agreed the tree was to go.  It makes me sneeze.’
            ‘It’s just a cherry tree Leonard.  It’s not even in blossom. Leave it alone.  I’m going to bed, I have a headache.’

            Leonard turned on his heels and walked towards the bathroom.  ‘We’re expected at my father’s tomorrow for lunch.  I trust your headache will have gone by then.’

            Jan looked at his retreating figure with contempt and then again at the freezer.  She said nothing.  She hated going to his father’s place. An unpleasant man who’d made his fortune lending money to people who blatantly couldn’t afford it.  He gleefully told stories of hair-raising repossessions and turning over the same cars and houses sometimes four or five times a year.  He now lived alone with his money in a rattling big house on Hook Heath overlooking the golf course. The man loathed her in return; always feeling his son ‘could have done better’.

            Jan found herself staring at her shoes.  She should be going to bed.  She should be thinking about the book series on Amazonian reptiles that needed a good illustrator, but instead she was think about the gun, the passports and money.  She still had Monica’s voice ringing in her ears. ‘Someone is going to get killed...’

She waited until Leonard’s breathing was regular.  She had made up her mind.  Of course had she not found the money none of this would have been possible but it was there and within reach.  Nothing could be planned.  It had to be spontaneous and she mustn’t leave any trace.  She did not want Leonard to come looking for her.  Although she doubted he would.

At two-fifteen she slipped out of bed.  Packed only half of what she needed, leaving room for her dance shoes and costume –then quietly eased the cash out of the kitchen drawer along with her passport.  She prayed Leonard wouldn’t wake up.  Quite often he woke for a pee at around three.  Twice she tiptoed back to the bedroom to make sure he was asleep.  She couldn’t get to her best clothes as the cupboard door squeaked, but then again they were dull and safe and this was the life she was saying goodbye to wasn’t it?  She hesitated for just a moment in the living room.  She knew that walking out now would mean ending a great deal. Job, husband, a secure home.  People would kill for such luxury, but then they wouldn’t know it was surrounded by prison bars.  She took a deep breath and opened the door.

By three-thirty she was on the street.  She took the maximum she could withdraw from the bank cash machine and by serendipity the night bus arrived to take her to Victoria Station.  She spent an anxious couple of hours waiting there, hoping that she wouldn’t get mugged, or mistaken for a prostitute.  It was late and the few people hanging around weren’t much interested in her as she sat huddled in a corner beside some Italian students trying with little success to sleep on the tarmac.

By six-thirty she was on her way to Gatwick and by eight she had already found a bargain flight and was through the over-bearing security for Spain.

She had thought about writing a note for Leonard but thought better of it.  Better not give him a clue as to where she was going or from which airport.  She had money and the promise of a new life under her old name.  She left a message on the work answerphone to say she was taking time off for stress.  She’d let them know in a week that she wasn’t coming back, in fact, never wanted to use a computer ever again. SHe made her way to the Easyjet flight.

            “Coffee?” the stewardess asked and Jan woke out of her reverie.  She shook her head.  In twenty minutes they would be in Madrid.  She stretched and thought this was the way all new lives should begin. Suddenly and without forethought and planning.  Every mistake from now on would be hers and hers alone.  But she wasn’t going to make mistakes this time.  She made a promise to herself.  She wanted to call and tell Monica that she had escaped, but Monica would find out soon enough.  She smiled recalling Monica’s certainty about a death.  If death came to call, she wouldn’t be there.  No forwarding address.  A huge weight seemed to literally slide off her head and she felt quite light-headed and free.  She couldn’t stop smiling.

© Sam North May 2016
hackwriters -editor author of Another Place To Die: Endime Chronicles

* Chapter Two of Zapateado here - Bottom of the Ninth

Read the whole thing here - encourage Sam to complete the darn thing
at Sam North.com

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