James Patterson Short Story Writing Competition Entry 2017 “A note on the ground.”

The wind howled making the window rattle in its frame, Jennifer looked out at the rain sodden ground. It was not raining now.

Suddenly her eye caught a white paper something flying in the air, looked like a letter but it was difficult to tell. It landed on her patio the wind occasionally moving it in little swirls.

After watching it a few minutes from her window, curiosity suddenly got the better of her. It was probably nothing; a shopping list or something like that but she had to just know.

Opening her back door half ajar. The wind hit her body, going straight through her lacy cardigan; touching her skin below causing her to tightly wrap her arms around herself as she walked towards the note on the ground.

Jennifer found herself needing to skip across the paving slabs to just catch up with the slip of paper.

Finally she put a hand around it and brought it close to her chest before turning around and retreating back to the warm inside.

Pushing her hair away from her eyes, she peered at the blue ink on the letter writing paper. The handwriting was terrible, many larger spider loops and some words that looked like wiggly lines. Then she looked at the printed embossed address at the top.

The address was her next-door neighbour, not too surprising really, obviously it had blown over from there.

Her first reaction was simply to return the note. She hardly knew the man that now lived there but she had heard, when he moved in from chatty neighbour Christine, that he was a doctor and also he’d recently been made a widower.

Pulling her grey tweed coat off its peg in the hall, half-putting it on before suddenly thinking that maybe she should first check if this letter was of any real consequence at all or not.

Her eyes skimmed the handwriting. Suddenly she felt she needed to sit down even though this was awkward with her coat now half around her. She sat smartly down on a nearby chair.

She couldn’t really believe what she was now reading, maybe this note had been meant for her all along. His first few words referred to a neighbour living next door. There was no name but there was no reason on earth he would actually know a name anyway. The letter simply said he had seen her coming and going for some time next door and as he put it ‘liked what he saw.’ Would she consider having dinner with him one evening?

Jennifer was stunned, a man; her neighbour in fact was asking her out. She racked her brains to visualise what he looked like, she just about remembered seeing a tall slender even distinguished looking grey haired man pass along his front path. She didn’t recall him ever really looking at her, girls naturally usually have a sense for these things.

Her first reaction was ‘no way,’ what would happen if the encounter went wrong resulting in an uncomfortable standoff between them. Then she thought, did it really matter much, they had never spoken to each other before.

§

In the near darkness, near midnight later that week, a woman struggles to bury a body on rough ground in a shallow grave. She was still dressed in the same pretty cocktail dress and high heels, which was making it difficult to walk on the uneven ground and also dig. Her friend similarly dressed stood back still feeling dizzy; holding her head as she watched proceedings intently.

They had arranged to meet in a local restaurant that John the next-door neighbour knew. When her friend Christine had found out she said she would come along to make sure everything was all right. This was enough to reassure Jennifer to accept this blind-date invitation. Christine had surprisingly offered to drive her to the restaurant and even stay for dinner herself should he not show up, but when she saw John waiting for Jennifer at the table he had booked, she left immediately and went back to sit in her car. She was going to drive straight home, but as she was about to turn the ignition key something inside made her stop and stay in the darkness watching.

After forty minutes she observed two familiar people leaving the restaurant, it looked though for some reason that the man was supporting Jennifer as she walked to his car outside. When they both arrived, Christine was alarmed when she saw the man clumsily put the woman on her back flat across his rear seat before getting into the front himself and immediately driving away.

Christine started her car and followed from a safe distance as they left. After a few miles John’s car turned off the road and into a dense wood through a wide track with tall trees on each side. Parking her car at the end of the road Christine followed on foot, arriving just in time to see John climb out of his driver’s seat, walk around and open the rear passenger’s door wide, before leaning in and running a hand up one of the still unconscious body’s legs.

Instinctively she knew she had to stop him. From somewhere she finds a cut off short branch on the ground in the clearing, grabbing this she silently approaches the car, going behind the prone man now with his lowered trousers around his legs.

THUD, she strikes him decisively on the back of his head. The man immediately slumps down right on top of Jennifer with a slight groan. Opening the opposite side rear door next to her head, Christine pulls her friend straight out of the car and onto her feet. The cooler night air makes Jennifer start to regain consciousness; she suddenly asks what’s happening.

