The Gratuity

The Gratuity:

http://www.fairlightbooks.co.uk/short_stories/10-minutes/the-gratuity/

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Coming Home

Story set in Timor-Leste:

http://anaksastra.com/current-issue.html

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Authors Reading review of Inevitable

Lindsay Boyd’s book, Inevitable, spins out two stories of murder that take place on the fictional Caribbean island, New Mendoza. One murder was by  Boyd’s protagonist,  Vanburn Holding, who was quickly apprehended by Chief Inspector Dino Farrell and sentenced to life without parole.  However, there were extraordinary circumstances surrounding the first murder. Vanburn Holding was only fourteen when he killed a neighbor girl, Ronnie Ray. Although he was just barely a teenager, he was tried as an adult and was found guilty of the heinous crime.  Much of the story is told by Vanburn Holding who recounts how his mother would often remind him that Ronnie Ray got the death sentence and he got the life sentence.  Some interesting events happen and Holding is released from prison after serving a little over 12 years.  He has a new life and he proclaims to the world that he is looking to make amends for his crime beyond even what punishment the justice system dealt him.  Will he really redeem himself?

Another murder occurs in New Mendoza, and this time it is a teenager from Mississippi named Gloria McDonagh.  She is with a group of others from her high school but sometime during her stay she disappears.  This murder is not as easy to solve as the previous  Ronnie Ray case. Years go by, and the case remains unsolved. The investigation intensifies, and a few clues lead to a couple of young men who are thought to be the murderers, but are they?

Unlike the Ronnie Ray killing, the new murder makes international news, and New Mendoza is deluged with reporters and TV crews. Gloria McDonagh came from a wealthy family, which quickly attracts low lives who try to prey and capitalize on the parents’ grief and desperate desire to find their daughter.

Vanburn had promised to dedicate his life to making a difference to others.  He reiterates his dedication to change during a prison visit with Candice the older sister of the girl he had killed. He claims he wants to help his fellow incarcerated brothers reenter the world and make amends.

 After Vanburn’s release from prison, he joins a group of individuals in Thailand that dedicate themselves to making the world a better place and helping people who have major issues. One of his mentors is a woman named Roong who greatly influences Vanburn’s way of thinking, but can he really be changed?

Dino Farrell, previously the New Mendoza police Chief Inspector, wonders if there could be a connection between the two murders.  Others have claimed responsibility for the latest murder, but he has a feeling that makes him think otherwise.  Once a killer always a killer?  “Inevitable,” is a spellbinding murder story for lovers of crime stories. 

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Feature article in Townsville Bulletin 16/6/18

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Light on the Mirror

(Short version of story to appear in forthcoming collection ‘Displaced and Other Etudes’)

“Are there any questions?”

The two-day seminar on Greek history and culture was winding down in the large conference room of the Syntagma Square hotel where it had been conducted over the course of the weekend. It was three o’clock in the afternoon on Sunday and the hundred attendees – in the main foreign students from English-speaking nations based in steamy Athens for the duration of special summer courses – had listened avidly to Doctor Papaderos’ closing address, one in which he summarised all he had delved into earlier that day and the previous one.

Papaderos’ lauded reputation preceded him by an incalculable distance. He was both a doctor of philosophy and an Eastern Orthodox priest. Now seventy-five he had been born four years before the conflagration that became the Second World War first rent Europe. He had never forgotten how the ramifications of that disaster were felt as much on his island home of Crete as elsewhere in the nation and continent.

But the future doctor overcame the extraordinary circumstances of his upbringing and in his early twenties responded to the ills witnessed by establishing an institute for healing and forgiveness on his rocky island. For years he divided his time between Crete and Athens as well as other European capitals. His thirst for knowledge of the world, his desire to penetrate men’s unpredictable hearts, was insatiable. It lasted for decades.

Beginning around the age of sixty he set himself the goal of sharing as what he had learnt on his life journey. He elected to do so via the agency of seminars, for which he received token payment. Nominally they were pertained to his speciality, Greek culture and history. But that was an elephantine topic. What could one so broad not embrace in the fields of knowledge and learning?

