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Short story By: Terry Collett
Mystery and crime

You watch Jamie walking just ahead of you, his head held high, his shoulders straight, he has his own way of striding, his own pace. His dark hair, unkempt, flows over his shoulders. Annie, his sister, walks beside you, her plump face wearing a dark grimness.

Submitted:Jul 20, 2007    Reads: 124    Comments: 1    Likes: 0   

You watch Jamie walking just ahead of you, his head held high, his shoulders straight, he has his own way of striding, his own pace. His dark hair, unkempt, flows over his shoulders. Annie, his sister, walks beside you, her plump face wearing a dark grimness.

"I told Jack I'd meet him at twelve, and it's almost that now," Jamie moans, giving a quick glance over his shoulder.

"You should have gone on without us," Annie says, her thin lips barely parting company to speak. She gives you a quick glance, taking in your absent stare, your dark-blue eyes and the blonde hair cropped short, spoiling your looks, she thinks, adding nothing to relieve your strangeness.

"Molly has to come with us, I can't leave her behind in the flat," Jamie says.

You study Jamie's back, ramrod straight, narrow at the waist, rising to his broad shoulders. The arms swing at his side in regimental stiffness, his hands slightly curved as if ready to form fists for fighting. Sometimes you are introduced to his fists, they meet your face now and again, if he's in one of his moods, and your strangeness gets to him, gets under his thick skin, like crabs. Your eyes move slowly up to his face in profile as he turns his head. Lean face, pock-marked, ear ring dangling from his lobe, his thin lips straight as his back, humourless as dead men's eyes.

"Will you keep up," Jamie moans again, throwing a black stare backwards.

"I can't keep with her and keep up with you," Annie replies sharply.

"When shall we three meet again?" your voice says, the pitch low. Annie glances at you, her grim features become grimmer, darker.

"Don't you start," Annie says. "I'm not in the mood for your weirdness."

"I'm not weird," you say, looking at Annie, running your dark-blue eyes over her plump features, settling on her sullen eyes. "It's her speaking, not me. I can't keep her away from my mouth."

"Molly, stop your nonsense, I don't want Jack or Robbie thinking I've a loon for a girlfriend," Jamie states, his tone harsh, his lips tight. He thinks of better times, before your illness as he calls it, before the weirdness began. His mind remembers the night when it all seemed to start. He glances back at you briefly, as he turns down the street where Jack lives, captures your vague stare, the cropped blonde hair you hacked, the red dress just above the knees. He's not sure if it's you he speaks to half the time or her, the odd ball, the vicious one. "If you can't say anything of sense, say nothing," Jamie commands, pausing to let you and his sister catch up with him. "Jack and Robbie won't understand. Annie, you keep her in check." Annie sneers, lifts her eyes, pulls a face, but all behind Jamie's broad back.

Jamie rings the bell, looks back at you and Annie winks an eye and places his index finger to his thin lips signing a hush, a silence, a pin to drop, a feather to fall. Jamie and Annie watch the door, you watch Jamie and Annie, let your dark-blue eyes sweep over them, as if you were a falcon eyeing your prey, biding your time, readying your claws for the time to pounce.


Jack and Robbie are men's men: they speak of sport and drink, of girls they've had or may have had if memory serves them right or wrong. You sit on a dilapidated sofa with Annie and Jamie, staring at the two men opposite, scrutinising their features, their bodies, and the gestures of their hands. Jamie sits crossed-legged, his head held high, his broad shoulders resting on the sofa back, talking to the men on matters far from your interest. Jack offers round a rolled-up cigarette, thin, long with a smell that lingers about the room. Jamie takes in a deep draw, closes his eyes, offers in his momentarily blindness, the cigarette to Annie, who taking it between her forefinger and thumb, draws a short intake and hands it over to Robbie who does likewise, but deeper, longer, as if siphoning off the last of all air.

"Your girl don't say much," Jack says," does she not want a puff of the fag?"

"No, she'll not smoke," Jamie says.

"I've never tried," you say, sitting forward, gazing at Jack.

"Always a first time for everything," Robbie says.

"Fair is foul, and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air," your voice says. Robbie frowns and sniffs the air.

"Some kind of poet is she?" Jack says, eyeing you over, letting his eyes settle on your legs. Jamie looks at you, his eyes wishing you quiet, your dumbness for a few hours.

"She has her moments," Jamie says. Robbie breaks into a foul limerick that Jamie and Annie laugh at, and Jack applauds loudly, eyeing you still, his eyes on your hands resting in your lap. Robbie recites another even fouler one and has them all laughing, except for you. You sit perched on the edge of the sofa, your head forward, your eyes downcast, gazing at the faded carpet.

