Junk and other short sto.., p.1
JUNK and other short stories, p.1Duncan James
other short stories
Published by Duncan James
Copyright 2012 Duncan James
include the spy thriller trilogy,
‘Cashback’, ‘Their Own Game’ and ‘Motorbike Men’.
1 - JUNK
2 - A FAKE WORSE THAN DEATH
3 - A BRIDGE OF LETTERS
4 - UP IN ARMS
5 - DEATH BY DROWNING
6 - POLES APART
7 - THE TOY BOX
8 - DON’T BANK ON IT
9 - LOCAL TIME
10 - DOWN ON THE FARM
11 - TAKE ME HOME
12 - HAPPY LANDINGS
1 – JUNK
Gavin never opened junk mail. He took the view that if he wanted anything, he could get it himself, without prompting. So junk mail always went, unopened, into the bucket under the sink.
There always seemed to be a lot of it, too. The post usually arrived just as he was leaving for the office, so he quickly thumbed through it, and anything that was addressed to him went into his briefcase, to be read on the train, and the rest went into the bucket. The only exception was the occasional begging letter from a charity, which included a ball pen. He kept the pens. He sometimes felt a bit - well, awkward, - but took the view that if they could afford to send him a pen, then they could afford for him to keep it. So that’s what he did. The rest was thrown away, unopened.
Except that this morning, for some reason, he found himself on the train actually reading a letter that was obviously junk mail. It was from a firm called FreeRanger Travel, which he’d never heard of, and which addressed him as, ‘Dear Sir or Madam’. He hadn’t been called ‘Sir’ for a long time. He looked again at the envelope. It was certainly his address, and he was certainly ‘The Occupier’. He read on, to discover that it was a competition for a five-day holiday in Hong Kong, staying on a privately owned luxury junk in the harbour, and travelling by scheduled airline. Sounded good – he wouldn’t mind a few days in the Far East. He’d never been, and could do with a break. In fact, he’d never been anywhere much. He read on, completed the competition, and posted his entry in the reply-paid envelope on his way to the office from Bank station.
That was that. He thought no more of it.
No more, that is, until he had a phone call at home a couple of months later from FreeRanger Travel.
“Good news,” said the voice. “You’ve won one of our free holidays.”
“Really?” asked Gavin. He only vaguely remembered the competition, to be honest.
“I just need to ask you a few questions, to confirm your identity, and then I can send you details,” said the voice.
He answered the questions, most of which confirmed information he had put on the competition entry form – name, age, address - that sort of thing.
“What have I won, then?” Gavin asked the voice.
“Five days in Hong Kong, staying on an exclusive privately owned junk moored in the harbour. The prize includes scheduled flights, private room with en suite facilities and breakfast. There is a choice of dates to select from when you get our letter, and the holiday includes free transfers from your home to the airport, and from the airport in Hong Kong to the junk. All you have to pay for is insurance, local taxes, your main meals, and any tours and excursions you want. We’ll send you a leaflet.”
This all sounded too good to be true. His mother had always said that anything that seemed too good to be true probably was, but he couldn’t, off hand, see anything much wrong with this.
He didn’t have to wait long for the letter confirming the details. This time, the envelope was addressed to him by name, but still said ‘Dear Sir’ inside. He was impressed. There was a leaflet, with details about the junk. Distinctly Chinese looking it was, too, from the outside, but the inside looked very smart. There was a map of Hong Kong, another leaflet about tours, and one from someone wanting to sell him holiday insurance, which he already had anyway, through his bank.
He selected a date, agreed it with his boss, and rang the free-phone number of FreeRanger Travel to tell them when he wanted to go.
“No problem,” said the voice. “You’ll get the tickets in a few days, with all the details about baggage allowances, check in times and so on, and you’ll be given the time your taxi will call to pick you up to take you to Heathrow airport. Please try to be ready, as traffic can cause delays and if you’re late for check in you could miss your flight.”
