Anyway, now I’m back to my more regular Sunday slot, it’s time to start the new year with a new story, having finally finished my second improvised serial last week. So let’s see what Linda G Hill has left us in the way of inspiration this week;
” “eco.” Find a word that starts with “eco” or has “eco” in it, and base your post on that word. “
Hmm, fair enough…
Decorations from last night’s Halloween party still hung from the trees next door; grisly-looking skeletons rattling in the cold wind, red eyes flashing malevolently at Jamie and Phil as they hurried up the path to their front porch.
Phil glared at the detritus of beer cans and take-out containers which littered the neighbour’s yard, much of which had already blown onto their lawn. He was simultaneously appalled at such slovenly behaviour and relieved beyond measure that they had been away working and hadn’t been invited to the party, however unlikely that might have been.
Because, let’s face it, the chances of “The Queers” (as Jamie had heard them called, much to his amusement) being included in local social events, cook-outs or holiday celebrations were, thankfully, zero.
But hadn’t that always been the intention, when Jamie and Phil had chosen this conservative suburb of middle class, humourless, right wing, wannabe-white collar rednecks with ideas above their intellect?
A place where they wouldn’t merely blend into the background, but would actually be carefully ignored; after all, who wanted to stick their noses in the business of, well, you know…those people?…just imagining what they got up to was bad enough.
So they were tolerated, (they both had good jobs and money, which they flaunted with a casual vulgarity that at least earned them some sort of grudging respect from the other well-heeled vulgarians in the vicinity) but nobody made any effort to socialise, beyond the occasional mumbled “Morning” in the street or at the store, when it was impossible to avoid them without appearing openly rude or hostile.
Which suited Jamie and Phil just fine, because it meant they’d been able to carry on their lucrative sideline with no interference and minimal risk of discovery. In fact, they probably would have needed a body decomposing in the basement before anyone thought it worth the risk of entering their debauched lair to investigate.
And anyway, they weren’t that careless.
Jamie threw his keys on the kitchen counter and dumped a bag of groceries next to them.
“So, you’re cooking tonight?”
Phil nodded as he started to load food into the refrigerator, then reached into his bag and looked at him with a smile.
“Yeah, I’ll do the linguini if you like, with the clam sauce?”
“Oh, yum! Right, I’ll grab a quick shower, you pour the wine and I’ll be back before you know it.”
Jamie blew him a kiss, shrugged out of his jacket and headed upstairs, leaving Phil to his pasta and clams.
Sometime after midnight, Phil went out to pick up the party garbage from the lawn and saw a grey van he didn’t recognise, parked about thirty yards down the street. Noticing details like make, model and licence plate was second nature, but he didn’t sense any threat from the obviously empty vehicle, so after a final look round he turned off the porch light and returned to the warmth indoors.
Jamie had turned in soon after dinner, so he checked all the windows and doors, stopping in the hall to set the alarm and once again look across the street, to where the van was still parked, before going to bed himself. Nothing had changed and he guessed it belonged to one of the delightful neighbour’s drunken friends, who was probably still sleeping off the effects of the night before.
He found Jamie reading yet another of his apparently endless supply of “political thrillers”, which all seemed to have the same plot; a disgraced agent and/or assassin has to save an unbelieving agency and/or country from The Powers That Be, who want to rule it and/or blow it up, all with only a plucky sidekick for company and a tortured past threatening to catch up with him in the final act.
Phil thought they were all crap, but as Jamie said when he made fun of his literary choices; “We all need a bit of escapism in our lives, it helps me relax, that’s all.”
Which was fair enough, but you’d think he’d pick something a bit more, well, relaxing.
He climbed into bed and smiled as Jamie absently patted his leg with one hand, turning a page with the other, clearly engrossed. Phil leaned over and kissed his cheek, receiving a lop-sided grin in return, Jamie’s eyes never leaving his book.
Yawning, Phil reached for his laptop, which he’d left charging on the nightstand and was about to shut it down for the night, when he saw he had mail. He clicked on the icon and was suddenly less sleepy.
“Hey, looks like we’ve got a job.”
“Really?” Jamie looked at his watch, “It’s gotta be pretty urgent, they don’t usually leave it this late.”
“Well, we’d better see who it is then, hadn’t we?”
Phil opened the attached file with the laptop’s specially installed decoding software and began to read.
It was true, Phil and Jamie’s neighbours weren’t the most enlightened folks, not when it came to, shall we say, diversity. But it wasn’t strictly true to say they were without humour. It was a mean-spirited, malicious kind of humour, to be sure, more like schadenfreude if we’re being honest, although it’s unlikely if any of them would recognise it as such, let alone be able to spell it.
So any chance to have a laugh at The Queers’ expense was too good to pass up, which goes some way to explain why Brad, their neighbour and “private security consultant”, was at that moment hunched over a closed circuit television monitor in his basement man cave next door; surrounded by the other white, middle aged, beer swilling, reverse baseball cap wearing, rabidly homophobic members of what we’ll assume he calls his “crew”, who are becoming increasingly rowdy.
Because Brad has had a brilliant idea for a Halloween prank and he’s called in a few favours from a similarly hilarious work colleague, whose camera feed they are eagerly waiting to watch.
“What’s the deal, Brad, I thought you were gonna show us something cool?”
“Yeah, Brad, what the fuck is the deal? Hahaha.”
Now they all get into the swing of it.
