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What are the odds on that? – Flash Fiction short story

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What are the odds on that?

highway2 Howard Jackson was a careful man. He had to be to have gotten away with his twenty-seven murders to date. Today he was hoping to add number twenty-eight to the tally. The young man sitting alone at the table in the service station diner looked a promising candidate. Howard estimated him to be in his late teens, or at most, his early twenties. He doubted if the young man had enough money for another coffee, having watched him nurse the one he had for over an hour. It wouldn’t be long before one of the staff insisted he buys another or be on his way. With the rain now pelting down outside, Howard was optimistic, knowing the weary hitch-hiker wouldn’t relish the prospect of walking however far to the next rest-stop. He had a knack for spotting the most vulnerable and trusting ones.

 

“Another coffee or something? Howard asked, having strolled over to the young man.

“They’ll be asking you to leave otherwise,” he added by way of reassurance.

“Uh? Oh right. Yeah, thanks, mister.” This was going to be so easy, Howard thought to himself.

“So, how far you going? I’m driving south if that’s any help?”

“Yeah, sure would be … and thanks for the coffee too. I was dreading having to start walking in this weather to wherever the next truck-stop is.”

Howard and the young man drank up and made their way to Howard’s car in the customer parking lot.

“Grab yourself a candy bar or a soda from the glove compartment if you want?”

“A soda would be good. And you? You having one too?”

“Nah, I’m good thanks, I had enough in the diner.”

highway3With the rain at full pelt, Howard was driving slower than he usually would. The young man continued to sip at his soda. An hour into the journey, the young man looked like he was nodding off. Howard pulled into a layby, confident the sedative had done its job.

Howard had long since discovered strangers were more ready to accept food and drink from a stranger in their car if it was in a sealed container or wrapper like a soda can or candy bar. The screw cap soda cans were of his own design, practically indistinguishable from the real thing, and the candy bars had each been injected with a liberal dose of etorphine, a powerful animal tranquiliser. Administering it via a soda or candy bar reduced the speed with which it took effect, but it was a safer alternative to risking the recipient putting up a fight if Howard failed to inject the drug at the first attempt. Howard hadn’t forgotten the one that got away, his only failure some six years previous when the sixteen-year-old intended victim hadn’t accepted either the soda or a candy bar and escaped after managing to block the etorphine-filled syringe with his rucksack. From that day on, Howard made it a rule not to proceed if the victim didn’t accept one of the drug-filled sodas or candy bars.

With his intended victim seemingly fast asleep, Howard got out of his car to retrieve certain items from the trunk: a length of rope chord, some industrial strength duct-tape, and a surgical scalpel. As expected, the young man still appeared completely out of it – Etorphine was a thousand times more potent than even morphine. With that in mind, Howard felt quite confident it was safe to proceed. He intended to strip his victim naked, and then use the rope and duct-tape to fully restrain and gag him. And then there would be Howard’s favourite part, a brutal assault and mutilation of the vilest kind of the victim’s lifeless body. First though, he reached down to begin unbuckling the young man’s jeans. What followed was most definitely not part of the plan that had succeeded on 27 previous occasions …

 

highway4“Not this time, mother fucker!” the young man said, ramming a solid uppercut under Howard’s chin before dragging him out through the adjacent car door. Though not as effective as Howard’s etorphine-filled soda can, not that the young man had actually drunk any of it, the upper-cut had highway5stunned his would-be killer sufficiently for the young man to quickly bind and gag the weaker and older Howard with the minimum of fuss or resistance. Oddly, the tone of his voice wasn’t loud, angry, or the outraged sort you might expect from someone unexpectedly finding themselves in that situation. If anything, it was eerily calm and controlled, much like the way he went about slitting Howard’s throat before dumping his body in the trunk of the would-be killer’s own car, sending both to a watery grave several hours’ drive later.

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Oh, he’d been careful alright, but just a little too careful this time … it never occurred to Howard that someone else might have similar thoughts on their mind, and the same obsession with not getting caught. After all, what were the odds of a highway-driving serial killer picking up his opposite number among the waifs and strays of the hitch-hikers?

highway6The twenty-two-year-old young man had been killing the likes of Howard along the highway from the age of seventeen, barely a year after hitching his first ride at the tender age of sixteen. It was Howard’s attempt at adding the young man to his tally of victims six years before that had set the young hitch-hiker on his path of seeking out and slaughtering men like Howard … Howard’s fate had been sealed the moment he’d been recognised in the diner … by the one that got away.

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For more stories like this and a whole host of other genres besides, stay tuned for … Flashbulb Moments, scheduled for late 2019 …

BookAdd9g

 

Short story – Blind Devotion

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Another short story taster from my up-coming anthology, Canine Tales: A  Growling Pack of Hungry Horrors, book 2 in my Creature Tales collection (due out the end of March this year).

Blind Devotion

puppy1Lucy first met her master to be as a wee young pup, no bigger than a palm-sized tiny ball of mischievous fur, but with a heart as big as the world. In stark contrast to the gorgeous golden coat of fur starting to emerge, she had the sort of big beautiful brown puppy eyes that made you instantly fall in love with her.

The introduction was to see if she immediately took to the man whose life she would hopefully transform. From the moment she was placed on the couch beside him, Lucy nestled up beside his leg. The man sitting there instinctively reached down to caress and stroke her back. Lucy liked that, turning to lick his hand. It was clear from the start they were going to be a good match when the time came.

Vince Downing had slowly been losing his sight for several years. It was just a matter of time, perhaps a year to eighteen months at most before the last flicker of light disappeared forever. He wasn’t bitter about it, just one of those things, the luck of the draw as he would say. But he already missed his independence and hoped a guide dog would at least help make him less reliant on others. In return, he would love and care for that dog with every fibre of his being; like Lucy, he had the kindest nature you could hope for in a man, or indeed a dog too. Thankfully, Vince still had enough sight left to cope with the 12 months of puppy raising before she went off to the training centre. It practically broke his heart when the time came to wave his faithful companion off after guide dog trainer, Chris Morton, arrived to collect her.

