Top Tip Of The Week

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A Tantalising Title!

Some of my students have asked me whether it’s important to give a short story a title. The answer is a huge yes! When a magazine editor/short story judge is faced with a big pile of short stories, one with an eye-catching/intriguing title will instantly have him/her interested in reading your story. Read the following titles and see how they make you want to read the actual story:

  • The Secret Diary of a Serial Killer
  • The Unborn
  • The Hanging
  • In Search of Dinosaurs
  • Screaming Point
  • Not What I Wanted
  • The Final Journey
  • Watching

I’m sure you’re now thinking up plenty of your own. Hopefully they’ll also spark off a story idea!

Have a great weekend. Here’s my Friday funny for you:

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My Weekly Writing Challenge

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Last week’s challenge produced some cracking stories and poems, on the themes of ‘Money‘, ‘New‘ and ‘Operation‘,  as I’m sure you’ll all agree. Take a look below.

This week’s challenge moves forward to the letters of P, Q and R. Your themes for these are: ‘Party‘, ‘Quirky‘ and ‘Race.’ Not sure what to write? See the link below for some ideas:

http://esthernewtonblog.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/monday-motivationsthe-abc-of-short-story-ideas-part-six/

Time for last week’s challengers:

Keith Channing‘s story makes a compelling read:

For five long years I had been living in the shadows, trying to keep away from the O’Grady gang, continually looking over my shoulder, afraid to answer the phone, hiding every time the doorbell rang.

Until five years ago my life was normal. It was more than normal, it was good. Good? It was great. I was a professional footballer, playing for a minor league side at the time, but I was being feted as a rising star with a grand future. Everything was going swimmingly until that fateful match when I ignored my coach’s orders. The order was simple.

“We gotta lose this match,” he said, “we gotta play normally in the first half, with a scoreline of two-nil at half-time. In the second half, John, in goal, will let three goals though, and we won’t score any more. The final result will be three-two to the opposition.”

“Why’s that, Coach?” I asked.

“Don’t ask, Mark. Just this once, do as I say without question. Okay?”

“Yes, Coach,” I said. But I didn’t. I pushed through a third, then a fourth goal, scoring my first hat-trick for the club. The crowd loved it. The O’Gradys didn’t. They had, it seemed, placed some very heavy bets on my team losing 2-3 in the second half after being 2-0 up at half-time.

Afraid to leave the house for fear of being picked up by the O’Gradys, I was living most of my life on-line. That’s how I came by the big money. I played the lottery on-line; had been for nearly five years. One Saturday evening I was checking my numbers and saw that I had bagged the Thunderball jackpot. I checked it more than half a dozen times. It was right; I had won. Big. Not the Lotto jackpot, but big enough. The Thunderball game pays a cool half million top prize.

As soon as the money was in my bank, I called on some contacts to see what options I had, that could possibly allow me to escape from this hell I was living in. One of the people I contacted was Algernon, an old school chum, who was then a cosmetic surgeon.

“Depending on how desperate you are, and how much you want to spend, I may be able to help you,” he said.

“What do you have in mind?” I asked.

“I can change your face so much, no-one will recognise you,” he suggested.

“Tell me more,” I said.

“For two-hundred-and-fifty thousand, I can carry out a series of operations that would change your face significantly. For another fifty thousand, I can arrange for a contact to provide full documentation to give you a new identity.”

“What if the O’Gradys find out about it?”

“They won’t. My contact is not in this country.”

“Where is he?”

“You don’t need to know that. Leave it all to me. Do you want me to go ahead?”

“Do it,” I said, and replaced the receiver.

One month later, Algy admitted me to his clinic, where I spent four months undergoing operation after operation. When the wraps came off, at the end of the four months, I didn’t recognise myself. The whole shape of my face was different. There was nothing about me that was familiar. I was looking at a different person. Fortunately, Algy was standing-by with a cup of hot, sweet tea and a large, stiff brandy. I selected the latter.

“Once the swelling and discolouration have gone, we’ll take a passport photo and arrange the paperwork,” he said, “your new name is William Clanville; you are a British émigré to New Zealand and will have a passport from that country. Whether you choose to relocate there is up to you, but it would seem to be a good move.”

