Tag Archives: Homage to Film Noir

Dark Connections

( A Classic 1940s Hollywood Noir pastiche)

DARK CONNECTIONS
             Episode 1
The tannoy boomed out;
” Attention please! Will passenger Mr.John Smith please report to the Station Manager’s office,that’s the Station Manager’s office on the main concourse,thank you”.
Anyone in the vicinity on hearing that would perhaps have noticed a dapper business guy,in his late forties, carrying a regular attache case suddenly spin on his heels and stride purposefully back the way he just came.
The station had great signage,on entering the cathedral-like domed rail terminus,John Smith saw that to his left were platforms 1 to 9 for all northbound destinations and on his right platforms 10-18 for all the southbound.He’d arrived with plenty of time to spare before his scheduled departure from platform 13.
Though even as he smartly about-faced he couldn’t for the life of him imagine who’d be requiring his presence so urgently.
The Station Manager’s office was a typically State-run affair; far too hot for the time of the year,yellowy-brown wallpaper and furnishings and a large oak desk behind which sat an indetereminate figure subsumed in a fug of pipe smoke.
“Can I help you at all?””Yeah,sure,you just put out a call for me over the p.a”Now he was stroking his chin whilst keeping a firm grip of the pipe stem as it continued to stream its pervasive odour like a badly maintained car exhaust.
“You Mr.John Smith?””What is it you want to see me about,I’ve got a train in ten minutes”.”That right?well you got some i.d.that tells me you’re John Smith”.
He deftly flashed a business card from his wallet with exemplary ledgerdemain and saw it land on the desk blotter.”Great,thanks Mr.Smith. a lady called just a couple of minutes ago,asked for us to put out a message,which you heard and asked to pass on a number you could phone her back on”.
The Manager eased the telephone handset across the desk toward Smith and handed him the slip he’d taken the number down on.Glancing at his watch,he continued “May I?” pointing at the phone.”All part of the service to passengers”grinned the smoke enshrouded manager.
Ring,ring,r..
“Hello?”A breathless kind of eerie female voice responded,making John Smith raise his eyebrows.”Listen and just shut up,I haven’t got much time.I was hoping to catch you before you got the train here”.”Sorry but I’m having a problem..” She interrupted him, “This is John Smith I’m speaking to right?”What?of course I’m John Smith,you left a message for me remember, and the Station Manager whose office phone I’m using asked me for proof of i.d.so its your move next lady”.”Forgive me John,won’t you,like always? Only you must not get on that train.Do not go to the rendezvous as arranged”.
The increasingly cryptic tone of the conversation had taken him somewhat by surprise ,”So what are telling me ,my meeting’s off,is that what this is about?”
The female voice at the other end gasped,perhaps part in resignation and partly with exasperation.”Always so punctillious John,so ,so correct.But we’ve run out of time or at least I have; but you can still get out of it that’s why I phoned the Station,I knew you’d be there on time.”.
Smith turned to the Manager and mimed his own vexation at this call.”Who has called the meeting off and why didn’t they bother to let me know via my office? ” he glanced at his watch,again.
“All I know is the meeting as you describe it is off and you’re not to go there.They told me they’ll contact you directly in a couple of days to let you know how things stand”. He detected the beginnings of a sob as she hung up on him.
Smith handed the telephone back over across the Manager’s desk and muttering some indistinct thanks exited the office.His train was due to leave in five minutes.
Back outside the cathedral-domed edifice an unexpected traffic snarl up was causing a long backup of vehicles.All eager, all impatient, none more so than dozens of passengers in dozens of taxis all with their meters still running and the likes of John Smith beginning to wander whether they’d be better off getting out here and walking the remaining 200 yards or so to the station.
He looked at his watch.Damn! 
He pressed a twenty note into the cabbie’s eager fingers as he hastened onto the heaving pavenent.
Tall,gaunt wth distinctively ascetic facial characteristics and no mean athlete even at 35,Johann Schmidt -or John Smith as it had been anglicised after the War, jogged easily into the station main concourse.To his right the signage indicated all northbound platforms and on the left,southbound.Being the perfectionist on organsational detail he pondered for a brief moment double checking the mission security protocol.He looked at his watch,nip and tuck,but could do it which meant he should,which in turn meant..
 “Excuse me are you the Station Manager? The room gave Schmidt the indelible impression that it had been smoked in quite heavily.A thin pallid man in collar and tie squinted nervously at the question.”Erm,no,I’m just the Chief Operations Clerk minding the store as it were till he gets back,he’s just popped out for a moment”.
“Oh I see would you be able to tell me if someone had phoned here in the last few minutes asking to put out a call for me?”
The pallid clerk stared blankly thro his thick lenses at this impertinence by a member of the general travelling public.
He told him that a call log is kept.And Schmidt told him his (legally) anglicised moniker.
“John Smith you say?” parried the Clerk.”Yes,that’s right, here’s my business card”Schmidt tossed the item onto the desk with all the nonchalant ease of a casino gambler winning at vingt et un. At that instance,the office door swung open and the pipe smoking Manager was back.
“Can I help you at all?””It’s okay Sir,I’m already dealing with this gentleman’s enquiry””Really? and what might that be?” – the broken exhaust pipe fumes gathered about him.
“Just checking if we put out a call for him before he got here”.
Schmidt smiled non commitally and hoped reassuringly at the Manager.
“What’s your name?””Mr.John Smith, I’ve left my business card on the desk”.””Look it’s here Sir in the log,why not ten minutes ago ,John Smith”The Manager got behind his desk “This your business card here?”Schmidt nodded.”Here,take it and leave and don’t come back until you come up with some plausible story”.The bemused Schmidt asked”What’s wrong,who called?”
“You see buddy,we don’t give out confidential information but in any event and just to satisfy your curiousity;sure some person called for a Mr.John Smith as it happens and Mr.John Smith already got his message..so why dont you..”
The Manager pointed at the door and told Smith/Schmidt to go catch a train.

