Mark Crittenden has released a teaser for the cover of his upcoming anthology(which is still open, details here)
And as I said I'd dig out a trunk story. This one was one of the first short stories I ever wrote, pretty much the first one I sat back and was proud of.
To Buy a Panacea
For Solomon Child there could have been so many ways to sort out his woes. This choice seemed the most appropriate, clean, clinical and supposedly guaranteed to be devoid of screw-ups. The place wasn’t state owned which made it that much more reliable.
The building was a calm affair amidst a storm of flashing-lights and other molesting forms of advertisement. Solomon looked at the sober sign and entered.
The interior was a mimicry of a doctor’s waiting room. The walls boring, the carpet plain, there was a simple low glass table in the centre with a spray of magazines atop it.
The far wall was home to the receptionist’s cubby-hole. Solomon headed over. He spied the only other customer, a man sat over in the far corner. The man was absently flicking through one of the complimentary magazines. Solomon noticed the man had yellowed skin. His body emaciated, withered to nothing more than bones in a loose sack of skin.
Solomon pushed the buzzer. The partition slid back to expose a high-haired, heavily lip glossed receptionist. She held a finger out gesturing for ‘one moment please’. It took only a couple of moments before he realised that she was conducting a personal call. If this had been a receptionist from his business, she would have gotten the old heave-ho.
She wound down the conversation and gifted Solomon with her full attention, or a close approximation of it. “Good morning and how might I help you?”
Solomon replied, “I have an appointment.”
“Solomon Child.” He watched as the receptionist went to work on her keyboard.
She looked up. “You’re early Mr. Child, so if you’d like to take a seat, Mr. Ramshield will see you as soon as he can.”
Solomon took a seat in the opposite corner to the sick man. He glanced at the magazines; he was in no mood to read the idle chit-chat of word bothering columnists. He stared at his shoes instead.
He heard a door open and looked up.
Solomon watched as a grey-haired man in a finely cut suit walked in. The suited man stood aside to allow an elderly gentleman who looked one more heart murmur or bout of flu away from the grave to pass him by. The old man didn’t look too bothered about getting to the dark end of his twilight years. Hanging on his right arm was a woman that made Solomon look twice.
The old man nodded his thanks and made a hasty departure with his floozy in tow.
The suited man took stock of his waiting area. He looked first at Solomon and then over to the man with the yellow skin, “Mr. Harrow?”
The man wearily nodded.
The door opened, Solomon looked up and saw the suited man there again. Solomon watched and waited to see the yellow man surface through the doorway. After a few seconds, it became clear that the yellow man wasn’t going to put in an appearance.
“Mr. Child?” The suited man asked.
“Yes.” Solomon stood up, walked over and extended his hand. The suited man gave it a sturdy shake. “I’m Mr. Ramshield, care to follow me?”
Solomon nodded and followed.
The corridor was only short. It was a little more ostentatious than the waiting room had been. Paintings upon the walls. The carpet was of a thicker weave and there was a definite scent in the air, not so much perfume, but a homely relaxing scent.
Mr. Ramshield pushed open the door. “After you Mr. Child.”
“You can call me Solomon.”
“Then you can call me Winston if you’d like.”
Solomon didn’t reply and entered the large office of Winston Ramshield, proprietor of Your Own Time.
Ramshield’s office was impressive. It was wall-to-wall splendour and floor to ceiling opulence.
“Please take a seat Solomon.”
Ramshield sat in his own high backed leather chair. It proudly sang of the death of a dozen animals. Ramshield constructed a tent with his fingers. “Not to cast aspersions or anything of the likes, but I really would like to confirm your identity before we continue with any business proceedings.”
“Of course.” Solomon was already leaning forward. Ramshield smiled and absently patted a button on his desk. From the centre of the mahogany monstrosity a retinal scanner arose. Solomon leant a little further forward and set his eye up against it. The glowing red line swept up and down twice and made a retreat back into the depths of its wooden nest. Ramshield watched the results as they showed up on the embedded monitor before him. He gave a nod and then asked, “Would you be against a blood test for added confirmation?”
