Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Underneath The Radar

There are a variety of things that I do, some of them will see the light of day in this blog. One of those things is occasionally I write short stories. One of those short stories I published on Twitter via @LightningTales. I thought I might give that story another outing here.

Underneath The Radar

In a world where lying is prevalent, so much so as to almost be the norm, telling the truth can prove to be an effective way of keeping under the radar.

Jason Haldis was invited to an annual family luncheon and gathering of the clan Toucan, the family of his friend Henrietta. Theirs was a platonic friendship, not one based on romance. Nevertheless he heartily embraced the opportunity to meet the clan Toucan and he looked forward to enjoying the festivities. Upon arriving at 11:30 am on that Sunday in November 2008 the process of meeting the many and varied members of the clan Toucan began. If the attendees at the gathering were in accordance with the expectations indicated to him by Henrietta, there would be too many people in attendance for Jason to reasonably expect he would be able to remember the names of everybody. The best he could hope for was to remember some of their names and not be embarrassed by any failure to do so.

After being at the luncheon for perhaps an hour, and having met and happily chatted to several of the family members, Jason ventured into the kitchen where Tamara Toucan was holding court and preparing part of the considerable food that was available on the day. Tamara was an attractive woman, who looked no more than her 35 years and was happy to be the centre of attention. Those who knew her might well tell you that she was happy that she had married well, something important to her, and was now living in her recently completed new house with her young son and adoring husband. A woman at ease with holding court and seemingly well practised at the art, she did not miss a beat in her food preparation when she noticed Jason walk into her open-plan kitchen area. Time for a little cross-examination of the newcomer, Tamara-social-style, she thought, for what is the point of a social gathering if available information from it cannot be obtained?

No one else was present when her questioning commenced, but that situation was soon to change. Tamara asked Jason directly, “What do you do?”  This provided Jason with the perfect opportunity to both tell the truth and allow those around think that his answer was comical and therefore not pay it much heed.

“I am a contract killer” he said smiling and without missing a beat, as if such an occupation was as legitimate as a plumber, doctor or house cleaner. By that stage others had ventured into the kitchen and Tamara shifted her attention from the newcomer to those with whom she was more familiar. The comment from Jason faded very quickly and his public confession as to his occupation, whilst made for all to hear, became considerably less important than Tamara being the centre of attention of those who already knew her. Apparently Tamara was able to resist the temptation of potentially adding another admirer to her list. Perhaps it was because the adulation of those who knew her was a safer investment than whatever the new man had to offer, no matter how charming he may have appeared.

With Tamara holding court amongst her friends and paying no attention to Jason, the opportunity to withdraw from the presence of Tamara and rejoin the remainder of the festivities was ideal.  Jason took the opportunity quietly.

The luncheon entertained Jason for another two hours and then he headed home.

Of all the many and varied members of the clan Toucan Jason met that day, Stamford, the husband of Tamara, was not one of them, nor was Fernando Gomez Alonzo, a very close friend of Stamford and his family.

Stamford Visits Fernando
In the week after the Christmas luncheon Stamford visited Fernando and discussed his life. Stamford said, “My life is much better now that I am not keeping the company of women who treat me poorly.” Fernando had helped to put Stamford back together on more than one occasion in the past, after he had been treated in an appalling fashion by the latest inconsiderate woman in his life. That female behaviour was not something that sat well with the devout Roman Catholic values held by Fernando. In fact, those who knew him well from time to time said to Fernando that the Spanish Inquisition would be a blessing for infidels compared to what Fernando would do to them, were Fernando ever to become King.

Those same friends and acquaintances of Fernando knew him to be a remarkable man: resilient, successful and seemingly possessed of an endless supply of accurate information about just about everybody; the kind of information that evokes the response, “How can you possibly know that information?”

Drinks by Invitation Only
In March of the following year (2009) Fernando telephoned four men known to him from diverse parts of his life and invited them to his house for drinks at 5:00 pm that Saturday. Andrew, the stock-broker, accepted the invitation, as did Walter, the reporter, Luke, the athletics coach and Adrian, the renovations manager. All four guests were unknown to each other and did not know of the invitation extended to the other three when the invitation was extended to and accepted by each of them.

On that Saturday afternoon, shortly before 5:00 pm and as if to prove the adage “It never rains, it pours”, all four guests arrived at the house of Fernando at pretty much the same time. Fernando greeted them all and led them to his entertainment area. He told his four guests that there was some business that required his immediate attention, however he did not anticipate it would take a great deal of his time and he would join them shortly. Some drinks and finger food were apparently available for consumption by his guests, so Fernando thought they would be able to entertain themselves, for the time being at least.

In the meantime his four guests introduced themselves to the drinks and the food and subsequently to each other. Initial conversation between them focussed upon the motivation for the respective invitations to this particular gathering. Nothing immediately came to mind for any of them, apart from their connection with Fernando and the conversation soon moved on to other topics. Walter the reporter even speculated that one stage, “If there is a reason Fernando has gathered us all here, then I am sure he will apprise us of that reason in good time. He is not one to beat around the bush.”

