From Red Rover
My office door always makes me smile. “C. Barnow Investigations” it boasts to anyone who
has bothered to climb the stairs to the second floor of the old Kensington Market row house. The guy
who painted the lettering wanted to use gold, but it would have reminded me of the investigations
firm I used to work for – lots of money and lots of assholes – so I chose black, clean and simple like
my business. I’m my own boss; I take the cases that interest me and turn down the ones that don’t
feel right. So far I haven’t starved.
I’m lucky that my postman doesn’t mind the trip up the stairs to push my mail through the slot
in the door, but today, as is the case on many Mondays, the heap was substantial enough that forcing
the door open scattered the envelopes across the grey tiles. By the time I’d retrieved everything and
crossed the twelve feet or so to my roller chair, it was already apparent that nothing exciting had
landed on my floor: utilities bill, junk mail, Women’s Business Newsletter, junk mail, a folded
piece of paper with only my name on it, junk mail. Wait a minute. I tossed the rest of the mail on the
“look at later” pile and sat down to read the note.
The paper was lined faintly and had been meticulously
removed from what I guessed was a highquality day planner. The brief message on the folded
sheet was written with a fountain pen, blue-black ink, in a script verging on calligraphy. I hadn’t seen
handwriting like that since my Aunt Edna died. Maybe she’d returned from the grave with the Ming
vase she’d promised me in her will, the one that mysteriously went missing in the months before her
death. I was only thirteen at the time and relieved that I wouldn’t be expected to display and cherish
what I thought was a hideous and useless pot.
Aunt Edna disappeared from my mind as soon as I began to read the handwritten note.
I am in the vicinity of your office this
morning and wish to meet with you to discuss the possibility of engaging your
services on a matter of some importance. I am free between 9:30 and 10:00.
I will phone to confirm. Please await my call.
By the time I had finished reading the note, my curiosity was starting to change into something
more like annoyance. J. Spencer assumed I had nothing better to do than wait around for him or
her. Why not just phone in the first place? J. Spencer had arrived early on a Monday morning
expecting me to be here. When I hadn’t been, J. Spencer had left me an ever – so – polite note, giving
In the space of less than two minutes I had whipped myself into cappuccino foam. I probably
shouldn’t have skipped my morning coffee, but who knew a pain in the neck would be lying
amongst my bills and junk mail?
From Oranges and Lemons
The blow to my temple came out of nowhere. I staggered. Stars flashed.
Doubled over, I shielded my head. And breathed.
I had to take the chance, so I uncurled and faced my assailant. A wave of nausea hit me. Tears mixed with the sweat on my cheeks. I couldn’t pass out. Not now. No time.
I couldn’t run away; there was nowhere to go. I couldn’t stroke my worry stone. I couldn’t take a pill. I had to fight. By myself. For myself.
My vision cleared. My adrenaline pumped. My nostrils flared as I filled my burning lungs. Sweat coursed down my screaming back.
My opponent’s glare dared me to do something – anything that would invite another attack.
The thirty seconds bell clanged.
“You can do it, Killer,” my trainer urged from behind the ropes.
And I knew I could. Just the sound of my boxing name injected me with the confidence I needed. I could make it to the end of the round. I could make the final thirty seconds count.
I raised my gloves higher to protect my pounding head, ignoring the pain that seared through my biceps. I peered through swollen eyelids and started dancing to the left of my adversary.
She kept me face on, muscles pumped, signalling strength and experience.
I feigned a left jab.
She answered with a right hook.
I ducked, and on the way back up surprised her with a quick right uppercut.
She hesitated, and I clipped her jaw, propelling her back against the ropes.
I followed, anxious to continue my attack. She snarled at me, the blue plastic of her mouthguard adding to the menace and threatening my tender confidence.
I retreated. Who had I been fooling? She was good, too good for me. I didn’t stand a chance.
Blood roared in my ears.
Or was that the crowd cheering?
The tiny gym was packed with boxing enthusiasts, mostly women, many of them my new friends or classmates. They were here to support the women boxers in tonight’s in-house exhibition matches. I was one of those boxers. It was my first such fight, and something was telling me it was a mistake.
From Yellow Vengeance