Karma – A Short Story – Part 5

Dear Readers – so sorry for the delay in posting! In the last 4 weeks, I’ve lived in 4 different houses. I’m definitely over this gypsy lifestyle but I hope to be settled soon.

In the meantime, here’s Part 5 of Karma. Enjoy!

KARMA – A SHORT STORY – PART 5

Girl staring at seaCelia threw the package of drugs onto the kitchen table as soon as Hamish walked in at 6:30. He took one look at it and turned to leave. Then, as though reconsidering, Hamish walked slowly into the kitchen and slumped in a chair at the table, dropping his head into his hands.

“Oh God…Celia…” Hamish groaned

Celia stayed silent, waiting.

Hamish looked at her. “Go on. Tell me what an arsehole I am. Tell me you should never have agreed to marry me. Tell me what an utter, unbelievable fuck-up I am.”

Celia felt a wall inside of her give way before a sudden rush of emotion. His misery was genuine. She sat next to him and put an awkward arm around his hunched shoulders. “Hamish—” she began, not knowing what she was going to say next.

Hamish was shaking his head from side to side. When he looked at her, his eyes were wet. He grabbed her hand. “Celia. I want to tell you everything. I’m so sorry I’ve kept this from you. I should never have done it in the first place but it was unforgivable getting you involved and not telling you. Oh God!” He broke off and put his head in his hands again, pulling his hair as though he wanted to yank it out from its roots for penance.

“Tell me—”

His words came out in a rush as though he was getting rid of a terrible burden. “I met Vincent Grant about a year and a half ago…Terry and I had just started the business…you remember? It was tough and we were feeling a bit desperate. I mean, for God’s sake, we had no clients. None.”

Celia looked away. “I remember,” she said softly.

Hamish ran his hand through his hair again. “Terry and I were having coffee…Grant joined us. He knew Terry from the gym. He seemed a nice guy – friendly, interested…especially when he heard we were just starting our practice. He said he might be able to send a few clients our way—”

“But surely you knew about his past…about that Russian crim he supposedly killed in self-defence—”

“I know, I know. Terry told me at the time. But he said Vincent was ok. I supposed deep down I always wondered…but Grant was as good as his word. The next week, we actually scored some clients…good ones too. It meant we could pay the next month’s  rent—”

“But why didn’t you tell me any of this? I’m your fiancee! Why didn’t you share it with me?”

Hamish shrugged. “I was ashamed. I’d left (law firm) in a blaze of glory…I was the golden boy who was going to make it big on his own and never have to toe the corporate line or be somebody’s whipping boy. And Grant was actually making it possible.”

A sudden realisation hit her. Celia pulled her hand away. “You’re not saying the beach house is Grant’s too?”

Hamish shook his head vigorously. “No. No!”

“It is…admit it.”

“Damn you, no! I admit I found about it through one of the clients Grant put our way. But it was part of a marriage settlement. The guy’s wife had walked out on him right after her built it for her. He was determined that she wasn’t going to live in it with her new boyfriend so he did some creative accounting to sell the house at far less than it was worth. That’s how I heard about it. I just didn’t tell you how.”

“Why not though?”

“Because I know what you’re like. You’d have thought it was unfair on his wife. Karma or something you would have said and we wouldn’t have taken advantage of it.”

Celia shook her head. “But I still don’t understand what any of what you’ve told me has to do with that.” She pointed at the package on the table as though it was a poisonous snake.

Hamish dipped his head into his hands again. “Shit,” he said in a muffled voice.

“What are you talking about? Tell me for God’s sake!”

“Even with the extra clients, we still weren’t making enough money to cover our expenses. I was getting desperate. Oh God—” He ran his hand through his hair again. “Hearing me tell you…it sounds insane! How could I ever have agreed to do it? But at the time, it seemed like the only way.”

“Do what?” Celia asked, more gently this time.

Hamish turned to her, his eyes blazing. “Can’t you guess? Sell drugs for him! He wanted me to sell cocaine to all the bored, addicted housewives in the eastern suburbs. You wouldn’t believe how many of them there are and they’re the safest customers because they’ve got reputations to maintain…they’re very discreet.”

“So let me get this straight: Vincent Grant asked you to sell cocaine for him…in exchange for what?”

“What do you think? More money! I offloaded the drugs, paid him, he laundered the money and gave me my cut which I put back into the business.”

“Ok,” Celia said slowly.  “I can’t believe what I’m hearing but you told me you were making money. What happened to change that?”

“Well that’s the thing. I had some drugs in the car. But it was broken into…someone broke into my car and stole the drugs! I owe Vincent Grant $50,000!”

It finally dawned on Celia. “That’s why we’re selling the house to him, aren’t we?”

Hamish nodded, looking stricken.

“So you’re selling the house I bought with the money left me by my father to a gangster because you owe this same gangster $50,000. We were never going to get that house by the beach were we? It was just a story so I’d agree to sell the house to Vincent Grant, wasn’t it?”

“No! It wasn’t! That house we fell in love with is real. I had every intention of buying it…for us. It was going to signify our new life…our new start… our marriage.”

Celia shook her head in disbelief. “And if that wasn’t bad enough, how could you sell drugs? Knowing what happened to my brother? You know how I feel about drugs.” She spat out the words. “Hamish…you’ve destroyed me…you’ve destroyed us! How could you?” Celia burst into noisy sobs and ran from the room, up the passageway and into the front garden, slamming the front door behind her. When she reached the end of the street, she stopped, out of breath from running and crying. Barely seeing where she was going, she stumbled on, stopping only when she reached a small memorial playground. An Indian mother wearing a cerise-coloured sari pushed two little girls on the swings and an older man supervised a small boy on the jungle jim. Celia fell onto the first bench she came to and stared at the scene before her without seeing it.

She was in shock. Not only had she found out their dream house of a lifetime was a cruel lie, she discovered the man she loved and trusted, the man she’d agreed to marry was a greedy liar and a drug dealer. How could this have happened to her? Celia, who had always tried to see the best in people; to ignore their faults and concentrate on their good points. And look where it had got her! She who had always believed that if you did the right thing by people, Karma looked after you and gave you good in return. What a joke the Universe had played on her. And now she was going to lose the house, humble though it was, that she had bought with her beloved father’s money…to a vicious, murdering gangster. Because if she didn’t, Hamish would surely be knee-capped or beaten up…or worse.  What on earth had she done to deserve this?

