James runs. Two things are clear. One: he can’t trust anyone; and two: he will revenge his father’s death. Now he understands, and she will pay.
The blonde slumped to the floor, a hole in her forehead. James tensed for the inevitable bullet. Nothing. He turned. A flash of red, more titian he thought, disappearing into the bushes. His saviour. She wanted him alive, which meant there was only one person who could have set him up. One person who knew him well enough. He felt for a pulse. His assassin was very dead. He picked up her gun, small, feminine. This time he’d keep it.
‘Stand still. I’ll shoot if you twitch.’ The blonde’s gaze didn’t falter.
James swallowed hard. He shouldn’t have come; he should have smelt the trap.
‘You knew we’d find you, surely?’
‘We? The Jantas, you mean.’
‘What do you think, James? Or rather Mark Stenson. Little very dead Mark. Your first friend. Touching you used his name.’
He tried to focus on the gun. It was small, almost dainty. He’d seen it before. ‘How’d you know about the name?’
The blonde smiled. ‘Think who you told, James. Go on, think?’
That wasn’t right. ‘I only told Annise. How could she—?’
‘How could she betray you? Oh well, who knows anyone else, eh? At least you’ll know who wants you dead before I kill you.’
Something jarred. How would Annise know about Mark beyond his name? To play for time he asked her name.
She looked vaguely incredulous. ‘Most people ask who sent me.’
‘You said. The Jantas.’
‘Oh well, if you say so.’
‘I don’t believe it’s Annise.’
‘You wouldn’t, of course. It destroys your notion of family. First your father. Anyway, we haven’t all day.’
‘You’re not going to kill me.’
‘After what you did? Surely even you knew it would end like this?’
‘Not here, though. It’s too public.’
‘Really. Where is everyone? Who are you expecting?’
He tried a different approach. ‘We’re in a churchyard. We’ve just buried him.’
‘Apposite then. Or ironic since you killed him.’
James shuffled his feet. He wanted to piss. ‘That was an accident.’ He took a breath, deep and slow. ‘So, what now?’
‘You walk to the grave. I shoot you. You fall in.’ She held up her free hand and mimicked pulling the trigger.
In moments he was at the grave where he’d seen Annise and his mother, probably for the last time, as they paid their respects.
‘Ok. Turn nice and slow.’
She smiled and raised her gun. ‘You want to know what’s funny?’
James watched his mother drop a handful of earth into his father’s grave. The urge to go over almost overwhelmed him. Her grey-white hair, freshly permed, contrasted with her neat black ensemble. Always immaculate, unlike Annise’s scruffy green and red outfit, with her tousled hair blowing free. She didn’t care, he knew that now. He knew she would be scanning the cemetery looking for him, wondering if he dared come and risk it. Had she told their mother? Would she burden her? After he’d killed their father it was the least he could do. She’d know that. So, what was her plan? He should trust her, but after all that had happened why would he? No, he’d leave her, go away, think. He needed to do some thinking because something was very wrong. She never showed emotion – that wasn’t in her nature, like their father. Then again, she hadn’t killed their father.
Her note had told him he’d be safe here. Really? He was sure neither of them expected him to come but he had. Thinking could wait.
He took a deep breath. Time to show himself.
James paced the square; he didn’t like being out in the open. Where was Annise? She’d promised to explain. Something caught his attention.
A youngster on a bike. ‘Are you Mark?’
Why did that feel wrong? Using his fake name? ‘Yeah.’
‘Message from Annise.’ The kid dropped something and pedalled away.
James read her note. He’s dead. Funeral at two. St Mary’s. Mum’ll be there. You’ll be safe. We need to talk. James walked away quickly. He didn’t trust her, but he had to go.
James’ hands shook. The blood poured from the wound in his father’s head. How could Dad have betrayed him?
He jumped. Someone else was there. He was torn between checking to see if his father was dead and protecting himself. He’d learnt to be wary. He griped the metal rod and waited.
It wasn’t long. Whoever it was didn’t take enough care and he was on them – her, he realized – in seconds.
‘Fuck sake, Jimmy. It’s me.’ Annise.
‘What’s going on?’ He held her down, unsure if it was her. In the thin light he saw the gun, a small thing by her left hand; just the sort of lady gun she’d have. He batted it away. ‘Conrad give you that, did he?’
‘So, you were the one? Who got me here?’
‘What do you mean?’
James spoke slowly, like he was talking to a moron. ‘I got this note. I thought Dad sent it, but it can’t have been him, can it? So, it had to be you, right?’
