Worth the Money?

A short story – written just for fun!

Observe people.

Three hundred pounds spent on a creative writing course and the only thing Grace could remember was ‘observe people’. Madeleine, the instructor, was a published author. People on Amazon had bought her books. She had told the group that she got all her ideas from sitting in a cafe and observing.

So Grace had become a regular at the Starbucks in town. They provided intermittent wifi and she got a free coffee for every eight that she bought. For the past thirteen days that had averaged a free coffee every day. By day three she’d switched to decaf. By day five she’d settled into a routine. She had a fixed spot by one of the power outlets. It was quite close to the loos and, most importantly, situated under the curve of the spiral staircase, it placed her in the shadows. She could observe without being observed.

Settling down on day fourteen, Grace reflected on her notes so far. She hadn’t really understood what Madeleine had meant by observe so she’d simply made notes on people’s appearance, jotting down the type of coffee they’d chosen. She had quickly amassed a database full of information that Starbucks research department might have paid for. But the data wasn’t any use. She’d tried to put people into stories but she couldn’t, they were too flat, too simplistic, two dimensional.

Today she was going to try something different.

Two women sat at a nearby table. Grace began to write down their details noting that one had chosen the speciality latte and wondering if it was worth the extra seventy pence. Then she stopped. No, she wouldn’t write today, she would just observe and occasionally jot down words or notes.

Ten minutes later the two women got up and left. The latte cup was still half full and Grace’s ideas jotter was empty. Two middle-aged friends out shopping was not a story and she had been unable to add layers. This wasn’t going to work.

As she started to gather her belongings, determined to (a) ask for her money back from the course and (b) go on the internet to see if she could find a better course, she heard words that changed everything.

“Of course she’s dead, that’s what you wanted, wasn’t it?” The voice was foreign, Eastern European thought Grace, who had no idea what an Eastern European accent sounded like. Two men had passed her table and taken up residence on a pair of stools by the window. They had their backs to her. It was the dark haired, burly man that had spoken. The blonde looked younger, sounder younger as he replied,

“Dead, dead, who said anything about dead? “ Home counties decided Grace, whose knowledge of English accents was even less secure than her ability to distinguish between Russian and South American. “No-one said ‘dead’. In fact I distinctly recall saying ‘gone’. Yes, gone. I remember I said ‘I want her gone.’ Not dead. Why would I want her dead?”

“Dead, gone, hah, it’s all the same.” Grace couldn’t believe it. The older man was clearly a contract killer. Who had he killed? The mother? The wife? The girlfriend? She needed to know more. The younger man had lowered his voice and she had to edge forward slightly to hear him.

“The police will know it’s me.” Desperation, decided Grace, that was the word she would use to describe the young man’s voice. As she leaned down to get her jotter, eager to note her thoughts, she knocked her mug off the table. Even in the crowded atmosphere of the coffee house, the sound of the mug hitting the tiled floor stood out. Everyone turned. For a split second every eye was on her. Then, as people turned back to their business, Grace looked up. Into the eyes of the killer.

“Let me get that.” The blonde was indeed young. As he slipped past the older man and bent to help she realised that he was also very good looking. Blushing, she mumbled her thanks. “Can I get you another?” He was certainly solicitous but Grace couldn’t escape a sense of panic. This man had arranged a death! About to refuse his offer, she realised that not having a drink would mean leaving the cafe. Wanting to hear more of the story, she decided to accept the offer.

“Thanks, I’ll have the specialty latte please.”

Five minutes later, Grace had a cup of latte (not worth the extra seventy pence, in case you were wondering) with the blonde’s name scrawled on the side.   If his name actually was ‘Mankiss’. She had thanked him politely and indicated that she had work to do on her laptop. Putting in a pair of earphones but playing no music seemed to Grace the ideal way to convince the pair that she wasn’t listening. Her ploy seemed to be working as they continued to talk.

“The police, they’ll know it was me.” Marcus (the barista hadn’t been too far out) picked up the conversation. He sounded less desperate now, more truculent.

“Stop worrying. How could it have been you. You were at the party with thirty or more other people. You were at the party weren’t you? You did stick to the alibi?” Grace shuffled back into the stairwell, as she heard the older man’s voice rise. He sounded like a killer. Menacing was a good word and she made a mental note of it as he continued. “You have your alibi. I will have my alibi tonight. We had a bargain. You will do your part.” Grace couldn’t quite catch Marcus’ muttered response but she guessed that he wasn’t too keen on his part as the other man’s voice rose again. “Do not think you can escape this. I have all our conversations on here.” Too frightened to look around the edge of the stairs Grace imagined him placing a small tape recorder on the table.

“I can’t. I just can’t” Marcus’ voice became shrill and Grace pictured him grabbing the other man’s arm.

‘You can. You will.” Chilling was the word that Grace jotted down.

Grace realised that she was holding her breath. What a story. This observing thing really did work. That course had been worth the money after all. What should she do now? She knew that she had enough to write her novel. Well novella maybe. Well a short story for her writing group at least. But what should she do with the knowledge. She would have to go to the police. Fumbling in her laptop bag she found her phone. A photo would be a good idea.

The two men headed for the door. As Marcus looked back to smile at the pretty girl under the stairs, he was surprised to see her taking his picture. He was flattered but it was a bit odd. Never mind. Turning back to his companion he said, “That worked, going through the lines in public. When they suggested it on that acting course I laughed. But it worked, I feel ready. You know that course cost three hundred pounds. It was well worth the money.”

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