The Machines of Power

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

When James Caplan reconnects with his long lost uncle, he finds out that there's a lot that he doesn't know. An awful lot.

August

The corridors of power lay silent.  The memories of a thousand decisions sat dormant in the dusty air, waiting to be joined by a thousand more.

All was still.

Almost.

Rumbling through the quiet like distant thunder, a noise began to fill the air.  As it grew, so did two accompanying voices.

‘No, no no!’ came the first.

‘Duck!’ came the second.  With sickening rapidity, the noise increased in volume, paused for the tiniest of seconds and then erupted into a booming explosion that echoed down the corridors.

Silence followed, but this was quickly broken once again, this time by footsteps.  They were purposeful footsteps and there were two pairs of them, one clearly attempting to keep up with the other.  Suddenly, a nondescript side door burst open and two figures emerged through it, disgorging into the once pristine corridor a cloud of acrid smoke, dust and debris.

‘I told you not to push it that high!’ said the first figure irritably.  ‘You knew the wiring was dodgy.’

‘I’m sorry,’ squeaked the second figure, as he trotted dutifully aside his annoyed colleague.  ‘I knew we had problems but I didn’t think it was this bad.’

‘Well it just got a whole lot bloody worse, didn’t it?’ shouted the first figure.  ‘I’ll tell you this for nothing; I ain’t paying for that load of shoddy slapdash.  Outsourcing my arse!’

‘I’m sorry…’ repeated the downtrodden second figure.  “They came with such glowing references.”

‘Hah!  I’ll give them a glowing reference, right where the sun don’t shine!’  The first figure was so wrapped up in his haranguing of his colleague that he walked right past his intended destination: a small end table with a telephone and a lamp sat atop it.  He grunted in annoyance and stomped back to the table, almost knocking his counterpart over in the process.

‘What are you doing?’ asked the second figure.

‘Calling someone who can help us out of this mess,’ said the first figure, gruffly.

‘But you can’t just call anyone in on this!  There’s security to consider.’

‘Don’t panic, I trust him.’

‘But who is he?’

‘He’s family.’

---

‘No, no, no!

‘It still won’t start, Jim.’James Caplan stood out from under the bonnet of the car that he was working on to face his colleague.

‘I can see that, Captain Obvious,’ he said irritably.‘What does the diagnostic say now?’

‘That the car still won’t start.’James sighed and ran his fingers through his hair.I know he means well, he thought, but honestly, a nodding bloody dog would be more useful right now.

‘…and in other news,’ came the tinny voice of the newsreader.  ‘The Deputy Prime Minister gave a press conference today stating that he is overseeing matters while the Prime Minister is away on holiday.’  James tutted to himself and rolled his eyes as he entered his office.

‘Bloody puppets, the lot of ‘em,’ he said, half to himself and half to his colleague who was holding out the phone receiver towards him.James sat down heavily in his chair before being handed the receiver.

‘Caplan Motors?’ he said, as professionally as he could manage.

‘Jimmy, my boy!’ came the voice at the other end of the telephone.James froze and in an instant he was catapulted back through the years to his childhood.No one called him Jimmy, no one except…

‘…Uncle Juniper?’ he said, tentatively.

‘Sharp as a tack as always,’ came the voice.‘I always said you were the clever one.’

‘So, how’s my favourite nephew?Blimey, how long has it been?’

‘Um…thirty years or so,’ said James, shakily.James’ colleague who had handed him the phone was giving him a questioning look but James shooed him out of the office with a wave of his hand.Once the office door was closed James turned his seat around so that those in the garage could not see his face.

‘Really, thirty years?’ said the apparent uncle Juniper.‘Lordy, how time does fly.’

‘Erm…yeah,’ said James, who was at a loss for words.

‘So, how’s the family?’James frowned at this question.

‘How do you know I’m even married?We’ve not seen each for three decades!’

‘Oh, I like to keep tabs on things, you know.’

‘No, I don’t know,’ said James, feeling somewhat bolder.‘How do I know you’re even who you say you are?How do I know this isn’t some kind of con?’

‘Jimmy, I wouldn’t dream of such a thing.It’s me for sure, large as life.’

‘But that’s just the point,’ said James, feeling as if he were nearing some kind of conversational victory with whoever it was on the other end of the phone.‘Juniper Caplan died when I was a kid!’

‘Oh no Jimmy, I’m very much alive.’

‘That was nice of you,’ said the man claiming to be James’ supposedly dead uncle.‘Because I didn’t.’Silence hung in the air for a moment or two while James attempted to process what he had just been told.Quickly the confusion turned to anger.

‘Now you listen to me, whoever you are.Whatever it is you’re selling, I’m not buying do you hear me? And I’ve a good mind to report you for harassment.Pretending to be my dead uncle; that’s just sick!

‘Fair’s fair Jimmy.I guess it has been a while, hasn’t it?You’ve no reason to trust me, I suppose.Tell me this though.’

‘How long did you play with that green and red lorry that I bought you that one Christmas before you broke it?’James was stunned.His grip on the receiver loosened and it nearly fell from his hand.

‘What…what did you say?’ asked James unsteadily.

‘Didn’t manage a day, did you?’ said Juniper smugly.‘Played with it too rough, like your dear old Mum warned you against, and smashed the thing behind your Dad’s shed.’James sat aghast.He had never told anyone about that lorry before, mostly because he had completely forgotten all about it, but this man, his supposed uncle, had all the details, which was troubling.Not for the first time in the conversation, James frowned in confusion.