The doctor had a penchant for digressing and the vast majority of the young and not so young students who journeyed from far and wide to hear him speak relished his off the topic asides and mini-discourses; they were never less than interesting. He encouraged them to interrupt him with questions and at the close of every seminar made a point of inviting them to question him anew.

This time one hand shot up, that of a young American. “Doctor?”

“Yes.”

“What is the meaning of life?”

When they heard this not a few in the audience guffawed. Was this young jock from Vermont – Jonathan was his name – serious? But Doctor Papaderos reacted differently. From his place at the podium at the front of the room, he eyed the young man for what seemed a long time. Concluding that the spirit of inquiry inherent in the question and the one asking it was genuine, he raised a hand to silence those among the audience still tittering, and spoke.

“I’ll answer the question.” Watched by all present Doctor Papaderos reached into the pocket of his shirt and withdrew a billfold. From one of the folds he extracted a tiny round mirror. To those looking on it appeared no bigger than a United States quarter dollar. He held it high so that all in the audience could see the piece of mirror.

“Growing up poor in Crete,” he began, “during the Second World War, I was walking by the side of the main road in our village one day when I felt something crunch beneath the soles of my shoes. I bent down and saw several pieces of a broken motorcycle mirror. I looked everywhere for the different pieces but couldn’t find them all.” He again indicated what he was holding in his hand. “This was the largest piece I could locate in the dust and gravel. It wasn’t perfectly round but I made it so by scratching it on a stone.”

The members of the audience sat silent and transfixed as the doctor continued.

“I soon made a fascinating discovery. Holding the mirror to the light in a certain way, I could reflect light in the darkest places. I kept the mirror and entering adulthood it became a metaphor. Light, I understood, could shine in dark places if I reflected it. I realised I was a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I didn’t know. But with the fragment that I was I could shine light. I could shine it in dark places and dark hearts. Therein lay, therein lies, my life’s meaning.”

Doctor Papaderos swivelled the mirror toward the afternoon light then streaming in the wall to ceiling windows to his right, caught the bright rays and aimed them at Jonathan. The reflected light danced around the student’s head and frame, answering the subtle movements of the doctor’s right index finger and thumb.

“Are there any further questions?”

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Murder a la Mode and a Cup of Tea

Since shortly after television became a commonplace furniture item in living rooms the length and breadth of the Western world, whodunits and police procedurals have been a staple on the small / er screen, as much in feature length as shorter time formats. No doubt this panders to the human species’ ingrained fascination with guessing games and their ultimate solution. Children in all cultures, to a greater or lesser degree, grow up with this enthralment embedded in their genes. There is intrigue too with stories about rogue elements who in opting to shimmy down the wild side of life break natural laws left, right and centre, quite often with calculated impunity. This can lend them a halo of interest the saintly may find it difficult to compete with.

At a guess the United Kingdom would on average produce and screen more of this kind of programme than any other nation, or block of nations, in the world. Reflective of a greater incidence of skulduggery in the general populace perhaps? Or a latent fear of something wicked if not exactly coming then well on the way?

Regardless of what the crime statistics might bear out, UK whodunits and procedurals have been and are numerous. Over the years they have included luminaries such as Z-Cars, Softly, Softly, Callan (more a spy procedural admittedly), The Bill, The Sweeney, Minder, Bergerac, Special Branch, A Touch of Frost, and in more recent times Midsomer Murders and Father Brown, BBC One’s rendering of G. K. Chesterton’s illustrious man of cloth whose talents commingle nicely with the solving of heinous criminal activity in and around a quaint rural parish in post World War Two England.

Also worth a mention is ITV’s 70s series Thriller. Brian Clemens’ stories throughout six series ranged from the supernatural to more realistically grounded whodunits. The fisheye lens shrouded in red through which viewers were presented the original title sequences in tandem with the creepy theme music, a blend of harpsichord and woodwind, unmistakably set the tone.

The English home counties settings remained consistent throughout but from early in the series’ lifespan a bid to appeal to the American market was evidenced in the regular appearance of at least one American guest star. Thriller ritually put into play the genre’s stock in trade, the hook, to draw in the viewer, then going on to explore that hook’s often mind-boggling ramifications through the duration of the just over an hour long episodes.