Celia sat in the playground until the sun dipped and it was nearly dark. The children and their parents had left ages ago. When she finally stood up, Celia felt stronger. She knew what she had to do…

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Karma – A Short Story – Part 4

Celia discovers their ‘saviour’, Vincent Grant, is not who he seems…

KARMA – Part 4

Celia scrubbed at a stubborn stain on the bench top, sighing when she realised she had rubbed too hard and scratched the cheap laminate. She wasn’t concentrating on what she was doing, instead reliving the argument she’d had the night before with Hamish.Girl staring at sea

“How could you not tell me this man was buying our house? Blood money! That’s what it is! He’s paying for it with money he’s taken from his murder victims!” Celia threw the laptop onto the bed. “See? He’s been in gaol under suspicion of having murdered another gangster – a Russian one!”

Hamish blinked slowly and rubbed his chin, his fingers rasping against his whiskers, sounding to Celia’s frayed nerves like fingernails on a blackboard. He glanced at the screen, closed the window and switched off the laptop. He pushed it aside and patted the bed.

“Come here and sit down,” he’d said. “You’re getting yourself in a  tizzy about nothing.”

“Nothing? Did you even read what it said? He shot somebody! And in a busy restaurant too! What if he’d killed an innocent person?”

“But he got acquitted! You read it – it’s there in the article. The jury pronounced him not guilty of murder and they let him go!”

“There’s no smoke without fire!” Celia shot back. “Besides, what sort of man brings a gun when he goes out to dinner? A bloody mobster, that’s who! Damn you Hamish! What have you got us into?”

Hamish shook his head. “Nothing! He wants to buy our house and it’s his money that allows us to buy our dream house! Who cares where his money comes from? Besides, we’ve got no proof he got his money through crime!”

Celia snorted.

“And I would never have thought you, of all people, would be so willing to judge somebody on the basis of something that happened over five years ago—”

“How dare you!” Celia rounded on Hamish. “How dare you bring up my dead brother just so you can justify taking money from a gangster!” She turned away and hugged her arms to her body.

Hamish jumped out of bed and tried to pull her towards him. Celia shook him off. “Get away from me… I hate you!”

Hamish was silent as though collecting his thoughts. “C—” he whispered, trying again to get her to face him. “Listen to me, please!” Celia said nothing, still keeping her arms crossed and keeping her distance. Hamish tried again. “Celia… tell me you don’t want the house on the beach and I’ll ring Grant right now and tell him we’ve changed our minds. We can stay here—” he waved his arm, “—in this humble little home…oh damn it, Celia! I don’t want to stay here! We’ve done our time here – now it’s time to move on… to something better. We’ve earned it. I’ve earned it. I didn’t leave that bloody firm so I could keep living like a boring suburbanite. I want to move up. I’ve got ambition. I want to be able to invite my clients to my beautiful house on the beach with my beautiful wife on my arm! I want to make it! Don’t you?”

Celia remained silent. Hamish threw both hands in the air.

“What is wrong with you? You’re a bloody ball-breaker Celia. As long as you get what you want, you don’t give a shit about what I want! You’re as bad as my bloody mother! She was always putting my Dad down – a real bloody wet blanket she was. Whenever he came up with a new idea or wanted to take us all to some exotic place for a holiday, she always found a reason we couldn’t do it!” He yanked at his hair. “And now I’ve married a woman just like her! And I swore I never would!” Hamish pulled his pillow off the bed and stalked from the room.

Celia had no idea where he slept the rest of the night and he was gone by the time she woke. Had she been unreasonable last night? She didn’t think so. And he was unfair. Dragging up her brother and likening her to his mother whom she knew he hated. He was a mean pig and she was glad she didn’t have to talk to him this morning. Celia squeezed out the kitchen sponge, flung open the cupboard door and hurled it into the plastic tub beneath the sink. She slammed the door shut. She’d better get going or she’d be late for morning yard duty. Then she heard a soft plop from inside the cupboard. What the hell was that?

Hoping it wasn’t a mouse or a rat, Celia opened the cupboard gingerly. A plastic bag, about six inches by four inches filled with a white powder, lay on the bottom of the cupboard.

What? No way! Celia picked up the bag and weighed it in her hand. It was heavy and she was certain it wasn’t talcum powder.

“Hamish,” she groaned aloud. “What have you done?”

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Karma – A Short Story – Part 3

Who is the knight in shining armour buying Celia’s and Hamish’s house?  Read on to find out!

KARMA – PART 3Girl staring at sea

It was ten minutes after midnight. Celia had waited for Hamish to stop tossing and turning before stealing out of the bedroom and closing the door softly behind her.

Hamish had been morose and terse during dinner and had not wanted to make love as he usually did on a Thursday night when they retired to bed. He had not offered any reasons for his strange behaviour earlier that day with Vincent Grant despite Celia’s repeated questions.

“It’s nothing to worry about – we were just discussing arrangements,” Hamish said testily. “He doesn’t want to pay any of the stamp duty which I thought we’d agreed upon,” Hamish added, almost as an afterthought.  He had held up a warning hand when Celia started to question him again. “Don’t worry. I’ll sort it. You just concentrate on getting us packed and out of here in time. I’ll take care of everything else.”

Like the good little woman who couldn’t possibly understand all the ins and outs of a contract, Celia thought to herself, seething.  He’d conveniently forgotten she’d signed the contract on this house before he’d even met her. What was wrong with him? This behaviour wasn’t like the Hamish she knew and loved. Why had he seemed so agitated? Why couldn’t he look her in the eye? And why had Vincent Grant seemed to confident, so cool? These worries drove her from her bed later that evening when she was sure Hamish was asleep. She logged on to her laptop and waited for the internet connection. It seemed to take forever.

She typed Vincent Grant into the search engine finding numerous Facebook pages, pictures of an American actor and a Wikipedia entry for a Canadian politician. Undaunted, she scrolled down the list. There was no mention of the Vincent Grant she had met earlier that day.  Celia slumped back in her chair. She’d felt a strong sense of recognition when she first saw him but not as strongly when she took his hand in greeting. It was his overall look, his demeanour, the shape of his head that inspired a feeling of déjà vu. Where, in God’s name, had she seen him before?

Celia tried to recall their conversation. When she’d mentioned his father living in Queen Street, he’d corrected her and said it was his Nona – his grandmother he used to visit… his Italian grandmother! Vincent Grant sounded English… but what if he’d changed it from his Italian name?

Certain she was on the right track, Celia typed Vincent Italian name into the search engine. Almost immediately she was confronted with an array of similar names all derived from their Latin originator, Vincentius. Celia scanned the list until she came to the Italian versions of Vincent and typed them into the search engine, pairing each with the surname Grant. There were no results until she entered the name Vincenzio. Did you mean Vincenzio Granata? the search engine asked. Celia hit the Enter key and a list of newspaper articles appeared on her screen. Celia clicked on the first title on the list and sighed with recognition when Vincent Grant’s handsome face flashed before her.