§

Later in the early morning, both women sat in Jennifer’s sitting room clutching steamy mugs of tea in their hands. Jennifer was now feeling more like her old self, but her memories of much of the previous evening were decidedly sketchy. Asking her companion, what had happened to her, Christine explained that she had been drugged and was lucky to be rescued in time.

“How did you know to wait and watch us?” she asked immediately.

Looking down at her still mud splattered feet, “He’s done this sort of thing before.”

“You are not the first woman he’s asked out in a similar way. A year ago it also happened to me, but I was never really sure what happened. When I woke up, fully dressed in my bed I was suspicious of course, but I could never be certain.”

“When you told me you had a date with the same man, this was my chance to observe him at close quarters, and for you I’m glad I did.”

“Now we have a problem, I’ve killed a man and got rid of the evidence, under the law you are as guilty as me.”

Forbidden love

(A vignette into the initial chapter)

CHAPTER ONE

They sat opposite each other across the kitchen table, which had been so familiar to the young woman as she had grown up in this ramshackle house. She was constantly flicking her long brunette hair while she listened quietly to what her silver haired mother was saying in a low impassionate voice. She thought subconsciously of the years she had sat in the same place, first as a toddler in a battered high chair, then as a nervous school girl in her worsted grey blazer with a tartan skirt which she knew when safely on the school bus she would roll up at the waist to show more of her snowy white spindly legs. All her friends did it. It was a rite of passage.

Her mother paused; she had not got to the point yet. This mother daughter chat was not working very well. Then she dropped the hint of the bombshell she was to deliver later. She had known Paul’s father years ago. What a coincidence thought Lynda, suddenly now paying more attention. Then what she heard she wished she had not. They had been girlfriend and boyfriend before she had met her father. The room rotated in blurred vision now. Lynda felt herself gripping the table for support as the words “I was pregnant” were uttered by the ashen faced mother. She had a brother somewhere, Lynda thought, in those days adopted for sure. Her mother continued but what she was saying was incoherent. Lynda asked, “What do you mean”. Finally the mother tired spat it out. The secret of her life. The secret she thought she would never need to tell, but for some reason God was punishing her for her past. A transgression that was never meant to happen but it did.

“I never told your father.” “Told him what?” said Lynda. “You were not his child.” Suddenly the penny dropped. “That is why you cannot marry Paul, he’s your half brother.”

Deep regrets

(The opening paragraphs of the first chapter)

Leticia closed her eyes, cupping them with her hands to hide the tears now welling up inside her. The telegram she had just read had been her deepest nightmare, in reality she had always known that this moment could happen at any time and was even a distinct possibility, but like most young people she just put it out of her head. This after all was a country at war, death and horrid injury was all around her.

In seconds the reality sunk in, it had now happen to her. She was instinctively fearful, believing that the man she loved more than anything would almost certainly never be the same man again. Rising from her chair with the now crumbled paper still in her damp hand she walked cautiously down the drab and chipped painted corridor towards the line of telephone booths.

Entering one and lifting its black Bakelite receiver she waited a full five seconds before the station operation came online and spoke crisply, “Number please caller?” Leticia held back her nearly overpowering emotions and asked for an outside line and to be connected to the burns ward at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead. The operator didn’t need to ask for the number.

After she had spoked to the ward sister, Alex seemed to be even more badly injured than she had feared. He had been her first serious love, they planned to marry when the war was finally over, now he had been shot down and the news was not good. They had met on the first day of both being posted to Catterick’s 41 Squadron on the North Eastern coast. He was an RAF Spitfire P/O and she a WAAF. For her it had pretty much been love at first sight; tall dashing and blond. Just looking at him made her feel weak at the knees. Normal reticence was as for many couples soon put aside, everyone was acutely aware that this could be their very last moments. It was not long before they became a couple in every way. Catterick was where Leticia received the awful news.

Barely had a moment passed after putting the receiver down, before her body became strangely weak, engulfed in a mixture of panic and fear. Her mouth became dry and bitter, and she felt completely dizzy and unable to walk, needing to prop herself up in the cubical for several minutes until the sensation passed. She could not help it, selfish thoughts kept passing through her mind. She contemplate the immediate consequences of what she now knew. The thought of devoting the rest of her life to be with what remained of the man she had loved so much and now would likely never be the same.