This still seemed too good to be true, but at least he appeared to be dealing with a well-organised company who knew what they were about. This was certainly no call-centre in India. And so far, he hadn’t had to spend a brass farthing, or been pestered into buying anything.
He tried to look them up on the Internet, but they didn’t seem to have a web site, for some reason.
Anyway, all the paperwork duly arrived, with the tickets and everything as promised. British Airways all the way, non-stop. It was a very long flight, but he was now getting quite excited about the whole thing.
Gavin had arranged for Nick, his neighbour upstairs, to look after the fish for him while he was away. Tropical fish, they were. Not many – there wasn’t room for a big fish tank in his small flat – but they were, in a funny sort of way, good company for him. He worked a lot from home, did Gavin, and the fish were always there for him to watch. Colourful and lively. You got colour and movement in a garden, but not a lot of it in a converted warehouse flat in Limehouse. The fish were a good substitute and no real trouble at all. The glass needed cleaning from time to time, but the water stayed clear so long as you didn’t give the fish too much food. That’s why he’d given Nick the key. The fish would need a feed while he was away. And Nick had offered to keep an eye on the place as well, so Gavin would have nothing to worry about.
Gavin had just put the final pinch of food into the tank when the doorbell rang. It was the taxi, a bit early, but Gavin was all ready, so it didn’t matter. The driver was a real cockney, as you might expect in this part of London – chatty and friendly. It was a private car sort of taxi, too, not a black cab.
“Is this all the kit you’re takin’?” asked the Cabby, jerking his thumb towards Gavin’s small suitcase and even smaller rucksack with his overnight things in it.
“That’s all,” replied Gavin, collecting his luggage. “Don’t need much for five days.”
The cabby held the door open, while Gavin set the alarm. “One…two…oh…eight,” he recited to himself.
“Got yer keys?” asked the cabby.
“In here.” Gavin dropped them into the front pocket of his rucksack.
“Orf we go then,” he said slamming the door shut and grabbing the suitcase. “Goin’ anywhere nice, are yer?” he asked.
They chatted on, and Gavin learnt the man’s views on almost everything, from Muslims to Meusli, but in particular about the Government.
“’eafrow in abaht ten minutes,” announced the cabby, as if Gavin was a complete stranger to London. “Yer’ in good time.”
So far so good. He checked in at terminal five, and had time to browse round the duty-free shop. Very tempting that was, too, but he avoided temptation, and settled for a small bottle of gin for use on the junk when he got there.
Gavin enjoyed the rest of the journey as well. The plane was on time, he had a couple of gins before a good meal with a small bottle of wine, and after checking for emails on his laptop computer, slept through what might have been a good fi
He was glad to get to Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok airport. It had been a long and tiring journey – nearly 12 hours. He wasn’t the world’s greatest traveller, and this was a massive adventure compared with his daily commute on the Docklands Light Railway.
Hong Kong smelt different. Probably the heat, he thought. It was lunchtime when he got there, but he wasn’t hungry – he’d had lunch on the aircraft, seemingly minutes after they’d served breakfast. There was a taxi waiting for him, which he thought was a bit extravagant, since he’d noticed there were plenty of coaches into town, and an express train. But he wasn’t grumbling, especially as it was over 20 miles, and he was able to sit back in comfort and admire the view. The driver spoke a bit of English, but they travelled in silence, and eventually arrived at the harbour area. The driver parked, and escorted him to where water- taxis could be hired. But Gavin didn’t have to pay for that, either – there was one waiting for him. Another short, slim Chinaman helped him into a rather battered dinghy with a smoky outboard motor, and a rickety awning supported by stout bamboo canes to keep the sun off his passengers. They set off across the busy harbour, home to everything from huge cruise liners to rusty tramp steamers, all surrounded by a seemingly endless number of barges and small craft like his, scurrying around like bees at the hive.