BUSINESSMAN CLEARED OF VLADISLAVOVICH  MURDER

Vincenzio “Vinni” Granata has been cleared of the murder of convicted drug dealer, Senya Vladislavovich, at a city restaurant last year.

Granata had pleaded not guilty, claiming he acted in self-defence after Vladislavovich, 36, pulled a gun on him.

Vladislavovich was a suspect in at least two underworld murders. He had also been charged with supplying a large commercial quantity of drugs, participating in a criminal gang and knowingly dealing with the proceeds of crime.

After a majority verdict, Justice Peter Woods said that to secure a murder conviction against Granata, the prosecution had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Vladislavovich produced the gun.

He said there was no dispute that Vladislavovich produced the gun, so Granata was entitled to act in his self-defence.

Granata was mobbed by family and supporters as he left the court. He said he was pleased that the jury recognised his innocence and that he was looking forward to spending time with his daughter, Marianna.

Celia stared at the screen.

Then she rose from the table and staggered, as though drunk, to the bedroom and threw open the door. It crashed against the wall. Hamish jerked up in bed like he’d been shot.

“We’re not selling our house to a gangster!” Celia shouted.

END OF PART 3

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Karma – A Short Story – Part 2

Hi lovely Readers! It’s time for Part 2 of my short story Karma. I hope you’re enjoying it!

KARMA – A Short Story

Girl staring at seaCelia’s legs dangled either side of the hammock that swung lazily from side to side on her back verandah. She’d returned home from school earlier than usual and had managed to pack away all the good crockery and glass into padded boxes before making a homemade curry paste and chopping the ingredients for dinner in readiness for Hamish’s return. The temperature was dropping and a cool breeze rustled the eucalyptus trees silhouetted by the setting sun at the back of the garden. Sam was nowhere to be seen. She called his name. A rustling noise was her only reply.

“Sam?” she called again. Celia heard a muffled bark and Sam’s face appeared from behind a shrub at the back of the garden. She swore softly. Sam had recently dug up the fledgling marijuana crop Hamish was cultivating for personal use and earned a wallop with a rolled up newspaper for his efforts. Celia had been horrified and refused to speak to Hamish for the entire evening.

“You get back here Samuel Hart!” Sam yelped in excitement and barrelled up the yard, nearly upsetting Celia in the hammock in his excitement. She laughed, ruffling his silky ears. “What did you find back there old boy? I hope you weren’t digging up any dope plants again! Or maybe you found a juicy buried bone, hey?” Celia kissed the tip of his nose.

The telephone rang. Damn. There were only two possible people who would be ringing at this time: either Hamish telling her he’d be late or her mother. Celia sincerely hoped it was only Hamish.

“It’s me.” The familiar, tired voice on the end of the line belonged to her mother. Celia wondered for the umpteenth time why Dorothy Hart even bothered to call when she sounded so disinterested.

“Hi Mum!” Celia said with forced brightness. “How’s everything?”

“Oh… you know. I always get a bit down toward the end of summer. Something to do with my bio-rhythms, the doctor seems to think.”

Celia doubted her mother even knew what bio-rhythms were. “Well, as long as you’re not ill or anything. How’s Jezzy?”

Celia’s mother gave a short laugh. “She’s getting old… like me. She sleeps most of the day… but she’s still got a good appetite.” Jezebel was Celia’s seventeen year old cat. She’d gotten her when she was fourteen years old and it had broken her heart when she had been forced to leave her behind when she moved in with Hamish and Sam. For all of her mother’s faults, Celia knew that Jezebel was in safe hands and was likely better company for Dorothy than Celia herself on most days.

“Give her a kiss and a cuddle from me, won’t you?”

“How’s Hamish?” asked her mother, ignoring Celia’s request. For reasons Celia could not fathom, her mother adored Hamish. This was unfortunate because Hamish treated his mother-in-law with the same muffled irritation he showed toward his own mother. And yet, according to Dorothy, Hamish could do no wrong. Perhaps it had something to do with Hamish’s profession, Celia thought drily. If only her mother knew the reality of their financial situation, she might see things differently.

“He’s good, thanks Mum. Things have been a bit slow since he left Hayward and Barr but he tells me they’re slowly building up a new client base. And he’s hopeful that some of his old clients might decamp—”

“What about the house on the esplanade?” Mrs Hart interrupted impatiently. “Has the sale gone through on Queen St yet?”

“Not yet,” Celia said, trying to keep her voice light. Sometimes, talking to her mother was worse than a trip to the dentist. “Like I said, we’ve found a buyer who seems willing to pay us more than the asking price but it’s not that straightforward. There’s a lot of other expenses to consider like stamp duty and then there’s Hamish’s mother to consider and whether we—”

“Well don’t dilly dally!” said her mother sharply as though Celia hadn’t spoken. “These opportunities don’t come up every day! And stop finding reasons to stay where you are. You don’t owe that old woman a thing. She didn’t raise you, for God’s sake – I did. Besides, from what you’ve told me, she doesn’t even know what time of day it is. Don’t you dare risk losing that house and getting Hamish off-side. God knows, if I’d married someone more like Hamish with a bit of ‘go’ in him, I wouldn’t have had to live in a mediocre house in a mediocre suburb all my life and beg and scrape just to spend a few dollars to make the place look halfway decent and—”

“Mum! You know I don’t like you saying those things about Dad. He was good man and you were lucky to have him! I never wanted for anything when I was a kid.”

“But you never knew what went on behind the scenes…God!” Celia pictured her mother shaking her head, her mouth pursed in its usual bitter pout. “Your father was the meanest man I ever met. Oh… don’t worry… he made sure his favourite daughter never wanted for anything… but I didn’t get a new dress for three years when we were first married!”

It was an argument Celia would never win so she kept her mouth shut and let her mother have her customary moan. “…And what with you getting married and moving away and your father and Tony gone, there’s nobody I can count on anymore.” Celia felt the familiar jab of pain at the mention of her brother. Bright, beautiful, talented Tony with the whole world at his feet. Dead, aged 23, of a heroin overdose. Even now, Celia still woke so mornings to find her pillow damp and her eyes crusted with dried tears.

Celia waited until her mother had finished, interjecting now and then with a murmured yes, no and I’m sorry. When she put the receiver down, she poured herself a large glass of wine and downed it in few gulps. Perhaps her mother was right. She should stop worrying about other people and concentrate on what was best for Hamish… and her of course.

