Give Chance a Piece

givechanceapiece

Give Chance a Piece by Chris Green

If Dalton Ripley had not stayed up until the early hours watching The Shining on Netflix, he would probably not have been late leaving for work that fateful Monday in late September and if he had not been late leaving for work he would not have been speeding along Nine Bends, the windy B road he took as a short cut and if he had not been speeding along Nine Bends he would not have skidded off the road at its notorious fifth bend, the so-called Elbow Bend and taken out the power line that supplied the power to much of the neighbouring town, Porchester and if he had not taken out the power line that supplied the power to much of Porchester then things might have been very different. As it is, you can but speculate.

Had Porchester not been without power, for instance, the Royal visit that was scheduled for that late September day would not have been cancelled. The Duke and Duchess of Burberry would have opened the prestigious new sports centre as planned and the town would have received a much-needed boost after a decade or two in the doldrums. Dalton Ripley, of course, would still be alive, his late night viewing of The Shining perhaps scheduled for a later date. More importantly in the big scheme of things, Charise Lapointe, the scientist who was on the verge of discovering a cure for the common cold who was booked in for a routine procedure at Porchester General Hospital would probably not have met her maker that day. She died on the operating table when the power suddenly went off and the backup generator failed. If this had not happened then Charise would have continued with her ground-breaking research and you might not be sniffling so much next winter. The irony is that Charise Lapointe was not even scheduled to have her procedure at Porchester General Hospital, nor was it originally supposed to be on this day but a series of unexpected delays and cancellations came into play. But, these things happen.

If we go delve a little deeper, had Dalton’s wife, Diane not been away visiting her mother in Farrowgate, Dalton would in all likelihood not have stayed up late watching The Shining as Diane hated scary films. She preferred family dramas. When she was at home the Ripleys mostly watched historical drama series like Downton Abbey or Grand Hotel. Or wholesome documentaries like The Blue Planet. If this had been the case they would probably have had an early night and Dalton would have been up early for work as usual that late September morning. They say that hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it is an unhelpful dictum in a world where chance and coincidence are constant agitators, the best laid plans of mice and men and all that.

All the same, one can’t help but be curious as to how it is that calamitous events unfold. At what point can it be said that this particular chain of events or any other is inevitable? Chance is defined as the occurrence of events in the absence of any obvious intention or cause. Where do cause and effect come in? Is chance in any way related to what we think of as fate? Are we just talking semantics? Perhaps all views on the matter are subjective. Eighteenth century, German philosopher, Friedrich Schiller, for instance, claims there is no such thing as chance and what seems to us merest accident springs from the deepest source of destiny. Twentieth century icon, Marilyn Monroe agrees with him saying that life is pre-ordained, like Kismet. Bernie McBurnie, the former manager of BetterBet in Brewcastle takes the opposite view, this based on a lifetime in making the wrong call setting the odds in his shop.

Fortune favours some people. They appear to be defy the odds. They are described as being born lucky. I recently read about a man called Lloyd Banks who was a serial lottery jackpot winner. He only played the lottery three or four times a year but each time he did he won one of the big prizes. A spin of the wheel or a roll of the dice and Lloyd seemed to know what would come up. Long odds meant nothing to him. He had such a successful record on the Blackjack tables that he found himself banned from all the casinos in the country. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, you get the Wet Blanket Rons of this world. Everything they touch turns to dust. Ron, having just lost his job, was knocked down by a hit and run driver and hospitalised with a catalogue of injuries. In hospital, he went down with Norovirus. While he was in the isolation ward, his wife, Heather ran off with his best friend, Frank who had been giving her lifts to work. On release from hospital, Ron was given notice on the flat by their unscrupulous landlord, Kostas Moros, who saw Heather’s disappearance as an excuse to subdivide the deceptively spacious two bedroomed apartment and make more money. To cap it all Kostas Moros ordered Ron to pay £2000 for damage incurred to the flat during the tenancy, which cleaned Ron out. Patti says you make your own luck, it’s all down to mental attitude but I’m not sure it’s that simple. Chance seems to be lurking in the mix somewhere.

