Edition 5: A Debt Called In by Michael B Fletcher
An extortion attempt leads to more trouble than any of the parties had bargained for. When a gift horse appears, perhaps it should be looked in the mouth, before it’s too late. Revenge, murder and the supernatural all feature in this great story from an author, whose debut anthology will be published late in 2012. SY
I tightened my grey overcoat as I ran through the busy city streets on the chill morning, sirens already echoing behind me. A weight, hot and hard pulled at the inside pocket of my coat. I supported it with my hand.
The noise, I thought, that’s what did it.
The sound they’d made, a kind of muted popping was hardly discernible from the traffic noise of the city outside. But me? Well I had to defend myself and it was loud; my gun didn’t have a silencer.
I’d spent all night pacing the floor trying to work out how to handle the letter that had been pushed under my door—a thick white envelope of the kind you’d normally expect from a reputable establishment. That and the contents gave me the sleepless night. One day was all they’d allowed to come up with money or I’d be losing part of my anatomy. They gave no thought to my circumstances or ability to pay. Just the letter. And the threat.
In the end I resolved to front them, demand they allow me more time to pay. I took my dad’s well-oiled old colt from the war to give me confidence.
My real problem was that I thought they’d be still asleep from a long night of extorting money from their victims, not sitting at the table in a semi-alert state. They were not pleased to see me.
I suppose I made it difficult for them to think otherwise as I’d just kicked in their door and caught them sitting at a table in their kitchen counting money.
They seemed startled by my entrance.
The older brother, black eyebrows meeting over his sallow face, slowly put down a sheaf of notes and began to stand. The younger one, no picture himself, moved a hand to the pocket of his dressing gown.
“What’re you doing?” he growled. “You could’a knocked.”
As I hunched over, trying to catch a breath to demand they give me more time it started, the popping. He was still seated, firing through the pocket of his gown. I heard the buzz of the bullets, jumped to the side of the doorway and heaved out my gun.
The older brother had moved to the kitchen bench and held a gun fitted with a bulbous silencer. He too began to fire.
I had no choice and added the crashing roar of my colt. The men had dropped to the floor, motionless by the time my gun was empty. I thrust it inside my overcoat and ran.
The sirens grew louder before they began to fade. Thank God, I thought, they can’t know where I’ve gone.
I ducked between several cars and headed towards a commuter car park. I had a fair cramp at this time, just under my ribs and was panting fit to bust. Should have kept fit, I thought as I stumbled along.
I dodged around a tired old horse tethered to a garish carriage at the kerb and stopped. The incongruity of the horse and carriage grabbed me. It wasn’t one of those horse and cart tourist attractions that you occasionally see in the evenings trotting the city streets, carrying people with time on their hands and more money than sense. It was completely different.
The horse was your normal brown gelding, standing there comfortably. It had a touch of colouring, blue and red on its harness but not much else. The carriage on the other hand looked like a painted theatre prop. The wheels, suspension and trimmings were a greeny-gold, with a dull metallic shine; the interior was bright red velvet with cushions of the same deep blue of the horse’s harness.
I looked around for the owner but he was gone–probably off for a coffee to warm himself up. The people moving along the sidewalk took no notice of me or the horse and carriage.
I jerked as the siren grew louder. Damn, I thought, I’ll have to hide somewhere. At that moment I noticed a glint where the sun reflected off the trimming. The surface appeared to quiver.
I moved closer and pushed at a wheel. My finger dimpled the surface, like a ripple on oily film.
Ignoring the urge to flee I edged along the length of the carriage. The delicate lines along the woodwork and cushioning were like a glossy plastic, shiny and reflecting the light, even the harness was embossed in a shining tracery that shivered as I watched. Conscious of the sounds of pursuit I stepped away and turned to cross the road. That’s when I felt the presence behind me.
“Oi!” said a voice. “You’ll be wanting a lift then?”
As I swung around the gun slipped out from under my overcoat and fell with a clunk. But the man facing me didn’t follow my horrified eyes to the ground, he just stood waiting for my answer.
I quickly scanned the area but couldn’t locate the weapon on the grey surface.
“Well, do you want to ride or not?”
My head jerked up and I stared at the speaker. He was small like a jockey, but stocky, dressed in red breeches and a blue coat. His eyes, a deep brown watched my face as he waited for an answer.
No threat here, I thought, as I looked across the street to an alleyway, planning where I’d run. But I was tired. I gazed at the horse and the carriage, now appearing more solid than its surroundings. The horse turned his head as if emphasising his master’s request. Its eyes were a deep brown.
I reached out and put my hand on the side of the carriage. It felt solid, reassuring.
“If you decide, then just get inside. I’ll be waiting.”
The little man climbed up onto the perch and picked up the reins.
I could hear a second siren join the first and nervously moved to one side. My foot kicked the gun. I began to bend to pick it up but found I couldn’t be bothered. If the driver hadn’t noticed it maybe I could leave it where it was.
The alley across the wide road beckoned as a dark hole in a blur of buildings, but the sirens were loud and I suddenly felt too tired to run any further. The sound of tyres a short distance away made up my mind. I pulled myself into the carriage with some difficulty. As I sat there still catching my breath, perversely appreciating the softness of the deep blue cushions, I heard the roar of the police cars from behind. I didn’t dare look around.
I saw the driver’s head nod slightly then he flicked the reins. The horse moved off at a slow walk ignoring the braking cars.
I couldn’t stand it. I twisted around in the seat. Two police cars blocked the street behind us. Ahead I heard another siren so I crouched lower to take advantage of the carriage’s limited cover.
The horse increased its pace from a walk to a trot.
When a police car pulled up in front of us, leaving little room for the horse and carriage to get by I knew I was in trouble.
But the driver flicked the reins and the horse trotted straight up to the car and squeezed past. The officer didn’t even glance our way as he ran on down the street.
I followed his progress. He stopped where his companions were gathered. They must have found the gun.
“Shit!” I muttered. “I knew I should’ve picked it up.”
“Eh?” The driver had swung around on his seat.
“Ah, I was just worried about the police back there,” I gasped.
“Don’t concern yourself,” he said, “it will be of no matter to you.”
“What?” I said. But the driver had turned back. The horse moved to a fast trot.
I turned back and focused on the knot of police. I could see them as if they were in a spotlight, looking at the ground. An ambulance had joined them and two paramedics were pulling something onto a stretcher. A grey overcoat covered whatever it was.
My throat tightened and lungs hurt as I gasped for breath.
“No! It can’t be!” I shouted at them. They didn’t seem to hear me. I swung around to the driver but couldn’t connect with him. My fingers bit into the upholstered sides.
The streetscape shivered and disappeared. The horse and carriage moved at a gallop into the blackness that seeped into my existence. I couldn’t concentrate after that.
Michael is a writer of adventure, science fiction and fantasy. He’s been published in a number of magazines and anthologies in Australia and elsewhere, most recently in the US Conquest through Determination anthology.
His first book, Kings of Under-Castle, a series of humorous adventures featuring two rogues who live in the drains under a castle will be released by IFWG Publishing in late 2012.
He’s currently working on the second book in a fantasy trilogy for adults. The first book, Masters of Scent was short listed for the Australian 2010 Olvar Wood awards.
He lives in Tasmania, Australia.