 

puppy2Lucy had been a dream to work with, and Chris Morton would be sorry to see her go, more than he cared to admit even to himself. He’d made the cardinal mistake of any trainer in becoming overly fond of one of his charges. Lucy too had grown to love the man who had patiently taught her all she knew, but even so, Chris was a sighted man, and would never need her in the way she was being trained for. Lucy understood this.

She was a natural for the job; it wasn’t that she was some blindly obedient canine equivalent of a sat-nav, she had a wilful and mischievous playful streak, but when it came to the important stuff, she instinctively knew what was expected. Come ‘playtime’ though, she always enjoyed the rewards of all the hard work she was putting in. But after nearly 9 months of obedience and guidance training, Lucy was ready to fulfil the role she’d been earmarked for when her loveable nature and extraordinary intelligence had first been remarked on.

The timing was fortuitous – Vince had less than 5 per cent of his sight now and had officially registered as fully blind. All that was forgotten though when Chris brought Lucy back. Vince recognised her bark immediately.

 

“Hello, my Lucy, I’ve missed you so sooooo much, girl,” Vince said, kneeling to give her a welcoming stroke of her back. Lucy licked at his hand, just like she used to when he was puppy raising her. Now though, she held her boisterous personality in check – no sudden jumping up at him or quite the same playful nature as before. Lucy had been taught well; she knew her master’s limitations and her role as his guide and protector.

For the next three years, the two of them were very happy together. Lucy was everything Vince could have wanted in a guide dog, and just as importantly, as faithful a friend and companion as ever lived.

With all the modern technology and speech to text software available, Vince was able to continue his career as a successful writer. With several best-sellers to his name, Vince was now a very wealthy man. Such success had attracted a lot of interest of late, though in the most recent case, not from a good source. In a recent interview, the subject of his blindness had come up, something a certain career criminal by the name of Dean Smith had picked up on. Dean was a thief, burglar, and one-time street robber, the last of which he’d given up when one of his victims decided to fight back. Nowadays he was far more selective about his victims, usually picking the elderly or otherwise vulnerable. Vince Downing sounded like a perfect candidate.

Though not the smartest guy in the world, Dean knew his way around a keyboard and the internet and was soon able to discover the well-to-do address where Vince lived. A quick check on StreetView showed it to be an expensive house too, no doubt filled with valuables. He made his plans accordingly …

 

It seemed like the perfect night to put his plans into operation. Months of planning and preparation, and exploiting Vince’s blindness, had allowed him to neutralise the problem of Vince’s burglar alarms and other security measures. His only concern was Vince’s guide dog. Observation had revealed she had free run of the extensive gardens to the back of Vince’s house day and night. Dean figured that throwing  several pieces of drugged meat in them enough to keep her quiet on the night; his first thought had been to simply lace said meat with some fatal poison, but he’d read somewhere that if he used enough to ensure death, a dog’s acute sense of smell might alert it to the danger. On the other hand, if he used less than a significant amount, he’d have no way of knowing how long it would be to take effect. Reluctantly, Dean opted for lacing it with a sleeping draft, harmless in the long-term, but sufficient to knock her out long enough to rob Vince’s house without interference once inside. As it happened, his plan worked better than he could have hoped for. Lucy enthusiastically devoured the bait, quickly succumbing to its effects.

Noticing the increasing lethargy of his beloved companion, Vince wasted no time in calling for a vet, and Lucy’s trainer, Chris Morton. The fact that she simply appeared ill rather than there being any obvious effects of being poisoned, it didn’t arouse the same sort of suspicion that would have followed the latter.

Dean was watching from inside his van at a discreet distance when both the vet and Lucy’s trainer arrived. Shortly afterwards, the dog was taken away in the veterinary ambulance with Chris in attendance. Vince had wanted to go too but had reluctantly accepted Chris’s assurances that he would stay with her until the vets gave the okay to bring her home.

Vince was now in the house alone. It was already getting late and the time Vince usually went to bed. Nonetheless, Dean waited another hour, not being able to rely on the usual turning off of lights to indicate Vince going to bed as he would with a sighted person.  Dean figured though on having several hours at the very least, and more probably until the next day before the dog was likely to be returned home. Still, he was anxious to get in and out asap; the last thing he wanted was to wait too long and risk being interrupted in the middle of a robbery. With the alarms already taken care of and the dog out of the way, Dean made his way through the rear garden, entering the house via one of the back doors. That was the point where things started to go awry. Dean had been wrong to think Vince would simply go to bed, knowing his beloved Lucy might be fighting for her life. Of course, he hadn’t gone to bed. What would be the point given the worry and turmoil raging through his mind? Even so, being worried and anxious wasn’t enough to stop Vince from picking up on the faint noise Dean was making as he rummaged through Vince’s study and other rooms to the rear of the house, assuming the occupant to be asleep upstairs. It was perhaps that same worry and anxiety that prevented Vince from thinking straight; he had a panic button/app on his mobile phone to trigger an alert to the local police station, but he’d left it in the kitchen, and instead. instinctively called out …

“Hello, is someone there?” Dean froze. The voice sounded like it had come from close-by, an adjacent room maybe, but certainly a downstairs one. The sensible thing to do would have been to get the hell out. But not Dean. He had invested a lot of time and effort into this job and wasn’t about to give it up.

In the semi-dark, he worried that Vince might have an advantage in a confrontation and switched a light on to see better. He took an involuntary gasp at seeing Vince standing in an opposite doorway just a few feet away.

“Please, I know someone’s there. Please, just go, I won’t call the authorities or anything,” Vince pleaded. Again, Dean was being given a second chance to cut his losses and run.  Instead of taking it, he instinctively lunged and struck Vince with the flashlight he was still holding. It was a hard blow that sent him crashing to the ground and combined with the force his head hit the polished wooden floor, a fatal one too. It wasn’t how he had planned things, but Dean knew he could dispense with being so quiet now and proceeded to ransack the house for any cash or high-value items.