Solomon sighed. “Look Mr. Ramshield, I’ll stare into your scanner, I’ll bleed into your needle and I’ll piss in a pot if it proves who I am.” He took a deep breath. Anger was a high rent emotion that he could sorely afford. In acquiescence he lifted his forefinger and waited for the arrival of the swing-arm with the needle on the end. Solomon didn’t flinch as it drew blood. Again
Ramshield waited for the results.
He smiled. “All is well. Now I guess we can be candid about what you want from us, and also about what we expect from you, do you perhaps have any questions for me?”
Solomon looked around the room. The walls were home to photographs, each of them framed. “What are the limits?” he asked.
Ramshield was pleased at the question. “Here, permit me to show you a few of our proudest moments since the advent of legalised euthanasia.” Ramshield arose and walked over to the far wall. He waited until Solomon was standing beside him. He pointed at one photograph in particular. “Do you recognise him?”
“Vaguely, he used to be famous?”
“He was famous, right up until, and actually into his death. You see he was entering into his golden years, his last album sold poorly, and the mere thought of ending up a nobody after forty years of adulation was something he could not even begin to consider. So he came to us, and as we always do. . .we delivered.” He emphasised this by pushing a button on the frame of the photograph which brought the scene to life.
The songster was giving it his all before the crowd of baying fans, albeit older fans. The same ones that had put posters of him up on their walls when they had been teenagers and fingered away their youth to him. Now the fans were fifty and sixty and still sweating, crying, screaming and throwing dampened knickers at him. The show took a turn for the macabre when the star began to struggle and fumbled the lyrics, valiantly he fought on. He clenched his right arm to his side as the pain got worse. Then his coronary system burst like a grim firework and he was in the midst of a full-blown heart attack. Solomon watched as the man died upon the stage. His adoring fans screaming and weeping. That performer had gone just the way he had wanted. Ramshield broke the silence, “We’ve done more elaborate executions of our business than that, pardon the pun, it was not intended.” He beckoned with his head back towards the vast desk. Solomon sat back down and waited for Ramshield to talk.
Ramshield smiled. “How rude of me, I’ve not even offered you any form of refreshment. I do apologise, I do often get carried away, I am after all a man that takes pride in his work, perhaps I can offer you a tipple?”
“I don’t drink, well not any more.”
Ramshield nodded. “Then let us get to business, would you like to tell me why you have come to seek our special services?” Ramshield eased himself back in his seat, hoping to hear a long tale. Solomon was of a different mind. He reached inside his jacket and drew out his wallet. From its folds he brought free a photograph, wordlessly he handed it over. Ramshield took it and looked into the face that stared back at him. “She is very pretty.”
“Was,” Solomon corrected, as he held his hand out for his photograph back. Ramshield let the silence hang in the air for a few seconds and then ventured, “So how were you thinking of going?”
“A car,” Solomon said.
Ramshield nodded. He looked disappointed. He was obviously hoping for something befitting his hall of fame.
However, a client was a client and profit was profit. “Perhaps it’s time we went over your ideas then, you’ve obviously come here with something in mind.”
The anguish within could finally be freed. All fixed with a wish and a large sum of money. Solomon told Ramshield his wish. He explained how he wanted it to be done and more importantly when. Solomon didn’t haggle over price, it wasn’t a car he was purchasing, there was no discount for cash, no floor mats to be thrown in for free. He did though have an extra question, “What happened to Mr. Harrow?”
“What does it matter? He got what he paid for,” Ramshield said with narrowed eyes.
“Did he get to go the way he wanted, did he get his money’s worth?”
“We have such a thing as client confidentiality,” Ramshield said.
Solomon stared at the wall, there wasn’t much in the way of confidentiality going on there.
Ramshield smiled. “Ah, permission was granted for the use of them, on a limited basis of course, but if it clears your curiosity.” He reached down to his side and mooched for a moment in the bin and brought up a spent round of ammunition and dropped it on the table. “He received exactly the service he wanted, now are there any other questions Mr. Child?”
Solomon took a deep breath as he left. He was glad it was over. He headed back to his offices.
He entered the one hundred and thirty-eight storeys building that he called his place of work. The people he passed all said polite “Hello’s,” he gave them perfunctory nods. He was after all the one that paid their mortgages, put petrol in their cars and fed their children.