“I’ll think about that,” I said, “how long before I can leave here and try out my new face in the open?”

“Two weeks should do it.”

Two weeks later, armed with my new documentation, I left the clinic. I was three hundred thousand poorer, but still had more than two hundred thousand in the bank. Hang on, I didn’t, Mark Meechan did. Complication number one. How to get the money from Mark Meechan’s account to a new account in the name of William Clanville? Perhaps not so hard. Provided I didn’t need to give photo-ID, I could spend my Mark money. But perhaps that wouldn’t be necessary.

I arranged with the bank that held my Mark Meechan account to open a new account in the joint names of Mark and William, and transfer the balance from Mark’s account into there. A month or so later, I switched that account to a different bank and, using both signatures, transferred two hundred thousand pounds to an offshore, Euro-denominated account that I had set up in the sole name of William Clanville.

Mark Meechan carried on a normal spending pattern for a while longer then, seven years from the date of that fateful match, William Clanville, naturalised New Zealander, boarded a British Airways flight bound for Wellingon, New Zealand to start his new life.

I’ve been there ever since. I bought a nice house in the suburbs, and found employment as a groundsman at a local football club. I helped out in various roles, and it soon came to the notice of the managers, that I was quite a tasty player. I had no wish to return to playing competitive football, but was happy to help out with some coaching. That went well, and I quickly gained a reputation locally for being a good, fair, effective and successful coach.

Today, I am head coach for one of the better semi-pro teams in the area, and act as visiting coach for a number of local schools. I am tolerably well-paid and well respected. I had almost forgotten about the difficulties of my past, until a new senior at one of the schools where I coach said that his step-dad thought my playing style was familiar.

“What’s your step-dad’s name?” I asked.

“Brien O’Grady,” he replied.

I’m thrilled that Kate Loveton has taken up the challenge. You’ll be mesmerised by her atmospheric flash fiction story:

Unanswered Prayers

Lace curtains fluttered on the breeze of a warm summer’s night.

News arrived and the window was quickly closed. A mausoleum stillness then descended, captured in the mirror’s surface.

Out of view, a lone figure knelt by a bed, fingers flying over a string of beads. Soft entreaties drifted skyward, searching for love and comfort as each bead touched fingertips.

‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us…’

Nearby, a body lay in a morgue.

She’d told him easy money was a lie.

She continued fingering the beads, once shiny and new, now worn dull by a mother’s troubled prayers.

Jasdeep Kaur has gone for a short tale this time. A great title and story:

Obligatory Conviction

Habitually, he threw the money on the bed.

“This is not what I want,” she said.

“Then why you are here,” he winked, “with me?”

“Obligatory conviction,” she said.

“And what’s that?” he asked.

“One that makes you cheat your wife,” she said.

“Oh, so you clicked the snaps,” he said summing up things in his mind.

“That sounds so moron,” she smirked, “Mr. Swindler, this is a fresh game.”

She flicked out her pistol and shot straight at his head.

Before leaving the hotel room, she kept a card on the dressing table that said: Insurgent Boggy Chambers.

Ayo Oboro‘s story tugs on the heart strings:

Is the smell of disinfectant so strong or is it his imagination? He doesn’t think he can stand it but he has no choice; he can’t just abandon her, not after what they went through last year.

They had both been overjoyed when they were given the news, news they had been waiting for for six years. They had started shopping almost immediately and didn’t stop picking up things here and there until the spare room looked like it would burst at the seams.

It didn’t but,’We need to stop shopping,’ Helen said to Victor.

He agreed but both of them would still come home once or twice a week with something small.

‘We really need to stop,’ Victor said to Helen again after they had both sneaked a little something into the house yet again.

‘I know,’ she said with a mischievous smile,’I’m just so excited and I know you are too.’

They looked at each other and laughed.

‘Let’s pinky swear that neither of us will do anymore shopping for the next …’

‘Four months!’ Helen shouted.

He put his pinky to hers and they swore.