‘How do you even know about that?’ he asked, genuinely bemused.‘No one ever found out about that because I…’

‘Tossed it in the bin before you could get caught, didn’t you?You naughty little boy.’ Juniper chuckled merrily down the phone, confusing James even further.

‘But how…?’

‘Like I said, Jimmy.I like to keep tabs on things.’

‘What, even my family’s rubbish bins?Juniper chuckled again.

‘The point is do you believe me now?’

‘Well…’ began James.He desperately wanted to be wrong about this, because it felt so strange, and he felt like he was being played for a fool.However, his uncle Juniper had bought him a green and red lorry one Christmas when James was a boy.He had been warned by his mother not to play with it too roughly in case he broke it.He had taken it into the garden on Christmas morning to play with it in the frozen dirt behind his father’s shed.He also had broken it and thrown away the evidence, fearful that he would get into trouble if anyone ever found out.

So how did this man know about it all?

‘Look, I can tell this is a lot to take in,’ said Juniper reasonably.‘I understand it’s not rightly fair of me dropping out of the clear blue like this after so long.The truth is, Jimmy, I need your help.’

‘My help?’

‘I…don’t understand,’ said James, feeling that truer words were never spoken.

‘You will.I’ll be in touch.Good talking to you again, Jimmy.’As quickly as it came, the phone call was over.James sat dumbfounded until the dial tone of his telephone told him to replace the receiver.He sat there for a moment, thinking about the conversation that he had just had and what it could possibly mean.He was brought out of his pondering by a knock at the door.

‘Everything okay, Jim?’ asked one of his employees.

‘Only it’s closing time.Last car’s gone.Are we okay to lock up?’

‘Oh yes, yes, that’s fine.’James could hear himself talking but he was not engaging with the conversation at all.His mind was still feebly grappling with the possibility that his uncle was still alive and may have even faked his own death.

‘See you tomorrow then, Jim,’ said the employee.

‘Hmm,’ said James wordlessly in affirmation.Snapping back to reality, James looked quickly at his desk calendar and called after the employee who was closing the door to the office.‘No, wait.I’m not in tomorrow.It’s my birthday.’

‘Oh, well happy birthday for tomorrow then,’ smiled the employee.

‘Thanks,’ said James, as he prepared to go home for the evening.

Well, he thought, as he got into his car, I’ve had less strange birthday presents and that’s for sure.Turning the key in the ignition, James was about to pull out of his parking space when something caught his eye.Something small and white had been placed under one of the windscreen wipers of his car.He tutted in immediate annoyance, thinking it was some advert someone had seen fit to leave there.James got out of the car and snatched the small, rectangular card from under the wiper and was about to throw it away when it got his full attention.It did not appear to be advertising anything, at least not anything James had ever come across before.On one side of the card was some kind of logo: a depiction of a large human eye.This eye, though, had an image of the British Isles where the pupil and iris would normally be.Wondering what it could be, James turned the card over and almost fell backwards when he saw what was written on the other side.It said, as clear as day: See you tomorrow, Jimmy.Looking frantically about him, James scanned the immediate area to see if he could spot anyone suspicious walking away.He quickly got down on his hands and knees and checked under his car; for what he was not sure.Standing up, he walked a quick circuit of the car park looking for anything out of the ordinary, but all was normal.

Normal, except for the card.

James turned the small card over and over in his hand, looking at it in puzzlement.There was no phone number, no web or e-mail address, no means of contact that he could see.James’ eyes fell upon the very lockable and locked wrought iron gates that kept Caplan Motors’ private car park private and a sudden thought sent a sliver of ice snaking down into his stomach.

How the hell had they gotten in?

In an instant James’ hand dived into his trouser pocket and he was unlocking his mobile phone ready to call the police before he stopped himself.If he did call the police what would he say?That he had received a phone call from an uncle he’d presumed dead for the last thirty years, either that or a very well-informed con artist?Not to mention that someone somehow had gotten this card under his windscreen wiper in a locked private car park that was meant to be damn near impossible to break into, or at least so the security salesman had said.James looked around the car park again for any sign of forced entry but he could see none.The gates remained locked, the surrounding walls were too high to climb, plus they were topped with metal security spikes.The break-in that Caplan Motors had suffered a few years back had resulted in James beefing up the company’s security.He had even paid to have CCTV cameras installed...

The cameras!

James spun on his heel and ran back into the building, almost colliding with an employee who was about to leave.

‘Forget something, Jim?’ he asked.James grunted something in reply as he barrelled past the man and headed straight for his office.He fumbled with his keys and swore under his breath as he irritably tried to unlock his office door.Taking a steadying breath, he managed to slam the key home and as soon as the door was unlocked James swooped on the four small monitors that were stacked two by two on a small table in the corner of his office.He quickly surveyed them to see if anything was amiss but just as it had looked standing in the car park everything was normal.He pulled his chair from beside his desk and sat down in front of the monitors, frowning with concentration.

How do I do this again?

James cursed his lack of computer skills and a fleeting memory sent him back to when he had ordered this CCTV system.The installer had tried to explain how to use it and James had nodded mutely throughout, hoping against hope that he remembered any of it.Now, faced with an actual need to use the damn thing he wished he had taken notes.He started at the screen that showed the car park and dimly recalled something about being able to rewind through the day’s footage.