( To be continued..)

Dark Connections (Part Two)

Episode 2 –  

   
A Mutilated Body & A Poor Alibi


” You’re alive!! “
This was Miss Roberts – his Secretary & PA, the type that movies were always casting 20 years younger than the real McCoy. John Smith affected his usual nonchalance,”You sound disappointed Toots, how come ?”

Miss Roberts always gave great ripostes:”Thing is Skip,when we heard you were dead first thing I did was look up florists in the yellowpages..”

“Aw,that was sweet of you Toots, on the ball as always”.

“Yeah I’ve got as far as ordering the wreath”

“No flowers yet?”

“You got any preferences?”

“I’ll pass on the flowers, I get hay fever you know”.

“Yeah, but Skip the flowers are meant to go on top of your grave”.

“Got it all figured out ain’t you, the boss croaks and you’re into the flowers for sentimental occasions catalogue”.

“So how come you’re not stiff and laid out on some coroner’s slab?”

“I just wouldn’t be comfortable,anyhow toots you going to let me in on this pantomime show or do I have to buy a souvenir program?”.

Miss Roberts, a widow to an authentic hero in the war.The kind of older sister figure that men like John Smith wished they’d had back in their childhoods instead of two dumb too dumb brothers;anyhow he extinguished that line of thought- the one that only leads into the past and on into melancholy.

Now was not the time for morbid self-reflection;he had things to do and problems to solve now that he was supposed to be dead.

Miss Roberts let him know that an Inspector Ruyter and Sergeant Brannigan were up on the 7th.floor making official enquiries with you know who.Smith nodded appreciatively and prompted her to phone upstairs and request the cops pop down.” ‘Pop down’ ,excuse me Skip?”

“Yes my good woman? ask if they wouldn’t mind awfully popping down”.

Miss Roberts phoned muttering in her stage whisper that someone’s been watching too many Ronald Colman movies lately and ended her call with ” it’s far far better thing” aimed at Smith who had diplomatically already turned his back on her so as not to crack up.


Once they’d all been introduced – police and civilians alike – they settled down with Miss Roberts acting as stenographer.Smith reassured Inspector Ruyter that occasions of this sort here at Continental Development were routinely recorded.Thanking Smith for this unusual courtesy Ruyter proceded with the interview.


Later that evening, everyone else gone home and the city switching to night mode,on the 5th floor of the Hitchcock Building,John Smith and his trusted P.A.were going over what she’d recorded earlier.Each in turn picking out salient highlights.


“30 to 40 large wounds..”
“Remote platform used for freight traffic of which there’d been little of recently due to the wildcat strikes at ports on the east coast,so fairly deserted.”
“On the basis of a heavily blood stained and almost illegible drivers licence and one of your business cards..”
“They triangulared it was John Smith, in particular this one”.
“You say here that you were at the Station to get the 9.11 for your meeting with the mysterious clients but someone you assumed was calling on their behalf advised you not to get the train as the meeting had been called off and they also told you to await for instructions from them”.
“That’s right”.
“At this stage Ruyter asks you for more details about the call and made a pointed reference to Sergeant Brannigan for him to check the call logs for the Station Manager’s Office first thing in the morning”.
“And my answer to what did I do after I got the unexpected call cancelling the meeting..?”
“You said you went and bought the Daily News morning edition and made your over to Steffano’s Bar for a very late breakfast ..”

“After which?”

“You wound up back here on the 5th floor of the Hitchcock Building at your office-Overseas Acquisitions of Continental Development Inc to be greeted by me..”


“You’re alive etcetra and so forth pax vobiscum”.

“You haven’t told them everything have you John?”- Miss Roberts looked at him more in sorrow than admonition.

“Of course not Toots”.

Heaving an all too visible sigh of relief, Miss Roberts continued,”Thank goodness for that, for a moment I thought you were breaking the professional habits of a lifetime”.

Smith grinned,”Yeah and by the time Brannigan who got too many knocks to the head playing gaelic football at College ,will have ascertained, even for his limited intellectual faculties, confirmation of the cadaver’s erstwhile identity from the department of motor vehicles”…
( To be continued )

Dark Connections – 3

Dark Connections – Episode 3


A Call From Buenos Aires & An Inspector Calls.