Chris tried phoning Vince later that night to let him know Lucy had had her stomach pumped and would recover just fine. There was no answer. He guessed Vince must have gone to bed, and so elected to return with Lucy the next morning. Again, there was no answer to the doorbell. Lucy was barking loudly; not the usual enthusiastic barking that you might expect from being reunited with her owner, but a more urgent and agitated sort, so Chris used the key Vince had given him to let himself in. As soon as the door opened, Lucy pulled free of Chris and ran inside to where Vince was lying. Had he simply been unconscious or asleep, Lucy would have licked at his face, nudging him with her nose to try and waken him, but Lucy knew the smell of death, and that her beloved owner wasn’t going to be getting up to stroke and caress her ever again. She slumped beside him, softly whining. Chris joined them a moment later, kneeling to take Vince’s pulse to check for life despite the futility; he could see from Lucy’s body language and lack of interaction with her owner that Vince was surely dead.

 

Chris Morton was not happy with the decision to assign Lucy elsewhere quite so soon after her owner’s death, especially given that Vince had left him his house and a large sum of money for Lucy’s future care and veterinary bills. Ideally, he would have liked to take Lucy himself, allowing her to continue living in the home she had shared with her former master. But guide dogs possessed exceptional qualities and were expensive to train. There simply weren’t enough of them to go around, and not to reassign her would be too much of a waste. Chris understood the reasoning and agreed to introduce her to a prospective new owner.

The man in question had recently been blinded in a street attack, acid thrown in his face according to the file. While feeling sorry for the man, Chris couldn’t help but wonder might have provoked such a vicious attack. It could of course have just been another senseless act of violence, but if not, it worried him then just what sort of man he would be leaving Lucy with? He forced himself to put the thought from his mind as he made his way to the man’s apartment.

There was no garden for her to play in, and the area was in the poorer part of town, not the sort of place he would want for Lucy. But rich and poor alike were deserving of the very best help they could get, and if he was a decent sort, there was no reason to believe Lucy wouldn’t adapt and be just as happy as she had been with Vince.

The meeting was short and perfunctory. The man seemed to have little interest in asking questions about Lucy’s care other than how much it cost to feed a mutt? Lucy for her part didn’t display the usual degree of curiosity and affection either when meeting someone new for the first time. Oddly, she seemed more interested in sniffing about the man’s apartment, in his closets and cupboards like a sniffer dog looking for drugs. After completing a few formalities, Chris reluctantly left Lucy in the man’s care, determined not to allow his misgivings to influence him.

 

Lucy was guiding her new master to some local street corner. To exactly where and what for, Lucy had no way of knowing, her job was to simply ensure he got to wherever he was walking without mishap. It was night, and while that made no difference to the man at the other end of the leash, it was not ideal for Lucy guiding him.

They stopped at a crossing. Despite the late hour, there was a lot of noise and activity, too much for the audible warning to either wait or cross to be heard. Lucy could see and hear the approach of the oncoming bus. A gentle tug on her lead was the cue for her master that it was safe to cross. A split second later he caught the full force of the bus, killing him instantly. Thankfully, Lucy had managed to jump back in the nick of time, her leash immediately dropped from her master’s grasp at the moment of impact, and so she remained safe. The police and an ambulance quickly arrived on the scene, but too late. Lucy had stayed put where she was just as she was trained to do. The emergency service staff arranged for Lucy to be returned to the guide dog training centre as per the information on her dog tag. 

Back at the centre, there was some discussion on how such an accident could have occurred. Lucy was by far the best guide dog they had ever trained, but Chris was able to successfully argue that given the circumstances, Lucy could no longer be relied upon in the role. No one objected to Chris applying for her custody.

 

Epilogue …

Subsequent investigations into the background of Lucy’s second deceased master threw up some interesting results. A search of his apartment revealed several items stolen from Vince Downing’s house along with forensic and DNA evidence linking him to the tragic robbery and murder. It was those same items that had almost certainly prompted Lucy to immediately start sniffing around the apartment when Chris first took her there. Some remnant of Vince’s scent was probably what had alerted her, though Chris was hardly to know that at the time. Speculation immediately arose as to whether Lucy may have deliberately allowed Dean Smith to walk into oncoming traffic, leading to do his death?

There were a few jobsworth officials who tried to insist that Lucy might be a danger to people and since, for obvious reasons, Lucy could not be questioned on the matter, it might be best to have her put down. On the other hand, the consensus was that Dean had got exactly what he deserved. There was little doubt either that the acid attack had most likely been related to his criminal activities, and besides, any suggestion of taking action against Lucy would have outraged every dog and other animal lover in the country. The last thing any Texas judge wanted was to be the first in the world’s execution capital to be the voted out of office by the dog vote.

To this day, Lucy still sleeps on her favourite rug in the exact spot where her former master, Vince, had died.

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For more canine-themed stories – some sad, some savage, and others more subtle – keep tuned for:

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Publication date – 31st March 2019

Book Trilogy Review – Beyond The Law

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In 1969 at the age of 17, Tom left his native Glasgow to join the British Army. Tom’s military career spanned from 1969 to 1992. He followed this with a career in Retail Management, in which he was employed from 1992 to 2012.
Tom has been writing since 2007.

He has published seven novels, five anthologies of short stories, a five-part novel, a five-part series of erotica novellas, and a series of five anthologies of genre-based poetry, and has several other projects in the pipeline …

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 Tom’s websites & social media:

www.tombensonauthor.com 
www.tombensoncreative.com

www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com

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On Fb@tom.benson.writer.artist
On Twitter  – @TomBensonWriter

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Beyond The Law: Consequences (Book 3) –

(Currently only available on Amazon Kindle) –

Amazon blurb … In August 2004, close relatives of three recently deceased Glasgow gangsters are looking for answers and revenge. Those intent on causing more bloodshed have yet to meet each other.
Will they form an alliance, or handle their issues as individuals?
Phil and Annabel have handed over the running of BTL Enterprises, but will they be called out of early retirement?
Why would a flag be flying from a castle ruin on a Scottish island?

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Beyond The Law: Consequences  (Book 3)

timberwolfamazonThe perfect conclusion to this trilogy of well-deserved rough justice with  plenty of sex and gratuitous violence along the way … Vigilantism at its very best!