But how?

James drummed his fingers impatiently on the table and blinked at the security monitor, wishing he was better with computers.Cars?No problem.Machines of that ilk were easy; they spoke to him, but computers…

His computer!

Slapping himself on the forehead, James remembered what he needed to do.The face of the installer swam into focus in his mind’s eye and he remembered being told that the monitors were for watching what was happening but if you wanted to watch footage from earlier in the day you had to go on your computer.James spun around in his chair and scooted himself towards his desk.He jabbed an impatient finger at the computer’s power button and resumed drumming his fingers as he waited for the machine to whirr into life.As soon as the login screen popped into view he grabbed the mouse and clicked his account icon, noting how old his user picture was.Once in his desktop he scanned the icons listed down the left-hand side of the screen and there it was.The shortcut icon for the CCTV package that James had been promised would deliver peace of mind and heightened security.

Peace of mind.

He would give a piece of his mind to whoever had found a way into his company’s car park.

Cheeky beggars, he thought grimly.

James double-clicked the icon for the CCTV software and watched in irritation as a splash screen emerged on his monitor.

Hurry up!

Finally the program was open and James began searching the menu for how to replay recorded footage.After a few moments and a couple of wrong turns, each accompanied by some swearing on James’ part, he found the correct function.He brought up the camera feed for the car park and began to spool through the day’s footage.He knew that the small card had not been on his car when he had left the house that morning.It had also not been there when he pulled into work.With eerie timing it seemed to have been put there after he had spoken to the man claiming to be his uncle Juniper.It could not be just a coincidence, not something that closely linked.

James continued to trawl through the day’s footage of the car park but he could not see anything out of the ordinary.As he gazed fixedly at the computer monitor the picture suddenly turned to static.James blinked in surprise and quickly backtracked, wondering if he had definitely seen what he thought he had seen.

The picture had turned to static for a moment or two, resuming as if nothing had happened as quickly as it had arrived.James studied the static a few more times, growing more confused with each viewing.More details from his conversations with the people at the CCTV company were coming back to him now.One of the selling points of this system, he was told, was that the cameras would record continuously and only a loss of power to the building they were installed in would cause any camera to lose picture.James quickly checked the feed on the other cameras for the same timeframe and his growing sense of unease was ratcheted up a notch when he saw that all of the other cameras had remained on during the time that the car park camera went off.

What the hell is going on?

A thought struck James at that moment.He had surmised that the card must have been placed on his car after his conversation with the alleged Juniper Caplan.He quickly reached for his office phone and punched in the numbers to find out the time of the last call.He pulled a pad and pencil towards him as the robotic voice on the other end of the line droned the time when Juniper, if that is who it was, had phoned.James had not even finished writing down the time before he knew that the time of the call and the time of the camera going offline happened right after each other.James finished writing and he hung up the phone.He sat back in his chair and stared at nothing for a few moments.He tapped the end of the pencil against his chin thoughtfully as he mulled over all of the possible explanations for what was going on.None of them felt right.None of them felt feasible.

James reached into his trouser pocket and took out the small card.He stared at it with a furrowed brow, as if willing it to explain itself.He turned it over in his fingers a couple of times as he weighed up his options.James Caplan prided himself on being a reasonably practical man but this situation had him truly stumped.He let out a long breath as the creeping realisation that there really was nothing that he could do began to wash over him.His fist closed around the card as he came to a mental conclusion.

‘Sod it,’ he said, screwing up the card in his hand and throwing it dismissively into his waste paper basket.He closed down the CCTV program and shut off his computer.Taking one final glance at the security monitors he reasoned that if there was nothing he could then there was no point sitting in his office after hours like a lemon fretting over it.If this chap calling himself my uncle plans to get in touch, thought James as he turned off the light in his office, I’ll be damned sure to get some proper answers out of him then.James locked up the garage, triple-checked everything and got into his car to drive home.He hoped that his birthday would push this strange experience out of his mind.

‘Well?’ said an urgent voice.

‘Keep your hair on.I’ve spoken to him,’ said a much calmer voice.

‘And I’ll be seeing him tomorrow.’

‘Is he going to help us then?’The first voice had more than a tinge of desperation to it.‘Because this can’t wait much longer.’

‘Simmer down, will you?I said I’d handle it and I am.’

‘Look Grapeshot, I can’t just drop it all on him at once, can I?I mean, bloody hell, I’ve not seen the lad in person for thirty flipping years!’

‘I know, but…’

‘Trust me; I know what I’m doing.It’s his birthday tomorrow so I’ll go and see him at his local.He’s always in there come his birthday.I’ll start the ball rolling proper like then.’

‘Okay, good,’ said Grapeshot, wringing his hands nervously.He attempted to smile but it came out more like a grimace.Juniper patted him on the shoulder.

‘We’ll get ‘em back up and running,’ he said, comfortingly.‘You’ll see.’

James’ birthday did indeed find him in his local pub in the evening.He had spent a nice day off work with his wife Kathryn and daughter Lucy and now he was ordering the first of what he planned to be a few well-deserved birthday pints.He had managed to not think about the odd events of the previous day too much, but the thoughts concerning it were never very far away.Occasionally he found himself thinking about the phone call, the card, the CCTV footage, or all of them, but he was not about to mention any of this to Kathryn.He knew that he would get one of her looks and be told that he was being silly.As nothing else strange had happened since he left the garage the night before James was starting to hope that the phone call and card were someone’s idea of a joke and the CCTV footage was just a glitch in the system.With this somewhat comforting thought he greeted the landlord of The Tap and Barrel.

