I Cannot Take Your Call At The Moment.


 This story is now part of my new short story anthology, PASSERBY.

You can purchase a copy HERE

If you like what I do, you can help me to keep on doing it by buying one of my books.

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My phone had slipped down the back of the couch, and I almost missed the call.

Phillip was in town and did I want to meet up?

Of course, I did; when and where?

I didn’t know the bar that he suggested, but what the heck?

I arrived a long time before Phillip which was very unusual for me, I’m always late.

Running on ‘Arab Time’ someone once called it, and it’s true, I like to take my time, I don’t like to be rushed, so I sat and had a ‘small beer’. When the bartender asked me what I wanted I asked for a James Boag’s as it was the only beer on tap that I recognised.

I saw him go for the pint glass, but I knew it was going to be a long night, and I also knew that Phillip could drink, so I said: Just a little one thanks, mate. He hesitated, and I thought that was because no one ever asks for a small beer. He found a small glass and filled it, looked up at me and said: You did mean the beer didn’t you mate, you weren’t referring to me?

I honestly had not noticed that this bloke was barely five foot three.

Without hesitation, I said: No, mate. I assumed I was standing on a box.

He smiled.

He wasn’t worried.

I think he was just winding me up, but for a second I noticed that he had a slight Irish accent, and I knew that this encounter could have gone an entirely different way.

My quick and casual response probably defused what might have become ugly, and I was amazed at how relaxed and loquacious I was considering the roaring headache and developing a migraine.

My guardian angel must have been paying attention.

I sat quietly in a corner looking out the window and enjoying the passing parade. It was late in the afternoon and those workers who chose to start very early in the morning were now starting their journey towards home or beer or whatever they had been looking forward to all day.

The migraine I had been gestating for most of the day showed itself in what has become known as ‘the light show’. Wiggly lights that trace a path across my line of vision.

The build up is unpleasant but once it gets going things settle down quickly as long as I avoid intense light —- driving to get here didn’t help —- and as long as I get my hydration up —- hence the small beer. Don’t laugh, beer is one of those unusual substances that can cause or cure almost anything.

For a small beer, it lasted quite a long time and when it was almost gone Phillip appeared behind me and off to my left. My peripheral vision is pretty good even on a bad day, so I could see him standing there looking at me for several minutes. When I eventually turned and looked at him he laughed.

His words were soft and friendly: It’s always the way, you try to get a candid photograph of someone, and they notice you, and it ruins the shot.

Sorry mate, but you had my bad side, and I couldn’t allow that.

He laughed again, and we began the long process of ‘catching up’.

We agreed that it had been way too long, but neither of us could work out why so much time had passed.

Phillip had photos in his wallet, which was unusual because most people shove their phone in your direction when they want to show you children, girlfriends, lovers, dogs, cats, or holidays.

The snapshots were well-worn, and I wondered how often he went through this ritual.

His kids were cute but ‘average looking cute’ and his wife looked more than an average amount of tired. I had met her a few times, but she was more a friend of Virginia’s.

He was surprised when I told him that I didn’t have any photos.

No, we don’t have any kids.

How’s your missus?

She’s dead Philip.

She’s been dead for a little over two years.

Two years four months, three weeks, five days and ——- about twenty-two hours.

Not surprisingly, this was the beginning of a long silence.

I could see that Phillip was trying to work out what to say next. What do you say when someone tells you such a thing?

Finally he managed a few words: How did it happen; why did it happen?

She was killed. Do me a favour and don’t make me relive it. I’m still raw.

Fair enough mate. I’m terribly sorry.

Thanks, but let’s not dwell on it. My round? What ya drinking?

Another beer would be great. I need a drink after hearing that.

We talked and drank and talked some more.

I took him around the corner to Gino’s for a steak. Gino does a hell of a steak.

We drank a little wine, and we talked some more. He told me about his kids and his job and about the operation.

I was particularly interested in his operation.

He considered himself very lucky that they found the tumour when they did. If the referee had not been so insistent, his teammates would not have taken him to Emergency. He went up for a rebound, and some moron had taken his legs out from under him, and his head was the first part of him to return to Earth. He was unconscious for several minutes, and the game had to be stopped. The Referee was a bit of a pain in the arse, and everyone groaned when they saw that she was to officiate their game, but on this occasion, her bossiness had saved Philip’s life.

After waiting for several hours, he received a scan, ‘just to be on the safe side’. His mates had all gone home by then: Got work in the morning mate, gotta go.