“Shocking murder at Station!” trumpeted The Daily News morning edition.The Telegraph & Argus regaled its readers with, “Horrific Homicide at Station” ,whilst the more sedate Post & Courier went with “East Coast strikes set to spread”, and only mentioned the murder on page 5.


Smith gave all the papers a cursory examination and tossed them to one side as he leant back on his bar stool.

“Rough business that’s for sure”,opined Steffano,ever attentive to his customer’s needs and interests,in this case,John Smith’s breakfast.Refilling his cup with some more hot java,the bar owner went about wiping down the already gleaming spotless bar surface.


“Vultures gotta eat too,you know”.

“How come the flatfoots are interested in where you was?”

“Flatfoots gotta eat too,you know!” Steffano laughed at that and with an imperceptible turn of the head indicated sotto voce that one of that aforementioned ilk had just entered his establishment.


“Morning Inspector” half growled Smith chewing on a rasher of bacon.

“And the top of the morning to you too Smith,never figured you for being prescient,how did you know it was me”.

“Old magic trick I learnt called looking into the bar room mirror there”.They got to talking and clearing up some mutual misconceptions,at least that’s the gloss that Smith for his part put on the matter.
“Did I hear your Miss Roberts right,calling you Skip? you were Navy?”

“Oh that,no,no,Army and you?”

“Second Lieutenant,I was at Anzio,you?”

“That Skip? Oh I was a Captain,Normandy straight on into Germany ended up Kiel way. My Company got rescuing a few folks from abandoned cattle wagons, anyhow I got them over to Sweden after commandeering a Nazi E-Boat in the harbour there and so the guys tagged me Skipper”.

Ruyter interrupted the histography,

” Back to this other John Smith,Brannigan’s checking with the phone company about that call you made at the Station Manager’s office”.

Smith nodded nonchalantly and carried on with his breakfast and Ruyter kind of took his own leave,”I’ll be in touch,oh say, you a regular here?”

“Yeah,Steffano was in my Company when we were doing the business in Germany”.
   Smith recounted most of this back at the office on the fifth floor to the venerable Miss Roberts who was trying to get a word in edge wise.

“And he seemed curious about me patronising Steffano’s,what do you reckon Toots about that?”

“Well Skip,now that you’ve allowed me to get a word in,I’ve got several..”

“Go ahead,name ’em,I’m listening”.

“Well,the Inspector was out for confirmation, you told him about your War service in which case he’ll get to my late husband the Colonel, which’ll square the circle for him about you.”

Smith thumb-stroked his chin in momentary contemplation.
“And you’ve got a call waiting since you got back which I’m still holding”

“What call,who?why didn’t you tell me sooner instead of letting me gab away” 

“It’s Cousin Phil on a secure line”.Smith affected puzzlement,”Which of my erm, Cousin Phils is it?”Smith took the call in his own inner office.
It was Buenos Aires.”Phil” was the erm,Cultural Attache at the Embassy.

He had learned that some rather important Swiss gentlemen had arrived the other day and were making discrete enquiries with prominent Argentine entrepreneurs about certain business opportunities in the States.

“So how come you didn’t make the meeting?”

“You know how they work,cut-outs,double blinds they want to negotiate at arms length with no repercussions.If the stock market got wind of this.Potentially huge South American investors with Swiss financial backing.”

“So what’s next?”

“I’m supposed to wait for them to get in touch”.

“Odd that,from a purely operational perspective,postponing a meeting like that”.

“Say Phil before we say buenos tardes and adios and all that ,presumably those Swiss gentlemen would be of the German speaking variety.” Phil confirmed.
“You know clients of those Banks all got mountains of gold teeth they yanked out at Belsen and elsewhere that need melting down converting to hard currency and that hard currency needs to be invested”.

“Your right Cousin John, that’d be what economists call the virtuous circle”.
   Even as John Smith ended the call with his Cousin Phil,across town another phone call was ending.Sergeant Brannigan had just informed Inspector Ruyter that the Phone Company’s records show the number John Smith was given to call the day before from the Station Manager’s office turns out to be the number of Steffano’s Bar&Grill next the station…

Dark Connections : End Game

        Dark Connections -Episode 5


( In which the protagonists find their way out of the rabbit hole only to get themselves lost in a labyrinth.)


Exiting the elevator on the fifth floor of the Hitchcock Building, Inspector Ruyter and Sergeant Brannigan were intending to drop in on Mr.John Smith one last time.That is if there were an office for the both of them to drop into.


“You press the right button back there?” queried Ruyter,his usual insouciance giving way to discernible irritability.
“Sure I did, fifth floor,the numeral five being on the button,boss”.
“In that case would you mind telling me where the Overseas Acquisitions office has gotten to?”


But before Brannigan could utter a response a new dramatis persona, blue overalled and carrying a mop and bucket,interjected.
“Can I help youz twos,you look kinda lost!”