"What bloody man is that?" your voice says, the tone deep.

Annie nudges you in the ribs, whispers words you fail to catch. Jamie shakes his head and offers some excuse to the two men of your foul mood swings, of it being that time of month, of all kinds of things, except the truth. He won't mention that. His whole being would reject such a thing.

Jack and Robbie look you over with different eyes, in contrasting ways, looking for new aspects of you, examining you from diverse angles, all the time their thoughts, their desires are pretty much the same. You look up quickly from the carpet and glare at them with your dark-blue eyes.

" What a haste looks through his eyes," your voice says, pointing to Jack, sitting forward, your whole body balancing on the edge as if you were about to leap.

"I should get her home," Robbie says.

"Lock her away until her mood brightens," Jack suggests smiling. Jamie smiles as if it were a new fashion, eyes you coldly, apologises, makes excuses, jokes of better times, of how you keep him warm at night, of all the virtues that you lack that men's men desire so much. Annie stares at them with cold detachment. She expects no more, no less of them, but for you she expected more, not less.

"She has her problems," Annie states. Jamie tries to shut her up with a hard glare, but she doesn't see, her thin lips part. "She's not to be made fun of. She's not well."

"Nothing wrong with her that a good night's sleep won't cure," Jamie states, his voice firm, rock-like. The two men nod their heads, gaze at you, muse on their dreams, daydream of their desires. "Tomorrow on the beach at Ryde?" Jamie suggests, eyeing you, wishing you gone.

"Tomorrow it is," Jack says.

"At ten," Robbie adds, giving you the final glance, capturing you for his later dreams.

Jamie, Annie, and you walk back along the street away from the house of fun. Jamie's in a foul mood, his eyes downcast, his broad shoulders sway from side to side like a ship at sea, his hands already fists stiff by his side. Annie is silent; her plump frame exudes anger and ill humour. You drift behind musing on dark things. Your eyes focussing on Annie's dumpy frame, her swaying mass. Your thoughts darken. Your eyes dig deeper, your hands form claws. "When shall we three meet again?" your voice whispers. "When the hurly-burly's done, when the battle's lost and won." You clamp your lips shut, hold the lips tight, keep her quiet, keep her quiet, keep her quiet.


Jack is surprised to see you at this time of evening; you can see it in his eyes and features. He hesitates at the door, staring at you, looking you over as he did earlier in the day. "What are you doing here?" Jack asks.

"I wanted to speak with you," you say. He smiles, thinking of something hidden that he thought might come about.

"You'd best come in," says Jack, standing by the door, waiting for you to pass him into the house. You climb the few steps and pass him into the passageway.

He closes the door and walks with you down into the lounge. "Does Jamie know you're here?" he asks, gazing at you, studying your blonde cropped hair, the deep blue of your eyes.

"No. He's out with friends," you lie.

"Well, can I get you a drink?" says Jack. You nod and watch him go into the kitchen.

"Where's Robbie?" you ask, going to the kitchen door.

"He's out with his girlfriend," replies Jack. "Won't be back yet awhile," he says hopefully, turning round away from you, pouring glasses of wine. You silently open your small black handbag and withdraw the narrow hairdresser's scissors. Jack drones on about things you aren't listening to, his voice blending with music from the radio, his hands busy with the bottle and glasses. His body seems relaxed, as if some desire were rising there; some secret craving was hoping to be fulfilled.

You study his back, his green shirt, the way his arms are lifted engaged in their task. Silently you move up behind him, cat-like you pace yourself, your dark-blue eyes watching his every move, each gesture of hand and muscle.

"Stars, hide your fires, let not light see my black and deep desires," your voice says the tone low.

Jack turns with the glasses in his hands, his lips half-open as if he were about to speak again. Your hand plunges forward taking the scissors deep into his paunch, and out again before his expression can change or register doubts of you being there doing what you are. You lurch forward again, immersing the scissors into his abdomen inches away from the other wound. Jack stands undecided, as if holding the glasses without spilling the wine were somehow important. His eyes stare blankly at you, his lips open to speak, but only a gurgling sound comes, as if a sink were emptying, as if all knowledge of words were lost to him.

"The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be which the eye fears, when it done, to see," your voice says. Jack drops the glasses, leans forward, as if he wanted to grasp the scissors, to feel them, to acknowledge them. Your hand withdraws the scissors and sinks them swiftly into his lowered neck.