BLT3The third and final part of Tom Benson’s BLT (Beyond The Law) trilogy, a series of books charting the formation and successes of a Glasgow based vigilante group BLT Enterprises, initially headed by ex SAS operative Phil McKenzie aka the Hawk, and then by his promising protege Jake, also after leaving the SAS. Unlike the traditional lone vigilante, the BLT group operate with the ‘unofficial’ support and backing of the UK authorities, even if at a  discreet and very deniable arm’s length.i.e. if you get caught or anything goes wrong that might embarrass the government you’re on your own!

Following previous BLT successes in ridding Glasgow of much of the worst of its criminal element, things have moved on and once again new players have stepped up to the fill the criminal void left by the BLT group’s activities; those left behind want answers and revenge, and of course to be rid of the Hawk and his cohort’s interference in Glasgow’s criminal underworld. And likewise with the BLT, eight years on from its initial formation new characters are proving their worth, and with the continuing help and alliance of the Mental Riders’ biker gang, they continue to be a formidable force in combatting violent and organised crime – but now they face a new and better-organized enemy, an alliance of criminal psychopaths with comparable skills and a ruthlessness beyond anything they’ve had to face before, and with one aim in mind, the deaths of every member of BLT enterprises.

Once again Tom Benson has introduced several new characters, keeping the series fresh and exciting while still retaining most of the original line-up for continuity; despite the genre and macho world in which the story takes place, and indeed the author’s own very male-dominated previous military career, Tom Benson doesn’t shy away from creating strong and believable leading female characters, on both sides of the moral compass I add, putting one in mind of some of Lynda La Plante’s writing (think gangster’s wife Dolly Rawlings in Widows). The author also loosely connects this book with the wider world in which both the BLT series and his other thrillers take place thus ensuring that while this individual series might be coming to an end, at least some of the characters themselves have the opportunity to live on.

In the case of the first two instalments, each reads just as well as a stand-alone book as they do as part of a series; in book one there was more than enough scope for readers to hope for a sequel but without feeling cheated by lots of unanswered questions and loose ends, and in book two readers were introduced to several new characters taking the helm as it were, but with enough interwoven references to the past so as not to confuse new readers. In book three though I would say that it has moved on to the point where it really does read much better if you’ve already read the first two books so no, I wouldn’t say this works as well if read in isolation but given this was to be the final instalment of the BLT series I was quite pleased the author didn’t put unnecessary effort into making this another stand-alone book comparable to the first two but instead concentrated on writing a story that complimented and concludes the BLT saga, so crafting the perfect final chapter to this superb crime vigilante series – take my advice and read books one and two first and then treat yourself to this final concluding part.

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For those readers sufficiently intrigued by this review please take a look at my reviews for the two previous books in this superb trilogy:

 

Beyond The Law: Formation:    (Book One)

timberwolfamazon An awesome book that will keep you hooked right to the end! 
TomB1A ‘can’t put down’ book that definitely hits the ground running. In an explosive opening chapter reminiscent of Andy McNab, we’re introduced to the central character, Phil McKenzie, and some of the background to his special skills and training. What follows is an equally explosive story of unofficial state-sanctioned vigilantism as he and his cohorts set about tackling the tough and violent criminal under-belly of a crime-ridden Glasgow. But this is no simple story of good guys hunting down the bad; set against the murky backdrop of the military and British intelligence, Phil McKenzie and a select team of operatives are up against a criminal alliance that spans not only that of organised crime but also high ranking politicians and police officers. The book takes a number of different and dangerous turns, culminating in one hell of a conclusion.
Some of the characters have definite echoes of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. The dialogue throughout is both fluid and natural, as is the writing and realistic portrayal of a world and characters that thankfully, most never get to see outside the pages of a book. The author’s attention to detail and plot-line are approached with the same deadly precision as that of a covert military operation.
This is a book that effortlessly combines the genres of military adventure with that of crime and justice, and one that would sit well in the company of Lee Child, Andy McNab, and Tom Clancy. Should Tom Benson ever decide to write a sequel, it will certainly leapfrog to the front of my ‘to read’ list. Highly recommended …
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Beyond The Law: Retribution:     (Book Two) 

timberwolfamazonA vicious trail of violence, retribution, and dead bodies … loved it!
TomB2This is a retribution themed novel once again dealing with those criminals whose cunning and resources enable them to operate beyond the constraints of the judiciary and elude the regular forces of law and order. Such is the violence and ruthlessness of such men it takes an equally resourceful and ruthless approach in dealing with such criminals, cue the reappearance of ex SAS operative Phil McKenzie aka the Hawk, and his unique band of cohorts collectively now known as BTL (Beyond the Law) enterprises. Hawk and his associates are every bit as ruthless as the criminals they face, with the added advantages of the very best military training in weapons, field-craft, and covert operations. Operating as they do outside normal police investigation and procedure they can’t be openly supported by the regular police, but they can still draw on the covert support of the British intelligence services and their unofficial police contacts, as well as here, some more ‘unconventional’ allies.
Our introduction to Phil McKenzie and the formation of BTL enterprises was dealt with in the prequel to this book. Although there is sufficient explanation and references to the past to allow it to read perfectly well as a stand-alone book I would still recommend reading the prequel first to enjoy it to its full; as well as being re-acquainted with ex SAS operative Hawk, the attractive ex intelligence operative Annabel, the equally stunning motor bike riding Rachael, former pick-pocket Jake, and one or two others, several new colourful characters are added to the mix: Max, the leader of biker gang the Mental Riders, and Intelligence operative and linguistics expert, Ian, to name but two. There are also some pretty brutal and sadistic new villains as well in the shape psychopathic twin brothers.
The story kicks off with the audacious escape from prison custody of Martin Cameron, who within minutes of his escape embarks on his vicious return to crime and violence; determined to re-establish and expand his control of all of Scotland’s major criminal activities, there follows a bloody trail of violence and dead bodies along the way; he also plans his painful and sadistic revenge on the man responsible for his imprisonment, Phil McKenzie. What he isn’t aware of though is just how eager someone else is for equally sadistic vengeance against him or indeed just how better organised and equipped Phil McKenzie and his organisation are now. In the interim, Martin Cameron’s plans to organise a massive drug shipment into Scotland once again bring him to the attention of one of the Hawk’s former cohorts despite being on the other side of the world at the time.
This is what Tom Benson does best, drawing on his own military experience and memories of growing up on the hard streets of Glasgow, coupled with a true story teller’s imagination. Once again, the author’s attention to plot detail and consistency rivals that of say a Frederick Forsythe novel, and is handled with the same careful planning as the covert operations of the story. The precise levels of detail related to weaponry, covert surveillance, and urban and rural field-craft are excellent, enough to place the reader right there with the characters but not so much to distract from the main story or bog the reader down. The characters are well-developed by way of the gritty and realistic dialogue and the things they do. I also enjoyed seeing how some of the characters had evolved since first encountering them in the prequel, and I must say, the writing here is even sharper and more streamlined than before. I was also impressed at how Phil McKenzie took more of a ‘behind the scenes’ role here, allowing some of the other characters to really come into their own rather than relying just on him to carry the story. As always, Tom Benson rounds up the conclusion and loose ends most effectively and leaves the reader with a tantalising hint of another sequel. The way the story is structured and has evolved from the prequel could lend this two book series (so far) to a whole series of books along the lines of Lee Child’s ‘Jack Reacher’ series …