‘Wrong. I didn’t send you any note.’
‘It had to be you. Here.’
She read it, shaking her head. She said, ‘I realised Dad was coming to see you and followed him. He’s in deep with the Jantas again. I thought they were using him to get to you.’
‘You’d know. You’re the one shagging Conrad.’
She pushed him off. ‘Stop this. Let me check him first. Shit, there’s a lot of blood. He needs help.’ She sat back. ‘I don’t understand except you need to get away. The Janta boys will be here soon enough.’
‘What’s he doing working for them again?’
‘They need his skills as an explosives man. They told him they’d kill Mum. That’s why I’ve been with Conrad. To give Dad time to sort things out. Conrad’s a jerk, but he’s always seen me as some sort of trophy. Prick. If you hadn’t killed Antonio—’
‘I didn’t, not that anyone listens.’
‘I’ll believe you but that note. I need to think what it means. Who’d send that?’
‘I need answers.’
‘We all do. I’ll send word.’
‘Will he be ok?’
‘You need to go. Have you got rid of the phone?’
‘You’ll need a new identity. Someone plausible.’
‘Dad said. Mark Stenson.’
‘Is that meant to mean something?’
‘You won’t know him. Dad was going to sort out papers.’
‘I’ll do that. Look, let’s get past this mess, get him to hospital and work out what’s happening. Now go and take the gun.’
‘I thought you wanted to shoot me.’
‘Yeah.’ He still wasn’t convinced that someone wasn’t his sister and her crook of a boyfriend.
James walked away, leaving the gun on the floor. If she wanted him dead she could shoot him in the back.
‘I know you’re there. This has to stop.’
James tried to place the voice. It was familiar. Were they alone?
‘Antonio’s death has changed everything, but we can sort something out.’
James stepped forward. ‘Dad, is that you?’ The note had said the killer would be here.
Something hit James on the head sending him reeling. Had his father attacked him?
Somewhere nearby he heard his father’s growl; it presaged an attack. If his father was out for him he’d not stop.
James’ fingers touched something – the metal bar he’d brought. He sensed his father approach and swung, cracking him at the knees. He felt his father reach – in the half-light he was sure it was a gun. He hit with full power, once, twice. His father lay sprawled at his feet. He’d killed him.
James opened the note.
They’ve put a mark on you. You need to stop them. He’ll be at Osrimin’s place at 10, picking up his weapon. It’ll be your best chance. Monkeys Rule.
James smiled grimly. Only his dad would know ‘Monkeys Rule’ was their old catch phrase. James shook. He wasn’t used to killing, but somehow, he didn’t seem to have a choice.
‘Yeah. Look, James, this has to be quick. Someone’s set you up, someone close. I need to do some digging. We’re going to have to come out fighting.’
‘I can’t, Dad. I didn’t kill him—’
‘I could kill you, you prick. You’ve put us all at risk. You need to be ready to stop whoever they send; I’ll look after Annise and your mum. Shit, who would do this to us?’
‘Annise is shagging Conrad. You can’t trust her—’
‘No, listen. I’ll explain. It’s more complex. I’ll get you word—’
‘Get rid of that mobile. Get a new name, one only I’ll know. Tell me when we next speak, and we can sort out papers, get you away.’
James looked at Antonio Janta’s corpse and the gun. How could he be dead? And how come he held the gun with, no doubt, only his prints on it? Of all people. A sound distracted him. Someone was leaving. Who would set him up? Who would want him out of the way? He dropped the gun and ran from the house certain he was a dead man and wondering why.
James’ mother folded her hands. ‘James is not my son. I agreed to bring him up as if he were. John made me.’ She smiled grimly. ‘But now, I’m fed up pretending. I want out. If I deliver John, will you deliver James?’
Carlo Janta, head of his family’s business operations, smiled.
‘John terrifies me with his moods. He abused Annise from the start. Me too.’ She stopped. ‘If you kill John, James won’t stop until he finds out who and why, so he must go too.’
Carlo nodded. ‘It may compromise Annise?’
‘Antonio is a problem. He has habits. I think we can clean up both families, yes? Now, champagne?’
This story is my homage to the fabulous Christopher Nolan film, Memento.
This short story first appeared on this blog in 2016 as part of Nanowrimo. If you enjoyed it, it and its 29 fellows can be found in the anthology Life In A Grain Of Sand that is current on offer as a giveaway if you click the title. The offer stays open until Sunday