‘Evening, Bob,’ he said cheerily.

‘Evening, Jim,’ replied the landlord.‘And many happy returns of the day.’Bob placed a freshly pulled pint of James’ favourite ale in front of him and flashed him a warm smile.

‘Cheers,’ said James, sounding pleasantly surprised.‘You didn’t have to.’

‘I didn’t,’ said Bob, frowning ever so slightly.‘Your mate got a round in just before you arrived.Took his drink and said to pour you one as soon as you arrived.’

‘My mate?’ said James, puzzled.He was sure that he would see some of his friends at the pub that night but he had made no specific plans to meet anyone there.‘Who do you mean?’

‘Short chap, said he was meeting you for a birthday drink.’Bob cast his eyes around the bar room for a second before continuing.‘There he is, in the corner.’James followed Bob’s gaze and almost dropped his drink when he caught sight of the man the landlord was indicating.

There was no denying it: the man sitting in the corner was his uncle.He was clearly older than James remembered him but it was him.James’ mind was instantly thrown back to his childhood to when he had last properly interacted with his uncle.The small man in the corner looked up from his drink and inclined his head in a slight nod.James felt his throat go dry and with a trembling hand he took a sip of his drink, never taking his eyes off of the man who could only have been Juniper Caplan.James saw the little man indicate the empty seat next to him and raise his eyebrows questioningly.Feeling numb, as if his legs had turned to lead, James made his way over to the corner where the man was now smiling widely up at him.

‘Jimmy!’ he said as he patted the chair next to him.‘Pull up a pew, my boy.’James swallowed and sat down clumsily next to Juniper, putting his drink down on the dark wooden table.As soon as James was settled Juniper raised his own glass in a toast.‘Happy birthday!’

‘Um…thank you,’ said James, tentatively.He picked his glass back up to receive the toast and Juniper clinked his drink boisterously against James’.

‘So, how the devil are you?’ said Juniper after he had taken a generous swig of his drink.

‘Confused,’ said James with flat honesty.Juniper let out a peal of raucous laughter that caused some of the nearby patrons to look around to see what the joke was.It was a knowing laugh: a laugh that suggested things, not all of them clean.

‘I’m sure you are,’ said Juniper once he had stopped laughing.‘That’s why I’m here.’

‘What, to confuse me more?’ said James, frowning a little at his uncle.

Another bout of laughter shot through the bar room.For such a small man, James thought, his uncle certainly had a large laugh.He looked around.It sounded like he was telling Juniper the dirtiest of jokes.He felt his face grow a little hot with embarrassment.

‘No Jimmy, no,’ said Juniper, smiling.‘I came here tonight to ask for your help.Come on, drink up.You’ll need a couple more jars in you before the night’s out, I’ll wager.’James looked at his pint as if he was seeing it for the first time.He dutifully picked it up and took another gulp.He had been so sure yesterday that if he did come face to face with his supposed uncle that he would have a laundry list of questions to hurl at him.However, now he sat faced with the man himself he was at a loss for words.He knew there were questions in his mind; all of them jostling and colliding inside his head, but he could not seem to grab hold of one to speak it.Feeling very conscious of how little he was saying he took another drink.As he pulled the glass away from his lips he looked down into its foamy depths and a question raced forward to the very forefront of his brain, elbowing all other thoughts out of the way in its wake.

‘Hang on a minute,’ he said, looking at his drink, then at Juniper and then at his drink again.‘How did you know this was my local?And how did you know what I drink?’Juniper smiled broadly again.

‘Like I said to you yesterday, Jimmy, I like to keep tabs on things.’

‘Have you…have you been spying on me?’The last three words James spoke were delivered in a hissing whisper, as if the idea of his uncle effectively stalking him was too terrible a thought to comprehend.

‘Not spying Jimmy, no,’ said Juniper in a somewhat more serious tone.‘More like… keeping an eye on you.’

‘You are spying on me!’James’ voice had risen along with his shock and anger at this thought and again patrons turned to look at the pair in the corner.

‘Keep your voice down!’ said Juniper in a far sterner tone than he had used so far.The old man looked about furtively before continuing.‘Look, it’s not just you, okay?’

‘What do you mean it’s not just me?’Juniper leaned forward in his chair and when he spoke it was almost in a whisper.

‘I mean that you’re not the only one who we keep tabs on.’

‘We?’ said James in puzzlement and surprise, his voice threatening to rise again.‘What we?Who are you talking about?What the hell’s going on?’Juniper looked about conspiratorially again as he waved his nephew into silence.

‘Well what do you expect me to do?’ asked James indignantly.‘Take it all with a smile and a nod when I’m told that my uncle whom I thought was dead for the last three decades is actually alive and lurking in my sodding garden bushes!’James was practically shouting now and Juniper stopped trying to hush him into silence when Bob the landlord ambled over with a concerned look on his face.

‘Everything alright, chaps?’ he said, looking from James to Juniper.Before James could answer Juniper cut in.

‘Oh yes, perfectly, my good man.’He flashed a winning smile and pulled a crisp ten pound note out of an inner pocket.‘Keep ‘em coming.’Bob took the note and eyed Juniper with no small amount of suspicion.

