The International Writers Magazine: Life Fiction
I will probably shortly be wafting away over the countryside with my state-of-the-art camera deservedly stuck in my big mouth, Jed the newsman thought, heading for the lift to take him right up to the twenty-fifth floor of the hotel and the gale force winds outside.
Schtum, in future, alright, he mumbled, stepping into the lift's gleaming interior, as the familiar conflict between his squabbling selves broke out again. In one corner, Jed the artist, aiming to find his niche in portraits, landscape, whatever, and work towards a specialist, professional name. And in the other, Jed the newsman, looking for a commercial picture, needing to be where things are happening.
The news side wins every time, Artist Jed chuntered, as the weird sighs and squeals of the lift shaft testified to the wind strength above. Here you are, press photographer so-called, a junior working for a small-time provincial paper, covering a visit by local big wig, ex-High Court judge, ex-local MP, now Lord Something or Other, coming to open a new shopping centre. Town history, if not exactly epoch-making. But instead of settling for a few standard shots of the old boy climbing out of his Jag, Newsman has to open his mouth:
'Where's the best vantage point, somewhere to get the whole event?'
'Well, on the roof, I suppose', says the hotel manager. 'But I don't envy you, it's wild up there'.
'Oh, I'm sure I'll manage', says Newsman.
Why oh why? No more reason than one conversation with reporter partner, the intrepid Sam Coulson, up to the minute with all local goings on when not soaking it up in the Dog and Partridge over the road from the paper.
'It could get exciting, Jed, if somebody has a pop at him'.
'He's retired; he opens shopping centres. Why would anyone want to take a pop at him?'
'Ex-judge, mate. Used to send people down, sentence people, sometimes increase sentences. Any number of ex-cons wandering around with a grievance. Might be more going on than tape cutting and hand-shaking, Jed boy'.
So, Artist muttered once again, pushing hard against the wind to open the door out on to the roof, on the remote possibility of criminal activity interrupting some pointless municipal jolly, you'll risk your fool life. What a loser.
And Newsman grins back in debonair fashion, how about this, sad wimp? Quite a tasty, cultured roof garden, I would say; mainly small plants, embedded low, but a few rectangular raised brick plant enclosures here and there and some neat benches. It's not Kew, fair enough, but a creative, worthwhile use of space anyway. A few quick shots, spot on for the features pages. Bonus for brave men. And yes, there's a wind, when is there not, but away from enclosed spaces where it can show off howling around, it's just a big noisy pussy cat which wouldn't knock my Grannie off her feet.
Newsman heads boldly towards the edge facing the shopping centre; Artist retreats within himself
and dreams of still life portfolios. Not a very high edge wall, even Newsman has to admit, only two feet or so, but perfectly adequate for getting behind for a few gratifyingly panoramic shots, taking in the whole scene, members of the public crammed behind barriers, as usual when anything important is going on in the places they own anyway. Police vehicles, cleared streets, and now here comes His Lordship's cavalcade, bang on time. Pictures one, two, three and four.
An odd, shuffling noise nearby, impossibly nearby. Jed glances down; there, on a balcony leading
off from the room, is a man kneeling, with a gun on his shoulder and pointing downwards, through a narrow hole in the balcony wall, directly at the coming procession.
Artist is wide awake and standing up for this one, in fact bellowing very loudly while indicating the door going back into the hotel. Listen, you moron, you deranged cowboy, we are twenty-two, we are looking forward to a star photographic career, Cannes, the Oscars, young star of the moment breathily pleading for one more from her best side; 'with your name on it, Jed, it'll be Hello front page at the very least'. We are not in the business of shoving our promising young noses into a private dispute between Lord Something or Other and some old lag he's put inside for a few too many years back before the Flood. This is not our business; we should descend, rapidly, inventing a few weather related lies on the way down.
Toddle off, then, pathetic saddo, Newsman snaps, as he clicks out his trusty phone, ready to summon a million boys in blue and settle the hash of Hotshot below. A few numbers on a mobile – it's hardly gallantry medal, is it, it's just a little presence of mind, keeping your head together. Something you jumpy little monks wouldn't understand.
Oh, yeah? Observe, foolish one. His Lordship's car is slowing and will come to a halt in about five seconds. By the time you've finished making your call – and who might it be to, I wonder, newcomer of the year 1974 Sam Coulson, now almost certainly on his fourth malt in the hotel bar -His Lordship will have received the contents of the badman’s pistol and dignified obituaries will already be on their way to print. And when Inspector Spook asks what exactly were you doing, sir, while someone just beneath you was shooting his Lordship down in a hail of bullets? Well, it's like this, officer, I was taking pictures... Oh, no, oh God, you are not, in all seriousness, going to get up on the edge. Oh...’ Artist’s face turns well away.