Momentarily he struggles to stand, not wanting to fall, wanting to be seen as a man's man to the very end. He can't decide. His legs give way; he sinks to his knees, lifting his head briefly as you pull out the scissors from his neck.

The eyes are aware of something amiss, something improper, something out of order, now. It is cleanly done, you muse, looking on, gazing briefly at the hand, yours, but not yours now to control, not yet.

Jack wavers for a few moments on his knees; his expression seems sullen now, as if some secret desire were now out of reach, beyond his fingertips. You study the bloodied green shirt, his fingers wanting to heal, to make better, but failing. He falls sideways onto the dark tiled floor, his head striking a waste-bin noisily.

"Your face, my thane, is as a book where men may read strange matters," your voice says, watching the twisting body, the pleading eyes, sinking deeper.

"Sorry, Jack, she has her own desires," you say, moving backwards out of the kitchen. Having taken a final glance, you move through to the lounge, wiping the scissors on the dingy curtains. Placing them in your handbag, you glance about the room, seeing the sofa where you had sat earlier that day, the carpet. Time to go, you muse, savouring the stillness of the room, time to go, time to go.


"Jack's dead," Jamie says. He puts down the telephone and sits on the sofa next to Annie.

"Dead?" Annie says. "How?"

"Robbie says he was murdered, stabbed to death," Jamie informs.

"Who would do a thing like that to Jack? Who found him?" Annie asks.

"Robbie found him when he came home last night with his girlfriend. Police think Jack knew his attacker," Jamie says. Sitting back on the sofa, he closes his eyes. He finds it hard to believe. It sounded absurd, unreal.

"Jack knew a lot of people, but would anyone he knew kill him?" Annie asks.

"He was into drugs, could have been someone on that scene. I don't know what to think anymore." Jamie opens his eyes, gazes at his sister. "We only saw him yesterday. Best not tell Molly, may set her off on one of her weird moods."

"Can't keep it quiet for long, it'll be in the papers," Annie says. She studies her brother, the paleness about his features, the shock in his eyes. "Robbie must be really upset. What a thing to find on your return home and with a girlfriend too."

" The police will probably want to speak with us at some stage, but I think they are looking for someone linked to the drug scene, and there were plenty of those, according to Robbie, " says Jamie, closing his eyes again.

You enter the lounge still in your nightdress, your eyes half-open.

"You're late," Annie says. "Breakfast was hours ago. Get yourself washed and changed, we may need to go out." You sit on the armchair by the door; stare at Jamie, who's sitting with his eyes closed.

"What's the matter with him?" you ask.

"He's had bad news," Annie replies, giving Jamie a quick glance.

"What bed news?" you ask.

"Nothing that need concern you at this stage," Jamie says, opening his eyes, gazing at you across the room. "Just get yourself washed and dressed, and don't take forever." You stare at Jamie, at his paleness, his wide-open eyes.

"Are we still going to the beach?" you ask, rising from the armchair.

"We may later. Depends on what Robbie says," Annie informs coolly. You nod, give them both a smile, and walk out of the lounge, up the stairs to the bathroom.

"She'll have to be told at some stage," Annie says.

"Not just now. I can't be doing with her weirdness on top of this. She'll not understand it, I'm sure she won't," says Jamie despondently.

Annie moves her plumpness next to her brother and kisses his cheek. He looks down at the carpet, at the blue and red pattern, seeking an order of things, some sense in things. The pattern denies him any real order or sense; its randomness betrays him.


"Your hand, your tongue, look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it," your voice says. Annie turns to gaze at you by Ryde Esplanade, her back against the iron rail.

"Don't start," Annie says, "we don't need any of that nonsense."

"I thought we were meeting Jack and Robbie on the beach?" you say, glancing pass Annie, across at the sea.

"There's been a change of plans," Jamie says. He stands next to you peering over the seascape, listening to the seagulls. "Robbie may meet us, depends on certain other matters."

"What about Jack?" you ask.

"Jack's not coming, only Robbie," Jamie says quietly. You watch the waves ride the shore. Your hands hold each other behind your back like reunited lovers; your ears listen to the cry of gulls, the breathing of Jamie, the sound of the sea.

Annie watches you, studies the calmness of your movements, the innocence of your being manifested in your absent-looking features. She wonders how you will react when Jamie tells you about Jack, how or if it will sink in, if you will understand the deeper meanings behind the murder. For a few moments she pities you, feels a compassion for you, for your mental instability. She wonders how Jamie manages to still have you around him, still have sex with you, still love you in the way he has of loving anyone.

Jamie feels culpable. He doesn't understand why, but he does. Jack's image comes and goes before his eyes as if in a dream. He tries to imagine the scene that Robbie had described, but fails. He feels as if he were answerable in some way for the deed, senses a guiltiness within himself that he can't understand.

The seascape does nothing to calm or relieve him, does nothing to provide answers for him. The seagulls seem to mock him, as if they were laughing, jeering at him.

"I have done the deed," your voice whispers. You shut tight your lips; press tight together until the pain almost numbs them. Annie does not hear, her eyes are far away, her plump features settle like a jelly. Jamie stares ahead at the sea, his eyes moist; his lips thin and humourless have a chill about them. Your eyes gaze at the horizon. You bring your hands forward, criss-cross them about your breast, as if you were preparing yourself for death and burial.


Robbie is quiet; his eyes have that distant look as if he was waiting for something to appear over the horizon. Jamie is walking with him just ahead of you and Annie, his hands in his pockets, his broad shoulders filling out the black and white shirt.

Jamie is doing most of the talking; his voice now and then carried off by the sea sounds. Robbie replies in monosyllabic words or the gestures of his hands, his body language signalling weariness.

You watch him, contemplating his back, his strong neck, the way his hands move and gesture. The man's man image, you think, is somewhat dented. The cock-sureness has been destabilised, pierced, and deflated. Your eyes move away from him and sweep over the seascape like a gull. Annie walks solemnly beside you, her plump body swaying gently, her eyes gazing at her brother in front.

"When's the funeral?" Jamie asks.

"When the coroner makes his decision and the police are finished with the body, I suppose," Robbie says. "It drags everything out, this waiting."

"What do the police say?" Jamie asks.

"They say he was stabbed three times with a sharp instrument, possibly, they say, scissors," Robbie replies.

"Scissors?" Annie says. "Who the hell'd stab anyone with scissors?"

"The police believe it's someone he knew very well. There were two glasses of wine smashed on the kitchen floor, which he was most likely pouring when he was attacked. They asked about old girlfriends, but I didn't know all the ones he had over the years," Robbie says.

You listen passively, letting your eyes settle on the sea. Annie had told you about Jack's death a few hours previously, she had told you slowly as if you were a child, all the time watching for your reaction, watching out for signs of hysteria or trouble that might arise, but all you did was sob quietly for a few minutes, and that was only for her benefit.

Robbie and Jamie sit on the beach. Annie hesitates, then she too, sits awkwardly downwards. You stand staring out at the sea, letting the sights and sounds flow about you.

"I'll dry him dry as hay; sleep shall neither night or day hang upon his penthouse lid," your voice says suddenly, disturbing the brief silence that had settled upon the group.

"Molly don't start that nonsense," Jamie says.

"Sure likes her poetry," Robbie says softly, giving you a mild gaze.

"She chooses the most inept times though," Annie says glancing up at you, her thin lips barely parting for the words.

"Do you think Jack suffered much?" you ask, your eyes searching the far horizon.

"Molly, what a question to ask," Jamie says angrily, "can't you try and be sensitive to the situation."

"It's all right," Robbie, says," the things can't be ignored." He hesitates for a few moments. "I hope he didn't. Hard to say, he was dead when I found him, but he was stabbed three times. Who'd do that to Jack? What did he do to deserve that kind of death?" Silence settles once again over the group. You let your eyes move away from the horizon and glide over Robbie like a dark cloud.

"Weary seven nights nine times nine shall he dwindle, peak, and pine," your voice whispers, so that only you hear, only you understand the darkness of the words.

"Hope he didn't suffer," you say after a few minutes of silence.

Robbie nods, but does not look at you, he stares out at the people bathing, listens to the games of children, the gulls cry. Annie's plumpness settles, her eyes moving over you, her mind thinking of Jack, how he'd kissed her once, how she'd wanted him to go further, but he didn't or wouldn't, she couldn't decide. Jamie sighs, his eyes glance up at you, wanting to silence you, wanting to understand you and fathom his love for you. Your eyes move randomly over Robbie as if you were seeking to paint him like an artist, taking in each movement of muscle, each gesture of hand or face. Then, you look back at the seascape, as if all was settled, all images impinged on your mind, shut away for a later date, filed in some draw of your memory for some future need or task.


Two days after the afternoon on the beach, you stand with Robbie in the lounge of Jack's house. He is uncertain why you are there with him or why you came alone, but company is company he muses, gazing at you, drinking in your blonde cropped-hair, your deep eyes, the warm smile.

"Does Jamie know you're here?" Robbie asks.

"Sent me to see if you're all right," you reply.

"Nice thought," Robbie says. "Jamie was always a considerate guy. Can I get you anything?" His eyes seek something; he's not sure what, but some kind of relief, some sort of balm for his wounds.

"Drink would be nice," you say softly, almost child-like. He smiles. He senses a mild hope rise in him, moving just below the surface. He nods and goes into the kitchen; you remain in the lounge, sitting on the sofa. You hear him move about, the sounds of glass, his voice mildly humming. You feel you have eased him, relaxed his guard. You gaze around the room, letting your eyes drift around like a summer's breeze. Robbie returns with two glasses, puts them on the coffee table and settles beside you on the sofa.

Conversation flows softly, easily between you both, your other voice silent, held back. Robbie puts on some music and gets more drinks, his hopes seem to rise, his secret desires unfold within him.

"Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, till thou applaud the deed," your voice says.

"You and your poetry," Robbie says, moving closer to you on the sofa. You gaze at him, smile your softest smile, ease his last hesitations. Leaning near him, you kiss his ear. He smiles, hesitates momentarily, then he kisses your cheek.

"Not here," you whisper. He suddenly seems to come awake as if he'd slept for too long. Taking your hand, he leads you out of the lounge and up the stairs. You follow him, your legs climbing each step with child-like motion, he looking back at you, smiling, sensing his desire rising within reach, only a fingertip away. He opens the door to a bedroom and lets you enter before him, watching the movement of your body as you move into the room, feeling his grief easing, his dream about to be realised. He closes the door behind him with a mild thud, shutting out the world, putting aside his reservations like yesterday's clothes.

As he is about to turn towards you, he senses an explosion of pain open in his head, his eyes search wildly for explanations, for simple answers, but they fail to come, only a blinding light widens in his head. You watch Robbie stagger; his hands hesitate in mid air, as if undecided on mobility or immobility. You swing the hammer into his ribs bringing about a music of snapping and forced out breath. His eyes stare at you, trying to focus on your movement, seeking to make some kind of defence, but fail, he can't see for the bright light, can't hear for the rumbling of blood through his head.

" I am in blood stepped in so far, that, should I wade no more returning were as tedious as..." your voice pauses. The hammer thuds into his down turned skull and he slumps forward lazily onto the carpet like an apprentice actor learning his skills.

"Robbie, I can do nothing to help you, she has her way," you say standing back from Robbie's moaning figure. His body slows down. His eyes gaze out across the room with a blind man's vacancy.

A silence descends around him and you, like a curtain descending on the final act, but there is no applause, only dumbness and numbness and a gradual darkness from the ending day.


You see a chink of light through the drawn curtains and hear the early morning birdsong. Turning in bed, you see Jamie asleep beside you, his eyes moving beneath the heavy eyelids. He hasn't slept well since Robbie's death two weeks before, hasn't come to terms with the reality of his friend's deaths. He thinks himself almost to blame, but doesn't know why. The police checked his alibi and found it sound.

Even Annie and you had been questioned, but Annie said she and you had been at home together those two evenings and not ventured out with Jamie. You know Annie has lied, you realise she knows or suspects something. She was awake and waiting for you when you returned that evening from Robbie's house, was there to wash your clothes, bath you, settle you down, and put you to bed. She has said nothing to Jamie, nor has she spoken to you about that night. She is in her own room along the passageway, how well she sleeps you do not know, she says nothing about such matters, says nothing relating to herself in any way. She should sleep better, sleep an eternal sleep, you muse, gazing at Jamie's head, the pale features against the white pillow.

Jamie stirs, his head turns away from you, his broad back naked stirs nothing in you, arouses no passion. "Things without all remedy should be without regard; what's done is done," your voice whispers. You clamp your hand over your mouth, press your lips tight, as if a slight slit could grant her space to speak again.

Jamie settles his head motionless, his back broad and naked slumps like a dozing bull in pasture. How long you can protect him from her, you do not know. You know little of such things, until it's too late, until the deed is done.

"By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes," your voice says through your clamping fingers, thrusting the words through your tight lips.

You watch the light through the chink in the drawn curtains, a thin blade of yellow plays on Jamie's back as if in a childish game, as if it were a sign, a signal to her, a secret message played out in light.

Jamie and Annie sleep well now. You sit in the lounge, your pricked thumbs bleeding, gazing at the wall where the sunlight plays its innocent games in the silence of the house of fun.




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