Whether attributable to chance or not, the chain of events set in motion by Dalton Ripley’s misjudgement of the notorious Elbow Bend that late September day gives us a perfect illustration of the domino effect. If the untimely death of the biologist in the hospital were the most serious consequence of the power outage, tragic though this would be, it would not be catastrophic. But, worse was in store for the town that day. Despite Herculean efforts on behalf of the power company, they were unable to restore the power. With surveillance cameras disabled and all aspects of everyday life disrupted, a group of sophisticated terrorists, apparently not aligned with any of the usual suspects, spotted an opportunity and decided to target the beleaguered town. You did not hear about this at the time. There were no reports because the event was deemed so serious and so mysterious, a D notice was immediately issued. There was a total news blackout and parts of the town were sealed off for weeks, while the inexplicable massacre was investigated.

But, in this age of social media leaks, it is difficult for the authorities to silence a story indefinitely. Gradually, the scale of the atrocity that took place that Monday in late September began to emerge. It is now being suggested that as many as a thousand people were killed in Porchester that day. Yet, it seems no-one is certain who the anonymous group of terrorists that carried out the attack were or even by what method the attack was carried out. No-one has been able to establish what the cause of death was and despite the numerous dead being found in a number of different locations, there appears to have been a puzzling absence of witnesses. Sonic waves are currently being suggested as an explanation along with laser beams and mind control. If the medics do know any more about the cause they are not letting on.

There have now been several similar attacks at various locations around the country, each one occurring during a lengthy power outage. Yet, each of the power outages is unplanned, unpredictable, a chance happening, a random event. There is no common cause to them. Although you can read odd posts on the internet about the attacks, almost all the questions remain unanswered. How can whoever is responsible for the deaths predict that Dalton Ripley or someone like him is going to plough through a power line? How can they know that some inexperienced employee of one of the power giants is going to flick the wrong switch? Who are the terrorists, what powers do they have and what is it they are doing? Strangely, not so much as a single amateur iPhone video of any of the incidents has come to light. People are just dropping dead in random locations where security cameras are down and without any survivors seeing them. You are not able to get near any of the sites as they are crawling with soldiers and spooks.

The government appear to have accepted that the public is finding out about the atrocities that have been taking place and are now using this as an excuse to impose greater border control, restrictions on freedom of movement and that kind of stuff. Imposing curfews. For our protection. Reports are appearing too about plans to police the internet. They are suggesting doubling the size of the workforce at the so-called listening centre, out in the sticks somewhere. Patti thinks I am being paranoid but I wonder if the government themselves are not the ones trickling information about the mysterious terrorist attacks down to us so they can justify these draconian new measures. Business as usual then, Guy Bloke suggests, like one of Philip C. Dark’s political thrillers. Perhaps the government are even the ones behind the attacks or maybe they are just making them up to make us feel that we need them to protect us. We live in those kind of times.

What would Casey Boss of the Special Ideas Squad make of it all, I’m wondering? Let’s give it over to him and his sidekick, Jagger to bat about for a while.

‘So, what have we got to go on, Jagger?’ Casey Boss says. ‘How much of this improbable story can we verify?’

‘Dalton Ripley’s accident looks sound, guv,’ Jagger says ‘There are dozens of pictures of the crashed car.’

‘But, how do we know it is Dalton Ripley’s car?’ Boss says.

‘Does it matter whose car it was that took out the power line?’ Jagger says.

‘And what has happened to Diane Ripley?’ Boss says. We have heard nothing of her.’

‘The Ripleys don’t matter,’ Jagger says. ‘Those kind of details are not important.’

‘I take your point, Jagger,’ Boss says. ‘So, where do you think we ought to start?’

‘The power line was definitely down, guv,’ Jagger says. ‘We can say that much.’

‘So, let’s move straight on to what happened when the power was out in Porchester,’ Boss says.

‘Don’t you think we should take a look at the chance elements first?’ Jagger says. ‘There do seem to be quite a lot of random connections.’

‘You mean, give chance a piece?’ Boss says.

‘Ha, ha! Very droll,’ Jagger says. ‘But it’s the …… other fellow you’re thinking of. He’s not been with us for a while now.’

‘I would be happy to put it down to a series of accidents, were it not for the scale,’ Boss says. ‘This would seem to imply some intent. ……… Where are we getting all the information from, anyway, Jagger?’