Ruyter and Brannigan exchanged facial expressions of disbelief and simultaneously proferred their bronze badges to the interloper.”And you are..?
“I’m the building Supervisor,Jarvis, so what’s the beef fellas,you lookin for someone?”
“This is the fifth floor right? we’re here calling on Overseas Acquisitions of Continental Development who’ve also got an office up on the seventh”.
The building Super just looked at the pair of them as though they’d just preached the Tridentine Mass in Latin for all he knew.
“Never heard of either of them”.

Ruyter retrieved John Smith’s business card and showed the Super.”Well? ” prompted Brannigan as the man in overalls studied the card.
“Well what,officers?”
“Where have they got to?”
“Whose got where?”
“You read what’s on the card?”
“Sure I can read,but can you?”
This is what it must be like for a dyslexic to fill in a crossword puzzle thought Ruyter..

“Meaning what exactly?”
“I hate to inform youz twos but you’re in the wrong building,this is the Chandler Building,never heard of the Hitchcock before;you even in the right part of the city?”
They weren’t hearing this.Any of this thought Ruyter.

“How long you been the Super in this building?”
“Five years I guess”.

“Five years,really, that long, listen bud we were here on official business just over a week ago with this company in two offices”.
“So,how should I know that you were,I been on vacation two weeks, came back in this morning”. Game,set and match to the guy in the blue overalls carrying a mop and bucket.


After a little persiflage,he gave leave for Ruyter and Brannigan to look round what was now a deserted office on the fifth floor of what was not even now the Hitchcock building.
Hardly a trace of anything that remotely suggested any kind of human activity had taken place these past two weeks in the Marie Celeste of an office.
Hardly, except for the Bankers’ boxes marked “Rehearsal tapes”.The boxes that held those reel to reels the both of them had ended up listening to and making copious notes on throughout the night.


Just two voices.One male,the other female.Was this Ariadne’s thread out of the labyrinth?
“Why should it make a difference?” enquired the female voice.
“Because it does”.
“A courier’s a courier.”
“No,you’re wrong there, this was a courier,this is now Von Raubwitz who happens to be a courier”.
“The courier,the courier up to yesterday was a Johannes Schmidt,how does it being Von Raubwitz change things?”
“Because we tried killing each other back then when our people got to that abandoned railway truck out near Kiel”.
“But you told me that you weren’t even looking for any rail truck”.
“We got intel on Von Raubwitz and his detail trying for Kiel and a U-Boat out of the war.True to character he was also taking care of one last piece of business,tidying up,drawing a line under the profit and loss columns.A handful of children of the last scientists on Hitler’s A-bomb and chemical warfare programs,the very last of the hostage bargaining chips”.


“But you got them out ,you saved them,they ended up transferred safely to the War Orphans Foundation right here in this City for goodness sakes”.
“Yeah,you’re right but what I didn’t know was Raubwitz got out too.”


Ruyter and Brannigan took longer and longer respite breaks between tapes.What were they listening too? Autobiographical confessions or what?


Hours later it was already morning and Brannigan called his own time out :”I’m sorry but I’m done for now maybe get back on this,I don’t know, this afternoon maybe?”
Ruyter barely shrugged and pleaded with his sidekick just to finish on this one tape for now.


The female tone again.
“So how do we do this,Skip?”
“We let the play run as is but we create a scenario,a narrative,that we fit on to it.And for that we do like we did in Vienna last year.”
“The whole Stanislavsky bit?staying in character even after the show? I really hated that,believe me.”
“I do Toots,I do, but full on Stanislavsky works and we got to stay in character and follow the script 24/7, there will be no letting up,no letting the mask slip; once the Cops get  their teeth into this they must be allowed to follow our screenplay they way we’re going to play it.”
The female laughs, “Any chance of an Oscar nomination this time,do you reckon?”

Neither of them took a break after that.Brannigan checked out the War Orphans Foundation and Ruyter followed up with the City Coroner on the prelim autopsy.

The early evening allowed them to tally up on their endeavours.Brannigan found the Foundation in secluded grounds down by the lake shuttered these past few weeks and the ten or so foreign war orphans relocated somewhere in Canada where the paper trail ran out.Ruyter got a final count on the stab wounds,thirty.

“Still don’t get it boss a ritual killing like that”.

“You read much Brannigan?”

“You mean like on killings?”

“No, no exactly,now take me for instance I love detective fiction.Agatha Christie.She wrote Murder on the Orient Express – I’m surprised none of the Hollywood studios has picked up on it yet anyhow this perp in the book gets his comeuppance on a train,gets knifed pretty bad,by a dozen different people all of whom are connected to this guy’s past deeds”..
Brannigan pondered that for a moment and concluded, “Well just shows you how art imitates life”.

Post Script:


Six months later..


In the art deco labyrinth of Buenos Aires’ main railway station on a languid summer’s afternoon; if anyone had been paying attention to a nattily attired -in a light tan suit -business guy in his 40s as he made his way along the concourse they might’ve noticed him stop abruptly as the station announcement chimed:
 ” Will a passenger Senor Pedro Diaz make their way to the Station Master’s office por favor…”
Entering its odd library like ambience, the Man announced himself, ” Buenos dias, I am Pedro Diaz,you have just put out a call for me?”