Solomon entered the lift, the moron who worked the buttons pushed the one for the very top. The elevator arrived and Solomon made his exit. His personal assistant was standing waiting for him.
“Sonja,” he replied, as he walked to his desk. He stopped halfway, turned and reached into his pocket. “I picked this up in the lobby, it belongs to Solomon, be sure he gets it.” He tossed her a wallet.
“I will.” She stood staring at him expectantly.
Henry Child looked at her coldly. “Today would be nice Sonja.”
She scurried out of the room.
Henry Child sat down behind his desk. He pulled out the mirror with which he practiced his smile. The mirror helped guide his fingers in the removal of the contact lenses. Henry admired his own eyes, so brown, so cold and so dead, like autumn leaves that had become lemmings from their trees. Henry smiled, not his practiced one, a real one. Solomon was so weak, how could the company move forward at anything but a crippled limp with Solomon being an equal shareholder. Yes they were twins and shared so much, but Solomon was so weak. The people that worked for them loved Solomon and they loathed him. It was all bent out of shape. He was the driver, the force and the strength. Solomon was the impediment, the backseat driver that always wanted to pull over so as to piss. Henry checked the time; he went to the window.
Henry’s timing was impeccable. Every Tuesday Solomon would, whether it be rain or shine walk over to the park and have himself a stroll.
Henry had been pleasantly surprised at how fast Ramshield had been able to set things up. It was so perfectly orchestrated.
Henry grinned as a stranger walked on the street below and gave his brother a push that shunted him into the way of an oncoming car. The car sped up, Henry’s grin widened. The smile disappeared as fast as it had arrived. “What the?”
The car had come to a halt. He had specifically told Ramshield that he wanted the car to plough into him, or actually into Solomon. And here the car had come to a stand-still and Solomon was perfectly okay, perhaps shaken, but still alive and well and with all his bones in working condition. Ramshield had fucked up thought Henry. He began to seethe. It had cost him a fortune to arrange this panacea.
“Mr. Child.” The voice was calm and deep.
Henry’s heart neglected a beat. He spun, his mouth dropped open. Standing in the doorway was Ramshield. His face like a block of stone, eyes blazing.
Ramshield moved deeper into the office, his cold, furious eyes taking in the décor. “You have made a mistake,” Ramshield said.
Henry gasped, “I think you’ll find you’re the one that’s fucked up!”
“I don’t think so, I very rarely make mistakes, and I can assure you of that. You must understand Mr. Child that you made a mistake by thinking I am a hired gun, and you made more of an error of thinking me for a fool.”
“I passed your tests!” Henry protested.
“Not entirely you didn’t.’ Ramshield saw the contact lenses on the desk. “You did past the retinal scan, and seeing as you share the same blood and genetic make-up your blood did match, you are forgetting one thing, one major mistake.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I knew you for an impostor as men very rarely wish to die twice, the real Solomon Child, your brother, came to see me three months ago after the death of his wife telling me he wanted to die, and so I arranged it. Sense must have returned and he called it off, non refundable of course. So when you approached, I knew there to be something ill in the wind”
“So what are you going to do now?” Henry demanded.
“A man’s business is only as good as his reputation.”
Solomon scurried back onto the pavement. His heart launched up into his throat. He stared at the face of the driver who had very nearly wiped him out. The man smiled, winked and then drove off. Solomon watched the car become smaller. Solomon could feel a chuckle being born in his throat. A few months ago he would have relished being emptied from the world. But that was then.
would want him to continue, not to take the coward’s way out. He stopped his ponderings when he heard a piercing scream from a bystander. Solomon looked over and saw that a good half-dozen people were staring upwards with horror. Solomon looked up, his eyes widened. Henry was plummeting to earth, arms and legs flailing and his voice a desperate holler for help. Alice
Solomon closed his eyes at the moment of impact, not wanting to see his only sibling sprawled and twisted upon the pavement. Solomon fell to his knees beside the warped and fractured body of his brother and began to weep. Whilst one hundred and thirty-eight storeys up a certain Mr. Ramshield picked up the contact lenses and was busy writing the suicide note. After all Mr. Child had paid for a death and a death was what had been delivered.