Everything went smoothly – no unusual food requests, no unnecessary hospital visits, nothing to be concerned about. Helen’s doctor was pleased and they were, too.

And then one day, just after returning home from the market she started to feel uncomfortable. The pain in her stomach was worrisome. She considered calling Victor but changed her mind. ‘It must be something I ate,’ she said to herself as she went about preparing dinner. As she moved around in the kitchen, the pain increased so she decided to lie down on the sofa.

That day was the worst day of her life.

‘I’m sorry, Mr. Alfa there was nothing we could do. Your wife will soon be wheeled out of the theatre. Please be strong for your wife,’ the doctor patted Victor’s shoulder in sympathy as he returned to the surgery.

Victor wept. He couldn’t believe all their dreams, hopes, their happiness had just fizzled out in one day. Six years of waiting and two months of joy had just been taken away from them.

‘What do I say to Helen? How do I comfort her?’ He looked up as the tears continued to stream down his face.

Fast forward another year and Victor is standing in the lobby of the same hospital. He tries to focus on what he’s doing here but the unpleasant memories of the previous visit to the theatre cling to him. He tries to be upbeat but his step slows as he reaches the lift. The last operation was an evacuation but this one is to be a delivery.

‘New life, a gift money can’t buy, ’ Victor whispers as he carries his baby boy in one arm and puts the other round a smiling and content Helen.

A huge well done goes to Jason Moody for his first attempt at poetry. It’s a fantastic first go:

My body’s done, it’s staked its claim,
No hope, no point in operation,

No ransom of kings, nor new fangled things can offer me salvation.

Markets For Writers

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My market for you this week is ‘The Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger‘. It’s an annual competition for anyone who hasn’t had a novel published on a  commercial basis. It’s well worth an entry as each submission is judged by top crime editors and agents. What’s more, the short listed entries are sent to publishers and agents.

To enter, you need to send the opening of your crime novel, up to 3000 words. A synopsis of between 500-1000 words is also required.

There is a first prize of £700, plus each shortlisted entrant will receive a professional assessment of his/her entry. If you win, it doesn’t mean you will automatically have your book published, but many of the past winning entrants have gone on to become successful crime writers. During the past fifteen years (how long the competition has been running for) over two dozen winners and shortlisted Debut Dagger entrants have been signed up by top agents and publishers.

For guidelines and to see past winning entries: http://thecwa.co.uk/debuts/debut-dagger/

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Monday Motivations/Fabulous First Few Words Part Three

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Monday Motivations/Fabulous First Few Words Part Three

Last week, I showed you how a short story, which opens using the shock factor, can capture your readers’ interest. This week, I take a look at how a humorous one can achieve the same result. We all like to read something, which makes us laugh and something amusing often comes as a welcome break from life’s daily grind. A competition judge or editor is likely to feel the same way, especially after reading lots of stories full of menace, horror, sadness etc. Whilst many of these may be good, one which makes the judge or editor laugh will stand out. Here are some examples:

  • No-one understood how lonely it was being stuck up a tree all on your own. Flora sighed and fluttered her wings. One barely moved and the other nearly fell off. She was sure fairies weren’t supposed to have problems like this.
  • I hate my neighbour. Well, so would you. She’s 50, yes 50 and looks half her age. Blonde, golden locks cascading down her shoulders, lovely long legs, beautiful bouncing…well, you get my drift.
  • Jonas had to admit it. He was stuck. In a swing. At the park. At the age of 49. He didn’t even have the excuse that he was drunk.
  • It’s over! Today is finally over. But I’ve got to go through hell tomorrow – all thanks to Mum and her thong. Ugh! I still feel sick thinking about it. Thongs look good on Paris Hilton, not Maureen Martin. Mum must be at least 20 years older and 20 stone heavier.

I hope you enjoyed these and found yourselves smiling and wanting to know more, though perhaps not about ‘Mum and her thong’!

Top Tip Of The Week

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To freelance or not to freelance, that is the question!