Taking the receiver, a voice causes him to have a pang of existential dread, he recognises the voice:

“Hi ya! you the real Pedro Diaz this time?
To which the Man responds ,
“Sorry,wrong number”
 and walks out of the office.

Game Time

                  GAME TIME
He recalled the click of safety catches.

Auric Keller was at a niche Kensington bistro and then he wasn’t.He’d gone to the bathroom just before the dessert course and then he wasn’t in the bathroom.

Shards of short term memories ripped across his mind.The unmistakable visceral odour of a cloth pressed against his mouth, the clumsy way he hit his forehead against the pristine marble washbasin as he tumbled into unconsciousness and the vice like grip of his abductors’ hands propping him up.And that clicking of safety catches.


And then.. “Deus Irae” from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” hoisted him abruptly back into the world.There was his Iphone on the ground next to his throbbing head.On the ground?The cold from the rough,uneven earth seemed to seep into his very bones as he shook and shivered awake and squinted at the phone’s screen.”Caller Unknown”.


Auric Keller gave out a primeval groan,part anger,frustration and fear.Mostly fear.Still wearing, albeit terminally splattered and dishevelled,his casual suit from the dinner date he got unsteadily to his feet and scooped up the phone and swiped accept.
“Talk to me,whoever you are,tell me I’m dreaming”.

“Mr.Keller? good morning to you,and you know you’re not dreaming when you wake up in the middle of field and have no idea how you get there;am I right Mr Keller?”

Auric Keller Head of Global Investment Acquisitions at JamesonCorp had very little time for fools or the cliched dialogue so fond of Hollywood screenplay hacks.
“Listen whoever you are,just give me the bottom line and spare me the existential drama.How much,where and when.”
Did Keller detect a barely suppressed chuckle at the other end?

“Oh Mr.Keller you’re obviously labouring under a misapprehension,allow me to enlighten you,put you straight as it were”
Auric Keller by this time was taking in his immediate physical environment,making mental notes,assessing his own condition and surroundings.A field about a hundred yards long,unremarkable countryside,weather fine,possible distant traffic noises?
“What was that?” he said absentmindedly.

“Please do pay attention Mr.Keller ,the exercise begins in a just a few minutes,you must concentrate;honestly you corporate bosses are all the same”.
He couldn’t see anyone else in the vicinity.It was just him all on his lonesome in the middle of a field.His phone told him that it was 8:57 am.That meant he’d been out cold for the best part of 10 hours.So why no hypothermia? Because they-whoever they were- had kept him indoors and dumped him here maybe an hour ago or less.


“I see you’re orienting yourself Mr.Keller just like the good ex- Special Forces officer they obviously trained you to be.Figuring out why you hadn’t succumbed to the privations of hypothermia no doubt..”
“See? you just said I see,figure of speech or close by”.That chuckle again,”Good heavens no; there’s a drone if you look up and to your three o’clock”.And there was. 
“You still haven’t addressed my request”.”The how much,where and when?”

“You got it pal,well?”

“Well as I was attempting to tell you there ain’t no how much or where or even when, you’re not being held for ransom”.
Despite his Officer training and undeniable reasoning and analytical skillset, Auric Keller found non-sequiturs unsettling.
“In that case what am I doing here and just exactly what is your game?”

“Now that’s the first sensible utterance to come from your lips thus far Mr.Keller,I stress thus far,you’ve still got some way go and we haven’t even started the game yet”.As the voice was blathering in his ear,Keller had visually reconnoitred more of his surroundings.An outhouse of sorts,part of its roof missing,an industrial type refuse skip,bags of cement,wheelbarrows,ladders,shovels..
“I can tell you’re casting your gaze toward the farm outbuilding,why don’t you go over there.You’ll not get the chance later on once we’ve started”.
Keller ambled over toward the outbuilding.Game and starting,he carefully evaluated those words as he spun round and looking in the direction of the drone.


” ‘We’ are not starting any ‘game’,what’s about to happen is I’m putting a stop to it right now” and with that he exaggerartedly pressed 9-1-1.
Nothing.Of course he was in England,had been for the past 72 hours,for the board meeting and that intimate dinner date.9-9-9.

Even as he spoke with what he imagined as being in a cool,calm and collected manner it wouldn’t sound like that to the person answering;he knew all too well the outcome.Can you me give your location-no-but you guys can you do GPS tracking,depends on what you’re calling us about,kidnapped?when?have you managed to escape your abductors?no? where are you phoning from-the field in which you woke up and is anyone standing next to you or threatening your life right now?And so Keller hung up.


“Caller Unknown” rang:”Well Mr.Keller that was rather pointless don’t you think;our emegency services do so hate crank calls;now with time running out please make use of what’s left of it;it’s for your benefit”.the call ended again with the muffled chuckle.

 Thirty seconds elapsed,”There you are Mr.Keller back to your best,our apologies it might be that we overdid the chloroform and that’s slowed you down ;so paying attention?”.Keller grunted and nodded.”The game space – ie.the farmer’s field has been mined with IEDs which at the commencement of the proceedings will be remotely activated.Your game mission is to get yourself across the field alive in the allotted time.In 60 minutes an unmarked white Bedford van will appear at the far gate where the driver will wait to pick you up and bring you in and the game will be officially ended”.