Phillip’s wife had come to collect him, and she was with him when they told him about the shadow on the scan.

Things moved quickly, and it was only a matter a couple of weeks before he went under the knife. They got it all, or so they said, and he only needs to have a check up and a scan ever five years, ‘to be on the safe side’.

I told him how lucky I thought he was and I meant it.

Philip suggested a ‘night cap’ back at my apartment. I live close by so it wasn’t a hardship, and I fully expected him to ask to sleep on my couch, but he didn’t.

My apartment is a lot smaller than the house that Virginia and I shared. There’s only me now, and I hate housework. It’s four floors up and has a pretty view, day and night. I leave the blinds open because frankly, I don’t care who looks in.

I pointed Philip in the direction of the whisky. Single malt, 18 years old from the island of Islay. Scotland’s finest, and reserved for special occasions, and this was as special as it gets.

There is no way of knowing but I suspect that the second last thing that Philip heard was the sound of the hammer being cocked. Naturally, the last thing he heard was the bang.

My dad’s old Webley had been sitting in that drawer for the entire time I’d been in this apartment. I brought it from home, it was one of the few things I kept. Pretty much everything else reminded me of my life with Virginia.

I always hate the way the killer explains why he is about to kill the hero and goes on and on about how much he hates him and invariably, this gives the hero a chance to escape, or even worse, it gives the untalented scriptwriter an opportunity to explain everything to his brain-dead audience.

In my case, I didn’t need the satisfaction of telling Philip how much I loathed him.

You might think that it would have been a better form of closure for me to tell the person who took Virginia’s life that I was about to deliver the justice that had been denied.

The ‘Silk’ who represented Philip was worth every penny of the gigantic fee that he charged because he ran rings around the young barrister from the DPP.

The jury took two days to find him not guilty.

I didn’t think I was the sort of person who would kill with ‘aforethought’. But, it seems that I am.

Not that I believed I would ever get the chance. From his acquittal onwards he was heavily guarded; it must have cost him a fortune.

I cannot be sure but I’m guessing that the neurosurgery caused a bit of memory loss, but even so, you would think that someone would have told him what had happened and that it would be a good idea to stay away from his ‘old friend’.

My chances of getting away with this were slim, but it really didn’t matter. The Webley in the drawer was actually meant for me.

Nature can be very kind.

When someone close to you dies, you simply go numb, and the numbness is designed to give you time to recover.

Then it wears off, and you are left with this intolerable ache. I’m not brave, and I knew that eventually, I would lose hope, and almost had; then I got that call.

I wasn’t able to protect Virginia, but I did manage to avenge her.

I’ve got a little while before the cops arrive. People around here tend to mind their own business, but that was a pretty big bang. My wrist hurts from the recoil, and my ears are still ringing, the noise isn’t doing my migraine any good.

The front door is designed to keep burglars out, so it will take a while for them to break it down.

I’ve got five shells left, there’s plenty of time to think, and I doubt that even I could miss at this range.

You wouldn’t believe it, but there is a hell of a lot of blood inside a person, even an arsehole like Philip.


33 thoughts on “I Cannot Take Your Call At The Moment.

  1. ‘My phone had slipped down the back of the couch and I almost missed the call”. What a great start. Immediately I had this guy in my head…well…I thought I did. Meandering along with him waiting to meet an old friend, the small beer; the little interlude (your signature) of the barman. You writing never hurries me to see the why’s or where- for’s, it just lets met enjoy the moment…THEN BANG! the twist, the drama, the intrigue, and the beautiful flow into tying the loose ends. Geez, I love your stories 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so very much for those excellent comments.
      I carried this story around with me for several days. I knew what I wanted but I was concerned that I might not be able to find the words to do the idea justice. So, to receive such a positive reaction was quite a relief.
      Like my protagonist, I’ve had a migraine for the last four days and it has made it very hard to work.
      I wrote this at our local library, next to a large window which looks out over our town. It was the only available table and it can be very bright if the sun comes out. Fortunately it was cloudy and raining [something we haven’t seen a lot of lately]. Unfortunately, just as I was getting to the meaty bit, the sun came out. I didn’t want to relocate. I’d been looking forward to writing this for several days so I just kept going. The bright sunlight eventually put me to bed for 13 hours! When I felt well enough I wondered if the story was as good as I hoped it was, considering the difficulty in finishing it.
      I changed very little on the second and third drafts. It seemed to work but the only way to find out was to post it.
      And then your comments came through.
      Thank you.


      • I do not suffer with migraine thank heavens but you have all my sympathy as just a normal headache bugs me. For you to finish under those circumstances and not alter too much is amazing. Well done. Hope you are on the brighter side of life now (not in direct sun light though.) I know what it is like when you are in the zone and don’t want to interrupt it by moving.


  2. “There is no way of knowing but I suspect that the second last thing that Philip heard was the sound of the hammer being cocked. Naturally, the last thing he heard was the bang.” — “The Webley in the drawer was actually meant for me.”

    I like how you managed to change the intent from self to Philip. Timing is everything, and yet you knew the outcome of this visit the minute you said, “suspect that the second last thing that Philip heard was the sound of the hammer being cocked…”

    Good work!


    • Thank you for taking the time to comment.
      The whole topic of the ‘happy ending’ is a good one. My muse does not generally like my non-happy-ending stories anywhere near as much as the ones that end ‘well’. I am aware that non-happy-ending stories receive less ‘likes’ and less ‘reads’ and less ‘comments’ and it’s interesting to me that this affects the types of stories I choose to write.
      By definition, fiction can always end up ‘well’, because it can be whatever the author chooses it to be but my problem is that, for me, some of the best ideas are not always ‘happy’ ones.
      I respect your reaction, I really do. Every story is going to affect a reader in a certain way and not always the same way for each reader.
      Not surprisingly, I see this story through different eyes.
      It only just occurred to me [this was not in my mind when I wrote this] that the concept of the ‘lucky opportunity’, is similar to the story of the assassination of the Arch Duke Ferdinand. After failing to kill the Arch Duke on the first attempt, one of the potential assassins was sitting in a cafe when the Arch Duke’s car drove by. By the time he rushed out of the cafe, with gun in hand, the car had gone by, only to stop and reverse back up the road where it attempted to turn around, at the front of the cafe. The driver had lost his way in the confusion of the previous attempt. The assassin simply stepped up to the car and fired. The car came to him. The rest that followed was the devastation of WW1. Remarkable!
      Sometimes the best stories don’t end well.
      Thank you for taking the time to comment. Your comments are always appreciated.


      • Understand that it’s not a slam on the story ending. The overall tone of the story is one of a person suffering because of a personal loss (and being married, I can identify with it). A revenge story is not necessarily bad, but I long ago lost my taste for watching or reading drama.

        So, it’s not necessarily the non-happy ending, but rather the kind of entertainment I am interested in. The key is entertainment.

        But don’t feel bad; I skip the section with Frodo bitching and Sam having to bolster him, both in the books and in the movies.


  3. Such a great feeling to this, as always the little touches – the barkeep, the phone, the migraine – that make it sing. Totally ninja’d me on the the direction of the story. What I love about yours is that you always seem to blindside me. I almost never see the twist coming. In fact I rarely even sense there is a twist coming, but when it does I slap myself for not seeing it coming.

    As a fellow migraine sufferer, I salute you. There is very little worse feeling that doesn’t involve being hospitalised and the fact that you can use your to create something like this, rather than just curl up and die… nicely done sir. Nicely done.


    • Thank you very much for those kind, and welcome, comments.
      The idea of a story having a twist is an interesting one.
      Most of my stories have a twist of some kind but I don’t remember setting out to achieve that, nor do I feel that a short story needs one to be interesting. Sometimes, as with this story, the twist is the point.
      I was reading a story about a couple of guys getting together after a long absence and I was wondering where the story was going when the idea presented itself. The story I was reading went nowhere but my imagination was making the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
      I was lucky enough to be at an interview with an Aussie author, just a couple of nights ago. He said that he hates having to write plot and he loathes having to come up with plot twists; he prefers writing characters. I have to say that I agree with him.
      His reason for not enjoying plot twists…… he said that his audience “You people” are so intelligent that he needs to come up with increasingly more difficult plot twist just to stay ahead of his audience! I know how he feels. With this one I thought that it was very important not to give the game away too early as the twist was the point of the story and I did not want to spoil it. Neither did I want to ‘cheat’ by leaving anything out. The people who read my stuff are very sharp, many are a lot better at this than I am, so you are the perfect audience to try things out on. It also helps that my missus always sees the twists coming. But in this case she was being difficult and would not make the time to read this story before it went live, so I was on my own.
      I’m very pleased that it worked, and I’m happy that you had fun with it.


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