April 2019 Competition Winner

Posted 4 months ago under Uncategorised,

Lucy Tertia George is a writer and performer, born in Sheffield in the North of England, now living in London. Her first novel THREE WOMEN was published in October 2018 by Starhaven Press.

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THIS IS NOT A GAME

Clive and Gloria had been married 22 years, 7 months and three days. Long enough to have settled into a routine; a routine that involved Clive following instructions set out by Gloria that kept things running like clockwork. She wrote lists. A pad stuck to the fridge held reminders for the day. Book in car for MOT, call Dot about dog grooming, defrost two turkey fillets. The pad was blue with yellow lines and a motivational statement at the bottom of each page.

The fact that the pad had been used for anything other than its intended purpose added insult to injury. But there it was, on the kitchen table, that day’s list missing and instead a roughly written note that read, ‘WE HAVE YOUR HUSBAND, THIS IS NOT A GAME. DO NOT GO TO THE POLICE. AWAIT INSTRUCTIONS.’ She didn’t recognise the penmanship. With large letters, written in a biro that seemed to be running out of ink, the note took up the full page, overlapping the quote of the day: ‘There can’t be a rainbow without a little rain – Dolly Parton’.

Gloria rang her brother. She had always been proud to tell people that Martin, older by two years, one month and 11 days, worked in law enforcement. In fact, he’d just been promoted. He was now deputy head of security at UCastle, Leeds’ most affordable self-storage facility. He was on a day shift when he received Gloria’s frantic call. He sensed the urgency, taped a ‘back in an hour’ sign onto the office door and raced over to his sister’s bungalow.

The siblings stood side by side in the kitchen staring at the note.

“Have you touched it?” Martin asked.

“I don’t think so.”

“Fingerprints,” Martin said, and Gloria felt better for having him with her. Especially when the phone rang.

Martin directed Gloria to answer on speakerphone and used his Samsung Galaxy to record the conversation. Ringing from an unknown number, the kidnapper’s voice was muffled. He asked for 600 quid. He knew they were good for it. Gloria should take him seriously and get the money that same day. She should not call the police.

After the kidnapper hung up, Martin checked that his recording was saved, labelled it ‘exhibit one’ and then dialled 999.

“He said not to call the police,” Gloria was panicky.

“I need back up,” Martin said, and she knew he was right.

“My dear sweet husband,” Gloria whimpered.

 

Clive’s heart was racing. The carriage was packed. Even if they hadn’t been wearing gold, white and blue he would have recognised his own people from the songs. ‘Na na na na na na.’ It was enough to bring a tear to his eye. Once he passed Long Eaton and felt at a safe distance, he unzipped his anorak to show off his own Leeds United strip and joined in the next chorus. Someone offered him a can. He had promised himself not to drink, to keep sharp, but it was hard to resist. When the train pulled into Kings Cross, Clive was a little unsteady on his feet and his face had been painted blue on one side. It was a bit more Braveheart than he would have liked but the guy who was doing the decorating had run out of supplies.

 

Police Constable Sangita Patel was no fresh-faced rookie. This wasn’t even her first kidnapping. Martin led her into the kitchen where his sister was sitting with the poodle on her lap. The first thing the constable noticed was the state of the place – immaculate. No forced entry, no damage to property. She could hear the brother giving a blow by blow account, but she didn’t respond. These first few minutes were vital. It’s when her unbiased view was able to pick out the anomalies, when she was using her instinct to spot things that later would help bring about a criminal charge. PC Patel clocked the ransom note, the back door to the garden, Gloria’s roots showing grey against an auburn rinse, the seedlings in empty yoghurt pots behind the sink and the dog panting; it probably needed a walk. What she didn’t see was any sign of foul play.

“Constable, I have taken the liberty of gathering things I thought would be useful.” It was Martin speaking. He was keen. He had set out a photograph and a hairbrush on the counter. “This is what he looks like, and I guess you can use this for DNA. Of course, we can find some dirty clothes if you need to give the dogs a scent.”

“The dogs?” Gloria squeaked.

“Search and rescue,” Martin looked over to PC Patel. “My sister is out of her depth, but I assure you she’s not going to be a hostile witness.”

“Mrs Vernon?” PC Patel spoke, finally, in a soft voice, with each word measured out to maximise understanding. “How do you think the kidnappers entered your house to leave this note?”

Martin stepped forward. “By my reckoning,” he was pulling on a pair of Marigold gloves, “they used the back door. There’s a key that’s easy to find in the drain pipe just here.” Martin, with protected hands, opened the door and gestured to the key’s hiding place. “It’s there now, they must have put it back before they left.”

“Don’t you think it’s strange that they returned the key?” said the police constable.

“You’re right,” said Martin. “Professionals.”

“When did you last see your husband?” Constable Patel had started taking notes.

Gloria looked confused, but she struggled on. “We were going to the garden centre today, so I got up early to take Misty for her walkies. It was about 9 o’clock when I got back, and the house was empty.”

“And Mr Vernon?”

“Well, he was gone. I’d left him with his cereal.”

PC Patel looked up from her notes to see Martin pointing emphatically to the bowl, washed and upside down on the draining board.

“Did the man say when he’d be calling back?”

“No. Oh, I can’t imagine what Clive’s going through right now.”

Martin could see Gloria was getting upset and suggested putting on the tellie to distract them while they waited for the next call. The TV on the kitchen counter switched straight to the sports channel. It didn’t put PC Patel off her questioning.

“How would you say things are between you and your husband?”