**********

Celia noticed him immediately her Corolla rounded the corner into Queen Street and glided to a stop outside their sandstone bungalow. He was a man who shouldn’t wear a suit: his shoulders were too broad, his neck too bullish, his legs too muscly. Hamish didn’t see her arrive. His body appeared stiff, his hands moving jerkily as he spoke to the tall, dark stranger standing at her front door. The man turned, smiled and extended his hand as she neared. “And you must be the lovely Celia!” His voice was not as deep as she imagined. She dropped her bags onto the porch and shook his hand. It was warm and strong, his stare intense.

“Celia… Vincent Grant. Vincent, this is my fiancée, Celia.” Hamish did not meet her eye. “You’re home early,” he said. He ran a hand through his hair, plainly agitated.

“Early minute,” Celia said lightly. “I thought I’d have the house to myself.”

Silence. Hamish kicked at a pebble on the porch. It skidded sideways and landed in Celia’s pot of basil. What on earth had gotten into him, Celia wondered?

Vincent Grant watched the exchange expressionlessly. Celia felt embarrassed. “Thank you… for your generous offer on the house, I mean. Hamish said your father used to live in Queen Street?”

The tall man fixed his eyes on hers. They were not dark, as Celia had expected but an unusual greeny-blue colour with flecks of hazel and gold. For a minute, they blazed. Had Celia imagined it? She shivered. He looked dangerous.

“It was my Nona. I used to visit her with him.”

Celia glanced at Hamish. His hands were fists, shoved deep into his pockets. He did not look at her. She picked up her bags.

“Well… I’m sure there are things you need to discuss. I’m ready to sign the contract whenever you are. The house is in my name, after all,” she laughed.

Neither of the men joined in.

END OF PART 2

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JAWS OF DEATH: How to Write Your Hero’s Encounter With a Wild Animal

I live in Australia, the country at the top of the list for the world’s most dangerous, most poisonous animals. Other than a brief encounter with a red-back spider (Reg) who took residence under my bicycle seat, I have thus far remained unscathed and live to write this blog post.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a few days in Darwin at Australia’s top end. For those of you who don’t know, Darwin (plus areas of Northern Queensland) is home to the most fearsome reptile on earth since the dinosaurs: the Saltwater Crocodile. I visited a crocodile theme park and met Burt, the 88-year-old, 17-foot, 1,500-pound star of Crocodile Dundee. According to the sign on Burt’s enclosure, he is a ‘confirmed bachelor with one hell of a grumpy attitude’.Photo-Crocodile-2000-1

This makes Burt sound like a loveable rogue but it’s worth remembering that Burt is a finely-tuned killing machine. Before he was caught thirty years ago, Burt was a cattle killer who lurked in billabongs waiting to drag the unsuspecting beasts into the water.

As an animal-lover, I know I’m guilty of seeing dangerous animals through ‘warm-fuzzy glasses’; I can’t see past the cuddly fur, the big brown eyes and the moist black nose. But what about real life? Earlier this month, a woman was snatched by a five metre saltwater crocodile while wading in waist-deep water on a popular beach in Northern Queensland. In the United States, a 35-year-old man on a mountain bike ride in California was later found dead and partly eaten by a cougar. A ‘cute and cuddly kangaroo’ ambushed and flattened two women riding their bicycles in a popular wine region in South Australia. Both survived although one woman’s breast implants were ruptured in the attack. And who can forget that amazing scene in The Revenant when Leonardo di Caprio is attacked by a grizzly bear and left for dead?

So, when your protagonist is pitted against the natural elements, how should he/she react when confronted with a wild animal?

Unless you’re writing a comedy or your protagonist is a hapless goofball like Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island, any hero worth his or her salt needs first and foremost to use their common sense: keeping their distance, storing food in animal proof containers and not making camp near crocodile-infested lagoons or known grizzly bear haunts. Elementary, right?

But hey, while this is great advice for real life, what sort of thriller are you writing if your hero fails to pit his or her wits against a feathered, furred or scaled foe? A boring one, right? So, what if our hero takes all the right precautions (as any intelligent, believable hero would) yet still has to face an angry wild animal? Outdoor Life survival expert Rich Johnson gives some great advice on how you can help your protagonist avoid becoming lunch to a hungry man-eater.

If your hero encounters a bear, he or she should stop, remain calm and back away slowly while speaking in a calm voice showing the bear submission and yielding to its territorial supremacy. Your hero could also:

  • Bang pots and pans together or make other loud noises
  • Leave an escape route open so the bear won’t feel cornered and forced to fight its way out of the situation
  • Not turn his or her back on the bear or running as that will stimulate an attack
  • Avoid direct eye contact, because that is considered an act of aggression
  • Lie face down on the ground, covering his or her head and playing as dead as possible. Your hero might be bitten or clawed, but the bear might leave him or her alone

If your hero encounters a big cat, he or she should try to appear larger than the animal. Like the bear, your hero should never run away, never take his or her eyes off the animal or turn his or her back as that will encourage an attack.

If, despite taking all the above precautions, your hero is attacked, Rich Johnson suggests that he or she stay on their feet and using any available weapon (knife, stick, rock, fingernails, fists, feet) focus the counterattack on the animal’s eyes and nose with as much violence as they can muster.

Regarding crocodile attacks, after latching onto their prey, crocodiles perform what’s known as the ‘death roll’; they spin their victim round and round before drowning them. Feminist writer, Val Plumwood was pulled from her canoe in Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory. Here’s how she described the crocodile’s death roll:

“It is, essentially, an ­experience beyond words and terror…The crocodile’s breathing and heart metabolism are not suited to prolonged struggle, so the roll is an ­intense burst of power … a centrifuge of boiling blackness that ­lasted for an eternity, beyond ­endurance, but when I seemed all but finished the rolling suddenly stopped. My feet touched the bottom, my head broke the surface, and, coughing, I sucked at air, amazed to be alive.”

When the croc seized her again, she tried to jab her thumbs into its eye sockets. When she felt its jaws relax, she broke free and dragged herself away. Her left thigh was ripped open, the tendons exposed. She made a tourniquet from her torn clothes and was eventually rescued by a park ranger.

In another crocodile attack in Africa, a young man fell from his canoe into a crocodile-infested river. He too was subjected to the death roll. He survived by wrapping his legs around the beast while attempting to gouge out the croc’s eyes. When this didn’t work, he thrust a free arm down the crocodile’s throat and flipped open the creature’s epiglottis, a sort-of one way valve at the back of the animal’s throat. This caused water to rush into the croc’s lungs, forcing it to let the man go or risk drowning.