Gavin could smell the sea. At least, he thought that’s what it was. They were heading towards a large and very smartly painted junk, not too far out, and he could see a tall, bronzed man standing at the top of the steps on the deck. Don Stevens eventually greeted him, welcomed him aboard, and helped him with his luggage.
Also on deck was a large, colourful, parrot sort-of bird, chained to a perch, who greeted Gavin with a shrill “g’day sport.”
“That’s Bradman,” said his host, with a broad Australian accent. “Don’t feed him – he’s got a beak like two razor blades and he’ll have your finger off soon as look at you.”
Gavin gave the bird a wide berth, and the two eyed one another suspiciously as he edged past, the parrot hunched like a vulture. “Shove off,” screamed the bird.
“Take no notice,” advised Don. “I can’t think where he gets it from, but he’s a good alarm system.”
Noting the bird’s name, Gavin resolved to keep off the subject of cricket altogether, and certainly not to mention the recent Test matches.
His cabin was small, but clean.
“There’s no air conditioning, I’m afraid, but the two fans are adequate. There’s always a sea breeze out here,” explained Don. “Make yourself at home, and when you’re ready, join me on deck for a cold beer.”
The two men settled with their drink, and Don explained that he and his colleague, Oz Windsor, owned the junk and had decided a couple of years back to let out the spare cabin. They were both journalists; Don worked for ABC and Oz for the Sydney Morning Herald – he was out on a story, but would be back soon. Don gave Gavin a guidebook and a large map, and was soon recommending where to eat and places to visit. He was told to help himself to anything in the fridge, run by a gently throbbing generator down below.
Oz Windsor appeared over the rail soon, and yelled at the bird before the bird had a chance to say anything. It kept quiet. Over a few more beers, they watched the sun set until Gavin eventually turned in at the end of a long and tiring day.
It was a couple of days later when he got the news. Gavin had been having a good time, no doubt about it. He’d done the markets, had some fantastic ‘real’ Chinese food, quite unlike the sort of rubbish they generally served in London’s West End, and had just got back from a visit to the top of The Peak, when his mobile phone rang. It was unexpected, and made him jump. It woke the parrot, too, which screeched at him to “answer the bloody phone.”
It was Nick.
“I thought I ought to give you a ring,” said Nick. “I’m in your flat.”
“What’s up then?” asked Gavin. “Fish OK, are they?”
“Yes they’re fine,” Nick reassured him. “I’ve just come in to feed them, and they’re fine,” he repeated.
“So what’s up,” asked Gavin again.
“Well,” said Nick, “it’s your flat.”
“What about it?” asked Gavin.
“Well,” said Nick again, “it’s kind of – well, - empty, that’s all.”
“What do you mean, ‘empty’?”
“I mean there’s nothing here,” Nick replied. “The place is empty. Everything’s gone.”
“Gone?” Gavin sounded a bit hysterical.
“Absolutely everything,” replied Nick. “Furniture, computers, hi-fi, clothes – everything.”
“You mean everything?” Gavin couldn’t believe it. “Is this some kind of joke or something?”
“I’m afraid not,” replied Nick. “Some bastard’s been in and stripped the place. There are some papers scattered about in what used to be your office, but there’s not even a saucepan left in the kitchen. Nothing. Oh, except the fish, of course. They’re all right.”
“Have you been on to the police?” demanded Gavin.
“I’m just going to do that,” replied Nick, “but I thought I should ring you first.”
“Don’t touch anything,” instructed Gavin, even more hysterical. “They’ll want finger prints.”
“There’s nothing to touch,” replied Nick.
“How did they get in?”
“Through the door,” replied Nick. “There’s no sign of it having been kicked in, either. It’s almost as if they had a key. And the alarm wasn’t on.”
“Hang on,” shouted Gavin.
“Pieces of eight,” screamed the parrot.
