The Bermuda Triangle. It’s been written about to death. Pardon the pun. If all the experts in the world and Wikipedia subscribers can’t come up with an explanation then how am I…? I could say some kind of boat-eating creature but then that would be as ridiculous as… well, the Loch Ness Monster. And even I know that doesn’t exist.
Talking to my editor is never a pleasant experience. She’s too much like my mother. Well, not mine necessarily but a mother. She’s… mothering, smothering. But she pays the bills so she is ‘she who must be obeyed’ so that’s what I do.
At least this time she’s given me a month to do it. And £5000. She never gives me that kind of budget. Unless she… oh no. She wants me to go there. Without ordering me. Sending me to my doom. That wouldn’t tick her Health & Safety boxes.
I guess I could go to the area, interview the locals, get their spin on it. A couple of weeks on a tropical island wouldn’t hurt. I could do a quick piece. 20K doesn’t actually take long when you get going. I’ve done NaNoWriMo three times. It’s that 50,000 words in a month, you know… start 1st November, stop 31st with 50,000 words (or more in my case) in between. 30. Of course. See, I can’t even remember that November hath 30 days, and all that.
So as I was saying, a couple of weeks on a tropical island… is Bermuda tropical? At least that’s geography not science… sort of.
OK, let’s see. All-inclusive packages. A week? No. Who goes somewhere like that for a week? Three weeks, that’s more like it. God, that’s cheap. Oh yeah, I see why now. Tonight. Well, I suppose I could. Nothing stopping me here. No animals, plants half-dead anyway, and I could get Mrs Roberts… Robbins? Robinson? to come in and water them. I’ve got a spare key under the mat. Yeah, I know, not very original. There’s nothing much to steal anyway but that’s not the point. I should move it. Well, I will when I give it to… Her garden’s immaculate so she might get them blooming again. Or take them hostage. She can keep them, I don’t mind. I’ll probably get plastic ones, or silk – they’re nicer; less… shiny.
OK. So, nine pm it is. That gives me… be at the airport for seven… can’t be doing with being late. Some people don’t like all that hanging around and they’d rather queue than check in and do a bit of take-your-time shopping. Latest bestseller, cosy chair, a beer, a nice barmaid to chat to.
So, 7pm there, 6pm leave. That gives me… yes, seven hours. Shower, pack… that’s easy. Jeans to travel, shorts and loud t-shirts… look like a tourist. Foreigners love spilling their deepest darkest secrets if they think there’s some money in it. And with a budget like mine that’ll buy a lot of wagging tongues. Four and a half grand left. And Nance won’t be expecting many receipts. We do what we have to in this line of work. Beats accounting. That’s what I used to do, by the way; Finance Manager for a small and not very successful stationery company. Got out before they went under. Of course I was best placed to see that, wasn’t I? I’d been doing this on the side for a while so had built up a bit of a nest egg already. I know what you’re thinking; finance, a position of trust, siphon something off the top but I’m not like that. Some are, granted, but not me. Straight as a dye, whatever that means… metalwork? Oh, thanks Google. That’s why I turned in that couple – at the tennis court. Well, it wasn’t fair on the dog. Just because I don’t have one myself it doesn’t mean…
So now the only figures I want to be staring at all day are bikini-clad ones. Long, lean, tanned ones. Mismatching tops and bottoms with just a little of their bottoms… OK, you get the picture.
It’s good to be home… nothing missing. Not that Mrs… whatever-her-name-is is that type but I had expected the plants… hello boys, you are looking healthy. Glad I brought her something back now.
The article’s done, emailed to the wicked witch, good old Wi-Fi. It seems obvious now you think about it; City of Atlantis underneath the Bermuda Triangle. All those people heading down to the city that doesn’t sleep. Now that was a holiday I won’t forget in a hurry.
Sophie had expected green eyes. The advert had promised her that. And it’s not that they weren’t attractive; they were actually stunning, made more so by the incredibly long matching eyelashes, but she’d have preferred a human body to be attached to them.
The advert had also said ‘unique’ and again it was telling the truth. It had just left out the fact that when it said ‘male’ the other options were female, antine and provine. Not that Sophie had known that this particular species of non-human had four genders until Yemandis had told her… along with the history of his planet, ancestors and some of their more peculiar customs.
It was with relief then that the waiter had brought the bill and Yemandis had insisted on paying for the entire dinner… all sixteen courses. Well, he did have ten foot concertina-style legs to fill. And even more of a relief when he looked her in the eyes; her two human blue ones with his six Antifden green ones and said, “I’m sorry Sophie, it’s not you, it’s me.”
“What do you want to do when you grow up, Amelia?” Samuel Earhart asked his daughter.
“I want to fly.”
“No, I mean as a career… a job… something you get paid for, honey.”
“Yes Pop, I wanna fly.”
“Women don’t fly, dear. People don’t fly.”