‘Same again, Jim?’James noticed Bob’s expression as he asked about another drink.It was checking to see if everything really was alright.For a moment James considered telling Bob, the whole bar, anyone who would listen that this crazy old man was stalking him and to get him out of his sight but there was now something in Juniper’s expression that gave him pause.The old man’s eyes were fixed on him and they had a determined glaze to them.Considering this man knew where James worked and which pub was his local it was a good chance that he knew where he lived.He probably knew where Kathryn worked, where Lucy went to school.The rampant possibilities danced in his mind, naked and fearful, and he reasoned that if he could just find out what this old man wanted then perhaps this could all be over sooner.If he caused a scene now and tried to walk away who knows how it could end.James shook himself free of some disturbing thoughts and decided that, for the time being, it was probably best to hear his uncle out.

‘Yes please Bob.Thanks.’Satisfied that James could handle whatever was going on between the two men, Bob made his way back to the bar to pour them more drinks.When James looked back to Juniper he was smiling again.

‘Good boy, Jimmy.Can’t be too careful, eh?’James frowned at his uncle and leaned in to address him.

‘What’s going on here, Juniper?Why are you here?Why now?Why make everyone think you were dead all those years ago?’The two men sat up again as Bob returned with their drinks.They thanked the landlord and quickly resumed their conversation once Bob was safely out of earshot.

‘Had to disappear, Jimmy.Had to.’

‘You had to fake your own death?’

‘’Fraid so.’

‘But why?’

‘What do you do?’ interrupted James.

‘All in good time, Jimmy.All in good time.’

‘No, I want some answers now!You show up out of the blue after thirty years of me thinking that you were dead.You phone me at work meaning that you know God knows what else about me.Then, after I speak to you I get a card from you under my windscreen wiper…which reminds me.How the bloody hell did you manage to get into our car park?’

‘We have our ways, Jimmy.’

‘You’re good at fixing things, aren’t you?’ asked Juniper, almost as if he had not listened to anything James had just said.

‘Ah but you see,’ said Juniper, smiling again and taking another sip of his drink.‘That has everything to do with it.’

‘Fair’s fair, Jimmy.Fair’s fair.But you are, aren’t you?You’re a dab hand at fixing pretty much anything, right?’

‘Well yes, I suppose so,’ said James, still unsure as to what this had to do with anything.The truth was, James Caplan was more than a dab hand at fixing things.Providing it was not a computer, which James swore were the invention of the Devil, he could fix just about anything given the right tools and enough time.

‘That’s why I need your help, Jimmy my boy.I need you to fix something for me.’

‘What, you mean like your car?’Juniper chuckled.

‘No, no.It’s a little more complicated than that.Well, a lot more complicated if I’m being truthful.’

‘What is?What do you need fixing?And why me?’

‘Because I need someone I can trust.And if you can’t trust family then who can you, eh?’

‘I still don’t understand,’ said James, wondering what it was that could be so important as to bring his uncle out of supposed hiding after all these years and look his nephew up for his skill with machines.

‘I’ll wager you don’t,’ said Juniper sagely.‘Look Jimmy, I’m real sorry for the whole cloak and dagger routine, but when this is all said and done you’ll understand why it had to be this way.’

‘Why what had to be this way?If you want my help so badly why can’t you tell me what’s going on?’

‘I can.And I will.All in good time.’James opened his mouth to protest but Juniper held up a hand and continued.‘I couldn’t tell you over the phone because I hadn’t looked you in the eye.Now I have I feel we can do business together.I can’t tell you anymore now though.’

‘Why not?’ asked James, desperate to make sense of any of what was going on.

‘Because you wouldn’t believe me.’

‘I might.’

‘Trust me Jimmy, you wouldn’t.Answer me one thing though.Are you a man of your word?’

‘I…I like to think so, yes.’

‘’Course you are, you’re a Caplan!I just needed to hear you say it.So, as you’re a man of your word I need you to promise that you won’t tell anyone about what you’re going to do for me.Ever.’

‘Well wait a minute,’ said James, sitting back in his chair and looking curiously at his uncle.‘How do you know that I’m going to help you?I haven’t said yes or anything yet.’

‘You will, Jimmy.You will.’The smile on his uncle’s face was infuriating James.Why couldn’t he just come out and ask him without all of this beating about the bush?James Caplan was not a man to turn his back on family, even family who were supposed to be dead, but if he was going to help Juniper out he wanted to know what he was getting himself into.

As James was processing as much of what he had been told as he could Juniper drained the last drops of his drink and stood up.

‘Well, it’s been a pleasure, Jimmy my boy.’He fished an envelope out his pocket and slid it across the table towards his nephew.‘Here’s my offer.Don’t open it until you’re somewhere private, and I’d make sure you were sitting down when you do so.On the toilet would probably be best.’

‘But…’ began James.

‘I would say give my love to Kathryn and Lucy but of course they’ve never met me, have they?’

‘But…’ repeated James.

‘Trust me, Jimmy.I wouldn’t be bothering you with this if I didn’t need to, but I need someone with your skills and you’re the only man I want on a job this big.The letter will tell you all you need to know, for now.’

‘But…’ said James one last time, as he looked in complete bewilderment from his uncle to the envelope that now sat before him.