Keller wasn’t sure what to think,”Are you out of your mind? A game that involves me crossing a frickin minefield?”
“That is indeed the nature of the competitve challenge”.

“Well, I’ve news for you pal no-one is crossing this field,mined or otherwise”.

“But Mr.Keller we are contractually obligated to facilitate this psychometric evaluation exercise”
The proverbial penny seemingly began to drop for Auric Keller as he gathered his wits and began scrutinising the horizon for an alternate point of exit from the field – the game space?The voice at the other end took on an air of exasperation- real or feigned,Keller wasn’t sure.
“We’re really sorry Mr.Keller but on 3,2,1, now! we have remotely armed the IEDs.You know as well as anyone Old man Jameson’s aphorisms,you’ve been in his employ long enough to understand just how he gets people to do his bidding in order to get the things he wants,done”.
Now That surprised Keller.”Corporate are paying for all this shennanigans?To have me abducted from a restaurant,held hostage and dumped into a field?That’s insane”.
“Sorry to hear that coming from you Mr.Keller but the clock is running and I’m afraid I’m at the limits of what I’m able to legally share on sensitive corporate contract details with you,despite your position and of course your ambitions to be the next Veep”.
“Whoa their pilgrim just take a step back..”

“How can I Mr.Keller I’m sat in front of a control panel”

“Is that your idea of a lame joke?”He heard that muted chuckle.
“We’re merely facilitators and I may say amongst the market’s leading brands in providing such experiences.” Keller had made the 90 or so feet over to the hodge -podge of idling equipment and materials by the outbuilding.
“You’ll be familiar with the ZenithCorp scandal Mr.Keller,last Fall?c’mon you must be”.
Keller was uncomfortable at the mention of a corporate escape-room task evaluation exercise by one of JamesonCorp’s biggest market rivals.Five of their up and coming executives had been designated an escape-room weekend which they thought involved a mock up flight simulation in a customised hangar.The idea being to see how they would react to being in an aircraft falling out of the sky.Except there was no hangar.And when they showed up at their exercise venue there was a real private jet waiting for them.
“They survived all of them more else,one of them is permanently in a wheelchair”

“Oh that wasn’t us that was a competitor outfit.The point is,the lady in the wheelchair got the top job after a corporate merger and the exercise was deemed a success,she was the one who landed the aircraft.But it was real Mr.Keller,a flight simulator and an entire weekend to work out the clues all with no actual jeopardy that doesn’t tell you anything about character”.
Keller demurred,”Oh it sure does”.

“I’m glad you agree”.

“Yeah it shows that whoever set it up is a complete raving psychopath,so count the minutes down,I’m staying put and you’ll have to explain to Corporate why the exercise didn’t happen”.
“As you wish Mr.Keller,but did I forget to mention a really important clause in the contract?”
“Which is..?””Oh,here it is..that once the 60 minutes of scheduled evaluation exercise time has elapsed all IEDs are to be remotely detonated..in order to avoid any unforseen liabilities once we’ve disengaged from the venue”.


And that point,Keller’s attention was caught by a scurrying motion just in front of his feet,a field mouse burst out from under an partially upturned bucket and headed away from him.A screeching sound made him jump as a goshawk elegantly divebombed onto the mouse some thirty feet away now.And then..


He groaned a little,checked his limbs for injuries,felt the back of his neck.All good.”Mr.Keller,Mr.Keller,you there? You Okay?hello,Keller”.Amazingly he had kept a firm grip on his IPhone.

” Yah,I’m okay, thanks for your concern and I get it.It’s a live fire exercise;well let me tell you you worthless piece of crap,I’ve done live fire exercises and run them too so I’ll deal with you afterwards.Now,how much time I got left?”
“48 minutes..” Keller pressed the mute button and went to over to the stockpile of materials.
“Improvise,improvise” he spoke aloud to himself,repeating his own Special Forces training mantra…
When he looked at his phone screen again,his countdown clock was showing 37 minutes of gametime remaining.

He had retrieved an elongated barrow,mounted an odd assortment of long handled,long reach implements hanging down from the front and bound them as securely as he could with ropes and spare wire he had dilligently scrounged from the pile.
He took a long,deliberate look toward the wide farm gate – he figured about 80 yards or so distant – and off he set trundling the precarious wheelbarrow with its accoutrements over the field with as much confidence and optimism as a Heath-Robinson minesweeper might inspire.


He’d gotten about 20 yards when a voice interrupted his operating theatre concentration.
“Oi,I said oi you there where’d you think you’re going with all that gear?” Keller kept going.”Not now”,he muttered to himself,”not now”.But he did have to pause,turn his head round and look.A farm labourer, rough and mean and meaner looking with every stride he took.”You can’t go thieving just because we leave stuff unattended,take it back right now!”Keller shouted for the man to stop,the potential horror was too much; “And I’m telling you so you’d better listen,stop where you are,don’t take one more step this way”.

