Prompt: Criticize


Fred Mullen was not the handsomest man. He was of very average height, with a slight paunch, and a face that was chronically hard to shave, who was greying in a decidedly unromantic way, and whose features were anything but symmetrical.

He was not the smartest man. No one encouraged him to go to college; they could see as clear as the moon on a cloudless night that Fred’s talent was to be mediocre.

But Fred Mullen was a loyal man. When people were kind to him, he returned the kindness with an unwavering loyalty. If people treated him with respect, he repaid that respect with trust and fidelity.

So, he sat in the driver’s seat of his green, 1994 Volvo 960 sedan and watched the man who lived at 339 Havenridge Crescent. He took pictures of the man with his cellphone. When the man got into his own car, Fred followed him a discreet distance behind.

Over the course of two weeks, just hanging out at 339 Havenridge Crescent on his off hours, Fred got to know the man’s routine. The man mostly worked at a run down auto mechanic shop, breaking down old vehicles into salvageable parts and scrap. Fred half-suspected that the cars he worked on were stolen. But that was not his business, not right now.

The man was paid in cash daily for this work.

The man was younger than Fred, and average height, just like Fred, but much thinner, though on weekends Fred followed him to the community gym, set up in the basement of the high school. Fred used his powers of invisibility to follow the man inside the gym and also peeked into the dressing room. These powers were not supernatural: Fred was simply a nondescript, forgettable, middle-aged man of no apparent consequence.

The man used the weight equipment to build up his triceps and biceps. So while he was a bit of a scrawny person, his arms were strong and well-developed. He had multiple scars on his back. Fred took a picture of the man and his back, while seeming to be talking on his cellphone.

A red-headed woman sometimes came to the house at 339 Havenridge Crescent, and sometimes stayed for several days. At the beginning of the second week of Fred’s casual surveillance, the woman moved out of the house, strapped to a stretcher and carried off in an ambulance.

Fred took pictures. It looked like she’d had a bad accident.

Fred found out the woman’s name, by speaking to the EMT driver, who was on the same bowling team as Fred.

One snowy afternoon, when Fred’s Volvo proved again to be a match for winter conditions, he was calmly observing the man’s house when two dogs appeared. One looked a little straggly, but curled up on the porch. It looked a bit like the dog Fred had occasionally seen tied up in the yard during previous visits.

A short while later an old man and a teenager arrived at the man’s house and had some kind of altercation with him at the front door. One of the dogs bit the man in the balls. Fred had to wince. He didn’t interfere, but he took pictures with his cellphone.

He put his notes and printed-off pictures into a clean, new manilla folder, and the next time he had a shift in the regular part of the prison, he left the folder under the pillow of Miss Fisher’s bunk, while the inmates were taking exercise in the indoor courtyard. He liked Miss Fisher. Always had.

Happy Hour All Day

Prompt: Purpose

Happy hour

She was very, very easy to follow in the rain, because she kept her head down and her collar up, against the wind. Her loose raincoat, grey, mid-calf, whipped around her legs as she walked. She wore black pumps with a low heel, and not boots, so her feet got wet. It must have been uncomfortable. I personally hate that damp, cold feeling.

The rain stopped suddenly and the sun appeared from behind a bleak, grey cloud. I dropped back, just as a precaution.

She was a beautiful woman, by any man’s judgement. Long legs, delicate curves, a flawless, symmetrical face. The kind of woman it was easy to want, easy to fall in love with, easy to fantasize about. I personally couldn’t help it, though I was not the type of man she would ordinarily give a second thought to. She was, as they say, out of my league.

This was my second full day following her. I had already noticed that she tended to take circuitous routes when going from A to B. Parking far from her destination. Taking a bus, then a cab. Walking in a zig zag pattern instead of taking the shortest route. Perhaps she suspected someone was following her. Perhaps she had already spotted me. I didn’t think so, though. But something was up.

When she turned off the sidewalk and into the department store, I changed my jacket, just in case she had somehow noticed me, and I put on a baseball cap. Simple things like that kept me anonymous a lot longer, and I wanted to be anonymous, for now.

She walked in a seemingly aimless path through the main level of the store, pausing in the lingerie section– a clever move, for a man like me would surely stand out. I hovered near the men’s colognes.

Then she made for the doors leading into the mall. I almost lost her.

In the mall she walked to the jewellers at the far end, then backtracked and entered a grill restaurant. I stood by a lottery booth until I got an idea of where she was heading.

Donny’s Grill. Happy Hour All Day. I took off my baseball cap and put it in my case. It took a minute to get used to the dim lighting inside, but I saw that she was nowhere to be seen.

Damn. Was there another exit? I checked, and no, there was not. I located the restrooms and waited.

When she emerged she had freshly brushed hair, fresh make-up, and she carried her raincoat over her arm, revealing a flattering blue dress with a slightly scooped neckline. I caught my breath. Really, I couldn’t help it.

She wore a shiny gold chain with a pair-of-hearts pendant. It was almost as if she was loyal to someone. But before my very eyes, she was demonstrating that she was not. They never were.

She sat in a booth in the darkest corner of the restaurant, and I took a seat at the bar. It took a moment to see there was a man there, in the booth, with his back to me.

I went to the toilet, and on my way back out took a series of pictures of the man in the booth with my iPhone, which I held in the palm of my right hand with the lens exposed between two fingers. I walked past the booth next to their’s, and then back again and slid into the bench seat. I signalled to the bartender to bring my beer, and he set a cold bottle of Miller Lite on the table.

The pictures were not perfect by any means, but I could lighten them later to get clearer, more detailed images of the man. Her left hand was in the pictures, too, her very distinctive wedding band prominent. It was diamonds and sapphires. She held her hand out to him, but he was not just moving to take her hand. There was an envelope.

I had the photos of their clandestine meeting. Her husband would pay me. I could pack up and leave the place now, and be home for four o’clock, when Kitty would be home from school and dance lessons.

But what was that envelope? I put my ear buds in and set the receiver, which looked like an iPod, on the table beside the beer coaster.

They were talking in low tones. But I heard her say, “It’s not enough, you promised more.” He mumbled something which seemed to annoy her, and she spoke in slightly louder tone: “I took a huge risk. He doesn’t know I copied them. It is worth more than ten.”

Ten? Ten thousand?

“It’s no use to us without the codex,” I heard the man say. Surprise, surprise: he had an accent; I had no idea what. It was not an area of expertise. “You will receive an additional ten thousand when you produce the codex.”

Her husband had told me he was a civil servant. A boring government job, he said. He was desperately in love with his beautiful wife, but was sure she was seeing another man. He wanted proof.

Did he want this proof? This man? This betrayal?

I stopped the recording and put the iPhone, iPod, and ear buds into my case and stood up. My equipment wasn’t sophisticated; I was just a rather dull private detective who followed errant spouses, then went home and watched TV with my 10-year old daughter.

This woman, as I had guessed, was out of my league.