“Some do, son,” Amelia’s grandfather corrected. “There’s a man in Australia, Lawrence Hargrave, who’s been flying a box-kite glider for a few years now. And only last year, no, the year before, 1901, a man… now what was his name… a German… Gustave something, here in the US. Fairfax it was, Connecticut, I remember now, Gustave Whitehead. It made me laugh, his name, because of my white hair. I read somewhere that he’d made a powered flight. But I’m not sure. They say there are some brothers… two, I think, in… Indiana, who are doing the same thing. I think they’re gonna be quite successful. Like you, Amelia. You can do whatever you want to do.”
“Do you really think so, Grandpa?”
“Of course, dear. Put your mind to it and the world is… yours for the taking.”
“Really?” Amelia asked, wide-eyed.
“Sure. Why not?”
“Have you been outside of Kansas, Grandpa?”
“I have, Amelia,” her grandfather said enthusiastically.
“I’ll leave you two to it,” Amelia’s father said, getting out of his chair and leaving the room.
Oblivious, Amelia stared into her grandfather’s eyes. “Tell me where.”
“Ooh, all over, sugar.”
“Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming… even been to California once.”
The smile disappeared from the little girl’s face. “Only America?”
“Oh no,” her grandfather beamed. “I’ve been everywhere.”
Amelia leaned forward and whispered, “You have?”
Her grandfather nodded seriously. “I have Amelia, everywhere.”
The old man tapped his temple. “In here, Amelia, you can go anywhere your imagination will take you. You dream big, Amelia, and there’ll be nothing stopping you.”
Amelia giggled, clapped her hands then leaned forward to kiss her grandfather’s left cheek, making the old man blush.
Noreen wasn’t a party person. One thing she was though was neighbourly and a party to welcome a neighbour’s friend sounded as if it might be alright. “Mexico? Where Evie lives? Does she speak English?”
“Pretty sure she does,” Noreen’s husband had assured her. “Sounds like fun, shame I’ll miss it.”
“Steve wants me in for a few hours.”
“Brian! I can’t go on my own.”
“Why not? You’ll know everyone there. It’s just for the street.”
“But I don’t speak Mexican.”
“You know I’m not good with languages, Brian.”
“But you’re good with people, dear. Just speak slowly, clearly, with lots of hand gestures and you’ll be fine. Practice for when your sister visits.”
“But that’s six months away and she’ll still be able to speak English.” Noreen paused. “She will, won’t she? Twelve years isn’t long enough to forget, is it?”
Brian shook his head so Noreen turned the conversation back to the party. “And they’ve given us no notice. I haven’t really got anything to wear.”
“How about your anniversary dress? That’s pretty.”
“But that’s just for us.”
“And the other diners in the restaurant.”
“I suppose so, but…”
“You go, dear. You’ll have a great time. Think of me, stuck in front of a boring computer.”
“And what about food?”
“Just a sandwich will be fine. I can make it, while you get…”
“No, I mean to take with me. Won’t they expect me…?”
“It’s normally bring a bottle but if you did want to…”
“There’s a Banoffee pie in the freezer.”
“Perfect. My favourite, but perfect.”
“I can find something else.”
Brian laughed. “You’re worrying about nothing. You’ll go, take the pie with you and I’ll end up coming to find you because you won’t want to come home. OK, maybe not. Well, you go and get changed while I make my sandwich. I’ll dig out the pie so it can be defrosting. Don’t be surprised if there’s a piece… it’s OK, I’m only joking, although if there is some left…”
“Then I’ll bring a piece home with me.”
So Noreen went upstairs, put on her ‘anniversary’ dress; a delightful floor-length red number with intricate birds of paradise embroidered into the heavy silk.
She walked into the kitchen just as Brian was putting his sandwich into a clear food bag. The pie lay on a plate by the kettle.
“I can’t wear this,” Noreen said, just as he opened his mouth to speak.
“I’d forgotten how beautiful you look in that.”
“But it’s too much.”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“You’ll be the belle of the ball, that’s for sure. Make an impression.”
He put his sandwich into his rucksack, walked over to his wife, took her hand, palm-down like an old-fashioned royal, and kissed it. “OK now?”
“Excellent. Well, I’m ready too so why don’t I walk you there?”
“Brian, it’s three doors down.”
“We can’t have you looking like that with no escort, even if it is for five seconds. Besides, with the pie and a bottle of wine, how are you going to ring the bell?”
“I don’t think they have one.”
“You do have a point.”
“Exactly. I’ll get the wine, you get the pie, I’ve put it on a plate.”
“Are you sure I shouldn’t get changed?”
“No, love, you look lovely. A knockout.”
She blushed, a shade lighter than her dress.
Brian locked the door then followed Noreen to number 17. She still looked nervous as she approached the front door. From the noise inside, it was evident that the party was already in full swing.
As she was about to knock, a grinning Roger opened the door. “Brian! Noreen! I’m so glad you could make it. Do come in and meet my temporary houseguest.”
“Brian can’t stay, I’m afraid, Roger.” Noreen said. “He’s been called into work but…” She stopped talking as a tall, tanned svelte figure walked down the hall towards her. Brian, anticipating his wife’s reaction, handed Roger the bottle of wine and Banoffee pie then shut the door just as she screamed at her sister.