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… Tom Benson on the IASD website – click on pic for link …

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Cure Guaranteed! – Short Story

It’s been ages since I last posted a short story here, what with launching my debut anthology, book reviews, and updating the book listing site for my Indie author review group, but I’ve finally managed to take some time out for another retribution themed tale, my favourite genre alongside humour – it’s a bit on the dark side, and crosses over into some rather controversial subject matter. As a writer I think it’s important not to shy away from such material, but at the same time, I think much of the detail can often be left to the imagination (as it is here) rather than writing purely for some sort of shock effect. 

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Cure Guaranteed!

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“Damn! The bastard’s got that prick Sullivan testifying for him.” The prosecution team were not happy, knowing that their job had just been made ten times harder on hearing the news. Detective Sergeant Nelson looked at the prosecution barrister quizzically. As far as Nelson was concerned it was an open and shut case; Cross was a monster, and he’d be going away for a very long time.

“So? What difference does it make, the guy’s as guilty as hell, and with his record what difference does it make who he’s got testifying for him?” The Sergeant asked.

“When it comes to Sullivan, believe me it does matter.”

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“Just who is this Sullivan bod? What can he say? I mean, we’ve already got a guilty plea. Nothing can change that?”

“Ahh, this is your first abuse case isn’t it?” Mr Jackson, the barrister replied, realising now the Sergeant’s confusion.

“So?”

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“It means you haven’t yet come across the renowned professor – eminent psychologist specialising in pseudo aversion therapy for those with sexual disorders – guarantees to cure all his charges – for a price!”

“Oh come on, Cross has gotta be looking at a five stretch at the very least!”

“We’ll see…”

***

Ever since the introduction of sentence hearing legislation for violent and sex offenders, prosecution lawyers now face the double hurdle of not only securing conviction, but also ensuring that such convictions actually mean anything. I don’t suppose I do anything to alleviate their task, at least not from their point of view. But it’s not easy what I do, being hated by relatives, victims, the police, and even my own contemporaries. But someone has to do it, and I suppose the money is a bonus too. But why do I do it, you might ask? I sometimes wonder that myself… I suppose it’s because I’m the best; because the law allows my clients the best testimony money can buy – and I do guarantee my cure. Personally I can’t see what all the fuss is about; my clients, or rather those of the defence lawyers who employ me, avoid useless spells in prison; I get paid lots of money, and above all, I really do help people. Still, it’s a pity that others have to be deceived into seeing things differently…

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“Really, Your Honour. In light of the seriousness of the offence and the defendant’s past history, the prosecution cannot agree to the defence’s absurd request for supervised, but non-custodial treatment.” Mr Jackson can see where this is going. I don’t envy his position, or his frustration at the system that allows such absurd argument, but that’s his problem, not mine.

The judge looks up from the sheaf of papers he’s been reading before pulling his half-rimmed spectacles a further half inch down the bridge of is nose: “I shall decide what is and isn’t absurd Mr. Jackson.” The judge begins, before turning his attention to the defence barrister: “But in deciding so, I must confess to some degree of sympathy with the prosecution. Do you have anything to say in support of such a request Mr. Harris?”

“Not directly, but I would like to call upon the expert testimony of Professor Sullivan of the …

“Yes, yes, Mr. Harris. I’m well aware of the eminent Professor and his qualifications. Proceed.”

I enter the dock, calm and relaxed, mentally preparing myself for all too familiar onslaught.

“Come now Professor, are you really suggesting it would be safe to let loose on the community a convicted child molester?”

“I have not suggested anything as yet,” I reply, waiting for him to say, or rather, state something more concrete, something I can use to my advantage. I don’t have to wait long…

“But that is what you will be asking for, is it not?”

“No, Mr. Jackson. That is what you are asking the court not to allow.”

“Is there a difference?” Perfect, I think, so predictable. My advantage…

“Mr. Cross..,” I say deliberately (subtly separating him from the ‘defendant’ label), “…is an admitted paedophile, someone who is prey (making my client a victim too) to intermittent erotic attraction and fantasies, the subjects of which happen to be prepubescent children.”

“And the difference?”

“Perhaps none. Certainly not a quantative one from many of the attractions and fantasies of you, myself, or any other member of the public.” I’m careful not to include the judge in that list, whatever the truth of the matter.

“That is not the difference I was referring to.” As if I didn’t know, again so predictable. I say nothing, pausing for him to push home his perceived advantage: “Is it or is it not your assertion that it would be safe to allow a convicted child molester, a homosexual menace who preys on little boys to essentially walk free from the court, albeit under your supposed supervision at one of your clinics?”

