No word from Chuck Wendig this week, so I’ve picked another title from those left a couple of weeks ago. This was Rebecca’s title, and it’s a 1750 word story, just for the hell of it. My view of hell features in the Viridian System Sampler, which you can get for 99c from Smashwords, and from there I took inspiration from Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. If you haven’t seen that, do.
Walking Backwards into Hell
Don’t believe what they tell you. Hell has frozen over already. I’m not dressed for it. Neither is anyone else in this section. We’re all here, doomed forever to chillblains, bits dropping off through gangrene (and they are back next day in an eternal cycle), uncontrollable shivering and icicles up our noses.
What’s worse, we can jostle against our fellow inmates to get to the door onto perpetual sunshine. Not perpetual, since they have night-time too, but from where we shiver, watching their dried up husks lying on the sunbeds, the beach is paradise. I dare say they’d like to be able to move around and get cold, too. That’s hell for you. And they can’t get to the beach bar, because of the sharks in the pool. A guy called Charlie, who I used to know, tried it once. He was torn to shreds, or edible chunks, at any rate. And, like us with our extremities, he was back in one piece next day.
All over again.
“I sentence you to hang by the neck until you are dead, and may God have mercy on your soul.”
I laugh at the judge. God could go stuff himself. I would cheat death just as I had cheated the thousands of stupid idiots who had trusted me. It had been a risk, yes, but who wouldn’t?
The worse bit had been when they came for me, on the beach on Bora Bora. I wondered who had shopped me? There I was, with Anja and Karata beside me, and old Lord Fartsnort on the other side of the chess board. He’d been sounding off about the old days as usual, and hadn’t noticed my subtle repositioning of his king when he waved expansively at the pregnant palm trees, just waiting to drop their nuts. Karata was the first to notice the commotion at the gates to the exclusive compound. I had been keeping an eye on a fishing boat out in the bay, that had thrown nets over its side, but didn’t somehow match the usual pattern of our local boys – throw, spread, haul, stack fish, throw again, over and over for about an hour before they were done for the day. Bora Bora was like that – full of the necessities of life, just there for the collection.
Today it turned out I was the one who was ready for collection. And strangely enough, I had thought myself safe. I hadn’t set up an escape route. After all, there was nowhere left to escape to.
The realisation that I was caught, well and truly, was when the local police surrounded me and two FBI agents (or whatever) flashed their IDs, read me my rights while fixing the handcuffs on me, then nodded politely to Lord Fartsnort.
The bastard nodded to them in return, twinkled his gammy eye at me and said:
“You don’t really think I was that stupid, did you?”
Then he whipped out the white contact lens, tore off the straggly beard, and stood up straighter than he’d been for years. Police Inspector Marchant of the Yard, pensioned off after my last heist, ridiculed for failing to capture my alter ego after the Train Robbery, and working under cover ever since. As a long con, he’d pulled it off superbly.
“Just once more, honey, ple-ease?”
How can I not give in to her. I know she has me twisted around her little finger, but it’s an easy way to make her happy, and if she’s happy, I’m happy. If it wasn’t for the fact she uses that line herself, I really would be happy.
The villa at Mandelieu was on a headland just behind the casino. Not a big headland, just enough to break up the beach that ran east all the way to Cannes. To the west it got rockier, with more isolated bays and cliffs. Isolated was useful in my business, but access to the nightlife was also important. I mean, if you’ve got it, you flaunt it, at least here. Privacy at home, ostentation in public. Oh, I had to pay the local police a nice sweetener to keep their noses away, but that was fine, they were used to their secondary sources of funds, and I was no different from hundreds of others. I’d tried Sicily for a while, but the difficulty of the language plus the tensions caused by illegal immigration, human trafficking, the Mafia and the local law enforcement meant that I’d taken the hint from the two established sides and opted for France.