The guests seemed to be enjoying themselves and getting along well together. Luke, the athletics coach, walked around the entertainment area seemingly in an attempt to gain a greater appreciation of the premises that were hosting him. Not long after that sojourn commenced he noticed a framed photograph in a fairly prominent position. It appeared to be a fairly recent photograph of Fernando and he was flanked by a man and a woman. The photograph continued to capture the attention of Luke and he found himself paying more attention to it than the conversation that was going on around him. Closer inspection of that photograph showed Luke that the woman beside Fernando was Tamara Toucan, a woman with whom he had had a sexual encounter in the not too distant past. Luke noticed that the Tamara in that photograph was obviously resplendent in a wedding ring. The jewellery being worn by Tamara was not something that had previously come to the attention of Luke and its implications were not something of which he had been previously made aware.

In keeping with the “it never rains it pours” theme, as Luke became aware of the jewellery impediment adorning the left hand of Tamara, he sensed the presence of another very close by. He looked over his right shoulder and saw Adrian the renovations manager also apparently captivated by the photograph in question. After a few moments Adrian and Luke looked at each other and an uncomfortable silence came over them. Perhaps there was more to this invitation from Fernando then they had previously appreciated, they each thought.

By that stage the attention of Andrew the stockbroker and Walter the reporter had also been drawn to the now somewhat infamous photograph. Whilst none of the guests recognised Stamford in the photograph, his wedding ring was obvious and it seemed to match the wedding ring being worn by Tamara. Privately all four men were thinking that they all knew Tamara as a result of having a brief sexual encounter with her in the not too distant past.

The silence in the room suggested that no one was in a hurry to discuss the photograph or its subjects and each man wondered to himself what the reappearance of Fernando would bring. Up until that point the time during which Fernando was absent had passed pleasantly and seemingly without controversy. All four men seemed to be enjoying themselves and did not think that the event was a drag in any way, shape or form. Now their afternoon involved concern and uncertainty.

Twenty (20) minutes later, true to his word, Fernando returned to the fold before that uncertainty could morph into trepidation.  Whilst he is not one to make a grand entrance into a room, the reappearance of Fernando captured all the attention of his four guests.

No one else was apparently in the house of Fernando at that time and it seemed that the only sounds that were being made were the ones being generated from the entertainment area. Fernando did not bother getting a drink or anything to eat upon re-entering the entertainment area; rather he proceeded to where his guests were standing.

“By now you are probably wondering why I invited each of you here,” Fernando said. “It seems to me that you are standing a little too close to that particular photograph for it to be a coincidence. So it is convenient at this stage for me to share with you my thoughts. The other man in the photograph is Stamford Toucan, a very good friend of mine and a man whose family I have known for many years. The woman in the photograph is his wife Tamara, but each of you needs no introduction to her.”

Fernando the Formidable was clearly holding court and each of his guests knew him and his reputation well enough to not interrupt him in this mood.  Rather they knew to remain silent and listen carefully to what he was saying.

“Stamford has had more than his share of women in his life who have treated him poorly and I have helped to put Stamford back together on more than one occasion in the past. That female behaviour is not something that sits well with my Roman Catholic values, as you all know. It is certainly not behaviour I propose to endorse or encourage in his wife.”

“Gentlemen, this need not be a painful experience. I am well aware that each of you has had a sexual encounter with Tamara and that encounter occurred during the time when she was engaged to be married to Stamford. I trust none of you require me to expand further upon the details of those individual encounters.”

Fernando then looked at all four guests and noticed that each and every one of them were shaking their heads, seemingly confirming that no expansion upon the details of the relevant encounters was necessary. The confident men who had greeted Fernando shortly before 5:00 pm that day to participate in his drinks gathering had been replaced by men who wore faces of uncertainty, if not concern. The “By invitation only” audience was clearly attentive by that stage and perhaps even captive.

Adrian the renovations manager was the least comfortable guest with the circumstances in which he found himself.  He was the first of the four guests to speak at that stage.  He spoke during a period of silence from Fernando, brief though that period of silence may have planned to have been.

Adrian said, “I admit that I had a recent sexual encounter with Tamara, but I had no idea that there was another man around and she was certainly not wearing any jewellery on her ring finger when she approached me. As far as I was aware, she was single, footloose and fancy free and there was no harm in me accepting her invitation. If I had known that there was another man involved with her, I would have had nothing to do with her.”

Whether that revelation on the part of Adrian was part of a plan of Fernando was not clear by his mannerisms. However it was a development that Fernando embraced. After Adrian made his contribution to the discussion, Fernando looked at the faces of the other three guests and they all seem to be saying, “That is what happened to me.”  Fernando was a man sufficiently experienced in the world to know that very rarely do people lie in situations in which these four men had now found themselves. He took the view that today would not be a day where a Spanish Inquisition would be necessary.