“What you talking about mate?”

“Just believe me when I tell you ,you’re endangering your own life by coming after me”.

“You threatening me?” he queried continuing his advance to where Keller stood immobile.”I’m not threatening you,in fact once I reach the gate down there I’m going to leave all this stuff for you to take back”.The labourer kept coming albeit with diminished fervour.”There’s too much to explain,look some people have planted landmines in this field and..”

“Mines,landmines,you think I’m stupid?”
Keller was conscious of the clock running down and he wasn’t making any progress.”Just please go back the way you came!”pleaded Keller.

“Why you bloody cheeky..” the man strode purposefully forward,except that he never got to complete his stride.

Keller didn’t look back to check,he never did on the field of battle and the blast and ensuing clouds of raspberry coloured particles pushed Keller and his trundling wheelbarrow out of their lethargy.

24 minutes left.The Heath-Robinson contraption aka minesweeper trundled on with Keller immersed in a virtually hermetic bubble of fevered concentration.The yards got harder,the terrain rougher and more uneven.Somebody’s going to get their lights punched out when I get back to Corporate after this.


11 minutes left.The physical strain was telling on Keller.The years of soft Corporate life were a Wind he had sown and now it felt like he was reaping the whirlwind.


His phone rang.
“Before you say anything else,let me say this,you’d better explain yourself to me really well when you see me next;now what do you want?”

“Everything shall be explained entirely to your satisfaction Mr.Keller of that I can assure you;now your gametime is showing 5 minutes..”A wave of nausea passed through Keller.”What? No way there’s 10 minutes at least,I set my phone”.
“We are sole adjudicators in matters of contractual dispute Mr.Keller the unmarked Bedford van will be pulling up in 5 ,hope the driver won’t be coming back passengerless”.And there was that irritating barely suppressed chuckle again.


Taking a deep breath,Keller parked the barrow and let it flop onto its side and took a long look toward the gate.He was actually closer,a lot closer than he at first imagined.He noticed a semi-circle of gravel this side of the gate marking the boundary where the field itself ended and began.
The unexpected when you least expected it.Another one of his military aphorisms that he loved to impart to the rookies out on their first mission.
Only two mines had been detonated and for an entire field to have been mined that seemed more than just a little fortuitous.He’d covered some eighty odd yards with the Heath-Robinson minesweeper contraption.Which had hit nothing.


That told him they were saving their best to last.The entire broadsweep fieldside of the gravel semicircle in front of the gate.That’s where I would sow a lot of mines.Obvious.
He half-heard a van coming down the farm track.2 minutes he guessed.Picking up and righting the minesweeper he moved 5 yards then stopped again.The van had come to a halt and the driver’s door slid slowly open.


Keller was maybe 15 feet short of the gravel arc.Time to see just how fit he still was.He carefully disrobed himself of his suit leaving only his boxers on.He bundled up his clothes with spare rope and heaved the bundle airwards and they landed smack next to the gate.And now,he made a mental note of his mark and paced back ten yards for a run up.The van driver looked at his watch.Keller set off.His long jump sent him crashing into the gate itself.

On their way to the control room,which as it turned out was at the actual main farm house not quarter of a mile away; the driver kept half his attention on Keller,”Man that was crazy! just plain out of this world crazy.I bet they didn’t see that one coming”.
Keller let the man talk.A flunkey, a hired hand who probably wasn’t shown the full set up anyway.He had a severe talking to give but not to this guy.They pulled up outside the 18th century renovated,modernised farm house.He was of course expected and to go straight in and see the boss.

The control room was all blue screens and had an air of “This is Houston” about it.They showed him the screens,all the screens and the recordings.And they explained things and answered his questions.Keller was dumbfounded.”If you look closely at the man on screen 1 he’s in what we call our studio barn.His image is projected as a CGI hologram on screen 2 that’s him talking to you.”

“And the mouse?”

“Nope that was a real mouse and a real goshawk but with a micro explosive attached giving you the required impression of a mine going off”.

“So nobody got killed and there were no actual mines”

“And we made a donation to the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as well!”.
Someone behind Keller let out a chuckle.

“Well it seems all you guys need do is send the exercise evaluation report to old Jameson,huh?”

“Poor old Jameson a corporate Titan and 89 years old and unable for the last 15 to even remember his own name”.

Keller laughed,” Back there on the field I thought I was at the mercy of a bunch of evil,sadistic psychopaths who kidnap,torture and would kill for fun”.

There was that chuckle again.Keller spun round to see who it was.
“You!”

“Hi Keller,I’m sorry that we didn’t get to finish our dinner date but what were saying just now?”
“Oh nothing,I thought you might’ve been a bunch of evil,sadistic psychopaths..”

“Really?” she smiled back at Keller,”and who said that we weren’t?”
And just as Keller understood things at last, he heard the clicking of safety catches.

Sticks and Stones

They’d taken me to A&E around 4 a.m. Not a good time to get sent to the hospital, Saturday before dawn, the morning after the night before. Drunks, junkies, vagrants, the knifed, the shot, the battered, the bruised and confused.

