We had some great entries for our first Bay Tales Christmas Competition…Here’s four for you to enjoy over the holidays!
There’s not much to do in an immigration queue. Even less in an American immigration queue, with its hour long wait and strict no-mobiles policy. Fortunate for me, I don’t need entertainment; I have a husband.
“I think we should do Old Faithful tomorrow and then the snowmobiles later. I think that type of itinerary worked well in Iceland, did it not?” Dominic’s dark eyes focus on the Neanderthal at the head of the queue, the one with the passport stamps.
Sure, pet, I think. The Algarve is more my speed, but you insist on winter holidays in places with ‘proper winter.’ Which apparently means, in order: Lapland, Iceland, and Yellowstone. Not your typical family Christmas. What’s next, Antarctica? The frozen Zone of Death?
“I think we should have time before our connection to have a bite to eat, but is there any food for which Chicago is famous?”
“No idea.” Two foods, actually: hot dogs and pizza, both in greasy, oversized styles. Good Neanderthal food.
We shuffle forward, the herd around us snuffling discontentedly under excessive lighting.
“I do wish -” I tune him out. Dominic’s sentences usually start the same way.
People say we’re “a study in contrasts.” I suppose they could mean his Mediterranean features next to my freckles and blonde hair, or his ebullient manner and my near-silence at parties.
They don’t. They mean two things: his posh London accent next to my unvarnished Geordie, and that his father was a barrister while mine knocked my mam up at seventeen and worked in a shipyard until it closed, then worked at an auto repair shop for a few years before dying at
forty. My mother left me alone the day I went off to uni. Time to seek new adventures, she said.
‘Can’t hide behind your family forever, Cass,’ people used to tell me.
Hide behind what? And from what? I’d think. I’ve never fucking hidden from anything.
That’s how you go from a council house, childhood run aground on the shores of Maggie Fucking Thatcher’s 1980s, to the law faculty at my local university. Where, I might add, my husband is also a professor. Contrasts indeed.
So I agree to the hot dogs on the condition that we take a day of rest before the geysers and the buffalo and the snowmobiles. I’m exhausted already. What ever happened to a fruity cocktail with an umbrella?
My husband gives me a quick hug. It’ll be okay, I think. I pat my suitcase and stare at the bright lights.
I’ve survived the geyser. I’ve survived the food. I’ve survived an encounter with a herd of bison on a two-lane road. I’ve worn a Santa hat the whole time. I’ve started to talk like Dominic.
“I’d like to see if the snowmobiles might be ready early,” says the man himself.
Sure, pet. If it goes vrooooooom, you want it, even if you can’t afford it and have no idea how it works. “Surely they’ll be happy to move a rental to Christmas Eve,” I say.
The man at the snowmobile place is twenty stone of American working class. He reminds me of my father, in that he looks like two of him amalgamated into a single mountain. He likes my accent; I like his hands, weathered and leathery despite his young age. He does not like Dominic, but he agrees to load two Polaris vroom-vroom machines onto a flatbed and drop them by morning.
I wait up while Dominic is knocked out by a sixth glass of Riesling. Bradley – that’s the mountain’s name – smells like wood smoke and sounds like gravel. Riesling is probably not his tipple. He tells me what I need to know.
“I’m glad you’ve come around to my idea of Christmas,” Dominic says. We’re ten miles from any road, somewhere on the Idaho side of the state line. Our mobiles have zero service. His nose is red. His breath steams. His smile is as white as the unbroken snowfield around us. “It’s all about family. Great suggestion, this holiday.”
I unzip my parka and remove an envelope. “Merry Christmas.” Pet.
His eyes meet mine. Then his face drops.
“The first twenty pages are letters my mother sent me the last six years. Nice of you to intercept them. Nicer still that she kept copies. The hole in that plan came when she found me
“Yes, I know, nobody listens when Cassandra brings bad news. Keep going.”
Next are photos of Dominic with a student. They’re naked, of course, but that’s not awful: at least the younger man has nice pecs.
“No, it’s not what it seems. It’s worse, Dominic.”
Next is a letter to me – left anonymously on my car, but CCTV doesn’t lie – demanding £9,250 in Bitcoin or the video would be on Pornhub. Fuck that, I said after tracking the little wazzock down. If you’re that hard up for tuition, I’ll pay. Just give me the videos.
“So, Dominic. Now we get to the fun part.”
