I Cannot Take Your Call At The Moment.


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

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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.