‘It’s from a book I’ve been reading,’ Jagger says.

‘What sort of book?’

‘A collection of short stories.’

‘Short stories, eh? And who are they by?’

‘Chris Green. He’s a new writer. He’s very good.’

‘And where is he getting it from?’

‘He’s making it up, obviously. He’s a writer.’

‘So, we’re fictitious.’ Boss says.

‘Of course.’ Jagger says.

‘Oh shit, Jagger!’ Boss says. ‘What are we going to do now? What’s going to happen to us?’

‘Lap of the Gods, I’d say, guv.’

‘It’s up to him, isn’t it? This ….. This, Chris Green.’

‘Perhaps it would help our chances, guv, if we could solve this mystery behind all these fatalities,’ Jagger says. ‘Then we might get an outing in another story.’

‘What about ……….?’

‘I do believe I know what you are thinking, guv,’ Jagger says.

I was, of course, surprised to get the call from Casey Boss. Surprised perhaps doesn’t adequately describe my bewilderment. My consternation. Here was a fictional character, one of my fictional characters, contacting me. Before I had a chance to steady myself, Casey Boss began to tell me that he thought he had the explanation to the mystery of the attacks. He and Jagger were investigating an unrelated incident, he said, regarding a blue Ikea bag full of science fiction plots. He explained that Ikea bags were common in his line of work as villains found they could easily conceal insurrectionist ideas, Ikea and idea having lexicographic similarities. He and Jagger had intercepted the consignment a month or so previously and had hoped they had put the case to bed. But they had recently discovered that one of the plots had gone missing from the Special Ideas Squad evidence room. It would appear to be a perfect match. But, he said he was unable to tell me the rest of the details as he was saving these for when I wrote the sequel.

But, as my namesake, the great Graham Greene says, a story has no beginning or end. Arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

White Stuff

whitestuff

White Stuff by Chris Green

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Gang aft agleyRobert Burns

It is said that accident is the real the director of life. Accident, of course, is not the same thing as destiny or fate and has nothing at all to do with synchronicity. Accident is pure random chance.

It is by accident that Sergio Blanco and Chelsea Moon’s paths should cross at Bilbao Airport as neither Sergio’s flight from Bogotá or Chelsea’s flight from Milan is scheduled to land there. That they both do is due to freak weather conditions over the Iberian peninsula which prevents them navigating Spanish air space. Sergio’s flight was heading for Madrid and Chelsea’s, London Heathrow. Pure random chance that both Sergio and Chelsea have picked identical black Samsonite luggage to travel with, more so for Chelsea perhaps as her original colour choice was red but the small town department store were waiting on a delivery. Accident that they both find themselves temporarily housed in the same section of the same Departure Lounge waiting to hear about the revised schedules for their flights. Under normal circumstances, in this striking modern airport designed by the audacious architect, Santiago Calatrava, doubling up on departures would simply not happen. Pure random chance that Sergio Blanco and Chelsea Moon pick adjacent seats, each hoping for reasons of their own that they will not have to engage in casual conversation with anyone. Accident too that when the time comes to move, each picks the other’s suitcase mistaking it for their own. Neither has thought to try to replace the weather-beaten baggage tags, an action which more than likely would have prevented such an error or at least minimised the consequences.

It is up to the airlines now to replace the unreadable tags at the check-ins for their revised flights. Part of the service, of course, along with sugary apologies for the circumstances beyond their control which forced the delays. With so many flights daily such matters have become routine. Neither Sergio or Chelsea have the slightest suspicion at this stage that anything might be amiss with their cases. Why would they? They are told that the blizzards over Spain have now eased and the snow on the runways is being cleared. They will shortly be able to board their onward flights.

………………………………………

Relieved to finally be back on home soil, Chelsea makes her way through Passport Control in Heathrow Terminal 2. She retrieves her suitcase from the carousel. She makes her way to the Nothing to Declare blue channel but hangs back to adjust a contact lens. One of the customs officers, a family man called Norman Daley views Chelsea’s hesitation as suspicious. Hanging back and looking nervous are things that he has been trained to look out for. He calls Chelsea over and politely asks her to accompany him to a side room, where he and a female officer, Bethany Chambers, a mother of two, inform her of the procedure they are about to carry out.