One of the most important details to check is whether the publication you want to target accepts freelance contributions. You can generally find this information at the front or back of a magazine. The address and contact details are listed, together with information on the editorial team. Underneath these details, you will often see something along the lines of, ‘Whilst every care is taken we cannot accept responsibility for material submitted for publication’. This means that the magazine accepts freelance work but it’s sent in at the owner’s risk should anything become lost or damaged.

Other magazines are quite specific and detail the exact slots open to writers e.g. ‘Reader’s Digest’. Others are equally specific but in that they don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. However, that doesn’t mean the market is off limits. You can still send in an outline of your idea and a query letter to see if they would like to see your full piece. ‘No unsolicited manuscripts’ just means that no full articles will be considered without first pitching your idea.

Have a good weekend. I leave you with a smile:

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My Weekly Writing Challenge

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Jason was very lucky and just snuck in there with his challenge! Thank you to those who took it up and wrote stories and poems relating to the J, K and L of my weekly series i.e. stories and poems on the themes of Job, Kill and Love. Some managed to write about all three! You can find them below.

So, naturally, this week’s challenge moves on to M, N and O. To remind yourselves of the themes I suggested, Money, New and Operation, here’s the link to the blog post:

http://esthernewtonblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/28/monday-motivationsthe-abc-of-short-story-ideas-part-five/

Now you’re in for a treat. Here are the results of last week’s challenge:

Keith Channing sent in this gem of a story:

How much longer do we have to spend floating around in this tin can?”

A question I had been asking myself for weeks, and never come to an answer I liked.

“We knew when we took the job,” I said, “that there would be months of this boredom before we reach our destination. It was in the briefing notes, and I know you read them, Sally.”

“I know, Tom,” Sally replied, “but there’s a world of difference between reading about months of tedium, and living through it.”

“Do you love me, Sally?”

“You know I do, Tom. Don’t I tell you often enough?”

“Of course you do, Sal, but sometimes we say these things in a formulaic way. And before you yell at me, I’m not saying you are doing that; but we both need to be sure and reassure each other that our love is as strong as it was when we lifted off six months ago.”

“I know, Tom. I know you aren’t digging at me, but I’m not sure if I can stand another three months of this before we reach Mars.”

“We’re two thirds of the way there, Sal. We can do it. We are strong enough. Remember how we were saying, less than a year ago, that we would kill for this job? How we worked so hard to convince the selection board that a husband and wife team was not only a workable option, but also the optimal solution, if the habitat is to be a permanent, self-sustaining colony? Our children will be Martians. How cool is that?”

“Yeah – cool,” Sally giggled. As she did, their module rang like a bell that had just been struck, and started to spin.
“What the hell was that?” she asked. “Checking telemetry…”

“Too far out for space junk,” Tom exclaimed, “can only have been a stray lump of rock. Anything logged?”

“Hold. Stabilising attitude, check; confirm course, not right; applying auto course adjust, check. Phew. Back on track… I think. What were you asking?”

“Is there anything in the log?”

“Hold…” she said, “Bugger!”

“What?”

“Logs are shot. We’re flying blind. Call ground control.”

This is Major Tom to Ground Control, we’ve been hit by a meteor that was’t in the logs. Sally has re-established directional stability and I think my spaceship knows which way to go, but the logs are shot, so we’ll have no warning of approaching objects.”

“How long until we hear back from them?” Sally asked.

“Round trip time is currently around half an hour.”

“By which time any number of things could hit us, and we’d never know.”

“Sal. We’re going to be OK. This tin can is solid, it’s designed to take a few knocks. It will get us to Mars.”

“Yes, Tom, but in what sort of shape?”

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” said General McMasters, “that is the end of the recording. When the module soft-landed on Mars, both occupants were dead, and examination showed they had died two months previously. What took place in the month between the end of the recording and their passing; as well as the manner and cause of their demise, will remain among the mysteries of the Mars Colonisation Program. We honour Tom and Sally today, as we honour all those who gave their lives that the human race may continue when the Earth can no longer support it.”

Jasdeep Kaur shows once again that she’s equally talented at poetry as she is prose:

Eternal Love

Have you heard about telepathies
and said no way?
Or ever pondered on the world’s
most wondrous play?