“We have our troubles, like anyone. He’s pretty set in his ways,” Gloria felt embarrassed to air ‘dirty washing’ to this stranger. “He doesn’t like to travel.”

“Is that a problem?”

“I want to go on a cruise, but he just won’t. I did get a little upset about that a few days ago. I said, ‘it’s been 19 months and two weeks since we’ve been out of Leeds.’ I remember saying that. Oh, I’d take it back now if I could.”

Martin put out an arm to pat his sister’s shoulder. “Don’t upset yourself, love,” he said, his eyes now fixed on the football game on the TV.

“Last night we had a lovely time,” Gloria continued. “We watched a DVD, then he made us an Ovaltine while I did the sandwiches for today.” Gloria put her hand to her mouth in horror, looking at the sideboard.

“Missing,” she mumbled.

“What’s missing?”

“Two cheese and pickle sarnies and a tangerine.”

 

The tangy pickle hit Clive’s tongue and brought him back to reality. He’d had a drink at The Globe in Baker Street, been photographed with a police horse and then taken the tube to Wembley. But he couldn’t relax yet. Before he went through the turnstiles, he tucked into his sandwich and scouted around for a payphone. He still had to call Bradley to confirm the final step of the plan.

He’d met Bradley at his local although his friend had stopped drinking after his mum became a Jehovah’s Witness. Since that point, and while Bradley was living under her roof, she’d banned alcohol from their lives. It was this strict rule that had given Clive the opportunity to have one over on Bradley. Bradley’s mother had found a half-quaffed bottle of Sambuca in her son’s room and, to save himself eviction, Bradley had blamed Clive. Clive acted contrite the next time he visited, withstood the lecture, took a handful of leaflets and even promised to visit Kingdom Hall. With that kind of ‘money in the bank’ Clive knew he could rely on Bradley to do him a serious favour and pick up the six hundred pounds Gloria would leave, as instructed, behind the recycling bins in the Toys R Us car park. Sandwich finished, Clive spotted a copper and went over to ask if there was a phone in the area.

 

When the second call came in, PC Patel had written questions for Gloria to read out. ‘Can you confirm Clive is safe?’, ‘Can I speak to Clive?’ Gloria followed her instructions mechanically, but the kidnapper was cagey, getting frustrated and pleading that she just ‘go with the bloody plan.’ When he hung up, they didn’t have much more detail, just a landline number recorded in the mobile and a location for the ransom drop off.

PC Patel took the phone from Gloria and gave her an encouraging smile. “You’re doing fine,” she said. “Just one more question for now. How are you expected to get six hundred pounds out of the bank today? It’s Saturday.”

Gloria sat in silence for a moment then her face went from concern to delight. “I have money upstairs,” Gloria said. “I’m the stand-in treasurer of the Christmas Club for the Close but I haven’t had a chance to put the money in the building society yet, so it’s upstairs tucked in my bedside table. That’s six hundred and nineteen pounds and one euro. Shall I get it?”

“Not yet,” said PC Patel, moving out of the kitchen and into the sun room.

“I don’t know who paid with a euro,” Gloria was saying as the constable pulled the door shut.

PC Patel could hear the crowd of spectators on TV yelling after a penalty. She moved towards the window and called her superior.

Given her track record, it was disappointing to PC Patel that her Superintendent didn’t take her more seriously. She told him her opinion of what had unfolded that morning at 17 Helen Worth Close.

“You have a hunch?” Her supervisor was dismissive. “Until you know more, just follow protocol.”

When PC Patel went back into the kitchen, she realised something had happened. The dog was down on the floor barking and Gloria and Martin were wrestling for the remote control.

Martin spun back the TV images to return to the previous goal and the camera’s scan of the crowd. With precision, he paused at the frame they had spotted the first time: The crowd going wild and, in the middle, Clive, his shirt up over his head, his belly, a blancmange of joy, his face smeared blue. He was roaring and jiggling, and he looked happier than Gloria had ever seen him.

 

Gloria was allowed one visit to Clive in the two days, seven hours and 14 minutes he was held for wasting police time.

They sat opposite each other, with a table between them. Clive had tears in his eyes.

“It got out of hand,” he said. “It started as a bit of a joke, but when everything fell into place, I just went along with it. I didn’t know you’d call the police.”

“I thought your life was in danger,” Gloria’s voice was not warm. “I can’t understand why you did it? If you wanted to go to the match I wouldn’t have stood in your way. Haven’t I always let you do what you want?”

Clive nodded mournfully.

“That time you wanted to visit Christmas Wonderland in Bingley and I’d said it was a waste of time and you still went, and you found that it was …

“A waste of time,” he concluded.

Gloria noticed her husband looked thinner, the bags under his eyes had darkened and his nails were bitten to the quick.

“They wrote a story about you in The Gazette, you know,” said Gloria. “No one can understand why you did it?”

“I wanted to take you on that cruise,” he said at last. “But we can’t afford it.”

“You are a stupid bloody idiot,” she said but her voice had lost its ice.

“I know I have to face everyone at the Close and I promise to tell them how sorry I am.”

“You will,” Gloria looked at her husband and wondered how she was going to unravel the mess he’d made.

“I know there’s so many people to apologise to – the policewoman, your brother, the neighbours. Oh, I’m so ashamed.”

“You have to speak to every single one,” Gloria shook her head as if she was scolding Misty for wetting the rug.

“I know,” Clive gingerly reached out for his wife’s hand. “Do you think you could do me a list?”

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