‘Did you pack this suitcase yourself,’ Norman asks, while Bethany goes through Chelsea’s hand luggage and prepares her for a body search.

‘Of Course,’ she says.

That Chelsea shows surprise when Norman Daley discovers the false bottom in the Samsonite suitcase does not phase him. He is an experienced customs officer. Feigning surprise is something that suspects usually do. The three kilos of cocaine he discovers in the secret compartment is also something that is becoming more commonplace for arrivals at Heathrow, if not usual on flights from Milan, albeit an interrupted flight. Despite Chelsea’s vigorous protests, the thing that seals her fate is that the suitcase does appear to be hers. Sergio Blanco has taken steps to cover his own tracks, should he be pulled over at Madrid by filling the suitcase with random ladies clothes. He could then claim that the suitcase had been switched without his knowledge. Unfortunately for Chelsea, the random clothes in the suitcase just happen to be her size and match the style of outfit she is wearing. The have the same labels, FatFace, Boden, White Stuff, mostly White Stuff. Even the underwear that he has chosen to pack is similar to that which Chelsea is wearing, Agent Provocateur, Janet Reger. Her protests fall on deaf ears. Norman Daley informs her that she is under arrest.

Sergio Blanco arrives at Madrid Airport. Understandably, given the circumstances, he is extremely nervous. He is physically shaking as he approaches Customs, and sweat is pouring from his brow. He has had a few practice runs in the past with small amounts of cocaine, secreted as everyday items like talc and dried food. But, he has never done anything remotely on this scale. This is big league. This is make or break time.

To his great relief, he makes it though Nada Que Declarar with little more than a nod. Feeling buoyant, he takes a cab to his hotel. He settles down with a cool glass of orujo and begins to make calls on the anonymous pay as you go phone he purchased at the airport. He is arranging to make drops of the drug for the following day. He is a happy man. Soon he will be rich.

When he opens the case he finds that it is full of ladies apparel. Familiar labels, FatFace, Boden, White Stuff, mostly White Stuff. But, to his horror, these are different clothes. The same labels but different clothes. More critically, the case has no false bottom. No secret compartment. No ….. well, no white stuff, no cocaine. It is a different case. How can this have happened? Whose case could it be? He goes through the contents, over and over but finds nothing that might help to identify its owner. The person who packed the suitcase is to all intents and purposes untraceable.

Without his product, Sergio has no way of paying his sizeable debts. Debts accrued largely through setting up his present venture. The gangsters he owes money to are unlikely to be understanding about his inability to pay them. They are not the kind of people who listen to excuses. He sees little choice but to go on the run.

………………………………………

Accident does not conform to universal laws. It can unleash an unstoppable chain of events. You might call it the domino effect. Once one goes, the others will follow. When this happens you cannot refer to fate or destiny. You cannot say this was not in the plan. This is a departure from the plan, a spiral of descent driven by a chance happening.

Chelsea Moon’s plea of Not Guilty is laughed out of court. Her barrister, Grayson Willoughby, Q. C. embarrassed to be taking such an obvious no-hoper of a case is more than a little half-hearted in his presentation. He wants to quickly bury this one and take on something that will win him acclaim, a case that he has a realistic chance of winning. His defence that the black Samsonite case must have been switched is quickly torn apart by the prosecution. The prosecution acknowledges that in theory the case could have been switched but as there is no evidence of this, the allegation is absurd. It is indisputable that it was Chelsea Moon’s case. The check-in desks at both Milan and Bilbao airports have supplied CCTV video evidence for the court. The footage shows Chelsea Moon checking in with this very same black Samsonite case. It is clear too that the clothes found in the case belonged to her. All the clothes were the right size and a search of her home revealed many similar outfits with the all too familiar labels, Boden, FatFace, White Stuff, mostly White Stuff.

‘And isn’t white stuff also a slang term for cocaine?’ says prosecution barrister, Roland Silk, Q.C. ‘Isn’t it the case, Ms Moon, that you were trying to be clever with your choice of brands?’

Judge Stover’s summing up is brief and the jury needs little persuasion. The jurors unanimously agree that Chelsea Moon is guilty of Importing commercial quantities of a border controlled drug and Judge Stover has no hesitation in handing down a six year sentence.