So she was there. Laura. I wish I’d looked harder now. If I’d known he hadn’t phoned her, had sent a letter that hadn’t reached her, I’d have found her, gone over, and said something. Invited her to ours. Only I saw Emma and little Daisy from the ship and well, I couldn’t take my eyes off them and was just… oblivious to my surroundings. Which is not what we’re trained to do but you don’t expect to be looking for anyone else at something like that, do you? The crowd was just that… a crowd. Sure, I’d spotted other women I recognised but once I’d seen Emma, that was it. Focused. Honed in. Homed in.
Guilty? Yes, very. I should have looked for her. To tell her. But I didn’t know. And I know what you’re thinking; that it’s my fault he was out there. You’re not wrong. I said I could wait. That she’d send me photos. Wouldn’t miss much, Daisy being so young and all, but Johnny insisted. He was like that. Said he wouldn’t miss much either, but I knew that wasn’t true. He’d been out there longer than me but he loved it. Loved her of course too, but work was his obsession. It’s the adrenalin. Unless you’re in a job like ours, you can’t understand.
He left before I woke up so I didn’t get to say “goodbye”. That’s the worst bit. I wanted to say “goodbye”, and “thank you”. Again. He said once was enough but I don’t think he knew how much it had meant to me. Means to me. OK, so he didn’t give his life for me, as such, but if he hadn’t of… no, I know. You can never tell. He could have had Plan A; seen her, returned out there and then… only they would have had that time, wouldn’t they? The time that Emma and I are having… well, will have. For a month anyway. Yeah, she’s scared. She always has been, will be, but doesn’t say anything. I can see it in her eyes though. The green eyes that said “could have been you,” when I told her the news. Before Laura. I’m sorry for that too. A wife should always be the first person to find out. Nearer the top than someone she briefly met at a birthday party.
It was terrible, breaking the news. She knew it though, as soon as she opened the door. Invited Mick and I to come in but not to say anything. I couldn’t anyway. Done it before but it wasn’t the same. Had to leave it to Mick. He was more professional about the whole thing. Detached. Not really known Johnny. Not like I did.
I asked her if she wanted us to phone anyone but she shook her head. I don’t know who she has now but admin will sort that out. Help her. Send a woman to sit with her, give her someone experienced to talk with. They’re better at dealing with that kind of thing. Women. Except Emma, but then she’s bound to be emotional, with Daisy and that.
And Laura? Don’t know. She comes across as strong, independent. I think she’ll be fine… in time. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Time. You get used to waiting in our profession. Them here, us out there in a strange country that becomes familiar. They wait for us to come home, we wait at home to go back.
It’s deathly quiet wherever you are and if you get used to that, then that’s half the battle, isn’t it?
Joe was a regular kind of guy. Regular name, job (and therefore income), stature, looks.
Like anyone he loved holidays and preferred sun, sand and Sangria to exploring the deepest outbacks, a wildlife trek or climbing mountains. Every summer he and his three mates Tom, Richard and Bill would go to the travel agents, look in their window and pick something from the top row. As long as it was hot and had a beach they were happy. They could muck around anywhere. During that week their wives would do their own things; a sun holiday elsewhere, a spa pamper package or shopping trip to an out-of-town retail outlet village.
With the girls already booked at a Scottish castle, the guys stood outside their local travel agents.
“I can’t see anything beachy,” Richard said.
“Me neither,” Tom agreed.
“Do we have to stick with the top row?” Bill asked.
“That’s the rule,” Joe reminded them.
“I’m going inside,” Richard said, Tom following him.
“But there’s nothing there,” Bill moaned to Joe as they continued to stare at the cards in the window.
“Yeah, on the second, third…”
“We always stick to the top.”
“Well, maybe this year…”
“And it’s worked out, hasn’t it? Maybe it’s time to do something different.” Joe pointed to the middle card on the top row. “There’s a shooting trip to Kenya.”
“I don’t think it’s that kind of shoot. Photography I’d say. They wouldn’t let you kill…”
“No, you’re right, Joe, they wouldn’t.”
“And the animals are in their natural habitat.”
“I suppose so.”
“Shame… it would have worked out some of Richard’s frustration.”
“He’s not told you?”
Bill shook his head.
“Mandy’s had an affair.”
“Yeah, last summer. The only year you… when we were in…”
“Malaga. And he’s still coming away with us this year?”
“She said it was a one-off.”
“She’s always been a bit… when did he find out?”
“Last week! How?”
“Found some incriminating evidence apparently.”
“I don’t know. A note or something. I’m not sure he knows who the guy is but…”
“And let’s hope he never finds out.”
“Well…” Bill hesitated. “It might be someone he knows.”
“His friends wouldn’t do that to him.”
“If he did something first.”
“OK, let’s take that one then,” Bill said, changing the subject, then lead the way, pulling at the shop door.
“It says ‘push’, Bill.”
The two men walked into the travel agent and headed for Tom and Richard.
Tom pointed to a brown-coloured brochure. “We’ve found the perfect holiday.”
“Oh yes?” Joe smiled.
“Yeah!” Richard grinned. “Trip to Kenya. Big hulking animals…” Then he turned to Bill. “And even bigger guns.”