The blossoming of flower with
the kiss of a bee,
or love of snakes with
the sandalwood tree…

Why a baby gets comfort only
in her mother’s arms?
Or lovers are assured by merely
the touch of palms?

The love of the holy with
God and his commands,
or the love of the evil with
their reckless demands…

No creation of this world is
without this sensation.
In heaven, nether regions, and earth, all
experience this emotion.

Like ever-present almighty Lord,
love will always stay,
‘cause the world is nothing but
love infused in clay.

I was so pleased to see this week’s challenge had Ayo Oburo taking it up again. A great poem:

I had a job you could kill for.
I didn’t kill, it came on merit.
I enjoyed the perks,
I enjoyed the power,
The leadership skills I had to display.
My boss said ‘good job’,
So I thought I was good.
One day the cloud darkened,
Someone came in,
I thought it was to help.
I welcomed her warmly,
Shared what I knew.
What I didn’t was she had been given my job.
And then one day they said no more.
They packed up my stuff I had to leave
I couldn’t understand
I had been doing so well
I loved my job that I didn’t kill for.

I was wondering where Jason Moody‘s entry was and I’m thrilled he managed it just in time! This is a cracker of a gripping story:

His phone beeped. He knew what it was, and what it meant.

It was standard procedure. Receive the text advising where to meet the contact, and then receive details of the job. The message was from the usual source. He figured it would take him ten minutes from his current location.

He appeared at the front of the tube station, and sure enough, leant against the window of a fast food outlet was the contact.

He sidled up too the man.

“Marcus,” he said.

The man handed him the envelope.

“Fitz. Normal rules,” the man said.

Fitz. That was the only name he went by. He was slowly approaching forty. He was athletic and slender. This was solely down to the hours put in at the gym. His clothes were fitted, but unremarkable.

Fitz walked away and headed back to the station.

Ten minutes and fifty two seconds later, he was sat on a bench overlooking the Thames. He carefully opened the slim brown envelope and pulled out the picture inside.

The mark was named Beth Summers. She was twenty nine, single with no children.

Fitz glanced over the small note paper clipped to the photograph: place of work, hangouts and other general information.
He looked at the photograph again. She was pretty. Blue eyes and straight light brown hair. She had a small mole on her left side just under her eye. He placed the photograph back in the envelope and got up.

Opening the door to his apartment, he senses something wasn’t quite right. He gently closed the door and crept into the lounge. All seemed in order. There were magazines on the floor. Last night’s takeaway still on the glass table.

He made his way into the kitchen, all was fine there.

He headed towards the bedroom, when he heard a flushing sound. He dived back into the bedroom, pulled open a drawer in the bedside chest and produced a gun with silencer attached.

He crept into the hallway and waited a few metres from the bathroom door. The door crept open and a young woman emerged, her hair wrapped in a towel. She jumped back, half screaming.

“Jesus Christ, Fitz. You scared the shit out of me,” she said, breathless.

Fitz relaxed. “You’re scared? You could have been anybody, Marcie.”

Marcie gave Fitz a hug. He wrapped his one free arm around her, hiding the gun. She turned and went back into the bathroom. This gave him enough time to secure the gun.

“What brings you to my part of town, Sis’?”

“Date.” She let out a whooping sound. “Your place was closer. You don’t mind do you, honey?”

“Nope. I gave you a key, didn’t I?”

“I know. I just don’t want you too think I’d go snooping in all your drawers, that’s all,” she started to laugh. “There isn’t anything here I shouldn’t see, is there?”

“Nah, just my assault rifle, 9mm pistol and my sniper rifle.” he said.

Marcie scoffed. “Geek.”

Later that night Fitz’s phone beeped. It was details of the hit. It gave details of where the target would be, and at what time. He never got told the reasons behind the targets, and he never asked. He never questioned whether or not these targets were necessary. He did his job, got paid and moved on. It was best to keep things simple.

He grabbed a bottle of wine from the fridge, and liberated a bag of crisps from the cupboard. He slumped in his sofa, and drinking from the bottle, turned on the TV.

It was the news.

“Police are hunting the killer of reclusive business tycoon, Eric French. His body was found at his North London residence by his cleaner this morning…”

He turned off the TV.