They were waiting for me, waiting for me to die, but not on their shift. I could tell immediately. I’m intuitive that way. I could tell that they don’t fancy doing the paperwork that my dying on their shift would entail.

Their words hurt me alright, worse than any sticks or stones if you come right down to it. “ Chest pains!” some intern or other announced as he waved a clipboard at me in the cubicle, the cubicle with its curtain left agape for the morbidly curious.

What chest pains? My badly timed interjection to the dominant medical narrative caused a furious raising of the hospital staff’s eyebrows and an increase in their patronising tones.

Well excuse them but they have tests to run, degrees to measure,percentages to ascertain ; so my p.o.v. didn’t really count. Not in this cubicle, not in this medical facility’s A&E and sure as hell not at 4 in the forsaken morning with blood, vomit and worse decorating the environs of this most sacred of places.

First I had to be disempowered, brought under their stewardship,my critical reasoning was to be set aside ,so that I can be assigned ,consigned ,designed to fit in with their industrial logic.They were waiting for me, to consent to my own incarceration ,so that they could transform me into one of their votive offerings on one of their altars dedicated to their idols of weakness and incapacity.

If I could only feel strongly enough the urge to discharge myself ,and I went ahead and did just that. Then maybe their words would hurt me less than sticks and stones..But they’ll still be waiting for me,waiting for me…..

My Sweetheart ( A Valentine’s Day Noir )

“My sweetheart!”..that random thought arced across the empty horizon of his mind illuminating its darkest corners like the flashbulb of a papparazzi camera.


He saw you there, there in the magazine, there on stage. there on the screen.Pristine,immaculate ; in black in white and in full glossy color.

You filled his eyes,sparkled and dazzled them in black ,in white and in full glossy..


The  hire car had taxed his already somewhat meagre budget that he’d calculated would be sufficient to draw this adventure to a successful conclusion.But it was a necessary investment ,after all anything even moderately inferior in style and quality than this latest model Porsche sports would raise furtive eyebrows here on the Boulevard Saint Michel.

And raised furtive eyebrows might become inquisitive,inquisitive as to what some tawdry, budget conscious vehicle was even doing parked in this pristine,immaculate area.

Pristine,immaculate – his thoughts strayed – just like your form,your shape.Sweet..heart! a form,a shape so casually,lazily represented as if painted by Michaelangelo in an Age of beauty and mystery.

The mystery he would soon reveal as no mystery at all.The bouquets ,the chocolates,the cards,the jewellery, all delivered by high end corporate business couriers and now on this very special,this unique occasion, Valentine’s Day,no more intermediaries would be necessary..


He sees you now. Pristine. Immaculate. Leaving your fancy apartment here on the Boulevard Saint Michel,

You are alone,You are pristine,You are immaculate;

He reaches for the syringe.And steps out to meet you..”Sweetheart!”

The Big Sleep

A snap-brim hat caught
in the bar-room mirror,
a trenchcoat Theseus is
lost in midnight labyrinths
and their fragrances of promise;
Our hero is pearl-diving
with wisecracks for switchblades,
cutting open evenings and cutting
open dames’ hearts like oysters.

Out on the sidewalk gatts boom
like battlefield Howitzers,their
hollowpoint shells looking for shortcuts,
a trenchcoat and tux soak up the
moisture after getting rained on
by two Forty-Fours.

The Packard 8 roars back
into the panther lair of the
night,sirens and crazy red ‘n’blue
fairground lights come to take
some cold meat back to
where only dreaming heroes sleep.

A struck match caught in the
gleaming ornate bar-room mirror
Our hero is playing the Shamus
with dames wreathed in fancy
smoke rings,they’re offering him
intricate labyrinths to be got into
and out of, with a smile,
just like Ariadne’s thread.

The Unreliable Narrator

He said he couldn’t remember all that much,

maybe he chose to forget a little,

a few minor details

nothing of importance,

a few fragments here

something else there;

who cares?

who knows?

who cares who knows?

his whereabouts during those vital hours,

her unaccounted for absence from work,

that break-in at her home and nothing taken,

the discovery of her car in an abandoned lot,

those unexplained scratch marks on his hands?

He said he couldn’t remember all that much;

in front of him a nurse

ushering the detective out of the room,

sat up alone now

with just a monitor beeping above his head

and spreading across his face,

a slow smile.

 

Femme Fatale

She spoke with an accent I couldn’t identify,

her voice was a voice that came from another time,

or maybe that was the dress she wore,

and that dark perfume and the choker of pearls

as if she’d stepped out of a forties Noir movie;

Whatever her age she didn’t belong

to this year or even this century,

seeing her was like finding something

that had been lost for centuries then

restored to its rightful place,

she reminded me of a painting I’d seen

in the hush of a museum near closing time

with the spent awe hanging in the

gallery’s air like old dust;

I leaned toward her,

her perfume wrapped me

like a velvet cloak,

I watched immobilised almost as if

she’d struck me with a curare-tipped dart,

She smiled that half smile,

she turned and left,

her hair swinging against her naked back

as she walked away.