‘See you soon, Jimmy.I’ll be in touch.’Juniper laid a hand on James’ shoulder, gave him one last smile and was gone.James sat in silence for a moment or two trying to take in everything that had just happened.His mouth had gone dry again so he took another sip of his pint.As he put the glass back down on the table he eyed the envelope that Juniper had given him with a heady mixture of curiosity and confusion.He drummed his fingers absentmindedly on the table for a second before a thought struck him.The answers he so desperately craved could be contained within the plain manila envelope.Wanting more than anything in that moment to make sense of what was going on, James picked up the envelope and was about to open it when his mobile phone started ringing.James dropped the envelope back on to the table and fished his phone out of his pocket.It was an unknown number.Thinking it might be a customer James answered automatically.

‘James Caplan?’

‘Not yet, Jimmy,’ came the now all too familiar voice of Juniper from the other end of the phone.‘Open it when you get home.’

James promptly dropped his phone.The resultant clunk caused a few nearby drinkers to look his way.

No, he thought to himself.This is going too far.James tentatively picked up his phone as if it might explode at any moment and brought it back up to his ear.

‘J…Juniper?’ said James uncertainly.

‘The very same,’ said Juniper convivially, but with an unmistakable tone of admonishment in his voice.‘I thought I told you to look over my offer in private.’

‘But…how…?’ spluttered James.His uncle had left the pub a good five minutes ago.Had he crept back in to spy on him some more, James wondered.He looked about him to see if he could catch any sign of Juniper lurking in another corner or peering at him from around some other pub goer, but James could not see anything out of the ordinary.As he looked this way and that he heard a chuckle in his ear.

‘Don’t bother looking for me, Jimmy, because I ain’t there anymore.’James stiffened and almost knocked his drink off of the table.He could feel the unpleasant prickle of a nervous sweat coming on.He ran his hand twitchily across his mouth as his eyes bulged in their sockets.

‘How are you doing this?’ said James, practically in a whimper.

‘You’ll see, Jimmy. You’ll see.But I’m not trying to scare you or anything.I just have a notion of what my offer’s going to do to you and I think it’d be best for all of us if you were by yourself when it did.’

‘But how did you know?’ asked James, almost pleading with his uncle.

‘That you were about to open the envelope in the middle of a busy pub and send this entire job right round the S bend?’

James tried to speak but no words came out.

‘I just knew,’ said Juniper.‘Look Jimmy, finish your drink.Have a few more.It’s your birthday, after all.Then, when you’re at home and have a few minutes to yourself go over my offer.It won’t tell you everything because it can’t.This is high security stuff, Jimmy.I couldn’t risk putting everything in that envelope.What if it fell into the wrong hands?That ain’t worth thinking about, believe me.’

‘But…’ said James, who was still unable to find any other words to say.

‘Just trust me on this, Jimmy.Please.You’ll understand in time.I promise.’

Juniper had hung up.James quickly redialled the number that Juniper had phoned him on but his ear was hit instantly with the dead line tone.James sat in ever more confused silence for a moment, staring at his phone as it continued to remind him that the number he was trying to reach was out of service.James ended the call and sat motionless for what felt like the rest of the night.Looking up, he saw that barely ten minutes had elapsed.He took another look at the envelope, cast his eyes about him again just in case Juniper really was watching him and pocketed it.He then picked up his pint glass and drank the remnants.Birthday or no, he was going to find out what this was about as soon as he could.

‘Not staying, Jim?’ called Bob, as James made his way to the door.

‘Sorry, I’ve got to go,’ stammered James.‘I…I feel a little off.’

‘Oh well, you get yourself home and take it easy.’James nodded and smiled weakly.The walk from the pub to his house was a daze and when he reached his front door he took a cautious look around him before finally entering his house, the envelope tucked away inside his coat pocket.

‘He’ll do it,’ said Juniper in response to Grapeshot’s nervous questioning.‘Once he’s seen my offer he’ll do it.’

‘Your offer?’Grapeshot frowned a little in confusion, although his eyes never lost the panicked look they had acquired ever since it had all gone wrong.‘What do you mean “your offer”?And what do you mean “once he’s seen it”?Didn’t you explain the situation to him?’Juniper fidgeted a little, knowing that his colleague was not going to like what he said next.

‘Well, not exactly, but…’

‘And he can,’ said Juniper in a calming voice.‘I wouldn’t have gone to him if I didn’t know we could trust him.’

‘So why didn’t you tell him what this involves?’ said Grapeshot in an increasingly exasperated tone.‘You do realise the seriousness of this situation, don’t you?’He had begun to pace up and down as he spoke with Juniper, his hands gesturing wildly and his eyes darting this way and that.

‘Of course I do!’ snapped Juniper.‘But if I told him everything all at once he wouldn’t have believed me, would he?That’s the reason for the phone call, the card on his car, phoning him after I’d left the pub.’

‘What?’ said Grapeshot, stopping in mid-pace and fixing Juniper with another worried look.Juniper cursed himself for mentioning this part.Grapeshot was very good at his job but he did have a tendency to get in a flap when things went wrong.Juniper sighed before continuing.

‘I left him with an envelope telling him everything he needed to know for now,’ said Juniper, holding up a hand to silence Grapeshot before he could interrupt again.‘I told him not to open it until he was at home but he was about to so I had to do something.’

‘So you phoned him?’ asked Grapeshot, sounding incredulous.

‘After you had left the pub?’

‘Giving over further proof of our surveillance capabilities?’Juniper sighed again.