“Fucking amateurs,” he sighed.

The next day was a busy one. He woke early to do his weekly shop. Then it was back to the apartment to tidy up.
In the afternoon he visited his Mum in the nursing home. Today was one of her better days, as she was quite lucid. These were always the days he enjoyed. He loved his Mum more than anything. The rapid and aggressive onslaught of the dementia taking hold, was painful to take. He figured that she may not have long, so he visited at least twice a week.

Late in the afternoon he hit the gym. It was important  to fit in a good workout before a job. It helped focus him, to calm him. He was never nervous on a job and this ritual maintained his focus.

It was time.

The restaurant was half full. It was a fancy place just outside of the city. Reservations were always expected, so he assumed the hit had money and indeed, influence. His people had sorted a reservation for him.

He entered, exchanged pleasantries with the staff and was escorted to his seat. The light was dim, most tables had candle light. He held the picture in his mind. He was sure checkouts know the target.

He ordered a glass of wine and waited. He didn’t have to wait long.

She arrived, wearing a long, blue satin evening gown. She looked good, he thought.

She took her table and fidgeted. She played with her hair. She glanced over and caught Fitz’s eye. She smiled.

Shit.

Fitz was persisted to wait it out. His plan was to wait for the target to visit the bathroom. He would follow and take care of business. That’s all it was, just good business.

Half an hour later, and the target still sat alone. He tried, but Fitz once, then twice looked over. He caught her eyes sparkling in the candlelight. He was noticing more than he should.

This was it. The target stood and made her way towards the bathroom. Fitz stood and made to follow. They had reached the hallway just inside the entrance.

The target stopped in her tracks as a car screeched to a sudden halt outside the restaurant. The doors to the black people carrier were thrown open. Three or four well dressed, heavy set men headed towards the doors. Two of them felt into their jackets.

Fitz didn’t know who they were, but he recognised killers when he saw them. He sprinted towards the target. He grabbed her by her arm.

“Come with me.” The woman didn’t argue.

The men entered en mass. They shoved the staff member to one side and split up. One of them, a bald man with a granite jawline headed in Fitz’s direction.

Fitz was now in the ladies’ bathroom. Mirrors and sinks lined one side. The other was a row of eight cubicles.

He pointed to the last cubicle.

“Get in there, and don’t move.”

This wasn’t right, he thought. She should be dead. He wasted little time with the details. He stepped into the first cubicle, stood up on the basin and waited.

The door to the bathroom opened. He heard the sound of heels on the tiled floor. This wasn’t a guarantee it was a woman. Moments later the door opened again, no heels. Seconds later he heard a scream. He could hear someone hitting the floor.

Fitz smashed open the door. In one fluid motion he had pulled the gun from his belt and had hit the man in the forehead. He dropped to floor with a heavy thud.

The woman sat on the floor was petrified. She screamed. Still holding his gun, he gestured to the door of the cubicle in the middle.

“Get in there, and stay in there.” She was frozen. “Now,” he hissed.

The woman ran into the cubicle. He could hear sobbing.

He tapped on the door at the end.

“Get out.”

The target opened the door. Her face was white with fear. She was physically trembling. Fitz held out his hand and sighed. This job had gone horribly wrong.

“Stay behind me, otherwise you’ll be dead.”

“Ok,” she croaked. Her voice broken. Her eyes watering.

Fitz led her into the main restaurant. All other diners had gone. One man was stood behind the bar. The third man was nowhere to be seen. He ducked behind a small table set at the entrance. He gestured to the woman to follow his lead.

He spied a wardrobe just off the entrance.

“Get in there. And stay there,” he ordered.

Fitz moved towards the bar. The man was preoccupied pulling himself a drink. He crawled forward, squatted. He picked a bar towel from the bar top and continued.

He leapt to his feet. He forced as much of the cloth as he could into the man’s mouth. He was a large man. A struggle would be unwise. The man turned to face Fitz. Unmoved, Fitz pulled his trigger a second time. The man fell backwards, hitting his head on the bar and flopping to the ground.