“I’ll give you whatever you want.”
“Listen carefully. We’re in a unique place. Under U.S. law, crimes committed in national parks are under exclusive federal jurisdiction.” I reach under the seat and pull out a wrapped bundle.
“And trials must have jurors from the state and judicial district in which the crime is committed.
You with me?”
He exhales. Clouds of steam gleam against weak winter sun.
“Yellowstone is part of the Wyoming judicial district. But we’re in Idaho now. And nobody lives in the Idaho section of the park. Understand?”
“Perhaps you’ll sum it up for me, Professor.”
“I believe there is no way to put anyone on trial for a crime committed here.”
“Precisely. This place is known as the Zone of Death.” I unwrap the bundle, pointing the Glock.
Thanks, Brent, I think.
“We were an odd match from the get-go. Now I understand, of course. But there’s one problem with marrying the only child of a grease monkey.”
“I think there are many problems.”
“Here’s another. See the fuel gauge on that snowmobile? Says half-full. Is it fuck, Dominic.
You’ve barely got fumes in there. And now I’m either ‘going for help’ – I attempt air quotes, but the gun makes it difficult – or we make a deal. Which is more valuable to you: your reputation or your life?”
“I’m wondering how much my reputation is worth to you.” Good answer.
“Ah. One detached house – ours is fine. An Audi – yours suffices. Three-quarters of our other assets. Your departure for a different job by next academic year.”
“I think we have a deal.”
“Oh, and a flat in Faro for two weeks next December.”
“I still think we have a deal.” His eyes fix on the gun.
“Very well, then.” I reach into my coat and hand him a pen. “Sign the last page.”
“Hand me the documents and wait here. My half-brother – you know, Brent, the gadgie with the snowmobiles – will be waiting for me at the road.”
“No, you’re not. Don’t lie. We’ll come back and get you. Then I’ll spend the rest of the day with my mother and half-brother. Because Christmas is all about family, isn’t it?”
DC Smith has been a 2019 CWA Debut Dagger Finalist, a Bloody Scotland Pitch Perfect ’19 Finalist, and featured in 2019 Capital Crime New Voices; LL, 2020 #SFoW Friday Night Live. He’s also got a quite brilliant story in Noir from the Bar, an NHS fundraising anthology featuring 30 authors from Noir at the Bar.
Alternative Christmas Story
Julie Sathwell was dreading this Christmas. She had to endure a long weekend every year, with her partners family. And boy it was a long weekend. All sitting there pretending to like one another. Pretending to like her. The Australian. Or the gold digger. Which was actually dryly amusing as the money in the household was hers. Not strictly legitimately, but a mere point. Their nasal voices called her that when they thought she wasn’t
listening or couldn’t hear them.
It was the same year in, year out.
Oh God, was it boring. Everyone sat around the table to force dry Turkey and soggy sprouts down their scrawny necks. Every year she’d smile and ignore the jibes. The convict jibes.
She’d feel Andy put his hand on her leg, thinking that would stay her if she lost it. Still, the support was welcome.
Nobody knew about her past. The things she had actually done. When her name was Nicole Salter.
Nicole was there under the surface, but legally she didn’t exist. Not any more. Nicole was wild and untamed. Julie was careful, controlled and the person you would take home, whereas Nicole was the secret girlfriend. That had been the problem.
Julie shook herself from her reverie, and began to get dressed for day one with ‘the family’. The mafia in makeup. She chuckled to herself. Well, it was all going to change. She wasn’t going to take it anymore. No more selective deafness.
She took a deep breath and surveyed herself in the mirror. Everything that caused comment, she had gone out of her way to do this year. She was determined she’d not be invited again. Royal blue was only for the Queen and moonstone was unlucky. Ticks times two. Killer heels made three.
Julie went downstairs looking for Andy. His eyes widened. Then he smiled and said ‘Rebel’ She grinned in return. Kissed him hard on the mouth, in front of them all. Another thing that was frowned upon. They’re going to be shocked to find out I’m having a baby, she thought. One way to
knock the smug expressions from their faces.
The dining room was way overdone as ever. No comfort, just chairs that held you ramrod straight. Starched linen. Too many sets of cutlery. This was more of a who was most impressive. Not a family gathering with any intention of fun or relaxation. It was like a formal business meeting looking at whose assets outstripped whose this year.