‘Like now, you mean?’ said Grapeshot bitterly.

‘Yes, like now.But try to think about it from an outsider’s viewpoint.Imagine what it would do to poor Jimmy if I just phoned him out of the blue and dropped everything in his lap.He’d go potty.I know I would.’

‘Well…’ began Grapeshot, realising that Juniper probably had a point.

‘Just trust me on this,’ said Juniper reassuringly.‘I’ve been keeping an eye on Jimmy for long enough to know that he’s the man for the job.No one else even comes close.’Grapeshot visibly sagged; the fight seemingly leaving his body.

‘Alright, fine, we’ll do it your way,’ said Grapeshot, resignedly.

‘This is the only way, believe me.’

‘What about the money?’

‘Don’t worry,’ said Juniper, dismissively.‘I added that, too.’

‘But I didn’t say how much.’

‘It’s not necessary,’ said Juniper, firmly.

‘But what if he says no?’ asked Grapeshot, the pleading nervousness back in his voice.‘It wasn’t easy budgeting that much money just for a....repairman!’

‘Watch your mouth!’ snapped Juniper, angrily.‘He’s family.’

‘Yes yes, he’s family,’ said Grapeshot in a hurried tone.‘But that money was meant to convince him of the severity of the situation and to make sure that he did the job for us.’

‘No,’ said Juniper, flatly.‘It isn’t.’

‘What are you talking about?Of course it is!’

‘We ain’t paying Jimmy to do the job.If I thought he needed buying then he wouldn’t be worth the price.’

‘So what’s the money for then?’ asked Grapeshot, sounding flustered.

‘It’s to keep him quiet after it’s all done, and to convince him to come back if we ever need him again.’

‘Again?’ asked Grapeshot, suddenly alert and panicked.‘What do you mean “again”?’

‘I ain’t taking any chances,’ said Juniper, bitterly.‘Not after this time.If it can happen once it could happen again, so we need Jimmy on side, just in case.’

‘Does he know that this may not be a one time thing?’ asked Grapeshot, nervously.

‘No, but he will.Once he knows what’s what around here and sees the job that needs doing, then I’ll talk to him about future repairs and maintenance.That’s also when he and I will talk amounts, not a moment sooner.’Grapeshot heaved a sigh and collapsed into an office chair that sat next to a workbench.He looked down the room as he rubbed his forehead thoughtfully.

‘I suppose you know best,’ he said, sounding deflated.

‘I do.He’ll be in touch soon.I guarantee it.’

‘For all our sakes, I hope you’re right,’ said Grapeshot as he surveyed the work that lay ahead of James.Broken, all of them, he thought miserably to himself.He looked into dozens of blank, staring eyes and hoped that James Caplan was as good as his uncle said he was.

James could not wait.The curiosity surrounding what his uncle Juniper was apparently up to and what lay within the envelope he had been given was burning a hole in his mind.As soon as James got through his front door he hurried into the downstairs toilet and locked the door behind him.He sat down quickly and pulled the envelope out of his pocket, tearing it open with equal measures of eagerness and trepidation as to what it could possibly contain.

Silence followed.

Then, the toilet flushed.

The following morning James was a bundle of nerves.He had slept poorly and he had no appetite for breakfast.His wife, Kathryn, had not failed to notice both things.

‘Are you sure you’re alright, James?’ she asked, concernedly as she sorted through the morning’s post.

‘Hmmm?’ said James, absentmindedly.

‘You don’t seem yourself this morning.Maybe you should stay home today.’

‘I’ll be fine,’ said James as he attempted a reassuring smile.‘Besides, I’ve got lots on today.No time to pull a sickie.’Kathryn looked at her husband for a moment or two.

‘Well, if you’re sure,’ she said.

‘I am,’ nodded James.He stood up and looked down into his wife’s concerned face.‘Tell you what.If I start to feel worse I promise I’ll come home.Deal?’

‘Okay,’ said Kathryn, seemingly satisfied.‘Just don’t go working yourself too hard.If you’re not feeling well I don’t want you making yourself worse.’

‘I’ll see how I go,’ said James.He smiled again and indicated the pile of post that Kathryn was sorting through.‘Besides, bills to pay and all that.’

‘Oh don’t,’ said Kathryn, rolling her eyes.‘The car needing servicing and the boiler packing up at the same time has hit us harder than expected.We may have to move some things around on the credit cards again.’James leaned down and kissed Kathryn gently on the forehead.

‘We’ll be fine,’ he said soothingly.

‘I hope you’re right,’ said Kathryn, waving a hand at the pile of post that seemed to be all bills.‘I don’t like all this debt.’James wanted to tell her.He wanted to reassure his wife that he was on the verge of being able to solve all of their money woes.He knew he couldn’t though.If Juniper was telling the truth then James needed to keep his mouth shut.If he didn’t… the consequences of James telling anyone what his uncle had confided in him were not worth thinking about.James took one more look at the pile of bills and thought to himself: you had better be telling the truth, Juniper.

James left his house and drove to work, all the while looking about him suspiciously.He kept telling himself that he was being ridiculous.If Juniper really was doing what he claimed to be doing then it was obviously being done well enough to go unnoticed.An odd mixture of fear and excitement gripped him as he made his way to his garage.He hadn’t asked for this.All James Caplan had ever wanted was a quiet, comfortable life for him and his family.But now this?The thoughts and questions swam ferociously inside James’ head as he pulled into the car park of Caplan Motors.He didn’t like the thought of keeping things from Kathryn or lying to his employees about where he was really going later that day, but he knew he had no choice.If that letter was right…

The letter.

