I Spy Something Bloody
An excerpt from the novella by Josh Lanyon
The telephone rang and rang. I stared through the window glass of the phone box at rugged green moorland and the distant snaggle-tooth remains of a prehistoric circle. The rolling open hills of Devon looked blue and barren against the rainwashed sky. I'd read somewhere they'd filmed The Hound of the Baskervilles around here -- it looked like a good day for a Hellhound to be out and about, prowling the eerie ruins and chasing virgin squeak toys to their deaths.
To the north were the military firing zones. Silent this afternoon.
The phone continued to ring -- a faraway jangle on the other end of the line.
I closed my eyes for a moment. It felt years since I'd really slept. The glass was cool against my forehead. Why had I come back? What had I hoped to accomplish? I'd barely known Barry Shelton. He'd just been one of my team. Quiet, tough, capable. I'd known a lot of Barry Sheltons through the years. Their faces all ran together. Just another anonymous young man -- like me.
He died for nothing. A pointless, stupid, violent death. For nothing!
I could still hear Shelton's mother screaming at me, blaming me. Why not? It was as much my fault as anyone's. It didn't matter. I wasn't exactly the sensitive type. Neither had been Shelton. The only puzzle was why I'd imagined the news would come better from me. Wasn't even my style, really, dropping in on the widows and orphans and Aged Ps. That kind of thing was much better handled by the Old Man.
My leg was aching. And my ribs. Rain ticked against the glass. I opened my eyes. The wet-dark road was wide and empty. I could see miles in either direction. All clear. The wind whistled forlornly through the places where the door didn't join snugly; the old booth shook in the wind.
Unexpectedly, the receiver picked up. A deep voice -- with just that hint of Virginia accent --said against my ear, “Stephen Thorpe.”
I hadn't expected to be so moved by just the sound of his voice. Funny really, although laughter was the furthest thing from me. My throat closed and I had to work to get anything out.
“It's Mark,” I managed huskily, after too long a pause.
He was there, though. I could hear the live and open stillness on the other end of the line. “Stephen?” I said.
“What did you want, Mark?” he asked quietly. Too quietly.
“I'm in trouble.” It was a mistake. I knew that the moment I'd said it. I should be apologizing, wooing him, not begging for help, not compounding my many errors. My hand clenched the receiver so hard my fingers felt numb. “Stephen?”
“Can I come home?”
He said without anger, “This isn't your home.”
My heart pounded so hard I could hardly hear over the hollow thud. My mouth felt gummy-dry, the way it used to before an op. A long time ago. I licked my lips. No point arguing now. No time. I said, “I don't have any place else to go.”
Not his problem. I could hear him thinking it. And quite rightly.
He said with slow finality, “I don't think that coming here would be a good idea, Mark.”
I didn't blame him. And I wasn't surprised. Not really. But surprised or not, it still hurt like hell. More than I expected. I'd been prepared to play desperate; it was a little shock to realize I didn't have to play. My voice shook as I said, “Please, Stephen. I wouldn't ask if it -- please.”
Nothing but the crackling emptiness of the open line. I feared he would hang up, that this tenuous connection would be lost -- and then I would be lost. Stranded here at the ends of the Earth where bleak sky fused into wind-scoured wilderness.
Where the only person I knew was Barry Shelton's mother.
I opened my mouth -- Stephen had once said I could talk him into anything -- but I was out of arguments. Too tired to make them even if I'd known the magic words. All that came out was a long, shuddering sigh.
I don't know if Stephen heard it all the way across the Atlantic, but after another heart beat he said abruptly, “All right then. Come.”
I replaced the receiver very carefully and pushed open the door. The wind was cold against my face, laced with rain. Rain and a hint of the distant sea; I could taste the salty wet on my lips.
Copyright 2000-17, Josh Lanyon.
All rights reserved.