Everyone was gathered in the living room. This lot called it the drawing room. She hadn’t even told Andy that she was pregnant, yet. The thing was they had an agreement, that should she become pregnant, this circus every year, would cease. Julie knew this was no reason to have a baby, but she
wanted one and this would stop Nicole coming out to play. She was easily hidden at home when she was happy. Even Nicole yearned for a child.
This year the atmosphere was charged. It was always tense, but under the surface something was brewing. Julie put it down to hormones. Recently, she was going through a stage where she could cry at the slightest thing.
Her own parents were long gone. And best forgotten. They’d been overbearing, bullying and hurt Nicole and her younger brother until one day, Nicole killed them both. Messily, bloodily and with total gusto. Her brother sat watching in abject horror, as on Christmas Day, Nicole took the carving knife first to mummy and then to daddy. They were no match for the 12 year old, in their drug and alcohol induced states.
Harry, her 9 year old brother, sat there and watched. Saying nothing, doing nothing. Nicole was encouraged by his silence. After she was finished Nicole had carved an N raggedly, into each of their foreheads. To make it pretty a small slash either side. She’d heard a lot about graffiti. She was just
signing her work. So much fun. Until Harry started screaming and the neighbors had called the police. Then the circus began. They didn’t accept that Nicole or Harry were abused in any way. They said Nicole was insane. A fact that still infuriated her. She went through the system. Young offenders pretend prison, as she called it. Nicole’s other secret passion was drama. Inside, when they sent her to prison for real, she learned to play the system. Saying she was sorry, saying that someone else had put her up to it, but she didn’t hear bad voices any more.
A model prisoner, Nicole Salter now Julie Sathwell was given a whole new identity. She adopted an Australian accent, and people, idiots, marvelled at her cleverness. She didn’t see Harry again. He was given a new home, a new family, doubtless forgetting all she’d done for him. It grieved her, but she understood.
Shaking herself back to the present, Julie caught the stares at her dress, heels, everything about her and smiled.
‘Anything wrong, Eddie?’ She asked Andrew’s gaping father.
‘No, you look lovely, Julie’ He stammered.
Everyone carried a bowl of something to the table and began sitting down and passing the bowls around. The starter was always a 70’s style prawn cocktail, all wilted lettuce and stale bread.
Every year there were different family members at the table who were selected by the family as ‘suitable’.
What a pompous lot of arses, thought Julie.
During the meal Julie gave the family her news, which usually drew polite smiles, or the occasional ‘that’s nice’
Not this time. Their jaws dropped wide open. Bluntly, Barbara , or Barbaric as Nicole termed her commented that they’d no idea they were trying yet!
‘Well, Barbara it’s not polite conversation to say that one slept with ones husband last night, is it?’ replied Julie, aping Barbara’s stuffy speech patterns.
Dinner was pretty much in silence after that, barring Andy kissing her, and grinning. At least he was happy.
All night a cousin of Andy’s had watched Julie with an amused expression on his face. She knew he was vaguely familiar, sure he’d been at one of these horrific events before.
In the kitchen afterwards, Julie was pouring herself an orange juice with soda.
Behind her she heard a burst of applause. She turned abruptly, expecting his mother, recovered and ready to bite, like the rabid dog she was. Julie laughed inwardly.
It was the cousin? Nephew? Whoever.
Feigning innocence, Julie looked at him. ‘What?’
She was tired and games were beyond her now.
‘Well done on the announcement. That really shocked them for once.’ The dark haired man said. His coal black eyes bore into her. ‘Your surprise was marvellous, but it won’t top mine, I’m sure!’ His eyes gleamed with pleasure. He crooked his finger, irritating Julie, and she sighed about to refuse, as he caught her elbow, walking with her from the room. His grip was uncomfortable and Julie felt Nicole telling her to run. But she couldn’t.
There was a small room, a second, smaller living room and she was relieved to see Andy sitting on it. He didn’t turn to smile at her as they entered behind him.
‘Andy? What’s this about? What’s going on? Your cousin just dragged me here to…’ the words dried up in her throat as she walked around the sofa to the front of Andy. Blood ran down his face. When she looked for the origin she saw something she’d not seen in a long time.
In the centre of his head was carved the letter N with a small slash either side. Julie dashed forward, wondering if shock had killed him. She smelled the iron like odour of blood and opened his jacket.