James instinctively felt inside his jacket pocket for the envelope that Juniper had given him the day before.How had something like this happened to him?The letter had read like something out of a James Bond film, and it had not even told him the full story, apparently.It had given him the bare bones but that was enough to set James’ curiosity on fire.He both longed for and dreaded the full story that was yet to fully unfold.He felt himself continually flitting between wanting and not wanting this all to be some kind of elaborate prank and as he entered his office he honestly could not decide which option he liked the sound of more.This train of thought was quickly derailed as James sat down.He recoiled in surprise as he saw his name as clear as day plastered across another envelope that lay in the centre of his desk.James knew who it was from in an instant: the envelope simply said Jimmy.

James looked around his office in a vain attempt to find any points of forced entry.He had had to unlock his office upon arrival that morning.He always locked his office at the end of the working day.Plus the garage was similarly locked at the end of each day as well.For a moment James panicked about security threats to his business, but after a few steadying breaths he realised that this was no different to the card being placed on his car in the also nightly locked private company car park.James sighed.Whatever it was that Juniper did, he clearly had access to places that others didn’t.Once again the cocktail of fear and excitement welled up inside James.Juniper had said in the first letter that what he did was not illegal, but leaving the card on James’ car and now this second envelope in his office was breaking and entering, surely.Realising that he was not going to get any more answers to the myriad questions pummelling his brain, James picked up the envelope off of his desk.It was a large padded envelope that felt somewhat bulky.James could feel three objects inside the envelope.He ripped open the envelope and scattered the contents on to his desk.The objects were a Sat Nav, a mobile phone and an accompanying earpiece.James looked at them in confusion for a second or two before noticing that a piece of paper had also fallen out of the envelope.He picked it up and recognised Juniper’s handwriting from the first letter.He read:

Dear Jimmy,

By now you’ve read my first letter and you know that me

and my people are in need of your skills.We have some

very important equipment that has broken down and it

needs repairing as soon as possible.

The Sat Nav is programmed to bring you to me.I’ll call

you on the mobile phone once you get going.Make sure

you wear the ear thingy; I don’t want you getting into a smash.

Tell no one about where you’re going, and make sure to bring

everything that I sent you today with you.No loose ends

Jimmy my boy.No loose ends.Do this and that pile of bills

will be a distant memory.

James dropped the letter when he read the part about the pile of bills.

Juniper knew!

James stared, wide eyed, at the letter for a second.His uncle knew what went on in his home as well as his work.The fear quickly overtook the excitement and James briefly thought about abandoning the whole thing and going to the police about his crazed uncle.He sat there in silence and considered his options.He had already thought numerous times on what the police would say if he went to them with a story such as this.Also, came an infuriatingly rational voice from somewhere inside James’ head, if Juniper had been doing this for as long as he claimed then he had had ample opportunity to come after James and his family.He hadn’t though, thought James.He felt a little ashamed of himself as he tried to scrub the thoughts from his mind of his uncle being some kind of maniac.

You gave your word, too, came the same annoying little voice.

James had indeed given his word.James Caplan had always prided himself on being a man who dealt fairly with people and so a further wave of shame washed over him for a moment.He had given his word and he wasn’t going to break that.Not unless he absolutely had to.

He really hoped he wouldn’t have to.

James sat for a moment while the confusion, the curiosity and the worry fought it out for supremacy inside his head.He looked down at the Sat Nav and mobile phone that both lay on his desk.Picking the Sat Nav up, James turned it on and watched as the pre-programmed route was calculated.James didn’t recognise where he was supposed to go but one thing was for sure, it was going to be quite a drive.He looked at his watch and decided that he may as well set off now.He didn’t see the point in attempting to get any work done around the garage.The whole business with Juniper had got him so distracted that he would probably do more harm than good, so he scooped up the phone, envelope and letter and made his way out of his office.

‘Off somewhere, Jim?’ asked one of his employees.

‘Erm…yes,’ said James, trying to think of a convincing lie.‘Special job, out of town.’

‘Right you are,’ said the employee.

‘I’ll…um…I’ll probably be gone all day,’ said James, feeling it was probably best to buy himself as much time as he could.

‘Fair enough.If you’re not back by closing I’ll lock up.’

He hoped.

James fitted Juniper’s Sat Nav into the bracket and then fixed the bracket to his windscreen, adjusting the screen slightly so that he had the best view.He turned the mobile phone on and placed it in the holder that he would normally have put his own phone in.He fitted the earpiece and began his journey.As he pulled out of the car park and into traffic his mind raced.Just a couple of days ago his life was perfectly normal, he thought to himself as he took the first of the Sat Nav’s directions.But now he was driving off to who knows where to do who knows what for his uncle whom he had, until a couple of days ago, thought had died when he was a child.James had not been driving five minutes when the mobile phone started to ring.Nervously, James pressed the Answer button on the earpiece.

‘Erm…hello?’ he said, tentatively.

‘Jimmy, my boy!’ boomed Juniper’s voice into James’ ear.‘Glad to see you’re on your way.’


Submitted: June 21, 2015

© Copyright 2022 Weatherwax. All rights reserved.

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