Thursday, 11 October 2012

Staccato: People Watching - The Bomb

Author's Foreword

As discussed over on LimeBirdAmber's post, people watching can be fun and a good source of inspiration for writers and actors.  I wanted to take the idea one step further and demonstrate how inadvertently catching part of someone else's conversation could lead to a series of events that spiral out of control.

As you may know, I've been putting myself through a series of tests prior to this year's NaNoWriMo in an effort to expand my writing experience.  In the following short story, a character thinks he catches part of someone's conversation and acts on the snippet of intelligence (rightly or wrongly...).  The remaining sections each describe a possible alternative path the story could take.

LimeBirdAmber once wrote "Write different endings if you're having trouble. You may find one you like." (Read more:

So it was Friday night, after work and I was catching this train with my girlfriend, Cat, to go to her mother’s house, up in Birmingham.  Lovely lady.

We’d been standing around for about twenty minutes - just waiting for the train to pop on the board, so we could go to the right track, and she suddenly turns to me with wild eyes.

“George…” she whispered “I think that guy just said ‘bomb’..!”
I hadn’t really been paying attention, as I’d just reached level 52 on Snowboarding Antelope, so I absent-mindedly replied “What?  Which guy?”, my mind still heavily engaged in dodging the tiny explosive cats on my screen.
“That guy.” Cat was indicating surreptitiously towards a short man standing not far away.  He was on the phone and seemed to be fairly animated.
“What about it?”
“What do you mean, what about it?” She grabbed my arm and pulled me towards her, clearly distraught. “He said ‘bomb’.  You should do something!” Cat was still talking in a hoarse whisper.

At this point, I surfaced from the game (I’d reached a checkpoint, so it was okay) and looked up.  The man Cat had been indicating was still on the phone and seemed to be agitated about something. Beside him was a small hard-case suitcase.

Cat was looking at me, intently.  Her beautiful eyes, those eyes I’d fallen in love with just a few months ago, plucked at my heart - I had to do something.  If the man had actually said the word ‘bomb’, there was a possibility his suitcase could be a deadly device that could explode and kill innocent people.

If I somehow prevented such a catastrophe, I’d be a hero and Cat would love me even more.  Not only that, but all the women I’d saved would also love me.

I looked around.  There was a fairly hot girl leaning against the entrance to the station waiting room.  I could save her, too.  This was going to be awesome.

I looked back at the man.  He was wearing a thin, short-sleeved checked shirt and jeans.  Other than the suitcase, he didn’t seem to have any other luggage, or even a coat.

I moved a bit closer to the man, in an attempt try and catch more of his conversation, but as I got within easy earshot he hung up.

I panicked.  I admit it, after all I’m only human.  I could feel Cat’s eyes on me, I could feel the souls of all the girls I was about to save calling out to me in sweet song.  I could feel the souls of all the men sort-of saying “Ah, good job there, son.  Here, have some money.”

All I could think of was getting that suitcase as far away from these people as I could.

I grabbed it and ran.

I heard a shout from behind me.  I kept running - Any minute, the man could activate the bomb in my arms.

I wove between startled commuters, over bags, ducked under the arm of someone trying to get signal on their phone and disappeared down the stairs that would lead me to the next platform and out of the station.

I didn’t really know where I was heading.

As I reached the station exit, I realised there were even more people waiting outside the station for buses, taxis and family pick-ups, so I bore off into the long-stay car park and made for the fence on the other side, which led into a business park.  The park would be deserted at this time in the evening.

There’s no exit!  I swore.  Although it came out as a kind-of “Pffmeh!”, because I was out of breath already.  I thought back to all those nights in front of the TV and wished I’d spent more time training for this sort of thing - how would I be any good against zombies?

Why am I thinking of zombies at a time like this?

I had a potentially deadly explosive device of unknown proportions in my arms and I was trapped.  I couldn’t go back now - there were more people milling around the entrance than there had been on the platform!

I thought about throwing the suitcase over the fence, but I was stopped by the thought of it exploding on impact at the other side.

I started trying to climb the fence, but I couldn’t climb and hold the suitcase at the same time, and there wouldn’t be much point in me getting over onto the other side without it...

So I did what any man would do in this situation.  That’s right, I stepped back, took a deep breath, closed my eyes and took a running charge at the fence.

Man against metal.

I lost.

I woke up some time later with a headache. “Wh..meh?”
“Try not to speak, Mr. Brown” The voice sounded tinny, like it was being transmitted through a 70s ‘tranny’ radio.  I tried to sit up, but something was holding me down.

Opening my eyes, I immediately wished I hadn’t.  A high-power light was aimed at my face, blinding me.  “Gnn.. heh?”  Looking down my body, I could make out thick leather straps around my arms and waist.  Now I came to think about it, I could also feel more straps on my legs, all binding me tightly to whatever I was lying on.  My mind swore at me.  I quietly replied with “Pffmeh”.
“Ah! Mr. Brown! You’re awake!” This was a different voice, still tinny.  “Where is the suitcase?”
I opened my mouth to reply, but my voice cracked.  My lips felt dry, as though I’d spent the last three hours eating cardboard.
“He’s parched, give him some water,” said the first voice.

There was a click, then a whirring sound, followed by a noise that sounded like a bucket of water being poured over my face.  It felt like that too.  I spluttered as the cold liquid soaked my clothes and found its way down my back.