The knife, almost identical to the one used to kill both of her parents was dug deeply into his chest.
Her hand grasped the handle, and she realised too late that she could do nothing.
The cousin looked at her. ‘Recognise me now, dear Nicole? I always intended to finish you too, that day, but you tried to stop me, and screamed like a banshee. So I. carved your initial. When you remembered nothing, it was put down to denial. The police are on the way, already. I’ll be telling
them what I know and say he’d realised who you were. You’d threatened me, too, after worming your way into this family. They need never know the truth’ he smiled in victory.
Julie sunk to the floor, realising that this was her brother, or rather Nicole’s brother Harry. Suddenly the truth of what he said hit her too.
She was about to try and stand as in through the door marched the police, as Harry had said. They picked Julie up, read her her rights and started to take her from the room.
‘Thank you officers for arriving so promptly. Should you need anything at all..’ They nodded, thanking him.
As Julie looked back to find his eyes boring into her, he said ‘Merry Christmas’ Smiling he turned his back and held court with the family.
Julie was now on her way to prison for the second time, for something she hadn’t done.
You can find out more about Angi at her website: http://ailsacawley.com on WordPress, on Twitter at AilsaCawley and Facebook Ailsa Cawley Poetry
She Could Make a Killing
It had been sleeting all day. An evening when Sue might prefer to stay curled up watching TV. But she had been doing rather too much of that since her divorce. She needed to get out -get a life as her brother so elegantly put it.
But where to go? A lone woman sitting at a bar counter, that cliché of American romcoms, -too terrifying a prospect for someone of her diminished confidence. The same went for dating sites, never mind being the friend everyone wanted to match make with their socially inept
Join a group! Rania instructed. So, she had.
Italian for Beginners, Life Drawing, Book Club which only produced an invitation to join two lovely gay men on the annual Pride March.
The lure of Corrie was strong as Sue finished off her microwave lasagne. But, a local writing group had invited her to attend that evening. Now or never. And writing was something she was doing quite a bit of since the break-up, angst-ridden poems reminiscent of her teenage jottings.
The membership was larger than anticipated and more men than women. That was heading in the right direction. In the tea break Sue found herself surrounded by chatty, friendly people. Hard to equate them with the dark and murderous writings which characterised most of their work …
Slashing swords dripping blood and gore, thrilling pursuit by a paid assassin through an abandoned warehouse, the horror of murmurs emanating from the attic in the dead of night.
Sue was relieved not to be asked to read from her own rather whiny, pallid scribblings. By the end of the session she was feeling inspired to consider more savage themes in her own writing. And, she had caught the furtive gaze of a not unattractive man with greying temples.
Robert had read a rather disturbing piece about a young woman held captive in a cellar by her innocuous neighbour. She wouldn’t hold that against him; it was fiction after all.
It was snowing hard when Sue emerged from the hall. She zipped up her jacket and wrangled with the umbrella.
‘You’ll come back after Christmas? Not put you off?’ Molly, the admin, enquired breezily.
‘Yes, I think so.’ Sue replied.
‘Good-oh!’ Molly sprinted towards her car.
Sue launched across the dark forecourt, a plethora of ideas already jostling in her mind.
Spurned woman stalks ex. Too much of a stereotype? Needing a twist. He kills her in an act of self-defence – then her sister returns and exacts revenge. Or, woman suspects her husband is a serial killer – the only catch, he’s the investigating police officer! Yes, that might be a goer. Some of the group had been published. A whole new career beckoned as a popular
crime writer. She could make a killing. There would be no shortage of suitors then!
Thudding footsteps behind caused her a sudden jolt of apprehension but it was only the young sword-slasher hurrying past with a quick wave.
She reached the shelter of the bus stop. In the distance the lights of the hall switched off; various cars swung out from the side street and disappeared into the night. She was alone.
The nearest street lamp wasn’t working. A thick velvety darkness enveloped her. The snow eased and she could hear a rustling in the bare tree branches which hung over the footpath.
A sleek car emerged, dazzled her and crawled to a halt, its engine purring like a predatory cat. The passenger window slowly wound down.
‘Need a lift?’
She peered in to the dark interior. It was Robert.
‘We’re neighbours I believe.’
Sue hesitated, but all at once recognised him. The pharmacist at the local Boots. Not a stranger after all.
They set off. The central locking clunked on. Sue felt a ripple of anxiety.