She was still too young, she kept thinking, to deliberately bury herself and forgo all their collective dreams. They had planned to return to his native New Zealand homeland together after the war and take off his elderly parent’s hands their family’s now run down sheep ranch, working it together as he had promised and talked endlessly about and been the subject of their collective dreams………..

 

 

SYNOPSIS

(Please be warned this summary reveals much of the novel’s plot)

A woman joins the WAAF on the outbreak of WW2 as soon as she is old enough to enlist and quickly rises through the ranks to run the catering in the officer’s mess hall for the fighter pilots stationed on an airfield. She became romantically involved with a young airman whose aircraft was later shot down in the final days of the war and was horribly burnt when his aircraft caught fire and he later died. She found herself unable to visit him because of his appalling injuries, something she could never forgive herself for. The pilot was a New Zealander and they had talked about marrying after the war and returning there to run his family’s sheep farm. To make up for how she had behaved towards him the woman decided to devote the rest of her life to caring for others. Subsequently after the war had finished and she was discharged, she then wanted to become a doctor, but she was denied the possibility of being trained because her family felt unable to afford to spend their limited savings on a girl’s education, who they considered would more than likely soon get married and be primarily supported by her husband. The woman therefore settled for second best and became a nurse. Characteristically quickly rising through the ranks to become a hospital matron.

Driven out

(The opening paragraphs of the first chapter)

Gazing quite bored, as the time passed, at the black dials with their small white painted fluorescent markings set deeply into the sun marked black vinyl dashboard. The windows of the parked car were gradually steaming up with condensation due to our combined breathing, Ian’s mobile telephone suddenly rang loudly making us both jump for a split second.

We had been waiting nervously in the car nearly an hour now for our solicitor’s call to say that we had finally completed on the purchase. We are buying our first home together. Not that we have not been living together before now.

I’m Samantha and I have been living ‘in sin’ as they say with Ian in his old shared rented flat for some time now. Like most young people we had to wait and save hard until we had the deposit together on this our first place together. This took us well over a year after we had finally got married, and this step was only really possible because of financial help from both of our parents.

Ian started the engine and the car moved off from where we had been parked. We drove straight down the road before turned the corner into the next adjacent road that we came to. We then negotiated a cul-de-sac where our new home was situated. Ian’s colleague from work Max, driving a rented white box van, was already parked up next to the curb outside the new house waiting for our arrival with the all important keys, so that we could gain entry.

Suddenly seeing the van parked, Ian came to an almost abrupt stop in the middle of the road, level with the driver’s door of the van and immediately signalled through the window to the check-shirted driver announcing our arrival. Max reciprocated with a broad grin and quickly climbed out of the van to talk to us on the pavement.

“Do you have the keys mate?” said Max eyeing me moving towards him.

I had just got out of the passenger seat to join the two men already conversing.

“Yes, there here,” said Ian waving a bunch of keys displaying the estate agents distinctive logo fob under Max’s nose.

Soon the two men where making multiple crocodile journeys back and forth to the house carrying large reused cardboard boxes containing our meagre possessions. I carried the most delicate things, table lamps for example with there bases wrapped in protective bubble wrap and their shades still on, barely covered and somewhat exposed, one in each hand.

After a few hours we were all done, except for the unpacking to come that finally took us several weeks to really finish. We thanked Max, and Ian pressed some folded notes into his hand for his help before the box-van departed the close and was soon out of sight around the corner of the road.

 

SOME MONTHS LATER

We woke up abruptly to tremendous banging through the wall and the sound of constant scrapping behind our bed. Looking at the nearby alarm clock it was barely seven o’clock in the morning. What was going on?

Our alarm clock still hadn’t even rang, we had been sound asleep until we heard the sound next door, but now we were both fully awake.

It suddenly dawned on us what the sound was. Our next-door neighbour, that we hardly even knew was already drilling on the other side of our bedroom wall. We hadn’t ever really seen the couple living next door since we’d moved in. Not to talk to anyway, just an occasional friendly wave from us across the garden fences, not that we had ever saw a reciprocal gesture back. Now we were beginning to realise why.

