After taking early retirement, I quickly realised that I needed something more than hacking up the golf course to keep me occupied, so I started writing short stories. An eclectic mix, no particular genre, but no sci-fi. Definitely no sci-fi. I try to include an element of humour in all my stories. To date, they have been published by The Galway Review, Cork Holly Bough, Bandit Fiction, Cafelit, Spillwords, Hammond House, Clarendon House, Grindstone Literary, and Michael Terence Publishing.
The highlight was winning the Southport International Short Story Competition last year.
(I’m still playing terrible golf!)
Vinnie rolled a joint and lit it. He enjoyed the skunky, musty aroma before taking a long drag and kicking off his sodden loafers, threw himself on the leather sofa.
“Alexa, play Tchaikovsky.”
Built-in speakers responded, and the split-level room vibrated to the 1812 overture. Vinnie poked an index finger up his nose and went over the night’s happenings.
Perfect. Fucking perfect. That idiot was thicker than stupid, agreeing to meet at the Old Head cliffs on such a shitty night. I should’ve never taken on that prick. He didn’t have the bottle for this business. Anyway, he’s outa the fucking way now and I’ve my ten grand. Not a camera for miles, and the suicide note on the fool’s dashboard – a masterstroke.
“The wife and kid aren’t my problem, are they, Snoop?”
Snoop, a Bichon Frise bundle of white fur, wagged its tail, barked and hopped up on his master’s lap.
Taking his last puff, Vinnie found room for the butt in an overflowing ashtray. As a sky of gun-metal grey released shower after shower of hail, which peppered the windows like buckshot, he flicked through the previous day’s newspaper until he located the crossword. On reading the first clue, his mouth slanted into a knife-edged smile.
1 Across – One who takes another life (6)
Jeez, that’s some coincidence.
Top grades at school led to golden opportunities at university, but four years before he’d make any money hadn’t appealed to Vinnie. With the price of the traditional pint soaring, supplying the student population with an alternative become a business. A profitable one. Mostly weed to begin with, but he’d expanded and now controlled and satisfied the market with a concoction of life-wrecking shite.
With the personality of a blank page, he’d never been successful with the opposite sex. A pockmarked face didn’t help, but nowadays money paid for cheap thrills, never at his place.
A loner. Risk was part of the business. It boosted him, although he preferred to eliminate it. He had no friends, and his few acquaintances and family were liabilities to an extent that he ostracised them. He didn’t give a shit about anybody or anything… except Snoop.
Exhausted, Tommy wished he had listened to Margaret. She’d tried to keep him at home when a storm promising nothing, but misery had blotted out the moon and stars.
“Leave the lobster pots tonight, love, they’ll be there in the morning,” she’d said, rubbing her tummy. Only four weeks to go before their first arrival.
“They’ll be blown to kingdom come, and the mortgage is due next week. I’ll be fine.”
A poor decision. With frozen hands feeling detached from his body, he never longed so much for the land. The seas rose as mountains, foaming anger, turbulent and unforgiving. All twenty-five feet of Faith and Hope tossed about like a rag-doll, and yet his faithful servant battled a path through briny fists.
Locating the lobster pots was one thing. Dragging them on board was another story. Each lift felt like using up a life. The open-sided wheelhouse offered little protection, its Perspex window a victim to a previous storm. A thermos promised mouthfuls of hot tea, but it lay untouched, wedged between a drum of lubricating oil and a box of flares. On nights such as this, Tommy believed in God.
He pushed on. Only three were left as he weaved a path towards The Old Head. The deck light flickered before giving up. Another repair job awaiting a few spare euros. Tommy cursed to the heavens. With cat-like eyes, he searched beneath the curtains of rock, struggling to catch sight of the marker buoys which played hide-and-seek in foam- topped waves. Two pots surrendered in quick succession, the last one proved more elusive. Back and forth he trawled, the deck awash. Giving up wasn’t an option and Tommy won. ”Gotcha, ya bollocks.” Muscles screamed in protest as he hauled the pot, a birch and spruce relic, aboard. Amidst the gale that howled and slammed rain into his face like tiny pebbles, something caught his eye. High above, four shafts of light cut through the sky.
Christ, who drove two cars up there on a night like this? Probably some bloke and a bird on a sneaker. Isn’t it well for some – love, lust, and a dollop of lunacy? Good luck to them.
Faith and Hope had pulled away from the rocks and on course for Kinsale, safety and home when a shiver ran down Tommy’s back. Despite the elements and a labouring diesel engine pleading for retirement, a scream resembling a banshee’s last wail filled his ears.
Jesus. What was that? That was no seagull.
He heard no more.
I must be cracking up. God, it’s been a long night, ’tis time to get outta here. Looking up again, he saw only two beams of light.
Running with the tide, they powered towards the harbour, as the absolute darkness gave way to charcoal and dawn. They were joined by gulls, who were tossed about like confetti, tumbling as they too floundered although the ramparts of Charles Fort provided some respite from the storm. More than once, Tommy glanced back at the Old Head, as white horses galloped on either side like outriders until Faith and Hope was secured at its berth by the fishermen’s co-op.
Tommy stomped his feet and waved his arms to get feeling into banged-up limbs. He could almost taste the fry-up and soda bread that Margaret would’ve prepared. They’d cuddle up in bed after breakfast, but first, the night’s catch had to be hoisted onto the pier and brought for auction at the co-op Hands, gnarled before their time, struggled to lift the boxes. They were heavy – an excellent result.
Job done, Tommy rummaged for keys amongst bits of twine and oily rags in his pockets. He found them along with his phone, a Nokia dinosaur. Unlocking the van, he took off his yellow oilskins, scratched his head and looked down the harbour and out to sea. He stood, oblivious to the rain which turned faded denims a dark navy. Something isn’t right. Something happened back there.
While Vinnie relaxed in the penthouse apartment and filled in the answer to the crossword clue with the letters, K-I-L-L-E-R, Tommy held his mobile and despite chapped fingers, made the call. 9-9-9.