The second voice spoke again. “Let’s try this again, Mr. Brown; where is the suitcase?”
“I’m not Mr. Brown.” I replied; my voice rough.  There was a high-pitched chuckle, mixed with static.
“We know your name is not Mr. Brown, Mr. Brown,” continued the second voice.
“Yeah, ha!  We just call everyone who sits in the chair Mr. Brown, ha!  Ain’t that right, Tr..?” This was a third voice, excited and immature.  It was cut short by a yelp.
“Shut it, idiot.  No names.”
“Sorry, boss.”
“As I was saying, Mr. Brown.  We already know your name is not Mr. Brown....”
“Wait...” I interjected. “You know I’m not called Mr. Brown, or you don’t know my name, so you call me Mr. Brown in the hope that I’m not called Mr. Brown?”
“We know you’re not called Mr. Brown.” The second voice replied, with a tone of slight annoyance.
“How do you know that?”
“Why, Mr. Brown.  Because you just told us you’re not Mr. Brown.” This time, the tone was one of smugness.
“I have no idea where the suitcase is.” I stated.

There was a pause of about five minutes.  During this time, I was sure I could hear a series of dull thuds, as though someone was throwing office equipment around a room, or punching a wall.  This could’ve just been my imagination.

After a few minutes, the second voice came through again. “You’re lying.”
“I’m not lying!” I felt aggravated.  I’ve never liked being falsely accused.  “You believed me when I said I wasn’t called Mr. Brown! I’m not lying - I have no idea where the suitcase is.”
The third voice piped up again “He’s got a point, boss,” it said, “We believed him about his name, you know, so... logically...” It was cut short again by another yelp.
“I’m surrounded by nitwits! Number One, interrogate him - find out what he knows.”
“Roger that, sir.” That was the first voice again.
“Hey, what do you mean by ‘interrogate’?” I asked.  I was surprised how steady my voice sounded, because I certainly didn’t like the sound of interrogation. “Torture’s against the Geneva Convention, you know.”
“The Generic Convection can go stuff itself.”
“Err...” I wasn’t sure what to reply to that.
“Look, Mr. Brown, or whatever your name is, just tell us where the suitcase is and we’ll let you go.” Number One seemed to be the most reasonable of the three.
“Look, Number One, I just grabbed the bomb and ran, OK?  I got to the fence and couldn’t get through, so I tried to break through – I think I knocked myself out or something, but that’s the last thing I remember.” I didn’t add “And my head hurts and I want to go home,” because I didn’t think this sounded very gangsta.
“What bomb?” Asked Number One.
“The bomb! In the suitcase!”
“Who put a bomb in the suitcase?!” Both remaining voices asked together, sounding very confused.

***** SHIFT *****

I woke up some time later with a headache. “Wh..meh?”
“George!” I heard Cat call my name and tried to smile.  “George, try not to move – you’ve got a cast on your head and neck.”

Sure enough, I could feel the heavy weight of plaster around the top part of my body.  There was a tube sticking up my nose.  I felt like sneezing, but somehow managed to keep it in.

“You’re mad, George.  We missed our train!”  Cat didn’t sound too upset.  I could feel her holding my hand.  “You tried to save us all.  You were amazing!” She continued, gushing.  “I called the police on my phone as you started running and they brought a van with robots and all-sorts in and did a controlled explosion.
“And some of the policemen said you should give them a call when you wake up so they can congratulate you – they also want to know if you saw who attacked you, George.  They think it might be an organised gang or something.”
“Attacked me?” I thought, mystified.
“Did you see them, George?”
“Oh, George, try not to speak!” She squeezed my hand, tightly. “You were so brave!  They caught the man, too, but he looked really confused when they took him away for questioning…”

***** SHIFT *****

I woke up some time later with a headache. “Wh..meh?”
I opened my eyes and slowly looked around.  I seemed to be lying on my back in a small stone room.
“Finally awake then, Mr. Johnson.”  The voice sounded like it belonged to a friendly, but stern woman.  I sat up and instantly regretted it.
Gargh…  Ahhr...  Wha...?”  My head was killing me.
“Quite a knock you took there, young man.”
“None more than you deserve, you thieving scoundrel.”

For the first time I realised where I was.  I was in a police cell - The second voice belonged to a short, fat policeman with a beard, holding a clipboard.  His friendly-but-stern counterpart was a police woman.  She didn’t look all that friendly in uniform.

“Mr. George Henry Johnson.” Read the fat policeman “Male; five foot ten; Caucasian, though a bit grubby,” he sneered.  I sighed, mentally. He continued; “Wanted for murder…”
“WHAT?!” I shouted.  The pain in my head was forgotten as I grabbed hold of the bars on the cell door and shook them. “I never killed anyone! I swear! Let me out!”
Both of them fell about laughing, long and hard.  “Works every time!” The fat man rolled and slapped his thigh.  I sat back down and swore under my breath.
“Wanted for thievery;” the man went on, once he’d recovered, “Damage of personal property and generally making a nuisance of himself.” He peered at me with tiny pig-like eyes.  “You’re under arrest.  You do not have to say anything – remember that anything you do say could be used against you in a court of law…” He continued with my remaining rights.

When he’d finished, I leaned against the wall.  “So, that suitcase…?”
“Not a bomb, kid.” Said the police-woman.  “And the man you stole it from just so happened to be the Assistance Chief Constable of West Doncaster Police, on his way home from a busy afternoon – he wasn’t too pleased to have missed his train and asked us to look after you for a bit while he decides what to do with you…”

***** SHIFT *****

I woke up some time later with a headache. “Wh..meh?”
“Hi…” I replied, uncertain where the voice had come from.  Everything was dark.

Inspired by LimeBirdAmber:

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