Gavin grabbed his rucksack, and went to the front pocket. No keys. ‘That bloody taxi driver,’ he thought. ‘And he watched me punch the code into the alarm system.’
“Nick, I’ve been set up. Tell the Police to ring me, and then tell them to get on to FreeRanger Travel. They sent me here, as far away from home as they could get me, and then took their time to strip me of everything I’ve got.”
“Had,” corrected Nick.
“OK, everything I had. They had five clear days to lift thirty grand’s worth of gear from my flat, and it only cost them the air fare and a bit of rent for this place.”
“Sounds a pretty good sting to me,” commented Nick.
“I’ll get home as soon as I can,” said Gavin, “but I guess the air ticket was one of those cheap deal affairs which I can’t re-book. I’ll let you know.”
“Leave everything to me,” said Nick, with confidence. “By the way, there’s a pile of stuff on the mat, but it’s nearly all junk mail. Shall I ditch it for you?”
“Yes, please,” replied Gavin. “But keep the pens.”
2 - A FAKE WORSE THAN DEATH
He had never been to a car boot sale in his life. Neither did he know anyone who went to them, at least not regularly. He seemed to remember, when he was at work, that his secretary went to one once. She had told how she and her husband had arrived at the site, in a field somewhere, and had set out an old blanket on which to display their things, and that someone had immediately offered them a fiver for the blanket. He had been impressed.
But now he was thinking that it might not be a bad idea to go to one himself, just to see what it was like. He had a load of things to get rid of, and he had already taken more than enough to the local charity shops. Besides, he could really do with the money, and if a fiver for old blankets was anything to go by, then it shouldn’t be difficult to raise a few quid.
They held one, once a month, in the town centre car park. There was one next week, so he decided to go.
Having been, he wished he’d gone to one sooner. The car park was transformed into a veritable Aladdin’s Cave, and it seemed that there was somebody, somewhere, who’d buy anything. The place was full of the most awful ta
But he saw enough to know that it would certainly be worth taking a carload of stuff to the next one. He found out how to go about it, and paid to reserve a plot, wishing now that he had kept half the things he had taken to the charity shops. He supposed they might even be there, selling some of the items he had given them.
He spent a happy few weeks sorting through all the bits and pieces he no longer wanted, and deciding how much they might be worth. His wife would have been good at this – always knew a bargain when she saw one, and had a pretty good idea about what people might pay for things. But now she was gone, he had to sort it out for himself. Indeed, that was why there was so much spare stuff about the place. Until now, he hadn’t had the heart to get rid of most of, but now he had decided that the time had come for him to move to a smaller place he could better manage on his own, and to throw sentiment to the wind.
It was amazing what there still was to get rid of, when he put his mind to it. Some of it he carefully cleaned and dusted, the odd thing he polished, and there were a couple of bits of furniture – a cane chair, for instance – which he repaired. He packed it all carefully into cardboard boxes, sticking labels on everything with what he thought was a reasonable asking price. If he only sold half the things he had turned out, he would make a hundred pounds or so – well worth the effort. And what was left, he could always take to the next sale, or find another one somewhere else. He was quite looking forward to this.
On the appointed day, he made sure he got there early, just in case a dealer spotted something among his bits and pieces that was worth having. He didn’t spot any dealers as it happened, but he was soon attracting interest. Some of the things, which he hadn’t a clue what to charge for, he simply asked interested potential customers to make him an offer. He was amazed that some of his old 78s went for two pounds each. As the morning wore on, so more and more people turned up, and at one time, trade was quite brisk – by car boot standards, that is. By lunchtime, he had already taken well over a hundred pounds he thought, when the smells from a hamburger stall across the car park proved too much for him. He realised he was hungry, and thirsty, so strolled over to buy himself lunch. The crowds were thinning, anyway, and he was able to keep an eye on his car as he strolled towards the stall. He thought it unlikely that anyone would nick anything, and if they did, so what. He didn’t want the stuff anyway.
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