 

 

SYNOPSIS

(Please be warned this summary reveals much of the novel’s plot)

A young couple buy their first home together; a semi detached house outside a small town. Within weeks of moving in and redecorating, the next door neighbours start redecorating themselves; constantly banging and scrapping on the walls at all times of the day and night. This activity does not go on just for a few weeks but for many months continually. Their house becomes excessively dusty inside and cracks appear on many wall because of all next door’s drilling and sanding. The young couple are finally in complete despair and decide to confront the their next-door neighbours to stop and allow them some peace and quiet. On the doorstep they are surprisingly welcomed in and then persuaded to participate into having their house’s exterior painted at the same time as their neighbour was planning to do theirs. Soon the house was clad in scaffolding poles and boards with plastic sheeting screening every view from all the window for months at an end while the man next door painted both houses by himself. The young couple had had enough by now and and decided to sell up and move, but every prospective buyer that came to see the house was put off the property by the building works going on. The estate agent advises them to reduce the price substantially for a quick sale. Much to their surprise it is suddenly then sold very quickly and it was only when they were moving their processions out did they realise that the wife’s mother of the couple next door was buying their old house and they had been purposely driven out of their home so that the mother-in-law could buy it cheaply.

Envy destroys the soul

(The opening paragraphs of the first chapter)

London, England 2006

Helen could not sleep; she started to think about Rupert. For years she had liked him, but there had never been any reciprocation. This was not surprising, Rupert was her boss although only a few years older than her. Unmarried, seemingly unattached, never seemed to date much or have any close friends either male or female. His only outings seemed to be with clients in the local pubs and restaurants. It was not that Rupert didn’t want close friends but he never made the time because basically he was wedded to his work, his business that he had grown from basically nothing to now supporting a dozen people. Helen had joined the company five years ago straight from University knowing next to nothing at all about the business. She had been however a fast learner and as more senior people left, usually poached, for employment elsewhere, she had risen the ranks to become now Rupert’s manager. Not that she was really in charge of the company as Rupert brought in most of the work himself and as a rule always keep client contacts close to his chest. Therefore her role was really to help Rupert in anyway she could. Helen decided that Rupert needed a holiday.

A few days later Helen broached the subject. Rupert raised his eyebrows and made some comment that they were trying to get rid of him.

“No nothing like that,” remonstrated Helen, “we are just thinking of you.”

Rupert looked up from his desk and the mountain of paperwork he had been working through. “Yes you are right, I need a break away.”

Helen was relieved that Rupert had seen that she was only trying to help. Rupert mentioned several places relatively close near London, but Helen knew his usual ploy of only going away near enough to the office so that he could return if necessary.

“How about Cornwall?” suggested Helen.

“I don’t really know anywhere there,” said Rupert.

“I can suggest St Mawes on the south coast near Falmouth, I know a beautiful hotel there.”

There was a long pause while Rupert thought. In the back of his mind was a dilemma, he didn’t want to stay in a hotel on holiday alone and now he had essentially lost contact with nearly all of his friends. For years he had had a one-track mind, work, work, work essentially. An aunt had left Rupert in her will quite a bit of money, this had enable him to set up this business, but it had won him few friends with many in his family who begrudged being excluded from the will. Many in the family no longer talked to him as if it was his fault. This is why he could not fail in business, he worked tirelessly every day quite often late at night and over the weekend to satisfy the often unreasonable demands of many of his clients.

Rupert opened his leather bound address book. The entries were made in pencil so that they could be changed easily. He dialled a few numbers, left messages on their answerphone machines, and in a few cases spoke to people surprised to hear from him. They were surprised to hear from Rupert because he had disappeared off the radar for all intents and purposes years ago. Most friends knew that he was running a technology business in the West End but apart from that they had not stayed in touch. Rupert was however now inviting them for a long weekend away with him in Cornwall; his treat, his way of saying sorry for not keeping in touch over the years. Within a few hours Rupert had four old friends committed to coming away with him over the Easter bank holiday. Two couples and an old school friend who he had stopped seeing a while ago because he had never got on well with his former girlfriend. It was all planned.