When writing about an animal attack, don’t forget to include the roller-coaster of emotions racing through your hero’s head. Perhaps they are thinking of their husband or wife or son or daughter or lover or brother or sister? What if, while he or she is being attacked, they know their son or daughter lies sleeping in a tent near by? What if your hero has a sick mother or father who will be left with nobody to care for them if your hero doesn’t survive? How would you feel? Who would be at the forefront of your mind? Make your character a real, living breathing person with human feelings, not just a physical automaton who fights the animal and wins. Give him or her high emotional stakes as well.

Val Plumwood described the collapse of her ‘desperate delusion’ about life as a result of her crocodile attack:

“I glimpsed a shockingly indifferent world in which I had no more significance than any other edible being. The thought, ‘This can’t be happening to me, I’m a human being. I am more than just food!’ was one component of my terminal incredulity. It was a shocking reduction.”

How about you? What’s the best wild animal survival story you have read or seen? Have you ever considered putting your protagonist in a similar situation? I’d love to hear your stories…

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Serialized Fiction: Love Him to Death Part 4

The last episode of Love Him to Death follows. I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

LOVE HIM TO DEATH PART 4

Love Him to Death Cover 2Claudia walked to the window, her back rigid as a poker. The cell-phone dropped from her hand and fell to the wooden floor with a clatter. The sun had long disappeared behind gathering black clouds. She watched dry, golden leaves tumble from the branches of the giant plane tree and settle on the ground below. Thunder rumbled in the distance. The rains would come soon and turn the fallen leaves into rotting, black sludge.

Claudia’s body felt light as a bird’s. She unlatched the window and pushed it open. The breeze had turned freezing, but she shrugged off her coat and climbed onto the window-sill. “Nobody was allowed to get hurt!” she shouted into the wind, gripping the side of the window as she teetered and swayed.

Her cell-phone shrilled.

She turned. Wilson’s photograph flashed onto the screen. Wilson? Calling her? Did that mean he’d changed his mind?

A sudden gust nearly made her lose her footing. She steadied herself.

The ringing stopped and the ‘phone beeped.

“Claudia?”

It wasn’t Wilson’s voice.

“It’s Helmut.”

Claudia’s mouth fell open. Wilson’s lover… the elegant, blonde man who drove the Aston Martin DB5. Why was he ringing her?

His voice was urgent. “Wilson’s dead… I killed him… for you, Claudia. When Wilson found out about you and Dominic, he showed me your photograph. I… I fell in love with you. I had to have you for myself. I pretended to love Wilson… God, how I hated what I had to do with that man… but it’s all been worth it. Wilson was crazy in love with me—he left me everything. I’ve waited a long time, dearest Claudia, but now we can finally be together. They’ll never find his body, I promise. We’re safe now. I hope this doesn’t come as too much of a shock. Please ring me as soon as you get this message. We’ll meet and I’ll explain everything.”

Warmth radiated throughout Claudia’s body. How incredible! Until today, Helmut had been a shadow, an anonymous benefactor who’d provided two lovers with French wine and a place to meet. Now he was her knight in shining armour, her rescuer, her soon-to-be new lover and best of all, they were rich! They could go anywhere and do anything they wanted! Claudia laughed, happy tears coursing down her face.

She felt a lightness in her chest; her breath came in short, fast bursts. Claudia lowered herself to a crouch and prepared to jump back inside. Where was Helmut waiting for her? She couldn’t wait to see him again and start their new life together.

Lightning split the sky. There was a deafening crack followed by the sound of fracturing wood. A branch from the plane tree hurtled towards the ground, striking Claudia’s shoulder and throwing her off balance. Her fingers scrabbled at the window frame before curling around a narrow band of wooden beading. Claudia gasped with relief as she planted her feet on the sill and used all the strength in her arms to pull her body towards safety.

She was nearly there when the beading splintered and tore away from window frame. Claudia fought desperately, the rotten wood ripping her nails and slicing her fingertips into bloody shreds. Like a pair of invisible hands, a blast of freezing air shoved Claudia out of the window.

Claudia lay on her back on the ground below feeling nothing except the seeping warmth of her blood surrounding her head like a halo.

“Nobody was allowed to get hurt,” she repeated.

But her words were lost in the sound of the swirling leaves and the wind carried them all away.

THE END

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Serialized Fiction: Love Him to Death Part 3

Hello again, dear Readers!

Do you think Claudia’s troubles are over? Dream on… I mean, read on!

LOVE HIM TO DEATH PART 3 Love Him to Death Cover 2

Claudia’s key slid into the lock and she pushed the front door open. “Wilson? I’m home darling.”

There was no reply.

She entered the majestic entrance hall with the Victorian mahogany staircase that stretched to the second and third floors.

“Wilson? Are you here?” Her voice sounded harsh and loud, like it was bouncing back and forth against the walls. Claudia stared. Wilson’s grandmother’s tapestries no longer hung on the walls. Had Wilson sent them away to be cleaned? She turned towards the drawing room and opened the door. “Wilson? Where—”

Claudia’s voice died on her lips.

The room was empty. There was no sign of Wilson. What on earth was going on?

Claudia raced across the entrance hall and flung open the library door. The antique desk, bookshelves and leather-bound books were gone, together with the Persian rugs. Even the heavy velvet curtains framing the French doors had disappeared.

Claudia heard a roaring in her ears and her bowels turned to water. She gripped the door jamb to steady herself. She must be hallucinating… or in the middle of a terrible nightmare.

She spun around and pounded up the staircase, running from room to room and throwing open the doors. They were all the same. In the space of a few hours, her comfortable home had become a mausoleum: hollow, cold and dead; stripped bare of the life she and Wilson had built together.

The realisation hit her like a blow to the chest. Wilson had left her. He’d taken everything and left her with nothing: Zilch. Zero. Nada. Nil. Claudia was ruined. But when she’d left that morning, Wilson had been sitting in his smoking coat, having breakfast in the sun-room and reading the newspaper. He’d kissed her cheek and asked how she slept—just like he always did. He couldn’t have found out about her and Dominic; she’d been so careful. So what made him change his mind?

Claudia sniffed. Aftershave… the same scent she’d smelt earlier at the apartment. A closed door stood at the end of the upstairs hallway—their bedroom. Claudia glided towards the door as though in a dream, pulled forward by an irresistible force. The scent grew stronger as she approached. With shaking hands, Claudia turned the doorknob of polished brass.

The door swung open with a squeal. Like the others the room was empty except for a solitary object lying in the middle of the floor.

Her cell-phone.

It vibrated.

Claudia jumped. She stepped towards it, approaching it like she might a dangerous animal.

The cell-phone vibrated again.

Stooping to the ground, she picked it up.

New Message flashed across the screen. Heart pounding, she pressed the Read button. A video loaded and played. Claudia gasped.