“What’s the fucking deal Brad! What’s the fucking deal Brad! What’s the fucking…”
“Yeah yeah, shut the fuck up, ok, it’ll be worth it, I’m telling ya. Just be fucking patient, alright?”
Jamie looked up from the screen with a surprised expression, sitting on the edge of the bed while Phil read over his shoulder
“Wow, that is short notice. Tomorrow night, that’s cutting it really fine for recon, even if we do have his schedule.”
“I know, but they say all the assets are in place, all we have to do is get there and wait for him. Disposal could be a problem, but if we can make it look like an accident as they suggest, it might not be necessary.”
“A fire, perhaps?”
“Nah, too much attention, too much potential for collateral damage, he lives in an apartment block.”
“Yeah, good idea, I like it. Right, suicide it is, then.”
Which was when they both heard it; a cough.
Coming from under the bed.
Instinct and ten years of surviving in the lethally competitive world of freelance hit men instantly took over.
Phil rolled to the left, Jamie jumped to his feet, laptop crashing to the floor but not before they each grabbed for the guns clipped to the underside of the headboard. Phil dropped to the floor and looked under the bed. He looked shocked and recoiled from whatever he saw there, then yelled;
It was all Jamie needed, he fired three shots straight through the mattress without waiting for further instructions, only stopping when Phil held up a hand and there was a moment of silence as he reached for something Jamie couldn’t see.
“What the fuck?”
“What? What is it?”
Phil’s hand came up holding something white and floppy, which Jamie realised was some kind of rubber mask.
“Michael Myers, what the..?”
“Huh? What are you talking about?”
“It’s some guy in a Michael Myers mask. You know, the killer from Halloween?”
“I know who he is but, and this is the most important part; what the hell is he doing under our bed?”
Phil shook his head and grabbed hold of the man’s lifeless feet, dragging him out from under the bed, confirming, in case anyone was in any doubt, that he was very dead. Two holes in the chest and one in the face will do that, no question.
But, despite his recent ballistic makeover, he was still recognisable.
“For fuck’s sake, it’s Brad’s basketball buddy from work! What the actual fuck is going on here?”
He was right, Jamie had seen the hopelessly out of shape pair lumbering around under the hoop Brad had over his garage door, high-fiving each other like college jocks whenever one of them scored a lucky jump shot and trying not to look their age.
“He’s got a…what the hell?”
Phil suddenly rolled the body face down and looked up in shock at Jamie, who gave him a pained look.
“Dude, you’re getting blood all over the rug.”
Phil stood up, grabbed Jamie’s arm and put a finger to his lips, pulling him into the hallway outside the bedroom door, where he whispered urgently;
“He’s got a webcam on his chest, clipped to his jacket!”
“You’re kidding! My God, what was he doing here?”
“I don’t know, but that knife isn’t even real, it’s a toy. Jamie, we’ve got to get rid of the body before we…”
He stopped and looked thoughtful.
“Wait, I’ve got an idea, help me take that camera off him and we’ll get him wrapped up…”
“Hey, you guys, shut up will ya! I’m trying to listen, someone’s talking, I think it’s one of those goddamn fags.”
Brad’s crew of upstanding heterosexual comedians turns their attention to the small screen on his work bench, eventually belching and farting their way to some semblance of quiet as their leader strains to hear the muffled sounds coming from the monitor’s tinny speaker.
“I can’t make it out; something about a fire in an apartment?”
“This is bullshit, I thought you said we were gonna prank The Queers, Brad, you told me…”
Brad almost falls off his stool.
“What the fuck was that?”
“Jesus fucking Christ, Brad, did Dougie go in there armed?”
“Don’t be fucking stupid, Jerry, you saw him, he had that dumb mask and a rubber knife. Dougie wouldn’t know one end of a gun from the other.”
“Then how do you explain that?”
A white faced Jerry points a shaking finger at the monitor and the rest of the crew stare at the black screen in shocked silence.
Suddenly there’s a change in the texture of the darkness on the monitor, followed by a flash of bright light. The camera takes a few seconds adjusting to the increased brightness, then the picture comes into focus.
“Is that a ceiling fan?”
“I think so…hey, it’s gone dark again, what’s going on?”
They wait for a full minute before anyone else speaks, then Brad clears his throat uneasily.
“I, um…I guess Dougie must’ve taken off without…I mean, he got out ok, right?”
“Yeah, yeah, must’ve, it was only a couple of queens, after all, what’re they gonna do, rape him? Hahaha.”
There is some half-hearted macho laughter, but something about this doesn’t feel good anymore.
“Well, good party, Brad, really. But I’m going to hit the road…”
“Yeah, me too, can I catch a ride, Jerry?”
“Sounds like it’s time to make tracks, Brad, my dude, laters.”
Minutes later Brad was alone in his man cave, yet he had a strong urge to look over his shoulder all of a sudden. He hurriedly disconnected the monitor cables and packed the equipment away, then turned off the lights and went upstairs to watch Game Of Thrones with his wife.
When he returned to work on Monday and found Dougie absent from the office, Brad was nervous but not overly so.
“He’ll turn up when we’re all shitting ourselves and laugh at us all for worrying, you watch” he told himself and he nearly convinced himself, too.
Until he saw the newspaper headline, that really spoiled his day;
LOCAL MAN SHOT DEAD IN GAY LOVE PACT.
Dougie Randall, 43, was found dead in the apartment of the man police believe was his lover, Paul Hartwell. Both men had gunshot wounds and, although police describe the scene as “unusual”, they are not looking for anyone else in connection with the case…