It's ten feet, ten feet at most; it's too close to miss, Newsman has decided. I might lose a limb, or even two, or, if I get very unlucky indeed, have a bullet in my brain before I hit the ground. But I object to this guy going around killing people in my vicinity. Lord Something or Other might possibly be a pompous and corrupt old wind bag and better put out to grass, but there again, he is a distinguished gent from round our way and if he is likely to perish in this arbitrary and bloodthirsty fashion, what the hell chance have the rest of us got?
Artist curses quietly. If I really have to be split-personalitied, could my other half not have been some suave, sweet talking playboy with a mischievous charm and the morality of an alley cat? Did it have to be this over-testosteroned boy scout....
His Lordship's car door opens...the gun clicks and raises to the shoulder...
Bill Clifford, three weeks out of Pentonville after a ludicrously long stretch imposed by his mean-minded bloody highness below, is just on the point of settling scores when he sees some young guy dropping on him from the roof like a unprecedented meteorological freak has caused it to suddenly start raining men. The guy's knee connects with Bill's neck and the guy yells out loud as his leading leg crashes down under him; Bill's momentarily out of it, and by the time he's got his head back together, the young guy, half his age and still moving in spite of howling with pain from his leg, has picked up the dropped gun and heaved it over the side of the balcony. The young guy then, incredibly, takes a picture of the scene down below as every face lifts towards them, sirens wail, people screech and bouncing feet can already be heard making their way upstairs.
Bill, maddened beyond endurance, swings a leg meaning it to hurt, and as it connects with Jed's broken leg, it does; the resulting scream resounds in Bill's ears, giving him some satisfaction for such a rude interruption. Then he finds his eyes popping out of his head again as the young guy, while still moaning to himself and murmuring as if he's having a conversation, starts taking photos of him. Bill considers; Bill, who also has a quieter partner inside him with a persistent habit of pointing out that shooting down a peer of the realm in public is not necessarily the most sane exploit for an ex-con, concludes that this guy is actually even more barking than he is himself. He is also young and, even allowing for the gammy leg, fit; Bill is neither, not to mention now unarmed with squads of his old namesake approaching. Bill decides the time has come to be not present.
Unfortunately, Bill is not the quickest- witted master criminal in the world and these deliberations have taken longer than he can afford. When he turns to somehow get out of the place, several very large blue clad figures burst through the fragile hotel room door and Bill's careful plan of sneaking off via the roof garden and lift has been well and truly stamped on.
Meanwhile, back on the balcony floor, Artist has watering eyes from sheer, naked and quite extraordinarily intense pain; 'we could have died', he whispers brokenly, 'we could have died'.
'What the hell', Newsman says, toying with his state-of-the-art camera. 'I got some lovely pictures'.
A hospital bed, containing a disgruntled Jed, looking at his intrepid reporter partner with distaste, partly because Sam has already had a good laugh at the plastered leg – 'there's a cartoon stereotype if ever I saw one' – and partly because the only gift Sam has bought is a flask containing something or other which Sam is now drinking himself.
‘You haven't quite got this hospital visiting lark worked out, Sam, have you?'
Sam pauses in mid-flask to wipe his mouth and grin inanely at a suspicious passing nurse.
'Can't stand hospitals, mate. Never could. I came mainly to give you this. Bloke came in, insisting on giving it to the editor; he tells me to take it to you'.
Jed takes a piece of very upmarket stationery from his partner, opens it and sees a carefully written letter with a real, actual coat of arms at the top.
Various duties and panics caused by today's events have prevented me getting to see you personally yet, but I fully intend to do so tomorrow, if convenient for you and the medical staff.
I cannot adequately express my gratitude and admiration for your bravery and initiative, to which I quite clearly owe my life. Your editor tells me that you are a gifted young photographer who has not yet quite decided on which professional direction to take. I don't think it too immodest of me to say that I am a man of some wealth and connection and, if the idea is not offensive to you, it would please me to provide you with whatever financial or practical assistance you might need to further your career in the direction you yourself decide is right for you.
I am writing in this way in the hope that any initial embarrassment my proposal might cause will not hinder our deliberations tomorrow. I look forward to meeting you; in the meantime, my heartfelt thanks once again for your courageous and well-timed intervention.
and then an illegible signature, though the first name looked very much like Tom.
Sam's curiosity pierces even through the contents of his flask, and he is asking urgent, edgy little questions, but the man in the hospital bed, not for the first time, seems to have withdrawn into an inner dialogue.
‘Well, well, well’, says artist Jed thoughtfully. ‘After all this time of rampaging through life like a demented bull in a very delicate china shop, Newsman, maybe you've come up trumps after all. Man, this might just be the start of a beautiful friendship.
‘Alright, alright', Newsman mutters. ‘Don't push your luck’.
© BRUCE HARRIS September 2012
http://writingshortfiction.org/ his new website 2014
Eyes Together, Eyes Apart
• Bruce Harris
I am supposed to be seeing this as a celebration. Why does it feel so much like a betrayal?