Two men were making love in their George III period four-poster bed. She peered at the screen, her eyes widening. One was Wilson… her puny, flaccid husband had transformed into a raging, ravenous bull. Claudia watched as he mounted his lover and thrust deep inside him, his face a moving portrait of desire, lust and ecstasy. As the men’s cries grew more frenzied, the picture moved from Wilson to a closeup of his lover.

It was blonde man from the apartment. He was even more beautiful than Claudia remembered – olive-skinned with high cheekbones, a square jaw and aqua-colored eyes. Their movements grew more frenzied, the men’s faces twisting into paroxysms of delight as they cried out and climaxed in unison. They fell apart and slumped onto the pillows, panting and laughing. After a minute, Wilson rose to his elbows and poured two glasses of wine from a bottle on the side table. He clinked glasses with the blonde man lying beside him then his face filled the screen.

“Hello Claudia, my love!”

She jumped at the sound of his voice. It sounded reedy and shrill through the microphone.

“Did you enjoy your wine? I’m certainly enjoying mine!” Wilson smacked his lips. Claudia heard a muffled laugh.

“Such a shame about Dominic. Helmut said he was a nice man… if a bit stupid.” Wilson sighed. “Men and their cars, hey Claudia? If it wasn’t for Helmut’s car, I don’t think their friendship would have blossomed.” Another muffled laugh. Wilson looked at the man beside him with fond eyes.

Claudia turned up the volume.

“I suppose you want to know what this is all about, dearest Claudia? God knows, you don’t deserve any explanations, you sneaky, lying cow. But I can’t wait to tell you what I’ve done and how clever I’ve been so I can relive the fun all over again!” Wilson frowned into the camera. “I really tried with you, Claudia. You’re not my type but you were perfect in every other way: beautiful, elegant, cultured, from the right pedigree—even though your old man gambled away all the family money. I was prepared to overlook that. All you had to do was stay faithful and not embarrass me. It might have been the perfect partnership. So how do you think I felt when I found out you were screwing a green-grocer for God’s sake? How could you? What sort of woman are you that you could do that to me? You’re a dirty, greedy, ungrateful bitch, that’s what you are!” Wilson spat a mouthful of wine at the camera. Claudia drew back, shocked.

The screen went black for a second. Then Wilson reappeared holding the bottle of wine in his hand. He read from the label. “1990 Château Cheval Blanc St. Émilion… With an intoxicating perfume of fresh truffles, tobacco and ripe plums, this wine grabs your attention. Full bodied with exotic, decadent textures, the wine finishes with a sensuous, kinky black cherry and kirsch component. As good as it is, this will only get better—” He broke off and giggled until tears formed in the corners of his eyes. “Did it get better for you, Claudia my pet? Did you enjoy the wine we left for you? No, better question: did Dominic enjoy the wine?” Wilson turned to the blonde man who lay on his back smoking a cigarette, one hand behind his head. “What did you put into the wine again, Helmut?”

Claudia couldn’t make out the man’s reply but Wilson nodded slowly. “I thought so. During one of their heart-to-hearts, Helmut found out that his dear, new, best friend Dominic was taking digoxin following his heart operation. It kept him alive. Were you aware of that Claudia, dear? Probably not. Science never was your strong point, was it? Anyway, too much digoxin has the opposite effect, apparently. It causes Ven-tric-u-lar tach-y-cardia—did I say that right Helmut darling? He’s a doctor—very smart,” Wilson simpered to the camera, nodding and tapping his temple. “So Ventric—” He waved his hand. “Oh, whatever it’s called, means you suffer from irregular heartbeat which, in a person with a history of heart disease, can lead to a fatal heart attack… especially if they’re engaging in vigorous… er… activities.”

Wilson smiled, revealing his pointed eye teeth. “Do you see how clever I’ve been? I knew all along about you and Dominic! I arranged for Helmut to meet him and offer his apartment as your love-nest.” He yawned. “I’m tired and we’ve come to the end of my little home movie Claudia darling. I hope you enjoyed it. When you watch it, the house will be empty and all the bank accounts cleared and the credit cards stopped. Oh, and I meant to tell you: I’ve already sold the house… about a month ago. The new owners are due to move in tomorrow. Lock the door when you leave, there’s a pet.” Wilson blew a kiss at the camera then the screen went black.

END OF PART 3

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Serialised Fiction: Love Him to Death

Love Him to Death Cover 2With serialised fiction making a world-wide comeback, I thought I’d share a longish short story with you in serial form over the next few weeks.

It’s a slight departure from what I normally write. I suppose you could call it an erotic romantic thriller.

Be warned, graphic language and sex scenes ahead! Enjoy dear Readers!

LOVE HIM TO DEATH

Part One

Nobody is allowed to get hurt.

It was their mutual pact, their solemn promise, their unbreakable contract. They’d sealed it by dipping their fingers into the wet patch one day and drawing the sign of the cross on each other’s foreheads before they fell about, laughing.

Kate was unimpressed when she told her. “You’re barking mad Claudia! Why take such a risk? And for a greengrocer? For crying out loud, couldn’t you have found someone more exciting?”

Claudia had smiled. “But, darling,” she said, “That’s why I chose him! He doesn’t move in our circles, so I’m completely safe. Wilson will never find out!”

Wilson. Privileged, wealthy and heir to the family fortune.

Wilson. Peevish, pasty, with the flabby body of an invalid.

Wilson. The man who made love to her once a month on a Sunday morning and whimpered Mother when he climaxed.

Wilson. The man who said he would take everything and destroy her if she ever betrayed him.

Claudia’s lover was Wilson’s polar opposite. He was a big man – warm, generous, popular – with the rugged, good looks of an Italian movie star. He fed upon her body like the ripe fruit in his shop; rolling her nipples between his lips like tender, plump grapes and cupping her buttocks in his palms as delicately as he might two juicy peaches before he dipped his tongue into the sweet nectar between her legs.

“Whatever he’s doing, it agrees with you,” Kate admitted grudgingly.

It was true. Claudia’s skin had the rosy hue of a fresh apple; her eyes the glow of soft, molten chocolate. Claudia’s sexuality, once dormant and repressed, now burst from her pores like bottled-up steam, surrounding her in a kind of permanent, erotic miasma. Men stared and shifted in their seats when she walked into a room.

The autumn sun was warm despite the cool breeze that blew her freshly blow-waved hair across her face as she emerged from the hairdresser’s and strode towards the taxi rank. Claudia climbed into a waiting cab, her skirt riding to the top of her thighs. The driver turned around, his eyes fixed on her smooth, bare legs.