Imperilled as the heroes / heroines almost always were (often it was the token American who played the role of the endangered one), and despite the recurrence of Laurie Johnson’s strident music at telling moments in the narratives, and the cavalcade of well-known faces among the British acting contingent, as far as actual thrills went Thriller was not in the same league as let’s say Alfred Hitchcock, Clemens’ primary inspiration for the series, or Dario Argento.

This was an era when Australian television networks insatiably gobbled up British imports. Game for anything after a day at school, my siblings and I tuned in to Thriller whenever we could in our far-off homeland, with the primary motivation of poking fun at the sheer ridiculousness of many of the scenarios and the nutcases depicted. And who could blame anyone for failing to take seriously a series with individual episodes titled, to name a handful, Murder in Mind (1973), Kiss Me and Die (1974), The Next Scream You Hear (1974), Night is the Time for Killing (1975), Won’t Write Home Mum – I’m Dead (1975) or A Midsummer Nightmare (1976)?

Flash forward approximately twenty years to the premiere of another British detective drama series Midsomer Murders. Fictional Midsomer is a picturesque and in many ways apparently idyllic county in England. It is a world away from the stockbroker belt settings predominant in Thriller. Gone too are the bland interiors television programme producers favoured as a general rule in the seventies – as if the directors and their photographers had more key lights up their sleeves than they rightly knew what do with.

Midsomer Murders’ individual episodes are, like Thriller, self-contained, but unlike the latter it is not an anthology series. Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby, together with a sidekick sergeant, helms the show, which centres around their efforts to solve the plethora of murders that regularly beset one or more of the villages comprising the county.

But aside from the self-contained status, other parallels with Thriller are evident. Like the older series, Midsomer Murders features a distinctive main theme. Performed on an electronic instrument known as the theremin and sounding not unlike a low-pitched whistle, it may not imply quite the same dread as the harpsichord and woodwind of Thriller but it is mysterious enough and leaves one in little doubt about the terrain ahead.

Midsomer Murders goes straight for the jugular too. The first bout of bloodletting often precedes the theme music and once the opening credits have left the screen DCI Barnaby (John Nettles until the end of series 13, Neil Dudgeon afterwards) and his crony are at work trying to deduce a method to the mayhem. Typically, there is plenty of mayhem to follow.

The inaugural, mid-nineties, episode, The Killings at Badger’s Drift, featured a staggering four murders and three suicides, an exceptional figure in a show that usually contents itself with two or three bumpings off per instalment. A decade, or ten seasons (roughly sixty episodes), later, the murder count has climbed to about 140. Only the number of cups of tea foist upon Barnaby and co. in the same period of time would rival this figure.

As portrayed by Mr. Nettles and, in his wake, Mr. Dudgeon, the detective chief inspector is a sober, pensive figure. Two of the young sergeants with whom they are paired are not especially bright, making them good foils for the DCIs. But it is the guest stars, a veritable who’s who of the English stage and screen, who steal the show. Many of them high camp their characters to the rafters, resulting in humorous viewing.

Though it would never have given The Benny Hill Show a run for its money, double entendres abound. The ingenuity of many of the killings lends the moments as much comedy as it does drama, like the butcherings in Vincent Price’s Dr. Phibes films or any number of so-called horror flicks. Suspicion, in accordance with the trope, traditionally falls on many in the abrasive casts and pans out with good effect, though the upshot is not the most likeable bunches of ladies and gentlemen ever to have set foot on British sound stages. One could be forgiven for not trusting a single one of them.

For viewers, especially those who are not English, perverse delight can be gleaned from watching people so law-abiding and civilised on the surface not only being ghastly to one another, but in the blink of an eye taking that to the extreme of conjuring up inventive ways to do one another in. All with the teapot within easy reach.

The endless cuppas, incidentally, appear to function as does the middle eight of a pop song, ie, as a respite from the verse / chorus before going back to the verse / chorus. They do allow a breather from the anarchy, as much for the audience as Barnaby, but I incline to think of them as emblematic, on a par with the tea breaks in today’s increasingly spiteful cricket Test matches. Barnaby, and the cricketers, while downing their tea and bickies would really much rather get back to the sparring.