I mentally sigh at the pathetic predictability of his logic; a wonderful but irrelevant piece of rhetoric better saved for a jury. When will these would be actors realise they’re not playing to an audience, I ask myself…

“I appreciate your expertise is one of law, and not of either psychology or psychiatry, and as such your ignorance in these matters can be forgiven. However, a man’s future is at stake here, as well as the well-being of potential victims…”

I must be careful here – mustn’t let it appear that my concern for the defendant’s potential victim’s well-being is secondary to that of my client….but to continue…

“…Firstly, a homosexual as I’m sure you’re aware is simply one who is sexually attracted to one’s own sex. Provided he or she is content with such feelings it is not classified as a disorder. A sexual offence is an offence whatever the sexual preference of the perpetrator, a fact recognised when dealing with heterosexual offenders – one does not hear of a man offending against young girls being referred to as a heterosexual offender. Sexual preferences determined at birth are not considered to be disorders, only some of their many variations which are shaped or developed through experience, social, or environmental influences. Paedophilia is such a variation in that it is volitional, and therefore curable.”

“In that case, surely their conduct is even more reprehensible? At least in the case of the former one can offer the excuse they can’t help themselves, that they’re born like it?”

I inwardly chuckle. The prosecutor thinks he’s got me on the ropes, that I’m digging myself into a hole of which can’t get out. I know it’s wrong – we’re both on the same side at the end of the day, want the same outcome – but I do so enjoy these little one-sided exchanges; slowly I begin to construct the arguments which will tighten and squeeze the emotional strength of his equally emotional rhetoric: “There is some truth in what you say. Even if innate homosexuality was considered a disorder it would indeed be appropriate to proffer the excuse that they can’t help it. But such an excuse is equally applicable to the paedophile. Environmental influences are every bit as powerful as those of our genes…”

A vague and broad statement, but one which I doubt he’ll see the contradiction in what else I have to say… But I digress…

“Such influences compel the victim to act as he does, and yes, I do use the term victim, for paedophiles are as much a victim as those they offend against…”

A risky but necessary line of argument if I’m to keep the pervert out of jail…

“Paedophiles are mostly the product of society, usually having suffered similar assaults to the ones they perpetrate.”

.
“By your definition then Professor, any child that is molested will become a molester themselves, your words Professor, not mine.”

“No Mr. Jackson, your interpretation of my words. Of course not all children who are molested go on to become molesters themselves, but other factors can combine to make it more likely. But ultimately it is a matter of choice however compelling those factors – just like you or I are physically free to act in all manner of savage ways, but feel compelled not to act as a result of social conditioning – our choice. But change our environment, the rewards of our choices, and indeed so will our choices change.”

“But the fact remains Professor that recidivism among this type of offender is amongst the highest of any criminal group, sexual or otherwise?”

“In the main, yes,” I willingly agree, knowing what he is leading up to. I read him like a book…

“So you agree also the defendant’s likelihood of reoffending then?”

“Of course, that is if he is dealt with in the way you are suggesting. You see Mr. Jackson, there is ample evidence supporting the correlation between stress and instances of reoffending, and considering the nature of prison culture and the scorn and derision with such people as my client are subjected to in prison, stress levels are understandably higher than even the most well-balanced of us could be expected to cope with. The recidivist levels you refer to are largely compiled from previously incarcerated offenders. My own success rate is one hundred percent – not one of the offenders referred to my care has ever been reconvicted of a similar offence, which is considerably better than any record prison can offer amongst any category of offender.”

“But what you fail to take into account is that the prison service cannot choose its charges in the way you do. It has to try and protect society from all such offenders. At least by imposing a custodial sentence, society – its children – is protected from the likes of the defendant.” The prosecutor looks pleased with himself. He thinks he’s dealt a major blow to my reasoning, but all he’s succeeded in doing is set himself up…

“Yes, but for how long? My aim is to protect society – and its children (two can play at that game) – for the duration of the offender’s life, and not just until the rapid extinction of the limited coercive conditioning of a prison sentence. Unless society is willing to imprison such people for the rest of their natural lives then prison is not the answer. Whatever the understandable strength of desire for retribution, and as a father myself…” I pause for breath, and if I’m honest, for dramatic effect… the bit about being a father myself is always a good line…

“…as a father myself,” I repeat, “I do understand such feelings, but my concern must be for the long-term protection of the innocent.”

How easy it is to pull the rug from under him, I think. My job here is almost done, but not yet…

“But returning to your first point, that my exemplary success rate is based on the fact that I can pick and choose who I care to treat; such an assertion is only half true. The real truth of the matter is that I can only choose who not to treat. But anyone referred to me whom I consider curable, I feel compelled to treat. Mr. Cross is such a person; I feel compelled to treat him. If he were not such a person, I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending a lengthy prison sentence.”

“And what exactly is it that makes such a person suitable?” Poor old Jackson, he’s clutching at straws now.

“A number of factors, but primarily the offender’s desire to be cured. Mr. Cross asked for psychotherapy and psychiatric treatment even before he was convicted.” That last bit is a lie of course, but the doctor patient confidentiality laws prevent its exposure as such…

“Hmm… you say that your evaluation of suitability for treatment is based upon the offender’s desire to be cured?”

“Yes,” I agree, waiting for the punchline…

“And is that the only criteria, and not the offender’s ability to pay for such treatment? You do after all run a very profitable clinic.” A cheap shot, but just as I expected, I muse smugly. I wait for Mr. Harris’s equally predictable objection…

“Objection!” Right on cue, the defence barrister roars, springing to his feet: “Any question of monetary gain on the part of Professor Sullivan is irrelevant.”

“Overruled, but I would appreciate it Mr. Jackson if you would make clear the precise point you are trying to make.” It was obvious the judge would overrule. Perhaps Mr. Harris is feeling a little side-lined in our verbal sparring, though I can’t think why, I’m doing a far better job of keeping our little monster from the warm embrace of his fellow inmates than Mr. Harris ever could. But wait, Mr. Jackson isn’t done yet…

“Do you stand to benefit financially from Mr. Cross’s attendance at your clinic, not to mention your attendance here in court today?” Mr. Jackson continues, thinking he’s scored a point.