“Where to, Miss?”

She gave the address with a dazzling smile. The driver turned back to the wheel and pulled away from the kerb, still staring at her in the rear-vision mirror.

“I’m on my way. I’ll be there soon,” Claudia whispered into her cell-phone, returning it to her handbag with a secret smile. Donning a pair of oversized sunglasses, she stared out the window at the passing traffic.

“In a hurry?” the driver asked.

She checked her watch. “I am actually. I’m late meeting a friend.” The driver sighed and shook his head as though he wished it was him. Minutes later, the taxi pulled up in front of a square, red brick apartment building, four stories high with a glass security door.

“Thank you,” Claudia said, handing the driver a generous tip. It had become a habit, her bribe to the gods to keep protecting her. He beamed and wished her a happy day.

“It will be,” Claudia assured him, climbing out of the car.

This part was always nerve-wracking. Despite the quietness of the street, she always imagined a hundred pairs of inquisitive eyes watching her every move. She glanced down the street, first left then right, and pressed the buzzer.

“It’s me,” Claudia whispered into the intercom.

The door clicked and she pushed it open, breathing a sigh of relief when it slammed behind her. Now she had to get to the apartment without being seen. She climbed the stairs two at a time and rapped breathlessly at the door on level three. Within seconds Dominic opened it and Claudia flew into his arms.

“Hello you.” He kissed her hard on the mouth. It still felt as good, as exciting as the very first time.

Claudia hugged him, feeling him wince. “Are you OK? Did I squeeze you too hard? Maybe I’d better cool it at the gym,” she said, laughing and flexing her biceps.

He smiled. “No, just getting old. I’m a bit tired today.”

“You’ve been working too hard since the operation. Remember what the doctor said? You have to take it easy.”  She took his arm. “Come and sit down. Let me pour the wine for a change. You sit there and relax.

A bottle of wine sat on the kitchen bench, already uncorked. “Ooh la la,” Claudia sang, holding up the bottle. “A 1990 French bordeaux no less! Another present from our benefactor? He’s awfully kind, this friend of yours, lending us his apartment whenever we need it and letting us drink his prize wine. How long have you known him?” Claudia poured the ruby liquid into long-stemmed glasses and carried them into the sitting room. Dominic sat hunched forward, head bowed, his hands clasped between his knees. A knot of worry tugged at her belly.

“Darling, is it your heart again? You’ve got me worried now. Shall we just share a glass of wine today? Then you can go home and rest.” Claudia held her breath, hoping he wouldn’t agree.

But Dominic gazed at her with soft, indulgent eyes and patted the seat beside him. “Not a chance. Not now you’re here. Come to Daddy.” He opened his arms and she snuggled into them, taking care not to spill wine on the pale grey sofa. The apartment felt more like home than the mansion Claudia shared with Wilson. She’d become protective and territorial about it, like it was her own, so she always washed the dishes, wiped down the kitchen benches, straightened the cushions and changed the sheets before they left. Sometimes, she even forgot about the man who owned it. It wasn’t hard because the apartment bore no traces of the owner. There were no photographs or books or ornaments or travel souvenirs; nothing to suggest a real-life flesh and blood person lived there. The furniture, while good quality, was solid and plain. There were no patterned fabrics or designer colour schemes displaying the owner’s personality. “He travels a lot,” Dominic had said as if that explained everything. She’d nodded but it disturbed her. Claudia wanted their patron to be a living, breathing human being, not a cardboard cut-out, a man without a shadow. 

She hugged Dominic again, more carefully this time. “To us! And to your generous friend!” Their glasses clinked. “Tell me about him. You’ve been very cagey so far. Is he an international spy on a top-secret assignment we’re not allowed to talk about?”

Her lover smiled. “Nothing like that. He’s just an ordinary guy… a banker I think. He came into the shop about a year ago and we got to talking about cars. Turns out he owns an original Aston Martin DB5.”

She laughed. “Am I supposed to be impressed?”

“You should be. It’s the same model car James Bond drove in Goldfinger.”

“Ah.” Claudia sipped her drink, licked her lips and changed the subject. “I had a beautiful fantasy the other evening.”

His voice was husky. “Tell me about it.”

It always began like this. Sometimes Claudia was a horny hitchhiker wearing tiny denim shorts and a see-through top; at others she was a lone, predatory visitor in an art gallery wearing a power suit and no underwear. Today she was Messalina Valeria at a Roman brothel, issuing a challenge to the prostitute, Scylla, to bed the greatest number of men in one night. Claudia watched her lover’s erection grow huge and hard beneath his jeans as she described her unquenchable lust for the line-up of men waiting to fuck her. Dominic moaned and pushed her back against the sofa.

“Hey, I haven’t gotten to the best bit yet,” she protested. He pressed his lips to hers, silencing her. Claudia unzipped his trousers and freed his cock. It felt thick and heavy in her hand. She knelt at his feet and took his entire length into her mouth, running her tongue up and down the shaft then gently sucking at the head of his cock.

“God, that is so good,” he groaned. He lifted her head with huge hands and carried her  into the bedroom, stripping off her clothes, piece by piece, caressing her breasts and belly and the soft, sensitive skin between her thighs.

Claudia moaned when he took one breast in each hand and licked around it in slow circles getting smaller and smaller until he reached her nipples. He sucked on them gently. She arched her back and stroked herself, her fingers coming away sticky and wet.

He took her hand, sucking one finger at a time in his mouth. “It’s my turn now,” he whispered, burying his tongue inside her cunt.

Her fingers clawed at the sheets. “Darling, I’ll come too soon if you keep doing that,” she breathed.

“Do you want me stop?”

She was frantic. “No! I mean yes! I can’t bear it! It’s too good!”

“Nothing is too good.”

“Yes it is when you do it like that!”

“Do you want me to fuck you then?”

“Oh God… yes… please!”

“How do you want me to fuck you?”

“Like I’m a bitch in heat,” Claudia panted.

Dominic grabbed her hips, rolled her over and forced her into a kneeling position. She gasped when she felt his hardness pushing into her.

“How much of me do you want?”

“Every last inch!”

“Here I am.” He thrust his entire length into her.

Claudia screamed. Her orgasm unfolded like a carnivorous flower deep inside her belly, its tendrils tickling and teasing every nerve in her body. Tears sprang from her eyes as the waves of pleasure swelled and rolled in time with Dominic’s thrusts. “Enough!” she begged. “I’ll die of pleasure if you don’t stop!” Her body felt weightless, her limbs weak, her muscles soft. Claudia dropped to her elbows just as she heard Dominic’s cries getting louder.