Robert threw her a sidelong glance; his smile oddly crooked in the reflection of the dashboard. ‘There’s been a spate of car-jackings.’
Her mind raced. Robert was a chemist. He knew all about drugs. How to knock a woman out. The chloroform-soaked cloth ready to hand in the driver’s side pocket. Perhaps he really did have a cellar? And how did he know where she lived? Her eyes widened. Had he been watching her from a distance? She sneaked a look. His brows were creased, intently focussed
on the road. Wipers whipping back and forth. Did anyone even know where she was that evening? Would anyone miss her? It was the long Christmas break from uni. Possibly not for days.
Then Sue sighed with relief; her prescription for anti-depressants of course. That’s how Robert would know her address. Nevertheless. ‘Drop me here at the top of the road.’ She blurted.
Robert shook his head, ‘Allow me to see you to your door.’
The car drew up outside her house. Dark and empty. Robert switched off the engine.
‘It’s not easy is it?’
What was he saying?
‘My wife left me last year.’
Had he unlocked the car? Sue surreptitiously grasped the handle.
‘Can leave you in a dark place …
Shit. Her heart thumped in the deafening silence which followed.
‘Writing’s helped. And – meeting new people.’
His hand fluttered between them. Was he about to place it on her knee? Would the chloroform follow?
The central locking was released.
‘See you next time, then?’ He sounded hopeful.
She nodded, a little too quickly, ‘Sure.’
As Sue stepped out of the car, she thought that perhaps after Christmas she might make enquiries at the local Amateur Dramatic Society. Their next production, Arsenic and Old Lace, that would be fun.
Rose Cullen is on Instagram as rosiewriter
She will be publishing The Lucky Country, (not a crime novel) soon, so be sure to keep an eye open for it!
An Intruder for Christmas
Christmas morning, 2.01am. Tynemouth. Police Officers Jack Price and Peter Murray stand in the living room of the beautiful Victorian home of James and Tracey Barwick. The Barwicks had called 999 to report an intruder in their house.
All four of them stand staring at the vast marble fire place, the centre piece of this cosy room. They are transfixed by a pair of stout black boots that hang down from the chimney. Occasionally the boots will give a wriggle followed by a muffled cry from above.
“This is how we found him,” said Mr Barwick, looking at the bemused Officers.
“I’m a light sleeper,” Mrs Barwick adds. “I was just coming back from the toilet when I heard a thump on the roof. I woke James and when we came down stairs to investigate, well….”
As if on cue, the boots gave a kick and a cry emits from the fireplace.
“Okay, Mr and Mrs Barwick, if I could ask you both to step back. We’ll take it from here,” said Officer Price, pulling his torch from his belt and flicking it on.
The two officers cautiously approach the boots. Officer Price stoops down into the gaping mouth of the fire place and shines his torch up into the darkness.
He calls up to the owner of the boots, “Right sunshine, I need you to drop down here so we can have a word.”
“Oh dear,” came the voice from above. “This is a rather embarrassing predicament I find myself in. It would seem I have added a few pounds since last year. Normally I’m in and out of here in a jiffy.”
The two officers glanced at each other. Officer Price calls again, this time more forceful. “Right, this is your final warning. I need you to get your arse down here or we’ll be forced to drag you out.”
“Now, now, Officer Price” replied the voice, “there’s no need to use such colourful language. Keep this up and I’ll be forced to add you to my naughty list and that means you won’t be getting the PlayStation 5 you’ve asked for.
“Did he just say Officer Price?” asked Officer Murray.
“How does he know I asked for a PlayStation 5?”
“He must be one of our regulars,” Officer Murray said to his partner, who now stood looking confused at his recent exchange with the disembodied voice. “Right pal, we’re dragging you out and you’ll be spending Christmas day in a cell.”
“Sorry, Officer Murray. I can’t be doing that. I’ve still got too much to do. If I’m locked in one of your cells, how the Dickens will you get the golf clubs you asked for,”
“What the hell?” exclaimed Officer Murray.
“Language Peter. Don’t make me add you to the naughty list. Now, I must be on my way or I’ll never be done. Heave away Rudy my sweet boy.”
And the boots shoot back up the chimney with a departing cry.
“What did he say?” Mrs Barwick asked the Officers, as they emerge from the cloud of soot.
“HO! HO! HO!” they both replied.