In Schooled for Murder (series 15, episode 6), a dairy worker is brutally murdered by a giant round of weaponized cheese. In the cricket themed Last Man Out (series 19, episode 3) a team captain is pummelled to death by a succession of high speed, machine propelled cricket balls. His unfortunate successor in the job fares little better, being impaled against a tree with a stump no less.

In a display of irrational delayed jealousy that would have done any of the cardboard cut-out psychopaths of Thriller proud, the murderess in Dance with the Dead (series 10, episode 1) turns out to be a jilted lover who in short order dispatches the one who spurned her, this same former loved one’s boyfriend and, for no apparent reason other than that she is on a roll, her older male lover – though this victim, like the murderess, has long since been thrown over by the gallivanting strumpet. An attempt to truncate the lifespan of the deceased’s lesbian housemate fails in the nick of time.

One of the choicest bits of wisdom a Norwegian farmer offered me many years ago was than ‘an Englishman is never straight’. He demonstrated what he meant by holding up and bending a twig, likening the twig in its bent form to Englishmen. He might well have had characters like those that populate Thriller and Midsomer Murders in mind. Most certainly intending visitors to the home counties or Midsomer County would be well advised not to take too many liberties when dealing with such highly sensitive, easily inflamed people. Otherwise they might encounter a pork chop just itching to put them away. Still, there could be worse Jacobean-like fates waiting in the wings.

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The Coati (Translation of Quiroga story El Coati)

The coati is a little animal as long of head as it is of tail, with both arched upwards, possessed of the cry of a bird, high-pitched and rash, and with a curiosity that devours it alive.

There is nothing, in effect, that the snout and paws of the coati spares. To see what lies inside, it is capable of busying itself in opening an oven heated to 1000 degrees. If there are ten books within its reach and only one of them is neatly wrapped for posting, only this one will interest it, and it will investigate its cover and the cover beneath that, leaving it bare and with all the leaves scratched, because perhaps there might have been something between them.

The one we owned, besides its diabolical curiosity, wielded a strange effect on men – though not on women – because a mountain man had bred it.

The coati had never known its mother. It owed everything – warmth, cuddles, food – to that solitary man, who had been its father, mother and childhood companion. As a result, already grown and in our keep, its natural affection and the warmth of its heart, so to speak, was directed toward men. It accepted women’s caresses equably but no sooner did a man approach than it spread out its paws at once.

Tutankamón, which was what the children had called it, was innocence itself in the face of life’s perils. No one is ignorant of the fact that coatis and dogs are antagonists in the animal kingdom. Tutankamón drove away the dogs that barked in its midst, throwing himself at them … to play with them.

His heart was that of a man and no other creature. He reserved his most lively antipathy for a coati skin that he carried round the house and sniffed without respite, deeply burying his snout in every part, until he pulled out all the hairs, as if that skin belonged to his worst enemy among the species. He ate however much he could. Whatever it happened to be, he awaited it on two paws. He especially loved oranges, which he scratched and scratched speedily with his claws until he opened them. If we gave them to him cut up, he scratched them just the same.

Whatever hour of the day we passed by his hut, he was ready to sleep for a moment in our arms. If we did not gather him, he climbed as high as our chests nonetheless and instantaneously fell into a deep dream.

Dreams of caresses, in vain, because his paws never remained still for more than a moment: pockets constituted too powerful a temptation for him.

Thus the cigarettes I carried in my shirt pocket were damaged by contact with the coati. Within a moment of falling asleep, clinging to my neck, I would feel Tutankamón’s silent hand in my pocket though his eyes would still be beatifically shut. I would then reproach him for his bad deed, his abuse of my trust, with words that he understood perfectly well, I am sure, to judge by the way he remained unmoving with shame and sorrow. But while I continued speaking to him, I noticed him look at me out of the corner of his sleepy little eyes while his paw slowly climbed once more toward the cigarettes.

Our coati did not fall victim to his curiosity. He is still alive, though at a distance from us. I know, however, of another coati, suffering from a stomach tumour, that opened up the abscess with his own claws, appearing content with the result because he no longer had to worry himself about that.

But without doubt the scarring stung him and he again used his claws to pick and pick inside until he removed something next to the wound.

His curiosity inflamed, he picked and picked without stopping until he completely emptied his belly on the floor. With that he was finally satisfied and died.

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