There was still one at large.

He appeared from around the corner. His gun trained on Fitz. The favour was returned. It was a standoff.

The man shook his head.

“You’re on a contract?” He laughed.

Fitz wasn’t in the mood for conversation.

“Silent man, huh?” The man moved closer.” Where’s the bitch?”

Fitz stood, unmoved.

A waiter appeared from the kitchen. He froze as he saw the two armed men. The man span round and shot the waiter in the leg. He hit the floor and yelped in pain. Another shot. The waiter dropped.

“Where is she?”

The sound of a door opening came from behind Fitz. He closed his eyes. He had told her to stay put.

“Et voila,” the man said. “Now get out of the way dickhead, this is my contract.”

Fitz backed up towards the target.

From behind the man, the waiter, barely able to stand, approached the gunman from behind, a lit candle in one hand. He skunked behind the man and pushed the candle into his neck. The man gave out an almighty scream. The waiter let himself drop to one side. The gun dropped to the floor as the man writhed in pain, holding his neck with both hands. He looked to Fitz for but a second, knowing the game was up.

The low hiss of the silencer signalled the end for the gunman. His head snapping back as the bullet pierced his skull.

The target ran to Fitz. She wrapped her arms around him. She was shaking and sobbing into his shoulder. Instinctively, Fitz put his arm around her, his gun still in his left hand. This wasn’t the plan, he kept going over and over in his head.

He could now feel her rapid heartbeat against his chest. Her sobbing was relentless. He wasn’t accustomed to this. He was a ruthless killer, a vanquisher of the evil, the corrupt and the down right no good. He suddenly had a realisation; he’d never had a female target before. Was this his undoing? Had he accidentally discovered his weakness? Women.

He pulled away from her. He leapt over the bar and returned with a glass and a bottle of champagne.

“Sit,” he said. The woman obliged.

Fitz headed for the bathroom and released the other woman. She was sat in the toilet, quivering and crying hysterically. She wasted no time in following his instruction and leaving the establishment. He returned to the restaurant.

He turned to the target. He put a hand on her shoulder. She was sat. The hand holding the glass shook. He looked into her eyes for the briefest of moments; something inside his being was changed. This wasn’t right.

“You alright?” he asked. He looked again into her blue eyes, watered with tears. She was beautiful. “Beth, are you ok?”

She’s beautiful, he kept thinking to himself, like a twisted mantra.

“What? What? How do you know-” she stammered.

“Don’t worry. Are you ok?”

Beth nodded.

“We’ve got to get out of here Beth, ok? Were going to go out the back door. Act natural. Dry your eyes.”

He was very matter of fact. Beth obeyed. She grabbed her coat and they made their way to the kitchen. He quickly scoped the room; he wasn’t letting his guard down completely. The coast was clear.

They exited through a fire door. The alarm rang out. Over the shrill alarm he could make out police sirens.

“We gotta move, Beth.”

She took his hand again and together they ran down a darkened alleyway, snaking left and right between waste bins.

“Who are you?” Beth asked, her voice wobbling as she ran at pace.

They turned a corner. He slowed the pace down to a stroll. He placed his arm around her. She was petrified, but this dangerous strangers arm felt strangely comforting.

They were now on a busy street. Other couples passed them and smiled. They must have looked good together.

“What’s going to happen to me?” she asked. A slight chime of hope in her voice.

“I don’t know, Beth. Just keep walking,” his reply was robotic. His head now a mess of conflicting thoughts and emotions. All things a man in his profession didn’t need.

Beth stopped, and turning to face him place both hands on his chest.

“What’s really going on? Please.”

Fitz looked down at her. Her face was like that of an anxious child. Her eyes open and searching him with every passing second.

He took her hands in his and gently squeezed.

“You are safe. That is all you need to know.”

She offered no argument. This tall, beautiful stranger had saved her. That was good enough.

Fitz placed his arm around her and pulled her in. She sunk into his chest.

This meeting had changed everything. They would likely both become targets. Fitz had broken all his own rules. This night had re-written them. Now they were part of a new world, a new game.

But for now, Beth was safe.

For now.