So, we were in the casino, having a lovely evening. I was ready to call it a night and head for my bed. Honey wanted another spin of the roulette wheel. So I funded her another ten grand, and watched it ebb and flow. Honey was good at roulette. She had this sixth sense for trouble, which is why she’d been with me so long. I wouldn’t say I trusted her, but as good as. She had a nose for business which complemented mine. The red and black counters moved around, raked in, pushed out, sometimes in Honey’s direction. She stacked them, moved them onto other line intersections and numbers, and watched the ball as it settled, to the tinkle of the mechanism and the soft voice of the croupier: Deux, bas,rouge, and all the other combinations. Honey took her loss, having placed two grand on three, and sat the next spin out. Zero. How did she anticipate them? I didn’t know.
The voice at my shoulder was the voice of doom.
“M’sieur, it is possible that you and Madame have played enough this evening.”
I looked at the owner of the voice, smiled politely at the manager, looked up towards the table where the owner sat, and waved genially at him.
“Come on, Honey, time for bed,” I said, putting my hand to her elbow.
“Oh, no-oo. I’m having so much fun,” she pouted, but I nodded to the manager who moved to her other side, and together we helped her out, like she was a little unsteady on her feet from the champagne, rather than allowing her to look strong-armed away. In truth, it was a well-rehearsed manoeuvre. We enjoyed plenty of hospitality at the casino, and gave enough back. It was a win-win situation, since my other guests always enjoyed themselves hugely, with one in ten coming out a big winner. Visiting me was fun, with a chance of a cash bonus.
The manager slipped me a note as we left. I read it in the cold light of day, and met the owner back at his penthouse at four as suggested. It was kind of him to tip me off. The spread in Hello magazine to be published the next day would have brought me ruin. Stupid Charlie, selling his story to the media.
It was time to split.
“Okay, Charlie, good work,” I said, as I started pulling the paperwork out of the safe. I handed him an envelope with the terse instruction “burn those,” and carried on stuffing the share certificates, mostly blank, into a blue sack. He left and returned with a smoking ashcan, job done. Charlie was totally trustworthy, and I paid him well enough for him to stay that way.
I set the computer to reformat its hard drive, and took the SIMs out of the networked phones. My personal one went in my wallet, the rest went in my pocket to be distributed around any public trash cans I went past. Charlie set about vacuuming the office, and we both donned gloves, masks and those little shoe bootees as I got the wipers out to clean every surface. Good thing it was a small office. I remembered to go over the kitchen, toilet and doors to the front of the building too. When we’d finished, the gloves, masks and bootees went into the blue sack, and we headed for home – him with a large wad of notes from the safe, me with an attache case filled with the rest.
When the clients came knocking, nobody would be home.
“Well, of course, Inspector,” I said, as the police chief sat at my desk. “Securing one’s pension is the most important financial decision you can make – bar a little security for your dependents in the unfortunate even of your demise in the course of duty, of course.”
“That’s all taken care of by the force,” he replied, and I nodded, since I knew that. I also knew exactly what a police pension was worth. Good money, unless you are used to having a little more from, let’s call them ‘extra-curricular activities’. Marchant was from the era of protection money, and nobody thought much about it.
My investment business was sound. It produced steady returns, all above board, and if anyone needed to see the books, or have the firm audited, or even investigated by the FSA, there would be nothing to ring any alarm bells. I was totally trustworthy.
My holidays on beaches in the sun were always modest, even if the parties I had were extravagant. One had to build up a reputation for success, but temper it with the appearance of frugality. Clients did not want you to spend their money. So I didn’t. I invested it very wisely. They got regular returns, sometimes good, sometimes poor, but it was all in line with the stock market.
And I made absolutely sure that I was not connected with the person or persons unknown who robbed decent businesses that were on rocky ground, so making them excellent takeover targets for companies my clients invested in.
Taking the police inspector’s investments, followed by those of most of his colleagues and the Met’s Securities Club, was a delight for me, on a professional level of course, but mostly on a personal level. Yes, there were a couple of thousand old dears who had put the rest of their life savings with me after losing the other half to some other scam, or the Equitable Life, or Mirror Newspapers, which all had the same effect. But it was the secondary investment by the police that made me happy.
It kept me in holidays for years. You just have to be one step ahead, all the time. And I’ve always been good at that, since I watch my step and never fail to cover my traces. Nobody can track me backwards. I’ll see them in hell first.
© J M Pett 2015