“Adrian I accept what you say without question and I can see from the faces and the mannerisms of you other three men that you find yourselves in a similar position. I invited you here to enjoy my hospitality. I did not invite you here to play tricks on you. You have each provided me with clarification of the information I was seeking and I do not propose to make any more of the matter with any of you. I hope we can leave the matter there. I hope you can each enjoy the rest of the evening.”

As he finished speaking, Fernando thought he saw a significant improvement in the respective dispositions of all four of his guests. Fernando then got a drink for each of his four guests and one for himself, which he followed with, “Cheers gentleman: enjoy yourselves.”

All four of the guests took the drink offered and stayed to enjoy the hospitality. Fernando asked each of them about interesting or pleasant developments at their work,  managing to negotiate the transition to a happy social gathering rather successfully. No one mentioned Tamara or Stamford for the rest of the evening.

Each of the four guests stayed for about another hour and then one by one left to take up other social commitments they had made for the evening. Fernando saw them off individually and said to himself as each of them left, “They each arrived a happy man and seemingly left the same way. This was a successful night.”

Delivering a Package
At 10:30 am on the following Monday Fernando telephoned Jason Haldis, the Courier.
“Is that Jason the Courier?” Fernando asked.
“Who wants to know?” Jason asked
“I have a package I would like delivered to its final destination.”  Fernando said.
Jason replied, “Be at the Sidewalk Café, West End at 11:00 am tomorrow with an A4 sized yellow envelope containing details of the package.”  The telephone conversation then ended.

Fernando arrived for his 11:00 am meeting with Jason Haldis at about 10:45 am to discover that the Sidewalk Café, West End was more of a stand than a café and not an establishment conducive to significant on-site seated consumption. It was more of a place to place your order, take your coffee and keep moving. His attire and behaviour enabled him to blend well with his fellow café attendees, whilst the A4 sized yellow envelope he was carrying enabled him to be sufficiently conspicuous to his coffee date.

Jason arrived shortly after the stroke of 11:00 am and proceeded directly to the man with the A4 sized yellow envelope under his left arm. He said to Fernando, “I am going to order tea, what would you like?”

“I will have a cappuccino, thank you.” Fernando replied.

Jason then went to the counter and placed his order. Instead of waiting at the counter he returned to Fernando and had a conversation.

“I brought this for you” Fernando said whilst handing Jason the envelope.

Jason took the envelope and casually looked inside at its contents.

The photographs were of particular interest to Jason because they were of Tamara Toucan, the woman he met at the Christmas luncheon of his friend Henrietta Toucan. He remained stony faced and his demeanour gave away nothing when Fernando asked him, “Can you deliver the package?”
After a short pause Jason replied, “I do not anticipate any problems.”

By that stage their drinks were ready and they approached the café counter to collect them.

Jason said to Fernando “I will contact you when delivery has been completed.”

Fernando said, “Fine”.

With that both men went their separate ways.

Confession is Good for the Soul?
Three days later (Friday) Tamara met her girlfriend Sarah Jane for their semi-regular Coffee date at their local mega-shopping centre. Sarah Jane had no significant news to share and was happy to participate in a little girl talk. She was more than a little surprised to hear Tamara make an unsolicited confession of an episode of pre-marital infidelity whilst she was engaged to Stamford.

Completely unprepared for the unexpected news Sarah Jane spoke before she thought and asked Tamara, “Have there been any others?”

Tamara confidently said to her, “No, there have been no others.”

Sarah Jane found the news to be surprising and unsettling.  She immediately wanted to change the topic of conversation. If Tamara was looking for comfort from Sarah Jane upon making her confession, she chose her companion poorly, because Sarah Jane found herself not able to provide that comfort. The conversation soon turned to more innocuous issues and Sarah Jane found her disposition returned to normality fairly quickly. Half an hour later their coffee chat ended and they went their separate ways.

Shortly after leaving Sarah Jane Tamara was walking back to her motor vehicle, doing a little window shopping in the process. Along the way she saw a man she thought was vaguely familiar to her, but whom she could not immediately place or remember his name. Their meeting was no more than a pleasant “Hello” as they walked past each other at the shopping centre. Tamara continued her walk to her motor vehicle uninterrupted, but during that walk and her entire journey home she found herself trying to remember the identity of the familiar male face (Jason Haldis) from the shopping centre.

Upon arriving home Tamara found herself no closer to solving the identity puzzle. She decided to put the kettle on and make herself a cup of coffee.  Maybe then things would be clearer for her. All was in readiness for that coffee; she just needed the kettle to finish boiling. As the kettle whistled to signify its boiling journey had completed Tamara realised that the man she had seen earlier that day was Jason Haldis, a man she met in that very kitchen at the Christmas function she hosted some months earlier. She then reflected upon the conversation they had at that time and remembered that he had told her he was a contract killer.

By now Tamara had a firm grip on the handle of the kettle, which was still attached to its electrical power base. As she did so an enormous power surge travelled through the kettle and in turn her. That power surge proved fatal before Tamara hit the floor.