“Of course I do, just as you, the defence barrister, and all the other court officials, along with numerous other auxiliary staff stand to benefit by way of salary for doing their job. But to be more specific, I benefit no more than I would from any other patient, and, as a State referred patient, even less than I would from most of my private patients undergoing much less intensive and demanding treatments. And as for my court attendance, I stand only to receive reimbursement of my travelling costs, some twenty seven pounds taxi fare from my Harley Street London residence.” A warm glow overtakes me as I note the look of abject defeat in the prosecutor’s face. I know what’s in his mind, that another monster is about to walk free. I can’t help but sympathise… If only he could understand; he did his best, and I commend him for that, but it wasn’t, isn’t good enough. I watch and listen as he resigns himself to defeat, making one last appeal to the judge’s sympathy, for the right of Cross’s innocent victims for some form of redress, but knowing the battle is lost… Cross will walk free… again, if only he understood…

***

“I wouldn’t have believed it possible. I was sure I’d get another sentence, a long one this time. You really are the best,” Cross says to me, leaving the dock after being sentenced to two years’ probation under my supervision and minimal attendance at my country clinic.

.
“I won’t let you down,” he adds, smiling as we leave the court…

***

curestorypic2

I begin Cross’s ‘cure’ the day following his sentence hearing. His is an easy case to deal with; no immediate family, or at least none that want anything to do with him. I look forward to transforming such a deviant individual into one who can contribute to the good of society. I stare across at him, holding his look as he tries to fathom what I have in mind.

.
“There’s no need to be nervous,” I reassure him, “I’m here to help, to understand. I know that’s what you want. Now, tell me about… about what you did, what you still want to do.” He stares at me, puzzled: “Please Mark, I can call you Mark can I?” ‘Good’ I say as he hesitantly nods his agreement…

“It’s all about honesty… honesty and trust. Now tell me why it is you do what you do, feel the way you do… I’m not here to judge.”

Cross looks at me, hard – this isn’t what he was expecting. I stare back, just as hard. He averts his eyes and starts to speak: “It’s not like it seems, not like they said in court. I loved those boys, really I did. And they loved me. They wanted me to love them, to give them something special, offering themselves in return. But isn’t that the way of any relationship?” The monster wants me to agree, to absolve him from blame, confirmation that what he did somehow wasn’t wrong…

.

Even he wouldn’t try to say that what he did was right, at least not to me…

I sit in silence, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. He takes this as a positive indication to continue his rationalisations: “It was they who seduced me… You must know how seductive some kids are, how they use their innocence and cuteness to get what they want… what’s a man to do?” I feel the contents of my stomach turning. As I said before, my job isn’t an easy one; you all have the luxury of openly displaying your disgust at such monsters. I have to actually listen to their diatribes of excuses. But I have a job to do…

“But it was more than that with you wasn’t it? I mean, you say you loved them, really loved them… especially David Franks, the little boy you were caught with?”

.
“Yes… Yes I did, and they loved me… David most of all. It was special. Maybe that’s why I hurt him – they say you hurt the one you love and someday society will see that, that it’s just as pure and special a love as any other… One day it’ll be looked on as the most special love of all and not the one that dare not speak its name…”

“Perhaps…” I say, wondering if he knows from whom he’s quoting. Of course he does, this is not a stupid man whatever his other faults: “But there’s a world of difference between Oscar Wilde’s definition of the love of an older for a younger man, and that of an adult for a child, a very young child…” I deliberately use the words ‘very young child’ to emphasise the simplicity and innocence he refers to, that such simplicity and innocence is theirs, however deceptive he may perceive it to be. He must understand this before…

“But whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter…” I continue, “…Until things change as you hope they will, you have a problem, Mark…” I let the words trail off, to make him think about it, to place his trust in me to provide the magical cure that subconsciously he believes will allow him to ‘have his cake and eat it,’ for make no mistake, none of these monsters truly wants their desires cured – imagine if you can, being threatened with having your own heterosexual preference replaced by one of the many supposed paraphilia, or simply losing it altogether? Think if in years to come society should change so very much that heterosexual or any form of physical sex was frowned upon, would you be the first volunteer for removal of desire, your desire? Of course you wouldn’t…

“It’s society that has the problem, society must change…” He still won’t admit…

“But Mark,” I say reassuringly, “you must see the need to compromise, that I wouldn’t be able to save you from prison a second time.”

“So… But then…W-what, where to from here?”

“That’s good, Mark. You’re thinking of the future, and what can be done to control it… I take it your biggest fear is of going back to prison?” Predictably, he readily agrees to this, surprised and relieved that I’m not probing about the effects of what he did to all those boys… very young, innocent boys, I remind myself.

.
“What we’ve got to do is make sure you never get caught committing a similar offence again, would you not agree, Mark?” Of course he agrees, he says, nodding at the same time. But I can see he doesn’t like it, being in the company of someone who can have him sent back to prison at any time they like if he doesn’t cooperate or do as he’s told… too much like the position of the boys… We’ll see…

“But… How, Professor?” I can see he’s puzzled. No other therapist has ever stated or even implied the simplicity of his ‘problems.’

“Oh, a variety of approaches, all geared to your successful integration back into society.” The word ‘variety’ clearly worries him, it worries them all…

“What approaches? One doctor they made me see suggested drugs… Wanted to chemically castrate me… You wouldn’t do that?”

.
“No, no, no,” again I reassure him: “They’ll be nothing like that, and nor will there be any of those other out-dated modes of treatment; no group therapy, no EST, no one-to-ones with any of your victims, and no aversion therapy.” He shudders at them all, but the last in particular – I’m not surprised; having electric rings placed round your penis and receiving often quite painful shocks for becoming aroused at the very things that make you you.

“You see, Mark, what we do here at the clinic is prepare you for life, not some artificial psychological interpretation of it, but real life, free of the temptation you’ve had to endure in the past. We deal in the practicalities here; once you leave my care you’ll be provided with the means to make a new start, a new identity, away from anyone who knows your past. You’ll be above suspicion; not only will you be ‘cured,’ you’ll never have had a problem in the first place.”