 

Early in the morning

A loud thud was heard as the car skidded off the narrow road through bleached wooden lattice farm fencing a few miles away from the waterside St Just’s church situated in a semi-tropical garden on the Roseland Peninsula. The car’s rapid loss of control in the unlit darkness of the narrow road was due to a fresh and substantial deposit of agricultural mud, which had caused the road on the sharp bend to become uncontrollably slippery. The young man driving the car was almost immediately knocked unconscious when the car came to an abrupt halt against a spindly tree on the edge of the grazing meadow. Lights went on in the neighbouring farmhouse a few hundred yards away and soon the farmer and his family in tow appeared in their nightclothes to see if they could assist. An ambulance was called for from Truro; being night time the King Harry Ferry was not operating making it impossible for an ambulance from the geographically nearer Falmouth hospital to negotiate the Fal River. The Truro ambulance had a longer eight mile journey but with little traffic in the early hours of the morning it arrived fairly quickly. The paramedics assessed the situation quickly and stretchered the patient strapped onto a spinal board into their waiting ambulance for the return journey to Truro hospital…

 

Later that same day

Helen rested her head in her hands; she was not sure what to do now. She had just received a telephone call from the Truro police and the news was not good, in fact quite devastating. She half blamed herself for persuading Rupert to go, but then on the other hand the police had mentioned to her that they suspected him of speeding along the narrow country roads to try to make up time.

Typical of him she thought to finish everything on his desk before setting off and then speeding to make up the time. The police had said Rupert was completely unconscious and that the doctors had told them it was still unclear whether he would regain consciousness again and if he did what state he may be left in.

Helen decided to say nothing to anyone yet. Business would go on, clients were booked in for several weeks to come. Things should be fine.

The Architect

(Sample first chapter)

CHAPTER ONE

Near Midnight, London 1983

The architect was lying in bed. He had already been asleep for some while after a particularly long and tiring day. He woke because he could now hear voices directly below his bedroom window. Loud, annoying, arguing voices, a man’s and a woman’s distinctive voices. They didn’t just pass by as he hoped; they were now just standing below and outside his house. He at first tried curling his pillow around his ears in an attempt to deafen the sound, it helped a little, but he could still hear these inconsiderate people. Suddenly he had enough, he leapt out of bed in the near darkness only punctuated by a nearby street lamp and then threw up the sash window that faced the street, “PLEASE WILL YOU BE QUIET,” he shouted out loudly.

There was suddenly complete silence, like he had turned off a switch. His eyes being still quite sleepy made it hard to focus properly to see if they had gone away. He crawled back into bed, pleased at his success. He had only slumbered a few minutes when he could hear the man again. Not so loud this time, but still just below his bedroom window. Then the woman started replying. From somewhere in his sleepy subconscious he thought he could recognise this second voice, the possibility; woke him up with a sudden start. He had really had enough by now. Pulling on his nearby tracksuit in the relative darkness, he bounded down the stairs and flung the front door wide open.

The architect was about to shout something to rid himself of these people disturbing his sleep, but almost instantly he recognised a person’s voice he knew. He immediately became quite stiff, defensive and strangely speechless, his mouth fell open but nothing came out of it.

He just looked in disbelief. It finally was the woman that spoke first, “It’s you John … I didn’t know you lived here.”

Anger then welled up inside the architect, “Thanks to you Ruth, I now do. Go away, leave me alone.” He closed the front door quickly; he really didn’t want to say any more to this person. He felt ill with the shock; his legs no longer seemed to hold him. He gradually slumped down behind the closed panelled door until he was actually kneeling behind it. After a minute or two he slowly stood up; an eye instinctively found and then looked through the small spyglass inserted in the front door. The people outside were not close; all he could really see was the distinctive shadows of two people in the distance. After seemingly a few minutes they moved away down the street towards the main road.

The next morning, there was a knock on the architect’s front door. John Peck lives towards the end of a predominantly Georgian road with properties on both sides in north London. At this part of the cul de sac there were also located a few shop premises. His house frontage ran close to the narrow pavement with a high walled garden to one side, which filled the gap in the building line, shielding what was over the other side of the wall from any passing prying eyes.

He was having his breakfast in the kitchen still dressed in his tee shirt and pyjama bottoms. When he heard the front door ring, he put down his toast and walked through the hall expecting it to be the postman with a parcel, but when he opened the front door he saw instead standing there what seemed to him a very young policeman. He thought immediately to himself the old adage; apparently one sign of getting older is that policemen start to look a lot younger.

The policeman seemed very efficient when he started talking, he said he was asking all the houses in the street whether they had seen or heard anything strange happening late last night. The policeman explained that they were asking all the local residents because a person had been found nearby.

Not imagining in a million years the policeman would be interested in what had happened to him last night, or even would be remotely concerned about his disturbed sleep, the architect didn’t mention the incident at all. He thought instead about telling someone in some authority about the seemingly constant plague of noisy diners using the nearby restaurant, but then he thought better of the idea, this policeman was not the right person to complain to at all.

Perhaps detecting from the conversation that the man was not telling him everything he knew, the policeman said he was not to concern himself unduly, but if he should remember anything later then he can always contact him at the police station. He handed over a business card before walking off down the road to knock on the door of the next house.

As he closed the door, thoughts came flooding back which left him feeling churned up inside again. He still felt strangely nervous when he remembered about the unexpected encounter he had had in the street; that had unfortunately brought back painful memories which had until now almost been forgotten.

The architect had a problem where he lived; the road outside day and night was now constantly blighted by having a popular restaurant along it. When he had been forced to downsize a few years ago, the parking situation had not been too bad. But then it all changed for the worse when they hired a chef that made a name for himself. He had many good write-ups and now the road in recent years seemed constantly under siege from many generally inconsiderate clientele who as often than not cause a nuisance trying to find somewhere to park. Annoyingly most of the surrounding properties with their well-kept gardens in the residential streets leading off this road seem relatively untouched by this parking problem despite being entirely similar late Georgian houses. The properties along his particular road always had been amongst the cheapest in the immediate area, that really was one of the main reasons he was able to afford it.

These days he just worked from home, gone was the time when he had an impressive office and employed people. The dispute with Ruth who he’d accidentally met on the street last night had changed all that. He had lost a lot of money fighting it and also his reputation. He had to downsize completely, fortunately he still had a few good loyal contacts in the building industry and they now ensured he was never really short of work, but that woman had changed everything for him and in many ways he had all been his fault.

Later that day, he popped out to buy the evening newspaper, as was his normal habit he would always read it from cover to cover. Hidden in a small paragraph towards the middle, amongst the more minor news stories, his eyes only really noticed it because they mentioned his road. There was an article concerning what the policeman had talked to him about this morning; an individual had been found nearby. He was surprised that it was already being mentioned in the press. It just really said; a person had been found by the roadside, no other details. Later that day, there was also a short and more shocking story on the local television news. It gave no specific details except the revelation that a woman had been found dead in suspicious circumstances quite near to where he lived.

John Peck was now very much a loner, this had happened since he had moved into the road. He didn’t want anyone to know about his past misfortune and judge him accordingly because of it. Therefore he kept himself to himself and said as little as possible. When he met a neighbour there was always a polite greeting but he never talked about himself, not even what he did. He just listened, over time he knew pretty much everything there was to know about his neighbours as a result. People in the road as a consequence invented a romanticised lifestyle for him, which he never confirmed or denied. He lived the part of the eccentric bachelor mainly because of the unusual colourful clothes he normally wore, the modern furniture people could see through his windows and even the bright colour of his front door.

He started to prepare his supper. On checking his larder he realised that he was totally out of onions, a vital ingredient for the dish he was making. Annoyed he would now have to face the gossipy woman in the corner shop again. A few minutes later whilst patiently queuing in the shop behind another customer before being served himself, he could not help but overhear the two women’s conversation in front. They were talking about the body that had been discovered nearby. He listened intently in case they knew any more than had been on the television news.

What he learnt was that the dead woman had apparently been a customer that night in the restaurant next door. The restaurant manager had told her in the utmost confidence when he had popped in earlier to buy cigarettes that the police had called him some hours before and intended to interview all his staff that had been in the restaurant that evening as soon as they arrived for work.