If you are going on the run there are a number of things you must first consider. You cannot afford to trust anyone so you need to cut all ties with friends and family. This is hard for Sergio as he has a large and varied network of friends in and around Madrid but fortunately, he has no long term partner and so far as he knows, no children. He now needs to stop using his email, social media accounts and all the other online accounts that might be traceable and he needs to liquidate his assets. The assets part is easy for Sergio. For assets, read debts but it is not until he is faced with the idea of closing accounts that he realises how tied into email and the like his life is. He needs to move out immediately leaving no trace of where he might be going.

With this in mind, Sergio makes his way to his apartment and under the cover of night takes off in his Seat Leon with just a couple of holdalls. He abandons the car at a small town near Toledo and takes a series of trains to the coast where he hopes he can blend in for a few days while he considers his options. The important step as he sees it is to change his appearance as quickly as he can and establish a new identity. This cannot be done overnight, but growing a beard and wearing big black sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat will help in the interim.

Sergio manages to call in a favour and his long term associate, Hugo Perez sets him up with a Canadian passport and Social Insurance number with the name, Charlie Snow. Charlie is able to travel to Nova Scotia where he is slowly able to build up his identity and blag a job with a small garage as a car mechanic. From here he manages to get to grips with the language and settle in. after a year or so, in keeping with his name perhaps, he manages to become a ski instructor at Ski Martock, a small undertaking near Halifax, Nova Scotia. Ski Martock is remote. He is able to rest easy in the belief that no one will find him here.

Ironic then that Chelsea Moon’s sister, Siena should decide to treat her to a skiing holiday, following her release after serving three years of her six year sentence. Siena might have chosen a European ski resort, Courchevel or Val d’Isère. Madonna di Campiglio or Val Gardena. But, accident continues to show its hand. Siena chooses a small resort in North West Canada.

‘It’s called Ski Martock,’ she tells her sister, as they drive up in the hire car. ‘We can ease you in here as there will not be many people about and the slopes are gentle.’

‘Looks nice. I’ve always wanted to come to Canada,’ Chelsea says. ‘But I would have been thinking more of Toronto, or Vancouver perhaps.

‘You’ll be the height of fashion here,’ Siena says. ‘That White Stuff jacket you’re wearing, for instance.’

‘You like it?’ Chelsea says.

‘I was going to say, it’s quite apt for the piste,’ Siena says. ‘That’s where the idea for the White Stuff label came from, isn’t it?’

‘What! I thought it was ….. ‘

‘Oh! Sorry, sis. You thought it meant ……. the other white stuff. How insensitive of me!’

‘It’s all right, Siena. There’s nothing can be done about it now. I have to put all that behind me.’

‘Still, it must have a big impact on how you think about everything.’

‘Of course, but I have to move on. Hey! I do like the look of that fella. That beefy one with the beard. Do you think he’s going to be our instructor?’

‘What are you like! You’ve only been out five minutes and you’re lusting after the first hunk you set eyes on.’

Charlie is flattered by all the attention he is getting from the two sisters that have just arrived, especially the younger one, Chelsea. She is dark, beguiling, mysterious. He has not had too many chances to form a relationship in this far-flung corner of the North American continent so he is still footloose and fancy free. He guides Chelsea through the easy slopes and in no time at all she is ready to broaden her horizons. On the second night of their stay, she finds her way to his cabin and they make love. This becomes the pattern over the next ten days. Skiing, dinner, drinks in the bar, goodnight Siena, reconvene in Charlie’s cabin. Charlie is a little secretive about his background but as Chelsea is not anxious to share her recent history, she does not probe too deeply. She imagines though that he must have some Spanish blood. He has the faint traces of a Spanish accent.

The problem with holiday romances is that they don’t tend to last. They are based on nothing more than chance meetings. Seldom could such random encounters be considered destiny. Charlie Snow and Chelsea Moon’s brief affair, although passionate to begin with, is in this respect no different. As soon as distance separates them once more, they begin to forget one another. None of the promised letters. No phone calls. Not so much as a text. As neither of them are aware of the coincidence of their paths crossing twice, how could they imagine that their destinies might be entwined? Things do not necessarily happen for a reason. The real director of life is accident. Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved