Extreme Measures

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
When struggling short story writer Martin Hardcastle hears that his idol, the author Stephen James, is coming to town he decides to resort to drastic measures to get his own writing the attention it deserves.

Submitted: September 17, 2014

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Submitted: September 17, 2014

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Martin Hardcastle crossed the office. He headed for the lift with his latest short story under his arm. Maybe this would be the story that got published. Maybe it would be the start of being a full time writer. The days on the accounts department were only bearable because of the evenings spent writing. At least the office was in Manchester city centre. It was handy for dropping stories in the post and for mooching round the five storey bookshop just along Deansgate.

As he walked he checked his watch. Ten past twelve already. Only fifty minutes of the precious lunch hour left. Why didn’t any other hour in the working day go that fast? He walked on through the grey rainy city. Martin whispered a little prayer as he slipped the thick envelope into the post box. He could have used the post trays at the office but he could not be sure the post wouldn’t sit on someone’s desk for a couple of days. Hoping this story would be accepted by the magazine he wiped the rain from glasses and walked on. Job done. Next stop Greggs.

Munching on a piping hot Cornish pasty he strolled in the direction of the bookshop. A bit of a shufty round the store and then it would be time to head back to work. He neared the store. He just hoped this last story would be the one that finally got him published. He loved reading and writing. For him the two went hand in hand. He just lived for the stories. There were times when he could almost see the words hanging in the air in front of him.

Martin’s jaw dropped when he saw the chalkboard sign in front of the bookshop. The board normally promoted the latest best-seller or a book featured on Richard and Judy’s book club. Not today. Martin read the sign again. He wanted to make sure he had not misread the sign. Yet there it was. His favourite writer, Stephen James, would be signing his new novel in store the following week. Martin couldn’t believe it. He would finally meet his hero. He would actually be face to face with the creator of detective Max Striker. Martin had read every novel the author had written. He had even devoured the short story compilations and the mini e-book series.

He threw the pasty in the rubbish bin and rushed into the shop. Five minutes later he was standing back on the pavement staring at the ticket for the book signing. He read the print over and over. He still couldn’t believe it. What a day. All he needed now was to hear that one of his own stories had been accepted by a magazine.

The afternoon rolled by slowly. Martin struggled to concentrate. All he could think about was that he was going to meet his idol. Maybe the author would be able to give him some advice on how to make it as a successful novelist.

 

He arrived home just after six o’clock. He scooped up the post off the mat and went through to the living room. He shrugged out of his coat and flopped onto the sofa. He flicked through the post. Take away menus, car tax renewal, Sky television putting their rates up yet again, and an envelope that was marked with the name of a magazine. He held his breath. Would this be the big break he was hoping for? That would be the icing on the cake after the news of the book signing. He carefully opened the letter. He willed the writing to be congratulating him, that they loved his work. That was not what he read. The first word was unfortunately. The letter thanked him for submitting his work but in this instance he had been unsuccessful. He sighed. Tears stung his eyes. Another rejection. He had lost count of the number of rejections he had had over the years. And not once had he been successful.

He tossed a ready meal in the microwave. Rejected again. When would his break come? I bet, he thought, Stephen James never had this trouble. The book signing would be promoting yet another best selling novel. Martin would have been happy with one short story published in a local newspaper. But even that seemed too much to ask. Then a voice whispered in his head. You should kill Stephen James.

He shook his head. No wonder he wrote stories with an imagination like that. His thoughts were disturbed by the ping of the microwave. He tipped the plastic looking lasagne onto a plate.

He munched the lasagne and tried to concentrate on the repeat of the Sopranos on television. He tried to relax about the rejections that were flooding in. It was hard not to take it personally as writing was something so very personal. He took a swig of tea and focused on the mob boss on screen. He forced himself to put the knock backs to the back of his mind.

 

The following evening as he was dining on another microwave meal his mobile phone beeped. The small screen said that he had one new email. The fact that he could receive emails on his phone still seemed so futuristic to him. He clicked on the tiny icon. Opened up the new message. His heart sank. A leading science fiction magazine was declining to publish his latest story. They said it was unsuitable for their publication. He swore. His writing was good. He had a gift. Why could nobody see it? His eyes were drawn to the ticket for the book signing on the fireplace. Anger and frustration gnawed at him. When would people notice his stories? Like a pop up box on his computer a thought entered his head. Imagine the publicity your stories would attract if you were the man who killed the Stephen James. You would be sent to prison but wouldn’t a life spent writing stories from a cell be better than the drudgery of life right now? They would not ignore your stories then. Everyone would know your name. People would read the fifty stories you have poured your soul into. Experts would discuss his work and its themes on late night television programmes. A shiver when through him.

 The logical part of him knew that to kill the author was a ridiculous idea. You just could not murder someone. That was what it would amount to. Murder. Another part of him, somewhere deep in his dark heart, insisted that Stephen James had basked in his success for long enough. It was time for him, for Martin Hardcastle, to reign. And if he had to resort to murder then that’s what he should do.

He deleted the rejection email and tried to get rid of his disturbing train of thoughts in a similar manner.

 

Over the next few days, as the week wore on, things did not get any better. He had been particularly productive recently. An idea would come to him, or even just a title, and he would rattle off the story. He would scribble away until after midnight, his hand and head aching. Once the finished story had been typed up he would send it off to a magazine or compilation.

But his efforts, he discovered, had a negative effect. As quickly as he finished his stories and fired them off with hopes of a big break, the rejections came flooding back. Each knock back left him seething. The anger burned within him.

One morning as he drank tea and ate toast in front of BBC breakfast news he saw a face he recognised on screen. The presenters said it gave them great pleasure to have with them in the studio one of the greatest writers of his generation, Stephen James. Martin put his breakfast down. He glared at the screen.

The interviewers raved about the author, his talent and his phenomenal success. Martin felt sick. James discussed his life. He had a home in London but spent most of his time in Los Angeles. It was in LA that he had met his actress girlfriend. A photo appeared on screen of the author and his girlfriend at the premier of the last Transformers film. Martin swore at the television. It just did not seem fair that Martin was having his spirit slowly crushed while Stephen James was living the dream life.

Nobody read Martin’s stories. He had no close friends, a non existent love life and lived in a tiny flat in Salford. Stephen James had it all. Martin was furious. Where was the justice? Martin simply wanted the recognition he deserved.

And it looked like he would have to resort to extreme measures.

 

By the end of the week Martin was struggling to cope. He was barely sleeping. He wasn’t eating. He could not face any food. He felt rage at the world and at Stephen James in particular. He must be held to account. He would have to pay the price for his success. And every rejection by letter and email confirmed his conviction.

 

Martin did his food shopping as usual on the Saturday morning. He wound his way up and down the aisles tossing in oven chips and the normal array of ready meals. He was not thinking about what he was buying, jus doing it automatically. Then he turned down the kitchen aisle. He stopped. He started at the selection of gleaming carving knives.

He felt exhilarated at what he was planning. He had butterflies in his stomach as he selected a large carving knife. He placed the knife gently in the trolley. As he went around the supermarket his eyes kept going back to the knife.

 

All that weekend he could not get the thought of what he was going to do out of his head. That Sunday afternoon another email rejection came in. He laughed. You’ll see.

 

On the day of the book signing Martin woke before the alarm. He felt a great sense of purpose. The signing was at six o’clock that evening. He went through the motions at work but he was counting down the clock. As soon as five o’clock came round Martin switched off his computer and left the office. Soon, a voice in his head whispered, almost time.

 

Martin joined the queue in the hushed quiet of the book shop. He waited with the others to meet the author. He glanced up the line. Stephen James was sitting at a table piled high with copies of his latest best seller. He had thinning hair and a Hollywood sun tan. Martin gulped, shifted his rucksack on his shoulder. He filed up the line, listening to fans rave over the author and his work. Martin looked around the shelves. So many books, so many stories, so many writers. If things worked out the way he hoped his work would feature alongside the greats.

Finally after what felt like hours Martin reached the front of the line. He approached the famous author.

‘Mr James?’

‘Yes?’

Martin reached into his rucksack. He rummaged deep in the bag, staring at the writer. Stephen James looked nervous. The shop staff and the writer’s entourage exchanged worried glances.

Then something changed in Martin. He felt like he was waking from a dream.

‘Are you okay?’ asked Stephen James.

Martin nodded. He pulled out a battered paperback book.

‘Could you sign this for me?’

 

Martin shuffled slowly along Deansgate. Would he really have done what he had set out to do? He really did not know. He jumped on the tram at St Peter’s Square. As the tram rattled out of Manchester and through Salford he took out his notebook. He wrote the words down as they came to him. This would be a belting story. This was the one. He knew this one would get published. It was the story of a struggling writer who had the idea to kill his favourite author. He even had a title.

Extreme Measures.


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