“Changing the Odds” Taster

I have a place to go when I can’t make sense of anything.

Emily’s memorial stone lies in a quiet corner of St Edward’s churchyard, underneath a three hundred year old yew.

In memory of Emily 1969 to 2011.

I looked at the stone, fringed with grass cuttings. I knelt down and brushed them away. Emily was my life and my strength and my motivation for twenty three years. When the cancer took her, I was lost. What saved me was her voice. Telling me I had things ahead of me I had to do. She was the love of my life; still in my heart and head, chastising me every time I appear ready to give up.

We talked for a while. Then I said goodbye.

I stepped through the lych gate again, and got into the Healey. I glanced in the rear view mirror. A sporty looking silver Audi nosed into the lane and glided up behind me.

I stayed in my seat and watched the driver climb out. He was big. Bigger than he had seemed in Len Coleman’s garden. He moved alongside the Healey passenger door and in the process, blocked out the light. I waited to see what would happen next. He opened the door, bent down a couple of feet and looked into the car

“May I speak with you, Mr Shepherd?”

“About what?”

“Please get out of the car.”

Behind me the Healey sagged on its springs as something weighty dumped itself onto the boot. My interlocutor spoke again.

“Pretty please…”

I opened the driver’s door and slid out of the car. When I stood up, I was able to confirm the man was three or four inches taller than me; and considerably wider. I looked back to the rear of the car. His associate, who appeared to have no neck, grinned at me from a face which sat on his shoulders like a beach ball in a trough in the sea.

The man at the passenger door asked for my attention again.

“Mr Shepherd…”

I turned back to him. His neck was solid, like a racing driver’s. But then, he looked strong all over. And his smile was a revelation. He beamed at me, by way of some truly expensive dental work.

In return, I tried to be gracious.

“We didn’t have time for introductions when we last met,” I said.

He smiled again. “My name is Smith.”

I turned to the man sitting on the boot lid. “And you must be Mr Jones.”

By the passenger door Smith said, “He’s called Smith, too.”

“Ah,” I said. “The Smith brothers.”

“You’re obviously going to keep us in stitches,” Smith Two said.

“I try to stay bright, in spite of the company,” I said.

I turned to face Smith One. He reached inside his jacket. I froze. He produced a large white envelope and passed it across the roof of the car. He didn’t have to stretch at all. It seemed he had long arms too.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Ten thousand pounds,” he said.

I took some time over the next sentence.

“And what do I have to do for this ten thousand pounds?”

He smiled again. The sunlight flashed on his teeth.

“Nothing,” he said. “My employer simply requests you do absolutely nothing.”

“And who is he?”

Smith One gave a shrug of regret. I looked at the envelope in my hand. Time to be resolute.

“Well, ‘nothing’ is a problem,” I said. “You have to be careful with ‘nothing’. ‘Nothing’ can take you over. Then where are you?”

To my left, Smith Two sighed deeply.

I looked at him. “Difficult is it? This concept?”

He pulled a .45 automatic out from under his armpit. Obviously…

He stood up and the car rose on its rear springs. He stepped back, took his time, aimed the .45 at the rear window in the soft top and pulled the trigger. The roar was deafening, even in the open air. The bullet went into the car through the plastic rear window and out again through the windscreen; leaving a hole in the centre of it and the rest of the screen opaque, a web of jagged lines barely holding it together.

Smith One spoke. “My apologies…”

He took a couple of steps to his left, bent down and retrieved the spent cartridge case. Experienced and careful.

“Mine too,” I said. Stretched over the top of the car and handed the envelope back to him. He shrugged once more and returned it to his pocket.

“The offer won’t be made again,” he said, emphasising every word, and slammed the Healey passenger door.

The damaged windscreen disintegrated, showering glass over the front seats.

The Smiths walked back to the Audi. The car reversed along the lane, swung to the left, disappeared for a moment or two, re-appeared, drove past the lane end and out of sight once more.