He smiles, relieved at how agreeable, how sympathetic I am towards him and his kind, that I understand. And he’s right, I do understand, all too well, which is why I do what I do, why I’m compelled to treat him just as much as he feels compelled to do what he does. There! I’ve answered your original; question, ‘Why do I do it?’ – Because I really do understand… Perhaps there’s more to self-analysis and all this psychological mumbo jumbo than I give credit for.

***

“Congratulations, Mark. It’s been a long, hard two years, especially this past six months living away from the clinic (but still well away from temptation, I made sure of that), but I’m sure you’d agree it’s been worth it?”

“Definitely,” he says, thinking that’s what I want to hear. He knows I’ve been keeping his libido artificially low – not so low as to disappear – he’d never stand for that – but low enough for him to control, to still enjoy the memory of times gone by. Yes, he thinks he’s fooled me into believing he’s cured. Not to worry though, they’re all like that at this stage, but the time will come, I silently promise him… Soon, very soon, I promise myself too…

“As you know, I have to produce evidence that you’ve completed certain prescribed modes of treatment, otherwise the courts wouldn’t recognise my competence to recommend your release from psychiatric probation; group therapy, mild aversion therapy, one-to-one counselling – all those I can fudge the paperwork on, all except one last aspect of your treatment, the victim confrontation one, but that can be gotten round by a simple letter of apology from yourself to the court, asking it to pass on your deepest regrets and apologies to the boys, saying that it was entirely your fault what happened, but that you’re going away somewhere so they never need worry about you again.”

I’m sure you all know what I mean, the courts like that sort of thing…

“Yes, yes I can do that, Professor, Just so long as I don’t have to see any of them… I won’t… will I?”

“No, you won’t have to face them, not ever again. In fact, you just write me a draft of what you feel you should be saying, and I’ll make sure it’s appropriate for what I think will most impress the court. Just leave it all to me…”

***

I call on Mark to collect the letter. It’s quite early, but he’s already up and dressed. I suspect he hopes I’ll be gone quite soon, leaving him the rest of the day to visit some school he’s no doubt scoped out in my absence… I think not…

Perfect, I say to myself; he’s written it just as I asked. I’m impressed. It could almost be sincere, but even he’s not that convincing a liar, at least not to me. But it will do very nicely, especially should it become necessary to answer any awkward questions into Cross’s whereabouts at some later date. I think, placing it in my inside jacket pocket.

He offers me a drink. I accept. I wait for him to pour himself one before asking if he could fetch some ice to go with mine, knowing that the kitchen is at the far end of the secluded cottage I had set him up in. He fetches me the ice. Long enough, the deed is done. All that remains is for me to wait for the cocktail of drugs I added to his drink to take effect. Five minutes or so and he should be in a semi-state of delirium. He doesn’t know what’s happening, which is more than can be said for those boys – they suffered every minute of their ordeals.

It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to get him to swallow a more than liberal amount of alcohol, and the thirty or so Valium I’ve brought with me. Meanwhile I return my own now empty glass to the drinks cabinet. It isn’t long before he lapses into unconsciousness. I haul him towards the open fireplace. The actual fire has not long gone out by the looks of it, but there are still sufficient hot burning embers for what I have in mind. I lift his body to a semi-upright position before letting it fall towards the edge of the coal grate. His head misses the brass spike I was hoping it would strike. It doesn’t matter. I simply raise it about nine inches or so and direct it myself, making sure of its impact this time. The almost pointed spike lodges in the side of his left temple a full three inches, stopped only by the ornamental criss-cross brass rail that runs round the edge of the grate. I position his hands in the dying embers of the fire in a way that suggests he tried to thrust them forward in an attempt to break his fall. By the time police arrive any trace of his palm or fingerprints will have been scorched out of existence, just like the rest of his previous identity. I’ve already checked that no dental records of him exist from when he was last in prison). It will be my creation they identify, the new life and identity I had promised him.

I’m careful to place a voice altering device over the receiver before calling 999 for an ambulance. I explain that I’ve taken an overdose, slurring my words at the same time. I let the receiver fall to the floor. A line trace will be automatic once the receiver has been left off the hook for more than three minutes; it saves me the time of having to give my name and address. There is only one more thing I have to do before I go. I place the organ donation card in his back trouser pocket, clearly stating Albert Peterson’s permission to use any of his organs in the event of his death, and of course, the absence of any next of kin.

You see? I do help people; I have integrated (bits of) him back into society. Who knows, he might well contribute to the successful and productive lives of several members of the community, perhaps even one of the young lives he tried so hard to destroy.

My thoughts return to the immediate task at hand: I leave the cottage. I must remember to add its cash rental costs to my fee from little David Franks’ parents. Another successful cure!

Of course, this particular cure isn’t applicable to all those I help, no indeed. For the more usual and less complicated cases, such as your average violent bully, wife beater or drug pusher I sometimes sub-contract their treatment to others more suited to such cases, men such as Ronald Hatch, or Hatchet Ron as he’s better known. Old Ron, as I affectionately call him, to all intents and purposes comes across as a hard and brutal money orientated hitman, but I know different – beneath that vicious exterior beat a heart of gold, and a real understanding of what’s right and wrong – I think that’s why I employ him from time to time. And for those less violent individuals but for which the world would be a better place without I sometimes introduce them to a former patient of mine, a legitimate patient and budding writer I might add, a funny little chap simply known as Mr. Brown. I do have to be careful with him though – the last person I sent his way ended up getting his head hacked off; Mr. Brown does tend to over react sometimes. He’s currently being treated in a prison hospital for that little outburst, but I’m hopeful of using my influence to get him released quite soon, but I digress, those stories are for another time perhaps…

***

“I suppose you heard about Deakins? Sullivan helped get him off with a year’s probation… Just so long as he undergoes therapy sessions twice a week,” snarled the detective constable who had helped convict Deakins for messing about with a three year old girl, one of Deakins’ own daughters in fact: “The man should have been put away for life for what he did.”

“I know, I know,” said the DC’s superior, Detective Sergeant Nelson, “it was only a few years ago I first came across the sodding professor myself. A guy I thought was going down for five years at the very least, walked out free as a fucking bird thanks to the good professor… he’s had more than twenty cases like that… if only he understood the harm he’s doing trying to protect these monsters…”

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