His body tensed. He roared and collapsed onto Claudia’s back, his body hot and slick with sweat. Claudia smiled, despite her face being pressed against the pillow. Soon Dominic would lift himself from her and stroke her back. Then he would turn her over and caress her face and tell her she was the best fuck he had ever had.

The minutes ticked by on the alarm clock next to the bed. Claudia chuckled to herself. He must have fallen asleep.

“Hey,” she whispered, “I’m finding it hard to breathe down here.”

 Dominic was heavy, his bulk covering her entire body. She braced her palms on either side of the pillow and tried to lift herself. 

“Am I so boring you’d fall asleep straight afterwards?” she joked, wriggling out from under him. Her lover rolled onto his back, his arms falling to his sides, his eyes closed.  “Darling?”

She touched his skin. It was warm but clammy. She picked up his arm. It dropped like a stone.

Her belly quivered. She tapped his cheeks with her fingers.

“Come on. For God’s sake! What’s the matter? I’ll kill you if you’re playing one of your games again.”

He lay there, still and quiet.

“Oh, sweet Jesus! Please! Wake up!”

A sudden heat engulfed her like a wave. It was like being boiled alive. Perspiration dripped from her body and her breath came in short, fast bursts.

She forced herself to breathe slowly.

It’s nothing. He’ll be fine… he’s just passed out, she repeated over and over like a mantra. She’d read somewhere that an orgasm sometimes caused a drop in heart rate and blood pressure, resulting in a brief spell of unconsciousness. In a minute, he’d come to, and they’d pour themselves another glass of wine and laugh about it.

Claudia nudged Dominic with her elbow. The movement jerked his head sideways. Was that his eyelids fluttering? She straddled his chest and took his face in her hands. “Dominic? Wake up! You’re scaring me half to death.”

His eyes stayed closed.

Claudia felt lightheaded. The urge to scream was getting stronger.  Stay calm, she told herself. She breathed in for four seconds and out for four seconds… in… out… in… out… in… out.

She lowered her head to his chest.

No discernible heartbeat.

But that meant nothing. Once, after a vigorous bout of lovemaking, her heart had almost beaten its way out of her chest while his gave barely a murmur.

“You’re a heartless beast, that’s why,” she had joked.

“No,” he’d sighed. “Just a layer of fat muffling the sound.”

She tried to remember her first aid training but her mind was racing, her thoughts like jumbled jigsaw pieces inside her head. She forced herself to concentrate.

“Danger, Response, Airways, Breathing, Circulation,” Claudia recited. “Danger? None here. OK. Response? She shook her lover’s shoulder, grabbed his hand and patted his cheeks again. “Can you hear me?” It was strangely comforting having a formula to follow. At least she was doing something rather than sitting on the bed, helpless.

“A is for Airways and they’re clear,” she announced to the empty room. “B is for breathing. He’s not breathing so I need to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Wait a minute. Shouldn’t I ring the ambulance? But I’m supposed to be giving him the kiss of life! And what if he dies while I’m on the ‘phone?”

Claudia lowered her face to Dominic’s. His breath smelt sour and she nearly gagged. She placed her mouth over his lips, pinched his nose and puffed two sharp breaths. His chest rose and fell.

“Dominic? Oh, sweet Jesus! Breathe, damn you!” Claudia blew into Dominic’s mouth again, her stomach churning. Her limbs felt heavy and weak. She put her ear on his chest again, praying for a heartbeat, however faint.

Nothing. His skin was much cooler now. And was it her imagination or had his complexion taken on a grey pallor?

She clambered off the bed, ran into the sitting room and rummaged around in her bag for her cell phone. Claudia dialled, then stopped.

She couldn’t.

They’d promised never to tell anyone about the apartment. Even his friend, the owner, didn’t know her identity. They’d agreed it was too dangerous to tell even him. But if she called the ambulance, their affair would come out.

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” Claudia threw the cell phone onto the sofa as hopeless, frustrated tears coursed down her face. “This can’t be happening!” she raged. “It’s a bad dream… a scene from a stupid soapie—it doesn’t happen in real life!”   

She raced to the bedroom and climbed back onto the bed. ‘C’ was for circulation. One more thing she had to try. She put the heel of her right hand in the middle of his chest below his ribs, covered it with her left and pushed down. How many compressions should she perform in a minute?

Claudia’s mind went blank. Fifty? No, too few. The blurred face of her First Aid instructor swam before her eyes. She saw his lips move. One hundred compressions per minute are required to ensure the blood keeps circulating so the brain doesn’t die, he’d said. She glanced at the clock and tried to keep count.

The mattress dipped and his body bounced. Her compressions weren’t strong enough to do any good. Claudia dragged his body onto the floor and continued.

Ten minutes passed. Her arms and shoulders ached; her hands were numb.

Claudia stopped, exhausted, and stared at his face.

Her efforts had been a waste of time. Dominic was dead. Nothing would bring him back to life.

“No!” Claudia wailed, flinging her body over his, her tears soaking and matting the thick, dark hairs on Dominic’s chest. “Oh my darling—I’m sorry! I wanted to save you! I tried, I really did! But even if I’d called the ambulance, it wouldn’t have made any difference. You were already dead! I just didn’t want to admit it!”

Claudia’s sobs grew more violent, more intense. She clutched Dominic to her breasts. “What am I going to do? There’s nobody I can tell. I don’t know the person who lives here or where I can find him and I can’t leave you here and not tell anyone. But what if Wilson or your wife finds out? I can’t let that happen… we promised each other! I owe that much to you at least. Oh, Jesus, God almighty, what am I going to do?”

Claudia howled like a rabid dog, sobs racking her body in painful spasms. After a time, her weeping subsided. Exhausted, her tears spent, she checked the clock next to the bed. Fifteen minutes had passed. Claudia pulled away from her dead lover and hugged her knees to her chest. Her head pounded and her eyes stung. She wiped them with the back of her hand then turned to the man lying beside her.

He looked so vulnerable, all his macho bravado gone. In death he’d become a little boy again—the one who cried when he skinned his knee or fell from a tree, who crawled into bed beside his mother when he heard a scary noise. Her heart swelled, flared, then burst into tiny painful pieces inside her chest. Dominic – her sexy, caring lover – would never hold her in his arms or make love to her again.

Claudia rose, clasped him around the chest and hauled Dominic’s body towards the bed. He was heavy, and she had to stop twice for a rest. When she reached the bed, she positioned his head and chest onto the pillow then lifted his legs. She straightened his body and pulled the quilt to his neck. Dominic might have been fast asleep. She kissed his cheek and smoothed the hair back from his forehead.

There was nothing more Claudia could do for him.

END OF PART ONE

 

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